Sunday, August 16, 2015

Two Weeks Home

This last Thursday marked two weeks home with Will, and tomorrow marks four weeks since Gotcha Day. Here are the things we are seeing:

SLEEP: Will seems to have transitioned from his fear (terror) of falling asleep, to fearing that we will leave the room. This is GOOD. He has moved from using the end of his bottle as a jump off point to a thrashing, kicking, clawing fight to stay awake, to allowing himself to relax into my arms, be rocked, and then laid in his crib. Sometimes I need to hover near the crib, sometimes I try to sneak out and then have to come back in and just be present a few more minutes, but sometimes I can put him down and he'll settle into his blanket and I can leave. I attribute this change to gas drops after he finishes his bottle (YAY GAS DROPS), keeping the music low but on repeat (Kenny Loggins' Return to Pooh Corner and the Chinese Children's Angelic Choir Lullabies cds, rotated every few days all night or all nap), and Will's progressing attachment. He is clearly no longer afraid to go to sleep, and he likes his room. He says "bye-bye" to everyone, blows a kiss, and gives them  each a soft headbutt before bedtime. The fact that he doesn't want me to leave the room means that he finds my presence a comfort, a reassurance. And that's SO GOOD. I will take it. And it only takes an extra five-ten minutes of comforting and sneaking out. Better than the full 1-2 hours it used to take after his bottle was finished.

BUT...last Sunday night Will had a major meltdown. It happened about two hours after he fell asleep. Jacob and I took turns trying to comfort him. Maren peeked in to see if she could help. Will was a detached, unreachable, enraged wild animal and it was heartbreaking. It brought back the pain of the airplane trip, but I was thankful I could be on the carpet with him and keep him safe, at least. And for the first time, as he thrashed and tore and screamed, I considered night terrors. Is this what we had been dealing with all along? He completely exhausted himself. The kids worried. I cried as he was so spent he could no longer even lift his arms, and all that he could utter were despairing moans, still not giving in to sleep and keeping his eyes wide open, staring at nothing. I gently lifted him and put him in his crib. He kept his eyes open for 10 more minutes as he calmed, and then he dropped. I went and sat out in the hall and sobbed. Then I looked up "post-adoption night terrors" on my phone. The description fit.
The next morning I called my sister, whose son had night terrors from the age of two to four years. Knowledge is good, and so is knowing you're not alone. It was actually a relief. With night terrors, you shouldn't wake the child. Let them ride it out. They won't remember it. It's harder on the parents than the child. Just keep him safe. I can do that. The kids can handle that. And sure enough, the next morning, Will woke up bright-eyed and cheerful, shouting "HI!" when he saw me and reaching for me with both hands and a huge grin, and probably wondering why mommy looked like she'd wrestled a wolverine all night.

That was last Sunday, and it hasn't happened again. He has woken up during the night and I've assessed what was happening, and the night terror hasn't returned yet. A bottle and rocking, or just a reassurance that someone has come and he's okay, seems to be working. Will is sleeping through the night about every 3 nights and last night was a gift of two-nights-in-a-row! But if the night terror does return, I'm better prepared to handle it. We all are.

ROUTINE: We've finally been able to re-establish a sort-of routine, now that jet-lag is finally being shown the door. Will is a creature of habit. Not surprising given the structured routine of an institution. I'm fine with this. He's still sleeping in longer than he should (and I am, too), but school starting will remedy that. Breakfast, playtime, bottle, nap, snack, playtime, dinner, walk, bath, bottle, bedtime. Routine. He loves it. I appreciate it. He takes good naps. I have to wake him after 2 1/2 hours. But I'm starting to see that naptime will be my designated writing time. Yes, I can finally begin to believe that I will write again. And soon.

COMMUNICATION: I heard Will walking around the house the other day repeating a sound. "Ooo-kheee. Ooo-kheee. Ooo-kheee." Cute. A little later he lost his balance and landed on his bum. I asked, "Uh-oh, are you okay?" Getting up, he said, "Ooo-kheee." Okay. Okay. OKAY. He's saying okay. And nobody taught him. Yesterday he started calling cars "car" instead of "chu-chu." He's just picking things up. It's awesome.

COPING SKILLS: As Will's institutional behaviors diminish, it's become clear that his coping skills are poo. We are starting from scratch in teaching him how to handle disappointments, because he's been left to himself to try to cope with the TREMENDOUS disappointments life has shown him already, and no offense Will, but your baby brain filled in the blanks with awful things. This, above all, is why I hesitate to take him out, to attempt even an hour of church, to take him grocery shopping or visiting teaching. His temper is HOT. He gets frustrated easily. If he hurts himself he loses it. If he's tired or out of the "routine" it's clear a meltdown could be looming, waiting for any trigger to set it off. But even in the four weeks that we've been working on this we've made definite progress. He's a different child than when we first got him. It's like he was a seed in dry soil and now he's beginning to sprout. We are blessed to be part of it. The growth will continue, I'm sure. He is doing such a great job already. I wonder who he'll be a year from now? I'm excited for him. "Keep trying, Will! Get up! Dust yourself off. Let me kiss it better. You're okay. Get up. Up! Good job! You can do it!" The other day I was thinking about something I'd felt--I KNEW--from my Dad, from the earliest of the earlies: "You can do it, Kris." Always. It was ingrained in me that my Dad knew I could do anything. It was my fact.
I want Will to feel that from us. I want him to KNOW it. Like it's part of him. "You can do it."
"I knew you could do it."

It's the most powerful thing.

THE FAMILY: Last Thursday we arranged for Brandon to keep Will for the afternoon while Maren and I went back-to-school shopping. Maren and I counted down the days, and Brandon took a deep breath, and shooed us out the door while Will wasn't looking. And they did great! Will realized I was gone, of course, but Brandon distracted him with play. They read "the same three books a hundred times," Will knocked the kitchen garbage over twice, emptied the tupperware drawer three times, they played outside, ate spaghetti for dinner, went on a 40 minute walk, and when we came in the front door towing our shopping bags, Brandon was coming down the stairs holding a freshly-bathed Will, who wore pajamas and a huge grin. YESSSSSSS. Also, my eyes popped out of my head because I couldn't even remember Brandon ever bathing our other kids. I'm sure it happened. Probably? He even used lotion! O_O

Brandon was dog-tired, but agreed that the evening was a success,and I was very grateful.

Speaking of dogs, Brodie and Will have come to a truce of sorts. Brodie realized that after nap, Will sometimes gets to carry around a toddler snack-cup full of goldfish crackers, and sometimes, Will sticks his whole hand into the cup and pulls it out with such force that, to Brodie's delight, a dozen crackers go flying with it. Likewise, Will discovered that Brodie likes to eat goldfish crackers, and that's fun. So, they are in a "mutual appreciation" phase of their relationship. But I have noted that bringing Will home is the event that made our 6 1/2 year-old "puppy" grow up and act his age. Kind of bitter-sweet. He may bark his head off at the "murderers outside our door," but he's my affectionate, sweet dog. I hope he grows to be a good friend to Will. And protects him from those murderers. *eyeroll*

Jacob was at Scout Encampment up near Spokane all week and Will recognized his absence. He pointed out pics of "Eckub" anytime he was near them, and he clapped and smiled when Jacob came home. Cool.

I'm excited that the kids get to go back to school, but honestly, I've loved having them close. I've leaned on them and they've lifted me up. They've encouraged me and thanked me and witnessed all the things. They've put their arms around me when I felt like collapsing in tears. They've changed diapers and babysat and let me nap. They've been awesome. I couldn't ask for better kids. But I'm stronger and routine will be good for all of us. They need their friends and activities. And they'll have an excited little brother to come home to.

Loving Will is improving all of us.
I hate imagining this strong, smart, silly, affectionate boy growing up anywhere else.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

One Week Home

It's time for an update. One week home, three weeks from Gotcha Day. I'd like to start by saying that besides raising 4 of my own kids, all very different types of toddlers, I also worked in a large inner-city daycare center in the infant/toddler room while Brandon was in college, and continued to babysit privately in my home until just a few years ago. With all of this experience, and all the studying of international adoption I did for XinQin and Will, this has been one of the most emotional, fascinating, draining, frustrating, heart-breaking, joyful, rewarding things I've ever encountered. We are in a constant state of considering where Will came from, where his head is, his loss, his grieving, his genetics and his personality, along with his firsts, his joys, his comforts. I knew that stuff with my bio kids. With Will, it's like working through a labyrinth, hoping we're making the right turns.
We've been home from China a week now. Here's a list of things we are seeing:

1. Will's meltdowns have diminished to more manageable tantrums, and they are fewer. His negative (and scary) institutional behaviors are fading. We are in awe at the speed in which he is learning and choosing to regulate himself instead of giving himself over to what is more familiar. This is such a blessing. We are still cocooning so we're keeping him out of social situations. Right now I fear he might fall back on old habits if he's overwhelmed or over-stimulated. Still, seeing the rate at which he's letting it go is so encouraging, and we wonder at the idea of him still being in an orphanage, and at the other little ones still there, and these horrible behaviors continuing and strengthening, when it takes so little time for their minds to begin accepting that there is something better for them, if it's offered. He is soaking in real love and constant family.

2. I'm not concerned about language at all. He's a little mimic. He jabbers a lot and reminds us of our granddaughter, Carly. Getting these two together, I smile at the conversations of jibberish they would have. No, he's not speaking Chinese. We asked our China guide. She laughed. Nope, just baby talk. He does say Thank you (xie xie) and car (chu chu) in Chinese, but that's it. He is picking up new English words every day. He says hi (his favorite greeting repeated over and over), bye-bye, Mama and Dada, Cub (Jacob), Meh (Maren), baby, apple, bow wow or woof, nana (banana), cheese ("say cheese" for the camera), pee-bee-bee (peekaboo), and I see (I see you). Yesterday we started the name game, pointing to ourselves and saying our name, then pointing to Will and saying his name. He caught on and wanted to play again today, starting with "Will."

3. Sleep makes a HUGE difference, especially for Mommy. I've been running on 3 hours of sleep a night, with only 2-3 full nights of sleep thrown in there. Will was cranky, I was cranky, and honestly, I was crying at the drop of a hat. A body and mind can't function on exhaustion. Add to the mix that I've been sick since day 2 in China. I lost 10 pounds in two weeks because of a stomach thing. Not an energizing weight loss program, but a draining illness. And I was putting Will first. So the stomach bug and no sleep, on top of jet lag and being there for all of this transition has been absolutely draining, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Will seems to have sleep anxiety--not being asleep, but going to sleep, as if it's a loss of control he can't give in to. After learning of the conditions in which they're put to bed in the orphanage, I can't blame him. We somehow have to make that transition a safe place for him, and I think we're figuring it out. But yesterday, after another 3-hour night, I was a mess. Brandon mentioned something at dinner and I just started crying. Blah. BUT, we tried fresh ideas with the bedtime thing and kept Will up until 10 pm, Brandon bought me a new comfy rocking chair, and somehow the mix worked and Will slept through the night. That was so needed. Both of us slept until 9:30 am. So today, at least, I'm thinking clearer and Will was definitely happier. We'll see how tonight goes. Also, I've been on probiotics for a few days and I think they're making a difference. I hope. I need to be healthy and strong.

4. Going backward to move forward. In all of my studying I read a lot about regressive behavior in institution kids. I'm so grateful. On paper, Will is 25 months old. In life, he is more like 14 months old, in some ways, a lot younger. He has 16 teeth, but doesn't know how to chew, because he was only fed soft foods. He still pushes food to the roof of his mouth. He's making up for lost time with that one as we introduce finger foods. He loves apples and they're great chewing practice. He still takes a bottle. The nanny told us he takes one night bottle of regular cold milk. But he didn't want that. We give him a bottle of warm formula before nap time and one before bed. I don't care. He loves it. He needs it. When we first started with a bottle, he'd turn away from me, and not make eye contact, not letting me touch the bottle, and barely him. Then, he would turn toward me. Then, he began to make solid eye contact, and study me. Then the matching began. I'd read about that, so it was exciting to see happen. He'd lift his brows. I'd lift mine. He'd blink long. I'd blink long. He'd grin. I'd grin. He'd lift his brows again. I'd copy. Then one night, he reached up and rested his hand on my face. That was emotional. I moved his palm to my mouth and kissed it. Now, when he greets me after nap, or in the morning, or during bottle, or when he likes a book I've read, he lifts his palm to my mouth and I kiss it. So yeah, bottle time. All the things I did naturally as I nursed my bio babies...Will didn't get any of that. He's getting it now. We do a lot of rocking in the rocking chair. Lots.

He loves steamed broccoli.

5. Physically, Will is growing. He's sturdier, and I'm pretty sure he's heavier. He's still a comfy 18 months in clothes, but he feels strong and healthy in our arms (especially when he's fighting sleep with all of his might, ugh). When we first got him he toddled unsteadily, holding a hand. Now he walks very independently and practically runs. His first doctor appointment will be in a couple of weeks. He hated the medical exams in China. I'm not looking forward to it, but I have questions that need answers, and we need to make sure he's on the right track.
Chasing bubbles.
He loves the little pool. He hopped and splashed and spent lots of energy with me and Maren.

6. Will loves to read books. I could not be happier with this. All day, interspersed with his other play, he brings us books to read to him. He wants a book when he first wakes up (Little Blue Truck Leads the Way), repeated (All the Ways I Love You, the little photo book I made him, and others), and before he goes to bed (On the Night You Were Born). We read to him as much as he wants. Are you kidding me? We're a book family.

7. Just now, at 11:15 pm, Will woke up. I braced myself and went up to his room. When I picked him up out of his crib, I noticed he had a wet diaper. So I changed him there in the dark as he calmed. With dry diaper on, I lifted him to my shoulder and he relaxed. I swayed with him until his breathing deepened, with Kenny Loggins singing softly in the background, and then laid him in his crib, and snuck out. It worked. No institutional rocking. Totally normal. And I was blown away by the normalcy of it, taking time to say a little prayer of thanks and do a little victory dance in the hall. I'm not naive enough to think it will be sweet sailing nighttime bliss from here on out. No way. But tonight, I'm grateful.

And I'm going to bed.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Night and Day

It's taken me awhile to get to this post for a few reasons.
1. Sleep. I told my daughter it's like I've been crawling in the desert dying of thirst and sleep is my water.
2. This is our third day home and I just barely unpacked my laptop. That shows how big a priority number 1 is.
3. Avoidance. The last few days have been rough. But we're doing okay. We're hanging in there. We have a lot to be thankful for. But it's been rough. Number 1 has a bit to do with that, too.

We left our guide in Guangzhou and boarded a bullet train to Hong Kong. We were on our own. Will didn't like the trip at all. Our guide gave us a few warnings: Change to Hong Kong money as soon as we can because the taxis there don't take Chinese money, use the taxis, not private drivers, and she told us what it should cost to get us to our hotel. We managed to find our way out of the depot to the street, and we were immediately met by a nicely dressed, older driver of a private car, offering us a ride. But we hadn't changed money yet and had no idea where to do that, it was dark, and we'd had our warnings. Brandon murmured something about changing money and the man offered to take our Chinese money, and to take us right to our hotel at the airport for a reasonable price. We didn't have the energy to turn him down, and nobody else was around anymore. He led us to an old limo and we piled in. Will fell asleep within a few minutes, and 45 minutes later the limo pulled up in front of our hotel. I cried a little and almost hugged the driver. I think that he was sent to us.

Will woke up in a new hotel room. I think he sensed more change.

This is attitude. See that beloved morning bottle? He refused it. He refused food. Ominous.

He loves watching cars. 

This is during boarding. Brandon is in line for us because Will refused to be held. Great beginning to a 13-hour flight, yes?

I couldn't help wondering what was going on his mind. Good-bye, China. 

I took these next pictures knowing that this would probably be the best part of the flight.

He finally fell asleep during take-off with these headphones on plugged into a Sesame Street show. It was pretty sweet. But he hadn't had his bottle or eaten much, It was a short nap.

When we checked in, Delta had no record of Will's seat purchase. But we had the invoice emails. They couldn't get the three of us together, but a nice guy who'd traveled with kids before switched with Brandon so he was at least across the aisle. 

This is the last of peace on the flight. I came out kicked, battered, broken, and completely thrown up on. I used Melatonin and Benadryl for him and he fought it all like a T-Rex. The woman in front of Will's seat was horrid about it, but we got a lot of compassion from other travelers. I got maybe one hour of sleep, Will got about three. We got off the plane and I thought, "Okay, we're done, we made it." And that's when he threw up a whole carton of blueberry yogurt all over me. Just before customs, and then a 45 minute wait in immigration, and then getting our luggage, and then getting our car, and THEN finding a 7-11 where I finally changed clothes. I was done. I cried, exhausted, from Seattle to Ellensburg. I think Will and I are still a little mad at each other. It was traumatic and even right now the thought of going anywhere or taking him anywhere makes me ill. I've never been happier to be home. Ever.
That's the truth.

But now we are home and what a difference it is making. I think Will loves our house. He roams all over the main floor and plays with trucks and cars and dances and we read books. He loves to go outside and walked on grass for the first time, and my parents brought him a swing. He's sleeping in his own crib in his own room, which is HUGE. We still rock him to sleep before putting him down, but that's okay. It's good bonding time. He took right away to Maren and Jacob. He and the dog are having issues. Mostly territory issues. They'll have to get over it. We still have a long way to go. His institutional behaviors have lessened, his meltdowns are fewer, but we'll be avoiding social situations for a while. His habits of manipulation are coming out now, though, and that's a struggle. We can see how he learned to use certain behaviors to get attention in the orphanage. These could take months-years to unlearn, but I also see he's smart, and quick, and picks up on what works and what doesn't fast. So we're learning how to react, how to re-program this amazing little boy who's been left to parent himself for two years. 

He wants to be loved. We have to show him he can be loved unconditionally. 
And, you know, we have to get more sleep.