Monday, November 28, 2011

Our Experience in Bringing Home an Older Child

When it comes to other adoptive families, I am most often asked about Meskie’s adjustment and what challenges we have faced since she was older when coming home to us. I believe every single situation is unique. Each child comes home with different experiences, different levels of trauma, and for older children, different expectations of what life is like in America. Each family is different too. Some parents have prepared themselves for challenges and expect the transition to be more challenging for an older child. Some families have children already in the home to help ease, or in some cases make more difficult, the transition. I say this because there are so many dynamics and variables that impact how the adjustment home will go. And I think much of it is outside our control as parents. We’re all just doing the best we can to support our kids.

In our case, Meskie has adjusted amazingly well.  That's not to say there haven't been challenges.....but Meskie’s personality has helped tremendously in her transition, as well as our bonding with her. She is a very happy child. She is also very loving and affectionate. She is outgoing and strong-willed. At times this has made the transition more challenging, but oh am I so glad for it. It’s her confidence and that strong-willed personality which has gotten her so far and will serve her well throughout her life. Overall, I really do marvel at how well she has adjusted…..we have bonded with each other, we love her, and our life together feels blessed. But it’s been a journey. When I reflect back on even that first month home as compared to now (4 months home), the change is significant.

When Meskie first came home, language was the biggest challenge. We had learned some of her language, but it was not one we could easily learn. She knew just a little Amharic so we were limited in what we or our Ethiopian friends could communicate with her. She knew only a handful of English words. When Ryan spent a couple weeks with her in Addis waiting for the Embassy appointment, they each learned some words to communicate basic needs.  But it was very limited. I truly can’t imagine coming to a new life, where your whole world has been turned upside in every aspect, and you can’t communicate well with those around you. I know some of the meltdowns we experienced during the first month home was directly related to her feeling frustrated with not being able to communicate her feelings, wants, needs, etc. Overall though, she was really great at finding a way to communicate with us. She mimicked and acted like crazy (and still does). 
I believe the other main reason she would have multiple meltdowns that first month or so home was due to us setting some boundaries.  I had heard this from others, as well as my Ethiopian friends, and it was true…most young Ethiopian children have not been faced with boundaries in their life. They are free to go off and play and essentially do their own thing, what they want, when, etc.  This was apparent to us very quickly. So things like not wanting to come in from playing outside all day (she would run away laughing). Or not wanting to go to bed at night. She basically wanted the freedom to do what she wanted. And of course everything was so new and exciting so it was hard for her to transition to anything else. We were mindful of what boundaries we chose. So we had to explain to the other kids that during this transition, there may be things Meskie was allowed to do that they were not. And this was only because she was learning how to live with us, etc.  Thankfully they seemed to get it.

As time went on, things would gradually get easier and easier. She seemed to accept and trust what it was like to be a part of the family…that if she was asked to come inside, she’d get to go out again later. Or if I didn’t let her take her 5h bath of the day, she’d get another one tomorrow. Or if we made her go to bed at night, she’d wake up and get to do all the fun stuff she wanted to again. It was important for us to maintain some structure, be clear on expectations, and be consistent. And most of all, we tried to always come from a place of love with her so she learned to feel secure.

I also think our other kids were huge in helping her adjust to her new life. They adored her from the beginning and were really caretakers of her. Etta in particular has had an enormously positive influence in terms of how well Meskie has adjusted. Meskie had been waiting for so long to be reunited with her. And to come home to her sister, who she always loved so much, a sister who was settled in her life here, and was happy… who adored her too and was so happy to have her older sister home with her. They are so good together. That's a whole other post for a later time....
One thing I had tried to prepare for, but it's still difficult, is the grieving your child will no doubt experience. And babies grieve to. But it is very different to support a child through their grief when they are conscious of their feelings and can communcate with you. And we have been lucky because she feels secure enough to share openly about her feelings.

So here we are just 4 months home and I count my lucky stars every day. Meskie is happy and seems to love us as her family. Her English language is really amazing….she is speaking in full sentences and it’s rare that we don’ t understand what she says. And she understands the vast majority of what we say. I never imagined we could communicate so well with each other in such a short timeframe.
Her behavioral meltdowns are now far and few between and usually short-lived. In fact, I don’t think they are really any different than what we might see from our other 5 year old. She is awesome at communicating her wants and needs. She seems to just fit right into our family dynamic. She is not the least bit timid…tries everything. Has very, very few inhibitions and just seems to take life by the horns. She is one special girl.

So for those of you waiting to bring home your older child, or thinking about adopting an older child, look at the adjustment as a journey. A journey that may be easier and shorter for some or a longer journey that may test you to the core. But you are on the journey together and you will get through it together.
A little over a year ago I thought our family was complete. And then we learned of Meskie. And now we can’t imagine our lives without her.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How Can He Be 5?

I'm am so conscious these days about how fast time seems to fly by. How is Blake already five? Amidst the chaos, I find myself willing time to slow down.

Our Blake is full of passion.
Loving. Nurturing. Smart. Funny. Handsome. Kind-hearted. Intense. Determined.

Anyone who knows him understands why a visit from the Reptile Man was the perfect Birthday for him. Happy Birthday sweet boy. We love you beyond words.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Your Questions

Thanks to everyone who posted on my blog or Facebook about continuing my blog. I will definitely keep it going but struggle sometimes with finding topics to post. So I'm asking you...what do you want to know? Any specific questions about transition or adjustment? The Wait? The current challengs facing adoptions in Ethiopia? Only a few things are off-limits so tell me what you want to know and I'll give you straight answers. Promise.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Happy 3rd Birthday Sweet Girl!

I can't believe Etta is 3. She's growing up too fast for me. I reflect back on when we brought her home and can't believe how much she's changed. She's been home almost 18 months and it feels like she's always been a part of our family. I struggle to find the words to describe my love for her. I count my blessings every day that I get to be her mom. She is a shining star to everyone who meets her.

Beautiful. Smart. Loving. Caring. Funny. Fun. This girl truly sparkles.

Happy Birthday to a daughter who makes life sweeter.