Monthly Archives: September 2017

Gotcha Day!

Standard

I must say that on my short list of experiences I dread, right up near the top with root canals and cleaning the oven, is car shopping. I find it painful. I hate everything about it…the decision making, the financing, the pressure from the pushy salesman, the hours spent in the dingy back office signing paperwork, and the knot you get in your stomach  when you realize you are back to having a monthly car payment.

ICK, ICK, ICK…I hate it all.

I would rather dump good money after bad into a vehicle that is on death’s door, if it means avoiding a trip to the car lot, than have to go car shopping.

My son doesn’t agree.

Ozzie’s idea of heaven on earth is an afternoon spent at a car lot reading the information stickers posted on the side window of each car. Ozzie loves cars and has extensive knowledge of every vehicle that ever landed on the road. He can tell you how the design changed from year to year, what special features each one offers, and the year certain vehicles stopped being manufactured.

Before Ozzie left for his inpatient stay he asked if we could celebrate his “Gotcha Day” a few months early. In the world of adoption, a “Gotcha Day” is the anniversary of a child’s adoption into a family…the day we “gotcha.” As a family we celebrate Tyler and Ozzie’s gotcha days much like we celebrate a child’s birthday, as we consider that day the day they were “born” into our family.

It was important to Ozzie that he get to celebrate this special day with his family. His actual “Gotcha Day” is November 22, but since we were uncertain as to where he would be in his treatment journey, and since we didn’t know if we would be able to take him out that day, we opted to celebrate early.

His request for his “Gotcha Day” this year was a trip to local car lots. He explained that what he wanted to do more than anything was to visit all the car lots in our area, as a family, and look at the cars that were for sale, and then go out for dinner.

IMG_2140 (2)

It was an unusual request, but a feasible one, so we made plans to spend the afternoon “car shopping.” This was really a testament to how deeply I love Ozzie, as this is a request I would not answer yes to with just anyone.

IMG_2133 (2)

The pain of car shopping was magnified on Saturday as, in addition to all the normal car shopping pains, I now had to explain to the pushy salesman that we weren’t actually there to buy a car, we were just looking.

They would inevitably pushed back with, “Well, what sort of vehicle are you looking for. I’m sure we can find just the thing for you.”

“No, I mean we are really just looking,” I explained, “Like for fun…like we don’t need a car. We are just out for a family outing.”

At this point confusion would wash over the salesman’s face, uncertain if he was getting the brush off and should keep pushing, or if we are in fact a crazy family just out for a fun afternoon browsing car lots.

The fact that I had a camera around my neck and was taking pictures of Ozzie next to the various vehicles confirmed the latter.

IMG_2135 (2)

At one car lot, however, the salesman demanded a more thorough explanation, as he couldn’t wrap his brain around the idea that someone would visit a car lot for fun..so we explained it was Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day,” the anniversary of his adoption, and this is how he wanted to spend the day.

The man turned to Ozzie, offered his congratulations, and asked, “So, do you want to sell cars when you grow up?”

Ozzie nodded his head with an enthusiastic, “YES!”

To which the salesman deadpanned, “Don’t do it kid. Life’s too short.”

I died.

The man then invited Ozzie in to the office and let him pick out a stack of vehicle brochures. Ozzie was in heaven!

IMG_2136 (2)

When we were done visiting all our local car lots, we headed over to Ponderosa for Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day” dinner, per his request.

IMG_2141 (2)

It was a crazy way to celebrate the anniversary of Ozzie’s adoption, but so perfectly Ozzie. He loved it, which is all that matters. That is what “Gotcha Days” are all about. It is our opportunity to celebrate that special child and the unique gifts, talents and spirit they bring to our family…

And that is just what we did.

Happy early “Gotcha Day,” Ozzie. We love you to the moon and back!

Equine Therapy

Standard

horse

In our search for therapeutic tools to help both of our adopted sons heal from the trauma of the past, we stumbled across equine therapy. It has proven to be hugely beneficial in helping patients with PTSD. Our therapists’ office happens to offer equine therapy through one of its sister branches 45 minutes away. This is a different ranch than the one that the older kids are now volunteering at two mornings a week. Ready Yourself Youth Ranch has no openings until spring and I wanted to start the boys before then, so I signed them up for a 6-week session with a certified equine therapist through Glade Run Adventures.

IMG_2130 (2)

Saturday was Ozzie and Tyler’s first therapy session.

(Because Ozzie is away receiving treatment for a few months, his lessons will pick back up during the winter months, while Tyler will continue with this 6-week session.)

When we arrived, the boys were each assigned a horse.

IMG_2128 (2)

Ozzie was paired with Rosie,

IMG_2123 (2)

And Tyler was paired with Smokey.

