Tag Archives: Leo

Three Years Home


Labor Day weekend marked 3 years since Leo became part of our family. I don’t write as many personal posts on the blog now that it has transitioned from a travel blog for family and friends to a public blog for those considering adoption from China. However, I thought I would take the opportunity to reflect on what I have learned through this three years of adoptive parenting.

Yes, you can love the children you adopted as much as the children you gave birth to. More and more families are adopting after having biological children. A frequent concern is that it might feel different. People always laugh when I say this, but despite having 6 kids, I don’t actually like little kids that much. I’ve never wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, so you can understand how this was a big concern for me. While adoption might seem at first like babysitting the neighbor’s kid, I was surprised by how very quickly each of my sons felt right in my arms. I think the months of paperwork with seeing pictures and getting updates serves as the “paper pregnancy” preparing your heart. No it isn’t instant, but for most families their adopted children are simply their children, whether they also have biological children or not.

july4thSpecial Needs adoption does not require you to be a super parent. So many people are intimidated by the “special needs” label. We were already parenting children with special needs before we adopted–they needed glasses and braces. In the China program, you can choose which medical needs to accept and only receive referrals meeting that criteria. Sure, Leo’s weekly speech therapy, quarterly ENT nurse visit, bi-yearly ENT visit, and annual cleft clinic visit takes up a few more squares on the calendar, but not any more than squeezing in piano or baseball between the pediatrican-dentist-optometrist-orthodontist. August’s limb difference is going to require some intensive surgery this year, but after the initial correction his need will be less time intensive than Leo’s. Yes, these things take time and money, but you do it because it’s your child. We now know these waiting children aren’t “special needs kids.” They’re simply children whose biggest need is a family.

The other kids will be fine! Another common concern we had was how adopting IMG_2256might effect the children already in our family. Were we going to ruin their lives? However, from the very beginning our children embraced the idea of adopting a sibling. It opened their eyes to the fact that there were children who didn’t have a family. While we in no way approached adoption as a charity project, through our many conversations on the hows and whys they have become more interested in ways they could help children in need. Several of our children sponsor a child to help preserve a family, and two of our older children have written papers on adoption for school. I was so impressed by how understanding they were in the early days with grieving or tantrums because they understood what a huge scary change in was in the life of their brothers. Our children have become more caring and compassionate. Adoption changed the lives of all of our children for the better.

Don’t let fear hold you back. Many people consider adoption but few actually adopt. I don’t know what it is that makes some people take that step forward but I know exactly what it is that holds so many people back. Fear. It took us so long to decide to adopt, but before we had come home from China we knew we’d be going back. It changes you that quickly. Less than a year earlier, we had sincerely explained to our social worker that we would be adopting exactly oneimg_0823 child to complete our family. She was skeptical. As many have said before, adoption is hard to start but harder to stop. When you plan your biological family, you ask yourselves many of the same questions–does everyone have enough time and attention, can we afford another child, do we have another bed and seat in the van–but somehow there’s a greater urgency to the question when you’ve seen all those little faces. When you hold a child in your arms while the orphanage director says “This child needs a family.” After you’ve made that trip, it’s easier to understand why some families adopt over and over. (The children in this photo are home with families now. However, one of the little boys we met on this trip had a limb difference. Meeting him caused us to check the limb difference box during our second adoption, which led to August becoming part of our family.)

At this time, we feel our family is complete and have no plans to adopt again. (Famous last words, I know.) But I still remember how it felt to be trying to make the initial decision. How we went back and forth asking if we should or if we shouldn’t. We had so many fears. What I have learned from saying yes is that if you let fear make you say no, you’re saying no to letting your life change in a wonderful way. Saying no won’t prevent bad things from happening in your life. That happens to everyone. Saying yes WILL cause changes in your life. You’ll learn that you’re stronger than you think, what’s really important in life, and your family will be enriched beyond measure by the children that you didn’t know you had until you saw them in a photo.


One Year Home

Before I start on this post I wanted to note that I have updated the China 101 page with a few more items.  I marked them as “new” so you could easily see what has been added.

Can you believe that it has been one year since Leo joined our family?  Neither can I!  Remember how it took almost two months for Leo to decide I wasn’t just the family nanny?  july4th
And let’s not even talk about how many months it took for him to not cry when the dogs entered the room.  How about how long for him to learn to eat with a spoon or walk on the grass?  Those days are long gone and now life is pretty fun.  As fun as celebrating the 4th of July as a new American citizen!

While I would love to say that we’ve had a nice leisurely summer, it really hasn’t been because of the various medical and therapy related appointments.  After we moved, I had to find a new pediatrician for the children.  Because we live in a much larger city now, there is a big children’s hospital with a cleft clinic.  We had our first visit there.  A cleft clinic is where you see a variety of medical personnel all one after the other, usually taking up a couple of hours.  They are all experienced in cleft palate issues and work together to come up with a treatment plan for your individual child.  Leo will be seen at the cleft clinic yearly until adulthood and they will handle any future surgeries that he might need.  He will also be seeing an ENT at 6 months between cleft clinic visits.  He is scheduled to get tubes placed in his ears next month.

