First month home!

This is that first month home  blog post I promised. It’s over a week late. Sue me I’m busy. :)

Let’s get to it! Here’s everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Roland the Adjusted

Roland has been adjusting nicely. There’s no official measure of this of course, but if there were, he’d be rocking it. There’s also no official timeline of this, but if there were he’d be on the faster end of things I think. (I’ve learned that kids with physical limitations bond faster because they have to rely on their caregiver. That is definitely true in our case.) The classes we took during our home study process (the first step in adoption) are finally coming in handy. We also have a support group online. Those two things have put a lot of light on Roland’s behaviors. Understanding him has helped us parent him. For one thing diaper changes were somehow traumatic. Before my mind went to dark places, I got the advice that he probably just doesn’t like the vunerable position he’s in since we were placing him on his back. We made diaper changes more fun, added toys and eventually he felt safe in that  vulnerable  position. Now it’s fine. He occasionally throws a stink (pun totally intended) if we change him, but only because he’d rather be playing, not because he’s scared.

Food was another part of adjustment. If he saw food anywhere around the house that was not in his mouth right that very second it would cause a melt down. Not getting it into his mouth fast enough while he was at the table also caused a melt down. If it was food he hated BUT it was taunting him with the mere fact that it could never be touched by mortal taste buds… melt down. He was always afraid of not getting fed or not getting enough. We had to have Laelia eat her food in another room so he wouldn’t freak out and try to grab it out of her mouth anymore.  (He once threw himself on her red tray table to get to her food. He did it so hard that it collapsed the whole thing. Food flew everywhere and he just put his little body on top of the food to guard it because he had no way of getting it into his mouth with his unbending arms. Then he made loud Ukrainian noises at us when we tried to remove him from the pile of food. It was totally like this.) Things are much better now. I can make a cup of tea while in the middle of feeding him breakfast and he waits for me. I just ate something in front of him without thinking and he happily played with toys because he had just eaten. Obviously he trusts us to feed him consistently now.

He can also now eat our foods with their different smells and textures and that helps. Cheerios and graham crackers were yucky to him several weeks ago and now they are ambrosia. He came to us not being able to chew and that caused any chew-required foods to be avoided. Now he chews and swallows and even drinks from a straw! We’re so proud of him!

Of course on Saturday someone handed him some fruit snacks and he swallowed them whole. When we made chewing motions and pointed to his teeth he enthusiastically made those chewing faces right back to us and then swallowed another fruit snack whole. *sigh* It’s progress. ;)

As far as other adjustments…

It didn’t take long for Roland to realize that Daddy comes home around the same time everyday and it’s fun to block the door.

Or that if he grabs Mommy’s hand and puts it on his little head that Mommy (aka the sucker-for-baby parent) will coo over him and love him all over.

Or that everyone wants to take his picture.

And every picture looks like this, “Oh boy a camera! Must point at it!”

And if we ever see mommy go into the big box in the bathroom it means she’s being eaten by a giant monster and we must bang on the glass door and scream the ENTIRE time to keep the monster away.

As soon as mommy turns the water off we get super excited and tell her all about how we helped.

(I used to leave the shower door open enough for him to stick his head and one arm inside and happily play in the water. Not since getting his can’t-get-wet casts though.)

Let’s see, what else?

Roland has two stimming behaviors that have followed us through this first month. To stim is to self stimulate. You see this in kids with autism or kids who were institutionalized. It’s a way of creating stimulus  when there is none, but this coping mechanism sometimes becomes ingrained and follows children home from institutions. Usually stimming includes rocking or moaning or rubbing or licking and it is always repetitive. Roland used to rub his eyes over and over, but that is largely gone except for when he’s really tired. Only two behaviors have really lasted the month. The first is a movement he makes with his head. He shakes his head “no” in a slow motion moving all the way to the left and then all the way back to the right. This is his way of avoiding eye contact. He will do this if he’s overwhelmed. And once his head is all the way to one side he’ll look at you by straining his eyes and using his peripheral  vision. It removes him a step away from full-on eye contact. I don’t have a video of this as it happens so rarely now, but the day (a week and a half ago) he had to go with Daddy to get x-rays (I was throwing up at the time and couldn’t go) he did it to me when he got back. It was like he was saying, “Mommy wasn’t there. I feel abandoned. I have to regress to this behavior to look at her.” But really I don’t see this lasting the second month.

The other stimming thing he still does is a humming noise he makes. We call it his “thinking noise.” This, I’m pretty sure, will last SEVERAL months/years. It happens when he’s bored or working out something in his head. He used to do it 100% of the time whenever we handed him a book. We used to joke, “What bad things did the books do you to baby?” Here’s a video of him making his noise. It doesn’t mean he’s unhappy and never turns into crying.

One adjustment Roland has made is to bond with a primary caregiver. In this case that’s me! (Bonded for life! Woohoo! Watch our future Mrs. Rolly! I’m gonna be *that* mother-in-law. :)) Bonding is super important and helps when visitors are introduced into our lives. He needs to know that these are friends, but they won’t take him away to live with them. They go home and we stay here. We have been working on this so that he’ll be ready to have his grandparents come visit. We’re making progress. As you can see last week we went to Philly and he played with other children. He even got held by others, but  preferred  me. It was awesome. And a good sign. But before that we had a play date and he had a great time, but as soon as they left he was a mess.

This was his first ever play date. He had a lot of fun.

Click here for a video of his dance party.

That night he was up from 11:00pm to 7:00am crying and getting reassured. It didn’t make sense to me, but when I got on the support group and said, “My son is pulling an all-nighter!” Someone wrote, “Did he gave a great day or a birthday party?” Really?!!! Yeah he had his first play date. Poor thing is either  sabotaging  himself or wondering if the fun people will be his new parents. Grrrr orphanages suck!!!

Adjustment is hard, but it’s going really really well!  We have a little ways left to go, but not a long way. Mostly we have been blessed with a well-adjusting, happy kid. A kid so happy he wakes up with smiles in the morning and even when he’s throwing a tantrum over a toy he’s not getting (scissors, sharpie markers, etc.) he is always brought out of it by being picked up and loved a bit. Very spoiled child over here.

Roland the Trouble Maker (abridged… very abridged… very very very abridged)

Roland has an engineer’s brain. It’s kinda awesome to watch him work things out in his head, kind of like our friend Abu does. So I’m resigned to the fact that Rolly will be taking our thermostat apart or “fixing” the microwave some day. In the mean time his engineering mind mostly causes messes or trouble. Like the time he got my cell phone out to play with. I had locked the keypad so I let him play with it. He not only unlocked it, but texted “I’m in a meeting” to my husband using the saved text thingy already in the phone. That led to some funny back and forth between me and my husband when he called to ask if my meeting was over because he had been sitting on some important information about Laelia’s school. I was mad because I’d been waiting for that info all morning and could not figure out what he meant. Roland also set an alarm clock to go off at noon everyday on my phone. *sigh*

What other things has he done recently? Oh my word you would not believe me.

He turned on my work printer, pressed “print” which printed out my time card, then danced to the “music” while it printed, then repeated that 14 times before I realized what he was doing.

After two weeks home I just resigned myself to wasting one bag of Cheerios and one cup of water per day. He just loved to open the bag (hard to do since he can’t supinate well), get the lid off the cup and just start dumping it all over himself.

My son loves to pull the siding off the walls. It exposed the nails so we put some duct tape there so he couldn’t do it. Why Mommy why?! That was like my favorite thing to destroy!

Five minutes alone in a room. Enough said. (Those red things used to be the sides of a box of toys.)

Look at those two stinkers! After I took this the phone rang. When I came back a minute later they had flooded the bathroom. No joke. Roland had also put the toddler toilet seat in the bathtub and the plunger in the toilet.

One day I had put over an hour of work into a project for my job. Roland happily entered the room, saw a button (ooooh button) and turned off my computer. All work was lost. When I said “nyet!” he ignored me and happily turned off my husband’s computer too. Now we have a baby gate thanks to Craigslist. He just stares at the buttons with longing in his eyes on the other side of the gate. Must. Press. Buttons!!!

He chases and actually catches the kitties who then become his little furry pillows. (Video here.)

Here’s him dumping all the shampoo into the bath water along with anything else he can reach. Baths and destruction are like his right and left arms.

Even at the famous train table at Shriners he’s the one destroying the track.

Oh I could go on and on and on. There’s the time he pulled the window slates off, then he unplugged the Internet router, then there’s the fact that he’s always pulling all the books out of the bookcase, and all the DVDs out of the cabinets, and soup cans out of the pantry which I find in the garage because he gets them through the kitty door. We now have to put the cats’ food and water dishes up high after Rolly had a little party with them one day and move all plugs behind the couches. He has pulled two pictures off the walls, set off my car alarm using my keys, got all the pots and pans out, stole and lost the clean and dirty magnets that go on the dishwasher, found my box of letters from when my husband and I were dating and tore them up, oh and he got into the bathroom.

Steve came over and had to baby proof our cabinets after this.

I swear I have too many stories of this trouble maker happily making trouble!

Usually they end with him falling sound asleep in the middle of his destruction.

Moving on…

Roland the Skilled

Holding his own cup!

Playing the piano. (Video here.)

After a month of daily stretches we finally got enough bend in his elbow to hold his food!

Side view of his new bendy arm!

And that’s just holding the food. He also fed himself a graham cracker for the very first time! Click here for that video.

Roland loves the wheelchair. Click here for a video of him using it!

And I know I’ve already shared it, but the video of him knee walking with a walker is just so great. Click here to see it. (I also love his happy noises in this video.)

Roland the Patient

Pretty much Roland’s medical treatments are very easy. They would have been bad if we hadn’t already been through the entire thing already (only harder) with Laelia. Pretty much when the doctor is breaking news to me like, “Well…….. it looks like he may need surgery on his hips.” I’m all like, “Oh a release? For the hips? Yeah we don’t call that ‘surgery’ in my family. We call that ‘day at the hospital followed by ice cream.’ Unless you’re talking about cutting my child’s legs off and then screwing them back into a different position then just call it an ‘outpatient procedure.’” :)

But seriously, his AMC is more mild than Laelia’s and while still requiring hard medical intervention, it just feels like we’re on a vacation.

You know what? The best part?! There’s no “mommy guilt!” You know, like the kind I felt after my daughter was born thinking I had caused her condition. It didn’t matter that amyoplasia has no known cause, is not genetic and they’ve ruled out accidents and diet for possible causes. It didn’t matter because she grew inside me and my womb crushed her. That’s hard to forgive myself for. With Roland I have only ever had the good feelings like I’m doing good in the world by helping my son thrive. That has made things easier. Much easier. Most of us special needs bio moms gave birth and were dealt a blow and grieved a diagnosis. But with my son it was so different. Choosing this path has been empowering in a way. It’s hard to  describe, but add it to the amazing realization that I did not have to go through pregnancy or labor or breastfeeding again and just call me insanely happy.

(Well, some people may enjoy those things. For me it was “get it out,” “cut it out” and “pump it out.” Did I like that? Figure it out.)

Of course there are set backs when you don’t have a baby from birth. I can’t tell you how many medical  questionnaires  I’ve filled out with question marks or “who knows!” next to the question. Was he premature? Was he breach? Was he small at birth? When did he cut teeth? When did you first notice____?

The other down side of not having him since birth is that he has missed some windows for things. For one thing he doesn’t qualify for a cranial band (those helmets) because he’s too old and his head has firmed up. He’ll just have that flat spot on that back left for life, and it may or may not cause headaches or jaw issues later and may require surgery.

He also has some lead in his blood from living in the orphanage in a third world country. Actually there are a lot of little things when you bring home a little one and a lot of initial doctors appointments where you wonder what will be discovered and where that discovery will take you.  And they always want a sample or three of your child’s poop. Welcome to tiny shovels and vials. Welcome to blood work. Welcome to range of motion measurements.  And welcome to shots since you have to retake some important  vaccinations  because they are notorious for being junk or expiring in his birth country.

As far as orthopedic treatment right now we’re doing serial casting. Roland got casted recently (as you can read in the previous post) and hated life for about a day. But after almost two days he’s back to the old happy Rolly. Oh look there he is tearing up my carpet. :-/

Here’s a video of Rolly re-learning to crawl with large plaster casts on. Next week we’re adding at least one arm cast to the mix too. Poor dude.

