Imperfect blessings

I have really struggled in the past couple of weeks trying to find the right words in giving those that have been waiting, an update about Emma. There is just so MUCH to tell, yet I feel there aren’t enough words to say what I want to say. I think it’s because it is hard to describe what I feel each time I look at and just think about this little girl who finally came home to her family 3 1/2 months ago.

No one goes into parenthood wishing for a child with disabilities. We all pray for a “healthy baby” when we become pregnant, or discover we are going to be grandparents. I was no different. Each time I found out I was pregnant, I did everything humanly possible to bring a healthy child into this world and into my family. That didn’t change when Ron and I made the decision to adopt. We naively thought we’d bring two healthy children into our lives and go blissfully on our merry way, raising them into responsible adults just like we had done with our other children.

We started the long arduous road of international adoption with our heads in the clouds, completely oblivious to what was happening in the world where real children lived in real orphanages. We discovered a world where children were living in horrifying conditions, cold, hungry, and tossed away like garbage because they were not perfect when they were born. The sun was NOT going to come out tomorrow and there was no Daddy Warbucks coming to save Annie, or Ivana, or Dimana, or Yu Chang.

And this knowledge changed our perception of a healthy, perfect child.

We received an email from our agency, Children’s House International, with the file of a 5 year old little girl with Cystic Fibrosis. The photos and video showed a tiny little girl, with big brown eyes and a shy smile all dressed up in a white angel costume, complete with wings. Beautiful as she was, paralyzing fear ripped through me. When I was 5, a friend and kindergarten classmate of mine died of cystic fibrosis. I closed her file and refused to consider bringing home a child that could die before the age of 10, or even 6! We continued to look at files of other children, but I kept coming back to the video of the little angel dancing in the video. And I realized this wasn’t about me. This wasn’t about what my heart could handle, it was about a tiny little girl, living 5772 miles away and left in an orphanage in Eastern Europe because she wasn’t perfect. A little girl who needed proper medical care to treat her cystic fibrosis and a family to love her no matter how long she lived. I set my fear aside and brought this child home to be my daughter.

During the process of finalizing Cara’s adoption, we received the file of another little girl. A child not quite 2 at that time with a multitude of problems. Born not breathing, resuscitated at 3 minutes old, and abandoned by her mother because the doctors said her baby would not be perfect and would be better off in an institution. A little girl who by admission of the orphanage staff was sickly and they had no time for her, so she was left in her crib to her own devices day after day. No contact with other children, no adult to care for her other than feeding and changing, no toys, no interaction. They didn’t have time for children like her who were so very damaged. Her pictures showed another little girl with big brown eyes and a look of confusion on her pretty little face. My heart broke, and once again paralyzing fear ripped through me. She couldn’t walk or talk or even sit up by herself. We were “older” parents. We wanted a child that could walk and talk. I set the file aside, but asked continuously if a family had committed to her. I rejoiced when I heard a family had. And I cried when I found out the family backed out. By that time, the little girl had had her second birthday and I once again had to confront my fears. And so began the process of bringing home this imperfect child.

As I said, no one prays for a child with special needs. I was no different. Committing to these two little girls gripped me with a fear I’d never known. Yes, I had raised four children to adulthood, but they were all “perfect” by world standards. They were all healthy at birth, and we lived the normal life of a family with kids who played soccer, excelled in school, had friends, became those “I’m smarter than you are” teens we all know and love. They moved on to living their own lives as adults. We had no experience with children with special needs, either medically, physically, or mentally. We were walking into the unknown and had no idea what to expect.

Doing our due diligence, we learned our lives were going to change dramatically. Our days would be filled with doctor appointments, physical therapy, occupational therapy, pulmonary therapy, as well as emotional and developmental delays. Long days that would leave me exhausted and frustrated. Long days that would also leave me filled with such joy and amazement.

What I didn’t expect or know was the incredible blessings these imperfect children would be. And this is where I struggle to find the words to express what I want to say about Cara and Emma.

Cara has now been home two years. We celebrated her 2nd “gotcha day” on February 8th. We brought home a tiny, frightened 6 year old, developmentally about 3 years old, who has grown into a confident, outgoing, smart and funny, makes me laugh every day, 8 year old. She is a joy and a treasure.

Emma has been home 3 1/2 months. I could talk about Emma all day for a week and not be able to tell you all the progress she has made. She amazes me EVERY.SINGLE.DAY!

In May of 2014 when we were finally able to visit her in her orphanage for the first time, they brought us this limp little girl, literally hanging in a staff members arms like a limp dish rag. She was 4 years old. There was no spark to her at all. Ron and I looked at each other again with a fear neither of us had ever felt before. We took her into the room where we were allowed to visit with her and spent 6 hours with her that first day. Her eyes were vacant, and she was unresponsive to anything around her including loud noises. She could not or would not make eye contact and would roll over into a position of sitting on her knees and rock herself back and forth, head almost touching the floor in front of her and then hyper-extending her neck so far back it would press on her larynx to the point it would compromise her breathing. I fed her lunch and half her meal came up and out her nose. There was no question ever that we would back out of the adoption, but we were both terrified. What if she never improved? How would we care for her? Could we provide her with everything she would need? WHAT would she need? We spent 5 days with her, and finally by the end of the 3rd day we saw some improvement. A hint of a smile, tiny little fingers wrapping around mine and wiggling their way into my hair.

Without knowing Emma, and knowing where she was last May, you might not see the changes that have come about over the past 3 months. Some of the changes are so subtle, unless you spend every day with her, you might miss them. But for Emma, they are huge. The limp little dishrag now crawls and pushes herself all over the house on her back. The little girl we were told was cognitively a vegetable, will pick up a hair brush and put it to her head. She will roll away from me on the floor if she is tired of me trying to stop her from hyper extending her neck, so she can do it where she thinks I can’t reach her. She pulls herself up into a standing position. She pets the cat when he lays down next to her. She turns her head to see where noise comes from, and laughs and giggles when you tickle her. She cries when she is hurt, instead of laughing inappropriately because no one ever came to help her in the orphanage. She no longer pushes me away when I pick her up and now snuggles her little face into my shoulder. She reaches for me to pick her up when she wants to be held. She started crying huge, heart wrenching tears after quietly spending the  first 3 nights home in her crib because she no longer wanted to be in a crib. She responds to her name, and understands no, eat, cat, dog, and a few other words. We believe she has said mama and dada, but we are not 100% sure she knows what they mean. She is learning to  play with toys, and has a favorite. We’ve taught her to clap her hands, and clap one of ours. She now splashes in the bath and enjoys having her hair washed. She is holding her head up better and for longer periods every day.

She sees her physical therapist for an hour three times a week and works hard. She now has AFO’s (ankle-foot orthotics) to stabilize her feet and help her stand. Her knees, which she could not straighten, are straightening. She can stand for longer and longer periods in a stander, fully weight bearing.

She has been evaluated by a speech therapist who believes she may someday speak, and chew her food. She has had a barium swallow study that show the muscles in her throat aren’t strong enough to fully swallow her food, which is why it comes back out her nose. This has improved dramatically with v-stim therapy to strengthen those muscles.

She has been to see the ENT to rule out bad tonsils and adenoids, which are not causing her problems.

The ophthalmologist discovered she has pale optic nerves, which indicates optic nerve damage, most likely caused by a lack of oxygen at birth, but it is obvious she can see. Until she can communicate a little better we won’t know well she sees.

She has seen the dentist who wants to see her in 3 months to see if she will allow someone to clean her teeth. I’m thinking sedation will be needed.

She has sleep apnea and has an overnight sleep study in her future.

The visit to a pediatric neurologist confirmed the diagnosis of cerebral palsy and microcephaly. An MRI of her brain shows damage in the back of her brain consistent with an injury at birth, which we suspected. This was not news to us, just confirmation. He told us statistically, children who are not walking or talking by age 2 most likely never will, but because he doesn’t know how much of Emma’s issues are due to neglect and how much were caused by a lack of oxygen at birth he has no idea how much she may recover. We continue to believe she will walk and eventually talk. We know of other children who have started walking and talking after age 2, one child as old as 8, so we know the possibility is there.

Have the last 3 1/2 months been easy? No! Do I enjoy getting up early every morning to rush off to this therapy and that therapy and this doctor and that doctor? No! Do I regret any of it? No!. Would I do it all over again? Yes! Am I still afraid? Yes! Would I have willingly prayed for these imperfect children? No…  However, if I had allowed my fears to rule my life, I would have missed out on two of the biggest blessings ever offered and freely given.

I can’t explain what it is like to watch God’s miracles unfold right in front of my eyes. Seeing Him work daily leaves me humbled and awed. Watching Cara blossom into a healthy, confident little girl is amazing. Seeing Emma overcome the years of neglect and so quickly learn she can trust us to comfort her when she cries, feed her when she’s hungry, and just be there for her brings tears to my eyes. She has no reason to trust us. She has no reason to believe someone will comfort her when she cries, or hold her when she wants to be held. And she certainly has no reason to trust us enough to love us back. Yet she trusts…

These imperfect little girls have redefined the meaning of “perfect.”

 

Saving Emma

Our sweet girl continues to wait in her crib to be ransomed. It has now been 18 months since we asked to add her to Cara’s adoption and were turned down because of our age. According to Emma’s government, “People over the age of 50 are incapable of playing with children.” However, they approved these over 50 parents to adopt a 5 year old just two months before.

If you remember, Emma was just 26 months old at the time and stuck in a crib with no one to hold her, love her, care for her, other than feed and change her diaper on occasion. She has been classified as a vegetable, who cannot feel touch, pain, or emotion. Our agency here in the states sent someone to visit her, and they found her strapped in a stroller, behind a door, facing a blank wall. The caregivers had a hard time finding her and no one knew how long she’d been left there. Her government feels she is better off in an adult mental institution than with parents who love her and will get her the treatment and therapy she needs to become whatever God plans for her.

Emma has had two families come forward and ask to be referred to adopt her. Both families refused the referral and walked away. One family before we requested her referral, and the second family last May. They met her and walked away. I cannot fault them for that. They have to feel comfortable with the disabilities of the child in order to bring her home. But, Emma has now had two families walk away.

Our in-country foundation took on the battle of taking this case to court. Originally their lower court said this was not a case that could be heard. The Supreme Court disagreed and said they had to hear it. A win for Emma! Back in admin court, we won again! They ruled we could not be denied due to age. Another win for Emma! The government appealed.  The next hearing will be held on November 19th. Just 13 more days to find out if Emma will be given a chance at life beyond her crib. She is now 3 ½ years old. She has spent another 18 months in her crib waiting. Waiting for the love of a mother and father. Waiting for someone to snuggle her close, read her a story, whisper “I love you” in her ear. Waiting for all the things most children have without having to wait.

Emma is not the only one waiting. My arms ache to hold her, to snuggle her close to my neck. To read her those stories, and whisper in her ear how much she is wanted, how much she is loved, and how precious she is. How she was made in His image, and is loved more than she will ever know.

It’s been suggested more than once that we give up the fight and move on. Move on and find a healthier child to bring home, move on and forget this child that has a hold on my heart, and has touched me in ways I cannot describe. It is impossible to move on. It is impossible to forget. It is hard to remember that this happens in His time, not mine. But I will be forever faithful in believing this child is my daughter, and we will not stop fighting to bring her home.

We are asking for prayers for the favor of the court, and the government head that will make the final decision once the court finds in our favor. We will take this back to the Supreme Court if necessary.

We also ask for prayers for financial help. The attorney fees have eaten up our savings, the funds we had saved pay the final fees for Emma’s adoption. We ask for blessings on our attempts at raising the money needed to bring this little one home.

We have started a fund at  https://www.adopttogether.org/emma. If you feel inclined to help us bring this child home, every dollar helps. This is a non profit site, and you can ask for a tax receipt for any donation you make.  We are truly grateful for any help offered!

A story of “Firsts”

Has it really been 5 months???

Almost… on July 7th, it will be five months since we picked Cara up at the orphanage! Where does the time go? She has been home almost half a year already! As I type this, I remember the tiny, frightened little girl, who was crying uncontrollably in the orphanage director’s office after they brought her to us. A little girl with no where to run, desperately looking for an escape route. The frightened little girl who had to be forced into a car seat as she reached for people she knew, screaming in absolute terror as the car drove off with her pinned inside. How she cried. How I tried so hard to comfort her, and how she would have none of it. This tiny 6 year-old girl, all 24 pounds of her, crying and kicking and rocking back and forth as we drove further and further away from the only home she’d ever known. Her whole world turned upside down and inside out. My heart broke as she cried, wild eyed and terrified of the unknown.

A little girl that was so terrified of the dogs, she screamed blood curdling screams until we got them far away from her! A little girl that begged to go home if we were out anywhere but Costco and the grocery store! From day one she loved to shop!

The little girl who had no idea how to play with toys of any kind, but knew how to sweep like an adult, fold clothes like a pro, and could make my king size bed well enough that I didn’t feel it was necessary to remake it.

Five months later, this terrified 24 pound little girl has grown 4.5” and gained 11 lbs! She is outgrowing clothes and shoes faster than I can keep up! Her English is amazing, even with a limited vocabulary. She is fun, and funny, and so incredibly smart! She loves “her” dogs, and has learned to play with toys. She’s learned it’s fine to help fold laundry, but it’s not her job to do it. She says almost every day, “I like mommy, daddy, home!” She prays each night before bed, “Thank you Heavenly Father. Thank you for mommy, thank you for daddy, thank you for dog, thank you for cat. Thank you for food, thank you for my family.”

She’s learned all of her alphabet letters by sight and knows all of her colors. She is learning to write letters, and working on writing her name. She loves to color, loves her babies and stuffed animals, and talks to them as if they are real!

Today, Ron and I took her to her first movie at the theater. We waited this long because she has been so afraid of the dark. Afraid to the point that if we were out and about and it got dark before we got home, we had to turn the light on in the back seat or she screamed in terror all the way home. She slept with a light on until just recently. When she finally allowed us to shut off the bathroom light when we went to bed, we felt she was ready for the theatre. And she was! She didn’t like the movie much, Monsters U, but she wasn’t afraid of the dark theater, and was willing to sit as long as the popcorn bucket was full.

Taking her to the movie made me think about all the firsts she’s experienced since picking her up. Her first night in a hotel, and first restaurant meal. First taste of French fries and ice cream. Her first visit to the capital city of her birth. First McD’s chicken nuggets! Her first plane ride!  Her first bedroom to call her own, even though she won’t sleep in there! First trip to Texas, first time at the beach and seeing the ocean, first collection of sea shells! First time seeing the stars and the moon! First time in a grocery store, shoe store, and clothing store! First taste of spaghetti, or ska-betty as she calls it. She has not acquired a taste for it yet. First time at church and first time learning about Jesus. First time she didn’t have to share shoes and clothes with several other children. First toys to call her own, and first time she had mommy and daddy.

With children we bring into our families by birth, we mark the milestones, proudly recording the date they smiled a real smile, rolled over, sat up, first tooth, date they started crawling, had their first solid food, took their first step and said their first word. There are so many “firsts” during that first year, it’s overwhelming. We forget about the second and third year of firsts. Such as the first time they fell and skinned a knee. First goose egg, first time they played in the grass barefoot or tasted a dill pickle. We forget that these firsts are just as important but since the big “firsts” have already been recorded, we don’t think to write them down.

Bringing Cara home at the age of 6 has been so different, and there have been more firsts than I ever imagined. During the 30 hour travel time to get her, I was lamenting about how much I’d missed. All those firsts we parents are so excited to see as our babies grow. I was feeling a little sorry for myself that I didn’t know her as a younger child, and couldn’t share any of that history with her. It wasn’t until a couple of days after we picked her up that I realized how many “firsts” we were going to experience together! And truthfully, the firsts you experience with an older child are incredibly exciting, because THEY are so excited. Please don’t misunderstand! The firsts of babyhood are priceless to a parent. But watching an older child experience the world for the first time is a humbling experience. Everything we take for granted is an absolute wonder to Cara. Can you believe she had never seen the stars, or the moon? I knew she hadn’t been to a grocery store, or been to a park, or flown in an airplane. But never seeing the stars? Her excitement truly humbled me. We take the stars and the moon for granted. We know they will always be there. Cara is still amazed that they are there every night.

Last weekend, I took her to the park for the first time. I’d avoided taking her for a while because I knew she would hate having to leave, and scream all the way home. And when it was time to leave, she did just that. But, watching her go down the slide for the first time, and pushing her on the swing for the first time was priceless! She screamed in excitement as I pushed her on the swing, then in terror as she got too high! As I slowed her down, she begged for more, laughing, and then catching her breath as fear overtook her again! I think she would have had me push that swing all day if the slides didn’t call out to her again! Watching her run through the playground equipment, trying out everything she could was wonderful but also bittersweet. It made me sad that she’d missed out on this small pleasure for so long, but it was also so wonderful to watch her experience it for the first time.

I know Cara and I have many more “firsts” to experience together, and hopefully, they won’t become so “routine” that I forget to write them down for her. I plan to start a book of “firsts” for her. We may never know when she took her first step, but we know when she first put her feet in the Gulf of Mexico, took her first plane ride, and experienced so many other things for the first time! There is another exciting first about to happen… She’s very excited! Stay tuned…

Sad news, Cara news, waiting news and a wedding!

This week I learned that another little girl, an orphan in Eastern Europe, died, waiting for her forever family to come and get her. She had been chosen, and her family was rushing through the paperwork to bring her home. Orphans die every day. This is not news. It is horrific news, but nothing new. It is truly heartbreaking, and just a bit more when you know the family and have seen photos of the child they are rushing to adopt.

Little Susanna was only 6 years old. She had spina bifida. She rarely, if ever, left her crib. She never felt the warmth of the sun on her face, or felt the wind in her hair. She never smelled the deliciousness of spring, or felt the excitement and exhilaration of fresh, cold snow. And she never felt the love of a mommy and daddy as they snuggled her little face against their necks and whispered how much she was loved in her ear. No one to tuck her in at night, read her a story, laugh with her, and cry with her. No one.  Today my family will celebrate Susanna’s life here on earth and find comfort in knowing she is now in the hands of Jesus, whole and healthy, and able to run and play. I take comfort in knowing the scent of spring is far more delicious in heaven than it is here, and the colors far more vibrant. Knowing there is no more pain in a back that was never repaired, and that she finally feels the love of The Father, also gives me comfort. Run fast, little angel! Take it all in! Laugh, and play as you never could before. You will be missed, but your family will meet you there and you will know how loved, cherished and valued you really were down here in this broken world.

Cara continues to blossom! She is speaking English almost exclusively, throwing just a few words out now and again in her native language. She is learning letter recognition and sounds, as well as number recognition and counting. We are not doing anything too structured at this time, just having fun with it and using real life “teaching moments.” She loves to play school and write and copy letters in her books.

The weather has started to get better, so we bought her a bike with training wheels last month. Daddy had to get out and teach her how to pedal and brake (she is still working on that concept) and it is her new love in life! Every morning she gets up and looks outside to see if it’s raining or if the sun is shining. If the sun is out, she runs through the house in absolute excitement yelling “Bike! Bike!” I am always amazed at how little it takes to bring joy to this little girl. The things we’ve had all our lives and take for granted are truly amazing experiences for her. I wish I could have taken video of the first time she saw the stars! She had gone out with daddy to take the dogs out and came running in yelling, “Mama! Stars!!” She took me by the hand out on the deck and with eyes wide tried so hard to count them. When she first saw a full moon she was speechless! And for this child to be speechless…!

I am amazed at how well she is adjusting. She is an absolute sponge for love and so willing to love back. She’s also quite adept at the fine art of manipulation, stalling, and laying on the guilt. If she is not listening to me and I have to get a bit stern with her to make her understand that I’m serious in my request, she now says with fake tears, “Mama no like Cara!” The first time she said that she really got me. I was mortified! However, when I was telling Ron about it later that evening, she laughed and repeated what she said. She got me, once, but not again! My response to that now is, “I love you, but I don’t like your behavior.” I may be slow, but I’m not stupid!

A tantrum is so rare now it takes me by surprise when it happens. There is no longer any violence in the tantrum. She is learning self control, and learning to trust our love. Seeing this happen has been an overwhelming experience for me. Watching the trust develop over these few months isn’t something you realize until it’s there. It is nothing short of a miracle at how fast she has come to trusting and having faith that we will love her and take care of her.

I have enjoyed watching her as she has learned to play. Not just with us, but with her toys, especially her babies. Watching her nurture them, feeding, holding, and loving them is a great indicator of how she is feeling nurtured herself.

She is finally getting all the necessary dental work done on Friday, June 7th. She did not receive any dental care in the orphanage, and consequently she needs major work done. She has to have two abscessed molars removed, spacers put in to hold their place for her adult teeth, a crown, five fillings and her teeth cleaned. In order to make this as easy as possible on her, and get the work done all at once, she will be hospitalized on an out patient basis and the work will be done under anesthesia in the O.R. As much as I hate the idea of her being under anesthesia, it is necessary to avoid the trauma of multiple dental visits and Novocain. The two bad molars have been hurting her a great deal the past two weeks, and she is currently on antibiotics to quell the infection and ibuprofen for the pain. We’ve been told she will feel so good after the surgery and experience little to no pain at all because the root system in the baby teeth is so small. I pray they are right and she will come home ready to eat again. She’s struggling right now because the bad molars are on both sides.

We have news about Emma, but we still wait for someone in her country to do what is best for her.  I can’t remember if I mentioned that last December another family had started their paperwork to adopt our little girl. We were heartbroken that she may not come home to us here, but overjoyed at the same time that she would be released from her prison crib and have a family. That was our wish for her from the very beginning. We did not stop our process and lawsuit to have her placed with us because we were unsure how quickly the other family could get to her.  There is also the possibility that the family will reject the child when they travel to meet them, and refuse the referral This is exactly what happened when the family went to meet Emma. For some reason they rejected her and she has once again been listed on the government website as “available.” I have very mixed emotions over this. It saddens me that the family did not see her value and potential, her perfectness in the eyes of God. But it sure gives me reason to believe that she is coming home to be Cara’s sister, and our second daughter. It has been a little over a year now since we first put in our paperwork to be matched with Emma, and were turned down. It makes me sick that this child has been confined to a crib for 6-8 additional months because we were turned down. She would have been home with Cara if all had gone as expected. Home receiving all the therapy she needs to get stronger and develop. That this child was used as a pawn in the sick game of a corrupt government angers me to the point of physically shaking! Their sick game affected Cara’s homecoming too. She waited longer as we waited on the courts to see if we could bring them home together. Both girls should have been home by Halloween of last year. The positive side to this is Emma has now had 3 failed attempts at a family. I know that doesn’t sound positive, but it should certainly make us OLD people look better in the eyes of the government!  The one and only family that has stood strong in the desire to bring her home and love and cherish her is us. The family her government says is “too old” to be adequate parents for her. They feel she is better off being transferred to an adult mental institution where 85% of these children die within their first year, than being loved by older parents. Insanity at it’s finest. Maybe now they will be a little less insane and do what is best for this child and allow her to come home to older parents who will love and cherish her.

Children’s House International, our U.S. agency has asked our attorneys in country to approach the IAC and once again ask them to reconsider our request to adopt Emma. If they are successful, we will not have to go to court on June 5th and should receive a referral shortly. If that happens we may very well have this little girl home before Christmas! What a gift that will be!

Because of this news, we have again entered the realms of “crazyville.” This past week I’ve been rushing to get the paperwork finished to get our home study updated. Updates for  our background checks faxed to the appropriate agencies, financial report filled out, and  appointments for both of us to update our physicals. Everything our home study agency needs to get the update done and approved and once again off to USCIS!

My beautiful, beautiful daughter, Alexandra married the man of her dreams on Saturday, May 25th. It was an absolutely beautiful wedding, and she was a stunning bride. Her happiness and joy that day were so evident in her smile and in her eyes. Was it hard for me to see my “little girl” get married at 18? Yes!! But, I believe she is happy, and that makes me happy. The hardest part was watching her and her new husband, Derrick, drive away on Sunday to their new home in Oregon. Derrick took a job with the railroad and they will be living in Eugene once his training is finished. Having her so far away is terribly difficult for this mama! I miss her every day, but am so grateful for technology and my ability to skype with her! I wish the two of them a lifetime of happiness and joy! And a couple of grandchildren someday for me to spoil! 🙂

 

 

Wonderful Times

April 28, 2013. Twenty-four years ago, I married a wonderful man who loves me unconditionally. He would have to, or we most likely wouldn’t still be married. Admittedly, I am not the easiest person to live with. But, he has loved me through all the trials and struggles we’ve been through during the past 24 years, and today as we sit watching “Lady and the Tramp” and eating popcorn with our newest addition, I celebrate him, and the last 24 years.

Now… Cara and the update you’ve all been waiting for. Our lives have been filled with doctors since bringing her home. We knew from her medical file that she had Cystic Fibrosis when we committed to adopt her. Cystic fibrosis (CF) is the most common, fatal genetic disease in the United States. CF causes the body to produce thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs, leads to lung infection, and blocks the pancreas, which stops digestive enzymes from reaching the small intestine where they are needed to digest food. Because Cara was not receiving any treatment for her CF in country, she was not digesting the food she ate, and she remained very small. Her bone age is 3 ½ years old, and she will be 6 ½ in May.

We were told she did not have CF in her lungs, and knowing very little about the disease we were very encouraged. However, after meeting with the Cystic Fibrosis Team at Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane earlier this month, we now know what the disease really is. Currently, Cara has no mucus in her lungs. This is a very good sign, but it doesn’t mean she only has intestinal CF as we were led to believe. It only means the CF has not yet gone into her lungs. This was devastating news for us, but news we are coping with. The good news is that since she started taking the right digestive enzymes she is growing! She grew ¾ of an inch in 3 weeks! Because she is now absorbing the nutrients in her food, she isn’t eating as much, and can tell me she’s full. These are all positive results of the enzyme treatment.

Her appointment with the CF Team was a very long 4 hours. We were given so much information it was hard to keep up with it. They sent us home with books and pamphlets, drug information, DVD’s, a new prescription for the enzymes (generic and half the cost of the name brand) a prescription for an inhaler in the event she gets a cold or bronchitis, and a prescription for “The Vest.”  http://www.thevest.com I had never seen anything like it before. Its purpose is to replace the hand pounding therapy that all CF patients should receive. The pounding helps to break up the mucus in their lungs and help clear their airways. The vest attaches to a machine that inflates and does the compressions instead. I call it her miracle machine! Getting her started on this therapy before she has issues with her lungs can prolong her life significantly. When I was a little girl, children born with CF rarely lived to see their 5th birthday. Since the creation of the vest, people with CF have had their life expectancy increase by more than 40%. The respiratory therapist that came to set it up and show us how to use it, said that it was a good possibility that Cara may never have lung trouble or very little lung trouble by starting this therapy before she does. We hook her up to her machine twice a day for 20 minutes at a time. She isn’t very fond of it, but I am truly grateful for Mickey Mouse Clubhouse keeping her entertained while she does her treatments.

Our next step is to get another blood test to determine which genome of CF she has. The Transmembrane Regulator (CFTR) gene – causes CF. The gene was discovered in 1989. Since then, more than 900 mutations of this single gene have been identified. Determining which mutation she has will help her doctors determine the best form of treatment for her. So much progress has been made since 1989, that there is now a drug that will put one of these 900 mutations in remission. The odds are 900 to 1 that Cara has this particular form of CF, but we can certainly hope and pray! I dread taking her in for another blood test, but it is a necessary evil, and one she will most likely have to have many more times.

Cara has also been to see the dentist. I wish the news were better, but unfortunately, her back teeth are in bad shape. She has had two abscesses in two of her back molars, which went untreated in Bulgaria. Both of those teeth are now dead and will need to come out. Spacers will have to be placed so the other teeth don’t move forward and take up the space needed for her permanent molars to come in. She has several cavities in the remaining molars that will need to be filled, and her teeth need to be cleaned. She has the beginnings of periodontal disease, but she should be fine after getting all this work done, and then seeing a dentist every 6 months. All of this will be done under general anesthetic at our local hospital. Estimate for dental care, $2500. This does not include the hospital fee.

We met with the “team” at our local school two weeks ago. I was not impressed. The English learning language “specialist” is insisting on placing her in the 1st grade in the fall. I want to place her in Kindergarten. Their reasoning is that she needs full immersion into the English language in order to pick it up faster. The fact that she has global delays right now, and is developmentally at about 4 ½ years old doesn’t matter to them. She is also not ready for a full day of school. I believe she will eventually catch up, but it is going to take her a couple of years. Their other argument was “We don’t want her to start menstruating in the 4th grade!” WHAT? ARE YOU SERIOUS???? And shortly after that statement, “It is better to hold her back in 1st grade than to start her in Kindergarten.” But, wait… doesn’t that mean she may still menstruate in 4th grade? None of it made sense, and they were unwilling to listen to my feelings about Cara’s readiness for not only 1st grade, but a full day of school. As a child coming from an orphanage, just learning about a family, and still unsure of what a mama and daddy really are, and what it means to her to belong to a family, she needs time to adapt, time to bond, time to understand what all this change really means. I asked them for developmental testing, they refused, saying she doesn’t have enough language to be tested. This is baloney. They test non-verbal kids all the time. So, we are back to the plan B,  home school.

I am amazed at how quickly she is suddenly picking up English. I would say she is speaking 90% English with a little Bulgarian thrown in when she doesn’t have an English word for what she wants to say. She has become quite adept at getting her point across, and making sure we understand what she wants or needs. She refers to herself in 3rd person, which is pretty cute. She doesn’t have an understanding of “you”, “I”, “me”, yet. Her sentences are short, like a toddler that is just learning language. But she is learning so quickly, I’m amazed.

Backing up a bit, Cara’s first Easter at home was such fun! We colored eggs on Saturday, which she really enjoyed. She had seen a Disney show with a blue bunny, so all she had talked about for two weeks was a blue bunny. I told her she should ask the Easter bunny, and of course got a very confused look. She had no idea what an American Easter was about. We had gone to church Friday night and did our best to explain the true meaning of Easter to her, but didn’t expect any understanding at this point. Sunday morning when she got up and found her Easter basket, she was thrilled to find a blue bunny, as well as CANDY! She shared some of her candy with Daniel and Alexandra and was just amazed at all the goodies in that basket. We had friends coming for dinner and an egg hunt in the afternoon, but because she had never hunted for eggs, we took her outside to have her own little egg hunt and get an idea of what it was all about. Alexandra had to show her the first few, but she caught on very quickly and started looking for them on her own. When our friends arrived later and we hid more eggs, she was quite a pro at finding them!

Some Easter video to share:  http://www.youtube.com/edit?ns=1&video_id=vjlhZ-mIzWs,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpCffWi8Kz8

I remember when I was younger with a young family. I thought how wonderful it was to view the world through the eyes of my children. I didn’t know how little I really saw. When you raise a child from infancy, they see so much when they’re small and non-verbal, that you really don’t see and hear their amazement at what they are seeing. Adopting an older child, as an older parent is truly an amazing experience. There is/was so much Cara never experienced. She had seen nothing of the world, and very little beyond the walls of the orphanage she lived in for 6 years. Something as simple as the stars and the moon are so thrilling for her. The first time she saw a sky full of stars, her face lit up and she tried to count them. She talked about it for days. Unfortunately, cloudy skies blocked the view for a couple more weeks, but on the next clear night, she was so amazed and thrilled all over again! Flowers blooming are an absolute wonder to her. The things we take for granted every day, are so exciting for her. She is thrilled every morning if there is no rain and the sun is shining because she knows we can play outside. Watching her eyes light up, and her face break into a huge grin, is one of my biggest joys of the day!

A few Questions and Answers

I’ve been asked a few questions since we began the process of adopting two little girls from Eastern Europe. The first question I am usually asked, is:

“Why are you adopting from Easter Europe when there are so many kids here in the US that need families?”                                                                                           This question isn’t usually asked politely, but with a bit of disdain, and many times more than a little anger. First I will explain that we are a Christian family. Before you let THAT anger you, please don’t lump all Christians into one pot. There are many false Christians out in this world who claim they are Christians yet continue to live their lives in a way that does not bring glory to the lord. My Christian faith is one of following the teachings of Christ. Christ came here to teach us. He was compassionate, loving faithful and forgiving. There was no hate and no judgement. I do my best to live my life in that manner. I am not perfect, and I will never be perfect. But I do believe in treating others the way I want to be treated, and I try to do that daily. And there are days I fail miserably, but you will not find me on a soap box preaching hell fire and damnation. It is not who I am.