IMG_2112 (2)

Their first task was getting fitted for boots and helmets. Once they were geared up it was time to gear up their horses.

IMG_2105 (2)

The therapist walked the boys through the process of grooming their horses. This is a big part of the therapy work, as it creates connection between the rider and the horse. The boys had a good idea of what to do thanks to our visit to RYYR ranch a few weeks ago with our Family Based team.

Next, they learned how to saddle the horses and prepare them for riding.

Soon it was time to mount up and begin the riding lessons.

Since this was both boys’ first time on a horse by themselves the therapist worked on the basics…how to sit, how to hold the reins, how to communicate with the horse, and how to be respectful and kind to the animal they were riding.

Since Ozzie was on the bigger horse, and struggled a bit more with the tasks at hand, the therapists focused her attention on helping Ozzie. She walked him around the ring, while guiding him through his interactions with the horse.

IMG_2116 (2)

Tyler took to the lesson a bit more easily. This was due in part to him having a less stubborn and more docile horse. He found his groove quickly and was soon a pro at moving around the ring.

IMG_2126 (2)

Both boys did really well and LOVED the experience.

I think it is an unexpected blessing that current circumstances puts them into different 6-week classes. Their needs are very different and what will be worked on from a therapeutic perspective is vastly different. With Tyler, the therapist will focus on the PTSD and the heightened anxiety he is struggling with. With Ozzie, the focus will be on attachment, kind and respectful interactions with animals, and meeting his sensory seeking needs.

While both are signed up for equine therapy to meet vastly different needs, I am certain both will benefit from it. It was nice for them to be able to share this one lesson and connect over a shared experience that the older kids didn’t participate in.

When their lesson time was done they climbed down from their steeds, walking like cowboys from an old western. They were both feeling the effect of working muscles they never have exercised before and were a bit stiff and sore. The instructor told them that was to be expected and it would lessen over time. I couldn’t help but smile as they moseyed out of the barn bowlegged and shuffling.

Their legs may have ached more than ever, but they left with their hearts aching a little bit less…

And that is a huge blessing.

Living Treasures Animal Park

Standard

 

 

IMG_2021

While Molly and Rusty were hiking with the school’s Adventure Club, Tyler, Ozzie and I went on an adventure of our own.

Just down the road from McConnells Mill State Park is Living Treasures Animal Park. This park has a special place in my heart, as it is home to so many sweet memories. Our first visit here was with Gracie as a baby. We have visited it with my sister and her kids, my parents, my brother, my grandfather and many friends. Over the years we have created many sweet memories at this special place, and Thursday we created a few more.

It has been over a year since we visited Living Treasures. We were long overdue for a trip to our favorite animal park. Having just the little boys with me afforded me the opportunity to spend some special one on one time with the two youngest and give them the chance to create some special memories together as brothers.

IMG_1974

We arrived as the doors opened and I bought animal feed for both boys to feed the animals. The fun thing about this park is the many opportunities to interact with all the animals more intimately than you can at a zoo.

IMG_1944

The animals that you can pet and feed by hand include deer, cattle, alpaca, goats, and the giraffes.

IMG_1962IMG_2019IMG_2009IMG_1953

The giraffes are some of our favorite friends at Living Treasures.

IMG_2023IMG_2026IMG_2028

Currently there is a new addition in the giraffe house. Baby Calvin, a one month old calf, was recently born at Living Treasures weighing in at 145 pounds and standing 6’3″tall. He is now making daily appearances with mama a few times a day.

IMG_2081IMG_2073

What a doll he was!

Bigger animals are fed through feeding tubes that drop their treats into a food dish that they eagerly wait beside, hoping for a handout. This system allows kids to interact with the animals up close without the risk of losing fingers.

IMG_2012IMG_2017IMG_2086IMG_2016

The monkeys and apes at Living Treasures are fed with a bucket system. Visitors can place carrots or special monkey pellets in a bucket attached to a chain, and the monkeys can pull the bucket to the cage and fish out their treats.

IMG_1965IMG_1969

Other animals, like the alligators, can only been viewed from a safe distance away.

IMG_1976

 Two of our favorite exhibits in the park were the aviary, where guests are invited to feed the birds, and the petting zoo, where the goats and baby animals are housed.

At the aviary the boys had a wonderful time feeding their bright, feathered friends. Never have we experienced that level of interest from the birds. Being the first visitors of the day paid off, as the birds all had empty stomachs and were eager to eat. The result reminded me of a certain Alfred Hitchcock classic.

IMG_1986IMG_2000

It made for a lot of squeals and giggles, and some awesome photo opportunities.

