Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I'll Teach My Kid 100 Words

There's something about milestones that parents love. I think the folks that write the "What to Expect" books are stone-cold geniuses, because it gives us all a chance to feel superior.

Really, I think that's what the books are for, because as far as health stuff goes, if you're taking your kid to the doctor at the correct intervals, they'll cover all the "well, if he/she/it's not standing by this date, then we'll worry..." stuff.

Meanwhile, we're poring over these books, checking the months against our little ones, and crowing, "It says here that by 18 months she should be able to use 15 words. Our kid is sixteen months and uses over 60! In your face, other parents!"

Mihret has proved to be an anomoly on every possible front. From the day we started the adoption process, we spent month after month after month being told that our child would probably be delayed, would probably need some special help, would probably... you know... be a little behind everyone else.

But with hard work, etc., everything would probably be okay.

This was hard to hear, but not always for the reason you'd think. Both Kara and myself accepted pretty quickly that those little markers in the Expecting books might be missed, or that our daughter might hit some, but not others.

We felt bad for her, really. Not for ourselves, which is what we were being trained against.

I can sort of understand why people might feel bad about their child not being up to whatever level these books have decided is correct. In a lot of ways, parents feel like their kids are an extension of themselves, and to have a child who is "not as good" as other children feels like a failure on their part - like if they'd fed them differently, played with them more, or just bought the correct educational toy, their kid would hit, and exceed, all the benchmarks.

But Kara and I just wanted our daughter to be happy and healthy. If she was a super-genius, then okay. If she was more "normal," then okay.

We felt bad not because of failure or shame on our part, but because it's hard to realize that while here in the USA there are myriads of ways for birth mothers to get what they need to make sure their child is getting the necessary nutrition, that simply isn't the case in Ethiopia. We felt bad that our child couldn't have what she needed from the moment she was born.

So we were as prepared as we thought we could be. We alerted our parents that there might be some delays, but that everything should be fine. And we got ready to enlist the help of my mother, who worked for a few years in birth to three, helping those kids who need help catching up to do so.

Kara even asked her to do an assessment once Mihret had been home for a few weeks, just to figure out what kinds of things she might need to work on. (Our daughter, that is. Not my mom.)

Then we got her home - and pretty much from the moment my mom saw her, she knew our kid was going to be okay.

From we first held her, Mihret was bright and alert. She watched people intently, fascinated by the big people who could make different kinds of sounds, who could move around, sometimes on two legs, sometimes crawling or stooping or doing all manner of motion.

She wanted to see everything.

My mom, watching her lying on the floor of our church, looking up at everyone, moving around, and smiling, sat next to her friend, who works the mentally challenged, and they both said the exact same thing: "She will never be in our class."

They're right.

Mihret started on the Smart Train early, and she's just kept on choo-choo-ing along. She sat up before I did at her age. She was pulling herself up to stand, and letting herself down slowly and carefully months before I was able to.

She walked two months before me as well.

And then came the words. At first it was some of the usual stuff - Ducky, Mama, Daddy, and so on.

Somewhere along the line, though, her collection of words exploded.

By the age of 18 months, kids should know, and know how to use, about 15 words.

At sixteen months, Kara sat down and tallied up the list of words Mihret uses consistently. She came up with 62 of them.

My mom came up with 63. And when they started comparing their lists, they both realized that had missed some.

Somewhere around 17 months, we just started saying that Mihret can use 70 words, but that comes with two caveats.

The first is that we don't include names of people. Mihret knows the name of her day care teachers, and all of the kids in her class, which is probably something like eight names.

The second is that Mihret is constantly busting out words that we didn't know she knew.

Case in point, I picked her up from day care one day. As we stepped out into the sun, Mihret turned towards one of the vehicles on the parking lot and said, quite clearly, "Car!"

A few days later, I was getting her ready to go home, and said, "Do you want to have some pasta?"

"Pasta!" she cried, like it was the greatest idea ever. (Which I suppose it is, since our household has something of an Italian bent to it.)

I figured she had just mimicked the word, until she got home and I put the noodles on her tray. "Pasta!" she reminded me, as she grabbed and chomped.

She also has a book called "Good Night, Gorilla," which I figured would probably just become "monkey," when she looked at it.
Until about a week ago, when she picked up the book, pointed to the gorilla on the cover, and yelled out, "Gorilla!"

She's done it a few times since then.

And there have been other things that just blew my mind. One afternoon, my mother-in-law asked if Mihret knew how to count.

I looked down at Mihret and said, "Mihret? Ooone..."

And she looked up at me and said, "Two!"

That was it for that, as we couldn't get her to repeat it. Until one afternoon, when Kara was reading a book to Miret, and she pointed at the various kitties on the page.

"Mihret. Ooone?" said Kara.

And Mihret kept pointing at the page, "Two, three, four..." and then she stopped and got off Kara's lap.

Kara said she heard five and six, but I didn't.

Even more interesting to me has been Mihret's physical development. The kid does not walk. She runs, and she climbs, and she knows that if she sticks her shoes out "just so," on a slide, she can stop herself from moving.

As a baby, she was like most kids, who look like tiny dolls with realistic movement.

Now, she looks like a little person.

When we got her, she was so small, and had so little of the baby fat that kids her age get.
She had a problem processing fats, one that soy formula seemed to fix, and the little rolls returned.

And now she's so active we can't keep them on her. She runs everywhere. She wants to push toy cars and shopping carts around, and when we're opening a door with her in our arms, she wants to help.

Kara and I have wondered, openly, if ours was a case of results not typical - of getting a little girl who would have been amazing in the hands of anyone, and if the other kids from Ethiopia are much the same.

I can't say.

As for myself, I've credited playing with my kid, letting her run around instead of trying to keep her still, and lucking into a good day care with a lot of areas where our kid can race around and have fun and interact with kids her own age.

Other people, kind people, have said that Kara and I are great parents, and how well Mihret is doing is because of how good we are with her.

Kara and I have kept in touch with the other families we met in Ethiopia, though, and all the kids are doing well. Some have fewer words, some don't run, but all are growing and thriving and getting more amazing every day.

And I suppose maybe I do have an answer to why that is.

Back many years ago, when Kara and I were first looking into the adoption process, we attended a fairly large gathering where a bunch of people looking into adoption got to watch a bunch of people who had adopted talk about their process, and their kids.

An older lady, a social worker, was there. And she said this: "The thing is, you see these videos, and the kids look sort of nonchallant, sort of not-all-there. But I promise you, once you've had them home for a month, they blossom like little flowers."

That's the secret - it's the love these kids get. With CHSFS, it starts all the way back at the Care Center, where the nannies love up on every one of them. I've seen it.

And it's even more powerful when the children get home. Because these kids aren't surprises, or interuptions, or anything other than the thing these parents wanted most in the whole wide world.

The kids might have their problems, but just as much as other kids, and maybe even a little bit more, every mom and dad wants to help their kid to succeed. Whether it's walking, or running, or building with blocks, or learning to speak 100 words, all of us, moms and dads, are ready to walk a little farther, stay up a little later, and babble a little longer.

Maybe all the warnings get are designed to remind us that sometimes working a little longer makes for a child who's a little more amazing.

Or maybe it's the fact that unlike most birth parents, who assume that nothing can be done, we've been told that something CAN be done.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter. Birth children, adopted children, the thing about all children is, they need our love and hugs and support. And we'd all do well to remember that.


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