Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Quarter of a Year: Random Reflections

Today marks three months, just over thirteen weeks, since our "gotcha day" - the day we took custody of Seth and Lizzie.  I'm woefully behind in posting pictures of the kids, and I promise to try to get to that shortly.

In some ways it feels like our " gotcha day" was yesterday, particularly when I think of that day being only 92 days ago; in other ways, it seems like we have lived forever in every one of the 132,480 minutes that have passed since then.  It's a strange feeling.  One little thing I've been grateful for is that I have never, even once, feel about the kids that they are like neighbours who have outstayed their welcome - a sentiment that I'd read about from another adoptive mom and which I feared I would experience.  From the first moment we took custody until this very moment, they have been my children.  Our children.

I've had a few random thoughts about the past three months that I thought I'd share, for whatever they're worth:

1.  First, I'm so terribly thankful that we've made it through these months!  For better and for worse, we've made it through what will likely be some of the hardest times, from an adoption/attachment/adjustment perspective.  A commenter wrote the other day that, as hard as things have been for us at times during these months, she wishes she were in the same position.  I get that.  I really do.  For so many years, I have heard about and talked with so many adoptive parents who have gone through some tough stuff, and have thought something like yeah, but you actually have your kids home - how lucky are you??!  Frankly, I feel badly if, by posting about some of the rougher days, anyone might think for a second that I'm not grateful.  But let it be said right now:  I am terribly thankful to be on this end of things, finally.  Some days I look at my kids and it's simply a surreal thing, to know that they're actually here and at home, and they're mine, and that they're ok, and that it's going to work.  Some days, when I think about friends who are still under the stress of waiting for a referral, I hug my kids a little closer and know that the stresses of today are better than the stresses of our pre-referral days.  I wish I'd known a bit more during my pre-referral days about the stuff we've been experiencing since bringing the kids home, but the stress is infinitely lesser now from a big picture perspective.  Some days I wake up thinking that I need to get more fingerprints done, or get some other document ready for our adoption dossier, and then realize a few seconds later that oh, that's all done and I never, ever need to do it again, and relief and gratitude flood over me and I'm just that little bit better a mom that day because I remember.  I remember the referral wait even better than I sometimes remember that my children are home now.  But we are home.  And we've made it through the first three months.

2.  I have occasionally heard other adoptive parents say that their children must have been meant for their family because of how well they fit in.  I've always felt a bit odd when I've heard that, thinking that of course they'd say that because what choice do they have anyway once their child is home.  But here's the thing.  On the day we took custody of our kids, I suddenly had a flash of a similar insight.  It was a pretty small moment, in the scheme of things, but it was the first of a number of times that I've felt that maybe our kids, too, are the perfect fit for our family.  I was watching the younger kids eat pizza on our "gotcha day" and observed, quite simply, that they were slow eaters.  I had not expected that, given their background of malnourishment and insufficient food, and I had been somewhat anxious about this before the kids came home, because Matthew is a very slow eater.  When, within hours of taking custody, I saw the younger kids poking away at their meals (don't get me wrong: they eat a lot; but they eat it slowly) I thought oh my goodness they're going to fit right in.  They're still all slow eaters, and we usually spend a full hour over every meal time.  Similar thoughts of the kids' fit have occurred to me over and over again, as I observe how they work within our family unit and how their personalities blend with the rest of ours.  I've watched how, despite the rocky relationship, Matthew and Seth are very similar in abilities and interests, and I see how that will work in time.  Even now, watching the boys digging in the dirt with their hoes and giggling over some little thing they're both examining in Matthew's hand, I see how they were meant to be brothers; a few hours ago, when they were both lying on the (dirty) floor of Walmart in hysterics of laughter because they'd been trying to squeeze each other's butts while screaming "don't touch my bum bum," I thought the same thing.  I hear Geoff's voice soften when he swings Lizzie into his arms and says "and how's my little girl today?" and I think that he was meant to have a daughter, this cuddly and dramatic daughter, in his life.  And when my children play lego on the rug while I read them a story, I am thankful that we all share a love of a good story and again think about how we will all mesh together.  Though I'm sure not every adoptive parent experiences this sense of fit, I'm very thankful that, despite the many and huge challenges of the past thirteen weeks, this has been our experience.

3.  Only twice in the past thirteen weeks have I been asked about how I am attaching to the children.  Understandably, more people are interested in how the children are attaching to us...and frankly, that's the most important part of attachment, from my perspective.  But the two times I've been asked that, I've had to sit back and think about how to answer the question.  The truth is that attachment is a two-sided process, and it takes time from both sides.  There's no question that I love all three of my children.  Very much.  The depth of that love is still somewhat different between the oldest and the younger two, but already that difference has lessened considerably and I can see that it is only a matter of time before it's the same.  I think that all three of my children are remarkable, and the more I get to know my younger children the more amazed I am by them and by their capabilities and resourcefulness and resilience.  It's a very different experience raising a child from birth and raising a child from the age of almost four and almost six years because, in the latter case, their personalities are fundamentally in place already and their early conditioning will surely impact their entire lives...and how we parent.  In fact, this is probably one of the biggest difference between adopting older children and adopting younger children or infants - as parents of children who have come into the family 'fully formed', we're working with whatever we've been given and much less so with the shaping of that foundational development.  Obviously, I think/hope that how we parent will have a huge impact on their lives, but it's hugely different than it is with Matthew.  This is proving to be extremely challenging, and at other times extremely rewarding.

