adoption reflections: 15 months in.

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So it’s been 15 months since we adopted our boys. I’ve sat down maybe half a dozen times this summer to start this blog post, but I always end up feeling cotton-brained. Perhaps that’s a reflection in and of itself.

But here I am today, finally, with a few thoughts from someone who’s very much still in the thick of it all:

We’ve come a long way.
I just cannot believe how different things were in our home, even a year ago today. We were smack in the middle of The Crazy, and I wish so badly that I could comfort that momma and tell her, “It’s going to get so much better, I promise. You will survive this. Your husband will survive it. Your kids will survive it. There will be moments of peace in your house again.”

It’s actually a comfort to think there’s a good chance that the me of next year may look back on today and say the same thing. Because even though we’ve come a long way, it’s still really hard sometimes.

I remember tucking one of the boys in bed after a particularly difficult day and praying, “God, please change this child’s hard heart.” And suddenly the thought struck me, almost like an audible voice: “Julie, what about your heart? Yes he’s a sinner and he’s wounded on top of that, but his acting out is producing all manner of rage and impatience and self-righteousness in you.”

I felt immediately convicted and repentant. It’s true.

And so now instead I pray, to paraphrase a Ray Cortese sermon I heard once, “Father, please change the hardest heart in my family: mine.”

Thanks be to God, I’d say that we’re growing in the right direction, all of us.

 

Shared memories are priceless.
The very best part of reaching our one-year mark as a family of six was knowing that Gabe and Noah had experienced a full year of holidays and traditions and travel with us. It became exhausting to try and prepare them for every new experience, mostly because I know they recognized they were the odd ones out, who didn’t know about the particular person or place or experience, and that caused them anxiety.

By now it’s impossible to overemphasize the power in simple comments we hear, like, “Noah, last year I got to put the star on the Christmas tree, but next year it’s your turn,” or “I don’t want to go back on the big green water slide at the church retreat,” or “Daddy, will you buy lots of fireworks for 4th of July this time?”

I can tell Gabe still holds some of that anxiety, because every plan or errand of the day is peppered with, “Have I been there before?” or “Have I seen that before?” But as he sees, again and again during our week, that yes, he has been there and seen that before, I pray it gives him a sense of settledness and place in our family.

 

Love grows. So does trust.
It takes time to grow love and trust. If there was one thing I could tell parents who are adopting older children, it would be, “It’s okay if you don’t immediately feel love for this child. Don’t panic. It will grow with time.”

Our social worker told us that adoption is like an arranged marriage; you make the lifetime commitment first; then you let the affections follow. I guess I’d tack on that, like any marriage, arranged or not, you can’t sit idly by and just wait for the warm fuzzies; you have to fight for them. You have to move in the direction of love — move toward this other person — even on the days you don’t feel a bit of it (perhaps especially on the days you don’t feel it).

So I guess it requires this mixture of waiting and work that I’m still scratching my head to get right.

I remember sitting on the sofa next to Gabe on the first day that he and Noah were in our house, watching cartoons and asking, “Can I hold you?” I carefully reached for him, and when he didn’t resist, I pulled him onto my lap. He didn’t even turn to meet my eyes, just gingerly perched right on the edge of my knees, eyes glued to the TV screen. It felt surreal to have to make a conscious decision to sit and hold my child on my lap for the first time. But we were strangers to each other.

In our first weeks with the boys, they allowed us to hold them, yet their bodies were rigid. We peer at photographs from those days and see them in our arms yet twisting away from our bodies.  Not only that; they would let anyone hold them. I was gripped with fear and jealousy when Noah ran away from me at the playground, arms held up, to the first mommy he found who had a snack.

In the beginning I felt like they showed affection to everyone but David and me. And of course it makes sense: we were the scary ones, the ones who wanted to get close. The ones who set boundaries and made them eat healthy food and carried out consequences when they disobeyed.

And yet, sure enough, love and trust were being built up, like the colored wooden blocks of a child’s tower, in millions of small moments. In some mysterious way those moments even include discipline and the setting of boundaries. Many times I’ve wanted to speed up the process, for all of us. But that’s not the way humans work, especially humans who’ve had trust broken.

One day last week I asked Gabe if he wanted to lay down on my bed and take a nap with me. He’s done it before, and was happy for extra attention from Mommy; and so we stretched out on my bed in the slanting afternoon sunlight and I spread the green woven blanket over us. He lay there, very still next to me, for a couple minutes. I peeked over at him and smiled, and his whole face softened as he reached out for me. In the same moment that I pulled him close, he wrapped his limbs up in mine, even our fingers interlaced, and fell fast asleep.

It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. And it was beautiful because I had to wait for it, because of the tears and hurts and his often prickly exterior towards me. It was beautiful because I didn’t ask for it.

 

Grief is cyclical, not linear.

I should’ve known this one. Isn’t it true for adults? We’re caught by surprise when we think we’ve worked through something and moved on to a place of healing, only to have a song, a smell, a photo jolt us back to that hard place and cover us in waves of grief.

That’s how it is with our boys. We work through issues and think we’ve found a new normal, and then one moment something jerks them back to the pain and loss. It’s that much harder because they don’t have words to fully express what hurts. A lot of times it just looks like anger and acting out.

I long to be the kind of mother who lets my kids move through grief in their own time and their own way. I don’t want to pressure them, but I do want to talk about it. Honestly, sometimes it’s easier not to talk about it, especially when a child wants to pretend it didn’t happen. But I know that down the road of silence lies secrecy and shame. Emotions grow bigger if you stuff them, until one day they’re so terrifying you shut down to keep from facing them. And if you shut yourself down to the hard stuff, you shut yourself down to the good stuff too.

We are a family who talks about the hard stuff. Sometimes we just sit and cry and don’t talk at all.

I need so, so much wisdom for this process. Wisdom that I don’t have but I’m begging God for.

Of course we’ll be alert to the possibility of therapy in the future, but for now, we’re so thankful to see good fruit from grieving. We’re thankful that those moments are now the minority and the boys are growing happy and silly and affectionate.

 

The kids are alright.
Probably the question I am asked most often right now is how Judah and Amelie are doing, one-year post adoption. Of course it was a huge shock to their system, adding two rambunctious little brothers to our relatively quiet home. There have been tears and anger and struggle.

That’s a big reason that we chose to hunker down and focus on the boys’ behavior and obedience right away; we wanted to pave the way for good sibling relationships. The only way I know to do that is for mutual respect in a household. We don’t allow name-calling or put-downs. Our house is a safe place. I didn’t want the boys to have the reputation as the wild little brats who constantly terrorize their siblings. I knew that with love and consistency they could rise to the challenge.

And they have! Of course they’re still little boys, and Judah and Amie have had to change too — to become more flexible and open-handed with their things and (hardest of all) with their parents. It’s been infinitely valuable for them to have their world stretched by their two little brothers.

Today I say with gratitude that they have good relationships with both their brothers, and are still growing even closer. Gabe and Noah are learning to be kind and considerate. Judah and Amie are learning to use gracious words with their brothers and not expect the worst from them, but to give them a chance to show they’re growing and changing.

I’d say their struggles at this point are just normal sibling frustrations, as differing ages and a couple of wildly different personalities clash. Even with those normal battles, one of my greatest joys in life right now is seeing all four my kids grow in friendship with each other.

 

I love my life.
David was eating lunch with a friend and they talked about kids. His friend said, “I’m a two-kid person and my wife is a six-kid person, so I guess we compromised by having four kids.” He asked David about him and me and David said, “I actually think Julie and I are both two-kid people who suddenly found ourselves with four kids.”

That made me laugh because it’s so true.

We’re both of us introverts and can be fussy and particular and easily-annoyed. We are control freaks who like a clean house and quiet mornings to sip coffee and read. Two kids was awesome. Four kids is kind of nuts.

Four kids is not clean and quite. Four kids pushes and pulls and chafes against all our quirks. Four kids does not make for quiet mornings to sit and sip coffee. Four kids raises our blood-pressure.

In short, four kids is probably the best thing God could’ve done for us.

And you know what? We love our life.

Okay, not in every moment. But in big, broad strokes, we love our life and we want our life. Two two-kid people followed God and were pushed beyond what they thought they could bear and came out the other end with this life that’s loud and colorful and messy and so very rich with people.

I hope and pray that all of these children make us a little less fussy and particular and easily-annoyed.

We’re growing to be four-kid people. And we’re happy about it.



lately.

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Hello friends!

I had a pretty wonderful Mother’s Day yesterday — David and the kids surprised me with a new laptop! You’ve gathered from my complaining/intermittent posting that mine was on the fritz for a looong time, but I definitely did not expect a new one any time soon!

My last laptop was a refurbished Macbook Pro, which we bought in 2010, before moving to India, and I loved that thing into the ground. Now this one is the very first brand-new computer I’ve owned; it’s a 13″ Macbook Air, and I’m smitten. It’s so crisp! And clean! I have a “delete” key! And best of all — when I tap the keys, things that are supposed to happen, actually happen!

Anyway, sorry to gush, but this should mean that I’ll be blogging a little more frequently!

Here’s some of what we’ve been up to lately …

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Can you believe that our church, CPC, is nearly three years old? This is Noah and his buddy PJ, who’s been with us since the very beginning. He reaches for her as soon as he sees her.

I get tearful whenever I think of how our church family loved us through our adoption process and first year. Not only did they contribute generously toward our expenses, post-placement they prayed, dropped off meals, respected boundaries when our family needed to hunker down at home for awhile, encouraged, cried, laughed, prayed some more, and best of all, enveloped Gabe and Noah in love from the first day they met them, no questions asked.

 

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We already love our zoo, but it just opened a huge splash park/outdoor play place for kids, and we checked it out one morning last week. It was great! I’d say it’s geared a little more toward toddlers/preschoolers, but Judah and Amie still thoroughly enjoyed themselves and I think would enjoy it even more if we came back with some of their friends.

If you haven’t been yet, my words of advice are: 1. Park at the Botanical Gardens entrance, 2. Go early, like right when the zoo opens at 9:00 am. After 11 it got so crowded — and summer break hasn’t even begun yet!, and 3. Wear bathingsuits and pack a change of clothes for afterwards (I didn’t wear a swimsuit, which was fine, but my flip-flops got soaked, so be warned!).

 

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We’re pressing on to finish our school year by the end of May. We worked hard this year, and so at the end have been spending lots more time reading aloud, and it feels very restful. Some friends invited Gabe and Noah over one morning, so I took the opportunity to take the big kids to a coffee shop for school. We sat and sipped our drinks and I finished a novel about a group of kids during World War 2, and we did a few worksheets. Any moments I get to connect with just one or two of the kids at a time feel like a gift.

 

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The same friends that had the boys come play, noticed how much they enjoyed their son’s water table, and dropped one off for Gabe and Noah later that day (again: the sweetness of our church family)! I’m not exaggerating when I say it has already brought our little guys hours of delight. Noah finishes breakfast, strips right down to his skivvies, then races outside to play with the water.

 

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Speaking of Noah, this has been our set-up on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, when the big kids are in swim class. Usually there’s at least a couple of other moms and a toddler or two. As of last week, Noah now does 10 minutes in the pool one-on-one with a coach to start getting him ready to join the others. He’s not technically supposed to start until he’s four years told, but he has been dying to get in the water, as you can imagine. He loved it so much that he burst into loud wails, when we made him get out.

 

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A couple weeks ago, my friend Jessica and I took a little road trip to Greenville, to meet one of our literary heroes, Jacqueline Woodson. We both love her memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, and I’ve since read a handful of her other children’s and young adult books, and enjoyed them too. We had a great evening stopping in at M. Judson book shop for the book signing, meeting Jessica’s sister for dinner at the Trappe Door (a favorite Greenville restaurant), and then heading to First Baptist Church to hear Jacqueline Woodson speak on her writing and on growing up in Greenville and New York.

 

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On Friday night, some friends got married in Charleston, and we drove with Kenny and Shari and stayed overnight! I’ve never been to a wedding in Charleston, and the reception for this one was at the Yacht Club — it was lovely to be right on the water. We haven’t taken any sort of trip with Kenny (my brother) and Shari, just the four of us, since before we all had kids, and so we had the best time talking nonstop, squeezing into a hotel room, walking downtown in search of good coffee, hitting Folly Beach on Saturday morning, and rounding out our trip with fresh seafood for lunch.

 

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And finally, we had an extended family gathering last night for Mother’s Day, and my other brother, Danny, came in from Florence to hang out!

Now that I read back over my last couple of posts, I see that May is more an entire Adoption Celebration month, and that’s a very sweet gift from the Lord. It was a long year, but He met us in it over and over again. I love spending this month traveling and celebrating His goodness together.

I’m working on a Summer Bookshelf post for you all, and am having fun doing it! This has been a great reading year thus far! Any interest in a children’s bookshelf post too? I thought of compiling a list of our favorites.

Happy Monday!



one-year adoption trip.

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We decided to celebrate our first year of adoption with a family experience. David and I are terrible about keeping surprises from the kids, but we managed to keep our overnight trip a secret until Wednesday morning. We sat at the dining table doing school work, and David came in from CrossFit and announced that we were dropping everything and heading on an adventure!

Going on a “benture” is Noah’s favorite thing in the entire world, and something he requests daily (along with pumpkins, the Great Wolf Lodge, and the beach). Everyone was thrilled! So we booked a hotel room on Priceline, packed a suitcase, and hit the road.

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We had a lovely lunch by a pond at Table Rock. We have this picnic lunch thing down to a science, and now pack it on all of our road trips in order to save money and avoid eating that one extra meal out: tuna salad with crackers, hummus and carrot sticks, apples, and a dark chocolate bar.

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Nearly all of our adventures are sprinkled with a certain amount of misadventure (just ask anyone who’s gone along for the ride with us). But we’ve learned a lot about being flexible and having fun no matter what!

Somehow we took a VERY circuitous route to the end of the Art Loeb Trail outside of Brevard, NC, which David recently hiked with a couple of friends. He wanted to take the kids to do a little hiking and play in the Davidson River. What should have been a 2 1/2 hour road trip took about 4 1/2 hours in all, and everyone was a little stir crazy by the end! We also never found the exact spot David had in his head, but the kids seized the day and had a blast splashing in the river anyway. We planned to stay for several hours, but after about 30 minutes, they were freezing cold and ready to get dry and warm, so we changed clothes, loaded up, and went searching for another activity!

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We drove into Brevard and found a playground downtown (Franklin Park) that the kids loved. We played there for an hour until dinner.

David and I have been trying to eat at Rocky’s Soda Shop in Brevard for three years, ever since we discovered it back in our MTW days. Somehow it’s always closed when we show up for dinner, so this time we called ahead, and made it before it closed at 6:00 (I think they have later hours in the summer). The food is good, but it’s the whole old-fashioned diner atmosphere that we wanted the kids to experience, complete with chocolate milkshakes for the first course.

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We drove 40 more minutes to Flat Rock to spend the night, because we wanted to end up there the next morning. Our best find of the trip was a hotel with an indoor pool!

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We brought sleeping bags so the three oldest kids could camp out on the floor; I shared a full-sized bed with Noah, and David took the other bed (David jokes that my definition of camping is all of us sharing one hotel room). We got everyone tucked in at around 8:30, and David and I dragged the two chairs into the little kitchenette to huddle with our books and plastic cups of wine by lamplight, and Judah read Harry Potter in his sleeping bag. It was cozy!

We ate the complimentary hotel breakfast the next morning, and let the kids take another swim before packing up and checking out. We stopped by the Flat Rock Village Bakery for coffee to-go, then drove around the corner to the Carl Sandburg Home for the morning. You guys, this place is amazing! Friends have been telling us to go for years, and we just hadn’t made it yet.

The grounds are completely free; you only pay a small fee to tour the home, which we opted out of this time. So we walked the trails in the woods, saw the ducks in the pond, then wandered up the hill past the house to the goat barn. We met the four baby goats, then the kids got to run free in the field with the adult goats (or “ghosts,” as Noah called them). It was surprisingly cold and windy yesterday, but other than that, idyllic.

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I honestly didn’t want to leave, and if we stay in Flat Rock again, we’ll definitely be returning. There are more hiking trails we didn’t get to try out, and the whole place is tremendously beautiful and peaceful.

We finished our adventure with pizza at the Flat Rock Wood Room (which has fantastic barbecue too), and then hit the road to come back home! We contemplated an afternoon hike, but Noah was lagging, and we decided to end on a high note. Maybe next time!

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The full honest truth is that traveling with young children is not for the faint of heart, especially traveling with four young children. We’d gotten to a much more flexible, easy stage with our two big kids a year ago, and traveling these days requires much more stamina (and more packing; somehow packing for one overnight feels the same as packing for a week — and I still always forget something)!

