Saturday, February 5, 2011

How did we survive?

Our little fugitive has been here almost four month but we honestly can't remember life without him.  How did we ever survive? 

He cracks us up.  His funny little accent and his choice of words at times has brought much laughter to our family.  Much to Ben and Elijah's dismay, he loves bridges.  But bridge doesn't sound like bridge when he says it. No it doesn't.  It instead sounds like a word that must not be repeated in our house.  Oh the laughter each time Aaron sees a bridge and hollers out and the boys attempt for the hundredth time to help him add the r's so that their little brother isn't cussing in the back seat!

He loves his brothers.  It is the first thing he asks in the morning - Where's Ben?  Where's Elijah?  All day he keeps tabs on them.  If they are not home he worries - wonders - discusses where they might be.   They are the icing on his cake in this new world.  He gained a Mama and a Papa and TWO BROTHERS.  Brothers who are at his beck and call whenever they are in the house.  Brothers who put on his coat and take him outside.  Brothers who pull him in the wagon.  Brothers who help him down the stairs.  Brothers he can boss around.  Brothers he can climb on and wrestle.  Brothers. 

He drives them batty sometimes.  They get tired of his little bossy ways and his need to keep tabs on them.  But they would not give him up.  No way.  They would stand against the world for their little brother.  He came at a price but they wouldn't have it any other way. 

He doesn't like to share with them though.  Oh no he doesn't.  He wants all the turns in a game.  He wants all the candy in the jar.  He thinks his brothers have been placed in this house to serve him.  He thinks he is the pilot of this ship and is forever taking them to task over something he thinks they should or shouldn't be doing.  He can be a stinker that way.  Fortunately he is little.  Fortunately he was granted with a personality that is quick to let it go.  Fortunately we love him in all his spoiled rotten ways. 

We have been working hard at teaching him that he no longer is in control and that this is a good thing.  It is very difficult for a child who has spent 6 years of his life in a survival of the fittest world to give up the controls.  He has had to learn how to be a child.  He's learning by way of a chair in Mama's office where he gets to sit when he needs to be reminded who actually is in control.  Fortunately, Aaron doesn't like to sit on chairs in Mama's office so he is fairly quick to change his behavior.  Of course sometimes he has to wail and holler on the chair for a season but it never seems to move anyone to action.  Our little guy is learning that Mama wins and Papa wins but that no matter what - he is loved.  He's learning.  In reality - he is a very easy little boy with an incredibly tender heart.  He doesn't like to be in trouble and tries to very hard to please everyone.

He is a lover of all things that have wheels.  Inside, he will play with his trains and cars for hours, making sounds and talking to himself in his ever increasing English vocabulary with strange words mixed in for good measure.  Outside, he plays with his wagon, pulling it around and around the house or the driveway.  It hauls his goods to and fro.  Our dog Summer almost always at his side.

Once a week he goes to a Pre-school/Kindergarten class.  To say he loves it would be putting it mildly.  It is the highlight of his week.   Long term decisions about more formal schooling haven't been made at this point.  We have homeschooled Ben and Elijah for the last 7 seven years and it has been a good decision for them.   What we are doing with Aaron long-term is on hold until we get through the initial casting process.  We have tried hard not to compare Aaron to other children his age or feel the need to quickly catch him up to his peers.  He is definitely behind on many levels.  He was not taught basic concepts - even in his own language.  For his first five years, his world was limited to the orphanage rooms and a tiny playground.  His only outings were to the hospital where he spent many months alone in a hospital bed.  He was in a group in the orphanage where most of the children were adopted.  By the time Aaron left, his cribmates were babies.  Thus, he spent his first five year surrounded by baby toys and baby talk. 

His last year was spent at a mental institute.  He sat in a shed or an empty room for a solid year.  Doing nothing.  He didn't get the benefit of listening to intelligent speech around him - only the moans of the boys to his left and right.  Whatever language Aaron had when he arrived at the institute was useless as he sat among the boys.  The caretakers didn't have time to converse with him nor did they consider him worthy of much conversation.  He was deemed severly mentally disabled and handled in that manner.  In Aaron's anger and frustration at what happened to him, he chose to survive for the last year by using silence as a weapon against the adults who put him at the institute.  Thus, he would only talk on his terms.

