Sunday, 30 October 2011

Only in DRC...

...can you find Okapis in the wild, and three kids this cute!

Yes, our zoo has an entire area devote to the DRC. I happen to love that. The centerpiece are the Okapis, which are native only to DRC and weren't "discovered" by the outside world until 1901.

We toured the zoo with two of Nic's Congo buddies and their moms. It was so fun to see the boys together, and to hang out with our friends. I know that Nic has grown so much, but it it really drives it home to see how much bigger the other kids from our trip have gotten too. The boys are all roughly the same height, so even though they look NOTHING alike (seriously, look at the picture), and were dressed in totally different styles, and each had a different mom watching over them, we got asked if they were triplets.

Tommy had a blast too. He decided to paint himself as a "triceratops."

Monday, 24 October 2011

A Friendly Saturday Soccer Match

Saturday, 22 October 2011

A Spacious Place

It all started with a pair of pink ballet shoes. Or maybe it was the tutu, or the leotard, or the tights. Actually, it was probably the whole package: full ballet dress on one adorable three year old girl, who asked me in a small voice if I was going to come and watch her dance class. A little girl born just a few days after our precious Leah, a little girl Leah would have played with, and thus, a little girl who unfailingly makes me think of the little girl I am always missing.

Of course I was going to the class, how could I say no? Also, I had an ulterior motive - I wanted to hang out with her mom. Thus, I found myself in a parks and recreation department ballet/tap combo class, just like the one I attended at that age, watching a whole room full of three year old girls (and some who looked decidedly older) attempt to line their feet up in the correct positions and execute a plié. It was adorable. It was also very hard to watch.

It's funny how as time goes by and you work through your grief, certain things that were once intolerable, like holding babies or attending baby showers, become normal again. Others, like visiting maternity wards, do not. I have forced Jeff to deliver many a tiny baby blanket on my behalf, because I cannot stand the thought of going in. For the longest time I could not be around babies. At all. And I think that's fine. I've learned that perseverance is not the equivalent of rubbing salt in your wounds, perseverance is learning how to move forward in a healthy way in your new reality.

It's also funny how as you move further from loss, the things that sting change. Leah wouldn't still be a baby, so babies don't remind me of her. Three year old girls do, especially ones (like my friend's daughter) whom I imagine Leah would play with, or daughters of friends whose pregnancies coincided with or closely followed mine. It can be difficult at times to be around children that remind me of Leah, but it is no longer debilitating. My wounds are not fresh, and my life is so full of joy that when sadness surfaces it does not have time to linger.

In the book my Tuesday bible study is reading the author talks about an interview Barbara Bush gave in which she discussed the loss of her three year old daughter to cancer four decades prior, yet all those years later talking about the experience brought Bush to tears. The woman who conducted the interview concluded that even though she wasn't a parent, she believed that when someone loses a child they can never be totally happy again. The author agreed, writing, "Should any of my children precede me into heaven, I think I would always feel a touch of sadness, a wound in my soul, that in this life would never completely heal. Yes, I might have moments of laughter and fun - but every time I met someone with my child's name or came across something that reminded me of that child, I don't think the time would ever come when I would become callous and impervious to pain. Nor - and this may be the most significant statement yet - would I want to be."

I think that quote captures it perfectly. As time moves forward, life fills up with happiness. In our case, life overflows with it. But there are always those moments that get you, like ballet class got me. Last week Tommy was playing with a cute little girl at the zoo who was just slightly younger than him (and by "playing with" I mean coloring on both his art project and hers). As we were gathering his craft and preparing to leave, I heard her mom address her, "Leah..." and immediately I felt the tug on my heart, the touch of sadness. That's just how it is, and how it probably always will be.

I haven't decided what I think of the statement about "total happiness," maybe because I'm not sure what that really means. Yes, something is always missing. Yes, certain things will always be bittersweet. But no life is free of pain, or longing, or missing, or regret. If complete happiness requires a person who is whole, one who is unscathed, who would ever experience it?

We all have our scars.

