Friday, July 8, 2016

Family Vacation and Respite in One!

Wow!  It's hard to believe that in just ONE MONTH Milena and Aleks will have been home for an entire year!  Where has the time gone?  It feels like they've only been home a few months, yet that they've always been here!

School ended for the kids at the end of June (for a 2 week period, they go back next week!)  On Friday, June 23rd we left at 4:30am to go to the annual Reece's Rainbow Reunion.  This year it was held at the Jelly Stone Campground in Mammoth Cave, KY.  Jason and I have been looking forward to this trip for several months.  Don't get me wrong, we have some AMAZING friends and family in our community, but to be able to spend an entire week with other families that have adopted children with special needs is a HUGE blessing!  These other families "get it."  They don't judge you or your children as they've likely been there and done that.  The fellowship and comradery is much needed for parents of children with special needs.  It provides a bit of respite even.

There are people out there who will say things like "you asked for it" or "you brought this on yourself" in regards to the behaviors or medical problems that accompany an adopted child with special needs.  To an extent this may be true as families prepare the best they can when they know the child they are hoping to adopt.  They research the conditions and medical needs before ultimately saying "yes" to adoption.  BUT adoption also has many surprises and I dare say that most families at one point or another feel they have bitten off more than they can chew.  (I was there when Claudia first came home and wanted little to do with me except bite me and pull my hair!)  Just because a family decides to adopt a child with special needs does not mean that they have it all together and don't need support.  In fact the opposite is likely true.  All adoptive families need the support of the friends and family.  Adoption is a beautiful thing but it is also hard.  Adoption puts added stress on families for a time.

Imagine being taken from the only home you've ever known (no matter how poor the conditions) and being placed into the arms of strangers who talked funny and smelled funny.  Now imagine they are hugging you and holding you tight when you've never been cared for in such a way.  This holding makes you feel confined and you don't like it, so you strike back, you scream, cry, hit kick, bite... and try to get away by any means possible. Now these strangers are trying to make you eat foods you've never had before so you rebel and refuse to eat.  You don't know who these people are or if they are going to hurt you.  Now you are placed in an unfamiliar bed and expected to sleep.  The sounds are different than what you are used to, perhaps it's too quiet.  There are no other children crying.  Perhaps the strangers are singing to you in their funny voices but you don't know what they are saying.  After several days of this, you start to get used to these strangers and maybe even like them!  Then the next thing you know, you are on a noisy airplane and your ears hurt.  Upon landing there are dozens of strangers with funny voices doting on you but you are exhausted and not used to being fussed over, so you break down... again.   Now you find yourself in another new place, the strangers call it "home."  It is unlike any place you have been before, yet another change in your life.  As you start to get comfortable with the strangers who call themselves "Mommy" and "Daddy" you wonder when the next change will come, will another set of strangers come and take you away?  You have not known much stability in your life, so you don't know what to expect...

You see, adoption is not a fairy tale in the eyes of the adopted child.  At least not at first.  Many children don't understand what is happening to them and can react very poorly to the process.  Often times it can take several months or longer for a newly adopted child to feel secure in their new home.  At any time something can trigger a memory from the past and set them off.  Most families go through a "honeymoon" period with their newly adopted child as the child begins to feel secure and wants to please their new family so they can stay.  After the honeymoon many children rebel and want to test the limits to see if they'll be sent away for negative behavior.  It's after this rebellion phase that children generally start to come around and integrate themselves into the family.  They begin to realize that family is forever and that no matter what, they will have this family forever.

Adoption is hard but oh so beautiful!  Other adoptive families genuinely understand this.

This is why Jason and I looked forward to our week in KY.  We got to spend a week together as a family without the interruptions of school and work, and we got to spend the week with some other amazing people and awesome kiddos.  The other great parts about the Reece's Rainbow reunion was getting to see the children that we'd followed online, to see the real life the transformations that family can have on a child, and to give and receive encouragement.

Our children had a blast!  Most of our days were spent in the pool.  Claudia has been a fish ever since our first Reece's Rainbow reunion in 2014 and loved every minute of it.  Aleks was unsure of the water at first but quickly decided it was a giant bathtub to splash in.  He did great and was even maneuvering himself about the pool.  Milena was afraid of the water at first, despite being able to touch the bottom.  After much work she too was swimming all over the pool with her life vest on.  Milena has even learned to jump into the pool (she previously was unable to jump in a forward motion at all!)

Besides swimming we met Yogi, had cookouts with other families, played at the park, made smores, jumped on a jump pillow, went to a zoo, mingled with the other adoptive families, met some truly amazing children and got away from the daily grind!

Smores are messy!

The zoo we went to was called Kentucky Down under which featured several different animals from Australia including a python, dingos, kangaroos, emu, laughing kookaburra, cava/mara and more.  They also had sheep, goats, donkeys, peacock, tropical birds, owls, working dogs a draft horse and more.  That place was something else!  While there we got to pet and feed kangaroos!  I never thought they would be as soft as they were!  I even found a kangaroo with a joey in it's pouch and felt it kick! We also got to feed the lorikeets which where beautiful birds!  Milena loves animals although she was somewhat nervous around the goats and sheep as well as the lorikeets.  Milena was fine petting the python.. go figure!  While feeding the lorikeets Milena had one land on her shoulder and head, whe was NOT impressed and got a little freaked out but she did really well and didn't even scare the bird away!

Just chillin!

This red kangaroo had a joey in her pouch!

Claudia was trying to kiss the bird!

Claudia wanted to blow the goats nose!

This was a BIG horse!
We had an amazing time at the reunion this year and look forward to being able to go again.  Everyone was sad to leave and wanted to stay.  We truly had a nice break from our day to day lives and were able to relax and enjoy time together as a family.  I hope over the years that our children will be able to build friendships through these events!

Everyone in yellow was adopted with the help and support of Reece's Rainbow!
Thank you Reece's Rainbow!

Friday, April 1, 2016

7+ months home update

Living life as a family of five has been an adventure!  So many things have happened since Aleks and Milena came home in August.  We've been busy managing doctors appointments, surgeries,  IEP meetings, other school meetings, half days, holidays and everything in between!  The kids are doing so well overall but life is not without difficulties.

Claudia has grown in so many ways since Milena and Aleks came home.  She recently had her 3 year school review and has made huge progress in the past 7 months alone.  Having siblings has helped her so much!  When Claudia came home just over 3 years ago, she tested in the 9-18 month range in most areas; she is now testing as high as 48 months in some!  Claudia continues to use ASL as her primary method of communication but I still have hope that she will one day find her voice and will be able to communicate with everyone.  Her frustration levels have decreased so much and we don't see negative behaviors nearly as often.

Claudia adores her little brother and can often be found getting his pajamas and diaper ready at bed time.  She likes cuddling with him and also wrestling around on the floor.  One of these days I think he'll be bigger than Claudia and then she'll have her work cut out for her!  She loves her brother all the time... except for when he pulls her hair!  Just a little ironic huh? 

Claudia looks up to her big sister, Milena.  She frequently wants to do whatever Milena is doing.  Claudia has learned a lot from her including how to help clean and clear the table.  Claudia is learning to be more independent all the time although she regresses occasionally when she wants attention and won't eat unless she is fed.  She does get jealous at times although it's nothing more than any other siblings. 

Did I mention how much Claudia has grown physically?  I don't know exactly how much taller and leaner she has gotten but just comparing pictures from even just a year ago is amazing!  She'll always be small but she's growing!

Milena's English is getting better all of the time.  She still struggles with who, what, when, why and how.  At this time she does not have a handle on those concepts.  She is learning sight words and doing well with phonics as well.  One day she'll love to read just like her parents.  Her self care skills have improved and she is very independent.  Milena is a super sweet girl which has led to a few boundary issues that we've mostly worked out.  She really wants to please people and can shut down at times when she thinks someone is mad at her.  Milena loves her family and loves being a big sister. Milena is a good big sister but can be bossy at times, so we're working on that.  She wants to help out, sometimes a little too much...  Milena is such a great child although we do have some struggles.  The most difficult things we are dealing with right now is her story-telling.  Milena struggles with truth/lie, reality/fantasy and wants to please people by answering their questions how she thinks they want them answered, not necessarily the truth.  This has led to some difficulties with the school and we're trying to figure out how best to handle this.  I can't believe that we're going to have a teenager in less than 6 months!!!


Aleks has come a long way since August.  He has finally been putting on weight, about 2lbs since coming home.  He can eat most of the foods we eat (cut up very small) instead of just pureed food.  Aleks will eat almost anything although he does not like anything to do with apples!  He LOVES his veggies though, so I can't complain.  Aleks went from drinking strictly from a bottle to using a straw and is even doing some open cup drinking!  His heart looks great and he has been weaned from his pulmonary hypertension meds!  Aleks has gotten so much stronger, he's not the wet noodle that he was when he came home!  He's been walking short distances unassisted and can walk pretty well holding one hand.  Aleks is paying more attention to his surroundings and responds to his name.  He has learned his first sign ("more") and is using it appropriately.  Aleks still struggles with playing with toys appropriately, he likes to bang things and make loud noises!  Our biggest struggles with him are the self-harm.  Lately Aleks has been punching himself in the head and face and laughing about it.  The self-harm behaviors are so hard to watch!  He's also gotten into pulling the hair of others and smacking at people (mostly me) at times.  I really think he is beginning to understand when he does something wrong but he just gets a big grin on his face and laughs about it.  We're working on these behaviors too.  This boy is such a ham though!




As a family we've made day trips to the local parks, the play museum and the zoo.  It's not easy to get out with all of the kids but it is so worth it! 

Jason and I are still figuring out our "new normal."  We still have some doctors appointments to tackle and we'll be glad when we're down to just routine visits.  Our house had not been clean in over 7 months and the laundry and dishes are never ending but things could be so much worse!

As you can see, it's not all sunshine and roses but we take things a day at a time and count our blessings.  Things have gone so well and could have gone a lot worse.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Angel Tree 2015

It's that time of year again Reece's Rainbow's Angel Tree!  Angel Tree is up and running and this year I have chosen a 12 year old girl called "Rebecca" from Asia to be my Angel Tree child.  My goal is to raise at least $1000 towards a grant fund for her.  On the right hand side of this blog you will see the link to her page.

Here is what Rebecca's file says about her (and continue reading to learn see some great T-shirts to help her grant fund grow):
Down syndrome
A family hosted her two summers ago and would love to see her find her forever family. They’d be happy to talk to inquiring families.  Comments from her host mother:
She is spunky, lively, funny. She had SUCH personality. She responded to love, to being held. She was strong-willed. Very much a “mommy”, too. But, if you had to tell her she did something she shouldn’t, she would break down and cry. So, I would hold her on my lap and she would curl up, close her eyes, and fake being asleep. She just wanted to be loved. She was funny, and LOVED to help. She loved sweeping and cleaning.

When here, we got her glasses but she didn’t like to wear them. She even hid them once. I would try to get her to wear them, but I didn’t want a “battle of wills” to develop. I let it go, and she would occasionally put them on. She had nystagmus, her eyes shook, and her head would shake a bit, too. It was very endearing to me. When she would insist on something she would stomp her foot, cross her arms, and give me a serious look. It made me smile. She can be bossy!
She LOVED swimming! The picture in the purple shirt and sunglasses is at the pool. Every day she would put her swimsuit on, waiting to go swimming, all ready to go in case we went! She blossomed so much! When she first came, she would not let me hug her, or touch her. I kept at it, she eventually curled up in my lap when upset. I would rock her to sleep.
She had the BEST laugh! I mean, with her entire heart and soul!! I. Loved. It!

Why did I choose Rebecca?  She reminds me so much of our Milena.  She is sweet, funny and mommy-like and they were both born in the summer of 2003.  Milena waited nearly 12 years for a family of her own and Rebecca is still waiting.  I am hoping that my advocating for her this Angel Tree will help get her some exposure as well as raise some funds towards her grant.  Now for a few pictures of sweet Rebecca:

How sweet is this precious girl?  I am in contact with the family that hosted her a couple of summers ago.  If you have questions, I can direct you to the family.

How can you help?  You can use Rebecca's link on the side of my page to make a direct donation to her Angel Tree fun.  If you donate $35 or more, you will receive a Christmas ornament with her beautiful picture on it!

I will also be holding several fundraisers over the next weeks to help raise her grant money.  I currently have several t-shirt fundraisers going on and will list them all below.  Each of the t-shirts is available in more colors than are pictured below and most are offered as a unisex size, women's size and sweatshirt.  Please take a look at the pictures below to see my current T-shirt fundraisers: