Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year, New Story

“Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.”
― Brad Paisley

I saw this quote this morning as I was perusing social media and it got me thinking about the story God has written in our lives over the past 365 days.  2014 was an amazing year in so many ways. Most especially brining our Litte A home from China.
In the grand scheme of life 365 days is not much. However, how we choose to use those days is really what determines their value.  Just a little over a month ago some friends of ours received the devastating news that their 2 year old has a terminal brain tumor.  Each day matters to them. Each hour makes a difference. They are not guaranteed another 365 days with their little one but neither are we.  We do not know the number of our days and for that reason we should be seeking to write a grand story with each one.
Today as the Christmas tree was put away, the new calendar displayed, the house tidied I reflected on our year. A year of challenges, a year of highs, a year of unexpected blessing. I thought about missed opportunities, the things I wanted to accomplish but didn't, the writing I had hoped to complete. I didn't dwell here long though because there were so many other things that did come to fruition. There were hugs, stories read, cuddles given, attachment, bonding, teaching and learning. There were huge parenting failures and many parenting successes.

Tomorrow we will begin with a blank page, each day an opportunity to write a story reflecting the love, grace and mercy of God.  I do not know what the end of 2015 will look like but I do know that I have 365 days to make a difference in the lives of those around me.  My hope is that at the end of 2015 I will look back and say "this was the best year yet!"

Monday, December 29, 2014

Long Days, Short Nights

Today marks 4 months since Little A's homecoming.  Four months! So very much has happened over these past 4 months that at times it seems as though she has been home much longer.

Little A is making strides in her language and physical development.  Each week we find ourselves being caught by surprise at something she says or attempts to do.  Just last night I caught her "running" for the first time.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  Our little girl who once struggled to walk, has significant balance issues, difficulty changing directions, etc. was running. I quickly pulled out my phone to video her for our physical therapist.  Speech and language also surprises us regularly.  Little A understands almost everything we tell her. She is clever and we can see her eyes dance with delight as she learns something new. In the past few weeks, Little A has learned to nod her head yes in response to our questions.  While this may not seem like a big deal to many this has definitely made communication a little bit easier.  She is quite the opinionated little one and not knowing what she wants at times can be frustrating on both sides. Now, thanks to her new found nod we can more often figure out what it is she wants or needs.  In taking a quick count of the words she has learned I had to laugh.  Almost all of them are related to food - hanbaobao (hamburger), bagel, apple, apple juice, apple sauce, banana, yogurt, pizza, rice, goldfish, cereal, jiaozi (dumplings) - you get the idea.  She still requires mama or big sister to translate - even for BaBa at times - but she is gaining new words and sounds each week.  Some of her other funny and favorite sayings are "no way" and "aww man" and they are most often used in regard to sleep.  Sleep is still our arch-nemesis.

If you would have told me that at 4 months home Little A would still not be sleeping through the night I would not have believed you.  Unfortunately, as this post is entitled, the Cooley household is full of LONG days and way too short nights.  While nighttime has gotten a little easier, I am still up with Little A 2-3 times a night. On top of that A and E are now sharing a room so E is also awoken several times a night. Sleep deprivation is no fun for anyone but we are surviving.

We are continuing to grow as a family and it is a joy to watch E embrace her role as big sister.  E is ever helpful, kind and compassionate toward A no matter how she is received.  It is a blessing and we are so proud of the way E loves her sister.  Just this morning E said to me, "Mama, when I grow up I want to be a therapist (PT, OT, Speech) so that I can help other kids like Mei Mei (little sister)."  Be still my heart!  My precious 6 year old's world has forever been changed by special needs adoption and for that I am so thankful.

For your viewing pleasure watch our girl run!


Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Thanksgiving Like No Other

How thankful we are to have our girl home for Thanksgiving this year!  As we look back and remember our prayers from 2 years ago we were praying for our daughter who was awaiting us in China.  At that time we had only just begun the adoption process and had no idea how long it would be until she was in our arms forever.  But still we prayed.  We prayed for her to know the love of a family.  For her to know she was wanted, valued, loved.  We prayed for her birth parents.  We prayed for her future.

Little did we know as we prayed for her that she had only come into care one month prior.  We did not know that she was a beautiful 20 month old little girl with precious chubby cheeks and a smile that could light up a room.  But still we prayed.

