Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Praise God, we made it past the 6 week mark!!!

Before we brought our son home and all along since we have been home I have heard from so many adopting families, "the first 6 weeks are usually the hardest..." and I will say they were all very much CORRECT! Actually almost to the date, our first 6 weeks were filled with a lot of struggles and learning for all of us but I honestly believe the biggest part was our boy developing trust in us and seeing consistency and permanence in all things around him.  I can now say we feel like we have closed the first chapter in our transition time and are into the second, not sure what is to come in the second but so far so good.

We haven't had a "shut down" in almost 2 weeks and when we did have that last one it only lasted 30 mins (record time for him).  Now in the last 2 weeks when we say "no, we don't do that", "yes, you need to eat that", "that isn't nice and you need to say I'm sorry", etc, he might give me a look like he doesn't want to but he does what we say without problem.  He has never given us any problems when it comes to showering/bathing, brushing teeth, doing his hair, settling down at night or going to bed and he still isn't....he is almost easier than our Jalen at all of these things! 
The BIGGEST thing is that since I have last posted I think I have only used Amharic because I want to because I don't want him to lose the language and because I love it but in conversation with him, he is full English!  I can't say he is fluent yet but he ONLY speaks English now (and honestly as much as I love this, it makes me a little sad too and I try daily to get him to speak Amharic which I think he thinks is weird).  If you are around him and he isn't jabbering away it is solely because he is shy but he is overcoming this as well.  It cracks me up because people that aren't around him all the time will get so excited when they hear him say one word in English but I promise this child understands just about everything you say to him and can (if he wants to) reply back appropriately.  He will say "mommy, bike ride after dinner?", "shower then movie, I pick?", "more meat and cheese please" (this is in reference to a turkey and melted cheese on whole wheat tortilla that he loves) and during match game play with his little brother we often hear "daddy/mommy Jalen cheating!"

Another BIG event is that Fetinet started school last week.  Thursday and Friday he went all day and loved it and starting yesterday he went all day and then stayed for the after school program since we both work full time.  I was worried that this would be too long, but he loved it and is so excited afterwards.  I have seen a big change in him just since starting school and I wonder if it has made something in him realize this is his permanent home.  He talks more, he smiles and laughs more, and he has started to give me tight hugs while we're all cuddling on the couch at night.  Right now I am laughing out loud as I type this because I am listening to both of my boys in the bathtub playing with foam letters and singing what sounds like the "clean up" song together and laughing hysterically, this is pure joy for my heart! 
We live in a smaller town and Fetinet goes to a school that is well known for its academic achievements and is K-12 (I didn't know those still existed until we moved here) but how crazy is it that his teacher is the wife of a local pastor who began a ministry with a mission to change one AIDS orphan (in Malawi, Africa) at a time so that they might grow up to change a village, or a nation.  Check out what they do at their website Malawi Orphan Ministries or on their M.O.M.S Facebook Page.  We had first grade night yesterday which is so funny to go from having a 3 year old in daycare to having a school-aged child and being in a classroom for a meeting, I felt so old!  After the meeting was over I talked with Fetinet's teacher and she said he is doing great, participating and talking to her and doing activities with all the other kids and she said it is very rewarding to see his eyes just taking everything in and learning.  I would agree, this child loves to play but I do see a side of him that likes to learn and loves to do something right and be proud of himself to the point that he giggles and gets embarrassed by it.  Now let me say tonight was our first night of homework with him, sounding out sight words and reading 2 short sentences in a reader.  In his little Ethiopian accent he sounded out: can, cat, bat, at, an, on, back, sack, tap and a couple others.  We helped him but most of them if he took his time and looked at the letters he would say "B, buh, buh-aah T, tuh, buh-aah-tuh, bat!" I mean learning how to speak a language is one thing and I can attest learning the amount of Amharic I know wasn't easy but it didn't take long to say something a couple times and have it committed to memory. I still cannot write or read it because they don't use letters that we do, they have their own characters, over 150 of them! To write the word "Ethiopia" in Amharic looks like ኢትዮጵያ.  So imagine trying to see our "characters" that look just as crazy and trying to remember what each one sounds like, especially when an Amharic letter that sounds like "je" looks like and English "P" or a letter that sounds like "ha" looks like a "U".  All this to say I am one proud mom, he is going to do great!

Fetinet now rides without training wheels and he rides really well!  Every day after school he comes home and rides his bike with his brother and neighborhood kids and he knows where he is allowed to ride and where he has to turn round if it is out of our sight, he minds very well when it comes to that!  He rides until he is dripping wet and then will come in and say "mommy, hungry" which he pretty much says all the time because this boy can eat!

Last update that is very VERY special to me is that as of last night, I got some full, very tight hugs from him on his own doing.  We all sit on the couch and let the boys lay down and watch a movie to relax before bed.  Last night I had 2 arms wrapped around me tightly with a big squeeze every now and then, this was a first and in my opinion a BIG first for him.  Then tonight as I was typing he came over and just sat on my lap and then when he got up and I said "can I have a hug", he gave me a full hug right away with both arms fully wrapped around me just like it was the most normal thing in the world.  This may seem so small to some of you and maybe your adopted kids did this day 1 but we are on day 51 and in the past if I asked for a hug and gave him one, I might have gotten a single limp arm kind of reaching around me but usually just both arms hanging down at his sides so this was HUGE!  There has honestly been a corner turned in his transition and it is just crazy to think back to 2 weeks ago where we were at and where we are now.  I hope this gives anyone struggling with a new transition or getting ready to bring their child home, some hope, insight, and faith that the rough times will become less and the wonderful times will become more and although every child is so different and has had a very different past they do all need time to transition and when you start seeing them act naturally as part of your family it might be the best and most rewarding feeling ever!

