the gift of occupational therapy

Today was my boy’s last day of occupational therapy. We have spent an hour of almost every Thursday for the last year and a half with our beloved occupational therapist, Eileen. Some days Luke skipped out of there, happy as a clam after getting to play so many fun games. Other days the reality of the hard work of OT was more apparent, and I carried him to the car as he thrashed and kicked and tried to bite me. But no matter how it ended, every session was a gift.

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Luke was pretty young when I had my first hunch that something was a little off in his development. But the toddler years are crazy for every kid, in one way or another, so I pushed it to the back of my mind as much as I could. I read and re-read Raising Your Spirited Child, because that book described him so perfectly, and it was so helpful in understanding him and being able to empathize with the way his mind and body work.

Yet, at his 3-year old well check, I brought up my concerns – he had no interest in using any sort of ride-on toys/tricycles/etc, couldn’t dress himself, had no interest in using crayons, would run endlessly, was easily overstimulated, and any sort of transition was clearly the end of the world for him. Our doctor (who we loved) was very much in the camp of “there is a wide spectrum of typical development” – and so he was not concerned. And when I read over this list (of the things I actually remember, I’m sure there was more) – I agree that so much of it is all over the map for typical 3-year olds. Luke has always been extremely verbal and social, so by all appearances in that doctor’s office, he was flourishing. But it was that mama’s hunch that kept me concerned.

We took him to a free developmental screening that fall. He charmed the volunteers and just slipped through each test. We walked away with a referral for 9-month old Gracie’s speech, which I (rightfully) discarded. I was completely discouraged.

If he had been my second child so I had more of a developmental frame of reference, or maybe if I wasn’t sleep-deprived at the time, I would have pursued answers. But I tend to be pretty submissive to those I perceive as experts or authorities, and they all said he was fine. If he had gotten a full occupational evaluation, I’m positive he would have qualified for services. But we went on, and it was probably the lowest time in my parenting experience.

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At his 4-year old well check, I walked in with a complete written list of all my concerns, which had grown. They included things like not being able to ride a tricycle, still scribbling, and not able to completely dress himself. Our doctor didn’t even get through all of them before he quickly agreed that further evaluation was needed. Apparently he had fallen off the typical spectrum enough to warrant a second look. I felt a glimmer of hope, which was enough to sustain me through the next 6 months that it took to get the referral and move through the waiting list for an evaluation with a pediatric occupational therapist.

I almost cried with relief (maybe I did?) when I got the phone call in the parking lot of Fred Meyer the same day of his eval. He scored very low in visual motor integration and fine motor skills (7th and 9th percentiles, I think) along with concerns about sensory processing and proprioception. It meant that we qualified for a spot in therapy, as soon as one opened up. I was relieved that we would be getting some guidance in helping him. And I was relieved that I wasn’t crazy, and wasn’t an entirely inept parent.

Our weekly visits with Eileen have varied in content, but they’ve always been jam-packed with activities that have helped Luke build his skills, and grow more comfortable with how his body works. As a result, his skills at school have improved, he’s become more comfortable in play, and do things like completely dress himself. I am so happy that we were able to get into therapy when we did – just at the end of last year he told me, “I can zip my coat up, and Gracie [2 years old at the time] can’t do that. But she can put her socks on, and I can’t do that.” I knew he was becoming more aware of some of his challenges, so I’m glad that he’s made so much progress before entering kindergarten. And yes, he can even put on his socks now – with fine motor + sensory issues, that a big accomplishment!

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I am so, so proud of this kid. His confidence is definitely blossoming in areas it hasn’t before, and he is much more willing to practice things that are challenging. Two years ago I just felt so unsure about so many things, and now, I’m just hopeful for what is ahead. And I will be forever grateful for the gift that OT was for our family.

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due dates

3 years ago today was Gracie’s due date. A couple days ago, I realized it was approaching and I felt nostalgic. I knew that the Facebook “On This Day” app would show me the photo that Ian posted 3 years ago – a pink Seahawks onesie resting on my pregnant belly, Luke in his footie pajamas giving my belly a kiss. I knew I would indulge in a bit of nostalgia, remembering all those winter walks to our neighborhood park Luke and I took in those last few weeks – hoping to encourage labor, but cherishing the last bit of my pregnancy. Sure, Gracie wasn’t born until 10 days later, but the due date of January 11 will always stick in my head.

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Today I woke up expecting that my grandmother would pass away. A different sort of due date entirely. She suffered a massive stroke yesterday, and at 8am this morning, our family planned to gather at her bedside as the breathing tube was removed. They had done a trial removal last night, and she wasn’t able to breathe on her own at all. So it was time to say goodbye.

Fourteen of us crowded together in her small critical care room. My dad’s family is notorious for being chronically late as well as “not morning people.” Yet, all of us were there on time. Whispering, holding my grandma’s hand, occasional jokes, tears. As these things go (waiting for the respiratory therapist… all out of morphine on our floor…), the event we were all waiting for didn’t happen until a couple hours later. We all huddled a little closer as the breathing tube was removed – just 3 or 4 minutes, he said it would take. It came out smoothly, my grandma was peaceful… and still breathing. The machine monitor switched from recording her breathing to the word “STANDBY” – which is what we did.  In fact, as I write this in the evening, she is still breathing and resting peacefully, with family standing by. We know it won’t be much longer, but it may or may not be today after all.

Soon after the tube came out, a hospital chaplain popped in to offer her support. We were all sort of in shock that gram was still breathing, so it was super quiet and none of us really knew how to respond to the chaplain. I’m sure she’s used to these sorts of awkward situations, so she gracefully made her exit. But before she left, she noted “Isn’t it wonderful that you are all here? It’s a “thin place,” as some people call it. Yes, an important time.”

Yes, I thought. My pastor sometimes uses the phrase “thin place” when we come to the communion table. Those places where heaven and earth seem just a little closer.

Yesterday was supposed to be my office day at work. Every Tuesday my awesome dad comes up and watches the kids so I can go into work. My grandmother was transferred from her assisted living facility to the hospital sometime during his 50 minute drive to my house. He visited the kids briefly, then turned around and drove to the hospital. I worked through the morning while Ian could be home with the kids, then came home when Ian had to go to work.

I’m not sure if it was the break in routine or my heart worrying about my grandma or the freezing cold, bright, sunny weather – but whatever it was, yesterday afternoon felt a bit more sacred than normal. I didn’t have a household to-do list for the day, and I knew I couldn’t tackle my work with both kids in my watch; so I was simply present. Yes, my thoughts wandered often to my grandma and the uncertainty there, but it was such a sweet afternoon with my kids that my frail heart felt suspended in time.

I wanted to soak it all in forever, so I snapped photos  as we flitted from activity to activity. Occasionally my eyes would rest on the chalkboard in our dining area, which I had spontaneously written “’tis so sweet to trust in Jesus” last Sunday. I breathed deeply and held my babies close. I dare say it felt like a bit of a thin place in its own way.

Unease crept in shortly before we left for our evening small group; a phone call with my mom left me a bit of a hot mess. My loving extroverted son proceeded to “cheer me up” by talking nonstop on the way to small group, starting with bizarre “cheerful” statements such as “I want to die at the zoo. You can do that, right?” to his complete theology of heaven, 5-year old style. At small group, I settled into the rhythm of good friends and conversation; at home I talked to my mom again – a plan was in place: 8am in the morning. Yes; a chance to say goodbye, a chance to be in that thin place together.

So, here I am. Babies tucked in bed (will they always look like babies as they sleep, even as teenagers?) and sorting through my thoughts. It seems like another due date will pass without the expected event actually happening. Like I was 3 years ago, I’m okay with that. I feel settled about how I left my grandma today, and I know that the Lord will call her home when it is time. Until then, she will rest as best she can in her 87-year old body. And if she’s like my grandpa, she’ll let everyone keep vigil over her for awhile, then slip away when everyone goes off to lunch together.

And I’ll keep this date tucked away in my heart, more complex than it was 3 years ago, but perhaps more rich and full.

adoption finalization – five years later

Around 2am this morning, Luke called for me, as he does most nights. He wanted to move to “daddy’s bed” – weeks where Ian works the late shift make this boy crave extra time with his daddy. So I settled him with Ian and crept off to the guest room to get more sleep.

As I lay awake in the middle of the night, I thought back to this day five years ago: Luke’s adoption finalization. I was up at the same time, feeding Luke a bottle. After he finished, I jumped in the shower and got ready for the day. Luke was born a few hours south of here, so that was where we had to go to finalize his adoption. It was an early morning for sure, but an exciting one.

I remember being nervous about how Luke would do – putting him in the car so early, and having to stop on the way for another feeding. We pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot and fed him in the car. He was so super smiley and happy – it’s one of those moments that I’ve tucked away in my heart for forever. I remember his soft jammies and his fuzzy bib. His gurgly smile and bright eyes. I remember thinking that no matter if he screamed in the courtroom, this was our happy boy, giving us the gift of a perfect family moment.

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Now that baby is five. I was never sure how or if we would celebrate his finalization anniversary each year. We have always been open with Luke about his adoption, but thus far he hasn’t been super interested. And that’s fine. We’ll keep bringing it up now and then, so if/when he is ready to explore that part of his story, he’ll know that he can ask us.

So today I remembered that special day on my own, and thought about how far we have come. How we know our boy so much better than we did back then, and how we’ve grown into parenthood with him. Often friends or family say something like “God knew you were the just the right parents for him.” So often I feel unsure of how to parent our bright, spirited boy that their statement feels untrue. But I do trust that God wanted to call us to grow into the parents that Luke and Gracie need us to be. The promises that we made in the courtroom five years were just the beginning of this calling, but it was a day that will always be tucked away in my heart.

 

 

we have a five year-old

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How this boy got to be five years old, I don’t know. He was SO excited about his birthday this year. He had his first “kid party” with some of his friends from preschool and church. We had a “wild animal” theme (no surprise with this kiddo), and everyone had a blast. It was just Ian and I leading a dozen kiddos through animal activities, so I didn’t have time to take any photos!

We made him a lycra hammock for his swingset, because he loves the ones at his OT sessions. He and Gracie love it and have already spent a lot of time hanging out in there.

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On facebook I posted this on his birthday:

5 years old! I don’t know what is crazier – how much you have learned and grown into the boy that you are now, or how much I have learned and grown over the last 5 years in being a mother to you. You are a flame that burns brightly – sometimes it’s a flame that dances joyfully and lights up the world all around you; other times the power of that flame overwhelms you. My own flame tends to remain pretty steady, and you’ve challenged me as we’ve learned how to tend to your fire; rejoicing in your zest for life and your love for others while learning when and how to quiet the flame when it grows too large for your little body and mind to handle. We are in this together, and we learn more together every day. Happy birthday!

It’s a work in progress, learning to parent this little boy who is so different from myself. The day after I wrote this, he had his party. His party that he had been counting down to for a month, and talking about even prior to that. His party that he had planned and wished for and was SO excited for. And I think it was close to everything he imagined. He was so happy to be surrounded by all his friends.

His pure joy is electric, his smile is contagious, and his giggle is one of my favorite sounds. His highs are so high; they are thrilling. And of course the flip-side is that his lows can be pretty low. We knew he would come down pretty hard from his party, and he did. There wasn’t even much sugar involved, but the excitement of it all took a toll on our sweet boy, and the rest of the day was one big roller coaster of emotions. No amount of hammock time or running on the track or reading on mom’s lap could make it right. The day finally ended with him laying in bed, a cool washcloth on his forehead, surrendering to sleep as Ian sang “Trust in the Lord,” the song we’ve sang to him at bedtime since he was an infant.

This last year of him being 4 was hard. 3 was hard. 2 was hard. His feelings are so big, and sometimes his body sends him mixed signals about things. We are learning alongside of him how to regulate these feelings and sensations. I am thankful for his occupational therapist, and the great insight she has into what may be going on inside his little body. And immensely thankful for the grace that Jesus has granted me as his mama, and for the work that he has done in my own life amidst these challenges.

I do see so much growth, and so much potential – I feel like we may be at a turning point in his development. Or soon, anyways.  I feel relieved that he can do one more year of preschool; I want him to go into kindergarten feeling confident of the skills he will need there. Most of his classmates wrote on the cards they included with their presents – seeing their wobbly handwriting made my mama heart sink a little bit. Not because I’m sad that Luke isn’t there yet, but because I know that he notices that they can write their letters. He told me one day that he knew he couldn’t go to kindergarten because he didn’t know how to write his name (I know, not true – clearly something that another kid told him) and he said it with such sadness. I’m glad that he’ll have another year to practice skills like this that seem so difficult for him.

Our boy is so exuberant and social that most people don’t realize his own personal challenges. As his parents, we get to see the full spectrum, of course. Over the last few years, I’ve seen a change in how I view his behaviors and emotions. For so long my internal reaction was often, “why can’t he just…” whereas now I often – not always, I’m not perfect! – feel empathy towards him and think, “it looks like he needs…” Instead of wanting to shut down and distance myself from him, my mantra is “get closer.” And it has really paid off in our relationship.

So here’s to this next year of parenting a 5-year old. May we grow more, reach new stages, and find meaning and joy in this season.

april

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Every April I get all the feelings.

In April 2011, our adoption homestudy was completed and we were officially “waiting” for a baby. I started readying my heart and home for a baby – it was such a unique season of anticipating and waiting with such uncertainty as to when we would become parents. I made this adorable little stork for our future baby’s bedroom.

Every April, I revisit those feelings and stand in awe at all that has happened since then. That April, I didn’t know that we would have a son two months later. And that two years after that, I’d be longing for another baby – not yet knowing that I was newly pregnant.

And this year? These two are no longer babies, but we are in a sweet season. They are best friends, and my heart is so full.

 

when you lose your place in your own story

Oh hey. Yeah, so it’s been 1 year+ since I’ve written in this little corner of the internet. Sometimes you just lose your place in a story, you know?

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When I became a mother 4.5 years ago, my life sped up immensely. And when Gracie joined us two years ago, I swear we entered warp speed.

You know what else happened when I became a mom? My heart broke open. When we discovered our infertility problems, I thought my heart broke. But then we had Luke, and that tiny little baby just split my heart open in the best way possible, and suddenly all the good and bad and joy and sorrow flowed through my heart in much deeper ways than it ever had before. And again, when Gracie joined us, the intensity of life itself became that much stronger.

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So somewhere in the midst of feeling all the things at warp speed, life got a little foggy. This blog has never been a completely accurate gauge for what’s going on in my life, but it was a glimpse of my journey and the things that I was processing along the way. These past couple years it’s been fuzzy – my internal dialogue (the source of these blog posts) became distant and disjointed and nonexistent at times. I felt swallowed up by the huge feelings and the constant go.go.go of two little kids and I was hanging on furiously so that I wouldn’t miss anything.

It bothered me, this feeling lost in my own story. I still found immense joy in my family and life – but it was just a little different. I couldn’t articulate all the little gifts and challenges that make life amazing, and I missed that inner processing. It took me awhile to put together the pieces, and I feel like I’ve found my place again.

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That season will always be a little bit mysterious to me, but I know that God was faithful in carrying me through it. Did a few years of interrupted sleep play a role? Probably. (My sweet Gracie Kate is just starting to sleep through the night at 2; at 4.5, Luke still wakes nightly). I really thrive on being their mama – even being up in the night with them is something that I often tuck away in my heart because this is such a fleeting time, and I treasure it – but sometimes I forget that it does take a toll on my body.

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I love the adventure of keeping up with a newborn turned infant turned toddler – it’s amazing to reflect on all.the.growth Gracie has had over the span of just two years! But it takes energy to keep up with all that. And Luke is growing up so quickly too – the past few years have also been riddled with ups and downs as we’ve tried to better understand some of the challenges he has. I know a lot of my thoughts and energy have been spent there, too.

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Even more, I feel like this season in life is just heavy with joys and sorrows, much more than other times in my life. So much has happened in the lives of those that are close to me, and I’ve felt it deeply. It almost knocks me over when I think of all the babies born, successes achieved, clear cancer scans, adventures that have happened, health restored and the sheer goodness of God evidently displayed in the lives around me. And in the same breath I try to take in the pain of infertility, all the babies that we never got to meet, the cancer updates that are not what was hoped for, the hospital stays for kids that are too young to belong in such a place, the loneliness, the pain, and the suffering that we don’t understand.

and if you travel here
you will feel it all
the brightest and the darkest
and if you travel here
listen to your heart
take with you what lasts forever
-Future of Forestry

For awhile, my reaction to feeling all.the.things was panic and confusion. I didn’t know how to let them be in my heart, especially when they had to share space with the unbelievable joy that I felt in being a mama to two beautiful kids. This ISTJ just isn’t keen on feeling all the emotions. Instead of letting myself experience these mixed emotions and process through things, too often I’d just replay Gracie’s birth in my head or hustle the kids off to a park where I could zone out in the sunshine. Not the best coping mechanisms, and largely unhelpful.

The more you see the less you know
The less you find out as you go
I knew much more then than I do now
-U2

Yet somehow, over time, I have regained my footing and my heart and head feel much more clear. Somehow I’ve found my place in my story again, and it is just as rich and complicated as I remembered and hoped it would be. Praise the Lord for his many mercies: for steadfast husbands, fabulous kiddos, amazing family and friends, skilled counselors and naturopaths, and the gentle hand of a God that cares intimately for each of us.

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I’m not promising that I’ll be blogging daily – or even regularly – but I’m excited to come leave some words or photos here when I am able. I have missed this blog so much – particularly being able to come back and look at what has happened in the past. I love having glimpses into different seasons of my life, and this season is a full, rich one.

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So welcome back to this window into our little life; sorry for this heavy intro, but I felt like I wanted to leave some explanation instead of just jumping in with random posts. And I wanted to be true to myself in these words, so that I could revisit them in the future and remember all that I sorted through in my heart.

Our hearts are heavy and light.
We laugh and scream and sing.
-Jamie Tworkowski

Infertility, Adoption, Pregnancy: Our Story So Far – Part 3

It is still so crazy to me that Ian and I have experienced infertility, adoption, and pregnancy. All three parts of our journey have deeply affected who we are – as individuals, as a couple, and as a family.

Every person has a unique story. Often our stories overlap in places – those moments when you feel a connection of “yes, I know what that feels like!” Throughout my life, I’ve always been greatly encouraged by hearing other people’s stories – both ones that I can easily relate to, and ones that widen my perspective of the different experiences that people have. I wanted to take some time and share our story – so far. I wrote most of these posts a year ago, but I wanted to wait until we had another little person and not just a pregnancy before finishing the last part. Well, apparently I ended up waiting 10 months. Anyways, here you go – in three parts over three days, so you’re not stuck reading it allll at once!

To read Part One, click here.
To read Part Two, click here.

Part Three: The Complete Surprise of Pregnancy

Still can't believe I carried a baby in my belly.

Still can’t believe I carried a baby in my belly.

Earlier I wrote about the day I found out I was pregnant. Seriously, my baby is now 10 months old (today!) and it STILL seems unreal. In a way, being pregnant was the strangest thing because I truly never expected it to happen. I am grateful that God protected my heart so well during that time. We had no idea how the pregnancy would go, and I know so many people (the majority of my mom-friends, actually) that have had pregnancy losses. And while as far as we know, we never conceived prior to Gracie, there was definitely some distrust in my body after the whole infertility deal. When I first told Ian that I was pregnant, our initial conversation had a lot of “so IF we have this baby…” talk, and I recognized it and called it out. I knew that we needed to be thankful for every day that I got to carry this baby, but we needed to talk with “when” and not “if” language, and trust God to hold our hearts as we walked in such strange new territory. And God was so gracious to us.

Honestly, pregnancy was awesome for me. I loved being pregnant. I know many friends that have seriously rough or scary pregnancies, so I recognize the gift of an easy pregnancy! Sure, the first trimester I was suuuuper exhausted and nauseous every day. But other than that, it was great. And the birth went awesome too. Seriously, I’d give birth to Gracie again tomorrow if I could (yeah, I’m weird like that).

It’s funny to be given a gift that for a time you so desperately wanted, but have grieved over and accepted as not happening. It’s kind of freeing, actually. I know that it helped give me better perspective on what is really important. We took a Bradley Method natural childbirth class (which was awesome!), and it was interesting to see what was  important to the other couples (who, of course, were all first-time parents). Sure, we wanted a natural birth, but if we ended up with a c-section or whatever, we’d still get to be present at the birth, something we didn’t get with Luke! Other parents were concerned about medical staff interfering with their desire for delayed cord clamping, rubbing the vernix into the skin, etc – all things that were so, so secondary to us.

The day before my due date.

The day before my due date.

The emotions of it all were kind of all over the place. At the beginning of my pregnancy, there was mostly shock, awe, and some guilt (why me out of all my friends struggling with infertility?). That progressed into a very sweet time of content anticipation – I loved being pregnant with such a sweet gift, and I treasured the time I got to carry her. I never reached the point of feeling “so done,” though my excitement in getting to meet her steadily grew.

When Grace was born, everything just seemed so right – our little family expanding with just the right little person. The strangest emotions came awhile after she was born: I missed being pregnant, yet I was obviously so in love with her. I think with Luke, it was awesome because it was ALL the excitement at once: BOOM! With Gracie, there was such a long period of anticipation – and I’m a person that really thrives on anticipation, so it’s hard to come down from, in a weird way. But the emotions of meeting my kids, through adoption or birth? The same: heaven-meets-earth awesome.

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Gracie, just a few hours old.

When we were waiting to adopt, we had one boy name and one girl name picked out. Grace Katherine seemed so right for a child that would join our family through the amazing gift of adoption. Yet when we found out we were expecting a girl through pregnancy, it also seemed perfect for such a surprise gift. Every child is a gift from God, and after experiencing infertility, we were keenly aware of that. Our aching desire to have a family was fulfilled not once, but twice, with two precious gifts from the giver of all good things.

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

-Grace, U2

I get asked about the difference between having kids through adoption vs. birth sometimes. It’s a hard question to answer, because there are just so many layers to separate, it’s almost impossible. Both experiences were so amazing, and different yet the same… I imagine might be similar to comparing any siblings’ births. I was a different person when Grace was born – I was already a mom, so that made a big difference. I think one of my favorite things about our story is that we got the bonus excitement of getting to have the first-time experience of becoming parents with Luke, and then getting the first-time experience of birth with Gracie. It was probably more relaxing to go through pregnancy for the first time while already knowing what it’s like to be parents. Although I do admit that I had fleeting daydreams of getting to just sit and do nothing (or sleep!) during my first trimester, or the chance to recover from my first birth (hello, third-degree tears) without parenting a toddler. But overwhelmingly I have just felt grateful for the family we have been given, and especially for the unique ways that Luke and Grace joined our family. My heart is full.

IMG_8415So that’s where our story ends so far. It remains to be seen if our family continues to grow, and if so, which way it will happen.  I love our story; the ups and downs seem almost surreal when I write them out, but it’s a true story. I hope that hearing how God has grown our family has been encouraging to you as well – thanks for listening!