Join Angela, Axel, Abel and Asher as they welcome their new sibling home.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


That's all we're doing now. Waiting.

Our dossier is in the translation process and should be delivered to the Serbian adoption authorities by January 31st or so.

We have a couple of projects to get done here before we bring J home.

Other than that, just waiting. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Oh the clothes!

When Angela was little, and before she developed her own taste in clothes, everything I bought for her came from Walmart or Target. Not that those are bad stores to shop from. It was just before the time when everyone and their brother had internet access, and those were the only stores near our rural home. It was also all we could afford at the time.

As Angela got older, and finances changed a bit, I fell in love with certain types of little girl clothes. Unfortunately Angela was also getting out of the age to wear the cutsie little girl stuff! She also had her own taste in clothes and it did not involve ruffles or frill, it was more "big and bulky". Its not really surprising that Angela is a tomboy having grown up with her her big brothers, and later adding the little brothers!

I've been SO very excited to buy clothes for J. Cute little girl clothes. Dresses with leggings. Boots. Oh the boots! I could probably go a little bit nuts.

But I am holding back. Although I have her height, weight and European clothing sizes, I like to wait until I get my kids home and know exactly what sizes they need. At least with a girl I can't go too wrong with dresses, right?

Some dear friends of mine have outfitted our girl with a ton of clothes and she will be set for awhile! Now I have to figure out where to put all this stuff! If you read my other blog, you know about our "family closet". The one that has recently gotten away from me. Yeah...that's another blog post.

Anyway, last night after the little boys went to bed, and Angela and her friend were having a dance fest in the downstairs, I started sorting through all these clothes. I honestly don't know how to decide which clothes to bring along on the trip!

And hair. Angela was never big on having her hair done. She tolerated it for me, but as soon as we came home from somewhere all the "pretties" came out. Still I kept her hair long until she was 6 and I cut it to shoulder length. It's been long/short/long/short through several cycles over the years as she goes through various stages of not wanting to deal with hair. Right now we're in the process of growing it out again before her Senior pictures are taken this summer. Since Angela isn't very independent with her hair, its hard to find a style that works well for her without looking like a boy cut.

But J? Oh please I'm hoping she will tolerate me brushing her hair. In my head I know it's more likely she will want nothing to do with this ritual. She's 9 years old and her head has been shaved her entire life. Right now her  hair is still growing out from the last shave and is barely to her ears. Will she do better with bangs or no bangs? I know her hair color, and it appears as it's growing out it may have a tiny bit of body to it.

These are the types of thoughts that are keeping me up at night now. Learning about a child you've never met, trying not to create a child in your head that is nothing like the real child is not easy. Trying not to read anything into the pictures. Not assuming anything. This is a child who has spent her entire life living in one of Serbia's worst facilities. I don't expect a lot of things, but like any mom I can't help but hope for many.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Now what do we do?

Everything on this side, the US side of this adoption, is done.

There are no more papers to chase.

There are no forms to fill out.

We crammed two months of preparation into a handful of days.

Now we wait.

Our dossier is being translated as we speak. As soon as its done it will be hand delivered to the Serbian Adoption Unit. They will look it over to make sure no documents are missing, then send it on to J's social worker. Once the social worker gives her approval we are ready to travel. That would be about the 2nd week of February.

Except that we are not financially ready to travel that soon. We have $1700 left to raise here, (remember when we reach our goal I'll tell you her name) but the rest of the funds will be coming to us in Feb. As soon as we have them, its time to go!

Can you believe it? I can't.

Of course in the meantime there are other things to do! Clothes to gather, a bed to set up, toys to go through, etc. The kids will like helping me with all that!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

57 Days

Tonight I looked at the calendar.


I counted the days.

Again. (I have done this 5 different times today. At least.)

In 44 days, at the most, I will be on a plane.

There are an awful lot of things to do between now and then.

Whenever we have adopted, as soon as we accept a child's referral I have a sudden burst of nesting activity. Because it's early in the process, it doesn't last too long. ;-)

Then later, closer to when I need to be preparing to leave, I go into full-blown nesting mode. It lasts until I walk out the door.

I remember with Abel's adoption, Dean was able to take a couple days off just before we left. Knowing I keep the master schedule in my head, every morning he would ask, "What do we have to do today?" And I would rattle off my list of destinations. He would fill up his thermos and sit patiently in the van while I ran back into the house for the 27th time for something I'd forgotten. "How do you ever get this all done?" he'd ask. When we were finally on the plane he made a confession. "I never thought we'd actually complete one adoption, must less three. I figured there was so much paperwork you would eventually give up on it."

This time around there is no time between phases! I have nesting energy but I don't even know what to do with it. I'm so distracted, and my to-do list is so long that I don't even know where to start. Other adoptive families would probably agree with me when I say this is the time when my stomach is constantly in knots. I go over numbers in my head constantly. Figuring and re-figuring several times per day. Always coming up short. Always looking for some obscure place in our finances where $100 here or there could be shifted to the "adoption expense" column. The little glimmers of hope you feel when the numbers come out just right, only to remember some obscure bill that is coming due.

And still, the rest of the family is living and I need to attend to them before anything else. I close the "adopting" section of my brain and focus on the kids, only to have the door creep open again awhile later, distracting me.

Tomorrow I will start making "the list". This time it will be longer because there is more to do for the other kids just because of the timing of events.

And, when I'm freaking out a bit, I remind myself that when WE get home in April, it will be SPRING and the snow will be gone!!! Oh how wonderful is that thought! 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Verification of timing

I just received an email from the Serbian ministry verifying that all non-hague adoptions must be completed by April 1st. That means I would need to be in-country by March 1st, at the very latest. 

We are sending this as circular letter to all who want to adopt from Serbia, prior to it’s official stepping into the circle of Hague accredited countries on 1st of April 2014. It is not for the sake of speeding up your procedures at home, but it is a kind of warning, just to be aware of changes, and to avoid possible “unpredictable difficulties” latter. All adoptions must be completed up to the March 31st ...
From April 1st, Serbia would be obliged to follow Hague-accredited countries adoption procedures.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Our days: Pt 2

Now that you know how the house is set up, what does a typical day look like here?

My alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. and I hit the snooze a few times. Usually once too many! At 5:50 I wake up Angela.  She gets dressed while I head to the kitchen to get her breakfast ready and seizure meds out. Most of the time Angela gets her clothes out the night before but occasionally she does what us girls do and changes her mind! This will add a few minutes to our routine. ;-) Eventually she comes out of her room with her gym clothes already in her backpack, grabs her school planner off the counter and takes her seat at the island for breakfast. This is our time, when the whole house is quiet. While I'm preparing breakfast for the boys who are still sleeping she tells me whats on her agenda for the day at school, who her boyfriend is this week, and we go over her sports practice schedule for the week. When she's done eating we move to the bathroom where I help her brush her teeth (she has a very difficult time with this) and supervise getting her hair brushed, face washed, check hearing aid batteries and clean glasses. She heads to the front entry to get her coat on while I go to the boys' room to wake them up. This is also about the time Dean gets up. 

Most of the time the boys, well Abel for sure, are awake when I go in there. The little boys head to the breakfast table while Axel stays in the bedroom to get dressed. I go back to the front entry (it is next to the kitchen) and help Angela zip her coat and make sure she's dressed for the weather. The kids each have a specific place to put their hats and gloves so its not very often we have to scramble for that kind of stuff. Once she's all set I'm in the kitchen dishing up breakfast for the boys and packing Asher's lunch if needed.

Because its so early, and pitch black outside, Dean is the watchful eyes for kids getting on the bus. When it's slippery in the winter on our very steep driveway he walks Angela down the hill since she can be a but unstable. He waits with her until she gets on her bus. Once the days get longer and its more light outside he watches from the top of the hill because she does NOT want mom or dad at the bus stop! She is 17 after all! Still Dean always stands out on the driveway to make sure the she gets on the bus without incident. And besides, I'm paranoid about someone kidnapping my kids or something while they're at the bus stop! 

Axel soon joins us at the breakfast table and the three boys eat together. We talk about their day and whats ahead, etc. 

Abel is *always* the first one to finish eating and he races to go get dressed. Getting dressed means you'll probably get to go somewhere! Asher is quick to follow and Axel, as always, takes his time. I hang out in the boys room, supervising/helping little boys getting dressed while Axel gathers his backpack and coat. Axel is able to zip, snap, tie...everything, so Dean is just in view when Axel getting his coat and outdoor gear on. Axel is able to go to the bus himself this year, but still Dean is out on the driveway keeping an eye on things.

While Dean and Axel are doing the bus thing, I'm in the house helping Asher get his outdoor gear on for the bus. He needs snow pants and the whole shebang. Dean comes in to retrieve Asher and off they go to the bus stop. Obviously Asher is too little to be at the bus stop himself. By this time its plenty light outside and I can see the bus stop from the front windows of the house. I love watching them out there together. Asher *always* holds his daddy's hand, and I can tell when he has convinced Dean to sing the jumping song because Asher starts hopping. Sometimes they work on new signs together. But seeing them standing there at the bus stop, side by side, father and son, gives me warm fuzzies. 

And then we're left with just Abel! For now anyway.

**Whenever we have a new kid come home we wait a few months before putting them into school. Especially for these kids out of an institution who have really high anxiety about being in an institutional setting again. Abel has had the most difficult transition. We spent all of Sept and part of October getting his assessments done, then he had his tonsils out the end of October. In November we started him at school, with me going along, but it didn't work out. The staff and I met again and we came up a different plan for Abel and I think it will make his transition much easier.**

I have a confession to make. When the other kids all leave for the day, Dean hangs out with Abel while I go back to bed for a bit! I know, I know. I'm already napping by 8:00 a.m.! Abel loves this time with Dean, and I love my quiet time.  Usually Dean empties the dishwasher and loads the breakfast dishes. Abel LOVES this job. LOVES. (he also likes to put groceries away and clothes down the laundry chute) Sometimes when I get up I find evidence they have already shared a snack. ;-)

Dean doesn't leave for work until mid-morning. When he leaves Abel and I go down to the therapy room for some time on the swing, or he likes me to pick him up and throw him into the ball pit. If he really needs to swing a lot that day (and I can tell when he does by the noises he makes) I'll let him keep swinging while I take a quick shower. (the bathroom is right next to the swing area.) 

