Calm Down Corner

I had to share my latest project.  I’m totally proud of this Calm Down Corner I created in Ayub’s closet.  He has a huge closet, as it is really a walkway to the attic space.  When Sam moved into his own room, it left Ayub’s closet with two dressers, one of which wasn’t being used.  Add to that one of the cats who got locked in the closet and peed on the carpet, and it was time for a closet makeover.  But I didn’t just want to find a way to store more junk, so I decided to make a calm down spot where he could go when he’s starting to get upset but isn’t in a full-blown rage yet.  I started by ripping out the carpet and replacing it with laminate squares.  Then I filled it up with the following:

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  1. A fuzzy carpet (feel)
  2. A collection of fidget and stress balls (feel)
  3. Skin brush (feel)
  4. Essential Oil roller with Vetiver and carrier oil (smell)
  5. Gum (taste)
  6. Calm down jar (sight)
  7. Loud ticking clock (hearing)  (We are also going to get a battery-powered radio, since there is no outlet in the closet and music seems to do wonders to calm him down.)
  8. A few of his favorite books (just because)

So, we have all five senses covered, which is important for our little sensory-seeker, as frequently different things tend to work for him.  Now he has everything available to him in one place.  He’s pretty excited about it.  I’m not naive enough to think that this will always prevent meltdowns, but if it only heads off a few of them, then it was worth it.

Lows and Highs

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Ayub. There are some days where he is so frustrating and wears me out. Then the next day he lights up my world and makes me see things in a whole different way. Examples…

A few weeks ago, we got another call from the babysitter. It seems that the dogs had escaped the yard again and the kids had gone to catch them. Somehow, in all the chaos, the dogs came home. Sam and Eleanor came home. But Ayub didn’t come home. He had wandered off, in the snow, and got lost. He walked “to the really big street” where a man saw him and asked if he was alright. He told them man that he was cold and lost. (For those of you who are TBRI followers, you’ll laugh to hear that when Ayub retold this story to me, he said “I asked him to help me, but I asked very ‘spectrally.”) The man called the police, who came and got Ayub. He couldn’t remember our address, so the policeman asked him where he went to school, drove him there, and Ayub was able to point the way home.

He can’t remember his address, but he is wicked smart. Last week he started telling me all about how islands are made by volcanoes. So while I was Black Friday shopping I saw a book on the clearance shelf about the Earth. I took it home and we started reading it together. We got to the page on volcanoes. Before I even started reading the page, he pointed to the picture (a cross section of a volcano) and told me how the lava builds up inside until it just can’t hold it in any more. “It’s like when you have to poop, and you hold it in, but there’s just more and more until you have to get it out.” I am, of course, laughing hysterically, to which he responds, “Mom, stop it. This is serious. I’m trying to teach you something.”

Yes, kid, you’ve taught me a lot.

So…this happened.

“Ayub is in the top of one of the pine trees in our backyard I’m racing home.”

That was the text I got from Andrew while I was on my way home from work.  I actually arrived first.  I had to stop and let he fire chief pass me on the way  into our subdivision.  When I arrived at our house, there were lights flashing, fire trucks, police cars, the works.  And still, Ayub was in the tree.  They had a ladder against the tree, which only went about half-way up to where he was.  They shooed us all inside.  I am not an idiot…I knew they didn’t want us out there when he fell.  They brought another ladder.  This time a 36 footer.  Still not tall enough.  At the same time, they were pulling huge fire truck with the ladder into our driveway so they could extend the ladder over our privacy fence.  The fireman on the ladder finally talked him through climbing down.  He made it to the top of the ladder with some coaching, then scampered right down.
Why?  As a parent with significant emotional needs, I find myself asking that question all the time.  Is this just normal behavior?  Or is this related to adoption?  And the answer I usually land on is adoption.
That day, Eleanor had a tantrum which disrupted the morning routine, so Ayub didn’t get to finish his homework.  It was a half-day at school.  So there were two major changes in routine.  And he just. Can’t. Handle. That.  So when the babysitter insisted that he do his homework, his fight or flight kicked in.  And this time his flight was up a tree.
We talked to Ayub about how he could have gotten hurt.  He doesn’t believe it because he’s a very good climber.  He even told the fireman so.  We talked about how he scared the babysitter, and his siblings, and us.  He doesn’t think we should have been worried.  I am thinking that instead of convincing him not to do this again, we should put those aluminum wraps around our trees that you use when you don’t want squirrels to climb up.  But, there will always be other trees, either literal or figurative.
Enjoy this video of the situation, filmed by Sam, with additional commentary by Lucy.  Yes, I am able to laugh about it now, and this is pretty funny footage.

