Aug 9, 2014

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A Different Mom

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I knew years ago that our daughter was a girly-girl. And that having her here would be a breath of fresh air for this mama who’s spent the past 16 years of her life marinating in testosterone. But I never really thought about how she might change me.

Now, don’t think I have anything against my boys. I don’t, at all. They are each awesome in their own unique ways and I thank God daily for the gift all three are to me. But having a female child lets me express sides of me that have only come out around my sisters or friends until now. And I think my older two sons are a bit baffled by the things they see me doing daily, that they never really saw before.

For instance, dancing. Violet loves to dance. My older boys, not so much. I’m not very skilled in the dancing department, but I’ve been known to occasionally cut a rug with my girlfriends before, or with Jonah, who can’t sit still when a catchy tune comes on. So when Violet is jamming, sometimes I shake my booty, too. And my older boys look at me as if to say, “Who is this woman, and where did the aliens take my mom?”

It’s the same with singing. My voice is most definitely in the “joyful NOISE” category. But Violet loves to sing, and yesterday I joined in (loudly) on her daily rendition of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and then, as I’m wont to do, mixed up the lyrics to fit what we were doing at the moment. It was hilarious, and even the boys were laughing, but they still looked at me strangely, not sure what to think of this sudden emergence of daily singing and dancing from their previously more reserved mom.

My middle boy has taken an acting/singing/dancing class for several years now, but he rarely shows me what they do in class. And when he does dance, it’s usually something very complicated that I couldn’t even begin to copy. So I just observe.

Anyway, it just never occurred to me that my daughter would bring out these things in me, nor had I ever realized how little my boys had witnessed that part of Mom.

One of my sons (who shall remain nameless for the moment) accused me of being “fake”, of putting on behavior because I’m trying to be something I’m not. I found that accusation rather interesting, aside from the obvious teenage black/white mentality that wants to stuff people and ideas into very specific pigeon holes. I could see how it looks that way from his perspective. And I’m not even sure why I suppressed certain aspects of myself when I only had sons.

Maybe it’s because moms tend to do that reflective behavior thing that you witness when spoon-feeding a baby? Almost all parents will open up their mouths involuntarily when encouraging a baby to take a bite from a spoon. And I think parenting is like that in so many other ways. You look to the child and rather subconsciously follow their lead. And until now, I haven’t had any children who loved to sing and dance around the house. My sons have led me to Legos, and Star Wars, and dubstep music, to muscle cars, softball games and the Xbox — all things I never would’ve welcomed into my life had I not been following my sons’ leads.

So, it’s not being fake. It’s being a mom. And having my new daughter draw out of me things that, aside from karaoke nights out with my friends, never really were invited to surface.

I suppose I need to warn the boys now: there’s going to be an even greater increase in ALL things girly: nail polish, hair sessions, craft parties, doggie dresses and bubble baths. Ample amounts of the color pink dotted around the house.

And, of course, ever more embarrassingly impromptu musical performances by Mom and Violet.

 

 

 

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Jul 26, 2014

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Bonding

Violet and I had the most lovely evening together last night.

She sat beside me with her head on my shoulder, sucking on a grape Tootsie Pop and watching me edit some photos from our church’s recent VBS. She stayed there a good half-hour or more, and we chatted a bit about this picture or that one. But mostly we just sat there together.

When I finished those photos, I remembered a picture I wanted to show her from a year or two ago. So I opened the album that contains all the photos we ever received of her from Uganda. It goes all the way back to these very first ones…

 

Violets First Pics Collage (Gosh, she looks so little!)

And we had the most fantastic time, looking at all the photos one-by-one, as she told me stories about things that were happening in the pictures. For instance, in that first one, in the pink dress, she said that they were all rushing to the line to get food. She laughed at the memory and told me, “We were mad that they made us stop for a picture because if you got there late, you wouldn’t get any food!” Then she told me how it was always beans and posho.

“Beans and posho, beans and posho, two times a day, beans and posho! And I hate posho!” I’d heard her say this before. She will (reluctantly) eat beans, if there is no other choice, but thankfully, there’s not really a posho equivalent in American cuisine. Grits, I guess, would be a close cousin. I know I made cream of wheat for her once and she ate about two bites out of politeness but just couldn’t manage it. She was the same way with oatmeal.

Anyway, I asked, “So if you didn’t like posho, what would you eat? The beans?”

