One Year Home

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).

Ayub

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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).

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Lucy

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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.

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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.

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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.

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16 responses

  1. You made it. With bravery and honesty, and lots of hard work! I could never do 4 children, EVER! You deserve a mama’s getaway. Aberash is in kindergarten and can’t do the other tasks some of her peers can do and are expected to do, and she does receive extra reading, spelling, writing and math 2 days a week. I told her teacher, I don’t care that she can’t write a paragraph at age 6 or read a book like my son could at that age. . This is a girl who is on her 3rd language, left everything she knew behind SO what I really care about is that she feels completely loved, safe in her environment, and enjoys going to school for both social and academic reasons. And she loves school. To me, that’s the win win. Those assessments can suck it.

    • Sue, you so totally rock! Aberash is going to be fine and wanting her to know she is loved and safe ARE the lessons she needs right now. Paragraphs can wait. 2+2 Mom , blessings and good luck. I have info on a very good child speech and language person in California if you want to contact her for suggestions or more local referrals in your area. Let your bloggy friends love you when you are not feeling patient or loveable! Surviving a challenging year IS an accomplishment to celebrate. Happy Anniversary.

  2. Yup, best worst year ever. We are struggling with kindergarten here too, though since Christmas, we have seen improvement. We’ll see what the rest of the year brings. And I have to look back too, to remind myself of how far we have come. We aren’t where we need to be yet, but at least we aren’t back at the beginning!

  3. One year home… Amazing! Thanks for sharing your honest assessment of how things are going. Ayub sounds like an amazing kid who probably just needs another go-round of kindergarten to get on the right track. Hopefully the speech therapy will help as well. Hearing about his energy level and rambunctiousness reminds me of the son of another blogging friend of mine – I’ll have to send you a link to her blog. (He’s from South Korea and he’ll be starting kindergarten next year.) Lucy is just beyond adorable and I say keep doing whatever you want to do with those curls! They are gorgeous. I like the “best worst year ever” comment. Sometimes kids just know how to say things best, huh? I’m happy you’ve made it through this first year, and while I’m sorry things are not where you’d like them to be, I’m glad you can see the progress you’ve all made. Happy Family Day!

  4. I left you a lengthy FB message before I saw this update. Oh, I can relate. We are almost 19 months in and just when I think we get something under control something else pops up. Thanks for your honesty, as you know we have similar behavioral challenges w/ M. Being a therapeutic parent in teh moment is the hardest thing. Esp. when there are other kids to manage…Let’s schedule a phone call sometime soon!

  5. One more thing… re: your school. What was their justification for not providing services for A’s diagnosed speech delay? B/c he’s ELL? The two are not exclusive and services can be provided. Sounds like you may have to fight for it…I hate hearing that. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

    Re: A’s memories, that’s so interesting that he hasn’t shared anything. So even when you look at pics from your trips to Eth he won’t add anything? even the benign stuff? M has always shared a lot (good, bad, and awful). Around the 1 year mark he really entered a prolonged grieving period for his family. These kids are all so different, but in the end they all need that reassurance that we will be their parents. Over and over and over again. =) Just channel your inner Karyn Purvis =)

    • Their reason for not providing speech is that his delay is not serious enough to qualify at his age. So, if he was in second grade and had this level of speech delay, then they would do it, but since he is still young, they expect him to be still developing. And, no, he won’t share anything…even the benign stuff. For example, I asked him if he’d ever ridden a camel (they were very prevalent in Afar), and he started telling me about how he rode a camel, but his mom had a car (not true) so they drove really fast like a race car. When we showed him the pics from our birth family visit, he was very excited and would say “that mine!” but he didn’t really offer any more info or answer our questions. So frustrating, but I know there’s nothing to do but wait it out.

  6. I haven’t read this whole post yet, but I have a child who wants to play “pass the balloon” a classic attachment game, but I did want to say my mother, who doesn’t buy a whole lot into this whole attachment disorder thing, did give me one piece of advice. She said to say, “We’re not allowed to send you back. We can’t send you back because we’re not allowed to.” That makes it not your “choice” about whether or not you’re keeping him. “Someone” has told you that YOU don’t have a choice. Hope it helps.

  7. First, congratulations on one year home! Second, your photography (and your kiddos!) is gorgeous! I’m sorry you are struggling with the attachment stuff as well as language delays. Neither of those is easy. I’ll be back *after* bedtime to more thoroughly read through your blog, but wow… Ayub and Spencer sound *very* similar in personality. And man, the energy level alone make it hard to parent them at times. I’m late to the journey, but look forward to following along.

  8. I just stumbled upon your blog this morning and felt comfort in knowing that I am not the only only struggling! Thank you so much for your honesty. It has been eight months since we retuned from Ethiopia with our six year old daughter (also from Afar and WHFC). The tantrums have subsided, but the “attitude” has set in. We now believe she may be three years older than what was reported. Our biological son thinks he has a twin (they are 11 days apart), but we really think he has a much older sister. I’d love to connect with you outside of this blog. I am an elementary school teacher – this year teaching ELL so it doesn’t escape me! – and can discuss some of the academic issues you are experiencing if you’d like. Congratulations on making it through your first year.

  9. Wonderful post. The first year! Oh my. We only have two, one bio one adopted and it is so hard at times. We too try therapeutic parenting and manage to do it right maybe 10% of the time. Better than nothing I guess. Thanks for sharing your year.

  10. Kristen,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for being so REAL. Our first year has been transformational, EXHAUSTING, sad, scary, magnificant, trying and beautiful. Going from a family of 4 to a family of 6 was more exponential than I could have imagined, especially as it relates to ALL of the services! I can’t see to organize OT, speech, medical, etc. with our older boy’s sports and academic schedules. That said, our older ethiopian daughter’s eyes literally “woke up” about 6 months ago (God, are they beautiful) and our younger daughter told me today that “my heart loves your heart.”

    Keep on screaming, crying, hugging, and lovin! You are a great mom!

    XOXO,

    Shelley

  11. Pingback: On Two Years Home | 2 + 2

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