Anxious no more

Monday, January 28, 2013

"Summer... sunny days... rainbows... la la la ..."

The other day I overheard HJ singing this to herself as she was walking around her room, gathering various toys and knick knacks for whatever elaborate imaginative scenario she was setting up.

Oh it's definitely a new year for HJ.

She has come a LONG way since the day I started this blog. Pacifiers and diapers no more... "Adios!" as HJ likes to say, to major meltdowns and marathon tantrums ... "She just seems happier," our friend told us just today.

And yes, at the risk of having to take it all back tomorrow, in reality today was one of HJ's good days.

We actually survived a trip downtown to the Shedd aquarium, 90 minutes in the car, mostly highway, and not a peep from HJ about her previous highway fears... Three trips on the elevator, and not a word, about her prior elevator phobia ...

For those that don't know the full extent of HJ's anxiety about situations involving cars and elevators in the past, two stories come to mind. Both took place during the summer when our schedule was at its busiest.

The first occurred during the midst of my insane planning for Lila's dol, aka the single most stressful social event since our wedding 10 years ago. We were driving to the party venue one last time to look at the set up, and on the way, I made the apparently tragic mistake of finding a tiny goldfish cracker in the cupholder of our car, rolling down the window, and throwing it out the window as we drove along a busy Green Bay Road. Let me tell you, I have never heard so much about a goldfish cracker as I did that day. If HJ had the verbal ability then that she did now, she would tell me a million times, "Mommy. Time out for you. Four minutes." But at the time, it was just, "Mommy! Go back! Go back! Go back!" Yes, in HJ's mind, it was absolutely critical that we turn the car around, go back, and rescue the poor cracker. I blame it on lack of sleep and stress, but for some reason, I thought it was a good idea to tell HJ that I couldn't go back because the cracker had probably been run over by a car or truck. You can guess how well that went over.

The second event burned in my memory concerning an elevator involves the time we went to visit our friend who had just brought home her adopted baby boy from Korea. On the way to her house, we were riding in our friend's minivan, and with all the chaos of moving carseats and being in an unfamiliar car, HJ of course had to bring a variety of her security items. That day, it happened to be a plastic ziplock bag filled with coins. Don't ask me why. On the half hour ride to our friend's house, she must have dropped the bag and coins a handful of times. Each time we gathered the coins, put them back in the bag, and continued on our way.

After a brief and relatively uneventful visit, we headed back to the elevator in our friend's building. HJ's elevator phobia was at its peak at the time, and she generally freaked out every time she had to step foot in one. Our makeshift solution, since I was already holding Lila and the diaper bag, was to have HJ literally step on top of my feet and hold me around the waist so that her feet were not touching the elevator floor. As we were shuffling our way into the elevator, you can guess what HJ dropped, of course. The bag of coins. It was as if it all happened in slow motion. Thank the Lord that the plastic bag happened to fall precariously on top of the gap where the elevator door opens, and not straight down into the elevator shaft, or else HJ may have never recovered from the incident.

It's been a long time since I've had stories like that to share... And that to me is a good thing. It's hard to point to just one thing that's helped HJ overcome her anxiety about cars, highways, elevators, and various situations in life. It may be the counseling, the attachment therapy, the speech and OT, her teachers, a less hectic schedule, a general feeling of security at her new school and church and with her baby sister, but whatever it is, I'm thankful for it.

And in honor of all the progress HJ's made, I've decided to recommit myself to this blog. It is a new year after all. New goals, a clean slate, and a new design to keep me inspired. Happy 2013, HJ. I can't wait to see what this year has in store for you and our family.

You're my best friend

Monday, January 21, 2013

One of HJ's favorite things to say lately, "Mommy? You're my best friend." To which I have to reply, "No, you're my best friend!" And then she has to say, "No! You're my best friend!" And so on and so forth. That in itself is enough sometimes to get me through the rough moments.

Another lovey-dovey phrase of HJ's lately ... "I love you because I'm so happy of you!" Or, "I'm so glad of you, I'm so proud of you, I missed you!" The favorite part of my day is still picking HJ up from school, when she comes running out the door with a big, happy smile and she says, "I missed you, Mommy! Did you miss me?" And sometimes, "Did Lila cry? Did you keep (whatever toy happens to be on her mind) safe?" meaning safe from Lila... But then, as soon as she is reunited with her after school, it's a big hug and kiss, along with, "Lila, you're my best sister!"

