Thursday, February 19, 2015

Celebrating the Year of the Sheep

Or the Ram.  Or the Goat.  Or whatever horned animal you prefer.  We're going with sheep since we happen to have a cute little fluffy sheep in our house:

OK, we don't really have a sheep in our house.  Or in our yard, for that matter.  But we happen to have a sheep costume that Frannie was more than happy to wear, so Year of the Sheep it is for the Linguine house.

We'll celebrate the new year like many families do.  I gave Rosie a fresh bang cut.  We'll clean the house to sweep out the old year.  We'll decorate, eat traditional foods, and just spend time together as a family.  And we'll wish for good health, happiness, and good fortune.  Although I can't imagine being any luckier than I already am.

(And, a few outtakes for the people who always say that my kids are photogenic and cooperative.  THEY ARE NOT.)

Saturday, February 7, 2015


So, who is this little new little friend who has invaded our hearts, our home, and our refrigerator?  Frannie has been with us for 8 weeks, and while she doesn't exactly have the warm fuzzies for us, she has certainly become a fun, funny, smart, and adorable member of our little (or big?  are we big yet?) family.

Loves to eat, loves to cook.  I had to keep re-cheesing the left side
of this pizza because as soon as I put it on, she stuck her hand in the
cheese and sauce and ate it off.

Frannie is a big girl, with a personality to match.  She's around the 75th percentile for height and weight--11 kg to Rosie's 11.4 at their last transfusion!  It's no doubt...she is the best eater in our house!  She loves everything from pastina to chili to noodles.  She loves to "dip" things like hummus or salsa or sauce.  She likes brie and risotto.  And she has quite a sweet tooth for Nutella and candy.  When we put her up in her chair to eat, she literally giggles and cheers.

Nothin' to dip?  Not so!  I've got my fingers!

Yeah, I'm dipping my finger.  So what?

Anyone want a lick?  Anyone?  Anyone?

The last foster family report we got said that she loved to hang out in "the square" and go to shopping places.  We have definitely found it to be true that she enjoys going out whether it be to the supermarket or the playground.  She also likes playing in the house, sitting at the girls' little table coloring or pretend cooking in the play kitchen.  She enjoys following her big sisters around and playing along with them, but she also has a good time playing on her own.

Liked sitting there, not too keen on sliding down yet.

Lots of laughs at the playground.  This was right before the never-ending snow
started.  Too bad the playground is buried under 40 inches of the white stuff now.

She is very bright, and the best baby at imitating I have ever seen.  She notices everything and loves to copy.  She plays peek-a-boo and claps and absolutely loves to dance to everything from commercial jingles to Taylor Swift.  She gets out the microphone and pretends to sing.  She says "Mama" and "Baba" and "moh" (for more) and "Bye-bye".  She's just starting to say "All done", although we don't hear that much when it comes to food.  She babbles a lot, walking around chatting as if she really knows what she is saying.  It is so adorable.

More cooking with my little helpers.  I thought cooking with two littles was crazy.
Cooking with three is insane.  My kitchen will never be the same, but I wouldn't have it
any other way.  OMG I'm in love with them!

If you can't eat the ingredients, eat the recipe.

Frannie is very quick to catch on to routines.  After watching my morning routine just a couple of times, she figured out where everything is and in what order I do things.  Now she helps me get dressed, handing me pieces of clothes.  Just like Emmie used to do, she gets the hand towel off the hook and stands there holding it for me while I wash my face.  She's also catching on to my cleaning activities.  After seeing me get down and dustpan the floor after meals, now if she gets down and sees food on the floor, she goes and gets the dustpan and brush to clean it up.

Frannie loves the dishwasher.  Anything to do with the dishwasher.  If it's open, she likes to put things in it.  Spoons, forks, dolls, toy cars, you name it.  She also likes to empty it.  If she sees drops of water on it, she takes off her socks and dries it with them.  No matter what she's doing, if she sees someone open the dishwasher, she drops everything and runs over.

(That's Rosie to the left watching Frannie through her pirate telescope.)

Busy at work with the dishes.

