Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Ups and the Downs

Elijah has been with us for one month now.   I know the phrase " meant to be" is tossed around a lot, but it is what comes to mind when I think of my newest boy.  Not only was our meeting and adoption match so amazing but Elijah fits in here so well and the adjustment has been relatively smooth.

Ellie and Elijah have a particularly sweet relationship.  She really idolizes him.  And he is so sweet in return.

My definition of "smooth" might not be someone else's.  I was preparing myself for the worst.  I expected complete rejection, acting out, frustration etc.  So, while things are not perfect and a Elijah does not act like a typical 7 year-old, I am so pleased with where he is.  

We have our ups and downs.  Sometimes the biggests "downs" and the sweetest "ups" occur in the same day. 

Our attempt at an almost-family picture.

Elijah is learning both spoken and unspoken rules that our family and culture has.  Rules that our kids, here since birth or as babies, just know.  Things like, don't yell inside, especially around Daddy.  Don't touch other people's food on the conveyor belt at the grocery store.  Don't pour water on your siblings' heads in the bath.  And don't, ever, knock down anything Nicholas has built, be it out of snow, blocks, Lincoln Logs, or anything.  Seriously, you'll be sorry.

Setting boundaries continues to be an issue, of course.  Elijah really doesn't like it when I say no or limit the number of TV shows he watches etc.  He usually doesn't really behave terribly, just little acts of defiance, such as dumping a basket of toys or running in the opposite direction of where I've asked him to go.  Once, he even ran and grabbed scissors from a kitchen drawer and cut his hair! That has been his worst misbehior to date.  But I think he regrets it, as I have caught him checking himself out in the mirror and (I imagine) noticing how funny he looks with a chunk of hair missing.

One day he simply would not talk to me because I had said no to tv.  He wanted to be alone and looked very sad.  When I got down on my knees and tried to talk to him and look in his eyes, he obviously got very uncomfortable, like he was about to cry but did not want to, and yelled at me to go away.  That is hard for me, but, I am sure, much harder for him.  

But, that night, Elijah surprised me with kisses!  He has watched me and Ellie do our evening routine of 10 kisses and 10 hus before bed every night.  That night, after cutting his hair and pushing me away all day, he kissed me over and over again, giggling and hugging me.  It was so nice, and made me think that maybe enforcing the safe boundaries, while hard, is a good thing.  As you all know, a kid feels safer when he or she is not in charge, when a parent cares enough to set reasonable limits.  I hope that these, along with my demonstrations of love, are making him feel safe and secure here.

6 children is definitely more than 5, in terms of housework.  I feel like I am constantly making meals and snacks, and continually cleaning up the house and doing laundry.  Not to mention kissing boo-boos and getting kids dressed in snow pants, jackets, gloves, hats, and scarves to go play in the snow.  I am finding that household routines are more important than ever.  I am not naturally good at following plans.  I'd rather fly by the seat of my pants, but that isn't working any longer, if I ever plan on sleeping.  But, I am glad to find that I am not sinking into the doldrums, but feeling pretty happy.  I am not sure why this is, other than the fact that I am living my dream-- 6 kids and I get to stay home with them.  To me, this is awesome.  I know, not for everybody, but it makes me very happy.  I have no qualms about turning 40 this year, and I think a lot of it's to do win the fact that I am happy wih where I am in life.  So thankful. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Technology and Attachment

I have not been blogging very often not because things are hard and chaotic (although they can be, at times) but because technology has become an issue in our household lately.

As I have mentioned, Elijah is really into 'screen time,' be it TV or handheld devices, or computers.  

And, I know, this is not a huge issues.  We are blessed that we are not dealing with some big adjustment problems.  Elijah, on the whole, is loving, sweet, funny, and kind.  He has attached so well to me, and is warming up to John slowly.  He gets along well with his new brothers and sisters.

But he is obsessed.  More so than the average kid.  Much more than my other kids, at least.

And,  when he plays, he zones out.  It doesn't seem to matter what is on the screen, as long as he has something to stare at.  

And when I take it away, or limit it in any way, he is furious.

And when he sees me on the computer or iPhone, he is furious that I have it and he doesn't.  Thus, the no blogging.  Its hard to find time to 'sneak in' my screen time.

I know from lots of smart adoptive parents and therapists, that technology hinders attachment.  It pushes social interaction  out of the picture.  It is a safe escape from learning to attach to your new family.

So, I have taken all of our iPads and Leapsters and locked them in our safe.  And I have unplugged the TV's.  

So far, that has been awesome for our family.  And when the technology is out-of-sight, I don't have to say no all day long.

We all get to play a lot.


And in.

I have noticed how much I have used screen time as a crutch for me to get stuff done.
As my babysitter.
How did I not realize I was doing this?

I mean, we have a school time rule of no tv and iPads, but somehow they sneak in for "educational" reasons...and we sped less time really living.

I can't tell you how exhausted I am from all of the interacting I have been doing!  It is full on all day, every day.  Running, piggy back rides, biking, playing board games, cooking, etc.

Here is Olivia and I learning to make Chinese food with our fabulous Chinese teacher, Ms. Linda.

Chris joined in on the steamed bun fun, too!

All of this no screen time has been great for the entire family.  Elijah, in so many ways, is a reflection of our family.  Not how we want it to be, or how we hope to be one day, but how we are right now.

He mimics us because he is trying to figure out how to fit in around here, and sometimes I don't like what I see.  

But I am so grateful for this opportunity to see it, and to make changes.

Once again, adoption blesses me. 

