Our East Coast Trip 2014

A couple of months ago I was invited to speak about our adoptions at a fundraising gala for the Rollstone Foundation, an adoption grant organization in New York.  If you haven't heard of Rollstone, please go to their website and read about them and then go "like' them on Facebook. We think they are pretty great!  They gave us a large grant and made it possible for us to book tickets and bring Lilly home!  

When they called and asked us to come speak at the fundraiser in May we were really excited about the opportunity to help them raise money so they can help more families adopting special needs kids.  So often money stands in the way of children finding families....that is so heartbreaking to us.  We know there are families out there willing to adopt kids with special needs but don't feel financially able.  Adoption grants are so crucial to helping these families bring home kids who may otherwise never be chosen.  So when Rollstone called and asked us to come, we were very happy to say yes.  

We had the choice of driving or flying.  If we drove we would have to rent a 15 passenger van so we could bring Jovia's wheelchair (the transmission on our wheelchair van went out last year and we haven't had the money to fix it).  Flying would mean coming without the wheelchair, which we didn't want to do.  So, we decided it would be better to drive. My mom, Millen, Kensia, and Finn decided to come along....and then decided to bring the dog.  So we ended up with 7 kids, 2 adults, 1 dog, 1 wheelchair, and 238,748,329 suitcases (ok, maybe not that many) in a 15 passenger van, driving from Ohio to New York.  

It took us 2 days to get to Long Island.   We got stuck in New York traffic (oh my, the traffic!) so we were running late!  After dropping the others at the hotel, Millen (my helper for the evening), Lilly, Mayer, Jovia, Benja and I went straight to the fundraiser.  It was a beautiful evening.   We were surrounded by such loving, generous people and the kids were treated like royalty.  More importantly, they raised enought money to provide grants for several more families and children who are waiting to come home!  

After the fundraiser we headed up the coast to Newport so we could show the kids Cliffwalk.   It's always been a favorite place for our family - I have a lot of memories of Newport and Cliffwalk from when I was little.

We then set off for Vermont.  We spent a few days around North and South Hero and Lake Champlain before heading back home to Ohio.  We were gone for a little over a week but it went so, so quickly!  The kids were WONDERFUL the whole time.  

Everyone had fun and it was a really great trip!  

 

3 months home {Lilly Update}

Lilly has been home for 3 months!

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I was telling my mom the other day, can you believe that it was just a couple of months ago that we were waiting?  Flying back and forth, hoping she could come home soon, doing the medical tests and appointments, chasing paperwork, waiting for emails from the Embassy....it all seems like a dream now!  

I get private messages now and again asking "So how are things REALLY going?"

Things are going GREAT.  Really!  :) 

Of course, we've had things pop up here and there.   She wants to be in control and learning to let this new mom and dad have control is hard!   Learning to do chores and schoolwork when asked isn't something she was thrilled about.  Lately she's been complaining about having to fold her own laundry and load and unload the dishwasher.   Part of it is expectations - she truly, truly believed before she came here that the streets of America would be lined with gold and she would be, essentially, a princess.  It was a shock to get here and realize that in America we still have chores, we still have to work for things!  And...part of the "attitude" is that she is an 11 year old girl.  Those of you who currently have or have already parented preteen girls know what I'm talking about.  :)  Pouting has probably been our biggest "struggle".   It's getting better as she realizes that kids who pout and throw fits never get what they want in this family! 

When we seriously started talking about adopting an 11 year old there were really two BIG issues we were concerned with (and I think these three are the most common for all adoptive parents considering older kids): 

1.  Safety of our other children
2. RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) & General attachment & bonding

Of course, there are other things to think about - general adjustment, food and language changes, schooling (or lack of), etc.  But these two were the big ones. 

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Despite the fact that we had no reason to believe we would have issues with these two things once we came home, we still did all we could to prepare ourselves and our family in case they became issues.   We purchased door alarms.  We have cameras.  We had long talks about appropriate and inappropriate touching and behavior.   We discussed family rules and expectations.  We kept almost constant line of sight supervision.  Thankfully, safety has not been a concern we've had to deal with.  Lilly has been amazing with her younger siblings and we're very thankful for the sweet bond they are building.  

We can tell Lilly is building a real bond to us and starting to understand our role as parents.  We are utilizing a lot of therapeutic parenting techniques and my copy of the Connected Child is never far from my reach!  I don't want to sugar coat it - we've had a couple of intense days but they didn't throw us too much because we expected them (and we know that more are likely to come).  Lilly will read this at some point so I don't want to post too many specific details but if you're considering older child adoption and want examples of what our "hard" days look like please send me a private message and I'd love to talk to you more!

Large gatherings have been overwhelming for her.  Easter and a recent family gathering were both very stressful and she had long meltdowns after or during each.  When people tell you to keep your new child's world very small for the first couple of months, take it to heart.   

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While in Uganda we were concerned about how she'd eat once she came home.   She was a PICKY eater in Uganda.  Thankfully, this has not been an issue!  She has been willing to try almost everything and has liked most things.  She was extremely underweight when she came home but has been steadily gaining about a pound a week since she's been here! 

So yeah, when I tell you things are going great, they are.  :)  We're thrilled with how well things have gone so far with Lilly's transition to our family.  She's an amazing little girl and we are feeling very blessed! 

If you are considering whether older child/out of birth order adoption might be right for your family, please feel free to message me so we can talk!   

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Just like me! {Jovia connects with other amputees}

We are fortunate to have made some great connections for Jovia recently. 

Jovia looking at pictures of Minda as a baby.  

Jovia looking at pictures of Minda as a baby.  

One such connection is a lovely young woman named Minda who was also born a quad amputee.   We have enjoyed getting to chat with Minda and she very graciously sent us her new book!  (You can find out more about her and her book on her website HERE.)  Minda will be at the I-CAN amputee conference in AZ this year and we are really hoping and praying that we can attend.   Jovia has looked at Minda's pictures multiple times over the last week.  She smiles and exclaims "she looks just like me!" when she flips through the photos.   She keeps asking if we can go meet "the lady who looks like me".  Jovia is so used to being "different" - I can't wait to see how she reacts when she's surrounded by other amputees and can meet people who look like her.    

Friends often send me messages with links about other amputees so that Jovia can see others who look like her.  We appreciate this so much!  The other day someone sent us a video of this amazing piano player.  Jovia loves it!  Here is a video of her watching it for the first time.  If you'd like to view the original video yourself you can do so on youtube


Waiting Child {Levi}

This adorable little face has been popping up on my Facebook wall and in my inbox over and over the last couple of days.   Say hi to Levi!  

Levi is about 18 months old and is waiting for an adoptive family.   He is a bilateral amputee.  He was also diagnosed with Spina Bifida Occulta, a mild form of spina bifida and has some small limb differences in his legs.  This little guy will thrive with an adoptive family!  If you have concerns about what he will be capable of without arms, watch the Dennehy family video (below).  It is simply amazing how kids adapt to missing limbs.  This little guys file is with Great Wall China Adoptions and you can see the original post about him and contact information HERE

Resources for researching limb differences:

 I-CAN Website & search for I-CAN on Facebook

Amputee Coalition 

Resources for researching Spina Bifida Occulta:

Spina Bifida Association

Family Blog (Two children with SB)


 

AAI Closure

Some of you have heard about the closing of AAI (Adoption Advocates International), the adoption agency where I worked for four years.  During that time, it was a privilege to help unite orphaned children in Uganda with adoptive families - a much harder job than I had imagined- but something I loved and felt honored to do. 

I worked from home in Ohio as a liaison between adoptive families and adoption processors in Uganda and felt quite removed from the agency's day-to-day operations in Washington state.  I had no involvement with the financial end of things and was shocked to hear of the closing.   For a few years I'd known AAI was having financial problems.  It wasn't a secret, but somehow things always kept moving forward, and I always expected them to.

However, in mid-February of this year I learned that none of the agency employees would be paid that month (including myself).  I heard from the leadership that things would likely get turned around again, so I waited expectantly.  But suddenly, on March 10, I was informed of the agency's closure.

I don’t have regrets about working with AAI.  They were a leader in special needs adoptions and as my heart moved towards children who were hard to place, it seemed like a natural fit.  I didn't know everyone at the agency but I respected the intentions and hearts of those I did know. I was able to run the Uganda program the way I felt was best, focusing on family preservation first and only placing children with no other options for families.  

I'm grateful for the families I had a chance to work with and all the children I saw transformed from orphans to treasured family members. 

