Sunday, 13 January 2013

Hard is good.

I think about how far Fort has come. I wonder what the people at the orphanage would think of him now. Did they ever see him so joyful? So carefree?  I was looking at videos from my time with him and I am shocked. That little boy who checked out, who cried piteously or moaned for hours is just not part of him anymore. I see him angry, frustrated, sad- and yes, still FULL of emotion - but he never just blanks out anymore. There are videos from Uganda where he is happy, silly, crazy even. But I do not see the quiet joy that is part of him now.  I love seeing that most excited wide-eyed pure happiness spreading across his face like sunshine.  His eyes light up and are so beautiful when he talks about the things he has discovered and loves. Bacon. Chuck E. Cheese. Dump truck. Family. 
I think about our journey thus far. He has been home with us 11 weeks, plus I spent 6 weeks with him in Kampala, so that is more than four months. Our daily life has calmed down a thousand fold. He won't go into the basement to play by himself, and he doesn't sleep the whole night in his bed, but there are such huge steps forward. He can go to the bathroom by himself again ( and so can I!). When I go to get the paper at the front door, he doesn't follow me, or even call after me in the "Marco, Polo" method he has employed. I can run into the house if I've forgotten something and he can wait in the car for me.    He can watch a movie, or at least a good part of it. He can play independently, nearby to where I am, or near the kids or Steve when they are home. He can go into the garage to practice riding his bike while I am in the kitchen. And the big things. He has had 2 meltdowns this week. Neither one had any physical aggression towards me. I can reprimand him without it being the end of the world. I can use something he wants (2 stories) to get what I want (pajamas and brush teeth, please).  When he hurts someone on accident or takes something of theirs, he has learned the power of sorry. He goes to preschool and adores it. He would like to go every day. He wants to take his lunch like the big kids do. He listens well to his teachers and is learning quickly about transitions, socializing with kids his age, and following directions.   I feel so positive about him, the change he has already accomplished and the things he has learned. I am sure the other behaviour issues will resolve in time and that his life will be nothing like the one he might have endured forever in an institution. 

Steve always says "hard is good" when we get frustrated with a project or some work. And I have come to also realize the hardest part is seeing any negative effects on the first 3 kids. This change is forcing the kids to grow up and be more independent, if only because there are more of them and less of me. This happens anytime a family gets a new sibling, but our experience is compressed because there are so many factors happening simultaneously. I see our biological son struggling and it kills me. It feels so unfair because adoption was our choice, and it just happened to him. But it also is forcing him to face issues that have been there his whole life - the intensity of his feelings and his difficulty in communicating them.  Do I think he will ultimately benefit from all of this change, and from Fort becoming a part of our family?  Unequivocally yes. But watching him in the throes of painful growth is painful to me, and it is exhausting constantly trying to buoy his self confidence and redefine his role in the family. 

I think about what I envisioned adoption would be like. It seemed that people reacted to the idea of adoption in one of two ways- either with a mind that has always considered it, or one that cant conceive of why you would do it. And I didn't understand the naysayers. But now I do realize what a drastic step adoption is. It is not for the weak at heart!  I firmly believe it takes two passionate parents to go through the challenges, the anticipated and the unanticipated. I can see how adoption can work its way into the tiny cracks in a relationship and push them open, stressing a marriage. I feel so lucky to have an equally dedicated partner, one who can support me as much as he supports the kids. Every time I feel completely drained, it is his friendship that brings me back to life. Adopting reminds me of having twins. You think you are prepared for it, but it is never quite what you think. It is surprising, exhausting, beautiful. 

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

First Christmas

Everyone wants to know how Fort is doing with his first holiday in America. Most of it is surprisingly normal!  He learned about most of the customs in the manner that older siblings would teach a two or three year old. It is always amusing to recount stories to him to explain traditions we believe in. Yes, a big hairy man comes down our chimney in the middle of the night. Nope, we are not scared of him- we love him!  Yes, that's a real tree!  In our HOUSE!  These gingerbread houses are not for eating, just to look pretty. Yes, Santa puts treats in those big socks by the fireplace. No, Santa is not a dog. (Where did that one come from?).

He feeds off the emotions and excitement of the other 3 kids - running around in the cold snowy night to put "reindeer food" (glitter and oats) in our darkened yard. Waking up on Christmas morning, he was jumping around shouting "Yay! Yay! Christmas!" as if he had been doing it for years. Later in the afternoon, he kept asking " Where is Christmas?"  And we would say - this is it! This is Christmas!- until we figured out he thought Christmas was a person, and had to explain Christmas is a day like Halloween.

Whatever I worry about is rarely an issue - I thought at Halloween maybe he would be scared or freaked out by some of the scary costumes, or even just the sight of costumed children ringing our bell all night. But no- none of that phased him at all- he ran ahead of us...just as if to say " what a great idea!!  Ring the bells and get candy!!"  But he could not get over the pumpkins on the doorsteps. "Pumpkins!" he said the first time he saw one. "Yes", I said. "For eating!" Fort shouted. No, I had to explain. We scoop out those pumpkins and instead of eating them we put them outside for decorations til they rot. Yes, seeing food as decorations is weird to him.

And now there is snow. I was worried about how this little guy who lived on the equator and put on sweaters when it got below 70 degrees would react to winter here. Thankfully he came to the US in September, and it was still quite warm, so he was able to gradually go through fall and winter. And he does amazing in the cold!  He has more tolerance than some of my other kids!  He is so unaccustomed to being inside all day that I think he just loves his little windows of outside time, even if that means in snow pants, boots and gloves.

He is a LOUD kid, a boisterous kid, a hilarious kid. He loves to tease and tickle and snuggle. He loves chasing and wrestling and my iPad. He loves our house, our cars, his bed. He loves 'pezza', orange juice and BACON. He does not want to go back to his orphanage, but likes talking about it and his friends there and remembering when we were there. He wants to be a pilot- so he can fly Madeleine there and show it to her. He is a dark kid, an African kid, an almost-American kid, an almost-our kid.