I have learned in the last few years of my life to listen to God calls me. Again, I fail miserably. But the one of the calls I managed to hear, was that there were children in this world that needed a family. I know you all think it’s crazy that at “our age” we would bring small children back into our home through adoption.  Our nest was almost empty and life after kids was about to begin. That wasn’t God’s plan for us. And when God calls, I DO try to answer the phone!

Ron and I prayed and felt this really was something we were supposed to do. But it wasn’t just a “supposed to” thing. We both love children a great deal and neither of us was really ready for the empty nest.  However, we both knew that if we were too old to adopt, we’d answered a wrong number. I sent two email out that night. One to an international adoption agency, and one to an agency here locally that helped with domestic adoptions.  I had a response from the international adoption agency in my inbox the next morning stating we were NOT too old to adopt from a country in Eastern Europe, and they would be happy to help us through the process.  A few days later I received a response to the agency that handles domestic adoptions and we were told we were too old to adopt and they couldn’t help us. That was a clear indication to us that the children God had chosen for us were not in the United States. We had no idea where they were, but we knew God was going to show us.  This is why we adopted from Eastern Europe. That is where God led us, and where my children were. Had they been in the US, we would have happily adopted from the US.

The other big question we get is “Why would you do this at “YOUR AGE?”                 I feel that question was answered above, but I will explain again. When God calls, you answer.  It truly is that simple for me. God didn’t call Moses into service until he was 80 years old. Sarah gave birth to Abraham’s son in her 90’s. I was 57 when God placed this on my heart and called us to adopt. Did we question Him? Of course! Through prayer and research, we understood this was His desire and we knew it was right. Every Christian is called to help widows and orphans. Not everyone is called to adopt, but we are ALL called to help and protect. Whether financially, or otherwise, it is what we are supposed to do. We knew we were being called to adopt, not just advocate and help financially.

“Why did you adopt a child with special needs? Why would you do that to yourself and your family?”  This is the question that always irritates me. Are only perfectly healthy children worthy of a family? If one of my biological children were born with spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, downs syndrome or any other special need, would I give them back and say “No thank you, I’ll wait for a healthy child?” No. I would love that child as much as my so called “perfect” children  and do everything I could so to make their lives positive, and rich! Every child deserves love and a family. I didn’t get to pick and choose what God placed in my womb, and I wasn’t going to argue with the choice God made of which child to bless me with through adoption. I tried. I had chosen two other little girls and we were in the process of being matched. Another family requested to be matched with them first, and we were denied because of that. I was heartbroken, grieved, and did a lot of crying, but it was clear,  those were not my children.

“What is Cara’s special need?” Cara has confirmed Cystic Fibrosis. When I was a child, this diagnosis was a death sentence. Most children with Cystic Fibrosis did not live long enough to make it to Kindergarten. It was a terribly frightening insidious pulmonary disease. As a child my heart broke whenever I heard of a child born with CF. Cara’s cystic fibrosis is not in her lungs. Her case is very rare, only affecting her intestines and pancreas. It is still very serious, and she will most likely develop diabetes at some point as her pancreas will not be able to produce enough insulin as she grows and the over production of mucus plugs her internal organs. She may need a liver transplant at some point, but both of these things most likely won’t happen until she is an adult. She takes digestive enzymes to help her digest her food properly, something she wasn’t doing in the orphanage, and large doses of the fat soluble vitamins as she has not been absorbing them. This all causes slow growth, which is why my 6 year old is the size of a 3 year old. Now that she is on the proper medication, we have great hope that she will eventually catch up.

Please feel free to ask any questions you may have and I will answer them in another post.

 

 

 

Cara and Emma updates

An update on Emma: Our March 12th court date was postponed. The Supreme Court did not get our file back to admin court before the hearing date, so it was delayed until our file was returned. As of Friday, our file had made it back to admin court and we are now waiting for a new date. Currently, this is not holding anything back. The government is currently in turmoil; the Prime Minister resigned, forcing a temporary government to take office until they hold an election on May 12th. This could be good for us, but not so good for those waiting for signatures and court dates so they can bring their children home. The government is basically at a stand-still now until the elections. The reason this may be to our benefit, is with a new Prime Minister, comes a new Minister of Justice and new Deputy Minister, and a new International Adoption Council. The Deputy Minister and IAC are the two entities blocking our adoption of Emma. There is no guarantee a new DM and IAC will approve us, but we already know the old one won’t and our chances are better with a new set of eyes looking at everything. I am praying the new MOJ, Deputy MOJ, and IAC will have a heart for the children, and enough common sense to do what is best for them, instead of making up rules that ultimately hurt the ones they are supposed to be the most concerned with.

Cara has now been with us for six weeks.  In one sense it seems like forever, and in another, it doesn’t seem very long at all. I know I can’t imagine life without her now!

She had an appointment with the gastroenterologist about 10 days ago. He did a double-take when he walked in the room, met her, and then looked at her medical file and saw her age. He asked me, “Is this right? She is really 6 years old?” I confirmed her date of birth, and he could not quick shaking his head. When I explained that she had been diagnosed with digestive Cystic Fibrosis, he was very doubtful. He explained that digestive CF is VERY rare, and he suspected she might have another pancreatic disorder. He ordered blood tests, stool samples to test for vitamin deficiencies, and a repeat of the sweat test she was given in country when she was younger. The sweat test measures the amount of salt in her system. Children with CF, have a much higher salt content in their bodies. He asked if she tasted salty to me when I kissed her, and I told him it was not something I’d ever noticed. He then called and spoke with a pulmonary specialist, explaining that if there was anything “off” with her sweat test, he was going to refer us to the pulmonologist to check her lungs. They two doctors discussed they type of digestive enzyme they wanted her to take, and after receiving that prescription, we were off to the lab for the tests. We were very lucky to be able to get them all done that day. The sweat test is usually something that has to be scheduled, but the next person coming in had cancelled, so Cara was able to get it done right away. They drew her blood, and we took her to the cafeteria to eat so she could produce the remainder of the tests they needed. She was very cooperative! J Now we wait for the test results.

Two things I know already. She is deficient in the fat soluble vitamins. I know this because the pharmacy called to tell us the doctor had faxed in a prescription for those specific vitamins. I also know the enzymes are working! Prior to taking the new meds, her stools were mush, and full of oil, a result of not absorbing the fat soluble vitamins. They now have form and the oil is completely gone!  This is a huge improvement. This means she is now digesting more nutrients, and consequently eating less food.

Another bit of progress is that she has now become “picky” about what she eats, and she eats less. This shows she is now secure in knowing she has enough food available when she wants it, and she no longer has to worry about being hungry anymore. When I fix her a meal, she will always point to something and ask, “More, mama?” I tell her there is more after she eats what is on her plate. She used to test me and always ask for more, usually pushing it away after taking a bite or two. Now she will ask for more, I will tell her after she eats what she has, and she is satisfied knowing it is available. Rarely will she ask for more if she doesn’t want to eat more.

She still has very intense tantrums, and believe me, they make me weary. I have her on a tighter schedule now, making sure she gets a nap every day if possible. Sometimes doctor appointments interfere, but she doesn’t fall apart in the late afternoon as much if she gets a nap.

I spoke to the school district last week to get all the information needed to find out where she is developmentally, and get a team together to evaluate where she is and what services she will need besides help with English. Technically, she should be entering first grade in the fall, but I don’t see her being ready for that. She has had no schooling at all yet, and we are just working on the basics here at home; letters, numbers, colors and shapes. After speaking with the school psychologist, it looks as if we will get a team together after the first week in April to evaluate and get a learning plan together for her. I don’t want to hold her back too much, but I sure don’t want to push her into something she isn’t ready for. I would love to have her start Kindergarten in the fall if she is ready for it. But right now, I see a child the size of a 3 year old, who is globally delayed. She has undeveloped fine and gross motor skills and is cognitively about 3 ½ to 4 years old. She will most likely catch up at some point, but I hate to see her in special education classes if holding her back a year will help her excel instead of always lag behind. I hope and pray we will get some answers as soon as spring break is over.

Until then, we continue to work on colors, numbers and alphabet, painting for fine motor control, learning to push the pedals on a bike for gross motor skills, and just enjoying time together.

One month!

It is hard to believe that it has been a month since we picked Cara up at her orphanage. How does time fly by so quickly? I spend my days taking care of her, loving her, enjoying her, and poof, a month is gone!

According to the “experts” we are possibly coming close to exiting the “honeymoon” period of good behavior, and entering into a period of time where she will rage, cry, fight, and do everything she can to see if we will stop loving her. Part of this will be the grief she feels at leaving the orphanage. Good, bad or indifferent, this was the only home she knew, and the caregivers were also the only people she trusted to take care of her needs.  Then we walk into her life last October, and things get a little confusing and frightening. The little girl we met was very shy and reserved. She called us mama and daddy, because she was told that was our names. She had no concept of a mother and father, or family.  But there we were, strangers, who she was told were mama and daddy. We brought her pictures of her new home, pets, older brother and sister. All very exciting until she realized we would be taking her away from the only thing she knew.

During the four months between visit and and pick up day, I wrote to her every two weeks, doing everything I could possibly do to prepare her for the time we would come back to bring her home with us. Unfortunately, we did not get the support from the orphanage staff that we should have. The did nothing to try and prepare her for the day we would arrive, instead telling her how much they would miss her, and that she would eventually come back!

The day we picked her up, she cried and cried. I can only imagine how she felt, but have to imagine she felt like any child would feel. Kidnapped! We turned her entire world upside down and inside out. Does she have reason to grieve? Absolutely! Does she have reason to rage? Again, absolutely! She has suffered a great deal of loss and change since we picked her up, and I can imagine the lid is going to blow off at some point. Am I ready for it to happen? Absolutely NOT!  I watch this precious child laughing, playing, hugging, kissing, learning English, and having choices about what she eats and when, choosing her own clothes out of the closet, and picking out the shoes she wants to wear with it, and I see a well-adjusted, loving, happy little girl. Even when you know something may be coming, you are never truly prepared for it. All I can do is wait, and hold on tight when and if it happens!

As for this past month, we managed to get her see our family doctor after jumping through all the hoops necessary to get her on our medical insurance. They confirmed what we already knew… she is very tiny! Our 6 year old moppet doesn’t even hit the height and weight charts. Well, I’m lying a bit… she is in the zero percentile for height, and charts at .014 in weight. Yep, she’s a big one! The good news is that the last weight we had for her was 25 ½ pounds, and her height was 35.5 inches. This weight and height was taken about 6 months ago. She is now 32 pounds and 38.1 inches tall. That is HUGE! Prior to this, she had only grown half an inch and 1 pound in the prior 12 months. I know she’s had a huge growth spurt just since picking her up. Clothes that fit her on pick up day, no longer fit. She was between a size 2-3T when we picked her up, and now she is solidly into 3T’s and needs some shirts in 4’s to cover her tummy. That’s 7 lbs and close to 3 inches in growth! I suspect most of it has been in the past month. She has been able to eat as much as she wants of good healthy food, gets better digestive enzymes to help her digest more of what she eats, and daily vitamins. Because of the digestive issues, I give her more vitamins than recommended because she doesn’t digest many of the nutrients she eats. I was concerned about the volume of food she eats, but our doctor said to continue to let her eat as much as she wants. I have noticed she is satisfied with less food lately. She is either digesting more, or now realizes she can have as much food as she wants. She’s still a big eater, but not quite as big as she was when we picked her up. This is a good sign no matter what the reason is!

We now have referrals to see a gastroenterologist for her digestive issues, and an ophthalmologist to have her eyes checked. Since being home, we’ve noticed that both eyes seem to float. Both will cross, but never both at the same time. I don’t know how well she sees, or if she will need surgery or just glasses.

I also received the name of a good pediatric dentist. When we picked her up she was on antibiotics for an abscessed tooth. I can see a black spot on one of her back molars, so we will have to get that taken care of and get her teeth cleaned. Thankfully, she ate quality food at the orphanage, so there isn’t a lot of damage. And even though she is almost 6 ½, she still has all of her baby teeth, which means none of her permanent teeth have damage.  Obviously, we have a lot of appointments to make in the next month to make sure her health issues are taken care of.

Cara is learning to play. When we picked her up, she really didn’t know what to do with toys. She would carry her baby around, but didn’t know how to play mama and baby. She had 11 other children to play with at the orphanage, but they didn’t really play. When we were there in October, there were very few toys. Most of them were put up high, mostly for show, not for play. There were no outdoor toys. The children played with sticks in a play area over gown with weeds, littered with broken glass and broken down ancient playground equipment. They were so excited when we brought them balls to play with. We also brought them playground chalk, but never saw them use any of it. However, with a little example and instruction, Cara is finally learning to play with her babies. She combs their hair, feeds them from the high chair, and puts them to bed, telling us to “shhhh… baby, spish (sleeping!). She will serve us tea during our tea parties, and pass out pretend food for everyone now.

Sharing is a foreign concept at this time. Hallie comes to play and she wants Hallie’s toys without allowing her to play with any of hers.  This concept will come in time, but unfortunately, Hallie has trouble with it! But she’s learning too that some things we have to teach Cara, and they get along quite well.

The tantrums continue, but are much less frequent, and far less violent. She knows what time-in means, and does not like having to sit on the couch with me until she calms down. She realizes that “I’m sorry, Mama” means the issue is over. Of course she uses that for other things too, so the concept isn’t quite there yet.  Telling her “no” will almost always get some type of negative response, whether an angry glare or full blown tantrum. I try hard to limit the no’s and keep things as positive as possible, to give her time to understand more language. One of the biggest issues is her demand for immediate gratification. If she says she wants something, she wants it NOW, not 5 minutes from now! She doesn’t understand that dinner isn’t ready yet, and she can’t eat right now.  That is a very big issue. I know she was hungry all the time in the orphanage. Not because she didn’t get enough to eat, but because her body wasn’t digesting her food, so the nutrients she ate, didn’t stick with her. Now that she can eat as much as she wants, she is learning that if she wants more, she can have it. This helps with the hunger, but not always the timing. If food doesn’t immediately appear, she gets very angry. I turn on the oven light now for her to see the food cooking, and that has helped.

Cara continues to sleep in bed with us. She is absolutely terrified of the dark. We’ve discovered this is why she did not want to go outside with us after dark while we were in country. She would start to cry and insist we go back to the room. A couple of times we insisted we go anyway, and she would calm down, but she was not happy. One night last week after we were in bed for a while, and she refused to settle down, I put my book away and turned off the light. She literally flipped out, screaming and crying. I turned the light back on and she stopped. A few nights ago we went out to dinner after dark and Ron had to sit in the backseat with her because she could not see us in the car and she was terrified. I feel bad that we didn’t realize this sooner, but now that we know, we can work around it. She has a nightlight in her bedroom, and I hope that will be enough light to help her transition into her own bed shortly.

She is such a joy and a blessing that it is hard to believe this is the honeymoon period and she is going to turn into some raging monster soon! If it happens, I’ll know it’s fairly normal, but I will continue to expect nothing but the positive changes I am seeing in this precious little girl.

First week home

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9 NIV)

I love this bit of scripture. It reminds me daily of the command to take care of widows and orphans. It reminds me not to be afraid of what God has asked me to do in raising this child, and that He will be with me every step of the way.

We have been home with Cara now for one week. I have avoided saying how tired I am because I am afraid most people would say it is due to my age. However, friends of ours returned home from Ethiopia just the week before we picked up Cara, with their son, and though half my age, she is just as exhausted as I am!  Jet lag, early mornings, children who are not yet napping or on a schedule, will make any parent tired.

It is hard to believe that this is possibly the “honeymoon” period and this precious child will fall apart after being home for a month. I’ve heard stories from adoptive parents that tell of how their children were fine for the first month and then crashed and burned in grief over the loss of their caregivers and the life they had before. I expect grief, but I pray with all my might that it is short lived and won’t last for months.

If this is the honeymoon period, I couldn’t ask for anything sweeter. She is so loving! I understand more of her language every day and she understands more English. I was very worried about communicating with her, but she makes sure we understand. “Show mama” is a common phrase and she understands that I need help knowing what she wants.

Bath time is a great pleasure now! She was so afraid of her first bath, sitting as if paralyzed in the warm water. This morning as I ran her bath, she quickly took off her pajamas and climbed right in the tub. I’m sure the bath toys helped the transition, but it is wonderful to see her enjoy her bath!

She is also getting better with the dogs. We had a couple of setbacks during the week when the dogs ended up in the same room she was in, but she is still curious and really wants to pet them. When the dogs are on the other side of the gate, she willingly goes alone to pet them through the rungs. Unbelievably, Molly has learned she needs to be calm around her, and allow her to pet her. She came into the bedroom while Molly was lying down and was willing to pet her. Progress is slow, but it’s progress and we are excited about that.

Cara is a sponge when it comes to love. She needs so much acceptance and seeks us out for hugs. She insists on me carrying her everywhere, which is fine in the house, but when out and about, not so much. Ron and I bought a stroller for her yesterday which will be a great help and allow me to get her out more. I see daily walks in our future as the weather improves.

She is a little hoarder! Each new toy or book she receives is something new to bring to bed. My friend, Julianne, brought her the gift of a book and bracelet inside a cloth Wal-Mart bag and that bag is now a treasure to sleep with, along with her baby doll, baby bottle, book and bracelet, and her treasured purple sunglasses! Soon there will be no room for Ron and me!

We have learned she is not quite ready for crowds. We took her to church with us Friday night, and she was fine as long as people kept their distance. Unfortunately, many of our friends wanted to meet her and it was too soon. We will have to forego church for a few more weeks, and possibly longer. I am grateful the audio portion of the weekly sermon is online for us to stay connected. We are also giving up small group attendance for a while to give her a chance to adjust further to home life.

The joy this little girl has brought to our family is immeasurable! I am so in awe of God’s work here in her life and ours. I always felt there were more children in my life, but I had no idea they were located in Eastern Europe. I do believe there is at least one more, a little girl, locked in her crib in another orphanage in the same country. Thankfully, Cara keeps me distracted from the constant reminder that Emma is still locked away, needing a family, and still being denied. I pray for this little girl every day, and hope you will join me in those prayers. I know she will bless our family as much as Cara has, and also know Cara will be an amazing big sister!

 

First days home…

Saturday, February 16

As predicted, Cara was up and ready to go well before I was Saturday morning. Ron and I both felt as if we’d been hit by a train. I don’t quite understand why the jetlag is so much worse coming home than it is going over there, but it is. Ron caught Cara’s cold, and somehow injured his ankle during the trip home. He had difficulty walking from the airport out to the car, and by the time we got home his ankle was twice the size it should have been and severely bruised. He said it was better when he woke up, so was up helping me get breakfast and took care of Cara while I cleaned the same house I’d cleaned before I left. Daniel is not the neatest person and my kitchen was a disaster when we got home!

After fixing a breakfast of fruit, toast and eggs for everyone, I scoured the kitchen, and got the vacuum out. I am not a fanatic about clean, but I don’t like clutter, animal hair coating the carpets, or a dirty kitchen. Ron made a quick trip to the store, and Alexandra and fiancé, Derrick tried to entertain Cara while I was making a quick run through the house with the vacuum.

Cara quickly lost interest in the puzzle they were trying to do with her, and started harassing the cats. She was fascinated with their tails and felt it was something to drag them around by. Trust me, the cats were NOT impressed! Noticing she was missing from the living room, I found her in the bathroom trying to pull Critter out by the tail. I said, “Cara, tooka,” (I’m sure I spelled that wrong) which means “come here,” or just “here.”  When she didn’t respond, I took her by the hand and led her back out to the living room. She was furious with me, started yelling at me, and stuck her tongue out at me. I put her up on the couch, telling her “Ne.” This infuriated her further, and she started screaming and crying for Alexandra. I reminded Alexandra she could not “save” her, so she and Derrick went into the kitchen, Alexandra in tears. Cara tried to get down from the couch, I put her back. Her anger escalated, and she continued to scream at me. I knew whatever she was saying was directed at me, as she would interject “mama” in the middle of her sentences. Once again she tried to get down and I calmly put her back on the couch. I was so unprepared for what happened next. She completely lost control, was in a wild rage and flew off the couch at me, fists clenched, eyes flashing, and swinging her tiny little fists at me. I again told her “ne” and put her back on the couch. She came at me again, and as I went to put her back on the couch she grabbed my forearm and pinched me as hard as she could, continuing  to scream at me. I grabbed her hand, said “NE” with more force and told her to “SIT DOWN.” She took her hair clip out of her hair and threw it at me, which I picked up and put in the bathroom. She continued to rage and when I returned she flew off the couch at me again, kicking and swinging her fists at me. As I went to return her to the couch, she managed to grab my thigh in her death clench, and she pinched me as hard as she could again. I took her by the arms and set her back on the couch, and her hands went for my face. I managed to grab them before she grabbed me, and now I was downright angry! I got right up to her nose, and yelled “NE! You will not hurt mama!!!”  She immediately stopped crying, immediately stopped fighting, and sat there looking at me. I have no idea what was going through her head, but something clicked, and she sat there quietly until I was done vacuuming and sat down next to her. I spoke to her quietly, explaining to her that she could get mad, but she could never, ever hurt anyone! I know she didn’t understand, but she managed to understand that I was no longer angry, but also that I was not going to accept that kind of behavior. I didn’t think she’d allow me to touch her, but she did, and I pulled her close to hug her. I also made her say “I’m sorry, Mama,” and she did. I told her she could get up, and I put the vacuum away. To say I was stunned was an understatement. I have taken care of children for many years, many with emotional special needs, and many from sketchy backgrounds of drugged out, alcoholic parents, but I have never seen such rage in a child! She was truly possessed, and I was truly shaken. I knew I was not the favored parent at this time, but I had never expected anything like that. Ron could tell her no, and redirect without any repercussions. Alexandra had told her no, and redirected several times while I was fixing breakfast earlier with no repercussions.  I didn’t even tell her “no” over the cat, just said, “come here” and redirected her back to the living room. It was a real wake-up call for me, and I was very concerned with what I would be dealing with once Ron returned to work.

Cara was wonderful the rest of the day. I figured she would avoid me as much as possible, interacting only with Ron. Alexandra had gone to Derrick’s house; Dan was at work, so it was just the 3 of us at home. Strangely enough, she didn’t want anyone but me. She followed me around the house as I picked things up and put them away, wanting to engage me in toys, and games, talking to me non-stop. I wasn’t sure what to think! After getting things put away, I sat with her and we played games and tickled, and chased each other through the house. After dinner we took her on a quick trip to the grocery store, which she absolutely loved, yelling in excitement at all the things on the shelf. After putting the groceries away, we all got ready for bed and she was asleep within minutes.

I wish I understood what happened this morning. I suspect she has been reacting to me, as she reacted to the orphanage staff, who were all women. Their only goal was to keep the children quiet and as happy as possible, so there was no discipline. They ran interference with each other with the children, giving in to them to keep them from crying. We witnessed that when we were there last October. The children ran the show. It is pure speculation, but I suspect if the children didn’t like the response they got from one caregiver they would just call another to come and “save” them. And they were always saved. Cara had a meltdown last October when we told her she could not take her sticker book outside. Everything she took outside to show the other children ended up destroyed, so we told her to leave it in the room while we went out to play with the other children. She had a foot stamping, screaming tantrum, and one of the caregivers came running in to save her! They would do anything and everything to keep the kids from crying, and you can bet they utilized that trick as much as possible.  When Cara tried it with me, and discovered it wouldn’t work, she lost control, and went into a complete rage. When she found out I wasn’t going to cave into that kind of behavior, she stopped. As I said, this is all pure speculation. I also suspect the changes, adjustment, stress of her whole life being turned upside down were all part of it.

Sunday, February 17

Cara slept in a little longer this morning; however the dogs got me up early to take them out. There is no rest for the wicked! I wish I were less wicked!

We truly had a wonderful day today. I had expected Cara to be standoffish, but she was more into doing things with me than she had ever been. After breakfast, she had a bath and got dressed for the day. She is very independent when it comes to getting dressed, and made sure to show me she could dress herself while we were still in country. It is hard to grasp that she can do these things when she is so little. We have to be careful we don’t treat her as a much younger child than she is.

After her bath, I brought the baskets of laundry into my room to fold. We had mountains of laundry, and it had taken all day Saturday with the washing machine going non-stop to get it done. Alexandra and I started folding, and I was setting Cara’s clothes off to the side, along with a separate pile of socks. Cara immediately started folding her own clothes, and quite well. You can well imagine my surprise! She matched socks, and quickly learned whose underwear went in which basket.  I wondered whether or not all the children had been taught to fold laundry, just the girls, or only those that expressed an interest. It was all the more curious because when we were there in October of last year, there was an older woman out in the yard hanging the clothes to dry, and she also brought in clothing that had been folded to put away in the children’s room. Curious as I was, she was very proud to show me her skills, and I was more than happy she could!

I really pushed myself to get things done yesterday, and was really dragging my fanny today. I am used to going 90 miles an hour all day, but trying to get it everything done while my body was still fighting deep fatigue wasn’t the best way to go about it. I still had a few things I wanted to accomplish while Ron was still the favored parent, which included filing the adoption papers, clearing off the dining room table, and making a trip to Costco for a few necessities. Ron was still out of commission with his foot, so I had planned to take Cara to Costco with me by myself. However, after clearing the dining room table and getting everything else done except going through the adoption papers, and organizing receipts, I realized I didn’t have it in me to take Cara alone with me to Costco. In fact I didn’t have it in me to take myself to Costco. About 45 minutes after I’d made the decision to wait another day, Ron rallied to the task, and said he’d go with me. I honestly did not want to go, but I wanted to get it done so we could all relax the following day. Cara, always ready for an adventure got her coat on willingly and settled into her car seat so I could buckle her in. When we got to Costco, and Ron took her out of her car seat , she actually reached for me to put her in the cart.

I must say it is a great deal of fun taking a child with next to zero life experiences out into the world! Cara was mesmerized by all the different things in Costco. Had I not been as weary as I was, I would have taken my time and showed her every inch of the store. She sat in the cart, daddy pushing, pointing out everything new and exciting, yelling at us in utter excitement. All in Bulgarian of course, and we couldn’t understand any of it! We passed a couple with a newborn, and she started screaming “Baby, baby!” The woman walked over to show her the new baby and she was so thrilled, pointing to the baby, and saying “Mama, baby!” This little girl just makes me laugh so much. As I walked ahead of the cart, she would call out to me, and then hold my hand as dad pushed. When I would let go, she’d call out for me again. I was overjoyed, as I was not the favored parent!  As is customary for us, we stopped to look at the books before checking out, and I realized I’d forgotten the canned fruit I wanted to have on hand for her. She eats a small serving of fruit every morning with her breakfast, and I had only bought a couple of cans at Fred Meyer the night before. I told Ron to wait for us by the books, and I would take Cara and the cart to get it. As I was pushing the cart towards the right aisle, Cara whispered “Mama,” and laid her head down on my hands. And I cried. Finally something to indicate she was connecting with me!

At the checkout register, Cara pulled the things she could reach out of the back of the cart and handed us each item to put on the belt. She smiled throughout, jabbering away in Bulgarian, very pleased with herself!

The big excitement of the evening was that Hallie was coming to spend the night. She had called me while we were driving to Costco to ask if she could have dinner with us. She said she couldn’t wait to come and play with Cara! I told her of course she could come for dinner, and I would call her to let her know when we got home so she could come over right away! She was so excited, and I was just as excited to see her! I had not seen her in almost 2 weeks, and I couldn’t wait to snuggle with my girl!

We were having Costco’s roasted chicken for dinner, and as soon as we got home, I started making mashed potatoes, one of Cara’s absolute favorites, to have with the chicken. Hallie arrived just as dinner was ready, and she strutted in the house, looking for Cara, not even bothering to hug me first!  She had gone through this past year of waiting for Cara to come home right along with us, and I suspect she wasn’t going to believe Cara was really here until she saw her! Cara recognized Hallie right away, and yelled, “Hallie!” as soon as she saw her. Hallie got a huge smile on her face, and said “Hi, Cara,” like she’d just seen her a few days ago. It is so interesting to see how children react to each other, especially when in a new situation. She had to be sure she sat right next to Cara to have dinner, and as Cara chattered away in Bulgarian, Hallie kept asking me, “What is she saying?!?” And I told her “I have no idea!” 🙂 I explained that Cara didn’t speak English right now, and it was our job to help her learn. I also explained that Cara didn’t understand what we were saying either!

The girls hit it off famously! Way better than I expected. They ran like wild children through the house, laughing at each other and just having a good time. Cara kept running back to me, telling me all kinds of things she and Hallie were doing, and of course, Hallie continued to ask, “What is she saying!?”  When it was finally bed time, they got into their pajamas, and the two of them and Alexandra crawled in our king size bed with me, and we watched “Brave” for the umpteenth time! I should clarify. They watched Brave with Alexandra, and I passed out trying to write a blog post!  I have no idea what time they fell asleep, I just vaguely remember Alexandra briefly waking me to tell me she was going to bed, and she carried Hallie to her bed for me. At least I think she carried Hallie to bed! Someone did! Maybe I did! Sleeping with Hallie is difficult enough. She is one of those kids who does 360’s all night and has to be as close to you as possible. The two of them in bed with me would have meant no sleep at all. I had explained to Hallie in advance that after she was asleep we’d put her in her own bed, so when she woke up she wouldn’t be upset or surprised.

Monday, February 18

Of course, the girls woke up at the crack of dawn, and drug me out of bed with them. Ron was not feeling well by this time, having come down with the cold Cara developed in Bulgaria, and with the bad ankle to go along with it, he was miserable! I let him sleep, taking the girls to the kitchen, and making them breakfast. Hallie wanted exactly what Cara was eating, even though it was not her usual breakfast of a blueberry waffle with syrup. So I gave her a bowl of fruit and an Activia yogurt to eat while I scrambled some eggs and made toast. Cara gobbled her fruit and yogurt, and Hallie picked at hers, not happy with the choice she’d made. She tends to be a bit grumpy in the morning anyway, and this didn’t help. As Cara was enjoying her eggs and toast, Hallie decided she didn’t want eggs, just toast, and then didn’t finish that.

I gave both girls a bath after breakfast, which they enjoyed. Cara isn’t very impressed with having her hair washed, so Hallie told me she would show her how it was done, tipping her head way back so I could rinse her hair without getting soap or water in her face. It didn’t help Cara much at all, but Hallie was very proud to be setting a good example!

The girls played all morning until lunch time, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grape tomatoes, and cucumbers. Hallie also asked for dill pickles, which she loves, but Cara wanted nothing to do with those! Watching the two girls interact with the language barrier was fun and interesting! They somehow managed to understand each other and chatted while they ate.

Cara and Hallie are only 14 months apart in age, but Cara definitely has “orphanage delays.” Statistically, for each 3 months a child is institutionalized, they lose a month in development. Cara is right on target with the statistics. Even though she is six, she is about 4 developmentally. She will eventually catch up, but it is going to take some time. Hallie is a good head taller, cognitively far more advanced. But that didn’t stop them from enjoying each other, and playing together.

Because they had gotten to bed late, and were up early, I insisted on a nap for them both. Hallie was very against the idea, but when I offered to lay down with them both in my bed, she was a bit more accepting. I could see there was some jealousy as she has had me all to herself for the past five years when she’s here. It was a little difficult for her to share me. Thankfully, Cara is not yet to the point of being jealous in return.

Both girls slept about 2 hours, and we had some playtime before dinner and Hallie going home. Hallie was showing Cara how to do headstands (Hallie does them perfectly… a future Olympian in the making) and it was hysterical watching Cara try to imitate. She thought it was hysterically funny as she’d flop over on her back.

Hallie was very sad at the idea of going home, begging to stay “just one more night!” It breaks my heart when I have to tell her no, but the good news is she will get to spend Wednesday and Thursday night with us this week, and I will take her to her gymnastics class on Thursday! She was thrilled with that, and with a little prodding, extra hugs and kisses, she went home with mama.

Cara and I were in bed by 8 PM!  I will be glad when my days and nights are back on my time instead of somewhere between here and Eastern Europe!

I will continue to update the blog, but it will be weekly instead of trying to find time to get it out daily. Cara is a magical little sprite who is busy, busy, busy! I am now the preferred parent, and she wants me to hold her all the time. I have no problem with that!