This guest post is from Allison who recently adopted a 10 year old boy. They have been home 5 weeks now, 7 weeks since meeting him in China. She shared this post in the Considering Older Child Adoption From China group and agreed to let me post it here on my blog as well. It is a very balanced view of the ups of downs in the early days of adopting an older child.
Edited to add: You can read a 4 month update on Allison’s blog.
WOW, it seems like he’s been in our family much longer! Overall all things have gone very well. The hard stuff we have been going through is pretty much on par with what I expected and not what I feared could be.
Andrew is 10 years old and will be 11 in December. He was at the orphanage since he was 10 months old. He has a bleeding disorder called hemophilia; it is severe in his case. He was not allowed to go to public school like some of the other boys in the orphanage due to his hemophilia. He was in simple orphanage classes but is able to read Chinese characters but doesn’t know much pinyin. He is familiar with the alphabet but cannot identify all the letters. He had pretty much no English exposure. He can add numbers but not great at subtraction. He does not have any cognitive issue, as far as we know now. He is bright and seems to pick up on things quickly. As far as his age, I believe it is very accurate. He has a Half the Sky scrapbook that chronicles his early years in the orphanage. He is short for his age and only weighed about 50 pounds when we got him (I think he’s gained a couple of pounds since then.) I chalk up this lack of growth mainly to diet and to lack of muscle since he was not allowed to due many physical activities due to his hemophilia.
As far as attachment, he’s doing beautifully. Really amazingly well. His was one of those dream adoptions where you feel instantly connected to the child from the moment you meet them. We had video chatted some and that helped, but of course hard to prepare you for meeting in person. He is the type of person that makes you fall in love instantly. It’s just who he is. He’s got a genuine smile that comes from deep in his soul and it melts your heart. It’s all him. It’s not us, believe me. My goal was to try to go into the adoption trip with no expectations, just be open to who he was and what he behaved liked, etc. That is hard to do. We brought our 9 year old bio son and that helped as well. It was good for both of them. He started calling us Mama and Baba right away (now it’s mommy and daddy), he wanted to be called Andrew right away. I instantly felt like he was my son. I can’t explain why and I know it’s not the norm, but that’s how it was for me:)
Andrew is an extrovert and thrives on social interaction and needs to be engaged with people.
He was very close to a couple of his teachers at the orphanage, they were like his big sisters. He still keeps in contact with them via WeChat. He loves affection, kisses, hugs, holding hands, etc. It’s all very appropriate and natural. No signs of abuse or exposure to lewd material, if you know what I mean. He is modest about his own body and also appreciates and understands that others need privacy, too. (Still the occasional potty/ penis humor typical for boys, he does act younger than his age, but nothing much different from my other 3 boys at home.) He gives the BEST hugs and makes great eye contact. He has pretty good manners, aside from picking his noses with his finger often and of course smacking (but his oldest sister told him how it’s her pet peeve so he’s working on that but also thinks it’s funny when someone smacks at the dinner table because he knows it’s driving her crazy, lol.) He LOVES music and singing and dancing. He prefers to interact with people rather than play alone or on the iPad (he likes the iPad but is not addicted). He’s kind, considerate, loving, open, funny and just an all around great kid.
So for the challenges… it started in China with his first emotional grieving time a couple of days after we got him. Long story shorter, he wanted to go back to the orphanage, but there were a lot of people away for a training that week and they told us his teachers wouldn’t be there and his friends wouldn’t be there. He REALLY wanted to go and became very sad at the thought of not seeing them again. We worked through that time and he let us somewhat comfort him and be near him until he calmed down, it was mainly crying and sad. We wound up going to the orphanage and his teachers with whom he was close were there and they took us out to lunch. I’m very glad we went for many reasons. So important to see where he grew up for the first 9-10 years of his life and also it was important that we met the teachers that he wanted to keep in contact with. I wanted to see what that relationship was like. I had some initial concerns and “momma instincts” that the relationship may be too close, I don’t know how to explain it, but it concerned me that a 10 year old boy was so close to a 24 year old woman. It turns out that there seems to be nothing of concern. We decided that he could use my WeChat account but we didn’t allow him to keep his QQ account. This way I have a way to monitor the chatting and exchanges. From what I can tell, he was just a favorite of these young teachers, and I understand why. He is like their little brother, but he has always referred to them as “teacher.” One in particular was very close to him and shed many tears the day we left. She was very protective of him. He still keeps in contact at least once a week. Now that he has started school, he seems to want to tell them more about that. He also just connected with this Ayi on WeChat and he said she was with him for 6 years.
