Tag Archives: adoption

What a Weekend!!

Standard

What a full weekend we had. It was packed to the gills with projects, places to go, and things to do. It was a crazy weekend, but a productive weekend…and boy did we all sleep well Sunday night!

Here is a peek into all the craziness we crammed into a 48-hour period…

Saturday began at 7:00 am. Rusty had a bike ride scheduled with the other young men from church. They planned to meet up at 7:45 and would be gone most of the morning. The plan was to conclude their excursion at the comic book store where an annual basement blowout was being held, offering thousands of comics for only $1.oo/each.

Rusty “rolled” back home around noon, tired and happy, eager to show off his comic book finds.

IMG_2256

The big task of the day was canning. A friend from church found a great deal on apples that we couldn’t pass up. We bought two bushels and the plan was to spend the day turning our bushels of apples into applesauce and apple pie filling. When these plans were made I thought I’d have a whole crew of helpers in the kitchen with me for the day, but soon other opportunities began to trump canning, leaving me in the kitchen with a revolving door of helpers coming and going through the day.

IMG_2226

My first helper of the day was Tyler. He had a few hours until he needed to leave the house and eagerly jumped on the task of coring and peeling apples for applesauce.

IMG_2231

At 10:00 am he had to leave with Toby and the girls jumped into his place as second and third in command.

IMG_2241IMG_2239

Tyler and Toby were off to Pittsburgh for some unexpected fun. The previous night, while out with friends, we were offered two free tickets to a Pitt football game at Heinz field. It was decided that Toby would take Tyler. Tyler is by far the biggest football fan in the family and we knew he could use some Daddy/son time after the unsettling week he had had seeing Ozzie leave.

It was just what they both needed. They were able to escape for a few hours and enjoy some mindless fun and male bonding over football and popcorn, and they had a perfect day for it. The weather was beautiful!

20170930_12331920170930_13373320170930_130910

At 11:00 am I lost Grace and Molly as canning helpers when they left for an event at Gracie’s school. As part of Gracie’s American Sign Language classes, she must attend a certain number of deaf events each semester. This is something Grace looks forward to and on this particular Saturday her ASL club was hosting a tie-dye activity at the school. Grace decided to invite Molly along. Molly has struggled a bit with the life changes that have occurred in our home lately. The absence of Ozzie and seeing less of Grace due to Gracie’s busy school and work schedule, has left her feeling a bit lost. Noticing this, Grace invited Molly out for a sister date. They made plans to attend the tie-dye activity and then go to Rita’s for an Italian ice after the event was over.

Both girls had a wonderful time. The ASL club had a good turn out and everyone enjoyed getting messy. The club supplied socks for everyone to tie-dye, but participants could bring other items to tie-dye as well. Grace and Molly each brought a pillowcase to color. It was a fun activity for them to share. Molly enjoyed getting to know some of Gracie’s college friends, and enjoyed getting to use some of her ASL skills.

P1110302P1110315P1110298P1110311P1110312P1110295P1110310

At noon Rusty returned home, thanks to a kind young men’s leader who dropped him off on our doorstop, and then Rusty jumped into the fray of apple canning. At this point I was onto apple pie filling and Rusty helped me peel, core, and slice apples for the pie filling. He was a great help and my efficiency increased significantly with another set of hands in the kitchen.

IMG_2245IMG_2247

We also made a large batch of oven dried cinnamon apple slices to enjoy as snacks. As the slices slowly dried in the warm ovens the entire house took on the delicious smell of autumn.

IMG_2253

Around this same time Toby was heading back out of Pittsburgh to pick up the girls (after they dropped off Mimi Joy’s car that she graciously lent them for the day) and head up north for Tyler’s equine therapy.

He had another wonderful session on his horse, Smokey, and he enjoyed sharing his experience with Toby and the girls. He is a natural on the horse and we are finding the lessons to be hugely therapeutic.

20170930_153728

After lessons Toby and the kids made a quick stop at Baldingers Candy Shop for some sweet treats.

