Wednesday, August 23, 2017

First Day of School

Johanna's first day of preschool was today. She'll be going every morning Monday through Friday from 8:30-11:10am, and she's in a 4-year-old class with Jonas. Our little girl did really well...until she didn't. She was excited to go, smiling and happy for pictures beforehand, and she willingly said goodbye and participated in class activities. She was all smiles when she saw me after school too.

Happy on the way to her classroom!
But as we walked down the hallway afterward, she dropped her water bottle and then refused to pick it up. Then she plopped on the floor, and I could tell she was just DONE. The tears didn't start until we got outside, and the full-on meltdown didn't start until we got in the car, but today was a lot for her little heart to handle.

A new environment, new kids surrounding her, a new teacher telling her what to do, new rules and expectations and routines, lots of new words and ways of doing things...not to mention doing it all without Mommy or Daddy there. For someone who's understandably still struggling with abandonment, attachment, and self-regulation issues, no wonder today was hard.

I've said it before, but I think it's worth repeating. Johanna's meltdowns are not "normal" 4-year-old tantrums. We know what those look like...Jonas has them! He gets upset or mad about something in particular, cries and yells for a few minutes, apologizes and is able to talk about how to handle things better next time, and he's over it.

You won't see this picture on Instagram
(she didn't know I took it either).
Breaks my heart, but I think it's
important to show all sides of adoption.
Johanna's meltdowns happen when she's completely dysregulated. I've heard it explained with two jars of pebbles. One jar, with some pebbles at the bottom, is the "regular" kid...biological or home for a good length of time, no major trauma in life, etc. The other jar, about 3/4 full of pebbles, represents a child who's been through some trauma (like adoption!). When stressful things happen (more pebbles in the jar), she's already near the "top" of her self-regulation "jar," so it doesn't take much to set her over the edge. Once she's over the edge...meltdown. It isn't pretty: screaming, crying, thrashing, kicking, hitting herself, trying to hit/scratch/bite me, and yelling nasty things.

The good thing is, when the meltdown is done, it's truly done. Johanna is sitting on the ground beside me as I write this, happily putting together puzzles. This afternoon, she was singing "Let it Go" and dancing to "Ghostbusters" with Jonas. She took a nap and ate a good dinner. She's laughing and smiling, and we just had a good conversation about what happened earlier today and how she was feeling.

We've already got a plan in place for me to be sure to hold her on the way out of school tomorrow (that's what she said she needed to feel better). I think school will get easier for her each day, and I'm hoping Johanna will eventually make some good friends. We did lots of extra cuddles tonight before bed and sang our made-up "family" song (her request) over and over. I knew today would be hard, but I also know Johanna will be okay. Happy first day of school, everyone!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Six Months Home

Johanna has been home for six months as of today! She has come so far, and it's hard to remember what life was like around here before she got home. 

Some of her favorite things include the color pink, fancy dresses, the movies Frozen (she calls it Let it Go), Moana, and Mulan, and eating. This girl still eats us out of house and home! Her favorite foods are still meat and noodles, but she pretty much likes everything (though milk and cheese are probably her least favorites).

Johanna still seems drawn to music, and she loved our Music Together class. She's learned to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" on the piano, and she likes trying out my violin. I'm looking to get her into another music class starting in August. She's also super excited about starting a dance class, and I found a Chinese one that might be perfect for her in the fall.

She also enjoyed art class and swimming lessons at the recreation center, and she played a season of soccer with Jonas. Gymnastics also became something Johanna looked forward to each week. Classes and sports have kind of died down for the summer, but we've been keeping busy going to the zoo, the Children's Museum, on hikes, playing at various playgrounds, and swimming. She enjoys all of that, as long as the hikes aren't too long!

Johanna still likes learning and practicing her writing. She's also recently enjoyed completing puzzles on her own, and she loves books and games. This summer, we've been working on letters and numbers and other preschool-type skills. She's always so proud when she learns something new and can do it correctly.

Other notable activities since the last update include Johanna's second camping trip (to Twin Lakes), attending two Colorado Rockies baseball games, a visit from her godparents Jason and Amy (and their daughters), setting off and seeing fireworks on the Fourth of July, seeing her first movie in the theater (Beauty and the Beast), and enjoying the trampoline we installed in the backyard.

The molluscum on Johanna's face are completely gone. Her bangs have grown down past her nose, and the rest of her hair reaches her shoulders. We're still working on getting her cavities taken care of (insurance changes and various other difficulties), but otherwise, she remains perfectly healthy. She's about 41.5 inches tall and weighs 33.5 pounds, which is a gain of more than an inch and three pounds since coming home (and she was already tall). 

Johanna sleeps through the night from about 8:15pm until 7:00am, though she still often likes me to stay in her room as she falls asleep. We read books together and then she reads some on her own in bed each afternoon before putting herself down for a nap almost every day. I end up having to wake her up from that so she doesn't stay up too late!

Johanna and Jonas still get along fabulously. Those two can play together for hours upon hours, making up various imaginative scenarios complete with costumes and props. Their latest favorite activity is pretending that he is Daddy and she is Mommy and some type of toy (usually their blue stuffed dog or Matchbox cars) are their babies. Then they act out everything from feeding them to taking them to the park to reading to them to putting them to bed. It's pretty cute, and interesting to think about how just a few months ago, Johanna had no concept of Mommy and Daddy and how a family interacted. Now she loves acting out what she experiences in daily life!

There are still difficult moments though. Johanna still copies Jonas to a somewhat unhealthy degree. We find ourselves challenging her to "be her own person" and ask for what she actually wants, versus what she sees Jonas doing or having. We hope that starting preschool will help with that, as she will hopefully make some girlfriends and branch off on her own a bit. I think having her involved in some different activities from her brother (dance and music) will help as well.

Johanna also still has a meltdown about once a week, though it doesn't deteriorate into the deep grieving cry anymore, and she doesn't call out for NaiNai. It usually starts with something simple, like stubbing her toe or being told no (especially if she's tired) or getting frustrated with something she can't do perfectly, and then her crying takes what I would lovingly call a "psycho turn," and she basically loses her mind. It's almost an otherworldly look in her eyes, and she screams and sobs and hits her thighs over and over and flails about on the floor. Sometimes I literally have to hold her down to keep her from hurting herself. It's very sad and scary. When she "comes out of it" (usually in ten to thirty minutes), she's completely back to normal and plays like nothing ever happened. She has gotten better about asking for (or accepting) a hug or letting me know that she wants to be held in order to help her get through it.

Showing affection and true emotion is still difficult for Johanna as well. The race to hug Daddy when he gets home from work is sometimes more about beating her brother there rather than showing she's happy to see him. Being held is sometimes more about having one up on Jonas rather than actually wanting physical contact. We're working on eye contact in emotionally vulnerable situations, expressing feelings, and not reverting to silliness or avoidance in uncomfortable moments. I know it'll take time for some of the hard stuff, but 95% of the time this girl is sweet, kind, happy, helpful, agreeable, and fun. At about four months home, she started expressing that she would rather live with us than go back to China, so that was progress for sure!

We did the 23andMe genetics test for the kids. No surprise, Johanna is almost 100% Chinese and of the Han ethnic group. We did it more to find out if there were any genetic health issues (none-yay!) and find biological relatives if possible. We were able to connect with her closest match, a predicted third cousin. She's a girl in North Carolina who's a few years older and was also adopted from Fuzhou, Jiangxi. They look similar in a lot of ways, so that was pretty cool to find.

So overall, Johanna is doing great. Having two kids is actually easier for me than one, since she and Jonas get along so well and entertain themselves most of the time. Plus I can easily take them places, and they can enjoy activities together because they are the same age and interested in a lot of the same things. It's harder for Zack though, as he has two kids competing for attention when he gets home from work! It's fun having a girly girl in the house to balance out the boys, and Jonas loves having a live-in playmate. At half a year home, Johanna is happy and healthy, and we're so glad she's part of our family!

I'll probably update this blog once a year in January like I do with Jonas's on his Adoption Day. I still post almost daily on Instagram under @aubreekeys (HERE) if you'd like to keep up with pictures of the kids. Thanks for following along on our adoption journey with Johanna!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Adoption Announcement

These went out in the mail a few months ago, but I wanted to preserve her adoption announcement on this blog as well, so here it is!

Family Pictures

We had family pictures taken at Washington Park at the beginning of April. There are photographers around the country who do "Red Thread Sessions," where they offer free or discounted sessions to adoptive families who are newly home. It's a great deal! I'm not sure why I never posted the link, but you can check out some of the pictures here:

Red Thread Session-Keys Family

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Beautiful Baptism

Johanna was baptized into the Catholic faith on Mother's Day at our church, Most Precious Blood, here in Denver. Her godparents are my cousin Jason and his wife Amy, but they live in Ohio and are coming to Colorado in July, so they couldn't make it for the ceremony. But my parents came in from Michigan and Zack's dad and stepmom visited from St. Louis, and everything went wonderfully.

We ended up getting really lucky with how things worked out. Children over the age of one are usually scheduled to be baptized at a quarterly post-Mass ceremony at our church, so our plan was to go to the 10:45am Mass and stay afterward for her noon baptism. I was pretty bummed that just because we had adopted an older child, she couldn't be baptized during the Mass.

But earlier in the week, I found out my friend Mark DeMott (we grew up together in Michigan), who is now a priest, was going to be in Denver over the weekend saying the 10:45am Mass! He was specifically coming to perform a mutual friend's baby's baptism at that Mass, and he pulled a few strings and worked it so Johanna could be baptized by him too! It was so much more special than it would have been if the original plan of the post-Mass ceremony done by the associate pastor had happened (no offense to him!).

So Johanna was baptized at Mass and did great! She really held it together, even with sitting in the front row, being the center of attention, having lots of strangers reaching out to bless her, getting water poured over her head, and posing for lots of pictures. She was most excited about getting to wear her fancy white dress and big bow! Some people wondered where I got the dress and if we brought it back from China. No, it was just from Amazon! I didn't want a First Communion dress, and Baptism ones are usually baby-sized, so I thought this one worked well and honored her Chinese heritage as well. The big white bow with a cross in the middle was ordered from Etsy!

After Mass and pictures, we all went to Beau Jo's Pizza for lunch and cake and presents. After naps, we continued the fun with family, playing outside and enjoying a dim sum dinner and marshmallows cooked in the fire pit. It was a wonderful weekend, with great weather, good food, and fun family time.

Johanna did have two huge meltdowns on Monday as a result of the emotionally charged and overstimulating weekend, but today (Tuesday), she seemed back to normal (happy, sweet, and helpful). Even Jonas had a bit of "grandparent hangover" yesterday and was extremely sensitive and grumpy. I think it's hard for our kids to have so much fun and get all that attention and love and then have to say goodbye after just a few days.

Mother's Day was a perfect day for Johanna's Baptism, and I loved being able to celebrate the holiday with both my son and my daughter (and my own mom)! I'm so glad everything went smoothly and even better than expected. Now we've just got to get a corrected baptismal certificate made, as the one given to us has Johanna's middle name as "Wayne"!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Three Months

Well, we're a bit past the three month mark now of Johanna being part of our family. Everything is going pretty smoothly, though there are still some tough periods. It's definitely become more automatic to do everything twice (make two lunches, get two coats out, buckle two carseats, read two stories, etc.). It feels strange now to go somewhere with just Jonas. I love having both a girl and a boy and seeing the differences between the two of them.

We moved Johanna's mattress upstairs to her own bedroom a couple of weeks ago. That seems to have caused a bit of regression, as we have seen daytime meltdowns more frequently since doing this, even though I stay with her until she falls asleep. However, she learned to sleep through the night without waking up to cry after only a few nights, and she willingly stays in her room until her green light on her "OK to Wake" clock comes on in the morning.

Her language ability continues to impress us. She can speak in full (short) sentences now, sing along with several songs, and she and Jonas can actually have conversations as they play together. She's actually pretty funny sometimes, and we find ourselves cracking up at some of the phrases and facial expressions she puts together. Her sense of humor is good; she understands nuanced jokes in movies and simple sarcasm and teasing. Lately, Zack likes to call her "Grandma Johanna," as she has kind of a grandmotherly way about her (caretaker, helpful, old soul, etc.). She takes it pretty well, laughing as she tells him, "Johanna no grandma!"

When I weighed Jonas and Johanna the other week, they were exactly the same...32.9 pounds. She is noticeably taller than him now; she looks to have grown about an inch since coming home. Her legs are super long, and much to his dismay, she uses them to her advantage to out-climb Jonas on some playground equipment, rocks, and trees! She still eats anything and everything and takes a daily nap. Hooray!

Johanna loves gymnastics, music class, dancing, swimming, and art projects. She was very into decorating eggs at Easter! She also loves learning. She practices writing letters on her own for fun (she's actually doing it as I write this), often asking for paper and a pen and then showing me her work. It looks like she might be left-handed after all! Another thing she enjoys is to ask what something is called and then saying, "Wha' 'bout Johanna try?" and then she'll want me to ask her what it is so she can practice the word.

Since the last update, Johanna had her first haircut, as we're trying to even out the orphanage bowl cut. Her bangs are starting to grow out, but I always have to put some sort of hair tie or barrette in to keep them out of her face. We're now down to three molluscum on her face and one on her neck that hopefully are on their way out. The big ones she came home with are all gone; these are newer ones that came afterward.

We also went on our first camping trip over Spring Break, spending two nights in Fruita, Colorado. Johanna loved helping set up camp and sleeping in the tent, along with running around and biking in the desert. We've had good times at the Denver Zoo, the Children's Museum, the Botanic Gardens, and lots of visits to Washington Park. Johanna can almost keep up with Jonas on her Strider bike, and she loves going on the swings.

She still copies Jonas like crazy, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. They do get in arguments and fights occasionally, like all siblings, but they play together super well most of the time. I think Jonas is pretty happy to have someone to follow him around and do whatever he suggests (at least for now!). That kid needed a playmate very badly, and the fact that he talks nonstop sure helps her language acquisition!

As I mentioned, the meltdowns are still happening. Right now they are averaging about two to three times per week, sometimes pretty hardcore and full-on. It's usually something little that sets them off. Last night it was me getting Johanna out of the bathtub first when she wanted Jonas to be first (he wanted her to be first, so it was a lose-lose choice for me!). She'll start out upset about the small event, but then she'll deteriorate into full meltdown mode and it becomes very obviously not about the catalyst event at all. Major ones will have the flailing/kicking/hitting/screaming and last about thirty minutes, but they all end with her deep grieving cry, which is very distinguishable from her regular "I got an owie" or "I'm a little upset" cry. It's kind of a haunting cry that seems to come from deep within, and she often wails for Nainai in the middle of it. So sad. At least she lets me hold her now while she "gets it out." After it's done, she sort of snaps out of it and everything goes back to normal like nothing ever happened.

Recently, Johanna has been very interested in looking on as I've been organizing pictures on the computer from our trip to China. I've let her see whatever pictures she's interested in, including ones from the orphanage visit where she's pictured with Nainai and her friends. She always wants to keep looking and likes talking about them. Just the other day she was looking at her "apartment" on the orphanage grounds and pointing out where "Nainai cooks eggs" (the kitchen), "Johanna go potty" (the bathroom), and "Johanna sleeping" (her bed).

Last week, we even had conversations about pictures where Johanna was wearing that infamous red coat! She told me Nainai gave it to her, and we talked and laughed together about how she didn't want to take it off for many days. I mimicked how she would zip it up even higher sometimes, and I told her about how she eventually took it off for her bath and was okay. A few days later, Johanna repeated her version of the story to me happily while looking at another coat picture. It had several hand motions and went something like, "Johanna coat, no take off, Mama Dada say off, Johanna no off, coat off (unzipping motion), Johanna happy!"

Though Johanna happily views pictures from China and likes discussing them in the moment, I think her recent exposure to those images, along with her bed being moved upstairs has led to the increase in meltdowns we've seen in the past week or two. When she's not having meltdowns, things are great. Her attitude is better overall, and she's much more willing to say, "Okay Mama" instead of fighting back when I ask her to do something. She's still not a morning person, but at least it's just silence for awhile instead of scowling. And I've been able to put her extremely helpful nature to use for my benefit sometimes, including emptying the dishwasher, doing laundry, feeding the dog, fetching items from other rooms, etc.!

I'll leave you with one cute story about Johanna looking at the pictures from her time in China. In the same session where she was pointing out all of the rooms at Nainai's place and various things about the orphanage, we got to the end of the album, where there are pictures of her sobbing as she says goodbye to her foster mother and friends. One of the last pictures is the one posted here, with all four of us in front of the sculpture out in front of the orphanage. Even though she's obviously miserable in the picture and having one of the worst days of her life, Johanna pointed to this picture as it flashed on my screen the other day and happily shouted just one word upon seeing it. "FAMILY!" she declared. And that's how I know we're all going to be alright.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Two Months

Johanna has been with our family for two months now! Sometimes it feels like we have a little stranger walking around our house, and at other times it feels like she's always been here. We're definitely having a lot of fun with her, and she's really starting to adjust and get more comfortable here at home.

Her language abilities are amazing. She comprehends much of what we say, and she's definitely got over 100 English words of her own that she uses on a regular basis. She talks a lot in the car or at our house, but she's still pretty quiet out in public. She won't really talk to anyone else but us if she's not at home. But that's okay. I think that'll be her personality in general...quieter than Jonas and not as outgoing.

She's healthy as can be. Even when the rest of us were sick the other week with either the flu or strep, Johanna got none of it. The runny nose she had upon first coming home is totally gone; she probably just had to get used to the clean air! Some of her molluscum are clearing up, and though we're still battling new little ones that have appeared, overall they look tons better. She's also gained at least two pounds (she's only two pounds lighter than Jonas now) and probably some height as well. Unfortunately, her dentist visit revealed that she did come to us with three cavities in her back molars, so we'll have to get those fixed in the near future.

She continues to love music. Frozen is her favorite movie by far, and she asks me to tell our Echo Dot to play "Let it Go" several times a day. She also sings her own version of it. Walking down the hallway of Jonas's school, she points out every single backpack with Anna and Elsa on it (and there are several). Songs with hand motions are especially appealing to her, and she learns them remarkably quickly. She and I will be starting Music Together classes in a few weeks, which I think she will love.

Other activities include a weekly art class we do together while Jonas is at school, which she really enjoys, and gymnastics with Jonas. Today was the first day she didn't have any tears or meltdowns before or at gymnastics, so that was a huge step. She absolutely loves the class and is so proud of herself when she does it, but it's the only activity (so far) where she doesn't have access to me (I have to sit on the bleachers and watch). So the anticipation of having to "go it alone" often stresses her out and leads to fearful tears and rages. But today was great! It's not looking like Zack and I will get to have a date night any time soon though!

Girly things also continue to be a hit. She loves picking out hair accessories that match her outfits and having me do her hair every day. I love it too! Her bangs are growing out and her hair is getting longer. Her go-to dress-up outfit is a blue princess dress, and she likes her dress-up doll sticker book and Minnie Mouse toy where she gets to change her outfits and bows. Lately, we've also been having fun playing board games together while Jonas is at school. She picks up on the rules quite quickly and enjoys playing several rounds in a row.

Johanna finally went swimming (and loved it), and we went to the zoo yesterday (she loved that too). I'm dying to sign her up for some dance classes, but I'm not sure she's quite ready for that type of separation, as they would be without Jonas as well. She's gone to a couple of parties and a parade and done pretty well at those too. As her language ability increases, we are able to explain things to her, and that seems to make a big difference in her comfort level at activities and unknown places.

Both sets of grandparents have now met her, and she did very well with both visits. There were a few evening tears on the first day of the visits after they left our house, but Johanna warmed up to them appropriately and enjoyed their attention while they were here. She definitely made the connection between the family pictures displayed in our house and the people visiting. Seeing them on video chats beforehand also helped.

Major meltdowns have pretty much ceased. We haven't seen the tantrums with face hitting, kicking, etc. in a couple of weeks. Even the gymnastics meltdowns were mostly just major tears and screaming. That's not to say she's not moody. Girlfriend is not a morning person! Or a post-nap person! She has this scowl sometimes for no apparent reason at all. Even Jonas will call her out now, asking, "Why do you have a mad face?"

She's gotten a lot better about accepting the word "no" from us, usually. She pretty much knows the rules and sticks to them, unless of course Jonas is leading the way! She does get mad when she wants to do something herself, and we won't let her. It could be because it's dangerous, or we're in a hurry, or it's something parents should take care of, or it's Jonas's turn, or whatever, but she definitely dislikes when we don't agree to her "I do it!" yells. This poor girl must have had to do everything for herself in China. Sometimes we literally have to tell her to take a break or to "let me be the Mama!" And sometimes when she gets frustrated, she gets pouty, but she's learning pretty quickly that words will get her a lot further than whining!

Johanna loves to have fun. She copies Jonas word for word and motion for motion for much of the day, and those two have a blast together. Jonas is very protective of her out in public, sometimes to a fault, yelling at kids on the playground or at the zoo if he perceives that they are trying to steal her turn or push her! It's fun to see how creative they get in their playing together, whether it's turning a box into a spaceship or toy containers into boats. She forces him to dance; her forces her to swordfight! Her giggle is adorable, and it especially comes out when Zack gets home from work and wrestles with the kids.

She still sleeps and eats incredibly well, which we feel so fortunate for, as those are two areas that many adoptees struggle with upon coming home. I'd say she now eats more than Jonas! Lately, she's especially loved meat, asking for third and fourth helpings! Her mattress is still downstairs by our bed, but I bet we could get her into her own room pretty soon after explaining the monitor and her "okay to wake" green light clock. She sleeps through the night, still takes a daily one hour nap, and comes upstairs after waking to find us without any tears (the scowl might be there though!). We really can't complain about anything in these areas!

I do think Johanna is still warming up to us and her new life, understandably. She's not spontaneously affectionate yet (usually), and though she seems to understand that we are her "special people," I don't think she trusts that we'll always be around. She's always kind of eyeing people and places suspiciously, and you can tell she's often not at ease out in public. Thankfully, she has Jonas to look to for learning how to attach and view the world, and in time, I'm sure she'll start to understand what "family" really means.

We're so thankful for the family, friends, and community members who have rallied around us as we made (and continue to make) this sometimes-difficult transition. From dinners delivered to our doorstep to surprise presents in the mail for our little girl to understanding when Johanna needs to be "ignored" by others at church or MOPS or art class or given special attention at gymnastics to accepting our homebound nature lately to cards or messages we receive just checking in on us, it's all been appreciated and made things much easier. I think we're starting to come out of our cloud and get some sense of normalcy around here. Johanna is a sweet little girl, and we're enjoying seeing how she fits into our family of four. I'm still posting almost daily on Instagram, so go there if you'd like regular picture updates on both kids!