I’m not going to lie, it has been a long, challenging time of my life. It has really been the last week that I finally realized that things are “normal” now. This finally feels like we’re just living life, not surviving. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had tons of fun and plenty of life in the last 10 months, but the underlying struggle has been there. I realize now that this struggle has been the reason I haven’t posted here. Sure I’ve been busy, but I still am, I just didn’t know what to say or how to say it. But now I am convinced that the light at the end of the tunnel is, in fact, not a train.
In the interest of transparency, and for the benefit of other adoptive families who read this, I am going to copy here the post that I wrote shortly after we were home.
You will catch a glimpse of how I was feeling then:
Well, hello. It’s been awhile; a long, long while. Blaise has been home for 3 months now, and it has been pretty much nothing like we planned/expected/read about/anticipated/etc. A great deal has been going on in our lives, so I think I’ll just hop from thing to thing in a random order bound to frustrate you all. This is what you all get for asking me to update the blog in the midst of the mess that is our life right now!
Immediately after returning home, our first order of business was to throw Brooks his Star Wars birthday party which he was so gracious about having postponed when Mommy decided to jet to Africa on a 2-day notice. This was also the first time many of our family and friends met Blaise. Brooks had a great time, and Blaise convinced just about every person that had him to give him another Capri Sun and so single-handedly consumed the majority of the party drinks.
As anyone who knows us knows, we seldom sit around the house on the weekend, so here are some of our first weekends home:
Blaise’s first trip to the beach and to La King’s for Ice Cream and Lemonade
Old MacDonald’s Farm
Fountains in The Woodlands with cousins Lance and Karlyn
Mother’s Day: Baby Dedication and the Zoo
The Museum of Natural Science
The Children’s Museum
First trip to the Lake House
Galveston Duck Tours
Brooks has also been playing t-ball for the first time. For any of you who’ve experienced 4-5 year olds playing organized sports for the first time, you know how this experience went! The “highlight” of our season came when Brooks had been continually asking when he could play football instead of baseball. So, about half-way through the next t-ball game, Brooks took off and de-cleated the runner between 2nd and 3rd! I guess he was serious about wanting to play football.
So, this is what we’ve been doing. How are we all adjusting? Very well, very badly, which day is it? The truth is that it has been very difficult. I hope you enjoyed all those happy stories, but I’ve been honest on this blog to this point and for families coming after us, our experiences are important images of the realities once you come home.
For those of you who aren’t fellow adoptive families, let me tell you some things NOT to say to families who’ve adopted a child:
1) “Well at least you got him the easy way; you didn’t have to go through child birth.” Let me tell you as someone who went through pregnancy, gave birth to a 9lb 11 oz child, and nursed him for almost 2 years—adoption is not the “easy way.” Especially when your new child comes as an almost 3 year old. God made babies cute and cuddly for a reason--It’s so that by the time they turn into 2 and 3 year olds they’ve stored enough credits in your “love bank” to carry them though temper tantrums, potty training, defiance, etc. When you start at that age you have to make an intellectual decision to love your child. You have to decide that you love him and refuse to think otherwise until you feel it completely.
2) “All toddlers/preschoolers do that; He’s no different.” Yes, he is. No, I can’t always explain why, but he just is. You can’t have it both ways. Either all the prenatal care, infant care, developmental toys, stimulating music, skin-to-skin contact, specially formulated baby foods, one-on-one language time, tummy time . . . matter or they don’t. Either all that that “we” do for our children here has a positive effect on our children or we’re just wasting our time. I say that to say that from the time Blaise was an infant, he had little to none of that. And not for 6 months or a year like some of the children who’ve been adopted but for almost 2 ½ years of his life. So, yes, while almost any mom can say, “ Oh, my son does that all the time” I’ve parented one very spirited, high-needs child through his 2-4 years, somehow Blaise is just different. There are the moments when he just “checks out.” I can look in his eyes and it’s like he’s gone—withdrawn. His constant defiance is so much more calculated than the “normal” child’s. I think it is also the fact that without exaggerating I can say that there are days on days when 99 out of 100 things I say (and know are comprehended) are deliberately disobeyed. Blaise literally runs around touching, kicking, pulling, pushing, throwing anything he can get his hands on—over and over and over. He knows which things make you the angriest and he goes back to them day after day after day. Furthermore, and this is SO important, during the first year or two with your child, you come to know them so intimately. You know what each cry means; you know when you’re being “played” and when you’re really needed. You know when to come running in the night and when to wait. You know when hungry means hungry and when it really means tired. You just know what to do. You know where it hurts and how to make it better. You know each traumatic experience; each little fear; each little anxiety and you can protect and shelter accordingly. You don’t know that when you adopt a non-infant. It is really, really hard; and can really make you feel inadequate.
3) “Do you regret it at all now?” or “Are you second guessing your decision?” SERIOUSLY? Did you ask that to the mom at whit’s end because her colicky baby won’t stop crying? Or the parent whose teenager is about to become a parent? Or, the parent of the pre-teen who just got caught smoking pot? Or, how about the parent whose child is disabled and requires non-stop care? All children have challenges; ours are no different no matter how they joined our family.
4) “Can you sign up to bring a meal to *****? They had a baby while you were gone” Yes, because I just got back from a spa week on the beach. I’m more than willing to help others, but please remember that adopting is a life change as well. A 4 week trip abroad to adopt a 2 ½ year old doesn’t exactly leave me fully recouped and ready to sign up for meals—and asking discounts the adoption experience and trials.
Let me add one more disclaimer before I go on. Before you all criticize me for talking badly about my child for the world to see, understand how important this is for those in the adoption world. Most of you can’t and won’t ever really understand this experience, we need each other. This is for them. Furthermore, Blaise is not to blame for what he has gone through or who that has made him. While I have an incredibly hard time remembering that about 250 times a day, this is in no way saying that he is a “bad” child. He is a damaged, bruised child and it is our job to fix him.
So, here is a snap shot of what we’ve learned and are experiencing with Blaise.
Physically: We took Blaise to The Texas Children’s Hospital’s International Adoption clinic. It has been a very good experience. We are so blessed that Blaise is very healthy. He had 3 intestinal parasites which we believe are all completely treated. He was also suffering from minor malnourishment, according to WHO standards. He is very small for his age but because the orphanage misplaced his growth records we won’t be able to tell for a while if this is just because he’s small or if he has a growth issue. Though Blaise is small for his age he is very physically adept. While I was at the orphanage I witnessed many children pulling of feats of climbing that would have sent parents here into a panic, I think this lack of restraint also led to Blaise’s ability to do more than a child here of the same age. He also shows a great deal of eye hand coordination and picked up hitting a ball off a tee and dribbling the soccer ball without any instruction. He flips and sommersalts with ease and without fear. In fact, aside from being in the pool itself (he’ll chill on a float all day), he is fearless. He actually fell asleep on the back of the jet ski at the lake! I know I’m biased, but Blaise is beautiful. I am stopped often by people telling me how beautiful he is. He has huge eyes framed by lashes that curl so far back that they make a loop. His skin is dark and smooth. He really is adorable!
Eating: At first, Blaise ate everything placed in front of him` (and me and Chris and Brooks). He was highly insulted that people would leave food behind on the floor of restaurants and the airport and made desperate attempts to eat whatever he could find. Now, he methodically picks through every piece of food to make sure nothing green has snuck in. He refuses 2 out of every 3 meals, and has been known to scold me “Mooooommmmmyyyyy” when I serve something he doesn’t like. Though this can be frustrating, I think overall it makes us happy. He can leave food behind because he knows there will be more tomorrow. He used to stand at the gate to the kitchen and cry and throw himself around because he was so upset that I was cooking and it wasn’t ready yet. One of the first nights home, after having a huge knock-down, drag-out tantrum over going to bed, he finally fell asleep and I noticed his hand was clutched. I thought he was tense from the tantrum and tried to relax his hand but found that through it all he had managed to hold on to a last bit of his snack. He still holds the last little bite of a favorite treat, barely nibbling it for as long as we’ll let him, but he doesn’t do it at every meal—and that is good.
Sleep: Well, we just had to do away with naps. Frankly, the theatrics at night and the frustration I felt every nap and every bedtime were doing nothing to foster a connection between us, so now he doesn’t nap and goes down relatively easily at night. We’ve had a new development this week, he’s been crying in his sleep. A sad sort of quiet sobbing. I am usually so tired at night that it is probably good that we’re all in one room and I can’t give in to the temptation to let him cry it out—I’m sure he would, I imagine that that lonely cry is somewhat common at night in the orphanage. Anyhow, I can sometimes soothe him by patting him, sometimes I bring him to bed and hold him. I don’t know what it is, I think it’s because he’s been having a rough week. I’ve been yelling; he’s been pushing; we’re all stressed out (more on that later). It’s been one of those weeks he’s been “checked out” on me a lot of the time—he’s just not been here this week; he’s walled in right now. But, it’ll work out.
Manipulation: The orphanage for “older” children is a survival of the fittest sort of place. Blaise has many different cries, but now that I’ve come to recognize it, his manipulative “pitiful” one is the most obvious. It is NEVER used on me alone. It is used exclusively when someone else is around and I have disciplined him or told him no. He uses it on grandparents, waiters, store associates, etc. It involves a slight roll of his big eyes, while still maintaining eye contact, a very big, slow tear rolling down the cheek and a choking sort of quiet sob. It draws crowds.
Defiance: I could list many instances, most of which are fairly common, and Brooks did his fair share. I’m not sure what the difference is. I think it lies somewhere in the reasons for the defiance. He never has any reason for doing it. He doesn’t want something or not want something; he just doesn’t want to obey. I think maybe it’s an extreme version of negative attention is still attention. I got to thinking the other day that logically you would think that a child who had gone from one over a hundred children to one of two children would be overwhelmed with attention, but it’s not like that. It’s like he’s so starved for attention that he wants more, more, more whatever he has to do to get it.
Empathy: Perhaps one of the most upsetting things to deal with for me personally has been Blaise’s startling lack of empathy—for physical or emotional distress. He just doesn’t care if someone else cries or is hurt. He even seems to think the reaction he gets by causing pain is funny. I think this comes from 2 sources. First of all, Blaise has a remarkably high tolerance for pain. He just does not seem to feel pain. Therefore, I think he doesn’t get what it means for something to hurt. Secondly, the adoption doctor explained that many behaviors which we think of as being innate human characteristics are actually learned behaviors. A child learns to care when someone else cries or is hurt because someone always cares when he cries or is hurt. If the vast majority of your cries go unheeded, you stop crying and tell everyone else to suck it up as well. Interestingly, Blaise is learning to be “hurt.” He will trip or bump something and I’ll watch him start to go on with his business and then stop and run to me holding the wrong arm and saying “ow” and get a kiss. The more he gets sympathy, the more he’ll be able to empathize with those around him.
Attachment: We have also been very fortunate that Blaise has been very willing to attach to us. He is a physically affectionate child and enjoys cuddling, wrestling, being carried. He exhibits classic signs of attachment like checking in with me at the playground, and I was super happy when he cried after I dropped him off at the nursery one day. He is also very attached to Brooks aka “Bubby.” From very early on Blaise would overcome his natural inclinations to hoard a treat or sticker, and while he won’t share, he waits to make sure Bubby is getting one too.
Siblings: Brooks and Blaise get along like siblings. Brooks has had a hard time at moments, but we all have. At one point, Brooks looked at me and said, “Blaise just makes everything so much harder.” And really, it’s true. Right now he does. But, there are also times when Brooks says something like, “I really am starting to love Blaise.” Brooks defends Blaise and tries to negotiate his punishments—unless he’s being punished for touching his stuff. Blaise copies Brooks and sings himself to sleep with the Star Wars theme. They fight; they play; they’re brothers. I’m pretty sure that this has to do with the amount of “bossing” that Brooks does, but I’m not sure Blaise doesn’t think of Brooks as another grown-up. He’ll ask Brooks to carry him around the house; he’ll insist that Bubby put on his shoes, etc. If Bubby doesn’t have a potty seat then neither will Blaise even if he falls right in! Last night I came to bed much later than everyone else and Blaise was already in our bed because he had started crying and Chris moved him in with us. Somewhere around 3:45 when Chris was getting up, Brooks came to bed as well. I kind of jumped awake when I realized they were both in bed because I immediately thought I needed to separate them—they are both kickers. So, I sat up to get between them and found Brooks spooned around Blaise holding him in his arms. I let them stay that way.
Discipline: Spanking doesn’t work; we’re not good at it for one and for two, he just plain doesn’t care. I think it’s the pain thing; we might as well be tickling him. Time-out works at times. Blaise likes stickers. So, one thing that works is giving him a bunch of stickers on his shirt and then taking them for infractions. The main thing for us to overcome is that limits of any kind are a foreign concept to Blaise. I asked a nun what sort of discipline they used; she shrugged and said, “Well, when there are so many . . .” It’s just logical that when you are one of many, a sure fire way to get attention is to cause trouble—the squeaky wheel. We just have to find the energy to give the attention all the time so he knows he doesn’t have to cause trouble to get it. The problem is that there are honestly days where the opportunities for positive reinforcement are limited. You all don’t have to be too worried about me or the children yet, but it makes me think that some of the crazy people you see on the news actually thought they were making rational discipline decisions when they did something crazy. But when you sit there thinking that if they only made little, bitty handcuffs you could leave the room for 2 minutes without hearing someone scream or something crash—I’m just saying . . .
Language: As we expected, Blaise’s language acquisition has been remarkable. If I had to place him on the scale of other children I’d say he’s about a year behind—more like 2 than almost 3. His first sentences after “I wub you” were “There’s the ___________” and “Where’s the ____________” The blank was often filled in by a name “Where’s the Daddy?” He has words for most of the common objects around us; he forms his own sentences “Open Trash” “Shoes On, go Bye-Bye Motocar.” He demands “kisses” says “enough tickle” and, unfortunately, as mastered “Mine” and “NO!”
Personality: Blaise is overall happy and energetic. One aspect of his personality that might be related to needing to be heard in the orphanage is his volume. The kid is LOUD! Happy or sad; there is no inside voice. He does not notice or react to television unless it is music or dancing. He is a great problem solver. He works out problems, obstacles, child-safety latches, etc with apparent ease. Blaise is very cute to watch when he is proud of an accomplishment. For instance, the other day he was playing at the train table and he clearly had it in his mind to make the longest train possible. After he successfully strung together a whole line of trains, he let out a joyful, “Mommy!” and flung his arms out to the sides to show the size of his train and the propped them on his hips and threw out his chest. He has very good fine motor skills; my mom noticed the other day that he was holding his crayon properly and he’d never been told. This, I think, is an example of one of the quirkiest things about Blaise and something that I think he is doing as a way to adapt to his new, completely foreign surroundings. He mimicks. He stops every now and then and watches someone on t.v. and then walks, dances, or motions just like them. One day Chris and the boys were walking around his parents’ pond. Chris was getting exasperated because Blaise kept stopping. Finally, he looked at him and realized that every time Blaise passed a garden statue he was posing exactly as the statue. At the zoo, he did a comical interpretation of a giant goose cleaning her feathers with her beak. Now, why he wouldn’t mimick the other 20 children listening nicely at library story time is another question . . .
So, that’s it in a nutshell. Do I regret anything? Nothing except not being more prepared before we came home with Blaise. But I’d be lying if I said that life was not a lot easier 4 months ago. Going from 1 to 2 children is always hard; when number 2 comes running around with a mind of his own and a hard history—WOW! Our life is nothing like it was before. I miss my routines with Brooks; I miss the ability to focus all my attention on one child; I miss being able to have more than a 5 minute conversation in passing with Chris; I miss not doubting my ability to do things right; I miss knowing every in and out of my child’s emotions; I miss my “old” life, but I embrace my new one. I love Blaise and know that he was meant to be in our family. We will struggle, but we’ll be fine.
On the lighter side, the other day I found Blaise walking around the living room muttering over and over, “Don’t touch the wee wee. Don’t touch the wee wee.” I was wondering what lesson Brooks was trying to teach his brother when I realized he was referring to the admonishment he hears at least 5 times a day, “Don’t touch the Wii!”
