Being in an orphanage has had a lot of effects on Lucas, ways that I recognized right away in his behavior when we first met him in Uganda, and other ways that took a while to realize the way he acted at certain times or with certain things was because he was institutionalized, and it took me a while to realize that.
I thought I would take some time to write a blog post about it, I know I’ve mentioned previously in a few blog postings ago about some of these things, and I’m no expert or anything, I just know what I know from Lucas and his behavior, and other adoptive parents who’ve experienced similar things. I haven’t really dug in and researched tremendously about institutionalized children, or read all the studies, I have read a few books, one being “The Connected Child” (a recommended reading for anyone adopting-for sure!) and for whatever reason, probably just the way God designed our mothering hearts-that gut instinct to know what’s best for your child. Somehow, I knew what Lucas needed. It was just an instinct of what to do to help him move past that point of trauma, or help him trust us and learn how to move past a certain behavior. I am grateful that the Lord gives us those mothering (and fathering) instincts, all the way from giving birth to your child to adopting your child-those instincts were there, it’s incredible!
When the Lord knits your hearts together-the instincts are there (for the most part anyway) to know how to care for your child and what your child needs to keep continuing to grow emotionally, physically and mentally. It was an instinct I felt with our biological son the minute he was born; and to be honest, I didn’t expect to have that same feeling with our adopted child. I was surprised when that same mothering instinct to know what Lucas needed was there, right away, just as it had been when our bio son was born. It is incredible how that happens and works. It has shown me all the more that God designed adoption.
After being home with Lucas for 4 months now, we are starting to see those effects from being institutionalized diminish month by month.
Well, for starters, clothing & shoes. That was new for Lucas, in Uganda at the orphanage, he wore no clothes to wearing an over-sized t-shirt maybe, no other clothing, diapers, or shoes. Kids just wore whatever the orphanage had, blue on girls, pink on boys, it did not matter. I was guilty of thinking that the little kids wearing the over-sized shirts with holes and stains all over them that were pink were girls, when in fact they were boys. They just wear what they have and color was truly the least of their concern. I don’t even think they realize how much a role American’s place on gender specific colors-which we tend to get a little over zealous about anyway, they just wear what they have. Anyway, getting off track here…so when we put Lucas in full clothing-shirt, shorts, socks, shoes, he was so uncomfortable. He wasn’t sure what all of this stuff on him was!? When we put a jacket on him, the first time he had ever seen one and wore one, he looked like Ralphie’s brother from a Christmas story when his mother bundled him all up in his winter gear, and he didn’t move his arms…
yeah, that was Lucas…only with just a thin lightweight jacket! HAHA! It was so funny! He just didn’t have any idea what the heck we were putting on him. See, in Uganda, it’s HOT, and humid ALL the time, so they don’t really wear jackets, and it’s a luxury anyway, so kids in orphanages especially don’t ever wear or see them. The material, the things covering your arms, all of it was so foreign to Lucas and he wouldn’t move his arms, lol…oh memories….but now, he’s totally fine and used to wearing jackets! He still gets amused by socks though, he likes all the different shapes, colors, long socks, short socks, he likes to take them off and on all the time…it drives me a little nuts sometimes, but he is discovering and it’s cute none the less!
While we were in Uganda, and even after we were home for about a month or so he would keep calling us “Auntie and Uncle”, not “Mommy and Daddy”. He had never had a mommy and daddy, so he didn’t know the difference between that and an orphanage worker (which are called aunt and/or uncle) so it took him awhile to discover the difference, and to call us mommy and daddy all the time. Now, he knows and feels the difference between parents/family who love him and orphanage workers. He only calls us mommy and daddy now, which is so nice!! I can’t tell you how nuts that drove us to hear him call us aunt and uncle, but to see him “get it” and switch to calling us only mommy and daddy was worth the wait. We knew, understandably, that it would take time.
Other ways that he was effected from being in an orphanage were not having experience riding in cars, or things that move. Although now, he is used to riding in cars, but he still to this day won’t get on anything that moves, like a pony (at Aiden’s school carnival), or those little rides that go back and forth by the doors of ToysRus, or the little rides at Chuck e Cheese…no way Jose! He will however, finally, ride in a stroller-which took TONS of convincing and exposure to and MONTHS before he would sit in it, lol) and he JUST started riding in the wagon and a little ride my dad bought him that looks like a motorcycle that he can push with his own legs. Forget about a tricycle or a little bike his size with training wheels…it moves too much! lol He loves his little “motorcycle” and enjoys having as much control as possible when it comes to things that move!