20170930_161019

It was now 3:00 pm and things were winding down in the kitchen. The apple slices were dried and the canning was complete. My legs ached and I was covered in dried, sticky, apple juice…but what a satisfying feeling it was to gaze upon the fruits of our labors!

IMG_2286IMG_2255

It also happened to be General Conference weekend, a twice annual event in our church where we have the opportunity to hear from leadership in the form of a worldwide broadcast. It is a special weekend comprised of 4 two-hour sessions that we can watch from the comfort of our own home and receive counsel, guidance and uplifting messages from inspired speakers. We try to make it an extra special experience with a fun breakfast, activities, and booklets to help the kids take notes and stay engaged.

On Sunday morning, Rusty volunteered to be in charge of breakfast. He stumbled across a recipe online that he wanted to try. It was peanut butter and jelly French toast…and it was delicious!

IMG_2295IMG_2299

While Rusty cooked breakfast, everyone else sat down to write a letter to Ozzie. This will become a regular Sunday task. My plan is to help facilitate connection between the kids through pen pal letters. There is healing that needs to occur and written letters seem a good way to foster a renewed connection in a safe and non-threatening way. The stack of letters will then be mailed one at a time through the week, creating a steady influx of mail for Ozzie, hopefully making him feel of our love and letting him know he is not forgotten.

IMG_2289IMG_2301

For General Conference, I printed out our traditional bingo game and filled a bowl with our “prizes,” as well as created note taking doodle packets for the kids to use as they watched.

IMG_2308IMG_2305IMG_2307

It was wonderful to spend that time as a family and receive inspired guidance and direction.

IMG_2303

Sunday afternoon we also had a visit with Ozzie. It couldn’t have gone any better. He is doing beautifully and this Momma’s heart overflowed with gratitude to see him so at peace. It was a joy to get that time with him to catch up and reconnect.

Sunday night we enjoyed a game night for our Family Night activity. Friends from co-op, who also are avid board gamers, lent us an escape room game they purchased. We love these sorts of games and this one was no exception. We had a blast racing the clock and working as a team to solve the puzzles needed to win the game.

IMG_2309IMG_2312

We were successful!

It truly was a non-stop, crazy weekend…

Filled to the brim with busyness…

Filled to the brim with blessings!

Halloween came early this year…

Standard
IMG_2211 (2)

Tyler…our resident goof ball!

 

(I’m still a week behind in my blogging. Here is my final blog about last weekend’s festivities…)

This past weekend was a tough one. The knowledge that Ozzie was leaving on Monday morning and would be gone for four months left everyone feeling unsettled and emotional. We tried to move through the days as normally as possible, but it was challenging with that big grey cloud hanging over our heads.

Everyone was dealing with a muddy mess of emotions. We were grateful that Ozzie was accepted to this awesome facility where he will finally get the intensive therapeutic help he needs to heal from past trauma, but were also mourning this upcoming shift in our life, upset and grieving that this step needs to happen.

My mother summed it up beautifully when I shared the news with her. She said, “It is like finding out someone you love has cancer, and the prognosis is not good. And then soon after, receiving the news that your loved one has secured the last bed at the Cancer Treatment Center of America and will be working with the best doctor in that field.”

You don’t know whether to be angry that treatment is needed or grateful that treatment is available for a once hopeless diagnoses.

It is hard to verbalize the hard mix of emotions that come with this journey. I know I struggle to filter through the jumble of thoughts and feelings that knot in my stomach, so I can appreciate the struggles Ozzie and the other children are suffering though during this hard season.

This weekend was particularly hard. We knew what was coming, and with that knowledge there were feelings of relief and great grief. It felt like the weekend was a series of good-byes to life as we knew it. It was painful on so many levels and I didn’t know whether to wish for time to stand still, so as to avoid the inevitable, or to pray for time to speed up so we could rip this band-aid off and begin facing our new normal. Mostly I just felt numb, like a shell of my real self, moving through the motions of living but weirdly detached.

