Map of Bulgaria

Map of Bulgaria
Map of Bulgaria

Saturday, August 1, 2015

One Year

Once in a while, I'll run into someone in the local grocery store or the Y or somewhere else and they'll talk about something I mentioned on the blog or just say that they enjoy reading it. Usually I'm a little surprised that people actually read the blog and it makes me smile. Lately, my response has been, "oh...that's right...I have a blog."

The one year anniversary of Naomi and Simon coming to America seems like a good time to do an update. The blog initially began as a way to communicate with people in the weeks and months leading up to their homecoming, and it was a fundraising tool. Then it became a way to update people far and near about the challenges we were facing during the initial transition. 

Now, I hope it will be a way to celebrate how far we've all come, talk honestly about the challenges ahead, and provide information and hope to others in various parts of the adoption process. I certainly don't have all the answers and most of the time our daily family life would not be an inspiration to anyone, but we have been through some things that all adoptive families go through, and the more we all share strategies and support each other, the better life can be.

For today, let's celebrate how far we've all come.


Bonding and Attachment


This is the big thing everyone talks about with adoption. Overall, I think we've done about as well as we could one year in. That's the feedback we get from our family counselor and social worker. Naomi and Simon look to us as their parents, for comfort, safety, and to meet their basic needs. We love them, they are a part of our family forever, and they bring us joy.

Before we brought them home, I thought this process would be something that had an end date, i.e. "spend the first six months at home attaching." Now I realize it is going to be a life-long process. That's a little discouraging some days because it can be exhausting and not natural to me; it's hopeful on other days because it means we have time and grace to work on it.

Miles, Ella, and Simon all have a pretty good bond with each other. It can be more difficult with Naomi since her intellectual disabilities make it harder for her to understand how to join in their play and how to act at times. I hope more of that will come, but it's going to take time.


English


If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how hard the language barrier was...well, I'd either re-do the kitchen or take a trip to Paris. Naomi and Simon went to school after being home about 3 weeks. That wasn't our original plan, but we are very glad we did it. They got immersed in English and picked it up very quickly. There are still working on it but it didn't take long to master the basics. And I have to take a moment and talk about how WONDERFUL the teachers and staff at Green Valley were for the kids. They truly went above and beyond from the very beginning to meet their needs and help them integrate into life in an American school. They love school and can't wait to get back in 22 days, 21 hours, and 30 minutes. (Not that I'm counting...)



We Don't Do That in America


Oh, the stories we could tell...but I don't want to embarrass them. Let's just say life in a small village in one of the poorest countries in the EU is different from life in an American suburb. They just had to learn to do a lot of things differently. 


In Our Family...


...we take turns
...we share
...we don't hurt people or things
...there is enough love for everyone
...there is enough food for everyone

And the list grows as new issues come up. The things that our bio kids know from just being with us since birth and having their needs met by us have to be taught to the adopted kids. It can be mentally and emotionally exhausting but we do see progress.


Behavior


We were all a little shocked at some of the behaviors we had to deal with on our pick-up trip and their first months home. All 'normal' for adopted kids, but certainly not what any of us were used to. There has been much improvement over the past year - most of the time, they don't behave like they used to at all. In fact, some times they act like they've been here a lot longer, and I forget that they still need some of the structure and help with self control we put into place when we were really struggling.

Some of their behaviors trigger things in me that I didn't know lay under the surface. Reading Parenting from the Inside Out and seeing a counselor have helped deal with that and respond in better ways to the kids.

I need to remember how far they've come. Last fall, I wouldn't have dreamed of taking all four of them somewhere by myself or the younger two shopping at Kroger or the mall. Now it's just normal. There is still preparation, contingency plans, and a very short shopping list, but it can be done.

Simon used to wake up at least once at night looking for comfort and that mostly stopped a few months ago. Until he had his tonsils out - see below. Part of the reason he would wake was also the sleep apnea symptoms created by his huge tonsils. 


