Home for Six Months
Today marks our six month anniversary of bringing Toby home.
I'm not going to lie. It has been a rough six months. I think it takes courage - something I haven't quite had up until now - to be real and honest and put some of the ponderings of your heart into words that can be read by so many. In all actuality, as one sweet friend so aptly put it, "It is as if God had silenced my words."
I'm a pretty wordy person...and it was such a joy to keep up with this blog and write about all that God was doing as we committed to Toby, saw miracle after miracle in the fundraising and paperwork process, and took the adventure across the world to bring home our son.
But once we got home, my words have failed me. Of course Josh and I have talked...and talked...and talked until we are exhausted about it all. About how we didn't expect this. How we thought it would be different. How we are tired. How sometimes we are just plain sad to see how our family has been altered by this new son.
There has been so much to figure out. You just can't possibly understand it all until you're in the middle of it. You can read everything in print about adoption, about post-orphanage behaviors, about attachment, etc. But until you are living and breathing it every minute of the day, you cannot possibly understand what you are jumping into.
I don't say this to scare those of you who may be considering adoption! Please don't read this as a warning to NOT adopt an older child. We still, to the depths of our souls, know that this is RIGHT. It is the RIGHT thing for us as a family. It is the RIGHT thing for those of us who know how much God's heart loves the orphan. This was no mistake.
It has just taken a while to figure out. And the figuring things out will continue for a long time.
To share some background, when we committed to Toby, the only special need listed was Celiac disease. Of course we knew that a child who was raised from birth in an orphanage would have many more special needs than just the inability to consume gluten. But in our hearts, I guess we were imagining a boy who would perfectly blend into our home of boys. A boy who would need activity and stimulation and plenty of time to run and jump and play and explore. A boy who would need gluten-free meals I would happily prepare!
When we read his medical background documentation while in Ukraine - there were lots of other diagnoses listed. Scary diagnoses...things we weren't exactly prepared for. It appears that some of them were mistaken...some he may have outgrown and are no longer an issue. But that was our first inkling that there may be much more going on beneath the surface of our boy than just Celiac disease.
In fact - as most of you know - all his blood work came back normal, showing no Celiac at all! And he has had no issues at all with eating gluten. So even that was a misdiagnosis!
While we thought we were getting a kid with Celiac disease, God was secretly preparing us to be the parents of a child with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. This was one disability that frightened us. We never thought we could handle FASD. It never crossed our minds in the process that this could be a very real possibility. I should have known, really. I've spent enough time in Russian and Eastern Europe to know that alcohol consumption is a very real problem - and very common. We've heard since coming home and coming to grips with this that some other adoptive families thought they had shared with us that they thought Toby might have FASD....but we never heard those words.
You see....we weren't ready. I think if we had all the information up front, it may have been enough to frighten us into saying no. Saying no to God. So he protected us from that until we were ready. Until our hearts had said YES and had fallen in love with our newest son.
I won't go into detail of how we found out, how we are continuing to see it and live with it on a daily basis, or what we are learning about it all. But I will say that it kind of shocked us and we are still recovering. Actually.....we are grieving. As we learn more about FASD, we are grieving how those alcohol molecules his mother consumed made their way through the placenta to actually eliminate brain cells. We are grieving that our son has what is called a "hidden disability" - because he may appear like a normal, active boy on the outside, but his brain is wired very differently and it will require him much more effort in life to do things that may be simple for his peers.
(Toby meeting his fellow Ameri-krainian cousin, Danny!)
In the midst of the sadness, I suddenly thought of a different scenario. What if, during one of my ultrasounds, we found out that one of our biological sons would be disabled in some way. What would our reaction have been? Momentary sadness, but overall - we would trust our God enough to know that He had chosen us to parent and love an extra special kiddo. We would have treasured that life growing inside of me just as much as we have with our healthy kids!
So that is how we've chosen to look at Toby. No, we did not expect FASD. But God did...and God knew all along...and He chose us to be Toby's parents. He orchestrated every single detail of our adoption to make it fall into place in perfect timing. He knew and He knew that with Him, we would be able to do this.
