Sunday, August 30, 2009

Gladney Playdate!

We had a great time spending the day with other Gladney families at the Gladney Family Reunion today. It was fun to meet families with kids of all ages at various stages in their adoption processes. Thanks so much to Drew and Carey and the rest of the Gladney team for organizing this shindig. The girls had a blast playing in the sand and eating way too many cookies and raisins, and we all enjoyed beating the ridiculous heat we've been having here in California by spending some time cooling off in the ocean. Venturing out into the deep water and waiting for the waves to crash on the sand with Daddy was an enormous hit with the Little Ladies and cause for much squealing!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Blind Side

Last night, we enjoyed a much-needed date night after what had been a LONG week with the little ladies. I went back to work only to sprain my ankle while Davis was away on his business trip during my first two days back in the office last week. That made for an interesting couple of limpy days. Thankfully, I didn't break our laptop as I careened down the stairs and launched our computer out of my hands and into the air. On top of that, we are also knee-deep in a strong-willed, teething (4 molars coming in - ouch!) almost-two year old ("No, Mommy! No, Mommy! NOOOOOOOOOO!). I'll let you imagine for yourself the tranquility with which we find ourselves surrounded these days. But, I digress. Back to the date night. The movie we went to see ended up being so-so but I actually had to keep from crying audibly at the preview for this movie. While I've never been a huge Sandra Bullock fan, we will definitely go see The Blind Side.

Tomorrow, we head south for a Gladney Family Reunion in our region. We are really looking forward to meeting 22 other Ethiopian kids - and their parents! - for a day at the beach. Also on the horizon as we look to next week is Junia's first day at preschool. She is SO excited and talks non-stop about how she is going to school. One night last week, I got her all snuggled into bed, sang our bedtime song, prayed and kissed her goodnight. As I hugged her and got ready to leave, she said in a loud whisper, "Mommy, Junia go to school?" wondering if school started the next day. I told her what I have been telling her all week, "Not tomorrow, but soon!" It's absolutely precious to see how excited she is. Much to my amazement today, out of the blue she counted to seven and finished almost the entire alphabet song. Davis told me today that he counts with her all the time. I hadn't even realized he was doing that. Go, Superdaddy! I have no doubt that she will adapt very well into her new little preschool community.

The funny thing is that Junia is so much like me. There is a very good chance she will be a nerd like me who loves going to school. She is also very neat and exhibits a lot of my first-born child tendencies. Case in point: One day I found her dusting shelves in my bedroom - without any prompting! She looked at me very matter-of-factly when asked what she was doing and told me "Junia cleaning." It's amazing how a child who doesn't share your genes can be so much like you. Nature or nuture? I'm not sure but I'm sure not going to complain if God gave me a child that wants to clean up messes! Did I mention that she loves to play dress up? If you've been in my closet, you know that too qualifies her to be my child!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fun with Friends!

We wrapped up our summer with some fun visits from dear old friends.

The girls loved playing beauty shop with Aunt Betsy...

...and Junia had her first "sleep over". There was actually no sleeping involved though. We discovered that two little girls ages 3 and 4 that are bouncing off the walls from watching Mary Poppins are physically incapable of sleeping - especially if they are together on an air mattress! They eventually had to be separated so we could all get some rest.

We also had a special visit from Aunt Alison who has two adopted kiddos from Korea (in addition to a biological son). We were quite the multicultural group as we dined on Mexican food and tried to keep our 5 kids from tearing the restaurant apart! Alison and her husband were one of several families that inspired us to adopt and mentored us in the early stages of the process. What a "full circle" experience to finally have our little global families meet!

Coincidentally, both of our girls had on the same dress! What are the odds of that?! I guess that's what you get when you shop at Target!

It was a great and full summer!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Poppa's Post

I was recently talking with someone who told me that one of their concerns about adopting was how their adopted child might be received by members of the extended family. This was a concern that we too shared in the early stages of our adoption process. While we both come from very loving families, we still had concerns about how our families would react to news that the newest members of the family were going to come from Africa. In our case, our parents had waited 10 years for grandchildren when we came to them telling them that no we were not infertile and that yes we had chosen adoption as the way to bring children into our family. As it turns out, we had nothing to worry about! Both of our families have opened their hearts completely to our precious girls and it has blessed us beyond measure to see how God has provided our girls not only with parents but with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who love them dearly. In response to the concerns I have heard expressed from some potential adoptive families about the issue of how extended family may respond to an adopted child (particularly in a transracial context), I have asked Junia and Eden's grandpa, my dad and their Poppa, to take over this blog post and share with you his love story as it has unfolded with the Little Ladies. It is my hope that this may be useful to some of you who may be worried about if others in your family can love your adopted kids as much as you do. So with that, here's Poppa's Post, in his own words:

Dear Friends of Sarah and Davis,
A week ago Sarah asked me to think about writing about the adoption of Junia and Eden from the perspective of the grandparents. I hope you will understand this is from my perspective. I will send this to Sarah for her approval, if you are reading this I guess I made the cut!

I would first like to tell you and anyone else that will listen that I am totally, completely in love with those two, sweet lovely little girls Junia and Eden! They had my heart almost from the very first minute we met. My wife will confirm in a heartbeat that Junia and Eden have already brought a joy and happiness into our lives that is without measure. I hope and pray that I can help our grandchildren understand that real love is just without concern to birthplace or skin color. And that is a glorious revelation that comes from my heart and has been cemented in my being thanks to Eden and Junia.

I am a product of growing up in NW Missouri in the 1940’s and ’50’s. Our family had strong ties in the southern culture of Arkansas and Tennessee. I remember very well seeing the signs “ WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE SERVICE TO ANYONE” and at some of the water fountains, “COLOREDS ONLY”. We didn’t think much about it, that’s just the way things were. My life changed when as a young man my cultural experience growing up met face to face with my new identity as a born again Christian. It seemed to me that when Christ died for one, He died for all. And when I accepted Him I would accept His family. Over the years, God has continued to teach me in many ways about the nature of His love for ALL of His children.

When Sarah met and married Davis, I was really excited about the possibility of being able to have the “G”word -“GRANDCHILDREN”. That word can bring chills over a parent if he is not totally self controlled. Sarah and Davis loved their lives with each other and were doing so well in what they were doing......BUT WHAT ABOUT US?? I had already scoped out almost every kids' store within a twenty mile radius for clothes, cute little shoes, babies first golf clubs, etc. And of course I knew exactly where I would hang our new family photograph. You know,the one on every good family's mantle, where everyone is all dressed alike, probably in light blue denim, or white, around a fireplace or here in California maybe at the beach. There would be Davis and Sarah and the Grandparents, of course, and my son and his wife, and the GRANDKIDS. WOW! With the DNA from Sarah and Davis, they would have to be SuperKids and very photogenic. It never entered my mind that the kids might not look exactly like Sarah and Davis.

Sarah had told us that some of her friends had been adopting and were very happy. When the time came to tell us they had been strongly thinking and praying about adopting I just hoped they weren’t being overly swayed by the pressure to get on the parent wagon. And, by the way, where the heck is Ethiopia? Are these Caucasian children? How dark are they? Pathetic, huh. Sarah told me how they had been praying and that the God I love so much had put this on their hearts. They told me they had the room and everything necessary and the heart and love of God to take this on. I knew that was a direct word from our Father. God had told them if they really wanted to be like Him they should be willing to love the children that might be harder to place, those that were a bit older and probably malnourished, maybe sick. When I heard that, I could only do two things, cry and repent again. What I would have missed out without the girls. Such joy! Words cannot explain. But I will try.

And now the good part. JUNIA AND EDEN!!!!!

After months of waiting and praying and praying and waiting, the time came for Davis and Sarah to leave LAX for the trip to Ethiopia to pick up their two little girls. Sarah and Davis left LAX a young upwardly mobile, stable young couple that only had eyes for each other. They had accepted God's challenge and returned home real honest to goodness parents, a “Mommy and Daddy “. Their babies could now increase and experience good food and shelter and love and devotion and stability and knowledge.....and a bathtub and shampoo and hand lotion and toys and toys and toys and “Elmo goes to the Dentist”. (Oh my, I will tell you about that later if I get invited back.) These little girls are growing up! Physically, mentally, spiritually. It’s a prime example of “the apples not falling far from the tree". They are learning well from their bonafide Mommy and Daddy. I have learned a lot about trusting my adult “kids”. I am so proud of Sarah and Davis. Even if our kids are grown, sometimes it is hard to just trust that Christ Jesus really is doing in their lives all those things you prayed for them when they were younger now that they have made the decision to climb to higher heights. If you haven’t been reading Sarah’s blog, and you should see the girls now! I love those girls dearly. I want to take them out and show them off to everybody. I am just waiting and hoping one of those people will come up to me and ask me one of those questions the have asked Sarah, “Are those your children?” (As if was any of their business in the first place.) I already have my answer ready for them. “OOOh yes!! They are our first grandchildren and I have even been told they resemble me! I am sooo happy!”

I just have one short story that happened to us that has changed my life significantly. A few weeks ago we were coming from our home several hours away to see the girls. We called Sarah to tell her we had arrived in town. She said the girls had just finished their lunch and would be going down for their nap, but she would keep them up until we got there. We arrived opened our car doors and called out their names to let them know we were here. As I opened the front door they were looking for us. It seemed like forever before they saw us . Both threw up their hands and Junia shouted out with the biggest smile "GAMMY-POPPA!!!" As we walked toward the table where Junia was sitting on the bench she patted the bench next to her as if to say, “Come sit here by me”. GAMMY/POPPA! Enough said. For two little girls just learning our language, they couldn’t have said it better, we knew we were wanted and loved.

I hope this will encourage those of you that may be dealing with questions about adopting a baby or babies that may not look exactly like you. I believe we are products of our environment and that we can take on the best of what our children have to offer and give to them of our best. We all win. I thank you for allowing me to share with you from my heart, tears of joy included. My prayers are that you will allow God to love you in such a magnificent way.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Sweet Little Story

I just ironed my outfit and put out all of the necessities I'll need for my first day back at work tomorrow. It reminds me of what I used to do before the first day of school every year. I guess once a nerd, always a nerd! God must have a sense of humor - and want me to rely on Him more - because He, in His divine providence that I don't always understand, signed Superdaddy up for a random last minute business trip to Texas that just happened to coincide with my first two days back at work. Less than ideal in my humble opinion but we will just have to make due. God doesn't give us more than we can handle, right? Given all that is going on in Camp Chaos right now, I really don't have time to blog but I couldn't help but share the sweetest little story that happened today.

I was feeding the Little Ladies lunch as usual this afternoon. I took their plates to the table and then went back for mine. As I was heading back from the kitchen I called over the girls and said "Don't forget me, girls! Don't forget Mommy!" I was just joking when I said this to keep them from eating before I got back to the table but Junia replied in absolute seriousness, "Mommy, Junia never forget you! Junia never forget Mommy. Never."

Who needs dessert after that? Talk about a precious Mommy moment.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

They Wanted Us Back!

We just got back home from a wonderful time together celebrating our anniversary hiking and biking in the mountains. We even got to see a real live BEAR on today's morning hike - perhaps God's stand-in for Little Bear and Big Bear. And guess what else?! The girls remembered us when we got home! They knew I was their mom and wanted me back! They ran to the door screaming when they heard us knocking and did not stop talking until we put them to bed about an hour later. They wanted to tell us everything about their their adventures at our friends' house eating ice cream, jumping on the trampoline and playing dress up. It appears they survived just fine. The only thing I did find out as I looked at a few snapshots from the weekend was that our dear friend who asked to take them to the county fair today to watch her daughter's dance performance dressed Junia in a nightgown (no doubt thinking it was a play dress) and some horribly mismatched stretchpants for the outing. So my sweet Big Bear, who is already a bit of a celebrity in town, went parading about for the entire county to see - in her nightgown. Oh well....Could've been worse, right? (Mental note: Leave out clothing selections next time. Don't trust the fashion sense of others as it applies to those that bear your last name - no pun intended.)

We really did miss the girls while we were away (I had to resist the temptation to call and check on them too often) but came back refreshed after having had even just 48 hours to have adult conversation and activities that didn't involve kid gear, nap time, potty training and the like. I now understand why a friend of mine with 3 very young children makes a point to try and do short getaways (even for just one night) a couple of times of year with her husband. You appreciate your kids even more when you can step away, even briefly, just to breathe and reset. You also find that the couple you were before you had kids still does exist. Those people are just really tired most of the time so it's easy to forget them in Toddlerland and think they have resigned or died. But fear not - they are still in there. If you just give them some rest, they will come out of hiding.

So I was reminded as I entered my front door how much I love those girls. I was so happy to see them and can't wait to see them again tomorrow. This week promises to be a big week of transitions for our family. Mama Bear goes back to work onsite two mornings a week (in addition to the work I have been doing offsite this entire time) and Big Bear starts preschool shortly thereafter. We are asking God to bless this transition and make it as smooth as possible for all of us. Junia is very excited about going to school and often talks about how she will go potty at school, wear her new pink and brown polka dot sweatshirt to school, take her giraffe backpack to school...It's pretty cute.

We are still in process on bigger life decisions relevant to our continuing desire to be used by God in the cause of ministering to orphans. We haven't made any big decisions yet but had some great conversations that have given both of us much to think and pray about. We are praying specifically about how God might be able to use the telling of our story - ordinary as it may seem to us - to move others to consider adoption. We are excited to see what God has in store for our family.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Heading for the Hills With No Sidecar

Tomorrow we are leaving for our first weekend away from the Little Ladies since they came home six months ago. We will be celebrating our 11th anniversary mountain biking in the Sierras. I have been thinking since we planned our trip how this - leaving the girls for the first time - was going to be no big deal. Now that we are about to actually go, I'm surprised at how mixed my emotions are, particularly since I'm not a really emotional person. I'm definitely looking forward to some time away alone with my wonderful husband. (If our time away involves sleep and quiet, all the better!) However, I am also a bit sad that Big Bear and Little Bear won't be joining us. Even though they complicate things immensely in any kind of travel context (what traveler doesn't want to bring along bags full of sippy cups, bibs, diapers, pull-ups, wipes, juice boxes, toys, crayons, car seats, strollers, etc., etc., etc.?), when you just get used to always having them in your sidecar, the road doesn't feel right when they aren't there, even if you do travel lighter. I have no doubt that they will be fine as they will be in very capable and loving hands in our brief absence. It's me I wonder about! I've asked Davis about a thousand times this week, "What if they forget I'm their mom while we are gone?" He seems fairly confident this will not happen and tells me I am being dramatic but it's the kind of thing that haunts you as an adoptive parent. I'm sure birth parents worry about all kinds of things when leaving their children in another's care but probably not if their kids won't know they are theirs upon their return.

Our last trip alone to the Sierras was significant because when we came back we started our paperwork with Gladney to begin our adoption. It was during those hours on the dark road home that we discussed whether or not we should begin our family through adoption. On that trip, I asked Davis if he felt this was where God was leading our family. He told me "We have rooms in our house that no one lives in, we have some money in the bank, we are ready to be parents and there are children that need parents. I don't know what more of a sign from God we are looking for." And that was that. He had reached a place where he felt as I did and our decision was made. For me, God had already impressed upon me that we could add another place (or what ended up being two places!) at our kitchen table. It was a simple but very resonate image for me. In my heart, I felt strongly that we could - and should - just make some more room in our home and in our hearts for children that needed a place to sit down and call home. We are now at another crossroads of sorts and headed off to the mountains again. We are now a family of four contemplating adding another place at the table at some point. We are once again seeking God's direction. From our perspective, we think we may be able to accommodate one more child in our family - financially, spatially, Mommy's sanity, etc. The question now is how this child should come into our family. I wrote previously about each person living out their own story. At this point, we are not sure if biological children are to be a part of the story God is writing for our family. We are open to forgoing a biological child in the effort to meet the needs of another orphan if that is what God has for us. This is a big decision though and one part of me isn't sure I'm ready to give up the possibility of what seems to be such an expected "circle of life" human experience. If we don't have a birth child now in order to take on another adoption, will we find ourselves down the road later in life saying "Coulda Woulda Shoulda"? And not because adoption was any kind of Plan B for us - as you know, adoption was our Plan A, something we chose enthusiastically and purposefully for many reasons - but more because a birth child could also be another kind of blessing from God in our family. On the other side, if I'm honest with myself, I'm not sure if I really need that experience to feel complete personally or to complete our family. It makes me feel like a weirdo to say that but our family feels very full now. I don't feel like something is lacking because our children did not come from my body. I don't have the ache that some describe for biological children. If that's true, I can't help but wonder if God designed me to be an adoptive mom rather than a birth mom if I am to serve Him most fully. I guess since we have already long abandoned "normal" as a descriptor for our family, I shouldn't worry so much. We just have to live out our own "normal"and be ok with that. The question is what our "normal" should look like. And so we pray and wait for God to lead us down the next path for our family.

In my last post, I highlighted Junia and Eden's Gammy and lest their Poppa feel left out, I'm including a picture from our recent readoption day in US court. Sweet Poppa left at 4am from his and Gammy's house just to be able to join us for the special day. We celebrated with frozen yogurt and Poppa teaching the girls to say "I'm official!" Our girls are blessed to have Grandmas and Grandpas that are shameless in their grandchild adoration much to our Little Ladies absolute delight. Until you become a parent, you don't realize how much it will mean to see your own parents adore your children.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Six Months Later and Ouchy Poop

It's amazing to think that we are coming up on the SIX MONTH anniversary of the Little Ladies being home with us as a Forever Family. Big Bear and Little Bear have brought inexplicable joy into our family as the children of our hearts. We have fallen in love with each other for what I hope will be a lifetime (teenage years will test this love affair I'm sure...potty training that involves peeing all over the new rug on the playroom floor in your Big Girl Pants also lacks something in the warm fuzzy department but love should be blind - and hold its nose - right?). The cliche here would be that time flies and in a way this is true. It's hard to even believe that we have been parents for half a year. It's also hard to believe that our lengthy adoption process is finally over (trying to get social security numbers is another story...) and that our girls are really ours at last. The other side of the story is that there have also certainly been days when time went by very S L O W L Y and we limped to the end of the day only to collapse in bed and do it all again a few hours later. My dear friend Christy just brought her 10 month old twins home from Ethiopia last week. She said to me after a few days of being back, "You didn't tell me how hard this was." And I reminded her that I did tell her. She is by nature cheerful and probably just opted to listen selectively when I fell into whine mode. I reminded her that I was sobbing at my dinner table the fourth night back in the US because things were really really really hard at first in that early jet-lagged adjustment period. However, that was a very short season and life isn't nearly so difficult now. Most of our time together as a family is really fun these days as we continue get to know each other better. Being a mom in general is hard though. And being an adoptive mom certainly adds its own challenges. It gets easier as you figure new things out and get enough of a handle on things to be able to really enjoy your children. Another friend said to me the other day "I just don't know how you've done it. By starting with a baby, at least you have time to ease into the process." I think she has a point but for everyone that tells me something like that, I tell them that this is all we know and all we have ever known. Our lives as parents have just always involved two toddlers and we have learned to adapt accordingly. Humans are amazingly adaptable when they have to be - when they are forced to be. It's also worth noting that to the adoptive mother, we look at birth mothers incredulously thinking "You pushed that kid out of WHERE?!" I guess we all just have to write our own stories.

The thing about adoption is that it permanently imposes a nontraditional story on your life. By choosing adoption, you choose to be nontraditional and that can be hard if part of you likes keeping a lower profile. Transracial adoption makes you stand out. Period. As you know, that's been one of my biggest struggles in the whole process - the attention from strangers. What's been interesting lately though is that God has been changing my heart and I have been seeing the fruit in that. I have been praying for more grace and compassion and praying that God would help me to stay connected to the Bigger Picture of why this all matters anyway. I have had several strangers approach me recently that asked me about our girls. What could have been brief encounters ended up being wonderful opportunities to help very interested families get on the path to begin exploring adoption as a option for their families. One woman in a pizza restaurant was in tears as Davis described to her how our girls are two of 4.5 millions orphans in Ethiopia alone. Those days make me glad that we are a "poster family" for adoption. We've taken to telling anyone who tells us how cute our girls are that if they think so, there are over 4 million more where they came from that would love to find homes! A dear friend that I didn't even know read this blog (I don't know who reads it these days given my sporadic postings of late) told me recently our story has moved her family to consider adoption. She told me, "I have done Christian ministry all over the world and I don't know how I missed this. I just didn't know there were so many orphans in the world." She articulated our exact experience when we began this journey. We just didn't know. But once we did know, we felt a great deal of responsibility to respond to our knowledge of God's heart and the state of things in the world today. The rest is history. Our faith mandated action and we are now a family of four.

In honor of our upcoming six month anniversary, I have to share a favorite recent story from potting training Big Bear. (By the way, trying to potty train one child while weaning the other one off of the bottle that she dearly loves is a really terrible idea even if it works well with your family's summer calendar - DO NOT GO THERE). We were at the airport a few weeks ago heading out of town for our first plane trip since the girls arrived home from Africa. When you are potty training, you go to the bathroom A LOT. During one of our airport restroom stops, I asked Junia, as I often do, who she wanted to go first - her or Mommy. She told me she wanted Mommy to go first. I was happy to oblige her since I really had to go. She then proceeded to say "Junia help Mommy." She came over and put her hands - or tried to put her hands - on my waist so she could hold me over the potty like I do for her. When she heard the familiar tinkle, she started exclaiming over and over in a loud voice "Good girl, Mommy! Good girl! No accident! Good girl, Mommy!" as she patted my dry undies and offered to help with wiping. I couldn't help but wonder what the woman in the next stall was thinking at that point! This was only topped by her then asking me - in the same loud voice - as she waited for me to finish if I was having an "ouchy poop" (another related story, perhaps for another time, involves learning what happens to a child who is allowed to eat too many bananas on a given day). I told her that no I did not actually need to poop and that I would go ahead and finish things up on my own so that she could have her turn. I have heard that being in the delivery room causes women to lose all sense of shame. I am finding that just being a mom in general - regardless of how you delivered your kids - seems to bring about regular opportunities for a wide array of opportunities for embarassment. Thanks, Big Bear!

This latest pic is taken with one of Junia's favorite people on earth - her Gammy. She is rocking another recent favorite - the cowboy boots that once belonged to her daddy! Davis' mom had saved these for 30 years and passed them on to be given new life again on the very thick feet of our eldest Ethiopian Princess. Talk about worlds colliding!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Sad Picture

Here's a sad picture that I took today. These are all shoes that the Little Ladies have already outgrown - in just 4 months! Eden's feet are now the same size as Junia's. Needless to say, I've taken to buying most of their shoes at Marshall's now (rather than Nordstrom!) knowing they will outgrow them in a month or two. This kind of pragmatism also serves as proof of my Real Mommy status. It was sad to see the little shoes they came home in knowing they are WAY too small now. It's a reminder of how quickly they will grow up. It's almost as if you can never take too many pictures because in what feels like the blink of an eye, that particular child is gone replaced by a bigger, wiser, older child. I've heard it said that kids make you feel young again. I'm not sure I agree with that one. I think kids, in a lot of ways, make you feel old. Perhaps this is because you live in a perpetual state of exhaustion (by the way, please don't tell mothers of toddlers they look tired - believe me when I say, we know that already). Perhaps it is because you drive around with multiple car seats in your backseat and, let's face it, there is just nothing sexy about that. Or maybe it's just because they serve as visual reminders that time is passing so quickly. Perhaps it is our children that remind us to live each day to its fullest knowing that each day can only be lived once and then it is gone forever. Much like childhood.