Saturday, 31 March 2012

F-I-V-E More Days!


It still doesn't seem possible to me that we are leaving again in five days.

Or that we have court in twelve days.  COURT people!

I'm not nervous about being in court or talking to the judge.  I'm worried that I won't be able to accurately or entirely convey to her how much we love Katie and how much we want to be her parents.  I'm worried the judge won't think we're good enough or prepared enough or something enough.  But I'm not going to spend a lot of time worrying about it.  We will do our best, and that will be all we can do.

We had to go to the mall today to get David and Henry some new shoes.  They have gone through some sneakers like nobody's business today.  And their feet have grown two (David) or three (Henry) sizes since school started.  We went to the newly reopened Opry Mills Mall.  This mall has been closed for two years since it flooded on May 3, 2010.  In some places, the water was 11 feet deep.  David brought his birthday money, and he spent. it. all. at the Lego store.  If I worked in that store, I would be an alcoholic.  David is currently sitting at the dining room table, yelling at anyone who comes near him, as he tries to build his newest purchases without interruption.  This isn't really a house in which you can do anything without interruption.  (Including go to the bathroom or change your clothes. . . but that seems to just be me.)  

The boys all got some new sneakers, and everything in the store was buy one, get one 50% off.  So we got Katie a pair of shoes also.  They are so cute!  


We will bring them with us and try them on so we know if they fit . . . Ahhhhh!  I love that we bought something she needs soon, not just something we'll need at some point.

We also went to lunch for David's birthday (what? Do birthdays not last a week at your house?) at the Rainforest Cafe.  I find their food to be mediocre, the service just OK, and the prices expensive, but the boys loved it.  


And the entertainment is hard to beat.



We were seated right in front of an aquarium, thankfully, because it kept everyone fairly occupied.


Yesterday we got a surprise package in the mail.  I LOVE getting mail!



Any guesses?




It's a package of goodies for Katie's orphanage, sent by my sweet friend Kelly.  Kelly and I worked together at the Gap about 13 years ago, and she is so thoughtful and generous to send these for us.  I know the children at Katie's orphanage will LOVE them, and the workers there will appreciate it very, very much.

Thank you Kelly!

I'm off to start packing!

Friday, 30 March 2012

Are They Twins?

Since David and Henry were born, people have thought they were twins.  They are twelve months and 21 days apart.  We literally get asked almost every time we go out if they're twins.  It happens a little less frequently now, but it's still a LOT.  I couldn't understand why people used to ask us when they were little, but looking back at photos like this, I so, so get it now!

David is 3 and Henry is 2 in this photo.

Jack and Katie will be virtual twins. What are virtual twins?  "Virtual twins are children who are raised together, but have no genetic relationship.  They are also very close to each in age, with most researchers defining virtual twins as children less than nine months apart in age.  They can come into a family in a wide variety of ways, and they are a topic of interest to psychologists and other researchers, as twins can also be created through adoption..  For people interested in the nature vs. nurture argument, virtual twins can provide some interesting food for thought.  Researchers who believe that environment plays a larger role than genetics would expect virtual twins to be very similar, since they are raised in the same environment.  Studies show they have fewer similarities than true genetic siblings."

Jack and Katie are just six months apart in age.  (Katie is six months older, chronologically.  Obviously, given her Down syndrome, developmentally this is not the case.)  



They are precisely the same age in sass and spunk.  Jack has waited for a long time to have someone who is his.  David and Henry are a package deal - they do everything together, go everywhere together, and Jack often feels left out I think.  He is fully convinced that Katie is HIS sister.  He calls her "my little girl", and I am so excited for him to have her, and vice versa.  They will be in the same grade in school because of where their birthdays fall, and for all intents and purposes, they will be twins.  For six months of the year, they will be the same age.  And I am quite certain we will have the "Are they twins?" question. . . and I'm so happy to hear it!


Two Down, Six to Go

Just FYI, if you get a week's notice to fly 6,000 miles to visit with the child you've been trying for almost a year to adopt and to go to court in her country to be awarded custody of her, that week will probably fly by.  I'm just saying. . . 

We have six days until we leave.  And our flight out is at 6:00 in the morning.  As in, it leaves at 6:00 in the morning.  So we will need to get up at o'dark thirty that day to get to the airport.  Have I mentioned that I'm working until the day before we leave?  And working a lot to try to get everything situated before I go.  We'll get it all done though, I have no doubt.  This weekend I plan to knock out everything on my to-do list, and we'll be in great shape.


My little Oompa Loompa!


My little Oompa Loompa had his play debut last night, and he did an AMAZING job!


I am so, so proud of him for trying out, practicing so hard, doing such a great job, not getting scared, and for really genuinely enjoying it so much.


This is such huge progress for him, and I am so glad he participated.  I really think it's been an enormous confidence booster for him.


