Welcome, Mamma Crew, to another chaotic, exciting, but always beautiful day of an older mom like you!
So, today I want to talk to you about Dora. When Dora came to live with us, we truly underestimated the challenges before. We thought she had spent time in our home before, and we knew what to expect. The reality was that we had seen “Vacation Dora,” not Dora in her everyday life, okay? So she came to us at eleven and a half, and it was hard not to love her immediately. I mean this girl’s mom, and I were pregnant at the same time, and we gave birth in the same city, and I have pictures of Dora from the first days of her life. In fact, I think I might have been even the first person to take pictures of her. And I have these lovely pictures of the three girls, my twins, Emmi and Andy, and Dora together in their first Halloween costumes, their first Christmas outfits. So, she’s always been part of our lives. And I love Dora’s mom.
She’s like the little sister I always wanted. The sister I always dreamed of, and the friend that builds me up. I’m going to say that she is my best friend in the top three (with a shout out to my best friend in San Diego and my best friend in North Carolina, I don’t want them to feel left out cause I adore them too!). So, stepping in and helping her out with her kids felt right. Felt perfect. And I always wanted to have more kids.
And so, I thought this was going to be easy breezy Japanesey. But guess what? (Oh boy, I just dated myself up, that’s a phrase we used to use in the ’80s). Anything truly important in life. Anything truly worth having never comes easy. And this turned out to be no different.
What was the challenge? Dora came to us with a very worldly attitude, a very adult attitude. She had been an only child for seven years. She had always been surrounded by adults, and her mom was working full time, long hours, sometimes seven days a week. And couldn’t give her the attention that she wanted to give her or that Dora needed. So, this was an opportunity for Dora to have a full-time mom.
But I don’t think that Dora initially wanted to have a full time mom. I think the idea of a full-time mom was a nice one, but having one is a totally different story. Especially one that’s watching you constantly and supervising your outings, your interactions, your actions, your friendships. This was a totally different situation for her.
Additionally, in her hometown, she had been on the path to becoming a bully. She could be very aggressive. She was definitely very domineering, and part of that wasn’t just her. It was the culture among the kids around her. Additionally, her education, while good, had its limitations. She was doing pretty well in Math, but in the other subjects, she would often say to her mom, “The teacher didn’t explain it to me,” “The teacher didn’t tell me. I didn’t know about it.” And when mom was working, anywhere from twelve to sixteen hours a day, it was impossible for mom to keep track of all those things.
Now, comes in a full-time mom, that’s homeschooling you, and none of those excuses apply (although she did try them, by the way, I thought it was kinda cute myself)! She also lacked a father figure. Her mom is a single mom, and she was trying to work full time to economically take care of her kids and trying to do right by her kids emotionally, and it was hard. There were just not enough hours in the day.
I think one of the most difficult things for me to handle initially, was her looks. This girl has beautiful large eyes, but if looks could kill, this girl would have murdered me several times in that first year. The first twelve months were so difficult because she put up a wall, she wouldn’t communicate, and then she would look at me like she wanted to just fulminate me in that spot. It was a terrible feeling. I was used to my daughters communicating with me constantly, and so, I could gauge what the next step needed to be. But in the case of Dora, I had no idea! None! Because she would just clam down and give me the death ray.
Whenever I corrected her, she would complain to the kids that I was not on her side. Her idea of me being on her side meant I had to agree with her actions. And sometimes it was just impossible to agree with her actions, like when she stepped all over Andy’s toys, or when she was hitting the tetherball really hard and hitting other kids in the face, or on the arms, or just being overly aggressive. She didn’t understand that the kids wanted to play with her, and playing requires her action. She wanted to be out there dominating constantly. Things always had to be her way, and that was the only way she felt accepted. If you agreed with her. And she wasn’t getting that, she wasn’t getting that for me as a mother. She wasn’t getting that from Andy and Emmi as sisters. And she wasn’t getting that from the other kids that we interact with during our homeschool outings and days.
I think the most shocking statement Dora ever made to me was (after making her sisters completely miserable and sitting down with her) she said, “Well, being mean is fun!” Being mean is fun. And I was stumped. What do you say to that? Of course, I ran and I talked to a child psychologist. And she said that is a projection of insecurity. But how do you begin to deal with it? To diffuse it, to change it, when she’s getting gratification from it?
