Thursday, February 16, 2017

It's Amazing the Difference a Year Makes!

Happy Adoption Day, Sammy Boy!

On Wednesday, February 15, 2017 it was one year that Sam has joined our family! What a year it has been. A whirlwind of micro moments that all together weave an incredible experience of adjustment for all of us. It's impossible to accurately describe in a few sentences all the emotions and interactions that have shaped our last year. On their own, they are just tidbits of time. Collectively, they represent the rebuilding of a new life as a family and the budding of a child, who is learning what family means.

It's hard to believe that a year has gone already. At the same time, it's hard to remember "life before Sam". He bounced into our life, much like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, without a care in the world, curious, smart and FAST. We could not believe how FAST. Everything was fair game for his curious hands and as soon as he learned the word "touch", he went around grinning, saying "touch, touch, touch" while touching EVERYTHING. We followed, saying and signing "No touch, No touch..." Needless to say, the first few months were exhausting. In case you missed it, here is a link to our first meeting. Turn your speakers down- it's LOUD!

Devoted readers no doubt noticed, I abruptly left my blog in limbo, along with everything social and work related. In order to be fully present to Sam, who, I quickly realized required my undivided attention, I dropped everything that wasn't directly related to the running of my home (i.e. laundry, dinner, school work, finances, sleep, hygiene, pets) and the needs of my parents. I had to. That was more than enough. Sam's need for attention and supervision was tremendous. He was into everything and had an insatiable desire to learn, touch and do everything.

I love that about him! He is so enthusiastic and follows me around the house, helping me with everything! He finds joy in all things work related. The dirtier the job, the happier he is! Windows- no problem! Big piles of dirty dishes? No problem! (a few things crash and break- but hey! What can you do?) Endless baskets of laundry? Yucky bathroom sink? Loves it!! Folds all the clothes, vacuums, sweeps, and on and on. I have never had such a tireless housekeeping partner! He is an amazingly hard worker and he knows what clean is. Give him a rag and some vinegar spray and a project and he gets the job done cheerfully.

Overall, things are going very well. Sam's learned so much English and his connecting words are filling in so he sounds much more fluent. He easily talks to everyone he meets and charms them with his curious, friendly way. He is especially caring to anyone who is not feeling well or hurt. He loves his grandmas and grandpa and always asks them "How are you? You OK?"

Visiting Grandma Judy in Florida
Grandpa Jerry
Grandma Iris

Academic learning has been a challenge for Sam because of his unbelievably short attention span. We have spent a lot of time teaching him to take deep breaths, calm himself and stay focused. In addition, he has lots of Spec Ed services and a 1-1 aide (in a gen ed 4th grade). His curriculum is adapted and he's working on counting 1-20 and learning the letters/sounds. He loves to cut, paste and color and his art work is developing more depth and variety. The whole year has focused so far on helping him learn to be a learner. He has finally begun to understand that the print carries the message. He loves school and is very independent about getting himself ready and caring for his things. Last month, he was able to begin to wait for the bus at the end of the driveway, all by himself. He was in the 4th grade chorus concert and was very proud of his part in it.

First time wearing a tie. He loved the tie!
Sam's relationship with Mary Alice is one of mutual admiration. She loves to be with him and when home from school she takes great care of him and plays with him. He adores her. She just went back after break and he really misses her. It's been very rewarding to watch their connection. He loves to do what they do. Here he insisted that I make a copy of the crossword, so he could write his own letters on his.
Mary Alice, Matt & Sam doing the New Year's Day crossword puzzle
Megan is very tender with him. She makes his breakfast and talks with him in the morning. Shanna's more reserved but loves to play with Sam. Matthew is away at school and Sam misses him a lot!

