We knew from the moment we saw the first photos of Elvie that she was an engaged baby with a strong personality. By the time we arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to adopt her and bring her home with us, she was quite sick and weak, but we could still see a spark in her. We didn’t know just what it would become, but we knew that she clearly had enough determination to keep going until we were able to get to her and get her back to the US for medical treatment. As she has grown, her personality has emerged and gotten stronger. She is happy, and friendly, and she brushes off hurts more easily than anyone I know. Hearing that, you might think she is easygoing, but you would be wrong. Because Elvie has opinions, and she does not like it when others disagree with those opinions. And I love this about her.
I think that Elvie has had preferences for a long time, but she was unable to voice them. Then she started to make connections, to understand that if she looked at something longer, we’d know she wanted it, or if she batted it away, that meant that she was not fond of it. As she’s become more and more mobile, she can go get things she wants, and swing harder when she bats something away – or throws it! Some of the words she knows best are mine, no, and stop. When she is being stubborn, those words and the accompanying actions can seem undesirable, but the force that drives them is something I want her to have, because I know that it’s what has gotten her through so many of the hard things in her life. It’s also what makes her delightfully who she is.
Because on the other side of the strong opinions card, there is choosing her own dress and being delighted when I put it on her, laying claim to the ugliest purse I’ve ever seen and insisting on carrying it when we go out, being absolutely thrilled when she communicates her specific wants effectively and gets what she desires. In the photo above, she chose her sweater and the two toys she brought along, and she was incredibly happy for the whole afternoon because she had chosen things on her own. I might not have picked what she did, and I tried to talk her out of one of the toys, but she stood by the gate, waiting to go downstairs, clutching the toys. She was not going to put them down. So I said okay, and she cheered, “YAAAAAAY!!!” It made all the inconvenience of picking up the toys every time she dropped them worth it.
I used to be annoyed about the negative aspects of her strong opinions, but then I finally realized that the personality trait that makes her angry and belligerent is also the one that makes her happiest. So if working through a biting phase and waiting out the flailing is what that kind of joy costs, then I will gladly pay the price. If her determination to do what she wants and get what she wants is what gets her walking after 12 weeks in a body brace, then I’ll take the bite marks and scratches on my arms. Her strong opinions are a gift, and I am glad that she has them.