Thursday, January 29, 2015

Adopting a Toddler Part 2 - A Hard Lesson

If you missed the first part of this series, catch it here.

After what seemed a very long time, we finally loaded him into our borrowed car seat so we could grab dinner on the way to the hotel for our first night as a family of five. There was no turning back because he was here and we had paid and signed the papers.  

Our first moments in the car...just pulling away.

Despite the fact that I asked the foster family every question I could think of at the time, I had a dozen more before we hit the drive-thru. I didn't know what to order for him, I didn't know what he would eat, and they hadn't told me that he thought his ear-splitting screech was tremendously funny. Add to that, every time I looked into the backseat, there was a third person there. Not a baby who only has a few basic needs but a screeching, hurting, adorable, 35 pound, well-muscled toddler who could almost outrun all of us. (Read your What to Expect the 2nd Year says toddlers LEARN to run around 18 months. Our little guys was already quite adept at running.)

Honestly, that first night was not glorious. It was hard as we remembered how to diaper a wiggly child, discovered he didn't want to eat any of the food we bought, and cried himself to sleep not wanting any comfort at all from us.

The next day we headed to a borrowed condo about an hour away. It was the absolute worst place for a busy toddler being filled with breakables and floor to ceiling mirrors but it was free and right on the beach. There was no way to try and establish a routine that first day so we concentrated on fun and love. We moved in, pulled out toys, visited the beach, and did some shopping after he cried himself to sleep again.

The next day we were scheduled to visit his birth mother at a restaurant of her choosing. She wanted to see him with us, wanted to meet us. We didn't think it was a good idea. Not good for our son. But the agency insisted that it had to be that way. So we relented.

Exhausted after the meeting with his birth mother.
The meeting was more awful than I could have imagined. The second he saw his birth mom, he went from fairly calm and happy to excited to see her to agitated, hurt, and angry when she wouldn't talk to him or hold him. We tried to hold a conversation while he tried with all his might to get to her or get on her lap. Finally, we had to tag team. One of us stayed with the agency worker and birth mom while the other took Christian around the corner of the noisy, overwhelming Chuck-e-cheese to play where he couldn't see her. We did our best to share our love for her and her daughter and the son we were being entrusted with. We tried to share some of who we were and ask questions. It was beyond awkward and we finally made nap time excuses, took some pictures and walked to our car. Almost instantly our son changed from agitated to smiling and we breathed sighs of relief. Then we looked at the clock and realized that what had felt like three hours was less than one. I was so sad to have only that time with the precious woman who was his mother.

The day after that meeting was mother's day. The absolute hardest day of my life. Ever. We had been cooped up in the car all the day before so I told my family I would happily put our son down for his nap and my husband could take the girls to the beach for a few hours. I would have a chance to relax while he slept, I thought. But about the time the door clicked shut our previously calm boy began to rage. 

I dropped to the floor, holding on as best I could so he wouldn't smash his head on the tile if his attempt to launch out of my arms succeeded. What followed was three and a half exhausting hours. I sang, I prayed, I held, I let go and stayed close. I cried and talked softly and lovingly. I prayed some more. I sat silent. All the while, he screamed and pushed and kicked and worked to get far away from me. After over an hour, I finally put him in the pack-n-play to give my body a rest and keep him from hurting himself as he writhed around. But I stayed and tried to touch and talk and sing and comfort. When Paul finally returned, I calmly handed our son to him saying he hadn't slept and wouldn't eat but was probably hungry. Then I returned to the bedroom to cry again. I was hurt, overwhelmed, and a little terrified.

Then God spoke to me and reminded me of all the families I had walked through adoption journeys with. They shared stories of their adopted toddlers pushing away one of the parents for a time. But eventually love won out. And in that remembering I was comforted and strengthened for the task ahead.

There are things in the first part of our adoption journey, I would have done differently. Go here for a mini-tutorial on adopting a toddler. 

Read part 3 here.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Adopting a Toddler Part 1 - The Call and the Meeting

When we began our adoption journey, we already had 8 and 10 year old girls and didn't feel the driving need to adopt a newborn. We talked with our consultant and were told that infants are most commonly available via domestic adoption. We considered foster care but didn't believe that was the right direction. So, we started down the path of domestic adoption. We prepared our hearts for an infant but inside we both were hoping for an older child.

So we made sure our home study approved us for a child up to two years old. Just in case.

The picture texted to us by the agency when we said yes.
Less than two months after completing our home study, we were matched with a lovely young mama living in our area. We connected with her and her family very quickly and prepared for the infant to be born in less than two months. This sweet mama chose to parent once she met her little one and we put away the items we bought, while waiting for the little one God had for us.

A few months later, we received an unexpected call. Without much introduction they asked if we were interesting in adopting an 18 month old boy. After praying, the answer was yes!

What came next was a flurry of activity as we packed, completed some additional paperwork from the agency, informed our friends and family, and gathered funds before beginning a long 22 hour drive to Florida. From the time we got the call to the moment we met our son was less than 36 hours, including the drive.

Our girls watching for him.
After signing papers and writing checks, we headed outside to watch for our son's arrival. As we sat in the agency parking lot waiting for the foster family, the reality hit me.

I was not adopting an infant but a little boy who had already lived 18 months and had over a year and a half's worth of experiences that I had no control over.

When he arrived, I quickly realized I was out of my depth. My children were so much older, I didn't remember how to interact with an active 18 month old...who could run...very fast...away from everyone while grinning from ear to ear.

Trying to get run again.
I was bombarded by doubts about my ability to parent him, to meet his needs in the face of such great loss, to even figure out how to corral him with the foster family and two agency staff watching. Trying to hide my discomfort, I talked to him, we chased, we played and we offered snacks. All the while, I was thinking, "I can't do this, I don't know how!"

While I definitely thought my new son was the cutest little boy I had ever seen, I did not feel instantly bonded, attached, or drawn to him. As I struggled to find my equilibrium, I prayed for him, prayed for his transition to our family and prayed for myself.

Little did I know that the next months would cause me to pray more intensely and experience more love and joy over that little boy than I could ever have imagined. Part 2 here.

The only time he wasn't running away was if he was eating...

or on top of Dad's shoulders.