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. 


  1. great progress, my kids did the book thing too, it takes a while to learn to turn pages. I still find a few pages torn here and there with my daughter by accident, it comes right out when you do it wrong!! haha
    that pretty much came to an end when they get books at the library each week and get to check out new ones at school, first time we missed that from a lost or damaged book, she didn't want to miss book check out so she totally got in line on that thing.
    this will be funny next year and he is a normal Pre-K child, I swear! they have a hard time with "take in all of this, wait, don't touch 90% of it!"

  2. I think you've actually made awesome progress considering it's only been a month. I know it's hard to see it when you're in the trenches every day, but he is changing and growing and making progress!

  3. Oh, and I was reading on another family's blog about just how much their kids learned from just watching them do life on a daily basis. Having not been included in any normal home goings-on at the orphanage, her kids preferred to do nothing rather than play. (Isabel didn't know how to play when we got her either.) The mom just started letting the kids follow her around and watch her clean, do chores, etc. and they soaked it up like sponges. Maybe wouldn't work as well for you since Will is so into everything, but food for thought anyways.