Oliver, Kirsten, Chris and Soren

Oliver, Kirsten, Chris and Soren

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Matteo at Age Three

A year ago today I was so sad we couldn't make it to China before Tao Tao's second birthday.  September had seemed so far off when we first laid eyes on his picture in May.  Our dossier had already been translated and our agency was predicting a quick approval from China and I honestly believed it wouldn't be long before we'd have our children in our arms.  Instead, by the time Matteo's birthday came, we had experience multiple delays and were in the middle of a never-ending wait for approval from China.  Instead of being happy, I was depressed. 

A year later and I was at a park with a friend and as my kids were running around enjoying the sun and the chill autumn air, and she turned to me and commented how she can't believe Matteo and Kiera have been in our family less than a year because it seems like forever they've been a part of our lives.  Although I will never forget the ache in my heart as I hoped to one day finally hold my children in my arms, my sadness has been replaced with joy.  Matteo and I were seperated for his last birthday, but he is forever part of our family for all his birthdays to come.   

Matteo is a joy for a son.  He's not the most smiley of kids, but gosh, when he does smile, he lights up a room with his huge grin.  There's really so much to love about this kid.  He has such an agreeable personality who generally goes with the flow and is up for what anyone else is doing.  He loves books, baths, reading books, coloring, building with blocks or Magnatiles, playing outside and tagging along to anything his brothers are up to.    

He loves going to preschool and is thriving there, as are his siblings.  I wish I could send him five mornings a week instead of only three because he likes it that much 

Matteo takes it easy on us parents in that he's completely potty-trained (and has been since we met him), is a great eater and sleeps well. Don't those issues comprise the top three complaints parents tend to have about their three-year-olds? 

Matteo works very hard during his speech therapy lessons and his therapists continue to be impressed with his attention span and persistence.  He currently has four sessions a week between what he qualifies through the school district and then private speech therapy.  Unfortunately, his speech is still largely unintelligible unless you know are really paying attention and have direct context (as in he points to the object as he says in the word).

As the fourth child, Matteo's naps have been pushed to the wayside.  We're able to get away with this because he's such an easy-going child, but most afternoons, it's clear he could benefit from a catnap.  If we're in the car in the afternoon, it's rare he stays awake, even for a five-minute drive.  When he wakes up from a short-lived nap, is one of the few times we see him truly grumpy.  The post-nap period is prime cuddle time.  

He's pretty attached to Chris and his brothers.  Sometimes Chris and I divide and conquer with the kids and we each take two and head in separate directions hoping to get as much done as possible.  Matteo is so sad if he see Chris leaving with Oliver and Soren and he gets left behind.

Something else that continues to incite tears in Matteo are dogs.  It doesn't matter how big or small, puppy-like or elderly, well-behaved or needs to go to obedience school, he steers clear of any dog at any cost. 

A recent development we've noticed in Matteo is wanting to do things by himself.  Whereas he used to get upset if someone wouldn't help him put his shoes on (even though he could do it himself), he now gets upset if you try to help him.  He also wants to try to dress himself, which can really test one's patience. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Oliver at Age Six

I've been told that kindergarten is a big growth year.  Sure, us parents make a big deal out of it because it's symbolic of our "babies" becoming bonafide big kids, but entering school really forces them to grow up.  Oliver now walks himself to his classroom, has a locker and takes an hour-long bus ride home with students as old as eighth grade.  While his kindergarten classroom provides a secure  home base, he has some classes in other rooms of the building, eats his lunch in the cafeteria and attends after-school activities in yet another location.  More is expected of him socially, academically and maturity-wise.

Oliver shows a lot more independence at home.  He can dress himself and he's even started taking showers.  He can put an entire Lego set together by himself.  As long as one of the neighbor kids is outside, he can be outside without Chris or me.  We trust him that he'll follow the rules for playing outside without us. 

Despite Oliver's budding independence, change is still hard for him.  Routine is really comforting for him.  Just as soon as he started to get the hang of the school routine, he learned he was going on a field trip and that prospect had him anxious for days.  The same anxiety cropped up on the first day his after-school arts and crafts group would be meeting because he didn't know exactly where in the school building they would meet and then I would be picking him up instead of him taking the bus home, and while he liked that idea, me picking him up still threw off his routine. 

For the first time in his life, there's a big chunk of Oliver's day we don't have vision to.  Luckily, he's doing a surprising good job of reporting back to us on his day.  Some of the details don't necessarily add up, like the classmate who moved out of his classroom, supposedly to eighth grade, (his teacher told us later the child was moved to another kindergarten classroom to balance out the class sizes) but we nonetheless love hearing about his day and what's important to him, like what he had for lunch and who he plays with at recess.

Oliver continues to be really into arts and crafts.  When I told him he could choose from sports or arts and crafts for his after-school activity, Oliver chose the latter. Art is one of his favorite subjects (along with Gym).  For his birthday, his grandmother took him out to dinner and then to a craft store to let him pick out his own birthday present.  In a surprise twist, he came home with a chemistry set!

To the delight of his parents who love to play board games, Oliver not only enjoys them, but is finally at an age where we can teach him to play.  We played a lot of Monopoly Deal on our trip to North Dakota and when we got home, he discovered the Monopoly game I got for my eight birthday.  We think he likes games so much because he's such a rule-follower.  

Oliver is very well-behaved at school, and his teacher called him a sweetheart.  He received his first birthday party invitation from a classmate who had invited only the girls in the class, and Oliver, because he's the nicest boy in the class according to the little girl's mother.  These moments make me beam as a mom.  Then at home he pushes the limits of our parenting abilities and continues to humble Chris and me into accepting that six years later, we're still figuring out this parenting thing and will never have all the answers. 

We've got one stubborn kid who is full of opinions and energy and sometimes raw emotion.  But Oliver also has a tender, emotional side to him. He wants to cuddle with us while we read him a book and he can't go to bed without a kiss goodnight or let me leave for work without a final hug and waving to me from the window. He's incredibly creative and is often found in the midst of a new project or drawing.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Interstate State Park

We are so lucky in Minnesota to have as many state parks as we do, and many are within just an hour's drive of the Twin Cities.  For only $25 a year, a car load of friends and family can have unlimited access to Minnesota's natural wonders. Today's gorgeously sunny, early fall day was too perfect to not take advantage of the opportunity to get outside, and what better place than one of Minnesota's state parks. 

I can't believe this is the first time I've been to Interstate State Park in Taylor's Falls.  It's only an hour's drive northeast of St. Paul and the park, along with a park of the same name on the Wisconsin side, straddles the scenic St. Croix River.  Earthquakes, lava flows and glaciers formed the river valley, the cliffs and the glacial potholes in the park. 

We started with a picnic lunch along the tranquil St. Croix River in the southern part of the park.  The boat launch and campgrounds are at this quieter end of the park.  Most tourists head straight for the northern end of the park, where the largest concentration of glacial potholes in the world is located.  That's exactly where we headed too right after lunch and arrived just in time to join the naturalist-guided "Pothole Exploration Tour."  For someone who remembers very little of my Geology 101 (aka, "Rocks for Jocks") class in college, the tour was well worth it for me.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much Oliver learned from the tour as well, since I assumed much of the information was over his head.  We need to get him a field journal now, because he enjoyed drawing pictures of things he saw on our walk with the naturalist. 

After the walk, we spent time scrambling on the rocks, exploring more of the potholes and enjoying the warm sunshine. I wished we could have gone on another hike to get away from the crowds, but little Matteo, who technically still needs to nap, but doesn't anymore because he's the fourth child, wasn't going to make it.  So we piled back in the car and took the scenic route home.  Matteo and Kiera were sound asleep within 10 minutes. 

We had a wonderful afternoon, but I'll be honest that the kids weren't exactly thrilled in the morning when they heard where we were headed.  Thus it was vindicating to hear Oliver exclaim on the Pothole Exploration Tour that he was having so much fun and wanted to do this every weekend.  He should watch what he wishes for.  I've only been to 16 of Minnesota's 76 state parks and recreation areas and I'm yearning to see more. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Kiera Update: 3.5 Years

Her Grandpa thinks she's brilliant and she's the darling only granddaughter to her smitten Grandma.  It's hard not to love this adorable little girl who gets excited about a pretty dress and a matching hair bow.

So what is this brilliant three-and-a-half-year-old up to these days?  Kiera goes to preschool three mornings a week with Soren and Matteo and is thriving there.  Her teacher reports that she enjoys the various activities and plays with other kids.  She has fun there, and while it is only on her own timeline that she will play catch-up, the singing songs, listening to stories, interacting with peers and practicing numbers and colors and A,B,C's can only help.

Two times a week Kiera has speech therapy.  It used to take her time to warm up at the beginning of each session, but now she gets right to work.  The speech therapists work with her on articulation since there are certain sounds she has trouble with and she drops the last consonant of a word when she speaks.  They think her problems with articulation are compounding her inability to use phrases, let alone speak in sentences.  We are seeing improvement in her speech, but it's been slow, very slow, progress.

Unlike her brothers, Kiera is very interested in babies.  A friend of mine had a baby in August and because I know her so well, I knew she wouldn't mind if I show up with all four kids in tow.  I think the boys were more interested in the cupcakes I'd brought along to celebrate the Baby Jude's "birth day", but Kiera wandered down the hall softly calling out "Baby?" as we passed each door in the corridor looking for my friend's room. I made the kids keep their distance during our visit at the hospital, but Kiera finally got to hold the baby a few weeks later. I couldn't tell if she understood that he wasn't a baby doll because when he moved, she looked like she didn't know what to make of him.

Kiera continues to be an adventurous eater with a good appetite.  We're not sure where all that food goes though since she's so dainty.  No matter what we serve, we're confident she'll eat it and without a complaint!  Given how vocal two of her brothers are about their likes and all their dislikes, it's so refreshing to have a meal with Kiera.  However, some of their picky-eating has rubbed off on her.  Since they won't eat the crusts of their sandwich, Kiera won't either. She's also taught us that hot dogs and burritos can have "crusts" too and eats all but the backbone of her bun or the side of her tortilla.

Kiera has recently become my little sidekick.  She likes to be by me, even if I'm just doing chores.  She's actually quite good at folding laundry!  If I'm making dinner, she'll pull of a stool and watch me as I prepare the food.  She's generally content following me around or accompanying me on errands.  The one-on-one time is not only good for bonding, but it's good for speech, because she's not being drowned out by her louder and more talkative brothers. 

Kiera has a much different energy about her than her brothers.  She's much calmer and quieter.  But that doesn't mean she doesn't have some spunk to her.  She loves going to the playground and especially loves the swings.  The hard and higher you push her on the swings, the happier she is.  She's also a good climber and I suggested Chris take her to a climbing wall.  Kiera has been able to pedal her tricycle really well from pretty much the first day she rode one even though it's possible she never road a bike prior to joining our family. More recently she's been getting quite good on the balance bike.  Although Kiera is not the quickest walker, she's still a good walking buddy.  She's always game for a hike and never whines or complains.

Because of her calm energy, Kiera has what I think is a higher-than-average attention span.  She can play quietly with toys and especially loves building with her Magnatiles and coloring.  We have to keep a watchful eye on her when she has a marker in hand, because she's already developed a reputation in our family for coloring where she's not supposed to and neglecting to put the caps back on.  
At the Waconia Rodeo in July.
For all the calm that Kiera exudes, two things light a fire under her - getting frustrating with not being able to figure something seemingly inconsequential out (like fitting two puzzle pieces together - she jams them together instead of trying another piece) and having something taken away from her.  Now she does have three siblings who are also learning impulse control and are known for snatching something from her hands, but for Kiera's part, she's pretty darn sneaky, and it gets her trouble.  She gravitates towards whatever a brother is holding, waits for him to put it down and moves in on the object.  It doesn't matter how nicely we tell Kiera her brother was still having a turn, her face immediately loses emotion, but just momentarily, and then she cries ugly, crocodile tears.

It's in these moments that Kiera's hard past is speaking out.  At only three-and-a-half years old, she's burying a lot, until an interaction triggers something deep in her psyche and her only ability to cope is to shut down.  We can only guess at what's going on inside her mind.  Has she never had anything that was truly hers and does taking away a toy represent a greater loss in her life? 

Even after the tears stop, we don't see the real Kiera again for awhile.  Her eyes divert ours no matter how much we ask to see her beautiful eyes and she holds out with the silent treatment.  It's frustrating and heart-breaking all at once.  This little girl has so much potential and we have to be patient as we help her unlock her potential. 

At that's why I love this final photo of Kiera I leave you with.  Kiera is generally a very happy kid, but she's not necessarily a smiley kid. Our au pair, Celina, captured this moment of pure joy in Kiera.  That day there was no stone face, no lack of eye contact and no silent treatment.  Just the real Kiera.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Grandma Nan, Our Honorary Speech Therapist

Even though no one ever mentioned speech delays in the referral paperwork or updates we received for Kiera and Matteo, let alone officially diagnosed them, they have significant delays. Thankfully we knew of these delays because we thought to ask questions about their speech when we requested updates during our long wait to travel.  However, for children with special needs adopted from abroad, you won't fully understand the extent of their diagnoses until you meet them and then have them evaluated by a doctor back home. 

We arrived home with a two-and-a-half-year-old and a three-year-old who each couldn't say more than five words in any language.  I pushed as hard as I could to have them evaluated as soon as possible because I didn't want to lose any more precious time, but also because my maternity leave was about to end.  We quickly scheduled surgeries, (ears for both, cleft palate for Matteo) but they did not magically spur my children to suddenly speak in clear and complete sentences like I had hoped.  So we moved onto speech therapy.  That is where Grandma Nan stepped in. 

I was so excited to get Kiera and Matteo started, but the speech therapist laughed as she reminded me that they're not miracles workers.  Speech therapy requires long-term commitment,(for us, that will mean years) persistence and practice.  I want to give my children all the resources available to reach their full potential, but what Chris and I are both lacking right now is time.  We can't take that kind of time off work to make sure the kids get to the six appointments weekly between the two of them. 

Grandma Nan is the reason we can sign them up for the intensive speech therapy they need.  We were able to start them right away because Nan had the flexibility to accommodate whatever openings the therapist had her tight schedule.  I type the appointments into our shared calendar app and Nan takes care of the rest.  She brings the kids to their appointments and then sends Chris and me page-long, detailed reports of what Kiera or Matteo worked on that day.  We read about what words or signs they practiced, activities or techniques the therapist used to help them develop certain sounds, and what the kids need to practice at home. 

The benefits of Nan's participation in the kids' speech therapy extends beyond being able to attend the appointments.  When you're one of four children, one-on-one time with someone special like a grandmother is precious.  The kids love the individual attention and I think Grandma enjoys the opportunity to bond with her new grandchildren.  Ever the patient teacher she is, she works in additional speech practice and reinforcement of what they learned in the sessions as she goes about her one-one-one time with Kiera or Matteo. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Fishhook

I got the call every parent fears, the call that one of my children had been injured.  The call came in from Celina's phone, but it wasn't Celina on the other end, but rather a man who told me he was with Celina and Soren had hurt his leg and they were all headed to the hospital.  I immediately gathered my things and left for the hospital, which was thankfully only a five-minute drive away.  Before I arrived though, I received a text from my mother-in-law that she too was on her way and that she didn't know exactly what had happened, but thought that Celina and the kids might have been involved in a car accident.  I panicked as I thought of all the possibilities of what could have happened.

When I was finally reunited with Soren in the emergency room, I was relieved to see that he was not gravely injured, his leg had not been broken, our minivan had not been in an accident and Celina, our au pair, was not in a puddle of tears, as I would have been had our roles been reversed.  My son, however, had a fishhook stuck in his leg.  Yes, a fish hook.

After Celina left to take our good Samaritan home, I was left to explain to the emergency room technician who was clipping four feet of line from Soren's newly-embedded fish hook what had happened.  She looked at me quizzically, as did everyone else we met that afternoon, as I explained the little bit Celina had told me.  They were headed to get ice cream, Soren tripped on the sidewalk, skinned his knee, and ended up with a fish hook in his calf.  No, they weren't fishing.  No, it wasn't our fish hook.  No, he wasn't playing with it.  No, I have no idea what a fish hook was doing there on the ground.  The more I explained, the more I was surprised that Child Protective Services did not show up.

Soren had to have an x-ray so the doctor could see how deep the hook had penetrated and the results quickly ruled out being able to employ the "string pull method" and we talked other options.  I opted for the Ketamine, which put Soren into a sedative state and protected him from memories of the painful Lidokaine shots and the doctor having to push the barb out another section of his calf, clipping the hook, and pulling the remaining piece of the barb out through the other hole.  The method had sounded straight-forwarded, so I was surprised by how much pushing and yanking was required to get the job done.

As I waited for Soren to rouse from the sedation, I commented to the nurse tending to Soren about his dumb luck.  He couldn't have done this to himself again if he tried I said.  The nurse laughed, but then estimated the hospital sees about 275 cases a year involving fishhooks.  In fact, Soren's case will probably end up as part of some study about how the hospital treats people impaled by fishhooks.  Two-hundred seventy-five I asked him incredulously.  He shrugged his shoulders and responded, "Well, it is the Land of 10,000 Lakes."  This kind of stuff just happens.

Even though this experience was traumatic for Soren, it reminded me how much I have to be thankful for - our au pair whose maturity and composure defies her 20 years of age, a stranger who helped her and drove with her to the hospital, my mother-in-law who kept us company during the long wait and the hospital staff who provided the best care possible to a terrified little boy. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Lucky Seventh Wedding Anniversary

Chris and I marked our seventh wedding anniversary on Sunday.  That number doesn't sound like a long time, but one MBA while working a full-time job, two houses, a major home renovation, one adoption times two and four kids later, we've done a lot in seven years.  Wow. 

We didn't do much to celebrate given that the four by-products of our marriage take up much of our time at this point in our lives.  Somewhere in between weekend errands, building a new railing for our deck stairs and cooking dinner, we did, however, vow to try to make more time for each other this coming year.  It's too bad that we were both at a loss for how exactly we would make that happen before we become empty-nesters.  

What I've learned over seven years is that parenting is hard, co-parenting is hard and marriage is hard.  Of course it is. That makes me that much more proud of all that Chris and I have accomplished.  And so darn thankful that I picked the right life partner.