Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The "Trauma Survey"- Part 2

Hanging with my kiddos this evening
Merry Christmas!  Again, this is NOT a Christmas post.

I was grateful for the positive response from the first section of this survey. I was concerned that some people may have felt I over-shared.  However, many of the comments I received were expressing appreciation for a glimpse into the not-so-peachy side of an adoption story.  Here is the scatterbrained second half of the survey (you can read the introduction and the first part <here>)

The questions addressed in the first half were:
  1. How did you come to the decision of adopting the child?
  2. How old was the child when adopted?
  3. How old were your children?(if any) 
  4. Was there any trauma that came with the child? 
  5. How it affected your children?(if any)
  6. Were the biological parents easy to deal with?
  7. How long did the adoption process take?
  8. Coffee (milk) with Uncle Daniel
    after our Tae Kwon Do class

And the second half:
  1. Did you have to deal with any problems that the child had? Again, that is somewhat a redundant question. Since adoption is infused with loss from all angles, there are naturally “problems” that arise. In fact, that adoption exists in the first place means that “problems” existed. I’m not sure that “problems” is a good term. I think what you are asking is “What challenges did you need to overcome as you brought this child into your home?” If that is the question, then the answer is somewhat lengthy. Both our kiddos had intestinal issues as they came home. This is quite normal, since they had lived in a third-world orphanage most of their lives with limited access to clean water. In fact, while we were visiting the town where they were born, we were served coffee made from river water. This is not "gross" or a lapse in courtesy. It is quite normal and just how things are done there.  No one thinks twice about it. So, we had poop issues. In fact, by the time we arrived home, Anya was wearing her last pair of pants, since she had pooped through the rest of them. I scrubbed poop out of the airplane carpet, and off the airplane walls.  Besides poop, English was the third language the kids had
    been exposed to. They were not familiar with English words or sounds. When we met the kiddos, we were the first white people they had ever seen. Hours of screaming ensued. That was traumatizing in itself, for both them and us! The kiddos needed to adjust to our diet, and we needed to learn what foods would not negatively affect their systems. We learned that Anya is sensitive to dairy. Random things would scare the kiddos, and inconsistently. For example, a few times someone would walk into the house and Anya would cling to me and wail. These were people she knew and previously liked, but for whatever reason she was terrified of them that day. Not just fussy, but trembling with fear and unable to even look at them or release her vice grip on me. She has since overcome that and I still have no idea why it happened. For a while, we needed to be careful in groups.  It is natural for friends and family to pick up and touch and kiss a baby. However, while Philip and I know these people, my children do not. Even grandparents are initially complete strangers, and a kiss from a grandparent can make a child feel vulnerable and undermine the feeling of security that we work towards. 
  2. Did it take long for the child to feel accepted into your home?
    I’m not sure that “feeling accepted” is the issue as much as “feeling safe, secure, and belonging”. For my kiddos, there wasn’t any problem of acceptance. Our friends and family did a wonderful job opening their hearts to my small folks, and the kiddos never experienced any negative emotions from family and friends. I would say, though, that it took Jayce 6 months to really laugh after he came home. He was incredibly solemn for so long.  For Anya, we are just beginning to see her initiate affection towards me. Just a few weeks ago she asked for me to comfort her (a bumped head) instead of Philip. This is a HUGE step towards attaching and bonding with me. Showing a preference is healthy: everyone is not the same in her eyes. It was the first time she asked for me, even though her Daddy was available. Each adoption is different, and each family and story is different. We are blessed that we have not experienced many issues that could arise in similar situations.  Helping our children feel safe and secure is, and will continue to be, an ongoing and purposeful process.
  3. My daughter is beginning to learn to
    dress herself....  with varying measures
    of success
  4. What were/are the positives and negatives? The positives and negatives of adoption? Well, adoption is not for everyone. If someone sees adopted kiddos as somehow inferior or less ”real family” as a biological kiddo, then they should not do the disservice to a child in adopting them. Kiddos that have been adopted are just as much a part of a family as those kiddos born into it. An adoptive mama is just as much a real mama as one who has given birth. There is a LOT of negative perceptions and downright wrong information regarding adoption. Racism is alive and well, despite what people would tell you. BUT, while people might not feel ready to adopt, there is NO CHILD that is “ready” to be an orphan. EVERY child deserves a loving and safe home, no matter their background, disabilities or abilities, birthplace or status. So, adoption gives value to human life- something that I think is lacking in today’s culture. It is a picture of redemption and love: taking a child that is otherwise without hope and placing them into a family where there is hope and a future, and love and care. This is not based on the merits of the child, but on the love, choices, purpose and values of the parent. Every adoptive situation is tragic. The fact that a child needs to be adopted means that somewhere, somehow, tragedy happened. Part of the adoptive parent’s job is to help that child heal. That is a huge responsibility and an astounding blessing, to be used to influence such a precious creation. Adoption is a legitimate way to have a family, and is not inferior to birth. It is a fallacy to believe that adoptions happen as a “last choice” for couples to have children (i.e. “We can’t get pregnant so I guess we’ll have to adopt.”). This is often not the case at all. Adopted kiddos aren’t “lucky” to be in a loving family. The set of circumstances that got them adopted is, in fact, very “unucky”. So I am not sure how to address the “pros and cons” of adoption. I suppose part of it would depend on the value system of the parents. Adoption is not the “easy road” to a family. It’s not smooth sailing or a responsibility to be taken lightly. However, I firmly believe that it is not as unattainable as many people would believe it to be. There are MANY resources for adoptive parents, including parents whose children are having troubles working through their past. There are financial resources to help families (like scholarships at college), support groups for various challenges like learning delays or medical concerns. There are resources to help parents and children bond, therapists and counselors that are dedicated to helping adoptive families. 
I do apologize for the barrage of information, thoughts, and lack of structure.  Many of the questions raised a variety of multifaceted responses.  Hopefully I was able to bring various ideas to light that maybe non-adoptive families haven't processed before.  Parenting a child with adoption in their background does raise some issues that other parents don't need to consider.  However, with a good support group and adequate education, many families could adopt and add to/create their family.  Yes, my children's story is complex and often traumatic.  However, there is nothing more rewarding than watching them grow and mature and learn to feel safe and be happy.  It is a blessing to be a part of that process.

Feel free to ask other questions, and I'll answer them the best that I can!

Some other posts that relate:

Monday, December 21, 2015

The "Trauma Survey" - Part 1

Mama and Daddy in
the Christmas spirit
Merry Christmas! This is NOT a Christmas post.

A few weeks ago, a young friend contacted me about a project she was doing for her sociology class. The topic she chose was "trauma in adoption" and she was contacting various adoptive parents requesting their input. Her questions seem to reflect the general curiosity of folks not connected to adoption, so I thought I'd share her survey and my answers.

My friend's survey was relatively short, but I ended up writing a 6-page paper in response to it!  I can only write from my perspective, based on my own experiences and observations.  Not being a professional in this area, I can't speak to the scientific side of the topic. For your sanity's sake, I'll break this post in half and post the other half soon.

Adoption Survey 
At our friend's construction-themed party
  1. How did you come to the decision of adopting the child? It’s a long story, but we love other cultures and wanted to bring that into our home. There are 5 million orphans in Ethiopia, and as we researched the country and the history and culture of Ethiopia, we decided to pursue children from that country. The need is huge. Ethiopia is one of the oldest nations on earth, and it’s people and customs are so beautiful. 
  2. How old was the child when adopted? Jayce was 21 months and Anya was 15 months when we brought them home (at the same time). They are now 3 years 2 months, and 2 years 8 months old.
  3. How old were your children?(if any) I did not have any children at home when we brought home our two kiddos.
  4. Was there any trauma that came with the child? Adoption itself, by nature, is born of heartbreak, trauma, and great loss. There is always trauma in adoption. The question is, “how have my kiddos’ experiences shaped them into the people they are today? How have they been affected by the difficult circumstances they have had in life?"  Jayce was almost 6 months old when he was placed in the care of the orphanage. He had experienced a mother’s care until that time, and leaving the mama to whom he had bonded was very traumatic, as it should have been. He was placed in an orphanage where he didn't know anyone, didn’t know what was happening, no one and nothing was familiar. Jayce is wise beyond his years, and as he stayed in two very different orphanages, experienced at least 4 sets of caregivers (including us), 3 languages, and two cultures, he grieved each change and loss, and he hurt. My daughter was born at the orphanage. She didn’t know anything different than orphanage life until she came home with us. She also experienced many sets of caregivers and multiple languages, but transience and change was a part of life for her. It was more difficult for her to feel “permanent” in our home because she has never had a place of permanence before. It is more difficult for her to feel safe and secure and connected to us as parents because she has never been safe and connected before. Jayce, however, did have those experiences, and they were ripped from him. 
    Baby Girl playing with
    her auntie's scarf
  5. How it affected your children?(if any) Jayce had a more difficult time adjusting to home because he understood from past experiences that nothing was permanent, even the things that were supposed to be permanent. He grieved deeply, usually manifesting itself in hours of screaming, wails, and thrashing. Now, he has a more secure connection to us, and he acts like he feels pretty safe. Anya had an easier transition initially, since change was all she has ever known and the strong parent-child bond was never there for her. However, she continues to struggle to feel safe and attached to us, since developing those strong ties is a new concept for her. She has never done it before, and does not have the innate skills to develop those significant bonds. Often her struggles will manifest themselves in a lack of eye contact, unresponsiveness, and difficulty understanding that “mama and daddy” are different from other people-- we are not just more caregivers that will eventually be changed with new ones.
  6. Were the biological parents easy to deal with? “Dealing” with birth parents was not part of our adoption equation. I think a better question is “How did you feel about your interaction or lack thereof with any birth family?” I know this isn’t something people intuitively know how to
    My daughter being adorable in
    a hard hat and glasses
    phrase in a way that expresses their kind intent. Here’s the thing: I met my daughter’s birth mom. It was a privilege I will never forget. I never got to meet Jayce’s birth mom. I wish I could have. Both of those ladies have been through hell and they have my eternal respect for what they did on behalf of their kiddos. I know that in many situations and in many adoptions, birth family can be challenging, and it is a tough balance to weigh and decide what is best for the kiddo. Because of our international adoption, we did not have direct contact with birth family. In an adoption, there is a TON of pain and loss that the birth family experiences. Not just the birth mom, but all the members of the birth family experience loss. Part of respecting the birth-mother is acknowledging what she and her family have gone through. My time meeting with Anya’s birth mom was precious and priceless. The opportunity to share with Anya someday my memories of her first mama will be very special, and hopefully encouraging to her. I hope that what I know of both their birth families will help both of my kiddos work through some of the pain and loss they have experienced in their lives.
  7. Getting ready for the church
    Christmas program
  8. How long did the adoption process take? From the time we submitted our application to the agency until the time we brought the kiddos home was 4 years.  We received our referrals (matches with a child) a year before we were able to bring them home.  Most adoptions do not take this long, but because we were working with a third world government and all the uncertainties that brings, our process was more complicated and lengthy than it normally would have been. 

