Monday, January 31, 2011

News Flash

As I was editing that last post, Will came over to me and said, "hug please," and when I hugged him, he hugged me back (without squeezing the life out of me).  3pm, Monday, January 31, 2011.

Progress and Regress

Vitals:  So, back to Will (aka Roman, the five year old).  The most annoying problems we were dealing with were that he was putting EVERYTHING in his mouth, getting into cabinets, bedrooms etc. and tearing them apart, making minimal eye contact, not seeking human company, defiant when told, “no,” and not potty trained.  Thankfully, we have made progress.  We were sort of at the point where there was nowhere to go but up. 

Details:  Well, I already covered the olfactory obsession (mouth thing).  That problem is almost non-existent now.  He still puts stuff in his mouth occasionally, but not with the frantic drive that he used to.  Also, if we tell him to spit something out, he just looks at us and smiles and then spits it out.  He used to fight us and wail and scream.  I am certain this is because he was starving and now has enough meat on his bones to last from meal to meal.  He was eating about six meals a day for a  while there.  Now he is back to three with reasonable snacks, but he is much, MUCH more meaty looking and has a nice layer of fat/muscle on his formerly bare bones. 

He is still getting into cabinets, bedrooms etc.  I don’t know if there is any way to combat this other than to just wait it out.  With five other kids in the house, it is flat-out impossible to keep every cabinet locked, every door closed and every item out of his reach.  As soon as I lock a cabinet, one of the kids comes behind me and unlocks it.  Whenever Will sees an open door, he just goes right to taking everything out and apart and dumping or decorating or generally investigating-while-also-destroying everything within a two foot radius of his body.   He’s not actually being naughty, he’s just curious, which makes it really hard to discipline him.  For example, if he gets into a cabinet and starts dumping, it’s hard (with the language barrier) to be sure he understands whether I am telling him, don’t touch the one item in your hand, don’t touch ANYTHING in the cupboard, and/or Don’t Open The Door in the First Place!!  In fact, he’s so gifted with that blank look, that it’s hard to know what he understands AT ALL. 

Part of the problem also is that he has no idea how to play.  So, I can put him in a room with a bunch of toys and he will LOOK at them and investigate them, but he really doesn’t know how to PLAY with them.  He pretty much spent his former life in ONE ROOM.  Therefore, since he’s never seen anyone cook in a real kitchen, or a car drive down a road, or seen animals on a farm, when he has the pretend stuff he doesn’t really know what to do with it.  I’m hoping this will get better as he gets more life experiences, but so far, the only toy he really plays with appropriately is the marble game.

I’m also hoping that pre-school will help in this area.  After that first day at school, we saw significant changes in Will.  I can’t determine why, but he is SO much easier to deal with on many levels on school days.  He comes home tired, so I’m sure that’s part of it (he just doesn’t have energy to throw tantrums), but he is also in a good mood.  I thought this was because he likes school and was finally finding a reason to hope for some happiness in this country, but the past few days he hasn’t wanted to go, so maybe he misses us and is glad to come home (or some combination of both).  At any rate, I’ll take it. 

The very first day of pre-school, I noticed was that he looked at me when I got him off the bus AND he smiled.  Two HUGE things.  He hardly ever looked at any of us and he RARELY smiled—maybe two smiles in the entire month we’ve had him.  I could hardly believe he was both looking at me and smiling.  He also let me carry him into the house and put his head on my shoulder as I was walking.   This was another huge sign of progress, since he usually would sort of lean back when I held him and try to push me away. 

When we got in the house, he hung up his own coat (progress) and just kept smiling.  He didn’t throw a fit that whole afternoon. 

To give you some background; in general, Will doesn’t throw screaming fits like Ruslan.  He does yell when he’s mad, but he doesn’t scream Ruslan and he doesn’t keep at it for hours like Ruslan.  Initially, Will tried to hurt us.  Of course, he can’t, cause he’s too little and pathetically weak, but it’s still annoying.  So, for example, if we told him, “no,” he’d cringe and make his eyes all squinty and try to squeeze us as hard as he could.  We spanked him for this right away and the squeezing immediately stopped.  Now he will still cringe up and put his hands in tiny fists and yell.  It is flat-out defiance.   So, he generally throws a fit and goes to time-out right away EVERY time we say, “no” about anything.  He has to stop screaming and say “sorry” to get out of time out.  Trust me, he knows exactly what the word means because Ruslan translates for us.  The yelling stops after about five minutes, but the apology can take up to an hour.  Eventually, he’ll see something he wants or one of the kids will walk by and he’ll say, “Mama, sorry.  Sorry Mama,” Right away.  Everyone knows what is going on.  He’s just flat out stubborn. 

That first day of school was the FIRST day he didn’t get a time-out since we’d got him.  What a relief to have ONE shriek-free day!  We could hardly believe it.  We also had an event-free dinner.  He still stuffed his face if we weren’t looking, but if we said, “swallow,” he would just nod “yes’ and swallow, rather than cringing, screaming, spitting it out, or nodding, “no.”   This has turned out to be true on most school days.   We had a few snow days in there and if he misses school for more than two days, he seems to revert back to his old self, but overall, school has really helped.   

Last Wednesday, we had something for dinner that he didn’t like (salad).  He just hates lettuce and won’t use dressing.  I sat across from him, braced for WWIII and told him to eat his salad so he could have ice cream.  I fully expected him to get defiant, but he didn’t.  He just nodded his head and started shoving lettuce in his mouth.  I could hardly believe it.  This was HUGE!  He got it all down with little incident and took his plate to the sink.  Then he got ice cream, which he finally realized that he likes and has learned to eat slowly (another milestone).

That night (Wednesday, 1/26) I got this note from his pre-school teacher: “By the way, Will was a little stubborn today at lunch and didn't want to eat anything so we just sat there and he said "Trash" several times.  I said "No, eat first".  He saw all his friends eat, throw their trash away and get to go in the room to play.  I was prepared to sit until time for him to get on the bus to show him that I mean what I say and say what I mean.  It took about an additional 5 minutes before he realized he wasn't playing until he ate.  He started eating and ate a great lunch!   I guess testing the teacher is a universal skill.”

I am certain that her reinforcement of the whole meal time routine is helping us get through this stage faster than we might have otherwise.

We were also having an issue with hugs and kisses, which he HATED.  First of all, he had NO IDEA what a hug was, nor a kiss.  Ruslan knew how to hug and kiss and asks for them often.  Will just hated them and would cringe and try to get away from us at first, then he just endured them.  For a long time, the only way I could get a kiss in was to wait until he went to bed, lie him down and cover his arms with the blanket.  With only his head showing, I could get in a kiss on each cheek.  He would crinkle up his face and make his eyes into little slits and just shake, but I had him trapped, so there was no way out.  Eventually, he started to endure hugs quietly and not cringe.  Then he started relaxing, so I could hug and kiss him without him fighting and now he says, “kisses” and actually at me when he gets into bed and hugs back if the mood strikes. 

After school that first day, I asked him for a hug and he actually came over and stood next to me.  HUGE PROGRESS.  He used to totally ignore me.  A few days later, he actually gave me a hug in return, as in put his arms around me voluntarily and squeezed.  We still have a problem with gentleness, but it’s progress none the less.  Eventually, he started “kissing” back, but he still doesn’t know how to do it.  He just presses his cheek against mine and sort of hugs my neck.  There was a woman in his orphanage who told us that he “loves hugging and kissing” but I don’t know where she got that idea, because he was totally averse to hugs and still doesn’t know how to give a kiss!

I have been e-mailing his pre-school teacher and she noticed the same progress.  She said he spent several of his first days intently watching the other kids.  I am sure this really helped, since he could see that it’s not just his brothers and sisters who do that strange “hug” thing.  On Wednesday, 1/26, she wrote to me that Will was,  very given with the hugs today.  He would stop playing and come up to me and say ‘Hug.’”  Again, this is enormously huge progress.  He’s only asked me for hugs once or twice, but he now asks his sister for hugs all the time (she’s always willing and doesn’t have the nasty job of discipline), and on some level, he has clued in that hugs are good things. 

The one major area we are making very little progress on is potty training.  Will seems to hold it all in for about three days and then let fly over the course of several hours.  This is a rough system for me because during those three days, I start to get a false sense of security.  The poop-days, however, are very difficult.  He knows exactly where the potty is and he knows to tell me that he has to go, but he just doesn’t always do it.  Anytime he disappears for more than two minutes, he’s either destroying something, or pooping. 

So, on the one hand, we have made huge progress in a little over a month.  On the other hand, Will is still a huge handful.  We had a snow day on Thursday and at the end of it, I was about to kill myself… or Will… or both of us.  It started off reasonably well, with Will getting himself dressed and sitting down to breakfast, but by the end of the day, with five other kids in the house to leave things out, he had gotten into EVERYTHING.  

In that one day, he got into the spices and dumped the oregano (oregano taken away- tantrum- time out), got into the markers and wrote on himself and his clothes (markers taken away- tantrum- time out), he got into the boys Legos (Legos taken away- tantrum- time out).  I sent him outside to sled with the other kids and he did a full on face plant into a tree.  When I went to get him, he was sitting in Reilly’s lap and crying with a lovely set of scratches on his forehead.  I took him inside and left Matt with him to help him undress and went to get Ruslan.  When I got inside, Will was crying again.  Apparently, he fell over trying to get his snowpants off and hit his head a corner of the wall.  He had a goose egg on his skull the size of, well, a goose egg. 

I took him upstairs with me to do laundry.  He got into the girls room and dumped their scrapbook box (box taken away- tantrum- time out), he asked to go downstairs and in the time it took me to fold three towels, he’d gotten to the refrigerator and held down the water dispenser so there was water over half the kitchen.  By the time I got there, he had a towel and was trying to clean it up.  I was worried that if I yelled at him, he wouldn’t know if I was yelling over the water or him cleaning.  So, I left the water dispenser unlocked and it took about ten minutes before he went back and held it down again so I could tell him, “no” (cup taken away- tantrum- time out).  He pooped in his diaper twice.  

I finally put him in the tub with Ruslan that afternoon.  I left for a minute and when I came back I saw little brown things all through the water.  Will had been eating grapes at lunch and kept the grape skins in his mouth, presumably saving them for a mid afternoon repast.   He had spit them out into the bath water instead.  I decide to leave them, since they both drool all the time and anyway, sucked grape skins are hardly toxic.  When I left again a few minutes later, they started splashing each other, which they know full well is not allowed (bath taken away- tantrum- time out), After the bath, Will got toothpaste in his hair, got toothpaste in my hair, pooped again and got it on his pants, changed his clothes, spilled his milk at dinner, and, when out of desperation, I finally put him in the play room with the baby-gate, he threw about half the play-kitchen toys over the gate while I was in the bathroom (toys taken away- tantrum- time out). Then, he pooped in his diaper for the fourth time. 

At bedtime, he tore the pages out of two cardboard books, and cried like a banshee when I took them away.  I finally got him and Ruslan in bed and turned out the light.  About twenty minutes later, I went to check on them.  Ruslan had turned on their lamp and Will had gotten into a bottle of nail polish (NO IDEA where he found it).  He had painted his pillow, his blanket, his nails, his forehead and about 30% of his face with Sally Hanson Insta Dry Pronto Purple #20.  At this point, I was so tired and so upset with them both, that I didn’t even trust myself to talk.  I just checked to see if the paint on his face was dry (Yes. Thank you Insta Dry.), took the nail polish bottle, took the lamp, turned out the light without saying one word and closed the door.  I figured there was no way I would be able to even find any nail polish remover, let alone use it without killing the boy, so I just let them fall asleep in the dark and I have to say, I took morbid joy in their cries of protest over the darkened room. 

The next day, God had mercy on my humble estate and the public schools were open.  I told Bill that it would be better (for the sake of the blog) if we left the nail polish on Will’s face and just sent him to school purple.  I also pointed out that the nail polish covered the bruise on his forehead, but Bill was insistent.  So, I found some nail polish remover stashed behind my cookbooks and Bill cleaned Will’s face, hands and neck.  Will went off to school in freshly laundered GAP corduroys, a color coordinated shirt, hip Ukranian boots, a blue baseball coat, and a blue child-size backpack looking for all the world like a well-loved middle class suburban American. 

I asked Bill if the probation period was, by any chance, over, but Bill said he wants to wait six months.  Of course, after six months he will be well integrated, so I am considering the probation period over.  At this point, I’m just left debating whether we’ve come to a successful resolution. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Shrieking Shack

Vitals: So, this post will be about Ruslan (the 7 year old).  Will is too complicated to address right now. 

Details:  My Mom called after she read about Hell Week, asking me if I’m OK.  I suppose it would be a little disconcerting to read about your daughter’s "hell week" in two remarkably lengthy posts.  It’ll be worse if I decide to title the next post “Hell Month.”   But, of course, everything's fine, so, you know, there's no need....

Anyway, I think we’re up to January 12th and today is January 28th.  Thanks be to God, we have made some progress.  It’s been about two weeks and there is much to write, but I’m trying to break these things up so they aren’t so long.  Life with mal-adjusted kids is so eventful, it’s hard to know what to post!  However, I do have actual news this time because I think  (or to be more precise, I have some faint reason to hope) that we are over the bulk of the TOTAL melt-down temper tantrums with Ruslan.  If I am right about this, it is HUGE progress because that child can SCREAM.  

We have “movie nights”  every Friday here.  The kids really love them.  We started out with the idea of a “family time” or “game night” but by the time Friday rolls around, both Bill and I are so wiped out, we can hardly stand to talk to each other, let alone the kids.  So, movie night is a perfect compromise.  We all sit in the same room together, so it passes as family time, but we don’t have to actually talk to each other.   It’s a great way to feel like we are doing something worthwhile for the kids without actually investing any effort. 

For movie night, I usually make homemade pizza.  I know that sentence nullifies everything I just wrote above, but I’ve done this enough that it’s not really an event and with the kids help, we can whip out two pizza’s in about 30 minutes—provided I remember to start the crust at 3:00.  We let the kids choose their own toppings so it’s something they will eat without complaining (remember, it’s all about NOT TALKING to them).  Then, we let them eat in the living room and about 40 minutes into the movie, after dinner is gone and they are just getting hooked into the plot, we pause the screen and tell them to go upstairs and get ready for bed.   Let me tell you, there is no motivation to get ready for bed quickly and without fighting than the thought of a paused movie waiting for you downstairs.  One of us goes up to monitor the kids while the other one gets out the sofa bed (such a marvelous purchase).  They all come down with a stuffed animal and their pillows, choose a “spot” and get comfortable.   Then they watch the rest of the movie and fall asleep right where they are.  It’s glorious.

We did this every night in Ukraine.  There are enough benefits that I would consider doing it every night here, but the drawbacks are that: 1. They stay up late whispering to each other and 2. They always fight over the better “spots.”  This was the cause of another most awful melt-down for Ruslan.  He LOVES movie nights. He would sleep downstairs every night if he could and he asks about movie night all the time.  We count down the days and talk about what we'll have for dinner (he loves pizza), what stuffed animal he will bring down etc. etc. So, on this latest movie night he was well geared up for the event.  The pizza went down fine but unfortunately, the “spot” that he wanted was on the sofa bed and he had been sleeping on the sofa bed during every movie night since we got back from Ukraine. 

Will is too young to understand the movies and he really loves his bed, so he doesn’t take part in movie nights.  That leaves five kids.  The sofa bed is good for three spots.  Then there is a love seat that is another spot and two chairs the kids put together to make a last bed.   Ruslan had been sleeping on the sofa bed, in between two other kids.  It was OK for a while, but Ruslan can really be a pain.  He wants to touch people all the time and though it’s really cute and charming at first, after a while it just gets to be a flat out annoying.  My kids were so generous about it that I didn’t realize what was going on.  But now we were at the point where none of the kids wanted to sleep with him and it was really his turn to be "off" the sofa bed anyway, so we took the plunge. Eventually, he has to learn to take turns and share.

Ruslan might be seven years old in body, but emotionally, he is about two.  He has NO ability to handle not getting his way.  I explained to him about taking turns and that it was his turn to be on the small sofa (aka love seat) by himself.  He was about to throw a total fit, so I told him that if he screamed, I would take him right upstairs and he would miss movie night.  To his credit, he didn’t scream.  But he did whimper.  He whimpered and whined until he finally realized he couldn’t get his way.  So, he reluctantly settled into the small couch and we turned the movie back on.   I told him that he had to be quiet and watch the movie.  If he kept crying and whining, he would ruin the movie for everyone and I was going to take him upstairs.  Well, he was quiet for about one minute, then he started in at a low whimper, trying to get his blanket perfectly flat, with no wrinkles.  Then he changed the pillows, then he changed them again which wrinkled the blanket and he decided to start over.  I helped him once and told him that there was no way the blanket was going to stay perfectly flat, to lay down quietly or he would miss the movie, etc. etc. etc. 

The upshot was that after ten minutes and three warnings, he still hadn’t stopped pointing at the sofa bed and whining about the small couch, changing his pillows and whimpering about his "blanket wrinkles" so after the third warning to be quiet, I took him upstairs.  Well, that did it, as we knew it would.  He SCREAMED and SHRIEKED in his room for the rest of the entire movie.  Ninety Minutes: alternating between flat out screams and yelling things like, “MAMA, MAMA, I LOVE YOU, MAMA, PLEASE, TURN THE PAGE, MAMA, MAMA, CLOSE THE DOOR, I LOVE YOU, PAPA, PLEASE, I LOVE YOU”  etc. etc.  Totally hysterical.  He woke up Will because they sleep in the same room and Bill and I just took turns standing outside the door in case he fell out of bed or tried to leave his room.   He finally calmed down toward the end of the movie and about five minutes after it was over, he fell asleep.

I don’t know if you can glean this from reading, but it’s incredibly infuriating to have a child scream so loud for so long.  If I watch him too long, I can feel my chest get tighter and tighter and I want to run into the room and scream at him just as loudly as he is screaming at us.  Bill and I sort of tag teamed, with one of us wanting to rush in there and have our own hissy fit and the other one warding it off. Then we’d swing the other direction, since he looks SO PITIFUL, laying on his back with very little bodily control, all contorted and screaming because it’s all he knows to do.  Then we’d ponder the fact that if we just took him back downstairs, he’d probably be quiet and the kids could enjoy the movie, but there’s no way that would be a good idea and we would both rather DIE than give in at this point.  So, we’d get mad at him all over again and so it went.  That’s why we had to take turns standing outside the door. 

The next morning we sat Ruslan down and we had a little talk.  Thank goodness he is smart.  His English is incredible for being here for such a short time.  We told him that he was a big boy, seven years old and too old to be screaming like a baby. I pointed out that none of us scream like he does when we are sad or angry; we don’t do that in America.  His teacher doesn’t scream at him.  The kids in his class don’t scream.  The neighbor kids don’t scream.  His brothers and sisters don’t scream. We told him we are DONE with him screaming.  We are really tired of it.

Then I told him that if he started screaming like that again, I was going to spank him, on his bottom with my hand.  Then I would give him five minutes time to calm down, but if he kept on screaming, I would spank him again, harder, until it stopped.  I told him it really had to stop and if the spankings didn’t stop him, then I would start to take away his things.  I would take away movie night, I would take away his books, I would take away his stuffed animals, I would take away his favorite clothes, his necklaces, his night light and if I had to, I would take every item out of his room until there was nothing left but a pillow and blanket on the floor, but whatever it took, these total screaming melt downs were going to stop. 

He nodded yes, and said he understood and kept saying, “Ruslan big boy.”   Then we prayed together that he would stop screaming and I marveled over the fact that I could imagine myself strangling him with my bare hands while saying, “thank you God, for my big boy,”  in a sweet, loving voice at the exact same moment.  After our heartfelt, desperate prayer for sanity, we said, “amen,” I gave him a hug and we let the matter drop.

This worked for exactly three days.  Every time he was about to gear up for a hissy fit, I would remind him that he was a big boy and take some deep breaths with him.  He would say, “Ruslan big boy, “ and he kept it together. 

Until Monday night, when he had to finish his vegetable soup.  He started to cry, the “big boy” mantra didn’t work and I could tell he was working himself up toward a full-fledged shriek when I thought of the video camera.   I ran upstairs and by the time I got back the boy was in full on melt-down mode.  I got right in front of him at the table and turned on the video camera, flipped the screen so he could see himself and I video taped him shrieking.

He stopped in mid scream, totally shocked and told me to turn it off.  Then he waved his hand in front of it and told me to turn it off again.  (heh heh).  I said, “NO WAY BABY.  NOT A CHANCE.  YOU KEEP SCREAMING LIKE THIS AND I WILL TAPE THE WHOLE THING AND TAKE THIS RIGHT TO YOUR KINDERGARTEN TEACHER AND HAVE HER PLAY IT FOR THE CLASS.  AND IF YOU DON’T THINK I WILL, TRY ME.” 
Well, he stopped for a minute, then he looked down at his soup and started to cry again, but he didn’t scream.  Bill was on a business trip so I gave the camera to Reilly, just in case, and she taped him while he ate his soup and I cleaned up the kitchen. 

I was going to play the tape back for him, just for emphasis (and a little bit of revengeful enjoyment on my part), but I’d had the thing on “stand-by” (such an idiot).  Thankfully, Ruslan doesn’t know that and if he has a fit again, I can tape that one.  There’s likely to be plenty of material and if not, then I won’t need it.  I put the camera on the counter where he could see it clearly from any angle and, thank God, he hasn’t had a melt-down since.  A few days ago, I realized I’d probably killed the battery and felt safe enough to put the thing back on the charger. 

This is the longest we have ever gone in between screaming fits and thank God because honestly, I don’t think any of the other ideas would have worked.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hell Week (Part Two) and Beyond

Vitals:  Week of Jan 3 to 9 and a few days after.

Details:  So, just to clarify, Ruslan is the 7 year old, bright intellectually, but with major physical disabilities.   Will (who used to be called Roman) is the 5 year old, more or less able bodied, but dumb as a post.  Besides Will, we also occasionally call him DAPATAC—“Dumb As a Post And Twice As Cute,”  --a remarkably fitting description. 

We are now up to Thursday morning, Jan 6th.  In the last post, I focused on Will, but Ruslan made his own distinct contribution to hell week.  My boy was flat out spoiled in Ukraine.  I don’t know what those caregivers at his orphanage were thinking, but they made a MESS of my child emotionally. 

One example of this has to do with dinner.  My ten year old Reilly had been asking constantly if she could carry Ruslan.   I always say, “no” because he is really hard to carry.  He doesn’t know how to hold his body close to his carrier’s body and at odd times, he will jerk his body backward so you really have to grab him tight to avoid dropping him.  Plus, he’s just plain heavy.   Early in the week, I had put him down for a second (propping him up so he could hold himself standing) and Reilly asked if she could “take” him to another room.  I thought this meant that she would let him walk holding her hands, but she meant to carry him.    So, before I even knew what was happening, she had picked him up.   He almost immediately jerked his body backward and she dropped him.  It looked like his head hit the ground first and it was onto a hard floor.   He immediately started to cry and I know it hurt.

