Bracelets for Our Brothers
Help Us Bring Our Brothers Home
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. 

Posted on December 31st, 2016

I am far from a perfect parent.  In fact, I've only been up for a couple of hours, but I'm sure I've already made some mistakes today.  I'm letting my children sleep in a long time this morning so they can stay up all hours of the night tonight to celebrate NYE, but any adoption therapist would tell you that this is probably a huge parenting fail-- letting them be all out of routine can prime them for major dysregulation.  But, sometimes my desire to be "normal" outweighs what I know is right.  And, sometimes, I have no idea what is right.

Before we completed our first home study back in 2014/2015, we had to complete 40 hours of training.  10 of those hours of parenting training were on the general challenges and unique rewards of international adoption in general.  The other 30 were focused on the difficult parts of raising older internationally adopted children.  We learned a lot.  We are also both voracious readers, researchers, and belong to a myriad of different discussion posts, support groups, and attend weekly attachment therapy and have since we came home.  Yet, we still face, every single day, behavior challenges that are related to attachment disorders.

I'd like to share some truths with you first:

1. Many in the Adoption Community are very protective over adoption and want as many people to adopt as possible because it is a cause they feel very passionate about.  I do, too.  If you don't know that about me by now... well, this is probably the first time you've stumbled across my blog.  However, where I may differ in some ways in my philosophy is that I would never want a family to adopt without knowing the reality of doing so.  We absolutely are committed to our decision to adopt, and to do it again!  But, we still have hurdles that are enough to bring me to my knees some days, and we also wake up every day to face our children's past trauma that we will never be able to erase.  That's a difficult pill to swallow for a parent.

2.  Because many in the Adoption Community do not want to dissuade others from adopting (a noble and respectable goal), fostering etc. people tend to write about the positive rewards of adoption.  Guilty here!  And, believe me, there are many.  I would never, ever choose another path for my family-- ever!  However, I think most people also realize that nobody likes a "Debbie Downer" and we tend to scroll past or block out negative posts, and people are also sometimes embarrassed to talk about the things in their family life that are not perfect.

3.  Been to the movies lately?  There are a lot of movies in theaters right now that talk about adoption, reference it, or the main characters are orphaned etc.  We, as a society, have an idealized view of adoption.  There's an orphan, a set of parents save the orphan, it's all good for the orphan now.  While the adoptive parents start their lives with that child at that moment, both the adoptive parents and the child(ren) bring heaps of baggage into the relationship.  Think it is just the kid that has baggage?  Nope.  Some of my greatest parenting struggles have been working through things I need to deal with.  So, again, the rewards are great, but the work is so hard, and I fail every single day.

4.  "All kids do that" or "Sounds like typical teenage behavior to me" are completely false statements.  To say that to an adoptive parent borders on insulting.  Behavior is a direct reflection/manifestation of emotion.  Especially in our case, where our children still struggle to express their feelings verbally, behavior is their avenue for expression.  We have to view behavior through this lens. Our children, as are most adoptive and foster children are, are working through all sorts of emotions that well-attached and well-adjusted children and teenagers will probably never have to work through.  So, yes, when my teenager rolls her eyes at me and gives me the bird, or my youngest has a meltdown tantrum, it probably is a "typical" response to an outside observer, but what that behavior morphs into outside of the public eye is something very atypical.  I'm not saying this to sound like I deserve a gold medal for parenting my children.  I fully realize I signed up for this, and I regret nothing.  I also realize that I am still learning them, and failing more than succeeding.  What I am saying, however, is that there is nothing "typical" about their behavior most of the time, and that is OK.  If we continue to pretend that it is "normal kid stuff" we can't treat the problem.

5.  Reactive Attachment Disorder is real.  I see it every day in my house in both of my children, more so from one than the other, and that will make sense to you as you read more about it.  Because RAD is something often limited to children who have had some sort of disruption in the attachment process early in life (adoption, removal from home, lengthy stays in orphanage, death of parents or some other sort of trauma related to parents/primary caregivers), it is not a heavily discussed diagnosis and leads to a lot of confusion and misunderstanding in our day to day interactions with others-- even medical professionals who are not well-versed in this diagnosis.  Neil and I have sat in countless doctor offices, school meetings, etc. trying to get others to understand this disorder.  We also have faced shaming, judgement, comments about our parenting style and/or our children's behavior.  Most we can dismiss, but it still hurts.

As a quick example, one of my children is prone to extreme meltdown emotional outbursts.  She will scream for hours (literally, the longest we've clocked was 6 hours straight, no break, no tears, just blood-curdling screaming), hit, punch, kick, throw things, self-harm, etc.  We left Bulgaria in bruises, and I still get clocked in the chest, arm or face sometimes if I am not careful (but I bet you could never picture my child doing this if you know her!).  We have gotten much better at knowing her triggers and when these episodes are coming (they are always exclusively at home, I'll tell you more why later), preventing them, or shortening duration of them.  