Up a Tree from Kristin W on Vimeo.

On Two Years Home

Yep, that’s right.  Today marks the two-year anniversary of stepping off the plane onto American soil with two tiny, scared Ethiopians.  I have to admit, March 7, 2012 was one of the hardest, longest, most draining days of my life.   (Every day since is a close second.)  But it is the day our family became a family.

So usually on these milestones (six months home, one year home, 18 months home), I reflect on the kids and where they are.  But this time, I am more focused on myself.  So, I’m going to give you a list (in no particular order) of what I’ve learned over the past two years.

  • You can love an adopted kid just as much as you love biological kids.  I know, everyone has heard this before.  I believed it, right up until I adopted kids.  Then it immediately felt different and strange. I was suddenly parenting someone else’s 5-year-old. And he didn’t behave like a 5-year-old I would have raised.  I admit, I wondered if it had all been hype. But it’s not. I now honestly love my adopted kiddos just as much as their older siblings. They are now mine.
  • You have to fight for your kids. Again, I had heard people say this and nodded politely.  But, having two kids who didn’t need additional services, support, or therapies, I didn’t know the extent.  I still think some days I haven’t fought hard enough (still waffling on whether to wage a war with insurance over neurofeedback therapy), but I know that I’ve done more than many parents will ever have to do. It’s exhausting. It’s confusing. It’s like learning a foreign language without a dictionary. But I feel like we are in a good place now.  Of course, now Lucy is getting older and showing similar behaviors as her brother, so it maybe time to start round two.
  • Watching my child learn something new is still the most wonderful feeling in the world, but it’s even better now.  My first two kids are pretty smart. They have had only minor struggles in school. They were both early readers. They both soaked up information like a sponge. And I loved to see them learn new things. But Ayub has made this process even more wonderful. When he has grasped new things, it has never been without struggle, which makes it all the more valuable in the end.  I love watching all my kids light up, but with Ayub, it is so much more meaningful, because we’ve had to fight for every scrap of it.
  • Adoption is loss.  Yes, this was in every adoption training I attended.  Every book I read.  Every blog I followed.  And I knew this in my head.  Only recently have I felt it in my heart.  Our kids have lost so much.  Sure, they have a great life here, but it’s not with their first family, it’s not with their culture, it’s not with their language, it’s not with people who look like them, it’s not with their foods, songs or festivals. That’s a lot.  Especially for a kid who remembers some of those things.  Dinner at a nearby Ethiopian restaurant isn’t enough to replace what’s lost.  There is a sadness that runs under our kids, no matter how happy they look or how much they laugh. And I’m suddenly starting to deal with it myself. This week, Ayub told me he was sad he couldn’t speak “Africanharic” any more. And there are so many other things to be sad about, too.
  • My kids are lucky. Huh? Wait a minute.  Adoptive parents NEVER say that.  Any time someone tells us our kids are so lucky to have been adopted, we respond with “we’re the lucky ones,” because we know about that adoption loss thing. (See previous bullet point.) But lately I’ve been thinking a lot more about this. Our kids are DAMN lucky. Out of all the adoptive parents in the world, they ended up with us. I have to tell you, I truly believe that if Ayub had been adopted by a different family, his adoption could have been disrupted by now, or even worse, he could have ended up like Hana Williams. But he got us. The family who is willing to advocate for him. The one that has insurance that covers therapy (even if not as much as we’d like). The family where mom decided to stay home to help him catch up to grade level. The family that is willing to read everything possible if it might make a difference in his life. I’m not saying that we’re the best parents ever (although I’m sure we’re close). What I am saying is that he ended up with us instead of a family who was led to believe that “love heals all” or “prayer is the answer.” Because it doesn’t and it isn’t. So there, I said it. Our kids are lucky.

