Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Celebrating Piper

Piper had a birthday last week! She turned 8 years old. I wish I felt comfortable sharing photos of her, but unfortunately, the things she experienced in her past make it far too risky. I can, however, try to describe her for you so you can "see" what a special kid she is.

Piper is 4'3" tall. She weighs in at 52 pounds, which puts her in the tall and slender category. She is most definitely a cutie pie. Her hair is light brown and falls about to her collarbone. It is very thick and has nice body to it. She has a small forehead, round cheeks, and a little chin. She has beautiful, beautiful eyes. They are huge and round, and their color depends on the light. Some days they're blue, some days they're green. She loves to stare at people, a habit which can be quite uncomfortable for those who don't know her. Her skin is baby soft and perfectly clear. She's fair in the winter, but tans nicely in the summer. My favorite thing about Piper's face, though, is her smile. She has full lips which tilt up just enough to give her a pouty look. When she smiles, her entire face lights up and her eyes come to life. She has been missing both her front teeth for 2 1/2 years, so she has that adorable toothless look. Her front teeth have broken the gums now, though, so toothless is quickly disappearing. I've never known Piper with front teeth, so I'm very excited for them to come in all the way.

Piper has a little, high pitched voice. It's the kind of voice you'd expect to hear from a little girl Di$ney princess. She recently watched a video of herself and said to me, "Oh Mommy, I have such a cute little voice!" When she sings, what comes out is a surprise. She has quite a lovely voice, and though she isn't perfect at carrying a tune, she has great potential. She loves to sing, so we hear her singing voice all the time. She regularly makes up songs, and those songs reveal the ditz within. Oh my goodness...Piper is a true valley girl! Her songs are hilarious, corny, and usually don't make any sense. Tonight in the shower she was singing about Oompa Loompas in bra and panties...
Go figure out that one.

She is my girliest girl, loving anything pink, sparkly, and pretty. Her idea of a perfect outfit is a pair of sparkly skinny jeans, a ruffly shirt, a cute jacket, and some sparkly wedge shoes. She loves to have me do her hair fancy, preferring anything with braids and/or curls. She is a tender mommy to all her dolls. She has an Americ@n Girl doll, an Americ@n Girl knockoff, and a cute baby doll. Leah, Elsa, and Lily get the most loving care. She puts them into their jammies and tucks them in every night, and usually finds time to get them dressed and fed before she leaves for school in the morning. Piper also loves her Barbies, though she doesn't give them the same affection as her other dolls. Piper loves to read, especially when she has someone to read to. Sunny is the most frequent beneficiary of Piper's read-alouds. She likes to play outside, but where my other kids like to be up trees and going fast, Piper prefers to keep her feet on the ground. She adores digging holes in the dirt and "cooking" delectable soups out of dirt, water, and plant matter. She has a vivid imagination and is the best of all my kids at playing alone.

Piper runs on the cross country team at school because she lives a sedentary life and needs some physical activity. She takes karate with Snapper, Bubbles, and Pepper because she needs to be empowered. Because of the abuse she experienced in the past, she tends to be quite timid. The karate--though she isn't passionate about it--is helping her grow in strength, confidence, and poise. We've seen a big difference in her since she started lessons in September.

This girl loves to be a helper. When she finishes her weekly chores, she often volunteers to do more chores to help me out. She likes to cook with me, and often takes the initiative when she sees something that needs to be done around the house. She loves to fold laundry, to sweep, and to clean mirrors and windows. She also loves to help me unpack the groceries when I have been shopping. She is going to make a wonderful wife to some very lucky man someday.

Piper is very sweet and affectionate. She loves to sit on Daddy's lap, give me hugs and kisses, and play with my hair. I'm looking forward to the end of this pregnancy so I can enjoy her affection again. When I'm pregnant, I don't like to be touched and I hate stinky kid smells. LOL! Piper is a joyful child, and she notices beauty in everything. She sees the beauty in the photo I have of my grandmother's hands. She notices every sunset, all the beautiful cloud formations, unique patterns on the back of caterpillars, and the soft details on a duck feather. She is attentive to many little details in life, and she appreciates when I do extra things. She's the one who loves getting notes on napkins in her lunch. She likes me to tie her hairbows because I get them "just right." When I wear lotion or body spray, she appreciates the sweet fragrance. Piper is the sweet breeze of beauty in our home.

She also has a very stubborn streak that comes along with her ADHD. When she is having an off day, she is incredibly difficult to deal with. She will not reason, and can not focus. On those days, we pretty much grit our teeth, get through the day, and pray that tomorrow will be better. She doesn't enjoy feeling out of sorts like that, and is usually quick to plead for help. Unfortunately, she can't seem to follow through when help is given. She has off days once or twice per week.

When I look at this sweet girl, I marvel at her courage. She has experienced more horrors in her short life than most people will in an entire lifetime. Yet with hard work, determination, and tremendous courage, she has overcome most of what happened to her. She's not just a survivor; she's thriving. I am so thankful that Piper got to join our family 19 months ago. She is an amazing blessing, and a true delight. Happy 8th Birthday, precious girl! Daddy and I are hopelessly in love with you.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Looking for The Positives

When everything seems to blow up, sometimes the only way to keep your chin up is to look for the positives in a situation. Look for God's goodness in the middle of HARD STUFF.

Without giving too many details, I will let you know that my little Sunny suffers from a behavior disorder--the result of a very bad start to her life. Abuse, neglect, and exposure to certain substances do horrible damage to a little child. Every day is a struggle for her. Every good choice is a victory. Every inch of forward progress is celebrated. Sadly, we had a major setback this week.

The behavior disorder is considered to be decently managed if the behaviors are only at home.
It is considered not managed if the behaviors spill over to other environments, such as school.
It is considered in crisis if another child is directly affected by the behavior.

On Wednesday Sunny made a series of poor choices that resulted in physical harm to another child at school. This puts us in crisis mode. I had a conference with her teacher and our pediatrician. There are some grave concerns that we need to address, and it has become clear to everyone that we can no longer proceed without professional help. The doctor sent an emergency referral to a pediatric psychiatrist. We'll be having a mental health evaluation on our sweet girl as soon as the psychiatrist can fit her in. This is HARD, people.

Here's where I look for the positives, and thank God in the midst of hard stuff.

  • Sunny's intent was not malicious.
  • She didn't understand the magnitude of what she did.
  • She did not respond in anger to the discipline.
  • She has not repeated the behavior.
  • The child she hurt was not seriously hurt.
  • People are finally seeing what I deal with on a daily basis.
  • People are finally believing me.
  • We have an incredibly compassionate, proactive pediatrician.
  • Sunny has an amazing teacher who is 100% on my team, communicates well with me, and sees past the behaviors to the heart of Sunny.
  • Our insurance will cover 100% of Sunny's evaluation and treatment.
  • I'll be getting the assistance of a qualified professional who can help us meet our girl's needs.
  • The school is taking this seriously.
  • I requested a behavior IEP for Sunny.
  • It typically takes some weeks to pull together an IEP meeting. They got one scheduled for this Tuesday morning!
  • Sunny is going to be safer, and her needs will be better met as a result of all this.
So many positives in the midst of a very bad situation. Keeping my eyes fixed in the right place.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mommy Does Not Lie!

The kids were home from school today because of the holiday. Pepper was at a sleepover with a friend, so only girls were at home. They had a marvelous morning outside climbing trees, building forts with dried banana leaves, and getting along perfectly. I packed them a picnic basket for lunch, and they ate their lunch in their tree forts. Perfection!

About an hour into their morning, I looked outside and saw Snapper up the cedar tree in the backyard. She was about 15 feet up, and the branches were probably only 3 inches in diameter. I quickly went out and reminded her of our tree climbing rule: Do not climb if the branches are smaller around than your arm. They will not support your weight. Even the branches at the bottom of that tree are too small, and it was a disaster waiting to happen.

I brought all the kids inside and reviewed tree safety rules with them.
1. Do not put any weight on a branch that is smaller around than your arm.
2. Wear long pants and shoes.
3. Do not climb with anything in your hands or mouth.
4. Do not climb higher than you are okay with falling.

The kids went back out. Bubbles took the oak tree. Piper took the grapefruit tree. Sunny took the tangerine tree. Snapper took the avocado tree. The two citrus trees are the safest because they have fairly densely packed branches. If a kid were to fall, the branches would scratch her up a bit, but would definitely keep the fall from doing any real damage. The oak and the avocado are a totally different story. They are tall, and the good climbing branches are about 4 feet off the ground. There's definitely some risk involved in tree climbing, but I believe that kids should be allowed to be kids, and that they need these adventurous kid experiences without being restricted and regulated. I fell out of a few trees as a kid, and I grew to be a wise, savvy tree climber as a result. My mom reminded us of safety rules, and my sister and I honored the rules.

Snapper learned the hard way today that my safety rules were not just made up for the fun of it. That rule about the size of the branch...it's legit. Mommy does not lie. I always mean what I say. She was about 10 feet up when she grabbed a slender branch to hoist herself up. She wasn't trying to step on it or hang on it, she was just using it as a grip. Whatever the case, it was skinny. Skinnier than Snapper's arm. She put way too much weight on it, it snapped, and down she went. She ricocheted off a branch, caught another branch in her armpit, and fell 6 feet onto the grass, landing flat on her side. Fortunately for her, she fell away from the fence. Fortunately for her, she was wearing long pants, long sleeves, and tennis shoes. Fortunately for her, she just missed falling into the crotch of the tree. Fortunately for her, she narrowly missed landing on the three small stumps at the base of the tree. Snapper's left armpit is like raw hamburger, and it hurts like the dickens. She has a massive bruise on her sternum and the base of her ribs. She has significant bruising on her right tricep, both her knees, her thighs, and her shins. There are scuffed places all over the front of her, from sternum to ankles. Her head and back and feet were spared. She is one sore kiddo, though.

I'm so thankful it wasn't worse. It could have been a whole lot worse!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Facing Defiance and Mothering in the Trenches

We have a defiant child in our house. Every child goes through phases of defiance, I know. It's actually a healthy, normal piece of development. This child's defiance, however, extends well beyond what is normal and healthy. It's a level of defiance that if left unchecked, has the power to completely control the atmosphere in our home, and can leave everyone unsettled and insecure. Let me tell you, it is challenging my mothering skills as nothing else has ever challenged me before.

There are a few things I have to remember. This child's brain was shaped by her bio mom's dangerous choices. She spent nine months developing in a brain bath of cortisol (stress hormone), nicotine, and a consistent wash of illegal substances. Then she spent three years in an environment of filth and absolute chaos, with no discipline, loads of abuse, and limited loving touch. What I have here is a child in whom every fiber resists me because every fiber believes it is in danger. For this little one, losing control (and obeying Mommy means giving up control), feels like a matter of life and death. And she will fight it to the death.

Fortunately, in the last 18 months, she has come to trust me enough to willingly give and receive affection. She loves hugs and kisses, tickling, wrestling, and snuggling. She no longer struggles to make and hold eye contact with me. She gets worried when I leave, and is always overjoyed to see me when I return. She no longer resists my help on the daily tasks of life such as grooming, feeding, and bedtime rituals. In fact, she welcomes me. We're progressing nicely down the road to attachment.

But the behaviors...
Oh my.

I recently read a great, great book called "The Defiant Child." It is written for the parents of children with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), which is what we're dealing with. But even if your child doesn't have ODD--just struggles with a strong will or rebellious spirit--this book is for you. It helps you understand the way this child thinks, which is, honestly, flawed and delusional. It gives practical techniques for parenting in ways that counter the flawed thinking. So. Good. I am working hard to employ these things with my little caged tiger.

This is hard. It's hard to feel love and affection for someone who is often so out of control that by 5:00, the only option left is to feed her an early dinner and put her to bed for the night. It's hard to want to hug and kiss on a child who seems to take great pleasure in destroying the things others have that she wants. It's hard to be patient with a child who responds to just about every request or direction with "NO! I don't want to." Or, "NO! And you can't make me." Or jumping up and down and screaming. Or throwing things. Or spitting. It's hard. And that's where my parenting is most challenged.

I do a great job of being consistent. I am always swift and logical as I give consequences for poor choices. I can almost always appear calm and unruffled, and I very rarely lose my temper. I never back down. (For the record, there is no room for grace with the ODD child. They can not understand the concept of grace, but are only able to see it as weakness and a crack in the defenses). What I am not good at is balancing consistency and firmness with affection. I know I love her because I have chosen to love her. If I didn't love her, I would have given up a long time again. If I didn't love her, I wouldn't care so deeply about the road she's walking. I know that love has to be tough sometimes, and love can set you up for great heartache. The affectionate side of love is the struggle for me. Right now I'm so tired from all this child's shenanigans that I have to force myself to hug her. Literally force myself. Doesn't that sound just awful? Oooh, I cringe to see the words in print!

