2021 Birthday Post 8 of 13: Delia

Oh, Miss Delia… What can we tell our friends about you?

This girl is the great puzzle of our family, a puzzle we’ve been trying to solve for seven years now.

We first met Delia, as long-time readers may remember, on our first trip to meet Niko in 2011. She was just shy of five years old, and she charmed her way right into Trevor’s heart. He came home from that trip convinced that she was our daughter, and never once wavered in that hope. Even when I resisted the idea, even when another family committed to her before us, even when we finally read her daunting medical file. And he was absolutely right. She is ours and we are hers, whether she likes it or not 🙂

But this girl is a tough nut to crack. We know that she is a treasure, but boy does she ever resist engaging with us and living up to her potential! Delia has baffled every “expert” we have taken her to since she came home. We’ve tried traditional speech and occupational therapy, neurodevelopmental therapy, special online speech therapy for kids with autism, play therapy, ABA (behavioral) therapy, and we’ve dabbled in even more. Her autism isn’t quite like anyone else’s, and no one knows quite what to do with her.

Delia with Miss Q., her beloved ABA therapist

She would like us to believe that she just isn’t capable of any more than what she usually gives us. She’d prefer to fill her days with little more than stimming and waiting for her next meal.

But occasionally, she slips up and shows us that she’s really in there. We get glimpses of the real Delia. She shows us that she understands way more than she lets on, and that there is a cheeky, funny, sensitive, sweet girl in there begging us to find a way to let her out.

We see it when she laughs at a joke. We see it when she cries after someone makes an unkind remark about her that they didn’t expect her to hear or understand. We saw it two years ago after her birthday movie, when she tenderly kissed Temple Grandin goodnight on our TV screen. We see it when Milo climbs up on her, and she smiles at him in spite of herself.

And so we press on, trying every single thing we can think of, and trying it for longer than it makes sense to, just in case that breakthrough we long for might be right around the corner if only we persevere.

There have been gains followed by losses in every area. We have gained and lost potty training twice. We have gained and lost words, smiles, eye contact. We emerge from one grueling repetitive stimming behavior only to replace it with another.

And yet this one thing is always true: Delia feels safer and trusts us more all the time. Seven years ago, we brought home a little girl who was terrified of us. She lived in a permanent state of hypervigilance, alternating between manically “flirting” with us to win our acceptance and get her needs met, then lashing out at us if we got close enough to receive her affections. (So many of the old photos I look back on longingly of her smiling and laughing, were actually taken in that manic state rather than one of true happiness.) Instead of sleeping, she spent much of every night rocking, laughing, sobbing, screaming, grinding her teeth. We felt helpless and inadequate to meet her enormous needs.

Now, by God’s grace, she sleeps. Some 😉 She has much better self-regulation over her emotions. And this is huge: she receives comfort from me and Trevor when she is upset or overwhelmed. She lays her head in our laps and lets us hug her while she cries. In those bittersweet moments, I “tell her the things”: that she is loved, that she is safe, that she is made in God’s image and has infinite value. That even if she never learns to talk, or play, or engage with us, we will still love her forever. That she is stuck with us. And in those moments, my heart echoes what my head already knows: that I am her mom and she is my girl.

Happy birthday, Delia Mary! We see you in there, and we love you so much.

2021 Birthday Post 7 of 13: Bea

Happy 14th birthday today to our beautiful Beatrix Joanna!

Bea is a character. I’m feeling this acutely today because as I was looking through photos for this post, I found picture after picture of Bea making hilarious, ridiculous faces. I am not at liberty to share some of the more recent specimens, but it started young 🙂

Bea is our talker. She is the only confirmed extrovert in the family besides me, and from the moment she could talk she has kept us busy answering her increasingly complex questions. She makes us laugh with her crazy hypotheticals (“Grandmom, if mom had octuplets, would you move out?”), but she also makes us go deep with big life questions.

She is an animal lover to the core of her being. She volunteers at a local cat rescue, and begs us for a new pet almost weekly. Her future goal is to work with animals, possibly as a vet tech or a zookeeper, either way with a side of crazy cat lady. (She’s well on her way on that front!)

