Today is eight months home for Miss Katie.
She's gone from this...
She has changed so, so much in eight months.
She's gained eight pounds, grown three inches, and her feet have grown two shoe sizes.
She goes to school five days a week, can read her name, can pick her name out of a list of words, and can identify the individual letters of her name. She knows how old she is and if you ask her will say with a lot of pride, "KK FIVE!" and hold up five fingers.
She loves cheese and deli meat, chocolate and bananas, apple juice and ice cream, our dogs Max and Georgia, taking a bath, reading books, playing outside, going to school, jumping on the trampoline (or bed...), swimming, snuggling with Henry, singing, playing on the iPad, going to the park, watching Spongebob or Dora, and running around with her brothers.
Sounds like a normal five year old to me.
For the most part, Katie's adjustment into our family has been very easy. I think a lot of that had to do with our deliberate lack of expectations. It's very difficult to be disappointed when you set no expectations; there is no bar to reach and nothing to compare against. We had never adopted a child. How could we possibly know what to expect?
Our adjustment has not been without some difficulties, and I sometimes feel like I gloss over the hard things. I don't do that in any attempt to mislead people, rather I don't feel like I need to dwell on them. Let's be honest though; nobody who adopts a five year old does so without challenges. Katie was our fourth child. She is our only child with Ds, so that in and of itself was new to us, and more importantly to our boys. They have been amazing with Katie, but I know sometimes David gets embarrassed when she's loud in public or he has to answer questions from other children about why she doesn't speak. He handles it so well, but I think that's difficult for him. He also gets frustrated with her when she tickles him or wants to lay all over him or hits him. Henry has said he feels like he's not special. He said David is the oldest, Jack is the youngest, and Katie is adopted, the only girl, and has Down syndrome but he's "just normal". Jack. . . my sweet baby Jack has had the hardest time. He is so torn between loving Katie to bits and resenting her for the attention she has taken away from him. His way of demonstrating that frustration is to be the loudest, craziest kid around. It was the Jack and Daddy show for four years around here, and he's having a tough time sharing the spotlight with a cute Russian. The boys all, however, fight over who will get to snuggle Katie first, who can give her a piggyback ride, or who can read her a book. Their relationships with her are all very typical sibling relationships, and for that I am so thankful. They do not see her as a "new" sister, merely as another child at our house.
And our sweet Katie has had her own difficulties, and continues to do so with some things. None of her difficulties have been related to Down syndrome. Down syndrome in this house is an issue only when related to school at this point, and how/what classroom she's in or what she's learning. Y'all, adoption parenting is hard. Parenting in general is not easy, but therapeutic parenting is really hard. Katie was very well taken care of, but not by a family. She had no idea how to be in a family. She tests a lot of boundaries, just to see what happens. She cannot handle someone saying no to her in a stern voice; it terrifies her, which makes me want to cry. What would happen to her when someone spoke to her like that?
She has come a looooong way in eight months. She no longer over stuffs her mouth with food because she's afraid she won't eat for a long time. She no longer inhales her food because she thinks her plate may get taken away before she's done. She no longer rocks herself back and forth to put herself to sleep, but she lets us snuggle her and lay with her and read books. She no longer sleeps with the blankets pulled up all the way over her head so she doesn't have to see or hear what's going on in the room. She's not afraid of baby dolls. She doesn't touch every.single.person she sees when we're out in public. She listens and obeys directions, but not because she's afraid of us, because she understands that we are her parents. She doesn't keep her tongue hanging out 24/7. She doesn't suck her tongue with such force it sounds like someone is snapping.
She still has, and I expect will have, lasting difficulties from five years of institutionalization. She will flail around on the floor when she's upset. She will slam her body onto the floor so violently that she has popped her leg out of the socket. She bangs her head on the floor or the wall when she gets upset and can't handle her emotions. She bites her fingers if she's sad or nervous. She covers her face and wails if she thinks she did something wrong. She will occasionally drink from the toilet. She sometimes bites as a defense mechanism. She throws things. She really still doesn't completely know how to play with toys. All of these things, though, have decreased so significantly. Has it been easy? Hell no. Has it been worth it? A million times yes.
Katie is a different person today than she was 8 months ago, without a doubt. Everyone in our house is. I can't wait to see what the next 8 months has in store for her.