Saturday, December 15, 2012


Today, I heard a radio advertisement telling men to buy their women jewelry so as to be "your wife's hero." It struck me - is that really our definition?? Our husbands are heroes if they buy us pretty baubles? It immediately made me think of what happened at dinner last night.

We were wrapping up our favorite family tradition - Pizza Night. Every Friday we go to the same mom-and-pop pizza buffet. We've been going there now for over two years, and it's like being with family. Last night, we were gathering the kids and leaving around at around 7:15. I started hustling the kids out to the car while hubby paid the tab and chatted with the owner.

As I was loading kids into the mini-van, a homeless man walked past. I'll be honest, I tensed up. He was older, he looked to be drunk, he was disheveled and sporting a pretty mean black eye. He looked tough, desperate, and not in his right mind. As he was walking past, my husband came out of the restaurant. The guy turned to him and said "Hey, could you spare some change?"

Hubby said "What do you need it for?" "I'm trying to get a bus ticket so I can go apply for a job," the man said. "I don't think anyone's hiring at this hour," hubby replied. "Well, it's for tomorrow morning," the man said.

My husband looked at him and said "I don't have any change, but how about I set you up with some food? Are you hungry?" "Well, yeah," the guy said, sounding incredulous. My husband took him into the restaurant and paid for him to get the buffet and a drink. He asked his name, asked him about his shiner, set up one of the cooks to help him, then paid his meal and told him "God bless you, stay safe" before leaving. And when we got home, he said to me "It makes me so sad. Sure, he got to eat tonight, but he's going to be sleeping on the streets and it's cold and dangerous and I wish I could have done more." He's prayed for the man that night and again today.

I'm proud to have such a compassionate, loving, caring, selfless man as my husband. I told him later that I am so proud of him, to see him be an example of Christ's love like that. He shrugged it off. He'll probably be embarrassed that I'm telling this story, because he didn't do it to brag or boast or show off.

This is why I love my husband. Who he is inside is worth more than a million pretty pieces of jewelry. You can't get true character by spending money. You get it by treating others with decency and value, no matter what. By having respect and honesty and compassion. By shining the light of Christ into this world in action and deed. That's a real hero to me.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Plague of Tics

I alluded to the fact that Geri has some "tics." I sometimes call them "-isms", because some of them seem to be "blindisms" or "adoptedisms", but they boil down to uncontrolled, repetitive behaviors that she has a hard time reigning in. I suspect lots of adopted kids, who have suffered neglect or trauma, have some of these types of behaviors, and I know for a fact that a lot of blind or otherwise disabled kids have them, too. That's without throwing the Autism spectrum into the equation, which is characterized, in part, by the tics.

I wanted to share our experiences with Geri's tics because I think it does two things - 1) gives people in our circle of life a platform for understanding our daughter, so they don't think she's nuts or having a seizure or something and 2) gives a bit more info to people who might be dealing with something similar, as I can share what we have found that works for her and possible interpretations. There's a lot more to these behaviors than meets the eye.

When Geri came home, she had some tics. Over time, with lots of sensory input and PT and sensory therapy and brushies and squishees and redirection from us, that stuff subsided a great deal. However, following her cornea transplant, a lot of it has come back. We've seen this before, actually, that a change in her vision leads quickly to an uptick in tics. This time, it's been fairly marked and dramatic.

She has started rocking again. No, not blasting White Snake in her room late at night. It's more like she's throwing herself against her seat for the sensation of smacking into it. She hits herself in the head. She squeals and shrieks. She pulls at her clothing, flails her arms and contorts. She pulls at her tongue and lips. Shoves both hands into her mouth. Honestly, it can look pretty fricking weird. I suspect that people who see this think she's either possessed or massively autistic/retarded. Maybe they think she's psycho.

Then they think I'm psycho, because my response is to tell her to go pick up my bag and bring it to me. Then I tell her to put it back. Then I ask her to bring it to me again. Then I hand her something to throw in the garbage. Or I throw out something random like "Say 'mommy, I'm hungry.'" and proceed to give her crackers.

Here's what we've figured out about these fits. First, there's always a trigger. It's almost never totally random or out of nowhere. It may look that way, but that's until you decode it. When she's messing with her mouth, it's because she's hungry. Sometimes, when she starts rocking in her seat it's because she wants to get down. Much of the time, it's linked to overstimulation. There's too much input, often visual input, for her to process. Many times, it's linked to a specific frustration, like being told "no" or that she can't have or do something she wants. It's her way of throwing a fit, the equivalent of laying on the floor and screaming and kicking her feet. It just looks a hell of a lot more bizarre.

Geri's sensory system is, to say the least, ill equipped for the world in which she lives. She started off at a deficit, because of her blindness, and then she was severely understimulated in the orphanage. We also suspect that she was quickly moved from almost zero stimulation in the infant room to the highly stimulating environment of six or seven toddlers running around in the toddler room at about the age of three. So after three years of nothing, she got tossed right into the deep end. Blind. She has every right to have a sensory processing deficit, honestly.

Which is where carrying my diaper bag around comes in. There are lots of ways to deal with a sensory problem, depending on the nature of the problem itself, and "heavy work" is a good one. Moving, lifting, carrying, pulling or pushing something heavy provides tons of proprioceptive input that stabilizes and calms the sensory system. It releases endorphins, which give a kick of feel-good to the brain, and gets some of that energy worked off. When she is spun up, it's the best possible response. It also calms and focuses her almost immediately to be given a simple, easy-to-understand task. When she's feeling loopy, it seems to ground her and give her a sense of purpose that settles her mind to be given something to do. I kid you not, telling her to throw something away for me can end a fit instantly.

And, to be honest, I'm already seeing the tics begin to subside. If we were consistently using brushies and squishies it might be moving faster, although I somewhat doubt that. She doesn't respond to the brushies and squishies as if they are helpful. One of her therapists told me that, in the world of sensory integration, you can tell if you are doing what your child needs because they respond happily. "If she's smiling, you are giving her exactly what she needed." When I brush her, she just seems to tolerate it. But as soon as I hand her something heavy and tell her where to take it, she grins from ear to ear.

So, if you see us out and about and I'm pulling all the chairs out from the table and making her push them back in, there's a reason. And it's not just because I'm some sadist who likes to give her child a Sysiphean task.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Only I Manage This...

What other adult gets tested for whooping cough twice in a four month period??? Seriously. This is the second time in a short while that I have come down with a crazy chest infection and ended up at urgent care. Both times they've had to test me for Pertussis because my cough was so bad that it sounded like that! sigh.

I'm still waiting on test results to find out if that's what I have. So here's my PSA... don't smoke, kids. I smoked for 13 years, total. I started at the tender age of 13, stopped for about two years when I got pregnant with and gave birth to TJ, then picked it up for another year before quitting for good. I smoked heavily, often times clove cigarettes, and I believe I am paying for it now. Every time I get sick, it goes straight into my chest and takes hold. Don't smoke, kiddos. Even if you quit, you'll pay for it later.

In other news, Geri's eye is healing very well. The new input seems to be getting her spun up, but that has been settling down recently and I'm happy about that. I'll have to write more about it, because I think there's some useful info in this whole story to put out there. But not tonight.

For tonight, I will leave you with this fun image from food shopping today...

Yoda and Luke go grocery shopping...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Diet Update

Thank you, all, for your encouragement and advice after my first post about this. It was scary to make a big change to something as fraught as our diet, and I was scared, so your kind words helped a lot.

Don't try to act innocent, soy!
I'm pleased to report that all is going really well. I was very very worried about how Geri would do, with her feeding issues, and I'm a little ashamed now that I underestimated her so much. I was scared she would reject all the new foods and convinced she wouldn't tackle all that chewing, but I was so wrong. She's munching on meats and veggies and fruits and doing great. I have to cut it into smaller pieces for her, but that's to be expected. Sometimes, she gets a little overwhelmed because she forgets to swallow what she's been chewing and then her mouth gets too full, but event hat turns out okay. Gross as it may sound, she just spits the mass out on her plate and then takes a little bit of it back fro round two. With all the feeding issues, our family has utterly nasty table manners, but oh well. It works, and that's what matters.

In addition to all the great input I got from y'all, I also got a chance to pick the brain of one of my favorite therapists from Geri's old feeding group. She gave me some tips and idea, and also pointed out something very important for our miss Mera. Many moons ago, when Mera's dairy intolerance first cropped up, we figured out that the culprit is not lactose, but dairy protein. What I didn't know is that soy protein is almost identical to dairy protein, so if someone is intolerant of dairy protein they will find no relief in switching to soy! Well, crap... that takes that soy yogurt off the menu. Just as well, it was runny and Mera wasn't impressed. But it leaves me with a conundrum... how to replace yogurt? And should I even bother? I could use almond milk yogurt, but it tastes weird and has a bizarre consistency. I could use sheep's milk yogurt, but it's $3 per cup! I could use coconut, but it's super thin. I could thicken it with protein powder, but that usually has whey in it and that's a no-go. I'm thinking I might just let it go.

The therapist also recommended I not take Geri down to 100% carb free. She pointed out that carbs are essential for processing protein in the body, and that they provide complex sugars that give longer lasting energy than fruits. She wants to see Geri on some amount of whole-grain carbs. Honestly, I was never really thinking of going totally carb-free. I just wanted to reduce it a whole lot and I figured shooting for none but knowing I can't control everything would land us at an actual reduction closer to 70%. I aim high, knowing I'll never make it but figuring that will get me closer to where I need to be. Does that make me a pessimist? At any rate, I bought some quinoa and I'm working more barley into the mix.

Another thing that the feeding therapist suggested was adding a probiotic to both girls' diets. I can't believe I didn't think of that, since I used a probiotic when Mera's dairy thing first popped up. She said it's a god idea when making a diet change to add a probiotic to keep everything working properly and your immune system functioning during the change. I found a dairy-free kids probiotic powder at King Soopers, so I'm working it in for both girls.

So, what about results?? Without going into too much disgusting detail, it's working. Geri's moving again, and since I dropped the soy I have seen some improvement in Mera. They both seem to be moving their bowels more regularly and with less difficulty. TMI, I know, but at least I'm not posting pics or something. Stroll on over to STFU, Parents and this won't look so bad.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Diet Debacle

We're going on a diet! *grinds face into corner of table for an hour* No, really, I'm so excited.

Mera and Geri have both been suffering from (TMI warning) terrible constipation for so long I honestly am not sure when it started. I've been dosing them with Miralax recently, just to make them comfortable, but I know this treatment ought not to be done forever. Something has to change, and it has to happen in their diets.

I'm French, so this one hurts. 
Geri, I already kinda knew her diet needed tweaking. She would live on nothing but carbs if I let her. Mac and cheese, spaghetti, bread, graham crackers... I could keep her fed for a year without ever making anything that grows touch her lips. I know that isn't a good plan, but with her feeding problems I have felt that my hands were tied. I was also concerned because, aside from the obvious potty problem, there is also an issue with normal weight obesity. What's that? Apparently, when a child has been nutritionally deprived and malnourished for a long period of time (oh, say, about 4 years) their body behaves as if it is obese at a normal weight. The heart, liver, kidneys, etc. all get affected at what would be, on any other child, a pretty average weight. Right now, Geri is in about the 75th percentile for weight and height. On any other kid, that would be just fine and dandy, but on her it's possibly dangerous. Her doctor also specifically warned us about carbs for her, simply because her metabolism is so messed up at this point.

Don't try to look all innocent, Cow. You know what you did.
Mera is another fun study. When she was born, she was severely dairy sensitive. Not just lactose, but all dairy. I was nursing her, and I couldn't even eat bread because of the whey used in it. I could not have a glass of cow's milk, but I could have goat's milk. Which, by the way, is not really the "gimme" it might sound like. Stuff tastes weird. The cheese from it is great, but the actual milk tastes a little like feet smell. Just saying, is all.

So here we are, two members of our family have specific food exclusions. Mera has to be "no dairy" and Geri needs to be "low carb," but she is also "doesn't enjoy chewing solid foods." Nick is "please don't make me change my diet" and TJ is "wanna ride bikes?" I'm trying to figure out how the heck I'm going to feed them all.

For now, I'm cutting the milk and milk products for Mera. I'm not yet making her totally give up anything with whey in it, because I think her system is stronger now and I want to see if just taking out the milk will do it. However, I'm trying to make sure Geri doesn't get all those carbs and the girls are always together at meal times and I can't give one girl one thing and another girl another because that would start all sorts of hell breaking loose. Here's where I am so far.

Pick me! Pick me!
1. Vanilla Almond Milk. I tried giving both girls fruit and applesauce for breakfast. Geri hardly ate anything and I hate to send her to school so hungry. She loves cereal, which has carbs but if I make the rest of the day carb-free I feel like it's ok, but if Mera sees her eating some then she'll want it too and that. mean. milk. Now I can give them both cereal, mera with almond milk and Geri with cow's milk, and no one is the wiser.

2. Goat's Milk and Soy Yogurt. The girls also love yogurt. If I give Geri the dairy version and Mera the non-dairy, it should be ok. Or I could just give them both non-dairy, but it's real expensive.

3. Chicken Nuggets. No, not a health food. I get that. But it's very low carb, no dairy (I'm not counting whey, remember) and easy to eat. It also gets Geri in a chewing frame of mind, so she'll attempt he fruit and veggies I give her.

4. Applesauce. I buy the Buddy Fruits, which have no sugar or preservatives. Just apples and other fruit. A serving of fruit, something in the tummy, no chewing. Works for everyone.

5. Fish. Geri loves fish, so I'm praying that will bring us through a lot of mealtimes.

Today was the first day, and I'm not sure how long it will take for their "systems" to improve if I'm on the right track. Anyone have any educated guesses? Any tips or advice for a changed diet? Recipes? Want to come and cook for us while I go have a good cry? Seriously, this is such a huge change and it feels like I have SO MANY hurdles to deal with in all of it. Money (have you SEEN how much quinoa costs?!?!), time, feeding difficulties, taste buds that have a lot of programming in their history... This is a lot. The things we do because we love our kids and want them to be able to poop. Hallmark should put that on a card. Your welcome.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Beautiful Eyes

Today we were driving and Geri looked at me (I wasn't operating the vehicle, don't worry) and the light hit her just so and I could see the outline of her new cornea. There was this amazing circle of white light in the middle of her right eye. It was sort of breathtaking, really. So clear and vibrant, lit so it appeared to almost be glowing. I wonder if that outline will persist after the cornea heals in place and the stitches are removed.

Her right eye will be rather remarkable in the end. Before the cornea transplant, the stretching in her cornea gave it a milky, blue-white color. There was a wide area of this coloring around the edge of her iris, and it streaked across the middle. Now, there is this clear field in the middle with a ring of milky blue-white around it.

I've often wondered what exactly is her eye color. It's hard to be certain, because it's a real trick getting her to make good eye contact with you for any amount of time, but it appears they are an incredible dark blue. It feels like there is something important to be learned from this - the "defective" part of her is utterly gorgeous. So much beauty is found in our flaws, if we only know how to look and see them differently.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Cornea Transplant

Yesterday Geri got he new cornea. I honestly still don't truly believe it happened, because she's recovering so well that you can't hardly tell it happened. If she weren't wearing a clear eye shield, you'd never know that she had her eye cut up just yesterday.

The morning of the surgery started with a 4:45am departure for Denver. Our pastor met us as the surgical center, and we got her paperwork completed and brought her back for prep. Pastor waited in the lounge area until she was prepped and ready to go back.

It's sort of sad how good we've gotten at anesthesia. We know every in and out of Geri's surgical prep. At this point, I can tell the nurses exactly when and where they can check her vitals and how in order to keep her calm. Blood pressure on the leg, not the arm. Pulse ox on the toe, not the finger. Change her into the hospital gown as late as possible. I'll do the eye drops myself, thanks. And it's sad when you can tell the anesthesiologist that she does really well with propofol, the Midazolam seems to really screw her up in recovery, skip the laughing gas because it really doesn't help, and you know exactly how to hold your child so that when they go totally limp you are ready. We are pros at anesthesia at this point, and sometimes that makes my heart hurt a bit.

The staff at Harvard Park Surgery Center were really great.  They were very nice, very cooperative, very reassuring. They made Geri's prep as easy as possible, and I really appreciated that. Closer to surgery time, Pastor came back and we prayed over her. Then Dr. R showed up and talked to us a bit before the main event. He told us that we were really lucky, the "tissue" was very good, very healthy. He said that it came from a 2 year old, which sort of floored me for a moment. He double-checked a few things, we put on our bunny suits, and we headed back to the OR. There was a funny moment when we walked in the OR and there was no bed in the room because the nurse was bringing it in and I looked at the anesthesiologist and said "So, are you just gonna hold her the whole time?" The bed was right behind us, and soon Geri was on it getting the gas and being super brave and then she was out. We kissed her, prayed over her, and on the way out I prayed over Dr. R.

An aside, I do this EVERY TIME she has an operation. Dr. B is getting used to it, I think, but it seems to surprise docs when the mom says "May I pray over you?" on the way out to the waiting room. So far, everyone is really cool about it. I have not had any doctor or nurse refuse my offer, I think because they realize that they don't have to be a Christian for me to be one and it matters to me so they let it fly. Which I appreciate, because if a doctor ever said no I think I'd just do it anyway. I really only ask first because I put my hand on them when I do it, and I try to announce myself before touching strangers. Just a policy I have.

We headed out to the waiting room and Pastor was still there. He hung out with us, watching TV and discussing comic books (we have a really cool pastor) until Dr. R came out about an hour later to talk to us. Of course, he comes out while I'm in the bathroom but he was still there when I got back and there really wasn't much to discuss anyway. We would be seeing him in his office at 1230, so he was going to give us the after-care details there. He said that the surgery went fantastic, that everything was in place and it looked great. We thanked him and he left. Pastor said his goodbyes and we prayed with him and then he left, too, and we went back to see Geri in post-op.

Wow, this is turning into a loooooong post. Oh well, if you're still here then I guess you're in it for the long haul so I'll keep trucking. Perhaps all this detail is boring for most people (it's ok, I understand) but I suppose if anyone ever has to go through a cornea transplant for their kid and they want to know about how it all works, this could be useful.

Anyway, when we got back Geri was still mostly out but starting to become more awake. Her eye was thoroughly bandaged and covered with a clear plastic shield. Another benefit of being very used to anesthesia - I know exactly how to handle her when she wakes up! I told the nurses to remove all the stickies from her chest while she was still groggy, that was it pisses her off only briefly. Same thing for the IV, although some nurses don't like that idea. They want to keep the IV in just in case the kid won't take fluid orally. They need to make sure the child stays hydrated. However, I've done this enough times to know that she will take the oral liquids more readily if there isn't an IV in her hand or arm pissing her off. This nurse was awesome and took out the IV when I told her that. I also got them to take off her blood pressure cuff and bring over a comfy chair so I could sit in the chair and hold her in my lap. At this point, Geri was rousing and starting to be pretty pissed, but as soon as we got into the chair she laid her head on me and fell asleep again. She slept for another hour or so. The nurse was great about checking her blood pressure on her leg, to avoid ticking her off again. It worked like a charm.

When Geri woke up she was hungry, so we gave her some vanilla pudding and a BUTTLOAD of graham crackers. Here's another point of interest. When Geri comes out of anesthesia, she gets something I like to call "Drunk Face." Ever get drunk and your nose and mouth area seems to feel numb? Yeah, when Geri is coming off the anesthesia she rubs her nose a lot and won't drink from a cup or a straw. I think it's because her nose and lips feel numb and awkward. She drank apple juice off a spoon, but wouldn't touch it from a straw or cup. Poor thing. But she was loving those graham crackers.

She was in surprisingly high spirits, so when she finished her crackers we changed her and packed up and left. On the way out we knew it was lunch time so we mentioned pizza and she got all sorts of excited. We hit Anthony's Pizza and she ate a huge slice of cheese pizza. She was in an unbelievably good mood. After that, we headed to Dr. R's office.

Another piece of useful post-op info... it's totally normal for your child to run a low-grade fever after surgery. We didn't know this, and it hadn't happened before, so we freaked. Oddly enough, Dr. R's office did not have a single thermometer. I guess with his specialty, it just doesn't come into play. She felt warm, and we were nervous, but he reassured us and recommended we get with her primary care doc to be sure. He was certain, however, that this was not a danger to her eye and the new cornea. He removed the padding, and from what he was able to get a look at he said the eye looked "perfect." He sounded super confident and was very pleased with the results. He said again that the tissue was just unbelievably good and healthy, so he had total confidence that the transplant would be a success and bring a huge improvement to Geri's vision in that right eye.

We headed home, with a pit-stop at her pediatrician's office to find out her temp was 99.2 and she was fine, and then I ran out to fill her prescriptions. The post-op care for this procedure is not terribly complicated, but there's SO MUCH of it. In addition to her normal medications, she now is getting steroid eye drops 6 times daily (works out to every two hours while she's awake) and antibiotic eye drops 3 times. This is the regimen for the first two weeks, until we see Dr. R again and he revises the schedule based on how well she's doing. The eye shield stays on 24/7 for probably a month or so, then she'll wear it when she sleeps for another 3-4 months. She can't be permitted to rub or press on the eye at all. She will have EUAs every 6 weeks until about the 9 months mark, depending on how everything is healing. The stitches stay in for about 6 months, I think. Again, it depends.

What is most amazing about this surgery is how well she is doing. She's had far less of a developmental setback than we had feared. She's being rather clingy with Nick, and she's no eating as well as normal, but otherwise she is doing great. She's still using her words as much as before, so no verbal setback. She's walking around just fine, no gross motor setback. With the clear eye shield we are not seeing a huge setback visually, but she can't wear her glasses right now because they don't fit over the shield, so she seems to be seeing less clearly as a result. Still, she's playing and laughing and there are moments when I look at her and say "Did I imagine that whole surgery thing?" It's really surprising, and I know this is a blessing from God. He has smiled on this process and made it smooth for her, and I'm so grateful.

If you actually read this entire post, thanks. I appreciate it. I hope it gave you some insight into this type of surgery, what all it entails, and perhaps that info might be useful to you or someone you know. Honestly, that's the only reason I do this blog. I hope that our experiences might be helpful for someone else, in the form of info or encouragement, and that's why I overshare so much. Thanks for listening, I hope it was of use to you. :)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

One Year Home... Belated

I feel rather bad about this, but the 19th was the anniversary of Geri's homecoming and it was completely overtaken by events.

I know most people get really excited about "Gotcha Day!", the day you took your little one out of the orphanage, but I'm way more excited about "Homecoming Day", the day Geri entered the U.S. and came home for the first time. Why? Because when we took Geri out of the orphanage and returned to the apartment in Sofia to wait out the final paperwork before we could leave, it didn't really feel final. That time spent in Sofia felt very much in-between. It still does, in my memory. It felt like a really tough babysitting job, immersed in a culture we didn't know and cut off from our loved ones. We could barely call anyone to gloat over our awesome new daughter, or cry over her massive needs. We couldn't truly start caring for her in the way we wanted to, because we couldn't get the things we wanted for her or give her the medical attention we knew she so desperately needed. All we could do was hang out in the apartment, go to appointments, walk to the Jumbo or the grocery store, and generally wait it out. We were missing our other two kids and generally feeling adrift. It almost felt like someone would turn up at the end and say "Well, thanks for watching her. Have a nice life. Give her here."

But when we landed on U.S. soil she was truly ours. No one could come and get her. She was a citizen of the United States, a member of our nation. And when we came home she was enfolded in her family for the first time, we were united as the full unit we would be for the rest of our lives. It was for reals when we brought her home and she slept in her own bed.

So, although I have a pretty awesome excuse, I still feel like a bit of a doucher to have not made more of that day. That morning, while I was out running errands to get ready for a Thanksgiving trip, I got a call from Dr. R (cornea specialist.) I had called him early that morning and left a message to let him know that we were leaving town and to give us a good amount of return time if a cornea became available. So, when they called back, I thought I was just getting a HUA out of them. When the nurse told me that a cornea was available and the surgery would have to be Wednesday morning at 7 am, I honestly didn't catch it the first time. I had to have her repeat it. Twice.

Thus launched a flurry of preparations and a massive switching of gears as we went from "leaving tomorrow to drive to Wichita" to "going to Denver on Wednesday for a new cornea." It wasn't until about 5 pm that I called my husband and said "You know what day it is right? What are we doing for it??"

We ended up going to My Big Fat Greek Restaurant (closest thing to Bulgarian food in Colorado Springs) and going around the table, telling each member of the family our favorite thing about them.

It was less of a production than I had hoped, but I actually liked it. It was fun, and the kids had a good time. As for the surgery, please forgive me if I leave you hanging until tomorrow for the details on that one. I'm frickin' wiped. G'night.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

One Year Ago: Part 3

Sorry, I'm late. Oh well, I think you all survived the wait. :)

Yesterday, Geri had a dentist appointment. Honestly, I'm sort of stumped for how to present what happened yesterday and what it all means. I'll start with what that was like one year ago, I guess.

When Geri came home, no one had ever brushed her teeth. Never ever. She was orally defensive, to say the least. We could not touch her lips, tongue or teeth with anything other than a metal spoon or a cup. I'm aware it sounds a bit odd to talk about trying to put your hands in your child's mouth, but when you really think about it, that's an important thing. You can't brush their teeth if they clamp shut when you come near. You can't check for loose teeth, or see if they chipped anything when they fall. You can't even put chapstick on them. And you sure as shootin' can't get them into a dentist's office for any useful purpose. Riding the chair, by the way, doesn't count as useful in my book.

So, when Geri had her first visit, about 9 months ago, we were proud of her for letting the dentist pry open her mouth for about 50 seconds to peek inside. No instruments, no brushing, no x-rays. She had to be knocked out for all of that.

Yesterday, she got x-rays of her teeth. No, she wasn't exactly pleased but it happened. She opened wide for the dentist and gladly let her brush all of her teeth and look at them. She let the dentist look with the mirror and even scrape a tiny bit with the probing instrument. It was awesome.

It was also the result of hard work on everyone's part. I never pictured parenting her as involving 5-minute sessions of mommy exploring her mouth with a finger, just to get her to allow tooth-brushing some day. It was one of those surreal moments in parenting that paid off. Even if it was really weird at the time and I still think it sounds crazy written out. :)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Year Ago: Part 2

A year ago, today, we took Geri to a doctor in Bulgaria to be cleared for entry to the U.S. It was something of a dog and pony show. He never took her height or weight, but he filled in those blanks. That sort of sums it up, right there.

