Fast Forward – One Year Later

Yes, it has been a year. Can you believe it?? On November 12th, 2010 we were greeted at the Nashville airport by a small group of family and friends as we ended one journey and began another. I know it is an often-used clichΓ© but time really has flown.

I’m not really sure what to do with this post. If you have followed this blog, you know what has gone on this year so I don’t really feel the need to rehash. Maybe I should turn it into a “What I wish I would have known” post? Maybe a little of both.

Adoption is a journey that really never ends just like having biological children. You do the best you can as a parent and hope that when the time comes for them to leave the nest and enter the world on their own you have taught them how to survive, how to live, how to prosper and be happy in whatever path they choose.

Although at times I did ask myself what we had gotten into πŸ™‚ I wouldn’t change a thing. There are some things I have learned along the way that have made me a different (hopefully better) person and mother. I have learned to rejoice in the small things. The very small things. I never thought I would be cheering when my child learned how to use a straw or marvel that he can blow his nose on his own. I have slowed down and learned to be patient. Yes, carrying Grant up the stairs is much faster than having him walk up, but the 10 minutes it takes for him to walk up the stairs on his own is only strengthening his leg muscles and improve coordination. It’s way easier to feed him something messy like yogurt but after relinquishing the spoon and consistently letting him feed himself, he can now actually get the product to his mouth without turning the spoon. (Another celebration moment!)

I get teary as I think about how my daughters have grown as well. They are truly amazing and patient and kind no matter how many times Grant hits or makes his “huffy” sound indicating that he doesn’t want anything to do with them. They know just what to do to make him smile after an injury or sing and laugh when things aren’t going his way. They have consistently had to wait or do something on their own while either myself or their Daddy has to attend to Grant. They love him unconditionally.

There are times when I am driving down the road and I glance in the rear-view mirror and just catch myself marveling at how Grant is my son. It really is surreal at times. I was very lucky during our adoption journey; I had “met” several people online and in person who had adopted, had adopted internationally,had adopted a child or children with special needs or had done all of the above. I had a lot of good advice and knew a little bit about what to expect. For those of you in the process, I just want to mention some of the things that I feel like are the most important:

*Spend quality time with the children you have at home before you travel. We all know you aren’t going to love them any less but bringing a sibling home is very stressful for them as well. They WILL go through periods of insecurity no matter how well you prepare them before you leave. Our children were older (9 and 12) and they still had a hard time, especially at the beginning. Yes, it is somewhat like bringing a biological baby home from the hospital but your adopted child is going to need EVEN MORE of your attention because they have spent ___ years (insert his/her age) not knowing what a family is like or not knowing what having parents is like and you are going to have to default to their needs for a LONG time to foster attachment and bonding. Your children at home need to be prepared for this.

*Bulk up before you travel. πŸ™‚ I think I lost a good 10 pounds from the stress. (Yes, in case you are wondering – I have gained it all back!) I’m not saying its bad stress but it is an extremely stressful time. You are in a foreign country, eating (or not eating) foreign food and you are about to meet a child that you have agreed to adopt THAT YOU HAVE NEVER MET. You are jet-lagged and may feel sad, euphoric, elated, happy or angry all on the same day. You are constantly converting rupees, yen, pounds, lira or HK dollars to US dollars in your head all the while trying to make a good impression on your guide/interpreter thinking that at anytime she/he may decide that you are unfit to parent the child you just spent 20 hours on plane to come and get. I’m just trying to drive home the fact that it is stressful – is it working? πŸ˜‰

*Have frozen meals prepared for your return. I cannot thank my coworkers enough for supplying our food every single night for the first week that we were home. We were jet-lagged, Grant was sick, we were all still trying to get to know each other and the last thing I wanted to do was plan and make dinner much less grocery shop. Thank you Summit L&D staff!

*I highly recommend “cocooning”. I did this with Grant after we arrived home. Similar to what you do with a new-born, we limited our trips out for about 6 weeks. Yes, I was going a little stir crazy but my son’s world had just been rocked to its core and the last thing he needed was to run to Walmart for sensory overload for a package of toilet paper. If you can, trade off with your spouse for the errands and let your child adjust to the new language, new home, new smells, new sounds and well just generally a new world.

*Speaking of new world, I have told some of you this analogy in person but don’t know if I have put it on the blog or not. If I have it is worth repeating. I did not make this up myself but I’m not sure where I heard it to give credit. An adoption is much like an alien abduction. Think about it; one day you are playing with the ball you like to play with or eating lunch in the orphanage where you have always eaten when these strange looking people enter the room. They pick you up (depending on your size), hug you, cry and keep speaking in a language you have never heard. They take you away. They take you on a spaceship to a place you have never been. Everyone talks like them and you don’t understand a word. They food is all different, the smells are different and everything looks different. Everything you thought was normal is gone. Pretty traumatic to say the least. Don’t forget that your happy moment is going to be terrifying for your child.

Anyway, as I said before I wouldn’t change a thing and YES – I would do it all over again. I love Grant with all of my heart just like his big sisters. He has grown so much this year and I know he will continue to surprise us by all he can do. I look forward to his future as well as the future of my daughters with great excitement. No, I’m not wishing the time away anymore like I was doing in the paperwork stage. Instead I am savoring every moment no matter how quickly it passes.

~Amy

Taking the bad with the good

There has been plenty of good in our house lately:

*Grant is growing like a weed!! At his 3 year check-up, he had gained 6 pounds and 4 inches since coming home! I was so happy with his height growth. The doctor was pleased with both but I was hoping for a bigger weight gain. He still wears 18-24 month clothes but at least now they don’t fall off of him. πŸ™‚

*He loves school. He goes every morning but Wednesdays from 7am until 10am. He just walks right in after hugging my legs and sits down with his new friends to eat breakfast. I get a note home when I pick him up about his day and how he did and it always says “Grant did great!”

*He is imitating more and more sounds. He absolutely LOVES to sing along to the radio. He also mimics when we read to him and do nursery rhymes. He is adding more words to his vocabulary every day. He also knows at least 30 signs and uses them appropriately. (most of the time) His favorite?? ELEPHANT! He will see a squirrel out the window and sign elephant and make a noise like an elephant. For those of you who know the elephant sign, I’m sure this gives you a chuckle. You make your hand like the trunk of an elephant and then raise it up in the air while making a noise like an elephant. Quite comical when you are looking at a squirrel. πŸ˜€

*We had a wonderful fall break in a cabin at Big South Fork. I had never been before but it is off the beaten path, less populated and just as nice as the Smokey Mountains. We really enjoyed just hanging out with each other, swinging on the porch swing, playing checkers, roasting marshmallows over the fire pit, hiking and horseback riding. It was so relaxing… (Mama and Grant had naptime while Daddy and the girls rode horses.)

*We now have a teenager in the house! Claire turned 13 on October the 12th. It was so nice to still be on fall break so we could celebrate with her the whole day.

October is officially Down Syndrome Awareness month and there are so many positives about Ds. First of all, I have said it before and I will say it again but Grant has truly IMMENSELY enriched our lives! We are all changed because of him and I think most people are after they spend time with him. I am so excited and privileged to get to watch him grow and develop and I am so PROUD that he is my son. Wow, what an honor to be chosen as his mother. People with Ds are really more like us than different from us and you realize that after just spending a few minutes with someone with Ds.

Unfortunately, children as well as adults with Ds are more susceptible to certain diseases or other conditions. That doesn’t mean that every person with Down syndrome will develop something else but some do. That is why children with Ds have routine blood tests or xrays more frequently than typically developing children. Some of the things that are more common with children who have Ds are congenital heart defects, (Grant was born with Tetrology of Falot – a potentially fatal condition of the heart if not corrected. It was surgically corrected in 2 steps, the last one being in February of 2010. He may someday also need a heart valve repair or replacement but we are hoping not), thyroid problems (Grant has hypothyroid which he takes medication for daily), digestive issues, childhood leukemia, sleep apnea and the list goes on. Children without Ds can also be born with or develop any of these illnesses.

I think every parent hopes in the back of her mind that if a child has one or two of the above mentioned things that maybe, just maybe they won’t get any of the others. I know I was hoping for that to be the case. At Grant’s 3 year check up the routine blood work was drawn and Grant’s celiac panel was extremely positive. The cut-off number for a high normal is 50 and his was 83 meaning that there is a high likelihood that he has celiac disease. The test is not definitive until Grant has a GI scope and a tissue sample is taken and biopsied. I’m not too thrilled with that part as no parent would be. I hate the thought of Grant being put to sleep and then waking up in a strange place with strangers all around him. I also hate the thought of him having celiac disease. Those of you who are familiar with it may think it’s no big deal. A lot of people go gluten-free because they want to. It supposedly is good for a host of medical problems including migraine headaches. It is one thing to want to do it and another thing entirely to have to do it.

Imagine cutting out everything that has wheat in it. Everything. Bread, pasta, gravy, crackers (including goldfish – a staple at our house), cereal, cake. I know we can do it though. I just had to have a pitty party after I heard the news. It lasted for about 24 hours.

One of the first people I called was my friend Dawn. She was introduced to me by a coworker. She has a daughter, Bella, with Down syndrome. Bella and Grant have a playdate about twice a month at Chick-fil-a while the mamas get to talk. She is a wealth of information and has always made me feel good about Grant’s development and what we are doing to help him reach his full potential. I wanted to call her because I knew she might know someone else who has a child with celiac that she could put me in touch with. I also knew that she would make me feel like it is something that we could handle and it would be ok. She gave me some information and just as I thought she would make me feel like I could handle it. Even though the chick-fil-a would probably be a no-no because I’m pretty sure the breading on the chicken contains wheat :-(.

The next day, my pitty party was over. Dawn texted me and said that she was at Vanderbilt with Bella. Bella had just been diagnosed with leukemia. It makes celiac disease seem like small potatoes. Will you please say a prayer for this sweet, vibrant, smart little 3 year-old? Her chances of surviving this are excellent but it is a long, hard road.

Will you also please consider sponsoring us or walking with us in the Middle Tennessee’s Buddy Walk? It is October 22nd and is only a mile :-). All money raised is used to fund programs, research, support groups and bring awareness to people with Down sydrome. After the pictures below, I’m going to try to post a link again to our page. WordPress didn’t cooperate last time so if it’s not a link, just cut and paste the address into your browser. Every little bit helps no matter how “small” you think it is. If you can’t donate anything right now – come and walk with us! Just join our team on the fundraising page so we know you are coming and you can get a tshirt.

Well, now some pictures of some of our fall activities. I hope you all are having a good month! We are really enjoying these fall temperatures….

Thanks for reading,
~Amy

Since you have been so patient — a video!

Ok, so ignore the mess in the background and the terrible rendition of the Elmo song πŸ˜‰

Mmmmm

Purple cake really is the best!

Notice my new fork skills.... πŸ˜‰

Enjoying the porch swing

Checkers anyone?

a father enjoying a quite trail with his daughters

an almost totally vertical staircase in the woods

This is how we roll πŸ™‚

Hiking Family

The carrier always puts him to sleep. Sweet boy.

I think I'll stay down here and take the pictures....

Beautiful view from the window seat, outside the cabin - and inside the cabin.

Life

is hectic and I know by now you are used to updates without pictures so this one will be no different. I’m sorry about the lack of pics but I promise to make up for that in the next post. I figured a post with no pictures is better than no post at all right??

I just wanted to update you and let you know what is going on with us. School is in full swing in the Allen household and that will also be true for Grant starting tomorrow. He will start preschool every day except Wednesdays from 7am until 10am. Yes, that is early but that is what time elementary schools in our county start. 😦 He will be going to an elementary school close to us (not the closest which would be Lauren’s) that has a special needs preschool program. There are only 2 schools in our city that have such a program. He will be getting OT twice a week, PT once a week and Speech twice a week at school and then once outside of school as well. We feel like this is his area of greatest need and want to do all that we can in that regard. The rest of the time will be spent with his classmates doing everything that a 3-year-old boy should do :-). There are 6 children in his class including Grant. 2 have Down syndrome and 4 are “typically” developing children. I really think it is a win-win situation. The children who do not have any special needs, or who are “typically” developing, learn that everyone is different and that some children need a little extra help with things. They learn compassion and patience and that children with Down syndrome are really more like them than different. The boys (yes both are boys with Ds – say a little prayer for the teacher πŸ™‚ ) have children in the classroom to model good behavior like taking turns and waiting in line. The “boys” also have someone to look to that will be able to jump with both feet, run outside and climb rock walls so that in modeling that behavior, the children with special needs will be able to learn even faster. I think he will love it.

I can’t even tell you how fast Grant is growing both physically and mentally. Physically, he has grown 4 inches and gained 6 pounds since coming home! That is huge. His doctor was so happy with those numbers and so was I. He sings now all the time – he sings to songs on the radio that he is listening to for the first time. He tries to mimic what you are saying including any hand gestures. He is always a few seconds behind when he is singing or “talking” because he is imitating what he just heard. His favorite song? Moves like Jaggar by Maroon 5 πŸ˜€ Anyway, I hope to have a video on here with the next post demonstrating his amazing singing abilities… ha ha!

Grant turned 3 yesterday. It was so great to get to be with him for his birthday! I thought back to last year and how we celebrated without him by singing and having cupcakes. We are actually celebrating Grant’s birthday on Saturday so I will post pictures after we blow out the candles. We are keeping it pretty low key – just cake, candles,presents and family – isn’t that the most important part anyway? We did sing to him a lot yesterday though and he loved chiming in on the “to you” part of the song – too cute.

We are walking in the Buddy Walk this year. We would love to have you walk with us if you live in the area. It is a really fun, laid back event with a 1 mile walk to raise awareness about Down syndrome. Just leave a comment or email me if you want more information. You can also click on the link below.

I hope you all have a great hump day!
~Amy
http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/Allen5/dsamts14thannualbuddywalk

Walk this way….

The Allen family is doing the Buddy Walk this year! I’m sure the weather will be beautiful so come and walk with us and show your support for Grant as well as for the many others in the Nashville area who were blessed to be born with an extra chromosome!

We would love your support so just click on the link below to walk with us or donate to the Down Syndrome Association of Middle Tennessee!

Grant says “Thank you!”

Team Grant

Not Pretty

So Grant turns 3 next month. For those of you who do not have a child with a “disability”, you may not know that 3 is the magic age where all private and in-home therapies stop and the child transitions instead to a public preschool for his or her therapies. Through the Americans with Disabilities Act, from birth to age 3 each state picks up the tab for therapies after your private insurance pays for what they are going to pay for. After age 3, the therapies are all still provided, just in a group or school setting. I have mixed feelings about this which I will talk about in a minute.

We had to go to our closest elementary school yesterday (it also happens to be Lauren’s school) so the psychologist could meet with Grant and he could be tested. I forgot the name of the test but it is a common one that tests the child’s ability to stack blocks, match colors, verbalize shapes, etc. Grant has taken this test before when it was given to him by his home pre-school teacher. First of all, this is a traveling psychologist so this isn’t a child friendly room we are meeting in. There is A/V equipment all over the place (read “toys”) as well as stacks of books and boxes of teacher’s manuals. There is also a sensor for the light switch that will turn the lights off after 30 seconds if there is no motion in the room. This is a windowless room. When you are testing a child on the floor, the sensors don’t pick up your activity. Yep.

So anyway, he was terrible. He wasn’t in a great mood to begin with and he wanted nothing to do with the psychologist. He kept jerking his arm away and “humfing” if you know what I mean. He was fussy, didn’t want to sit still and wanted to investigate the VCRs and cables that were all around him. When he would finally focus enough to stack blocks, the lights would go out and it would be pitch black. I’m not joking. I really don’t see how it could have been much worse. All the time that this is going on, I’m filling out another “test” form for him to judge where he is cognitively. There are questions on the form like “Does your child save his or her money to buy a gift for a friend?” Really? Do typically developing 2 year-olds do this??

After we were done, I assured the psychologist that he normally was not like this and hadn’t felt well in the last few days. I told her everything he could do and watched her smile and nod her head. I don’t know if she believed me or not. I told her how far he had come in just 9 short months and that his father and I really believed he was a quick learner and was going to really excel in school. Again, a nod and a smile. Whatever.

As we were leaving, I wondered if it really mattered. Next year, when he takes the same test, he will take it in a familiar environment (his preschool room) with a familiar person (his preschool teacher). I am thinking the results might be a tad better then…. If this test was deciding Kindergarten placement and how much time would be spent in a regular classroom instead of the CDC room, I think I would have insisted on retesting him in a different environment on a day that he was feeling his best.

I am really undecided still on the whole preschool thing but yesterday did show me one thing. Grant does not really interact that well with people he does not know. I guess you could say his social skills are lacking and the only thing that will fix that is being around his peers. I don’t want him to be “that” child who is not social and hits or bites when he is intimidated or frustrated. I get that socialization is also a part of education and one that he really needs right now. I guess, in my mind, he is still a baby and I have a hard time sending him to school right in the middle of his nap time 4 days a week. He will go from 11 – 2 everyday except Wednesday. He will receive occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy at school. We will probably also be continuing private speech therapy since this is an area that also needs a lot of work.

He will start school the day after he turns 3; September 21st. I do think it will be good for him after he gets used to it. I think maybe it’s just me that is having issues. I am thankful that we will have had 10 months together at home before he turned 3. I know we have bonded as anyone who sees Grant with his family will tell you. That’s not really the issue either. I just feel like he is still so young, a “baby”. Although he is turning 3. Sigh….

Thoughts? Comments?

Thanks,
~Amy

Summer Break

is over :-(. We had a great but short summer. I took a break from the blog as well just to keep up with 3 kids on the move….

We enjoyed days at the pool, seeing how tall our sunflowers would grow (Lauren’s got the full sun, Claire’s only part sun) a trip to Grammy’s house in Knoxville and a visit to Grant’s Great-Grandmother in Winchester, VA. She is 96 years old and was really looking forward to meeting her youngest great-grandchild. Grant got tubes in his ears, we went to a Cross family reunion in Jonesborough, TN and had a wonderful day on a farm playing with 1st, 2nd and 3rd cousins. πŸ™‚ We ended our summer with a trip to the beach. Grant wasn’t too sure about the crashing waves of the ocean, but loved playing in the sand and swimming in the pool. I’ll just let the pictures tell the story for this post. I hope you had a great summer too!

Cousin fun with Silly String!

I can teach you patty cake....

Fun at the Family Reunion!

a nature walk with Grammy

The girls trying to avoid cow patties πŸ™‚

Farm tours with the Gator!

Lovely view of the farm from one of the swings

Lauren's sunflowers

Claire's sunflowers

Fun on the beach!

Wave Riding

I like the view from right here, thank you πŸ™‚

All of my beach babies...

Like father, like son

Life is Good!

Court

Ok, so I’m a little behind.

On May 31st we walked into a Wilson County courtroom and made it official. I didn’t really know what to expect. I mean, this was just a formality right? Well, we were supposed to be there at 9:00am and the judge was 30 minutes late. To top that off, he didn’t hear our case first! So here we are with a squirmy 2-year-old that has already been sitting in a hard pew for 30 minutes and we have to wait an additional 25 minutes while the judge granted a continuance on a workman’s comp case. He did apologize when it was our turn for making us wait. Ok, so it’s time for the Allen family to approach the bench. We had to raise our right hands and promise to tell the truth and then answer a series of questions from the judge. Our attorney just smiled and said that the correct answers were all “yes” so that is what we said;

Do we promise to raise Grant as a child who was biologically born to us? Yes.
Do we promise to include him in our financial inheritance just as our natural-born children? Yes.
Do we promise to support him emotionally, financially and religiously? Yes.
Do we promise to love him always? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Grant was very serious and looked at the judge without smiling. I think he knew something was going on just not exactly what. That will be a story for the future. A story of how Grant came to be born in our hearts from thousands of miles away. A story of how his Mommy and Daddy traveled around the world to get him and how it all came full circle on this very special day.

People have asked if it really mattered because he has been ours for 6 months anyway. It did matter. It feels permanent now, real. Not that it wasn’t real before but I can truly say he is my son and not have any shadow of a doubt in my heart that someone, somewhere might decide otherwise. There is nothing anyone can do to stop this process for now it is complete. Grant is an orphan no longer.



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