Monday, November 5, 2018

11 Months - Panda's first American Autumn

What! Has it seriously been almost a year with this guy?? (Ya'll, that tux. I just can't get over it!)

I went back and reread my post from a year ago and how difficult it was stepping out on faith, traveling across the world and having no idea what we were getting ourselves into! Oh, if we had only known then what an incredible little boy was waiting for us on the other side of that ocean.

October with a Panda

Blindly following in his sister's excitement, Panda was enthusiastically ready for his first pumpkin patch. It was beyond hilarious watching him discover pumpkins for the first time. Most of them were bigger than he was!

 And then of course you have to paint them...

We also got the joy of Panda's first Halloween! He took right to trick-or-treating. He confidently walked up to doors and knocked. As soon as someone opened the door, he cocked his little head to the side and sang in his little panda voice, "Hellooooo!" He of course followed it up with a "trick-or-treat," but then after receiving candy, he wouldn't leave. He didn't understand why we weren't invited in to hang out. It kind of makes sense, really. He wasn't there for the candy...just the company!  :)
He had two costumes this year - one for our trunk-or-treat on the 30th and one for trick-or-treating on the actual 31st.

It's crazy that even after 11 months we are still having so many firsts with this little guy! Thanksgiving will be a blast. He is very into having lots of family around, although when everyone leaves he gets a little depressed. He has instantly understood the concept of family and the difference between family and friends, which is impressive to me. I've mentioned before how he loves so intensely, and he really does love our extended family with an all-out fierceness. 

Panda wants to discuss family constantly. Everything can be made into a family.  If we are shopping, the 5 rolls of wrapping paper in the cart are a family. There's a Mommy wrapping paper, a Daddy wrapping paper, a Panda, a Ladybug, and then, usually, a Grandma.  All stuffed animals must have a mommy stuffed animal. If we see a baby anywhere when out and about, he needs to know where his mommy is. He prefers for our family to always be in the same room and if possible, somehow wearing matching colors. Because. That's what families do.

I love how much he loves family. He never takes family for granted, and really neither does Ladybug. They both just crave time as a family. Their emphasis on family has continued to shape the way I view our time together and the way we live our lives.

Panda Awesomeness:

Eating and Drinking - He loves to eat and now drink! So exciting. He has begun to try some new foods and be a little less suspicious. He also tasted his first piece of pie this month. Needless to say, he was a fan!

Activity - He is always on the go! He is learning to climb, run, squat, dance, and jump.  Hips or no hips, he loves his freedom!

Sister - Gosh, the longer he is home, the closer they grow.  The first thing he asks for in the morning now is Ladybug, and when in a funk, she's usually the only one who can help him climb back out. They adore each other! In fact, they are so much on the same wave length that when one is being mischievous, the other is right there at their side.  There isn't a lot of sibling tattling going on...more just partners in crime!

The Great Outdoors - Panda has not only adjusted to the concept of being outside, he now embraces it! He still is hesitant for the first couple of minutes near grass, but it doesn't take long until he lets loose and joyfully runs (or rolls) through it! 
He is a mosquito magnet like nothing I've ever seen. The whole family will be sitting outside having a relaxing Saturday lunch with not a mosquito in sight. Except for the 5 swarming Panda's face.  Seriously, not a single one on any of the rest of us. If anyone has any recommendations for a better mosquito repellent cocktail for cute little people, please let me know! We've tried so many...

Panda Challenges:
I'm going to skim over this section this month as I feel like it would just be repetitive. Our challenges are still all in the same general arena as the past months: sleeping, fears of abandonment,  medical challenges, and some signs of trauma in different areas of life. All in all though, things are constantly heading in the right direction. Our Panda is learning and adjusting like a BOSS.

What's that you say? You need more pictures of a Panda in a tux? Happy to oblige...

I just want to eat him up!

A little over a month from now is Panda's Gotcha Day!!! We are excited to celebrate! From what I understand, Gotcha Day is maybe even a bigger deal than a birthday, especially since the birthday we have is a guess anyway. We will have cake, presents, and some good ol' fashioned family time, a Panda favorite. =)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Will We Adopt Again?

I'm sure you've noticed that families who adopt tend to do it again, and again, and again...

I'm not going to lie.  It's addicting.  There's something about a child whom you grow to love and adore, knowing that they were without anyone, any love.  It breaks your heart and fills it all at the same time.  Once you have that baby in your arms, it almost kills you to think how many more there are out there.  That could have easily been my baby destined to a life without a family should I have chosen not to go down this path.

I am finding myself becoming an advocate for adoption - something I had never planned.

To be completely honest, when we began this process, it was 99% selfish.  Basically, we wanted a second child and knew there were children all over the world who didn't have a family.  It just made sense.  And I don't think there's anything wrong with that.  But throughout the past 3 years of this process, God has been changing my heart regarding adoption.  Having a Panda in my arms on a daily basis has made the call to care for "the least of these" so much more real and tangible.
"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me...Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my  brothers, you did it to me." Matthew 25:35-40

Here's an interesting/disturbing fact: There were 153 million orphans in the world as of 2016.

153 million.

I think we can all agree that one child with no home, love, or parents is one child too many.  What I think happens is we become paralyzed with a number of this size. 153 million! That's beyond me. What can I even do to put a dent in that? And so we leave it to the experts. We leave it to organizations and missionaries and "the people who have been called."

And yet Christians are commanded in the Bible to serve the poor, the orphans, the widow.  That is the call.
Luke 12:48 says, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." 

There are so many needs: homelessness, families in poverty, widows needing support, children in need of a steady and reliable mentor, orphans, and so much more. I've been asking myself since we got our little Panda Bear - what is the Lord's will for us next? Are we to go down this path again? There are so many babies in need of a family, of a life, of hope. I can't tell you how many people have told me in the past 6 months, "Oh! I've always wanted to adopt!" I believe God puts that desire in our hearts for a reason.

So to finally answer my question: Will we adopt again? Hmmm... not sure yet.  The Duke and I are constantly revisiting this subject.  At this point in our lives, we have our hands full!  Adopting Panda has been a beautiful, perspective-shifting event in our lives.  I think the Duke and I can agree that our lives have taken a turn from our original "plan."  I'm realizing the Lord calls us to be a part of His plans, and His plans are much bigger, much more challenging and life-altering than our own.  I do know the act of adoption has left its mark on us, and I believe we will be very involved in adoption in the future, however that ends up looking for us.

Month 9 and 10- New diagnosis

After finishing my last post, I came to the quick realization that we needed to wave the white flag and surrender our mission of teaching Panda to sleep in his bedroom. It must be too early, and if there's anything I've learned in the past 9 months, it is that Panda is ready when he's ready. And he's just not there yet!

We moved him back into our room in his own little bed and it was like a light switch - he immediately began sleeping soundly again and allowing us to lay him down and walk out of the room. Our days have improved quite a bit, although our mornings are still a bit choppy. He still has his freak-out moments, but that's to be expected! He's still learning and growing and adjusting and working through his past.

There seem to be 3 things bring unparalleled joy to/set off our little Panda:

1. Freedom to move and play
2. Being held and loved by a parent
3. Having the whole family together in one room

Bonus points for all three at once!

When in public and Panda is getting the opportunity to move about freely and explore new territory, you'll see unbridled joy! His excitement is contagious and it's only a matter of minutes before he has everyone in his vicinity laughing along with him. ( waiting rooms, grocery stores, the church hallway, the library, etc.) You've never seen a happier kid! It's even difficult for close friends to imagine his face with anything but that bright smile on it due to the joy he exudes when out and about.

This also means that when one of these three is missing, the others must be amplified to keep him from panicking. He's adjusted to the Duke being at work during the week, but he is never quite himself until he returns in the evenings. Ladybug began going to preschool this month and it has been quite a challenge - he plunged into depression the first week. I thought he was coming down with something and was continually taking his temperature, as he wouldn't eat, play, walk, or talk. But when we picked her up, he suddenly came to life, squealing and tackling her in the hallway. That's when it clicked - part of his family was missing! Poor baby. He's adjusting to his sister's short absences, but not quickly and not without major distraction efforts on Mom's part. Even after a good month they still have the sweetest reunions in the preschool hallway when they see each other after class!

This same theory holds if his freedom of movement is removed - for example when he is held down at any doctor appointment or procedure. Any 3 year old would panic when held down, and then add in his early trauma, and you get a whole new level of not-okay. He has finally adjusted to sitting in my lap or the Duke's to read a book or pray without panic, but if anyone else tries to physically hold him still, his eyes travel back in time and we totally lose him.

We have received a new diagnosis for our little Bear. Adopting brings along a whole bucket of medical surprises, and we were mentally prepared for that as we have experienced something similar with Ladybug. It is almost never just one simple diagnosis! Adopting internationally has the added bonus of maybe even getting incorrect diagnosis to begin with. (We expected Panda to be moderately hearing impaired...he's not.)

I mentioned he has been diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency, which comes along with its own extra health complications. He also has Nystagmus (an eye issue), some brain trauma, and now we've learned he has hip displacement. This is going to be a long-term physical issue that will affect him throughout his childhood and adult life, requiring hip replacement surgeries as he ages. Huge bummer for the little guy as of course, it won't be as simple as a few surgeries. It will involve quite a bit of pain, physical therapy, a lack of ability to walk or run normally, and a whole other slew of issues.

Every time my children are diagnosed with a new ailment or disease, my heart breaks for them.  I hate the thought of Panda spending years in incredible pain as he waits for his next hip surgery. I hate the thought of him not being able to participate in sports with his peers or possibly play on the playground with his friends as he ages, especially considering his special relationship with movement.  I hate the thought of Ladybug undergoing a blood infusion every two weeks for the rest of her life and the surgeries that accompany that.  I hate that their medical lives will continue into adulthood and that there's no easy end in sight.

I hate it.

But there's another side to the coin. I love and appreciate so much. I'm the crazy mom in the crowd at Little Gym crying my eyes out because my baby ran across the room and did a forward roll. My heart just fills to the brim when the kids are playing and running in the backyard because they are both physically capable right now. Every single day is so precious and a reason to celebrate.  I think I would have a totally different outlook on life and parenting had things been smooth and all of our children were healthy. With my type A personality, I would get swept up in the day-to-day responsibilities so much easier (not that I don't still struggle with that). I wouldn't take nearly as much time to get on the floor and just play, or block out weekends to spend as a family. In a strange way, having babies with extra struggles keeps my mind and eyes on things above and less on the things of the earth. I find myself thanking God more now than I ever have and enjoying the beauty of the small things. In our weaknesses we have no choice but to lean on the Lord, and despite how much I hate the brokenness of this situation, I'm finding I am more filled with love than ever before. Thank God for that!

Panda challenges:

Nightmares - His nightmares are still pretty vivid when they happen and stick with him for about 24 hours. He's usually pretty upset for the next day or two and doesn't want to play or be put down. Due to the intenseness of his reaction to them, we tend to believe the nightmares must contain some very real memories. They are pretty rough.

Panda awesomeness:

Food - Panda eats and drinks like a little champ! Still working on adding a variety of veggies and fruit into his diet, but he's pretty much already comfortable knowing where his next meal is coming from and is now willing to at least try new foods.

Drink - He has finally begun to drink actual volume! Granted our bar is low as Ladybug has never been a big drinker and we are always cheering the kids on with their drinking. (She needs a certain amount of Fiji water for her seizures.) This is one of those areas where I so appreciate watching a random toddler at the park suck down an entire sippy cup of water in one sitting. I always get a strange look from the mom when I compliment what a great little drinker she has! Haha...I actually get a lot of strange looks when I compliment other moms and children. Weirdo.

Sleep - Haha! This makes me laugh now. Sleeping pretty well in Mom and Dad's room minus his occasional nightmares. Check out his little Panda Cove:
Language - He's continuing to pick up on the language incredibly quickly. His cognitive processing skills are crazy high - it's so cool to watch!