She definitely knows who to look to when she needs help.  If she's stuck on her ride-on toy she'll yell for me.  If she can't reach or open something she calls me.  For every small injustice involving her sisters, she calls me in for back-up.  Whether it's to get a toy she was playing with back, if they are touching something that is "hers", or if they are eating one of her favorite foods, she loudly yells, "MAAAAAMA!!!"  And, of course, I'm happy to come running.

"Rah, rah!  Sis-Boom-Bah!"  Cheering at her food!

We are all having so much fun watching her personality emerge and blossom.  It's particularly fun when we figure out something new that makes her laugh or that she likes and Emmie says, "Mama, look!  That made her smile!  She liked that!"  Emmie and Rosie are continuing to enjoy their new little sister.  Sometimes they love on her so hard that we have to remind them not to squash her.  Although, at the rate she's eating, soon enough she'll be able to squash them!

First bowl of spaghetti.  An amazing amount fell on her bib, an
even more amazing amount went in her belly.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Home a month

It's been a month since we came home with Francesca.  I won't lie, because the point of this blog is to be honest.  It has been a bumpy ride.

First, I should start out by saying that there are lots of happy moments of playing and laughing.  Secondly, I should say that I do not expect for things to be going smoothly yet.  Finally, I want to write an open letter to everyone saying, "Dear Friends:  I do not routinely take pictures of our daughter when she is crying or inconsolable for hours on end.  Rather than grab my camera, I try to console her or cheer her up in those moments.  Therefore, she is not always happy as the blog or Facebook might imply.  Neither am I.  And, really, who is happy all the time, anyways?  And who wants to look at pictures of grumpy people?"  My hope is that this blog is a "real" medium for people to learn about our family, adoption, and thalassemia.  And I wouldn't want some "newbies" to stumble on here and think, "Wow, that Linguine Lady's kids are always happy from minute one!"  Because that's not how it really is.

All our kids are different and beautiful in their own ways, so I hate to compare them to each other.  But since comparisons are inevitable, Patrick and I are sure that Frannie has been the toughest of the nuts to crack.  I don't know if it is her age, or that she hates strangers (which we were repeatedly told), or if she just wants to exercise her prerogative to take her own sweet time to warm up to us.  But in any case, we are still waiting as patiently as possible for her to open her little heart to our love.

Other than running over to me and hugging my legs, Francesca does not offer any affection towards me.  She doesn't return hugs and squirms away from receiving them, and she turns her head away if I try to kiss her.  If either of us ask her if we can kiss or hug her, she looks away.  She will let us hold her and will relax briefly, but as soon as she feels herself relaxing, she will sit upright and squirm away.  She does not make eye contact with Patrick and I.  If I put my hand out and motion for her to put her hand in mine, she refuses, but if Emmie does the same thing, she plays along.  It takes quite a bit of work to get her to laugh or giggle at Patrick and I.  She is the happiest and smiliest around Emmie and Rosie, which is heartwarming to see.  She laughs with them and plays with them and seems very relaxed with them.  When she gets up in the morning and it's just her and I awake, I get no babbles, no smiles, and just sideways glances until Emmie or Rosie gets up.  Then the babbling, smiling, and playfulness starts.  I am happy about her comfort with her sisters, but I also look forward to the day when she is able to be comfortable with me.

While she is not generally affectionate with me, she does like to have me around and is very comforted by my presence.  She knows I feed her and take care of her, so she likes to have me nearby.  For instance, at the hospital, when I stepped away for a minute and left her with the girls and our Child Life friend, she started screaming for me the second I was out of her sight.  So, even though she was with her sisters who she favors, she knows I am her caretaker and protector and wants me close.  She knows that her sisters are not a replacement for me.  This is a good thing.

Francesca seems very comforted by food.  (Who isn't, right?)  She will sit and eat and eat and eat long after she must be full.  Sometimes as soon as she finishes a meal and I put her down, she starts crying and points to get back up.  Some of this might be that she is just a good eater (which she really is!), but some of it seems a bit extreme and as if she is using her time at the table as comfort.  She screams if she has to wait 15 seconds for her food to be ready, even if she's on her 3rd bowl of something and can't possibly be starving.  If I try to feed her while I am up and about the kitchen doing other things, she will scream and point to my chair, wanting me to sit down and feed her and give her my undivided attention.  This is when she seems to enjoy my attention the most.

