A Bright Day

Hi everyone!  Ok so really quick.  For those of you who follow my Facebook page, I posted a prayer request a few days ago because I was trying to write a post (which I’ve been honestly trying to write for months) and it just wasn’t coming.  The words I needed to say were hard words.  Really hard.  And I didn’t know exactly how to say them.

Well… ya’ll are amazing prayer warriors apparently!!  Because the next morning I woke up and my life was changed.  It sounds sensational and crazy, I know. But I have no other way of describing it.  So, if you want to hear more there’s a video on my Facebook page you can look at here. (Because I still have no idea how to post a video on my blog! Lol!)

I will be posting again soon!  And the next post will have the winner of the giveaway from a long long time ago.  Thank you all so much for your patience these last few months as my posts have dwindled.  There are some seasons of life where we need much grace, and this last year has definitely been that for me.

Looking forward to brighter days with the best people in the world who have stuck by me through it all.  I love each and every one of you, even those of you I don’t know who are reading I pray for you and love you just the same.

A Happy Break

Hello dear friends!  I have been gone recently.  I have a couple of posts in the works but I literally do not have a waking moment free these days.  So as a happy birthday present to myself (that was last weekend) I am taking a happy month-long break from blogging.  Which really just means, I’m telling you how I won’t have any time to blog in March so I can stop feeling bad about it!

I do have lots of things to write about, but there is SO much going on!  We have appointments and testing galore for Jacob and Hope this month, along with four birthdays, Kyrie’s baptism this weekend and a conference to go to.  It’s getting quite crazy around here, and I’m trying to take care of myself in the midst of the chaos so I can be present for the kids too.  (Read: I am trying to get a reasonable amount of sleep.)

So… please don’t feel abandoned.  I’ll be back, hopefully sooner rather than later.  Praying for a peaceful April…

Oh and for anyone who is local, you are very welcome to celebrate Kyrie’s baptism with us this weekend!  The service begins at 10am (email me for directions if you need them) and the reception will be at 2pm at the parsonage.  Everyone is welcome to both the Divine service and the reception afterward.  No need to RSVP, just come and celebrate God’s abundant love with us!

Blessings on the rest of your month!!

My Fabulous Five

IMG_1655This week has absolutely blown me away.  I’ve been keeping quite busy tending to five, fabulous little people and… well that’s about all I’ve been doing.  No housework to speak of… none.  In any case, we have a new routine set with our sweet Kyrie added to the mix, and it is working out better than I ever could have hoped for.  After a very long and difficult winter, things are certainly looking up!  In fact, things are smoother around here now than they have been since we got home from Ukraine.  Never did I expect adding a child to the family would make my life easier, but it seems to have done just that.

A huge part of that has to do with my own attitude and perspective.  I will be the first to admit that many of the struggles we’ve had as a family in the last several months were really just issues with how I was managing (or not managing) the household.  Emotionally I was running on empty, which meant a lot of withdrawing was going on and not a lot of intentional presence with my children.  Our routine always seemed crazy and hectic, and I was constantly overwhelmed with what needed to be done like… yesterday.

We still have a million and one things to do.  But I’ve just had to take a step back and realize that God has this under control.  We can only get done what we can get done, and my first vocation is to love my family.  I can’t love my family well when I am so caught up in the “needs” of the world.  Has He not provided all that we need?  Will He not continue to do so?  Including providing us with days to run errands and make appointments?!  Of course!  So I’m going to stop stressing over those, and wait on the Lord to provide those opportunities in His good time.

And while I wait, I am working on making my world much smaller and focusing on just being present with the beautiful family He has entrusted to my care.  With Kyrie here I knew I had to lower my expectations with what I could accomplish.  Going into this week I was determined to bring my “A Game”, because I knew I’d need it, and I knew better than to expect anything but the minimum from both myself and the kids.

I have also been convicted lately of not putting as much work into this job of motherhood as I would have if it was a “real” job where I was getting paid monetarily and had to answer to a supervisor who I wasn’t also married to.  Ahem.  Yeah, quite humbling to realize how I stack up against my own self!  Especially since that self was a college kid from seven years ago.  Yikes.

Yes, there are totally differences between the 24/7 job of motherhood and an 8 hour shift in someone else’s home where you only spend about 20 hours a week.  However, I can do better.  And I know it.  So that’s what I’ve been working on this week.  While the children are awake, they are my job, and I am trying really hard to treat it that way.  No more Facebooking at “work”, no more saying “Just a minute,” when I really mean “I sure hope he forgets what he asked for so that I don’t actually have to add that to my to-do list.”  Etc…

This perspective has really been working well, though it’s the equivalent of having a 14 hour shift every single day that ends with being on call until the next shift starts… which is totally exhausting, but also incredibly rewarding and worth it.  It’s also doable, and I know this season of life won’t last forever.  It’s also the reason why I’m not blogging too terribly much.  When I do have a break in the middle of the day now I have been finding I must take that afternoon nap.  It has been a lifesaver, and that is typically my computer time when I’m awake.

I know ya’ll understand that I’m busy, but I also love blogging too or I wouldn’t be doing it.  It’s a great outlet for me, so I’m definitely going to keep trying to make time for it where I can.  Self care is so important when you have other people depending on you for their needs, and with five very needy (and lovely) people depending on me day and night – I have come to realize that I need to take care of myself if I’m going to be a healing presence for them.

But anyway, enough about me!  I did title this my fabulous five for a reason.  I wanted to let you all know how the children are adjusting to our new normal, because that’s the question everyone has been asking.  The answer is… they are doing amazingly, astonishingly well – all five of them!  Let’s start with the itty bitty one first shall we?  Kyrie is a dream.  She fits like a glove in our family.  She is the easiest baby I’ve ever had.  She sleeps when we sleep, at nap time and at night time.  I’m getting more sleep now than I did when I was pregnant!  She is very content in her bouncy chair, which makes my days actually doable.  She almost never cries; she is doing really well with her pottying, which means we won’t have to have two kiddos in diapers.  Woohoo!  (Yes, I will blog more about that later.)

And, best of all, she sleeps through everything.  Anyone who has spent time in our house or on the phone with me will know that this is not a quiet place, and she doesn’t care one bit.  Thank you Lord for little mercies!  When she is awake, Kyrie is always very still and quiet, much more so than I remember Evie or Stephen being.  She seems to have a very contemplative nature, which will be quite an interesting dynamic to add to our very active crew.

Speaking of active :)  Stephen is next.  He is doing great with his new big brother status, it hasn’t fazed him one bit.  He loves to dote on his little sister and holds her every day.  He’s always saying how he loves the baby, and if she isn’t in bed when he is (his bed is still in our room as well) then it is quite concerning.  He is the classic protective older brother, and we haven’t seen even a hint of jealousy.  I expected regression in several areas, but the only change has been that he’s much more clingy in the wee hours of the morning.  That usually ends in an uncomfortable Mommy sandwich with Kyrie on one side and Stephen on the other.  Suffice it to say, I hope this phase ends quickly.

Dear Evangeline has also been doing better, much due to our new routine that has everyone less stressed.  She is incredibly empathetic and perceptive and is a sponge to the emotions of everyone around her.  Because Jake and I have been doing a lot better the last few days, she is also doing a lot better, which I am so grateful for.  Her nurturing side is just basking in having a baby around to care for.  She would hold her all day if Kyrie would allow it.

Kyrie is also just a healing balm to weary souls. (What baby isn’t?!)  But she especially ministers to her older sister.  If Evie is having a hard time falling asleep I’ll even make a point of taking Kyrie in with me, and her presence seems to calm her in a way that even I can’t.  It’s beautiful watching God’s compassionate hand working through even the smallest and neediest of people.

I would say of all of them, Jacob’s life and demeanor seem to have changed the least in the last week and a half that his new sister has been here.  He loves her just as much as the others do, but his interaction with her is noticeably less than theirs.  He does hold her and give her kisses, but he just doesn’t seem quite as interested as Evangeline and Stephen are.  Is it a personality difference, an institutional thing, something else entirely?

It’s really hard to know, but either way he does love her and we aren’t seeing any regression with attachment or in other areas, so I’m perfectly happy with where he’s at right now.  We’re still in the process of finishing up his evaluations to get therapy services from the school district, and that should be done mid-March.  I’m looking forward to seeing him add occupational and speech therapy to his repertoire!

And saving the best update for last… sweet Hope.  Things are changing around here for our darling girl, but mostly indirectly due to Kyrie’s arrival.  She doesn’t have much contact with the baby other than a few attempts at teaching “gentle touches” here and there throughout the day.  She is certainly interested in the squirmy bundle on my lap, but she still can’t do much in the way of interacting with her.  Many of the children she shared a room with in the orphanage where babies, so I think she rather likes having Kyrie around, she just doesn’t know how to show it yet.

So, how has our new bundle of joy added to Hope’s life?  There are a few ways.  First, having a new baby forced us to change our routine with Hope.  What we were doing was not working.  I’ll try to blog more extensively about this too, but really, parenting a child who spent nine years in a laying room is a puzzle.  There are very few people experienced in this sort of care, meaning our doctors and therapists and experts can help by laying out tools and resources, but we are the ones who have to figure out which ones to use and how to use them.  As my dear husband says, she is a riddle wrapped in a question mark.

Much of our parenting Hope has been trial and error. I can’t even remember how many different sleeping arrangements we’ve tried in the last six months.  My midwife, on a visit a few days after Kyrie was born, suggested we try a Tryptophan supplement for Hope to help her sleep.  Sure enough, she has slept through the night three times this week!  A first as far as we can remember.  Typically she either doesn’t go to sleep for hours or wakes up around 2 or 3 am.  Having her sleep better is a blessing for all of us and I really pray that it continues.

We are also giving her more intentional sensory/play times, as well as intentional resting times during the day.  Our routine really revolves around her schedule now, as the other kids’ activities are much more flexible.  It’s too early to say how much it’s helped her improve, but it certainly has made our family’s dynamic more peaceful and that is absolutely worth it.

And finally… drum roll please…

Hope has words!! She started talking!  Seriously!!!

Mima spent several days with us that first week postpartum and started a new game with her.  To everyone’s surprise, she loved the game (she is usually motivated by nothing but stimming) and she was so eager to play that Mima got her to attempt the word “ball” whenever she handed the little ball over to her.  The more they played the more her word sounded like ball, and now she will do it consistently when asked!  Crazy!  Then yesterday at lunch I was able to get her to say “oooo” for food.  She tried adding the f sound to the beginning, but we’re not quite there yet.

She actually has sounds that she uses that have meanings attached!  I can’t emphasize how huge this is for her.  Our ten year old girl is learning how to talk!!

First Week of Kindergarten

I have not done a post devoted to just our sweet first daughter in, well… years.  She made us parents and she is so very often a ray of light and joy in our home.  I couldn’t imagine my life without her in it.  Last fall I had planned to start doing a bit of formal schooling with her here and there, but that never actually took root.  There has been so much chaos that it hasn’t happened, and I had initially expected Jacob to tag along in her studies on a more serious level.  But he’s just not ready for that yet, and so our first few tries failed considerably.

photo (57)After I got off of bed rest I thought we would just wait to get a routine like this going until after the baby came, but one week passed… then two weeks… and I realized that I simply didn’t have that kind of patience!  So I decided to jump in and go for it.  Tuesday was Evangeline’s very first day of kindergarten.  See?  I even took a picture!  She picked the pigtails.  :)

Our school week goes from Tuesday through Friday, although we do some things on our weekend days too.  I have a lot that I would love to cover with her before we officially start “1st grade”, but I decided going slow and adding things as we can would be the best way to do it.  This week we have been dabbling in: arithmetic, poetry, hymnody, Bible, Catechism, reading and ASL.  If I’m really confident we’ll get our nature study time in tomorrow too.  Next week we will start with our memory work  and hopefully nature studies and handwriting.  Music, art and handicrafts will follow after we are doing well with the rest.  History and foreign language will probably be the last subjects we add down the road.

It all sounds very ambitious, but we follow a primarily Charlotte Mason approach.  She advocates for very short lessons, a ton of free play and outdoor time, and would defnitely balk at the idea of “formal lessons” for my almost five year old.  :)  But all of you who know me know that my brain just doesn’t work that way and it has to be formally written down or else I will lose my mind!  And with two children with special needs and a new baby on the way… without some sort of structure I just wouldn’t get these quality moments in at all.  With all that said, this week has gone very well, and I’m pleased with where we’re headed for the rest of the year.