When we first arrived at the institute he was fairly silent.   He spoke occasionally - incidentally.  He was careful and guarded.  After several weeks of visits he began to express himself in his language.  Occasionally he would use one of our words - but rarely.  But if a worker came around he would shut down.  His happy gibberish erased quickly.  His face would go blank and he would feign ignorance.  He never spoke in their presence with us around except for the required "Paka" when we said goodbye each day.  Sadly, we could never convince him to talk in front of anyone there, thus, we could never figure out what he was saying to us or in what language he was actually speaking.  We had no way to evaluate his language abilities.

When we broke him out, he tried to maintain the same 'rules' of engagement.  He only wanted to speak on his terms.  When angry, upset or frustrated, he shut down.  He refused to make eye-contact and would not respond to us.   We realized early on that forcing him to talk was key to reaching his heart.  So we made him talk.  He fought.  We stood firm.  Lovingly, tenderly - always with the desire to free him in mind.  We went rounds requiring him to say yes, please, thank you, hello in the safety of our home.  Never out in public.  Basic words.  Anyone looking in from the outside would have thought we were a bit nuts - sitting a child on a chair for not saying hello.  But he desperately needed us to be firm.  He needed to be pushed to talk.  He needed to gain back what he had lost when he was transferred.  And we won.  Once he realized that silence was not going to win him awards, and that sitting on Mama's chair was BORING - he began to speak.  Now we wonder if making him talk was such a great idea.  The boy is loud.  LOUD.  And he has an uncanny ability to remember all the words that we never realized we were using.   We are left scratching our heads and wondering which one of us goes around say "Gosh" and "Golly" all the time. I know it can't be me! 

He's also quite adept at telling everyone how "annoying" they are. 

He talks.  Inside the house and out.  He is free with his language.  Not perfectly and his vocabulary has a long ways to go.  He is on toddler level.  But he talks.  Each day he is learning new words and is now stringing together his words into sentences.  We rejoice at every attempt. 

After six years of living a lonely existence, our little fugitive has figured out that if he calls out our name - we will answer.  He has learned this trick a little too well.  All day - for every single little thing - he calls.  Mama - Papa - and we answer.  It makes for constant interruptions.  It means that we are at his beck and call all day.  He doesn't understand 'wait a minute.'  He doesn't want us to answer from the other room.  He wants us to come.  NOW.  It means the world to him when we do.  It speaks volumes to his heart that we do listen, we do care and we are here for him.  But it gets exhausting.  Fortunately, the king likes to sleep in late in the mornings.  Everyone has learned to walk on tiptoes so as not to disturb his sleeping!

When we committed to him, we read the books and worried about whether he would attach to us.  We wondered if he would have institutional behavior.  We stressed over the affect that 6 years hidden away would have on him.  Somehow Aaron came through the storms of the last six years, though definitely scarred from the experience, with an amazingly sweet nature and joy that surprises and humbles us.  Everyone who comes in contact with our little fugitive marvels at his sweetness.  He has few behaviors that we would define as 'institutional' on an ongoing basis.  At times in pain, anger or frustration, he will bang his head, jerk his head back and forth in a repetetive motion to self-soothe himself and rock.  It is heartbreaking to watch.  It is also hard to break him out of the cycle once he slips into it.  It is in these moments when are given glimpses of how much pain our little boy has experienced in his lifetime - alone. Six years.  Alone.

Yes, adding a disabled child into our family has had its challenges.  Driving up and down the road to take him to Philly for rounds and rounds of treatments on his legs and arms is going to get old really fast.  Dealing with schooling issues, therapy issues and long-term healing for a child who has been knocked around and who bears the physical and emotional scars is going to take a lot of time and effort.  But....we look around our house at the toys scattered everywhere, listen to a little voice whose volume control is always on loud, hear him call out our names to come NOW and we wonder, in the midst of the mess and the noise, how we ever survived without him?


  1. I love to read your words! Thank you so much for sharing! I know that your words will touch hearts and open them up for adopting a child - or two - with special needs. We are so excited to adopt our little boys, Nikita & Alexei (Dusty). We know where you are coming from because we ALREADY don't want to LIVE WITHOUT THEM! Yesterday was Nikita's 3rd birthday - we celebrated HIM - and we celebrated that - God willing - this will be his last birthday alone! Alexei will be turning 6 in March. We hope and pray that we get there before he is transferred! Thanks again for sharing your story! Your family is BEAUTIFUL!
    God's Blessings!