For all her silliness and fun, Bea has the tenderest heart, and desires above all things to do what is right. She is one of the most conscientious people I have ever known. As a little girl, she was always our safety warden and the Jiminy Cricket of our gang, often running to me from playing just to double check that whatever they were doing was okay. Her siblings may not always have appreciated this quality in her, but I have always been able to have confidence that if Bea is on the scene, things are never going to go too far south.

Bea spends her free time drawing, writing, crocheting, and playing Zoo Tycoon (because ALL THE BABY ANIMALS!) She is a hard worker and a willing helper.

She loves her siblings fiercely, and will always come to the defense of anyone who is being treated unfairly, even if it means (respectfully) calling me or Trevor out.

I can’t wait to see how God will use this uncompromising, outgoing, winsome girl. She is a joy, and I just love her.

2021 Birthday Post 6 of 13: Milo

Bea suggested that I should begin this post by saying “it seems like only yesterday that Milo was born”, because all posts of this nature seem to start like that, but the truth is, it’s been a long year! This boy has been such a sweet silver lining in all the crazy that was COVID.

Happy first birthday to our littlest mister, Milo Walter!

As I was looking through photos from the past year of Milo, I was flooded with memories of just how magical those first days and weeks with him were. I am still pinching myself a little bit that I actually had a boy, but a year ago, when he was brand new and the miracle was still fresh? Just magical!

This little love is pure sunshine. When I nurse him, he strokes my arm from my hand all the way up to my shoulder, pausing only to give me an occasional little pat. When I enter the room, he takes off toward me at his fastest crawl, puts his head down for extra speed, then can’t see where he’s going and crashes right into me.

He loves balls and anything with wheels, and he’s already figured out that he’s supposed to “vroom” a toy car.

We thought he might beat Freya’s record and take first steps well before his first birthday, but he’s gotten so speedy at crawling that he’s not that motivated to walk. He can stand for a few seconds though, and cruises around the furniture like a pro, so we know it won’t be long.

His only words so far are mama, dada, and a very close approximation to Roro. He also waves and claps and high fives. He manages to be incredibly expressive despite the limitations of his vocabulary so far.

He is very possibly the giggliest baby we’ve ever had. It takes almost no effort to get full on belly laughs from this boy. He even got hysterical watching Verity blow bubbles. Only Verity though 🙂

Milo, you are everyone’s favorite (as every baby should be!) As I write this on your “last night of being zero” (as Verity called it), I wish you the happiest of first birthdays and I pray for many many more happy birthdays to come. I love you, my wonderful boy!

A Couple of Crazy Kids

See these two? This was us circa Easter 1999, just a few months before we got engaged. These two had no idea they’d be married in about a year (much less all the craziness that would follow that!). I thought it would be fun in honor of today, our 21st wedding anniversary, to share a little piece of the story of us: a little episode I like to call The One Where I Got Deported. (If you’ve ever played two truths and a lie with me or asked me to share a random fact about myself on your wall, you’ve probably already heard it, but it’s a tale that bears retelling, I think.)

Trevor and I fell in love the summer after I spent my junior year in Edinburgh, where we met. It might have been handy to do it while we were both there, but when have we ever done things the easy way?

We spent my senior year (his sophomore!) dating long distance with a few transatlantic visits thrown in. That spring, I began applying for teaching jobs in England, hoping to secure a work permit and live and work within commuting distance of Macclesfield, where Trevor would be doing his internship the following year.

I interviewed at a secondary school for girls in Manchester that summer, and to my delight, they offered me a job teaching science starting in September.

The rest of the summer was a frenzy of excitement and packing and planning, including emailing the school regularly to check the status of the work permit they were working to get me.

By August, they assured me that all they needed to finalize my paperwork was to see my stamped passport. In hindsight this should have raised red flags, but I was 21 and naive and had no idea how these things worked. (Apparently neither did they.) I bought a ticket and got on a plane on a Thursday afternoon.

And finally I was there: in England, Trevor waiting a few hundred yards away, the rest of my life opening out before me.

After waiting in the immigration line, I was greeted by the usual question: “And what brings you to the UK?”

I cheerfully and confidently told the man that I’d been offered a teaching job that I’d be starting in a couple weeks.

