It’s been a week since my last post – a lot has happened, and we went from having a really rough few days with another lengthy behavior/tantrum incident, a few days following of tense interaction, much prayer and pleading with the Lord for relief, and then a turned corner. We can’t quite pinpoint what sets off the moods, I feel like with normal non-trauma psyches in children, at this point there should be an obvious trigger, but from his hard-place little heart – it seems that it is normal for him to not really have obvious triggers. Some days it is just the simplest thing like a gentle reprimand that sets him into a grumpy spin, other days he tosses those feelings aside and powers through to the next fun part as if they aren’t really that big of a deal. I’m sure this is normal for kids coming from this type of situation, and we’ve seen it a lot in the stories of families that have gone before. The first few days following my last post though, were extremely trying for me. I felt I was really at my first emotional breaking point. After a behavior tantrum/fit (I’m really not sure what to call them…) I carry the anxiety for days. I’m constantly worried that everything he disagrees with or doesn’t like the answer to will set him off in a funk that he can’t shake. It took a lot of prayer and frankly just some time for me to move on and begin to feel like I could start fresh with him.

It is really odd – I feel that I’ve said this before, so forgive me if it is repetitive, but when he’s in the middle of a fit, it is almost an out-of-body experience. It is the oddest thing I have ever seen – it is like his eyes glaze over and he cannot communicate, or accept communication or even recognize his surroundings or what he’s doing (or not doing) in the middle of it. It takes either something to snap him out of it to where he kind of shakes himself out of the tears and realizes “what in the world is going on, and why is everyone so concerned?” or just a long length of time to where he gets so exhausted that slowly the disconnectedness fades and he slides back into reality. For any parent who has children that deal with a tantrum or emoting like this, I’m sure you understand – for those who have not – just trust me in that it is emotionally depleting to watch your child go through this. I literally have prayed out loud over him as he’s in it because at times it is baffling to my heart and my spirit.

About 2-3 days after the last fit (which was right after the last post) he finally seemed to turn a corner. He was extremely excited for 4th of July which seemed to just sugar coat every aspect of our days with a chunky dusting of anticipation and random bursts of excited squeals when he remembered what the day’s count was (“EEEEEEEKKKKKKK!!!!! 2 more days til FIREWORKS!!!!”) 😉 We had invited two close families over to spend the evening with us – knowing that these families would be able to be super flexible if we had to cut the night short or make alternate plans last minute. We had decided to lay low and limit our fireworks (usually our gatherings will rival the large fireworks shows because everyone who comes brings a carload of explosives…LOL). Let me tell you on Tuesday this kid was an ANGEL all day long, helping in the yard, cleaning up, playing happily all day as he waited for his friends to arrive! We were talking with him the day before about maybe staying up late and he declared all on his own that he was going to take a nap – well that EVERYONE was going to take a nap from 1:30 to 2:10 (where he got that is beyond me) so that he could stay up late and light fireworks! This is also the kid who has flat out refused to take naps since day 1. He went up to his room with me and proceeded to attempt to sleep for 50 minutes, then got so tired that at 2:09pm I heard him finally fall into heavy breathing-mode of sleep…but then startled himself awake 5 minutes later, took a look at the clock and told me he was sleeping just til 2:30. 🙂 He didn’t make it that long, he was too excited!

He surprised us all, though and powered his way with gusto through the festive evening, playing with all the visiting friends, and building a fire with Daddy for everyone to sit around as we waited for fireworks time, then running around with the pyro festivities “assisting” Daddy in lighting the little ones! He LOVED the noise, loved every bit of the fireworks – and by far his favorites were the huge mortars and the “little pop pops” (pop-its). When the show was over, we hauled him up to bed and he passed out about 10:40pm. Unfortunately, he still got up with his normal 6am pituitary gland alarm… 😉

Oh. And by the way, he pulled out his own front tooth this week too. Grossed me out entirely, but he’s one brave kid!

