Tag Archives: gotcha day

Happy “Gotcha Day” Tyler!

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Yesterday marked the seven year anniversary since Tyler officially and legally became a McCleery! I remember with great fondness that special day when we went from being the parents of three to the parents of four.

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He was a wee little thing…only six-years-old at the time.

It was a joyous day, one that marked the conclusion of a year marked with great highs and lows, but also marked the start of our journey to being a family of eight. In the years following Tyler’s adoption day, God led us to adopt twice more. He brought Ozzie into our family in 2014 and Braden (Tyler’s biological brother) in 2019.

These are my remembrances of that special day, as personally penned seven years ago, on the evening of Tyler’s adoption day:

There are certain moments in my mothering journey that are ingrained in my memory forever. Moments when time stands still, when I am completely present and aware of the magnitude of the blessings, moments that will stay with me forever and will be replayed and enjoyed as I reflect on them years from now.. Yesterday was one of those days.

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As I sit here in the darkness of the night I have the joy of reflecting on the day. With the births of each of my children, my favorite part of the day was the night after giving birth. After the sun went down, and everyone went home, and I was left alone in the hospital room with my new child. My heart would overflow with gratitude and relief that it was done and all was well. All the worries about what could go wrong were set aside as the enormity of the miracle was laid before me. Tonight I find myself feeling those same emotions. Labor is over, the worries about everything that could have gone wrong were unfounded, and I am humbled by the miracle God has laid before me. Tyler is mine. It is done. I feel the weight of worry lifted from my shoulders and my heart overfloweth.

Today couldn’t have gone any better. I saw God’s hand in this beautiful day from beginning to end. Our scheduled court time was 1:30 but we were told to arrive at 1:00. Mimi Joy followed us down to Pittsburgh where we met my parents, my grandma, and my sister and her kids for the ceremony. It was so special to have the people most important to us join us on our special day and it was with great love that they traveled from New York, Michigan and Ohio to join us.

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When we arrived, we went through security and then took the elevator up to the 9th floor. Tyler was quieter than usual and I could tell he was nervous. As we walked into the auditorium where we would wait with all the other families adopting that day, we were greeted with a sign that read, “Happy Adoption Day!” ..my tears began. The reality that we made it, that we were in the home stretch, hit me.

When I walked into the waiting room I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer joy that filled the room. The room was full of families and children that were there to finalize their adoptions. The atmosphere was one of celebration.

It was soon time for us to head to the courtroom. The entire family came in. Toby and I sat in front of the judge with Tyler on Toby’s lap, while everyone else sat behind us. The judge introduced himself and welcomed us. He was wonderful. He joked with the kids and put us all at ease. He also told us that he personally knew the joy of adoption day because he had adopted his child. The hearing itself consisted of a series of questions that we had to answer and then a series of questions that the social worker had to answer. Within minutes we heard the judge declare, “From this day forth Tyler will now be known as Tyler Jacob McCleery.” Even now I find the tears falling as I think back on the emotions I felt at that moment. He was ours…finally ours.

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As I sit here and reflect on this adoption journey I am amazed at the difference a year makes. Last year at this time we didn’t even know Tyler existed and here we are today with a son. It feels like he has always been ours. We have witnessed first hand  God’s goodness as He laid the foundation for this day over the course of many years. He put upon our hearts the desire to adopt 10 years ago and from that moment on He provided opportunities to grow and prepare for this moment so that when the time was right, and we were ready, our son would be placed in our arms. It was a long “pregnancy” and a long “labor,” but the blessing of watching God’s miracles along the way made it a journey of joy. When I started this blog.. soon after Tyler was placed in our home.. it was so you could walk beside us as we navigated this unknown terrain called adoption. We are grateful for all the prayers you have prayed on our behalf, for the words of encouragement that always came when they were most needed, and the support we received from so many. It is with great joy that were share this day with you. God is Good!

In our family, we celebrate the anniversary of each adopted child’s “birth” into our family much as we would an actual birthday. We call it their “Gotcha Day,” and for the anniversary of their adoption they get to chose a fun, family activity for us to do to commemorate their special day. Tyler had a very specific idea in mind for his “Gotcha Day.” He wanted to go canoeing/kayaking. Since we don’t own canoes or kayaks, I needed to find a facility that rented them. Normally this would have been an easy task, as we are surrounded by rivers and lakes in Western Pennsylvania, but I soon discovered that many of the places that rents boats, were shut down due to Covid-19.

After a little research and a few calls and texts to friends, I discovered that Racoon Creek State Park had a rental facility that was still open and serving the public. On Friday we drove down to Racoon State Park for a day of boating. It was a smaller “Gotcha Day” gathering than usual due to so many family members being out of the house, but that didn’t damper the experience for Tyler. He was excited to get on the water and was thrilled to have Rusty join him!

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Happy “Gotcha Day,” Tyler! We are so glad you are our son!!

 

Happy “Gotcha” Day!!

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It is hard to believe it has only been a year since Braden officially and legally became our son.

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On March 26th, 2019 we drove down to Washington County, where we were joined by many family and friends, to adopt our 17-year-old foster son, making him forever a part of our family.

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It was a day filled with blessings and great joy as Tyler got to make his biological brother an official member of our clan.

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Braden already had our hearts, and in every way was already our son, but this sealed the deal, granting Braden the security that we were sticking around forever.

It was one of the best days of our life.

Every year, as the anniversary of Tyler, Ozzie, and now Braden’s adoption day comes close, we make plans as to how we are going to celebrate that special day when they were “born” into our family. Much like each child’s birthday celebration, the celebrated child gets to pick a special meal and activity for us to do as a family. Past “gotcha day” celebrations have been as varied as our adopted children. One year Ozzie chose to visit car dealerships to “window shop” for cars for his “gotcha day.” Another year Tyler chose a family tennis tournament at our local park with ice cream to follow.

As we began discussions about how Braden wanted to celebrate his first “gotcha day,” he told us that he really wanted to go to a trampoline park, like the one we visited for Tyler’s 13th birthday. He loved the trampoline basketball court where he was able to get major air and slam dunk the ball repeatedly,  thanks to the high flying action offered by the trampoline.

He also requested sweet and sour chicken with rice and egg rolls for his “gotcha day” dinner.

A few weeks ago I was prompted to look ahead on our calendar to all the birthdays, holidays and celebrations that were up coming and shop for those meals and gifts ahead of time. A week later, as businesses began to shut down across the state and lock downs nationwide went into place, I was grateful I had followed that prompting to plan ahead, because we were able to have Braden’s “gotcha day” meal request without having to go to the store.

God is good!

Molly took on the task of creating a special dessert for Braden’s special day. She baked a cake and decorated it for the occasion.

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It turned out great and made the day feel even more celebratory!

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Braden’s hope of spending the evening of his “gotcha day” at Urban Air was smashed in light of the non-essential business shut down across the state of Pennsylvania. So, in typical McCleery fashion we came up with a Plan B!

Knowing that the main reason Braden wanted to go to Urban Air was for the trampoline basketball court, we recreated it to the best of our ability at home. Toby and Tyler dragged the basketball hoop over to the trampoline and we all headed outside for a showdown of skills.

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The kids played DUNK (similar to HORSE) and had to copy each other’s unique and BOUNCY shots in an effort to not be the first player to earn all four letters.

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It made for a fun and unforgettable evening.

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I think it is fair to say that Braden will never forget his first “gotcha day,”

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And as a result of plans being changed, everyone got to discover the joy that can be found in making do and embracing the Plan B’s that come with life!

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We ended the day with a hearty rendition of “Happy Gotcha Day to You!”

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We love you, Braden…

And are so glad you are forever ours!

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So Glad we “Gotcha!”

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In addition to celebrating the births of each of our children, we also celebrate the “birth” of our adopted children into our family. This annual celebration marks the anniversary of their day in court when they legally became a McCleery. This anniversary is known in the world of adoption as “Gotcha Day.” In our family we celebrate our boys’ “Gotcha Days” by allowing that child to pick a fun activity for us to enjoy as a family.

For our family, the “Gotcha Days” of our three adoptees fall on July 23rd, November 22nd, and March 26th…nicely spread out through the year for seasonal adoption celebrations.

Because the adoptee gets to choose the family activity, the way we celebrate “Gotcha Days” are as varied as the boys we have adopted. In the past we have gone for ice cream, visited car lots, gone to the courts to play tennis, etc. There is no rhyme or reason to these special days other than they are family-connected and driven by the wish of the adoptee we are celebrating.

This week we celebrated the “Gotcha Day” of our youngest child and our first adoption. This “Gotcha Day” holds a special place in my heart as his adoption opened the door to a world our family would have never known without him. Tyler came into our life as a newly turned 6-year-old and his entrance in our life was nothing short of divine intervention.

You see, when we were in the process of opening our adoption file, we were given the opportunity to select details about our potential child. The survey was specific with the adoptive parents given the opportunity to choose what behaviors, background and disabilities they felt capable of handling. Some questions were ridiculous like, “Will you accept a child who wears glasses?” Other questions were far more significant like, “Will you accept a child who has been sexually abused?” The questionnaire was hundreds of questions long and in the end, with much prayer and consideration, felt called to let God decided which child we were to adopt. With a desire to truly submit to His will and let Him pick our child, we answered yes to every race, sex, age, disability, trauma, and behavior with the exception of three hypotheticals that we felt were beyond our capacity as parents.

Because of the 3 non-negotiables we marked on our application Tyler never should have come into our life. Good thing our God is bigger than our insecurities because had He not circumvented our barriers, we would never have been blessed with Tyler.

How our file ended up on the desk of an Allegheny County social worker is still a mystery to us. Our agency claims it wasn’t sent by them, knowing that this child wasn’t a fit with our specifications. All we know is one day, in the middle of August 2011, we received a call informing us that we were one of two families being considered for a little boy named Tyler. It soon became clear to the social worker that I had no idea what he was talking about so he quickly emailed us Tyler’s child profile and made plans to visit our home the next afternoon to discuss the matter further.

That night, after the other children had been put to bed, Toby and I sat in bed and began reading through Tyler’s child profile. Before we finished reading the first page we were already certain that this child…his trauma, behaviors and needs were far beyond our scope of expertise as parents, and those three non-negotiables that terrified us were all present in this poor boy’s past. Our hearts broke for him but we felt certain that we were unequipped to be the parents for this hurting child.

