So How Are the Kids? Part 2

Addie. Poor Addie. I don’t think she had any idea the implications of her actions when she told me that she was six years old in the orphanage and now she was four years old. But her bone age and her teeth confirmed it. The youngest she could possibly be is 5 1/2.  She could be as old as 8.

I think Addie would have been forever happy in her 3-year-old classroom at preschool, where she was not only designated princess, but something of a boss as well, as she had more than her fair share of fights. Though her motor skills fit right in, she was bigger and more manipulative than the others. To be bumped up into Kindergarten where she is woefully behind in all respects just wasn’t very easy for her.

Addie is the sole sanguine extrovert in a household of OCD introverts. She is generally good-natured and easily distractible. She doesn’t have any mental anguish over wearing shoes on the correct feet, wearing clothes right side out, leaving the bathroom without her dress tucked up into her panties, or getting food at dinnertime exactly in her mouth. Those are minor and unimportant details. There is fun to be had, somewhere! She loves to sing — but only the vowels, not consonants, and the actual tune is simply not conditional to her expression of joy. She chatters endlessly about a variety of subjects, and is the source of much laughter. She’s careful to say “Thank you, mommy,” at meals, with new toys, new clothes, and even putting toothpaste on her toothbrush.

It’s been hard to figure out what Addie really likes to do because she likes to do whatever Palmer is doing. Eventually, we figured out from her preschool teacher that she liked Barbie dolls and horses, but mostly, she likes one of whatever Palmer is playing with. Anything that lights up, makes noise, or moves fits the bill. Her poor motor skills have made Lego almost impossible for her until the last few weeks.

Addie’s eventual diagnosis from all of her medical testing came down to heavy metal poisoning. Her lead levels were high when she came home, so I’ve assumed that it’s lead, but that’s not necessarily the case — it may be other toxic metals. The heavy metal deposits scattered throughout her bones are surely not good for the rest of her body either. Her motor skill deficits (She’s three years behind in fine motor skills.) are likely a result of the poisoning, and her lack of progress in this area still concerns me. In spite of working with her daily, she can barely cut food with a fork, get food in her mouth, button clothing, or write letters. If lead poisoning is the cause, the neurologic deficits lead causes are permanent. At this point, we just don’t know. And we may never know.

Addie is much more snuggly than Palmer. She and I have snuggle and story time every evening, but she’s snuggly with pretty much everyone. More than once, we’ve caught her snuggling the leg of a stranger while in crowds or standing in line. Affection does not equal bonding, and while I think she likes us, she rarely makes genuine eye contact up close. She’s just not ready yet. She also is still learning to distinguish appropriate ways to get affection, and from whom.

Adoption experts say that happy compliant children start to go a little crazy 2-3 months after coming home when they feel safe enough to no longer be happy or compliant. This occurred around the same time that she was skipping grades, and I was almost dying. She has so little control over her life, but she has managed to control three areas:

1. Language.

2. Learning.

3. Urination.

According to Ken, Addie speaks even better French than Palmer, so her delay in speaking English has been confounding. She is so very verbal, but only in Lingala and a little in French. She easily parrots what others are saying, but parroting has not equaled learning. She knows about 60 words, mostly just nouns like: dog, airplane, baby, etc. but very little in the category of “useful” information. I know for a time that Palmer told her not to speak English, but in the last 2 months, he has started telling her to speak English, to no avail. She is happy just speaking Lingala to her brother, who functions like a parent to her, while eating the food we give her, wearing the clothes we provide, and playing with toys we’ve given her.

Not speaking English is something she can control. We can’t MAKE her speak English, although we have restricted Lingala at the dinner table and in the van. After all, it’s rude to speak another language in the company of others who don’t speak it. We’ve tried separating them as much as possible, but it results in her not speaking at all. When I have been alone with her and absolutely forbidden her to speak Lingala to me, she has been able to speak much more English than I expected. But at this point, it’s a punishment for her to have to speak in English. Unfortunately, attachment and bonding occur in the same area of the brain as shared language, so she literally cannot attach to us without speaking English. So yes, we are diligent in pushing English-speaking on her.

Addie’s learning has been extremely inconsistent. One day she’ll know all of her letters, numbers, and colors, and the next day, she won’t. When I took her for English Learner’s testing to determine services, she scored 1/81. She would have scored 10 points just for writing her name, which she can do. She basically just became uncooperative, and the teacher came out of her testing room and told me that she didn’t belong in Kindergarten. Unfortunately, because she is almost 7, we don’t really have a choice. In our school system, children cannot be more than one year off their actual grade level. Her Kindergarten teacher wrote me a note the first week, saying that she can’t count objects, which she has been doing for 3 months. I also got more than one note about her fighting with other students. In parent-teacher conference, the teacher was shocked that Addie had ever identified the numbers 1-10. While other kids in her class are learning to read, she has been relegated to gluing craft sticks to paper, and scribbling on blank sheets. We’ve determined that the demonstration of her knowledge and to whom is one thing that she can control, and if she’s nervous or doesn’t want to cooperate, she pretends she doesn’t know. One can imagine that this makes intelligence testing and determination nearly impossible, even if she were speaking English.

The most frustrating thing with Addie’s control issues are her bladder issues. She is a spiteful pee-er. When she’s mad at us, she’ll pee in her pants, or on furniture. Before school went on break, she was peeing her pants up to every 20 minutes but only when she was at home. She was dry at school, at church, and with babysitters. But when Ken and I were home with her, she was almost constantly wetting her pants. I finally just had to put her in pull-ups, even for school — not because she would wet her pants at school, but because she would wet her pants on the way home. We even took family pictures with her in pull ups so we wouldn’t have wet pants commemorating our Christmas together. She seems just as happy to wear pull-ups — at least she doesn’t have to get up to go to the bathroom!

If my lungs weren’t going to kill me, she may.

So our happy little 4-year-old has turned out to be a possibly mentally disabled (or just manipulative), non-English-speaking 6-year-old spiteful pee-er. What is her prognosis? No idea. After over 4 months without even as much as a conversation with our chatty daughter, we’re discouraged. We meet with a team of educational professionals, therapists, and counselors once the new school year starts to see if we can come up with a plan, but since she has been unwilling to demonstrate what she is really capable of, I’m not even sure we can come up with a good plan.

Sigh.

I hope it’s just a matter of time before the games stop, and we realize who our daughter really is. We will love whoever she is, if we can only figure it out! So we wait for her to feel safe, to stop feeling the need to control, and to stop pretending to be someone she’s not. We are thankful that while she figures it out that she is generally good natured and funny, and someday we hope she’ll trust us enough to let us be her parents.

So there it is. That’s how the kids are doing. I never would have imagined that after 4 months that we would have so little communication with our kids. It’s almost like they have continued to just be their own family living under our roof. But they are still in survival mode, just like we are. We hope that in the new year, we’ll be able to do more than just survive. We hope to become a family!

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11 thoughts on “So How Are the Kids? Part 2

  1. Sorry to hear that things have been rough…when we went through foster care training before adopting from Africa, they covered pee/poop issues and said it’s best to have zero reaction to the accidents…maybe you’re already doing that, but thought I’d mention it. The reaction-less peeing just leaves them physically uncomfortable and they’re not able to feel any kind of power/control from getting a reaction from you, which is what they’re seeking. Apparently after a while, this is pretty effective at stopping the peeing. Hang in there!

    • We went through foster parent training too. We went with the natural consequences route, and Addie has been seen on our porch scrubbing various pieces of furniture. We’ve done some other training things as well now that we’ve had more time to address it, including bladder retention training, and straight up behavior modification, and the issue has resolved. We couldn’t do the leaving her in he peed-in pants because she didn’t care. She can go for hours without mentioning that she’s peed her pants, and she doesn’t care if she’s uncomfortable. We had to create the uncomfortable.

  2. Wow, this simple update made my heart heavy for you friends…. Which is only a portion of the stress you’ve endured. And the unknown amount Addie and Palmer have… You are on my mind and in my prayers and I am hopeful of your new year.

  3. My family and I have been following your journey for quite awhile. We don’t know you. But we pray for you often. You are God’s choice for Addie and Palmer and He is in control….even when Addie thinks she is…:) we will continue to lift you all up to our Heavenly Father!

  4. If it makes you feel any better, her behavior is probably a lot more normal than you realize. I know a certain 5 year old that also thinks she is in charge and will pull out whatever she can control. It is a natural think for them to test. And after spending many hours in Kennedy’s kindergarten class as a parent volunteer I can tell you that she fits the mold exactly as a kindergarten student (and these students have been born and raised here and speak fluent English). We have had many of those incidents at home. Talk to any parent and they will probably tell you the same thing. I wish I could reassure you how many of those behaviors are normal and not to stress about them too much. She will get there. It probably makes her seem even more behind when comparing her to an “average” 5-7 year old here. It doesn’t seem fair to compare her skills to what others are doing. She spoke zero English a few months ago and lived across the world. Hugs to you and Ken. You will get through this. We all do. And as many “perfect” families you see at school or church, know that these exact same battles happen ALL the time at our homes.

    • I think it would be easier if we had a shared language and a history together. Yes, all 6 year olds do these kinds of things, but usually parents have 6 years of relationship, bonding, and can talk through these things.

  5. Hugs to all of you! Thank you so much for keeping us well-updated on your journey. It makes praying for you feel far more productive! My heart aches for all the four of you are experiencing. I wish you could have just brought your kids home and all fallen in love with each other and had instant happy family. But I guess things just don’t work that way. I am so thankful that Addie and Palmer have you, though. And I know someday they will be able to express their own gratitude to you, as well. It really does sound to me like they have grown leaps and bounds in four months, although that may be harder to see close up. Many of the things you describe do sound like regular kid rebellion — just multiplied due to understandable circumstances. These frustrating phases will pass, and they will move on to know frustrations. It is the circle of parenting! Welcome to it! This is the best thing ever to happen to all of you! You were all meant to be a family — You know that God chose you for each other. We’ll continue to pray that you begin to FEEL like a family soon!

  6. I know it’s a completely different situation, but when our girls were immersed in another language at school, they went completely silent for several months. Emily was being pulled out by a psychologist and analyzed at school without us knowing. They worried about her developmentally because she couldn’t put a sentence together. Julia’s preschool was frustrated that she was completely wordless. With both girls there came a moment after several months when they suddenly began to speak fluently in the other language, and everyone was SHOCKED at what they knew. They began to speak without an accent in the other language from the first moment they began to speak. By the end of the first year of school in which Emily was silent, she won a speech contest in Russian over 48 native Russian speakers. And she is a linguist to this day. Relying on receptive language for a while actually follows the natural progression of language learning more than what we usually try to do with our teaching efforts. All of this receptive language learning for Addie is actually happening, and the fact that she is not showing that she is learning it, may mean she is learning it better than you will be able to believe. Hang in there.

    • It’s not really about speaking the language of their culture, but speaking the language of their family. Can you imagine going over 4 months without having a conversation with your kids?

      Addie can speak English if forced to, she just doesn’t like to because it’s easier to just speak to Palmer and not her parents. But she cannot bond with our family (literally) without shared language.

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