Wednesday, September 28, 2011

6 Month Anniversary of Forever Family Day!!!

Our first family portrait taken at the Nanchang Civil Affairs Office.
This is the photo on our adoption certificate.

Wow! Has it really been 6 months, half a year? Was is this time last year that I was reading a little girl's file and didn't know her yet? Was it this time six months ago that she walked through a doorway, every so tiny, and into my arms and heart?

I can scarcely believe that I haven't always had her. I can hardly remember my life before she came into it, other than painting a little pink room. But HERE is the proof that there was a day it all began for us together!

Waterpark Play Last Tuesday

What's In a Name? Part 2

Thank you all for your comments. Please keep them coming.

A note to some readers who joined later, Jie Jie means big sister in Chinese and is not my daughter's name, nor do I call her this. It is only her online pseudonym.

So far, my aunty agrees with me about not being able to imagine Jie Jie with an English name. Understand, this is coming from an aunty with 6 children who each have a Hawaiian name and an English name, 3 go by their Hawaiian name and 3 go by their English name. My own middle name is Hawaiian and I have 2 brothers and 2 sisters. One sister goes by her Hawaiian name and one brother goes by his Japanese name. So, growing up having to spell and explain one's name is quite common in my family.

My dad suggests going with what I feel is right for my daughter and, after some thought, after I caught him in the middle of a nasty computer problem, says he likes the name I found and that it's more important to do what I think is right for us then trying to please people who hear her name. But, he did say that when he's been in Taiwan, all his friends give their kids English names and the school kids introduce themselves using their English names.

The first part of my daughter's name comes from a saying, "Spare no effort; do one's utmost," and the second part has to do with water (forgive me for being vague, but I don't want anyone to be able to look her name up, I have a public blog by value my privacy). The two names don't have to go together, but on her translated Chinese birth certificate, the names in English are put together with an apostrophe. Total, there are only 4 letters in her name.

Unusually, it seems that the first part of her first name is actually more connected to the orphanage surname. Many of the children at her SWI have the same first part of the name after the surname. In fact, they seemed to have only a few names that they used, my daughter's part being extrememly common and another name, Meng, is used a lot as the first part of the first name of many of the children.

What makes her name unique is the way she pronounces it. I don't know if this is a sort of baby way of saying her name, like an endearment of it, a local dialect, or what. She is so used to hearing her name said this way that when I use it, even if I'm in another room on the phone discussing her name, she comes to me, thinking I've called her over. Other than me, only children seem to say it like she does.

The Chinese middle name that I'm considering means the two exact words that I've always used to describe her from the moment I met her and got to know her. I couldn't believe that there was a name with those two words together. It's very pretty and I almost wish I could use it as her first name. But, as a middle name, it flows nicely with her first name and our last name.

She likes having her SWI surname in there, too, but I still need to find out if it's appropriate in Chinese or would be an error.

As for family names, the beautiful Hawaiian names have been used to death. Each time another family member uses them, it's a chorus of, "Oh no, another one." Honestly, I don't like our English family names, not even my own, which is why I go by the Japanese version of the nickname for this name. Our names are not common these days but were when we were named, they are not unusual either, but I don't think they sound pretty at all. They certainly don't fit Jie Jie. Does she look like a Roberta, Polly, Marguerite or Hazel to you?

As for Jie Jie, she is already learning that when people ask her name, it's easier for them to say it the formal way, rather than the common nickname way or the endearment nickname way. I guess this is the best way to explain it:

The Formal Way (just like it's written, w/o surname)
Common Nickname (repeating part of the name two times)
Endearment or dialect nickname (impossible to spell)

I'm going to think of this some more....

P.S. 11:48pm I was re-watching our Family Day video of when we met and I can hear the orphanage director in the background calling my daughter using her name as my daughter pronounces it, endearment or dialect way, but when I ask how to pronounce it, she gave me the Formal Way. It's amazing how much more I notice every time I watch the video.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What's In a Name?

I started the paperwork for the re-adopt, the process that will grant Jie Jie and English birth certificate. It's also my chance to come up with her final name.

I'm not good at naming anything, whether it's a cat or person or even a business. Jie Jie's name is her given Chinese name. It's unusual, but short. She doesn't want a different name, and I don't blame her. I like it; it suits her. How she pronounces her name is completely impossible to spell and it's what I call her myself. The formal pronounciation of her name is quite easy to say and this is what I taught her to introduce herself as.

So far, she isn't good at naming anything either, from dolls to kittens. She still doesn't understand what I mean by English or Chinese, but I think today she just started getting a glimmer of understanding.

I looked at the Social Security name list, which ranks the top 1000 names for 2010 and there's not one on there that suits her. Next, I looked at Chinese names and found something we both like, something to add for a middle name. It's not hard to pronounce, but it's not easy either. It decribes her to a T and it's pretty. There is also a famous Chinese swimmer with that name and Jie Jie loves to swim, so I thought that was coincidental. We both like it. Jie Jie also likes the Chinese surname she came with, which is the name all the children at her SWI have. Since she lived there for so long, I do consider it part of her identity and the way the orphanage director pronounced her whole name was nice, so I don't mind keeping it in her name somewhere. However, I'd hate for a Chinese person to come up to me someday and say I really named her something nonsensical.

The Chinese people I know have encouraged me to give her a simple English name. All the guides in China for the agencies had English names. My dad told me that all the kids in school in Taiwan introduce themselves by English names.

We live in a diverse world, now, though. Is an English name truly necessary?

I would love to hear your comments on this.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hydrotherapy & Other Exercises

Last week at the chiropractor I learned something about the way a body frame and muscles come together. Jie Jie has some muscles that are atrophied, underdeveloped and/or missing and/or malformed, with poor innervation. To look at her at the park, you'd think she's fine. Put her on a bike with pedals, ask her to try and stand on tip toe or stand on one foot or squat and you'd see she has a problem.

I think that each parent of a child with special needs faces a dilemma of deciding what is "good enough" and what is "reaching the fullest potential." There are so many kids that can't even walk, so what is riding a bike - really? Do we NEED to stand on tip toe or do we just pull out a ladder each time something is out of our reach? Stand on one foot? Why not do as Jie Jie does and lean against the wall to put your pants on each morning?

Let's leave childhood and peek into adulthood - especially older age. How we walk on our feet affects the growth and development of our knees, hips (pelvis) and back. Aging is hard enough with a healthy body, what's it like for someone with a body that didn't start out healthy?

Jie Jie needs to focus on developing specific muscle groups. She moves so well when at play that I didn't realize her limitations until we started specific exercises last week. For example, she can barely lift her head up off the floor when lying on her back with her knees bent. Forget about doing one single sit-up or crunch. She's never had to coordinate her legs in a flutter kick for swimming. She does a bicycle kick instead, which is what very young children do, but usually don't do any more after learning to swim properly. Can you bend your knees and rock your pelvis front to back and side to side without bending over at your waist or rocking your shoulders? Jie Jie can't, but she can learn to do it. Why should she? Our spines attach to our pelvises and we want our hips even so our spines are even, right? Jie Jie needs to make her pelvis flexible so it can move like it's designed to, for the health of her spine.

If you were 7 years old...

and had to learn to do a crunch and other abdominal exercises but couldn't even lift your head off the floor to get started, how encouraged would you feel?

If doing scissor kicks while lying across a small bench made your neck hurt, how many do you think you could do?

Could you do enough every day to make a difference? Would you like it? Would you cry? Would you feel bad about your body? How would you feel about your mama, who made you do this?

With some careful orchestrating, I've helped Jie Jie succeed at her exercises because it was readily apparent that she couldn't do them and felt terribly discouraged about it and in pain. There is no way she can do enough each day to make a difference because she gets exausted and I have to work to put food on our table and can't spend all day doing exercises off and on with her.

So, I hit craigs*list and found our new (to us) hydrotherapy pool!

It's a beauty and the price was sooo right, nearly free. But, I have to pay a bit more for hauling it home and hooking it up (I need a little electrical work done for this). I feel so blessed that a tub of this size came our way so fast. Jie Jie is so small, that if she stands in the center, the water will come up to her chin, at least. It's twice her height across each way and even longer diagonally. The heater works!!! So do the jets and bubbles, but we don't need those except for fun. It looks like it will arrive Sunday and should be hooked up and running by the end of next week.

So, bye-bye bench and hello flutter kicking while holding onto the side of our new "pool," or maybe, eventually, a kickboard while swimming around in a circle. I think that learning to balance on one foot in water is much more fun and easy than trying to do it on dry land. If "swimming" was my reward for shaking my hips back and forth and front to back, I'd sure be more inclined to get it done, wouldn't you?

And mama gets to relax and have a jet and bubble back massage because I can tell you that I'm living with some really bad back pain lately from carrying around Jie Jie's mega-bag (the bag we need to take everywhere with us) and from carrying her, which, sadly, isn't happening much right now because of the pain, and she really needs it as part of our bonding. She misses it a lot and I can see that it hurts her feelings when I tell her I can't pick her up. She knows my back hurts and seems concerned, but that doesn't fill the need inside her to be carried.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Visit to Another Specialist

Today we saw our G.I. Specialist for the first time. She was very good and seemed very competent. She also readily admitted that Kaiser doesn't have what we need in one very important area.

Our visit was mostly consultation and a little examination. Jie Jie did very well. The tests we need are going to be hard on Jie Jie so we will wait until after Jan. 1, 2012 when I can schedule most of them together and do as many as possible with her under general anesthesia.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Horsing Around

This weekend was particularly wonderful with Jie Jie. I had a half-formed plan to attend a sewing/craft expo, but wasn't too attached to the idea. We got up late on Saturday morning and stopped in at my fencing club to catch up on the latest news. While we were there, a man came in for the first time, new to the area, and wanting to start fencing. He turned out to be a race horse trainer. His job is to "train the babies" or yearlings and get them ready to take a jockey. My daughter asked to see the horses, which of course was impossible as they were not with the man. But it got me thinking... Why not go on a horse hunt and head into the nearby canyon where I have driven past several horse businesses. We were both excited and 25 minutes later past a place with riders in the arena. We stopped and they let us enter and we had a couple hours of meeting about 50 horses, a few riders, a hilarious chihuahua puppy and we even got to feed some horses some apples off our palms, something I'd always been too chicken to do as a child, but craved to do as an adult and watch a horse have a shower. One rider mentioned a horse show happening on Sunday at a nearby arena, so today we packed a picnic lunch, a bag of apples from our tree for the horses and, after a little church, went out and watched some horse jumping.

Everyone was very friendly and gave me some pointers on how best to feed a horse an apple. It involves some serious bravery since one must get close enough to the horse to feel some lips and teeth on the palm, but I still have all ten fingers I started out with!

Jie Jie even got to sit on a ribbon-winning horse and take a little walk on him. She was scared, but still did it. The horse was bareback so I think when it started to move and Jie Jie felt the rippling muscles beneath her, she got nervous. I explained how she needed to move with the horse and she did great!

The white sweetie below is named Mac 'n Cheese. It's amazing how popular one is with the horses when carrying a plastic bag full of apples. I had no idea, but they were head butting me like a dog eager for a scratch on the head. It's a little scary when the really big horses do this. I mean, their heads are as large as my torso. Of all the competition horses, I thought the black one with the white "paint spill" over the back was the prettiest.

What made this weekend special was that we ended up having this much fun because of Jie Jie. It was so easy to say, "Sure, let's go find some horses," and drive off and have such a wonderful adventure. I hope that when she's grown, she'll remember this weekend fondly, not so much because of the horses, but because she has a mom who let her pick her own adventure and see it through.

Sam is quite a tolerant cat. He often finds his naps disturbed when a certain little girl covers him up with his favorite blanket, adds a music box, a stuffed animal, and tucks him in. Good fellow that he is, he just yawns and falls back to sleep.

Friday, September 16, 2011

53 Months Waiting for Apple

It was 53 months as of yesterday. Time is ticking. I'm starting to feel excited. I have a definite savings plan in place to cover travel expenses when the time comes. I can hear you all! That collective sigh and, "IF it ever comes!" It will come, trust me.

Meanwhile, I continue to wait and raise Jie Jie.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Jie Jie's Feet

Before taping, note the toes folded under the other ones.

I've not mentioned Jie Jie special needs much because that is a private part of our life, but over all, she is doing remarkable well. We do have surgery in our future, but it looks like it will be after January 1, 2012.

I'm been meaning to post about Jie Jie's legs and feet. They are visible so it's not something that can be kept private. Jie Jie has a type of club feet called Congenital Verticle Talus. In China, I was told that her feet were like this due to malnutrition. A chiropractor in the USA also confirmed this. Both were wrong, however. It was caused by damage to one of the nerves that runs down her legs during her fetal development. It's a congenital defect commonly seen along with her intestinal defect since the damage to the nerve occurs in the pelvis at the level where the intestinal defect occurs, though there are two other ways for damage to occur.

Due to the nerve damage, the muscles of Jie Jie's lower legs are atrophied to a degree. The lower legs are tiny. Her feet would have been able to be corrected using the Ponsetti casting method or French physiotherapy method as a baby. They might not have been as bad if she'd been given properly fitting shoes to wear all her life instead of shoes that were about three sizes too large.

After the first two months of our life together, the blisters and calluses on Jie Jie's feet were all completely gone. This took diligent care. Her skin is more supple and flexible and no long splits as her toes stretch. Several months ago I began taping her toes, something the orthopedic specialist had never seen, and the result is that the toe ligaments have stretched to normal lengths so she no longer has toes folded under her feet being stepped on when she walks. She is so much more comfortable now! The pain this child has lived with has been excruciating!

Jie Jie cannot walk more than a few blocks before her legs and feet hurt. This will improve with time, but right now, her feet are still turing into a normal position and this means her shins, knees and hips are changing so they ache or are downright painful often. When I first got her, she walked on the outside edges of both feet. She uses a stroller a lot, and still doesn't know how unusual this is for a girl her age. I hope she never finds out. I let her walk the entire time at the local zoo last week and the next day she was limping and complaining of pain. I've had to teach her to tell me when she has pain because it's something she's lived with all her life and she didn't know I could do something about it, like give her pain reliever, massage her, put her in the stroller, etc...

She cannot squat properly and only for a few seconds at a time. She can now hop on one foot pretty well, and barely hop on the other foot. A few months ago she couldn't do this. She cannot stand on tip toe at all. She cannot point her toes of one foot at all. She cannot balance on one foot for very long because she cannot use her toes to help her balance. This, however, I believe can be helped by physical therapy and/or practice. We are still trying to get hooked up with local resources. She cannot pedal a bike very well because she goes backwards on almost every stroke forward and this slams on the brakes. I will be getting her a bike with hand brakes soon, probably for Christmas.

Surgery and/or casting are not options at her age. The French method might be. I'm actively researching this right now. Fortunately, Jie Jie can walk and run and has what medical professionals call good function. Her lower legs will always be spindly and small compared to the rest of her. Just to give you an idea of how small, she wears the same size shoes as the 2-3 year olds in my daycare, with plenty of growing room. She lost about 3" of height in this part of her legs. She might have a terrible time trying to wear shoes with any kind of heel. In her older years, she may need surgery if she experiences a lot of foot pain. However, this mama is massaging and taping like crazy and we've been doing chiropractic care for months, so I wouldn't be surprised if this pays off further, especially if the French method is something she can benefit from.


Jie Jie is finally ready for the fun science museums. I've been waiting for this time to come; it's one of those things I imagined doing as a mom long, long ago. The California Academy of Science is in San Francisco's Gold Gate Park. It's a new building, one of the greenest on earth, with hightech natural systems all throughout, including a living roof. With this recession we are in, I noticed, to my delight, that places like these are virtually empty. We went on the last day of the Snakes and Lizards exhibit and got a year long membership so that we can come over and over again.

This place has live penguins and a hall of natual science. You know, the stuffed real animals in panoramic scenes. They have a rainforest dome, three levels, full of birds and butterflies and all kinds of things, with a river on the ground floor. You have to be checked for butterflies at the end since they sometimes land of people. The bottom level is all aquariums and the scuba diver was cleaning the tank and playing with the kids through the glass. They also have an albino aligator, a planetarium, several hands on science areas and tons more. It's one of my favorite places.

This snake model was used in the movie Anaconda in 1991. It's 30 feet long and one of the most advanced animatronic creatures ever built. It uses military technology and is submersible.

We went to our local space and science center. Jie Jie liked it a lot even though her English isn't good enough yet to fully explain all she is seeing. We saw The Mysteries of Egypt in the Megadome theater, a 270 degree panoramic theater. We also bought a membership, splitting it with another single mom so it was a GREAT deal.

Our next 6 months is going to be about exposure and introduction. We don't need to go into detail, just introduce ideas and concepts to build a foundation of knowledge upon. Jie Jie is super smart. She seeks knowledge and creates methods of learning for herself. She loves homeschool. Today she said to me, "No do school long time," meaning, we haven't done school work in a few days. She doesn't realize that our field trip to Tilden Park's Little Farm on Friday was school, or the Space and Science Center, or that when I read to her at night and ask her to read the words she knows, she is being "schooled." I'm so happy that she loves homeschooling and has made the connection that it's learning things she wants to learn. I can't wait for her world to open up once she can read and discovers how truly exciting books can be.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Loving Home Schooling

It is only been three weeks since I felt like I knew what I was doing on the homeschooling front and I am astounded at Jie Jie's progress. She is learning by leaps and bounds and it's been very fun. We look forward to our school time every day. I'm so happy that homeschooling is turning out to be one of those things for me that, once I'm shown the beginning, the progression is logical and natural to me and my own creativity and knowledge blossoms into making it all better and better.

Jie Jie has gone from still trying to learn the alphabet to being able to recognize three words that she can "read" when I point to them in the book as I am reading it, we, up and moon. It is so fun to read WITH her and I'm looking forward to her doing it more and more, as is she. She can recognize several letters by site and remember some of the letter sounds. She can also sign many of the letters. She can recite two poems in her cute accented English and I heard her count to ten tonight and know she is about to grasp the full concept of counting using English number words any day now. Along with this concept, she is learning about basic addition and subtraction using manipulatives. Being able to name her colors has suddenly made a huge leap, too, something she herself is particularly happy about since she loves to color so much.

She is learning English so fast that it's getting harder to understand her sometimes rather than easier. This is because she is using so many new words and doesn't always get the pronouciation correct. I get the feeling that one month from now Jie Jie is going to have made a huge leap in her English.

5 Months Ago Today...

...right at this time of night, I was walking in the front door of my home with my daughter for the very first time. It's hard to believe it's only been five months. It feels like she's always been with me.

This afternoon, my social worker came over for our first post-placement visit. I didn't know what to expect, but couldn't wait to show her my daughter. Sure enough, my social worker was captivated by Jie Jie. I didn't expect her to be so in awe of my daughter's happiness and progress. She also didn't fail to notice my own contentment. Honestly, my social worker was completely taken with Jie Jie and continuously made positive comments about her, like how happy she is, how well her English is coming along, how bright she is, how wonderful it is that Jie Jie talks so much about her life in China (another bit of her history started coming up as she saw the pictures of her SWI we were showing the social worker), etc.... Apparently, Jie Jie is doing better than average by quite a long shot. This certainly made me feel like a great mother and I will take credit where credit is due. But, I also give credit where it's due, and once again am thankful for God's blessings and those who loved and cared for my daughter from her birth parents to those in her SWI, to those at my agency who prepared me and to my wonderful daughter herself, who is so endlessly brave and strong and loving.

Today was one of those days when I counted my blessings and fell even more in love with my daughter.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Being A Working Mom

I am very fortunate that I can work at home. It is still WORK. I don't think a lot of people really understand this. I am glad at the end of the day when my work day is finished, like just about everyone else is who works. My daughter is with me, in our home. This has been great. It has also been hard because she has to share me with a lot of other children during the day. She understands it now, most of the time, and we are truly doing well, but there are times when she wants me or really needs me and she gets less of me because I have to get lunch, change a diaper, break up a disagreement, patch a skinned knee, etc....

I was never meant to be a single working mom. I'm the married-stay-at-home-mom type. There is so much more I could do for my daughter on so many fronts if I had a husband to support me so I didn't have to work to earn my living:

more therapy for Jie Jie's feet, which includes a TON of things
swimming and/or hippotherapy
a cleaner home
a weeded yard
more story book time
more coloring together time
singing groups
Chinese language school for both of us
tumbling class
more interaction with kids her own age
more one on one time with a less tired mom
more road trips to visit relatives

Some of these things seem like luxuries, like singing groups and tumbling classes, but she NEEDS these things to help her educationally and physically. She still can't sing a single song all the way through. So, I introduced poetry this week with hand motions and/or sign language, to help her. She LOVES to sing and makes up her own songs all the time. They are mostly in English now and make as little sense as her Chinese songs did, but I crave the day when she can sing one entire little song all the way through.

Just Living Life

This is Ruby, our newest foster kitten. She's one tiny ball of fur and about two weeks younger than Speck. Doesn't she look huge in the first photo with my daughter? It took putting her next to an adult cat to see how small she really is. My little nugget, Jie Jie, is gaining weight and growing and starting to outgrow her first set of clothes, but next to the cats, she still looks small.

Speck is getting bigger and loving his foster sister, Ruby, and all the other cats. He's just like my Sam. He'll be a GREAT pet for whoever decides to adopt him. He's getting neutered next week and then he'll be eligible for adoption.

Jie Jie has been playing "Birthday" a lot lately. She doesn't really know what the celebration is for, but knows there is a pretty cake. Age isn't real to her, probably since birth isn't a familiar concept. Next week's science is going to be about chicks hatching from eggs.

This birthday party set-up was for herself. She was playing that it was her own birthday. She laid out her gifts so neatly. The second party and larger cake was for her doll's birthday. I love the details she added to the cake. She wasn't allowed to eat cake in the orphanage, for very good reasons pertaining to her special need, but she can eat it now. She told me that her PoPo (caregiver) didn't eat cake either. I don't know if PoPo didn't like cake or refrained to make Jie Jie feel better about it. Currently, Jie Jie isn't too fond of cake, though she'll take a few bites sometimes.

It's such a relief and joy to me that Jie Jie can play such elaborate imaginative games, especially ones appropriate to her age level. So many institutionally raised children don't have a clue how to pretend.

I've taken my daycare to the zoo twice this summer on field trips. Jie Jie isn't too thrilled with the zoo because, as she says, "Animals stinky," but she has a good time. She liked the turtles this time and enjoyed being a sleeping turtle.