Roland the Little Brother

Riding on the wheelchair with Big Sissy

Cuddling on the couch. He won’t let her hold him like a baby and she is resisting the urge right now.

I have to say I’m impressed with my daughter. She was an only child, a spoiled child, but she took on the big sister role even before he came home. She prayed for the orphans in Ukraine and Russia and Bulgaria every night. She mentioned things she was going to help her brother learn or do when he got home. After her last surgery she woke up and the first thing she said was, “When baby brother has surgery, I’m going to hold his hand.”

Laelia calls Roland “baby brother.” We’ve all started doing it. They fight like siblings and cannot share a toy without someone screaming (Roland). But it’s so very normal. Laelia loves to dominate and mother Roland. Roland had to learn to have a sister who is bigger than him and wants to pat his head and hold his hand. At first a larger child wanting to touch him just scared him to death. In his orphanage he only ever played with a small “groupa” of children his age. He never experienced love, or watched someone else be loved. Watching Laelia fall down and get comforted led to him crying out to be comforted. (Which was a break through at the time.) Watching Laelia say words to him, led to him making similar sounds.

I’m starting to think that larger families are just so perfect for these adopted kids. I wish we had more siblings to give him.

My favorite part of parenting is watching my children grow and mature. Roland went from an orphan to a member of a family. And Laelia went from only thinking of herself to thinking of her brother. I love to hear my precious daughter’s voice on the baby monitor in the middle of the night singing to her brother who woke up crying. Or even her world-weary voice saying, “You’re okay baby brother. That’s enough. Go back to sleep.” Haha!

But of course my daughter will also pick on her brother. She likes to set all his toys to Spanish and then laugh and laugh while saying, “Bwahahaha!!! Now you’ll never learn English! Hahahahaha!!” (It’s kinda hilarious.)

Roland the Talker

Roland says kitty and Laelia. That is all. :) “Why you no speak English?!”

Oh and “da” which means “yes” in Russian.

Okay well he’s also just started to parrot some sounds back. When I say, “up” he sometimes says, “ahhhb.” Or at the post office today I said “people” and he said “peeool.” Last night I was tickling him and said, “You want more?” And at the word “more” he opened his mouth wide for food. (“More” is a word we often use at the table.) So he’s getting it.

He only says “mama” when fussing or crying. For example when I’m in the shower, “MA MA MA MA MA MA MA MA MA!!!!!!!!!!”

Mostly, and I mean almost always, communication is simply raised eyebrows, a pointing finger and the sound, “Mmm.”

(Update: Week five and he now says “no.” Often.)

Roland the… Roland

Pretty much the weirdest thing about bringing Roland home was that he was not the baby I had prepared for. I think during the waiting period you fall in love with a picture and then you fall in love with an idea of a child who is not real. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, in fact I held onto that one picture like a  talisman  through the pain and travel and paperwork. When the real boy entered the scene he was wonderfully better in some ways, and woefully hard in other ways. But he was real. We were expecting a baby who didn’t move. We got a tiny tornado. We were expecting crying and we got total happiness  punctuated  with bouts of screaming. We were expecting gratitude and we got honesty. Oh and we expected him to chew. And we got schooled in the heimlich.

He has a personality. Part of it was shaped by having to look out for himself–hitting and screaming and fighting for what’s his. Part of it was shaped by being always around other small children so he is loud and screams for attention. Part of it is due to his arthrogryposis limiting his mobility. Part of it is foreign, from a culture I don’t fully understand. And part of it is biological from a gene pool I don’t share.

But largely, little by little, day by day, a major part of his personality is being shaped by me. It’s incredible to watch. He gives kisses like I do. He gets excited and shakes a bit like I do. He makes faces like I do. When I’m telling him, “Can you say BA NA NA?” He says back to me, “Da na da, DO DO DO?” in (I swear) my tone of voice. We even joked he was teaching us his language, the language of do do. :) Okay none of those things are relaying my point, but just trust me, this boy is assimilating into a family for the first time ever. It’s amazing to witness.

Hardest: The easiest parts were kind of covered already in the adjustment section so I’ll tackle the hardest. I think the hardest part of adoption so far has been during the first several weeks anytime Roland threw an angry fit. The first three days were different. Then we were in the fire and we knew it, and it was so bad that we couldn’t  concentrate on ourselves at all. I think caring for extreme needs like that was easier on us, maybe because our brains shut down and our instincts took over.  Then there was the get-to-kn0w-you period of time after the initial shocks were over that I didn’t expect for whatever reason. He would cry and we would play the figure-out-why game. Now after a month I know why he’s crying 95% of the time. That has helped.

But I’m talking about the angry, I-want-my-way, typical toddler fits. (Typical fits, but unusual triggers.) I didn’t expect to be so insanely angry when he’d scream, and I didn’t expect to remain bitter towards him even after he was happy again. I didn’t expect to feel violent thoughts when I’d had enough. There have been two days in a row, and then another day a little later, where I simply faked being a loving mother. I did all the steps without any of the feelings behind them. And I know my husband had more days like that than I did. It surprised me that this anger would be a side effect of bonding, of things getting better. It humbled me. I felt like a terrible person. When Laelia was this age and did the exact same thing I would get angry, but when she was good or cute again the anger would vanish. Yes she threw this or hit that or screamed, but, you know, she has her daddy’s eyes and my stubborn chin. How can you stay mad at that? But with Roland, this adorable little stranger who was hurting my ear drums and causing my heart to race, there was a bitterness that lingered. It required a lot more monitoring of my own reactions and thoughts. When he would be over his fit and happy again I would see it as manipulative and just want to leave the room (which I couldn’t). Thankfully these situations didn’t happen very often and everything seemed to reset in the morning. The Bible says God’s mercies are new every morning. It’s true. It’s a natural reboot. Roland wakes up with a smile on his face and he  beams  with joy when I make eye contact with him for the first time. And I fall for this baby all over again.

Hmmm, another hard thing is that there is a constant-ness to parenting an adopted child. It’s been five weeks. Whatever heartwarming story or fiery speech that geared me up to tackle bonding has well worn off by now. Now it’s just the constant being with him. The constant co-sleeping. The constant not being left alone. The constant carrying around the house or wearing him. The constant bother of being someone’s emotional well-being. It’s worth it, most definitely, but hard. Not enough to make me want to claw my way out of my house and run down the street screaming, but let’s just say that when Roland is sleeping soundly enough for me to escape, I do. And often.

And during those times can I get someone to please remind me that I should really be showering, doing dishes, brushing my teeth and folding laundry? Because I don’t know how this happens but I always end up either playing Plants vs. Zombies or watching reruns of Xena Warrior Princess on NetFlix. ;)

Most satisfying: I love being covered in children. (I can’t tell you how large my heart got in my chest just thinking about this.)  I love saying, “My kids.” It was so surreal the first time I said, “kids.” I love the plural. I love kissing two little heads in my lap. I love cuddles. I love love love my kids.

I was told that the first three months are a time of constant holding, never leaving him alone and sleeping together. And that’s what I’ve done. But tonight he was doing so well that his daddy took him to run some errands and I took Laelia to Home Depot to get her a cactus and let her run around in the plant area. It was the first outing with just us girls since Roland’s been home. We loved it so much. Laelia talked the ENTIRE time. But what amazed me was how much I missed little Mr. Clingypants. When we walked in the house after less than an hour away, Roland saw me and started laughing and grinning and holding his little arms out while half crawling/half stumbling his way towards me. I ran to him and scooped him up in my arms where he squealed in delight! I love him so much! This boy is pure joy!!!

5 Responses to “First month home!”

  1. Lauren B says:

    I love you, Alexis! And your family <3 A vulnerable and honest heart willing to be honest is a hard thing to come by in this world. I love that you refer to Rolly as a "tornado". Spot on, my friend :) I can't wait to hug that kid!

  2. Desiree H says:

    Thought I would say Hi and thanks for this post. I love reading your blog but rarely comment.

  3. Danielle Cervantes Stephens says:

    Awesome post, yet again. Your honesty is refreshing, and you have an audience who is cheering you on!

    dcs

  4. Linda Wesley says:

    In the piano picture and video, Roland looks so much like his Uncle Bolt to me for some reason. I think it is the curly blonde hair. =)

  5. Kristin says:

    it’s crazy how quickly they adapt and learn to use new things… love watching all these videos..

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