Saturday, September 5, 2015

One Year Orphanage-Free: Then and Now

Today marks one year since the day Sean got Alexander out of the orphanage once and for all, also known as "Gotcha Day."  Oh, what a blessed day!  And how far we have all come!  God's providence brought us to this amazing little boy, and His grace and providence has been with us every step of the way since bringing him home, too, through all the ups and downs and bumps in the road.  September 17 will mark one year since Alexander arrived home and became a US citizen.  These are a few areas of development and how Alexander has experienced them over the past year:

1. Attachment 

There are hundreds of books on the subject of attachment in adoption, and what happens when children are unable to form attachment with parents or other close caregivers in utero and after birth.  For Alexander, this primarily manifests with him approaching complete strangers with an embrace and wanting strangers to perform his care (feed him, change him, carry him, etc.).  When he first came home, it was a given that he would run up to and hug any and everyone who crossed his path.  We'd gently step in and redirect him, and explain to the person on whose leg he was hanging that he is still learning about personal space.

Now, he still goes up to strangers sometimes (maybe once or twice for every ten times that we are out in public), but much more often than not he sticks close to us and wants us to perform his care.  He still has a long way to go, but his steady improvement in this area is very encouraging.

Alexander is very interested in books and loves to be read to.
He has always enjoyed snuggle time with parents and older siblings, which is a blessing we are so grateful for.

We were able to have a lengthy cocooning period with Alexander once he arrived home.  Now that we are no longer cocooning, we have noticed some attachment issues/orphanage behaviors manifest when people come to visit us in our home (jumping on visitors, wanting visitors to perform care duties, acting overstimulated, hyperventilation, etc.).  We went to visit our extended family for a few days this summer for the first time since Alexander came home, expecting to have to deal with many orphanage behaviors.  Much to our surprise, he acted pretty much like his normal self when it's just the 8 of us here at our house.  For some reason, having people visit us in our house seems to trigger more orphanage behaviors than when we go visit people in their homes.

2. Nutritional status

Alexander was malnourished and underfed during his time in the orphanage (which for him was from birth to 2 months shy of 5 years).  He was the size of an average child half his age.  His joints appeared large in comparison to his emaciated extremities, and he was short in stature.  He wore size 3T clothing and was barely taller than his 2 year old brother.  His hair was dark brown with a discolored patch on the back that had a grayish hue.  He also had a bald, calloused spot on the back of his head, presumably from banging his head on the floor/wall in the orphanage.

Here are some pictures to illustrate the closing height difference between Paul and Alexander.  Paul is 3 months older than Alexander:

November 2014--from left to right:
Paul (5), Felix (2), Alexander (5)
June 2015--from left to right:
Felix (2), Rosemary (8), Paul (5), Alexander (5), Joey (10)

Now he wears size 5T pants and size 6-8 shirts.  He is a comparable size to Paul.  He has plump arms and legs, and his joints look well proportioned.  He has a head full of thick, gorgeous, shiny and healthy hair.  His bald spot has grown over with hair, and the discolored patch of hair is now the same dark brown color as the rest of his hair. 

It is very common for children with starvation backgrounds to hoard food and/or eat food out of the trash.  Thankfully, this is something Alexander has never done.  Instead, he often feeds some of his food to his baby brother (which made things exciting for Mom and Dad back in the days before Leo could eat solids).  While he doesn't hoard food, he is always front and center asking for food whenever food is being dished up or put away or prepared, etc.  He is very fascinated with the preparation of food, which is something the orphanage workers told us as well.  He would like to hang out in the kitchen and watch the food being prepared, both in the orphanage and now at home.  He also enjoys play-cooking with toys.  Maybe a career in the culinary arts is in his future?

Alexander helps scramble eggs for breakfast while Joey and Rosemary flip the bacon

I will take a moment to mention drinking here, too.  It is very, very, very common for Bulgarian ex-orphans to want to drink almost nothing once they are home, and most parents struggle to entice their children to drink an adequate amount.  Fluids are often severely restricted in orphanges, presumably to cut down on the number of wet diapers the caregivers need to change.  We were rather shocked when Alexander came home happy to drink just as much water and other drinks as his siblings and parents.  Getting him to drink has never been a problem, and we are so thankful for this blessing.  He is well in tune with his body's hydration needs and happily and confidently lets us know when he needs help getting a glass of water. 

3. Dental status

Alexander came to us with the worst state of dental decay we have ever seen.  Every single tooth in his mouth had some decay, and the outer enamel on many of his teeth appeared to be completely gone.  Many of his teeth looked like nothing but nubs, barely protruding past the gums.  Brushing his teeth gently would give him pain and result in bleeding gums.  He could only eat soft foods such as yogurt.  He would not take bites of any solid food.  Even something as soft as bread had to be dipped in liquid to soften it for him to be able to chew and eat it.

We took him to several dentists, and they all agreed that his decay was so extensive that ALL of his front teeth needed to be pulled, and his back teeth all needed to be capped, under general anesthesia at the hospital.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, as we came to find out), there was a lengthy waiting list to get him into the hospital, and the earliest opening in our town at the time was for a date after our moving to New Jersey.

Once we arrived in New Jersey, we found a holistic dentist, Dr. Jeffrey Oras in Whitehouse Station, who has helped and guided us to heal Alexander's teeth naturally through a special gentle cleaning regimen and supplements.  He did end up needing three baby teeth extracted, but the rest of his teeth have all improved noticeably.  He shows no signs of pain.  He now can eat and chew a variety of hard foods, including taking bites out of raw apples and chewing grilled meat.

4. Language

Alexander was completely non-verbal and knew no English when he left the orphanage.  It is common for children raised in an orphanage to have few to no verbal skills due to neglect and not having anyone spend time talking to them.  Alexander also has a repaired cleft lip and palate, which also often leads to verbal delay in children by itself without other contributing factors.  When Alexander first got home, he would communicate by grunting and pointing at things that he wanted.  We spoke to him primarily in English and used gestures of our own to help him learn the language, although we also used basic Bulgarian phrases.  We weren't sure how much Bulgarian he knew and understood.

Now Alexander is beginning to use words to communicate in addition to his gestures and other vocalizations.  He speaks several words and understands many, many more English words and phrases.  He can follow verbal instructions that we give him, such as taking something to the other parent, getting something from a certain sibling, throwing something in the trash or putting his shoes on when we are getting ready to leave the house.  He is gaining other oral skills such as blowing out candles and spitting water in the tub, which help strengthen his mouth muscles and improve his abilities for pronunciation of words.  He has also recently started being able to sip liquids out of a straw, something he has not been able to do up until now due to the weakened muscles in his mouth from the cleft lip repair.

5. Play

When Alexander first came home, he did not play with toys or with his siblings.  He would simply carry items around or repetitively put items in and take them out of containers for most of his "play."

Playing with trains.  Yes, those are silicon oven mitts on
Alexander's feet.  They didn't work well as mitts,
so he repurposed them as play-socks.  He loves them!
Now he enjoys interacting with all members of the family.  Some of his favorite activities are playing games of chase and ring around the rosie with his siblings.  There are still many toys that he doesn't play with in the way that they are marketed, but he does play with many toys as the manufacturers intended.  He helps his siblings build train tracks, drives toy cars around on the floor and table (before he would just hold toy cars and spin their wheels or tap them on various objects--which he still does on occasion), completes wooden peg puzzles quickly and without help (just a few months ago, he would only carry the loose pieces around the house, using the puzzle board as a tray), and uses musical toys such as xylophones to make music of his own, to name just a few.  He has also started playing some apps on the Kindle Fire tablet, including "finger painting" type apps and other games where drawing is involved.

When Alexander first left the orphanage, he was scared to use playground equipment on his own.  Now, he is happy and eager to slide down the tallest slides on playgrounds and run around and climb up various structures.  However, he still does not enjoy swinging one bit.

I will add TV in here too.  When he first arrived home, Alexander was not interested in watching TV at all.  He would ignore it.  Now he enjoys watching videos with the family.  He repeats some simple words and actions that he hears and sees on videos.

6. Sleep

When Alexander first came home, he used to have to rock himself to sleep each night.  This would usually include a period of time of banging the back of his head against the wall.  He would wake up several times during the night and repeat the process.  He had a quarter sized callous, bald area on the back of his head, and a little lump back there too.

Thankfully, after a few months, this behavior was completely gone.  It's just a memory now.  Alexander sleeps soundly through the night.  We tuck him into bed just like we do the other kids, and he lies down and goes to sleep like his siblings.  Sleep problems are common among children with traumatic pasts, so this is a very big blessing and one that we don't take for granted.

New Year's Eve 2014 in Harrisburg, PA
He didn't like having a blanket covering him when he arrived home.  On New Year's Eve, we spent the night in a hotel en route from South Carolina to our new home in New Jersey.  And that was the first time that he accepted having a blanket on him.  He liked being tucked in with a blanket from that night onward, until summer arrived.  He hasn't wanted a blanket all summer long.  We will see if the approaching cooler weather will bring about a change of preference for him in this matter.  Not accepting blankets is a common phenomenon in children with orphanage backgrounds, so we're not sure how much of this is due to his orphanage history and how much was weather- and comfort-related.

So how are we going to celebrate this amazing milestone?  By being together as a united family of 8, lots of playing, and a visit to Double Trouble State Park (doesn't NJ have the funniest attraction names?)!  And tomorrow, Sunday Mass together with overflowing thankful hearts!  This journey has been very difficult and overwhelming at times.  But may we never lose sight of what an amazing blessing each and every one of our children is, and how very rich we are in the ways that truly matter.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Summer 2015 Update

Time to catch up on what has been happening around here during the last few months!

Mother's Day 2015, exploring the Jersey shore and freezing our feet off

At the end of April, Sean took his last actuary exam, and we found out a couple of months later that he passed!  Praise be to God!  This is a career accomplishment 11 years in the making. To celebrate this milestone and to take advantage of our new location, we visited the White Mountains of New Hampshire for a few days in May.  Now we've seen every state on the East Coast (and then some) except for Rhode Island!

Hiking to Diana's Baths waterfall in the White Mountains
Isn't this a neat little tool to map out the states where you have been?  I can't believe we've been to half of the states already!

25 states have been visited by a Bailey (50%)
Create your own visited map of The United States or Amsterdam travel guide for Android

On the Fourth of July, we celebrated one year since a judge in Bulgaria declared Alexander to be our legal son!  We visited the nearby Revolutionary War historic site of Fort Nonsense.  Seriously.  There is a real historic site called Fort Nonsense just a short drive from home!  What more perfect place for a crazy family like us to visit?!

Then the Bailey Summer Birthday Marathon commenced, starting with Sean's 33rd.

We were blessed to have a visit from Sean's parents at the end of July and beginning of August.

Paul was next, turning 6 the day after they left.  Look at the blue birthday cake icing mustache!

A week later, our family went on a 2800 mile road trip down to Georgia and Florida, with more grandparent bonding time.  We managed to visit both sets of grandparents, and also Sean's sister.  The kids traveled so well, and the trip was well worth every mile spent in the van!
The 8 of us plus Samantha's parents

Then just this week we had the double-whammy back-to-back birthdays of Leo, who turned 1, and Felix, who turned 3 the next day.
Already learning how to blow out candles!
(But he did need some help--shhh, don't tell him that!)

Felix doesn't put down his 99% finished apple cores until he is 100% done.
Not even for birthday cake!
After cake and playground time, we gave all the boys (except for still-mostly-bald Leo) a much-needed haircut.  And Felix got his very first haircut!  Now Felix looks so much like Leo!  Look at this photo of the two of them playing together--they look like twins:
You can tell which one is Felix by the ever-present apple in his hand.

Next month we will celebrate our one year anniversary of becoming a united family of 8.  I've never had a year feel simultaneously so short and so long.  That must be what happens when many major life changes are crammed into a short period of time.  Two new kids, a new home, new state, and new job all in just over four months.  We are finally emerging from survival mode, and it feels good!
Enjoying the last days of summer, the day Leo turned 1.

I will have to do another blog post soon about how Alexander has grown and developed since joining our family.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

One Year Since Goodbye

It is Holy Saturday today, and tomorrow Alexander will be celebrating his first Easter with us.  We don't know how much (if at all) Easter and other holidays were celebrated in his orphanage, so this might well be his first Easter celebration ever. 

While we are happily planning fun family times this weekend, it was a very different kind of day on April 4 2014.  It was the last time Sean visited with our little Soshko in the orphanage, and he had the very difficult task of telling our sweet boy goodbye until he was allowed to come back to take him home five months later.

The last orphanage visit, April 4, 2014
It was a heartbreaking day, and one that still makes us emotional to think about.  We knew it was going to be hard, but nothing prepared us for the reality of that farewell.  It is a gross understatement to say it was "hard" to walk away from our son, leaving him in a place where he was neglected and malnourished and the size of a child half his age. 

Alexander LOVES snow and is enjoying the last of the late winter/early spring snow showers.
Back in April of 2014, we felt like we would never get to the end of our adoption journey.  But thankfully now our little guy is home and safe and growing and learning, and we get to celebrate Easter as a whole family this year, with all our members under one roof!  Thanks be to God! 

We are so rich in snuggles!  And toys on the floor, but don't mind that...
Please don't forget all the little ones still waiting for a family, especially those who soon will be aging out of the chance for a family.  Pray for them, share them, and if you are able, consider giving financially or taking the first steps toward growing your own family through adoption

This past Tuesday marked exactly 1 year since Sean and Alexander met for the first time.

And may you all have a very blessed Easter season! 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Adventures of a Family of 8!

Sean and Alexander (who we've been calling Soshko--it's the English phonetic spelling of the Bulgarian nickname for Alexander, and what his caregivers called him in the orphanage) got home safely from Bulgaria, we all settled in, siblings became friends, and we moved to a new state 700 miles away.  Life has been intense adding a newborn and an almost 5-year-old with special needs, who doesn't speak English, to our family within weeks of each other mere months before navigating a major move.  So... the blog went by the wayside for a bit.

Time to catch up!

The rest of the pick up trip went well.  Soshko became an American Citizen when the plane touched down in Charlotte.
Chilling with Daddy's sunglasses on the plane

We had a very sweet reunion at the airport when Sean and Soshko got home.  On September 17, around 5:30 pm, we were united as a family of 8!

First photo as a family of 8

Soshko was a bit stressed, having spent the last couple of hours on the plane crying.  But when he realized he was done with the plane, he soon cheered up and grabbed hold of Rosemary's hand, happily skipping with her all the way to the car.

I buckled him up in his car seat for the first time.  He looks so small here!

And we went to McDonalds for supper on our way home from the airport.  Our first meal together as a family of 8.  Soshko had been eating mainly yogurt in Bulgaria, so we ordered him a smoothie and a yogurt.  He enjoyed them, but he enjoyed feeding spoonfuls of his smoothie to his siblings even more!


A week and a half later, Leo and Soshko were baptized together in a small, quiet ceremony by our wonderful pastor Fr. Andrew Trapp of Transfiguration Catholic Church.  What a blessing!  Neither of the boys cried, although after the water was poured on his head, Soshko tried to splash in the baptismal font full of water for the rest of the service.

Soshko celebrated his first real birthday, where he turned five years old.  He loved the cake, balloons, and party hats.  But he didn't like wearing party hats on his head.  Instead, he decided they were for stacking inside each other and placing around the house like safety cones!

This is what happens when your sister picks your candle...
And both of our new additions celebrated their first Halloween and Thanksgiving with us.

Sean took the big kids trick-or-treating while I cuddled the little ones at home.
We all shared the loot!
Thanksgiving lunch after the great experience of delivering Thanksgiving Meals on Wheels.

Leo and Soshko met both sets of their grandparents from out of state.

 Joey turned 10!

And I turned 33!
Photo courtesy of Joey :)

Sean got an offer for a great new job in New Jersey, so Advent and Christmas was spent packing and moving from South Carolina.

But even with the chaos of moving, we were able to celebrate the birth of Christ and have a happy time with friends and family.
Photo by Miss Rosemary :)
 A couple of days after Christmas the movers came to whisk us away to our new home.  We stopped to hunt geocaches along the way, like this one at the Ben Salem Lock in Virginia.

Finally, we arrived home sweet home on New Years Day! 

A couple of days later, Rosemary turned 8!
Like Soshko's boots?  One of the perks of having a big sister.

And now you're all caught up with what's been going on here with us for the last 4 months.  Soshko handled the move unbelievably well, showing no signs at all of stress or insecurity during the transition.  Sean is enjoying his new job (today he finishes his first week there).  The kids and I are settling in and enjoying SNOW and a real winter at last!
It's all fun and games until someone gets hit in the face with a snowball...
That's all for now!
God bless,

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Trip to the Mall on the Metro (9/11/14)

Today’s big adventure was a trip to the Mall of Sofia.  Rather than taking a walk to the mall or a taxi, we (again, myself, Soshko, and the Clauses) took the Sofia Metro.

But first, the number of smoke breaks for yesterday's hospital trip – I honestly cannot tell.  Dani was in the hospital the entire time and therefore could not/would not smoke.  Marty was not in the hospital so he probably had more freedom as to his smoking.  However, before we came back, they both had a smoke.  I would contend that before I came down, they probably both had a smoke, and I would guess that Marty could have had two smokes while we were in there, so that means that….six could have been reasonable.  But in the end I cannot say, so unfortunately, we all lose.  Thanks for playing!
OK, so the metro is probably familiar to many folks who live in a big city, but it is a little scary considering that you can’t read the Bulgarian and have a very loose (at best) concept of where everything is.  So, with some research and careful planning, I was able to find the route on the metro to go from the closest metro station to the metro station outside of the mall.

Now that’s great….but you have to do it, not just plan it.  Ah….that’s the tricky part.

First issue to deal with is that Soshko was not feeling cooperative and to be honest a little on the tired side.  The last couple of mornings, he had awoken at 5:00 or so and was not napping or going to bed in a commensurately appropriate hour in the evening.  So, feeling a lucky, I strapped the Ergo (our little person carrier) to my back sans Soshko in the hopes that he would prefer to ride on my back rather than walking.

Yeah, that didn’t work out.

Soshko was fantastically rebellious all the way from the hotel to the local metro station.  It was to the point that I had said that if he didn’t get better by the metro station, I would abort my end of the deal.  So, once I saw that he was still rebelling a little at the station, I decided to go anyway.  Way to make a plan and stick with it!  You get a golden star by your name!

One thing that was a pain in the rear was that Soshko insisted on holding this plastic container of mostly empty water (yeah – I’m going to leave that misplaced modifier…really wonder what empty, or mostly empty, water tastes like).  He would have a grip on the container for about 25 steps before it would start to slip from his hands at which point Soshko would let go of my hand and then readjust the water bottle before moving onward.

Another thing is that Soshko insisted on pillaging Levi’s toy music box again.  The Clauses agreed to relinquish the toy in the hopes of a peaceful trip; Levi was doing awesome.

So anyway, here we are where Soshko insists on me holding his wrists while we walk.  And most importantly, hold the wrist with the water so that he could operate the toy with his other hand.  Every few steps he needed to adjust his water hand and it made walking slow going.  Every five minutes or so we had to slow down for tantrum meltdowns.  So, I just wanted to let you know what is going on the background as we got through this next part.

The metro station that we were at was one stop away from the main hub, the crossroads of the two lines.  Oh yeah, I guess it would be helpful to explain that there are two lines.  Oh, you know what, you can see what its like for yourself:

OK, so we started at the Lavov Most station (probably translates to Lions’ Bridge station) and we needed to go to the Opalchenska station.  So, the route we needed to take was to go one stop to Serdika and then change lines and go one stop over to Opalchenska.

One difficulty was that the signs for the trains did not show what was the next exit (e.g. Serdika).  Rather, they showed two other places that I guess was to show the two extremes.  Kind of like if you were in Kansas City and you were at a train station.  You wanted to go to Denver and the two trains to choose from were Washington DC or San Francisco.  You would choose San Francisco.