With our decision firmly made we went to sleep brokenhearted but certain that we were making the right decision. The next day I called the social worker first thing in the morning to cancel our appointment scheduled for that evening. I spent the day attempting to make contact with no luck. No one could track him down and none of our messages made it through, so despite our attempts to cancel, that social worker arrived at our home that evening.

We sat down, ready to let him know that we didn’t feel like we were the right match, when he opened the file and a picture of Tyler fell out on the table. In that moment I knew I was looking at the face of my child, long before determined and destined to be part of our family. I knew he was mine and despite my fears and insecurities, I knew Heavenly Father was delivering Tyler into our arms for a great and important purpose…a purpose that has slowly been revealed through time as we have grown as a family in size, purpose, patience, compassion and eternal vision.

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Knowing he was destined to be our son didn’t erase the realities in his file that worried us and made us feel overwhelmingly inadequate, but knowing God was calling us to this journey lifted us above the “what ifs” onto the plane of submissive trust in God’s plan.

How grateful I am that God did not let us get in His way of His plan. I can look back now and see that His hand was in the creation of our family from the start. His hand was in  every “no” he whispered to us as we grieved the disappointment of our own plan falling through, and in every push He gave us toward a “yes” when we were too afraid to take the first faithful step. He knows what our final family unit will look like and He has been the architect of each phase as we grow into that family.

Who knew that is setting our family file mysteriously on the desk of an unsuspecting social worker He was opening the door to two children, pre-destined and divinely selected, to be a part of our forever family.

First came Tyler’s adoption in 2012:

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Then Tyler’s adoption brought Braden to our family seven years later when he became a McCleery on March 26th, 2019.

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I can’t imagine how much love, learning, personal growth and blessings we would have missed had we said no to that little six-year-old boy.

This week was our seventh year celebrating Tyler’s “Gotcha Day.” On Tuesday we found ourselves home with just Tyler and Braden. Everyone else had school or work. Tyler’s request for this year’s “Gotcha Day” was to go to the movies, so on Tuesday night Toby, Braden, Tyler and I went to see the new Spiderman movie. The movie was great, but the company was even better.

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How grateful I am for the blessing of adoption in our life.

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I can’t help but reflect on all the beautiful moments we might have missed out on if we had allowed ourselves to be guided by fear instead of faith.

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Frying Pan Farm Park

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In planning for our trip to Virginia for Rusty’s five day Envision camp, I began searching out things Tyler and Ozzie could do during the day while Rusty was at camp. Since I was flying solo for the week I was looking for things that would be engaging to the two boys, things that were free or cheap, and preferably that could be accessed without having to jump back on the DC beltway.

Staying just outside Washington D.C. led me to consider sites within the city. There is certainly much to see and do (for free) within the heart of D.C, but concern about travel time and making it back to Rusty by 4:00 each day led me to shy away from the Metro for this visit and instead we explored sites around Fairfax county.

Our first day of fun led us to Frying Pan Farm, a Fairfax County Park.  It was Tyler’s “Gotcha Day” and a day at the farm was a perfect way to celebrate the 5 year anniversary of his adoption. Tyler is my animal lover and Frying Pan Farm was just the sort of place that Tyler loves. Admission was free and it was only 20 minutes from George Mason University where Rusty was spending the day.

It was a win-win!

“Frying Pan Park preserves a reminder of Fairfax County’s rural heritage from 1920 to 1940 at Kidwell Farm. Visitors can see or pet draft horses, pigs, goats, cows, sheep, rabbits, chickens and peacocks.

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The four-room schoolhouse built in 1911 is a hub of arts and crafts, fitness, children’s classes and summer camp programs. The Moffett Blacksmith Shop contains the smithy’s original equipment. The Country Store housed a shop and classroom for vocational agriculture from 1919 to about 1930. The Frying Pan Spring Meeting House was built in 1791 and is designated a “Virginia Landmark.”

Pigs, cows, horses, turkeys, peacocks—these aren’t the usual beltway suspects when you think of visiting D.C. but if you’re looking  afternoon away from the hustle and bustle, pack up some sandwiches and hit the road for Frying Pan Park. My boys had a ball petting the sheep, checking out the pigs, and playing on the tractors. Since it’s a working farm, you’ll probably hear mooing, bleating, and baaing. We found it to be a nice respite from all the honking we heard on the beltway.

We began our visit at the visitor’s center where we grabbed some info on the farm before swinging by the barns. In the visitor’s center guests can get brochures, use the bathrooms, and grab a map that will guide you around the farm. 

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Within the Visitor’s Center is also a small museum that introduces guests to life on the farm with fun interactive exhibits and comparisons of farm life on a 1940’s dairy farm to a dairy farm today.

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From there we headed down a beautiful fence lined path to the 1940’s farm. This park reminded me a lot of Round Hill Park in Elizabeth, Pa where my kids spent a lot of time as littles when they visited my parents.

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The boys went udderly crazy for this part of Frying Pan Park.

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Cows, draft horses, sows, goats, lambs, and more were on display for the kids to gawk at and even pet.

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We had the place to ourselves with only a few other souls wandering among the stalls and pens.

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My mini farm hands fell in love with all the critters.

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A good scratch behind their ears, and these four legged babies were in hog heaven.

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We got to see the male peacock in all his splendor and the turkey that the president  pardoned at Thanksgiving that lives right next door to the peacocks.

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The ducks were found hanging out in the tub around the corner. 

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A stop to see the large work horses and flock of sheep grazing in the field made us feel as though we had stepped into a pastural painting.

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The barns,and pens at Frying Pan Farm not only house the animals, but they let kids see what life is like on a farm.

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From milking pens, to hay lofts, and equipment used to move things around, the barns are more than just home to the livestock –

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Enjoying a cold sarsparilla at the country store.

They’re a glimpse into a farmer’s life, and what it would have been like to work on a farm in Fairfax County in the early 20th century.

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It was a precious way to celebrate Tyler’s special day. When he officially became a McCleery 5 years ago we had no idea the ride he would take us on. That adoption journey changed us all and molded us into better people as we learned some of the greatest lessons life has to offer…

Adoption is not always the easiest path to walk, but is a holy walk full of unexpected joys and blessings.

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So Much to Be Thankful For!

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Last Wednesday was a big day at Patchwork Farm. It marked the 3-year anniversary of Ozzie’s adoption and was also the day of Ozzie’s anticipated arrival home after almost two months away. It was sweet serendipity that these two events coincided in such a blessed way.

Typically, we celebrate Tyler and Ozzie’s “Gotcha Days” with an activity of their choosing but since we had celebrated Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day” before he left for his inpatient stay we decided to stay home and let him pick the dinner of his choice for his special day.

At noon I began the two-hour trek to the facility where Ozzie is receiving inpatient trauma therapy. We had a family therapy session scheduled for 2:00pm. These sessions which occur weekly have be held in person or by telephone depending on scheduling. My trek to pick up Ozzie provided a perfect opportunity to have an in-person session.

I walked in and Ozzie was on his feet immediately, propelling himself through the air, into my arms. To say he was excited to come home for Thanksgiving weekend would be the understatement of the year! Our therapy session was focused on establishing a contract for expectations during Ozzie’s time at home and coming up with a crisis plan. Our goal was, first and foremost, safety for each member of the family. Much of this groundwork had already been laid at home prior to picking up Ozzie. Earlier in the week I had scheduled a family session with Tina (Tyler and Ozzie’s outpatient therapist) so the other kids could voice their concerns and process the muddy mix of emotions they were all feeling with Ozzie’s visit drawing nearer.

All the prep work being done on our end and on Ozzie’s end was to help facilitate a happy, healthy, safe reunion at home.

Our therapy session was speedy. Ozzie was eager to get on the road and once his therapist was made aware of all the precautions that had been put in place at home and all the prep work we had been doing in anticipation for Ozzie’s visit, she felt confident sending us on our way.

Ozzie was buzzing with excitement and anxious anticipation.

As we neared home and he began seeing the familiar landmarks of home he could hardly sit still. We pulled into the driveway and he was out of the van before I had it in park, with his weekend bag in hand, eager to see the kids, greet the dogs, and see his bedroom.

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For dinner Ozzie had requested pumpkin chili. This is his favorite dish I make, and it was a perfect meal for a cold, November evening. It was so nice to sit around the dining room table and have all my chicks present.

After dinner we had Family Night. Since we weren’t going anywhere for Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day” I thought it would be fun to postpone our Sunday Family Night activities for Wednesday night so Ozzie could join us.

The focus of the lesson and activities I planned were “gratitude.” In honor of Thanksgiving, Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day,” and having the family reunited, I couldn’t think of a better theme for our night.

We began our evening with an object lesson that I had used recently for a class I taught at church. Each person was given a pebble to place in their shoe and a piece of chocolate to place in their mouth and then were instructed to walk around the house. When they had returned I asked how their stroll was. It was interesting to see how different family members responded. Some were quick to complain of the pain they endured while walking around with a sharp pebble in their shoe, while others praised the sweetness of the chocolate in their mouth. I likened the experience to life and pointed out the fact that our lives are filled with both pebbles and chocolates, but it is easy to become so focused on the pebbles in our shoes that we forget all the sweet blessings we enjoy.

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This object lesson led into our discussion of the Bible story of the ten lepers. We read the story and then discussed what lessons we could take away from the story and apply to our lives.

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With a stronger conviction of the importance of expressing gratitude to our Heavenly Father impressed on us all, I gave each person an A B C gratitude sheet and challenged them to come up with blessings they were grateful for that start with each letter of the alphabet.

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We then went around the room and read our answers. I was impressed with the creativity and specific blessings everyone came up with. I then posed the question, “If you woke up tomorrow with only those items on your list that you have thanked Heavenly Father for in the past what blessings would remain?”

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It gave us all pause to consider the many blessings we have never expressed gratitude for…blessings that we perhaps take for granted.

We ended our evening of gratitude with some Minute-to-Win-It games that were Thanksgiving themed.

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We split into two teams and competed in a series of fun, 60-second challenges that revolved around the theme of gratitude.