Questions in the next post:

Did you have to deal with any problems that the child had?
Did it take long for the child to feel accepted into your home?
What were/are the positives and negatives?

Feel free to ask other questions as this post unfolds, and I will answer them to the best of my ability.

Our whole family in costume by the manger

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Complete Strangers and Bi-Polar-ish Parenting

Mama!  Look! Anya's craft project:
paint, q-tips, and a paper place
I am beginning to accept that parenting makes you feel bi-polar.  You would think I came to grips with this months and months ago, but.....

See, here is the thing.  I'm an introvert, and really really need my quiet alone time.  Even when I get some alone time, it's never enough to balance out the crazies of life and help me feel truly refreshed.  It's like putting a tablespoon of water in a desert.  Nice, but not really effective.

I also tend to be task-oriented.  It is exhausting to complete a task, just to have it immediately undone for no apparent reason.  Here's a silly example: last evening, my son asked me to put the clothes on a baby doll.  Sure, I can do that.  Less than a minute later, my daughter comes through and tears all the clothes off the baby (that Jayce was no longer interested in) and proceeded to ask me again to dress the baby.  No.  No no no.  I managed a kind, "No, honey, why don't you try it?" while inside I was banging my head against the wall.  I just did that!  Why did you undo it?  Why are you asking me to re-do something I did less than a minute ago?  Why couldn't you just be happy with the way things were?? Agh!!!!  Again, a silly example, but so goes parenting.  Molehills become mountains.

My happy baby girl at the zoo
Mama-hood.  You (read: I/me/my) never feel like you can stay on top of things.  Despite your best efforts, everything goes to pot. You spin your wheels and tread water and flail are barely able to breathe.  Sometimes.

"Mama! look at the
pretty tree!" I love how
they are beginning to notice
the beautiful things God
created around us!
Other times, you feel like the world is nothing but sunshine and butterflies.  You see your kiddos being kind and patient, and you glow inside.  You watch them take responsibility and respond to authority and shine at it, and your heart shines with them.  You watch them make mistakes and respond in an appropriate fashion, and the mess they make is totally worth watching them mature a little more.

Just yesterday, Jayce was goofing off at the table and knocked his mug of water on the floor.  The mug broke, and water went everywhere.  I raised an eyebrow at him and asked, "Hmm.  So, how did that happen?" "I was not being careful, mama," he told me, as he proceeded to pick up the pieces of mug, throw them away, and clean up the water with a towel.  He's 3.

Oh, Little Man, you make my heart melt when you show that kind of awareness and conscientiousness.  Break a mug any day, as long as you continue to grow up just like that!

Other days, the kiddos seem to need you for every microscopic task and every fleeting moment.  Your attention is required for the most obvious of things, and it is never enough that one child calls your attention to an obscure detail ("Look, mama!  I am standing on the rug!").  No, it is not enough.  BOTH kiddos need to point out the exact same thing to you.  Or, if Philip says "yes please" to a cup of coffee, both kiddos have to tell me that Daddy wants coffee....  even though I heard my husband the first time.

"Mama!  Look at my tower!
Take my picture, please?"
My kiddos favorite word is "Mama!"  While that sounds endearing and sweet on paper (or on your screen), it is not endearing or sweet the 80 billionth time in a day.  Mama, my cup is empty.  Mama, my hair is in a pony tail.  Mama, I see a car.  Mama, those cars are not moving.  Mama, there is a big tree.  Mama, I made a tower.  Mama, my tower went crash.  Mama, a block fell over there.  Mama, I got water.  Mama, I made a mess.  Mama, I need a towel.  Mama, my tummy is empty.  Mama, look, a bug!  Mama, that bug is small.  Mama, I like blue.  Mama, I like pink.  Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama!!!!!!!!

It's nice to be needed.  Its exhausting to be needed.  It's nice to interact, but it's overwhelming to interact. It's enjoyable to talk and discover the world together, yet it's draining to use more than your daily allotment of words about things like, "yes, sweetie, I know there is dirt on my floor."  The quantity of words directed at me through the course of a day sometimes feel like hitting a physical wall.  So, we result in bi-polar parenting.

And then.  Then, your kiddo chooses Bible books to look at during their book time.  They remind you to pray before their martial art class, asking Jesus to help them be good and obey the teachers.  They talk about their Sunday school lesson in the car.  They give unsolicited hugs and kisses.  They go for days without fighting.  When reminded of a rule, they say, "Oh.  Ok, Mama." They have gentle hands with animals.  They offer to help.  They take your plate to the kitchen after a meal without being asked.  You get a nice snuggle in the morning, full of whispers and quiet giggles.  Despite all the craziness, you realize you're not failing as a parent, by the grace of God.

As a white mama with black kiddos, I'm used to being stared at.  Today, in the Costco checkout, there were no less than 4 people openly staring at my kiddos, and while standing in line for a hotdog in the Costco food court there were a group of older folks riveted on my small folk.

My precious gift
Internally, I prepared myself for the avalanche of "cute, adorable, charming, delightful, beautiful, handsome, etc" that usually accompanies such staring situations when my kiddos are behaving like the (sometimes) angels that they are.  Suddenly, I realized these people weren't talking to me at all.  They were actually talking to my kiddos like they were unique individuals with something to say.  Then, one lady got down on eye level with my daughter, and told her, "You are precious.  Always remember that.  You are a precious gift." 

Oh.  Wow.  Thank you, random stranger.  Thank you for seeing beyond the buttons and bows and pink frills and dimpled smile.  Thank you for ascribing value to my kiddos as people, not just as charming novelties.

Even more, thank you for reminding me of the gift I have been given.  Often I forget that mama-hood is relational rather than an assignment or a project. Sometimes I have to remind myself to simply make eye contact with my kiddos, because I get too focused on the end result that I forget there are people involved.  It's often easier to just make things happen and shuffle pieces around, but then I overlook that my kiddos' hearts are waiting for those special mama moments where they feel treasured and loved.

Most days I feel like the universe is exploding and my hands aren't big enough to hang on to all the pieces.  Occasionally I feel like something good is happening in the midst of the explosion.  But all days, my kiddos are precious.  They are precious people, created by God, and they will eventually learn that Mama heard them the first time, and they can get their own water from the sink.  Oh, and that the baby doll was fine just like she was before.

"Mama! Look! Anya is sitting on my lap!"

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Trust, Panic, And Other Annoying Things

One of the things about having almost-twins (or maybe just about having kiddos) is that the always need to have the same thing.  We do have two of many things, and of course there are some things that we just share.  But then there is food. And clothing.  Sigh.

For example, one of my kiddos wants a banana, and immediately the other child is starving and needs a banana, as if the first child's banana request would invalidate the second child's request if not submitted promptly. Or, as I begin to make dinner they both repeatedly ask me if I will give them food, as if I am making dinner for everyone but them.  Or, I tell the kids that I will be making them lunch, and they both need to confirm that I am making them lunch, not just the other sibling.  I ask one child to go upstairs and pick out pajamas, and the other child needs to be assured that they, also, will be getting jammies.  I give one child a vitamin and the other child begins to panic that they won't get a vitamin also.

Holy cow, child!  Yes!  I will take care of you!  I will meet your needs!  I know what you need and will make sure that you are taken care of! Relax!  Mama's got this.  Mama will take care of you.  Mama knows how to take care of you.  

My daughter is not looking like a toddler anymore!

Jayce was very pleased that he could hide
so well between my couch pillows

Some of this may just be "toddler" and some may be some fallout from orphanage life.  I'm not sure.  Regardless, the quantity of words directed at me to express their most basic needs can be exhausting.  I feel irked, but usually manage to calmly explain my role as a mama and assure both kiddos that they will be cared for.  If you look at their healthy, happy little faces and Anya's plump belly, you know that they are not lacking for anything.  Except cookies.  They lack cookies.

My 3 year old, looking all grown up!
Shifting gears a moment.  Philip plans fishing trips with some of his guy-friends.  It's tuna fishing on the ocean, he's gone all day (and all night) and is out of cell range most of the time.  He drives home often at 3am, barely awake.  I worry.  I am slightly aquaphobic, so boats/ocean/fishing/sharks do not bring up peaceful and safe emotions for me.  I don't want him falling asleep not the road. I don't like him leaving me for "long" periods of time (for two nights, ha ha).  I feel safer when he's close by.

As I began to pray about this the other evening, I realized that I must sound just like my toddlers as I talked to God.  Here I am asking God for the most obvious things (my husband's safety), as if He doesn't know this already or may not realize that my heart is burdened with these things.  I approach Him in a panic, as if He is not going to give me what I ask, and I need to beg for anything I receive.  (Some repentance ensued.)

I realized how inaccurately I was seeing God.  He's not a God who's in heaven saying, "Oh, oops! I let you husband crash into a tree because you didn't ask me to take care of him or say 'please'. Maybe you'll remember next time.  Mwahaha!" or "Oh, you don't want your husband to fall overboard into shark infested waters?  Why didn't you say so??" or "Oh, you need reassurance? Ok I'll see if I have some laying around tomorrow.  You'll just have to make-do until then." God is not in heaven with a stick waiting to make my life miserable just to teach me a lesson.  God is not oblivious to my heart strings.  He's not clueless about my emotions so that it catches Him by surprise that something might hurt me.  He is not twiddling his thumbs waiting for me to spell out every small thing that I might require, and refusing to act until I do.
Helping out at a friend's yard sale

Rather, He already has it all under control. God is good.  He is kind.  He is knowing.  He is all-seeing.  He is compassionate.

I am a good mama and am kind to my children.  I know what they need and even what they want!  For example: Anya prefers pink to green, and prefers sparkles to camo. Given the opportunity, I choose pink sparkly shoes for her because I know that's what she would want.  In the same way, I need to trust that God will care for me with "me" in mind.

I enjoy making my kiddos smile and will do small things just to see their eyes dance.  I need to trust that God delights to see my smiles and joy also, that He loves me enough to do things for no other purpose than it makes me happy.

There are times when I need to make a decision that makes my kiddos upset (like not wearing flip-flops on a snowy day.  Tragic.) or when my kiddos receive some consequences for poor choices.  I do not enjoy seeing them upset.  In the same way, I need to trust that God does not enjoy or delight or wait in anticipation for my hurt or disappointment.

Sibling love after Jayce's birthday party
God is not a genie in a bottle where, if I rub it the wrong way or don't hold my tongue right, He doesn't work. He is not like an impersonal scan-tron where if you don't fill in the bubbles perfectly with a #2 pencil, your request is not processed.  If my son asks, "Mama, me some food, peesh?" I don't not give him food because his grammar or pronunciation is incorrect.  I make him a bagel (or tell him to wait 15 minutes for dinner) and gently correct his grammar.  The childish manner in which he asks does not influence my decision to feed or not to feed him.  I have to trust it is the same way with God. He is more concerned about my heart condition (humbly trusting) than He is about the details of the request. Remember?  We have the Spirit that intercedes for us.

It is annoying to me when my kiddos ask for food as if I would withhold it from them.  I don't mind that they ask for food.  In fact, I want them to share their needs and desires with me.  There is a difference, though, in their perspective: panic or trust.

I need to approach God the same way.  Panic vs. trust.  I must trust.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love. 
The Lord is good to all;
He has compassion on all He has made.
The Lord is trustworthy in all He promises
and faithful in all He does.
The Lord upholds all who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in all His ways
and faithful in all He does.
The Lord is near to all who call on Him,
to all who call on Him in truth.

He fulfills the desires of those who fear Him;

He hears their cry and saves them.
The Lord watches over all who love him...

(excerpts from Psalm 145, NIV)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Another "Save Africa" Thing

A few months ago, my mother in law had her birthday.  As she opened and saw her gift, she politely asked, "Oh!  Is this another "save Africa" thing?" I had to smile.

Bear with me in a little rant.  All the media attention and upheaval in our society makes my head ache.  Every day there is one more scandal, one more civil rights issue, one more animal rights issue,  one more political mess, one more war or pending war, one more person or group of people that are offended by who knows what.  Then, people are offended that others are offended by what they choose to be offended about.  It's depressing, annoying, draining, and there are better things in which I can invest my time and energy.  Rant over, sort of.

Please hear me: I care about the wrongs in the world.  I care that there is injustice, pain, hurt, disease, sorrow, abuse and sadness.  However, I do not see that being up in arms or "raising awareness" through demonstrations or media campaigns is really helping to right these wrongs.  Instead, it seems to increase the hype and gives way to emotional arguments that hold no merit and produce no positive change.  Even causes that have merit and are legitimate problems are not helped by witty memes, catchy one-liners, or loud talk.  Benjamin Franklin said that "well done is better than well said" and I completely agree.

In the vernacular, let me rephrase: "So you want to impact the world?  Then shut up and do something about it. Your loud opinions are not as valuable as your good deeds."

Where do we even start?  It's easy and natural to be sucked into the first-world offenses that we are bombarded by almost hourly.  How can we really make a difference instead of being a part of the "all talk" group?  How do we get out of the rut of being an armchair activist?

I don't have a perfect answer.  I have a few suggestions, and would be happy to hear what others are aware of and participating in.  Please feel free to comment on this post with your own ideas.

Personally, I love to give gifts.  I especially love to give gifts that are not from a normal store (hence my mother-in-law's valid and humorous question.  She knows me well.).  The following links are groups that I have either ordered from myself, have received products from, or in some way participated in.  I cannot vouch for the organizations beyond my own positive experience with them, so do your own research.

- Picasso

Here are some groups that have meaningful gifts that benefit more than just the recipient:

Pura Vida Bracelets: every bracelet helps provide full time jobs for local artisans in Cost Rica
Sevenly: highlights a different cause each week with the goal of world change
Sevenly Causebox: a box subscription of ethically made products that give back and empower others
The Starfish Project: restores hope to exploited women in China through handmade jewelry
Parker Clay: works in Ethiopia to educate and empower women so they are not vulnerable to the sex industry.  94% of women that completed the program have stayed out of the sex industry.
Lot 2545: jewelry made by women in Uganda provides fair-trade wage for their families, and also benefits boys living on the streets
Perf: purchasing towels, bags and blankets help provide nutritious meals and clean water for children around the world

Not specifically gifts, but focused on a better community:

Gramr: a card subscription to express gratitude through handwritten thank you notes
AmazonSmile: use your amazon account to donate to your favorite charity at no cost to you (Everyone should do this!  It's FREE!)
Lot 2545: works to provide compassion and justice for older street boys in Uganda, they also have a store here
M-Seed Thrift Store: a local shop in Oregon City run by volunteers where all profits help send locals to drug and alcohol recovery programs
Good Spread: buy this peanut butter and a malnourished child will receive an equivalent amount of therapeutic food
Love For Humanity Organics: rich, nourishing skin care products are non-toxic, loaded with essential oils and plant derived ingredients designed to safely heal, hydrate and protect your skin.  Also, each purchase provides a meal for an underprivileged child

Here are some other "outside the box" ideas to help others:

