Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Any Given Day

I could just as easily have titled this post, "Salad with the Dressing on the Side" as I'm dishing up lighter fare on the heels of my recent whopper! LOL I also considered going with, "Hello, My Name is Busy" but that didn't seem right either. Finally I decided on, "Any Given Day", thinking I could share bits and pieces of our daily lives lately, with a sprinkling of commentary on the side.

We have been busy around here, but I have no complaints. We saw several days of summer like temps in the high 80's and reveled in the warm sunshine. I have been making headway in carving our special time for both of my munchkins & Lauren and I been loving our "Girls Day Out" each weekend. Technically we don't HAVE to leave the house and so far we have seen a movie together, had a fabulous sleep-over complete with popcorn & polishing our nails & have hiked the nature trail near our home. This coming Monday I am helping out in her classroom for Career Day and am anxious to assist once again in her class. I so LOVE my time with my glorious girly girl!

I love my snuggle time with Baby Tyler too! We have invented several new games with our favorite being the, "come and give me a huggy/kiss" game. It usually happens while we are playing on the floor and I always know its begun when I see his mischievous grin and spy him crawling my way! Its wet ( Talking open mouthed baby kisses after all! ) unpredictable and I adore it! We also had our 9 mos. wellness check this past week and our little dumpling is growing in leaps and bounds! He hit the 90% for height, with his weight slipping to the 50 percentile. Our doctor is amazed at his development and excellent health. I suppose if he keeps on stretching upwards, we will have to consider a new moniker.....dumpling is just not gonna fit! ( Hm mm..... maybe an oblong dumpling? ) ;)

And I suppose for the rest I'll just let you see the pictures! On Any Given Day you might find us doing these things...........

Baby Tyler explores the green green grass.........
My own little slice of sunshine.......

I love love a little lady that can coordinate with her stuffed dog.......

Happy smiles as we get ready for school.........

Yes, on Any Given Day, we might see a bit of this too.........also titled, "My Daddy Went to the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame and all I Got Was This T-shirt". *grin*

My summer warrior conquered a two-wheel bike (sans training wheels) last summer......this summer her sights are set on roller blading!

Sweet sweet baby boy bliss.............

Reading one of her favorites.......Zen Ties ( Thanks Carroll Family!!) :)

My two babies all dressed up & loving on each other........
Our Family of Four on Easter Sunday..........
Look at my beautiful girl go..........where oh where have the years gone?
Wishing all of you blue skies and joy on Any Given Day..........

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Her Story

My friends…this is long (its taken me many nights to write/save)…. but it needs to be shared. I have also included a small slideshow as a second post. I hope this all fits on the screen! I dedicate this post to our amazing daughter, Lauren.

I have written versions of this story at other times and in other formats. At home “our family” story has been shared with such relish that it has taken on the patina of a cherished old song or childhood fable. It is our story, the story of how 2 became a blissful 3 in the spring of 2003 and today I wish to share it with all you in celebration of this poignant month and our beautiful daughter. Six years ago we journeyed to a far away land that few had heard of and even fewer could find on a map! We packed our (considerable) bags, stuffed our money belts, socks & shoes with thousands of dollars in crisp new bills, sent our furry baby to her grandparents, bid our home (our country) family & friends farewell for 3 weeks and on April 2nd, 2003 we boarded a jet plane bound for Almaty, Kazakhstan to be united with the baby girl of our dreams. This is really her story………

We arrived in Kazakhstan weary, travel worn, frightened and excited. Half way around the world, unable to speak the language and simply hoping there would be someone there to greet and shepherd us through this journey. Our plane taxied to a stop and we stumbled out into the night for a chilly walk across a pitch-black tarmac towards the older part of the airport. The first bit of culture shock for us was spotting two uniformed guards armed with sub machine guns at the entrance of the airport. This was unsettling but they never really looked our way. We knew for certain that we were not in “Kansas” anymore! Ultimately we found our luggage, navigated the maze of customs and almost wept with relief when we spotted a friendly face holding a sign with our names on it!

We were quickly swept away by van and taken to an old apartment building that would become our home for the next 3 weeks. It was too dark outside to make out any details of the city, so we simply sat in the back, holding hands, hoping things would seem less surreal in the daylight. Our guides assisted us via an ancient elevator to our third floor flat. They ushered us into a cozy, 70’s style era flat. It was clean, boasted one English channel and had been stocked with goodies by our agency. We were exhausted and stretched taut emotionally but spotting the baby crib in the bedroom, waiting for our sweet girl, thrilled and rejuvenated us. We knew whatever it took…….whatever was asked of us, would be a small price to pay for this precious gift.

The next morning we awoke to sunshine and our first real glimpse of Almaty city with its splendid mountain backdrop. Throughout our stay one of our simplest pleasures was walking the blocks around our apartment and taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the city with its gracious and polite ethnically diverse people. We loved spotting the children trailing after their parents with their colorful, whimsical outerwear; a sharp contrast to the subdued and dark clothing seemingly favored by most everyone else.

And on this day of firsts, we were driven to the rural village where our daughter waited. We were told we would have about half an hour on this day, with subsequent daily visits for 2 hours each day. The ride was scary as there are seemingly few or no traffic laws in Kazakhstan and especially the rural roads were in various states of disrepair. It was the beginning of many a white knuckled round trip, but we are so grateful to have seen the breathtaking countryside. Each day we watched in wonder as the bustling city gave way to vast expanses of fields, steppes and plains. We witnessed isolated traces of the Soviet occupation and marveled at war statuary erected in spots completely isolated for miles around. We observed men and women digging graves by hand for lost loved ones. Cars became interspersed with carts pulled by oxen or horse…. and everywhere we looked we saw extreme landscape and even more extreme poverty.

We came to understand during these rides that the colorful cottages dotted along the road of Lauren’s village, lacked even the most basic of comforts including plumbing and electricity. And yet when we looked into the faces of the people we passed slowly along the road, we saw only stoicism, decency and strength of will….a true testimony to the spirit and faith of the Kazak. people….of our daughter’s people.

The Baby house itself had been refurbished from an old cluster of government buildings and stood miles outside from the village proper. Its remoteness gave it an almost other world quality and from the outside it appeared shabby and vulnerable nestled against the Tien Shien mountains. Once inside though the bleak exterior gave way to brightly colored walls, music and the sound of childrens laughter.

The day we finally saw and held our beloved baby for the first time was simply unbelievable. We had been given a few moments with the head doctor and then told to wait outside in the corridor. Time passed and we glimpsed toddlers being bustled into various rooms for bathing, feedings, etc…..and then, from the corner of our eyes, we spotted one caregiver standing alone with a tiny baby bundled from head to toe in navy blue and red.

We began to walk down the hall or at least that’s what I’m told. Honestly I have no recollection of that walk or any other senses really. Scott assures me that I was breathing and even uttered something, but for me the world had shrunk to one pair of exquisite, bright eyes, peering curiously at these strangers coming close. I never once peeked at Scott, our guide or anyone else around…….for I had recognized those eyes and I was staring deeply into our destiny and God’s greatest gift. Those eyes held mine and I knew I was home.

We stood and stared and slowly I became aware that we were being sized up by the staff and in particular this one caregiver holding our treasure. And in fairness she was not really ours yet in the eyes of Kazak. Law or the Baby house staff. Unlike some countries we were to have 2 weeks of visitations before our court date and subsequent custody. And this caregiver was not happy to see me. She spoke quickly in both Kazak. and Russian and we were told to produce a Pamper. We did so, only to have our sweet baby whisked away, while the diaper was put on for our visit. (This is common in Kaz., as many Baby houses cannot afford disposable diapers.) Eventually the caregiver returned and proudly handed Lauren to Scott!!!! We had been told to expect that the staff might resent me as a woman and a threat to their role as ‘Mama’ for their charges. But being told this and being prepared for the instant distrust I read in their eyes were two very different things. I did my best to hide my disappointment as we had been told to guard our facial expressions carefully, lest the staff misread something. So Scott held the baby and I looked on……. I was devastated to be so close yet no further to actually holding our baby. Eventually our translator spoke quietly to the staff and then gently told Scott that he could hand the baby to me. It was all I could do not to snatch that baby from his arms but I graciously waited( or so it appeared on the outside…on the inside I was dying) while we all sat and FINALLY I held this angel in my arms. And she..…. well she was just everything…….. absolutely everything we could have hoped for and so much more.

Healthy, alert and so curious at 6 ½ months, sat our baby girl. I think at some point I produced a toy, and I know we took video and pictures cuz I have the proof of them here at home. But for me time stood still. I could have and would have held her for the rest of my life right there on that couch in a remote part of Kazakhstan if necessary. In so many ways, my life had truly begun in that moment. Which is not to say that my life had previously been tragic or meaningless…..not at all(just the opposite!)…..but she made me a Mama……and both her and our experience in Kazakhstan has shaped every day of my life since that moment. And I’m so glad it did!

And so it came to pass that we made our daily visits and slowly we watched our sweetheart blossom. Each day we handed over a Pamper and each day we were ushered into a narrow but sunny room at the end of the baby and toddler hall for our daily visits. Each day we were given a hot fresh glass bottle to feed Lauren and often she fell asleep during our visit from all the unaccustomed activity and attention. The bottles were very old fashioned and the flow was so fast. We came to intuit that because of the ratio of staff to baby/child it was necessary to often prop the bottles up on towels for feedings and the babies that thrived (liked Lauren) learned quickly to gulp that bottle in less than 4 minutes or lose the opportunity. We also discovered that she would be brought to us daily in that tiny but warm navy and red outfit. It was the best they had and was used as the “greeting” suit for all the babies being adopted; it was lovingly washed by hand each night by the dedicated staff. Underneath she had on multiple layers of ragged and ill fitting clothing and understandably the staff presented her each day to us with great pride in that fleece suit. We also had an opportunity to visit the room with her crib one afternoon and were devastated to see no murals, decorations or accessible crib toys. There was one bulky infant toy and we were told it was to be shared by all six babies in the room. Upon closer inspection we discovered it was broken. That broke my heart.

And while our love grew for her each day, still she saved her very best and most radiant smiles for her beloved caregivers. This was hard….. very hard for us, but we did understand that because she had bonded and loved that she would again with us too. We also had the constant if discreet presence of staff peeking in on us to make certain we were caring for this baby and worthy of this treasure. We were new parents and nervous certainly, but with each passing day our resolve grew increasingly fierce that this baby would come home with us….that we would prove ourselves worthy and ultimately gain the trust of the Baby house staff and then the courts.

It was during a visit one day that two tiny tow-headed toddlers raced from their room and wrapped themselves around our legs calling out, “Mama & Papa” over and over again. It seemed that all of the children knew that a Mama and Daddy had come for a baby and these two cherubs hoped for a family too………I can’t really adequately express to you all how utterly heartbreaking this was for us. In an instant our hearts shattered and we longed desperately to be able to bring all the waiting children home. I can still see those tiny faces and pray that they too found loving homes.

Deep breath here…finally the day came (April 18th) and we found ourselves standing before a prosecutor and judge in a rural courthouse. All that we had done…….. everything we hoped and prayed for……all of it rested in the hands of the judge and yes, the questions were hard and the experience intense. She wanted to make certain we would in fact be the best possible parents for this incredible baby girl. We answered honestly, with conviction and one hour later were declared the legal parents of Yelena P*********, now our sweet Lauren.

From there we did a flurry of paperwork, received hugs from the agency staff and even a rare smile from the judge. Her smile reached all the way to her kind eyes and I remember that like it was yesterday. She told us to live well and cherish “our girl”. I keep that with me every day and I think…..maybe….just maybe….she would be pleased.

Later, we found ourselves inside the Baby house one last time. Only this time the caregivers warmly greeted us and called me “Mama”. In their eyes I had finally earned the title. It remained to be seen what Miss Lauren thought and as it turned out she hated the sweet pink things we dressed her in on that day, especially the shoes….her first pair. BUT she smiled at US…..reached for US…..and I think she knew she was going home. In those final moments the caregivers gathered, passed her from one to another and whispered blessings in her ear. They all delighted at touching her new sweet things but worried aloud that she may catch a draft. When we produced a sweater and blanket, the relief was palpable and their concern humbled us. We were allowed to take a photo of them all with Lauren and several of them were openly crying. As we turned to leave the only home Lauren had ever known, one of them rushed forward, grabbed my hand and said, “pictures, pictures” in English. We have made certain that photos and updates have reached that dedicated and loving staff over the years. Certainly they gave our daughter loving, excellent care despite extremely limited resources.

The next 4 days were spent getting to know our daughter in our apartment in Almaty. We celebrated our first holiday together (Easter). We nested those days only venturing out for our VISA appointment and paperwork errands. It was clear Lauren’s cold was worsening and I too had become ill. But when I think back on those days I try not to remember how homesick and isolated we felt but rather the burgeoning foundation we were forging with our baby girl. Despite being sick, she began to really share bits of her personality and sweet disposition. She was so overjoyed for the simplest of things…..bottles that were not rushed…..soft clothing and blankets…..individual attention…..unconditional love…… she grew to love pink too! :)

And so we flew home (April 23rd)……and at the airport we were greeted with anxious and overjoyed grandparents. And we watched them pass her from one to another, whispering sentiments and love in her ear and knew we had come full circle.

We were home…….forever together…..blessed beyond words…..and the journey continues all thanks to one beautiful baby girl who made us a family. We love you baby girl, forever and always!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Short Story

I just have to share this small story and do promise to keep it short! Tyler is eyeballing me with skepticism and crawling this way as I type, so he can keep me honest! :)
Earlier this afternoon while grocery shopping with Tyler I bumped into a neighbor who also happens to originally be from China. During our catch-up she began to chatter with Tyler in Mandarin (the language spoken in Taiwan) using some words she thought he might be familiar with such as, "bottle", "dinner", "yum-yum", "park", and so on. He was listening to her with rapt attention, smiling and babbling away throughout. He was obviously delighted, very intrigued & recognized the words.
Just before parting to finish up our shopping she tossed out one final phrase and he went CRAZY with joy! He quickly looked at me, began to bob up & down in the cart, clap his hands and grin wildly! She did it again with the same reaction. She then quietly shared that she had been saying, "I love you" to him in Mandarin.
Oh, my heart just about did flip flops in that moment and I nearly wept with joy! She continued to linger and offered to assist me in learning that one phrase. I was so appreciative and practiced all the way home in the car. Once home I sat him down, looked right into his eyes and repeated it the best I could. *sniffle* ........he just stared and stared, then lifted his pudgy tiny hand to my cheek and leaned forward to share one of his open mouthed baby kisses. My heart almost burst.........for of course I (we) had been telling him that in English over & over, but this was the first time I was able to share it in his first language.
It also fills my heart with such immense gratitude for his beautiful Foster Mom who I already knew had taken such loving and excellent care of him during our wait. But to know that she also showered him in words of love is simply amazing. Our gratitude for her is so huge and I hope that others reading this whose babies/children are waiting rest easier knowing that angels tend to their little ones in our absence.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Nine Things About.......

.....Tyler at nine months!

Two months ago today our beautiful baby boy was forever placed into our arms. It is incredible to us that in just a few short days we will also be celebrating 2 months home. 2 months of amazing days as a blessed family of 4......2 months of watching my TWO kiddos develop a loving sibling bond....2 months of witnessing so many remarkable changes in our little guy! My heart swells with joy & love as I reflect on this milestone day.......and without a doubt THESE 2 months since Tyler bounded into our lives have gone far quicker than ANY of the months we spent waiting to meet him! How is that possible?? :)

So, with that in mind, I thought I would share 9 tidbit about our boy! I guess since he's only just 9 months today, these have all been feats at 7 & 8 months and some of them he has been doing since the day we first held him in Taiwan. Enjoy!

1. Tyler has a marvelous sense of humor. He loves to do funny things to make us laugh( and expects us to clap!) and always notices the absurd in any situation. We hear fabulous belly laughs each & every day from this little clown!

2. He can say "Mama" and first said it at 8 mos. 8 days!! We are not sure if he totally knows to only assign it to me, but he has been calling out for "Mama" if I step from the room for a moment! It makes my heart sing!! He also says "Da da da" and "ba ba" for bottle. He's very chatty and fits right in to our household! LOL

3. Tyler loves to go to the park and swing on the baby swings! He could swing for hours!

4. He loves to play "patty cake" which his big sis taught him our first full day at home!

5. Tyler adores music and will bob up and down ( dancing!!) to the music! Then he always claps for himself! LOL

6. Tyler's favorite song is the music video from "Kung Fu Panda"; though he has not seen the movie of course! :) He claps and babbles when he spies Po (the Panda) and watches his sister do her karate moves while it plays!

7. He's a water baby! Adores his bath & makes quite the splash!

8. Tyler adores his books and recognizes all of his favorites! He blows raspberries and jiggles his whole body with glee when we pull out a fave!

9. Tyler loves loves to cuddle and give giant open mouth kisses. He nestles right into the crook of our necks and giggles and coos. He melts my heart!

So that's a little glimpse into our best little guy. I could have easily shared 90 things about Tyler today!! Below are a few pictures I thought you might enjoy!

Tyler at 7 months, 2 days.....in Taiwan. Our littlest star......

Tyler at 8 months.....almost always smiling!

Exhibit A.....this was a surprise AND note he still managed to hold onto his tiny basketball too! He was so pleased with himself too! LOL

Just swinging in the park......

Anything is more fun with your big sister by your side!
Wishing you all a Happy joyful Easter a bit early!!!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Simply Stated

I have been anxious to share the announcement cards that we recently sent out. I was waiting for the snail mail to catch-up so I wouldn't spoil it for those following along with our blog who might also receive one in the mail!

I had originally planned to go a different direction, creating one from an Internet site & using a photo of both kids, but after taking Tyler in to a local studio I just had to use these! The day I took him I had absolutely NO expectations and was prepared to promptly leave if he became fussy or upset. Instead he LOVED it and so did the photographer! :)

Sadly they did not have a template that would accommodate an adoption announcement, but they worked hard to find another card that would allow 3 photos and the most text fields. Still had to compromise and leave a few details out, but I am just tickled with the result!

AND since I still wanted to include our best girl (cuz afterall, she's a big part of this too!) my wonderful MIL Becky made me 2 beautiful photo stickers to place on our envelopes! I have included them below, though they will look familiar to most of you!

Hoping to visit blogs tonight or this weekend; Mr. Sweet Cheeks is in a Mama only phase right now, so I have to hustle to even get this posted!! :) Those naps go FAST!!

Sorry, not so clear, but you kind of get the idea I hope!

This is similiar to the one I posted last Friday, but less sun exposure & more Tyler cheek.! ;)

And you've all seen this gem, but Mimi O. (a.k.a. miracle worker Becky ) was able to doctor the pick for our stickers and eliminate the drool factor! lol Oh, the magic of photo shop!
Happy weekend everyone!