Archive - 2013

1
She can see, right??
2
Adopting the Older Child: Part 3: Siblings
3
Happy 6 to Elliott
4
Pictures!
5
Adopting the Older Child Part II
6
Adopting the Older Child Part 1
7
Grief and Crazy and Trying to Get it all Right
8
Happy 2nd Birthday, Liam!
9
Becoming Mommy Part II
10
It’s a mess. But I have a good reason!

She can see, right??

We get this question about Lola quite frequently. Blindness is a funny thing. It has many varying degrees. I’ve found the average person, myself included before having Lola, thinks blindness equals darkness and fumbling around. That type of blindness does exist, but blindness in general comes in many forms. People who are considered blind under definition of the law can often see certain colors, light, outlines etc. Lola specifically can see all colors, light and outlines. Because her corneas are opaque light cannot fully pass through to allow full vision. She sees life through a giant cloud. Nothing is remotely clear but she uses her light and color sensing ability to navigate in a way that astounds me.

Is there anything we can do to improve her vision? Not really. There is a very risky option, a cornea transplant, that we are not going to pursue. After consulting with two wonderful eye institutes we felt that the risk of losing her vision completely was not something we felt even remotely comfortable with. Also reading countless online testimonies of parents who attempted this surgery with little success made our decision even easier to make.

Why does Lola wear glasses? Lola’s glasses have transition lenses, the lens becomes darker when she goes into the light. Lola’s eyes are VERY sensitive to light and the transition lens protects her eye and makes going outside much more comfortable. Lola’s eyes are also somewhat fragile, getting poked in the eye with a pencil for example could cause serious injury and compromise the little “sight” she has. All eyes are fragile but Lola’s eyes have a higher risk of bleeding out. Her glasses do have a slight magnification. This is a trial and error type thing. We are testing this to see if it helps with any up close work in the school environment. Upon observation it seems to be doing something positive! We’ll see!

Lola is adjusting quite well, even with her vision needs. She navigates incredibly well in familiar settings. However, new places and experiences present extreme challenges for her and she often falls or bumps her legs into things. When we are home, I often forget that she is visually impaired. She runs around the house like a crazy person. We are working with Lola’s school and teachers to help Lola equip herself with the skills to navigate independently and learn at the same level and pace as her sighted peers. She is quite the little smarty pants. Her knowledge base has gone from zero to a pre- kindergarten level in 3 months. It’s amazing to watch her soak up and speak English. She now listens to books and answers meaningful questions. It’s astounding. When the days are hard and emotions are high I find myself retracing the last four months of progress. It’s amazing, mind boggling, and super-natural the way God is healing her brain and heart. I once wrote that I believed God would work a miracle for Lola. We are living that miracle.

photo-5

Adopting the Older Child: Part 3: Siblings

This is the last part of older child adoption I plan to write about for the time being. It’s also one of the most difficult areas of our adoption thus far. When we were waiting for Lola our middle daughter, Charlotte, was a ball of anticipation. She prayed constantly for Lola and the day she would come home. She was over the top, over the moon excited about having a sister. It would have been very easy to fuel these expectations but we did our best to prepare Charlotte for the broken little girl who would soon become her sister.

A new family member with lots of baggage isn’t going to come in and make your home a little brighter. As difficult as that is to convey, it’s the truth. If you are considering adoption, it’s important to know that darkness comes before light.

And with that knowledge you can step into adoption knowing that the work is hard but the outcome is restoration.

When Lola came home she did not understand family. She didn’t understand that other children could be part of her family. And suddenly, she was sharing these two people (mom and dad) with three other kids. Probably not what she had planned. As a result, she rejected sibling relationships for several weeks. This left Charlotte feeling hurt and disappointed. Though we had prepared her for a difficult transition, it’s impossible to truly prepare an unscathed four-year-old mind.  The boys… well, they are boys, and while they exhibited other emotional signs such as frequent temper tantrums and whining, they did not necessarily get their feelings hurt.

So what did we do?

1. Dates. Lots of dates. Dates were comprised of mom and daughter/mom and son trips to the grocery store, a quick stop at a coffee shop or letting the one who had the hardest day stay up a little later to watch a movie or play a game with Daddy. I can’t tell you how many times Calvin and Elliott have played monopoly in Elliott’s closet. For Liam, who is two, I’ve taken to wearing him in the Ergo when he’s especially cranky. Magic I tell you.

2. We never placed blame on our newest family member. Commiserating with the other 3 is not the answer here. Children don’t enter families through adoption to become the enemy. Agreeing with them when they were angry with Lola was an absolute no-no. This creates lines of division, when as parents we are working toward unity and family connections.

Example: Child says “ugh, she is always mean to me, I hate it when she does  ____” An off the cuff response from a parent might be “Me too honey, this is difficult for all of us.” A better response, that removes blame and adds grace would be “Honey, I know you are having a hard time. You have really been a good example for your sister. Feel free to express your feelings to me anytime.”

This response acknowledges the child who is struggling, but does not allow blame to be placed on a new, adopted sibling. The last part is especially important. Parents must let their children express their feelings and hurts in a safe setting. The last thing we want is to push our children to express intimate feelings to people outside the home.

3. We did not use gifts as a replacement for time. When chaos seems to be reigning in your home it’s a natural Western response to start buying your kids everything they want. Well… we still have adoption debt so that kept my spending at bay… but additionally we know that gifts do not replace time. So Calvin and I plunged into quality time that depleted us but built up our children. There are times in your adoption transition when you look your spouse in the eye and commit to exhausting yourself for a time… all the while praying that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t terribly far away. Warning… don’t commit to this exhaustion without having a plan for at least some renewal, even if that renewal comes through watching DVRed Walking Dead episodes with your honey while cramming salty snacks into your mouth at 10:30pm. This is truth.

4. We held Lola to the same kindness standards we asked of Charlotte, Elliott and Liam. This was crucial. When your newest person enters the family, their grief and loss must be accounted for, but it does not give a pass to skip out on family rules. We corrected behaviors with appropriate adoption-minded responses, and clearly communicated expectations for family behavior.

When you adopt, your children will grow up just a little quicker. When you adopt, your children will see the dark side of the world a little earlier. And this is okay. Who ever said that suffering should only be witnessed by the mature? I pray that my children will grow up to be challengers and defenders who never sit on the sidelines.

Lola has now been home for four months. Yes, we are still at the beginning of this transition. BUT the initial chaos and sibling hatred is tempering off. Hearts are being healed, trust is blooming AND they are starting to play together. Tea parties are happening in the sun room, hide and seek commences spontaneously, there are less fits and whining and generally, we are feeling like our family is whole. Is it worth it? YES. One thousand times over.  I am honored to watch my new daughter and my entire family transform before my eyes. I am blessed that God chose to form our family by adoption. And I am humbled that I was found worthy to mother my four children. I am never a perfect mother but as I adventure on with Calvin and these four beauties I resolve more and more to allow grace to dominate my parenting.

HoFamily64

Happy 6 to Elliott

Elliott’s birthday celebration went on for a solid week. He had two friends over for a small get-together, then he had his actual birthday with treats at school and finally some of our out of town family came in… so we made another cake and had a little party in the sun room. Goodness how I love this boy. My heart just about bursts when I think about him. He’s my firstborn, the one who started it all. So here’s a little look at his special week!

IMG_2579 IMG_2582 IMG_2593 IMG_2597 IMG_2599 IMG_2605 IMG_2608 IMG_2651 IMG_2652 IMG_2665 IMG_2694IMG_9969 IMG_9920 IMG_9916 IMG_9983 IMG_9955 IMG_9953

Sometimes you take what you can get with family pictures.

Sometimes you take what you can get with family pictures.

IMG_9939 IMG_9936 IMG_9934

Pictures!

We have had a busy (but fun!) couple of weeks. I need to post my last “older child adoption” piece, blog about Elliott’s birthday and post pictures of our latest house transformation… but… we had family pictures done last week. So I’m putting everything on the back burner. I couldn’t be more thrilled with our experience and photographer. Marissa of Rylans Riches Photography was incredible to work with. She was so sweet and drove out to one of our favorite places, Cumberland Park, to capture our family. I highly recommend working with her. Our kids loved her and she really sealed the deal when she handed out Ninja Turtles sticker packs at the end of the session. Go check out and like her facebook page and website. She is the best. At the end of the shoot she handed me the camera for a second and we made a little memory with my kids piled on top of her. Thanks Marissa! We hope to see you again!!

HoFamily74Okay… now here is my beautiful family. So thankful.

HoFamily02 HoFamily11 HoFamily14 HoFamily18HoFamily20 HoFamily31 HoFamily33 HoFamily64HoFamily69 HoFamily72 HoFamily78 HoFamily80

Adopting the Older Child Part II

We did a very brave thing last night. It was finally time to take the first daring steps into family portraits. So we drove downtown and met up with Marissa of Rylan’s Riches Photography. Here’s her facebook page, trust me, you want to know her, she’s great. That’s a whole ‘nother post in itself but family photography definitely plays into part II of the older child so let’s touch on that before we dig in.

IMG_0017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When things get crazy around here I love to take a moment to check out the thousands of pictures we have stored on our computer. Pictures of my kids at their best. Having fun, celebrating birthdays and just experiencing the best that childhood has to offer. I could get lost for hours just scrolling and celebrating who they are.

As I continue to scroll back through the pictures that represent their little lives there is a little sadness as I realize, again, that there are no birth day pictures of Liam or Lola. Their stories within a family start a little bit later. When I held Charlotte and Elliott for the first time there was a completeness, wholeness… it’s the way things are supposed to be.

DSC_0639

When I held Liam and Lola for the first time there was completeness and wholeness for me… but not for them. This isn’t really the way it’s supposed to be. A very early broken cord brought them into my arms. And while it’s a beautiful thing, it’s a very messed up thing as well. This is a crucial point that you cannot miss when entering into older child adoption. You must, even if you do not verbalize this to your child for a year or two, understand and grieve the loss of first family.

Without grief, there is no healing. Just as I took time to grieve the lost years with my adopted children, they will need a chance to grieve the loss they experienced. Here are a few pointers for parent’s navigating the grief and loss parts of adoption.

1. Keep birth family talk positive but honest. If you don’t know anything about your child’s birth family help the child understand situations in their birth country that may have caused the loss of first family. Pray for the birth family that you may or may not know.

2. Never tell a child they are better off in their new family. This isn’t necessarily true. Poverty/Having less does not always equate a less-than situation. Children were meant to be a part of their birth families, that is plan A. Adoption may be an adoptive parent’s plan A but it is always a child’s plan B.

3. Do not expect your child to be grateful. They didn’t ask for you to rescue them. We don’t expect biological children to be grateful for their birth, don’t expect an adopted child to be grateful for their adoption.

4. Help your child look toward the future. Plan a trip to a birth country or birth state. If it is appropriate, or if your child requests it, a family search should certainly be accommodated.

5. Keep the opportunity for discussion open but never push birth country/birth family talk until your child is ready to engage. Probing with questions before they are ready to talk (sometimes a year or more) will only drive your child further away.

When you scroll through the pictures of family life there will always be a giant eye-sore of a hole for adopted children. There are missing moments and pieces that cannot be filled. However, with a great deal of respect, and LOTS of new family pictures, adoptive parents can begin to help their child process and heal. We can always move forward with our children, and we should! But we must also be available and ready to help process grief and loss whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Adopting the Older Child Part 1

As an adoptive mama extraordinaire I have felt very protective of my children’s stories. I don’t blog about their beginnings. That’s completely theirs to share. When folks have a hard time understanding this I usually ask them, “how would you feel if you walked into a room full of people and they already knew your most intimate stories?” Weird, right? That is why I choose to protect many details of Liam and Lola’s lives.

I’ve even refrained from writing about the hard parts of older child adoption. Always telling myself that I would start writing when I felt it was time. I’ve benefited from many writer mama-bloggers who have adopted before me and now I feel that it’s time to start sharing our experiences so that others considering adoption can gain some insight from our life.

