Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Three Musketeers and Advocacy Post

Once upon a time there was a beautiful little blonde girl named Milena.  Milena spent her days in an orphanage in Eastern Europe.  The care she received was very good but there were several other children there and she didn’t get the one-on-one attention she deserved.  Milena saw several of her friends leave the orphanage to go home with their new mommas and papas.  Milena wondered why she didn’t have a mamma or papa, she wondered if there was something wrong with her. You see, Milena was left at this orphanage in Eastern Europe primarily because she has Down syndrome.  In her country the medical care is not great and her birth mother did not feel she had the resources to take care of her.  In Milena’s birth country, there is no place for people with special needs other than orphanages and institutions.  When a child is born here with special needs, their families are encouraged to place them in orphanages and even to tell other family members that the child died!
So there Milena was, thinking there was something wrong with her, that she was unwanted and would never have a family of her own.
  More and more friends were adopted and then all of a sudden Milena was 10 or 11 years old.  By that time, most of Milena’s friends now had families of their own, in fact there were just two other children left, we will call them “Annalise” and “Jake.”  Annalise, Jake and Milena were the forgotten and unwanted children despite their capabilities. Milena and her friends were soon transferred to an adult group home because they had aged out of their orphanage.  The chance of them getting families was now slim to none.  Little did Milena know that there was a family working hard to bring her home. 
Despite a few setbacks, in March of 2015 Milena met her mama for the first time!  She was shy at first but quickly warmed up to her mama and let her true colors shine!  By the end of the week Milena understood that she would be going back to America several months later.  At the end of the trip to meet Milena, her mama got to meet Milena’s lifelong friends, Annalise and Jake.  It was a pleasure to meet these beautiful children and Milena’s mama wanted so badly for them to know the love of a family as well! 
In July of 2015 Milena’s mama and papa came back to her country, had court and were legally declared her parents!  They went to her group home to pick her up where they again met Annalise and Jake.  It broke Milena’s mama’s heart to leave them behind, to be taking their lifelong friend to her new life in America.  What were the thoughts going through their heads?  Were they happy for Milena, jealous?  Only they know!  One thing was certain, her mama wanted desperately to find families for Annalise and Jake before it was too late.  You see, the US does not allow children to be adopted into the US after they turn 16.  This summer Annalise and Jake will be 13, leaving them less than 3 years to find forever families!  This blogpost is that mama’s cry for Annalise and Jake, a hope that their families will see them and take the steps necessary to bring them home forever!

Annalise and Jake also have Down syndrome but because of the great care they have received in their orphanage, they are very capable.  Throughout their lives they have heard and thus learned the English language, they care for several of their own needs, are independent with eating and toileting and are beyond polite.  Milena talks about Annalise and Jake often.  I would love for her to have play dates with them here in the states!

From Annalise's profile on Reece's Rainbow

"Girl, Born August 2003

Down syndrome, CHD (repaired)

This energy filled and vibrant little girl was born with Down syndrome in August of 2003 and is ready for an active family with lots of structure.  She can understand and speak two languages, including English. She had surgery to repair a heart defect in 2003, but has required no additional treatment.  Annalise is beaming with sunshine and loves cell phones and cameras, like all curious little girls!  She loves to be the center of attention and is very smart!
Updated April 2014:
Annalise is an active, friendly girl who speaks clearly with an extensive vocabulary. She uses short sentences and understands two languages, one of them English. Annalise walks independently, including up and down stairs.  Annalise has great self-help skills. She eats and drinks as well as dresses and undresses without assistance. She can wash her hands and brush her teeth on her own.
Annalise attends school where she has learned to count, recognize 25 letters, cut with scissors and paint. She can re-tell a short story and participates in simple games. Annalise likes to listen to music and dances very well. She would thrive in a loving family.
From a family who met her in March 2015: Annalise is a beautiful young lady with long brown hair and the most adorable freckles.  She is very sweet, but also quite independent.  She came right up to me and sat on my lap. She speaks some English and is very verbal in her native tongue.  The caregivers and other residents at her home speak English, so she has a good understanding of it.  Annalise is adored by the other residents and caregivers in her home."
I first met Annalise in March of 2015.  I met her when returning Milena to her orphanage.  I found Annalise to be silly and polite.  She liked my phone and wanted to see the pictures and videos on it.  Annalise and Milena made me "lunch" in the room they shared.  She is well loved and cared for in her orphanage but would thrive in a loving family.  Annalise is a gem!  She will turn 13 next month which means that she'll only have 3 more years to find a family before she is ineligible to be adopted (USCIS rules.)  Please help me share this beautiful, capable young lady.
Here is the lunch the girls made me in their room.
Here's what has been said about Jake on Reece's Rainbow

"Boy, Born February 2003
Down syndrome
Jake was born in February 2003 with Down syndrome.  He is a happy young man who loves animals and can talk about them for hours, especially about cats.   Jake can understand English and loves music and to sing!   Songs that have hand motions are his very favorite. He enjoys puzzles, books and Legos!   Please give Jake a chance!

Updated April 2014: Jake is an active, happy boy who attends school, likes to play games, and enjoys singing and dancing. Jake has well-developed self-help skills. He eats and drinks as well as dresses and undresses independently. Jake knows how to wash his hands and face, brush his teeth, and make his bed without assistance. Jake is also potty-trained. Jake speaks in short sentences and has a large vocabulary. He was exposed to the English language for the first several years of his life and can understand it. He tells stories, counts, and recognizes 27 letters. Jake understands simple rules and follows them. He would thrive in a loving family.
From a family who met him in 2015: Jake is such a nice boy.  He will greet you happily with a handshake.  Jake understands and speaks English as well as his native tongue.  The caregivers and other residents at his home speak English, so he has a very good understanding of it.  Jake is a very capable and independent boy.  He would thrive in a family of his own."

I also first met Jake in March of 2015.  He is a charmer and very smart!  Jake wanted to take me all around the orphanage to show me where everyone slept.  He is polite and quite the ham!  Jake would make a wonderful son and would do so well in a loving family.  Jake has less than 3 years to find a family as he is 13 years old!  

If you or anyone you know might be interested in adopting Annalise or Jake, please do not hesitate to contact Hopscotch Adoptions

*I can't show their faces in photos that are not already public*

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.