In just a few short days, Mary, Nate and Isabella will have been home with us for two months. TWO. MONTHS. On some levels it feels like that can't be right - actually on EVERY level it feels like that can't be right. Nothing about it feels like two months. Some things make it feel like time has just dragged out, others made time fly. I came to this page many times (after I managed to make it to the computer during the course of a day... in the beginning, I didn't) after the kids g0t home to update this page. I've always been one to be brutally honest though, and my brutal honesty might have scared some people away :) To say it was NOT pretty, would be an understatement. As things are getting better though, I feel more inclined to share... not to scare people off, but more to paint a picture of (our) reality, so maybe you don't set too high expectations (like I did), romanticize the homecoming (like I did) and just have this all around polly-anna attitude (like I did) only to disappoint yourself when reality slapped you in the face.
If you are one of those families who adopted a sibling group, older children, or just one of the two of those, and your transition has been smooth - congratulations! I applaud you. I'm not sure what I did wrong, but to tell you the truth, I'm happy for you. It's your story. It's how YOUR adoption was meant to be played out. Not every adoption was meant to be played out that way.
First, let me just say, I love my kids. EACH and EVERY one of them! We have adopted two other times. Once from China (Anna was 13 months at homecoming) and once from Ethiopia (Sara was 19 months at homecoming). Their transitions into our home were smooth. (And to think that at the time I considered Sara to be an "older child" adoption :) When we originally started the adoption process our mind was on one child, younger than Sara. God obviously had other plans - because we ended up with THREE, only one of which was ONLY TWO WEEKS younger than Sara :) My mind was prepared for one. My heart open to more. Once we got the news that we were adopting three, I'm not sure my mind caught up with the enormity of it all. I had our previous adoption experiences firmly planted in my memory and I expected life to unfold that way.... blissful... except times three. I was going to be triple blissed :)
The wait to bring the kids home was excruciating. (This reminds me, I have a friend who is in a deep season of waiting - please pray with me that her waiting is over soon! It's one of the hardest parts of the adoption to endure). During the wait, I once again romanticized about their homecoming... how happy we would all be, how grateful we would all be to be finally in the same home.... yeah, if that was a romance novel, it was a fiction romance novel.
Never during the wait time do you think about the things that are really going to happen.... if you did, you probably wouldn't continue on :) Maybe God makes it that way so you will continue on... kind of like He makes us forget the pain of childbirth, or no woman would have more than one child unless it was a multiple pregnancy!
Visions of bonding on the airplane on the way home, everyone enjoying new experiences were replaced with five really tired people just trying to survive the flight. We were tired, cranky and quite frankly - smelly. There were times where I would have given ANYTHING for a bed to lay on and to sleep soundly without thinking about a child for just 30 minutes. Our grand homecoming into the United States was replaced with wondering if we would even get to fly from Dulles to Columbia, SC because there was a snow storm that pretty much shut down everything in SC for days. We got in about 30 minutes before the real storm hit. THANK YOU GOD!!!! However, it was just another stressful part of our journey. After flying forever, our 1 1/2 hour drive home took about 3 hours.
Immediately we struggled with boundaries. The house was like a jungle gym with anything and everything part of the playground. Jumping on things (even the new furniture we bought just for them that I was sure they would cherish as much as I did), breaking things, not caring for things, using the bathroom with the door open, never turning off a light, leaving toys everywhere, issues with appropriate use of language, not being responsive to requests, the famous "eye roll"...... I don't know why I expected anything different... after all, they are still kids, but somehow, for some reason, I expected something different.
It didn't help matters any that Tim was gone when I brought the kids home. He was in Spain, and would be for a few weeks after I got home with them. Thankfully, I had Cameron traveling with me, and a big help in the first weeks home!
Just days after getting home, Isabella gets sick. She gets a fever and it goes away. Thankfully we have a friend who is a doctor and he came to check her out. You don't want to be THAT mom who takes her kid to the emergency room for a fever (that responded to Tylenol by the way), but my motherly instinct told me that I needed to do something more than the Tylenol. I had a kid who I knew basically nothing about, coming from a foreign country with diseases that I know nothing about... so I called our Dr. friend. He came over and said "yeah, you better go to emergency". (ALWAYS listen to those motherly instincts). A late night run to the emergency room and the Dr. said probably just a virus, but did some bloodwork.
Three days later the bloodwork was back, Isabella had Malaria and was admitted to the hospital. I hadn't slept in days, well more like a week, and now Isabella was going to the hospital. I had five other kids at home, and no husband. This is where I have to sing the praises of my friends who came and took over my house and my kids while I just stayed at the hospital. I didn't even call. I couldn't. I was too tired. I knew they were in good hands.
