Friday, January 9, 2015

The first year of forever

Today was a bitterly cold day in our city, and it is a frigid -1 (Fahrenheit) as I type this.

But last year -- last year was warm. Not here, where the polar vortex was in full swing. But in a little city outside Bangalore, India, it was in the 80s. In that little city, our hearts were also warmed by the sight of this little face:

It seems impossible, but somehow, we have spent an entire year together already! In many ways, our memories of those first moments and days are so fresh: we remember that you were sleepy after your nap, that you went to Peter first, and that you were afraid. We remember how tiny you were, how impossibly light you felt when you let us hold you. We remember the first smile you showed us, when we set your duck on a shelf and so you could knock it off over and over again.

And in some ways, we can tell it has been a full year.  There are physical signs, like the fact that you've grown almost 4 inches, and gained 5 pounds. There are audible signs, like your vocabulary of hundreds of English words, the way you try to boss your sister and brothers around, and the way you laugh at your own jokes (right now, you think the word "bottom" is hysterically funny).

But we can especially tell it's been a whole year by the light in your eyes, and the way you relax and rest your head on a shoulder when any one of your family holds you. We can tell by the way you claim us by declaring who we are, often: "Kavya's mama." "Kavya's akka/sister." "Kavya's daddy." "Kavya's anna/brother." There is no question mark at the end of those phrases -- they are a statement of fact for you, and for us.  You have grown deeply into our hearts and into the fabric of our family.

It is brings a pang to look at photos and see how bewildered you were in our first days together. And I am so humbled by your willingness to give us a chance, to begin trusting us in an impossibly short time.  What courage you've had in your short life, Kavya. You've endured so much -- being separated from your first mother, suffering illness and surgery as a baby, and then being plucked from your familiar world and transplanted into a new home.

And then you showed us how resilient and strong you are by thriving in the midst of so many changes.

You are one of our richest blessings. We are grateful for this first year together, the first year of forever.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dusting off the blog for a book recommendation

Well. It's been a while! But I wanted to share a great resource for waiting parents, or parents who are overwhelmed in the first weeks with their new child, or parents who are realizing that the way they parented their biological children isn't working for their newest adopted child . . .

So, yes -- it's a great read for most of us, wherever we are in our family's journey with adoption! It's a new book called Forever Mom: What to Expect When You're Adopting by Mary Ostyn. After the births of their four children, Mary and her husband went on to adopt six more children from Korea and Ethiopia.

This is a book I wish had been available while we were waiting for our daughters.  Mary is so warm and reassuring, and she shares candidly about parenting mistakes she made, and attachment struggles with some of her children.  The book is also filled with anecdotes from other families, and practical ideas about how to handle many different situation.

Especially important to me is the attention she pays to choosing an ethical adoption agency, and seeing the world through our traumatized kids' eyes after they're home. She is a Christian, and does a fantastic job of bringing the parenting conversation back to mercy, love, and second chances with our children, as well as finding grace and healing for ourselves as parents.

It's available right now for $10.74 on Amazon. I hope you will find it as helpful as I have.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Your last night as a two-year-old!

On this, your last night as a two-year-old, there are many things on my mind. I wish we hadn't missed out on so much of your life so far, even while I'm grateful for all the moments of the past 6 months. And I'm even more grateful that we get to spend this birthday with you! Here is a snapshot of life with you:

We love the way you have retained your accent: chicken is "cheek-un," sit down is "seet down," blueberry is "blue-budhee," sorry is "sah-dee," and tomorrow is "too-mahdow."  We are experiencing life in a fresh way as we see new things through your eyes: 4th of July sparklers, watering the garden, petting a dog, splashing in a lake, seeing a turtle, watching the garbage truck -- every little thing is exciting for you.

Since we met you in January, you've grown 2 full inches, and gained nearly 4 pounds (an increase of over 20% of your body weight). You were 21 pounds at your last weight check -- just a pound more than your brothers and sister weighed when they turned one! Your hair is longer, and your curls are extra fluffy in these humid months.

And so much is happening that is invisible. You are learning what a family is, the people who will be your constants.  You fall asleep beside your dad and me, and we are the first thing you see each morning. Your comfort strategies are slowly changing -- when you're overtired, you will occasionally still smack yourself on the head or rub your stomach.  But every day for several months, rubbing your Mama's neck is your biggest comfort.  You've also branched out this month and rubbed your Grandmas' necks, and on one notable occasion, laid between Daddy and me and rubbed both our necks at the same time.