As you read this, I am spending my last day at home with Lucy. Next week, she will start school and the following week I am starting a new job. I have never cried when one of my kids started school. Not preschool, not Kindergarten, not ever. I have always been excited for them. But I’ve never spent two solid years with any of my kids. Until Lucy. And because of that, I think Monday morning will be a little rough. I know she’s ready to move on without me, and I know she will flourish spending time with her peers. But I’m really gonna miss my shadow. The last two years were totally unexpected to me, but I’m so grateful that I got to see my littlest become a big girl. Except for that potty training part…that sucked.  It’s kind of ironic that the timing of this all worked out. Exactly two years (to the day) after becoming a family, we’re finally returning to the family structure I always thought we would have.  It’s been a wild two years, one that’s been immeasurably harder than I expected, but one that has rewarded us beyond belief.

And, because I know that this is what you really wanted to see, here are some then and now pics:

THEN:

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NOW:

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THEN:

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NOW:

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For Those Who Have Asked

Sorry I’ve been a little behind.  It’s been a while since I updated you all on Ayub.  The last you heard, we had scheduled surgery and were planning to start ADHD meds.  So, here’s what’s happened:

surgery

The week of Thanksgiving, Ayub had his tonsils and adenoids out.  I have to say, this was a much tougher process than I expected.  It took a good eight days before he was feeling well again.  Poor thing was pitiful.  For a kid who never complains about pain, he had a tough time.  Once healed, we did begin to see a minor difference in his behavior, mainly that he could sit through dinner more calmly.  However, it wasn’t a big enough difference to stop there.

Despite the massive ice storm that left us without power the week of Christmas, we headed off to the pediatrician to get some ADHD medication.  We started it over Christmas break and saw an immediate difference.  Although he was still hyped up about the holidays and Santa and new toys, he was manageable.  We sent him back to school expecting rave reviews from his teacher.  Results were not as great as we had hoped.  She saw a slight difference, but not enough to help him academically.  He still struggled with behavior and was still disrupting the classroom.  So, after a month, we raised the dosage of medication.  TA-DA!! Suddenly the fidgeting lessoned, he was able to concentrate and he started bringing home completed work from school.  His teacher was thrilled.  One day he brought home a very complicated drawing of a dragon for Chinese New Year.  He spent a total of four hours over the weekend coloring it in.  Every.  Single.  Detail.  It was amazing.  He has never liked to draw or color, yet the time he devoted to this was massive.  I was floored.

I will say that as much as we are enjoying the calm, there are some down sides to the medication.  He really isn’t the same kid he was before.  He’s still funny and a bit of a clown, but lately he has seemed more sad.  There are days when he just looks unhappy.  We’ve also seen a huge shift in his emotions.  Prior to his tonsillectomy, we had seen him cry four times.  That’s right, in almost two years, he had cried only four times.  Now there are some days when he cries four times in one day.  That may be an exaggeration, but he is definitely much more emotional.  I’m not writing this off as a bad thing.  It is tiring and can really slow things down when you have to stop and deal with the waterworks, but it is showing us some of the things that upset him.  Before, he must have been just closing off those emotions.  Now we get to see them, which is interesting.

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Somewhere in the middle of all this, his teacher asked whether we’d ever ruled out Sensory Processing Disorder.  I have to be honest, I had heard about this from a lot of other adoptive parents, and I thought it was just kids who don’t like tags in their clothes to rub or have to have a certain kind of bath towel.  I had no idea how encompassing it could be.  I went online and found the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, which had some online checklists.  My jaw hit the floor when I realized that we were dealing with a sensory seeking kid.  We made an appointment with an Occupational Therapist who specialized in SPD (whew…lucky to have that handy) and she confirmed my online diagnosis.  He does have sensory seeking SPD, but she says it is secondary to ADHD in his case.  So, we will continue with the ADHD meds and have an OT visit every week.  I will say that just receiving this diagnosis makes it much easier for me to deal with his behaviors.  Now when he climbs all over me, I understand why and try to find appropriate ways to give him touch.  When he hums or makes nonsense noises, I try to find music or something else to give him an audio input.  It suddenly makes so much more sense.