And here is where our schedule has recently changed! On Mondays and Fridays, Abel gets on the bus at 12:00 for school and I drive over in the car to meet him. At school he eats lunch, has recess, and adaptive phy ed. By next week I won't be meeting him there anymore. On Wednesdays school staff comes to the house to work with him in his own environment and so Abel can get used to the staff he'll be working with at school. By the beginning of Feb the goal is for him to be in school full-time without having me or Dean go with him every day. It is time and he is ready.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays Abel stays home with me most of the day. We alternate between doing a chore here and there (he loves to help me in the laundry room) and doing a learning game on the iPad or with manipulatives, sometimes we do crafts at the table in the basement. We got the kids a new touch-screen computer for Christmas and he is just learning how to use it. Abel only works a few minutes at a time, so my goal is to increase the time he will work for me without needing a sensory break. Right now, every 5-6 minutes, he's either jumping on the trampoline, swinging, or jumping in the ball pit! Then we eat lunch and leave to pick up the other two boys from school early. After picking them up its time for therapy! My kids LOVE LOVE LOVE all their therapists!! They get speech, physical, occupational, and Asher gets feeding therapies. While the boys are working with their various therapists I float between them, seeing what their working on so I can incorporate those same things into what we do at home. This is especially true of Asher's feeding therapy. There is no way that 30 minutes a week with the feeding therapist is going to improve a child's ability to chew. The techniques have to be carried over at home. Asher is almost ready to be excused from feeding therapy! We're at the therapy center two hours a day on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

When therapy is done we pick up Angela from whatever sporting practice she happens to be attending. When she gets in the car she tells me all about her day. On days she has games the boys and I enjoy watching them together. For some reason, during soccer season in the fall, the game schedule didn't work well and it was hard to make the games. During hockey season the games are later so one of us can always make the games.  

By the time we get home from picking up Angela Dean is home. Sometimes he has started dinner, other times he's catching a quick nap in the quiet house. He deserves it! 

The evening is full with dinner, (we sit down together as a family every night.) showers/baths and getting everyone to bed. Abel usually ASKS to go to bed around 6:30. He's wiped out by then mostly because he doesn't sleep well at night.  The other kids are quick to follow and everyone is usually asleep by 7:30. Seriously! Dean and I have several hours alone together kid free. It's good for us. If I was really good I might fold a load of laundry or clean the kitchen, but I prefer to hang out with my honey.

How do we do it? We have a schedule! Our kids do best with a schedule that is predictable and not rushed. Our mornings are quiet and easy. They are a well-oiled machine!  Everyone knows what they need to do, which makes it easy to help the ones working on dressing skills. If there is a problem its when Angela has decided whatever she has chosen to wear for the day is somehow not right and must be changed! Missing a bus just doesn't happen here. I wouldn't freak out if it did, but none of the kids like missing school so they'r usually pretty motivated to get out the door. 

Like mornings, bedtimes are calm and relaxed. The kids all get plenty of sleep (well, they have plenty of TIME to sleep. We have two who don't sleep well.) and because they're in bed early Dean and I get lots of quiet time to ourselves.

One of our adult sons, Tyler, does PCA for us occasionally, and during the summer months we have a pool of college kids who love working with our kids. They really enjoy going to movies, or the beach or some other community things if we don't have something else going on. Tyler is the only one who does PCA for Abel because we only want family involved with him right now. All the kids love the big brothers and its nice to have them close by.

So that's it. Thats how our days go. Of course, summers are very different! I think they're mostly normal and just like any other family with four kids. We have systems set up for various situations, like a run to the grocery store. All the kids know where they should walk (Asher and Abel hold the cart, Axel and Angela follow behind.) Sometimes Angela asks to have one of the little kids walk with her and hold her hand. On the rare occasions I make a list (ha!) someone gets a turn to carry it. It is not crazy wild here. It is calm and usually pretty quiet (that happens when three of your kids are non-verbal, two of them being nearly silent.)

Don't think we don't ever get frustrated with any of the kids. We absolutely do. I recently had a medical professional tell me that Dean and I make this look easy. Ummm It is anything but. I guess this professional only sees us out in the community, and all the kids are usually really well behaved. But Dean and I are not people to get really worked up about something. We "get" trauma and how it affects kids. We get that finding the steps for each child to work through takes time. We know that not every child loves their adoptive parents. We know that not every adoptive parent loves their new child. We get that sometimes the sibling mix can be a problem but so far we have been lucky in that respect. Its pretty rare that I feel stressed about things.

