Blogging about life in Minnesota, raising our six kids with Down syndrome while battling Breast Cancer.

Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says, "Oh shit! She's up!"

Sunday, April 20, 2014


One year ago yesterday, Abel turned 10. For the first time in his life he had a Mama and Papa there to show him love on his birthday. Here is what I wrote on his big day last year:

Today our son turns 10 years old.
For 10 years he has never known love. He has never had a mother, a father, a family, a home.
He has never seen food prepared.
He has never seen a kitchen.
He has never seen a refrigerator full of food.
He has never had a real bath.
He has never gotten to lay in a tub full of water and watch the bubbles float around him.
He has never been tucked in at night with a kiss and a hug.
He has never had anyone to calm his fears in the middle of the night.
He has never NOT been thirsty.
His 10 years of waiting are over.
This birthday party was done for our benefit. It wasn't something Abel was used to seeing. Only the children who had families or regular visitors had birthday celebrations. Abel was scared to death by the attention. (the frosting on the nose is a tradition but I don't know it's meaning. When I find out, I'll edit here.)

That years seems forever ago. The scared little boy, who ruled his world by intimidating his caregivers, threatening them with tears, or heavy pieces of furniture.

Today he is 11. In one year his life has changed so much!

He has a mother, a father, a family, a home to call his own. A bed that ONLY he has ever slept in.

He helps prepare the food, and set the table and clear it too!

He loves to be in the kitchen.

He carries groceries in from the car and puts them away where they belong with very little help.

He enjoys a bath for a few minutes, but Abel is "all business" about most things in life so his baths are pretty quick. Splish, splash, rinse and get out!

He gets tucked in every single night, with a hug and a kiss, and "I love you."

You may remember this video, taken the first night we had custody of him. We are very familiar with institutional self-soothing behaviors, but we were shocked by the intensity of Abel's. He did this off and on all night long.

Every morning when Abel wakes up, the hair on the back of his head is a matted mess from this rolling, and once it got longer than an inch it would break off. Then one day about 3 months ago I realized the previous two mornings Abel's hair was not knotted. We watched him that night. Sure enough, Abel had quit rolling in the night! He sleeps soundly most of the night now.

Abel had no way to communicate when we met him, though he had come up with some gestures the institution staff recognized to have certain meaning but mostly he just mimed everything.

And now, one year later, he uses ASL sentences! "I need bathroom." and "I want drink please." "Outside go please." etc. He signs more than Axel and Asher do!

Abel has severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and anxiety associated with it. He is still hyper-vigilant but we have seen improvement from one year ago. In school he is trying so hard to be good, but the fact he is back in an institutional setting is very difficult for him. I debated keeping him home and homeschooling him. I know I could do a good job, but there will come a day when Abel will need to be with a caregiver other than Dean or I, and he is going to have to behave. Better for him to learn this now than in a couple of years when he is much bigger and stronger. Thankfully our school district has been very understanding of the challenges Abel faces due to his traumatic past. We are in very close communication, and there have been times when I'm at school every day of the week. It was especially rough for Abel while I was gone to complete Audrey's adoption. Not because he missed me, but because Mom, aka "the cop" was gone!

As far as attachment goes, this is a rough area for Abel. We do see see tiny glimpses that he is attaching to us, but he still struggles.  He is starting to give affection (this is new for him) but he doesn't know who to give it to. Dean is his first choice, but a teacher, or school support staff, or a stranger who comes to our door will do too! This is probably one of the most difficult skills to teach our adopted kids.  I have to say, in many ways Dean and I feel like we are tools to Abel's existence and nothing more.  We love him, we care for him with love, and we know that in his own way he loves us, but love is hard for Abel. Its something he isn't used to and so he resists it. It doesn't really matter to us if he never attaches to us. Our job is still the same.  Our job is to be his parents, whether he loves us or not. To teach him the skills he needs to be as independent as he is capable of being. At certain times it is clear Abel needs to disconnect from us and spend some time doing his own thing (usually stimming with a toy or ball) because that is what he spent 10 years doing and it is his default now. Every day we give him some time for this, particularly right after he comes home from school, and then we encourage him to join the family. Over the past year we have seen his alone time decreasing, and more often he brings his stimming toy out to the family area to be near us in his alone time. It is good to see, and gives us hope that one day he will let us in even more.

I've said it a thousand times, but I'm going to say it again. Adoption isn't easy. Adoption is trauma. Is Abel better off here than the institution? Absolutely! But the transition to a good place came with its own set of traumatic events. Abel had 10 years of nutritional, social, environmental and educational neglect. We will give him years of positive experiences to learn the things he was never given exposure to before.

And with that, I leave you with the birthday boy, so different in just one year. (please excuse my horrid singing!)

Abel was a bit annoyed when he came to breakfast and found balloons tied to his chair. 

Abel LOVES vehicles that little people can fit into. He gets very frustrated with vehicles that don't have people in them! He spends a lot of time looking inside them and trying to squeeze toy people that are too big into the tiny holes. He has really enjoyed these two vehicles so far, because he can open the doors and sit the people in seats. He tried to put his big toe in the bus, an attempt to get on, I think!

And of course, Audrey loved the birthday cake from her first American birthday party! 

Happy Birthday Abel! 
We are so proud of how far you've come! 


Imogen said...

Happy Birthday Abel! Wishing you all the happiness in the world, celebrating the miracle that is you. You sure have come a long way and it has been a pleasure and an honor to be allowed to have a glimpse into your journey. Many hugs, beautiful boy xx

Betsy said...

Happy "11th" Birthday, Abel! We clapped with you when you blew out all your candles! Thank you for sharing the video! A Blessed and Happy Easter to you all!

mielkay said...

Has it been a year already ? It seems like he just turned 10 .He's a different and happier boy now. Happy Birthday Abel , may all your dreams come true.

Relle said...

Happy Birthday Abel. Wow 11 years old. You did a great job blowing out your candles. My kids seems to spit when they blow their candles out which grosses out my mother and sister haha. It was fun to watch Audrey's face in the video as she is taking in the birthday experience. Abel you have come so far and you will go to many amazing places this year as you learn new skills. Thanks for letting us be a small part of your adventures. I'm sure the easter egg hunt at your house was lots of fun. My kids loved it and squeal and giggled the whole time. Happy Easter