This blog chronicles the miracles and struggles of our daughters, Emily and Olivia. Emily was born 15 weeks early and had many complications, but she continues to amaze us! Olivia, born in China with heart complications, is also beating the odds. She joined her forever family (us!) when she was four years old and has been doing wonderfully! UPDATE: We started homeschooling August 2009 :)
We're celebrating Christmas morning here with our girls and then celebrating again at noon at Andy's parents with the cousins eight miles away :) Then, later Christmas day or bright and early the next morning we're starting our long (20+ hour) drive to Orlando!
My side of the family is so spread out from coast to coast that family get togethers require some major traveling no matter where we meet, so we decided we might as well go somewhere warm! In 2006 we all met in Orlando and rented a big rental house for a week. It worked so well that we're doing it again! Only last time we flew. Aside from our long China flights, this will be our longest trek with children. Thank goodness for the invention of the portable dvd player! Actually, we intend to limit their movie watching so they don't turn into zombies, but it's nice to know we have options. This summer the high fuel cost made flights so expensive that we reluctantly decided to drive. Who knew how cheap gas was going to get, so at least the driving isn't going to be as expensive as we first thought!
I will NOT miss all the snow and cold one bit!! Every day that it's cold, Emily wants to know why we don't just move to Florida. Some days I wonder that myself!
Yesterday I noticed that my tiny little girl (I mean, Cinderella!) has two big new teeth coming in on the bottom! The only problem is that she hasn't lost any baby teeth yet! The ones in front are loose though, so hopefully these new teeth will push the old ones out. I guess this confirms that she really is almost six years old even though she is often mistaken for three! Emily was almost eight before she lost her first tooth, so this took me by surprise!
Lately Olivia's been on a kick of calling herself our "NEW child" and Emily our "OLD child." I'm still not sure if she really means younger and older, or if she's implying that Emily's old news who should be kicked to the curb! She's also been calling us her "new" parents. At least we're still her favorite parents--along with just about every thing and every one else that she states emphatically as her "FAVORITE in the whole world!" But that begged the question of whether or not she remembered having "old" parents...she was in foster care her last six months but she's never mentioned it. I'm still not sure what she remembers because now when I ask her if she had "old" parents, she causually says, "ya, Jimmy and Anna." Ummm...those don't sound much like Chinese names! I'm not sure where she gets these names--see last night's post about her brother, also named Jimmy! It's hard discern if it's all betend or if these stories contain any remnants of her former life.
She'll also spread her arms as she declares how much she loves her new (favorite) house...and has lately mentioned that her old house was tiny and broken. And something about having a big butterfly on the wall at her old house. Not sure if this would have been in her foster parents' home or in the orphanage. I know the orphanage walls had big painted cartoon-like murals...
The only other reference to her past has been when she's talked about how they go potty differently in China--she giggles as she demonstrates squatting down on the floor and gets wide eyed as she shares the ludicrousness of them going potty outside. Specifically, outside on a sidewalk that was cracked and broken. Now she thinks it's just the silliest thing ever, but I suspect that part probably is an accurate memory. Many toddlers in China wear split pants with no underwear or diapers. The pants are literally split, as in no seam in the crotch/back side so that they can relieve themselves whenever the mood strikes. If they're too young to squat, parents will hold the child spread eagle in front of them waist high to let them do their thing on the sidewalk, over a garbage can, or in the street. It's a very strange thing to see! What memories we have :) Now, if only we could help her to remember and preserve more bits and pieces of her first four years...
The girls go to Pioneer Club every Wednesday night and tonight they came home loaded with all kinds of Christmas goodies. It sounds like the highlight of their night was when they got to go "shopping" for Christmas presents for family members with their Bible Bucks earned from memorizing bible verses. When we picked them up they could hardly contain their excitement--or their secrets! Olivia kept shouting, "Mom and Dad, I got you a BOOK! I got you a BOOK!"
Once home, the girls were discussing where they were going to hide the presents, but we suggested putting them under the tree before they got lost (or forgotten) in their super secret hiding places. As we began pulling out the gifts, we had to do a double take when we got to one labeled, "To Jimmy, from Olivia." Ummm...we don't know a Jimmy. Olivia then very matter of factly informed us that the gift is for her brother Jimmy. Her "betend" brother Jimmy. Oh, of course. Good 'ole Jimmy who we'd never heard of before. We were a bit surprised and couldn't help but chuckle as we thought of the adult helper who surely thought they were wrapping for a real child.
But, apparently to Olivia, Jimmy is real and she did not appreciate our laughter one bit! She takes these things very seriously and did not see any humor in it at all! Although we didn't know about Jimmy, we are acquainted with another "brother" of hers who happens to be an orange stuffed animal. She even brought a journal page home from school one day that mentioned (translated in adult handwriting) something that she and her "brother" had done over that weekend.
Emily, on the other hand, thought the whole thing was pretty funny, but was very concerned about figuring out just who will get to open Jimmy's present on Christmas day! She pointed out that she only had one gift under the tree and didn't want to go to bed until we "got this sorted out." I'd start campaigning for it myself if only I hadn't overheard that it was a spider man something-or-other that I think only Jimmy will appreciate.
This is actually more than a month old, but I realized that I haven't posted any home videos lately and thought this short clip was kind of cute. I happen to keep my camera in my purse so that I've got it handy should a cute Kodak moment arise, so I whipped it out here in the middle of a store to capture Olivia Hula hooping :) It's only about 23 seconds long. Enjoy :)
Watching this music video makes me so grateful for our second Christmas with Olivia! Last year when we put up the tree, I realized that we needed to go ornament shopping for her--Olivia was quite disappointed when Emily pulled out all kinds of memories from the box and there were none for her. This year, she was hesitant to help decorate until she realized she actually DOES have some of her own ornaments now. She gets very excited every time she sees and "O" marking hers!! It was amazing how quickly her mood changed and she then had a great time putting them on the tree, trying to claim every ornament for herself! This Christmas she knows what to expect and can't wait!
I didn't end up making the girls suffer through an attempt to get a good dressed up Christmas photo this year because I lucked out by getting a good (casual) one with Santa at the school breakfast...so when this one from Aunt Ruthie's Christmas party this weekend turned out well it was a bonus! It was too late to make it on the card (which I still have to post) but I still wanted to share it. Aren't they cute?!
I can hardly believe our tiny little baby is now a big NINE-year old!! Where oh where has the time gone?? We had a wonderful weekend celebrating with family and friends. When I remember her scary birth nine years ago and all the health scares in her first year of life, I can't help but marvel at how healthy and strong she is now. Such a miracle :) Such a beautiful girl :)
Thank you to those of you who took the time to post a comment or email! I really appreciate the encouragement! It was especially helpful to hear from such an articulate grown-up preemie! I wish I knew who you were to thank you, Anonymous :) You can email me directly from my profile here. It is always encouraging to know that in spite of--or because of--struggles, people can be quite resilient and thrive. You have helped to bolster my hope in Emily's future :)
P.S. Anonymous, it sounds like you've described some classic symptoms of APD (Auditory Processing Disorder)--difficulty with comprehending/processing fast paced speech, word finding, discerning the difference between similar sounding words (and thus spelling), difficulty following speech (or a plot line) when there are competing sounds, etc. We're pretty sure Emily has APD, but one thing that confounds me is that she can sound out words very well and combined with good visual memory, is great at spelling which does not fit the APD profile at all. Makes me sometimes wonder if we're really on the right track...
I've just started reading a book by Karen Foli, called Like Sound Through Water, a Mother's Journey Through Auditory Processing Disorder. I'm curious to see how well it will parallels our story. I also want to read, When the Brain Can't Hear: Unraveling the mystery of Auditory Processing Disorder by Dr. Teri James Bellis (who I think began suffering from APD after being in a car accident and Don't You Get It? Living with Auditory Learning Disabilities, by Harvey Edell, Dr. Jay Lucker and Dr. Loraine Alderman (all of whom had/have ADP, I believe).
Following up yesterday's post...I belong to an online forum for parents of kids with APD (Auditory Processing Disorder) and found this post written to another concerned parent which confirmed what I believe also applies to Emily. After all, if the results were really accurate of her abilities, she probably wouldn't be able to do all the things she can (read at grade level, etc.). I believe that her language disorders prevented her from demonstrating her true abilities, rendering the test inaccurate (especially if the test had oral instructions). If the purpose of the test was to flag kids who need special services, she's already been flagged, so I'm going to try to just file this away and move on. We're already intervening, so the results serve us no purpose except to be a discouragement that we don't need. Instead, I'm choosing to believe that she has defied the odds and will continue to do so. She survived for a reason and our job is to recognize that she is on her own path and to help her be the best that she can be.
If your daughter’s scores on a particular standardized test are what you
and/or others are basing her cognitive abilities on, you need to determine if the scores she received are a true reflection of her ability at the time the test was administered or a result of other factors, for example, her language disorder. Often times, for example, the WISC is administered to children with language-based disorders and they score low because the WISC is heavily language-loaded. A good examiner would be able to discern this through the administration of various testing instruments and observations, etc.
Another thing that keeps coming to mind is that God doesn't always choose to remove our obstacles or "thorns in our side." He sees the bigger picture and may have a different, better plan than we can even imagine. Sure, I can (and do) ask for her learning disabilities to go away, but He may have a different plan. Perhaps she (&/or we) will use our experiences to impact others in a way that will someday all make sense. Who knows, but I just need to remember that no matter what, God is in control and worrying does no good. Easier said than done because as I mom I want to fix my kids' problems, but in reality I can't. I can feel helpless and hopeless or I can choose to put it in God's hands and trust Him. I know the second choice is better, but some days I need a reminder!
On most days I can see the glass half full, but today I'm having a hard time. Emily IS a walking, talking miracle who will be turning nine years old this week, and we have had so many blessings, but my heart still occasionally aches for her and I can't help but wonder what her life might have been like if only she hadn't been born so early. We've long been aware that she has academic struggles, but this morning when I opened her 2nd grade OLSAT test results I was overcome with sadness and fear. I didn't expect the results to be great--and they weren't--but what got to me was the test description: "OLSAT measures those reasoning skills that are related to school-learning ability." If this is really an accurate predictor of her ability to learn in school then we're going to have a very tough row to hoe.
School will be her/our life for the next several years and I am concerned about the impact of it all. Will her strengths be able to sustain her or will her struggles crush her? She can read and write and recite her addition facts, has a great vocabulary (tested at 4th or 5th grade?) and is a great speller with good attention to (visual) detail...but math concepts, reasoning, and listening comprehension are such a struggle. Also, as she gets older, school will be less visual and hands on and more oral. As a child with an auditory processing disorder, keeping up with and comprehending lectures is probably going to be very challenging.
Academic abilities shouldn't define the value of a person, but when life revolves around academics/school, it's probably difficult to define yourself in any other way. We are always looking for other areas where she can be successful to help bolster her spirits and at this point she does not seem to be crushed or defeated. I hope she never does, but it'll be hard to make it through unscathed. I guess none of us do make it unscathed and that's part of building character... My hope and prayer is that she/we won't let test scores define her or crush her. She may never test well and I hope we can all learn how to live with that without it crushing us. At this age, she is unaware of the test scores, so right now it's more MY problem, but she won't be shielded from harsh realities forever.
I need to go birthday shopping for her today, but my heart is heavy. I could really use some encouragement from anyone who's survived the struggle of learning disabilities.
Dee, you left a comment that you, too, are adopting a four year old from China...and that you also live in the Chicago area. I don't know too many other "older" adoptees that live nearby, so I'd love to stay in touch and maybe even get our girls together when yours comes home. According to your profile, you're only about 25 miles from us! The only problem is I'm not sure how to contact you since your blog doesn't seem to accept comments, but you can contact me directly via my Blogger profile. Hope to hear from you soon!