A friend recently told me that she thought of me when she read the following verses in Psalm 66:

10 For You have tried us, O God;
    You have refined us as silver is refined.
11 You brought us into the net;
    You laid an oppressive burden upon our loins.
12 You made men ride over our heads;
    We went through fire and through water,
    Yet You brought us out into a place of abundance.

I love the last line in verse 12, which other versions translate as "a land of plenty," "a fruitful place," "a place of wealth," or "a spacious place." There will always be sadness, but there will also be abundance. No matter what we suffer, God will bring us to a place that is fruitful. I know, because I live in a spacious place.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Together Again

Well, the whole family is back together (in IL) and we have been for about a week now. We had a great trip, but it sure is great to all be under one roof once more. On Saturday we had a family fun day. It started with breakfast in bed for me...which might have been more fun for me than Jeff, but it was a belated birthday treat. This meant it was "guys' breakfast" and the little boys think that is very cool. They basically love anything that we label with the word "guys" and Tommy is always begging me to leave so they can have a "guys' night." The wonder of guys' night is that Jeff makes boxed macaroni and cheese. That's it. Well, and sometimes they play Wii. However, the main draw is the Mac, I'm sorry to say, and it's siren song is so alluring that Tommy is always excited to find out that I am going to book club or out with my friends. End tangent.

So, family fun day. In the afternoon Tommy asked if we could go to the zoo. We had a couple of hours before it closed, and it wasn't too cold out, so we decided to go for it. When we got to the zoo at 3:30 we found out that they were closing at 6 then reopening at 6:30 for a special Halloween Event. The play zoo would be open, and it seemed like a fun idea, so we decided to stay out late as a special treat. We had a great time at the zoo - it was great fun to have Jeff with us since we usually go during the week days. The Halloween event was interesting. Since it's the zoo I was expecting it to be a little more family-friendly and a little less scary than it ended up being. Thankfully Nicolas is too young to understand any of it, and Tommy is still at an age where we can sort of convince him that things aren't scary (even if they are). It was awfully cute when Tommy heard me call something "too spooky" and then for the rest of the night described anything he didn't like as "a sMooky." We spent a lot of time saying things like, "Wow, that zookeeper sure looks weird," with "weird" being a euphemism for "like a bleeding zombie" or "accident victim" or "Chainsaw murderer." We won't be going next year. The corn maze (sidenote: wouldn't it be so much funnier if it were called "Maize maze."?) was a big hit with Tommy, and not scary at all, and we took a very long time going through that because he wanted to try out every single option (the right ones were rather obvious since it was a rather lame maze). The play zoo was also fine, so we played there for quite some time. It was a big treat to be there after dark and with Daddy. But mostly, it was just great to be together.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Another Milestone

This week marks an odd adoption and parenting milestone for us, as Nicolas is now the same age (14 1/2 months) that Tommy was when he joined our family almost two and a half years ago. We are now in familiar parenting territory, sort of. It's a funny thing to meet your children at different ages, and an odder experience still when the second child that comes home is noticeably younger than the first. It absolutely felt backwards, and at first we just didn't know exactly what to do with Nic. He was a baby, and we only really knew how to do toddler.

It has been fascinating to see the difference in their development, some of which may be attributable to their personalities/genetics/inclinations, but most of which is likely due to the varying amounts of time they spent in institutional care. I have never been more convinced that institutions are not healthy places for children than I have been since seeing the difference that seven months made in the development of Tommy and Nicolas. At 14 1/2 months when Tommy joined our family, he couldn't stand up alone, much less walk. He didn't start walking without coaxing until he was almost 17 months. Nic (who was placed with us at 7 1/2 months) has been walking fairly well for over a month already, is now practically running, and he is also quite a climber. It astonishes me how fast that child can move. In the area of gross motor skills, Nicolas has developed along a "normal" curve, and I must say it is nice not to have to play catch up.

Nicolas may have delays in other areas that we aren't aware of, but I don't think he does. The truth is that since he hasn't been noticeably delayed in any one area or having any severe attachment issues, we haven't bothered to do the intense evaluations that we did with Tommy who quite clearly had delays. We will see how things stand when Nicolas goes in for his fifteen month check-up, but considering his current development I doubt the doctor would recommend or even give us a referral for evaluation. We'll see.

In terms of health the difference between the two boys has also been interesting. The way things stand with his current diagnosis of sickle cell disease, Nicolas' long term health will not be fantastic. However, I have been amazed (and so thankful) at how healthy he has been thus far. His measurements have been solidly average in weight (he is hovering at or above 50th percentile for his age) and he is slightly above average in height. While Nicolas did not receive the absolute best nutrition in his orphanage, we know that he was eating regularly and probably getting enough calories (even if they were mostly from starch). In contrast,Tommy came home in the 15th percentile of height and the 25th for weight, thanks to parasites/inadequate nutrition. He has done a great deal of catch up growth since then, and is now also average in height and weight for his age, but it has taken years for him to reach that mark. Aside from a small bout of salmonella while we were in Congo, Nicolas has not had any stomach issues. We battled Tommy's intestinal issues for months and months, and ended up having to put him on a restrictive diet before they eventually healed. I can't believe how much easier it is when your child doesn't have constant explosive diarrhea and doesn't have to eat special separate meals. Remember, I had no reference point when Tommy came home, so I had no idea how much extra work I was doing cleaning, sanitizing, laundering, and cooking, or how much energy I expended preparing for and dealing with the messes that inevitably occurred whenever we went out.

As Nicolas continues to settle into our family, and as Tommy grows into his role as a big brother, things have quieted down (a bit). We still deal with some sibling rivalry, and I suspect this will always be the case, but they can now play together and I can comfortably leave them alone together for very short intervals. It has been such a joy to watch them learn to enjoy each other.

And now, as illustration, a series of photos we like to call "Two Boys in a Box:"

Friday, 14 October 2011

More Love

I think I've said it before, but I'll say it again: traveling with a large group of families to Congo made a huge impact on us. There were many things about the trip that were less than uplifting and enjoyable. The fellowship around the scabies carpet kept my head above water, and I am so thankful for it. One of the amazing families we traveled with has already begun yet another adoption (I think they are very brave). I always love to hear stories about how God has worked in people's lives to lead them to adoption, and I think that Brian and Carrie's story is especially interesting because they once were a couple that never wanted to have children - they now have FOUR at home and more on the way. It turns out that God had another little surprise in store for them, and what they thought would be one more daughter turned out to be twin daughters. That means double the fun, but also almost double the expense.

They have created a fund-raising t-shirt that has a broad appeal - I don't think you have to be an adoptive parent to resonate with the quote they chose:

"I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love."
--Mother Teresa

Their fund-raising store also features African note-cards and key chains. Check it out here, and don't forget that Christmas is just around the corner.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Lunch With Aunt Emily

Aunt Emily is lawyer in LA. She works very long hours, as lawyers do (aka we don't get to see her much), so we always try to drive up and visit her on her lunch break when we come home. This time we got burgers, went to the farmers market, and enjoyed the sunshine.

We hope she doesn't make this face in court.

My Mom and Nic

Monday, 10 October 2011

A Quick Trip

Earlier last week the boys, my mom, and I drove up to Visalia to visit our friends the Nickells and the Chandlers. The Chandlers live in the country and have a nice piece of property where the Nickell boys and Tommy roamed wild. Tommy had the greatest time running up and down the hill in their backyard and enjoying some freedom. Tagging along after the "big boys" brought him a lot of joy. Nicolas enjoyed getting lots of attention and care from Natalie, who is just a little younger than Tommy but who preferred playing mommy to Nicolas rather than chasing all the boys. She followed him around the house as he pushed a little stroller, carefully adjusting it for him every time it got stuck. It was so sweet.

In the afternoon we went to visit a nearby lake. It is man-made and used for flood control and irrigation, so since it is the end of the summer it was very very low. That happened to make it even more fun though, since it meant lots and lots of mud!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

"Meeting" Nicolas

One year ago at about eight in the evening we got a call from Cami, the woman who worked tirelessly to help us prepare our dossier for Congo. She asked me to put her on speaker, then told us about a baby boy in Kinshasa that had just been cleared by his commune (local government) for adoption. He was about a month old (later we found out he was actually two months old), and appeared to be healthy. That was all she knew, but she hoped to have pictures for us later in the week. We had twenty-four hours to decide if we wanted to move forward with this little one.