She is not a good sleeper right now, despite the fact that she desperately needs her sleep.  I think this is because she hates her crib and does not like sleeping alone.  Even though she is sharing a room with Rosie, she still would prefer have me there.  But it's simply my presence and not my affection that she is looking for.  If I reach in the crib to hold her hand or comfort her, she turns away.  In the morning I bring her into my bed with me for some cuddle time.  Sometimes she just lays there stiffly and looks up at the ceiling.  Other times she'll cuddle a little bit, but she doesn't really relax or enjoy herself until Rosie gets up and climbs in bed with us.

All of this is hard on a mother's heart, but this is about Francesca, not about me.  I think the worst part is feeling like she is not truly happy in our home yet because I want so badly for her to be happy.  Patrick and I remark that she sometimes seems "lost" or just out of sorts.  That makes us feel sad.   I also feel sad that she is not enjoying our hugs and attempts at comfort because, let's face it, hugs should feel good and I want her to feel good!  I know in time she will lean into us instead of leaning away from our affection, but I want to be honest and say that it's hard being patient.  When you give, give, give and just get a frown or diverted eyes in return, it's hard not to take it personally.  And when you love your baby so very much, it's natural to want to hug them and kiss them and cuddle them without being pushed away.

While we wait for her world to settle down, we will continue to patiently work at it and love on her the very best we can.  At least I can look at Emmie and Rosie and know that this does get better, and that time is the only way for that to happen.  And we'll continue to enjoy and photograph those special smiling, happy moments we have together.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Life in the Cocoon

I think I sat down for 4 minutes tonight after dinner.  Patrick was upstairs getting the girls ready for bed so I quietly snuck a piece of Christmas chocolate.  Ahh...a moment to myself.  And then, "Mama! We have another poo-poo!" So I swallowed down my chocolate and went upstairs to scoop the poop into the last vial to be cultured for Frannie.  How timely.  Now it's in quadruple biohazard bags in the fridge next to my chicken that's brining.  Ah, the joys of returning home from China.

They are the real joys of returning home from China.

So, my initial assessment is that three little people is hard.  Especially three little people aged 5 and under.  Let's face it, little ones are needy.  SUPER needy.  And it's not as if all of a sudden Emmie and Rosie became totally independent overnight just because we brought home Francesca.  Of course it feels like everyone needs parental help at the same time.  So when Patrick is home, the two of us run around with our hair on fire to manage crisis after crisis--and by crisis I mean anything from a diaper blowout to needing more yogurt to getting a boo-boo to being stuck in your Frozen costume.  But most of the time, I'm the one here running around...alone.  Just me.  That's life in the cocoon.

Some people cocoon, some don't.  I'm no psychologist, and I'm not equipped to discus the merits of cocooning with any sort of authority.  I just know that at least on the surface, it makes total sense to us.  There's this new, confused, displaced person thrown into your family and your house.  She's trying to figure out where she is and who you are.  It stands to reason that the more people and places you throw into the mix, the more confusing it will be.  So, that's why we do it.  But it's hard.  Now is when I'm feeling the most out of sorts myself and like I could use a helping hand, but now is when I have to juggle it mostly on my own.  I said to my mother the other day that now I totally understand why people have their mothers come and live with them or visit every day when they bring home a new baby from the hospital.  There is nothing I'd like more than to have some help here.  But right now I'm trying so hard to convince Francesca that I'm the real deal and win her over.  ("Look at me cook!  Look at me braiding your sister's hair!  Look at me wipe your tushie!  Look at me feeding you!  Look at me playing with you! Look at me loving on all three of you!")  I just don't think it's a good idea to throw much more confusion or stimulation into the mix.  But staying the cocooning course is definitely the harder route.