Bottom line – he is doing much better at school and we are all doing much better at home.

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What I’ve Learned About Adoption (Part 4 – Adoptive Parents)

I didn’t quite finish my What I’ve Learned series before the end of National Adoption Month.  Life happens.  (Thanks to all of your support for Ayub and his surgery.  He is still recovering, but anxious to get back to eating pizza and bouncing off the walls.)

My final installment…Adoptive Parents.

There are a lot of us.  We all have one thing in common…we’ve adopted kids.  Some domestically, some internationally.  Some infants, some older children.  In the beginning, I searched hard for a link between us.  We must have something in common to have followed the same path, right?

Wrong.

I’ve learned that adoptive parents, the circumstances that led them to adoption, and the way they parent their adopted children are as varied as everyone else.  I’ve also learned that for a community who should be so supportive, we can be very opinionated.

Here are some of the things we disagree about:

  • Some adoptive parents came to adopt because of infertility treatments, some because they were called by God, and some because they just wanted kids (or more kids, as in my case).  Believe it or not, I’ve heard of infertile parents questioning others’ rights to adopt a child because we don’t “need” to.  Ummm…really?
  • Some parents adopt domestically, through open adoption, closed adoption, or foster adoption.  Some parents adopt internationally.  I recently read a blog on transracial parenting where she blasted those of us who adopt internationally because…wait for it…”there are plenty of children right here in the US who need a good home.”  Well, bravo to you for helping them out.
  • Among international adoptive parents, there is frequently a smack-down between those who think you should keep a child’s birth name (“It’s the only link the kid has to his previous life.”) and those who change it (either to fit in easily in American culture, or because they want a family name).  I love this argument.  Since we changed one and kept one, I win no matter what.
  • And, this is the big one of late.  Among Ethiopian adoptive parents, there is a raging war about whether people should adopt from Ethiopia at all.  Yes, you read that right.  People who adopted from Ethiopia now (that their children are safely home) feel that the ethical corruption is too much and that Americans can no longer adopt from Ethiopia without adding to the corruption.  They are very critical of those trying to complete adoptions now.  I totally get it.  I’ve got concerns about corruption in the system as well.  Lots of them.  But I think it sucks when they call out well-meaning families for wanting to grow their family in the same way they did.

The list goes on and on.  You can be judged for homeschooling, private schooling, or public schooling.  You’re graded on how diverse your community is.  People berate other parents for co-cleeping or not co-sleeping.  Feathers are ruffled at the mention of fundraising for adoptions.  Some believe “special needs” adoptions are somehow better than others, ranked by the level of need.  People are judged by how much they’ve done to “give back to” the country from which they adopted, whether their kids have learned Amharic or whether they celebrate Ethiopian holidays.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know that this happens with all parents.  It’s easy to look at other parents and judge them for not making the same choices you do.  I just think that the adoption world has an added layer of judgement.  Maybe it’s because of all we went through to get to this point.

I’ll lay it all out on the line.  I adopted two kids from a system which is probably much more corrupt than any of us would like to admit.  I brought them home and legally changed their names.  I made them sleep in their own rooms in their own beds from day 1.  I sent Ayub to preschool as soon as I could.  I stopped going to the Ethiopian church because it didn’t fit with MY value system.  I sometimes forget Ethiopian holidays until I see someone post on Facebook.  This is me.  These are MY choices.

But here’s the thing.  Even if these aren’t your choices, YOU ARE STILL A GOOD PARENT.  I think it’s time we stopped shouting our positions so loudly and really listened to each other.  Supported each other.  This is hard work.  When you are in it up to your elbows, you need to know that others respect your position.  Of course, I love to learn from the experiences of others, which I why I have stayed active on message boards and blogs.  But in the last month, I’ve reached my limit with the judgmental tone of the dialogue.