Well anyway, we fumbled through it and figured it out.  The signs were very easy to follow when it came to switching lines in Serdika.  We figured which train to wait for, took it, and arrived at the Opalchenska stop which is approximately one block from the Mall of Sofia.

“Blah blah blah,” a girl said to us.  It was in Bulgarian.

“I don’t understand,” one of us responded.  I think that it was Josh, but I could be wrong.

“Oh, uhm.  Do you know where the mall is?” she asked.  Obviously in English since I knew what to write.  At this point Soshko collapsed onto the floor into a fit and I couldn’t keep up with what happened next.  But I was amused that even the locals had issues trying to find this thing.  Eventually we figured out where the mall was.

The mall itself was quite interesting.  There were three levels with stores and a couple of lower levels for parking.  Overall, it was quite large and quite busy.  At least in my neck of the woods, malls tend to be dying out, so this was a pleasant surprise considering that I wanted this to be the stop for our metro mission.

We spent the first 15 minutes or so trying to get a feel for the place.  We all agreed that it was much larger than any of the malls that were around us.  Soshko had his first ride on an escalator and his first meltdown in the middle of a mall.  Once he calmed down a bit, we got him strapped to my back where he went to sleep for about 10-15 minutes.

Even though it was much larger and livelier than other American malls, it also was very much the same as any other mall.  There wasn’t anything that set it apart from other malls other than the size.
While Soshko slept, I hit a bookstore and picked up some goodies for the kids.  I also picked up, on recommendation from the store clerk, two Bulgarian metal albums.  When I read through the lyrics later though, I realized why – again – that I chose to listen to Christian metal.  Overall, the sound is enjoyable (for those that like metal) and is well done, but I’m just not a secular metal kind of a guy.  These may turn into souvenirs….

Oh well, Soshko woke up just as I was checking out.  He was loud.

We then tried some of the Italian gelato, in the hopes that Soshko would enjoy it.  He is the first kid that I know of who would turn down ice cream…really!  It probably was that the temperature threw him for a loop and that he probably did not get much sweet/cold stuff at the orphanage.

After that we went to the Happy Grill, a chain restaurant in Bulgaria that has pretty nifty menus with pictures of the dishes.  I think that the menus also are in Bulgarian and in English.  Anyway, Soshko was more than happy to oblige in a sit down at a restaurant because he knew that he was getting food.
Unfortunately for me, I did not have any food for Soshko, so I was hoping that they would have some yogurt or something that he would like to eat at the Happy Grill.  I did pack a yogurt (and honey), but when I tried to feed him at the subway in an attempt to diffuse his tantrum, he refused to eat it.  Not having any other option to store it, I had to toss it.

Well anyway, just for further background, most of the sauces in Bulgaria are yogurt based.  So, in other words, I was pretty certain that they had some yogurt in the kitchen, so I felt pretty comfortable in ordering some yogurt for Soshko.  Here comes Ms. Sunshine, our waitress and….

What?  No yogurt?  No really, I can’t order yogurt?  I was in a pickle.  Considering that he had been eating bread all along, I reasoned that I might be able to get by feeding him bits and bobs from my plate.

Once everyone’s food arrived, Soshko started to pipe up in anticipation of some nice yummies.  I offered him some fries from my plate, and he wouldn’t have anything to do with them.  I offered him water and he wouldn’t take it.  He was starting to get restless and I started to give up hope.


He started to grab towards the sauce ramekins on Chelsea's and Josh’s plates. 

“He can have them.”

Score!  I gave him the first forkful and he liked it.  Between forkfuls of the sauce I wolfed down my lunch.

After lunch, the Clauses needed to go shoe shopping for Levi so Soshko and I joined along in their hunt for some better fitting kicks.  Once found, we headed back to the hotel the same way we came.
One thing that I figured out about the little guy is that his tantrums do not last forever.  If I can just stick with him and wait it out, he usually comes around.

Well, off to bed for me!

St. Christopher, Pray for us!
God bless,