Today, Geri saw Dr. Kim and he was amazed at her progress. He checked her thoroughly and declared her healthy and blooming. There are just too many health improvements to list. She was undernourished and stick skinny, today she's getting on the chunky side. She was ghostly pale, today she is pretty tanned. She was scared, withdrawn, unemotional, disengaged. Today, she was playing and laughing and climbing and interacting with everyone. Then, she was silent. Today, she was all chatter. She makes requests, comments, jokes. She pretends to be animals. She names her body parts and the sounds animals make. She counts to ten, although she tends to skip over some of the numbers here and there. She doesn't rock anymore. She's animated, lively, funny and sweet. He couldn't stop raving about how far she has come. Then he looked at me and said, "You look really beautiful, you are glowing. You seem full of joy." We all are. A year ago, I was overwhelmed and scared. I was jet-lagged and Nick and I both were surviving on Milka bars from the convenience store a couple of blocks over. We both felt like we had been run over by a bus and we were having a hard time seeing a future. We wondered, at times, what we had gotten ourselves into and felt totally inadequate for the task at hand. Today, I can safely say that we are all thriving and enjoying life again.

Another big difference - I gave the kids baths tonight. A year ago I tried to bathe her and found that Geri was terrified of the water. She screamed and cried in terror when we tried to put her in the tub. Showering her was no more successful. Hell, she was scared to death when we undressed her to change her clothes. Getting her naked and into the water was not happening. I recall being thrilled when we got her to sit in the water in her diaper and shirt. It only lasted about 20 seconds, and she ended up nigh hysterical afterwards, but I was proud of us all. Tonight, she kept saying "Bath! Bath!" and was excited about it. She cooperated with hair washing and played in the water, splashing up a storm and squealing joyfully. She played with cups and poured water and had a blast. Hell, she climbed into the tub on her own as soon as I turned the water on, before it really started to fill up. She sort of sat in it and looked around as if to say "Well? Get a move on!!!"

Funny, how this week has been mirroring that week one year ago. It's been totally unintentional, how things seem to be happening on the same days, in the same pattern. Perhaps God wanted to make sure I could make these comparisons and see just how far we've come. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

One Year Later: Part 1

If I did this all in one post, it would be way too much to tackle, so here's the plan. Each day, I want to compare what happened today to what was happening one year ago today. I'd like to do this every night this week, culminating in "homecoming day" on the 19th.

Here are some things that stand out to me about today versus this date, one year ago.

This morning, Geri woke up in the top bunk and climbed down the ladder, out of bed. A year ago, the idea of her tackling a ladder would have been laughable. She was happy and excited and talking, right out the gate. A year ago, her morning routine was to wake abruptly, immediately become agitated and demand to walk around the apartment, nonstop, holding our hands. When she woke up, she was clearly freaked out every morning for several weeks. Now, she's happy to see us and talking to us and bouncing in her bed with excitement. Pretty much every morning. She also helps dress herself, and can put her dirty clothes in the hamper.

Straight out of bed and walking around... this was our whole day.
Nick got the kids ready while I dragged my feet a bit (still not 100% feeling better yet) and then it was out the door, into the carseat, for the long ride up to Denver. One year ago, today, we drove to an appointment across town and she literally screamed and cried the entire time, without stop. It was about 45 minutes each way (felt like 100 years, though). She was hysterical the entire ride. Today she sat in her carseat and munched on dry cereal and bounced and made excited noises when I talked about where we were going.

We arrived at the Anchor Center. Her drop-off routine involves stopping off at the potty, where she pulls her pants up and down with minimal assistance and can wash and dry her hands independently. At the door of her classroom, she gave me a kiss bye bye and joined her class happily. A year ago I could barely leave her presence to go to the bathroom. She was indifferent to me as a person, but terrified of being alone. One of us had to be with her constantly, walking her around, holding both her hands because she lacked the strength and balance to stand on her own two feet without assistance. Today she kissed me, turned and walked off to join her class.

When we got home, she sat at the table and had some apple slices and yogurt. She fed herself, which is a minor miracle in itself. A year ago she would not touch the silverware at all. She reacted as if she was scared of touching it. She would not have been able to touch the apple slices to pick them up - she would not touch any of her food. She would not have tolerated the apple slices in her mouth, period, because she could not chew or tolerate contact with solid food. I distinctly recall being in the little apartment in Sofia and cooking and mashing apples and pears for her. That was as much texture as she could handle.

We went together to her brother's karate class and, while he was in class, I took the girls exploring the building. Geri went up several flights of stairs and down one, with no assistance from me. She walked independently with her LWC, exploring everything around her. Exploration, itself, is so different for her. A year ago, she was completely closed off. She had no curiosity in her, or at least no means of expressing it. Now, she is into everything!

Tonight, she took her medicines willingly. She helped with getting her PJs on. She asked me to read her "The Poky Little Puppy" and sat in my lap, with her sister, for two stories. This child was totally nonverbal one year ago. Today she asked for apples, yogurt, stories, to sit in my lap. She pretended to be a duck. She identified her knee, nose, mouth, eyes and the eyes and mouth on a doll. She played with toys, something she couldn't do one year ago. All she could do was walk, with assistance, and compulsively rock. That was it.

Tonight, at bedtime, she climbed the ladder to her top bunk without assistance. She cuddled up under the blankets and held her cuddly and Glow Worm and drank some milk. She talked to me while I aid goodnight to her, gave me a kiss, told me she loved me too. When I said goodnight and left the room, she simply hugged her lovies and closed her eyes. One year ago, tonight, Nick and I took turns holding her while she cried and screamed for three hours. She was inconsolable. She was despondent, scared, alone in a world turned upside down. She didn't know who we were, didn't trust us, and fought sleep with everything she had. I remember being grateful that we weren't in the U.S. because if we had been, someone would have called the cops on us. What on Earth would we say to a Bulgarian polizia if he showed up in the middle of the night to tell us to quiet her or to ask what the hell we were doing to the poor kid? I was jet-lagged, exhausted, emotionally drained, confused, sad and doubting. Tonight I went through a normal bedtime routine and my well-adjusted child said goodnight and simply went to sleep.

Mnogo hoobava big sister! Our Bulgarian princess!!!!
It's easy to forget how far we have come. Sometimes I look at her and I think "it's been a year, shouldn't her _________ be further along now?" But tonight, I take stock of how different everything is between this day and the same date one year previous and I can't believe how much our lives have changed.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Wow, Where Have I Been?

Sorry, I did it again. Here's the catchup and you can tell me if I sound busy enough to have an excuse for my disappearance.

1. Geri's Spine. We finally had that MRI to determine the reason behind her unexplained sacral scar. Survey says... she is fine. Her spine is perfectly normal and the scar is very surface level, so it was probably a cyst or something that they removed because it was in the diaper area and getting irritated or infected. Really wish they had just told us about it, so we could have skipped the anesthesia and MRI... but who cares? My kid is healthy (in this area, at least) and that's cause to celebrate.

2. Geri's Corneas. I can't remember if I mentioned this in the past, but Geri's corneas are severely scarred from high pressures in her eyes. This sort of thing happens when glaucoma goes untreated so long that the eyes stretch to an abnormal size, I guess. Her right eye pressures are very stable and the scar is right smack in the middle of her already narrow field of vision, so we saw a cornea specialist and he recommended we go ahead with a transplant. Is it risky? Yeah, in a sense, but many of the risks can be mitigated with careful monitoring. Will there be a benefit? Yes, definitely. Probably a huge increase in visual acuity in her right eye. In the past, every tiny jump in vision has brought on a huge jump in development, so there is reason to believe this could be a big deal for her. We are on the waiting list for a cornea, but since the tissue has to be the same age as hers, the time frame is hard to predict. Five-year-old's don't die as regularly as us old farts. I'm pretty okay with the waiting because of that simple fact, that Geri's new cornea means someone else's child died. I'm going to stop thinking about it now, because it invariably makes me cry.

3. TJ's School Stuff. It's improving, but his dr. and his teacher and his principal all seem to think he has AD/HD in some form or another. However, his teacher also has him pegged as gifted and talented. He's reading at a 5th grade level, and his math and science and such are solidly grade level. I suspect his math is about to jump, as we have finally found a good way to work with him on it and that's helped a bundle. At any rate, he seems to be sleeping marginally better and his vitamin and mineral levels have been deemed normal. I still want him tested for a sensory disorder. I think he's auditory, smell and taste defensive.

4. Geri Started at CSDB. A spot finally opened up in the preschool program at the School for the Deaf and Blind, so she started this week. She's doing great, transitioning nicely. I'm looking forward to not having to drive to Denver 3+ times per week. We will save about $400/month on gas money, I kid you not. Plus eating out in Denver... It was totally worth it to have her in the program at Anchor Center, and I'm going to miss Anchor soooooo much, but this is the start of a new phase and it came at a great time, since our Out Of Pocket (OOP) expenses reset on 1 January and we will have to start paying for medical stuff again. Our savings are almost depleted after the last year, so this will give us new financial reserves for the new medical expenses. Especially with the cornea transplant coming, since it will require a bunch of new meds and EUAs every six weeks for about nine months. Each EUA has, typically, cost us $200 OOP. Oh, and that little thing called Christmas is coming. Don't know if you heard the music on the radio yet.

5. Random Thoughts. ~ For pete's sake, can we get through Thanksgiving before the lights and music come out?!?! ~ I wonder if voter turnout was unusually high in states where legalizing marijuana was on the ballot. "I'm normally too stoned to remember to vote, but this is important!" ~ I'm thoroughly addicted to this VH1 reality show called "Couple's Therapy" and it makes me feel like I'm going to have to turn over a few of my IQ points. ~ I hope hypochondriacs are not aware of that show "Mystery Diagnosis" on the Oprah network. ~ My kids seem to be having a hilarity growth spurt. They have been saying the funniest stuff lately, and I don't remember them being this hilarious before. ~ Leaving your Christmas lights up all year is sort of lazy... but leaving your Halloween decorations up all year is just plain creepy. ~

Ok, I'm spent. Have a great night, all!!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Off the Radar

So I fell off the radar recently, due to an illness. Long, long story that started about 5 years ago with mild dizziness spells and some hearing difficulties. 2 years ago it ratcheted up a few notches, with a series of collapsing spells, lots of light-headedness and vertigo and such. I saw a (crummy) neurologist and was told that it was migraines or something. For the last two years I've had monthly "spells" of fatigue and light-headedness that we called migraines... but the absence of any sort of headache made it pretty strange. We thought it might be related to my menstrual cycle, so we tried to use hormones to control it with some success. About a month ago, it kicked back up in a big way. I've been having tinnitus, pressure in my ears, hearing disturbance, vertigo, dizziness, light-headedness and fatigue.
That's why I haven't been writing. Sorry about that.
The good news is that life has continued, things have been otherwise good, and God has kept us all very safe. In the last few weeks, we've seen some awesome progress in our little Geri-beri. She has started full-on chewing her food, eating a wider variety of foods and getting lots of solids. It's been amazing to watch. In fact, today her OT announced that she can graduate from feeding therapy! Woohoo!!!
We also finally had her assessment for PT... again. I wanted to switch her from the place she had been getting PT because they could only give her half hour sessions, and I feel like she really needs a full hour. So today she got a brand new Peabody assessment and the results are in. My four-year-old is at the gross motor level of a 15-month-old. So in the past 10 months, she's probably gained about 3-6 months of development there. I think this officially makes gross motor her slowest area of development. Yeah, I'm glad I'm switching her to a new practice. She needs the extra 30 minutes a week.
Mera-bera has started dance classes! Ok, so this is totally for me because watching her in the class is so cute I am amazed my pancreas hasn't simply exploded. But it's also for her. She is super excited about it (so far) and she does really well in the actual class. Plus, it's been killing her to be the only kid not going to school, so this helps. But yeah, it's so cute it hurts.
I finally came due for an upgrade on my cell phone, so I now have a smartphone!!! Holy cow, these things rock! I have a calendar on my phone that links to a website where me and Nick can both modify it and the changes automatically download to my phone. How sweet is THAT?!?! Oh, and there's a few nifty games, too.
Yeah, that's about everything. Sorry for the massive dump, but I'm going to try to keep up a bit more now that my mystery illness appears to maybe be subsiding.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Scar That Changed Our World

Kidding... Sorta.

The first thing I noticed when we were preparing to take our Geri out of the orphanage, when I took her out of the horribly overfull diaper she had probably been wearing all day, was a large lesion on her coccyx. Frankly, it alarmed me. It was huge, raised, angry looking, with a deep depression in the center. My first thought was of spina bifida. Was this one of those lesions I had read about, that marked the site of some severe spinal defect? I didn't ask the director what it was, because by that point I was pretty sure she'd give me a total BS answer and it didn't matter. Geri was ours, and we'd deal with whatever that meant as time went on. It wouldn't change anything, and I was anxious to get her the hades out of there.

Later, I showed it to Nick and he was every bit as stumped as I was. We watched it, anxiously, over the next few weeks and were relieved to see it fade away. The swelling subsided as her diaper was changed more frequently, the color of the skin returned to normal, and eventually all that was left was a scar.

A scar?? According to her medical records, Geri had never had any sort of surgery in her life. Yet, every doctor and nurse who saw it (and that number quickly became a large one) said the same thing. "She's had something removed, but we can't say what." Nick decided it had been a tail, because this made him giggle a little, and it soon became nothing more than a passing family joke. Nick even developed a habit of telling Geri to wag her tail during diaper change, which always makes her laugh. We had bigger fish to fry, though, so we decided to back-burner this mystery until things like seizures and uncontrolled glaucoma had been attended to.

Things have settled down somewhat, medically, so I finally asked Geri's pediatrician about it. I decided that I wanted to know what was going on there. If they did operate on her spinal cord, I want to be sure they did it right and that there isn't anything bad going on. He referred me to the neurosurgery department at Children Hospital of Denver, and we went in yesterday for an appointment with one of the nurse practitioners, Patti.

Patti was freaking fantastical. She was patient, kind, friendly and answered every single question I had. She gave me great detail, and never seemed annoyed or irritated when I had her back up and repeat in smaller words. She explained that we would need an MRI of Geri's lower back.

Often, conditions of the spine are accompanied by some sort of marker on the skin. A weird patch of fur or a strange bump or cyst indicate a malformation below, which is really convenient if you ask me. Her concern is that Geri may have had such a marker, but they removed the marker to maybe make her look more "normal" or because it was getting irritated or infected. At any rate, whatever they removed was there to tip us off... and we need to act as if we saw it and be safe rather than sorry.

The most likely candidate, at this point, is a spinal cord tether. Normally, the spinal cord floats free down the vetebral column, allowing the freedom necessary for growth and movement. If the cord gets tethered, by some sort of ligament or fatty tissue that isn't supposed to be there, it can cause problems as she grows. The biggest problems would be weakness in the legs, feet and ankles and bladder or bowel incontinence. Once that sort of damage occurs, it can't be undone, so the normal approach is to go in and remove the tether when it's found.

Another, less likely possibility, would be some sort of spina bifida style defect that could attach spinal cord in a more "involved" sort of way. If this is the case, we won't operate until she loses function because the risk would be too high to go in pre-emptively.

At any rate, we would be looking at an inpatient spine surgery, with a minimum hospital stay of 2 nights.

We'll probably have the MRI in the beginning of October. We'll do it at the same time as her next EUA, so that we only have to put her under once. That'll be nice. Right now, I'm trying to steel myself for the outcome. I have a hard time believing that they just removed some benign cyst. The scar is pretty significant to be that. I strongly suspect that we are headed for a major surgery. Or at least, my totally freaked out heart is already crying about the worst. My head is trying to keep that little booger from running amok and making me a total wreck for the next month.

The good news, that I cling to, is that this is not an emergency. We have time, spinal tethers progress slowly and sometimes not at all. So she should be just fine and dandy for another month and then some. That makes the waiting acceptable.

In the meantime, I'm going to focus on the positive. And there's so much of that to focus on right now. Still, a part of me grieves right now. Will there ever come a time when we have all her conditions diagnosed and we know the lay of the land? Will we always be getting hit with new problems out of left field? It's sort of a slap in the face, to be reminded that she's still not normal, might never be, when she's been making such great progress. I've been riding high lately, watching her improve beyond our expectations, and it hurts to be hit between the eyes with something new in the middle of that. It's like having someone walk up to you at your wedding reception and tell you that your new husband is making out with the waitress. Somehow, timing something crummy in the middle of a celebration makes it feel 10 times crummier. But there's still a reason to celebrate, and I can't lose sight of that. Whatever may come, God has brought us so far and blessed us so much. He has done so much to redeem my little girl that I can be confident that He is with her and with our whole family. God will walk me through this, and even if this part feels kinda crappy I trust in His promise to make it better.

Joel 2:21 Be not afraid, O land; be glad and rejoice. Surely the LORD has done great things.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

School!!! And a Doctor's Appointment

Geri has finished her first week of school, and it is going SO WELL!! I'm in awe, her teachers are in awe, Daddy is in awe... Awe seems to be the catch-phrase of the entire week.

On Tuesday Geri had her first day of school, and I don't know if I've ever been or ever will be more nervous about a first day of anything in my whole life. I was hoping it would all be okay, since she knows the Anchor Center and their staff so well, but we were just home from a week in Rhode Island following a week of family visiting, so she was rather out of sorts. Add to that a much earlier wake-up time (among her many disabilities, she is also "morning impaired") and I was thinking this day was going to be hard. Then we got stuck in traffic on the way up (I fought I-25 North and I-70 West and LOST) and were a full half hour late. I think my stress meter at that moment was pinging off the charts.

But then we walked into the white walled corridors of Anchor, our second home in Denver, and it felt like everything would be okay. Geri joined her class without a single fuss and was immediately participating happily in what was going on. We hung around for an hour to participate in a parents' coffee break, and when it ended the staff reassured me that she was doing fine. Mera and I headed off to the park and then out for lunch. Around noon I got a call that Geri seemed tired and irritable and might need to be picked up, but it turns out she was just hungry. After a snack she was feeling much better, and she did great through lunch and cleanup. About 20 minutes from the end of the day they asked me to come in and join her in class to help her through, and we ended the day on a happy note.

Thursday and Friday were even better. We arrived on time, I gave her a snack before school to help her get through until lunch, and she made it all the way through to the end of the day without a problem. The teachers raved to me about how she is participating in all the activities and doing a great job. They all oohed and aahed over her expanding verbal skills, told me how much she enjoys class and seems eager to learn, and waxed poetic about how smart she is and how utterly ready she was for school.

Does it get any better than that? Well, maybe. There was also a visit to her doctor on Wednesday.

Dr. Kim has been seeing Geri since before she came home, and he has a lot of experience with international adoptions. I really like Dr. Kim, because he's patient and thorough and kind and caring. Oh, and he's a competent doctor to boot. He's also totally up front and honest with us as her parents, even when the truth is tough. I appreciate that.

When we first brought him Geri's referral info and our stories from meeting her and the photos and videos, he told me that he was concerned that she might be mildly mentally retarded. He thought she showed signs of autism, too. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome was also on his radar. When we walked in on Wednesday his jaw fairly hit the floor.

He watched her, playing with books and asking me to read to her and laughing and clapping and interacting... and he used words like "amazing" and "miracle" and "unbelievable." This doctor, who once worried that Geri may be retarded, told me "She's definitely very smart. She has to be very smart to have come this far in this short a time." 

Our God can heal and renew in ways we don't even remotely comprehend.

Lately, with the help of STFU Parents, the term "mommyjacking" has become pretty popular. We all laugh at parents who post a hundred pictures of their child's first drawing or overshare bathroom behaviors because it seems so hopelessly self-centered and out of touch to think the whole world should sit up and applaud when your child does anything new. But sometimes, we parents work so DAMNED HARD for these milestones and achievements. It's hard not to think the whole world ought to notice. The whole way home from Denver on Tuesday, I cried and prayed and felt like there really ought to be a parade for this. This is such a huge development in our family, how can others NOT notice? How can this day seem normal or mundane to anyone, when God reached down and touched our family and made a real, live, modern-day miracle happen? No, it's not newsworthy when Junior poops on the toilet the first time, and it's easy to get out of whack and feel like the world owes us a party for every emotional high (or low) we encounter. Yet, some other times it really is a BIG EFFING DEAL.

Sometimes, you really do deserve a fricking parade. This week has felt like one of those times.

I propose a new holiday. The 24th of August will be, officially, from here on out "Holy Crap Your Kid Is Doing Great!" day. It's a day for all parents who have struggled and cried and prayed and hoped and worried and pushed and encouraged and cried and prayed some more to celebrate that some of the crazy huge effort we put in actually paid off. To celebrate milestones we didn't think we'd actually reach, developments we weren't sure would ever happen, achievements we like to think we had some small part in, or simply the grueling task of keeping a child alive for as long as we have managed to do so.

I get to be Grand Marshall in the parade.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Random Acts of Encouragement

We are finally home from our big trip to RI!! It was awesome, and I promise to share the deets, but not right yet. I left my camera there, for one thing, but I also have something else I feel the need to throw out first.

Yesterday we were on the first flight of the day, headed from Boston to Atlanta. Two adults, three kids, lots of anxiety wondering how it will go. Nick and Mera were sitting together on one side of the aisle. TJ, Geri and me were on the other side. TJ promptly fell asleep under the influence of Dramamine. Geri sat on my lap while I watched the movie (Avengers) and Mera was in Nick's lap, hanging out. We weren't doing anything special, nothing interesting. For a little bit, Geri slept in my arms.

Towards the end of the flight, a woman sitting in front of us passed me a note. It said "I've had a really hard day, and a really rough time recently. Watching your kids has cheered me up a lot. I wanted to let you know that your kids are very sweet and you are obviously great caregivers to them. Thank you for putting a smile back on my face. Sincerely, Seat 30A."

It's such a blessing to be doing nothing special and have someone compliment you, isn't it? Sort of like when your hair is a mess and you have no makeup on and your husband tells you how pretty you are. There's such vast encouragement in being praised for just being as you are.

We spend so much time pulling each other down, perhaps we should put more effort into encouraging each other and lifting each other up. Here's my challenge to you. The next time you see a family out in public, tell the parents something nice about their kids. Tell them what a great job they are doing. Encourage them. Lift them up. And, if you are of the Christian bent, take it one step further by praying for them. Maybe with them, maybe later in your private time.

Let's start a new trend!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Nope, Not My Way

"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways,' declares the Lord" Isiah 55:8

Lately, I have been having a small crisis of faith. Or maybe it's a big one. I'm not sure. It's not that I was ever thinking I would hand in my Christian card and go to Vegas for the rest of my life, but I was steadily finding it harder and harder to trust in God.

See, I think I know the best outcome. I figure I have a good plan for things, I can discern what's "good" and what's "bad." And lately, when I had something I wanted to take to God in prayer, I knew what I wanted Him to do but I didn't trust Him to do it. Maybe I've been suffering from a broken lamp with a faulty genie in it. Or from thinking I had a lamp with a genie in it, when in fact I don't.

The saddest part of it is that I haven't been going to God in prayer because I didn't think He'd answer the way I wanted and I didn't want to sit around rubbing an empty lamp. Lame, right? I was like a little kid who would starve before telling their mom they are hungry because I know she won't let me eat a whole cookie cake for dinner. I would rather die of hunger dreaming of cake than have my parent choose a healthy and appropriate thing for me to eat.

Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I would rather break my neck trying to climb to the top of the fridge and get a cookie than have mom give me something nutritional and good for me. See, I haven't been reaching out to my God humbly for His care... I've been trying to take care of it myself. Because when you admit that God is not a genie in a lamp, there are only two options left... 1) try to take control and make the outcome you want to happen, happen or 2) give control to God and let Him give you what He deems best. And option 2 can feel pretty scary at times.

What makes it worse is that I have proof, over and over, in my own life that my idea of what's best is usually short-sighted and silly. Whenever I have tried to say "This is the best thing that can happen" or "This is what I want" or "That is what I need", I have found myself a few miles down the road saying "Now THAT did not go the way I planned" or "What in the HELL was I thinking?" But when I look back on the things that I have no doubt God accomplished in my life, I find myself saying "That turned out way better than I thought it would" and "Wow, that was exactly what I needed."

I can be so slow sometimes.

Today, I actually challenged God. I said "Lord, if you're really listening and you really want to help me and love me, then show me. I need you to take all this doubt from me. Give me peace, remove my fear, make me trust in you again." I was hoping for a sense of relief and internal peace... what I got was a minor miracle in the form of Geri biting, chewing and swallowing food at her feeding therapy session about 30 minutes later. I cried. I literally cried and thanked God and said "I get it. You're right and I'm wrong. You are still working in my life, You are still taking care of me, I can still rely on You because You know what's best. I give up."

And as soon as I said that, I felt a peace and security that I haven't had in months.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding." Proverbs 3:5

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Planning for School

Two out of three kiddos are getting ready to go to school!! Wow, it feels so weird just saying that. I mean, we just went from two to three and now two of three are getting ready for school?? Nick and I were not even planning on starting Geri in the fall. We had been planning for her to start school in the winter, due to her difficulties with seperation.

A word on that... Pretty shortly after our new, darling daughter came home, it became pretty apparant that she had accepted us as her mom and dad and that she was NOT willing to let us out of range. Her range, by the way, is very short. For a while, it was maybe 15 feet. At one point it shrank down to about 3 feet. I kid you not, if I was out of arm's reach she went nuts. This was a tough time, because it's hard to have someone need you that close all the time. In my mind I knew it was great because it was a wonderful sign of attaching to her mommy... but in my body I was tired and wanted to be able to walk across the room and get a glass of water without her screaming. I wanted to be able to sit with someone else in my lap without the meltdown. I wanted to pee without an audience. I was worried, in a big way, that we wouldn't get past this to a place of independance and that her clinginess would prevent her from exploring and learning and growing. She had lost so much development already... how much more time would she lose?

Finally, in early June, I saw a shift happening. She was getting better about distance between us. She was wandering the house and exploring her environment. I figured the time had come to start working on her ability to seperate from us in a healthy way. We started with some help from the in-home daycare that watches Mera during Geri's appointments, and we started small. The first day, I literally walked out the front door and stood by the gate for five minutes, then went back in. She was a wreck. But the second time, she did a bit better. And the third, a bit better still. After a few weeks, two times a week, I could leave her for about an hour and she would be fine. She would be okay when I said goodbye, play when I was gone, and greet me happily without a lot of clinginess when I got back.

We decided in July that we would register her for preschool at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind. Unfortunately, we were too late. Their pre-k class is super small, and it was already booked solid. She is number two on the waiting list. The director of the program offered to put her in the kindergarten, since they have larger classes and she turns 5 during the school year, but I'm not interested in doing that. I think she needs a year of pre-k (at least one) to get up to speed with some basic concepts and her expressive language skills.

At first, I was kinda bummed, because that meant she would have to go up to Denver to the Anchor Center for pre-k. That's a lot of driving, and a lot of gas money. But mainstreaming her was not an option in my mind... we had seen what the district had to offer and I didn't feel it was enough. Plus, the IEP process had left an icky taste in my mouth.

But she is now registered at Anchor for pre-k, and I'm feeling very good about it. We've been participating in the summer pre-k program. It's lighter and less structured, but it's given me an idea how the pre-k program will work and I like it.  I also think it's a good thing that the program only meets three days a week. This lets her ease into schooling, without it being a shock to her system. I know all the teachers and I trust them completely. I know they are going to work with her and teach her and help her and be patient with her and protect her and care for her and all those other things we need to hear when one of our little birds starts their flying lessons! Best of all, she knows everyone and she knows the building. Anchor is a safe place full of safe people, and what better way to start her out than feeling safe?

Her name is still on the list at CSDB, so if a slot opens up then we can move her down. And the folks at Anchor know this and are totally fine with it. If nothing comes up at CSDB, or we don't feel like she can handle the move, then she'll do a year of pre-k at Anchor and we'll decide if she needs another year or can go straight to kindergarten. Either way, we'll probably move her to CSDB for the second year. I'll make sure to call earlier next year to register her!

She starts in just a few weeks, and I'm so excited. I think that's the most amazing part of all... I'm not scared. I'm thrilled!! She's such a smart girl, and I want to see her learn and grow like I know she can. She lost so much time in the orphanage, but she is very quick to learn and I know she has such an incredible amount of potential. I'm looking forward to seeing her change and grow. She's already amazed us at every turn with how smart and resilient she is.

Please pray for us, as we prepare for school. Pray that she will handle the seperation well. Pray that we'll keep ends meeting with the increased expense of the gas money. Pray for me and Mera, that we can enjoy some alone time together and bond a bit closer. Most of all, pray that God will bring out in her what has been hidden. That her talent and intelligence and personality will be revealed more every day!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Skinny Aesthetic and Eating Disorders??

I was recently led by the twisting maze of "related links" to a certain site for followers and lovers of the "skinny look." What led me there was a rather rude and controversial series of their posts insulting full-figured models, but what piqued my interest was their response to criticism. Specifically, I was interested in their defense of the skinny look as being "healthy" and their assertion that they do not support or encourage eating disorders. They are just about people being healthy, folks. Who could disagree with that?

Well, I disagree with the idea of the skinny look as healthy for everyone. Here's why. Most human traits follow what's known as a normal distribution, or the bell curve. Extrapolating from this model, genetically speaking, the level of "skinny" this website supports naturally occurs in a small segment of the population. Few women are hard-wired to be a size 0 without serious effort. Those people are, in the general vernacular, skinny little bitches. Or at least, that's what us hefty size 6's call them when they aren't around.

Expanding outward statistically, you would see a larger group (no pun intended) of women who are hard-wired to be a bit bigger, maybe a 2 or a 4, but can become a 0 by force. Go further out and you continue to increase until you hit the average size, and then you drop back off towards the obese end of the spectrum with fewer and fewer women genetically inclined to that group.

Now pretend to pull a singular woman off some point on that spectrum. She will have her own bell curve... her average weight over time in the middle, with her leanest and heaviest weights bounding the curve. Still with me? Ok, pretend you pull a woman from the left side of the graph, with her average size a 2. Her personal curve may range from 00 to 6. Now pull an imaginary woman from the other end. If her average size is a 14, then her personal range probably doesn't even come close to 0. Her bone structure may not even permit it.

Oh, I can hear you arguing... "Everyone wants to say they are 'big boned' and it's a load of bull!" Yes and no. Some women are genuinely larger figured. I once had the occasion to view a plastic surgeon's "brag book" or pervious clients. On one page he showed me a picture of a slender woman with comically large implants. Several pages later, another woman looked like she had maybe a B cup. The women had the same exact size implants. So how was one of them a quadruple F and the other a barely B? The second woman was built like Dog the Bounty Hunter. Her chest measurement had to be 44 inches. And she wasn't fat... she just had a HUGE frame. So yes, big boned is for real... sometimes. The point where it's a load of bull is when women (and men) use their large frame as an excuse for carrying massive amounts of body fat and living in the MacDonald's drive thru.

But I digress... back to the point of all that mumbo jumbo statistics junk... "healthy" is not the same as "skinny." At least, not for everyone.

Supporting or advancing the skinny aesthetic is only promoting a healthy look for a segment of the population, and probably a pretty small one at that. For the rest, it's a different story, and here is where the problem begins. When you take the super-skinny look and promote it to everyone as the ideal for all and the goal for every woman, you place women in a difficult position. Either blow it off, accept defeat, or engage in unhealthy behaviors to attempt to attain a look that is not healthy for them.

Blowing it off is a tall order for most women today. Now, I'm not blaming the fashion industry. The models in the magazines are part of that far end of the bell curve, so let's assume these are healthy women. If that assumption holds true, then the industry doesn't create skinny girls, it just employs them. Sort of like saying the Wizard of Oz movie didn't create midgets, it just gave them screen time.

The problem is taking images of that small segment of the population and bombarding the rest of the population with them. It's a lot of exposure, and it's hard to ignore. It also promotes this ideal to the menfolk, and we women of the hetero persuasion have a tendency to try to impress these dudes. At least, until we hook them. Then it's back to the mean value!! At any rate, even if we don't directly respond to the influence of the magazines, we find ourselves indirectly responding to them through the men we attempt to wrangle into a contractual relationship.

Accepting defeat is dangerous, too. Giving up does not encourage getting healthy! It encourages a devil-may-care return to the Chocolate Wonderfall because who cares? I'm never going to be one of those skinny bitches anyway, so I might as well enjoy myself.

Then there's the third option. This one is so very sad, and it flies directly in the face of claims that the skinny look is about being healthy. It's also the most dangerous, because the largest segment of a bell curve population falls into the middle... where skinny is too far away to be healthy but just close enough to look possible. And getting there is not pretty.

All of this just means that if you want people to be healthy, then you can't tell them how to look doing it. Promoting a healthy ideal shouldn't be about trashing and slamming everyone over a size 4. It should be about encouraging a certain lifestyle, fitness level, body fat percentage, hell even the flawed measure that is the BMI. And those numbers would look very different on different women.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Judge Not

I'm utterly disgusted by the responses of people who want to judge the parent who lost her 6-year old daughter in the horrible attack in Aurora. I've seen comment after comment that the child should never have been there, that the mother was negligent, that she was probably a bad mom overall, etc. etc. etc.

That anyone would jump up to kick this still-grieving mother is absolutely inhumane and illustrates something that's been bugging me for a while now. See, this isn't the first case of judgement I've seen. In fact, there's a whole section for this kind of thing on STFU, Parents. They're called "sanctimommies."

There seems to be an epidemic of women (you never seem to see the men jumping on board here) who think they know exactly how to raise a child. They have the perfect, magical formula for how to make a perfect, talented, successful, kind, creative adult who will be the pride and joy of the world and crap rainbows. Mostly, I'm guessing these are people who have a younger child, because they have yet to be bitch-slapped with the coldest, hardest reality of parenting.

Your child is not a slick little machine that simply takes the input you give and kicks it back out.

Raising our kids is not typing on a keyboard, where you hit the "f" key and the letter "f" appears on the screen and, in like fashion, you pen your magnum opus on their malleable life. They are not a mirror, simply reflecting back what you put in front of it. Most of all, they are not your project to get right so that everyone can look at you and applaud the good job you've done.

Kids are, brace yourselves, short and immature human beings. (Teens are tall and immature human beings, btw.) They have their own personality, their own opinions, their own preferences. Play all the Baby Mozart you want, sparky. That kid may prefer Metallica. Like it or not.

The scary spinoff of believing that kids simply the sum of our input is that we begin to think that 1) we are completely responsible for who they become and 2) we can and MUST make this perfect. We can't afford a mistake, there is only one way to do it, and if we screw it up our child will be damaged FOR LIFE!!!

Of course, in order to convince ourselves of our sheer perfection of parenting, there are only two options. One is to go through every possible decision point in advance and create a game plan from the next 30 years. This way is time-consuming, and forces us to logically consider each decision point... and then we would see our own crazy inconsistencies and how freaking impossible this idea is and go have a brewski while the kids draw on the wall because we just gave up. The other, far easier and efficient way, is to judge the actions of other parents as they unfold around us. We figure out our position on fatty foods when we see someone giving their kid a Big Mac and think "oh, hell no!" We discern proper programming when we see someone's kid wearing a Halo shirt and think "for shame!" And being around someone we don't like just gives us a million new positions, because anything that stupid b*&% does has GOT to be wrong!

Here's the reality of the situation... you can do everything right, and your kid could still end up in a gutter on drugs. Strike that, it's impossible to do everything right... but you could have the best batting average on the Earth and still see your kid fail miserably. Talk to the mom who approved every outfit and kept little Suzie home from all those dances with their disgusting music about sex, only to help Suzie deliver her first baby at 15 years old. Talk to the parent who ensured that little Jake wouldn't even touch a toy gun and raised him strict vegan, only to watch him drive off in a camo truck with a gun rack to go get him a buck.

Oh yeah, and what's the right outcome anyway??? CEO? President? Model? Actress? Singer? Librarian? When we're asked we just say rosy things like "I just want him to reach his full potential" or "I just want him to be happy and a good person." Well, how on Earth would not letting him drink soda make him a good person? Forcing a kid to take violin won't make her reach her full potential if her true talents lie elsewhere.

We decide based on ourselves. We make it about us, even though it is really most decidedly not. We raise our kid on health food because WE value health. We teach our kids the viola because WE value musical talent. I'll admit it, I put my kids in activities because I regret not being more "involved" when I was a kid. I want TJ to study a sport and stick with it because I dropped out of every damned sport I took and I wish I hadn't. I want him to take banjo lessons because I <3 bluegrass music. I desperately want to put Mera in dance or gymnastics. Why? Because I wish I had studied them! I want Geri to take piano. Why? Well, I think she loves it first and foremost, but in my heart of hearts I always wanted to take piano but never did. I dress my girls up carefully, being persnickety about hair and clothes because I was picked on for my hair and clothes in school. I look at my old pics now and think "Oh great God in heaven, why was I wearing THAT?" or "mom really shouldn't have cut my bangs if she couldn't cut them straight!" and I want to save my girls from looking back and thinking something similar.

In our fevered rush to make our kids perfect based upon what we value and what we regret, we forget that no matter WHAT we do, they will someday look back and think "what the hell was mom THINKING?" They may even HATE us for what we didn't let them do!

Oh, and forget the fact that we are not their only source of input. We aren't even the greatest source of input. Sure, we can claim supremacy up until kindergarten, maybe through first grade, but after that we get dethroned. Very early in life, the opinion of the parents becomes second to that of the peers. And when they're teens, all we have to do is voice an opinion to ensure they do the exact opposite. I can tell TJ already thinks I'm lame sometimes, and he's 6. Hell, Mera rolls her eyes at me and she's 2. Even Geri is in on the act, and she's only been home for 8 months. And she's blind, she can't even SEE how stupid my outfit is!

The reality is this... there's a huge grey area in parenting. Lots of things fall into the category of "not what I'd do, but not abuse or neglect and not my damned business." TV programming? I don't have a TV. I think Teletubbies is for potheads. Don't even get me started on that Boomba show. Spongebob is also for getting stoned. But if you have a TV and keep it on Nick Jr all damned day, have at. My older sister hates Caillou. It's one of the most innocuous shows on the planet, but she says the parents never go to work and it bugs her. She values hard work, not bald Canadian kids with independently wealthy parents. And you know what? That's FINE. Hopefully her daughter won't ever see the show at Grandma's and come home asking to watch it every day on Teevo. Then I'll laugh because she's my sister and I get to do that and it makes me feel better about what my kid just did.

Food? My kids eat mac and cheese. Daily. We have our reasons. Don't like it? Go home and give your kid a carrot stick. It'll make you feel better. But if you want to raise your kids on organic lettuce and egg whites HAVE AT. I'm sure he'll be fine... until he goes to school and sees those cookies in his friend's lunchbox. Then you'll have troubles of your own and you will be too busy dealing with a snack mutiny to be worried about my kid's food. Because you  might find that little darling has a monster sweet tooth that you lack.

Bottom line, butt out. Stop judging each other and crap that falls in the noise level. The sad thing is how many abused, neglected and abandoned kids are out there and we're so busy raising Cain about whether you should use time-outs or time-ins that we stand idly by and do nothing.

And above all, put yourself in each others' shoes. You're doing your level best. How do you feel when someone says you're wrong and implies you are ruining your kid? Or slams you on some stupid message board calling you a bad parent? You wouldn't like it, so don't do it to someone else. Especially someone who is GRIEVING.

Because I think we all can agree that we don't want to raise our kids to be callous, insensitive pricks.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Update on Doing the Splits

Nope, not there yet. It's been about 2 weeks since I started my stretching and exercise routine. The goals are to be able to "do the splits" and to relieve my back pain by strengthening my core.

So far, so good. When I started, I couldn't touch my toes. I couldn't get into child's pose. My back hurt frequently and carrying the kids was too much for me.

Now, I can touch my forehead to my knee in a seated leg stretch. I can get into a deep child's pose and a semi-decent pigeon pose. I can touch my toes while standing, and can even lay the backs of my fingers on the ground. I'm much closer to the front split, and getting there on the "Russian" or straddle split (this one... not this one.)

Best of all, my back is feeling so much stronger. I'm able to carry Mera pretty well, and even pick up Geri from time to time. I don't have all the pain I used to, and I haven't needed to call the chiropractor for an appointment in just over a week. Normally, by this point I would be in pain. I even managed a light, one mile jog the other night with no pain.

So far, so good.

Funny story, by the way. My chiropractor used to take Judo and Tai Kwan Do for many many years and compete in them. He actually used to do the splits himself, and swears they improved his kicks. I asked him how long it takes to be able to do the splits, and he said that if I am doing my stretches daily than it shouldn't take more than 2 months! I never would have figured on that fast, but it's a cool possibility! He told me that if I'm not there in two months to give him a call and he'll give me some stretching advice.

So I'll check back in again in a couple of weeks. Hopefully, I'll be very near to the floor on front splits and getting closer on the Russian one.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Therapy Meals

If you've never had a child with a feeding issue (lucky!), then you probably have never heard of "therapy meals." I know I never had! It's a meal or snack that follows a strict set of guidelines and a firm schedule of events, designed to desensitize your child from certain foods, textures, smells, etc. It is supposed to look like a snack, albeit a militant one, but actually function as a small feeding therapy session.

Geri has just started them, and it's sort of strange. We've been going to feeding therapy for months now, but bringing it home is different. During feeding therapy, I'm mom and I watch and assist as therapists work with Geri. During the meal I feel less like mom and more like a therapist. It's so structured, which is not even remotely my style, and I'm having to analyze everything during the meal. It's a real shift of mindset, and I'm still adjusting.

Here's how it works. First, I had to develop what's called a "food contiuum." That's a list of 6-8 foods to be served at the snack in a specific order. Various levels of food (easy for my child through hard for my child) need to be presented, each food group should be involved, and each food needs to link to the food before and after it in some way. Drinks are served at the end, because they can be easy and filling and ruin the rest of the snack if given too early, and we finish with a lollipop because it's such a hard food. Each food is served in order, one at a time, but the next food is served while there is still a little of the previous food on the plate, that way they can interact.

Second, there's the schedule. Each meal follows a fairly strict schedule, as follows:
- Sensory "Warmup", to get child in the right frame of mind for the meal
- March to the table and sit down
- Blowing bubbles (releases calming biochemicals and works on oral and breathing strength)
- Wash hands with a washcloth, play "tug of war" with the washcloth in the child's teeth
- Hand out plates and napkins
- Hand out and progress through each food, focusing on skills
- Announce "all done" and clean up the snack
- Wash hands again

Third, there's the eating skills we are trying to work on. The doctor who developed this system has identified 32 individual steps to eating, and the idea is to move up the steps. It begins with simply tolerating the food in the room all the way to taking biting, chewing and swallowing the food. Every interaction with the food is positively reinforced. If a child refuses, you back it down to a lower level and praise that before moving on. Different, silly activities are used to get the child to interact with the food. Kissing a food is a good way to encourage putting the food to their lips. Bouncing the food can encourage touching. Crunching to make a loud noise and wake mommy, drawing with the food, making duckbills out of potato chips... lots of silliness to encourage the kiddo to interact positively. The whole meal avoids punishment or chastising and the mood of the whole thing is fun, lively and upbeat.

This whole thing is done once per day. Ideally you do it every day, but that's a lot so our feeding group only asks us to do it twice a week outside of therapy.

We're doing at-home therapy meals Wednesday and Thursday and using Friday as either an extra or a make-up day. Monday is out because that's the day she has her group feeding therapy, and it would be overwhelming to do this twice in one day. Tuesday is out because she gets something similar at the Anchor Center. Weekends are sort of "catch as catch can. " We like to go and do things together on the weekend, so I don't plan anything therapeutic. I just try to make what we do as therapeutic as possible, if that makes sense.

The food continuum stays the same for the first three days, then I start changing 25% to 50% of the items each day. Right now our continuum is:
1) Plain Pringles
2) Tapioca
3) Apple Slices
4) Veggie Straws
5) Pedia-milk (Pediasure and milk mixed about 50/50)
6) Lollipop

Is your head spinning yet? Mine sure is! It's actually pretty straightforward, I suppose, but it's a lot to keep in mind. The prep is a bit of a pain, too. I have to get everything set up in advance, each item in it's own bowl, all the bowls covered with a cloth so she can't see what's coming, all the plates and napkins and washcloths and bubbles on the table. It feels like an ungodly amount of effort for a snack.

But it's for her good, and the kids who fare best in feeding therapy are the ones who practice at home. So, practice at home we will. Hopefully, like all other things, it will start to just feel like part of the routine pretty soon. Amazing how quickly that happens, huh?