Sunday, September 20, 2015

Part 2


In light of the fact part one was shared nearly a thousand times in 48 hours I feel like I should take a moment and say that I am not a professional of any kind.  I’m not a psychologist (though I did major in psychology for two years at community college ;) in the early 90s), not a doctor, and not a professional in any way.  Please don’t substitute my experiences as an adoptive parent for real help from a professional when it comes to the stuff we will be discussing today.
This post was harder to write, or to even know how to approach.  A lot of what I have to say plays in to the individual issues that these boys struggle with, and that seems so personal.  On the other hand, it isn’t really, because so many of these things are universal.  I am electing to focus on just the two most shocking things I experienced when they first came home.  You will no doubt have different experiences, every child is an individual, but I share to help you expect the unexpected.  I will also use initials to refer to my children, although many of you know my children, and it’s a little silly.  I’m going to do it anyway. 
In my last post, I said their behaviors in China vanished on American soil, and that is true.  However, the root cause of those behaviors, pain and loss, didn’t.  It came to wear a different mask, and in their lives I suspect there will be many dozens, if not hundreds, of times that these roots will rise up and try to strangle whatever they’re growing. 
Last night, someone posted in the comments section of the IN CHINA post that no amount of Disneyland and soccer lessons would erase where they came from or what they’ve endured.  This is so much truth.  No amount of living, even a healthy, happy, life, will ever erase their past.  The language of adoption is fear and loss.  Even when they’ve ‘moved on’ there’s no pulling a Lady MacBeth and trying to wash that past away.  You don’t want them to.  The healthiest life for a person with a trauma past is to accept what they have been and love themselves, as they were and hopefully as they will be.  Their growth to emotional health is their journey, not yours.  You’re just here to help walk them through it when they need a hand.  However, make no mistake that it will certainly impact your journey to hold their hands through theirs. 
The thing I most wish I'd known of life at home before getting there would have been this.  You may think you are adopting an older child, say a 6 and a 12 year old, but this is not exactly true.  I felt, almost immediately, that I should have babyproofed the house.  Though the boys came in 12 and 6 year old bodies, they were ridiculously naive, completely unaware of cause and effect, and almost totally without developed executive function.  As babies, we learn these things early.  You make a poor choice, bad things happen.  Mom and dad are upset.  We accidentally hurt ourselves.  Our new toy is broken.  Cause and effect creates a training system in our brains. 
Orphanage living is a bizarre juxtaposition.  Children are largely left alone, even at the best orphanages.  This means they are part tiny adults, and part clueless babies.  The most common babysitter in an institutional setting is routine.  She’s a rigid nanny who tells our children when to get up, when to eat, what to do and where to go.  That may keep them alive, but it doesn’t allow for the cause and effect brain training mentioned above.  Orphanage life is a vacuum.  It doesn’t allow for choices, good or bad.  And no choices means no consequences. 
If you get nothing else from this post today, please understand this.  Your child hasn’t got a lick of sense.  Just none.  They don’t know a good choice from a bad one because they’ve never made any.  Your bio toddler may know you shouldn’t touch an angry dog.  Your adopted twelve year probably doesn’t get that.  You are starting with a blank slate in this respect and your number one biggest tool is PATIENCE.  You will need stores of it.  Patience to remind yourself that an adopted 6 year old sticking a fork into a toaster isn’t a suicide attempt.  It’s a kid who doesn’t know any better.  Don’t punish them as though they know better, and don’t leave them alone, as though they have the capacity to make good choices, because they don’t. 
Within three days of coming home, J and F had managed to actually do that, stick a fork in a plugged in toaster.  They also managed to: Run in the house with a butcher knife that should have been too high to reach.  Try to eat plastic fruit.  Make multiple phone calls to neighbors, and a couple to 911.  The list goes on and on.  Try to imagine you are adopting a toddler, even if you’re not.  Because in essence, emotionally, you are.  We don’t have matches in our home and haven’t for fifteen years, since before our oldest was born.  Yet, somehow, F kept getting matches from somewhere and he started multiple fires.  I am absolutely convinced his reasons for doing this were not malicious.  He was doing it because he could.  Because it was exciting and different and after years of experiencing nothing, they wanted to experience everything.  We finally discovered a stash of matches hidden among his things and a little research showed a family member had left them behind while staying at our house during the trip. 
Age is literally just a number with these kids.  Please do yourself a favor and do not expect a child who is anywhere on par with your bio children at the same age, your sister's kids, or even that other adopted orphan from down the street.  Your child will be very delayed emotionally.  Often, they will be delayed physically, cognitively, and most certainly in terms of education and formal learning.  You can expect a twelve year old who may have more in common with your bio seven year old.  Adopting an aging out child may mean you have a child who is in no way ready to spread their wings and fly at 18.  Or 20.  Or maybe even ever.  You may have more luck with a toddler, because they have more time to make up for that deficit of real world brain building, but then again, you might not. 
At the same time, you have a very old soul in a child’s body.  They are naive, but scarred.  They’re childish, but mature in negative ways.  Many children from institutional settings have been exposed to abuse, physical, emotional, and, yes, sexual.  Many of these older boys have carelessly exposed to porn, or indoctrinated by other older boys in the building.  You may see a child who will clap delightedly at ducks and then display hypersexualized behavior ten minutes later.  Even without abuse, they’ve been exposed to trauma most of us will never have to endure.  Things that many adults would have no chance of surviving emotionally intact. 
They first few months are HARD. 
Not just because the boys were always into something.  They were hard because the boys had no clue how to live in a family unit.  They had no concept of give and take.  No concept of sharing, because they’d never owned anything.  They were hypervigilent and constantly overwhelmed.  Nice events like small family parties led to total hysteria.  The process of living outside of the orphanage fishbowl was absolutely alarming and completely foreign.  Every day was hours of struggle from the moment they woke up until we fought them into bed.  They were wildly overstimulated just by existing, but at the same time, they had no clue what to do to entertain themselves. 
Both of them would return to orphanage standbys and pass the time by harassing our bio children or each other.  Every child in the orphanage pecking order learns early on that they are either the bully or the bullied.  Unless they are the favored one, the golden child.  We were dismayed to discover that J was a bully and it was clearly engrained in his personality from long years of aggression.  He harassed his sister closest in age until it bordered on torment.  He bothered people just for fun, like poking a stick into an ant hill.  If they got bored at all, they’d find someone to harass.  F was the favored child, the one who lived a life of relative privilege as far as orphanages go, but even he would look for someone to bother if he got too bored.  They couldn’t sit through a television show completely, in even in Chinese.  They had ADHD simply from never having been exposed to anything.
The first three months were a daze of trauma.  Ours, theirs, and that of our bombarded bio children.  It’s more living in the trenches, like China, but with more creature comforts for you, not for them.  Don’t expect to be able to do much of anything.  Your house will be a mess.  Your kids will be a mess.  Most of all, your emotions will be a mess.  It will probably be six months, maybe more, before you begin to emerge from the haze of dealing with the backlash of adoption.
I want to share the two most shocking things we dealt with early in our adoptions.  One with J and one with F.  You may experience something similar, or something different, but both were very alarming in living color, rather than on a page in training.
Because of the emotional vacuum he lived in, J had absolutely no ability to regulate his emotions.  That was okay in the orphanage, because there were very few strong emotions.  When he got to America, he discovered that this wasn’t at all what he expected.  As an older child, he was required to sign a piece of paper, more than once actually, agreeing to be adopted.  I am firmly convinced that, had he understood how hard he would grieve for his homeland, he would have said no.  His grief was profound. 
I don’t know how many days I cried for his pain.  He ached for familiar sights and sounds, for familiar language, for foods and scents he knew.  He grieved for his ‘brothers’, the seven boys he’d spent his first twelve years with.  He was in agony.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen true agony up close before that, except when a friend lost her child years ago.  He was in the depths of torment.  We have many friends who speak Mandarin, so we tried to make sure he had someone to talk to.  We gave him books, movies and shows in Mandarin.  We played Chinese music for him. 
I’m sure it helped, but it wasn’t enough.  His pain was more than I knew what to do with, but, more to the point, it was far, far more than he knew what to do with.  He couldn’t regulate even simple emotions.  Acute agony was far beyond his abilities.  He’d start by crying for his brothers, or just for China, for the orphanage and the life he missed.  It would escalate, because he had no idea how to internalize and regulate what he was feeling. 
Eventually, he would end up screaming in his bedroom until he was hoarse.  No one could talk to him or approach him.  And when I say screaming, I really mean it.  Blood curdling, high pitched screaming, until he lost any voice at all.  He threw things, rocked through the screaming, or, most alarmingly, hurt himself.  Something I didn’t at all expect.  He was screaming and rocking, and when that didn’t help, when throwing everything he could reach didn’t help, he’d start pinching and scratching himself.  Gouging flesh from his arms or face.  I don’t even think he realized he was doing it.  It was just all so much more than he could deal with.  He had to have some kind of outlet. 
It was both scary and so, so devastatingly sad.  This is the product of a child who has never learned how to feel, or what to do when they do feel.  You may very well experience this in your child.  This kind of behavior is not uncommon.  Once again, these kids are blank slates in dealing with life outside the orphanage.  They have to be taught how to deal with their emotions.  Most of us learn that from an early age.  These kids have not. 
F was a different experience.  He comes from a history of significant trauma.  Truly terrible things have come his way in his few short years.  He’s been through things that would absolutely DESTROY the majority of us.  He’s still kicking because he’s a fighter.  A hard core, knock down, drag out, butt kicker, take no prisoners, fighter.  If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have been alive by the time we got to him. 
However, that insatiable will to survive comes with its own set of issues.  F never stops fighting.  Not in his sleep, not playing a game.  Not ever.  He no longer even knows how to turn off his fight.  When we were in China, we put him in a grocery cart and he freaked.  Panicked clawing desire to get out.  Of course, we laughed because who’s afraid of a shopping cart.  In our heads, it was just a silly detail we see in our kids sometimes.  We had literally no idea that it was a component of something so much larger that was about to own our lives for months, maybe forever, to be honest. 
Once we were home, F was a relatively mellow kid, UNLESS we tried to force him to do anything.  We had to be somewhere and I pulled a shirt over his head because he refused to get dressed.  He went berserk.  He screamed, he scratched me, he tried to bite me.  To be honest, I just thought he was being a brat.  F, like many children from a post-institutional background, glories in battles.  He wants to fight often.  Refusing to get dressed, refusing to eat, or refusing to go are not uncommon.  These kids will make power grabs, wherever and whenever they can.  This was excessive, however.
Fast forward to two weeks home.  F has a chronic, and very dangerous if untreated, genetic disorder that left him physically very fragile and really tore up.  He started to show signs of a physical decline, and it wasn’t unexpected.  We knew he was going to end up in the hospital eventually, and we were glad for the two weeks we’d had to bond before he became symptomatic. 
I already had everything set up with the specialist that deals with his special need and we headed off to the hospital, with literally no clue what was about to happen.  Even if I had read about it, even if I heard someone talk about, possibly even if I had seen it myself in another child, nothing at all could have prepared me for what was about to happen.  We sat in the room and F was a little suspicious.  He didn’t like being there, and he had a bit of an attitude, but that’s not unusual with him. 