We packed up Ozzie’s bag, filling it with clothes, winter gear, books, comfort items, therapy tools, and photos…everything he could possibly need for the next four months.

We cleaned his room. Preparing it for his absence so that when he returns home it would be ready for him.

Then we tried to fit in some fun and family bonding. Our weekend was filled with horseback riding lessons, “Gotcha Day” fun, and lots of low key, quiet moments as a family.

One of Ozzie’s primary disappointments about going away was his concern about missing out on holiday traditions. He will most likely be able to return home for holidays but is sad to miss out on our families traditions leading up to holidays…like pumpkin carving for Halloween. I couldn’t address all his worries, but that was a concern I could address, and did so gladly.

On Saturday we went pumpkin shopping, allowing each of the kids to pick out a pumpkin for carving and then came home and carved Jack-O-Lanterns a month early.

IMG_2169 (2)

Everyone got into the spirit of the evening, seeking out creative carving ideas and jumping into the task of gutting their pumpkins.

The result was an evening of fun for Ozzie and the rest of the family. We were all taking part in a cherished family tradition. Who cares if it was 90 degrees outside while we were doing it. Yes, the finished results will probably wither and mold by next Saturday, but this activity wasn’t about the finished results. Like so many aspects of our life it is not about the ending, it is about the journey.

The kids are now all old enough to be left to their own devices as they turn a pumpkin into something more magical, allowing Toby and I to just sit back and watch the fun.

IMG_2173 (2)IMG_2170 (2)

I did spend time digging through their pumpkin guts as the kids carved, picking out pumpkin seeds to roast. I found a recipe for dill pickle flavored roasted pumpkin seeds that I wanted to try. The results were delicious!

IMG_2197 (2)

The kids all came up with creative creations this year.

Rusty went with a tongue-in-cheek math joke:  Rusty’s pumpkin “Pi”

IMG_2182 (2)

Grace created the “Fly Away to Neverland “scene from Peter Pan:

IMG_2187 (2)IMG_2193 (2)

Ozzie went traditional with an awesome pumpkin face:

IMG_2191 (2)

Molly carved a Harry Potter pumpkin:

IMG_2174

And Tyler did a dollar sign face:

IMG_2180 (2)

Once everyone was done carving we took their pumpkins out to the porch.

IMG_2213 (2)

We lit them, turned off the lights, and watched them glow, enjoying the magic of the moment. It meant a lot to Ozzie that he was able to participate in this beloved family tradition and it meant the world to this Momma to have all my chicks with me on that beautiful September night, as we stood beneath the stars watching their pumpkins glow bright.

IMG_2208IMG_2206IMG_2200IMG_2198

We ended Family Night with the movie, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” while we munched on pumpkin seeds and enjoyed our last evening together for a while.

IMG_2215 (2)

This hard transition is a blessing,

but it still hurts like crazy…

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!

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.

 

 

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!

 

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)

Exploring the Past

Standard

family tree

For Family Night this week we explored our past through a lesson about family history. This lesson came as a result of a few activities that were on our “to do” list. We decided to meld them together with the connective string of “family history” and turn it into our Sunday evening’s focus.

This week we reversed our usual format with the activity taking place prior to the lesson. This came out of necessity. By the time everyone had waken from their Sunday afternoon naps the sun was falling lower in the sky. Since our Family Night activity was an outdoor activity we needed to do that first before the sun set.

Our activity for the evening came as a result of a conversation with a friend when she shared with me the project her son did for his Boy Scout Eagle Project. In explaining his project she introduced me to Billion Graves, an online resource for genealogists across the world. On the website, genealogists from across the globe can search out the graves of relatives in cemeteries worldwide. As part of their mission to document gravesites across the globe, they encourage volunteers to join in the project by documenting the tombstones in their local cemeteries and uploading it to billiongraves.com.

It seemed like an awesome service project for our family and a fun activity for Family Night.

At the end of our road we have a small, country cemetery. In looking at the website I discovered no work had been completed there so we took an evening stroll down the road to do a little family history work.

IMG_1506IMG_1513 (2)

Billion Graves makes this service project simple. We just had to download the app onto our phones and begin. The process involved taking a photo of each headstone and then  later, transcribing the information from the photos into the system.

IMG_1519 (2)

The kids had fun with this project. It was a gorgeous evening and they moved through the small cemetery in pairs taking photos of the various headstones, commenting often on the names or the dates.

IMG_1532 (2)

It is an older cemetery with many of the graves from the 1800s.

IMG_1531 (2)

IMG_1527 (2)

When we arrived home we began the lesson part of the evening. I explained that the service we just did was to help other families discover and honor their ancestors in the same way that we do family history work to become familiar with our ancestors and our history.

Using Family Search and Ancestry.com we pulled up the family tree of my side of the family and Toby’s side of the family so that the kids could become familiar with the names and faces of the family that came before them.

IMG_1540 (2)

I printed out a blank map of the world and we began researching the different branches of the tree to see where the various family members originated, coloring in the countries our family came from, thus creating a map of our heritage.

IMG_1542

As we delved into where we came from and what our heritage is, it led to some questions from Tyler and Ozzie. Because they are both adopted we don’t know what nationalities run through their veins. We don’t know what their heritage is. I knew this lesson was going to spark questions for them and had already planned on helping them find those answers to their questions.

IMG_1545 (2)

A few months ago Tyler began showing an interest in knowing more about his biological family and where he comes from, so I gave Grace the assignment of being on the lookout for a good deal with a DNA heritage test kit for the boys. These DNA kits are pretty awesome. Using a bit of DNA scraped from the inside of a person’s cheek these companies can map out the heritage of a person’s past and see where that person’s family originated from. Unfortunately these testing kits can be costly so I knew if we were going to purchase one for both of our adopted sons we were going to have to wait until we found a good deal. A few weeks ago Grace came down the stairs with her computer in hand, excited to share with me a deal she found online. The company was running a special where the testing kits were being offered for 50% off the usual price. We ordered two and on Sunday night pulled them out.

IMG_1548 (2)

When we explained to the boys what they were and what they would reveal, they were excited. Although both are as much my children as the ones I gave birth to, there will always be a part of them that is connected to the parents and family that they share DNA with. I can’t give them contact with their birth families but I can give them the gift of connection to their past and to their heritage, which is exactly what we did on Sunday night.

IMG_1562 (2)

We opened the kits and laid out the supplies within.

IMG_1561 (2)

Following the instructions we pulled out the swabs and rubbed the inside of both boys’ cheeks for 60 seconds.

IMG_1566 (2)IMG_1556 (2)

Then the swabs were placed in a vial of liquid (I assume water) and sealed shut.

IMG_1558 (2)

The samples will now be sent off to a lab where the DNA with be analyzed and the results will be returned to us in 4-6 weeks.

(Because of the flooding in Houston, TX the results will take longer than usual as the sample will need to be mailed to Houston, TX once the postal service begins accepting packages to that zip code again.)

The boys are both excited to get the results of their testing and see where in the world they come from.

We ended our evening with the game, “Don’t eat Grandpa Pete!” which I found online. I printed out our family tree and then covered the leaves with candy corn, thus hiding each family member’s name.

IMG_1574 (2)

Then one child was sent out of the room while the others picked a family member for that round. The child then returned to the room and began eating the candy corn, once piece at a time, before picking up the candy corn that covered the name the other kids chose, as everyone screams, “Don’t eat Grandpa Pete!” The goal was to see who could eat the most “leaves” of the tree before choosing the wrong one and ending their turn.

IMG_1585 (2)IMG_1577 (2)

Tyler ended up being the winner with only one leaf left on the family tree.

How grateful I am for my family…

The ones who came before me,

and the ones that are blessing me today.

family history

 

A Blessed Saturday

Standard

IMG_1500 (2)

Toby was home on Saturday so it turned into a project day. It was cool and rainy, giving us the perfect excuse to hunker down and work on some house projects.

