Monday, February 1, 2016

Our thoughts and experiences hosting "K", "I", and "S"

I just wanted to clarify a few things concerning “K” (9 YO girl), “I” (7 YO girl), and “S” (5 YO boy all as of Dec. 2015) as my wife and I hosted them through Project 143 in December of 2015 for four weeks. 

I appreciate the volunteers that give their time and resources to interview the children and I know they are given the impossible task of trying to gather information concerning children with almost no quality time with them.

In this case, these children were interviewed at their new orphanage so even the caregivers would have been lacking much time with them (the time stamp on their photo tells me they couldn’t have been there for even two weeks?). I wanted to clarify some things here as the profile on the Open Hearts and Homes listing is limited and contains some factual errors as well. 

My goal is to see these kids end up in the perfect family someday (if their parent’s rights are ever terminated) and more information can only help. 

A quick background on our family…

My wife and I have been married for 23 years and are adoptive parents to Anna (15 y.o.) and Victoria (12 y.o.) who we adopted in Jan 2011 after hosting them from Ukraine during the Summer of 2010. They were 7 and 9 when we hosted them so basically the same age as “K” and “I”. Our girls have family back home in Ukraine and we keep in close contact with their half-sister (age 19) and their Babushka (their birth mom’s mom). We have even had their Babushka here to visit twice and half-sister here on an F-1 visa for school one year. Through this, our girls have been well adjusted and Anna has been able to keep much of her verbal Ukrainian and Russian. We aren't experts in hosting, adoption, or child behavior but this wasn't our first rodeo either.

My thoughts and observations on “K”, “I”, and “S”…

“K” will capture your heart almost immediately.  She was the first to open up to us, was NEVER shy, and never had a problem expressing her feelings outside of the language barrier.  She is the oldest and the “mom” of the family when need be but really didn’t have a problem being a kid most of the time. She shifts into and out of “mom mode” quite easily and often. Honestly, she is pretty amazing with her younger siblings while in mom mode.  She knows how to deal with “S” when he has a meltdown and can quickly calm him down. Her tone of voice and mannerisms while in mom mode suggest a mom with experience!  And she knows how to deal with “I” and her fits (which is usually to walk away). 

She is a real sweetheart but full of drama as well. She can over-react and pout quite easily but she recovers quickly and this is probably typical for her age. All of the kids keep score and “K” is no exception. They all need to be assured they are getting the same treatment as the other. She loved to blame anything that went wrong on my girls (usually Anna) and “K” and Anna clashed a little bit. I called it a battle of queen bees. Anna, as the only person in the family that can speak Russian, had a lot on her shoulders and the kids went to her for EVERYTHING in the beginning which didn’t work well and overwhelmed Anna. In hindsight I wonder if things would have gone smoother if my daughter didn’t know Russian at all?

“K” really had no behavior issues outside of what I would call normal for her age. She had no problems following requests to pick up her plate after eating or to clean her room. She is probably a little ahead of her age as far as being able to take care of herself. She is a happy kid and one that is very compassionate. She quickly warmed up to all of us.  She has no problems relating to others and was truly sad when our Saint Bernard Bear had to be put down half way through hosting. She loves dogs and I think pets would be a great thing for her.  She is full of energy but my wife was able to give her tasks that she could focus on for decent lengths of time. The trampoline was a huge hit for all of them and she loved the trampoline park we took them to. In general she likes to be active and loves to do things outside.  Having said that, she isn’t tom-boyish and didn’t like to get dirty, wet, or stinky…things my girls have no problem with.  When taken to my family’s dairy farm, the kids spent a good bit of their time plugging their noses due to the smell. J She can read English quite well but has no idea what the words are. The Latvian alphabet is generally the same as ours so obviously that helps. She can count to 100 in English but stumbles in the transitions at every 10. “K” will eat just about anything and loves the same foods that American kids do…pizza, hot dogs, etc. “K” talked about her parents (whom they see and stay with every weekend) several times but is in denial about her past, even with Anna. Anna talked about her past and the alcoholism and physical abuse but “K” quickly denied she had ever experienced any of it herself. She broke down one day crying because she missed her parents (“S” then followed suit but “I” looked at them like they were crazy).

“K” appears healthy in every way. She is tall at 88th percentile in height and 56th in weight.  Her teeth are good and we were able to get her only two cavities filled while she was with us. “K” will do well in a new family if that opportunity happens for her.

“I” is the middle girl and the one with the most challenges to overcome.  We call her our wilted flower and it was amazing to see how far she came over the four weeks we had her.  We had some major issues (nothing compared to what some families dealt with though) in the beginning of hosting. These were behaviors we had heard of but never experienced before.  These issues included some fits of defiance and rage and this rage was directed towards anyone near her.  When “I” hits, she hits hard.  As she began to trust us, things improved greatly. “I” didn’t have a problem being a kid most of the time but she had her moments and these “moments” happened more often than the other two for sure. “I” finally came out of her shell and it was nice seeing a real personality out of her where she would laugh, joke, and act like a normal kid. It took roughly two weeks or so for her personality to show through. “I” kept score more than the others and her reactions would be a little stronger than the others but not by much towards the end. Like “K” she loved to blame anything that went wrong on my girls (usually Anna) but she didn’t really clash with my girls like “K”.

“I” can be very stubborn and defiant at times and it can come out of nowhere.  I really didn’t see a pattern outside of when she didn’t feel she was being treated equally. Let me define “equally”…If I gave “K” a ride on my shoulders “I” would get jealous unless I made sure to explain to her beforehand that she would get a turn next. She had to have an equal amount of time or this could set her off. Simple things like telling her to fold up her pants and put them in her drawer could and did set her off at times to where she had to sit in her room until she could calm down.  She always came around after a period of time (sometimes minutes sometimes hours) and when we explained that we wanted her to join the family for XXX after she did her task it would always work.

All the kids hit each other (and even us) but “I” hits with the highest frequency. To be blunt, she has some anger issues to work through and of course this comes from whatever it was that she has experienced to get where she is. If I were to guess, I would guess her stubbornness didn’t help her situation. I can’t say I ever observed compassion on her part and at least 3 out of 4 hugs I received from her were after “K” hugged me first. It always felt like something she just observed someone else do so she did it.  These latter points are the most worrisome to me, but again, I think they can worked through. Again, I am not an expert but the behavior is too serious to leave off a profile and ignore. I assume a professional can get these things figured out and can help “I” heal. I truly hope so as I believe she has a ton of potential.

“I” has some major tooth decay that needs to be addressed. Most of her teeth are actually missing but the dentist says most of her adult teeth are not yet in so that is good.  “I” and “S” hate brushing their teeth as they hurt so bad and my wife got them some soft foam type toothbrushes and mouth rinse which they liked a lot better.  All told, they are looking at a dozen extractions, a half dozen root canals, and another handful of crowns that need to be done between the two of them. One of “I”’s top front teeth started to come in while she was with us and she was very excited about that as she admitted to getting teased about her teeth sometimes.  We are currently trying to get things fixed in Latvia through a competent dentist and as of today (Feb. 1, 2016) “I” and “S” are scheduled to go to a good dentist in Riga this month and they are to come up with a treatment plan which we intend to fund.  Anyone that is considering hosting these kids should ask for a current status so that they can continue whatever treatment plan they may be on.  We wished we had been told of their teeth issues so that we could line up proper care. Unfortunately, “I” and “S” were in need of an oral surgeon and lining one up at the last minute was impossible around Christmas.

“I” is a tall girl for her age, at the 78th percentile in height and 43rd in weight. “I” is a physically healthy and active. Like the other two, she will eat just about anything without complaint but she is a very slow eater (like “S”) perhaps because of her teeth. She actually lost weight while she was with us. They all did.

I believe “I” will do well in a family that can help her work through her past with the long term guidance of a professional that understands these things. I do not understand them other than a lot of proactive reading before adopting my girls years ago. In our limited experience with her I think she would do best in a family without other children (besides her siblings of course) and/or a family that can perhaps homeschool her to limit her world. Give her the right environment and she is going to do great things. My wife worked with the kids and really believes she is a smart girl that wants to prove herself.  In our experience she is not a “special needs” child outside of her behavior issues and we are hopeful that in her new environment she will be able to go to a normal school.  I don’t think it is fair to her to categorize her as “special needs” without some clarification.  It wouldn't surprise me if she was misdiagnosed as special needs just so the school didn't have to deal with her behavior issues. We were told that she doesn’t currently attend school, in her words, because she can’t read, but this was as of her previous orphanage (they were moved when they returned to Latvia after being hosted).

“S” is a funny little kid that loves to joke around. His favorite activities seem to be farting, making funny noises, and touching or otherwise getting into EVERYTHING! He had a hard time settling down for more than a few minutes although Cammie claims she could get him to do so. He likes to wrestle around and get tickled and loves to do anything that burns energy. He loved to ride bikes even when the others didn’t but I couldn’t get him to try a bigger bike without training wheels. He seems to lack the attention span for things like Legos. “S” did like to get hugs and cuddle, especially with Anna and my wife. He is ALL boy though. He is very animate about what toys a boy plays with and which toys a girl plays with. In all honesty, I think he is likely to slap you if you suggest he should or ever has played with dolls.

As far as behavior goes, he was usually a good kid, defiant quite often, but not an angry defiance like “I”. Probably more of a testing boundaries type of thing with him which I would categorize as normal for his age. He really bonded with Anna and I know Anna admitted that he reminds her of her younger brothers who are still in Ukraine so that may have driven some of it.

“S” also has some major tooth decay as well that needs to be addressed (10 teeth that need extraction for starters).  “S” also is a tall kid, at the 81st percentile in height and 66th in weight.  These numbers suggest he is thin but he actually looks to be a little overweight. He lost over two pounds when he was with us and he tells us that he eats lots of candy when they visit their parents on the weekend.  L Other than that, “S” is generally a healthy, active, and happy boy. Like the other two, he will eat just about anything without complaint but like “I”, is a very slow eater.

A few more details that may be helpful to a potential host family.  The children all speak Russian as their first language, not Latvian. They have two older siblings that they claim live in England and are from a different mother.  I don’t see this as a potential complication in the future and the kids don’t even know their siblings’ names. They do, according to them, stay with their parents every weekend and we were told by the previous hosting organization that the parental rights have not been terminated. Also, they have two living grandmothers, one that lives with their parents and the other that in their words is too sick to see them anymore. We are not aware of, and the children wouldn’t share, the reason these children have been removed from the home other than what I already stated but it is clear that something “broke” within the family sometime after “K” was born. “I” and “S” are clearly impacted by severe neglect while “K” is essentially unscathed.

I hope this is helpful and we are happy to answer any additional questions any potential host family may have. We aren’t experts but we believe strongly that more information is always better than less and we hope the above will help any future potential host family make a more informed decision.