Please see them…

So, this post is going to be a little be different. This is going to be my first “advocacy” post, where I beg you to read about a couple of children that my heart aches for. As a verb, advocate is to “recommend publicly,” and as a noun, “a person who pleads for or in behalf of another; intercessor.” The thing is, there are a couple of kids that I just can’t shake. Some because I actually met them – I laughed with them and watched them and briefly loved them. And some for unexplainable reasons – my heart is just drawn to them and can’t let them go.

I’m going to tell you their stories. Because their stories make them real. Because they ARE real. And they deserve to be seen, if only here on the lonely pages of the internet. And you might be thinking, “Well, we never plan to adopt, so I’ll just skip on past this post and catch back up when there are more pictures of that adorable baby.” Please read it anyway. For them. Simply SEE them, if nothing else.

But you could also pray for them. You could donate to their funds or share their stories (and it’s only the tiniest of things we get to know about them, sadly). If you know anyone considering adopting, you could show them their pictures. You could honestly and earnestly ask God what He is asking from you, and then, at least for now, only pretend to listen. :) He’ll keep asking — trust me, I’ve learned.

But really, some of it is selfish. I’m also advocating for these kids for me. To get the weight of their eyes off my chest and my heart, the weight of their lives of my soul. I have to do this – speak for them. I promised myself one night in a little room while we were traveling to adopt Boo…I wrote down their names in a notebook, and resolved to share them until they are truly found. So read it for me, help me carry the weight. Amplify my voice. Every child belongs in a family. And we can’t save them all. But these ones, these ones have my heart.

I read this anecdotal story about a Christian man in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. He said that the trains carrying Jewish people to their deaths would run by their church on Sundays, and they could hear the cries and screams of the people (begging for help and mercy) as it passed the sanctuary. Eventually, it got to the point that when they heard the train whistle, they all just began to sing louder, to block out the noise that tormented them. He is relaying the story many years later, and he says he can still hear that train whistle in his sleep. Tormented now by the fact that they did nothing to intervene.

Truthfully, I’m not sure if this is a true story – I couldn’t track it down to a reliable source. But it stuck in my mind so clearly, so tangibly, that I wanted to share it anyway. This is the train whistle, friends. We can’t pretend we don’t know there is a need, and we can’t just sing louder because it makes us feel better. Children are depending on us to do better.

Maddie

Maddie

Maddie is a beautiful little girl who turned nine last month. Nine long years without a family. She was born with a congenital heart defect that has since been repaired, and she is listed as have a moderate mental delay. There are only two updates about her – one from when she was four and another one from when she was seven. When she was four, they described her as a “mother’s helper,” always helping others and cleaning up messes. Although she had an unsteady walk, she was determined to be independent, and often sang loudly in her own little language. This girl moves to the beat of her own drum, and her spirit is strong. When she was seven, it was noted that she began to attend school, as a bus would take her to and from institution.

Can you imagine what that feels like? To have your “stop” be an orphanage. When my brother and I were children (I was in the second grade), we lived in one of the wealthiest school districts in our city. Only, we weren’t wealthy. We lived in the last street in the district, in a small, brown house with our single, working mom. As children, we couldn’t understand that there was nothing wrong with our house. I actually have great memories from that particular house.   But to us, it was small. And it was brown. Some kids called it the poop house. And when you know (or you think) that all the kids on your bus live in huge houses, it makes you self-conscious. The house next door, however, we deemed respectable. (It’s funny because I’ve driven down that street as an adult and there is really no difference between the two). But every day, my brother and I would get off the bus and walk slowly to the neighbors front door, praying they weren’t home and waiting for the bus to pull away. Then we’d run over to our house and go inside. My heart aches for how Maddie must feel everyday, reminded that all the other kids are going somewhere she can only dream of: home.

But she likes school, and if she is in interested in what she is doing and has good motivation, they report she does well. This sweet girl needs a family, and she needs a family fast. Statistics aren’t Maddie’s friend. Orphans who “age out” of the institution face a bleak future. The numbers show that 10-15% commit suicide before the age of 18, and 70% of the boys become criminals to survive. The aged-out girls however, face a different fate: because they are poor, uneducated and unskilled, they are the perfect target for human traffickers. More than 60% of the girls are forced into prostitution. Combine those numbers with the fact that Maddie is not only truly beautiful, but has a slight mental delay, and my heart shudders at the thought of what will happen to her.

Please see her.

Zeke

ZekeOh, this precious boy. I had the privilege of meeting him, and I can tell you he is one clever little dude. His file lists all sorts of diagnoses that would scare many families off, but quite honestly, I’m not sure they are accurate. Obviously, I’m not a doctor, and I’m not HIS doctor, and I have no way of know the intricate details of his care. But I met a little boy with what appeared to be mild cerebral palsy and traces of FAS, who was determined enough to figure out a way to walk, and played amongst all the other boys (leaping from couches nonetheless) with no issues. When I first arrived in his room, I taught him to fist bump and blow it up. We only did it once, maybe twice, and then something else happened and other kids needed attention and that was it. But when I left an hour and a half later, he remembered it perfectly. He is very attached to a young woman who volunteers her time at the orphanage., and he kept looking to her for assurance, for validation. It is actually a fantastic sign that he has formed such a close relationship, and bodes well for his ability to form secure attachments throughout his life. He was also “reading” me books, and he is one of those children who notice everything about a page, and want all the details explained and examined and corroborated. Unfortunately, next year Zeke will be moved from his baby house to a home for older children. This type of move is very traumatic for children, because it separates them from everyone and everything they have ever known.

I’m telling you though, this boy has a LIGHT. A spark, something beautiful. He will bloom with a mama’s love. The volunteer basically changed her entire life to be with him. She met him as a toothy toddler and fell head over heels, returning to his orphanage during the summers to volunteer. Eventually (after college), she moved from the US to Lithuania in order to be with him full time. As a single woman, working toward a visa in order to secure employment, she is unable to adopt Zeke (and will be for the foreseeable future), and yet she loves him all the same. That is just the type of boy is he – he draws you in.

Please see him.

Heinrich

Heinrich1-233x300

This sweet little man is a bundle of energy! Not long ago, his reports stated that he was not steady while walking, but the boy I saw had full control of his body. When I first arrived in his room, he ran immediately to me and jumped up in my arms. He was all wiggle, so I started jumping up and down with him in my arms and he just laughed. He would have done this for the rest of the day. He is however, pretty strong for a little dude, so I think he would probably be best in a family with no small children. Not because he showed ANY inclination of hurting others, but just because he will definitely require a watchful eye. My heart breaks for Heinrich, because he is not cute and cuddly anymore. He has passed the point where his transition to top-notch therapy and care would have made an immediate difference, and he needs a family willing to work hard to find his best potential. But he has made significant gains recently – he has the potential in there! And his file says that he lacks the motivation to make an activity – and this sentence literally kills me. I’m sure they said the same about our Boo. But why WOULD there be motivation? There is no one to cheer you on, reward you, believe in you, and never leave you. No one who will always be there, no matter how hard it gets. What is motivating about the same four walls, a rotation of caregivers (who, even though loving, are transitory and BUSY), and a future with a foregone conclusion. If no one expects anything from you, you are likely to meet that expectation.

Heinrich is a diamond in the rough, and he desperately needs someone to believe in him.

Please see him.

 Olivia

 Olivia

You guys, I don’t know what it is about this girl, but I just love her so much. That smile just stops my heart every time. Olivia will be ten this year, and her chances of being adopted go down with each passing month. Sweet Olivia walks and uses the restroom independently, and is totally able to perform the morning exercises with the other children. I die picturing this. They say she is kind and helpful to other children, and her agency has a lot more pictures and information about her. She hasn’t had an update since 2012, which usually means that no one has asked about her. This sweet, beautiful girl who loves crafting – stringing beads, coloring and more. The good news is that Olivia is in a good orphanage that is sponsored by Half the Sky. She goes to preschool, and even receives physical therapy. She loves to show off her good work to her teachers, and they love to give her praise because she will laugh happily and clap her hands.

Her files ends with the words: She is restless and brave.

SHE IS RESTLESS AND BRAVE! Do you hear me??!! She needs a family to start a new life where she has opportunity to grow and learn and love and live. She needs a mama to brush her hair, and teach her sign language, and read her books and sing her goodnight. I just have a feeling about this one friends == she is going to rock your world!

Please see her.

 Ryan

Ryan

And last, but not least, my sweet Ryan. This is the boy with the megawatt smile we designed the t-shirts for, the boy who I shared around Christmas. This little dude is still waiting, and he will be five this summer. Five is still such a baby! He recently got some new specs, and I’m not sure he can be any cuter! Ryan has a repaired heart defect, and mild asthma, and as of this spring he was already getting dressed and undressed alone, as well as eating independently. My facilitator said he is an awesome little dude, and I wanted so badly to give him some love! He gets along and plays with the other children and is very friendly to adults. Ryan is at a perfect age to come home – ready to get started with preschool and kindergarten and have someone finally willing to discover all he is really capable of. Ryan is interested in anything, and he would fit well in any family. This boy has my heart, friends.

Please see him.

I know it can feel hopeless to see all these faces and know they only represent more. But there is always Hope, always Love, always Grace. Choose one of these children and pray for them – find ways to raise money for their funds. Share their faces and help find their families. Just choose one. In his book Radical, David Platt says, “We learned that orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes…”

 ***If you click on their names, you can go to their personal page for more information or donate directly to their funds.***

***If you are interested in more information on any of these children, please contact Reece’s Rainbow and they will put you in touch with the appropriate agency!***

Fake it ’til you make it…

If you ask me how everything is going, I will most likely tell you, “It’s pretty good, actually,” with only the slightest of hesitations. And I mostly believe that, except there is evidence that my body/mind are more taxed than I realize. Little things give me away, like forgetting to respond to or send important emails, return food dishes, or make appointments. And while I’m usually the person who lies awake for at least 45 minutes every night just thinking, right now I’m sleeping like a rock. It’s interesting because I don’t FEEL stressed, and I can’t even really describe exactly what it is that is hard about adoption for us. And yet, I WILL hesitate slightly, mostly because I hate being insincere. So I thought maybe if I wrote it all down, it would help flush the demons from my head.

It’s hard honestly, to even admit that I’m struggling. Realistically, we are pretty lucky with how easy our transition has been. The boys’ sleep issues shook out within a couple weeks, and I have THREE small children who take naps at the same time each day. And sleep for the same amount of time each night. That alone is amazing. And Sissy and Bug are handling everything well, with only expected minor jealousy issues and an increased desire for Mama cuddles. Boo isn’t old enough to exhibit challenging behaviors that many families often face, like lying, or stealing, or food hoarding. So I think I feel a little bit guilty even trying to put words to my struggle, when I know in perspective it could be so much worse.

