Friday, July 25, 2014

One Month In

Today marks one month since we've had the twins. And what a huge month it's been for our little family. It really has been a lot like having another newborn (or two) around in a lot of ways. It's been a transition. A lot of sleepless nights. A lot of tears. But also a lot of tender moments. A lot of growth. A lot of giggles. A lot of love.

It's been interesting to me to look back at the adjustment from week to week.

Week 1 - It consisted of a lot of inconsolable sobbing and Rick and I looking at each other like what in the heck are we supposed to do? The first few days it was eery because it was silent sobbing. Tears rolling down their cheeks but no sound other than gasping for air. Then it transitioned into typical toddler sobbing. Then, especially for Lily, it transitioned into what I'll refer to as trauma tantrums. Crying to the point of desperation where she began pulling her hair, slapping her face, pulling out her eyelashes, and flailing and rolling around. It was awful to see them in that much pain. Two scared and confused girls who definitely had their guards UP.

They had no schedule and were terrified of their beds, so in order to get them to sleep we either drove around in the van or I sat on the couch with them while they sobbed in my arms. They were extremely fearful of Rick as well as our dogs. They bonded with me but were so scared that I was going to leave them. Even just seeing me put on my shoes would trigger hysterical crying. It was an exhausting week but the hardest part was feeling helpless. They were grieving and there was nothing we could do to make it better. We also had limited information as to their background and living situation that they were coming from, so it was hard trying to guess what might cause them fear or trigger tears. I took them to the doctor for their required well-visit exam and it was traumatizing for them. More strange faces all up in their personal space...and holding them down for blood work and shots definitely didn't help with the trust issues either.

The kids interacted very well. I'm thankful the twins had our two to play with and distract them from their loss. They were still very timid and just went with the flow of whatever Harrison and Harper wanted to do. And H&H were thrilled to have them here and were so kind to them. There were no arguments at all.

Week 2 - There were far fewer tears and they began coming out of their shells. They began testing boundaries some. I don't think that's really the right term, though. I'm pretty sure they were just not used to having boundaries and the concept of rules was foreign to them. It was hard to correct their behavior without causing them to become really upset because they were still very sensitive. And when I say "behavior" I should point out that we haven't had any major behavior issues. I'm talking minor stuff like staying at the table when we're eating, not playing too rough with the pets, sharing toys, not climbing on the furniture, etc.

They became less fearful of Rick but Lily was definitely still very leery. They were no longer afraid of the dogs. I began trying to get a nap schedule going. I started by having them rest on the couch since they hated their room, but it wasn't working and we were all 3 frustrated and cranky. So I moved them to their cribs (cue the tears) and gave them books and toys and stayed in their room with them at first to talk and sing with them. Then I told them that I would leave the light on and they could play in their beds and that they didn't have to go to sleep unless they wanted to. Most days they would fall asleep within 20 minutes. Bedtime was still rough. By this time, we had a good night routine. Dinner, bath, teeth brushing, books, songs, prayers, bed. But they still screamed and sobbed for a long time once we put them in their cribs. It made me feel so awful. I knew they needed rest and needed structure and routine, but at the same time it was hard to know when I needed to overlook all of that for the sake of the emotional trauma that they are coping with.

They began exerting more of their wills with the kids, which led to TONS of fights over toys. Our 2 were very territorial over their belongings and the twins had not been taught the concept of sharing or communicating well about what they wanted. Instead of playing together, it was more like H&H against L&V. I'm talking lots of screaming and snatching and fighting. It was discouraging, I'm not going to lie. But each night when I tucked my sweet babies in and talked to them about the transition, they both told me that they were happy the girls were here and that they wanted them to stay. I'm thankful that God gave me that encouragement.

Week 3 - A pivotal week. The kids figured out the new dynamic and began playing really well together. I am so proud of all 4 of them. H&H really took them under their wings and it's been so neat to see the twins' personalities emerge and all the kids truly liking and enjoying each other. It also helped that my two finally began telling them apart and calling them the right names. Ha!