4.  When we first started the adoption process 9.5 years ago, we assumed that we would adopt an infant, or a very young child.  Of course, Geoff and I were younger then and, at the beginning of that process, we were without other children - both factors leaning us towards a baby with whom we could experience all of the 'firsts' that come with adopting or giving birth to an infant: birth; first smile; first words; first steps; etc etc.  But over the years, having been blessed with experiencing the 'firsts' with Matthew, and having aged a little, our perspective on the age of the child(ren) we wanted to adopt gradually changed - to the point where we asked for children within a range that was as high as our province would allow.  In the month that we were given the referral of Seth and Lizzie, the age range stated in our provincial home study allowed us to adopt children up to 63 months.  We were referred a girl of 40 months and a boy of 63 the exact limit of our age range.

5.  It's sometimes hard having conversations with people about issues that my kids are having, particularly when I'm looking for a little advice or help.  When describing some of their behaviour to a friend, for example, I might hear the comment "oh, well my kid does that, too," as if perhaps to normalize my kids' behaviour and its treatment.  The truth is that my younger kids do manifest things similar to most other kids in the universe (for example, when it comes to being picky about food, or throwing tantrums, etc).  The challenge is I often can't treat the behaviour in the same way that other parents might handle their child's behaviour (or in the way I might handle Matthew's behaviour), even though it's natural to assume that this is possible because the behaviours look the same as the next kid's.  For example, when your child comes to you at almost age four or age six, and has a history of severe malnutrition and hunger, his/her pickiness about food simply can't be treated in quite the same way as when Matthew decides he doesn't like a particular food item.  When my six-year-old boy who has lost everything important to him misbehaves and warrants a time-out under some parents' house rules, I simply cannot ever give him a time out, because it will trigger all of his deepest anxieties of being left again.  I have tried treating the issues the same way as I might with Matthew, and it really doesn't work, for the most fact, it makes the issues worse.  It's hard, at times, to be able to talk about this and explain it in a way that makes sense to other people, particularly when the outward behaviours can be similar.

6.  Though I very much understand the desire of most families to adopt infants (and have been there myself), I have to say that I am very glad that we have adopted older children.  Though the challenges are great (given their fully developed personalities, and their grief, etc), there are lots of advantages that I can think of:
  • I don't need to change any more diapers!  Lizzie wears pull-ups at night, but deals with it on her own in the morning.  This is huge - and I am really, really enjoying being done with this.
  • The kids can go to the bathroom by themselves - well, ok, they need some help with #2 (Matthew did, too, at Lizzie's age), but otherwise they take care of things on their own in the bathroom, and wash up on their own, too.
  • They sleep through the night.  Another yay!
  • They have memories that they're just waiting on language to be able to tell us about.  Even now, with their language and understanding skills getting better every day, we hear more and more about their earlier life that fascinates me and draws me in - I can hardly wait to hear more, though some of it saddens me unbearably and keeps me up at night.  I proactively try to teach them words that, a few days later, will allow me to ask a few questions about their lives pre-Canada.
  • Because they are older, they are more able to understand and verbalize emotions and reactions and likes and dislikes.  This is becoming particularly evident with Seth, as he learns more and more of the language.
  • They are fun to play with.  Both (but especially Seth) are extremely energetic and physical children and they're just plain fun to play with.  We love to play with them, and it seems as if their cousins and friends enjoy it, too.  And because Seth's older, he catches on to things (games, etc) remarkably quickly.  Both kids seem to be highly social, too, and that's a handy thing because we enjoy having people over.
  • I loved watching Matthew experience the world for the first time throughout his first few years.  But something I hadn't really thought about prior to the kids coming home is what it would be like to watch children of Seth and Lizzie's ages lick an ice cube, bite into an apple, wash their hands with something other than cold water, taste (and adore!) chocolate, see a motorcycle, have their own bed and belongings, eat until full, walk through the grocery store, or jump into a swimming pool for the first time ever.  They simply explode with curiosity and wonder and excitement over every new thing...and every. thing. is still new.
  • You can reason (to some degree!) with an older child.  Though language is still a small barrier, it is simply amazing what they (especially Seth) understand and can rationalize.  The other day, when I told Seth he could have one cookie (another first), he said he wanted "three or four;" I was shocked that he was strategizing but thought I would engage the negotiation just to see if he really understood.  He did; and we settled on two cookies!  As language progresses, we are also learning some ways in which to avoid tantrums by being able to explain why something is the way it is, or why the rule exists the way it does, etc.  Also, when tantrums do happen, Seth is more able to explain later (or answer 'yes' or 'no' to questions I pose) what prompted his anger.
  • They have a sense of humour.  I remember Matthew first showing signs of a sense of humour around the age of three.  Both Lizzie and Seth (again, Seth more, because of his age) have a good sense of humour and we can see Seth's developing every day.
  • They can (usually) feed themselves and are great with fork and spoon.  It's lovely, really.  Yes, we still regularly do the "here comes the choo choo train" routine for one child or another (just because they want it), but for the most part, they're perfectly capable and willing to feed themselves...and even hold utensils properly!
  • I have been able to give away or sell all of our baby stuff:  the baby swing; the clothes for 0-2 year old boys; the soothers and bottles; the change pads; etc etc.  I've been storing that stuff since Matthew outgrew it, not knowing the ages of the children we would bring home, and it was awesome to sort through it and deal with it.  I find myself really enjoying the fact that we're out of the baby stage.
  • Likewise, now that our family is complete, once Seth and Lizzie outgrow their clothes, they (the clothes, not the kids!) can be given away and not stored in perpetuity in a storage room that's already in dire need to organizing and cleaning out.  That's a surprisingly good feeling!
  • They understand bigger concepts.  They get what it means to say "I love you" and know how to offer up "a good idea."  They are old enough to understand (even if they don't always act on their knowledge) what it means to share things and that they need to wait for their turn sometimes.  They get that food doesn't magically appear on the table and that someone needs to work to earn the money to pay for that food and that hands are needed to prepare it.  And they happily participate in cleaning things up because they are aware that it takes everyone to run a household and a family.
There's so much else I could write about these last three months, and knowing how I ramble I'm sure I could easily write for another hour or so.  But I'll choose to stop, knowing that these are but a few thoughts I've had as the weeks have advanced.  I wonder what I'll be writing about in another quarter of a year!?

