Bracelets for Our Brothers
Help Us Bring Our Brothers Home
Posted on February 26th, 2017

For this child I prayed...

One year ago today, a judge said YES (and my teen reluctantly agreed) to our adoption of Stella and Evvie.

The other day I was reading a blog post from an adoptee about the term "Gotcha Day".   The author made a compelling case against using the term.  I always enjoy reading things from and talking to adoptees, because it gives me insight as a parent that my children are not yet mature enough to provide most of the time.  Adult adoptees are able to show love towards their adoptive parents, while offering feedback about what they wished had been different about their upbringing.  I'm sure one day my children will have a lengthy list of my mistakes, shortcomings, and ways that I annoyed them.  Some will be trivial, but some will be worth serious consideration. 

The issue of using the term "Gotcha Day" and celebrating it annually is one that has always bothered me, even before we brought the girls home.  I admit to using the term, mostly before I actually went and gotcha-ed my two daughters.  Our actual "Gotcha" day was anything but beautiful, happy, and was absolutely nothing that I had dreamed/romanticized in my head.  While adoption can be a beautiful picture of redemption (for the child(ren) AND the parents), the truth is, that it is ALWAYS born of sadness and loss.

Since pick up, especially, the idea of celebrating this sadness and loss has always felt unsettling to me, especially because of what our actual "Gotcha Day" looked like.  Filled with tears, hatred for us because they felt we were the ones tearing them away from their brothers (they know now that this was not true, they understand we never were informed of their existence until Trip 1 and it was too late then)-- the only stable family they'd ever known, and fear, terrifying and paralyzing fear.  While Neil and I had waited for this day with great anticipation, we had failed to completely calculate the trauma, the cost, the difficulties this day would bring to all of us.  We had failed, on every level, to account for what this day would mean for our children, and instead we focused only on what we would feel-- mainly a relief that the grueling process to bring them home was finally coming to an end.

Before traveling to Bulgaria for our pickup trip, we knew that we would be picking up the day before Evvie's 13th birthday.  I dreamed of all the ways we'd celebrate our Gotcha Day-- the first one, and then the anniversaries of the date to come.  I read countless blog posts and Facebook posts from fellow adoptive parents about what they did to celebrate the anniversary of this day.  I decided which ideas I liked, and which I didn't.  I also reconciled with the term "Gotcha" and decided we'd prefer to call it "Family Day".  I then agonized (oh, y'all, this was when I had so much time on my hands but thought I was "busy") about when we'd celebrate it.  I didn't want it to be celebrated the day before Evvie's birthday-- I saw potential sibling jealously or blurring of the lines there.  Technically, our "Family Day" was 2/26/16, the day we passed court, because at that time, we legally became a family.  So, it was decided 2/26 would be our "Family Day."

But then our pick up trip came.  Then we saw the reality of what that day meant for our children.  We saw them say goodbye to their brothers, presumably speaking to them and touching them for the last time ever.  We saw the hurt, the anger, the loss, the fear, and understood that maybe it wasn't a day to be celebrated at all.  Maybe it was just a marker in time that we, as parents, could keep up with to track progress and thank God for putting our family unit together.  The actual day became about survival, and was not celebratory in any way.

The more I've read about trauma, triggers, memories that children have of past events, the more I don't want to celebrate or help my children to remember this day this year.   We are fortunate that our girls still have no concept of time and cannot read a calendar, so we are sort of off the hook this year.  Reading about trauma has also helped me to understand the truth about this day for our children who were old enough to remember and hate everything about it.  It is actually a "truamaversary".  Just as someone who loses a loved one tends to be on high emotions and sadness each year on the date the loved one was lost, our family has been on high emotions lately as we get closer to that year mark.  Although our children are not really aware of time, Evvie does know that she was adopted right before her birthday, and she must know, on some subconscious level, that this date is approaching.  We have seen behavior in both children become more challenging in recent weeks (normal).  Just as someone would not typically throw a big party, or go out bowling, or have a big dinner out at a fancy restaurant on the traumaversary of a loved one passing, we will probably not do any of these things either. 

Lastly, what would we really be celebrating with regards to THEIR family prior to adoption?  That our adoption of them ripped them from their brothers?  That their brothers are still languishing in an institution oceans away?  Our family is not complete, so it doesn't feel right to celebrate "Family Day" without our whole family.

Please understand, especially fellow adoptive parents who do make a choice to celebrate this day, that I am not passing judgement on you or suggesting you should do differently than what you've decided works for you.  Perhaps your experience has been completely different than ours.  Maybe your children have processed or handle their trauma very differently than ours.  Maybe you, as a parent, have processed and dealt with your children's trauma better than I, as a mother, have with my own children.  For me, it is a work in progress daily.  For your family, you do what is right.  Go ice skating, see that movie, prepare all of the cultural foods your child misses, go through picture albums together-- celebrate!  Do it!  For our family, however, I don't know that these things are possible for us this year, so we will let it pass without much mention.

Once our whole family is reunited and settled, though, perhaps we will have a reason to have a Family Day.  Maybe my perspective on this day will be completely different when the girls' brothers are finally home and part of our household.

What I will choose to celebrate daily, though, is God is good.  God is loving.  God has chosen our family to endure these challenges, but to reap the rewards of those challenges together.  God has assembled our messy family in his perfect image.  It is hard, many days, to see his plan, but we trust it and continue to follow it.

Posted on February 16th, 2017

Tomorrow I will be giving a presentation on the effects of trauma on children to a group of about 60 teachers.  The aim is to inform about trauma and how it negatively impacts children: cognitively, emotionally, physically, socially, and in a myriad of other ways.  Only once we brought our girls home did I understand the depth and breadth of this issue, and, since that time, I have often wondered why this was never part of my coursework in college or graduate school.  Sure, I learned great pedagogy, classroom management, and I even took extra courses on child psychology just because I really enjoyed the subject matter.  But, through three degrees, trauma was never the focus.

To be honest I am scared and nervous about tomorrow for many reasons.  I have presented many times before-- to other educators, to students, to philanthropic groups, at professional conferences.  I am not afraid of public speaking.  But, this is the first time ever that I will be speaking about something outside of my professional content area: music.

I am also nervous about tomorrow because, my husband, my children, and I have decided to be honest and raw.  You see, there would be no presentation tomorrow if I weren't their mother.  There would have been no reason for me to become interested in trauma and to become a voracious reader and researcher on the topic if it weren't for the experience of having two highly traumatized children in my home every day.  Therefore, this presentation was conceived from the day to day reality of raising my children, and because of that, I must be honest in my presentation tomorrow.

I know that when people see our family they have a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings.  I'm not just talking about the random misconceptions we encounter daily in public where someone might wonder why Neil and I are white and my children are brown or why there is such a small age difference between Evvie and myself.  I'm talking about the romanticized notion that we, as a society, have about adoption.  It is both a blessing and a curse.  It is a blessing because it inspires more people to aspire to go out of their comfort zone and adopt, but it is a curse because people don't understand the reality that adoptive families live in many times.

Tomorrow people will hear things about my family that I am embarrassed to admit.  All parents want to perpetuate the facade that we all have our lives under control.  But, I must say these things.  Otherwise the content will be less meaningful. Tomorrow people will hear things about my oldest child in particular that are difficult for me to talk about, but she has told me "mama, you have to tell them because they need to know what life is like for me and other kids like me."  She has given me her blessing and she knows everything I will say.  She only asks that people not talk directly to her about it afterwards.  She knows her story is important, and, for that, I am so happy and thankful because it shows me that she is finding meaning, purpose, and strength in her life.

The most import thing I hope people hear tomorrow is that trauma is real.  Its impacts on the brain and cognitive function are absolutely real and I see it play out in my home and classroom every day.  We, as teachers, are fooling ourselves if we think these are isolated incidents that we rarely encounter unless we work in an impoverished school.  Yes, my children has encountered more trauma in their 10 and 13 years than most kids do in a lifetime, but they are not alone.  They have much in common with many of the students who walk in to my classroom every day.  Understanding my children has helped me to become a better educator, and it has helped me fall back in love with teaching-- a love affair that was on its last leg a year ago.

Hopefully this is just the beginning.  I hope that having a platform to voice my experiences will help me to process and cope.  Maybe one day my children can join along side me and have their voices and stories heard, too.  I know they will be stories of victory, courage, and perseverance. 

Posted on February 5th, 2017

We've been getting lots of questions lately about the status of our adoption of our girls' two brothers, and we do have some updates to share!  We've also been getting many questions about the status of our fundraising efforts.

We are beyond thrilled to let everyone know that we are almost fully funded.  Thanks to the amazing and generous outpouring of support, we are about 75% funded, and all of our agency and international fees are covered.  We are now needing to raise money only for our flights and travel expenses.  We are still selling bracelets, and appreciate your support in this effort.  We also have a couple of additional fundraising ideas for the spring time to help us raise the last bit of money we need to make all of this a reality.  

We are both doing extra work on the side and saving as much as possible, too!  The girls are so sweet and cognizant of the need to be conservative with our money at this point.  They realize that going out to see a movie costs a good chunk of change, so they have asked us if we can, during this time, not go to see movies in the theater and instead watch at home with our own popcorn and soda.  Things like that.  It's been a wonderful life lesson for everyone, and we are so proud of how they have handled things.