But I said I would be honest here, and so I’ll do my best to articulate the catch in my response. I think a lot of it has to do with expectations. I recently read a poignant piece about attachment in adoption titled Love is Patient, and even typing that out stings a little because I think that’s a huge part of my problem. Love is patient and I am not. And she talks about how our expectations can often be so unfair to our children, and she quotes Beth Guckenberger who says, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” And before our sweet Boo came home, I just couldn’t really grasp this. I read all about attachment and how important it was not to expect your child to be grateful, and to be willing to give them time and space to heal from their trauma. And I nodded in agreement, underlined and highlighted the important parts, and thought smugly to myself, “I won’t do that to him.”

And yet, being in the THICK of it is entirely different than reading about it. All the research in the world can’t prepare you for the emotional toll of bringing a child from a hard place into your home and your heart and committing to loving them forever. It’s a roller coaster, and I honestly don’t mind the ride, I just wish I could see the curves coming. What I am learning over and over again, is that I HAVE to remember that it’s not about us. About what we want or need or think he should be doing. About how we’d like him to respond in any given situation, or like him NOT to respond in another. We need to spend way less time thinking about what we hope he will one day be doing and just start watching what he IS doing. Studying him, learning him, trying to figure out what is going on is that beautiful little head. And we have some days where we are great at that. And others, not so much. The reality is, it’s exhausting.

And I find myself frustrated with him for behaviors I FULLY knew to expect, and which are totally normal for a child with his background. And then I’m frustrated with myself for that frustration. And many, many more experienced mamas have said to give yourself grace in these early months – lots of it. To be gentle on myself as everyone transitions. And I take that to heart and I’m trying, but if I’m completely honest, I’m disappointed in myself.

And I can’t nail down exactly why. I think maybe it’s similar to motherhood in general. I had two children 20 months apart and those first few years nearly wrecked me. I’m a processor – I have a deep need to understand WHY I feel how I do, where it comes from, and what I can do to make it better. And as I struggled through the trials of being a first-time mama, I often asked myself, “Did I secretly think this was going to be easy?” But guys, the answer is no. The answer is worse. I didn’t think it would be easy, I thought I would be better at it. And it’s humbling to admit that.

And maybe it is similar with our adoption – I KNEW it was going to be hard, but I thought I’d be better at it. Being prepared for the hard and walking through the hard are not the same animal – why I haven’t learned this by now I have no idea. And maybe that’s the rub, that I actually thought I could do this in my own flesh. I thought, however subconsciously, that I’ve “got” this.   I learned in my first year as a mama that parenting on my knees was the only way I’d survive, yet somehow I convinced myself I could take this challenge standing. Pride is a sneaky idol, and families are the enemy’s playground.

Sometimes, our expectations sneak up on us, because they were actually created by a past reaction to something. For instance, one night at bedtime I rubbed Boo’s back while I was singing and he smiled. He liked it (or so I thought). The next night when I went to rub his back, he turned and moved away. I was irritated, and resentful, because I suddenly expected him to enjoy my touch. Do you see how complex this is emotionally?  We are learning what it truly means to be selfless, as if marriage and our other two haven’t been lessons enough. But we have to love him exactly as he is RIGHT NOW, and not love him for who we want him to be, or who we hope he’ll become. I have realized that I am actually less loving toward him when he doesn’t respond the way I believe he should. Right now, he doesn’t need, doesn’t deserve, and certainly can’t handle any expectations. Especially unfair ones.

I remind myself, “What if God only loved me when I acted how he wanted?” I can’t even imagine how that would look, how many times I’ve responded in a way that is less than pleasing. But he doesn’t turn away or respond in anger. Isaiah 42:3 says, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” Our tiny, weak reed, our flickering, wavering candle – what he needs is for us to be gentle. With our words, with our hands, with our voices.

Unfortunately, gentleness is not always my first response. Life with three kids four and under, a husband who travels, and two needy animals is naturally chaotic. I am learning every day that I can either embrace that chaos and make it beautiful, or resist it and watch things wither. A sweet friend (who has also recently adopted) shared with me that God is teaching her that our children are give to us to disciple and nurture, NOT to control. That really struck a chord with me. He’s not asking me to control them, but to shepherd them. I struggle constantly with control, my wild need for it, and my lack thereof. Loving Boo is no different, and learning to let go of my instinct to control all three of my children is both terrifying and liberating.

For me, I’m trying to remember that bonding with Sissy and Boo was also difficult at the beginning. It’s doesn’t come as naturally to me as it does to others. It took time for us to learn one another and for them to become more responsive and interactive before I felt a deeper connection. Boo is no different. It can be difficult because his emotions tend to the extremes. He is either laughing (because of physical touch), crying (really, it’s screaming), or totally blank. And it’s harder now, almost five weeks in, to still struggle so much with bonding. I think at first it was easier to handle, because we had just SEEN where he’d been, and he was new to us, and we didn’t have expectations. But they creep up on you, those premeditated resentments and subconscious desires. Thankfully (hopefully!), I think Daddy K and I are finally realizing this is a long game, and we can’t rush or force things.

Once Daddy K was hanging out with him in the living room and then came into the kitchen alone. I asked him if the baby was okay and he replied, “Oh, he’s good. We were just playing for a while but then all I wanted to do was wrestle him so I knew it was time to give him some space.” That might sound funny, but it’s a perfect description of how we feel interacting with him.   We know there is no way to buy back the lost time. To erase the trauma of his first few years. But somehow we want to. We want to heal him, instantaneously, and so we often try to hard.   Those first few crucial formative years, the ability to give and receive love easily, basic trust in other people – that was all stolen from him. There is no quick fix, and we are learning to accept the reality that it will take years to recover from those wounds.

