Thursday, May 27, 2010

She Thinks She Can't

From the very first day I took Nina out of the orphanage I realized that there was a message that Nina had been living for all her life. A message that had devastated her possibilities and her future, but even worse, a message that she believed and obeyed.

"I can't."

The words came so easily in Ukrainian, and she quickly learned them in English too.

Nina grew up believing this lie, because it was said by the people that she knew and the people that she trusted. Unfortunately, these people believed that lie too.

The first time I heard her say this was when she was trying to get down the couch in our little Ukrainian apartment. She got down en her tummy, laid flat against the coach and began to wail, "I can't, I can't!" There was nothing scary about where she physically found herself, hugging the coach with every inch of her body. But she was so scared of letting go thinking she would fall off the couch. I grabbed her legs and turned them around, then lowered them to the ground. Panic took on a persona like I had never seen before. Even though I was holding her, and helping her, she had never done something like that before. The reality is, I knew she could do it. Physically she was capable, it was not difficult for her at all...but she was sure she couldn't do it.

The couch became a battle. But after two weeks, she could get down the couch on her own and I would cheer, clap, and jump for her every time. "You did it Nina! you can do it!"

"Nina did it!" She would reply, the delight and surprise on her face were balm for some of those hard days we had together.

At home, she climbs down the couch...and UP the couch. She is resourceful, she has figured out that all she needs is to get one of the sofa cushions, it gives her just enough "push" so she can grab on and pull herself up, swinging those legs like a professional gymnast (this girl has some serious abs, talk about the six pack I wish I had!)

All along we have said to her that she can, and that she will. If we know she physically is able to, we stop helping, because she needs to learn that she can. She has conquered couches, stairs, and sitting like a pretzel. All things that she couldn't do before.

Still being outside she freezes with fear. Her fear looks much like terror. She wants to go down the slide, but in a matter of seconds, she freezes up, looses all her body control, and will fall over. Her body control is locked up in her mind and we better catch her. Sometimes, sitting in a chair, something in her says "I can't do this" and she will wail, and all of a sudden she is frozen up, falling over the chair, a kid size chair, banging her head on the floor because she cannot even stop a fall. It is all in her mind, the same chair she sits on all day long, all of a sudden is her biggest fear.

Walking is a big one. We have been told that physically she should be able to walk, we see her and we know this is true, however, her mind seems so closed to the possibility. "I can't!" She says with tears in her eyes. She wants to, but she believes that she can't.

We try any way we can to get her to experience her body, to learn to feel it. I try to teach her to dance. "Shake your booty Nina!" I say while we all dance, "I can't!" she says sadly, but after a few days, she held on tight to the table and said with delight, "I can do it, I can do it! Nina shake her booty!" While moving her hips from side to side.

What a lie she has lived with. Even as we take steps forward, I know the lie remains. Slowly we are speaking truth to her, slowly she will begin to believe in herself.

Besides, she gets to be a part of the family where there are 2 sisters with special needs. With a sister, mom, and dad that believe they can and that they will. So as the current of those that have low expectations tries to knock them down, they are learning, and they will be able to say, "Oh yeah? Well watch me do it!"


  1. so much learned helplessness. at 6 Ben could do nothing for himself. I mean nothing. feed himself wipe his bottom dress or undress or even pick up a dropped toy! its a long slow haul but he is learning more every day of what he is capable of. This boy can dress/undress, brush his teeth, walk, talk, feed himself, working on putting on his own jacket, take care of his own bathroom needs, put on his shoes OVER AFOS! and do stairs too. its amazing what they can do once their brain finally realizes you really CAN do this! I hope Nina realises soon. Sophie doesnt like to be pushed to do things. it has to be her idea. its frustrating when you are trying to teach her something but in a day or teo you will turn around and see her trying to do that very thing she was so bucky about when you wanted her to do it. hang in there mama. its a tough road we go with these kids. I will walk any road I need to for them. even the hardest rockiest most forboding road. I know you would too.

  2. She'll learn Ellen! She's got a long life ahead of her and she's come so far already in just a few months. Someday the cries of "I can't" will be nothing but a distant memory.

  3. Yes she can! I am so proud of how far she has come.

  4. Anonymous7:58 AM

    I have been reading your blog for a while.. I found it while "blog surfing" the Reece's Rainbow blogs. This post made me smile, cry (good tears) and rejoice that Nina CAN do it! I am so proud of her and I don't really even know her. You have a beautiful family and you are a wonderful mother for encouraging your daughters (all of them) every step of the way.
    Thank you for documenting your family's journey.... I enjoy each time I see there is a new post because I know it is either going to make me smile, cry or enlighten me to something I just didn't know before.
    Looking forward to reading the "paragraph" in your life story....


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