Being Sheep

"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep."John 10:14-15

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Keeping it Real

Just to keep it all real here, we still sometimes have days like today. Days where the screaming starts and doesn't stop. It's not about anything in particular, it's about everything. And Mama wants to tear her hair out, cancel school for the day, and hide in her bedroom during nap time. She won't, but she wants to.

But tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow is a new day. And now it is nap time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's Happening

It's happening. It has taken a long time for this tiny bud to grow and begin to blossom, but it's blossoming. And I am blessed to have a front-row seat.

During they day at my house you will still hear lots of screaming. Many toddler tears are shed. But there's a difference now. The screaming can often be calmed by a mom or dad saying, "Oh, we don't scream. Use nice words!" or "No fits! Let's use our words."

Throughout the day you will hear many requests of, "Mommy! Need cuddle!" and he will press his head into my neck and cuddle for a few moments.

Many of his little stuffed animals "cry" through the day too, and N will bring them to me. "Lion is crying!" "He's crying? Oh no, Mommy better hug him!" And N is satisfied that his animal is in safe hands.

When he gets hurt he runs into our arms for hugs and kisses.

He's learning that Mom and Dad are safe. That Mom and Dad equal comfort. And it's an amazing thing to watch.

Though the past seventeen months have been some of the most difficult months of my life, I wouldn't trade them for anything. Because this little boy calls me Mommy. And that is an amazing gift from God.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Who is My Neighbor?

When a beautiful orphaned child from Africa finds a loving family through international adoption, does God say, "Well, I guess I'm a little happy. But I wish that they would have adopted an American child--you know, they ought to take care of their own first!"??

That's not the God I serve. The God I serve sets the lonely in families. (Psalm 86:6)

The God I serve says that true, pure, faultless religion that he accepts is "to look after orphans and widows in their distress". (James 1:27)

The God I serve commanded his people to leave leftover crops in their fields for the poor. (Leviticus 23:22)

The God I serve "defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing." Deuteronomy 10:18

The God I serve "raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor."1 Samuel 2:8

The God I serve is "a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows." (Psalm 68:5)

The God I serve "watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow."(Psalm 146:9

The God I serve says, "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in." (Matthew 25:35)

The God I serve told Cornelius in Acts, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God." Acts 10:4

The God I serve says, "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." 1 John 3:17-18

Do not ask me why I adopted internationally rather than "one of my own", for if you love God all orphans and needy people are "your own". God was not the one to draw the border lines on your maps.

I could write a long paragraph giving all the reasons we chose to adopt internationally, but it can easily be explained in one sentence:

"There was a little boy there who needed a home, and God told us to go. So we went."

This does not mean I have something against domestic adoption, or that I think African kids are "better" or "more deserving" of homes and families than any others. In fact, there's a very good chance our next adoption will be through the American foster system. But I will never, ever regret going where God told me to go. It didn't work out very well for Jonah, and I'm guessing it wouldn't have worked very well for us either.

From Luke 10

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[c]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d]”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Friday, October 7, 2011

Why Smarties Have Magical Powers

This past week my hubby and I went to a very short workshop done by Karyn Purvis. If you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak, I would really encourage you to go!!

I read her book, The Connected Child, about a year ago, and it was great. I've also seen a few of her videos that are available online, but had never seen her in person. When this opportunity came up, I really wanted to make it work! It was a two hour drive from us, but in the same city where both my parents and my in-laws live, so my parents were able to watch the boys for us while we went.

When Karyn finished, I looked at the time, hardly believing it could be over! We are really hoping to go to one of her two-day conferences coming up so that we can hear more. I'm also planning to watch more of her videos.

Of course, a lot of attachment/adoption trauma information is geared toward older children--not toddlers, so some things will not be relevant or will have to be adapted a bit to work for our little N.

Karyn shared how when she works with kids she likes to bring a big bucket of bubble gum with her. When the child asks nicely and with good eye contact, she cheerfully gives them a piece of bubble gum. If they ask nicely and with good eye contact for two pieces of bubble gum, she gives them two pieces, and so on.

This helps with multiple things, including teaching the child how to ask politely, making good eye contact, and allows you to say yes to them multiple times. Too often, children who have experienced neglect/trauma have heard "No" when they should have been hearing "Yes".