But we won’t stop trying. We are also becoming new in this process – we are becoming better parents, better people, better partners. We are becoming acutely aware of our own shortcomings and our desperate need for the grace of our Father.

And yesterday I read another article that talked about the most important part of healthy attachment – taking care of yourself. I think it’s time to revisit the advice to give myself grace, and remember I’m just as important to my God as sweet Boo. The author said, “We champion and cry that our kids are worth fighting for while we forget that we are, too. We need to put our air masks on first — take a breath… and then take care of our precious ones.”

We are making, friends, we are making it. Thanks for hearing my heart. All is grace.

Where We’re At: March 27, 2015 (One Weekish Home)

Again, sorry to those of you who actually follow this blog but don’t know me on Facebook! I tend to update in our group there more frequently, so if you are interested, feel free to request to join the FB group “the right to hold you.”

As a quick update on the remainder of our trip, I think I last posted when we were waiting for a court decision. That Monday afternoon, we found out the judge granted our adoption, as well as our request for urgent execution. My friend Jessica arrived late Monday night and we headed out early Tuesday for Kaunas, our Boo’s birth city, as well as the city his baby house was in. We went first to the city registry with our adoption decree to apply for a new birth certificate. In Lithuania, after an adoption they create an entirely new birth certificate with the adoptive parents listed. It seemed crazy to me at first, but now I think it’s pretty cool. Then we went to the orphanage to visit and say our goodbyes to everyone for a bit. Once the birth certificate was ready, we went to pick it up and grab lunch, then headed back to spring my main man.

Looking spiffy if the first clothes the only belonged to me!  His caregivers loved his fancy tie :)

Looking spiffy if the first clothes the only belonged to me! His caregivers loved his fancy tie :)

Mama's helping me walk out of this place!

Mama’s helping me walk out of this place!

Freedom.  And a beautiful spring day to boot.

Freedom. And a beautiful spring day to boot.

Mama got a little carried away outside, she was so happy.

Mama got a little carried away outside, she was so happy.

We left the orphanage and headed back to the capital city of Vilnius, where we spent the next week completing what is often referred to as the “paper chase.” We had to get a passport for Boo, as well as apply for and receive a U.S. Visa. Usually we would also have had to visit the Embassy doctor, but luckily we had taken care of that earlier in our trip. So we spent a week exploring Vilnius, celebrating Lithuania’s (second) Independence Day, and getting to know our new little man.

Boo loved this little area and would sit and stare out all day.  He loves light, and will move toward it if he can.  He WASN'T pleased I had him stand up, but having a mama is hard work!

Boo loved this little area and would sit and stare out all day. He loves light, and will move toward it if he can. He WASN’T pleased I had him stand up, but having a mama is hard work!

The place on the left is our apartments, and it was in a really great part of town.  Vilnius is a beautiful city!

The place on the left is our apartments, and it was in a really great part of town. Vilnius is a beautiful city!

My first parade.  Celebrating my country's independence the day after mine!

My first parade. Celebrating my country’s independence the day after mine!

I love a parade; The tramping of feet, I love ever beat I hear of a drum. I love a parade; When I hear a band I just wanna stand And cheer as they come!

I love a parade;
The tramping of feet,
I love ever beat
I hear of a drum.
I love a parade;
When I hear a band
I just wanna stand
And cheer as they come!

Crazy hair man.  Also, not a fan of the toothbrush.

Crazy hair man. Also, not a fan of the toothbrush.

Playground with mommy! The first time they tried to put me on a slide, I flopped around and acted like i'd fall off.  Just a couple weeks later, I showed off and pulled myself down!

Playground with mommy! The first time they tried to put me on a slide, I flopped around and acted like i’d fall off. Just a couple weeks later, I showed off and pulled myself down!

We were finally issued our Visa on Tuesday, March 17 and scrambled to change our tickets to come home Wednesday. Late Tuesday afternoon I got an email letting me know our airline carrier (Lufthansa) was going on strike and my flight was cancelled. Ha! So I scrambled some more and was able to switch airlines (albeit add an extra leg), and ensure Boo man and I were going to make it home Wednesday. I was done being away from my family, and just ready to snuggle my littles and get our new life started. We arrived home to Florida around 7:30 pm on Wednesday night. Boo and I had woken up around 3:30 am Wednesday morning, and this landing put us around 2:30 am the following day. We were both beyond exhausted, but so happy to finally be home.

It's WAY to early to wake up.  Can you just dress me while I sleep?

It’s WAY to early to wake up. Can you just dress me while I sleep?

Listen lady, plane or no plane, keep my belly full and everything will be all right!

Listen lady, plane or no plane, keep my belly full and everything will be all right!

Silly mommy, you thought I was going to sleep on this 9+ hour flight?

Silly mommy, you thought I was going to sleep on this 9+ hour flight?

He finally, FINALLY, gave it up to the sandman.

He finally, FINALLY, gave it up to the sandman.

Immigration selfie.  The lines and wait were atrocious, but little dude slept in his carrier the entire time.  Mama was d.o.n.e. at this point.

Immigration selfie. The lines and wait were atrocious, but little dude slept in his carrier the entire time. Mama was d.o.n.e. at this point.

So, now we have officially been home just over a week. I can hardly believe it has already been a week. We were super lucky that Chris was off last Thursday and Friday, so we had four full days to adjust as a family. This week is actually Spring Break for the kids’ preschool, which is a huge blessing, because it means I don’t have to rush anywhere in the morning or worry about logistics of school pick-up. It’s been a sweet time of just figuring out our new dynamic and learning how to be a mama of THREE.

Why does this girl keep touching me?

Why does this girl keep touching me?

Why does this dog keep touching me?

Why does this dog keep touching me?

Why do these people keep touching me?

Why do these people keep touching me?

Overall, I’d say Boo is doing fantastic. At least, considering that his entire world has been turned upside down and nothing he knew to be true has remained. He doesn’t understand the language we are speaking, realistically he has no idea who we even are, and no one he has relied on for the first 2.5 years of his life is showing up anymore. He has rolled with everything, and adjusted remarkably well to all the changes. Even his sleep patterns were relatively undisturbed, and in the apartment he still took a 2-hour naps and slept a good 10-12 hours each night.

He and Bug have actually transitioned to sharing a room better than I expected. There are two downfalls – Bug hasn’t fallen asleep for his nap for the last four days, so he is fairly noisy as he passes the time until his clock turns yellow. Luckily, Boo has been sleeping through this time, and possibly sleeping for too long. It’s been a 2-3 hour nap each day, and we often have to wake him. That leads to our second problem – Boo has been waking up and talking to himself (loudly!) around 4-5 am every morning. We are just giving both issues time, and hoping (praying) it’s just the transition and everything will soon shake out.

Also, when he's had enough, he kindly folds himself in half and goes to sleep. Ha!

Also, when he’s had enough, he kindly folds himself in half and goes to sleep. Ha!

Even if we are outside.

Even if we are outside.

Boo doesn’t cry out when he wakes up, which is really sad, but also made it a little tricky to figure out his sleep patterns at first. In the apartment he would just start rocking, and if I was in the room with him it would wake me up. If it was nap time, I would just try to listen for the crib moving. Once, I fell asleep in the other room (I was emotionally drained while in country so it affected me physically) during nap and a baby a floor above me cried out. I instinctively jumped out of bed and ran to his door, then stopped to listen. Dead silence. Oh yeah, I thought, my baby doesn’t cry. It as a sad moment, but I would say this has probably actually been helpful in the transition to room sharing for Bug.

Hanging out before bed.

Hanging out before bed.

So, what are the hardest parts of being home? Well, honestly it is just hard to watch Boo do his thing. He has many behaviors that are typical for children who have lived their entire life in an institution, but understanding their roots and not being heartbroken by them are two different things. He does a lot of “stimming,” which is what it is called when a child self-stimulates or self-soothes in a particular way. Essentially, long-term neglect of a child’s basic emotional needs forces them to learn ways to “take care” of themselves, and they often do this by stimming. These can manifest in many different ways, but for Boo it’s mostly head-banging, rocking (with varying degrees of aggressiveness), and noisemaking.

His only goal right now is our home is self-preservation, and nothing but time will heal the wounds in his psyche. It’s a hard thing to watch, and even harder to not try to force myself on him, desperately hoping we will miraculously have a quick fix. It’s a lesson in patience, and humility, and really learning that none of this has even been about me. Just loving him doesn’t automatically change him, and we have to learn how to meet him where he is at and create an environment that feels safe.

My pajamas are really so cute, but I need another picture like I need a tooth pulled, so please give me some space lady!

My pajamas are really so cute, but I need another picture like I need a tooth pulled, so please give me some space lady!

Physically, the biggest obstacle is his eating. I didn’t anticipate this for some reason, and I’m not sure if that is why it seems like a bigger challenge for me. Boo doesn’t actually drink anything. In the orphanage, they would give him fluid by tilting his head up with a towel underneath and pouring it in until he swallowed. He would obviously start swallowing because he would otherwise choke. (They wouldn’t have let him choke, obviously, but he had no way to know this). This has left him terrified of drinking from any type of cup or spout. In order to get him fluid, we have been spoon feeding him water. He also will only eat if spoon-fed. He tucks his hands deep into his chair during meals and just waits for you to bring the spoon to him. When Daddy K makes him work a little by only putting the spoon right on his lips and not IN his mouth, he begrudgingly takes a bite and then glares at him. Ha! He definitely has some spunk. We’ve had to work on adjusting the thickness of his food, because he also has terrible reflux. We are noticing that if we keep his food on the mushier side, he’s a lot less likely to spit up. On the plus side, he isn’t really picky about what food we give him, as long as the texture is how he likes it. So we have been doing oats with fruit, a grain (rice, cous cous, orzo) with either fruit or veggies, and then a mashed veggie (cauliflower and sweet potato so far) with some protein. It’s been an experiment, and I’m excited to start figuring out how to pack some good fats/superfoods into our regime. He is a little peanut, and definintely could use some meat on his bones. They were feeding him huge portions (I’m trying to figure out how to scale those down), but I think the food just wasn’t nutrient-dense enough to really help him thrive.

Children from institutions often have a lot of emotional issues related to eating, and he is no different. If we step away during his feeding (usually to get something for one of his siblings), he gets really upset and will actually cry/scream. In one week, he has already learned where he will eat, and the only time he will willingly crawl is if he wants to be feed. He will crawl over to his highchair and then just sit and wait.

In the apartment -- checking to see why I've taken a break spooning food into his mouth when he can clearly see there is still food in the bowl.  Get it together, mama!

In the apartment — checking to see why I’ve taken a break spooning food into his mouth when he can clearly see there is still food in the bowl. Get it together, mama!

Very common high chair face.  Still trying to figure this one out.  But man it's cute!

Very common high chair face. Still trying to figure this one out. But man it’s cute!

We have already seen a lot of changes in such a short time, and I think the hard part of that is expecting too much from him. I wish I had taken more videos when we first met him, because he seems like a different child to me. He previously would zone out the entire time we were with him, but now I’d say more than 50% of the time he is focusing on what’s going on around him. He has also started to engage in some toddler naughtiness, which is HUGE, since it shows signs that he understands play. I put him on the potty the other day (he was using the potty at the orphanage, although still in diapers, and has kept it up for us), and I stepped out to grab something. I heard him fling himself off and then start laughing – I walked in to catch him crawling out of the bathroom. :)  The last few nights at bedtime he has started standing up as soon as I put him in his crib and then giggling about it. When I leave to grab something (Bug has a never-ending request for things when it’s about to be lights out) he is standing in the corner of his crib right by the door when I come back, a huge grin on his face. These might not seem like big things, but they are a huge change. I can’t accurately describe the shell of a little boy we first met.

Okay, so what’s next for us? Well, we had Boo’s first doctor appointment yesterday. He is being referred to a whole slew of specialists. I am really excited to see what the ophthalmologist has to say, because Daddy K and I (and my friend Jessica as well), all noticed that he really seems to have a hard time actually focusing on anything. We also have to follow-up on his hearing (they sent me home with his hearing aids, but we haven’t been using them), as well as a good work-up for his heart defect. We should also start physical therapy soon, although I don’t want to push it.

Hanging with my brother.  Bug is super sweet with him and even told Daddy K one night, "Hey, stop bothering my brudda!"

Hanging with my brother. Bug is super sweet with him and even told Daddy K one night, “Hey, stop bothering my brudda!”

Our main goal is working on bonding. And learning that what we think bonding should look like might not actually be what it NEEDS to look like. It’s a hard balance between finding ways to engage him, and not over-stimulating or stressing him out. If we let him, he’d be happy to zone out all day (as long as we kept his belly full!). And yet, he clearly is beginning to blossom with some attention. Pray for wisdom in finding that sweet spot, and that we don’t let our hidden expectations or our pride negatively affect how we relate and respond to him. Not surprisingly, having him home has revealed the depths of our selfishness, and our innate desire for our own comfort and our own version of redemption. Pray that we allow the Author of all redemption to tell His story, and accept our role in that story with open hands. Our children are all surprising us every day, and it’s humbling to think about our role in their lives. We want to do this (parenting) well, and often our worst enemy is ourselves. They are patient, and forgiving, and full of joy. Boo is a beautiful little boy, and we are grateful to be on this journey with him.

I LOVE to swing.

I LOVE to swing.

Mama’s gotcha baby!

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This, my friends, is what redemption looks like.

Forgotten becomes rejoiced over.

Abandoned becomes sought out.

Discarded becomes fought for.

Despair becomes hope.

Broken becomes loved.

Darkness becomes light.

Death becomes life.

An orphan becomes a son and brother.

This is the gospel, the good news, the testimony, and it was true for me long before it was true for Boo. But today is his day…this sweet, brave, fighter of a boy. And every day is His day, this God who will never stop fighting. For Boo. For me. For all of us.

Happy Gotcha Day beautiful!

Where We’re At: March 8, 2015

I apologize to any blog readers that I’m not also friends with on Facebook. I realized I have been neglecting to keep you updated during our trip to meet and hopefully pick up our Boo. I have been posting regularly on a Facebook group, but wanted to take the chance to update here as well. Unfortunately, Daddy K headed home today with our laptop (one less thing for me to worry about), so this is post will be heavy on pictures and light on content. It’s really hard for me to write anything significant on the iPad.

**Don’t worry, I’m keeping a list of all the things we are experiencing here that I’d love to write about later! Oh, you weren’t worried? Nevermind, then. :) **

We arrived In country on February 26 and after a quick stop at the hotel, we headed straight to the orphanage to meet Boo. It was amazing but also a little surreal. I was totally freaking out, but Daddy K was cool as a cucumber.

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On Friday and Saturday, we went to the baby house in the morning and afternoon to get to know our little man. We stayed as long as they would let us, and were able to feed him, change him, help him on the potty and put him to to bed. We were feeling a little cooped up inside, so they let us take him out for a walk and try out the playground. He was a totally different child outside.

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Sunday we had the day off because everyone had to participate in voting for local officials. We were able to tour the Old Town and meet up with a cousin from Daddy K’s father’s side of the family.

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On Monday we were able to visit again in the morning and afternoon. We were able to see his PT session with a different therapist and he was in a slightly more cooperative mood than the first time we saw PT. His main caregiver also spent a lot of time with us to explain his schedule and individual needs. This was the first day he really started clinging to my neck when I would hold him.

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Tuesday we took Boo on his first road trip to see the embassy doctor, because she will be out of town all this week. We got him back in time for a nap, and then spent the afternoon/evening with him at his place.

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Wednesday he had a hearing appointment in the morning, which we weren’t allowed to attend, so we only got to visit all afternoon and into bed time. We were able to spend time with all the children in his is groupa in the evening. Thursday was COURT day, but we also had to bring him back to the embassy doctor in the capital. The drive is a little under 2 hours. We said goodbye to him at the appointment and headed to our lawyer’a office to change and prep for court. After lunch we headed to the court building and waited for our case to be up.

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The court went well, and the judge seemed satisfied with all of our answers. She will essentially rule on two decisions. The first is whether or not to grant our adoption of Boo, and the second is whether or not to grant us "urgent execution," which allows us to bring him home now versus in 30 days. Her decision will be given Monday afternoon.

After court we headed to the train station to take an express train back to the city where Boo's baby house is. A cousin of Daddy K's from his mother's side of the family picked us up at the station and drove us to Sulwalki, Poland, where his mother was raised and his grandmother currently lives. We spent two nights with Babciunia before taking a 4-hour bus ride back to the capital on Saturday.

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Saturday afternoon we checked into the apartment where I'll stay the remainder of the trip. Yay! I unpacked and started to get things ready for Boo. That night, Daddy K and I were able to have a sweet date night, and we walked around this beautiful old city, ate some amazing food, laughed a lot, and started trying to process some of this journey. He left this morning to head home and snuggle our babies to pieces!

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Tomorrow my friend will arrive to provide support for the upcoming week. We will have the judge’s decision by 4 pm. If everything is in our favor, we will leave bright and early Tuesday morning for the baby house. We will spend the morning with our dude while our facilitator works to obtain a new birth certificate for him. Once it’s compete, we can spring him forever. My heart is screaming as I write that.

From there, we paper chase to get a visa and passport for him. Fingers crossed that he and I will be heading home on Wednesday, March 18. It’s been whirlwind, sometimes beautiful and sometimes overwhelmingly broken, but undoubtedly worth every second. God is good to us, and I’m incredibly humbled to be part of His story.

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Feelings, nothing more than feelings. . .

Woo to the hoo, friends. We are leaving in ONE WEEK. On one hand I can’t believe it’s finally here, on the other hand it feels like it snuck up on us. Naturally, as we get ready to head out, people ask, “How are you feeling?” As a Jen Hatmaker groupie, I’ve been combing through some of her old posts on adoption, and I found this gem that she actually stole from Melissa Fay Greene on the first year of adoption, and it was a salve to my tender little heart:

“Put Feelings on a back-burner. This is not the time for Feelings. If you could express your feelings right now, you’d be saying things like, “Oh my God, I must have lost my mind to think that I can handle this, to think that I wanted a child like this. I’ll never manage to raise this child; I’m way way way way over my head. I’ll never spend time with my spouse or friends again; my older children are going to waste away in profound neglect; my career is finished. I am completely and utterly trapped.” You see? What’s the point of expressing all that right now? Put Feelings in the deep freeze. Live a material life instead: wake, dress, eat, walk. Let your hands and words mother the new child, don’t pause to look back, to reflect, or to experience emotions. “Shut up, Emotions,” you’ll say. “I’ll check back with you in six months to see if you’ve pulled yourselves together. But no whining meanwhile!” 

And I like that, I can understand the value in that. I know I’ve gotten through more than one tough time in my life by putting my feelings in the deep freeze for a while – not forever, because I think it’s important to be authentic with who we are and explore the complexities of what makes us human. But for a time, for just long enough to MAKE IT to the other side. So, as we approach our “due date” I wanted to take this chance to share all. of. the. feelings. stumbling around in my body right now. One, because I wanted to be honest about what this looks like for me, right now, in this moment. But also, because I’m going to just get to work when we come home, and save all this emotion sharing for a later date. :)

And I’m taking a page from New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson; who beautifully, eloquently, and honestly demonstrated that it’s possible for one person to feel a myriad of emotions about something — emotions that although might seem diametrically opposed, are ALL still entirely authentic. One emotion simply cannot capture the entire picture. And I just love how he made it okay to feel a lot of different things, and not pretend to have all of the answers to such a complex issue.

To be clear, I in no way equate the complexity of my emotions with his, nor the issue of our adoption as charged, but I personally related to his heart in this instance, and I think so often it’s almost impossible to clearly explain our thoughts about something from just one angle.

So without further adieu, here’s how I feel. . .

I feel EXCITED.

So many parts of this journey make me happy. I am actually really excited to travel alone with my husband and spend some time connecting. It feels fun to have this adventure together, to have a super long flight to read books, listen to podcasts, and annoy him with my incessant talking. I’m excited to visit Lithuania, especially during their Independence Day. I just finished a historical fiction novel called Between Shades of Grey about how Stalin deported tens of thousands of Lithuanians to Siberia in the 1940s. And it wasn’t talked about for DECADES because Lithuania wasn’t able to gain independence until 1990. I can’t wait to learn more about this strong, brave, resilient little country that brought us to our son. I can’t believe I’m actually going to meet our son for the first time, to touch him and see him and hear him. I’m excited to be past the anticipation, and just “have” this baby already.

I feel GUILTY.

I hate that I will be away from Sissy and Bug for so long, and worry about if they will feel lonely, or abandoned, or sad. Bug has been super clingy lately and I have been soaking up every moment and extra hug, not sure how the dynamic will play out when we are all home. I know, without question, that this is a temporary hardship for our family, this separation, and that it is unavoidable to bring their brother home. And I know that Luke 15:4 tells us that it’s nautral for us to leave 99 sheep (who we know are safe) to go off and find the ONE sheep who is missing (because that’s the sheep in danger). But really, I will feel so much better when all my sheep are under the same roof,

I feel EXHAUSTED.

It has been a long year, friends. We started this adoption process within a few months of moving to a new state, with an entire new life to build. Daddy K has a new job, and learning to live within the rhythms of this new assignment has been taxing on all of us. Trying to navigate an entire new set of emotions that relate to adoption has also been draining. It’s a roller coaster of highs and lows, and that modulation has worn me down a bit.  I’m ready for to move on past settling in and waiting for our boy.

I feel ANXIOUS.

There is so much unknown in this trip, and I honestly struggle a lot with not having control. I’m not sure how Boo will feel about us, how deep his grief will be over losing his home, his language, his caretakers. I’m not sure how or if he will eat and sleep once he’s with me. Or if the clothes I bring will fit. Or anything really. And yet:

Worry implies that we don’t quite trust God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives. 
Stress says the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace towards others, or our tight grip of control.
Basically, these two behaviors communicate that it’s okay to sin and not trust God because the stuff in my life is somehow exceptional. Both worry and stress reek of arrogance. They declare our tendency to forget that we’ve been forgiven, that our lives are brief … and that in the context of God’s strength, our problems are small, indeed. –Francis Chan, Crazy Love

I feel HOPEFUL.

Because I know God is part of this story. It’s His story. He always shows up. Actually, I guess He never leaves. And I know that as we walk out on this water (to the place where if I take my eyes of Him for a second I’ll drown), I’m going to fall more in love with my Creator. Being completely dependent on him with foster an even deeper relationship, and there is freedom in knowing I don’t have to have all the answers because Someone else does. In Tiny Green Elephants, one of my favorite blogs throughout this process, she reflects on her first adoption journey and the lessons they learned along the way:

What I’m saying is, if God is asking you to do anything, no matter how big or how small, it’s because He loves you, and because he wants what is best for you, and those you love, and his plan is bigger than just your plan for yourself.  Don’t stress, don’t worry, relax.

He loves me. He loves my husband. And He loves my children more than I could possibly ever imagine. And true, He’s not promising me smooth sailing in this, or a perfect transition without pain and suffering. But He is promising me Himself. Which is more than enough. More than I deserve.

Thank you for investing in this journey with us, for taking the time to read about our story and listen to my heart. We are ready to bring our little man home, and start figuring out what happens next.

But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through. –Francis Chan, Crazy Love

the very hungry catepillar

We leave in about two weeks and honestly I am all over the place emotionally. Trying to get everything planned out and then dealing with changes, worrying about if it will all go perfectly (umm, I really like things to all go perfectly), and losing sleep over how the kids will do while I’m gone is all making me a hot mess.  So, I haven’t had a lot of space left in brain to write anything creative. Or write at all, or respond to texts or messages. It’s taking all of my energy to just keep plugging along.

But, I did want to quickly write about one things people outside the adoption world might not be familiar with – it’s called cocooning. When I mention it to people, they agree that it makes sense, it’s just not something they’ve ever heard of before. Sometimes I forget that everyone hasn’t read all the same articles, blogs, and books as me, and I just assume everyone has heard of these things.

For detailed information, you can google adoption and cocooning, but I’m just give you the simplified, Ali-version here. The basic idea is that once an adoptive child comes home, they kind of need a “reset” of sorts. This is especially true of older and internationally adopted children. Everything in their life has changed dramatically, and “experts” seem to agree that there is value is spending a little bit of time hunkering down once you are home.

What this looks like varies from family to family, and the length of time is dependent on the individual child (and what the rest of the family can handle). Essentially, you want to help the child form a secure, lasting bond/attachment with his new mama and daddy, as opposed to just viewing you as a reliable caregiver. One thing I read suggested cocooning for one month for every year of orphanage life, plus one month. So we’d be looking at 3 months-ish. Something else recommended at least 6 weeks.

One thing that is hard during this time is that you are not encouraged to let other people meet your new child’s needs. Which means even though he will be the cutest little Eastern European on the block, when he first comes home we won’t be able to let other people hold him. We also won’t be able to go out as a whole family for a while, so we plan to alternate Sundays at church for a bit. Some families have said it’s taken only a few months for their child to adjust, others actually over a year. Really, we have no idea what it will be like for our little dude.

The danger is that if your child is being cared for/loved on by too many people (really people outside of mom and dad), they won’t internalize the actual difference between their previous situation and their new life (i.e. orphanage care versus FAMILY). And to create a strong attachment, its important for them to understand that they have a mama and a daddy who will meet their every need. This attachment is crucial for later emotional maturity and stability.

We will also have to limit family outings because of the over-stimulation for him. He has literally spent his entire life in one building, and mostly the same one room, so EVERYTHING will assault his senses. At the beginning, that will be too overwhelming for him, so we will stay home and just focus on simple play, eye contact, rocking. Essentially, you almost treat them like an infant at the beginning, in an attempt to create the natural attachment that occurs when caring for a baby.

Practically, I think this will be difficult for our family. The other kids have activities, and I know spending so much time in two units (one parent with Sissy and Bug, the other with Boo) will be lonely for all of us. Also, Daddy K and I won’t be able to go out on dates for a while since he won’t be able to stay with a babysitter, although we have talked about leaving after the kids are in bed. Let’s be honest though, by then I’m sure I will just want to be in bed too! I’m definitely looking forward to the time when we are past this initial phase. But I don’t want to rush it either, because I understand we are laying the foundation that will be crucial for Boo to feel secure for the rest of his life.

So, if you are in the local area, please don’t be offended if we turn down invitations or don’t invite you over. Also, please don’t think we are crazy when ask you not to pick up our little guy. You are welcome to talk to him and engage him while we are holding him. We will play it by ear and try to adjust as necessary to make this transition easy on all of us. We can’t wait to share him with everyone as soon as he is ready!

We are totally fine with having people come to the airport to meet us, especially because this will probably be the last time for a few weeks that we are able to be in a larger group and give people a chance to meet him. After that, we plan to cocoon through all of April and then see where we are at. Daddy K and I will take turns getting the other little people out of the house for the sake of the sanity, and to make sure they still feel nurtured and loved. If you want to help Sissy and Bug feel special during this time, you are more than welcome!

We are so excited to be this close, and yet obviously we are still in the stage of the big unknown. Even more excited to get home and start figuring out what our new normal will look like. Thanks for supporting us on this journey.