Friday, March 26, 2010

A better place...

Thanks to everyone for their encouraging words and prayers while we walked through some attachment challenges. We are in a much better place right now. It helps when I'm in a different mood and my mood has changed since the snow melted and the sun came out. I have more patience and have readjusted my expectations.

Samson and I attended Olivia and Avery's school muscial this morning, which was amazing. Samson sat really still during the whole performance so I could video the entire thing. When we returned home, we fed each other popcorn.

He's letting me do more for him now, like brushing his teeth, hand feeding him and getting him dressed in the morning. His guard is down and he is showing more trust - allowing me to be part of his world again.

Praying that we can stay in this place for a while.

Life is good!

OK...this is weird

We sponsor a child from Ethiopia through Compassion. We began this sponsorship while we were waiting for Samson's referral. Last night, Lauren brought his picture out of the den and set it on the coffee table in the living room so that we could pray over him. I feel horrible admitting that sometimes it's easy to forget his picture is on display in the den.

Anyway, when we first received Samson's referral, we were struck by how close his name sounded to our sponsored child's name. The only difference is that our sponsored child's name begins with a "Z" and Samson's birth name begins with a "Y", otherwise the endings of each name are spelled and sound the same.

Not only that, but both boys are from the same general southern area.

But get this ... and rememeber, we had not spoken about our sponsored child for quite some time now or at least have not spoken his name for probably 2 - 3 we were shocked when Lauren held the picture up to Samson and asked him, "Samson, do you know who this is?" Expecting to explain to Samson why we had this little boy's picture, Samson replied, "That's (insert sponsored child's name here)!"

Both names sound different enough that there is no doubt whose name Samson spoke when he saw the picture.

He may have remembered us speaking his name months ago but really strange that he would remember. Or maybe he does have that kind of memory?

Olivia and Avery are convinced that this was a childhood friend of Samson's. Could this be??

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Toddler Attachment and Grieving

I am writing and publishing this post in hopes that those who are waiting for toddlers and/or have a toddler home with them (and may be struggling with attachment) may find reassurance from our experience.

We have been home for 7 months. For several months we saw Samson's attachment to us and our attachment to him grow by leaps and bounds. There was a point that I told people that we were about 95% there. He has been driving us crazy with wanting control over everything but even that has mellowed down a lot. Overall, we saw light at the end of the tunnel and we were feeling good about how he was blending with our family.

Then, with no warning, something changed. Without going into too much detail, we started to have more intense moments and periods of frustration. During a two week period of a change in his behavior, I told Steve that I didn't like how I felt about how things were going. It was difficult to enjoy him. I had feelings of guilt and doubt and asked myself, "is it me or him?" What is different?

For several months, we were on a roll with him and loving him no different than the three girls.

The past two weeks, it felt like our first weeks home. It felt icky. I felt discouraged and I don't know who cried more, him or I.

Some people will say that some of this is just normal toddler behavior. Having the experience of raising 3 girls from birth, I know that his behavior has not been normal for a toddler. It's toddler behavior intensified by a grieving child. It's hard to understand if you have never walked a day in the shoes of an adoptive parent of a toddler but trust me when I say it was difficult.

So, I panicked and I prayed and I tried to stay positive even with the dark cloud over my head. I felt defeated watching the attachment go backwards and exhausted living through it.

Then I reached out to a dear on-line friend. She has a wealth of experience to share and I admire her patience and ability to persevere through her own trials as an adoptive parent. I have read a lot about toddler attachment but most of my help comes directly from those who have walked through it themselves. I know I can share my frustrations and situations with my friend, because like many others I've met on-line, I know she will not judge me and I know I will receive only straight forward responses of wisdom and encouragement from her.

I described to her some of my recent experiences in my plea for help and with her permission, I will share some of her wisdom:

She wrote the following: 

"Attachment is a marathon, not a sprint. It isn't a matter of run the race well for a few weeks/months and then boom you are attached. It is more of a run the race even when you feel like giving up - because the race will eventually get to an easier spot where you are running downhill in the sunshine.. and then later you will be slogging uphill in the driving rain. The sunshine miles give us hope to keep moving forward when the going gets tough. AND everything you write sounds totally normal so don't panic."

I took this metaphor as much encouragement. As hard and overwhelming as a marathon sounds, this description actually helped me put our attachment journey in perspective.