So let me set the stage here. I am a whole 30 years old. Calvin is the old man coming in at 31. We have lived and done quite a bit in those years God has given us. And to be honest, the lives we call ours aren’t really ours anymore. At some point we surrendered. We gave up on thinking that we could really control or pick and choose what God might have for our family. Today we have a 2 year old, a 4 year old and two five year olds. Elliott would interject at this point and remind me that he turns 6 next week so let’s make that a 2, 4, 5 and 6. We adopted Liam at 9 months old from Ethiopia and Lola from China at 5 1/2 years old. Lola is visually impaired and has REALLY cool blue eyes. We kept birth order with Liam’s adoption, not by choice, it was a policy with our adoption agency. And seriously, as much as I complained about that policy, I could not live without him. I didn’t know that an almost one year old was exactly what I needed. Lola’s adoption blew birth order out of the water, and we did something called artificial twinning. Meaning that she and Elliott are the same age, 3 months apart to be exact. Most social workers would not recommend this and there are tons of studies that also warn parents not to adopt out of birth order. But we did. So there.

Do you see that statement above? That was pretty much my attitude about the whole thing. The circumstances leading us to Lola were pretty miraculous. We didn’t learn about her from our agency, she wasn’t referred to us by our agency and we didn’t see her picture on a waiting child list. She was on the shared list of children available for adoption. No agency was currently advocating for her, but someone named Rebecca was. So as I was searching one night, I was restless about our adoption and knew I needed to find our daughter, I found Rebecca’s blog and I saw Lola for the first time.

Haylee10_12 copyLola’s file simply said, both eyes blind. Thanks China, you really provide some stellar information to adoptive parents. (and what the heck! Is someone watching her? Those scissors are super close to her lips.) As time went on, we began to get a little more information and learned that Lola had some “light sensing ability.”

Lola, 5 years old, coming home in June!

And finally, Calvin and I got on a plane and went to bring our daughter home. We spent close to two weeks in China with Lola before heading home. We found that while her vision was extremely low due to opaque corneas, vision and blindness were the least of our concerns. Lola’s emotional age was about two years old. Emotional age is very different than intellect. Lola is quite smart, and now that she has the opportunity to really engage on an age appropriate level she is blowing us away. However, emotional age is still in the 2-3 year old category due to institutionalization. This means that she typically enjoys playing with Liam’s toys. She and Liam fight over who gets the truck, or car, or ball or really whatever Liam has that Lola wants or whatever Lola has that Liam wants. She also has a very hard time processing her emotions. Imagine your 2 year old or your friend’s two year old. They want something, a snack at the grocery, scissors on the counter, chocolate… whatever, just something they aren’t supposed to have. Mom says no. 2 year old falls onto the ground and has a complete fit. That’s where we are with Lola.

So… all of you prospective older child adoptive parents are now wondering… what do you do when this happens? There are a series of things we are doing right now to help encourage emotional growth.

1. We communicate expectations ahead of time. Lola, please sit on the bed with your brothers and sisters. We are going to read a book. I expect you to sit on the bed and listen, not wander off and play with something or look for scissors. (Lola loves scissors, like a lot) This is family time, we stay together. We allow each child to turn the page in the book. This keeps her engaged because she looks forward to doing the action. As she remains engaged she is less likely to try to do something she will ultimately get in trouble for.

2. When Lola hits the ground to have a fit, and she will… several times per day. We don’t let the fit go on and on. Typically we will allow her a minute of space to display her emotions and then we intervene. We do this by picking her up and moving her to another area of the house. We verbally express that there are other ways to display feelings and one of us will remain with her until she calms down. Sometimes, if we know exactly what caused the meltdown, we will help her move through the steps prior to the meltdown and assist her in creating a better outcome. Example, she and Charlotte are coloring. She wants Charlotte to give her a red crayon. Instead of using words to tell Charlotte she wants a red crayon Lola skips to melting down because the red crayon is not in her possession. In this instance, we would bring Lola back to the table (still crying) and show her that Charlotte needs to hear words in order to understand Lola’s needs. I will say, Charlotte, Lola would like to use the red crayon. Can you give it to her? Yes. Lola… do you understand that you must ask for the crayon? Please ask Charlotte for the crayon. Great! Very good job using words. Crisis over.

3. We praise Lola. When you are being all strict and setting rules and expectations for a child it’s easy to find yourself saying, “No, Lola, No Lola, please use words, please communicate, you may not kick the wall” more than you say, “wow Lola, you did a great job using your words today.” So I have made it my daily mission to praise Lola. I have started looking for the smallest or biggest (we do have biggest sometimes!) progress and I take the opportunity to show physical affection (hug, kiss) and give verbal praise. She responds SO WELL to verbal praise. Her little shoulders sit high, her eyes shine and that infectious smile spreads across her face when she receives verbal praise.

