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.
I want to start this off by saying that overall after one year, Z is doing amazingly well. He has become fully integrated, not only into our little nuclear family, but our extended family, friends, and community. Spend a little time with him and it's easy to see that he genuinely feels at home. He knows he belongs, and that is a priceless blessing.
That being said, I think children (adopted or not) go through many cycles of integration, isolation, and re-integration in their communities and even their own families as they develop and grow into themselves. It's not a one-shot deal -- it's a life-long process. I know that I've gone through seasons of either feeling alienated from or drawn closer to various groups of people in my life, depending on the stage of development I was in. As we parent Z through the ups and downs of life we can't control whether he always feels connected, grounded, at home, etc; but we can try to always provide a safe place for him to sort it all out. That's the goal, and I feel like the first year has laid a good foundation so far.
Rather than going through each section separately as I have in previous posts, I'm just going to summarize some areas where we have made big strides in the past 6 months.
*Screaming is at an all-time low in our house, praise the LORD. It still happens, but we are down from dozens of times per day to maybe a few episodes a week. [Keeping it real: pretty sure this progress is due to the dollop of soap Z gets on his tongue whenever he screams. I'm not sure if that's condoned by the 'experts' but it has worked a small miracle around here so I'm OK with it.]
*Z is very comfortable being left with babysitters now and typically doesn't show any signs of anxiety before or after we're away from him. We even left the kids with a close family friend for two nights last month to attend a baptism out of town, and Z did great. I thought he would be a little 'off' after we got back, but he didn't miss a beat. He also gets dropped off at preschool twice a week and loves it, as well as Sunday school on Sundays.
*Z has been healthy all winter, and recently had a visit to his orthopedic doctor, who says his club foot is completely corrected! He will still wear his 'snowboard' at night until his third birthday but after that we're DONE. He has absolutely no impairment in his ability to use that foot or leg - you would never know anything was wrong. I am so thankful to report that every single health issue we dealt with at the start has now been fully resolved. Praise God!
*One of the biggest improvements we have seen in the last 6 months is in the relationship between our two youngest. Z and D really knocked heads in the beginning (and by 'beginning' I mean the first 4-6 months), and it is not hard to see why. They are both strong, they are both stubborn, they both like to have the attention on them, and they are both believe that Mommy exists solely to meet their individual needs: not exactly a recipe for insta-friends. But over time, and with lots of intentional coaching, teaching, and prompting from Mom and Dad, these two have come to not just tolerate, but actually love and enjoy one another. They are only 19 months apart, which has made them great playmates now that they aren't at each other's throats all the time. There is very little in this world that makes me happier than seeing my children get along. It is bliss.
*Another area where we've seen major progress is something I'll call self-regulation. Z can calm down when he's upset. He can wait for things (to an age appropriate level). He doesn't completely come unglued when every little thing doesn't go his way. He has some understanding of delayed gratification. To give an example, we've been having trouble at mealtime (more on that below). After the drama dies down, Z will look at us and say, "Tomorrow Z eat dinner!" He understands that even though things didn't go well tonight, we can always try again tomorrow.
*This doesn't really fit in the category of 'progress', but I think it's important and want to mention it: Z is so proud to be Ethiopian. He talks about it on a daily basis. He loves to watch videos and look at pictures from Ethiopia and still remembers the names of many of the friends he had there. Naturally we have encouraged this, but it is often something he initiates or requests. I'm hoping this interest will continue and deepen as he grows, and that he will always be proud of who he is and where he is from.
Still A Work in Progress
As I said, overall things are great and Z has come so amazingly far in one year. But there are two areas specifically that remain a work in progress: mealtime and bedtime. From day one these have been the two battles that Z will pick more often than any others, because he is smart enough to know that you can't make a kid sleep or eat. Don't get me wrong, he likes sleeping and eating and he does get plenty of rest and plenty of food. But even after one year of super consistent routines and boundaries, he still fights control battles in these areas daily. As much as is humanly possible, we choose not to fight back, and everyone knows a one-person fight gets boring after awhile... but apparently his tolerance for boredom is sky-high because he hasn't quit yet.
I could go into great detail about how these battles play out, but the bottom line is that we do have consistent routines, consistent boundaries, and consistent consequences... and yet he pushes. I would estimate that this happens at about 1 out of every 3 or 4 mealtimes and bedtimes. It's not fun, but honestly we have just gotten used to it. That doesn't mean we don't care, or that we don't deal with the behavior, but it also doesn't (usually) sabotage our whole evening anymore. Though I hope it won't always be so, for now it's our new normal.
I also want to mention that Z still wakes at night on occasion. We had about a few weeks in a row of no night waking recently, but this past week he has been up once or twice a night again. Sometimes it seems like he's having a bad dream, other times it's not clear why he's fussing, but he almost always goes right back to sleep with a little comforting. We don't usually pick him up, we just speak a few soft words, rub his back and he settles down. Last night he was up several times with bad dreams but that's not happening very often anymore, thankfully.
This section wouldn't be complete without an update on the areas where I am still a work in progress. I won't bore you with a laundry list of all my faults (though I have one written out and can email it to you if you're interested... joking... mostly), but I want to admit that I have a long way to go when it comes to parenting, and parenting my youngest child in particular. I know better, but I still let Z push my buttons. I am still quick to have my feelings hurt and I feel rejected easily. I am more likely to overreact to his behavior than to the other kids'. I am also quicker to judge myself, and therefore more likely to feel guilt and a sense of failure about my parenting of Z than of the others. Despite all this, I do feel that each of these areas is slowly improving over time. Grace, grace for him, grace for myself, the grace of God in Jesus Christ is sinking deeper into my soul and steadily doing its work in us day by day. Amen to that.
To Sum Up
We are crazy blessed and grateful to have Z in our family. We love him to pieces, and his million-dollar smiles, deep belly laughs, silly inside jokes, fun creative play, and sweet sweet hugs and kisses are daily demonstrations that he is thriving here. It's messy and there is a steep learning curve, but our family life together is starting to feel more like a fun swim in the lake and less like trying not to drown while the sharks circle up. That's a good thing.
A month or so ago I realized that Z can still wear the outfit he came home in, but it fits him very differently now! In the above picture, if he's standing up the pants just touch the tops of his shoes. Below, they are cuffed twice, as are his sleeves. One year makes a big difference!