Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Praise God, we made it past the 6 week mark!!!

Before we brought our son home and all along since we have been home I have heard from so many adopting families, "the first 6 weeks are usually the hardest..." and I will say they were all very much CORRECT! Actually almost to the date, our first 6 weeks were filled with a lot of struggles and learning for all of us but I honestly believe the biggest part was our boy developing trust in us and seeing consistency and permanence in all things around him.  I can now say we feel like we have closed the first chapter in our transition time and are into the second, not sure what is to come in the second but so far so good.

We haven't had a "shut down" in almost 2 weeks and when we did have that last one it only lasted 30 mins (record time for him).  Now in the last 2 weeks when we say "no, we don't do that", "yes, you need to eat that", "that isn't nice and you need to say I'm sorry", etc, he might give me a look like he doesn't want to but he does what we say without problem.  He has never given us any problems when it comes to showering/bathing, brushing teeth, doing his hair, settling down at night or going to bed and he still isn't....he is almost easier than our Jalen at all of these things! 
The BIGGEST thing is that since I have last posted I think I have only used Amharic because I want to because I don't want him to lose the language and because I love it but in conversation with him, he is full English!  I can't say he is fluent yet but he ONLY speaks English now (and honestly as much as I love this, it makes me a little sad too and I try daily to get him to speak Amharic which I think he thinks is weird).  If you are around him and he isn't jabbering away it is solely because he is shy but he is overcoming this as well.  It cracks me up because people that aren't around him all the time will get so excited when they hear him say one word in English but I promise this child understands just about everything you say to him and can (if he wants to) reply back appropriately.  He will say "mommy, bike ride after dinner?", "shower then movie, I pick?", "more meat and cheese please" (this is in reference to a turkey and melted cheese on whole wheat tortilla that he loves) and during match game play with his little brother we often hear "daddy/mommy Jalen cheating!"

Another BIG event is that Fetinet started school last week.  Thursday and Friday he went all day and loved it and starting yesterday he went all day and then stayed for the after school program since we both work full time.  I was worried that this would be too long, but he loved it and is so excited afterwards.  I have seen a big change in him just since starting school and I wonder if it has made something in him realize this is his permanent home.  He talks more, he smiles and laughs more, and he has started to give me tight hugs while we're all cuddling on the couch at night.  Right now I am laughing out loud as I type this because I am listening to both of my boys in the bathtub playing with foam letters and singing what sounds like the "clean up" song together and laughing hysterically, this is pure joy for my heart! 
We live in a smaller town and Fetinet goes to a school that is well known for its academic achievements and is K-12 (I didn't know those still existed until we moved here) but how crazy is it that his teacher is the wife of a local pastor who began a ministry with a mission to change one AIDS orphan (in Malawi, Africa) at a time so that they might grow up to change a village, or a nation.  Check out what they do at their website Malawi Orphan Ministries or on their M.O.M.S Facebook Page.  We had first grade night yesterday which is so funny to go from having a 3 year old in daycare to having a school-aged child and being in a classroom for a meeting, I felt so old!  After the meeting was over I talked with Fetinet's teacher and she said he is doing great, participating and talking to her and doing activities with all the other kids and she said it is very rewarding to see his eyes just taking everything in and learning.  I would agree, this child loves to play but I do see a side of him that likes to learn and loves to do something right and be proud of himself to the point that he giggles and gets embarrassed by it.  Now let me say tonight was our first night of homework with him, sounding out sight words and reading 2 short sentences in a reader.  In his little Ethiopian accent he sounded out: can, cat, bat, at, an, on, back, sack, tap and a couple others.  We helped him but most of them if he took his time and looked at the letters he would say "B, buh, buh-aah T, tuh, buh-aah-tuh, bat!" I mean learning how to speak a language is one thing and I can attest learning the amount of Amharic I know wasn't easy but it didn't take long to say something a couple times and have it committed to memory. I still cannot write or read it because they don't use letters that we do, they have their own characters, over 150 of them! To write the word "Ethiopia" in Amharic looks like ኢትዮጵያ.  So imagine trying to see our "characters" that look just as crazy and trying to remember what each one sounds like, especially when an Amharic letter that sounds like "je" looks like and English "P" or a letter that sounds like "ha" looks like a "U".  All this to say I am one proud mom, he is going to do great!

Fetinet now rides without training wheels and he rides really well!  Every day after school he comes home and rides his bike with his brother and neighborhood kids and he knows where he is allowed to ride and where he has to turn round if it is out of our sight, he minds very well when it comes to that!  He rides until he is dripping wet and then will come in and say "mommy, hungry" which he pretty much says all the time because this boy can eat!

Last update that is very VERY special to me is that as of last night, I got some full, very tight hugs from him on his own doing.  We all sit on the couch and let the boys lay down and watch a movie to relax before bed.  Last night I had 2 arms wrapped around me tightly with a big squeeze every now and then, this was a first and in my opinion a BIG first for him.  Then tonight as I was typing he came over and just sat on my lap and then when he got up and I said "can I have a hug", he gave me a full hug right away with both arms fully wrapped around me just like it was the most normal thing in the world.  This may seem so small to some of you and maybe your adopted kids did this day 1 but we are on day 51 and in the past if I asked for a hug and gave him one, I might have gotten a single limp arm kind of reaching around me but usually just both arms hanging down at his sides so this was HUGE!  There has honestly been a corner turned in his transition and it is just crazy to think back to 2 weeks ago where we were at and where we are now.  I hope this gives anyone struggling with a new transition or getting ready to bring their child home, some hope, insight, and faith that the rough times will become less and the wonderful times will become more and although every child is so different and has had a very different past they do all need time to transition and when you start seeing them act naturally as part of your family it might be the best and most rewarding feeling ever!

I will leave you with something that brought tears to my eyes tonight from my little one.  Jalen is our youngest son and our only biological child and he is the most compassionate, sweet, polite, smart, caring and loving 3.5 yr old boy I have ever met (yes I am partial but seriously, he is something special).  He thanks us for everything without us asking, "mommy, thank you for making dinner for me", "daddy thank you for letting me ride my bike", "Petinet I love you and missed you at school today" and the list goes on.  He loves his "Petinet" and tries to talk like him.  That love isn't always reciprocated by "Petinet" though and when Jalen runs up to give him a big bear hug, Fetinet usually just stands there or turns away but Jalen doesn't give up.  If Fetinet plays a game with him and plays nicely, it warms Jalen's heart and he gets so excited.  If Fetinet gets a question right about something or speaks in good English, Jalen smiles and says "good job Petinet!".  Now they do play together at times and Fetinet does seem to like having him as his brother but if I was giving someone so much love and they weren't reciprocating, I'm not sure how much I would be happy about that at Jalen's age.  Tonight Jalen ran up to me and gave me a big hug and a kiss and said "mommy I miss you when you were in Africa!"  I said "I know baby, I missed you too but do you know why I was in Africa?" then he said it..."Yes, to pick up Petinet, Mommy thank you for bringing my brother home to me".  Jason and I both looked at each other just in awe of Jalen.  I am SO proud of that little boy and it makes me cry just re-typing this. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

How far we've come...and how far we have yet to go

I was starting to feel guilty about not updating as regularly as I would like to.  I have great intentions to update weekly because at least daily something happens that I think "I need to write about this" and then the short time comes at the end of the day when I'm exhausted and get a second on my laptop to post and it is the last thing on my mind.  So here is my attempt to get caught up and share with you updates from the last 2-3 weeks.  First off, although we haven't done our real family portraits yet, we needed some to post around the house so with my tripod here is our latest attempts at a family of 4 picture with everyone looking at a flashing camera hoping to smile when the flash went off.