I picked him up and held him while he cried for a few minutes.  We got him some ice, gave him Tylenol and eventually he stopped crying and just settled in for a low whine.  There was no bump on his head, his  pupils were fine and he was answering questions appropriately.  So, even though he was milking the thing for all it was worth and whined for at least an hour, I finally decided he was probably hurting a little bit at first, but essentially he was OK.  As the day wore on, the whining stopped and we all forgot about it… until dinner time.   Ruslan told us he couldn’t eat.  It hurt to chew anything because of his “ouch.”  Every time he took a bite he would whine and cry and say, “ow, ow!”  He wasn’t very convincing and I have to admit that after three months of his whining, I have lost a good bit of compassion for him.  But, in cases like this there is always a nagging question in the back of my mind about whether something is actually wrong and causing him pain (never actually been the case, but you never know) or if he is just being manipulative.   

At any rate, Ruslan didn’t want dinner.   We all started to ratchet things up with Bill and me telling Ruslan he had to eat and Ruslan whining all the louder that his jaw hurt.  So, in a rare instance of brilliance, I gave Ruslan a few “gummy fibers” that I had leftover from Ukraine.  These things are huge, about the size of large gum drops, and they are GUMMY, hard to chew, and require a lot of jaw effort to break into pieces and swallow.  They are like giant, stale gummy bears.  Ruslan loves them.  As soon as I gave one to him he broke into a big smile and started chewing right away on the very side of his mouth that “hurt” with nary a wince nor tear.  The same with a second piece and so, after he was done, we pointed out to him that he had no trouble chewing them and told him he had to finish his dinner.  (HA!)  Ruslan is smart enough to know what was going on.  So, like a good institutionalized Ukrainian, he started off with a low whimper and escalated into a full-blown shriek within about 15 seconds.  We finally had to take him to his room where he took 20 minutes to cry and scream out his anger.  When he was finally quiet, we took him back downstairs to finish his meal, which he did without compliant.

The next day, he came home from school with a letter page in which it was very obvious that he was supposed to trace over the letters.  Instead, it looked like he just took a pencil and scribbled back and forth over the page.  I showed it to Ruslan and told him it was not his “good work.”  He started to whine and then cry saying, “teacher OK.”  As in, “My teacher said it was OK.”   But I knew he could do better. 

I put him at our small table in the kitchen and told him to finish the paper.  Well, he cried and cried and when that didn’t work he started screaming and SCREAMED and shrieked at the top of his lungs.   SO, I moved him and the little table into our front room and shut the door.  He SCREAMED and shrieked full on for another ten minutes straight as though I was torturing him with hot iron rods.  Bill and I both commented that this was the loudest he had ever screamed so far.  I was sure the neighbors were going to call us or the police when he suddenly got quiet.  Just like that, it ended and he started to work. When he was half done, he called me in.  

He had erased the scribbles and traced about half the letters.  I told him ‘great job’ and he asked me and Reilly to stay in the room with him while he finished, which was fine.  He got to most of the letters and was done in less than ten minutes.  It’s not perfect, but MUCH better than scribbling back and forth across the page.  His teacher said it was “morning work” and so there probably wasn’t anyone around to keep him on task, but even so, he knows full well what he is capable of.  He just didn’t want to do it.

Afterwards, he was so proud of himself, his smile was about to split his face in two.   We took him and the paper up to show daddy and then he asked to put it on the wall in his bedroom.  So, obviously in both cases it ended well, and Ruslan was able to make his own unique contribution toward hell week.  I thanked him, for it wouldn’t have been complete without him, then I went back to trying to make phone calls and chasing Will throughout the house.

A few of the phone calls I made were to our local public school (another exceptional donor).  I almost put this story in a separate post entitled, “Why Parents Homeschool; A Message to the Establishment.”   But, things have been working out OK, and it all happened in the same week, so I’ll just go with a short summary here for the sake of the other special needs parents who read this blog.  I wrote already about the school hiring a full-time aide for Ruslan.  Well, the interviews for the aide were on Monday.  Since this person was being hired specifically for Ruslan, I made a quick call to the principal to see if I could get in on the interviews or at least give some input.  From the response I got, you would think I had asked for the moon.

It wouldn’t have been an issue if Ruslan wasn’t such a master manipulator.  If you have a child in a wheel chair, the natural instinct is to over compensate and “do” for them.  Combine that with Ruslan’s habit of trying to get out of hard work and his winning smile and you have the perfect training ground for a helpless little emperor.  For example, I learned early on that he had been allowed to skip eating his school lunch and go right to dessert (which I am sure he loved, but ended ASAP), then there was the “I-can’t” syndrome (explained above) and the need to make it clear that he could really do almost all that an able bodied child can do (like hang up his own coat), which isn’t really obvious from first glance.  It’s just not natural to expect a child who can’t walk to hang up his own coat, but he needs to be expected to do these things and learn some self reliance.  His biggest need is help with transitions/position changes and maybe someone to keep him on task.  So besides giving input on the choice of aide, I also wanted to talk to her for a few minutes and monologue all I could about his needs.

From their perspective, it was a “question of boundaries.” From my perspective, it was “absolutely a question of boundaries and let me be clear, there are NO boundaries between myself and my child.”   So, we duked it out a little bit on the phone and they made it clear that they would not welcome my input.  I found this fantastically annoying.  I asked the principal if she had spent any time with Ruslan, which of course she hadn’t and neither had the assistant principal.  They were adding his teacher to the interview team, which I appreciated, and so did the teacher.  As she put it, “I’ve spent time with him and know the kind of person he needs,” but she also acknowledged that there were some days that he had only spent thirty minutes in her room because he left quite a bit for testing and activities.  As his mom, I had spent MORE time with him than the teacher and since they were hiring the aide FOR HIM, my input seemed reasonable.  That one point became particularly sticky since apparently the aide will occasionally have other duties so I had to spend the rest of one conversation referring to his new aide as the hyphenated, “person-who-will-be-spending most-of-the-school-day-within-five-feet-of-my-son.” 

It got even stranger when one of them said, “well, if we let a parent in on something like this then parents would want to give input on every decision…”   Of course, as a parent, I think it would be right and proper for parents to be involved in every decision.  As taxpayers and citizens (federal, state and local taxpayers), we own the buildings, pay the salaries of the teachers and elect the school board who ultimately hire them AND, after all, this is about the education of OUR kids.  It’s one of those comments I still shake my head over. 

A few days later, I was told that the administration wanted my communication with the aide to be done through the teacher only.  Now, bear in mind that I had no reason to bypass the teacher regarding anything.   I can’t imagine a matter that I would want to communicate with one and not the other.   I didn’t have any new information to pass on, it was more a case of wanting to give a second voice to all that I assumed the teacher was saying already so, it seemed extra bizarre that they would tell me “not to communicate with the aide directly.”  The overall effect made me think I had been zapped into Orwell’s 1984 and left me thinking about a college text book I had:  “The Two Worlds of Childhood” regarding Free vs. Soviet societies where children are generally considered wards of the state from birth.  It wasn’t a deal breaker, since I think he is getting good care where he is, but it was definitely eye opening. 

Thankfully, by the time I went to meet the new aide, it had generally blown over enough that no one said anything when I talked to her.  Besides, in all honesty, I didn’t have time to keep debating boundaries and communication methods because I spent most of hell week with our last major contributor: our insurance company.  As I hinted in the comments section on the previous post, we started having trouble with our health insurance.  Everything had started off well.  Bill called the company as soon as we got back from the first trip in November and added Ruslan to our policy.  Then he called again in December when he got back with Will and added him by phone as well.  The company told us that both boys were covered from the date the adoption was “final.”  Of course, Bill was talking to a nameless “guy on the phone”  working in the HR department of his company, so there was some debate about what “final” meant.   Eventually, it was decided that “final” meant from the day we got them in Ukraine, so we felt safe getting started on the boys many medical problems, naively working on a verbal assurance from “the man on the phone.” 

At some point during the call, the company said they were going to send us a form that we had to send back with the boy’s “finalization” papers.  This was all well and good, but the form-filling-out fell to me, and since this is our third and fourth adoption, I thought that “finalization” meant “finalization.”  In America, when you adopt a child, you actually adopt them twice.  Once in the child’s home country and then you re-adopt them here.  So, now that we are back in the states, we have another three homestudy meetings with a social worker, then we file some papers at our county court, then the court talks to the social worker and eventually, we get a paper that says, “Final Order” on the top and THAT paper means the adoption is “final.”   So, we didn’t have our “finalization” papers yet.  From Ukraine, we had a court order, two sets of birth certificates (one with the child’s biological parents listed, one with us listed as the parents) and the boys Ukrainian passports. 

In December, just before Christmas, I got the paper we were supposed to fill out for the insurance.  I actually called the company myself to find out what papers to send them and the HR person finally said to send a copy of the boys Ukrainian birth certificates with us listed as the parents.   So, I actually faxed these papers since somewhere on the paper was the notice that we had to send back the form within 60 days of the date of adoption.  It had been over 60 days since Ruslan’s court date in Ukraine, but not since his finalization (which won’t happen for another few months).

Sadly, it was now coming out that not only had I sent the form back too late, I also sent the wrong papers (they didn’t want the birth certificate, nor the American finalization papers, they wanted the Ukrainian court order), and beyond that, they had no record at all of the phone call Bill made adding in Will.  So, if all goes well for the insurance company, all the medical care that we have gotten for Ruslan and Will so far will not be covered.  This is huge, since we had gotten a lot of care for both of them.  I’d say in the end, it will be at least $3,000 worth.  One physical therapy appointment alone was $250, then there was three or four doctor’s visits, the orthodist to get AFO’s, the AFOs’ themselves and two dentists visits for Ruslan, then another three or four doctor visits and an eye appointment for Will.   Sadly, it was just yesterday that we (hopefully) got our insurance company the papers that they wanted (the Ukrainian court order) and now we are waiting for some sort of confirmation of coverage.   So, we are still fighting it out with them, since I think this is partly their fault (I didn’t even GET the form until after the 60 days were up, their representative told me to send the wrong documents and they didn’t update their records about Will with our initial phone call) but only time will tell.  

Comfortable in my ignorance, I took Will to see a pediatric ophthalmologist on Thursday morning.  I paid for this visit out of pocket, since the doctor was not in our insurance network, so that will be one bill that will not surprise us.  Will has strabismus (not cross eyed though, in his case, the unfocusing eye shoots outward) and so we will have one more visit to take some more measurements and after that he will need surgery.   Please pray with us that our insurance mess will be resolved by then!

Friday morning of Hell Week things took a turn for the better.  I took Will to our counties special needs preschool.   They needed to do an evaluation to see if he qualified for services.  I was a little anxious about the meeting, since I have a Ukrainian friend who came to translate.  I knew that she would be able to give me a better idea of Will’s language ability and general intelligence.  In the end, it was probably better than I expected but worse than I hoped.  As I wrote before, Will would chant one or two words over and over—“car, car, green car” which hasn’t exactly been encouraging.  On the bright side, once he realized that my friend was speaking to him in Ukrainian, he started talking to her and using other words, new words that I didn’t recognize.  So, it was nice to know that he knew more words than colors, cars and animals.  He was also able to do simple tasks for her like, “hand me the circle” or “give me the red peg” that we couldn’t get him to do asking in our broken Ukrainian.  On the down side, she said he was mostly talking “baby talk,” and that he still had a very limited vocabulary.   He really didn’t get past the most basic level of testing, so (if you can follow my twisted logic), the better turn was that he qualified for the special needs preschool here and they had an opening.

We got through the weekend in much the same way that we got through the week with Will demanding most of our time while either Bill or I tried to catch up on neglected work/housework and phone calls while the other went more or less one-on-one with Will.  On Monday about 10 am, I took Will to preschool.  I stayed nearby on the first day, just in case he wasn’t feeling comfortable, but he did fine.  Tuesday, Will and Ruslan both had doctor appointments.  But the next day, Wednesday, January 12th, Will spent the whole day at preschool.  The bus picked him up at 8am and returned him home about 1pm.  As soon as Will got on the bus, I headed straight upstairs for  a shower.  For the first time since Will arrived in December, I had time to shave my legs, which was sort of an event for me.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hell Week (Part One) --It's always longer than I expect it to be...

Vitals: Week of Jan 3 to 11.  Hell Week (speaks for itself).

OK.   In all honesty, Hell Week was kind of a blur, but I remember that it was bad.  It was the first week of school after Christmas break, a week of homework, cleaning, discipline, doctors appointments, phone calls and bodily fluids. 

Monday morning, before dawn, I woke to the sound of my epileptic dog vomiting in my closet.  By the time the sun was up, the vomit was cleaned (in a relative sense) and the dog was recovered.  This was the first day of school after Christmas Break so Reilly, Sharon and Ruslan went to school, leaving Matt, Paul and Roma home with me. 

When I am under a huge pile of things to do, I generally try to determine the most important goals for the day and at least try to get those one or two things done.  My goal for Monday was phone calls.  We were having trouble with our health insurance company, who seemed to have NO DESIRE to add Ruslan and Roman to our insurance policy.  Once I got that straightened out (or so I thought), I had a ton of appointments to get working on for the boys.  Ruslan still had not started physical therapy (he still hasn’t as I write this), because our insurance doesn’t have any pediatric physical therapists on their policy.  In addition, I needed a general physical for Roma (to get him referred for physical therapy and his other appointments), then an appointment with a dentist, an orthopedist, a pediatric ophthalmologist (his eyes are crossed), I needed to harass the people who still haven’t gotten me Ruslan’s walker and I needed to confirm both of them at the international adoption clinic at UVA.

So, I gave Matt and Paul their homeschool assignments and tried to get on the phone.  However, this was not meant to be.  Roma was EVERYWHERE.  For the most part, I had been insulated from having to go one on one with him because between company and my other children, there was usually someone around to keep him occupied.  Now that everyone was gone and the boys were working on school, Roma-care fell to me and, sadly, I had planned to spend the day ignoring him, which I really TRIED to do.  We have a whole room full of toys, right off the kitchen.   How hard would it be to keep him in there playing while I was on the phone? 

I don’t think he stayed in the playroom for two minutes.  He got into EVERYTHING.  He was like a toddler on steroids.  Every time I tried to get on the phone, he would disappear, destroy or dump something.  He got into the spice rack and dumped a bunch of spices.  He figured out the refrigerator’s water dispenser and just held it down, pouring water everywhere.  He figured out that if he just wiggles the door knob enough, he can unlock our cheap doorknobs.  FREEDOM.  He got into the girls room and dumped their scrapbook stuff, their markers, and their paints.  He got into the boys room and messed with their lego creations.  He was now able to get back into the bathrooms and play in the toilet water, and etc, repeatedly, all through the day …on infinitum. 

Honestly, all of this was annoying, but not totally outside toddler realm.   Most of it, I could handle Ok.  It was usually a matter of trying to take things away and get them out of his reach, which I was used to from our own toddler years.   The real problem was that since he had basically spent all his life in a dark closet, he really didn’t know how to play.  He’d just take things out and look at them and then move on.  I couldn’t get him to play or get him interested in anything for more than a few minutes.  Also, he really hates to be told, “no.”  So, whenever I would take something away, he would have a meltdown: cry, scream, try to hit me or one of the boys.  He generally required monitoring, even if he was in time-out.  It was a mixture of Sesame Street and Nightmare on Elm Street. 

