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A disrupted month

We are nearly through Amina’s initial medical and dentist visits and adoption-related paperwork.  (Her US passport and certificate of citizenship both arrived in the past week!)  I have previously commented that I’m glad that she came home in the summer, because having all this disruption to our schedules during the school year would make the transition even more difficult for me.  Now I’m just stressed from normal summer things, rather than adoption-related things.  I have a high need for structure, and I feel like summertime in our home is a constant cycle of going off the rails and trying to get back on track.

This month is crazy.  Last week we went to Milwaukee because Amina had appointments at the children’s hospital, but we turned it into a family trip and celebrated her 11th birthday while we were there.  We did some shopping at big-city stores that we don’t have around here, swam a lot in the hotel pool, spent a day at the zoo, and introduced the kids to both a buffet restaurant and Chuck E. Cheese’s.  Poor Clara’s sleep schedule was badly thrown off by the drive down, being kept up late because we were all in a one-bedroom hotel suite, and because one of Amina’s appointments was during Clara’s usual nap time (and Don and I both wanted to be there for it).  By the third day of our trip, Clara had a complete meltdown.  I would have just stayed in the hotel room with her that evening and let Don take the other kids out, but we were celebrating Amina’s birthday and I felt like I needed to be there for it, so Clara had to suffer additional stimulation and another late bedtime.  The day after we returned home, Clara was sick–running a fever and vomiting.  I feel terrible that we pushed her too far.  It’s so hard to balance everyone’s needs in general and even more difficult when we’re traveling.

This week, my in-laws are here visiting.  It has actually given me a bit of a break as they’ve gone out with the three older kids during Clara’s naps yesterday and today, leaving me home with more uninterrupted time than I’m used to having in a week.  However, their presence has also resulted in both children and adults staying up even later than usual (which, in my opinion, has already become too late this summer), which hasn’t resulted in the most universally pleasant and cooperative attitudes.

Next week, Don is taking the three older kids on an RV trip to the lower peninsula to meet up with some friends from Ontario.  Clara and I were going to go, but after our trip to Milwaukee, Don and I decided that it wasn’t worth the stress to her and to me.  We’ll stay here and spend some quality time together, and I’ll work on prepping for the homeschool year during her naps and after she goes to bed in the evening.  Then, a day or two after they come home, we’re going to a huge Harry Potter-themed costume party, for which my kids don’t yet have costumes and for which I’m supposed to decorate a table as the Leaky Cauldron (for serving drinks) and, as I’m sure you can guess, I haven’t started that project yet either.

These are all good and worthwhile activities, don’t get me wrong, but they are disruptions from “normal.”  Right now, I’m longing for the school year to start so we can settle into more-or-less predictable routines.  I think that will be good for all of us.  At least, it should reduce my stress level, which I suspect will be good for everyone else in the family too.

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I know that many of you would like to know more about Amina, so I decided to do a 7 Quick Takes post about her.

  1.  She enjoys pop music.  One of the first things she learned after she came home was how to say, “Alexa, play pop music.”  That is not a musical genre that previously got much airtime in our household, so I’m getting an education by immersion.
  2.  She likes animals.  Fortunately, Malou (our cat) is very tolerant, as she frequently picks him up and carries him around.Amina smiling
  3.  She initially experienced carsickness, but fortunately it seems to have subsided.  She rarely rode in cars when she lived in Ukraine.  She walked to and from school and church and mostly stayed at the orphanage otherwise.  For her first couple weeks home, we had to be sure to have plastic bags and napkins with us when she was riding in the car.  We’re all glad that seems to be over.
  4.  She likes to cook and bake, but is a picky eater.  She is annoyingly helpful in the kitchen, wanting to take over every little task, which makes cooking with her much slower than cooking alone.  Hopefully, as she develops her skills, she will become more actually helpful.  As for eating, she is suspicious of new foods, which of course many of the things we eat are to her.  She generally disdains vegetables and feels that most foods require the addition of salt or ketchup to be palatable.  She likes pasta, mashed potatoes, bread products, fruit, and sweets.
  5.  She loved the beach.  We’ve been twice now and she had a blast both times.  She is looking forward to taking swimming lessons in the fall.  (I haven’t told her that the pool is absurdly cold.)

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    This was, unfortunately, the best picture I got of her at the beach.

  6.  She has a lot to learn, but is progressing well.  Our “summer lessons” are focusing on English as a second language, with some foundational work in reading and math.  As a sample of her English language skills, here’s a story she told me yesterday: “Me, Bill house, me eat ice cream.  Like, very like!” (translation: “When I was at Bill’s house, I ate ice cream, and I liked it very much!”)  She is at roughly a kindergarten level in reading in English and a first-grade level in math.  After spending a few weeks on phonics, I started her on Little Stories for Little Folks.  She is now on the second “little pink book” (level 1).  When I did a math assessment last week, it was eye-opening.  Out of six subtraction problems that were a single-digit number subtracted from a two-digit number, she missed two.  I backed up and tested her basic addition.  She can add numbers with sums to 11, but struggles with anything higher (9 + 4 or 7 + 8, for example).  She was confused by problems that were written like 5 = 4 + (fill in the blank), but once I explained that both sides were the same, she was able to solve them.  She has a rudimentary idea of how to tell time on an analog clock, but can’t reliably read a clock and can’t draw the hands on a clock, even to the hour (for example, 5:00).  Based on RightStart Math’s placement test, she should be in first grade math.  So that’s where we’re starting.
  7.  She loves her “Papa.”  The two of them bonded during the weeks they spent together in Ukraine, waiting for the paperwork to be done so she could come home.  It’s been a challenge for me to establish a relationship with her, as she wants his attention or to be with him whenever he’s around.  There was one day that she came downstairs and gave Don a huge hug and a cheery “Good morning, Papa!”  I said “good morning” to her twice and was completely ignored.  Then I gave her a squeezy hug and said a rather pointed “good morning,” which she returned.  Our relationship has improved since Don has been spending more time at work and she has had to spend time with me, but it’s clear that she prefers him.

There you go, 7 Quick Takes about a girl who turns 11 next week.

You can find other bloggers’ 7 Quick Takes here:

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Jennifer Fulwiler, a Catholic writer and radio show host, has often commented that if you want your life to get interesting really fast, just pray to God and tell Him that you’re open to doing His will.  Back in December 2016, after months of religious study and reflection, I prayed that prayer in the middle of the night, after feeding baby Clara.  The next day, my life started to get interesting.

My sister-in-law had included an unusual request on her Christmas list: “your favorite book.”  It was no easy task to choose just one favorite, so I decided to give her two: my favorite children’s book and the most influential book I’d read as an adult.  The children’s book was The Twenty-One Balloons.  The adult book, which arrived in the mail the day after my prayer, was There Is No Me Without You, by Melissa Fay Greene.

There Is No Me Without You is really two books in one.  It tells the broader story of the origins and effects of the AIDS crisis in Africa, and it tells the story of one particular Ethiopian woman whose daughter died of AIDS.  In the midst of her grief, she agreed to take care of a couple orphaned children.  As time passed, more and more children came her way, until she was running a large orphanage.  Eventually, she established connections with agencies that facilitated international adoptions, and children from her orphanage began finding homes in America, Spain, and other countries.

As I knelt on the floor, preparing to wrap the book as a gift for my sister-in-law, I flipped through it.  It felt like an emotional punch in the gut.  Although it had been almost a decade since I had read the book, I remembered the stories and photos vividly.  Feeling shaken, I wrapped the book, then went downstairs, turned on my computer, and requested it from the library.

I wondered if that book coming back into my life was God’s way of showing me my path.  I prayed again, telling God that I was open to adopting if it was His will, but asking Him to please make it clear to me that it was His will and not just something that I wanted.  I told Him that if He really wanted us to adopt internationally, that we needed His help—for my husband to be willing to adopt and for financial support for the adoption.  Of course, we would also need God’s support after the adoption—that went without saying.

About a month later, I came downstairs one morning and found a small, light green envelope on the floor near the door.  I assumed it was something that had fallen out of my son Peter’s backpack, but when I picked it up, I saw that it was a piece of mail addressed to me.  Peter must have dropped it when he brought in the mail the day before.  Puzzled, I opened it and read the note from my parents.  In my mother’s handwriting, I read that the bank had settled my grandmother’s estate and that my parents wanted me to have this.  Enclosed was a check for $10,000.

I was convinced by the fact that I had told God we needed Him to help financially if He wanted us to adopt, and then a month later, $10,000 showed up completely unexpectedly.  Now I felt that adoption was not a matter of “if,” but “when.”  Still, I thought it would be at least a year before we were ready to start—Clara was still a baby and there was still a lot of money to come up with.

However, a couple months later, I got an e-mail with a link for a photolisting for a summer hosting program for Ukrainian orphans, and my conscience started to prick.  Hosting programs can be life-changing for older orphans—in addition to experiencing family life during their vacation period, about half the children who are hosted are subsequently adopted by their host family or another family that met them during hosting, children who very likely would never have been adopted otherwise but instead aged out of their orphanages and into life on the streets when they were 16.  We had considered orphan hosting before but various obstacles had presented themselves—one summer we were moving, another summer we were expecting a baby, and there was the cost, around $3000 per child, not counting transportation to and from a major US airport, and we don’t live near a major airport.  But that year, we weren’t moving, we weren’t expecting a baby, Clara was sleeping through the night so I wasn’t completely sleep-deprived, I felt like I could handle having another kid for the summer, and we had the money.  I wrestled with my thoughts—that money from my parents was supposed to be for adopting a child, not hosting!  But why should that money sit in the bank, just waiting, when I could use it to bring a child here—even if we didn’t adopt, I could advocate and try to find a family for him or her.  People are much more likely to commit to adopting kids that they have met or someone they know has met, rather than kids who just have a picture and a brief description in a photolisting.  I could change a child’s life!  $4000 or so seemed like a reasonable amount to spend to give an orphaned child an experience of family life and a very real chance of finding a permanent family.

I prayed for guidance.  Two quotes kept running through my head.

The first was from Martin Luther King, Jr. about the parable of the Good Samaritan.  “And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”

The second quote was by my dad.  I had posted on Facebook about my 5-year-old son Simon coming downstairs after I put him to bed, saying, “Mom, I’m having a hard time blowing up the whoopee cushion, so can you get me a straw, please?”  In response to a question about whether or not I got him a straw, I commented that sadly, the seam of the whoopee cushion broke before Simon got back to bed.  My dad responded, “I can’t let something like a broken whoopee cushion stand when there is something I can do about it.”  A few days later, a UPS truck dropped off an Amazon box with a dozen whoopee cushions in it for Simon.

Both of these quotes seemed to compel me to action.  My husband and I discussed it quite a bit and he ended up agreeing to host, on the condition that I would not pressure him to adopt.

I scoured the photolistings of the various hosting organizations to find the right child.  We wanted a child younger than our oldest, who was 12.  We wanted to host a child who was available for adoption, because not all children who are hosted from Ukraine are legally available for adoption.  We were willing to host one child or two siblings, but we did not want to host only part of a larger sibling group.  Finally, I had a particular interest in hosting a child with a medical special need, because I knew I could advocate for him or her through Reece’s Rainbow, a non-profit organization that advocates for the international adoption of children with special needs.

I ended up choosing a 10-year-old boy, whom I will call Valentine.  When the paperwork was processed, we learned that Valentine lived in the city of Mariupol in the Donetsk region, which has been a de facto war zone since 2014.  Mariupol is about four miles from the line between the Ukrainian government-controlled territory and the Russian-backed separatist-controlled territory.  The city of Mariupol has been the site of separatist attacks and has suffered from the effects of the conflict, which has displaced over a million people.  Suddenly, we realized that we weren’t just giving a child a summer away from his orphanage, but bringing him out of a violence-prone region to our beautiful peninsula.

Valentine lived with us for ten weeks last summer.  He had an amazing summer of new experiences, including jumping on our trampoline, swinging on our tire swing, running in a kids dash event, climbing on the rocks at a state park on Lake Superior, watching fireworks for the 4th of July, having a water balloon fight, climbing and sliding at a local playground, toasting marshmallows over a campfire and eating s’mores, visiting a nearby wetland, wading and making sandcastles at a beach, having a pool noodle fight, going to a Nerf gun battle birthday party, seeing tadpoles, hiking in the Porcupine mountains, visiting a waterfall, and seeing turtles and skunks on walks from our house to a pond and nature area.  He came to church with us and we also attended a service at a Russian Orthodox church (Valentine told me he was baptized in the Russian Orthodox church on his 10th birthday; he wore a necklace with a crucifix at all times).  Hosting organizations encourage host families to seek dental and vision care for their host children because they don’t regularly receive such care in their orphanages.  Our dentist and optometrist both donated their services to Valentine; he received a dental exam, a cleaning, and a filling from the dentist and an eye exam from the optometrist (he would have received glasses also if he had needed them, but fortunately he didn’t).  Valentine’s ability to understand and communicate in English increased immensely.  He learned other new skills, including playing Uno, telling time, and reading simple words in English.  The new skill that he was most proud of was riding a bike, which was a lesson in persistence for him (he was very disappointed that it was not easy to just hop on and ride, but he was proud and excited when he finally learned).

I kept my part of the bargain—I did not say anything to my husband about adopting Valentine.  However, just two weeks after Valentine arrived, a family in the process of adopting from Ukraine contacted me for more information about him; they were considering adding him to their adoption.  I relayed this news to my husband.  Within a day, he came to me and told me that we should adopt Valentine.  He fit in so well with our family and he already knew us; we were a better family for him than the family that had contacted me.  So a new adventure began.

Clearly, God’s plan for our adoption didn’t follow the timeline I had expected.  Just over six months from when I told God that I was open to His will, we started the paperwork to adopt Valentine.

Fast forward to March of this year.  We received the date of our appointment at the Department of Adoptions in Kyiv.  Ukrainian adoptions are unique in several respects among international adoptions, and one is that you do not receive an official referral until all of your documents are approved and you travel to Ukraine.  You cannot legally put a hold on a child that you intend to adopt.  So the whole time we were gathering documents and waiting for our appointment, anyone else whose documents were approved could have adopted Valentine.  The vast majority of the time, this doesn’t happen with kids whose host families choose to adopt them, but we knew that it was a possibility.  We knew that Valentine had been in the orphanage at least since he was six years old and that Ukrainian families typically do not adopt children with special needs, even needs that we consider quite minor in the US.  However, once we received our appointment date and our facilitator contacted the orphanage director to let her know we were coming, we learned that Valentine had been adopted by a Ukrainian family just weeks before.  This was a huge shock to us.

We took some time to process the news and grieve, then decided we would still travel to our appointment and seek to adopt another child who needed a family and fit our home study approval.  I’m going to skip a lot of the story here.  If you’re interested, you can find it elsewhere on my blog.  The short version is that we ended up adopting a 10- (almost 11-)year-old girl named Amina.  She came home on July 7th.  Although we were sad to have lost Valentine, we are happy that he has a family now, and we adopted a child we wouldn’t have met if things hadn’t worked out the way they did, because her orphanage does not participate in hosting programs.  I trust that God knew what He was doing when He called us to host Valentine and start the adoption process, even though we certainly didn’t know how things would work out.

In December 2016, we did not have the money to pay for an international adoption.  I had a savings account with some money I’d earned and some birthday and Christmas money I’d set aside; it had about a thousand dollars in it.  Now, a little over a year and a half later, we have an adopted daughter and most of the approximately $30,000 cost of her adoption did not come from our pockets.  We received many generous donations from family, friends, and even strangers who saw our profile on the Reece’s Rainbow website.  A local Mom Prom organization gave us two substantial grants.  In addition to monetary gifts, we have also been blessed with donations of clothing and shoes, books and craft supplies, babysitting, and even a family photo shoot.  We pulled off this adoption with the support of our community.

I have heard so many stories from adoptive families over the years about how they stepped out in faith to answer the call to adopt and the funds they needed came just in time.  The same thing happened for us.  Yet, we didn’t know that it was going to work out that way, and it was difficult to make the decision to begin an adoption when we couldn’t see the path clearly all the way to the end.  All the time, though, I trusted that God sent us on this path, and so we kept going.  We put in our couple loaves and fishes and God multiplied them to help this adoption happen.

Over the past week, we’ve started doing some summer-y things, finally.

We went on a family walk in a nearby nature area.

A mom friend came over last Thursday morning and we chatted while our kids entertained themselves.  Then she took all the kids but Clara to her house so I could have some precious quiet time to myself while Clara napped (I worked on homeschool prep for next school year).  Not only did she take my kids for the afternoon, but when I picked them up, she gave me some brownies that her daughter and Amina had made.  I am grateful to have such a wonderful friend!

Yesterday, we had a fire in our fire pit for the first time this year.  We toasted marshmallows and made s’mores.  While Amina liked eating toasted marshmallows, she didn’t like the s’mores.

Last night, Don, Simon, and Amina slept in a tent in our yard.  This was Amina’s first time sleeping in a tent and Simon’s first time in several years.  As I predicted, they were up WAY too late and we all suffered for it today.  Still, it was a life experience.  Having pulled that off, Don is now talking about taking them to a campground later in the summer.  I will happily stay home with Clara; I don’t have a desire to be involved.

Today I took the kids to our annual parish picnic.  I managed to bring a dish for the potluck, unlike last year.  The weather was beautiful and we all had a good time.  I got to know some other moms better, Clara spent a lot of time on the swings, Peter ran around with the boys, and Simon and Amina enjoyed the beach.  Amina got to use her new bathing suit for the first time, wading and splashing around.  She had a blast and wants to go back tomorrow (which isn’t going to happen, but we will go back again).  Unfortunately, Don didn’t pack Simon’s swim shirt or sunscreen, and despite my reminders to take breaks and get out of the sun, Simon ended up with a sunburn on his back.  Then, when we got home, Simon accidentally kicked the dish with the leftover potluck food as he was getting out of the van, sending it crashing to the cement garage floor and littering said floor with broken glass, rice, and beans.

Life here isn’t perfect (it never is), but it’s starting to feel more normal.  It’s a good thing that Amina came home in the summer, because if we had all the disruption we’ve had over the past couple weeks during the school year, I would find it even more difficult to maintain my mental health.  (I will admit that my friend offered to take my kids because she knew how stressed I was feeling–dealing with lice was the straw that broke the camel’s back.)  I’m so glad that we have another month of summer to go before the school year starts and all that goes along with it.

 

Not much fun here

A year ago, “Valentine” had been with us for hosting for just over a month.  Amina has been home for two and a half weeks.  So far, the biggest difference between hosting and adoption is that hosting was a lot more fun.  I gave Valentine a couple days to settle in after he arrived, then we started going out and doing fun things and having an awesome summer to remember.  This year feels like the summer that isn’t.  For the four weeks that Don was gone, I was so busy trying to keep everything together that I didn’t have the time to do much else.  Since he and Amina came home, we’ve been doing lots of necessary things that haven’t been particularly enjoyable.

Last week, we dealt with paperwork for Social Security, delayed registration of foreign birth (to get Amina a Michigan birth certificate), US passport, Canadian citizenship, and registration for our school district’s homeschool partnership program.  Amina had another blood draw, an X-ray, and another trip to the dentist.  A friend took some family photos for us at a local park.  In non-Amina-related activity, we also bought a new range, because our oven died before Don left for Ukraine and we decided that the cost to have it repaired wasn’t worth it considering its age.  We treated ourselves to a gas range since we were already planning to have a new gas line run so we could install a direct-vented propane heater in our dining room (there is only one furnace vent for our entire kitchen/dining room/laundry room, in a corner almost entirely blocked by cabinets, so our dining room gets very cold in the winter).  The range was delivered and the gas lines run, so now we’re cooking with gas!  (We’ve had electric stoves for the past nine years, so this is an exciting change.)

This week, we didn’t have nearly as much scheduled.  This was going to be the week that we started doing more fun things.  Then at church on Sunday, I made an unfortunate discovery.  I had known that Amina had gorgeous, thick, dark hair.  I hadn’t known that she had lice.  It would have been so much easier if we had figured that out earlier, so Don could have treated her before she came home or we could have treated her right away after she arrived.  However, after two weeks here, the lice had plenty of opportunity to spread, so it became a whole-family lice eradication project.  The combing…the laundry…  Not what I had planned for this week.

To try to end on a happier note, here is one of our favorites of the photos from last week:

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She’s home

Don and Amina arrived home on Saturday, the 7th, after an arduous ordeal (getting up at 4 am for their ride to the airport, finding their first flight cancelled, having to re-do their itinerary, leaving Ukraine seven hours later than originally scheduled, Ukrainian passport control failing to stamp their passports on their way out of the country which caused problems when they arrived at the airport in Frankfurt, credit card machines being down at the airport restaurants, going through US immigration, and spending the night in Chicago before their final flight home).

I wish I could post a “sunshine and rainbows” post, but it wouldn’t be honest.  The last several days have been quite stressful.  After four weeks of having their dad gone, our three biological kids are all adjusting to having him here again, as well as having a new sister.  We have a “blended family” dynamic going on, since Don has been parenting Amina for the past four weeks, while I was parenting the other kids.  We’re all still working out our roles in this new version of our family.  For three of the four nights since Don and Amina came home, I’ve been awakened during the night by a child in distress; having my sleep interrupted certainly hasn’t helped my ability to deal with it all.

Amina has been the easiest child to deal with; she seems very happy to have a family and to finally be home.  She’s a picky eater who prefers meat and is very put-out when required to eat a few bites of vegetables.  However, unlike Don’s experience with her in Ukraine during the weeks they were waiting for the paperwork to be done, she has been going to sleep easily and sleeping well.  I think it’s probably due to a combination of jet lag, exhaustion with all the new experiences and being immersed in a different language, and a feeling of relief to finally be home, instead of in a temporary place.  She has basic bike-riding skills but will benefit from some practice; apparently the orphanage had a bicycle for a while in the past, then it broke.  She is very motivated to learn English and enjoys the lessons I’ve been doing with her.

Our schedule has been busy.  Amina saw our family doctor on Monday, had a dental exam yesterday (Tuesday), and went in to have blood drawn and give a urine sample today.  The children’s hospital requested so many tests that they couldn’t all be done today; they drew as much blood from her as they were allowed to draw in one day, based on her weight, and she will have to go back next week to have the rest drawn (and have an x-ray).  Next week, she’ll also be going back to the dentist for a cleaning.  Her bad tooth is a baby tooth that is nearly ready to fall out; the dentist wants to keep an eye on it in the hopes that it will fall out soon, to spare her the trauma of him extracting it.

I know that things will settle down; I just hope it happens sooner than later.

Father’s Day flood

A couple weeks ago, on Father’s Day, our area experienced an incredible flash flood.  We got seven inches of rain in five hours.  I saw an estimate that it caused $50 million in infrastructure damage.  That doesn’t count the damage to private property, which was also substantial.  I felt like I should write something about it, but never got to it.  However, my friend Monica just wrote a blog post with a collection of the most impressive pictures of the damage, so I’ll just share her post about the flood.

We were lucky that we were spared major damage.  The ditch that runs along the road in front of our house overflowed; the water ran over the end of our driveway, washing some of it out, then continued along the shoulder, washing out two channels that were up to a foot deep in places.  Because it made our mailbox inaccessible from a vehicle, we didn’t get mail delivery until Thursday (the storm was on Sunday), after the county had come and repaired the shoulder.  Our internet service also went out until Wednesday.  Fortunately, I was able to use a cellphone data device from Don’s work to get online to send e-mails and check Facebook; that kept me from going insane, feeling cut off from the world.

Here are a few pictures I took after the storm:

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