Oct 8, 2014

Posted by | 0 Comments

Four-Plus Months Home

Once again, I am behind on sharing an update on how we’re doing and that’s partly because we’ve been so darn busy every minute of the day, it seems. And it’s partly because of some really negative comments someone posted here that discouraged me from writing for a while.

I ultimately didn’t publish the comments because hey — it’s MY blog, and my husband and I decided that we have no obligation to give a voice to blatant negativity. Despite commenting on several posts, which meant he or she had read a lot, this person clearly had little understanding of our case, of our story or the ethics involved in this adoption. It’s easy to look at the surface information that’s shared in a public place such as this and form opinions not grounded in facts. (Come to think of it, that’s one of the biggest problems of the Internet, period.) That is what this person did and accused us of buying a child, denying her rights, bribing officials (???) and other awful things that were never anywhere on our radar, much less actually happened.

Are there things we’d have changed with the clarity of hindsight? Absolutely. But the bottom line for us always was that we wanted to follow God’s leading with regard to Violet and our prayer all along was simply for His will to be done in her life and in ours. I’ll go to my grave believing in His faithfulness, that His will was done and continues to be, and that He has a plan for her that, for whatever reason, included being part of our crazy Muzungu family beginning at this time in her life.

Being her mom is rather like watching a flower unfurl before your eyes. Every new experience opens up something new inside and it’s just an absolute honor and privilege to experience this.

When I first started this post over a month ago, I was thinking about textbooks and dentist’s chairs.

In late August, we started our private school/homeschooling combination, and we were blown away by our daughter’s work ethic. If I assign her two workbook pages, she insists on completing six. Some days, I have to make her stop working; she will even skip lunch to work. Leaving anything blank causes real stress for her, and she can be perfectionistic about details. I’m sure that some of that is rooted in fear of the shaming and/or beatings they would get in Ugandan schools, (which makes me so sad to even think about anyone beating this precious girl) but I can also tell that a lot of it is simply her intense hunger for learning. She wants to master English and has a drive for education that I’ve never personally witnessed in a child before. It’s so refreshing to behold!

She was so excited to get her textbooks. I’m used to my sons being indifferent, or even groaning, when being presented with new school books. Violet marveled at them. “I’ve never had big books like these,” she shared. It was another one of those things that I hadn’t really given much thought to before. She explained that in school in Uganda, only the teacher had big textbooks. The rest of them might sometimes have small workbooks, but mostly the teacher taught from her book, wrote on the board and they did their work on pieces of paper. (This is a pic from one of her schools in Uganda.)

IMG_0038

It was hard for Violet to believe that she had her very own big books to study, in all five subjects; not only that, but that she had her own personal seat and workspace. She also couldn’t believe the fun she had doing science experiments at school, and was elated to earn an A on her very first science project. She is so proud of what she’s accomplished, and we’re proud of her, too.

In August, she visited our dentist for the first time. Bless her heart, she was so worried about going. She had to have some baby teeth pulled when she was younger and I’d never gotten any details about that except that it was her only time seeing a dentist, and there wasn’t any anesthesia. “It pained me badly,” is all she said. I kept reassuring her that they would give her numbing medicine if she needed anything like that here, but she was still very anxious about going.

Well, we got there and she oohed and aahed over the dentist’s chair and even insisted I take a picture of her sitting in it.

dentist2

When I asked if that was the kind of chair she sat in at the dentist in Uganda, she laughed and said, “Oh, no! It was like that one,” and she pointed to the plain wooden chair I was sitting in.

I just can’t even imagine….

She was fascinated by how the chair reclined, and rose up and down, and I had to ask her to stop touching stuff! But our hygienist, Lindsay, is the nicest person in the world and said it was no bother. She patiently explained everything to Violet, and cleaned my teeth first so that V could see what to expect. It was so kind of her, and I had the benefit of having two attendants, because Lindsay let Violet do the slurpy-spit-vacuum thingie on me, which she loved doing. When it was her turn, she hopped into the chair and after, seemed amazed by how clean her teeth felt. Her teeth were in better shape than I’d expected them to be, although she did have a few cavities.

Other firsts over the past few weeks have included her first church supper, (where she marveled over having open access to that much food), her first trip to a beauty salon (which she adored and completely won over every stylist in the place) and her first taste of cool fall weather (which she, unsurprisingly, is not very fond of!). She does think the leaves changing colors is absolutely amazing, though. And she is so looking forward to her first birthday celebration and first Halloween, both occurring later this month. I’ll be sure to update with new photos and stories soon after!

OUP Oct Collage

Read More
Sep 18, 2014

Posted by | 1 Comment

No Matter When

I’m working on a three-and-four month update to post next week, but something came to mind tonight and I wanted to share it now.

The longer Violet is here, and the more our hearts knit together, the harder it is to not regret all the time we lost.

I touched on that here and here, while we were still in the process. (Ah, let’s be honest — I touched on it in virtually every post on this blog!)

And I made this cover picture for Facebook in summer 2013 because I was so tired of waiting.

growing

This sentiment rings true for most adoptive parents of older children: we miss all the time we didn’t have with our kids in the years before they came. And the more we grow to love them, the harder it is to realize how awesome they are and what all we must have missed.

It’s even more painful when your child articulates the same to you, when she cuddles you in the morning, her frame almost as tall as your own, and when you mention she has a birthday coming up, she replies, “Mommy, I wish I was only turning five.”

That kind of stuff will Break. Your. Heart.

But then…

I came across a quote tonight that filled me up with such joy. I can’t wait to share it with my fabulous Miss V tomorrow:

No matter when

Isn’t that just the most wonderful realization?

There is still so much fantastic-ness ahead of us that I can’t even articulate it all!

And what a gift that I — little ol’ nobody Me — gets to experience being this sweet girl’s mother, no matter how long or short our days together.

I mean, honestly — how freaking fabulous is that?

Read More
Aug 9, 2014

Posted by | 2 Comments

A Different Mom

mc4

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.

 

 

 

Read More
Jul 26, 2014

Posted by | 5 Comments

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:

Vmalaria4

“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.

Vmalaria6b

“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:

OUP pink love

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….

oup ugandan girl

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.

Read More
Jul 24, 2014

Posted by | 8 Comments

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!!!

10435990_10152287277604790_7056689756313621974_n

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

15191_10152287277949790_4054871996061066515_n

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

10502136_10152287280044790_5993171929974517898_n

She rode on a pontoon boat across a lake….

10401540_10152287277104790_212326727410973317_n

Celebrated her first-ever 4th of July….

10469709_10152287276954790_3297890810705045779_n

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

WP_20140706_13_51_04_Pro

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! :)

vsea

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.

FOT2490a

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

WP_20140711_18_59_15_Pro (1)

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.

Read More
Jun 24, 2014

Posted by | 1 Comment

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….

 SFHH11a

First car show with her dad and brothers….

 WP_20140607_11_15_57_Pro

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

10422332_10203184014714216_3936470039632398623_n

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

 v computer

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….

10477970_10152261685249790_1455943407154201686_n

10384450_10152261685629790_1529628639005186094_n

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.

 

Read More
May 31, 2014

Posted by | 1 Comment

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!

 

Read More