Saturday, November 19, 2016

The picture part

In the van, almost there!

Dumbo - the first ride

Gianna was so so so excited to meet Ariel, I think it was a bit of a shock.

The day is wearing on us and we are fixating on smoothies

I love how everyone is so into this picture

Gianna just spotted a dolphin and she's not sure what to think about it!  What do we do with "happy trauma triggers"?  I'm not sure either.

We didn't visit lots of characters, but the ones we did visit were very special encounters.

At Animal Kingdom watching a very funny monkey

That monkey was pretty cool

Meeting Tarzan!  Logan was so shy with all the other characters, but he was intent on visiting Tarzan since he heard we were going to Disney so Zack helped him out.

Gianna loved the beach and swam every single day, even the colder ones.

Kian loved making sand castles.

Grandpa helped make some very impressive castles.

A sandy mermaid

yes, I was there too

Gianna is our little beach bum apparently

Logan swam and made sand castles, but took many breaks sitting in his chair eating chips

Meeting Anna

Friday, November 18, 2016

Catching up... also... PAPERWORK update

We've constantly been doing so many new and interesting things that it's hard to know where to start!  It's also hard to know where to stop once I start which anyone who's ever talked to me knows to be true...  Let's start with the India adoption since it never gets the first entries.

We sent all of our stuff in to immigration and our last medicals in to our agency right before we left on vacation over Halloween.  Then about a week and a half ago, we got word that we received our first India approval!  This was probably one of the larger "approval hurdles" for us to overcome, so that was great news!  They said that now they can begin to look on the waiting child list for children that match our family's profile.  They will be checking twice a week.  We could know very soon who our next family addition will be!!!  ...Or we could wait lots of months.  Either way, what a cool phase to be in!  Once we accept a referral that they send our way, we will have four more approvals and paperwork to complete before we can travel to go get them.  It can be anywhere from 9-18 months after we get the referral to travel.

Gianna has started at-home neurofeedback.  Three to five (we've generally been doing 4) times a week I attach little EEG wires to her head and ears and it reads her brain waves and gives her rewards for focusing on a video or game.  It targets certain areas she needs to work on, and hopefully will get her brain at a more optimal regulation to accept the attachment therapy.  We have already seen the changes at work, she listens and remembers what was said better, and she is calmer with less fits.  There are still fits, but there are less.

I can see her more and more coming out of her anxiety shell as well.  She is much more aware of what's going on around her, in a good way.  Her hypervigilance is decreasing and instead she's thinking about what day it is and how many days are there until Saturday, and paying attention more to what I said and remembering what it was she was supposed to do.  Not every day is perfect, and about every 2 weeks we have a rough one.  But there are vastly more good days than bad!

Gianna also continues to grow, and finally gained some weight to join that inch!  It's been a little while since her last weight check, so I'm wondering if that's increased even more.  Her eating is so normal it's delightful.

Both Gianna and Kian are loving school.  Kian is a wiggly 5 year old boy who cares more about friends than letters, and more about pretending to be a ninja on the playground than math, and he is having a blast.  He's learning a lot in spite of his "alternative interests". :)  Gianna is chugging impressively along.  She's managed to stay along with the 2nd grade class in math with significant one on one help.  They think she's ready to decrease that, though.  Also, she continues to "catch up" with regards to reading.  She started the year as a "beginning first grader" level, now a quarter of the way through 2nd grade she is at a "3/4 of the year first grader".  They switched her group because she had sort of "outgrown" it, and put her with a different set of kids based on her level.  She's now with advanced 1st graders.  It looks like progress and smells like progress!

Big attachment gain alert: Gianna has developed a "favorite toy".  This is huge.  Before, she would coin her "favorite" as anything that was the newest.  Whatever she had gotten most recently.  Then right before we went on vacation she started playing more consistently with a toy she got last February.  Casey the koala bear was also the one she picked to take on vacation.  Now she calls it her "favorite" and plays with it quite a lot.  This is not something we encouraged, but it is so so so encouraging.  If she has a budding attachment with a toy, that means that she is letting her guard down to love something.  And maybe, just maybe, she will feel secure enough to love and attach to a person, too.

I gotta tell ya - our vacation was the bombest.  We planned it very carefully and tread the activities with a watchful eye, and it paid off.  We had a blast and a bag of chips.  We trolled around Disney for 3 days and then went down to my parent's Florida place and spent 4 days there.  What a ball was had by all.  The grandparents joined us which made it really special.  Photographic proof to follow.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

What's been going on????

Long overdue for an update, and for that I apologize!  We've been busy as per usual, and this blog goes neglected.  Here's been some highlights from the last couple months.  June was a rough one.  We had a lot of behavioral struggles.  More than likely it was an anniversary reaction being that it was one year from when Gianna came home.  Then after the really cruddy June, we crawled out of it steadily with every 4-5 days having an "off" day.  Now it's about every 5-10 days there will be a rough one.  You can tell within the first few hours which Gianna it was that got out of bed that morning.  I keep telling her I love her no matter what, no matter which Gianna greets me in the morning.  We all have tougher days, and each one of us needs more grace on some days than others, isn't it the truth.

I cannot tell a lie.  June was wild and wooly.

But here we are, on the other side, and the rest of the summer was a joy-filled experience of learning and growth.  In some cases, BIG growth.  My favorite area of growth is the fact that Gianna's new favorite word is "actually".  She will likely struggle for a long time with learning problem-solving, but I have had some major glimpses that some work is going on in that area.  I'll say "I wouldn't do that if I were you."  Or  "I wonder how that will go for you."  Many times, she says "Actually, I'm not going to", or etc.  And she makes a GOOD CHOICE!!!  Praises be!  Sometimes it's just my tone of voice that gives her a hint.  She loves to fiddle-fart.  She knows she has 30 minutes to do her cleaning up chore, and she loves to find anything to do instead of cleaning.  Some of this is developmental, some of it is control.  Depending on the day in some cases.  She'll come up to me with a procrastination technique "Can you give me a scissors so I can cut this out?" and I give a smile and a slow "Suuuuuure" and it turns into "Actually, I'm gonna clean up."  How cool is that?????

The good days are getting better and the bad days are getting less bad.

And I am freaking celebrating.

That doesn't mean things are still easy.  The fits continue, mostly on the "off days", but they are fewer and farther between.  She refuses to let me see her cry and yet after less time than it used to take, she will let me wipe her tears away and will relax into my hug.  On her best days she may even come to me and say "Can you wipe away my tears?"  Yes.  Yes child, yes.  That is my job and it's my privilege.  I repeat it over and over again so she can say it enough and start to internalize it, "I know you think you NEED a stuffed animal or doll to make you feel better, but that's what you WANT. What is it that you NEED?"... "A hug from mom," she'll reply, and the look in her eyes makes me think she's starting to want to believe it.

Pool partay!!!

Gianna had another developmental test.  It was more comprehensive, was specific to trauma and attachment, and gave an age equivalent to all the domains and behavior arenas.  They also do an assessment on her "maladaptive behaviors", which were all "elevated" (meaning she has developed some inappropriate responses to stress or big feelings. big surprise. not.).  In most of the domains and the behavior assessment my guesses were correct.  Gross motor, fine motor, academic, daily living skills, etc were all right about Kian's age.  So my hunches were confirmed that I can fairly expect her to perform the chores and skills that I can expect from Kian.  Generally speaking.  There are 3 areas that I was most concerned about: interpersonal relationships (how she responds to others), coping skills, and play.  I figured all these were at about a toddler level, and so I've instinctively adjusted certain expectations and discipline with that in mind.  I was more than right.  Suffice it to say, we have a long, long way to go in those significantly delayed domains.  The therapist said all the domains were likely even more delayed when we first brought her home, and it's obvious her anxiety is decreased.  So there is still lots to be thankful for.  We are starting to see some positive growth, we can say our love has made a difference (albeit small so far), and that now I better know the complex inner workings that we are dealing with.  It really opened my eyes to what's under the surface of her behaviors.

It finally happened.  Gianna grew one inch.  That one inch tipped the balance, and now she fits size 7 shirts.  I thought I was destined to buy size 6 for eternity, and it was with trepidation that I got the size 7 bag down.  Sure enough, most of the tops that were giant a year ago - actually fit!  The pants issue has yet to be resolved.  She's too tall for 6's (they're a big highwater), and she swims in the 7's even with adjustment.  The other day she came all stressed out about an "injury" on her hip.  She was shocked when I laughed and got excited.  It was a mark from her underwear.  The girl finally has enough meat to get a mark from her underwear.  I assured her it's normal and that mom's really jazzed about her cute round belly.  It's the little things, folks.

Gianna is one smart cookie.

Gianna is doing well in school.  She has an IEP, which we are hoping will continue to catch her up somewhat. She's in 2nd grade and has been enjoying her first month.  She's the kind of kid that does better in school than during the summer - the predictability and routine is refreshing to her.  Family still equals mumbo-jumbo in a lot of ways, so the school environment - even though it's challenging - actually regulates her.  She's continuing to learn and show us how adaptable she is even with her challenging beginning.  She has a lot to overcome, and she's showing us her indomitable resilience.  Oh that it would be harnessed and used for good - she could be quite a force to behold!!!!!

While we've enjoying the fruit of our labors, we're also preparing for another adoption.

An update on our India adoption!  Our home study has been completed, and we are ready to apply for immigration.  We are collecting papers for that and for a India-styled "dossier" of sorts.  Doctor's visits seem to be taking the longest just because of scheduling.  The immigration documents will approve us to adopt someone of "orphan" status.  Little by little, we plod through.  I've said it before, I'll say it again, even though it's about the same amount of work - it sure is easier when you've slogged through it before.  Just knowing the path is of great benefit.  We've run into our first few financial hurdles, and this time we've had less time and energy to devote to fundraising efforts.  We've made it work so far, but stay tuned - we're brewing a few ideas for those who would like to support our adoptions financially.  Of course, you're always welcome to donate via our PayPal button on this blog!  Anyway, that aside, please continue to pray for us.  We still have the India approval yet to go through.  We are trusting that whatever the outcome, we can be reminded of the joy of following God's call and we can trust him to complete the work that he started.  Even if it looks different than we imagine it to be, God is faithful and we rest in his assurance that we can trust him fully.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Happy Adoption Day!!!

So May 26 is the official adoption day, but we celebrated this past weekend by going to a water park. Gianna got to choose where we went, and out of the options (zoo, aquarium, I forget what other options we gave her) she picked water park!  We headed up to Great Wolf Lodge for a few days of fun.  The kids had a BLAST!!!

Wolf ears are standard issue upon checkin.  Here we are surveying the water park.

This trip we got to marvel at how far we've come behaviorally with our eldest.  She allowed herself to enjoy the whole experience!  Nine months ago she would have probably found a reason, any reason, to sabotage the fun and sulk in a corner for an hour and a half.  Or her anxiety would have been through the roof at every water slide and pool and sprinkle of water, and she would have wanted to go on but then bailed and whined and hem-hawed and not really done anything and then been withdrawn and sullen because she didn't get to experience the fun.  Battling yourself must be almost as exhausting as reading that run-on sentence.  INSTEAD - you have never seen such joy and elation!  Or such bravery!  You could see it in her eyes - she was not about to let anything get in the way of her enjoyment of the activities.  She needed next to no encouragement to slide down the bigger kid slides, even when her head got underwater at the end!  She was the first to volunteer to go down the biggest slides with me.  Everyone got a little whiney and tired by the end of the day, ("But I don't WANT to go over there..." type thing), but with just a dash of acknowledgement and encouragement to follow the family, she complied readily and happily.  It was... was... almost like... like a normal kid!  I was so impressed and happy I could have fainted.  We were all ready with a "sabotage plan" should we need it, and to our joy, we did not need to employ it!  She had one 30-second withdrawn anxiety-fest once when she fell and bumped her arm.  But Dad simply said "I see you fell and bumped your arm.  That stinks!  Come Gianna, we're going to get splashed by the bucket!"  And that was it.  Off she went.  Healed!  It's a miracle! :)

Our room had a separate little "cabin" for the kids.  Very cute!

Kian was also very brave and tackled some big things that surprised me.  He was determined to learn to swim and he got quite a bit of coordination down on a life-jacketed doggie paddle.  He even started to make forward motion by the end of the day!

Again! Again!

This smaller one she did over and over again, too, even though her head got wet almost every time.

Enjoying and "bucket of ice cream" break

Happy Adoption Day to our amazing little family girl, Gianna!!!

Thursday, May 19, 2016


So why talk on and on when I can post pictures?  Here are some recent photos for your enjoyment!

This photos is special in particular because it shows Gianna's growth in social situation.  That blur is her running around with palm branches in church on Palm Sunday.  A year ago she was huddled in my shoulder petrified of other people.

Now here she is the confident little miss, feeling comfortable in her environs!

Here we see Gianna working on right/left coordination, practicing with new gross motor movements, applying her nascent knowledge that if Mom and Dad say it's safe and that she's ok - that she'll more than likely be ok, and overcoming her fears and anxieties and misbeliefs that the world is inherently against her and she must maintain control at all costs or any new situation will likely result in death.  Oh, and she's learning to ride a bike. :)

First Easter eggs!  She looooooovvveeesss hard-boiled eggs, so to Gianna, this tradition is the bees knees!  Next year we tackle the pysanky - the traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs!

Flying a homemade kite in the spring breeze!

Ponds are the best

A tulip that we planted together is growing!  No one is more excited as Gianna.  Tulips were blooming everywhere in Ukraine when we left last year.  It's a bittersweet memory for her, but we paid tribute to this memory by planting our own tulip bed last fall - and here they are blooming just in time to celebrate her adoption anniversary!  Anniversaries are happy but sad.  They're happy-sad.

But there's also mustache day at school - and who can be too too sad while sporting a superior 'stache?  I ask you, who?