Oliver, Kirsten, Chris and Soren

Oliver, Kirsten, Chris and Soren

Thursday, April 16, 2015

High Water Usage Alert

We received a notice from Saint Paul Regional Water Services that our water usage has increased dramatically, which indicates we may have a water leak and recommended we check our water line.  My heart sank.  We spent so much time and energy (and money) renovating our house and then we encountered yet another problem. 

Chris looked at the letter and declared we have no water leak.  We've simply added more people!  Almost twice as many in fact.  He pointed out that our water usage in March was compared with our water usage from the same month a year prior.  In March 2014, we had no au pair and only two children who attended daycare.  We ran our dishwasher and washer less frequently and flushed our toilets less often.  We bathed two children in one bathtub and did not run four separate baths because one kid came home with a confirmed parasite and everyone needed to bath separately until we can confirm we got rid of the parasite. 

Thankfully our high water usage can be explained, not by a leak, but by adoption. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The End of Leave

Tomorrow I return to work exactly 12 weeks from the day we left for China, 11 weeks, four days since we met Matteo and 10 weeks, four days since we met Kiera.  I utilized every last hour of FMLA available, but when I can count in weeks how long I've known my children, parental leave in this country simply isn't long enough.  In many ways Kiera and Matteo are doing so well.  I'm honestly amazed they could come this far in such a short time.  Yet returning to work at this point in their transition still isn't ideal.  Neither child has learned to speak any English in these 10 or 11 weeks and their "minor special needs" still require multiple doctors visits over the next couple of weeks.  When I tried to kiss Kiera goodnight this evening, she refused to look me in the eye, a stark reminder of how far we still have to go with attachment.

Despite my feelings on the length of FMLA, I'm remarkably calm about returning to work.  I'm neither excited for my first day back, nor dreading it.  Maybe because I'm at kids number three and four, I've accepted the return to work as part of the natural evolution of a working mom, even when I'm returning sooner than I would like.  My calmness is also in stark contrast with the days leading up to my departure where my nerves were so shot that I could hardly sit still.  I will take my feeling of indifference to returning to work over my emotional state 12 weeks ago. 

I do know that I'm returning to work a changed person.  I am definitely not the person I was three months ago when I could still only imagine what it would be like to travel around the world to meet my children.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Two Months Home

Only two months home and I go back to work this week.  It's really a shame how little time I get at home with Kiera and Matteo.  Given how little time off from work I have, I'm lucky and so thankful that they're adjusting well.  I'd have some hard decisions to make if they weren't.  Instead I'm focusing on how far we've all come as a family in these two months.  Honestly, we've hit a really good place in our lives and it's hard to believe that it only took two months to get here.

I've heard so many adoptive parents say that it's like their adoptive children have always been with them, no matter what age they joined the family.  I'm definitely feeling that now, to the point that when I look at pictures taken before Kiera and Matteo were home, I have to remind myself that they weren't in the pictures because we hadn't met them yet. 

Let's start with sleep, because whether it's going well or not will determine how you feel about everything else.  And the verdict is...sleep is going well.  (I'm inclined to whisper that for fear that I'll jinxed myself.)  And by well, I mean that Matteo is out of our bedroom and bunking with Kiera in their own bedroom.  We felt so confident that this was a permanent change that we packed up the spare crib mattress we've had beside our bed for the past couple of weeks. 

How did we get there?  The adoption world is going to gasp in horror, but honestly, it was transitioning him to his room combined with cry-it-out.  We started by getting him to nap in his room and that involved some tears, but he quickly became comfortable with that idea and there were even some days where he joyfully jumped into bed at nap time and waved to us as we left his room.  He  was napping in his room for a few weeks before we tried getting him to sleep in his room at night.  It really only took one night of hard crying for 20 minutes and after that, it's been pretty smooth sailing.  We've had a stable bedtime routine since coming home and he gets plenty of activity during the day to tire him out, along with a nap to keep him on an even keel so he's not over-tired at bedtime and I think that all helped in the transition to sleeping in his own bed.  In in a first-ever occurrence, Matteo was fussing one night as I was getting ready for bed.  Chris was already asleep, so I went in there and he let me comfort him. 

Kiera and Matteo now go to bed at the same time their brothers do at 7:00 p.m. and are usually out of bed between 6:30 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.

I think our children's attachment to us has been developing very well. Matteo openly gives us kisses and Kiera reaches for Chris and me to pick her up and doesn't show the indiscriminate friendliness as much as she used to.  We're not 100% there yet, but I know we're on the right path.  There may always be doubts in my mind though that we'll ever get "there" even though I'm not sure what "there" is supposed to look or feel like.  It doesn't seem reasonable that kids who've had so many caregivers in their short lives would trust us that we're going to be here for them forever.  Just like our kids have in fact trusted Chris and me, I'm trying to trust that we will get to the point where Kiera and Matteo hug someone outside our immediate family and I don't feel panic or sadness.  

We're so incredibly fortunate that we have good eaters (among many things we're fortunate for).  Back when I was so naive about what it was going to be like to raise children, I had this notion in my head that I would serve my children a variety of healthy and adventurous foods and they'd joyfully eat and mealtimes would be this time of familial bliss.  My dream was shattered with the first hurling of lovingly-prepared potatoes by my first-born.   

And then along came Kiera and Matteo, who happily come to the table when it's time to eat and more or less eat anything you put in front of them.  Even without language, they could express their discontent with the food through whining or some other non-verbal expression, but they don't.  You put food in front of them and they start eating, or if they don't like it or aren't hungry, they simply don't eat it.  It's kind of amazing. 

They do have their preferences.  Kiera loves milk and eggs and Matteo eats Cheerios like he's a teenager, not a two-year-old. And they both prefer to pick the contents out of their sandwiches and leave the bread. 

There's plenty of time for their good eating habits to regress since we're still in the honeymoon stage of their adoptions.  I'm seeing signs of over-eating/food insecurity with Matteo, but I'm attributing that to the effects of being on a liquid diet for two weeks and the hunger he experienced during that time.  Still, I'll try not to be surprised if one of their first English words is "yuck" or "gross". 

We regressed in potty-training with Matteo after his surgery, but we made some progress with Kiera, so still a win, right?  Matteo is finally day-time trained again and will even "tell" us he has to go by becoming distressed or pointing upstairs, where the bathroom is.  Kiera may well still have us trained, as after we got through a messy couple of days of constant accidents, we finally got in a routine of sending her to the toilet on a regular basis.  Both kids are in pull-ups at night since they're not in the same room as us and still don't know how to yell at the top of their lungs that they have to use the potty like Soren does.   

Sibling Relationship
All four kids generally get along well, which means that we're probably still in the honeymoon phases in this area as well.  Spats usually revolve around toys or who gets to choose what color plate or cup among our classy Ikea plastic dinnerware.  We need to keep reminding Oliver and Soren that Kiera and Matteo are still learning our family rules or they don't necessarily understand what they're trying to tell them to do.  We've been practicing patience, but also how to work together and help each other out. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Special Video From Shenzhen

It took me a moment to make sense of the text I received while I was at the hospital with Kiera, who needed an MRI to rule out a potential concern her ophthalmologist had raised.  I naively thought the MRI would be quick, but found myself in an empty waiting room with a "couple hours'" wait.  And suddenly I had a text message from a woman named "Alison" from a number I didn't recognize.

She said she was a friend of "Kelly" from the hospital.  How do I know Kelly and how do I know this hospital I asked myself.  Then I realized she was referring to the hospital in Shenzhen where Kiera was born, but I hadn't recognized the name at first because she had spelled it differently. Alison wanted to know if I had received Kelly's e-mail.  I had not, or I wouldn't be this confused. Then I remembered asking the nurses for any pictures they had of Kiera as an infant and being told it was against hospital policy to give them to me.  In the middle of our goodbyes, I had casually slipped a piece of paper with my contact information to a particular nurse who seemed most sympathetic to my desire to learn as much as I could about my daughter's early life.

I quickly texted Alison back and thanked her for reaching out to me.  She explained that she's Chinese and moved to the U.S. with her family, but had gone to nursing school with Kelly in China.  I assume since Alison is living in the U.S. and speaks English, Kelly had asked her to contact me.  I ended up passing my time waiting for Kiera by texting with Alison.  She of course wanted to know about Kiera, but when I shared pictures of all the kids, she wanted to know what life is like as a mom of four.  She said the nurses hoped I would send some recent pictures of Kiera, which I promised to do.

Then Alison said she had a video that Kelly had sent her and wanted me to have.  The link revealed a two-and-a-half-minute-long photo montage of Kiera's early life, including newborn photos.  It is absolutely priceless!  I can't emphasize how rare it is with an adoption from China to have such early photos and even how rare it is to have contact with someone back in China who knew your child.

When we first visited the hospital with our guide back in February, we had to talk our way in.  We were very warmly-received once the nurses who had taken care of Kiera agreed to meet with us, but I always wondered what they thought of the day the baby they had once taken care walked back into their lives as a nearly-three-year-old accompanied by an American mother.  After talking to them, I know Kiera was well-cared for, but after seeing the pictures in the video and seeing how much work they went through to collect pictures and put the video together, I now know that our little girl has a place in those nurses' hearts.  That was clear in the final picture in the video, where the nurses the nurses stood in a line, each one smiling and her hands cupped in the shape of a heart. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Starting Preschool

Against all advice of professionals in the adoption world, we started Kiera in preschool.  When kids are adopted, it's recommended you keep their worlds small by staying home as much as possible and limiting the adult caregivers in their lives to foster attachment with mom and dad.  For kids who've had multiple caregivers in their lives and multiple transitions, they need time to learn that we are mom and dad and that they can trust us to meet their physical and emotional needs.  Kiera has been slower to form a strong attachment to us, which is why the doctors, social worker and therapist we talked to about this advised to keep her home longer.

I go back to work next week and that fact further complicated the decision of whether to enroll Kiera after barely eight weeks home. If I weren't going back to work, it made more sense to continue the bonding process by keeping her with me.  After struggling for awhile with a decision, I finally came to the conclusion that the added benefits of keeping her home with our au pair were minimal in comparison to the benefits of preschool.  Attachment is super important, but it was the only factor being considered by professionals when I asked whether and when Kiera could attend preschool.  Never were other benefits weighed, such as improving her speech, interacting with peers or just plain old having fun.

Preschool is only two mornings a week for a total of five hours.  Those are five hours that are more language rich and stimulating than what Kiera would be doing at home. Our au pair doesn't often have time to do anything particularly exciting with the kids while Soren is at school, so they spend a quiet morning at home with the kids playing and our au pair doing chores. For a child with a significant language delay, singing, story time, circle time, show-and-tell and pretty much everything else they pack into two and half hours is surely not going to hurt her.

I felt even more comfortable with my decision after meeting with Kiera's teacher.  I talked about what indiscriminate friendliness could look like in the classroom (constantly wanting to be picked up, or instead of playing with the other kids in her class in the rec center gym, wandering off to see what the grandma and grandpa are up to who stopped in to let their grandchild play) and suggested ways to redirect her.  I asked her to contact us if she has any other concerns about Kiera's readiness for preschool.  Her teacher took my concerns seriously and was not phased by the idea of having a student she'd need to work more closely with.  She's known our family for a few years now and honestly seemed thrilled to have a third child from our family in her class. 

Kiera was excited to go to school and knew the routine.  She needed her book bag, water bottle and a dry pair of shoes. 
The first day of many years sharing a classroom with her brother. 
Kiera has accompanied her brothers to preschool often enough that she knew exactly what to do.  She hung her book bag next to her brother's and my friend's daughter, who adores Kiera, grabbed her hand and walked her into the classroom.  The sentimental (and slightly crazy) mom I am trailed behind her with my camera.  It was hard to get any decent photographs because she had no interest in posing for the camera and instead just wanted to play with toys.  The only tinge of doubt I had about my decision came when I tried to kiss her goodbye and she turned her head away from me.  Though she will probably do the same thing the day I go back to work. 

After all that fretting, her teacher said she did great.  She followed directions, participated in each activity along with her classmates and had a lot of fun.  She loves music and her teacher told me about how she was trying to sing along to the songs even though she probably had little idea what the lyrics meant.

That afternoon, I thought Kiera was playing in her brothers' room when it became too quiet.  That's usually a bad sign, but when I popped my head into the room to see what she was up to, I found this.

I think she had so much fun at preschool she wore herself out.

Friday, April 10, 2015

National Sibling Day

According to Facebook, it's National Sibling Day.  I'm so thankful for Scott, my one and only sibling.  He's part of the reason I've always wanted to have a large family.  How much more would my life have been enriched if there were more Scotts?
Scott and I the night before his wedding in April 2013
Now I do have that large family (at least large by American, modern-day standards) with two biological children and two adopted children.  Their sibling relationship is going to be undoubtedly different than mine was and is with my brother.  Michelle, an adoptive mom friend of mine, whose three children are all adopted, summed up the sibling relationship so beautifully. 
My definition of a sibling: It's NOT about biology, common ancestors, or blood lines. It IS about the fierce, deep love for each other. It IS about reliance, bonding, nurture, with a foundation of family. It IS about the spats, tears, and deepest frustrations toward each other, and knowing that through thick and thin, they will always have each other. It's about sharing common family experiences, and it's about knowing they have parents and family, who deeply, unconditionally, love them.
These are my four.  Someday I'll get them all looking at the camera and smiling nicely for their dear mom who wants nothing more than a well-posed picture of her happy children.  But at this moment in their lives, being siblings is about a shared disdain for family pictures.
Easter Sunday, 2015

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Fire Station Visit

It doesn't matter how strong or brave you are, if you don't like kids, I don't think the fire department is going to take you.  At least that's my theory since every fire fighter I have met has been really friendly and engaging with my kids.  A recent visit to Station 1 of the Saint Paul Fire Department affirmed my theory.  My friend Dawn and I showed up with eight children unannounced and got the grand tour of the station. 
Our junior firefighters
We learned that Station 1 has an antique fire truck in their dining room, that the firefighters still slide down a pole to get from the second floor to the first floor and that they guess that to get to our house a half a mile away, it'll take them four minutes from placing the 911 call to when they pull up in front of our house.  That's reassuring to know. 
Firefighter Robert showed the kids all the equipment on the fire engine.  If you bring a baby on the tour, Firefighter Ben will push the stroller for you!.
The firefighters showed the kids every vehicle in the garage and opened up all the hatches to show them all the equipment they carry to emergencies.  They invited the kids to get into a fire engine, but not surprisingly, that's pretty intimidating for kids their age, so no one took them up on their offer.  One of the firefighters put all his equipment on to show the kids what firefighters wear and even though some of them were on the verge of tears when he put his mask on, he did a great job reassuring them it was just him under the mask.  I hope they never need the help of a firefighter, but if they do, hopefully they recognize that they men and women donning all that gear are there to help. 

The kids keep a good distance from Firefighter Ben as he puts on all his protective gear.
Oliver is going to be like his mom - always with a question!
Thank you Saint Paul Fire Department!
There was one other fun fact that stood out from our visit to the fire station.  Our tour guides explained that when the alarm sounds, they have a minute and a half to get dressed, get into the fire truck and buckled in. I looked at Dawn and said we should institute that time goal.  Imagine if it only took a minute and a half for four kids to get their shoes and coats on, get into the minivan and buckled themselves into their car seats!  As it looks now, on that criteria alone, none of my children is destined to become a firefighter.