However, recently when we were staying at a hotel she became triggered into one of these episodes as we were loading the van and getting ready to drive off to our destination.  Inside the van she became out of control- screaming, kicking, hurting us and her sister, destroying property in the van etc.  We have been trained to remove her from places where she can self-harm or harm us.  This is SO much easier at home!  We have a safe space that she can go to until she is ready to regulate and return to our family life.  Also putting her in public view helps (again, I'll explain more about RAD momentarily) because she typically reserves these behaviors for us, so we will often go for a walk.  However, when we are on the road, it becomes harder.  We sat her on the curb in the nearly empty hotel parking lot.  We sat with her for a few minutes until she was calm, and let her sit there to regulate herself before getting back into the car (about 7 minutes).  We were never more than 2 feet from her, she was never out of our watchful eye.  However, within seconds of us placing her there outside of our car, we had people calling the police stating that we were abandoning our child (we were sitting right there...), the hotel staff began photographing and video recording our family for the entire duration of the event and wrote a written report about us.  When our child was calm, we walked inside to the hotel and I addressed the videos and pictures.  I explained, in the easiest way I could about RAD, and that she was always in our care.  And, then, the hotel staff said the unthinkable: "We thought you kidnapped her because she doesn't look like you, and that you brought her here to abuse her.  We were concerned and were about to call CPS and the police."

And, there you have it, folks.  The silent nightmare that nearly EVERY adoptive family lives in.  Most of us live in perpetual fear that our child's behavior, different appearance, how we parent because we know it's the right way for OUR family will be called into scrutiny.  I have lost count of how many stories I've heard from other families just like this one.  I know of multiple children who have lied through their teeth to the teachers or any other adult who will listen about stories of abuse, neglect, not being fed at home etc.  And, because RAD children are typically rather charming to adults who are not their parents, the adults buy the story.  I know, personally, of many adoptive families who have been questioned by schools, police, and CPS.  For many of us, it is a matter of time.  As if we didn't go through enough scrutiny by these institutions BEFORE we brought our children home...

Because we were out of state and left the hotel quickly after this exchange, no police involvement ever came of our story.  But, we know many people have video footage and pictures of our family they could spin any way they want to.  We live in concern that these items will one day surface on social media.  Because they don't understand THIS:

Reactive Attachment Disorder: 

A simple definition via google search looks a little something like this:
​Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is one of the few disorders listed in the DSM-IV that can be applied to infants. It is a disorder caused by a lack of attachment to any specific caregiver at an early age, and results in an inability for the child to form normal, loving relationships with others.

But, I know that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, so let me elaborate:

Normal attachment goes a little something like this-- parents have a child, infant has needs (food, diaper, sleep, shelter, soothing, etc.), those needs are repeatedly met by one or both parents on a regular basis.  Think about how many times those needs are met in just the first few weeks of infancy.  As the child grows older, those needs become more complex: child falls down, needs a band-aid and kiss on the boo-boo, child accomplishes something and receives praise, child gets sick and needs comforting medical attention, child struggles with new task, the same caregiver steps in to help.  Meanwhile, the cycles of feeding, nurture, and affection are still being repeated over and over again by the same caregiver(s)-- mom and dad.

In adopted children, most have a parade of caregivers.  The word "transient" defines their childhood.  When their needs ARE met (and oftentimes they are not-- my children often went hungry, did not receive medical attention, did not receive praise for good efforts, did not receive help with difficult tasks etc.), they are met by a myriad of staff, most of whom (in our empirical observation) do not have the best interest of children at the center of their motivation.  

So, what happens when a child has cycle after cycle of unmet attachment needs?  They often develop RAD.  They also learn to survive.  This can look different by the child, we see it manifest differently in both of our children, even though their circumstances were very similar.  One child survives by sheer determination and a desire to be fiercely independent.  The other child survives by controlling everything she possibly can and by exerting learned helplessness (often looks like laziness).  

Most commonly, though, these children learn to survive through charming adults.  Chances are, if you've interacted with my children, you've walked away saying that they are so charming and cute!  Especially my little one!  Oh my goodness, what a cutie and a little charmer.  Watch out, she's working you.  If you've had interaction with my youngest, you probably immediately noticed how friendly, outgoing, and affectionate she is-- even when she didn't know you.  That might make you feel good, but it makes us as parents very concerned.  This is called "indiscriminate affection" and is a red flag for RAD.  It can lead her into many dangerous situations, and can later manifest into promiscuity and reckless choices.  Our youngest child will hug anyone, charm anyone, touch anyone, follow anyone, and would transition right on into a new place if she had to.  If one day someone told her, "hey, you're going to come live with me now", she'd be like "ok, cool!" and the only thing she'd really miss would be her sister, because that is the only true attachment she's ever had (her sister functioned as a caregiver for years).  Think I'm kidding?  I'm not.  And, I used to take it personally, until I really did my homework about RAD.  It's not personal.  It's not about me.  It's about her trauma, and we are going to work on it as long as it takes.

The problem for us as parents comes in when trying to explain RAD to others who are unfamiliar with it.  The worst interactions, we've discovered, are professionals who work with children in some capacity, and therefore think that they know what is best for our child, and it often backfires.  It is difficult to explain to someone "please don't hug, kiss, pick up my child, give her special treats etc." because people look at you like you have three heads-- believe me, I know a lot of people who have a solid opinion about me that I am crazy for making these requests, in writing sometimes when there was a refusal to comply with our wishes as parents.  But, taking time to really understand RAD can allow for healing.  The only way to redirect these children and give them hope of understanding how to function in a family and how to build attachment correctly, is to have needs met by the parents as often as possible.... and not to fall for the charm!

Based on the many discussion forums I participate in, I know adoptive parents are dealing with this diagnosis daily.  I also know they are frustrated with the lack of accessible literature to help others in their lives understand RAD.  Let's change that!  I will plan to post candidly about our struggles and the behaviors we see.  Our successes.  Our failures.  I will always protect our family's privacy to the greatest extent possible, but if we are not honest, we cannot heal.

Posted on December 24th, 2016

"You must be so excited about your first Christmas as a family, tell me all about it!"

If I had a dollar for every time Neil and I have heard this comment in the last month or so, we'd be able to raise the remaining 40% of our adoption fees-- stat! :)

It's actually really daunting and intimidating for me when I start to really dwell on it.  Here we have two children who have never really experienced Christmas as most Americans do, never experienced it in a functional family unit, and so we are feeling ALL of the pressure to make this the most perfect, magical, wonderful time of the year.  The song says so, people, so we must!  But, I have to take a step back and remember, as I often have to, that I cannot fix the last 13 and 10 years.  There is no amount of Christmas cookie baking, gift giving, caroling, church-going, pinterest scouring,  ornament making, crafting, Advent devotion-ing, or eating that will make this "THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVVARRRRR!"  

Yet, I still feel obligated to provide this to them, and I feel like I am constantly falling short.  I am trying hard to give myself grace, and, before you say it, yes, I am trying to "remember the reason for the season", although this is challenging when your children are learning English and developmentally delayed-- they have a hard time with this message and are instead relying on what they've heard about at school (although they do not believe in Santa, I guess you become pretty jaded in an orphanage when he never visits-- we had to have a chat with Stella about how she was NOT to promote that at her school and that we WOULD find out and return all her presents if she told other kids that).

The second most common thing we hear is:

"Your girls must be so excited, and what a magical time for your family."

Nope.  Hasn't been magical.  It has been emotionally messy, trauma-laiden (yes, the celebrated Christmas in Bulgaria, and yes, there are lots of traumatic memories associated with this holiday, and yes they remember, and yes they take that out on us, their parents), overly busy, exhausting, and not magical.  It's been tough more days than not, and our family has also dealt with some delays in our current adoption of the boys as well as a lot of emotions from the girls about why it is "taking so long" (oh, sweet girls, we are on the fast track this time!).

We've had hospitalizations totaling a third of the month of December for one child, and projectile vomiting from the other child yesterday all over my van.  We've had countless concerts, rehearsals, and Neil has had playoff football games for the band, fruit sales, parades, and the list goes on.  Our family time has been stretched thin, and we all feel it.  I simply have not had the time to do some of the favorite things I personally look forward to and wanted to share with them this year.  I want so desperately for them to have a magical experience, but I fear I am not providing this and it is robbing my own spirit.

I have fallen short in so many ways.  I have not lit our Advent candle weekly and prayed devotionals with my children like I planned.  We didn't go see the lights at the zoo or at the park like we planned.  I made PRE MADE cookies for Santa.  Y'all, I don't do pre-made.  They are the ugliest cookies I've ever baked.  I have not kept up with our Advent countdown calendar, and I'm pretty sure the girls don't even know what the Nativity scene is for, but they do know not to touch it because it has been passed down to us by family LOL.

My prayer ahead of our beautiful Christmas Eve service tonight is that I be able to center myself around the right message, and that my children will have THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVARRRRRR but it will be because we are all finally united together and will be making videos for their brothers to see that they, too, were included in our family celebrations.

I am human, I am broken, I often fall short.  My prayer is that I am enough for my children in this season and that they do have happy memories, even if they weren't everything I wanted for them.  We are all broken together, our whole broken, imperfect, patched together family.  We will overcome the trauma, and we will arrive on the other side stronger.  This may be our first Christmas together, but it is one of many, and there will be time for other things later.  I just have to find a way to remind myself that the first may not be the greatest, and that as time goes on, they will be able to enjoy more as a family.  We all will.  Our brokenness will be healed year after year.

Merry Christmas to each of you, blessings for the New Year.  Know that our family considers our biggest blessing this year to be the support we have received from you through  

no categories
no tags