Bedtime finally started becoming easier. In fact, there were a few nights with NO tears when we tucked them in. HUGE!!! Most days they would playfully interact with Rick but Lily still had moments of fear when he was around. And I have to say, just like you fall more in love with your spouse when you see them with your newborn, it is no different in our situation. He is so great with these girls. He loves and adores them and is so patient and understanding when they reject him. He never takes it personally and he persistently continues to try to earn their trust.

Week 4 - We are in our groove, man! There are still some tears mixed in there, but it's hard to tell which tears are just typical 2-year old tears and which tears are trauma tears. Lily still has a tougher time with bedtime and still has moments of fearfulness. But overall we have a good routine down and are very well-adjusted. They are still very sensitive to change so we are conscious of that. Just rearranging car seats sent Violet into hysterical crying for 30 minutes. She frequently asks me You're not going to leave me? and We're all going together? and We're going to see "Older Sister" soon? and You'll leave the light on? But as long as I reassure her, she's generally fine.

Other random thoughts on the last 30 days:

It brings me to tears to think about how far they've come since they first got here. They thrive on structure and routine. They are always the first to remind everybody that we need to pray before meals. They LOVE the Frozen soundtrack and beg for me to play it when we're in the car and then they sing their little hearts out. The view from my rear-view mirror is a very happy one when we are having our "concerts." Huge progress considering there were no smiles the first week.

 It's been neat to see how opposite their personalities are. Violet is definitely more laid back. She's kind and giving. She talks a fair amount for her age and I would say she's on track verbally. She's very protective of her sister. She's more aware of their situation and always asks about their older siblings (they have two older siblings in different foster homes). Lily is feisty and strong-willed. That girl knows what she wants. She has a mischievous streak in her and flashes the cutest smile at you when you catch her in action. She is a great helper. She is also a cautious observer. She talks a little but communication is definitely more of a struggle for her. She gets frustrated when she can't get her point across. Both of them are incredibly sweet and precious and both of them are gifts from God.

Lily started calling me mommy about a week in. She started calling Rick daddy about 3 weeks in. Sometimes Violet will matter-of-factly tell me I'm not her mommy and instead calls me Ms. Kelsey, and other times she calls me mommy. Same with Rick. We have never told them to call us mom & dad but we don't correct them either. In training we learned that this is very normal and to not put too much attention on it.

It has been amazing to watch Harrison and Harper step in and help take care of the girls. They are always offering comfort and sharing special stuffed animals and toys when they are upset. They are trying to teach them colors and letters and songs. I have overheard Harrison on several occasions introducing the girls to other kids as his "three sisters." Harper loves to help pick out their clothes and put their shoes on. They have both become so considerate of them and loving towards them and are learning valuable life lessons that can only be taught through experience.

In the first month I have: taken them to the doctor, taken them to the dentist, had their TB testing done, had their DNA testing done, taken them to a WIC appointment, taken them to 3 separate sibling visits, had a home visit with CPS, had a home visit with our Arrow AFS, and had 2 separate home visits with their CASA worker (that's 12 appointments if I'm counting...and I am). I have made many phone calls to get insurance established and issues worked out and evaluations set up. I have done what seems like endless paperwork, and then copied/scanned/saved/emailed all of it. I don't say all of this to complain. Quite the contrary. I say all of this because instead of feeling overwhelmed by it all I feel empowered. I look back at how much we've accomplished over the last 30 days and it makes me feel like my sweet family has been given more purpose in this life. None of it feels like a burden. We were called to serve and as hesitant as we were initially, now we are seeing firsthand how rewarding it is to act in obedience. God is using us to minister to these girls and advocate for children in need, but we are the ones feeling blessed in the process.  We have wiped away many, many tears and given even more hugs. We have felt helpless and frustrated at times. But we have also witnessed huge character growth in all 6 of us. We have grown closer to each other through this journey. We have learned how to love better and more intentionally. Our home is crazy and loud and a WRECK all the time but it is also a happy home full of smiles and laughs and 4 incredibly awesome kiddos.



