Sunday, August 28, 2011

epic post placement post: 6 months

It's time for another installment in the 'epic post-placement post' series! (To see previous posts click here and here.)

As I said in my original post, beyond just recording these things for posterity, my motivation for doing this is mainly to provide a window into our experiences for the sake of those who are waiting to bring their children home and wondering what it might be like when they finally do. Of course our experience just represents one dot on a huge spectrum, so if you are a waiting parent your experiences may (and most likely will) be completely different from ours. Still, I think it can be helpful to know what life is like for those a few steps ahead of us down the road.

Z continues to eat well and try new foods often. Since Z's graduation from 'mealtime boot camp' (see 'eating' section of this post) we have been able to loosen the reins a very little bit on mealtime boundaries, including eating meals at other people's houses, restaurants, the park, or the backyard. And rather than cutting him off at the first infraction, we are typically able to give him a chance or two without instigating a battle of wills or inciting manipulative behavior. Another huge milestone has been teaching Z delayed gratification: "If you eat X, you can have Y." Believe it or not, this finally clicked for him when X was chili and Y was... green beans. Kid loves him some green beans. Despite these victories, there is still usually one meal per day that ends in Z being excused due to inappropriate mealtime behavior (when he is 'excused' he still sits at the table with us until the meal is finished, he is just done eating for that meal). Most of the time this behavior stems from Z's desire to control every element of the meal -- how the food is served, where things are on the table, who gets served first, etc. Sometimes he can recover from not being granted this control, and sometimes he can't. Still, overall Z is eating well and growing in the family skill of eating meals together at the table.

We had about two or three months of decent sleep at one point, I think it was in the Spring. More often than not during that time, all our children went to bed fairly easily, stayed asleep all night, and woke up at a decent hour in the morning. It was lovely. Then we went on vacation and were on East Coast Time. Then our 3 year old suddenly needed his sheets changed multiple times per night. Then it was summer and we stayed up too late. Then Z went through a gnarly separation anxiety phase. Now (knock on wood) we have had two uneventful nights in a row, which I hope is the new trend because school starts soon and we need our sleep! Since coming home Z has gone through phases of night-waking, waking 2 or 3 times per night every night for a few weeks, then sleeping through without waking for days or weeks at a time. Most of the time when he wakes up he is easily comforted back to sleep, but once in awhile he wakes up seeming angry, scared or upset and he won't let us touch him. Those are the hardest times. Even though this is within the spectrum of normal toddler behavior, I can't help wondering if he is reliving something from his past. But since he is too young to tell us what's going on, there is no point getting worked up about it -- we just do our best to comfort him, and we pray.

Z is still two, and I do mean TWO. He is so much fun, and he is so much work. I am trying to keep a long view of things when it comes to working through Z's behaviors. He had 2 years to learn these behaviors and they are not going to disappear overnight. None of Z's specific behaviors are outside the scope of normal two year old stuff, but in my (albeit limited) experience they are just more frequent, more easily triggered, and more intense. We still have spitting, we still have screaming, we still have tantrums, and we still have the occasional biting and lots of hitting, as well as a hearty dose of controlling and manipulative behavior*. Is it better than when he came home? Absolutely. Is it better this month than last month? Maybe. Like I said, long view. We use time-ins (Z in his crib, me in the chair next to him), redirection, do-overs, and a wee bit of what psych professionals call 'aversion therapy.' In our house it is called Rude Juice. Crimes of the mouth (spitting, biting, and screaming) result in a very small amount of vinegar being squirted into the offending orifice with a medicine dropper. It is decidedly unpleasant, but not harmful, aggressive or mean... and it works like a charm. I can't wrap up this section without noting that Z also has lots and lots and lots of adorable behaviors to balance out the challenging ones! He is playful, fun-loving, affectionate, friendly, and has a great sense of humor. At the park or pool I often get asked, "Is he always this happy?" To which I usually reply, "Oh, he just loves the park/pool!", because that sounds better than "No, he's not." Anyway, my point is that although we do lots of daily hard work together on appropriate behavior, we also have lots of good fun.

*In case you've never seen this, here's an example: I ask Z if he wants to read a book. He says no. I say OK. He has a breakdown and starts screaming 'book! book!' Now if I were not wise to his ways, I might be tempted to give in, pick up the book, and try reading it to him. At which point I'd put 10 bucks on Z saying 'no book!' and double or nothin' he throws it across the room. So instead I explain 'Mommy listens when you say no, and you said no, so that means no book'. And he cries like I shot Ol' Yeller.

We still don't leave Z with babysitters or other adults very often - not nearly as much as we did with N & D. However for our own mental and marital health, we need to get out once in awhile! My parents have watched the kids on occasion and J's parents watched them a bit while we were visiting them in June. We also slowly introduced Z to a couple of our favorite babysitters and have recently begun leaving him with them for an hour or two at a time. We left him with a (non-grandparent) babysitter at bedtime for the first time this week and it went well. We talked about it with him several times throughout that day so that he knew it was coming, plus he had skipped his nap so he was exhausted and very ready for bed regardless of who was putting him down. Z continues to do well in all different kinds of social settings - church nursery, playdates, family gatherings, etc. He will attend a two year old preschool class at our church two mornings a week this fall which should be lots of fun for him and a nice regularly scheduled break for me.

We are so thankful that Z has been a healthy little guy all summer! He got his cast off in June and he hit the ground running, if you'll excuse the pun. :) He had a follow up appointment last month and the doctor was very happy with his progress, saying that when he grows out of his orthotic he will not need a new one, though he'll continue to wear his brace at night for another year or so. (Which reminds me, I need to call the doctor... Z got mad yesterday, grabbed what was handy, and chucked it across the room. And what was handy? You guessed it, his brace. And it broke. Sigh.)

Like his mom, dad, and brothers, Z is a talker. He can string together 5 and 6 word sentences now, and his pronunciation is improving quite a bit as well. I studied linguistics in college and Z's language development has been absolutely fascinating to me. The most amazing thing has been how quickly he learns to both say and understand new words. When I am trying to learn a word in Amharic, I need the speaker to repeat it for me several times and I usually have to come up with some little trick for remembering it, or I have to use it in context immediately and with some frequency - otherwise it is gone within minutes of hearing it. By contrast, Z can learn a new word the first time he hears it, understanding its meaning and then using it again correctly days later. Toddler brains are incredibly wired for language learning and it has been so fun to have a front row seat for this process! I am also fascinated by which words from Ethiopia Z has kept in his vocabulary. I intentionally say "words from Ethiopia" because the words which have persisted are not Amharic or Oromifa words, but rather baby-talk approximations which I am guessing were the first words he ever said. It stands to reason that the words he has been saying longest (and therefore spoke the earliest) are the ones which would take the longest to be replaced by English words. If that conjecture is true, then Z's first words were Oromifa baby-talk for "no" and "sit", and "give me". Sounds about right to me!

N (age 6) and Z continue to get along swimmingly. N loves to help Z, play with Z, teach Z new things, etc. I would say that of all the members of the family, Z's adoption probably had the least impact on N. His place in the family did not change - he is still the big brother and he has enjoyed having another younger sibling to play with, teach, and help. D (almost 4) however, has had to make a significant adjustment: less attention from me, more sharing, more compromising his preferences, and a small person taking his toys, monopolizing his mom, and generally just getting up in his mix. At first he seemed rather indifferent about the change, as though he was just trying to ride it out until things went back to how they were before. But when Z had been home about 4 months something clicked. I think D realized that this was, in fact, the new normal... and he was not a fan. We have spent the summer working through these issues together: talking, praying, processing feelings, giving focused attention, and doing lots of hands-on coaching to help all our kids treat each other with kindness and respect. Though it hasn't been easy, this has been good, necessary, and inevitable work for our family.

Bonding & Connecting
In the 'sleep' section I mentioned Z's recent bout of separation anxiety: I consider this to be a major bonding milestone! It made for a tough few weeks, and I am thankful to be through it -- not only because we are all sleeping better, but more importantly because it was a priceless opportunity to build trust. We were able to teach Z that even when he can't see us, we are here. There are very few things I want to plant deep into his heart more than that.

We continue to engage in activities that intentionally foster connection between us and Z - tickling, wrestling, cuddling, etc. One of the bonding activities that has borne the most fruit for us has been bottle-feeding* Z before nap-time and bedtime every day. No matter what kind of day we are having or how we may be feeling about each other leading up to that point, our bottle time is almost a guaranteed blessing. Z will cuddle on my lap (or J's - we take turns), look into my eyes, give me kisses, and fully relax into my arms. It did take work to get to this point, but it was well worth it as we now have two sweet bonding times built into our daily routine.

*For those who want specific details, we started out bottle feeding with 6-8 oz of milk, then switched to water after a few months, then reduced the volume to about 4-5 oz.

Cultural Connections
We haven't been able to spend as much time with our Ethiopian friends this summer, but we have started eating a lot more Ethiopian food at home since finding a great little store that sells injera, spices, and other Ethiopian items. I'm going to devote a whole post to this soon, so check back later to read more.

The Crazy Easy Stuff
And the winner for most surprisingly easy part of the last six months is (drum roll please)... potty training! I wasn't even thinking about potty training Z, but apparently he was way ahead of me. He would often ask to sit on the potty when he saw his brothers going, so I had gotten into the habit of sitting him there a few times throughout the day. I didn't give it much thought until one day I realized he was actually doing most of his business in the potty! Well, how 'bout that. He is not super reliable about telling us when he has to go (though he will do it on occasion), so I can't officially stamp him as 'potty trained', but considering how little effort I've put in, I am happily surprised by how well he is doing.

The Good Hard Stuff
So, to summarize, life is good. I cannot say that life is easy, or organized, or quiet, or predictable, or even really manageable on some days... but I can say that life is very good. After 6 months together, our love for each other has grown and woven itself through the fabric of our daily lives. We are experiencing God's grace and watching him work in us in ways that are sometimes painful but always glorious. We are learning to be a family together and I wouldn't trade any of it for the world.

And now, your reward for scrolling down past reading this novel: a few pictures from our recent photo shoot with my amazing photographer friend, Liz Quitiquit.


  1. From Carissa over email:

    I couldn't get my computer to make nice with your blog... It wouldn't let me post my comment. So, I'm sending it to you directly instead:


    I love your "epic" posts! Though our adoption experiences are different in major ways, there are many similar aspects in the daily trenches of adoptive motherhood. I have to admit: I envy the official status of your placement from day one and your ability to openly share about your experience. Our domestic adoption will finalize this November. Until then, we are not at liberty to share the gritty details of life or even pictures of M on the internet. I didn't think that would be a challenge for me, but at times it has made me feel isolated in our struggles. I am thankful to be able to read your story and find community and connection.

    Thank you for sharing!

  2. Thanks fo sharing Haley. Praising God with you knowing you all are doing well. The pics are cute!

  3. Thanks for taking the time to write this! Can't tell you how much I've gleaned from your epic posts:). Sure I will reference this later!!!!

  4. Wonderful as always, Haley! I love reading your updates...they are so helpful to me! The pictures are beautiful, too. You have a precious family =)

  5. Wow, wow, WOW! There is soooo much fantastic info in this post! How do you find the time to write all of this with three kids? I barely have time to brush my teeth. You are an amazing mom. The boys are as lucky to have you as you are to have them. Keep up the amazing work, stay on your knees and reflect on the example God has given to us. I am so blessed to have you as a friend.