The crazy journey of our family living this beautiful life for our awesome God!
"...Whatsoever you do, do ALL to the glory of GOD." 1 Cor. 10:31

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Our New Normal...or not so normal! Part 2

I wanted to share more about how Brooks is doing specifically in the last post because I know a lot of you have asked and want to know more about him. But it was already waaaay too long so I figured I'd save it for another post! :)

So....a bit more about Brooks. First of all, he's absolutely beautiful, in case you haven't already noticed.   ;)

Really, the kid is a looker..his eyes are stunning and he often gets confused for a girl because of his beautiful eyes and eyelashes!  I have to be careful to put him in clothes that are clearly boy clothes!

He's doing great health-wise.  He's a little tike...short for his age, but with plenty of fat to keep him healthy!  His belly is plenty round and he's got some good "moobs" on him...apparently he's eating well enough. ;)  His doctor appointments have gone great and we haven't run into any issues thus far. We dealt with a few of the normal things when we first got home..ringworm, skin reactions, food intolerances....but it all resolved within a few weeks so we were very thankful and very fortunate!  I know a lot of people who battle some of those things for a looong time after coming home.  He has gotten a few sicknesses since being home...but that's to be expected since he's in a completely different world than he's used to.  But otherwise he's a healthy boy! 

We've been fortunate to witness some of his "firsts" as well.  There are already so many firsts that we've missed and so many missing pieces to the puzzle that I'm so thankful for the firsts that we are getting to experience.  He took his first steps a few weeks ago and is now officially a "toddler," walking all over the place!  He also got his first two teeth since being home!  I can't say I'm super excited that we get to experience that first. ;)  Teething isn't necessarily a highlight of a babies life! And he's experienced a lot of first "events" with us.....his first time in the sand, which plenty of it ended up in his mouth of course....his first time to a parade, slightly overwhelming for him.....his first family vacation, slightly overwhelming for all of us....his first wedding....his first county fair! which included his first encounter with lots of animals...his first fair corn dog.....his first french fry (which also happened to be his first finger food of course)....his first trip to the mountains...his first time having his mom catch all of his throw-up in her hands (isn't this like a "rite" of passage or something for moms with new babies?!)....his first time experiencing the not-always-so-gentle love of brothers... and so many others!  It's been fun to introduce all of these things we love as a family to him.  And he's been a pretty good trooper through all of it.  

As I mentioned in the other post, we've also started to see glimpses of "normal" attachment.  We've learned that he loves to be "chased."  It gets the most laughs out of him!  And he's full boy in that he loves to wrestle and play rough...which is good, helps him keep up with the other 2.  He's starting to copy us which is quite adorable.  He's learned how to say "shhh" (which happens to be said a lot since he has learned that he his heard much louder now that he's got more attention and there are less kids to compete with!  We'll just say he's a very vocal little boy. :) ). He's started to learn all the perfect boy "noises" from the other two....flying an airplane, driving a car, being a dinosaur.  We've even been able to teach him how to sign "please" and "all-done" which is so helpful in aiding our communication! We work so hard at teaching him things and there is so much repetition that goes on since he hasn't been here observing everything from day one.  So when something finally 'clicks' it's a big celebration in our house! 

And as far as the other 2 boys...they are doing pretty great with him.  Grahm has been amazing.  I love watching the unconditional love of a child in him and the way he has immediately welcomed Brooks into our family and loved him like a brother from the get-go.  He went through all of the waiting journey with us so it was so sweet to see his excitement as well when it all finally came to fruition.  Jack...well, Jack is improving. ;)  People ask how Jack is doing with the new brother and I usually respond with, "well, Jack is 2.  Life is rough when you're 2 no matter what's going on." ;)  He was not the biggest fan of Brooks for the first few weeks...but that's to be expected.  His role as the "baby" got uprooted and now he's learning the glorious role of "middle child."  And I don't think there is a whole lot about life that 2 year olds like anyways! lol!  Really, he's been pretty great with him and it's been fun to watch him learn to love and even like Brooks.  He's still not trustworthy to be left alone with him...for some reason he thinks Brooks' purpose in life is for Jack to ride him all the time.  You can imagine that this does not usually go well.  But overall they are all learning to get along and enjoy each other.  Brothers are a special thing and it's fun to watch all 3 interact with each other.  

We are so thankful for how the Lord has worked thus far and how we know He will continue to work.  It's crazy to be where we are now and think back over how long it took us to get here.  We serve a powerful God who is in the middle of the mess and the beauty and I'm so grateful for that.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Our New Normal..or not so normal!

It's been a little over 2 months since we came home with Brooks, forever. Two months since we traveled between two completely different worlds and brought our little guy his new home, a place that wasn't yet home to him, no matter how much it is home to us...but to a place that was completely unfamiliar to him...big, scary, unknown and altogether frightening.  I haven't shared at all on here since we came home.  Part of that is just purely because we've been in survival mode for much of the time since we touched ground in America and stepped off that plane.  I just haven't had time to share much.  Having a 4, 2 and 1 year old is completely and utterly entertaining and action-packed....but also extremely exhausting and non-stop! :)  Not to mention one of those children was a complete stranger to us as were we to don't realize how much that affects things until you experience it.

Anyways, I also haven't shared much because a lot of what we've been going through and experiencing over these last couple of months has been difficult to understand and difficult to wade through.  We've had a hard time working through it so I don't expect that people outside of the situation will automatically understand it either.  And I'm learning that that is ok.  God has taught me so much over the past couple months and he's still continuing to teach me and grow me.  One of the things I've been learning to embrace is that He sees me.  We learn that from the time we're a child...singing songs like "oh be careful little eyes what you see...the father up above is looking down below."  I always knew he had knowledge of me and what I was doing. But it's more than that.  He sees me.  All of me.  Even when no one else sees or understands, He does. Every nuance of my situation and every thought in my head and every ache in my heart.  And he isn't just aware of it, He cares deeply about it.  He's not a distant, far off God, unconcerned with the affairs of men.  He is intimately involved in all that I am and all that I'm going through.  He sees straight to the heart of me and he hears my cries, he sees every tear drop fall, every cry of exasperation, every falling down in failure, every burden of guilt...he sees it all and he cares about it.  He doesn't just want to observe my life...he wants to walk through it with me, in me, all around me.  God, God of the universe, sees me as a father and loves me far beyond words could ever express (Although Romans 8 does a good job of expressing this love)...or perhaps it's far beyond my finite mind could ever comprehend.  I'm still learning to walk in the knowledge of this and embrace all that it entails.

There has been so much more that I've learned and perhaps I'll share some more of it, perhaps I'll save it for another time...and perhaps some of it I'll just keep in the quiet of my heart, treasuring the value of the relationship that's grown between my savior and me.  But I thought I might take the time to share a little more about how things have been going since we came home.  I know so many of you were invested in our journey before we brought Brooks home, praying fervently for us and for him. And I hate to just drop off the face of the earth and not share with you how things are going now that this child we've prayed for is finally home.

I don't quite know where to's been a whirlwind of a journey since we started life at home as a family of 5.  The first couple of weeks home were tumultuous to say the least.  They are actually kind of in that place in my mind that the memory of natural child birth goes's like your mind can't handle the pain and horrific-ness of it and so it bottles it up and you can't hardly bring it back out!  We had just arrived home with a stranger.  A stranger who is old enough to have ideas and preferences of his own and who we knew pretty much absolutely nothing about.  We were severely jet-lagged, which if you haven't experienced it...just take my word for it, it's absolutely brutal. Brooks was severely jet-lagged as well and his was actually worse because he went from living in a completely different time zone (9 hours away) whereas we just traveled to a different time zone and came back home to where our bodies found their natural clock and rhythm again..after about a week. So you can imagine how exhausted we were those first couple weeks.  He wanted to start the day at 4 am and I couldn't fall asleep until 3 am, which if you do the math doesn't leave a whole lot of time for sleep.  And naps! ha...remember, I also have a 4 and 2 year old, so naps did not happen for us (and there's no "sleeping when baby sleeps" with a 1 year old like there is with a newborn who sleeps all the time. 1 year olds sleep far less than newborns and a 1 year old from a different time zone sleeps on a completely different schedule than the other children in the house, leaving absolutely no time where I was alone.)  My lovely sister kindly came over on the Sunday afternoon shortly after we were home and we finally got our one and only nap.  :)  It was blissful.  So severe sleep-deprivation was a major factor for 3 of the people in our home.