I will leave you with something that brought tears to my eyes tonight from my little one.  Jalen is our youngest son and our only biological child and he is the most compassionate, sweet, polite, smart, caring and loving 3.5 yr old boy I have ever met (yes I am partial but seriously, he is something special).  He thanks us for everything without us asking, "mommy, thank you for making dinner for me", "daddy thank you for letting me ride my bike", "Petinet I love you and missed you at school today" and the list goes on.  He loves his "Petinet" and tries to talk like him.  That love isn't always reciprocated by "Petinet" though and when Jalen runs up to give him a big bear hug, Fetinet usually just stands there or turns away but Jalen doesn't give up.  If Fetinet plays a game with him and plays nicely, it warms Jalen's heart and he gets so excited.  If Fetinet gets a question right about something or speaks in good English, Jalen smiles and says "good job Petinet!".  Now they do play together at times and Fetinet does seem to like having him as his brother but if I was giving someone so much love and they weren't reciprocating, I'm not sure how much I would be happy about that at Jalen's age.  Tonight Jalen ran up to me and gave me a big hug and a kiss and said "mommy I miss you when you were in Africa!"  I said "I know baby, I missed you too but do you know why I was in Africa?" then he said it..."Yes, to pick up Petinet, Mommy thank you for bringing my brother home to me".  Jason and I both looked at each other just in awe of Jalen.  I am SO proud of that little boy and it makes me cry just re-typing this. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

How far we've come...and how far we have yet to go

I was starting to feel guilty about not updating as regularly as I would like to.  I have great intentions to update weekly because at least daily something happens that I think "I need to write about this" and then the short time comes at the end of the day when I'm exhausted and get a second on my laptop to post and it is the last thing on my mind.  So here is my attempt to get caught up and share with you updates from the last 2-3 weeks.  First off, although we haven't done our real family portraits yet, we needed some to post around the house so with my tripod here is our latest attempts at a family of 4 picture with everyone looking at a flashing camera hoping to smile when the flash went off.

First I'll start with the negatives and end with the positives...we still have moments of shutting down although they have become fewer and further in between and don't last as long.  We still have some times of stubbornness and wanting to be in control and not accepting of what we ask as easily as we might like, of course I know this is also a typical child thing to do so I do not anticipate this ever leaving fully.  We also still have moments, although they are quite few now, of asking for something to eat, seeing a picture or the food itself even and then being given it and due to I'm sure some confusion and language barrier it is not what he really wanted and instead of trying to ask for something else, just getting upset and saying "no" with a pushing away motion followed by a mini-shut down until he realizes we are trying to help him figure out what he needs.  This actually happened yesterday at a drive through to get ice cream and thankfully my mom (ice cream lover) gave up her flavor ice cream to Jalen and Jalen gave up his vanilla to Fetinet so my mom could eat what Fetinet wanted at first but then didn't...almost had a full shut down but thankfully we had a few flavors on hand to understand what he really wanted.  Honestly this may seem funny and not the biggest issue in the world and truthfully it is in retrospect but I will fully admit that sometimes it is overly frustrating.  I also often wonder if some of these moments aren't intentional to be difficult or test us, maybe not but as smart as he is getting I do wonder.  I am about to share the positives we have had and you will see that although I know Fetinet has a lot of learning, trusting, and fitting into this new crazy culture and family he has been adopted into, he understands a lot more than we think or he lets on.

So today marks 5.5 weeks we have been home and I have been told my countless adopting families that generally the first 6 weeks are the hardest and I can see that is very true in our case.  Now I have also heard the opposite in that a child has been in honeymoon phase for the first couple months home even up to a year or more and then it gets rough so with that said, I'll take the rough times now and get them out of the way if possible :)  I have been really reflecting back on Fetinet's first day home and I cannot even begin to explain the changes that have occurred in him from learning what is accepted in our culture to speaking English, to diminished shut-down times, he really is becoming more comfortable with being a part of our family and seems to be happier each week.

So for the positives we have been witnessing...Other than using a few Amharic words to reiterate what I am saying or asking in English sometimes, I barely have to use them.  He understands just about everything we say or ask of him and although his English isn't fluent yet, he speaks English  enough to get across what he needs or is trying to say.  He will recall things we tell him and ask about them later, for example, last night we told him that my dad "papa" was coming next week and then yesterday during school registration we told him that he is starting school next week and out of the blue today he said "papa come here tomorrow?"  I said, "no Papa comes next week", he replied then,  "I go school next week? (with a big smile mind you).  He loves riding his new bike which still has training wheels but they will be removed tomorrow, loves to play in the water, swim, says please and thank you appropriately and more often now without being prompted to do so.   Has certain shows he likes to watch and asks for them by name, knows that we take turns between who picks the movie at night between him and his brother and knows to look on the calendar to see whose turn it is each day, and is working on knowing the days of the week and months and getting the concept of when things happen. He has made a few friends and talks to them, plays with them, laughs with them and gets very excited when he gets to be with them and I am blessed to know such amazing families who have raised their kids to be so nice and patient with him.  He has learned more about sharing, taking turns and waiting in line and although I know next week there will be some struggles with starting school I am confident that everything will be just fine.  He will learn like the rest of the kids and in some areas he may be a little advanced actually and of course in many he will be delayed but my biggest concern wasn't how he would match up academically but that he wasn't going to be able to communicate or understand what anyone was saying.  Now I don't have that concern as much, I think he will do just fine and I anticipate more shut downs, problems and changes but I feel like he is ready for this next chapter of his life in America, starting school and making more friends.

So all in all our little 7.5 year old Ethiopian son has come a long way in the last 5.5 weeks and we couldn't be any more proud of him.  He has also in the past 1-2 weeks, gotten a new haircut and had some extensive dental surgery that has allowed him to enjoy food more and feel more confident about smiling.  Now we haven't reached the point of him getting up in the morning and running into our room and giving us a big hug and a kiss in the morning or at night time saying "I love you" and initiating a hug or outward affection.  This will take some more time but the things he does now that he didn't dare do the first few weeks makes me really see he is starting to feel like part of our family and I just imagine it will take time to fully build trust in us as his forever family!  I continue to thank God daily for breaking our hearts for older adoption, allowing us the privileges to be on this journey and for all the blessings (many in disguise) that we have gained.  There are ups and downs in adoption and especially in older adoption but we wouldn't change the course of our lives in the last couple years for anything!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Less Silence Here

In the last week we have had some ups and downs but all in all I have to say the ups are becoming more frequent and the downs, more scarce.  When I think back to 3 weeks ago when we were on planes headed home from Ethiopia right about this time I had a 7 year old son who didn't speak one word of English (except "no" which sounded like "nohw"), who was excited, scared, tired and probably so overwhelmed all at once...and so was his mama! 
Today I have a 7 year old son who is still learning and has a ways to go but can speak enough English and knows how to communicate with me if I can't figure out what he is saying to pretty much get through the day and night.  I have a 7 year old who is speaking more in general and louder, whether it is English or Amharic or maybe even Sidamo for all I know but it is louder than I ever heard this child speak in Ethiopia or here.  I have a 7 year old who loves to be active and play and has been making friends and playing with other kids his age like he has known them for years.  And the biggest event of all to me is that I have a 7 year old who is starting to show emotions and fit into his role as our child. 

In the beginning there was a lot of silence for so many reasons.  Mostly of course because he didn't speak our language or anything like it so how could he be loud when he knew we wouldn't understand, can you imagine moving to a country as a 7 year old where you can't understand anything anyone is saying or communicate your needs?  There was also silence because when he was upset, scared, angry, etc he would shut down for hours without a peep or eye contact even, just fully withdrawn.  Even his body language and contact with us was "silent".  There were no hugs, no initiated contact, loose hand holds, and small words said under his breath while looking away.  Now we still have some times (especially mornings) where he is quiet but not silent and he is trying harder and harder to say what he needs in English and you can see it in his eyes now that he genuinely wants to learn the English words and will say "mommy what it's name" as he points to an object.  This is so huge to me because in my mind this tells me he is  realizing there is a permanence here and going from seemingly disinterested in learning our language to really wanting to it makes me feel like he knows he is going to need this language because he is here to stay!

I know we have only been home 3 weeks tomorrow and I know we have a ways to go, we are no experts in this by any means...there will be more downs and we will work through them and learn from them.  I have said this before but it is my goal to help other families considering adopting older, in the process of and those who are in the same boat as me, just home and trying to figure it all out.  I know what a huge relief it is to hear stories that I can relate to and I want to be completely up front with our stories to be an avenue to help others as well.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Grieving and Learning....Having an Open Mind to a New Life

I felt compelled to write a little bit about what I have learned about adopted children and their grieving, coping and learning what life is like in a brand new place.  In the last week and a half of being home we have all learned and grown so much each day but we have a long way to go and whole lot more to learn.  I have spoken with so many other families who have adopted and been there done that.  From others in our own agency who have adopted children from the exact place where our son was from, to families who have adopted from other countries as well as those fostering or have adopted domestically, and there is one BIG common denominator....every single child has grieved and coped with the new life in ways that are completely normal and expected.  I guess I may be writing this more for people who don't have their children home yet and for those who may be brand new to the adoption world and  may read stories from others about their adopted children and think negative or concerning thoughts when in actuality is it 100% normal.  The adoption world is small in comparison to the number of children who need a family and it is my goal in life to help make it bigger and more positive.  I am hoping to do this partially by telling our story as we go, the good and the bad just like we experience in parenting our biological child.

I know in the last 2 years of our adoption journey, we encountered a lot of mixed emotions from people around us and it seems like much of the concerns and negativity comes from a few stories they may have heard or the worst case scenarios they may have heard on the news.  RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) seems to be everyone's biggest concern and it is very valid but also is not the diagnosis for every adopted child nor should it be an immediate thought of diagnosing a child who is newly home.  We have taken several adoption education courses and some of the things that have really stood out to me in many of them was the fact that children who don't attach to their new families right away is a normal sign as is having grieving methods of shutting down, withdrawing, retreating, anger, rages, etc.  In actuality some concerns are for the kids that do attach to their new families quickly because it MAY (not always) be a sign of an attachment problem.  If you think about it this makes total sense, why would any child (especially those who are older and have been moved around and never known a true family) attach to a family they just met, or even have been with for weeks or months?  Why would they know this was their last stop and forever family and not just assume it is just one more stop along the way? 

In many cases, children in Ethiopia at least, are taken to an orphanage near their village due to a death of a parent or both parents or an inability for the parent to care for the child amongst many other reasons.  That child may stay in that orphanage until they are adopted or they may be moved to another orphanage that may be more capable of handling more children, age ranges, special needs, etc.  Then often times if the child is associated with an adoption agency and not just in the city run orphanage, they will be moved to a "transition home" once they are matched with a family.  This home may have less kids and more caregivers to help the child become more familiar with a kind of a "home" before they come to their forever family's home.  So just imagine being a small child and moving from your village to an orphanage to another home to a transition home and finally to a home in another country with "mommy and daddy".  Although we might like to think this child will get it, how can they?  I would love to think our son knows he is here for good and we tell him and use lots of ownership talk with him...your brother, your mommy, your bed, your school, your clothes, your seat, our family, etc BUT I can imagine he may not be able to fully comprehend this yet until he actually lives it longer, for now I'm sure his little head must wonder where his next stop will be.

I one of our adoption education courses I read this and thought it really painted a good picture of children who have been institutionalized:

In the orphanage setting independence, self-reliance and self-sufficiency are valued and reinforced. After all, there are not enough adults available to attend to everyone's needs to tie shoes, button shirts or kiss boo-boos. Children are praised and pride themselves on their abilities to attend to many of their own needs. Not showing emotions may be expected. Have patience with your child and appreciate that it may take time for them to consider you as a resource for comfort, soothing, assistance and nurturance. Don't be so quick to identify it as an "attachment disorder," consider the origin. Some may require an invitation to seek you out when distressed. Additionally, for some, the intimacy of a family or demands of a relationship can be overwhelming. Allow space and distance if your child is uncomfortable but never stop extending the invitation. (BG Center Online School:  Adopting Older Children Internationally)

 I mention grieving earlier and this is something all children will go through whether they are babies or older children and you may not know it or recognize it but it is there.  From grieving the loss of their country, culture, friends, caregivers, language, people of the same colored skin, same textured hair, to grieving the loss of the familiar smells, tastes of food, water, juices, sounds, etc.  This is very normal and some children handle it differently, some children are excited to see pictures and eat foods from their country when they come home and some can't tolerate it but both responses are 100% normal as well.  Just like any child, every child is going to be different so if you hear about a family who adopted a child who attached right away, never withdrew, fit right in with their new family and was just great and then you hear another family that adopted a child who wasn't connected, had fits of rage and tantrums, refused to eat food the family made and things seem to be not so great, just know both scenarios may be normal and don;t judge or look to deep into what that means.  Think about your own children or your friend's children, do they act the same?  Do they get mad at the same things?  Throw the same kinds of tantrums? Adopted children are no different, they have their own personalities and come from their own cultures and the child that seems so abnormal to you may be completely normal in his/her culture.  When you travel outside the US, especially to a country like Ethiopia, you see the culture and realize a lot of things they do would be considered wrong, rude or concerning in our country but imagine they come here and see how we act, I'm sure much of what we do would be considered wrong, rude and concerning to them as well.
So for an update on our front.  We are doing great, good and bad days but learning and growth with each.  Our child has only been home 11 full days so I know he is still grieving and will for a little while but I would say overall when I look at the big picture, he is doing wonderful!  He is now communicating with us more in English and although it is baby steps, they are huge steps as he maybe knew 5 words (if that) in English on July 1st and now knows how to say he's hungry, tell us what he wants to eat and drink, go to the bathroom, go swimming, play outside, do school, color, watch a movie or tv and tell us certain shows he wants, hot and cold, big and small, go to bed, take a shower, brush teeth, and I'm sure I'm missing some more.  He has also went from being disgusted at cheese, milk, lunch meat and cereal to asking for each by name and having seconds and thirds.  He loves taking a shower and brushing his teeth, wearing a new outfit each day and loves tennis shoes.  He loves Jalen and gets so excited to go pick him up and out of almost all the words I can write, he recognizes Jalen's name on paper.  Of course they have sibling issues like any other, not wanting to share or not agreeing on the same movie but overall they are buddies :)  He has also became very ok with our dogs and pets them and asked to hold Laila's leash today while I got the battery in the little kid jeep for him to drive, I heard his sweet Ethiopian accented voice saying "Laila, come here" when she started to walk off.    I will leave you with a few pictures from the past couple days here:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ethiopia Trip in Pictures

We have been home for just over 1 week now and we are all learning how to become a family of 4 and show our son what a family is.  The first week wasn't easy but with each challenge we seemed to take a step forward and today so far has been the first day that I feel Fetinet has started to feel more comfortable being here.  We have have had moments of shutting down over a food placed in front of him to him asking for that food the next day, moments of shutting down over doing school work to enjoying it more and being a little more comfortable with mom giving directions to help, moments of not sharing to willingly giving up a toy to his little brother to play with, and I am learnign more Amharic as he is learning more English. Fetinet understands more than he can speak but his English speaking is coming along and he is starting to use English words or short phrases on his own.  It's only week 1 and we have 6 more before school starts so I am anxious to see what I am writing then but I will say we are very blessed to have him here and when we see him smile, laugh and look content here it warms my heart.  I'm sure he doesn't fully understand what it is to have a mom, in 7 years he has never had one to himself (nannies at the various orphanages/homes he lived in would be the closest to a mom he has ever known) and hasn't lived with his own family in over 2 years so it will take some time.  I know it will also take some time before he knows what love is, knows that we love him and decides if he loves us and we are okay with that. Jalen loves having Fetinet here and gets so excited when he talks to him or gives him something, to Jalen this is Fetinet saying he likes him and Jalen is one happy camper when he thinks his big brother likes him.  So week 1 has came with challenges, shutting down moments, frustrations and grieveing but it has all also came with growth and bonding and we are thankful for each moment!  So now here are some pictures from my last trip and our airport welcome in Chicago and Oklahoma City!
dinner with our guest house buddies
Fetinet with his friend Shemelis that will be home in TX soon!
On our drive from Addis to Awassa
feeding monkeys in a park in Awassa
Me and my fellow PT best friend and travel buddy Jen :)
At the Haile Resort in Awassa
Welcome to Chicago, Fetinet seeing his old buddy from Ethiopia, Asheber
Fetinet meeting Binnie and Papa in Chicago
Our welcome party in OKC
Love the hearts of all these kids
Finally our family of 4 together, lots of tears and hug and kisses!!!!
Fetinet and his old buddy from Ethiopia William (Asfaw)...love how he has seen and will continue to see so many of his old roomates here in America now!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

To Ethiopia and Back...

Since last post I have traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, had our embassy appointment (which was great), traveled to Awassa, Ethiopia and got the most amazing pictures, had our actual "gotcha day" with our son and traveled home and now are on day 2 of being  family of 4! 

I saw a picture recently that said "I didn't say it would be easy, I said it would be worth it" and I would say that phrase is repeating over and over in my head each day.  I'm not going to lie and say everything is just great, easy, perfect and just as I imagined because really that is not how adoption works especially when you adopt an older child, and one from another country with a very different culture.  Fetinet is doing pretty good overall I would say and truthfully each day is getting better.  The biggest problem of course is the language barrier.  He really doesn't speak much English at all so just close your eyes and imagine having a 7 year old new in your home who doesn't understand anything you say and in order to communicate with him, you have to open 2-3 books of common words and phrases to search for what you want to say and then hope you said it with the right dilect and then when your child doesn't respond, what do you do next?  It is difficult but we are learning together.  I try to say what I want in Amharic (which by the way is Fetinet's second language and no where close to his native language, Sidamo) and then repeat it in English and have him repeat it after me

Me:  "Fetinet, de-keh-mek?  Are you tired?"
Fetinet:  "Ah ay"
Me:  "Ah ay?  No?"
Fetinet:  "No"

We arrived home on Suday evening after flights were late and delayed, after being rushed through the Frankfurt airport with 10 other people (although given very special treatment by Lufthansa staff) to just barely make it to our flight to Chicago which we found out our bags never made it and then saw my parents and another adopting family who has one of fetinet's friends from his home and rushed off only to find out our flight from Chcago to OK was delayed 3 hrs due to storms in St Louis and Chicago so our welcome party at the OKC airport waited a bit longer than they expected but it was awesome and I am excited to post pictures soon, here is one with a lot of the cutest kids and their signs for Fetinet. 

Yesterday, we kept Jalen home from day care and it was more of a "getting to know everyone, play-day".  Jalen keeps telling Fetinet, "Petinet, I glad that you are here" and "I love you Petinet" and then of course Fetinet not understanding won't say anything back so Jalen looks at me very disappointed and says "Mommy, Petinet not talk to me (frown/pout)".  I told him that he doesn't know our language yet but I know he is happy to have you too Jalen and then Jalen says very seriously, "I want Petinet to know our language soon mommy"....me too baby doll, me too :)

Today Fetinet and I took Jalen to daycare and are picking him up right after nap time so he is only there for a half day to still keep someehwta of his schedule.  While Jalen is at daycare I will be basically doing home-school with Fetinet.  Today was day one and well, it went ok...he didn't like school a whole lot in Ethiopia and I'm not so sure he is a big fan of it here either.  We did the alphabet upper and lower case and traced letters which he would do great and then just scribble all over in frustration and laugh so I have been doing a lot of redirecting and explaining the best I can that we need to do this before we can play.  He tries to tell me no and turn away but after a little talking he does get back on track and will try for me.  We'll do a little each day but we do have a timeline as he will start school in 6 weeks!

Jason came home for lunch so I could have a little time to get on my computer but if I haven't emailed back or done much lately, just know I am reading your emails, text messages, facebook posts, etc and I appreciate all the support we are getting.  Please keep praying for this transition and for our strength and wisdom of how to best parent our 7 yr old, non-english speaking, Ethiopian son.  We are so blessed by everyone and son will be on a good schedule and back to some normalcy :)

I will post more pictures and stories from our trip soon but wanted to just at least actch everyone up on how we are doing now.  Thank you for all the support and keep checking back for a lot more amazing pistures and stories from last week in Ethiopia, a beautiful country but I am glad to be home.

Love and Blessings!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

8 Days and We're on Our Way to Bring Our Boy Home Forever!!!

YES, it is true...our flights are booked and in 8 days I will be leaving for Ethiopia for Embassy and to bring Fetinet Nikao home finally be a family of FOUR!!!!
Soon these two boys will be together forever as brothers!!!
On Thursday we got the email from embassy saying we were CLEARED and we were beyond excited but we didn't think that could be right because they didn't have our updated 171H yet.  It wasn't fully right, we soon found out we were cleared still but couldn't book an appointment until they got that form.  I called our USCIS officer and let me tell you how amazing this lady has been...getting us a fingerprinting appointment just in time, answering all my questions and putting up with my daily calls, she assured me they will have this form by THIS Monday and as well she emailed info over so they would know it was there.  She also made everything very personal and just was a blessing when I didn't expect it from a government official.  I then emailed the embassy (yet again) and they got right back to me, assuring me that as long as they had our form by June 22nd, we would be able to have our embassy interview during the last week of June.  So with airfare rising and flights getting sold out by the hour (literally) I booked our flights and got a nice surprise in that on the way there and back we have a short layover in Chicago so my parents and anyone else who can make it will get to meet Fetinet briefly and welcome us there :)  Also we ended up paying $1,000 less than expected!  God has just been doing miracles in our family's case lately and we are beyond grateful...really there are no words for all that has happened in the last couple weeks!  God is Good!

Now, here's where I need your help.......
This time around Jason will be staying home with Jalen to work and watch him but it is required through our agency that I have an adult companion to travel with me.  My sweet friend and Godmother to Jalen and Fetinet, Jen, is going to be my companion and while she is there she will also be providing physical therapy services to special needs orphaned children.  If she couldn't go, Jason would have had to, and we would have been buying another flight so I feel I need to help as much as I can to help her raise the money it is costing for her flight (not to mention she is missing a week of work just for us).  She was able to use some frequent flyer miles to get a few of the connecting flights covered but she still needs $1,757 to cover the rest of her flights. We have been doing this fundraising thing for a while and I know in the beginning I felt awkward, bad, weird, etc sending out emails and such to help us get the amounts we needed but I learned quickly that in every fundraiser and every donation that came in, God was using special people to make our journey and story just that much more exciting and really more glorifying to Him.  I have made life long friends with people I met through fundraising, and in each one, our story was shared, the need for orphan outreach was shared and more families have come to decide to pursue adoption, foster care or just have a different outlook on the needs of these children in general so money aside, so much good has come from it all.  Jen is new to this so she is back in that "feeling bad asking for money" stage and I want her to see that people genuinely like to help and if God places it on their hearts to help her, they will and if not, nothing is lost but who knows what will be gained from it???  SO, help me bless her and raise the money to cover her flights as it is a HUGE help to us and I know she will be a HUGE blessing to the children she will be working with while she is there!  You can donate via my paypal account, just use the button on the LEFT that says "Help Jen Get To Ethiopia" or contact me via email here and let me know how you would like to help. Thank you and have a wonderful Father's Day weekend!
Jen and I after PT school graduation (2009) and my little nugget Jalen in my arms :)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Well we didn't get the magic email from embassy this morning saying we are cleared to travel but should hear some good news tomorrow.  We won't be officially cleared to travel because they don't have our updated 171H yet since we just updated our fingerprints yesterday...BUT we did get some, ummm pretty darn good news from news a few different people. All I can say is there must be a lot of people praying for us and God is listening because so many prayers were answered today and prayers that I haven't even been saying out loud simply because there have been a few other families that need the prayers more than us right now.

So, before 8am, I went from having an okay, no big deal, regular kind of day at work, but from 8am-10am it all changed and my day went to pretty near PERFECT!  I started calling the USCIS adoption line at 8am and was transferred to our officer who was quite possibly the sweetest lady ever!  This is actually the same lady who got us our fingerprint appointment when we were told we wouldn't even have our case looked at until July!  She immediately knew who I was and said she had my updated 171H sitting on her desk just awaiting the fingerprint updates which would be in today or tomorrow morning.  She also told me she could fax me a copy of the updated 171H as soon as she got it complete and I should get it today or tomorrow morning at the latest and then she would be sending it to the embassy in Ethiopia 2 day mail.  I had no idea they did that and was already to ask if somehow I could pay for expedited shipping, no need now!  So the embassy is closed on Friday so they should have our updated 171H in their hands Monday, Praise God for that HUGE step!

