Take a perfectly normal boy and put him in an institution when he is 4 months old with lots of room to play, a swimming pool, nutritious food to eat, and care takers who love them on each shift, 30 other roommates with a variety of history who come and go and that boy will still be missing the some of the most important parts of life: family, commitment, and moral direction (religion). So what is this boy supposed to do when he shows up at school and everyone is buying snacks and he has no money? How is he supposed to get what he needs/wants? Who is he supposed to turn to for problems? How is he going to learn to trust or care for others. Now add a special need with physical/ emotional/ social/ developmental/ and general health implications. Meet Sean.
8 years (exactly) from his finding, Sean meets his forever family. He is a charming little guy with a big personality. His first embrace was not very warm. In fact, it was cold as ice. he was anxious to start his next adventure but had no idea what was involved. He happily picked up his backpack and ran ahead to get in the van ahead of everyone. Having a big sister going through the grieving process, helped him start that process. His sobs in those first 15 minutes were heart felt but I believe more of fear than of loss. He allowed me to hold him for those first minutes but kept his elbow between us. As he fell asleep, he would slip and lay his head on my shoulder, realize what he was doing and reinsert the elbow. When he woke, he was quite comfortable sitting next to me with my arm around him.
Getting Sean ready for bed less than 48 hours after meeting him for the first time, he leans over, kisses my arm and says, Wo Ai Ni (I love you). The next morning, at breakfast, he gets out of his, chair, circles the table, backs into Mama's lap and tells her, her loves her. This after we had had our first personal behavior discussions. This discussion began with a timeout. When I put him in timeout I knew from my adoptive parent training that it was not the recommended process for the situation, but I did it anyway. It just about broke his heart. Having such tender bonds begin to form form the day before, it just as we'll have thrown him out of an airplane. 15 seconds into the fall we picked him up and reassured him. The discussion that followed using google translator was as simple as:
We are disappointed. We don't do xxx because xxx. Your consequence will be xxx. You are a good boy and we love you. We need you to make good choices. And we know that he can do the right thing. Thank you for xxxx that he had done well.
After which, we made sure that he knew that we loved him immensely. By the time we were done, he knew the 4 key parts to change:
1. What he had done was wrong,
2. What to do instead,
3. What the consequences are (and we always follow through)
3. That he was in fact good,
4. And that we know that he can do it.
Subsequently, later that day, he told the guide, that he knew his mom and dad really loved him.
He has not been perfect, but he is working so hard to meet our expectations. There are, of course, many instances of these discussions that take place. However, they do not begin with time out. Instead, they start with time together. Holding my hand or sitting in my lap, or for bigger deals, a brief discussion followed by silent hand holding while we return to our room, combined with time in my lap. While in my lap, the guilt and embarrassment often drives him to want to get down, but by the end of the discussion, he typically doesn't want to get down, because he feels of our love and wants us to know that he loves us too.
I often have to reflect on the training phrase, "allow regression, encourage dependence." Sean sometimes acts like he is unable to dress himself. He is clearly capable of this but for this short period that he has asked for help we have helped him. He becomes less needy each day but the moments that he asks and we help him, seem to help reassure him that we are there for him. He is dramatic about little bumps and bruises. We take these moments as indications that he needs to be reassured and he loves the attention. The fact that the paperwork process takes 2 weeks can seem like an eternity with all the things going on in our home world, bout being able to focus so totally on the children is enormous in making these bonds.
Sean is so enthusiastic about life. His personality exudes confidence. He is a friend to everyone he meets. And he loves us. Still.
You would think that after ten years of abuse and neglect, a child would not be able to attach. However, at 10 years old, Lia entered into an institution for protection. There she met a group of primarily women, who loved her and cared for her. Her ties grew strong.
Lia had a very hard time saying goodbye to her care takers and they also had a hard time seeing her go. She often slips back into thinking about them, and whether she should return to be with them. While these are signs of her ability to attach, it has been very hard on her and us to see her going through this for the last 4 and a half days. According to the orphanage, she was not depressed. So, we hold hope of a turn around and pray that with each step as we move closer to home, she will be able to move those bonds toward us quickly. She is so sweet and gentle, loving and kind, and undemanding.
There are many things about her life that we do not know and probably some things that we will never know. She is a silent, undemanding young women. She always thinks of others before herself. She is substantially lacking in self confidence. More than once, she has told us that she does not want to be a burden. She thought for a long time that being in the wheelchair would be more of a burden than if she was to walk every where in her walker. She is able to get around on her walker but is substantially limited in how far she can walk. When she is walking, her lean muscular body is almost entirely supported on her broad muscular shoulders. And she feels bad that's she weighs much as she does because when I have to carry her up and down stairs because there is no elevator, she thinks she is a burden. Often she will not eat because she feels so bad about her weight. Her dream is to be able to walk totally independently.
We have come up with a couple routines that she thinks are funny and seems to help her make the attachment. I often sign to her and tell her "you're my girl." It's something that sometimes makes her laugh and she snaps her out of her homesick moods for a moment. She also loves to sit in my lap ( yes, she is almost 13) and I look deep into her eyes, tell her how wonderful she is, and kiss her forehead. She does not understand any of what I am saying, but she gets the jest. Physical contact and reassurance is something that she has probably never had, even in the institution. She loves to hold hands while in her wheelchair. Even pushing her in the wheelchair seems to help make the connection.
She is still substantially concerned about the schooling and the language barrier. She had had very little schooling and is acutely aware that most children her age read and write. While she spent most of her time in the institution, watching other children play and watching television, other children were active and busy with schoolwork. I anticipate that school will be somewhat of a challenge for her.
Lia is just amazing. She is easy to love. She has substantial challenges ahead of her but we believe we can over come them.
It's was not much of a travel log, but I have posted some photos that describe parts of that part. We have had some fun experiences, out and about and many great experiences just together in our room.
Friday we will leave for GuangZhou. This will likely be another hard transition day as we leave our guide Missy and move one step closer to Lia & Sean's new home.