Tangled. Have you seen this movie? I just watched it tonight. First off, if you haven't, you need to. SO adorable! And really funny too. Now pardon me while I organize an entire blog post around a Disney movie.
This is the fictional story of Rapunzel. In case you haven't seen the Disney rendition, the basic plot is that a young baby princess is stolen from her crib by this evil old woman who just wants to use her for her magical hair's powers. The girl is raised by this coniving woman in a tower for 18 years and is never allowed to go outside. The woman basically brainwashes the girl into thinking that the outside world is evil. All this is changed the day a young man, Eugene, comes into her life and takes her on the adventure of a lifetime.
This story is fictional, I know, but my mind couldn't help making connection after connection as I followed this young girl's story. In many ways, it reminded me of my daughter's story. Maybe it would remind you of your adopted child's story too.
Rapunzel is trapped in her tower and must busy herself with the same ol' activities day after day. She can only gaze at the outside world from her window but never interact with it. This makes for some pretty awquard situations once she does escape with Eugene and experience the world for the first time. I thought of Ivelina and how socially awquard she can be. Having only viewed the outside world from a window, she had no idea how to interact with society. On one of her first trips to Food Lion, she ran up to a woman who was crouching down to see a bottom shelf and started stroking her long hair and calling her "mama." As we took walks around the neighborhood, she would dart away from us into other peoples' yards to look a garden ornament or play on their swingset. Even still, she likes to touch arm hair on men that she's around and she will walk up to random babies and stick their paci back in their mouth, or better yet try to feed them a bottle. I'm left having to explain myself and my child's odd social behaviors that are the product of living a secluded life.
A striking thing about this story is that Rapunzel is a prisoner in her tower and she doesn't even know it. She has no idea what she has missed out on. When Eugene first helps her down out of her tower, she fearfully and tentatively places her toes on the green grass for fear that it will hurt her. This sheltered girl soon realizes that creek water is refreshing and soft grass is fun to lie in and flowers are wonderful to smell. I don't know everything about my daughter's former life, but I remember when Ivelina had only been home for a couple of days. She had walked to the mailbox with me and was afraid to walk under the tree branches. I reached up to jiggle the limb to show her that everything was alright and she acted like I was about to pull a gun on her. She pointed to a small stump in our yard and asked if it was a frog. I told her it was wood and she coiled back with fear as she watched me reach down and chip a little piece of rotted wood off of it. She thought it would bite. It was obvious to me that this sweet girl had been a prisoner her whole life and hadn't even known it. How overwelming it must have been to fear nature itself!
As Rapunzel's story progresses on, she is haunted by all the demeaning and patronizing things her "mother" has told her for 18 years in order to manipulate her. "You're not strong enough." "You're not smart enough." "You'll never make it out there." "The world is a horrible, dangerous place." "You're never leaving this tower!" I wondered if my own daughter has been fed some of those lies all her life.
There comes a point in the plot where the evil "mother" has Rapunzel right where she wants her. She has almost convinced this poor girl that Eugene has left her and doesn't care a thing for her. Rapunzel looks out over the water where she sees Eugene seemingly sailing away from her, and then she looks forward to her "mother" standing there with spindly outstretched arms. She glances at what her heart knows was true love, and then she glances at this mother who has nothing but deceit in mind. If she follows Eugene, there could be risk. Maybe he will leave her and her heart will be broken, but maybe he will love her and her life will be filled with beauty and adventure. If she goes back into the arms of her "mother," she will surely face monotany and dullness trapped in her tower for the rest of her life. It's the most striking scene, I think. Sobbing, Rapunzel runs back into the arms of her mother, embracing a sad but safe and predictable life. Our adopted children? Don't they experience this same thing? Except they don't really have a choice in it. They look at us and maybe they've been told that we can give them a better life, but do they really know this is true? No. Do they trust us to take care of them and love them? No. Would they much rather remain in the predictable monotany and dullness that is institutional life? Maybe. Not because they think it is better, but because that is all they know. That life is safe. They understand that kind of existence.
When Ivelina first came home, I was convinced she hated me and wanted to make my life miserable. She did everything she could to defy and test and rebell. But, when I think about it, I can see that she we made this difficult choice for her. As she grieved the loss of her former life, the only life she knew, I'm sure she was also testing the waters of this new life to see if we really will love her, to see if we really will stick with her.
Russell Moore in Adopted for Life talks about when he and his wife picked up their boys from an Russian orphanage. He described driving away from the facility with both boys reaching back toward the rear window crying out for that only place of comfort they had ever known, be it the depressing "pit" that it was. Rapunzel ran back to that "pit" of a mother because it was the only concept she had of a mother. There have been many hard days, when my husband and I have said "Ya know, if we pulled up in front of her orphanage right now and gave the choice between us and that place, I'm not so certain she would choose to stay with us."
In the end, Rapunzel learns that she is truly the princess that was lost so many years ago, and the woman who took her away from her true mother and father gets what is coming to her. Rapunzel returns home and finally gets to experience what family and love are really like. This is where the Disney quality of this film overtakes the real life quality. In real life, it takes time to learn to love a new family whom you have never met. It takes time for forge bonds that last a lifetime. Disney leaves out that this transition from former life to new life is full of bumps and obstacles.
Our daughter was outside learning how to jump on her new trampoline today. She was squealing and slipping and falling with delight. She wasn't afraid of the trees and the grass, and she didn't mind me bouncing her high. Tonight she sat facing me as I dried her hair with the blow dryer. She leaned forward and buried her head into my robe. I kept drying the back of her hair as she wrapped her arms around me and hugged me. She looked up at me with those big brown eyes and said "I love you, Mama." I believe that was the first authentic "I love you" I've gotten from her since she came home on June 15.
These little "Disney" moments take time, but they do eventually come.
These little "Disney" moments take time, but they do eventually come.