By Book and By Touch
by Jen Hatmaker on July 29th, 2011

We've had Remy home for one week. Much has gone down in 168 hours. Some of it has been awesome. Some has been precious. Some hilarious. Some of it has made me consider meth.

Brandon and I are engaging a dance between two approaches. We are learning to discern the moments that require parenting by the book from those that call for parenting by touch. If we lean too far one way, we could end up with a little brown robot. Too far the other way, and we might produce a serial killer.

I already mentioned our first category of by-touch parenting, which pulled the sister and brothers deeper into the process than is often recommended. We've yet to regret this, even when Remy cried for Caleb from her Time Out perch, correctly identifying the softest target in the house to spring her from her prison.
She's no dummy.

But even for a free-spirit like me, other things are by the book, and by "the book" I mean "The Connected Child," my adoption bible, among others. For instance, we've had some family and a couple of friends in the house for little bits of time this week, and we watched with fascination as Remy regressed. Besides amping up to Level 10 Hyperactivity and asking to eat every twelve minutes, in place of all the words and phrases she learned this week, she substituted the oh-so-very-annoying phrase "ba-ba-ba" instead:

Pointing at (fill in the blank): "Bababa."
Asking for yet another granola bar: "Bababa."
Speaking to me: "Bababa." (What the freak, kid?? What happened to "Mommy"??)

I could literally see her anxiety coming out sideways. Who are these people? Are they taking me? Are they replacing me? Is this yet another chapter? And - predictably - shall I start charming them too in case they are my new people and I must win them over?

So we're going back to parenting this one by the book: a closed-door policy for a bit longer.

Sidebar: I ABSOLUTELY understand if you think we are overreacting. I remember thinking the exact same thing when I read about adoptive parents pulling the reins tight. "Good grief! Lighten up, spazoids! She's just ______ (being four, being silly, being naughty, being a kid)."

But now that I am learning my own daughter's nuances, I see that the babbling, the hyperactivity, the aggression, the food insecurity, the extreme affection...these are not adorable quirks; they are red flags. They reek of anxiety and uncertainty, especially in contrast to her progression during the rest of the week. They tell me: "I feel nervous and unsure, so I am going to act a little crazy and hope it's cute or charming or hilarious enough to keep me in safe territory."

By the book it is.

Other issues we are parenting by touch. We are splitting the fence between parenting trauma and parenting drama. (This is ALL parenting, is it not? When loved, adored, attended-to Gavin was six, he told me, "I feel like I'm only getting 1% of the attention in this house." The books may have called for some sort of hippy, lovey-dovey answer, but my bull radar stepped in first. My by-touch response: "Seriously? Are you kidding me with this? You're about to get 100% of the attention, and you are going to hate it, kid.")

For example, yes, Remy has endured abandonment, and she has suffered more in her five years than I have in my entire life, but she can also wield some DRAMA, and guess what, lambs? Mama don't play like that.

Notably, bedtime. The very nanosecond we start the routine, she says, "Mommy? Ah-sleep-ah-no. Ah-sleep-ah-no" while wagging her finger and feigning sobs that miraculously have no actual tears.

Let me insert some dialect commentary: Remy's Amharic sounding English (Amharish? Englaric?) adds lots of consonants where they don't belong. Specifically, "ah" in front or after a word, like a little Italian.

Ah-Remy
Syd-ah-ney.
Ah-sleep-ah-no.
Dis is ah-no. (Applied to 98% of food options.)

And most notably, the lesson we reteach hourly, complete with soft hand gesture down the side of her face as a cue: "Gentle." As in, "Remy, be gentle with the dog." "Be gentle with Gavin." "Be gentle with the book." "Be gentle with your words."

Or as she says it: Gen-ah-tle.
Genital hands.

So when the fake tears start, I watch for legit red flags, find only thespian-worthy staging, and I basically call BS. Heaven as my witness, when I firm up and shut down the melodrama and resist the hysterics, she finally bursts out laughing, gives up the ruse, and says, "OK! Good-ah-night, Mommy!" She then falls asleep immediately, and - don't hate - slept until 9:36 a.m. today.

By touch.

But back to parenting by the book. Adopting 101 instructs (demands) that parents keep their children connected to their country. It is basically inferred that if you do a poor job of keeping their culture alive in your home, you will contract scabies and lose your salvation.

So while Gavin and Sydney were taking a much deserved break at a friend's house, as they have been Remy's indentured servants for a week, me and Brandon and Caleb and Remy went to Aster's Ethiopian Restaurant yesterday to pick up some berbere and injera to jar the new daughter off her peanut butter cracker fixation.

The first time I went to Aster's was in January 2010, the day I mailed our adoption application to AWAA. Four of my girlfriends, who made up part of The Council for "7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess" came with me (you'll just have to preorder the book to make sense of this). Not one of us had ever had a solitary bite of Ethiopian food or had the first clue about any of it.
We tried everything like big girls.

We fumbled over everything. What did she call this? Injury bread? Indentured? Angelina? And what is this hot red stuff? Burberry? Burby? Berburny? We didn't know how to tear our injera off and scoop the food into our mouths; we used forks like clueless Texans. And *someone* who I won't mention spit some food into her napkin when Aster wasn't looking.

Okay, it was me.

Fast forward a year and a half later, and we walked back into the restaurant with our very own daughter, home five days from Ethiopia. Because it was 3:00, past the lunch rush but before the dinner crowd, Aster and her whole extended family were gathered in the middle of the restaurant eating family dinner. We were the only other four people in there.

If you've been to Ethiopia or are familiar with the culture, they love their children, so Remy was an immediate star. Everyone started fawning over her, kissing her on both cheeks and speaking to her in Amharic, which, gauging by her face, she could not have been more shocked to hear in America than if I started communicating to her in chicken squawks.

Before we could even make the triple-kiss-on-the-cheek rounds, Aster had filled a huge family platter of injera, lentils, chicken legs, beef...um...stuff, greens, and of course, the hard boiled egg and set it down in front of us, inviting us into family dinner.
The cells have been burned off the inside of our mouths.

My heart almost burst into a thousand pieces. I marveled, because this time it all felt so...familiar. I know what injera is. I know how to eat this food. I remember these smells. I've been to this land. I've seen this artwork. I know how to greet Ethiopians. I understand some of the words they are saying. I've shared a family plate of food like this. I recognize their features. I can talk about the regions of Ethiopia with these folks. I happily reported on the weather in Addis, since I was just there last week, and we all groooooooaned, because we're stuck in Austin where it is hot as the devil, and for the love of Michael, don't we all wish we were back in Africa where it is sixty degrees and lush green and lovely and raining, and oh my goodness - sigh - don't we all just loooooove Ethiopia?

We stayed for an hour, just us and Aster and her family.

She packed up a bunch of food for us, refused our money, *kind of* instructed me on how to make her lentils ("Add garlic and shiro..." "How much, Aster?" "Just some."), and sent us out the door with kisses.

This is why we will forever keep Ethiopia alive in our home. The people are as beautiful as the country. Our children were born to a people with rich heritage and an ancient legacy. Their land is part of the seat of civilization, and their history is noble and strong. Ask anyone who has been there: Ethiopia is special. The kingdom of God is evidenced throughout the country, through their love and faith and joy and hospitality.

So we'll continue to parent by book and by touch, preserving the important parts of the story and inventing the rest as we go. We'll find the balance between guiding Remy into her new life and allowing her true self to always remain. We'll figure out what is trauma and what is just personality, and hopefully we'll have the wisdom to nurture one without squashing the other. But so far, I'd say her personality is in no immediate danger. Wouldn't you agree?

By book and by touch...you know what I mean? Am I the only one who throws out the books sometimes when my instincts call bull butter?


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24 Comments

AKH - July 30th, 2011 at 11:39 AM
I love it all. I especially love "if you do a poor job of keeping their culture alive in your home, you will contract scabies and lose your salvation". Who wouldn't? I can't believe I have become one of your crazy fans.


Jen Hatmaker - July 30th, 2011 at 5:28 PM
Don't let Lindsay hear you say that. Can we still plan a sister trip in the future? You promised.

Heather - July 30th, 2011 at 12:09 PM
You are amazing!
jolynn - July 30th, 2011 at 12:30 PM
You are not the only one and I think more parents should do that now adays :). I love reading your stories and can't wait to hear more :)
Marla Taviano - July 30th, 2011 at 12:33 PM
I would pay to read your blog. Storing up your wisdom (and BS) for someday...
Jil - July 30th, 2011 at 12:35 PM
I love the way you are living your life out loud. I admire your style of parenting by the book and by touch. It reminds me to parent my daughter according to her "bent". If my Heavenly Father guides me in this way, then I should do so for her. Remy is adorable and her personality is so precious. I love the tearless crying fits and the laughter that followed. Soon the lentil dish will be second nature, like Mac n cheese, and you'll have Remy, Ben, and the entire Hatmaker clan enjoying a Texan-Ethiopian meal. (Tex-Mex is so last season!)
Carolyn Jones - July 30th, 2011 at 12:36 PM
I think I have said it before, but it bears repeating.....you never cease to amaze me Woman! How you manage to know just how to handle this child
Jennifer - July 30th, 2011 at 1:20 PM
Oh my word, we totally throw to book out at times. Which, for a Type A personality like me, is terrifying. Like flying a trapeze with no net. But there have been times I've ignored the nudge and stuck to the book and I've seen the defeat in my children's eyes. Those times make it a tad easier to parent by touch when needed. Thanks for a great post!
Nancy Z - July 30th, 2011 at 4:12 PM
"bull butter", I think you have coined a new phrase. I love you and your family soooo much and pray for you all the time. Hugs to each one of you and especially your precious new daughter.
Allison Garrett - July 30th, 2011 at 4:28 PM
Thanks for sharing. I'm taking notes (already have the Connected book)! Gentle hands - that made me laugh out loud! You are doing a fab job. Keep it up.
B Crump - July 30th, 2011 at 4:30 PM
Love it. You've got me contemplating the ways in which we "parent" others around us with the abiding love and grace of Christ - by book and by touch.
Ashley - July 30th, 2011 at 4:50 PM
First of all, genital hands? That's priceless! Second, this sounds like such wisdom. Ask and receive, right? I am not even parenting my own kids, that I birthed, this well.
amy - July 30th, 2011 at 6:33 PM
Wow, just wow! Your humor and faith and discernment in knowing which is needed - by book or by touch are so inspiring to me! Thank you for putting these amazing words out there for me to read.
Jocelyn Sinclair - July 30th, 2011 at 8:52 PM
Jen, it is truly a blessing to read your blogs and how you and your family are so transparent. We will be planning our family trip to Austin in the next couple of months and I would love to meet you and your family and give you some pointers on doing Remy's hair. Take care and my God continue to bless you with wisdom while caring for his creations.
naomi - August 1st, 2011 at 2:43 PM
i did a triple read of the caption "genital hands"
wow. so refreshing to see a women who isn't suffocating in religiosity. great post
Lan - August 2nd, 2011 at 2:29 PM
your blog was referred to me by Laura Jennings and i am an avid fan.
when you say that ethiopia is special, oh you speak such truth. that land is so beautiful and wonderous, too bad i was too young to appreciate it fully.
i so enjoy reading your story, of your days as you raise Remy with your incredible family.
Shiann - August 4th, 2011 at 3:52 PM
Keep up the good work! I have recently been to the training taught by Karyn Purvis, the author of Connected Child. She would be proud, I think! I look forward to reading your work!

Many blessings from an adoptive mom and counselor,
Katie Patel - August 5th, 2011 at 9:05 AM
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for writing this. We are totally going through the same thing with our two girls (India) and every time we do something "by touch" we look at each other and go "Karyn Purvis would hate this but...."...it is such a crazy dance! And we, too get the "uh" stuff..."I-like-UH-no this", "Uh-sleepy-no"...etc.
Please keep writing, this is so encouraging to hear the real deal by other adoptive parents!
Amy E. - August 6th, 2011 at 7:35 AM
Oh what a post!!! Oh what a family you have!! So much fun to hear about and soooo blessed to read about you all. Love your attitude
Molly Shockley - August 10th, 2011 at 8:51 PM
I love ya girl. Oh how incredible you are at writing all this out. Mercy. That's talent. Its like I'm just sitting on the couch right there with you. Thanks for sharing. Sending our love!
Terrie - September 8th, 2011 at 12:25 PM
Hi Jen, I just discovered you after having your "after the airport" post forwarded to me. I can relate so well to your story. I also live in Austin right around the corner from your church. We have two adopted children from China. My daughter is our "handful". Wanted to pass on to you the book Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control by Heather Forbes and Bryan Post. Both Heather and Bryan have websites with lots of great resources also. I have The Connected Child, have been to therapy for over a year...and this approach has helped us more than anything. We are seeing our little girl emerge out of the fear and anxiety. She also has a tic disorder and sensory integration disorder which also helps to explain her fear and anxiety. You may want to look in to sensory integration issues if you haven't already. I have enjoyed reading your blog. Will keep your family in my prayers. I go to Bannockburn and one of my friends said you have spoken at our retreats. I haven't been able to do much since we adopted our little girl over 4 years ago so I have not been to any of the retreats in a while. God Bless You!
Katie - September 21st, 2011 at 9:55 PM
Oh boy can I relate! We brought home our 3 kids at once into the middle of our oldest daughter's birthday party! Talk about a parenting by the book opportunity we missed! 18 months later, we have more moments when it's sheer DRAMA than serious anxiety, but they still are there. I love your term "bull butter"! People who are familiar with our kids stories get all mushy if we discipline in front of them (as if anyone every died from a time out!). Those kids know exactly who to perform for. But by the same token, they think our kids all need ritalin when that anxiety of a new place kicks in and they can't stay in a chair or get whiplash for looking for exits or who might be coming in to take them. Our son freaked in a pizza place recently that some people were leaving their kid. He's yelling, "They're leaving him!" across the restaurant repeatedly. Actually it was someone else's kid the people had been talking too but he was so hypervigilant that all he saw this kid getting left behind! Makes for some interesting looks! You guys are definitely on the right path and remember that it does get easier. For months we kept baby gates in our kids bedroom doors although they were 4 and 6. That way we knew where they were and could limit access to things that could hurt them. Suddenly one day I realized that we hadn't needed them in a couple weeks and that the kids had learned certain limits and were actually abiding by them! Very freeing! Our family will be praying for yours as you travel this journey that is frequently exausting but increasingly joyful!
Lisa - September 29th, 2011 at 5:05 AM
Ah, yes. Thank you. Our three from foster care became ours in July. They are dumb like foxes sometimes. Whatever drama has been played into before, they continue to try it repeatedly. My struggle is finding the fine line between playing the victim and true need. Appreciate your posts so very much.
Lisa - September 29th, 2011 at 5:31 AM
BTW- LOVE the Bull Butter. In our house we call it Baloney Juice. :)
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