Cava loves the song "Let It Go" from Frozen and sings it constantly. Whenever he hears it playing, he will run into the room and begin singing along. I could tell from how he sang it that he had a real connection with this character and I can't help but wonder how much he identifies with Elsa. Like Elsa in the film, he doesn't like being different and he hides his differences (such as speaking Ukrainian, which is something he can still do because I heard him talking in his sleep one night when I went to check on him and he was speaking in Ukrainian).
Cava still missed Ukraine and his friends, and what is happening there makes him very sad. But he also realizes that his background sets him apart from all of us. He feels alone because people still have trouble understanding him speak, that he doesn't have the same experiences as his classmates, and that he struggles more at school than he perceives his classmates to be. I know from communicating with his teacher, that sadness can overtake Cava and that he can get frustrated and anxious about schoolwork he finds difficult, especially with doing crafts. When I talk to him about this, he sees things through a negative lens about himself and does truly believe that all of the other kids can do things without any problem.
One of the questions we get asked most frequently by people is, "How is Cava's English?" And it has amazed me how quickly he has acquired English, but he had to out of survival. Sink or swim method. But he still gets frustrated when he says something and someone doesn't understand what he's saying, especially if it's one of us. It is difficult to come from another country and have to learn a new language, particularly when there are cultural references, slang, and sarcasm or any type of playing with words. That is one of the reasons that Cava doesn't respond to the poetry of Shel Silverstein the way I did as a child or as Benjamin used to. It's also hard to be the only child in a class who struggles with speaking or to have people constantly asking him to speak Ukrainian. They don't understand that he doesn't want to because that would mean he was different and he doesn't want to be perceived as different. One of the reasons he misses Ukraine is that there he was like all of the other kids around him, in terms of language. Here he has to try and find the right word to say what he wants to say and often can use wrong grammar, such as "Me want . . ." Because of this, Cava can also be very literal and does not get abstract thought.
Dr. Boris Gindis writes that internationally adopted children often feel rejection by their peers because their behavior is "quirky," "odd," or "strange" to other kids their age. It is often difficult for the internationally adopted child to "acquire new social norms and skills." Certainly for Cava, it's harder because he comes from a background where he was bullied by other children and that was psychologically damaging to him and has caused him to have anxiety around other children. It's also helped reinforce his negative self-image and contributes to his loneliness. He talks about his friends at school and he tells me how much he loves his school, but still there is that feeling of isolation there.
He has come from a background of rigid routines, a turnover of caregivers, and the transfer from one institution to another. All of this helps to reinforce a sense of instability and a lack of control. He had no real possessions of his own and the few things he thought of as his, were taken from him when he left the boarding school. Dr. Gindis writes that children who grow up in orphanages "live in a 'reactive' mode, surviving one day at a time." He goes on to tell how this can create "emotional volatility" in these children. Certainly this shows itself when Cava will get so frustrated that he declares in utter defeat, "I can't do it!" And when he displays these outbursts he is aware that it only makes him stand out more from those around him.
It's obvious from the way he watches Benjamin when he has a friend over to play that Cava longs for close companionship but does not know how to have this. Whenever another child has come over to play with him, he will play with them for awhile before seeking out adult attention or just going off to be on his own to work on math worksheet or a puzzle. It's easier for him to solve those problems than the one of social interaction. Being an extremely shy and introverted bookworm, I can empathize completely as I would take a book everywhere I went so that I would have my escape, my Linus' blanket.
At home, he feels jealous that Benjamin has always been here and, as he put it, "has more stuff." I have told Cava numerous times that I wish he had have been with us from birth, but that we are thankful that we have him in our family now and that he is one of us. He has said that he feels loved here, but that he still doesn't feel like he fits in. It must be difficult to accept being in a family when one has spent so many years of one's life not having that, of suffering so much loss and rejection. Psychologists say that children feel the impact of that loss the most between the ages of 7 and 12 because they are capable of understanding the meaning of being adopted. In many ways, this puts them outside of their peers and their family members because they are set apart and are different. We try to ensure that he understands that this is a positive and not a negative, that he was chosen and desperately wanted by our family and how sad we would be without him in it.
In Frozen, in the end, Elsa was accepted and loved, especially when she could accept and love herself for who she was and did not have to hide what was in her any longer. This is what I pray will happen to Cava, too.
To read Dr. Gindis' article on "Difficulties With Socialization and Peer Interaction in Older Internationally Adopted Children," go to the following link: