Six months ago today, we arrived home after a 33-hour journey. Wow.
As most of you know, I devoured every blog I could find in our two years of waiting. So many waiting families have a blog, then when they get home with the kids, the posts begin to dwindle and then stop completely. No criticism…just disappointed that I didn’t get to see how it all turned out. What I really loved reading back then were the milestone posts. You know…one month home, six months home, one year home. I’ve been thinking for a while now about my six month post and decided that I would share with you the things that have worked for us. These are not all “by the book” solutions. It’s not because we didn’t know about the books or bother to read them, but it was more a case of finding what worked for us.
Ayub has been a challenge in this arena. We were surprised to find that instead of spicy foods (even ones using berbere), he preferred everything bland. His diet at first mainly consisted of white rice, dinner rolls, hard-boiled eggs, bananas and Ritz Crackers. Lots and lots of Ritz Crackers. Costco sells a giant package with about 12 rolls and we went through them consistently. We always had at least one of his favorite foods available to him and then offered whatever the rest of the family was eating. He has slowly expanded and now eats pasta with marinara sauce as a regular staple. He is also starting to eat peanut butter (on a spoon, not on any kind of bread) and some meats, so at least he’s getting some protein. He also loves Taco Bell. He can eat six tacos at a sitting. Last week he told me he wished he could sleep at Taco Bell so he’d be there when it “woke up” the next day. Anyway, lesson learned is that he is slowly expanding what he eats. I feel like as long as we keep offering him lots of choices, his nutritional needs will be met. He sometimes surprises us and we discover a new food that he’ll eat. Until then, we”ll keep giving him multivitamins.
Lucy is now a champ at eating. With her, we basically started over from the beginning, as if she was a six-month old starting on solid foods. Although she had been eating table food in Ethiopia, she didn’t want it here, so we were forced to revert to stage 1 baby foods and rice cereal. However, she quickly expanded her tastes and rapidly caught up, until today, when she is eating entirely table foods. Meats were also low on her list, but she fell in love with bacon at first sight (who wouldn’t?), which I think helped her develop a taste for turkey and chicken. She also loves cheese, which Ayub still won’t touch. And, like her mom, she has already developed a sweet tooth and cried when I wouldn’t let her have a second cookie last weekend.
Actually, we are doing pretty good in this category. Here’s where some of the attachment parenting folks are going to have a stroke. Our kids have slept in their own beds from their first night home. Not in our bed. Not on a mat in our room. Not in their room with us in their beds. And certainly not with us on the floor next to their beds. That doesn’t mean they’ve been completely alone. They both share a room with an older sibling, so there is someone in the room with them, although the big kids are not in there when they fall asleep. So how did we do it? Luck, mostly. But we did the same things that worked with our older kids. A good bedtime routine, with baths and books, then some cuddling, then lights out. At first, we would lay with Ayub and we slowly shortened the time we spent with him. We promised to check on him and always followed through on that promise…Andrew was good about setting his timer for five minutes and going back in. I think that helped. Ayub used to wake up during the night with night terrors, but those subsided after about a month home. When that happened, we would just take him back to bed and lay with him, usually only a few minutes, until he was back asleep. With Lucy, she was still getting bottle during the night, and I was worried it would be hard to break her of that habit, but she pretty much did that herself, sleeping for longer and longer stretches until she made it through the night. With her, we’ve had some periods where she has trouble falling asleep, and on those nights, I take my iPad into her room and read until she falls asleep. I think she likes that the light from the iPad lights up my face enough for her to see me, and I like that I’m not really giving her too much attention, so she gets bored and goes to sleep. Most of the time, though, both of them happily crawl into bed and fall asleep pretty quickly.
This was obviously our biggest obstacle. With Ayub being almost five when we came home, he had definite wants and needs that he couldn’t make known. This was frustrating for both of us, and I think the cause of most of our early tantrums. Everyone assured me that language would come quickly and in no time he would speaking English. I have to admit…on this I feel a little misled. It took a lot longer than I thought to be able to communicate basic needs. And even now, I still miss a lot of what he says. But, for the most part, he has a passable understanding of the English language. And even people outside of our family can understand him. Mostly. I really want to do a full post that shows the evolution of his language…maybe someday when I sort through my video clips.
As for Lucy, language development is her only developmental delay. She now has a handful of words which she uses consistently (Mama was finally added to the list this week). Her pediatrician and the group that evaluated her both believe that it is merely a case of changing languages at a crucial developmental point and that she will completely catch up. In the meantime, we are using baby sign language with her. We used this with both of our other kids for brief periods until they could speak, and I FULLY believe it helped immensely to cut down on the amount of frustration and the number of tantrums. Maybe I’ll do a follow-up post on this, too – I’m a huge believer in this method and think whether your kids are coming from another country or not, you should definitely explore it. It is amazing how well babies and toddlers can communicate through sign before they are ready to speak.
This has been a tough one for us. Ayub is all boy. He is wild. He is extremely physical. And he was not used to any boundaries. I read The Connected Child by Karen Purvis before we travelled and was convinced that her strategies would be the perfect way to approach behavior issues with him. Then we got home and I remembered…HE CAN’T SPEAK ENGLISH! Duh! Telling him “gentle and kind” or giving him a chance to “do-over” wasn’t going to help. We put that on hold for a while and started with the “time-in” philosophy of holding him on our laps while he melted down. Scratches, bites, and bruises ensued. Then I realized that we didn’t need to hold him. If we sat close by, he would calm down much quicker and we could then start discussing his behavior. We didn’t have any time limits, we based the length of time out on how long it took him to calm down. “No hurts” was the main theme in the beginning. As his language developed, we asked him to apologize to the injured party…this worked sometimes better than others. Now the threat of time out is a powerful tool, and will usually correct his behavior.
That doesn’t mean that we’ve left Karen Purvis behind. I bought the DVD set before we travelled, but had never watched it until about a month ago. Now we are at a much better place to use some of her strategies. I highly recommend the DVDs – it helped me (a visual learner) to see her and others actually using these strategies on real kids. We are now working with Ayub on “gentle and kind” to continue to eliminate some of the rough behavior. Don’t have it? Get it here. Totally worth the investment.
Again…lucky. Lucy’s hair was in pretty good shape when we picked her up. So much so that I haven’t even had to take her to get the ends trimmed…although I think we’re almost at that point. Her hair absorbs water more than most African hair and she has beautiful soft curls. Still, I admit that I have spent more on hair care products for her in the last six months than I’ve spent on myself in the last six years. We have a lot of used-only-once products sitting around in our house. (Andrew doesn’t like products that make her smell like an old woman, which many of them do.) But, I think we have a pretty good haircare routine down right now. And, once Ayub was able to tell us that he didn’t want his hair buzzed any more, we embarked on learning more about boys’ hair care. He has made one trip to the barbershop, which was overall successful. Not sure where we’re headed with his hair, as he can’t show us what he wants, just knows he doesn’t want it buzzed any more. We’ll see how it evolves. But, overall, the haircare issue is not as hard as I thought it would be.
Everyone always asks how the older kids are managing, so I’ll include an update on them. Both kids absolutely adore Lucy. Both kids enjoy playing with Ayub, but get worn out by him. They have both had their share of frustration at having to share us, but overall, I think they’ve handled it great. And I LOVE seeing how they all interact. With four kids there are quite a few combinations of who can be at home at any one time. It’s amazing to see how the interactions change based on who is here. With school starting again, Eleanor has relished the role of teaching Ayub how “big school” works, and Sam has enjoyed being nowhere near any of his family members during the day! There are days where Eleanor has told us that she wishes they never came, but after some one-on-one time, she usually changes her mind about that. Overall, I have to say that they make good older siblings and that we’ve all adjusted to everyone’s new role in the family.
And what about Andrew and me? Well…we’re tired. A lot. Parenting four kids is tough. Parenting kids from hard backgrounds is tough. Parenting with therapeutic strategies is tough. Neither of us get a down moment. The other day, we realized we’d had an uninterrupted 20-minute conversation and were stunned. I don’t think anything could have prepared us for how emotionally exhausting this process would be. On the other hand, it has been a fantastic ride. Ayub is the best hugger in the world and tells us “I love you” all the time. Lucy is the happiest and cutest baby ever. To see these two children who once had so little begin to thrive in their new surroundings has been incredible.
At one point in our pre-kids years, Andrew got really interested in Mount Everest and started reading a lot of books and watching documentaries about various climbs there. I was worried that he would want to do it someday. Now, I think our lives are very much like that climb would have been. It has been excruciating at times, we have wanted to give up at times, and there has been a lot of pain. But now that we’re at the summit, the view is beautiful.