One year ago tonight (9 p.m. CDT) we met our sweet, loving, funny, stubborn and absolutely adorable little Benjamin. All of our lives changed forever, in an instant.
Ben's Journey With Us
June, 2011 - June, 2012
"Gotcha Day" is a term often used in the adoption community to celebrate the day you meet your new child. It's a day we will always remember and will always carry significant meaning to us. June 11th symbolizes a new beginning, a new family, a new child, a new sibling, a new grandson, a new nephew, a new cousin.....we celebrate through remembrance and reflection with joyful anticipation for what lies ahead in our journey with Ben.
Most of all, today is a day full of thankfulness, appreciation, honor and love.
Thankfulness for the caregivers and staff who (we believe) lovingly raised Ben for the first 33 months of his precious life; appreciation for the miraculous medical team that performed a very intensive and complicated surgery on Ben (at 18 months of age) that likely saved him from paralysis or other serious medical conditions; honor to the courageous woman that gave Benjamin life, but ultimately knew she could not care for him, and love for this miraculous child who has blessed our lives and opened his heart to trust and love us as his forever family. So many blessings, so many miracles!
The evening of June 11th, 2011 (morning of June 12th in China), Ben was carried into a strange room by the Director, whom we suspect, did not know him well. He was terrified and screaming. He came with the clothes on his back, and nothing more. We spent 30 minutes in the room and walked out the door with him, forever. That was it.
We did not know what he ate, what/how he drank, if he used a potty or a diaper or both, if he had allergies, how he slept, when he slept, what he liked/disliked, what he feared, what he enjoyed. He was a complete stranger and we didn't speak the same language....and he was our son. It was heartbreaking and scary....for all of us.
Ben had lived in the orphanage since 2 months of age. He knew nothing different. We suspect he rarely, if ever, went outside. The orphanage was his world, his routine, his "family". If the caregivers and / or Director told Ben about us, he would have no concept what they meant. He didn't comprehend the meaning of Mom, Dad, Brother or Sister....or family. Ben knew animals and songs, how to play, and the routine of living in institutional care. He did not know that parents and siblings and families exist. The concept was foreign to him....and to a certain extent, still is. This has been the most heartbreaking and difficult part for me. (For the first few months home we would hear Ben in the monitor at night, "Mommy, Daddy, Sammy, Ellie, Jackie and Ben! We family."......over and over. Reassuring himself.)
As we left the orphanage and ventured out into the "real" world, everything was new to him. Ben came with no "filters" and very few life experiences. We don't believe Ben was ever kissed goodnight ("No kisses in Shyyyna, only hugs...", he would later tell us) or walked on grass, saw the moon or played in the rain. He'd never been swimming, had anything that was "his", celebrated a birthday, eaten in a restaurant, sat in a swing or felt the love and security of a family. Every single thing was new to him.....
.....and we rocked his world.
Despite everything, Ben attached to us very quickly....we were fun (or so we thought!), loving, attentive and had lots of food!!! Ben laughed a lot and seemed to enjoy every new experience. We believe he didn't grieve as much as he fought for control, and still does....but much less frequently. We also believe he was treated like a "Little Emperor" in China. :)
So, how is BenBen doing now?
He's doing great -- really, really great....but, still has his moments. :) (just keepin' it real!).
Ohhh, to describe Ben. He's so many things wrapped into one short, amazing little package!
Loving. It's just his nature, how he's wired. He likes to hug and cuddle and give kisses. He's very affectionate and can often be heard saying, "I wuv you da whole world". Ben loves his family and has a special and unique relationship with each one of us.
Happy. Ben will be the child that is playing by himself in the living room and we hear him belly laughing in the kitchen. That kind of happy. :) I often use the phrase, "he's just happy to be here" in describing Ben. He's just happy. He doesn't need an activity or a movie or a special treat to make him happy. He just is!
Whiny. Can you be happy and whiny? Oh yeah. Ben is the king of whine. It can be the absolute smallest of things (to us) that will send him into orbit, especially when he's tired. He is 90% better than he was in China and the first 3-4 months home. He can cry on a dime and turn it off even quicker. We believe this "skill" was learned behavior in the orphanage...but, he's also a 3 year old!
Funny. Oh, Benny is a hoot!!! He makes us laugh every day. A favorite Benny moment: the kids have to wash their hands before dinner and then pray. One evening before dinner, a hungry Ben decided to perform these tasks simultaneously!....really, why waste time? He has such a keen sense of humor and gets when things are funny....even when our other kiddos don't! Which leads us to....
Smart. BenBen is very, very smart. He learned English very quickly and continues to amaze us with his memory and communication. Some grammar is still a challenge (i.e. when his ears fill with water while swimming or bathing he'll say, "I can't listen" and he uses "watch" vs. "listen" interchangeably when he's showing or telling us something.) Ben loves to color (nearly perfectly too!), cut with scissors, sing and he knows the alphabet, counting, colors, animals, shapes, etc.
Stubborn. Yep, Ben can still be extremely stubborn. He definitely knows what he likes and doesn't like. However, we are learning how to "redirect" his stubbornness (giving choices helps). We haven't seen a full-out tantrum with belly flop in months!!! A lot is how we communicate with him and his enhanced understanding of consequences. :) Ben is NOT a fan of time-out.
Drama King. Ben is a bit of a belly acher and exaggerates pain. Ben could be dropped on his head or hit with a brick and probably wouldn't feel it....his head is extremely hard, literally! But, another of our kiddos may grab his arm or touch his back over a toy and Ben goes into a full-fledged, blood curling screaming cry.....and stops the millisecond the other child is mistakenly sent to time-out (because we were out of the room.....). Well, guess where Ben also ended up?...so sad.
Routine. Ben definitely prefers a routine, or at minimum, an idea of what is happening next, where everyone is going, what they're doing, when they'll be home, etc. When it's Ben's nap time - "Is it brusha my teeth, reada me a book, singa Twinkle Twinkle nap time?" Or, "is it napa time then eata dinner, getta bath, brusha my teeth, reada me a book and singa Twinkle Twinkle nap time?".....you get the point!
Literal. Although he understands a great deal of the English language, he takes it literally. For example, Ben received a new pair of Buzz Lightyear pajamas. We put them on and told him to hold his arms out like Buzz, so he could fly. Ben said, "Mommy, I no wanna fly!".
Unconfident (is that a word?). Ben came with the mindset of "I can't"...and he does not like to disappoint. Perhaps due to his surgery and living in institutional care for nearly 3 years, he did not have self confidence or belief in himself. We have worked VERY hard on this and it showed this weekend!! Ben's biggest (and only!) fear since we met him has been swings. He will sit in them, he's curious about them, but does not like to actually swing, "little bit, Mommy, little bit". This weekend, he wanted to be pushed as high as Jack. So, holding the sides of the swing with a death grip, legs clenched, and fear on his face....I reminded him he was safe and that he CAN do it. He said ok, hesitantly....and I began pushing. He got about 75% of the way and screamed, "I CAN". I loved it!!!
Remorseful. Ben does not like to be in trouble or ever disappoint. His little voice saying, "I'm sowwee Mommy"....is sometimes sad. When we first met him, if he did anything wrong (i.e. made a mess, dropped something, etc.) he seemed almost terrified. We aren't sure if this is orphanage impacted or just the way Ben is....either way, he cares deeply about not being in trouble. It's very personal to Ben and he's always very remorseful.
Pride of "ownership". Loves when something is "his". Remember, he came with nothing. If something - anything - is given to him, he will question repeatedly, "dis is mine?". If it's lost, it MUST be found. One of the kids gave Ben a penny and he placed it in his pocket. He took it to preschool. Lost it. The entire school was searching for that penny (not sure why they didn't just give him another penny...? :) It HAD to be found. To Ben, it was a very hurtful loss. He couldn't move forward until it was found....and it finally was!
Patient. Ben can occupy himself with the smallest things and be very content. He will sit at the edge of the pool with a bucket and play for hours. He can stand next to me while talking to a neighbor (for an hour!) and never make a sound....he wonders around looking at the rocks, touching the grass, feeling the mulch, looking at the sky. He finds enjoyment in the simplest things. He's very patient in church and restaurants. Definitely not a typical 3 year old. :)
Independent. Another biggie for Ben. He wants to do everything for himself..."I do it, Mommy". We believe institutional care (given the high caregiver to child ratio) encourages independence. He had to learn to do things for himself. He dresses himself, brushes his teeth, goes potty, washes his hands, combs his hair....as much as he can physically do himself, he will do. We have had to learn patience in dealing with his independence!
Sleepy. Ben loves to sleep, like a LOT. It is never a challenge to get him to bed or nap. He is a great sleeper and has had no sleep issues since we met him! He slept in his own bed (a crib) for the first few months, transitioned to a toddler bed and is now sleeping in his own twin size "big boy" bed. He never gets up after sleeping, instead he waits for us to come and get him. He does not like pillows or blankets or stuffed animals....just Benny and his bed.
Soft. Ben is squishy. Not sure how best to describe it. He is so soft and mushy and squishy! He even rubs his own skin and says, "Mommy, I soffft". His ears have no hard cartilage. We love his little round belly (which is definitely thinning out as he grows) and chipmunk cheeks. Ben is super cuddly!!!
How has Ben changed over the year?
One year ago, Ben could walk but was very clumsy and fell a lot. He could not run (more of a shuffle). He could not step up a single stair, even using the handrail. He tired very easily and was generally very weak. He couldn't balance on one foot, jump, walk a balance beam / straight line, or pick up anything remotely heavy. His hair was shaved and very thin. He knew no English. He was not potty trained. Given his medical history, we weren't sure what degree of bladder / bowel control he would have.
Today, Ben can walk, run, jump, skip and climb the stairs with alternating feet and NOT hold the handrails! He can balance on one foot and ride a tricycle. He even climbed a swing set this weekend! His endurance and strength have improved tremendously, but are still a work in process. His hair is beautiful and thick and long. My co-workers like to describe it as the "Wall Street comb-over". LOL! He knows English at a level comparable to other children his age and has lost all of his Chinese language....in China and for months afterwards Ben would point to a dog and say, "go-go" (Chinese pronunciation for dog). I pointed to a dog a few days ago and said, "go go" and Ben asked, "where we-a going?" No recollection.
Most significantly, Ben is completely potty trained and has no signs of his "special need" - Spina Bifida, Lipomyeleomeningocele. We will visit Riley Children's Hospital's Spina Bifida clinic again in July, 2012 for a routine visit and renal ultrasound. After that, we will likely visit annually. In the words of Riley's pediatric neurologist, "Ben is a miracle".
Ben started his new "school" a few weeks after returning home and loves it! Wonderful kids and caregivers....and lots of fun activities and snacks! :) It's the same preschool all of our kiddos have attended and we are confident he is very loved and receiving great care.
His obsession over food has significantly lessened. He does LOVE to eat though! Favorites are Lucky Charms, donuts, cake, ice-cream (anything chocolate!), bananas, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, chips/cracks/snacks of any kind. Other fruits/any veggies....not so much.
He enjoys TV (Ni Hao Ki Lan, Team Umizoomie, Bubble Guppies), reading books, coloring, any kind of party (cake!), baths, playing "kitchen/cooking"...anything. He's really very content and enjoys most anything (except walking long distances or the heat of the Midwest!).
Most of all, Ben loves his family. :) He likes us, he really likes us!
"I CAN". Ben makes us laugh and smile every single day. We can't imagine our lives without him and can't wait to see what the next year holds for our BenBen. We heard a lot of "I can't" this year and we're looking forward to a year of "I CAN"! We constantly remind him he CAN do anything he wants to do. He's beginning to believe us, and it's a beautiful thing!
Forever family. We're not sure Ben fully grasps the concept of "family", "forever" or "love" - and that makes us sad. There's still a fear and apprehension that his time with us will end. When we told Ben we were going to China to bring home his baby sister, he was terrified. "I no-a go backa Shyyyna". He did not want to go to China. He thought we were taking him back and bringing home Lucy Mei. Breaks my heart. I'm hoping as he ages and spends more time in our family, he will understand the security of unconditional, forever love and family.
More surprises. The experience of adopting a toddler is much different than adopting a newborn. Ben was a precious little person - with his own likes/dislikes, routines and preferences. We are still getting to know him (although we believe we're 90% there!) and each day he continues to amaze and surprise us. We're looking forward to a year filled with many new surprises...including how BenBen takes to being a "big brother"! Ben loves telling everyone about "my Lucy Mei, she in-a Shyyyna....she like-a me!"
Looking back, I can honestly say it has been a looonnnng, but extremely rewarding road. To see how far this amazing, courageous, happy little guy has come in the past year is beyond awe inspiring. He has taught us all so much and made us better people. He is truly a miraculous blessing to our family and we love and appreciate him more than he could ever know. We love you whole word BenBen!!! xoxoxoxoxo