Before we left for the Congo, the plan was for Ken and I to trade off childcare duties until January — me on part-time FMLA leave, and Ken filling in when I had to work, since he has so many Saturday and Sunday hours. We would then put them in preschool, and likely Kindergarten for both of them in the fall of 2013, or hold her a year back.
Then we met the kids. And over the last few weeks we’ve realized that our plan may need to be modified.
So we had a 5 HOUR appointment on Monday with Vanderbilt’s International Adoption Clinic, in addition to our family doctor on Thursday (who is FABULOUS, by the way) and had a long discussion about who our kids are and what they need.
Let’s start with Addie: most of her behavior issues have been solved by good sleep and good routines. She’s a happy 4 year old girl, but something still didn’t seem quite right. She has difficulty with feeding herself, being too loud, and is extremely difficult to walk with because she very much still toddles rather than walks. Stairs are still hard for her. So we saw an occupational therapist, who told us that in addition to lacking fine motor skills (Um yes, if you’ve never had a pair of scissors before, it’s hard to know how to cut out shapes with them.) she lacks “body awareness.” It’s hard for her to know where the different parts of her body are, especially if she’s moving. So it results in clumsiness, difficulty in controlling how hard or soft something is done, how loud she is, in addition to fine and gross motor skills. She qualifies for therapy, but after a long discussion with the therapist, one of the best things she could do is attend preschool with a wide variety of motor activities — fine and gross. It would also help with her English skills, which also need some help because she talks mostly to her brother. We’ll reevaluate her in 6 months or so, but we all think that putting her in an enriching environment in addition to good nutrition and sleep will help her to catch up. If she’s not caught up, then we’ll talk about therapy.
Palmer is a little more complicated. The rule of thumb with orphans is developmental delay. It is nearly impossible for kids from traumatic backgrounds to be advanced because the trauma often stops their development in different ways. As we’ve gotten to know Palmer, we’ve realized that he is very advanced for a 5 year old in most ways. (We’re not sure about language because he’s not speaking much English, because he speaks mostly to his sister.) He can scissor-kick and rainbow-kick a soccer ball, which is difficult for even high schoolers to do. So we thought, maybe he just played a lot of soccer . . . in an orphanage with no balls. Hmm. Then one day, Palmer found a baseball bat, and picked it up correctly, so Ken decided to toss him a few balls. He hit 9 out of 10 right handed. Then he switched hands and had the same accuracy left-handed. Hmm. Not even using a tee for tee ball. We have a 5 year-old switch hitter? He can catch a tennis ball thrown overhand from 20 yards away. He can also throw with great accuracy. And on and on and on. 5 years old? When developmental delay is the rule?
He is also missing all 4 of his upper incisors, and has two upper permanent teeth grown back in, which is rare in a child with a history of malnourishment. On average, his teeth reflect a 7 to 8 year old.
He’s very tall for his “age,” while most Congolese are short. He has very good attention span. He colors meticulously. He is enthusiastic about learning.
As we talked to the Adoption Physician, she suspected that Palmer could be as old as 9 years old, since the rule of thumb is delay, not advancement.
So we had a bone age done on Monday — an x-ray of the wrist and hand to determine how old he could be. Unfortunately, it wasn’t extremely helpful. It placed him between 6-7, but with a range of 18 months on either side. So he could be as young as 4 1/2 or as old as 8 1/2. The doctor wants to check it again in 6 months once he’s had some good nutrition because it may advance. We’re pretty sure he’s not 12, but that’s about as much as we know.
So school has become increasingly important for Palmer. After all, we don’t want him going through puberty in the 2nd grade. The adoption pediatrician strongly encouraged us to get him in school. Technically, he could be 5 years old, so we won’t seek to have his birth certificate changed. (Remember that in Africa, dates are not meticulously kept like they are in the United States, so there is a high likelihood that it’s incorrect.) But we will monitor. And the pediatrician recommended keeping him at officially 5 years old, but is quite curious about his development compared to his chronological age.
So this week, we also spent a great deal of time with Metro schools, and private preschools. Testing, tours, interviews, discussions. We’ve talked about their special needs and how they can be met.
We had lots of blood work, stool samples, vaccinations, physical exams. They have some medical issues that will need to be addressed in addition to their social and academic needs. So we have lots of doctor visits, psychologist visits, and on and on and on. This will continue for months.
So, the plan has changed. The consensus is that our kids need school, for different reasons, but they need school all the same. We have had 6 weeks at home as a family, and things are about to transition again. Fortunately, they both are excited about going to school. In the Congo, they asked about school, but we were going to put it off. Not so any more.
So school it is.
We also need to finish up the readoption process in the United States, apply for social security cards, apply for their U.S. citizenship, and refile our 2011 taxes. It’s been impossible to make good progress on these things since Ken and I have been working and alternating childcare responsibilities, or both attending appointments at the same time with both kids, because frankly, it still takes two of us right now.
So that’s where we’ve been and where we’re at. Your prayers for this transition are appreciated!