For another thing, he was drinking all the time, so he was peeing all the time.  It was a constant dribble into his diaper.  Even if I put him on the potty every hour, his diaper was wet.  Plus, when he did happen to go on the potty, half the time he would forget to aim his little wanker and he would wet his pants, or his hands, or the floor or all three.  In addition to that, he finally decided the house was dull enough to go off into a corner and poop.  He pooped at 10am, he pooped at 11am, he pooped after lunch, he pooped after snack.  OH MY GOODNESS!  And, none of this was in the potty mind you.  I eventually switched from pull-ups to diapers, because diapers don’t require taking off his socks and shoes.  In the late afternoon, I put him in the bathtub so I could have a moment’s peace and I have to say, that was the only quiet 30 minutes we had all day long.  While I was making dinner, I put him in the high chair at the kitchen table and belted him in.  He actually sat there quietly, totally ignoring the toys I had given him and played with a plastic plate.  At least he sat still.  That night I went to Wal-mart and bought a baby gate, a bunch of plastic doorknob covers (worked for two days), some more, better cabinet locks, and some bubble bath.

Tuesday morning, I had high hopes of confining Roma to the playroom.  Not all day mind you, but at least for a few minutes because I still had those calls to make and I wanted to get some laundry in and at least get the dishes done!  The playroom in our house is the room that most people turn into a formal dining room.  I know that the general rule is to put a playroom in the basement, but dining rooms always seemed like a waste of space to me and I like to have the kids nearby.  Since I’m usually in the kitchen, the dining room is perfect.  It is close to me, sunny and there are enough toys in there for a whole pre-school.  Sadly, the toys were just not a draw.  I tried music.  I tried videos.  Whatever the curse, as soon as I put him in the playroom, he would head straight for the door.  There are two entrances to our dining room.  The baby gate was great to block one entrance, but the other entrance is double French doors that open into the front hallway.  They have a lock, but he figured out how to spring it.  He also figured out how to slip off a rope I used to tie the doors shut, how to jimmy the toddler-doorknob locks from Wal-mart, and how to push aside the toddler kitchen that I used to block the doorway.   Without going into details, suffice to say that whatever I tried, didn’t work. 

That afternoon, out of total desperation, I put him in the tub (again) and brought the cordless phone and my phone list into the bathroom. I completed one phone call and as I was dialing the second, Roma said, “Mama!”  I looked over to see that he had a huge smile on his face and a up through the bubbles rose his little hand, holding a giant mass of poop.  …bath over. 

On Wednesday, God finally had mercy on my humble estate.  I carved out a place for the boys to do their schoolwork in the playroom and put Matt in there with Roma.  I didn’t do this for social reasons, I did it so Matt could keep an eye on the door.  However, Roma didn’t head for the door.  The next time I looked in, Roma was on the floor, playing with the pirate set.  Don’t ask me why this finally worked.  He’s not exactly social.  In fact, one of the problems on Monday and Tuesday was that he was always going off into rooms by himself.  Since he was generally trying to get away from us, it never occurred to me that he would want anyone else in the room. 

So, Wednesday, I finally got most of the calls made and this is when I really put my foot down about Roma’s name.  I had been trying to get Bill to agree to change it from the moment one of us said, “Ruslan” and “Roman” in the same sentence.  I tried in Ukraine when we were all there together.  I tried when Bill went back alone to get Roma.  I tried when the travel agent confused their birthdates.  I tried before we got his birth certificate made—and, I have to say, this would have been the perfect time to do it.  No extra paperwork, just change the name as soon as we got him and it would be as if it had never been “Roman” at all. 

Sadly, Bill just WOULD NOT BUDGE on this one.  He was certain that changing his name at his age would be an overwhelming trauma and mar the child for life.  Honestly, Roma’s just not that bright.  He doesn’t always respond to Roma, so I personally doubted very much whether it would make any difference at all, but things here had been so upside down in so many ways, I decided to avoid a  huge fight about it.  UNTIL I had to start making their appointments.  Every receptionist I talked to got them confused.  I was short tempered anyway, but words cannot express how time consuming it was for me to keep spelling and re-spelling and differentiating between their two names. It was bad enough at home, since “Ruslan” and “Roman” actually sound very similar when you are yelling it above a house full of kids, but the thing with the receptionists and making all these appointments just put me over the edge.  Besides the similarities between the two boys names, I also just don’t think that “Roman” nor “Roma” are reasonable names for this day and age.  Would you rather be named after a Greek or a tomato? 

In fact, I was explaining this to Matt, my 13 year old while we were in Keiv and pointed out that with a name like Roman, you’re going to get teased.  It’s just not a common American name.  Matt gave a little giggle and said, “you mean you’re worried that people will start calling him ‘spartan?’”  ….Yeah.  Exactly. 

So, I brought all this to Bill’s attention for the hundredth time and he again said, “No,” he really didn’t want to change Roman’s name for the hundredth time.  And so, I kept trying.  For good or ill, after those few days of phone calling, all my desire for family harmony was superseded by my irrational fear that I was going to spend the rest of my life spelling out those two names.  I approached Bill for the hundred and first time.  But, this time, things were different.  This time, I was on the edge.

We finally compromised.  Since Bill was so, SO very concerned about all the paperwork (and I have to admit, we now have Roman's birth certificate, adoption papers and insurance information all under the same name) we decided to call Roman by his middle name, which is William and we shortened it to Will.  This sounds nothing like Ruslan and, since it’s his name, it will not require any additional paperwork.  Don’t ask me why Bill finally agreed to this. All I know is that a major conflict, lasting several months had finally been won and I was out from the pile of spelling and speaking those two very similar names for the rest of my life.  My pile was reduced by at least one annoying irritation.  My load was lightened, however slightly.  A burden had been lifted.  A battle had been won.

Ten minutes later, I realized that “Will” sounds remarkably similar to “Bill” and resigned myself to the fact that, no matter what I do, there will always be bewilderment all around.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ruslan’s Progression, Roma’s Probation (Part Two)

Vitals:  Dec 27th to Jan 1st.  Bill came around pretty quickly.  Now I’m the one under a pile, with my face pressed against the carpeting, taking in lung-fulls of lint and cat hair and hollering, “uncle, UNCLE!”

Details:  So, a few days after Christmas my good friend Michelle came to visit.  Michelle is another one of my fabulous friends.  We have a unique relationship because she is just as annoying-ly “yankee” as I am.  Therefore, she’s one of the few people in the world who, if I am about to do something colossally idiotic, will look me in the eyes and say, “Don’t be an idiot.”  As an added bonus, she and her children share my sense of humor.  The high point of the week was when they were berating me (once again) for hanging on to my broken and decrepit dishwasher.  As her daughter was unloading it, she said, “I feel like I need a tetanus shot every time I unload this thing because I keep scratching my hands against all those rusty pegs.”   Some dark and lonely night in my future when I’m lying awake in bed, I will remember that comment and it will bring me joy. 

Anyway, I met Michelle when we were working together at a state pre-school for special needs children.  She went on to get a masters degree in Special Education and she now teaches a special needs pre-school in the Georgia school system.   She stayed for a week and I got more solid information from her than all the therapists and doctors we have worked with so far, combined.  I had asked earlier for some things I could do at home with Ruslan, but the most I got was a suggestion to have him sit-to-stand several times a day as exercise.  Michelle worked up a whole morning routine for us!   We usually do Ruslan’s exercises in the morning.  His bus comes 30 minutes after Reilly and Sharon’s so we have a perfect half hour of dead time in which to work.  Michelle started with us stretching his arms and legs, working on sitting criss-cross applesause (known as “sitting Indian-style”  before the American Indians became socially conscious), teaching him to crawl on his hands and knees, stretching to reach for things across his mid-line, and strengthening his muscles. 

The first point at which I felt like an idiot was when she taught him to crawl.  WHY did I not think to do this myself?  Ruslan’s natural tendency is to combat crawl, but if he’s not doing that, he hops.  He’ll get up on all fours, push his arms forward, then pull both legs together (as one unit) toward his arms, and then push both his arms ahead again (much like a bunny hop).  It never occurred to me that he COULD crawl, but had never been taught.  How can an orphanage full of care-givers watch a child combat-crawl and not teach him to get up on his hands and knees?  (I should know the answer to this since I’m guilty of the same crime).  

