Monday, September 30, 2013

Four Weeks at Home

How is it possible that we've already been home for four weeks? It seems, in some ways, like we just stepped off the plane a few days ago—the memories of the trip home are still so fresh in our minds—and yet our time in China seems like it belongs in another time-stream altogether. We were there for three weeks and were able to set up something of a normal life in each city we were in, but now that feels like a lifetime ago, even though it hasn't even been two months since we left! I think that part of the reason for this sense of disorientation is due to the fact that God had us jump back into our regular life with both feet almost as soon as our feet landed back in Cincinnati. The first week home was pretty restful, but the past three have gone at a nearly break-neck pace. That has made us feel like we never left, and in some ways, that has been good for us and for our kids. We've seen with them (and, indeed, with us) that the more routines we can maintain in daily life, the better everyone does. Day-to-day life isn't always predictable or consistent, but there are a few weekly rituals that we do that help to keep us somewhat grounded (e.g., church on Sunday mornings, pizza and TV all together for dinner on Friday). Most of those weekly mainstays are back to where they were before we left, and that feels inexpressibly good.

I want to say, too, that we wouldn't have survived this past month without our church. A few days before we returned home, a close friend of ours came over to the house with a couple of Kristie's sisters to clean our house and get things ready for us. But she didn't stop there. She cut our grass and then decorated our front and back porches with paper streamers and balloons, which brought both of us to tears when we saw them. Then, our church—small but growing church plant though it is—has blessed us with three meals a week for the past four weeks, and with all of the things that we have had going on, there is no way that we can properly thank everyone for this. We still have some meals in our refrigerator and freezer, which will carry us through this coming week. This has been unbelievable, and we are deeply grateful for their care, support, and friendship all throughout our adoption journey.
As for the girls, what can I say? Every time we think that we have them nailed down in some area, they surprise us. We might have mentioned this before but based on our time with them in China, we would have sworn that Isabelle would be a whirlwind that we'd struggle to keep up with, and that Hallie would be pretty calm and docile, if for no other reason than her immobility. Oh, how wrong we were! Isabelle's mobility has continued to progress nicely. She's walking more of the time, but she is very, very calm, sweet, and laid back. Kristie mentioned in her last blog post that Isabelle wants to be a big girl, and we've seen more of that from her, as evidenced by her ever-growing interest in having her hair fixed like Mommy, Mikaela, and Gabriela, and she has even asked Kristie for make-up on at least one occasion. Surprisingly, she has turned out to be a girly-girl. And she continues to surprise us in other areas, too. During our time in China, we began to suspect that she might not actually have Down Syndrome, but maybe some other syndrome. She didn't have the classic signs of Down Syndrome—her muscle tone is quite good for a girl who spent four years in an orphanage, her tongue control is nearly perfect, her enunciation is very good, and she is an incredibly quick learner—but there were some apparent physical abnormalities that we thought might possibly indicate another syndrome altogether. It got to the point where we were almost convinced that she didn't have Down Syndrome, but her chromosomal test conducted by the children's hospital here indicates that she most definitely has Down Syndrome. This surprised both of us, but apparently Isabelle is just a high-functioning kid with DS, and it'll be interesting to see what she will be able to do in her life. Based on discussions with therapists, Mikaela seems to be very high-functioning, but it's possible that Isabelle's ceiling is even higher than her sister's. We can't wait to see how they're going to challenge, encourage, and push each other over the years. Isabelle has already grown very comfortable in our family. In fact, she and Hallie both slid in almost without notice. If God hadn't made their transition as smooth as He did, I don't know how we would have gotten through the past four weeks. Both girls have bonded well with us and their attachments continue to deepen, and their sense of belonging here in our family with their brothers and sisters is quite strong. We thank and praise Him for that incredible blessing.
Hallie has also surprised us, as she bears almost no resemblance to the lethargic, frail baby that we met just seven weeks ago today. In that time, she has gone from sleeping 18-20 hours a day, being emotionally withdrawn, apparently having no idea how to play with any toys, being completely immobile, and being able to take only one 8-oz. bottle (packed as full of grains and nutrients as we could get it) in the course of a day, to an effervescent girl who sleeps like a normal three-year-old, laughs and giggles and coos readily, plays with a number of toys and initiates play with others, scoots and crawls all over the house with lightning speed, and takes four nutrient-packed bottles each day. She loves to disassemble things and to empty bins of toys from various parts of the house, preferably right after the rooms have been picked up. She is such a funny, charming girl, and it's a joy to see her true personality shining through. Her determination will serve her well as she'll have to work hard to close some of the developmental gaps that she has, but it also means that she can be a bit of a stubborn stinker. We've seen that from her at times, and we know that as hard as that can be, it shows that there's a good trait at root; it's just a matter of praying for her and trying our best to help her direct that trait—determination—to a good use. We're just happy to see how much progress she has made in such a short time.
I'll close this now, as it's midnight and I'd like to get some sleep before the morning. Here are a few pictures from the last few weeks, and I hope to post more in the coming weeks.

Hallie having fun at home

Isabelle coloring at our celebration dinner

Watching Beauty and the Beast

Gabriela's 4th birthday party

Saturday, September 7, 2013

First week home

Well I can't believe it, but we have been home a full week tonight. Things really are going very well over all, and the girls have slipped into life here. Isabelle loves the attention, and even Hallie seems to enjoy having so many other children around. She is developing a very special relationship with Josiah, and he can usually make her smile faster than anyone else. We were told that Hallie could crawl, but we didn't see it the whole time we were in China. We were beginning to wonder if they had been mistaken, but since we got home, she has been crawling all over the place. She is more and more curious about the world around her, and suddenly loves to make messes. Yesterday, she crawled out to the laundry room, pulled all the shoes off the shoe rack, and scattered them all over the place. She seemed very proud of herself when she had finished. Fortunately, Mikaela and Matthias cleaned them all up again (more or less). She still won't eat any solid food at all, but she is taking more by bottle. When we first met her, we could usually only get her to take one bottle to a bottle and a half each day, because the concoction we put in her bottle was so much more filling than what she was used to. She now often takes four bottles a day. She feels heavier and more solid than she did, and we noticed that her 18mo. pants actually stay up on her now. We were very concerned that she had a thyroid condition like Mikaela because she was so lethargic her first few days, but the doctor ran a blood test on her on Thursday, and her thyroid is normal. I think we were just seeing the effects of her undernourishment. She has a lot more energy now, and is developing a playful side. It has been so much fun to watch her blossom.

The changes with Isabelle have been far less dramatic, but she is doing great too. She is more independent than she was before, and really wants to be a big girl. This morning, she fed herself her whole pancake with her fork. I don't think she has ever done that before. One of her biggest problems is that she is so tiny she has a hard time reaching things. Even though she turned four in June, she is much smaller than Matthias, who is two and a half. She has learned to climb the stairs by herself, but she is afraid to come back down, because her little legs have a hard time reaching, and she feels unstable. She still cries when she takes her bath, but most of the time, she is a very happy girl.

We got the results of their parasite checks back this week, and neither girl has any parasites. That was a huge answer to prayer. Now they can bathe with the other girls, and we don't have to wear gloves when we change their diapers. It also means that they can start wearing cloth diapers.

On Thursday evening, we went out for our celebration dinner. Everyone had a great time, and Isabelle decided that she loves Italian food. All of the kids behaved really well. Getting them all six in and out of buildings is a challenge, but we have developed a system that seems to work. I carry Hallie and hold Mikaela's hand, while Gabriela holds Mikaela's other hand and carries Hallie's diaper bag. Greg does exactly the same thing with Isabelle, Matthias, and Josiah. We are slow, but we do get where we need to be. I'm sure we must be an amusing sight, though. :-)

I'm attaching a few pictures from our celebration dinner. From the pictures, you might think that Greg was feeding Isabelle, Hallie, and Matthias, but I promise I had Hallie until the very end of the meal. I just handed her to Greg right before taking the picture.