Friday, April 18, 2014

6 Months!!!

Ethan has been our son legally for over six months now. Sometimes it is hard to believe it's been that long, and others it feels like he has always been here. We are adjusting well as a family of seven, and Ethan has been receiving speech, occupational and physical therapies. He is making great progress in all areas and has gone from a 9-12 month old developmentally, to a solid 24 month old. He is almost 4 years old, so he is still delayed, but we see that having a family and just living life has made a huge difference in him.

Yesterday, we went to his preschool Easter Egg Hunt, which was a lot of fun, though he didn't quite understand the concept. Once he realized those plastic eggs had candy in them, he was pretty happy about it. As we are progressing through his treatment for his spasticity in his leg, he is having a hard time with maneuvering, but we know this is temporary and he will develop the strength necessary to run around again soon.

On an emotional level, it will be much longer before Ethan is capable of typical interaction with his peers. It may well be a long time before he interacts appropriately with us, his family as well. We have seen a lot of growth there, but he is resisting forming any attachments to his father. He has attached very well to me, and I take that as a positive sign, but it is definitely a process, not an event. Few people can comprehend the dramatic change between the face the child shows in public and the one he shows at home. I don't claim to fully understand it myself, but it takes a constant vigilance and an emotional control to avoid unintentionally reinforcing negative behaviors. How to deal with these things differs from child to child and family to family, but I will say it has been a real learning curve with lots of ups and downs for us....but mostly ups...he is my son. He makes me want to pull my hair out some days, but really, what kid isn't that way at times? He is a boy I choose to love, not because I carried him in my womb, but because he needed a mother and I said, "Yes."

If you know a mother who has adopted, be gentle with your words. Note that just because it may not be something you would do, it does not help her in the slightest to keep reminding her of that fact. If you know a "trauma Mama," rejoice with her over the little things. Those baby steps forward that likely don't seem very impressive to you....believe me, they are huge to her and she may need to celebrate every positive thing, no matter how small, just to get through her days. I know of so many Mamas who struggle daily with very hurt who don't make progress. They need to hear that they are doing good things. They need to know they are noticed, loved, valued, and most of all WANTED in their social circles and places of worship. Not because they are saints for "rescuing" these kids, but because they are still people who love their friends and their God.  It is incredibly common for parents of adopted children, particularly special needs children, to become isolated because they seem "different" than before, or because they don't agree with the choice. I admit to being "different." Adoption changed my views on the world and cemented in me a passion for aiding families and children. I have seen what happens to children who are forgotten behind iron gates. Yes, I am changed, but I am still me. Please know that none of us are secretly thinking, "I'm so much better off than you." None of us think that you should run out and adopt a kid like ours. It isn't a race. It isn't a competition.I think our culture is so hardwired toward the "Mommy Wars."  We made a choice because we felt it was right for us, not so we could have some altruistic deed to hang around our necks...or over your heads. Please, please know that. Know that while sometimes our adopted children cause chaos, drama, heartache, pain, confusion, etc....they also cause us to feel praise, awe, excitement and pure joy. Don't be afraid of us. We won't try to "convert" you to the idea of adoption. It's OUR life. We still love hearing about YOUR life. We love being viewed as "normal" no matter how our family is pieced together.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

It's been a while....

I apologize for the lack of updates. We have been home for about 3 months now. Our time in country was truly amazing. The culture, the resourcefulness of the people, and the food...oh my, the FOOD was great.

Our process was long and heart breaking at times, but it was also filled with so much joy and opportunities for learning. I will always hold a special place in my heart for this strong European nation.

Leaving the group room

One last apple from the orphanage grounds

Eyeing the gate

Leaving the gate forever

In the car
Exploring the apartment

First Happy Meal

Washing machines are so much fun.

He said he was going bye bye.

Asleep in Mama's arms

2nd night with his Mama

We were delayed in country due to a passport issue. Ethan's home city has a longer passport process than most, but what really delayed us was someone in the capital city who forgot to put his approved passport into the envelope heading back on the train. This meant another 3 days in country. Of course, compared to the 9 weeks I had already been there, that was nothing, but an extra 3 days in a foreign country with a recently freed child is draining. The 2.5 weeks we had alone together were hard and heartbreaking, but there was also joy. I spoke to him in his language as much as I could, but he began speaking English pretty quickly.
We were blessed to have a place to stay during our final week. Though we had never met, Jamie, with Grace Haven Ministries took Ethan and me into her home. Ethan's fits did not phase her. She introduced us to the rest of the team they have in this lovely little village. While there, I was able to attend church which they hold in a home, and I was able to have people around who understood the challenges of adoption. They also run a ministry for parents of special needs children who choose to keep them. It is still not the norm in this country, but I am thrilled to see these families who are the beginnings of change in their country. The emotional support that final week was much, much needed. I encourage you to look at their page and see the work they do, and the inspiration behind it.

The peacefulness of a village is a welcome relief with an overstimulated child.

