Behind Bars

Well, it’s finally happened.

After several somewhat luxurious months of Alexander moving at a snail’s pace, our little man has taken off! When we’ve been asked what the greatest challenge is so far in raising Alexander, our usual answer is the speed at which he’s changing. Yes, all kids grow and change quickly, but it’s eye-opening to watch a little boy go from being unable to sit up to cruising (look at that mommy word!) in three months. He’s catching up physically incredibly quickly, and his teeth are coming in like crazy– it’s almost as if his entire body is suddenly going into overdrive to make up for lost time.

So after a lot of makeshift barriers and trying to keep our kid contained, Brian went out one night early this week on a mission for a baby gate.  Though I initially felt a little guilty gating Alexander out of our kitchen (and subsequently, our stairs), it’s provided a great deal of relief. It almost felt as though Alexander changed from a slow crawl to a super-speedy

The only one in our home enjoying the new baby gate more than me is Benny!

Benny endorses this baby gate.

little man overnight! It was late last week that under supervision, he did a full ascent of our stairs, sat at the top, and clapped for himself. Luckily, he’s not so thrilled with trying to get back down, so he usually just sits at the top and waits to be carried back down.  In any case though, the stairs and the kitchen are by far the most interesting places in our home now. I can’t even begin to explain how great it was to unload the dishwasher without a little boy drooling on all the clean silverware. I know this is just me dipping my big toe in the ocean of parenthood, but an empty dishwasher (even if just for a second) is a thing of beauty.

Aside from Alexander’s significant physical developmental strides (quite literally!), we’re noticing him increasing his communication with us, especially through mimicry and signing. I just about broke down into tears during breakfast once this week when he signed “kiss” to me; after a quick kiss on the nose, he smiled and clapped. Considering the  coordination needed for this sign, I was more than surprised that he picked up on that one before some of the simpler ones (like “eat” and “ball”). Now, his favorite signs are “kiss,” “baby,” and “cat.” While he can’t say his name, he can make out an “Ahh-lahhh” when we practice saying things. We’ve started saying grace with him before his (five!) meals, and he gives an emphatic “La!” after we say “Amen.” I know that his brain is still developing as far as content and context is concerned, but we are definitely noticing more repetitive responses from him, which is really heartening.

Alexander checking out the Toys R Us ad-- yet another incredible unstaged photo!

Alexander checking out the Toys R Us ad– yet another incredible unstaged photo!

This week, we have someone from the county coming out to discuss the early intervention program and to get Alexander set up with initial assessments. Although we continue to struggle with lots of parenting issues, I feel as though we’ve been spared up to now from the nightmarish “child development” charts. Talk to a new parent, and by their third pediatric appointment, all you hear about is percentiles.  For Alexander, we cheered when his head finally made it on the chart, but we’ve never really put much thought into where he compared to other kids his age. For the first time though, we’ll be getting a full assessment to see what programs he qualifies for and which ones might benefit him before he starts school a few years down the line. Even with the assessments though, each one of his successive surgeries will change his physical and developmental stages so much, that everything to us is just a sliding scale and a work in progress.

I’ll end with what I consider a fairly comical paranoid parent story. After watching Alexander interact with a classic stacking ring tower at the children’s hospital, we decided it was a good addition to our home. We picked one up, and for several days, I played with him using the toy, encouraging him to try stacking the rings on the tower rather than banging them together or sucking on them (two of his favorite forms of play).  The few times he attempted stacking them, he usually tired of it within seconds and soon was back to his books.

One day last week during Alexander’s playtime, I was fooling around with my new jade bracelet, slipping it on and off my wrist. Alexander looked at me and my wrist, and after a loud “la!” he began pulling the rings off the stacking tower, and slowly threading them all onto both of his arms. I handed him two additional rattles, which he happily added to his full arms. Soon, he was smiling and clapping with his plastic ring-laden arms. And to think that I was worried about his hand-eye coordination. It just goes to serve that most of the time, we just need to relax and let them figure things out!

Alexander demonstrating how his prefers to use his stacking rings.