But even though it’s more exhausting, David and I also decided it’s way more fun too. Doubling the kids doubles the excitement and energy for anything we do. The pool was full of shrieks and splashing and singing, and we just love watching our four kids enjoying one another’s company. There’s always a sibling to keep you company, and we love how the addition of Gabe and Noah makes our whole family experience the world around us differently.

We also couldn’t be happier that these boys love to travel as much as the rest of us do!

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our first year of adoption.

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The best way I know to describe older child adoption or sibling group adoption, is that it’s like culture shock.

Let me explain. This is what it was like to move to India:

We planned and dreamed and worked so hard to get to this new country. And after a 24-hour trip in three different airplanes, we set our feet on the ground. I’ll never forget that first nighttime ride from the airport, the cool wind in my face, craning my neck to take in the streets and leafy trees and buildings. Everything. I was exhausted to my core from juggling two toddlers on the Longest Trip Of My Life, but I was full of wonder. We did it. This is our new home.

The four of us managed to sleep a few hours that first night, in our friends’ flat, and awoke to the blinding India sun the next morning. Jet-lag made us feel like we’d been hit by a truck. We took a shower in a floor-to-ceiling tiled bathroom with a shower head that, bewilderingly, soaked every inch of the tiny room. And then we tracked water across the guest room and got dressed and stepped outside in soggy flip-flops, cotton-brained and slack-jawed, into dust and trash and noise and cows and many, many people.

We’d studied about moving overseas and traveled to other countries; read books and taken classes and spent a month in New York City in an international neighborhood. I was prepared for the first stage of culture shock: The Honeymoon Stage.

Except, that it didn’t happen to us. For whatever reason — perhaps it was the country we chose, perhaps it was landing in that country with a three and a one-year-old — we bypassed the Honeymoon Stage and landed smack on our rears in Disintegration.

Reality didn’t so much creep in, as punch us in the face.

Now, please understand this. We chose to move to India — nobody twisted our arms. We wanted to be there. We knew it was the exact right thing.

And also, we were drowning.

Everything was different. Every possible sense was assaulted every minute of the day. There is no way for me to describe to you the smells, the sights, the dirt, the tastes, the crush of people, the noise. Oh, the noise.

But we made ourselves set one foot in front of the other and get out there. Every single day. With the help of friends, we moved into our flat. We bought furniture. We found the office to set up Internet, and a preschool for our three-year-old. We learned to pay in cash and shop for groceries (a process that involved not one but a handful of shops). We learned to hail auto rickshaw cabs. We hired a house helper and learned to navigate this strange new cultural relationship of having an employee in our home every day who didn’t speak a word of English. We learned to brush our teeth with bottled water, and to disinfect fruit and vegetables before we ate them. We took our kids to the playground. We ordered take-out.

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I list things for you that took an unimaginable amount of time. Everything moves slower in this country. And nobody seemed as bothered by that as us foreigners.

Have you ever noticed this? When you’re in a season that’s difficult, time just slows right down too. And so the hours we waited for our internet company to come were actually twice as long as normal hours. Each day felt like a marathon.

And yet. Piece by piece, agonizingly long day by agonizingly long day, we began to find our bearings in a brand-new place.

Of course, at the time it didn’t exactly feel like it. It felt like struggle. It felt like one step forward, two steps back. It felt like being the stupid one, the one that didn’t know any of the rules or how to make friends. It felt like wanting to go home where life was familiar and comfortable, where we were known and respected. It felt like a whole lot of anger, gushing from someplace deep inside where we didn’t know it existed.

We put in the seconds and the minutes and the days and the hours, and fought hard not to give in to the thought that This will never get better.

And then eventually, without our hardly realizing it, it did get better. Although at the time it just felt like pointless hardship, all of those seconds and hours and days had been adding up to accomplish something, to get us somewhere.

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Slowly we found some confidence and the right places to shop for meat. We could go on neighborhood walks and not worry constantly about getting lost. I could set out with my backpack and just round our street corner into the sea of humanity, and move along with them, enjoying the sounds and color and, well there was just so much life. We began to find things to love about our city, little things at first, but we clung to them fiercely, and added to their number. We made friends. We watched how our children saw everything in India as a great adventure, and we tried to be like them. We laughed more.

Friends, I wish I could give you fuller picture of our Independence Stage of culture shock, but as many of you know, we had to leave India suddenly after just a year and a half, due to my health. While the rest of me recovered and actually wanted to put down some roots in our new home, my body never did. And so we had to leave, when we’d only just begun. That was a whole other kind of shock, but it’s a story for a different time.

But after that first year, I tasted a sip of Settling In. The anger had eased. Our city began to feel a tiny bit like home.

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And so, as I begin to reflect on our first year of adoption, this is the picture that comes quickest to mind. In fact, I thought many times over this past year, This, right here, feels exactly like culture shock.

It’s the head-spinning, earth-shifting, wonder-brimming, anger-gushing, bone-tired-exhausting, tears in bed at night, will-this-ever-get-better jolt. Except with adoption, I’d up the ante just a wee bit by adding, there’s-no-going-back. Ever.

I believe that my body and my mind and emotions experienced the trauma of adding two new strangers to our family, in the same visceral way as landing with a pile of suitcases in a completely foreign country for the first time and realizing on Day One that the honeymoon stage was the ride home from the airport.

But I’m hear to tell you today, at the end of our first year, that we’re okay! We’re emerging from the crazy. We find more things to love every day about this strange new country that is our family of six.

I’m so happy to be living here.

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one year.

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Our family of six turns one today! We made it!!!

Some first-year adoption reflections to come … in the meantime, David and I are celebrating by going to bed early.



april 8.