With a typical newborn, he will cry and Mom will say, "Yes! I will change your poopy diaper" or "Yes! I will feed you", "Yes! I will rock you to sleep", and so on numerous times each day. Many children with attachment disorders didn't have that type of interaction as babies, and they still need it now.

As Karyn spoke about this I began wondering if we could adapt this to work for N. Being only two, and having difficulty chewing anyway, it's obvious that we can't give him bubble gum!

So as hubby and I sat eating dessert together after the conference talking over things, we decided to try either Smarties or fruit snacks or something that he could easily chew, and that would be very small still so he wasn't getting tons of candy.

The next day was a Very Bad Day for N. He was throwing fits constantly, he was mad at everything we tried to do, he didn't nap long enough, and I was worn out. We got home from my parents' house (a two hour drive home) and I knew N would need a snack.

This is how our conversation went:

Me: "N, would you like a snack?"

N: "Uh-huh!"

Me: "Would you like a cereal bar or some fruit?"

N: "No! Snack!"

Me: "Yes, you can have a snack. Would you like a cereal bar?"

N: "No!"

Me: "How about some fruit?"

N: "No!" followed by screams.

Me: "Ok, we're going to go play in the living room and once you're calmed down will get something to eat."

We went back and forth from the living room to the kitchen several times, before N finally asked nicely for some tortilla chips, which I happily gave him. I also gave him the cereal bar in the hopes he would eat it since tortilla chips wouldn't be very filling.

I walked away to take a short break, but N immediately started crying. I quickly realized that my taking a short break at that time wasn't going to work out, and went and sat with N. We fed each other tortilla chips and we giggled. Then I went to the cupboard where I was pretty sure we had a couple packages of Smarties. I brought two packages to the table and set them next to me, away from N.

He looked at them very curiously and asked,

"That?"

I said, "Yes, those are Smarties. Would you like one?"

He smiled and nodded.

I said, "Ok! You can have one! You just need to ask Mommy nicely. Say, 'Mommy--Smarties please?'"

He asked, he received. He giggled. :)

We did this until there was about half a package of Smarties left and he said he was all done. The rest of the afternoon he was a different child. He played happily, he talked and laughed, it was amazing.

We got a big bag of Smarties at the store. We were ready.

So this morning after he started melting down about everything, we did the same thing. And once again he was a completely different child afterward. So amazing.

I am now convinced that Smarties have magical powers.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Normal

Please don't tell me his behavior is normal.

It's not.

I have quite a few adoption experts who will tell you it's not.

I have a therapist who knows my son and agrees completely that it's not normal.

Please,

when I share that we've had a rough day

don't tell me that all two year olds have rough days

as though I didn't know.

Please don't tell me that all two year olds throw temper tantrums.

Believe me,

I know.

I know that all two year olds want Mommy's attention.

A lot of it.


You don't see the reason behind the tantrums

the cause for his screaming when I walk out of the room.

His fear of abandonment.

His fear that if he doesn't stay in complete control

his world will come crashing down.


You don't see him hug and love everyone else

but refuse to hug his own mom.

Or scream literally

all.

day.

long.

You don't see him hug, kiss, and cuddle

and then hit Mom in the face

because he is afraid

of real attachment.


You don't see his anxiety,

his fear.


And it's okay that you don't see it

It's not your job to see it.

It's my job.


But please don't doubt my words.

For when you tell me his behavior is normal

After I've opened up to share

I feel I have no support.

At all.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Candles! Cake! Candlescake!!!

N was quite excited about his birthday cake this afternoon and I managed to get it on video. Enjoy! :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Birthdays

Next week we will celebrate little N's second birthday. Such a milestone! I can't help but feeling bittersweet about it. We honestly don't really know at all when his actual birthday is. Our best guess is that he's about three or four months older, but we don't know. He could be as much as six months older; he's the same size as most 3 year olds we know. But maybe he's just tall for his age and his birthday is actually correct. At this point, only God knows.

But as his mom, it is hard to not know. I wonder how much of his life we really missed? How old was he really when he went into the orphanage? How many months did his birth mom struggle to feed him?

There are a lot of factors that lead us to believe N is a bit older: He was much more physically advanced than the other babies in his room who were the same age. He could crawl and pull himself up already, where most of the other babies were only just sitting up or maybe crawling a bit and he was super active!