Some of you have asked about waiting children - if you're interested in adopting a child I was advocating for, I can try to help you get the file transferred to another agency I have been recommending to families. (I do not work for this or any other agency.)

A few of you have asked about my future plans:  I don't see myself working for an agency again. I've volunteered to help families who were left in the middle of the AAI closure and, for the present, at least, I will continue to act as a non-paid advocate or consultant.  As long as there are orphans in the world I will continue to advocate for them and encourage families to consider adoption.  That won't ever change.

Six weeks home an other updates....

Updates from around here! 

Lilly has been home for six weeks!   I plan to write soon about our first couple of months.  I want to write about all the great stuff and all the hard stuff but trying to figure out the best way to do that while still protecting her privacy.   All in all, she's doing very well.   We're still adjusting....things don't feel 100% normal yet but I know from experiences that for us it tends takes about six months (and sometimes longer!) to get to that point.   None of the scary "older child adoption" issues you hear about have been an issue for us (Thank God!) and Lilly has been great with the other kids.   She's been working hard on getting her room exactly as she wants it (every square inch of the walls covered with pictures, artwork, etc) and spends a lot of her time playing with her dolls.   Her English is coming along and we seem to understand each other a bit more every day.   We were concerned about how she would do with food here in America since she was quite picky in Uganda.  That hasn't been an issue.  This girl can eat!  :)  There are a handful of things she doesn't like (cold cereal, hot dogs, pretzels) but she eats almost everything else and always goes back for seconds.  She's gained about a pound a week since she's been home, which has made the doctors happy.  Lilly is playing soccer and thinking about doing gymnastics with Kensia.   

Mayer is doing great.  He's taken being six years old very seriously. He's matured a lot in the past couple of months.  He lost two teeth, which he waited a VERY long time for.   He played hockey for the first time this winter.  He started while I was in Uganda and by time I got back and saw him play for the first time he was a skating pro.  Finn has played for a few years so this is a fun thing the boys can do together.  He's playing spring soccer now and will be playing baseball again in the fall.  He hasn't really decided what his favorite sport is, he enjoying all of them right now.   He's working hard on learning to read and still being homeschooled for Kindergarten.  His favorite things right now are playing outside, riding bikes, building with Lego's and playing with his beyblades.  Mayer slipped out of his "oldest child" role seamlessly when Lilly came home.  I'd guess he never really felt like the oldest child since Millen, Kensia and Finn are here with us so much.  He's already used to bigger kids bossing him around.  :)   

Jovia and Benjamin recently turned four!   They are both growing up so fast.  Jovia is still in preschool and loving it.   She's become really comfortable with her classmates and teachers.   The teachers say she's the most popular kid in school.  :)  All the kids want to play with her, which she loves of course.   Unfortunately our wheelchair van transmission went out several months ago and we've been without a way to transport her wheelchair for a while.   We're trying to find a solution but nothing has worked out so far.   Jovia is really desiring more independence so we're working hard to come up with various ways she can do things she wants to do.   Her therapists just came up with an arm cuff/stylus combo which is really going to work great for working on the iPad.  The iPad is probably her favorite activity, she loves playing games, writing, watching videos etc.   She's working hard on learning to write her name.  She's starting to figure out the letter J and has been practicing every day.   Her favorite things right now are playing on the iPad, playing outside, going to Jaja's house and all things Dora. 

Benjamin has been making leaps and bounds developmentally in the last couple of months.  He's walking so well now, we were all commenting at therapy recently how great he looks now when walking.  He used to have a very wide base of support and now his legs are "together" much more when he's walking.   He's trying to "talk" more, making lots of sounds.  He says "night night" "no no no" and "mama".  He signs lots of words now and between that and pointing, he has no trouble getting his point across.  He's been eating well but is still only eating puree's or very soft foods as he still can't chew.   He still gets twice daily supplemental feedings in his g-tube and gets almost all liquid through his tube but has been getting better about drinking water with a sippy cup.   He has been following directions really well lately - taking items to the trash or sink when you ask him, picking up toys and putting them away when directed, fetching certain things he knows (diaper, cup, blanket) when asked.  He gets very excited and proud of himself when he completes a task you've asked him to do and will squeal, clap and jump with joy.  :)  His doctors have decided not to do any jaw surgery right now and are working on therapy to lengthen his jaw muscles.  That's a whole long story that deserves it's own post at some point.   Right now we're working really hard to get him used to people messing in his mouth.  It is slow going.  Benjamin has been seizure free for over a year now (Thank the Lord!) and he's still on the lowest dose of Keppra for his weight/age.  We're very, very thankful that they have been so easily managed with this medication and hoping/praying that it continues.   Benjamin's favorite things right now are playing outside, playing with cars, cause and effect toys and Yo Gabba Gabba.  

Millen, Kensia & Finn are all doing great.  Busy with school, family, friends, mock trial, soccer, gymnastics, baseball, etc.  Growing up way too fast!

We're staying busy with sports, school, appointments and everyday life.  Hopefully I'll get back into the habit of posting regularly.  Thanks for still following along and praying for our family and kiddos during this time of transition.  

How does she do it?

I've been trying to remember to take more video lately.  I keep thinking that I want to share how Jovia does some of the every day things I often take for granted.  Also, I know several families who are adopting children with limb differences who are anxious to see how she figures out how to do things.  I remember looking anxiously for videos and photos before Jovia came home.     

This is Jovia coloring at a restaurant.  She's quite the pro now.  Sometimes she uses a foam piece to make the crayon longer/thicker so they are easier to hold.  But we often forget it at home and she has to use the crayon as it is.  Sometimes while going out to eat the host or hostess will bring crayons and a coloring page for everyone except Jovia, assuming she can't use them.  :(  She notices this and it makes her sad.  I say, always assume someone can do more than it looks like they can!  



Lilly is home!

We are so excited to announce that Lillian is finally (finally!) home! 

Here's the story:

We were originally told that Lilly's medical file would be cleared on February 19.   When we inquired if it was ready they told us that it wouldn't be ready until after the 27th.    We were disappointed but trying to wait patiently.  On February 25 I woke up and found an email from the medical clinic stating that her file was complete and that we could come get Lilly!  I was so excited I jumped out of bed and started dancing around the room.  I called Keith at work and was so excited I could hardly tell him what was going on.   He said "are you ok?!?!" because I was so out of breath.  :)  My next email was to our travel agent to book tickets!

Getting ready to head to the Embassy. 

Getting ready to head to the Embassy. 

I spent the next day packing and getting things ready to head back to Uganda.   I left on Thursday night.  After two very long days of travel I was reunited with Lilly on Sunday morning.  When I pulled into the compound I saw her on the balcony and heard her squeal with delight when she saw us.  It was so wonderful to see her after a month away! 

We had three more appointments at the US Embassy before I could take Lilly home - a paperwork check, a visa interview and to pick up the visa.   My goal was to have the paperwork check on Monday, visa appointment on Wednesday, pick up the visa on Friday and come home that weekend.   We were all praying that this timing would work out so that I wouldn't be gone longer two weeks.  

Monday morning we got up bright and early to make it to an 8am appointment at the Embassy. Our driver was stuck in traffic and running late but we thought we were going to make it.  At 7:30 we were stuck in traffic again and we realized that we weren't going to make it to the Embassy in time via car.  Lilly and I jumped out of the car and flagged down a Boda Boda (motorcycle taxi) and took an exhilarating 20 minute ride to the Embassy.  We made it!   They called us in promptly and confirmed that all of our paperwork looked good.  I asked them if we could have a Wednesday visa appointment and she said "can you come back this afternoon at 2?"   Of course, I said yes! 

We got on another boda and went to spend a few hours with one of my adoptive families at the court house and then have lunch.   We were happily eating Chinese but I forgot to keep track of the time.  At 1:40 our friend pointed out the time so Lilly and I jumped up and ran out the door.  We didn't have time to get back to the car and drive so we got another boda and back to the Embassy we went.  

Our visa appointment went very well.  They told us that our case was very solid and "cut and dry".   They told us we normally would be able to pick up the visa on Wednesday but there might be a complication.

Lake Victoria while we wait for news. 

Lake Victoria while we wait for news. 

She was not sure if our case should fall under the new universal accreditation act rules.  I pointed out that we clearly were grandfathered in based on information provided on the USCIS website.  She said she wanted to double check with Washington.   She told us that if she heard from Washington that we do indeed fall under the new rules that  I would have to go back home and have our homestudy re-done.  :(   They said "if you don't hear from us by Tuesday afternoon, you won't be able to get the visa on Wednesday and will have to wait until Friday to hear something."     

