gabe is 4!

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Gabriel is four years old today!

I’m feeling a little sentimental about it, wishing I could hang on to three just a little longer. He’s growing so much, learning new skills each day. I love the way his face lights up when he sees me, that he hollers out “Mommy!!!” across the library, and crawls into my lap to cuddle.

We had a little birthday party for him at the lake on Saturday, with our family, birth mom, birth mom’s boyfriend, and birth grandma. Gabe was thrilled with his presents and “Mikey cake” (thanks Shari!). He and Noah loved the water and sand so much that I think there will be many more lake trips this summer.

We love you, sweet boy! You are so incredibly brave and bring joy to so many people. You’re one of God’s best gifts to us!



one month in.

. . . we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.

I am currently in a place of abundance.

An abundance of noise, an abundance of laundry, an abundance of little voices calling, “Mo-om!!!”

It’s the oddest feeling . . . first living in what felt like a long season of lack — of waiting, of wondering, of not understanding the story. And then everything changed very, very suddenly. After the desert there is water, but not just a trickle — a full-on waterfall.  And I spent that first month just gasping, trying to come up for air. I hardly had time to reflect on the abundance that God has heaped on me.

Also to be perfectly honest: sometimes it didn’t feel like the kind of abundance I wanted. It felt a little more like drowning.

But I am here on the other side of the first month, and while each day brings its challenges, life is a routine again. We’re all growing familiar with each other, coming to know what to expect. There are new family jokes and laughter and the chatter of siblings playing together. I find myself able to snatch conversations with my husband (and they aren’t all about our kids!), to greet friends at church, and with a few moments here and there to soak in this strange new life I lead.

I’m an introvert, but this winter I grew to dread the drive to drop Judah and Amie off at their cousins’ for an afternoon of playing. I returned home, all by myself, and walked listlessly from room to room. Instead of enjoying my alone time, instead of feeling comforted by the peace of our little house, I just felt lost. It’s too quiet.

But now.

There are shrieks and sometimes wails and little feet pounding across hardwood and a dripping-wet bathroom. Sometimes I want to turn and walk away from the noise of my home. But mostly, mostly I smile. Because my house isn’t too quiet any more.

Come and see what God has done:
He is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.

In the mornings after we eat breakfast, I pour sippy cups of juice and turn on our church worship album. I listened to it over and over the last 5 months. Some days the hymns would be my prayers when I couldn’t form any. They were an enormous comfort to me when things didn’t make sense.

And today as the music starts, Noah comes running into the room — this person that I didn’t even know existed two months ago — all smiles, his little voice belting out, Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me, and I stare down at him in joy and wonder. If only I’d known.

Gabriel stumbles in with arms full of board books and climbs up into my lap and says, “Will you read, Mommy?” and as I pull him close I pause half a second and kiss his hair and whisper, “Do you know how long Mommy waited for you?”

Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for my soul.

I sat down the other day and read back through every adoption blog post I’d written since we started this journey last March. I found myself crying. I ached for all we didn’t know, for how hard and scary it would be — for how deserted by God I’d feel. But I also couldn’t stop smiling because I knew. I knew what was waiting for us just around the corner. I believe that when God was walking with me through that hard year, He felt the same way.

I’m not naive enough to think everything has been tidily wrapped up with a bow and there will be no more challenges for the Gentino family. Even now, this place of abundance is hard. A friend told me, “One of the lies we believe as Americans is that good equals easy.” I’ve been guilty of believing that lie.

And yet sometimes the good road is the hard road, the scary road.

With each twist and turn in my story, each trial God brings me through — both the ones that do make sense and the ones that don’t — I believe a little more in His goodness. I believe that He never, ever leaves me. I believe that He knows what I need more than I do.

I believe that His way is perfect.

Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me!

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(all Scripture verses from Psalm 66)



four on friday.

I love following Bleubird’s series of portraits of her children, so in an effort to keep pulling out my nice camera and practicing photography, I give you Four on Friday: a photo of each of my kids each Friday.

 

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Judah. He’s always working on a project, trying to get what’s in his head out into the world — it usually involves drawing, coloring, or building. We love these glimpses into his imagination.

 

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Amelie. It turns out that she and Gabriel are two peas in a pod — the family extroverts who love people and animals and being outside. Neither enjoys being alone so it does our hearts good to see them start to band together and play.

 

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Gabriel. This guy has changed the most in four weeks. We thought he was going to be the quiet one, but these days he’s full of words and smiles and silliness. He’s Daddy’s boy through and through.

