Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Firsts of Christmas

The First Christmas

There have been a good number of firsts as we watch this year come to a close

Tonight, as I held my “new” little one (and though he is almost six years old, he is still a tiny little boy) and rocked him to sleep with my homespun version of “Katusha,” a Russian national favorite, my eyes welled up and my stomach got tight. My mind began to swirl…

He got left. Ian got left as a baby to fend for himself.

He was left alone. To “grow” up or to not. To be happy or to be terrified. To live or to die. Not a single call, not a single visit. No one inquired. No room at the “IN” side of anyone’s heart for this one little boy, for five years.

Not until God opened ours, to him. On Christmas Eve, the day that Christ was born, is four months home for Ian. 4 months out of 5 years has this child known love, a family, safety, play, needs met, an education, and God. Seems like a grain of sand to me, in all of what he has missed.

The pain inside our hearts and minds for the many little soulds that we had to leave behind, will never, ever leave me. Many times, it makes me feel insane and I do not know where to put it all or how to deal with it. Feeling compelled to act and speak and advocate and fundraise for orphaned children (with special needs or not), was a FIRST for us this year. A BIG first.

People tell us, and we often tell ourselves, that everything is okay now because he is here with us. That is true in some respects and not in others. Effects from the “O” (the orphanage) may never leave him, we just don’t know. I see some fading but then only to be replaced by others. Young children are so very impressionable, and the impressions leave psychological and physiological marks. My biggest prayer this Christmas is that he be able to leave the “O” behind and truly come live with us in this new place we call “home.”

Christmas was a BIG bang start to him leaving the O.

People that have adopted many times over have commented to me that for a “first” adoption, we went buck wild. Meaning that we took on an international special needs rescue (watch this) with zero dollars in the bank and just 8 months to get to Ian before he turned five years old and was taken away to the institution where he could no longer be adopted from. His life there…would not have been one.A good friend Julia has written extensively about the horrors these children face being transferred from their baby houses or preschool type orphanages, to the institutions. If you are in search of truth and understanding, please click HERE to read about Aaron.

Knowing him these 4 months now (Christmas eve marking 4 months home for him exactly), we know that our little man would have been TERRIFIED, and that he would have sunk into himself so far that he would have been lost and broken, and that is how he would have lived until he died.

Thank God for the first time we saw his face, and that there was enough time to save him, and that more than 600 people gave more than 40,000 dollars for his ransom. Just. Thank. God.


Now, for our holidays in review:

I asked Santa for a special Christmas for Ari and Ian, and boy did he deliver!
Love me some Santa baby!


First off, our kids are five. They know the reason for the season, and Reece’s Rainbow Angel Tree ornaments hang on our tree (many, many, more to come for as long as an orphan needs a family). We are confident they are caring little boys, they are humble too, and we did not teach them that per se, I think they are just really special little boys. We are so blessed by them. EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.

This was our first Christmas spent at home. The two week break from school and work opened with a trip to the Georgia Aquarium. Leave it to my two kids to take the stage when no one was invited to do so! Please note the biggest fish in the world swimming over Ari in the largest tank of this kind in the WORLD. There are 4 Whale Sharks at the GA Aquarium.

The first decorations were hung on the tree the weekend before, each child delighting in the process, and each wanting to go higher and higher up the tree each time. Oye, our backs!

I did manage to make one smart move, I abandoned my urge for pretty glass ornaments and went the plastic, shatter proof route for the kids. What a lifesaver! I cannot count how many times those “balls” went flying. I do believe that anything round and hand size, for a small child, is automatically recognized as a ball to be thrown!

On the 19th, we went to see Santa for our annual Christmas picture with Santa. Ari got to ask Santa for a race track, the only thing he wanted for all of Christmas. Ian on the other hand, tried to pull off Santa's real beard.

On the 20th, the boys and I had a nice little meeting with Santa at the Down Syndrome play group…oh so much!...another change for Ari to ask Santa again for a race track! Ian on the other hand, tried again to pull off Santa's real beard. Cool thing about the mind of a child, they have no concept (unless we teach it to them) or race or color or size or shape - Santa is Santa no matter who he is. My kids thought Santa was the same Santa each time we saw him around town these past few weeks. Ahhh, I love these boys!

Later that week, our first winter project! Gingerbread creations that outlasted the astonishing pace at which Ari consumed the candy decorations for the train, and Ian’s attempts to eat the structural cookie walls!

Friday, a divine meeting happened at our home. A little backstory if you will: The boys have had an incredible train set for more than a year. Craig and I built a custom, 6 foot by 6 foot train table for Ari’s 4th birthday. The Geo Trax set had over 800 pieces and it was amazing. It served so well to help us play with our kids.

Alas, the train table began to fall to the wayside recently. The boys wanting us to drive them to Barnes and Nobles everyday so they could play with the wooden Thomas set in the kids book department. Our mission was clear, sell the big train table and devise a smaller, fixed track, under the bed, wood set. Sounds easy right?

RIGHT! At the very first listing of the kids’ train table and massive train set on Craigslist in Atlanta (a metro area of more than 5 million people) a woman named Anna called me. Anna is a special name to us right now, I can’t say why but just know, it has something to do with Ian’s old “O” and a rescue in progress.

Anyway, Anna, who is mom to three (soon to be 4, and then 5 and 6) sent her husband Carl to come for the train table. Mr. Carl and I exchanged friendly conversation as we packed up the train set for his children. He noticed me speaking Russian to Ian. He asked about it. To make a long and wonderful story short, Carl and Anna, complete strangers to us, are right now in the process for a Russian Adoption of one and hopefully TWO children with special needs that they found at….wait for it….Reece’s Rainbow! WOW! No way! The chances of this meeting being by chance carries impossible odds. This meeting marked the first time I met someone that was in the process for RR that we did not already know. Needless to say, this family and us are going to be friends. AMAZING!

Later that Friday night, the new train table was done. Yes, I THINK I am crafty, although I always bite off more than I can chew and have ten projects going and never finish any of them. This week I completed TWO wood projects for the boys. The under the bed train table with fixed track, and an under the bed rolling storage drawer. I love how both turned out and the kids loved the train table. Space being a commodity around here, these two items will go a long way in helping us stay organized and sane!


On Christmas Eve, we had our first ever at home, in front of the fire and tree, mommy and daddy reading of the Night Before Christmas and a new book called the TOYS Night Before Christmas, complete with our caps, santa and gingerbread socks, and wintery attire. So fitting for a long winter’s nap. HA - I wish! The kids wake up at 6:30 am!!

We admired the mantle and our special ornaments

A snow globe of Red Square in Moscow, given to me by my mother more than 20 years ago

Our Reece’s Rainbow Angel Tree Ornaments

Ari’s Trains

Left milk and cookies for Santa (Ian objected vehemently! He truly believed the cookies and milk were for him!)

After the boys were asleep, daddy and I put all the gifts out and watched the fire dwindle on the couch together. No words, just sleep:)

On Christmas morning, a prayer of thanks be to God, and then a mad dash to see if Mr. Claus did indeed brave our chimney for two little boys, to make real on their visions of some special new toys! OH.BOY! just take a look.

Ian's first gift opening

Ari's excitement!


This week began with my FIRST TURKEY EVER! Chosen and cooked by me (not mentioning the pan incident whereby I had NO PAN for the bird and had to run out to buy one wasting precious roasting hours!). I am proud to say it was an organic turkey too! It was the best meal, and shared with family from afar. The boys’ great-grandparents drove 7 hours to be with them for a few days! My near 90 grandmother plays ON THE FLOOR with the kids...hotwheels, reads books, pretend plays – she’s awesome! We opened their gifts and sipped some nog, laughed and had a good old traditional family Christmas dinner together. My mother and grandmother declaring that the torch was successfully passed and that I done good on all the victuals of Turkey, dressing, sour pickles, mashed and yams, rolls….etc. Oh my goodness, does this mean I'm old?