  • Carry bottles water in your car to hand out to those on the street corner that are homeless or looking for work.  Really, these people do not bite.  You will not contract rabies by giving them a bottle of water.
  • Pack an extra sandwich to give away to someone who needs it while on your lunch break in the city
  • Instead of throwing things away or giving to a large thrift store, check out other charities and shelters in your area.  Donate your items to them to have a positive impact in your immediate community.
  • Have an afternoon free?  Volunteer to sort/steam/fold clothes or wash dishes at your local charity or serve meals at a local shelter.  You are not above this.
  • Check out Etsy for your shopping.  Sellers on Etsy are often mom-and-pop businesses that produce quality, homemade goods with a personal touch.  You are supporting real people, not just a big box store.
  • Check out Saturday markets and local fruit stands for your produce.  Not only is it fresh, but it's grown by people in your community. 
  • Support the adoption fundraisers of your friends and your friends' friends.  The money really does go to help a child.  The money really is needed.  It's not a scam.
  • Look for social-good companies like these that give back through a BOGO program or percentage of the profits.
  • Carry some extra change and add to someone's expired parking meter.  Even a dime might save them a ticket.
  • "Pay it forward" and purchase the coffee of the next person in line, or the next person's drink that is under $3, etc.
  • Leave a bigger tip
So, I challenge you to be the change you want to see in the world (Gandhi).  The word "be" can be defined as "to exist or live".  It is a verb, an action word.  Do something besides talk.  Live in a way that is others-focused.  Give of yourself and your resources to bless people.  

James says in the Bible that if you see someone that does not have their basic needs met, and you only wish them well even though you have the resources to help, your faith is not doing anyone any good.  It's useless. (James 3:14-17, my paraphrase)

Louis CK says "Listen. The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have… as much as them."  

So, go ahead, and give gifts that are a "save Africa thing".  Make sure others have enough.  Go ahead and participate in causes that benefit more than yourself.  Be a spokesperson and an activist for the good of someone else, not just for the daily offenses that are flighty and fickle.  Be proactive in your life and realize that your life is not about you.  Rise above the first-world problems that would drag us into intellectual debates over things that do not benefit.  Be the change.  Do something.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Catching up for July

It's been a while since I posted, and I keep hoping that I will have the time to sit down and think up something profound to say about parenting, my kiddos, adoption, etc.  In fact, I have several topic ideas ruminating in my brain, but as of yet, that's as far as it's gotten.

That being said, my kiddos are growing like weeds, and I am loving seeing the developments they are making every day.  Jayce can wash his hands by himself, which is great.  Anya is beginning to pronounce "banana" and "grandma" correctly, which is very disappointing.  I love their little toddler pronunciations and cringe that Anya is beginning to grow out of them.  Ha ha.

We are working on independent play.  It's hard to encourage independent play since they are together 98% of the time.

This last week, Philip has been growing out his goatee again.  The other night, Jayce finally noticed.  "Daddy!  What's that??!?!  You have WIKKERS!" It was adorable, and whiskers shall forever be known as "wikkers".

Little Man has a toothpick
just like Daddy
Anya has been melting my heart recently.  She randomly talks about Jesus.  "Mama, Jesus died on the cross.  He took our spankings so we could be friends with God.  Jesus loves you."  It doesn't matter if we are in the middle of the store, in the car, or playing with puzzles, the Gospel message (translated into Toddler) is being proclaimed.  Granted, I don't know how much we actually understand about that, but we are putting the pieces together as well as our two-year-old mind can.  I am comforted and encouraged (and often challenged) by what Jesus said in Matthew 18:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

I love how Jesus values little kiddos and encourages us to have the faith if a child.  I think my adult-ish mind gets tied up with complicated thoughts, where I need to take a step back and reevaluate how God sees faith and what He desires in me.

My cousin, Anastasia, has spent the summer with us between college semesters.  She spends weekend with us during the school year, but decided to stay over the summer, work for our business, and bless us with her involvement with the kiddos.  She's been amazing, and so encouraging.  The kiddos have loved having her around more.  She's the perfect aunt: all fun and games, firm and kind, and full of tickles and stories.  We will the taking a family vacation in the next few weeks to Yellowstone National Park, before Anastasia goes back to school.  I'm not quite sure how I will survive without her.  

Before I forget, I am pleased to report that Jayce is potty trained!!!!!!!!   Our martial art instructor said that Jayce could start Tae Kwon Do as soon as he was potty trained, which was a great incentive.  So, we will be starting Tae Kwon Do in September when the craziness dies down, and I have about half the amount of messy diapers, which is wonderful!  Jayce is pretty proud of his underwear, and if you visit, you might just get it shown to you.  We are also working on modesty issues.  Sorta.  

We went to the beach with Grand Mom
and Da-Dat, and enjoyed our day playing
in the sand and climbing dunes!
One "extra" thing that has captured some of my time is "painting people" as my kiddos would say.  There are literally no doll families available that include varied skin tones.  They just do not exist.  So, realizing this, I began painting some peg dolls to reflect adoptive and foster families.  At first I did not realize the need for these, but as I have been consistently painting since April, I am beginning to realize that I am not the only mama that wants these for her small folk!  

Here is my Etsy store, A Mamas Art
Here are some pre-made families,
Here is the link to have a custom family,
And here is my multi-racial Nativity scene.

It's been fun to be a small part of these other awesome families, get to know them a little, and bless them with something their kiddos can really enjoy for years to come.

Here are some pics from the last few weeks.

Jayce and "his" Anastasia

Baby Girl likes middle eastern food!

Precious moments snuggling with my Baby Girl

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

12 Months Home!

Yup, it's been 12 months on June 15th since we landed in the good ol' USA!  Following a flight from hell, we arrived and settled into this roller coaster called parenthood.  How do we summarize 12 months of the steepest learning curve in history?

Wellll, here goes.

First, let's back up and review.  Here were the first two pictures we had of the kiddos.  We were given their photos and their medical information on June 26th, 2012.  Anya was only 3 months old, and Jayce was only 9 months.  For having asked for a boy and a girl under 4 years old, being referred two kiddos under a year was a shock!  What a gift from God, though.  We received their referrals exactly between Philip's birthday and my birthday-- a joint present from the Most High.

We traveled in November of 2012 to meet the kiddos and spent about 3 weeks in Ethiopia.  Here are some pics from that:

In the mean time, I felt very "pregnant" (moody and finicky and nesting) and even had some "maternity" photos taken:

Then, on June 9th, we took custody of them from the orphanage-- after a VERY long interval in which I became a not-so-nice-person because of all the delays and my own poor attitude.  Here are some pics of them with a few orphanage workers and our time in Addis:

Saying goodbye

In the last year, they have grown and developed in crazy amazing ways.  Each area has had its challenges and victories.  Here's a smattering of things that come to mind in a few categories.

Jayce and Da-Dat at a science museum

Silly dress-up with Ma-Bee and Mama
Each child has grown about 5 inches in the last year.  Anya was wearing 12-18 month clothes when we got her, and Jayce was wearing 18-24 month clothes.  Now, Anya is almost into 3T (her jammies are 4T), and Jayce is flirting with some 4T here and there.  They weigh about the same (heavy!), though Jayce is a few inches taller still.  In Gambellan fashion, Jayce is long and lanky.  My hopes for him include him hitting 6'5", but we'll see how that goes. My grandpa was tall, so height runs in the family, right??  They both eat about the same, though Anya continues to be a bit chubby and Jayce can't get a belly despite his best efforts.  His limbs are just long!  Anya seems to get round in her middle, and then the shoots up and thins out.  She didn't really grow much this last month, so I'll expect another growth spurt here soon.  At 15 months when she came home, Anya was still shaky on her feet and unable to walk on uneven ground.  Now, bumpy grass, rocks, or sand doesn't faze her a bit and off she goes.  Jayce took a soccer class this Spring.  He did great learning how to dribble and kick, and really enjoyed the physical activity with the other 2-3 year olds.

They are such happy little people! (Ok, ok, as I write this, my son is wailing on the chair next to me-- because I asked him to play with trucks instead of climb on me at the moment.)  But mostly, they are happy folks!  For the first 4-6 months, Jayce didn't really laugh.  He'd smile, he'd smile with his eyes, have a pleasant look about him maybe giggle a little, but no belly laughs.  However, in the last 6 months or so, he laughs!  He really laughs, is ticklish, his sense of humor has come out, and he laughs all the time!

He has done well attaching to Philip and I, and we feel he has grown pretty comfortable knowing that we are a staple in his life.  He still seems to need control, and his need to control pops up in random places.  Part of it is just being two, but I think part of it may be related to having no stability in his life for the first 2 years or so.  He is growing to trust us, though, and continues to learn that we will take care of both him and Sissy.  He is beginning to panic less when something unexpected happens to him.  This evening at dinner, Anya spilled apple juice on him.  I saw growth in him when he didn't scream or flail, but just sat there quietly as I cleaned it up.  Yay!  He is growing more adventurous and willing to get wet in a sprinkler or go tramping through the tall grass or dig in the dirt.

He continues to be very self-aware, and aware of everyone around him.  He is no longer concerned that Anya isn't being fed enough, though he keeps track of her and still makes sure that she has everything she needs.  He is kind, and has gentle hands.  Both cats will occasionally sit on him to be petted, and he is aways careful with them.  I enjoy it when he plays with my hair or explores my face when I'm "sleeping" because he is always gentle.  He was "combing" my hair recently and accidentally snagged a small piece of my ear.  "Oops, sorry Mama!"

Jayce loves turtles.  He loves turtles.  He also loves trucks, fire trucks, trucks, tractors, and motorcycles.  Basically, anything that makes a big noise.  He doesn't seem to have a favorite color, as long as it has a turtle on it.  He looks fantastic in bright lime, aqua, yellow, red, and burgundy.

Anya is all smiles and giggles.  After we realized her dairy allergy and removed that from her diet within the first few days of having her, she's healthier and as happy a baby girl as you'd ever want to see.  She has so many faces and expressions.  She loves pink, sparkles, and all things girly.  She loves buterflies ("fuh-fies") and giraffes ("raff-raffs") best.  She looks great in pink, aqua and turquoise.  She can rock almost any color, except mustard.  She hates the process of Mama doing her hair, but loves the beads and pretty colors!  I hope she learns to love "hair time" since it'll be a part of her life forever!  I enjoy doing it, and am always on the look-out for fun and easy styles for her. I have about 20-30 minutes to take out an old style and put a new one in-- thats about as long as I can get her to sit still, even with distractions like food.