I was very impressed by the level of care that we received.  We got good information, such as that Leo is unlikely to need orthodontic or dental work due to his cleft plate.  We got information which was not so good.  The speech language pathologist determined that Leo is not making any sounds which use his repaired palate, even though his palate has been repaired for 10 months.  We were referred to a speech therapist who specially trained in cleft palate speech issues and Leo now has weekly speech therapy with her.  I can’t say that the new therapist has caused his speech issues to magically disappear, but we now have a better understanding of the long hard road to speech that many cleft palate children will face.  Leo continues to make slow and steady progress–he’s now using more two word sentences, but we know that speech therapy will be a part of our life for many years.

waterLeo is signing “water” in the picture to the right because these steps lead down to a lake.  Signs still come easier to him than words.  He will start using a sign as soon as I show him, and we all look up more ASL signs for him because he likes to be able to communicate.  He knows many animal signs now, and we recently taught him dinosaur, dragon, and bear because he always points them out in books.  His new favorite is “frog.”  I found a shirt with a frog on it for him and he wants to wear it whenever it is clean.  As soon as he sees it in the drawer he pulls it out and signs frog.  He will point to it and sign frog throughout the day.

We have been trying to still make time for fun when we aren’t having yet another referral visit to the doctor.  There are many parks, playgrounds, and museums in our new city.  Leo loves playgrounds.  In the fall, he found swings and slides scary.  Now he will go down tall slides, loves to swing, and his brothers have taught him to climb up slides as well.  His motor skills have improved tremendously from what they were a year ago.  Leo does not appreciate nature hikes as much as the rest of the family.  He reminds me of Gregory, who used to start saying “Can we go back to the van?  I’m tired and hungry.  My feet hurt!” about six feet down the hiking trail.  As long as he is in the stroller, Leo is happy to be along for the ride.  He can say “stroller” now and runs to truckthe garage if he hears us mention it.

Leo has now been moved up to a big boy bed.  We bought a bunk bed for him to share with Max.  I wondered if he would be okay leaving the crib but he was extremely excited to sleep on the bottom bunk.  He tossed his pillow and blanket up on the bed without a backward glance at the crib.  He taps his chest (sign for  Leo’s or mine) and say “bed . . . Max!” over and over again.  He often says it as I’m tucking him in for the night.  He adores Max and tries to wake him up first thing in the morning so that they can start having fun right away.  I think the feeling is mutual because Max said “I really like being a big brother” and when I said that was convenient since he has three younger brothers, he replied “I really just meant a big brother to Leo.”

I don’t have much more to say.  He’s still a happy, affectionate little guy!  We’ve so blessed to have him in our family!

From this tippy little guy in the summer of 2012
Screen Shot 2012-11-27 at 12.58.48 PM






Becoming a family in the early fall of 2013 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


And family for a full year in 2014!



9 months home

I hadn’t planned to post at the 9 month mark because I thought we would seeing fewer changes.  That hasn’t really been the case.  I’ve still seen enough changes that I thought I should go ahead and preserve this point in time.  So, here is what has changed from the 6 to 9 month home mark.  pretzels

First, when I said Leo handled the move very smoothly, that was the truth, but things did not stay that way.  My husband started his new job a week before we moved, so there was a week that he wasn’t with us, and during the move the kids and I stayed at four different houses in five nights.  Before we could really get settled in, my husband had to be gone for five days to a professional conference that he had committed to before we knew we would be moving.  This turned out to be the last straw for Leo.  He began to have shortened naps and he lost trust in Matt.  He also stopped doing the happy dance when Matt came home from work.  He was very clingy with me.  It has been several weeks since the conference now and things are pretty much back to normal.  His nap is the usual length and the happy dance is back, although after the happy dance he will want me to pick him up instead of wanting to follow Matt around for the evening.

The bout of clinginess was in keeping with Leo’s general trend the past two months or so.  He has become very whiny, especially if he doesn’t get what he wants.  He will be overly dramatic for every little perceived injury and demand hugs and kisses.  When I pull a shirt over his head, he will point the spot where the neckband squeezes over his head and insists on a kiss there on either side.  At first I worried a lot about how the move had reawakened his fears and insecurities from the adoption.  He needed reassurance that we were always going to be here, and he was making up for a lack of affection his first two years (although I saw plenty of affection on our trip to the orphanage).  Then I realized–he’s just being a two year old!  All of our children have acted this way at two, but Leo hadn’t been demanding at all until now.  myturn

Leo’s default coping mechanism is to withdraw.  He’s been very comfortable with us, very happy and silly, to the point that we didn’t really realize that he was still holding back. Apparently he felt he was okay to share his happy feelings, but was still on his best behavior.  Now we’re seeing more of the normal 2 year old behavior, good and bad.  Or maybe he’s just learned how to be an obnoxious American 2 year old!

Now that we feel we understand what’s going on, it is easy to dip into our vast stores of 2 year old parenting tools.  Leo doesn’t like hearing “Vincent’s turn” (as you can see here) but he will keep hearing it, along with words like “share” and phrases such as “Can you say ‘up’ in words?”  It turns out he can say up instead of whining to be picked up.  Mary Evelyn even looked up the sign for ‘please’ in her quest to cut down on the whining, but he sometimes gets confused as to whether ‘help’ or ‘please’ is what he should say.

Leo has loved the warm weather.  With the unpacking behind us, we have more time to get out and play.  When I opened the garage door for the kids to go out into the driveway Leo grabbed his favorite ride on toy and ran out immediately.  We are fortunate enough to have several playgrounds within walking distance of our new house.  eggsIn the fall, Leo found swings and slides scary, but now he loves them.  Spring is birthday season at our house, and he has gotten excited every time he recognized the signs of a birthday cake.  He loves cake!  We have celebrated several more new firsts including making pretzels for Lent (top picture), getting ashes on Ash Wednesday, dyeing and hunting for Easter eggs, and his first trip to the zoo.  He is starting to be more accepting of new foods.  He no longer spits out every bit of meat he finds in his bowl, just most of them.  He and Vincent continue to be best friends/worst enemies.  All day long I hear Vincent’s little voice saying “Leeeoooo!  Come on!  Let’s go!” and then the pitter patter of little toddler feet following obediently behind.

Really, our only ongoing challenge continues to be his speech delays.  He keeps making steady progress.  I would say he is still adding at least one new word per week.  He is now regularly using two word sentences with signs, and sometimes will use them with one sign and a verbal word.  On Mother’s Day he said his first three word sentence:  “Help (sign and verbal) me (sign) candy (verbal)!”  Leo loves candy, and picked up on that word very quickly!  My favorite new word is hug, which he asks for multiple times a day.  He is using a wider variety of words, and using them more regularly.  He used to like to point to different body parts and have me say the name, but he wouldn’t often repeat them after me.  He now will try and say most of them, and is now pointing to objects and repeating them too.  When I read a book he is very interactive.  He will point out objects that he knows (ball, car, shoes), make animal sounds, and I was very surprised when he started saying a word that shows he is listening to the story.  For example, when Max and Ruby are making a cake, he will say and sign ‘help.’  He says ‘night-night’ when he sees someone laying down in a bed.  At this point he is not much behind where Vincent was at the same age.  Both Max and Vincent didn’t start really talking a lot until after they turned 3.  I suspect that his hesitancy to express himself verbally is also tied to his tendency to withdraw when he is unsure.

balltossI still feel that he would benefit from more speech therapy, but getting him in Early Intervention in our new state continues to be a headache.  I started the first work day after our move because I knew it took a while but I am very disappointed that three months later he still hasn’t had a single therapy session.  I’ve filled out two paperwork packets, provided them with a copy of his assessment from our old state, waited for them to request the exact thing I provided them with from our old state, then they decided to re-evaluate him anyway.  Leo had a physicians’s assessment, and I’ve had two meetings with people so that they could explain how the program works and what services are available to us.  Now we have two more meetings scheduled to plan Leo’s exit from the program in September even though he still hasn’t had any therapies!  Apparently the exit meetings are a state mandate so they take priority over actual therapy.  Matt says this has been a colossal waste of my time and effort and should just drop out.  I admit, I probably wouldn’t have bothered if I had known all that would be involved here, but now I feel really committed and don’t want to waste the time I’ve put in so far.  I’m feeling optimistic that he will finally get a speech therapy session in June.  If so, that means he might get four whole sessions before he ages out of the program in September!

See you in the fall for the one year update!




7 Quick Takes Friday


I’m a longtime reader of Jenn Fulwiler, and I thought her 7 Quick Takes would be a great way to give you guys a quick update.

#1- Guess what?  We moved to a different state and I didn’t tell you!  


We were in the process of moving when I posted Leo’s 6 month update.  I wasn’t sure how Leo would do with the move, so I thought rather than muddy his 6 month update with moving news, I would just update you after the fact.

#2- Leo did great!

I was expecting Leo to have a tough time with more change.  Within the past year he was moved from his orphanage to a foster home, apparently was moved to a different foster home, was handed over to us, moved to a new country, and now has moved again.  I guess in retrospect, moving houses wasn’t the strangest thing that has ever happened to him.  He seemed to feel secure as long as his family was with him.  Now five year old Vincent, on the other hand, has not taken so well to the move.


#3- Leo loves his roommate.

We took the opportunity from the move to transition Leo from our bedroom to sharing a room with Max.  Before we got Leo, we weren’t sure how well he would sleep at first.  Many children wake often for the first few weeks because of the stress of the adoption and jetlag.  Leo was a solid sleeper, but then we had the upcoming cleft surgery.  After the cleft surgery, we were starting to have an idea that we’d be moving and decided to wait until after the move.  In the end, Leo had no trouble switching to sleeping in his crib in a new room.  He likes playing peek-a-boo with Max in the mornings but is a little disappointed that Max is more likely to roll over and bury his head under the blanket than to jump right up and help him out of his crib.

