First Impressions

Teddy and my weary world-travelers are home – praise the Lord!

Today is day five and I feel I am only just starting to get a sense of what things might be hard about our new normal and what things are going to be awesome.  And it will likely all change again by this time next week.

The first few nights, Teddy was jetlagged, which meant he was wide awake in the middle of the night.  This was when we learned (well, we sort of already knew) that Teddy is a great collector and relocator of things.  He helped himself to a few of the sweets Trevor had brought back from China to share, but not as many of them as we initially thought – he hid a second box in Niko’s bed.  The next morning, he had stashed a few pieces of (fairly important, undealt-with) mail in the puzzle cupboard in his room, my Borax and Trevor’s shaving cream in the fridge, and all the pens and pencils we keep in the kitchen in the big crayon basket in the boys’ room.  We can chuckle about it now, because as he’s slept later each morning he’s had less time to devote his item relocation program, but it was pretty unsettling.

He is mostly very happy and sweet, game for whatever the kids are busy with.  He does have a very strong stubborn streak, which I’m sure we will see more of as time goes on, but for now, he is mostly happy to be with us and do what we’re doing.

He immediately adored Coraline, having apparently identified her as a smaller, squishier version of Bea. He is fascinated with Delia. They both love to give each other hugs, but usually only at times when the other doesn’t want one. It will be an interesting dynamic to watch! Lewis is enjoying him tremendously and suddenly seems like the resident big kid in charge, excitedly introducing Teddy to all the fun things about being a Young (“Teddy! Tuppon (Come on)!” All of the kids are just really excited he’s finally here.

Teddy is super affectionate.  He was uncertain about me when he first got home on Saturday, but I got my first bear hug on Sunday morning just towards the end of our church service.  I then got my second through twelfth bear hug, along with hugs and kisses for Niko, Bea, and Pippa.  At first, we could hear “aww”s from the pews around us, then “aww”s gave way to giggles as he kept relentlessly smothering us with hugs and kisses.  It was pretty sweet, but it got less entertaining when I finally had to try to peel him off his siblings, and that was no easy feat!

All things considered, we’ve had a good first week.  Going from 8 kids (I got a little bit comfy there!) to 11 was an adjustment for me.  I think I had prepared myself for Teddy being hard, but forgot what an adjustment it would be for everyone else.  As always, God’s grace has been huge, I just need to learn to lean into it more.  We are so thankful for the incredible gift He has given us in our new son.  Welcome home, Thaddeus Merit.  You’re officially a Young now!

 

 

 

 

A Mother’s Day

I was just saying to Trevor a couple of nights ago during our twice a day brief Facebook chat that things have been going so very well here at home.  Normally, by the end of his work week, I find myself stretched very thin and so ready for a break, but while he’s been away, I have felt carried.  I told Trevor that I have felt like Peter this past week, keeping my eyes dependently fixed on Jesus and doing what I would not have thought possible: not just surviving this time apart, but living life with joy and peace.  But I also admitted to him that I’ve had a few moments when I have started to let the waves frighten me a little,  when I’ve counted the long days and nights ahead (including the ones *after* they get home!) and felt panic begin to set in.

Well, today I took my eyes off Jesus and took a good hard look at the waves around me, and I started sinking fast.

Mother’s Day is never my favorite, I have to admit.  I am thankful for my kids every single day, don’t get me wrong, but Mother’s Day is just another day, with all the same messes, all the same parenting, all the same disputes over who is sitting where and who gets to put their feet in Mommy’s lap while we read together.  I’m used to that, and I’d like to think I’m pretty good at making the most of the day anyway, enjoying the seeds the kids have planted for me in Sunday school, and maybe getting to spend some time with my own mom.

Today was Day 11 of 16 days of caring for eight kids without Trevor.  I arrived at church weary but peaceful, happy to get to sit for an hour and nurse the baby without any interruptions.  My best friend Mary and her daughter Maura had had a slumber party at our house the night before, and were with us for church.  It was shaping up to be a pretty good day.

Not five minutes after the kids went to their Sunday school class, Delia’s teacher came to get me.  Delia had had an accident on the floor.  While we were cleaning that up, she threw up.  I took her out of her class and thought the two of us could just sit in the (unused) nursery while I fed the baby.  Then she threw up again all over the nice new glider chair.  While I was taking the cushions off and scouring the chair and all its parts as well as I could with wipies, the custodian came in and said, “Hmm, that’s going to stain.”

At this point, I’m looking at the waves, and they’re huge, and I’m freaking out.  There goes our nice dinner (McDonald’s was the plan, but still!) with my mom and grandmom today.  There goes my whole week, come to think of it.  They’re all going to drop like flies now.  I’ll probably get it, too.  Hey, we’ll probably still have it when Teddy gets home on Saturday.  Awesome.  A stomach bug is exactly what we need right now.  (So much sarcasm in my darkest moments!)

I more or less held it together until I got home and called my mom to tell her we couldn’t come to dinner, and in the warmth and safety of her response, I fell apart.

But God was so gracious and patient with me on this day that was not going how I had hoped.

First my dad called and came over to measure our new table for some custom-made benches (to fit a few more little bottoms than the chairs can comfortably accommodate.)

Then my mom and sister came over in the afternoon before going to dinner and brought me coffee and popsicles for the kids.

While they were there, Pippa got an idea to surprise me and reorganize the dresser in the girls’ room according to the Konmarie folding method.  She mobilized a couple of sisters to help her and an hour later showed me this: (I wish I had a before picture, but believe me when I tell you it was a hot mess!)

In the very bottom of one of the dresser drawers, they found this:

I laughed when Pippa brought it down to me.  This card is probably some fifteen or twenty years old and intended for my mother-in-law (sorry, Elaine!)  I have no idea why we had it much less why it was in the girls’ dresser, but it felt as if Trevor had planned this elaborate scheme from China just to brighten my day.  And it did.

The rest of the afternoon was passed with me and most of the kids making picture-and-word labels for all the new toy storage bins in the boys’ room.  (Delia did stay curled up on the sofa feeling lousy for the rest of the day, but thankfully she didn’t throw up again, nor has anyone else so far!)

It was a lovely day.  A truly lovely day.  I don’t have a photo of me and all my beautiful children in our Sunday best to show for it this year (or one of me with MY mom and sister this year, for that matter), but I am surely the most abundantly blessed mother there is.

The Adventure Begins

On Thursday afternoon, Trevor, Niko and Bea set off for Hong Kong, their pit stop on the way to Teddy, and today I received photographic evidence that they made it – whew!

These photos from Trevor absolutely made my day, but I received another photo this evening that I wasn’t expecting.  A photo of another adventure that began today.

This is our sweet Teddy in the car with his orphanage director starting the journey to meet Trevor, Niko and Bea on Monday!

How did I get this amazing, behind-the-scenes glimpse of our boy?  It occurs to me that I never really told you the story of how we found Teddy.  Well, grab a cup of coffee, and I’ll tell you now while we wait for the exciting part to happen.

A little over three years ago, I began attending a wonderful, intimate support group for adoptive moms that meets five times a year.  It’s over an hour drive to get there, but so worth it for my sanity and the well-being of our whole family.

About two and a half years ago, my dear friend Kelly whom I met through this group came home with two new sons from China.  Even amid the flurry of excitement and chaos of her own two new boys, she shared with our group her burden for two other little boys she met there.  These two boys, it seemed, were given free rein to wander around the facility and surrounding area.  It wasn’t a good situation.

Shortly after that, one of those boys went missing.  He still has not been found.

The other little boy was our Teddy.

Kelly wanted desperately to find a home for this little guy, but we had just begun our process for Lewis, and adopting another little boy with Down syndrome was just not even on my radar.  I prayed for those little boys, but then life moved on.

A little over a year ago, right around the time we traveled to bring Lewis home, I became a little obsessed with the fact that Chinese adoption regulations allow for “reusing your dossier”, or parts of it at least, for a second adoption started shortly after the first.  I will admit that even while we were in China falling in love with our precious new son, I was looking at waiting children on our agency’s website.

