Saturday, June 30, 2012

Potatoes and Spuds

So the last post was a bit of a downer. Life seems to always be a couple of steps forward and a couple of steps back, and we're never promised fairness. That was a lesson my Bible study group talked about at our last get-together as we discussed Zephaniah. We have greatly appreciated the e-mails we've received from some of the others on our tour. Just knowing that we're sharing experiences helps a lot. It also helped to get further from the experience of over-exposing Henry on Sunday. He and I are going to duck out right after the message this Sunday to avoid over-kill with him.

Jenn went hiking with Diane today in the morning while I took the kids to Jubilee Donuts. They got into that big-time. It also gave Jenn a break from the week. Then, she took Lincoln to Hattie's at First & Main in Hudson for lunch. They shared a HUGE milkshake and then went toy shopping afterward. And then they stopped at Gymboree, and I have to give Jenn credit for leaving the store without spending over $3,000. Lincoln needed some one-on-one time, and Jenn has been feeling like she doesn't get many opportunities to spend that time with him given the situation with the sub-two-year-old population in our home.
The Mr. Potato Head set that the MacDermotts gave to Lincoln a while back has made an reappearance, and this time Lydia is all about putting body parts where you might not necessarily expect them. Here is a collection of what Lincoln, Lydia and I put together. Henry helped by scattering them around the floor so as to further randomize Lydia's "art."

Lincoln got back in the kitchen last weekend helping Jenn make some cupcakes that turned out pretty good. Credit Grandma Laura with the idea of chocolate chip cookie dough on the bottom, a Reese's Dark Peanutbutter Cup in the middle, and brownie batter over top. Yum.
Santas Sammi & Zuzu made a summer-time appearance at the Clinic this past week. Their owners are my absolute best clients, and it's humbling how well they keep up with our kids and the current and soon-to-be-added sons of Kristina, my senior technician at the Clinic. They delivered Lydia a doll, Henry a bowling set, and Lincoln some Matchbox cars (which he races down his slide in the basement!). For all three there was a inflatable water toy that we've used to cool off during the 90's that have come our way.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


We've had a bit of a setback recently at the Gates Home. It's hard to say if we expected it or not. After last week's progress with Henry seeming to open up, show his personality and demonstrate comfort with his surroundings, this week has shown a step backwards.

Mondays are have consistently proven difficult for Jenn. Over the weekend, we're both around to divide our attention amongst the kids. Between naps and general kid-busyness, they each get a good amount of one-on-one time. But when Monday rolls around, and I go back to work, there's Jenn and three kids. This week Lincoln has been going to Vacation Bible School at Grandma & Grandpa's church and he loves it! But there's still Lydia and Henry, and while Lydia is okay with playing by herself or at least not having Jenn's undivided attention all of the time, Henry is not yet at that point. When he doesn't get what he wants when he wants it, he goes into "fit-throwing" mode. And it's wearing. Jenn. Out.

Perhaps we overdid it on Sunday, with going to worship in the morning and going to a cook-out with friends in the evening. There were lots of folks who hadn't seen Henry yet that wanted to see him and there was a lot going on right around him.
As good as he did at the park with our community group a while back, we anticipated that he'd be okay with hanging out in the back yard of our friends with Jenn and me. But he was anxious and didn't want to be put down to walk around at all. If these events made him feel uneasy, that was not good preparation for Monday. But it's the reality with which we dealt.

It's been difficult to not want to build quickly on progress that we've seen. Those outside our situation may think to themselves, "Well, duh!" But it's an entirely different thing to be living in the situation, to be tied down to the house and want to get out with friends and have a break from the neediness. Some may also say that it's only been four weeks since we've been home, and that's not a long time in the grand scheme of things, but in the moment, it sure feels long. But doing too much is not helping Henry feel secure, and when he doesn't feel secure, we all pay the price. Hopefully we'll be able to look back on this time and see that it was one step backward amidst several steps forward.

Some things that are funny about Henry and the areas where he is fitting nicely into his routine are that he rolls over on his back for his diaper changes and he now begs (grunts, really) for his stories. Just three weeks ago he didn't want story-time at all.

We enjoy Lincoln's arrival home from VBS because he seems to remember about 60% of the information from the day, and we're never sure which 60% it's going to be. He remembers the songs, and those are fun to sing with him. For instance, "God made me Thumb-body special!" And the inflatables! Oh, the inflatables! He reminds us routinely that he has a lot of fun on the inflatables.

Lydia is starting to say her ABC's. Not consistently, yet, but she wants to be able to say them, so with some coaching and playing along, she'll either start at some point in the middle of the alphabet on her own, or she'll fill in the blanks if we start it for her. Her eczema is also improving with the Aveeno lotion that Jenn started last week. It remains to be seen if this is true, long-term eczema, or if it was something like a lingering heat rash. In any event, her skin is much more calm, and she's not as miserable as she was two weeks ago.

One oasis for Jenn has been a group of ladies that recently started meeting on Thursday evenings. Two of other three are in our community group, so there's good familiarity, and it gives all of them a chance to get away from their homes for a bit and talk and work through their Bible study. Times like this with people like this are invaluable with life circumstances like this.

I'm still in the prepping phase for this year's Men's Retreat: FREQUENCY to be held at the Leesville Lake cabin in August. I've really appreciated having a couple of buddies to help me with the planning this year. The last two years, while I recruited four outstanding speakers for the Saturday lesson times, I planned by myself. Lots of guys gave me lots of positive feedback, but it was a stressful thing to do all of the planning, and without other guys off of whom to bounce ideas, I was never sure how things would be received. This year, Andy & Manny, the two guys in my Bible study group, have provided great feedback, ideas and guidance over the past seven months for the upcoming retreat and we're really looking forward to it.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

In The Wagon

Well, nobody is really smiling in this photo, and in fact this bunch looks flat out unhappy, but we did have a fun walk and wagon ride last evening.

This past Tuesday seems to have been the turning point for Henry, and by extension, for Jenn and me. Something clicked with Henry and he is noticably more comfortable with life. The copious amounts of prayer on his behalf and the intervention of the Hand of God are, no doubt, the foundation of this change.
  • he's less stressed about food (though he can still be known to beg and to stuff his face... just with less urgency)
  • he's better about naptime and going to bed (though there's still some improvement to be made)
  • he's playing and interacting with Lincoln and Lydia
  • he's not emotionally breaking down in his car seat (Lincoln has been praying for this aspect of his development daily)
  • his bath times are more playing and less crying
The client that I mentioned a few posts ago who adopted from Russia told me her son really started to "get it" at three weeks, and that's exactly what Henry has done. It's nice to see this, and it's nice to get back to the feeling that, yes, we actually did do the right thing and that, no, we didn't make a huge mistake. You may laugh or not take that very seriously, but those are the thoughts that go through the mind of parents of adopted toddlers, and it's been interesting to exchange e-mails with our China-trip friends who have expressed similar feelings. It's also neat to "see" some of Henry's counterparts blossoming, such as Lucy, Ethan and Nicholas.

God had/has a plan for these kids. That's one of the interesting things about our answering the question that some ask, "Why China?" There are many answers that we have, but one of them is, "An orphan is an orphan is an orphan, and God knows them all equally, no matter what side of the world they're on." It's amazing to think of kids who were once sitting in poor orphanages in a country of over a billion people and have now ended up in out-of-the-way towns in Ohio, Minnesota, Kansas, Indiana and Illinois, among other places with moms and dads and brothers and sisters and grandparents that love them. Wow. Just... wow.

Lydia's been struggling with her skin, and word is it's eczema. Hopefully this is just a phase. She's been itchy, and sometimes pretty uncomfortable. Jenn and I hate to see her be uncomfortable. The doctor suggested some new strategies, so we're hopeful that she'll respond in time.

