After our eventful trip home, that first day was pure joy. The boys seemed to want to explore everything. And they did.
The first two weeks opened our eyes to what they had lived through. We weren’t prepared for one.
Food for next meal
One of the first things we discovered is the meals: they ate a lot! In fact, usually they would get up from the table to go to the bathroom, then return to the table to eat more. It wasn’t until a couple days later that we found the hidden aspect of meals.
After a couple days as we were cleaning in their room, we discovered little food stashes, slightly hidden around the edges of the beds or frames or cabinets.
They were storing extra food in case there was not enough to go around. A habit they had picked up in the orphanage. We had no clue beforehand. But it did make sense. It took the boys 2-3 weeks before they felt they didn’t need to do that any more.
We knew that the boys might cry some, getting used to us, our home, the food, etc. And they did.
But by the third night that all changed. We were shaken out of our bed soon after they went to sleep. Our older son, Ille, was screaming, not a quiet fear but a deep, long horrible scream—it shocked us how loud and how intense it was. We had no clue how to deal with this.
It scared us as much as it seemed to terrorize him. We immediately went to the room, and he wasn’t really awake. We tried to hold him, yet the screaming continued. After an hour or so he would settle down. But the next night the same thing.
We lived in a complex of military officer families, and they had thrown us a wonderful adoption party that included the four complexes around us and friends from the Navy Chapel. It was great to be welcomed into the community, especially for the boys. We met one couple, he was an Air Force officer and his wife was from Korea.
Finally one night I asked her to come to our apartment (about 10 PM) when he was screaming. She began speaking to him in Korean, and it seemed to settle him a bit. We never really knew what bothered him.* But that drastically helped him. He still screamed for a few nights, but nothing as loud or long as before.
My wife has been baking goods for our entire married life (and before that while living with her parents). Very soon, she was letting the boys help her. They would stand on the dining room chairs around the kitchen table and help her bake. They loved it and wanted to help her as much as possible. They continued for about a year until after we had moved for the Navy. But this was really enjoyable. Flour on the face and clothes—normal. Smiles wide—normal.
My wife began introducing the boys to words/objects using English and pointing to them. They learned quickly and a lot. But they were missing out on interacting with other children. By the end of the third week we realized that it would be better for them to be in the school on campus.
It was an ideal situation because there were many international officers on campus with their families. That meant that the school was used to having children who did not speak English, and they were well equipped to teach them. The speed and growth in language surprised even us.
For a few months the boys continued to speak Korean at home, especially when they didn’t want us to know what was going on. So we soon told them they had to speak English around us. It took 4-5 months before that was fully part of their life. It did help them assimilate the language, and it helped solidify their bond with us.
A chaotic, delightful, challenging first three weeks. Our lives went from 0 to 100 mph in the blink of an eye. Fond memories, growing bonds between us.
* I have recently learned from the older son, Ille, what was behind his screaming. I won’t go into details, but family life before their lives in the orphanage was much worse than we were told, even the orphanage workers did not know. No wonder he screamed—I would have too!