As I am on the phone with our officer I receive an email from our case worker saying that although we didn't hear from embassy, she spoke to the staff in Ethiopia and they said the interview went really well.  Honestly I haven't even been worried about that in the least but to hear those words gave me chills and put a pretty big smile on my face.  Then she said we will be doing our travel meeting next Mon or Tues and with another family who is on our same timeline right now and of course it is a family Jason and I are friends with here in OK and have known for probably the majority of our adoption journey so it is pretty cool that we are ending this journey together!
Ashley and I getting ready to welcome another Dillon/Buckner family home with their son!  Soon all 3 of our boys will be home in Oklahoma!
So all this to say that as soon as the embassy has our 171H form in their hands, they will be able to clear us to pick our travel dates (pending the interview did go well, which I just know it did).  At that point, we will pick 3 dates and then they will choose 1 of  those 3 for us. My heart and mind is set on picking the dates of June 25, 26 and 27th so I am praying right now we are given clearance ASAP because that would mean that we would be leaving for Ethiopia on June 23rd or 24th....that is NEXT weekend, 10-11 days away!!!

Okay so if that all wasn't enough to call it a blessed day and move on and be ecstatic, with the good news, I then got some news that about made me break down and cry at work (which I try very hard not too because my eyes turn and stay red when I cry and that's not a pretty sight for a patient to see in their physical therapist for the first time meeting).  What was this news???  Well we have somewhere between $3,000-$4,000 left to save/raise for this adoption depending on what our flights cost but I have been at peace with the fact that after saving and raising over $31,000 that if we had to take out a loan for the remainder it would be okay. The message I got was from a family who means a lot to us, a family who has been very supportive of us and a family we just love.  The message asked how much more we needed because they wanted to cover the balance so we didn't have to worry about it.  After over 2 years of saving and thinking up the next fundraiser, I can't even express in words what it feels like to be FULLY funded!!!!  

So here we are really just waiting on a few things...embassy's full clearance, our embassy date, our final hours of required adoption education and our flights to be booked and THAT IS IT!!!!  Soon, very soon, I will be posting a blog from Ethiopia with my oldest son sitting next to me.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Winner Is....

After 3 weeks, there were 171 tickets purchase by 33 different people, raising    $1,710 for our adoption!!!!

I placed every entry into a List Randomizer on Random.org and pushed the magic button and...................................................................................

The grand prize winner of the Kindle Fire is..................
 Danette Gallardo

The other winners of the other 10 prizes (shown on The Raffle Page) donated by some awesome friends of ours are as follows:

Patty Laramore:  One hour session with Courtney Folsom of Folsom Photography

Lari Hall:   A copy of Just Like You children's book (hard cover), autographed by the illustrator Hannah Harrison 

Mike McReynolds:  Large uni-sex Simply Love t-shirt ($25)  and  Africa Necklace ($15) donated by Lari Hall

Carla James:  $25.00 Gift Certificate to my friend Kathleen's awesome Etsy page  http://www.etsy.com/shop/craftycreations2

Kim Hill:  An Amazing home-cooked meal by the great Lauri Rowe 

Sandra Thron:  Thirty-One gift set:  URU thermal ($18), a zip-up pencil pouch ($10) and a mirror compact ($10) donated by Stephanie Coelho, Independent Director, Thirty-one gifts

Donna Chancellor:  A customized sandblasted rock with your family's name on it donated by Boadie Anderson

Gary Robinson:  $160 worth in trees/plants from a nursery in Ada, OK.  These will be delivered to you and include: Shumard Oak, grows to 60 ft, Red-Orange to Orange fall color, fast grower, full sun; Oklahoma Redbud, grows 30 ft, deep pink to magenta rose flowers, glossy dark green leaves, full sun; Knockout Rose, grows 3-4 ft, has double red flower, and is disease resistant plant, full sun; and Bloodgood Japanese Maple, grows 20 ft. purple-red leaves, red fall color, full sun).

Autumn Deason:   A day or evening of babysitting by the amazing Miss Avery Anderson!

Cathy Eaves:   One hour tennis lesson from Matt Folsom, a former collegiate tennis player and coach.

I will get your information to the donators so they can get your prize to you if I don't already have it.  Please let me know if you don't hear form anyone or have any questions.

Thank you to everyone who donated prizes, spread the word to your friends and family, bought tickets and prayed for this.  We were blessed greatly by all of you and can't thank you enough!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Nearing the End of This Road...

Each week that gets closer to us having our son home is almost (ALMOST) bittersweet!  I think like everything when you are with something so long and know a certain lifestyle for so long, it becomes sad to kind of have to say good-bye.  This may be encouraging for those of you waiting right now, although you are ready for things to move forward and get your referral, meet your child or bring them home, enjoy every minute because soon it will be over and you may not know what to do with your self.  I can say I am SO looking forward to having our boy home, as well as being done with crazy paperwork, late nights, fundraising, planning, and worrying and just be a family without feeling like I'm on a timer to have family time and also get adoption work in. 

Because it has been over 2 years since we decided to start this Ethiopian adoption, it is all we know now.  We juggle full time jobs, t-ball, softball, church, life group, an orphan ministry, birthday parties, family trips and needed family time with adoption stuff (paperwork, education, fundraising, blogging, emailing, planning, budgeting, post office trips (many of them) and preparing the home for a new child).  Anyone that knows us, knows us as the family that is always on the go, always busy and never resting.  Although we have become accustom to this lifestyle and I know I may sometimes look back and grieve that we no longer have it, I am VERY much looking forward to JULY!  With the exception of some home study updates and little things adoption finalization related, it will be completed, t-ball and softball will also be over and I will be on a leave from work for 4 consecutive weeks and then likely 2 weeks around when school starts.  During this time I will be enjoying my family and working with our 7 year old Ethiopian son on learning English, and just bonding with him and allowing him and Jalen to bond as brothers.  I will continue to blog because it helps me keep a "journal" and feel accountable knowing someone is reading it...hopefully :)
my sweet Jalen at t-ball
Right now we are looking at being in Ethiopia the last week of June to bring our son home.  No definite clearance or embassy appt yet but we do have the final step, the birth parent embassy interview next week and then we will be cleared soon after! A bit over 2 weeks left (likely) in this journey that started over 2 years ago.  We are wrapping things up now, final education requirements, final funds needed, the final trip planning and preparation and final touches on our home and our son's new bedroom that he will share with his brother Jalen who is beyond excited to get him home!
the boys room, almost complete!
Thank you for praying for us, please keep praying us out until the end.  God has been gracious to us and we have been blessed by Him through so many of you and look forward to seeing how He uses us to bless many many more people! 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My Birthday Wishes

Last week was quite eventful and I am praying that this week continues.  Tuesday we were submitted to embassy, Wednesday we got an email saying part 1 of the orphan determination was cleared and on to part 2, Thursday we got an email saying part 2 was cleared and they were ready to schedule the birth parent interview!  This in the past has taken weeks and it took DAYS!  So now we are praying that the interview gets scheduled in the next 2 weeks and we will be right on track to be in Ethiopia again THIS MONTH!

So tomorrow is my birthday, not a big one, but 1 year after the big 3-0 and although it isn't a "big number birthday" I am praying it is big in a different way.  So my specific birthday wishes are:
    1.  I get an email stating the birth parent interview has been scheduled and is within the next 1-2 weeks
    2.  That we receive news about an adoption grant we applied for to help off set some of the rest of the needed funds.
    3.  And the biggest prayer is that I will be on a plane on June 24th headed to Ethiopia to bring our son home forever!

In the mean-time this week is also coming with other eventful things that I am very much looking forward to and will help keep my mind from constantly thinking about dates, times, flights, and all that consumes it right now.  Tomorrow night my sweet husband set up a dinner with a bunch of friends at our favorite Mexican restaurant in town, Tuesday Jalen has his T-ball team pictures and Jason has a softball game, Thursday both of my boys have games (t-ball and softball) and Saturday our wonderfully supportive, loving, amazing and God given friends are throwing us a shower for Fetinet, what a fun week ahead :)

In other news....
The Raffle Fundraiser is still going on and right now our total needed is down to $6,435.  You have 6 days left if you want a chance at the Kindle Fire amongst other prizes and the winners will be drawn on Saturday, June 9th!

and check this out....Our of our good friends is also doing a wreath fundraiser for us so if you would like one of her "All Season Shabby Chic Burlap Wreaths"for  $30  (includes: 1 burlap wreath with 5 seasonal flower pins for Valentines Day, Spring, Patriotic, Autumn and Christmas. If you would like to purchase one, please contact my sweet friend Leanne.  Leanne is writing a book that you will get to read one day but for now, you can read about her on her awesome blog leannepenny.com.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Submitted to Embassy...wooo hoooo!

Well the title pretty much sums it up, YES, we found out at 7:52am today that we were submitted to the U.S Embassy!!!!  Now we wait and pray that we are cleared soon and can travel to bring our son home!  I cannot believe that I started this blog over 2 years ago and I can vividly recall writing about our first fundraiser, now we are on our LAST fundraiser and soon will be traveling back to Ethiopia to bring our boy home forever. 

There are less than 2 weeks left in our raffle fundraiser.  If you want to enter to win a Kindle Fire and help us reach our amount needed to be fully funded, you can purchase tickets here or message me, all the details can be found if you click on the ticket picture to the right.  There are ways to get extra entries too :) 

Just updated our fundraising thermometer...only $7,564 more to go.

Monday, May 28, 2012

What's Your Story???

Yesterday in church the topic was a continued series on "I Am Less; He is More" and the first point was this:

How do I become less and He become greater?  It's not a formula; It's a journey!!!!

"Never make a principle out of your experiences; let God be as original with other people as He was with you"  ~Oswald Chambers

After hearing this my mind immediately drifted towards adoption and the journeys each of us go on.  Each adoption journey is so unique and we should be so excited about that, so excited to see how God is going to write our stories yet it is so easy to get caught up in how other adoptions are looking and trying to plan our own around others.  I'm guilty of it too, thinking back over the last 2 years there were many times when I thought "why did they get a referral before us?", "why are they already fully funded and we are having to do every fundraiser ever imaginable?", "why is everything so easy for them and so hard for us?"  and I could go on.  You know you have done this too, even if you aren't adopting, you know as a human being, we compare our lives to everyone else all the time...why do they have such a nice house, such well behaved kids, such a  great marriage, good health, great jobs, etc.

WHY do we do this???  Does it get us anywhere? NO.  Does it make us feel better? NO.  Does it allow us to see what God's plan is for our lives? Nope.  Why can't we just be happy for how everything plays out, the good and especially the bad and realize if we don't stop comparing and complaining about why WE don't have this or that and "they" do, we will never see how God is trying to use us. 

I'll be 100% honest here, I still am trying to plan out the rest of this adoption, comparing other families timelines, to try and determine when we will travel next, but I have gotten a lot better since, oh, maybe January of this year...about 1.5 yrs after our adoption started.  I started realizing this was OUR unique story and I needed to be content with what God had in store for us and let him "take the wheel" basically and just be patient, listen and follow.  I'm not gonna lie and say it has been easy but I have felt a HUGE weight lifted from my back since I came to this realization and magically, as soon as that happened I can say the following happened:  we got our referral, we got a crazy quick court date, we had all the funds needed to get to our court date and all given to us within weeks of needing them, we had an amazing time with our son, and now will be bringing him home soon.  Yes, many good things happened so of course I would be a "believer" in this so I continue to pray that I always remember this time and that when the down times come, and I know they will, to know that when I trusted and put my story in God's hands, it went the way it was supposed to.  Also to know that in the end, this was just "our" story and I need to remember not to prescribe this formula to other adopting families because they will need their own journey just like we did.

