Saturday, December 10, 2011

Photo Shoot

In my never-ending quest to trim our family budget, I decided that I would take the photos for our Christmas card this year instead of hiring a photographer.  Next I had to decide where we would take them and what the kids were going to wear.  I bought some super-cute dresses off eBay for the girls - they aren't wearing all the same ones this year, but they all match in style and color.

I also decided that we would do a 'location' photo shoot at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in KC.  The kids weren't real excited when we told them that we were taking them to an art museum (instead of a photography studio) to take their Christmas pictures.  However, when we arrived at the Nelson they really liked it!  What's not to like?  The place is gorgeous inside... and full of some really cool stuff!

Once again, I won't post the actual picture we plan to use.  But, I will post another one that we really liked - but didn't make the final cut for our 2011 card:

Cost for parking at the Nelson $5.  Cost for forty, semi-custom, self-designed Christmas cards from $16.68.  Cost of hearing your kids say "Cooooool Mom, can we come back again some day?" - about a museum of art - ...priceless.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving, etc.

As we have every year since about 2001, Thanksgiving was at our house this year.  We were down 5 people though since my younger sister and her family moved to Florida back in May of this year.  But we still had a nice family gathering with my Mom, my older sister and her family and two of my aunts (my Mom's sisters).

Looking ahead, I'm pretty excited about Christmas this year.  Last year I had a hard time figuring out what to buy everyone for Christmas.  I think they liked what they got, but I don't think they were 'blown away' by their gifts.  This year I bought the kids each an iPod Touch (don't wig out - we didn't win the lottery, I bought them all off eBay so I saved more than half what the newest 4th gen costs).  I think they are going to absolutely love them - just my gut feeling.  I've found tons of inexpensive educational games and ebooks on iTunes - and also PBS kids TV shows.  Awesome!  Can't wait to see their reactions!

This month we also moved our old PC and the printer out of the 3-seasons porch (off Tim's and my bedroom) and put it in the dining room for use as a 'family computer'.  I cleaned up the hard drive and added a gig of RAM to the motherboard.  It was running very sluggishly - now it runs like a champ and didn't cost me that much to fix :).  After that, I bought and loaded several kids learning games on it.  The girls all ask me constantly now if they can play on the computer (they actually started asking before I even had a chance to get everything set up).  The dining room is a little more cramped now, but it think it is well worth it.

In other news, our friends from church are leaving this week to travel to China to adopt their little boy Jesiah.  Their family had a really rough time this past year, but are ending on a positive note by finally being given the green light to go to get their little one.  Keep them (Nathan & Michelle) in your prayers if you are so inclined, they are leaving two small children behind here in the States while they travel.  I know they are worried about all their children - near and far - at this time.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mayerly's 10th Birthday

I wish I had something witty and inspiring to write today in honor of Mayerly's birthday.  Unfortunately, I've been fighting a chest cold for about 2 weeks now and I'm too wiped out to come up with anything.  So, I'll just be posting some pictures before I call it a night.
 Blowing out the candles
 She's cheezin' in this one with her imaginary knife and fork ready to eat all the cake herself...
 Bratz Leapster game from Grandma and Grandpa Verhulst
 Furry green body pillow, also from G'ma & G'pa Verhulst
 Incredibles Leapster game from Mom & Dad
 Doll clothes from Mom & Dad
Doll from Grandma Schoemig

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Starfish

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed
a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean.
The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?
You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish,
and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said,
“I made a difference for that one.”

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mega Post

Here we are at the end of August.  Where did the summer go?  It's been so busy the past 3 weeks, I'm having a hard time believing we actually are almost into September.  The run-down for this month is as follows:

Colorado Vacation August 15 - 20

Finally.  We finally took a trip that was longer than just a weekend.  Our first in over 3 years.

Tim's family has a cabin about 45 minutes outside of Colorado Springs at the edge of Pike National Forest.  Tim and I hadn't been out there in over 10 years, so we decided we'd take the kids and go this summer since we had a week to kill between the end of summer day-camp and the beginning of school.

It's about a 10-11 hour drive out there from our house.  We left home at 4:30 am, packed breakfast and lunch and ate on the road at rest stops.  Here's a picture from our first stop for breakfast (pan dulce - Mexican sweet bread).

I don't have a picture of lunch because it was so windy it was literally blowing our food off the picnic table (western Kansas).  We arrived in Colorado Springs at around 3:30 in the afternoon.  The elevation (altitude) where we stayed is almost identical to the altitude of Bogota (where our kids are from) - I just thought that was interesting.  Here's where the Great Plains meet the Rockies...

The Verhulst cabin is, a bit rustic.  However, it has almost all the conviences of home - a kitchen (only missing a dishwasher), an indoor bathroom with shower and hot water, and a washing machine (no dryer, just an outdoor clothesline).  This is about as rough as I care to go when 'roughing it'.

The view of Pike's Peak from the back deck is pretty awesome... and it never looked exactly the same any two times you looked at it.  This is what it looked like one afternoon.

There were several things at the cabin that kept the kids occupied.  We had a zip line, a wagon, a dirt bike and a bb gun.  We saw black squirrels, deer, woodpeckers, elk, chipmunks, humming birds and rabbits - all without leaving our deck.
Mayerly on the zip line
Claudia on the wagon
Claudia and Tim on the bike
Doe with fawn behind the cabin
Herd of elk on a hill just down the road from the cabin

We did get out a few times.  Our first outing was to Garden of the Gods by day and the Flying W Ranch for a chuckwagon supper and singing cowboy show by night.  Another day we took the cog train up Pike's Peak from Manitou Springs.  We also drove over to Cripple Creek and Victor (a couple of old gold mining towns) for a look around.  Cripple Creek is mostly a strip of casinos now, so we actually liked Victor better.
Garden of the Gods visitor center
Balanced Rock Cafe - Garden of the Gods Trading Post (Tim, Oscar & I had buffalo burgers)
 Waiting at the table to tie on the feedbag at our chuckwagon supper
The kids' favorite cowboy (L.J.) - he was the butt of most of the show's jokes
It was 44 degrees at the top of Pike's Peak, with a windchill of 39 degrees that morning.
Here are the girls in Cripple Creek, CO.
Here's a view of Victor, CO.  They actually have an active gold mine there that pulls over $6 million in gold out of the mountain - weekly... WOW!

We drove home from Colorado on August 20th (an all day trip).  I can't figure out why sitting in a car or an airplane for MANY hours makes me so tired - but it does.  And I'm never ready for vacation time to end - but it ALWAYS does.

First Day of School - Oscar & Diana - August 22

Don't they look thrilled to be going back to school???

First Day of School - Mayerly & Claudia - August 25

3rd Annual Adoption Picnic @ Windhaven Farm - August 27

For the past 3 years Gerry and Teresa Rima have hosted a picnic at their dairy farm in southwest Missouri for families who have adopted.  Most of the families who attend have adopted from Colombia, but there were children from Ethiopia and China too.  It's a great time with lots of kids :).  The Rimas have 17 (that's not a typo) children total, 15 were adopted - one from the U.S. and 14 from Colombia.  They are amazing people and we are priviledged and honored to know them.
The Rima Family (minus their 2 adult children)
My little buddy Bella - she's taken a liking to me for some reason :)
Most of the families who attended the picnic (some left before we took this picture)
Who knew a hammock could be so much fun?

Oscar's Birthday - August 28

Last (but not least) our oldest (Oscar) turned 14 today.  He has matured so much over the past year (and I'm not just talking about how tall he is getting).  I'm becoming more and more proud of the young man he is turning out to be and so glad that we could play a part in shaping who he is and helping him achieve to his greatest potential.
The obligatory cake and ice cream...
PC games from Grandma & Grandpa Verhulst
Speakers for MP3/PC from Grandma & Grandpa Verhulst
PC from Mom & Dad (also Swiss Army type knife in his hand)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Diana's 11th Birthday

Okay, so I didn't post for the whole month of June and broke my monthly posting streak...

But, we finally got around to getting our ISP changed over (thus saving us $45 per month), but it left us without internet service for several weeks while the old service phased out, the new service connected (took two trips to our house by at&t for some reason) and then working out our 'incompatible hardware' issues.  I install everything myself, because I normally won't pay someone to do something I can do myself... but it does create some inconveniences.

As the title of this post suggests, today was Diana's birthday.  We didn't do much today.  It was so horribly hot outside, we just stayed in.  I baked a pineapple upside-down cake first thing this morning before it got too hot.  After that I made homemade pineapple sherbet to go with it.  For dinner we let Dino pick out her own pizzas from Pizza Hut (cheese for one, super supreme for the other).  Grandma Schoemig came over and ate with us.  Then she opened her presents and we called it a day.  Can't believe this is our 3rd birthday with her, time sure does fly.

9th Birthday
Diana's 10th Birthday
11th Birthday
 Tim and Oscar goofing around with Diana's new doll clothes.
I think she liked the stuffed penguin we got her.

She got a double dose of 'Tangled' from the grandparents (Verhulst & Schoemig)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May in a Nutshell

After we got home from Colombia, I vowed (if only to myself) to try to post at least every month.  Here it is the last day of May and I haven't posted a thing :).
  • Earlier this month, I took a picture of my Mother's Day loot, and planned to post it, but obviously that never happened.
  • I've been to more doctor/dentist/therapy appointments this past month than I've ever been to (within a month) over the 2+ years since we brought the kids home.  We had the 4 days per week of the usual therapies and then we all went to the dentist, pediatrician and Oscar went to the orthodontist.
  • Last week was the final week of school for all the kiddos, I had to go to software training for my job.  Grandmas, Grandpa, and Dad got to run the kids to doctors and therapies.  I actually got a full 40 hours in that week...
  • Summer day camp starts tomorrow.  The kids are excited about swimming, visits to the public library and weekly field trips.  This year all four kids will be at the same camp for the first time - that will save Tim and me a lot of driving.
In other news, Oscar and Diana have been on a mini-campaign lately.  Oscar wants a brother, Diana wants a brother AND a sister.  Tim and I haven't totally ruled out the possiblity of a second adoption - BUT WE DON'T PLAN TO ADOPT AGAIN AT THIS POINT IN TIME.  I just don't know how I would fit the paperwork into my already packed schedule - and that doesn't even take into account the cost of adoption - or the fact that we are at our financial capacity right now (paying the private schools, doctors and therapists).  I don't think my lack of availability at this time would be conducive to the bonding that needs to take place after a 'new' adoption either.  We just keep telling them 'no' - for now...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Wemmick Story

At our church we sometimes have some fairly unusual services.  Today, a young married couple (Thoric and Sarah) was in charge of the Resurrection Sunday service.  They chose to do a 'child-centered' service.  It went a little like this:

First, Thoric had all the children in the congregation bring a hymnal up to the front of the church.  He told the kids that the hymnal would represent their sin; and then asked them to hold the hymnal out in front of them for as long as they could until it started to feel heavy.  Next he asked one of the kids' father come up and started stacking all the hymnals onto his outstreached arms.  It was then expained that this is what Jesus did for us when he takes away our sins.  He carries the burden of our sins for us (if we let him).

There was also a puppet show that asked "What is this day about?".  There were three puppets, the first puppet answered that this day is about bunnies, the next said that it was about eggs.  The last puppet told the children that today is really about Jesus dying for our sins so that we could have eternal life.

Sarah also read the following story (I have seen the Veggie Tales version of this story, but hadn't actually read the book) to the kids as they all sat in the front rows:

The Wemmick Story
by: Max Lucado, You Are Special

The Wemmicks were small wooden people. These little wooden people were carved by a woodworker named "Eli." Eli's workshop sat on a hill overlooking the Wemmick Village. Every one of the Wemmicks were different. Some had big noses, others had large eyes. Some were tall and others were short. Some wore hats, others wore coats. But all were made by the same carver and all lived in the same village.

All day long, every day, the Wemmicks did the same thing. They gave each other stickers. Each Wemmick had a box of golden star stickers and a box of dull gray dot stickers. Up and down the streets all over the city, people could be seen sticking gold stars or gray dots onto each other. The pretty ones, those with smooth wood and fine paint, always got shiny gold stars! But if the wood was rough or the paint was chipped, the Wemmicks gave dull gray dots. The talented ones got stars, too. Some could lift big sticks high above their heads or jump over tall boxes. Still others knew big words or could sing very pretty songs. Everyone gave them shiny gold stars! Some Wemmicks had stars all over them! Every time they got a star it made them feel so good that they did something else and got another star.

There were many other Wemmicks though that could do very little. They got dull gray dots! There was one little Wemmick and his name was "Punchinello." He tried to jump high like the others, but he always fell. And when he fell, the others would gather 'round and give him dull gray dots. Sometimes when he fell, it would scar his wood, so the people would give him more gray dots. He would try to explain why he fell and, in doing so, he would say something really silly. Then the Wemmicks would give him some more dots!!!

After a while, Punchinello had so many dots that he didn't want to go outside. He was afraid he would do something dumb such as forget his hat or step in the water, and then people would give him more dull gray dots. In fact, he had so many gray dots that some people would come up and just give him one without any reason! "He deserves lots of dots," they would say. The wooden people would agree with one another. "He's not a good wooden person," they would say. After a while Punchinello believed them. "I am not a good Wemmick!" he would say. The few times he went outside, he hung around other Wemmicks who had a lot of gray dots. At least he felt better around them.

One day, Punchinello met a Wemmick who was unlike any he'd ever met. She had no dull gray dots and did not have any shiny golden stars either. She was a wooden Wemmick and her name was "Lucia." It wasn't that people didn't try to give her stickers; it's just that the stickers didn't stick to her!!! Some admired Lucia for having no dots, so they would run up and give her a star. But it would fall off. Some would look down on her for having no stars, so they would give her a dot. But they would not stick either!!!

"That's the way I want to be!" thought Punchinello. "I don't want anyone's marks!" So he asked the "stickerless" Wemmick how she did it. "It's easy," Lucia replied. "Every day I go see Eli." Punchinello asked,"Eli? Who is Eli?" She replied "Yes, Eli, He is the woodcarver. I sit in His workshop and spend time with Him." He asked Lucia,"Why do you do that?" Lucia told him, "Why don't you find out for yourself? Go up the hill and visit with Him. He's there!" And with that, the sweet little Wemmick named Lucia turned and skipped away.

"But He won't want to see me!" Punchinello cried out to her. Lucia didn't hear him, as she was too far away. So Punchinello went home. He sat near a window and watched the wooden people as they scurried around giving each other gold stars and gray dots. "It's just not right," he muttered to himself. Then he resolved to go see Eli after all. Punchinello walked up the narrow path to the top of the hill and stepped into the big Woodcarver Shop. His little wooden eyes widened at the size of everything. The stool was as tall as he was. He had to stretch on his tippy-toes to see the top of the workbench. A hammer was as long as his arm. Punchinello swallowed hard and thought to himself, "I'm not staying here!" and he turned to leave. Then he heard his name. "Punchinello?" said this voice, so deep and strong. Just then Punchinello stopped. The voice said, "Punchinello, oh how good it is of you to come! Let me have a look at you."

Punchinello slowly turned around and looked at the large bearded craftsman and said, "Sir, you know my name?" "Of course I do. I made you," Eli said. All of a sudden, Eli stooped down and picked little Punchinello up and set him on the workbench. "Hmmmmm," the Maker spoke thoughtfully as he inspected the gray circles all over him, "Looks like you've been given some bad marks." Punchinello explained,"Oh, Eli, I didn't mean to; really I didn't!!! I really tried hard not to." The Maker said, "Oh, you don't have to defend yourself to me, my child. I don't care what the other Wemmicks think." Punchinello asked, "Really? You don't?" Then Eli said, "No and you shouldn't either. Who are they to give stars or dots? They are Wemmicks just like you. What they think really doesn't matter at all, Punchinello. All that matters is what I think. And I think you are pretty special." Punchinello laughed, "Oh, me special? How can I be special? I can't walk fast. I can't jump. My paint is peeling. I make silly mistakes all the time and I am not a beautiful Wemmick like some of the others. How could I matter to you?" Eli looked at Punchinello and put his hands on those little wooden shoulders of his and spoke very slowly, "Because Punchinello... you are mine. That's why you matter to me." Punchinello had never had anyone look at him like this before or say anything so nice, much less his Maker! He didn't know what to say!

"Punchinello, every day I've been waiting and hoping you would come to see me," Eli explained. Punchinello looked up at him and said, "I came because I met a sweet Wemmick girl who had no marks." Eli said, "I know. Lucia told me about you." So Punchinello asked, "Why don't the stickers stay on Lucia?" Eli said, "Because she has decided that what I think is more important than what anyone else thinks. The stickers only stick if you let them." Punchinello looked puzzled and said, "What?" Eli said, "Yes, the stickers only stick if they matter to you. The more you trust My love, the less you will care about those stickers." But Punchinello said, "I'm not sure I really understand. What you are saying?" The maker said, "You will, but it will take some time. You've got a lot of marks. So for now, just come to see me every day and let me remind you how much I care about you." Eli lifted Punchinello off the bench and set him on the floor. "Now remember," Eli said as the Wemmick walked out the door. "You ARE special because I made you, and I don't make mistakes."

Punchinello didn't stop, but in his heart he thought, "I think He really means it." And each time he remembered what Eli told him and each time he went to visit and talk with Eli, one of Punchinello's dots would fall off. They kept falling off and soon they were all gone!!!

So like Punchinello, we must remember one thing: "Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart."
(I Samuel 16:7)

I like it that they thought to gear this service toward the kids.  It also helped explain what this day is really all about and what we should remember and focus on this Sunday.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

An Actual Update

I haven't blogged about what's been going on lately.  Actually, I don't think I've done that for several months - so here it goes...

Oscar got braces on December 30th.  He'll be getting an "appliance" soon that should help with his jaw alignment.  He's generally doing pretty well in school.  His reading is improving, but he still stuggles. He still has an obstinate streak, but the school is working with us to correct that when it comes up.  He is also continuing with karate and went to his second tourney at the end of January - came home with some more trophies.  He has now started learning his second kata and is training with a bo (a long stick with tapered ends) so he can enter the weapons category when he goes to other tournaments.  Vision therapy is going well with Oscar, he is getting better eye teaming and can see 3D even at a distance now (could only see it at close range before).  This is helping his reading skills too.  We are doing speech therapy twice a week and his speech is getting much more intelligible, but he still speaks with an accent (our vision therapy doctor tells him not to lose the accent because the girls love it - he doesn't really notice girls yet, so the doctor's comment doesn't phase him).  We start our second round of auditory processing therapy in May.

Diana started wearing her glasses full time in February.  She has check-ups every three months at vision therapy with the doctor.  The last one she had, we had a snow day that day - so she hadn't worn her glasses all day.  She tested horribly on her 3D vision.  The next week the doctor tested her again - she did a lot better, but she had been at school all day and therefore had been wearing her glasses most of the day.  After that, I decided she needs to wear her glasses all day.  We'll see how she does on her next testing coming up here in about a month.  They are really focusing on 3D vision excercises during therapy now.  She has started reading too with better fluency (she doesn't have to sound out every word anymore).  The past 3 weeks she has gotten 100% on her spelling tests (which tells me her memory is getting better).  The teacher has moved her up to 3rd grade reading.  However, she started having tantrums at school when the teacher asked her to do anything that was the least bit challenging for her, so we are working with the school to correct her behavior too.  She goes to speech therapy the same days Oscar does and will also return for a second round of AP therapy too.  Her speech has improved also, but she is still hard to understand most of the time.

Mayerly continues to struggle at school, but we are seeing improvement with her too.  Reading is still hard for her, but that (I believe) has a lot to do with the fact that she has eye teaming difficulties too.  As soon as one of the older two 'graduates' from vision therapy, we will start her.  I wish we could afford to start her now, but we can't.  For now, we got her some glasses which should help her.  She has had some minor behavior issues at school too.  She was camping out in the bathroom, when she didn't feel like being in class (she does this at home too when she doesn't want to do what she's supposed to be doing).  She wasn't bringing her homework home either (she just wasn't doing it and shoving it in her desk).  The gig was up after parent/teacher conferences though.  She only gets to go to to the bathroom with the class now and she gets busted big time if she doesn't bring her homework home every night.  And if she "forgets" to bring her Friday Folder home, I print off a big stack of worksheets for her to work on all weekend and she doesn't get to watch TV either.  Amazing how the folder comes home every weekend now - after only a couple of weekends of "forgetting" it.  Her speech is the clearest of all the kids', so we should escape speech and AP therapy with her.

Claudia is doing well in her class.  Lately, she has been taking a page from the 'Mayerly playbook' and acts like she doesn't understand things that I know she does (she's doing it with her teacher at school too who has the same opinion of the situation).  We have ways of dealing with her acting out too.  She got to do extra worksheets - in order to work on her "weak areas" - until she decided she really did know how to do that stuff.  She had to finish them before TV or playing.  Again, amazing turn around.  Her reading fluency is better than any of the rest of the kids'.  However, she also got reading glasses back in December.  She has an eye tracking problem that the doctor gave me some at-home excercises (Michigan Tracking) to do with her.  I'm thinking about getting an at-home computer program to work on auditory processing with her.  I think she has a milder problem with AP than her older brother and sister, so we'll try at-home therapy first with her.

On a somewhat related note, as we drive around town lately I hear the kids reading outloud the signs on the buildings.  Absolute music to my ears.  I was beginning to wonder if we would ever get there (voluntarily reading things on their own).  Oh me of little faith.

The girls are also beginning to express interest in taking up a hobby.  Mayerly says she wants to take dance lessons (we'll see if we can work it in).  Diana colors pictures or makes a card for me almost daily.  Claudia really likes the skates she got for Christmas and practices in the driveway whenever the weather allows.  I'm just glad they are finally showing an interest in something other than watching TV (which I don't let them do very much) and fighting with each other :).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Claudia's 8th Birthday

Orange MP3 from Mom & Dad

Legos from G'ma and G'pa Verhulst

February 17, 2011
(it was 75 degrees here today, that's why she's wearing shorts)

February 17, 2010

February 17, 2009

Monday, February 14, 2011

On a Much Less Serious Note...

Okay, the kids have been home for two years now, right?  From any of you who already have your kids home for awhile now, is it safe now to put the trash can back in the downstairs bathroom in your opinion?  We put the one in the upstairs bathroom on the window ledge - away from the toilet (we still keep it there, think we can take it down yet?).  If you've already been to Colombia, you probably already know why we did this... for the rest of you, it will remain a mystery unless someone gets graphic with any comments to this question, because I'm not spelling it out!

Nevermind the hand-painted, Mexican talavera ceramic soap dispenser and soap dish - they may be seen again when all our kids have entered high school...  I bought plastic soap dispensers at the $1 store soon after we came home.  This is just "kid-proofing" the bathroom, it doesn't have anything to do with "cultural differences" between the US and Colombia.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Being Grafted into a Family

So as I mentioned, I've been reading a lot of chat rooms and blogs lately.  I came across one called Adoptees' Cafe.  It is one of the more uplifting ones that I have read.  I especially like her post which talks about the biblical analogy of horticultural grafting, as in how we all are "wild" and separate from God's family, but can be "grafted in" and become "tame" and nourished by His roots.  The author goes on to talk about how adoption works in much the same way.  (You have to click the link above to her blog.  I can't copy and paste it into my blog because it is copyrighted material.)

Tim and I openly talk about life "before" with our kids.  We talk with them about their lives in Colombia with their biological parent(s) and also the years they spent in the orphanage and their friends and caregivers there.  We also talk about how things were with Tim and I before our "life with kids" began.  One of the easier things about older child adoption is you don't have to ever have the "you were adopted" talk with your kids.  They were there and very aware of what was going on as we were in Colombia finalizing.  I think the time to start talking about adoption with your kids is in the very beginning, no matter how old or young they are.

The Director of the Colombia Program at our agency was herself adopted as an infant (domestically).  She talked about how her parents handled talking to her about adoption in our last email newsletter.  I think her parents handled it perfectly:

I was adopted at the age of two months from Catholic Social Services in South Dakota. My parents always told me that I was adopted. They used the word often and I grew up in a positive atmosphere. I learned that families are created differently and that mine was pretty unique. I was open with my friends about my adoption and in fact, in elementary school many of my friends told me that they wished they were adopted like me! Every year we would celebrate my “Special Adoption Day,” the day that my parents got me. My parents would let me pick where I wanted to go out to eat. My mom was happy when I stopped saying McDonald’s! My Dad would get off of work early and we would spend the day together. Not only did my parents talk to me about my adoption on this day, they did bring it up other times throughout the year as well. I remember once when my mom tucked me into bed on my birthday and she said, “Let’s say an extra prayer for your birth mom today, because she is probably thinking of you.” Because my parents brought my adoption up and talked about it, I grew up with the sense that it was okay to also bring the topic up myself, if ever I had any questions, because they were open about it. Mine was a closed adoption, so we didn’t know much about my birth family, but as I said, I was able to talk about the subject with my parents because we had such an open and honest relationship.

I know I probably don't do as well as I could at being as open as our Director's parents were with her. I do try.  However, I also believe that our kids don't feel self-concious about being adopted by us any more than we are self-concious about being adopted by them... and they did decide to adopt us too.  But they don't usually really "adopt" you until long after all the paperwork is finished. ;-)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Warning: Heavy, Taboo Subject Matter Below

My husband is going to say (as he often does) that I have "over-shared" with this post.  But it has been on my mind for a long, long time now, and I've never read this subject addressed in any other blog I've read up until now, so here it goes...

Everyone on the adoptive parent side of the adoption equation usually has a very rosy, almost naive view of the situation.  I know I did.  Kids needing parents, would-be parents without kids or wanting to expand their existing families - just put them together and problem solved for everyone, right?  But unless you get below the surface of it, you can't see the loss.  The loss of a former identity, of culture, of language, of friends, of a family that resembles you physically...

So, Tim and I adopted our four kids 2 years ago.  There are probably a hundred blogs out there about families who have adopted much as we did.  Some families have adopted more siblings, some fewer, some adopted a portion of a sibling group, while others adopted the remaining siblings (which I support because, while not ideal, it is better than the alternative - growing up without any parents to guide them into adulthood - and as long as contact is allowed with the siblings adopted into other families), and most families adopt just one child (mostly infants) at a time.  All a good thing for all involved, right?  And where am I going with this?

Does it ever cross your mind that your children may have more biological siblings "out there"?  Do you ever allow yourself to think about such things?  Does it drive you crazy knowing the unspeakable details concerning your kids lives "before" (usually in the case of older child adoption, but not always), and wondering if there may be others continuing to live in the same hellacious circumstances that your kids managed to survive and eventually escape?  I do.  Do you ever wonder if a sibling has been adopted by another family before or after you adopted your child/ren?  I do.

Do you ever wonder if your child/ren will some day ask you to help try to find siblings or other biological family in their country of origin (in our case Colombia)?  What would you do if your child asked you to do this?  Would you be willing to help, or would you try to avoid the whole situation, or even discourage it?  What if your child was still a minor and asked this of you?  Would you be willing to "open" your currently "closed" foreign adoption?  For these questions, I don't have any easy answers.

Several months ago, I had a conversation with another adoptive mother concerning a biological sibling that was "left behind".  This particular sibling could have been adopted by the family, but chose to stay behind.  The family still has contact with this sibling and they were still considering adoption last I heard.  This is only the second time I have ever even heard anyone talk about this happening.

Maybe I should just stop reading blogs and chat group posts from adult adoptees - many of them are searching for a part of themselves that they feel is missing (incidently, most were adopted as infants).  But I'm always trying to get an idea of what things might look like from our kid's point of view, especially after they reach adulthood.  And I probably just think and worry too much about things that I ultimately have no control over... do you?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Back on Subject Today

I found this article on Rainbow Kids and thought it was great.  Enjoy!

Older Child Adoption Does NOT = Attachment Disorder
For many parents, an older child would be a perfect match
June 01,2006 / Deborah Hage

Twenty-four years ago my husband and I adopted an infant from Peru whose behaviors were unusual. He arched his back and all but leapt out of my arms when I tried to snuggle him. He threw massive tantrums, smeared feces, refused eye contact and, in general, made it very clear he did not consider me anyone he wanted to get close to. With two children we had given birth to we knew this behavior was not natural. After years of trying different therapies we went to a national adoption conference in 1982 looking for answers and met Dr. Foster Cline. He described children just like our son and called them “attachment disordered.” Relieved to know we were not alone we began holding therapy and experienced miraculous results. Enthusiastic from our success we adopted seven more children, five of them with attachment disorders. This experience sent us on a promotional tour to find more information about this diagnosis and to help others whose children had it.

Initially, we were very frustrated to discover very little was known – and local practitioners knew even less. Adoption agencies appeared to be practically negligent in their lack of information about attachment disorder as they blithely placed children with severe emotional and behavioral disturbances into unsuspecting families. Informing the public became a crusade for me, to the point where I went back to school to get a Master's Degree in Social Work to gain credibility for my work and to become part of the therapeutic solution. IN short, for the last 20 plus years I have been researching the issue of “attachment disorders” and the process of “bonding” in order to help both the children and their families gain insight and find help.

For most of that time it has been a very lonely struggle, with professionals and peers who shared my zeal numbering less than a dozen. With the influx of children from Romania and the massive amount of media attention given them, the situation over the last few years has radically changed. Rather than “Reactive Attachment Disorder” being an unknown diagnosis, the public now look for it everywhere. The term “RAD” is bandied about with a familiarity that used to be reserved for the flu. The pendulum of public awareness and concern has swung from ignorance to fearful hyper vigilance . It is the disease of the day…and the cause of older children adoption has suffered for it.

While adoption of infants has been more common than adoption of older children, now, the adoption of a baby is believed to ward off the evils of attachment disorder. The statistics are not in, yet my private practice would indicate that is not true. All children who are separated from their birth mothers have abandonment issues. Most of them manage to work through them in good emotional shape when placed in healthy homes. Some, a truly small minority, lose their way.

