Wednesday, January 29, 2014

First Family Day Anniversary!

Levi has been with our family for a year now.  Our family just wouldn't be right without our Sweet  Boy.  He is truly a blessing.

When I think back on the first three months together, though, I cannot believe how far our relationship has come.  We knew going into Levi's adoption that the family transition doesn't always go as smoothly as it did with Veronica.  But reading about struggles children can have and experiencing them are two completely different things.

Don't get me wrong.  Some families have extreme difficulties.  Some children have RAD and other severe attachment issues that can take year to remedy.  Fortunately we knew Levi could attach to people because of how quickly he bonded with Ben.

It was me he hated.

Yes, hate is a strong word, but I think it is accurate.  This poor child was taken away from everything he ever knew without any control over the situation.  He was not happy about this and needed to take out his anger and frustration on somebody.  And that somebody was me.  I was not the Mama he wanted.  His reactions and emotions were completely justified.  Although his behavior was completely unacceptable, it was also completely understandable. 

My relationship with Levi is so completely changed now that I have a difficult time believing things were ever as challenging as they were in the first few months.

For example, the first two words Levi could say were "No!" and "Mama!"  He picked up the shame sign from another child and would greet me every morning rubbing his pointer fingers together in the "shame" sign and shouting, "No, Mama!  No, Mama!"  Then he would hit me and scream.  Yes, that started my day for weeks. 

Then the rest of the day would be an endless loop of him hitting me, pinching me and pulling my hair.  When he was not in striking distance, he would grab a metal truck and bang it against a window, the China hutch, etc.  He managed to find time to run away from me, too.  Then there would be "nap time" and "bedtime" which were apparently just suggestions.  I would stay in his room and attempt to comfort him as he continued to push me away - both figuratively and literally.

However, when Ben came home Levi would run to him.  Levi would put his chubby arms around Ben and smile big smiles.  All the games and songs he detested when I attempted, he laughed at when Ben did them.  He was a delightful child - as long as I wasn't near him.

Perhaps this is a slight exaggeration. Sometimes I think he resigned himself to my presence or just wore himself out with his fits.  He did tend to behave better in public (except for his shrieking in the grocery store).  In unfamiliar environments he knew he had to rely on me and that being stuck with me was better than being with strangers in a new place.

There was a lot of prayer in those early days.  This experience convinced me that love is a choice.  I made the conscious decision every day to love this child.  Whether he was pleasant or not.  Whether he deserved it or not.  Whether I wanted to or not.

Look how far this boy has come. 

First time holding Levi - We were in a governmental office in Taiyuan, Shanxi, China.  My sweet boy was so scared and sad.  This was two minutes before he began to cry uncontrollably and would only calm down for Ben.

That's a happier boy.  Taken exactly one year after the first picture.

By about 3 months home life changed dramatically. I realized that Levi listened to me most of the time.  He had stopped hitting me, pinching me, and pulling my hair.  He was not altogether happy with me, but gave the impression that he was accepting this new life.  He continued to love Ben completely. 

From about 6 months home till now, Levi has settled in remarkably well.  I think he's come to the conclusion that I'm a pretty okay Mom.  He likes to snuggle with me.  He seeks out my approval and company.  He is unguarded with his affections.  He accepts my love and gives me love in return.  Basically, my relationship with Levi feels as normal and natural as my relationship with the all my other kids.

What a remarkably fantastic place to be.  What a truly, wonderfully ordinary place to be.

Happy Family Day to my Sweet Boy.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

List Maker Extraordinaire

There are two kinds of people in the world.  People who make lists and people I cannot understand.

Seriously, who can survive without lists?  And no, those fancy apps that let you schedule your life and beep at you to remind you to breathe do not count.  I mean a good, old fashioned, paper and pen, feel the thrill of ink scribbling out an item listed on actual tree pulp list. I love lists - with virtually any kind of subject matter.

Grocery lists are my personal favorites.  I make an initial list of things I intend to buy.  Then I recopy the list in the order of the aisle in the grocery store.  If they had an Olympics of grocery store lists, I'd definitely at least make the podium.  It is one of my few stellar talents in life - sad though it is.   Which is why I almost wept in Cub Foods during one of my pregnancies when they rearranged the store and I could not find the peanut butter.  No, that is not a figurative weeping.  I literally leaned against my shopping cart with a lump in my throat and came home to complain to a my sweet husband for nearly a half an hour.  He was slightly bewildered at my reaction, but was a trooper in giving me the condolence I thought I needed.  I will definitely blame pregnancy hormones for that. 

To-do lists always seem to me to be the height of optimism.  I can start the day picturing myself briskly and efficiently moving from one task to another.  While still in my jammies, I can envision the competent me, organizing my life into some sort of disinfected utopia.

Of course the reality is that I list entirely too many things on my list than can be completed without a backup team of babysitters, housekeepers, fitness proxies and zen masters.  However, several consecutive days of too few things crossed of the list can avalanche into apathy and soul crushing disappointment with myself.

The only real remedy for for this is another list, of course.  But this failure remedying list is not a to-do list.  Instead I make an "I did it" list.  Instead of writing down dream goals of cleaning the garage and baking a souffle on the same day, I write down everything I actually do accomplish.  Even (especially) the mundane things that are never acknowledged.

A list like this might include the following:
     *  Get up (might as well start with the basics)
     *  Make bed
     *  Brush teeth
     *  Shower
     *  Get dressed
     *  Hair, make-up, contacts
     *  Pack kids' lunches
     *  Unload dishwasher
     *  Load dishwasher
     *  Put in load of laundry

Look at that.  I've listed off 10 accomplishments completed before I even wake the kids up for school.  That is enough to give a good ol' ego boost on the days when I feel like I have been busy,but look around and everything looks the same as it did when I woke up.

I think that is one of the hardest things about at raising children and at-home work.  Unless I set aside some time to work on a long-term project, most of the things I do are an attempt to maintain the status quo - keep dishes clean, keep clothes clean, keep kids alive - that sort of thing.  Whatever I do gets undone in a day, an hour, or a determined toddler minute.  Except the keep kids alive part.  I've done pretty well maintaining that.

How ironic, then, that the days when I don't accomplish maintenance that running a home and family requires, it is painfully, glaringly obvious.

Perhaps I should instead take a cue from the child's to-do list I recently came across:

Picture credit:  Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Ultrasound Done - Its a...


Nope, we don't find out the gender of our children ahead of time.  I believe endless speculation keeps the pregnancy interesting during the last half of making a person.

And more importantly, it appears that everything is healthy and progressing as it should although Baby wasn't overly cooperative during the ultrasound. So we didn't get a clear picture of his/her spine or face.

I arrived for the ultrasound with a bladder filled to capacity per the radiology department instructions.  Baby decided it was more important to cower behind the placenta than pose for a close up, so the diligent ultrasound tech pushed and squished that imaging wand thing all over my extra-inflated abdomen.  She even commented that I was an overachiever in attaining the full bladder as she pressed firmly on it. 

I consider it one of my crowning achievements of motherhood that I didn't pee myself in the process.

Eventually she said that my bladder could be too full and that I should just go potty and come back.  Whew!  It didn't change Baby's position, but I felt better. 

I am so relieved - no, not in the full-bladder way. I've moved off that topic. 

You see, I love watching the Duggars on TV.  And permanently etched in my brain is the episode where Michele went for a routine ultrasound and discovered that the baby was no longer alive.  That is all I could think of when I went to my appointment.  That and the fact that a dear friend had recently lost a child late in the pregnancy.

I remember nearly everything about the 19 Kids and Counting episode.  As soon as Michele found out the tragic news (on camera, too, poor thing) she immediately said, "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord." 