The play was Willy Wonka, Jr., and it was cute.  The kids all did a really great job.  I love our school, and all of the things they have for the kids to participate in.


His final performance is tonight!  This weekend?  A birthday surprise for the Oompa Loompa and getting the rest of our donations and gifts for our trip!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Seven Days To Go!


For real?

Seven more days until we leave again.

One week until we see this precious muffin.


I am so curious to see if she remembers us.  I think she will.

Things on my to-do list?
  1. Gifts for people at the orphanage, our driver, our translator, and our coordinator in country.
  2. Orphanage donations.
  3. Figure out what to wear to court.  I've narrowed it down to two dresses.  I may just bring both and decide there.
  4. Remember to bring a tie home from my office for Chris for court.  He doesn't own a tie.  We're not buying one for him to wear once.  He can borrow one of the 13,405 that are available at my office when he needs one.  One benefit of working with four overgrown fraternity brothers who look like lawyers.
  5. Do our photo album of the first trip.  We need this for court.
  6. Pack.
  7. Get Easter things ready for the Easter Bunny to do while we're gone.
  8. Plan Henry's birthday party.  In about 2 hours.  His birthday is 4 days after we return.


That's probably enough for now. . . 

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Eight Days and Eight Years Old


Holy smokes, our countdown is back on.

We leave in eight days to head back to Katie's country.

And today is David's 8th birthday!


Happy birthday to my first sweet little chicken.

We are celebrating with cupcakes at school for his class and for drama (that makes 85 cupcakes, for those keeping count).  Saturday we will go to the new Lego store at the newly reopened Opry Mills Mall so he can spend his birthday money, which is burning a hole in his eight year old pants.  

I have purchased tickets and sent in our visa applications, passports, photos, fees, et cetera.  I cannot believe we're headed back so soon!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Sunday, 25 March 2012

At the Beginning

A lot of people have asked us if we're prepared for Katie, as a special needs child.  We should start at the beginning.  Eight years ago this week, our first child David was born.  


Chris and I were clueless.  I was 26 and Chris was 31.  And Chris had never held a baby.  We bumbled through the first few months in dazed ignorance.  David was amazing - seven pounds, eight ounces of incredible baby bliss. He was the easiest baby.  He slept so well, ate like a champ, and never cried.  We went for walks, went to the library, and snuggled all day long.  I would hold him and tell him about all of the things he would do when he got bigger.  I would whisper in his ear how much I loved him while I rocked him and rubbed his back.  I would stare at him and trace his little eyes and nose, hoping to never forget how he looked, how he felt in my arms, how he smelled, how soft his skin was, and how much I loved being his mama.  For the first year our lives with David were perfect.  He was a healthy, perfect child.  


Three weeks after David turned one, Henry was born.  Obviously having a one year old and a one month old was difficult.  But really, we made it work.  David was interested in Henry, but really not much.  David pretty much stuck to himself.  At his one year check-up, I mentioned to the pediatrician that David wasn't talking at all yet.  She wasn't concerned.  And he was my first child - I really wasn't that concerned either.  As we approached sweet Henry's six month "birthday", I noticed how much Henry was babbling.  It was such a sweet, bubbly sound.  And one that David never made.  Ever.  He never did any sort of "baby talk" or babbling, or even reacting to sounds.  I even wondered one day if he could hear me, because he almost never reacted if you were not right in front of him.  I remember one time clapping my hands really loudly behind him to see if he would startle.  (He did!)  

I brought David  back to the pediatrician, and she again said she wasn't concerned that he still wasn't talking.  She assured me that he would "talk when he was ready", but I insisted on a speech evaluation.  Someone from Tennessee Early Intervention System (TEIS) came to our house and evaluated him.  We had a hearing test done, which he passed.  The TEIS evaluator remarked that David was "so smart".  His results came back delayed, but not delayed enough to qualify for services.  I wasn't OK with that, so we had a private evaluation done at Vanderbilt's Bill Wilkerson Center.  He was diagnosed with apraxia of speech.  At eighteen months old, David had the expressive speech of a six month old; exactly the same as his infant brother Henry.  I researched everything I could about apraxia.  And none of it was good.  Everything I read talked about how difficult apraxia can be to overcome, how it can make learning more difficult, and how most children with apraxia require speech therapy into middle school.  I was determined that David would overcome his apraxia, and that he would speak like other children his age.  We started with sign language.  We had a food board and other visual aids to help with communication.  We went to speech therapy sometimes three times a week.  We practiced at home.  We enunciated everything with explicit expression.  



David turned two, and we brought cupcakes to his group speech therapy class the way people bring them to school.  I potty trained David on the little potties at Vanderbilt.  We knew the birthday of the woman at the front desk and which floors of the center had the best vending machines.  He had two surgeries to aid in his speech development.  


David turned three, and his speech therapist brought him a cupcake this time.  We kept going to speech, and we kept working hard.  And it worked. . . It WORKED!  Three years after he started, he was running ahead of me to the classroom and his speech therapist looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "He's done."  I was confused - I had no idea what she meant.  She said it again.  And we walked out of that center shocked.  And so thankful.  It worked!  We were done!  David was "normal".  But really, I think deep down I knew there was more.



Shortly before David's fourth birthday, Jack was born.  We had Henry's birthday party that year at Chuck E. Cheese's.  And David spent most of it underneath the table.  David was also in his second year of preschool.  He loved school, and loved his teachers.  When I asked the teachers about his friends in the class, they would hesitate.  They said that he liked to read books and play around kids, but that he didn't interact much with them.  They were quick to tell me that most kids that age did the same.  They also said that David would sit at the end of the table at lunch instead of sitting with everyone else.  I asked him about that. . . he said, "I don't want to smell they food."  He had a very sensitive gag reflex; if he even saw me feeding Jack baby food, David would throw up.  At preschool performances for Mother's Day or Christmas, David would stand on the stage with his hands over his ears and his eyes shut.  For the entire. performance. 


David hated to have his hair cut.  He was an exceptionally picky eater because he couldn't stand the consistency of certain foods.  He wouldn't walk in the grass without shoes on.  The only child he really was ever interested in playing with when he was little was Henry.  Other than that, he would play around people; next to them, but never really with them.  He was incredibly smart.  As I type all of these things, I feel ridiculous.  How did we not see it?  Did we know it but not want to admit it?

When David started Kindergarten, he was so excited.  I was so nervous.  I was seriously going to drop my FIVE year old off with strangers for the entire day?  For five years I knew everything this boy did, when he did it, and who he did it with.  He was rarely out of my sight.  And I was just going to leave him there?  I remember parking the car on the first day and seeing him in the rearview mirror with his eyes wide and his backpack on the seat next to him.  He unbuckled from his booster seat and climbed out of the car.  I reached for his hand and he hesitantly slid his little cool hand into mine, then immediately pulled it out.  He said, "I love you, but I don't want to hold your hand here, OK?"  We walked into the gym, where everyone waited before the classes were dismissed to their respective rooms.  And he lost. his. mind.  He was holding on to me, screaming and crying.  He had to be peeled off of me and physically carried to his class.  And not just for the first day. . . for the first three months.  Finally we realized it was the gym - he couldn't be in the gym with all of the noise, all of the people, all of the sounds, and all of the smells.  I got to school later, so he would be able to go directly to his classroom, and all was well.  There have been many, many things like this with David - things that are too much, and we find ways to deal with them.  


David turned six and I knew first grade would be better.  His teacher was fabulous, and he was familiar with the school.  The first day was like Kindergarten all over again.  Quickly though we went back to arriving later and life was good.  Six weeks into the school year, we moved.  And had to switch schools.  I had a pit in my stomach thinking about how that would go.  It was a better transition than we expected, and his new teacher was equally amazing.  His papers started to come home with drawings on the back, and he had a hard time focusing in his classes.  His teacher told us how smart he was, and how easy the work was for him.  She said that all of the kids in the class liked David, but that his social skills were a little off.  He hated group work - because the work was too easy for him, but mostly because he wouldn't be bothered to work with other children.  He wanted to work alone.  At home, his behavior started to become increasingly difficult.  He had lots of tantrums.  And I'm talking epic tantrums.  About seemingly nothing.  Tantrums that would last for an hour.  He would have a total meltdown if something tiny happened that he was unhappy with.  He would say cruel things to his brothers and have zero regard for how it made them feel.  He would fixate on one thing:  watching Star Wars, playing Cars, playing Legos, watching Indiana Jones, learning about the solar system.  And then he started some weird eye blinking.  I made an appointment with the eye doctor, and he needed glasses.  Problem solved.  Except it wasn't.  He started a head shaking and shoulder shrugging.  I video taped him one day, and he told me it was a "deskercise".  Um, I don't think so.  


David turned seven during first grade.  He and Henry had a joint birthday party, and we had ponies.  David rode that pony for four hours.  The only time he got off was to blow out his candles.  He said, "When I was on that horse, my brain slowed down."  I wanted to cry.


