Well, we’ve been home for a little over a month. Wow, time flies. The last 4 weeks have been a blur. We’ve all had a transition period – Ellie and our entire family. You wouldn’t think one little person would make a huge difference in ‘life as usual,’ but it sure did. One piece of advice I would give to anyone adopting (that is a working-out-of-the-home mom) is to take as much time off as you can. I cannot imagine going right back to work after bringing Ellie home. I was lucky to have 6 weeks off to attempt to get a schedule for our family (never mind that it’s the middle of baseball season and I had 2 sick kids within 4 weeks!). I am now starting my 2nd phase of my family leave and working from home for 6 weeks. This will allow Ellie to transition into having another caretaker other than me (Meemaw & Nana), but will still give me the opportunity to be here in case she is not adjusting well, or having a particularly hard day.
Elliana is doing exceptionally well. I’m not going to lie and say things are totally blissful. The last 4 weeks have been H-A-R-D. We are amazed at what a little opinion she has already J One thing we have to continually remind ourselves is that the culture in Ethiopia is a bit different than ours. They do not typically use discipline with their children (I’m guessing they do not have to). Children seem to be rarely told ‘no’ and they do not like (or allow) their children to cry. So, you can imagine the huge transition it is for Elliana to come into a household that has boundaries and some discipline, and yes, it’s true… even some ‘nos.’ Because we have another toddler in our home, it’s hard to have one set of rules for Ellie, and another set of rules for Faith (and I’m pretty sure Faith is taking notes on things Ellie is allowed to do and she is not)… so we are trying to be as consistent as possible, realizing that we may have to parent Ellie a little different than we did our other 3. But, occasionally we must tell the poor baby “no” since there are some things that are just not safe for her to have (no honey, you can’t have the butcher knife on the counter). Elliana coming to the realization that she cannot have everything her heart desires has been devastating for her at times. But, we continue to see improvements in Ellie every day. She runs to both of us for kisses, hugs, reassurance and to kiss boo-boos. She is enjoying being a big sister and gives Faith kisses, hugs and pats her back when she lies down at night (it’s so cute). Her speech is still not completely up to speed, but for a child labeled as ‘not speaking at all’, she is doing great and saying at least 25 to 30 words and doing some sign language as well. She totally understands what we are saying (which amazes me) and will do most anything you ask of her (most of the time). She is very smart and loves clapping for herself when she accomplishes a task!
She also has a funny thing for cats. Apparently there were stray cats that would bother the orphanage and I’m sure she’s witnessed the nannies doing this. When she sees a cat (either in a book, TV, in person, etc.) she will say, “get” and “pssst” and will wave her arms around to ‘shoo’ the cat away. It is hilarious. We have 3 cats around our home, so to watch her (and her buddy Faith) shoo the cats away is so funny. We have since taught her that not all cats are bad, so she does pet our cats now and gives them kisses, but her first gut-reaction is still to start yelling ‘get…cat..psstt…’…. too cute. Maybe one day I can get both the girls in action on video and post it. If she hears a cat, she runs to the window or door and says, “b-eow!”
Where we are having some challenges are at meal times and bed times. Elliana is not adjusting well to ‘American’ food. She still prefers about 4 or 5 things and that’s about it. Attempting to have her try something new can put her into a very loud, very big tantrum. If she sees you coming with something new, she will shake her head and hand and start yelling, “No, No, No!!” Each meal attempt can easily take over an hour and then another ½ hour to clean up all of the food that she threw J And, I still have 3 other kids and a husband to feed after all of that! I have become quite the short-order cook! We are seeing improvements every day and are beginning to work with an occupational therapist to help her transition into more than 5 foods! This should be interesting but we are hopeful.
Bed time is challenging as well and I’m sure that has to do with a separation fear, so we are trying everything we can to make her feel comfortable enough to fall asleep feeling safe and secure. Then, we can move her into her crib. This can sometimes take up to 2 hours or more. She will not tolerate us putting her in a playpen, crib or other confined area, until she is already sleeping. Where the tricky part comes in is that we have Faith (who is 15 months old). They share a room, so if Ellie screams and cries for 2 hours, it typically keeps Faith up too, or wakes her up at some point. Then, we have 2 tired and crying toddlers to deal with. But, I’m happy to say that our 2 hour routine is now down to about an hour, so I think we are making progress! Yay!
So, what are we doing to get through some of the ‘bumps in the road?’
- We've already visited the International Adoption Unit at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. They have been following Ellie’s medical and social history since we received our referral. They have been such a wonderful blessing and resource. It was so nice to finally meet the doctor who had been giving us such great advice for the last 6 months. Our initial appointment and visit with 2 occupational therapists was almost 3 hours. I have an entire post about our experience that I will post later. But all I can say is what a great, great resource these professionals were to our family.
- We've already been in contact in our Early Intervention folks here in PA. We’ve had our initial interview, and they are coming to assess Ellie next week. I didn’t know that this is a Federal program (but run by the State) that is free until the child is 3. They can offer her speech, occupational, behavioral and emotional/social therapy. I’m pretty sure she will at least qualify for speech therapy. Much of her (and our) frustration is because she lacks the words to tell us what she needs. Most of the time, we can figure it out; sometimes we cannot. I think she is doing great at picking up words and using them correctly, but at the same time, it would be great if we could communicate better with her instead of us trying to interpret her grunts, snorts, pointing, and tantrums.
- I spoke to our Agency’s Post Adoption Counselor. For some reason, I put off contacting her for a month because I wanted to figure things out on my own. But, we want the VERY BEST for our daughter (emotionally, physically, spiritually, etc.) so I thought perhaps she may be able to give me a few tips (especially since she’s an adoptive mom too). Wow, I’m so glad I spoke to her. She gave me a few tips, but mostly she just reassured me that what we are doing is correct and to not be afraid to rely on my mothering instincts. Yes, Ellie is adopted and we may have to parent her a little differently, but every child is unique and might not respond to ‘text book’ or ‘proven adoption techniques.’ (that’s our Ellie-girl!) Mostly we have to parent her with our hearts and the intuition that God has given us. She also told me some stories from other parents with children from Ethiopia and what helped their children transition. So glad I made that call.
- Praying A LOT. God has orchestrated this plan for our family and He knows what is best – so trying to remember God has a plan for us and our family has brought peace to our minds. He already knew the challenges we’d be facing, so now we just need to be obedient and trust in His plan. I am so excited to see what He has in store for Ellie’s life. She is such a vibrant little girl.
- Not that I have a lot of time to read, but I re-read Chapters 10 & 11 from the book “Successful Adoption – A Guide for Christian Families.” The Author is Natalie Nichols Gillespie. Chapter 10 is titled, “We Gotcha! Now What?,” and Chapter 11 is titled, “Helping Them Heal: Bonding and Other Post-Placement Concerns.” What is love about this entire book is that it is written from a biblical point of view, (and a fellow adoptive mom), not just from a doctor’s point of view. It helped me realize that we are not the only family who has a toddler that is still grieving her old life.
So, yes, we’ve had our share of challenges with Ellie and Faith and our teenage boys adjusting to our new “life as normal’, but Ellie is a wonderful addition to our family…and I can honestly say that God has placed her perfectly into our family. She’s such a sweet mix of both of our personalities – the good, the bad and yes, sometimes even the ugly. We both have to laugh when we see parts of our personality in her. Only God could have planned that so perfectly and He’s probably laughing too watching us deal with OUR same issues in her. Now we know how He must have felt as He was trying to help us ‘see the light.” But, as God does with us, we are happy to extend Elliana our love, mercy and grace as many times as she needs it.
So, if you are wondering where we’ve been or what we’ve been up to, this little post should give you some idea!