Since that night, he has been an absolute turnaround from the funky 3-day attitude. He is happy constantly, loves being outside playing, keeping busy and has been taking “no” in measured frustration. We have been letting him pout and move through his emotion on his own, while still staying present – and so far that approach has been working. We’ll see how it goes – it is definitely interesting that he seems to have cycles – a long stretch of days where he is very happy and engaged, and then a few very distant, non-affectionate, grumpy, moody ones…we’re watching for connections or triggers but have only found one that makes sense.

He seems to “crash” fairly quickly about an hour or 90 minutes after eating, so we’ve been trying to give small snacks at regular intervals when we can see him visibly “fading” or becoming distanced or detached from the current goings-on. Today this worked wonderfully, and each time, he seems to not be able to recognize he is “hungry” but almost always accepts the snack offered, and then simply minutes after ingesting, is back to his upbeat smiling self. My observation here, is that they were most likely “hungry” so often back at the orphanage, that they begin to not feel it – they will always take food when offered, but they stop beginning to recognize hunger when they feel it – especially for him now if it isn’t a starvation hunger or hunger pains, but more of a slowing down of sorts. Most kids we know and have raised for years in America know what hunger feels like even if they have just eaten 2 hours ago, simply because we are typically well-fed and aren’t subjected to the same lack of food resources or rationing that kids elsewhere may be.

Now, to interject here – Wesley’s orphanage was probably one of the best, most well-funded and well-supplied orphanages available in that area. They have a large garden where they grow their own produce (I believe some they sell at market, and some to eat) and they have a large supply of chickens to lay eggs (again for market and some for consumption). From what we saw, they always had availability of rice, beans, and small portions of meat protein for the kids, and Wes says they ate “spaghetti” often for breakfast so they had access to pasta. However, there were days we arrived to hear that all he had for breakfast that day was a small mini-ear of corn. They ate breakfast and a late afternoon “dinner” before early bedtime, but only had lunch if it was a school day (apparently the school supplied lunches? This is only word-of-mouth from Wes, so we aren’t positive on this, whether it was a regular, daily occurrence or just occasional). This amount of meals for these kids are much more than some children in orphanages receive in Haiti and in other countries, so we consider him blessed to have been cared for there. They have fantastic resources, and take good, solid care of the children in their care. We cannot say enough good things about the director and the staff there. I cannot imagine him having been anywhere else for the past 4 years!

Moving on… 😉

On Sunday, we attempted church for the first time with him! It was interesting…not in a wonderful way. LOL Sunday fell on the last day of his “grumpy” negative mood swing, and he was adamant all morning that he was not going to church with us, and no he would not get in the car (even though we were all in the car waiting). We calmly reasoned with him that we were going to go to church all together, and he would sit with us (and the kids) during the music and the talking, and that after church we would get lunch and go for our scooter ride on the “trail” (the Salmon Creek Trail), but unfortunately, (for him), we would not be able to eat lunch or scooter until we had gone to church first. This eventually clicked with his brain, and he plodded slowly to the car and got in his seat. He still was extremely grumpy through the service, would not utilize the coloring I brought for him to do, and read his books loudly and annoyed-ly in the pew while he suffered through the hour. LOL I was super tense and high-anxiety, so I was just waiting to have to jet out of the service at the drop of a hat, but he made it through almost all of it until the very last “we’re going to pray about yada yada” and I was like, eeeehhhhhhh…I’d rather not deal with whatever is about to happen with my child in the middle of a prayerful, emotional moment! haha – so we snuck out the back. I’m sure it wasn’t very sneaky – hard to miss the party-of-6 with the adorable Haitian rustling around the pews. Hmph. If they only knew just how “adorable” he was that day… LOL

After the service, however, his mood changed entirely and kept getting better and better as the day went on. We went to Wendy’s for lunch – where he had a “this is so so good” grilled chicken burger, and then we walked the dog and rode scooters on the paved Salmon Creek Trail for a good long hour – which was a fantastic way to kill a chunk of afternoon! When we got back, we enjoyed popsicles to cool down and had some laughs on the porch. Flippantly, as we put scooters back in the garage, I passed his 2-wheel bmx style bike (that he has pretty much refused to try all but twice in the past month) and said, “Wes, when you learn to ride your bike we can ride bikes on the trail and I can show you the pond with the turtles!” (ha. I need to watch what I say…) About 30 minutes later, I had gone in to take a quick shower and Braeden comes knocking at the door…”Uhhh…mom? You might want to come outside. Wes is riding his bike in the driveway…” HAHAHAHAHAHA! I guess he was motivated? Mr. Determination hopped on his bike and taught himself to ride while Braeden was “on-duty” observing. Since then, he’s been riding all over, we went on a LONG bike ride yesterday as a family – it was so awesome! He is crazy-smart, and super determined when he has his heart set on something! Funny thing is that he told me yesterday, “Mommy I’m no ready for turtles yet…I still no good. I need to ride my bike more.” 😉

He speaks 100% English right now. We go back and forth between Creole and English just to keep it fresh, having him repeat words and phrases in Creole for us or translate things if we don’t remember how to say it correctly in Creole – but he doesn’t use any Creole in his day-to-day conversation, unless he’s being silly. He likes to blabber on and on to the kids just to rattle them – half the time it’s legitimate Creole, but the other half it’s just made up mixed up words that he’s just using to torment them! 🙂 It didn’t take him long to figure out how to be obnoxious to them! LOL Typical 7-year old.

Today I hit another huge observation though – I’ve been struggling with his flighty playtime habits at home. He doesn’t “play” with toys here – we don’t have many and have avoided buying more because he just doesn’t use them. I figured it was an over-stimulated, overwhelmed response to flit from one thing to the next, or only be occupied for a few minutes at a time. But today I had an epiphany.

I woke up this morning faced with a huge chunk of time and no plan – prime-time for attitudes and Mr. Grumpy Pants to set up camp in my sweet little man’s heart. So at 8:30am I decided we’d try the Portland Children’s Museum. When our kids were little they would spend HOURS there, exploring, playing pretend, trying out every single thing. So, I packed up the girls and Wes, and we drove the 30 minutes to the Museum. He was all kinds of happy when we arrived, but quickly (in the first 5 minutes) I realized that this was going to be NOTHING like my previous visits. I watched and mused as he spent an average of 2.5 minutes in each room, at each station, the exceptions being the brio trains/tracks room (approx 8min) and the rubber-pellet construction zone (another approx. 8 min) and the theater dress-up show (a good 10 minutes) – which was only that long because Abby was valiantly trying to get him into a dog costume, which he wrestled on, and promptly out of when they realized the reason it was not going on easily was because it was about 3 sizes too small for his body.

I was baffled for the first 25 minutes or so, trying to figure out what was off – was he overwhelmed? Was there too much to see, too much to do? Did I make a mistake in bringing him?

But then it dawned on me – He doesn’t know how to play with TOYS. He has no clue how to play pretend doctor or veterinary, he has no idea how to pretend he’s a construction worker or do a theater production, or even play with simple toys. And that put into perspective my entire last 4 weeks and the lack of playtime we’ve seen at home. The only “play” he has on a normal basis is entertaining himself with other children outside at school – jumprope, hopscotch, soccer, baseball, races, dancing, physical activity – or his other option was laying around the orphanage on the tile floors, or aimlessly playing with broken pieces of toys – because they didn’t have any. He didn’t grow up with legos or playing trains or nerf gun fights, or hot wheels race tracks, or board games even. He didn’t set up his stuffed animals on a bed and pretend they were having a dragon-doctor appointment. He has no idea what to do with exploratory play like the water-play station at the museum – he has never been taught to be curious about what it’s like to be asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” ummm…a bigger boy? I don’t know if he even understands that he can be anything he wants to be!

It was just a little sad to watch him roam the museum in 30 minutes that took his older siblings hours to go through each themed area (and had to be pried away from) and multiple times in their young lives for repeat adventures. I watched him lose interest in things that should have given at least 20 minutes of focused attention. But he wasn’t overwhelmed, he just didn’t see why he should give it any more time than he had already.

It gave me a new mission – there’s so many areas of his little life that we feel we have to make up for the lost time – in bonding, in teaching affection, in learning language and social cues and MANNERS ;), but now I have a new mission – teach my son how to PLAY. I’m not quite sure where to start, but it will involve other kids his age, it will involve some mommy-and-me time, some on the floor – in the middle of it – crazy-beautiful-silly-moments and some moments where I just have to decide that it doesn’t matter if other people think I’m weird for being silly or playing at the same level as my 7-year old who missed being a little kid. I might have to buy another pretend kitchen set, even though he’s probably almost too big for it. I might have to have my house overrun with hot wheels tracks (again) because that takes some engineering but not a lot of creative story-telling. I might have to figure out how to be Iron Man sometimes when I just want to be Laura. But this kid needs to be given the opportunity to learn how to play. It may backfire, and it may be a grieving process for me because he may never fully “get it”. He might get into first grade and not be able to appreciate the boys playing Pirates or Avengers on the playground, or might never understand what it means when the girls dress up in the silly outfits we have in the buckets upstairs and “play house”. He may never take a bucket of legos and make his own creative project, rather than something that’s already listed in the booklet.

I’ll survive. If that happens, if that is part of the process, I’ll live. I’ll shed some tears for his lost childhood, for the lost innocence that can’t be recaptured, for the stories and umpteen make-believe scenarios that are still floating up in the starry realm of the unimagined. If he never learns to play, I’ll be okay, and he’ll be okay – but I feel as a parent of a little one who is experiencing a full-blown, fully-blossomed, fully-opened and unfurled life of opportunity and one full of infinite possibility – just as much as he deserves loving parenting and solid, consistent structure and life-guidance, he deserves to be invested in as a child – and part of that means teaching him how to PLAY.

So if you happen to see Iron Man and a pint-sized Captain America wandering the aisles of Fred Meyer hand-in-hand (or duking it out in the parking lot)…just wave and say hello, and then go home and play with your kids. 🙂



11 thoughts on “Observations

  1. Chris Heilman says:

    Laura, not sure if this could be of help, but a lot of what I am seeing reminds me of my nephew when he was younger. He has Aspbergers (sp). Maybe it could be benificial to research some of their approches to similiar things to help you all understand what he may be going through.
    It may help you find the thing that truly engages him.
    Just a thought.

    • Thank you, Chris! We will keep researching everything around all the manifestations we see 😉 however what we are seeing is very consistent with simply kids from hard places and trauma. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there! We will keep looking! Thank you.

  2. Eryn kesler says:

    Such great observations! My kiddo (Lucy) still rarely plays with toys. She never has enjoyed pretending, even with much effort on my part. I think for a kid stuck in a high alert/fight or flight place, it’s just not important to her. It’s hard to abandon her post of being on high alert to check out of life & into make believe. She enjoys writing & art, but not toys. I’ve cried many tears and trudge on in efforts to teach her she doesn’t have to be on high alert because that’s the adults job:)

    We should grab coffee & swap melt down stories:)

    Food & water is so powerful. I’ve also found that giving her a voice and control over small things (like choosing clothes for the next day or giving her a calendar to mark days off of, with important dates marked on it) help keep control fits down. She really finds SO much comfort in knowing exactly what the plan is…for the next day, for after school, for dinner. She HATES surprises,even good ones, and I have to remind myself that her first year had enough surprises to last a lifetime. I’ve also found that giving too many choices is really overwhelming. She has a very hard time making decisions under pressure. She freezes and gets frustrated & panicky. if I see that coming on, I ask her, “do you want me to choose?” And almost always she says yes.

    Keep at it mama! You’re doing so well. His precious heart is worth it all. But- I GET IT. It’s so emotionally, physically, and mentally taxing. Having to be “on” every minute their eyes are open because it’s all so delicate…and could be perfect or fall to pieces any minute. It’s truly fatiguing!! In a way I’ve never experienced before.

    I’m here if you ever need to process!

  3. Laura– I’m following your blog with rapt attention. Your Wes is the same age as one of our sibling girls we will probably be bringing home in August. The playing part is very interesting too, not knowing how to play. I read somewhere that their play level is developmentally LOW when they’ve been in an orphanage. For that reason, I kept a lot of toys around that my kids played with when they were 3 or 4, even though our girls are 7 and 8. Kind of like they have to crawl before they walk, right? Things like shape sorting, Fisher Price Little People, etc etc that might be a great place to start. As an Occupational Therapist one of the things we talk a lot about is the “just right challenge”. If it’s too hard or he doesn’t know how it will lost his attention. If it’s too easy (usually more obvious) it will lose his attention. Anyway, just my two cents– good luck and I look forward to reading more! Your writing is so good and detailed and addresses so many of the questions I have about bringing our girls home.

  4. Holly Smith says:

    I have very fond memories of your play room from 10 years ago! You’ve got this! And I need a picture of you in an Iron Man costume.
    One thing is for sure…he will keep you on your knee, and in close contact with THE ONE, who knew you two were the perfect parents for Wes.

  5. Amorie Parker says:

    Hi Laura,

    I love that your posts are so detailed. It helps me recognize some of the same things we are going through with Jameson since he’s been home, especially the tantrums (over simple things) and being stubborn. I wanted to ask how Wes is with new foods specifically vegetables? Does he eat them with no problem? Jameson will eat the foods he knows such as rice, bread, french fried potatoes, pasta and some meats but we are having a hard time with anything else. Obviously he was never given veggies while in the orphanage ( they basically lived off of rice beans and milk) so I know this may be a challenge.

    • Hi Amorie! I’m so glad to see you’re home and transitioning!!! 🙂 Congrats! Wes tends to do very well with new foods – he will almost always take one bite when asked, and usually he finds it pretty good. His orphanage had a garden where they grew produce – I’m not sure exactly what kind, but he seemed familiar with some veggies…onions, cucumbers, tomatoes…he loves cucumbers and tomatoes…likes carrots, and used to eat lots of “salade” (lettuce) the first couple weeks but I think we got so excited that one of our kids liked salad that we overdid the salad offerings, and now he refuses to eat lettuce unless it’s on a burger! LOL From what I’ve seen from talking to other parents with their kids newly home, the veggies battle is monstrous. Most of the kids aren’t used to eating them, so they fight them for a long time. I would sneak them into other dishes in small pieces, sneak them into a sauce, or smoothie if he will drink one…or just wait it out. We find the best result is just when we simply ask him to take one bite. Most of the time, he figures out it’s not all that bad and he’ll take another follow-up bite to just “make sure”, occasionally (like with broccoli) one bite is enough to last a lifetime. (I’ll accept that, because my other 3 love broccoli, so I figure if I only have one that fights it that is a great percentage!) Another interesting thing we realized is that they don’t do many carbs at the O, other than pasta and basic bread. So our typical American breakfast food like pancakes, crepes, pastries, waffles, cereal, etc. etc. is so foreign he isn’t interested at all. Most mornings he has spaghetti, leftover meat protein from dinner the night before, (like salmon this morning), or cereal and fruit (and breakfast, unfortunately is his lightest eating time) – I think they just never got a huge breakfast, so he isn’t used to eating a lot – plus, he eats us out of house and home for dinner so he’s usually packed full when he wakes up! 🙂 Hope this helps! Much love to your family! ~ Laura

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