This is our life. Every day. We have room in it for one more.


Tomorrow is a big day!

First, I will write out a check for $1600 which will allow me to pick up our homestudy. I'm pretty sure this homestudy was complete in record time. It had to be. There is a deadline.

Second, I'll write out a check for $750 to USCIS which will be overnighted to our USCIS officer who is waiting anxiously so she can complete the rest of our application process. It will be a very fast approval because everything is up to date.

Next, I will give Fedex approximately $100 to send our dossier (stack of adoption documents)  to Serbia.

Last, I wire $450 dollars to the translator so she will translate our documents. (we usually pay for this once our adoption is complete but this part of the process is changing slightly due the time requirements.)

So are you with  me?

That means tomorrow I will spend a total of $2900 on papers. Ouch.

The cost of adoption is high. I'm getting flack for fundraising. Nobody is twisting the arms of anyone who chooses to help us out. The longer it takes us to save up the money isn't really a big deal. It means J waits but she is in a good foster home and is safe.  Except for one thing. On December 18th Serbia deposited their instruments to become part of the Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention. It becomes effective on April 1st. We really need to have our adoption *completed* by that time, partly due to Hague, and partly due to our own schedules this spring, when the other kids have days off school, etc. The rest of the money (travel expenses, airfare and in-country adoption expenses) will come from our tax refund.

Once Serbia is part of Hague the cost of adoption will go up approximately $6000-$8000 on the US side!   The costs in Serbia won't change, and really not much about their actual process in country will change, but adoption agencies in the US will be lining their pockets. I have had one agency tell me they could pull together a Serbian program for approximately $18,000, while Open Door adoption agency is already charging $27,000.

No, really.

This is why we're rushing. We cannot justify spending $20,000+ on an adoption that should only cost $13,000. But rushing is really hard when you're struggling to come up with the funds that will allow you to move quickly.

Which leads us to begging. Lets call it what it is and not sugar coat things.  I think that when my time on earth ends, and I'm standing before God on judgement day, he will not say "You gave a home to four kids but you begged for money. No heaven or angels singing. No lovely eternity for you." Instead I think, I hope, he will say, "You did the best you could. You helped four kids have a life when the odds were against them. You allowed others to help if they wanted." and leave it at that! But that is what I hope.

$2800 is all we have left. $2800.

Thank you. 

Our Days: Pt 1

I received a private email asking me "What do your days look like with four special needs kids? How do you have time for everyone?"

Before I answer that question, I feel the need to backtrack a bit to explain some things. Somehow I think people have the impression that Angela is somehow loosing out on either attention or....I don't know what...when we adopt.

Before Dean and I met, I was married and had five kids at home; four boys and Angela. (there is an 8 year gap between Angela and the next brother.) After the divorce, and with her brothers becoming adults, Angela went from the youngest of 5 to an only child in a matter of 2 years. She hated being an only child, and I have to say, I wasn't really fond of being the constant playmate to an only child. She didn't want "mom" to play with, she wanted her big brothers back! She missed them terribly.

When we decided to adopt the first time Angela was beside herself with excitement. When we decided to adopt a second time we asked her, "If we go back to Serbia, should we get a brother or a sister?" Her response? "Duh! A Brother!" I really don't think Angela had any inkling what fun she might have had with a sister. She was so used to having brothers so that is all she knows. Then Asher came home and Angela, being developmentally about 8-ish, was very mother-y toward him as girls at that level tend to be. She loves to help take care of Asher who is very much the baby of the family.

When we decided to adopt again (Abel's adoption) we knew one thing for sure. No matter boy or girl, Asher needed to remain the "baby" of the family. He was very much developmentally two years old at that time. Not only did we not want another developmental toddler at that time, but we didn't have the time for another "toddler", and clearly Asher still needed some babying.

Along came Abel. It was clear from their very first meeting that Asher and Abel remembered one another. They are absolutely best of buds! Axel and Angela pair up a lot, but Angela often floats to the little boys to mother them a bit, then back to Axel for a game of cops or something. Axel, being 13 (and developmentally around 8-ish) is kind of between two worlds right now. He isn't really interested in playing with the little boys because he's too cool for them. He absolutely LOVES to hang out with Papa, doing "guy stuff" like pounding nails and dragging tree limbs around the yard. The little boys just like to be outside. Period. Outside. Or going for rides in the car. They don't care where the car brings them, as long as its out of the house. They want to go go go.

 For the last 6 or 7 years Angela has had a very cool pirate room in the basement. (remember, she is total tomboy!) Axel had his own room for the first year he was home, but when Asher came he really wanted to be in the same room with Ash. Because all three boys been used to sleeping "dorm style" we wanted to keep them together so we put Abel in that room too. Over the course of the summer Angela was apparently feeling a bit left out of the party upstairs and started spending a lot of nights in the spare bedroom on the main floor. The basement, which for almost 10 years had been her own personal girl cave was abandoned. She was hardly ever down there anymore because she wanted to be up with the boys.

