Thursday, February 5, 2015

Adopting a Toddler Part 3 - The First Year

If you missed the first two parts, go here.

Within ten days we headed home from Florida to truly begin our lives as a family of five. The moment we arrived we scrambled to toddler-proof the main part of the house adding gates, outlet plugs and the like.

We quickly discovered a few things:
1. He loved to play outside.
2. He slept through the night about as well as a colicky newborn.
3. When he awoke to our attempts to comfort his cries turned to rage.
4. We could go nowhere with him for fear his tantrums would get him hurt or us arrested.
5. His needs were exhausting.
6. He loved to cuddle and hug, read books on our laps and rock before bedtimes.

Still unsure - just a couple months after he came home.
We devoured books on older child and toddler adoption and prayed for patience and wisdom in our every dealing with him. I learned to carry a toddler weighing about 1/3 of my weight on my hip...constantly. My arms were like jelly by the end of the night but just the fact that he wanted up in my arms was worth it.

We did all we could to bond. We kept visitors to a minimum and fed him even though he was capable of feeding himself. We rocked and sang and played fun games smiling and looking at each other. We established a routine and stuck to it. The routine was a type of lifeline for him in an otherwise mixed up world.

We responded immediately every time he cried at night, patting, soothing and comforting. My husband's work day started at 3 am so he took the first shift and I took the second.

We slowly transitioned his food to our diet and he discovered dozens and dozens of beloved foods. He also drank more water per day than an adult. We kept the water where he could always reach it because he would panic without it available.

The sisters brought smiles no matter the craziness.
Gradually, over the course of about four months, the nighttime cries came less frequently and the dangerous tantrums more rare. Then his birthday arrived. We can only assume his birthday party brought memories of his life before us. He digressed in his behavior toward us nearly to what it was in the beginning. So we got on our knees and prayed for strength and continued to love.

A couple months later, the new year was beginning and we woke up one morning to realize he had slept through the night. That night's sleep was the sweetest. Those sleep-filled nights became more and more frequent as we neared the coveted finalization day. (His final adoption was delayed due to the birth father not cooperating with the adoption.)

We lived for that bright smile!
Looking back we wish we had done some things differently. Namely, asking for help. We were exhausted and overwhelmed and lonely because he wasn't ready for visitors. We should have reached out to our friends and asked for them to do something special with our older children, regularly because they were being lost in his needs.We should have asked for shopping help since we couldn't really take him out safely those early months. We should have asked for laundry or meal help for the days when just caring for his hurt and needs left us drained emotionally and physically. If I walk that path again, I will definitely not try to go it alone!

And then, just a couple of weeks after the finalization, came our 2nd Mother's Day together. The previous Mother's Day had been the stuff of nightmares. This one began with my husband and son bringing me breakfast in bed. As they left to let me wake up slowly, my son yelled through the closing door, "I love you, Mom!"

Yep, I melted. The difference a year made was so beyond imagining that all I could do was cry and thank Jesus for caring for and working healing in my son. No, it wasn't all perfect but that was the clearest ray of hope we had yet received. I remembered that sweet smile and that declaration many times when his fears and hurt would cause different words to come out of his mouth.

2nd Mother's Day Fun
Read my Adopting a Toddler Tutorial here.

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