Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why?

It's happened. My sweet five-year-old has reached the infamous "why" stage. It started about a month ago and ever since then it's a question I hear countless times a day. Most of the time it's the same rather pointless questions again and agaibut today it sparked something so cute, so impressive that I had to write it down because I never want to forget it.

Here is a glimpse of our conversation at the park this afternoon...

SAMUEL: "Why not raining?"
MAMA: "Because it's sunny today."
SAMUEL: "Why sunny?"
MAMA: "Because there's no clouds."
SAMUEL: "Why not cloudy, Mama?"
MAMA: "Because the sky's all blue."
SAMUEL: "Why the sky blue?"
MAMA: "Because God made it like that."

Pause...

SAMUEL: "God in the airplane make the sky blue." (while waving his arm in a painting motion)

Ok, so we still have a ways to go as far as spiritual understanding goes but as for his understanding of abstract conceptualization (not to mention his use of language)... I think he's doing pretty good!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Not So Small Acheivement

Today I became one of "those" parents... You know, the kind who sit in an audience and cry at something simple like their child's school concert. Now, let me start by saying that I have nothing against the parents who cry at the relatively insignificant events in their child's life (I could very well be one of those parents!) but what happened today was neither simple nor insignificant for my sweet boy.

Today Samuel was awarded the highest level of reading for his age category in our local library's summer reading club (just to be clear, as a pre-reader the award is based on the number of hours Samuel and I have read together; Samuel has not learned how to read... yet!). It may not seem like a big deal for most kids, but one year ago Samuel was aimlessly wandering the halls of his orphanage, completely disengaged. Six months ago he was unable to sit through a quick, simple book intended for toddlers. Today he was recognized for having read over 20 hours in the past six weeks! Not only that but Samuel walked up onto the stage, shook hands with the mayor while accepting his certificate/prize and stood waiting with the other children until a group photo was taken. After pretty much having to pin him to the ground during the magic show that preceded the awards, I wondered if I would have to go up on stage with him but I so wanted him to be able to do it by himself. So while the other groups went I coached him ("See how they're walking nicely? See how they're not running, screaming, jumping, etc.) and when they called his name he walked up proudly and blended right in with the rest of the kids - except for his beaming smile and quick wave to Mama :) Those of you parenting children with special needs know, we (parent and child) work so hard for these seemingly simple moments but when they come, the reward cannot be matched. I guarantee you, I was the proudest parent in that room today!

As mine and Samuel's first year together is coming to an end, I find myself thinking back often to that lost, wandering boy I met in the orphanage nearly one year ago. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that he would blossom into the vibrant, bursting with personality little boy he is today... One thing I know for sure - there is no end to this boy's potential and I'm just blessed that I get the front row seat to see how it all unfolds.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Swimming, swimming...



In Grandma's swimming pool...


On my own, or...


With my family...


In Grandma's swimming pool...


Playing...


Splashing...


Underwater too...


Oh, don't you wish...


You never had...


Anything else to do!


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

And speaking of school...


Look who's officially a preschool graduate! :)

FYI - getting a decent picture of Samuel is getting harder by the day









Monday, June 16, 2014

Our Full Time Job

I know, I know... It's been three whole months... Where are we?!?! 
The truth is, the last three months have gone by so quickly it feels like I just blinked and all of a sudden "spring" 
(kind of non-existent here in Montreal this year) is over and summer is here.

Flying his very first kite

You know, I never could have imagined that Samuel and I would be so busy. If you had asked me last summer what my year off with Samuel was going to look like, I would have told you that it was going to be quiet, lots of time spent at home just the two of us, building our attachment and helping him get comfortable and secure in his new environment. Not too many activities and definitely no programs for Samuel that did not include me. And that's exactly what our first six months looked like. Over time however I started to question whether a whole year like that was really what was best for Samuel. As I said in my last post, Samuel was doing miraculously well as far as attachment goes. Of course that doesn't mean that we should stop working on attachment but I was realizing that it was not where I needed to be focusing 100%  of my energy and efforts anymore. In the meantime, Samuel had absolutely no interest in other children and would only engage with adults. He refused to do anything structured at home (except cooking of course) and I couldn't get him to stay still for more than 30 seconds. And while he would happily be babysat one-on-one by family members, he would not stay in Sunday school with other children even if Grandma went with him. For all these reasons and more, I started to really worry about how Samuel would do when he had to start school full-time in September. And so at six months home I decided that Samuel and I had a new full time job - Get Samuel Ready For School.

I had three goals in mind:
1) For Samuel to be comfortable being away from me for an hour or two at a time, 
knowing that "Mama always comes back".
2) For Samuel to become comfortable around other children and maybe even begin to engage with them.
3) For Samuel to get used to structure, to be able to follow classroom-like routines without running wild all over the place and for him to begin to participate appropriately.

Just in case you were wondering,
Samuel's love of cooking has not diminished one bit...
There's nothing like licking chocolate beaters while you're still in your PJs!

In March I agreed to visit a special-needs preschool with Samuel, thinking that I wasn't going to send him but that I might as well take a look. Well, what I thought was going to be a 20 minute visit at the beginning of their day turned into me begging Samuel to leave 2.5 hours later after all the other kids had gone home. Samuel started attending preschool the next week and it has been the best thing I could have done for Samuel. He is in a class with three other students who are so perfect for him and a teacher who he absolutely adores. The school has been accommodating even though it is a four day program, allowing Samuel to attend just two afternoons a week at first, then three afternoons starting in May when I saw how much he loved it, how much he was learning and that it was having little to no negative impact on our attachment.

Samuel's First Day of Preschool

In the meantime, Samuel and I have been attending playgroups together every weekday morning ranging from a highly structured school-readiness program for children with delays to a very laid-back moms & tots group as well as a post-adoption group that focuses on attachment while allowing Samuel the opportunity to interact with other adopted children (we both liked this group the best!). 

Add to all that regular speech therapy, trips to the pool and arena, visits with family, playing outside, etc. it's no wonder I haven't found time to update my blog! In my work with other families, I would never recommended such a busy schedule and I certainly never anticipated that this is what our day-to-day life would look like. But one thing I've learned since becoming a mom is that there truly is no textbook and that the best thing for your child may be the very thing you thought you'd never do. I have learned that when you have a child with an attention span of three minutes (on a good day), even just a few unstructured hours at home can  become very frustrating for both of us. The constant activity may not be what's recommended but it's worked for us. And the results, well, they speak for themselves. At Samuel's Kindergarten Open House last week, he walked off (no mommies allowed) with his new teachers and a group of children all of whom he did not know and came back an hour later with a smile on his face. He is not just comfortable but social with other children. He has actual friends at his school and special needs play group, his very first "girlfriend" at our post-adoption group (the most adorable little girl from the Philippines who is absolutely smitten with Samuel and giggles at everything he does), and he regularly approaches other children he does not know at the park wanting to play with them. Samuel has also developed the ability to sit for up to 45 minutes at a time (just not at home!) and likes "circle time" so much that he wants to play it at home. In addition to all of this, Samuel's increased focus has helped him to begin learning some "pre-academics" (which was not even on my list of goals yet)... Samuel can officially count to ten and recognizes about half of his numbers. He is learning his shapes and colours and is getting quite good at his animals and their corresponding sounds. Samuel has also gone from being unable to sit through a baby board book to sitting for 30-40 minutes of bedtime stories at night, engaging with the books and telling me what's going to happen next. Finally, Samuel is learning to tell time (digitally) and tie his shoes.

Samuel is also learning to play guitar... Well, sort of :)

When I sit down and write it all out, it's hard to believe how much Samuel has accomplished in only three months. I am so proud of my little man and all the hard work he has put in these past few months to get to where we are today. This weeks marks Samuel's last week of preschool as well as the end of all of our morning playgroups. 
That leaves us 2.5 months before school starts. 

Our current goals:
3) Continue working on pre-academics. Specifically, I would like Samuel to be able to consistently recognize numbers 1-10. I also want to work with him on cutting with scissors, writing (I don't care what he writes/draws, but right now he only scribbles with no intentionality behind it) and maybe starting to recognize a few letters.
2) Articulation. Samuel's vocabulary is amazing and he is regularly speaking in full sentences but I am still usually the only one who can understand him. Now that he has such a strong desire to socialize with other children, I would love for them to be able to understand what he's saying so that they can actually play together!
1) Lot of swimming, picnics, playing at the park, getting dirty, etc.

