Thursday, March 27, 2014

Maternity Photos

When I was pregnant with Snapper and Pepper, it never occurred to me to take pregnancy photos. I have a very few from my pregnancy with Snapper. I have more from Pepper, but still, nothing formal. This time around I have had the pleasure of a perfectly proportioned belly. With the rise of adorable photos on Pinterest, I was inspired to do a maternity photo shoot. Today my dear friend Traci gave us the gift of photos. I LOVE how they turned out. Here are my favorites!

37 weeks pregnant with our little Sweet Pea!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Happenings at Our House

Spring Break was uneventful, which in our house is a very good thing. When you have five kids--three of whom do not do well with lack of structure--home for a whole 10 days, there's potential for chaos. We did some of the things we had planned, and didn't get to some of the other things. And we did things we hadn't planned. But we had a good time and were ready to go back to school yesterday. Here's a general "state of the family" post, mainly for my own records.

Snapper is now 11 1/2, and thriving. After a period of difficulty in math (not academic...difficulty understanding why she has to do/turn in homework when she understands the concepts), she managed to pull herself together for another quarter of all A's on her report card. Her big triumphs this quarter were in English, with her success in the district spelling bee and earning the high praise of her teacher for her research paper on Marie Curie. She is looking forward to the middle school living wax museum in a few weeks, in which she will be representing Marie Curie. We made her costume already, and she did an outstanding job on her presentation board. She is almost done memorizing her speech. We just have to work on the dramatization of the part now. Such a wonderful project! Snapper just earned her first purple stripe for her orange belt in karate. She's hoping to progress enough to test for her purple belt in May. That will move her into the intermediate ranks. She loves karate more than I've ever seen her love anything else. She has become such a wonderful young lady. I feel like every day I see a little more of the child fade, and more of the young woman appear. I'm so proud of her! Today she babysat her siblings for me so I could nap in the afternoon when I wasn't feeling well. She made snacks, helped the three youngest ones with homework, and kept them all quiet and occupied for two hours. I'm so thankful for Snapper, and so proud of her!

Bubbles is 9. She was recently diagnosed with rapid onset precocious puberty. We've spent a great deal of time in doctors' offices and at the hospital recently, trying to make sure we've thoroughly checked her body for abnormalities. She has been such a trooper, putting up with IV's, x-rays, blood draws, exams, MRI's, etc. The testing is done now. We're awaiting MRI results. If all is clear (as her doctor expects it to be), she'll begin hormone injections next week. This will slow her little body down, and allow her a few more years to be a kid. It will also let her grow to a more normal height. Without intervention, she will not even hit 5 feet tall. Bubbles has significant struggles in school. I've worked very intensively with her as I've home schooled her this year. It has helped some, but not enough. She will be tested by the public school within the next few weeks. I'm looking forward to having solid answers, and to getting an IEP in place for her for next year. We've seen such wonderful emotional growth in Bubbles the past few months. While she still struggles with how to be part of a group of kids without being in charge and having everything her way, she has mellowed enough to make a best friend. Her friend is my friend Holly's daughter, A. Bubbles and A have totally bonded, and are joined at the hip. They even wore matching shoes to church on Sunday, and got the biggest thrill out of that. Bubbles put herself to bed 45 minutes early tonight, just because she was tired. Just 6 months ago she was so fearful every night that there were tears and excuses every single bedtime. We've been seeing some good improvement in the last couple of months. But tonight shows us that Bubbles has overcome this monster in her life! She is no longer afraid to go to bed, and no longer afraid to sleep. She knows she is safe, and can rest peacefully. What a HUGE deal this is!!!

Piper is 8. We recently switched her ADHD medication, and what a huge difference it has made for her! We had been seeing a decrease in the benefits of the meds, and an increase in anxiety, defiance, meanness, and irritability. She said she feels like her brain is back to normal again. She is sweet, cheerful, full of fun and giggles, and is much more focused with her chores and schoolwork. This is what we were looking for, and we're all happy. Piper has made really great gains with her reading recently! Her fluency has increased, as has her ease with sounding out larger words. It delights my heart to hear her read to Sunny in the afternoons, because the reading is no longer choppy or strained. She even reads with wonderful expression, and has picked up how to interpret punctuation in her oral reading. This is a big victory for her. She still has some struggles related to her early years. We're working very hard on honesty, and the importance of being a girl of your word. She's on somewhat of a short leash right now because it is hard to trust the things that she says. She is such a sweetie, though, and she especially loves to help Daddy and me around the house. She's my overall best helper, often jumping in and doing extra chores, just because she sees that the chores need doing.

Pepper is 7 1/2. His ADHD medication has made a huge difference in his overall functioning. He no longer resists going to school or resists doing his homework. He has no problems getting moving in the morning, and is always ready for school on time. His teacher reports that he is interested and engaged at school, and the negative behaviors have melted away. His grades have gone up, too, as he earned A Honor Roll for the first time! Now that he can focus, he's free to learn, and free to perform to his capacity in school. He had all his neurology testing done last week, and he received the diagnosis of Benign Joint Hyperlaxity. In other words, he has loose connective tissue in his joints, and will always be a flexible, floppy kid. There's no cure and no treatment for this. We updated his 504 plan at school to allow him the freedom to sit in whatever position is necessary for him to feel balanced. The good news is that his nervous and muscular systems received a clean bill of health! We are thrilled about that. Pepper continues to be a delightful, generous, forgiving, kind, little boy. He brings me delight and joy every day with his gentle, patient, tender personality. He is extremely excited about our new baby. All the kids are, but I think Pepper is anticipating her the most. He has already claimed her as his baby, and I know he's going to be a wonderful big brother.

Sunny is 6. She's such a tough kiddo to write about. She was finally accepted by one of the best Behavioral Health programs in our state, and we're awaiting her psychological evaluation, which should take place next week. We anticipate the possibility of a serious mental health diagnosis for her. There are several possibilities of what could be causing her troubles. We're praying that whatever it is, there is help available for her. Matt and I know that her struggles in life are caused primarily by what was done to her by the people who were supposed to love and care for her. Most of it is not her fault. But we have to help her learn to cope, and how to function in society. It's a tall order. Her bad days are very bad. But her good days are quite wonderful. There are two big positives that I can emphasize in this post. First, she is doing far better in school than we anticipated. She struggles with her fine motor skills, but is really growing in her reading abilities! She has a good mind for math, too. Her teacher is very pleased with Sunny's growth, and her effort in class. The other great thing is Sunny's attachment to Matt and me. The ambivalence we once saw in her relationship with us has gone. She has finally owned us as her parents, and is really letting herself grow emotional ties. In that regard, she's a different kid than she was 6 months ago. She's much more secure, and finally allows herself to enjoy closeness with us. Such great progress! I have so many hopes for this little one. I pray for wisdom for the doctors who will be working with us in this new program.

I'm hanging in there. I'm due in 3 weeks, and have officially reached the miserable stage of pregnancy. I'm still carrying very small, so at least I don't have bulky awkwardness to deal with! I do have some of the other undesirable symptoms of pregnancy, including (but not limited to) restless legs, acid reflux, hemorrhoids, and pelvic pain. I'm very much looking forward to putting labor and delivery behind me, and holding my little Sweet Pea in my arms, not my belly. I have another doctor's appointment tomorrow. I'm also touring the labor and delivery unit at the hospital, and meeting with the birth coordinator to go over my birth plan with her. This is my third delivery, and I'm pretty specific about what I want. I know my body. I know what it's like to have a baby. Experience has taught me what I want, and I'm glad to have someone to communicate all of that to. As I've had to gain a voice and become an advocate the for many special needs of my adopted kiddos, I've also gained a voice for myself. I'm excited that I'm going into this delivery confident, and ready to ask for what I need. Things are pretty much ready for this baby! We're all set on clothes and supplies. I've done all the laundry and packed Sweet Pea's hospital bag. Her car seat is ready in the back of the van. We should be getting our Suburban the first week of April!!! Then we can install the car seat. All I have left to do is pick up the pack & play/bassinet from my friend Tracie. Then we're ready to go! My BFF, Noel, arrives from California on April 8th to be here for the delivery. I can't wait to her to arrive! Then I am free to have this baby. If you had told me three years ago that by the start of summer in 2014 I would have six kids, I would have laughed in your face. Now here I am! Oh my!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spring Break at Home

The big question from the kids this year was, "Where are we going for Spring Break?" It seems that most of their friends are going cool places or doing big things. Reports from the kids about their friends' spring break plans include:
Spending the week at Disney
A Disney cruise
Florida Keys trip
New York City

Those things are not possible for our family. First of all, trips with a family our size are very expensive. Second, my due date is one month from today!!! I'm not going anywhere far from my doctor. Also, it is just not fun to travel at 36 weeks pregnant! Third, Matt is going to be taking time off from work when Baby arrives. There's no point in taking time off now.

Even though we've never done Spring Break travel before, there were some very disappointed kiddos in our house when we told them we were staying home. Somehow, they had all worked it out in their heads that we were doing the things their friends are doing. Huh. So I have devised some plans to help make our stay-at-home break lots of fun. Here are some of the things we'll be doing (or have already done).
  • Paint big brother/big sister t-shirts to wear to the hospital when they meet Baby Sister
  • Make new playdough
  • Paint pictures
  • Glamour shot photo shoots in our yard (which means fancy hair and make-up for the girls)
  • A new puzzle
  • LOTS of outside playtime
  • Rent movies 
  • Watch movies while eating popcorn
  • Theater movie dates with Mommy for Piper and Sunny (redeeming gift cards they got for their birthdays)
  • Bake cookies
  • A visit to the neurologist for Pepper (Thursday) and getting a wart removed for Pepper (Wednesday)
  • Free play time at a local gymnastics place with all our friends (Friday)
  • Sleepover at a friend's house for Snapper
  • Picnic lunch at the park with Piper's BFF
  • Buy the Frozen dvd and watch it at least three times
  • READ!
  • Have each kid help with meal prep on a different day (they all love to cook)
  • Make art pieces to mail to cousins
  • Dinner and pedicures for me with my friend Tracie
  • Make new hair bows 
  • Snuggle and tickle and enjoy each other
When we made the list, they felt a lot better. I think they were picturing a week filled with nothing but unscheduled time. A week like that is actually threatening to my kids with trauma histories, because structure equals safety to them. Unstructured time feels like life is out of control. Having a list of what we can do each day helps them feel more secure. It promises to be a fun week!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Feathering My Nest

35 weeks and 1 day pregnant.

I have always chuckled at moms who would tell me that they had the nesting urge. I never had the nesting urge with Snapper and Pepper's pregnancies. Never. I organized their stuff and had fun setting up their rooms. But there was never any urge to get things done. Never any urgency. Never any compulsion to prepare. Never a compelling need to shop. I just did it because it needed to be done. I packed my hospital bag when the contractions got to 8 minutes apart.

I grew up on a goat farm. Every spring our momma goaties would have baby goaties. About a week before a momma goat would give birth, she would go out an start digging nesting holes in the barnyard. On delivery day, she would dig nesting holes in the hay. I never did understand that. I mean, I understood that they were preparing for their babies. I just didn't understand why they spent the better part of the week digging holes in the dirt and hay. Wasn't one hole in the hay good enough?

Now I understand!!!

I am learning for the first time what the nesting urge is. For the last week I've had an uncontrollable urge to shop for baby things. I'm not a shopper, not a spender. This is highly unusual for me. I have indulged that urge, scouring local consignment and thrift shops for the cutest baby clothes at the best price. And people, I've scored some real bargains! Baby Gap dresses--with tags still on--for $2! A sleeper I drooled over in Dillards (somewhere around $17 new there) for $1.75 (it was that or less) in a thrift shop. And then I found the hat that goes with it in another thrift shop for $0.25! I love it!

I've been itching to get things done and ready for this baby. We got a nice hand-me-down car seat from a friend. I scrubbed car seat straps today and washed the seat liner. I put the seat back together and put in her new little head rest and strap covers. Yesterday I washed all her newborn size clothes and got them put away. I assembled the small storage shelf I bought to solve the problem of where to put her things. I put away all the basic necessities on the new shelf and put everything else in a tote in my closet. I packed her diaper bag with the things I'm taking to the hospital for her.

