H. and I have made such huge gains recently, that I thought I would bring all of you up-to-date on her progress.
Medically, nothing much has changed (with the exception of having a lazy eye diagnosed, which has caused us to start patching two hours a day). We've had the three major tests done which the doctors needed (CT scan, EEG, and MRI), and right now we're waiting for the plastic surgeon to consult with his team and then he will get back to me with a plan. I have to say I'm not really in a rush to schedule surgery. Her seizures seem to be fairly well controlled. We have only had two within the last four weeks. I would rather her not have any, but they are fairly short and she doesn't have them frequently enough to really warrant a second anti-seizure prescription. (Her neurologist agrees with me on this... it's not just my whim.) I may change my tune when I have to actually start scheduling surgeries, but so far her special needs feel very minor.
We have noticed a huge jump in H.'s English language abilities. Her sentences are more grammatically complex, she is understanding more of what she hears, and is feeling more comfortable in her new language. The only thing really holding her back at this point is a sheer lack of enough vocabulary. I spend a lot of time trying to remember to use the actual name for things and not just pronouns. We have also seen a huge jump in the schoolwork she's been working on. She came home being able to write the numbers 1 through 10, but had no idea conceptually what they meant. She also couldn't name or write a number if it was given to her out of sequence. Even after doing quite a bit of work on say, "3", a minute later, I would ask her to name that number and she would look at me and shrug her shoulders. Let's just say it was a test of my patience.
This (testing of my patience) was true even though I knew from many other parents of adopted older children that memory for this type of work (number/letter naming, short-term memory stuff) is a real difficulty for this population. I expected it and even dealt with it in K. My plan of attack was to give her as many manipulative supports as she needed and to keep going over it. (Think about it, our biological children are exposed to their language and counting and print for years before we expect them to be able to remember it. If H. had no background in this in her native language, then we were really starting from scratch in a new language.)
We are currently working in preschool math books, which often involve counting objects and writing the number. Because she can count by rote from 1 to 10, I write out number lines to help her either identify a number or figure out how to write a number. It didn't take her very long to understand how to use this tool to get her answer. And it is (slowly) working. This past week as we were doing her math book, she never needed to use the number line to identify numbers 1 through 3 and with numbers 4 through 6, she often guessed correctly the first time and then checked herself with the number line. Numbers 8 through 10, she still needs to count up to the name. It may not seem like much to some of you, but it is really huge.
Reading is another big thing that is happening. We are on lesson 7 or 8 of AlphaPhonics and she is really getting it. Even the blending of letter sounds together she is doing herself. More often than not, if I am trying to help, H. will shoo me away saying, "No you, just me." She is thrilled to be able to do this and I am thrilled for her. The other thing I have noticed is that she is becoming aware of the words around her and is starting to try to sound them out as well. I love that moment when a child begins to transfer the idea that all words can be read and not just the ones in the phonics book. The day I hear a child starting to read street signs as we drive in the car is the day I know that real reading is just around the corner.
The other thing which is starting to develop is her sense of self... the ability to know what she likes and what she doesn't and the ability to communicate this to us. For instance, when she first joined us, she would eat anything set in front of her, including melted cheese. I always wondered about that melted cheese, because my experience is that children who first develop a palate for Asian foods before switching to Western foods, tend to really really dislike melted cheese. Or any cheese, really. I am actually pleased that H. is starting to tell us that she really doesn't care for cheese. If given a choice, she will never ask for it now and will say no thanks as she waves her hand in front of it. There are several other foods that she feels the same way about now.
Which brings me to food. A commentor on my birthday post about H. asked if she had gained weight. And she has. That has been a tricky thing for me. It's tough when your first experiences with your new child involve obscenely large breakfast buffets in large hotels. Even healthily attached children feel a bit overwhelmed and we all over-indulged (at least at first) at these buffets. For a newly adopted child, particularly one who likes food, never had quite as much as she wanted, and is so repressing her natural feelings that it comes out in gorging, those buffets are horrible. And for the parents, there was no way to win. You can't communicate with your child because of the language, all they see is vast amounts of food, and there is not relationship and trust enough yet to set the limits that need to be set.
H. would, we discovered, eat as many as four full breakfasts before being willing to stop. We took to allowing her seconds and then we would announce we were all done before the third plate could be filled and we dashed out of the restaurant. Other meals were just as tricky because (as we discovered) she was quite adept at communicating with waitresses and ordering whatever she pleased and we would have no idea until it all arrived. Who prepares you for scenarios like that?
This inability to feel full continued after we were home. Now, our other children do tend to eat quite a bit, but they have high metabolisms and are quite active. It has never been an issue and we've never needed to limit food. Suddenly, after a couple of weeks of being home, I realized that H. had gained at least 20 pounds. Now some of that she could really use. She was tiny. But, with her new diet and her inability to feel full, this was no longer the case. Plus, due to her insecurity in moving around and her concerning lack of muscle tone, the calories were not being used. The last thing we wanted to do was to make her feel as though everyone else could eat and she was limited, so we took to giving her smaller portions so that she could have seconds along with everyone else. Plus, we have continued to try to up her activity level and create muscles.
It is still all a work in progress. The best news is that several times recently, she has left food on her plate and also been times where she has turned down seconds. I think she is finally feeling secure enough to not have to eat every single thing and is more in tune with her body to know she is feeling full. I am confident that as she gains muscle and becomes more active everything will sort itself out. I questioned myself about sharing this at all, but I know there are people who read my blog who have adopted older children or are thinking about it, and I think it is important to share the realities of what life looks like. There are so many little challenges that I rarely see addressed when older child adoption is discussed.
One last item... how am I continuing to adjust and attach to H? This is so much better, I can't even tell you. There is nothing like feeling as though you are really starting to get to know this person, to begin to predict how she will react to something, to feel as though you are beginning to get a handle on what she likes and doesn't like, to make you feel as though she is really your child. There is a comfort with each other that wasn't there at first. And there is love. Real love and not just the "I'm supposed to love you" kind. Of course, it is still a work in progress, so that her repeated phrase of, "Are you sure?" (which is always said very, very loudly) is still like nails on a chalkboard and I am thrown back to my fake smile and deep breathing. But those moments continue to become more infrequent and my reaction is more often along the lines of, "Oh, that's just one of her endearing quirks," which is my common reaction to my other children's idiosyncrasies.
So, life with H. is good. As with everything, progress is not a straight line, but more back and forth with overall forward motion. I cannot tell you what a joy it is to watch this girl blossom. To shed off the idea that she is not smart or capable and to learn that she is both of those things. To watch her start to believe in herself, to begin to exert her opinions, to discover who she is.
Almost forgot... please don't forget about these children
Continuing to advocate for the children in Bulgaria. Their files were sent back which means that they cannot be advocated for on Reese's Rainbow or have any funds donated towards their adoptions. It means they are essentially invisible and unwanted. It tells the government and the agencies that yes, indeed, their initial assumptions were correct. No one wants a child like these. They are not worth it.
But they are! They are created by God in His image and we are called to care for them. They are truly the least of these. I cannot let them go; I think about them in nearly every free moment that I have. I'm going to post one of their pictures here at the bottom of each of my posts each day. Would you join me in praying for each of these children? Pray that a family would come forward who is willing to adopt them. Love them. Pray that they will know they are not forgotten? There is still hope for these little ones as their files can be specially asked for, it just adds time to the process.
This is Brandi. She is 6 years old. She lies in her crib and waits and waits and waits for someone to scoop her up and tell her how loved she is. Just imagine a grin on her face, her hair allowed to grow out. Imagine how transformed she will look when she is loved. Pray that she doesn't have to wait too much longer for her parents to find her.