I joyfully remember three days regarding my son—the day he was placed in our home by CPS, the day we adopted him, and his birthday. Usually I recall the dates of the first two days of celebration more quickly than I can his birthday. I get some strange looks when I am asked when his birthday is, and I take a few moments to answer.
September 21 we will celebrate year number three since his gotcha day! I promise, mostly to our son, that I won’t keep doing these updates into his teen years.
Our son began his third and final year of preschool a couple of weeks ago. He has handled the transition to a new classroom, classmates, and teachers much better this year than last.
He struts or darts down the hall to his classroom like he owns the place now. Teachers and peers know him (he’s hard to not notice!). I greatly appreciate everyone who has invested in him at his preschool.
In May, we took our first week-long family trip. Just the three of us went to the coast. Danielle and I were concerned how it would go without any other families going with us. But Danielle’s comment on our way home summed up the week, “that was the best family vacation ever!”
Learning to swim
A precious friend gave our son three swim lessons over the past 12 months. He has gone from a fear of being under water to doing cannon balls off the side of the pool. A few weeks ago at the public pool he said, “Move out of my way Dad! I want to swim across the pool!” Which he successfully did with a little dog paddling, turning over onto his back, then back to swimming. But he did it!
How would you feel if your child ran the other way when they got hurt? For a long time when our son would hurt himself, even if Danielle was right next to him, he would push her away and come to me. Sometimes he would even go to a complete stranger!
We already knew that our son struggles with sensory input, but it manifested in more ways this past year.
He went from licking all kinds of surfaces to licking his hands and chewing on his fingers and shirt. So, we invested in a few chew items.
He also struggles with regulating his body when he is in stimulating environments. This summer Danielle and I watched as our son along with 20 or so other 2-4 year-olds sang some songs they learned at Vacation Bible School. We joined all the other parents holding phones and cameras as we zoomed in on our cute little guy as he stood with a huge smile next to his best friend.
Then the music began. Loud. Bright lights. Lots of motion.
At first, he did great. He sang. He kind of did the hand motions. Then, he began licking his hands. He pulled on his friends hands. He turned in circles, then hopped onto the back row of the risers and began shaking the railing.
The smile on my face froze. I am glad that I understood what was going on, yet it still hurt my heart to see him struggle with all of the stimulation.
Therapy really is part highlight, part challenge.
We understood that our son’s struggle with attachment and sensory input was an outcome of early trauma. We have learned over the past few years that trauma affects brain chemistry which causes these kinds of struggles.
So, we sought help.
We first spent several months with play therapy. Honestly, the first few sessions I sat there as the therapist simply watched our son play with the room full of toys wondering why I was paying for this. Then over time, our son began to talk about things. Deep things.
Then gradually, we saw an incredible change in his connection to both Danielle and me.
At the beginning of this summer we began doing Occupational Therapy to help him with fine motor skills and regulation. These sessions have helped him learn how to calm his body when it’s over-stimulated. He just began his third year of preschool, and it’s fun to see him enjoy craft time. He is able to focus as he colors, cuts, and create. He struggled with all of these things one year ago.
Then there is me.
When my son would have a meltdown or deliberately disobey me, mentally I knew how I should respond. Nurture while correcting. Nurture while correcting. NURTURE WHILE CORRECTING.
But many times I feel like someone has their hand wrapped around my neck like I am one of the those stress balls making my eyeballs bulge about to pop out of my head. Then everything I learned about how to control my voice, my facial expressions, etc., well let’s just say I default to yelling threatening consequences if he doesn’t shape up. NOW!
So I decided it was time for me to get some help too. I met with a counselor for several weeks exploring what I brought to the equation. I needed to empty as much of my emotional cup as possible, so I could respond to my son with patience and kindness.
Some Things Learned
Year three has brought joy and challenge! Through it all I have learned a few things:
- Application is different than knowledge. Even though Danielle and I know a lot about brain trauma, helping children from a hard place, different kinds of therapy, etc., it’s hard to apply it in real life.
- My baggage causes some of his behavior. I already knew this, but I saw it manifest, sadly, this past year.
- It’s a process. I think that adoptive families often think that they can “fix” their kids or love them to wholeness. At some level that’s true. But it isn’t a one time deal. It’s a process over time. And different stages of life and events cause different challenges. So, it’s beneficial for me to understand that and hang in for the long haul.
- I love being his Dad! Not that I just learned that this past year, but I definitely confirmed it! I often forget that he isn’t my biological son.
I know this one thing…he will always be my son. He is a part of our Forever Family.