Baby Steps

It’s been about 6 weeks since our newly implemented plan ‘operation-no-fun’ with Jonathan (see ‘So this happened’…) and we are starting to reap some benefits. And we are having fun despite our best efforts not to;)

It’s extremely gratifying to say the least.

Gord and Jonathan’s relationship has been blooming; they have been doing a regimented routine after school including some attachment activities, lots of praise and reward, and lots of ‘team work’ like packing a box together (we are moving…another story).

It’s going so well and we’ve both noticed a…something.

Like many adoption things it’s hard to put words to it, it’s more of a feeling, a knowing. We can feel his trust in Gord growing. We can feel a shift in their relationship but it’s hard to tell exactly what it is. There are also some little signs too; a slight increase in ‘I love you’s’ to Gord and a slight decrease in his incessantness with the ‘I love you’s’ towards me. His greetings and goodbyes towards Gord are more natural seeming – he’s not as ambivalent when greeting/departing, but genuinely seems happy to see him and makes a point of saying goodbye with the ritualistic hug/kiss/I love you/see you later/have a good day routine. Uh-mazing.

School also has been going very well. Good days are increasing and bad days are fewer between. And Jonathan seems really proud of having and all ‘green’ day, and more importantly not lying or hiding bad days/incidences. Yesterday at his parent/teacher interview we were told about the amazing progress he’s been having socially, emotionally and academically. They also told us how Jonathan is the only kid who will invite a medically fragile boy with no language to come and play with him, even though it’s a little frustrating sometimes for him. And, the best part is that a few other kids in his class are following his lead and interacting more with this boy. My everybody belongs and mama heart is bursting.

Me and Jonathan have been doing A LOT of co-regulating (yoga, breathing, swinging, playing simple games, breathing, rocking, colouring, cuddling, breathing and ridged routines in the evenings. I’ve seen a few shining moments including an apology all on his own for being rude AND a change in his behaviour afterwards (as in a connection between his behaviour – apology – behaviour). He is also handling his frustration and anger better by accepting help in calming down. HUGE people. HUGE.
He has also been requesting AND letting me put band aids on him. This is a big shift from the kid who use to run and hide and not let you come near him with a band aide.

We’ve been keeping a low profile, saying no to invitations, keeping him physically close, keeping lots of control in our court and although it’s extremely boring and exhausting, BUT it sure is a heck of a lot easier than being kicked, punched and screamed at on a regular basis (there have been no incidences since we started this). 6 weeks is the longest he’s gone by FAR without a full meltdown and aggression since July. It’s lovely.

The coming weeks will be a real test; we are headed to our friends house (just a few of us for dinner and he’s famliar with them and been at the house before, otherwise it would have been a ‘no’) and with the excitement of Christmas, my dad coming to visit soon, and we are taking a family trip to San Diego. Hello disruption. AND because that’s not enough, we are moving on December 20. All lovely and wonderful things but potential attachment nightmare! However, we feel like we are on the right track with Jonathan (only took 3 years) and we are finally having a real impact on him. Not just his behaviour but his brain and his whole being. Love wins…although sometimes it’s tough love for a while;)

Family Tree

As we pulled up to the house one day a couple of weeks ago after a fun day of summer camp, Jonathan said to me in a quiet and not at all like him voice, “Thank you mommy for adopting me I like living here.”

WHAMO!

After I recovered my brain from jelloville, I told him I was happy that he likes living here and that we adopted him. He then asked if we could talk about adoption so in we went inside and had a very grown up conversation over dinner. It went like this:

Jonathan explained to me his adoption story and we played the dance where I ask him questions about who he remembers and he tells me the same things and we go through the houses he lived at and I ask him questions about them and he tells me the same answers and he tells me that his first mum and dad didn’t know how to take care of him so he had to move and I asked if he wanted to meet them and says no and on and on we go around and around on repeat.

But something felt different this time and inside my head was going “JUST SAY IT JUST SAY IT JUST SAY IT JUST SAY IT”

And then I said it.

“Jonathan, I have to tell you something. You know how Anthony is your brother? You also have TWO more brothers.”

Insert screams (excited ones) and some hand flapping and bouncing in his chair. You’d think I just told him he could eat the world’s supply of ice cream.

He asked their names and I told him. He said he wanted to meet them, as in right now, and I explained that we couldn’t now but one day we would. I showed him some pictures of his brothers and explained who they lived with – their paternal grandparents, oh yeah kid you also have more grandparents don’t you know?! And then I drew him as simply as I could a family tree. He was all over it. And calm. And appropriate. The whole thing was strange and great.

Then off he went to have a bath, but not before he insisted that the family tree not be thrown out so up on the fridge it went.

A week later I asked him about the family tree and if had been thinking about his brothers or had any questions. He answered “nope” and that was that.

It was one of the more interesting conversations we had that’s for sure and I’m very proud how he ‘s handling it all so far (the next morning he slept in an extra hour and half….coincidence…? )

family tree

(Don’t judge me on my drawing skill;) )

Not So Little Anymore

The few weeks I’ve been noticing how Jonathan isn’t so little anymore.

He has grown up in so many ways in the two years since he came to us. His chubby cheeks have disappeared, he’s taller, he’s so heavy I can barely lift him (but I still do because I love it:)  He’s also calmer (that could be a combo mix of meds and maturity…?) and overall happier. He listens so much more, he’s less aggressive, and more independent, although he’ll still ask for help with things I know he can do but he just wants my attention and I’m mostly happy to give it.

His speech, oh my word his speech. I’ve spent a lot of time lately watching videos of him two years ago and ones of him recently. In the videos he’s singing or telling a story and 2 years ago it was incomprehensible, if you weren’t there you wouldn’t know what he was talking about. I remember having to interpret constantly for friends what he was saying. Now, that doesn’t happen. You can understand 90% of what he is saying.

The other night while tucking him into bed he said to me “mummy, why did i scratch you?” First, where the heck did that come from? And second, the last time he got to the point of restraining and he scratched me was 7 months ago. So much growth in so many ways.

These past couple weeks there’s a tiny voice that says “maybe we could do it again…” But I think that’s more the missing the preschool years (my favourite) and reflecting on how far he’s come, how far we’ve all come. But I know we won’t adopt again, it’s a looong hard journey that is not in our cards. For now I will just try to enjoy this new phase and period of relative calmness, and workout harder so I can pick him up a little bit longer:)

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(Fall 2012 and Fall 2014 – where did my little chubby cheeked boy go?!)

100 Seconds

We knocked on the blue door not knowing what to expect, only knowing that we were nervous and excited and the journey was ending and beginning all at the same time.

The door opened and there was the cutest little boy you ever did see and his foster mom to greet us.

Immediately in the front hall she flipped to a photo of Gord (in the album we had given her the week before to start prepping him about us), and pointed at the photo and then to Gord and said “who’s that?” I think she prompted him ‘Daddy’ and he repeated it, but I honestly can’t remember exactly because I knew what was coming next.

Flip to another page, point at the photo. Point to me. “Who’s that?”

He looked at me.

“Muh-me” he said

I had waited so long.

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***Congratulations to The Adoption Social on your 100th Weekly Adoption Shout Out! I was so lucky to find you at the start of this crazy journey called adoption and I can never thank you enough for creating such a supportive and comforting space to share this amazing experience with.

Beyond the Behaviour Growing Love

*I started writing this a long time ago but found it recently and finished it off. It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come in just a couple of years.

*****

I remember the moment that the idea of adoption turned into a real thing with a little human attached to it. It was when I first saw a picture of my son. I was in my bosses office and had just told her that we were in the process of adopting. She pulled up a picture of a little boy on her phone that she had been doing respite with and said “you should adopt him!”

It became real.

This boy needed a home, we needed a little boy. This boy had high needs, we were capable. He needed love, we had love to give.

From that day forward, a little piece of my heart started to love him. Although it would 7ish more months until we knew we were the right parents for him and it would be 9ish more months until he knew of us, the foundation was being built, very slowly, very carefully in my head and in my heart.

When it became official that we had been matched with Jonathan and we went through our panel meeting, I could feel the love grow just a tiny bit more. The night that we met him, it shifted again.

Loving him wasn’t instant, but grew over time. There wasn’t any one moment of fireworks and marching bands, but it was steady. And when I stopped and checked in with myself every so often, I could feel it changing and morphing and growing.

But man alive, was it tough.

How do you love a stranger when they scream at you, hit and kick you, bite and spit at you? How do you love a stranger when they have turned everything you know inside out and upside down, regardless of how bad you wanted it?

Slowly.

How do you love a little boy who fights you, comes between your marriage, turns you into a stranger to yourself and throws your whole world into a giant puddle of crazy?

Intentionally.

I stuffed all the ‘what have we done?’ and ‘get me outta here’ feelings as deep inside as I could and I took all the ‘I give ups’ and the ‘I can’t do it any mores’ and hid them away.

I smiled at him, hugged him and told him I loved him, even when all I was feeling was anger and exhaustion and sorry for myself.

I did it because I knew that’s what he needed. I did it because I knew my feelings were secondary to how he felt. And I knew I had to see beyond the behaviour to the boy who under it all needed and wanted to be accepted and loved.

And so, I played with him, fed and clothed him, consequenced and praised him and told him that he was safe and wanted and important. All day, everyday. That out of all the little boys in the whole world, we wanted him to be our boy.

When he continued to hit again and again, we talked about how it doesn’t matter if he hits he will still be loved, still stay in this house, still be part of our family. I may not have always felt it, but I said it. And when he ran away over and over after hurting himself I followed him every time and patiently waited while he screamed for me to go away. I did it so that in between the screams I could tell him tell him that I loved him and it was my job to make sure he was safe.

And when he went to bed at night, I cried from exhaustion and frustration and loss of sanity and identity and everything that I knew for sure. And I cried from anger towards all the people who let him down in his short life. I cried from happiness because I had my boy.

Then I got up again the next day and repeated it all.

And one day I checked in with myself and I realize that the love had grown more. My heart was bigger, stronger, more full than the last time I checked. I realized that he wasn’t a stranger any more and that it had been a few days since he screamed or hit or spit, and that he hadn’t run away when he fell down yesterday.

And so on I went, looking beyond the behaviour and growing love.

Trauma

This is an article I wrote (that I’ve edited slightly since) and recently had published in a provincial wide newsletter. The theme was ‘Trauma and Attachment’ and I took the leap to write personally as opposed from a professional view-point. I’m sure many other adopters can relate:) I’d love to know your thoughts and experiences on how trauma changed you.

***

When we decided to adopt we knew it would not be easy. We knew the little firecracker who we would soon call our son came with a bag of trauma so big that we were surprised he could even lug it around. But into our home and into our hearts he moved.

Soon after, reality and trauma also moved in. Hitting, biting, screaming, the constant need for reassurance, constant talking, inability to regulate himself, inability to go to sleep without medication, a delay in all areas of development, zero impulse and self-control…the list goes on.

The shock and awe of being an insta-mom to this little human was one thing, but the expanse of emotions that flowed all around me was overwhelming. I wanted him so bad and loved him so much, while at the same time resenting him for turning our lives so utterly upside down and out of control. I felt so much anger towards all the people who neglected him and all the families who abandoned him in his short 4 years and at the same time I felt so much love for this sweet, funny, clever boy who just wanted to be safe and cared for.

That first year I had some of the hardest days in my life. Days I’ve dug deeper than I ever thought possible, days when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore and days where I wanted it all to go back to how it was before. But there were also days full of love so big that it made my head spin.

Through many, many tears, both his and ours, we surrounded ourselves with a village of amazing people who all worked hard to push trauma straight out the door it came in. But nobody worked harder than him.

When our son moved in, at four and half years old, he could not say more than a handful of words, could not stand to be touched, would hide when he got hurt and didn’t know a number from a letter.

Today, one and half years later, this boy with a twinkle in his eye has picked up
three years of language and ASL, he loves being tickled and having his legs rubbed at night, comes to me (most times) for comfort when he’s hurt, knows his letters and can count to 10.

When he first moved in, he could not stand in a line, draw anything, and would kick and scratch, bite and generally attack me. Regularly.

Today my little rocket stands in (short) lines, can draw a slurpee and an electrical socket (very important things), and only kicks and scratches and bites once in a while.

How far he’s come, my beautiful boy. We are not nearly where we need to be, or want to be; we have so much further to go,so many more adventures to be had to add to the twinkle in his eye.

Trauma changed everything. For him and for us. It’s like a liquid that seeps into every nook and cranny of your life. It soaks up every ounce of patience, energy and brain power you can muster and then some. It cracks foundations that you thought were uncrackable.

People say that these kids just need love, and they do. They also need a lot of hard work and a village of dedicated people around them. In no way could my husband and I have survived our first year of adoption alone. Friends, family, teachers, therapists, social workers, co-workers, neighbors and even strangers who simply asked ‘how are you?’ all played a role in helping us build our new way of being with trauma.

And love, well, love trumps trauma and is its escort to the door.

A Saying “Yes” Update

Two months since I posted last! Wowza. Oi, saying yes takes up a lot of time.

Here’s the quick lowdown update: Jonathan is still doing crazy good at school. He has his moments and still requires 1:1 support for most of the day, but the growth and progress both academically and behaviour wise are pinch-me-I’m-dreaming good. Anthony is also kicking ass and taking names. In the school department that is. He’s at the top of his class for a few subjects! He’s also been taking improve classes, listening to terrible music, and overall being a pretty great (ahhhh) teenager.

We’ve been loosing our noodles with busyness – drama classes, recreation classes, loosing are after school care, finding after school care, working late, working out, being social (this is new people and man, it takes up a lot of time) and now Christmas prep for visitors – hey there Dad and Nana!!! and baking and presents are starting to appear.

Between it all, I’ve been saying yes. Yes to hard things. Yes to challenging things. Yes to vulnerable things.

I just completed my first four half-day training at my work (with a co-worker) orienting new staff to our agency, philosophies, and service delivery. I also completed a morning of training staff on disability as part of a diversity morning with some other co-workers.

WHO AM I?!

I use to throw up and not sleep for a week before I had to train First Aid a couple of years ago. I am so proud of myself of facing my fears and saying yes. Seriously, you should try it!

I’ve also been writing a few articles, one pretty personal, through my job again and was published! Because it was attached to my work and it was personal, it was a bit of a leap of faith but I did it and word is slowly getting out around the office about it and guess what? The world has not yet imploded. It’s a freakin’ miracle. I will post it here in the next little bit.

It seems like so many things are attached to my work and that’s because my life and work meld together so much, sometimes to great benefit and sometimes it’s a bit tricky to separate them. To balance it all out I’ve been trying to exercise and meditate, rather learn to meditate – something I’ve always been interested it. I think when you are slightly high-strung, adopt, work in social work and take anxiety medication, meditation should be like breathing. Just do it.

I wish I could write more and write more eloquently, but here we are; a little rusty but perhaps back in the writing game.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend:)

What will you say yes to this week….?