The one year anniversary of Naomi and Simon coming to America seems like a good time to do an update. The blog initially began as a way to communicate with people in the weeks and months leading up to their homecoming, and it was a fundraising tool. Then it became a way to update people far and near about the challenges we were facing during the initial transition.
Now, I hope it will be a way to celebrate how far we've all come, talk honestly about the challenges ahead, and provide information and hope to others in various parts of the adoption process. I certainly don't have all the answers and most of the time our daily family life would not be an inspiration to anyone, but we have been through some things that all adoptive families go through, and the more we all share strategies and support each other, the better life can be.
For today, let's celebrate how far we've all come.
Bonding and Attachment
This is the big thing everyone talks about with adoption. Overall, I think we've done about as well as we could one year in. That's the feedback we get from our family counselor and social worker. Naomi and Simon look to us as their parents, for comfort, safety, and to meet their basic needs. We love them, they are a part of our family forever, and they bring us joy.
Before we brought them home, I thought this process would be something that had an end date, i.e. "spend the first six months at home attaching." Now I realize it is going to be a life-long process. That's a little discouraging some days because it can be exhausting and not natural to me; it's hopeful on other days because it means we have time and grace to work on it.
Miles, Ella, and Simon all have a pretty good bond with each other. It can be more difficult with Naomi since her intellectual disabilities make it harder for her to understand how to join in their play and how to act at times. I hope more of that will come, but it's going to take time.
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how hard the language barrier was...well, I'd either re-do the kitchen or take a trip to Paris. Naomi and Simon went to school after being home about 3 weeks. That wasn't our original plan, but we are very glad we did it. They got immersed in English and picked it up very quickly. There are still working on it but it didn't take long to master the basics. And I have to take a moment and talk about how WONDERFUL the teachers and staff at Green Valley were for the kids. They truly went above and beyond from the very beginning to meet their needs and help them integrate into life in an American school. They love school and can't wait to get back in 22 days, 21 hours, and 30 minutes. (Not that I'm counting...)
We Don't Do That in America
Oh, the stories we could tell...but I don't want to embarrass them. Let's just say life in a small village in one of the poorest countries in the EU is different from life in an American suburb. They just had to learn to do a lot of things differently.
In Our Family...
...we take turns
...we don't hurt people or things
...there is enough love for everyone
...there is enough food for everyone
And the list grows as new issues come up. The things that our bio kids know from just being with us since birth and having their needs met by us have to be taught to the adopted kids. It can be mentally and emotionally exhausting but we do see progress.
We were all a little shocked at some of the behaviors we had to deal with on our pick-up trip and their first months home. All 'normal' for adopted kids, but certainly not what any of us were used to. There has been much improvement over the past year - most of the time, they don't behave like they used to at all. In fact, some times they act like they've been here a lot longer, and I forget that they still need some of the structure and help with self control we put into place when we were really struggling.
Some of their behaviors trigger things in me that I didn't know lay under the surface. Reading Parenting from the Inside Out and seeing a counselor have helped deal with that and respond in better ways to the kids.
I need to remember how far they've come. Last fall, I wouldn't have dreamed of taking all four of them somewhere by myself or the younger two shopping at Kroger or the mall. Now it's just normal. There is still preparation, contingency plans, and a very short shopping list, but it can be done.
Simon used to wake up at least once at night looking for comfort and that mostly stopped a few months ago. Until he had his tonsils out - see below. Part of the reason he would wake was also the sleep apnea symptoms created by his huge tonsils.
Simon had his tonsils out nine days ago. With the help of our family counselor, we prepared him pretty well and I think it went about as well as it could have. About five days in, when he was waking every two to three hours screaming, we decided to try some stronger painkillers. Well, he STILL woke up every two to three hours.
It wasn't physical pain he was dealing with, it was emotional pain and fear. (I'll write a separate post for those of you with adopted kiddos on how we dealt with the pre- and post-surgery stuff.) He has regressed these past few days into behavior we haven't seen since he first came home. But, I think we have enough of a bond that we were able to talk with him about how when he first got here, he was scared and acted out. Then he got less scared and didn't act that way until the tonsil surgery scared him again. So, instead of dealing with his physical pain, we're dealing with the fear and emotions behind it and have seen improvement.
Both kids are in good health. They were considered pretty healthy by international adoption standards, but were both overweight due to poor nutrition. The best we could tell, based on how they acted during the pick-up trip, their diet consisted of processed meats, sugar, and chips. Both foster families had gardens and they probably got a lot of good vegetables during the growing season, but in a small village they didn't have many options.
When Simon got here, he devoured fruits and vegetables. It was like his body just craved the nutrition. Naomi especially still struggles with wanting to eat what others have, regardless of whether she's just eaten or even likes the food. This is probably just a part of how she was wired in her early life. We don't really know what kind of deprivation she experienced. It's hard not to be annoyed at times when she asks for her third or fourth snack, just because someone else is eating, then doesn't actually eat it, but I need to remind myself that it comes from a place of fear.
There have been many times in the past year (not as much lately) that I told Todd, "I can't do this. It's too hard." Many nights that I've gone to bed absolutely sure I couldn't do it for another day. Yet I get up the next morning and do what needs to be done. The Christian-y thing to say would be that God's mercies are new every morning or that He will give you strength to do what he's called you to.
But the truth is I've wondered about the goodness of God, and at times the realness of God, a lot over the past year. Why is this so hard? Where is God in this? Is He real? Has He forgotten about me?
I see posts from other adoptive parents about how everything is bliss and the kids seem like they've 'always' been a part of their family. And I feel like I'm failing. I know that's not true and that there are many more adoptive parents like me who are in the trenches every day and just don't have the words (or time) to talk about what's happening. And I hope admitting this will make some other adoptive parent out there not feel alone in their struggle.
I still struggle. I think God is real and led us to this adoption. I wanted to adopt long before I met Todd and the two of us agreed to it before we were married. It is something we wanted and felt called to do. The details of how it all worked out seemed obviously supernatural. I know the answer is to draw closer to God and not keep him at arm's length, to access the power He promises, but it's been hard to believe His goodness, His provision, His strength, and His love.
I know intellectually that the struggle will draw us closer to each other, give the bio kids valuable skills for life, and at some point be a testament to God's goodness and provision, but it's difficult to hold that intellectual knowledge close or have it top-of-mind when someone is screaming at you or hitting you or just upsetting the delicate balance of family dynamics.
We survived the first year, and in many ways thrived. One of the bio kids (maybe both) said the other day that in some ways it seems like it's only been a few months and in other ways it seems like it's been longer.
What now? We keep on keeping on. We talk to our family counselor every two weeks to deal with issues as they come up. We're intentional and persistent. We make sure the bio kids are not lost in the shuffle. We take respite when and where we can get it. We ask for help. We realize it's a marathon, not a sprint, and pace ourselves accordingly.