  2. I'm in tears. So beautiful.

    And I love that hug-picture by the middle of the post. So sweet.

  3. Thank you...
    For doing the work....
    For believing...

  4. Beautiful story; I love happy endings! May God richly bless your efforts and continue to guide you as you raise this little boy!


  5. Julia....I look forward to every update about Aaron and your family! I wish I lived closer so I could meet your family someday. Through reading your blog and many others, I really feel a change coming over me! Thank You!

  6. I'm so glad you were chosen, and responded. You make such a difference to that little boy. :)

  7. how did visitations work for you when you were in country for him? was it twice a day like the process when they are still in the orphanage? Where were the visitations? Was he transferred during you paperchase? Very curious...thanks....liz kulp (shea)

  8. Quelle belle tête il n'a pas changé depuis que nous l'avions rencontré à l'orphelinat de Nikolaeiv il y a presque 3 ans

    Marie-Laure la Française

  9. Julie. I love hearing the updates on Aaron. I am grateful you and Rob and the boys heeded the call to go rescue him. The Lord has blessed me with a heart for children. In my circumstances of life I cannot adopted, I can barely give $5. But I can pray. And I do for Aaron and all those children who were lost or still are.

  10. I love your post. It makes my heart smile to see pictures with his brothers and know how awesome it is that he has a family that loves him.


  11. I loved hearing about his journey so far. Always alone and yet surrounded by God's love. He is such a good looking boy with such a bright future. I looke forward to following it to see where he goes and what God has in store for him. It can only get better. Hugs

  12. Such a joy to read your updates on Aaron and all that he has achieved in only four months. It's amazing! And the brotherly love just pours out of the photos, you must be one proud mom! :)

    The video of Alexander broke my heart... praying for him, for Masha and Eddie, and the Burmans.

  13. Your sweet boy has come so far in 4 months. I laughed at your description of him now being loud and calling you all the time. We adopted our daughter three years ago and her file said she was quiet and docile. That is so not the case now. Our girl has sure come out of her shell and she can be very loud and is not afraid to call for Mama and Baba hundreds of times of day if need be. She can also be bossy but also so sweet and funny. I get so many hugs, kisses, and I love you's. I would not go back to quiet and docile even if once in a while that sounds very nice.

    I can't wait to see how Aaron blossoms over the next few years!

  14. Truthfully- this brought floods of tears. He is adorable- and you ALL are blessed to have one another.

    IF only NO child would ever have to endure what Aaron has endured in his "prior life...."

  15. Thanks so much for sharing Aaron with us all. It makes my day to hear about him. So much of his behavior right now reminds me of a 2 or 3 year old toddler testing his abilities and limits. That constant "Mama, Mama, Mama" is certainly common around our house. I can't wait to see how he grows and changes!

  16. Julia- I love to read your blog while nursing Ellie. Thanks for sharing your heart (& Aaron's sweet smile!)
    Check out my blog - a little award is being passed on to you - katie

  17. I am always amazed at how he looks like his brothers :)
    Oh, btw, I would absolutely love to have a picture of him with the bulldozers quilt........

  18. I just love boys, your boys are just so precious! And every time I see them I smile, laugh and cry with tears of happiness. You are such a beautiful family! (((HUGS))) and prayers! :o)

  19. Aaron's got the cutest little voice. I loved hearing him say "Oh golly" and "MA!"

    He is a smart little cookie Julia and you are doing an amazing job.

  20. I loved reading this! You guys have done such an amazing job with him, and I know I've told you before, but your 2 older boys are the sweetest! (is that ok for boys??!!)

  21. I was able to find your blog from a friend of a friend who listed Alexander on their FB page. I am so touched by your family's story & have enjoyed reading about your boys. I will be praying for Alexander & the rest of the little angels. I recently became aware of Reeces' Rainbow & feel so drawn to pray for these little ones & their future families. My heart cries out for these little ones. Praying to see how I can be more involved & where the Lord will lead me to help in some way. Love & prayers from Christiansburg, VA- Kristen


Loving words from kind people make our hearts glad!


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