Ari & Ian's great grandparents. Our gift for grandpa Dale,
a military flag with his Marine service inscribed

Tonight, our first official post placement visit will occur and the report will be sent to Russia to be read by the judge that granted our adoption. I hope she feels proud of her choice for Ian, we thinks it was a good one!

Happy Holidays everyone!

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Led Heart, Welcome to the HOPE reader

So, here it is folks! Our brand new blog! I know that everyone, friends and family alike, have been waiting for new some pictures and updates on our two wonderful boys, and our personal adult journey's through adopting Ian, and everything else blessed this way comes.

I'm so happy to report that we are ready to share!

The HOPE reader will be "my" virtual depository of all kinds of experiences. The only promises I can make about our new blog is that a good amount of time will be spent trying to document and share those moments in our lives that are meaningful to us, that move us, and that change us. There will also be nonsense fun of the type living with very small children, boys at that, brings… along with things just for the heck of it.

First and foremost, we want every person who donated to Ian's adoption to know that we will be eternally grateful for your caring about this one little boy so far away. He was so totally worth it. We look at him everyday and imagine what if...more than 600 of you said, "it's too late for Ian" or "he's too affected by his life thus far in an orphanage" or "I just don't have the money to give" or "my $3.00 won't help them" or even, "if they can't afford it, they should not be adopting" - which incidentally, we were told many, many times over the year plus it took to get Ian home.

Thank you letters and photographs are making their way through the US postal system to the more than 100 addressees that we have on record as having donated to Ian's adoption. Many people handed us cash, people we don't know sent us cash, and all who donated via Reece's Rainbow, have no accessible addressees for us to mail to. Therefore, we are saying to all of you that we cannot reach via letter:

May God continue to bless you and may you too experience, in leaps and bounds, opportunities to increase your faith, to change your heart, and to grow closer in your relationships. Please continue to help HIS children find their way home. If you are in need of a place to start with that, my unspeakably wonderful friend JULIA, is having a tremendously inspirational life giving GIVE-A-WAY on her blog located below, it's worth the 5 min. it will take to check it out today (p.s. you might want to have some tissue on hand).

The Passed over Babes Give-a-Way

I think one of the most incredible things that God does in my life is to remind me that in order find him, I must be willing to be led. The led heart is the heart that will touch things that are of God. My opening post is about dying to self enough to allow ones heart to be led. The led heart is opened to much love, along with much of what is disturbing to many of us about the day to day reality of life on earth. Make no mistake, I plan on working on being a led heart, more and more and more….

I have learned so much since Ian came home, and what is special to me about that fact is that Ari was the foundation that God built for me to ever begin to believe that I could be a mom to two little guys with pervasive, lifelong, intensive special needs. Being a mom is a gift, and a sometimes gut wrenching experience. A couple of weeks ago, my little man Ari fell down the stairs in our home. I am still horrified at the picture of him crying, his little body just sprawled out on the landing, it was gut wrenching. He is okay, but to give you an idea of how painful that fall, and scary it was for Ari, he ended up getting a rug burn bad enough to take the skin off up UNDER his nose on the upper lip. Just imagine how he had to fall to get that, horrible I tell you. We have no idea how he fell. He has been so consistently good on the stairs…this happened right as we were preparing to take the kids for their holiday photos. They still turned out delicious though, don’t you think? I did some photo magic to take the burn mark out of the first pic.

Ari - Age 5

Ian - Age 5 (no, he did not have ANY fun at the photo session)

our lil' guys

The day after Ari's fall my cell phone rang in the middle of the day from Ari’s school (immediate panic set in as they never call), it was Ari’s facilitator Shannon. Ari attends school with his “typically developing” peers, with the help of a 4.5 hour a day 1:2 aide. On this day, she told me something amazing about our Ari. She told me that at about 12 noon EST, he became a swimmer! Say what Ms. Shannon? His swim teacher’s first name is Faith. Ms. Faith has worked one on one with Ari since August, once a week in the indoor pool at Ari’s school. That day, my 5 year old son with pervasive, lifelong, and intensive special needs, my little man diagnosed with Autism, that day after his terrible fall, he JUMPED off of the RACING PLATFORM, into the deep end, popped back up, and swam unassisted to the edge of the pool and hung on. He did it with a little floppy body that was bruised and sore from his fall the day before. Can you say TROOPER? This kid is AMAZING. I am so humbled to know him.

Craig has been in the pool with Ari since he was 14 months old

Ari has aquatic therapy too, working on building tone

Ari's 5th birthday recognition at his preschool

My brave little fireman! Halloween 2011

As I hugged Ari and praised him when I went to his preschool classroom later on the day of swimming miracle, for their Thanksgiving play and “Kosher Feast,” I was dumbstruck by the juxtaposition of Ari’s miracle in the pool and his disaster on the steps. We moms of kids with special needs, I think we can all say that we stay on high “alert” nearly 99.9 percent of the hours in our days. That position is exhausting, mentally and often physically. Ari has been doing SO WELL on the stairs. Not so much on curbs, or in the house at large, but the steps have been FINE.

With so much to concentrate on, for each boy (Ian coincidentally prefers to go down the steps on his bottom at break neck speed), I forgot about the stairs, to me, it had been MASTERED. Mastery is a funny word though, it comes and goes, just like thinking you “know” God and you “trust” in his promises. If I am honest with myself, and if I am looking for those things that are roadblocks to becoming a led heart – it is the coming and going of my faith. Never lost completely, but for certain there are ebbs and flows. These boys are such sprited reminders that my faith MUST rest securely from day to day in my heart, which I so much desire to be purely led.

Later in that week, I got a rare chance to run outside before some very severe weather hit Atlanta. I attempted to do 5 miles. This was day two of kind of trying to get back to running, since I set a goal about a month ago to run those same mountain 5 miles with rolling hills and mile long inclines, in 41 min. Not because I’m turning 41 in May or anything. I just thought “41/41” would be a cool slogan I could use to self-motivate. After my run however, I may be in trouble. Not saying how “fast” I ran them miles (if I can even use the word fast)…just saying, I have my work beautifully cut out for me! Stay tuned to the RUNNING page for more 41/41 updates.

Ian running through the Pumpkin Patch field this fall, likely much
faster and nibble than I around the mountain!

At a moment of just plain stopping running calculated rest, I removed my headphones, turned the music I was listening to off, and listened to the earth. The sound of the wind, the leaves, the smell in the air of a rain storm that was near, and even the whizzing of a biker passing me…it was all so PEACEFUL, that I cried to God in thanks for the blessing of that moment. Physically, I was a wreck and couldn’t run another step.

Spiritually, my heart was being led to a period on the mountain when I cried out loud for all the blessings that surrounded me. I heard myself. When is the last time you simply stood outside, with no one else around, and listened to the earth? Asking myself, I cannot tell you, I do not recall, has it been YEARS? Perhaps. God leads us to what we need, and often we will not see the truth of that statement until the moment has passed us. I’m going to start paying better attention.

Since you last saw us, we were in the throws of adjustment to several things: another child (1 is WAY different than 2! Don’t let anyone fool you!), a change in Ari’s entire routine (new school, new teachers, new schedule, new brother), the emotional and financial recovery from an intensive adoption “rescue” if you will, and just the restarting of our lives after Ian landed on August 24th.

Today, we are still in all that stuff above, and I think we will be for some time. What has changed is that we are starting to be able to etch out a microcosm of consistency with our lives and the boys. There is SO much Craig and I would like to do creatively and with the kids, we hope to get to a place soon where it all clicks and we can all feel at home and at peace (we have peace, all the time no matter our circumstances as a gift from above, so the peace I mean is more like the yelling and stomping and wayward hand waving of one certain Russian General that has infiltrated our ranks!).

I’m no shrink, but I think we are wading through it all “okay”. I truly do not have a thing to complain about, especially if I think back to all of the moments of PEACE and HOPE that come from being a led heart. Putting those moments together to make a complete day is where I’m heading. I’m excited to go there.

Ian is doing okay, which is a loaded word because it includes the times he's doing fantastic and the times he's still hurting from the atrocity of his upbringing before we knew him. YES, I said ATROCITY! and it is. I DID NOT know what a life spent in an orphanage could do to a child. Now I know, and Ian's "effects" I think are light compared to some of the truly sickening places these kids get pulled from. WE (i.e. us humans, are allowing some truly awful things to happen to children, and I pray for an end to it all one day soon. You know, you can MAKE a BABY go insane by leaving him lay all day for years....) Someone once told me they respected my blog because I kept it real, and I intend to continue that trend…sugar (and sugar coating) is bad for your health anyway! So, here are the truths about Ian and our adoption and our adjustment so far:

  • This is great. These kids have changed us. We are better because and for them. Without them, I do not want to know where I would be. We have a real man at the helm of our little family too, and he keeps it all together. He works when his is sick, and has not had a day off in over a year. I am surrounded by Saints and Angels (and a Vampire, a pink Butterfly Fairy, and an overworked Firefighter!). It IS a beautiful life.
Ian, friend Olivia, and Ari enjoying their loot!
  • Ian can count to 5, say HI and BYE in English, knows who we are, learned how to cut (assisted), can kind of draw a circle, is starting to listen better, understands MOST English, has stylish new glasses, loves to eat cheese and anything sweet, comes to us for hugs and is learning to give kisses sans the head-butting upon approach! he's a great mom and dad's helper, and he is tolerating Ari's massive bear hugs and 3-4 times and hour sloppy kisses:) He shows concern for all of us, and he's learning about the world, and this list goes on....
Ian and his preschool teacher Ms. Sara

Ian's progress on drawing (and face recognition) Dec. 2011 - Done Independently

Ian's practice writing the letter "I" with hand over hand assistance
(the fact that he was cooperative was a big deal, he resists writing most times)
  • This is hard. Mainly because we are tired. We are doing this just the two of us, there is no family here and to be frank, when you have kids with special needs, you cannot just get anyone to come in and break you. If you do, you could risk the unlearning of so much that you spent time working on. God has blessed us. We have two wonderful high school girls that come each week to help us. The boys are still in 100 percent supervision at all times mode and Ian is always such. It is costly but we are realists and hey, mom and dad have to have a few hours to do housework and brush our own teeth.
  • Ian refuses to get on the bus to school by throwing massive tantrums, he still hits others, he is very defiant and generally naughty (naughty in the 5 year old boy sense but turned up a few notches), he has less than zero impulse control, breaks most anything he gets his hands on, can have a very ugly attitude, spits or makes some lewd or rude hand gesture when he feels he's being controlled, and this list kinda keeps going on too....
  • Ari loves Ian. He says, all the time, "I love my brother very much." They are becoming peas in a pod. When Ian learns to talk, I am sure the relationship will get better and better.
  • Ian loves Ari. Whenever Ari cries, Ian is upset too. He will come to comfort him too, with a hug, a blown kiss, and a pat on the back. Pouring water over his head during bath time is also another favorite expression of play from Ian to Ari. Ari loves it BTW. Oh, and a "hot shower" is Ian's new favorite thing that he never experienced before, he absolutely squeals, screams, dances and laughs in delight in the shower.
Where one goes, as does the other! (The kids picked their own costumes!)
  • We see so much progress from Ian, he is a VERY (understatement) SMART boy. His problem solving processes are incredible. Part of the reason he breaks stuff is that wants to KNOW how it was put together, lay out the pieces, examine them and put them back together then move on to the next good looking multi piece item to farm for parts. While he is not yet playing with toys in the way they are intended, he is a creative beast. His current love is stacking things.
Ian on his first ever trip to the bowling alley! To say he LOVED it would be a serious understatement, although the turn taking was not a hit with him:)

Ian and Ari at a Korean BBQ. Ian is a picky eater but when he decides he likes something, he'll shovel it in with a vengeance! Ari on the other hand ate his way through the table, he's a connoisseur of everything foodish!

  • This is humbling. No explanation needed.
  • This is a gift to us of epic proportions.
  • God sustains us though it all.
  • We are practicing, everyday, being led.

A family friend came to see the boys:) Ari, Gabby, and Ian

We've been to a record number of birthday parties this fall! More than 7 already!

This is a special picture for us, Ian is still adjusting to human touch, and close, loving touch (that of a mother) is really something I think feels so strange to him. I think he likes it but he is still figuring all of that out. This was the first time (other than when he has been sick), that he crawled up into my arms on his own seeking that mama love:)

I wanna say a bit more about Ian and affection, because I think there is somewhat of an illusion that even though these kids are "raised" in orphanages, that the caregivers love on them. There are many realities that you just do not see until you are there standing in the midst of 10,11,12 special needs babies all clamoring for attention. The caregivers work 24 hours shifts. There is 1 caregiver and 1 aide per shift. ONE. Ponder that. Further, the little girls are better off for a number of reasons, one being by default in the baby houses and kind of preschool orphanages, because they have long hair. Prior to head shaving in the institutions, the girls have long hair and their hair has to be touched to be done. This is an opportunity for them to experience closer human touch than the regular herding that takes place. Ian can totally dress, undress, and potty himself. He's 5. This did not happen by chance, he can do buttons, zippers, and to the finest details. Ari would run the streets "poodle nuckie" (our word for birthday suit attire) if left to his own dressing devices.

Ian was rarely touched, that is OBVIOUS. Loving touch was likely non-existant because loving touch has to do also with connections with people. With different caregivers coming and going, this possibility was slim as well. For Ian, he had another thing not going for him. In our final adoption papers we became privy to some further information about the culture under which he lived. We already knew that being a person of color in Russia was not all the rage. We felt it when we were there. In the papers, we found his detailed medical history. There, about 3/4 of the page down, appeared his list of "deseases."

Deseases: Trisomy 21 Downs Syndrome, Strabismus, Negroid Skin......

Did you catch that? NEGROID SKIN is considered a "desease". Awesome.

So again, back to the human touch thing. Add it all up for yourself. This is ALL news to him. He just was not the number one choice to be a cuddlebug in his life and it HAS impacted him.

What does that little bit of information lead you to? HOPE for Ian because he might now be able to be reprogrammed to accept loving touch? It's a great possibility, we are living on hope.

Perhaps, considering this, you will be LED, or allow your heart to be LED to stop this from happening to other children. YOU HAVE THE ABILITY to be the LED hands and feet of God right now. This is Katie. She was just adopted from a place where the children are barely kept alive. The barley part is unbearable. How old is Katie? She's NINE YEARS OLD. She's the size of a NINE MONTH OLD. Food is important to survival, it is necessary. Human touch is too. Without human touch, GROWTH IS STUNTED.

Once her MAMA got a hold of Katie (oh my such a brave a faifthful family!), just a month later, look at her! She IS coming alive! Even the doctors said she was too far gone to ever grow again. LOOK at what the LED HEART can do!

You can keep up with Katie HERE, and please consider donating to this year's Reece's Rainbow Christmas Angel tree via JULIA's BLOG. So many babes passed over, so many....let's TOUCH THEM with LOVE and HOPE, while we give thanks for all the ways we are all so very blessed.

Next week: The road to our first ever Christmas at home.

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