Sunday, 29 May 2011

Garage Sale Fun

This weekend was the big garage sale- it turned out great despite some icky weather on Saturday, and we made enough to cover our three post-placement visits! After we moved it from the previous weekend we also expanded it to Friday/Saturday, which turned out to be much better because Friday we sold quite a bit and had many customers and Saturday was much slower. It was work, but it was also a lot of fun because I got to hang out with my Tuesday bible study friends for two days straight, and our children had the chance to play together too. Tommy had a blast playing with all the big kids.

The garage sale had one other big perk: new stuff! Even though we intended to use the garage sale to get rid of stuff, I think we all managed to swap some things too. Sadly, Susan walked away with the true old wig...but not before Nic took some hilarious pictures wearing it. As soon as I get copies I promise they will be posted. I scored an adorable Halloween costume for Nicolas, then at the end of the sale I grabbed a few more, not for him to wear at Halloween, just for him to wear for my amusement. It is probably a little evil of me to dress my little boy as a kitty cat just for fun (and pictures), but from experience I know that I have a very limited time to dress him up...soon he will be protesting my wardrobe choices and insisting on wearing a Thomas the Train shirt EVERY day...sigh. We also found a cute suit for Nicolas to wear to a wedding we are attending Sunday, which was a huge relief because he has already outgrown his portrait suit!

Here are the pictures of Nicolas' various outfits. I wish I could post some pictures of Tommy as well, but he has not been cooperating with the camera as much these days.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Tommy's Birthday, Round Two

Since Jeff was in Africa for Tommy's birthday, we planned to have a "do-over" when Jeff and Nicolas got home and things settled down. It took some time, but last weekend we decided we should probably not wait too much longer, as we had already waited a whole month to give Tommy his birthday presents! Poor kid.

You will not surprised to learn that we went (once again) to Uncle Bub's. Tommy rarely wants to go anywhere else. Thankfully, he was willing to pose for pictures...

Tommy got two presents: a little broom and dustpan set and a Cars DVD. Tommy loves "helping" clean while I am working. Typically this means playing bumper I decided a small broom might be a bit more productive. I know it sounds lame, but he was actually rather excited about it and has been putting it to good use (yay!). It goes without saying that he loves the Cars movie. What little boy doesn't?

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Crazy Times

Although we have been going out and doing things for the past few weeks, overall we've had a fairly free schedule. It's been nice. We've had time to nest, recover from our trip, get the apartment into a semblance of order, and ease back into our activities.

Then, this week, our lives got suddenly hectic. I'm not sure if it was the rescheduling of the big garage sale (due to rain predicted last weekend), Jeff inviting a friend from work to dinner, or (and this is really it) me forgetting about and then remembering that the first post-placement visit from our social worker is tomorrow.

Now, our social worker is great. She is supportive of us, and, while she is of course doing her job to make sure that we are taking care of our children, she is in no way out to get us or hostile or scary. That said, every time, without fail, it completely stresses me out when she comes to visit. I feel so inspected. I feel like I have to dust behind my dresser, even though I know that she will not be checking for dust. You can imagine what I have been up to in my "free" (hah!) time these days, and yes it involves reorganizing areas of the house that she would never get near, because she really does not care how my shoes are stacked in the closet. I am paranoid. I know I am paranoid, but way the system works in our state just really makes you feel like someone is out to get you. Thus, I scrub.

Tonight we took a little break from frantic cleaning to go to see an Ugandan children's choir. It was awesome. The kids were fantastic, just shining with joy. Listening to the music, watching the dancing, and listening to their accents made me miss Uganda so much. My heart was aching to go back. Tommy had a great time, and really started to rock out after he got comfortable. Nic seemed to like it too, although mostly he just hung out and looked cute (his M.O.). We met another adoptive family who is sort of close by, and even met a relative of one of our Ugandan friends! What a great and refreshing night. Now it's rather late and I have dishes from dinner to do. Our social worker called just as we were finishing our meal and heading out and let us know she would be coming by a bit earlier than seven hours. Yikes!

After our visit we will be heading out to set up for the big garage sale, which has expanded to two days...Friday and Saturday. It will be a lot of work, but it should also be a lot of fun! Now, I just have to finish making those signs...