Alexander demonstrating how he prefers to use his stacking rings.




In the System

You would think that by this time, they’d have mug shots of Alexander and I up at our favorite home and garden store. No, no, we have never committed a crime, but we are forcefully pleasant when it comes to following up on poor plant stock organization. Today’s awesome bargain was a beautiful variegated rhododendron that was apparently mismarked. After speaking to a sales associate back in the plant section and having the great price confirmed, I went to check out and inevitably was told that it was full price. As Alexander proceeded to work it with smiling and waving, I implored the cashier to go back and check the display and talk to her fellow employee. If there’s one thing that irritates me to no end, it’s improperly labeled sales where the only thing actually applicable for a sale is “between the ashtrays and the thimble, anything in this three inches right here, that includes the chicklets but not the erasers.” (Two points if you get the movie reference!)

The end of this story is that the cashier didn’t want to fact-check me (which I wish she would have), and Alexander and I walked out with our fantastic rhododendron.  Call me a nitpicker or a customer service nightmare, but let me tell you– after continuing to survive the red tape of multiple levels of several governments as recent as 5 minutes before our plant purchase, I can say with confidence that technicalities are my specialty.

And you probably thought that we were finished with jumping through hoops and cutting through red tape!

Though Alexander was officially a US Citizen as soon as DHS handed him back his stamped passport, we knew his road to being a full-fledged, card-carrying (quite literally) American was still fairly long. Luckily, our adoption agency gave us a heads-up as to what we needed to apply for, what to remind people to send us, and how patient we should be with Our Government.

In order for Alexander to apply for a social security number and become eligible for credit cards, political mailings, and of course, identity theft, we would need to provide proof that he is a US Citizen. Because of recent laws changing the way internationally-adopted children can become citizens, Our Government needed to create a physical document certifying that yes, Alexander is officially a citizen. We were informed while in China by the US Consulate that these would be mailed out to us within 60 days of our return home, at which point we should then apply for his social security number.

As most things tend to go when it comes to standard paperwork windows, I patiently waited our 60 days.   On day 61, I fired an email out to USCIS inquiring about our little guy’s Certificate of Citizenship (sounds official, no?). I received a most polite and apologetic email within the hour! Apparently, USCIS is way behind in issuing these, and the estimated turn-around (had we not contacted them) was upwards of 4 months. Since we had directly inquired about his paperwork status, my case was expedited, and I was promised that his forms would be mailed out within the week.

True to their word, I received two emails days later with both a UPS tracking code, and a personal email from a USCIS officer thanking us for our patience and for following up. Our Government continues to surprise me with how efficient it can be when it’s on a person-to-person level. Sure, the levels of bureaucracy aren’t completely gone (ie- read our entire adoption blog A Wide Sea for confirmation) in addition to Alexander getting to help me spend 20 minutes on-hold with the IRS just last week. Which, by the way, for those of you with little kids who love phones, they’re not only excited to get to hold the phone, but it plays music! Although I’m photo-documenting just about every second of this kid’s life, I wish I would have snapped a photo of him totally jazzed to be on hold with the IRS. Seriously, it made his afternoon! May we all be so happy about this!

But back to the COC (Yes! One more acronym!) It arrived on– get this– Constitution Day! We did manage a photo of Alexander with his certificate, but it contains so much sensitive information, that it would basically look like a blank sheet once we fuzzed out all the important stuff. It does have a photo of him taken before his medical appointment in China; it just hit me that his official photograph for USCIS is a slightly wrinkled maroon pocket t-shirt and madras shorts. Since this is practically his father’s summer uniform, it seems only appropriate that it’s now on record in perpetuity as “like father, like son.”

Now that we have Alexander’s proof of citizenship, we were able to file for his social. We had a thrilling trip this morning to our local SSA, and within 15 minutes, we were in and out. It took longer to unfold the stroller and sign in than it did to take care of paperwork.

We rounded out our day post-government with our rhodendron purchase and stopping at the library to get his library card and check out his first book. He was his normal chatty, perky self, and soon we had several fellow toddlers and their moms around us sharing drool, random vocalizations, and what board books looked tastiest to teethe on. Alexander left with a Sandra Boynton book about dinosaurs.  True, I gave him a choice of only Boynton books because: 1. they’re colorful, 2. they rhyme, 3. they’re small books, and 4. they’re short! Just like his mom would do, he selected the largest book with the most words. Reading the pages to him before he turns the page is like training to be an auctioneer. Still, he continues to be thrilled with his selection when he’s willing to take a 30 second break from doing laps around our coffee table.

Read faster! Read faster!

Read faster! Read faster!

Aside from getting the rest of our new little citizen’s paperwork in the mail, we still need to initiate readoption for the State of Illinois, which will provide him with a state-issued record of foreign birth (as opposed to trying to use a Chinese provincial document with location of “unknown”). If there’s one thing I’ve learned through all of this, Our Government doesn’t like the word “unknown.”  For all of the drama we’ve encountered so far though, all of Alexander’s medical paperwork has been a much-needed breeze.

Now, I just need to get this rhododendron’s roots established before we’re diverted again with Alexander’s next surgery, which is schedule for Oct 23rd. I can’t believe September is more than half over, but I feel as though we’re really settling into our family routine. I’ve always loved fall for the pumpkins, the apples, the mums, the cool weather, and the warm sweaters. Now that we’ve finally gotten our little guy in the System, we can sit back a little and enjoy autumnal bliss.

Tiny quarter-zip sweaters are reason alone to raise a son!

Tiny quarter-zip sweaters are reason alone to raise a son!


Saturday Scramble

As I stood staring into my fridge this Saturday morning, I couldn’t help but laugh at how much Brian and I had accomplished before 9 am on a weekend. Furthermore, I was emptying out plastic tubs of leftovers into a breakfast scramble. Before Alexander, Saturday and Sunday were both two meal days, with breakfast usually just consisting of enough coffee to get us jittery. We’d sit around and figure out our plans, and if we were feeling ambitious, we’d be showered and on our route of errands by noon at the earliest.

I’m certain all you parents out there are laughing hysterically. With Alexander in our life, weekends take on a completely different meaning.  Now, with our little man’s 5 meals a day, the moment we rouse Alexander from his snarly slumber, the countdown clock starts until his next meal.  I have to say though, that I love having Brian home on the weekends to help with feeding Alexander and general kid control (aka saying “No, no!” a lot to a curious little boy).  We multi-task and have our game plan, and hopefully, if we can get one thing on our to-do list crossed off, it’s a victory.  Our little man has definitely made me slow down my normal frantic pace of life in order to read “Moo Baa La La La” over and over (and over and over) again.  Our coffee for breakfast and lunch at 2 pm just doesn’t cut it anymore. Laundry and dishes have taken a more prominent role in my life, and evening gatherings out rage on only as late as is reasonable for your average 18 month old.  Life has changed, that is certain.

Even with all the significant changes to our daily routines, some of our favorite traditions have remained. We still enjoy making dinner and having our occasional wine and cheese night (now with free additional toddler whine!) We enjoy going out for sushi and hunting down new great beer spots. Just this Friday, we hustled out the door with the kid as soon as Brian came home in search of a rather elusive seasonal pumpkin beer at one of our favorite taverns.  We owe our flexibility in frequenting restaurants much to our easy-going son, but we also are committed to not locking ourselves in our home.  I’m sure we get some looks as we’re enjoying a beer with our son in tow, but he’s always well-behaved and seems to enjoy all the attention from the waitstaff.

Errands are still plentiful. Thank goodness, Alexander loves shopping carts– I think it has something to do with the motion of the cart, but he’s usually all smiles and waves as we’re pushing him through our local warehouse club.  This Saturday, our morning adventure was to try and find in two hours or less…. wait for it…. less dusty cat litter. I know, I know, we Kellys know how to have a good weekend! In any case, Alexander seems thrilled to be a part of our weekend errands as long as we get back in time for his lunch… and teatime… and dinner… and dessert.  He even attended his second wine tasting this Saturday at a friend’s home- no wine for him, of course, but plenty of attention from our friends in addition to successfully trying guacamole for the first time.

Let's get this show on the road! We've got errands to run!

Let’s get this show on the road! We’ve got errands to run!

Alexander testing out his friend Mr. Razka's new truck at our monthly wine tasting

Alexander testing out his friend Mr. Razka’s new truck at our monthly wine tasting

So yes, parenthood has definitely had its share of new challenges and lifestyle changes. Lots more laundry. Lots more sniffing of clothing to see if it’s “cleanish.” Everyone eating breakfast regularly.  Fewer lunches out.  But it’s also included so many new joys– brightly colored shopping carts, functional toddler swings at playgrounds, getting tiny enthusiastic waves and applause when you enter a room, and watching our child experience enough firsts to make your head explode.

I’m sure all of the highs and lows will eventually mellow out, and we’ll be left with your standard angsty teenager someday. But for now, we’ll enjoy all the crazy pre- and post-nap running around with a perpetually happy toddler. And hey, at least my fridge leftovers get cleaned out with these breakfast scrambles!



18 Months and Counting

In the midst of another understandably solemn and reflective September 11th, there is great joy in the Kelly house. Our little Alexander is 18 months old today.

This kid loves books!

I can’t help but wonder where he was 18 months ago– who and where his birthparents are, and how he was brought to the safety of the welfare institute. These are all big questions that will likely never be answered.  What we do know, through discussions with his caretakers, photo documentation, and most importantly, getting to know him, is that he is a joyful little boy with a lot of spirit who adapts to new environments with an uncanny ease (and loves having his photo taken!).

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but I really am amazed at just how fast he is developing. I know, I know, when it’s your own kid, it seems as though they are the cat’s meow; it’s only a matter of time until Harvard is knocking on your door to recruit your toddler! The thing is, when we first met Alexander, even with preparation, his frail state was frightening. He was pale, tiny, and too weak to hold a rattle. My aunt commented when watching the video of our first meeting that we looked fairly terrified holding him– ecstatic, but terrified.

Slowly but surely, we’ve watched him gain weight and meet developmental milestones with alarming speed.   He’s expanding his palate, and he’s gained over 4 pounds in a few months.  Sure, if you put him next to a healthy 18-month old, he’s comically small. He’s still in 6-month clothing, and there’s one 3-month old button down that still is a little roomy on him; similarly, his 6-month pants are still big. His hair is coming in much thicker now, and his head is finally on the WHO scale for his age, which makes finding shirts that can fit over his head an adventure. We’ve also seen him go from not being able to sit up to by himself… to scooting and crawling… to pulling up… and now to standing and attempting to walk by himself with support, all in the span of a little over 2 months!

One of the most entertaining developments as of late is that Alexander absolutely loves books. If Brian or I sit down with a book, especially one of Alexander’s books, he squeals and starts charging towards us and will happily sit in our lap and turn pages as we read.

Our little man reading with his dad

Our little man reading with his dad

Happy 18 months, little guy! You’ve given so much joy to us in just a few months and we are incredibly blessed to have you in our lives!

Whine and Cheese

This year’s anniversary was memorable.

During previous years, we’ve gone out to dinner, even taken the day off to enjoy some laziness at home or a local jaunt. This year, we were up bright and early and off to yet another surgical appointment for our little guy.

We were really relieved to hear from our surgeon that Alexander’s repaired soft palate seems to be holding. He’s hopeful that the repaired soft palate will gently pull the hard palate in, and in early 2014, that Alexander will be all set for his hard palate reconstruction.  As for his lip, we’re letting everything heal a bit before going back for attempt #2; in the meantime, we’re using some surgical tape during evening hours to slowly pull together his upper lip. As you might imagine, taping an 18 month old’s upper lip before bed isn’t the easiest thing in the world.

All in all though, we had so much to celebrate this year. We decided our anniversary and Alexander’s good post-op surgery news was reason enough to make a trip to Goose Island Brewpub, one of our favorite spots in the city. Alexander seemed to enjoy the place, and he walked out with quite a few complementary coasters.

Two tiny thumbs up for Goose Island! Bring me more coasters!

Two tiny thumbs up for Goose Island! Bring me more coasters!

We capped the evening with opening one of our cellared bottles of wine from Italy. We purchased enough bottles to last from our 5th anniversary to our 10th– when it’s time to go back! (ha!) Alexander had experienced enough for one day, he provided a little additional whine for us. Nothing says celebration in the Kelly house like one of my famous cheese platters.

Perhaps the best thing that has happened to us as of late though, is that Alexander’s strength and development is really taking off.  He’s crawling like there’s no tomorrow, and he’s now started to stand and move around the room with support. Seeing our little boy standing up and clapping with enthusiasm, even if just for a minute, almost makes me want to tear up a bit.  Similarly, I have been slowly introducing signs to Alexander, and he can recognize mama, daddy, and cat; most recently, he’s started signing back– first with “baby.” Seeing how much he’s changed in the last two months leaves us in awe, and we can’t wait to watch him continue to grow.


Showing off his walking skills while Valentine the cat observes in terror

Showing off his walking skills while Valentine the cat observes in terror

Little Fish

The second our car backed out of the driveway at grandpa and grandma’s house in Peoria, we could hear snoring coming from the backseat. Alexander didn’t even wake up when we stopped at Sonic for a roadtrip cherry lime-ade, but he was all smiles and claps when we unbuckled him at home. As the number of yawns and whines increased throughout the night before bed, we knew this kid was exhausted. And true to our predictions, he was out the second his head hit the pillow. There’s really only one reasonable explanation for this:

He survived his first Kelly wedding extravaganza.

Before we met Alexander, we were a little concerned about how our son would handle social situations and large crowds– and we both come from extremely large extended families. We had read that it was fairly common for children in institutionalized care to have difficulty with this; sadly, we were prepared to have to slowly introduce Alexander to his new and incredibly large family. We wondered how long it would take for him to feel comfortable with such a loving, and to be frank– intensely loving– family.  After a few small gatherings close to home with friends, we realized that our little man was not only ready for social situations, but that he was ready to meet The Family.

This kid is ready to party, Kelly style.

This kid is ready to party, Kelly style.

Sadly, we weren’t able to attend the wedding proper because of logistics, but after a night of rest, Alexander got to meet some of his uncles and aunts (Brian’s siblings) and his cousin Will. We made a trip to visit Brian’s cousin Dianne, who hosted a lovely brunch for us, and Alexander got to meet yet more of his family.

If you’d ask Alexander what the highlight of his weekend was, he’d have one answer– the pool! We brought his tiny trunks to the post-wedding pool party, and after much glad-handing and clapping, Brian introduced our little fish to the water!

And into the water!

And into the pool!

He would have spent the entire afternoon in the pool if we let him.  This kid LOVES the water!

He would have spent the entire afternoon in the pool if we let him. This kid LOVES the water!


After a wardrobe change (and surgical cuffs replaced) and yet more family greetings, Alexander decided it was time to get the real skinny on the family by catching up with his generation:

"Lou, help a cousin out and get these cuffs off me!"

“Lou, help a cousin out and get these cuffs off me!”

Overall, our little man did wonderfully considering all the new faces and friendly cuddles.  We were truly overwhelmed by the excitement for our little man, and he shared their enthusiasm!

Though Alexander really enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the weekend, I think he enjoyed getting to meet his aunts and uncles the most.

Alexander with his Aunt Julia

Alexander with his Aunt Julia–both famous for their smile and laughter!

Uncle Jon teaching Alexander the fine art of stacking cups (I know the contrast isn't great in this photo, but I love their silhouettes!)

Uncle Jon teaching Alexander the fine art of stacking cups (I know the contrast isn’t great in this photo, but I love their silhouettes!)

This weekend was a great reminder of how great technology can be. We are grateful that so many friends and family continue to follow along with our adventures through our blogging; it was heartwarming to see so many people delight with us in how much our little man has changed since late June. Although we have a long road ahead of us (and many more trips to the hospital!), the joy of being surrounded by those who love us makes everything easier.