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July in Pictures

It's been a crazy busy month! Not only has it been packed full of all the initial appointments that go along with new foster care placements, we've also managed to have a ton of fun mixed in there as well. We've had a lot of visitors, too, which has helped me brave taking all 4 kids out places to entertain our guests. I might have otherwise been too intimidated to venture out and I would have missed out on a lot of fun times and great memories. I'm so thankful that the transition from 2 to 4 kids is going much easier than I anticipated.

This sweet girl came to visit. I guess I can't really call her a girl anymore considering she somehow became an ADULT in December, but whatever. She is really such a lovely young lady and I couldn't be prouder of her. She took a break from her beach house vacation with her friends to drive up to hang out with us...and that right there says a lot about her character.


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Just a few random pictures. 

Violet & Harrison. Wish you could see her beautiful smile.

Take my picture, Mom! I'm a "snowboarder!"

Visiting Dad at work. I'm picturing some child labor happening soon.
The girls' favorite activity...playing beauty shop. Rick is such a good daddy!
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Ashley & her boys came up to see us for a few days. It was such a good visit. The girls bonded with her very quickly and I'm so thankful for her interest and eagerness to be involved in their lives. This hasn't been the case with some of our family but we are trying not to take it personally (although it's not easy). But of course she marched in and introduced herself as Aunt Ashley and was genuinely excited to meet the girls and fully accepts them as members of our family.  She is the sister God let me choose.

We dressed up our crew in cow gear and took advantage of Chick-fil-A's Cow Appreciation Day and scored us some free food. I know it's a silly tradition but we have so much fun doing it every year. I almost skipped this year since life has just been so hectic the last few weeks and I didn't really feel like messing with costumes and carting 4 kids into a restaurant. But the day before, I got so emotional when I thought about the fact that these precious girls have probably never been dressed up in anything fun. They've never had someone sew them anything. They've never even had anybody teach them what a cow is or what sound one makes. So we headed to Hobby Lobby for some bandanas and I dusted off my sewing machine and spent time praying over each of them as I sewed their dresses. And the smile on their faces when they were all dressed and ready to go was worth every ounce of effort and then some.

Plus, between Ashley and me and our 6 kids we scored over $70 in free food. I mean, come on. Why would we not do this every year??










I didn't notice Harrison was pretending to be asleep until I uploaded this pic. Ha!

Can't believe how big Baby Colt is getting
She is such a little mother hen

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My aunt & uncle and their kiddos were in Galveston on vacation so we got to see them one night, too. They live in the Dallas area and we don't get to see them often so it's always good to get in an extra visit aside from the holidays.


My cousin Julian

not a great pic but here is Connor (my brother), Ed (my uncle), and Tim (my step-dad)

My cousins Zoe & Addison with Lily
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Hollyn had an adorable birthday tea party that the girls were soooo excited about going to.

We had to swing by the store to grab a gift bag and look who fell asleep 2 minutes before we got there:


If you're wondering why she's wearing a coat in the middle of July, join the club. What can I say? Harper knows what she wants and she will take no advice from anybody else when it comes to fashion. Apparently a proper peacoat is a non-negotiable item for a fancy tea party. I found myself arguing with her and finally just thought whatever, chicky. If you want to roast, then you can roast.  Don't tell her, but I'm glad she brought it because it made an excellent pillow.


Katie did a great job on the party. It was basically every little girl's dream come true. A real tea set with real tea, hats, pearls, clip-on earrings, & boas. In other words, heaven. And I learned that it doesn't matter what color your skin is or what circumstances you come from -- little girls adoring dress up tea parties is definitely universal.