We have had a couple of wonderful Skype sessions with our sons.  They have each lasted about an hour, and Vesta, our NGO has facilitated translation for us.  They have been incredible sessions, and the mood in our house afterwards is always one of reassurance and happiness.  We look forward to our next one on Thursday of this week.  We can't say enough about Vesta and the work they have done on behalf of our family.

Right now we are in a holding pattern of waiting after a flurry of paperwork and activity.  We mailed our I-800A application to USCIS Immigration at the beginning of January.  Last Monday we received our Biometric appointment letters in the mail, and made a decision to roll the dice and try to walk in early, before our appointment day (2/8) to see if we couldn't speed things up.  We took a day off on Wednesday, went to Charleston, and our gamble paid off.  We were able to knock out the Biometrics that day, and anticipate our approval in the mail in the next 2-3 weeks.  From there, that will be the final piece of our dossier to go to Bulgaria.

Once our dossier is received and translated, it will be presented to the IAC for approval, and our official referral will be granted.  Then it is up to us to accept the referral (which we will), and wait for Trip 1 travel dates.  We are looking at travel for Trip 1 in April probably.  We are thrilled and excited that Trip 1 dates are so close, and are looking forward to once again holding our sons in our arms.  Once Trip 1 has passed, Vesta and our agency thinks that we will have the green light for more communication with the boys, and for this we are thankful because we know anything will help strengthen our bond and keep us going through the tough times of waiting.  It is just as hard on them as it is for us.  We are all ready for this chapter to close and for our family to finally be complete.

Thank you all for your amazing continued support in our journey!  Your support-- financially, emotionally, spiritually, has made this adoption much easier than our last.

Posted on January 29th, 2017

Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.
Albert Einstein

I will never, ever forget this moment as long as I live.  We arrived with our two daughters in America the first of April last year after spending almost a month with them in Bulgaria.  Our time in Bulgaria was about survival. When we got home, however, the reality of needing to enroll them in school, and prepare them to function in a classroom set in.  Our girls did go to school in Bulgaria, but I use both "go to school" and "school" lightly.  We saw the school.  Not much teaching and learning going on there.  And, our oldest, had about 120 unexcused absences from cutting classes and terrorizing the village they lived in instead.  If you're doing the math, that's pretty much the whole school year to that point.

Anyway, back to the moment of truth.  We'd been told our girls were on target academically.  We decided to put a math worksheet without language in front of them, just numbers.  Basic one-digit addition.  The first question was 5+3=.  Evvie, 13 years old, wrote 10 as her answer.

That moment of realization stung.  I will never forget the looks my husband and I exchanged with each other in that second of disbelief.  She and her sister filled out the rest of the page, all of the answers were wrong.

That is where we started, and it has been a long road academically the last 10 months.  It has been a long road developmentally as well.  Milestones that children typically reach at certain ages that our children have long since passed are still largely unmet in our house.  Things that seem simple and we assumed they'd come home knowing how to do are still daily struggles of coordination, motor skills, and connecting cognitive dots.  Tying shoes, using utensils to eat, opening food packages, brushing teeth, brushing hair, putting clothes on independently, putting shoes on the correct feet, buttoning pants or shirts (for a long time we were able to avoid this with size 6 or smaller pants for Stella that had snaps, but now she has outgrown those), zipping, using scissors, holding a pencil, forming letters correctly-- all of these things are daily challenges for both children.  And, single-digit addition is still a struggle, too, some days.

This is not because our children are unintelligent.  This is not because our children are incapable.  This is not because our children are uneducable (which is what we were told by their caretakers and teachers).  This is due to extreme neglect.  While most children, by the age of 9 and 13, have had multiple adults in their lives helping to reinforce and teach these concepts, our children were experiencing unspeakable abuse and neglect at the hands of adults.  Children cannot learn when they are in a perpetual state of fear.  The lasting impact on the brain, their ability to connect the dots and learn these concepts, is astonishing.

That day, that moment that 5+3 equaled 10, forced my husband and I to take a long, hard look at our definition of success.  At the time I was teaching high school in an affluent area where GPA, SAT and ACT scores, AP classes, AP scores were the priorities for many families.  College applications, sports and fine arts accolades, academic achievement, scholarships, a major that will allow the the child to earn a degree in a respected field and probably earn a large salary were at the top of the priority list for most of my students and their families.  It was such an interesting dichotomy to work in that environment, and then come home and help my 13 year old child hold a fork properly and assist her with getting rice to sit on it, make it to her mouth, and not all over the floor and table.

I am not being pessimistic, and if you spent long enough talking to me, you will understand the great deal of idealism and optimism I still hold for my children.  However, we have come to terms with the reality that college is probably not in their future.  Academic accolades are not things we are on the look out for.  We are not concerned about standardized test scores except those that measure their English acquisition.