Tonsils


Simon had his tonsils out nine days ago. With the help of our family counselor, we prepared him pretty well and I think it went about as well as it could have. About five days in, when he was waking every two to three hours screaming, we decided to try some stronger painkillers. Well, he STILL woke up every two to three hours. 

It wasn't physical pain he was dealing with, it was emotional pain and fear. (I'll write a separate post for those of you with adopted kiddos on how we dealt with the pre- and post-surgery stuff.) He has regressed these past few days into behavior we haven't seen since he first came home. But, I think we have enough of a bond that we were able to talk with him about how when he first got here, he was scared and acted out. Then he got less scared and didn't act that way until the tonsil surgery scared him again. So, instead of dealing with his physical pain, we're dealing with the fear and emotions behind it and have seen improvement.


Health


Both kids are in good health. They were considered pretty healthy by international adoption standards, but were both overweight due to poor nutrition. The best we could tell, based on how they acted during the pick-up trip, their diet consisted of processed meats, sugar, and chips. Both foster families had gardens and they probably got a lot of good vegetables during the growing season, but in a small village they didn't have many options.

When Simon got here, he devoured fruits and vegetables. It was like his body just craved the nutrition. Naomi especially still struggles with wanting to eat what others have, regardless of whether she's just eaten or even likes the food. This is probably just a part of how she was wired in her early life. We don't really know what kind of deprivation she experienced. It's hard not to be annoyed at times when she asks for her third or fourth snack, just because someone else is eating, then doesn't actually eat it, but I need to remind myself that it comes from a place of fear.


Struggle


There have been many times in the past year (not as much lately) that I told Todd, "I can't do this. It's too hard." Many nights that I've gone to bed absolutely sure I couldn't do it for another day. Yet I get up the next morning and do what needs to be done. The Christian-y thing to say would be that God's mercies are new every morning or that He will give you strength to do what he's called you to.

But the truth is I've wondered about the goodness of God, and at times the realness of God, a lot over the past year. Why is this so hard? Where is God in this? Is He real? Has He forgotten about me? 

I see posts from other adoptive parents about how everything is bliss and the kids seem like they've 'always' been a part of their family. And I feel like I'm failing. I know that's not true and that there are many more adoptive parents like me who are in the trenches every day and just don't have the words (or time) to talk about what's happening. And I hope admitting this will make some other adoptive parent out there not feel alone in their struggle.


Now What?


I still struggle. I think God is real and led us to this adoption. I wanted to adopt long before I met Todd and the two of us agreed to it before we were married. It is something we wanted and felt called to do. The details of how it all worked out seemed obviously supernatural. I know the answer is to draw closer to God and not keep him at arm's length, to access the power He promises, but it's been hard to believe His goodness, His provision, His strength, and His love. 

I know intellectually that the struggle will draw us closer to each other, give the bio kids valuable skills for life, and at some point be a testament to God's goodness and provision, but it's difficult to hold that intellectual knowledge close or have it top-of-mind when someone is screaming at you or hitting you or just upsetting the delicate balance of family dynamics.

We survived the first year, and in many ways thrived. One of the bio kids (maybe both) said the other day that in some ways it seems like it's only been a few months and in other ways it seems like it's been longer. 

What now? We keep on keeping on. We talk to our family counselor every two weeks to deal with issues as they come up. We're intentional and persistent. We make sure the bio kids are not lost in the shuffle. We take respite when and where we can get it. We ask for help. We realize it's a marathon, not a sprint, and pace ourselves accordingly.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Our Parenting Resources

We were kind of stumped on some of the kids' behavior issues and some of the family dynamics we're experiencing. How can we make it better for everyone? More pleasant? More quiet? Less stressful? More joyful? Did I mention more quiet?! 

Someone recently asked if we felt prepared before the adoption to take on these children and the answer is: yes...and no. We took classes, read books, and studied techniques, but I'm not sure anything can prepare you for the day-to-day reality of it, and much of it depends on the dynamics between family members, for which you can't totally prepare.

Also, since our children were in foster care, I thought they might not have some of the behaviors seen in 'children from hard places.' I was wrong. Certainly their behaviors are not as intense as what I read about on other blogs or Facebook groups, but the underlying trauma of loss, abandonment, fear, and insecurity is still there and creates issues for them. I just didn't expect it to be so different from parenting biological children, but scientific research and anecdotal evidence clearly says it is, and many of the techniques required don't come naturally to Todd and me.

Here are four things we're doing to help us:

1. We are watching a video on a parenting technique called TBRI (Trust-Based Relational Intervention). The video is from the TCU Institute of Child Development and I highly recommend it. We haven't quite finished the four-hour video. It's pretty intense stuff to watch, but it's already been very helpful. One of my favorite lines from it is, "this is not parenting as usual." It's therapeutic parenting, which requires a lot of energy, patience, wisdom, and help.

2. We watched a movie called The Dark Matter of Love. It's about a family in Wisconsin who adopts three children from Russia and the adjustment period for the parents, an older biological daughter, and the adopted children. In some ways, it was like watching our life on screen and we laughed at many parts that wouldn't be funny to anyone else. The movie shows their family life over the first year they are home, and is also a science lesson in parent-child attachment with a UVA specialist, Dr. Robert Marvin. It was comforting to see that though our struggles at times seem big, they are 'normal' for adopted children and families. 

3 A counselor who specializes in international adoptions visited our home a couple of weeks ago. For brevity sake, we call her Super Nanny since she filmed the family interacting. She is trained in TBRI and trained with Dr. Marvin at UVA, so she knows her stuff. (If anyone in Virginia would like her name, please message me via the blog or Facebook.) She said that Simon and Naomi are doing well in the attachment arena. At one point I said, "but they're on their best behavior! You aren't seeing their worst moments." And she said, "at least they have best behavior. Many children I work with couldn't do this activity for 10 seconds, much less 30 minutes." So, we have much work to do with them, and it will be a lifelong process, but at least we are starting from a place of strength and have a bond on which to grow.

4. I'm helping to organize an Empowered to Connect simulcast in Roanoke. Empowered to Connect conferences are a partnership between the child development people at TCU (Karyn Purvis who wrote The Connected Child) and Show Hope, an orphan advocacy organization. The conferences are supposed to be wonderful and this is the first time they are offering a simulcast, so I'm very excited about it.

I hope some of this is helpful to others on this journey - whether you are preparing to bring children home, have them home already, know someone who is adopting, or even need resources for your biological children.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Desires of Your Heart

When you apply for an adoption, your homestudy has to state the age, gender, and special needs of the child or children you want to adopt. Our homestudy said that we wanted to adopt either a girl between the ages of 18 months and 7 years old or a boy and girl who are siblings between the ages of 18 months and 7 years old. Following that, there is a long list of special needs we were open to considering.

We talked about adopting children even before we were married, but never had detailed discussions until we began filling out paperwork. It turned out we both thought a boy-girl sibling group would work well with our family, so it was easy to commit to that in the homestudy.

During the time we waited for a referral, I thought we would probably be referred just one child, a girl. There were reasons for this. I didn't see many sibling groups in our age range on the waiting children list, and we had repeatedly been told that sibling groups do not come up for adoption as often as single children. 

But the real reason? The real reason was I didn't trust God to give me the desire of my heart. I was setting myself up not to be disappointed if we were referred one child, since the picture of adoption for me had always been a brother and sister. (And in that picture, the girl was older than the boy...exactly like Naomi and Simon.)

I believe God does give us the desires of our heart, though sometimes he does that by changing our desires rather than giving us what we originally thought we wanted. [What about suffering? Hardships? Illness? Are we supposed to desire those things? The short answer is no, we shouldn't desire suffering or even enjoy it. But we can feel God's love in the midst of it.] 

I have seen time and time again that when God puts a good desire on my heart, he makes it come to fruition, whether that means arranging circumstances, providing financially, or giving me strength in things that don't come naturally.

