We’ve been home for over 4 months now. In some ways, the kids have progressed in ways far greater than expected, mostly due to the fact that they are at least 2 years older than we were told, and in some ways, progress has been slow. They have been through not only the loss of their family, country, and culture, but even the classrooms they had adjusted to for 6 weeks. Medical appointments every week and unwelcome popularity have made things difficult for them as well. They’ve had a tough road.
Palmer is adjusting to 1st grade, but the transition has been hard. In four months, going from not recognizing letters and numbers to reading and doing math is a HUGE adjustment. He is taking spelling tests, but his teacher is counting his words correct if he spells sounds correctly, but we’ll be transitioning to full spelling tests in the new year. (That silent “e” is hard!) He underwent some special testing of intelligence from an EL professor from Vanderbilt, and he is very intelligent once language is taken out of the equation. He thinks more like a second grader or older, but we’re not anxious to have him skip another grade. And because he is within a year of his actual age’s grade, we don’t have to skip him any more. But we are all confident that given enough time, he will excel in school in English.
Palmer is also making solid strides at learning language. Once we told him we didn’t care how old he was, and that we would give him a bicycle once he was speaking English, he started making steady progress. He can communicate just about anything he needs to, and seems to understand everything we say to him. He speaks in very basic sentences in present tense, but past and future tense is hard. Frankly, English is hard!
Palmer’s fear of church has subsided. Tantrums on Sunday, before or after church, are largely gone, and he is starting to relax and play with other kids. He likes carrying his Bible to church, and looks forward to seeing friends.
Palmer is quite the prankster and has a fabulous sense of humor. Please note the funny face glasses that he picked out for Ken for Christmas! Because his language isn’t very developed, his humor is primarily physical comedy, but he’s beginning to understand sarcasm. He will often come out of his room with his underwear on his head, his pants on his arms, and his shirt as shorts, and jump out with a “Raaaaaah!” I’ve been playing a version of “Elf on a Shelf” with his Buzz Lightyear and Woody the Cowboy toys and he thinks it’s hilarious.
He loves Legos, and is getting better at figuring out complex designs. If something around the house is broken, chances are, he can fix it. He is a very analytical thinker, which will be what gets him through this transition to American culture.
His favorite things to do are: walking the dogs with Ken in the morning, watching movies, and playing soccer. Ken comments that were it not for his size, he could make any high school soccer team. He is good, even by third world standards.
He’ll be playing Upward basketball this winter and Upward soccer in the spring. We hope he can work on teamwork, friendship, and communication skills with kids his own age.
He is very much an adult at the ripe age of 8 in many ways. He sees himself as Addie’s parent in many ways, and still directs much of her behavior. He resents being told what to do, to the point that he has screamed for an hour when Ken fast forwarded through a chapter of a movie. The more toys he has, the more entitled he feels, and will burst into tears or pout and be completely uncooperative when asked to put one down to eat dinner. He cannot be distracted out of his tantrums. This all makes it difficult to do fun things with him like take him to the zoo, amusement park rides, or playgrounds. It always ends in a tantrum or uncooperative pouting. We didn’t take him to any stores except Home Depot until December because he cannot take no for an answer.
Palmer is not physically affectionate at all, but he will accept affection. One day last week, I told him how proud I was of him and kissed the top of his fuzzy head, and his arms reached out to start to hug me, but he caught himself, and put his arms robotically back down at his side. He’s just not ready yet. (BTW, this is why it makes me furious when people try to make Palmer hug them. He doesn’t even hug ME!)
Sigh. Maybe someday.
We understand that given the amount of grief he has in his life, that this is to be expected. As an adult, I can comprehend what’s going on, and I have a rough four months. He doesn’t have the ability to see beyond his current circumstances and the people he misses in Africa. We know he is grieving, but it still doesn’t make his behavior easy to deal with. It still hurts that I have never had a hug or kiss from my son, or even a decent conversation. While he is my son legally, it’s hard to feel a parental bond without much common language or reciprocal physical touch.
It’s been said that for the first 6 months of international adoption, it often feels like you’re just babysitting someone else’s kids. That’s where we’re at. He’s a great kid, especially when we can avoid triggering his tantrums, and we are growing to love him very much. We eagerly anticipate the day when he lets us “in” and can feel free to love us back. He has to give us permission to be his parents, and that has yet to come.