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 :).