Monday, November 23, 2015

Thank You Notes--Tonsillectomy edition

For those of you who follow me on FaceBook, I apologize for the steady stream of posts regarding my son's tonsillectomy. It's kind of been an all-consuming thing around here. But, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I've decided to give thanks for all the things I've enjoyed during the last week of being held hostage, uh, I mean tonsillectomy recovery. With apologies to Jimmy Fallon, here are some thank you notes.

Dear soft foods,
Thank you for being so smooth and squishy that any member of our family can eat you. Thank you for soup, and noodles, and noodle soup, and scrambled eggs, and Ramen soup. And also for ice cream. Yes, we tried to eat something that wasn't soft one night while we served the patient some soup, but we will never forget the death stares that caused. So, thank you for bland textures. And for overlooking the fact that I snuck out of the house yesterday to eat chips.

Dear Netflix,
I knew we would probably be watching a lot of TV during this recuperation. I underestimated, however, how much we would watch THE SAME THING on TV. Thanks to you, Netflix, we have unlimited access to Power Rangers. Which includes, but is not limited to, Power Rangers SPD, Power Rangers Mega Force, Power Rangers Mystic Force, Power Rangers Turbo, and probably Power Rangers, The Early Years. Yes, thank you, Netflix. Without you, I might have actually enjoyed a TV program.

Dear pain medicines,
Thank you for serving us so faithfully the first few days when the patient's pain was actually quite minimal. You were there every 3 hours all night long when we all should have been just sleeping. But everyone told us we would need you and we needed to stay ahead of the pain, so you were there. I'm still not sure why you chose to start betraying us about 4 days into the recovery, but thank you for the multiple fights you now cause daily. Mixed Berry Kool-Aid with an Ibuprofen shooter or Sprite laced with Tylenol are cocktails no bartender could come up with, but it's what we now resort to several times a day. Followed by coercion to actually drink the mess. So, thanks, pain meds. You work beautifully, but can't you just come in a flavor that's a little easier to disguise?

Dear nurses,
Thank you for what you do and for the loving way in which you do it. You have been given the spiritual gift of mercy and I am truly grateful for that. Recently, I have come to realize how difficult your daily jobs must be. Because I have realized I could NEVER be a nurse. You see, PTs have other qualities. We are much better at saying, "suck it up and do your exercises!" But I now understand that just yelling at a 5 year old to "suck it up and take your medicine" doesn't really work. Yes, I hug him and speak softly and try to empathize with how much I know he must be hurting, but my mercy has its limits. My husband has always said I am a horrible nurse. Now I know he is correct.

 Which brings me to my final thank you note.

Dear Baby Boy,
Since you came to us when you were 3, I never had the joy of an infant. Which meant I also never had the sleepless nights. Thank you for helping me to relive your infant days by waking up crying inconsolably every 1-2 hours. I do feel sorry for you when you wake me up, but that dissipates a little when you are back asleep 60 seconds later and I'm still wide awake thanks to the adrenaline you've caused me to release. I am usually able to fall back asleep. Just in time for you to wake up and do it all again. Thanks for that, son. Years from now, when you are a soundly sleeping teenager, I'm going to periodically run into your room and scream and the fall quietly back to sleep.

Finally, some serious thank yous. Thanks to all the friends who have called or texted to check on us. Thanks to the deliverers of ice cream and toys and movies for him, and treats and coffee for me. Thanks to my in-laws for taking a turn watching the kids so we could escape the house some last week. And thanks to my husband who can be tough when needed (see the aforementioned medicine fights), but who also can be incredibly tender when the situation calls for it.

I already had huge respect for parents of kids who require daily meds or who are dealing with serious illnesses, but this gives me a whole new level of respect. This will all be over in a few days. And that's definitely something to be thankful for.

Ready or Not, Here We Go

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March 19, 2013.  The day we met our children for the first time.  The most earth-shattering day of our lives, but in many ways, it was also one of the most ordinary.

The night before (after the initial meeting with DHS), Pam and I exchanged a few emails and decided the next afternoon would be the best day to meet the boys in person.  As I recall, the weather was supposed to be cold and rainy the rest of the week and that day (a Tuesday) was going to be our best chance to have good weather.  We agreed to meet at a local park where the boys were already comfortable, and we agreed that we would be introduced as nothing more than "some friends of Mom and Dad".  (Yes, they referred to them as Mom and Dad. Which shows you how much those boys were loved and accepted in their foster home.)

Of course, we were "friends of Mom and Dad" so the meeting was much less awkward than if we hadn't known the foster parents at all.  We spent a little time catching up with them, and then we just played.  We had been warned that the little guy might have a hard time warming up, especially to Rodney because he was typically more comfortable with women.  But soon the two of them were playing on the swing like they'd been friends for years.  Since Trae has a hearing impairment, one of our concerns was about how hard it would be to understand him.  That fear quickly dissipated when we realized we understood most everything he said.  And we certainly didn't have any worries about them physically after watching them on the playground.  Trae's natural athleticism quickly came out as he flew across the monkey bars.  He was 6 at the time and had no hesitation when we asked if we could take his picture and play with him for awhile.  Not to be outdone by big brother, Will also wanted a turn on the monkey bars.  He was 3 at the time and only wearing 18-24 month clothes, so he required a little assistance.  I still have the video of helping him cross those monkey bars for the first time.  And I can't watch it now without a silly grin on my face.  It was very easy to imagine myself as his mom.

After playing for about an hour, we just knew.  We were supposed to move forward with getting to know these boys a little more.  So we got goodbye hugs from both boys and let their foster parents know we would be contacting them soon.

On the way home, we made the phone calls we had simultaneously been anticipating and dreading.  We each called our parents to let them know we had met the boys that might become our sons.  I say we had been "dreading" it because we would be lying to say we weren't concerned about how they would receive the news.  They knew we were in the process of adopting, but they had no idea we had even received information on these two boys.  I'm not even sure they knew we were considering TWO children.  They also knew we were open to considering children of a different race, but actually telling them we were going through with it was a different story. But, like parents do, they celebrated with us and anxiously waited for us to send them pictures.

Later that night, we also set up our next date.  The following Saturday we spent time with just them and us, no foster parents.  We went to a local arcade (think low-end Chuck E. Cheese) and then to supper at Steak and Shake.  The arcade was about a 30 minute ride from their house, and we laugh now about the fact that there was TOTAL SILENCE from them the entire car ride.  I can only imagine the thoughts that were running through their little heads as we drove away.  I'm sure it was a mixture of confusion and "what the ????" Finally, as we pulled in the parking lot, Trae broke the silence with "Chuck E. Cheese!! I've been here before!" and from then on we had a great time.

After that first "date", we gradually moved into overnight visits.  And then one night became two, and weekend visits turned into week days and weekends, and then finally they were living at our place more than they were in their foster home.  We had a few bumps along the way trying to figure out the transition, especially with Will who was quite attached to Pam, but overall we couldn't have asked for it to go more smoothly.

Finally, just a few weeks later, we set a move-in date.  We had originally planned to transition them into living with us full time after school was out for the summer, but things were going so well that we didn't really see the need to drag out the process that much.  So the date was set and we started making plans to make these boys ours forever.
           Our first meeting, March 18, 2013

To be continued....
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The Messy Middle

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Remember those whiny years I talked about before? The years in Pocahontas were filled with a lot of those.  On the exterior, we couldn't have been better and, in many ways, things were wonderful.  We had good jobs, good friends, close relationships with our families, a house, and even a cute dog.  We traveled, ate at great restaurants, went where we wanted, whenever we wanted and were loving life.  When people asked the inevitable question, "when are you gonna have kids?" we would always respond with, "we're too BUSY to have kids!" And for many years, that was true.  Kids would be great if they happened, but we certainly weren't stressing about it.

Eventually, I turned 30 and we decided it was probably finally time to make it happen.  After all, kids wouldn't slow us down too much.  And we always planned on having them.  Truthfully, I had been ready for awhile but it took Rodney some time to get on the same page.  But then, it didn't happen.  And then, it still didn't happen.  And because that was a pretty painful time in which Rodney and I both spent some time in what we have since labeled "the pit", we are going to leave it at that.  Suffice it to say, neither of us was our best self during that time.  How our marriage survived those years is a testimony to the grace of God and the fact that both of us were just too stubborn to do anything else.  Looking back now, it was also the prayers and encouragement of some faithful friends that sustained us and helped drag us out of the pit.  Outside our home, our lives continued to look pretty great.  I started a new business ("this IS my baby! I don't need another one!"), Rodney went back to finish the degree he never finished, we won awards and accolades, got involved in every civic organization that would take us, and tried to act like we were FINE! (That's a word I used a lot.  Which a friend finally told me meant, "Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional")  But inside, things weren't quite as glorious.

In retrospect, the event that could have ended us, turned out to be the event that saved us.  Rodney decided to move to Conway.  Without me.  He decided UCA was the best place to pursue his Master's degree, but because he would only be there for a year or two, we decided the best move was for me to stay in Pocahontas and continue to build my fledgling business.

Together, and separately, we had to decide what that meant for us. Were we better apart or together? Were kids ever gonna happen and, if not, could we be okay with that? Who were we going to be if all those plans we had for the future didn't come to pass?

Somewhere around the fall of 2009, I decided the downward spiral had to stop. Remember all those grand plans I had initially? I gradually decided that maybe, just maybe, I needed to stop planning for awhile and just let life happen. Living alone, I had plenty of time for reflection, and I came to appreciate a lot of things in a brand new way. I missed my husband because, through every challenge, he remained my best friend. I had lots of healthy relationships and, even if God never saw fit to bless us with children, I was still okay.  I had family that loved me and, more importantly, a God who hadn't forgotten me. And while I couldn't make myself feel fulfilled any more than I could make a baby just magically appear on my doorstep, I could trust that maybe, just maybe, His plan WAS for my good and His glory. Even when it didn't look like that with my earthly eyes. 

In the meantime, I needed to take back control of what I could control and I started with my health. You see, while my world seemed to spiral downward, one thing I did VERY well was amuse myself with food. Bored? Eat! Depressed? EAT! Celebrating something? EAT!!! So, without much of a plan except for, "eat less, move more," I started that journey. And what I found along the way would lead to the greatest plan I never intended.

to be continued 
Click here for Part 3

Fall, 2009

In the Beginning...

Like all good stories, ours began with a chance meeting.  In the case of me and Rodney, it was second grade.  Yes, we were those people who met in elementary school.  I'd love to say it was love at first sight and we've been together since, but honestly I didn't even remember him being in that class until we talked about it much later.  I do, however, remember this awesome time in our lives
Prom. 1992.  We were madly in love (or maybe not; that seemed to change from week to week) and we were confident we were both going to do amazing things.  A year later, I went off to Lyon College, Rodney headed to BRTC (and later UCA), and we began laying the ground work for our awesome, well-planned lives.

Fast forward to 1997.  After a few more break ups and make ups, we finally said 'I do."  Three weeks later, we had settled in Conway and I started physical therapy school with no idea (but grand plans) about what the next few years would hold.

After PT school, I got the job of my dreams doing pediatric physical therapy in Russellville for a company called Friendship Community Care.  Rodney was working in real estate by this time and we had decided that Conway would be our home for years to come.  We had great friends, a great church, and were making great plans to raise our kids in this wonderful town.

To this day, I don't know what made him flip the switch.  But I remember exactly where I was when it happened.  Christmas, 2000 we spent our break in Pocahontas with our families.  And I had never been so glad to be headed "home" to Conway.  As I recall, I think we spent almost two weeks away and I was ready to get back to my job and our friends there.  And then he dropped the bombshell, "I think we should move back to Pocahontas."  Say what?  "We've always said we might move back someday.  And our families are there.  And we can raise our kids there. And build businesses there. And....(sorry, I think I had blacked out by this point and didn't hear any of his other fabulous reasons.)"

And, so, despite my protestations, we made the decision to move.  After all, I didn't really have a choice after he called a pediatric physical therapy clinic, asked them if they were hiring, arranged for me to have a phone interview with them, and THEN told me about it.  So, with a job, more grand plans for the future, and our families cheering us on, we headed back home to live those lives we started planning back in 1992.

(to be continued)
Click here for Part 2

Sunday, November 22, 2015

7 Questions You Never Ask a Pregnant Woman

Thanks so much for the overwhelming response to our story. It is my prayer that it encouraged you as well as entertained you. Our journey was far from smooth, but there is nothing about it I would change knowing the outcome it brought us. I also want you to know that I'll be blogging soon about some of the challenges we've faced along the way and still face when it comes to parenting kids who come from challenging situations. But, today, I wanted to share something a little different.

So, with tongue firmly in cheek, I present to you 7 Questions You Never Ask a Pregnant Woman (also known as 7 things people hear all too often when they announce they're adopting).

1) You're pregnant? Congratulations! But couldn't you adopt your own children?

This one tops the list for couples who don't have biological children. Frequently, yes, couples have struggles with infertility prior to making the decision to adopt. But that isn't always the case. Sometimes a couple has decided to adopt BEFORE attempting to have biological children. Or perhaps a couple has just seen the need for adoption. Regardless, and ESPECIALLY in the case of a couple struggling with infertility, they probably don't want to discuss it with you. If you are a close enough friend, you most likely already know their struggles. If not, then just remain curious (which is a nice way of saying, it's probably none of your business).

2) Aren't you afraid your biological baby will have problems?

This is one no one ever asks a pregnant woman, but adoptive families hear all the time. While it is true that children who are adopted often come with a unique set of challenges, it is no more guaranteed with an adopted child than it is with a biological child. As a matter of fact, for a couple who is adopting an older child (and not a newborn), frequently the child's needs are known before the child comes home. Biological kids sometimes don't come with the same information.

3) What if your biological kid doesn't look like you?

I have brown eyes. My mom has green eyes. While I have many of her mannerisms, I don't necessarily look like her even though we have the same skin tone. My children have brown eyes like I do. They just happen to have darker skin and hair. Regardless, it's just cosmetic. (And, yes, I realize this is oversimplifying trans-racial adoption. I'm just saying, for couples who are willing to adopt children of a different race, they've already thought about it.) Next question.

4) Why would you get pregnant when there are so many kids who need good homes in this country?

This is the one that people who have adopted internationally get a lot. It can also be phrased, "why would you go to Africa (or Haiti, or Russia, or....) when kids here need homes?" Simple answer, "because that's where my kid was." Everyone has their own reason why they adopt from where they adopt. Regardless of that reason, they are providing a loving home for a child who needs one and that is the most important thing.

5) Doesn't it cost a lot to have a bio kid?

Oh, yes, the money thing. Adoption can be expensive. Or it can be almost free (if you adopt through foster care). Giving birth can be expensive (especially if it involves infertility treatments), but it's rarely free. People usually find it off limits to ask about another family's finances. Unless an adoptive family willingly tells you how much it's going to cost and asks you to contribute, they would probably you rather not ask.

6) Are you sure you can love your bio kid like you do an adopted kid?

I have a friend who answered this one beautifully. She says, in some ways, she loves her adopted kids MORE than her bio kids. Because the bio kids just came to her, but she had to FIGHT for her adopted kids. And there's just something about fighting for something (whether it's fighting for their custody, their trust, or their attachment) that makes you cling to it even harder. Any parent with more than one child will tell you that their love for their children may be different at times, but it is no more or no less for any of them.

