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anne-of-green-gables

Anne of Green Gables: A Short Bit About Adopting an Older Child

Anne-of-green-gables-book-coverI fell in love with Anne of Green Gables while in college. I never read the books in high school, dismissing them because of the romance-y looking covers. I quickly realized my mistake and have read the series several times. I have visited Anne’s beloved Prince Edward Island, Canada.  I attended the Anne play in Charlottetown, and was in heaven as I sat with my fellow Anne-fans, finishing up with a raspberry cordial at a nearby restaurant.

A mother and daughter were seated next to us, and the girl, probably about 14, was making it quite obvious that she didn’t want to be there and that the whole thing was “stupid.” Her poor mother finally had her moment when Anne’s beloved adopted guardian Matthew died suddenly of a heart attack. Soon, there were sniffles all around, and the young girl, ready to roast her mother, looked around, and sat back, quietly. I think she must have finally realized that hey, my mom’s not crazy. This is a thing; this Anne of Green Gables.

I relate this story because I remember thinking at the time, “of course my daughter will love all things Anne, especially if she’s adopted.” My husband and I had always toyed with the idea of adopting, knowing that there are so many children out there waiting for families. After having struggled with fertility issues for many years, we decided to adopt. If the child was a girl, she would probably be a lot like Anne; love books, have a great imagination, maybe get into a few scrapes here and there, but have a good heart and a great capacity to give and receive love.

Fast forward about 5 years… my husband receives a call from his great-aunt… “I know someone who has a little girl who is looking for a family.” This girl, who was just 6 years old, had been left by her birth mother at 2 years with a man who wasn’t her bio-dad and was now dying of Parkinson’s. It was an emergency situation; the man’s ex-sister-in-law (our introduction to the complex relationships involved with adoption) was anxious to find a place for her; the child was currently living with them. We hired a social worker and a lawyer, and began preparing for a child to move in with us.

We had just moved from a studio apartment to our first home, a 2 bedroom townhouse. In addition, this sister-in-law happened to live in the same town, so the little girl, who was attending Kindergarten, wouldn’t have to change schools. It seemed like an ideal situation: a couple desperately wanting to be parents, and a child who desperately needed a family. We began visiting with her and having her visit us. A pixie of a child, with huge blue eyes and close-cropped hair, she was adorable. She had a huge, toothy smile. She wanted to call us “Mom and Dad” right away. After a few months of visits and overnights, we took the big step and had her move in with us.

As we dealt with the lawyer, social worker, and adoption agency, we had to deal with something which, for me, was even bigger… my preconceived notions of adoption and parenting. The little girl was welcomed into our home and she seemed to feel comfortable there immediately, claiming this and that as “hers,” and generally making herself at home. My expectations of my adopted child being like Anne Shirley… an avid reader (like myself), a great imagination, a propensity for getting into scrapes, with a good heart and a great capacity to give and receive love, like the orphan starved for love that she was, were about to be challenged.

In Anne of Green Gables, Anne Shirley also made herself very comfortable when she first met Matthew and subsequently Marilla. She had her own gable room. Anne Shirley came with her own last name, as did Our Anne. She loathed and hated her red, red hair… hair that was to torment her throughout adolescence. Our Anne had extremely thick, curly hair which continues to torment her to this day, but which I personally think is beautiful. Like Anne Shirley, Our Anne had a vivid imagination… and like Anne Shirley in the scene where she is “confessing” to Marilla that she has lost Marilla’s precious brooch, Our Anne caused herself (and her parents) a lot of trouble with half-truths, fantasies, and outright fabrications. Our Anne’s “confessions” always seemed to be heard by someone in power (teacher, principal, etc.) and were always duly investigated. We had a rather strained but working relationship with the elementary school Our Anne was attending.

Our Anne had as much a capacity for getting into trouble as Anne Shirley did. The only difference is, Our Anne’s “scrapes” tended to be more like lesions… whatever she did was done wholeheartedly. There were bullying incidents, stealing incidents, and lots of behavioral incidents as this child tried to make her way in her new life. As an educator for over 20 years, I developed a very healthy respect for parents and the job of parenting. After some time, I also realized that I was being gifted with a unique perspective. Going through my daughter’s struggles with her gave me more understanding for the plight of adopted children in both their families and in classroom settings.

As much as Anne Shirley loved reading, our daughter despised it. We read to her every night (which she liked well enough) but our attempts to interest her in reading for its own sake were futile. I tried to convince her that reading would open up a whole new world for her… but, like Anne Shirley, Our Anne has her own mind and that mind was made up… books were “dust.” Sigh!

Anne Shirley was a love-starved child, as was Our Anne. However, their reactions to this issue were quite different. Anne Shirley was friendly, open and ready to love and be loved. Our daughter struggled to touch or be touched in any way, and didn’t know how to receive our love. This was such a tough thing to deal with, as I am an affectionate person. I had to satisfy my urge for affection with a pat on the shoulder or, most often, words of approbation.

Ten years later, our girl still struggles with some of these issues, and some new ones that keep cropping up. In the Anne of Green Gables series, Anne Shirley had some traumatic experiences that we know about, and probably some that we don’t. Our daughter had a truly traumatic early childhood and, to be expected, bears the scars to this day.

Adopting an older child taught me many valuable things: differences don’t have to sever us, we can both accept each other and celebrate our strengths, love is an action word… and it is not always easy to carry out, especially when it falls on deaf ears, the change in myself is as remarkable as the change in my daughter… I am much lighter on the preconceived notions and far more accepting of things as they come. And I have her to thank for that!

Recommended Reading:

Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew, by Sherrie Eldridge

The Post-Adoption Blues: Overcoming the Unforeseen Challenges of Adoptionby Karen J. Foli Ph.D. and John R. Thompson M.D.

Carla Howard is the Senior Circulation Assistant/Marketing and Media Assistant at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Read Carla’s column in the August 16th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Lydia Sampson

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