I have so many other things/topics to write about that I'm trying to get to, as time permits.  In the meantime, if you have any specific questions, particularly about older child adoption, feel free to ask...and I'll do my best to answer, seeing as how I have a quarter year's experience behind me now!




  1. So glad you've made it well through those first 3 months. You're right-older children are awesome!

  2. I love hearing about all you have learned over the past few months Ruth! And, I am so glad to read all of the positives you write about adopting older children in light of the challenges Matthew and Seth have had, being close in age. I am sure that, in some ways, introducing a baby into a family would be easier on an older sibling than an older child, so it is great to read about all the benefits you are finding (which I am sure will grow).

  3. It is always so interesting you hear about your transition, and am so thankful that you have experienced that sense of feeling like your new children are "yours", and that they fit in so nicely with your family. I think that must have gone a long way toward helping you weather the storms throughout.

    In our case, the transition-related issues in the kids have been pretty tame, overall, so I don't complain (a few control issues, some testing here and there, etc., but nothing out of the ordinary). However, I have struggled a lot more my own adjustment in some ways - with the sense of fit and feelings of self-consciousness in regard to our kids - although people typically find them quite delightful (we have three very outgoing children who are NOT reserved or restrained in public and social settings, whilst Geoff and I were...different...and I have always appreciated fairly quiet children who stick close to their parents, ask permission, etc.). I think there are some neat areas of fit, but it's the incongruent areas that stand out to me the most. I have also experienced a lot of that "stranger" sensation (particularly with the older two - this is one thing that might have been a bit easier had we been parenting for a while - but welcoming little folk with speech, "advanced" cognition, etc., has been more difficult than with baby girl, who is much more gently just "growing" into our family) - it has definitely felt like my kids belong to someone else and are (not always welcome) guests in my house and my life (I think their comfort in diving into new surroundings and expecting things to go their way has amplified that a bit for me...again, I'm way more reserved, and appreciate when people ease their way into my "space")! It gets better and better, but my unspoken anticipation is the day when I realize it feels natural and comfortable to have these (again, especially the older two) in our family and lives - I still have moments where I feel more like a "benevolent care-giver" than their mother.

    I totally relate to the frustration of people minimizing and normalizing things that you just know are not insignificant or totally "normal" issues. Or at least, they are issues that are a problem for the parents/household in some way, and therefore matter. Being brushed off, or having real concerns pooh-pooh'd by others is invalidating. In our case, not having parented before, I feel a bit defensive when experienced parents smile that slightly condescending smile and give us a "there there, it was the same for me when my kids were little" - maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. I am open to wisdom and outside perspectives, but at least want people to try to hear what I'm saying rather than just brushing off my concerns (and perhaps realize that even "normal" 4 year-old issues might be more difficult when you have not been with the child since birth, and are still working on your mutual attachment to each other).

    Anyway, thanks for the summary and reflections on your first three months. And I am so happy for the progress you have seen in your children and your family - wishing you much more growth and love together in the coming weeks and months!