Our days are pretty simple, we have to schedule in time for therapies and meals, and I have two school times each day.  We have a school basket and each child gets to pick which lesson they want.  It takes about fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes in the afternoon.  All four kids are present, but not all of them are listening or participating at the same level 😉  The only child I have any expectations for at this point is Evangeline, but they all enjoy sitting in on the fun.

For arithmetic I found a great resource for the early years.  It is quite aged, but their reasoning is spot on and I really don’t see a reason to reinvent the wheel if this works perfectly well!  The book is called The Eclectic Manual of Methods for the Assistance of Teachers”, and the arithmetic section we are working through begins on page 105.  Google reader has the text available for free here.  Every morning I put six random household objects in our school basket and we first practice recognizing a group without counting (How many oranges are on the floor?).  Stephen can recognize what one orange looks like and Jacob can recognize up to two objects.  I always let them do the easy questions before getting more in depth with Evie.  After that I ask her how many objects I need to add or take away from the group to make a different number (How many quarters do I need to put on the floor so we have four quarters?)  

She is now at a point where she can add and subtract objects up to five with almost 100% accuracy and she can recognize a group of six objects without counting them.  Once she masters that we’ll keep moving up through the number 10 and then she’ll “graduate” to the next phase of the arithmetic program.  I’ll have to write a more in depth post about this approach because I just love it so much.

We also do poetry, which is one of my favorite subjects to teach right now, partially because Evie loves it so incredibly much and it’s a pleasure to do it with her.  We are working on learning one classic children’s poem by heart each month.  Since this month only had a week left I picked a really short one to start with, it’s “Clouds” by Christina Rosetti and she learned it by heart after only two days of hearing it once or twice each.  She enjoys reciting it now, and her expressiveness is awesome.  Recitation is definitely a strong suit for her!  After we recite our poem I let each of the kids pick one other poem they want to read before we move on.

Bible is nice and short.  Each day we read one of the readings for Church on Sunday (an Old Testament, an Epistle and a Gospel reading).  We read each one twice during the week so that they can recognize them during the service on Sunday and understand a little better what’s going on.  We briefly discuss what the readings were about and I let the kids ask any questions they have before we move on.

For Hymnody we do two hymns at a time.  We have a weekly hymn we sing every day, which is also from the next Sunday’s service.  Our goal isn’t to know it by heart, but just to be familiar with it so that we can sing it well at Church.  I love to incorporate the children in the liturgy as much as possible, and this is part of that conscious effort.  We also have a monthly hymn we sing every day, and that varies according to the Church year.  Our goal for this is to memorize it by heart and add it to our family’s repertoire of hymns that we can enjoy on a regular basis.  I will usually have us sing one of the hymns at school time and we’ll sing the other during our family hymnsing before bed.

Catechism is done by Daddy so I really don’t know what he does for that… I do know he uses the My First Catechism book by CPH and our family also loves the “Follow and Do” series as well as the Sing the Faith CD, which is Luther’s Small Catechism put to music.  The Catechism is certainly part of our education, but we schedule it after Daddy gets home rather than during our normal school routine.  I would love to add in some instruction on the liturgy as well at some point, but we might wait until next year for that.

Reading is another subject that I am thoroughly enjoying (although really, it’s all been fun!)  We try to keep only quality children’s books around, (I use the suggested reading list from Ambleside Online) and reading takes place all throughout the day.  I do pick a couple of books out specifically to read once or twice during school time just to be sure that everyone is getting some reading time in at least once a day!  Our reading lessons, though, take place individually and spontaneously.  When Evie asks me to read a book I’ll ask if she wants to read too.  If she does, we pick a new word from that story for her to learn and I let her read all the words in the book that she knows while I fill in the rest.

I’m also writing each new word she learns down on a 3×5 card for her to “practice” if she feels like it.  That way, if she wants to read with Daddy or Grandma, they also have a list of all the words she knows.  She gets very frustrated if you read “her” word!  Lol!  I am teaching her phonics rather than just relying on sight words.  Every time she learns a word she has to tell me what sound each letter makes, and as new rules come up (ex: when t and h are together they make a different sound) we talk about them.  If she struggles to remember a word I encourage her to sound it out and she’s getting pretty good at it!

Last but not least, we are also continuing sign language (ASL) with all the kids.  My goal for Evie is for her to be conversational by the end of the year.  We have been signing with her on and off since she was a baby and she’s always loved it.  So far we’ve mostly just used Signing Time, but I am working through the Life Print Course  and modifying it for her as we move toward mastering grammar, comprehension and creating dialogue.  This week we are learning to finger spell our names (she figured it out without any help, because she loves to spell) and learning a majority of the content in Life Print’s 1st lesson, all the content that’s relevant for a five year old anyway.  😉

All in all this has been a much better week and I’m thoroughly enjoying getting back to a productive learning environment.  I know she’s not even five yet, but these early years have so much potential for setting ground work for a future love of learning.  Home school has always been one aspect of parenthood that I couldn’t wait to start and I’m so glad we’re finally here!

38 Notes for 38 Weeks

1. I know it’s been a while but… You’d be surprised how hard it is to find time to blog on bed rest!  And yes, I’ve been off of bed rest for two weeks now, and it’s been even harder to find time to do anything on the computer.  Maybe it will be easier when the baby comes?  A girl can dream…

2. I never thought I’d see a #2 on that side of the scale (if ya know what I mean) but I am rocking the extra poundage, or so my husband says.  He’s not biased… right?

3. Baby bump picture?  Umm… dream on because of the previous note.  Maybe if I can get this swelling to go down you’ll get one before baby comes… ahem.

4. So… Boy or Girl? We don’t get routine ultrasounds so we still don’t know if Mambo is a boy or a girl. But I do tend to get a “feeling” one way or the other, and I’ve been right the last two times. I will probably jinx myself by making a prediction, but I’ll do it anyway. I think the little one is a girl! Of course, we’ll be excited either way, and we have baby clothes for both! :)

5. Jake had a dream… night before last that we are having a girl.  So double confirmation, right?!  He said she was beautiful and favored Stephen more than Evie in her features.  Which is also what I’ve sort of been thinking.  The suspense is killing me!

6. My husband is amazing. It’s a strange feeling to be constantly asked about and worried over. I feel fine. Lots of contractions that are annoying, and Baby is doing great… But Jake, this man is a rock star.  I seriously don’t know how he does everything.  I’m not on bed rest, but I’m still not at 100%.  I still sit around most of the day, because too much walking causes muscle fatigue and pain.  My body is just tired from being in and out of labor for a month… so he’s still doing so much.

7. So when did you go off of bed rest?  Two weeks ago exactly.  I was 36 weeks and we all thought the baby would be here ANY DAY.  No such luck.  I had intense contractions the first two days, and then they died down.  For about a week after that I would wake up with nothing, they would start as I did more throughout the day and be 2-5 minutes apart, and regular, by bedtime.  I would go to sleep and they’d stop… and we’d do it all over again.  It has become a frustrating version of Groundhog’s Day.

8. Where are you at now?  Same place.  No real change.  My contractions are less frequent some days and more on others.  The only constant is that they keep getting stronger, so I know we’re getting closer.  I just have no idea how close!

9. I had my midwife appointment the other day.  I learned several interesting things…

10. The best news is that Baby is doing great!  The heartbeat sounded good, position is good, I’m measuring right on target.  All awesome things.

11. The worst news is… my midwife is going out of town next week.  She never told me because she didn’t dream in a million years I would still be pregnant… And guess who her only pregnant lady left is for several weeks?  Yup.  That would be me.  It’s not the end of the world, but certainly not the greatest thing either.

12. We were thinking of trying to kick start labor last weekend.  However, when she came to check me we were shocked – absolutely shocked – to find that I was only 2cm dilated and not effaced one bit.  On bed rest I was 90% effaced… now?  Nothing.  I am actually nowhere near labor.  The baby is sitting on my pelvic bone, meaning that all those contractions?  They’re just trying to move the baby, and they are doing pretty much nada. So.  Frustrating.

13. I missed wishing my sweet oldest daughter a Happy Birthday on here!  It was so simple and lovely.  We did it my first day off of bed rest.  So since I missed it, I’ll spend a few notes gushing about her lovely self and all our birthday fun…

14. A Golden Birthday.  I was so excited to have her home for her Golden Birthday.  My midwife came over a couple days earlier and I was in tears because she didn’t want me going off of bed rest yet and we weren’t going to be able to do anything for it.

15. Side Note… a lot of people told me that week beforehand that she would “just be happy” cuddling with Mommy for her birthday or that she wouldn’t know it was her birthday that day and we could just do it another day, etc.  But, like many adoptive mamas I know, I had dreamed of giving her a beautiful birthday for the first time in her life.  No one had ever done that for her before.  The day was more than just a day, it was a milestone in her life and in ours.  The thought of missing it was heart wrenching in a way that is possibly very difficult to understand unless you’ve been there.

16. ANYWAY… My midwife told me I could go off of bed rest.  Hooray!  And my contractions stopped (go figure).  Two days later, I was up and getting a party ready!

17. Her first present was a new hairdo!  She got her first ever ponytails, which she hated putting in, but actually liked in the end.  I think she enjoys the consistent tugging of the hair.  It gives her sensory input.  She always loves it when I play with her hair :)  And she looked adorable!

18. I also got her this beautiful birthday dress…

Hope's Birthday

19. A dear friend of ours offered to make cupcakes for her.  She made the cake and gorgeous flowers and butterflies to put on top.  I made a special frosting that would be a consistency and a sweetness that Hope would like.  (She doesn’t appreciate really sweet things. And hasn’t approved of frosting before.)  So this was more of a sweet, whipped yogurt – but still delicious!

20. Presents!  Hope got some sweet presents.  Her godmother gave her a cute little bear with fun zippers and buttons and things to play with, and she got oodles of new clothes!  She wasn’t really interested in the clothes, but she did enjoy throwing all that tissue paper on the floor.

21. Happy Birthday to You!  We lit her candles and sang to her.  All the other littles were lined up beside her and she just seemed to be loving it.  Even the small party we had would have been way too much just a couple of months ago.  But now it was almost as if she knew that we were singing to her and she was soaking it all in.  It was such a beautiful moment!

22. Progress Updates.  Well I don’t have many of those.  I actually don’t have any of those.  Since I went on bed rest no therapy or stretching has been done for either Hope or Jacob.  And they had been doing so well!  I am frustrated that those things have taken a back seat and I’m dreading how much progress we’ll have lost by the time I can get them back to their routine.  But trying to not worry about it because I can not control it, and there simply isn’t a point in fretting.

23. Dealing with Regression.  Which brings me to my next note about regression.  All four kiddos have regressed since bed rest.  Their behaviors, their attachment, their felt security… everything is back sliding.  It’s so hard to watch.  It was hard to listen to Stephen cry for half an hour while his poor Daddy tried to put him to sleep, and all he wanted was me.  Evie and Jacob and Hope weren’t getting attention from me at night, and that had always been our most consistent and essential bonding time each day.

24. Is it better now?  Being off of bed rest has helped some, but we’re still far from reclaiming what we had.  There is a lot of leftover anxiety and insecurity manifesting, and we are still in survival mode, which makes it difficult to concentrate on refilling the little one’s cups with felt safety and all the attention and love they need.

25. As for bedtime… I pray that we’ll be able to go back to some sort of normalcy in routine after baby is here, but I remember how horribly difficult those first few weeks were after Stephen was born.  Whatever happens, we’ll muddle through it and eventually get to a place where things go back to a sense of normal and routine.  I. Can. Not. Wait.

26. Things are getting easier.  We really aren’t drowning in chaos anymore.  There are just several things that can’t get back to normal until after the baby arrives, and our little Jacob thrives so much on routine that he has been very out of sorts.  We are all weary at the end of this journey, and just can’t wait to have our newest little member join us on the outside so we can move forward with the rest of our year!

27. Speaking of which… Happy New Years!  I know I sort of missed the big event, but I still thought it might be nice to take a moment and look back on 2014 while looking forward to 2015.

13. 2014 was the hardest year of my life.  I know, I’m still pretty young, so this isn’t like headline news or anything… but for us it was such a stretching, trying, challenging time.  It has not just been adoption and special needs parenting, although those things are certainly near the top on my list of hardest things I’ve ever done.  But it seems that we just haven’t been able to catch a break, emotionally, spiritually, practically or otherwise.  It was rough.

14. 2015 will be better.  I’m sure of it.  We may not have seen much of any good fruit from our labor last year, but so many seeds were planted.  This year my prayer is that those good seeds will take root and bear fruit, that our family will see the joys and blessings of our sacrifice.  I pray that our children especially will benefit, all five of them, and that Jake and I will grow closer to the Lord and to one another as we wade through the deep waters of these fleeting days.

15. Did I mention that Jake is awesome?  Because he is.  I just thought I’d mention it again.  Seriously.  There’s no one else I’d rather be raising five rambunctious, out-of-control, adorable little monsters with.

16. Speaking of monsters… I’ll do a little note for each one of the kiddos.  And I say monsters as a term of the utmost endearment.  We have great children, they’re just… ya know… in need of some direction for their copious amounts of energy 😉

17. Hope.  Starting with the oldest, Hope is the same sweet little girl she’s always been.  Very, very slowly she is opening up more to eye contact and interaction and becoming less averse to learning new things.  She can go to church and do a few short trips in public without screaming from the overstimulation and anxiety.  She is needing less isolation and more loving, and it’s a fun (albiet slow) transformation to watch.

18. Jacob.  His language skills are getting better.  He actually tries to speak full sentences with me now that have more than one point.  His personality is coming out more than ever, and I can’t wait till he reaches that threshold.  He was such a jokester whenever he would talk to translators in Russian.  I’m excited for that personality to come out again.

19. Evangeline. Her reading skills are starting to stick, and she’s still interested.  I think once she gets the basics of phonics that she’ll just teach herself the rest.  She is so smart and so motivated as far as books are concerned.  We got her a xylophone for Christmas, though, and reading music is going to take a little more work I think – lol!  In other news she is continuing to grow into her big sister role, she’s always been such a nurturing little girl.  It’s absolutely true that God gives us exactly the children our family needs at exactly His perfect time.

20. Stephen.  If I had one word to describe this two year old tornado it would be “RAWR!!” It is his favorite word and also embodies everything he loves… dinosaurs and monsters.  Oh and baseball.  He’s all boy and he’s really good at it.  Channeling his constant energy is a daily challenge in energy and patience.  But he has a lot of gifts and a lot of love to give.  He brings an amazing amount of joy and laughter, and Heaven knows we need those!

21. Mambo.  And this little one is just ornery!  Moving constantly… all over the place.  Baby was head down and pretty comfy until the contractions started.  Now?  Just constant kicking and pushing and spinning all over the place.  You’d better spin back to your proper position before I go into labor kiddo!  No breech babies allowed.  Good grief.

22. Confession… so about my last note… I actually wrote that three and a half weeks ago.  Lol!  Yes… I started drafting this at 35 weeks and am just now finishing up.  That is what my life has been like lately.

23. So what is Mambo really doing?  Little one has slowed down a lot, very little movement compared to what I was having on bed rest.  Heart beat and measurements look great, I just think there’s much less room in there than at the beginning of the month!  My midwife says this is a good sized baby, not huge, but certainly healthy, which makes me happier than could be after all that drama!

24. Which brings us to our next point…. about the drama.

25. I.

26. Do.

27. Not.

28. Want.

29. To.

30. Be.

31. Pregnant.

32. Anymore.

33. Seriously.  I mean… does more than that really need to be said?  At this point we are nowhere near labor and my due date is approaching quickly.  It’s exciting and frustrating all at once!

34. Hopefully on Friday… my midwife will be back in town and we will start attempting to get the baby engaged properly.  I’m hoping that once that happens labor will be able to begin promptly.  I can get contractions going, no problem, it’s just that at this point they are all trying to position the baby (ornery again) and not doing anything constructive.  Once we get the baby in its proper place we should be able to get the ball rolling.

35. Happy birthday Uncle Brandon?  My brother’s birthday is January 31st so we are shooting for that!  Wish us luck! 😛

36. The kids are all sleeping.  Jake and Grandma are at Bible study… the house is quiet and peaceful.  Score one for me.

37.  I’m going to take advantage of the peace and quiet because… *drum roll* I have nothing left to write about for today!

38. And that is how you make it to the end of a 38 point post when you don’t actually have that many points to make 😉

 

P.S. – This is the first comment I got after publishing my post: “It might have been a bit easier to get to #38 if you hadn’t jumped back to 13 from 27…”
Yes.  Yes indeed.  Thank you pregnancy brain.  Maybe that makes up for the month of posting that I missed?   Sigh…

34 Weeks… and Counting

I made it to 34 weeks yesterday, praise God!  What a crazy week it has been, I can’t even express the insane amount of things we have needed to get done, and with half the hands to do it all.  My husband is the most amazing husband of all the husbands.  I guess when he said “in sickness and in health” he really meant it!  He is absolutely my hero.

So here’s where we’re at right now, a week ago I started having regular, working contractions.  Despite my attempts at “resting” (aka only getting one child ready for Church instead of four) they continued to get longer, stronger and closer together.  A visit to the midwife and some medication were able to knock them out, but they aren’t gone by any means.

I have had contractions every day since then, they are triggered by movement and standing, or if I sit up for too long.  If I starting having them and don’t take steps to stop them (lay down, take an Epsom salt bath, etc.) they will gain momentum and we’ll be right back to where we started.  The more times I go too far, the easier and faster they seem to be triggered.  I could do more without triggering them at the beginning of the week than I can now.

I had to take some more medication on Christmas because I went to the service the night before and did just a bit too much walking between rooms on Christmas day.  So by the time evening rolled around, they had gotten themselves into a comfortable 3 minutes apart again.  (They’re always worse in the evening after being awake the whole day, and sometimes non-existent in the mornings after laying down for several hours straight.) Needless to say, I pretty much spent the rest of the next day in bed.

It doesn’t look like the contractions are going away any time soon, so the plan is to make it to 36 weeks at least.  I’m hoping I can go off of bed rest that day because it also happens to be January 10th.  It’s Hope’s very first birthday home with us and I’d love to be up and bustling around to help celebrate!! I have plans!  There will be more Christmases but this is her only 10th birthday, her golden birthday, her first birthday home!  I really, really want to be up and about.

So… here I sit resting and resting and resting and hoping that in two weeks I will be ready to do some moving and that this baby won’t come out for three weeks.  (If I make it to 37 weeks I get to use my new birth tub!!)  Thank you all so much for everything!  What a crazy year it has been.  Maybe we’ll get all the craziness out in January and we can just work on settling in as a new family of seven for the next eleven months.  I think I’ve had plenty of excitement for a year or two.

Merry Christmas, and if you don’t hear from me before then, a Happy New Year as well!

An Open Letter to the Pews Behind Me

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Last night, I once again braved the Church pew with four lively young children.  Ordinary enough, I know that thousands upon thousands of mothers complete an identical ritual every week.  But our situation is a bit unique, and for those of you in the pews behind me, you know all of this.

You know that I am not just an ordinary parishioner; I’m your pastor’s wife.  I sit up front with my four children who are absolutely capable of being well behaved during a service… but are not always.  You know that we just adopted two of our children this summer, that neither can walk and both have special needs and come from neglected orphanage backgrounds.  You know that the pastor’s kids, my kids, have been struggling more the last few weeks.  Three of the last four services I have had to take someone out screaming.

You know that last night was the worst they have ever been, one raging, cursing, flailing child (yes he was cursing at me in Russian); one uncomfortable little girl who began screaming and crying while I was on the other side of the building; a little one too quick to follow in his older brother’s disobedient footsteps; and a little girl who should know better… but just couldn’t help herself; and a poor grandmother trying desperately to salvage the entire ordeal before the entire pew made a grand exit.

I know you have concerns.  Perhaps you are concerned that I’m too strict or too lenient with my children in Church.  You might be worried about our biological children after seeing our adopted son throw punches in the middle of the sermon last night.  I know that you are concerned about my wellbeing; most of you ask every time we see each other how I’m holding up.  Maybe you’re worried that our family is too much for anyone, or how can Pastor possibly have enough time or energy for his work after all that?  You might certainly be wondering how on Earth we are going to manage with Mambo #5 who is arriving very quickly after the New Year.

I know there might be a lot of wondering and a lot of speculation, and probably even a little bit of talking after last night’s episode.  And so, since I’m in the fishbowl already, I thought I might as well join the conversation.  Our family’s struggles are no secret, or at least they aren’t after last night.  I know you have concerns and I know you have questions, so here is my two cents about the matter.  No matter how much or how little you saw last night, here’s what I really want you to know.

I take my children to Church for a reason.  Yes, they disrupt the service.  I wish they wouldn’t but they do.  I could sit in the back, or I could give them food or toys or any number of distractions.  I could make it easier on them and on myself, and on your ears too.  But I don’t.  Why?  Not because distractions are bad parenting, I certainly make use of them.  But when we go to Church to meet our Lord and Savior, to honor and thank Him, to physically touch and consume His Life, to sing praises along with the entire host of Heaven, well… why on Earth would I distract my children from such a great experience?  Why wouldn’t I want to give them a front row seat to the miracles taking place before their eyes?

No they don’t appreciate it, and they never will either – unless I teach them, show them, tell them what an honor it is to be in the presence of God at Church.  And by giving them distractions from God, I would be making it difficult to later assert that He is the One Thing Needful.  Everyone’s kids are different, and parenting during Church will look different for everyone.  I know my children, and I know what they are capable of.  Each one of them is more than capable of participating in the service without distractions.  Why would I expect less from them than what I know they can do?

Yes, I’m a bad mom.  But not last night, last night I actually did really well.  Ever since coming home with our new little ones I have struggled with my temper, really struggled.  Some Sunday mornings my little ones make it through the service, but I don’t.  I end up snapping or being too firm with their fidgety little hands.  It makes for less noise and distraction, but it puts a whole lot of sin on my plate.

Last night though?  I kept my cool under the pressure cooker of the worst rage our son has had in months.  I was hit, spit at, cursed at, bit, scratched and a myriad of other infractions.  But not once did I raise my voice at him.  Not once did I lose my temper.  I was present and calm and I weathered the storm, even when the rest of my children crumbled under the chaos – I continued to calmly go about damage control the best I could.  I refused to enter the crazy cycle with my hurting, traumatized son.  Instead I just waited him out, I put him to bed and I told him I loved him.

My son is not a bad child.  What you saw was not a temper tantrum; it is what they call a “rage”.  Raging is a behavior stemming from neglect, abuse or trauma.  It is a fear response, and it happened at least daily when we first came home.  About two months ago his rages stopped.  We had been doing very well keeping him close to us and not letting other adults give him affection that would be confusing to a child for whom every adult had been interchangeable his whole life.  One day a flip switched, and he just stopped raging.  Overnight he transformed into our best behaved child.

But the holidays are usually a very difficult time for children like my son.  More affection from other adults, more visitors, more sugar, more presents… it’s all too much and it can send them toppling back into the confusion and chaos in their mind.  In the last week we’ve seen the rages slowly come back, and last night was the grand finale topping it all off… right in the front pew for all to see.

Often these children don’t rage in public, they wait until they feel safe – at home.  But you have done such a wonderful job of making our son feel welcome and safe, and apparently he doesn’t mind showing off at church now either.  So for his sake, and the sake of all children who come with struggles and special needs – don’t assume a child is bad, especially if you see them acting unusually loud, aggressive, manipulative or crazy in public.  Over-the-top behaviors don’t indicate a bad child or even bad parenting, they indicate hurt and fear.  Show generous amounts of compassion to this child’s parents, and pray healing over their child.

Our other children are safe, but not untouched.  Yes, he came out swinging last night, and yes some of those punches landed.  But I can count on one hand the number of times, out of many many rages, that he has ever laid a finger on another child.  And I can assure you, no one has ever been really hurt.  My husband and I are the ones that trigger his insecurities and fears of being left or hurt.  He is afraid of loving us, because he’s never been able to love an adult or caregiver before without being hurt by that affection.

He’s not afraid of loving his siblings.  That means, either myself or my husband is always physically there when the raging begins, and it is very simple for us to keep other children safe at that point.  Close quarters in the pew complicates things a bit, as you might have guessed.  But my point is – don’t worry about our children.  They are safe.  This doesn’t mean that they are not untouched by the trauma that their siblings have endured; it has affected them greatly too.  Some of that you even got to see yesterday as they followed suit in acting like hooligans in the middle of the Divine Service.  They were just as tired and stressed as I was over the whole thing.

Adoption is hard for them too.  They have seen the trauma and aggression and neglect and fear and pain that their brother and sister have endured.  They are acutely aware of the suffering of people so close to them.  Both of them have been changed and, as their parents, we are working so hard to make those changes positive for them.  But it is a lot to process for little minds, and this will also take time.  Give them grace too.

One more sibling is not too much.  Yes, having five children developmentally five and under is going to be CRAZY!  I know.  And I’m so excited.  I won’t write a whole post on that here, but someone else did, and it’s a really great read if you are interested: “Why Have More Kids?”

We are bruised but not crushed.  Our family is weary of all that this adoption has taken out of us.  Adoption is not an easy road, and many of you might be looking at our ragged, weary bunch thinking that you are so glad you aren’t in our shoes, or that you could never do it or maybe even that we bit off more than we can chew or that we shouldn’t do this either.  That’s just not the case.  With God’s help we are making it.  We are surviving the transition.  Not only that, we really are thriving with His provision and mercy.  All of us are healing, growing, learning and becoming stronger.  And we’re doing it together, which is the best part.

These are our children, and we knew they were ours.  We love them dearly and want them exactly where they are now, right here with us.  Our life isn’t perfect or easy or comfortable, but we have a life together.  None of our children are starving or being drugged or beat up.  None of our children have to be cold at night or go for days without being touched.  No one is lacking medical care and no one is alone.  Those are not things that our family takes for granted anymore, because it wasn’t always this way.  We are so blessed to be where we are… and perhaps from the outside it looks like a life that is unpreferrable, one that you would not choose.

But from our point of view, we are clinging desperately to our Savior, because He’s our only hope left.  And we would not change that for the world.  Hardship, discomfort, pain, loss… it’s all a part of adoption.  And it’s a great privilege and blessing to endure it for the sake of these little ones, for the sake of our Lord.  Don’t feel sorry for us.  The joy and love we are creating is worth so much more than what we’ve lost, and we wouldn’t change it for the world.

Happy Seven Years

To the strongest, most handsome, gentlest, most amazing little boy I have ever met…

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Dear son, you have been through more in your seven years than many of us endure in a lifetime.  May the next seven be blissfully restful, healing and kind to you.  May you find all the love that you had lost and make as many fun and happy memories as most of us do in a lifetime.

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We missed so many years, so many candles and so many wishes… but now we have the time together to make up for them all.

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Your Daddy and I love you to the moon and back, to infinity and beyond.  It was an honor and a great joy to celebrate you today, my oldest son.

Love Always,
Mommy

A Glimpse at Three Months Home

I posted our “Glimpse at One Month Home” a while back, fully intending to update you with what our days look like now that we are three months in. Unfortunately, I can’t actually think of two days that have been close to the same… if anything life is more hectic now. Every week seems to throw us a curve ball between doctor’s appointments, holidays, Jake’s work schedule… nothing seems to remain consistent for long and certainly not longer than a few days in a row. Then we compensate and do something new. It’s pretty crazy around here.

But, the good news is that there is lots of good news in the crazy day-to-day. We are actually making so much progress as a family, even though it often feels like I am doing nothing at all to facilitate that. We are so focused on the bare essentials right now that I’m not working as much on their therapy as I would like, I’m not doing as much intentional bonding as I would like, etc… and yet they are still growing by leaps and bounds. These kids, this family… amazes me. I live with five pretty spectacular people!

Anyway, I still wanted to give you all a three month glimpse, so we’ll just do it a little differently. Progress. Let’s talk about how far they’ve come! Here is a list of the many milestones they have reached in such a short time, and a reminder of how worthwhile this craziness really is. The “Befores” are all descriptive of Jacob and Hope while they were in their orphanages, when we first met them. The “Afters” are who they have come to be after three months of settling in with their forever family.

P31Jacob

Before: Curved spine, couldn’t sit up straight. After: Almost totally straight spine, sits straight most of the time!

Before: Heavily contractured legs and feet, could not bring legs apart above his knees or bend his feet at the ankle. After: Has good enough hip rotation to walk; can spread his legs apart to be held with no difficulty or discomfort and has gained significant flexibility in his feet. He can now bring them to an almost neutral position. <– This is HUGE!

Before: Could not balance himself to sit without back support or to stand with support. After: Has great balance and has no issues sitting or standing with support.

Before: Did not know how to play with toys, could not play even at the level of our almost two year old son.  After: Plays intricately with toys for long periods of time and has learned imaginative play. He plans elaborate scenarios with toys and executes them with good concentration.

Before: Could not accept praise, love or words of endearment. Such things caused embarrassment and shame.  After: Seeks out praise and affection, loves to be told that he is loved and is learning to give love and affection to others.

Before: Believed he couldn’t walk. Spent all day sitting in a wheelchair or crawling on the floor.  After: Now has his very own walker and… walks! He still gets around with his unique crawl, but he can walk and he knows it. That is amazing.  And never is he sitting in a wheelchair on the sidelines.

P12Hope

Before: Weighed 25 pounds at nine years old.  After: Has gained ten pounds, as well as some inches!

Before: Was wearing size 3 diapers and 4T clothes.  After: Is snuggly fitting into size 6 diapers and wears a size 6 or 7 in children’s clothes.

Before: Could not tolerate laying on her stomach for more than 30 seconds. After: Will happily do tummy time for several minutes and has even started experimenting with pushing herself up on her arms this way.

Before: Had virtually no protective movements (such as putting your hands in front of you when you fall). After: Has developed some protective movements and is learning how to catch herself with her hands.

Before: Was terrified of open space around her and could only sit with a great deal of support, never with a straight back. After: Sits very well for long periods with great posture, as long as she has a little back support. Is able to sit totally unassisted for a few seconds at a time! She is also becoming much more comfortable with open spaces, which is necessary for unassisted sitting (and so many other things!)

Before: Was totally uninterested in playing with toys, other than using them for stimming. After: Is starting to play with toys purposely and is learning to manipulate her environment to be more comfortable. (Again this is a HUGE step!)

Before: Spent most of her time zoning out and withdrawing from the world around her. Did not focus on people or events around her for very long. After: Is increasingly interactive with her environment, seeks out the activities and people around her with interest, and withdraws less and less.

Before: Was unable to eat sitting up, she needed to be greatly reclined from eating in bed her whole life. She also had no idea how to get food from the front of her mouth to the back, only how to swallow. After: She sits completely upright for meals and all we need to do is get the spoon from the bowl to her mouth. She has even experimented once or twice with picking up the spoon, but drops it when it gets to her lips instead of taking food from it!

Before: She was afraid of food being taken away so she would scream constantly during meals. The slower feedings (she didn’t have time to breathe between bites at the orphanage) made her think we weren’t going to give her anymore food. After: She is no longer afraid of not being fed enough. I can give her a few bites and then stop for five or ten minutes to help the other children and she waits completely patiently to finish her meal.

Before: Could not tolerate holding for long periods; it was incredibly overstimulating. After: She loves being held and almost always welcomes it. It doesn’t overstimulate her anymore and she feels secure in the arms of her Mommy and Daddy.

Before: Incredibly hypervigilent. Could not fall asleep if someone was nearby. After: She still tends to be very hypervigilent, but it is not as pronounced as it was. She is now secure enough that she is able to fall asleep in my arms.

I’m sure there are more things I’ll think of as soon as I hit “publish”, but this gives you a little bit of an idea about just how far they both have come!  I post this not to show you how great of a job we are doing, because as I said before, I feel like we are still in survival mode – just getting the bare minimum accomplished.  Instead, this is to show you how great of a job our children are doing, and what amazing things God is working in their lives.  When a child has grown up with literally nothing, it often doesn’t take but just a little love and care to see a great deal of progress.

And, of course, my plug… we’re not doing anything spectacular with these little ones – we just took them into our home and gave them what they needed: clothing, food, a little love and attention… and they are thriving.  There are a million other things I’d love to do but haven’t gotten around to, and yet their little bodies and souls are blossoming in spite of how little I feel we are able to give.  If you’ve ever thought “I could never do that”, trust me… you probably could!  I’m not doing anything super human here, just being a mom and watching as God does some amazing things right before my eyes.

Most of the time I feel totally unequipped and inadequate, but our Lord doesn’t need much, just a couple of unsteady hands and clumsy feet will do – and with those He can fashion some pretty beautiful pieces of living art.  I encourage you to offer up your own hands and feet and ask if He’ll make something beautiful with yours too.  Because the great thing is, when it is your own hands doing the work, it is also your own eyes that get to watch the miracle unfold.  And there really isn’t anything like it.

A Sunny Day

It sure is beautiful out here today. I wish we had played outside this morning, but I decided not to chastise a particular child last night when he came upstairs to find toys… one thing led to another… and now the three of them have decided that playing in their bedrooms is the most fun thing they have ever done. They will play up here for hours without fighting or destroying things. It’s a miracle. And I know the Autumn weather will probably last longer than their honeymoon with the newfound play space so… I’m milking it for all it’s worth.

At the moment, however, those three are down for quiet time and I am having a standoff with the eldest over eye poking. She is beginning to do it more now than she used to, which is unfortunate. I tried digging my finger into my eye socket the way she does and it is just so painful, but at the moment there is nothing else in the world she wants to do.

I considered getting on the floor to play with her or sing to her or just hold her to maybe get her mind off of it, but she is pretty dysregulated and at this point I still usually don’t help that. The more distanced I am the calmer she is. So instead I am sitting a few feet away at my computer typing – with my eyes on sweet girl instead of my screen and reminding her gently that I can see her every time her hands go near her face. I wish I could do more.

So much of my parenting with Hope right now is… I wish I could do more. Our therapist told me last week that we were doing such a great job with her, and that she has made such improvement… and I just didn’t know exactly what good I was doing. She gets very little stretching, because she is horribly intolerant of it most of the time. We do sensory brushing and tummy time, but that only lasts for a few minutes and then we’re done. It doesn’t seem like much.

I can’t help her calm down when she’s upset. She did let me calm her down last week once or twice, but that’s out of seven days of being upset or overstimulated several times a day. There is progress… but I just wish I could do more. I want to bond with her, but there is so little I can do that doesn’t cause her to go into a downward spiral. Our connecting activities have to be infrequent and very short lived, or it’s just too much.

P8It makes me wonder what her days were like after our visits at the orphanage. That was two hours of constant contact and interaction. But I didn’t know any better. I never saw her afterward. It makes me wonder how dysregulated she was on those days and if it made her hurt herself even more. I hate to think that.

But even with all that being said… what I really came here to say was that this is actually a very good day. We are doing so well. Things seem to be on the upswing for once in quite a while. Today, for the first time since we brought the children home, I actually feel like the mom that I was before we left for Ukraine. I’m not struggling with a temper, I’m tuning in to my little ones’ feelings instead of constantly correcting. I’m really and truly enjoying my vocation today in a way that I haven’t been able to in what feels like forever… but probably hasn’t been that long.

Please, if you think of it, pray for more days like this for our family. Pray that the sunny days continue to come even through what’s sure to be a long, cooped-up winter. Your prayers have been helping get us through this transition, and we continue to treasure them. Quite a few have told me over the last month or so that they realize we have had a hard go of this, or that they know it has been a difficult transition.

While we very much appreciate the thoughts, I want to be really clear… we are not having a particularly difficult transition! In fact, the feelings and struggles we are experiencing as a family this early in the game are totally par for the course, especially for those of us who have adopted children from hard places. This pain and struggle is absolutely to be expected. I am so glad for this blog where I have been able to share that reality with those who might not have understood it before. Even for me this has been a learning experience. Yes, we knew it was going to be hard going in but… I never knew it would be like this. And from what I know now – we are in no way the minority.

Which got me to thinking… if what we are going through is the norm, how much more important for us to support those families who are actually having a hard go of it! The holidays are coming up and I am thinking of ways to bless other families walking this same journey with us. I don’t have any details yet, but I would love to spread some joy to other adoptive families this year, as we have had just so much joy lavished upon us.

If you are an adoptive family who could use a little love, know one who is, or if you might like to help with a little bit of a Christmas gift project for those who do, please let me know! Getting these children home is half the battle, but caring for orphans also means caring for the families of former orphans who are still very much in the trenches of it all.   We are very blessed to be surrounded by a community who understands that 110%, but not every family is surrounded by such a caring support network, and I want them to know what we have been able to know all along, that the Body of Christ is behind them, praying for them and loving them through it all.

And with that, I am off to do some more scheming and to maybe hold our Pokey Princess for a few minutes if she’ll let me. I’ll try to write again soon, in the meantime, may you also have a very sunny Autumn day!

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