Anya has come a long way in coordination and awareness.  She still is my messy eater, but it's nothing compared to where we were even 6 months ago!  She is actually fairly organized when left to herself and will arrange blocks or wooden dolls in rows.  Since she is rarely by herself, though, it's hard for her to get time to work independently.  We try to make time where the kiddos can be apart and can develop individually.  This afternoon she was able to assemble a foam alphabet floor puzzle with help, and showed improvement in problem solving skills!  Yay!

We have needed to be a little more aware of Anya's emotional needs since she has had a harder time attaching to us.  Honestly, she's never had to attach before.  She's never had a family, and never learned what that was like.  She has been with us longer than any other caregiver, and I think the practical application of that is still sinking in.  She has become consistent about letting us comfort her when she gets a bump or bruise.  In fact, I think she invents some owies just to get a kiss.  ("No, child, I will not kiss your tongue.")

Anya did a great job today "checking in" with me at the park.  She would go play for a few minutes and then come back to me, make eye contact, and give me a hug before she went out to play again.  It was really good to see!

It's so fun to see the kiddos learn about God and His Son, Jesus.  Their favorite Bible stories are Noah and the Ark, baby Moses in the basket, and anything that involves fighting.  They know the song "Jesus Loves Me" and can do the motions to several other Sunday School songs, like "I'm In The Lord's Army".  Neither kiddos seems to understand about Jesus' substitutionary death, though we do talk about it often.  They are sensitive to teaching about kindness and selflessness, and it makes me smile that they want to be "fire truck men" because "fire truck men help people and keep people safe."  The Sunday school and children's church programs at our church have been wonderful, and the stories and truths taught there are really beginning to sink in and stick with the kiddos through the week.

The kiddos's vocabulary grows daily.  They can sing along to the ABCs, and recognize some letters.  Jayce surprised us the other day by understanding when a waiter asked if we wanted "i-c-e c-r-e-a-m" for dessert.  Because the kiddos are always together, Anya parrots everything Jayce says.  It's like an echo.  All. The. Time.  #facepalm.  Even if she doesn't understand what she's saying, she repeats it.  I suppose it's how she's learning the language, and most of the time we can tune it out, for better or for worse.  She continues to be more adventurous with words, and is often better at pronunciation than Jayce.  She's willing to try things and not get it quite right, whereas Jayce wants to wait until he knows he can get it right.  This has been a pretty consistent pattern over the year.

In the past month or so, they have come to more consistently mimic Philip and I.  I'll drop something and Jayce will patiently tell me, "Uh oh!  It happens!" Or we will overhear them lecturing their stuffed animals about being quiet or going potty.  Philip mentioned this evening that we learn a lot about ourselves by watching out small folks imitate us.


  • Raff raffs = giraffes
  • fuh-fies = butterflies
  • fuh-floes = buffaloes
  • Bamyahs (Though Anya insists on saying "banana" now)
  • Eh-phant = elephant
  • Fire truck hat/ fire truck man
  • Jayce has started saying "thanks" this week, and has been saying "um....  sure!" for a few weeks
  • Gun-noo = Thank you
  • Peesh = please
  • "Big Hard" = anything that is too large and difficult for them (Having difficulty putting on a shoe: "Daddy!  Big hard!")

Good morning Baby Girl!  Oatmeal is
a standard morning fare, and it usually
gets everywhere.
Favorite activities:

  • Taking baths
  • Playing "fire truck man" with their "fire truck hats"
  • Looking at their kiddo Bible and doing "Bible shuddies (studies)" 
  • Hanging out at our Krav Maga class with Mr. Keegan, watching people "fight!"
  • Playing car in cardboard boxes
  • Feeding people "food"
  • Bringing people "coffee"
  • Going "bye" with Mama and Daddy-- doesn't matter where!  They love adventure.
  • Riding anything big, like horses, camels, or tractors.
  • "Helping" Mama in the garden, in the kitchen, etc.
  • Anything together
  • Playing the guitar
  • "Fighting" with knives and sticks.  I'm probably the only mama in town that regularly tells her kiddos "Fight gently!"
  • Spending time with Ma-Bee, Grand-Mom and Da-Dat
  • Watching fire trucks, dump trucks, and motorcycles
  • Going to the zoo

Jayce takes a while to wake up.  Philip is
taking him potty and he's still
sound asleep.

Favorite foods:

  • Pancakes
  • Bananas
  • Muffins
  • Toast and eggs
  • Chips
  • Pizza
  • Oatmeal

Mama is annoyed by:

  • The echo and repetition of words
  • My attention being called to every minute detail
  • Poop.
  • Noise.  Chatter.  Talking.

Mama loves:

  • Snuggles
  • Kiddos falling asleep on me
  • Unsolicited kisses
  • Quiet voices
  • A fuzzy head of hair tucked into my neck
  • Quiet coffee in the morning.

Daddy is annoyed by:

  • Poop.

Daddy loves:
  • Clean diapers
  • Snuggles
  • Smiles and giggles
  • Belly laughs

Parenting isn't as "hard" as they say, but it is utterly exhausting.  I still live on coffee, just as much as I did a year ago.  I have more gray hairs, more chubbiness, and even more adoration for my amazing husband.  I've a headache now, this post has taken 3 days to write, and I have limited time before my kiddos will need something again.  So, stay tuned-- adventures ahead!  This parenting thing is one wild ride!

Here's my favorite video ever: