Diary of an adoption homepage
One of the biggest issues in adoption is determining the age of your child. In some developing countries, birthdays aren’t the milestones that they are in the West. When a child has been brought to an orphanage after they have been abandoned (as my daughter was), the staff can only rely on hearsay and gut feelings to determine how old they are.
This was the case with my little girl. Whilst I had been told by her carers that she was going on nine, her appearance—frail and slight—didn’t point to this. Her behaviour also caused confusion. Her independence and autonomy suggested a headstrong pre-adolescent whilst at other times she displayed the neediness of an infant. I learnt that this is quite common; institutionalised kids are forced to develop acute survival instincts and shoulder responsibilities, whilst the lack of proper nurturing can lead to bouts of baby-type regression. Her arrested physical development (she was still losing milk teeth when she arrived) may be caused by severe malnutrition when she was younger.
There are forensic-type tests you can have done that can determine a child’s age with accuracy, but for me they weren’t a priority. Getting her into a school at the right level was. The Department of Ensenyament was sympathetic when I explained my situation, but told me, rather ludicrously, that she would have to start at P3, which corresponded to the age given on her passport, and that finding her a place could take some weeks.
Although she had attended school in her own country, I knew (first-hand) the level of education she had received, and that she would get lost in the system here if put in with older kids. With only a few days to go before the new school year started, I did the rounds (with her in hand) in my local area. I found a concertada with one place left in P1 willing to take her despite the age glitch (I think the Head of Studies simply melted when he saw her). When he told me that the teacher spoke English (as my daughter does), I didn’t think twice.
She was incredibly excited the first day. After being here for two weeks, she was dying to make friends and simply ‘belong’. The night before, she chose what she would wear (a neat pleated skirt, similar to the school uniforms girls wear in her own country) and packed and re-packed her new school bag.
It was a gorgeous sunny morning when we entered the scrum of the school drop-off. Almost before I could kiss her goodbye, a monitor came up to us and took her hand, leaving me at the gate bawling through mixed emotions of worry, pride, relief and sheer joy.