Overall I feel like I'm in slow motion.  Even when Patrick's around, just getting out of the house is a challenge.  Frannie will wake us up at 4:30am and with that much of a [reluctant] head start, we're still just piling in the car by 11:30.  Getting to Target is a huge triumph.  Last weekend we miraculously made it to the North End!  (I'm still wondering if that really happened or if it was just a dream.)

OK.  It was real.  We made it to the North End for pizza.

At Modern Pastry.  Frannie loves to eat.  After I took this picture, she
started licking the display case.  Not joking.  This germophobe wanted
to Purell her tongue but thought better of it.

On Hanover Street.  We enjoyed all the treats the North End has to offer.
She's indoctrinated already.

Caffe Vittoria for a mocha.  For the grownups.  Kids had hot cocoa.
Although Frannie looks like she might have hit the espresso. 

I will also be the first to admit that at least part of the problem is on my end.  I mean, after Emmie and Rosie, I thought all kids started at the age of two.  I'm not used to someone who wrestles me during every diaper change and who is harder to dress than an octopus.  And strapping her into the car seat...don't get me started.  "Cooperation" is apparently not in the vocabulary of a 16-month old.

I know it's going to get better.  But right now I'm feeling like I'll never be on time for anything in my life again.  My house is messy, my definition of clean (hair, clothes, kids) is getting looser, and a "good night's sleep" is any night that doesn't involve a 2-hour interlude in the wee hours awake with Frannie. I consider myself to be a decent cook, and the other night was the first time since we've been home where something wasn't burnt or overcooked because I was running in 7 different directions at once.  ("Don't you like the toasted garlic flavor?" has become a common question around here.)  As long as no one goes missing, everyone gets the correct medications, and people have two shoes on when we leave the house (they don't have to match), I think I've had a good day.

So here's to all you moms with 3, 4, 7, 12 kids...whatever it is.  I don't know how you keep it together.  You look so lovely in your Lulu Lemon yoga pants and perfectly straightened hair.  I looked at my hair straightener this morning and wondered if I could use it to quickly remove wrinkles from the pants I've been wearing for 6 days in a row, or if it would just bake in all of the different foods Frannie has dropped on them over the past week.

And, for anyone who thinks I am exaggerating about my haggard existence, here is a real conversation I had the other day. Because I can't leave Frannie with anyone yet, I had her and Rosie in tow when I went to the doctor.  This was my waiting room conversation:

Some Guy:  Wow!  You have two little ones there, huh?
Me:  [Um, duh.  You can count to two.  Great.]  Yes!  They are 1 and 4!
Some Guy:  Wow!  That's two little ones!
Me:  [Oh, my goodness again with the "two".  I KNOW YOU CAN COUNT TO TWO.]  Well, actually there's another who is at Pre-K.  She's 5.
Some Guy:  Three of them!!! wonder you look so worn out!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Three Years

From terrified little girl...

01.09.2012 my little Mini-Mama...

Emmie has brought us more joy than we could have ever imagined.  She was the first of three best decisions my husband and I have ever made.  She is beautiful inside and out, has a perfect heart and is an old soul.  She is sensitive and compassionate, stubborn and silly.  She is smart as a whip, and has a bit of a temper.  Imaginative, brave, girly, and friendly...she tests us hard and loves us harder.

When I think about her rough beginnings as an orphan, and our humble beginnings as a family, my heart swells with such love, pride, and happiness that it almost stops my breath.  This amazing little girl--and all of our amazing little girls--have changed our lives in every way, and all for the better.  I don't know what I ever did to get so lucky, but I am forever thankful.

For her special day, Emmie wanted to go to Build-A-Bear
to get some new duds for her teddy.

So Happy Emmie Day, to the little girl who made me a mother for the first time.  I don't want to think about what my life would be like without you as my daughter.

Of course my girly-girl picked the frilliest dress she could find!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Santa came!

When we agreed to travel to China to pick up Francesca and return on Christmas day, we knew that there was no way Santa was going to be able to visit our house on schedule.  So we explained to Emmie and Rosie that sometimes Santa has to make a special trip to families who can't be somewhere where they can get their presents on Christmas at 38,000 feet on an airplane from China.  We promised them that our elf, Frosty, would watch our family carefully after we returned home so he could tell Santa when we were all healthy, over jet lag, and Frannie was reasonably settled in so he could make his trip back here.  Feeling like those criteria were met, Frosty gave the nod to Santa last night.

When we told the girls that Saturday was our Christmas Eve, they were so super didn't make one ounce of difference to them that Santa was coming a little late.  They understood that we had something more important to do on the "real" Christmas.  As if on cue, the snow started falling Saturday night.  Emmie and Rosie broke out into "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and insisted that Rudolph would really have to use that red nose to light Santa's way back to our house.  The girls got a plate of goodies ready for Santa and the reindeer and we read "The Night Before Christmas" because, for us, it was the night before Christmas.  As the five of us sat around our tree, for the zillionth time Patrick and I knew that we had made the right decision to get Francesca before Christmas.  Even though our holiday season was far from "normal", it was perfect in it's own way.

"Christmas Eve."  Frannie was so excited and she didn't even know what she was being excited about!
Maybe she just thought that huge cupcake from Mike's in the North End was for her.

The closest thing I could get to a photo of Frannie.  I'm not sure if she knew what
was going on, but she stayed very busy with all of her new toys.

Did they get Elsa and Anna dresses?  Of course they did.  But they spent most
of the day wearing their new firefighter outfits and putting out fires.  Love my gals!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Us, New Year

Our first week home is behind is, and has gone reasonably well.  The medical stuff has been a little rough, but given that some families travel home with their children on oxygen and are met at the airport by an ambulance, I'm not going to complain.

Frannie was pale.  Paler than I've ever seen myself or one of my girls.  There wasn't a hint of pink anywhere on her.  Each time we brought home one of our girls, the first order of business has been to get them in for labs ASAP.  You just never know what the actual transfusion status of your child is until you get them checked yourself.  So after 28 hours of travel and one jet lagged night of sleep we headed to the hospital to get Frannie's labs checked.   To top it off, I headed to the doctor because I was having trouble breathing.  My oxygen saturation was low so I had a nebulizer treatment and some labs done myself.

First blood draw about 15 hours after returning home.

Big girl did a great job.

Later in the day we got both of our labs back and none of them were good.  Poor Frannie's hemoglobin was at a critical level of 5.9 g/dL.  My labs came back and while my hemoglobin was decent, I had an elevated d-dimer test, which is a screening test for a blood clot.  So while we were working out a plan for getting Frannie blood--and getting it fast--I headed into the Emergency Department with my dad for a CT scan to determine whether I was having a pulmonary embolism.  [Thal lesson for the day:  The reason for the worry is because patients with thal intermedia are at an increased risk for thrombosis, and the risk is even higher in asplenic patients. So, everyone was a bit alarmed.]  Exhausted, nervous for Frannie, nervous for myself, and generally miserable I spent 5 hours waiting for the scan and results, which were thankfully negative.  It turned out I simply had a horrible case of bronchitis, which would need to be treated outpatient with nebulizer treatments for the next few days.  My dreamy visions of our first days home singing "Getting to Know You", cuddling on the couch, and playing was quickly getting replaced by our usual return-from-China reality which has always included emergency appointments for myself and our new addition.

So for Frannie, our infusion unit was booked up and understaffed due to people being on holiday.  Because it was urgent for her to get blood, she was admitted to the hospital for the day on Sunday for a transfusion.  Getting blood on the floor as an inpatient takes much longer than in our infusion unit, so we were there for a 9 hour day even though she had her type/screen already done.  Hematology came by and said that while pale, Frannie looked good.  They also noted that even though she was getting a big transfusion, because she was so low it wouldn't bring her up to where she need to be.  So, we'll need to return soon for additional blood before she can get on a normal schedule.  Frannie did remarkably well at her transfusion, despite the fact that she was stuck three times.

Pale and very anemic, but otherwise doing great.

Blood flowing after three sticks.

Emmie and Rosie having a little fun time with Baba while we
were at the hospital.  (And by having fun, I mean going to the supermarket.)

