Friday, 27 November 2009

Like Father, Like Son

I love Jeff. Therefore, I think the world needs more of him. I used to think that the world would get some more of him when we had a baby. A little of him, a little of me, in a super cute package. We got a taste of that with Leah. As little as she was, I could see Jeff in her. I could see me in her too.

When we began the journey of adoption, the one thing I found dissapointing about creating our family this way was the thought that the baby we adopted wouldn't have Jeff's ears, eyes, awesome metabolism, and that he or she would not inherit his smarts or musical abilities (certain family members actually delight in Tommy's genetic disconnect from us, claiming that will make him automatically cooler and possibly able to play sports- thanks, UNCLE KEVIN).

I have learned since then that plenty gets passed on through nurture. When we stayed with the family with older adopted children during our move, we saw kids who reflected so many of their parents talents and characteristics. Recently Tommy has begun to reflect this, and imitate Jeff constantly- and he does a darn good impression.

Some highlights: Grabbing Jeff's lunch bag, slinging it over his shoulder (like the backpack Jeff takes to work), and marching into the other room while calling out "by-eeeee" and smiling and waving over his shoulder.

He insists on wearing Jeff's indentification badge, and loves to grab it and put it around his neck as soon as Jeff gets home from work.

During dinner he watches Jeff and mimics his gestures. The other night Tommy was sitting with his index finger extended along the side of his mouth, and when I glanced at Jeff he was sitting with the same "thinking" pose.

Somehow they keep ending up dressed alike. Jeff may be more responsible for this than Tommy.

Low points: Tommy has learned to make body noises, real and fake, and laugh about them. His fake burps are pretty funny. I just thought I had a bit longer before I would be surrounded by flatulance followed by giggles. Such a boy.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Out of the Ashes

A friend and counselor of mine during our long walk through Leah's death and Tommy's adoption recently asked to share our story during a devotional she was preparing. She asked for some pictures of both Leah and Tommy, so I made a little slideshow.

I used music from Steven Curtis Chapman's newest album Beauty Will Rise. This album rocks my world.

Disclaimer: I am neither a long-time Steven Curtis Chapman fan, or a fan of most CCM. Of course, as an adoptive parent I have a great respect for the Chapman family and their commitment to orphans. Not only have they adopted, they also started Show Hope, which helps hundreds of families bring home kids every year (including us!). Given the amount of grants Show Hope gives, along with running numerous programs to help orphans, and building a huge care facility for special needs kids in China, I would guess the Chapmans support it pretty heavily. They put their money where their mouth is- so refreshing. All that said, I still hadn't purchased any of SCC's albums, recently or ever.

A few weeks ago I saw an article on about Chapman's new album, in which he writes and sings about grieving his daughter, Maria. I was intrigued. I went to his website and listened to the two song sampler, then went and got the album the next day.

I can't tell you if this is a "great" album or not. I can tell you that it is honest and accurate. I listen to it and think, "yes, I felt (or feel) that way." It speaks straight to my heart. This album is sad, but so is losing a child. Despite the overall heaviness of the album's content, Chapman works in the hope that we have in Christ. The way he balanced hope with the pain of loss in his lyrics and music felt perfect to me. It is too easy to deny the real pain that Christians have as we mourn because we cling to our hope of something better. Chapman does not deny his pain, his suffering, or his longing for his girl, but he makes it abundantly clear that he knows he will hold her again.

Especially as the holidays approach and everything becomes even more bittersweet (I know I would never have both Leah and Tommy, but I want them both. Having Tommy makes the holidays fun again, but we will still really miss Leah), I have really been enjoying this album. In the interview I read Chapman mentioned that he hoped the album would be healing for others sharing his pain, and it is.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Another Judge, Another YES

Wednesday we went to adoption court and filed Tommy's interim order. The Judge accepted all of our paperwork, so we could be finalized in six weeks (six months to the day that we took physical custody of Tommy). However, because of the holidays and some backlogs of paperwork at our home-study agency it will probably end up happening a little later. We will not be returning to court for finalization. In Illinois you only appear once for the interim order.

We have received many questions along the lines of "but didn't you adopt Tommy in Uganda?" The answer is no. Uganda does not allow international adoption. They only allow non-Ugandans to file for guardianship, which they allow with the understanding that you will return to your country and go through an adoption proceeding there. The US requires you to wait six months, and then you can finalize your adoption here. Until then, we remain Tommy's legal guardians in the eyes of the state.

Wednesday was interesting. We were driving into the city for the first time since moving out west, and we foolishly relied on google map's "with traffic" driving times (lessoned learned: TAKE METRA). We ended up getting there with only a few minutes to spare before court opened, which meant we had to rush through the process of getting Tommy served with his paperwork by the sheriff's office and filing our paperwork.

That meant lots of rushing up and down and back and forth in the Daley Center. We got into the adoption court about three minutes after it opened at 9:30, and our lawyer was worried that the Judge might not hear our case because sometimes she leaves early (this confused me because one would hope that she at least stays five minutes after opening, but whatever). So we found ourselves once again praying for a Judge to have mercy on us. There were other families in the waiting room, so it was clear that she was still in session at least when we got in.