Your first request every day is for "chocolate milk," your weight-gain elixir of whole milk and Carnation Breakfast Essentials. And you need all the fuel you can get!  You are non-stop action, Kavya -- and you are so strong, for someone so tiny! You do pull-ups on any playground bar, table top, or surface within your reach, and you can climb anything with handles and footholds. 

And you are FAST.  The sermon time at church is like an endurance test, as Daddy, me, Aaron, Anya or Nathan (or some combination thereof) chases you through the lobby and up the stairs to the offices.  If other people are sitting in the lobby, they usually spend the whole time chuckling at the way you keep us running. Right now, you can only stay in church during worship.  It is a delight to hold you and sing, and watch you recognize songs.  You know "Mazing Gace" (Amazing Grace) and your favorite is "Boy A Chu" (The Voice of Truth). 

Last week, during Peter's and my "babymoon" vacation with you in Madison, you prayed your first real prayer.  I was awake early with you, and you sat by the window and said, "Dear God, help Rowan, help Grandpa. Amen."  And your amen is always a joyful shout -- it reminds me of how I should pray.

Your favorite books are The Snowy Day, Kipper's Color and Number books, Who's Hiding in the Barnyard, the Priddy-Bicknell Baby book, Elmo's Puppy book and Police book, and the Wiggles song book with buttons you push to play music. You also love to pretend to read the big kids' books.

You love to color, especially tracing your hands.  You also like chalk.  You are a little bit obsessed with your buddies Rowan and Lochlan, and ask daily to see them.  But your absolute favorite thing of all is to be outside:  " 'Side? 'Side?" is a request we hear many, many times each day.  You love to scooter around the block, go for bike or wagon rides, and swing and slide in the backyard.

We will celebrate you tomorrow, and you will join in the tradition of being measured on the morning of you birthday.  As we mark your height next to your brothers' and sister's, we will remember last year's celebration, when we were still waiting for news of your court date in Bangalore.  And our minds and hearts will be full as we remember the young woman who gave you life three years ago.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Her first family trip

We spent last week in beautiful Door County, Wisconsin. Our kids have taken day trips to the beaches there, Peter and I spent a few getaway weekends before we had children, and I've camped there with my sister. But this time was special, because the kids got to see some of the most beautiful parts of the Midwest -- and it was the first family trip we've taken with Kavya.

Our adventures included swimming, biking through Peninsula State Park, hiking through a nature preserve, mini-golfing at a place Peter's family went to every summer, and visiting three of the many lighthouses that help guide ships through Lake Michigan and Green Bay (the body of water, not the city).  One day, the boys went zip-lining in the woods, and another day, Anya and I visited a coffee place and a few shops for a girls-only date.  And by the end of the week, Kavya knew how to yell "Skeeto!" and clap her hands together to try and kill mosquitos.  :o) 

When a child joins a family through adoption, there are so many things that carry a greater weight than they might for our biological children.  Vacations and other new experiences definitely land in that territory.

We wondered how she would react to being away from home.  After working hard to keep her routine consistent since she came home in January, Peter and I were hoping that she wouldn't show any regression in her feelings of security, or show any of the adjustment behaviors we saw in her first weeks home.

 We were staying in a cozy condo with a kitchen, which helped. It definitely didn't feel like a hotel room, which might have brought back memories of those first frightening (for her) days with us.  And I'm certain that having our whole family there helped her feel secure -- no one just disappeared suddenly when we moved to this new location.

Kavya did wonderfully!  We brought our pack-and-play, which she's never slept in before.  We called it her "nap house," and she slept in it about 70% of the time.  We brought her favorite stuffed animals and blanket, so she would feel at home, along with a night light.  The novelty of the "nap house" was exciting, and she seemed to enjoy being in it.  Several nights, she would get cold by about 3:00 a.m., and sleep the rest of the night in our bed.  At home, she co-sleeps in a side-car crib next to our bed, so we were surprised how easily she adapted to the pack-and-play.  True to form, our tiny gymnast was able to climb in and out on her own -- she is the most physically agile climber I've ever seen!

Most days, we tried to come home for her nap.  On two days, we played around with her schedule and she napped in the bike trailer or the car.  We brought along some puzzles and toys for down time, and so that she would have some other familiar things.

We also made sure to bring along familiar food for her.  Many of our meals were in the condo, and we brought along staples in her current diet: whole milk with Carnation Breakfast Essentials, mandarin oranges, cheddar cheese, and a few other items that are on her (very short) list of acceptable foods.  To our surprise, she was way more adventurous about food on the trip than she has been at home.

