Sunday, January 5, 2014

Settling In

The boys have already been with us nearly two weeks! I’m now going to take a detour from the usual posts with lots of pictures and share more details about how things are going.  (That's why there's been a lull on the blog. This one took a lot longer to prepare!)
I think several people are sharing in our family adventure via this blog, and I don't want to make it seem like it's all perfectly peachy all the time. Family life will always have it's ups and downs, even as perfect as the pictures can make it seem! It’s pretty dramatic to triple one’s family size in 10 weeks. Every day we learn more about each other and how to modify things to make our new family work.
First of all, I have to give a HUGE thanks to Jake!!! Things would not be going nearly as smoothly without his help. (And there’s one of the reasons I can blog at all, to answer the questions of some!) Turns out that the timing of the boys’ arrival during Jake’s vacation time from school was a godsend!! He goes back in a week and I’ll have all of the kids to myself in the morning. (Not a problem in itself, but since the baby I often sleep in when we’ve had a short night.)   
Jake is constantly in the kitchen after meals, helping whichever son has the duty of washing dishes. He plays with the boys outside every afternoon, unless it’s raining and then they play inside with their games from Christmas or do something else fun with him, like look at his picture on his computer. He has taken the lead in teaching them English, and they love learning from him. When I’m busy trying to feed or get Sophia to sleep at night, he takes over the bedtime routine (what you could imagine, plus assigning happy/sad faces on the chore chart, reading their Bible and discussing it, then praying to finish the day).  Just like in the early weeks with Sophia, he has again started to work his magic touch in getting her to sleep when nothing else works. And yesterday he even finished organizing our 180+ books by the Dewey Decimal System!!  
I think the addition of the boys was hardest for Jake, understandably. Interestingly, it’s been less of a change for me than when the baby arrived. There's not much difference between little free time and little free time. :) Sophia, being a rather demanding and disorganized baby, got me used to a way more flexible schedule beginning October 13. For Jake, this all began on December 24 with the arrival of the boys. (It reminds me of what I read as a little girl in an article about a family with 12 children. The father made the comment that “Two children take all your time, and 12 children take all your time”, and it’s true! I guess Sophia counts for two!!)
The boys have done VERY well transitioning. They are really great kids. Sometimes Jake bemoans that they still need so much training, but they have actually been very responsive to our directions and the constant “This is the way we do this in our family.” Of course, sometimes Jake and I have to convene to decide how IS it that we do something in our family! At times we let things go, just for now, because it would be so overwhelming to tell them how to do or say something every few minutes.
Almost all of our challenges center around Angel. We totally expected that, but some days we have to remind ourselves that it will get better, that he’s young enough to change and to feel secure enough to not have the need to put others down. 

At first he was the only one who pushed us to have constant fun activities, buy sugary treats, watch 5 movies a day, let them stay up very late or get up at the break of dawn, etc., etc. Maybe he’s just learned to watch out for himself, and he’s not shy letting everyone know what HE needs - or thinks he needs.
We read an article in a homeschooling magazine that my mom brought us about how adopted children lack trust, and how much that affects them, particularly in the area of discipline. With Angel having been rejected twice by family members and twice by couples who thought they wanted to adopt, it’s no surprise this is an issue with him. But like Jake says, he’s not all out “testing” us, to see if we’re really serious about adopting and loving him. He really has been responsive, and when he's happy, he's HAPPY!

His negative comments were starting to get to me at first, but I’m learning to take them better and be more understanding of why he says what he does. I’ve realized that when he asks, “Why does Sophia cry so much?”, to not take it as a criticism, that he is actually worried. He loves her and doesn’t want her to be upset.
All of this constantly makes me think of the differences between balanced family life and the very child centered “Casas de Amor”. I think my current opinion is that it’s fine and necessary to be so completely focused on the kids and their entertainment, constant meals and snacks, and outings at the homes. The kids have come from hard backgrounds. They don’t have a family. To be able to make the homes really great places for kids is a blessing!
But in a family, the truth is there’s not a cook in the kitchen all day making yummy meals and snacks on an exact schedule. There’s no round-the-clock tia caregiver awake and ready to play and tend to every need. In a family, mommy sometimes needs a nap or to sleep in because she was up with the baby so many hours, or to retreat and nurse the crying baby in a quiet place even if she planned to play games with the kids. The kids “get” to go on tiring long shopping trips, because there’s no accountant to make all of the purchases for us. And yes, a quiet Christmas Day spent at home just playing with gifts and eating nice meals can be fun!
The boys have insisted that they are tired of soccer and only wanting to take swimming lessons now, but the other night they watched some guys playing soccer in front of our place and started longing for soccer again. Jake reminded them that they would have to choose one or the other, at least for now, and Angel reminded HIM that they got to do BOTH with the hogar!
These are just things our oldest three will have to get used to as they learn normal family life, where sometimes the parents' or baby’s needs take center stage and everyone has to flex.
Regarding the homes, previously we had thought that we would need to create a distance between them and everything to do with their former life at Casa de Amor. However, since the very first day of our official visits with them as part of the adoption process, we have seen that this is not as necessary. The boys have lived in the homes anywhere from 5 ½ to nearly 9 years and really love the tias and other children, their family all that time, and love going back to the houses. It is tough to answer the questions of the other children “why not me?” or to have little Daniel hug our legs and say, “I wanted to be your son!!” but Jake has noticed that it seems better that we still visit occasionally rather than dropping out of their lives completely, as if to punish them.  
Other very good moments we’ve had:
~ When the boys pray before meals or bedtime, they almost always include, “Thank you that I now have parents”. So sweet!
~ After every meal, at least one of them begins insisting to know which chore they have, ready to do it! (Jake has created a great rotating system where each boy has a set of assignments for the week before rotating.) 

~ Since December 11, our second day of official "visits", all three boys call us "mama" and "papa" almost without fail! Yesterday one called me "tia" again but I chalk that up to being with other Casa de Amor kids and so he forgot. It's particularly neat when they call Jake, even in the middle of a stream of Spanish, "daddy". He told them that's the name he really wants to be called and they quickly picked it up. ...After a lesson of practicing saying "apple" to get the pronunciation of the "a" down, which has led to a little family joke of saying "apple daddy". (I've asked to NOT be assigned a fruit, ha! Luckily "mommy" is the same in Spanish and English.)
~ Speaking of names, we had to go to the US Consulate on December 26. The guard at the door asked the boys to write their names on a piece of paper. They did one by one, and I wish I had asked for it later as a keepsake, because they put their complete new names! Their full name here consists of their new name, their former first name, Jake's last name, and my last name. My last name was spelled different ways, but they pretty much got all the rest right. They are fast learners!
~ After one rough go of Angel starting but not finishing his math placement test online and being sullen with Jake the rest of the afternoon, he took it very successfully a few days later. He really is good at math!
~ I'm still figuring out meals and quantity and all that. The days when they all congratulate me on a great meal are fun... The ones when they sit quietly moving the food around, not so much! Angel talks so much he take a while to eat no matter what, but Marcus usually takes longer. Jesus can really put it away! One night when I just looked at him when he asked for thirds, he found a clever way to woo me over, explaining "Mommy, it's just that your food is SO GREAT, I want to eat a LOT of it!!" Ha!
~ They have done a GREAT job of staying in their rooms until the exact minute we say we’re starting our day. I've been very impressed - and grateful!! So glad I found a clock that actually works for their room (more of a challenge than you can imagine in Bolivia)!
~ Jake has pointed out that Jesus is excellent at soccer and Angel a determined swimmer, and I think Marcus is the best comedian of the family. He has quite the imagination and is often thinking ahead to potential hilarious outcomes!
~ One of the very first days of visits, Marcus counted the number of family members, then looked at me and declared, "And the mama will have more kids!" A couple of days later the boys were in the car with me and asked if we were going to have more kids. I said I thought so, and in fact, we might adopt again. They immediately pointed out that there's an extra bed in their room, just perfect for a "niñito" (little boy)! Then they started calling out names of children still in Casa de Amor that we could adopt. I was touched by how excited they were about the idea...but told them we need to wait a bit before getting MORE kids. ;-)
~ We also had an excellent first meeting with the court staff (psychologist and social worker) last week as part of the adoption process. I think of the many times Angel has told me how he told the court in the first failed adoption "No" when asked if he wanted to live with the couple. He just never jived with them. So to hear him confidently say YES with his big grin was pretty exciting for me! And of course the other two enthusiastically said yes. Again they were asked their names, and one by one they gave their new names, grinning shyly at each other. I loved how they answered the psychologists' questions, like which school they will go to next year. The boy closest to Jake leaned over towards him and adoringly answered "Our dad is a teacher, so he will teach us!" They were very affectionate with Sophia too, as usual.

As part of the evaluation process at the court "interview", the boys were asked to draw a picture of "a family", not using stick figures. We loved what they drew so much that I asked them to do it again for me once we got home. You can see their family drawings here.   
The family drawings, in birth order

Love how the much beloved cat Rusty is in every picture, and that this one is complete with the baby bag! (And see Jake's glasses perched on his head?) 

I'm not sure what provoked this conversation, but one day at dinner, the boys started discussing responses if someone points out that their hair color is different from their parents. Each one started calling out possible answers Jake and I could give: 

"They are just my sons, and that's that!"
"Their hair is dyed!"
"We like dark hair!!"

Love it!!

Angel made up our bed the first two mornings at our house, completely without being told. I was so impressed!!

I have lots of pictures to post now, it took me so long to get this post written, but my family arrives tomorrow for a visit so we'll be busy!! :)

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