So, it’s been forever since I’ve shown up around here. Not good when you’re supposed to be writing a blog. Please accept my apologies, and to those of you who haven’t abandoned ship, I express my thanks.
Here’s the thing. A lot has been going on, and I mean…A lot.
Our son has struggled in school for years and we couldn’t figure out why. He’s a smart kid. Clever. Dismantles computers and things and makes things out of the parts. He’s artistic, musical, athletic (when he wants to be), and can tell a good story.
But, he had a rough start in this world. He was abandoned by the woman who gave birth to him and spent the first ten months of his life as a Russian orphan. Not a pleasant experience, let me tell you. He was chronically ill, starving for touch and food and all the comforts of nature that babies are supposed to have…and, desperately need to survive and thrive.
By the time we met him when he was seven months old, he was already considered “A failure to thrive” baby, which meant his odds of survival were iffy, at best.
We didn’t care. From the second we looked into his blue eyes, we knew this was our son and there was nothing we wouldn’t do for him.
A good doctor was found (Dr. Boris Ermakov), we got our son the medical attention and proper medications he required while still in Russia and once it was known that he was being adopted by an American couple, he began to get the attention and care he needed.
Still, he was delayed and deprived. He was clearly a fighter, but, he had a long way to go, and still does.
Being a new and first-time parent is no easy job for anyone, but when you adopt a child from a foreign country, often times (most of the time), you have no medical or personal history on your baby and you’re flying by the seat of your pants when it comes to trying to figure out the best way to take care of them or to get them the help they need for any issues they may have-be they physical, emotional, etc.
For years we handled each situation as it came up and thought we were doing fairly well, considering how little we knew about his background. But, as a mother, I must say, that I spent almost every night in a constant state of worry about him.
Would autism rear it’s ugly head at some point? Were there any signs of fetal alcohol syndrome or possible damage from drug exposure when he was in utero that we missed or might be lingering? How much damage had been done by never being held or cuddled or sung to, or loved during those early months? What about sensory deprivation? How would he cope with knowing he’d been rejected? I could go on.
Bottom line: We’ll never know.
What we do know, is that around the time that I was invited to write this blog, our son began to show outward signs of distress when it came to school and relationships and we spent more time than I can recall, having him tested, poked, prodded, examined…both physically and psychologically, genetically, neurologically…you name it. We did everything we could think of to put together a profile of who he was in any way we could, for the issues presenting at that time and for the future.
In some ways, we were creating a history for him.
But, experts can be wrong, and often, they are guessing when it comes to what’s going on with children-especially Russian orphans. For many, the general assumption is that your child has ADHD, ADD, right off the bat, and many of these children are put on extremely strong meds at an early age.
I will spare you the details of all the diagnoses, and speculation that went on for years, as to why he was struggling in school, why he could be hyper at times, why he didn’t understand how it could hurt his friend’s feelings if he didn’t hug them back, why he got mad at himself when he fell or got hurt instead of reaching out for comfort, or why some things in school made sense to him and others did not.
Finally, he began to shut down in school, and referred to himself as stupid. He expressed feelings of not belonging, not being good enough to be in our family and by the age of nine, he even tried to run away a few times. (One of the most horrifying experiences in the world)
Nothing is more heart breaking or gut wrenching than seeing your child struggle–especially when you don’t know why, and can’t for your life figure out a way to make things better. I have always believed that my job as a parent is to be sure my son knows he’s loved-that he’s valuable and worthy-just because he’s who he is. I have always been fierce in my dedication to him and as an advocate for him, but, when you begin to feel you’re failing at that job…if you’re me…you start to unravel, lose direction, worry…and worry…and worry…all the time. And, you start frantically researching and seeking out any and all information and help, or you just collapse in a state of hopeless defeat.
You try not to look in your son’s eyes and ask yourself, “Who is this child? Are his issues deep psychological problems that may never be properly diagnosed? What if we get it wrong? What if we think we know what the issues are and we’re mistaken? How much damage might we be causing by doing the wrong thing? What’s serious, what’s a phase that any child might be going through, or what might be a sign of something beyond our understanding?” It’s an endless circle of doubt and fear that can shut the strongest of people down, and I am tough as nails. I would walk through fire for this child, but even I, have fallen to pieces, shut down myself, wanted to take to my bed and wish it all away.
The process of raising a child in the best of circumstances is a crap-shoot. You do what you can to teach them right from wrong, teach them the fundamental basics of morality, charity, generosity, manners, how to be a good citizen, a decent person, etc. And, you try your best to model empathy, compassion, how to handle anger, disappointment, how to be kind to others, animals…how to love. You do your best, and fail, then try again…over and over and over. There’s no parenting blue-print and if you try to read all the parenting books out there, you’ll drive yourself crazy, because they all contradict each other, so it really winds up being up to you to figure out what’s best for your child. And, that’s just not easy, no matter what the circumstances are, because everyone is different, and each child is his own person, right? What works with one, doesn’t always work with the other. You have to adjust and re-adjust and do your best.
And, babies laugh, they cuddle, they hug you, kiss you (or mush their little faces into you trying to kiss you), hold your hand, reach out for you when they’re hurt or afraid, and they have that heavenly baby smell. They’re endearing and precious when they crawl into your lap and blabber on in their silly baby-speak, or sink into your arms in all their vulnerability, fully trusting you to love them.. and, you do…even if they’ve just thrown an epic two hour tantrum, right?
Most of us assume that all children do these things naturally. But for some children, with a history like our son…this isn’t the case.
