His Princess

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Every morning before Sol goes to work, he has a special way of saying goodbye. He kisses each one of us on the forehead and says, "Bye Princess One, Princess Two, and Princess Three" -- hopefully I'm not embarrassing him too much by revealing this tender-hearted side of him that few people see!

The funny thing is lately HJ has been modifying the routine (as usual with her own way of doing things). Before Sol can kiss her and say "Bye Princess Two," she says, "No Daddy! Kiss my back!" Or "Daddy! Kiss my hand!" And she stretches out her hand with a big smile and laughs when her daddy acquiesces. This kiss to start the day has become so important to her that one time when Sol thought she was sleeping and he didn't say his usual goodbye, she woke up right away and the first thing she said was, "Daddy forgot to kiss me!"

Honestly I am so thankful that HJ has such a special relationship with Sol. It already seems to make her such a confident little girl, and I'm really hoping this continues into her teenage years and beyond. When Sol and I were filling out a slew of paperwork for HJ's IEP meeting, one of the questions in the parent survey was, "What are your hopes and dreams for your child?" I remember thinking, wow, that's one tough question to be asking, when Sol immediately replied, "To become a woman of joy. And a defender of the weak." I loved that Sol answered the question that way, and I loved even more that he knew exactly what his dreams and hopes were for HJ. It reminded me that our hopes for our daughter are not limited to just succeeding academically, but that there are greater things to be concerned about, life-long things about her character that will matter more in the long run than whatever worldly accomplishments she achieves.

Sol and I were just talking tonight about how glad we are that HJ is so secure in who she is. We're really fortunate in that she received so much love and individual attention at the orphanage, and even now, wherever she goes she seems to be the sort of child that doesn't get easily ignored (for good or bad I suppose!). Another good thing is that she doesn't really fall prey to that weakness that many girls have where they subconsciously feel a bit competitive with other girls and have a hard time sharing the spotlight. Yes, I know she's only 3.5 years old, but I think I can already tell that she's kind of blissfully unconcerned with petty jealousies or cliques or what people think of her. Again I'm hoping this is another character trait that will serve her well as she gets older when that subtle sort of competition can really be draining. I realize, too, that there's a difference between being a "princess" in the spoiled sense of the word, a girl who expects that everything will revolve around her, versus being a "princess" in the calm, confident, "I have a father (and Father in Heaven) who loves me so unconditionally that I know my identity and that I am a precious and valuable person."

It may have taken me a while to arrive at my own answer to the question, but I know now that these really are my hopes and dreams for HJ, and for Lila as well. Thankfully these two little princesses have a daddy who's given them a head start in this arena.

I have a special needs child

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A couple months before HJ came home, we unexpectedly received a notice from the agency in Korea asking us to sign a Class B Medical Waiver. Essentially, it's a document that asks parents to acknowledge that yes, you know your child might have some developmental delays and you are still ok proceeding with the adoption.

Looking back, we pretty much went into HJ's adoption with a huge leap of faith. We didn't know much about her birthmom, we knew absolutely nothing about her biological dad, and we knew nothing of her prenatal or genetic history. What we did know, deep in our hearts, was that she was meant to be our child. From the moment that my mom told me that my grandfather had a baby girl at the orphanage, and asked us if we knew anyone that wanted to adopt her, we knew she was ours.

Still, for some reason that Class B Waiver really threw us off when we received it. At least for me, I was confused. Hadn't my grandfather assured us that HJ was the healthiest, smartest, most beautiful baby he had ever seen in his 50 years at the orphanage? Yes, he was clearly biased and smitten by HJ, but it just didn't occur to us that she could have any serious delays. We knew she was not babbling as much as other babies and that she wasn't crawling or holding up her head very well, but we assumed at the time that she would soon catch up.

When she came to us at 14 months old, she was still not walking and talking much. I chalked it up to the shock of her transition and her sensitive temperament. But when she ended up qualifying for occupational, speech, developmental and behavioral therapy through Early Intervention, I shed some tears because now her delays were becoming more of a reality. She made incredible gains those first couple years, and I kind of convinced myself that she was going to be fine. I told Sol, "I don't want her to go to Harvard or anything, I just want her to have a normal education and not have to struggle too much in school." Growing up, I had been one of those kids who loved school and was basically your typical Korean American overachiever, along with most of my friends. But just because of that, I didn't want to put any undue pressure on HJ. I just didn't want her to be made fun of, or labeled unfairly, or given fewer opportunities to excel.

So when HJ turned three and aged out of Early Intervention, we had our first IEP meeting with the school district to see if she qualified for special education preschool. This is where the difficult decisions really came into play. We knew she had made so much progress since her adoption, but we also knew she had some major sensory issues and still needed support. After a tense and drawn-out meeting, the therapists and teachers actually took a vote and determined that it would be better to put HJ in the least restrictive environment possible, which meant a regular preschool classroom, but she would continue receiving speech therapy on a weekly basis.

Fast forward about 9 months, and Sol and I found ourselves in another IEP meeting to re-evaluate HJ's placement. This time I wasn't pregnant, but now we had a very active and squirmy 8 month old trying to distract us. Nevertheless, this meeting went much more smoothly, and it was decided that HJ would benefit from more intensive special education services. It may have taken me almost a year, but now I was ready to accept it. HJ had special needs.