At first, even when we were in Uganda, when he would spill something he would look at us with terror, waiting for a consequence. He would also clean up any spills or any drop of anything very quickly. For a child his age it’s incredible how clean he stays when he eats, every single drop of food goes from the bowl to his mouth, he is careful, purposefully. I have never witnessed a child stay as clean as he does when he eats; Although, he does get messier as the months go by! lol He also wasn’t used to eating with utensils, and getting used to eating with a fork and figuring out what it’s used for was new for him. He caught on to that pretty quick. Food, in general was a BIG issue for him, I’m actually going to do a blog post about it next! It is in itself worthy of a whole blog post! :/ His muscle tone and structure due to not having proper nutrition his whole life was obviously effected, and he “waddled” and couldn’t climb or do things that other kids his age could do because his muscle tone wasn’t built from lack of playing, lack of exercise, and lack of proper nutrition. Like I said, I’ll post more about that in my next blog post! There’s too much to write about that one issue here!
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post about Lucas and the dogs, he was horribly scared of them, and animals in general were new for him, and he wasn’t too thrilled about them. As time goes by he gets more and more used to them. Monkeys were kind of an issue for him, we were told when he was abandoned in the jungle, found alone, deep in the woods, sitting in a basin, there were monkeys around, and when we went to the Ugandan zoo, and when we got home and saw monkeys on TV, or the stuffed animal monkey we had in his room, he didn’t want anything to do with them. That’s better now, but animals in general took him a while to get used to.
Others, as a result of institutionalism and abuse he endured, he would have night terrors. He would wake up in the middle of the night absolutely terrified-screaming and whaling. Once, it was the middle of the night, and he suddenly woke up and started screaming with terror, I walked in to comfort him and he didn’t recognize me, he just kept screaming. He was in this strange state of mind, and it went on the longest I’ve ever experienced with him. Poor baby, he has just had such a horrible past, things we will never know. This went on for about two hours. The best way I can describe those moments (which have happened before) is like a “robotic” like state, where he has this glazed over look in his eyes, where he isn’t “there” and just either screams (like he is having a memory of abuse/torture) and others where he is like a limp robot-glazed over look but won’t move or do anything, and just stares off in space. It’s very strange. All of this has gotten drastically better each month that goes by since he has been home to where it has been quite a few weeks since his last episode. Another side note of sleeping that was an issue for him, effected by being institutionalized was getting used to sleeping alone, in his “own room”, that took him a while, and for the longest time I would sleep on the floor next to his bed until he fell asleep and when he would wake up in the middle of the night. Now, he is totally used to sleeping alone in his room, and it’s his “safe” spot when everything else is overwhelming (which is getting to be less and less). We always put music on for him as he was sleeping which I think helped a ton!
He would most often do the “robotic” like state around strangers, wouldn’t move, make any expressions, or do anything at all, just stare off in space, motionless, robotic like. The minute that person would leave and he was comfortable again he would just “snap” out of it and be totally fine again. I think it was his defense mechanism when he is uncomfortable and unsure of what’s happening. Where now, he is TOTALLY fine with strangers (almost too fine!) and is completely comfortable and I haven’t seen that “robotic” like state in a long time! I think he finally feels secure, comfortable, and unconditionally loved enough where he knows we will protect and take care of him. I’ve had so many people say that when they first saw/met him he was like my little shadow, attached to my legs, and they just can’t believe the difference in that little boy that they see now, he is a typical little boy I’m chasing around now begging to listen to me to stay close! LOL
Hygiene was also different for him from being in an orphanage. In the babies home, they would take showers-no baths, no warm water showers, only cold COLD showers. (He STILL likes the COLD water!) I am not sure how often they would take these showers, but I think it was only once a week or so, maybe more maybe less, but not that often I know that. During these “showers” they would stand in a row, with little shower heads above, and take a rag (like a washcloth) and scrub their bodies. Lucas didn’t seem to know a whole lot about soap, so they probably did this without soap, but I’m not sure, and they would scrub each other, and then scrub their teeth (as a way of attempting to brush them). Brushing teeth with a toothbrush was a first for Lucas, and he actually really enjoyed it, and still does!! That’s a bonus!
There are more unmentioned ways he has been effected by being in an orphanage, but these are some of the highlights that we thought we would share, and I’ll leave you with one more, and one we are STILL working on! Sharing! :/ Oh, isn’t that all little kids problems…sharing! It’s SO HARD to share! It’s even harder to share when you come from an orphanage where there aren’t many toys, and you fight till you get it-kind of like “survival of the fittest on who will play with the one toy 50 other kids are trying to play with”! Lucas is stubborn…he *we think* has learned a lot of that trait by being in the orphanage, and having to fight to get what he wants, whether it’s a toy, or food, he had to be independent to survive, and stubborn to keep it and he learned quickly no one was going to be his advocate or help him, so sharing did not come naturally to him, he still has big issues with sharing, but he is learning and doing better everyday, the more he learns that he can trust us, the more he is learning to trust others and sharing is one of those works in progress.
Overall, Lucas is doing EXCELLENT for just having come out of an orphanage 6 months ago, and home for 4 months. He is doing great, and changing, learning, and growing so much!! I thought this would be a helpful post to those of you going where we have gone, and those of you interested in what we are going through.
Thanks for reading! 🙂