He had to be taught how to hug. He didn’t know he could reach out for help. As a baby, when he’d cried and cried for human touch, for comfort…no one ever came.
How heartbreaking is that?
It was excruciatingly difficult to finally become a mother and not get to experience the small delights of having your child throw his arms around your neck in a spontaneous show of love, to run to you for comfort, to kiss you, or not recoil from you when you tried to kiss him.
For me, it required a herculean amount of patience to tamp down my own feelings of rejection when my needs for affection and my desperate desire for affirmation and outward expressions of love from my child weren’t met. It was hard not to give up and throw in the towel. It was beyond difficult to not roll over and assume that receiving and expressing love and affection would never be possible for him.
Luckily, I am as stubborn as a mule and as a good friend once described me…’more relentless than a pit-bull’. Plus, quite frankly, I was unable to give up. I suppose it’s just not in my nature, maybe I’m greedy, or maybe I’m an idiot. Who knows? I don’t care. It just seemed to me that he shouldn’t be robbed of a chance to help him learn how to be affectionate and accept affection.
So, his therapist suggested we teach him by setting up a chart with a reward system of smiley faces and stars he could earn for kisses and hugs given and received (to/from us). I found this idea appalling and resisted fiercely at first. The thought of learning how to hug and kiss by use of a reward system seemed bizarre and stilted to me. But…I was desperate and since nothing else had worked, I gave in and gave it a shot. Miraculously, the smiley faces and stars began to add up and within a year, our son no longer needed or even referred to the chart when it came to showing affection.
He freely expresses affection now and we are beyond grateful for every display he offers up, and unlike some of his other friends, he will still hold my hand in public-unheard of for a twelve year old boy these days 😉
Nothing has come easily for our son. Nothing. He is small in physical size and stature, he has strong emotions and feelings of worthlessness that stem from primal neglect. His processing abilities and executive functioning skills were compromised as an infant due to neglect and starvation, and the list goes on.
It’s been a long, rough haul, and for many years, I have wept uncontrollably, been paralyzed by the fear of the unknown, spent untold hours that I should have been writing or pursuing other endeavors, immersed in research and study in an attempt to learn everything I can about what might help our son. We even went so far as to find the one and only Doctor where we lived, who was able to do an in-depth evaluation of him from an educational and psychological perspective, who finally diagnosed him with multiple learning disabilities, which were causing many of the behaviors that mimic ADHD, which-as I had suspected all along-he doesn’t have. (I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I felt a tremendous amount of edification when this was revealed, after fighting with at least three different well-respected Psychiatrists over the years who insisted that this was our son’s main problem and wanted to dope him up on meds instead of properly investigating the situation.)
So, with this new knowledge in hand, it was imperative that we find the right learning environment for him when it was time to transfer from elementary school to Middle school, or there was a good chance we would lose him. Some of the smartest and brightest children go off the rails in Middle School due to peer pressure and all of the other fun delights that await them in that often treacherous environment and we knew that for our son, we couldn’t take any chances. Let’s face it, Middle school is brutal enough for the best of us, but for a child with issues and delays, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Hence the reason for my writing out this long explanation for my absence.
Simply put, for the last two to three years, our lives have been devoted to traveling and researching, visiting and interviewing schools for children like our son-who learn differently.
Luckily, we found one a couple of states away, and when he was accepted and we worked out the insurance to help with tuition, etc., we put our house on the market and went through the arduous process of selling, packing, moving, and starting a new life in a completely different place.
Our son started sixth grade at his new school this past fall, and so far, it seems to have been the best thing in the world for him. At this school, they teach the way your child needs to learn…not to the test. In some subjects he is making A’s, others, he’s having to work to get a C. We don’t care. He has finally stopped referring to himself as stupid. He has finally begun to feel that he isn’t the dumbest kid in the class or that he’s weird because everyone else seems to get what the teacher is talking about, except him. His anxiety is disappearing and his self esteem is improving.
Is this place perfect? No. Was our move easy? No…it was extremely difficult. Do we miss our old home and our friends and the life we had in our previous city? Most definitely.
Do we miss the gnashing of teeth, endless hours of crying (me) during homework time, thoughts of jumping off the deck if we had to try to work through another word problem in math (me-again), the white-hot embarrassment of his feeling like an outsider in class, or being dumb because he has to go to Special-Ed? NO.
Was all the upheaval to move here and put our lives on hold in order to give our son a chance at having a normal school experience worth it? YES.
Has it been exhausting, time-consuming, and left me and my husband (mainly me) racked with wondering if we made the right choice, and if we didn’t…what damage might all the upheaval, change, etc., cause? YES.
Would we do it again? YES. Because, what else can we do? We made a commitment to love our son, to do everything we could for him, to advocate for him and support him however we can to prepare him to go out in the world, hopefully equipped to make it on his own one day and to explore this life and find the path that’s best for him-whatever it may be.
I pray that our boy will grow up to be happy, strong, independent, loving, kind, respectful, generous, and grateful for the beautiful world we live in, and if he is…then, all of it-the angst, the worry, the fear, the struggles, sleepless nights, tears, etc., will have been worth every minute.
I can’t say that I will be as diligent about tending to this blog as I probably should be, but, it seems that now that we’ve gotten our son on track (for now) anyway, I am in a much better place to do so, and hopefully, you’ll be hearing a lot more from me in the future.
Of course, puberty is right around the corner, and God only knows how much mayhem that will bring!
Thanks for sticking around…and thanks for reading.