Monday, 23 May 2011

Blessed Either Way

Looking at the date today I realized that we are just under two months away from going in to get the results from Nicolas' second set of tests, the tests that should explain what is going on with his blood, give us an idea of his life expectancy, and prepare us for what to expect from the coming years. As I've shared before, the doctor believes that the most likely outcome of the tests is that his fetal hemoglobin will have decreased significantly, leading to a diagnosis of sickle cell disease. If that is the case, then we will probably never have a medical explanation for why Nicolas' body continued to make fetal hemoglobin long after most people's bodies stop. The presence of this mysterious blood is the reason that Nicolas doesn't have a definitive diagnosis now (well, that and insurance company protocols for DNA testing), and the reason that our lives are in this weird medical limbo for the next few months.

Now, you can bet that we are praying like crazy that Nicolas has that second hemoglobin disorder, the one that would actually explain the presence of those fetal cells and allow him to live a mostly normal life. Obviously that is the best possible outcome from our perspective. But, the way I see it, whether those special fetal blood cells continue to course through his veins or not, they were a huge blessing to him and to us. If in three months Nic's fetal hemoglobin cells are greatly diminished, I will be so thankful he had them for as long as he did, even if they brought a period of (unwelcome and unwanted) uncertainty to our lives.

Here's something you might not know about fetal hemoglobin: fetal hemoglobin is the current best treatment for sickle cell disease. If Nicolas does in fact have sickle cell disease he will eventually take drugs that prompt his body to produce fetal hemoglobin (isn't science amazing?), as fetal hemoglobin cells help keep sickle cells flowing through a person's body in a more normal manner instead of jamming up in various veins and organs and causing problems. Nicolas' current high level of fetal hemoglobin is likley responsible for his apparent fantastic health (really, this kid looks so healthy), and his total lack of complications thus far even though sickle cell disease can cause problems in infants as young as four months of age. They explain his healthy spleen, his lack of finger and toe swelling (dactylitis), his excellent growth rate (we were told he was very small as a newborn and now he is in the 50th percentile for height/weight on American growth charts which means he has been growing fast- infants with sickle cell usually have delayed growth), and his lack of infections. When you consider the quality of medical care he would have received had he gone through any kind of sickle crisis in Congo, caught pneumonia or any other nasty illness that sickle cells makes him more vulnerable to (really there are so many to choose from in the developing world), those fetal blood cells are nothing short of a miracle.

That is why, either way, he has been blessed. If he has that second disorder that will allow his body to continue to produce fetal hemoglobin, we will count it a huge blessing. If the tests reveal that his body has stopped producing fetal hemoglobin, as it should have months ago, we will be grateful that God gave him fetal hemoglobin as long as he did, knowing that it protected him while he was away from us and in a place where first-rate medical care is not available. What a gift his fetal hemoglobin has been to him. And he, in turn, is a gift to us. Thus, whatever the results those tests bring, we are blessed. We have Nicolas, so either way, our joy abounds.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Rock! and Other Highlights From Our Week

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Do I Look Like A Stage Mom?

Actually, I mean the mom of a baby model...but I don't know what the term is for that, so we are going with stage mom. Yes, our baby is beautiful, and soon he will use his incredible long eyelashes to be a PAGEANT QUEEN. Just kidding. Since I don't know how to apply make-up on myself (much less spray tan on a baby), we will probably stay off the pageant circuit. Also, I am pretty sure that pageants are for girls, and Nicolas is most assuredly not a girl, even if most strangers seem to think so.

All of this nonsense was inspired by the fact that he did have his first modeling job...yes, his adorable hands and feet are gracing the artwork of the talented Julie Chen.

For those of you who don't know her, Julie is an amazing friend, mom, and artist who designs for Demdaco and Tyndale and also has an Etsy shop called Life Verse Design. She has had an adoption themed piece in her store for a while now, but, it was a little vanilla. I don't mean vanilla as in plain or boring, I mean vanilla as in all-white. I offered her a little hand with some color, and she added two pieces with verses and one with a poem to her "adoption line." One thing I love about her store is that there are so many options for printing her designs out- you can get them in a range of sizes and print them as photos for matting and framing however you want or have them done on canvas (I've seen some of her other pieces printed on canvas and they look fantastic). Most of her art has a vintage feel, but she has a few things in her modern line if old-fashioned is not your thing. She has non-adoption options, including ones that you can personalize. The shop also features jewelry and stationary, and I heard she also has calendars with handy pockets.

