Sunday, May 15, 2016

One Week Home, FAQs, and a PSA

She likes the sunglasses.  What can I say?
We have officially made it past the 'one week home' mark and have entered into our second week.  We thought we would answer of few questions and also offer a few insights into our 'new' normal for this season.

We'll start with some FAQs--our most frequently asked questions so far:

Does she speak English? Well.  She is 18-months old and Colombian!  So the simplest answer is 'no.' She does now say "hi,' 'hello,' 'more,' and a combination of 'shoes' and 'zapatos' which she firmly believes means we are going outside.  She is also very good at saying, 'no, no, no.'  Ha!  If that counts as 'speaking English,' then I suppose so.  However, her first language is Spanish.  There are still some things we say to her in Spanish because it is evident that she understands. Often we say things both ways so that she will learn the connection between the languages.   She is extremely clever and misses absolutely nothing, so I feel no worries about her language skills as she has time for them to grow and develop.  Right now, though, we get a lot of speeches in the language of 'toddler babble.'

How is the adjustment going?  To be honest, we are very thankful for the transition process so far. In fact,  now that her stomach issue has been solved and we aren't changing 502 diapers and outfits per day--life is good!  We are tired and are all learning how to balance everything, but for the most part things are going well. We have our challenges, but that's all part of it.   I think people are often surprised and will say, "She just seems so happy."  She is a joyful little soul.  That doesn't mean that there are not hard moments or times when we aren't quite sure just what made her sad or why she feels cranky.  But we laugh a lot here, that's for sure.

Will you be at church/small group/the park/anywhere this week? The answer is no, probably not for a little while longer.  The bonding period is very important, especially for a toddler.  Violet had wonderful caregivers and before that a foster family, and so it is vital for her to know that we are her family unit.  For now, large groups of people are overwhelming for her and also add confusion to an already full plate of big life changes.  So we are keeping the world a bit small.

Can we come by and visit?  Yes!  Please don't stay away or feel like you are bothering us!  We need you! It helps things feel real.  We have had a few friends stop by and say hello which has been wonderful for us and for our 'big kids'  That being said, here are some things to know before you come.

>Just give us a heads up that you'd like to come.  It makes it easier on everyone.  Then if the day isn't going so wonderfully, we can let you know another time would be better. We have also found shorter visits to be best for her and for us as we continue to journey through the attachment process.

>Bedtime for Violet is 7:00pm.  We did not create this schedule, but for the survival of all we stick to it!  It makes for a much happier family when everyone is rested, and that is just when she needs to go to bed.  Believe us, she is wiped out by then!

>Do not be offended if she does not want to be hugged, squeezed, or held by you.  In fact, we prefer that she doesn't!  You are a stranger.  Again, for attachment to be at its best we need to be the ones to hold her, feed her, change her, etc., for a while.  There have been a few rare instances where she has gone to someone else of her own accord because she particularly favored them, so we did not stop her. We want her to know she is loved and our friends are safe.  But too many hands make for confusion in a little mind that is used to many caregivers, so just know those moments for now will be few and far between, even with extended family.

>Toddlers are finicky and also aren't big on graciously sharing their space in general.  So imagine Small Toddler Person being taken from Surrounding A, given to some strange people and taken to Surrounding B, then flying across the ocean to Permanent Surrounding C.  In this new place, they have things that are all their own.  Then Strange New Child comes and tries to invade this space and play with said things.  Getting a clear picture? So if you come with your little ones, just be aware and understanding that all of this is still new.  

>Our expectations right now are not really focused on perfect behavior and modeling good playground etiquette.  So if our Small Toddler Person wants to hold all three of the balls when Suzy is over to visit, we will probably let her.  We will gently explain to Suzy that we are happy to find something else for her to play with while she is here that will not cause weeping and gnashing of teeth.    Eventually we will get around to explaining all of the rules of preschool life.  For now, our goals are for Violet to feel safe and know she is loved and that her needs will be met.  And that's about all!

Thank you for loving our family and for celebrating this time with us.  It's exhausting, it's beautiful, it's messy, and it's good.  And we couldn't do it alone.

I read an older post by Jen Hatmaker this weekend that I absolutely loved.  So for the last part of my post, I am sharing what she wrote about 'after the airport.'  While all of it doesn't apply to our situation (mostly the adopting older kids part), I surely do love her honesty and the parts that do.  I consider it a worthy Public Service Announcement.

Supporting Families After the Airport

You went to the airport. The baby came down the escalator to cheers and balloons. The long adoption journey is over and your friends are home with their new baby / toddler / twins / siblings / teenager. Everyone is happy. Maybe Fox News even came out and filmed the big moment and “your friend” babbled like an idiot and didn’t say one constructive word about adoption and also she looked really sweaty during her interview. (Really? That happened to me too. Weird.) 

How can you help? By not saying or doing these things: 

1. I mean this nicely, but don’t come over for awhile. Most of us are going to hole up in our homes with our little tribe and attempt to create a stable routine without a lot of moving parts. This is not because we hate you; it’s because we are trying to establish the concept of “home” with our newbies, and lots of strangers coming and going makes them super nervous and unsure, especially strangers who are talking crazy language to them and trying to touch their hair. 

2. Please do not touch, hug, kiss, or use physical affection with our kids for a few months. We absolutely know your intentions are good, but attachment is super tricky with abandoned kids, and they have had many caregivers, so when multiple adults (including extended family) continue to touch and hold them in their new environment, they become confused about who to bond with. This actually delays healthy attachment egregiously. It also teaches them that any adult or stranger can touch them without their permission, and believe me, many adoptive families are working HARD to undo the damage already done by this position. Thank you so much for respecting these physical boundaries. 

3. For the next few months, do not assume the transition is easy. For 95% of us, it so is not. And this isn’t because our family is dysfunctional or our kids are lemons, but because this phase is so very hard on everyone. I can’t tell you how difficult it was to constantly hear: “You must be so happy!” and “Is life just so awesome now that they’re here??” and “Your family seems just perfect now!” I wanted that to be true so deeply, but I had no idea how to tell you that our home was actually a Trauma Center. (I did this in a passive aggressive way by writing this blog, which was more like “An Open Letter to Everyone Who Knows Us and Keeps Asking Us How Happy We Are.”) Starting with the right posture with your friends – this is hard right now – will totally help you become a safe friend to confide in / break down in front of / draw strength from. 

4. Do not act shocked if we tell you how hard the early stages are. Do not assume adoption was a mistake. Do not worry we have ruined our lives. Do not talk behind our backs about how terribly we’re doing and how you’re worried that we are suicidal. Do not ask thinly veiled questions implying that we are obviously doing something very, very wrong. Do not say things like, “I was so afraid it was going to be like this” or “Our other friends didn’t seem to have these issues at all.” Just let us struggle. Be our friends in the mess of it. We’ll get better. 

5. If we’ve adopted older kids, please do not ask them if they “love America so much” or are “so happy to live in Texas.” It’s this simple: adoption is born from horrible loss. In an ideal world, there would be no adoption, because our children would be with their birth families, the way God intended. I’ll not win any points here, but I bristle when people say, “Our adopted child was chosen for us by God before the beginning of time.” No he wasn’t. He was destined for his birth family. God did not create these kids to belong to us. He didn’t decide that they should be born into poverty or disease or abandonment or abuse and despair aaaaaaaall so they could finally make it into our homes, where God intended them to be. No. We are a very distant Plan B. Children are meant for their birth families, same as my biological kids were meant for mine. Adoption is one possible answer to a very real tragedy… after it has already happened, not before as the impetus for abandonment. There is genuine grief and sorrow when your biological family is disrupted by death and poverty, and our kids have endured all this and more. So when you ask my 8-year-old if he is thrilled to be in Texas, please understand that he is not. He misses his country, his language, his food, his family. Our kids came to us in the throes of grief, as well they should. Please don’t make them smile and lie to you about how happy they are to be here. 