My heart was for another child with Down syndrome, which just hadn’t turned out to be the scary special need it had once seemed AT ALL.  In fact, it was quickly apparent that Lewis’s extra chromosome, rather than leaving him deficient in any way, had actually made him a little bit extra awesome.

Our agency had pages of beautiful babies with Ds – oh, how they tugged at my heart strings!  But they were all babies.  Not one over the age of four or five.  Knowing that older children can be much harder to find families for, and having seen first hand what a blessing they are, that was where my heart drew me.

After we were home, I was mentioning to Kelly that we were interested in adopting another little boy with Ds, perhaps an older one, maybe 9 or 10.  She could hardly contain herself!  “That’s Didi!”

She sent us his file, and we knew immediately that if we were going to reuse our dossier, this was the one.

We began asking our agency about reusing our dossier.  They were open to the idea at first, but then Verity made her presence known.

We went back and forth for about two months, but in the end, despite having let us adopt while pregnant twice before, they said we would have to wait until after baby to begin our process, and waiting would make it too late for a “reuse”.

That could have been the end of it.  I thought it probably would be.  But meanwhile, the agency who had a partnership with Teddy’s orphanage had reached out to let us know that they would love to work with us.

When one door closed, another appeared.  Let’s push it, Trevor suggested, and see if it opens.

And open, it did.

So, with a new agency and a new home study social worker, we set out on a completely new adoption, not a “reuse” after all.  Because once we knew this boy was ours, we just couldn’t walk away.

Here we are, one year later, days away from receiving this precious little man into our family.

Thanks to Kelly’s ongoing connections with the orphanage director as well as a missionary couple that work nearby, we have been able to have regular updates and new photos of our boy throughout the process.  We were even able to “send him” a birthday cake last summer!

And so it is that we have a backstage pass to his journey to meet us.  Today he is on his way to the city where he will meet Trevor and the kids, just as they are on their way to meet him.  I can only imagine what he is feeling.  I don’t know how much he understands of what is about to take place, but please pray for his heart, that he would feel safe and loved right from the beginning.

Winter Haps

Trevor asked me a couple nights ago if I still had a blog.  I’m not sure how kidding he was, but this is for him and anyone else who checks in once in a while despite my gross neglect.

As usual there has been much busy-ness, and most of it has been very good.

Most recently, just this morning in fact, we received the hard copy of our Letter of Acceptance from China!  This means our dossier has been approved and all that remains is the final step of his US immigration paperwork.  It also I can now share with you the boy that will soon be our son.  (I could also share his name with you, but what would be the fun in that?  Names deserve their own posts.  Don’t you think?  Stay tuned!)

Isn’t he delightful?  We can’t wait!

We’ve had two birthdays this month, with four more in the next two weeks!

Romilly is now 11…

And Juniper, the baby of our “Original Four”, is 8.

 

Happy birthday, girls!

This little one, like her sisters before her, has refused to stay tiny and new.  Sigh.  In a fit of rebellion she even went and sprouted two teeth at just four months old!

But oh, how we all adore her.

School is moving along.  We are just about two-thirds through our year.  People are learning things.  We’re in a pretty good groove.

Coraline is reading beginner books thanks in large part to the efforts of her biggest sister.  Pippa is learning algebra and loving it, which just fills my math-minor heart with the greatest joy.  Delia has made some strides with independence getting dressed, and she will be trying out a tablet-based communication device in the next couple months. Lewis wrote his name by himself for the first time a couple weeks ago.  I think the whole neighborhood heard our cheers!

One of the greatest blessings of this school year has been our dear friends, the Weavers, volunteering to have our five “readers” at their home each time I take Lewis and Delia to Theraplay.

 

These days are not just free childcare for me, but amazing, enriching, educational experiences for our kids.  They do art  and photography lessons, science experiments that I have neither the equipment nor the time to do at home (they actually looked at broccoli DNA under a microscope!) and sometimes just play educational board games.  It has transformed what felt like wasted time each week for our big kids into one of the highlights of their week.

Not to mention it gives me some much-needed downtime hanging out at Theraplay with my little girls.

Trevor is working 12-hour shifts again (with long weekends) after several brutal months of Monday to Friday weeks (how do people live like that?!), and life is feeling manageable.  That can only mean we are in the calm before the storm as we prepare to bring home our newest member.  I will take the calm wherever I can get it!

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas!

From the Christmas play last weekend….

To the Christmas Eve candle light service…

And the party at Grandmom’s house afterwards,

From the night before Christmas prep…

…To the whirlwind of Christmas Day,

…It has certainly been a busy season!

But in the midst of all the busyness, I hope that we managed to keep our focus where it ought to be.  As Annis went around today cupping her little hands to her mouth and exclaiming, “Jesus’ birthday!” to anyone who would listen, I hope that in her little heart and mind, the enormity of what we celebrate today is beginning to become clear:

The God who created the universe, who created us, left his throne to join us in this desperately hard life we live.  He arrived in the humblest of circumstances in order to live the perfect life we could not, die in our place, and rise again proclaiming victory over sin and death.

Today, our kids may have been excited about new Legos and endless feasting and treats, but I pray that as they grow, they will become more and more excited about the One who was the ultimate gift to this world.

Merry Christmas to you and your family today, and may your new year be filled with many blessings from our good and faithful God!

PS I must boast about one of our favorite Christmas gifts this year: some beautiful family portraits by my dear friend Ruth Thomas, of which my new blog header is one of my favorites.  If you are local and want some very reasonably priced family photos, please let me put you in touch with her!

 

November News

My goodness, time is flying by these days.  Happy Thanksgiving!  And this year, we have much to be thankful for!

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(The AWANA gang dressed up for Harvest Night.  Our new AWANA leaders are fairly exhausting me with all the theme nights, but the kids are having a ball!)

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Since Verity’s arrival, we have been getting back into our groove with life and school, but there is precious little down time. I always forget how time consuming nursing a new baby is, but I do remember that these early months fly by too quickly.  All too soon, she’ll be wriggling to get off my lap and explore, so I am soaking in every minute of her while I can.

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(First smiles!)

The end of October saw us dressing up an awful lot for people who don’t celebrate Halloween.  First, the kids had their annual “Favorite Bible Hero” night at AWANA.

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(From left to right:Bea as Balaam’s donkey, Niko as David, Lewis as an Armor of God knight, Pippa as Esther, Coraline as Ruth, Romilly as Mephibosheth, Junie as Lydia, and Delia and Annis just jumping in the picture for fun.)

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Then we found ourselves accidentally bound for the zoo on their Trick-or-Treat day, so the kids chose costumes for that, too.  I was particularly impressed with the Anna braid hat that Pippa improvised for Annis that morning!

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On Halloween night, we were visited by these two rather unlikely trick-or-treaters: Honald Clump and Dillary Trinton.  They brought us candy – so we let them in. One of these years our kids are no longer going to be surprised by the “surprise visit” from Pop-pop and Debedee on Halloween, I think!

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In early November the kids had several opportunities to volunteer with Operation Christmas Child.  First, they helped give out and collect shoeboxes at Chick-Fil-A, then they helped out at our church’s collection center.

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And that’s what we’ve been up to.

But if you’ve made it this far and are still reading, you will now be rewarded with the biggest news of our November so far: our dossier was logged into China on November 8th!

Yes.  That means that we are adopting again!  In fact, we are quite far along in the process and hope to be traveling to bring home our new son in the Spring.

I have not been deliberately keeping secrets.  This adoption, unlike our others, has felt very tentative at each step. There have been so many times that it seemed like God might be closing the door only to open it again, that we are only now letting ourselves begin to trust that this is actually happening.

Although I am not allowed to share pictures publicly yet, you can get a sneak preview of our boy here on our Family Sponsorship page at Reece’s Rainbow, and learn a bit more about our new son by reading his little bio on the same site here.  We are so excited for him to join our family!

And with that, I now owe you a birth story and an adoption story.  But for now, I need to sleep while my baby is sleeping!

 

A New Little Blessing

Meet Verity Laine Young!

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She arrived at 3:52 am on Wednesday morning, October 5, weighing 7 lbs 14 oz, 21 inches long.  I’m sorry I am so late in getting the news out.  That’s because (spoiler for the birth story post!) we just got home from the hospital yesterday!

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We are all completely in love and enjoying getting to know her.  I’ll be back soon to tell you more about her name and her unusual (for us) arrival into the world!

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Catching Up: More Summer Adventures

The rest of this summer has absolutely flown by.  While I am thankful for September and God’s great mercy in switching on the outdoor AC, I do wonder how time keeps getting away from me like this!

Early August saw these two young ladies off to their first ever overnight camp experience with Hopewell Camps at Tel Hai.  I think I was far more nervous than they were.  They both took all the new experiences in their stride, even my book-loving introvert Romilly!

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This little man had to get in on the photo op action while we were saying our goodbyes:

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On the heels of their week at camp we had a long-overdue weekend visit from Megan, of whom I regretfully took not one picture while she was here.  (You know you’re family when I don’t even get the camera out anymore!) I did take pictures of this amazing ever-growing family of dolls she has made for our kids over the years.

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Lewis’s doll was a new addition this trip (a belated birthday present), and each of the old dolls is receiving a new outfit themed around the flag of their birth country.  I cannot even tell you how much joy these little dolls have given the kids (okay, and me!) over the years.  Aren’t they wonderful?  (Please pardon Niko doll’s lack of pants.  They always turn up eventually, just not in time for the photo shoot this time.)

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Thank you, Megan, for your friendship, for spoiling us, and for another wonderful-but-way-too-short visit.

We celebrated our summer and fall birthday girls in late August with a grand party at pop-pop’s house.  (And do you know, my beautiful firstborn is 12 today?!  Happy, birthday, Pippa!)

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(Loch Ness monster and galaxy cupcakes by Pippa, even though it was her birthday party.)

And then, just like that, we found ourselves starting school again!

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With a baby coming in October and a couple of other adventures on the horizon that I will share about in future posts, we thought it would be good to get an early start.  So far, things have been going remarkably smoothly, as long as we manage to stay at home enough.

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We’ve had a busy season of appointments, which has finally started to settle down, but one permanent feature of our Fall semester at least will be speech therapy for Lewis and Delia and OT for Delia at Theraplay.  It has been over two years since we have tried traditional therapies with Delia, and we finally feel like she is ready to try again.  Lewis, I believe, will take to speech therapy like duck to water, since he wants to speak so badly and is very motivated to work at it.  He just struggles with articulation in a way that I don’t feel I have the tools to help with yet.  I was thrilled to find that both speech therapists who met with them know ASL and are very happy to use that as a stepping stone for spoken language, since both Lewis and Delia currently use more sign than speech.  Watch this space!

In the meatime, we are still chugging along with Delia’s NeuroDevelopmental Program at home, and seeing some encouraging progress.  She contiues to be more willing to attempt to copy speech (when she’s in the mood!) and has even recently added “water” to her list of words she will use meaningfully.  This is one of our daily flash card exercises.  (If the video works?)

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We are coming down the home stretch to baby time (less than six weeks to my due date!). I *think* we finally have our girl name nailed down.  And that’s probably all we’re going to need, right?  Right?!  (Any boy name suggestions are welcome.  He’s really not going to have a name if he’s a he!)

As always, thanks for hanging in there with my sporadic posting.  We are still here.  We are doing well.  We are just busy in all the best possible ways!

 

Summer Adventures 2016

Compared to last summer’s record-breaking five camping trips (or was it six?!), this summer has been relatively low-key, but we did finally get our act together and do some camping this month.

We started off at the end of June visiting friends in central PA.  (Camping is so much more palatable when you have access to a house during the day!)  We visited this fish hatchery, where the kids got to help feed the fish and see them at different stages of development – from the tiniest eggs and the exhausted mama fishies who just laid them, right through to the eight-year-old rainbow trout who had made himself a permanent home there just out of sheer stubbornness.

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Back at the house, there were four-wheeler rides and biking, archery and berry-picking to keep everyone busy.  It was a wonderful week.

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We traveled on from there to spend the 4th of July weekend with some college friends in Ohio.  The kids (and their mama) had a sweet time reconnecting with old friends and making some new ones as well.

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Back at home, Lewis got to go to his first baseball game with Trevor, Niko, Bea, Junie and Coraline.  We received some free tickets from friends at church to a Trenton Thunder (minor league) game.  Everyone had a great time, except for Coraline, who, try as she might, still does not like fireworks one little bit.

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This week, we had our official Just Us camping trip.  I’m not going to lie.  It was hot.  It was the only week Trevor’s work schedule would allow us to go, and *most* of me is saying it was worth it, but it was crazy hot.  And, you know, being six months pregnant didn’t help either.

But look at these kids!  They had so much fun fishing, riding bikes, swimming, just enjoying life together… no, yeah.  It was definitely worth it. I would do it again.  I think.

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Two big kids who just learned to play rummy:

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This little lady discovered the cutest baby ever in our bumper!

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Just a couple of ten-year-olds reading together.  (No, just to clarify, Delia does not read, that we know of, but she does love some bonding time!)

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Our last night.  The whole trip might have been worth it just for this picture!

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Hope you all are having a blessed summer as well, and keeping cool.  I will never complain about our trusty little window AC unit again!

Quarterly Update

Well, I guess it goes without saying that we’ve been busy!  But probably the bigger reason for my dropping off the radar for a couple months is a shift in our technology.  Back in October, Junie won an iPad (because, you know, that’s a totally appropriate prize for a six-year-old!) in an art contest.  It’s been fun for the whole family, but has also brought with it a few unexpected issues.  It has become our go-to for taking around the house photos, but for outings we still use our other camera, two of them actually!  We are still working out the legistics of getting all of our photos accessible from the same device, and it has just made blogging that little bit less convenient.  Also we don’t turn on the laptop as often as we used to, and blogging on the iPad which I am currently attempting) has proven a less-than-smooth experience in the past, so we shall see how we get on today!

Now that I’ve gotten my excuses out of the way, hello!  Welcome back.  Here’s a little of what you’ve missed:

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This little person turned 2.  Annis is full of words now, sometimes as many as four or five together, but not quite speaking in true sentences yet.  She makes us laugh constantly and is just generally delightful to have around.

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Our big girl got braces!  Pippa has totally amazed us with her commitment to good brushing and flossing and wearing her headgear.  She’s really taken the whole thing in her stride and impressed us with her maturity.  Also, she looks super cute in them, doesn’t she?

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This is Delia a few moments after getting her pajamas on completely unassisted for the first time (in April).  She was so delighted with herself, and so were we!  She continues to chug along with her neurodevelopmental therapy at home.  She doesn’t always enjoy it, but we are seeing slow steady progress  in her ability to focus on a task and her willingness to attempt speech.  Here she is looking at photos with her baby sister:

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Niko had outpatient eye surgery to correct (a little bit of) his strabismus.  This hasn’t impacted his vision, but it lets him hold his head at a more comfortable angle and still keep his wandery eye stabilized.  He was a trouper, as always. (Although it should, perhaps, be noted that this picture was taken BEFORE his surgery, and that he was not quite so smiley afterwards, especially when we were discharged before he got to finish his Lego creation!)

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In late April and into May, we had Trevor’s parents here from England.  We had a wonderful two weeks despite the weather not being at all what I had promised May in Philadelphia would be like.  Very sorry about that!

[This would be a great place for a picture of that visit, but I don’t have any I can get to from the iPad yet.  See what I mean?  I do have a picture of some very cool candy they brought us, so I’ll show you that instead.]

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Lewis continues to make us smile and bring joy to our family.  He’s definitely feeling secure enough to express some opinions and test some boundaries now, and that is completely fine with us.

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His English vocabulary is growing slowly, but his receptive language is growing in leaps and bounds.  Yesterday he gave us one of his first (to my memory) two-word phrases, asking for his beloved new Thomas the train water bottle: “Choo-choo wa’er” (picture “water” pronounced with a cockney accent, and that will get you pretty close to how he says it.  God knew he’d have a British Daddy!)

We are still three weeks away from finishing our school year (totally worth it for two school-free weeks with Gran and Grandad), but we are finished our testing and evaluations, so we’re definitely in the home stretch.

That’s all the news for now, and I do promise not to leave it quite so long this time!

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