What, you may ask, do polar bears and penguins have to do with raising children? Until a few months ago, I also wondered. Now, however, I am becoming an expert in these matters. If you recall geography and a little zoology, you will realize that the two are, literally, polar opposites. One resides in the Arctic and one in the Antarctic. This describes the challenge of raising another's child.
Our house is overrun by these polar opposite children. Our family's adventure with adopted children began innocently enough with our first adoption, 4th child in our family, about 10 years ago. Nothing could stop us from taking in this beautiful, 18 month old boy--not the starvation he endured, the developmental issues, the unknown factors. Surely love and a great family would overcome all of this and undo the past problems!
No doubt that love and a great family have had an impact on this child, "T", but even that could not erase the damage already done. Now fast forward 8 years and we start the process again. After all, we are seasoned professionals at this. I have gained enormous experience in ADHD, stress reduction, physical therapy, sensory integration dysfunction, IEPs, daily injections. How much harder could it be with one or two more?
Now understand, our family is large, 4 kids, so the only public adoption choices are the "hard to place" children, including sibling groups. Still we said: Bring it on! We look through pairs and trios, even one group with seven (even I was not that insane) until we come across the perfect pair of girls, plus a spare little boy. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one was "War and Peace!" After extensive questioning and reassuring that we were of sound mind, we met the new kids. The first thing out of the oldest mouth was, "I will not do what you tell me to" but she was adorable anyway! Number 2 girl was charming and the littlest was as cute as could be. Then we went home.
As most families know who have adopted, the first month is the honeymoon. We were a little nuts, less than social and started to settle in to a routine. In fact, it took some time before the true colors were flying. Now, 20 months later, I look back and see how far we have come, but I also realize how long the journey is. Now I can speak with the voice of experience, exhaustion, frustration and, every once in a while, triumph.
Now, about the polar opposites that started all this. Recently, we started the littlest boy, "B," on ADD medication and found out that he is bipolar. We then found the same issue in his sister, "A." We are still watching the oldest of the trio, "H," for symptoms. Much surprise to us was, most recently, when T also "went manic" on us and we now deal in the extremes on most days.
With mental illness, especially in children, the days are hard to predict. Medication helps, but adjustments are necessary and side effects not always pleasant. So our days are now colored with uncertainty. Some days, there may be a big, ugly Polar bear with claws extended and ready to bite. Some days, it is a slow moving penguin oblivious to the activities around them. Some days, we visit the Arctic and Antarctica on the same day.