His response will echo in my ears for the rest of my life. “Well, I don’t know what made you think you were allowed to work here, but you’re not.”

I remember my heart racing and my mouth going dry, but at this point, I was still pretty sure the mistake was his. I gave him the details of the school and explained that they had applied for my work permit and told me to come, and that I wouldn’t start work until the finalized work permit was in hand. He left me in a chair, fighting terrified tears in front of a sea of jetlagged strangers, while he made some phone calls.

It felt like he was gone for hours. It was the summer holidays, so there were only maintenance staff at the school to answer his call. They knew nothing about me. I assured the immigration man that I would never take a job illegally, that if things didn’t work out with the school, I would just visit for a couple weeks and then go home. Nothing I said mattered. He took and kept my passport and let me come through to rest for two days before traveling home. I was to buy return tickets at my own expense and fly home on Sunday.

When I finally came through the gate and found Trevor, I collapsed into his arms and said, “I’m not here.”

I spent most of the next day calling every authority all of my family’s collective resources could think of. No one could help. Immigration is a law unto itself, and no character reference can get you off the hook with them once you’re on it.

Early early Sunday morning I was escorted onto my plane in one of those blinking, beeping airport golf carts. Once checked in and seated on the plane, I was given back my passport, complete with a stamp, but not the one I (or the school) wanted to see: DENIED ENTRY.

The return journey felt like an ordeal, complete with a long layover in Canada, but eventually, I was home. A place I hadn’t expected to see again so soon. A place where, though I was surrounded by so much love, I felt hopeless and lost and alone.

I cried a lot that night, and the day or two that followed. But then a glimmer of hope came from the most unlikely source.

It was Tuesday, two days after I got home. My sister Paige, six at the time, hated to see me so sad. “I don’t know if this helps,” she offered, “but I think I heard Debbie say she was picking Trevor up from the airport.”

I looked at my mom, pleading with my eyes for her to confirm this rumor. She quickly made up a story about my cousin Jill’s boyfriend coming to visit and called Debbie for her to confirm it, which of course she did.

Of course Trevor wasn’t really coming. Why would he? He had to start his internship in a week. He’d never spend the money to fly over… unless… But no.

I burst into fresh sobs and fell to the floor (if you think I’m being overly dramatic in my telling of this, just ask my mom. It was rough!)

My step-mother Debbie may still be slightly annoyed to this day at my mother’s lack of resolve and spoiling of the surprise, but Debbie wasn’t there. She didn’t see me. My mom did the only thing she could do. She came to me, wrapped her arms around me, and whispered to me, “He is coming. Trevor’s coming.”

On Wednesday, Trevor and my family did manage to genuinely surprise me by having him in an unexpected restaurant a day earlier than I had guessed he’d come.

We couldn’t focus on our appetizers, so we paid for them and drove to a nearby park. There, with a $25 placeholder ring and only geese for witnesses, Trevor asked me to marry him.

The rest, as they say, is history. 22 Easters later, those two crazy kids with the baskets on their heads watched their beautiful oldest daughter get baptized. And today, though we hardly saw each other between work and therapies and church commitments, we remember all that God has blessed us with and we rejoice. (And don’t tell all of these amazing birthday kiddos I’ve been blogging about, but their Daddy is still my favorite.)

2021 Birthday Post 5 of 13: Annis

Our little Annis Octavia is 7 today! This spicy little miss is so hard to put in a nutshell! I thought I’d give you a little peek behind the scenes of planning for her birthday to give you a bit of the flavor of her personality.

This year I’m making each of the kids a mini-me doll wearing an outfit of their choice and complete with one “accessory”. Everyone so far has chosen a favorite stuffed animal for their accessory, and worn a favorite casual outfit. This is what Annis chose:

The notebook is a beloved hand-me-down, and Annis tells me that the R stands for “Ro’s Sister”. She has worn this dress at least once a week on average since Christmas, so it really was the only obvious choice.

This was her birthday wish list. I think it speaks for itself.

Annis prides herself on being the only Young kid to look just like me. In fact, according to her, you can really only tell us apart by the tiny white dot on the tip of her tongue that she was born with.

She might tell you all this herself if you are lucky enough to be one of her people, but she is very selective about who she lets into her rich inner thought world. Our backyard neighbor Miss Pam is one of her chosen ones, and Annis sneaks out to chat with her as often as possible when she sees her out working in her garden.

Annis loves drawing and writing. She wrote a series of short books last Fall about her concerns on various topics. This was one of my favorites (a close second being “Annis’s Concern about Chili” which consisted of one word: “Beans!”)

She had a long-standing penpal relationship with the tooth fairy, which I recently felt convicted to clarify with her. When I explained to her, fearing a most dramatic display of tears and mourning, that it was actually me writing her the letters, she told me matter-of-factly, “well, I knew it couldn’t be a real fairy. The writing was way too big!” (Rookie mistake!)

When she grows up, she wants to be a ballerina, a mom, a pirate missionary, a diver looking for treasure under the sea, and a vegetarian (“cause I just realized…I might be eating a unicorn!”). I think it’s safe to say it’s a little too early to call it 🙂

When I look back at pictures of little Annis, I realize her seven years really have been a bit of a blur. Annis was born just three months after Delia came home in what was probably the most intense period of time our family has ever been through.

And yet she has emerged this feisty, clever, hilarious, loving little person. She is a picture of God’s grace in our lives, of how He gives us good gifts even in the midst of hard trials (and I hasten to add that Delia is a good gift, too! But you’ll have to wait until July to hear more about her.) I am having so much fun watching this girl grow up. She is such a character!

We love you so much, our sweet and spicy girl. Happy birthday, Annis!

2021 Birthday Post 4 of 13: Lewis

Lewis Christian is 14 today! As I completed Lewis’s final post-adoption report a couple months ago (5 years home already! Can you believe it?!), I marveled at just how far this amazing boy has come.

Despite having undiagnosed hearing loss for his first 8 years of life, this boy is an excellent communicator. He can almost always make himself understood using a combination of signs and gestures and approximate words. He works so hard in speech therapy twice a week, and he is loved by all who know him there.

He loves math! He has mastered counting to 20 and is working on adding and subtracting and simple skip counting.

He knows all his letters, can copy anything written, and even has some sight words and words he can spell independently. One of his favorite pastimes is to sit and type text out of a book. He takes great pride in his work and even gets spacing and capitalizations right.

Lewis still loves his old favorite hobbies of Lego, crafts, and puzzles, but he has also learned to crochet this year! I wasn’t sure how crocheting would work for him at first, since he isn’t able to read a pattern. But it turns out he has a remarkable knack for shaping pieces into what he wants, so he really doesn’t need much help at all. As soon as he finishes a project, he gives it to a sibling, every time.

Lewis likes things to be neat and organized, and he is a very willing helper. He loves to sweep, vacuum, rake, and shovel snow. And he’s good at them, too! He’s also the most recent addition to our team of dishwasher-emptiers. Monday is his day, and he won’t even mind doing it on his birthday 🙂

Lewis makes us laugh (or roll our eyes!) with his cool guy moves. He is forever slicking his hair off to the side, wiggling his eyebrows at us (or at himself in the mirror!), or showing off his latest dance move.

And of course he has great moves on the court, too:

He definitely has his stubborn moments, but on the whole, this boy is sweet and enjoys life. He is creative and hardworking, and will definitely be a ray of sunshine in the workplace someday. I look forward to seeing how far he will go.

Happy birthday, Lewis! We love you!

2021 Birthday Post 3 of 13: Niko

Happy 15th birthday to Niko today!

If you’ve been around my blog for a while then you know that Niko was the first to join our family by way of an airplane rather than mommy’s tummy. Would you believe that was NINE years ago? I still remember my heart melting and tears springing to my eyes when I caught my first glimpse of him through the orphanage window almost ten years ago. There he was in the flesh. My boy.

This boy, the one who made me a boy mom after five girls: He has my heart.

Niko hit the ground running in our family at 5 and a half. He found the well-hidden garbage disposal switch, turned the thermostat up to 87, and took a flying leap from his top bunk, all in his first 3 days home, and he hasn’t stopped “helping” and “fixing” and moving ever since.