I am learning so much from Lola. We had some attachment issues with Liam and he had night terrors and pretty much didn’t sleep for a year… but that’s a walk in the park compared to this. We never know when something will trigger a fear or defiance response from her. It’s hard to remain calm ALL THE TIME. But we are getting better at it. I truly have to think everything through before I act or say a word, impulse parenting does not work with Lola. If I don’t take the time to make sure Love is at the front of my response I end up mad at myself for reacting the wrong way. Love has to drive everything. Not the love that made me get on a plane and fly to China. That love was spurred by seeing my daughter in a picture. My daughter who had not yet tested the boundaries of my sanity. This is the love that comes when you step off the plane with your child and thrust yourself into a whirlwind of brokenness and pain that you can’t fully comprehend. But you KNOW because you see the evidence of that brokenness in everything your child does. And that new kind of love leads you to lie down in that mess and dig into that mess so that you can find out who that little girl really is.

We are nowhere near knowing who Lola really is at this point. But I’m starting to catch glimpses of a spunky, spicy girl who loves to dance. And I love her so very much.

Stick with me! I’ve got a lot to unpack!

IMG_9870

Grief and Crazy and Trying to Get it all Right

As I sat down at the computer this evening I literally stopped and took a deep breath. The kind of deep breath you take before walking into a big meeting or an unwanted doctor’s appointment. I need to talk about a few Lola things. Things that aren’t so fun to talk about. Thus, the deep breath.

Lola has been home for two months. We have made incredible progress. She is speaking enough English to communicate her needs and she is loving the fact that she is now part of a family. She started kindergarten recently, and although she had a rocky start she is now walking into school like a champ. She is starting to receive services for her visual impairment and today she made an A for me out of pretzels. Amazing I tell you.

Those are the good things. Those are the things that show us that Lola is happy and ready to embrace this family thing. There are lots of difficult things right now as well. Many recent experiences have shown us that while Lola is ready to be out of the “cocoon” she is not ready to handle relationships, especially with adults. She has enough to deal with at school. Lola has a regular classroom teacher, a vision specialist, an ESL teacher and a guidance counselor at school. Everyone has been amazing at school, but that’s a lot for one little person. Thankfully, our school is awesome and they have been super supportive. We gave them a list of no-nos and they were all good with that. Again, so thankful for them and their patience.

Because Lola has her plate full of adult relationships at school we are setting some boundaries with adults outside of the school environment. We need to teach Lola that she cannot and should not initiate relationships with adults. Imagine my alarm when she ran to a man at Publix yesterday and lifted her arms toward him asking to be picked up. NOT OKAY. Lola willingly left China with two strangers who said they were parents. She knows we are her mom and dad… but what can that really mean to a child who lived without parents for 5 and a half years. This is why we need your help. We need to establish a strong unbreakable bond with our daughter. We need to help her understand why she doesn’t need to speak to or go with just any adult she meets. Please bear with me and read the following with love and an open heart.

1. If you see Lola, in our home or outside our home, please don’t initiate contact with her. You don’t even need to speak to her. If she says hi, say hi back. But that’s really the limit. Someday, when her attachment is more secure, more interaction can take place.

2. Please don’t try to hug Lola or hold her. She needs to focus on hugging and loving on her family members. We have seen her refuse to hug a family member and greet a stranger with open arms. This is an attachment issue and warning sign. Therefore we are taking action, no hugs unless you are family.

3. Please don’t give Lola anything. Not a toy, not a piece of gum. Right now WE need to provide for her every need.

I fully believe that a lot of work and a lot of awkward conversations right now will prevent major issues down the road. We have a lot of work to do and we really need your help. Please allow Lola the space she needs to heal and learn to be part of her forever family.

THANK YOU in advance.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Liam!

Liam’s birthday is September 4th. I always have such a hard time saying that! Why? Because we don’t exactly know. It’s an estimate. I can’t get that out of my head for some reason and it makes me wonder how he will feel about his birthday when he is old enough to wonder where that date came from.

Either way… we celebrated our little guy yesterday. It was so much fun. I’m not really into actual birthday parties. I have NOTHING against them, I just prefer to have a family day instead. The kids had a great time wrapping presents for Liam, helping with decorations and making krispie treats for Liam to share at preschool. Here’s a few fun photos from Liam’s special day.

IMG_1461
IMG_1444
IMG_1438
IMG_1428
IMG_1416
IMG_1413
IMG_1489
IMG_1488
IMG_1473
IMG_1470
IMG_1464
IMG_1457
IMG_1450
IMG_1446
IMG_1441
IMG_1406

Becoming Mommy Part II

Nine weeks ago Calvin and I walked into a dark civil affairs office in China. My heart was freaking out. We were about to meet our brand new 5 1/2 year old daughter. Our only knowledge of who she was came from a 36 second video, a translated report from her orphanage and 15 photographs. As we rounded the corner I caught a glimpse of her, blue eyes staring at the ceiling, moving slightly, and looking scared out of her mind.

IMG_0954IMG_0965In that moment I thought… can I do this? Seriously. Can I do this?? Can I mother a child who has been blind and institutionalized her entire life? She’s going to hate me. Approximately 4 seconds later I was face to face with her. Overwhelmed with Love. And God whispered: No. You can’t do it. But I can. This is your daughter, she has always been your daughter.

IMG_1281I’m going to promise you one thing right now. I will never use God to over dramatize anything in my life. When I say he spoke to my heart in that time of doubt, he did, he was with me.

Adoption, for our family, is a spiritual thing. God led us to adoption, he walked with us in the process and he now sustains us as we work toward healing with our children.

It may seem bold… or maybe even shocking to think that I questioned whether I could mother our daughter in the moments before meeting her. But I think that every mother experiences this quick shock before beginning her journey. I remember looking at 2 pink lines after being married 6 months and having just started grad school. It wasn’t just morning sickness that made me want to throw up! The thought of shaping, molding and raising a human being is crazy overwhelming. I wasn’t ready. Calvin wasn’t ready. Seriously,  no one is ever really ready to be a parent. We think we are ready to deliver that baby or get on that airplane but we have no idea what is waiting on the other side. A life that is totally dependent on YOU. And if that life decides they don’t like to sleep you are really in trouble.

Fortunately, each time a child has become mine I’ve fallen madly in love with them. I’m the mom that smells my kids. I love the outside smell, the post bath smell and the plain old kid smell. Not every mom bounces right into motherhood. I’ve seen many friends struggle with postpartum and post-adoption depression. I know without a doubt that entering motherhood can be the most difficult thing one does in life. I also know that things will change drastically. Life will never be the same. Ever. (because it will be better! You just don’t know that in the beginning.)

But, motherhood, with it’s struggles, joys and pits of despair is the most rewarding thing I could ever choose for myself. I’m growing people. I’m impacting people. God is pouring his spirit into me as I pour everything I have into these 4 littles. There’s not much left of me at the end of the day. But I’m fully comfortable saying that my life is not my own.

To read more on my path to motherhood, check out my first Mommy blog post.

It’s a mess. But I have a good reason!

I had to take a couple family leave days this week. Lola really needed me at school. I’ve been doing things like hiding in the back of classrooms, stalking the halls and ducking when she looks my way. It’s a bit ridiculous. I’m probably arousing suspicions all over the building. We are trying to allow her to function independently in her school setting… but if there is a problem I get to materialize out of thin air. Like a spy.

Today, I was actually able to head home for a short time. I had some great thoughts about cleaning the house. I even swept the dining room floor and loaded the dishwasher. Taxing I tell you. I started to think… man this stay at home mom gig could be pretty sweet. Drop kids off, grab some coffee, blog a little, MAYBE clean a bathroom, paint my toenails. This is not what I did today, but it certainly sounded ideal.

Here’s the thing. Because I work outside the home as well as inside the home I can tell visitors things like “I’m that mom who works all day. So when I come home I spend all my time with the kids. That’s why our house is such a wreck!” I’m also guilty of saying “they are only small once, I’ve got to enjoy them instead of doing dishes all evening!”

While these things are totally true, they are also totally comical because my work has become my house cleaning crutch, and I’m completely okay with this. I decided today that if I ever did become a mom who worked in the home all the time I would probably have to clean. And if I worked in the home all the time I would lose my super great excuse that garners sympathy from every visitor.

So that settles it. I’ll be at work tomorrow.

All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal