Sunday, September 29, 2013


My baby is still small, but I can see the toddler she's going to be right around the corner. Tonight as I tucked her into her crib, I remembered so clearly tucking her into the little crib in our hotel room in China and marveling then, as I did tonight, at the miracle she is. I LOVE being a mom and I LOVE having big kids and I LOVE having a baby, too.

Tonight, for the very first time, we took a bike ride as a family. My last-to-learn, Blossom, can manage to ride a bit as long as we go slowly. I think that by the end of this week, if she practices every day, she'll finally be riding well. I loved watching the smiles on the faces of the drivers of all the cars that passed us or slowed and stopped to wait for us to pass them. I was in the lead with the baby on the back in a baby bike seat, then Jie Jie, Blossom and Sissy, a good rider, bringing up the rear and reporting to me on Blossom's status. We must have looked like our own parade!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

School Levels

A commentor wondered why Jie Jie is still working at first grade level. Here's the reason...

She's been home now for only 29 months. When she arrived, she was 7 years old, had never been to school, had never held a pen, pencil or crayon, had only moderate good health, couldn't read a single character of Chinese, didn't speak a lick of English and spoke poor Mandarin. (The orphanage was mainly concerned with keeping this medically fragile child alive, which was a miracle in itself). Once she learned how to color, she then had to learn her alphabet and how to write. Then, a new sister came along. Then another. Then another. Then we moved. But before we moved, she got through an entire kindergarten year and half a first grade year in only one year.

Jie Jie can sound words out very well and read at a first AND second grade level. Her comprehension is high. However, she doesn't test well because tests are in complicated English grammar and she can't understand it. She is not an auditory learner AT ALL. I've had her tested and I'm awaiting the results, but I am pretty sure she has some kind of learning problem when it comes to auditory processing and speech output. She is also a perfectionist, and it slows her down.

I'm less worried about her than the others because she makes constant progress. She has high goals and she's an achiever. She'll get there academically, but she's starting from further back than most kids.

Blossom does have a learning disability of some kind. It could be as simple as forcing her to be right handed in China when she is a natural lefty, or it could be something else. There are other factors having to do with how she was treated in her orphanage that would lead her to cease to try to learn, despite being a naturally curious child. I worry about her the most, but I'm very pro-active and have a situation that is going to be very good for her and the other girls this year.

Sissy slept through most of her schooling in China. Without anyone enforcing bedtime in her orphanage, she and her friends stayed up very late every night and slept through school every day. She also admits to having bought coffee in order to stay awake at night. She didn't start school in China until she was 8 years old. She was very small at age 8, the same size, in fact, that Jie Jie was at age 8, which was the size of a 4 or 5 year-old. Children who are not nurtured, stop producing human growth hormone or produce a lot less of it than is normal. Add poor nutrition to that, and you will get a child that is going to have issues across the board. Luckily, Sissy is in good health now and has gained weight and grown well since I've had her.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sass of the Day

From my 9.5 yr. old as to why she didn't come when I called her...

"I'm busy, Mommy."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

School Challenges and Accomplishments

Now that we are well into school, certain challenges are presenting themselves. The two younger girls have back-slid in reading and phonics. Sissy leaped ahead due to improvements in her English. I'm very excited about this! The main challenge for Jie Jie right now is learning to be faster and learning to test. The main challenge for Blossom is understanding verbal and written instructions. She needs everything explained 12 different ways before she understands it. Meanwhile, the other two are finished with the same assignment. So far, we've been doing a lot of first grade phonics. Jie Jie will also do some second grade phonics at the same time once she reviews the material and Sissy might be there with her, too. After getting past the short vowel sounds, we'll add the companion spelling book for all the girls at first grade level. I hope we finish first grade level phonics in just a couple of months. They would be beyond this, I think, if they knew English better, but when they sound words out, with their accents and poorly developed oral muscles (in the case of the two olders), they get the letter sounds all wrong. We are on the waiting list for an amazing speech program.

For social studies we will be putting together the United States like a puzzle. Each girl had a light blue presentation board and they will each the states to name and color, one per week, then we'll learn and do worksheets on the flag, flower and nickname of each state then glue it on the board. By the time we finish all 50 states, the U.S. will be fully assembled on each board and we'll label the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

They are doing math, Sissy at a solid 3rd grade level, the other two at 1st grade level still. They got hung up on place values last year (ones, tens, hundreds), so borrowing and carrying stumped them.

Taken for what it is, it's easy to feel discouraged as a mother with children this far behind academically. When I think of what my girls have come from, though, I can see a lot of progress from when they first came last year. Many people have said they will catch up. I don't think that's going to happen because you can't make huge leaps past gaping knowledge gaps, they have to go through the learning phase, knowledge won't just beam into their heads without exposure.

Certain things will be helpful this year over last year and I'm very excited. First, we have a dedicated school room. This is huge because my girls need their school room to look like a classroom. We have a nice new chalk/white board (which we all LOVE), a globe, US and world wall maps with the Pacific Ocean in the center so we can see China and the US easily. I've also ordered a document camera and projector, which will help us immensely. My goal this year is exposure. Now that they understand and speak English better, I can read to them more and expose them to more pictures, videos, ideas, etc.... and they will understand it and learn from it.

I also admit, that after a particularly hard day with them yesterday, I put mini m-n-ms and smarties in a cup and they get to choose one piece of candy when they do well or figure out something challenging. For example, we've read the word "great" and talked about it only once and Blossom remembered it when we did flashcards a week later, so she got to pick a treat. The tiny amount of sweetness also tricks to brain into a more euphoric state, which would not work with bigger pieces of candy.

Our schedule is starting to settle. Jie Jie goes to "outside" school twice a week for an hour each time. Blossom goes to outside school three times per week and Sissy goes four times per week, each for two hours at a time. At home, they get to access the school's online learning programs for reading and keyboarding, which they will all do.

The baby is easy and she also has some "school" in the form of board books and puzzles, which are new to her. I am getting into the swing of getting housework, laundry and food preparation taken care of while schooling. I'm still on maternity leave for a little longer, so I don't have to add that to the mix yet, thank heavens. Once I do start work, it will be a lot more limited than before, thanks to a lower cost of living in my new city and a trusted assistant.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sedated MRIs and 3D-CT Scans

Last Wednesday, Apple had the following scans done:

MRIs: Brain, spinal and hands w/contrast
3D-CT scan: Head

I'm happy to say that the experience was very good since this will be where she'll have her cranial surgeries. The nurses were very accepting of my wishes and ended up being very glad since they didn't realize Apple has limitations of movement. For example, they wanted to place her hands above her head for the MRI of her hands, but she can't raise her arms that high so I helped them come up with something she can do. They also tried to point her toes during the IV insertion, which made her cry, so I had to tell them that a kid with Apert's Syndrome has fused foot bones and can't do that. I also kept them from putting heated blankets on her, which would have baked my sweaty Apert's girl. I brought a nice lightweight gauze blanket instead.

My favorite doctor was the intensivist who administered the "milk of amnesia" properly known as Propofol. She was under for 3.5 hours. He kept Apple sedated enough not to move, but light enough to breath on her own. Of course, she was monitored constantly with heart leads, O2 saturation, and was hooked up to oxygen continuously. The MRI and CT scanner were down the hall from one another so Apple regained more consciousness than they expected during the ride in her crib. The intensivist also stopped in the hallway so my older girls to see the baby and be reassured that all was well. They thought she was having surgery. I explain and explain, but they get their own ideas and won't shake them until they have proof. The funny part was that the second Apple became somewhat conscious, she tried to sit up. The way she sits up is to do a sit-up. She just rose from her back to sitting up like a zombie and the nurses were absolutely astonished.

Afterwards, she nursed in a rather uncoordinated, lazy fashion due to the effects of the Propofol, which surprised me because she hadn't eaten for 12.5 hours and was famished. Another thing I didn't expect is that she's been fussy ever since. I never left her side while she was conscious, but she could very well have perceived my absence while under the influence of the drug or the lasting effects of the drug could be making her feel strange.

In the car afterward, still a little loopy.

Baby Joy

Not too thrilled to be standing, but she's starting to get used to it.

School Days

Our school room will be having lighting installed this Monday, so for now we are schooling in the family room. I have a new free-standing reversible, magnetic chalk/white board, which I love. I got so tired of the old one falling off the easel last year.

Each day for an hour or two (depending on the child and the day) the girls attend a private school for music and PE and other activities that are appropriate for them. Several of the teachers homeschooled their own kids so they are a great support for me. I am also getting curriculum materials and online programs via the school. The girls love it, with the exception of Sissy, who was a little afraid of the boitrousness of the 7th grade boys. She's getting used to it more every day and likes everything else about it.

The girls wear uniforms to school and I can't believe how much more mature Jie Jie is looking this year. Hard to believe she'll be 10 in early 2014. Blossom is catching up to Sissy in height, too.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

House Project 1: Trees Phase 2a

Phase 2 involved removing the dead wood from the trees that was considered hazardous to the house, people and cars. Also thrown in was cutting back the oleanders. I have two long strips of oleanders and they've not been pruned in about 5 years, the tree guys told me. The work took 5 days. Imagine waking up every morning to the sound of chain saws and a tree mulcher. Since so much was done, I'll have to post pictures over several posts. Below shows the palm tree and a dead pine trunk next to it. The pine was used to climb up and over to the palm, then a chainsaw was used to cut off the dead fronds, which have been there for about 10 years! Next, the dead pine was cut down and it feel with a dramatic timber into the street with a bang that shook the house. The oleanders below run behind the pool, so I had to take down the pool fence for the tree guys. The wooden fence is in pretty bad shape, since the oleanders have leaned on it for such a long time.

Shriner's Hospital Visit

Apple got into Shriner's for the surgical care of her hands and feet. It's the most amazing hospital I've been to and Apple received the best care. We also lucked out and went of the Friday of the first week of school so we were practically the only ones there.

I didn't know how long the appointment would be so I loaded everything up onto the big stroller and put the baby in the smaller stroller. This way, I could manage the lunch boxes, diaper bag, paperwork, my purse, Jie Jie's medical supplies, and the kids...

Shriner's is ready to operate on Apple's hands right away, but since she'll be in double full arm casts for 4-6 weeks afterward, we have to wait and see when her first cranial vault surgery will be so there is full IV access on her arms for that surgery.

Apple of My Eye

I know I keep saying it, but each time Apple wears a new outfit, I get so nostalgic. I remember blogging about a lot of these little outfits and posting pictures of them. Now, years later, my baby is finally wearing them and it feels like I'm living a dream!

Apple is starting to smile on cue for the camera, but to avoid the flash, she tilts her head way back when she does it.