Thursday, December 20, 2012

Four Months Home -- The Recap

Oh my gosh, it's been four months?!?  My update is a little late this month; December 17th marked four months home for Eli.  But life with an almost-five year old has been pretty busy.

Wonderfully busy.

First haircut.

First Thanksgiving.

Yes, Eli chose his "I [heart] Mom t-shirt to wear on Thanksgiving.
Yes, I'm pretty sure he has no idea that's what his t-shirt says.
Yes, I love it anyway.
First time meeting his Uncle Paul and Aunt Trish.

At Eli's baptism.

And cousins Samantha and Bailey.

First Turkey Trot.

Eli is the spot of orange, behind Brad's left arm.  Sigh.

First time sitting on Santa's lap.  (For the record, Eli was laughing and smiling until he saw the camera trained on him.)

This has been some of our most exciting progress this month; Eli's sleeping in his own bed!  Not always for the entire night, but he always starts there.  And when he wakes up in his own bed, he's in a much better mood.

He always wants Brad or me to fall asleep with him.  It's usually me, so that's been great for our attachment.  In bed, as he's falling asleep, he'll finally let down that wall of his and allow me to snuggle with him.

Eli's eating really well, but the quantity is still sometimes pretty sporadic.  He'll eat a ton at one meal, asking for more, and at other meals he barely picks at his food.  (What is served doesn't seem to make any difference in his appetite.)

We continue to expose Eli to lots of new foods; this past month, it was Japanese.

He tried using chopsticks . . .

but finally gave up and just ate with his fingers, Ethiopian style.

He even tried a little bit of sushi (raw salmon) and liked it.

He loved watching the sushi chefs at work, so next time we'll sit at the sushi bar.

Super blurry, zoomed iPhone photo from across the room.
Trust me, it was adorable watching Eli watch the sushi chef.

Interactions with a few of his friends at school have gotten complicated this month.  Eli is a really tough kid in a lot of ways, but I'm learning he is also a very sensitive kid.

Several weeks ago one of his friends was playing a little too rough; I looked over to find Eli at the bottom of a pile of his friends, crying.  As I walked over, I asked one of the kids what happened, and he told me another kid had taken things too far.  I could tell Eli wasn't physically hurt, but he took the rough play personally.  And even though the kid who went a little too far came back over and gave Eli a hug, Eli insisted this boy didn't like him and wasn't his friend.  Then a few weeks later it was a different classmate whose play was a little out of line.  (This time I saw it, and the kid was indeed being obnoxious.)  Again, Eli got upset and insisted this kid didn't like him.  And I know this kid does like him, he's just a four-year-old boy learning the boundaries of acceptable play.

So Eli and I have spent several afternoons talking about friends, and how sometimes your friends can make mistakes and hurt your feelings.  Or sometimes you can feel like someone doesn't like you because you misunderstood something that's happened.  Regarding the second incident, I saw it and so was able to validate Eli's feelings that the kid was a little out of control, but I told him I thought he needed to give his friend the benefit of the doubt.  And that next time things started to get out of control he could either say something to his friends, or just walk away.  I praised him for not responding to the out-of-control play by being too rough himself.

Sometimes I wonder if all this talk is a little beyond a four year old, but I would've loved to have someone help me navigate the often-murky social waters when I was a kid.  And I also don't remember ever feeling comfortable having this kind of a conversation with my parents, so I want to encourage Eli to keep talking to me.  I may not always give him the right advice, but I want him to know his dad and I are always here to talk about whatever may be troubling him.

We are Team Eli.

Friends, this has been a great month for Eli and me from an attachment standpoint, so in this regard I'm saving the best update for last.  Eli and I have turned a corner; I feel him coming closer and closer to me, and it feels great.  He's still not affectionate toward me, but he will sometimes give me a hug or let me hug him.  I've learned to ask him if I can give him a hug (or if he'll give me one), and now he doesn't always say no.  He still recoils from my kisses like they're acid on his skin, but there's always a bit of a smile under the protest.

Brad hadn't travelled for work since Eli's been home with us, and then this month he's travelled two weeks in a row.  They were two very busy weeks for Eli and me.  Honestly, I don't know how you single parents do it, day in and day out.  I at least had an end in sight each week.

Brad and I were both nervous about his being gone.  Would Eli understand he was coming back?  Would Eli's tenuous attachment to me allow us to get through these weeks without behavior issues?

Eli was awesome.  Model child.  And we had so much fun together, hangin' just the two of us.  Out of necessity he made leaps forward with independence.  He bathed himself, dressed himself, made beds, and just generally helped me get everything done that I needed to do during those weeks.

At the end of the first week, on the morning Brad was due to come home, Eli announced to me that he was going back to Gambella and that Brad and I were to stay here in America.  Eli told me he didn't like living in America, so "see ya!"  He wasn't upset when he said this, hadn't gotten in trouble, wasn't acting out.  It was just a matter-of-fact statement, like he was telling me he needed to go to the store to buy milk.

I explained to Eli that he wouldn't live in Gambella again, that he would live here in America with his daddy and me, at least until he was a grown up and then he could decide where he wants to live.  We talked about how he was a permanent part of our family, and that would never change.

The conversation went well, but I was bewildered.  Eli and I had just spent a fantastic week together, a team of two getting it all done, and we hadn't had a single moment of unpleasantness or bad behavior.  I'd heard of kids acting out to test whether their adoptive parents would send them away, but this was a new scenario to me.  I reached out to our adoptive community, hoping for a "oh, yeah, that happened with us all the time," but, nope.

One friend suggested perhaps this was being fueled by anxiety over whether Brad would return, and that must've been it.  Brad came home that night, right on schedule. And Eli was just about the happiest kid on earth.  When he saw Brad's headlights pulling into the garage, he started yelling "daddy!  daddy!!"

The next day Eli acted out at the ice cream shop with Brad (so badly that Brad threw Eli's ice cream cone in the trash and they left), and for hours afterward Eli kept asking "daddy, are you mad at me?"  I think Eli was trying to see whether Brad would leave again if he was bad.

Brad's scheduled to come home again tonight after being gone most of the week and so far, so good.  Eli doesn't seem anxious about whether Brad will be returning; Eli's mostly focused on what toy from the airport will daddy bring him.

Just like any other four year old.


  1. I'm sure he's just testing you guys and there will probably be many more to come, until he fully understands things around him. He has two loving parents, so I'm sure that although the road may be rough at times, you all are destined to succeed. :)