Parenting is hard these days. Some wise friends who have gone on this journey ahead of us have said things like, "it's never perfect, but it's good." I know there is no way I'll have the words, the patience, the kindness, the love, or the understanding that all four children need. But I know that since God put the desire for adoption on my heart, He'll give me those things, too, if I let him. If I can be still and let Him work rather than trying so hard to do it in my own strength, my own timing, and with my own expectations. Letting go of my performance-oriented mindset to just love them and let God work through me is hard, but it's the only way.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Random Thoughts 2.20.2015

It's been one of those weeks...the kids have been out of school all week, so I haven't had much time to think, much less put coherent words together to make a blog post. Actually, even when the kids are in school, it can be hard! So, I'm going to copy another blogger I like and just throw out some random thoughts, since I know many of our readers supported us in many ways (prayer, financial, etc.) through the adoption and want to know how everyone is doing. So, here goes...

1. One concern we've had is how we would handle the kids in the summer. I've read over and over that adopted kids thrive on routine and that summers can be difficult. One thing this week out of school has shown me is that it won't be as bad as I thought! Yes, it's hard and tiring, and I will need to create structure for the day when it doesn't exist, but we did better than expected this week.

2. Of course, it could all fall apart in the next five minutes.

3. The kids all had more electronics than I would like this week. At least the little ones were watching PBS and it was neat to hear them talking back to the TV during shows like Super Why, but still...I'll need to plan more to make sure the summer isn't one big electronic fest.

4. If I want to enroll the kids in some summer programs, I need to get a job! Unfortunately, the county does not offer summer school for young children. It's all driven by SOLs, etc. 

5. Naomi was diagnosed by her OT with Sensory Processing Disorder. It wasn't a surprise after what the OT said during her evaluation, but it does mean some challenges for her (and us). Luckily, the OT she worked with was very good and we just set up some sessions with her. Please pray our insurance will cover it - most don't with this diagnosis.

6. Naomi has a child study meeting next week. The whole IEP arena is new to us, so I feel a little unprepared to advocate for her, but her school has been amazing so far, so I'm trusting they will continue to support her.

7. Super Nanny is coming next week. Not really, but that's the name Todd has given a counselor who is coming to see us. She specializes in internationally adopted children and is going to videotape our interactions with the kids, hence the Super Nanny name. We are struggling with the best way to respond to some of their behaviors and help them. We could keep stumbling through and wait awhile, but we want to make home life more pleasant for every one, so we're getting some help.

8. Todd has made a dinner reservation for tomorrow night and his mom is coming in town to watch the kids. It's a surprise - I love surprises - and I'm hoping the weather cooperates.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Groundhog Day

Even though I grew up in Pennsylvania, I've never been much of a Groundhog Day fan. It always seemed a little silly - I don't remember a February where there WASN'T at least six more weeks of winter. And I can never remember if seeing the shadow means more or less winter. And it's always cloudy in PA in February, so how can Phil see a shadow with no sun...you get the idea.

One of our older children mentioned the movie Groundhog Day the other day. They had seen part of it (but not from the beginning) so they didn't quite 'get' it. You really do need to see it from the beginning, and see the progression of the Bill Murray character, to understand it.

The mention of the movie and Groundhog Day got me thinking about the progress we're making at home. Many days feel Groundhog Day-ish (the movie) to me. The same thing, over and over. Naomi teases Simon. Simon hits Naomi. Naomi screams. Simon apologizes. Naomi laughs at him when he apologizes. Simon gets mad that she can't seem to stop laughing/teasing at inappropriate times. Repeat. Same thing the next day (or the next hour). Again.

If I look back to where we were six months ago, there is a definite improvement. It's just hard to see it or feel it in the day-to-day. I don't remember the entire Groundhog Day movie, but it seems that Bill Murray's character, through living those quotidian details over and over, gets the 'hang' of life and changes for the better. 

So, rather than get frustrated by the sameness of it all, I'm trying to see each day as an opportunity to change their character for the better, even though many days it feels like we are 'stuck' in the same pattern of behavior. By working on our responses and trying different things, we are seeing different behaviors in the children, slowly but surely.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Update: Six Months Home

We brought Naomi and Simon home on July 31, 2014. We were supposed to arrive a day earlier but were delayed by a worldwide outage in the U.S. passport and visa computer system. It left many adoptive families 'in limbo' in other countries while they waited for visas for their children to be printed. 

For most of the adoption process, I thought just getting the kids home was the goal we were working toward. Completing the paperwork, raising money, getting the house ready. I now know that getting them home was really just the beginning of a long transition process. 

Six months home seems like a pretty big milestone - half a year. In some ways, it seems like a long time and in other ways, it's gone by quickly. So, for those of you home less than six months or looking for encouragement, hang in there. Stay the course. Day by day, hour by hour, and minute by minute some days, but you will get there and some things will get easier.

Yesterday someone asked me how long they had been home and when I said six months, they said, "well, that's hardly any time at all." Many days feel incredibly long, but she's right. In their whole lifetime or even childhood, six months is not much time, and I should probably use that attitude to adjust some of my expectations of them.


Language


We knew that learning a new language, especially when immersed, was usually pretty easy for kids Naomi and Simon's ages. Many people asked us, "do they speak any English?" and were slightly horrified when we answered, "no, not a bit," but we weren't worried. We probably learned more Bulgarian than most adoptive parents (according to folks in Bulgaria) since there were two of them and we didn't want them conspiring against us. 

Overall, language has come quickly to them and I'm pretty sure they understand most (if not all) of what we say. So, no more talking about them in front of them! Simon especially can carry on a conversation, explain activities or feelings, and sometimes help us understand Naomi. Naomi's speech has come more slowly, but we think they both have already surpassed their Bulgarian vocabulary and grammar based on what translators in Bulgaria told us.

Simon can recognize most letters and is starting to read a bit, which is pretty amazing if you think about how he had never seen an American alphabet six months ago. He at least realizes that letters stand for sounds that make up words, which I think is a big part of learning to read. Naomi still struggles with retaining information and it will be a long road for her. Her school has been wonderful in providing extra help and now that she knows enough English, she will soon have some formal testing done so we know how to best help her.


Routine and Behavior


Both Naomi and Simon have settled into a pretty good routine at home and at school. They understand our expectations and we often say, "this is how we do things (or more often, don't do things) in our family." That being said, they do not always agree with our expectations or want to follow our directions. We continue to work on behaviors that are probably more common in toddlers than school-age children and I have to remind myself that is considered normal for adopted kids.

There are also cultural differences. It's difficult to change behaviors that were ingrained in them since birth or soon after. We often say, "in America..." to try to explain why things are different or we say, "if you did that at school, what would happen?" Because while they may not want to obey us, they definitely don't want to disappoint their teachers or take a visit to the principal!

Family Relations


For the last few years, Naomi and Simon lived in separate foster families in the same small village. So while they knew they were brother and sister, they probably only had a vague sense of what that meant and they are not used to living together. Or playing together. Or eating together. Or riding in the car together. Like many siblings close in age (10.5 months apart), they can be each other's best friends and each other's worst enemies. Not only do they have to get used to a new country, new parents, and new older siblings, they need to get used to each other. This wasn't something we really thought much about before bringing them home and it has been a challenge.

Considering what a huge change this is, Miles and Ella have done very well. We all mourn the loss of our old life together and have tried to maintain some of our old traditions and take the older ones out for 'dates' most weekends, even if it's just to ride along on errands Todd and I have to do. And the little ones are usually in bed by 7:45 so that gives us some quiet time with the older two.

Attachment

Attachment is the big thing people talk about in adopted kids. Are they attached to you? Are you attached to them? Some people recommend "cocooning" for the first six months home - not letting the children go to school or church or much of anywhere - you just stay home and bond. Others recommend getting them into school and a routine as soon as possible. 

We chose to send Naomi and Simon to school when it began about a month after they arrived home and it was definitely the right decision for us. It allows them to be in a routine, which they definitely need; to learn English more quickly, which helps them in their bonding to us; and it gives me time to do the things I couldn't do with them in tow, like shop for groceries, exercise, and other errands and appointments.

Since they went to school right away, we have kept their world small in other ways. They aren't in any after-school activities, haven't been to Kroger or other big stores, and have attended church on a fairly limited basis. Now that it's been six months, we'll begin to expand their world a bit, but we'll do it slowly and purposefully.

So, are they attached? Not fully, and I that's OK. I think they mostly trust us to provide for their basic needs and to take care of them, which is a big step. Of course, some days they think Sponge Bob is a basic need and we have to disagree. Are we attached to them? Not fully, and that's OK, too. It takes time and it's hard and it may never feel like it does with our biological children, and that's OK, too. Not that we shouldn't strive for that and help them in any way we can, but it's a process that takes time. (And energy. And patience. And letting go of expectations and the need to be in control. But that's another blog post.)

The Next Six Months

We are getting connected with various support groups and counselors to help us parent all the children the best we can and to help them through whatever issues arise. Naomi will be tested for learning disabilities and we will probably get an IEP in place that will address whatever her issues are. We've already been for an occupational therapy evaluation and are waiting on the written results to schedule ongoing appointments. I will need to come up with a plan for this summer. They will need some kind of structure and routine, which is not one of my strengths, so I'll need help.

And we'll continue to plug away at understanding them, loving them, and making them a part of our family.


Friday, January 9, 2015

Holidays and Seeing Progress

We weren't sure how everyone would handle the holidays but overall it went well.

Bulgaria has a Santa-type character who Naomi and Simon knew, but they couldn't really give us any details about how they celebrated Christmas. I asked if Santa brought gifts and Simon said he got a cat who later died and Naomi said she got a chicken. Based on what we know about their foster homes and lifestyle, it's possible.

The holidays were different for Miles and Ella this year, too. They had to share our family traditions with two new siblings and that had to be hard. We tried to be understanding and respectful of how difficult it would be for them and they handled it very well. We did our usual things - cookie decorating, live nativity, Christmas light tour, church on Christmas Eve, Christmas music playing in the house - and Naomi and Simon did well with the increased activity and change in routine.

Both younger children heard about American Santa at school. They were a little bit concerned about a big stranger breaking into the house overnight, but we assured them that they were safe. Also, in our family, Santa only fills the stockings by the fireplace downstairs so he has no need to come upstairs where we are sleeping. 


Travel


Most years we travel to Pennsylvania right after Christmas to spend time with my family. I have two younger brothers with five children between them, so getting everyone together is lots of fun. (At least I think it's fun, but I'm not the one with 15 extra people at my house for a few days!)

My parents have a great house for kids and Miles and Ella have always enjoyed time there. This year was even better - my parents finished part of their basement so the kids had even more room to play, and we pulled out roll-aways and cots at night so they could all sleep down there. Cousin heaven. It was especially nice since there wasn't any snow for the kids to go sledding. There was a floor hockey / dodge ball area, model train, air hockey, scooters, toys, and a disco ball. For the most part, we only saw them if they got hungry and they all got along very well.

Naomi and Simon didn't sleep downstairs. They weren't totally comfortable with the idea and the first night they wouldn't be quiet, so we brought them upstairs. But the other seven cousins slept down there - sneaking candy and iPads and telling fart jokes and causing a parent to go down every 10 minutes to say, "be quiet and go to sleep or else!" The stuff cousin memories are made of!


Progress


It's difficult to see how far the kids have come sometimes. I've been told to look back a few months to appreciate how much progress has been made, but it's hard when you're in the trenches of parenting. I guess it's kind of like how you don't think your child has grown much, but someone who hasn't seen them for a few months talks about how tall they look or how much they've changed.

A few people in PA commented about how Naomi and Simon just fit right in and started playing and how amazing that was. They had spent some time with my mom and dad but had not met anyone else in the family, so I guess it is pretty great that they felt comfortable enough to jump right in with the cousins and find their way around a new house. 

They have come a long way, but it's hard work and I can be easily discouraged or annoyed by some of their behaviors. You can pray that I'll find supernatural patience and grace for them in 2015!