Archive - September 2013

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Pictures!
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Adopting the Older Child Part II
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Adopting the Older Child Part 1
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Grief and Crazy and Trying to Get it all Right
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Happy 2nd Birthday, Liam!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal