I’ve been meaning for a while now to write to catch everyone up on our new little family since we returned home from China. But what is that thing about the best laid plans again? Ha! Going from zero to toddler has definitely kept us on our toes for the past 3 and a half months! It is all the things everyone says it is – challenging, exhausting, fun, emotional, educational (we are learning a lot about ourselves while learning to be parents!), and ever so rewarding. Gabriel is, without a doubt, the best thing to ever happen in our lives. He is a blessing, an absolute joy, and a treasure. He lights up our world in countless ways we could never have even begun to fathom prior to his arrival. One of the absolute best parts is the laughter. Gabriel LOVES to make us laugh. So he fits in perfectly around here. I grew up in a family full of laughter, silliness, and inside jokes. It’s what families do, right? Well our new little family is no different. We will say something in a silly way and Gabriel will laugh until he is breathless. Then he joins in saying the word in the same funny way as soon as his breath returns. Three days later we will be riding in the car and I will randomly hear that same something from three days earlier said in a silly voice from the back seat. And we just laugh and laugh and laugh some more! Oh my, how I cherish these inside jokes! They are precious gifts to me. Because inside jokes mean connection and being a part of something special. Something intimate. A family.
Every now and then I find myself caught in small moments of disbelief. I have to remind myself that we really did this! We have a son! We are a family now! And more often than not I find that I want to fall on my knees and cry out in happiness and overwhelming gratitude. The blessings of being a parent have only just begun to present themselves to us. It seems each day brings a new reason to feel thankful. Some are small, yet very specific – the way the dimple on his chin is only truly visible when he grins; when he looks over at me in the middle of watching Curious George and smiles a big smile and just says simply, “Mama!” (he doesn’t want anything in these moments- he’s just acknowledging that I am there and that he is happy about it); or when he excitedly shares his day at preschool with us using mostly charade style movements and sound effects. (This is Dave’s current favorite thing in the world as it is adorable.)
Then there are bigger moments. The ones that often sneak up on me and catch me off guard. Most of you know that our son was born with bilateral club feet. His hands are also in need of strengthening due to a congenital weakness in them. We are working with an amazing occupational therapist at Vanderbilt to help him with this and he is doing just just fine. What some of you may not know is that Gabriel also had a diagnosis of mild cerebral palsy in China. This was very scary to us at first until we educated ourselves. Then we saw his videos and his pictures when we reviewed his file and those scary words didn’t matter anymore. We just fell in love, plain and simple. So we were prepared for pretty much anything when we met him. He was wearing orthotics for his feet that the orphanage had provided. They were not great but they were the best they could offer and we are and will forever be eternally grateful for their wonderful care of our sweet boy while he was with them. In China and when we first arrived home, Gabriel was pretty unsteady and slow moving. Fast forward to our first appointment with the pediatric physical therapist at Vanderbilt. She found some temporary orthotics that were a pretty awesome fit for him and tweaked them a little. She also cast his feet to have some custom made for him. We walked across the hall to a huge play room that has a little track in it made of a softer playground type surface. There is a small sloping hill on this track. Just putting on those interim orthotics allowed our little guy to double his walking speed instantly. Then he walked up and down that little sloping hill. Something that would have made him off balance previously. But he was totally steady. And this mama had to turn away because I didn’t want to confuse our son with my happy tears. We were amazed by how much assistance these gave him and how quickly! Fast forward again to getting his own custom made orthotics. Over the course of just the first week he had them his legs begin to get stronger and his speed continued to increase. Then one day not long after this we went to the playground by our house. He loves to go down the slides but has always needed us to hold his hand and help him up the stairs to the slide. As his strength has improved, he has been able to get up the regular stairs by himself. But there is the little diagonally sloped ladder made of individual curved metal bars leading to one of the slides. He had watched other kiddos take this ladder easily at other visits there but had never asked or attempted to take it himself. There was actually no way he could have done it before. On this day he did ask. We were surprised but happy to help him try this more challenging ladder. We stood on either side of him and helped him as minimally as possible – mostly just pushing his little bum a little when needed – and rung by rung HE CLIMBED THAT LADDER!! It was slow and steady but HE DID IT! It took everything I had in me to not have a big, ugly, happy, proud, and gratitude soaked lengthy sob right there and then. This little guy is unstoppable. And it is awe inspiring to watch. What a beautiful privilege it is to be his parents. And that cerebral palsy diagnosis, by the way? Every doctor he has seen says it was wrong. They see NO SIGNS WHATSOEVER of CP.
The pediatric orthopedic surgeon has recommended a surgery on Gabriel’s feet that will hopefully allow him to finally jump and run and do all the things he tries so hard to do now but just can’t quite yet. He will have to be in full leg casts for 6 weeks post surgery so the doctor recommended doing it in the winter so it won’t be as hard on him to be less active. It will be super tough on him, we are sure, but the outcome will be one hundred percent worth it! I can’t even imagine what it will be like to finally get to see him run and jump and skip and hop off curbs…and climb that playground ladder with confidence. THAT will definitely be a joyful cry for me! 😉
Gabriel’s English improves almost hour to hour some days, it seems. Every few days he has a new “go to” phrase or word he is using. This past week has given us “I got it!” (wants to help do anything and everything possible – especially feed the dogs), “right there”, “thank you SO much”, and “good morning”. The first ‘English’ words he said, however, were the dogs’ names. Not so shocking in this house, right? When he speaks to one of our relatives on the phone, he says all of the dogs’ names as his opening line. 🙂 He adores his preschool and his teacher, Miss GiGi, as do we. He loves water in every way – swimming, bath time, splash pads, ocean (got to go see Grandpa and Nana at the beach in Delaware last month), and even just washing his hands. He is very bright – most everyone who meets him agrees (even if we are a little biased). He is incredibly sweet and loving. He loves to give hugs and kisses to Mama and Baba. His diet is improving tremendously. Which is great becuase this was a struggle for us at first. Now it appears he actually likes broccoli!! Look at him recently vs. the day we met him.
One challenge we still face pretty much every day is waking up in the mornings or from naps. Gabriel’s bed is right next to ours in our bedroom for now. It is actually touching our bed. The reason he sleeps in our room is because he never spent a single night alone in his life previous to becoming our son. So that is a transition that will come when the time is right. Even if we are still in our bed right beside him when he awakes and he can reach out and touch us, he still has a mild panic moment. He sounds like he is hyperventilating when this happens. He will do it regardless of where we are in the house. And here’s the thing – this is not unexpected. This little boy woke up in a bed in an orphanage for the first two years of his life and, likely more times than not, no one was there in those moments to hold him or feed him or soothe him. This is not a judgement on the orphanages. They do the absolute best they can but there are only so many caregivers and ayis to go around for the amount of children in their care. And, again, we are so grateful for them and all they did to help our son become the wonderful little guy he is. At some point Gabriel will begin to understand that we will always be here when he wakes up in the mornings or from naps. No matter what. And we will snuggle him and kiss him and hug him and cook him “faffles (waffles)”. And we will laugh with him. And then we will laugh some more. And there will be more inside jokes. Because we are a family. Forever and always.