After Isabella ended up in the hospital, Tim cut his assignment short and came home. He knew it was all just too much for me to handle on my own, and he wanted to be home with his kids, especially with Isabella being in the hospital. Thankfully he was able to catch a flight home the very next day.
Isabella recovered quickly. The people at the hospital treated her like a queen. EVERY resident that ever existed was in that room to see her. It's not often you get cases of malaria popping up in Florence :) There wasn't much exciting to see though... I guess that's unfortunate for them, but fortunate for us!
I'll admit that bonding has been hard and it has been a s-l-0-w process. I set myself up for something different, so when it didn't happen, I beat myself up about it. Bonding, I've discovered, is a two way street. You can't bond if only one person is doing the bonding. I'm not sure that my kids were quite ready to bond immediately. Anna and Sara were much younger when we brought them home. They kind of "had" to bond. I was meeting their every need. Anna bonded fiercely and quickly. Sara bonded quickly. But with older adoptions, you are not meeting their EVERY need. They are independent. It can be difficult. That, combined with the fact that really, I don't think they were quite ready to bond at all - with anyone, and it made for a slow start (and we're still in the "starting" phase). I think to bond, you have to trust. Trust takes time. These are kids that have been moved around multiple times in the past two years. While they understood that they were being adopted, I'm not sure, even yet, that it has made it to their heart that this is PERMANENT. Maybe their mind understands it, but I think that their hearts have a bit of healing to do before they will fully understand. It will take time. It will take.... just being here, I guess. But, I'm happy to say that in small areas, bonding had begun.
One thing we are having to deal with, that I didn't really anticipate was "discrepancies" in what we were told was the kids' history / situation and what the truth actually is/was. I'm not going to go into detail here, but suffice it to say, it's sad to not get the truth. The biggest issue has been with regard to age. My children came home with birth certificates that put them at 7 (about to turn 8), 5 (about to turn 6) and 4 (about to turn 5). This is CLEARLY not the case. It's embarrassing when I take them to the doctor and have to present the age on their birth certificate for insurance purposes until we are able to get it changed. I immediately have to explain that the "age issue" is being worked on, is part of the reason we are here... etc. One night at the dinner table, I just straight up asked the kids how old they were. They all looked at one another. Nate hid his face. They all claimed that they had an age that was significantly older. Without any evidence, we decided to head to the pediatric dentist and our pediatrician to see independently what they came up with. I didn't tell them what we were thinking, just asked for their opinion. Isabella sat in the chair first at the dentist. I said that she was "three". I got a crazy look from the dentist. I told her I needed some help verifying actual age. Independently, she put Isabella at 5-6. We are having her turn 5 in April. She put Nate at 6-7. We just had him turn 7 in February. She put Mary at 9-10. We will have her turn 9 in April. This was right in line with our original thinking. Mary is not especially happy with her age. I truthfully think she wanted to be older than Anna (10). She was the oldest of the three and I think she got used to that position. She was typically the oldest in her foster care homes as well. It will be an adjustment, but she will have a birth certificate and supporting documentation to at least support the age we have given her (and the other kids) and will not have to feel like she (or the others) are lying anymore.
The kids are all enrolled in school in the fall. Sara and Isabella will hit kindergarden together. It will be fun to see them travel through their school years together. Nate is going to go into second grade. He's ready for it for sure. He might struggle a bit in the beginning, but he catches on quickly. Mary we are enrolling in third grade. Age wise, she could go into fourth, but I'm not sure that she is ready for that. She struggles some with reading, and since that is the basis for all other subjects, she needs to have the time to get it mastered. She and Nate both read books daily and we found a great website to test them on the books they are reading to ensure comprehension is there.
The first few weeks home, I cried more days than I didn't. I'm not afraid to admit that. I'd go into the bathroom at times, close the door and just cry. I was tired. I was stressed. Crying felt seriously good at times. As the weeks went on, I cried fewer days than I didn't. I OWN that accomplishment :) The kids are slowly learning the rules of the house. As the rules are followed, I become less stressed. I also quit handling the kids with "kid gloves". They needed to feel like part of the family, so they needed to contribute just like the rest of the family. Each of them got about five chores. They got to choose their own from a list of 15. Isabella and Sara have assigned simple chores. Cameron's main chore was to babysit while Tim and I were gone :) Anna, Mary and Nate split the remaining 15. They are simple things, but they are things that contribute to our household. For each chore there is a "pay rate". They love the pay and I like getting help with some of the work. It took some stress off of me, and truthfully I think helped each of them feel like part of the family.
It's funny actually, but there is very little of our "transition" home that was what I expected. Isabella was a pretty easy transition - I saw a very stubborn side of her in Ghana. I was prepared for a difficult transition. Besides getting malaria, with her it has been easy. Mary has been a bit more difficult. In Ghana I saw a child who was very mature and eager to please. While she is still eager to please, I find that she is so eager to please that she will lie. Not good. She also has an eye roll like I have never seen before and she used it on me frequently in the beginning. NEVER imagined that. Nate... well, I thought he would be the easiest of them all. I haven't quite figured him out yet. He cries / whines at the drop of a hat and NEVER wants to be wrong or in trouble (yet manages to not follow the rules frequently). He is not a very "snuggly" kid. You can tell that hugs are uncomfortable for him and rarely, if ever, initiated by him. I figured Sara and Isabella would fight like cats and dogs. Just the opposite. They are inseparable. I figured Mary and Anna would be inseparable. They fight like cats and dogs. God has completely turned my world upside down!
While things are getting better, they are far from great. I still struggle with myself and my feelings of replacing "what I thought was going to be" with "what is". "What is" is what God intended for our family, and He's refining, stretching and teaching me throughout this process, each and every day. I still find myself wondering when we will feel "bonded". I don't know the answer to that question. I feel like with Isabella that has really begun - both for me and for her. Mary and Nate may just take more time. That's not bad - that just "is".
Part of me feels like by putting this all out there that I'm a "bad mom". It doesn't feel right that bonding is so difficult. Logically, it's not going to happen overnight. Emotionally, I want it to. What we want and what we get are sometimes two different things though. I'm so very thankful for my support system throughout this process. I'm thankful for my husband who was open to not only adoption, but multiple adoptions, and adopting a sibling group of older kids. I'm thankful he can look at them and say they are his. I'm thankful for my mom and my mother in law who have been there for me when Tim has been gone. They have sat through many, many appointments and spent more miles on the road than they did at our house just to help me out. They have been a blessing. I'm thankful for a special Florence friend (you know who you are), who arranged for meals for our family, who comes to my rescue at the drop of a hat and who is just there for Godly encouragement mixed with a bit of humor :). I'm so very thankful for my "I've never met you" friend who has walked what feels like a million miles with me throughout this adoption process. We navigated some pretty rough water together. We've cried, laughed and celebrated on this journey together. She is in a valley right now in her process, and I'm praying God will part the sea for her soon! I love her and her family dearly and I pray that someday we can get rid of the "friend I've never met" designation :) We WILL meet someday, I'm sure of it! I'm thankful again for my mom who has been my cheerleader throughout this process. I never expected her to understand where I am or what I'm going through, and whether she understands it or not, she is cheering me on. Thanks mom!
The other night all eight of us went out to dinner for the first time at a sit down restaurant. I was hesitant at first, not knowing how all of the kids would behave. Prior to bringing the kids home we would frequent this place often, and they seemed surprised when we came in as a family of eight rather than a family of five. They treated Mary, Nate and Isabella just like part of the family though. It felt good. I think as we have more of these family times together that the bonds will grow stronger. I fully expect that one day, I'll look back and not be able to remember feeling this way. I won't know exactly when things changed, when we bonded, but I will know that we did.
Spring and summer are right around the corner here in SC (sorry all you Michigan folks still dealing with snow :). We'll plant flowers and watch them grow. We'll plant a seed and watch as the plant sprouts, the greenery grows and the flowers bloom. We'll spend day after day in the pool soaking up the sun. All the time, the seed of "family" has been planted in our hearts, as we nurture it, I'm confident that the beauty of the flower will appear - as we soak up the SON. God knew this family and what it was and what it would become. Before any of us were born, He knew our lives would come together as this - as family. I'd be lying if I said it's been easy, but it has been worth it.
I guess my message for anyone adopting older children (because it IS different than adopting younger children) is - expect NOTHING. Don't set a stage to be disappointed. Don't map out how you should feel and when, because it likely won't happen the way you plan. Don't romanticize the adoption, it's going to be hard on both ends. And finally, be prepared for God to stretch you in ways you never thought you could be stretched. When you think He's stretched you as far as you can go, He'll stretch you more. It's part of the beauty in loving and welcoming older kids into your home, heart and family.
PS.... it's THURSDAY and I don't think I've cried ALL WEEK!!!! See... there is progress and a light at the end of the tunnel :)