Sunday, December 22, 2013

What I Want You to Know About Celebrating the Holidays with a Previously Institutionalized Child

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, right?  Sure....unless you are trying to navigate through this trying time with a child who has spent her entire life in an institution and knows nothing of life apart from following rules, sterile walls, routine and structure, and showing no emotion or feelings. She never felt love before. She never experienced felt safety.  She never learned to trust.  She never learned how to form her own opinions or how to think for herself.  All she knew was how to do what she was told, when she was told.  She knew that every 8 hours she would get a new caregiver, who was responsible for feeding her, dressing her and making sure she was refocused if she became bored with what she was doing or getting into trouble with other children. 

We started having nightly Advent readings with the girls on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  At that time we started with asking the question, "Why do we celebrate Christmas?"  To which, the youngest twin would promptly answer, "Halloween!"  Wow....we realized then and there that we had our work cut out for us.  

Every single night we would sit around the table, light the candles, share a reading and an activity which all focused on taking care of each other, taking care of others, sharing our love of others with our girls.  We would continue to ask the girls, "Why do we celebrate Christmas?"  We graduated from "Halloween" to "Santa" within the first week.  The second week the answer became, "Presents!"  We decided to change our question to "Whose birthday do we celebrate on Christmas?"  She would answer, "Hannah!" (whose birthday was the 21st....ok I can see why she'd be confused).  

Frustration has grown for all of us, especially for said child.  She has been a complete mess all week long.  All of the progress that she had made in the past 4  months since starting school has been completely erased and we have regressed to the point where she forgets all basic daily functions, even getting dressed, brushing hair and teeth in the morning.  She has lost the ability to make any decisions for herself and follows her twin around like a lost puppy dog looking for clues as to what she's supposed to be doing at any given time.  

It is almost more frustrating for us because she had been doing so well and had made such progress. Now, we feel like we are back to square one and right back to where we were when we brought her home 17 months ago.  She has lost the ability to trust that we will take care of her and will love her.  She relies on herself and engages in self care by rocking in her bed (a behavior which we have not seen in MONTHS but was a nightly occurrence when first coming home).  

This is a vicious cycle that we are in.  She doesn't trust us to love her so she behaves in ways that are unloveable, thus taking us down a path of a self-fulfilling prophecy for her.  

So, while we are trying to maintain some of our family holiday traditions and trying to keep the magic of the season alive for our other young girls, we are stuck.  Every new activity that we introduce (and by "new" I mean "not part of our daily routine") seems to strike a chord of fear and anxiety in one of our girls.  So, what do we do?  Do we sacrifice tradition and the spirit of the holidays to alleviate the fear of one child?  Or do we labor in love through this difficult time in hopes that she will learn that we are her family and we will love her no matter what? And, hope in the meantime, that she will learn that she can trust us to take care of her?  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Waiting on This First Day of Advent

On this first day of Advent we sat down as a family to discuss the idea of "waiting". We read a letter from Dietrich Bonhoeffer which he wrote to his parents while he sat in a Nazi German prison cell.  If anyone understood the concept of waiting it was him.

This concept brought this song to my mind.  "While I'm Waiting" by John Waller.  Bill and I clung to this song after Grace died.  It seemed like we were in a whirlwind of waiting for the months/ years after she died.  We waited for the end in the emergency department.  We waited for answers about Dee's head injury. We waited while Dee and Sarah transitioned from sleeping in our room back to the room that they had shared with their sister.  We waited for sleep. We waited for each new holiday, anniversary, birthday to pass without her.  We waited for the grief to pass.  We waited, and waited, and waited.....

As we come to this Advent season I find it interesting that we are brought back to the reminder of waiting.  We were reminded tonight that our lives are a season of Advent.  We are ultimately always waiting for the coming of Christ. Not just the baby Jesus on Christmas, but the final coming of Jesus. This song reminds me that I need to be worshiping, working, serving while I wait.  Life may not be what we had bargained for, but that doesn't disregard our call to be ambassadors for Christ in all that we do.

I am thankful for this reminder and for the chance that I have to walk this walk with my family, teaching them the art of waiting.  I couldn't think of any other beautiful people that I would rather wait with!

Lyrics to While I'm Waiting :
I'm waiting
I'm waiting on You, Lord
And I am hopeful
I'm waiting on You, Lord
Though it is painful
But patiently, I will wait

I will move ahead, bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience
While I'm waiting
I will serve You
While I'm waiting
I will worship
While I'm waiting
I will not faint
I'll be running the race
Even while I wait

I'm waiting
I'm waiting on You, Lord
And I am peaceful
I'm waiting on You, Lord
Though it's not easy
But faithfully, I will wait
Yes, I will wait
I will serve You while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting
I will serve You while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting
I will serve you while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting on You, Lord

Monday, November 11, 2013

Happy Gotcha Day To My Teen and Tween

11 years ago today, Bill and I went from 0-3 children in a matter of minutes!  It is so hard to believe that it has been so  many years.  Yesterday as we went to church I reminded Bill that 11 years ago on a Sunday in Romania we were attending a pentecostal church, which was just a tad charismatic for our tastes back then.  Yesterday I stood in our local church and watched my Latvian daughter, who was holding hands with my Ugandan baby, who was holding hands with her Latvian cousin.  They were dancing, swinging arms, shaking beaded heads to the rhythm of the music (OK, so the Ugandan was the only one with beads in her hair, but she was shaking it enough for all 3 of them).  I thought to myself, "Wow, we've come a long way since that 2 1/2 hour pentecostal service in Romania!"

The following day we traveled about 30 minutes from our guest house to a rural village in Romania where we first met with Dee's foster family. I still remember the foster dad, who had to keep excusing himself from the room so that we couldn't see him tearing up as this sweet baby was placed in my arms. We spent about 30 minutes with them before walking up the street to meet with Grace and Sarah's foster family.  When we arrived, Grace and Sarah were napping (even though it was 10 o'clock in the morning). We all sat in a very small room, which was unbearably hot due to the wood stove which was cranking.  The foster parents insisted on feeding us lunch. I still remember the chicken and the corn on the cob that they served.  The girls finally got up, we played with them for a few minutes before the foster mother whisked them away and presented them to us dressed in the clothes that we had brought to them when we had visited in July.  With the help of our social worker, we finally started to make our way to the van and to say our good-byes.  It was an extremely emotional event!  The foster mother hugged and hugged Grace and we finally had to pry her out of her loving arms.  By this time, the entire village was there watching, saying good-byes and giving us all hugs and kisses.  We finally had to grab the girls, jump in the van and tell the driver to "GO!"

I will never forget that van ride back to the guest house.  I sat holding Dee, who at 20 months of age, was a happy, bubbly little baby content to sit on my lap and watch the scenery as it zoomed by.  Our dear friend, Sarah, held little Sarah in her lap and they sang and talked.  Bill had the hardest assignment of all....he had to hold on to Grace who was sobbing and screaming the entire way!  When we finally arrived "home" she crashed in his arms and he laid her down in her bed to sleep.  Whew!  So many emotions packed into 4 hours.

And that was how it all began for us....11 years ago in a small village in Romania.  We are so grateful for the love and care that our girls received from their foster families.  They have had the privilege of returning to Romania twice now and meeting these special people again.  Grace and Sarah's foster mom died a few  months after we adopted the girls and I rest fully assured that that sweet lady has found sweet Grace and is continuing to love on her in heaven!  She probably pried her out of the arms of Jesus so that she could hug that sweet girl all over again!
 Dee's foster parents and foster sister. Dad is holding Dee.
 Grace and Sarah's foster parents.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Two Weeks!!!!!!

Wow! I'm looking at the calendar and realizing that in 2 short weeks school will be starting up. I think I am still in a bit of denial about that.  I am thankful to Bill, S & D that I was able to get my classroom ready last week and I am "physically" prepared....just not emotionally!

I am trying to savor every last moment of summer. I have been blessed beyond what I could have dreamed with a relaxing summer with my family.  We were able to take three wonderful vacations....yes....THREE.....this summer and I feel so relaxed and blessed at the moment. But I also am a realist. I know that in two short weeks, which will fly by with garden harvesting, canning projects, school preparations, doctor's appointments, physical therapies, and all of the summer "to-do" projects (which I have put off until now) we will be back at the starting gates and will take off running---heads held high, pencils sharpened, soccer cleats by the door, the smell of chlorine permeating my daughters' hair as I kiss them goodnight---and BANG!!! another school year will be underway!!! I am already tired just thinking about it! I already know how weary I will feel come mid-October, when I start counting down days until Christmas break. I can feel the frustration over a dirty house, closets, drawers and entire rooms, which I had painstakingly organized over the summer (ahem...I mean all in the last two weeks of August--remember, because I spent my summer relaxing and put everything off until now?) in complete disarray, routines that have been set in place to keep order in a family of 7 falling apart and me feeling guilty for not having enough time to

.....have quiet time with God
....go to the gym
....go on a date with Bill
....spend one on one time with each girl
....have coffee with a friend
.....___________ ____________ ____________.....

I can fill in those blanks with any number of different scenarios.

I know that I will get tired, and frustrated, and begin to doubt why we do what we do, but hopefully I will be able to reflect back on some great family times of late nights and sleeping in, doing puzzles, reading, playing games, hiking, gold panning, roasting countless marshmallows by the fire, swimming, cook-outs with friends, shopping in little Greenville square with my teen and tween, and get up the courage to keep on going one day at a time.

Because before I know it the school year will fly by and we will be right back here, Lord willing, preparing to have a freshman in high school all the way down to a Kindergartener. Time goes by so fast. My prayer is that I can cherish each day and not wish them away as I count down days until the next ______________ break.
My beautiful girls at Fort Popham June 2013

Friday, February 8, 2013

NOT Parenting with grace

Tonight is one of those nights that I am glad I changed the name of my blog from "Parenting with Grace".....because there was certainly NO parenting with grace in this house tonight.  

My oldest twin (they are really 3 months apart) has been naughty ALL. WEEK. LONG!!!!  I am at my wits end with her.  She is a very strong personality and has a "take charge" kind of attitude.  I have been struggling with how to encourage this trait in her while also ensuring that she also learn how to obey directions from authority (ME) and not overstep her boundaries.  

Here are just some examples of her behavior that have driven me to near madness this week:

1. helped herself to a bag of chips after I specifically told her "no snacks". (It was an hour until lunch and I had told her I would get lunch ready in a few minutes). 

2. slammed the door in my face after I asked her to leave it open

3. Played Wii after she had lost the privilege of Wii for the day!

4. After I had asked her to sit in dining room while I made her hot cocoa she gets up and heads into living room to see what baby sister is doing.

5. Left my broom on the deck (in a snow storm) after I had told her to take care of it when she was done.  When I told her to go back out and get it she hollers at the other twin to "GO GET THE BROOM!"  

6. Removes the comb from the bathroom and loses it in play room. (special comb needed for our two African beauties-I was unable to do hair tonight because of this-they all know that this comb is OFF LIMITS!).

7. Repeatedly knocking her drink over at the table because she has an incessant need to touch EVERYTHING in her sight!

8. Hitting her sisters....

Ugh....the list goes on and on.  I have struggled to figure out what exactly it is that she is doing and why it bothers me so much.  I mean, come on, when one child seemingly keeps getting in trouble don't most parents try to figure out what the root cause is?  My conclusion is that she just can't stand to not be in charge.  She has to always know where everyone in the family is and what they are doing.  She is constantly taking things from her younger sisters because "she can do it better."  She is a boss. She is a bully.  And I am at a loss!  

I have taken away privileges, spanked her, used time out, sent her to bed early.....And, I've even tried the opposite....keeping her busy to make her feel like she's contributing to the family (she used to love to help), playing games one on one with her, fixed her hair nice including beads (she loves to feel "pretty"), etc.  NOTHING is working!  

Tonight I snapped!  I sent her to bed in anger, lashing out harsh words one after another, not even listening to myself and how ridiculous I must have sounded, dishing out one command after another about staying in bed until I came and got her in the morning, and taking away all dance privileges for the rest of the year if she didn't "turn it around" in the next few days.  (Now that's a clear order any child can follow, right?)  She was sobbing. I was yelling and slamming doors.  It was ugly! 

Meanwhile, the other twin was laying in bed in shell shock from this ridiculous behavior on the part of her mother.  I'm sure all of the behavioral psychologists out there must be cringing at the damage I have done in our attachment therapy, which has been a slow process since adopting her 6 months ago.   

I know I need to make things right, but for right now I just need to distance myself from her and cool off.  I am praying that tomorrow  will be a new day and that she will miraculously turn it around and start behaving, but somehow I doubt that will be the case.  For now I need to pray that I will be able to "parent with grace" for each instance that I'm faced with.  


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ask for Help!

So, many of you know my crazy husband, who is filled with grandeous ideas to save the "at risk" child at a time!  This drive of his leads to many trips around the world.  His latest endeavor has him in India for 10 days.  That may not seem like a long time, but when you have a husband like mine, who is ever so helpful around the house and is actively involved in the day to day care of our children, then his absence is sorely felt by all!

When he first started on these trips I would smile, wave good-bye, then begrudgingly undertake the day to day grind of caring for our family.  I would "suck it up" and pretend like I had it all together, because, after all, isn't that what "good" wives and moms do?

Many years and many tears later I have learned a valuable lesson.....ASK FOR HELP!!!!!  Nobody expects me to manage caring for a household of 5 young ladies all alone. (I was the only one who was holding myself to that standard.)  So, yesterday, I did just that.  I picked up the phone and called my trusty SIL and asked her to take my Monday afternoon carpool duty, which involves dropping D off at 2:30 to piano lessons, picking D up at 3:00, dropping S off at 3:00 for guitar lessons, taking D to math tutor, returning to pick up S at 3:30, then returning to pick up D at 4:30.  And if that doesn't sound crazy enough I still had dance lessons and swim practice, so guess what I did?  Yup....I picked up that trusty phone again and texted my neighbor and asked her to take dance "duty" for the night, and if she would mind dropping S&D at swim on the way (so they were a little early, but it's all in the name of my sanity, right?)

Now when I first started asking for help I felt....wait for it.....GUILTY!!!!!   I am glad to say that I didn't feel a twinge of guilt yesterday. I felt a sense of relief. I knew I was doing myself and my family a great favor by not putting such high expectations on myself that I could never live up to.

By releasing myself from transportation duties for the afternoon I was able to focus my morning on homeschooling my girls, knowing that I would still have time to make dinner for my family, which we were then able to share with SIL and her husband as a thank you for their help.  It also gave me some much needed time together with my little girls, which is sometimes hard to come by in our crazy evening schedules. (My two oldest girls swim 5 nights a week and my husband works evenings, so much of our time together is spent in the car.....not always so much fun.)

I wish that I had learned the art of asking for help much earlier on in my motherhood.  I think many moms fear asking for help.  Society places such high pressures on us to be able to "do it all".  We "should" be able to hold down a full time job, get the kids the best education possible, cart the kids to all of their extracurricular activities, make the family a home cooked meal, and still look good for the hubby when he comes home.  For some reason we still live with the "Leave it to Beaver"  and "Happy Days" mentality of motherhood.  I encourage you to LET. THAT. GO!!!!

I did and my family is ever so grateful that I did!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Name Change

When we got back from Latvia this past summer, I actually thought about changing the name of my blog.  Let's face it....there wasn't always a whole lot of "parenting with grace" going on in our household and I found myself, on more than one occasion, not wanting to share things in fear that it wouldn't exactly be what people were expecting when they logged onto a blog with that name.

When we returned home I was the proud mother of a 12, 11, 5, 5 and 3 year old.  In less than 2 weeks my oldest will turn 13 which has led me to think about what life will be like with a "teenager".  This led to my new title, "Teens, Tweens, Twins & a 3 Year Old".  (I'm still not sure what I'll call it when my youngest turns 4, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.)

I'm in hopes to be better about blogging some of daily life in our household. My goal is to share that I am just a "normal" mom with a crazy schedule, who sometimes blows her top while trying to parent this brood of girls.