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Tuesday, January 30, 2007
I'll take a side of 'hurry the hell up lady.'
Lauri had a great post on her paid blog about Livi and eating. Her post got me thinking about Pickle and food issues we have faced since becoming a family. This is one of the areas I had most considered and "prepared" for before bringing him home. Partly this was because of posts Lauri made while they were still in Russia, stories I'd heard from other families and the experience we had while on our trip to meet Alexander.

I'll give you a little background. Alexander was in the baby home across town from the one Pickle was in. However, the care received was just about the same. The orphanages both gave great care to the kids and the facilities were both fantastic. When we visited Alexander we were able to feed him lunch the two days we were there. So we were privy to his groupa. This is not always the case with all orphanages or regions. Alexander was 10 months when we met him so the experience was much different than with Pickle. Sasha was served a substance that looked similar to a runny cream of wheat with a big chunk of meat paste. The smell... I remember it to this day. I was given a giant tablespoon and instructed to feed him. I did like any mom and sat next to him and fed him slowly. The look on his face was like, "um lady, hurry the hell up." I watched the caregiver feed the little boy across the table. (who happened to be my girlfriend Ciarai's little boy) Here is how 2 caregivers can feed 15 children in under 30 minutes.
  • Caregiver grabs child and dumps him in a seat attached to the table.
  • Caregiver whips a rag around the child's neck and stands behind the child
  • Caregiver holds bowl of gruel under the child's chin with bib underneath and shovels the food into child's face with a large table spoon. Child is fed so fast they are almost gaging.
  • Caregiver then grabs tea cup full of sweetened tea and pours it into child's mouth while child frantically sucks and gulps.
  • Caregiver wipes the chunks of food off the child's face and whisks him away to the "cleaning room" where they are doused with water and giving a nappy change.
  • Repeat.
Given this experience I was prepared for a food hoarder. Our facilitators in Khabarovsk did everything they could to get us to the orphanage to see Pickle's meal time first hand. Unfortunately, we never made it in time. We always saw the remnants. On our first trip to meet him the doctor told us he would scream if he was not in the first group fed. So we again expected a food hoarder.

When Pickle first came to live with us in the apartment he was timid. Shell shocked as many call it. He ate what was given and rarely spit anything out. He didn't try to snag the food off of our plates or demand more. (We worked for months to teach him the concept of more.) Eventually he learned that when Mama went into the kitchen it was to prepare food. He would come with me and if the food was not immediately ready he would scream. I finally had to start cooking with the kitchen door closed. I was doused in sweat by the end it got so hot. There were few foods he would not eat, chicken was one. But of course we were feeding him Russian food so he was used to the smells and tastes.

On the flight home he went almost the entire time without eating. He ate the ice cream, some noodles and maybe a cracker or 2. He didn't eat in Moscow except some eggs and yogurt. In Zurich he refused the french fries we gave him. He finally ate fries from McD's upon arrival in the good ol' USA.

Since coming home we have had our fair share of food issues. It began with the refusal to eat any meat. He would spit out everything we gave him. He still didn't demand food. We moved from spitting out food to throwing food. This is where I lost it. 2 1/2 days he went without eating once. I even tried bottle feeding him. I finally resorted to feeding him myself. I did that for 3 weeks and it worked. After the first of the year I started letting him feed himself again. But, I bought the suction cup bowls and plates so I could hold onto the bottom and he had less of a chance of ripping it out of my hand and hucking it at my face. He also just recently started having milk or juice in an open container again. For almost a month and a half it was a sippy cup only. Now we have gotten to the point where he doesn't need me to hold the bowl anymore.

What am I feeding him? He eats what we eat. For dinner we had crab wontons last night. He loves those. He's had white chili, red chili, Moroccan Chicken, Chicken pot pie, and nearly everything we eat.

What we discovered was the meat thing was a texture issue. The food he was served in the orphanage was mashed and had no texture. He didn't have to chew. I give him things like apples and *gasp* carrots, chips, crackers, and other crunchy things to work on the chewing, but I chop the meat. I mix meat in with rice or potatoes and he happily eats it. He loves fried rice, but is less thrilled about potatoes these days. Mac n' Cheese is still a staple. Oatmeal or Cream of Wheat and yogurt are our standby breakfast foods, but he will get scrambled eggs or cottage cheese fritters on occasion.

We are working through food issues. Ours are different than some and not exactly what I expected, but from my observations of orphanage mealtime behavior it helped me know what I might expect. We still have the occasional screams if he asks for food 5 minutes before meal time and we tell him no, but for the most part it is getting better.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
If I could redo one thing...
As I have stressed in the past the most important part of any international adoption is research. Be informed of what you are getting into; the steps involved, what can go wrong, and the best possible solutions for problems that may arise. The more you know the better your journey will be. Of course a million books, websites and conversations with those who have been there won't prepare you 100%. Take it from me. I know a ton about Russian adoption, but our journey was nearly 2 years long. All of it out of our control.