My 'bonus' goal...
Teach Samuel to pedal his bicycle (with training wheels)

After a very busy three months, our full-time job this summer is fun, fun, FUN. 
I plan on making the most of what may be our only full summer together. I promise to post pictures of all the fun but as for written updates, well, this may have to hold you over till the fall :)


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Six Months Home

Wow, I can't believe how long its been since I did a real update on how Samuel's doing. I wanted to do a "Three Months Home" post but I didn't know what to say or how to say it... In the adoption world, the first three months are usually considered to be the hardest but honestly, at three months home things were harder than ever and I was feeling overwhelmed, discouraged and physically, emotionally and spiritually drained . To summarize (because I am putting the past behind us and because I don't want to over share on a public blog for the sake of my son's privacy), Samuel was regressing in just about every area (sleep, bathing, toileting, mood, behaviour, etc.) and was screaming more often than he wasn't which made for long days, which led to long weeks, which added up to a long couple of months. Fast forward to today however and is hard for me to even remember the details of that time as we have experienced such a huge turnaround! I started seeing improvement (for the first time in a couple months) just before Christmas, saw some brief regression in January but since then it has been two giant leaps forward, one itty bitty step back. As of early January, Samuel is sleeping in his own room by himself (except when he wakes up screaming from a nightmare at which point I bring him into my bed; this can happen several nights in a row or he can go a week or two with nothing). I can't remember the last time Samuel truly screamed the way he used to multiple times a day. His aggression towards me has disappeared and all the "little" things (i.e. his refusing to walk, change his clothes, have a bath, etc.) that used to make up our day-to-day battles have become non-issues. Don't get me wrong, we still have our challenges but most of them are pretty "normal" (i.e. defiance, getting him to put his toys away, etc.) albeit a bit intensified and when I think about where we were a few short months ago, I truly can't believe how far we've come.

As I was thinking about how to best update you on the last five months without writing a novel, I thought it would be fun to tell you about Samuel's top five favourite things since that pretty much summarizes what we've been up to and many of the victories we have celebrated along the way. So, without further ado, drum roll please...

Top Five Things That Samuel Loves

#5... Talking

The top four came to me easily. This one took me a little longer until I was sitting around one afternoon thinking about it while at the same time engaging in Samuel's incessant chatter when I realized that it was obvious - Samuel loves to talk! Seriously, he starts talking the second he wakes up in the morning and does not stop until the second he falls asleep at night. Samuel talks about what we're going to do that day, he discusses our schedule, rules and routine, he asks for what he needs/wants, he makes jokes, he describes what he is doing in his imaginative play... This the one area of Samuel's development that seems to have been on overdrive since I met him. At two months home I got tired of guessing and made a list of how many words Samuel had. I stopped at around 150. Since then I have given up as he is daily coming out with new words I didn't even realize he knew and when people ask I tell them he has at least 500 words. Don't forget that this is the little boy who was described as "non-verbal" and in fact had less than 20 words in Vietnamese when I met him! Not only does Samuel have a lot of words but he grasps complex concepts (i.e. before/after, already, etc.) without me intentionally teaching them and is able to appropriately make use of words/concepts in different circumstances. Although he doesn't have any real grammar yet, he is regularly using 5-6 word sentences and can string 1-2 sentences together. Samuel's speech still lacks clarity and much of what he says is not readily understood by the general public but this too is slowly improving and I understand 98% of what he says which has made communication between us pretty much a non-issue. I don't know how to explain this complete transformation from "non-verbal" to total chatterbox as it's really not something I had to work at with him, it just happened all on its own. All I know is that Samuel has 5 years to make up for and now that he can communicate, there is no stopping him! In fact, one of my big challenges is getting him to stop talking long enough to do what he needs to do (brush his teeth, eat, get dressed, zip up his coat, go to sleep etc.)... Never could I have imagined that "no more talking" would be such a commonly used phrase with my "non-verbal" child!

