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Diva Turns Nine!

Girlfriend is turning nine!  Today we celebrated by swimming with friends and then taking our family out to a restaurant of her choosing  She may have mixed up nine and ninety because of all the restaurants in the world she chose….Golden Corral.

This has definitely been a transitional year.  Without going into too much detail, we found out soon after she turned eight that she was dealing with anxiety.  That was something completely new to us, but we started seeing a therapist and that has helped a lot.  As we got closer to her ninth birthday, my sugary sweet little girl morphed into someone angered by a mere look in her direction.  As this continued to happen I grew legitimately worried.  I began to believe she hated everyone in the family. I relate everything back to adoption and was convinced something had happened attachment wise. Then, a week or two ago I found a silly article about nine-year-old girls online (language warning).  I couldn’t believe what I was reading- every word resonated.  I realized that all these behaviors- yelling at her younger brother every time he talks, rolling the eyes when asked to complete simple tasks, acting aloof and uncaring- weren’t adoption issues or personality issues- they are just another developmental stage.  It both relieved me and worried me for the next few years!  So, we’re dealing with that…but here are some happier things I want to remember about right now.

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Diva, your teacher said on one of your report cards that you have a ‘strong sense of justice’ and we couldn’t have said it better ourselves.  You’re very comfortable vocalizing any wrongs you witness.  Seeing people mistreated really bothers you.  There is a boy in your class who is picked on a lot.  You try to be friendly to him, and you recently wrote him a note apologizing for the way he is treated and letting him know that you think he’s the coolest kid in class.  You meticulously decorated it, but have yet to work up the courage to deliver it.

You’ve formed a lot of new friendships this year and boy are they hard to keep up with!  Every day as soon as I pick you up you launch into a story about that day’s drama.  I never know who you like and who you’re upset with.  Sometimes you play with your friends, but lately when you have a friend or two over you just sit on your bed and talk for hours.

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You have your first crush.  You’re mildly obsessed.  You doodle his name and fantasize about marrying him.

You’re a really deep thinker.  You constantly wonder “Who am I?”.  It frustrates you that you don’t know.  You’re still searching to find your “thing” and that is hard for you.

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You’re easily persuaded.  One of your friends is a vegetarian, so you decided that you wanted to be a vegetarian too…but that only lasted until you had an opportunity to have a big juicy hamburger.  More recently, you have been questioning your faith because one of your friends is an unbeliever.  (For the record…we encourage the questions.  We want you thinking about these things for yourself.  But we also want you to come to your own conclusions).

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Speaking of being easily persuaded, I’ve recently learned that the store Justice has the tween girl segment completely cornered.  For two months you wanted a miniature backpack from Justice because that’s what your friends had.  Nearly every gift you received from your friends was from this store.  You’ve never cared about this stuff until very recently.

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You LOVE little kids as long as they’re not Wiggles.  You really, really don’t like Wiggles anymore.  But you play pretty well with Sassypants, and you love kids that aren’t in your family.  You baby-sat for our small group and looked forward to following your small charge around.  Your 2 and 4-year-old cousins just moved back and you’ve never been so excited.

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You express yourself through writing and it’s really beautiful.  You’re still working on spelling, grammar, and punctuation, but you can fill pages with your thoughts.  You had a diary, but you took it to school and some kids read it, so now you just write on loose-leaf paper all over the house.

You’re an amazing eater.  It’s one of my favorite things about you.  When we went to the beach this summer you tried oysters and mussels .  You’ll try anything and like most everything.  It’s seriously impressive, at least to a partially-reformed picky eater like me.  You can also eat impressive amounts of food, and you better start praying now that your metabolism stays strong.

You know the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel when they leave a little trail of crumbs?  That’s kind of like you.  You’re incredibly messy and leave a trail wherever you go.  Trash, crumbs, a shoe, a hair tie, a toy, a pencil, more trash, your coat.  Your stuff is everywhere and you get majorly annoyed when asked to pick it up.

You’ve got mad hula hopping skills.  You won a contest this fall when you hula hooped for 37 minutes.  You could have kept going but they ended the contest.

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When you get mad at us sometimes you pack a backpack and threaten to run away.  But you never actually do.

You like to help me cook.  You’re my regular sidekick at my monthly freezer meal nights.  You can pretty much make pancakes by yourself, and my gravy would never turn out right if I didn’t have you to be my constant stir-er.  Unlike your siblings you’re actually helpful.