Cheesing at Jamie's house.

Who says it's trash? It's a hat!

The church surprised me with a cake for my birthday!

Such a nice thing...lifted my spirits.

And my "Happy Birzday" cheesecake. This was priceless. Wonderful last night in country.

My lowest point was when the passport was left out of the mail train. It was not bad being there, but it meant I would miss my oldest son's 12th birthday. I had missed by youngest child's 3rd birthday already. I am not sure why it was such a devastating blow right then, but it was. Jamie helped me pick myself up and keep pushing forward. We received Ethan's immigrant visa on my birthday, and it was the best present ever! We had a celebratory dinner at a restaurant, and Ethan behaved quite well. Then it was packing and rest before a 2:30am ride to the airport. The trans-Atlantic flight was rough, but BIG KUDOS to the Lufthansa flight crew, one of whom was a very engaging man whose friend adopted from China. He understood what we were going through and why Ethan was melting down so loudly. By the end of the flight, my son was running around the plane, picking up everyone's trash and throwing it away, and when he ran out of trash, the staff gave him a package of napkins and just let him throw them one by one into the trash. It may seem rather silly, but it was a life saver. We were delayed in Chicago because immigration computers were down. This caused us to miss our connecting flight home. I was devastated by this point. It was only 2 hours until the next flight, but it was sure a tough 2 hours. We grabbed some snacks and I got some gum because by this point, it had been 24 hours since I last brushed my teeth. I made sure Ethan was changed and in clean clothes (he left in his pajamas). At last, we boarded the hour and a half flight home. Of course, we were both exhausted. This was a small plane, and they kept the cabin dim. It was sunset. Within 10 minutes, Ethan was sound asleep. We were delayed on the tarmac waiting for a gate, and finally made it off. I set Ethan in his stroller and we began the walk to baggage claim. I realized as I walked through the corridor that despite my exhaustion, I was increasing speed with every step. I knew my 4 other kids and my husband were waiting there for us. We rounded the corner, and they came into view. My neighbor and her 2 kids were also there and had brought a couple of toys for Ethan.

And then I saw tiny, red headed 3 year old came running toward me. She had the hardest time with the separation. She jumped into my arms. Before I knew what hit me, I was being bear hugged by my 9 year old son, who rarely shows affection, and my 6 year old was hanging at my waist. My 12 year old hung back for just a second before tearfully hugging me. They all greeted Ethan, who was in the stroller and holding one of the toys, taking it all in. My mother, who was the kids' caretaker while we were away, was very happy that I was home. We grabbed the luggage and headed out to the van. Ethan loves car rides in his car seat. I think the security of it is easier for him than the open feeling of cars in his home country with no seat belts. He was thrilled. Sweet Ella told him right away, "Don't worry Ethan, I am going to teach you how to eat gingerbread." I told her there were lots of things she could teach him like how to use the potty, but she replied, "I don't want to teach him those things! I want to teach him how to eat gingerbread!" Of all the random things...but that is my Ella. We came home and let Ethan run around the house a bit and play with some toys. The other kids filled me in on all their latest news and then we made our way upstairs for bath, stories, songs and bed. I don't think I was ever so happy to see my bed as I was that night. It felt like a marshmallow!

We jumped right into our new normal schedule with my husband returning to work the next day and the kids going to school at their respective times, and Aidan doing his online school. It has been a blur in many ways. Some days it feels like we just got home last week, and others like it's been forever.

Ethan started school just before Thanksgiving. He is in a special needs preschool that is part of our public school district. So far, he is doing quite well. The physical therapist and occupational therapists have just done their evaluations of him and we are going to have a meeting soon to get his education plan fully in place.

We are thrilled with how helpful our school has been with getting him started so he can have as much time as possible to catch up before kindergarten. English is coming along very well and medically, he is doing well too. We will be seeing the team of specialist at the Cerebral Palsy clinic at the end of February, and I am excited to see what they will recommend, particularly for his legs.

I have been chronicling our adjustment period in a private Facebook group. I have not done so here because Blogger is open and I am not quite ready to allow the trolls to rip me apart for being honest. What I will share here is that I LOVE ETHAN. I love him as though I gave birth to him. I wasn't sure how that would develop, but it did. In doing the things for Ethan that meet his needs, I developed a true bond and love for him. We love those whom we serve, and let's face it, we serve our kids more than anyone else in this life. It is harder with a child who has already learned that his needs may not be met, but in meeting them every minute of the day, he is learning to trust. We have not had what I would call a smooth and easy transition, but I cannot deny the huge progress he has made. I am excited to see where we will be come June when this school year is over. I am excited to see how he progresses. It has been hard, but the progress is undeniable.


First day of school

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving day

Christmas cookie day at school

Photo attempt...he is quite the ham

Best shot we got!

Movie time!

Christmas light display with sisters

Look! I got twins in a box for Christmas!

Goodbye for now!