We arrived home at about 2:30 am February 9th 2017. We quickly directed the children with sleepy heads to their rooms The look of wonder in their eyes was priceless. Our house was cold but really welcoming. It was so good to be home! It was nearly 3:30 am by the time Sharon and I fell asleep. Jet lag was working against me so after 3.5 hours of sleep I was wide awake.
There was much to do, snow to clear, wood furnace to get going. The suitcases could wait till morning to unpack. Quietly I got the fire going and then I started with snow removal giving everyone else as much time to rest as possible. I hadn’t finished clearing the driveway when Conor appeared – he was obviously very tired yet but I could see he didn’t want to miss anything. He got his first ride on the quad – eager to be driving – but not yet – that time would come soon enough.
I returned to work the Monday following our return February 13th 2017, only 4 days after coming home. In hindsight this was not such a good idea. This left Sharon home alone for 8 hours with the children – we prayed together at home and over the phone. Frequently, throughout the week Sharon would call as I was leaving to come home in the evening, exhausted and exasperated “Will you be home soon . . . I really need you.” Those first weeks were so hard trying begin to provide guidance and structure with such limited communication.
Meals were quiet and difficult as we struggled to communicate, relying heavily on itranslate. Not being able express their feelings in a fashion that we could understand weighed heavily on the children. The food was so different that the children quite often refused to try anything, that is except for Conor: he ate like there was an imminent famine about to hit our home! Sharon is an excellent cook and I love her food but the dishes were so new and tasted so different to the children that I knew she was getting a little discouraged as she sought to prepare healthy and tasty meals. We finally agreed on a compromise: the children instead of just refusing to eat, had to try a couple of spoonfuls and we made the portions smaller until they got used to the difference in tastes. Sharon actually realized this before me as she recounted how unappetizing she found certain Canadian foods when she arrived here all those years ago.
We made our share of mistakes during those initial weeks (and yes we still do). Our first blunder we actually had been warned about by several sources, but it just seemed to be the right thing to do; we attempted to engage in our local church the first Sunday we returned – though this is what we needed as a couple – this was NOT what we needed as a family, nor what was it best for the children. Sharon and I needed to be alone with the children nurturing family bonds. This was one of the biggest mistakes we made as a new family.
The second mistake we made was that we continued using itranslate and even enlisted the help of some our Russian speaking friends – but the children began making family attachments to them and refusing to even try to learn English. The number of Russian speaking friends we had unintentionally convinced Conor he could survive in Canada only speaking Russian. Conor repeatedly would say firmly “Ya govoryu po russki a ne po angliski” – “I speak Russian I do not speak English.” “I dont need to learn English here”.
After almost 3 weeks when the challenges at home: breach of boundaries and defiance seemed to have no end in sight, we sought guidance from our post placement support worker. There were meltdowns over the silliest of things: like having a bath, putting on rubber boots to play outdoors instead of runners or wearing a coat when it was still very cold outdoors.
Sharon had called me at work on that day and said “you need to get home, I can’t do this alone right now“. I arrived home early to an exhausted and wounded spouse in tears, with a bite mark on her arm, a kick mark on her shin and having been spat at in her face. The books had all said to hold the children close when they are having meltdowns and keep telling them you love them because they are pushing to see if that is true. They are testing boundaries and your parental love, to see if you, as a parent will send them back to the orphanage, to see if you will abandon them like everyone else in their short lives has done. They are afraid to trust, and afraid of getting rejected and sent back to the orphanage later so they figure they will try to see if your claims to them are true. They need to know that no matter how much they push that you will keep them and still love them. Sometimes that holding them in our arms caused even more pushing away or at least it felt like that initially (later the children have said it actually made them feel loved and safe but those first few times we both felt like failures as we attempted to love these hurting children) who had wounds our eyes couldn’t see. At this moment I questioned all the books we had read, having assessed the situation upon my arrival: in desperation I placed a call first to our social worker who was not available, then to our post placement support worker. She couldn’t be reached either but I was able to leave a message. “Oh Lord what are we going to do! What have we done!” I cried out. Only moments passed and K had returned my call. She listened so quietly and politely as Sharon shared what had happened and her fears that this would never end. When there was nothing more that could be said K firmly and kindly told Sharon to stop immediately with itranslate, insist on English at home and with friends and to not delay school enrollment. We had felt they needed time at home just with us so we had not be rushing school attendance!
So school tours were planned the nervousness mounted and it was clearly visible with all three of the children. The older two announced that they had no intention of attending school here – period! They had attended school in Ukraine and didn’t like it so there was no point in starting school here. Not off to a good start so far! We had one of our friends available for translation as we met with the Principals and staff of Green Valley and South Oaks Schools. What a positive experience! The children’s point of reference for school from Ukraine had left a rather bitter taste but the tours were so positive as we returned home it was very clear excitement had replaced apprehension. They were trying to ask when can we start? They had toured the school with eyes full of excitement and wonder. Now we had another problem that we had not anticipated. We had not yet received the Manitoba Health numbers for the children, even though we had applied as soon as we had returned home. Though their enrollment could be processed, until we had those numbers in hand, they would not be allowed to start. Niamh would be placed in grade 6, Conor grade 5, and Declan in kindergarten.
Manitoba Health numbers arrive – it’s off to school and the children ended up starting one and a half weeks before spring break. That week and a half was just enough to wet their appetite as spring break could not be over soon enough for them to return. English was spoken sparingly a few words here and there but it was coming.
First Day of School
During devotions we encouraged them to pray – Conor was eager to pray and did so very fervently in Russian and he was reading his Russian Bible at night. Difficult times at home were slowly waning but unfortunately every Sunday after church we would have the same flare up behavioral issues. Finally, at one Sunday meal some comment was made about us speaking English around the table, they could still speak Russian among themselves but just English at the table (as per the advice of our support worker)- I am sorry but honestly that did it for me. I, with a firm and very stern voice said “I am sorry that mama and I are not Russian speaking, that our home does not speak Russian very well, we speak English! Why did God not ask a Russian speaking family to adopt you, I don’t know! But I do know that God did ask mama and papa to adopt you and we speak English !” I was on a roll and continued, “That does not mean that mama and papa want you to lose your Russian language, we don’t, but you have to learn English to succeed in Canada,” . Everyone at the table was shocked, me included, but that point was pivotal for behavior in our home. No, none of us are perfect there were still ups and downs but K’s advise was true wisdom. The kids began to really bond with us and real family life began.
We did have to withdraw from our own church for a few months due to the Russian language influence there and how it was confusing our kids emotionally and we sort of floated about through May, June, July and August. That period was unsettling for our church family but we very clearly needed to associate with English-speaking only folk. I don’t want to make too bug a deal about it here but at the time it was a big deal. We met with Pastor Garry and Kimberly and shared our plight with them and they understood and gave us their support. We are grateful for the interim warmth, love and support that we received from Southland Church in Steinbach. Pastor Dyck was amazing and really helped us through some difficult times.
We attended an Adoption conference called ‘Empowered to Connect“ at Southland that really helped us to understand the mind and behavior of a child that has come from ‘hard places‘. The late Dr.Karen Purvis was telecast and explained how adopted children think and why they often act the way they do. Now as that adoptive parent it all made sense!
We returned home, eager, energised and armed with helpful and useful information to translate into actions to help our children heal. We also made a point of taking a few minutes each day just for ourselves with no interuptions. We made a little seating area in our bedroom where we could just relax and read or watch tv after the kids had gone to bed.
Come September we felt it was o.k to return to our home church and it was : the children were much more settled and people were respecting our request to speak to them in English – but that is jumping ahead. When we look back on those first few weeks it seems like it was a bad dream. The behaviours we experienced then are so far removed from now, maybe it was. I know with this next adoption we will, in all probability face these same issues, but this time we have the past to look back at and hopefully have learned lots to help our children settle here in our home and family.