That's where I'm being stretched. Motherhood isn't all about bedtime stories, family traditions, and helping with homework. It isn't about little handprints and bouquets of wildflowers and sweet faces. It's about getting dirty in the trenches, and sacrificing your own wants and selfishness in order to prepare your children for life. It's about love when times are tough. And that's where I often stumble. See, God has loved me without fail, despite my failings. I have been a defiant child, too, and yet He never gave up on me. I break the rules. I let Him down. I am mean and spiteful. I am disobedient. And yet God does not withhold His affection from me. This morning, as you finish reading this post, would you say a prayer for me? Pray that I'll see my daughter as God sees her: a precious, wounded child who needs not only safe boundaries, but her mother's unconditional affection as well. Pray that despite the difficulties I face as I wade through the mountains of bad behavior, I'll choose the higher road and be affectionate with her. And please pray that God would overcome my selfishness and fill my heart with the desire to be an affectionate mom.

Thanks for letting me bare my soul, here. It's always so risky to be transparent. I hope my open honesty here will encourage someone else today.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Warning: Sentimental sap and pregnancy ravings post

I'll never forget the day we sat in the doctor's office many years ago and learned that a raging infection--caused by urine reflux--had permanently damaged my sweet hubby's reproductive system. We wanted a third child so badly, but it could not happen again without major medical interventions. Very costly interventions. Interventions that were not guaranteed to work. Because we already had two beautiful, healthy children, we decided to not pursue fertility treatments. It wasn't worth it to us. Still, I prayed and prayed and asked God for a miracle. For four years I ached to have another baby. It didn't consume or embitter me, but I did cry every month when I started my period. And there were probably a half-dozen times when my period was late. And later. And later. My hopes would begin to rise, and after 10 days of late, I would take a pregnancy test. Inevitably, the test would be negative, and I would start my period within the next day. After four years, I stopped hoping and accepted that the doctors were right.

My prayers changed at that point. I acknowledged that nothing--not even infertility--can stop God from accomplishing His will. If He wanted me to have another baby, He would bring it to pass. I asked Him to make me content with whatever He had in store for me. I asked Him to change my heart, to take away my desire for another baby. I asked Him to replace my desires with His desires for me.

Psalm 37:4 became my prayer: "Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart."

I think so many people read this verse wrong. They read it as, if you love God, He will give you what you want. I don't think that is the case at all! To delight in the Lord is to get to know Him. To know Him is to love Him. To love Him is to desire to serve Him, to want to be close to Him, and to crave His plan for you. When you truly delight in the Lord, He will put His desires in your heart. This is what I asked Him for. Lord! Make Your desires for me, my desires for me. Your best, not mine. You can see the big picture and I can not. Align me with your direction. And people, HE IS GOOD. He tenderly removed my desire to have a baby. Removed it. Completely. I can remember holding my friend Tracie's baby Isaac and realizing that the pang of desire was gone from my heart. The peace that followed was such a relief! I understood the meaning of resting in the Lord.

It was not too long after that when God put a new desire in my heart. It was the desire to adopt not one child, but a sibling group. Not babies...older kids. Kids who were waiting and waiting for someone to love them. Imagine my surprise when Matt approached me one day, telling me that he had an overwhelming desire to adopt a sibling group of elementary school aged children. I scraped my jaw off the floor and told him that my heart had been leaning the same way. That was the beginning of the end. Less than a year later, we picked up three little girls and brought them home to become part of our family. The key phrase here is less than a year later. Our state has one of the more rigorous training requirements for foster/adoptive families. It takes several months to complete the training, paperwork, and licensing. Then it can take as long as a year or two to match a family with a child. Then there's typically a transition process for the kids. Throw in interstate adoption and it can drag out several months more. We were told it would be a minimum of 18 months before we had kids in our home, if we adopted in-state. From day one of our training to the day we brought our girls home, it was just under 10 months. God flung open door after door and overcame many hurdles. Our family was complete, and it came about in a miraculous way.

Fast forward 13 months. I woke up one August morning feeling exceptionally tired. My night had been riddled with nightmares...particularly horrific nightmares. As I walked out of my room, I could smell bacon cooking in the kitchen. My stomach turned over and I did a quick about face back into my room. I felt odd. Just odd. I pulled out my calendar and took a look. I was shocked to discover that I was 2 weeks overdue to start my period. In the craziness of coming home from a road trip and getting the kids ready to start school, I had lost track of time. I sent Matt to the store to get a pregnancy test, "to make me start my period." I was fully expecting it to be negative, as it had been so many other times in the past. When that puppy turned positive right away, I could not believe it. I didn't know how to respond.

Really, God? After all these years, now I'm pregnant? I didn't even want to have another baby! I'm enjoying having all my kids in school! No diaper bags. No bottles. No naps. No rigid schedule. What in the world? OH MY WORD, I'M PREGNANT! I'M GOING TO HAVE A BABY! It didn't take long for excitement and euphoria to wash over me. I quickly told Matt, who about swept me off my feet. He could scarcely contain his excitement.

Now I have entered into the third trimester. My body has blossomed, and I feel so beautiful. I'm carrying this baby differently than I did the other two. I have had no desire to eat, and what I do want has been pretty healthy. So my weight gain has been minimal. I'm fairly slender (at least for me), and the belly is proportionately round and centered. Snapper spread out my sides, giving me the Michelin Tire Man look. Pepper went out front and made my belly pointy like the end of a football. This time I look like a Motherhood Maternity model and I love it. My hair is thick. My skin is clear. Everywhere I go people comment on how lovely I look. I don't sleep great, but that's okay. I'm getting prepared for midnight feedings. My pelvic bones hurt like crazy, but I can deal with that. Mostly, I'm trying to enjoy the last 12 weeks. And this little baby girl makes it easy.

I treasure the evenings. After the four younger kids are tucked in, Snapper creeps into my room and climbs into bed with me. Little Sweetie is most active in the evening, and Snapper just loves to feel Sweetie's movements. She spends the last hour of her day with me, hands on my belly, and we talk. Sweetie seems to respond to her biggest sissy's voice. After Snapper goes to bed, Matt joins me. There's no question that Sweetie is affected by her daddy's voice and the feel of his hands. She runs a nightly marathon for him to feel. He'll put his face down on my belly so he can talk to her. I sit there, wishing I could just bottle the moment to pull out and relive later. My heart swells at this miracle. Another little blessing. An unexpected gift. A piece of Matt and me, a visible expression of the love we've shared for 13 years. It's just overwhelming.

Right now I'm sitting in my big chair, taking a break from doing schoolwork with Bubbles. I'm watching my belly ripple, bounce, and contort. I know Sweetie has gotten so much bigger in the last couple of weeks because I can feel kicks close to my sternum at the same time as I am feeling movement way down low. The best word to describe my emotions right now is wonder. I'm overwhelmed by wonder at what God has done. And I can hardly wait to meet this little girl!

P.S. I have a houseful of blondie kids. I'm hoping this one has my dark hair.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Special Kids, Special Needs

My family is unique. We're unique for many reasons.

  • Matt and I grew up together. Our parents set us up together 16 years ago. Obviously, we clicked. We've been happily married for almost 13 years.
  • We had the American Dream--nice home that we owned, two cars, two kids.
  • Then we adopted three older kids from foster care.
  • Now we have four girls and a boy, two minivans (one is so old and scary that we call it "The Can"), and we rent a home that is currently too small for us, and is about to be way too small for us.
  • We're having our 6th child, which makes us the object of much rubbernecking, the target of snarky remarks, and frees people up to remind us "how that happens." As if we didn't know.
  • We will soon be driving a "church van." I don't want to. I like my Honda Odyssey a whole lot.
  • All five of my children have special needs.
There are other things that make us unique, too, but these are the most obvious. Each of my children is really unique, too. Because of their special needs, it is very easy to get overwhelmed and to see only the blaring needs. I want to take a few minutes to post about each child. This is an exercise for me, and exercise in "seeing" my children. Read along and enjoy if you wish.

Snapper. 11 years old. 6th grade. 4'9" and 78 pounds. Dainty and delicate. Long-legged and big-footed. Yes peeps, she's just 11 and wears a ladies' size 9 shoe. It's quite a contrast with the little girls' size 6 undies she still wears! TMI? Probably! But don't worry...I asked her if it was okay to share that and she said yes because she thinks it's funny that her 5-year-old sister has a bigger bum than she does. Snapper recently stopped her competitive swimming. GASP! She had gotten too good to remain on her current level, but the level she needed to advance to required way more time than Snapper wanted to commit to swimming. With a tear in my eye, I allowed her to stop. This is about her pursuing her interests, not about the years we have invested in swimming. She is throwing herself wholeheartedly into karate, which she's just as good at as swimming. She has a lovely voice and wants to take voice lessons. She's a straight-A student taking all honors courses at her college prep school, and hoping for Pre-AP next year. She just won a speech contest and was selected to compete in a regional spelling bee. Snapper is friendly, outgoing, and bubbly. She loves people and has no enemies. She's compassionate to a fault, and gives her love freely and deeply. She struggles with fear, and might be the worse over-reactor in the world. Her tendency to be anxious is magnified by ADHD. Another manifestation of the ADHD is impulsiveness, and a tendency to act younger than her ago. For me, the biggest thing to celebrate in Snapper is her heart for God. She has such deep thoughts for one so young, and she has a vibrant relationship with Jesus. Oh, that my own faith would be as pure and faithful!

