Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A year ago today...

Tortuga arrived one year ago today. I cannot remember our household without him although I am certain it was much quieter. He is our oldest (although our 3rd in order of arrival) and yet, in many ways, our youngest. He loves dinosaurs, books, magazines (Ranger Rick and Highlights), Power Rangers, Transformers and drawing with a pen. He eats anything and everything (and lots of it!), plays basketball and ice skates, loves doing household chores and has better manners than most kids his age (most of the time.) His favorite activity is to spend time with me. He loves the outdoors, family time with stories and game playing, and offers to help anytime he sees me working. A lovely boy who makes my heart jump everytime I see him. He also has daily tantrums, regular agression towards his 3 and 7 year old siblings and the lowest self esteem of any child I have ever met. He has a beautiful smile and a shy side that makes him endearing. His love of learning (about anything) and his engagement when studying something new for the first time have erased much of the memory of the child I met over a year ago.

When I met him for the first time in December 2006 he had just been moved to living in a residential setting for troubled children after having been sent there from his foster home of over a year. He was practically catatonic as he sat in from of the television watching tv with a handful of other boys. While a well-reputed facility for children, the place gave me the creeps. The staff and children sat around the tv room doing very little interacting except to check behavior or welcome visitors. I only wanted to watch him although the staff worked hard to have him interact with me. When he did it was to stare at me or run away. In the weeks that followed I visited him almost everyday bringing books, gum, drawing supplies, and taking him out for outings to meet Corazon and just trying to get a sense of him. He was on meds that were supposed to "stabilize" him and at times he was more of a seemingly "normal" kid than other times. His speech was a challenge to understand and at 7 1/2 years of age he looked "BIG" for his age but acted "YOUNG" for his age. I never doubted that I would bring him home. I only doubted that he would want to be there. On February 12, 2007 he came home and after several weeks of best behavior, laughs, nightmares, tantrums, middle of the night fits, insomnia, wolfing down his food as if he was starving, losing his temper, learning to hug, harassing Corazon and Pollito, taking meds, loving school for the first time, and learning the household expectations WE settled in for the long haul. And a long haul it has been!

I can honestly say that Tortuga is the last child I think about before I go to bed at night and the first one I think about as I wake up. He has made SO much progress in every area since he arrived. From meds four times/day to none, best behavior to make sure we would keep him to "I hate you" and "You are the meanest mom/family in the world" and barely decoding some letter sounds to reading at a second grade level, it has been a whirlwind.

Tortuga is a very hurt child and a seriously neglected child. He behaves most like a three year old on a developmental level yet has learned all the habits, behaviors and attitudes of a nine year old. This challenges us to serve him best while teaching him how to be who he is but remembering that he responds and processes much in the way his three year old brother, Pollito, does. He is jealous of everyone and everything and has to state he is "better" than everyone and everything at least a dozen times a day. We take things one step at a time with him and struggle to give the other 3 children the attention they need because Tortuga requires more time than the other 3 put together. I have begun treating him as if he is 3 in my expectations, explanations, and evaluations of his behavior and that is helping me stay sane and I hope helping him go through a more "normal" developmental process than he had the first time around. Each day brings new insights into his behavior, new challenges, new hopes and new joys. He is a different child than he was when we first met him and the progress he has made is astounding. That gives me the hope that one day he will be able to fully come into his own and grow into a happy, healthy adult.

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