Late last summer I was feeling like the boys were a bit too cramped in their bedroom, and Angela was making it clear she just needed to move back upstairs. That's when the big switch happened! We moved the three boys into the master bedroom where there is more than enough room for beds (Asher and Abel have a bunk, Axel is in a twin) plus two closets for their stuff. Axel has his own closet so the little boys don't destroy his things, and the "younger toys" are in the closet the little boys have access to. Angela was reinstated upstairs and the 3rd bedroom on the main level became the "master". It is literally two steps from the kids' rooms. Our bedrooms are right off the living room so its easy for the kids to drag toys (real or imaginary) out to the living room, then return for a different one when they've had enough. Or they can play in their room and they're in easy earshot of us. As an extra set of eyes we also have a camera system set up all over the house, with a base that clips on a belt so I can keep an eye on things if I need to do something like switch loads in the washer, etc. We now have an empty bedroom in the lower level that will eventually be the spare bedroom when I get around to it. For now there is a bed, and lots of excess furniture.

Then there is the basement. It is a walk out, and our plan down the road is to convert it to an apartment for the kids, with an efficiency kitchen. For now, once we moved Angela back upstairs, it was unused. All four of the kids have some pretty significant sensory needs. I honestly can't say that any one has more needs than the other. Angela and Abel are probably the highest. Our lower level was unused and I wanted to put up a therapy swing up. And snowballed from there. First we ripped up the carpet that was old and disgusting, and replaced the flooring in 1/2 the basement with padded floor. We now have a huge ball pit, therapy swings (several different types) a tunnel, a sensory tent, a 7ft diameter trampoline, the somatron thingy which is hooked up to a stereo, crash pads, an elliptical (for me and Angela) and a craft area. The kids love it down there. What kid wouldn't? I'm not trying to brag about the basement, but just to give you an idea what kind of stuff we have here for the kids. There is also a large three season porch, so when the weather gets nice we'll move the trampoline out there. The only thing I'm disappointed about is a darned stripped bolt in the elliptical machine. Since I can see the entire area from the machine I want to be able to use it while the kids are playing.

Coming up: Pt 2

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The $1000 reward!

I promised that when you helped us get to $1000 on our fundraising, I would tell you more about J. Well guess what!

So here is what we know about J. As much as I can tell you while still protecting her privacy since she is not yet legally ours.

She is 9 years old, and yes, she has Down syndrome. She has the biggest green eyes you  have ever seen. For the first 8 years and 10 1/2 months of her life she lived in one of the most notorious institutions in Serbia. If you have seen this video, you have seen where she came from. If you haven't seen this video, please take the time to watch it. It will help you understand what we're dealing with when we bring her home.

But, a few months ago J was chosen by...I don't know who...dressed up in a pretty dress, her hair combed nicely, and a picture taken of her. She was listed for international adoption, and a short time later she was moved to foster care. Last week we found out she is in the same foster home where Axel spent 2 years.

Let me tell you this: Taking a child right out of an institution such as this, and teaching that child who has been raised with nothing to now function in a house full of people is HARD work. We know, we've done it. Like us, this foster family continues to take the kids nobody else wants and works to prepare them for life in a forever family. They involve them with the extended family, they celebrate birthdays and other special moments. They teach them to drink from cups and use utensils long after the child should have learned. And then, when that hard work is done, they do something I have never had to do...They let that child go.

When the foster family accepted custody of J, she weighed 12 kg/26 lbs. In the last 6 months she has gained 6 kilos//13 lbs and currently weighs 18kg/39 lbs. She wears size 4t clothes and a euro size 22/24 shoe which is somewhere between a US toddler size 6-8. (Asher, as tiny as he is, wears a 10 1/2) She is attending a developmental preschool, and is also very involved with her foster cousins, so she is getting to see how other kids play! She loves music, so she and Asher will get along great! She is still learning to chew since she was only on pureed foods in the institution, and she is learning to drink from a cup.

That's it. That's all we know at this point. We have $3000 left to raise. Really it should be easy, but I've learned that nothing about international adoption, or paying for it, is easy.  See that thermometer over on the right sidebar? When we reach our final goal I'll tell you her name.

Our Story: The Long Version

This post will be long. There are many new readers here who don't know the whole story and have asked how we got to where we are today. So here it is...all of it...grab a cup of joe and a comfy chair.

Dean and I met in 2003. By the time we were living together in 2004 we only had one kid living with us and that was Angela who has Down syndrome. When Angela was 8 years old her behavior started to take a nose-dive and we couldn't figure out what was going on. She was very difficult to manage and we were struggling. We sought out in-home behavioral services to help us learn how to parent this child who was suddenly so difficult. For a long time I questioned if the behavior was neurologically based because it came out of  nowhere and didn't seem to have a function. She wasn't frustrated. She wasn't trying to communicate anything. It just came about unprovoked. Very severe aggressive behavior. We wondered how we would manage her as a teenager or adult? Angela has a history of strokes as an infant so she was at significant risk of developing seizures. We had EEG's done several times to rule out seizure behavior but nothing ever showed up. She also started having nocturnal migraines which are really bad warning signs, and in April 2007 we were told she is a ticking time bomb.

It was during this time when we learned the plight of children with Down syndrome in other parts of the world. We were heartbroken to think of Angela born somewhere else; treated as an animal the way these children were. But Angela was so difficult. There was no way we could ever add to what we were already dealing with.

Then, when Angela was 12 years old she had a TIA while on the back of a horse. I brought her into her neurologists office immediately and she had one of her sudden, severe aggressive episodes while in the Neuro's office. "THAT is a seizure!" he said. She was started on the right seizure meds that very day (got her first pill in his office!) and, I kid you not, within 48 hours Angela was a different kid! For five years we had been walking through hell with her, and now we had our old, happy-go-lucky Angela back! This was right at the end of the school year, so her teachers didn't see effects. Angela has an extensive behavior plan in place at school so everyone knows how to manage her behavior there. The next fall, after the first day of school,  her teacher called me, "Who is this kid you sent me? This is not the same kid I've had in my classroom the last 3 years!!"

Within a few months I was ready. I wanted to adopt. Dean was not. In fact, he wanted nothing to do with it. I would read to him from adoptive family blogs about what was happening to "our kids" on the other side of the world and he would ask me, "Why do you read that stuff? Why would you want to read something so sad? I don't want to know about it." Finally I gave up. "God, I know we're meant to adopt but its not my job to change his heart. Thats something only you can do, and so I'll let it rest." I stopped talking about it. I kept praying about it.

In the fall of 2009 someone I knew - who was herself a representative of Reece's Rainbow - was working on her Bulgarian adoption. She jokingly asked if anyone wanted to go along with her to help bring two boys home. I emailed her, "I know you were kind of joking, but I would absolutely go with you!"

And so it was planned. Then at some point we added a side-trip to Serbia to an institution she had connections to at the time. Our trip finally rolled around in April 2010. Dean was irritated I was going on this trip. He would be home alone with Angela, and he didn't feel very capable of being a  single parent of a teenage girl for 10 days. He dropped me off at the airport saying "Don't even think of falling in love with some kid! We are NOT adopting!" And while on that trip Dean learned how to do pony tails, and lots of other girl related things he never imagined he would ever do.

During that visit we were introduced to many kids. Among them was a girl who was 10 years old with Apert syndrome and a 10 year old boy with Down syndrome who was living in foster care. The girl needed a family, and fast. I was blogging about her, and Dean was reading the blogs. Finally, after about Day 4, Dean asked me over skype, "So how do we get that girl out of there?"

And that was it. I told the facilitator, "The moment I get home, we're starting our homestudy."

And that's when I started this blog. We called the girl "ianna" (I use a lower case i because the font on this blog it's hard to see it starts with an i) we named the blog after her and we started working to bring her home. Only there were problems. And it was during that process when we got the first hints of corruption that lurks in international adoption. As it turned out, ianna was never eligible for adoption. Her parental rights were still intact. By this point we were convinced that adopting a child with Down syndrome was absolutely the right thing for us to do. We decided to move forward and adopt the 10 year old boy with Down syndrome. His name was Djordje, and he was the tiniest 10 year old I had every seen.

In December 2010 I traveled to Kragujevac Serbia to get our son!

Finally, Djordje Axel joined our family. Oh how fun was this little guy!!

We were happy. Very happy!

This is not to say that Axel was an "easy" kid. While he joined our family relatively seamlessly, there was a lot of institutional behavior that  needed to be dealt with. His foster family had taught him some great skills in the area of independence, but the behavior had yet to be dealt with. And deal we did. Step by step. My good friend once referred to parenting adoptive children to a game of "Whack a mole". The moment you deal with one issue, another quickly pops up, and sometimes there are more than one at a time!

The only problem was the fact Axel was hiding a medical surprise for us. Just a few weeks home he was diagnosed with AAI, and he was immediately fitted with a neck brace to be worn 24/7. The orthopedic people came to the house that night to fit him. Angela felt terrible for him.

While the adoption itself was very smooth, I found myself thrown head first into a ring of adoption corruption that would eventually become a bit of an international legal mess. The US based non-profit grant funding organization - Reece's Rainbow - turned their back on us because we refused to ignore the corruption. The adoption community connected to them turned their back on us for the most part, and we were quickly ostracized from all the online groups associated with them. In February 2011 we were notified by the Serbian government that an official investigation had started. They requested all electronic and paper correspondence between us and the facilitator, as well as contracts we had signed between Reece's Rainbow an the adoption agency we had been forced to use at the time.

In May 2011 I returned to Serbia to give a deposition to the Serbian government about the case as they prepared to press charges agains the facilitator. Eventually she was removed from her position as pediatrician in the institution and was told she could have nothing further to do with adoptions. (to this day she has still not gone to trial, but that is not surprising considering the speed at which the legal process  moves in Serbia! I was told she faces charges if profiting off adoptions by taking advantage of her role as a state employee, as well as child trafficking) The results of that meeting were posted on my other blog.

Since Serbia was working so hard to clean up the adoption related corruption, Dean and I decided we were ready to adopt again. So, on that trip in May I hand delivered our updated homestudy hoping to travel again in the fall. When the meeting was done I flew home to pack up the family again and move us to Philadelphia for a week where Axel underwent cervical spinal fusion. He would spend the next four months in a full halo followed by several more weeks back in a neck brace.

Which really didn't hold him back at all!

In September 2011, with Axel out of his halo and back in school,  the ministry sent me a list of children who met our criteria. We narrowed it down to two: one boy, one girl. Oh choosing is SO HARD! You know the child you turn away is going to be left wasting his or her life away! We asked for more info on the kids and learned the girl was not yet walking. Dean and I are not young and carrying a child or dealing with a stroller all the time didn't really appeal to either of us. We chose the boy. Unfortunately because we had spoken out about the problems we faced with Reece's Rainbow we had lost the support of the adoption community. We were lucky that this adoption was very inexpensive. Most of it was covered by our tax refund and I was able to fundraise the last couple thousand dollars we needed.

In December 2011, Lazar Asher joined our family!

Asher was so tiny! At 9 years old he was the size of a two year old...maybe. He was *barely* walking and could not eat solid foods. He was basically a 6 month old baby who could toddle-walk. Only he was 9.

But he was adorable, and we loved him.

One year later, in September 2012, we inquired again about any children who met our criteria. We were open to a boy or girl, but preferred a girl. There were only two children who met our criteria: one boy, one girl. The girl did not have Down syndrome, instead had just general delays. For us, that was a bit too vague. We didn't feel prepared to parent a child with so many unknowns. To us, Down syndrome is what we know. We can, for the most part, see what is "institutional behavior" and what is "Down syndrome" related behavior. Down syndrome feels safe to us. We understand it. Its is our normal. By this point we knew the children we choose are those nobody else wants. The hard kids. The kids with years and years of institutional baggage. We chose the boy.

We received our first picture of him on Christmas Eve, 2012.

Dean's first words were, "I see trouble in that grin!"

Dean is very wise.

We spent the next few months struggling to raise the last of the funds we needed. We had our tax return, but had to raise around $4,000. It took us months to raise it since our name had been turned to mud in the adoption community. People were really angry we had spoken up against Reece's Rainbow, not only about their involvement in Serbian adoptions, but in the adoptions of friends who had adopted from other countries. Except for a small cluster group who had similar experiences,  everyone else refused to believe it was possible for this organization to do anything wrong. Thankfully we had the support of Project Hopeful who helped us some, and we did a couple give aways here on the blog.

Finally April 2013 we traveled to meet our boy! At our ministry meeting the head psychologist from the institution was very honest, "This is a very difficult boy." (Later we learned the ministry had never presented his file to another family because they didn't feel anyone was capable of managing his very difficult behavior.) Dean and I exchanged looks. We knew "difficult". Because of years working with awesome behavior specialists who had helped us learn to manage Angela, we felt like we had a lot of tools in our belt, not to mention our experiences with Axel and Asher. We were ready for Abel! We went from the ministry office to the institution just a few blocks away to meet him.

We were in for a rough time of it. 

At 10 years old, Abel had spent more time in an institution than any of our boys. He had so many survival skills that he used, none of which were very pleasant. He was aggressive toward others, destructive (throwing large pieces of furniture!) and extremely hyperactive. Every time we visited we came up with a goal for the visit, "Walk around courtyard holding my hand the whole time." Or "Not getting kicked/hit/bit/pushed/hair pulled." One day, as we entered the institution, we stopped in the doorway and said a quick prayer. "Lord please help us see things from his perspective. Help us know how to help him." That was our breakthrough day. More good things happened on that visit than on any other day. Also, the officials agreed with us that our time in country was very short, and that we needed to take him from the institution as soon as possible in order to change his behavior so we could actually take him through airports. He was like a wild animal!

We took him for a weekend, and on Monday, when we brought him back, the staff could not get over the difference. It was decided we should keep him, and so we did. Thus began the education of Abel!

We got Abel home. That was a major feat! He actually did quite well with the travel. He was quick to get into the routine of life in the house, and was quite quick to learn our limits and behavioral expectations. Although he displayed by far the most challenging post-institutional behavior we'd dealt with until this point, we knew what we were doing. That doesn't mean we don't ever get frustrated, or that he is perfect, but we didn't feel lost. We meet each challenging behavior with intention, and Abel responds predictably. I can say Abel is awesome for me. He is smart, he is helpful, he knows right from wrong. He is our son, and he belongs.

In September 2013 we inquired with the Serbian ministry about a girl. Were there any who met our criteria? If so, we planned to not travel until fall 2014. We weren't just told "no". We were told "not ever." Like many countries, most people in Serbia cannot imagine having four children, much less four children with significant special needs. Although we know the ministry is very supportive of our family, and they love the updates we send them about the kids, they just couldn't imagine that we function like a normal family. Surely we were similar to a small institution having four kids with Down syndrome. No. We were done adopting from Serbia.

And so we thought we were done completely. We couldn't afford to adopt from any other countries that we qualified for, and honestly couldn't justify spending $20K on an adoption when our Serbian adoptions had been significantly less. This was it. This was our family.

But I won't lie. I haven't felt "done". I knew there was supposed to be a girl here. We tossed around the idea of licensing for foster care, perhaps adopting through the US system. Nothing seemed right.

Then, in mid December, we exchanged a series of emails with the Serbian ministry. There was a girl who fit our profile who had recently been added to the registry. A child nobody would want, extremely unlikely to have a family come for her. We would be the perfect family for her. On Christmas Eve, we were told yes. We sat on the info for a week. Discussing. Should we/shouldn't we? There were several things that happened over that week that told us it was "right". We told the ministry "Yes!"

There was one small glitch. On April 1st Serbia will officially be part of the Hague Intercountry Adoption Agreement. This would cause the cost of adopting from Serbia to skyrocket to over $25,000!!! We needed to have our dossier to them prior to this date. Ok, no problem. Oh but there is! Many of our dossier documents are still good, which keeps some of our costs down. But there's a rush...we needed to have our dossier in Serbia long before that April 1st deadline (this is not the ministry setting this deadline. It is us looking at our own personal timeline which includes the kids' school schedules, Dean's work schedule, document expiration dates, etc.)

We find ourselves back to fundraising with a very short timeline. Like our other adoptions, it's hard to fundraise in an adoption community that has been told how terrible we are. People have been lied to and lead to believe crazy things, like that I've made death threats against the a organization director. ( If you're not part of the adoption community you're thinking this is craziness. You are correct!)  People who have spoken up have had unusual anonymous calls to child protection made against them, they have had anonymous reports made to USCIS (the government authority who approves international adoptions) stating that families have lied on their homestudies, etc, slowing down their adoptions and sometimes stopping them in their tracks. Nobody knows where these reports have come from, but they seem to happen an awful lot to those who have spoken up against Reece's Rainbow. We know if any such things happen to us where it has come from. Every time we start another adoption, every time we choose to speak up so others know that all rainbows are not good, we take the risk of being attacked.

We are eternally grateful for those who have stood behind us. You have helped us bring three amazing little boys into our family. You have supported us through the difficult times in our parenting journey. You have joined with us, as we once again, work to bring our last child home. A girl. A girl just as deserving of a family as your own children who you tuck into bed each night. And so, with a very short time frame, we are struggling to pull it all together. In the end, it will work out as it should. Only God knows exactly what lay on the path ahead of us. We're ready.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Getting Her Home

If you've been around here for any length of time, you know that sometimes my adoptions go very fast. Practically before we can blink we're traveling. Sometimes there isn't even enough time to set up a fundraiser! We are traveling *very* soon.

So, I have a little incentive. When we reach $1000 I'll release more details about J. When we reach $4000 I will tell you the name we've chosen for her. (honestly, I couldn't think of anything more creative than that. I'm open to suggestions though! )

On the right sidebar is the thermometer that tells you where we're at, along with a button for our GoFundMe page, or you can go straight to our GoFundMe page.  Thank you so much for your continued support of our family!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Just so you know...

Please know if there is information I haven't posted here, there is a reason I haven't posted it. I cannot tell you her name. I cannot tell you how old she is. I cannot tell you what city she is in or where she was.  I can't tell you exactly when she's coming. If I haven't posted it here, I cannot tell you.

But I CAN tell you this:

She will be loved!

Oh, and we have name

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Picture of Beauty

We just received our first official picture of our girl! She is beautiful! Oh how I wish I could share it with you. This country's rules are such that I'm not allowed to post any identifying information until she is legally ours. When I was editing the picture and the first time she came out headless which was a bit creepy.

I'm told she's gained 12 lbs since being moved to foster care. That means when she came out of the institution a few months ago she was only 21 lbs.

So here she is, in all her faceless glory! With her skinny legs and shaven head that is starting to grow out a bit. Taken in a playroom with it's brand new toys that never actually get played with.

Soon little girl! Very very soon!

Monday, January 6, 2014

It happens sometimes

Last week I was out running errands. I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but this came home with me.

Its a 4t.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

I know, right?

So you were surprised, were you? Not nearly as surprised as we were, I bet!

We weren't really planning to adopt again. When we started talking about it, we talked about maybe next year. But sometimes things change, and Dean and I are not inflexible people!

We were matched with a child on Christmas Eve. Based on what documents are still current and what needs to be replaced, this *should* be a very fast process. Do you remember Asher's adoption? From the time we committed to him until he was home was just one month! From our approval date until we traveled was..ummm...four days!

Now, let the paper race for "J" begin!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Good Morning!

Yaaaaaaaawn and streeeeeetch!

Its time to wake up this blog!