But if I don't return your texts, please understand!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

This Post is for Heather

My good friend Heather has been playfully pushing me to write again since being home, so here it is!  I really hate when adoption blogs abruptly stop once the travel is over; (like Heather) I want to see what happens once the honeymoon is over.  So here is my first, bleary-eyed, jet-lagged attempt.

Things have been going really well.  Elijah is adjusting so well that sometimes I get suspicious and wonder how long this can possibly last.  I know that he is still on his best behavior and once he really starts to get how safe we really are, we might see some more challenging behaviors.  But so far, so good.

Our flight home was uneventful.  Once we landed and collected our baggage, we came through immigration and customs, and walked down the long runway to the place in which families, friends, and limo- drivers await arrivers.  Nicholas and I kept saying " Ohhh, soon we are going to see Daddy and Olivia and Peter and Ellie and Chrissy..." And I told Elijah he's going to meet his Baba and we were all full of anticipation when we walked out…."wait, do you see them?  I don't.  Where are they?"

No one was waiting for us!

Talk about an anticlimax.

If this were my first adoption, I would have been pretty disappointed after imagining a fairy tale welcome with balloons and Welcome Home signs and hugs.  But, I just kind of laughed and pulled out my phone and texted my husband " where r u?"  Life is messy and so far from picture-perfect with lots of little kids, so I think I have gotten better at laughing at the not-so-perfect moments. And perhaps even more to the point, I don't even have time or energy to draft big fantasies of how things should be any more.  

Anyway, two minutes later, a breathless John ran up the escalator with 4 kids and we had our moment by a newspaper stand.  Elijah was a little shy and overwhelmed.  Olivia immediately started rattling off in the Chinese she knows.  Peter and Ellie started grabbing him and talking to him in English.  I went for Christopher ( my baby!) who wouldn't look at me at first (I knew he would make me pay for leaving him) and clung to John.  And Nicholas just launched into questions about what Santa left him while he was away.  Home sweet home.

Once we got to our house, Elijah went right for Peter's box of superhero toys.  We had a small meal and showed Elijah the house.  I could tell he was overstimulated and excited as he ran from room to room and stopped listening to me.  Hey, he fits in really well in this household.

We decided to have Elijah sleep in the master bedroom with me (and Ellie, who still wakes up in the night with night terrors).  Eventually, we will move him to the boys room but we have found -- through trial and error -- that co-sleeping works really well for bonding and "felt-safety" (excuse my adoption lingo).  It has been great so far because Elijah really lets down his guard when the lights are out and it is just him and me.  We play silly games and tickle each other, and snuggle.  Last night he fell asleep in the crook of my arm, and it was so nice.  I just prayed "thank you" once again, and still cannot believe that my outlandish dream came true, and is sleeping right next to me.

Our days have been pretty laid-back.  Lots of staying in our PJ's.  We have played play-dough and done puzzles.

Elijah is really creative and has strong opinions about what works best.  Again, he is such a Niforatos.

He gets along especially well with Ellie and Peter.

We also have gone outside at least once each day, which is an accomplishment considering it has been unbelievably cold here.  Elijah LOVES the swing.  On the first day outside, he gestured toward the baby swing, asking for me to life him into it.  I told him that it was a baby swing; "for Dee Dee (little brother)," I said.  I pointed to the big swing and at first he shook his head, No.  But, just like with swimming, he got over his fear pretty quickly and tried it.  

And just like with swimming, he loved it.  Oh my goodness, what a treat it is that I get to witness all of these firsts and am able to see the delight on his face.

Ellie had fun too.  She is glad that she is not the only one who thinks swinging is awesome.

Yesterday, I attempted getting back into out school routine.  This has been something I have worried a bit about since we found out Elijah was coming home.  How will this work?  Well, I know this is not a permanent solution, but I just let Elijah to continue to play on the iPad with headphones.  My hope is that eventually he will move to some basic phonics and math games.  (The only way this will work is if I delete all the more 'fun' apps from the iPad!)

My biggest dilemma with Elijah right now is how to get him off of electronics.  Of course, a little is okay, but he wants an iPad, computer, or TV show all day long.  It is a coping mechanism right now, and maybe a habit from his previous home (?), so it has its place, but our other kids do not quite get why he gets to do it all day long and they don't.  We have a no- screen rule from 8-4 every school day.

My plan is to phase it out slowly, as he learns more English and feels more comfortable with us.

The other kids got a little bit of schoolwork done, but it was a challenge to keep everyone focused when Elijah was running around and being silly.  This is also our challenge at the dinner table.  We are trying to ask the other kids to set a good example so that Elijah will learn what is expected here.

I have read and been to lectures about bonding and parenting kids with traumatic pasts, and one thing that stuck in my mind is that you need to build up a foundation of "yesses" before introducing all the "no's"  It was explained that we do not say no to little babies, but consistently and lovingly meet their needs, and that builds our parent-child bond.  So I don't want to say "no" to Elijah all day long about the iPad and sitting at the table, etc.  I am trying to just put temptations out of sight (I put my laptop and iPads away a lot) and focus on having fun and meeting his needs, with food and hugs and comforting him when he gets hurt.

Elijah is a little less comfortable with John because John has been at work a lot, and, of course, I had a 2 week jump on getting to know him  But, they are on their way.  Here, John is trying to bond over a matching game on, yes, the iPad.

I really could not expect things to be any better than this.  I am taking every day as it comes and accepting that I don't even know what I don't know about all of this.  Continuing to just try my best and rely on guidance.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Home again, Home again

After a long 30 hour trip...

...we are home!

and adjusting to our new normal.

Life is good.  Happy New Year!!

Thank you to all our friends and family for your prayers and support.  We are blessed.