Julie has very generously made us an offer to help with our adoption funding- if you check out her art and decide you would like some- adoption themed or otherwise- and put "Amy's adoption" in the "notes to seller" at check out she will donate 10% of the sale to our adoption fund! This runs through the end of June, so don't dawdle. You know you want some illustrated scripture for your walls! (Click the button on the sidebar to get to her store...and don't forget to write in the note).

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

And Then There Were Three

Some of you have pointed out that we needed a new header, since ... is home and named Nicolas. You will notice that the new title does not have an "and ..." which was a matter of debate between the two blog creators. On the one hand, we are pretty sure that there shouldn't be a period at the end of "Loving Leah, Tommy, and Nicolas" because, God willing, we aren't done. However, there are no buns in our oven, and no plans to renew the home study until things are a little more settled, so, no "and..." for the time being, but hopefully it will be back in the not too distant future.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

This and That

Everything has been wrapping up around here, last week we had our last MOPS, last BSF (that I had to miss because I didn't want to leave Nicolas yet), last Spring storytime, and this week we had our last Tuesday Mom's bible study. It has been a full year for us, and we have been so thankful for our fun schedule and all the amazing support we have received from our friends as we have been on this crazy journey.

This year my Tuesday group did some great studies, and during one of them (I think Radical, but it might have been Crazy Love), we decided that we would all go through our excessive amounts of stuff and have a big garage sale and donate our money to the poor. A few weeks before I left for Congo, they surprised me by announcing that they had been scheming without my knowledge and that really the garage sale that we had all been planning for some "good cause" was going to benefit our adoption. I was so surprised, and we are really excited about it. On top of that, a few of the kids are getting involved and selling their artwork at the sale(oragami and paintings made on demand, I believe), which I think is just about the sweetest thing ever. So, if you are in our area (this is IL not CA) and want some previously loved items that will support a great cause, let me know and I'll send you the address (also, I'll post it on FB). I am trying to put together some cute signs for the sale to let people know a little about Congo, orphans, and Nicolas. I'm a bit challenged in the "making cute signs" area, so I'm recruiting Jeff. However, for those of you who are far away, here are a few of the pictures I am contemplating using:

As you can see from the photos above, we are somehow surrounded by friends who are also talented photographers...remember Tommy's adorable beach shoot? Our awesome Christmas photo? Well, Nicolas had his chance to pose for yet another one of our friends, and while he did not fully cooperate (this was the day after the vaccinations, so he was in a funk), she still got some sweet shots. I really wanted pictures of the two boys together, but Tommy was having none of it because he wanted to play cars and baseball with her kids more than he wanted to sit around and take photos. You will be seeing more from from this shoot soon, because this friend has created some beautiful adoption-themed pieces that I can't wait to soon as she's finished.

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Backstory

Here is a list of things that I think God has been using to prepare our hearts (I'll speak for Jeff because, well, that's what I usually do on this blog) for Nic's diagnosis. I'm sorry it's just a list...I'm too tired to make it all fit together (bottles in the middle of the night are exhausting).

We did an extensive amount of research/training before we adopted Tommy, all of which covered the many medical and emotional issues that children adopted internationally can face. We have entered this process both times prepared for struggles.

When we started the process for adoption number two, we seriously discussed being open to a child with HIV. One of us was a little more hesitant than the other, and thus the idea was set aside. The one who thought it was a good idea firmly believed that by round three, or at least round four, they would be able to make a convincing argument for HIV+ adoption, and that we would bring home a child who was HIV+. Progress was being made on that front. So, can you see how sickle cell isn't that big of a leap for us? We were already talking about "signing up" for specialist visits, medication, and hospital trips...and now we will be doing those things, just not with the child or the disease that we had imagined. I'm not saying that sickle cell isn't a big deal, or that this isn't a huge shift in the life we dreamed of for Nicolas, but it isn't the huge shift that it might be for our family if we were firmly committed to only adopting "healthy" children.

When we accepted a referral with no information other than gender and a tentative age, we knew that sickle cell was a possibility, along with a host of other illnesses (TB, Hepatitis, Syphilis, lead poisoning, etc). We were well aware that we were taking a risk, and we felt (and still feel) that it was a risk well worth taking. DR Congo is one part of Africa with high rates of sickle cell trait and disease, and thus the diagnosis was not entirely shocking.

In Congo I had a great deal of time on my hands while Nicolas was napping. When we were in the dorms I sat in there with him while he napped, and either wrote ridiculously long blog posts or read. Two of the books that I pulled from the guest house library happened to deal with people whose lives took unexpected courses with some fairly amazing things resulting from those surprises. One of them asserted that Christians often regard conflict in their lives negatively, refusing to acknowledge that all great stories have conflict (think of your favorite book or movie, and I'm willing to bet that the plot relied on a fair bit of suffering to move it forward). We all say we want God to write great stories with our lives, but if we really want that we have to be willing to deal with discomfort, and sometimes pain. That has been on my mind a lot in the last few weeks, not in the "wow, I hope really bad things happen to me" way, but in a "focusing on re-framing the way I react to conflict in my life" way. It helped to have that weighing on my mind when we got the news.

We were just in Congo. There suffering is pervasive. The poverty is horrendous and overwhelming. If I have to take my child to the doctor more than most, force pills down his throat twice a day, and end up in the ER/hospital a few times a year...this is nothing compared to what most people living in poverty in the developing world face. I get to take that same sweet child home to a climate controlled environment with sparkling clean water, flushing toilets, soft beds, clean clothes, tons of toys, and a refrigerator stuffed full of food. It puts things in perspective.

Nicolas is ridiculously lovable. He is so sweet, cuddly, cute, jolly, and all around easy to love. Also, he has the longest and thickest eyelashes framing gorgeous big eyes. Have I mentioned he's adorable? I'm not just saying that because he's my child, you can ask my DRC roommate Kelly, who "hated me and my [easy] baby." Obviously, we would have loved Nicolas even if he was ugly and difficult, but having a child with a sweet temperament facilitates bonding. Being reasonably rested because your child sleeps decently facilitates bonding. Having a child you love to stare at facilitates bonding. We were a long way down the attachment and bonding road before this diagnosis. We were head over heels for this boy. Thus, I can say with full confidence that we reacted to this diagnosis the same way we would have if he was out biological child. It stinks, but man, we love him so much that we will do whatever it takes to help him have the best life possible.

We have already whole-heartedly loved an "imperfect" child. Loving and losing Leah changed our lives, not just in re-routing our course toward adoption, but in changing our understanding of what it means to love. It also taught us that sometimes the most beautiful blessings come alongside deep suffering. We know from our past experience that whatever pain and difficulty this diagnosis brings God will use, and that he will sustain us while we struggle.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Fun With My Boys, or Warm Weather, Over-stimulation, and a Clean House

The boys have been keeping me on my toes! Thus far I've found the transition from one child to two to be much easier than from no children in the home to one, but it certainly is more work. It hasn't helped that the boys' naps have not been coinciding for more than a few minutes, leaving me precious little time to do the dishes, clear up clutter, call the doctor, work on our tax review, or breathe.

Today one of the nurses called with some nice news- our HMO has decided to approve the tests that Nicolas needs at the location that our hematologist specified. That might not seem like a big deal, but our HMO works out of one hospital and our hematologist out of another, so there was some doubt as to whether the tests would be performed where/how the hematologist wanted them done. We are so so thankful that our prayers were answered so positively, and so quickly. Now all we have to do is wait until the middle of July for those tests...

We have finally, finally had some nice weather these last few days. I love seeing the sunshine and spending time outside. Yesterday we got out the little pool for the first time. I spent ages blowing it up, and then Tommy spent all of two minutes in it, and a few hours dumping toys/sticks/grass into the water. Nicolas hated it (not surprising since the kid doesn't even like baths), and thus spent his time sunbathing instead of "swimming." I also realized, a little late, that our nice little pool has a not so nice or little gash in the bottom.

Yesterday was actually quite a productive day, as we went to the post office to mail that tax review (whew!), went to Home Depot to get plants for the garden, and -biggest mistake ever- went to Toys R Us to get Tommy a soccer ball for his birthday, and to find a replacement pool. I tend to avoid toy stores, as I figure that they simply increase Tommy's list of "needs" that are really wants, and my theory played itself aisle after aisle. It went something like this:

Wow, Lighting McQueen!
Mom- what's that- I like that (super soaker)
Look Mom, SWORDS! (Cue five minutes of imaginary sword play in the aisle while I looked at new little pools).
Look, it's Lighting McQueen. On a chair!
Mom- I want this! (Holding, I kid you not, a singing Justin Bieber doll).

Finally we found the balls and he picked out a foam one, because apparently he has more sense than I do. I planned to get him a real one. The ball almost distracted him enough to get us out of the store, but not before he spied the one thing he decided he really really wanted- a bike. I think they make them really small these days. I don't remember ever having a bike as small as the one Tommy hopped on, because it was, of course, strategically placed on the floor at the end of the aisle. Thankfully he is three and thus has an attention span of about one minute, and the soccer ball lured him out of the store before he could climb into one of the Cars-themed ride along toys. Needless to say it will be such a long time before I take Tommy to Toys R Us again.

Today we went all of nowhere, because we have been "Spring" cleaning, but for us that is less like a once a year deep cleaning and more like a once a year average cleaning. The boys' room looks great, Tommy has summer clothes and the mess of toys is about as organized as it can ever be. Our living room is also in nice shape, barring a few boxes of adoption paperwork, and all I have left to tackle are one cabinet in the kitchen, two closets, and all the junk that I threw in our bedroom to make the living room look nice. One advantage of living in tight quarters is having very little to vacuum. Next up I plan to tackle a huge stack of crafty type things that I have been meaning to make or fix for some time now.

And, because my mom has been asking, here are some pictures of the boys' room:

And a few more shots of the boys:

Monday, 9 May 2011

Birds of a Feather and My Little Lemur

On Thursday night Nicolas did run a fever of 101, so I woke up the hematologist at 2am to find out what he wanted us to do. It was unfortunately a doctor who had yet to hear of Nicolas' case, and was thus very confused with my description of what was going may not have been entirely coherent. Hey, it was 2am. He was a little unclear as to how Nicolas might or might not have sickle cell disease. I'm sure he'll be briefed at the next meeting (in our experience with specialists who work in groups they seem to have scheduled meetings to discuss new patients, etc so that you can see any one of them if need be). Thankfully he was a very reasonable man who agreed that Nicolas' fever was caused by the load of vaccinations he received earlier in the day, and since Nicolas didn't have any other warning signs he told me to give Nic some Tylenol and come in the next day if the fever stayed high.

Nicolas woke up smiling. The fever was all gone and he was his happy little self again. Now, what would any normal mother do after being up most of the night with her feverish child? Go to the zoo, of course!

As it so happens, I had promised Tommy a trip to the zoo, and seeing as his life has been (in his mind) less than ideal lately, I decided that it would not be prudent to cancel our plans. Had Nicolas been sick we would have stayed home, but since he was as chipper as ever we went for it. Yes, I was exhausted. However, I have this super cool reusable zoo cup that my mom got me last time we were at the zoo, and this cup scores you free fountain drink refills when you go- ALL year long. I am not a soda person, but I do love iced tea, and the zoo happens to have unsweetened iced tea in their fountains. So, basically I made it through the day by drinking my weight in iced tea. As you can tell by the adorable pictures below, it was well worth it.

I had forgotten how awesome it is when your kids are too little to protest when you dress them up. Tommy has been refusing to put on these zoo costumes since we got the membership, so I have been dying to get a lemur picture for ages (lemurs are very popular in the Cox family). I finally have my lemur picture, and Nicolas' compliance even inspired Tommy to try out being a bird...he still wouldn't put on the lemur vest though, as he didn't want to be distracted from looking at lemur poop. Maybe next time.