#4- Still working on speech therapy

It seems that the Early Intervention program in our new state is run differently than the one in our old state.  They are still determining if Leo will qualify for services, but it seems that he will only be able to receive speech therapy once a month.  I’m disappointed because he was making so much progress with his wonderful therapist in our former state.  He is continuing to add new words though.  This week he has started saying “the end” after stories and “night-night” to Vincent at bedtime.  We will continue to review our options.

#5- More on boy adoption

I was touched to get a link from my friend and mentor’s blog Home Is Where the Heart Is.  Please go read her very personal account of how her feelings gradually changed regarding adopting a boy.

#6- A new book to read

This week is the publication of Wish You Happy Forever by Jenny Bowen.  Jenny adopted a baby girl from China many years ago now and she was moved to start the charity Half the Sky.  Half the Sky has made a huge impact in how orphans are cared for in China, and the excellent care that Leo received at his Half the Sky affiliated orphanage is surely one of the reasons he is such a happy and loving little guy today.  So go read the book!  I also challenge you to watch this video and not get a huge smile on your face.

#7- Leo’s favorite new game

I was going to close with a picture of Leo playing his favorite new game with his brothers.  Max invented it and it’s called “Oh, my aching back!”  All of the boys, including Leo, lean over while holding their back and making moaning noises.  Unfortunately, I don’t seemed to have unpacked the cable to upload pictures from my camera yet so I guess you’ll just have to use your imagination!

Six month update


Looking back at how much Leo has changed since we met him six months ago, it really hits home how wonderful it would be if there were a gradual process for adoption from China where you could get to know each other in advance. Foster adoption and a few countries use a process like that, but of course, we ruled out those programs because we didn’t have the ability to spend a month or longer in another country! With the China adoption program, you have a mere 24 hours to decide whether you want to proceed with the adoption.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI mention this because I thought Leo was pretty settled in at three months, but now he is so much happier, sillier, more loving, affectionate, and playful. People who see us regularly began to comment at around the 4 or 5 month mark that he seemed to be much more relaxed and at ease. We didn’t have any concerns about his development before, but now it is hard to think that anyone could look at Leo running around the living room with his siblings giggling his head off and not think he was anything but a normal healthy 2 year old.

Leo did have some gross motor skills gaps when he came to us. Some of those were cultural, such as not being able to feed himself, since the Chinese feed children until they are early elementary school age. Others we really didn’t know about, such as his gait which seemed more like an early walker. Now he walks up and down the stairs by himself and can skip and jump with two feet off the ground. He knows how to turn doorknobs to open doors. He climbs up on furniture such as the couch or a chair unassisted. He is learning typical two year old skills such as taking off his shoes, unzipping his sleeper, and buckling himself in to his booster seat at the table. At this point he can feed himself with a spoon or fork. In fact, he gets mad if we try to feed him, but he will also refuse to eat if we don’t sit right next to him.

lunch Leo’s speech is where we have seen the biggest improvement. Leo only said a few words in Chinese when we got him, and when he was acquiring English, he went through a period of two or three weeks where he only said “Mama” and the sounds ma, na, or ya. Once we began speech therapy through Early Intervention, he began to make rapid progress. We found that he picked up the signs for words within a day of us introducing them, and usually he would begin to say the word for the sign verbally within a week. He has been adding about one new word a week to his vocabulary.

He currently says: Mama, Max, Gregor, ruff, quack, moo, meow, snow, cat, ball, car, more, mine, all done, snow, ta-da, flower, uh-oh, van, hi, yes (yeah), no (naw), night-night, and bye. He also signs drink, eat, help, Christmas tree, Papa, Mary, Vincent, brush teeth, Leo’s turn, and shoe. He likes to sing the “clean up” song but since he still has trouble articulating consonants it sounds like “ee-uh, ee-uh.” Before, he would not echo a word after you, but now he is starting to do that more often, like saying “flower” after his therapist was asking him to pick out the flower from a group of objects. He is also beginning to put two words together occasionally such as saying “Bye-bye, Mama!” when Matt leaves for work.

The sign Leo currently uses more than any other is the sign for shoe. One of our favorite things about him is how much the boy loves shoes. I remember Max being the same way. Leo will bring Matt and I our shoes in the morning after we take our showers. If he sees that the children are getting ready to go somewhere, he will run to the close to find each of their shoes and bring them over. Now that he knows the sign for shoes, he follows us around all day long signing shoe. First thing in the morning when he’s wearing footy-pajamas? Needs shoes. If I put his shoes on, he will take them off and then sign shoe and help for me to put them back on again. Once he signed “more shoe” when I had just put his shoes on! I told him he needed to grow another pair of feet to have more shoes. When he is unhappy about something, taking off his shoes in protest is a typical way of expressing his unhappiness and then a few seconds later he’ll start to sign shoe and help again. And heaven forbid you don’t actually want to wear shoes if he should bring you a pair.

rockinghorse Leo was not saying anyone’s name but Mama and Max but his therapist suggested we each make up a sign for ourselves after seeing how quickly he was picking up signs. He started saying Gregor almost immediately. He is still pretty insistent that both Matt and Mary Evelyn are also “Mama” and for awhile he seemed to be refusing to either sign or say Vincent just out of stubbornness, because he is very competitive with Vincent. He also thinks that Vincent has all the best ideas and constantly follows him around so he can copy whatever he does or try to steal his toys. Leo’s therapist says that Vincent is her biggest helper because she can count on him to demonstrate and Leo is sure to try it if Vincent does it first.

