Wednesday, 24 October 2012

One month home & still in the trenches

It is hard to look back and realize we have only been home a month. We have been through so many ups and downs already, it feels much longer. Fort is really making progress, but it has been with great effort and not without some cost.  I don't know if this will hold true, but it feels like we have turned a corner.  It makes me nervous just to think it, as if I will jinx it somehow. 

Week three was pretty hellacious. Fort turned into a tiny terror- I never knew when he would erupt. I basically got through it with the knowledge that at the end of the week he had appointments at the International Adoption Clinic in Columbus to see a gamut of professionals: including a pediatrician, speech therapist, nutritionist, developmental specialist, behaviour specialist, and last but most important to me- a psychologist. And even though I don't have another appointment with her until November, just knowing she is there and that I can call her or write down my questions, gives me an immense sense of support.  We found out he had a double ear infection and scarlet fever, and no doubt that was responsible for, or at least contributed to, his insane fluctuations in behaviors.  Of course, there is no knowing. 10 days later, he has finished his antibiotics and is doing so much better. Is it because he's well or because of what he's absorbed these past 10 days?  Will I ever know?  Does it matter?  Not really. 

That week, I told my husband I felt like Annie Sullivan, the teacher of Helen Keller. There is a famous scene where Helen is a child and eating with her hands like an animal. Annie puts a spoon in her hand and Helen throws it. Annie replaces the spoon in her hand and Helen throws it. This continues, and the teacher quietly asks Helen's parents to leave the room. When Helen realizes she is alone in a confined room with Annie she turns into a feral child. Annie never breaks, never tires, and eventually is successful. Helen eats with her spoon. But of course the real "win" is Helen learns to trust and listen to Annie. I retell this because I love that scene, but it was quite devastating to reenact.  I am not kidding, Fort seemed like a wild child- biting, kicking, pinching. He hit and grabbed during his sleep; he screamed when he was waking up- although I couldn't even tell if he were awake or asleep. I sat in his room with him the entire day my kids were at school and had to have a friend pick them up from school because I had not been able to calm him. I tried everything. Was he in pain?  I gave him Tylenol- you would've thought I was poisoning him. He spit it out, and it was all in his hair and on both of us. He had to get it washed out, so I started to get him ready for a bath. He fought like I was going to dip him in boiling oil. I brought him into the shower with me to try to reassure him, but there was no calming him. When I tried to get him dressed again, he screamed as loudly as the first time. I finally got him to calm enough to get in the car, and I drove around for 45 minutes - to give him a chance for him to fall asleep if he needed it, and to give myself a break so I could stop shaking. I felt like such a monster. I had to pull over while driving because I was crying too hard. I didn't want to talk to anyone and I didn't think I could get through another day like that. The psychologist appointment was like a handhold to sanity and I was clinging to it with all my might. 

And this week. What a difference. Have we turned the corner?  Or is the other shoe about to drop?  I don't dread the days like I did last week. I'm not snippy with my other kids, who are just so over me disappearing for hours to manage Fort's meltdowns.  I feel like Fort understands a lot of the rules, and has acquired enough English to talk about his temper tantrums. He now knows words for feelings, and he is proud when he has had a day with no crying and being "like a big boy". I know better how to manage and read Fort's moods- that there is silly and there is crazy but crazy silly is just a step away from losing it. The last full on tantrum that he had was a week ago today, and all other issues have been settled under an hour. Steve and I continue to have amazing support and communication since the whole thing began, unlike the way we lost it for a little bit after the twins were born. I feel like keeping honest keeps my friends closer to me and this experience- it helps me feel less like I exist in a bubble. I'm usually open and direct, but pretty damn private, and this has forced me to reach out, not just for me or for him, but for our whole family. And it helps. It really does. 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Honest. Real.

I write for many reasons. First, for myself. To sort out my complicated feelings and to have a record of this journey for me and for Fort.  I write so that friends and family have an inkling of what we are going through, so no one thinks this is easy and that everything is hunky dory.  Lastly, but importantly, I write for anyone considering or going through adoption. When I was trying to educate myself, I read tons of books and blogs and found so much helpful information. Unfortunately for me, I did not connect with all of the very religious blogs, as I do not personally believe that I have been called by god to do this. And most adoption blogs are heavily religious. I wanted some answers for people like me, who need more than faith to lean on. Anyone who knows me knows that I am nothing if not direct, so I can only be forthright in my posts. And I found that honesty in the difficulties of adoption was lacking. 

So here it is folks. Honesty. Discussing the difficulty. It is difficult. Brutal. Infuriating. This child, who has seen so much, is a puzzle. He can understand English and I can understand him fairly well, when he communicates.  Which he often chooses not to.  I am not sure if he uses communication as a method of manipulation, or if it is just a terrible habit from years of neglect.  It is the silence, the pulling away, the lying prone on the floor, the sharp elbow jab that means go away, the spitting - all the ways he demonstrates that he is mad or unhappy- that leaves me baffled. I can see that he is upset, but at what? Why?  I can't help him if I put breakfast in front of him and seconds later he has melted to the floor and is kicking his sister's chair.  What just happened?  Did I miss something?

I keep reminding myself that he is 2 inside. Yet watching this preschool age child biting me and pulling out my earrings because he wanted toast instead of waffles (really??  That is what that was about?) or because I am holding Ben when he is crying (jealousy rears its ugly head) twists my mind. I know he is reacting to this new life in the way a toddler would- except he isn't a toddler. He is a strong smart boy who is hurting, but also has survived long enough on his own to have an array of behaviors to get what he wants. 

So with every day comes new and confusing tests. And I cannot decipher if they are purposeful or not. Sometimes it is clearly a test of limits - he is clearly wanting to see what I will do if he pushes that stool over, or throws not one or two but three things. And when I sit with him in his room, sometimes for more than an hour, I see him going back and forth on whether he wants to please me.  He will throw of all the pillows and blankets off his bed, and when I don't react he picks everything up and makes his bed better than my 7 year old. I never leave him alone in his room for naps or punishment, because I know that is scary to him. So I sit in his room as he screams "AI II EE" and comes and crawls onto my lap where he pinches me as he hugs me and pushes my arms away and I gently place him back on the rug where he flails and screams louder. And ultimately he calms down enough where his screaming turns to sobs and I hold him til he can calm down and hear me talk about what happens. Our only rule is he has to say "sorry mommy" for whatever he's done and give me a kiss. Sometimes after calming down he can't do all that and then the tantrum starts anew. And I worry that he will be mad at me or we are asking too much of him by disciplining him already. But afterwards he is more responsive, more loving, and sometimes even talks about "me cry lots. Me say sorry."  And then it all feels like a small step in the right direction. 

But those outbursts I at least feel I can understand - I know from raising other children what testing limits and independence is all about, even though this is at warp speed.  There are so many other times, throughout the day and night, when neither my husband nor I know what the behaviors are about, or how to begin to bridge to him.  He is clearly bonded to me, but less so to the rest of the family. It is so sad watching Ben try and try to be so nice to him, only to have Fort push him away, or cry "Mama! Mama!" like Ben was taking something instead of giving him something. I am constantly worried that I am approaching him in a way that is unhelpful, or possibly unhealthy. How much is too much?  What is reasonable to expect from him?  When can he start sleeping on his own?  Is it beneficial that he is regressing?  That he wants to be carried?  What happens when we ignore behaviour we don't like?  Will any of this hurt him in the long run?  

Questions, questions, questions. Fear and frustration and sadness. I think Fort has to be feeling the same confusion. That is a small relief- some way I can identify with him. 

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Because of the joy

This is most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, no question about it. And I have been so realistic about what we were doing, how it would make an impact on all of us, and how it would be a slow process. But there was no way to anticipate the feelings that I had in Uganda, that I had children who needed me in the States, and one who desperately needed me there. There is no way to explain what it is like to endure three flights with a child who has never even used a seatbelt. There is no way to prepare for the sheer exhaustion- both mentally and physically. I have been pregnant twice, and the second time had twins. This is harder in many ways. We chose this and changed our life to make this happen.  It has been and will continue to be amazing. But it has taken a toll - on me, mostly, but also on our "first" kids, my husband, and no doubt, Fort. 

The first week was overcoming the debilitating lack of sleep both on my part, and on Fort's.  then the layer of jet lag, strep throat, and finally the stress and anxiety of the move. There were big tantrums, long screaming fits and general meltdowns. This second week we are both recovered for the most part- although I am still sleep deprived, it is of a manageable sort, not the dense fog which keeps the words from reaching the tip of my tongue. Fort and I are doing a complex tug of war- pulling this way and that. On his side- If I hit you, will you stop me?  Will you still love me?  Will you leave me?  On my side- if I discipline you, am I teaching you?  Am I scaring you?  Will you pull away farther?  It is never ending and always tenuous. 

When I sit back and look at the whole picture, we have not yet been home 2 weeks. So much has been compacted into this time. Fort's temper tantrums are not only common, but neccesary. And he has made huge strides since he's been home. I forget that we are all going through this too- not just me and Fort. The kids are all doing amazingly well. They seem to hear me when I appeal to their sense of empathy- I am only one mom for four kids who all need me. I am getting used to it to. I am working hard, but you need to patient with me.   My husband is an incredible support, he appreciates that I'm bearing the brunt of Fort's adjustment, by the mere fact that he is at work and I spent so many weeks of bonding time already. The weight of managing all the needs of all the kids in the orphanage has been relieved, although not forgotten. Now I am succumbing to the inevitable fact that, yes, raising 4 kids is more difficult than raising 3. And I see that no matter how stable, secure & strong our biological children are- they are still children. They are 6, 6 & 7 years old and they need me too. They need me right now more than they used to, because they are still compensating for the weeks I was away. And they are themselves battling with the newness of sharing me with one more, and one so needy and demanding.  And that is wearing on me. Everyone needs me, and I am constantly balancing their demands. 

Hands down, the most uplifting part is the joy. There is an unbelievable sense of delight and happiness in Fort, that I never saw while he was in Uganda. He LOVES being part of our family. His eyes light up when I ask him who lives in this house or who is in his family.  He likes to list us all by name, to say that this is HiS house, HiS bed, HIS bike. Everyday he gets a little better, a little easier.  He is affectionate by nature, but continues to surprise me with "BIG KISS!" - taking my face between his hands and planting his pillow lips on mine. . He thrives on learning the limits and rules- each tantrum getting a little more manageable after each time we teach him a new rule.  He is the little sponge I had hoped he would be.  He had barely even noticed books before, and certainly didn't seem to have an interest or attention span. Books were more of a competition to sit on the lap or turn the page. Already in a week he is lined up on the couch with our other 3, book in his lap, just happily flipping the pages and really comprehending the stories when I read them. The other night, he was in the bathtub with Ben, and watched him dunk his head under the water. Suddenly I hear "I do it!" ringing in the air, and there is my other son, slippery and shiny, surfacing from putting his entire head underwater for the very first time. His eyes were lit with excitement and he was grinning from ear to ear - so proud. 

He says "pease" and "shamp pyou" when we prompt him, which is extra amazing since please and thank you don't exist in the Luganda language. He kisses the kids good night and asks them to come and play with him ("you come!"). He is able to understand better and communicate much more than before.  I have never had a child as fascinated by trucks and machinery than him- we watched the bulldozer/excavator thingamajig for twenty minutes from the sidewalk.  He is enthusiastic about trying almost everything new - food ("and me!"), mama's car, raking leaves, the kids' soccer practice and of course, toys.  I know I am in the thick of it, and I am trying to see beyond today's battle to the real growth underneath.   His life has changed about as drastically as one's life can, and as exhausting as it is, he is drinking it up.