Tag Archives: Foster parenting

Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore!

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Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore!

Have you ever woken up and no longer recognized the life you were living?  I mentioned in my last post that there were lots of changes in my life.  Some changes have been amazing and exciting, others are incredibly frightening and have left me feeling lost and unsure.  As a result, my entire life has been turned upside down and though I’ve wanted to blog about it, I’ve been a bit unsure about how much to reveal.  I’m still not sure about that.  So this is a beginning of a conversation I hope to continue one day.  I hope you will have patience with me as a struggle through this.

My trip down the rabbit hole began last December.  Life was pretty good.  I was working at a church I loved, with people I respected.  Little Man and I were progressing well, moving toward adoption, and enjoying our first Christmas season together.  I was expecting Baby Amaia to arrive in a few short months, and had been stocking up on the most adorable baby clothes and tiny little diapers.

Then the tornado hit.  Three weeks before Christmas I lost my job.  The job that I loved and was so passionate about.  And although I was beginning to struggle with the 60-80 hour work weeks I was putting in as a single mom, the news caught me completely off-guard.  There is a lot about that situation that I would like to share.  There’s a lot that I feel needs to be heard and understood.  But when you work in the church, things are complicated.  A whole-other-universe kind of complicated.  I was heartbroken, and angry, and insanely stressed.  Because apart from every other thing I was feeling, I was a single mom without a job, and when you work in pastoral ministry you can’t just find another job in town.  Continuing to work in my field would mean moving, probably out of state.  And moving would mean giving up my son and soon-to-be-born daughter, who were still in the foster care system.  And that was not an option.  So I went into full-on panic mode.

I applied for close to a thousand jobs.  I only got three interviews and no job offers.  Then on January 29 I got a call that taught me fear.  Baby Amaia’s bio mother was going into labor almost three weeks early and they had discovered multiple problems with the baby.  They didn’t expect her to survive the delivery.  As the foster parent I had no legal rights, and no way of knowing what was going on.  I waited and prayed all night.  Sometime the next day I learned she had survived the birth.  For two weeks I waited each day for news, hoping for miracles.  I was able to go see her in the NICU and was blown away by how tiny she was.  She was hooked up to dozens of monitors and IV tubes.  Then on February 12 I received the phone call that changed our lives.  Baby Amaia would only live a few more hours.  They had decided to take her off life support and she would not survive.  I rushed to the hospital and held my sweet girl for the first and last time, as I watched the life ebb from her body.  There are no words for the pain I felt that day, the pain that still haunts me.  I miss her every day.

After months of looking for jobs I decided to become a substitute teacher until I could find full-time work.  Subbing in an inner city school district was an eye-opening experience.  I have worked professionally with kids for 13 years but I had never experienced anything like that.  The challenges were incredible.  After a few weeks I was hired to stay at one elementary school where I rotated between all types of classrooms, from pre-k through 6th, from standard, to special needs, to emotionally disturbed.  The students pushed me to new levels of frustration and I came home with more than one injury.  But they also broke my heart and made me fall in love with them.

In March an unexpected blessing came.  Little Man’s biological mother suddenly and unexpectedly signed over her parental rights, naming me as the adoptive parent.  This cleared the path for us to begin moving forward with his adoption.  It’s a humbling experience sitting in the courtroom as a parent signs away their parental rights to make way for you to become the mother of their child.  To sit and listen as the judge asks “Are you sure?” in a hundred different ways.  At the end of the day I was free to adopt my Little Man and his case was officially transferred to the adoption department.

Then began months of waiting, bureaucracy, and frustration.  It seemed like everything was moving at a snail’s pace.  In the meantime I began to explore the possibility of moving back to Illinois to be near my family.  Being a single mom is hard without any family around.  With no family in New York I was at a bit of a disadvantage.  I’d always had a great network of friends and church members who served as my support system, but when I lost my job I lost about 95% of those people.  I had not only lost my job, I had lost my church and most of my friends.  Since I’d been exploring the possibility of going back to school and getting a second masters in teaching, school counseling, or speech therapy, having family around would be really nice.  Now that I was looking at adoption, moving to be closer to family was a possibility.

Finally, just a few short weeks ago, we finalized our adoption!  After 588 days in foster care, Little Man became part of his Forever Family!  I can now officially introduce you to Austin!

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After a year and a half, I can finally show you my adorable Little Man’s face!  Officially becoming a family is definitely the highlight of my year, and the best thing that has ever happened to me.  It makes all the struggles and pain of the past year worthwhile.  I am so blessed to call him mine, and so thankful God brought him into my life.

Austin’s adoption day was August 26.  I had decided it was best to move to Illinois, and we had been making plans prior to the adoption.  So a mere two days after the adoption we loaded up a truck full of stuff and the next day we pulled out of town.  We’ve been in Illinois for a few weeks now and everything has been a huge adjustment.  I’ve been living in large cities since I left home at 17.  Now I’ve moved to a small town where everyone knows everything about each other.  I’m coming to terms with the fact that there are no stand-alone Starbucks (although, thank God, there is one in a grocery store), big shopping areas, or fun attractions.  I’m also starting my job search all over again, this time in a small town with far less opportunities.  I’m renting a house for the first time and purchasing appliances, dealing with spiders and cockroaches, and discovering the [insert sarcasm] joys of living in a home that’s over a 100 years old.  I’m struggling with a school district that has been very frustrating to get registered with and just decreased Austin’s services significantly–from 10 times a week in a 5 hour program to 4 times a week in a 2 1/2 hour program.  And on top of all that I’m trying to unpack, make new friends, cook without a stove (going on 2 weeks now), acclimate Austin, and try not to freak out about how I’m going to survive until I find a job.

This is my life now, and I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore.  So much of the past year has been overwhelmingly heartbreaking.  It has challenged my faith and left me in an emotional blackhole.  And yet, there are glimpses of beauty and hope.  Becoming a forever family is the best thing in my life.  Even painful things, like losing my job, have taught me to trust God and allowed me to see the beauty in spending time as a family–which was something we seriously lacked when I worked in the church.  I don’t know where this yellow brick road will lead me.  I have no idea what my life will be like five years from now–what I will be doing as my next career, where we’ll be living (because houses with cockroaches and zero storage space are not my cup of tea), or how far Austin will have progressed on his journey.  But I have hope.  The wonders of Oz await!

Your job, Mommy.

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I am working with Little Man to help him understand the proper role of a parent. This is an important job in foster care. So I have been teaching him that “mommy’s job is to take care of you.” Tonight at dinner I asked him to take something to the sink. “No,” he said, “Mommy’s job.” Well played Little Man, well played.

In other news, Little Man got glasses. He started wearing them about two months ago. His prescription is stronger than mine. A lot stronger. He is now on pair 6 or 7. Medicare won’t pay for flexible glasses, because they’re too expensive, but apparently replacing them about once a week is fiscally responsible. He’s been without glasses more than he’s been with them.

On one of our recent trips to get new glasses, the optometrist asked if he was an only child. When I said yes, he said “I can tell, only children always have such advanced speech.” Look at that, ladies and gents! That’s my non-verbal baby!!! Needless to say, I’m super proud!

My baby is sick.

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I got my first sick call from Little Man’s school today. They told me he had a fever which had quickly climbed to 101.5. I picked him up, gave him some Tylenol, and he’s been sleeping for close to three hours now. Poor baby.

By the way, he got glasses last week, and he is even more adorable than ever.

Happy 3rd Birthday, Little Man!

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So, this is a few months late in coming.  But I wanted to share.  I am totally ripping off an idea from Megan at http://www.millionsofmiles.com.  It’s a great blog that you should totally read.

Anyway, the idea I’m ripping off is a birthday letter which I plan to do every year for Little Man.  It also has a list of his favorites.  Hopefully next year he’ll be talking enough that I can actually ask him the questions, but for this year you’re just getting the mommy perspective.

 

My dear sweet boy,

Although I’ve only known you a few months, you’ve already stolen my heart. I remember the first day you came to me. I found out you were coming just a few days before, and had a chance to meet you twice. When you were dropped off at my home, you ran around the house playing with the few toys and books I had and then trying to stuff them in your tiny backpack. I’m sure you thought you were going to leave soon, and you wanted to take everything with you.   And that was when I fell in love with you.

You are a big three years old now, and you are so fiercely independent. Maybe because you’ve had to be in your short life, but my, are you so willing and insistent on doing things yourself. And you’re very good at it too. You want to cook the food, pour the milk, turn on the bath, open the packages, and turn on the car. You’re even trying to change your own diaper.

You are so smart! Sometimes, I swear, you’re too smart for your own good. In the short months you’ve lived with me, you have come to learn where we live and how to navigate there from any direction. You remember when bridges are coming up, and when we’re going to go underneath roadways. You have such an engineer’s mind—always taking things apart to see how they work, and then putting them back together. You can figure out every child latch invented (or break it open with brute force). And man, are you strong. You love to push around heavy things and haul gallons of water to the porch to water the flowers. Although, sometimes your strength gets you in big trouble when you get mad.

Ooo, and how you get mad sometimes. You go at it with everything in you, and you can have such a hard time calming down. I think you might hold the world record for the longest temper tantrums. But you are learning and growing every day. And you get mad props from me, baby. You have to fight every day to overcome so much. You fight to push past special needs and developmental delays. And you fight to overcome the chaos and confusion of growing up in the foster care system. And you fight to communicate and learn language. I am so proud of you for fighting to overcome these things. I know you can do it. I’m here for you, and I’m cheering you on!

When you first came to me you only spoke a few words, but you have come so far baby! You are talking up a storm! And though we’re still working on being able to understand all your words, you have come so far in just a few short months. Every day you’re learning new words and sentences. And everyone is in love with your voice. Seriously. You’ve got this raspy, jazz singer voice. It’s a voice that sounds a little out of place coming from your adorable little three year old body. But it’s entirely endearing. I’m so proud of you and all your hard work, buddy!

You can be so thoughtful—you get concerned when other kids are sad or crying. You’re always saying “Oh no!!” and running to me to help them out. Or running to them and trying to give them a hug—even if they don’t want one. And oh, how you love to hug! Everyone—even strangers you just met, is likely to get a Little Man hug!   Everyone loves how affectionate you are. And you’re always trying to help out—whether it’s welcoming a new kid, trying to serve me food at dinner time and make sure my plate is never empty, or cleaning the house (and I seriously love that you love cleaning so much, please always stay this way!!!)

I love you and I am praying for you every day.   And I’m not alone. There is an army of people who are madly in love with you and praying for you. People who are always demanding to know where you’re at and when they’ll get to play with you again. You make people fall in love with you so easily! I can’t wait to see what God has in store for you! I believe in you, and I know we’re in for a great adventure together. I’m so glad God brought us together—I’m so lucky to be your mommy, and you’re teaching me so much. Your third year is going to be so amazing! I can’t wait for the journey!

Love,
Mommy

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Favorite Toy: Elmo doll

Favorite Drink: MILK!!

Favorite Food: Waffles. Oh. My. Word. You would eat waffles for every meal if I would let you. And you are always wanting food—even if you’re not really hungry. You wake up (about six times a night) and the first thing you always say is “Eat. Eat now.” Sometimes you will wake up from a deep sleep, start drinking milk or going to the kitchen to scavenger for food which you will eat, and then fall back asleep.

Favorite Activity: Driving mommy’s car and playing at the park

Favorite Song: “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Whenever it comes on in the car you gasp, scream “My song!” and then start dancing. Most adorable thing ever!

Favorite Cartoon: Little Einsteins, or as you call it “Rocketship!”

Favorite Books: I’ll Love You Forever, Pat the Bunny, Go Dog, Go

Favorite Lullabies: The song from I’ll Love You Forever, “Stay Awake” from Mary Poppins

Favorite Sport: Swimming, although I’m sure you’d be in love with tackle football if you could play it.

Favorite Ice Cream: Chocolate

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Sleepy Adventures

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Another thing you may have read on Facebook:

In the past two days I have watched Little Man wake from a deep sleep and

A) pick up his milk, drink it, and set it back down;

B) join in right on cue with the applause at a concert; and

C) walk to the kitchen, open a bag of muffins, grab two and head back to bead where he proceeded to eat them.

All of this was followed by him falling immediately back to sleep. I’m wondering if this could tell me something about why he wakes up so often every night. Any ideas? Does this sound like sleep walking type stuff?

Proudest Mommy Moment Yet

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If you are my Facebook friend, you’ve already read this, but . . .

Proudest mommy moment yet: whenever we see someone hurt or upset, or someone tells us they are sick or in pain, I have Little Man stop and pray with me for them. We always hold hands and end with “amen.” Tonight he was being stubborn about brushing his teeth and I told him to please brush his teeth because mommy’s back hurt. He held out one hand to mine and tried to touch my back with the other, before saying “amen.” I didn’t understand him at first and then he kept asking me to take his hand and saying “amen, mommy’s back.” Needless to say we stopped and prayed right then.

Getting teary eyed just typing it. When you think it’s not working, when you think they’re not paying attention, just wait! As one of my favorite musical theatre songs says, “Careful the things you say, children will listen. Children may not obey, but children will see, and learn, and know.”

 

When the Bough Breaks, the Cradle Will Fall

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And . . . no baby.  After hauling tons of baby stuff into my home, installing a car seat, and reorganizing 2 closets and Little Man’s dresser so there would be room for the baby’s stuff.  And it’s not like I’m heart broken I’m not getting a baby–hey my life will definitely be easier with one.  But, the reason I’m not getting him is that he is not being taken away.  On Tuesday the investigator said it was so serious they couldn’t wait till today to remove him and he needed to be taken out right away.  But mom wouldn’t sign the consent form, so they had to wait till court today.  And now mom has “a plan.”  Mom with lots of substance abuse issues has a plan.  So the baby is staying with her.  And I know I’m a bit skeptical, but I am worried about the safety of this little baby.

So, I’m trying to decompress from this.  And now there’s a whole heap of baby stuff to be returned to all my awesome friends who were letting me borrow it.  Ugh.

A new addition to the family

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I got a placement call today for a little three month old boy. They were originally looking to remove him from his home today and needed a foster family. However bio mom wouldn’t sign the consent form, so it will all go down in court on Thursday morning. Barring any changes (which, let’s face it, could always happen in foster care) I will get a new addition to my little family sometime Thursday.

You may be asking if I’m crazy. Believe me, I’m asking it too! But it’s hard to say no when I know there’s a precious little one in need of a loving home and I have both the space and love to give.

Given what I was told about the situation he’s coming from, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s moved to a kinship (family member) placement fairly soon. But again, you never know with foster care.

So now I’m in a mad rush to get ready– baby proofing/cleaning the floors, purchasing/borrowing all the necessary baby gear (bottles, diapers, formula, toys, car seat, pacifiers, blankets, clothing, etc.), and trying to mentally prepare for another huge adjustment to my life.

In other news, the last couple of days have been great with Little Man! He’s talking so much now!!! I have discovered two things that work phenomenally well with him. The first is choices. I’m a big advocate for choices. Ask anyone who’s been to one of my trainings on classroom management. But the amount of choices necessary to make for a smooth evening with Little Man are astronomical. A three minute conversation includes all of the following choices:
* What do you want to do next? A bath or medicine?
* Do you want to walk into the kitchen or ride the trike?
* Do you want to help pour the chips (peanut butter chips necessary before taking the meds) or do you want mommy to do it?
* Do you want to sit in your chair or on mommy ‘s lap?
* Do you want to help me pour the medicine or do you want mommy to do it?
* Do you want to hold the spoon or do you want mommy to?

That’s an average of one question every 30 seconds. With traveling to the kitchen, eating peanut butter chips, pouring medicine, drinking medicine, and running away from me a couple of times thrown in as well. Multiply that by the minutes in a day. It can be exhausting but it really works.

Another thing I have found super useful is songs. This boy has music in his soul. He has learned a ton of vocabulary from the songs I play him. But while on vacation my awesome friend Sharon taught me a song to help kids remember to look before crossing the street. An important lesson for my son who likes to make a mad dash in every parking lot, driveway, and street. And though it hasn’t cured him yet, we’re making progress. And as I’ve implemented songs in other areas he has a hard time following directions, he’s improving in those areas as well. So I’ve become a master songwriter. If you consider master level things like “down the stairs, down the stairs we go, left, right, left, right, we’re marching down the stairs .” I’m sure you’re all blown away.

So that’s it in my crazy world right now. A whole lot of insanity!!!

The Merry Go Round of Crazy

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I mentioned in my last post that there was lots I needed to catch everyone up on.  The past 2 1/2 weeks have been so crazy — so much stuff going in Little Man’s world and in mine.  It all started with a visit to a pediatric specialist at the Center for Development, Behavior, and Genetics.  That translates to a specialist that works with kids with a variety of special needs.  He’s crazy hard to get into–appointments often take a year to make.  However a year ago, when Little Man was still with bio mom, there was some concern that he might have Autism, and so an appointment was scheduled.  And now the time had come for that appointment.  We actually came back from vacation a day early to make this–it’s that big of a deal.

Since I’ve had Little Man it’s been clear to everyone involved that he doesn’t have Autism.  However he does have a whole list of other issues and troubling behaviors.  So this was a very helpful appointment.  Some of the things he was diagnosed with were no shock–developmental language disorder, at risk for learning disability, and severe problems with impulse control, explosiveness, and aggression.  Others were a bit of a surprise, but not too intimidating–probable ADHD.

But then there was one other diagnosis.  The one at the top of his chart.  I’m not going to make it public yet, because I’m not sure I’ve bought into this diagnosis.  But let me tell you, it’s bad.  Like, really bad.  In fact, when I did my home study they had to ask me about a long list of challenging behaviors, medical conditions, mental health issues, and special needs.  I said I’d take kids with severe learning disabilities or special needs.  I said I’d take kids who started fires.  This is the ONE THING I said I couldn’t handle.  The place where I drew the line.

God has a great sense of humor, huh?

I received a copy of the doctor’s full report and it was full of lots of things I just had to laugh at.  Like “He can be very sweet, but is also prone to violent and aggressive outbursts.  Many things trigger him very quickly”  And “He actually exhibits quite a lot of attention-seeking and limit testing behavior with his foster mother.  She is quite skilled in her responses to this behavior.”  Well, thanks.

That week I actually had three different appointments for Little Man.  Two days later I took him into the clinic for a follow-up appointment for a health problem he’s been having.  We saw my favorite doctor there-she’s awesome.  Little Man was displaying a few challenging behaviors.  Most of the time he was pretty good.  But then he started throwing a chair.  Nurses came in, afraid that someone was getting hurt and the doctor needed help.  Welcome to my world, folks.  Anyway, Little Man was fine and at the end of the visit the doctor told me “I wish I could bring you in to train the other foster parents–you’re great.”  Did I mention how much I love her?  So much better than the snooty doctor who stepped in the door one time and before even saying hello told me I needed to teach my son that his behavior wasn’t acceptable.  (Oh, is that what I’m supposed to do?  I thought I was supposed to encourage the yelling, hitting, and throwing.)

The next day I had an appointment to determine if Little Man was still eligible for services as he transitions out of EI and into the school district system (since he just turned 3).  It was an interesting meeting–two people from the school district, his special needs preschool teacher, his EI coordinator, his caseworker, bio mom on the phone, and myself.  The preschool teacher started bragging on how far he’s come in the past few months and that he’s doing so great.  But I had come to the meeting with my report from the specialist he saw on Monday.  And when they passed it around, everyone’s jaws hit the floor.  For real.  His caseworker said “I had no idea it was this bad.”  Maybe she wasn’t getting my desperate e-mails.  Who knows.  His teacher was shocked.  Apparently he spends a lot more time acting out at home than at school.  But his EI coordinator listened to my descriptions of his behavior and said “That is exactly what he was behaving like when I was doing in-home services with him before.”  Well, at least someone else has seen it.  They clearly saw his need for continued services and assigned him to everything the doctor had recommended.  Win.

As I was leaving the meeting, his caseworker walked out with me and we were able to have a good conversation.  She apologized for not knowing Little Man’s needs were so severe and promised to raise him to the next level of care (which means I’ll receive a higher reimbursement and can start a college fund for him as well as buying some of the therapeutic tools and toys he needs).  I laughed, “Yeah,” I said “my definition of a good day had drastically changed–the other night he hit me several times, bit me, pulled my hair, and pinched me, but it really was a good night.”

Then she started talking about mom and I asked her about some of the things she’d said in the meeting.  I wanted to know if mom was really making progress on getting Little Man back–because that’s how the caseworker was speaking to her during the meeting.  In the process of answering that question it came out that mom does not, in fact, have other children.  I was told multiple times by other caseworkers and by Little Man’s lawyer that mom had several other children who had all been freed for adoption and that meant he was on the path for adoption as well.  Now I was finding out that wasn’t true.  Apparently dad has other kids that have been freed for adoption, but mom has no other kids.  Woah.  That is a huge difference.  I felt like the ground had been ripped out from underneath me.  The caseworker shared some other info about his court case that had occurred the day before (I didn’t even know he had one), things going on with mom’s progress, and we made a plan to meet at my home for her visit the following week.

The beginning of the next week she came out for the visit.  She sat on my couch and observed Little Man and was completely shocked.  For real words that came out of her mouth:  “Is he always like this?”  “You should think long and hard about whether you want to adopt him, because I can’t promise he’ll ever get any better.”  Not so encouraging.  I know she’s just doing her job, and she needs to protect him against someone who says yes and then after adopting decides they can’t handle it.  But seriously people, if your biological kid was diagnosed with special needs would you just send them back?

In the midst of all this craziness we also had Little Man’s epic birthday party, I met with a social worker at the specialist’s office to discuss ways to handle his challenging behaviors, my computer completely crashed–losing about 3 months worth of work and being out of commission for nearly 2 weeks, I enrolled Little Man in his new special needs preschool program and took him for a tour, and dealt with an incredibly infuriating screaming episode in the middle of a nice sit-down restaurant.  (Seriously, Little Man, I refuse to accept defeat and stay at home or the park for the rest of my life–you need to learn how to behave in public, sincerely Mommy.)

So, if you’ve been wondering what’s going on in the world of Little Man, the answer is A LOT.  A lot that is super overwhelming.  But there’s been so much that’s super rewarding too.  Like . . .

* My baby, who could only speak about 5 words three months ago, is now talking up a storm.  He can speak in complete sentences and is learning new words and phrases every day!

* And he is not just looking at books anymore.  He is “reading” them.  For reals.  He picks up “Go Dog, Go” and carefully turns each page and says words and sentences that are on that page.  “I like it!  I like that hat!”  How magical is that!!

* He has decided that he now loves being at our home.  (I’m sure all the amazing toys his friends got him for his birthday are helping that!)

* He overheard “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman” in church and it’s new favorite song.  He sings along and does the motions–his favorite part is the “tick tock” part, with “Don’t touch me!” coming in as a close second!

* He also has decided he loves being at church.  No more crying when we start heading that way.  Instead he’ll start asking for church multiple times in a day!

* He has gotten so much better at staying at the table during mealtimes.

* I have significantly less bruises and injuries than I did a month ago.  His violent behaviors are getting much less frequent (and more importantly) much less damaging.

* And also super encouraging: an awesome friend contacted someone she knows who is a specialist in that diagnosis I was so afraid of.  And she thinks it’s wrong.  She described another diagnosis which is similar, and in some ways even harder to manage.  But the major difference:  the love, support, and affection I give him now can radically change and even cure what he’s dealing with.  And that is a HUGE light at the end of the tunnel.

 

 

Shhh . . . Don’t tell

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But Little Man slept through the night last night.  In his bed.  Not curled up on his changing pad outside my door.  The whole night!!!!  Three cheers for a full night’s sleep for him and for me!

Also, in case you don’t follow me on Facebook — my awesomely brilliant friend Angie (the one you saw helping me put together the crib he never used) sat down and brainstormed ways to work through some of his struggles with me.  The screaming bloody murder and throwing himself at me until I’m in so much pain I’m crying when I go to change his diaper.  The hitting and biting, which for him aren’t just an expression of frustration, but a game to play.  Angie knows her stuff.  She’s got a masters degree in working with kids with special needs.  She’s a rock star.  And all her advice worked like a charm.  Diaper changes took a while but happened with zero fighting.  After a few times of hitting he ate up her tools and stopped hitting.  HOLLA!

And that eating thing . . . for the last 24 hours he’s decided he really would rather sit in my lap at meal times than get down and play.  He’s still not really eating anything, but it’s progress.  Not the finish line, but fantastic progress.

Let’s celebrate.  Just not too loud, I’m still keeping my fingers crossed.