Being Home: Elliott’s Adjustment

How was the trip home?

What is it like being home as a family of three?

How is Elliott adjusting?

How are you adjusting?

How is attachment going?

Is there anything you need?

As time allows this week, I will answer these questions and just post them as they are completed (click links above for previous posts).  Thank you so much for your warmwelcome home to our new life!

 

How is Elliott adjusting?

Overall, Elliott is adjusting much better and much faster than we anticipated!  The tricky part with Elliott is that these changes happened at a bit of a difficult age.  He is old enough to be acutely aware of the changes happening around him, but too young to understand these changes or have them explained to him.  In my most recent post, I talked about the incredible impact of the change of caregiver, but the impacts of such major life transitions don’t end there.  It is a little hard to summarize it all at once, so I’m going to divide this into a few adjustment categories where the impact of changes can be most easily seen …

Sleeping.  More than anything else, Elliott’s sleep was the area where we could see how the stress was most effecting him.  Baba told us that Elliott was a fantastic sleeper who sleeps hard and deep and never makes a peep all night – she couldn’t remember the last time he had not slept well or even woken up during the night.  So, when Elliott started having sleep issues after leaving the foster home, we knew why.  It first came out at nap time and bedtime.  Instead of us simply laying him down in bed and leaving like he was used to, he would begin to panic if we left him before he was asleep.  Rather than the normal playing around toddlers do when trying to get the wiggles out before falling asleep, Elliott would get antsy and nervous, jumping at small noises and constantly re-positioning in frustration.  Whereas he used to just lay down and go to sleep almost instantly, every nap and bedtime took over an hour just to get to sleep (for those counting at home, that’s 3+ hours a day on top of time actually spent napping).  And if Elliott woke up during the night (which he did every 40 minutes or so for a couple weeks – specifically the weeks when Alex wasn’t there and I was on my own), the process started all over again.  These issues went through a lot of difficult phases, and reignited with each new life change in Poland, such as moving to a new apartment, Alex leaving for home, or my sister arriving in Poland (This is why, by the time my sister arrived, I was dead on my feet and could barely remember her name.  I hadn’t slept in daaaays.  It was a lot of, “Welcome to …. wait, where are we?  Australia?  The moon?  Oh, yeah … Poland, I think … ?” Bless her heart.)

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The most significant of the sleep issues came at night. Once we moved to Warsaw, Elliott began having night terrors.  If you have never experienced them, night terrors are similar to sleep walking in that the individual is completely asleep and totally unaware of what they are doing.  They are different in the fact that they are HORRIBLE.  Endless screaming, hysterical sobbing, violent thrashing.  During a night terror, kids cannot be comforted because they are not even aware of your presence, and you are virtually powerless to help.  They can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, and it is generally best to just wait it out, as being woken from it can be incredibly disorienting.

But boy … does it take all the self-restraint in the world to just sit there watching your child like that.   At their worst, Elliott had 3-4 night terrors a night, each lasting around an hour.  He would scream until he was red all over and drenched in sweat, beat his head on the mattress, bite his own hands and arms until they bled.  Especially at first, it was truly traumatizing.  The greatest comfort was that we learned from our research that kids have no memory of the experience whatsoever, and we saw this play out in front of us.  The night terrors always ended as suddenly as they started, with him either A) just rolling over and returning to peaceful sleep, or B) instantly sitting up, awake and grinning from ear to ear like normal.  C.R.E.E.P.Y.

The good INSANELY AMAZING, THANK-YOU-GOD-FOR-YOUR-GIFT-OF-SLEEP news is that the sleep issues virtually vanished when we got home.  I was fully expecting him to go into Total Meltdown Mode with this, the greatest environment change of all.  But if anything, we both seemed to find our way back to our normal selves from the moment we stepped off that plane.  Now, I’m no doctor, but I’ll give you my theory: On top of his own stress, Elliott was feeding off of my stress.  Those last couple weeks of being in Poland were the most stressful of my entire life.  I wasn’t sleeping, was barely eating, and was a nervous wreck with handling Elliott’s issues alone on top of trying to get us through the complicated mess we were in regarding the never-ending logistical nightmares trying to prevent us from getting home.  Seriously, I cannot even begin to put words to the overwhelming contrast of the peace of home.  The second I relaxed, Elliott did too.

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Eating.  For the most part, Elliott has always been a good eater.  He is very open to new tastes and textures, and has few things he dislikes.  Whenever we would go through a period of major change (moving apartments in Poland, Alex leaving, my sister arriving, etc.), however, he would go through a period of eating less, eating at weird times, and extreme picky-ness, though this typically only lasted a few days.

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There are aspects of eating and drinking that are challenging for Elliott, mainly due to a type of cleft palette (which is not visible outwardly).  This makes all but a couple liquids impossible for him to drink (he only drinks tomato juice and milk thickened with porridge) and causes him to choke easily.  Because of this, his foster family erred on the side of caution, and spoon/hand-fed him everything, mainly in pureed form.  After leaving the foster home, we allowed him to try feeding himself.  Within days, he had it down.  We also began trying more solid foods and progressed to drinking juice out of a bottle rather than having it spoon-fed.  These have all been very positive steps, as he grew two inches in a month and made huge leaps in both hand-eye coordination and fine-motor skills.  Now, he drinks tomato juice or V8 juice from a bottle with every meal and hand-feeds himself everything that he can.

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Socializing.  This has been a particularly interesting aspect of Elliott’s adjustment, as he has slowly been exposed to new people.  Elliott is extremely friendly and social, but has had very little interaction with other adults aside from his doctors and foster parents, nor with hardly any young children, as the kids in his foster home were all much older than him.

So far, we have limited direct interactions with other kids only to children who will be a regular part of his life, such as cousins and a couple young kids in our weekly small group.   The first time Elliott saw many young kids up close was during the period after Alex had left Poland and before my sister had arrived.  We had visited an indoor playground for children under six, and it was full of kids running and yelling and climbing.  Despite the room full of colorful toys, Elliott could hardly tear his eyes from the other children.  And like little kids do, before long several had scampered up to Elliott and were reaching out to stroke his hair or squeeze his hands.  At that point, Elliott decided his primary interest in other kids laid in watching them from a safe distance.  He completely froze up, and clearly had no idea what he was supposed to do in response.  Now that we are home, it has been especially entertaining to watch him interact with his cousins and new friends, as he moves from watching side-eyed from the safety of Mama’s shoulder, to venturing a tentative squawk in their direction, all the way to bravely reaching out to grab a nose or chin (next is working on appropriate/less painful ways to reach out to friends!).

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Similar to his interactions with kids, we have limited significant interactions with new adults to those who will play a significant role in his life, such as family members or close friends.  Even these interactions can trigger negative reactions, however, but we’ll get into that more when we talk about attachment.

 

America.  On top of everything else, I have to remind myself that Elliott is adjusting to an entirely new culture and country.  He spent his first 18 months in a quiet, country village full of wandering farm dogs and mistletoe-laced trees.  Then, within two months, he lived smack-dab in the middle of two different major Polish cities.  Now, after a long plane ride, he finds himself in the American suburbs, buried in snow.  Each of these changes were major stressors for me, which effected many different aspects of my life until I adjusted – and I even had plenty of advanced notice on these moves!  It is hard to fathom what they must have been like from Elliott’s perspective.

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If you have ever visited another country, you know that it is an entirely different sensory experience from the one you are used to.  The sights, the smells, the tastes, that general “vibe” you get from your surroundings … all of it is new and different.  Everything we have learned about international adoption tells us that even very young children are keenly aware of this shift in their surroundings.

Food is a big part of this, and as much as we have done our best to incorporate foods that he is familiar with into his meals, there is no choice but for him to adjust to a new diet.  Even the familiar foods we find can’t compare to their authentic Polish counterparts.

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Perhaps even more significantly, Elliott is also adjusting to a new language.  Even though he says little, we know that he understood a pretty good amount of the Polish that was spoken to him in his foster home.  I have to continually remind myself that every single day, Elliott is exposed to hundreds of words that he has never encountered before – words that he would understand if I were speaking to him in Polish.  Right now he speaks a handful of Polish and English words, but each day we can see that he understands a little bit more of the English he is now immersed in.

 

When I think about it, I am amazed all that his little body has had to process, and just how well he is handling it all.  Kids are remarkably resilient, and I am so proud of all our little dumpling has already overcome!

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