We are reading and researching and talking to other parents with kids who struggle with FASD issues. It is helping. God is equipping us with more knowledge to understand our boy and to try to do what is best for him. One of those things has been to enroll him in our public school for next year. We live in a small town with a good, friendly, compassionate school. The principal has already taken Toby under his wing. The Special Ed department is great and is already working with me to get Toby the help he needs. As a homeschooling mom, it was not easy to make this decision. But Toby needs so much more structure and help than I can possibly provide for him right now. This is what is best for our family - for Toby, for me and for our other boys - at this season of our lives.
As exhausting as the last six months have been, they've also proven that Toby is right where he needs to be. He is loved. He gets tucked in every night, kissed, prayed for. He really has grown and changed so much. Sometimes it is hard to see when I am deep in the trenches. But then suddenly, I'll realize something:
- Hey! Toby was bored and on his own went over to the pile of library books and spent quiet time looking through books! (He would not even LOOK at a book when he first came home and would roll his eyes and groan every time I tried to read aloud!)
- Hey! Toby just went right up to the lady who greets us at church, looked her in the eye and in perfect, cheerful English said, "Good morning! How are you today?" (When first home he'd walk by, head down, ignoring people...or speaking only Russian to them.)
- Hey! Toby just expressed an entire series of thoughts in English with very few mistakes! (For the first two months, at least, he refused to speak English at all!)
- Hey! Toby hasn't fought with Jack for MONTHS! (He constantly picked fights with Jack and even physically attacked him in the beginning. Now they are pretty good buds!)
- Hey! He's totally taking showers on his own and performing all his own hygiene duties without needing assistance! (He really didn't know how to do ANYTHING when he came home...the nannies had just done everything for him in the orphanage.)
- Hey! We had two full days where he didn't complain once and was in a cheerful mood the entire time! (He complained about EVERYTHING when we brought him home.)
- Hey! He eats almost everything in front of him without complaining or comparing it to the food in the orphanage! (With the exception of beans, olives and blueberries, he loves all foods and has now embraced American cuisine to the fullest, instead of always pining for food from the orphanage. I still make authentic Russian/Ukrainian food pretty frequently, but it is nice to not hear all the comparisons anymore.)
He is beginning to fit in...to know what it means to be part of our family. He seems more at peace and not quite as anxious. I think he's really understanding that we are FOREVER. We aren't going anywhere. He is loved and always will be.
(Meeting his first grandparents - Papa and Grammy!)
(Learning how to skip rocks with Dad.)
Toby is finally learning what it means to just be a boy - to enjoy life, trust that Mom and Dad will care for him and have his best interests at heart, be adventurous and do things he's never done before like climb trees and go on hikes and be physically active!
He is - slowly - learning what it means to see a woman as his Mama and not just as a caretaker. This is a slow process. Even culturally, women do not get much respect, so this isn't something that comes naturally to Toby. He's had so many women caretakers in his past, it is hard for him to even know what a Mom is all about. He responds to Josh and respects him much more easily than he does me. This makes it hard for the long stretches when Josh is at work and I am parenting on my own. But things are improving slowly.
Most of all, he is learning that there is ONE who loves him more fiercely than he could ever imagine. There is a God who loves him and will never leave him or forsake him. He's learning to raise his hands in worship, to thank the Lord at prayer time, to turn to Him when he is afraid or sick. Ultimately, this is the most important thing we could teach him of all - how to trust the Lord and follow Him.
(Singing praise songs at Vacation Bible School!)
It isn't easy. It is usually hard - so when there are easy moments and the love pours out freely - I treasure them.
But ultimately, we are humbled and grateful to God for choosing us for this. Because in the midst of it, we have learned so much more about who God is and how He loves. He is refining us and our faith in Him in way that couldn't have happened otherwise. He is teaching us to trust Him. To rest in His presence. To let Him be our strength when all we feel is helplessness and weakness. The refining process is so unpleasant - it burns and hurts as the impurities rise to the surface to be purged. But it is a necessary thing if we want to be more Christ-like.
Please continue to pray for our family. Forgive us for our silence and long lapses in between updates. Sometimes we just need to be still and silent and know that He is God and that He will never fail us.
Now I'm off to finish our Ukrainian dinner for a celebration tonight! Half a year with Toby home!