Love at First Sight

We received our referral at the end of August. I was just starting a new, contracted position at a new-to-me high school. We were in the midst of start of year meetings and room preparation. I obsessively watched the discussion board which posts the referrals and one’s number in line (correlated to when one’s paperwork was submitted and accepted). Early that week, there were a few referrals which undermined my patience.

I selfishly called our social worker. Why didn’t we get a referral over so and so? We were before them on this list. Remember, we had been waiting a year longer than most (which didn’t count) due to switching programs. It still didn’t excuse my lack of patience.

The social worker was gentle with me, but to the point. Each child was not matched with the next family in line. All aspects were taken into account before connecting a child with a particular family. The program wanted to make the best match. Of course they did. I was embarrassed to have ever been impatient.

She tentatively shared that she had a good feeling about the end of the week. I should just “hang in there,” while nothing was a guarantee. However, she was hopeful. Of course. I thanked her and hung up.

Just as she foreshadowed, on Thursday of that week, we received an email with our referral. It contained this picture:

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It also contained information about this child (while I will share our journey and as much as I can, there are a few things I will need to keep private. I hope you understand). Her name was MEAZA. We thought to pronounce it /me-ah-za/. It means “fragrant” in Amharic, the language of Ethiopia. We determined to keep her given name and call her “Mea” at home, in America.

She had been living at the orphanage since she was 11 months and was now 14 months old.

We received medical records that we immediately forwarded to CHOP. They would get back to us with information about her health. We had two or three days to accept the referral.

Regardless, we had finally met our daughter and she was perfect to us. It was love at first sight.

Thinking about Kindergarten

For Kieran, pre-school was wonderful. He had a ton of friends and even some girls who tried to “assign” the boys in the class to be their “boyfriends.” He was so talkative after school about what he did and who he played with. He was having a grand ole time.

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It became apparent that, while I often recommend waiting to send children to Kindergarten (especially boys), when the child’s birthday is close to the cut-off, that the decision would be a bit trickier with this guy.

I could not imagine him re-learning everything that was coming quickly to him for a second year. I worried about the behaviors he might exhibit, as he did in the past, if we kept him back for another year.

I worried that he would “lose” these friends he had made over the past two years at his pre-school, because they would move on and he would be left behind.

On the other hand, I worried that he would be the smallest in his class, which would affect his self-esteem.

I worried that he would have trouble sitting still for as long as was required in Kindergarten.

I worried that he would become easily frustrated and think of school as a place he did not like to go.

Now that he is in 6th grade, and we know what we know about him, I probably would have had him wait. Especially around 2nd grade, there was a lot of frustration (more on that later in the year). But knowing that he loves being just 2 years behind his brother, and they have gotten to have a great year together, this first year of middle school, I am glad that I sent him.

This decision is never as easy as it seems to be, for boys who’s birthdays are close to the cut off date.

Strategy: 3-2-1 (or 1-2-3) Magic

Not everyone likes this strategy. Critics claim that children will just wait until the last number is said before complying because they know the parent is counting down.

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However, with children that are fixated on numbers, this was “magic” for us.

Even just starting to count got our kids’ attention immediately.

I never found that Liam was thinking,I’m going to wait until she gets to “1” before I start moving. In fact, as soon as I said, “3,” he responded.

It might sound like this strategy was too controlling. Maybe it makes you cringe to hear a parent start to “count.”

Especially with executive functioning difficulties, Liam and Kieran both fail to plan out their time. When I say “5 minutes,” there is nothing tangible for them to understand from this information.

We have always (and still do) have issues with Kieran getting ready in a timely manner in the morning. He gets distracted, especially when we send him to his room to get dressed. If I forget to check, as much as 30 minutes later, I will find him half naked, playing with anything in his room. His teacher called this week to share that when everyone else is walking out the door of the classroom, he is just packing up.

I have had to help both boys manage their time, if we want to be on time for anything.

Counting down helps them know that I need them to be ready or to immediately respond to a request. Now I save it for “emergencies.”

At the same time, we have asked teachers to give Liam a 5-minute notice before the end of an activity. Even if it’s just a one minute signal. This helps him know that whatever he is doing is coming to an end.

Without the notice, he was often “surprised” that he had to stop whatever he was doing. He was usually upset by being told to stop, even if it was clear to all of the other children that it was time to “clean up.” In his mind, he was in the middle of doing something he enjoyed, or making progress toward a goal. He was rarely able to be flexible enough when just told to immediately stop, even if this was his impression. Any type of notice (that was made clear to him) was helpful in getting him to transition to something new.

I am still a counting Mom, mostly when we are pressed for time. It’s simply a clear way for me to share with my kids that time is up and we need to move and groove.

A Read-Aloud to Help Liam Learn About His New Sister

Liam’s wonderful 1st grade teacher, upon learning that we would be adopting, chose a read aloud to help Liam adjust to the idea of a new sister. She read:

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After that day, she shared with us that she had made sure Liam was sitting up front during the reading. She made sure to put special emphasis on certain parts of the book and to make eye contact with him, especially, during the reading.

She told us that, after she was finished reading the book, she asked Liam directly, what he thought of the book. He said it was nice. She asked if he had made any connections to the book while she was reading. He said he hadn’t.

She laughed as she told us that, as she followed up more explicitly by asking if he was going to have a baby sister join his family, Liam casually corrected her by sharing that his baby sister was being flown home on an airplane, not born from his mom. The book was completely different from what was happening in his life. He did not see the connection.

We all learned a little about how he thought that day. His teacher shared that she was happy that Liam was still teaching her things about autism that she had to learn.

Adoption is a Long Road

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International adoption is a long road. I learned a few things along the journey of waiting for a referral.

I learned that, despite how fastidiously you work on your paperwork, you still will find “errors” that need to be corrected and will still have to wait patiently for the process to work at its pace.

That no matter how much you want people in Harrisburg to rush the authentication of your paperwork, they will move at the pace that they normally do – your “emergency” is not theirs or really an emergency at all.

That even if you think you are a patient person, you will learn patience during this process.

That having others come along side you through this part of the journey and listen to your story is a bigger blessing than you or they realize.

That you will learn things about others’ journeys to adoption and the country; and maybe this is a good part about a long wait.

That you will feel bitter and ugly while you also celebrate as others move up the list toward referral faster than you.

That everyone has a journey and a story that is taken into account when matches with precious children are made.

That there is nothing that will prepare you for the day when you get your referral and see that beautiful face that you have been waiting years to see.

That the true waiting begins after you get your referral and know about a child that you then have to wait to meet, after you pass through more checkpoints and planning, until that day when you can finally step off a plane, in her country, and see her face to face.

 

Going to 1st

Our transition to 1st grade was as smooth as could be expected. Over the summer between Kindergarten and 1st grade, we had meetings with the district. We shared the psyco-educational evaluation that had been completed by CHOP. (This was a huge blessing – that his developmental pediatrician made possible. I’m humbled to admit that it was at no expense to us).

Liam was re-tested by the school psychologist. We participated in an IEP meeting. Liam was assigned a fabulous itinerant autistic support teacher. She recommended Liam come to visit the school and his various classrooms the week before school started, with her, so that they could start to build a relationship, and that he would be able to start to map his “new world” without all of the other students there. This was perfect for Liam (and something we had put into his IEP for each subsequent year), as he has a “mapping” kind of brain. While he would spend most of his day in the 1st grade pod, he learned where everything else was and never got lost.

He was given the most amazing 1st grade teacher. She was a few years from retirement, so extremely knowledgeable and experienced. She was the assistant superintendent’s wife, so knew the district well. She was that perfect balance of calm and firm, but also fun.

To show you a bit about her personality, she had a reading bathtub in her room.

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It was one of the most literacy-rich environments I had ever seen (which tickled my heart).

He was in excellent hands to start off his public school education.

The Decision to Adopt

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We started thinking about adoption, probably right when I found out that Kieran was a boy. I really wanted a daughter, but was getting older. In fact, I was considered a “geriatric” mom because I would turn 35 two weeks before Kieran was to be born.

Then there was the risk of having another child with autism with each subsequent pregnancy.

There were other influences that swayed our decision to adopt, not the least of which was that at the church we attended, there were quite a few families who had adopted children internationally. There was also an adoption play/support group which was very encouraging as we took the initial steps to find out information.

After a year into a program that would allow us adopt from the Philippines (Mike’s aunt was Filipino, so we thought that would be a wonderful connection), after just a ton of paperwork and expenses, I was called by the adoption agency.

“Are you sitting down?” the director asked.

“Sure, what’s up?” I replied hesitantly.

“We just found out that you cannot request a specific gender from the Philippines.”

“Oh. Well, then.”

If we happened to get a referral for a boy and turned it down, it could be another two years wait for another referral, with not guarantee that the next referral would be for a girl. I worried because of the age difference between the boys and the new child (although we were not adopting an infant). I worried about how long the process would be overall. I really wanted to welcome a daughter into our family.

The director recommended that we consider another program.

By God’s grace, in the midst of this conversation, I was listening to an audio book entitled, There is No Me Without You. It was about orphans in Ethiopia. It turns out that the adoption agency just opened an office in Ethiopia. She suggested we think about this program. The wait would not be nearly as long as it had been with our initial country. However, we had to start all of our paperwork over.

It seemed to be what we were being called to do.

And it was thanks to reading a book that the message came our way.