As you know, we said YES. For those of you who haven't adopted, it might seem a little crazy that we would add a child to our family whom we had never seen, whose birth date we didn't know, and whose medical and social history we knew nothing about. We have a "say yes unless God says no" policy for accepting referrals that fall within (or very close to) our home study parameters. When you do your home study, you have to set parameters regarding the child you are willing and able to accept. It is an odd process, and sometimes it feels very uncomfortable to make decisions about your future child, but it allows you to prayerfully examine the abilities and limitations of your family before you are faced with the emotional process of receiving and accepting a referral. Your social worker and (in our state) the head of Child and Family services must approve those parameters, and then USCIS bases your visa pre-approval on them. This time around our home study and USCIS clearance allowed us accept a child of either gender under the age of eighteen months with certain correctable special needs. The information we received about Nicolas fit our home study, so we took a day to pray that God would make it clear if we should not move forward with adopting Nicolas. The next afternoon we called and said yes.

We expected to get pictures of our boy on Sunday or Monday, but instead we got an email that there might be a problem and that we would need to wait to see if it worked out before the pictures were sent. Of course I was a nervous wreck for two days, but Tuesday morning our inbox contained the following:

It turned out that the commune clearance on Nicolas had not been written up and signed (the commune had verbally cleared him but not completed the paperwork at the time we got the phone call, and the difference got lost in translation...which is why we got the phone call when we did, but then had to wait for paperwork to get pictures), so that was the "problem" and it was quickly cleared up. At the time the pictures were taken Nic was a few days over two months old. He was a tiny little bean- his stats at the time placed him at the very bottom of the growth charts. He was smaller at two months than most US newborns! We also found out that his name was Nicolas and that he was living in a small orphanage in Kinshasa. That week we finished up all the paperwork necessary for the court process, and our journey to Nicolas officially began.

In the past year, we prayed and cried and waited and traveled and welcomed one adorable boy home. He's had a rough road of it- transitioning to a crazy family in a strange new place, odd tasting new foods, awful weather, and being stuck with more needles than I can count and enduring the hospital and more doctors visits than most kids probably have in the first five years of life. He is such a trooper. He has not only endured, he has flourished. We are so grateful that God has placed Nicolas in our family.

Bippity Bop Barbershop

So, true confession: a few days into my lingering illness I rallied and went to IN-N-OUT with my parents and the boys (that's not the confession as a burger and milkshake are known curatives). The boys were not looking their best. They hadn't had their hair picked out in a few days (we strive for a good comb out every night before bed, and touch ups in the morning with when possible). Also, they were due for a hair cut, although I personally like their hair longer. All that to say, they looked a bit unkempt. At least they weren't ashy.

After we left the restaurant and went to our car a man pulled my mom aside and asked if the boys were adopted or foster...and then let her know where she could take them to get their hair cut properly. Yes, it was embarrassing. Now, he was super polite and kind about it and not at all judgmental, but this is something that white mamas raising black children dread happening to them. I work so hard for it not to happen to me (with the exception of letting my kid's hair get too long because I really really like it long). Thankfully, the man followed his advice up with the following, "I was watching you eat together and I started to tear up because I was thinking, "Now that is a d@mn good white family." So, at least I know he wasn't mad at us.

In order to avoid further embarrassment, Nic got his first trip to the barbershop. I had a small miscommunication with the barber and both boys ended up almost bald. They also both hated it. They both screamed and cried the entire time and had to be held down. Fun times.

Sunday, 2 October 2011


Kicking whatever nasty bug I had took longer than I thought, but I am finally feeling good again. We've had a lot going on in the past few days- beach trips, park trips, getting together with friends, a going away party for my brother and his wife, my family birthday party, and probably some more things that I have forgotten about. Sometimes being on vacation is very very tiring.

Here are some pictures of the boys enjoying themselves in the sunshine: