When people ask us how our family is transitioning the answer I like to give is that “the kids are transitioning better than we expected and we are transitioning worse!”
Raising four kids is hard no matter how you come about it, but the husband likes to remind me we must be “clinically insane” to do what we have been doing. I mean, 7 days after we had a baby the husband hopped on a plane to go to Ethiopia, and 8 days after that he came home with two kids who spoke zero English and haven’t ever lived as part of (what we consider) a typical family. The “four kids” part of our family is not what’s hard.
The No English? That’s hard. It is really frustrating for the kids and for us when we can’t communicate. They’ll try to explain something to us, we can’t understand, they start crying. Or we’ll try to explain something to them that they just can’t comprehend. The other day Smile’s ball game was at a different field than normal. He recognized that we were not going the normal route and had a screaming, crying, kicking the back of the seat with his cleats meltdown. When you don’t have words to communicate you often have to rely on tones of voice. This means when the kids get sad, they dramatically cry. When they are happy, they scream at obnoxious levels and tackle you with hugs. And when they get upset, they yell or speak very hatefully. It’s a daily challenge to not react to a hateful tone directed at you. It’s frustrating and we can’t wait until we can communicate better.
The Never Living in a Family? That’s hard. These kids have not had many limits before. We’re pretty lenient with them, but they just don’t understand some things. They don’t understand that battery-operated toys can’t go in the bathtub or that the dogs won’t bite them or that we will come home from work every single day, and any of these things or billions of others can cause major fits. They’re learning how to live as a family and they’re making awesome progress, but we’re not there yet and that is hard.
The No Concept of Time? That’s hard. They don’t get that sometimes you have to go to bed even if it’s not dark outside. Smile’s doesn’t get that his birthday is five whole months away, not five sleeps, but something like 150 sleeps. They don’t get that we can’t leave at 3:30 for something that doesn’t start until 6:00. They really don’t get that we can’t make it snow. We’ve tried everything under the sun we can think to try- calendars, watches, etc- but these are kids who have literally never kept any sort of schedule in their lives. It’s funny to think about and write about, but when you’re getting screamed at because you won’t let the kids play with ice melt it’s not as easy to laugh about it. And if you do laugh about it you get yelled at that it’s “No funny!”
The Baby? That’s hard. Actually The Baby is pretty much a perfect baby, which proves that there is indeed a God. She’s so sweet and smiley and only cries when she’s hungry or tired. And she’s sleeping through the night most nights. She’s lovely. But she is a baby, and you can’t hold a baby and pitch a ball to Smiles. You can’t ride bikes around the neighborhood with Diva while the baby is sleeping on the porch. It makes me sad that I can’t really enjoy these precious few months of newborn snuggles, and it makes me sad that the big kids don’t have my full attention at a time when they need it the most. If anyone ever asks me for advice about adopting older children, the first tidbit I give them is “Don’t have a baby two weeks before they come home.”
The Learning Delays? That’s hard. These kids have amazed us with what they’ve learned in just two short months. But they have a long ways to go and that can be totally overwhelming. They can count to 12 but can’t recognize many numbers at all. They can recognize maybe 8 or 10 letters but don’t know any of the sounds they make. They can’t write their names, they don’t know their address, they don’t know our phone numbers. If they ever get lost in public we’re totally screwed. They had no (or possibly very little) formal education in their country, so it’s not just learning the things we teach here- they are learning how to learn. I have no doubts these things will come in time, but sometimes it’s hard to remember that.
The Suddenly Getting Two Older Kids? That’s hard. That’s really hard. It’s probably the hardest of all of these things. We’re around kids a lot, but being around kids and having kids live with you are totally different. Early on we expected too much out of the kids. We didn’t know what things were normal kid issues vs. adoption issues. Eight-year-old boy rolling around the floor naked sticking his legs up in the air, providing views no one wants to see? Five-year-old girl being so clingy you want to shake her off sometimes? Interrupting you constantly? Stealing the food right off your plate? Enjoying a day filled with bounce houses and friends and water play but then having a fit because they can’t watch TV before bed? Leaving every marker cap off? Hitting each other? According to my friends and blogs, it turns out these are things that most parents struggle with. Kids can be annoying. Most parents have several years to ease into these annoying things and we got hit with them all at once. Adoption research arms you with information about attachment disorders and signs of abuse and food issues but never once did it warn me that every night I would have to delete 200 up the nose selfies off my phone.
Adoption is really really really hard. There are a lot of times that suck. We’ve made mistakes, we’ve cried, we’ve wondered if things are ever going to get to a new normal. Somedays it’s hard not to focus on the negatives, but every day gets easier. In the beginning I would say things were good maybe only 20% of the time. Now things are good around 90% of the time! In the next post I’ll share some of the cool things that are happening in that 90%!