Bubbles. 9 years old. 3rd grade. 4'7" and 74 pounds. Solid and strong. Short-legged and long-waisted. I would never share her undies size because she would most likely fall over dead of mortification if I did. Bubbles takes karate, too, and runs on the cross country team at our neighborhood school. She is naturally athletic and would be very good at both if she would just decide to put out some effort. She's far more interested in running with her friends, and in keeping her hair tidy than she is at excelling in either sport. Bubbles is a struggling student, due to severe learning disabilities. I'm homeschooling her right now, which she has thoroughly enjoyed. She's the hardest-working student I have ever met. It's her work ethic that has carried her this far. She has reached her limits, though, and we're in the process of having her tested to find out what special supports she will need in order to progress further. Thankfully, she does not struggle at all with math. She has Sensory Processing Disorder. Bubbles is happy, boisterous, and loud. She has a great sense of humor and really appreciates a good joke or prank. She loves to be silly and keeps us all laughing. She loves people, but struggles with social skills. This is due to her rocky early childhood. She amazes us with her determination to learn and her efforts to develop her people skills. She is warm and affectionate with my hubby and me, and has stolen a big place in our hearts. For me, the biggest thing to celebrate in Bubbles is the blossoming she has done in the 18 months she has been our daughter. Oh my goodness, she is a different kid! I marvel at her growth in confidence, transparency, and her ability to give and receive love. She's amazing!

Piper. 8 years old. 2nd grade. 4'2" and 50 pounds. Slim and girly. This little girl has no desire to do any type of sport or activity. We have her in karate right now, whether she likes it or not, to empower her. She experienced horrific abuse in her past, and the karate is building her confidence. Piper also does cross country at school, but she does it because we make her do it. Her desire is to live a sedentary life in the lap of luxury, and we are insisting that she be active in some way. Piper loves to sing and has the potential of having a beautiful voice. She's looking forward to being in 4th grade so she can do chorus at school. Her learning needs are not as severe as Bubbles', but she does struggle with expressing herself. This shows up in a very juvenile vocabulary, poor spelling, and complete inability to write her thoughts. It makes me sad because she has the best imagination, and is capable of creating wonderful stories. We're working on getting some testing done to see if we can get a name for this difficulty Piper faces. Like Bubbles, she has no difficulty with numbers, and excels at math. She has a great memory, too, and is reading really well. Piper has ADHD and receives services for it at school. When we're consistent with her treatment plan, she does really, really well. When the plan is disrupted, she is very difficult to live with. She also has Sensory Processing Disorder, which we believe is responsible for her reluctance to participate in physical activities. Piper is a little lady. We started manners lessons with her when she came to live with us, and she soaked them up. She has an amazing imagination, and is the best of all the kids at playing by herself. She's kind and helpful, generous and loving. She's very affectionate and loves a good snuggle. For me, the biggest thing to celebrate in Piper is her courage. Like I already said, she has been through a lot. Hell actually. Watching her transition from being ruled by fear, to being able to express her fear, to now boldly facing those fears and slamming the door in fear's face--it's breathtaking. I'm so proud of this little girl!

