The night we arrived home, we were of course exhausted. We put the dogs outside to introduce them to the kids later, since in the Congo, dogs are pack animals, not pets. Most children are terrified of dogs. We were showing the kids their new room, which they were delighted in. I’m not sure how the dogs got in, but they rushed in and caught Addie Rose by surprise, and she was terrified — as in throw furniture and climb up the nearest person terrified. Not a great first introduction. It took us more than a week to get her to the point where she could be in the same room as the dogs.
My parents were here from Oregon while we were away and in the first week and had done and were doing many needed renovations on the house: we had new flooring installed, new walls in the basement stairwell, gutters cleaned, new cabinets in the kitchen, new paint, a new play set in the back yard, and on and on. Managing household projects, two new kids who have opposite personalities who were in culture shock, dogs who were totally confused and now banned to the backyard, and things like unpacking, making meals, grocery shopping, and laundry were just overwhelming. We all were exhausted. Still.
Additionally, Ken had to be back at work 36 hours after we arrived back home, and I had to be back at work the following day. We’re trading off work hours — Ken working full-time, and me on part-time maternity leave, but maintaining a full teaching load and most of my Mercury Courts work.
We survived the first few weeks. I can’t say much more than that. Our goal was to try to keep the kids from being overstimulated and overwhelmed — either positively or negatively, since they have a hard time unwinding from any strong emotion.
I think in some ways, we all have Little Orphan Annie in the back of our minds — Annie goes to Daddy Warbucks house and is overwhelmingly excited about all of the new wealth she has fallen into. Her world has just instantly changed for the better. There could be nothing better than a fairy tale come true.
The truth is, internationally adopted kids come to adoption from a point of severe and devastating loss. They are whisked away from all they know: family, friends, caregivers, food, language, and are put into the arms of strangers who take them on a strange and long journey where there seem to be almost all white people. As nice as it is in our minds, I don’t know if they think it’s quite so wonderful. At least yet.
They are coping. They are using their survival skills — for Addie Rose, it’s contagious laughter to hide the pain that she’s feeling. While it seems that she is continually happy, we have realized that she also laughs hysterically when she is scared, nervous, or frustrated as well. Palmer is just the opposite — it takes very little to set him into a distant pout, or into hours of screaming and crying, kicking and fighting. He is quickly overwhelmed by new situations. These are the only ways they know how to process what they are feeling. And without speaking the same language as we do, it’s very difficult to help them process their emotions or explain to them what is going on. As overwhelming as the process is for us, at least we have an adult understanding of what is going on. They are merely children trying to figure out how to deal with all that they’ve lost. We don’t dare do things like parade them in front of crowds of people or put them in overstimulating situations — it just wouldn’t be fair to the fragile emotional state that they are in.
Ken and I are coping. We are still adjusting to working opposite hours, not seeing each other very much, parenting two children who really only talk to each other, and still trying to process adoption paperwork, tax paperwork, social security, insurance, and on and on. We are trying to figure out schedules, discipline, English lessons, rewards, and needs and how to best meet them. Meals brought to our home every other day have been a sanity saver.
Overall, I had vastly underestimated the emotional toll of such a taxing trip, returning immediately to work, and also caring for children who are mine but still feel like virtual strangers. They cannot speak to me to tell me what they need or how they are feeling — they have each other for that. It’s strange to be lonely in a house full of children.
But this is a journey, not a final destination, and we’re all working on continuing to figure out what it means to be a family. We’ve always known that this would be a difficult transition, and we’re working through it. We make progress every day — some more than others, but still laughter is becoming more genuine, learning is taking place, routine is more secure, affection is becoming spontaneous. And tomorrow is only a day away.