Then we come home from school, and HJ begins her "projects." It usually involves making a card for Mommy, the steps generally being 1) "color" a Hello Kitty picture really hard with a pen, 2) fold it in half, and 3) give it to Mommy, saying very loudly, "Happy... Something!" HJ also likes re-enacting the events at school, such as forcing Lila to do "morning work" (lots of worksheets), or cutting paper into tiny strips and glueing them everywhere, or doing "speech," by again, forcing Lila to repeat vocab flash cards over and over again. Poor Lila...Then again, maybe that's why Lila knows so many words ...If Lila starts getting bored and walks away, HJ's solution is to turn to me and say, "Mommy! Lila is not listening! Can you yell?" Um, thanks HJ... Guess Mommy's great discipline tactics have not gone unnoticed.

Later, when Sol gets home and we are rushing to get them fed, bathed, and in their PJs, there may "occasionally" be a little disagreement between Mommy and Daddy, to which HJ usually says very seriously, "No, Mommy, be good." Not sure why Daddy doesn't get a similar warning...

And throughout the day, a few other things HJ likes to say here and there, just to show us that she's listening to everything, trying to process it all, and reminding us that she may only be four years old, but she's wiser than she looks... "Mommy, are you fine or good? I have to check my email... I have to do facebook ... Can you buy x toy for me?" And then we say, "What toy? I don't even know if they make that (mini Hello Kitty doctor's set)..." To which she always replies, " You can buy it on Amazon..."

My Little Punky Brewster

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Last night HJ fell asleep in a really pink, really poofy princess tutu ballerina dress. She was wearing it over her new pink princess pajamas. Seeing her lying there in bed, with the layers of pink tulle all around her, I just had to take a picture of her, even knowing that the flash might wake her up. I know that these princess dress up days will be over all too soon. For a moment, I was reminded of that commercial where the dad is looking at his 16 year old daughter asking for the car keys and all he sees is this little girl sitting in the driver's seat.

Sometimes, like last night, HJ is totally that girly girl with the pink and the purple everywhere and the giant sparkly bow headband and rows of bracelets and "pearl" necklaces. But more often than not, HJ's fashion sense leans more towards Punky Brewster than princess.

A more typical outfit for HJ is polkadots and bright colors, accessorized not with girly girl jewelry but strangely random things like Hello Kitty goggles or a stretchy headband worn low on her forehead in a slightly boho-chic/Native-American/ or gym teacher kind of way. For example, there was the one day HJ woke up and decided she just had to wear her "Happiness is a Sunny Day" swim shirt and swim shorts, accessorized by the Hello Kitty goggles, of course. The only problem was it was 30 degrees outside, and most children don't go to school wearing their swimsuits. Pajamas, princess costumes, mismatched outfits, all might draw a few second looks from strangers, but hey, if you're 4 years old, you can still get away with it once in awhile. But really, you just can't wear a swimsuit in the middle of a Chicago winter. Or so you may think...

It must have been one of those "you have to pick your battles" kind of mornings, because I had to get HJ dressed and to the therapist's office and ready for school, and of course we were running late.  So rather than fighting about not wearing her swimsuit, I just put on a pair of leggings (yes, they happened to have polkadots on them) underneath her swim shorts, and we were off. The therapist put it kindly when she saw HJ's outfit, something along the lines of, "Wow, great job Mommy on figuring out how to keep her warm." Whereas HJ's preschool teacher was a little more honest when I picked her up after school, telling me, "I almost peed in my pants when she walked into class today."

Looking at HJ standing there that windy December afternoon, I almost forgot that she was wearing a swimsuit underneath her jacket. I thought her teacher was just remarking on her overall outfit, which consisted of a fuzzy hot pink fleece jacket, the navy blue leggings with pink polkadots under the hot pink swim shorts, a pink and purple fleece scarf with multicolored polkadots and big pink pom poms on the end, and her fuzzy red and purple mittens. Basically, if that's too hard to follow, the overall effect was a swirl of fuzzy polkadots in various colors.