Behavior - Panda is so eager to please. Just like any 3 year old he has his moments, but his people-pleasing personality mixed with his uncanny ability to read the room make for a kiddo with minimal behavior issues.

Travel - Little Panda has been on a total of 10 flights in the past year. He's an old pro now and is in love with airplanes! He is constantly playing airplane at  home with a random object. Which brings me to another strength of his...

Imagination! - This is another one of those things I so appreciate in children as it has been a major area of developmental delay in Ladybug (which transfers to so many other areas of life...reading comprehension, problem solving by imagining multiple outcomes of different choices, etc.) Little Panda ROCKS his imaginative play. He is almost always playing out a scenario, from airplane to giving baby horse a shot to feeding a baby doll his bottle. It is beyond beautiful!! I can not tell you how much it feeds my soul to see him pretending to hold something that isn't there or create his own story. I've read entire books on this subject to better understand the neurological side of it and how we can better help Ladybug develop these skills that come so naturally to other children.  It's amazing what God designs as "natural" in the brain that we so often overlook. There are so many complex simultaneous brain processes happening during pretend play!

He thought he was hilarious and called me into the room for this spectacular photo op!

Monday, August 20, 2018

7-8 Months - two steps forward, one step back

After 7 months with us, we took the plunge and moved little Panda upstairs into his room. With a caveat - the Duke is sleeping on a mattress on the floor right next to his bed to ease the transition. We have been having him play and nap in his room, so we felt he was familiar with it and hopefully the shift would be seemingly small in his mind.


Turns out we tipped Panda's world upside down. His behavior - day and night- reverted back to month #1, and then some.  He cries when put down during the day, he doesn't want to play by himself anymore, melt-downs galore, his nightmares and bedtime neediness have returned, etc.  It's been pretty crazy around here! Poor little guy.

The first few months after adoption we expected this behavior and had modified our lifestyle and our schedule to accommodate Panda's emotional needs.  We cacooned. I kept my phone in the other room, and family/friends knew that I would be tough to get a hold of.   Our amazing church group was delivering us meals or we ordered take-out.  Our house was a mess, but I didn't care - cooking, cleaning, and basic life outside of the home all came second.  My time and attention were reserved for my kids. And both children have grown and flourished and done amazingly well!

This time I was caught unprepared. We still have daily appointments and commitments. Meals are now cooked, not delivered.  The house couldn't stay a mess forever! Friends and family are wondering if we fell off the face of the planet.  And worst of all, we had fallen into a mindset of a different lifestyle - one that was busy and packed full of activities.

Panda's emotional needs and time needs have greatly increased. He is now requiring me to sit with him from 5-6:30 a.m. with my hand on his back while he sleeps,  hold him throughout his entire nap again, and sit with him for an hour at night while he tries to get to sleep. I've lost five hours of my day. Then while awake, he's clinging to my leg while I cook dinner, crying and hanging on me while I try to run to the restroom, and completely panicking when I set him down to try to help Ladybug into the car.  I know all children go through something similar around age one - a separation anxiety of sort. We went through that with Ladybug when she was younger.  This is very different. It is much more intense and severe.  I have to remind myself that his birth mama actually did set him down one day and never came back.  That literally changes the wiring of a child's brain. He will not learn in a simple month or even a year that he can trust we will never leave him. He's been there, done that.  It will take so much more time and prayer than a simple few months or even years with us. He's been through so much that we will never understand, and something has triggered his fight-or-flight response. He's showing all his stress signs - he twitches, rocks back and forth (semi-violently) in an effort to comfort himself, nightmares, and has overall just seems to have lost his smile.

And so I'm trying to find a harmony between cocooning and running a household and raising two children with specific medical and therapeutic needs. Even as I type this Panda is literally dead weight in my nap with his cheek resting on my wrist. His little head is bobbing up and down as I try to get my thoughts down. Comical, yes. Sad too, and quite frankly at times, a little frustrating. But it's a wake-up call. It's time for a life-style shift again!

I find myself desperately needing simplicity and to re-prioritize. With less time comes the opportunity to really focus in on only our very top priorities during waking hours. What a blessing, really, to be forced to reevaluate life and what specific things you value most.

We need to slow back down.
We are learning to say "no" more and more to guard our time as a family here at the house. Both kids absolutely crave intentional, focused family time. We have found that it is one of those things that if you don't intentionally block out time for it, it is shocking how it can slip away from you. The phone is being turned off or set in the other room again. (It's amazing how quickly I fell back into the routine of checking texts, etc. on a regular basis.)

We need to just play.
Being type A, I struggle with ignoring my To Do list and just sitting down to play with the kids, giving my full undivided attention. They get it when we are reading a book or working on speech here at home, but when it's just time for "play" with no particular agenda, I am usually distracted with my own things that need to get done. That has to change!

I need to remember that my time is not my own.
I miss having time to myself in the morning. I miss decompression time in the evenings. I want to do be able to do my yoga again. All of these things are important and valuable self-care routines. However, as life shifts we have to shift along with it. I haven't quite figured this one out, but I have been reminded that my time is not my own - God, the creator of the universe and of time, is the orchestrater of such things. I am learning to pray that the Lord will guide me to accomplish His goals for my day, not my own, and that I will adopt His priorities.

One of my favorite preachers said in a sermon I recently listened to (I have a lot of time hanging out in the dark with a sleepy Panda, so I get to listen to quite a few things!) said, "If we can get a handle on recognizing the disease of hurry and begin to walk in a better posture of slowness, godliness results." He went on to demonstrate through scripture how Jesus prioritized his limited time here on earth, and how He would turn down good things to do the most important things. This challenged me to think through the ways I spend my time throughout my week - what good things pull me away from the most important? Talk about something I need to hear over and over! I need to set that sermon on a monthly repeat...

Just a few adorable aspects and pictures of our little guy:

Panda Challenges:
see above. =)

Panda Awesomeness:
Language - the kid is an old pro with English right about now! Abstract concepts are still tough, but overall he's pretty much got it! His speaking is difficult to understand but is improving by the day.

Shots - He is handling his daily shots better and better! He seems to be taking them in stride at this point. Such a champ!

Love - Despite is daily and nightly challenges, Panda is still the most loving kid in the world. Nothing warms my heart like when he puts his little hands on either side of my face, looks me in the eye, and calls me Mommy. Seriously, I melt. He loves so hard, which just impresses the heck out of me. I don't think I would have that resilience and strength had I been in his situation. I love how God made him to be so open to love!

Monday, July 30, 2018

6 Months - Confidence Abound!

Our little guy is growing in his confidence daily! He cheers for himself when he feels proud, strides away from me securely at a birthday party to go play, and makes his voice known when he wants to wear something particular that day.  He's learning to feel proud or happy without Mom and Dad's constant attention or approval, which is happening much sooner than expected.  He's opinionated even if we disagree with his choices, which shows some incredible personality, will-power, and self-confidence.  Arguing with your three year old about what he wears that day is a headache to the average parent, but we rejoice in the growth we see in our Panda's self-worth! He is just awesome.

A few more of my favorite quirky Pandaisms:

1. I've learned to never leave clean laundry on the couch to be put away.  Panda cannot resist the temptation to put on whatever interests him the most - socks, shirts, panties...he doesn't discriminate.
Which brings me to my next point...

2. Any sock left laying around will quickly become Panda's sock puppet.  At any given time he usually has at least one sock on a hand.

3. If I wake him up from a nap before he is ready, it is likely I'll find him all curled up in the middle of the kitchen floor back to sleep. This cracks me up as Ladybug and I are not the kind of people who can sleep anywhere. It's a trait I love about him!

4. He loves to laugh. If anyone within earshot laughs, he joins right in wholeheartedly! Double points if he is the one making everyone else laugh.

5. He is quite particular about life.  Any trash found on the floor gets picked up and walked to the trashcan. His dirty clothes always get taken to the laundry basket. As to his toys, they seem to be put in the strangest places, but to his credit he always knows right where everything is!  I'll be playing picnic with him and all of the forks are missing. I'll ask, "Where are the forks?" He tells me "Right back!" and hurries away on a mission.  He'll walk right to the cabinet under our coffee machine where we keep our coffee paraphernalia and reach to the very back right corner of the cabinet. Behold! The forks! We find some strange things in some strange places.

All in all, it is amazing to see God heal our little guy. He spent about 3 years in an orphanage and now only about 6 months at home with his family, and the transformation is shocking.  Nothing is impossible for our God!

Panda Challenges:

Being Left
Panda is still not keen on being left in anyone else's care. We thought we would give the church child care a shot since he has just been doing so well and showing so much independence. We were oh-so-very wrong.  We've tried a few different things in different situations, but it doesn't look like it is going to happen any time soon.  In typical Panda fashion, he will let us know when he's ready.

Daily Shots
We are grateful our insurance has approved Panda's treatment for his Growth Hormone Deficiency. We will have to reapply every six months for the rest of his childhood and they will continue to fight us, but thus is the world of insurance!
Panda receives a shot every evening, administered by us, and will continue to receive it for at least the rest of his childhood. The shot is simply the growth hormone his body isn't creating.  How incredible is that?  Obviously he's struggling through it and is finding it very confusing as why the Duke and I would do this to him.  This would be a challenge with any kiddo, but adding in the language barrier and the brand-new-parent aspect, and he's downright lost.  I'm thankful we had 6 months to bond and build our relationship before we had to begin the injections.  He comes to us faithfully with a little tear in his eye when it's time to administer it, and clings tightly to me and the Duke afterward as he cries.  It's a good sign he isn't avoiding us afterward, and we know that in time it will become more routine.  But it's still a challenge non-the-less.

Panda had to go under anesthesia for a brain MRI recently, and it didn't go well.  His little airway is just too small apparently and it had a tough time staying open after they removed the breathing tube. It was a really scary couple of days. This is also a problem since there are a couple more procedures in his future, so we are praying that as he grows the prospect of anesthesia becomes less of a threat.

Panda Awesomeness:

We had our long awaited hospital dentist appointment (as the local pediatric dentists were a bit overwhelmed with us) and walked out with amazing news! His mouth full of cavities is not cavities at all, but calculus that can be scraped off over a series of regular check-ups. He won't have to be put under anesthesia as originally expected to have to deal with all of his cavities! PRAISE GOD!

So here's the deal. This is nothing short of a miracle. The last dentist we saw (whom I trust) said he had a mouth full of cavities, which I have no doubt he did. He had never had his teeth brushed and was drinking five bottles a day of the sugary formula the orphanages give. For THREE years! It's amazing his teeth aren't all rotten and falling out. The last dentist declared his case out of her league and sent us up the ladder to the hospital pediatric dentist down in the medical center. Plus, if you remember, it used to hurt Panda to eat or even have anyone touch his teeth. He would fight us like crazy when it came to tooth brushing and actually wouldn't even allow the local dentist to clean his teeth. Then all of a sudden, shortly after his local dentist appointment, the pain suddenly disappeared and he began chewing his food and allowing me to brush his teeth. It was the strangest thing.

My theory, you ask? How does a child who is in pain with a three year orphanage history under his belt suddenly, overnight, seemingly lose all pain in his mouth for no apparent reason?
I truly believe God healed his teeth. I think it was a miracle.
It was something we prayed for and God answered. And for that we are soooo thankful!

Panda stood up one day and decided he was not going to crawl ever again.  So funny. Usually kids ease into walking once they begin to figure it out.  Not Panda. It was all or nothing. He was so sore the next morning he couldn't even walk a few feet! He insisted on being carried, as crawling was so obviously for babies now. Watching his tiny figure walk around the house is beyond adorable, and he definitely gets love when we are out and about walking around. Even strangers stop and coo. Add that to his magnetic personality and he's a double threat!

A little handsomeness for you:

(Panda back asleep the other morning. Yes, he is wearing a kitchen glove and cuddling his plastic spoon.)

11 Months - Panda's first American Autumn

What! Has it seriously been almost a year with this guy?? (Ya'll, that tux. I just can't get over it!) I went back and reread ...