This has been sort of a crazy re-entry into life for us. The jet-lag has been no joke, and it’s been surprisingly consuming just to have Noah in the house with us and also to have so many doctors appointments and paperwork with insurance and things. Not that we weren’t expecting it, but somehow it still took us by surprise. Add to that that our basement decided to flood a couple days after we got back into town (thank the Lord it didn’t happen while we were in China!) which was a complication we really didn’t need, and a week and a half went by like lightening!
The first night Noah and Toby went to bed and tried to whisper to each other which is tough with very limited English. We could hear, “Good night, Toby.” “Good night, Noah.” “Toby. Toby! Toby!” “Yes, Noah?” “Um… good night, Toby.” “Good night, Noah.” “Okay. Toby! Toby!” “Yes, Noah?” “Um, good night, Toby.” etc. That lasted about 5 minutes and then they both passed out.
In the morning when they woke up, Toby told me Noah said, “I miss Chinese mother.” And Toby said, “I’m sorry, Noah” and Noah looked thoughtful and said, “I miss Chinese mother. I like American mother,” as though he was saying “I miss my Chinese mom but I also like my American mom.” This is actually so positive in our opinion. Clearly, it’s very normal for him to miss his foster parents, but we are so glad that he also likes us, and we want him to know that it’s fine for him to love two sets of parents. He also asked Nathan again if he could call his foster family, but we told him it was the middle of the night in China and he said, “Oh, yeah,” and dropped the subject. We are going to talk to our agency about how to handle this best. We have no problem with him being in contact with his foster family at some point, and would encourage it as long as it’s healthy (we assume so, but we only know his side of things), but we’ve been told that it’s best for him and his attachment to us to have no contact for several months, so we’re praying through all that.
Later, we went to get the dogs. We have two very friendly, very nice, very loud-when-they-meet-you-which-is-a-little-scary-for-children little schnauzers named Pepper and Ivy. Noah was quite nervous about them at first, but also fascinated. I think he really wanted dogs, but he hasn’t had much experience with them at all. They did really well. Noah was very nervous for an hour, then tried to interact very cautiously for another hour, and then he really warmed up to them. He asked us repeatedly on the first two days if they would bite him (he was bitten by a neighbor’s dog in China apparently) but he realized fairly quickly that they really are harmless and he loves them. He’s been tucking blankets around them on the couch, and he even wanted to help me give them a bath.
That was pretty hilarious, actually. We have a walk-in shower with a hand-held shower head that we use for that, so I had him roll his pants up and I rolled up mine and we were in this shower with two dogs running around trying to get away and shaking water all over us, and he was startled but laughing. He kept saying, “Dogs crazy! Crazy dogs shower! Dogs no like shower! Dogs crazy shower!” which I thought was pretty good for a kid who had 5 words in English 3 weeks earlier. He told everyone we came into contact with for the next 5 days that dogs don’t like showers and are crazy in the shower.
Sunday was Easter. It was so weird not to go to church on Easter, but we just knew it was too much for him, and we were all so jet-lagged. Nathan went by himself, and I stayed home with the kids and we told Noah it was a big holiday where we celebrate Jesus becoming alive again. He has no background at all with Christianity, and I have no idea what he thinks of any of it. I told him we were going to pray and thank Jesus for coming to the world and for saving us and for coming back to life and he said, “okay” and prayed right along with us. I’m not sure if he thinks this is an American thing or a Shaw thing, but we have time to explain more as he acquires language.
So many people have asked us how we are communicating. We have Google translate on our phones which we’ve used a lot (Noah now says, “Mom, my phone!” whenever he wants to tell me something because I kept saying to him, “Do you need my phone?” and now he thinks the name is “my phone.”) and also Noah has picked up an incredible amount of English and we have picked up a little Mandarin. It’s amazing how much you can communicate with facial expressions and gestures too. And we also have several friends who speak Mandarin as do our kids, so when someone is in the house who can talk to him, we take advantage and get the more complicated topics covered.
We’ve had some really tough behaviors since we’ve been back. Noah is definitely testing the boundaries of what is acceptable in our house, and I think he’s also used to being the only child, so a lot of how our house runs is foreign to him. He’s strong willed, so it can be discouraging sometimes, but we’ve also found that he has a sweet heart and learns quickly. He is very competitive and is apparently obsessed with Monopoly which doesn’t always bring out the best in him, but it’s been a good teaching tool for us about sportsmanship and treating people kindly whether it’s going well for you or not and it’s getting better. He can also change money like no one’s business. It’s harder emotionally than I thought it might be, but we also see so much hope and promise, and as I keep telling the kids, I don’t think we’ll recognize this in 3 months. He is changing so fast, and the more he can communicate, the less frustrated he is.
We’ve also spent many, many, many hours with doctors over the last week. Noah’s first appointment was cardiology. We were expecting a 30 minute get-you-established appointment, but it turned into 4.5 hours. They did his EKG and then we had a 90 minute echocardiogram. Holy cannoli. We watched the entire Big Hero 6 movie while they took pictures and measurements and watched his heart. The good news is that the cardiologist feels he is not in an emergency situation at this time. He cannot tell us whether surgery is possible until they do a heart cath on Noah (this will be a 24-48 hour stay at the hospital), but he said that nothing jumped out on the echo as a blocker either, so that is at least not bad news. He said that Noah has been living this long with his heart like this, and the doctor didn’t feel there would be any significant change in the next couple of months, so he wants to proceed through all the tests and we can look at the summer for open-heart surgery if surgery is still possible. This is good news because we were really hoping Noah could have a couple of months to transition and learn more language and trust us more – we just think it will be much less frightening for him that way.
The next day we saw the dentist and that was really terrible news. In fact, they are recommending that he have oral surgery at Children’s Hospital to take care of everything at once because it’s so bad that it would be too traumatic to do it outpatient. The only good news is that he won’t lose any permanent teeth. It’s also further complicated by his heart condition as they will not proceed with anything heart-related until his mouth is healthy. There’s a big risk of bacterial infection getting into the bloodstream and affecting the heart from dental issues, so it’s standard to wait until the mouth is healthy. He also needs specialized care for anesthesia because of his heart, so it looks like this will be another surgery. We don’t think he’s ever had dental care.
So to sum up surgery now, we need to get the dental surgery scheduled (which is usually a months-long wait, but since he is a cardio patient we are hoping to be expedited in the next couple of weeks), and after that is complete, we need to wait another 4-6 weeks for him to heal completely before they will do the heart cath. After that they will present everything to the surgical team and decide how to proceed, and if he can still have the heart surgery, they will schedule him for that anytime after the cath. If it happens, he will be in the hospital anywhere from 1-4 weeks. The surgery does not fix his heart, but it does make his system much more efficient which takes a lot of the load off the one pumping chamber he has, and this will extend his life expectancy significantly and also improve his quality of life, so we’re obviously hoping it can happen.
The next day he spent hours and hours at the international adoption clinic. They test for all kinds of things that a regular kid’s physical would not test, and it’s all specific to the country the kids are coming from. He was also seen by OT, PT, speech, psych, and given cognitive tests and a physical. It’s a crazy day. He did so well on all of this, and so far there are only a few minor issues that are all easily resolvable – just a few low levels on some things. We haven’t gotten everything back yet, but so far, other than his heart and his teeth, he looks very healthy.
He started school this week. We are taking him for a couple of hours in the morning or afternoon, and we are staying with him for now. In China, Noah told us he wanted to start school right away – he really likes school and was worried that he would be bored at home when his siblings went back. When we got here, though, he was very nervous about it. I can’t blame him – I would be too! But staying with him and doing it in smaller pieces has been good. So far he has liked it, and even though he is very worried about how little he understands, he has enjoyed having work to do. He even asked for more homework in math because he likes math!
We have told him we will stay with him as long as he needs us, and we also put Google translate on a tablet and the boy next to him has been given permission to use it as needed (Shout out, Cole! You’ve been a super help!). We’re not really expecting him to get a lot of content in the few weeks left, but we’re hoping it will help him get language, and he’s already met several kids. It will be nice for him to have a few friends before summer, especially if he’s stuck at home recovering for a while. The school has been fantastic and just told us to do whatever we thought was best for him and makes him most comfortable.
Watching him at doctors’ offices and at school, we can tell that he’s been tricked in the past – like he’s been told one thing to get him to comply, but then what he had been told was not what happened. Not sure by who, but when we tell him we won’t leave him, he doesn’t believe us and asks us over and over to stay and holds onto us. He thinks we are nice, but he hasn’t known us long enough to know he can trust us or that we will always tell him the truth. Already, though, after visiting the school just a few times and after going a few times, he is trusting us more and he is more relaxed when we go now. He still checks the plan with us like, “Go school, mother stay, home lunch,” etc, but he believes us when we tell him the plan now. This is so important, and it will be so good if he learns that he can trust us before his surgery. In China, when he asked about his upcoming surgery, I told him I would stay at the hospital with him and that I would not leave him, and he just looked like he didn’t believe me. I know he was alone a lot of the time when he was in the hospital as a little guy, and it just breaks my heart that he had to face that by himself. Hopefully he will be able to trust that it will be different this time, and if not, I know that it will be a bonding experience when we go through it and he sees that we did what we said and did not leave him. We’ve heard from several adoptive families that their behavior during their kids’ surgeries was really crucial to their child’s trust in them.
Couple of funny and/or sweet things from this past week:
When we leave, we routinely say something like, “Bye! Love you!” and he has started telling everyone he loves them when he leaves the house. So sweet. He also tells Toby he loves him every night when they go to bed, and has started saying it to the girls and us as well at random times.
He’s met several more family members this week including several cousins and aunts and uncles. My grandmother flew in from Florida and I didn’t even know how to tell him who she was (the words for family members in Chinese are much more specific than they are in English) and so I finally just lined myself up with my mom and grandmother and pointing at us said, “Your mother, your mother’s mother, your mother’s mother’s mother” and he just looked shocked and said, “What?! I – THREE mothers?! Whoa.” And all day after that he would mutter about three mothers and uncles and then exclaim, “I have BIG family!”
His ELL teacher told him that her dog has such long hair that she has to cut it with scissors so the dog can see. I told him I do the same thing when Pepper and Ivy get too much fur, and he was so concerned! He kept saying, “You, no scissors! Pepper and Ivy so cute! Dogs so cute!” and he pets them and tells them they are cute repeatedly now. He doesn’t want them to change. He has no idea how fluffy they get!
One day he was looking for a snack which has been a challenging area for us, and I finally asked if he liked popcorn and translated it for him. He lit up and said he did, but then said, “Crazy shopping mom (I’m crazy shopping mom now because I bought so much at the grocery store when we got home) no popcorn home.” He hadn’t seen any. But I told him I make it in a pot and that we already had some. He was fascinated – I don’t think he’d ever seen it made this way. He asked me so many times how it would work. I told him “1 minute, nothing. 2 minutes, pop-pop. 3 minutes, crazy pop-pop-pop-pop!!” with fantastic charades if I do say so myself and he was so excited to see this amazing thing! I put it on the burner and he said, “Mom! Deng yi deng!” which means “wait!” and he dove behind the kitchen island, held a book in front of his face and said with a huge grin, “Okay! I ready!” He loves to tease!
He and Toby had a falling out about monopoly and he was not very nice to Toby. We explained that he had made Toby sad and Noah was trying to figure out how to make it up to Toby. He said, “Sorry, Toby” and then thought a minute and using the translator, he said to him “My brother is really a very special child.” It was super sweet and I loved seeing him working to relate well to his siblings.
And as a final quote for this post, we were sitting at dinner, and Noah was telling us all silly things we must have gone to school for. He got to me and told me “mother go to school for chocolate!” I guess he’s really getting to know me well.