But talking about gross motor skills and vocabulary really doesn’t capture life with Leo after six months. He is an extremely happy and loving little guy. He likes to play a few little games such as stretching out his hand and laughing because you can’t quite reach his hand in return. Another favorite is pulling his hand inside his sleeve and then having you exclaim “Oh no! Where did your hand go?!” He wants to give everyone several good morning hugs. He can be counted on to give someone who is crying a hug and pat on the back. If Vincent gets sent to time out, Leo will follow along to keep him company. While Leo still only tolerates the dogs (not crying at their presence is a victory for us), he has come to love the cat. If our geriatric disgruntled cat merely walks to the couch, Leo will shriek “Gat! Gat!” over and over again, doing a little happy dance and run over to pat her. Leo loves to be entertained, and he hates Saturday mornings when his older siblings watch cartoons while Matt and I drink coffee and read. It’s too boring! No one is paying attention to him! Similarly, if the other children play outside while I’m cooking supper, he will bury his face in the couch cushion and make loud sniffling noises, hoping that I will stop cooking to read him a story. He has such a big heart, he loves his family, and he’s happiest when he’s right in the middle of us. We are so happy that Leo is a part of our family.


Home 3 months

It seems as if I just wrote the two months home post and now it’s time to write another one. I’m planning to wait until six months to write the next update, and I think that will be a good amount of time for there to be more to report. While this month was busy and Leo has made slow and steady progress, there isn’t as much to say as there were in the first few updates.

IMG_2365Leo had his surgery scheduled in early November, but he had some time to enjoy the fall weather the week beforehand. One day the older boys spent a lot of time making a giant leaf pile. Since it took so long for Leo to feel comfortable on the grass, I expected him to be really unhappy with leaves, since they’re so much crunchier, louder, and scratchier. He was a little skeptical at first, but he picked a few up and crunched them. Before long, he was tossing handfuls in the air and rolling around in the leaf pile with his brothers. It’s so wonderful to see him trying new things like this. He is feeling much more secure at home, and now that makes him more likely to explore and try new things like this. He is still very shy and often scared when we go out other places. He is now used to going to church or the grocery, but when we made our first visit to a friend’s house to play, he sat on my lap the entire time. I’m starting to take him out more places, and I hope that in time he will feel more secure and not be apprehensive that going to a new place might mean that he leaves with a new family.

IMG_2409Fall was fun, but then it was surgery time. Everything went very well, and he was able to come home after only two days in the hospital. He was very scared of all the medical personnel, and when he finally got back to the house he went skipping around the living room (and he hasn’t skipped before!), giving everyone hugs and kisses. He had to stay on a pureed food diet for two weeks, and that became difficult for him as time wore on. We were hoping it would make him less picky when he finally got solid food, but that didn’t happen. The first day he was so excited when we kept giving him solid food. But when we got to supper, he didn’t like what we served him and started crying. Hoping for a quick fix, we just made a bowl of instant oatmeal, but when we brought him that he took one look at the bowl of goop and started crying even harder! We finally found some leftovers in the fridge that were acceptable and that calmed him down.


Although the surgery and recovery cleared our calendar for most of November, we were still able to get in two speech therapy sessions. Both times, Leo started saying new words a few hours after the therapist left. The therapist has encouraged us to start using some signs with him, and he has picked them up very quickly. One day after I fed him a pancake, his favorite American food, he went into the dining room where Gregory was having seconds and signed “more” to Gregory, hoping to get a few bites. He will sign more, drink, and all done, and just as the speech therapist predicted, he will sometimes say the words as he makes the sign.

Leo has turned out to have the typical two year old zeal for cleaning. He loves sweeping the floor with this child sized broom that I keep in the kitchen next to my broom. He feels it is his job to close the dishwasher any time he finds it open. When I am trying to empty the dishwasher, he will close it every time I turn around to put dishes in the cabinet. He has figured out what the clothes hamper is for and always takes his clothes and puts them in the hamper after he gets changed, often clapping for himself when he’s done. He scouts out the bedroom floor for clothes left behind, and that’s usually not a challenge if he’s in the boys’ room. Matt is now teaching him to bring me my coffee travel mug, which is a two year old job in our house. We’re also working on having him throw things into the trash can, although anyone who has had a two year old knows that’s a double-edged sword because anything can end up in the trash can. All of these things show that Leo knows daily routines, can imitate what we do, and follow simple directions, all important developmental skills.

IMG_0112Leo was slow to see me as more than the house nanny, but he has really bonded with me now. He is a very happy, good-natured boy. He loves us all so much, and is very affectionate. One thing that I find especially touching is that he has a lot of empathy. If one of the children is crying, then he always goes over to give him a hug and pats on the back. It is such a good sign of the care he received in China that he expects to be comforted when he is hurt or upset and he wants to give comfort to others.

While Leo is still jealous of Vincent, as his closest in age competitor, they play together very well. As we begin the season of Advent, the three older children have said several times how excited they are to see how excited Leo will be about his first Christmas. They can hardly wait until he sees the tree, the lights, the stockings. I usually find baby’s first Christmas is overrated since baby just lays around on the floor blinking at the lights and chewing on paper, but I have to agree with the children that baby’s first Christmas is going to be a whole lot more exciting when “baby” is two!

Two months

Someone mentioned my blog today and I realized it has been a month since I last updated. I took some time to read over the old entries and it was great to remember the trip to China. But when I look back, Leo was such a stranger. Now I know him so well. At the two month mark, we have definitely reached the settled in point. Leo has continued to blossom. He loves everyone in the family, and he seems to learn new things every day. IMG_2273

This month we were able to get Leo evaluated for early intervention through the First Steps program. We will have weekly visits to help get him caught up from his orphanage delays. He is very curious, and I love watching him practice new things he has learned, such as how to color. He was so confused the first time I read him a book, but now he will bring me board books to read. He especially loves stories where I make animal noises for him.

Speech therapy is one service that will be provided by First Steps. Leo seems to have forgotten his Chinese. He no longer says Chinese phrases like “wa wa” for baby nor does he show any recognition if we use a Chinese phrase. But he hasn’t started speaking much English. For a while he really only said Mama which is the same in Chinese and English. He calls both me and Matt “mama.” But last week he seemed ready to start trying new words. He has said hi, bye, cat, and doggie several times. He also will say Max, but that is his only sibling name.

IMG_2292I looked over my last entry about what our life was like, and I see so many changes since then. No one has been sick for awhile and that really helps! Leo no longer cries before he goes to sleep. He is still a picky eater. Matt is still his favorite parent, but I have seen a big change in our relationship. He has figured out that I’m not just the house nanny, and he will smile when he sees me, and spontaneously give me hugs and kisses. He is still scared of the dogs, but he is getting used to them. It’s getting too cold to keep them outside, so he’ll have to get used to them being inside soon! While he is still withdrawn and fearful when we go new places or he meets new people, he has come a long way in feeling more secure and trying new things. For example, he had never really been exposed to grass in China since he lived in an institutional and urban environment. Grass feels really funny if you aren’t used to it! It took a few weeks, but he has started to venture out in the grass now.

I can tell that he is feeling most comfortable that he knows what is going on in his life. The first week when I tried to do laundry it was difficult because he cried when I set him down to pick up the laundry basket, and I couldn’t figure out how to carry both him and the basket. Now when I go to the laundry room he runs ahead of me while I carry the basket to my room to fold the clothes. When I say it’s time for a diaper change, he runs to the changing pad. He has started to tug at the door when he wants to go outside or the refrigerator door when he wants a drink or snack. He likes to show us that he knows where things belong. I have a spot on the counter for the children to keep their cups so we don’t dirty up 5274 cups each day. Sometimes I will walk by and see Leo has parked his sippy cup right there in the line. Another day when I couldn’t find his shoes, Matt told me that Leo has started putting them in our closet with the rest of our shoes. Because he knows that’s where shoes belong.

IMG_2334We missed out on most of the first two years of Leo’s life, and many people are hesitant about adoption because you miss so many of the “firsts.” The first smile, first tooth, first step. But there are still so many firsts left to enjoy. I can assure you that I was just as excited when Leo took those first steps on the grass as I was when any of my first four children took their first steps! This month we have enjoyed so many firsts with Leo. In October he enjoyed eating pumpkin muffins, drinking cider, wearing his first Halloween costume, and picking out his first pumpkin. It was great to be over jet lag, take a break from the various medical appointments, and enjoy life together. It’s also wonderful to see how excited the other children are to share in these moments. Oh, and I can’t forget to add our first photo session as a family of seven!


Another special milestone this month was Leo’s baptism. He is much too big for the gown that all our children have worn, so I bought him a traditional Chinese outfit when we were in Guangzhou. We had planned to have him baptized next month on the feast day of St. Leo the Great, which falls on a Sunday this year. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnfortunately, after his surgery was scheduled it fell just two days later so we moved the baptism date to an earlier weekend. Leo’s cleft palate will be repaired this Friday, November 8th. His cleft is considered minor, but as his surgeon said, it won’t feel minor to Leo. We were able to schedule a few other things to be done at the same time so he won’t have to be sedated again. For example, he came to us with a front tooth that was crumbling from decay, so the stub of the tooth will be removed. Please keep him in your prayers for a smooth surgery and quick recovery.

