Monday, January 30, 2012


If there is an unofficial contest for dumbest/worst adoption question, it's been won. Drumroll please.

And the winner is... The ER nurse when Geri had her seizure!! For her remarkable question, and I quote, "How long were you planning on adopting for?"

Oh, I know what she really meant, but asked that way I had to say, "Uhhh... forever?" Nick, who's also a bit of a smartass, threw in "At least until she turns 18!" She looked embarrassed so I said "Were you wondering how long the process was? It was about 14 months, start to homecoming." I wasn't trying to be mean, but it was so funny the way she asked that we had to run with it.

Folks, watch you choice of words. Phrasing is everything!

Other adoptive parents - what's the silliest question you've been asked? 

Friday, January 27, 2012


Sorry, dear reader, for the lack of updating this week but it's been kinda nuts. Geri's seizure set her back in terms of adjustment and behavior, so I've been busy and it's been taking a long time to get her to bed at night. Once she's out, and the dishes are done and the house is clean, I've got nothing left for typing.

Local pediatric neurologists had no openings for our little one until March/April. Uhhh... unacceptable. One office never even bothered to call me back! Unprofessional much? I finally just searched the database for our insurance and found out that there is a neurology department at Children's Hospital in Denver so I called up and got an appointment... this Thursday. It went very well, with a lot still to be done. The doctor did say that she doesn't think Geri has cerebral palsy. That was nice to hear. She does, however, have unusual facial feature that hint at a possible genetic abnormality. The test for that will be very far in the future, though. Her EEG is in the second week of February, and the MRI folks will call next week to schedule that test. So the ball is rolling, and that's a good thing. She's cleared for her surgery on the 1st, and that's a relief.

I'm moving TJ to a different school next year. His teacher this year is talking about holding him back because he is too easily distracted in class by the classroom computers. He tends to stop and stare if someone else is on them and he is nearby. She says that she shouldn't have to watch him so closely anymore and that he is not "adjusting to the classroom environment." OK, valid, he's a raccoon and he's very easily distracted by television or computers. Here's my beef... he's excelling in his work. He is reading and writing proficiently. He completes his four assigned works each day. She has to remind him to stay on task, but he's still completing his tasks. To me, that means something right there. She talked about holding him back, but I'm not sure about that because he's doing so well on the material. If he goes back into the same class next year it will be the same material and he will be bored and then he'll get up to even MORE trouble. So it doesn't seem like a good solution to me. I asked about the possibility of us bringing in those films you stick on the computer screen for privacy. If he can't really see the screen, he can't get as distracted by it. It wouldn't prevent kids from using the computer, it would just help him not be as distracted. I wanted to do this to help the situation in the immediate future, until we can help him develop the ability to stay on task regardless of distractions. She refused, saying that he needs to "acclimate to the environment" instead. I agree he needs to develop in this area, but it's not going to happen overnight. And in the meantime, he gets in trouble for something that he truly can't help.

She started saying how she doesn't get it, he was doing so well before the Christmas break and now he's fallen back. I tried to explain to her that he's had a lot of upheavals at home. Christmas break was when we brought his new sister home, and it's been a tough adjustment for everyone and continues to be. She told me that she was willing to believe that for the first month, but now she doesn't want to make excuses for his behavior. I wanted to deck her. Do you really believe that a month is enough for us to completely adjust and just be back to normal??? The implication that he's had his time and now he should be over it pissed me off so much... See, it's not about how he adjusts to Geri. He can't adjust to Geri because she is constantly shifting on him. She improves, she regresses, she needs less of our time and then, suddenly, she demands much more of it. She cycles all over and, just when we hit our groove, there's a surgery or a seizure and we get set back. All of us, together, get set back. We still haven't found a truly reliable bedtime routine for all three kids. For a while we were keeping TJ up while we put the girls down so we could have some dedicated time for him, but he wasn't going to bed until 9 and it was impacting him. So then we started putting him to bed first and now he goes to bed at 7:30 and he doesn't get all the attention and time we were giving him at bedtime before. So for her to call it an "excuse" when I tell her that he's still in a very difficult adjustment period, that made me very upset. I don't know how I'll look her in the face and be civil at the next parent teacher conference. Previously, I looked at us as a team. Parents and teachers working together for the best possible outcome for the student. That's the way it should be. Her ignorant and insensitive comment just severed it for me. She can, frankly, go to hell. I'd take him out now if I could.

Sigh, that was a lot of ranting and anger. If I'm being overly sensitive, please tell me. Overall, I think this school is a poor match for him. He needs more structure, I think, to stay focused. I'm looking at other schools now, so hopefully we can get this ironed out for next year.

In the meantime, Geri is giving us a tough one tonight. sigh.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Tough One

I had this long, gushing, 2 month home update that I was working on, but recent events totally overshadowed it.

Today, our darling Geri had what appears to have been a seizure.

Nick was wearing her in the carrier on his back, picking up some stuff around the house. He was in the living room and I was in the kitchen when he suddenly came in and said "What is she doing? Is she throwing up?"

When he walked in, Geri was leaning back in the carrier with her face toward the ceiling, but as he moved she flopped forward against his back. She was making these terrible gagging sounds and she started to spit large amounts of drool onto his back. I said "I don't know what she's doing! Unstrap her!" So he started to take her off while I lifted her out of the carrier into my arms. She was totally limp. The gagging sounds had stopped, and I couldn't tell if she was breathing at all. She was completely white and her eyes were just staring, glazed over. I think this is the part where I started crying, because for a second I was sure she was dead.

Nick took her from me and laid her on the floor and started checking her for breathing and a pulse. I remember him saying that he couldn't tell if she was breathing and he didn't know if she had a heartbeat and that was when I started tearing through the house, looking for one of our cellphones. I was frantic and yelling at Nick "Where's your phone?!" He said it was on the bookshelf and I ran back to our room to get it and I remember thinking "God, please don't take my baby."

I found the phone and came back to the kitchen, dialing 9-1-1, and Nick was saying that she seemed to be breathing. He rolled her on her left side and she started to spit out more mucous and then threw up a bit. She was still completely dazed, but puking means a heartbeat and Nick could now feel her breathing.

The paramedics arrived quickly, and when they stuck her for the IV she responded a bit. I was giving them information about her medical condition and her history (what little we have) while Nick stayed with her on the floor. TJ and Mera played in his room, largely oblivious thank God.

When it came time to transport her, the medics were great about keeping us together, and I was able to hold her hands and stroke her face in the ambulance the whole way. She was rousing a bit, enough to be scared, but still very much out of it.

At the hospital she was completely lethargic. Everyone kept telling me that it is normal for a kid to be totally out of it and zonked for hours after this kind of thing, and she certainly was zonked! After some vitals and settling in, the nurses took blood and urine (neither of which was fun for her) and we waited a while before the CT scan. Eventually the ER doc told us that everything looked good and that he thought she could come home, but the on-call pediatrician would see us first. So we waited some more, then talked with the very nice pediatrician who called the pediatric neurologist, who then cleared us to be sent home with the very strict instructions to call her regular pediatrician on Monday (too late, already called him while we were waiting) and get with the neurologist next week.

This was, bar none, the scariest damned day of my life. I also realized that if anyone ever says in my presence that you can't love an adopted child "like your own", I will probably punch them in the jaw. Today I thought I was about to lose my daughter, and my pain and fear were no less for how she came to be mine. When she came through it, my joy was in no way diminished by my lack of matching genetic material. I thank God that she is okay, that she is still with us.

The general consensus among the docs is that this was a seizure. At one point I asked "If it wasn't a seizure, what would it be?" and was told "Exactly. We can't say for sure based on the few tests we've done, but from what you've described there's pretty much nothing else it can be." That's fine. Seizures, I can handle (or so I think now.) She will survive a seizure, so long as she doesn't fall off a circus trapeze when one hits. We have now been instructed to stay with her when she is bathing, but we do that already anyway. And I think the whole thing about making sure she wears a bike helmet is moot at this point in time. A visit to the neurologist was on the to-do list, but lower down because she didn't have a known condition. It has now been officially bumped up.