There are older children whose bodies and souls have been subjected to cruelties beyond description that pull themselves together and grow up to be functioning members of society. Others have suffered only the mildest form of neglect and yet become scourges of their neighborhood. There are children in my private practice, adopted as infants into wonderful homes, who display severe emotional and behavioral issues. Similarly, the news is filled with children, raised by their warm, loving birthparents, who take automatic rifles and attempt to wipe out entire school bodies. There is no known test for what has become labeled “the resiliency factor,” that big unknown in children's psyche that allows some children to rise above their history of abuse and neglect and others to succumb to it.

Certainly, there are markers that everyone is well aware of. Lack of eye contact, inability to accept nurture, cruelty to animals, destructive, obsession with blood and gore, etc. coupled with an early history of multiple caregivers, raises a red flag of concern that the child may be prone to an attachment disorder. What is not acknowledged is that even without these markers many children display very “unattached” behavior!

So, how can orphanages, agencies and parents predict which children will navigate the path of living successfully in society and which ones will flounder? They can't! Most children adopted as infants will be fine. Some won't. Most children who are adopted at older ages who do not demonstrate the targeted behaviors will be fine, some won't.

What adoptive parents need to realize is that there are huge numbers of children in orphanages around the world who are no longer infants but would still make wonderful additions to their family and community. Being initially raised in an orphanage is not a death knell for a child's emotional stability. Age and history, while markers, are not the determining factor of whether or not a child's behaviors will be problematic . The number of moves a child makes is of far more critical concern then age or history and children in orphanages are not generally moved except from birth mother to the facility. The environment of the orphanage and the current functioning of childcare much more reliable markers. Is the child receiving nurturing care? Then the child, in all probability, will accept nurturing care from new parents. Is the child adjusted in the orphanage? Then the child, in all probability will adjust well in a new home. Is the child healthy, happy and curious? Then the child, in all probability will be healthy, happy and curious in their new home.

The care in most orphanages where I have been fortunate to visit is consistent, loving and very present. The news releases regarding Romania do not depict the norm for orphanages around the world. Orphanage care, particularly those supervised by NGOs and Adoption Agency staff members, are for the most part very good. Parents who hire personal nannies cannot predict their children will be cared for as tenderly as the staff in some orphanages care for their children of all ages. Furthermore, there is the possibility that children who are spending their first years in an orphanage are getting more of their attachment needs met than children whose birthparents leave them in poorly run daycare centers. Adopting an infant in order to avoid attachment issues, then placing the baby in day care is a poor recipe for success as it layers move upon move upon move – exactly what the consistent care of a single orphanage avoids.

The benefit of adopting a child who is already walking is that the orphanage staff can assess behavior more readily. Staff members can interact with an older child and can see for themselves which children have the qualities which will successfully enable them to make the transfer to a new home. Health risks and disabilities are more readily diagnosed in older children than in infants.

While in Nepal I met a beautiful girl, age 9, who, with her bright smile and lilting British accent, would be the perfect addition to any family. Is the family who has decided to adopt her fearful of “attachment disorder”? Not particularly. They have explored the possibility and decided it is not a predominant factor. This young woman is well liked in her orphanage by both the children and staff. She is hard working in school. She has no history of cruel or bizarre behavior. Yet, at some point in her life she fell in a fire and burned off the major portion of her right hand. She has endured great pain and has risen above it.

For many children in foreign orphanages this is the norm, not the exception . The orphanage environment and the resiliency and current functioning of the older children are far more important factors to consider than their early history of abandonment by birth parents. Certainly, if it had been possible, it would have been great to have adopted these children at younger ages. The fact of the matter, however, is they weren't. That does not mean they are somehow damaged and doomed to suffer from “reactive attachment disorder.” The reality is, more likely than not, they are vastly stronger. They know what it means to be alone, poor and uneducated. They do not want that for themselves. The orphanage has taught them the value of working hard and they are eager for success. They understand intuitively the reciprocity of healthy relationships. They have become attached to caregivers and other children in the orphanage and, rather than being rejecting of parents, they very much want parents. They are not unattached they are waiting for parents to attach to! Their resilience has been tested and they have come out winners.

Couples where both parents have meaningful careers would do well to explore adopting a child who is already old enough to be in school . Parents, whose children are adolescents, would do well with older children who are more capable of fitting in with their siblings. Children adopted at older ages often have language skill and an understanding of their culture; which will stand them in good stead as an adult. There is distinct possibility that the ego strengths of older children make a move less traumatic for them rather than more so. Rather than knowing less about themselves because they were adopted as infants and removed from their roots at fragile stages of personality development, they know more about themselves and who they are. Older children have more opportunities to consent to their adoption. They enter the new relationships willingly, rather than, as infant, having the sense that the adoption was something done to them.

Parents who have adopted older children report that they love their children and could not possibly have become more attached with them even if they had adopted them as infants.

Does this mean that adopting older children from foreign orphanages is all romantic, gushy good feelings, without problems? Absolutely not. The risks are still there. The personality evaluations still need to be done. The markers for attachment disorder still need to be searched out. The problems are just different and need to be worked through in partnership with the child.

Can it be done? Yes!

Successfully? Yes, beyond a parent's wildest dreams!

It is a risk to love… and what if it doesn't work out? Ah… but what if it does!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Evolution of the Car

When the kids say something completely out of context in the course of conversation (usually interrupting someone else's conversation to divert attention to him/herself), I'll ask them "What has that got to do with the price of tea in China?".  I get that from what my parents used to say to me when I did the same thing as a kid.  You can file this post under "What has this got to do with the price of tea in China?", since I usually blog about adoption and our family.

I never used to be a fan of big vehicles. My first car was inherited from my granddad when he passed away back when I was sixteen. It was a 1967 Buick LeSabre. It was a super-ugly, four-door boat that was an unattractive shade of beige/gold. But I was the only one of my friends with a car, so it was cool - except I always had to drive those mooches around... but I digress :).
Not my car, but the same make, model and year...

When I was 20 I bought my first car. It was a 1986 Pontiac Sunbird, a sporty, red, two-door with black and gray pin stripes. I taught myself to drive a stick shift with that car. I also wrecked it twice, the second time I totaled it. My first wreck taught me the importance of wearing a seat belt (I have always worn one since that day).

Mine wasn't a turbo, but it was a GT

I bought car #2 soon after the second wreck in the Sunbird. My next car was a 1992 Hyundai Scoupe - teal green in color with a pop-up (not power) sun roof, also a sporty-looking little 5 speed! It had no air conditioner when I bought it so I had the dealer add a "bolt on" one. I bought this right after I started my first "real job" after college. It was still cool outside when I bought it, so I didn't get to use the A/C until that summer. The after market air was such a drain on the little motor that I had to turn it off every time I stopped so it wouldn't kill the car. This was the car I was driving when I met Tim. He was the one who came to get me when I totaled it by running into the back of a school bus (don't think I will ever hear the end of this from him). When it comes to a school bus vs. a Hyundai - in case you were wondering - the school bus will always win. Thankfully, this is the last car I crashed - knock on wood... I proved there is a legitimate reason (actually 3 in my case) why unmarried people in their 20s pay more for insurance.
1992 Hyundai Scoupe
Also, not mine...

My third car was a 1988 Nissan Pulsar with T-tops (anyone remember those?). It was the first car I paid cash for. I had to because I was also paying for our upcoming wedding (my choice so I didn't get unsolicited advice from any well-meaning "contributors"). It was also the car I was driving when my dad died unexpectedly right before the big day. We donated the Nissan to the Salvation Army when we bought our 2nd (but first chosen by us) car.
Also not my car - note the palm trees - we don't have those here in the midwest.

Tim and I took over the payments (and ownership) of Dad's car since Mom didn't need 2 cars (or 2 car payments). It was the first car that we owned jointly. We had that four-door, teal/blue, 1996 Pontiac Grand Prix until the year we started our adoption process (2008). I sold it to a co-worker and still see it in the parking lot at my job.
Once again, not ours...

I drove the Grand Prix, Tim drove the Nissan and we also had his black, 1991 Chevy Silerado 4x4 truck as a "back up" vehicle. That's how we rolled until 2003, when I decided I liked a Buick I had seen for sale in a neighborhood over by the mall. We didn't end up buying that particular car, but we did end up buying a white 2003 Buick LeSabre program car, we had an after-market, power sun roof installed in it (I insist on a sun roof ever since the Hyundai). Unlike my 1967 LeSabre, this was (and still is - in spite of it's lack of coolness) my favorite car ever. It's the only car I had been able to buy just because I wanted it and liked it, instead of strickly due to needing cheap transportation. I still love that car. We sold it to my mom when we decided to adopt four kids (the LeSabre seated 5 people max).
My boss called this car (not my actual car) my geezer-mobile.  I didn't care, I still loved that car.

Tim sold his Chevy truck (it seated three people max) in 2008 too. He bought a white Ford, 4x4, extended cab truck that seats six (not really comfortably, but we fit). He was distraught when he sold it, he said it was like part of his family. I don't get that attached to vehicles, except the LeSabre.
Tim actually takes pictures of his vehicles. I don't have any of them on this computer, so once again not the actual trucks.

After much research on vehicles, the main requirements being that it seat a minimum of six people and NOT be a minivan (yup, I'm one of those people who refuse to drive a minivan), I decided to buy an Acura MDX. We found a 2001 that we could afford to pay cash for on craigslist and drove to St.Louis to buy it. It was gold, had factory GPS, 3rd row seating and a power sun roof. It was a pretty sweet ride and I got tons of compliments on it - but I still liked driving my '03 LeSabre better.
You guessed it, not ours.

2001 MDX's have one major flaw, the transmissions go out early on them (they fixed this in the 2003 model, in case you are interested). So after getting a "check engine" light for several months (and ignoring it after we learned that it was the transmission going out), the slipping of gears was just getting too bad and it was also affecting the all wheel drive. So, I went back to craigslist and eventually found a 2002 Chevy Suburban that we could buy for less than the cost of a new transmission (trading in the MDX + less than $1000 cash); so we bought it back in November.

The Suburban has turned out to be a great vehicle. It gets around great in the snow (which, who knew when we bought it how much of a work out the four wheel drive would get this year) and isn't nearly as hard to manuever as I thought it would be. I have dubbed it "The Bus". It is burgundy (no, not yellow), has four wheel drive and a factory sun roof (but no GPS). It also seats eight comfortably :).