Then it was time for a blood draw.  The F we knew, funny, charming, energetic, fun loving F, was gone.  In his place was a completely hysterical child.  It took, literally this is not a joke, eight nurses to hold him down to get his blood draw.  I’d like to remind you this is an incredibly sick child who is nothing but skin and bones and wilted away from years of sub-par treatment of a fatal disease in a foreign country.  He fought like an animal. 
The nurses wanted to restrain him in something like a straight jacket, which I wouldn’t allow, because I knew something was wrong.  No child acts like that for no reason.  This was way beyond fear.  The examination and blood test wasn’t good news, so he was admitted.  Thus began a nightmare for all of us that I can’t even begin to explain.  I will try, but my words have no meaning next to the reality. 
F fought constantly.  He screamed like he was literally being murdered when he was put in a wheelchair or the metal hospital bed.  I remembered the shopping basket.  He physical fought anyone who tried to touch him.  He bit, kicked, punched, scratched and head butted every doctor or nurse that approached him.  He tore off his own clothes and ran the second he could get away.  He tore things off the walls, off tables, off the carts.  He pulled IVs and monitors out of own body.  Multiple times.  He had to be reaccessed I don’t know how many times.  He broke everything he could. 
A note advising caution was placed on his hospital room door like he was a wild animal.  Pregnant and elderly staff were advised away from his room.  He wouldn’t sleep.  Ever.  He didn’t sleep for three days.  He refused to get in the bed.  Neither would he eat or drink.  If he accidentally fell asleep in his chair, he would wake up screaming in terror. 
I still wouldn’t allow him to be restrained.  By this point, it was easy to guess that he’d been restrained before in a medical situation, and I didn’t want that again.  (Now that he can speak English well, he’s told us stories that would make you sweat, but at the time he was two weeks home and it was all guessing for us.)  Because I wouldn’t allow him to be restrained, I was the one who had to hold him still for all of these procedures.  Every night, after the first few days, I held him in the bed because the staff would not allow him to be anywhere but the bed at night, crying silently beside him while he screamed himself to sleep.  He took his terror out on me because I was the one holding him.  I had, literally, black eyes, arms torn to shreds from his nails, bite marks up and down my arms, bruises and scratches on every exposed area of skin. 
There’s no explaining the pain that comes from knowing your child is in that kind of terror.  Pain and terror that are bigger than anything you could ever begin to touch with all the love and security in the world.  The only cure for hysteria like that is lots of time, lots of therapy, and maybe lots of medication.  He was in agony and so was I.  It was the worst two weeks of my life in that hospital.  Of course, two days in, the hospital’s child psychologist came to see us and eventually gave us the diagnosis of severe, acute, medical PTSD.  It wasn’t a shock. 
The psychologist later admitted he’d come expecting F to be psychotic, given the description the staff had sent him.  Fear like that isn’t something we can love out of our kids.  Sometimes they are so far beyond anything we can do to help them, that all we can do is love them and hang on for the very bumpy ride.  After day three, after dozens of attempts at using smaller forms of anti-anxiety drugs, F spent much of his time getting IV Ativan, a powerful drug that killed his urge to fight, but left him almost catatonic.  When it wore off he’d be hysterical again, and in the end it probably didn’t help, but there’s no winning in a situation like that, and he needed medical care. 
Your child will likely not have exactly the same issues after getting home, but know they will have something.  There’s no escaping a life of trauma without some kind of scars, and you will not escape their trauma either without bearing a lifetime of scars.  Their pain is now yours, and that’s what you sign up for when you bring a child with a scarred past into your home and heart. 
As months go on and we begin to move into years, F is the one who still struggles the most.  J has settled in.  He’s learned to control his emotions, he’s learned he doesn’t always have to fight with his siblings.  He’s learned resources don’t just disappear because he didn’t fight hard enough to get them.  F still struggles.  Every day.  Petty power struggles are the air he breathes.  He has behaviors, lying, stealing, fighting, that will haunt him when he is older if we can’t help him to control them.  J is the older child.  The one we feared might never be able to function without issues.  He’s much more stable already.  He’s a good kid.  A solid kid.  He loves America now, and he loves having a family.  F is much younger.  Half J’s age at adoption. 
Like so many people we believed he’d be easier to parent because he was younger.  This was not true.  Younger doesn’t mean easier, because you never know what they’ve been through or how they’ve internalized those events.  F has considerable trauma in his past.  J was abandoned as an infant.  There’s loss inherent in any adoption, but he doesn’t remember.  He was raised in a small orphanage with good friends.  His memories aren’t always lovely, but they aren’t deeply scarring.  F was abandoned by a trusted family member, who said he would be back, at the age of around four.  He remembers many details of his birth family, and EVERY detail of being left at the hospital.  He had a tremendous background of other horrible events to bog him down. 
I hope he will make it past those things, but maybe he won’t.  Maybe he never will.  Age will not protect your child from trauma behaviors.  Don’t adopt a two year old thinking it will.  And don’t make the mistake I did and assume that just because a child is 6, he will be less scarred than one who is 12. 
So here’s my advice in a nut shell, learned the hard way.
Be kind.  To your child and yourself.  View these first months as the months with a new baby.  It’s VERY like that.  More than you will ever guess before experiencing it.  Don’t leave your kids unattended.  Don’t lose patience with them, just because they ‘should know better.’  They don’t know better.  They don’t know anything.
Try to consider these kids as a shell empty of knowledge and real life training, but filled with memories, some good, most bad.  Your job is to filter all these things through until theres a balance that works for them.  I figure if someday either of my boys can have some kind of healthy, meaningful, relationship with someone at all, we’ve done our jobs to the best of our ability. 
Hang in there.  Once again, be kind.  You have months, probably years, of hard work in front of you.  It doesn’t have to happen tomorrow.  And no matter how hard you try, it won’t.  Adoption is long process.  A life long process.  Stay the course and good luck!


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Oops, technical difficulties!

Okay, I'm sorry, but apparently I lied.  I have no Internet on my work computer.  So I write my blog posts in documents and then transfer them to my daughter's laptop via a data stick and cut and paste into the blogger screen.  My computer is apparently on strike tonight and won't even boot.  I promise part 2 will be up ASAP.  Read: When my husband fixes my computer lol.  Thanks for your patience! 


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Little Advice From the Front Lines For Adoptive Parents to Be


As we come up on the one year mark, there’s been something heavy on my mind.  I wrote this blog post two weeks ago, but have waited to post until our one year Gotcha Day, which was yesterday.  There’s been a rash of disruptions lately, both while still in China and shortly after the families are back in America.  I’m not here to pass judgment on people, or talk about families who disrupt months or years into the process.  I’m here to talk about the beginning, and to give some advice.  Real advice.  Tough advice.  To families who haven’t walked that walk yet.  I want to talk to families who are thinking about adopting, or those who are about to travel. 
This will be a two part narrative, and this is part one, IN CHINA.  Please, do yourself and your child a favor and read what I am about to say.  I want to tell you some things.  Some things about our boys and our pick up trip, and what it means to commit to parent this child you swore you would care for.  PLEASE, PLEASE read all of this.  It’s long, but I am telling you this for a reason. 
This is Jake.  He’s 12 years old.  He loves the Power Rangers, friends, and video games.  He loves his family, swimming, and his bedroom.  He’s a good kid.  He enjoys hard work and is torn between being a dentist or working at McDonalds haha.  He misses China a lot, but likes living in America.  I love this kid.  He was slow to warm up, and so are we.  But the bond we have is tight now.  He trusts, even though life has given him a reason not to.  He is sweet.  He truly loves his friends.  He is kind, and helpful, and determined to do his best.  He’s a dream older child adoption. 

This is Finn.  He’s 7.  He loves animals, candy, hamburgers (that was his first English word), Power Rangers, playing outside and his bike.  He loves us.  He bonded fairly easily once we were home.  He wants to be a doctor or a teacher.  He spends a lot of his life at the hospital.  It’s hard for him, but he makes it through.  Finn has my heart.  100% unequivocally.  There’s a lot of things about Finn, things he has no control over, that make our lives exponentially harder.  But they are all worth it.  Literally every single tear I’ve shed for him is worth it, and so many more. 

One year ago yesterday, we picked up these boys in China.  Mike and I separated and flew on different planes, me into Guangzhou, Mike into Beijing.  Mike moved on to Zhengzhou, the capital city of Henan Province.  I stayed in Guangzhou, the capital city of the Guangdong Province, at the lavish Garden Hotel, one of the two places the majority of Americans stay.  Mike’s hotel was questionable, and Zhengzhou isn’t the nicest city. 
On Monday morning, I went to meet Finn.  Mike went in the afternoon to pick up Jake.  Finn was off to the side in a small room.  It looked a bit like a play room.  I recognized him from pictures and videos, of course.  I could pick him out of the massive crowd immediately.  He was sitting apart from the crowd, all alone, playing with a toy truck.  When the nannies realized I was there, they went into the room where he was and coaxed him off the floor.  He froze up immediately.  They had to pretty much drag him out of the room. 
When they approached me, he refused to lift his face.  He wouldn’t even look at me.  He was not a baby, not even a toddler or preschooler, both boys are older.  They couldn’t just pick him up and hand him to me.  They tried to get him to look up from the floor.  I bent a little, not too close to him, and I said hello.  Just a single word.  Specifically, ‘hi.’  That was all it took. 
He started wailing.  Louder than any baby in that room.  His terror was acute and it was heartbreaking.  I knew he was excited earlier that day, because I’d had my guide call the orphanage and ask them to ask him what kinds of snacks he wanted me to buy.  He responded that he couldn’t even think of snacks because he was so excited.  But the excitement was gone and the absolute horror of reality had set in.  I don’t know how long he cried.  At least fifteen minutes. 
For a small moment, maybe a minute and a half, I was reduced to tears too.  Not because he wasn’t happy to see me.  I had no reason to expect he would be.  But because he was terrified.  No child should ever have to be that scared, especially not to get what every child should have; a family.  It was heartbreaking.  His panic and fear was palpable.  The people he loved were giving him to a stranger, and he was hysterical.  I pulled myself together because I didn’t want him to be further worked up. 
They took us to a corner.  I took the few things I’d brought from my bag to try and coax a reaction out of him.  Let me remind you, this child was at least six years old.  In reality, he had ten adult teeth already, so he’s very likely as little as eight at this point, and possibly as old as twelve.  Toys weren’t getting his attention.  He couldn’t be distracted by bright lights or happy music.  I didn’t have anything like that anyway.  Just a camera, a Kindle, and a few small toys. 
By this point nearly everyone had left.  We were one of two remaining families.  The other family was across the room on another matching red modern couch, like something you could buy at Ikea, stripping their new toddler of all the clothing the orphanage had clearly carefully dressed her in and redressing her in a puffy number with lots of frillies.  (As an aside, please consider the message you are sending to the orphanage when you remove the best clothes they have and have sacrificed to present your child to you nicely dressed and clean.  Consider changing them back at your hotel, instead.)
Finn still would not look at me.  The orphanage was telling me about his care and medications.  Extremely frail and ghostly white, with hollowed out cheeks and some kind of weird, probably contagious, bumpy rash all over his face and arms, Finn did not look good.  He was skeletal, but with a giant stomach, like a concentration camp victim.  His teeth were flat out disgusting, rotted out nearly completely, and smelling of rotten meat, his mouth was truly alarming.   He was very sick.  This was not the fault of the orphanage, who clearly loved him so much.  It was his disease ravaging his body.  He had almost no time left in his short life.  (In fact, we were home less than two weeks before he was admitted to the hospital for much too long.) 
The woman I thought was a nanny told me that she was the second in command at the orphanage.  A step below the director.  She’d accompanied Finn because he was a favored child.  They had believed he would die.  Later in the second week, while we waited for medicals, my guide, a fabulous woman named Judy, told us she’d been to the orphanage the summer before, to bring another adoptive family to tour.  While she’d been there, she’d seen our son.  This before we even knew he existed.  Before we were even considering international adoption.  This woman, who holds a prominent position at the orphanage, told Judy that Finn broke her heart.  That they all despaired because he would die and it was too late for any family to come.  He no longer had any hope.  Obviously, that turned out not to be true.  But, it did explain why she was so emotional. 
Between Finn’s hysteria and my inability to hear well when there’s lots of chaos and background noise, I couldn’t understand a lot of what was being said.  I did understand she kept thanking me and she kept crying.  I just kept nodding.  Finally, after about half an hour, Finn stopped crying, and stopped rocking, and reached for the camera.  He still wouldn’t look at me.  He became interested in the camera, but he’d shirk away if I tried to touch him, and he’d ignore me completely if I tried to talk to him. 
When we finally left the Civil Affairs building, it was a short drive back to our hotel.  Finn would look only at the camera.  Eventually, he responded to my guide, monosyllabic answers.  He didn’t always answer Judy.  He refused to even acknowledge I was there.  In the lavish gold leaf and marble lobby of the Garden, Judy expressed her concerns about what we would do.  She suggested, gently, that maybe she should stay.  We have bio children, too, and Finn was definitely not my first little guy.  I come from a background of trauma myself, and this wasn’t completely strange to me, though certainly I’d never experienced this exact moment as a child.  But I know my way around a scared kid.  I told her thank you, but asked her to leave. 
Finn and I went upstairs together.  In absolute silence.  He still would not look at me.  We went into the room and I locked the doors and sat on the couch.  He wandered around the room.  Looked at a few things.  Then went to stare out the window.  I didn’t try to talk to him.  He stood in the window for a long time.  I don’t know how long.  Maybe twenty minutes.  He didn’t speak, and neither did I.  I figured that with a child like he clearly was, it would behoove us both to let him decide when he was ready to have a conversation. 
Eventually, I turned on the TV.  I found a cartoon and turned the sound down, loud enough to be heard, low enough not to be disturbing.  He walked away from the window and started to unpack the small bag full of toys I’d brought.  Prior to this point, my only boy was our bio son, now a middle teen, and he’d been interested only on Legos, video games, and history.  All our other children were girls.  I wasn’t sure what he might like so I only brought some Legos, some cars, and a single stuffed animal.  We’d brought the same for Jake, now packed in Mike’s bags. 
Finn took every car, I believe there were something like thirty, and lined them up on the window sill.  Suddenly, around car twenty, he started to talk.  Of course, I had no clue what he was saying.  He didn’t sound upset, though.  So I just made encouraging noises and acted interested.  From there, he got over his fear.  The only other times we saw that kind of behavior in him while in China was once in a grocery cart at the store, and once on the plane from Guangzhou when we insisted his seatbelt say fastened.  But more on that in the second post. 
If I had come in expecting him to warm up to me in any way, we would have had a big problem.  He didn’t want me and he was petrified.  Imagine, everything you have and everything you know ripped away from you in an instant.  You have no control and no say.  You’re handed to a total stranger who keeps blurting things out in what sounds like a made up language.  For him, this was the second time, since he’d been abandoned older and has strong memories of that event.  This was torture to him, not the building of a family.  He had lost everything, while we had gained a child.  We had loved him and prayed for him and sacrificed all that we had to see him come home before he died.  To him, we were strangers, once again stealing all the comforts his small life offered him. 
Your child does not love you, nor are they ever obligated to love you.  This is a one sided contract.  You signed up for this.  They did not.  Let me say that again.  THEY DON’T LOVE YOU.  They don’t know you.  They probably don’t even like you.  They’re scared and they’re resentful.  You are a villain of their piece at the moment, because they have no long term perspective.  You love your child in a certain way.  The way parents gestating love their babies.  But they don’t care about you at all.  Orphanage life encourages survival of the fittest.  They are in survival mode.  More on that in a minute.  Let me repeat that, too.  You are a villain to them.  You’ve stolen whatever life they’ve made for themselves in the aesthetic vacuum of orphanage living.  They are terrified of you.  Even if they don’t seem to care one way or the other, they do.  They are just as traumatized.  That’s just a different survival mode. 
Please do not go in with even a single expectation of how meeting your child will go because YOU WILL BE DISAPPOINTED.  This is not about you.  Not about your vision of a moment locked in time.  This is about a terrified child who is losing everything, even if they act like they are not.  Everything that follows while you are still in China are the actions of a person on the battlefield.  Fight or Flight has kicked in and you are the enemy on the Western front.  Please remember they are experiencing one more massive trauma in a short life defined by trauma.  This is the second worse thing that has ever happened to them, next to being abandoned. 
Please imagine how you would behave if a stranger stole into your house and then your family offered you over and let them take you away, away to another country where you didn’t speak the language, then they had bizarre expectations that you show them affection, and they couldn’t give you anything you wanted, anything that gave you comfort, because they didn’t even know what those things were.  You would be awful, and I would be too.  That is what your child is experiencing.  This is a bad experience for them.  Beyond anything most of us will ever have to go through, thank the Lord.
Mike’s gotcha experience was better.  Jake had been waiting.  He was well prepared by his orphanage.  He and Mike met in the Civil Affairs office.  They were happy to meet one another.  Other families around them cried when they met because both of them were smiling ear to ear.  There were jokes and hugs.  It was the ‘picture perfect’ older child gotcha day.  They even had a decent time while they waited out the two days (our adoption was expedited for Finn’s poor condition and prognosis) in province before they would join us in Guangzhou.  They swam a lot.  Watched a lot of videos.  Jake enjoyed taking pictures and making Vlog style videos of the trip.  They had a couple of small power struggles, but overall, it was a good experience for both of them.  This is important to remember for later, when I talk in the next post about life after you get home. 
When they joined us in Guangzhou, we were three days into the adoption process in country, and a whole new stage of nightmare was about to begin.  Once again, let me remind you that your child is a lot of things during this period of time.  Terrified, angry, freaked out, fighting or hiding, talking back or not talking at all.  The one thing they aren’t is THEMSELVES.  At this point, your child is a panicked stranger.  And I hope you know yourself well enough to know that you are not yourself, and you’re not your best, when the pressure is on.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking you would handle their situation better than they are, because you wouldn’t.  This is a kind of death for them.  Let them fear and grieve
Some kids fear, grieve, and fret by fighting, some by flighting.  Everybody knows there are three reactions to stress and trauma, fight, flight, or freeze.  For the sake of this narrative, we’ll just boil it down to fight or flight.  FIGHT kids may not actually fight, so much as they move all the time, they seem hyperactive, twitchy or maybe even violent.  Everything is funny or everything is awful.  They might act out negatively, or they may just act out.  They may act like they’ve been mainlining crack for days. 
FLIGHT children probably won’t actually run.  They leave that to their spastic fight counterparts.  Their flight will be will be emotional.  They will shut down, turn off, disappear from the trauma.  These are the kids who may be almost catatonic, who may be silent and brooding, who may stare into space for hours and fail to respond to any stimuli.  They are the babies that refuse to sit up.  The ones who lie in their borrowed cribs like they are unconscious or they have the muscle tone of an infant.  You may try to sit them up, but they will flop over like rag dolls.  These are the kids who refuse to eat and drink, who stare blankly when you offer a toy.  You may even think these children are profoundly delayed physically or mentally.  YOU HAVE NO WAY OF KNOWING THIS. 
This catatonic child is not your child.  This is panic in another form.  You have to get them home, you have to make them feel safe, before you will ever know.  As their new parent, it’s not their job to adjust, it’s your job to make them feel safe.  Your job to help them adjust.  Your job to make the terror go away.  You can’t expect to do that while you are in China.  Everything that happens there is survival.  You can’t judge your child from the way they act in China, and you have no right to, unless you don’t mind everyone judging you by the worst, most traumatic moments in your life.  Again, let me say something one more time.  DO NOT JUDGE YOUR CHILDREN.  This is no place for that. 
Leaving them behind because they don’t handle trauma the way you think they should is like staring at a newborn and deciding to leave it at the hospital because its head looks way weirder than you expected.  Or it cries way too much.  You can’t know what your child is actually like while you’re still in China.  You just can’t.  It isn’t possible.  Because that child you got from that civil affairs office is not your child.  It’s a terrified changeling in the place of your real child.  Your real child will return when they feel safe. 
Our boys happened to both be FIGHT.  And it began immediately once they were together.  Finn was already pretty twitchy before Jake arrived, but together, they were insane.  This is not a joke.  I’ve alluded to it before, but I’ve never told the entire story.  We, literally, could not take them anywhere.  They ran from us at every possible opportunity.  Into roads, into traffic, away into random hallways.  Once they got into the elevator at the Garden, after running from us, and they pressed every one of the 30 or 40 floors.  It took us forever to find them.  These, once again, are not toddlers.  This is a 12 and 6 year old.  We couldn’t stick them into a stroller to keep them by our sides. 
They would run away at the Garden and run screaming up and down the wooden spiral staircase.  No matter how much we ran, I couldn’t catch up.  Mike could, sometimes, but he couldn’t contain them both.  It was mortifying, the way they acted.  They would pick up things at stores and randomly throw them.  They touched everything.  And I do mean everything.  Even other people without permission.  They pressed every button they could find, they would dig into strangers’ pockets or desks.  If there was a computer, phone, camera etc. they would try to take it, and if they couldn’t they would slam the lid of laptops, or press every button they could reach before they were stopped.  Even our guide could get pretty much nowhere with them even in their mother tongue.
They wouldn’t sit still in eating situations.  They threw food.  They’d refuse to eat.  Or they’d eat everything on the table, even off other people’s plates.  They’d run to other people’s tables and while we were running after them, they’d carry something off the person’s table, knock something off as they passed, or just grab some of their food and run.  They yelled all the time, about everything.  They, both of them, threw many fits every day.  Screaming, kicking, hysterical fits.  Even in public.  The reasons were varied, because, of course, those reasons were not the real reasons, the trauma was.  Once Finn screamed for nearly an hour in Aeon as we struggled to get groceries, because we wouldn't buy him a bra.
We went on one trip to tour a burial mound, our only tour on the whole adoption trip.  While we were there, Jake, the twelve year old, laid down on the floor, face down, right in front of the door.  He refused to move.  He wasn’t crying or throwing a fit.  He just refused to move.  He was blocking the crowd.  He wouldn’t even move for our guide.  We had to drag him out of the way. 
They particularly enjoyed waiting until it was late in the hotel and then turning on every TV in the room as loud as they could go.  The more people they woke up or upset, the better.  If a room we were in didn’t have a screen, they would throw things out of the window.  When we were trying to do our medicals to leave the country, the doctor was trying to talk to us, and they were busily throwing his stuff out the third floor window.  They would press every button on the in room safe so we couldn't open it for an hour or more.  We couldn't watch them both if one of us was working on something adoption related.  It wasn't unusual for them to pull tricks like turning on all the water in the sink or tub and stopping it up right as we were leaving the room so when we returned the room was flooded.  Mike went to shop without us, hoping it would go better than our trips together.  I went to the bathroom, no more than three minutes, and when I returned, Jake had locked Finn outside of the hotel room door.  Finn was screaming on the other end and Jake was laughing his head off.  
Finn would talk to anyone, and I do mean anyone.  He’d touch their face, ask intrusive questions, and steal things from them.  He laughed constantly for no reason.  Loud, hysterical laughter.  Strangers would stop and angrily tell them to listen to their mother and father.  Some people who spoke English as well as their native Chinese suggested that we needed to beat them.  Any adoption related event was a nightmare as well.  They’d grab papers off the officials’ desks.  They’d tear papers we were trying to sign.  They were malicious.  To us and to each other.  Gleeful breaking other people’s things when they didn’t get their way. 
We had to start using punishments (especially taking away TV or the swimming pool) just to keep them even remotely in line.  And it was very remote.  I don’t mind telling you it was a total nightmare.  We were like zombies when that two weeks was up.  We couldn’t wait to get back to our kids who actually listened to a word we said.  We were used up, exhausted, emotionally and physically drained.  I've never been kicked or bitten, run so much, or dodged so many hurled objects in my entire life. We believed, before we left, that no matter how they acted, they would be better when they felt safer.  We believed it before we left, truly believed it, so we believed it when we were in country too. 
For yourself, and for your child, make yourself understand that you don’t walk away from a terrorized person, no matter how bad they are.  Because you have no way of knowing who they really are underneath that terror.  Not until they can feel safe again.  I will talk about the first few months in my next post, but it was true.  Once we were on American soil, they were immediately better.  Were they perfect?  Not even close.  It took several months for them to turn into the kids they are today, but they were much better. 
Almost every single one of their behaviors in China were suddenly gone.  There was no more running, there was no more throwing food, there was no more laying on the floor in public places.  They were kids again. 
There’s one reason to tell you this story, and one reason alone.  Your child is not your child while you are in country.  I can’t say this enough.  This is a horrible experience for them.  One of the worst in their lives.  If it’s a horrible experience for you as well, this SHOULD NOT be a surprise.  They fight or they lay down and act like they want to die.  And they do that because they are going through things we can’t even imagine.  Adoption is not like childbirth, so much as it’s like an arranged marriage.  So try to imagine you were shoved into an arranged marriage, in another country, with a person you’ve never met.  Maybe you’ll love them someday, but right now you don’t.  And this experience HURTS. 
They are hurt!
And maybe you will be too, but that’s part of the territory when it comes to bringing a traumatized child into your life.  If you are not ready to bring home your child, NO MATTER WHAT, than maybe you are not ready to adopt.  Think hard before you take that step forward.  You are an adult.  You are the person in control of this situation.  Please consider the feelings of your child.  The one who has a barely developed brain, the one who is still growing, whose brain is still adjusting to help them deal with trauma and pain.  The one who has limited executive function, because THEY ARE A CHILD. 
Children get scared, just like we do.  They get stressed, and they get depressed.  We should not expect children to do better than we would in the same situation.  If you are not convinced this is your child NO MATTER WHAT, then do yourself, and them, a favor, and think harder before committing.  If you are convinced that you are in it with all that you are, no matter what, then continue on and go get your baby!
I can’t say it enough.  The child you are meeting is not your child!  That child comes later, when you have succeeded in making them feel safe. 
Thank you for reading, and thinking hard before you’re faced with something you didn’t expect, so that when the time comes, you act with love and compassion, not surprise and panic.


