Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Maternity Photos by Sarah Siak

It is really nice having a sister who is handy with a camera. She offered to take some maternity photos for me when we got together a week ago, and I'm so grateful that she documented them! She told me that I needed to take maternity photos now while I still have a cute bump and "before you just look fat." Love my sister! :)

So here are a few of our maternity photos! I was 30 1/2 weeks at this time.









I have to be honest... when packing for our trip I totally didn't think about the fact that Israel and Will would be in the pictures with me. So I didn't pack coordinating clothes, and I didn't even tell Will until about 2 minutes before picture time that he had to join in... in the hot sun with mosquitoes and gnats everywhere. It wasn't entirely picture-perfect behind the scenes, but who knows that, right? :) Also, this is NOT a maternity dress... I totally rock this dress in my normal life so next time you see me wearing this and I'm bump-less, remember that I had it before I was pregnant :).

Monday, June 24, 2013

School School School

Completely random fact: My son loves the "All Day with Elmo" DVD, and at the end of each episode they sing a song (kind of to the tune of Jingle Bells?) and in the school episode, the song is just the word "School" repeated over and over to that tune. My husband and I find ourselves singing it when we are talking about school (hence the title of this post... it was me singing it "School School School" like Elmo).

So... I'm four weeks into grad school now! Woo hoo! Halfway through the first semester of the 3 semester long MSW program. It is a mainly-online program but I do attend Saturday classes 4 times per semester. It has been a LOT of busy work but it is manageable when I stick to my plan for the week and take advantage of naptimes + the days that Israel is at school.

I have rekindled the inner nerd in me. I loved school at Auburn and I'm finding that same love for school supplies, checklists, and learning has returned. I have definitely seen God's favor in my school so far and He has really allowed me to maximize my time and to use the gifts he has given me for writing and learning. I truly want to glorify God in this, because His hand has been all over this opportunity for me to go back and get my masters!

Israel is still doing really well at school too! He is probably moving out of the baby class into the toddler class around August! That will be bittersweet but I am so thankful for a school that has truly loved my son and wants him to meet the goals we have set. I love his teachers and just love everything about UCP.

Will is also in school, working towards his phd, and he has to take a French proficiency exam in 3 weeks! He also goes to class for a week in August right before the baby comes, so he is busy gearing up for that. It is nice that we are both in school, but it is a bit complicated sometimes when we both need to study!

So, our life is a bit crazy with school this summer. But I'm so thankful for the opportunities we have been given to learn and grow!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

My Son is Awesome

So, I've fallen off the wagon of updating every month for Israel. Last we left off, he was 18 months old... but now he's a 20 month old and doesn't resemble a baby anymore. He's so big! So, here are a few of my favorite things about Israel:

  • He sings all the time. In the car, in his crib, to his hands, to the mirror, etc. He loves to sing. It is precious.
  • He makes the most amazing facial expressions! I don't know which is my favorite- the one where he leans back and makes a great double chin, or his new pout when he gets in trouble. 
  • He still has a tiny foot. Rocking the size 3 shoes and he's not ashamed of it. 
  • He LOVES his daddy and Will can make him belly laugh so easily when Will pretends to get hurt, or when Will throws a ball. 
  • Israel loves the water! Going to the pool = instant happiness. He gets bored after a few minutes so we have to rotate between splashing, playing with the sprinkler, or kicking. But all in all, it is an easy hour adventure. 
  • He wakes up SO happy. He sings and claps and kicks his mattress so the whole bed will shake. He lights up when one of us goes into his bedroom to get him up. 
  • He started reaching for us on Mother's Day. I have waited so long for him to reach for me! Sometimes it is frustrating when I need a mommy break and he reaches for me out of someone's arms... but I always take him because I want him to know that when he reaches for me, I'm his. Love this boy!
  • He loves his sippy cup. He bangs it on the high chair or table and makes some great faces when water squirts out. 

  • Apple juice is the best thing ever. He is so silly when he drinks it. 
  • He is so resilient. I can't believe all that he has been through. 
  • Israel loves to throw his toys. He will pick them up, examine them closely, then chuck them as far as he can. He constantly has a big semi-circle of blocks or balls around him from where he has thrown things. 
  • He still locks his knees when we stand him up. And he will death grip whatever (or whoever) is holding him up when he's standing. 
  • When he is really defiant and just won't keep his glasses on, he looks at whoever is around (me, Will, babysitter) to make sure we are watching him take his glasses off. Sometimes he just paws at his glasses while you tell him No. 
  • Everytime he (or anyone else) makes any bodily noises he just thinks its hilarious. If he burps or passes gas, you MUST acknowledge it or he gets really offended. 
  • He talks non-stop. His "goodagoodagooda" and "babababa" are constant.
  • He will self-feed with really big things until he gets down to whatever is left in his fist. 
  • His favorite shows are Baby Einstein and Elmo's World. Anything else brings on tears and frustration.... he knows what he wants. 
 
  • He thinks he is awesome when he drinks out of a cup or water bottle (with help from mommy or daddy). 
  • He loves taking walks in the stroller.
  • He will scream and cry in shopping carts with mommy... but anyone else, he just turns on the charm. I try to leave him home if I can when I need to grocery shop. 
  • He loves school and loves his teachers Ms. Mill and Miss Summer.  He's in the "tadpole" baby room now, but he's going to be moved into the "frog" room by August. 
  • He is such a good snuggler. He still loves to be rocked and will take really long naps if I lay down with him.
  • There is an 8x10 picture picture of his face close-up from when he was at Hannah's Hope on his night stand. He thinks that baby is hilarious and will sing and talk to him when we're in the rocking chair. 
  • He can turn the pages of a board book if you show him the pages, but he will very quickly shut the book if you don't watch out. 
  • Every time we change his diaper, he sticks his feet next to his face, showcasing his flexibility and giving us easy access to his diaper region. 
I LOVE this sweet boy! 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pregnancy Update

This pregnancy has FLOWN by! I can't believe I am a few weeks into my third trimester, in fact I'm 31 weeks today! Here are a few picture updates:





It has been such a crazy experience watching my belly grow. It is bizarre to me that I look like the girl in the picture above! Is that really me?! My belly is HUGE!

I love, love, love feeling Edith's kicks. Even though sometimes they are not so dainty and more aggressive. It is especially fun when I am holding Israel and Edith is kicking me at the same time- I am very aware that I am momma to two babies.

I am constantly so hot. It doesn't help that our A/C has been really inconsistent this summer and it has been 90+ degrees out some days. We have been at the pool a lot! It has been hard to sleep because trying to find a comfortable position seems impossible, and I am so hot that I don't want anything touching me. I am also swelling a good bit. I've given up on wearing my wedding bands, and I am down to two pairs of flip flops that work with my swollen feet. I have definitely noticed some swelling in my face, but my darling husband claims that I look normal. Bless him.

This has continued to be just a surreal process. When I am ready to complain, I quickly think of Israel's birth mom and imagine what life was like for her during her pregnancy, and I am humbled. I also look at my ever-moving, growing belly and just praise God that there is a little life inside of me. We're also so thankful that Edith seems to be growing well and is healthy. We got to see her again on an ultrasound at 29 weeks, and she weighed 3 lbs 3 ounces, and looked well!

Overall, this pregnancy has been incredibly smooth, and I am so thankful for that. We are in a very busy season this summer, so I haven't really taken much time to just sit and think about Edith. But we do love this girl already and are grateful to be given the opportunity to parent another baby. Thankfully, her nursery has been finished for a while now, and we have a little baby shower on Thursday here in Jacksonville to get the last little bit of things we need for her!

The countdown is ON! I have asked to be induced early so that I can have a week between her birth and my fall grad classes starting (I'm due on August 20, and classes start August 21!). We would really appreciate your prayers on the timing of the birth, since Will is going to be gone for school the first week in August. We trust God's timing and know that He sovereignly planned our Edith.

Monday, June 10, 2013

One Year Home: Reflections on Cocooning

One year ago, my husband and I began our experience with hands-on parenting our first child. We had anticipated becoming parents through adoption for years, so finally having our son home seemed surreal as we began wading through the waters of first time parenthood. As most adoptive parents are, we were very educated on attachment and cocooning, and had a very thorough transition plan (per our agency's requirements) for the months after our son came home.

How did it all work out for us?

Well, for starters, we decided to have an airport party where close friends and family came to meet Israel before we entered into hiding. Only my husband and I held him there, but we allowed for pictures and for friends to see up close just how amazing and adorable our sweet boy was! Then, we went home and hunkered down for several weeks, where we didn't have visitors (aside from the lovely people who delivered meals) and no one really saw Israel (aside from my 1,000 instagram photos, of course).

Between 4-6 weeks, we finally let our parents come over and spend a short amount of time with us. We let our moms hold Israel while he was sleeping (after I rocked him to sleep) so they were able to get the experience of holding him. Between 2-3 months home, we finally started to let Israel be held by family members for short periods of time when he was awake.

At about 4 months home, we emerged from the cocoon. We went to church, we had our parents babysit for short date outings, and we were taking Israel to more stimulating places like Wal Mart or ministry events.

We were very dilligent with our plan, because we knew we only had one shot to do this thing right, and we didn't want to live with regrets on how our attachment process went because we had been lazy. Our friends and family were very understanding and patient, which was a huge help. Our moms later confessed that they worried how THEY would feel towards Israel, since they weren't given the immediate bonding experiences they had with their other grandkids- but now they have the same relationship with him that they would have pictured if he was biologically ours.

How are things for us now?

Israel has a very healthy relationship with both Will and I. He has a strong preference for us above any other person, yet he is able to be happy with babysitters and when we are away for short periods. He has a very strong relationship with his grandparents and he even knows the difference between them and other adults who are strangers. He is able to make healthy relationships with others and we are confident that he is bonded with us as well. He can be held by others and I don't have to worry if he is bonding with them in an unhealthy way, or if he is parent shopping.

I know he is still a (non-communicative) baby, but we are very thankful for the foundation we are laying with Israel and that we took the time to be intentional about his first few months. As first-time parents, it was really nice to have a few weeks without distractions or input from others as we figured out how to be parents to our little man. In hindsight, those weeks of cocooning seemed to just speed by and it is hard to remember that we even did anything different, even though those days seemed to drag by when we were in the middle of it.

At a year home, we are exactly where we wanted to be with Israel and his attachment. I'm going to give credit to our gracious Father for healing wounds and for knitting our hearts together. I think it is wise to cocoon and I will gladly encourage any family that is on the fence about its importance! Our children are worth the investment of our time and the inconveniences that cocooning can cause. It is such a short time anyway! Let me know if you have questions!

Friday, June 7, 2013

My Family Stands Out

I remember back three years ago, when we were starting our adoption and required to do lots of adoption education, we took an online course called "Conspicuous Families" and was about how your family will always stand out from now on. This course made us write out HOW we would answer certain rude or obnoxious questions about being a multiracial family. Back then, it was hard to know exactly how we would, because our son wasn't there. Plus, there is something different about answering on paper and answering in real-life.

My husband and I live in rural Alabama, and the number of families with children than are 1. adopted or 2. don't look like their parents are few. I've come to terms with the looks and comments, for the most part, but sometimes I'm more aware of the fact that our family looks different to people.

It doesn't bother me right now, but I know that one day our son Israel will understand what the looks are and what the questions really mean. Will and I were explaining to a couple recently about how our family experiences attention (negative or positive) in public: you either get praise, disgust, or stares. Most people feel like they have to say SOMETHING to prove they are okay with your family situation, or give a big stare down if they are not okay with it. About an hour after this conversation, we all went out to dinner and a white woman came up to us and made a big show about how cute Israel was, and then said she had grandchildren that looked like him. Our friends were surprised that it was true, that we really can't just enjoy a dinner out without some kind of acknowledgement that Israel is different.

I remember when Israel was younger and I would wear him in the Ergo almost everywhere. At the grocery store I would get the most bizarre looks as my black baby was nestled close to my white body. My favorite comment was one time when I was by myself with Israel, and a black man said "Is that your son?" "Yes" "Well you guys make some pretty babies." "Thanks!" And I just left it at that. I didn't feel like I needed to explain our adoption at all.

I think what I didn't expect was that I wouldn't always want to talk about adoption. When we were in the adoption process (especially in the early part of it) I felt the desire to talk about adoption with everyone, and when I thought about being a conspicuous family in the future, it would lead to positive conversations about adoption every time. Well, sometimes I'm not in the mood to talk about adoption, or the timing is just weird or I'm in the checkout line of Wal-Mart and my son is screaming because he hates the grocery cart. For me, I don't want to feel the pressure to talk about adoption all the time because when I look at Israel I don't always think adoption- I just think: my son.

What I want to say to other families who are also conspicuous is this: process it how you want. You won't always have a textbook answer reply, and it is okay to do what you need to do to protect your family. Sometimes that means kindly educating others, sometimes that means walking away. I'm thankful that I have a few more years before I have to really master this area when Israel can start to understand.

To families who are not conspicuous: Don't feel like you have to verbally affirm families everytime you see someone who has adopted. Sometimes it is nice to just go in public and feel normal. If you want, smile at them or say "you have a beautiful family." You don't have to share your story about someone you know who has adopted every time you see someone who has adopted children.

I really don't mind being a conspicuous family. I love my son's skin color and think he is the most beautiful thing in the world. I am not ashamed to be different, and honestly the only times I ever really think about the fact that Israel does not look like my husband and I is when others remind me. I'm thankful for the way God shaped our family, and hope that when people look at our family, they see a little piece of the way the Kingdom will be when Christ returns.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Striving for Faithfulness

Let me put this out there in full disclosure: I am a bit overwhelmed!

There is a lot going on right now, with Israel and pregnancy and grad school and upcoming trips and Will being gone a lot this summer. I feel like I'm constantly needing to be doing or planning and I feel the pressure to be fully present in every aspect, when it seems impossible some days.

I was talking to Will about what things I was working on for school, and how I was worried about doing well on a certain project, and he reminded me of something I promised him back when I applied for grad school: I'm striving for faithfulness, not excellence.

That is hard, y'all! I want to make all A's. I want to be the best mommy, to be a great cook and to have a clean house. But I can't do it all. There are things that won't be perfect and my life outcome is not shaped by excellence but faithfulness. Am I faithful to do what is most important? Am I making the right things priorities, and not ignoring what priceless things, like my family, are before me?

I think I need to tattoo this on my hands or make it my screen saver: FAITHFULNESS NOT EXCELLENCE!!! Who's with me?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Hopeful

Things have been busy this past month, hence the slowdown in blogging. I traveled to Tuscaloosa for orientation, then started my online classes last week. We've been gone a lot doing random little weekend trips, and the rest of our summer is going to be a big mix of traveling + school.

But amidst the craziness of our schedules, we have continued working with Israel towards our goals for him and his delays. That involves therapy, doctor appointments, referrals for specialists, and our daily exercise activities.

We are in a place where it seems like there hasn't been any improvement in a long time, yet we are hopeful for change and for Israel to move forward. I think Israel being in school has been a great thing for him, and we have talked with his teachers and support team at the EI center to set goals for him there. One of our therapists said we can work towards having Israel in a walker by August and we are so excited that it could be a reality for him!

I'll be honest with you.... having hope is hard some days. Sometimes it is really discouraging to be in the same place, working on the same things, and taking steps backwards sometimes. It is hard to see kids who are younger than Israel doing things that I wish he could do. It is hard not comparing him. It is hard to hear the complaints of other mothers about their kids getting into trouble because of their mobility, self-feeding, or speech when I just ache for him to do any of those things at all. The other night we were watching "Parental Guidance", a great new movie out on Redbox right now, and there was a part (spoiler alert) where the boy who is in speech therapy finally does a stutter-free performance. The parents were crying and celebrating, and I was sitting there on my couch crying too. I can't wait until Israel walks, talks, eats by himself, reads himself a book, etc. I want so badly for him to do things by himself and to be mobile. I want our hard work, co-pays, hours of dedication to show fruit.

But we are hopeful. We have to be! We also trust God's sovereignty and are so thankful that Israel is seriously precious and such a joy to parent. He may not be moving forward in physical milestones but he is constantly amazing us with his silly personality. We couldn't have been given a more precious gift than our Israel Biruk. We know God is doing much during this season and we are choosing to trust Him in it, even if it is hard and not natural for us. We have to remind ourselves that while we seek answers from physicians and professionals, we must first seek the Lord and trust Him.
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