Monday, November 28, 2011

9 months

Today Z has been home for 9 months! I'm going to save my next 'epic' post-placement installment for the 1 year mark, but I didn't want to let this milestone slip by unnoticed.

Z continues to live up to his names: he is strengthened by God - a strong, resilient, and loving boy, and he is an immeasurable blessing to our whole family.

We're all yours, buddy!

first thanksgiving!

my nana spoils me.

ready for my close-up.

dancing with mama.

Friday, November 25, 2011

7 quick takes: thanksgiving photo essay version

[I promise to post something other than '7 quick takes' sometime soon. In the meantime I've thrown together some photo collages featuring moments from the last week when I was not breaking up fights, wiping bums, or stepping on cheerios with bare feet. Enjoy!]

1. Early Thanksgiving dinner with my fam.

2. Prepping for dinner at our place.

N made placemats and I practiced making apple candles.

[2.5 -- The real deal.]

As I was taking the cute apple picture featured in the previous photo collage, I found it ironic that I was holding the apple up over a sink full of dirty dishes. We can make ourselves look pretty darn awesome as long as we point the camera the right direction, amen?

3. Big Wednesday

Out of the house by 8:15, to Staples to drop off the placemats for laminating, QFC for preschool party items (OK, and S.tarbucks), drop kids at school, teach Mommy & Me class, leave class early to go to Thanksgiving celebrations in 2 different classrooms, quick stop at a friend's house to drop off a Thanksgiving meal voucher on the way to the dentist for teeth cleanings for D & Z, back to Staples to pick up the placemats (they turned out cute!), home for lunch & naps, off to a pre-Thanksgiving take-out dinner party, and finally to church for a beautiful Thanksgiving Eve service... with 3 squirmy tired boys, no childcare, and J playing drums most of the service. Thankful, exhausted, and ready for a frosty beverage.

5. Sunrise on the stemware.

I woke up Thursday morning to a very grumpy toddler, and an absolutely amazing sunrise.

4. Tables.

We had 9 adults and 6 kids - the perfect size for my first time hosting a Thanksgiving dinner.

6. Thankful feasting.

It was a lovely evening. I was way less stressed than I thought I'd be. I love the people around my table. I am so, so thankful.

7. Cabin day trip.

This morning we found ourselves looking at an empty calendar and a promising weather forecast, so we headed to my parent's cabin on Vashon Island. It was gorgeous, chilly, quiet, and just what we all needed. Still so very thankful.

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

7 slow takes

[I'm a day late for the link-up but I thought I'd post anyway]

1. If I could only listen to one band for the rest of my life, I think it might be The Civil Wars. Their style, their song writing, their insane talent, their chemistry - I love it all, and we got to see it live in concert at the Neptune Theatre on Monday. I am so glad we got to go, not only because it was amazing beyond words, but also -

2. because our tickets spent 4 days in the recycling bin and would have been gone forever if it hadn't happened to be an 'off' week for recycle pick-up! I ordered them a few months ago and they came in the mail in a plain white envelope. We opened them and set them aside, but they somehow drifted into a pile of junk mail and my husband someone threw them out. A few days later I went to put them in a safe place, but couldn't find them anywhere, so (after I did some deep breathing and relaxation techniques to prevent a panic attack) we started looking through the kitchen recycling. We didn't find them. (More panic attacks.) Then J realized the recycling hadn't gone out this week and there were a few bags in the bin outside.We must have looked like lunatics out in our driveway frantically tearing open our own recycling... but we found them! Crisis averted.

3. In "This Never Ever Happens" news, I actually went to two concerts this week. Audrey Assad played a surprise impromptu show at the Fremont Abbey on Thursday night for a handful of her Twitter followers (see? Twitter is good for something!). She played a bunch of songs that will be coming out on her new record in February and they were so good I'm not sure how I'll wait that long to hear them again.

bad cell phone picture of me & Audrey Assad

4. While we're on the topic of music, my kids are obsessed with the new album from Slugs & Bugs, Under Where? I want to to do a full review of the album on this blog soon, especially because one of the songs is about adoption, so I won't go into too much detail now. I will say it is one of only a very few kids' albums that I can not only tolerate but actually enjoy. More on that soon...

5. Last night and this morning we have been watching a video of Z from May 2010 - the first video we ever saw of him, taken the same week we signed his referral. It is fascinating to watch Z watch himself - he is mesmerized by it. I also can't believe how much of his personality was captured by these 90 seconds of video: it is so him.

this photo was taken the same day as the video we've been watching

6. Yesterday we went to the doctor because D had been sick for a few days (he seems much better today, thank goodness), and on the way home I treated the boys to a little S.tarbucks date. I think Z liked his "buna" (Amharic for 'coffee', one of the only Amharic words he still says)...

7. We're off to my parents house now for Thanksgiving Dinner, Part One -- two of my siblings can't do dinner on Thursday, so we're starting the holiday early and eating our big turkey dinner together today. On that note, I better go change out of my jammies and make some green bean casserole. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

feelings and grace

Remember those cute leaf-raking pictures from my last post? Yeah, this one didn't make it in. ;)

I don't envy adoption agency staff members -- preparing people to become adoptive parents must be crazy hard. I happen to think our agency did a fantastic job preparing us, and I'm impressed with how they've continued to refine and improve the education component of their program. Despite the great pre-adoption preparation we received, there was an undetected disconnect lurking in me -- something I didn't know that I didn't know until circumstances brought it to the surface.

I knew plenty about how Z might behave when he came home, and why, and what to do about it. I knew about how challenging it would be for him to leave everything familiar and come to a strange place with strange people, all at a critical point in his development. I knew it would challenge me too as I implemented strategies for bonding, building trust, and correcting inappropriate behavior. I'm not trying to toot my own horn here, I'm just saying that my preparation was robust and I felt ready ready ready. I like a challenge, I thought. Especially a challenge that I have been anticipating and waiting to start for a million years months and months.

The disconnect came in the form of feelings. Some of the feelings I have listed below were short-lived and faded within days of getting home. Others are still part of my daily emotional life. All of them came as a surprise.

After the wait was over:

I felt numbness and ambivalence about bringing Z home

I felt uncomfortable and unnatural caring for him

I felt anger and frustration toward him when he acted out or threw a fit

I felt hurt and rejected when he didn't return my affection

I felt grief over the loss of my 'easy' family

I felt unhappy at a time when everyone expected me to be thrilled

I felt fearful about my ability to give Z the consistent, unconditional love-in-action that I knew he needed

I felt like I was in an abusive relationship, in the sense that a person was hurting me over and over and I had to keep coming back for more

I felt isolated because I was afraid to share my feelings with others

I felt horribly, horribly guilty and ashamed about all of the above.

Let me reiterate, I fully understood Z's behavior and was not surprised by it. To some degree, I even understood my emotional reaction to it... but only in a book-knowledge, "this can happen to some people and it is normal, but it won't happen to me" kind of way. For the sake of balance, I have to say that I also felt a lot of other, much more positive things: wonder, gratitude, and hope, to name a few. And over the course of the past several months, the trend has been overwhelming toward more and more positive emotions and fewer negative ones. But the beginning? Well, you read the list.

[Side note: Can you even imagine was Z's list would look like? He's still too young to put his feelings into words but I am pretty sure mine would pale in comparison to his. And honestly, he handled it all better than I did. Downright amazing, that kid.]

I am not sharing this to scare anyone, and I'm certainly not sharing it to garner sympathy. I'm sharing it because it's a real part of my story. I don't know what would have helped me to be more emotionally prepared beforehand. In the months before Z came home I had some major 'preparation fatigue' so I'm not sure any additional training would have registered with me. But sometimes just knowing that someone else has felt what you are feeling goes a long way. We all like to know we're not alone.

There are many things that have helped me to regain emotional health in the past several months, but they can all be distilled down to one thing: grace. Grace from others, in particular my amazing husband who told me beautiful lies every day (You're doing great, honey! It's OK to feel how you feel. OK, so they might have been truths, but they felt like lies at the time). Grace from myself, releasing myself from the chains of perfectionism and the self-condemnation that always follows. And behind, between, above it all, the grace of God -- the eternal 'yes' to my personhood, the gift of being forever good enough even if I do it all wrong, the orientation of God toward me, for me, with me, in me. Grace, grace to you friends.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

7 quick takes

[My first time participating in any kind of 'link up'... yeah, big time stuff.]

1. I can't stop thinking about the last book I finished, Conceiving Parenthood by Amy Laura Hall. It took me almost 9 months to read, mostly because it was pretty heavy and academic, which makes it hard to read for a person who gets interrupted approximately every 10 seconds. But I made it through and I'm glad I did. The book is basically an overview of the changing conceptions of family life / reproduction / parenting throughout the 20th century in mainstream American culture. Fascinating. And also, yikes.

2. I was late to the Pinterest party but now that I've arrived I am finding it to be every bit as delightful and time-sucking as promised. However I'm excited to report that I have actually done one of the projects I pinned! And it was sort of crafty! And I didn't completely screw it up! I'm as shocked as you are.

jersey knit headband

headbands & belts I'm hoping to sell at our preschool holiday fair

3. Do you ever think about people's blogging selves as being separate from their actual selves? Lately I've been more and more aware of the separation between who we are online and who we really are. I try to be honest and real here, but this blog does not authentically capture the full extent of who I am or what my family is like. And I am very OK with that because for one thing, it's public, and for another, if human beings and their relationships could be fully captured by a website... well that would just be sad.

4. The other day I was having leftover spaghetti for lunch and Z asked for a bite. Spaghetti is one of the only things he has loved to eat since we first met him and I got all nostalgic as I spoon-fed him a few bites. He was looking up at me with the sweetest expression and marinara sauce on his nose and I don't think I've ever loved him more.

5. None of the kids have school today so we're going swimming at the Y with friends. I'm hoping to keep the kids in the water a lot this winter so we don't lose all the progress we made over the summer and in Hawaii. D in particular made huge strides in Hawaii and can now swim at least 15 yards independently. Maybe I'll have 2 on the swim team next summer??

6. This weekend we are stopping by our agency's international adoption training for a bit to share some of our experiences with prospective adoptive parents. I'm excited! And kinda nervous.

7. Last Saturday was the annual fall leaf rake in the backyard. This was the first year when the boys were old enough to actually be reasonably helpful (well, 2 out of 3 anyway). We raked, piled, ran, jumped, and took the obligatory photos, followed by hot chocolate and hot tubbing at Nana & Papa's.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

worth celebrating

This week Z had an appointment with his doctor, a pediatrician who specializes in international adoption medicine. We haven't seen her for 6 months so it was time to check in, get some shots, and run some routine follow-up lab tests. If you asked Z how it went, you'd probably get mixed reviews: Well, they did have chalk and a chalkboard in the room and I got cookies afterward, but I also got something sprayed up my nose and lots of needles stuck in me. Fair point. Z may not have loved it, but from a mama perspective it turned out to be a huge blessing.

In the somewhat-controlled chaos that is life with 3 little boys, most days it is hard to see beyond the dirty socks and sibling squabbles to notice the miracles God is doing in our family. Like standing too close to a Monet, it's basically just a big mess until you step back and look at the whole thing. That's what this doctor visit gave me -- a chance to back up and look again. I looked down at the Patient Information form we fill out at each visit and realized I could circle "no" under every single thing in the "Do You Have Concerns About Your Child's..." column. I could place a check mark under all the developmental milestones for his age. I could fill out the whole form without hesitating or thinking, "Well, maybe this is an issue but I don't know him well enough yet to be sure." I gotta say, that felt awesome.

Maybe it's because Z is two and a half, maybe it's because I tend toward perfectionism, maybe it's because three children are constantly asking me for three different things and thus monopolizing the bulk of my mental space, but I don't often sit back and simply celebrate how amazingly well Z is doing. It is worth celebrating! I think sometimes my hyper-analytical self thinks that if I dwell on how great he is doing it will undermine the real difficulties he has faced and may continue to face as he integrates his past and present stories and situations. Plus I'm kind of allergic to sugarcoating stuff, which is fine I suppose, but that doesn't mean I can't celebrate the very real victories God has given us. And so...

We celebrate health: Z is growing well and has not struggled with any persistent health problems since coming home.

We celebrate healing: Z's club foot is, in my not-so-professional opinion, completely healed. He is a speedy little runner and kicks a mean soccer ball. Nothing's gonna hold him back!

We celebrate development: Z's language, gross motor, fine motor, cognitive, and social skills are all within the normal range for his age.

We celebrate progress: Z still likes to throw a good fit and pick fights over control issues, but he is able to recover from these things much more quickly than he did at first. I know what works to calm him down, what tone of voice will comfort him, and what phrases will resonate with him in a given situation. And he knows family skills like saying sorry, asking nicely, and using words before hands (well, we're working on it anyway).

We celebrate love: It would be impossible to count the number of kisses Z gives me in the course of one day. He is so sweet and affectionate it can actually be overwhelming at times! He loves us. We love him. It took time and patience and tears, but God gave us love for one another and it grows every day.

Yes, there are messes and mess-ups and mishaps, but I hope those things never keep me from seeing the bigger things that God is doing. He is working, both in the daily challenges and the greater context, and that is always worth celebrating.

Celebrating cousins / best-buddies.