Join Angela, Axel, Abel and Asher as they welcome their new sibling home.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Family Table

One good thing about this adoption process, Abel is learning about being in a family in a gradual way. First with just Dean and me, and next week we'll be adding in his new brothers and sister.

In the institution, meal times aren't that. They are feedings, and it is much like feeding a pack of hungry animals. The day we had Abel's birthday party was probably not one of my top 10 favorite memories. The cake that was made was placed in the middle of a table with 8 or 10 starving kids around it. Hands reached to grab as caregivers did their best to dish up the treat as soon as fast as possible. Lightning fast hands raked through the frosting, shoving food into their hungry mouths, while at the same time grabbing off whatever plates they could reach to get more. It was so sad. So very sad.

In addition to chronic hunger, the kids are chronically dehydrated. OH THE THIRST!!! I have never seen a child FIGHT for something to drink. Asher was the same way, and after 18 months home still drinks a lot and is still obsessed with water.

I honestly don't know what the problem is. Part of it is chronic hunger. They children are fed just enough to keep them from starving, and the nutritional value of what they get is very low. Both Axel and Asher came home from Serbia deficient in almost every nutrient, and I expect the same will be true for Abel. But there is also the business of teaching manners. I just know the caregivers go home to their own children and expect them to act like children and not wild animals. For some reason it is just expected that in the institution the children aren't capable of learning this.

In the institution food shows up on a cart ready for them to eat, sometimes a bit hot so it is allowed to cool. Then it is placed before them and it is a race to eat before it is taken away. The institution where Abel spent 10 years is trying to make many changes, and this is one thing they want to change; the feeding routine.

So, our first meal at the apartment with Abel was a difficult one. As I did with Asher, I had him sit on a chair a safe distance from the stove and other dangerous things. He could see but he could not reach. ;-)  Watching us handle the food caused HUGE anxiety for him, and he cried the entire time, during which I kept talking about what I was doing, how I was cutting things up, pouring his drink, etc. Dean sat near him, reassuring him that the food would come. We fed him first and did not dish up our own food. With Asher, I spent several months feeding him every bite of food he ate. Part of this was for the bonding process, and the other purpose was to teach him to eat at a normal speed instead of inhaling as is done in the institution. So, with Abel I also fed him each bite, and intended to do so for quite some time.

When he was done with his meal he continued to beg for more. A child who is chronically hungry does not feel "full" and will eat until they vomit. He had eaten a reasonable amount of food and needed to be done. Then Dean and I ate. OH THE TEARS! It was so very difficult for Abel to watch us eat! Even though his belly was full, he didn't know how to be around food without eating. It was a new concept for him. I think it was about Sunday - the second full day - before we could eat in front of him without him panicking. Still, his belly had to be full first.

On Saturday and most of Sunday Dean or I fed him every bite of food he ate. He seemed to be settling in well so Sunday evening I let him feed himself. I only put one item of his dinner on his plate at once, but he ate at a normal rate. I still only put one item of the meal on his plate. In addition, Dean and I ate at the same time. Abel was relaxed and peaceful during this meal!

On Tuesday at lunch I was able to put all the items of his meal on his plate at one time. He alternated what items he took bites of, trying different things. At dinner I added one more step. I put his drink on the table too. OH THE DRINKS!!!! He has been OBSESSED with drinking just like Asher still is. He is now able to accept when we tell him "all done", but we have to put the drinks out of sight or he can't let it go. But this night...this night I was able to put the drink on the table along with his meal. Oh the delight he showed!!!!

These are pictures from dinner last night.

He enjoyed the fried eggs! 

He wasn't really sure how to handle having his food AND his drink on the table at the same time. We assured him that he didn't have to hold onto it. Nobody would steal it from him. 

He took a drink and set it back down.

Then nicely went back to eating.

He kept an eye on that cup though! And, like Angela and Asher,  he has chose a 'spot' for the cup and it must be in that spot if it's not in his hand. LOL

He has only ever eaten bread that is soaked in broth or water. ( the bread is in the cup with the broth/water.) Over the last couple of days we have introduced him to bread with various things on it, butter, or peanut butter, etc. He is now able to take bites of the bread and manages to move it around in his mouth. Because he's never picked up food to eat with his fingers (other than cookies which were a rare treat) he does NOT like the stuff on the bread to get onto his fingers. Today he ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the first time. (every American kid must, right? LOL) He wasn't thrilled at first but after a few bites he liked it!

On the 3rd day with us, we no longer allowed him to cry while sitting on the chair watching us prepare food. If he cried he could do so, but he had to sit in the living room. (he could still see from there, but not nearly as well as from on the chair!) This only took one mealtime to correct, and now he can sit and watch either of us prepare food without the extreme anxiety he displayed before. He no longer needs one of us to sit near him while he waits. Now, any time one of us enters the kitchen area he goes to his chair. This will be very helpful at home, when he can sit with Asher at his place at the island and see everything! (this also keeps small hands out of harms way!)

I really am glad we've had this time with just him alone. I cannot imagine bringing him from the institution directly into our group of kids. Although none of them would try taking his food, HE doesn't know that and it probably would have taken us a lot longer to deal with this. I expect the first time we all sit down to eat together will be a bit stressful for him, but not nearly as traumatic as it could be.


  1. It is so cool that he is learning so quickly! He is such a smartie and it's sad that he hasn't been given the opportunity to be the young man he can be! :)

  2. Is he able to chew the food? I know it has taken many months for Asher to work on chewing and I just wasn't sure if Abel had the same problems with that, although you said he ate a pb and j sandwich.

    I love what you said about his cup and finding a specific place for it! Owen used to put his cup right at the edge of the table and he would knock it over all the time. I got fed up with that (and the constant mopping!) and got a place mat from Melissa and Doug that shows where all your "stuff" goes--plate, fork, spoon, knife, napkin, and cup. Owen is obsessed with keeping his plate, fork, and cup in just the right spot. I love it because we haven't had a spilled cup in at least a month!

  3. My heart is sooo proud Leah! Amazing seeing/hearing the progress!

  4. Stephanie, I think he is able to (my gosh, I just had to type "able" three times before my fingers didn't type "Abel"!!!) but his gums are sore and bleeding when he's just sitting doing NOTHING, much less eating. When we give him things he has to chew, like crackers, he tends to slow-feed, munching with his front teeth. When I have put things in his back teeth he acts as if it hurts. He has AWESOME lateral movement with his tongue, and even does cheek sweeps to clean out food, so I think chewing won't be much of a problem once we can get rid of the bad teeth.

    As for the cup, I remember seeing the M&D placemat, and it actually entered my mind today when I was showing him where to put his cup. One good thing is, if I show him something ONCE, he usually follows that. It's just that he wanted it EXACTLY there and not 1/8 inch out of place. LOL Asher wants his cup touching the far side of his plate/bowl. Angela, she seems to choose a different place every night. We like to mess with her cup when she's not looking, moving it out of place a tiny bit just to see if she notices. She always does. LOL

    1. Poor little guy! I'm glad he's showing great signs of trying to eat though. I'm sure those teeth are one of the first things on your list(s).

      My husband messes with O sometimes and moves the cup to a different spot and lately O has taken to growling at him and slamming his cup down. Attitude!! :)

  5. Incredible he is learning SO FAST!

  6. Sweet Abel! He's looking so much better already! The first day, all I saw was a miserable, sick little boy. This post, I see a happy young man who is getting better. His poor nose looks so much better already. I know there is so much more yet, but plenty of healthy food and drinks from you are showing up already. Just wait until those rotten teeth are gone, poor Abel, he must be miserable. I know how painful just one bad tooth is, never mind a whole mouth of bad teeth.

  7. As with your previous two adoptions, I just LOVE reading about the gradual process of bonding and introduction of routine! This is wonderful to see how well he's adjusting so far! I'm very excited that you're heading home soon - have a safe journey! I'm assuming we *won't* see you in Denver this summer...?