Saturday, January 21, 2017

Eight

Our Joey turned eight last Saturday. We had a quiet celebration over at Bubba and Grandpa's house where she made his favorite dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. Grandpa Murphy and Miss Suzanne joined us, too. I made an attempt at a Pokeball cake, which he loved.

 



Our son, our treasured son, is such a homebody that he opted not for big festivities this year. I ran twenty different scenarios by him of fun things we could do, but when it came down to it, he just wanted to be home and asked for his best friend Mason to sleep over on Sunday. I love that about him--he's so easy to please with the simple things. We ordered Chinese food and the boys played Xbox and enjoyed their time together.

I have a hunch this is going to be a good year for Joseph. He's working on overcoming some big hurdles still, but I feel some major breakthroughs coming his way. He's grown so much and continues to amaze us. He's such a good boy. And eight looks great on him.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Survivor

After Lulu's MRI in the fall, we received a follow up call that pretty much indicated "nothing really new" was learned from the images, so when I made Lulu's follow up appointment that required us to wait a couple of months, I hadn't expected to learn what we did today. And, honestly, I wasn't prepared to see the images that I saw. I won't be posting them publicly because they belong to her, but I wasn't prepared--at all--to see such a sizeable gray space on our daughter's brain images that it forced me to gasp for air. She is a walking miracle. And, honestly, Lulu amazes me even more now knowing what a fighter our girl is.

The images gave evidence of a significant bleed, and based on the nature of the damage, the neurologist believes that Lulu's brain injury occurred before 28 or 29 weeks of gestation. And based on the placement of Lulu's not one--but two--injuries on opposite sides of her brain, she also surmised that Lulu may have been injured intentionally--that she may have survived an abortion attempt. Yes, you read that right. I can't even type it without tears flooding in. I don't want to engage in a pro-life debate here, but to think that this beautiful child may have survived an act that would've erased her presence from this very world? How do we even digest that? How do I ever thank God enough for this precious gift? We'll obviously never know the whole story of Lulu's rough beginnings and whether this is truly what happened to her in utero or not, but we can surely praise our ever-loving Father for breathing life into Lulu, for protecting her against all odds, and for giving her to us.

As far as the damage, we can also thank God for making babies brains with such incredible plasticity. Had Lulu suffered this type of injury later in life, it may have taken so much more of her movement and function away. I asked how all of this will affect her. The neurologist said she's not one to predict the future. Lulu is dealing with a compound effect given her institutional delays, but she is doing so incredibly well, and God made her with one heck of a determination. She is crazy bright and so full of personality. The doctor explained the damage in this way: Imagine a small office of ten people who are maxed out in their workload, and then three of them are let go. Now you have less people with an overcrowded workload and that results in some issues...some things fall through the cracks, some things are forgotten, some mistakes are made, and they get angry and handle things the wrong way. You get the picture...that's what's happening in Lulu's pretty little head.

When Lulu was recently baptized on the fourth Sunday of Advent, as we waited to celebrate the birth of Jesus with expectant hope, my mom and dad gave her a beautiful "Simple Blessings" cross and wrote this, "The small simple cross is a symbol of the power of simple blessings. Lulu is twice blessed; first by surviving a difficult birth, and secondly by catching the eyes of Lisa and Jimmy Murphy.  That is “Spiritual" fate." When my mom wrote that, she had no idea how much of a survivor her granddaughter truly is. I pray those waters of baptism will continue to heal her and protect this precious child even more...I pray that her life will glorify God in the same miraculous ways in which she was born to live on this green earth. We baptized her with the name Jane (her middle name) meaning "Gift from God." And that she surely is. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of Endless Glory.


Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Seven months with Lulu

The last I posted about Lulu's progress, it was after three months home. And these past four months? Well, let's just say it's been quite the whirlwind...time has flown by.