Tomorrow will be the Gates Family's second trip as a bunch to church. Never a dull moment! And then next week Lincoln will go with Grandma to Vacation Bible School!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Flashes of Personality

We've touched on it in our previous blog posts, but adopting a toddler brings on challenges that are so unique that only others who have adopted toddlers can know, understand, and appreciate what all is going on in the mind of the adoptive families. Until bonding takes place, there are many, many challenges. Many of those challenges have waxed and waned in our home, and admittedly, Jenn is bearing the brunt of these challenges because I'm away at work for most of the day. Weekends and my off days are pretty good, because we can run a 2 on 3 defense. When one of us has to run 1 on 3, it gets tough. No, no, no, it's not the work that's tough, it's the emotionally draining aspect of helping the adopted child to develop security while also devoting the necessary time to the other kids in the home. Again, nobody ever blogs on this subject, and I can assure you that this is a sanitized overview. For you adoptive families reading this post, you know what I'm talking about.
Sunday was a cool day, as it was our first Sunday for all of us to go to church together. Henry was a bit overwhelmed at first but the three kids did well for worship, then Lydia went to class for the sermon, Henry and Jenn went to the kids area in the atrium, and Lincoln sat with me. All in all, it was a good training day for the Gates kids.

Today brought on two very neat developments. It wasn't that Henry napped for a grand total of 45 minutes. That is, most definitely, not the good news to document.

First, at dinner time tonight (a great meal from Bob Evans brought to us by the Keller family!), I fed Henry a bite of strawberry pie, looked at him and said, "Mmm Mmmm!" He then responded with his own, "Mmm Mmmm!" And it was clear that he understood that this was his first real verbal response and interaction with us. He smiled as we've never seen him smile (and we've seen some big smiles out of him), clapped his hands, and we could visibly see that he was very pleased with himself. And we were very pleased to see this little shred of personality start to show through.

Secondly, I set up the sprinkler for the kids in the front yard this evening, and Henry played alongside Lincoln and Lydia, even to the point of getting his hair and face wet and continuing to play. This is a HUGE development. Again, it's little shreds of sunlight like this that help to make the draining, parasite-like stages a bit more bearable.
A client of mine who brought a little boy home from Russia just 3 weeks before we left to get Henry was in today with her dog, and we talked for quite a while about her experience with her son. Every word that proceeded from her mouth was consistent with thoughts and feelings and emotions that Jenn has been having. Just like Jenn's interaction with the doctor from Oak Adoptive Health and our social worker, Julie, my time with this particular client was like a window into the future and a breath of fresh air. The days that are passing right now are laying the foundation for what is to come in our relationship with Henry.

On two occasions in the past three days Henry has not cried when we've put him in his car seat. This, too, is a major development.
Sucking his fingers is not the cleanest habit, but it has been made very clear that this behavior is the only thing that he has that is his. A family was telling us about how after adopting their daughter at several years of age they took her to get some new shoes, as the shoes she brought from the orphanage were too small for her feet. She had a meltdown in the store because she thought she'd have to exchange her shoes for the new ones, and her shoes were the only thing that she had to hold onto. Sucking his fingers is Henry's self-soothing behavior, and in his mind, it's the only thing he has that belongs to him.

Henry likes to take the "Trouble" game pieces and put them on his fingers... and note the belly.
Much of the blogging has related to Henry's addition to our family, but Lincoln and Lydia have been doing well. Lydia is crazy, climbing everything, obsessing about Big Rock Candy Mountain, living in her own little world, finding a mess to make in even the cleanest of circumstances.

Lincoln couldn't be a better brother for Henry at this stage. We're dealing with many of the things that come with being a four-year-old, but we're working on the right way to help him come along, and he's responding pretty well. I started reading one of Frank Peretti's old Cooper Kids books to him. Yes, it's a little ambitious, a chapter book with no pictures, and after I got to the end of the first paragraph I didn't think he'd comprehend any of it. But I pressed on a bit, and he started asking questions about what I'd just read! It was pretty cool. As I finished the first chapter, he wanted to read on, but we're going to take it a chapter at a time.

I called up a YouTube video for the kids, and this is the trance-like state they go into when the tube is on.