IMG_1990IMG_1992

IMG_1983

IMG_2004

We experienced a different sort of swarm when we entered the petting zoo area to feed the goats. They too acted as though they hadn’t been fed in months and were all over the boys and their buckets.

IMG_2038IMG_2040

IMG_2042

IMG_2033

IMG_2036

The best part of visiting this area of Living Treasures, however, is the baby animals. Here we were able to feed and pet two baby camels, and various baby cattle. Oh, how sweet they were. Oh, how tempted I was to smuggle one home!

IMG_2087IMG_2062IMG_2055

Especially this sweet thing, that looks like a hoofed version of a Basset Hound.

There were also a few baby pot belly pigs that reminded us of our own Pot Belly Pig, Harley D. Hog, when we first brought him home as a bottle fed baby.

IMG_2065

All too soon, it was time to leave and pick up the other kids from their Adventure Club outing. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to create some special memories with my two youngest.

It is a day I will treasure.

 

 

Adventure Club!

Standard

(I am a week behind in my blogging, having set aside all non-essential activities these last few days as we prepared for Ozzie’s departure. Our focus has been on preparing everyone emotionally for his departure and packing in some memory making, family bonding experiences for Ozzie before he left. I will now catch everyone up on this past week, but for those who have inquired, Ozzie is now at the trauma center. We drove him up yesterday. We were able to tour the facility, meet the staff, and spend time helping Ozzie get situated and acclimated to his home away from home for the next few months. The facility was beautiful, the staff was awesome, and the Spirit was strong. This Christian based center had a completely different feel from the places Ozzie has had short term stays at. There is a special spirit there as staff works with kids who have experienced the very worst the world has to offer, and helps them heal. I have no doubt God’s hand was in the series of “circumstances” that opened the necessary doors that led to Ozzie being accepted there, but even with that knowledge it was heartbreaking to leave him. I have never done anything harder in my life than driving away from my son, leaving him in the care of strangers, knowing his absence would be felt in our home for the next few months. I know it is where he needs to be to heal, but that knowledge doesn’t lessen the pain of being two hours away from my son. It seems the heartbreak of abuse is never ending, and it continues to affect not only Ozzie but all of us who love Ozzie.)

SIGH…

But now onto happier thoughts.

Last Thursday was an outing with our cyber school’s Adventure Club. Since the school is headquartered 5 hours away, on the other side of the state, we don’t have access to quite as many outings as the students out east, so when there is something planned out our way we always try to attend. This particular outing was only a short jaunt from the house.

We woke up early to prepare to leave. The outing began at 8:30 am. We planned on leaving the house by 7:30. There were lunches to pack and Molly had to finish a special gift for a friend before we left.

Her best friend, Tatum, was having surgery on her ear the following day, so Molly wanted to do something special for her friend. We found this cute idea online and recreated it as a get well gift for Miss Tatum. Since Tatum was planning on being at the outing, Molly took it along so she could deliver it in person before Tatum’s surgery.

IMG_1934

At 7:30 am the Allans (friends from church) arrived to hop in our van to catch a ride over to the outing.

IMG_1938

When we arrived we checked everyone in and then left for a special surprise outing I had planned for Tyler and Ozzie (more on that in the next blog) while the big kids joined their friends and teachers for a 4 mile hike through McConnells Mill State Park. Their day was filled with hiking, touring the mill, a poetry writing activity, and lunch as a group.

received_1957523591196642received_1957523147863353received_1957522961196705received_1957523444529990received_1957523557863312received_1957522801196721received_1957523201196681received_1957522881196713received_1957522917863376received_1957523534529981received_1957522857863382received_1957522751196726

Rusty and Molly had a fantastic time hiking with their friends and teachers. It was a perfect day. The sun was shining and the scenery was stunning. At 1:00 pm we returned back to pick up the kids. We had an afternoon filled with appointments, but we were glad we were able to fit in some morning fun with friends.

Thank you, 21st Century Cyber Charter School, for another awesome outing!

 

Healing Trauma away from Home

Standard

healing trauma

Sometimes love…real, deep, powerful love…is about choosing what is right and not what is easy. True love is rooted in forgiveness, in sacrifice, in humility, in choosing to continue to show up and engage. True love is about putting your own desires aside and loving the other enough to make the hard decisions. It is choosing another’s well being above your own, and caring enough to let heartbreak, for the sake of healing, be part of the journey.

I have learned more about the meaning of true love from our adoption journey than any other relationship in my life. I think it is because it has challenged my way of viewing love, and what love really is, more than any other relationship I am in. I have learned how to love through the hard stuff. I have learned how to love when love is not reciprocated. I have learned how to put aside my own selfish desires for the well being of another. I have learned that love is a choice, not simply an emotion. Love is choosing to continue showing up when it is hard…when it is heartbreaking…when it feels hopeless. Love is more powerful than a simple emotion. Love has the power to transform. Love has the power to mend. Love has the power to grow us and mold us into the beings God intended us to be, but that sort of transformation doesn’t happen when relationships are easy and effortless. No, that sort of miracle growth only occurs in the harshest conditions, when we have reached the end of ourselves and surrendered it all to God.

Oh, what a journey it has been these last eight months. God has been working in mighty ways and we have all been feeling the growing pains. It has been the darkest season of my life. At the time I couldn’t see where it was leading…I struggled to find the hope hidden in the heartache. God was working on me. God was teaching me the lesson of unconditional love. He humbled me and allowed me to fall to my knees so that He could lift me up. There is no greater heartbreak in this world than watching your child suffer, and Ozzie’s suffering has consumed my every thought, my every minute, and my every prayer these last few months.

His past has come back to haunt him and the trauma buried deep within is bubbling to the surface. The flashbacks are paralyzing, and memories of abuse that were never reported are now consuming him. He is victim of an abusive beginning and now that traumatic childhood is affecting his ability to function, attach, and heal today.

After months of escalating behaviors and an emotional downward spiral, he has hit rock bottom…the place we all so often need to touch to begin our journey up. In the midst of the darkness I struggled to find hope, but now as I stand on the edge of the light I can see God’s hand in these last few months. He was laying a foundation for what is to come…a necessary foundation for Ozzie to qualify for the help he really needs.

God’s plan began to come to fruition a few weeks ago when his treatment team made the recommendation for a longer inpatient stay at a hospital that works specifically with kids who suffer from PTSD and early childhood trauma and abuse. I struggled with the thought of Ozzie having to go away to receive the help he needs but understood what the treatment team was saying. For trauma as deep and dark as what Ozzie experienced, weekly outpatient visits just couldn’t dig deep enough, quickly enough, to root out the source of the infection that is festering within. They explained that he needed to be receiving daily therapy with a specialized trauma/ EMDR therapist that can help him get the healing he needs to free him from his past. I understood it on a cerebral level, but my heart hurt.

healing2

I couldn’t make the call. I surrendered it to God, knowing that the chance of him getting into this trauma center was slim to none. The waiting list was long and the chances of insurance approving the placement was minimal. I prayed God would speak through circumstances and if Ozzie was to find his healing in Erie at this treatment center then doors would miraculously open, testifying of God’s plan.

The last two weeks have been wrought with miracles, and two days ago we received the call that a bed had opened up for Ozzie. We will drive him up to Erie on Monday and he will remain there for a few months while he receives treatment. It is all good news…but hard news. I think we are all struggling a little bit with the reality of it all.

Once again I am learning a lesson about the real meaning of love.

Love is doing what is right, as opposed to what is easy. It is making short term sacrifices for long term healing. It is about sacrificing the temporal for the eternal. It is about setting aside our own selfish desires for the sake of what our child needs most, and surrendering this child (who is simply on loan from God anyway) to the hands of a loving Heavenly Father whose plan is greater than ours.

We have felt the strengthening power of your prayers.

Thank you, friends ❤

 

A Date with Sister

Standard

Like Tyler, Ozzie doesn’t live with his biological sibling. Ozzie has one younger sister who was placed in a different adoptive home by the courts three years ago. Just like with Tyler’s story, we have made a concerted effort to maintain and even build their relationship through frequent phone calls and regular visits.

Eight months ago things began to spiral downward at an alarming rate. Events were taking place in both kids’ lives that were affecting them emotionally. Both were being haunted by new memories of old abuse at the hands of their bio parents. Ozzie was experiencing flashbacks that involved Zoey and muddied his emotions as we tried to help him process and make sense (but who can really make sense of parents hurting their children) of what happened. As a result our monthly dates with Zoey were put on hold per Ozzie’s request. A few months later we revisited the idea but by then Zoey was working through her own struggles with past trauma involving Ozzie and didn’t feel emotionally ready to see him. This went on for months as both kiddos rode the roller coaster of ups and downs while processing past trauma.

Ozzie has been spiraling downward at an alarming rate, to the point that we are actively seeking out intensive trauma therapy options. His treatment team has recommended an inpatient program that will take him away from home for a few months where he will receive  more specialized therapy for his  past trauma and abuse…therapy than can’t be done in an outpatient therapist’s office. It is such a heartbreaking journey we have been on, but we have seen God’s hand as we move toward this possibility.

The possibility of being away for a few months spurred Ozzie to want a visit with Zoey. He asked if they could have a date, and I happily made it happen. On Saturday we met Zoey (and her adoptive mom) at Eat-n-Park for a breakfast date.

Ozzie brought Zoey’s gift. Zoey’s birthday was months ago but Ozzie didn’t feel emotionally ready to give her the gift he picked out until now.

IMG_1929

In the small bag was a series of get to know you questions.

I recognized a key factor in this get together going well, was going to be facilitating conversation between Zoey and Ozzie that was light, fun, and superficial. Neither were in an emotionally healthy position to discuss their struggles, their past choices, or trauma memories. They had both gone through a lot in the last few months. They hadn’t seen each other for six months. Both were nervous about the encounter. We needed to keep things silly and non-threatening.

So, as we sat and enjoyed a breakfast date, Ozzie and Zoey took turns pulling questions out of the bag and asking each other questions like:

“If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?”

“If you could dye your hair any color what color would you pick?”

“If you were invisible for a day what would you do?”

“What is your favorite smell?”

“If you could have any animal as a pet what would you choose?”

The questions worked beautifully. They broke the ice and allowed the two of them to become reacquainted in a fun, non-threatening way. They talked and laughed with ease. And everyone left the restaurant feeling as though the date was a success.

God’s mercy enveloped those two children on Saturday morning. He gave them the beautiful gift of reconnection and love. It was a blessed morning.

God is good…

Always good!

 

The Gifts of Imperfection

Standard

gifts5

For Gracie’s 19th birthday we surprised her with a trip down to Virginia to meet her favorite author. We arrived an hour before the “meet and greet” and book signing so that the girls could get a seat up close to Kiera Cass. I hung out in the back of the crowd so I could take photos of Gracie’s special experience. As we waited for Kiera Cass to arrive I found myself browsing the shelves to my right. I was surrounded by crowds and didn’t want to lose my prime picture taking spot so I killed time by perusing the self help titles.

I found myself drawn to a particular title:

gifts

I picked it up and began reading. By the time Kiera Cass walked into the room I was well into chapter 3. I had never read a secular book that spoke to my soul quite like this one. At the end of the evening I purchased a copy and was up half the night reading it. I couldn’t put it down. It was as if the author had a window into my soul and saw my greatest fears, anxieties and compulsions. She was a fellow perfectionist. And the truth she spoke awakened something within me, inviting me to engage in the hard task of self-assessment. It challenged my way of thinking, made me see the root of my weariness, and invited me to consider a different approach.

I finished the book in a day and was hungry for more of her teachings. I sought out quotes, YouTube videos and interviews, and it was during this search that I stumbled across her OWN Lifeclass. I signed up, eager to dig deeper into the heart of my perfectionism and people pleasing tendencies.

gifts7

I have a daughter that is much like me. Miss Molly also is burdened by the need to please others and driven by the same miss guided lie that perfection brings peace.

I invited her to embark on a journey of self discovery with me. I bought her a copy of the book, because it is not one you want to share. This is one of those books you mark up with highlighted quotes and notes in the margin.

Two months ago we began the online class together.

IMG_0698

Course Overview:

“Have you ever thought, “What will people think?” or “I am not good enough,”? New York Times best-selling author and research professor, Dr. Brené Brown will take you through her Guideposts for Wholehearted Living—and leave you feeling more connected and passionate about life. Brené will guide you step-by-step on a joyful, courage-building journey unlike any other. It’s heartwork through artwork.”

Every week, for Molly’s one-on-one time, we pull up our lesson and dive into our self-awareness journey through a series of creative, artistic, “heartwork” projects.

IMG_0687

This past week we explored what drives our need for other’s approval. Our creative assignment was to find a photo of ourselves from a time in our life when our choices weren’t driven by the need for approval from others…when we were authentically ourselves.

gifts3

I found the assignment challenging. For as long as I can remember I have been driven by the fear that if I’m not good enough, smart enough, talented enough, diligent enough, the world will come crashing down. My life is driven by the concern for other’s assessment of me, rather than my desires for my life. It is painfully uncomfortable to be that emotionally naked in front of you all, but that is the truth. My self worth is rooted in my dependability and reliability. My choices are driven by fear and guilt. My worthiness for love is firmly rooted in my ability to “do” rather than simply “be.” I can’t remember the last time I made a decision based solely on my desire to do something.

gifts6

This is the photo I found to represent my authentic self. Even at this age I still struggled with perfectionism and people pleasing, but it hadn’t fully taken root and there was still a silliness, lightness, and  freedom to be myself.

IMG_0697

Molly chose this photo:

IMG_0688

Which is so perfectly Molly, circa 2006!

Our weekly date is the highlight of my week. I have been powerfully affected by this journey of self awareness, as I have looked the lies that drive my life choices, and challenged them. It has been an uncomfortable journey, as I have shed layer after layer of self protection and have consciously chosen to lean into the discomfort, rather than run from it or numb it.

gifts4

It has been a joy to share this journey with Molly, as we have embarked on this “heartwork” together. It had drawn us closer and connected us in the way only a shared struggle can.

It has been a joyful journey of growth. How grateful I am for God turning my face to that simple book tucked within the self-help shelves of Barnes and Noble.

gifts2

 

Tyler’s Birthday Bash

Standard

adoption

Often in our celebration of all the beautiful blessings that come with adoption, we fail to acknowledge the many losses that also are tied to it. For a child to land in a position that makes them free to be adopted a loss had to preempt it. For some children the loss, or the series of heartbreaks leading up to an adoption are greater than others, but every child’s adoption story contains an element of loss.

This is true for both of my boys.

Both had a tragic beginning filled with neglect, abuse, loss and heartache. Both were in unsafe situations. Both deserved a better life than the one they were living. In both cases CYS and the judges involved knew that they needed removed from their birth homes. It was 100% the right call. But even with all of that there is a feeling of sadness at the heart of both of my boys, who grieve the loss of the life they once had.

For both my boys, the loss of their biological siblings is a huge part of that sadness. While they lived as victims of abuse and neglect their siblings were their allies, their confidants, their safe place in an unsafe world. In Tyler’s case his siblings also became his saviors.

Tyler has four biological siblings. He is second to the youngest with his sole sister younger than him. In his early years it was those three older brothers that made sure he got food, that took extra hits in an effort to stave off some of the abuse directed at their younger siblings, and who comforted and held him when they were all locked in a closet together. Tyler’s brothers were not only are his siblings but his hero. They may have even saved his life. When Tyler was only two years old, his two older brothers (ages 8 and 6 at the time) took advantage of an opportunity to escape and they fled the house. Police discovered Michael and Brandon walking down a busy road, carrying their little brothers. It was winter time and Tyler was just wearing a diaper. That act of heroism led to an investigation that revealed all the horrors happening behind closed doors and resulted in the five of them being removed from the home.

Tyler and his four siblings ended up being placed, and eventually adopted, into five different homes. When we came into the picture. Tyler and Brandon were the last two that hadn’t been adopted. At that point the siblings had all lost contact from each other, which set me on a mission to find them and reconnect them for Tyler’s sake. A few years ago we were able to get all five of them together for a picnic at our house. What an amazing day that was as siblings, separated by court rulings, miles, and years, finally came back together. Since then we try to get them all together a couple times a year but inevitably a few can’t come or end up canceling at the last minute.

This year as we were planning Tyler’s birthday, we asked him what he wanted for his birthday and he replied, “All I want for my birthday is to have all my siblings together…all 8 of them!” Tyler’s inclusion of Grace, Molly, Rusty and Ozzie to his list of biological siblings warmed my heart. It is crazy to think that Tyler does indeed have 8 siblings.

This got the ball rolling, as we made plans to get all his siblings together for his birthday. The first order of business was to choose a venue. Because of the disconnection and awkwardness that comes from not seeing each other for a year we thought it best to plan Tyler’s party around an activity rather than a dinner. I know Tyler does better in emotional situations if he has a physical outlet for his nervous energy, and I thought his siblings might be the same, so we planned Tyler’s birthday party at Flight Trampoline Park. My thought was that they could interact and catch up while playing together, making the entire experience less threatening for all involved.

As the event neared, Tyler’s excitement grew. He couldn’t wait for his special day. He couldn’t wait to see his biological siblings. Then the calls began to come in as siblings had to RSVP their regrets. One by one we heard back from each sibling, expressing their regrets that other life obligations kept them from being able to attend. I understood. Life happens and trying to coordinate 5 different families’ schedules is next to impossible, but Tyler was crushed.

Then we heard from Michael, and Michael (Tyler’s oldest brother) said he was coming and couldn’t wait to see Tyler.

Now I had three empty slots in my 10 jumper reservation and was looking for warm bodies to fill the spots that were left vacant by Tyler’s sibling canceling. Tyler wanted to invite some of his friends from co-op or church, but I hesitated doing that because I wanted to make sure Michael and Tyler could connect and catch up and I didn’t want Tyler’s attention split between his brother and friends, so instead we invited the Hudaks to join us, since they are like surrogate siblings to Tyler anyway!

IMG_1896 (2)

It was a perfect solution. Tyler had Michael to jump with, Rusty had Lucas, Molly had Olivia, and Ozzie and Michael’s little sister jumped together.

IMG_1792 (2)

We arrived Monday night a half hour before the party was scheduled. Our sweet party planner took over, handling the decorations, confirming our pizza order, collecting gifts and handing out the jumping socks for the kids to wear.

IMG_1774 (2)

She was awesome and I had to do NOTHING all night. It was lovely.

They even allowed us to begin jumping a half hour early since the crowds were low. Since we had an open jumper slot Toby joined the kids on the trampolines.

IMG_1804 (2)

At 6:30 Michael’s family arrived. Tyler couldn’t believe how tall his older brother had gotten. Michael is now 17 years old and 6’3″ inches tall.

IMG_1904 (2)

It was a delight to see the two of them together. As disappointed as Tyler was by his other siblings being unable to come, I think perhaps it was a gift. It gave Tyler a unique opportunity to bond with his oldest brother, who he sees least often.

At the trampoline park there were different play areas.

There was a huge open jump area with trampolines lining the floor, where the kids could jump and do flips.

IMG_1811 (2)IMG_1838 (2)

There was a laser obstacle course that was like something from a spy movie, where players moved through a dark room filled with lasers and tried to navigate to the other side without touching them. It was a race to beat others’ times.

IMG_1899 (2)IMG_1902 (2)

There was a American Ninja Warrior obstacle course comprised of four different courses that players tried to move through without falling or touching the ground.

IMG_1837 (2)IMG_1833 (2)IMG_1911 (2)

And then there was the Dodge Ball court where Michael and Tyler spent most of their time playing together. Like Tyler, all of his siblings are incredibly athletic and competitive, and they had a blast playing dodge ball together.

IMG_1861 (2)IMG_1858 (2)IMG_1850 (2)IMG_1886 (2)

At 7:30 our time on the trampolines were over and we moved upstairs to the party room, where our sweet party planner took over and served up pizza and drinks to the kids while the adults enjoyed some time to visit.

IMG_1918 (2)

After pizza came cupcakes, as we sang to Tyler and watched him blow out his candles.

IMG_1919 (2)IMG_1922 (2)

Then Tyler opened his gifts. The Hudaks gifted him with birthday money which resulted in Tyler excitedly declaring, “I’m RICH!”

And Michael’s family gave him two new board games. Tyler also received a special gift just from Michael: a Steeler’s football. Perhaps the greatest gift came in the form of the birthday card that Michael wrote to Tyler which read:

“Happy Birthday, Tyler. I love you so much. I always think about you. If you ever want to talk to me you can call. I hope you had a great birthday. Love, Michael.”

It was such a special evening. We were sad that not everyone could join us, but perhaps it was all part of God’s plan. Tyler had a special night connecting with his oldest brother… his first, and greatest, hero.

IMG_1923 (2)

At the root of adoption is heartbreak and loss,. To not acknowledge that is a tragedy. There is no way I can take that heartbreak away from either of my boys, as much as I’d love to. All I can do is commit to them that I will do all I can to restore some of that loss through moments like this. I can’t give them back their old life…I wouldn’t, for their sake…but I can grieve with them for their loss, hold them when they cry, acknowledge that adoption is born of tragedy, and help them hold onto the safe parts of their past that are important to them…like the siblings that love them.

IMG_1916 (2)

Our mock “Camping Trip”

Standard

IMG_1731 - Copy

For the past six or seven years we have been vacationing annually with our best buds, the Hudaks. Some years this involves a big trip like our houseboat vacations or renting a cabin for the week. Other years it is simply a weekend camping trip at Pymatuning State Park. This year, however, life has been extra busy and it seemed the annual camping trip was not going to happen (unless we want to try our hand at winter tent camping in January) so we came up with Plan B- a Sunday evening marshmallow roast at the Hudaks. It had all the same fun elements of a weekend camping trip…

Games:

IMG_1760

Playing with friends:

IMG_1730 - CopyIMG_1750 - Copy

Delicious food, like hot dogs on the grill:

IMG_1734 - Copy

And yummy side dishes:

IMG_1741 - Copy

Time spent with dear friends:

IMG_1728 - Copy - Copy

IMG_1723 - Copy

Grace is now a redhead!

 

IMG_1723 (2)

Best friends or sisters?!

 

Relaxing:

IMG_1733 - Copy

Lots of laughs:

IMG_1744 - Copy

And marshmallows over the fire:

IMG_1764IMG_1767

It was a perfect evening! It was so nice to sit outside, enjoy the company of good friends, and smell the familiar camping scents of wood burning and marshmallows roasting.

Sure, it wasn’t the camping trip we planned. But it was an awesome Plan B. And sometimes Plan B is the best plan…

After all, at the end of the evening we then got to shower in our own homes and climb into our own soft beds, instead of climbing into sleeping bags sweaty and dirty.

There is something to be said for “Mock Camping!”

Finding Healing through Horses

Standard

IMG_1681

Two months ago we began additional therapeutic services in the form of Family Based Therapy in hopes of adding another layer of therapy, and hopefully healing, to our journey towards helping Ozzie. These two family based therapists come into our home a few times a week and work with both Ozzie and the rest of the family. One of the goals we are working on with them is setting up regular respite opportunities for Toby and I, and for the older kids, to step away from the crushing chaos that comes with having a RAD child in the home and breathe for a moment. I understand the importance and necessity of regular respite when raising a child with special needs, particularly when raising a child with reactive attachment disorder, but I haven’t made respite (particularly for myself) a priority. There is a part of me that feels guilty for “indulging” in self-care, despite all the evidence of its necessity. I am not the best mom I can be when I am weary. And parenting a child in crisis 24/7 with no break is a recipe for burnout. So regular respite has been one of the three goals we have been working toward with our Family Based team.

Last week they made a suggestion for a respite opportunity for the three older kids. The neat thing about this suggested respite was that it was a volunteer opportunity. It is an opportunity that not only provides regularly occurring periods of time away from the house and the struggles within its walls, but also gives them the opportunity to focus on serving others: a winning recipe for true joy and respite from the weariness of our own trials.

The respite opportunity suggested comes from Ready Yourselves Youth Ranch (RYYR), a horse ranch that Valerie, one of our Family Based therapists, volunteers at. She thought it would be a good fit for Grace, Molly and Rusty…

providing them with a sanctuary for their weary souls, but also an opportunity to be a blessing to others.

Last Friday we met our Family Based team at RYYR to tour the facility and indulge in a little animal therapy. Here is a little information about the ranch:

Our Mission:

Ready Yourselves Youth Ranch exists to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ by bringing  together rescue horses, children in need, and volunteer mentors ready to shine the light of Jesus in the darkest night, creating a safe and loving environment ready for God to heal.

Our Goals:

SERVE the Lord by being ready to show his love and grace through action and prayer.

LOVE the child. Every mentor’s priority will be to make sure that the child feels loved, unconditionally. This will come as the mentor gives support and encouragement during the child’s difficult times as well as celebrating his/her accomplishments and victories.

SAVE the horse. We will provide all necessary care for rescued horses, bringing them back to health so they can become nurturing members of the ranch.

ENABLE the children and their families to realize the strength and hope found in God. Once we establish a relationship with the child, we can then provide a support network for his/her family which provides them with hope, encouragement, and prayer through their difficult times.

When we arrived, Valerie (one of our two Family Based therapists) gave us a tour of the barn and introduced us to some of the horses that call RYYR home. As a volunteer there she is very familiar with the place.

The kids loved getting to “love” on the horses.

IMG_1680

Tyler was equally enamored with a five month old puppy who has free reign of the barn.

IMG_1712Valerie explained to the older kids the ins and outs of what is involved in being a volunteer there and walked them through some of the chores they would be doing as volunteers.

IMG_1710

First up:  grooming the horses.

IMG_1705

Two horses were pulled out of their stalls and tied up to be groomed.

IMG_1693

Molly and Ozzie were assigned “Athena”…

IMG_1686IMG_1691

and Tyler and Rusty were aptly assigned “Tyler.”

IMG_1698

Valerie helped them gather the brushes and supplies they would need to groom their horse and walked them through the steps of grooming a horse.

I think everyone was surprised by how many steps and how many different tools are used in the process.

Then Valerie taught them how to clean their hooves.

IMG_1713

When they were done grooming the horses they were assigned the task of cleaning out the water troughs in the pen…a task my kiddos are quite familiar with.

IMG_1716

This gave them the chance to also become acquainted with some of the horse that were outside.

IMG_1718

Ozzie fell in love with a 9-month-old miniature donkey named Reuben. (Ozzie LOVES donkeys.)

IMG_1682

The weather was beautiful and the view was spectacular. I could see why Valerie said she found volunteering there so therapeutic. You step on the property and can instantly feel the stress and anxiety leaving your body.

IMG_1719

What an amazing place it was. And what an amazing service they are providing. The big kids hope to begin volunteering as soon as their clearances come through. As volunteers they will receive free horseback riding lessons themselves and then Grace and Molly will have the opportunity to be a mentor next spring to a child in need and teach that child all that they learned.

What an awesome opportunity God has provided for my kiddos through our connection with Family Based. It is always thrilling to watch God work, answer our prayers, meet our needs, and open doors….

and Friday was no exception.