So, is anything else going on with us? Well. Yes. As most of you know, we’ve been living in Chris’s parents’ pool house since mid-December waiting for our home in Tulsa to sell. We are so blessed to have a place to stay, but it is a little crowded! We finally received an offer on our Tulsa home last month. So, with a July 6th closing date, we headed to Tulsa with the boys to pack. We arrived at 2 am Friday morning and spent all day packing what was still unpacked in the house. Then we drove the boys to Bartlesville for a last trip for Brooks and a first trip for Blaise to Kiddie Park. We packed more on Saturday morning and picked up the moving truck. When we assumed we could move with one truck because we did the last 2 times we kind of forgot that the last 2 moves had not included all of our furniture. This was the first time we had all our stuff in one place for a move. So, after four hours and a very full truck and a still full house, we gave up and headed to Incredible Pizza with the boys. The next morning we went to pick up another truck from the Budget location which was supposed to be open but apparently decided to close for the 4th of July. We found a truck at U-Haul and loaded it up. During this time Brooks was laying on an air mattress saying he didn’t feel good. He obviously was not getting the attention he normally would, so when I did go check on him and feel him I got very concerned and went to buy a thermometer—104.8! So, it’s Sunday, July 4th, no choice but the ER. Did I mention that not everything fit on truck number 2? So, Brooks and Chris head home in Budget truck with no A/C, my mom flies in from Houston at 10 am. We load a trailer and she, Blaise and I head out at noon. 7 ½ hours later we’ve made it as far as Ennis after I hit one other truck with my 26’ U-Haul and got a phone call informing me that our Tulsa sale was not going to close. Therefore, our new home cannot close; therefore, these trucks must now be unloaded into storage. At press time a July 6 closing date is looking like a July 21 closing date. If it doesn’t close by then, we will probably have to put it back on the market and spend some more time in the pool house!
We also went to Arkansas this weekend for the Wallace family reunion. We went into Little Rock on the way there to play at the Children’s museum and the River Market playground. The reunion was great and we had the amazing opportunity to go up in helicopter rides.
We have way too much to be grateful for to complain, but Chris is working very long hours, I’m trying to make the most of what’s left of the summer, and we desperately need some closure to our living situation. A sense of permanency and routine are hard to come by when it’s always just a couple weeks until another big change. Hopefully my next post will be full of how we wrapped up the summer and got settled in to our new home! Thanks for your patience in waiting for this post and in reading it all if you made it to the end!
So, as you can see, the first months home were rough. Since that post Brooks has started Kindergarten where he is doing so well. It was a very emotional experience for me to send him to school. I (and many others) ducked my head and cried walking out that day as his teacher physically held him back from running back to me. But, since then he has excelled. I think realizing how much he knew of the “academics” already made him feel very confident. He has also met many friends and has learned all those social skills that he was never really exposed to before. Though he certainly continues to test us at home, he has made it this far through the year never having to “move his clip” (the discipline system). He has also started karate and he is excelling. He tests this weekend for his Tiny Tiger yellow belt. He attends Henderson’s ATA and I cannot say enough good things about the program there. He also completed his first season of Upwards basketball at our church, Woodridge Baptist. He had fun and it was a great opportunity for him to be exposed to the sport. He is turning into a big boy. I miss the baby sometimes, but I’m so proud of who he is growing up to be. There are days I’m down-right resentful of having to take him to school, but I know that this growing up thing is something he has to do.
Now, about Blaise—much of what I wrote before is still true. He is an intense, active child. He is challenging and willful. He is a “typical” 3 year old multiplied times 100. But something very important occurred to me—the good is multiplied by 100 as well! His laughs are that much bigger; his hugs are that much tighter; his smiles are that much brighter; his love is that much more intense.
We tried to start Blaise in Pre-K, but found that he wasn’t quite developmentally ready for that level of structure. This turned out to be a good thing because it has given me the chance to have the time with him like I had with Brooks. Of course, like many younger siblings, his goal in life is to be like “Bubby” so he wants to go to school. We’re working on counting and he made it to 5 the other day and declared himself ready for big boy school.
As I’ve mentioned, Blaise can be very stubborn. A couple weeks ago, I decided that come hell or high water, he was going to complete an entire 3 minute time-out. It took 8 hours and 50 minutes. I think our biggest challenge with Blaise is discipline methods. There are times I really wonder if the concept of cause and effect just hasn’t clicked with him. I can honestly say that I am very consistent with him, but he still does the same things over and over and acts surprised when he gets in trouble. So either I haven’t found the right things that really gets to him, or he just can’t get it yet. The hardest thing is that I worry about my ability to keep him safe. He doesn’t stop when he’s running into a street; a will stand up in the shopping cart if he’s in or climb on the side if he’s out (and, yes, he has tipped it over). He will touch hot and sharp objects and put things in his mouth over and over. So, baby proof, you say—frankly, he can get into anything anywhere he wants—he is that physically adept and clever.
Health-wise Blaise has continued to be very healthy. He has had ear infections and produces more snot than any child (or adult) I have ever seen. But other than that, he still has an incredibly high pain tolerance. It’s good and bad—we didn’t know about his ear infection until it was so bad he was sobbing uncontrollably. This week he tried to cut his own strawberries and sliced a deep cut into his finger. Until I found blood all over the house, I didn’t even realize he had been cut. The next day, he reopened the cut and didn’t say anything until again I noticed blood everywhere about the same time Chris put hand sanitizer in his hand—at which point he said, “Ow.” No tears, just, “Ow.” He is a great sleeper at bed-time, but unfortunately for night-owl mommy, pops up way to happily early in the morning and points to the window to inform me that it is morning.
Blaise’s speech is incredible. He is understandable and he makes very complex sentences. The other day in the car he said, “Look, Mommy, a helicopter! Oh! No, actually that is an airplane.” He likes to sing and did a fun rendition of the national anthem (it’s Brooks’s favorite song and Brooks can sing it perfectly). Blaise did pretty well himself. His favorite song in the car is “The Baby Song” which is what he calls “He’s got the Whole World in His Hands.” He also reasons very well. Not too long ago, I asked him why he was running in the kitchen (which isn’t allowed) and he replied, “Because I wasn’t walking!”
Just about the time I was becoming desperate to be able to resort to using the TV as a baby-sitter on occasion, we discovered that Blaise really likes Mickey Mouse Club House. In fact, when we went to the Hobby Center to see “Madagascar Live” last weekend, he clearly and loudly chimed in with “Oh Tootles!”
Blaise is a very charismatic little kid. He manages to charm everyone just enough to convince them to deal with his other tricks. He is certainly no people pleaser—he just wants to do his own thing. We just need to figure out how to tame him without breaking him.
As for other Pawlak news, we did finally move out of Chris’s parents’ guest house and into a new house in Kingwood. We were so blessed to have that place to stay for a year while we sold our home in Tulsa and then took our time getting adjusted to our expanded family. We’ve added a puppy, Pumpkin, to our family. Aside from that, we are just living life. It feels normal now. Maybe 10 months is a long time to adjust, but at least we’ve made it.
Truly through all of this, our family has been so helpful and supportive. I’ve relied on them more than I thought I would. I have needed the support of others in a way that I never did before. I needed our families; I need my oldest and best friend, Carolyn, and my newer confidant, Stephanie, and my always good friend, Nidia. I needed those little encouraging Facebook posts and emails from friends and acquaintances and old classmates that make me feel like I’m not messing this whole thing up. I needed the fun group of women I’ve met at church and and at Brooks’s school. All these people make me understand that I’m not alone.
Many of you have wondered at our experience as a bi-racial family. To be honest, it hasn’t been hard at all. At first I was self-conscious of our difference when we were out, but lately, I find myself perplexed when I notice someone staring at us—then I remember. No one at all has been rude. I had a good natured argument with a black woman at the children’s museum who loved Blaise’s hair but insisted that I had had it twisted. I informed her repeatedly that it grows like that—I pretty sure she didn’t believe me. I’ve corrected a few people who characterize him as African American. It just implies a different cultural distinction than the vast majority of African Americans. He’s Rwandese-American. Other than skin-color, most African Americans don’t share any more in common with him culturally than I do with a Russian. We did have a funny experience in the Alamo. Inside the Alamo (under the sign that said “no pictures”) a Chinese tourist asked to take a picture of me with Blaise. I guess we’re a novelty. I have loved the fact that children don’t question the color difference at all. At play areas, they don’t bat an eye as they tell Brooks to get his brother. They run to me to tell his mommy when he needs telling on. They just don’t have all those preconceived notions that we adults carry around. Oh for that innocence!
I’m going to put photo’s here as an album since we have so much ground to cover. I might not post as frequently as before, but I promise not to be a stranger.
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