Saturday, October 25, 2008

My Baby Boy

It is nearly 11:00 PM and I am once again battling insomnia, which seems to hit me every few months and lasts much longer than I'd like. I guess I am entitled to feel a little run down, as there is much going on in our lives and much more rattling around in my heart. After having been to Denver and back for an overnight trip, I am ready to hunker down at home and not see the light of day for awhile, but I doubt I will have that luxury.

We are going through a soft and tender time right now with Kenny, as if he has suddenly reached a new level of attachment. Tonight we were at our friends house who now own our old rocker which I sat in many an hour as I rocked both Matthew and Joshua to sleep. I love that this piece of furniture is used to soothe another beloved child to sleep who is now an important part of our lives. This very rocker had come up in conversation this week while I was rocking Kenny in our old recliner, and I talked about how I would rock and sing the other boys when they were very young. I took a moment to show Kenny the rocker tonight, and he sheepishly asked if I would rock him in it. So I turned off the lights, pushed the door closed a little, and pulled him up on my lap. He had a huge grin on his face as he snuggled in close and asked me what I used to sing to the boys, and so I sang in hushed tones the silly little songs I made up for each of the boys. He giggled and then said "I wish I had a special song...I wish you had sang to me when I was little." So I proceeded to make up a song on the spot and quietly sang it to him.

It moves me deeply to think of Kenny's unabashed yearnings to go back in time, to try and regain what was lost. It is something neither he nor I have any control over and something we both wish we could do...turn back the clock and have him be in my arms as a baby. I think he is at a stage where he is beginning to recognize all that he was not able to experience now that the initial shock of displacement has worn off and the hardest work of settling in has been completed. I know that there must be moments when we talk about the boys when they were babies or the cute little toddler things they did when Kenny must feel very left out. I try to encourage him to talk about it, and I often say things like "I wonder what you were like! I'll bet you were adorable and did many of the same things...I wish I had been there.". I make every effort to acknowledge that A) He was once little too B) He was (and is!) very cute and C) I wish we had been together.

It hurts, folks. Older child adoption comes with many rewards and many heartaches as well. We are called upon, as parents, to help them heal, to help them move forward...but we forget we often need to hold their hands as they revisit their past, as they try and capture the little bits and pieces that they can manage to gather. We have to take kids in big bodies and allow them to be little for awhile, and often those watching from the wings don't understand why our kids act so young sometimes, why we are not correcting them or why we seem to "baby" them at moments. And you know that all that little guy wants is to be rocked by his mommy because he never got the chance to. We are lucky in having those friends closest to us who understand, but not everyone does. After all, it isn't often you see an almost 10 year old boy who is fascinated by playing with the toys on the toddler aisle or who still pretends and plays dress up like a 5 year old.

There is also the pain that comes from watching your beloved child struggle daily with school work, who sits at the table for over an hour to write 5 sentences and it is so difficult to write each individual word that he has forgotten what he was trying to say and ends up with sentences that make no sense at all. What makes it even harder is when you have a child who exhibits great intelligence, but is stunted by his earlier lack of education and one on one attention. We just had report cards, and Kenny's was not great. He came home with 2 C-'s and a D, and a couple of C's. The A+ he had on the first report dropped dramatically. I attended parent teacher conferences this past week and we had a long talk about Kenny's developmental level, his speech issues and how they are creating real problems for him in learning to write, about his overall basic skills. I sympathize with his teacher who debated over how to grade him...does she grade him based upon effort only? Does she grade him based upon his performance on the work at the level he really is which is about 1st grade? Does she grade him based upon performance on 3rd grade work? We all agreed Kenny has grown by leaps and bounds, that he has made incredible progress even since the beginning of school in reading and language, and that he has had difficulty at times transitioning in his own mind from having no expectations placed on him due to his obvious inability to follow along last year to now having new expectations placed on him now that he has some basics skills. It is understandable that this would be tough for him, as before he was expected to do what he could but everyone knew he couldn't really do much at all...and now he can do more and he can't just do as he pleases during class. This does not mean he has any behavioral issues at all, because he really doesn' is just that now he needs to get serious and realize he has to do as much as he can even if he can't do it all.

I have had to learn very quickly that my expectations of my child's school achievements need to be revamped, that my ego needs to be checked at the door because this is not a race, he is not being compared to anyone unless I am doing that comparing, and that it may take him until he is 20 to graduate high school. But it is far more important to me that he graduate having solid skills than it is if he graduates "on time" but can't function as well in the real world because it bothered me to have a child held back or have lower grades while in this all-important foundational time. He needs to read well, to write well, to compute well.

I have also learned that there are moments that may prove uncomfortable when dealing with school experts, and that I am the only advocate for Kenny that really counts. While I do think everyone has Kenny's best interest at heart, we are all coming at it from very different perspectives. One specialist is seeing his speech, one is seeing his ESL skills, one is seeing his reading skills, etc. But who is looking at the whole child? Who is watching out for his character development, his nurturing, his life experience enhancement? Who cares for his heart? Dominick and I. All the experts in the world will NEVER know my son better than I do, and I must not hesitate to make that clear. We spoke at length about the need to hold Kenny back, and when that decision might need to be made. Some on the team felt it would fine to continue to push him on up and see how he stood in middle school or high school, I disagreed and felt it is important to do so in the next year or two so we don't get further and further behind and miss critical basics as well as not give him time to create new friendships if needed before we hit the confusing middle school years. There may come a time when we have to go against the grain and do what we feel is best, despite the urgings of the experts. When that time comes...for any of the kids...I need to have the strength and courage to do what I know I need to do, and if need be learn what I need to learn to homeschool them if necessary in order to get them caught up. But my child is not merely a special needs child, an ESL learner, or a lower level reader. My child is Kenny LaJoy, a child I love and admire very much, a child who is counting on me to make the best decisions possible for him. A child who is more than just his special needs, no, Kenny is much, much more than that.

