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!





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!