Puzzling with Shanna
Sam does still get angry and yell at us for no reason. Says we're too loud and always yelling when it's really him that's doing all the yelling. It's often when he is hungry and tired. He only recently has begun to tune into his bodily needs and become aware of them. We have spent months gently suggesting options when he became disregulated, often at the peril of agitating him further, and finally, we can hear him say "Hmmph. Maybe I hungry". Music to my ears. Most often, when he becomes disregulated part of him is scared about something (maybe just his own out of control feelings). And then he behaves in scary ways, which can be very overwhelming.

We're using a program with Sam called Integrated Listening System. It delivers specially treated classical music and Gregorian chants through headphones to help the brain develop neural connections for emotional regulation. The headphones provide a vibration that gives input to the vagus nerve in the skull through the music that sends calming info into the brain/body. The music is "gated" and emphasizes different frequencies depending on the goals for each child (sensory motor vs attention and focus vs auditory processing). It's really interesting. The program is on an iPod/amplifier and he listens about 30-60 mins at a time, several days a week. He likes it and it's soothing to him. I've been listening too, and it's really helped me stay calm and focused while dealing with his needs. It's not a cheap program, but if used consistently, I think it makes a big difference. In fact, I attribute his learning to play appropriately with his toys to his participation in this program. Prior to listening, he only "worked".

Learning to play
All of us get rattled by his meltdowns. We have learned to respond to his behavior calmly, but sometimes he escalates simply because he has pent up emotions to release and those times he sobs in our arms afterward, as we hold him and reassure him that it's ok and we love him. I just try to breathe through it and remember that my Sammy is in there somewhere and he always comes back. Sometimes, in an absolute "I have no idea what to do now" state, I sit next to him on the stairs and put my head in my hands and sigh. Then I feel his small hand rubbing my back and his sweet voice saying "You ok, Mommy?" Once he even said "It not easy."  This kid is so smart and so emotionally tuned in. No Sam, not easy.... but easier than it was. You're kind, intelligent, curious, funny, tender and loving and you're definitely worth it!!

All in all, a successful year. 

The Groat Family!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Getting a Whisker From a Tiger

The Sunday before our departure to China, our UU minister told the children a story about a woman who married a man whose first wife had died and left a young son. 

This adoptive mother wanted so badly to be accepted as this child's mother but he refused all her affection. Feeling despair, the woman went to seek the advice of the village wiseman. He said he could give her a magic potion that would make the boy love her but first she would need to bring him the whisker of a tiger. Shocked, the woman went away, yet determined to do what she must because she loved that boy so much.

So the woman went into the jungle to find the tiger.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Everything is OK!

Adoption Day, February 15, 2016
Sorry for the limited posts. Everyone is alright. I just came down with a stomach bug and have been going to sleep as soon as Sam does. He is smart, clever, quick and strong. A combination which keeps the other seven of us hopping to keep up with him. He watches me like a hawk and the minute I touch my computer or phone to post, he wants to touch everything. I am exhausted again tonight so I will close here. Just know that we are making good progress with Sam, he is actively involved with each of us and loves to color with his siblings. I'm having trouble posting photos. I'll try again tomorrow. Time to sleep now!

Monday, February 15, 2016

This says it all!!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Adventure Begins!!

Ready to Go! What a team! Traveling with all the family and our nephew
It feels similar to being perched on the top of the highest roller coaster ever imagined, after months of climbing (sometimes straight uphill!) on the laid out track. Then, when finally at the top, balancing at that crucial tipping point before careening downhill (picture the stomach dropping point just over the hump) around many twists and turns, thrilling all the senses, screaming WHEE and AAHHH and YAY, before jolting to the bottom and saying WOW that was fun!!

So we've climbed up, made it through all the paper-chasing and dossier hoops and through the 30+ hours of door to door travel from our house to China. Now we have crested the top and are on the way down, enjoying every minute! Today is a rest day (2/14) where we gather ourselves together, settle in the hotel and get familiar with our surroundings. Tomorrow will be the big day (2/15). We will meet Sam at 3:30 AM EST time (2:30pm China time). He will be brought from Shantou by Director Guo, travelling about 6 hours by bus. He is well prepared and excited to meet us.
Our last chat on Thursday morning. Sam's cheeks must hurt!
We have had many opportunities to communicate with him over WeChat the last few months. He has seen our home, our pets, our backyard, his room, the refrigerator, all the things that would seem so unfamiliar have been experienced through the Ipad! He has even seen Daddy and Mary Alice get into the car, back out of the garage and leave for work and school several mornings. We have shown him the changing fall leaves and the snow (sparse as it has been this season)! We have carved pumpkins together, drawn turkeys with our hands, sang songs in Chinese & English. We have met his nannies, friends and teacher. We are so fortunate to be able to spend this quality time with him. It is not common at all to have this much contact prior to adoption and we are so thankful and appreciate everyone's effort that has allowed us to develop this deep connection to each other.

Making a turkey together on Thanksgiving
Baba's Turkey
Mama's Turkey
Our Wonderful Friend's Mui & Portia, giving our gifts to Sam!
Sam & a Friend--- who still needs a family, making Glutinous Rice Balls!
Sam's Chinese Name
Added Sam to the Mural in his room!
The backstory is that we got to know Sam because I was chairing the annual PTA fundraiser for Megan & Shanna's school. I chose Love Without Boundaries for the charity. We wanted to sponsor a child for an adoption grant. I asked LWB for a recommendation for a child from Shantou, Shanna's orphanage. Sam was the immediate suggestion as LWB had known him since 2007 and they thought him to be a very smart, sweet boy who had been on the waiting list a long time. Before we had a chance to run the fundraiser, he was matched with a family, so we switched the focus to his foster brother. We continued to follow along with him and when his adoption was not completed, our hearts broke for him and the family. After discussing it for several weeks; realizing that we had the experience and circumstances to do it, we decided that we would adopt him.

And here is the best part of the story.... Shanna and Sam were brother and sister at Shantou together when they were younger! Here are some photos of them. In the first photo, Sam is in the yellow shirt on the nanny's lap. Shanna is in the front right, sharing candy that we sent her in a care package. In the second Sam, bottom left; Shanna, right.

June 2010
Maybe December 2010 right before adopting Shanna
A month or so ago, I reached out to the mother that had previously come to China to adopt him. We had a good long talk about her experience there. For deeply personal reasons, the match between them was not right and she knew it with her whole being, so they decided not to continue. I completely admire and support the courage that it took for this family to recognize this and make such a painful choice. Their choice to let him go set in motion the circumstances that we were able to find him, and we are a perfect fit for each other. Our deepest thanks to them.

I took my special necklace which previously had 4 children, to a custom jeweler and he did a beautiful job adding our 5th (and final) child!

Happy to have my "expanded" necklace back
Our Family
Everyone is so independent---I'm walking alone!

De-icing the plane
The screen was stuck on 7 hours and 40 minutes left to destination, making us all a little crazy!
Somewhere over China
Bunny loves going to China!
Our Guide Elvin. Sooooo glad to see him at 10pm China time, 28 hours into our travels!
Guangzhou Airport
Expectant Parents on Valentine's Day!!
Expectant Sister
Expectant Sister
And my sweet girl, Whisper, staring at the door at her nanny's house, waiting for our return. XO We'll be back soon!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Time for Another Change

My world has shifted on its axis, yet again. While I have loved running my organizing business, and will continue to work with a limited number of long time clients; I find myself in the wonderfully amazing position of wanting to be a stay-at-home mom AND having the ability to do so. I have always felt that I needed to be many things at once. Now I feel that I need to do one thing at a time.

Here is why:

Eric and I will travel to China again in the spring to bring home another precious son! It was an unexpected opportunity to adopt again. While we did not expect it, we learned of him from the adoption community. A potential adoption by another family had fallen through. His personality, gender, age and special needs were a perfect fit for our family. He needed us at this time in his life and we chose to step up and become his parents. We recognized that although we thought we knew what was meant for our family of six, that the Spirit of Life had other plans. We are to be a family of seven. Adoption is not for the faint of heart, yet, if you are called to it you must prepare for a wild ride. We have been called again. Our son is slightly younger than our girls and will need lots of support and time as he adjusts and transitions. He is also clever and fun and full of smiles and laughter and love. He knows we are coming for him and he is so happy.

Eric & I are homeschooling Megan & Shanna this year. Most people react positively when we tell them this, and yet, they say "Oh, I couldn't do that". Well, I thought that too. I had no idea how to imagine having that much responsibility. At the same time, I thought maybe I could. We were worried about the holes that they had in their foundational skills and the pace they were expected to move at in public school. We recognized the stress is was putting on all of us. We questioned what we were gaining by sending them on to middle school to face that rushing and pressure. We decided to try a different tack.

Shanna holding a bearded dragon.
Megan sharing love with a snoozing milk snake.
And now that we are doing it--- I know it's the Right Thing.  I love being with them and understanding what they know and don't know, what they need and don't need. I have the resources, the patience and skills to do it and we are all better for the
 slower paced life it offers. The only thing is that I knew that I would have to take the time from somewhere and work was the only obvious place. I had to decide to let go of helping others outside my family- in my business. This was not an easy thing to do, but yet, a necessary one. By the time our son comes home, I hope to have created an easy rhythm of life that he can settle into. This will be my major focus for the next few months. Pull in further to my core, follow my instincts and my heart, eliminate distractions and keep only that which brings me joy and happiness.

I love to write and I love to share with others. I will continue to do so by posting on this blog about issues related to family, children, homeschooling and adoption, as well as organizing challenges, tips and ideas about living more simply and following my heart. Although I cannot take on new clients personally, maybe someone will be helped my my experiences and ideas.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Rolling a Rock Up a Mountain

I am a pretty optimistic person. I always try to look on the bright side and be happy. At the same time, I am an anxious person and that gets in the way. I am forever reading inspirational books and looking at my thinking and and my feelings and trying to get better at dealing with stress. This winter has been filled with transitions for everyone in my family, both immediate and extended. I won't go into detail, because it is all pretty private, but adjustments to school, learning, life stages, medical issues, personal issues, relationships, work, etc, etc. have all impacted our daily functioning and balance. I am in the center of it all, trying to roll the rock up the mountain. Sometimes, it slips out of my grasp, only to roll down to the bottom again, but I stubbornly pick it up and start rolling. My husband helps me often, but he has to come and go, due to his own rock that he rolls at work. So I have lots of time with my rock. I notice my rock as it rolls up the mountain. It is gathering bits along the way. Some smaller rocks, some plants, an animal or two (or three or more), some really shiny gems that are awesome and beautiful. My rock is constantly growing and changing. Once in a while, the mountain evens out and the rolling is smooth and easy. Sometimes I even feel I am running to catch up with my rock when it rolls ahead of me. And sometimes, like I said, it slips backward. But always we catch it and start again with the right attitude; the faith that while we may never actually reach the top, our rock is our rock, and our mountain is our mountain and we are strong enough to keep rolling.

My Black and White Team and Constant Companions
Going to the Nutcracker Ballet

Mary Alice made the cats and dog each holiday bowties

Megan volunteering at soccer with her friend.

Visting the Butterfly Garden
Christmas morning
Always room for a new doll. Why doesn't their hair stay that way??!

My boy turned 19!! How did that happen??!
Celebrating the January Birthdays
The never ending homework. They are such hard workers.

Another of Megan's funny notes.... only if I buy them bunk beds tomorrow..... written on her Kindle drawing app.
Our new gerbils, who were adorable and snuggly together for many weeks, then right after this was taken one decided to attack the other and now they have separate cages!
Re-organizing the family room into a learning center, to support the high distractibility of me and the girls.
The core of the family. Celebrating Eric's birthday. Love you so much, honey!!