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And to round out the cousins on my mom's side of the family, Hunter came down to visit for a few days as well.  My mom & Tim planned out some fun activities to do while he was here which meant we got to tag along. He is now a freshman in high school but in my mind he will always be that sweet 2-year old boy who loved to snuggle in my lap.

We toured the Battleship Houston in La Porte. Harrison was in heaven. That boy is already a history buff and asked me a million questions in the car on the way there. Of course I didn't know any of the answers because I am the opposite of a history buff. He was clearly frustrated with me. Sorry dude. Throw some math questions my way and then I might be able to help you out.




A giant gun. You can bet he loved this.

We went to main event for some glow in the dark putt-putt and bowling.


Somehow I got last place??? Back in my glory days I had a high score of 202. And now I lose to 2 year olds.
sweet sisters
best group shot I could get...
 One night the boys went to ride go-karts so the girls went to get milkshakes.

they did not come up for air until they were empty

she was frustrated that she couldn't suck it up through her straw fast enough. I feel ya, kid.
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We also had another visitor...Mamaw! We had a great visit. We even ventured into Houston to go to Ikea.

having a staring contest

making silly faces

As you can see, the girls took to her really fast. I'm not sure there is a child that knows Mary that doesn't love her. She always takes time to engage and play and be silly...and of course she always buys them lots of toys. She knows the key to their hearts :)

Violet "fixing" Mamaw's hair
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My mom's birthday was on Sunday. We met up with them at Olive Garden and ate way too much pasta and breadsticks. Because that's mandatory at Olive Garden.

Thankful to be her daughter


Do I have anything in my teeth?
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 H&H are in VBS this week. The theme is "Weird Animals" and they are having a lot of fun. It's been helpful to be down to 2 kids for a couple of hours each day, too. I finally took my van in to get fixed so dealing with that mess and switching out 4 carseats into the rental in 120 degree weather was definitely easier without having to keep an eye on 4 preschoolers. We also had a CPS visit and a CASA visit this week and even went shopping for bedding today...I'm kind of amazed by how much you can cram into 2.5 hours a day when you are motivated :)



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Soccer & Ballet

Soccer and ballet ended last month way back in May. (I'm slightly behind on getting these drafts wrapped up.)

Harrison missed half of his season due to his broken arm...but I can't really say he was sad about it. He was super stoked before soccer started but once he realized it meant running around, and heaven forbid, sweating, his interest waned very quickly. Did I mention that it was 70 degrees outside?? That kid has a streak of laziness in him fo' sho'.

Exhibit A:




2 minutes into the game, during an active play no less, he asked to switch places with the kid on the bench.

Sigh.

But lucky for him, I was one of the team moms and therefore responsible for helping with the end-of-season celebration. So the kid got to literally have his cake and eat it too. He got out of having to participate in the games yet still got to participate in the cupcake and trophy festivities.


getting his trophy from Coach Brent

Go Dragons!

He was very proud of his trophy

He used his splint to buckle it up for "safety"
We explained to him that this was a participation trophy since they are preschoolers, but that when he got older he would have to work hard to earn it. He thought that was the coolest fact ever and told everyone we crossed paths with that day about how the trophy system works. "When I get older I'll have to win a lot."


I made the cupcakes so he could actually eat one of them (he can't have cupcakes from bakeries because of his nut allergy) and then the little punk had the nerve to tell me that real grass doesn't bend over like that. He had no issue inhaling my inferior cupcakes, though. :)

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Harper had her dance recital at the end of May. I'm pretty sure it was the cutest thing I've ever seen in my life. They didn't allow videoing but we ordered a DVD and I can't wait to re-watch it again. A bunch of 2 and 3 year olds up on a stage half dancing and half looking around confused is quite entertaining.

 

she's on the far left
the finale

it was over THREE hours long...felt more like 5 with little kids

part of our group (mom, Jon & Ashleigh had already left)

my sweet ballerina


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