Most of you don't know this, but before my oldest was born, I had a miscarriage early in the pregnancy.  I can tell you that I didn't handle it quite as well as Mrs. Duggar.  I hadn't told people that we were even trying to get pregnant, much less that I actually was pregnant.

We had a wedding to go to the day that I realized I was miscarrying.  Instead of quoting Bible verses, I got embarrassingly drunk at the wedding.  I can count on one hand how many times I have overindulged like that, and I have not done it since. 

Anyway, I share this story with you not to embarrass myself further with how poorly I handled the miscarriage situation a dozen years ago, but to let you know that seeing  a heartbeat on the monitor is not something I take for granted.  Every life is precious - even those that never draw breath. 

And I am so incredibly grateful to see squirmy little baby on the ultrasound. 

Boy?  Girl?  I'll be thrilled with either.

But for those that wonder what our guess is - Ben thinks girl.  I think boy.  We'll see whose right in a few more months.

Friday, January 3, 2014

To Test or Not to Test. That is the Question

Okay folks.  I'm officially at 21 weeks in this pregnancy.  I've never been overly nervous in pregnancies before, but this time I feel a little more apprehensive.

Here's why.  I've sort-of become brainwashed by the "Oh no you're over 35 and at risk for a gazillion things to go wrong" mentality.  Even the official names the medical community uses are (although slightly offensive and funny) kind of alarmist.

The nicer phrase used is:  Advanced Maternal Age.  That at least sounds a little positive.  Advanced is better than beginner, right?

The more ridiculous phrase is:  Geriatric Pregnancy.  Oh dear heavens, bring me my walker and bifocals right now.  I can't help imagining a very special Golden Girls episode with this title.

If I had more ambition, I'd Photoshop myself in this picture.

Another title I'll acquired in this pregnancy:  Grand Multipara.   That sounds more impressive and respectful.  This is the medical definition of a woman who has delivered five or more children who were over 20 weeks at delivery.  Unfortunately, some doctors consider this "high risk".  Fortunately some other doctors only consider it "higher risk", and those are the doctors I am going to listen to.

And to top it all off, I've got three C-sections under my belt (literally) and this next one will also be a C-section.  4 Big ones also qualifies for "high risk", too.

Google maternal mortality, and you'd stay awake at night, too.

Now, none of these factors are actually a surprise to me and I made an informed decision before this pregnancy that there are risks in life and I am willing to accept the risk of this pregnancy.  That doesn't mean I can't have a few freak out sessions.

And that isn't even factoring in the risk to baby.  Yes, I am referring to the increase risk of genetic issues a baby can have once a mother is an ancient 37 like I am.  Which is why it is standard procedure to have genetic testing done in the first trimester.

Every mother has to make the decision to test or not to test.  My choice has never been to test.  The initial tests can be inconclusive, requiring more invasive tests that have a small chance of harming the baby.  That is not a risk I am willing to take.

I can see the appeal of mentally preparing yourself for a child who may face additional challenges in life.  Honestly, I'd rather know ahead of time, too.  But not at the expense of potentially hurting the baby.  And having inconclusive results would drive me crazy the whole pregnancy.

And now that I have been in the special needs adoptive community for years, I sometimes forget that most babies are born without additional medical needs.  Even to old women like me.  

Today I have my ultrasound.  Like every mother, I am praying that my child won't face additional challenges in life.

But my biggest prayer isn't that my child is born "perfectly healthy".  I know there are so very many children who may have medical needs and conditions and are still a tremendous, immeasurable blessing.  My child will be a blessing, no matter what - fearfully and wonderfully made.

So, my prayer is more for my benefit than my child's.  Whatever our child's health status, I pray that God will help me to rise to the challenge of raising this blessing.  Whether there are physical issues or not.  Whether there are mental issues or not.  Whether the child is temperamental or easy going.  Whether the child is a good sleeper or not.

I am just hoping God will equip me to be the mother this child needs.