Today I went to Hobby Lobby and got materials to make a whole bunch of cute hair bows for her, and tonight while the kids watched a movie, I made hair bows. A bunch of them. Really cute ones. Layered ones, twisted ones, all different colors, and some flowers, too. They all clip onto interchangeable headbands that I made. I also made a hanger for all the cute bows and flower to clip onto. I have a bunch more cute ribbon to work with, so I know I'll be making more bows in the next week.

While I was at Hobby Lobby, I picked up t-shirts and puff paints for the kids. One of our Spring Break projects will be making shirts to wear to the hospital when they come to meet their new sister. I know they'll all have fun with that project!

Tomorrow I hope to get the crib quilt put together and the quilting done. I don't have the time or patience to hand quilt it right now, so I'm settling for machine quilting. It will still be pretty, and Sweet Pea will not care.

Even though I spent five days in the labor and delivery unit in September for my hyperemesis, I called the hospital to set up a time to take a tour of the labor and delivery area, and to meet with the birth coordinator. When I was so sick, all I saw was the reception area and my room. I want to see the whole thing. This particular hospital has the mom meet with the birth coordinator in advance to develop a birth plan to keep on file at the hospital. That way if Mom arrives well into labor and clouded by pain, the paperwork is already in place informing the nurses exactly what Mom wants and needs. I totally love that! I have extremely fixed notions about my labor and delivery. Having all of that settled ahead of time is a very good thing for me.

Speaking of baby, I saw the doctor today and I'm one centimeter dilated! I know that's really common for moms who are not first-timers. But makes Delivery Day seem that much closer and more real. Sweet Pea is all settled in head-down. The doctor says she has a normal size head and is growing right on target. This is such a relief, given the abnormalities in Sweet Pea's umbilical cord. I am thankful for each day that passes with Baby still healthy and growing inside.

The last thing I absolutely need to do is shop for some pretty pajamas for me to wear in the hospital, and a few comfy outfits to wear in the first few weeks after Sweet Pea is born. Since my tummy outgrew all my pajamas, I've been wearing Matt's Angry Birds lounge pants and t-shirt to sleep in. Somehow it just doesn't seem like the right outfit for a new mommy to be wearing in the hospital. Not with all the photos and visitors that are sure to come!

The other last thing I need to do is purchase a new camera. My wonderful digital SLR survived way, way longer than its life expectancy. But now the quality of the photos it takes is rapidly declining. I need a decent camera before Sweet Pea arrives. We've designated a portion of our tax return money to take care of that expense. I expect the tax return to hit our account next week. At least I hope it does!

If I had a nice stall of hay, I would be digging and digging! I'm going to enjoy this nesting thing while it lasts. It's pretty fun. A little anxious, but still fun.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Irritable and Frustrated

I have officially reached that point in this pregnancy where the end can't come soon enough. I read other moms' stories of cherishing every moment of their pregnancies, loving feeling the baby moving, and being sad for the pregnancy to end.

I am not one of those moms!

Every day feels like an eternity. I have a baby who likes to put her feet under my ribs, and she grinds her head on my bladder. I am constantly uncomfortable. Because of the pre-term contractions I had last month, I am on orders to stay off my feet. If I'm up for very long, the contractions start again. I have so much to do, but no energy to do it. And if I push through the fatigue and try to do stuff, contractions start. So I home school my cranky, uncooperative 3rd grader the best I can. I get the laundry done, because I can do most of that from the couch. Sometimes I ignore the contractions and plunge into a job, which makes my mind feel better, but is not really a smart idea for my body. I leave the kitchen cleaning to Snapper, Pepper, and Bubbles, which means I go through every day with all the breakfast mess in the sink (so not my style). Hubby comes home from work and does the cooking. The rest of the cleaning happens on Saturdays, when the kids can do most of it.

Night is far worse than day. I have way more ligament pain with this pregnancy than with my others. I think it must come from being so much older this time around. I have horrific heartburn, and I have to sleep mostly sitting up, which is never comfortable. I am very thankful for my body pillow, which hooks around my neck and keeps my head stable while I sleep. While I "sleep." I've reached that magical place in the pregnancy when I have to get up four or five times in the night to pee. I feel like when I do sleep, I dream constantly. And probably the worst part of all is the restless leg syndrome. It used to just be at bedtime. Now it's off and on all night. I'm just miserable.

I know, I will be worth it. I know it will be worth it. In a few short weeks I'll be holding my sweet baby, and the rough parts of this pregnancy will quickly fade. But the truth is, I'm walking through it now. Thinking ahead does not help. Knowing that I'm almost done does not help. I just want it to be the middle of April.

I'm facing additional frustration as well. If you've read my blog for any period of time, you know that I am Queen Organization and Plan Ahead. With Snapper and Pepper, I had their nurseries all set up and ready for them two months in advance. I had so much fun washing the little clothes, putting them carefully away, decorating, and getting all my baby gear set up and ready to go. I could relax and rest at the end of the pregnancy. This time is so much different.

We are stacked on top of each other in our little tiny house. We do not have room for a baby and all the gear that comes with a baby. There is no place in our house to put a crib. We can't fit another dresser in the house. I have one small section of my closet that will fit baby clothes. There will be no cute decorations. No neat organization. No special space just for her. She'll live in our room until we move this summer. She'll sleep in the bassinet insert in a pack & play as long as she'll fit in it. All the gear I'm not immediately using will live in a tote in the garage.

And this is driving me crazy.

It may change when our lease expires at the end of June. We must move into a larger house, and I'm hoping the baby will at least be able to have part of a bedroom, with a real crib and a dresser and a place to keep all of her stuff. I know my little Sweet Pea will never remember not having her own nursery. But it's tough for me. I'm frustrated, and I'm sad.

There. I've said it. Gripe is over. are a couple of photos from my baby shower yesterday. My friend Brandee did a lovely job on the shower. My friends are so generous, and I received so many wonderful things! And here's a photo of Sweet Pea's crib quilt. I've been piecing it here and there over the last couple of months. I finished the face today. As soon as I can make it to the store to pick up quilt batting, I'll finish the quilting and binding. Not that she has a crib...

34 weeks pregnant!

Isn't it beautiful???

The shower was a brunch because I love brunch foods so much. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Tale of Two Second Graders

Any parents out there will tell you that even when two children come from the same two parents, those children are as different as different can be. Snapper and Pepper share Matt's and my genetics. In many ways they are alike. But they are so different in far more ways! Add in three more girls with totally different genetics, and we have a house bursting with uniqueness!

We love the individual beauty of each of our kids. Each has something special to offer, a different perspective, and a different way of expressing him/herself. I've written about this before, and about their unique challenges as well.

Never is this as evident as on Report Card Day. Momma and Daddy are faced with two very different report cards from our two 2nd graders. How we respond to them could with make or break these two children.

Piper's report card:
Reading: C+
Language Arts: C
Math: A
Science: A-
Social Studies: A-
Citizenship: All S (Satisfactory), with an S- in "Stays on task and completes work within the allotted time."

Pepper's report card:
Reading: A
Language Arts: A
Math: A
Science: A+
Social Studies: A+
Citizenship: All S (Satisfactory) with a note that there has been great improvement in Pepper's completion of in-class work.

Pepper (age 7.5) has a very, very high IQ. He is a sponge for information, is a brilliant speller, reads on a 10th grade reading level, learned his multiplication facts in one day, and can write circles around most kids in his grade. He has Inattention Type ADHD, and the medication he has been taking for the last month has freed him to be able to focus on his work. His Reading and Language Arts grades have never been this high because never until now has he been able to keep himself focused long enough to thoroughly complete his work. Reading a passage, answering questions, and using advanced reasoning skills have requires too much sustained mental effort for him in the past.

Our celebration of Pepper's grades will not be focused on all those A's. We will buy him an ice cream cone to celebrate the progress he has made in his focusing, his effort in writing, and now four whole weeks without a behavior notice from his teacher!

Piper (age 8) has a brain that was damaged by parental prenatal drug use, profound neglect, and abuse. She also comes from genetics that are not known for intelligence. She is very bright with numbers, and enjoys the systematic predictability of math. She likes one correct answer, and following a procedure to reach the answer. She reads slightly below grade level, and comprehends what she reads. Her problem with reading is the way that Common Core tests. Unless the child has advanced reasoning skills, they will not test well. Piper does not have advanced reasoning skills. The tests are not a true representation of Piper's reading mechanics, nor her comprehension, so this C grade does not really concern me. The fact that she loves to read, reads all the time, and is able to easily retell the story are proof enough for me. Her real area of struggle is Language Arts. Writing. Spelling. Grammar. These come very hard for her, especially since she has expressive language processing struggles. She also has full-blown ADHD. She takes medication and it helps tremendously, but she still has to work very hard to stay on task and finish her work.

Our celebration of Piper's grades will be focused on the improvement of all grades over last quarter! She had C- in both Reading and Language Arts last quarter, and she has been working very hard, especially on her spelling. She had a B in Science last quarter, too, that came up to an A. So Piper will get an ice cream cone in celebration of her effort and improvement.

Our challenge is for the two kids not to feel compared to each other. The truth of the matter is, no matter how hard Piper works, she will never equal Pepper in academic ability. In fact, Pepper will go far, far, far beyond what Piper is capable of. Pepper knows this. Piper knows this. We've been lucky so far, in that no one feels bad about it. Pepper is a sensitive soul, and he is very careful with Piper's feelings. He's quick to offer to help her, and because they use the same curriculum, he's often more help than I am. They enjoy studying together, and Piper feels safe with Pepper. I love that.

Matt and I have realistic expectations. We ask that our kids do their best at school. We require all homework to be completed and turned in on time. We carefully review homework with them before we send it in, and we review the graded work that comes home. If a paper is completed in a sloppy manner, we have them re-do it. If they skip problems or don't read the directions, they do it over. We're teaching them to be neat and thorough, and to pay attention to the directions. When their grades come back, we know we've all done our part. We celebrate progress, hard work, and good effort. The kids are satisfied and we are satisfied. We never, never compare the two kids. If Piper gets frustrated that Pepper doesn't have to study his spelling words (she does get frustrated on occasion), I remind her that Pepper's brain is wired differently than hers, and he has an easier time with spelling because of it. Then I feed her an M&M when she has learned a word correctly, and Pepper doesn't ever get M&M's for spelling. Chocolate makes everything better. =)

How do you approach learning differences in your children? Do you have any special celebration or technique that builds their confidence and celebrates their uniqueness?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Congratulations, Snapper!

Snapper was one of six 6th graders chosen to represent her school at the district spelling bee last week. We have been studying the word list--over 1500 words--since the second week in January. We've been focusing on 20 words per night. She worked diligently and faithfully, and it paid off. On Friday she competed. There were 52 6th graders representing ten schools around our region. There were similar numbers of 5th, 7th, and 8th graders, too. Parents weren't allowed in the preliminary round. Snapper went into a big room with all the other 6th graders, and they did a traditional spelling bee. They were in there for three hours, spelling down to a Top Four. Snapper lost count of how many words she spelled. One of the other girls said she thinks they went 15 rounds. I just know that the word she spelled out on--varicolored--was not even on the spelling list we studied. Snapper came in 3rd in the 6th grade spelling bee! Two other students from our school made Top Four, also!

Then came the real exciting part: the spell-off. The Top Four from 5th, 7th, and 8th grade joined the Top Four 6th graders, and they did another spelling bee for the championship. Snapper survived six rounds. The first two rounds were on the published list. After that, they went off list and there were some crazy words! Now I'm a word lover and an excellent speller, so you know that when even I don't have a clue, it's a smart bunch of kids on that stage! I had never even heard some of the words they spelled! In the end, Snapper spelled out on Wherewithal, adding an extra l to the end. She finished 10th overall. I'm so very proud of her. An 8th grader from our school won the whole thing, and another girl from our school finished 3rd. Good luck to them both as they represent our school at regionals.

P.S. I'm really glad Snapper didn't qualify for happens the week of my due date, and I don't think I could stand another 5 weeks of studying spelling words every day!