I don't know if that was because she was in a new setting, or she was finally getting bored with her small selection of foods, or if she was feeling more secure and was just ready to branch out.  Whatever the cause, we're pretty happy about it!  Some new foods she tried are bacon, a few bites of veggie quesadilla, yogurt, and cheddar goldfish crackers.  She also took a bite of a hamburger, and licked an ice cream cone.  She still won't eat bites of ice cream from a spoon -- that much cold is sensory overload for her. At home this week, she also ate an entire small pancake.  We are thrilled that she is choosing to try some new things, and we hope it will help her gain some much-needed weight.

When we came home, she seemed delighted to discover that her house, the rest of her toys, and her familiar crib and booster seat were all still there.  She kept exclaiming "Kavya's house! Kavya's bed!" It was poignant to see her pleasure, and remember how our arrival in her world took her away from everything that was familiar. It is truly amazing how resilient she is, and how trusting she's had to be as she was thrust into a whole new life.  It's humbling to know that we were the agents of such a traumatic time, even though we understand that it's for her long-term good.

She settled easily back into normal home life.  It was such a fun week, and we were relieved that it didn't come at a high cost to our sweet little Kavya.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The other mothers

We don't have any photos of our girls' first mothers.  We will likely never have the chance to communicate with them either.  But we are so indebted to them for the gift of our daughters.  In the complex swirl of factors that cause a woman to make an agonizing, heart-rending choice, somehow we have ended up as the beneficiaries of their difficult or painful circumstances.
In a perfect world, adoption would not exist.  In a perfect world, women (and men) would have the resources, support, and ability to keep their children. But this world is far from perfect . . .
In our broken world, however, God is still at work.  In the darkest circumstances, God can weave something glorious and redemptive. The word "weave" is apt -- our lives are forever woven into a fabric that includes our daughters, their first parents, and the women who cared for them in orphanages. 
I grieve for the factors that led our daughter's first mothers to say goodbye to their babies.  I wonder how often they think of these sparkling black eyes and silky raven hair.  I wonder if there is a hole in their hearts that can never be filled.  I know that our delight in our girls came at a high cost to them.
I think of Pinki, the young ayah who cried as we prepared to take Anya Rashi away from the orphanage.  And of Sumi, the woman who asked us if we were going to change Kavya's name, whose eyes filled with tears as she said goodbye to the girl she'd held for 2 1/2 years.
Kavya and Sumi
And I think of the Sisters who shone the love of Christ on our daughter with such tenderness. And of Doctor Sister Gladys, who nursed our daughter through meningitis as an infant, and through surgery as a 6-month-old baby.

Sister Cynthia and Kavya
Sister Lucy and Kavya
These other mothers should be celebrated this weekend too.  I think of them so often, and I pray that somehow they could know the depth of gratitude I feel for all of them.  Happy Mother's Day to all of the women who carried my daughters, whether in their own bodies, or in their arms.  All of us carry them in our hearts.

Kavya's prayer and goodbye service.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Our days together

It feels as though we are arriving at a new "normal" as a family of six.  Our days with Kavya have a pattern, and things are humming along with Aaron, Nathan, and Anya as the school year and activities go on.  Certain times of the day feel a little crazy -- especially the after-school hours until Kavya's and Anya's bedtime, when there is homework, practices, dinner prep, and a two-year-old who is crazy about being outside.

Highlights of this month:

We've had a cold spring, but have managed to take many stroller walks, draw with chalk, swing and slide in the backyard, and go to the park near our house. 

Two weeks ago, we celebrated Nathan's birthday.  I can't believe he's 12 -- that suddenly seems so old.  And he is just a hair shorter than me at this point!  I didn't think that would happen in 6th grade . . . I thought I'd have until high school before my sons passed me up.  We celebrated with grandparents, and with our two local uncles.  This kid loves a party, and enjoyed choosing our dinner and asking for his favorite homemade ice cream cake for dessert.

Aaron and Nathan had their spring Boychoir concert last week, and will be singing Rutter's Mass of the Children this weekend.  Both of their voices are changing (Aaron's is already done changing), but they can still sing in falsetto -- and they love to sing, like their Dad.

Anya is blooming in first grade, and has grown about 4 inches during this school year!  She seems so big, and so grown-up to me.  My heart does a little squeeze each time I can see a glimpse of the lovely young woman she is going to be.

We are seeing a bit of a language explosion with Kavya.  She says some sentences: "Close the door," "One second, Daddy," and "Bella Anya's friend?"  I am amazed that she is using concepts like "friend" in a question already!  She also loves to sing the "Happy Birthday" song, and the alphabet song -- up until Q R S . . . then she gets a little lost, but is ready with the final words "Now I know my ABCs," which sounds like "No no no my ABCs."  So funny!

This is how she asks for a kiss. Who can resist?!

Kavya now has a favorite blankie (the flowered one from Autie Trina), and two favorite stuffed animals: the little puppy we got her in India, and a tiger from the boys' collection.  She is the happiest morning person of all our children -- she wakes up with a smile every single day, and after every nap.  She is still a bit of a picky eater, but has expanded her food preferences a little bit. Amazingly, she doesn't seem to like rice at all, even though it was a staple food at the orphanage.  She did eat a little bit with some homemade chicken makhani sauce (not a fan of the chicken, though).

We've been to the doctor a few more times with her, once for a weight check, and once to see an ENT for a preliminary check of her repaired cleft palate.  We will have to drive two hours to meet with a cleft palate team in another month or two.  They wanted to wait until she had a better grasp of English to assess her speech, and so that she could better follow instructions for other parts of the visit. 

And in one of the more hilarious parts of our lives, India requires some follow-up tests that require a urine sample.  So I've been attempting to get a urine sample in a sterile container from a non-potty-trained 2-year-old.  It's been going as well as you're probably picturing right now.  :o)  And we still do not have a sample.  Maybe it's time for some chocolate bribery.

* * * * *

Mother's Day means that I've been thinking often about our girls' first parents.  I'm certain we will have some conversations this weekend with Anya about her birth mother. Sometimes, I am the one to bring up the subject, and sometimes it's Anya.  Each year, she processes her life story a little bit differently, and I'm curious to see what this year will bring.

As for me, I feel a sense of obligation to parent our daughters well.  These girls are a gift we share with four people we've never met, and I pray that if we ever meet their first families, they will be pleased that Kavya and Anya are healthy, thriving, joyful, and utterly themselves.  I pray that somehow, we will be able to communicate with them someday . . . and I just pray for them in general, especially for the hole in the heart of any mother who has to say goodbye to the baby they carried.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Spring break

The past week has been spring break for our three oldest kids.  They loved having the week off, even though we didn't do any "big" things.  They each had playdates with friends (though my big boys call it "hanging out" now!), and we saw grandparents, played board games, and went to the park on one of the two warm-enough days.  We also had some family friends over for a visit, which is still newer for Kavya.  Aaron, Nathan and Anya have been SO patient and understanding about having some restrictions on our activity level because of Kavya.

It is really hard to get a good photo of all four
kids for our post-placement reports!!

The other visitor we had this week was our social worker!  We had our second post-placement visit, which went well.  Mary has been such a blessing throughout both of our adoptions -- she is so down to earth, has a great sense of humor, and always puts us at ease (especially during the first visits, when we were very nervous).  She is an adoptive parent herself, and has worked with so many families that she usually has a whole list of possible answers for any questions or issues we might bring up.

And in yesterday's mail, we found another welcome step in the post-placement world: Kavya's Certificate of Citizenship!  Her little photo that we had taken in Delhi was affixed to it, and her expression looked so different than the animated ones we see every day now.  Her gaze is glazed over and dull, and she just looked like too many new things had been thrown at her in too short a time -- which is exactly what had happened, poor thing.  I looked at that little picture, and thought of the phrase "shell shock." 

Sometimes I can barely make sense of the enormity of what happens in adoption.  We ask so much of these little ones when we take them from their familiar worlds.  In the long-term, of course, they gain parents, siblings, an education, and everything that comes with being ensconced in a family.  But the losses of language, culture, first family, familiar scents and sounds and faces . . . those first days and weeks are so hard on them.  Seeing her picture on the Certificate of  Citizenship makes my heart ache for her, and reinforces the idea that adoption is always "plan B."  Even though it can be a redemptive, amazing thing, there's no denying the pain that is always part of adoption.

And I can't believe how resilient Kavya is.  She is a child who owns every room she enters.  With her vibrant, exuberant personality wrapped in such a tiny body, she will be a force to be reckoned with!  The idea that God entrusted her to us takes my breath away, and I hope we do her justice.  I think of her birth parents, and I pray that if we ever have the chance to communicate with them, they will be pleased with the way we are raising Kavya.