To be honest, I think we are still defining daily what success will look like for each of our children.  They are different ages, have different personalities, different strengths, and will probably be able to achieve at different levels.  However, what I can say has become the priority for us in our definition of success is this: that they are able to live emotionally stable lives and become good and productive human beings.  That's all.  Everything else is a bonus.

We also have learned to celebrate the victories our children have along the way.  Here are some examples:

-- the day that a greater percentage of food ended up in their mouth vs. on the table/floor
-- the day they were able to ask someone where a public bathroom was located and go there without our assistance
-- when the majority of the time shirts were put on with the tag in the back and shoes were put on the correct feet
-- the day they could bathe independently
-- the day they could open a ziplock bag without adult assistance 
-- the day that 5+3 equaled 8

We are still working on shoe-tying, buttoning, and using a knife to cut our own food is probably in the distant future, but we are getting there!

What is YOUR definition of success for your child?

Posted on January 22nd, 2017

​“Worrying is carrying tomorrow's load with today's strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” 
― Corrie ten Boom
I love the above quote because of its absolute truth.  I have often felt the burden of carrying present moments as well as the concern for the future. It is a heavy burden, and rarely helps anything.  It also drains you of not only your strength but also your patience, love, and ability to think clearly and rationally about the present moment.  I have been working diligently on mindfulness, breathing properly, and managing the wide range of emotions that a completed adoption and pending adoption bring.  I'm still working on it, though, and there are things that are always at the back of my mind.  Here are a couple, the things I dread the most:

1.  I was reading a friend's blog post the a few weeks ago.   She is currently pursuing another international adoption in a different country.  She made a decision not to pursue a child from the orphanage her child who is already home came from because she did not want to step foot into those conditions again.  So, she chose the same country, but a child in a different orphanage.  It was at that moment that it hit me like a ton of bricks-- we are going to have to go back to that awful place.  We don't have a choice.   We are going to have to spend a whole week interacting with our sons there.  We are going to then, a few months later, have to go back there again to pick them up.  When we remove them from that terrible place, it will be such a wonderful feeling of relief, but it will also be mixed with having to see it again and being reminded of what we are removing them from.

I am working to emotionally prepare myself for this.  This will not be easy.  But it must be done.

2.  Getting on a plane and leaving my sons behind.  In our last Skype session, younger brother asked the translator, "Why can't they just take us home after the end of the first trip?".  Good question, buddy.  Because bureaucracy.  Because red tape.  Because even though the system made our family an exception, we don't get any exceptions to the rules.  So, after spending a week with our two beautiful boys, that Friday we will have to tell them goodbye for several months.  Doing this with the girls was the single most awful experience I've ever been through in my life.  I am not looking forward to doing it again. Dear students, friends, family, administrators-- if I am a walking zombie for about a week after we get back, please have mercy on me.  This is tough stuff.

3.  The wait between trip 1 and the court date.  As if getting on a plane without your kids isn't enough torture, there will be several months that we wait to receive news of a court date.  Information will the scare, we won't really know where we stand, and we will hope and pray that when the court date does come, there are no problems.  After the court date comes and we pass, we will wait several more excruciating weeks before we are cleared to pick them up.  This is so hard.  There were moments I harbored delusions of buying a plane ticket and going over there, renting a car, and driving secretly to the orphanage (I remember the way!).  Haha.  The only thing that prevents you from doing this is the knowledge that it would ruin everything.  So you stay in your place, and you wait, and you eat a lot of comfort food.  I am not looking forward to this stretch of time.  And, I am already asking for grace and mercy from my friends and family.  I was not pleasant to be around during these months last time.  I vow to do better.

So far, though, what gives me hope is that I am handling the process much better this time.  Knowing what to expect helps us all to manage our anxiety and fear.  I know this process backwards and forwards now.  There is no mystery.  I know exactly what comes next and can prepare myself emotionally for each step of the way.  Thus far it has served me well to understand better, anticipate more, and it also doesn't hurt to have two children at home already to focus on.  It leaves less time to angst.

I am also so much stronger.  Going through the last 9 months with our girls has strengthened me in ways I never imagined.  Things that used to upset me no longer do.  They have given me perspective beyond my wildest dreams.  Strangely, through working through their trauma, their past, their multitude of challenges, I have found a strange sense of peace through a new lens.  I see things differently.  What used to be a crisis no longer is because I see what an actual crisis looks like.  What used to be urgent no longer is because their needs are the urgent ones.  What used to be painful no longer is because there is no pain greater than understanding their past trauma.  How I used to define success is no longer relevant, because watching their small victories has changed my entire viewpoint and has allowed me to have grace and mercy on myself and others.  What used to make me happy still makes me happy, but there is no greater happiness than watching them thrive and overcome. 

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