Michelle got Ruslan up on all fours, which he definitely wasn’t too happy about, and got him crawling on the first day.  It’s not easy for him.  Crawling uses his legs, which he could just drag when he combat crawls, AND requires that he use them independently.   For the first few days, one of us had to crawl behind him and hold his legs so they moved one at a time.  I spent a good bit of time crawling after him and counting “one, two, three, four,” pushing his legs forward independently and trying to get him to understand the rhythm.  After a while, he got his arms working one at a time, but he is still shaky on his legs and he really doesn’t like crawling at all.  In fact, he really hates it.  Most days he tries to combat crawl as much as possible and we have to remind him to get up on his “big knees.”  He asked this morning, since Roma is still getting rewards for pooping in the potty, if he could get candy for crawling on his big knees.  I told him, “no,” but I think I am going to change my mind about that since we really need to get him off the floor. 

So that, plus stretching and working on his sitting has meant a huge amount of progress for Ruslan physically.  Besides crawling, he can now sit criss-cross applesauce.  He needs a pillow under his butt to keep his torso forward, but when we started, he couldn’t even get his knees down, let alone get his ankles underneath his legs.   Another bonus is that he can also now separate his legs enough to be carried on my hips.  When we first got him, he couldn’t separate his legs so I had to carry him like a football, with his legs sticking straight out behind me.  I forced the issue a few times, but he said it hurt him to have his legs that far apart.  Thank God, he now prefers to be carried on my hip and doesn’t complain about his groin hurting anymore.   Michelle came on Dec. 27 and I’m writing this on Jan. 10, so this is all progress that we have made in two weeks time.  It is moderately encouraging to see such progress, but also daunting.  Numerous baby steps are still BABY steps.  It’s amazing how very many baby steps there are in between “here” and “walking.” 

Michelle also worked with Roma.  Her initial impression of him was positive, but I had admittedly been down playing his skills.  She started right in with him and reminded me to label everything that I give him so he can start learning the language.  The was the second point at which I felt like an idiot.  I knew to do this.  I spent a year working with special needs kids.  I have a teaching degree in education and a minor in early childhood development.  How could I forget something that basic?  However, the truth is that I am not naturally very verbal—all this stuff that I am writing, I would never actually SAY—so I normally didn’t talk very much.  I can’t tell yet if it’s helping, but I am trying to label things for him more.   

Anyway, I came in from shopping one morning and she had gotten a bunch of toys together at our little table and had him sorting some over-sized beads by color.  I know the Ukrainian words for some colors and he definitely could identify “green, red, blue, and white.”  We put some in piles and he sorted red and green beads by putting them into pre-existing piles.  Next she tried to get him to understand the concept of a pattern (lining up the beads, red, green, red, green etc. and seeing if he could continue the pattern), but his brain was just NOT COMPUTING.   He is five, so this would be a reasonable skill for a normal five year old, but considering that he has had little to no experience with any toys, colors or language, it wasn’t surprising that he couldn’t get the concept.  She also had him work with the shape box and he could fit some of the shapes with prompts, but the only one he could really do completely alone was the circle.  He could not complete a task like, “give me the red block” or “give me the square” even when we used the Ukrainian words for the task.   He could string the beads and he made a lovely necklace that he was very attached to for a while.  He could hold a crayon and color, mostly by scribbling back and forth, and he could make a stack of blocks. 

That was about it.  I was wholly discouraged about him by the end of the week.  He still wasn’t looking us in the eyes too much, although he would if he wanted food.  He still chanted strings of Ukrainian words with no meaning—for example, he would say, “car, car, green, white, car, white, green, car,” or “horse, green, horse, horse, green, green, horse.”  I had no idea what that was all about, but I was definitely hoping he would expand his repertoire since it was annoying all of us!   

My goal at that point (and always) is that he will have the necessary skills to at least become a greeter at Wal-Mart.  However, with that track record, even Wal-Mart was looking unlikely.  For example, will he pass the greeter interview if he won’t look anyone in the eyes?  I think the chanting could be a selling point, if we could just get him to chant, “Hello and welcome to Wal-Mart,” but that is going to take some training.  He is five years old.  Will fifteen years be enough to go from “car, car, green car, green, green, car, car, “ to “Hello and welcome to Wal-Mart?”  …only time will tell.   By the way, you might think I am low-balling this, but bear in mind that I have a 20 year old son who doesn’t qualify. 

I asked Bill a few times during the week whether he wanted to keep Roma.  He never really gave me a straight answer.  Whenever I pointed out that Roma was still getting into cabinets, bedrooms etc. and tearing them apart, still making minimal eye contact, still not seeking human company, still defiant when told “no,” and STILL NOT POTTY TRAINED, Bill would just sort of dodge the issue and say, “I know….”  and then change the subject.  This is when I started to realize that I was really hoping Bill would be the one to back out first.  It’s MUCH easier when HE is the bad guy, idiot, coward, etc.  Now it was looking like I would have to either find something to love about this child, or face the fact that I was about to become the fall guy.  What is worse; swallowed pride, or a life time of butt wiping?  I’m just not sure….

Anyway, Michelle stayed for the whole week, which was wonderful.  Her kids were great with Roma and Ruslan and it was nice to have a little of the load taken off for a while.  They left on New Years Day.  Sunday the whole family basically loafed around the TV and Monday began what (for lack of a better term) I will be calling "Hell Week."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Roma's Probation Part One

Vitals:  In case you want to skip the endless drivel below and just get the bottom line:  Roma is making progress, slowly, slowly, SLOWLY.  Bill is coming around and life goes on faster than I can keep up.

Details:  So, now we are up to Thursday, December 23rd, the first day of Roma’s probation.   The most annoying problems we were dealing with were that he was putting EVERYTHING in his mouth, getting into cabinets, bedrooms etc. and tearing them apart, making minimal eye contact, not seeking human company, not potty trained, and defiant when told, “no.”

As I wrote earlier, as soon as Bill heard someone else might take Roma, he totally took over Roma’s care.  This was an extremely good thing.  Roma was a Two-Parent problem.  There was just no way that his behaviors could be corrected without constant attention. 

One of the worst problems we had with him was that he was putting EVERYTHING in his mouth.  We hadn’t had toddlers in years, but even so, I considered our house moderately child proof.  We already had child locks on all the cabinets.  The toys in the playroom are in bins, so it was easy to put their covers back on.  Everything else that he grabbed, we would just take from him and put up high.  But even so, ANYTHING that he got his hands on, he was putting in his mouth.  If it didn’t fit, he would lick it.  There was nothing else to do but go one-on-one with him and keep taking stuff out of his hands.  It seemed like the only other option was to lock him in a closet and let him lick the walls. 

Sometime on Thursday, I noticed that his face was changing because it was filling out.  He came to us REALLY skinny.  He had no muscle tone which I initially attributed to CP, but now I think he was just extremely undernourished.  Our adoption translator in Ukraine told me that the budget for each orphan’s food equals out to 16 CENTS a day.  This explains why Ruslan was eating the same thing for lunch every day (rice porridge with a little bit of chicken broth and carrot bits).  Every time we visited him, we stayed until lunch and every day he sat down to that same rice porridge as we were leaving. 

Roma was probably on the same diet, but I have to say, he also didn’t know how to drink from a cup nor feed himself.  Anytime he got hold of a cup, he would drink so much that he would forget to breathe and most of the time, dump half the drink down his shirt.  We started only putting about ½ to ¼ inch of liquid in his glass.  With food, he would consistently shove as much as possible into his mouth with both hands and stuff his face chock full before he took time to swallow.  Every meal would find us taking his bowl away and saying “hoptai, hoptai” which means “swallow, swallow” and waiting for him to swallow before it was safe to return the bowl.   Every once in a while we would forget or he would get ahead of us.  He would suddenly look up at Bill or I with his cheeks puffed and so much food in his mouth he couldn’t close his lips.  Then he would give us a look that said, “what now?  I know I’m supposed to be doing something, but I can’t figure out what!”  So, we would take his bowl away (again) and try to get him to swallow some without grossing out everyone at the table.  Sometimes it worked.  Often he would need his bowl again to spit and start over.  

At some point Bill announced at dinner, “Roma, tonight you are going to enter the Bronze Age.” And insisted that Roma use a spoon.  Bill has the ability to stick to his guns no matter how discouraged other, less committed parents might become.  He got on Roma anytime he used his hands instead of a spoon and by the end of a few meals, spoons were a new part of the equation.

Anyway, I realized as I was pondering Roma’s face that he was also constantly saying “Gah-Load-Knee Coo-Shot” which is their words for “are you hungry” all the time.  Even after we had just finished eating, he would walk around the house in circles saying, “Gah-Load-Knee Coo-Shot, Gah-Load-Knee Coo-Shot”—so much so that we all started mimicking him and making up songs and jingles about it!!  You would think that this would be enough to clue me in that the child was constantly HUNGRY, but it took a while. 

I had told the kids that whenever he put stuff in his mouth they should take it away and give him something appropriate to eat.  I’m pretty lax about snacking as long as they finish their plates at meal times.   However, Roma’s situation required more than mere snacks.  I FINALLY noticed that he always finished his plate of food (sometimes it took a little initial coaxing, but he always finished and put his plate in the dishwasher).  However, he never asked for seconds.  Then I thought, “well, maybe he never had the chance to ask for seconds.”  --DUH!   So, the next meal time, when he finished his bowl of spaghetti and meat sauce, I just filled his bowl up again and lo and behold, he finished it ALL.  After that, the spaghetti was gone, so I gave him a ham sandwich which he started eating right away.  This is where I lost it.  I realized he must have spent all of his life hungry.  I just don’t think he had enough fat stores or flat out bulk to make it from meal to meal.   He’s FIVE years old and he probably spent most of his life looking forward to his next, inadequate meal. 

A little while later, I started thinking that maybe he didn’t know when he was full and was going to eat forever.  He ate about half of the sandwich and then he finally stopped.  The next time I looked over, he had taken it apart and was playing with the meat and bread.  It was probably the first time in his life he was really full enough to be playing with his food.  He did have a saturation point, but it was about double the food I had been giving him.  Poor baby, he was really making up for a lot of lost food.

That afternoon, he was putting MUCH less stuff in his mouth.  So, I took his snacks more seriously after that.  No more cookies or cheese and crackers for snack time.  When he says “Gah-Load-Knee Coo-Shot” now, I sit him down to a bowl full of leftovers.    So, this item is much better.  He still puts things in his mouth, but much less frequently.  Also, it’s been about a week since he chanted, “Gah-Load-Knee Coo-Shot.” 

Ironically, it was my eleven year old who suddenly stood up during the Despicable Me movie, looked at me with bugged out eyes and said, “MOM!  I just swallowed a penny!’  He complained about stomach pains all evening and half of the next day until he forgot about it.  He wanted to go to the doctor, but we told him to look through his poop for the next few days until he was sure it had come out. 

No, the next doctor appointment was for my ten year old daughter.  She had told me a few days earlier that she had a small lump on her breast.  There is enough cancer in both sides of our family to make me jump at the mention of ANY lump, but this one was small, hard and she said it was painful.  I told her to keep an eye on it for a few days and when it didn’t go away and really started bothering her, I spent a good bit of Thursday afternoon trying to find a female OB/GYN to check her out. 

I got an appointment for Friday morning, December 24th.  This was such a great appointment, the story just has to be told.  The doctor spent a good bit of time going over our family history, and chatting with my daughter.  Things were fine until the doctor asked my daughter whether she had started her period.  I jumped in and said, “She doesn’t know what that is.”  The doctor warmly smiled at me and replied, “Well, that tells me a lot.”  Nice.  Then she asked my daughter how many brothers and sisters she had.  My daughter rattled off all six of their names and ages and I could just see the gears turning in the doctor’s brain.    Then it came out that two of our boys are homeschooled and more gears turned.   The next time the doctor looked over at me, the gears were re-set and I could see her imagining me with my hair in a bun and wearing a plain, solid color dress, white ankle socks and Reeboks sneakers.    We were off to a great start.

After that, it was a quick matter for the doctor to check out the lump, check for enlarged lymph nodes (not), then turn to me and tell me that everything was fine.  The lump was just normal breast development.  This seemed odd, since it’s only on ONE side, but apparently that is normal and this time it was the gears in MY brain turning as I tried to calculate just how much money I had spent today, only to be told that my ten year old daughter is entering puberty. 

It was an 8am appointment, so we spent the rest of the morning together getting some more “Roma” shopping done.  Another of the MAJOR problems with Roma was that he wasn’t potty trained.  This was so annoying.  I just do NOT want to spend the rest of my life wiping butts.  It’s already clear that even though Ruslan has the understanding, he really doesn’t have the agility or coordination to clean himself well.  So, I’m resigned to daily butt wiping for a while, but I was hoping it would only be one butt.  However, Roma was making no progress.  I decided to face reality and buy some diapers.  We also bought some door knob covers, some bowls that can suction onto a table, sippy cups, plastic kid spoons, baby wipes, and Clorox wipes.   Just as we were about to leave the baby section, I remembered that Bill said there were small potties in Roma’s room and I grabbed a kid size potty and a stool.   It was baby-ville all over again.

As soon as we got in the door, Roma dropped what he was doing, ran to me, said, “Moma!” and gave me a hug.  This was a first on many levels.  He’d never initiated contact with me before, never produced my name spontaneously, and definitely never solicited a hug.  He would ask to be picked up, or stand near me if he was scared, but this was clearly more along the lines of a hug.  Then, sticking with the theme of a new day, the kids set up the small potty in the bathroom.  Roma followed them in, took one look at his new potty, dropped his drawers and produced.  I’d like to say it ended there, but it hasn’t.  As I write this, we are setting the timer for 60 minutes and putting him on the pot once an hour.  Even so, he still has daily accidents.   SO, as you can imagine, we are going through the drill with candy, stickers, diapers, wipes, etc. etc. etc. and on infinitum. 

The next day was Christmas.  We were SO behind.  We had not wrapped a single gift.  We agreed to spell each other for naps on Christmas day and just resigned ourselves to a late night.  We got the kids to bed and started to watch a movie while they settled down.  (We have a TV in our bedroom.  We got it last year and it is AWESOME!  Anyone who tells you this is a bad idea is an idiot.)  We stuff the kids stockings with candy so Bill dumped it all in a huge pile between us and we started sampling.  About ten minutes later Sharon, our seven year old, walked in.  Out of all our kids, she has been pushed to the side the most as a result of this adoption.  So, guilt won out and she climbed in between us among all the candy.  We were all so wiped out, we didn’t get up again until after midnight.  It was glorious.  I shudder to think of my life without her.

My kids get up early anyway, but on Christmas, they get up really early.  Ruslan must have had some sort of celebration in his orphanage, because he knew what was going on.  In fact, he was a little annoying earlier in the week.  Whenever he got the chance, he would rattle off his “list,” which was about ten items.  We only get our kids three gifts each, so I finally started telling him, “NO.  You’re probably NOT going to get all those things.”  He would actually frown at me (as though I was flat out stingy) and I would have to take a deep breath and  explain, once again, that he will only get three gifts under the tree, so he needed to pick his best three.  Roma was a different story.  He had NO IDEA what was going on.  He sat in my lap holding one of his presents and just WATCHED the rest of the kids.   Even after the gifts were opened, he didn’t connect on his own that he could unwrap what he was holding until the other kids did it for him.  It was flat out stimulation overload and another pitiful moment when I was left wondering about the extent of his neglect and how a country can so thoroughly ignore their most vulnerable members.