So, last week we packed up our little Squirrel and hit the road. By now, we were old pro’s at traveling together and navigating the potential stress of hectic airports. She had her stuffy. Lollypop in her mouth. Mama Lynn’s hand. Special snacks in tow. We were ready. What I was not ready for was how beautifully, generously, and authentically my AZ family would embrace her when we arrived. Here are 6 things they did to make my girl feel like their girl…even if they aren’t related by blood.
Throw a birthday party:
So my baby girl’s real birthday is in September. Of course she’ll get the phone calls, gifts, and if we’re lucky—even a visit from Nana this fall. But it was May and her little cousin was turning 2. They knew it would be hard for Squirrel to share the spotlight with the cutest and funniest baby in town. The answer? Include our little girl and celebrate her “Arizona birthday” complete with a cake and presents for HER. Include her in everything. Make her feel special. This was not my idea…I assure you. My sisters and Mom just went for it. Squirrel was over-the-moon happy to be included.
Take her fishing:
Or whatever your family tradition is. I grew up spending weeks at a time in the White Mountains of Arizona. Learning to fish, reading in the shade, and diving in the tent each afternoon when the rain came make up some of my favorite childhood memories. Seeing my little girl get those same chances to connect to her new family legacy gave me so much joy. She hasn’t caught a fish yet, but when she does, her plan is to name it, give it a hug and throw it back!
Insist on babysitting:
The week before we flew out, my mom called and insisted that we let her keep Squirrel for a whole day so my wife & I could go do whatever we wanted. I actually hesitated. We’d had a hard few weeks…our daughter might get dysregulated because of travel…what if she acts rudely or disrespects my mom? “If I have to, I’ll call you but I’m sure I won’t need to. You two work so hard to be good parents to her. You deserve a break, ” she said. She was right.
Homework help and special notes:
Our little one has LOTS of teenage cousins. When she sees them, she sort of loses her mind with excitement. They were incredibly patient with her. They kept saying yes and did all kinds of things with her. We missed school for the trip, so one big cousin helped her with math. Do you think she threw a fit like she does with me? Of course not. She loved being helped by her big cousin, the college student. Another cousin opened a journal from us as a graduation present. She asked Squirrel to write a little note inside that she could always remember her by. Do you think our daughter with attachment challenges wrote “I love you!” Um…yes. So so sweet.
Teach her to swim:
Or help her reach some other milestone that she’ll always remember you for. Auntie gave our little one diving rings and coached her like crazy until she would swim down for one. We spent hours and hours in pools on our trip, just like I did growing up.
Ask about her special needs:
Leaving family and coming home is always the hardest part, right? If you are a little person who’s had tons of loss, these good-byes are enough to nock the wind out of you. My 20-year-old niece amazed me when she asked, “What’s the best way for me to say good-bye to her? I can tell that she’s upset.” I coached her about staying calm and upbeat. She gave the big hug and assured Squirrel that they’d play again soon.
We got to head back to Oakland with tons of good memories and a deeper sense of attachment and support. No family is perfect, but I give the Kenny’s a huge gold star and tons of gratitude. They could teach a course in making an adopted child feel welcomed and accepted. All adopted kids (and their parents) deserve this kind of love!