This is our first family picture about a week after we were all home together last February. We were on our way to church as a family of nine for the first time. As I look back at that, I remember the challenges of not being able to understand one another and the exhaustion...and yes, of course the relief of all being home together.
365 days have passed since our newest three joined our forever family...never to be taken back to an orphanage, and never to go to bed without a family. We've marveled at God's goodness this year as we reflect back on how He has made us a family, and the work He's done in our lives.
Has it been worth it? YES. A million times yes...
Has it been hard? Absolutely.
I think back to where we were a year ago and can hardly believe these are the same children, or that we are the same family. Except I know that we aren't the same family. We are so very different now...woven together in a way only God could have designed.
Overall, our adjustment into a family of nine has been a good one. We haven't had any of the 'major adoption issues' you may read about...no RAD, no serious attachment or behavior problems, and no one emotionally falling apart. We've counted our blessings many times for this, as we have watched other families struggle, and had done our homework on the possible challenges that come with older child adoption. So, before I acknowledge any hard things about the last year, I must first clearly state and give thanks for the good things.
That being said...it is GOOD to be on this side of the first year. While it was good, it wasn't easy. Adjusting to three new people in a family - that don't speak English and have suffered much loss - isn't easy. Managing the needs of new kids while not overlooking the needs of the four that have been there isn't easy. Most of the time it left me questioning my parenting skills and feeling like not enough for anyone. I wasn't sleeping well and making all kinds of crazy mistakes. The gajillions of doctor appointments, blood draws, stool samples, and prescriptions don't exactly fit into the glamorous fairy tale notion some people have of adoption. This for me, at least in the first few months, was among one of the most wearing things to deal with.
I look back and laugh (and sometimes want to cry) at how difficult it was to communicate. We were blessed with sweet, sweet kids...their dispositions are so sweet and easy...but there is only so much you can communicate with hand gestures and charades. I knew there were hurts in their hearts and most likely confusion, and there was absolutely no way to get to those. You just function through the day to day routine and hold on until language is good enough that you CAN communicate. I have to wonder what in the world they thought was going on. I would point, talk loud, use simple words, and demonstrate all day long. They had to wonder what the crazy white lady was doing more than once.
And if adoptive parents are honest, they will tell you that attachment work is exhausting. It's hard work to nurture broken children, have them close nearly all the time, and learn to function as family when you've come together as literal strangers. Attachment doesn't happen overnight. It's a labor of love and will come more easily with some children than others. I often had guilt over the fact that it seemed easier to bond with one child over another, but it's just the way it is....Children are people with their own distinct personalities, habits, and hurts that they bring to the table. Just as we don't "click" with everyone we meet the same way, it is the same for children...adopted or not. Attaching with three children at once poses a whole other challenge, and I've found that you must learn to extend grace to both yourself and your children as you find your way. We are still doing the attachment dance with all of our children, but praise God, can say that all of those relationships are developing as they should and all are headed in the right direction. We trust God to begin this good work He's started in us and continue to bond us as family.
A year later, things certainly feel more natural and relaxed around here. This just feels like 'who we are'. (I often forget why people might be staring when we're all at Target together...WHAT?? I have 7 kids and 4 of them don't look like me. What's the big deal?) We have our routines and routine is good. The kids have picked up language really well, and while we still definitely have our misunderstandings (and constant vocab lessons), communication is pretty good, which helps tremendously with bonding. Everyone is more comfortable around here, and I am sleeping through the night. Only after I began sleeping well again (probably last fall) did I realize how the stress was affecting my rest.
Grace and Aleigha are both in school, and we marvel at what they have learned. From non-English speakers to readers in a year is pretty amazing, we think. Grace is in first grade, and Aleigha is in Kindergarten. Grace obviously has the hardest job of skipping ahead to first grade without any prior schooling, but her age and development demand that she be there. She's a hard worker, loves to learn, and has a great attitude. We were blessed with both of the girls' incredible teachers, and are so proud of the progress they are both making. Solomon (our own little Curious George) has done well as well...talking our ear off and into anything imaginable. He's a sweet spirited little guy with a contagious smile and infectious laugh.
November 2011I could not talk about this last year without telling you how incredibly proud I am of my 3 big kids. I struggle to find adequate words to express how amazing they've been through all of this. Can you imagine how their life has changed? How they've had to share everything in their life...their home, their parents...everything. I have marveled at how they've done it and have to be honest that I don't think I would have done as well at their age. They have accepted their new siblings and all of the changes so graciously. God has given them each a heart for missions and orphans, and I can't wait to see what they do with that. I know that this is all His doing in their lives.
I love my husband even more now after almost 20 years of marriage and experiencing all of this together. He's been my rock, my cheerleader, our very hard working provider, and a great father to all of the kids. I certainly loved and respected him before, but seeing him love these once fatherless children has made me love and respect him on a whole new level. Real Jesus-loving men step up for the fatherless. We are all so lucky to have him.
I've learned much about myself...not all of it good, but I'm being refined for sure. This is both the most difficult and most rewarding parenting season I've ever been in. Sometimes the refining is a little painful, but I know I will come out better for it on the other side. My life has been enriched through this experience and these new relationships in my life. Both the lessons and the blessings to be had are many.
God has proven Himself faithful time and time again. He never ceases to amaze me. He has provided in many ways and given us the privilege of raising these beautiful children. People often ask us how we do it, and the truth is, we don't. He does. He has blessed us with this family and continues to bless us and provide for us at every turn. It is HE who deserves any glory this story deserves. We are simply grateful that He chose us to be a part.
"O LORD, I will honor and praise your name, for you are my God. You do such wonderful things! You planned them long ago, and now you have accomplished them."