Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Nearly One Year Later...

I know, I know... Ever since Samuel started school and I went back to work, I have dropped off the face of the earth when it comes to blogging! What can I say??? Life is busy! This year has been harder and in different ways than I thought (and I was expecting hard) but in the midst of it all, my incredibly resilient Samuel has continued to thrive. One of my last posts was about Samuel's First Day of School and in that post I shared some of my concerns as well as some very specific prayer requests regarding Samuel's upcoming year of school. As the school year has come to an end, I knew there was no way I could not come back on here and acknowledge the great things God has done for us in this area of our lives. Ephesians 3:20 says, "Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes." (TLB) This is one of my life verses and I have seen God fulfill it yet again this year in regards to our experience with Samuel's first year of school. To show you just how much God has answered my specific prayers, and has gone above and beyond in doing so, I'm going to copy my three prayer requests from last September below and speak to each individually.

#1 - That Samuel would have favour with his teachers... One of Samuel's greatest needs is to have a positive bond with the adults caring for him... this is what will make the difference between him tolerating school and loving it. So, I am praying that Samuel's teachers would fall in love with Samuel as so many of us have, that they would have a special place in their hearts for him and that they would be just a little extra attentive and a little extra nurturing towards him.

When it comes to this one, I don't even know where to begin. Samuel's teachers have surpassed what I even thought was possible to find in a public school teacher. I can say with absolute confidence that Samuel's teachers not only cared about him but genuinely loved him. I saw it at Samuel's first IEP meeting where, after having him in their class for a mere two months, their eyes welled up with tears in speaking about how much he had already accomplished, and I continued to see this in countless other ways throughout the year.  While I could see that they are amazing teachers with all the kids in their class, they absolutely had a special place in their hearts for Samuel and were so attentive and so nurturing towards him. As far as Samuel was concerned, his teachers were like family. He whole-heartedly loved them and as a result, he loved school as well. If I could have lined up all the teachers in the world, I am certain that I could not have hand-picked two teachers more perfect for us this year. The incredible, genuine care they have shown for not only Samuel but for me as well as been more than anything I ever could have imagined.

# 2 - For just one child in Samuel's class to truly connect with Samuel. I'm not expecting best friends, play dates or even birthday party invitations... 

Once again, I underestimated my son (and my God!). Yes, Samuel connected with the kids in his class. He also has not one but two best friends, has had multiple play dates and even a birthday party invitation (where the mom told me that as far as her son was concerned, Samuel was a must have on the list)! Don't get the wrong idea, Samuel is still very much working on his social and play skills and play dates with Samuel may look a little different than they do with other kids, but the kids who identify themselves as his friends accept him for who he is (as do their moms!) and I just got a call from the mom of Samuel's 'best friend' last weekend because her son was already missing his friend Samuel and wanted to know when he could come over and play! I couldn't ask for anything more than that.

# 3 - That Samuel's aid would have wisdom in how to teach him, include him in the class, and push him to reach his fullest potential... I'm praying that his aid would have the wisdom to see past Samuel's 'games' pretending that he doesn't know something, that she would see his great potential and how smart he really is and that she would know how to teach him in a way that will enable him to learn as much as he can.

Academically, Samuel has far surpassed all of my expectations and that is in large part because of his incredible integration aid. My academic goals for Samuel this year included being able recognize all 26 letters of the alphabet (upper case OR lower case), being able to independently write his full first name and being able to trace straight/curved lines, letters, numbers, etc. Well, Samuel knows all of his letters (upper AND lower case) along with their corresponding sounds, was writing his first name by November and now writes his last name as well, can write all of his letters and numbers to 20 and can copy out full words independently. Samuel has also begun sight reading, is beginning to develop some French vocabulary and has shown great improvement in his cutting, pasting, drawing, etc. Samuel's aid  absolutely saw Samuel's potential and she pushed and challenged him every step of the way. In addition to all of that, she loved Samuel like he was her own and I came to trust her with Samuel as much as I would any member of my family. With every achievement, large or small, Samuel's aid as been just as proud of him as I am and it is clear that Samuel works hard to please her. All in all, she has been everything I hoped for and more. 

I realize that may have been more detailed than you care to read, but I wanted all this in writing for myself to come back to in the future and remember what God has done. In a difficult year, God's hand has been so evident in this area of our lives, proving that we never walk alone and that I can trust Him to work out His good and perfect plans for my son, even in the midst of the chaos.

Thank you for all of you who continue to pray and check in on my blog or pop me an e-mail, even after nearly a year of silence. Our lives being what they are, I will make no false promises to update more often but I so appreciate your prayers. Just in case I don't blog again for another year (which is more than likely...) I will not leave you without what I know you all come here for. Here is a recap of Samuel's last year in pictures :)

Samuel's first school picture...
(actually, this is the retake... trust me, you don't want to see the actual first!)

For Halloween at school, the kids were supposed to dress up as a
character from their favourite book. Samuel chose Pete the Cat :)

Samuel's first real drawing
(this was a HUGE accomplishment!!!)

Apparently it was a picture of Mama...
Can't you see the resemblance??? :)

How is it my baby is six years old already???

Four generations...
Serving together at West Island Mission's Christmas Basket Distribution

What, we get to have Christmas again this year?!?!

We had a bit of a punching balloon collision...
Don't worry, Samuel was fine - his was just a sympathy ice pack!

Samuel LOVES Franklin :)

There's nothing better than a Samuel sandwich!

Who doesn't love playing in a box???

Tobogganing with big cousin Aidan

Just for the record, Uncle Brian is still the World's Greatest Uncle
and all the best pictures of Samuel are always with his uncle!

Riding a 'speed boat'

Driving it was definitely one of the highlights of Samuel's year!

First time fishing

Oh, wow, I caught one...

Umm, no... I don't want to hold it, thank you very much.
(Go figure, his great-uncle couldn't get him to touch it but he did get him to kiss it!)

Painting the fence with water

Now that is good, cheap fun!

Surrounded by cousins!!!

Friday, September 12, 2014

One Year Home

I wake up in the morning after sleeping through the whole night alone in my own bed to the sound of my sweet son calling out "Mama" from his own bedroom down the hall... And I remember the days where he would only sleep on my chest, the weeks we spent camping out on an old twin mattress in the living room, the months I spent in his room/bed, the countless nights he woke up screaming in terror and the endless mornings waking up to the sound of him whining because he will not get out of his bed without permission and he seemed to have forgotten that he can now use his words to call me.

Our bed in the living room - September 2013
We make it through the day, sometimes even a few days, maybe even a week with no major tantrums. I flick on a light switch, turn on the microwave or flush the toilet and my son does not drop to the floor in hysterics because he didn't get to do it. I watch my son get upset about something yet, 9 times out of 10, be able to calm down within ten minutes... And I remember the days, weeks, months where Samuel was screaming more often than he wasn't and I wondered if this was what the rest of our lives were going to look like.

Conked out on the floor after hours of screaming - September 2013

I walk 20 minutes each way to our closest park with Samuel skipping, running, laughing and singing alongside me... And I remember the days where Samuel would not even walk to the car and insited on being held or pushed in the stroller everywhere we went.

Our first trip to the park - September 2013
(Samuel never got out of his stroller...)

We get to the park and I watch Samuel trying hard to play with the other kids. I see him joining in what they're doing and hear him say things like, "Excuse me, I have turn please?"... And I remember the early days where he would insist on leaving the second another child showed up at the park, the many months that followed where he grabbed everything any other child tried to touch causing kids to literally run away from him, and all the playdates with neighbours/cousins, etc. that left me in tears.

Actually making friends at the park - July 2014

I spend the day listening to Samuel argue, negotiate, correct (ME: Samuel, sit properly at the table SAMUEL: Not table, counter!), make excuses, talk back, ask 'why?' about a thousand times and chatter incessantly about anything and everything... And I remember the silent child I met in Vietnam who spoke less than 20 words in his native language and I am thankful for these challenges I never thought I'd have to deal with with my "non-verbal" child.

Locked away in his own quiet little world - August 2013

I spend up to a couple hours preparing dinner with Samuel by my side contentedly watching, helping, learning... And I remember the months where we would not have eaten if it were not for the kindness of family, friends and neighbours as I could not so much as boil pasta without Samuel dissolving into a meltdown that would last long after the food was ice cold.

Making mashed potatoes for the first time
(with the help of pudding and grapes to keep Samuel busy) - November, 2013

I spend 30-40 minutes each night reading to my sweet boy who just loves to hear his favourite books read again and again... I remember the months where he couldn't even sit through a simple board book and I literally laughed out loud when someone said something about him one day reading for half an hour.

Nana making every effort to keep Samuel's attention - September, 2013

Samuel has officially been home one year and when I stop and remember, I truly can't believe how far we've come.
Gone is the lost, disengaged, vacant-eyed little boy a brought home one year ago. In his place is my not-so-little stick of dynamite, full of life, charisma and unbridled potential. Yes, it's been hard, it's still hard (albeit in different ways) but in those early days home I heard the following song for the first time and I claimed it for our first year together...

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we've come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

So today I am looking back at just how far we've come, thanking God for every victory along the way and, as we move forward, clinging still to the promise that we never walk alone. 

Happy one year home, baby. You never cease to amaze me with all you're accomplishing... Keep proving them wrong!


Friday, September 5, 2014

First Day of School

Yesterday was Samuel's first day of school. Wow. I'll say one thing about 'older child' adoption, it sometimes feels like your life is on fast forward (perhaps especially for first time parents like me)!

45% Phenomenal, 30% Incredible, 25% Impressive...
100% Perfect!
(Don't let his teachers forget it! :) )

Look at me - I'm excited about my new school!!!

So excited I even gave Mama a real smile!
(Now that's a miracle in and of itself, LOL)

At Samuel's school they do something called the Balloon Parade on the kindergarteners' first day. Each child gets a balloon tied to their backpack and they all walk around to the back of the school with their parents while the rest of the students are lined on either side of the path holding signs, clapping and cheering. It was really special, albeit a little chaotic and overwhelming, and other than all the waiting and picture taking, Samuel seemed to enjoy it.

Sitting next to his friend from preschool...
They're not in the same class but it was nice for him to know at least one other kid.

All the kids heading inside with their teachers...

Goodbye Mama!

Samuel headed off with his integration aid with no tears and minimal whining which was pretty much what I expected. Honestly, I'm really not concerned about Samuel coping at school. He is the most resilient kid I know, he gets excited about new experiences and his attachment to me is secure - there is no doubt in his mind that I will come back and get him at the end of the day. The thing is, I want so much more for Samuel than for him to cope well... I want him to thrive! I see so much potential in my son to learn, to join in with the other kids and surprise everyone with just how well he does. I also see the potential for him to be overlooked, to fool everyone into underestimating his abilities (he's fooled me many times!) and to spend his days on the outskirts. I am praying for three very specific things that I think will make all the difference for Samuel and for those of you who are praying too, I would love for you to join me:

1) That Samuel would have favour with his teachers. Samuel just soaks in adult attention and one of Samuel's greatest needs is to have a positive bond with the adults caring for him. I believe this is the greatest reason why he did so well in preschool and this is what will make the difference between him tolerating school and loving it. So, I am praying that Samuel's teachers would fall in love with Samuel as so many of us have, that they would have a special place in their hearts for him and that they would be just a little extra attentive and a little extra nurturing towards him.

2) For just one child in Samuel's class to truly connect with Samuel. I'm realistic. I'm not expecting best friends, play dates or even birthday party invitations. But Samuel has come so far in this area and he has a real desire to play with other kids (something he never had before). He has worked so hard on sharing, taking turns, etc. and has actually become more polite than most kids his age. Still, he hasn't quite grasped the concept of more complex games/play and it's rare for other children his age to play with him. So, I'm praying for one child in his class with an extra measure of grace, patience, compassion, kindness and a God-given ability to see past Samuel's 'differences' in order to see what a truly sweet, fun, imaginative kid he is. It may seem like a lot to ask of a five year old but there are two boys in Samuel's Sunday school class who fit this description to a T. They excitedly greet him when they see him standing in the doorway, invite him to play with them, sit beside them, etc. and it makes the difference between Samuel not wanting to go to him skipping in happily. That God would provide just one child like this in his class... Honestly, this request is probably even more so for me than for Samuel. Oh how it would do this Mama's heart good... 

3) That Samuel's aid would have wisdom in how to teach him, include him in the class, and push him to reach his fullest potential. Here is going to be one of Samuel's greatest challenges in school - he has no desire to "perform". For example, I was trying to teach him to count to ten for months and I was convinced he was not getting it as he was never doing it and would often say the numbers out of order... until one day when he didn't think I was listening I hear him counting 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10! I also know he knows how to write S-A-M because I've seen him do it... but only once! I'm praying that his aid would have the wisdom to see past Samuel's 'games' pretending that he doesn't know something, that she would see his great potential and how smart he really is and that she would know how to teach him in a way that will enable him to learn as much as he can.

When I picked Samuel up after school yesterday he came outside and stayed in his line with a smile on his face. His aid said he had a great day and Samuel even told me a bit about it. When I asked what his favourite thing was, he said playing with his new friends. Now, I don't think he actually played with any other kids but I'm glad that he's at least excited about the idea of it! Although if I based it off of what he talked about all afternoon, Samuel's favourite part of school is the "doorbell" that signals that it's time to go back to class, etc. :) All in all, it was a good first day. Now, just to get Samuel to understand that school is five days a week for the next ten months... He keeps telling me that after next week new school is all done!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Adoption Day

Today is Samuel's one year adoption day anniversary. I described that day last year as both a beautiful and heartbreaking day, which is was, and I encourage you to read all about it here. Today however was pure beauty.

I've wanted to have Samuel dedicated since I brought him home but have been waiting for the right timing. As I began planning for his dedication sometime this summer, I realized that his adoption day fell on a Saturday this year and I could not think of a better way to celebrate.

Hello camera smile...

Oh well, at least it's a smile :)

We had Samuel's dedication outdoors at a park that is very significant to Samuel and I. 
(another story for another time, perhaps)

Of course, imaginary microphones were required

Unfortunately, with the long weekend I was unable to get a worship leader as I had hoped to but it worked out... My pastor graciously agreed to help out in this area but we almost didn't even need him! Something that most of you don't know is that Samuel is a future worship leader. Seriously, Samuel is passionate about worship (I'm not entirely sure how or why but he has a very strong preference to worship music over any other type of music) and spends hours a week 'practicing'. I didn't think he'd end up singing much (or at least not very loud) in front of all those people but he pretty much took over (my poor pastor didn't know what he was getting himself into!).

Then Samuel and I sang 'our song'. If you haven't heard Not For A Moment (After All) by Meredith Andrews I encourage you to listen to it here - it's pretty much the story of the last five years of our lives.

It was a simple yet beautiful ceremony and I am so grateful to everyone who made it out to celebrate with us and for the roles you have played in Samuel's story and in our lives.

After the ceremony it was... party time!!! 

It was a beautiful day from start to finish. Wow. One year. 
Thank you God for all You've done, all You're doing and all You've yet to do. 
Your redemptive work in my son's life is breathtaking.

p.s. In honor of this special day, family and friends donated towards 'Korbin' on Reece's Rainbow...
Korbin and Samuel are the same age and share a love of food and music, along with a diagnosis of autism.
We are praying that one day Korbin too will know the love of a forever family... Could it be yours???