He also had 8 teeth when we got him; at supposedly 8 months old. When I brought him to the dentist about 6 months after we brought him home, the dentist was extremely surprised at how many teeth N already had at that point!

So these things along with a few others make us believe his official birthday is not his actual birthday.

A few interesting points: In Ethiopia, birthdays are not considered nearly as important as they are here in the U.S. Many adults there don't know their exact birthday. Also, people living in abject poverty (which N's birth family certainly was) are not usually going to be as concerned with dates and such as others might be. It is hard to keep track of days and time when you are daily struggling just to survive.

Another big factor is that Ethiopia uses a different calendar than we do, making it more difficult to nail down exact dates.

Many other adoptive families have also experienced this with their children; especially older children may be one, two, or more years older than originally thought. In the grand scheme of things, a few months doesn't make much difference at all. But it's one more thing N will have to process as he gets older. One more thing he won't know about his past.

So next week we will celebrate N's birthday. We will have cake, candles, ice cream, balloons and presents. N is quite obsessed with candles and cake lately, so I know he'll be super excited! :) But in the back of my mind I can't help but wonder, "When did you really turn two?"

Monday, September 5, 2011

2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back

This attachment and healing process is definitely a two steps forward, one step back deal. Sometimes it's one step forward, three steps back, two more steps forward, one more back.... etc. We have a lot of good days, we have a lot of bad days. There are still days of almost non-stop temper tantrums and other days of happiness, laughter, and playing.

This past Sunday at church, N out of the blue was very anxious, clinging to both me and his daddy. He was going back and forth between us and just couldn't calm down. It wasn't just normal toddler busy-ness, it was definitely an anxiety response--we could see it in his face and his body language.

So we held him close, we whispered to him that he was safe, he was okay, Mommy and Daddy were right here with him. He calmed down and played happily in the nursery when we brought him. I was prepared to go right back in and stay with him if he didn't settle down, but wanted to try since he's been doing so well there lately.

That night he had a very difficult time getting to sleep, which is not normal for him anymore. Usually after his bedtime routine, he falls asleep within a few minutes of being put in his bed. But that night he screamed, he cried, he would not settle down. His daddy went in and hugged him and laid him back down, but still he cried. I went in and rocked and sang to him. Now usually he will not let me rock him unless I'm giving him his bottle--and as soon as that bottle is done he begs for his bed! But that night we rocked and sang, and when I put him back to bed he cried,

"Rock Mommy! Rock Mommy!"

Healing is happening. He actually wanted me to rock him, wanted me to comfort him. Eventually I did leave him in his bed to fall asleep, since he will not fall asleep in our arms and it was well past his bedtime. He did settle down and go to sleep, and slept well through the night.

This morning was a completely different day. I brought him grocery shopping with me, and he was absolutely delightful! He smiled, we talked together, he was happy almost the entire time. He had people grinning and waving at him, and one woman even asked if she could give him a piece of candy. ;) (Which I had to say no to, because he is not very good at chewing yet--side effect of being fed only very watered-down food until he was about a year old, along with being given enormous mouthfuls at a time to speed up the feeding progress. But I digress...)

Then this evening, he let me read him a story. I mean the entire story. I held the book, he helped turn the pages. And we read an entire story together. Doesn't sound like big news? Trust me, it is! Never before has he been willing to let us hold the book for an entire story, or turn the pages only one at a time, or sit through the whole thing. But he sat in my lap. We read the short story, we pointed at the pictures. And then... he chose another book. And got back in my lap. And we read the whole thing. And he was mad it was bedtime because he wanted to read yet another.

PROGRESS!!!

When I told his brothers about it they were so excited and already making plans to read him a story the next day. "But probably not a chapter book, Mom," my seven year old said. :) Will N listen to a story again tomorrow? Who knows, but now we know he can do it! We may be due for another day of screaming, or he might play happily most of the day. Who knows?

But when I compare now to a year ago, or even six months ago, I see enormous healing in this little guy's life. It's such a privilege to watch him transform. It hasn't been an easy road, and we're not at the end of it yet, but it's worth it. So very worth it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Mother's Touch

"Mama! Mama! Owie!" he cries, pointing to his elbow.

"Oh, you got an owie? Do you need a kiss?" I ask.

"Uh-huh."

I kiss his little elbow, he cuddles and pushes his face into my neck. After a moment, he hops down and is off to play again.

Such a normal scene of a mom with her toddler. A normal scene that has taken quite some time to develop at our house. For his first year or so of life, there wasn't always someone around to kiss N's little owies, to comfort him and hug him. There were other babies who were also crying, and not enough hands to hold them all. There were the basic needs to see to: the diapers, the feedings, the dressing. Not nearly enough time to hug and kiss an adventurous little baby boy every time he bumped his head.

So when he became our son he didn't know. He didn't know that if he cried we'd always come, if he bumped his head we'd hug and kiss him. Slowly, slowly, he is learning. He now believes I have the 'magic touch', for I make owies feel better. Though I can't make the pain go away, the hug and kiss are a comfort.

Where he once wouldn't receive hugs from me and certainly wouldn't give them, he is starting to lean into me. He's starting to feel secure. He has a knowing that he didn't have before.

"These are my people. They love me. They take care of me. They help me."

Oh, so much time and so much work goes into helping him to truly learn this fact. But it is coming. Slowly but surely he is learning that his Momma loves him and will take care of him.

As he walks around the house singing,

"Mommy loves you, Mommy loves you [Name]..." to the tune of "Are You Sleeping?" I smile and think, "Yep. Someday soon you'll really believe that Mommy loves you, little boy. Someday soon."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lots of Progress

I'm working on a longer post, but wanted to update that N is doing extremely well right now!! :) His screaming and tantrums have decreased a lot, and he is overall a much happier kiddo. We're all happy with the change over here!

We still have a ways to go, and more to work on, but seeing the progress he's made so far is awesome; I definitely feel more hopeful about how this coming school year is going to go. Homeschooling with a toddler in the house is a challenge in and of itself, but homeschooling with a toddler who throws tantrums all day is another story all together!

Another post coming soon...

~J

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Showers

If we have a very busy Saturday and don't have time to give N his bath Sat night, N's daddy will usually just take him into the shower on Sunday morning before church. He'll quickly shower N and then himself while I do N's hair and get him dressed and such.

N LOVES showers. Loves them. I mean, don't mention a shower unless you plan to give him one, or you'll definitely hear about it!

This past Sunday one of our boys was sick, so I was planning to take the other two with me to church. Since I was the one going to church, I figured I'd just quickly shower N with me. No biggie, right? The kid loves showers!

So we went in the bathroom and got N ready. I stepped into the shower and said, "Come on, N! Get in the shower!" I was expecting his excited "Shower!!!!" but instead got, "Nooo!!! Daddy!!"

The kid who loves showers screamed through the whole shower. Why? Because I wasn't daddy.

And so it goes. Sometimes his screaming fits are very predictable, other times we have no idea it's coming. Sometimes we have great days with only a few minor tantrums. Other days we have all-day scream fests.

Honestly, it's very tiring. Last week when I wrote the previous post about him screaming all day long, he was taking a nap. As soon as he woke up the screaming started again. And he got more physical than he usually is; I ended up getting a nice bump under the eye from his sippy cup.

We can have a wonderful time singing and tickling and giggling together, and then afterward he will try to hit me in the face or have a fit about something.

Why does he do it? Because healthy attachment is still a scary thing for him. Slowly but surely we are making progress though.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dear Little N

My Dear Little N,

I love you so.

But this morning, you screamed about everything. You screamed because Mommy sat down. You screamed because Mommy walked away from you. You screamed because you wanted a cereal bar, and then screamed because Mommy gave you one. You screamed that you wanted crackers, but then screamed when you were given a cracker. You were thirsty, but didn't want a drink.

You wanted to play with your brothers, but they weren't doing things the way you wanted them done. You screamed because you wanted to watch a show, and then screamed for ten minutes because you had again decided you wanted something to eat.

You screamed because you wanted the blanket your brother was using, and then when you got a blanket you screamed because it just wasn't on you the right way, and nothing anyone did could make it right.

You screamed because your toy wasn't working right, and then screamed because Mommy tried to help you.

Mommy made you lunch and put you in your high chair, and you screamed. You finally ate some lunch, but threw your plate on the floor when you were done.

And screamed to get out of your high chair.

It was finally nap time, and boy you fought! Mommy picked you up to rock you and give you your bottle, and you screamed. You covered your mouth. You fought. You tried to take the bottle out of Mommy's hands.

But the bottle went in your mouth. You started sucking and settled in. You looked into Mommy's eyes, you smiled a bit.

You and Mommy rocked and rocked, and then the songs spilled out--a bit reluctantly at first; Mommy was tired, Mommy was worn out, but the songs came anyway,

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to him belong
They are weak but he is strong

Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so


Then,

May the Lord bless you and keep you
May the Lord make his face shine upon you
And give you peace, and give you peace
And give you peace forever

May the Lord be gracious to you
May the Lord turn his face towards you
And give you peace, and give you peace
And give you peace forever


Then you finished your bottle, smiled and said,

"All done baba. Nigh-night." You went to bed, and quickly fell fast sleep.

We'll get through this, my baby boy. We will.

~Mommy

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Battles

Many children with attachment difficulties have trouble with feeling the need to be in control or in charge at all times. They have so far survived by being in control, and have learned through experience that adults can't be trusted. They've learned that trusting adults only causes pain; any adult they have loved has hurt them in some way (abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc.)

In N's case, he was not abused, nor was he abandoned. However in his mind, all the adults he's ever trusted have not been truly trustworthy. His birth mom relinquished him to an orphanage, he moved from one orphanage to another, and then was taken by two strange people to another country, another culture, new food, new smells, new everything. What are all these grown-ups trying to do to him?!

So he tends to feel the need to be in control of everything. Of course, many almost two year olds want to be in charge. :) But with N it's taken more to the extreme level. Our therapist is helping him (and teaching us how to help him) that he can be in charge of some things and make good things happen, but he isn't in charge of everything and he can trust his mom and dad.

For example, he recommends letting N turn on lights, the TV, the CD player, toys, etc, whenever possible so that he can be in control of good things. But N obviously has to learn that when we say no, he does have to stop.

While we were at therapy last night, the therapist asked him to stop doing something and come to another room to do something else. And N was not happy. I could tell he was winding up for a huge tantrum.

There was many a shouted, "No!" when he was asked to come. He gave his dirty look. He finally got up out of his chair and started to walk towards the doctor, then shouted, "No!" and ran back. Eventually he finally did get up and walk out, then threw a hissy fit when the doctor closed the door so he couldn't go back in. Once he stopped screaming he ran to the door to leave the office and started saying "Bye-bye". I guess he figured that since he didn't get his way we ought to leave!

He and I had a similar stand-off today. He threw his pretzels down on the floor because he wanted to go outside.

"N, we will go outside once you pick up your pretzels and put them on the table," I said, wondering if he really understood (but suspecting that he did.)

"No! Outside!"

"Put your pretzels on the table, then we'll go outside."

Scream, scream, scream.

"N, when your pretzel is on the table we will go outside."

And so on (I included hand gestures in this pointing to the pretzel and then to the table so that it would be very clear what I meant.)

Pretzel was picked up and put on the table.

"Good job, N! You listened to Mommy! You're such a big boy! Now we can go play outside!"

Big smiles, happy boy and happy mommy. :)

Next up: Dealing with hitting family members and tantrums at the dinner table!

Oh--and on an awesome note, N gave me several hugs and kisses this morning when asked---so sweet!

~J

Monday, June 27, 2011

Camping

We had N's second therapy appointment last week Wednesday. The day before that our social worker was here for our one year post-placement visit (it's been a year since he came home!!), and the day after that we left to go camping for 4 nights.

Needless to say, there wasn't much time for blogging. :)

We had a great time camping though, and N did pretty well overall. There was definitely some screaming, and we had two nights where he was up a lot in the night, but I'd still call it a pretty successful trip.

I'll post again later this week about therapy and the progress we're making.

Oh--and N hugged me today all on his own! Yay! :)

~J

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Difficulties

In one week, it will have been one year since we came home from ET with N. It has been quite the adventure so far!

N started out with absolutely horrible sleep habits, he refused to put anything at all in his mouth—ever, he repeatedly hit his head to comfort himself, he screamed a lot, and very quickly came to the point of not wanting either his mommy or daddy to be anywhere but right next to him! I'm not going to lie; it was pretty difficult at first. Any difficult circumstance is made 10 times harder when you're sleep-deprived, and boy were we short on sleep! There were many, many nights when one of us (often it was N's daddy—he is awesome!) rocked him for hours and hours while he screamed, cried, fussed, and refused to sleep. It was hard.

We knew that giving him bottles, rocking him, singing to him, playing with him during the day, and just loving him would help—that eventually it would indeed get easier. We knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and we kept going because we knew we were doing the right thing for N. It was what he needed.

Now almost a year later, a lot has changed. N is sleeping better (though we still have some difficult nights and nap times), he feeds himself, he doesn't hit his head to soothe himself, etc. His progress is actually pretty amazing! But we are still struggling. A lot. We have some days that are great; N will cuddle, play, sing, smile, and be generally happy through the day. It's a joy to be around him, and I think that perhaps the problems we have on other days are really just in my head.

However, it became increasingly obvious to us that his problems are real. He is still struggling, and we were becoming increasingly unsure of how to continue parenting him. He will throw a temper tantrum over anything and nothing.

Give him the snack he asked for? Temper tantrum because he changed his mind and now wants something different. Put him in the high chair? Screaming as soon as he thinks he is done, because he wants to get down. Give him water instead of juice in his sippy cup? Screaming, kicking, hitting, fall-on-the-floor tantrum. Give him juice but he thinks you gave him water? Same thing, before he'll even take a sip.

He wants a toy that his brother has? Scream. He doesn't want his diaper changed? Scream. You put salt on your food and not on his? Scream.

You get the picture?

Now you may be saying, “J, come on. All toddlers throw fits. His behavior can't be that bad. What are you doing wrong?” I get it. When a kid has behavior issues, most of the time we assume it's because the parent isn't doing his or her job. And I also get that toddlers scream and throw tantrums. Tantrums aren't a new thing to me—I have gone through toddler-hood with two other sons.

Would you then also wonder why he throws these tantrums for me way more than his daddy? When he is with Daddy, he is relatively happy with a few times of screaming here and there. When he is with me, he screams non-stop. When he is with me, he is mad.

When he is with me and other grown-ups, he turns on the charm. He is cute, he might shake your hand or give you a high-five. The other person leaves and he starts with the tantrums again.

So once again you might ask, “J—what are you doing wrong?!”

And that's what I started to wonder, too. “Am I really such a bad mom? What am I doing wrong?!”

My son has attachment problems. If you've adopted or have read up at all on adoption, you probably have some idea of what I'm talking about. If you haven't, you probably have no idea what an attachment disorder is or what would cause it. You may wonder how a child who was adopted as young as N was could have emotional problems from it? How can he even remember what happened to him? Kids are flexible and heal quickly. Right?

I am saying today, I am not a bad mom. I am not doing something wrong. The damage done to my son was done before I met him. Though he was loved by many before being adopted, those who loved him were unable to fully care for all of his needs. He moved from a home to an orphanage, then to another orphanage, then to a new family in a new country. He experienced more loss in his first year of life than most of us will experience in our lifetimes. And no, he was not too young for it to effect him.

I am not an expert in adoption or attachment. I'm just a mom who is trying to do the right thing for her child. I'm a mom who sometimes wonders if she's going crazy, and sometimes wishes she could hide in her room away from the screaming. I'm a mom who desperately wants her son to be healed, and will go to the ends of the earth to get him the help he needs.

Though I have not been blogging much lately, I have decided to blog about our journey in attachment therapy and helping our son who is dealing with many problems related to his adoption and the traumas he has experienced in his life so far. This is a public blog, so I intend to keep some things private; I won't be posting every little thing that happens, or everything about our son's history, etc. I do hope though that my posting our experience may help encourage other parents dealing with similar issues, and may help educate others who don't yet know much about how adoption affects children.

We met with our therapist for the first time this past week, and I am already so encouraged. Our son will get the help he needs, and this therapist seems to be the perfect person for the job!

A few key points from our first session:

1) You are not bad parents
2) You are not the problem
3) Kids who spent time in orphanages and/or who have dealt with neglect, abuse, or bounced around from place to place have some catching up to do. Their brains did not develop the way they should have, and they will frequently need time to catch up emotionally, and often other ways as well
4) With a child N's age, try to distract him from the tantrum (exciting toys, etc) rather than trying to stop it in any other way
5) Try to give the child control in appropriate ways so he doesn't feel the need to be in control of everything when it's not appropriate (For example, let him turn on and off the lights in a room, let him help with whatever he's able, help him figure out how to make a toy work rather than do it for him, etc.)
6) Don't tell him to “Stop screaming” or “Stop hitting”; this only reinforces the behavior you want to stop. Instead, tell him what to do. “Use your calm voice”, “We use gentle hands”, etc.


One of the key things we will be working on is teaching N to show affection to others in appropriate ways. While we were at the office, he would hug the therapist when asked, and he would hug Daddy when asked, but he would not hug Mommy when asked. (Ouch!) I will be working extra hard to have good experiences with him this week; lots of love, cuddles, fun games, singing, and so on.

In his mind, only women have hurt him. Before we adopted him, he didn't have much experience at all with men, so he seems to associate me with that pain. It's like he is afraid to really show love and affection to me in case he gets hurt again. We will keep working on this with our therapist helping direct us.

It is tough, tough work, but I know we will get there. I'll post more after our session next week (unless the urge to write strikes before then.) ;)

~J

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sleep Problems

I was asked this question today, and thought I would post my response here in case it can help anyone else as they deal with sleep problems in their newly adopted infant/toddler. I obviously don't have all the answers, but sometimes just hearing from someone else who has been there can be an encouragement!

Her Question:
We just adopted our son from Uganda- brought him home in January. Sleep has been a grueling issue for him and so of course for me and my husband as well, so I would love to hear any advice you have. We are desperate!!!



My Response:
I'd be happy to share anything we've learned about helping our little guy with his sleep problems, but unfortunately I don't have any magic answers. :( I know it's so very hard when the little one doesn't sleep; if you're sleep-deprived it makes everything harder and seem much worse than it would seem otherwise! I'll share here our experiences; sorry if it gets super long!

How old is your son?

Our son was about 9 months old when we brought him home. At least, that's what the official paperwork says, but we suspect he was actually a few months older--probably closer to 12 months.

Anyway, we've had major sleep problems with him. We've now been home about 8 months, and I can say that it's much, much, much better than it was. But he's still not consistently sleeping through the night; especially if he gets sick he is up most of the night.

When we first came home, we were giving him a bottle every time he woke up in the night. He also got one before nap time and before bed time. The bottle was huge for him; because he hadn't gotten one in the orphanage, he really missed out on the sucking time. It was also a good way to get a chance to rock him, sing to him, etc. It was one of the very few ways to get him to sit still!

After the bottle, we would then rock him and pat him until he finally fell asleep, then carefully transfer him to his crib.

The whole time we'd be trying to put him to sleep, he would scream, shriek, kick his legs, flail his arms, arch his back, etc. It was really bad. But we just kept on holding him, talking to him, singing to him, praying out loud for him, etc. And yes, it was very draining, but it was the best thing we could have done for him I think. He needed the comfort and reassurance, needed to get the anxiety/grief out, and that apparently was his method for coping.

We quickly tried to get him into some sort of routine; a regular time for nap(s) and bedtime, and we kept things very low-key when he woke up at 4 or 5 every morning (yawn); we'd keep the lights low, not play loudly or wildly with him, and that type of thing to try to get him to understand this was not really morning yet! (It's not morning around here until at least 6am, preferable 7. Haha!)

Oh--we also gave him a small stuffed lion "blankie" during the rocking and bottle times, and he always had it with him in bed. At first of course, it made no difference at all to him whether he had it or not. But now he's quite attached to it and it definitely seems to help him self-soothe a bit!

After a couple months of this (what felt like torture), we decided to try to get him to fall asleep in his own bed. We'd go through our whole routine; diaper change, bottle in the rocking chair, hugs and kisses, then we laid him down and patted his back. We'd pretty much ignore him unless he was lying down. When he was lying down, we'd pat his back. If he stood up, we waited a minute, then quietly laid him down again and started patting. Repeat. (Over and over and over again.)