So if you are thinking about adopting, in the process or have already, I would love to hear YOUR STORY.  Also if you are in the process or just beginning, write the Oswald Chambers quote down and look at it daily to remind yourself not to hear other family's stories and think that is the formula that you HAVE to follow in order to get further, let God use you uniquely to write your story.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

30 days being a family of 4

Yesterday was May 18th, 30 days since Fetinet legally became our son and although this is exciting, it is also bittersweet because he is not home with us.  By the normal timelines it could be 30-36 more days before he will be home with us forever but we did get some exciting news that may mean he could be here closer to that 30 day mark.  We got an email saying they are hoping to get us submitted to embassy THIS coming Monday, May, 21st!  This means that if all goes well and no extra documents are needed then it may be a couple weeks and they will schedule the birth parent interview (yes, they have 2 now, one before court and one before embassy), then if that goes well, then we will soon after get an email saying we have been cleared and can choose 3 dates to travel.  They will then pick one of those dates for us and we will book our flights and go bring him home!  I have a gut feeling I will be in Ethiopia during the last week of June so please pray with me that it happens!

We do have a lot to do between now and then though, final education requirements, updated USCIS fingerprints and of course a few more dollars to raise, well more like $8,910 more dollars but who's counting?

We are awaiting to see if we will receive grants from a few places we recently applied but we are also starting a new and FINAL fundraiser...yes I cannot believe this is IT but it will be our last one!  We have been blessed by our previous fundraisers in so many ways, more than simply financially.  We have made forever friends, have opened others' eyes to adoption and have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into them which has made this whole adoption extra special.  It has also made us realize how God works and has amazed us and others to see how good He is in a tangible way.  So from t-shirts and coffee sales, to a garage sale and puzzle piece fundraiser, to a BBQ benefit dinner and half marathon, we now bring you our Raffle to Bring Fetinet Home.

You can click on the link above or on the tab at the top of our home page or on the picture in the top right corner of tickets, and it will take you to the raffle.

Thank you to everyone who has helped us thus far, we have come a long way and love to think of each and every one of you who have helped get to where we are.  We can't wait to share the story of this journey with Fetinet when he gets older! 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Our Court Trip in Ethiopia

We are excited to introduce our son, Fetinet Nikao

Well, we have been home from Ethiopia for almost 3 weeks now.  We have been very busy with getting our house ready to become a family of four and have been and still are, working on adoption grants, USCIS paperwork and continuing education.  To be honest I am so over all this paperwork and to-do's and just want my boy home!  I have been "nesting" I guess one would say.  Just like a couple months before Jalen came into this world, last touches were being done to his room and cleaning and organizing was in full force, yep, same thing going on now.  We have no idea when we will get the email saying we are cleared from the US Embassy, and can book our flights to go get Fetinet and bring him home and I want to have everything done and ready just like I did when I was pregnant, although I probably won't pack my bags this time.  We do know that lately it is taking 30-90 days before most families are getting the email and we are guessing we will bringing him home sometime between mid June to mid July!

While we were in Ethiopia we got to spend every day with our boy.  After breakfast we were taken to the transition home where he lives and and got to play with him and the other kids.  The cool thing is that all but 2 of the kids that are there now are kids that will be coming home very soon too and we know their families and all are within a drive from us!  We got to take a package to a little boy who will be meeting his forever family in the next couple weeks and got to take pictures and videos to share with all of their families who are waiting to travel for their court dates.  We also got to meet up with a great friend of mine whom we had never met in person but God gave us court dates within days of each other so it was very fitting that we met in Ethiopia.  We made friends with another couple who was staying at the guest house we were at and were also there for their court date, as well as we made friends with the guest house staff who were wonderful and we look forward to visiting them again real soon.  We got to take Fetinet to lunch everyday, got to give him his first ice cream, took him to the museum, zoo (which is very VERY little so he will be in shock when he comes to a zoo here), and got to play a lot of "futbol" with him, one of his favorite things to do.  We also got to meet his father and that was one of the best experiences we could have asked for.  We got to ask him questions, tell him about us and got pictures with him as well as a video of him leaving a message for Fetinet that we will show him when he is older.  We are keeping most of that time to ourselves for the privacy of our son but just know we couldn't have been more blessed by that meeting.

We got to ask Fetinet (through a translator) what his favorite colors were, if he wanted to share a room with Jalen, if he wanted top or bottom bunk and a bunch of other things to get his room ready when he gets here.  I also have been learning a little bit of Amharic and had a phrase book with me so I could say things to him like:  I am your mommy, this is your brother (while showing him pictures, are you hungry?, are you happy?, I love you, you are going to live with us and we are excited to have you in our family.  These all came from a little book I got on Amazon that gives words and phrases for adopting families, very helpful and he thought it was funny having me talk to him in his language as I was reading from this book :)

For those who have asked about him.  He is 7 years old and is in school now in which he learns Amharic (the native language of Addis Ababa but not his native language) and English amongst many other subjects but this was his first year so his English is very little.  We will be working with him to learn English and from what we have been told, many kids pick up on it pretty quick, but will also be trying to learn his language as well so we can make him feel more at home.  He will start 1st grade in the fall at the school right by our house and I have a meeting in 2 weeks with the principal to see the rooms and get information that the kindergartners know and what the 1st graders will be expected to know.   This school has yet to have a student from another country but this fall they will have one from Haiti, one from Ethiopia and one from the Ukraine...our town is becoming quite the adoption community!

So now I will leave you with a few photos from our trip...there are so many I would love to share but I would be here all night so we'll start with these :)
some random pictures of Addis Ababa

just need one more hand in this picture to be complete but oh how I love it!

views from our room

out to lunch at top view where he ate his first ice cream

out to lunch and carry his Brown Bear with him everywhere

this was in the midst of me taking picture after picture of him and he thought it was pretty funny
we got to visit Fetinet at school while he was taking a test, he got to leave early with us for the day but it was amazing talking to his teachers and the school psychologist and getting pictures of his classroom and classmates!

our first family picture after passing court