Then she had this to say,
"You are not going to be in this intense struggle the rest of your life - you will achieve victory - but it might not ever look like your relationship/feeling for your daughters, and that is okay. Each child forges their unique relationship with their parents and at different times they are more comfortable than others."

The part about "it might not ever look like your relationship/feeling for your daughters, and that is okay" is a little harder for me to stomach. But this is part of the problem - I want it so bad for this to feel like my relationship with my daughters. I will never stop striving for my relationship to feel the same with Samson as it does with my girls but now I know I may not ever achieve this and that it is OK.

In a nutshell, if you are adopting or have adopted a toddler, don't be surprised when you see the attachment regress after 7 months of being home, or even after 1 year or two or three years. It's actually good that this happened because we have learned not to take this marathon process for granted anymore. We are back on track and doing fine again but I will be more prepared next time this happens.

I have more to share about why we may have gone through this tough time after 7 months of being home...

And that is, there is something about an adopted child, the way they internalize a connection to traumatic events in their lives. Some say, the change in their behavior may directly correlate to a time frame in their past lives.

So, I thought that maybe there is something significant about 7 months. But nothing I had documented added up to 7 months. For example, he was with his birth family for 2 1/2 years and an orphanage for 4 months. 

Still stuck on the "why after seven months?", I read Julie's blog post and only then did I realize that we are approaching the anniversary of a very tragic time in Samson's life.

This event affected him so deeply that what he may be showing us in recent days is his way of displaying grief over this fragile time one year ago.

I also noticed during this time, he has acted differently towards the stories and pictures I share of his life in Ethiopia. I can't say much about his reactions but I will share that the more he learns the English language, it amazes me how much he really understands and can express hurt and pain.

Also, he clearly does not want his past life to be his life. For example, when I share with him parts of his story, he doesn't want it to be him in his story - he actually wants it to be Avery's story. He doesn't want to be the outsider, the one who is different - he wants to be the one who fits in.

Since I am quite sure grieving is behind most of this change in behavior, I now understand better how attachment is a marathon and can be a life long process. Children who join families by way of adoption have to experience a horrible loss in their lives. Knowing now that just the little bit of his story that I shared with him, brings back much pain, I can see where this will be a gradual healing process as we share appropriately.

I have read a lot about toddlers and grieving but now that I am walking along side him through it, I didn't know how much it would affect me. His sadness has become my sadness. Praying that I know the right way and timing to share his story and comfort his grieving. Being aware of his world will help me handle these difficult situations, be a better mom and show more grace.

So glad there are downhill runs and sunny days in marathons!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Keeping with his culture

I have accepted the task of keeping the Ethiopian culture alive in our home, so here are some of the ways we are showing Samson his culture:

In our home, we have beautiful handmade, colorful basketse from Ethiopia.

On our coffee table, we have children's books with African children and books about Ethiopia.

We have a special album showing details of Samson's life before he came to our family. He can access this whenever he wants so that he will not forget where he came from and never forget those who will never forget him.

We have and will continue to stay in contact with some of his care center friends.

We will attend gatherings for Ethiopian families and communities.

We have used Ethiopian table linens for special occasions.

Samson has traditional Ethiopian wear for the next few years of his life.

Although our family has not quite acquired the flavor for Ethiopian food, I have still prepared it in our home.

I have to admit, most of keeping the Ethiopian culture alive in our home and family can be a bit challenging for me. I know I will not do a perfect job of it. No matter how much I try, I cannot duplicate the rich culture that was there for him in Ethiopia.  Needless to say, this task will take a lot of effort on my part but I know it's important so it's worth the effort.

There is one part of his culture that I will work the hardest at keeping alive and that is nurturing Samson in the Christian faith. Our family follows God and I know that his birth family does as well. God is the same here as he is there - God is available to us no matter where we live in the world.

I'm not a perfect Christian (nobody is) so I know I will fail Samson at times in this aspect of his life too. But I will do my best to keep our faith alive in our family because that is what matters most.

Sunday, we took one of the first steps towards our commitment to teaching Samson about God's love. We had him baptized. And although this does not lead him to salvation, publicly stating our goal to raise him with Christian values, shows our commitment to one part of his heritage - the most important part. Whether Samson chooses to follow the Christian faith and says "yes" to a relationship with our Lord is out of our hands. Our job, as we raise him, is to cultivate, work and water the ground. The rest is in God's hands.

Samson looks a little scared in this picture but it's just his way of saying "cheese" and "please let's get this over with!"

Monday, March 15, 2010

Birthday Boy!

We have had many celebrations in a row for our family recently. First, Samson's birthday, two weeks later, Lauren's birthday, Samson's baptism (yesterday) and today, Steve's birthday.

Some things worth mentioning about my sweetheart:

-He walks with the Lord.
-He's handsome=)
-He is humble, trustworthy and a man of high integrity.
-He is mild tempered and very patient with the kids and with me.
-He works hard at providing well for our family.
-He is gentle and kind.
-He is funny and has mastered some pretty good impersonations.
-He is protective of our family life and time.
-He is gifted in the financial world.
-He is personal.
-He loves his family.
-He loves studying cars and is a good person to contact if you are in the market to buy a car.

Happy Birthday Steve!! Your family loves you!!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Christian Alliance for Orphans

Anyone interested in attending this summit? I would love to meet up with anyone interested. This year it is in Minneaoplis on April 29 - 30. John Piper, Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman, Tom Davis (author of Red Letters and Scared) among many others will be there. For more information, go HERE.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tender moment

Let me start by emphasizing again that despite the challenges of toddler adoption, we feel overly blessed to have Samson part of our family. Admittedly, there are times that I wonder what we have done. Because this journey has stretched us more than imaginable. But as days and weeks go by, I see how Samson fits into our family more and more. He has a place in our family now. And although he can be quite the stinker at times, we have reached a point that we cannot imagine life without him.

One day last week when we were standing in line for an attraction at Disney, I picked up Samson and held him. Up until this point of our vacation, I was feeling stressed at times with the challenges of all his needs and at times couldn't help but wonder how much easier a trip like this would be without a toddler. Horrible thoughts, I know! Struck with quilt, I picked him up, looked at him, told him I loved him, kissed his cheek and told him that "God found him for us" and I expressed that we were so happy to have him part of our family.

In response, Samson grabbed my face in his hands, looked me straight in my eyes with his enormous, beautiful eyes and our noses touching, said, "No mommy, God found you for ME!" Then he kissed me on the cheek.

This was one moment of many that broke me. Through our struggles and challenges parenting Samson, we are so grateful that we can see the blessings in this journey.

On the flip side, I was so amazed at his expression of love for us despite my inequities as a parent.

People comment a lot about how we are doing such a good thing for him by adopting him. I still believe that he is doing so much more for us. However, I hadn't thought before now that although we may not do everything right for him and we may not be perfect, he can still see us as a blessing to him as well.

Monday, March 8, 2010

We are home

from our one week family vacation.

Two months ago, Steve got a wild hair and used our frequent flyer miles from our trip to Africa and booked us airline tickets to __________.

We didn't tell the kids because for the next few weeks we were unsure whether this was the right time to take the plunge and take the family on a vacation. It was nice to be able to keep the airline ticket costs down but once we arrived at our destination, if we wanted to enjoy our time there, we would be spending some money that we were not sure if we should be spending at this time or not.

So, we went back and forth. One day, we were for sure going to go, the next for sure not going. We were guilty about the money that we would have to spend and how it could be better used in another way or for a person or cause that needs the money more than our family needs a vacation.

Then after several weeks of debating, one week before the kids' spring break, we booked the non-refundable hotel. We gave the kids 3 day advance notice and told them to start packing because we were going to Disney World!!

This was our first solid week together as a family away from the normal demands of our home life and jobs, since Samson joined our family. This proved to be a great vacation that helped us work at blending as a family without answering to anyone. We definitly had some overwhelming moments when things got to be too much for Samson but we also saw much progress during this week with his attachment.

We had a great time and we were so glad we took the plunge!

Check it out:

All cozy on Minnie's couch!

Basking in the sun!

"Is this really Lightening McQueen?!"

Back at our hotel room the day we we saw the American Idol Experience, Avery says, "I'm still trying to figure out who this karaoke person is."

Before our photo oppotunity, an employee asked Samson if he knew how to tell the difference between Chip and Dale. After she waited for him not to repond, she told him that they had different noses. The funny thing is that Samson doesn't have a clue who Chip and Dale even are nor did he seem to care.

Princess Aurora: "What is your name young man?"
Samson: "My name is Samson."
Princess Aurora: "Samson - I love that name. Prince Phillips horse's name is Samson and we really like him."

We took a quick break from the attractions to make a couple phone calls =)

Leaving our last park of the week. Samson has the bag with the goods. He just cracks me up because he always has to carry something if we have something to carry no matter how large of an item.