Now, on the positive side, I have met some wonderful people and some of my greatest supporters through the adoption process.  Other adoptive parents who have faced similar challenges are some of my greatest parenting allies.  On those days that are darkest, I am constantly uplifted by people who I have met through this journey.  I’ve had Skype sessions, late night phone calls, strings of text messages, and kind comments that have helped me keep it together.  When I look at my Facebook friends, I am amazed at how many people in my list have an adoption connection.  When I have a question, I still turn to the message boards looking for information.  This community is absolutely vital to my mental health.  I continue to marvel at the fact that people were actually able to parent adopted children before the internet.  It is these friends who have gotten me through the last four years.  And when I weigh the good and the bad…there is definitely more good.  I am a better person for knowing these people and having them in our lives.   If I had gotten around to posting this before Thanksgiving, I would have ended with “I am thankful for you.”  And even though Thanksgiving has passed, I think I still will.

I am thankful for you.

[Please forgive me for not having a photo in this post.  It occurs to me only now that every time I’ve been in person with other adoptive parents, we’ve always taken pictures of the kids, but not of us parents together.  That will change in the future.  Note to self: put down the wine glass and take a few photos.]

 

 

 

Diagnosis: ADHD

I’m taking a break from my “What I’ve Learned” series to bring you this update on Ayub.

As I’m sure you have inferred from my blog, Ayub is a “high-energy” child.  (Translation…sometimes he’s bat shit crazy.)  He has had classic symptoms of ADHD since arriving home.  His teacher addressed it with us in our recent conference, and says that it is interfering with not only his learning, but that she’s had complaints from another parent.  (Ugh…yes, we are the parents of “that kid” in class.)

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(Note the scab on his head caused by jumping down the stairs and hitting the wall on the landing.)

Because the symptoms of ADHD can also be caused by trauma, we decided to wait a while before addressing it.  Well, we’re now tired of chasing a whirling tornado around town, and so we’ve moved forward with that piece.  In the process, I’ve found some interesting stuff that might be helpful to other adoptive parents.

1.  It can be hard to differentiate trauma from ADHD.

As mentioned above, many times adopted children have suffered trauma in their past.  Just the act of losing one family and gaining another (even if done at birth) is traumatic.  Therefore, adopted children sometime live in a state of hypervigilence.  They are constantly scanning the environment, looking for danger.  This can mimic the symptoms of ADHD, since those children also have trouble focusing on only one thing at a time.  Here’s a good article.  Because of this, we wanted to make sure we were treating the right thing.  Ayub’s therapist says that while there may still be some trauma, the behaviors should have lessoned over time, so it’s time to take the next step.  She did all of the inventories with us and the teacher, and is pretty definitive that he needs more than behavioral therapy.

2.  ADHD symptoms have been linked to gluten and certain food dyes.

We gave the gluten-free lifestyle a whirl.  While we initially thought we saw some improvement, it wasn’t enough to continue torturing my family with pasta that tastes like corn.  I never had the guts to try the Feingold Diet, which requires you to take out any artificial food coloring from the diet, although we have tried to minimize everyone’s intake of colors.

3.  ADHD medication is actually a stimulant.

ADHD affects the part of the brain which normally inhibits behavior – the part of your brain that tells you dancing on the table at Applebee’s isn’t a good idea.  Therefore, although you would think that the last thing hyper kids need is more stimulation, you actually use a stimulant to activate that part of the brain.  Therefore, the behaviors are diminished, even though the brain is now even more stimulated than before.  We’ve found this to be true with Ayub.  He has always loved coffee, since coming home from Ethiopia.  We used to occasionally let him have decaf (because we figured caffeine would send him orbiting around the moon).  We then tried caffeine and found that it actually settles him down.  Now we give him regular coffee whenever we need to settle him down a little.  (Please don’t feel the need to point out that this is not a good long-term solution…I am aware.)  This leads us to believe that stimulant medication may have a very positive effect on him.