Often lately I find myself looking at my newest son and wondering how I would handle all that he has had to deal with this past year. Even at my more mature age, would I have the resilience he has? Would I have the patience he has? Would I have the courage he has shown? Would I have the willingness to open up the way he has? No, I actually don't think so.

We who bring home older children learn through experience how very hard this is for a child, for a family, for all involved. We are asking so much from our new children, far more than we can ever imagine going through ourselves. I look at Kenny, and I see my hero, for he has done something I would never be able to do myself, and he has done it successfully...he has let love in, he has embraced a new life, he has taken on the challenge of learning so much...and he has done so without a single complaint. He also has the sweetest smile, the kindest heart, the most forgiving spirit.

He really is my baby. Man, I love this kid.


Anonymous said...

and through your words we have all grown to love him :)
Kim in Seoul

Lori said...

Cindy, what you write always moves me so much.

And, let me say as an educator, one who taught 3rd grade for several years, you ABSOLUTELY are his best advocate. I have been in many schools (thanks to my military man!) in many states and though yes, we all are there for the best interest of the children (ahem), it is very rare that an entire team of people all work together for that best interest. I think one of the reasons I love my kids but really can't stand the culture of education is because I see on a daily basis that it ISN'T always all about the children, and it SHOULD BE. Studies show that high school drop out rates can be traced back to 3rd grade experiences. School systems don't want retention because it's a mark, don't want to give children special needs services because it is expensive. TOO BAD. We in education owe these children EVERYTHING they deserve--by law and as innocent children depending on us to make the best decisions for them.

Keep the faith and the good fight. I have sat in many a meeting where my very own administration tries to railroad parents, act as if they have no rights, deny them their opinions and desires because they are just the parents. Well, let me say this...the parent REIGNS SUPREME! You pay taxes, and you pay our salaries! Don't be afraid to take it as high as you need to if that is what is best for your child--it's not fun to buck the system (I'm queen of it!) but at the end of the day, I sleep better because I know I've done what was best for my children.
Sorry for the long comment...just wanted to let you know that you are supported! Those boys are going to be just fine with their mommy on their side!

Anonymous said...

Hello Cindy,

It's great to see you having some one to one time with Kenny.
He hasn't been there for a long time and he really needs some time alone with you before his new sisters arrive.

I had a different kind of double arrival, as I have twins, and 2 children at once are very time absorving, and my eldest child went through a harder time with less attention (although same or even more love).

All the best,

Maureen said...

What a beautiful testament to how much you love Kenny! Congratulations on having a wonderful son who is working so hard. Your encouragement is and will help him not to give up.

Christina said...

Being in the public school system as a 5th grade teacher and an adoptive mom of an "older" son (8 at time of adoption) I want to encourage you to keep fighting for him! I too battle with ESL and general ed (thankfully my mom is my son's general ed teacher) but the school systems are rarely set up for parent involvement in any true way. I tell all the parents of students that the students are mine for a year and theirs for a lifetime. Demand they do what you see as best. If it were me, I would retain him sooner than later if you are headed in that direction... I have retained several children and the parents attitude towards the retention makes or breaks the experience.... My son was retained and it was the best thing for him.... I am prepared to fight the system when needed and they are my employer! Wishing you the best :)

Anonymous said...

hi Cindy,

The children do yearn for what they did not have. I could see it in the eyes of my daughter when she saw a baby and mom together - it killed me inside. My youngest would watch video of a baby orphanage over and over for hours and cry but she would not let me turn it off. Somehow it helped her. Even close family did not "get it" but I quickly got used to ignoring every one else's opinion and doing what my child needed.

As for the hour to write 5 sentences, have you tried a recorder? Kenny can say the sentence into the recorder and listen to it not only to decide if he wants to use it and if it sounds ok, but also to keep track of the words and their sequence. You might want to have him say it, listen to it, repeat it and then write it.

You amd Dominick are the ONLY advocates Kenny has that are truely looking out for what is best for him with no limites. While they are experts, they are not experts with your son and no one knows him as well as you do - you and Dominick are the ONLY Experts on Kenny. I have told more then one professional that it did not matter who they were - they were only there for a short time in my daughters' lives - I was in it forever. While I appreciated their input I was the mother and there for it was my responsibility to decide what was best. I have put a few "experts" in their place but they still help us and understand. They seem to have respect for it. Sometimes you also need to remind the experts that a language takes 7 years to really learn.

Hang in there. You are doing a great job.

Catherine N.

PS. I signed with Welcome house today.

Julie and John Wright said...

Hi Cindy
I remember real noticing this need to be little again when we took thew older children (12 to 20)to an amusmant park... They all ran past the big "Adult " ride and were almost inside out with excitment over the baby rides... some of them could barely fit in the seat, but that did not stop them. I was tempted to tell them those were the kiddie rides and stear them on to the bigger ones, but instead we watched in amazment as we watched our group of now 3 and 4 year old kids ride the kiddie train with more excitment then I have seen for years... From that point on, I kept seeing these kids from a different angle... Sometimes they forced to be the maturity of a 40 year old, but as they relaxed, they would turn into little toddlers with us...
What a blessing to experience that over and over