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You’re starting to do your own hair.  Although you’ve able to braid my hair since you were at least 4.5 years old, up until recently you couldn’t do a ponytail on yourself to your satisfaction.  You just started doing puffy pigtails on yourself.  Your part isn’t straight at all but that is not a battle I’m going to choose.

We had a girls day at the ballet.  Gammie and I were bored to tears but you loved it.

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Diva, you’re one step closer to being a young woman but I still see the little girl in you and I pray that you cling to that as long as you can.  The way your eyes light up when you’re excited about something makes my day.  Happy birthday lady!

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Wiggles is SIX!

Oh Wiggles.  My sweet first born, my answer to prayer.  Can’t believe you’re six.  Here are some things I want to remember about right now:

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You’re totally Type A.  You get these very specific, very elaborate plans in your head and don’t stop until they are fully executed, even if that means bending the rules a little bit.  Lately that means baking a cake (making up the recipe as you go along) every Friday; categorizing dozens of books, pricing them, and selling them to your younger sister (using her real money); and creating sticker charts to help you achieve good behavior.  For awhile we were struggling to get you to stay in your bed all night and I asked you what would help.  You thought for a moment before your eyes lit up and you said “I know!  Every night I stay in my bed all night I will get a sticker in the morning.  When I have 10 stickers I can pick a small prize or when I get 30 stickers you can take me to Yorgurtini.”  Umm, okay.  It actually worked!

You and Sassypants get along fabulously.  You two play for hours together, most often with your stuffed animals Marsha and Kitty Low.  You play school, babies, and goodness knows what else.  This imaginative play also involves your elaborate plans and Sassypants it the perfect captive audience to help you carry it out.

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You do not get along so fabulously with your older siblings, especially Diva.  You play the annoying little brother role quite well.

You’re a complete brainaic and by the time I write your 7th birthday post you’ll probably be smarter than I am.  You started reading at 3.5 and are now reading chapter books.  You can multiply most numbers, although you struggle with the higher ones.  You do math problems in your head literally quicker than I can.  This isn’t because of anything we do; you do worksheets and flash cards on your own for fun.  You play chess well and have beat your Daddy three times, though you’re still working on me and Grandpa.  Sometimes I worry others think I’m bragging on you when really I am simply in amazement at your abilities, and am so excited to see where they take you in life.

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Despite your academic abilities, you are emotionally very much a six year old.  Or maybe a two year old.  You get very upset when your elaborate plans don’t go exactly as you think they should.  This usually results in you throwing whatever object is causing you frustration, marching a few feet away while screaming and crying, angrily sitting cross legged, folding your arms, bowing your head, and cry-yelling.  Luckily, if we remove you from the situation (usually by putting you in your room to calm down) you usually get control of yourself relatively quickly and come back and apologize.

Your sense of humor is also right on target for a six-year-old boy.  You love to tell people when you fart, especially if it happens to be while you’re sitting on their lap.  You think potty humor is the most hilarious thing ever and belly laugh at the mere mention of poop.  You even got in trouble at kindergarten for pulling down your pants, pulling down another kids’ pants, and kissing people on the bottom.  (Yes, three separate occasions).  We had to ban the Captain Underpants movie as this did not help you with your inappropriateness.

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Speaking of movies, you don’t really have a favorite character or show that lasts for long.  You get really into something, watch it all the time for a month or two, and then move on.  A few months ago it was Trolls.  Now it’s Boss Baby.  You also like Descendants, especially the songs.

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Your grandparents took you to a magic show several months ago and now you really like to perform magic, but you’re bad at it.  Like, really bad.  An example of a trick you do is putting two quarters together, telling me that there’s only one quarter, and then slowly revealing that there’s two.  Actually, that’s much better than your other trick where you show me two objects, put them behind your back, visibly drop one, and then show me how one ‘disappeared.’

You’re a complete momma’s boy.  You love to snuggle and will tell me that you want to run errands with me so we can have some time together, or that you did something nice just because you love me.  Melts my heart.

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We recently started doing allowance and you think it is the greatest thing ever.  In fact on Sunday mornings we are sometimes awakened by you saying “Time to give me my $2.50!”  You usually spend most or all of your money the very next day, buying snacks at Sassypants’s gymnastics lessons.

You’re not that into sports.  We tried tball this year and you weren’t having it.  I think you’ll do gymnastics this summer (mostly because scheduling wise it’s awesome; 3 kids in the same 2 hours).  You have also expressed interest in karate and basketball, so we may check those out later this year.  By the way, you’re an amazing hula hooper.

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You tried to tell us from a young age.

You’re a great eater and eat most of what we serve, although you won’t do spicy foods or anything too weird looking.

I pick out your clothes every morning.  One day you told me you wanted to do it and I said okay.  Five minutes later you came downstairs exasperated and said “You do it!  I have no idea what goes together!”

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You HATE having your picture taken.

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But you’re so cute

You’re really into random facts.  You have a couple of those Believe It Or Not Books and rarely a day goes by without you coming up to me out of nowhere and saying something like “Hey Mom.  Did you know that all clown fish are born male?”

In some ways you’re adventurous.  You’ll ride your bike a zillion miles an hour down a hill or jump off the top stair.  But in some ways you’re a wuss.  You will not go in the basement by yourself, and you don’t really like rides.  Sometimes you have to be pushed.  We went tubing at Snow Creek this year and the first ride down you were crying and screaming the whole time.  You jumped out of your tube right before we were getting ready to start our second ride, and I had to hold up the line and chase you down, literally put you in the tube, and make eye contact with the worker guy to tell him to PUSH US FAST.  But by the end of the day you were going down all by yourself- and backwards at that!

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Dad, I’m not so sure about this…

Parenting you has been one of the greatest joys of my life.  I feel so lucky I get to be your mom, even if I’m not sure if you’ll be a dictator, genius scientist, or sex offender when you grow up.  Happy birthday son!

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Four Years Home!

Four years ago today, Smiles and Diva stepped off of a plane and into our family.

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Today as I recall that mild Sunday I remember how all our friends and family joined us at KCI.  I remember making banners, driving there through tears,  getting to the airport early, and anxiously watching all the planes awaiting for their arrival.  I remember how Smiles bounded off the plane with that big ole grin and bounced around people like a pinball.

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I remember how sweet Diva followed a minute later, taking baby steps and nearly being pulled, afraid to make eye contact with anybody.

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I remember the car ride home, when we buckled them into their car seats and rode home in near silence as we processed the changes that were ahead for all of us.  At the time we had a 2 week old and a 23 month old and our new kids seemed so big.  Looking back they seem so small.

Four years have passed and what can I say?

I could tell you that Smiles moved up to a competitive baseball team, that our driveway is constantly full of his friends, that he is close to grade level for reading, that he sometimes loses his phone for having a bad attitude, how he spends 20 minutes doing his hair in the morning, or how he peels the skins off of everything he eats including grapes and apples.

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And I could tell you how Diva has a different best friend everyday, how she’s starting to style her own hair, how she dresses up her Barbies, how she sketches pretty dresses, that she often wonders “Who Am I?”, that she loves to watch clips of Ellen and America’s Got Talent on YouTube, or how her eyes light up when she’s telling you a story.

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But does that really sound much different than any 12 and 8 year old? (Can I pause this story and tell you what a mind eff it is when you had your first baby less than 6 years ago but you have kids who are 12 and 8?!  Makes me feel so old).

The truth is, from the outside they seem like pretty normal kids.

They ARE pretty normal kids.

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Pardon the (cute) photo bomber

But lately I’ve become a student of adoption.  I’ve read the books (The Connected Child is my favorite), I’ve attended the conferences, I’ve fallen on my knees in prayer.  I’ve been learning a lot about the role attachment plays in adoption.  I’ve noticed how my biological kids inherently feel like part of the family.  If they’re acting up and I send them to their rooms to calm down, there’s no problem. But I’ve noticed that occasionally my adopted kids struggle with that sense of belonging .  If I lose my temper and am harsher than necessary with them, or if I send them to their rooms, it affects them deeply.  They can’t verbalize it, but I am learning that it sends a message of separation and makes them question their role in the family.

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So we (The Husband and I) have been working on this.  A lot of parents, us included, go into adoption thinking that love and structure will solve all the issues, but that’s simply not true.  There’s some brain rewiring that has to happen, even with children who were adopted at a very young age. Did you know that even tiny newborn babies adopted from the hospital at birth can suffer from attachment and other issues?  When a pregnant mom is stressed (and any mom giving up a child is probably stressed) she has elevated cortisol levels in her blood, and that can block the pathways in a developing fetus’s brain- leading to a permanent rewiring of their brain.  And if a tiny newborn baby can be affected like that, just imagine what being in foster care or an orphanage or witnessing something terrible can do to a young brain. There’s a whole school of thought around ‘connecting while correcting’ that’s centered around building relationships even when your child is misbehaving.  It’s really really really hard to remember to connect when terrible things are being screamed at you by a child that hasn’t been listening all day.  But we’re working on it. We’ve made a million mistakes over the past four years, but we are committed to doing it well and doing it right- and through God’s grace we are getting through to these sweet precious kiddos.

