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Monday, January 26, 2015

The Redemption in the Rescue

Today was one that will be unlikely to be forgotten by those of us in the midst of it.

We were referred two brothers.  There's nothing exceptional about that. Our Child Caring Agency gets referrals often.  We generally are referred children from temporary institutions who are in need of permanent care.

THIS call was for children still in the family home.  These children were suffering immensely at home from abuse, starvation and oppressive poverty.
 The home was little more than three cinder-block walls and one wall made of clap board. The smell inside was indescribable.  The children were using one corner of the room as a bathroom.  They were alone.  They were not being cared for by anyone.  There was no food anywhere in sight and the children were often seen by neighbors digging through garbage and eating whatever they found.

These precious boys were guarded and afraid as we talked with them. We were surprised to find out they are seven and nine because they are the sizes of four and five year olds.  Several concerned neighbors gathered around and asked us to take the boys somewhere better "for the sake of their future".   The neighbors were caring and kind but they, too, were poor and had little to share with these brothers.  It was not because they didn't want to help. They simply couldn't.
The city social worker, who accompanied us, had been called repeatedly for help with these boys and had not yet found an organization able to make the journey to their far-away squatter community to intervene.  Many are full here.
And what we found there made me wonder why God called US there instead of someone far more experienced in this kind of child rescue.  But He called and we went.

Inside the house

Right outside the front door

The children came with us easily after our social worker and the local city social worker had all the documents signed and the nearest relatives briefed on what was taking place.  The boys did not cry or even feel the need to hug anyone as they left. They just came.  Stoically.  Silently trailing behind us, all the way to our vehicle.
I walked beside them and put a loose arm around their shoulders.  I rubbed their hair a little on the walk and told them in my very best not-so-good Tagalog not to worry and that they were safe now. I asked them if they were hungry as soon as we entered the car and they both nodded.
My husband asked if they liked Jolibee and the older brother quietly admitted they had never been.  Jolibee is THE fast food restaurant of The Philippines and we were surprised that they had never been even once.  It was settled.  We were going to Jolibee!
The boys were in awe of all the big trucks and buses we drove by. They chatted with each other a little more excitedly as motorcycles whizzed by our car.  They pointed at large buildings and exclaimed how tall they were.
It was then that we realized they had probably never been outside their own squatter community! They were amazed at the very mundane things we pass all the time.  Their barangay was pretty remote and it made sense that they had simply never left.  Our social worker inquired and it was true. They had lived their whole lives in that very place we had just taken them away from.
We pulled into the parkinglot at Jollibee and the boys pointed and marveled at the tall sign out front and the bigger-than-life bumblebee mascot at the front door.
They both ordered chicken and spaghetti and could not sit still as they waited for their food to come!


 And as I type this blog post, those two beautiful boys are sleeping upstairs at Mercy House. The little one is under a Winnie the Poo comforter (thank you, Australia) and the older boy is under a Wall-E blanket (thanks, USA) and I am still processing all that happened today.
I have a few immediate thoughts to share.

FIRST, there is nothing heroic about what we did today. It simply had to be done because we drove to where we heard there was a need and saw heart-breaking suffering.  We are not "awesome" and we sure aren't super Christians.  We came here to help and God is revealing needs.  I sang praise songs in the car the whole way to Jollibee in pure thankfulness that God would even use us like this. We are so unqualified in so many ways.  But that's ANOTHER blog post . . .

SECOND,  don't you DARE call your child over to the computer and show him the conditions of these boys' lives and then chastise him for not eating his peas or picking up his toys.  That is unfair on so many levels.  You and your child can not even conceive of this kind of poverty unless you've been here or somewhere like here.  I never could.  In some ways, I still can't.  If these boys were raised in a loving family without abuse and poverty, they would probably be feeding their peas to the dog under the table as well. That's a PRIVILEGE.  Just hug your picky eater and thank your Father in Heaven that he will likely never have to find his dinner in the trash bag of an impoverished neighbor. You don't deserve your life but neither do these kids deserve theirs. 

THIRD,  the message stuck on "repeat" in my mind as I met the mother of these two today is "there but for the grace of God, go I".  I could so easily be that young woman who made a litany of poor choices brought on by a cycle of poverty that probably started with her great-great-great-great grandmother and will continue all the way to her children's children's children without a miraculous intervention.

FOURTH,  if we ever doubted our calling to this country and this particular ministry, today redeemed our call.  Never have I felt so certain that God ordained a place and time.  He did. He is so good and so faithful and so real.  There wasn't one aspect of this day that could be legitimately called a "coincidence".   GOD DID THIS.   He wanted it done and it is.

But it's also a work in progress and we will trust Him to complete that good thing that He started. These children are, for the first time in their lives, in a safe place. Their needs are being met. Nobody is going to hit them. They will go to school. They will learn about what Jesus has done to reconcile sinners to God.  They will be safe.
They are safe.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Not Like Us, Older Child Adoption Part 2

Most of you readers are aware of the fact that, back in 2006, our family welcomed a child into our home from a disrupted adoption.    I detailed the events surrounding that decision and the hardships that came as a result of it in a blog post that went  viral here.
Although this particular son has had struggles common to kids from hard places even since that time, I firmly believe he has been healed of the worst of the damage and God has done a miracle for him.
We are still in awe of that healing, eight years after placement.

But I share with you today, not so much as a four-time Philippine adoptive parent but as the director of a Child Caring Agency that is in the throes of preparing our first group of children for their "forever families".

I share because TWO disrupted adoptions further broke the heart of my broken son and it is my deepest desire that the children from our orphanage should never suffer that same pain.

I write because TWO American families had to cope with the hard decision to find a new family for a child and those families walked into adoption with, I'm sure, the best of intentions and the highest of hopes. They spent countless dollars and offered many prayers for the child that would be theirs but they could not stay the course.

And I write for a little boy who currently lives in our center but could so easily follow the path of my own broken son if not for an adoptive family who understands . . . who is patient . . . who sees hidden treasure underneath the damaged earth.

This is a child who spent years on the streets.  He begged. He parked cars. He scavanged in the trash to make a few pesos from recyclable items.  He took the money back to a very poor mother and she used it to provide for their family.  He was abused both on the streets and at home.  He's 12 and small for his age with a HUGE personality.

This is a child who could easily grow up to be a pastor, a politician...  or a disrupted adoption story.

He already has some innate strikes against him in terms of a successful placement.
He's older.
He's a boy.
He's very very behind academically, although he's smart.
That HUGE personality may look like RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) to some well-read but inexperienced adoptive family.
And THAT is where my fear and heartbreak meet and THAT is why I want to speak out on behalf of this child and so many others like him who wait in this country for a fresh start and a forever family.

Because I am American, I can really only speak to my own adoptive culture and community although I suspect in places like Australia and France - places with plenty of access to adoption literature, professionals who will analyze your child into oblivion and  to internet horror stories - might follow a similar pattern.

This little boy is NOT like a typical American child.  Because he is neither typical nor American.
He's a Filipino former street child who spent much more time on the streets and  in inadequate shelters than he has spent in a solid, safe family setting.  He, and others like him, have some coping strategies that might make a new family hesitant to receive him but I pray that someone will because as we see those survival mechanisms fade away, a beautiful boy is emerging.  This child is going to make some family happier and more alive than they have ever been. In time.

Some of the behaviors you MIGHT see in an older adopted child are:

1. "Over Loving"- for an infant, crying physical closeness and lots of eye contact help get those basic needs met. For an older child, sometimes the words "I love you" will come out too soon in an effort to communicate to his new family that he has needs and wants you to meet them.  An older adopted child might scare his parents who have read in countless adoption books that when a child is too loving, too soon, he is being "superficially charming" and probably has an attachment disorder.
In some children, that is true.  But I submit to you that the children we have worked with do not even understand what real parental love looks like, for the most part.  They mimic what they hear those happy TV families say and it yields positive results so they continue to do that.  As time goes on, we see the kids in our center start to say "I love you" less and less as they begin to receive love from us and our staff. They start to prefer us to strangers in public and they begin to make eye contact when they say "I love you".  And I am not naive, I feel the change in this child.  I can see it.  His forever family will, too.  If they are willing to wait for it.

2. "Over Asking" - kids who have had to fend for themselves will often ask for everything under the sun.  It is annoying. It feels like they are "using" you.  It is worrisome and embarrassing, especially when the child asks a family friend or a casual acquaintance for food, money, etc.  If your new son or daughter spent time begging, this is a behavior that has granted them lots of goodies and it takes time to extinguish.   A child needs a LONG time of having his needs met consistently by other people before he stops "looking out for number one".   He will get it eventually.  Three months into care with two of our boys and they already get it.  The asking for things has diminished.  The thankfulness has increased. Again, it takes time and it takes reminders that it's not nice to ask people for things all the time.

3. "Over Helping" - your older adopted child may believe he has to work to stay in your family. The children in our center have chores and work hard but most of them came in and tried to do EVERY chore ALL THE TIME.  If a child saw a staff member sweeping, he would try to take the broom and finish.  He would offer to change dirty diapers, do ALL the dishes for this HUGE group of people and even cook the food.  Kids who have been on the street are used to working for what they get.  Even begging is work. It is hard work, actually.  The kids spend hours in the hot son approaching strangers and dealing with a lot of rejection, harsh remarks and being ignored. Very hard on the spirit of a child but "work", just the same.  Families must reassure their new child that no matter how much - or how little- they do by way of chores, they are wanted, loved and will always be a part of the family.

4. "Over Touching" - The children in our center crave physical attention almost all the time. They want to hold hands, sit on our laps (even the "tough" street kids), kiss our cheeks and just be close. They are getting their needs met, parents.  They may smother you a little, at least for the first few months.  You have to do what is comfortable for you but here, we let them.  We feel such a privilege in getting to meet those unmet needs.  We are preparing them for you in hopes that the behaviors that will scare you into a counselor's office might be a little lessened by the time you meet them.  But they won't be gone. They may even start over because you are somebody new.  Please, I beg you, hug those kids.  Let that 12 year old sit on your lap at home.  Cradle him while you watch a movie. Do it. Don't chastise him for acting younger than his age.  He is putting his heart on the line and asking you to go back in time  with him a little.  The phase won't last forever but the strong bond and healing that come out of it will.

5. "Over Hurting" - the smallest physical injury, a small scratch or a mild bump, might cause your new son/daughter to over react.  They are asking for your undivided attention. They are checking to see if you will come to their aid when they get hurt. They are finding out how much you care about even the small things. On the street, there was no one to kiss those boo boos and put on a band aid. We go through a box a week when a child is new to our center. They can not get enough having those tears dried - even if they had to squeeze them out themselves.  Just like the other "overs", it will fade with time.

I am working hard to be professional and controlled as I type this post but my insides want to splash out onto the screen and BEG you adoptive families not to disrupt the adoptions of the precious kids in my center.  I KNOW them. I ADORE them. I dissolve into tears when I think of them having to endure this kind of pain after the lives they have lived. I know it happens.  I know it could possibly happen to my precious boy in the photo.   Or our others. 

But I also believe there are things WE can do on this side of water and things YOU can do as you wait that will help improve the chances of a great, long-lasting placement for even the children who are older and from hard places.

We'll take care of our side the best we know how but can I just ask THREE small, simple things of you hopeful adoptive parents?  Just THREE . . .

FIRST:  Bury the fantasy!  Falling in love with a photo and a write up is natural in adoption. I have done it four times.  I was "in love" with my kids the moment I received that referral photo and learned the details of their lives.  I built an image in my mind of what my sons would be like and when they were not, it was hard.  I realized they are NOT like "us".  Their voices, their preferences, their personalities- were nothing like the grateful Tiny Tims in my mind who fell into my arms and said "thank you for rescuing me".  Not even close.  Please do not build a mental fantasy around your new child before you meet him. He won't live up to it. He will disappoint. And so will you.  You waited SO long and prayed SO hard for this child  but don't let the "wanting" be better than the "having".
Together, you will find your groove and be the family that God intended.

SECOND: READ LESS, PRAY MORE. There are wonderful books about adoption, attachment, bonding and disorders of such.  I encourage you not to delve too deeply into those.  I know that RAD is real but I also know a lot of money is made from the psycho-analysis and medication of children from hard places. That money might be better spent on family activities and that time better spent in prayer.  With our twice-disrupted son, we opted for counseling, out-of-home respite and lots of other interventions and, for us, there was no "miracle" in those things. The miracle came when we began to accept our boy for who he is and change our own expectations and hearts toward him and his past.  Beauty really IS in the eye of the beholder. Cliche as that is, there is so much truth there. If only I had known .  .  .

THIRD: Give it a full year.  I would venture to say that the changes adoption causes in a family are so drastic that life is upside down for a long time.  Even with a child you adore at first sight, your lives are nothing like they were before "gotcha day" and you all need to step back and find your new normal. In all four of our adoptions, our family was happy but stressed for several months after placement. By the one-year mark, for most of our adoptive placements, we were feeling pretty "normal" and even considering another child.  Remember that at one-month post placement, your family looks nothing like it will at one-year post placement.  Please, just give him a year.  I think you'll be glad you did.

I know this post is general and that every child and every family are different. Each sending country has cultural issues that will not be in line with Filipino culture but, at the heart of all of this, is the common thread. Adoption is hard and if God calls, He equips.

Trust Him. Enjoy your child. Journal the hard and the good. Somebody, somewhere, someday, will need to draw from your life and find the hope to keep, and not disrupt, their adopted child.

For HIS Fame,
Nikki Esquivel
Middleman Community Support Center, Inc.
"Mercy House"