I obviously don't have any pictures of Samuel talking but thought I would
fill this spot with another little victory recently... After hours of jumping from
one thing to the next for no more than three minutes at a time, Samuel dumped
all these toys in the hallway and played appropriately with them for nearly an hour!
And yes, he was talking to himself and narrating what he was doing the whole time :)


#4... Water

It seems like an autism cliché but I can't help it, my son loves water! Washing dishes, water fountains, puddles, hot tubs... you name it, he loves it. Samuel's absolute favourite outing is going to the pool and even though his teeth start chattering within one minute of getting in (why do they have to keep the water so cold in the winter?!), I have to drag him out when the hour is up. Samuel also loves his bath and can easily stay in there for two hours or more if we have nowhere to go. I cannot wait for the summer when I can introduce him to car washing and sprinklers and water balloons and the beach!

Although they must be saved as a special treat due to his sensitive skin,
Samuel loves bubbles!

When you combine Samuel's love of water with his love of cooking (see below),
he is in his glory!

#3... Music

I caught my first glimpse of Samuel's love of music during his solo performance at his goodbye party at the orphanage. Since then, Samuel's love of music has just continued to grow. I made a playlist of children's music for Samuel before going to Vietnam and rarely is there a moment where it is not playing in the background (or the foreground) of our home. Samuel knows every note to every song and puts his favourites on repeat, singing and dancing along for up to 40 minutes at a time! Samuel is such a perfect fit for our family, not because I'm all that musical but because I actually enjoy having children's music on 24/7 and I'm pretty sure there are few things his grandmother loves more than dancing with her grandson. About a month ago Samuel spontaneously added a new component to our bedtime routine and now will not go to sleep without first singing Jesus Loves Me followed by Jingle Bells. Jingle Bells I taught him at Christmas ( it was the simplest, most repetitive Christmas song to teach) however I never taught him Jesus Loves Me. Jesus Loves Me is simply one of the countless songs he has heard and my sweet boy somehow innately knew that it was a good bedtime song :)

The video below was taken in October... This was Samuel's favourite song at the time and every time it came on he would drop what he was doing and start dancing all around the house singing at the top of his lungs. I tried many times to get it on video but every time I pulled out my camera he would stop and want to come see. I finally turned my mom's Ipad around so he could see himself which worked better but he was super distracted looking at himself 
(his reflection is perhaps his #6 favourite thing).



#2... Cooking

This one could be a post of it's own but given my recent (or not so recent) blogging track record, I'd better not do that... There is no thing Samuel loves more than cooking! In this post back in September, I talked about how Samuel and I had our first little "tea party" with his wooden blocks. Well, Samuel's love for cooking (both real and pretend) has grown exponentially since then. Samuel's overflowing bin of pots, pans, dishes and utensils are by far his favourite toys and it doesn't take long before other non-cooking toys become repurposed as well. Samuel serves puzzle pieces at his imaginary restaurant and shapes play-doh into meatballs to be stirred in a pot or placed on a tray for the oven. A hammer is used as a potato masher, an electric drill is actually an electric mixer and the cash registered serves as the microwave. While Samuel's attention span is generally extremely short, he can play cooking for hours on end. I used to call it his obsession but I have now renamed it his passion. As a family of two, we often eat leftovers for dinner but nothing makes Samuel come alive the way he does when I tell him we're cooking. And to think that it took months for me to be able to cook a meal without Samuel having a complete meltdown! Samuel has learned what he can and cannot do in the kitchen and has become a joy to cook with (as an aside, he is also a joy to cook for as he eats anything and everything!). Even when I'm cooking a meal with a lot of prep that Samuel cannot help with (i.e. chopping, etc.), Samuel never gets bored in the kitchen and stays right beside me watching everything I'm doing. The amazing thing is how he remembers each and every step and re-enacts them later in his play (i.e. peel the potatoes, wash the potatoes, cut the potatoes, boil them, mash them, add milk, etc.). Recently Samuel has started asking me what we are having for lunch while he is getting dressed in the morning and while I'm getting ready he will, all by himself, take out everything we need (ex. the first day he did this I told him we were having grilled cheese and tomato soup and came out to find the pot, frying pan, spoon, spatula, ladle, butter knife, can opener and can of tomato soup all ready to go!). Samuel got cookbooks for Christmas (among his best gifts) and every week we try out a new recipe with Samuel doing pretty much all of the work. I was talking to someone recently about Samuel's love for cooking and they said, "He must get that from you". I couldn't help but laugh out loud! Those of you who know me know that I hate to cook. In fact, if you asked me before bringing Samuel home what my biggest concern was about being a mom it was having to cook! God sure does have a sense of humour :) But the truth is, I love cooking with my boy. It's our best bonding time. Besides, if all goes well, I plan on having Samuel do all the cooking around here in a couple years time. You see, he's perfect for me!

Because my sweet boy is way too cute in his apron and chef's hat!

Baking with Grandma...
Samuel has a true love affair with the electric mixer!

Our first recipe from his new cookbook...
Samuel hates getting his hands dirty and wasn't too sure
how he felt about kneading the dough but he's smiling because,
"I'm cooking!!!"

Brushing egg on his homemade rolls

My little lovebug made Valentine's brownies for his family and friends.
This is when I discovered Samuel's LOVE of brownies - batter included!

Now my experienced baker is a pro at mixing with his hands

He's also getting pretty good with a rolling pin

Despite everything I've been taught (and have taught others),
I've started to let Samuel use the stove... He can only do things that are on low heat
(i.e. melting butter or heating soup, not boiling water) and I'm glued to his side
every second but this is not a game for Samuel. He takes his cooking very seriously
and I have decided that I am going to nurture his passion (gift?) however I can.
Who knows, maybe he really will grow up to be a chef!

Icing Grandma's birthday cake
Samuel's cuteness factor grows every time someone has a
birthday and he wishes them a "Happy Birthday Cake!"

Samuel's skills improve significantly every time we bake
and today he mastered the art of levelling the measuring cup

#1... His Family

If you understood just how much Samuel loves to cook you would think that nothing could top it but that's not the case. It may sound too picture perfect, too much like a fairy tale ending but it's true... There's nothing in this world Samuel loves more than his family. Given his history I was prepared for attachment to be our biggest challenge. I was cautious, intentional and proactive in this area (something I would highly recommend and wouldn't change) but the truth is, Samuel's attachment to me as been pretty much seamless. It started on the day he first came to me and he hasn't looked back since. Deep down Samuel gets that I am his Mama and I am not going anywhere. He is very affectionate yet only clingy in new, overwhelming environments. He comes to me to meet his needs and never doubts that I will. If I have to leave him with someone he loves, he gives me a hug goodbye and goes off happily but is equally happy when I come back. I hear it in the way he delights in saying, "Mama" a thousand times a day. I see it in the way he looks at me with eager expectation after he has done something he knows I'll be proud of. I feel it in the way he grabs my face to kiss me goodnight or the way he immediately falls back into a restful sleep on my chest after having a nightmare. He is safe, secure... He knows that he is loved and cherished, that he belongs... And it is nothing short of miraculous.

Equally beautiful is the way Samuel has attached to his extended family. Samuel is quiet, cautious with people he does not know well but never with his family. Somehow he knows. Even the family he has only seen a handful of times (or less). He knows there is something different about them and he loves them with reckless abandon. Nothing brings on the crazy, the shrieking, the excited jumping and running around like a family member walking into the room! Second only to cooking, Samuel spends his days playing with his family. It doesn't matter that they're not actually here, Samuel has an imaginary Noni and Granddad, Nana, Poppy, Grandma, Uncle and AuntieJen and I'm pretty sure they never go home! He serves them food, drives them around in his truck and puts them on time out when they're misbehaving :) The boy has waited his whole life for a family and he's not going another day without them!

Mama

Grandma

Granddad

Noni

Poppy & Nana

Uncle Brian

Auntie Jen


Whew, you made it. This crazy long post only scratches the surface of all the past six months have held but I hope it has helped you to get to know my amazing son a little better. In conclusion, Samuel is loving, trusting, joyful, funny, imaginative, passionate, flexible, brave, smart, perseverant... all things he shouldn't be based on his history and what I was told about him. But Samuel is resilient and blowing past all the expectations everyone (including me) had of him. 
I can't wait to see where we are six months from now! 

Friday, February 28, 2014

December

Given that February is now over, I figure it's about time I post about all of our December festivities... (in case you haven't noticed, my new blogging mantra is "better late than never"!) Truthfully, I feel a little ridiculous posting this so late but I've gotten quite a few requests for a blog update lately and December was such a fun month full of so many great firsts for Samuel, I don't ever want to forget it!

We kicked off the month by gathering at my mom's house with Samuel's aunt and uncle to decorate my mom's Christmas tree. This was definitely a first for Samuel and I'm pretty sure he was trying to figure out what the fuss was all about. Don't let the pictures fool you, I think he hung about two ornaments then lost interest and went back to his wild and crazy self :)






We call this one, "Capturing the CRAZY!" :)

Samuel wasn't too sure what to make of the tree decorating
but there are no questions about how he feels about his family...
any day spent with family is a good day in Samuel's books!

The next day my now experienced tree decorator got put to work again decorating our tree. I got this tree for free and when I read that it was 4 feet I thought it sounded perfect for our little apartment. What I didn't realize until I opened it was that there were actually two very skinny trees in the box, intended to be used as porch trees, whose small branches were not so conducive for hanging decorations... Oh well, everyone needs a first tree, right, and Samuel didn't know any different!

Ready to try his hand at this whole
tree decorating thing for a second time




We managed to get all our decorations on there and in the end I have to say,
I kind of loved our little Charlie Brown tree :)

It came as no surprise that Samuel's favourite Christmas activity was baking sugar cookies!

Nothing lights up my son's face like the opportunity to bake!




I told Samuel we would be giving cookies to all of our family members...
Quality control is very important to him :)

Samuel sat at the counter licking the bowl long after all the cookies
had come out of the oven and the rest of the kitchen/dishes and been cleaned
It was a two day event between the baking and the decorating however, while Samuel could bake for hours on end, the decorating only lasted about 5 minutes before he moved on to other things and I had to take over...




The finished project

Another exciting first that took place in December was Samuel's first time skating! Samuel's first time on the ice he wasn't too sure and spent most of it lying on the ice with me trying to convince him to stand up and hold onto the bar with me. I wasn't sure he would go back but he did and decided that it was great fun to have me push him around with the bar, chasing after our little neighbour friend. Two weeks ago however Samuel started trying to skate (i.e. he was actually moving his feet) and this week he took off on his own with the bar and even skated a bit without the bar! The picture below is of Samuel's first time on the ice but oh, how I wish I had a picture of the look on his face this past week, it was absolutely priceless! He just kept saying, "Samuel skate by himself!", "Mama not hold Samuel!". He was soooooo proud of himself and I am so proud of my brave little Canadian :)


Thanks to Natalie's wonderful suggestion on my Thanksgiving post, Samuel and I tried our hands at a Christmas craft that was just perfect for him - short and simple! It only lasted a few minutes but it made for some cute home made candy cane gift tags for his bags of cookies.





Speaking of candy canes, that was another first for Samuel in December... He liked :)


I already posted about our Christmas day celebration, but a couple of days later we left for Ontario where the celebration continued at Granddad and Noni's house.




My little chef is hard at work

"I think I like this whole Christmas thing!"

Poor Uncle, he painstakingly put this all together while Samuel
was asleep and Samuel had it demolished within 5 minutes...

It looks like he's having fun playing with it appropriately though, right?!

Samuel's favourite part of the weekend was without a doubt the hot tub. In fact, he still regularly plays hot tub at home - "Uncle, not too hot!" "Too many bubbles!!!"


Water baby!

I can think of no better way to sum up our weekend at Granddad's than with this photo...

Believe it or not, this picture was not posed...
The look on Samuel's face says it all - "Do you see how loved I am?!"
Finally, we closed out the year with a bit of a mini family reunion at my mom's house. It was Samuel's first time meeting some of these family members and yet it was as if had known them his whole life... Samuel has an innate way of knowing who his people are and it's beautiful to watch.

Four generations of boys!
I had to sneak this last picture in here even though it is actually from January first, it's such a huge milestone for my big boy I couldn't not include it... Samuel lost his first tooth! Yup, on the morning of January 1st at his Grandma's house. And just like that, my baby is not a baby anymore... In true Samuel fashion, Samuel did not react in the slightest and was left to wonder what his mama was so excited and making such a big deal about.


Well, there you have it. If you've made it this far than I trust that you have had your fill of cute Samuel pictures and that this will hold you over for a while :) Stay tuned though as we have some important dates coming up that I fully intend to commemorate here on this blog.