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In other news, we have been so blessed to have some connection with the kids’ birth family.  We switched searchers to one who lives in a nearby village and it’s been awesome.  The new searcher is much quicker and easier to communicate with.  It gives us a lot of peace to send updates and to let their family know how well they’re doing, and getting pictures back is a big highlight.  We’d really like to make a trip back at some point in the next few years, and I’m glad we have this line of communication open.

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We talk about adoption a lot and it’s been interesting to watch the kids process it.  We always have a special breakfast  on Adoption Day (baked oatmeal with LOTS of sugar today) and give a small gift.  This year it was a puzzle with pictures of both of their families- a great symbol of the different pieces of their life and how they all fit together in a beautiful whole.

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At school, we’ve always had their teachers read an adoption-related book before they shared a treat with the class.  This year they didn’t have an interest in doing anything at school…until last night.  Last night Smiles told me he wanted to bring cupcakes, and I told him if he wanted to bring a treat he had to do something adoption-related to accompany the treat.  He said he wanted to sit in front of the class and answer questions about adoption.  Now, there are a few things you should know about Smiles:

  1. He hates to be in front of people
  2. He hates to talk about adoption and his past
  3. He’s not a great communicator and struggles with eye contact, giving more than one-word answers, etc.

So to say I was surprised (and nervous!) about this was an understatement.  We practiced last night and I made sure he knew it was okay to say “I don’t want to talk about that” if someone asked him something he didn’t want to answer. I emailed his teacher at 11:00 last night to ask if she might squeeze this in her schedule today, and not only did she do it but she made the day really special for him.  He came home and said it was the “best adoption day ever!”

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Over the last four years we’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but our lives are undeniably blessed and we’re so fortunate to have Smiles and Diva in our family.

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Sassypants is Four!

Sassypants’s birthdays are always a little emotional for me.  She’s our last, my baby, so her birthdays don’t just signal a child growing up but the end of a whole phase of child-rearing.  Today Facebook linked to her birth story, her one year birthday post, and her three year birthday post, and it’s so fun to see how her personality has grown and changed over the past four years.

Sassypants, you’re my little bit and my whole world.  You drive me crazy and make me smile.  Here are some things to remember about this moment:

You make the best faces.  It’s a whole thing we do, where I tell you a bunch of different emotions and you make the corresponding face.

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You may be 3 feet tall but you will not let people push you around.  You have no problem telling off people who are twice your size.

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You and Wiggles are the very best of friends and it melts our hearts.  You sleep together, you play house and school together, you bathe together, and you tell each other about your days.  Wiggles did chores to earn money to buy you a stuffed animal from Five Below for your birthday.  For the three hours between school and bedtime you two are barely separated.

You are obsessed with PJ Mask.  You literally know every word to every episode.  You sing the theme song under your breath to yourself.  You act out the scenes and try to freeze us with sticky splat.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you joined a nudist colony someday.

One time you snuck downstairs at 4 am to get cookies.  You have a major sweet tooth and are not afraid to lie in order to get more treats.  Your my worst eater when it comes to real healthy food, but boy can you put away anything with sugar in it.  I had a major sweet tooth when I was pregnant with you, I wonder if that’s related?

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You’re literally the least shy preschooler I know.  You’ll go up to anyone and talk to them.  Just today you must have told a dozen strangers we randomly passed that it was your birthday, you ran across the room to hug a costumed character, and you volunteered (and were picked) in front of 100 kids at story time to be a leader.

You still suck your fingers, but tell me that you’re going to stop now that you’re four.  You told me this when you turned three too.

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You have very little regard for rules or social norms.  If you want to do something, you’re going to do it.  We will tell you not to do something.  You’ll consider it, look right at us and say “I’m making a bad decision”, and do it anyway.

You don’t really need to nap anymore, and when you do nap you stay up until 11.  But some afternoons you get really tired and we’ll find you passed out somewhere.

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Your abilities are finally starting to catch up with your desire to be independent, and you’re really proud of this.  When you do this puzzle you make me look at every piece as you join it to another.

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You have a dark side and talk about death a lot.  I always joke that I’m going to cancel your birthday so that you will stay little.  Today you told me “See?  It’s too late to cancel my birthday now.  I’m already four.  But you can cancel it when I’m dead.”

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You’re brave. I can’t really think of a single thing you’re scared of.  You fearlessly jump off of anything high, you will go down any water slide or ride any ride you’re tall enough for, you’ll run and jump in 6′ of water (with a vest), you’ll sleep in the pitch black dark…

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You like to play with baby dolls, but mostly just one brown baby who is bald, has pen marks on her face, and is also always naked.  We have bought you nicer, newer dolls- brown ones as well- but you won’t stop playing with this one specific doll.  You also really like your duck blanket.

Happy birthday Sassypants!  Slow down just a bit!

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Getting Refreshed at the Refresh KC Adoption Conference

Why hello there.

It’s been awhile.

I had to come out of hiding to share an experience with you….but first, a backstory.

We’ve had our adopted kids home with us for more than 3.5 years now.  In some ways, we’re at the smooth sailing point.  Everyone’s speaking English, I haven’t found poopy toilet paper in the trash can for years, the kids can make phone calls and log onto computers…it’s all good.

Except when it’s not.  Last spring we started dealing with some majorly bad attitudes and melt downs.  I don’t do well with drama and big emotions.  We got into a cycle that looked like this:

  • Kid would have a major meltdown about something completely irrational
  • I’d lose my temper, and then feel awful afterwards
  • I’d spend the next 20 minutes apologizing and trying to make it right again

We weren’t living in a happy home.  Besides feeling guilty about losing my temper, I’d feel bad for not giving the kids that were behaving well the attention they deserved.  I spent some time with the Lord and started working on myself, but the bad attitudes and disrespect weren’t improving.

This started to get between The Husband and I.  He felt like we needed to step up the discipline; I felt that would be damaging.

Right before the holidays things got really bad, and in desperation I emailed a girl I kind of know who runs a large adoption ministry at Westside Family Church.  She referred me to some therapists, but told me that she would prioritize getting on the same page as The Husband before changing therapy providers.  And she also invited me to the upcoming Refresh conference!

Why does anyone need to go to an adoption conference?

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Glad you asked.

Something we have learned is that even if an adopted child outwardly looks like a natural child, the make up of their brain is significantly different.  For example, my biological children have had their every need met by me literally from the time they took their first breath.  They have never been let down by adults (except for that time I served dinner on the pink plate instead of the orange one).  When they have cried, grown ups have responded.  This has allowed their brains to form healthy connections.  They trust us.  Even when we discipline them, they are secure in their attachment to us.

That’s not true for adopted kids.  Each kid has a unique story, but no one’s journey to adoption is easy.  Did you know that even if a baby is adopted from the hospital as a newborn infant, his brain is affected due to elevated levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the womb?  Like many adoptive parents, we don’t know all the details to our kiddo’s story.  But we do know that they have been let down by adults.  They have been left by people they trusted.  They have not always had their needs met.  We’ve been working with them and loving on them and speaking truth to them for 3.5 years but do they feel fully secure in their place in our family?  No.

So when we deal with behaviors, we have to do it differently than we might otherwise.  I look at getting our adoptive kids to trust us as a straight line.  If feeling secure and attached is on the right side of the line, they’re maybe somewhere in the middle.  We try to make steady progress to the right, but every time I lose my temper and yell at them, they step back.  Then we have family game night and they move to the right again…but then we forget to do something we told them we’d do, and they fall back again.  It’s on our minds constantly because the price of screw ups is big. It requires us to be very patient and intentional and frankly, it’s really hard.

So the first reason why one goes to an adoption conference is because these skills take wisdom and training and understanding, and these conferences are chock full of experts in these areas.   My adoption Bible for discipline and attaching to adopted kids is The Connected Child by Karen Purvis.  I reread it leading up to the conference and I made The Husband read it too.  One of the breakout sessions was led by a therapist who is an expert in this style (TBRI trained for my adoption friends)….why oh why does she have to live an hour away from us?!  Whether your issue is navigating relationships with birth families, sensory issues, marriage issues, transracial issues…we covered it all.

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The second reason is explained by the name of the conference itself- to REFRESH!  The people who put on this conference are saints and they pampered us at every turn.  Literally, there were pampering sessions you could sign up for.  I got a trim/hair style.  The sweet girl who did it was African American and told me she was doing “black magic” on my hair and that my husband “be calling the babysitter when I’m done with cho!”  Afterwards I looked like I was going to an 80s prom, check out that hair!

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And can I just say it was glorious to stay in a hotel, in a king size bed with no little humans, and do whatever the heck we wanted all night?  We were done by 9PM Friday and you know what I wanted to do?  I wanted to get some craft beer, some Pringles, and lay in bed and watch This Is Us.  So that’s exactly what we did….and I ate the entire tube of Pringles.  I veg like that literally never- like I can’t remember the last time I watched TV in bed- and in all honestly it was the best part of the conference for me.

But the other big reason to go to an adoption conference is because you’re surrounded by YOUR people.  These people get it.  When you start adoption, you’re naive and think love can heal everything and want that beautiful picture of your blended family.  But it doesn’t always go according to plan. We were given paddles that say “Me Too” that you were supposed to hold up when you related to a speaker’s story.  It’ s powerful when a speaker says something you can relate to- a child doing something terrible, or an awful thought they’ve had- and you look across the room and see hundreds of people with their paddles in the air.  It makes you realize you’re not alone and that your family isn’t completely crazy.

It’s so encouraging to be surrounded by people with such cool stories.  I met a lady who had 4 natural children, adopted 2 at separate times from Uganda, and then years later one of her adopted sons started talking about his old friend in Uganda.  Turns out he used to care for this friend who had spina bifida and clubfoot.  They ended up adopting the friend too!  We met people who have fostered 200 kids over the course of many years.  We met adult adoptees who have suffered terrible things, but now are encouraging others in their journeys.  I’m not sure you’ll find a room full of cooler people than you would at an adoption conference.

And the sum of all that- the education combined with the pampering combined with the encouragement and support- allows you to step back and reflect on what big jobs we as adoptive parents have.  It teaches us about ourselves and about Jesus- the parallels between how we pursue our adopted children’s hearts and how Jesus pursues our hearts are very clear.

So, adoption friends- join me next year at Refresh!  This conference also meets in Seattle and Chicago.

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Last Days in Bora Bora

The most exciting thing we did on Thursday or Friday was rent jet skis!  Riding jet skis on the ocean has been on The Husband’s bucket list for a long time, so that was a fun one to check off the list.  I hated being passenger; I was scared that I’d get bucked out, smashed by The Husband, crushed by the jet ski behind us, and then eaten by lemon sharks.  I loved being driver; it brought out my thrill seeker side that has been lying dormant since I’ve had kids.  We were out with a guide and three other couples- they were from Italy, China, and France.  At one point we stopped at a private island, searched around for a coconut, and broke it open to enjoy the water and meat.  Unfortunately we didn’t get any pictures, but jet skiing was a highlight of the trip!  That night we went to Bora Bora Yacht Club with some friends.

The restaurant had AMAZING views- we sat right on the edge of the dock- and crazy fish that kept jumping out of the water and distracting the fisherman in our group.  We got swordfish and mahi mahi with vanilla sauce, and crème brulee for dessert. Some of the best food of the trip!

The rest of our days have been spent reading and relaxing- makes for a great trip but not very exciting blogs!  We leave in a few hours for a long trip back.  Here are a few other things I want to remember:

How fun paddle boarding was!  This was both of ours first time and I thought it was a blast.  The Husband…well, I’ll let him tell you what he thought.

Kayaking right up to our bungalow

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Riding our bikes everywhere.  The resort is fairly spread out, so the bikes really make it easy to get around.

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The cool tables by the pool.

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How my company had the first ever pool party since the hotel opened back up!  Word on the street was they took promotional video to turn it into a more frequent event, though I wasn’t around for that.

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How every single person you pass says in a sing-songy voice “Iaorana”

These cute little needlefish we see all the time while snorkeling

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I took this one back because while Googling to find this picture I found pictures that show them with their mouths open…aye aye aye!

The yummy and extravagant breakfast we got every day- I loved the little hashbrown pancakes and The Husband loved the salmon and capers- but the French toast with chocolate sauce was the best.

Our little creepy crawly friend.  I saw him again Thursday night while The Husband was in the shower, but he hid and then we couldn’t find him again.  The Husband is convinced he only lives in my imagination, but I know what I saw.  He has me creeped out; I won’t walk around when it’s dark and only walk in the middle of the floor, not close to his potential hiding spots.  Last night The Husband was asleep and I was brushing my teeth- so I had to be close to the sink and was very nervous.  The belt from my robe brushed against the top of my feet and I screamed at the very top of my lungs!  The Husband slept through it all.

The amazing over water hammocks and our never ending view- surburbia is going to be hard to adjust back to.Capture

It’s been the trip of a lifetime and we are sad to leave, but are so excited to see our kids again.  Until next time….

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Hiking in Bora Bora

We caught the first shuttle to the main island on Wednesday so we could hike up the mountain!

Hiking was high on the list of things we wanted to do and we had done a little research before coming here.  There was one specific guide, Azdine, who came highly recommended.  Some of the comments we read suggested booking directly through him rather than through the hotel, so I figured out how to use the phone and called him.  He had a heavy accent, but I have quite a bit of experience dealing with non-native English speakers and felt confident that our plans were confirmed to meet at 8:30 on the main dock.

Except when we were there, he was not.  Our friends joined us for the trip, and I was feeling rather foolish.  Also helpless, since our phones don’t work here and even if they did I was unsure how to dial a local number.  Eventually The Husband and I walked to a local café where I looked up his number and then used an employee’s phone to call him while our friends waited at the dock.  I’m still not quite sure what happened, but he ended up picking us up around 9:15.  It seems like I always get ourselves into these adventures…but they make for good stories and they always turn out fine.

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Azdine was a character!  A native of France but descended from Moroccan parents, his skin matches the locals but he is much smaller.  He moved to Tahiti at the age of 18 in pursuit of the ‘island life’, but found life in Papeete, the capital city, was fast-paced and comparable to European life.  So after studying botany and archaeology at university, he settled in Bora Bora.  He found that all of the land was privately owned, but talked to the family and got permission to study it.  He got his machete and cleared paths.  He soon found that his research was not profitable, so he began leading tourists on hikes.  Now he leads hikes during the busy season and researches and explores during the off season.  He has lead people from National Geographic, New York Times, and Disney (while researching Moana) on hikes, but I’m not sure he understands how huge these platforms are.  He acted surprised that we already knew some basic information on him. He told us that he was most excited to give a tour to Barack Obama a few months ago, but the weather prevented them from going out.  On that note, we were hoping to climb higher and explore the caves, but the recent rain made that trek impassable.

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Azdine prefers his Bora Bora name, Tama, which means something like “child who comes from far away”.  He is 5’5” of pure passion and didn’t hesitate to share his politics with us.  He shared that the people of Bora Bora pay the same taxes as those in France, but they do not benefit from any of the services the French do.  He, and those in his party, dreams of independence for Bora Bora, but admits that they are not yet ready.  He says the locals come to him grumbling that they are poor, but that he tells them they need to “move their ass!”  He explained that although the tourist industry here is set up to favor the French over the locals- French people come here for management and upper-tier jobs, while the locals do things like housekeeping and cooking- there are many untapped opportunities for the locals to capitalize on their beautiful island, if only they’d tap into their entrepreneur spirit and work.  He goes to the local school weekly and teaches kids how to better use their natural resources.

Today the main island is settled around the coast line but completely uninhabited beyond that.  I figured this was because the terrain was unforgiving, but Azdine/Tama explained that centuries ago it WAS inhabited.  The predominant religion in Bora Bora is Christian, but their history includes a lot of folklore. At some point in the past, legends started that the hills were taboo and everyone left, afraid of the curses or bad luck they’d get by entering the taboo area.  Azdine/Tama has been working hard to change that.

As he lead us on our journey, he stopped constantly to point out things that I would have otherwise missed.  He showed us pineapple plants and my uneducated mind was blown to learn that pineapples grow out of the ground (I always thought they grew on trees).  He showed us banana flowers and explained how each layer provides new bunches.

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Each of those yellow buds becomes a banana, and under each leaf is a brand new bunch.

He dug up some fresh ginger growing in a dirt pile we were walking on.  He cracked open one of the first passion fruits of the season, not quite ripe yet, and shared the juice with us- it was to die for!  We ate a papaya fresh from the tree.  He shared some honey he had made from his bee hive.  We smelled coffee beans he had harvested.  He shelled a fresh almond that had just fallen off the tree.  He cracked open something that had cotton, or something resembling cotton, in it and explained how he used it to make pillows.

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He talked incessantly about how the island has all these natural resources that were completely untapped.  We don’t have any of the things above at the hotel; everything is imported from New Zealand, the States, or Europe.  His passion is to help people farm the land and sell it to the resorts.  According to him, there are only two farms on the island, both under his direction, and one of them just recently started selling exclusively to one of the big resorts here. He pointed out repeatedly but in an unoffensive way how the tourists live in a bubble while they’re here, unaware of the resources on the main island or the struggles the local people have.

We passed a WWII bunker.  The United States used Bora Bora as a supply base, among other things, during the war.  For that reason, the locals love Americans (Azdine joked that they are the only country in the world that loved Americans 😊 ).  We helped build their streets and put infrastructure in place that is still here today.  This bunker was once completely covered; Azdine discovered it while working on the land.

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We hiked through uncleared areas, pushing vegetation out of the way.  Eventually we got to an area he had cleared that looked like something out of a movie.  With the mountain peaks in the background and native flowers all around it was simply beautiful.

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Azdine explained how when he was clearing the area he came about some black stones that seemed to be in a pattern forming a floor.  He kept clearing and clearing, discovering more and more of this, and eventually found a pile of rocks, surrounded by white (now gray) rocks pointing upwards.  He believes it was an ancient temple.

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We stopped in the area for a quick picnic before Azdine took us to see his little farm, including little piglets that had just been born the day before!

When a beautiful sight was about to come up, Azdine would stop us before it entered our view, instruct us to look down at our feet and not to cheat, and march us towards the sight.  He would then tell us to look up- and although cheesy, it was really a great way to shock your senses with beauty.  He did this as we walked toward a banyan tree.

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I had never seen a banyan tree before and was simply amazed.  Instead of the roots starting at the bottom of the tree, they start at the top and then hang down like giant vines before implanting themselves in the ground and becoming solid branches.  Because of this the trees become absolutely huge- the biggest one in the world covers nearly 5 acres!!  Azdine explained that ancient Polynesians did not bury or burn dead bodies because those things were associated with hell, so they embalmed them and put them in trees like this one.  He has discovered the remains of 7 bodies in the internal part of this tree.  Because of the way the tree has grown around them they are impossible to get out, and I didn’t try to squeeze myself into the tree to get a better look!  He also told us that today they do bury their bodies…in their front yards!  We had seen several tombs while walking/driving around and wondered why there were there.  Apparently, when a baby is born its umbilical cord is buried in the yard as well, and when that person’s dead body is eventually placed there the circle of life is completed.  At one time, they believed they would not be reincarnated if the circle of life was broken. There are no cemeteries on the island, but even if there were its doubtful people would use them over the traditional burials.

From here we walked up a steep uphill to the most beautiful view of all.  The pictures do not even come close to doing it justice.  We simply sat and took in the wonder.

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Azdine asked us where we had eaten and when we told him Bloody Marys, he gagged and said that was the “Tahitian McDonalds”.  He recommended Bora Bora Yacht Club, so we’ll try that later this week.

We went back downhill and after a quick stop at the grocery store for some coconut bread, we returned to our boat shuttle.  We had to hurry to get back to the hotel because we had an all company dinner that night.  After a quick shower we returned to the boat shuttle.

Two big boats of people from my company headed to the resort’s private island.

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We were greeted by delicious smelling leis, wet towels, ukuleles, and cocktails.  After a happy hour and photo shoot on the beach, we moved over to a large picnic area surrounded by tiki torches.

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Our CEO gave a speech and I think everyone reflected on the unpredictable success the firm has had in its short 5.5 years, how very blessed we are to be here, and how lucky we are to all work together.  It gave me all the feels!

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After the speech we ate a FEAST.  I mean, not even joking.  There was a roasted pig leg someone was cutting pork off of, a seemingly unending fish selection, dozens of dessert choices, mini burgers, different kinds of rice, crab legs, the whole 9 yards.  It was crazy.

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After dinner these Polynesian dancers came out and performed an elaborate show for us.  It was so fun, and it gave me the feels in a different way as we watched people put fire in the mouths and on their bodies!

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After we went back The Husband and I got separated and I returned to the room.  I was surprised not to find him here and started getting ready for bed when I saw something crawl out from under the sink.  I did not have my contacts in and couldn’t tell if it was a small crab, a large spider, or something else, but it freaked me out.  I climbed on the furniture, started messaging The Husband to come save me, and tried to not get eaten.  He did eventually come, but wasn’t interested in finding the creature and now I am still scared I might become crab food.

Wednesday was non stop going from 7am-10:30 pm, but was so fun and informative.  Definitely a great day!

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