7) If you get pregnant, I'm sure you'll adopt right after that.  I hear that happens all the time.

This is my personal favorite. It usually goes like this, "my cousin's sister's friend adopted and RIGHT AFTER THAT found out she was pregnant. They just relaxed and quit worrying about it and then it happened." First off, see question number 1. If a couple has struggled with infertility, they have probably labored over the adoption decision for a long time. And, while there may still be hope of a biological child in years to come, that is not why they are adopting. They have made the decision to become parents now and this is not a "second best thing" to having a bio kid.

As I've said, if you are family or close friends with someone who is adopting, then you're probably in the circle of trust and can ask these questions. But unless you're sure you've earned that trust, the most appropriate response is just "Congratulations! I'm so excited for you!" And then mean it. Because that couple that just announced it is just as excited as that couple that just announced their pregnancy. And they are probably also more nervous. So hug them, cheer them, pat them on the back. Just don't immediately ask them things they may not want to tell you.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Forever Day

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Snow.  That seems to be a recurring theme with our family when it comes to important events.  There was the May snow the day the boys moved in, and there was snow for a week prior to December 11, 2013.  If anything could make us second guess adopting, being snowed in for almost a week with two wild boys could certainly do it.

Somehow, we all survived that week and the 7 months that preceded it. And, so, 23 months after our adoption journey started with that first email, and approximately 810 days after our boys entered foster care, we headed for the Washington County Juvenile Center.

Our parents managed to make the trip from Northeast Arkansas despite the snow still on the ground.  I actually worked that morning because I had already missed so many days due to inclement weather. I'm not sure I actually performed any quality treatment that morning, but I was at least there in body, if not in spirit. The boys were still out of school so they stayed home with Rodney and didn't fully comprehend the significance of the day.

Finally, a little before 3 o'clock, we entered Judge Zimmerman's court room.  I'm not sure what I expected from that, but it was almost anti-climactic.  The boys had been given new teddy bears by our wonderful adoption specialist (she had even picked out one for Trae that reminded her of what he looked like with his hearing aid headband) and they were asked to name them.  After talking to the boys a little, Judge Z asked them what they were naming their bears and she officially signed bear adoption certificates.  Then she asked us about our intentions to adopt the boys, verified their new names, and then they were ours.  We posed for a few pictures with the judge and with our families, and it was all over.  The years of praying, wishing, and hoping, had come down to that moment. We were their forever parents.

We had joked before that day about possibly pulling over on the way home to provide some discipline that would not have been approved by DHS (yes, we said we might pull over and spank them....just because we could!), but that was completely unnecessary. As a matter of fact, both boys cuddled up with their new bears and fell asleep on the way home.

That evening we got to celebrate our full circle moment.  Surrounded by our families, the boys' foster family, our adoption specialist, and our friends, we celebrated our very first Forever Day.

One of the highlights of that day was finally "unveiling" the boys on social media. While they were officially wards of the state, we were prohibited from sharing their faces publicly. Which meant many of our friends who lived in Northeast Arkansas had never seen their faces without various digital stickers covering them.  I have to admit, I actually had a great time tempting people with various glimpses.  Sometimes we would cover them with stars or simple blue dots, but other times we used a funny nose and glasses or they wore actual masks. But that day we got to show off their beautiful faces and reveal their brand new names.

As I reflect back now on the journey to that day, I am overcome with how God perfectly ordered every step.  There were many surprises for us along the way, but He was never surprised by one of them. As a matter of fact, when you look at the timing of the boys coming into care, the date of their TPR (termination of parental rights), and the timing of us pursuing adoption and finally becoming an open home, the dates line up pretty perfectly. If things had proceeded at OUR pace, I don't believe they would have ever been OUR boys.