Number one on the list was painting. Over the last few weeks Toby has been working to patch and sand the many holes made in the drywall over the last year as a result of little boys raging. The bulk of the damage was in Ozzie and Tyler’s room but we also has a few other spots through the house that needed patched. Toby was all done with repairs so everyone pitched in to repaint Tyler and Ozzie’s rooms and touch up the other spots.

Now given the instability of things around here lately, I do recognize the efforts may be futile, but for now the walls are beautifully pristine. 🙂

IMG_1470 (2)

While we were in painting mode we decided to tackle another project that has been sitting on the back burner for the last year. A while ago we were given an old set of school lockers that we thought would be cute in Tyler’s sports themed bedroom. They needed painted so they have been sitting in the basement waiting for some TLC. We finally got around to the task last Saturday. We let Tyler pick the colors he wanted to spray paint the lockers with the understanding that Mom and Dad had veto power. Tyler’s first pick was neon pink. When that was vetoed he chose red, green, and yellow for the doors and chalkboard paint for the sides so he can draw on the lockers.

IMG_1590

He loved helping prime the lockers. I think maybe he enjoyed it too much.

IMG_1479 (2)

He declared with glee, “I feel like one of those bad boys who color on buildings!”

Beware world: if you see the following image tagging the buildings and bridges of Pittsburgh then you will know Tyler has turned to a life of crime!

IMG_1592

In the afternoon we loaded everyone up for errands. Molly needed to be dropped of at work so we all tagged along.

Work is going well for the girls. They are thriving as Pretzel Factory workers. In fact they are doing so well that they received a personal call from the district owner who has noticed the girls’ work ethic and diligence and called to inform them that they will both be receiving a raise. She said that their store’s sales have increased significantly in the last quarter and she credits Grace and Molly’s work with the increase in the store’s profits. The girls were thrilled…not only for the pay raise but for the recognition.

After a trip to Home Depot and Walmart we headed over to Ellwood City. Rusty had heard news that the comic book store in Ellwood City was having a “Free Graphic Novel” day. Every customer who stopped in could pick from a selection of free graphic novels. Rusty loves graphic novels and asked if we could go check it out.

IMG_1483 (2)

We arrived and found a large selection of books to choose from. Rusty was in heaven. The kids searched through the pile of choices looking for the one they wanted. Toby and then previewed possible choices, making sure the content was age appropriate.

IMG_1484 (2)

There was something for everyone! Who knew my girl Janet Evanovich wrote graphic novels?!

IMG_1489 (2)

Everyone left with some new bedtime reading.

IMG_1492 (2)

When we returned home Toby gave the boys haircuts while Grace and I had her weekly one-on-one time. She chose to make fudge. She found a recipe for cookies & crème fudge on Pinterest, so that is what we made. The rainy weather made baking a perfect Saturday afternoon activity and the results of our labors were then enjoyed the next evening as our Family Night treat.

IMG_1495IMG_1499 (2)

We are all adjusting to the new normal of having Grace gone more than she is at home. Between two jobs and school she is a girl on the go, but is thriving and loving life. She has fully embraced her new status as college student and is loving her classes. In addition to school changes Grace has transitioned from being a young woman at church to a young adult. She no longer has early morning seminary or Wednesday night youth group. Now her Wednesday nights are spent at institute (church classes for college aged students.) This past Sunday was also her first Sunday attending church down in Pittsburgh at the young adult ward where the congregation is comprised of 18-30 year olds. It is a chance for her to get to know, socialize with, and worship with like minded peers… and also happens to be where Toby and I met 20 years ago. It was a bit surreal sending her off to our old stomping grounds for church. It feels like I was in her shoes just yesterday. How can we be old enough to have a daughter that age?!

IMG_1504 (2)

But I am also excited for her. That was such an exciting, sweet time of my life and I am thrilled she gets to embark on such a grand adventure. Week one was a huge success. Grace loved it. Now the rest of us just need to get adjust to being a family of 6 at church. It has been especially challenging for Molly, who has had to get used to not having her best friend/sister in Young Women’s with her.

This seems to be the season of change for our family…both good and hard.

We are still working to get Ozzie in a good place and appreciate all of the prayers said on his behalf. We have felt the sustaining power of the many prayers lifting us up these past few weeks and we are very grateful. When we have a better idea of where we are at and what needs to happen next we will share but until then, thank you for your prayers.

 

A “Super” Saturday

Standard

adoption5

This was the theme of our adoption agency’s annual family picnic.

We adopted both our sons through Bethany Christian Service. Every year Bethany hosts a picnic for their families. Families who are waiting for a placement, birth mothers who have placed an infant, families who have opened their home to children through foster care, domestic infant adoption, international adoption or foster to adopt, all come together to celebrate the connecting thread that joins us all together: the blessing of adoption.

The picnic is held at Camp Kon-O-Kwee and always proves to be a lot of fun.

IMG_1294

This year the theme of the picnic was superheroes.

IMG_1300

It was a fitting theme given the fact that most of the world’s most famous super heroes were all adopted. This was highlighted with signs on all the tables talking about various superheroes and their connection to adoption.

What a wonderful way to celebrate a unique connection that all these children share!

The picnic began with lunch. Families were all asked to bring a side or a dessert to share, while Bethany  provided hamburgers and hot dogs from the grill, Chick-fil-a nuggets, and drinks. We opened with prayer and some words from our hosts and then lunch began…and it was delicious!

IMG_1298IMG_1295

Following lunch there were a variety of fun activities available for the families to enjoy.

IMG_1317

They had craft stations where the kids could get their face painted, paint superhero pictures, and make their own superhero mask.

IMG_1323IMG_1325

There were also activities offered at the camp for the Bethany families. One of the highlights for my kids each year is the “Trail of Courage” obstacle course…a fitting name for families embarking on the uncertain path of adoption.

IMG_1367

The kids loved climbing, leaping, crawling, and swinging their way through the various challenges this 1 mile trail held.

IMG_1368IMG_1372IMG_1396IMG_1374IMG_1389IMG_1406IMG_1409IMG_1413IMG_1422

The second highlight of the day was the canoeing and kayaking offered at Camp Kon-o-Kwee. This activity is always the favorite activity at Girls’ Camp every summer, so Grace and Molly were excited to get to go out on the water again.

Rusty and Tyler were equally excited.

IMG_1326

This was Tyler’s first time taking a kayak out on his own, but he handled his boat beautifully.

IMG_1332IMG_1363

The kids had a lot of fun exploring the river together.

IMG_1350IMG_1364IMG_1346

All too soon it was time to leave. Molly had work at 3:00 pm so we had to leave the picnic a couple hours early, but we had a lot of fun while we were there and were glad we made the effort to attend.

Life has been extra challenging lately and I didn’t know if I had it in me to attend this year, especially without Toby. I didn’t know if I had it in me to put on a happy face, and sing the praises of our adoption journey when we are all still so raw and hurting from the last few months, but I didn’t have to. You see, everyone that was there is traveling a similar road. Their challenges may be different and their adoption journey may not look the same as ours but we are all on a mission to help, heal, and love through the tough stuff. As a group we recognize that with the joyful moments of adoption come struggles. Adoption is born out of heartache so how can heartache not be part of the journey? But we recognize that commitment trumps emotions, and God’s power trumps any trial. We gather as adopted families not to celebrate our “happily ever after” but to celebrate the ongoing story of love, commitment, and the daily heroics of those who keep fighting for good over evil.

adoption3

Perhaps that is what a superhero really is. It isn’t about the cape, or the mask, or leaping tall buildings.

Perhaps it is simply waking each day with the determination to keep showing up,

to keep trying,

and to keep fighting for our child and for our families.

adoption4