Brother is a gentle soul. He looks somewhat mischievous in this picture, and like any 5-year-old boy, he has his moments, but they are the exception to the rule. He is gentle more often than anything.
Our goals for Brother this school year were simply to heal.
To heal from his fears.
To heal from his trauma.
To heal his body.
To heal his mind.
He has a long way to go, but truly, I can relate stories of healing that testify to the power of God.
Fear of water
Brother came to us terrified of water. We don't know if it this fear came inherent or via outside forces, but it is a terrible fear. Even baths often end in tears and screaming. Short of doing what it takes to get him clean each day, we've simply given him opportunity to explore the joy of water at his own pace.
Last summer we purchased a lake pass (yes, we had to pay for the privilege of swimming at the local lake!) and some life jackets, and headed out to play a few times each week. Brother mostly played along the shore, only getting as wet as he needed to cool off in the hot summer sun. When he did venture into the water, he did not want to be splashed or get his head/face wet. By the end of the summer, he worked up enough courage to jump off the little concrete walkway (wheelchair access to the water) into about 12 inches of water.
At home we put out a wading pool or sprinkler most days, and Brother happily filled his days with pouring the water from one plastic bottle or bowl to another. Rarely did he immerse himself in water, and never did he voluntarily allow himself to be splashed.
Over the course of the school year, there were few opportunities for water play other than bath time, and face/hair washing continued to be screaming nightmares. It did not matter how often we reassured him, how much we tried to teach him, or how gentle we were--Brother could not hear that he was safe.
Then one day it clicked.
I explained (yet again) that he needed to be clean, and that he would be cleaned much faster if he sat still, stopped screaming, closed his eyes and mouth, and tilted his head back.
Suddenly he heard and followed my advice.
He smiled at me, "I did what you said, Mommy. It was fast! The water did not hurt me!"
He clenches his fists and holds his breath in fear, but he does not scream or thrash around anymore. He smiles every time I finish washing his face and hair, "I did it, Mommy! I'm okay!"
And this summer, we spent time at a family member's home with a swimming pool. Brother put on his life jacket and paddled around joyfully for hours on end. He also jumped in off the side and slid down their water slide. It is clear that being submerged still frightens him, but he shakes it off and smiles joyfully at his wonderful accomplishment.
Fear of animals
Brother was so afraid of animals when he arrived at our house that he couldn't even walk through the garage where our ancient dog, Genevieve, slept in her kennel. He had to be accompanied, and he sometimes had to be carried because he could not make his feet move if he knew she was near.
Genevieve died shortly after the children arrived in our home, and we were left with only Percy the guinea pig and JoyJoy the cat. Percy was a grumpy old guinea pig, and he died after another little while. JoyJoy is rather an independent, outdoor-living, hunter of a cat, who occasionally allows us the privilege of showing her some affection.
Brother learned that he could pet her occasionally, and it was good for him.
Unfortunately, along with petting her, he would sometimes try to kick her or pull her tail.
Fear is a funny thing, and I guess it led Brother to be aggressive. We had to ban him from touching JoyJoy unless we supervised him.
Time passed, and this year Belle got Theo the puppy for her birthday present. He was 3 pounds of energy and cuteness. He was just right for Brother to cuddle and love without fear.
Within a week, Brother could pet Theo without flinching.
Within a month, Brother could play rough and tumble with Theo without crying.
Brother has tried to hurt Theo many times, though, and he has had to be supervised when near our energetic puppy.
He is learning that being kind brings the best rewards, and often he can be found gently petting Theo's head or fingering his tail.
And that has helped Brother learn that other animals can be friendly, too. At the most recent homeschool camp out, Brother spent long moments petting and loving on a friend's dog--even though this dog outweighs Brother.
He will probably always be cautious around animals (good!) but he's no longer terrified into immobility. He's learning how to show affection and tender care for other living things, and I see new strength in Brother for it.
Brother was not able to solve problems when he first arrived. If handed a bin of Legos or blocks, he did not know what to do with them. It did not take long for him to understand that he could build with them, but if a piece of his structure was unstable and fell off, he'd melt into the floor because he could not fix it.
He literally could not.
He could remember that perhaps a yellow piece belonged on his structure, but he could not figure out how to replace it.
Slowly, with experience, that changed.
Brother can now build and rebuild without crying . . . too much. Certain toys do still give him pause--Lincoln Logs, ball-and-stick builders, Zoobs; there are times I hear him crying as he builds, and when I look to see what is wrong, he is crying over how he cannot get a piece to do what he wants it to do. But he does not give up. He cries and tries. I leave him to work things out, and he succeeds, coming with a big smile to invite me to see what he built.
He does not choose the hard way or the long way to do things as often as before. He's figuring out what is necessary and what is superfluous--such as choosing the route to the dining room that is most direct and has the fewest closed baby (pet) gates. He used to walk into the kitchen, circle the island, walk around the table, and then climb across the chairs to get to his seat for breakfast. Now he can walk into the kitchen and directly to his seat.
Just the other day he was wearing a dress-up costume that was too big. It kept flopping over his feet. He came to me to ask if he could put on his shoes in order to keep the costume on. I was very impressed with his ability to identify the problem and solve it himself.
He's come a long way!
Brother is still a very little boy, and I expect that he will forget instructions sometimes. But Brother's memory is a marvel because of its flaws and its power.
At first, Brother cannot remember new information. A new story, a new experience, a new instruction--all of them are heard and lost within moments. However, when that information is repeated many, many times, he gets it. He gets it so solidly that I'm often startled by the perfection of his memory.
In learning to read, he struggled to understand that letters in a row made words. I wrote about his experience in a review post some months ago. However, with practice, he really got it, and he remembers words that he's learned in the past without needing to sound them out. This sounds like what any child should learn to do, and it is, but I'm struggling to convey just how interesting my experience with Brother is. He seems to go from completely confused to completely confident in the blink of an eye.
The same has been true for how to wash hands, how to brush teeth, how to put toys away, etc. One day I'll be despairing that Brother will never learn what to do, and then I'll stand astonished as he teaches a sibling what to do with perfect clarity.
The key is for me to just keep on repeating what he needs to hear until he gets it.
And then he will get it!
I think Brother may have a gift for math. We've done basically zero formal math study so far, but he seems to intuit number patterns and rules.
I'm not sure about this.
More on it in another year.
Brother's gross motor skills are awesome--just like Beowulf's. He's lithe, strong, and a good runner. Rose Red has commented more than once that Brother could be a champion soccer player.
His fine motor skills were delayed, but suddenly blossomed this year. He quickly progressed from fist-gripping his crayons and pencils to a beautiful writing grip with no outside intervention. He simply seemed to grow into himself. He progressed from scribbling to intentional drawings. If the classic Draw-A-Person test can be given any credence, then Brother has grown significantly in his emotional/intellectual abilities.
He can print his name.
He can trace and sometimes print other letters of the alphabet.
He can cut with scissors with reasonable accuracy.
He can button and zip.
He can unlock doors.
He can buckle and unbuckle his bike helmet.
He'd like to be allowed to help in the kitchen.
Brother arrived looking like he was suffering from a bad case of chicken pox or measles. His skin was covered with open, infected, bumpy sores.
After the first two rounds of antibiotics to clear up the infections, we've simply followed doctor's orders to use hydrocortisone cream and lots of moisturizer--we like petroleum jelly with cocoa butter best of all.
Brother's scars are fading, and his skin is mostly smooth. Summers are the worst for bringing on the itchy rash of eczema, but with minimal maintenance, Brother's skin is clear and comfortable.
How do I describe what Brother's days were like a year or more ago?
There just aren't words.
I can say that he spent long hours crying and crying and crying.
It's just not enough to convey the sense of despair and anxiety he lived in and that we lived in as a result.
He spends much less time crying now.
He can hear and understand that he can choose to use words and obey which will give a quick positive outcome, or he can cry and refuse to obey resulting in a time out in order to get back on track before getting to a positive outcome.
He can sit and calm down in a time out. That's an accomplishment of this year.
He's less capable of choosing when he's tired--like any kid--it's just more extreme for Brother.
When he's irritable, he falls into passive-aggressive behaviors, but he's irritable less and less often. He's starting to seem more like a healthy kid than an unhealthy one.
Brother loves singing, cars, trains, magnet bricks, bedtime stories, mud, goodnight kisses, his stuffed bear, playing make believe, digging holes, carrying in groceries, going on walks, helping Mom, and sucking his thumb.
A year ago, I was pretty sure that Brother really would struggle to learn and would be rather limited in how far he could go socially or academically. This year, I'm pretty sure I was wrong. He takes longer to learn than I'm used to, but when he learns something, he really learns it.
He's friendly, sweet, and giving.
He cares truly about the well-being of others; he has the gift of compassion.
Sometimes his true gifts are clouded by the evils that hurt him before, but those clouds are clearing.
Brother is starting to shine.