Monday night and all of Tuesday was spent sending emails back and forth, first to the Embassy, then to advocates in Washington who might be able to help.  We were praying for a miracle,  I just couldn't imagine having to leave Lilly again and go home for several months to re-do our homestudy.  

Wednesday morning I checked my email.   When I saw the email from the Embassy I held my breath as I read it.   When I saw this:  "we have finally determined that your case is grandfathered in to the pre-UAA regulations.  The visa and travel packet will be ready today (Wednesday) at 4:00pm" I screamed and started dancing around the living room.   Lilly came running.  I told her "we can get your visa today!" and she started jumping up and down.  Prayers answered!  Thank you Jesus! 

Lilly can go home!

Lilly can go home!

We spent the day packing and running errands.   I kept waiting for it be morning time in the US so that I could call our travel agent and see if there was any way to get us tickets home that same night.  It didn't seem likely but we wanted to be prepared so we loaded our bags up in the car just in case.  

While we were pulling up to the Embassy the travel agent called me back and said that yes, indeed, we could fly home that night.  Another prayer answered!  

We were handed the visa around 4:30pm.  It felt so surreal.  I was really, truly going to be able to take my daughter home! 

We spent the next few hours putting necessary paperwork together, packing last minute items, and saying goodbye to friends.  After a quick stop for dinner we left town around 7pm and headed to the airport.   

This moment felt so surreal. 

This moment felt so surreal. 

Lilly was so, so excited.  I don't think the big grin on her face left for hours. 

Our flight left Uganda at midnight.   Lilly slept most of the flight to Brussels.  We arrived in Belgium very early in the morning and I made a beeline for Starbucks.  :)

We spent a couple of hours hanging out in Brussels waiting for our next flight.  Lilly was tired and cold but still smiling.  Everything was so big and new.  Automatic toilets and sinks were a shock, as were moving walkways.   Our next flight was uneventful but felt long.  Lilly slept for a few hours and watched some movies.   We were ready to get to America and she kept asking how much longer until we arrived.  

Starbucks breakfast. 

Starbucks breakfast. 

 

Our point of entry in the US was Newark.   Immigration in the US always makes me a little nervous but it was painless (took less than 15 minutes) and soon we were going through customs with our bags.  Lilly laughed and said "goodbye again, suitcases!" as we turned them back over to the airline.  One more flight, I promised her.  A short one.   She smiled but at this point was clearly getting very, very tired and overwhelmed.  

Our flight home was less than 2 hours.   Lilly and I both fell asleep immediately.  I woke up as we were landing.  I had a hard time getting her to wake up to get off the airplane.  At this point we'd been traveling more than 24 hours, 18 of those in airplanes.  

We were met by Keith and the kids at the airport.   Everyone got hugs but we were anxious to beeline out of there.  We bundled Lilly up in her new coat and hat, got our bags and piled into the van.  Another first, a car with a TV.  She was amazed.   We made a pit-stop at a restaurant to meet up with my mom, the rest of the kids, my sister and her kids.  After a few more hugs and some dinner we headed home.  Lilly was in a daze the entire time, she was exhausted. 

We got home around 8pm Thursday night.   The kids were so excited to show Lilly her new home and room.  She walked around the house with a big smile on her face.  We let the kids play for a few minutes but soon got everyone in pajamas and in bed.   I couldn't believe it.  We were all home, under one roof.  

Lilly has now been home for 3 days.   She is doing remarkably well.  I know we are honeymooning right now and that at some point it's all going to hit her how much her life has changed and everything that has happened.  But for now, we're enjoying this time.  She is an amazingly strong, resilient and sweet young lady.  The other kids have been very happy and excited.  Keith joked that she is like a new toy, they just can't leave her alone!  Every second of the day we're hearing "Lilly, come here!  Lilly, look at me!  Lilly, come with me!"   We're trying to give her some down time and keep the other kids from overwhelming her with their enthusiasm.  :)  We've seen each of the other kids acting a bit more emotional and needy since we've been home.  There have been tears.  But we know that is all normal.  Everyone has been getting along well and  we are feeling very blessed and happy.   

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We want to thank all of you....everyone who prayed, cheered us on, fund-raised, donated money, shared our story and sent encouraging words.  You have helped us provide this amazing little girl with a family. We are so, so grateful for you all.  

Can you believe it? Lilly is home!!! 

Party of Six

Party of Six