A month with the family

Today marks one month from the time we met Leo for the first time.  We spent two of those weeks in China and the past two at home.  Before everyone was asking how Leo was adjusting and now people are asking “Are things really going as smoothly as you make it seem?”  Well, yes and no.  We’ve added to our family five times, and each time there has been a transition.  Things have been crazy at home, but I wouldn’t say that they’re crazy in any adoption specific way.  This is what life has been like:

  • Leo cries for a few minutes before naps and bedtime even though Matt and I keep him company – -probably adoption related.
  • He is scared of the dogs, but he’s coming around to the cat – -I guess adoption related since he hasn’t been exposed to household pets because of his orphanage upbringing.
  • Leo is very nervous around adult strangers and if they try to talk to them he will avoid eye contact – -definitely adoption related.  It breaks my heart to see him so nervous when friends and relatives visit for a short time because I know that he is worried that someone is going to take him to yet another new home.  IMG_2256
  • We continue to meet with doctors and take Leo for tests.  For the most part, his medical needs are what we were informed of and what we expected.  There have been some things that were different, but still fall within the realm of minor and/or correctable and we are very comfortable with them – -definitely adoption related.
  • Someone has been sick almost every day for the past two weeks as all of the kids passed around the fall fever/cough thing that is going around – -just plain family related.
  • Leo got the fever/cough thing last and he’s been wanting to lay around on my lap and cry all day, and has trouble sleeping at night – -illness related.
  • The children have been arguing more because they all want to be the one playing with Leo, or holding him, or entertaining him – -new family member related.  It’s kind of funny that the general perception is that children don’t get enough individual attention in large families.  Based on our experience, the youngest gets completely spoiled by his siblings while us poor parents try to set some boundaries.
  • Everyone has clean clothes and is learning at least the basics but don’t ask when I last vacuumed or swept the floor – -new family member related.  It always takes a while to find a new routine when you have a new baby.  IMG_2233
  • If Leo doesn’t like what we feed him, he will be terribly offended and refuse to even try something else until the offensive food is cleared off the table – -two year old related.
  • Besides “mama” his first English words were “mine” and “no” – -definitely two year old related.
  • Leo really doesn’t like it when we tell him no – -completely two year old related.  He will make a pouty face and refuse to make eye contact with us. Then his siblings rush over to sooth him and tell him how sorry they are that mean Mama or Papa told him no.

So you can see that we are having our ups and downs, but most of it is just the normal part of adding another member to the family.

If I were a real blogger then I would make two posts out of this, but I’m not.  The other topic I wanted to write about was how much we have seen Leo just blossom as part of our family.  When he is fever-free, his personality is really coming out now.  I am continually amazed at how quickly he came to love us all.  He lights up when his brothers and sister come down the stairs in the morning and runs over to hug and kiss them all.

Last week I received copies of the progress reports the nannies kept for the Half the Sky program Leo was a part of in his orphanage.  The orphanage director told us several times that Leo was an easy baby, and I guess one of the results of that is that if he was content to lay there on the floor then he didn’t get as much attention.  You might remember this picture–

babyroomI post it again because I was so surprised to read in the progress reports how delayed Leo was.  He entered the program at six months, when all of my children were starting to sit well on their own.  He was described as having weak neck muscles and they were working with him on rolling over and raising his head while lying on his stomach.  These are things more appropriate to a three month old.

At nine months, when three of my four children were crawling, Leo could raise his head to look at a toy when he was on his stomach, but he couldn’t sit unassisted.  At a year old, he could finally sit unassisted, but couldn’t stand up at all unless the nanny supported all of his weight.  These are called “orphanage delays” unless there is an underlying medical condition.  Children raised in institutions will lose one month of development for every three months they spend in an institution.  Even in an orphanage filled with caring and attentive staff such as Leo’s, he was missing out on the nurturing environment of a family and it showed in his development.


At around fifteen months was when we committed to adopt Leo, and also when he was moved to a foster home (unrelated, as far as we know).  We knew that he was a little behind, but he had just begun to crawl at that time, so he wasn’t as far behind as he had been between six and twelve months of age.  Just as he made big gains when he began the Half the Sky infant nurture program, he began to thrive in his foster family.  We received three updates on him, and each time he had learned some new skill.  First he was standing on his own, then taking a few steps.  In his eighteen month progress report, the nanny comments that she has seen such a change in him over the past year and that he now “looks plump with rosy face.”


When I look at how attentive his caregivers are, and I see pictures of Leo with his foster family, part of me wonders how he was able to walk away so easily from all of them.  He loves to look at the little book I made with pictures of him in the orphanage but he doesn’t seem particularly interested in the pictures of his nannies or foster family.  I guess the answer is tied in to why he developed so quickly when he began to get more individual attention.  Children are supposed to be in families, and Leo knows that he has a family now.  The best and most caring nanny or foster mother still knows that he is not her child, and somehow with us, he can tell that we are his family.

So at one month from the day when Leo joined my family, I am thinking about why children need families.  I don’t think I will every be able to forget all of the children we left behind on the day we visited Leo’s orphanage.  I know that most of them will not ever be adopted into a family, but I still hope for it nevertheless.

“Human life is precious because it is the gift of a God whose love is infinite; and when God gives life, it is forever.”  –Pope John Paul II

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