The next three months: We expected Amos to be a handful. He was a handful when we had spent time with him in Kansas. We dealt with biting, choking, pinching, hitting, and completely ignoring us when we called his name. After a month, the difficult behaviors were few, and he had become very loving and sweet, while constantly wanting group hugs.
Maria had always been so sweet, and easy, so our struggles with her were completely unexpected. Ligon, who was four at the time, became her target. She stomped on his toes as she walked by, punched him in the stomach, dug her fingernails into his arm, bit, hit, pinched, and scratched him...those were the incidents I saw. There were many, many more when I was not in the room. We made every attempt to make sure she was never alone in a room with him.
Tantrums. Tantrums were a constant. If she got in trouble, I would place her in her chair in the kitchen, and stay with her. She would dig her fingernails into her arm, beat her head on the wall, hit herself in the face, scratch herself, and scream. There was no way to calm her down. Anything we asked her to do ended in a tantrum. We never knew how long it would last. One tantrum lasted one and a half hours. It was exhausting...for both of us.
Anxiety. We learned that we could see the anxiety in her face. High anxiety=big tantrums. High anxiety=extreme clinginess, incessant talking, whining, lying, and arguing. I had never experienced lying from a two year old. I was at a loss for how to deal with this behavior. She argued about every...every....everything! If I said a cup was pink, she would argue and say it was blue.
We had a visit from family. It was fine while they were here, but for two weeks after they left, it was a nightmare. We were sad for her. We were sad for us. Any progress we had made was lost.
"What have we done?" Yes, through tears I asked myself this more than once. Her behavior was extreme compared to anything I had seen in my first seven children. Her behavior made it difficult to love her...difficult to like her. She was physically abusing my "baby" and I was growing weary. I hated the way I felt toward her, but I didn't allow her to see my struggle. I was told, "Fake it until you make it! Keep pretending to love her, and someday you will realize that you really do love her!" She was sweet when we left the house, but the moment we got home her temper flared, and life became difficult. Sometimes we left for the day just to have some peace.
"I love you and I like you." People would say, "Awwwww...that's so sweet!" It wasn't. Do you want to know why? Because she would say it 50 times per day! I am not exaggerating! Sadly, what we have realized is that she does this when her anxiety is heightened. It breaks my heart! I want her to tell me she likes me and loves me, but not 50 times per day...because I don't want her living her life in a constant state of fear and anxiety. No one should live like that.
Six months: Amos was settling in well. He was learning more signs, and looking to me for approval. He was still a handful, but we expect that for quite some time. He is five, but he has Down syndrome, so he is like a toddler in many ways. The "terrible twos" may be here for a while.
Maria was still struggling, but no longer physically abusive. The whining, lying, incessant talking, and tantrums were wearing on everyone's nerves. I began getting out of the house, periodically, to renew my patience, and to get a break. I looked for opportunities for my older children to get out of the house, so they could get a break. Some days, 90 percent of her waking hours, were spent in tantrums.
Guilt. Oh, the tremendous amount of guilt. I thought I would instantly feel like her mother, and love her as I do my other children, but I was struggling. I was so weary of the difficult behaviors. I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning, and couldn't wait for nap time and night time, so I could get a break. I was sinking into depression, and wondering if it would ever get better. For some families, it never gets better. I was trying to figure out how I could live like that. There were two adoptive moms I confided in. One said, "Hang in there, Kerry! It WILL get better! There is something magical about the one year mark." The other friend said, "I know how you feel. I know what you are thinking...'I wish I could go back to life before them. I wish I could have things the way they were.' But, don't linger there, Kerry! It is normal, trust me, but you are exactly where God wants you, and those kids are exactly where God wants them. It will get better!" Oh, how I wanted to believe them!
Nine months: Behavior was not improving. After doing some research online, I came to believe that Maria has Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Reactive Attachment Disorder. She has not been formally diagnosed. I have sought, and sought a counselor who has experience in the area of adoption, trauma, and these two disorders. It is proving to be very difficult. I was sinking even deeper into depression. I thought about my friend's words that there was something magical about a year, but we were only three months away, and there was no improvement. She was very difficult, and I was struggling to deal with the behaviors on a daily basis.
One year: We are almost to the one year mark. Three more days. Is it magical? Possibly. Over the past two months, Maria has begun to bond with her daddy. Every evening when he gets home, he changes his clothes, comes downstairs and says, "Mia, get your boots on! Let's go to the barn!" She jumps up, walks hand in hand, and talks his leg off. This is new. This is good. Something is changing. Over the past three weeks we have seen her relax. It is hard to explain, but Roger and I have noticed that she seems to have found her place in the family. She still blames Ligon for everything, and tries to argue with him, and lies about him, but she is SO much better than the first three months. The tantrums are nearly gone. She makes good eye contact with me when I rock her at night. I still think she has the two disorders I mentioned, but I think the affects are beginning to subside a little. She tells me several times a day "I love you and I like you," but we are down to probably 10-20 times per day, so that is much improved. As I was putting her in bed tonight she said, "Mommy, I like you and I love you. Do you know how much I love you?" I said, "How much?" She said, "I love you forever." Be still my heart. As for me...I like her and I love her. I guess you could say we have both come a long way. It is still hard, and we are still adjusting, but I love them so much that I could not imagine my life without them. We are still in the trenches, and could still use some prayer, but I look forward to seeing how far we have come one year from now.