 

So let me back up...summer was such a great time for family bonding and for Lulu's overall transition. But then when the school year kicked in? It was like trauma set in all over again. We figured the school part out and acted quickly, thank God, but I believe the backlash wasn't just about her new schedule. It was also a trigger of fear-based behavior seeing her siblings leave the nest, too. So we were faced with a couple steps backwards for Lulu, and I'm not gonna lie...it was hard to see (and hear) her major emotional breakdowns all over again. Hard on her, hard on us, and hard on her siblings. And I know some of you are shaking your heads and saying, "Lulu? Not Lulu." But yes, friends. This is what happens behind closed doors sometimes when children from hard places finally get to their comfort zone at home--it's a time of testing boundaries--mostly to see just how much you'll love them--even when they're at their worst.  Lulu even managed to fracture her big toe in the middle of an epic meltdown. But the beautiful thing is? All that "letting it go" has moved our daughter into forward motion again, and here at seven months, I can honestly say that I think we're back to getting our groove on. Thank you, Jesus. And do you think for a second that a leg cast to her knee on one leg and an AFO brace on the other would slow this girl down? Not a chance. She is one busy bee.

About two months ago, shortly after I posted about her new bed, Lulu decided that she wanted to bunk with her brothers. So she left that beautiful princess bed for a time and chose to sleep on the floor between her brothers' beds. We were fine with indulging her. We knew she wouldn't make that choice forever, and I'm sure it felt cozily familiar to her sleeping arrangements in China with multiple children in one room. The boys weren't always crazy about it, Joey namely, but he suffered through it, and we reminded him that it wasn't so long ago when he came home and had the luxury of a built-in roommate in his brother. She just needed a little bit of the same. And just like that, one day in early November, she jumped back into that princess bed for good.

Lulu LOVES school still. I look back now and wonder what we were thinking to skip the important developmental step of preschool for her. God knew better! Yes, she is in a six-year old body, but she's so much younger in so many ways. As my friend Jennifer so beautifully stated, "Lulu never got to be two and throw fits and be awful and know her Mommy still loves her. She never got to be three and choose only pink clothes and pink cookies and pink toys and be understood and indulged. She never got to be four and cry and panic and watch everyone else cry and panic when they say goodbye to their parents at preschool. Now she won't be rushed to behave and sit still and pay attention. She can roll on the carpet and eat Playdoh and cry, and no one will call her a baby. Florida kindergarten isn't like other states: with half days and nap times- we push our kids and Lulu shouldn't be pushed she should be hugged closer." Amen to those sentiments. The smaller (10 kids) and playful environment is precisely what she needed. She adores her teacher, affectionately called "B" and the three-day school week could not work out better to meet her needs.


Our Tuesday and Thursday mornings have been filled with physical and occupational therapy and for extra mommy time. For a couple of months, our Thursday mornings were also filled by a beautiful sister-in-Christ, Jeanine, who graciously offered Lulu play therapy sessions. They were a Godsend during a very rough patch, and I believe that those sessions were instrumental in helping Lulu find peace in her tumultuous season of transition and upheaval.


I am constantly reminded (based on poor decisions basically) how Lulu's world still needs to be kept small. She is very easily overstimulated and that's when she tends to spin out of control. We plan to be very cognizant of this during the holidays, as we did with Joey his first year home. So far, so good. Separation anxiety is, for the most part, a thing of the past now! Lulu frequently takes outings with Daddy and easily says, "Bye bye, Mama" with complete trust that I'm coming back. She's stayed home with our favorite sitters, Jules and Ashley, quite often and willingly went over to Bubba and Grandpa's house with the boys while Jimmy and I took Madi out to dinner alone one night. It's a wonderful and gigantic step in her progress! I mean HUGE...this was a real hurdle for her and it's a relief to know that she finally trusts that we ARE coming back.

Lulu finished her first cheerleading season with The Miracle League. What a wonderful, unplanned blessing it was for her! She loved having a sport that she could call "her own." There was an occasion when big sister suited up to help as her buddy, but Lulu put up a fuss, and we finally figured out why. She wanted this to be all her, without any assistance from any of her family members. She wanted us to watch her every move, and she was so proud of herself, especially as the main stunt girl! It was awesome. 


Medically, our brave little girl is also making great progress. She wears her AFO leg brace (mostly) without complaint. She does four hours total of physical and occupational therapy each week, and you can definitely see that her left side is becoming stronger. Thank goodness for her determination, which certainly doesn't hurt!

 

It's overwhelming to think of the major progress this child has made in so many areas. I think of simple things--like her staring at an ipad in China without a clue how to operate it, and now she swipes that tablet like nobody's business. I remember trying to color with her on our first airplane ride in China and how she would take a crayon and strike certain areas without rhyme or reason. And my oh my, how her skill has blossomed...


Lulu's language is coming along so nicely. Just recently she's started putting together some sentences of five or so words. The most amazing breakthrough has been her recent ability to ask, "Are you mad at me?" It sounds crazy, but it's been transforming for her to articulate this! I'm starting to suspect that many months of meltdowns were for fear that I was angry at her. Who knows why...maybe she sensed a disapproving look or tone from me? Or maybe that's what she was used to in China? Anyway, her newfound ability to verbalize her concerns allows me to say, "No, Lulu. I am not mad at you" and to explain my thought process in that moment. It gives her great relief and perhaps more of an understanding of my reactions and feelings. I believe that this five word question has spared her a world of fear, and has prevented many meltdowns. I'm so thankful for these positive developments in her language. She understood much of our language very early on, but now she's beginning to better express herself verbally.

We've celebrated many "firsts" with our little girl over these past few months. She lost her first tooth. She helped carve a pumpkin, went to her first Pumpkin Patch and dressed up as a good witch for her first Halloween. We celebrated her first Thanksgiving together with Grandparents. She sang in her first preschool performance. And she had her first playdate sans Mama. Lulu is thriving in so many ways and she truly is a beautiful soul! We are so excited for her first Christmas with a family and all the joy that it will bring. Praise Jesus for all He has done. He is faithful!

 
 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Soccer Season

I absolutely love everything about soccer as the sport for our boys--the running, the fresh air, the teamwork. And this season, we have a new soccer fan in the house. She's not yet on a team, but boy she loves to run and play on the field, nevermind the AFO leg brace and cast she's sporting for her broken toe. Nothing stops little sis.



But the big surprise of the season? A mere six months ago, I posted about Joey and his deep, dark fear of playing soccer. Our son was terrified...probably fearful of failure, perhaps scared of something new altogether. And everything was an issue for him from the practice, to the uniform, and especially the shoes. I expected much of the same this season, but this kid? He proved me wrong. When I handed him Charlie's cleats from last year, Joey didn't flinch. He didn't complain or whine once, and he simply put them on with a smile. I chuckled at the lack of resistance that I'd met with. I never heard one single gripe about practice or the games and he never questioned who else (besides Charlie) was on his team. It was amazing, and it just goes to show how much children grow developmentally inside of six months. His confidence level has improved so much! And we are so excited for him.

Then there's Charlie, our dreamy little Charlie. His smile continues to be a mile wide as he runs and plays this season, without a care in the world. We're not convinced that soccer's his "forever sport" but it sure is fun to watch him out on that field. It's fun to watch both of them, actually!



Sunday, October 9, 2016

Our Little Miracle Girl

Ayi ("Auntie" in Chinese) Julia holds a special place in our hearts around here. Her husband, a.k.a. Shu Shu ("Uncle") too. There's something sacred about friends who drop everything to jump on a plane and cross the world to be with you when you meet your daughter. Jeff and Julia sacrificed in so many ways and reached way out of their comfort zones to make that trip. They left their three boys home, appointed substitute coaches to run the Miracle League of Delray Beach, a very special baseball league for children with disabilities that they founded. They also left behind a sick beloved dog named Daisy who crossed the Rainbow Bridge while they were gone. Not to mention the financial burden. But nothing stopped them--they wanted to witness the miracle of adoption.


It didn't take long for Lulu to bond with Ayi and Shu Shu in China. Nor did it take long for them to fall in love with her.


And it became crystal clear in a foreign land that Ayi and Shu Shu were destined to be Lulu's Godparents.


Lulu and Ayi will always have an extra-special bond, I believe, and Lulu will always know that they, too, crossed oceans for her. She knows how very much they adore her.

 

Albert Einstein once said, "There are two ways to live your life. One, as though nothing is a miracle. The other, as though everything is."

Yesterday was a beautiful day. We went to the field for the Miracle League's opening ceremonies, and we were privileged to witness Jeff and Julia renew their wedding vows for their 25th wedding anniversary. While we watched the game after, I overheard a woman asking a mom if her daughter wanted to be a cheerleader. Well, who am I to keep my mouth shut? I asked her what the requirements were, and the next thing you know, Lulu and I are walking across the grass to suit up in a new uniform and practice with pom poms. 

So, can you even imagine the look on Ayi Julia's face yesterday when five months to the day that Lulu walked off a plane as a U.S. citizen, she surprised Ayi and walked onto the baseball field as a Miracle League cheerleader? Her expression is ingrained in my brain forever--I wish you could've seen it. And Lulu was beyond proud of herself, just so determined to follow every move to the best of her ability. Julia and I held back tears and shook our heads, both acknowledging the miracle. Who could've possibly scripted this? God did, of course. He is, after all, in the business of making miracles...




 

Friday, September 2, 2016

A Birthday Story

Last Monday, after I took Lulu for her first visit to First United Methodist Preschool, I pulled out all the kids memory books so she could see that Madi, Charlie, and Joseph had all been students there. The one thing that caught her attention most in all three books were the birthday photos. 




Lulu's all about birthdays, you see. She loves to sing happy birthday; she loves to say happy birthday; she loves to celebrate birthdays. I'm really not sure that she understands the whole concept, and I don't know if and how often birthdays were even celebrated in her orphanage, but Lulu had already made up her mind that she wanted her own birthday party at preschool. Like pronto.

So, even though Lulu's real birthday took place in June, I promised our daughter that I'd ask if we could hold a belated celebration for her. Honestly, I wasn't sure if they'd be okay with it, but I knew this would be a perfect hook for her attendance at school!  I spoke to the kind-hearted powers-that-be and they gave their approval instantly.

And the plan? It worked beautifully. We heard "Lulu Happy Birthday" out of her mouth every five minutes since Wednesday. She could not wait for this day! She told her baby dolls about it; she told me and Daddy about it (1000 times); she basically told anyone who would listen to her...

Yesterday, we went to Target together and picked out some cookies for the special occasion to share with her new friends. This morning when she entered the classroom, she was donned with her crown and sticker by her sweet new teacher, Mrs. Baraldi. This girl was in Heaven.


Do y'all have any idea how relieved I am today? Yeah, I guess you probably do. Thank you for all your prayers for Lulu. As she waved me goodbye this morning with a confident and non-crying, "Bye, bye, Mama," I knew it was going to be a beautiful day for her. And I feel cautiously optimistic that it will continue in the weeks ahead.

Preschool rocks. End of story.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Plan B...the school year

No one said this would be easy...and I'm not quite sure why I thought it would be. We have now moved to a "Plan B" with Lulu and school.

Lulu did so well the first week of her staggered start of Kindergarten. Actually, I take that back. She cried a few times daily, but nothing that seemed terribly traumatic.


But then, after the weekend, it got worse...much worse. And honestly? I am not comfortable with worse. I get the whole "she'll be okay" and "she'll get used to it" but this Mama can't bear the separation anxiety which appeared in the form of sheer terror on her face. I am not going to share the details here of Lulu's behavior after school on Friday, but let me just say that she was completely derailed, and she was not herself at all. I knew in my heart that she couldn't go back. Maybe it was too academic. Maybe it felt too institutional...we don't know. But with that, Jimmy and I had to honestly, and prayerfully, re-evaluate our initial thoughts about our daughter's readiness for school. In some ways she is, but in other ways, she clearly isn't. I need to remind myself (and other people) sometimes...

Our daughter, though cared for in a smaller orphanage, was in an orphanage for five-and-a-half years--no mommy or daddy to constantly coddle her. Yes, her basic needs were met by all indications, but she was not given the consistent one-on-one attention that we sometimes take for granted in the lives of little ones. This information weighs very heavily on my heart. And shouldn't it?? We, as Lulu's parents, have the responsibility of tending to her spirit first, before her education. I cannot--I will not--leave her again with the look that she had on her face Friday morning or pick her up in the state she was in Friday afternoon. It's not at all worth it to me, and Lulu needs to know--beyond the shadow of a doubt--that Mommy always comes back. She'll get there, she will, in her time. We are grateful that she feels so attached, actually, when attachment issues are sometimes such a difficult roadblock in the adoption process.

I have to give extreme kudos to Banyan Creek. Lulu's teacher, Miss Bender, is a saint...I mean, really, a saint. Her efforts to help make Lulu comfortable were just above and beyond compassionate. The entire administration has been nothing but supportive and understanding of Lulu's transition and our decision making process. This school is clearly FOR THE CHILDREN. I am grateful for social media because some of these people have seen Lulu come home and they've watched her beginnings in our family. That has been a blessing in more ways than one, I'm sure. And you all wouldn't believe the kids who were in her class. Talk about compassion...these little ones showered Lulu with love and encouragement that would bring you to tears. I am so thankful for all of them, and we've made it understood that this isn't about them at all...I believe it's about our little girl's brain and her deep-seated fear of being left by her mother...again.


Over the weekend, it all started to become more clear, and on Monday, I decided to take Lulu for a visit to First United Methodist Preschool where her siblings attended VPK (mentioned in a previous post). This kid ate it up. When I texted the pictures to my husband, he replied, "Looks like this might be a good fit." And he was right on. She played on the floor with our beloved Mrs. Avogardo. She ran into every classroom, including our dear Mrs. Bivins, eager to see the toys inside. She voluntarily took part in their yoga for recess. It felt like home--for both of us.

 

What baffles me is that in all the preparation for her schooling, we had completely overlooked and forgotten the fact that Lulu was never given the opportunity to play in China. We nurtured that part of Joseph who came home at the same age, so why would we deny her the same experience?

This morning I took her back to preschool. She was reluctant, but her new teacher was incredibly sweet and accommodating. She allowed me to introduce Lulu to the class of ten students and even pulled down a globe so they could see where Lulu was born. She encouraged me to stay and sit with her on the rug for circle time. When it was clear that Lulu was engaged to a good, healthy degree, I took the chance to exit for some paperwork. She never came out crying, and I never re-entered the classroom. The Director (and my friend), Anastasia, sent me this an hour later.

 

My dream of having Lulu at Banyan right now was clearly my plan, and we all know what happens to "our plans" sometimes. This Mama Bear will just have to wait another year for her bear cub to be ready for the "big school." We truly believe Lulu is in the right place for now, and our hope is that nurturing the baby and toddler in her spirit will give her a healthier start and an easier introduction to socialization and the English language. She's in the very same classroom that her Grandpa Murphy donated and installed a new sink and cabinet six years ago when her big sister went to school there! I might show up at 1:30 to a puddle of tears today, but we will forge through this process with her one day at a time. And, with a three-day school week, we can schedule her physical therapies on her off days.

Please continue to keep Lulu in your prayers. It is obvious that she wants, so badly, to go to school and learn, but fear holds her back. We pray that her trust and security prevails in her heart, so that she can feel secure enough to leave this nest each morning with full knowing that she'll be back in a matter of hours. We wholeheartedly believe this is the right fit for her...we just need her to believe that.