One day this went on for over a half hour, and I had to go to the bathroom! So I laid him down one more time, patted his back a minute, and then left the room. My plan was to come right back after using the bathroom. While I was in the bathroom.... he fell asleep!!

So then we started leaving the room after lying him down and patting him for a bit. Every 5 minutes or so we'd go back in, lie him down, pat, then leave again. We'd keep doing this until he fell asleep.

After a few nights, we extended the time by a couple of minutes, and kept extending the time, until it got to the point that he was falling asleep quickly after we left the room.

Once he was regularly falling asleep on his own, in his own bed, in a relatively short amount of time, we started trying to reduce the bottles he got in the night. He was still waking up at least 3 or 4 times in the night for a bottle at that point. We reduced the amount from 6 ounces to 4 ounces, and decided we wouldn't give him his morning bottle (8 ounces) until at least 5am. (Trying to teach him the difference between night time and morning!)

Once this started going well, we reduced the amount of formula in the 4 ounce bottles, so it was 4 ounces of water, but only 1 scoop of formula (so half concentration).

It took a long, long time to get to this point, but I can say that now he goes to sleep on his own, in his own bed, and generally doesn't even make a peep after we leave the room. He's smiling and blowing kisses, then we leave and don't hear from him again until he wakes up. :)

He's also taking a regular afternoon nap of about 1.5 to 2 hours. Sometimes he will wake up too early and we lie him down again, pat his back for a minute, and usually he will go back to sleep. He's also going to bed at night the same way, and if he wakes through the night it's usually only once. His norm these days is to wake around 5 or 6, get a bottle, then go back to sleep for a while until 7ish, though we do still sometimes have bad nights where he is up a lot, crying, won't go back to sleep, and so on.

I wish I had a magic "we tried this and it worked!" solution for you, but this is the best I can do. I'll be praying for your son and your whole family though. I know how hard it is, and it's just so tiring to everyone involved. I'll continue to pray, and if you have any further questions or would just like to chat, please feel free to send me a message!

You are doing a wonderful thing, and it will get easier! Hang in there!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Transracial Adoption Reactions :)

I've had two funny experiences in the last month that I thought I'd share here. Two conversations that can only happen because I'm a white mom with a brown baby. :)


The Children's Museum

When my mother-in-law came to visit us one weekday, we decided to take the boys to the children's museum. With an age range from 1 to 8 it wasn't easy to come up with any other fun activity that all the kids could enjoy when there was a bunch of snow!

So while we were at the museum, one of the workers there asked if they could take pictures of my kids for their newsletter.

"Sure!" I said.

So they came back with the camera and got ready to take the pictures. All 3 boys (wearing matching shirts, no less!) were running around the music room where you can step on buttons and it plays a different note. The lady taking pictures is looking at the kids with confusion all over here face.

"Are you guys together?" she asked, gesturing to the kids.

"Yup!"

"No, I mean all of you?" again gesturing to the kids.

"Yes."

"I mean, the kids? Are they with you?"

"Yes."

"All of them?"

"Yes, they're brothers even though they may not look like it," all said with a smile. "The little guy is from Ethiopia."

"Oh! Oh! We have family like that, too!"

So hilarious, isn't it??? :)




The Basketball Game

Another week, we were at A and D's basketball game. My husband is one of the coaches on the team, so N and I generally sit by ourselves to watch. One woman sat next to us and was chatting a bit with N. (He's awfully cute, you can't help but talk to him!) (No, I'm not biased at all.)

N pointed out to the court.

"Oh, is that your daddy?" she asked, pointing to a black man out on the court.

"No, his daddy is the one over there; the tall one with glasses," I replied.

"Oh," she said, looking extremely confused and scanning the crowd for another black man that could be N's daddy.

"Which one?" she asked.

"Right over there; one of the coaches," pointing towards my hubby.

"Oh," looking at me. And after a very long pause, "But I thought you were his mom???" she asked, still incredibly confused.

"Yes, I'm his mom. He was adopted and he doesn't look much like us."

"Oh! Adopted! I've thought of doing that some day."

We then proceeded to have a short conversation about adoption. But I was laughing about this the entire day. Occasionally my husband and I just look at each other and say, "Wait, I thought you were his mom?" and crack up. (Yeah, we're a bit weird.) :)