Pepper. 7 1/2 years old. 2nd grade. 4'5" and 47 pounds. Skinnier than a beanpole. Yes, he is. Long-legged, long-fingered, long-footed. Pepper enthusiastically participates in karate and cross country. Both are difficult for him because he has extremely poor muscle tone and limited stamina and energy. But he wants to do both and pushes through the difficulty. Pepper has a beautiful, beautiful singing voice, a fact I just recently discovered when he was singing Frozen karaoke when he didn't know I was listening. I think he's going to do musical theater with his daddy over the summer. Pepper is academically brilliant. Brilliant. The problem is, he responds to being bored by being stubborn and obnoxious. This year he is bored out of his mind at school. Any guess how he behaves? You've got it...he's stubborn and obnoxious. His grades are affected by it. He's capable of straight A's with almost no effort, but he has a B (and four A's) right now because he refuses to do his work at school. While earning a B in Reading would mean celebration for Bubbles, earning a B in Reading is not acceptable for Pepper because the B came solely from laziness and incomplete assignments. He has that B because half of his classwork assignments are listed as incomplete. Sigh. We're in the middle of a whole battery of testing with Pepper. Suspected: ADHD (pretty much a fact already), some sort of neurological dysfunction, fine motor delays, possibly dyspraxia. On our agenda: physical therapy, occupational therapy, and ADHD treatment. Yikes! Despite his difficulties, Pepper is one of the most delightful, wonderful kids ever. He is tender-hearted, gentle, sweet, loving, generous, and super forgiving. He's also FUNNY! His brilliance shows up in his massive vocabulary. It's hilarious to hear 10th grade vocabulary coming out of a 2nd grader. For me, the biggest thing to celebrate in Pepper is his loving nature. He is the sweetest little soul, and he daily endears himself to me.

Sunny. almost 6 years old. Kindergarten. 3'9" and 44 pounds. Solid and stocky. And very strong. Sunny is not currently taking karate due to violation of dojo policies regarding use of force to initiate harm of another person. 5 years old and expelled from karate. It's hard to use cross country to damage other people with, though, so she runs on the cross country team. Daddy's assistant coach, too, so he's there to keep an eye on Sunny. She is fast and strong, but does not excel because she's more interested in doing the opposite of what the coaches tell her to do. If they tell her to run hard across the finish, she'll stop and walk, or even crawl. If they tell her to run for 30 seconds without stopping, she'll count to 10, walk for 10 seconds, and then run for the last 10 seconds. And such is life with Sunny, my Oppositional Defiant child who was made so by the people who were supposed to love, nurture, and protect her during the first three years of her life. Every now and then I'll get brief glimpses of the real Sunny. She's sweet, funny, and cute. The real Sunny is affectionate and generous. But right now the Sunny we see is ruled by the fear that she just might not be in control, and to not be in control means being in danger. This need for control impacts every single area of her life. It is the destroyer of relationships. It drives her to manipulate and hurt others. It drives her to destroy the things that others have that she wants. The life she makes for herself is a hard one, and I really, really hate that for her. At this point in Sunny's life, it is hard to list positive qualities because honestly, they are not currently visible. 98% of the time we're seeing her mask. In that rare, precious 2%, we see a loving, kind, teachable little girl. I long to see more of her. For me, the biggest thing to celebrate in Sunny is her effort in school. As she gets older, she will end up being diagnosed with similar learning disabilities as Bubbles. All the signs are there. Everything that Sunny is able to learn comes by hard, hard work. If a typical child learns a letter sound after 20 repetitions, Sunny only retains it after 200 repetitions. She works hard for her learning. But she's really, really trying. Last year she wouldn't even try, so seeing this great effort from her is something to celebrate indeed!

Unique. Precious. Needy? YES! In fact, their special needs consume most of my time and energy. Would I change it? Yes and no. If I could change anything, it would be to ease a bit the burdens of their struggles to learn, or to lessen anxiety. But would I really change things? No. Probably not. The struggles that these children are going through are going to produce character in their lives. The lessons they learn from their struggles are part of who they are, and are instrumental in who they will become. I love these five kids so much. I love their special needs. I love these special, special kids. 

Monday, January 13, 2014


Here's the honest truth. While older child adoption is a beautiful thing, it is also an incredibly difficult thing. This is not a fresh baby. This is a little person who has experienced life with a first set of parents. This is a little person who was removed from his/her family for a very significant reason, and that reason is never a happy one. This is a little person who has usually been through experiences that most adults would consider nightmarish or even impossible. This is a little person who is deeply wounded, has a hard time trusting, and generally carries a great deal of fear. This is a little person who did not choose this kind of life. The battle scars he/she carries (usually in the form of behavioral and emotional struggles, and often physical hurts and developmental delays) are not his/her fault. This child requires a totally different kind of parenting in order to overcome the mountain of garbage he/she is buried beneath.

The good news is, with a careful combination of love, nurturing, rock solid boundaries, relentless honesty, commitment, compassion, patience, and parental self control, most kids are able to overcome the trauma of their past and grow to be healthy, functioning people. Oh...there's more. In order for these families to be successful, they also need a tremendous amount of support from a team of experienced, dedicated people.

  • Open-minded pediatricians who understand the effects of neglect, abuse, and other traumas on the development of a child's brain
  • Medical specialists who are able to address the child's physical health needs, which are often overwhelming due to years of neglect (my daughters came into foster care having never received any sort of medical care other than emergency care for a broken arm and emergency care for scarlet fever)
  • Dentists who are able to soothe the irrational fears that often control a child from a trauma background
  • Therapists of all sorts: family therapists (adoption competency certified, with experience in working with trauma-related disorders such as PTSD); occupational therapists (skilled in working with all sorts of developmental delays); speech therapists (experienced in addressing the needs of older children who may be embarrassed to be in speech therapy); physical therapists
  • Educators who are willing to work with parents to address the many educational needs of the child. This includes principal and other administrative staff, office personnel, teachers, exceptional student ed team, classroom aides, tutors
  • Coaches who are willing to learn how to take a different approach to coaching (because these kids are often sensitive to unusual things and may react strongly to coaching methods that don't bother most kids)
  • Friends who are willing to be supportive and faithful, even when they don't understand the "why" behind how you are parenting
  • Friends who are willing and ready to step up and meet practical needs when times get tough
  • Friends and family who stick with you, even though it might seem you are absent for long time  periods
  • Family members who love and accept the child, regardless of behavior issues
  • People who are willing to believe that you are being truthful, regardless of how outlandish some of your tales may seem. On the outside, our girls do not look like anything is wrong. They're physically healthy, beautiful, and they appear to be happy and well-adjusted. They can usually hold it together when we're in public places. No one sees what life is like when we're at home, and some people have a hard time believing it. Families like ours need to be surrounded by people who will simply say, "I believe you."
WOW! That is a lot of support. But it's reality. That's what it takes. Parenting a hurt child is hard, hard work. It can be done without all the support, but I don't know how anyone can do it

We're blessed in every single one of those areas. I shake my head in amazement each time one of those incredible members of our team bends over backward to meet our family's needs. But even with all the support, life is still often a struggle for Matt and me. Granted, we adopted three kids at once last year, and we already had two "organic" kids, and we're 6 months pregnant with a surprise baby. But still...meeting everyone's needs is exhausting and consumes all of our resources--physical, financial, emotional, and otherwise. Even with all the support we have, we find ourselves needing more help.
  • Financial assistance with one child's overwhelming educational needs
  • Additional counseling for one child who continues to struggle with the effects of the trauma she experienced
  • Psychological testing for a child who struggles so fiercely with the (fear-based) need to be in control that her defiance is destroying relationships right and left
  • Psycho-educational testing for a child who has attained the highest level possible with her high degree of learning disabilities. Proper testing will open new interventions to her and help her begin to make forward progress again.
  • Family counseling for the other kids who need to learn a specialized skill set in order to live in harmony with an extremely disharmonious sister
  • An educational advocate to help Matt and me in our interactions with our school as we seek intensive interventions for two of our girls (interventions that will definitely be a resource drain for the school...interventions that will not be conceded without somewhat of a battle, I think). 
  • Somebody to help us in our interactions with the state from which we adopted as we seek additional funding to help meet our girls' extensive, complex needs. It's a complicated mess of paperwork and dealing with all sorts of people who do not know us and our girls. Having an insider is very helpful.
This is A. LOT. OF. NEEDS. Last week I contacted post-adoption support at the state agency we worked with during our adoption. They jumped all over it and on Friday afternoon they promised to assign us a targeted case manager (TCM) to help us navigate all these needs that consume so much extra time, energy, and money. I was super excited about that idea, but expected that like everything else in the adoption world, it would take some time to accomplish. For once I was wrong in my expectation! I got the phone call today from the intake team leader. She got all the information on my girls and documented everything we need help with. She validated me and encouraged me. She took me seriously. She spent almost an hour on the phone with me. She took careful notes, and said she'll be assigning an awesome TCM to our family. 

I feel as if someone has just thrown me a lifeline.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Update on Snapper

Well, results of Snapper's speech contest are in. She won 1st place in her 4th period English class (the vote was unanimous), and will now compete against five other students for the honor of representing her school at the regional public speaking competition! Two students will be chosen, and she really, really wants to win. I'm hoping with all my heart that she does, not just because it would be fun to see her win. I really want for her to have a chance to be an advocate for adoption. What a great platform regionals would be for her! I don't know yet when the next round of competition is, but I'm pretty sure it's next week.