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Growth and loss

In September, I wrote about how Amina’s brain was growing.  Her brain isn’t the only thing that has been growing; her body has been growing too.  Her weight has increased by more than 10% since she came home; I don’t know about her height but I’m looking forward to finding out at her next medical appointment.  This growth is common with internationally adopted children.  The combination of love and individual attention, improved nutrition, and often better medical care leads to amazing growth spurts.

Amina has outgrown most of the clothes she wore when she first came home, which has been emotionally difficult for her.  Usually, children adopted from Ukrainian orphanages aren’t allowed to take any clothing with them; their adoptive parents bring clothes to the orphanage for them to change into on the day they leave.  However, Amina was given the opportunity to select a few of her favorite items to bring with her.  Then, in addition to bringing clothes for her, Don took Amina shopping in Kyiv and she was able to pick out new clothing that was just for her, which was a real treat.  Realizing that these special articles of clothing no longer fit her has lead to tears.  She’s had many losses in her life and particularly this year, but these tangible losses of too-small shirts and too-tight pants seem to be hitting especially hard.

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This week, I started reading a book that’s been on my list for years: Jesus Shock by Peter Kreeft.  I haven’t made it very far into the book yet, but it’s already starting to shake me up.  That’s what I was hoping for, as I’ve been in a bit of a spiritual dry spell since our adoption.  I trust that I’m doing what God wants me to be doing; however, I’m so busy and worn out from doing it that it’s hard to find the time for prayer and spiritual reflection.

Two days ago, on page 11 of the book, I read this:

“My God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  (Phil. 4:19)

“All” means all, not “some” or “only religious” or “only supernatural” or “only spiritual.”

I thought, “Guilty as charged.”

Lately, I’ve been feeling even more stressed about our finances.  Although more than half of our adoption cost was covered by grants and donations from individuals, we still took on thousands of dollars in debt to complete the adoption.  We will get it paid off, but it will take time.  Meanwhile, with Christmas approaching, there are presents to buy and the looming cost of travel to visit family.  Those expenses have increased my financial anxiety.

I put the book down and prayed, asking God to improve our financial situation.  Then I went on with my life (it was time to wake up kids and get everyone moving).

Yesterday, I got an e-mail from our adoption agency.  My heart sank when I saw it because I assumed it was a reminder of the $2000 post-placement services fee that we still owed, our last major adoption expense.  Then I read the e-mail and it took a moment to sink in–it said that the agency was waiving our post-placement fee.  We had been planning to ask if they would reduce the fee because of the particular circumstances of our adoption, but we hadn’t asked yet and never expected to have it completely waived.

That’s right.  I prayed and asked for financial help, and a day later we owed $2000 less.

God is good.

Our daughter Amina arrived home from Ukraine in July, one month and one day before her eleventh birthday.  As a former avid reader of adoption blogs, I haven’t written nearly as much as I would have liked to share our experiences since she came home.  This is partly because I’m trying to be sensitive to the fact that she might not want certain details shared with the world, but also because I’m so busy that it’s hard for me to find the time to write.  I’m taking advantage of our three-day break from homeschooling for American Thanksgiving (five consecutive days without lessons, counting the weekend) to type up some of the thoughts I’ve had over the past few months.

  1. After years of me being the one who was interested in adoption while my husband Don was decidedly less so, it surprises me that he and Amina have a closer relationship than she and I do.  In the beginning, this was mainly because they had spent a month together during the pick-up trip while I stayed home with the other kids.  However, they also are more alike in personality and have more similar food preferences and tastes in music.  On top of that, although Amina spends more time with me than with him (since he works and I homeschool the kids), a greater percentage of her time with him is spent doing fun things.
  2. Although in some ways it’s hard to be the less-preferred parent, it’s not all bad.  Two-year-old Clara still requires a lot of my time and attention, so it’s sometimes helpful that Don can deal with Amina while I take care of Clara.  It’s my understanding that China has changed their international adoption policies so that adoptive families cannot have any children under age three at the time of dossier submission.  While many families with younger children adopt successfully, I do see the wisdom in this; it helps reduces stress for the parents and thus the whole family during the transition period.  If a family with a baby or toddler was interested in adopting and asked for my advice, I would encourage them to wait before starting an adoption.  A year or two of educating themselves and preparing financially, while their child gets older and somewhat less needy, would make an already-difficult process go somewhat more smoothly.  I’ve decided that I can’t handle any more kids until all the ones I have are potty-trained and speak English.  Seriously, though, it’s certainly better that Don has a good relationship with Amina and is committed to her than the alternative.  Unfortunately, sometimes husbands feel like they are steamrolled into adopting kids that they don’t really want and, as you can imagine, that causes problems.

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    So far, Amina likes the snow, but she doesn’t believe us when we tell her how much snow we’ll get this winter.

  3. Another thing we did “wrong” in adopting was disrupting age order.  There are many people who believe that it’s best to only adopt children younger than the children already in the home.  There are also many families who successfully adopt children older than their youngest.  I think the success of adopting out of age order depends on the developmental level and needs of the adopted child, as well as the other children in the family.  An adopted child with greater needs would probably benefit more from being the youngest, not having to compete for attention with younger siblings and having more mature older siblings who could at least somewhat understand the child’s needs and why they take so much of the parents’ time.  However, a reasonably well-adjusted child with more minor needs might adapt well to having both older and younger siblings.  In our situation, having younger kids has been good for Amina.  She interacts with them much more than she does with Peter (who is two years older, the closest to her in age) and it gives her the opportunity to naturally be exposed to many “little kid” things that she has missed, like nursery rhymes and fairy tales.  She particularly enjoys being a big sister to Clara.
  4. One downside of Amina not being the youngest is that after her first few weeks here, as she became more familiar with our expectations, she became insufferably bossy.  She is constantly directing Clara and telling Simon what to do or stop doing (which he does not appreciate), and she frequently tries to correct Peter as well.  Don and I have had to tell her many times that we are the parents and that telling kids what to do is our job, not hers.  The silver lining, I suppose, is that she wants to live up to our expectations and she wants her siblings to behave; it would be a different story if she were encouraging them to misbehave.

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    Amina drew our house as her favorite place.  For why she likes it, she wrote (spelling standardized), “My family is here because I have mom, dad brother sister.”

  5. While I have seen it mentioned in write-ups about children available for adoption that they should be adopted by parents who have “parented past the age,” I don’t recall anyone ever specifying that they should have parented a child of the same sex past the age.  It might not matter so much for younger kids (I don’t think parenting a 4-year-old boy is drastically different from parenting a 4-year-old girl), but it’s not the same story when you hit adolescence.  While we have parented an 11-year-old before, we haven’t parented an 11-year-old girl before, and 11-year-old girls have some different issues than 11-year-old boys do.  It’s challenging to jump in and start trying to navigate puberty with a new child, and more so since we haven’t dealt with those particular issues before.
  6. It’s impressive and even a little sad to see how quickly Amina is “reprogramming.”  She has embraced family life and is learning American culture.  She recently decided to switch the two posters on her bedroom walls; now the good-bye poster made for her by the staff and children at her orphanage is behind her door and the “We love you, Amina!” poster with the “Hearts for Valentine” pictures is next to her bed.  To me, the change is symbolic of the weakening of her ties to Ukraine and strengthening of her ties to America.  Although she is not fluent in English, it is becoming her dominant language; during a recent video chat with friends in Ukraine, she kept starting her sentences in English and then having to remember to switch to Ukrainian.  She has noticed that it is more difficult for her to find the words to express herself in Ukrainian.  Realistically, she will probably lose her Ukrainian language skills.  Usually, children adopted internationally who have not yet completed puberty will lose their first language unless significant effort is expended in helping them maintain it (internationally adopted teenagers will generally keep their native language, especially if they have opportunities to use it regularly).  If she spoke Russian, we would have more resources to try to help her maintain her language, but we don’t know any Ukrainian speakers in our community and Ukrainian-language materials (books, magazines) are more difficult to obtain.  She is entering a period that we have heard can be emotionally wrenching and can lead to behavioral challenges for internationally adopted children–a period in which they have lost much of their first language and are not yet fluent in their second language, so they cannot fully express themselves or even think fluently in either language.  We were warned to expect it at around six months after homecoming and for it to improve at about a year.Hearts for Valentine poster
  7. I know that Amina’s brain is working overtime to figure out English and everything else in her new environment, and I try hard to be patient with her.  Still, listening to her grammatically-incorrect English all day long sometimes gets on my nerves.  I am grateful for the shared experiences of other international adoptive parents for letting me know that it’s quite normal for me to be frustrated sometimes.  There are certain elements of English grammar that we have gone over and over because they are different from Ukrainian grammar, so her mistakes don’t sound wrong to her.  For example, Ukrainian allows copula deletion (dropping forms of the verb “to be”), whereas English does not.  So Amina will say things like, “Clara tired” or “What the heck this?”  Ukrainian also does not require the use of articles (a/an/the) to the extent that English does, so Amina will say things like, “Thank you for hat” or “You want to play game?”  Another one that drives me crazy that I assume comes from the structure of Ukrainian, though I don’t know for sure, is where she puts time references in a sentence.  For example, she will say, “I tomorrow go to cooking class” or “What today we eat for dinner?”  I find myself biting my tongue frequently because I don’t want to correct everything she says; the important thing is that she’s communicating and the grammar will come.

On the whole, for four and a half months in, things are going well.  Amina has a good attitude overall and is happy to be here.  The kids mostly get along with each other.  They are all learning at their own levels, academically and otherwise.  Don and I make an effort to spend time together when the kids are in bed.  I struggle with trying to stay on top of everything, and it’s worse now that the cold and snow have arrived, but I know that things will get better.  Amina and Clara will both learn to speak fluent English, Clara will be potty-trained eventually, Amina’s general knowledge and academic skills will get closer to those of her same-aged American peers, and someday our schedules won’t revolve around Clara’s nap time.  I just need to hang in there and keep doing my best.

If you need more reading material to help you hang in there, you can find other bloggers’ 7 Quick Takes here:

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7 Quick Takes #70

It’s been awhile since I did a 7 Quick Takes post.  To keep this fairly quick and because people like pictures, here’s a post with seven photos.

Amina was very excited about Halloween.  They don’t celebrate Halloween in Ukraine, so this was her first time.  What kid wouldn’t be excited to learn about a holiday where they get to dress up in a costume and get candy?

Amina jack-o-lantern

Amina’s first jack-o-lantern

Despite the cold temperatures, the kids had fun trick-or-treating.  At least there wasn’t a snowstorm, like last year.

Treat Street

Simon as Harry Potter, Amina as a hockey player, and Clara as a doctor

Clara was the third child to wear the blue scrubs that I sewed back in 2007.  We had a two-year-old Dr. Peter, a two-year-old Dr. Simon, and a two-year-old Dr. Clara.  I just had to make a new ID badge each time.

Dr. Peter and Dr. Clara

Dr. Peter and Dr. Clara.  Unfortunately, there’s no picture of Dr. Simon.  We still have the stethoscope somewhere, but I couldn’t find it for Halloween.

We celebrated All Saints Day with costumes for the first time.  I know it’s a “thing” in Catholic circles, but we’ve never done it before.  A local parish decided to start a new tradition by having an All Saints potluck and having kids wear costumes to Mass for the first time, so we joined them.

IHM

Immaculate Heart of Mary

St. Joseph the Worker

St. Joseph the Worker

St. Teresa of Calcutta

St. Teresa of Calcutta

I am counting each of those pictures as a “take,” which gives me one more.  No longer is my last take reserved for an adoption fundraising appeal; it feels strange to decide on a final take.  And here it is:

A local squirrel will have a cozy nest this winter.  This squirrel keeps taking insulation from the broken dishwasher that has taken up residence on our porch (soon to be taken to the dump).  A child who shall not be named here fell on the open door of our dishwasher and broke it.  It wasn’t worth repairing, as the parts alone would have been a couple hundred dollars.  Then, the truck that was to deliver our new dishwasher to the store overturned and was a total loss, so we had to wait another week for a dishwasher to arrive.  Having to hand wash all the dishes for six people for two weeks (not that I personally washed all of them) reminds me of how grateful I am to have a dishwasher and brings to mind our Halloween dishwasher mini-miracle from eight years ago.

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If you liked my pictures and you don’t already follow Sky Blue Pink Roses on Facebook, consider following me there.  I post there a little more frequently than here (though that’s not saying much) because it takes less time to put together a Facebook post than a blog post.

After all this work, there’s no link-up this week.  Don’t be surprised when I link to this post next week!

And here’s the link.  Check out This Ain’t the Lyceum to find other bloggers’ versions of 7 Quick Takes:


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Growing Brains

This month has been so busy!  Homeschooling, taking care of Clara, and trying to keep up with the housework keep me occupied all day during the week, plus we had numerous one-time events, like a social worker visit and another blood draw to check how Amina is doing on her new medication.  On top of that, Don has been out of town three of the four weekends since school started, so I haven’t had much of a break on the weekends.  In all this busyness, Amina is learning so much every day.

She’s been home for less than three months and her English is improving rapidly.  While her grammar isn’t standard yet, she makes good use of the vocabulary she’s learned to communicate.  Here’s a sample of things she has said recently to give you a sense of her productive language skills:  “Simon, this game.  Don’t sad” (when Simon lost a game they were playing on the Wii and was getting upset.)  “Simon, are you wash your hands?  I not listen water, so you don’t wash your hands.”  “This go inna fridge, Mom?”  “Sarah like it basketball.”  “Do you want to bubbles?”

Academically, she’s making progress.  With one-on-one lessons, she can’t copy answers from her friends to get by (which she recently confessed she used to do at her school in Ukraine).  Simon just passed the third level of Little Stories for Little Folks (our reading program) and per family tradition, got to choose a flavor of ice cream to celebrate.  Now Amina has her sights set on finishing level one so she can pick an ice cream flavor.  She also wants to do spelling lessons like Simon does, and I told her that she will start spelling lessons after she finishes level one in reading.

Amina’s math skills are improving.  I started her at first grade level on Khan Academy but she struggled with some addition and subtraction concepts (she didn’t fully grasp the relationship of parts and whole, and was totally lost trying to figure out a missing number in an equation like 4 + __ = 6 or __ – 3 = 7).  I decided to back up to kindergarten math while working on those concepts on the side.  Most of the kindergarten math was easy for her but there were some things she needed to learn, like English names for geometric shapes and phrases describing relative positions (above, below, in front of, behind, next to).  She did every activity, quiz, and unit test until she got 100% on everything; it was worth two weeks as she gained a solid kindergarten math foundation and a sense of accomplishment in finishing a level while improving her understanding of addition and subtraction.  She has now passed the activity that had caused her so much difficulty and is about halfway through first grade math.  It’s hard to see an 11-year-old struggling with concepts that my 6-year-old already understands, but I’m glad that Amina was adopted and is now getting a proper math education.  Otherwise, she likely would have grown to adulthood without an understanding of even elementary math.

At the beginning of the school year, Amina was very skeptical about science.  Now, however, I think it’s her favorite subject; she asks every day if we’re going to do science.  She’s doing first grade science with Simon, which is appropriate for her understanding of English and her understanding of the world.  When we set up a seed germination observation project and I asked her what she thought would happen to the bean seeds, she said, “I don’t know…fire?  dinosaur?”

These anecdotes might make her sound cognitively delayed and I don’t think she is.  I think it’s a combination of different educational methods used in Ukrainian schools (probably memorizing math facts by rote, not learning math conceptually) and lack of stimulation in her life at the orphanage (not a lot of one-on-one attention or having caregivers take the time to show her things and explain the world to her) that has resulted in her being so far behind.  She told me, “In [Ukraine], no science.  Just bored.”

In addition to academics, Amina is learning through extracurricular activities.  She is taking a cooking class, swimming lessons, and ice skating lessons through our local school district’s homeschool partnership program.  We are so lucky to have that program here!  Amina enjoys all three activities.  Every day, she checks the calendar and counts down how many days until her next class.

Even our ordinary family life is more stimulating than life in an orphanage: our conversations, the chores and activities we do at home, and the trips we take around town.  At the orphanage, Amina watched a lot of television to fill her time; our family doesn’t watch much tv.  She was lucky in that she lived in a small orphanage and walked to and from a regular school.  Many orphans in Ukraine are housed in boarding schools where they live and attend school in the same place and rarely leave the campus (the first girl we visited, before we met Amina, was in such an orphanage).  I believe that living in a small orphanage with dedicated, long-term staff members who cared about her and interacting with her wider community on a daily basis is why Amina’s social/emotional development is pretty much on target for her age, unlike most kids from institutional settings.

Amina seems aware of how much she is learning; the other night, she acted out for me how her brain is growing, growing, growing.  It’s rewarding to see how much she has learned already and I am looking forward to continued growth.

 

Ellie’s family found her!

I am excited to announce that “Ellie,” the little girl I wrote about in my last post, is being adopted!  I’m also happy to be able to share a more recent photo with you (one that I saw back in March when we were thinking of adopting her, but which hadn’t been online before, so I felt I should keep it private).

Ellie more recent

Thank you to all of you who prayed for Ellie to be chosen for adoption!  If you would like to support her new family, you can check out their Reece’s Rainbow family sponsorship page.

During the years that I waited to be able to adopt, one of the things I enjoyed doing in my free time was looking at photolistings of available children.  Looking at photolistings is one way of reminding myself how many children need families.  Seeing all the faces of waiting children helps personalize what could easily become an overwhelming set of statistics.

If you’re interested in seeing some beautiful faces (and maybe praying for the children, or considering whether you might be called to adopt one or more of them), here are a few sites to check out.

Most, if not all, states and provinces have photolistings of children in foster care who are waiting for families.  Some require you to register to see information about children, while others don’t.  Some allow you to search based on various criteria, such as age, sex, number of siblings, race, and level of disability.  My home state of Michigan has the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange; a quick internet search should direct you to the website for your state or province.  There is also a national photolisting site in the US with information on kids from many different states: AdoptUSKids.

For international adoption, one good site to check out is Rainbow Kids.  Another, if you are open to children with special needs, is Reece’s Rainbow.

Keep in mind that the majority of children who are placed for adoption, both from foster care and internationally, are never listed on photolistings.  Children from foster care are often adopted by their foster families, by relatives, or by families who have approval to adopt from foster care who were waiting for children with certain characteristics (age, etc).  For international adoption, there are many families waiting to adopt young children who are healthy or have minor special needs, so those children get matched quickly and never appear on photolistings.  To put it bluntly, the kids on photolistings are the kids that no one wants–yet.  They are being advertised in the hopes that someone will see them and something will click–something about the look in their eye, or their smile, or a detail of their story will catch someone’s attention and move them to consider the radical step of making a stranger part of their family.

If you want to adopt a healthy child under the age of 2, or 3, or 5, it can be done–but get in line, be prepared to wait, and be prepared for heartbreak if you foster young kids in the hopes of adopting and then it doesn’t happen.  If you can open your heart to an older child, or a sibling group, or a child with special needs, there’s a good chance that a child is already waiting for you–a child who might never have a family or might wait for years for another family to choose them if you don’t answer the call.

I’d like to share one special child in the hopes that her “forever family” might see her.  “Ellie” was one of the children we considered after we learned that “Valentine” had already been adopted.  When our facilitators inquired about her for us, they found out that her status had been changed and she wouldn’t be available for international adoption until the fall (our appointment was in March), so sadly, we had to cross her off our list.

Ellie is 5 years old (the picture is a little dated).  She is listed on Reece’s Rainbow and has a grant that is currently worth over $1100 to help with her adoption expenses.  If anyone is interested, please contact me–I have more information that I can share privately.

Ellie