I asked for a diagnosis this time, so I could better understand how to help my daughter. They told us she has verbal apraxia. The speech therapist described it as a disconnect between her brain and the ability to plan the movements her mouth has to make to form certain sounds and words. The scary part of it is that it is considered a neurological speech issue, and that is something that she will probably have to deal with for the rest of her life. The good thing is she will now be receiving even more therapy to address her specific needs, and it looks like they caught it as early as they possibly could.

HJ had her first day at her new special education preschool today. I was so proud of her for how well she adjusted to her new teacher and classmates, and how she took it all in stride. Now that I better understand what she has been going through to try to communicate with us and everyone around her, I am even more amazed at all that she's overcome in her 3.5 years on this earth. She lost her birthmom and her first caregiver, she survived a move from a completely different country and culture, and she adjusted beautifully to a new baby sister and starting school, all the while dealing with the frustration of not being able to express the words she knew she wanted to say out loud. As her mom, all I can say is, I'm so proud of my baby girl. She's not a baby anymore... She's really growing up before our very eyes...

A mother's instinct

Monday, March 12, 2012

A dear, dear friend who is also adopting recently had a baby shower where we were asked to share "words of wisdom" and good old-fashioned advice for the new mom. I always struggle with being put on the spot in situations like this, but this time I knew just what I wanted to say. Basically, "You're going to get a lot of advice. But trust yourself. Trust your gut. You will know what to do for your baby because you're the mom."

It's not that I'm against getting advice from other people. In fact, I think I'm the type of person that attracts an unusually large amount of "well, this worked for me" or "why don't you try it this way" kind of advice... Maybe it's because I look so frazzled running around with two kids all the time? I actually had a stranger stop me at the grocery store and ask, "Is there anything I can do to help?" as I struggled to put Lila in the Ergo while HJ was tugging at my hand and simultaneously holding a million of her security items...

In any case, I think the best advice I've gotten in the past 2.5 years since HJ came home was from a pastor and another adoptive parent with four other kids. After a particularly stressful parenting situation erupted involving another mom and her child (soon after Lila was born and my emotions were running even higher than usual), he essentially told me, "Listen. No one knows your child like you do. And many of the people giving you advice are not adoptive parents themselves. So do what's best for your child." When I heard those words spoken to me, I felt this immense relief, like a huge burden had been lifted from me. I had been bracing myself for more "helpful" words such as, "You need to be more consistent. You need to be more structured. Your child doesn't respect you" etc... But when he said, "No one knows your child like you do," I suddenly knew that was the truth. 

Now I'm also not saying that people who haven't adopted can't give good advice to people with adopted kids. It's just that I've noticed that there's this automatic connection between adoptive parents where you just "get each other." I kind of liken it to the way that as a Korean-American, there are certain things I just get about other people who are second-generation and grew up with first-generation immigrant parents. There are some things you have gone through that are similar enough, despite our individual personalities and life circumstances, that cause you to have a shared reality.
On the other hand, my mom recently remarked how strange it was that I'm like an old school Korean mama, meaning I sleep with my girls, I sometimes feed Lila on my lap, and both seem permanently attached to me (on my front or back, sometimes at the same time!)... And according to my mom, they are spoiled rotten.

I used to joke that I would never "spoil" Lila the way that they coddled HJ when she was in Korea that first year of her life... but now that I have an infant, I'm the one eating my own words... Honestly, it's just what works best for our family at this point in our lives. And it doesn't mean I pass judgment on others who choose to parent their kids another way. Actually, just today at church I was commiserating with a couple other moms who also co-sleep with their babies about both the joys and pains of sleeping together with your little one(s). In our circle we're the ones who are the rarity for not having successfully sleep-trained, and I often confess I feel embarrassed about it! Funny that in Korea it's still the norm... I should have thought more carefully about the whole sleep issue before buying that expensive and currently unused crib from Pottery Barn...Wishful thinking at the time I guess.

Don't know what it is about being a mom, but deep down I think there's always this insecurity that you're not doing everything right. Well, scratch that. For sure you're not doing everything right, but add in a dose of perfectionism and high-achievement, Asian-American, goal-oriented, comparison-driven nature, and the competitiveness of parenting can sometimes get a little out of hand. For example, I've never heard these words actually spoken out loud to me, but there's sometimes this subtle undertone I hear, and it might be coming from myself, "Oh you're just a stay-at-home mom? Kind of a waste of your master's degree, no?" Or, "Why do you need a break? You're home all day and not working..."

I recently was lucky enough, thanks to my understanding husband, parents, and sister, to get away for a girls' weekend trip WITHOUT THE KIDS. The reactions I got from other moms were great, ranging from the lines of "You go, girl!" to "Wow, that's pretty nice of your husband" to "I wish I would've done that" or "I did that last year and it was the best thing ever...." When I was totally stressed the day I was leaving, my mom called me and said, "Don't worry about your kids. Go and have fun. We'll take care of them," and honestly I felt like crying because that was the best thing to hear at the moment when I was seriously thinking I was crazy for leaving my 8 month old and very demanding 3 year old for three nights...And yes, I couldn't sleep the first night at all, probably because I didn't have both my kids hanging all over me, and I was worried whether they were getting any sleep at all, but by the morning after the second night I was finally able to relax and reflect on how good life was, not because I was away from the kids, but because of them and because I actually had the time to appreciate my family.

Now it's back to life, back to reality, with barely a moment to think other than late at night, early in the morning, or when the kids are napping, as long as I haven't fallen asleep myself! But you know as they say, I wouldn't trade my life now for anything. I just wish I had more time to enjoy it before these days pass me by...

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