4.  Sleep apnea can also cause ADHD symptoms.

We took Ayub for a sleep study, based on the recommendation of his ENT.  On whatever scale they use, Ayub should have been below 1.0.  He was 2.7.  So, he’s not getting enough restful sleep at night.  (This came as a surprise, because to us it seems like he is the sleeping dead.)  This can cause kids to be more hyper during the day because they are actually trying to keep themselves awake.  Many times, having tonsils and/or adenoids removed can eliminate the ADHD symptoms by allowing the child to breathe and sleep better at night.  Who knew?  Well, I guess these guys did.

Based on all of this, here is our plan.

  • Tomorrow, Ayub will have his tonsils and adenoids removed.  We’re hoping that this alone will start to improve his daytime behavior.  I’m optimistic, but trying not to get my hopes too high.
  • The week before Christmas, we are meeting with Ayub’s pediatrician to discuss ADHD medication.  She wanted to wait at least three weeks after the surgery to see if we could tell a difference.
  • We will continue to work with his therapist on any possible trauma that may be causing symptoms as well as behavioral therapies we can use as intervention at home.

I have to admit, I used to be in the camp of “ADHD isn’t a real thing…it’s just kids being kids.”  But now that I’ve lived with Ayub, I understand that he really can’t control it.  He sooooo wants to be a good kid.  He wants to stay on green.  He wants to earn privileges.  He just can’t.  I’m hoping that our three-point plan will help him be the kid he wants to be.

What I’ve Learned About Adoption (Part 3 – Race)

We were warned that we would be a conspicuous family.  Obviously, when we are all together in public, it’s pretty obvious that our kids are adopted.  And I was prepared for a rash of comments and judgement about that.  You know what?  It hasn’t happened.  Even when we were living in the South, people weren’t all that much surprised to see us as a family.  I was actually surprised at how many people automatically assumed that I was the kids’ mom, not the babysitter or foster parent.

But that doesn’t mean that having African kids hasn’t caused me to do a lot of thinking about race relations in America.

Since we’ve been  parents to black kids,

So to all of you who say that racism is in the past…you are wrong.  In fairness, outright hostility is not as common.  People use more politically correct terms.  But the truth is that in this country, black people are not equal to white people.

I’ve started playing a new game when in public with my kids.

I play against myself and try to beat my own score.  But, if you’d like to play along, here it is.

To Play:

Round 1 – Take your African child to a public place.  I recommend playgrounds, malls, children’s museums, restaurants, ice skating lessons or any other busy place.  The more people, the higher your chances to score.

Round 2 – Move away from the child.  Don’t go too far, or you may miss some of the scoring possibilities.  But you can’t be holding hands or talking to the child.  Just let them play.  Find a bench where you can see your child.

Scoring – Tally your total score using the guide below.

  • 1 point for every person who starts to look around with the “where is this child’s parent” look.  You know the one…the glance around the room looking for a person of color who must be with this kid.
  • 2 points for every person who asks another random person if they know where the child’s parent is.
  • 5 points for anyone who actually asks your child where his/her mom is.
  • 10 points if someone comments to the random black woman in line about how cute her kid is.  Only it’s your kid.  (Yes, this really happened.  Andrew got the 10-pointer.)

I play this game with both Lucy and Ayub.  Although Ayub’s behavior sometimes warrants a “where’s your mom” comment, it is actually Lucy who scores higher.

So the sad part of this is that it shouldn’t be a game.  I should be able to sit on a bench and watch my kids play the same way the other parents do.  I have come to the sad conclusion that most people assume that a black child was brought to this location by black parents who just left them there.  Because we all know black people are bad parents, right?  No one is checking to see who the little blond girl belongs to.  Am I right?  (Unless, of course, the little blond girl steals toys or throws sand.)

DSC_1858The other thing I’ve noticed since having African-American kids is that I was missing out on a lot before.  I never noticed that African-Americans weren’t talking to me.  They were never UNfriendly.  But now, they seem much more comfortable with me.  We carry on conversations about hair care with the cashier at Target.  We chat about politics with the guy at the baseball field.  We chit-chat about child development with the (only) black mom at the library.  It makes me sad for all the years that black people thought they couldn’t talk to me.  I know, weird.  File this under “Things I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know.”

As for me, raising children of color, it’s a tough road.  I want my kids to be comfortable with who they are, but the reality is that they are stuck between two (maybe three, depending how you do the math) cultures.  I can’t help them be African-American.  I can give them opportunities and try my best to be aware, but I’ve never had to walk in their shoes.  I can avoid buying them monkeys on their clothes and take them to African cultural events, but I’ve never been looked at suspiciously in a convenience store.  I can learn about African hair and put them in racially diverse schools, but I’ve never been judged by my skin color.  I will continue to do all I can, but I also recognize that I can’t change the way the world sees my kids.

What I’ve Learned About Adoption (Part 2 – Special Needs)

We didn’t start out to adopt a special needs child.

When we first explored adoption, we thought about foster adopt.  Then we found out that most of those kids are older or special needs.  “No, thank you, we’re not interested in special needs adoption.”  When working on our home study, we had the option to list which special needs we would feel comfortable parenting.  “No special needs, please.”  When we looked into Ethiopia adoption, everyone told us how these kids were well-loved and cared for, even in the orphanages.  They didn’t have the trauma that Eastern European kids had experienced and so were less likely to have special needs.  “Yes, please, sign us up!”

So, years later, we brought home two “healthy” kids.  And we struggled with language and attachment like everyone does.  Only it didn’t go away.  It didn’t get easier at the six month mark, or even at a year.  Only recently have I come to admit it to myself.

I am the parent of a special needs child.

In the last 19 months, I have learned about the RTI process, developing an IEP, what’s allowed under Section 504, wand hat the differences may be between trauma and ADHD.  I’ve been to speech therapy, behavioral therapy, and play therapy.  I’ve advocated for my kid to receive services, even when the school told me he didn’t qualify.  I’ve home schooled during the summer and every day before or after school to give my kid a fighting chance of catching up with his peers.  I’ve watched videos, surfed the blogs, read books and listened to podcasts looking for help with the behavioral challenges we face.  And this is just with one kid.

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Yes, but Lucy will be fine, because she was adopted so young.  Ummm…now I’m not so sure about that.  She may be more prepared academically when the time comes, but she will have the same trauma of losing her first family.  She has already started to ask about her other family and we talk about them every night before she goes to sleep.  She has already said she wants to go to “Opia.”  She is so little, but she has lost so much.  And she knows this.  And some day, I will have to advocate for her, too.  For her not to have to do a family tree assignment, or not to be treated differently in science class when studying genetics.

So, here’s what I’ve decided.  ALL adoptions are special needs adoptions.  Yes, some are more obvious.  Some are more life altering.  But ALL of them are special needs.  If you know someone who has adopted kids, call her up this week and offer to take a casserole.  Because even though her child may not be in the hospital or chronically ill, I guarantee you that she could use a break.  (Unless your friend is me, in which case, no one in my family will eat a casserole.)

But this is not all a downer.  By having special needs kids, I am able to rejoice when we do make progress.  When my older kids learned to read, it was a non-event.  I loved having them read to me, but I can’t tell you the day or the moment that I knew they could read.  Working with Ayub with reading has been such a wild ride.  There were days where I was sure that he’d be illiterate all his life.  Then, one day, he got it.  I can tell you the exact page of the book because I remember seeing the lightbulb go off over his head.  He got it.  And he knew it, too.  He was so excited, and he read 11 words.  That kind of joy only comes after you work really hard for something.  And both of us got to experience it together.  I know he’ll continue to make strides like that, and that helps a little when the rough days come.

What I’ve Learned About Adoption (Part 1- Ethics)

Here we are in November again.  National Adoption Month.  I’m sure some of you enjoyed going to church last Sunday on “Orphan Sunday” to hear about how you should adopt a child.  I have a lot of trouble with this concept.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for advocating for vulnerable children and helping those in need find forever homes.  But, I think having a special day set aside to try to convince people to bring another life into their home may be oversimplifying things a bit.

