Sunday, August 30, 2009

crazy days

Wow I've become a stranger to my own blog! Sorry about that! Life with 5 kids is pretty busy, to say the least. The summer seems to have rocketed by and now we are only 1 1/2 weeks away from school starting - Kindergarten for Cade and PreK for Parker. With the 20 minute drive each way for PreK, two non-walkers going on three and a belly I can no longer bend over, I don't see any relaxation in my immediate future LOL. I thought I'd best get in an update on us though before true chaos sets in.

Cade is nervous but excited about Kindergarten; we've spent a lot of time this summer working on helping him with basic skills so he feels more accomplished at the start - he can usually identify his whole alphabet now and is even beginning to sound out simple words. Fine motor has never been his strong point (hence him receiving OT and continuing to do so this school year) but he has made a lot of progress with writing his own name. He knows so much but is rarely willing to show it to his teachers. He's shy and perhaps a bit too introspective and deep-thinking for his age (hmm... I wonder where he gets that from?) so I worry about things like sitting on the bus, who he will eat with at lunch, etc. I wasn't much moved by him going to PreK last fall but the thought of Kindergarten can send me into near-tears everytime. My big boy!

Parker is er... less than thrilled about starting PreK. Although he has a sweet, bubbly personality with people he knows (though he seems to be going through a minor identity crisis, as I think he feels pushed out by Emerson's high needs and anticipates less attention with Holden due so soon) he is much more of a mechanical-minded child than a social one. Luckily we were able to get him in with Cade's former teachers so he does know and like both of them. He's also going to be starting Speech Therapy (he's the last one to do so - now every single one of our kids has at least ST!) and will be working with the same therapist who saw Cade and sees Macy. So he will at least be surrounded by adults he knows. Hoping his transition is not too hard on him - and us!

Macy is doing well and hitting the Awful 3s (what the hey are the Terrible 2s anyways? 3 is the big number in our house!). She had her 6 month re-evaluation for Speech and has made some improvement with articulation and as with Parker both expressive and receptive were above age - she actually came out 9 months ahead for receptive. We're hoping to get her into a dance or gymnastics class so she has her own little activity to look forward to with her beloved big brothers both in school. She is the queen in the Shy Department so we are hoping to get her a bit more open to new experiences before she starts PreK next year!

Our Dawson is wonderful as ever. He seems to have at least two or three new words each week and has gotten a bit more expressive with the therapists (he is normally such a quiet observer of people outside the family), he has twice now informed his Physical Therapist with words and sign that he is "ALL DONE!" hehe - little stinker. He sings "Row, row, row a boat" while rocking whatever object he deems worthy of pretending to be a boat, I will have to try to get a video and post it as it's simply the cutest thing in the world. He says "Thank you" all the time now when we put his food in front of him or hand him a toy - adorable now but yeah, all our kids are polite until about age 2 1/2 LOL. He is big on referential pointing now, he points to everything when we're out and asks, "That? That?" while we name every object we can for him to store away for future use I suppose. He has rediscovered his reflection in mirrors and will spend at least 5 minutes making silly faces at himself and laughing hysterically. We are still waiting for those days of walking - he pulls himself to stand much easier now and sometimes will cruise a bit to the side on the coffee table and will take assisted steps when we say "Walk" but balance and weight change are a lot of work for him - not hard to understand since he's 26 lbs and at least 32" long. It's got to be tough figuring out how to get all of that moving LOL! ^_^ I am still hoping a bit he might be starting to walk independently by his 2nd birthday, but he'll get there when he's ready. For now he is commando crawling when he wants to, scooting forward and backwards (very fast LOL) when he feels like it, and I can only thrill at his communication skills and revel in how much delight he takes in his world.

Little Emerson is a study in contrasts. Some days I could rush to the laptop and post about what great progress it seems we made, but others it feels like the progress has been pulled out from under us - and then some. The one major development is that she is eating baby food! I should qualify that statement quite a bit, I suppose... she eats some baby foods very well, when she wants to LOL. About two weeks ago she went through a frustrating bottle strike where she basically had 2 bottles each day for 2 days straight and then suddenly the next day when I offered her a jar of Turkey Tetrazzini she had discovered how to command her tongue and ate two jars of the stuff with barely pushing out a drop. We have since come to realize that there is more to Emerson than meets the eye. I honestly do not think she was incapable of eating baby food when we first came home - I think it was simply that she did not care for what we were offering her. She has a few hard favorites now and we continue to try new things and she continues to stubbornly spit out and cry at anything she doesn't like, no matter how hungry you'd think she should be. I admit it's a bit frustrating but it's progress regardless and we're happy for that. She was 18 lbs 3 oz at her check-up last week.

Emotionally it feels like we're struggling more and more these days. Her teeth grinding has gotten so bad it usually leaves my nerves completely frayed at the end of the day. It's hard to believe anyone can grind teeth so loudly, so slowly and deeply - especially since it is only being done with one top tooth and one bottom tooth. If you can imagine someone scratching long, jagged nails down a chalkboard right next to you, over and over again for about 30 minutes of every hour for 10 hours each day... then you might have some inkling of what we endure each day. She has actually been grinding so hard that she has caused the bottom tooth to bleed several times. It was pretty unsettling last week when I went in to the room at night to check on her since she had not yet fallen asleep and was grinding particularly loudly to find her face and shirt covered in blood. We thought she was grinding a hole into her lower tooth.

She finally had her long-awaited dental appointment on Friday and as always, it was good news/bad news. Good news is her teeth and gums are actually still healthy with no obvious decay and there is no apparent damage to her teeth yet from the grinding (apparently she has a bit of gum caught over the lower tooth in question which is what is bleeding, not a hole). The bad news is this means there's nothing they can do about it but hope that it stops. The dentist was a bit surprised by how few teeth she has (only 8, compared with Dawson's 14 going on 16) but that might just be due to poor nutrition. The bottom teeth are also angled so much and her gums are so short that she often cuts her bottom lip on them... again though, nothing that can be done. We have tried consistently gently but firmly squeezing her cheeks and saying NO each time she grinds, I've tried doing some gentle gum massage and vibrations... she dissolves into tears each time but within minutes goes right back to grinding.

It's always nice to feel like we've escaped one more huge medical issue, but it's also disappointing to know the problems we did get are the ones that can't easily be fixed. I've come to the conclusion that somehow, although cognitively she's barely a 6 month old, she has come to use grinding as a tool of manipulation. I suppose it's not that surprising - kids in institutions probably get much better use out of quickly learning attempts at manipulation than true communication - but it makes it all the more frustrating. I think she's a bit jealous of Dawson, especially as I rock him to sleep at night, so I started rocking her first. It was nice to have her fall asleep in my arms, a silent trust that had finally been earned, but everytime I put her down carefully she immediately wakes up... I then give Dawson his turn and she sits in the crib pressing her face against the bars, watching us. After a minute she starts grinding her teeth harder than ever, slowly, seemingly painfully... so much so that my teeth usually start aching and I have to press them tightly together to try to relieve the pressure. She does this constantly in between giggles and pulling up to standing against the crib rail. At first I was responding - getting up with Dawson and laying her back down and telling her no, night-night. But then I realized the pattern to her game and I now sit there, eyes shut tightly, teeth pushed together and silently chanting to myself, I will not respond to this, I will not respond to this, I will not respond to this... she does not give up until I lay Dawson down and leave the room. She rarely babbles anymore; she simply grinds. And though we all try not to react to it, to not try to reward any attempts at using this as a form of communication and manipulation, oh my gosh is it hard to hear it all day and not try to do SOMETHING to make it stop.

She has days where she makes such good eye contact and interacts more with us and even with toys, and I get so excited and start to think perhaps we're coming upon that turning point... but then the next day she wakes up seeming to have regressed, her eyes refusing to look at you, sitting there grinding her teeth and poking herself repeatedly in the forehead with one finger absentmindedly. When she does that I go overboard with trying to tickle her, calling her name over and over, as if she's gone behind the curtain and might be lost forever. Usually she looks around me, unmoved. It's strange, it's scary and it makes me feel like it will always be like this. Dawson has finally started to attempt interacting with her... tonight at dinner he reached over and tickled her foot (oh, he says "Tickle tickle tickle" too in the most adorable way LOL) and stared smiling at her face, seeking her eyes... she wouldn't look up at him. He tried a few more times before he gave up and went back to eating and communicating with us. I felt sad for him, and for her too. And though I think I've reached a point of peace with the journey we're on, I feel unable to truly bond with her, unable to truly love her with a mother's love instead of simply with a worldly love, a humanitarian's love. I know other moms have felt the same way and that time is the only cure for that, but sometimes I wonder if this too will be an undefinable problem, a thing that cannot be fixed, even by time. We just hope.

Holden is doing well, very big and very active. I'm only measuring 2 weeks ahead in the height of my uterus but that's mostly because he's lying transverse right now - I have no silly notions of a little baby. :) I am guessing I will go into labor closer to 38 weeks, which is very scarily about 6 weeks away. I still need to get that birth pool ordered and the cord scissors and we need to get yet another crib for our growing collection LOL, but otherwise I am very much ready to NOT be pregnant anymore!

This post is long enough, but the last piece of news is that we got a kitty two weeks ago! We'd talked about getting one for Christmas for the kids but a trip to the pet store for some dog food ended up with the adoption of a 5 month old beige tabby. The kids named him Alex (after the boy in Signing Time), a close second to Butt, which Matt and I unfortunately had to veto. ^_~ Luckily he is a very sweet and tolerant cat, loves the attention from the kids and doesn't twitch an ear when his tail is mistaken for a pull-toy. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the pregnancy perk of avoiding litter box duty. If only that could last forever... :)

Some pictures! (I'll get some new ones of Cade and Parker on their first days of school!)

Had to do a before/after of Emerson eating baby food. The top is from nearly a month ago and the result of her thrusting everything out with her tongue. The bottom is her happy after finishing a whole jar with hardly any mess. :)

Introducing Butt... er, I mean Alex!

Oh yes, Alex is a strange cat... I'm beginning to think he is truly a dog's soul trapped in a cat's body. :)

Sunday, August 09, 2009

second chances

Two birthdays in two weeks! Our little engineer Parker turned 4 and tomorrow Miss Emerson will hit the big 2!

I have received many comments and emails since my last post; most supportive, some a bit more critical, but I know all coming from the same place - honest concern for Em and our family. So while a few of the comments I haven't agreed with, I do appreciate all of the concern.

Every child has taught me something unique. Parker taught me to believe in second chances. Cade was a complete surprise (in fact, at the time we didn't plan to ever have children!) and he both opened my eyes to the wonders of parenting and to the negative consequences of trusting others over yourself and following blindly without thinking. His pregnancy was riddled with fears and worries and a sense of helplessness as we watched pre-eclampsia spring up. I sat on the table in the doctor's office like a lamb, never learning anything for myself, never questioning the best practices for handling what I was experiencing, and worst of all - never making any decisions other than at the end when I refused to go on bedrest (it's unproven, and I knew the added stress of lost income would only make my blood pressure go up further). But even that one decision left me feeling unsure of my own judgement until a second opinion with a perinatologist backed up my own instincts.

After Cade's birth I couldn't wait to do it again. I saw what I had failed at - not the pre-e, not the induction, not the c-section - but the means to those ends that I never took control of so I could say later yes, this was the best outcome possible. Parker was my second chance to "get it right."

And I did get it mostly the way I wanted it, with a few bumps that had to be worked out with Macy's and Dawson's pregnancies, but as I held Parker in my arms that July afternoon after birthing him vaginally, I realized how wonderful second chances were just on their own. Without comparison to the first, his experience stood in its own brilliance. It was never about getting it "right," after all, it was merely about doing all I could to bring us both through happy and healthy and no matter what happened, being satisfied with myself for trying.

Emerson is like a second chance, too. A chance to realize that sometimes things are not in our control, however much we wish and wish them to be so, and sometimes we just have to accept that and move on and work on what is within our power. The hardest part is knowing that we thought she'd be ours last October - we were told she'd be ours last October - and seeing all that time lost and knowing I can't get it back. But that time is gone and there's no point in dwelling on it anymore.

I do have 4 other children, and they're all 5 and under. A few people suggested to me that Em *should* get all my time and attention, or the vast majority of it. But my other children are also at a vulnerable age, an age where they too desperately need me, and neglecting them in any way in favor of another child is not an option - not for Dawson, not for Em, and not for Holden when he comes. It might mean Em doesn't catch up as fast as she would in a family with older children or no other children, but we are her family and all we can do is the best that we can and be satisfied knowing we did.

I also think some readers may have misunderstood the nature of most of our frustrations. It is not merely a matter of functioning - that it is somehow worse to parent a child with greater delays - but it is different and new to me and just as we can understand a new mother coping with the diagnosis of Down syndrome, I think we can understand the emotional chaos that ensues for most people when faced with the challenge of an adopted child with serious needs they were not aware of beforehand. Honestly, if Em was just as verbal as Dawson but still had the feeding and emotional issues, it would be just as overwhelming. Or if Dawson didn't say a word but ate well and made eye contact, I would still not feel as helpless with him as I do with Em.

I want Em to be healthy. I want her to be connected to her world. And the rest can come later, or not at all.

Since we scaled back our baby food attempts, we are all less overwhelmed. Em is taking her bottles much better and though she is still trying to eat with her tongue LOL, she is now able to draw liquids through a straw - she even picks up the cup herself! Granted, she doesn't quite know how to keep the liquid in to swallow it, but considering that 2 months ago when we placed a straw in her mouth she merely made an open-mouthed grimace, we are all very impressed by and proud of this new accomplishment. :)

She has also crossed the 17 lb mark!!! She is starting to show some chub and it is such a relief to see.

We are making slow progress with getting her connected to her new world, she does make much more eye contact now and she has learned to anticipate tickling and even "I'm going to get you!" with smiles and giggles. We did have an audiology exam done a few weeks ago and she responded to absolutely no sounds and we discovered her ears are so impacted with wax the audiologist could not test the vibrations of her ear drums. So she might just be cognitively too young for the test or it's possible she does have some hearing loss. She has an appointment with an ENT in early September. And one of the sweetest developments - she now looks when you say her name 90% of the time. It was sad to see that she did not look at the caregivers when they said her birth name, so it is thrilling everytime her head shoots up now at the sound of Emerson. ^_^

I was so happy to hear from several moms who went through very similar issues - and conflicting feelings - with their new adopted little ones. Sometimes it is easy for a mom to also feel disconnected as she tries to navigate herself and another ship through unknown waters. So it is reassuring to see others standing on the shore, however distant it may be. :) We are getting there, at our own pace, and not without storms to weather, but still sailing.

Happy Birthday to our beautiful babies!