Posts filed under ‘Parenting’
It’s hard work keeping up both this blog and Expecting Evangeline.
In an effort to do better and yet still lacking creativity and drive, I decided on giving a kid update.
I’ll start from youngest to oldest:
Evangeline: (Adoption) Things are moving along. We have had two of four home study visits and this cold Chicago winter morning Serg and I stood in line at 8am to have our INS fingerprint appointment. Several scribbled lists are scattered around our dinning room table, the words ‘THINGS TO DO’ written at the top of each page, all caps. I’m not sure if that’s the best way to go about all of this. I keep picking up different pieces of paper and stressing over them for a few minutes and setting them back down.
(Evie): We hear that Evangeline is doing well. Thankfully there is someone we know who has been able to meet Evie. She reports that Evie is well cared for, happy, babbling and crawling!
Polly: We all know Polly’s big news. She is a walking rock star! She walks ALL THE TIME now and super fast! She also has felt the need lately to say “Mom” a million times a day. She follows me around calling my name all day long. I love it! She’s doing great in her preschool class and will be bumped up to the three year old class in January for a few months before she ages out of Early Intervention. Polly’s into a lot of typical, two-year-old stuff, not sharing, making messes, playing with her sisters up in their rooms.
Zoya: Zoya is zooming through first grade. Her reading and writing are coming along but she really digs the science and math classes. So NOT like her mom. I get asked to volunteer some times and I get all sweaty and nervous lol! Zo hangs out with a few choice individuals in her class whom she had to ask to be friends with before actually talking to them a lot. She’s excited about wearing her school t-shirt Friday to show her school spirit, is waiting for her papa to give her more guitar lessons and does a great job dusting the living room. Zo’s not entirely convinced that there’s no Santa, despite her oldest sisters insistence and her parents’ ambiguity. She wrote him a quick letter, just in case.
Elaina: Our oldest’s main goal in life is to make sure her family is as green as can be. She walks around the house turning off lights and unplugging cords when not in use. A lot of times she catches me trying to throw something away in the regular trash and I’m reminded to wash out plastic containers and milk jugs before putting them in the blue recycle can in the back of our house. Recently Elaina decided that she wants to be an actress, but has to wait until she is eighteen because her dad told her that nothing good ever comes from child actors. She’s getting straight As in school and is still very helpful at home, although we have been seeing a bit more ‘tude’ with her lately. Ugh, she’s only eight!
Our kids are growing up differently than expected.
In Ukraine I resigned myself to the fact that they loved to eat fish and at some point in life their Russian would be better than mine. It became less important that their childhoods didn’t look like mine. They thrived while living in Ukraine.
Then we had Polly and moved back to the States and now they are into High School Musical 3 and Dancing with the Stars. They ask for frozen pizza for dinner. I resign myself to the fact that their childhood doesn’t look like mine even in Chicago.
Last night Elaina found a photo album of our last six weeks in Ukraine before we moved back to the States. We took turns staring at photos of family and friends. We tenderly touched the pictures; faces, hair, hands. And I started to resign myself to the fact that, for now, their childhood experience would not include Ukraine.
It made me sad.
But the girls are growing up, in spite of where we live. Their experiences living different places; Michigan, Kiev, Chicago have only enhanced them as individuals. They are little girls with big life experience.
Having a sister with Down syndrome has caused them to grow up as well. They learned quickly that life doesn’ always go as planned. They learned that people are different but just as important. In fact, they are crazy about the idea of adding another member to our family who happens to have Down syndrome.
They are growing up well, thanks be to God. They are growing out in their understanding of faith and helping others.
That makes me happy.
We were in the hospital a total of twenty days. The last week Polly was well enough to be out of her incubator. During the day she stayed in my room with me and we sat on the high hospital bed and I tried to get her to drink two ounces of formula out of a bottle. It would take forty-five minutes. She tired easily and her suck was weak.
Polly was so small, so bird-like. I willed her to drink formula, whispering softly in her ear. Having her in my arms helped my depression, although I was still scared about the future, hers and my own.
Sergei brought Elaina and Zoya over occasionally to visit us. I’d laugh when they walked into the room, their hair all done up, Zoya wearing Elaina’s shirt, two sizes too big, Elaina squeezed into a pair of Zoya’s pajama paints. My mom did the best she could in a foreign country, hours on end with two rambunctious girls ready to play, too afraid to leave the apartment. She ate a lot of M&Ms for six weeks.
The girls decorated Polly with kisses and affection. I watched them love her effortlessly and wished I could follow their lead.
I was ready to leave the hospital but fearful too. Polly still wasn’t eating well and I knew once I left my little tan room life was going to get crazy.
We decided to move back to America. I could hardly believe it. Suddenly, all the things that I struggled with in Ukraine and about Ukraine were endearing. It was mine. Something getting taken away from me.
When I thought about leaving all that we had worked for, all that God had done in and through us in the last three and a half years I was sick to my stomach. And in the next breath I was sure that we were doing the right thing. The best place for Polly to thrive, to receive therapy and medical attention was in the States. It was the right decision for our family.
Sergei was already scrambling around, passing on the baton at church to a gregarious man who was ready for the call. He met with the land lady to sever our lease.
The plan was to leave the hospital with our new daughter that week. And it seemed the whole hospital was unsure about what to do. Nobody knew how to send us off.
The news sank in and I scraped myself off the floor and tried to pay more attention to my daughter. It was strange to be in the hospital still. I was well enough to leave but allowed to stay there with her.
I had no outlet. I am a gatherer and I wasn’t able to look for any information about Down syndrome. Our lives were on pause. The hospital had nothing to offer. I hear about women in the States who deliver babies with Ds. Some say they had to actually call some organizations like NADS and ask them to please stop calling.
And Polly was gaining strength. She was breathing more on her own, her blood platletts were better and after almost two weeks of life I was finally able to hold her. She was long and thin like Elaina when she was born. Crying before I took her she quieted down in my arms. I was amazed that this little person made so much commotion.
The nurses showed me how to give Polly a bath with cotton balls and oil, starting at her ears all the way down to the bottoms of her feet. She didn’t like being naked and thrashed her head from side to side, her little cry attempting to fill the space around her.
A sweet American woman, a grandmother to two children in the States with Down syndrome came to visit me one day in the hospital, armed with stories and photos. I looked in amazement at a family who seemed happy and content, even thankful for their family. The mother of the children wrote me an email and as I read her words, one mother to another, about God’s view of perfection and what she has learned from her kids, I cried. But the tears were a bit different then before.
I received other emails. Sergei brought print outs with him when he visited. So many people I didn’t even really know took time to write to our family.
And everyone basically said the same thing.
“Everything will be alright.”
J and her husband and L arrived within the hour.
They were upbeat, commenting on the private hospital’s nice rooms, shyly cracking jokes, squinting at me through the room’s bright lights. All three tried to act like it was the most natural thing in the world to be hanging out in a Ukrainian hospital room at one in the morning.
I loved them for it.
The smiling doctor with the thick gold necklace was found and L told him we needed a Cesarean section right away. He was unsure of the soft spoken American woman. Once again he said we should wait and see if the IV helped. But L persisted, looking to my husband for linguistic assistance and nodding incessantly as words poured out of her mouth in a mixture of English and Russian. Her face was stern and her words were pleading. Eventually the smiling doctor agreed to take a closer look at the baby.
I found myself waddling towards the ultrasound room, a white bath robe tied loosely around my expansive middle, my black slippers swishing down the hall.
Everything happened quickly once the baby’s extreme distress was proved on the ultrasound machine. An anesthesiologist was shaken out of her sleep and on her way to the hospital. The smiling doctor hurried off to prepare for surgery. The pediatrician on call put on her scrubs, elastic snapping over her shoes.
Back in my room ready for surgery, I perched on the end of my high hospital bed and looked around at the warm tan walls. A wooden desk and a matching chair stood against the wall in front of me. I watched my feet dangle above the cold white tile floor. They seemed separate from my body. I wandered where they were taking me and if I even wanted to go.
I thought about Elaina and Zoya sleeping in their Estonian made bunk-beds at home. Sergei and I had searched all over Kiev before purchasing the pale colored wooden beds. Thick cotton blankets pulled up tightly to the girls’ chins, in an attempt to keep the frosty night air that lingered inside our old apartment at bay. Their Babushka slept in the room next to them ready if needed for a drink of water or a trip to the bathroom. My little girls, unaware that in about a half hour their baby sister would be here.
Heavy footsteps came down the hall and I saw my smiling doctor who wanted to learn English poke his head in the door of my room.
I nodded that I was ready and suddenly two other men were at my side helping me down from the high hospital bed and on to a cold gurney with a thin white sheet. I settled and my husband came close to me. He covered my hands with his and prayed for God’s protection, for our child’s health and for a peace in my heart that would surpass my understanding. When he finished his prayer he looked at me and smiled. “She’s coming tonight!”
The orderlies wheeled my gurney down the hall with my husband walking next to us. Our friends set up shop in the waiting room. They didn’t want Sergei to wait alone and J wanted to be there to take a picture of all three of us together when the surgery was over.
I think I’ll need to take a day on weekends as a little reprive from my long writing posts or else I’ll never get through the month of posting daily:).
And just so everyone knows. It isn’t painful for me to write about all of this. It’s been two and a half years and it’s actually been very interesting and fun to go back to the skeleton of the story I wrote then and give it some flesh. I am remembering things now that I forgot to write about then.
I waited until I was in a good place to share this story. I am not really sure if it will actually be encouraging to someone else but it’s the journey I took and it’s cathartic to be writing it now.
I thank God to be Polly’s mom. Truly.
Stay tuned for more story…
A metal table housed a tiny television in the corner of the recover room. The walls were bare and a very pale shade of blue, almost gray. A nurse was quietly putting away supplies on the other side of the room. She was blurry. I blinked a few times before realizing a clouded partition stood between us.
She noticed my arousal and came close to me. “Kak vwee cebya choostvooyeteh?” she asked. She was a petite woman, young, her plain brown hair was tightly pulled back in a pony tail. Her demeanor was not friendly but more business-like. I thought about the nurses I had the two other times I gave birth. They were much more friendly and talkative, they smiled a lot and lingered.
I said I was fine and asked about my daughter. The nurse told me my husband had gone home for a few hours of sleep but will be back soon. The baby was in the nursery on a different floor. “You’re husband will explain everything to you when he gets here. For now, you should sleep,” she said, already walking away from me mid-sentence.
But I couldn’t sleep. I was left alone in my own body for the first time in nine months.
For the next two hours I waited for my husband. Periodically I tried to wiggle my toes. I looked down at my stomach a lot shocked that the baby was no longer there. I dozed a bit and prayed popcorn prayers in and out of sleep, “let the baby be OK, let the baby be OK.”
My husband showed up around eight o’clock. His chin was stubbly and he wore the same clothes from yesterday.
I remember the first time I felt an attraction to him. He was interpreting for one of my teammates leading a Bible study on the book of John. Somehow by my junior year in college God had gotten my attention enough to tell me to go to Ukraine as a missionary for a year. My apartment building was next door to where he lived at the time. Our group was the second set of Americans he had worked with. He interpreted, helped people buy groceries, paid their bills, walked them through the metro system. Sometimes he’d stop by my apartment and ask to borrow some music from America. He was kind and serious, quiet yet outspoken when it counted. He was the only Ukrainian working with our American organization who really did not care for America. We became friends. And that morning at the Bible study on the book of John I was convinced his clear blue eyes were focused on me.
In the hospital room he bent down and kissed me like he kisses his mother. Absolutely no pucker or pressure, just a slight brush of the lips. “How are you feeling?”
Again, I asked about the baby.
“She’s on another floor in this hospital in an incubator,” he said. “She was in a bad shape when they took her from you”. Though raised speaking Russian, my husband speaks excellent English. He only makes mistakes in English when he is tired or nervous.
It was like my husband was telling me a story about someone else. I didn’t remember anything about my daughter’s birth.
He continued, “She wasn’t breathing and was very little and all shriveled up. They resuscitated her. She has some kind of blood infection too.”
I looked out the window. It was raining outside. I thought about people getting out of the shower, having coffee, leaving their apartments to go to work. “The doctors said she wouldn’t have made it till morning. She’s cute, but I have to tell you something….they suspect she has Down syndrome and at this point the doctors aren’t even sure if she will make it. The head of pediatrics is coming to talk to us this morning at nine o’clock.”
Sergei’s hand trembled as he handed my a few pages. “When I got home this morning I went on-line and tried to find something about Down syndrome. I didn’t have much time, but I did find a few things.” One page read “Myths and Truths about Down syndrome.” The other page was an article written by a woman whose granddaughter had Down syndrome. With the arrival of our daughter, my parents now had eight grandchildren. I thought about them half way around the world, seven hours behind us in time. Both sleeping soundly in bed. My father’s snoring filling the house.
The fact that my husband looked on-line for information about Down syndrome made my stomach flop.
“Does she look like she has Down syndrome?” I asked.
“She has a full head of hair, just like our other babies.”
I found myself trying to move my heavy, lifeless body over to the left side. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was sleep. I called out to the nurse and asked for another pillow. It was painful to move. My legs were numb and heavy. I managed to get over to my left side with the pillow between my legs. There, I had finally gotten in the correct position to sleep for a pregnant lady. Only then I remembered again that I wasn’t pregnant anymore. My baby was somewhere in the hospital, alone and sick. And she may have Down syndrome.
After a little while my husband left me to go check on our daughter. And I burst into tears. I cried loudly for a few minutes and then tried to gather myself. The nurse watched me through the cloudy partition.
The decision to have a third child was made hastily. Somehow I felt ready. We were settling in to life in Ukraine. It had taken me two years of full-time language study to put myself out there and stumble around conversations with child-like Russian. Learning Russian was like looking at a really blurry photo, straining to see, finding all the colors and lines but still not being able to make out what I was looking at. And then one day the picture came into focus. I wasn’t just listening to a bunch of sounds that didn’t make sense. I was hearing words, then sentences, then full, albeit basic conversations that I understood. I became an avid eaves-dropper.
No longer did I crave obscene amounts of Coca-Cola because it reminded me of home or gulp down Tylenol every day because my head ached so badly from language classes. My girls were dressed in thick tights and turtlenecks any day that was under seventy-five degrees like all the other children playing outside our apartment on the chipped, old playground. They happily played at my feet in the evenings chirping away in Russian. Words in their father’s tongue came as easily to them as breathing. I was getting used to the idea that fish could be served at any meal; breakfast, lunch or dinner in one hundred and one different ways. I hardly ever made eye contact with people in public anymore.
The first year in Kiev was extremely lonely. I was a young mom stuck at home with little kids (Elaina was two-and-a-half and Zoya was nine months old). I couldn’t watch television or listen to the radio because I didn’t understand Russian. We did not have internet access. One cold winter night I remember sitting in our quiet apartment, kids tucked in and asleep, listening to the elevator go up and down or nine story apartment building. “Maybe next time it will be Sergei”, I said out loud to myself.
Finally, after two years, I had friends. Not acquaintances but friends who actually liked me in spite of really knowing me. Who knew it was possible to be friends with women on a deep level in a different language than my own? Even though it was exhausting, life in Kiev was starting to seem a little magical. Our family was settled. I was happy.
Looking back it feels like I mentioned the idea of another baby to Sergei and did a quick nod to God regarding the topic and the next day there was a little white stick sitting on the bathroom sink with two pink lines. I got pregnant the first month we tried for a baby.
Shortly after I took a pregnancy test, my husband brought home another stack of books for me to read. Once in a while he stumbled across a book vendor on the street that actually had books in English. Usually they could be found at the outdoor markets along with any type of vegetable you can imagine and others you’ve never heard of.
One book in the pile caught my eye. It was a book by Bret Lott called Jewel. Jewel’s story took place in the backwoods of Mississippi in the 1940s. Taken from true events, it is about a woman whose sixth child, Brenda Kay, was born with Down syndrome. I read the book in one sitting, completely ignoring my husband and kids, my usual practice when I actually had a new book to read in English.
While reading Jewel I thought about my baby, the size of a lima bean, growing inside me. The day I finished the book, I was sitting on the bed in our room. The sun setting, it was the kind of evening when life around you feels hazy. It was summer so the kids were already in bed even though it wasn’t dark yet. The air was tinted green. “I just couldn’t do it”, I told Sergei. “I could never be the mother of a child with special needs.” And instantly I wished I could take those words back. I felt threatened. There was a little life in me, paddling around, growing fingers and toes. God was knitting her together in my womb. All I could think of was “what if there is something wrong with this baby?”
My mother knits. I still can see her sitting in a chair in my childhood home. Already in pajamas, her hair wet from a bath although usually it was just after seven, a Coke sweating on the side table next to her on top of a napkin. I see her hands moving, click, click, click, click. Sometimes she’d unravel a sweater or a scarf that was nearly done. I didn’t see the point after coming so far to start over because of a few little mistakes. “Who wants to wear a sweater with mistakes?” she’d say. Later on in her life, she’d ignore them more often. I guess by then she wasn’t afraid of a couple mistakes.
A lot people think something that isn’t what they consider perfect is a mistake.
The tooth fairy forgot to come last night.
We had one very unhappy six year old at our house this morning.
I suggested that maybe the tooth fairy was really far away last night like in China and couldn’t make it back in time.
Then my eight year old leaned over and whispered “I think I know who the tooth fairy is.” I said nothing.
And a horrible tooth fairy at that.
I managed to spoil both of my children’s childhoods in about fifteen minutes.
Yesterday was a crazy day.
From the time I woke up until my head hit the pillow I was running around; a meeting at my house in the morning, Polly met her new developmental therapist at Noon, kids and homework in the afternoon, a mad dash to three different stores in the evening and then back home to make party favors for a baby shower we are having at church Sunday.
Those who know me well understand that all this activity is so not me.
At some point in the afternoon I watched Polly and Elaina roll around on the floor. It hit me that Polly’s body, when stretched out, is long. She is longer than half of Elaina’s body, more like 3/4. For a second, both girls looked huge to me and I caught my breath. Where has the time gone? I looked behind me and in front of me but I just couldn’t find it.
Later I drove down Ashland at dusk and saw a group of six or seven-year-old boys kicking soccer balls around in a little green field. Two or three men, assumingly dads, stood around, hands in pockets, sunglasses on. Their voices rang out to the boys as cars and SUVs zoomed by. People driving, no doubt, to something incredibly important. Driving on in our busy, jam-packed days of life while boys in a soccer field learn how to kick a ball with the insides of their feet.