I won't go into all the reasons the boys ended up in foster care, but it is safe to say it happened because we live in a broken world where people don't always care for children in the way they should.  But, in His sovereignty, what was intended for evil, He used for good (Genesis 50:20). And that could pretty much sum up our entire journey to becoming parents. There were many times along the way when the enemy could have gained a foothold and destroyed us all. Thankfully, God wrote a different story. And, with every opportunity I have to tell that story, I will give Him all the glory.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Seven Months of Second Guessing

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Snow in Arkansas in May. Know what's more unusual than that?  Rodney and Kristi becoming parents.  And both those things happened on May 3, 2013.

Yes, we woke to snow that Friday morning in May.  And that afternoon we completed the boys' move into our house.  The previous evening we had actually moved most of their stuff in, but that afternoon we picked them up for the last time at their foster parents'.  You know those kids you hear about that are in foster care and come with nothing?  Yeah, those weren't our boys.  They may have come into care with very little, but they left with a TON of stuff, which was more evidence of exactly how well-loved they were while in the care of Nathan and Pam. 

At the time we were living in a 1300 square foot condo, and to say it was transformed overnight would be an understatement.  In addition to two very loud boys, we were suddenly overwhelmed with  Legos and action figures and costumes (oh my!). Our days of three loads of laundry a week were over. Our nights of dinner and a movie were no more.  And we couldn't have been happier about it.

We were having more fun than we'd ever had, but to say it was a completely easy road would be a lie. We talk now about how blessed we were with a relatively smooth transition, but there were times that were just flat-out HARD.  We were rookies and we were dealing with professionals when it came to things like fit throwing or refusing to comply. We had a little experience with these things when we were in the transition process, but when they were ours 24/7 we had no choice but to figure out how to deal with those things in our own way.  On top of that, our hands were somewhat tied in the discipline area because the boys were still in the custody of the state until the adoption was final.  So we had more than our fair share of fits, tantrums, and tears (and the boys had a few, too). 

One of the hardest battles we fought at the time was one I now find the most humorous.  During that summer, both boys rode to work in Siloam Springs with me every day; Will was enrolled in the preschool where I worked and Trae was attending the Boys and Girls Club in Siloam. This seemed like a great idea logistically and, in my head, was also a great way for us to bond on the 45 minute drive every day.  What I underestimated, however, was the power of a shoe sailing past my head as I drove 70 mph down Hwy 412.  Not to mention the ability of a 30 pound 3 year old to get out of his 5- point harness EVERY DAY.  We tried not driving unless the seat belt was buckled (which made it more than a little difficult to actually GET to work).  We tried taking away privileges.  We even tried BUNGEE CORD to hold the harness shut (he was little--not dumb; he figured that out before we got out of Fayetteville).  These boys were smarter than we were and had much more experience than we did. But somehow all four of us survived that first summer.  

Despite our bumps in the road, we were actually faring pretty well.  The boys bonded to us fairly quickly and started calling us Mom and Dad just a few days after moving in, which was a major answer to prayers we started praying when we first decided to adopt.  We just forgot to pray for wisdom in how to get them to not throw shoes.  

I would love to say we quickly smoothed out those behaviors and now we have sweet angel children.  But I would also love to say I'm a millionaire.  Some things just take more time than others.  Parenting is tough. Period. And parenting kids who come from hard places and don't completely trust you is really hard. 

Our first seven months were the learning experience of our lives. I second-guessed just about every decision I made (Did I discipline wrong? Are they in the right schools? Should I have said that? Will they still love me if I make them keep their shoes on?).  What I never second-guessed, though, was whether or not we had made the right decision. At the end of every day, I went to bed exhausted.  And I thanked GOD that He was giving me the privilege to be their parent. Every tough moment and every tear was forgotten as soon as those brown eyes looked into mine and said, "I love you."

And, so, even with all the second-guessing, there was no hesitation on the day the adoption specialist came to our house and said, "We'd like to set the adoption date for December 11. Does that work for y'all?"

May 3, 2013 (thanks for the pic, Pam!)

To be continued....
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