And then add to the mix parenting a child who you know nothing about and who knows nothing about you either and who you can't communicate with and who, even though he's not talking yet, he can still understand a lot of things in Amharic, which is unfortunately not the language we speak, therefore he could not understand a single thing we said.  It turns out that all of this is actually very frightening and difficult.  We had no idea what scares him, what triggers him (into massive, uncontrollable meltdowns of which I've not seen in another child his age who has not been through the trauma a child like him has been through), what comforts him, what calms and soothes him, what makes him sad, what makes him happy, what makes him uncomfortable, what he likes to eat, how he likes to eat, how he likes to go to sleep...Nothing.  We tried to glean as much information as possible from the orphanage staff but that turned out to be quite an unsuccessful effort. (At one point I was trying to find out how many ounces of formula he drinks. The answer I received was "a full bottle."  A full 4 oz bottle?  a full 8 oz bottle?  Your guess is as good as mine.  I also asked when he napped, among other things, and the response was "oh, twice, maybe 3 times, maybe not, it depends."  Again, only slightly unhelpful. ;)  The staff was amazing and so kind, we just didn't do a great job communicating because of the language barrier and he was just one of many children they cared for everyday.)  All of this turned out to be much harder than we imagined.  We knew it would be hard when we finally came home with him...but you can't really comprehend or know how hard until you experience it.

People often said, and still say, "oh, it will be pretty easy because he's still so young.  There won't be any negative effects.  He'll transition easily."  While I know the intentions are likely good, this is actually quite an ignorant comment.  You don't realize how much you grow and learn about your child in that first year of life..and how much they grow and develop.  It's like a dance where you learn to memorize each other's steps and eventually begin to move completely in sync.  When your child is scared or cries, you reach for them and pick them up and they melt into your arms.  You're safe and you are the most comforting thing to them.  When they are upset, they run to you.  You know what makes them smile and laugh and your hearts and lives are so intimately woven together.  I didn't realize how true all of this is until I began parenting a child that didn't come from my womb and who I was a complete stranger to. I believe all of this will eventually come with Brooks, but it's going to take time.  When you give birth to a child, you have 9 months of bonding before they even enter the world.  They know your voice, they know your smell, you've felt them inside of you.  I've been given wise advise from an expert in attachment to at least give ourselves those 9 months.  We're nowhere near on a level playing field with our newest son and the only thing that is going to change that is time.  Clearly God wants me learning a lot about patience through this adoption journey!  3.5 years to finally bring our son home, and then at least another 9-12 months before things feel fully natural...and there's no guarantee they will be by that point.  It's just a pretty common time frame that other people I've talked with have experienced.

I've started to see glimpses that this natural dance of a relationship will come eventually.  There are times that I know exactly why Brooks is crying.  There are things we've found that genuinely make him belly laugh.  There are behaviors we've noticed that soothe him. But there is still a LOT unknown.  There are countless times when he goes into what we call "pure meltdown mode" and I have absolutely no idea why.  And there are still times his horrific night terrors emerge and there's nothing I can do to calm him down.  (There have been some pretty humorous experiences on our behalf of trying to figure out how to calm him down...just ask me in person sometime and I will share.  I'm so glad I can laugh about some of those times now.)  And there are times his face is blank and I can tell his little mind is working hard to figure out how upside down his life got turned.  He'll wake up occasionally with a look on his face that shows he still remembers and misses the people he knew in Ethiopia.  A look that seems to say he's confused and unsure about where he is and why no one in our home looks like the people who used to care for him.  I know some of these things happen occasionally with biological children but trust me and my experience..this is different.  There is trauma in Brooks' background that most biological children haven't experienced.  People say "trauma?!"  how could he have experienced trauma? He's only 1!  While I won't go into details about his past...just try for a minute to imagine how devastating losing your first family would be.  And although he's young, his little brain still took all that in and it affected how he developed.  (Just read some of the studies done on this..and there are MANY...the facts don't lie.) And on top of that, he spent nearly a year of his life in an orphanage.  I'm so thankful it was just a year as many kids spend much longer there....but it was still a year....his first of the most important years in a child's life developmentally.  These factors have a huge influence on a child's life.  People often only see the rainbows and beauty of adoption..and it can become beautiful.  But before that happens, before the situation is redeemed...a lot of pain happens in the lives of the children who are adopted.  There is a lot of ugly before the beauty comes.  I know our beauty will come.  I have faith in a God who redeems stories and changes lives and I know he will make beauty out of our ashes.  That doesn't necessarily make it any easier in the meantime, but I do find great peace in knowing he walks with me through this and he sees me, he sees Brooks, he sees our whole family and he is working to knit it into something beautiful.  For now we can only see the backside of the threads woven together..the part that looks kind of like a mess...but eventually I pray we will see the beauty knit together on the front.

And of the biggest buzz words in the adoption world.  We were well versed in the attachment that needed to happen for Brooks.  We knew there was a lot of foundation we had to re-build in his life and great bonding that needed to happen in our relationships for him to become well attached to us.  We couldn't prepare for how this would specifically look in his life but we had tools and stories to help us navigate things.  However, people never talked about the fact that attachment is a two way street.  Just as he didn't automatically attach to us the day we brought him into our family, oftentimes, the parents do not automatically attach to the child either.  As I mentioned earlier, this takes time.  I'm not sure why this isn't talked about much...I wish it was because it would be so helpful for pre-adoptive families to be aware of.  But I think I can imagine some of why it isn't talked about.  When people ask me how things are going, I usually have a well-rehearsed idea of what to say (I say well-rehearsed because I tend to over-share and I've learned the hard way that this isn't always a good thing.).  There are a couple hints I drop and if someone is in the adoption world...they automatically pick up on it.  A few keen people who have not experienced adoption have picked up on it as well, but most of the time I get a confused, deer in the headlights look and I know to quickly move on and that's fine.  But as soon as I mention it to many people in the adoption world....they automatically open up with a flood of similar experiences and there is a full sense of "I get it.  No judgement here...I totally understand what you're going through."  So I think that there is a lot of un-due judgement from people who don't understand and there is a lot of un-due guilt in those going through it.  Hence, it all tends to stay hush-hush.  This is perhaps one of the most painful parts of the journey right now though.  I want so desperately to have the same attachment towards Brooks that I do with the other boys.  I want to have the same heart awareness, heart desire, heart feelings with him. I know how wonderful and amazing it is to feel that way towards your children.  It brings so much joy.  I see new moms and I know they are experiencing that with their child because I've been there, I've given birth and I know how that feels.  And it's unbelievably hard to have a new child and to not have that kind of relationship in either direction.  So unbelievably hard.  Just as much as I want to be fully attached to him, I want him to fully see me and know me as who loves and adores him.  It is so hard to want to be a comfort to your child, but not be.  And I can look in his eyes and tell that I'm the most familiar person to him, but I'm still not mom.  I know this because I know what that's like with my other boys. But I can't count how many people have told me this is all normal and they experienced the same thing and it just takes time.  It makes sense if you think about it.  We're strangers to each other and there's no natural flow to our relationship yet.  But I know it will come in time.  I just have to be patient and allow ourselves to build that attachment.  And it requires a great deal of faith!  Because some days it scares me and hurts so unimaginably badly.  But I must choose to put my trust in God and know that he will do the work in all of our hearts that needs to be done.  He will grow the love and attachment that we all need and he will make beauty from this.  This journey has required more faith than I've even experienced.  I've literally had to walk hour by hour with God, in constant communication because I need him so badly because this is so so hard.  I'm thankful for the communion I've been experiencing with him and for the ways he's working.

Most people see Brooks and say he's doing so well and he looks so happy.  And really, he is doing well, relatively speaking.  I know we could be dealing with a lot more issues.  He is a generally happy kid so that is what people see.  Every picture we ever got of him before we met him, he was always smiling.  I'm so thankful for his happy disposition.  However, that doesn't mean he's fully attached and he knows we're mom and dad.  He knows we're the most familiar people to him and we're the only ones who have been with him in Ethiopia and here.  But it's only been 2 months.  He is still learning who we are and becoming comfortable with us.  He's growing to prefer us which is a great sign.  But we're still working through what we can and can't do with him.  We honestly don't know most of the time...we try things and learn the hard way that it was too soon.  I remember the first time we left him for a couple hours with someone else and that night was the worst we had with him yet. As I said, we're still learning what triggers him and what is safe and isn't safe.  Just because we've passed the 6 week mark (which is a common time to stop cocooning) doesn't mean we can go full steam into "normal" parenting.  We can't leave him with whoever, we can't drop him off at people's houses, we can't put him in nursery full time...a variety of things.  But we're slowly working through what he can handle and eventually it will just keep improving.  We so appreciate the understanding and grace we've been given from many and thank you beyond what words can express for your prayers!

As I say to most everyone who asks, this is a journey and we're working through it and I thank God he's walking with us, carrying us a lot of the time!  Thank you for your continued prayers!  Until next time.....
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