Thursday, January 17, 2013

We Look Like Family

Last week a woman at church mentioned to me how much Lena and I look alike when we both wear our hair up. It kinda took me by surprise.  My first thought was I don't see how, since we share absolutely no DNA.  I almost said something like that out loud, but then I remembered that this person likely does not know that Lena is adopted.  In a split second, this thought came to my mind: It doesn't matter whether we share DNA or not.  We look like family.  So I just said, "Thank you!"

This is a good thing.  This is a God thing.  We look like family.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

More Hanna-isms

As Hanna talks more and more, we hear more funny little things come from her.  Here are some of our favorites:

Stoodle - stool

Speegellilli - spaghetti

Bleh-wee - belly

She also is much more interactive with the family.  When Oleg came down for breakfast one morning, he was in a bit of a foul mood.  Hanna says, "Mama, WHAT is Oleg's PROBLEM?"

I said, "I don't know.  Why don't you ask him?"

The she says, "Oleg, WHAT is your PROBLEM?"

His answer, "Be quiet, Hanna!"

Funny girl!

Monday, July 2, 2012

New Summer Schedule

Well, those kids in school finished a couple of weeks ago.  We took a "chill" week, then everyone had a week of camp.  Now we're into "real" summer - both activity-wise and weather-wise.  Whew!

So today we started our summer routine, and I must admit it went pretty well.

So here it is:

7:30 - Little girls up; breakfast; read aloud (today it was Winnie the Pooh); letters, numbers, pre-reading activities, calendar with Lena (Hanna watching, practicing)

9:00 - Big kids up; breakfast; start their lists

  • Read for 30 minutes or more
  • Math assignment
  • Reading/Spelling lesson
  • Chore for the week
  • Vision Therapy (Oleg)
  • Read Aloud - The Hobbit
  • Literature activity - The Hobbit

5:00-ish - Afternoon Clean Up

They must complete their lists before they can have computer time (on computer days) or play with friends.  They can take as long as they like to get it done well, but they are restricted by my time as well.  Some activities they need me, others they don't.  So they must budget their time.

Like I said, it worked well today.  Hopefully it will continue to work well - more often than not!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter 2012

Our second Easter together and our first in our new home.  This year we decided to add some decidedly Ukrainian elements to our celebration.

We dyed eggs in traditional colors, and we made paska and poached pears. Grandma Johnson was with us to celebrate.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

First Anniversary of our Gotcha Day

Today we mark the arrival of one year since we got custody of the kids.  It will always be a special day for us.

Here's the link to my post from that day:

Gotcha Day

Just to remind you:  My brother John went with me to pick up the kids.  Cliff had work, and the girls had enough international travel and were with Gramma and GrandDad.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

One Year

One year ago today a Ukrainian court officially made us a family of 7.

You can read about our court day here:  Court Today

A lot has changed in a year.  All three kids have grown significantly.  Their English gets better every day.  It has been amazingly quick and amazingly slow.  Times of intense difficulty and times of pure bliss.

One Year Ago:


Friday, January 6, 2012

More Truth from a Different Perspective

A friend shared this on Facebook this morning.  It complements my post from December 20th, so I thought I'd share the link here as well.

Don't Carpe Diem

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Time for Some Truth

If you enter into adoption thinking only of how wonderful it will be to have a child or how much of a blessing you can be for a child in need, you WILL be sorely disappointed.  Don't get me wrong, it IS wonderful to have a child (or in our case more children).  And you ARE or WILL BE an incredible blessing to the child.  But you also need to realize that there will be days, weeks, maybe even months when everything seems upside down or backwards and very little seems to be going right.  Times when you only get glimpses of that bliss you imagined in the beginning.

It is frustrating to find words that your child can understand.  Frustrating for you and for them.  Likely they want very much to understand you and to do what you want them to do, they just don't know what you want.  They also can't express what they're feeling or what they want, and THAT is frustrating.  It takes months to get to a point where you can communicate effectively.

Even when you think you're communicating, you will find gaps in language ability that you don't expect.  For example, your child gets in trouble for "touching" another child in school.  When asked why he touched the child, he said the other child touched him first.  The other child denies touching him.  Here's the problem.  They bumped into each other and then your child touched the other child by putting his arm around him and giving him a pat on the shoulder.  Your child sees the bump as a "touch" and his "touch" as friendly, but the other child does not.  Neither does the school.  So your child not only gets in trouble for "touching" another child but for "lying" about what happened.

Culture shock is something else.  I can't tell you how often we hear, "But in Ukraine it is different."  Yes, in Ukraine it is or was different.  Your family was unstable there.  Here it is not.  You were unsupervised much of the time.  Here you are not.  You were abused and neglected there not only by your birth family but by the people who were supposed to care for you in their stead.  Here you have plenty to eat, clothes appropriate for the season, toys to play with, hugs and kisses as well as limits and consequences.  School is different here.  Expectations are different here.  The language is different, ways of doing things are different.  Yes, it is different.  The sands are shifting under your feet, but there is solid ground.

As they navigate all these differences, you will be surprised by the defenses that come up and the behaviors they choose to help them deal with all the changes.  One might become completely obnoxious which, when paired with impulsive behavior, gets him in trouble at school and at home.  It also alienates other kids.  So you spend a lot of time at the school having conferences with the teacher, counselor, assistant principal, mentor, and ESOL teacher about his behavior.

Or maybe she talks incessantly, narrating your every move, asking questions that if she just observed and thought about what she saw she wouldn't need to ask.  Or she insinuates herself into everyone's business, taking over any show of affection to another child, bossing people around or acting like the parent.  Or she fusses every time she has to wait 5 minutes for you to finish preparing dinner and fix her plate.  Or she plays for 3 hours in the middle of the night.  Every night.  For months.  So you never get a full night's rest.

And then, of course, there are the revelations about their life prior to you.  You just can't prepare yourself for what you might hear.  Some memories that they share might be sweet and beautiful - like climbing cherry trees and eating cherries until they can't eat cherries anymore.  Or gratitude for a nice lady who fed them when they were hungry.  Other times you will hear that the reason the lady fed them was because their birth mom took off for several days and left them alone with nothing.  Or you'll hear about someone pulling a knife an stabbing someone.  Or you'll hear about beatings when birth mom was drunk.

I haven't even mentioned medical and developmental issues.  Sure you get some medical information on the child/ren in country, but you really don't know what you got until you get home and have them evaluated.  And what constitutes "healthy" in Ukraine is vastly different from what is considered "healthy" here.

You will likely have medical and developmental issues to address that were not noted in their medical history - if you even have a medical history.  All three of ours operate on a level significantly younger than their chronological age.  Two are not even on the growth charts for their age.  Two likely have fetal alcohol syndrome and the complications that go with that.  Two likely have ADD/ADHD.  One may be mentally delayed.  None of this was in their medical files - such as they were.

And this leads to therapy.  Lots and lots of therapy.  Speech therapy.  Occupational therapy.  Physical therapy.  Vision therapy.  Counseling.  Evaluations.  Appointments.  Life revolving around getting each one's needs assessed and met.  Hours in the car and sitting in waiting rooms.  Coordination of schedules and getting virtually nothing else in your life done.

IF you have other children (as we do), you enter another level of complication.  Their lives are now upside down, too.  They spend hours in the car with you trucking everyone else around.  They don't get to do some of the things they used to do.  They don't have as much individual time and attention.  And even if they were excited and supportive of the adoption, they also didn't know how deeply it would affect their everyday lives.  So not only do you have to manage your own emotions, you get to help them manage theirs as well.

That's not to say that it isn't worth it.  It absolutely is.  But until you are in it, you just can't appreciate how completely exhausting it is - mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  All parents go through this to some extent, so in some ways it is no different from anyone else's parenting journey.  But in other ways it is TOTALLY different, and others just can't understand the unique experience of adding these kids to the family.  They think it is the same when it absolutely is not.  They may not mean to, but they dismiss expressions of difficulty with tales of their own parenting woes.  Or they come back with platitudes such as "this, too, will end."  Or my personal favorite, "It hasn't even been a year yet."  As if I'm not aware of how long it has been or as if everything will magically resolve at the one year mark.

I know this is a depressing post, but that happens to be where I am right now.  This is hard.  Yes, it will get better.  And I know that.  But RIGHT NOW it is HARD.  And I want you to know, if you are considering adopting, that there are times like this.  I have read several adoption blogs where the writers never mention anything negative at all.  I don't want this blog to be like that.  I want to be real.  And right now it is hard. . . .But it will get better!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Our First Thanksgiving

A few pictures from our first Thanksgiving together.  They don't really have an understanding of what we celebrate or why, but they did enjoy the family time and food.

Since we are in a new place and we have no family here, we celebrated just the 7 of us.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Drought Conditions

Our home state of Texas is under drought conditions.  It hasn't rained enough for a long time, and the water table is depleted.  Drought is not just a physical phenomenon of weather.  No, it is a delicate balance between water supply and demand.  Drought conditions occur when demands for water exceed the natural availability of water.

Relation between streams
and underground water

A=Gaining stream,
B= Losing stream,
C= Losing stream that is disconectes from the water table.

1= Water table;
2= Unsaturated zone;
3= Saturated zone ,
4=Flow direction

I was thinking about this yesterday and realized that our kids are living under drought conditions.  For far too long they have lived without the love and care that every child needs.  As a result, they look like Figure C.

What does this look like right now?  Extreme neediness, need for approval, impulsive behavior, emotional outbursts, disruptive behavior in school and church, fear of punishment for any mistake, insincere apologies, charming and manipulative behavior, hypersensitivity to my mood (with frequent misinterpretation), and more.  They have little basis for healthy human interaction.

Fortunately for us, they got enough love and care (at times from their birth mother and also from others in their lives) and are resilient enough that they still have some emotional ground water.  And that gives us hope that as we pour love, affection, time, attention, gifts, structure, discipline, and the love of Christ into their lives, the ground water level will rise and hopefully, eventually, resemble Figure A.

But that's just it.  We hope.  We don't know.  And how long?  We don't know.  At times it is incredibly frustrating.  Some days it appears impossible.  Our hearts break for the things they have seen and experienced.  

Other days are amazing, and we wonder how we doubted.  When we receive spontaneous hugs.  When we laugh together over something silly.  When we can see that they "get" something that we've been trying to teach.

It definitely is not easy.  We must always remember that we started down this path for a reason.  The reason hasn't changed.  We had no guarantee of ease.  We do not even know where the path is headed. All we know for sure is that it is the right path.

So for now, we live in drought.

This is the promise of God:  I will lead the blind by a road they do not know, by paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them. - Isaiah 42:16

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Big Changes

Many who will read this know us personally and already know much of what you will read in this post. For those who don't know us, this will get you caught up.

Some of these changes actually started in the summer of 2010, so bear with me. I didn't blog about them at the time, because I didn't know how they would affect the adoption. We chose to keep these things private for that reason and are only now getting around to sharing.

Change #1 - About six months into our adoption paperwork (June 2010) - well before we had an SDA appointment - I found out that I have diabetes. It is an unusual form of autoimmune (like Type1) that shows up later in life (like Type 2). Technically it is called Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA).   I took it seriously, changed my diet (somewhat, I already ate pretty well), started walking everyday, lost some weight, and started monitoring and insulin injections.

We talked with our agency and decided that we would continue with the adoption. They assured us that as long as I was healthy and under control there would be no problem.   We are posting now to let others know that we were able to adopt with no problems. So if you have something unexpected like this happen, it likely will not stop your adoption. Of course it will depend upon current adoption laws in Ukraine and your individual situation.

Change #2 - The next big change came about six weeks later in July when Cliff accepted a new job in another state.  Again we didn't know how that might affect the adoption - to get new documentation for job and home.  Turns out it was not a big deal. The timing of the change happened right before we started work on our dossier, so we didn't have to re-do anything.

So Cliff started his job in September 2010, and we essentially lived apart until we left for Ukraine at the end of January 2011. Fortunately Cliff was able to be home with us a lot. He scheduled his travel out of our city and so got to spend more time with us. This was good, because we were trying to get the house ready to sell and then sell it, so we could move to the new city.

The house went on the market at the end of October, so then we were into the fun of open houses and showings. And nothing happened. We left for Ukraine with the house on the market and returned from Ukraine with the house on the market. We brought the kids home at the end of March with the house still on the market.

Change #3 - By May we decided that living apart with the 5 kids and me in one city and Cliff in another city much of the time just wasn't working.  Cliff found a house in the new city, and we prepared to move. Shortly thereafter our house sold.  By the end of July 2011 we had moved out, signed the papers on our old house, spent a week on the road driving to our new city, and signed the papers on our new home.

Now we have been in our new home for about 2-1/2 months. We're settling in and getting used to all the new things. I will post more another time. I just wanted to get you all up to date given that new posts will likely be about or at least mention these changes.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Recent Hanna-isms

Hanna is busy learning English, and sometimes she makes us laugh with what she says.

Here are a couple of examples:

Ha-la-luvia = Halleluia

Pockporn= Popcorn

She routinely sings anything she's heard more than once.  She breaks out into song at some odd moments, and the words are rarely right but almost always recognizable if you know the song.  Camp songs (Hello, Hanna. How are you? and The Moose Song) are some of her favorites.  She also sings with the radio and asks for music every morning.

I'll post more "-isms" when I can.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Good News

Lots going on here, and I promise to update as soon as I can.  But we have some good news to report!

Hanna DOES NOT have Turner's Syndrome!!!!

Both our doctor at the International Adoption Clinic and our occupational therapist thought it was a possibility given some of her physical characteristics.

Briefly, Turners is a genetic disorder that only affects girls.  They are missing a chromosome or have an abnormal chromosome that affects their height in particular but also some other physical characteristics.  For more information check out these websites:

Kids' Health
Turners Syndrome

Today I received confirmed results of Hanna's genetic test that reveal that she is genetically "normal".

So my little girl is just little!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

And Singing

One morning this week, Hanna was sitting at the table eating breakfast, and I was in the kitchen when I heard: "You go, I go.  You stay, I stay.  You move, I move.  I follow YOUUUUUUU!"  Took a second, but I recognized the Chris Tomlin song.  This is the first time she has sung a song on her own.  I didn't even know she KNEW this song!  She learned it from the radio.

And this morning she was singing the ABC's .  Very cute.  She doesn't get them all right, but she gets pretty darn close.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Medical Week

This was medical week, and thankfully it ended about 95% positive.

We started Tuesday with eye appointments for the older girls.  They are healthy and their prescriptions have not changed.  They still need their glasses for reading.

Same day, Cliff had his eyes checked and found out he needs glasses for the first time in his life.  He was bummed - didn't want to admit that he needed them.

Thursday, the new kids had a follow up appointment at the International Adoption Clinic.  It took all morning, but we FINALLY got the results of all those blood tests.

All three kids are healthy, no diseases or vitamin deficiencies.  A few of their immunizations in Ukraine did not "take," so we have to re-do them.  Oleg got 3 shots, Lena got 2, and Hanna got 5 (poor thing!).  HIV tests for Oleg and Hanna came back "indeterminate," but the doctor said not to worry about that.  We are having them redone.  One of Hanna's blood tests was incorrectly ordered, so we are having that one redone as well.  Oleg's stool sample was positive for giardia, so we treated that.  The little girls were negative for parasites, but their stool smells awful, so we're retesting just in case we missed something.

All three kids gained weight and height, but the little girls are still off the growth charts small.  Lena is developmentally behind her peers.  We have no medical reason for that, so it is likely due to lack of attention to her early development.  We will know more when she has some school experience.

Hanna is making great strides.  She didn't gain much weight, but developmentally, she is closer to her chronological age than Lena is.

We left with lab slips for the follow up blood tests and stool tests and orders for speech therapy for all three kids and physical and occupational therapy for Hanna.

Friday the new kids had their eyes checked.  I had been a bit concerned about Lena, as she seemed to be having trouble seeing things.  Turns out she's fine.  Her prescription is borderline for her age for needing glasses, and one eye is "worse" than the other.  If she is still in the same place this time next year, she will need correction.  She has a slight delay in converging when looking at something up close,  and she also has a slight tracking problem that might resolve over time.  Now that we are aware of the tracking issue, we can work with her to strengthen her eyes.

Hanna was also a bit of a concern given that she was so premature at birth.  She is also doing fine.  She is slightly more near-sighted than she should be for her age.  That could change over time and get either better or worse, but for now she does not need correction.  Given her prematurity, she will need a dilated eye exam on a yearly basis.  

Oleg, on the other hand, needs glasses for reading and will need vision therapy to correct some issues with the working of his eyes.  They don't work together effectively, and he has trouble focusing his eyes which makes him very tired when he reads.  The exam itself really strained his eyes, as the doctor made him work in ways he had not before.  He also has very little pigment inside his eyes, so he is especially sensitive to bright light (explains all the squinting).  Recommendation there is to wear good quality polarized sunglasses when outside.

Whew!  We still have a few items outstanding, but as you can see, about 95% positive.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hanna is Talking!

Hanna is talking more and more.

On Saturday, Cliff got the kids candy.  He cut Hanna's into bite size pieces and put it on a napkin in the middle of the table.  Then he would dole out a piece at a time.  All the other kids scarfed theirs and left the table with Hanna still sitting there.  Cliff walked away from the table briefly, and I watched to see what she would do.  She definitely wanted to stand up and grab the candy herself, but she knew she was not to do that.  She fought the impulse for a while and then said, "Can I . . . have more . . . dis?"  That is officially her first unprompted complete expressive sentence.  To which I said, "YES!" and immediately rewarded her effort.  Decided not to quibble over the may/can grammar.

Since then, she's been trying more and more.  On Monday after her dental work we were sitting on the couch.  She put her hand on my leg and said, "Dis is Mama."  Then she put her hand on her leg and said, "Dis is Hanna."  Then she looked up at me and said, "Dis is Hanna's Mama."  So sweet.

And tonight she bonked her head on the wall (by accident) and said, "I hurt Hanna," as she rubbed her head.

There have been many other examples.  These are just a few that I remember.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


When we got home from Ukraine, I signed Oleg up for a soccer.  He had a blast!  Every day he wanted to know how many more days till soccer.  And he's pretty good.  I loved watching him play.  Over the course of the season he got better at working with the other players on the team.  He has good ball handling skills, and he loves to mix it up.  Not so fond of playing goalie or defense.  His team won the league championship.  Over the course of the season, he scored 5 goals.  And he got his first sports trophy.

My pictures are not the best, but you get the idea.  I was a little busy on the sideline keeping up with Lena and Hanna who had very little interest in the games.  If I can get some more pictures from Cliff, I'll add them to the slideshow.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Hanna's Dental

This morning Hanna and I headed to the Children's Hospital Day Surgery Unit for her dental work.  As mentioned before, her procedure had to be done in the hospital due to her small size.

We arrived about 6:25am and got checked in.  Hanna played for about 30min before they called us to go in to take vital signs and medical history.  THAT'S always fun.  Hanna did great with the medical part.  But I have to explain over and over again why I don't know more about her medical status than I do.  Only part of it has to do with the adoption.  At this point, I still don't have the results of the blood tests ordered back in April.

After the medical intake, we went to another waiting area to put on the cute yellow pajamas that they gave her to wear during the procedure.  Waited there for a bit before the doctors started arriving to explain the procedure, get consent, and confirm medical info (again with the explaining why I don't know more than I do).  At 7:25 they took her back to the operating room, and I headed to the family room to eat my breakfast and wait.

At a little before 9am they called me to go to the recovery area.  When I entered, all I saw was a little lump under a thick blanket.  She was still out.  The dentist told me that they didn't have to do the root canal.  She has a crown and several fillings.  She is on soft foods for the next 24 hours, and we need to schedule a follow up in a week or so to check the work and healing.

After the consult with the dentist, the nurse pulled back the blanket, and Hanna woke right up.  She had a tube in her mouth that they quickly removed.  The first thing she said was a groggy, "Hello."  So cute!

The nurse let me pick her up and sit with her in a glider while she checked her vitals again and removed the monitors and tubes.  When I asked her how her teeth felt, she said, "Good."  Within about 15-20 minutes we were heading for the elevator.

We waited for our car (valet parked and validated) then headed home.  We walked in the door a little after 10am.  I got Hanna set up on the couch with some water and yogurt and tv.  At noon, I put her down for a nap.  Then I actually had to wake her up at 3pm to keep her somewhat on her usual schedule.  Once up and after a little time to wake up, she seemed like her usual self.  No complaints.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"You must be . . . ."

It happened again today, and I must say I'm getting a little bit tired of it.  People mean well, but it is down right embarrassing.

"You must be __(insert flattering adjective)__."  Let's see, what have I heard?  Courageous, strong, compassionate, Super Mom, a hero, and many others.  I never know what to say.

The fact of the matter is that I am none of those things.  I appreciate the acknowledgement that my family is doing something that few others do.  But we didn't do this to be recognized for any of those traits.  We did this because we felt, as a family, that we were meant to do this.  NOT doing it wasn't a viable option.

So here's where the real credit lies:  with God.

The courage you see in me comes from Him.  I am a coward by nature.

The strength you see comes from Him.  I am a spineless wimp.

The compassion you see comes from HIM.  I am selfish and protective of my own comfort.

The Super Mom, the hero you see is Christ Himself.  I can't do those things.

God called us to adopt.  We were happy with our lives as they were.

God paved our way and moved mountains for us along the way.

God continues to work in our family as he weaves us together into a beautiful tapestry - much different from what WE thought, but more richly colored and textured than we could conceive.

At times I forget these things, and life gets pretty rough.  I crumble under the weight, wither in the face of difficulty, retreat into self-preservation.  And then I remember. . . .

So when someone says, "I could never do what you do," I firmly believe, "Yes, you could.  IF you are MEANT to do it.  Because when you are meant to do it, you just DO."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Summer is in Full Swing

This morning we put the 3 big kids on a bus to church camp for 4 days/3 nights.  The girls are really excited, as they've gone the last few years and know what awaits them.  Oleg was a bit unsure.  We tried to explain what it would be like, but he seemed to have a hard time with being away from us (particularly me) for 3 nights.  Ultimately, I think he's going to have so much fun that he won't miss us that much anyway.

And the little girls are at occupational therapy day camp while the big kids are gone.  They, too, should have a blast.  Lena is a bit unsure about being away from Oleg, but I think that might only be a problem at night (if at all, really).  I fully expect them to be hungry and tired after all their fun at the farm!

Hanna on Gizmo

Lena on Pony