A month with the family

Today marks one month from the time we met Leo for the first time.  We spent two of those weeks in China and the past two at home.  Before everyone was asking how Leo was adjusting and now people are asking “Are things really going as smoothly as you make it seem?”  Well, yes and no.  We’ve added to our family five times, and each time there has been a transition.  Things have been crazy at home, but I wouldn’t say that they’re crazy in any adoption specific way.  This is what life has been like:

  • Leo cries for a few minutes before naps and bedtime even though Matt and I keep him company – -probably adoption related.
  • He is scared of the dogs, but he’s coming around to the cat – -I guess adoption related since he hasn’t been exposed to household pets because of his orphanage upbringing.
  • Leo is very nervous around adult strangers and if they try to talk to them he will avoid eye contact – -definitely adoption related.  It breaks my heart to see him so nervous when friends and relatives visit for a short time because I know that he is worried that someone is going to take him to yet another new home.  IMG_2256
  • We continue to meet with doctors and take Leo for tests.  For the most part, his medical needs are what we were informed of and what we expected.  There have been some things that were different, but still fall within the realm of minor and/or correctable and we are very comfortable with them – -definitely adoption related.
  • Someone has been sick almost every day for the past two weeks as all of the kids passed around the fall fever/cough thing that is going around – -just plain family related.
  • Leo got the fever/cough thing last and he’s been wanting to lay around on my lap and cry all day, and has trouble sleeping at night – -illness related.
  • The children have been arguing more because they all want to be the one playing with Leo, or holding him, or entertaining him – -new family member related.  It’s kind of funny that the general perception is that children don’t get enough individual attention in large families.  Based on our experience, the youngest gets completely spoiled by his siblings while us poor parents try to set some boundaries.
  • Everyone has clean clothes and is learning at least the basics but don’t ask when I last vacuumed or swept the floor – -new family member related.  It always takes a while to find a new routine when you have a new baby.  IMG_2233
  • If Leo doesn’t like what we feed him, he will be terribly offended and refuse to even try something else until the offensive food is cleared off the table – -two year old related.
  • Besides “mama” his first English words were “mine” and “no” – -definitely two year old related.
  • Leo really doesn’t like it when we tell him no – -completely two year old related.  He will make a pouty face and refuse to make eye contact with us. Then his siblings rush over to sooth him and tell him how sorry they are that mean Mama or Papa told him no.

So you can see that we are having our ups and downs, but most of it is just the normal part of adding another member to the family.

If I were a real blogger then I would make two posts out of this, but I’m not.  The other topic I wanted to write about was how much we have seen Leo just blossom as part of our family.  When he is fever-free, his personality is really coming out now.  I am continually amazed at how quickly he came to love us all.  He lights up when his brothers and sister come down the stairs in the morning and runs over to hug and kiss them all.

Last week I received copies of the progress reports the nannies kept for the Half the Sky program Leo was a part of in his orphanage.  The orphanage director told us several times that Leo was an easy baby, and I guess one of the results of that is that if he was content to lay there on the floor then he didn’t get as much attention.  You might remember this picture–

babyroomI post it again because I was so surprised to read in the progress reports how delayed Leo was.  He entered the program at six months, when all of my children were starting to sit well on their own.  He was described as having weak neck muscles and they were working with him on rolling over and raising his head while lying on his stomach.  These are things more appropriate to a three month old.

At nine months, when three of my four children were crawling, Leo could raise his head to look at a toy when he was on his stomach, but he couldn’t sit unassisted.  At a year old, he could finally sit unassisted, but couldn’t stand up at all unless the nanny supported all of his weight.  These are called “orphanage delays” unless there is an underlying medical condition.  Children raised in institutions will lose one month of development for every three months they spend in an institution.  Even in an orphanage filled with caring and attentive staff such as Leo’s, he was missing out on the nurturing environment of a family and it showed in his development.


At around fifteen months was when we committed to adopt Leo, and also when he was moved to a foster home (unrelated, as far as we know).  We knew that he was a little behind, but he had just begun to crawl at that time, so he wasn’t as far behind as he had been between six and twelve months of age.  Just as he made big gains when he began the Half the Sky infant nurture program, he began to thrive in his foster family.  We received three updates on him, and each time he had learned some new skill.  First he was standing on his own, then taking a few steps.  In his eighteen month progress report, the nanny comments that she has seen such a change in him over the past year and that he now “looks plump with rosy face.”


When I look at how attentive his caregivers are, and I see pictures of Leo with his foster family, part of me wonders how he was able to walk away so easily from all of them.  He loves to look at the little book I made with pictures of him in the orphanage but he doesn’t seem particularly interested in the pictures of his nannies or foster family.  I guess the answer is tied in to why he developed so quickly when he began to get more individual attention.  Children are supposed to be in families, and Leo knows that he has a family now.  The best and most caring nanny or foster mother still knows that he is not her child, and somehow with us, he can tell that we are his family.

So at one month from the day when Leo joined my family, I am thinking about why children need families.  I don’t think I will every be able to forget all of the children we left behind on the day we visited Leo’s orphanage.  I know that most of them will not ever be adopted into a family, but I still hope for it nevertheless.

“Human life is precious because it is the gift of a God whose love is infinite; and when God gives life, it is forever.”  –Pope John Paul II

我在看相册 (1)

Happy Birthday, Leo!