6. Please do not disappear. If I thought the waiting stage was hard, it does not even hold the barest candle to what comes after the airport. Not. The. Barest. Candle. Never have I felt so isolated and petrified. Never have I been so overwhelmed and exhausted. We need you after the airport way more than we ever needed you before. I know you’re scared of us, what with our dirty hair and wild eyes and mystery children we’re keeping behind closed doors so they don’t freak out more than they already have, but please find ways to stick around. Call. Email. Check in. Post on our Facebook walls. Send us funny cards. Keep this behavior up for longer than six days. 

Here’s what we would love to hear or experience After the Airport:

1. Cook for your friends. Put together a meal calendar and recruit every person who even remotely cares about them. We didn’t cook dinners for one solid month, and folks, that may have single handedly saved my sanity. There simply are not words to describe how exhausting and overwhelming those first few weeks are, not to mention the lovely jetlag everyone came home with. And if your friends adopted domestically right up the street, this is all still true, minus the jetlag. 

2. If we have them, offer to take our biological kids for an adventure or sleepover. Please believe me: their lives just got WHACKED OUT, and they need a break, but their parents can’t give them one because they are 1.) cleaning up pee and poop all day, 2.) holding screaming children, 3.) spending all their time at doctors’ offices, and 4.) falling asleep in their clothes at 8:15pm. Plus, they are in lockdown mode with the recently adopted, trying to shield them from the trauma that is Walmart. 

3. Thank you for getting excited with us over our little victories. I realize it sounds like a very small deal when we tell you our kindergartener is now staying in the same room as the dog, but if you could’ve seen the epic level of freakoutedness this dog caused her for three weeks, you would understand that this is really something. When you encourage us over our incremental progress, it helps. You remind us that we ARE moving forward and these little moments are worth celebrating. If we come to you spazzing out, please remind us where we were a month ago. Force us to acknowledge their gains. Be a cheerleader for the healing process. 

4. Come over one night after our kids are asleep and sit with us on our porch. Let me tell you: we are all lonely in those early weeks. We are home, home, home, home, home. Good-bye, date nights. Good-bye, GNO’s. Good-bye, spontaneous anything. Good-bye, church. Good-bye, big public outings. Good-bye, community group. Good-bye, nightlife. So please bring some community to our doorstep. Bring friendship back into our lives. Bring adult conversation and laughter. And bring an expensive bottle of wine. 

5. If the shoe fits, tell adopting families how their story is affecting yours. If God has moved in you over the course of our adoption, whether before the airport or after, if you’ve made a change or a decision, if somewhere deep inside a fire was lit, tell us, because it is spiritual water on dry souls. There is nothing more encouraging than finding out God is using our families for greater kingdom work, beautiful things we would never know or see. We gather the holy moments in our hands every day, praying for eyes to see God’s presence, his purposes realized in our story. When you put more holy moments in our hands to meditate on, we are drawn deeper into the Jesus who led us here. 

Here’s one last thing: As you watch us struggle and celebrate and cry and flail, we also want you to know that adoption is beautiful, and a thousand times we’ve looked at each other and said, “What if we would’ve said no?” God invited us into something monumental and lovely, and we would’ve missed endless moments of glory had we walked away. We need you during these difficult months of waiting and transitioning, but we also hope you see that we serve a faithful God who heals and actually sets the lonely in families, just like He said He would. And even through the tears and tantrums (ours), we look at our children and marvel that God counted us worthy to raise them. We are humbled. We’ve been gifted with a very holy task, and when you help us rise to the occasion, you have an inheritance in their story; your name will be counted in their legacy. 

Because that day you brought us pulled pork tacos was the exact day I needed to skip dinner prep and hold my son on the couch for an hour, talking about Africa and beginning to bind up his emotional wounds. When you kidnapped me for two hours and took me to breakfast, I was at the very, very, absolute end that morning, but I came home renewed, able to greet my children after school with fresh love and patience. When you loved on my big kids and offered them sanctuary for a night, you kept the family rhythm in sync at the end of a hard week. 

Thank you for being the village. You are so important.

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