One day my daughter may grow out of this Punky Brewster, who cares what I look like as long as I want to wear it stage, but part of me hopes she doesn't. To me, it just represents quintessential HJ. Sometimes I come across a picture of her with her paci and I realize how strange it looks. But really, that wasn't so long ago. I wish I had taken a picture of her that day with her swimsuit/polkadot outfit. All I have now is the memory, but knowing HJ, I'm sure she'll be coming up with crazier outfits before long.

Freaking out about kindergarten

Saturday, January 5, 2013

HJ's letter and number artwork in the bath :)
When I told Sol after HJ's school conference that "I need to step it up" regarding her academics, he literally started laughing at me. Ok, I know that stepping it up at her age may sound ridiculous and that she is only possibly going to kindergarten next year, and that it is still 7 months away, but the beginning of kindergarten just seems to signify so much more to me ... And even more so because it concerns my spirited little HJ.

Yes, in July of this year HJ will be turning five years old, meaning she is at the age where she should go to kindergarten. But, to be completely truthful, I can't really reconcile the idea that she will really be five. Not just in a "But she's still my baby!" kind of way, but in a deeper sense I have that she is still catching up to other kids her age... Yes, she's four now, but I see in her so many things that make me think she is more similar to peers who are three, and I'm not talking about just academically. Sometimes HJ actually says crazy things like, "I don't want to be four! I want to be three..." Either she's intuitively picking up my own anxieties or she's the only child on this planet who wants to age backwards. Some of her closest friends are three years old, her BFF Jordan from school, her best buddies from church, Justin and Justin, both three. She just clicks with them and has fun, laughing and running around together holding hands. The four and five year old girls in Sunday School? She likes them, but while they're playing house and fighting over who gets to be the mom and who has to be the dog, she's just not interested...

Is it strange that I still believe she's catching up from being adopted at the age of 15 months? I know that didn't set her back to being a newborn when she arrived in our family, but I can't shake the feeling that it had a significant impact. And although I don't want that to be an excuse or a "I make everything about adoption" kind of reaction, personally as a parent it makes me understand HJ a little better. When she didn't start walking until 17 months, didn't start speaking until after the age of two, when she is still struggling to pedal a tricycle or do things independently, I remind myself, well she's had a lot to overcome, and it makes me take a step back and breathe a little easier.

So basically Sol asked, "Why are you worrying about kindergarten now? Is there anything you'd do differently?" And I realized, yes there is! Maybe I really do need to pull out those Kumon workbooks like my friends use with their kids, and get them to write their letters over and over again, instead of thinking that her Dora Learn ABCs app on the iPad is good enough? But maybe I have a certain bias against workbooks, thinking they remind me too much of tiger moms of a previous generation than the kind of open-minded, creative parent that I think I should be? And as much as I know I'm not supposed to compare my kid to others, sometimes I find it's the only way I have of trying to see if I'm totally missing the boat!

I do have to say I've come full circle from all the fears I've had about putting HJ in special ed. At this moment, I love what the special ed class has done for HJ's confidence, social skills, and general attitude toward school, and I love the caring and individual attention that she gets from her therapists and teachers. I mean, everyone pretty much agrees that she is just thriving there. It pains me to think of how much she may have missed out on when we made the decision to put her in regular preschool when she turned three. First of all, I think there was just too much going on for her at that time, having just moved to a new house and a new town, and still getting used to the idea of having a baby sister around... And if I hold to my idea that she is really about a year younger than she is, she was like a scared, little two-year old girl going to preschool and having no idea what was going on. The teachers there were also loving and nurturing, but she just didn't have the social and verbal skills at the time to be really successful.

Ok, now I realize I have probably gone completely overboard with all this analysis of HJ's preschool and kindergarten, but it is always at these decision points that I go nuts regarding what is best for HJ. Although I logically know that she will most likely be fine in whatever placement she has, there is this mama bear part of me that just wants the BEST for her, not just what's good enough. I don't want her to miss out by being in the wrong environment for her, or with a teacher that's not a good fit for her, or struggling when she could be thriving. If that's what it means to be a tiger mom, I guess I may be in denial about being one after all.

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