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One year ago today, David came home from work, walked into the kitchen where I was cooking dinner, and told me that he’d just received an email from our adoption agency. It was about two brothers, ages 3 and 2, who needed a family. My heart stopped in its tracks, and then pounded on. Wait. What?

But David wasn’t asking me if we wanted to be considered for adopting the brothers; he was letting me know he already responded with a “Yes!”

I was terrified.

But I trusted him.

We knew almost nothing about the boys. We didn’t know what they looked like or their names or where exactly in South Carolina they lived. We knew a few vague details about their situation. We knew that their birth mom wanted an open adoption.

My mind began racing a-mile-a-minute. I couldn’t sleep at night. We’re supposed to get a baby. That’s the path we chose.

Adopting a baby would change our life. Adopting two toddlers would change it way more. I wore myself out weighing each pro and con over a decision that I felt would spell out our entire future — and yet there was too little information to properly make my list, too many variables. I felt the control slipping from my fingers, and I am a girl who likes control.

But also, somewhere in that tailspin, in my heart of hearts, I felt the tiniest sliver of hope.

When I lay in bed, wide-eyed at 2 a.m., I had pictures in my head. Fuzzy pictures, of two nameless, faceless boys, slightly damp and clean-smelling from the bath, piled onto our well-worn India sofa with Judah and Amelie and I for story time. Pounding across the hardwood floors, screeching and wrestling with David. Jumping on our trampoline. Sleeping in the baby’s room.

I was so terrified that first day. I’m a fairly intuitive person, but I had absolutely no sense of the outcome to this story — would these boys be ours, or would they not? Was this email The One, or would we get passed over like we had for the dozen other recruitment emails we’d responded “yes” to?

We generally kept recruitment emails to ourselves, and we didn’t mention it to our kids, but I frantically texted close friends and family, begging for prayer, and they hopped on the roller coaster right along with us. I changed my mind many, many times. I said, “No David, we can’t do this. It’s too much. Please write our adoption agency back and withdraw our names.” And he hugged me like he has so many times in our married life and said, “I know, babe. I love you. Let’s take the leap.”

I wanted my comfortable, semi-predictable life. I wanted the baby’s room that I’d filled with my grandma’s patchwork quilt and an IKEA futon for late-night feedings and carefully painted-and-distressed photo frames with prints. I wanted the the swing and Britax infant carseat and the tray of glass baby bottles our friends had passed along to us. I wanted gauzy swaddle blankets and pacifiers and all the first milestones.

But those boys.

They were lodged in my head and I couldn’t get them out. Where were they, right this minute? What were they doing? They were three and two, and our own biological children were seven and five. They could be folded seamlessly into our family in a moment . . . seven, five, three, two. They are perfect for us.

I ached for them as a mother aches, even as I was afraid of them, of the unknown. I ached for their birth mom, as a fellow mother aches. I cried all the time.

Father, I’m so scared, but I think I know what I want. Will You give it to me?

On Monday, April 13th, I walked through the dining room, carrying a mug of steaming tea to the back porch. It had been five long days since the email. I was Moving On. I happened to look down at my phone, and in that exact moment, it started buzzing, and I saw “David Gentino” on the screen. And I knew.

I’d waited for this call every single day, almost every hour, for six months. Like someone in a dream, I answered it.

And my life changed.

Eleven days later, we dropped our kids at their cousins’ house for the day, and drove the hour-and-a-half to sit in a small city office with our social worker and sign a whole stack of papers. And then, just like that, in what felt like the most anticlimactic moment of a lifetime, David and I had two more children.

By then we knew their hair color and eye color, we knew their names, and the tone of their voices. We’d read them board books in Barnes and Noble and scampered across playgrounds after them. But we didn’t know them. We’d never fed them or changed their diapers or sung them a lullaby. We’d never even heard them cry.

It was the most surreal experience of our lives, and the road ahead was harder than those agonizing 16 days between receiving the first email and adopting our boys. Well, in a way. In a way it was easier, because it was finished and also it was just beginning. We were embarking on the rest of our lives together.

This year has been filled with more joy and love and support than we could ever have imagined.

Right now, I’m sitting in a coffee shop at the end of a long, tiring week. There are tears in my eyes, because I feel very inadequate for this task of mothering four children. I’ve lost my temper this week. I’ve scolded my kids for things that just.don’t.matter. I’ve thrown up my hands at complaining and sibling quarrels and have laundered my duvet, duvet-cover and every part of our bedding, not once, but twice, due to nap-time potty accidents of the three-year-old (don’t ask). I’ve scrolled Instagram to avoid engaging with my family. I’ve thought, I cannot do this one more day. I can’t.

Even as I write these things, I’m fully aware that the above list contains only what went wrong this week, and not the good moments, and that makes me even more frustrated with myself.

And yet. Just now, I pause and think back to this day, one year ago, when it all began. When we took the leap.

We received an email and  we were scared and excited, and we knew that a whole mountain of obstacles stood between us and adopting those boys. Over 16 days, we watched, open-mouthed, as God moved that mountain. By the time the papers were signed we had not one doubt.

God brought those brothers into our home, our life, and some days I’m desperately weary and overwhelmed by noise and touch and little needs. But I know, even in the hard weeks, that God has given us something indescribably beautiful.

He answered our cries for a child, and He gave all six of us exactly what we need. He made us a family. I wouldn’t trade Gabriel and Noah for all the sweet-smelling, wrinkly newborns in the world.

I don’t feel good enough for this task, but that doesn’t matter because God chose me to be their mom. He has written us a beautiful story; can’t I trust Him to be faithful in my hard days and bad moods?

I can.

This is a day for celebrating.

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Photos by Ashley Nicole Photography



easter 2016.

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Happy Easter! He is Risen!

This was our very last “first holiday” together as a family of six! And that made it extra special. We had a wonderful weekend with our church and family. My parents came over last week to do their tradition egg-dying with the kids. The boys loved it so much that Noah burst into loud tears when we told him it was time to clean up. Also by that point his hands were completely dyed blue.

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Our Easter Saturday tradition (since Sunday is a work day for David), is homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast, followed by a scavenger hunt for the kids’ gift. I scored big at the Tot Trade consignment sale and found a huge Playmobil fort for Gabe and Judah to share. Ams got a play teacher’s kit, and Noah his first light saber!

Later that afternoon we had a church-wide Easter egg hunt and cook-out at Steve and Linda’s, which was a big success despite an almost-steady drizzle.

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And yesterday we celebrated with our two church services, and Easter dinner later on at Shari’s mom’s (Mimi’s) house. One thing we love about our little Columbia community is doing holidays together as one big family: David’s folks, my folks, and our sister-in-law Shari’s! The kids get a passel of grandparents among them. I feel so blessed by all the help and support we have.

And now . . . Spring Break!

Happy Easter!

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four on friday.

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Yesterday morning after swim practice, the kids and I stopped at the gas station on North Main for Dunkin’ Donuts, which they painstakingly picked out and then happily devoured in the parking lot. In the car I tried to prepare them for the errand we had to run as I drove us down to the Social Security Administration office on Assembly Street, finally found a metered parking three blocks away, and paraded us all to our destination.

Inside, we made our way through the wall of security and up to the 11th floor into the Social Security office, which was packed full of people. Every single person looked up and stared at us as we filed in. Of course, if you are someone with anxiety, one of your worst fears is a roomful of people staring at you. Add to that my very real fear of being judged for obviously being a homeschooling mom, and I kind of just wanted to disappear.

But don’t worry! I maintained my sense of humor and smiled at the people who stared at us and did just a little school with Judah and pulled up the Photobooth app on the iPad (which had us all giggling), and the five of us made it through our hour-and-a-half wait just fine. I also realized that most people were mainly staring at Noah, who is just so darn cute that he takes the focus off the rest of us.

I consider it a small victory. You have no idea how much work it’s taken to reach this point — sitting together in a waiting room without temper tantrums or sibling fighting, without anyone running off or touching things we shouldn’t or destroying anything.

It’s not that being well-behaved in public makes my children inherently more valuable as people — like that’s the goal in and of itself. It’s just that I want to prepare them to succeed in these less-than-fun life situations every now and then, to sit in waiting rooms or go to the crowded grocery store or be in a roomful of adults and not run around wild. It’s not something I ask of them often, and we took a lot of baby steps to make it to this point.

I believe with practice and a good sense of humor (that’s key and I’ll admit I don’t always accomplish that), my kids can hear the expectations I have of them, and then rise up and meet those expectations. It infuses them with such a dignity to realize, “I can do this!” I saw the pride in their eyes afterwards when I said, “You did such a good job! Thank you for helping me today by listening and obeying! I knew you could do it.” They are not perfect, of course, but are smart and polite and growing up so fast.

Still, as we filed out an hour and a half later, a nice lady whispered to me, “You deserve a medal.” Which is not true, but was a sweet thing to say.

And now we’ve properly filed for the boys’ new social security cards with our name — “Gentino” on them! Their new birth certificates are in our hands, and everything is paper-official. It’s a lovely feeling, going into Easter weekend.

Happy Easter!



lately.

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Hello friends! I can’t explain the feelings of relief and joy I have now that March is here and spring is around the corner. I remember that it’s around this time every year (right around the time I can wear flip flops once again) that I begin to feel more like myself.

I don’t like to use the word “busy,” but I’d describe our winter and this coming month as full. Very full. I began leading a life group, David’s doing three weddings in four months, we’re searching for a new worship place for our church, we’re starting on our house addition, and of course we have normal life and school and work.

How do we survive all of this? Well, we’re careful to look at our schedule together each week, and plan “down” days and evenings interspersed with all the activity. By now we’ve begun to learn just how many days and nights a week we can have plans and how many we need to be at home to avoid total exhaustion.

We try to be super intentional about what we say “yes” to and what we say “no” to — we don’t say no because something isn’t good; but because we know that we just can’t do everything. We’re going to bed early and waking up early to have some quiet moments in the morning. We’re exercising regularly and giving each other space to get out of the house alone once a week.

Making this rhythm a priority is saving our sanity and keeping us from feeling overwhelmed. Actually, we’re really enjoying life right now! This is the most normal that it’s felt since the adoption, and also, in my opinion, the sweetest season in the life of our church so far.

My anxiety is still very present, but I’m pressing on and learning ways to cope, and it really doesn’t have the power over me that it did even a few weeks ago. More on that soon.

Here are a few photos of what we’ve been up to!

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We all got sick a couple of weeks ago, which finally necessitated a trip to the doctor. Two kids were fine, one had an ear infection, and one a sinus infection. But the good news is that during our sick week at home I took the opportunity to potty-train Noah! He was a champ this time around, and it feels really amazing to have everyone out of diapers.

 

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We’re still enjoying swimming and ballet. I may or may not have started showing my kids some Olympics videos on YouTube to begin brainwashing them into becoming Olympics fanatics with me this summer.

 

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I’ve been doing some baking! David’s aunt left me with the cookbook from a gluten-free bakery in Seattle, and I’m trying one or two recipes a week. So far I’ve made orange raisin scones, blueberry cinnamon scones, and buckwheat biscuits, and the family has enjoyed them all! It feels so good to bake things I can actually eat.

 

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After a slump for few weeks this winter, school is going really well again. Judah even said the other day, “Mom, do you think we’ll do school this summer? There are some things I need to practice.”

 

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As you can tell from the blog, David has been grabbing a kid or two and hiking in the Harbison State Forest. Last week we packed lunch and took our first whole-family hike since the boys came home. It was so fun and and I’ve decided that the secret to raising three boys will be lots and lots of hiking!

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We try to sneak in some girly activities with Amie, and last week my friend Kelly and I took Amie and Caroline to see the ballet, Cinderella, at the Koger Center. Two of their friends from church performed in it, which made it even more fun.

 

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February 24th marked 10 months with our sweet boys!

 

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And finally, we had a big electrical project done on the house to prepare for our master bedroom addition, so we spent last weekend at Kenny and Shari’s. There’s really nothing like being under the same roof for 48 hours to get all caught up, is there? We had such a great time playing, chatting, eating good food, drinking good drinks, and us grown-ups even had a game night and laughed more than I’ve laughed in a long time. Thanks, McWilliams, for taking on our family of 6 for the weekend!

 

Happy March!

 



what worked and what didn’t in 2015.

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As I sat down last week to reflect on the last year, I used an idea from Modern Mrs. Darcy, and came up with a list of things that worked for me in 2015 and things that didn’t. It’s been such a helpful exercise that I thought I’d post my list for you.

Not only does it give me some direction for 2016, but it’s allowed me to realize that I’m actually on the right track in several areas of personal habits. Rather than feel the overwhelming need to switch everything up, I just need to grow in a couple areas and then keep on with what’s working. And that’s encouraging!

I’m always interested in learning about other people’s habits, and I’d love to hear what worked and didn’t work for you!

 

What worked for me in 2015:

1. Sandy

Eleven months ago a lovely person entered my life: Sandy Garcia. She comes one morning a month while we’re at Classical Conversations to give our house a deep clean. A house-cleaner is not something I would ever have thought to consider, but it was a birthday gift from David, who learned about Sandy through a friend. We rearranged our budget to make it work, and words cannot express how grateful I am!

Sandy is dependable, very thorough, takes initiative to clean things I’d never get to (hello, dusting all the spices and jars on my open kitchen shelves), and has such a sweet, cheerful spirit.  Because of her help, I’m more ready to invite people over and less stressed about fitting house cleaning into the cracks of my day.

If you look at me as a homeschooling mom of four kids and wonder, How does she do it all? The answer is: I don’t! I’m sure this season won’t last forever, but right now, other than a quick vacuum and wiping down my bathroom, I don’t clean my house at all. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

 

2. De-cluttering

I needed my habit of regular de-cluttering more than ever this year when we adopted Gabe and Noah, and it’s still working great. If the idea of tackling unruly closets and kitchen pantries makes you shudder, I’ve learned from experience that if I do one really thorough purge of a space, I can easily maintain it with just 20 minutes every few months.

Right before Christmas a few of our closets looked like they’d been hit by a tornado, so I did a quick sweep and tackled organizing a couple a day while the kids played outside (it is pretty much impossible for me to organize anything with my children around). I still regularly come up with a bag or two worth of stuff for His House, but I’m discovering that as we try to watch our purchases carefully, I need to get rid of less and less.

De-cluttering — and trying to keep from amassing lots of things in the first place — is my secret to keeping our house neat. People walk in the door and comment, “It doesn’t look like you have four kids!” Honestly, I don’t do it to impress anyone with my clean house; I do it for me. My brain feels foggy when our house is a mess, and forget trying to home school. We enjoy our home so much more with surfaces cleared and places to sit and play.

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3. My early-morning routine

I’ve learned that because I’m an introvert, I desperately need a few moments to myself before my kids wake up in the morning. Also: if I don’t read my Bible first thing in the morning, it’s just not going to get read. Here are two magic hints that make this habit work for me: 1. I go to bed by 10:00, and 2. I get the coffee ready to brew at night. Somehow the knowledge that all I have to do is stumble out of bed and hit the “Start” button on the coffee maker, motivates me to get up instead of sleeping in.

I make my coffee, plug in the string lights in our bedroom, and cuddle up in bed under our puffy white duvet. I read my Bible (usually a Psalm or a chapter from the New Testament), and often a devotional book (currently it’s I Come Quietly to Meet You, by Amy Carmichael, but last year I read Streams in the Desert). I sip my coffee and choose a few verses or a quote to write in my journal, and usually that turns into writing a prayer.

This routine helps me wake up and feel grounded in Christ before facing the day. I start my day intentionally — one step ahead of the kids — rather than in reactionary mode. Of course there are times I stay up too late and sleep in and I don’t beat myself up for it, but by and large I’m happier when waking up early (I want to insert here that I didn’t attempt to follow this routine when I had infants waking up throughout the night . . . back then I needed every minute of sleep I could get!).

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4. Afternoon rest time

I only have one regular napper left, but this year I stuck to our whole-house afternoon quiet rest time, which we call “play time.” I’m so glad I did. After a full morning of home school, I am exhausted and need a break, and all of the kids need some down time to hit the reset button. If you’re wondering how this worked adding Gabriel and Noah to the mix, it was a learning process, but now it works great.

When we first adopted the boys, Gabe napped on my bed, then transitioned to just a few naps a week, and now he rarely needs one. Currently, Noah naps in our room, and Gabe has play time in his bedroom; usually half with Amie and half by himself. He doesn’t always love it, but has adapted so well to the routine, and I love hearing his little voice in the other room. He’s grown leaps and bounds this year in his ability to self-entertain and play imaginatively.

The big kids usually do their own thing or play together quietly in their bedroom. I either take a nap, read a book, catch up on blogs, or as of last week, take 30 minutes to exercise. Everyone is revived after play time!

 

5. Goodbudget

David and I used the Goodbudget app on our phones this year. We set budget categories together, and used the app to track our monthly expenses. It syncs our phones so that when either of us checks it we can see how much money is left in each category.

The slightly time-consuming part is entering each expense, but as we’ve gotten ourselves into the habit of recording right after we make a purchase, we’ve found so much freedom in both knowing exactly where we stand for the month. It’s not perfect — we overspend sometimes and have to regroup; to sit and map out what went wrong and what expenses are coming up for the next month. But it’s the best way we’ve found to pursue financial freedom together. We argue about money less than we ever have, and it’s wonderful.

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6. Investing in attachment

I’ve mentioned this in my other adoption posts, but I feel like the single most valuable thing we did with our time last year was to invest in attachment. I know this isn’t as necessary with infant adoption; but it was much-needed with our toddler/preschool aged boys. I am so, so thankful for the wisdom of friends and blog posts that pointed us in this direction. The boys didn’t just need to attach to us as their family, they needed to feel safe, to heal, and to learn what this new life is all about. In retrospect, I really don’t think that could have been accomplished if we spent our days rushing from one activity to the next, doing lots of play dates, always out of the house.

You guys, it was hard. It was lonely. It was thankless. But entering our ninth month with the boys, I can already say it’s been worth every moment of wanting to bang my head against the wall. I realize that this kind of isolation wouldn’t be healthy long-term, but for that first season after our adoption it was good and right. All of us have changed so much by spending heaps of time together, sticking to our routine, working on behavior issues and manners, being consistent with discipline, cuddling and reading books and playing with toys.

And although sometimes each day (okay each hour) felt like an eternity, when I look back on that season, I see it was such a short amount of time. We still follow a simplified routine, but are slowly re-engaging with commitments, and those long hours are paying dividends in our life today.

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7. Waiting a week to set up our Christmas tree

We’ve always set up our Christmas tree Thanksgiving weekend, but this year, with four kids in the house, I didn’t think I could handle seven extra days of Christmas excitement. So we decided to wait until the first weekend of December. It was a lovely decision and I hope it becomes our new tradition!

We were able to recover from Thanksgiving weekend, and that extra week gave us time to actually get excited about Christmas decorations. We turned on Christmas music, pulled boxes down from the attic, and set up our (artificial) tree together, then later that night the big kids and I watched Elf. Who knows, maybe next year we’ll try to get a real tree!

 

What didn’t work in 2015:

1. Not exercising regularly

I went through spurts, I really did. But I didn’t sustain a good habit of exercise, and I felt the effects of that physically and emotionally. I told David if there is one thing I could change about myself in 2016, it would be to exercise for 30 minutes at least 4 times a week. And between running and our P90X DVD’s, I’ve started my plan to do just that!

 

2. Eating gluten

When we adopted Gabe and Noah, all of our good eating habits went out the window for quite awhile. I didn’t sweat it — we were maxed out just trying to keep our heads above water. And racing around after four kids made me so.very.hungry. A salad at lunch just didn’t cut it. After a month or so we reintroduced green smoothies and salads (now we make sure to add a protein to our salad to fill up our bellies), but I never eliminated gluten and dairy like I had before, and my body became more and more sick.

I think if anything I’m growing more sensitive to gluten, but I just loved all my comfort foods so much I couldn’t bear to part with them. However, now I’m ready for a change. It’s no longer worth it anymore to eat whatever I want and feel terrible. I’m committing to a gluten-free lifestyle in 2016 and eating minimal dairy, and it feels like a relief.

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3. Social media on my phone

I can’t explain why, but Facebook and Instagram just do not work for me (wait: have I mentioned that at least a dozen times on this blog?). They make me restless, anxious, and envious of my friends. They make me distracted around my kids. I’m trying to find a solution to this because there are friends and family I really want to stay connected with. But in the meantime, my Christmas gift to myself this year was to delete all social media from my phone.

 

4. Staying inside too much

This is a weakness for me. While David gets itchy if he has to spend more than two hours inside, I’m just not an outdoorsy person, and honestly think I wouldn’t notice if I didn’t set foot out-of-doors in a whole 24-hour period. But this isn’t really good for me.

It’s easy to just send the kids out to the fenced-in backyard — and sometimes that’s fine — but I want to be out with them, going for walks, sparking their imagination, puttering in the garden, weeding and watering. I’m realizing that if I want them to grow up being active and enjoying the outdoors, I need to do the same myself.

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5. Not involving my kids in chores

Speaking of weaknesses, this is a big one. There are several things the kids do to help out at home — pick up toys, take dishes to the sink after meals, put away their laundry (Judah and Amie), but they could do much more. Honestly, it’s just easier and quicker for me to do things like laundry and wiping the table and counters on my own. It feels exhausting to take the time to teach them skills and honestly I hate the battles when they have bad attitudes. I don’t mind daily housework really, and it’s messier to have little hands “helping” me. I crave the relaxing part of my day when I can cook dinner or bake cookies all by myself.

But all of that’s selfish, plain and simple.

My kids need to learn more responsibility — they need to learn that we’re all a team and when we work together, the whole house runs more smoothly. I don’t want them growing up thinking of Mom as their personal servant/chef. They don’t love chores, but they do all love to help me cook. Our kitchen is tiny, so more and more I’m trying to grab just one of them to come help make dinner with me, and help with clean-up too. If I’m lighthearted about the process and view it as a chance to spend some quality time together, it’s less burdensome for all of us.

6. One bathroom

I am so over having one bathroom for a family of six. There. I said it.

 

Happy 2016!!!

 

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