Fortunately, something really unexpected happened around that time which was, we sent her home to spend time with her biological family (let me rephrase that, we’re also biological family). Home to her biological mother. And she had the opportunity to spend time with some family members, who really enjoy teasing. But they forget that she is a child. She’s not an adult, and this is heavy-duty teasing. Consistently. Nonstop. Day in and day out. And you know what? It finally dawned on Dora, that being mean is not fun when you are on the receiving end. It’s not fun at all.
And that’s when we saw her attitude begin to break. She also began to notice that when she wasn’t being so aggressive, the kids were more willing to interact with her. And she stopped being as defensive because, in the past, she was constantly criticizing the other kids. The reality is that, as human beings, we are not perfect. But we can reach a great understanding by communicating with one another, rather than judging one another constantly, and she definitely began to learn that as she communicated more with the kids. They began to like her more, which meant she felt better about herself. And in turn, she liked the kids more. The walls slowly began to crack, okay? I began to see greater interactions between her and the other kids healthier interactions.
I think if I could see a silver lining to this pandemic, it’s that when the small changes really collided, it became a bigger change. The girls had to spend (and are still spending) a lot of time with each other. Time, that in the past, they didn’t need to spend with one another because our home is nine thousand square feet. They had friends. They had a lot of activities they could be doing. So, everybody was running in different directions.
We went from nine thousand square feet and being incredibly socially active, to eighteen hundred square feet, and being only socially active with each other. They’ve definitely gotten closer. Andy and Dora, who seemed to be like oil and water. You can get them in the same room but they refuse to mix, actually spent a lot of time cosplaying and really enjoying each other. They understand each other at a greater level than they understand Emmi (which is not that I’m saying Emmi’s left out cause she’s not.) She’s included. She’s often invited to participate in their cosplay adventures. And if you want to see them online, you can find them on TikTok “@andy.cosplay”, or “@angelica_ham13”, if you want to see their cosplay adventures.
Emmi and Dora now take dance together (okay, via Zoom, but at least they are in an activity together, they both greatly enjoy it). And so, you see them slowly building these strong bonds that I think are going to follow them for the rest of their lives.
She’s also started to care more about her grades. I don’t know if it’s in part because her sisters do so well in school and it’s a matter of pride. Or if it’s because she finally has a dad looking over her shoulder, asking about her grades, asking to see her report cards, questioning her when her grades are not up to par. And anything up below to a B is not up to far in our family. So, he sits down with her. Talks to her. Not only about the meaning behind her grades but what her grades could mean to her future. Her future plans.
And she shares an entrepreneurial streak (like her daddy). And I think that allows them to connect with one another, in a way that she does not connect with me. I’m a newbie to this entrepreneurial road, and to be honest with you, I was not always quite sure of how I feel about it.
I don’t think we’d realized what a difference we had made until her birthday. For the twin’s birthday, we got them e-bikes, okay? The original idea was that we’re going to take the entire family to see Hamilton in New York (but of course, the pandemic hit). And even if the shows had not been canceled we probably wouldn’t have gone, given the health situation. But shows were canceled and our idea of making their thirteenth birthday truly special for the three girls was gone.
So, they kept talking, joking around about having cars. Well, I said, let’s do the best next thing. And we got them e-bikes. But we didn’t get Dora an e-bike in June when the twins had their birthday because, well, it wasn’t her birthday. We decided to wait until September when her birthday rolled around. She didn’t react at that time. But when her birthday rolled around and we gifted her an e-bike as well, she burst into tears! I don’t know if she thought that we were going to treat her differently, and this was a vindication that she wasn’t being treated differently. Or if she realized that we love her. And we’re going to treat her the same way that we treat the twins.
I don’t know what it was, I know that it was the first time she cried in my arms, and I know that it’s a significant move in our relationship. A positive move. A momentum building move. One that allows us to get closer, become closer and grow in a relationship. One that I’m definitely going to take advantage of.
I know I’ve moved up in status because it’s Facebook official now, okay? I’m her favorite aunt, and she can’t take it back! So, we’re definitely moving forward. Hopefully, one day she’ll feel comfortable having two moms. But until that day, I’ll take what I’ve got.
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