First I'll start with the negatives and end with the positives...we still have moments of shutting down although they have become fewer and further in between and don't last as long.  We still have some times of stubbornness and wanting to be in control and not accepting of what we ask as easily as we might like, of course I know this is also a typical child thing to do so I do not anticipate this ever leaving fully.  We also still have moments, although they are quite few now, of asking for something to eat, seeing a picture or the food itself even and then being given it and due to I'm sure some confusion and language barrier it is not what he really wanted and instead of trying to ask for something else, just getting upset and saying "no" with a pushing away motion followed by a mini-shut down until he realizes we are trying to help him figure out what he needs.  This actually happened yesterday at a drive through to get ice cream and thankfully my mom (ice cream lover) gave up her flavor ice cream to Jalen and Jalen gave up his vanilla to Fetinet so my mom could eat what Fetinet wanted at first but then didn't...almost had a full shut down but thankfully we had a few flavors on hand to understand what he really wanted.  Honestly this may seem funny and not the biggest issue in the world and truthfully it is in retrospect but I will fully admit that sometimes it is overly frustrating.  I also often wonder if some of these moments aren't intentional to be difficult or test us, maybe not but as smart as he is getting I do wonder.  I am about to share the positives we have had and you will see that although I know Fetinet has a lot of learning, trusting, and fitting into this new crazy culture and family he has been adopted into, he understands a lot more than we think or he lets on.

So today marks 5.5 weeks we have been home and I have been told my countless adopting families that generally the first 6 weeks are the hardest and I can see that is very true in our case.  Now I have also heard the opposite in that a child has been in honeymoon phase for the first couple months home even up to a year or more and then it gets rough so with that said, I'll take the rough times now and get them out of the way if possible :)  I have been really reflecting back on Fetinet's first day home and I cannot even begin to explain the changes that have occurred in him from learning what is accepted in our culture to speaking English, to diminished shut-down times, he really is becoming more comfortable with being a part of our family and seems to be happier each week.

So for the positives we have been witnessing...Other than using a few Amharic words to reiterate what I am saying or asking in English sometimes, I barely have to use them.  He understands just about everything we say or ask of him and although his English isn't fluent yet, he speaks English  enough to get across what he needs or is trying to say.  He will recall things we tell him and ask about them later, for example, last night we told him that my dad "papa" was coming next week and then yesterday during school registration we told him that he is starting school next week and out of the blue today he said "papa come here tomorrow?"  I said, "no Papa comes next week", he replied then,  "I go school next week? (with a big smile mind you).  He loves riding his new bike which still has training wheels but they will be removed tomorrow, loves to play in the water, swim, says please and thank you appropriately and more often now without being prompted to do so.   Has certain shows he likes to watch and asks for them by name, knows that we take turns between who picks the movie at night between him and his brother and knows to look on the calendar to see whose turn it is each day, and is working on knowing the days of the week and months and getting the concept of when things happen. He has made a few friends and talks to them, plays with them, laughs with them and gets very excited when he gets to be with them and I am blessed to know such amazing families who have raised their kids to be so nice and patient with him.  He has learned more about sharing, taking turns and waiting in line and although I know next week there will be some struggles with starting school I am confident that everything will be just fine.  He will learn like the rest of the kids and in some areas he may be a little advanced actually and of course in many he will be delayed but my biggest concern wasn't how he would match up academically but that he wasn't going to be able to communicate or understand what anyone was saying.  Now I don't have that concern as much, I think he will do just fine and I anticipate more shut downs, problems and changes but I feel like he is ready for this next chapter of his life in America, starting school and making more friends.

So all in all our little 7.5 year old Ethiopian son has come a long way in the last 5.5 weeks and we couldn't be any more proud of him.  He has also in the past 1-2 weeks, gotten a new haircut and had some extensive dental surgery that has allowed him to enjoy food more and feel more confident about smiling.  Now we haven't reached the point of him getting up in the morning and running into our room and giving us a big hug and a kiss in the morning or at night time saying "I love you" and initiating a hug or outward affection.  This will take some more time but the things he does now that he didn't dare do the first few weeks makes me really see he is starting to feel like part of our family and I just imagine it will take time to fully build trust in us as his forever family!  I continue to thank God daily for breaking our hearts for older adoption, allowing us the privileges to be on this journey and for all the blessings (many in disguise) that we have gained.  There are ups and downs in adoption and especially in older adoption but we wouldn't change the course of our lives in the last couple years for anything!