12.01.2013

Family Update: 7 Weeks Later

Whoa! Did I just write SEVEN weeks later? I cannot believe so much time has passed already. We met Tucker 7 weeks ago and have been home for 5 weeks, 2 days. I am amazed at how far we've come as a family...each one of us. I'm so excited to share with you some of the details!

Before we left for China, Ryan and I made the decision to "cocoon" until Thanksgiving at the very least. Cocooning for us meant staying together as a close knit family for an extended period of time. I have been home full time with Liam and Tucker everyday, and we occasionally have ran errands to the grocery store and went to the 2 year old library program a couple times. Other than that, we have really just stayed inside our home together to work on being a family. This entailed focusing on our regular routines and expectations for eating meals, playing together (sharing, taking turns, etc.), taking naps, cleaning the house, and so on. This very intentional time at home has really helped Tucker understand how our family functions and the rules we have at home. When Noah and Ryan are home with us, we continue to focus on our normal family life together. For example, when Noah gets home from school, Tucker knows to sit in his high chair, and Liam and Noah will sit at the island to do homework. While Noah completes his work, the little guys will usually play with Playdoh or color. When Ryan gets home, we have dinner, and then we play, watch a cartoon, and take showers. Each activity and interaction we had together was another opportunity to learn something and to practice what he's learned. We were as consistent as we could be, and Tucker has really just acclimated to our life here at home so well!

Right after reading a book in Noah's bed

It doesn't get cuter than this!
We try to follow the same bedtime routine every single night to help Tucker understand what to expect each night. Just like most of you, we get pajamas on, brush teeth, read a book, pray, give kisses, and say goodnight. For our first 3-4 weeks home, Tucker would get super anxious at bedtime. We noticed that he would always get silent and almost become frozen. Ryan started working with Tucker each night on the different words he knows. He would say each word and have Tucker repeat them. First, Tuck could barely even whisper them, and now he happily goes through his list of words. He seems happy at bedtime and SO much more relaxed. He is no longer frozen or too scared to talk. Every time we get ready to put him down for a nap or for bed, we will rock him and say, "Daddy loves you. Mommy loves you. Noah loves you. Liam loves you. Jesus loves you. Daddy, Mommy, Noah, Liam, Tucker...family...home." And he will repeat us...

"Family."

"Home."

(Be still my heart)

Remember how he used to be super disoriented in the morning and how he would almost not recognize us or where he was? This is no longer the case either the majority of the time! He will quickly repeat, "All done, Mommy," and say, "Good morning!" to us. He even likes to sing our "Good Morning" song. It's really cute! At night, he now understands what I mean when I say, "See you in the morning" and seems to make the connection that I will be here in the morning. His understanding of English has really helped!

Noah pulling Tucker around on his blanket
He was cracking up!
For the past 7 weeks, Ryan and I are the only people who have met his needs. If Tucker needed something to eat or drink, wanted to play, needed his diaper changed, etc., we were the ones to meet those needs. Since coming home, Noah and Liam have been his only playmates. Their relationships with one another have come so, so far. Noah is an incredible big brother and shared at school that he was most thankful that Tucker is home and for God's protection over him while we were in China. I love that kid's heart! We make special opportunities for Noah to be a "big kid." For example, we will often have Noah pretend to go to bed for the night or pretend to take a nap so that the little boys think he is going to sleep, too. Then, after the little guys are down, we will get Noah back up to do something special with just him. Liam's heart has softened dramatically, too! Our first 3 weeks home, he really didn't want to play with Tucker at all and certainly did not want to share his toys. I'm not sure what happened, but on November 15th, everything changed. Liam started sharing with Tucker without being asked, and he started interacting with Tucker more often. That trend has just continued the past two weeks, and I am SO grateful! They are two years old, so of course I have to redirect them and intervene several times a day, but they are playing together so much better!

Movie night with popcorn!
Thanks to 18 different families, we had dinner brought to us 3-4 times each week for the last 5 weeks. Although I wasn't recovering from childbirth this time around, the time I would've spent cooking, planning meals, and grocery shopping was instead poured into the boys. We had that much more time to play together and just focus on becoming a family. Dalia, Aimee, Claire, Amber, Kerri, Emily, Erika, Mom, Alyssa, Marinda, Lisa, Jennifer, Kathy, Brittany, Emily, Heather, Tara, and Melissa, thank you will never be enough!!

Lisa's tacos was one of his favorites!
Because we've had so much time together without being around our friends or family, Ryan and I have had so much time to just focus on our marriage, too. The past year, I felt so consumed with the emotional aspect of the adoption in addition to the actual paperwork and process itself. The long wait for LOA took a huge emotional toll on me, and then from LOA to travel, there were so many small steps and things to do. I know I neglected our marriage because I was just so drained. I didn't have a whole lot to give when I was so depleted much of the time. The time in China for Ryan and me was something I will never forget. It wasn't always easy, but we were a team, and we were in it together. I truly did fall in love with him all over again. I have loved our time together at home with the kids. We have been forced to be focus on our small family unit and each other. I highly recommend it!

The best part for me has been the changes in my own heart. I shared that I was sad that my connection to Tucker was not as deep or strong as the one I had with Noah and Liam. I had a lot of guilt about that, too, because I truly loved Tucker. I wanted to feel the same way for him as I did for the other boys. I wanted him to feel like my son...not my adopted son. I never want Tucker to feel less loved or less a part of this family. I prayed a lot for God to fill my heart with love and to help our new life feel natural and normal and true.