P.S. Check back tomorrow for the second part of this narrative, my message to adoptive parents newly home from their country. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

One Year Ya'll

It's hard to believe, but it's been one year since we picked the boys up in their separate province in China.  I have a photo progression of each boy.  You might notice we have more photos in these progressions of Finn.  There's two reason for this.  One, we just have more pictures of Finn than Jake.  His orphanage is home of a lovely American woman who is kind enough to send many pictures of waiting children to their parents.  We have very few pictures of Jake before we picked him up.  The second reason is that Jake remains largely the same, still as cute as ever.  Finn has gone through many significant physical changes since we brought him home.  It's really stunning enough that I want to document it.  As far as I'm aware, I've listed these photographs in chronological order since the day we picked them up.

One year of Jake

These are the only few photos we have of Jake from a short time before he was adopted.  We do have some young pictures of him from when he was in foster care with Love Without Boundaries, but they are too young to represent the last year or shortly before.  Though I did include one that was done by the group on a Throw Back Thursday.

Here's the referral picture we saw on a blog.  This is the first photograph of Jake we ever saw.  It was part of a blog post written by the young man above in the gray shirt.  

Here he is, in chronological order, for the last year!

One Year of Finn

Finn has many pictures from the orphanage.  I'd like to share them because he was a sick, sick boy when he came home.  And seeing them shows so much more the impact of the way he looks now.

Here's what we would refer to as his referral picture.  This is the first picture we saw of him on a Facebook group for waiting Chinese children, along with a note saying he was actively dying and the orphanage believed his time was running out.

They were right.  Here's a chronological journey of Finn, from a sick little boy, to a transfusion dependent kid whose life is mostly normal!

These kids are making a family every day!

So happy One Year Family Day, to two of my favorite gifts!