We are so fortunate that we were able to have Leo home with us in time to celebrate his 2nd birthday with our family.  There were times when it seemed like we wouldn’t make it, but then everything came together in the end.

Scanned Image 132630000I’ve heard many adoptive moms say that they think of their child’s birth mother every birthday, and I can see that will be true for me as well.  Leo’s birthday falls right after the Autumn Moon festival, which is a big holiday in China.  I heard it best described as the Chinese version Thanksgiving, only you sit around with your family eating moon cakes instead of turkey.

It is hard to lose a child near a holiday, and I know she will be thinking of him every year.  Maybe she already knew that she would have to give him up, but in my mind’s eye I see her with her family in 2011, eating moon cakes and filled with excitement for her upcoming birth.  Maybe her parents were sharing their wish for a grandson while she and her husband said “No, boys are too expensive!  We are hoping for a girl!” which is something all of our guides in China said to us.  I’m sure last year’s holiday gathering was a somber occasion, or maybe they found some excuse not to get together.

Leo was in the orphanage for his first birthday.  They don’t celebrate birthdays there because there are too many children.  He was placed with his foster family a few months after his first birthday but he came home with us before his second birthday so he never celebrated a birthday with the foster family.  He was with them for a few holidays, and from this picture it looks as if his foster mother got him all dressed up for one of them.  Maybe the Dragon Boat festival in June?


So today was his first birthday celebration with a family, and I’m so excited that we have many years to come of cake with candles and opening presents.  Leo had no idea how to unwrap the presents, but he loved the toys he received.  I know he got some cake at the orphanage (parents will often have one sent for their child for a birthday or just to celebrate and they are shared among the children) because he sure recognized it right away.  He also noticed that it tasted a bit different.  The cake we had in China was more of an angel food cake with whipped cream for icing and that is usually the type I see in photos taken at an orphanage.  He decided it tasted fine and ate his whole piece.

Happy 2nd birthday little guy!


First days home

So far my experience with adoption is not much different from having a new baby.  The jet lag is like that post-birth exhaustion.  The children are all completely enthralled with the new guy only instead of arguing over who gets to hold the baby they argue over whose turn it is to play with Leo.  There’s well visits and insurance paperwork.  With a toddler, there’s no doubting whether or not those smiles are real or gas, though!


Leo continues to adjust well.  I don’t think we could ask for an easier transition.  Sure, there are times where he is clingy and fussy.  He still cries himself to sleep at night and before naps although Matt or I make sure he knows that he’s not alone.  But for the most part he is a very happy and easy going little guy.  He loves his siblings.  Every morning when he sees them he gets this look like “Hey, you guys are still here!!” and runs over to give them a hug.  He’s very affectionate and gives us all lots of hugs and kisses.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA He still likes Mary Evelyn best, and he can sometimes be jealous of Vincent.  If Leo is in my lap and Vincent comes over, then Leo will push him away.

He is still a picky eater.  Our rice cooker has been working overtime, and he still likes oatmeal.  We try him on new foods when he is happy, but when he’s tired or hungry then we give him his favorites.  Sometimes we are surprised at what he will or will not eat.  He keeps spitting out grapes, but tonight he ate a large bowl of chili and cornbread that a friend brought over for us (thanks, Jennifer!).

He has slept through the night every night that we’ve had him.  His naps haven’t been as long since we’ve been home as they were in China, but since he’s still sleeping eleven hours at night, I’m not complaining at all.  We’ve been fortunate that no one has had their days and nights reversed since we returned home, but I think most of us have a sort of cloudy-headed feeling for jet lag.  Poor Mary Evelyn got sick after we landed and she’s the only one who has had to jump right back into school.  I’m not starting homeschool for Max and Gregory until Matt goes back to work next week.

Leo’s orphanage gave us a disc of digital photos from his time there, and a few with his foster family.  It was great to have some photos of his first two years, but also bittersweet since we missed that time with him.  It was also amusing to look though them because in the updates we received, orphanage always stated that his favorite toy was any kind of ball.  I think he’s playing with some type of ball in a third of all the photos!


I think the last thing people have asked me about is the language issue.  He can tell pretty easily when it’s time to eat, sleep, or get his diaper changed.  He makes babbling sounds a lot, but since baby-talk Chinese sounds like babbling to us, I’m not sure how large his Chinese vocabulary is.  He will frequently point at things and say “there” in Chinese (nar).  He also says “wa wa” when Mary Evelyn shows him a baby doll, and that is Chinese for baby.  He says Mama, which is the same in both languages.  His first official work in English was a very clear “mine” when Max tried to take a book away from him. Most children his age pick up a new language and lose their first language in a matter of weeks and he seems to be heading along that progression.

We had doctor’s appointments early this week, our first post-placement social worker’s visit today, and we don’t have specialist’s visits scheduled until October.  We’re just trying to give Leo time to settle in, and we’re looking forward to celebrating his 2nd birthday as a family on Friday.  We’re also enjoying the great non-sweltering weather!