So I decided that this month, I’m going to share some of what I’ve learned about adoption.  It’s been almost five years since we began our adoption journey.  Along the way, I’ve picked up a few things.  But please know that I am not an expert.  On anything.  What I want to share are my own opinions.  My own thought processes.  My own story.

I thought I’d start by talking about adoption ethics.  This is a post that I have started and stopped writing many times because I feel like there are a lot of people who have studied it more and said it all better than I will.  But here are my thoughts anyway.

First, the international adoption system is a huge ethical wasteland.  There, I said it.  I think it’s a mess.  There are millions (maybe…a lot of numbers get thrown around) of orphans.  And there a lot (no one ever counted these) families who would like to have another child.  So it seems logical that you could pair the two and voila, there would be a happy ending for everyone.  But wait.  There has to be a system to match these orphans with parents.  Enter the government.  There has to be a system in place to care for these orphans while the government does that work.  Enter the orphanages.  And there has to be someone to usher the adoptive parents through the whole process.  Enter the adoption agencies.  Now you have three entities who should have the child’s best interest at heart.  Yet, wait.  All of this costs money.  So now you have a system where the Haves and Have Nots are trading money for “services.”  But soon, the Have Nots catch on that there is money on the table.  They can ask for more money.  They can get more children so that the agencies pay them more money to care for them.  And if they need more kids, they have some options.  They can steal them.  They can pay women to breed them.  They can lie to other Have Nots who can’t afford to care for their children.  “Yes, we’ll send them to America.  It will be like summer camp.  And then you’ll get them back.”  Now they have more children and can get more money.  As long as the system is so one sided, with Haves and Have Nots flowing cash back and forth, someone will always try to scam the system.

So, if I see the wrongs in the system, why did we feed into it?  Why would we spend thousands of dollars into a corrupt system?  Why wouldn’t we have used that money for family preservation programs or to build schools or wells to help the Have Nots become Haves?

Well, we wanted more kids.  Yep.  That’s it.  Selfish?  Maybe.

The thing that amazes me is that there are so many in the Ethiopian adoption community who have completed adoptions and are now completely opposed to others doing the same.  I get it.  You learn a lot while traveling the road. But here’s the thing.  You adopted a kid through the system and now you expect others not to?  Huh?  Then you go to church on orphan Sunday and encourage people to adopt more kids because God wants them to care for orphans and widows.  Huh?  Yes, it makes my head spin.

So, because I am in an advice-giving mood, let me tell each of you what you should do.

If you are considering adoption.  Do it.  Make sure you do your research.  Choose an agency that has a strong reputation for ethics.  If you see red flags, DO NOT sign with that agency.  If an agency quotes you a significantly lower price or a significantly shorter wait time than other agencies, be suspicious.  I know it’s hard, because you really, really, really want a cute Ethiopian baby.  But do not ignore warnings and advice of those who have been before you.

If you have already adopted from Ethiopia.  Parent your child.  Do the best you can every day.  And find a way to give back to Ethiopia in a way that is meaningful to you.  Sponsor a child, build a school, give to family preservation programs, sell mittens, or build a well.  Whatever.  It doesn’t matter.  But don’t pick apart those who don’t make the same decisions as you.  We’re a community who should be supporting each other, not criticizing others because they didn’t do it our way.  Others will continue to adopt.  They will continue to do it from Ethiopia or from whatever the next Ethiopia may be.  Advocate for ethical reform, but not at the expense of others’ opportunity to build their family the same way that you were able to do.

If you have no idea what this rant is about.  Just enjoy this cute picture of my kids.

DSC_1070As for me, if I had it to do all over again, would I still adopt from Ethiopia?  Yes.  I still feel like our adoption was ethical, our agency was honest, and we got an accurate story of our children’s reasons for needing a family.  But I do recognize that each adoption like mine contributes to the ongoing ethical problems of adoption.  I wish I knew what the answer was.  I don’t.