That skirt’s too short.”
“Lights out, girls!”
“Did you spill that nail polish?”
The addition of Mackenzie* and Alicia* to our family brought heated wardrobe disagreements, sisterly arguments, late night chatty sleepovers, braiding hair (their braiding my hair; I’ve got zero braiding skills), and spilled nail polish. None of these things were part of my life before we met.
We had never parented a girl. I had given birth to three healthy and vibrant sons. My first 19 years of parenting were spent learning the scientific names of dinosaurs, organizing a rock and bug collection…and picking up Lego bits and pieces that seemed to multiply spontaneously. I enjoyed the frequent trips to the Smithsonian, and the abstract science projects in my son’s rooms.
The idea of parenting girls both excited and scared me, but I was ready to dive in to it. I wanted to fit in with them, probably as much as they wanted to fit in with me.
Trusting Hands (and Fingers & Toes)
Our first months together were an intimate transition, spending hours at a time doing whatever they wanted. My younger daughter did a lot of talking while my oldest concentrated on grooming. I made my ears and hair available to them both. We bonded over touch, entrusting each other with our limbs, hair, toes, and fingers.
When Mackenzie and Alicia came home, I owned one bottle of nail polish—light pink, almost nude, a barely-there kind of color. Since purchasing the bottle from a local drugstore, years before, it had lived at the back of my bathroom cabinet. Out it came, as we gave each other countless manicures and pedicures.
Being a mother of girls let me share a different side of myself. We snuggled on the couch as I introduced them to popular flicks I grew up with—Grease, Xanadu, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Little Shop of Horrors. When I would sing a line from a musical, “Little shop, little shoppa horrors, Bop-sh’bop…,” my sons would just roll their eyes. My girls, however, got me and embraced my inner musical geek. I got comfortable (maybe too comfortable) singing a show tune at any given moment because my new daughters would join in, instant back-up singers. And so our girl club was founded, on musicals and nail polish.
What Are Little Girls Made Of?
Before I met my daughters, I had tried to familiarize myself with girl culture. What I saw didn’t give me an optimistic outlook. The toys, clothes, and mindless TV shows were drenched in pink and purple. Would my daughters smell like vanilla-scented baby dolls and prance around under rainbows in constant poppy, boppy happiness?
I hoped to raise strong girls, not princess robots. I didn’t want to restrict their choices, but I did want to enhance their options. I wanted them to try on many different hats and be able to wear combat boots with style and poise.
Once the honeymoon period ended, I found out that my girls were strangely…normal. Sometimes they were happy, but they were also argumentative, stingy, moody, messy, and smelly. Sometimes they even hissed.
I met my oldest daughter as she was approaching adolescence. Puberty was knocking at the door, hard and fast, in between tween fashion, make-up, and hormones. I was overwhelmed at first, but have since learned to manage my daughter’s emotions and steer her away from the dark side into self-acceptance and the power of self-expression. I am with her as she’s learning how to grow up in this big and ever changing world.
Opening Up to Older Kids
As much as I have changed my daughters, they have changed me. For starters, Claire’s and I have a new relationship. I used to watch mothers and daughters through the doors of this mall fixture, picking out feathered earrings and sparkly hair clips, with a mixture of curiosity and disgust. My daughters have invited me into this jungle of consumerism, though I still reject a great deal of its plastic junk. Surprisingly, I have become a fan of Miley Cyrus. It’s not unusual to see us in the car, singing our hearts out to “Party in the U.S.A.” Perhaps, I might even let a One Direction notepad slip by? Maybe.
Some prospective parents choose not to adopt older children because they think they will have fewer years together; the glass is half empty. I could choose to be sad, reflecting that we didn’t have our daughters’ early years to bond; that they had to be abandoned by their mother in order to come into our lives. Angry, that my daughters had no choice in any of it. Their early lives were a mess, and while this was not their fault, neither did they have any control over it. Adoption gave my daughters and sons a new beginning and the opportunity to trust again.
To those parents who worry about missing out, I say: Your lives will be enriched in ways you could never imagine—the glass is half full, very full. Adopting older children has been one of the best decisions our family has ever made. Together we have become a new family, built on strong alliances with their biological families and our roots, and together we are all adopted. Families can bond—one fingernail at a time.
I’m happy to report that that lonely bottle of pale pink nail polish has a new home, too; my oldest daughter has acquired that one and many more, a rainbow of colors—more than she will be able to use in a lifetime.
*Names changed to preserve privacy.