Another year passed and we continued to pray.  Last year our prayers echoed those of the year before.  We cried out asking God to bring her home soon and to help us endure the wait.  We still did not know the child we were praying for. But still we prayed.

This year our prayers are a little different.  They are filled with Thanksgiving for our precious Annalise.  The beautiful 3 1/2 year old whose belly laugh and smile now fill our home.  The charming, mischievous little girl who loves to close doors and turn off lights.  Who squeals as she steals things from her big sister and runs away with them.  We are thankful!  So very thankful!

Unfortunately, our Little A did not get to truly experience her first Thanksgiving home thanks to illness.  There is no family picture to document our first holiday with her but there was plenty of cuddles, motrin, pedialite and temperature taking and that is just fine.  We are thankful she is home and knows the love of her forever family, thankful that we could offer comfort when she was ill, thankful for the sweet smile on her lips as her fever broke, thankful that we have many more days to celebrate with her.

We are thankful that we were chosen to be her family! Thankful for the gift that has been given to us through another.  Thankful for birth parents who chose life for their daughter and because of them we can celebrate with thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

What's Up and Where We Are

It is time for a much overdo update on this here blog.  Life has kind of resembled a three ring circus since coming home with Little A.  We keep thinking we will hit our stride with a new normal but just when we think we have hit that new normal something else comes our way. 

We have been home just a little over 2 months now and it is so very hard to imagine that there was a time when Little A was not a part of our family.  Even in the mud and muck of the hard days it just feels right.  It is obvious that God handpicked this little one for our family.  He knew we needed her as much as she needed a forever family and we are forever changed.

Our weeks have been full of appointments and therapies and just trying to figure the new normal out.  Each week Little A has physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.  We are anxiously awaiting the day the language explosion hits.  This little one is so very expressive and certainly has a story to share, we just need to help her find her voice.  She is an OT and PT rockstar and is showing improvement daily in her body strength and coordination.

Over the past two weeks we have seen the orthopedist, orthotist, dentist, audiologist and ENT and tomorrow Little A will undergo an MRI of her brain.  I feel tired just typing all of this and must say we are all a little exhausted but we want our girl to receive the treatment and help she needs to soar.  Overall, the consensus is she is doing great and will continue to excel with therapy and time.  I would be lying if I said I was not a little anxious about tomorrow's test.  The results will most likely confirm what we already know so I am trying not to get too worked up over it. 

Overall we are doing pretty well.  We are taking one day at a time - sometimes one hour at a time and just reveling in the family that God has knit together. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Special Needs and Labels

Many people have asked us about Little A's medical condition or special needs.  We are not offended by this question because it is common knowledge that most children currently being adopted from China have minor to moderate medical conditions.  We have also been very open since the beginning of this process that we were adopting through our agency's Child of Promise program which meant our daughter would in fact have a special need or medical condition.

I know many of you have only "met" our precious Little A through pictures but I fully believe in the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words."  One glance at our little one's photo and you know she is simply wonderful! However, as many of you have expressed, she does not appear to have a special need.  So the question remains, "Does Little A have a special need or medical condition?"

Daniel and I were careful about sharing information about Little A's medical condition prior to her coming home because this is part of her story and although she does have a medical condition that does and will affect her it does not define her.  We are not embarrassed or ashamed of the words special needs nor are we allowing them to have a stronghold on our daughter's life. The fierce mama bear love in me did not want someone to place a label on my daughter before they had an opportunity to meet her, to know her, to love her.  We do think it is important to share though because we want others to understand our daughter and her needs.

Our Little A has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy.  As far as we can tell it is a mild form of cerebral palsy that mainly affects her hands.  She does not let the CP slow her down and is VERY independent.  Her gait is slightly affected as is her balance but for the most part she walks quite well. As we meet with doctors and developmental specialists we hope to learn more about her diagnosis and how to best help her thrive.

Our biggest concern and hurdle right now is that Little A has a fairly significant verbal delay.  We are amazed daily at how much English she understands but she has very few words in either Chinese or English.  She is trying hard to communicate and has learned several words and signs in the short time she has been home but we have a very long road ahead of us.  We are uncertain if the verbal delay is associated to the CP or if it is a separate issue but again as we begin to meet with doctors we hope to gain a better understanding of all that is going on.

Please do not be afraid to ask us about our little one's diagnosis, needs, development, etc.  We have much to learn about CP and will be happy to share what we have learned with others.

When we received Little A's referral file there was one sentence that jumped out at us, "when you meet this little girl, you must like her" and there is no doubt about it.  She is absolutely charming and when you meet her I am pretty sure you will like her!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Baby Steps

Baby steps!  We are making baby steps!

Jet lag is still hanging around the Cooley household but I think we are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel and a glimpse of the new normal or at least the temporary new normal, as I am sure things will be in a constant state of flux for a little while. 

Daniel returned to work today, the girls and I were up, showered, dressed and had breakfast by 10:30am (which is an absolute miracle in itself), we had a visit from a friend, lunch and now Little A is sleeping and E is having quiet time.  Ahhhh, it feels good!

Not only are we making baby steps in our schedule and return to routine but we are making baby steps in the areas of attachment and bonding.  Little A is now allowing Daniel to hold her, bathe her, help her, etc. and we often hear "Hi, BaBa" over and over again.  However, she also uses this new found love for Ba Ba to try and control situations and ignore Mama.  Baby steps people, baby steps.

Attachment and bonding is a tricky thing.  Just when you think things are going a certain direction they change.  It is not always easy to manage and sometimes it is just plain hard but we are thankful for little glimpses of growth.  The road before us is long and there are times it will most certainly leave us feeling weary but we will just continue to take baby steps, taking one day at a time sometimes one hour or even minute at a time.

2 weeks in our arms
September 1, 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Preparation for Coming Home

As we prepare to come home Daniel & I feel that we need to work on attachment and bonding. It is extremely important that Annalise learns who her family is.  Daniel and I need to establish our roles as Mama and Baba.  We are making good progress and feel like she is bonding with us but there are also times when she will seek help from someone else rather than allowing us to meet her needs.

Thankfully we are making great strides in attachment and bonding with our sweet girl but we have a LONG and possibly hard road ahead of us.

To this end, for an undetermined amount of time, we would ask:
  1. Please do not pick up Annalise, even if she's standing with us and reaches her arms out to you.  She is very social and has the most beautiful smile you will ever see and so it is natural that you would want to hold her.  We are still establishing boundaries.
  2. If Annalise falls down please do not pick her up or comfort her (unless she is seriously injured and we are not near by).  She needs to learn to accept comfort from Mama and Baba.  She will probably fall often as her balance is not very good.  It may be hard to watch her struggle to stand up but we will help her if it is necessary.
  3. Along the same lines of #2 - Please direct Annalise to either Daniel or I for help.  This includes going to the restroom, washing hands, opening things, etc. 
  4. Please do not feed her anything or hand a present directly to her.   Any toys or gifts should be given to us, and we will hand it to her.  This will help with confusion for her as she continues to figure out life with Mama, Baba and Jie Jie.  
  5. Please be patient with Daniel and I in how we handle her tantrums.  There may be times we turn our backs on her and allow her to scream and yell or roll around on the floor.  You may think our tone is harsh or that we are being unkind by allowing her to cry.  Again, we are establishing boundaries and discipline with her.  Despite being loved by her foster family and neighbors discipline and boundaries may not have always been very clear.
  6. Please do not correct Annalise if she does something wrong.  Bring it to our attention and we will deal with it immediately.  Annalise needs to learn that correction and discipline come from Mama and Baba first.  

While this list may seem a little strange or restrictive it is because we love our girl and want what is best for her.  She is part of our family forever and so there will be plenty of time for you to love on her in the ways we are asking you to avoid initially. Also, it may not be imperative that we hold to these restrictions very long.  It will all depend on how things progress once we return home. 
It is obvious that Annalise was well loved by her foster family and it is our understanding that many of the neighbors were involved in her life as well including helping with her walking and physical therapy.

The positive side of this is that our girl has attached before, knows what it means to be cared for and is very social.  She loves people and loves to go, go, go.  The negative side of this is that our girl was probably a little spoiled and this has definitely led to some challenges as we set boundaries with her.  It also could possibly make it difficult for us to establish authority in her life as her parents because she has probably often looked to many to meet her needs. 
We have read several books, been through extensive training and read a number of blogs written by other adoptive families concerning attachment.  Each family is different and the needs of their child or children may also be different but one thing that is universal is that attachment and trust must be developed between the child and parent, and so we are asking a couple things from our friends and church family.

We appreciate and value your prayers more than we can express.  This is a time of transition for all of us.  We are so thankful to have you on this journey with us and cannot wait for you to meet our girl!