But let me tell you about this young man now! Niko is so incredibly smart and resourceful. With all the challenges he has faced, we are always extra amazed at what he achieves. This boy is blowing Algebra 1 out of the water this year. (He is limited only by his insistence that 2 and z are written exactly the same way, much to his math teacher’s frustration!) Although written language has always been a challenge for him, we are seeing steady improvement across all areas of his schoolwork. At his last neuropsych evaluation at CHOP, we were told he can absolutely be shooting for college if that is his goal.

In his free time, he enjoys crocheting, writing stories, and learning to code using Scratch. He occasionally still dusts off his Lego, although for the first time ever he didn’t ask for any for his birthday this year (sniff!) He’s also become quite an accomplished baker over the past several months.

He has an engineer’s mind and loves figuring out how things work. He is an avid learner and loves sharing what he’s learned with us.

He is absolutely smitten with his baby brother. Although he has always been really sweet with his little sisters, there is definitely a special bond and fascination with Milo. The admiration is 100% mutual. Can you blame either one of them?

Niko and I may butt heads sometimes, but he has a deep and growing desire to do what’s right. He tries hard, he says sorry when he’s wrong, and he’s quick to forgive me when I am (which is a lot.) He has a ready and infectious smile and gives me hugs throughout my day.

His fierce tenacity may get him into trouble, but it is also what drives him to accomplish anything in life that he puts his mind to. He’s currently interested in pursuing a career in engineering or inventing, and I have no doubt he’s up for the challenge if that’s where the Lord leads.

Nikolai Dickson, you bear the special distinction of being the first child that we got to choose, and I would choose you all over again a hundred times over. I love you, and I’m so thankful God gave you to us.

2021 Birthday Post 2 of 13: Juniper

Our beautiful Juniper Lucy burst onto the scene 12 years ago in my first of two amazing homebirths. She surprised everyone in the room by weighing in at 10 lbs 6 oz, and she was 3 days early!

Junie was the baby of our “original four”, and yet no one ever really remembers her being a baby. She has always been wise and mature beyond her years.

There is a famous story of June, just after her first birthday, trying to fix our broken heating vent. Seeing it was missing a screw, she crawled around the corner, through the living room and into the guest room where she remembered seeing a bucket of odd screws. She chose one and crawled all the way back, where we found her trying to replace the missing screw.

Nowadays, she is the organizer of the family. She is one of our only naturally tidy children, though they all do their part when needed. She is also our Great Finder of Lost Things, with an uncanny knack for locating missing schoolbooks, remotes, and cell phones, usually in the very first place she looks.

She is a bit of a perfectionist in everything she does: her baking, crocheting, cross-stitching, and drawing are all meticulously beautiful.

She is my most faithful running buddy, which is gracious of her, since she would naturally be quite a bit faster than I am. I’ve taken to telling passing strangers on our runs who comment on how far ahead she is that I’m about to lap her. The truth is that with every run she’s getting faster and I’m getting older!

This lovely girl will succeed in whatever she sets her mind to. She has said for several years that she’d like to be a missionary. In particular, she has a heart for Russia, and has been learning the language on Duolingo. But who knows how the Lord will direct her steps? I can’t wait to see!

Happy birthday, Juniper. We love you so, so much!

2021 Birthday Post 1 of 13: Romilly

Once upon a time, I had time to blog about every little thing. My posts were (occasionally) deep and reflective, but most of all: frequent! Over time, as our family grew and life became busy, my blogging spaced out a bit to the point that it mainly consisted of baby and adoption announcements.

As the kids and I were discussing what my birthday crochet theme for the year should be, I began trying to find an escape route. Something equally thoughtful and meaningful I could do for each child that wouldn’t take quite so many hours to prepare. Romilly reminded me that I used to do a blog post for each child on their birthday, and suggested I resurrect the idea for 2021. I loved the idea! I have long been wanting to give a snapshot of what each of my amazing kiddos is up to, and this would give me the perfect excuse to brag on them. (At some point, we also came up with a crochet theme for the year. I’m not sure what happened there.)

So, without further ado, let me tell you about our first birthday girl of 2021 (and every year!) Romilly Alice.

Romilly turns 15 today. Actually, fun fact: she turned 15 at 9:20 pm the night before her birthday. Because she was born at 2:20 am Greenwich Mean Time in the UK, she has the unusual distinction of having her birth *time* not being on her birth *day* when we are in the US, which we almost always are.

Our beautiful second-born daughter spends her days reading, writing, drawing, running, crocheting, and catering to Freya’s every whim. I mentioned her first novel, The Land of Elorien, in a previous post. While she is working on getting that edited and worked into publishable form, she is also well into writing her second novel. She’s also working on an illustrated children’s book about a family of were-creatures, and she blogs at www.theyoungpages.com/romillys_blog/ (and more often than I do at that!)

She has developed an interest in Myers-Briggs personality types (she is an INTP, I think?) (Edit: INTJ! How could I forget the J?!) Having analyzed everyone in the family old enough to test, she often offers us little insightful tidbits about ourselves, like, “hey, dad, did you know you have the personality type most likely to drink multiple cups of tea a day?” It’s a little eerie!

She has her dad’s extremely dry sense of humor and analytical mind, along with a creative flair we don’t quite know where she got. She thinks and feels deeply.

She has an aversion to embedded things, like teeth and eyeballs and little pebbles in concrete, that reminds us that she is still the same quirky little girl who could only wear one certain pair of furry crocs and was terrified of raised playground equipment for years.

We are ever amazed at who that little girl is growing into: this funny, smart, articulate, talented, beautiful young woman. Maybe she’ll be a vet, or an architect, or a writer, or an artist. Definitely not a teacher, she says, although she has a regular gig helping Lewis and Teddy with their math, and she’s good at that, too, so we’ll see.

Happy birthday, Ro (although she doesn’t want to be called Ro anymore, and definitely not Ro-ro, or Rombelina, or Toodle.). I am so blessed to be your mom, and I cannot wait to see what God has in store for you!

One Joyous Day

On the one day of Christmas, this stuff entered our house:

12 pairs of gloves,

11 Pez dispensers,

10 lego sets,

9 balloon creations,

8 scented play-dohs,

7 nesting dolls,

6 bags of marbles,

5 pairs of jeans!

4 pencil sharpeners,

3 crocheted wise men,

2 off-brand Fitbits,

And a mouse named Huckleberry!

* * * * *

But these weren’t the real gifts this Christmas. The story that I can’t begin to quantify is one of peace and thoughtfulness on Christmas day. While some recent Christmases have felt a little bit rushed and chaotic, sprinkled with occasional jealousies and disappointments, this Christmas felt warm and relaxed. Any mom (and especially any adoptive mom) will tell you what a rare and precious gift that is! Here were some of my favorite highlights of Christmas 2020:

  • Everyone pausing on Christmas morning, after only one or two gifts had been opened, to listen to Trevor reading Freya the story book Pippa had written for her.
  • Coraline running upstairs the moment she saw she had received a smart watch (before even opening it) to get Teddy her old watch. I think he was almost as excited about his new watch as she was about hers!
  • Delia having a happy day on Christmas. Because she came home just a week before Christmas seven years ago, this can be a tough and emotional time of year for her. The two weeks before Christmas were rough. Lots of big feelings and trying to retreat into herself. But on the day, she was happy and peaceful. Annis helped her sing along to her new mp3 player. She had a good day, which is something we never take for granted.
  • Niko confiding in me privately and excitedly that he knew the friend he crocheted an army tank for had loved it, even though that friend didn’t give a hugely excited reaction on opening it. (And he was right!)
  • Time with family near and far.
  • Every moment of this boy’s first Christmas. He still feels like such a miracle!
One happy boy and one sleepy one 🙂
  • My six big kids totally surprising me with a beautiful crocheted nativity set! Apparently there were quite a number of near misses over the last couple of weeks, but I was oblivious enough in the busy-ness of Christmas prep to keep the secret safe!

I could go on and on. Despite two not-fully-functional vehicles and at least four Christmas packages that haven’t arrived yet, this Christmas may go down in Young family history as the best ever. It was a perfect storm of happy, thankful kids that doesn’t happen every day and can only really be explained as a gift from God.

I wish you all joy and peace this Christmas season and in the year to come!