Monday, September 21, 2015

Home: 1 month

I find it nearly impossible to believe that we've been home a month already! In some ways it feels like he has lived with us forever. Sometimes it feels like we just got off the plane... (and into the rental car!)

It's a bit of a struggle to write honestly about the first month home. On one hand, there is so much "good" to highlight, and having prayed & worked so hard for so long to finally be where we are, you don't exactly want to talk about the more 'real' moments and the struggle that adoption and parenting can be and sound ungrateful. But then again honesty and a "front row seat" to this is what this blog has always been about, right?
And people.... sometimes this is HARD.  Elias is a scared toddler taken from everything familiar and transplanted somewhere where nobody looks the same, sounds the same, smells the same or acts the same.  The biggest struggle is communication- when I need to relay a message fast and raise my voice a bit ("No touch! The stove is HOT!") he gets his feelings hurt.  He's also a toddler, so his independence level is twice that of his physical ability and communicating through those moments frustrates both of us. One struggle that adoption adds into this equation is that typically we encourage our three year olds to be independent- to dress, feed, and do things for themselves. With an adopted child, we really encourage them to trust us enough to let us do things for them. He has had to watch out for himself for so long that he struggles to let us do things for him. We want to be able to feed him, help him, and do things for him.  We almost have to go backwards to go forwards- and sometimes he fights trusting us because it doesn't feel natural to him. His strong will is asserted most with meals. He does not like anyone touching his plate or his food- so much that me cutting his meat for him has resulted in a total melt down (even though without it cut he wouldn't be able to eat it.)  We have to give him room and let him assert some of his own territory, but at the same time need to help him past the struggle of needing everything exactly as he thinks it should be- so that meals aren't always a stressful time for him (for instance the school lunch line!).  There have been meals that I have to ask Madigan to allow me to cut her food or feed her bites from her plate so he can see we aren't taking food from each other. The communication is such a struggle here because he sees someone reaching for his plate as a threat- and no amount of my terrible Amharic can explain that I want to help cut his food so he can feed himself. Figuring out if the behavior is a toddler thing or an adoption trauma thing and parenting to that root cause can be a real struggle, no matter how many books you read or classes you take.

I want to be very clear that these moments of frustration and 'hard times' are exactly that- moments. But I wouldn't be doing any favors to paint some kind of perfect picture about how coming home is "happily ever after" immediately. Because some new mama home in the first month might be scouring friend's blogs praying that another new adoptive mama somewhere is feeling the way that she is in that moment....because I have been there and done that.  And if you're reading this, new mama- please know that these moments get easier, they get farther apart, and they get shorter. Even in four weeks. :)

The best part has been the time between these moments. Elias is resilient, intelligent and affectionate.  For what this child has gone through, I'm so impressed with his ability to adapt and overcome.  Our ability to communicate has made huge strides.  I've learned a few key Amharic phrases, and he knows a LOT of what I'm saying and asking.  He follows simple directions, and can say several words in English. Just this past week he has started stringing three and four words together to make sentences in English. When we can't speak, we can manage to act out in charade-like fashion what we are trying to convey and get our points across. This is really helpful when he starts to get frustrated because he knows that if he waits just a second we can manage to act out what we want. It has also helped with meal times, because acting out with Madigan what I want to do with him, or showing him what we are asking has given him enough trust in us that we aren't stealing his food. I think I get more kisses from him now at meal times than I do the rest of the day. He LOVES asking for seconds and then patting his belly and telling me 'belly full'.  It has resolved 75% of the issues he has with having his plate touched or food moved causing a melt down.  He also came home terrified of dogs- screaming and kicking when he could even see them through the door. Slowly but surely, with exposure and patience he has gotten very comfortable around them. He even spent part of the morning feeding one of our dogs out of the scoop on a tractor he has.

Mostly, it's been amazing to watch Madigan transition (rather abruptly!) from being an only child for seven years, to being a big sister (to a toddler!)  Having to share your parents is hard enough- but she has learned to share them with someone who can also take her toys and run away, who she can't communicate with very well, and who sometimes requires BOTH parent's attention.  She has struggled with that- and will tell you honestly if you ask.  It hurts her feelings when people she knows and loves start conversations with her by only asking about him.  But she also loves him just as fiercely.  She has been a saving grace in moments when he is melting down and Brett and I are frustrated.  He instinctively trusts another child, more so than he feels instinct to trust adults; and Madigan modeling behavior to show him we can be trusted has been a God-send.
Growing from a family of three to four hasn't been textbook perfection, but nothing about adoption ever is.  It's a dirt under the nails, blood, sweat & tears fight to grow and love and learn about each other in the process.
photo credit Jolie Green @ Hays Daily News

Four weeks down.  A lifetime to go!

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