It feels as though this day would take forever. Finally… after months and months of continually washing bibs for Alexander, our little man can finally show off his adorable toddler clothes in their full glory. If you do a quick peruse through the photos shown on HSWT, you’ll notice that in almost every picture, Alexander is sporting a terry cloth bib over his clothing. So why this, and why now?
The good news, which we found out last week during Alexander’s post-operative appointment, is that his hard palate repair was successful and is continuing to heal nicely. It’ll take some time for all his tissue to heal and fill in all the gaps, but the sutures have held. Our surgeon was thrilled to hear that not only is Alexander eating well, but that he’s gained an incredible pound during the month of surgery! (Normally, cleft kids have an oral aversion after the surgery, which is understandable considering all the pain and swelling in the roof of their mouth–which results in a long hospital stay and significant weight loss). To add to the good news, Alexander has continued to try vocalizing, which is often delayed from post-surgery trauma. Our speech therapist was just thrilled when Alexander began mimicking some fairly complex words the week after surgery!
But why the bib? Well, as you might guess, before Alexander’s multiple surgeries, he didn’t really know how to handle the saliva– so rather than swallow it, it just sorta flowed out of his cleft. At the risk of being too graphic, the combination of saliva plus everything that came out of his nasal cavity (earlier open to his mouth) was enough to keep a bib on Alexander full-time. Also, after each surgery, as his mouth healed he was the drool king. Alexander’s speech therapist said that as his mouth muscles got stronger, he’d be able to start to suction and control his saliva, and with that would come the ability to control airflow and articulation. True to her word, a few days after Alexander’s last surgery, his normal multiple bib changes reduced to one a day, and even then it was pretty dry. Finally, I just pulled the plug on bibs, and he now roams free and mostly drool-less.
Now, our little man is truly starting to look and act like a toddler. Brian took him for a haircut, and they both returned with smiles– Brian proudly commenting that they were able to use clippers this time– “He’s a 5!” (Believe it or not, getting near Alexander’s face with a buzzing instrument was met with significant trepidation last time…) Though he’s still a skinny guy (his waist is 12 months still), he’s getting longer and in need of 18 month length– I am SO grateful that a lot of little boy clothing comes with adjustable waist buttons! Though we still think he’s growing fast, we’ve been warned that with the full repair, he’ll be eating like crazy and will be growing even faster. I’m trying not to purchase clothing for him in any one size, as it seems as though he’s sprouting up like crazy. Although the surgeon said to keep with a soft/pureed diet for another week, I caved and let him have some of my falafal last week. That, as you might guess, has set off his awareness that there is more to meals than pureed slurry. Even today, it wasn’t “more yogurt” he was asking for, but for some of my own chicken stir fry!
As we rapidly approach Alexander’s birthday on the 11th, it’s just amazing to watch how quickly he’s picking up more words, both in signs and in spoken language. He tries to say “I love you” and is quite good at identifying the items in our home not to be picked up by pointing and saying “No no no!”– all while smiling. Just yesterday, during a therapy session, I watched him proudly parrot some great animal sounds; it almost made me sniffle. It’s just incredible to watch a little boy who was so limited in his communication blossom and delight in his own accomplishment.
At the risk of sounding too much like Pollyanna, the process isn’t all sunshine and roses. A big challenge as Alexander learns to speak is getting him to articulate loudly and clearly– apparently, it’s fairly common for children with delayed speech to almost whisper when talking because they’re “trying out” new sounds. Though he’s got plenty of loud “la’s and na’s,” you need to have an ear close by to hear him sing along to familiar tunes. Similarly, though he has tested fine for sensory processing, we’re trying to increase his sensory tolerance, especially in light of all the new textures he’ll encounter in food. So far, we’ve played with sand, pompoms, play dough, and finger paints, and he’s slowly warming up to varying textures in rapid succession.
Though we are growing increasingly exhausted every night (I know, welcome to parenthood, right?), we are so grateful that Alexander is growing by leaps and bounds. After all of the medical appointments, surgeries, consultations, and continued therapy sessions, there is nothing better that watching our little man running around with his artist’s smock on asking for more crayons. All we have ever wanted for him is the chance to be a rollicking toddler, and he certainly seems to be doing that with fervor! Onward and upward… to your 2nd birthday! We will greatly celebrate, and we continue to thank you all for your support and love in helping our little man truly flourish!
And now, the adorable Alexander photos you’re waiting for….