Okay, I digress, the hard stuff…. he has had unregulated emotional meltdowns starting in China (when we were out somewhere and he got tired or bored.) And they have continued but have grown farther apart. In China it happened a few times when we were out and had to walk, we brought a wheelchair, but he felt ashamed to use it. Because of his untreated hemophilia, he has joint damage and very low muscle tone. He tires easily and he has chronic discomfort since he has arthritis like an 80 year old in a few joints. This is why we brought the wheelchair, but it didn’t go quite as planned, lol. The worst in China was him refusing to move and yelling and crying and stomping when we were trying to get a restaurant in Guangzhou. My husband offered to carry him piggyback, no go. It took A LOT of persuading and I think him finally realizing he couldn’t just stay on the sidewalk. We had some travel companions with us who helped. But he did refused to eat lunch. There were a couple of other instances like that. It seemed to be his way of dealing with a situation or feelings that came up that he didn’t like.
He will still do this, just a recently as Sunday. His younger brothers were annoying him and not being quite, he was tired, he laid back down in bed and started crying, I tried to ask what was wrong, and tried to help, but he had already started down the spiral of emotions and this is where the frustration comes in, on both our parts. He won’t accept help or comfort and proceeds to make the matter much worse and anger comes out and there is no going back, he just has to work through it… usually 30-60 mins total and then he will apologize (he always says “sorry”), he will give me a hug and a kiss. These “episodes” rocked me when we first got home because I had hoped we left them in China, lol…. but I’ve since learned to let him work through them, to try to talk to him afterwards to see if he can learn to regulate his emotions before they get out of hand. He always agrees that is a good idea, but then a few days later, it will happen again. It’s crazy because it’s soooooo not like him. 90-95% of the time he’s happy and joyful and cooperative. But when he’s not, he’s REALLY NOT. Now, I will say, no violence towards us at all. He threw some things around his room once, but usually it’s just a release of anger, frustration, perhaps fear of unknown, and a plethora of things he can’t even put into words.
More recently, we recognized that he is able to control this more than we thought. He is essentially throwing a temper tantrum, and although I understand why he has to get this out, I know that he is making conscious choices to act in certain ways. A couple of weeks ago he got upset about something (it’s always some “small” to us, but not to him) and he said, after 20-30 mins of us trying to get him calm and let us help him, he said that he wanted to go back to China (through translation app). I called that bluff and about 3 minutes later he was calmed down and apologizing and saying “no go to China.” I feel that the episodes are getting less frequent, although they always surprise me when they hit. These episodes include crying, screaming, slapping self in the face and head, pinching own skin (but not too hard, no blood), hitting his legs (he made a bruise on his ankle because he bruise more easily because of the hemophilia, I’m sure he knows that and is part of why he choses to hit himself), will scream at us if we try to talk to him, will plop his little boney bottom down on the floor so hard over and over… you get the picture. The past two times he had an episode he said “you, no I love you… me, no I love you”… and went through the household of names. Trying to show my how upset and angry he is. Then after the storm has passed and he calms down he will say “yes I love you” “yes love you…. Daniel, Joshua, etc.” This past Sunday the other kids heard him screaming and they kinda know the deal but they did hear him say “no I love you.” After we got home from church (my husband stayed home with him) he went to his brothers and sisters and said “wo ai ni, I love you” to each of them. He couldn’t stand the thought of them thinking he didn’t care for them or that he hurt their feelings. The reality is that he doesn’t even know or understand or grasp what the word “love” means. I don’t think they really say that in China. And although I know he was loved because he knows how to love and accept love and affection and bond with people, the word is a mystery to him, even in Chinese. But I can tell you, he has love in his heart and soul and it exudes out of him with a grace that cannot be put into words… but shines through his eyes. This boy of mine…. it’s not been easy, but it’s so very worth it. If there is poster for older child adoption, he should be on it;) Yes, I had fear beforehand,… yes, I think you should be a little afraid,…. yes, I think you should say “yes” anyway. We’ve got a long road ahead, full of bumps I’m sure, but I wouldn’t have wanted to take a different path. I know this is where we are supposed to be.