 

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Noah, Noah, Noah . . . tester of limits, pusher of boundaries, lover of water and rocks and dirt and bugs. Thank you for teaching me to slow down and notice the world around me.



tuesday.

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We are halfway into Week 4, and life is slowly returning to normal.

Our new normal, that is.

A few firsts for the boys last week: first library visit, first zoo trip. I did the library by myself! With all four kids! It went great and I felt ready to take on the world. However. There is no way I could possibly do the zoo on my own, so Mum Mum came along, which was much more fun anyway.

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David came home from work at 4 p.m. his first week back and was home every evening, but by now we have transitioned back into his normal work schedule. He comes home early whenever he can, and has meetings at least a couple of evenings during the week. I don’t know how he does it after a long day of work, but when he’s home he’s home. He’s chasing four little people around the house, wrestling, washing dishes, bathing, watering the garden, laughing, hugging, and kissing. What a guy.

We had a great date night last week, and our weekends have begun to settle into a rhythm. For now I’ll do some focused school work with the big kids Friday mornings (Friday is David’s day off). We made a weekend goal of a few hours alone for me (Friday afternoon), a few hours alone for David (Saturday morning), then something fun together as a family. Since we have that plan, it helps us both have realistic expectations about the weekend and let’s us each have time on our own to look forward to and plan for.

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Sunday was amazing. I somehow got all four kids fed, dressed, and out the door for church by 8:45 a.m. without feeling stressed (with a little help from Netflix, I’ll admit), and Gabe and Noah stayed in the 2-and-3-year-old nursery without me! They love it so much that they were asking to go, and I barely got a second glance when I dropped them off.

Our volunteers are always fantastic, but still it helped my peace of mind that Mum Mum was down there working in the nursery too. I can’t tell you how restful it felt to sit in the church service with Judah, sipping coffee from my travel mug, worshiping with my church family, listening to my husband preaching. I love our church.

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As for school, I may have written a great blog post last week, but the truth was, it was a rough week. Tears, tempers, and so.many.distractions. So my mom came to the rescue, and adjusted her work schedule so that she starts at 10 a.m. and comes before that to help out. Gabriel and Noah love the attention from her, and it was so very wonderful to have some quiet time yesterday morning to get work done with the older two. Twelve days left until summer!!!

Now that the boys are bonding and comfortable with us, we’re branching out some more with family and friends. Gabe and Noah had a play date at their cousins’, Owen and Oliver’s, house yesterday (if you’re wondering, Gabriel and Oliver are the same age — nearly 4), and we’re having a friend from church, Malachi, over to play on Wednesday. It’s sweet what a great group of kids in our church and neighborhood are our little guys’ ages. God has been preparing lots of friends for them!

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There are many things I loved about our simple life at home the past month, and so now that the boys are doing so well, I want to be careful not to jam-pack our schedule with activities. We have lots of time to do everything we want.

David and I still feel tired, but more encouraged than overwhelmed at this point. Honestly we feel like we aged three years in the last three and a half weeks (really five if you count those harrowing two weeks where we knew about the boys but weren’t yet sure they’d be ours), and I keep checking the mirror for gray hairs I know must have sprouted.

But looking back, of course it was such a short amount of time. We still have our ups and downs, but it is unbelievable how well the boys are doing and how they seem to genuinely be attaching to us as their parents. Those spontaneous smiles and hugs and cuddles make everything worth it. Yesterday was the first day I didn’t want to throw up my hands in despair at sibling dynamics, and I counted at least four different points in the day where siblings were enjoying one another.

We attribute all of this to God’s goodness, the prayers of many, and the help of many (as you can see from this post). We still won’t have to cook a meal until the second week of June, and that is awesome.

Happy Tuesday!

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another one about books.

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Last night David and I went on a date! To celebrate Mother’s Day!

We had a whole hour between the time his parents came over to babysit and our dinner reservation, and the man who has been married to me for 11 years knew without asking exactly where I wanted to spend it: the library.

My definition of luxury is wandering rows and rows of books, all by myself, and David enjoys the same thing, and so after returning two bursting-full bags of children’s books, we went our separate ways deep into the vast hushed quiet of the public library at 6:00 p.m.

I feel incredibly lucky to live in Richland County and love everything about our big green-glass walled downtown library, including the impeccable taste of the librarians. And so when I’m alone my first stop is the Hot Titles shelves right by the entrance, followed by the Holds shelf where my heart never fails to leap when I see a tag (or four) with the name, Gentino, Julia, printed across the top.

And then, even though it’s my night out, I am irresistibly drawn down the escalator into the Children’s Room. Because it’s hard to say what I love more: getting to choose books all by myself, or getting to choose books for my children all by myself. I relish finding our favorite authors, running fingers along the just-returned stacks, checking for new recommendations by the Children’s Room librarians, all without little hands tugging at me and voices calling for me.

The week before Gabriel and Noah came home, I busied myself in their new bedroom, washing sheets and organizing the Thomas trains and Little People castle pulled down from the attic, and setting up their shelves of board books, a combination of hand-me-downs from their big brother and sister, and cousins.

If there’s anything better than a great children’s book, it’s one that has already been well-loved.

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One of the ways I know to love my new boys best is to introduce them to the world of books.

And lately my mind races with all there is to catch up on. They’ve never read the Maisy books! Or Sandra Boynton! Or Richard Scarry! Oh my goodness, what about Elephant and Piggy?

But really, it’s a happy kind of racing. Because if you know me at all you know my favorite challenges have to do with sharing my love of books and suddenly here are two new blank slates in my house, ready and waiting.

So we start slow.

Right now books are for physical touch and bonding. For cuddling in laps with a cup of juice and quieting ourselves before bed. They’re for learning how to be gentle. They’re for slowly stretching attention spans.

We read a couple of times a day, and when little minds wander and bodies get wiggly, we stop and give kisses and send off to play. Because we have all the time in the world together, to grow to love books.

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But books are also one of the ways I know to love my big kids right now.

Their world has been rocked. What was once a quiet house is now busy and loud and often messy, and what were once two parents who gave them lots of undivided attention are now tired, distracted parents trying to meet everyone’s needs and bond with noisy little brothers. There’s a lot I can’t give Judah and Amelie right this moment, but I can give them books.

I can show them what I myself have learned: that books are comfort.

So while before April 24th I spent time combing the internet for various book lists and challenging them with chapter book classics, right now I love my two oldest children by going to the library and finding all their picture book favorites: Fancy Nancy and Knuffle Bunny and Berenstein Bears. The Star Wars Lego dictionary and Clifford and Quiet! There’s a Canary in the Library. And of course Dr. Seuss (nothing makes Judah laugh like Dr. Seuss does. They are kindred spirits).

We sit, cuddled together on the sofa, at night after Gabriel and Noah are tucked in, and we read together — books we’ve read dozens of times. We laugh at the same old jokes and roll our eyes at Olivia and travel the world with Babar. And in doing so we all unknowingly breathe a sigh of relief.

I smile when I crack the door to check on them at night and see books peeking out of Amie’s covers, or spilled over on the floor after afternoon rest time.

Books are comfort.

One day Gabriel and Noah will feel it too.

That thought makes me inexpressibly happy.



wednesday.

If we follow each other on Instagram, know that I love you, but I’ve decided to take another break. I have terrible self-discipline when it comes to social media, and I hate that I compulsively check my phone when I should be paying attention to my people. So for the time being, I’ll just focus on updating this space.

Thanks Grandpa and Mum-Mum for the blow-up pool!

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back to school.

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Yesterday was back to school for us, after almost a three-week break.

If you think it sounds crazy attempting to homeschool with two new-to-our-family toddlers in the house, you’re right. It is.

I spent an hour during naptime on Mother’s Day spread out at the table, trying to make it all work on paper. Legally, we have to both complete 180 days of school a year, and also get through a certain amount of curriculum. Thankfully after looking everything over we seemed to be in good shape: 17 days of school and we’re on track to complete our material by then too.

It’s been a three-ring circus around here in the mornings, adding school into the mix, but then I remind myself — it’s a three-ring circus anyway. Why not try to squeeze some education in while I’m at it??

And guess what — as of this moment, we now only have 15 days to complete! We can do this!

Actually I really believe that the structure is good for all of us. It’s just being patient while everyone learns the structure.

My friend Tara gave me a genius idea for the big kids: use notebooks to keep them on track with their work. I grabbed a couple of those inexpensive black and white composition books at Publix, and in the evening I write tomorrow’s date and their to-do list for that day with boxes next to each item. Here’s the best part to me: the to-do list includes their chores. The first three items are: “Make bed, get dressed, brush teeth.” So by the time Judah and Amie come out of their bedroom in the morning, they can immediately check off 1-2 items, which they love.

I can already see how notebooks and lists are empowering for them, because they can choose when to do their work, and it keeps me from nagging them to get things done. If Judah asks, “When can I be done with school?” I just refer him to his notebook to tell me what he has left. He helps Amie read her list (I can even add, “Read Amie a book today,” which allows him both to practice reading and gives them quality time together).

I’ve realized this month that I never did a good job teaching J and A to help me around the house beyond the bare minimum, and I’m regretting that now. So I’m using their notebooks as a tool to give them some more responsibilities over time: vacuum the kitchen and dining room, fold laundry, wash dishes, etc. At the end of their daily list I write: “One extra chore for Mom,” and I show them how to do something. So far, they think it’s cool.

Gabriel wants so badly to help out and do whatever the big kids are doing. He already clears his dishes after meals and cleans up his own toys, so now I’m teaching him to wipe the dining table after breakfast.

Another item on J and A’s list is to babysit Gabe and Noah so Mom can work with the other one.

This morning I decided to start doing some “preschool” with Gabriel first thing, and it made a big difference in his contentment throughout the morning. We’re learning his letters and numbers. He loves the little foam letters we worked with. He’s also great at puzzles, colors, and shapes.

Please don’t think I’m super woman, or even that all of this goes smoothly after just two days: it doesn’t. at 10:00 a.m., after three whole hours of people calling, “Mommy!”, discipline, dirt tracked through the house, requests for snacks and juice, sibling fights, tearful outbursts, and overseeing school work, I’m ready to lock myself in the bathroom until David gets home from work.

However.

I’ll give it time. It’s good for the little guys to learn the world does not revolve around them. It’s good for the big kids to learn the world does not revolve around them. Heck, it’s good for me to learn the world doesn’t revolve around me either, ha!

And I see a big improvement in Judah and Amie’s spirits already now that we’ve resumed our school routine. They’re getting more attention from me, and it makes them happy. Now that their tank is filled, they’re initiating playing with their brothers a little more. And they’re still getting lots of play dates with friends so I can spend time with Gabriel and Noah. I feel sure we’re on the right path here.

If you’re wondering about our plans for the fall, I’ve been all over the map with that one. But as of right now, I feel like all the reasons David and I decided that homeschooling works for our family still stand. I want to give it one year with all four kids at home before making any drastic decisions. So I registered Gabe for the 4-year-old class at Classical Conversations in the fall and Noah will be in the nursery. I think both boys are going to do awesome. Judah and Amie will each start an extra-curricular activity in the fall which they’re excited about.

So as of right now, we’re aiming to finish this school year by the end May, take all of June off, then start back again three days a week in July. This continues to give us structure, helps us “practice” school time together, and it gives us some wiggle-room next year for traveling/taking days off.

Ok, now I need a nap!





two weeks.

We made it through Week Two and the first post-placement visit from our social worker! She’s been so supportive through this process, and had encouraging things to say about how well the boys are doing. We think she’s right! In the last couple of days the scales seem to be tipping in our favor, and I believe the good moments now outweigh the bad ones. Not bad for just two weeks in!

In addition, David gave me 5 hours to myself yesterday afternoon, so I feel like a new woman! Want to know how I spent them? Shopping (work-out clothes for me, summer clothes for J and A, and of course: diapers!), a caffeine fix to-go at Starbucks, then purging/organizing every single room in our house. Organizing truly is my therapy. I now feel able to fit our family of 6 in our 1500-square-foot house.

Here’s some more of we’ve been up to (forgive the poor photo quality) . . .

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Someone loves to play in the dirt!

 

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But it’s okay, because his favorite pastime is “Wash hands!”

 

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If my therapy is organizing, then Amie’s therapy is animals. Specifically, the Franklin’s bunny, Daisy.

 

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Judah teaching his brother about Star Wars.

 

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Linda braved Publix with me yesterday. The little guys did great, thanks to this car cart. Also it took two carts and two employees to get us and our stuff out to the car, but they did it happily! We love Publix!

 

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“Mom, I’m teaching Gabriel to read!”

 

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David’s therapy is rowing, so while he was out on the river this morning, my parents and I took the kids to the Farmer’s Market. We had a plan: show up at 9:00 when it opens to avoid the crowds. Also, there’s a big courtyard at the art museum by the market where the kids can explore and run off the sugar.

 

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Amie and I are learning that there are perks to being the only girls!

 

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The nursery had turned into a catch-all/Lego room, so the week before Gabe and Noah came home, we were in a mad scramble to get it ready. Steve put a fresh coat of paint on the walls, re-hung curtains and wall art, and we took a road trip to Ikea for a bed, bedding, and a toy organizer. We love the way it turned out!