Thursday, June 6, 2013

We're Home!

Well, we’ve been home for almost three days now and I have to say that things are going way smoother than I had anticipated. I can prove that by the fact that I am here writing this post outside at the pool while my kids are swimming (non swimmers are in life-jackets) rather than at midnight after all of the kids are in bed. Also—because I took a shower both today and yesterday. And also because my kitchen is clean right now and all the sticky orange juice was steam cleaned off the tile floors. I had prepared myself for the very worst—thinking it would be completely chaotic here with kids doing whatever, stuff lying everywhere, tears, and a serious language problem. But actually the boys have been adjusting to boundaries really well, they seem very content, and we’ve been communicating pretty well—saying all of the basic words like…. time to eat, time for bed, pool, garbage, clothes, bathroom, etc. And when we need to express something more complicated, Norman writes it in the translator and makes an attempt to read the correct pronunciation (they really should put accent marks on those words!) I was pleased to see that Steven is able to read the translations in Bulgarian when Norman makes the print large enough for him to see it. We knew he could read and write, but on a lower than 6th grade level, and we weren’t sure if that meant 4th grade level or 1st grade level—but he seems to do ok.

To be honest, the first full day together in our apartment in Bulgaria had us seriously doubting our decision to adopt three children. The boys proved to be way less capable of every day tasks than we had expected, and our 10-year-old boy, Benjamin was exhibiting bizarre behaviors—being very defiant and having no remorse and laughing in our faces. The day that he was smacking me, I actually smacked him back once to see if it would have any effect, but it didn’t even phase him—he only laughed at me hysterically. And speaking firmly, speaking kindly, ignoring him, offering rewards or punishment, etc…..none of that worked either—he just did whatever he wanted and laughed at us if we didn’t like it. This was a completely different boy than we had read about in his profile (shy, sweet, friendly, etc.) and a completely different boy than we had met in December. These behaviors really worried us and we wondered what on earth we would do with a child like this in a family of 7 children. Because of our family size we had specifically avoided serious behavioral issues when requesting matches with our boys. So Benjamin’s behaviors were very scary and we didn’t know how we would manage. But thank God, by Thursday he was a different child. It made Norman and I wonder if he was having some type of drug withdrawal…if maybe his orphanage had been giving him something to calm him down and now, without it, he was going a little crazy.

Sunday morning, as we were driving to the airport, I had a sinking, depressed feeling inside of me. I was doubting this whole adoption and regretting our decision. I was thinking about our four well adjusted children at home and how blessed I was to have them—how “normal” and easy they were; how great they were doing, and how peaceful it could be if I was returning home to only them. But no….I was returning home with almost double the amount of children!! What had I been thinking??? A night or two before, I had read an article by someone calling adopters like me “child collectors”—people with an obsession for collecting kids, the same as if we were collecting cats or teacups or something. They said that some signs of being a child collector are “feeling the need to rescue a child,” (true for me) and “looking on web sites all the time for children while ignoring the ones you have at home” (not true for me) and “not having enough bedrooms for the children” (not true for me) and “bringing new children into the home before the ones you already have are adjusted and doing fine” (not true for me) and “adopting multiple, unrelated children” (true for me). Of course, they said you don’t have to be guilty of all of those things to be labeled a “child collector”—that even just one of these things could make you guilty of this obsession. So, on the plane I started pondering this. “Oh my God, am I just a child collector? Am I just obsessed with helping children, at the detriment to the family God has already given us? Are we putting too much on ourselves with these three boys? Is this going to ruin everything for our family? God, I don’t want to do this. WHY on earth did we do this!?” (Btw, I'm not saying that I agreed with that article--especially not with the nasty tone it was written in--I'm just saying that it caused me to doubt my motives)

You know, when you have made the commitment to adopt a child, or multiple children, it’s very exciting. You have the whole adoption community cheering you on, reminding you that millions of children are living in deprived circumstances, wrought with neglect, and that it is OUR responsibility—the BODY of CHRIST’s to care for “the least of these.” You KNOW that you are doing God’s work—caring for the helpless and that “what you do for them, you are doing for HIM.” People are donating towards your adoption, asking you how things are going, praying for you that all goes smoothly. Churches invite you to give your testimony; people say, “Wow, that’s so awesome that you’re doing this!” And you know it will be hard, because you’ve heard other people’s stories, and you’ve done the research on your children’s conditions, and well, you know that in the beginning, seven children is just hard, period. But then you have the children in your possession—you’re not just visiting them for a few hours in the day, or reading about them or watching videos. You see how deep their needs run….how neglected they have been for so many years…..and you wonder how on earth you will be able to help them……and how taxing it will be on your other children and your entire family. You start to wonder if you made a big mistake. Was this really from God? Should I have instead spent all of my focus on my four children at home? After all, they were adopted too. Maybe I’m trying to do too much on my own and I need to leave it to God to send more families to the other children around the world who need them.

Anyway, in the midst of this apprehension I had, I told myself that these feelings were totally normal (even though I have never read another adoptive mom write about having these types of doubts). I told myself that the Christian life is not intended to be easy…..that the Lord doesn’t call us to a comfortable life…..that anyone who wants to save his life will lose it but anyone who is willing to lose his life for the gospel’s sake will keep it. I looked at how HAPPY these children were to be with us. I mean, they had been singing, “I like to be in America” over and over again in the apartment and telling strangers on the street that they are going to America. I told myself, “Whether or not God told you to do this, these boys are yours now and God will give you the strength and the ability and the resources to be a blessing to their lives and they will be a blessing to you and the rest of your family as well…’ll see.” I told myself that if I have a difficult task before me, which is being done unto the Lord, then I am in the right place, because God doesn’t call us to easy-chair Christianity. I reminded myself of the message I heard back in August that led us to add little Josiah to our adoption—how the pastor said, “If the thing you feel God is calling you to do is something you can do in your own strength, then that is probably not the thing God has called you to. God wants you to be dependent upon him so that his glory can show forth.” I reminded myself that the Lord is with us and will help us and that everything will be alright. On the long airplane ride, I found some Bach piano music on the screen in front of me, plugged myself in, and let the stress and fear be drowned out. Bach was a devout Christian man and I hear such peace and joy in his music. So, while my right ear was listening to the constant, “Mama I am hungry” or “Mama, I have to go to the bathroom” my left ear was sending the message to my brain, “Ahhhh…..all is good…..everything is fine…, the Lord is with you and he is on your side… at peace.” And it gave me such patience throughout that long trip.

We only had one issue with Benjamin on the airplane. I guess he was getting bored and he wanted to play the music on his Kindle really loud. I turned it down and he turned it back up again. I told him no and he told me yes. When I looked at him seriously about it, he started laughing and saying DAH, DAH, DAH! super loudly, knowing he was bothering us and everyone around us. He wouldn’t stop, so I calmly took him into the bathroom (he was happy to go because that was his favorite place to be) and I put a tiny bit of soap in his mouth. He was a little shocked and didn’t know what to do at first but then he started laughing again, so I put a little more soap in his mouth and this time he got upset. He sat on the floor and started crying for the first time all week (except for the first night at bedtime) and I left him there until he was ready to come out. When he stopped, he knocked on the door (he didn’t know how to open it himself) and I opened it and said, “OK Mama?” and he said, “OK Mama.” And we haven’t had another incident like that since.

After about 19 hours of traveling, we finally ended up in Atlanta and it was just precious the welcome we received at the top of that escalator. My parents, my kids, Norman’s siblings and spouses and their children, our fellow adoptive family friends….about 26 people were standing there with signs, all cheering and clapping. Lots of hugs and introductions and tears followed, and people kept asking me, “Do you know where all your kids are right now?” And I was like, “I don’t have a clue!” Getting them all out to the baggage claim and then to the cars was quite a feat. Then we all went to a McDonald’s so the boys could play with their new siblings, cousins, and friends a little bit. Benjamin has an obsession with cleaning, and when we weren’t paying attention he collected every single cup and partially eaten sandwich and placed them on one small table and then wiped all the other tables clean. So no one wanted to finish their food because they didn’t know whose was whose!