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It was a fun way to conclude Family Night and a perfect lead in to a weekend of THANKS.

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I don’t know when my heart has been more filled with gratitude and love and awe at God’s loving mercy than it was that evening with all my children gathered around me, my husband smiling from across the room, and laughter filling the house.

Oh, the difference a couple months can make.

God is good, indeed. ❤

Gotcha Day!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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!

Tyler’s Gotcha Day

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Today we celebrated our 4 year anniversary of being Tyler’s parents. Today was his “Gotcha Day,” which means four years ago on this day we stood before a judge and committed our hearts, home, and life to Tyler. That was the day he became Tyler McCleery. It was one of the happiest days of my life. My heart grew 10 sizes that day.

Every year on the anniversary of our boys’ adoption days we celebrate the blessing of joining our lives with an activity of their choosing. The activities vary from year to year and from boy to boy. There have been “Gotcha Days” that involved going out for ice cream, playing at the park, seeing a movie and even playing tennis as a family. The only constants are:

1. The “Gotcha Day” boy does the choosing.

2. The activity is a whole family, bonding experience.

This year we were on the road for Tyler’s “Gotcha Day.” We are on our way to Texas for my brother’s wedding and this was our first long driving stretch as we made our way from western Pennsylvania to St. Louis, Missouri.

We got on the road early.

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The kids each received their travel treat bag filled with snacks, games, activity books and bottled water. Everyone settled in and off we went.

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As we drove we had fun playing travel games like “Bingo,” “The Alphabet Game,” and Mad Libs.

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Tyler elected himself navigator thanks to the free maps that are handed out at rest stops along the way.

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As we traveled west we drove through many rain showers.

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Although we had a nine hour drive ahead of us we wanted to do something special to celebrate Tyler’s “Gotcha Day,” so we planned an impromptu stop in  Terre Haute, Indiana after reading some reviews online of the awesome children’s museum found in this smaller Indiana city.

The impressive reviews were the first draw. The second draw for this children’s museum was the price, which was a third of the cost of the large children’s museum found in Indianapolis. At a cost of only $8.00 a person this place was a steal!

My only concern was that perhaps it would be geared too young for the teenagers to enjoy it, but I knew they were such good sports that they would happily tag along so their little brother could enjoy this neat experience on his special day.

I didn’t need to worry. This children’s museum had something for everyone, from 9 month olds to 90 year olds…this place was incredible!

What an awesome hidden gem is tucked away in Terre Haute!

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We walked in and the fun began at the door with a cloud maker.

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We paid and began exploring.

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There was a little of everything, from interactive science exhibits to creative play areas.

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If we lived in Terre Haute when my kids were little this would have been our playground.

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The first big exhibit we encountered was a vacuum powered tube maze that hung on the wall. The kids  placed bath loofahs in the ends of the tubes, press the air button, and watched the loofah balls fly through the maze of tubes then shoot out the various ends. We all had a blast playing with this interactive toy. It set the tone for the rest of the day and gave us a preview of the fun we would have.

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One of the displays the Terre Haute Children’s Museum is best known for is their giant tree house…and rightfully so. It is epic! Tyler ran for it right away, quickly followed by his older siblings. The tree house can be accessed by a walkway on the second floor or could be entered from the base of the tree through a vertical climbing maze. At the top of the tree house there were ball shooters that could be used to launch foam balls across the room into the hanging flowers on the opposite wall. As the balls fell back to the ground they could be gathered and sent back up to the kids at the top of the tree house via a hanging basket that could be loaded with balls and be pulled up pulley style. A lot of our day was spent here.

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Tyler’s second favorite exhibit was the animal race track. Here the kids could pick an animal to race. They would pick a continent, and then pick an animal from that continent that they wanted to try racing. Then they would stand at the end of the race track and begin running down the track. As they raced red squares appeared below their feet, representing the footsteps of the animal they were racing. They had to outrun the red squares to win the race. Then at the end of the track both speeds were posted so they could see how close the race was and who the winner was.

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It was fun to see how fast or slow various animals were. We were shocked by many of them. For instance we had no idea a porcupine was such a slow poke. It only runs 2 miles an hour. Who knew?

On the first floor they also had a cool Dino Dig site,

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a pump piano that Rusty enjoyed,

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and a “Build and Race your own Bottle Car” experience:

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On the second floor there was an agricultural area, which is fitting, I suppose, since we were in Indiana. Here the kids learned more about farming and got to milk a cow, drive a combine, and play with a mommy pig and her piglets. It was so cute!

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On this floor they also had a race car the kids could climb in:

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AND a bubble wand so big that they could climb inside the bubble. It was awesome!

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One of the neatest parts of this children’s museum was the many areas set up for creative play. Here the kids could use their imagination and play pretend.

There was a kitchen:

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A Supermarket:

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A construction site:

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And a Vet’s office:

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All were set up with such wonderful attention to detail, making kids feel as though they had stepped into a mini version of  real world places. Even my big kids had fun playing pretend.

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We stayed until it closed at 5:00 and then continued on to St. Louis for our first night’s stay.

It was an amazing day,

one that will go down in the books…

a “Gotcha Day” that won’t soon be forgotten!

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Thanks for Terre Haute for a fun day.

