Tuesday, April 27, 2010


I think for most families that have been blessed with a child through international adoption there comes with it the understanding that your child arrives with both a full history separate from us and a first culture that is completely and distinctly their own, or would have been had they been raised in their country of birth.

As April has marked 7 years since our journey to Lauren and Kazakhstan, I have been reflecting back on the choices we have made in sharing and honoring her birth culture and how those same decisions have helped to shape our family and ultimately her perception of her blended heritage.

Early on we realized with some dismay the great task that lay before us in blending aspects of a culture into our own that we knew very little about; certainly our 3 weeks in country gave us a sampling of Kazakhstan's rich past and of its traditions, but of course as visitors (and new parents at that!) our focus was primarily on bonding and caring for our beautiful baby girl. We were fortunate, as Lauren's Babyhouse was truly remote, to experience both the ammenities of Kazakhstan's largest city and former capital (Almaty) and the rugged, harsh beauty of its rural farm lands, mountain landscapes and one tiny and impoverished village. The contrast between the 2 was astonishing and stark ~ yet each held its own magic for us and each left us gaping out the window in awe as we sped through the streets during our daily visits to see Lauren. Certainly there was poverty and ugliness ~ much as there is in most major cities or disadvantaged areas. Certainly there were aspects that would be easier to "forget" or tuck away into the passages of a dusty journal, but that wouldn't do justice to the land, its battle for independence after Soviet control or its courageous people ~ Lauren's people. In so many ways, our people too.

And we stumbled quite a bit in the beginning. I know we did. We knew very little of the native tongue(s) spoken ( Kazakh/Russian), had no access to an immigrant population from Kazakhstan here in the States (none exist to our knowledge ), no restaurants that specialized in Kazakh foods, no recognized Kazakhstani celebrations here in the U.S., no Kazakh-town to visit, explore and learn from. No idea where to begin beyond her life book, our own perceptions, photos, journals, videos and keepsakes brought back from our travels. We doubted ourselves and took 2 steps back for every one forward. Somedays it just seemed too large a task. Complicating things( in our minds only ) was the fact that had Lauren remained in her birth country she may have been raised with a Ukrainian background ~ celebrating Ukrainian holidays and traditions. ( a very very small minority in Kazakhstan) We also understood that had she remained in her Babyhouse ( something I just can't even contemplate) she would have been within her culture of birth, but not truly part of it. That loss occurred long before we set eyes on our beloved daughter and in all the big ways the decision that led to that initial loss was also the decision that allowed the 3 of us to become a family. (now we are 4!) It was sometimes hard to reconcile the 2 once upon a time. Our tremendous gift of her and her initial losses.

Yet when we looked into the eyes of this precious little one, we knew without a doubt we had to do better ~ for her and for us.......but mostly for her. She could not grow up celebrating basic Kazakh or Ukrainian cultural tenants with pride & understanding without our purposeful intentions. We may not have been (or be today ) the best folks for the job, but it is our responsibility and one we discovered along the way was a true privilege & joy. We are her ambassadors, her allies and really her team to keeping that part of her birth legacy alive and meaningful for her. How amazing it has been to discover it together, to learn as we go both through the missteps and triumphs and to make it a part of our family today. Not so much even hers or his or mine anymore.........simply ours. And Lauren? She has been both a forgiving and patient partner in this journey. More than we could have hoped for or really deserved.

So we honor her birth culture in both little and big ways. The treasures tucked away for her are intended for milestone events, but we display pieces of lovely handmade Kazakh. pottery right alongside the Hummels in the China cabinet. A dombra (a Kaz. guitar, lovingly wrapped and transported with extreme care home from Kaz.) hangs in our living room and has been mastered by Scott so that someday Lauren can learn this indigenous instrument should she wish to. Ukrainian ornaments hang on the boughs of our Christmas tree, each one telling a different story and eliciting a sweet smile from our girl when we unwrap them each year. A Russian fairytale collection sits proudly along side her other books, its pages creased with use. A tattered recipe collection of Kazakh/Russian dishes, some marked with a triumphant smiley face (others with an "ack!") is tucked in with my other (admittedly few) cook books. We talk of returning one day to visit and know it will be difficult to do so.(few travel Visas are issued) A miniature Kazakhstan flag nestled into a glass keepsake box displaying her many treasures from both here and afar, are just but a few. And still these are just things..........(we know culture can't really be found in a recipe or restaurant or even a trip downtown(its a start though!!), but gosh there are days I wish it could be. For her & for him.)

Just things yes, but tangible and approachable. Threads to her unique past and also as our journey as a family. Less tangible, but equally precious have been the family connections ~ the friendships found with other families that have been fortunate enough to bring home a Kaz. angel. Over the years watching these amazing children grow & thrive has been incredible and though some dear friends have moved away and it becomes more difficult each year to find a weekend ~ a day ~ to meet as a group, the effort continues and the rewards are immense ~ for the parents AND the children. How lucky & blessed we are to now count Taiwan adoptive families in our circle also.

And the holidays and traditions......... in lieu of a family day celebration we have, over the years, found great joy in celebrating the Nauryz, a Kazakh holiday celebrating the arrival of Spring. This holiday was all but wiped out during the occupation of Kaz. by the Soviet Union but is a cherished and ancient holiday of significance honoring their early nomadic origins. Imagine how delighted we were to discover it has strong parallels to the Chinese New Year ( though in no way is identical to it) and in fact this holiday is celebrated across much of Asia and along the Silk Road. On this day, usually held around March 21st or 22nd ( to mark the Spring Equinox) our family has taken the best parts of it or rather the parts that suit Lauren best :) and we celebrate the love of one special girl by taking a hike to a local nature preserve, or building a bird house from scratch or picking up litter at a local park ~ whatever our girl picks and loves most for that year! We understand that our connections to her birth culture are in large part dependant on Lauren too ~ its never static and has changed dramatically over the years as she has grown to embrace some aspects of her heritage(or how we celebrate them) more readily and eagerly than others. And too, as a child grows, so does their capacity for understanding and participating in these decisions, in shaping the direction of this exploration. That has been fun and interesting to watch unfold too! And sometimes means taking a big ole step back and remembering its really about her (or him).

With a sense that its always and forever evolving has come the inevitable feelings of loss when one door has closed ( such as a Kaz. adoptive family moving away ~though still in our lives and hearts ~ etc. ) but with that comes a reminder of embracing and being open to new gifts ~ to never stop looking for ways to embrace what I sometimes have thought of as a ghost culture for children growing up apart from their birth heritage. This year our family is eagerly anticipating a weekend long stay at a resort with almost 100 other families, all of them adoptive Kaz. families. We will meet to celebrate these children, share our respective journeys and to raise money for the ones left behind. No one is more excited or proud than our Lauren to have this weekend circled on the calendar and as its now an annual event, we hope to participate each year in the future!

Finally and oh my, this is becoming a rambling post (ack!) I wanted to touch briefly on something I have shared before ~ the contrasts between Tyler's seemingly more accessible and recognizable birth culture and of Lauren's. Of course I (we ) have worried and being a Mama (being a parent!) means the worry won't ever end. I have been concerned that she might feel left out or envious of the avenues we have available to us for exploring Tyler's birth culture or feel his is more accepted in the mainstream or better understood. I can share with you all, that at this time at least, that simply has not been the case. Just the opposite ~ no one and I mean no one has been more proud, enthusiastic and eager to share, cultivate and even advocate for his birth culture than Lauren. And I think, though I have not asked and though she has not articulated this to me.......I think that perhaps she just knows and understands something that maybe we cannot at a basic level. If so, then I think, hope & pray that we can aid Tyler in his exploration so that he too will grow to embrace, honor and cherish not just his own, or hers, or our family's, but cultures of the world ~ to find the beauty and commonality in them all . If we can do that, then maybe we will have done something right for them both, despite the false starts, stumbles and ignorance afterall. And maybe despite the dropped or missed threads of their birth cultures this too can be a place to start and grow from.

Edit to Add: I have to smile to myself cuz once again this is SO NOT the direction I intended this post to take. Initially I wanted to share snippets of Kazakhstan culture and my thoughts on exploring Lauren's birth culture with her in small, sporadic posts. Well......life got in the way again with lots of busy fun :) and the result is this mini novel featured above! LOL If you made it all the way to the end I thank you in a HUGE way!!

Thursday, April 15, 2010


In April of 2003 we embarked on a remarkable journey to bring home our precious baby girl. Our travels took us around the world ( and back again ) and while aspects of our travels were daunting ~ we would do it a million & one times over again for the gift of this beautiful baby ~ the baby we were blessed to find in Kazakhstan ~ our Lauren.

Last year I shared with you all a longer summary of our time in Kazakhstan, of its raw ~ almost harsh beauty and landscape ~ of its solemn, courteous and courageous people ~ of the many acts of kindness bestowed upon us from virtual strangers.......of one sweet tiny infant girl who opened her heart to us in all the important and big ways, making us the parents & family we are today. Looking at the photo above.....seeing those eyes peering over Scott's shoulder ~ I'm right back there; standing in a Babyhouse in a remote corner of Kazakhstan, watching the moments tumble by that would become the bedrock ~ the threads ~ of our family history. Seeing in those eyes both a keen curiosity and probably bits of trepidation, for we were still strangers to this child. I wrote last year ( Her Story: April 21st, 2009) that the moment ~ that very first time ~ I gazed into those eyes it was instant clarity.......... I was home ~ I was her Mama ~ and so very blessed. Still very far away from the place we called home....but "home" just the same.

7 years doesn't seem like such a great span of time and there are still moments I see bits of that baby in my 7 year old big girl today. Her spirit, infectious laugh, intellect, compassion, mischievous twinkle all still remain. The cheeks have thinned and the legs are much longer......more hair to style and once in a while an abundant stubborn streak too. An amazing big sister now too. 7 years ago an angel found her way into our arms ~ how thankful and fortunate we are for the miracle of this child. How amazing it still seems, despite this passage of time that we were chosen to shepherd this remarkable child of God and delight daily in all that she is.....all that she was.....and all she has yet to become. How lucky we are to watch her continued journey and story unfold each day.

Never forget for a moment how loved & cherished you are and by so many. On April 18th, 2003 a judge in Karakastek, Kazakhstan made official what we already knew in our hearts. On that day, our adoption decree was granted ~ we passed court ~ and became a joyous family of 3. We spent 3 weeks in your country of birth, with many highlights throughout our stay; but on this day we knew without hesitation that we were yours' ~ always & forever
Thank you for finding your way to us............the joy you have brought us over these past 7 years is beyond measure. It was the gift & staggering bliss of you that gave us the courage to find your incredible baby brother last year ~ he too is part of your legacy.
I love you, always & forever.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hopping Along......

We have been hopping along right through a fabulous Girls' Weekend(with our little man too of course!) of shopping (outlets!!) which launched our Spring Break, followed by a splendid Easter and extra long visit with my folks.(which I love!)

So many things to share about these past couple of weeks and oh my has the weather been gorgeous, even summer like for many of our Spring Break days. Our days seemingly zoomed right by but the moments I remember most are the sweet ones of flying kites, hunting eggs, watching a little one ( or 2!) discover the bliss of eggs laden with M&M's, bargain hunting with my "girls", long chats with my Mom, creating sidewalk chalk masterpieces with my best girl, trips to the park and watching my 2 munchkins delight in the company of family/cousin joy!

We returned home to find EVERYTHING, absolutely everything in bloom and while this week has brought those April showers ~ and a raging sinus infection for me (Mama), it seems that Spring has Sprung for real and I had almost forgotten how green and luscious things can grow around these parts. Or at least the hint of luscious growth around the corner.

Soccer season has began once again for our Little Miss and her days are filled with school, friends & music ( her tune de jour this week is the Black Eyed Peas, "I Got a Feeling"). We are all excited for the first game this weekend which coach just called to tell us about!

And what about her biggest fan? Yep, Tyler is anxious for the games to resume too as he spends a rapturous hour racing along the sidelines hollering out (with plenty O' gusto, I might add ) for his Big Sis. Course he also takes every opportunity to attempt to "lose us" and dash ONTO the field for some real play.......so its a win/win as Mama gets her exercise too! :)

AND he adored Easter this year( he was so very little last year!). Watching his pure delight with each egg & he was so pleased with just one or two. Of course his sister made certain that his basket was full and watching them together.......well, it just never gets old for me.

Also this week I am attempting to wean our littlest dumpling from his steady diet of candy (fed by loving family members) LOL of LAST week. Oh well! What a sweet tooth he has! All last week we heard, "beana(jelly beans ya know!), yeah? peesh." That's kinda hard to resist! *grin*

We are also having some techie problems with our photo downloads much to my great disappointment. Many of our pics are being written as "read only" and I have not been able to decipher the cause yet or a remedy. I know what to do but our "pesky puter" won't go along with me. :( But I was able to snag a few before the problem began, so I will share those with the hope the rest might follow. We actually had many great ones to share.......I mean how can you NOT have loads of decent shots when you mix in candy, eggs, fab. weather & cousins? I'll keep working on it!

In the meantime here is a sampling and as always thanks for stopping by!

All dressed for church.

I just have to share about this shot: Tyler was the first to spot and grab ahold of the Bunny Eggs my folks had filled with money for each grandchild ~ upon snagging one of each color he gleefully took a victory lap all through the living room/dining with this HUGE smile of glory on his face! And my Dad had been worried that T wouldn't be impressed with those eggs.....*giggle*
And the below shots are courtesy of Lauren & Tyler's wonderful cousin Allison and were taken the day of our shopping excursion to the outlets. So fun!

YES, that is a REAL snake the girls are holding.......and YES it was all Lauren's idea! *gulp" I love T's expression...... & yes, this mall has it all!!

Tyler loves his A. Beth and sipping through a straw!

Lauren and Alyssa's dream sport utility vehicle. ;)

My girl has a big heart for all critters......and I stock plenty of hand gel! lol

Tyler was a good sport for our shopping day........but eventually the strain got to him. Getting so big now & doing so many things........but always my baby boy.