I'm hoping to hear from Dr. Kim tomorrow, because the office has extra hours on Sunday for urgent care. If not, then I'll be calling again on Monday morning for sure.

All told, this was a tough day. I told Nick that it felt like being hit in the face with a shovel. When I got home I just wanted to gather all three kids into my arms and hug them forever. I'm eternally grateful to our amazing neighbors, who were right there to help and took over with the other kids so that we could focus on Geri. I'm grateful to Jeff, the paramedic, who listened to my concerns and stood up for me and Geri to be kept together when another medic started talking about having me ride up front. I'm grateful for the emergency room staff who took good care of our little girl. I'm so grateful that Nick was wearing her when this happened, so that we knew about it right away and she was safe from harm. But most of all, I'm grateful that my little girl is still here and we get to keep loving on her.

Monday, January 16, 2012

ASD, SI, and Adoption

I posted previously about how our sweet Geri's doctor briefly put the question of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) on the table, then decided to table it when Geri piped up. The whole thing really struck me on a couple of levels - firstly, I had to appreciate my daughter's absolutely perfect comedic timing and second, I've been thinking about the relationship between autism and adoption.

Some of my reading about adoptive parenting has been pointing out, repeatedly, the prevalence of Sensory Integration (SI) dysfunction in internationally adopted children. The prevailing theory is that kids from an institutional care setting have so little sensory stimulation that they fail to develop a completely functional ability to process the sensory inputs that they do get. This is, however, a relatively new field of medicine and there's not a lot of hard information out there. What there is, is a lot of treatment protocols with a lot of very dedicated parents who proclaim their success.

I'm the sort of person who doesn't like to just drink the Kool-aid without checking the contents, so to speak, so when I was reading about one particular method for the treatment of SI dysfunction called the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol (or as we now call it, "brushies"), I decided to take to the internet for more info. A quick Google search pointed me to several webpages talking about SI dysfunction in general and referencing the Wilbarger protocol directly. Checking out the videos led me to a nifty demonstration that one mom had posted that showed her performing brushies and compression therapy, or "squishies", on her son.

Her son was autistic. The sidebar of related content populated with video after video of "BRUSHING MY AUTISTIC SON" or "BRUSHIES FOR SALLY-AUTISM" and such. It seemed that brushies was rampant among parents of autistic kids, as was squishies and oral defensiveness training and heavy work and pretty much all of the SI therapies that I had been reading about.

Which leads me to wonder, what is the relationship between ASD and SI dysfunction, and where do our adopted kiddos sit in this terrain?

A lot of SI Dysfunction symptoms can mirror or imitate ASD symptoms. The child who appears to reject social contact may be arching out of your arms because they are overstimulated by your touch, or refusing to speak to someone because the sound of their voice is hard for them to handle. The child who is auto-aggressive may have ASD or they may have such a reduced reaction to touch that they have to hit themselves for sensory input. The child who doesn't chew their food may be autistic, but they may also have oral-motor defensiveness from an SI problem.

More to the point, the child who has been deprived of sensory input in an orphanage or hospital may show symptoms of SI dysfunction that are mistakenly diagnosed as autism. Combine that with a child who has difficulty with emotional connections due to institutional care and an adopted kiddo could look very much like an autistic kiddo.

And to muddy the waters further, SI dysfunction appears to respond to some of the same therapies as autism. So even when progress is made, it could appear to confirm an autism diagnosis or lack thereof!

What's a parent to do? Well, I'm no expert but here's my advice. First of all, try everything that your doctor/therapist recommends or approves. Never rule out a therapy because "my kid's not autistic so he doesn't need that" or "I'm sure he'll be fine with more hugs." Sometimes you will find that a therapy for one condition is helpful in another. Sometimes you need to perform therapies for a problem that you aren't sure your child has, just because it has the possibility of helping. If the risk of damaging your child is low, then why not embark on new a therapy regimen?

Don't let anyone put labels on your adopted child too quickly. What looks like autism could be simply an adjustment period. What looks like SI problems could be a child who is trying to handle a totally different environment that is completely unfamiliar. I'd probably spit out weird foods the first few times I tried them, too, if I were in my kid's shoes! Try the therapies (see above), but don't buy into a label too early on.

Only work with doctors you trust, and try to find doctors who have worked with adopted kids before. I've ranted about this in the past, but I can't emphasize enough how different it is trying to get medical care for an adopted kid. Especially a kid who has lived in an orphanage or come from overseas. Most medical professionals haven't seen much of this, so they miss nuances of the situation. And really, you should never take your child to a doctor you don't trust. Their care is too important to put it in the hands of someone you aren't sure about.

Do your research. If you trust your doctor then this is not a matter of trying to do his job or second-guess her. It's about expanding your own understanding so you can be a knowledgable participant in your child's care. You are the one who has to go home and carry out the medicine schedule and the complimentary therapy regime. You are the one who has to wrangle with insurance. You are the one who has to advocate for your kid at times when your doctor is not around. You can't afford to be the dope who just goes with the flow in this situation.

For my own part, I'm definitely finding that trying new, low-risk therapies is a good approach. We started Geri on the brushies and squishies at every diaper change, about one week before that infamous doctor's appointment. During the appointment I asked Dr. Kim if he had heard of the Wilbarger protocol and the joint compressions and what he thought of them and he replied that he had heard of them and that he definitely thought they had contributed to the marked difference in Geri's demeanor. I've also been doing some eye-contact practice and oral defensiveness work alongside the brushies and squishies, and I'm happy with the progress we are making.

The only downside is that it now takes about 20 minutes to change her diaper!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Grandma Lauren

While 30 is definitely young to hit this milestone, I am proud to announce that I am a grandmother! Mera has given me my first grandchildren, and she has kicked out a whole 6 of them in short order. Here's the rundown of her little "babies."

There's the glow-worm twins. They're actually fraternal twins, having slightly different eyes. Mera loves these two, especially at bedtime. Mera likes to hold one of them and press the button in it's chest over and over until the rotation of 6 lullabies puts her to sleep. And for what it's worth, I don't think she realizes she has two of these. She thinks they're the same baby.

Then there's the two girl-babies. One is the giggle baby, which giggles and coos when you press on the chest. The other just has a rattle in her head, which makes me wonder... if we give our little girls dolls that have rattles in their heads then aren't we, basically, training them to shake babies? Just a thought...

Then there's the blanket babies. Minnie-baby is a Minnie Mouse head and arms in the middle of a small, square lovey. The other is Pooh-baby, who has a Winnie the Pooh head and arms coming out of the middle of a slightly different lovey.

She's a pretty good mom. She likes to carry her babies around, tuck them in for naps and change their diapers. Unfortunately, she continually breaks the cardinal rule of parenting - "Never let the kids know who the favorite is." Pooh-Baby is a clear winner. He goes everywhere with her, sits in her lap during meals, and Mera likes to dance with him to the theme song from Beauty and the Beast. The other kids haven't shown any signs of jealousy, but it could be because they are so young.

Of course, I have to admit my own role in her becoming a mother at such a tender age. I thought we had more time before "the talk," but kids just grow up so darned fast these days.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Overflowing Miracles

Today was a regular follow-up type visit for our little Geri. After waiting for a while in the exam room, her pediatrician came in to see us. After talking about a couple of smaller items, Dr. Kim came over to the chair I was sitting in, with Geri on my lap, and took a knee in front of me to talk. He put his hand on my arm, comfortingly, and said "I feel like we really need to talk about something that is hard to hear. This could be really tough to accept, but I think we need to consider the possibility that Geri has Autism Spectrum Disorder..."

At that precise moment, Geri leaned forward and rested her forehead against his, rubbing her head on him in a sweet little nuzzle.

Dr. Kim stopped. I said "Geri, are you saying 'hi' to Dr. Kim?" and she replied with her adorable "hiiiiiiya." He looked at me in shock and said "Did she just say 'hi' to me?" I said "yeah, I think she did."

He leaned back and said "Wow, that completely derails what I was going to say. I had this whole spiel about Autism prepared for you and now I don't think I need it!"

Through the rest of her exam Geri was more lively and sociable than he's ever seen. He was in shock, because when he saw her two weeks ago she was completely withdrawn and unresponsive. Today she was babbling, touching his face, looking at and grabbing things, responding normally to his touch and voice. He said at least three times "This is a completely different kid than I saw last time!" At one point he asked, "Is she like this at home?"

"No, " I told him, "she's more active at home. At home she talks more, plays and giggles more, explores by scooting, follows me when I leave the room, and is starting to cruise around on the furniture and walls. At home she says 'mama', 'daddy', 'doggy', and 'up' and is starting to use 'kick' reliably and just this morning she said 'sock', 'shoe', and 'eat' for the first time."

He told me point blank, "This is God's work. It's a miracle."

Speaking of miracles, her rickets test came back negative. She had the lowest vitamin D level he's ever seen and yet, somehow, she only has some minor softening of the bone that is still in the near-normal range. Sort of like how she still has vision in both eyes after having extremely high, untreated pressures for 4 years.

This Sunday, at church, we sang the song "Mighty to Save" and I cried my eyes out. Since I was saved, three years ago, that song has always brought me to tears. Before, I cried because I knew how I had been saved and my salvation was (and still is) such a big deal to me. Now I cry because I see how He saved, and is still saving, my daughter. My Savior can move mountains. He is might to save - to save me from my sin, and to save my daughter from that orphanage by bringing her a family from clear across the world.

The Bible talks about how our Lord came to seek and to save, and about how He came to restore. Sometimes, when we hear about God's salvation and restoration, we are tempted to think it just means He's going to stop our losses where they are. He's going to stabilize things and keep it from getting worse. But God wants to go further than that. He wants to return what was taken from us.

Before I was saved, I had burned through two marriages (plus an engagement). "With her own hands, the foolish woman tears down her house..." says Proverbs. I was that foolish woman, tearing down every house I built. My dreams of a happy family had been taken from me by my own foolishness, and I figured that I was never going to have what I wanted so deeply. But God came into my mess, changed me from the inside out, and gave me a family that is so much more than I'd ever hoped for. He restored the dream of family that had been taken from me.

My daughter lost her vision due to the apathy of others. But God stepped in and stopped that damage so that there would still be vision to save. It will probably take a lens transplant and coke-bottle glasses, but some day our little girl will see almost as well as anyone else. Due to the decisions of others, she lost a family. But God stepped in and brought her a family. She lost her personality, hidden in a shell of coping and hiding, but God made sure that her beautiful heart wasn't shattered so that we could nurse it back into the light.

I don't know if you believe in God or not, and honestly that's your heart and I'm not here to change it. A lot of people want evidence of God's existence, or that He is the God of the Bible and not something else. I think the best evidence is in the lives of the saved. My life is the best evidence I can give. I spent years chasing after other concepts, believing in Wicca and philosophy and Ba'hai and dabbling in Buddhism, trying on atheism and agnosticism, and there was still an emptiness in me that drove me mad. I was still sad, I was still scared, I was still lonely, I still felt worthless. I was spiraling down and none of those beliefs could stop me. But when I was saved by God, the God of the Bible, I changed and my life changed. And that pales in comparison to what He is doing for my daughter.

I thank God that we adopted this little girl. I am so grateful to watch miracles unfold firsthand, because it is really good for one's faith! He has faithfully answered and even exceeded our prayers, continually sustained us in this effort, and comforted us every step of the way. And we're no even 2 months along, yet! How much more can He accomplish before her next birthday? Before she starts school? Before she is an adult? He has lavished miracles on us and on her, and I have no doubt that He will continue to do so in the future because that's just who He is.

I was so excited about the miracles of that doctor's appointment, I thought this day had totally peaked by noon. Then we went to pick up TJ from school and decided to play outside and enjoy another miracle - a springtime warm day in January. TJ was playing with friends and Mera was running up and down a ramp and I decided to try to get Geri to walk. I was just trying to get her to walk holding my hand, to hopefully work towards getting her over this crippling social anxiety of hers. As soon as I put her down, holding one hand, she turned right around to come back to me and be picked up. So I took a few steps back, still holding her hand, to get her to walk a bit with me. Then I picked her back up and told her what a great job she'd done. At some point, she was putting so little pressure on my hand that I figured she might be able to go it alone. I took my hand out of hers and she did it. She took a couple of shaky, unsteady steps into my arms. I picked her up, laughing and celebrating, and she laughed and cuddled against me, smiling.

We repeated this probably 10 times, and towards the end she was going as many as 5 or 6 steps towards me before it was time for me to catch her. 5 or 6 steps. Independent steps, with a couple of very steady pauses in the middle. And me with no video camera!!!

It was a day of miracles, to be sure. I couldn't be more grateful to have this front-row seat.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tell Lawmakers to Continue The Adoption Tax Refund

First off, a desperate plea for assistance... please visit the link above and sign this petition to continue the Adoption Tax Refund in the future. This refund makes adoption financially possible for many families... which means it makes families possible for many orphaned children! I could wax irritated for hours about how we go out of our way to use tax law to "incentivize" businesses, so why can't we provide an incentive to families who take children with little hope or a future and turn them into functional members of society. I won't, but I could and I sincerely hope you will sign this and then pass it on. 

So, on to the good stuff! After the craziness of Friday night, the weekend went well and peaked with a great day at church today. She actually spoke in church. I've never been so happy to have my kid talking and carrying on during the sermon! This is, literally, the first time she has made a sound in church. The best response was Joe, who heard her utter "gagaga" and was literally speechless with joy. I thought he was going to cry. I thought I was going to cry! It was beautiful, because it showed how comfortable she is finally starting to feel.

She also reached out, several times, and touched the hands of other people without trying to leave my arms. She would touch or hold their hand for a second, then take her hand back and cuddle against me again. It was great! It was a sign of a growing connection between us, an understanding of who we are to her. It felt great!

In addition, she has fallen asleep in my arms the last two nights. *Heaven*

It feels like we're getting somewhere, slowly but surely. My heart is filled with praise to the Lord, because He has rescued my daughter and is making her whole. God's purpose is restoration - not just stopping the disintegration but making things new and giving back what was taken by the world. I am seeing this in my daughter, day by day. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Post-op Mayhem

I haven't really had any time to blog lately because things have been nutty. We're about 1 1/2 weeks post-op and Geri is recovering nicely. Her one week follow-up went really well. First awesome thing to report is that her doc says that right eye looks great - in fact, he said that it looked better than he ever would have expected before the surgery. He also verified that her left eye does have vision. I knew he didn't believe me when I said it before, but this time he managed to see her in a good enough mood that she cooperated when he checked it. He agreed that she can see, and said that he will definitely be performing the surgery on the left eye in February! yay!

In other news, the post-op has been a tough time. We expected Geri to have setbacks, but we had no idea what to expect. Her biggest set-back has been related to food. For the first 36 hours after we got home, she refused to eat anything. Finally, we got her to have some eggs but after that, she shut down again. She finally started eating these Gerber yogurt snacks for toddlers. I had bought them because she has always been a fan of yogurt and they are shelf-stable, so it made for a convenient snack to carry in the diaper bag. Well, for about the past week four days that has been all she will eat. Period. We've gotten a couple of other items into her from time to time - spaghetti, eggs, sausage bake - but the yogurt snacks have been her mainstay. We're talking 6 at a meal, too.

She's also stopped eating when she's out of the home. She won't eat anywhere but here, sitting at the dining room table. She won't eat at restaurants (except for one - Billy's Old World Pizza) and last night we went to a friend's house for the K-State game and she refused to eat there. Apparently that little outing upset her a great deal, because this morning she refused to eat again. A couple bites of eggs, a couple bites of yogurt, and then she shut down entirely. I hate to admit it, but at lunch I resorted to forcing the issue. She ate a good amount, at times seeming happy and other times very angry. I could tell that she was happy to be eating, unhappy to be admitting she needs the food.

The real issue here is not the food, but rather the sense of control. She's had control over no aspects of her life, ever, and it's entirely normal for a 4-year-old to want control of some sort. At 4, TJ was picking out his clothes, his toys, his snacks and his friends. Even the things we insisted on controlling still had an element of choice in them. We chose how many books to read at bedtime, but he chose which books. We chose whether he wore pants or shorts, t-shirt or coat, jacket or sweatshirt, but he chose which pants, sweatshirt and jacket to wear. We chose the meal at dinner, and he chose whether to eat it or have a piece of fruit. Structured choices gave him the ability to feel a sense of control, explore consequences and responsibilities, and still be safe and cared for.

Geri is totally incapable of all these choices. She can't choose her clothing, she can't pick out her toys, more to the point she didn't get to choose her new family or her new home or her surgery... but she can shut her mouth and refuse to eat.

Oddly enough, at the same time that she is being crazy about food, she's also behaving in a way that indicates a closer connection with us is developing. She cuddles with us more, she comes looking for us, she wants to be near us. The fact that she shuts down in other places but comes to life at home indicates the this is her safety zone. The fact that she gets unnerved by visitors shows that she knows who is her family and is more comfortable with us.

She seems to be torn between loving and trusting us, and her fear of vulnerability.

So what can we do? It seems our only options are consistency and patience. We have to keep being here, keep loving and caring for her, keep demonstrating that she can trust us. We also have to keep the social schedule to an absolute minimum. Last night's outing was too much for her, that much is apparent. The most stimulation she can handle right now is running errands, other than that she needs to be at home. It's tough, because the rest of us are social creatures, but she needs to have a contained and predictable environment until the stress of the surgery (and then the stress of the next surgery) are behind her.

On a related note, we miss you all and if we blow you off in the near future please don't take it personally.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Q&A, just for fun

I figured that I'd do something a bit different and answer a few questions. These are a few that I've been asked, so I'm taking the answers public. Enjoy! If you have additional questions, post them and perhaps I'll have another round later.

1. How are you doing? Are you okay? It sounds like a lot - how do you handle the stress?
For all my complaining, I really ought to set the record straight here. We're doing very well. I bitch and moan because, well, I'm human and this is hard. At worst, I'm completely overwhelmed and I feel like things will never improve and I'm scared to death of not being able to keep up. Then I think about how far we've already come, and how early in the game it really is, and I know this moment isn't all there is. Then I think about how amazing God is and how faithful He is to His servants and I remember that this was really His idea and I find hope again. Then my daughter does something new, or says my name, or giggles and plays with me, or just sits in my lap and I smell her hair (you have to have kids to understand that last part) and I'm so very glad we are doing this. It's very hard, but it's completely rewarding. I'm stealing this from someone else, but "it's the hardest thing I've ever loved doing."

As for the stress, I hate to admit it but I eat my stress. I dig through the house and find anything chocolate or chocolate flavored or chocolate scented and eat the hell out of it.

2. How's your marriage and the other kids holding up?
Our marriage is as strong as ever. I don't mean to boast, but.... oh hell, I'm boasting. I love the crap out of my husband and he feels the same about me. We have always had a very strong marriage, with our greatest strengths being our communication, compassion, teamwork and commitment. Our openness allows us to air grievances or just voice how hard it is without fear. When something needs doing, there isn't an argument over whose job it is, because this family is OUR job and whoever sees the need just takes care of it instead of haggling over who should be the stuckee. We lean on each other for support and encouragement, and at the end of the day we always end up hanging out together, even if it's just him catching up on work while I blog.

TJ and Mera are doing pretty well. TJ is a little starved for attention at times, so we have pushed his bedtime as far back as we dare in order to give him the time he needs after the two girls are asleep. We make sure to help him with schoolwork, read him a story, and say prayers each night. We make a concerted effort for at least one of us to play with him alone for at least a few minutes each day. Mera is largely oblivious to the split of attention, except for when she's feeling clingy. This is normal for her, just harder to manage with two clingy girls in the house. Her only real problem with adjusting to the new sister is that she wants so badly to touch her but her sister cannot tolerate it at all. She wants to hug her and kiss her and play with her hair but all of those things make her sister scream and freak out. Oh, and she's terrible at sharing. This problem doesn't show when you have a boy and girl with a 3 year age difference - they don't want the same toys most of the time. Now that we basically have twin girls, this is a challenge.

3. Are you nursing your new daughter?
No, I'm not, for two reasons. One, I'm no longer in production. Mera weaned (by her own choice) about 9 months before Geri came home. The only thing left in there now is powdered milk. Two, Geri is four years old and was never nursed as an infant. If I stuck my boob in her face it would confuse and frighten her because she has no reference for it.

4. What is your new daughter like? How's her temperament? What's her personality like?
From an ages-and-stages approach, our daughter can best be described as a one-year-old in a four-year-old body. She is able to cruise and walk with assistance, but she cannot walk independently. She babbles and has a few words, but does not speak. When she's calm, she plays with toys appropriately. She's a bit below the 1 year mark for social or family skills, and some of the standard developmental milestones don't apply because of her vision impairment. Of course, that's a really lame answer because developmental milestones aren't personality.

Her personality is sort of hard to describe right now because it remains to be seen. There are just too many coping behaviors standing in her way at this point. Sometimes I think I see glimpses of it, and I can say that she is very sweet and curious and a bit stubborn.

Her temperament is something else entirely. Our little girl is adrift in a sea of change and helplessness, and she struggles daily for some sense of control. She responds with tantrums when told "no." She swings between completely shutting down (in public) and revving up (at home) and her revving behaviors toggle abruptly between manically happy and fits of anger/frustration. She has no ability to modulate her feelings, so a mild frustration or disappointment is the end of the world and anything even a little pleasant is met with over-the-top laughter. Sometimes I feel like I spend my day on a tightrope between tantrums. Still, there's hope. She is becoming more and more capable of finding a calm-alert state and is staying there for longer stretches all the time. She is becoming more resilient to disappointment, sometimes tantrum-ing only briefly before accepting the "no" and finding something else to do. Most important, she throws her tantrum and then comes to us for comfort and relief. Often she comes thinking she'll get what she wants this time, only to be disappointed, but it's good that she comes back. On some level, I still think she sees us more as minions to do her bidding than as adults in control of the home. Nick thinks that it's because we are so available to her that she is confused. Since we sometimes give her what she wants that makes her think she's in charge. Then we assert our authority and she is left feeling helpless again. She's not used to the dance that is a normal parent-child relationship, the give-and-take of a caregiver who has all the control but often decides to give the child something they want because it is a small concession that brings joy.

Her institutional behaviors are diminishing, although the recent surgery brought back some of the tooth grinding and auto-agression. When she gets frustrated enough she hits herself in the mouth or bites her hand and wrist. Of course, the rocking has never fully gone away but it is more evident lately. Bedtime is getting a lot easier. We were at a point where she would just cuddle into my arms and let me rock her and, although the eye surgery has put her back a bit, bedtime isn't a marathon of frustration anymore. She's better able to relax into sleep, and that's very nice.

So there you have it. The top four questions, in no particular order, and their very long answers. :) Hope you enjoyed it. Again, if there's something you wonder about that I didn't answer, please feel free to ask.

Happy new year!