Monday, May 31, 2010

Q & A on Transition and Assimilation

There have been some great questions from readers on how Alina has adapted to life at home. This is a long post, but there are many things in it that I have been wanting to write about here for the past several weeks. I am happy to answer any other specific questions or to provide more detail on the items below (or others, should anyone have different questions). This should be a pretty good start, though :)...

I'm really curious how Alina is doing with English & your family with Russian.

Alina appears to understand much of what we say in English (she definitely understands gestures, tone of voice and facial expressions). We learned some key words and phrases in Russian (the kids even know a few)--which we used a lot at first, always along with the English word or phrase. We started adding signs to very basic words (thank you, cup, sorry, tired) while we were still in Ukraine, and have continued to use signs on a limited basis when appropriate. She seems to pick up signs quickly.

Are there are any distinct characteristics/habits Alina (still) has that reflect her upbringing in the orphanage? How much of a snuggle-bug :-) has she become (or not)?

We have been surprised that the orphanage environment has not been more of a defining influence on Alina. She has such a survivor spirit. In her, we see a person, separate from any diagnosis or label or circumstance. We see that underneath it all, she is a little girl becoming who she was always meant to be. She has so many interests and abilities and, like all children, is full of potential. (All of the kids in the orphanages, even the ones with significant needs or those who have been otherwise strongly affected by their environment, will develop and grow with love and a chance at life on the outside--and all of these children deserve the chance to fulfill their potential within the safety and support of a family.)

We have not noticed "orphanage behaviors" (such as teeth grinding, hoarding, banging, rocking, etc.) in Alina.

She does not have attachment issues that we can see, though she has definitely had to learn how to be loved. She was at first really confused by affection (especially little kisses on her cheeks or forehead and snuggling). She has always been happy to lay her head on someone's shoulder or be rocked when she was sleepy. But she is really starting to work the consolation love--if she gets hurt (or gets her feelings hurt), she milks it for all it's worth--with all of us.

She's so very busy, that catching her for snuggles has become an art. But she is starting to come to us more and more for consolation and for general closeness. Within this past week, she has started sitting on the couch when we watch the news in the morning or watch t.v. as a family at night. She will climb right up and sit right next to someone, trying to cuddle in under their arm. (She doesn't stay there for long :), but she is starting to initiate contact, which is a great sign).

Each day she is changing and coming into her own. She has been in a very restrictive environment on a strict routine. Her upbringing in the orphanage is sure to have had an impact on how she relates to the world.

She is a child unleashed. Having seen the walls of two or three rooms all her life--and not being encouraged to explore and experience life like a child should be--she seems to be making up for lost time. She wants to do it all--often at once :)...which means that we have had to step up our child-proofing and monitoring!

She seems to prefer a firm touch to a gentle one--even with hugs and such. In Ukraine, parents tend to praise and scold loudly. People move more swiftly in general, and with purpose...sounds familiar. In Ukraine, people work hard. They are often on the move, busy doing something. Again, that sounds like our little girl. As we learn about Alina and the things that make her unique, we see links and connections every day to something else, something we are not familiar with. So some things we see in her may just be how she is, but they also may be related as much to being from a different country (and obviously to her biological parents--how they are) as much as they are to her having grown up in an orphanage thus far.

From orphanage life, in particular, we see:

-A somewhat atypical image of food/eating: she eats like it is a business, or a race to the finish. We assume this is because there was only a certain amount of time--and food--allotted for meals in the orphanage. Alina laughs when we put more food on her plate or tray and cries briefly when we take the plate (even after she has to be stuffed!). Again, likely because she was rarely (or never) offered more food once her portion was gone. She wants to eat as soon as she sits down in her high chair, and she fusses until we bring the food (with a sad little face and her palms up, like, What? Am I going to get any?).

-Pieces and parts of daily life there: washing up, for example. Alina has no idea what to do in a bathtub. She loves to splash the water with her hands and also wants to stand up and march in it. She needs many reminders to sit down ;). If we give her a wash cloth (or a diaper wipe), she washes herself. She's thorough. She gets her feet, behind her neck and ears, under her chin. We assume she was given a cloth to clean herself sometimes, or that she was studying closely while she was cleaned.

Bedtime routines, also: she started off not wanting anything in bed with her. She didn't want or need comfort items, although she is learning to like them. Initially, she tossed everything out of bed (blankets, soft toys, pillows). She has started wanting to put her head on a pillow and to be covered up. She will also hold a teddy bear or doll at naptime...if Bridget has one also :). We assume she was put in bed in the orphanage without toys or other items.

-At the orphanage, most everything Alina ate or drank had been warmed. She prefers food and drinks warm, but will not refuse anything. She just makes a funny face, like, I don't know how I feel about this, but I'm not going to complain too much--they might take it. Alina and Bridget have been enjoying tiny kid-sized ice cream cones after dinner, and Alina practically inhales hers (always finishing before Bridget has even made it down to the cone), but she makes a funny face the whole time!

-She thinks she has to do literally everything on her own. She pats her own back when she is having trouble swallowing something, wipes her own nose and dresses herself. She lays herself down and takes off her diaper when it is time for changes. She puts herself in time out when Bridget cries, even if she had nothing to do with it :).

How does Alina relate to you as authority figures?

She knows, without a doubt, that mom and dad are the authority figures in the home. She responds quickly when we ask her to do something, or to quit doing something. She will also listen to the kids, well, other than Bridget :). It is clear to us that she very much likes to be praised, and does not enjoy being scolded. She tests the boundaries once in a while (tossing her cup from her high chair or grabbing Bridget's hair, for example), and a firm No is usually enough to illicit a sad face and moment of silence from her. When we first tried to discipline Alina, she would stop and smile. That morphed to stomping her feet with a grin or a giggle. But recently, she has been full-out crying when she is put in time out (i.e., removed from the situation--whatever it is that is causing trouble--and asked to sit in one particular spot on our couch for a very short period of time). She knows when she is doing something she is not supposed to do.

Does she cry or ask for the caregivers from the orphanage? Does she seem to miss the orphanage?

I'm curious about how much you reference back to her home in the Ukraine with pictures/stories/songs/etc. & how she responds.

We only visited Alina at the orphanage for 5 days, so we did not get to see much of what her daily life was like there. We did notice that her caregivers seemed to enjoy her very much. While they were firm with some of the other children some of the time, they were fairly patient and would often smile or giggle when they "redirected" Alina (when she tried to get into the shelf full of shoes, or when she made a mess while eating, for example). There were a few of the women who were very nurturing with her and seemed to like her very much. They called her "Alinka" (pronounced Uh-LEEN-kuh).

We have a memory box for Alina, which includes pictures we took while we were in Ukraine, a few items we purchased there (a painted box, a small metal plate like the ones she used at the orphanage, a Ukrainian flag, a few books); the one picture we have of her when she was little, and the Angel Tree ornament we received for donating to Alina's grant fund on Reece's Rainbow.

The green dress--the one she wore every day we were there--is also in the box. (It is ripped and missing the buttons on the back, but we traded a new dress so we could take it with us. The day we left the orphanage, one of the caregivers brought Alina out to us in a diaper. That's what we had to leave with--a little girl in a diaper. Other than the baby picture from her SDA file, that green dress is the only thing we have of her childhood, and it was a shared item...she had nothing of her own.)

When we walked out the doors of the orphanage, it is like she never looked back. She was already starting to look to us for comfort by the time we left Zaporozhye.

She does love it when we speak Russian to her, though. She always smiles when I say "good job" or "I love you" or "thank you" in Russian. Unfortunately, we don't know any songs or hand rhymes in Russian. She is beginning to enjoy the English versions of things like "The Itsy Bitsy Spider", "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes," especially if Bridget is right near her enjoying them, too. We suspect that either her hearing is not great, or she did not get a lot of exposure to music/songs/fingerplays at the orphanage.

We have really enjoyed learning about Ukraine, and have already included many things from our time there (including food items, music, traditions) in our lives here at home.

While it is hard to grasp that there is no place for Alina in her society, we treasure her Ukrainian heritage nonetheless. We understand that her parents didn't have much of a choice in whether or not to keep her, and we have to assume that they agonized over their decision to place her in an orphanage. We also believe they knew that it was her only chance at a better life.

I only wish they knew that we made our way to her, that she is now safe, and loved and cherished--and that her future is so bright...


  1. Get outta town! I can't believe you know Teri...what a small, small world :). She is so dear! Please give her a hug for me!

  2. Haven't been good at commenting, but I have LOVED reading about your time home with Alina! It touched me so much to read what your other kids have said about having her home... and seeing pictures of Bridget and Alina together -- well, just brings tears of joy to my eyes!! You are obviously an amazing Mom, and I am grateful to be able to "peek" in on your family from time to time!!

  3. You seem to be an awesome mom, and Alina is very lucky you found her. I hope things continue so smoothly for your family.

  4. Thank you so much for this post. It is helpful to know a little bit of what to expect once they come home and belong to a family. It sounds like Alina is doing so well. I am happy for your family and for her.

    What did you use to learn Russian?

  5. Hi Lisa! I have really enjoyed reading all about Alina and your adoption story. I think your family is amazing! Alina is so lucky to be loved by you guys!

  6. Oh - she sounds like such a smart, active little girl! I love that she washes and dresses herself. My 3-year-old (DS) knows how to take all her clothes OFF... and play with things she finds in her diaper... but has far less interest in putting things on. I love reading about all the things your beautiful little girls do!

  7. Thanks so much for sharing this. She sounds so much like our little girl we also got from Ukraine 9/09. She is still so self sufficient but allowing us more and more to be her comfort and act like a "typical" kid instead of the caregiver herself. It is amazing to watch their transformation when given some one on one love.

  8. Seriously Lisa, I cannot pop over and read without leaving with a huge frog in my throat each. and. every. time. You answered my question at the end...I was wondering if her biological parents knew she was being adopted? I suppose when they sign their rights away that's it, but I have heard in some cases the parents are informed but perhaps if they still have contact. I wish they knew too....I can only imagine it would have been an agonizing decision as you said and wish they knew there is a happy ending after all for their beautiful little girl.... they could not have asked for a better family for her and are such a good mommy!

  9. I found your blog through Reece's Rainbow and have followed your journey with Alina for awhile, but have never commented. I have really enjoyed reading about Alina and her life with your family and this post was so sweet. Love to hear how well she is adjusting to life with your family. She is one blessed little girl to have such a loving family! (Sounds like she is blessing you too, with all of her sweetness.)


  10. So beautiful! I was wondering, if you are doing another Q & A, what kind of services Alina is getting right now? ECI or through the school district (can't recall exactly when her birthday is) and how is she adjusting to that?

  11. Alina turned three in March. She will be evaluated by our local school system over the summer and will begin preschool in the fall with Bridget (2.5 hours, 4 days a week). All of her "therapies" and services will be given within the parameters of her regular school day.

    We just had Bridget's IEP meeting this morning, and the team is awesome! They are excited and ready to meet/help Alina in the fall :)!

    We will have her visit an enrichment specialist once a week beginning in August if it seems like she is ready to do that!