Sunday, July 22, 2012

Less Silence Here

In the last week we have had some ups and downs but all in all I have to say the ups are becoming more frequent and the downs, more scarce.  When I think back to 3 weeks ago when we were on planes headed home from Ethiopia right about this time I had a 7 year old son who didn't speak one word of English (except "no" which sounded like "nohw"), who was excited, scared, tired and probably so overwhelmed all at once...and so was his mama! 
Today I have a 7 year old son who is still learning and has a ways to go but can speak enough English and knows how to communicate with me if I can't figure out what he is saying to pretty much get through the day and night.  I have a 7 year old who is speaking more in general and louder, whether it is English or Amharic or maybe even Sidamo for all I know but it is louder than I ever heard this child speak in Ethiopia or here.  I have a 7 year old who loves to be active and play and has been making friends and playing with other kids his age like he has known them for years.  And the biggest event of all to me is that I have a 7 year old who is starting to show emotions and fit into his role as our child. 

In the beginning there was a lot of silence for so many reasons.  Mostly of course because he didn't speak our language or anything like it so how could he be loud when he knew we wouldn't understand, can you imagine moving to a country as a 7 year old where you can't understand anything anyone is saying or communicate your needs?  There was also silence because when he was upset, scared, angry, etc he would shut down for hours without a peep or eye contact even, just fully withdrawn.  Even his body language and contact with us was "silent".  There were no hugs, no initiated contact, loose hand holds, and small words said under his breath while looking away.  Now we still have some times (especially mornings) where he is quiet but not silent and he is trying harder and harder to say what he needs in English and you can see it in his eyes now that he genuinely wants to learn the English words and will say "mommy what it's name" as he points to an object.  This is so huge to me because in my mind this tells me he is  realizing there is a permanence here and going from seemingly disinterested in learning our language to really wanting to it makes me feel like he knows he is going to need this language because he is here to stay!

I know we have only been home 3 weeks tomorrow and I know we have a ways to go, we are no experts in this by any means...there will be more downs and we will work through them and learn from them.  I have said this before but it is my goal to help other families considering adopting older, in the process of and those who are in the same boat as me, just home and trying to figure it all out.  I know what a huge relief it is to hear stories that I can relate to and I want to be completely up front with our stories to be an avenue to help others as well.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Grieving and Learning....Having an Open Mind to a New Life

I felt compelled to write a little bit about what I have learned about adopted children and their grieving, coping and learning what life is like in a brand new place.  In the last week and a half of being home we have all learned and grown so much each day but we have a long way to go and whole lot more to learn.  I have spoken with so many other families who have adopted and been there done that.  From others in our own agency who have adopted children from the exact place where our son was from, to families who have adopted from other countries as well as those fostering or have adopted domestically, and there is one BIG common denominator....every single child has grieved and coped with the new life in ways that are completely normal and expected.  I guess I may be writing this more for people who don't have their children home yet and for those who may be brand new to the adoption world and  may read stories from others about their adopted children and think negative or concerning thoughts when in actuality is it 100% normal.  The adoption world is small in comparison to the number of children who need a family and it is my goal in life to help make it bigger and more positive.  I am hoping to do this partially by telling our story as we go, the good and the bad just like we experience in parenting our biological child.

I know in the last 2 years of our adoption journey, we encountered a lot of mixed emotions from people around us and it seems like much of the concerns and negativity comes from a few stories they may have heard or the worst case scenarios they may have heard on the news.  RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) seems to be everyone's biggest concern and it is very valid but also is not the diagnosis for every adopted child nor should it be an immediate thought of diagnosing a child who is newly home.  We have taken several adoption education courses and some of the things that have really stood out to me in many of them was the fact that children who don't attach to their new families right away is a normal sign as is having grieving methods of shutting down, withdrawing, retreating, anger, rages, etc.  In actuality some concerns are for the kids that do attach to their new families quickly because it MAY (not always) be a sign of an attachment problem.  If you think about it this makes total sense, why would any child (especially those who are older and have been moved around and never known a true family) attach to a family they just met, or even have been with for weeks or months?  Why would they know this was their last stop and forever family and not just assume it is just one more stop along the way? 

In many cases, children in Ethiopia at least, are taken to an orphanage near their village due to a death of a parent or both parents or an inability for the parent to care for the child amongst many other reasons.  That child may stay in that orphanage until they are adopted or they may be moved to another orphanage that may be more capable of handling more children, age ranges, special needs, etc.  Then often times if the child is associated with an adoption agency and not just in the city run orphanage, they will be moved to a "transition home" once they are matched with a family.  This home may have less kids and more caregivers to help the child become more familiar with a kind of a "home" before they come to their forever family's home.  So just imagine being a small child and moving from your village to an orphanage to another home to a transition home and finally to a home in another country with "mommy and daddy".  Although we might like to think this child will get it, how can they?  I would love to think our son knows he is here for good and we tell him and use lots of ownership talk with him...your brother, your mommy, your bed, your school, your clothes, your seat, our family, etc BUT I can imagine he may not be able to fully comprehend this yet until he actually lives it longer, for now I'm sure his little head must wonder where his next stop will be.

I one of our adoption education courses I read this and thought it really painted a good picture of children who have been institutionalized:

In the orphanage setting independence, self-reliance and self-sufficiency are valued and reinforced. After all, there are not enough adults available to attend to everyone's needs to tie shoes, button shirts or kiss boo-boos. Children are praised and pride themselves on their abilities to attend to many of their own needs. Not showing emotions may be expected. Have patience with your child and appreciate that it may take time for them to consider you as a resource for comfort, soothing, assistance and nurturance. Don't be so quick to identify it as an "attachment disorder," consider the origin. Some may require an invitation to seek you out when distressed. Additionally, for some, the intimacy of a family or demands of a relationship can be overwhelming. Allow space and distance if your child is uncomfortable but never stop extending the invitation. (BG Center Online School:  Adopting Older Children Internationally)

 I mention grieving earlier and this is something all children will go through whether they are babies or older children and you may not know it or recognize it but it is there.  From grieving the loss of their country, culture, friends, caregivers, language, people of the same colored skin, same textured hair, to grieving the loss of the familiar smells, tastes of food, water, juices, sounds, etc.  This is very normal and some children handle it differently, some children are excited to see pictures and eat foods from their country when they come home and some can't tolerate it but both responses are 100% normal as well.  Just like any child, every child is going to be different so if you hear about a family who adopted a child who attached right away, never withdrew, fit right in with their new family and was just great and then you hear another family that adopted a child who wasn't connected, had fits of rage and tantrums, refused to eat food the family made and things seem to be not so great, just know both scenarios may be normal and don;t judge or look to deep into what that means.  Think about your own children or your friend's children, do they act the same?  Do they get mad at the same things?  Throw the same kinds of tantrums? Adopted children are no different, they have their own personalities and come from their own cultures and the child that seems so abnormal to you may be completely normal in his/her culture.  When you travel outside the US, especially to a country like Ethiopia, you see the culture and realize a lot of things they do would be considered wrong, rude or concerning in our country but imagine they come here and see how we act, I'm sure much of what we do would be considered wrong, rude and concerning to them as well.
So for an update on our front.  We are doing great, good and bad days but learning and growth with each.  Our child has only been home 11 full days so I know he is still grieving and will for a little while but I would say overall when I look at the big picture, he is doing wonderful!  He is now communicating with us more in English and although it is baby steps, they are huge steps as he maybe knew 5 words (if that) in English on July 1st and now knows how to say he's hungry, tell us what he wants to eat and drink, go to the bathroom, go swimming, play outside, do school, color, watch a movie or tv and tell us certain shows he wants, hot and cold, big and small, go to bed, take a shower, brush teeth, and I'm sure I'm missing some more.  He has also went from being disgusted at cheese, milk, lunch meat and cereal to asking for each by name and having seconds and thirds.  He loves taking a shower and brushing his teeth, wearing a new outfit each day and loves tennis shoes.  He loves Jalen and gets so excited to go pick him up and out of almost all the words I can write, he recognizes Jalen's name on paper.  Of course they have sibling issues like any other, not wanting to share or not agreeing on the same movie but overall they are buddies :)  He has also became very ok with our dogs and pets them and asked to hold Laila's leash today while I got the battery in the little kid jeep for him to drive, I heard his sweet Ethiopian accented voice saying "Laila, come here" when she started to walk off.    I will leave you with a few pictures from the past couple days here:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ethiopia Trip in Pictures

We have been home for just over 1 week now and we are all learning how to become a family of 4 and show our son what a family is.  The first week wasn't easy but with each challenge we seemed to take a step forward and today so far has been the first day that I feel Fetinet has started to feel more comfortable being here.  We have have had moments of shutting down over a food placed in front of him to him asking for that food the next day, moments of shutting down over doing school work to enjoying it more and being a little more comfortable with mom giving directions to help, moments of not sharing to willingly giving up a toy to his little brother to play with, and I am learnign more Amharic as he is learning more English. Fetinet understands more than he can speak but his English speaking is coming along and he is starting to use English words or short phrases on his own.  It's only week 1 and we have 6 more before school starts so I am anxious to see what I am writing then but I will say we are very blessed to have him here and when we see him smile, laugh and look content here it warms my heart.  I'm sure he doesn't fully understand what it is to have a mom, in 7 years he has never had one to himself (nannies at the various orphanages/homes he lived in would be the closest to a mom he has ever known) and hasn't lived with his own family in over 2 years so it will take some time.  I know it will also take some time before he knows what love is, knows that we love him and decides if he loves us and we are okay with that. Jalen loves having Fetinet here and gets so excited when he talks to him or gives him something, to Jalen this is Fetinet saying he likes him and Jalen is one happy camper when he thinks his big brother likes him.  So week 1 has came with challenges, shutting down moments, frustrations and grieveing but it has all also came with growth and bonding and we are thankful for each moment!  So now here are some pictures from my last trip and our airport welcome in Chicago and Oklahoma City!
dinner with our guest house buddies
Fetinet with his friend Shemelis that will be home in TX soon!
On our drive from Addis to Awassa
feeding monkeys in a park in Awassa
Me and my fellow PT best friend and travel buddy Jen :)
At the Haile Resort in Awassa
Welcome to Chicago, Fetinet seeing his old buddy from Ethiopia, Asheber
Fetinet meeting Binnie and Papa in Chicago
Our welcome party in OKC
Love the hearts of all these kids
Finally our family of 4 together, lots of tears and hug and kisses!!!!
Fetinet and his old buddy from Ethiopia William (Asfaw) how he has seen and will continue to see so many of his old roomates here in America now!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

To Ethiopia and Back...

Since last post I have traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, had our embassy appointment (which was great), traveled to Awassa, Ethiopia and got the most amazing pictures, had our actual "gotcha day" with our son and traveled home and now are on day 2 of being  family of 4! 

I saw a picture recently that said "I didn't say it would be easy, I said it would be worth it" and I would say that phrase is repeating over and over in my head each day.  I'm not going to lie and say everything is just great, easy, perfect and just as I imagined because really that is not how adoption works especially when you adopt an older child, and one from another country with a very different culture.  Fetinet is doing pretty good overall I would say and truthfully each day is getting better.  The biggest problem of course is the language barrier.  He really doesn't speak much English at all so just close your eyes and imagine having a 7 year old new in your home who doesn't understand anything you say and in order to communicate with him, you have to open 2-3 books of common words and phrases to search for what you want to say and then hope you said it with the right dilect and then when your child doesn't respond, what do you do next?  It is difficult but we are learning together.  I try to say what I want in Amharic (which by the way is Fetinet's second language and no where close to his native language, Sidamo) and then repeat it in English and have him repeat it after me

Me:  "Fetinet, de-keh-mek?  Are you tired?"
Fetinet:  "Ah ay"
Me:  "Ah ay?  No?"
Fetinet:  "No"

We arrived home on Suday evening after flights were late and delayed, after being rushed through the Frankfurt airport with 10 other people (although given very special treatment by Lufthansa staff) to just barely make it to our flight to Chicago which we found out our bags never made it and then saw my parents and another adopting family who has one of fetinet's friends from his home and rushed off only to find out our flight from Chcago to OK was delayed 3 hrs due to storms in St Louis and Chicago so our welcome party at the OKC airport waited a bit longer than they expected but it was awesome and I am excited to post pictures soon, here is one with a lot of the cutest kids and their signs for Fetinet. 

Yesterday, we kept Jalen home from day care and it was more of a "getting to know everyone, play-day".  Jalen keeps telling Fetinet, "Petinet, I glad that you are here" and "I love you Petinet" and then of course Fetinet not understanding won't say anything back so Jalen looks at me very disappointed and says "Mommy, Petinet not talk to me (frown/pout)".  I told him that he doesn't know our language yet but I know he is happy to have you too Jalen and then Jalen says very seriously, "I want Petinet to know our language soon mommy" too baby doll, me too :)

Today Fetinet and I took Jalen to daycare and are picking him up right after nap time so he is only there for a half day to still keep someehwta of his schedule.  While Jalen is at daycare I will be basically doing home-school with Fetinet.  Today was day one and well, it went ok...he didn't like school a whole lot in Ethiopia and I'm not so sure he is a big fan of it here either.  We did the alphabet upper and lower case and traced letters which he would do great and then just scribble all over in frustration and laugh so I have been doing a lot of redirecting and explaining the best I can that we need to do this before we can play.  He tries to tell me no and turn away but after a little talking he does get back on track and will try for me.  We'll do a little each day but we do have a timeline as he will start school in 6 weeks!

Jason came home for lunch so I could have a little time to get on my computer but if I haven't emailed back or done much lately, just know I am reading your emails, text messages, facebook posts, etc and I appreciate all the support we are getting.  Please keep praying for this transition and for our strength and wisdom of how to best parent our 7 yr old, non-english speaking, Ethiopian son.  We are so blessed by everyone and son will be on a good schedule and back to some normalcy :)

I will post more pictures and stories from our trip soon but wanted to just at least actch everyone up on how we are doing now.  Thank you for all the support and keep checking back for a lot more amazing pistures and stories from last week in Ethiopia, a beautiful country but I am glad to be home.

Love and Blessings!