Henry loves to wear Lincoln's safety glasses.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Raiding the Pantry

Lydia and Henry are already teaming up. Henry loves to eat all the time. Lydia would love to eat all the time. Henry doesn't yet know how to get into the boxes of food. Lydia does. Need I say more?
Yesterday Jenn took Henry for his first doctor's visit and it went pretty well. He had to ride in his car seat (induced screaming/crying), to donate lots of blood (induced screaming/crying), and then he had to ride home in his car seat (induced screaming/crying), but this is how Henry will learn what it means to live in the Gates Family. We learned that after 6 months of age they pretty much stopped preventive medicine with him, but what was most valuable was Jenn's conversation with the doctor. Much of what we've been experiencing over the past couple of weeks is entirely normal, and that under the circumstances, Henry is making pretty good progress.

This was confirmed later in the day with our first visit with our social worker since the adoption. She, too, was very, very helpful in sharing information that she'd gathered from other adoptive families over the years. Last evening he began initiating some play and some tickling, which is welcome to see.
Lydia is now putting two words together: "more please," "my turn," "mommy's turn."

Lincoln missed the whole day because he was at Leesville Lake with Grandpa Doug. They left on Tuesday evening after 8:00pm, later than Lincoln's bedtime, and he didn't actually get to bed until after 10:00pm. Then he woke up with the sun on Wednesday morning and had a *full* day of fishing, splashing, working, shooting, blueberry pancake-eating fun. Guess who came home tired?
Friends have been bringing dinners over for the past two weeks and they've been fabulous. Not only have the dinners tasted wonderful, but the time that this frees up for Jenn is truly valuable. Thanks to the McGlones, Kiels, Ducharmes and Fetters!
Last evening also started the official Vacation 2013 Planning Season! That's right, we just keep bouncing from one thing to another, and 2013 will likely bring the Gates-Gates-Hopwood family back to the Outer Banks! We were last there in '09, and things have changed a bit in the meantime. Ella will be similar in age and life stage to where Lincoln was on that trip, and we'll have a pair of 2.5 year olds running around the sand, too.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Week 2... Action!

As the Gates Experiment adjusts to the new constant, and Henry continues to learn The Gates Way, and The Gates Way makes the necessary adjustments to Henry, Jenn and I have found a few extra moments to snap some photos.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Outdoor Water Fun

Some good strides have been made this weekend as Henry is starting to show that he's getting a little bit comfortable with life in America. Lots of Cheerios have been offered and consumed in our quest to show him that he can count on us to meet his needs, and this has helped him relax in a number of situations in which he was previously anxious and fearful (e.g. changing diaper after naptime, bathtime, and generally throughout the day when things aren't completely meeting his expectations). While the constant availability of food runs completely against the Ryan & Jenn Gates Grain and flies in the face of our biological child-rearing philosophy, it is a necessity for building trust with and raising adopted toddlers. Don't argue with it, just accept it and play the game.

One piece of fruit that has yielded is Henry's comfort in the bath tub. Last evening I got in the tub with him, and he fussed at first, but because he was able to keep touch with me, he relaxed and eventually began playing with his bath toys and splashing in the water. This is a dramatic improvement over mid-last-week, and it is signs of progress such as this that serve as stress relievers for Jenn and for me. And before we take the credit, I've got to say that when significant progress has been made, it has followed an evening of intense, earnest, specific prayer. It's quite faith-affirming to see the LORD work in Henry's development.
Church, we feel, is something we feel for which Henry is not yet ready. To busy, too many faces, too many people wanting to get too close for his comfort. We need to cement the bonding at home for a while longer. So Jenn took Lincoln and Lydia today and I hung out with Henry and did church on the internet, but it was clear that L & L had been out of routine. Lydia cried a bunch when going to class, and Lincoln just wouldn't go into his classroom. Such is life right now. Not only are Henry, Jenn and I on the edge of being worn out, Lincoln and Lydia are also physically and mentally tired.

And that's why our pre-lunch activity and lunchtime fun were so important. We set up a buket full of water and the sprinkler for the kids to enjoy the hot weather outside, and they had a blast, then everyone ate a good lunch and went down for a good nap. This is how we're getting everyone back on track: set up a routine, and mix in a bunch of fun.