A few minutes later a family came out of the court room and we were called in. We stood before the Judge and answered a few questions, she accepted our paperwork and congratulated us. Then we went back to the waiting room until she finished with the other family there so that we could take pictures with her and our lawyer.

After all the nerves and rushing, getting in and out was quite a relief. Now, all we have to do is wait!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Building a Bridge to Uganda: Caring for Ibanda

We spent a little less than 24 hours in Ibanda, the town in western Uganda where Tommy was living. We arrived at our hotel later in the evening, around eight, and spent the entire night in our room. We were exhausted from a very emotional and difficult court appearance that morning, rushing around to pack and leave Kampala with enough time to get to Ibanda before the bandits came out, and stopping in Mbarara to gather documents to take back to the Judge. In Mbarara we saw the hospital where Tommy spent his first three days of life, and had a quick dinner at a little bakery before getting back in the car for another hour.

The next day in Ibanda we ate breakfast with a man who turned out to be the Mayor, we went to the regional court to meet Tommy's probation officer, and walked around the town while we waited for Sister to get a special seal from a regional judge. Ibanda only recently became a separate district, and the town of Ibanda its center. The money that must eventually attend that sort of honor has not reached the people there. The town is small. The people are generally very poor.

Although a Mzungu in Uganda is always a sight to see, we were even more of an anomaly in Ibanda. People stared. Some laughed. Many pointed. Some engaged us in conversation, but not many. We must have looked so strange, so white, and so very rich, as we drove around in a car with air conditioning, swigging bottles of clean water, obviously well-fed and usually munching on some snack from the US. The widespread poverty in Uganda very rarely infringed upon our physical comfort, even in the poorest places we visited, although it frequently tugged at our hearts.

The people of Ibanda come from a traditionally poor tribe. They have less, and have had less, for generations.

God has been working to change this.

He has led a parish in Pennslyvania to partner with the parish in Ibanda to bring about change in this region. The non-profit for this organization, Building a Bridge to Uganda, supports the church, school, orphanage, and hospital. Volunteers visit multiple times a year to serve and to plan future projects.

One of the concerns brought up on their trip this summer was the desperate need for clean water in the region. The school, orphanage, and hospital all operate using dirty water. After seeing what dirty water and it's accompanying parasites do to someone after only 14 months of ingesting it, I am becoming increasingly passionate about the need for every person to have access to feces-free water. Tommy and many of the children at his orphanage are terribly sick because their water has poop in it. They have no other source of water, so the choice the nuns have is to give them dirty water, and watch them possibly waste away with parasites, or give them no water and watch them die of dehydration. It isn't much of a choice.

This past summer, it was determined that the school needed a well, and that both the orphanage and the hospital could be served by the same well, if they installed a good piping system. The cost of drilling wells so far from the city center is, of course, astronomical.

This week an amazing thing happened. Father Joseph, the head priest in Ibanda, visited a friend one evening, and while at his house met a man who specialized in fixing old wells. Father Joseph asked him if he would mind taking a look at an old well on school property that hadn't worked for a very long time. He inspected it and found a number of problems: rotted pipes, problems with the pump, and an unsteady base. However, the well was still good! The man was able to do the repairs for about $500. The well can now serve the primary and high schools, and the surrounding community. Over 900 people will have access to clean water because of $500 in repairs. They never should have been without clean water in the first place.

Now the focus is on the orphanage and hospital, where, unfortunately, a fresh well must be drilled. That is not a $500 project. It will probably cost at least $15,000.

Building a Bridge to Uganda is raising funds for this project.

Americans spend millions of dollars on bottled water each year because we believe it is fresher or better tasting than the tested, treated, and clean water that arrives in our homes via numerous faucets. We take our clean water for granted. We shouldn't.

Walking the streets of Ibanda, I can honestly say I thought very little about the drinking water of those around me. I had other problems, other worries-all adoption related- that absorbed my energy. God has opened my eyes to the plight of these people through the experience of caring for a child whose body has been damaged, perhaps irreversibly (although we hope not), by dirty water. The picture below is of the newly repaired well, and the students from the school in Ibanda.

When was the last time you stood in line just to feel fresh water flow over your hands? Or just to see it?

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Tommy's Room

This weekend we are preparing for three big things this coming next week: we have our first court date for finalizing Tommy's adoption, my Mom is coming to visit (to go to court with us), and we have our social worker coming to inspect and (hopefully) approve our new home.

Thus we have been tackling the last of our boxes, hanging pictures, and desperately searching for storage solutions. Hopefully no one will ever look in any of our may be dangerous to open those doors.

Last night we finished up Tommy's room. The only thing I am still contemplating is whether or not I want to put up curtains to reduce the light in the morning. So, here are the promised pictures.

Enthralled by the humidifier

Awesome garage sale find: Elephant and Lion pictures

Little safari animals

Crib and toys

Posters of animals and birds in Uganda

Changing table...where we spend most of our time

Mobile from Uganda

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The Early Intervention Saga

After being home for almost two months, we finally got our early intervention evaluations. Finally. You may be wondering why we sought them out, and that is simple: all children who grow up in orphanages, no matter how loving, have delays and are considered "special needs" for a time. Orphanages simply cannot provide the kind of attention required for optimal development. Tommy was, we believe, physically delayed due to parasites and poor nutrition and as a result is small for his age (25th percentile), despite being a large baby when he arrived as a newborn at the orphanage.

Because of his background Tommy's pediatrician gave us the referral we needed for an early intervention evaluation.

Now, at the time we were aware that we would be moving from Cook county to DuPage county. My referral was for Cook county, and when I called they said they couldn't evaluate Tommy because we were moving to DuPage and I should call them. So I did. DuPage said they couldn't evaluate Tommy because we still lived in Cook. I love bureaucracy. DuPage said I could call once we physically resided in the county. On Sunday, September 2, the day we moved into the Argonne Guest House, I called and left a message for the intake coordinator. It took a few days for her to get in touch and set up an intake appointment for the end of the next week. At the intake appointment we discussed my concerns and she explained the program and told me therapists would be calling me the following week to set up appointments. We had five therapists come out over the course of two weeks to evaluate speech, development, attachment and psychological state, and gross and fine motor skills. The evaluations all happened within a month of my calling.

The evaluations went well. My very favorite was the psychologist who told us that Tommy is attached! All of his body language and responses indicated a bond to us. We are still, of course, being careful of this bond, because we don't want to damage the progress we have made, but it was very encouraging news. She added that she was very impressed with Tommy's overall attitude and that many of the skills he demonstrated for her were above average for his age. She felt that he was more advanced at some things than many children born in the US. We thought he was pretty clever and fast at picking up on things, but believed ourselves to be biased...apparently not!

The Occupational therapist felt he was also at or above age level in his fine motor skills, and the physical therapist said he was doing well for an early walker (he learned to walk late, but they don't consider it delayed as long as it is before 17 months) and that his muscle tone was great and that she doesn't anticipate future delays.

The developmental therapist noted some delays, as did the speech therapist, but neither were severe enough to require services, although we can request reevaluation in those two areas in three months to make sure that he is moving forward at the appropriate rate.

But here is the kicker: the physical therapist said, in an offhand way, after saying that we wouldn't qualify under her, "If only you would have had him evaluated sooner, he would have qualified when you first brought him home"!!!

Not qualifying is a mixed blessing. Now we don't have to deal with scheduling a therapist and making appointments, but instead we are responsible for catching Tommy up with no guidance and no help. I'm not complaining about having to teach Tommy things. That is my job as his parent, and we knew when we adopted that he would have delays and had prepared ourselves for those delays to be much worse. That said, at the end of the evaluations I felt a little like I did the day when Sister handed Tommy over to me with the words "He should be walking and potty trained by now. You should work on that."

He has some delays. You should catch him up.

Thanks. He still isn't potty trained.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Orphan Sunday

Today is Orphan Sunday. In recognition of the estimated 145 million orphans worldwide, here is my list of the top five reasons you should prayerfully consider adoption or supporting someone who is adopting:

5. "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27




1. Because you were an orphan once too.

"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will." Ephesians 1:4-5.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

The Protestant Reformation

Last Saturday, while most of the US celebrated Halloween and Trick or Treats, some of us stayed home talking about Martin Luther and celebrated Reformation Day by reading facsimiles of the Geneva Bible.

We had to be careful during our protestant celebration this year, because Tommy was baptized in the Catholic Church. In order to spare his feelings, we didn't dwell too long on indulgences, and skipped right to the good stuff: Martin Luther pounding his 95 theses into the Wittenburg Door. Tommy was so inspired by this courageous act that he decided he too wanted to become a protestant.

We were concerned that he might not be taking his conversion seriously enough. We didn't want him to be swayed by the raw emotion of Reformation Day. So we carefully explained the five points of Calvinism and read from the Institutes (scintillating!). Tommy decided he is probably only a four-point Calvinist, but still felt called to the Presbyterian Church. After all, it has a really careful governing structure, and Tommy is big on committees. After teaching him to say "costly grace" and "sola scriptura," and having him memorize the Apostle's Creed and the 23rd Psalm, we decided he passed the protestant test and would be allowed to convert.

Thus on Sunday we took him to church for his dedication. All kidding aside, it was a very special time for all of us. In our church dedications come after the "Children's Moment." During that time we joined Pastor Dave up front, and he explained to the kids that families are formed in different ways, and that some families are formed by adoption. Then he shared Ephesians 1:5 "he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will," and explained to the kids that all of us have been adopted- by God. Then Pastor Dave did the dedication and Jeff and I pledged to teach Tommy about Christ and pray for him, and the congregation promised the same.

Early for church - amazing!

Let's stall by taking pictures...

With Pastor Dave and his wife, Julie

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Trick or Treat

A UCLA football player, of course. Tommy is a scholar athlete.

Hut, Hut, HIKE!

Not sure about the hat...

The American football player and a Ugandan footballer