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One Month as a Family, with a Day to Reflect on Special Mom(s)

Geez, where does the time go? April somehow turned into May (like it does every year), and our first week at home somehow turned into a full month since we became a family of three. And somehow… Nanjing, China seems like a distant memory after successfully transitioning this wonderful child into her new life as a Brown (including a whole lot of appointments, random milestones, and Sarah’s first Mother’s Day along the way).

Sorry not to have blogged as frequently, but we’ve been trying to soak up every minute of this dream before the REAL real world begins again, with going back to work, daily routines, and all. And funny enough, for once there doesn’t seem to be a “theme” to our last two weeks and update here. So no cutesy lyrics this time – just a progress report on our Jujube, plus lots and lots of pictures (and video), as always, for those who have already skipped to the bottom anyway. :)

Our biggest happenings so far this month include two significant check-ups: the first post-placement visit by our social worker, and Julia’s all-important medical evaluation at Vanderbilt.

As required by China, our local adoption agency has to visit us and complete a post-placement report at 1 month, 6 months, 12 months, 2 years, 3 years, and 5 years. Yep, you read that correctly… six times! The report – complete with a minimum of eight photographs – simply gives Chinese adoption authorities a progress update on Julia, but in no way, shape, or form can they take her away from us. She’s ours forever, so these visits are more intended to let China keep tabs on adopted children around the world as a whole. And while having a social worker come into your house six times in the first five years sounds annoying and invasive, we actually welcome the interaction and are thankful that it’s part of the process. We love our home study agency, Miriam’s Promise (located just a mile away in our quaint neighborhood), and are equally fond of our knowledgeable and caring caseworker, Tami. In fact, since we’ve been home we’ve been collecting questions for her and doing a lot of “What would Tami say?” type decision-making.

The first post-placement visit on May 7 was casual – with a lot of questions both ways while the little lotus played all around us – and we learned a lot. Mostly, we took great comfort in Tami’s assessment that we’re doing all the right things, and that Julia seems to be adjusting well. Yay! Our social worker feels that while Julia is definitely not “attached” to us yet (as we already knew based on small signs like only sporadic eye contact), she is indeed “attaching” and showing numerous positive signs of moving in the right direction. Tami also feels that Julia’s bad days infrequently mixed in are classic signs of delayed grief (which is apparently pretty common). Our Bee is still struggling with some food issues (like meals being over and anyone eating without her) and breakdowns during innocuous events like diaper changes, but we never know what is typical toddler stuff vs. an adoption issue. So as instructed by the pros, we treat *everything* like it could be a reaction to abandonment, fear, or grief… and continue being thankful that our hitches are seldom and minor, in comparison.

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Then just this last Monday, we had our comprehensive medical and developmental evaluation at the Vanderbilt International Adoption Clinic. And although we knew the appointment would be lengthy and difficult at times for Jujube (like being back in a hospital setting and having blood drawn yet AGAIN!), we were excited to finally have her fully assessed by medical professionals whom we trust greatly. In short, all checked out fine with the doctor, and we received even more great ideas on helping Julia adjust and thrive (since these folks are experts on the challenges adopted kids face). Small advice like adding a third bottle before nap (to help her gain weight) have already proven successful. The second part of the day with the occupational therapist was bittersweet, if we’re being honest. While it was nice to come away with a clear assessment and a game plan for the Bee’s development, it was heartbreaking to learn that Julia is at/below the bottom of the charts in all pertinent measurements and hear that she's currently operating at a 10-12 month developmental level (based on motor skills, not yet walking, not yet eating solid foods, and a lack of communication so far). We don’t mind one bit where she falls on the spectrum today, but it’s painful to think about her previous conditions (and lack of attention during her first 22 months) that led to this significant delay. We’re so proud of the adversity she’s already overcome in such a short life, and know that she has many years to get up to par. She’s a tough cookie! So while Dad cried along with her during blood work that afternoon, we remain positive and focus on what we *can* do to catch her up, and that’s mainly to love her like crazy and celebrate every small step along the way.

Speaking of small steps, we have a hunch that this little one is getting ready for lift off. We finally visited a proper shoe store to get her sized (thanks Stride Rite!), buy some shoes made for early walkers (in boys’ colors, naturally), and do away with those clunkers that she came in from the orphanage. It’s amazing to see the difference the right pair of kicks can make (along with some saddle time in the doorway jumper), and you wouldn’t believe the progress she’s made in just over a week! She’s standing more and more, rolling onto her toes, and just lately… even imitating a “downward dog” yoga move, and looking at us underneath her own legs, of course with signature grin (pictured below). Not to mention that merely playing *in* the Tupperware drawer is no longer entertaining enough without half of the contents being thrown out into the kitchen floor. This child will be sprinting laps around the house in no time, that’s for sure. Until then, she’s enjoying neighborhood walks in the stroller… relaxing to the point of an epic slouch, and kicking a leg over the side, leading to the latest endearing nickname, “Drunk Uncle”.

We’ve had a few quick visits from family – who have joined us for those traditional East Nashville walks – as we carefully experiment with how Julia responds to visitors. My Dad, “Pop”, came up for a beautiful Sunday afternoon, plus Granddaddy & Gram Callaway made a stopover to help hang our first porch swing and take her out for Tennessee BBQ (ok, maybe the pork and pintos were for us). We look forward to Gigi & Papa Mark Dixon paying a visit this upcoming weekend, along with her Uncle Shu Shu, Tia Tab, silly cousins, and Auntsie in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we’re sure glad that FaceTime is free, because we’ve been burning up the airwaves trying to stay connected to family and letting them “peek” into our daily joy.

Gram & Granddaddy’s first visit last weekend corresponded with our first Mother’s Day, and it just felt right for Sarah to spend that inaugural commemoration with her own Mom. In fact, four mothers were on my mind that day. Of course, our two Moms (Gram & Gigi) who taught us the meaning of family in the first place, and are two of the most giving, incredible women who have proven that love for a grandchild has nothing to do with blood. Then Sarah, the purest soul I’ve ever known, the best spouse a guy could ask for, and already the best Mom in the world herself. And finally, we thought a lot Sunday about the Chinese mother who made a seemingly gut-wrenching decision on a September afternoon in 2012. While forever a stranger, her act of love gave us the greatest gift imaginable in sweet Julia, and I have a feeling that we’ll always thank her via an overseas prayer, at least once a year, every year, the second Sunday of May.

Sarah, in particular, I have to say… is pulling off this new parent thing with admirable patience, wisdom, humor, grace, and ease. She’s a humble one, but coming off her first Mother’s Day, I can’t help but brag. They say that for an adoptive Mom, love must fill in what biology has left open. She’s already well on her way to filling that void, then some.

I can’t wait until the day our little lotus realizes how lucky she is to have such a remarkable Mom (and that she knows how lucky WE are to have her). What a mother + daughter combo that has formed in only a month. Just one month and look at the glow in this child’s eyes. Such special girls, and such a special bond that’s already growing. And I was reminded by a Facebook post this week (thanks Gram!) that I’m the lucky guy who gets to wake up to both. Pinch me if I’m dreaming, folks.

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"I am a lotus flower – delicate, fragile, yet strong... floating, unfolding, and blossoming into the life where I belong.”