Like I said before, I’m really surprised at how smoothly things are going right now. I am so thankful we have a pool. I give a lot of credit to families who adopt children without one! The kids are eager to go every day and it’s a good way to motivate them to do other things like clean up their toys. They swim for a couple of hours and then they are really tired out and mellow afterwards. I know some people say, “Just wait….there will be a big explosion eventually” but I’m not confessing or expecting that. But if something like that does happen, I’ll be sure to write about it. It’s been two years since our last adoption of a sibling group of three and we haven’t had any meltdowns—nothing aside from the normal occasional temper tantrum when our youngest daughter is particularly tired. I also must really give a big shout out to our four "original" kids.  They help out so much with our new boys.  Luke, 11, models everything for Steven and Benjamin and plays  with them so much outside.  And Gracie and Sara just love Josiah--they were surprised at how little he seems, even though he is six years old.  They help keep him occupied so I can get necessary things done around the house.  I don't think things would be going nearly as well if our boys didn't have these wonderful siblings to help them along life.  Adoption really is a family venture--when everyone is on board and wholeheartedly ready for it, it makes the transition so much easier.  But our four do admit that this is harder than they had anticipated!

I met another adoptive mom this week and she told me the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard about adoption….she said that her agency told her and her husband not to discipline their son for the first few months….just to love on him….and to try not to say “no” very much. Their boy is seven years old and just a wild little thing. You could tell she was frazzled and was unsure about her agency’s advice. I asked her how she thought she would bond with her new son when he was just insisting on having his own way all the time and there was nothing she could do about it. I told her I couldn’t imagine how she was going to make it through those first few months with no discipline….that to me, that is one of the first things you need to establish—even before bonding. I don’t mean discipline in the form of punishing, yelling, etc. Discipline is training the child to have self control, to have self respect, to have self care skills, and to suffer the consequences of his own decisions…..and to recognize the parents as the authority and to have respect for them. That’s been a priority around here….teaching Benjamin (and Josiah) that we are the parents and in charge and that they can’t just do whatever they want whenever they want….that when we call them they must respond to us, etc. If we don’t have that I don’t really see how true bonding can take place.

Little Josiah was such a delight those first few days but now his rebellious side is showing here and there. He ignores us when we are telling him not to do something (like not to go in the pool when the pool cover is on, or not to throw his unwanted food onto someone else’s plate, etc.) So we are having to crack down on him more, but he repents very quickly and shows his sweet, loving side right away. We’re trying to establish some type of order in our home again—little things like training the kids in what to do with their clothes when they’re dirty; how to put clean clothes away; how to set the table, how to wipe their own behind and brush their own teeth; what not to touch, etc. etc. And the way the boys are all responding is a miracle. I honestly didn’t expect them to catch on to things and be so cooperative this early in the game. And because of less stress we have more enjoyable times with them and feel like the bonding is progressing.

Benjamin goes around all throughout the day hugging us and telling us that he loves us. He also tells us all day long that he is hungry or that he wants this or that. I know they tell you in the adoption videos to give your children as much as possible of what they ask for in the beginning and to try to say “no” very minimally, but with him it’s just impossible. He asks for candy or to go to the pool, or to change his clothes, etc. all day long. We are trying to train him to stop asking for things constantly—and we hope he will grow out of it soon because it is very annoying. The other big problem he has is that he wakes up several times in the night to use the bathroom or to ask for food. I would say that this has been the most difficult part of the process, because when the parents aren’t well rested, they have no patience the next day. He is having major digestive problems and every night we need to shower him off because of the mess he has in his diaper. (He only wears a diaper at night). It must be the food we are giving him…maybe he isn’t used to having that much fat in his diet. I thought I’d fatten them up by giving them higher calorie meals but I think I need to take it slower with him and Josiah. Steven seems to be handling the food just fine.

It is incredibly sad to us how deprived these children are. They are mentally and physically capable of caring for their basic needs, yet they act completely helpless. At 6, 10, and 13 years old, we still need to teach them things like learning how to properly brush their teeth, how to hang clothes on hangers and put them away in the drawers; how to eat by bringing the fork to their mouth and not just shoveling the food in while their mouth is open at the end of the plate; how to flush the nasty toilet paper down the toilet and not put it in the trash, or worse yet—in the shower! How to wipe themselves properly (ony the two younger ones) and take a shower by themselves; how to not stick their hands in their food and drink, etc. etc. etc. They are also so uncoordinated and have very poor gross motor skills…but in just these couple of days you can see minor progress, just from them playing outside for so many hours each day. Both Steven and Benjamin are academically far below grade level, and Benjamin doesn’t even know how to write his own name, nor does he know how old he is. They have no baby pictures, even though they’ve been in orphanages since infancy—they only have a couple of pictures of when they were younger.

To be honest, I’ve been feeling angry at the whole situation. When I see how little these children have been taught—how little self care, how little self control, how little opportunity to develop physically, how skinny they are……how little medical attention they’ve been given. It makes me feel angry at the Bulgarian government for allowing these types of conditions. Little Josiah has so many medical problems and I don’t know how some of them could have gone for this long unaddressed. His report says that doctors won’t operate due to his heart condition…but the hernia he has had to live with—which is the size of a mango….I mean, they really couldn’t get a cardiologist to supervise the surgery? If he wasn’t an orphan would they have made the same decision? I know there is no sense in being angry at governments or orphanage workers who themselves do not know the love of God. If God is holding anyone accountable for the conditions of these children, it must be his Church. And sending money can’t possibly be enough. Children should be raised with the love of a family—not herded like animals from one room to another with no mentors and no one to guide them.

It’s interesting to me that all our boys want to be called by their American names—I thought it would take a while for them to feel comfortable with that but, nope. Today Benjamin was showing me his photo album (which contains three pictures of him when he was about 4 years old and all the rest of the pictures are of our visit with him in December). At one point I pointed and said his Bulgarian name and he said, “Nay….Benjamin.”

The kids play on their Kindles entirely too much to fit my philosophy of kids and brain development and electronics, but for now it’s a great pacifier and I’m willing to make exceptions. Plus, I have tons of educational games downloaded on them and it’s great to see them doing puzzles or playing games that deal with numbers or the alphabet. Our Leapfrog videos are also a big hit and I’m hoping the boys will learn their letters and letter sounds by watching them, just the way my 4-year-old did. If they can learn to spell and read basic words from watching videos, then my job will be way easier! My desire is to home school all of the children but I am open to possibly sending my oldest three boys to school this year to give me time to get used to teaching so many children. I guess it will depend on how things are going all summer. I’ll try to do some basic academics with them here and there and see how they respond.

Tomorrow morning the local Univision station is coming to our house to do a story on our adoption. And then on Friday a local newspaper is coming. Pray that these will be great opportunities for us to share the deep, deep love of God. The best advice I leave to myself and to anyone reading this who is also adopting is—we must stay connected to the vine. If we aren’t connected, there is no hope for us but to dry up and wither. If we aren’t connected then our service towards others will feel like a drain on us, and we will do our “duty” without the love of Christ showing forth. We didn’t adopt just to give our children a family….just to give them something better than their orphanage experience. If we do not pour out the love of Jesus upon them, if we do not lead them to Christ, if we do not teach them to honor God and love his word….then we are in fact doing very little for them….only teaching them to be more civilized and more independent and successful by the world’s standards. We must stay drenched in God’s word and in his presence so that we can have his heart for those in our lives….and that love that we have for our children will help lead their hearts to our Lord. May God be praised and honored….and may his will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Blessings to you all. Thanks for following along with our journey. I’ll write again in a couple of weeks to continue sharing our adoption story…..and so the readers can see God’s redemptive power at work!!

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