Monday, September 23, 2013

A Wonderful, Wild Ride

When we were “pregnant” with Matthew, waiting the last six months to travel to China to get him, I decided to stop reading adoption blogs altogether. I had read a few entries from parents who had children from China with a cleft lip/palate that were really hard for me—hard because they were honest and bone raw, and I was in the dreamy stage of waiting for my child to come home—and hearing about all the hard things only made me feel panicky and overwhelmed.

I wanted to rest in the joy of my excitement and enthusiasm for a while.

It was the right thing to do. I remember even feeling a hair resentful at these other parents for being so honest in such a public space, but now at this stage of my life, I understand how challenging it is to know what truths to say out loud and what to keep only in one’s heart.

I’m not a perfect blogger, and I hope I haven’t lost or discouraged some readers with my honesty. Parenting an adopted child is a challenge, especially when that child is Matthew and that parent is me.

But lest my readers think it’s all pulling teeth around here, I am committed to also showing the magical moments at our house—the ones where I rest in the joy of this amazing little boy who is part of our lives. No, it’s not all flowers and bubbles at the Russell house, but most of the time we are actually doing really well.

And sometimes it’s actually kind of wonderful and magical.

Like last night. Sam, Matthew and I went for a walk around 7:00, just as the light was beginning to fade. We ended up at a park near our house for some play time, where I met a mom who has several children (all of them with her at the park, along with some friends too). Her kids are all older, and she was hanging out while they played some kind of tag game in the last of the day’s light.

Matthew was enthralled with the park—he ran in circles around this stone structure meant for climbing—and eventually started signing “help” to me—and I knew just what he wanted.

“You want some help climbing up there, Matthew,” I said to him. The woman was watching us and said, right away, “Was he signing to you?”

“Yes,” I told her.

“That’s so amazing. What a smart boy.”

I told her our story—of Matthew coming from China with his cleft lip and palate, how he’s not talking yet but has learned to sign to communicate with us.

She was over-the-top excited about his sign language and praised him about twenty times, calling him “so smart” and “amazing.”

My mama heart filled with pride. He is amazing, I thought to myself. Amazing in the ways he has learned to tell us what he needs, in all the things he tries and attempts throughout the day, in the little ways he plays with toys or comes to find me to tell me something.

And just this morning, as the diggers pulled up outside our window to begin a city sewer job, he squealed with delight and grabbed my hand, pulling me to the window to see the amazing spectacle just outside our house.

Now he stands at the window, eyes glued to the heavy machinery, totally enthralled with every move of the digger’s arm. It’s LOVELY to see—and fills my mama heart with so much pride and joy.

No, it’s not all sunshine and roses around here, but some days there is so much goodness that my heart might burst open. We have worries, yes, but we also celebrate DEEPLY all the many gains Matthew is making each day.

I don’t ever want to portray adoption as an easy thing—it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. But I feel the rewards deep in the full part of my soul, and I wouldn’t trade this wonderful, wild ride for anything else in the whole world.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

An update on hearing

I’ve been meaning to do a short little post updating everyone on some good news we received a couple weeks ago about Matthew’s hearing.

We’ve had several hearing tests since his palate repair last November. When the lip and palate are cleft in utero, the Eustachian tubes can also be affected—sometimes they sit horizontally or are blocked so they don’t drain well. After his repair, the ENT surgeon told us there had been quite a lot of fluid in Matthew’s ears, and she thought it had been there for quite some time.

Meaning, it was possible he had very poor hearing for the first two years of his life, which actually explains some of his language delays.

Since the palate repair, we’ve had several hearing tests, and all of them revealed that Matthew possibly had significant hearing loss in his left ear. Since it’s a behavioral test they are giving him, the results weren’t conclusive, but each of the audiologists confirmed, time and time again, that hearing loss was clearly evident.

So imagine our joy and surprise two weeks ago when Matthew’s left ear tested NORMAL. Dr. Sie, our ENT, was so excited that she hugged me when she told me the news. We will have another hearing test in a few weeks, this time focusing on the right side, to confirm what we believe is true: that Matthew does NOT have hearing issues.

This is a great relief for our family, as we were imagining hearing aids or other hearing helps, and one more challenge that Matthew would have to adapt to.

So three cheers for Matthew Russell, whose ears are working well these days—a great joy for our family, and a serious relief for this mama, who is grateful that SOMETHING is easy for our boy amidst all the hard work he’s doing to catch up.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Some Mama Thoughts

Matthew and I drove to Children’s today for his feeding appointment. We are lucky to see an occupational therapist there who is wonderful (and happens to have worked with my dear friend Kaitlin several years ago). She’s helpful and kind, celebrating Matthew’s successes, but also aware of his challenges. I suppose that’s the right combination for a therapist.

But today, for some reason, it made me really emotional to be at Children’s and watch Matthew struggle with eating . . . it made my questions loom big in my mind: what is ahead for this boy? What else should we be doing for him? And how are we ever going to find enough energy and time to give him all the support he needs?

These are common parent questions, and probably even more common for those who parent children with special needs. As an example, I’ve been spoon-feeding my son now for more than an entire year. For 12 months, at every single meal, I’ve sat and spooned food into his mouth, I’m so ready for him to start eating independently, but he’s not quite there, YET. He will get there—I truly believe that. He’s made such amazing progress despite his many delays and challenges. But sometimes just having the patience to wait for that next step is the hardest thing.

Patience is something I could use more of these days—patience to live into these days with purpose and without expectation. Matthew can only develop at a pace set by him—and it seems like each day he’s learning new things, catching up, doing everything right.

And still he’s behind.

So friends, who read this blog, please hear this kind but pleading request from me: When you call me or come over to my house, PLEASE stop asking me, “So is Matthew talking yet?”

The answer is still NO, and each time you ask and I have to say “no” again, it hurts my heart a little.

Aaron’s pretty sure Matthew won’t talk until he’s at least four. I’m hoping it’s sooner than that. He is starting to make a panting noise for a doggy, and he has his own version of “Elmo” (his favorite character) that sounds like “e-lo-e-lo.” Those are pretty amazing milestones.

He’s also consistently signing these words: more, all done, help, eat, milk, ball, book, shoes and play.

It’s not a lot, but to me it’s miraculous and wonderful that Matthew is finally learning the joy of communicating his needs and wishes. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve already come so far.

When I’m faced with his shortcomings—with the things he’s NOT doing, with his delays—I sometimes find myself sinking into a dark place inside, overcome with worry about what’s ahead for him.

So these days I am choosing to stay focused on what’s positive for Matthew—not as a way to delude myself about what’s really true, but as my resistance against worry and fear. Because even worse for Matthew than his delays is having a mama who is so overcome with them that she can’t be a good mama anymore.

And what I want most in the world is to be the best mama I can—for all three of my children.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


It seems like I’m always looking back a year, marking how far we’ve come by the distance 12 months gives us. It’s September and we’re back to school and back into the routines of work and school—and as a result, I’ve been thinking a lot about last September, especially where Matthew was developmentally and how far he’s come.

One thing I’m aware of these days is the how confident I feel parenting him. One difference that I can clearly articulate between my biological babies and this adopted one is how comfortable I felt at first as parent to my child. With my first two, they were newborn when they landed in my arms, and I was a new parent.

Especially with my first one, we learned together. By the time she was 18 months, I had figured her out.

With my second baby, he also started from infancy and perhaps I felt even more prepared because I had already figured out how to be mama to his big sister. Parenting came naturally—soothing, feeding, caring for a little person.

But with Matthew things were different, because he had already lived 18 months of life on his own before they put him in my arms. For the past 15 months, I’ve had to not only learn the patterns and habits of this little boy, but also try to understand how to comfort him and wind him down.

So after all this time, I’m so grateful to feel confidence in my ability to meet his needs, soothe him, and care for him well.

At our house we continue to feel somewhat overwhelmed by Matthew’s delays in language, but we’re overcoming those in important ways too. Having a child who doesn’t talk as a two-year old has been a new experience for me, but I’ve learned to rely heavily on body language and signing, which thankfully Matthew does with some competence. His growth, while slow, is happening and it’s wonderful to watch.

Matthew turns three on November 28, and the following Monday he is eligible to start at a developmental preschool in the school district where we live. He’ll be bussed there, as it’s not our neighborhood school, which is two blocks away. Instead it’s the next school over, less than a mile from our house, and we hear that it’s an amazing program.

I’m so excited for him to spend his mornings in a rich, nurturing environment that is geared specifically for children who have language delays. Based on the babbling and vocalizing that Matthew does, I know that he WANTS dearly to communicate with us using words. He’s just struggling to figure out how.

So we still have a long way to go around here, but each little step—each new step that leads to confidence and assurance—helps this mama know and believe that we’re moving forward with our boy.

And especially when you’re a mama, it’s good to know that when a boy cries, you can take him in your arms, press him against your chest, hum a familiar song, and feel his breathing slow and his body relax. It’s good to know that a boy finds comfort in your arms.