There is one thing in our adoption process that I could have done better on. Selecting a social worker. I find it only fitting that this should be the "Adoption Retrospective" topic for this week. Last Friday we had our first post-placement visit. Has it been 6 months already? Nope. Only 4. But the report has to be in our agencies hands by Feb 18th and our SW is just that slow. See... I screwed up.

First lets talk about homestudy agencies and placement agencies. A homestudy agency is one that only writes your homestudy. They may also be a placement agency, but may not be yours. Your homestudy agency may or may not even perform adoptions in the country you are adopting from. Such was the case with us. A placement agency is the agency who assists you with the actual adoption; facilitating the referral, travel, and final paperwork.

In our particular instance we selected a placement agency out of our state. With a Russian adoption this is perfectly fine. Not so with other countries. However, it was our responsibility to find our own homestudy agency. AIA does not do homestudies outside of Alaska.

I'll tell you how we went about selecting our social worker. Yes, we selected our social worker and not the homestudy agency. We had basically decided on AIA as our placement agency at that point, but knew we needed to get started right away with the homestudy. I read that homestudies should not be a "get what you pay for" kind of service. Therefore we looked for one with reasonable fees. One evening we were participating in a weekly AIA chat and met Kathou and Paypay. They said they were located in a town about 30 miles south of us. So we asked who their social worker was. They told us. He happened to work with an agency based in our town and they also happened to be the placement agency some friends of ours used for their China adoption. We spoke with the friends who did the China adoption and they loved their agency. They did not use this particular social worker. We were in a hurry to get started so figured that we would give this SW a call. He agreed to come out to our house on January 17, 2005. I assumed that he was coming to give us information. Uh no. He was coming for our first official visit. Thus we started our road to Pickle.

What did I learn? That picking a social worker in this manner is like throwing a dart at the telephone book to find a plumber. I did that once too. Worked out just the same way. Crappy.

I don't want to say too many things about our particular social worker or divulge his name since we are still in need of his services. But let's just say that if you want the complete story you are welcome to email me.

If I could redo one thing in our adoption process it would be the amount of time I spent researching our social worker and homestudy agency. If I had done a little asking about this particular social worker it is likely that I would have been spared a bunch of headache. Since our homestudy agencies social workers are independent contractors I couldn't just call up the agency and say, "hey I want a new SW." Once I paid the man his money I was stuck. I still am.

How does one go about researching a social worker? Yahoo groups. Nearly every state has an international adoption yahoo group. We have one for WA. This social worker's name comes up on occasion and I am one of the first to respond. I have heard great things about other social workers, including the other one that works with our homestudy agency. Lucky me. I would also ask the homestudy agency for references and if they could give you references for families that may have been less than satisfied with their service. Although, it is unlikely that you would get such a reference.

I cannot express how important researching this part of the adoption is. Your social worker is essentially the one to approve you as a parent. If you don't cut it with them you are dead in the water. Also be aware of your family make-up. Do you already have a house full of children. Some are biased against those adding to an already large family. Some are biased regarding religion. Some are biased against race or country you are adopting from. Just be aware. Homestudies are not, and should never be, a get what you pay for service.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
About Change
Thanks for all of your compliments on Pickle. We think he's pretty cute ourselves. Before I get back to the adoption retrospective I thought I would take a moment to address some of your comments and questions.

The block sorter: This is by far this child's favorite toy. It took him about a day to figure out how to complete the entire thing on his own. It took us about 3. Well... There is a diamond and a rhombus. They look very similar. When he is bored or frustrated he will just take the lid off like he did in the video. He can name the octagon and triangle. He doesn't yet know the names of the other shapes yet.

His speech: When we got Pickle his main diagnosis was speech delay. And for a child his age he did, in fact, have a speech delay. He spoke maybe 5 words in Russian. By the time we left Russia he said: all done, apple, ootka, beep-beep, mama, boy, babada, dedu, paka and a host of other sounds that we knew what they were for. He now knows more words than I can count. His latest phrase is "oh my gosh." He also knows, "how are you." but doesn't know the answer. He does not learn language from the television. He learns it from us. We talk to him constantly and read to him constantly.

Sign language: CS's sister started us with sign language. It worked very well to bridge a communication gap. For the longest time Pickle would sign Thank you, but not say it. He does now say it. His other signs include, mama, daddy, apple, share, banana, lion, helicopter, more, all done, happy, please, good, boy, cake, cheese, music, and maybe a few others. We finally got him to sign his name last night. We made it like the sign for cute. For cute you brush a C on your chin. For Pickle you brush and O on your chin.

What truly amazes me is when you watch the slide show below look at the photo of him at Christmas and then the next is his referral photo. It is not the same child at all.
Monday, January 01, 2007
Year in Review
I've tried for 2 days now to write a meaningful post about what 2006 was like for us. If you really want to know you will have to go back and read all the posts. It started as the worst year of my life and ended as the best. As the saying goes... "A picture is worth a thousand words." So here you go. Our year in review.

Established March 19, 2006