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And thank you, God, for bringing Tyler into our lives four years ago.

We love you, Tyler!

adoption

 

 

 

Whew…what a week!

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Last week was a crazy week, jam-packed with work on the bus, packing up the trailer for Michigan, and working to prepare the house and yard for a picnic on Saturday. Sprinkled among our week of chores was a lot of fun. Here is a look at all that happened last week!

Monday

On Monday I took Grace on her very first college tour. I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that I am at the parenting stage of life that requires college visits. I still feel like a college student myself! But here we are. This year is Gracie’s senior year so this summer we have planned a few college campus tours.

Grace is planning on going to school to get a degree in Special Education with a possible secondary degree or minor in American Sign Language. One of the schools on her list of possible schools is Kent State, located 1 1/2  hours away in Ohio.

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We scheduled a college tour and took Olivia, Gracie’s best friend, along with us.

When we arrived we were taken by golf cart to the orientation building where we joined many other potential students and their parents for a 30 minute presentation. The orientation presentation gave us an overview of Kent State. They touched on everything from the history, the offered majors, the clubs and activities, the area, and the cost. The girls also each received a welcome pack and a Kent State backpack.

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Once the orientation was complete the crowd was broken into small tour groups and assigned a college student to walk them around campus on a 90 minute tour.

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It was a very pretty campus and a great first tour as we enter this new world of college placements. On the tour we were able to see different classrooms, the student union building, the library and food services around campus. It was nice for the girls to have access to a current Kent State student that they could question about life on campus.

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They even had the opportunity to see sample dorm rooms and get a feel for how campus living would be.

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It was a great experience and it made me excited for the girls and the adventure that awaits them in another year as they leave high school and follow God’s leading for their lives.

Tuesday

Tuesday was spent doing this all day!

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Wednesday

Tyler headed off to cub scout camp for the first time. This was a day camp that ran from 8:30 am- 4:00 pm Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week. It was with a bit of anxiety I sent him off on his own for the day (without a parent or sibling) for the first time ever. I wasn’t sure how he would do and how the leaders would handle any struggles that might arise, so I did A LOT of praying in the days leading up to day camp…

And you know what?

He did great!

He did more than great. He had a FABULOUS time!

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He loved spending the days with his scout friends and had fun with the leaders. He came home each evening eager to tell me about everything he did and learned that day. It was wonderful!

The theme for cub scout camp was Safari Adventures. Each day the boys moved from station to station around camp where they did crafts, played games, learned skills, shot bow and arrows and had target practice with BB guns.

On Friday they even had a mobile zoo come and teach the kids about all sorts of cool animals that they brought with them. Tyler was able to meet and learn about everything from an armadillo to a baby monkey.

On Friday evening the families of the cub scouts were invited back to camp for an evening fireside program where the different troops performed for the families.

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A BIG thanks to all who made the week such a positive experience for the boys. This Momma’s heart is full of gratitude!

Thursday

On Thursday evening the girls and I had the opportunity to join the women and teenage girls from church for a night of bowling.

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One of the families at church owns a bowling alley and graciously opened it up to all of us for a fun ladies night out. Everyone brought an appetizer or snack to share and we enjoyed a night of food, fun, and fellowship!

Friday

On Friday Gracie had big plans with Olivia. Friday was Olivia’s 18th birthday and Grace made plans to take her out for a spa day to celebrate. Olivia knew she was spending the day with Grace but didn’t know what the plans were until she arrived and  Grace gave her a pair of flip flops she had decorated with balloons and a note telling her to:

“Put on your birthday shoes. We are off to get pedicures!”

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Grace took Olivia to the spa and Molly and Rusty went home with Miss Lana to spend the day with Tatum and Lucas. They needed to get in a play date with their best buddies before they left for Michigan.

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The little boys stayed home and helped Toby and I get the house ready for a picnic the following day.

At the spa the girls enjoyed an hour long foot massage, pampering and pedicure.

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After their pampering time Grace took Olivia out for a fun lunch at Shogun Hibachi Grill. It was a dinner and a show as the food was prepared in front of them. They even sang to Olivia when they discovered it was her birthday.

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Happy 18th birthday, Olivia!

Saturday

On Saturday we hosted a summer picnic for our Blessings Through Adoption support group. This local support group that meets once a month provides the opportunity to fellowship with other adoptive families as well as learn from a vast array of speakers that come to share their knowledge with the group at the monthly meetings.

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Some of the Blessings Through Adoption families

 

This past Saturday was the summer picnic where families could come together for some social fun. We spent the days leading up to the picnic getting ready for the picnic.

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Filling water balloons.

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Gracie decorating the outdoor chalkboard with a welcome sign.

 

It was a VERY hot day so the kids kept cool with a sprinkler and water balloons.

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The adults made themselves comfortable in the shade where we enjoyed hot dogs, hamburgers and salads.

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For dessert the kids roasted marshmallows and feasted on s’mores.

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Saturday was also Tyler’s “Gotcha Day!”

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It was 3 years ago that we sat before a judge and committed to be his forever family. It was fitting that out Blessings Through Adoption picnic fell on Tyler’s “Gotcha Day” because it is through the blessing of adoption that he joined our family.

For the boys’ “Gotcha days” we celebrate by letting them choose an activity for us to enjoy as a family.

Tyler couldn’t decide between going swimming and going to see a movie, so we did both. After a HOT picnic outside the thought of a cool swim appealed to all of us so after our last guest left we grabbed swim suits, towels and our swimming pass and headed to Ellwood City Pool.

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That evening we packed up blankets and lawn chairs and drove to Dependable Drive-In to see the most recent Ice Age movie and Secret Life of Pets. We had a Groupon for four free admissions, a large drink and a large popcorn, so the cost for our fun evening was minimal.

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It was a beautiful evening. As the sun set the temperatures lowered with it. It was wonderful to have that special time as a family before Toby, Molly and Rusty had to leave for Michigan. It was such a wonderful feeling of relief and satisfaction to look back on our crazy week, and see all that was accomplished, knowing the bus was complete and all the big commitments of summer were over. Now we can relax and enjoy some lazier summer days before we begin preparing for our big trip.

Life is good!

Tyler’s Gotcha Day

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Let me begin by apologizing for the longer than normal blog post. Yesterday was a FULL day. Yesterday was Tyler’s “Gotcha Day,” the anniversary date of his adoption finalization 2 years ago…

The day we went to court and he was officially declared our son in the eyes of the law.

The tradition in our home, for “Gotcha Day,” is that the “Gotcha kid” can pick a family activity of their choice to celebrate the special day. As Tyler’s “Gotcha Day” approached I asked him what he wanted to do to celebrate. Last year he chose to play tennis as a family and go out for ice cream cones.

Ozzie, waiting to hear Tyler’s choice, informed me that he already knows what he wants to do for his first “Gotcha Day” in November. He wants to go to a junk yard and walk around looking at the broken down cars as a family. 🙂

Tyler finally made a decision and told me that he wanted to go to a playground he had never played at before (and go out for ice cream as a family.)

That sounded great so I asked for playground suggestions from friends

and the Splash Pad in Leetsdale Borough was suggested. It sounded fun so we decided to give it a try.

Before our “Gotcha Day” celebrations could begin, however, we had other things on the agenda for the day…a lot of things!

First was getting Rusty out the door. Rusty is going on High Adventure with his scout troop for the next three days. He is going white water rafting and rappelling and cave exploring. He had to meet his troop at the church at 10:00am, the same time I had to take the little boys for their final swim lesson. It is at times like this I am SO grateful to have another driver in the house. Grace and Molly drove Rusty to church and I took the boys to swimming lessons.

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It was the final day of lessons. Signing them both up was such a good choice. I am amazed at how much they have both improved over the course of two weeks. I am hugely impressed with the instructors at our little pool and how great they are with the kids!

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The final day of lessons focused on boat safety and it was the boys favorite day of lessons…hands down!

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The kids all donned life jackets and learned how to safely evacuate a boat and survive in the water while waiting for help to arrive.

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Evacuating the boat was the boys’ favorite part!

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Everyone took a turn on the raft. When everyone was done they headed to the deep end where the instructors played a game of Sharks and Minnows with the kids.

The lesson ended with a group jump into the deep end and a group photo. 🙂

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Both boys received a certificate and graduated onto the next swimming level.

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After swimming lessons were done we drove home to have lunch with the girls before we headed to the playground and they headed to their babysitting job. They were asked to babysit two adorable twin boys from church. They had so much fun with them!

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While they were babysitting I took the boys to the Splash Pad playground. I couldn’t believe we had never heard of this place before. It was wonderful!

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There was traditional playground equipment as well as a really fun water playground. The area around the Splash Pad was shaded with big, old trees, perfect for moms to lounge under while the kids played.

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The boys had a blast!

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And all this fun water entertainment cost us $0.00. Amazing!

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The boys could have spent all day there but by 4:30 we had to leave to go home and get Tyler ready for football practice. He now has football practice every night from 6:00-8:00.

Toby took Tyler to practice while I stayed home with the other three. It was Gracie’s one on one time so we had her time while Tyler was at football.

She wanted to make a craft. She found an idea for a message board online and we just happened to have everything she needed for it. We went outside to do our craft in the sun and found Molly outside painting her nails and Winnie’s nails. 🙂

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Gracie painted an old cookie sheet with chalkboard paint to create a message board for her room that she can write on in chalk or use magnets on to post notes and photos. It turned out really cute and once it dries we are going to hang it in her room with a ribbon.

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At 8:00 pm we hopped in the car once again for our final stop of the day…

Handels’ Ice Cream Shop.

Tyler wanted to go for ice cream as part of hid “Gotcha Day” celebration so we met Toby and Tyler in town after football where Toby bought everyone ice cream cones.

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Grace chose caramel pretzel ice cream.

Grace chose caramel pretzel ice cream.

Molly chose black raspberry ice cream.

Molly chose black raspberry ice cream.

Ozzie chose buckeye ice cream.

Ozzie chose buckeye ice cream.

Tyler chose chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

Tyler chose chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

It was a perfect end to a joyful day.

Happy “Gotcha Day” Tyler! We are so glad you are ours!

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Adoption Day! (Part 1)

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Adoption day began in flurry of activity. Missing shoes, ripped panty hose, mismatched socks were the theme of the morning as we raced to get everyone looking presentable and out the door by 8:00am. Our court time was 9:30 but we were asked to arrive 30 minutes before hand. The drive down to Pittsburgh was uneventful. We arrived at the courthouse on time. As we were driving around the courthouse in search of a parking garage we passed Ozzie’s biological sister walking across the street with her family. She was also being adopted yesterday.

We parked and walked across the street to the courthouse. Our first stop was at security where we all had to go through metal detectors. We were surprised to see Elsa ahead of us in line. She took off her hat and gloves and winter coat and laid them on the belt to be scanned while she pranced through the metal detector. It was quite comical. As we watched her take off her winter gear Gracie leaned over and whispered, “Why is she wearing a coat? I thought ‘The cold never bothered her anyway.’ 🙂

Ozzie was shaking with excitement as we exited the security area and were greeted by employees with an enthusiastic, “Welcome to Adoption Day!”

That is when my tears began. We had made it. We were at the end of a long journey and in 30 minutes he would be ours.

The employees asked us our names and informed us that there had been a change to the schedule. Our hearing would still be at 9:30 but we had been assigned a new judge. Our adoption would be finalized by Judge Ward. I couldn’t believe God’s good grace. After a rough year working with other court officials we would get our favorite judge for the final court hearing. Judge Ward is who finalized Tyler’s adoption. He is wonderful! As an adoptive parent himself he goes out of his way to make adoption day so special for his families. It couldn’t have been more perfect!

We were then sent up to the 4th floor to enjoy the festivities of the day while we waited. The courthouse was buzzing with excitement. Children dressed in their Sunday best filed into the elevators surrounded by loved ones. There were 47 children who received forever homes yesterday. That courthouse, which often is a place of great sadness, felt like holy ground.

Upstairs we found Zoey, Ozzie’s sister, waiting with the family that was adopting her. The sibling embraced and Ozzie greeted Zoey with, “Happy Adoption Day!!”

Adoption day for Ozzie and Zoey.

Adoption day for Ozzie and Zoey.

We took a moment to get some pictures before we let them loose on the cupcakes, pastries, cookies and juice that were set out for the waiting families to enjoy.

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My children. :)

My children. 🙂

As we waited there were many fun activities for the families to enjoy. There was a man making balloon creations for the kids…

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Ozzie

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There was another man making caricatures…

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And there were princesses walking around the courthouse visiting with the kids…

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Can you spot the prince?

Can you spot the prince?

The fun activities were enjoyed as we waited for the rest of our family to show up. My parents were driving in from Ohio and with them were Travis and Krista, my brother and his girlfriend. Travis and Krista had come all the way from Texas for our special day. Mimi Joy and Aunt Beth also drove down to Pittsburgh for our special day. From the fourth floor’s glass walls the kids saw when they arrived at security.

The view from the 4th floor.

The view from the 4th floor.

The "Mimis"

The “Mimis”

A special day celebrated with family.

A special day celebrated with family.

In addition to family, we also had two very special people there…Karl and Christina. These two are the ones who have been with Ozzie and Zoey from the time they were removed from the home. These two are the ones who were instrumental in placing Ozzie with us and giving us our son. I am so grateful for these two social workers who, through their daily work, truly act as Christ’s hands here on earth.

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We were soon called into the courtroom. Ozzie was up first. Toby, Ozzie and I sat in the front while our family and Zoey’s family sat behind us.  The court honored our request of having their hearings back to back so that the siblings could attend each other’s finalizations. We felt that was important.

I wish I could adequately describe the feeling in that courtroom and Ozzie’s abundant happiness as we sat before the judge. He was bouncing with excitement and pure joy. Later the judge and Karl both said that they had never seen a better or more joyful adoption ceremony than Ozzie’s. We were crying, Ozzie was crying, the social workers were crying.

Judge Ward :)

Judge Ward 🙂

(Grace managed to quickly capture these photos from when the judge officially declared Ozzie a member of our family. The pictures aren’t the best quality but they beautifully capture the emotion of that moment.)

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We then rearranged seats and watched as Zoey was adopted.

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Zoey's new family.

Zoey’s new family.

After the judge declared Zoey a member of her new family, Ozzie raced up to embrace her and as he hugged her he said, “I’m so happy for you, Zoey!”

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Later that night as we gathered for family prayer and scripture study I asked each of the kids what their favorite memory of the day was. These were their responses…

Ozzie: When the judge said, “From this day on Ozzie will now and forever be known as Oswald William McCleery.”

Molly: I just loved and will always remember Ozzie’s enthusiasm and excitement as he sat before the judge.

Rusty: My favorite moment was after the judge was finished and Ozzie ran back and forth in front of the table jumping up and down with excitement.

Grace: My favorite memory will always be when Ozzie ran to hug Mom and Dad at the end of the ceremony.

Katie: My most profound moment was walking into the courthouse and seeing the  “Welcome to Adoption Day” sign. The tears started to fall as the emotions of the day hit me.

Toby: The feeling as we left. The relief knowing it was done. He was ours and isn’t going anywhere.

It was a blessed day.

God is good!

(Stay tuned for part two)