Saturday, January 25, 2014

Set Free and Singing

Psalm 68:6 
God sets the lonely in families, He leads out the prisoners with singing...

Show Hope posted this verse on their Facebook page today.  I had used the first part of the verse many times during our adoption, specifically with our Both Hands Project--God sets the lonely in families.  However, I had not paid any attention to the next phrase--He leads out the prisoners with singing.  After reflecting on this verse this morning, I recalled how our children were referred to as "inmates" repeatedly throughout the adoption.

And then I remembered our glorious drive away from the iron gates of the orphanage.  As we pulled away, Ajay and Smita never looked back.  They sat comfortably in our arms and lifted their voices with the most beautiful singing all the way to the hotel!  They were set free!  God is so good!  

(I have no idea what they were singing or what the words mean, but it was beautiful to our ears.)

After Dinner Entertainment!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Eight Weeks Together!

Eight weeks ago, THIS happened! It was an unbelievable Thanksgiving! When Jeff and I got engaged on Thanksgiving of 1996, we never imagined that we would be in India 17 years later adding new children to our family!

It is hard to believe that we've hit the two-month mark already. Time is flying by quickly as all six of us have been working non-stop to bond, attach, and peel back the mysterious layers of 9-years of institutionalization. Oh how I wish I could hold these babies and start with them from the very beginning. I've only allowed myself to dwell for a brief moment on the thought that when I was rocking and nursing my youngest biological daughter, A and S arrived as infants to the orphanage without parents to care for them, and then they stayed there for 9 years. 

Baby Ajay
Baby Smita

I laugh a little when I reread the first posts describing the children because we were clearly still in the honeymoon phase.  Shortly after week two when our biological daughters began their Christmas vacation and were home during the day, the new children started feeling comfortable enough with us to show their true colors (which is actually a great thing).  We began to see tears, physical tantrums, and stonewalling (standing like a statue and refusing to look at us).  Sometimes the tantrums and stonewalling would last for many hours.  Most of these behaviors would begin as a result of correction or discipline, but once the emotions started flowing, they turned into grief.  It is expected that adopted children will grieve the loss of the life they have left behind, even if it was not a great life.  They grieve the loss of their caregivers, friends, language, culture, food, etc.  We are so thankful for all of the adoption training we received and for our amazing network of adoptive families who have educated us on how to correct/discipline children who come from hard places and how to recognize grief.
Dealing with the tantrums and stonewalling has required unbelievable patience as we have never experienced anything like it from our other children.  The good news is that we are seeing progress!  The hard behaviors are occurring less frequently and they are decreasing in duration.  We can now recognize the signs of an impending meltdown and adjust our reactions accordingly.  Our current goal is to avoid confrontation as much as possible to encourage bonding and attachment.  Just this week we were very proud when the children used their words to express their emotions instead of breaking down.  Once they explained their thoughts and feelings, we were able to mend situations.  Several times this week, instead of dealing with a situation by shutting down for hours, they only "froze" for a minute, then chose to communicate and move on with life.  Hooray!  The hard times drain us emotionally, physically, and mentally, but we are always experiencing a time of sweet reconciliation afterwards which is a blessing.  We are getting into the habit of following Dr. Karyn Purvis' advice of taking the children back to the "scene of the crime" for them to repeat whatever needs to be repeating with respect.  They always do this for us, and then they give sincere apologies along with heartfelt hugs and kisses.  They are sweet children who want to do the right thing.
There is always sunshine after the rain.  After the most difficult day of four hours worth of tantrums a couple of weekends ago, we decided to relax on our back porch and enjoy the first sun rays that we had seen in days. 

After the tantrums and reconciliation, we turned on some Indian music that we had played on repeat for the two years that we waited to bring the children home.  It was the first time that we had played the music since returning to the U.S., and the kids went crazy!  They knew all of the songs and the dance moves to go along with them!  While we had been listening to these songs in America longing for our children to come home, they had been listening, too.  They danced on our porch that evening exactly as we had imagined that they would.

One of the amazing things about adopting older children is that they have memories...and they can talk.  They are telling me everything about their previous life.  They talk about the daily routines and schedule at the ashram, about the dining hall procedures and how the dinner bell rang and what food was served and what child sat where...When they see a food item or drink, they will say "ashram yes" or "ashram no" to let me know what they had and what they didn't have.  They tell me which children ate with their hands, who used silverware, and who licked their fingers.  They have described their beds, their linens, the sleeping order of the children, who had their own beds and who shared beds, which children had sleeping disorders, etc.  They have told me which children shared clothing with each other. They have described their bathing and grooming procedures.  They have pointed out the exact facial cleanser and mascara that their caregiver used while shopping in the grocery store.  They have told me about their schools--English Medium School and Gujarati School.  You name it, they want to tell me about it.  They want me to know every detail of their former life, and they know that I long to know every detail.  For the first two or three weeks, everything they told me was extremely positive...then they started telling a different story.  From what I have read and been taught, I can only assume that they reached a point where they felt safe enough to confide in us.  They have shared hard, dark, awful, heartbreaking things with us.  They have shared these things individually and together.  Their stories are consistent.  For a couple of weeks, every time I would tuck them in at night or if we would be chatting over a meal, a new story would just pour out of them.  Their stories give me an opportunity to show compassion and share the meaning of family and how family treats each other with love and respect--how our family would never leave them, our family would never lay an abusive hand on them, our family would not shame them for making a mistake or accident...Family loves.  I think they are starting to truly understand the meaning of family now.  I have been recording all of their stories, writing them down and audio recording.  There are details that I don't understand due to the language barrier, but maybe one day they can clarify or explain should they choose to revisit the topic when their English improves.  I have not cried or mourned over their stories.  If my biological daughters shared these stories or experienced these hardships, I would be devastated.  I consulted with another adoptive mama this past weekend who has been at this for a long time and is an awesome mentor.  I wondered why I have not been too affected.  Am I hardened?  She said no.  She said that at this point in the game, I don't have the luxury to stop and that I just know that I have to be strong for the kids.  The last thing they need is for me to lose it.  She said I just keep going because that's what is needed right now.  Makes sense to me!  I have been journaling every night.  I write what they tell me, what new behaviors we see, any tantrums or stonewalling, what I think triggered the behavior, how we handled it, what worked or didn't work, successes, failures, etc.  Every day is packed with so much juicy is fascinating around here right now!  Ha! 

We have been fortunate in that we have not experienced many food issues (gorging, hoarding, refusal to eat).  We did have an incident where one child refused to eat for 36 hours due to grieving.  We were mentally preparing to go to the hospital for a possible IV, when the other sibling laid down the law in Hindi demanding that the other EAT.  That worked!  We have not had any further incidents with food.  We are so impressed with their willingness to try new foods every day.  They have great appetites and eat all of their vegetables and fruits!  We are trying to pump them full of nutritious foods, vitamins, protein, and whole milk.  We weigh them daily.  Although we're not seeing huge increases in numbers, they do seem to be filling out a little bit and gaining some muscle.

First Krispie Kreme donuts!
We have also been blessed in that the children are WONDERFUL sleepers!  We kept them in our room for the first couple weeks on a futon and toddler bed.  Smita eventually asked to sleep in her pink big girl bed first, then the following week, Ajay moved to his big boy bed.  The kids go to sleep without much fuss and sleep through the whole night.  They wake up very cheerful in the mornings.  They surprised me within the first few weeks by making their own beds, folding their own laundry, and clearing their own dishes!  When they found me cleaning their bathroom, they quickly informed me that they had cleaned the tub, toilets, and floors at the ashram and showed me their skills.  I was very impressed!

After our bout with indiscriminate affection, we holed up in the house for some more cocooning.  The kids are doing great with family boundaries now!  They either hand shake or high-5 now when they meet up with friends or meet someone new.  The other day, a teacher that the kids had met only once went to hug Smita.  She turned around so that the woman was hugging her back.  I thought that was great!  She recognized the boundary!
Much of our first few weeks have been filled with medical appointments.  We have been to two different pediatricians in town for various ailments.  We discovered that their ears were filled to the brim with compacted ear wax as hard as rocks.  After softening the wax for a week, we road-tripped to Atlanta where awesome nurse Auntie removed all the wax making their ears squeaky clean!  For the next few weeks afterwards, if they heard a loud noise, they would cover their ears!  They can hear now!

We have been to the dentist for x-rays, cleanings, and sealants.  Smita had no cavities.  Ajay had only one in a baby tooth.  At this point, there is no need to repair!  Hooray for a sugar-free diet in India!  Based on the build-up on their teeth, the dentist thinks they had never had a cleaning.  They were able to get all of the black and yellow junk off to reveal pretty white teeth!

 We spent an entire day at University of Alabama's International Adoption Clinic to undergo medical and developmental evaluations.  They are being tested for everything under the sun.  So far the results coming in are good.  The only unusual thing is a slight elevation of lead in one child's blood.  We are treating with a low fat, high protein, high calcium diet until the lead level goes down.  We'll retest again in three months.  Our experience at UAB was fantastic.  I will have to devote an entire post to the adoption clinic later.


We have been to the dermatologist.  We have had x-rays to check adenoids and bone density.  We have had hearing tests and asthma tests.  We have upcoming appointments with an ENT (for tonsils and adenoid issues, snoring, and sleep apnea) and an endocrinologist.  Slowly, but surely, we are taking care of business to get these children as healthy as possible.

We were overwhelmed by the goodness and generosity of our family orthodontist when he offered to treat Smita's teeth through his foundation.  Her teeth were a mystery before we met her in person.  We could not tell why one tooth was so high and why one was so low...then more recent pictures had revealed that the front tooth had been broken.  I had asked Dr. Serff if he thought that the crooked teeth were a result of thumb sucking or a deformed palate.  Anyway, we are so thankful that he is willing to help us with Smita's smile.  The name "Smita" means "smiling lady."  She has a beautiful smile and will soon have gorgeous, repaired teeth to go along with it!  What a blessing!
It has been a joy to experience many "firsts" with the children, or at least firsts with us!

First Haircut
First Time Driving A Shopping Cart!

First Time Experiencing Barn Life With Large Animals
 Watching Big Sister Ride A Horse

First Time Watching Blueberry Muffins Bake

  First Time Playing Dress-Up

First Time Flying Like An Airplane With Granddaddy

 First Time Playing With Legos and Polly Pockets...There is no gender preference of toys around here.  

And we are celebrating lots of successes, too!  After the children came home, we soon discovered that Ajay's favorite expletive was the sh-- word!  We can only assume that he learned to cuss from the years of movies that he watched in the orphanage.  After trying out a few unsuccessful disciplines and remedies, we followed the advice of our placing agent and tried a little positive reinforcement.  We gave Ajay a jar of coins.  For every cuss word that he said, he had to pay us a coin.  At the end of a week, he could take his remaining coins and buy the whole family ice cream with it.  On day one, his cussing tripled in frequency, but after that, we have not had any more cussing!!!  I cannot believe how effective this method has been!  The boy loves ice cream and is oh so proud of his clean mouth and so are we!  We are officially on day 16 of no cussing!!!  Haha!

We are currently in a huge decision-making process on how to proceed with the children's education.  We were told that the children were in 2nd and 3rd grade, but after assessing them, I believe that they are at a kindergarten level.  We have spoken with officials with the public schools, homeschooling parents, the international adoption clinic, and private schools.  I think we have come to a decision, but will have one final meeting tomorrow.  In the meantime, we have been working at home to learn the English alphabet along with the letter sounds, phonics, counting, adding, patterns, colors, shapes, etc. Their English is coming along great!  I replayed some videos from our trip in India, and the contrast in their English is unreal!  They seem to understand all of the basic instructions that I give them throughout the day.  They initiate all conversation to me in English now, although not in complete sentences.  Smita speaks in English to Ajay frequently, although he only speaks in Gujarati or Hindi to her.  We are trying record some of their conversations in their first language
so that we will have it should they lose it one day.

We will forever be amazed by how God provided for these children to be a part of our family and how He is continuing to make provisions for their healing and recovery.   We have been so blessed by the support of our local adoption support group, Jeeah's Hope, by people in our community, and by our friends and family.  The outpouring of love and encouragement to our family has been a blessing and a lifeline.

Forever Family

Eight Weeks Home!