I made a doctor's appointment for Henry and David.  Henry had a rash, and I wanted to talk to the doctor about the head shaking and shoulder shrugging.  I dragged them both in, and we met with a doctor I had never seen before.  He was really nice.  He looked at Henry's rash and said it was excema.  We talked about David's shoulder shrugs and head shakes.  I showed him the video.  I tried to make it sound like it wasn't a big deal, because David and Henry were in the room.  He asked me some questions about David.  And by some I mean like three or four.  Not like forty.  And then he said, "David has Tourette's Syndrome.  And I think he is autistic."  What?  Um no.  Henry has a rash and David shrugs his shoulders.  He does not have Tourette's Syndrome, and he most certainly is not autistic.  What the hell?  Shouldn't it be a big deal when your kid is diagnosed with autism?  It shouldn't be by some guy you've never met, with two of your kids in the room fighting over who gets to put the cochlea back in the 3-d model of the ear.  

We got a second opinion with one of the best pediatricians in town.  He agreed with the first one.  He referred us to an amazing pediatric neurologist.  He confirmed.  Tourette's it is.  He referred us to the Kennedy Center at Vanderbilt for an autism evaluation.   They had a twelve month waiting list.  A freaking year.  Are you kidding me?  There was absolutely no way we would wait a year.  My child needed help NOW.  His behavior was becoming increasingly more challenging, and I was becoming increasingly more distraught.  Our neurologist sent us home with some surveys for us to fill out and for his teacher to fill out.  He referred us to a pediatric psychologist who did more evaluations.  And damn if David doesn't have autism.  How did we live seven years with this child and not know?  How could I, his mother, not know?  How could he have been so evaluated and seen by so many medical and therapeutic professionals, and nobody knew?  

I was a wreck.  I couldn't wait a year to get this child services, and I couldn't get them at school because by the time we got our diagnosis, school was out.  So we called Ms. Dana.  I was in an absolute panic at that point.  At our first appointment, we knew it would all be OK.  Ms. Dana also diagnosed David with sensory processing disorder.  (Are you keeping count?  That's four major medical diagnoses.  He was seven.)  Dana pointed out that nothing had changed - it just had a name.  Or three.  And she talked me off the ledge.  And she was right; nothing had changed.  So we replaced speech therapy with occupational therapy.  And we carried on.  We don't talk about Autism with David.  Or Tourette's Syndrome.  Or Sensory Processing Disorder.  He goes to speech, but because he has a slight lisp.  Not because of anything else.  And he knows he goes to "exercise class" with Ms. Dana, but he has no idea why or has never asked if he questions it.  And he is so much more than a diagnosis.



He is a mediocre baseball player.


A fish-like swimmer.


A champion Twister player.


A fast runner.


A master lego builder.


A Cub Scout.


An Oompa Loompa in the school play.


A voracious reader.  

And an enormous part of the reason we are willing and excited to adopt a child with Down syndrome. We never set out to be the parents of a special needs child.  Honestly, we never thought about that club until we were members.  But here we are.  Being David's parents has changed us forever.  And, while we wouldn't ever have asked for David to face the challenges he has faced, we wouldn't change a single bit of it.  David has taught us to be more patient and more forgiving. He has taught us to be more tolerant and much less judgmental.  He has taught us that different isn't scary.  He has taught us about unconditional love - that even in the midst of his worst tantrums or uncontrollable behavior, he is still the seven pounds, eight ounces of baby perfection.  He is smart, and witty, and insightful, and amazing.  And perfect, just the way he is.  

My life started when David was born.  And all of his challenges have made him, and me, better.   Everyday, I want to be a better person for David, Henry, and Jack; but David started it all.  David has taught us that life is hard, really hard sometimes, but that when you get through the hard, the other side is more beautiful than we could imagine.  I will be thankful to David forever for the lessons that he teaches me.  And I will forever be thankful to David for bringing me to Katie, for if we had not known that we could parent David - a special needs child - we would never have considered adopting a child with Down syndrome.  David has not just changed our lives, he has changed the life of a sister 6,000 miles away. 





David's Birthday Party

We celebrated David's 8th birthday party yesterday with his friends.  We had a great time!  He had a loosely themed Lego Ninjago birthday party.  


Gigi made Ninjago costumes.  And they wore them for about 5 minutes.  Before the party started.



We had pizza, fruit, cookies, swedish fish "sushi", sensei snack mix, and some candy.



These huge pinwheels were my favorite decoration, and they had nothing to do with our "theme".  


We rented a bounce obstacle course, which was well worth the money.


We set up our tables, blew up some balloons, had some sidewalk chalk, and hung a banner.


We put our easel by the road with some balloons.  I seriously want to do that for everyone's birthday until they are 40.


We tied some balloons to our porch.



We had Ninjago take out boxes for party favors.  They had fortune cookies, stickers, tattoos, and airheads.


This is our neighborhood gang.


This was David's cake request. .  it's his first store bought cake ever.  And I want it to be the last.  



He had a great group of friends over, and I think everyone had a lot of fun!


He wasted no time blowing out his candles



Thankfully the rain stayed away until just after the party was over.


He said he had a great party. . . next up?  Henry in three weeks!