Praise God for answered prayers! I am not sure when it happened, and it's probably because everything happened so gradually, but my heart is bursting with real and true and deep love for this baby! He is calling me "Mommy" now, and when he says it, my heart melts into a giant puddle. I love telling him, "I love you" (and really feeling it deep down in my heart) and hearing him say back, "I la loo." (Be still my heart). Saturday morning, I was busy getting food ready for our Thanksgiving meal with my family when Tucker woke up, so Ryan got him out of bed. They came downstairs together, and Ryan said, "Amy, did you hear what he said in the monitor?" I told him I hadn't and asked, "What?" He said, "When I picked Tucker up he said, I need Mommy!"

(Tears, and again, be still my heart)

Tucker is talking about me. I'm Mommy...and he needs me. And you know what, I need him. This little boy has changed my life and rocked my world. I still look at him and cannot believe he is here. But he is...he is home with our family forever.
 

On our way to celebrate with Ryan's family
After five weeks of strict cocooning and staying together as a tight family unit, it was time to enjoy our first get together with Ryan's family on Thanksgiving day. We loaded up the kids and made the hour drive to Ryan's sister's house. We had emailed his family information about how they would need to interact with Tucker during our first visit, so they were very prepared. Here were the guidelines suggested by our agency:

Please Avoid:
- Physical contact - avoid holding hands or hugs/kisses, picking up, or holding Tucker
- Giving Tucker gifts or food/drinks - please direct him to "Mommy or Daddy"
- Please don't try to meet any of his needs - please direct him to us
- Please don't correct or discipline him - just let us know if he needs to stop doing something

How to help us:
- Give items to us to give to him (drinks or food)
- Wave goodbye or high five when we leave instead of hugs (at least on these first outings)
- If Tucker seems to be engaging too much with you (meaning more than you would be comfortable allowing him to engage with a stranger) direct him back to mom and dad.  At this point you are strangers to him and he needs to learn that there is a difference interacting with strangers than interacting with mom and dad. 

Thanksgiving with Ryan's family (minus Kelli who was taking the picture)
His whole family did so well with Tucker, and even better, Tucker did so well, too! He typically stayed close to Ryan and me and socialized appropriately with everyone. He came to Ryan or me when he wanted something. I know it sounds crazy, but we wanted him to feel a little uneasy being somewhere new and being around new people. We wanted to see him realize that these new people were different from Ryan, Noah, Liam, and me. That is the whole purpose of cocooning...that Tucker would learn that we are different to him than everyone else. When you go into seclusion like that for five weeks, you hope that you will see positive results, and we definitely did! It was SO encouraging that our time together had really paid off. We had such a nice visit, staying only four hours, and then drove home. All three kids were asleep before we reached the highway. We had such an incredible time with Ryan's family, and we probably smiled the rest of the day.

These car seats are the worst for sleeping but great for sitting 3 deep
Like I said earlier, Saturday we were hosting Thanksgiving with both sets of my parents (Dad, Danette, Mom, and Kent), as well as my brother's family (Dan, Kristen, and Natalie). We have never hosted Thanksgiving before, and I was so excited to have our immediate family here to celebrate such a special occasion, as well as have their first get together with Tucker. When everyone first arrived, I saw Tucker go up to my brother and hold his finger, so I quietly scooped him up and redirected him. Then, after seeing my dad pick up one of his brothers, Tucker put his arms up to be held, too. I again redirected him, and he responded fine. I wasn't sure how the day would go because that morning he had thrown a couple small tantrums, but he really rallied! Tucker was in a great mood, and Noah and Liam loved seeing their grandparents, uncle, aunt, and cousin. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the food and to have a good time. Tucker again always came to Ryan or me if he needed something to eat or drink and interacted really well with everyone. Sometimes when he is too overstimulated, he takes a really short nap and is really upset when he wakes up. Fortunately, Tucker slept great and woke up in a happy mood. I even got to play a board game with my brother, his wife, and Noah (When did he get old enough to play games during holidays??). My cup was overflowing. I loved having my family here, and I cannot wait for Christmas.


First Thanksgiving Together - Natalie, Noah, Tucker, and Liam

Seven weeks later, and I can honestly say we have all come so much further than I thought we'd be at this point. Our family of five feels SO natural and so normal. My heart is filled with joy and love like never before. Yes, of course there is stress and fighting and disobedience, but there is so much more laughter and silliness and playfulness and affection. The past 5 weeks, we have spent so much time and effort building the foundation for our family of five. The days and hours were not always easy. There were times I thought, "What did we get ourselves into?" Our family is proof that those feelings are temporary, just like they were when we added Noah to our family and then added Liam to our family. There is an adjustment period. It's a lot of work, but it's all so very worth it. I'll go to bed tonight thanking God for the deep roots he has created in our hearts and for the way He connected us all together. We are a family, and it really truly feels like it today. I almost want to go lay down in their beds, snuggle with them, and whisper to them how much I love them. Some nights, I am so thankful they are asleep so that I can get a break and recharge. Tonight, I will go to sleep so excited for morning to come when I can see all of them again!
 

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