“Yes, I would eat some of the beans,” she said, “And then this much posho.” She made a shape in the palm of her hand about the size of a golf ball. “And if it was only posho, I would starve before I ate it.”

“Did you give the remainder to your friends?” She nodded. “Now I know why you were so popular! ‘Sit beside Violet–she will give you her food!‘” I teased. She just laughed and laughed at that.

Then, we came across this photo, from when the ministry bought a goat a couple years back, not realizing it was pregnant until it gave birth to a kid. They called it their “two for one special bonus.” And they named the baby goat Donnie, after my husband. Which was pretty awesome. Anyway, the pastor sent this photo of Violet holding the baby, and I told her that when I first saw it, I thought maybe he was heavy, and that her expression was just showing us what a strong, determined girl she was.

Violet and baby Donnie

Again, she laughed. “No! I was so afraid of that goat! You can’t see, but he was kicking the whole time! I thought he was going to scratch my arms and my face and I did not want to hold him!” And now that I’m getting to know her, I know that expression. That’s her, “What the …bleep!... are you doing to me?” look.

There were so many funny pictures that we laughed over. There was one of her Skyping with us and she told me, “Ah…that was before I knew English!” which totally cracked me up, because she’s always known some English. “I was SO shy when we would Skype that I wanted everyone OUT of the room! I didn’t want anyone to hear me trying to talk! And pastor would try to get everyone out of his office and they would sneak back in to listen. So I  just smiled.” Oh my goodness–how hilarious to finally hear her perception of those Skype calls when she would just say “Hello” and “I am fine”!

Soon, we came to this picture, taken for me when she was terribly sick with malaria last year:

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“Ah,” she said softly. “That is when I was SO sick…”

“Poor baby. You look like you didn’t even feel like sitting up.”

“I didn’t want to. I had been vomiting. It was SO bad. I was crying.”

“You were? I’m so sorry, sweetie…I didn’t know you were crying when this was taken.”

And then we looked at the next photo, and I cropped it for you here, but you can see the tears in her eyes. And I’d missed noticing those before. I thought they were just sickly eyes.

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“When you were sick, did you still go to class?” (She lived at a boarding school for a while and I’d always been curious about what sick days were like for the kids.)

“Oh…no. You stayed in the dorm all day. By yourself.”

And my heart broke a little at the thought of any child this sick spending even an hour alone, much less an entire day.

“I bet that was pretty boring, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. Well, no. Really it was just scary. Very, very scary to be there all alone. There were so many noises, and AH! So scary!” She started fidgeting and looked down at her hands. “So I would beg them to give me medicine and let me go to class anyway, even if they just let me sleep there. Anything! Anything to not be in the dorm alone.”

And then my heart just cracked open and tears rushed to my eyes and I said, “Oh, sweetie. Now I’m about to cry. I’m just so, so sorry you had to be that sick and alone and afraid.”

(Can you even imagine? Being a child, terribly sick, and alone in a building, set quite far apart from the others in the compound, by yourself from sunup to sundown, for days on end? At least the other girls returned in the evening, but still…It’s killing me to think of any child experiencing that anywhere, ever! Heart officially broken….)

I put my arms around her, and hugged her, and kissed her forehead. “You will never have to be alone again when you are sick. Never, ever again. I promise you that.”

She didn’t say anything, but I think my words were reassuring to her. I hope they were. As if on cue, the next pictures we clicked through were some I’d included here on the blog before, ones that I had to edit because I couldn’t share her full face until we’d been given guardianship. Photos like these:

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Violet Loved Banner

She smiled SO big when she saw them, and she whispered, “Loved.” And something about her expression made me think that maybe, it was hitting her for the first time how long we thought about her, and prayed for her, and yes — loved her — before we even met. And when she saw this next picture….

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She exclaimed, “My Ugandan girl???” and burst into laughter, put her arm around me and said, “I like that one, Mom!”

I told her that I did, too. And then it was time for bed, and it seemed to me that tonight, my daughter went to bed pretty happy.

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Jul 24, 2014

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Two Months Home

I hadn’t really intended to blog here only once a month. It’s just kind of how life has been going. With school starting back and delving back into my freelance writing career, free time is probably going to be at a minimum for the foreseeable future.

But…I can at least keep a decent journal of how things progress month-to-month, because I know she and I will want to look back on this one day and remember all the things we tend to forget.

After two months, the newness has worn off a bit, for all of us, I think. I once heard adoption described like an arranged marriage of sorts, where people with established preferences and habits have to figure out how to live harmoniously together. I’d say we’re at that stage now. It’s the little things that tend to irritate in life, and in adoption, that’s really no different. I find that I’m presented with dozens of moments each day where I have to fall back on God’s grace because I so often lack my own. (And that habit, my friends, is not a bad thing at all to cultivate!)

Of course, parenting is like that regardless of where the children come from…I don’t think anything in life teaches us grace more than living out the daily nitty-gritty of meeting children’s needs. But I’m encountering areas I’d never contemplated much before she came, as every day presents new areas to help her adjust.

One area is daily care and grooming. In Uganda, she bathed with a bar of soap, in a basin containing 2-inches of water, and the orphanage kept her head closely shaved. She moisturized her skin with a swipe of Vaseline, and deodorant didn’t exist. There just wasn’t much to keep up with.

Here, she climbs into a shower filled with at least 15 different bottles of various body washes, shampoos and conditioners. How can she possibly remember who uses which ones, or what each product is used for? Or that the body wash that suits her oily-skinned bigger brother will just cause her skin to become itchy and ashy? I have shown her multiple times what to use, and how, and how much, and helped her wash her hair, but still — eight weeks is not a long time to memorize all that stuff, not when you’re expending huge amounts of mental energy just trying to master the language.

So when I go into the shower, and my favorite body wash bottle is empty, I get another chance to exercise grace.

And we aren’t even going to delve into all the hair styling products, tools and accessories she and I have between the two of us. Let’s just say that this morning, she learned the hard way why I gasped a little when I saw the amount of styling gel she used yesterday. Her entire head was covered in white flakes today. Haircare is another dance we perform daily. We are learning this stuff together — she’s never had hair, remember? — but she’s at an awkward age for this. She wants my help, then she doesn’t. Then she wants it again.

Grace.

She sees styles she likes, which aren’t possible on her length of hair yet. So we look up styles we can agree on together, but the next day, she’s changed her mind again. So most of the time she just pulls her hair back into a puff.

Here’s a collage of all the different looks she’s had in just two months:Violets Hair Collage

I wish I’d gotten a picture of her twist-out, because it was really pretty the day or two that it lasted. Anyway…she’s blessed to have the kind of face that is gorgeous no matter what (or if any!) hair is framing it.

Speaking of grace, I can’t begin to comprehend the amount of grace she has to extend to US. We are loud, and we are a family with tons of inside jokes and odd names for things that probably make no sense to her yet. And with two gassy older brothers, and a little brother who constantly gets into her stuff, and parents who are always asking for this, that or the other, she has to get weary of us, even more than she ever shows. I’m sure so many things we do seem incredibly strange to her, like keeping eggs refrigerated, eating salad when you could choose ice cream, putting ice in our drinks (and having 15 bottles of soap in the shower…!).

It sounds odd to say it, but in a lot of ways, living with her is like witnessing a newly-mobile toddler explore a new world. Things have to be broken, and spilled, and lost and questioned, because without hands-on involvement, a child cannot learn what works and what doesn’t. America IS an entirely new world to her. So little of what we have and what we do is familiar to what she’s known for 12 years. I need for the people around us to realize that, to not judge when she behaves in a way that is much younger than her age. It won’t always be like this, she won’t always be so curious or klutzy. What might look like permissiveness on my and Dad’s part is probably us following the advice from adoption attachment experts, and not at all meant to be seen as us letting her get away with misbehavior.

Grace. I need so much of it, now and for quite a while to come.

I think Violet’s perhaps growing weary of summer break, which has been hard to explain to her in a way she can understand. The American school calendar and the Ugandan one are totally different and it’s kind of bad that she came home right at the start of the long summer holiday, because it makes it very hard for her to imagine what life will be like once we start back to school. She must think that Americans do a whole lot of nothing, because most of our summer days are quite leisurely spent around the house. I don’t know how it’s going to go when we start back in August. We’ve decided to homeschool her, so she can get caught up to grade level in a lower-pressure environment. She’ll also attend a couple of classes for homeschoolers, held at other locations, so she should have plenty of opportunities to make new friends.

I think sometimes she must be lonelier than she lets on. She has to miss her friends tremendously, and unfortunately, one of her dearest has been in the hospital with malaria complications over the past week. I get frustrated because she still lacks the English skills to truly articulate to me how she really feels about that. But then again, talking in depth about your feelings is a western thing. They just don’t do that in Uganda. It’s yet another area that needs a heaping dose of grace, as I try to figure out what she is thinking and feeling, when she comes from a culture that taught her to keep it all inside.

Anyway. Now that I’ve shared some of our current issues we’re working through, let me tell you what she’s been up to since I last posted.

Somebody got her green card!!!

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She was super-excited to go on her first trip to Florida, where she experienced a lot of firsts…

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She had her first huge jacuzzi bubble bath…and laughed for five minutes straight:

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She rode on a pontoon boat across a lake….

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Celebrated her first-ever 4th of July….

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And was absolutely beside herself with excitement at seeing the ocean for the first time in her life!

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I’ll never forget sharing that experience with her, all the wonder in her eyes as she grasped for the first time how incredibly huge the ocean is and how strong its waves.

She is so brave, though. Every time we encounter a pool or the sea, she becomes ever more our little Ugandan tilapia! :)

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Or maybe she’s just channeling her inner Ariel…because she also got to see her first Broadway show, The Little Mermaid, and fell in love with all things mermaid.

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She even requested having Ariel painted on her face the week after, at VBS….

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So while most of our weekdays have been low-key, there have definitely been a lot of exciting activities over the past month. It’s a privilege to be able to experience all these things new again, seeing them through her eyes.

It’s an honor to be her second mom, for God to have granted us the gift of four precious children, all unique, all needing different things from us, but mostly just needing love and acceptance. I hope we don’t fall short on giving them that — topped with heaps and heaps of God-given grace.

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Jun 24, 2014

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One Month Home

One month ago, our daughter first set foot on American soil.

It has been a month full of firsts for her, almost too many to list.

First amusement park and water slides….

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First car show with her dad and brothers….

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First camera, which came in some of the first mail she ever received — in her entire life.

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And she’s fascinated with computers, phones and technology in general.

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She’s made new friends, tried dozens of new foods, become quite the brave little swimmer despite only having been in pools three times, ever.

She even dabbled a bit as my apprentice and decorated her very first cake….

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She is protective of and playful with Jonah, laughs with Zach and Eli, and is respectful to me and Donnie. She loves princess movies, nail polish and all things pink (much to my joy) but also loves Transformers, Ninja Turtles and most of the boys’ Xbox games, which as you can imagine, has completely endeared her to the guys in this house.

She’s so well-rounded, has fit in so well, and adjusted better than I could’ve asked for. Sure, there are little behavioral hiccups here and there, but nothing very different from what we experience with our biological kids. The longer she’s here, the more she tests us a bit, to see what she can and cannot get away with (i.e. asking Dad for ice cream when Mom said “no”).  But it would be weird if she didn’t do this. The fact that she can test us, ironically, shows a degree of attachment, of feeling safe. It shows that she’s not afraid that she has to be the “perfect daughter” or work to earn our love.

That makes this mama smile. In so many ways, it feels like she’s been home much longer than a month, like she’s always been part of our family.

Smiley V

Happy first month home, baby girl. We’re so thankful that you’re here.

 

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May 31, 2014

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One Week Update

It’s crazy to think that it was just over one week ago that we were greeting Violet at the airport! This time last week, I felt nervous and unsure of how things were going to go. Today, I can say that the initial transition has gone very well!

We ended up much busier than the calm week I’d originally planned. My mother-in-law was in town all week, which was great because they got to meet and spend time together. On Wednesday, we went to the school to find out what’s needed for registration and placement testing, and stopped by the park on the way home. It was Violet’s first time being on a playground or going down a slide, and she loved it.

Playground Collage

On Thursday, I had media VIP passes to attend the grand opening of Hurricane Harbor at Six Flags. All the literature I’ve read about international adoption warns against exposing kids to big, crazy places like that too soon. But we brought friends with us, and they all had a wonderful time. It turns out she’s a fearless water slide and roller coaster junkie.

HH Collage

We received a thoughtful package from a group of my friends. She was elated to unwrap her very own camera!

PicMonkey Collage

Yesterday, we had passes to Legoland. She was less impressed with it than Six Flags, but the realistic rain spraying in the 4-D movie theater cracked her up!

LL Collage

I told Donnie that it’s like peeling an onion — there are so many layers we need to work through to really get to know her. But we are learning new things every day.

We’ve learned that she adores Jonah, but also likes to tease him a bit too much sometimes. For the most part, though, they’re best buds.

We’ve found out that she dislikes broccoli, sausages, hamburger meat, string cheese, and rice cooked without salt. New likes include fruity yogurt, plain potato chips and hard-boiled eggs. The only thing she’s been binging on is protein foods and I think it’s her body’s way of trying to catch up on never getting enough protein before. Every morning for breakfast, she wants eggs, chicken nuggets and a mug of hot milk that she flavors with a tea bag and sugar. I imagine this will taper off as she gets used to having daily access to protein-rich food.

The only issues that have surfaced so far are the boys adjusting to her presence, in the ways that impact them personally. For instance, despite explanations, Jonah still doesn’t get why he can’t just barge in while Violet is bathing or changing clothes. And I think my other two are a little baffled by some of the liberties she is (temporarily) afforded due to what I’ve learned about bonding and attachment issues. Thankfully, they’re old enough to (mostly) understand the bigger picture, even if in the moment their knee-jerk reaction is to feel that we’re being unfair.

(Of course, teens and pre-teens pretty much perpetually think their parents are unfair, so that might be a battle I can’t win.)

Anyway…thank you for your continued prayers and for all the beautiful ways you’ve shown our family support!

 

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May 27, 2014

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Home Sweet Home

Everyone says there’s a honeymoon period following adoption, and I’m sure they’re right. I’m trying to just enjoy each day and not worry about when this time of happiness might be put on pause while our daughter processes through the negative aspects of her new life.

But y’all — it’s going SO well! Violet really fits into our family.

Not that I doubted she would. I mean, who would pursue an adoption thinking, “Wow, this particular kid might make our lives just plain miserable!” Of course we hoped everything would go well, and we had every reason to believe it would based on the time we spent with her in Uganda. And so far, it truly has been wonderful.

She’s already experienced many firsts and made some precious comments. She grinned ear-to-ear when she saw her bed and said, “Thank you, Mom. It is a pretty room!”

V bed

She’s marveled at the miles of smoothly paved and painted roads everywhere, and declared the 3-lane Interstate Highway to be “too big!” However, she is still eager to drive on it and has more than once asked if she could drive “Mom’s car.” She giggles when we tell her that she can’t until she’s 15.

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She giggles a LOT. And it’s joyously contagious.

She told us that she’d heard there was no soil in America–that everything was either grass or pavement. So we had to show her soil today.

She’s also enjoyed riding bikes and the Green Machine every day with her brothers.

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Jonah, our 4-year-old, has been stuck to her like glue, following her everywhere, asking her everything, and randomly saying with his southern accent, “I love you, Vyyyy-LIT!” I keep waiting for her patience with him to run out, and I’m sure it will one day, but she’s so good with little kids. Both in Uganda and at church Sunday morning, we’ve seen little kids just flock to her.

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She dabbled a bit in my makeup while I was putting it on yesterday and found out that mineral powder can be quite difficult to wash off. She just laughed and laughed when she saw her reflection in the mirror, and giggled even harder when Donnie asked her if she was trying to look like a muzungu!

makeup v

For Sunday lunch, she asked to make rice for us, and it was so good! I’ve never been able to make perfectly-textured rice like she did. And our smart little chef didn’t measure a thing!

I know the experts say to cocoon when you first get home, but it feels almost impossible to do so with Violet. She actually reminds me a lot of my late grandfather. He would try anything, go anywhere, just jump into whatever activity was going on and enjoy himself. That’s how she is — she has not hesitated at anything. She is a bit quiet when you first meet her, but as she grows comfortable around you, all the loveliness of her personality freely flows and she’s just a joy to be around.

The boys seem to be adjusting well, too. So this mama is feeling truly blessed! Thanks to all of you who have been praying for a good weekend for us — please continue to remember us during the next weeks and months of transition.

 

 

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May 25, 2014

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Operation Homecoming

On Friday, a bunch of us gathered at the airport to welcome our daughter home.

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We had balloons and signs and lots of smiling faces!

(We also had one really bloody nose, which added quite a lot of excitement to the wait.)

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About 40 minutes after arrival, Donnie sent a text to say they were picking up their luggage

and would be out any minute!

My oldest son caught the first glimpse of them…

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And Jonah and I rushed over to greet them….

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And after many embraces, not the least of which was this little boy,

totally elated to see his Daddy again….

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We became a family of SIX….

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And life will never be the same again.

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