We made it. We survived the first year as a family of six. One year ago today we crossed the threshold into our house with two exhausted and wary kids. Since that day, the firsts and new adventures are too numerous to mention. So here it is, the mega-update of where we are now (and how far we have come).
I think that someone forgot to tell Ayub about the stages of adoption. We never got a honeymoon phase, where he was on his best behavior so we wouldn’t send him back. We went straight to the screaming tantrum phase, acting out, defiance. Then things seemed to calm down a little. Only recently have we had some questions of “you send me back?” Although we have always used words like forever and always, those things are too abstract. Now we’ve started saying “we will not send you back to Africa,” and “you will stay with us until you are all grown up.” I don’t know when he will believe us, though. He is now acting out in different ways than before. More overt and looking straight at us when he does the mischief. My guess is that he’s now testing us…seeing if we are serious about keeping him no matter what. I have to admit, this is totally trying my patience. I know the correct thing to do is to slow down, get on his eye level, hold his hands and say, “honey, I love you and you are always going to stay with us.” In reality though, I am more likely to scream, “Put your damn shoes on and get in the car – we’re late for school!”
Ayub has still not shared anything with us about his life in Ethiopia. This is harder than I thought it would be. I knew going into adoption that there would be a lot of unanswered questions. But I thought that by adopting an almost-5-year-old, we’d at least get a little bit more info because he’d be able to tell us. But he’s not ready yet, and I’m afraid that what memories he does have are probably already very faded. So we are left with a lot of not knowing. I’m working on growing more comfortable with that, but it’s hard. Not only for me, but because I’d also like to be able to share it with Lucy someday.
You will remember that back in August, we sent Ayub off to Kindergarten, knowing that he wasn’t quite ready. As it turns out, that may have been a mistake. Don’t get me wrong, he has learned a lot and come a long way, but it has been a long and painful process. He is not catching on as quickly as we had hoped. He is still struggling with his letters, and has no concept that each letter has a sound. He can count, but can’t make his numbers correctly. He doesn’t have the academic vocabulary (greater than, for example) to follow along. So while the other kids in his Kindergarten class are doing writing assignments, he lays with his head on his desk. We have been working with the school on what kind of services he is eligible for, but it’s a lengthy process. Right now, we’re in a holding pattern and our goal is to complete the things on the Kindergarten readiness assessment so that he’ll be ready to do Kindergarten over next year with a better foundation. His teacher is great. His school is less-than-enthusiastic about providing any additional services. I’m overwhelmed with a new world of IEPs, RTIs and evaluations. We did finally get a diagnosis of a speech delay, so he is receiving speech therapy. Of course, the school district won’t do it, so we are using a private speech clinic and paying a co-pay every week. In the meantime, I work with him every night, we pick a letter of the week, we do math and use various iPad apps to teach concepts. But let’s keep in mind that I’m not a teacher, so I don’t really know what I’m doing.
But on the bright side, we have really gotten to see Ayub’s personality. Similar to the Tasmanian Devil, he is “on” all the time. He’s a bit of a daredevil, and I definitely see extreme sports in his future. He’ll try anything, including jumping off the arm of the couch onto a waiting exercise ball because his brother thinks the ensuing accident will win us $5000 on America’s Funniest Home Videos. (For the record, he bounced right off, landed on his head and got up to try it again.) He was the only one of our four kids that would ride a roller coaster simulator with Dad, even when he saw that it went upside down. He laughed the whole way through. He’s a total clown and his favorite activity is making other people laugh. His humor isn’t very sophisticated yet, but you can see him working hard to get a laugh. His favorite line is “I jokin’ ya.” I would say his possible future career choices include circus performer, stunt man, or stand-up comedian (although not sure he could stand still long enough for that last one).
As for Lucy, she continues to be our little, happy-go-lucky girl. Although she’s changed from a baby to a toddler over the past year, she is still the flirty, sweet baby we came home with. She has developed a love for books, and can most often be found emptying the bookshelves into her reading chair and hanging out. Her language development is amazing. She now has over 100 words in her vocabulary and loves to talk. She also loves to sing, and picks up lyrics after only hearing a song once or twice. Therefore, “Britney, Bitch” is a part of her vocabulary, thanks to our local radio station not playing the edited version of that song. She can sing her ABCs and count to 10. She loves baby dolls and bath time. We go to Mommy and Me Art Class, Story Time at the library, and have play dates with her friend Tucker. At this point in time, I would say that she’s a very normal (or above average) almost-2-year-old.
And what about the hair? Well, it does take some work. Andrew is slightly overwhelmed by the number of products we use. But those curls are so dang gorgeous. I know I should probably be putting them in a more protective style to keep breakage to a minimum, but frankly, her hair texture just doesn’t last more than a day in braids. Several well-meaning African American women have asked me if I know how to braid. I get it…that’s what you do with little black girls’ hair. But for now, we’re going to let those gorgeous locks fly free.
The Other Kids
One of the things that has been amazing about this whole journey is the opportunity to see how our older kids have reacted to sibling-hood. It has been a rocky road, but one that I think has led them to be better people. I know they get frustrated, but I also think they are both loving their new roles. As it has played out, Eleanor tends to play more with Ayub. Although she would tell you that she hates Ayub, I think she secretly loves that she has someone younger than her that she can tell what to do. And Sam and Lucy are tight. After I take the elementary kids to school, the two of them have about an hour before we have to leave to take Sam to school. During that time, Sam plays with Lucy. He chases her, they tickle each other, he lets her give him raspberries on his stomach. Total cuteness. It’s not all sunshine and roses, and almost every day there is a knock-down drag out fight between someone. But, every night at dinner, the three oldest kids race to finish eating because after dinner is their only time to play all together. It is loud and noisy and probably violates all sorts of safety rules, but they love it.
Mom and Dad
How are we? Well, it’s hard. Every day is a new challenge. Ayub’s behavior is very trying. I want to be the good mom and do therapeutic parenting. Then I snap and just want some results. Andrew is cranky and barks at the kids a lot. We are tired. All. The. Time. This has been a mentally and emotionally challenging process. I guess that I really thought by the one-year mark it would be as if they’d always been our kids and they would have integrated seamlessly into our family. I have to admit, there are days when I still look at my life and wonder if it will ever feel like Ayub is truly MINE. But when I look at where we were a year ago, it is truly an amazing transformation. I have to keep reminding myself of that. When I look back on pictures from those early days, it’s hard to believe that these are the same kids. Ayub wasn’t even on the BMI chart for his age, now he’s at the 50th percentile. Lucy wasn’t walking, now she’s running and dancing. Neither of them spoke English, now we can’t get them to stop talking.
Last week we had our final meeting with our social worker. Before the meeting Andrew asked Eleanor what she would say about the last year. She said, “It was the best worst year ever.” I agree.