Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How it really is these days

I realized today that although I’ve been pretty good keeping up with this blog in terms of documenting all the major events in our life, it’s been quite a while since I’ve given a real update about how Matthew is doing, and about how we are doing having Matthew in our family.

It was easier to be raw and real in China, when it seemed like we wore every emotion on our sleeve, when family and friends were so far away we breathed the distance with every breath, and when nothing was familiar except the words on the page.

Now it’s different. We’re home, living life together, facing the many challenges that any family faces, and trying to find a new rhythm together, a new normal.

So I’m happy to tell you that after eight long months, we’ve finally found that rhythm.

“Nobody said adoption was for sissies,” wrote some friends on their blog three days after they returned from China with their newly adopted daughter. How right they are. And I might even be willing to change that statement so it says, “nobody said parenting was for sissies,” because as any parent of a child knows, parenting takes patience, energy, resilience, creativity and just plain determination.

But perhaps this adoption thing is something else entirely. Perhaps when a child isn’t born into a family but instead spends 18 months lying in a crib with no one touching him or talking to him, he comes home to parents who have to teach him how to be a boy—how to be a human being, really. And that teaching is hard work, enough to leave a mama bone tired at the end of a day, and a daddy too.

Bone tired we have been. And we’ve given this journey every little part of ourselves. So what a gift it is, eight months later, to arrive at a place where we are finally seeing the fruits of our labor.

Let me explain.

But first, allow me this one confession. I have spent the last four weeks feeling very ANGRY at China and the child welfare system there. I know, I know—when we brought Matthew home, I wrote about wanting always to feel gratitude for his orphanage that they kept him alive and helped him grow for 18 months. But for some reason in late December, I started reading some other adoption blogs and ran into some very hard orphanage stories. One orphanage, in particular, has stuck with me. It’s located very close to Matthew’s orphanage, and the adoptive parents who visited it were overwhelmed with its horror.  Things went on there that should never happen to children. It was similar in size to Matthew’s orphanage (about 30-35 children) with a very small staff of caregivers. Children were strapped to toilets for hours at a time until they could produce results, children who were as young as 12 months. Cribs were metal railings with wooden slats—no mattress or covering under the babies. This is likely what Matthew slept on as well, which explains his fascination with hard surfaces, especially the wood floors in our house. Walls were whitewashed and lacked color. There were very little toys.

It was a terrible place.

But the worst part was that when this particular family went to leave the orphanage, the orphanage director sat them down and asked them to sign a paper saying they had visited the orphanage and “found it satisfactory.” The adoptive parents could hardly pick up the pen and sign the paper—but they knew that if they didn’t sign, all 30 of the children in this orphanage might no longer be eligible for adoption. It’s a complicated system, in China, like in many other places in the world where “orphans” are cast aside and institutionalized.

And as we have encountered so many challenges with Matthew—the most recent being his language and communication—I’ve felt angry again and again about the circumstances of his first 18 months. Aaron and I are quite sure that he never sustained any actual abuse. But he was the victim of institutional neglect that left him without much human contact, and with very little stimulation. When we think of all the challenges that face him already because he is an international adoptee and has a cleft lip and palate, we can hardly fathom how different his development might have been had he received nurture and touch from the very beginning of his life. And what’s even more ironic is that we were matched with him on his one-year birthday but were forced (by the adoption system) to wait until he was 18 months to pick him up. Six long months (another 50% of his life) that he was lying in that orphanage with no one to touch or talk to him.

So I’ve let myself be angry, although I haven’t exactly known where to vent it. I do understand that orphaned children are the result of many factors, not just some policies in China. Children are often the victims of our world’s greed, poverty, and strange moral decision-making. Matthew is just one child among thousands (probably millions) who have gotten caught up in this. China certainly isn’t solely to blame.

But still this mama’s heart has ached over this travesty.

It’s amazing, though, because being more acquainted with this system and imagining Matthew’s orphanage life a little more clearly, I’ve also grown in my understanding of my son, which I consider a gift. When I think about him lying in a crib for 18 months without a caregiver’s touch and consistent voice, when I think about him crying with no one to respond to him, it first makes my heart break, but it also helps make sense of some of his “strange” behavior. Like how it’s taken eight months for him to make eye contact with me, or how he’s just now initiating relationships.

And that is the good news. After all this time, coming through three surgeries and a significant amount of pain, transition, and trauma, our boy is waking up to the world around him. He’s not saying words yet, but he’s starting to use some sign language to tell us things (more, milk, all done, bye). He’s making car noises, trying to imitate sounds, and asking us for help by his body and his eyes. He wants to be held ALL THE TIME, his warm body melting into mine. He’s grown sturdy and strong (and even a little chubby, having gained 9 pounds since he got home 7 ½ months ago). He is eating a huge amount of solid food, loves trying new things, plays hard all day long, and reaches for me or Aaron every chance he can get. And he cries (thank goodness) and when he cries, he knows we’ll be there in an instant to hold or hug him, or to help him. In our house, crying does mean something. And he’s learned this during the past eight months.

It’s a miracle. A miracle.

I am so proud of him—my smart, strong boy who is unlearning past habits (like isolation, withdrawal, lack of communication) and starting to learn new patterns of communicating and interacting with us. It’s all so gorgeous, I can hardly write about it without feeling tears come to my eyes.

I’m quite sure I will always feel both gratitude and anger toward China and its systems for Matthew’s early months of life. I will also feel so thankful that he ended up matched with our family and has made us complete as a family of five. I can’t imagine life without him—really, truly.

As I watched my three children playing together earlier this evening, it dawned on me that what once felt strange and new now feels normal—as it should be. Matthew is here, he has found his place in our family, and he will be with us forever. The first 18 months, although they seemed long when we got home, will dissolve into almost no time at all as Matthew grows up in our family and continues to learn and develop.

This is probably the best gift of all.

So don’t get me wrong—we still have plenty of challenging days, where our energy doesn’t seem like enough and our questions and worries are still huge. But when I hold my boy close at bedtime, singing my mama songs in his ear, rubbing his head and feet, giving him kisses, I’m so proud of his courage and strength, so grateful that he is home and we have settled into this new life.

And I can’t wait to see what waits ahead for him—and for us—on this incredible journey.

Our Northwest boy home from a walk in the rain with his mama!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Matthew's Baptism

This morning, Matthew was baptized at our church, First Presbyterian of Snohomish. It was a special day for all of us, as we remembered together how God made Matthew and has already been accompanying him on his life journey.

Our dear friends Phil and Kaitlin were in town with their two sweet girls (Mara and Vivian). They are Matthew's godparents and joined us up front for the baptism. After the service, we hosted a gathering at our house and invited a whole host of friends and family to come celebrate with us.

It's been a blessed day--and a special time to celebrate Matthew and his life. We love him and are so thankful that he is part of our family. It was a gift to us to see all the other people in our lives who also love him and pledge to supporting him and walking beside him in life.

Here are a few photos from the day:

Kaitlin holds Matthew while Pastor Charlie pours the water on his head.

A slightly blurry photo--but you get the picture!

Pastor Ann prays for Matthew.

Matthew and his godparents, Phil and Kaitlin.

A photo after the service.

Matthew with my parents Barbara & Bruce (aka Marmie & Bapa)

Kaitlin with her sweet daughter Vivian.

Matthew's baptism cake.

My dear friend Nina (and her husband Joel in the corner) who came to celebrate with us.

So far in January . . .

we've kept ourselves busy with many adventures and activities. It's been a good month of slowing down and settling in. No more surgeries, no more huge transitions--just good, full life. Here are a few things going on at our house:

Matthew has discovered the outside. He stands here and watches cars.

Our boy is smiling A LOT. This warms his mama's heart.

We celebrated my cousin's bridal shower and my grandma got to come!

Maya and I paid Gonna another special visit.

Matthew tried on his baptism outfit (I think he likes it!)

Some friends gave us their piano and Maya has started lessons!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Marielle Rose

A few days ago, we welcomed the newest Eklund to the family. Marielle Rose, daughter of my brother Nathan and sister-in-law Keriann, was born on January 11 (9 days early). We are so excited that she is here and we can't wait to meet her.

I get to fly to New Jersey in late February to meet Marielle and help Nathan and Keri for a few days. The rest of our family looks forward to meeting Marielle when she comes to the Northwest in April sometime.

Welcome, Marielle.