The next few days were full of more medical appointments for my bronchitis, for Frannie's bronchitis and first check-up with the pediatrician, and for the girls' transfusion.  It was feeling a little difficult to spend any time as a "normal" family because someone was always at the doctor.  Still in the little calm time we had at home, Frannie was definitely starting to settle in.  Right from that first night home, she started exploring around our house, testing out the toys, and learning where things are kept.  She quickly figured out which seat at the table was hers and where the snacks are.  When it is time to go out and she sees Emmie and Rosie get their shoes, she'll go and get hers and bring them to me.  She's been making herself right at home, which really makes us happy.

Frannie has a few pet peeves in her new home.  She doesn't like her crib, and fights sleep with all her might.  It's been impossible to put her down for a nap, resulting in sheer exhaustion later in the day.  She protests when we put her in the crib at night.  She is also very anxious around meal time.  She screams and cries and pounds her tray while she waits for me to bring her food to her.  If she wasn't as plump as she is, I would think that she did not get enough food and was left hungry.  And she *hates* when I have to leave the house for a minute.  Which is unfortunate, because normally at this stage I would never leave the house for one single second, but I have had no choice because of the medical stuff.

Most of the time, Frannie seems quite happy.  She is a great imitator and definitely a bright little girl.  She likes to play alone, with us, and with the girls.  Sometimes she just watches her sisters' crazy games and smiles at them.  Other times she joins right in pretend cooking or chasing each other around the house.  She likes to color, have pretend tea parties, and knock towers of blocks over.  During one of our typical family dance parties, at first she just sat there and looked at us like we were crazy, but then she took my hands and joined in, laughing.  She is slowly warming up to us.  While she doesn't spontaneously offer hugs or kisses to us yet (and I wouldn't expect her to), sometimes she comes up to me and puts her arms around my legs and presses her head between my knees.  When she looks up at me, she has the sweetest smile on her face.  She is quickly taking over as the best eater in our house (well, not better than Baba).  She tries anything.  The only thing we've come across that she didn't like was a crinkle cut fry in the Executive Lounge at the Holiday Inn Shifu, and tonight she spit out a brussel sprout.  She likes hummus, pork tenderloin, and pastina, and I have had to really ramp up my chicken congee production.  The only problem with her eating is that she wants to do it all the time!

Very happy once the food is on her tray.
Like her sisters, she loves Nana's chicken soup.
Emmie and Rosie continue to amaze me with their maturity when it comes to our new family member.  It's not easy to have a new person touching all of your stuff, in your personal space, and vying for your parents' attention.  But they are handing it with such grace, sharing with her, playing with her, and trying to love on her.  It is so funny to watch how taken they are with her "baby-ness" in both positive and negative ways.  Emmie keeps talking about how excited she is to show off her baby sister when she returns to pre-K and Rosie wants to try to help feed her.  But Emmie also says things like, "Mama, she's disgusting putting chocolate cookies in hummus."  And they are fascinated with her needs like diaper changing.  One day, poor Frannie was having some tummy troubles from all of the changes in her diet, and as a result had some diaper rash.  Rosie-who thinks she has to assist every diaper change-saw how sad Frannie was as we were getting ready to put on more Desitin so she stroked her face and sang to her:

Oh, baby sister Frannie
Don't you cry
Mama will make you feel better
When she rubs that yogurt on your tushie

So that sort of sums up our crazy family, and our crazy first week.  Throw in a random high fever, a bout of terrible hives, a goopy eye, and some sort of irritation on her face, and that's Frannie's welcome to America.  She is such joy, and we are all really enjoying having a baby in the house for the first time.  And we're happy to report that we are all feeling better, and that the jet lag has begun to subside.  Hopefully the medical stuff will continue to settle down, and then the fun will really begin.

The gals getting new blood on New Years Eve.

The five of us all snuggled in, feeling better, and ready to celebrate
New Years Eve (ie, Eat snacks, have a dance party, say we're going to watch a movie,
and then pass out at 8:35pm.  Perhaps we are NOT over the jet lag yet.)