Sunday, February 26, 2012

Starting with Nothing

We spent those weeks after court doing 2 things:

1. Chasing paperwork. Waiting. Waiting. And Waiting. Verbal court ruling. Written court ruling. Passports for the kids (which took 2 weeks). Visa interviews with the US Embassy (without visas our kids couldn't enter the US). Picking up visas. 

2. Figuring out what the heck we were doing as parents. 

I think the most difficult thing about becoming parents to 4 "older" children, was that we were starting from nothing. When you start with a baby, you get to make up the rules for a toddler first. You figure out what is a good bedtime and what toys are allowed to be used where and which foods they must eat vs which foods they can choose to eat. You have time to slowly figure out what responses and punishments are most effective. If you adopt an older child after having done the baby thing before, you can add the new child into your pre-formed structure. Now that doesn't mean this is easy, regardless of which way you go about things. But because we had no idea what we were doing, we were making up rules and changing the rules daily. Heck, things were changing hourly. I remember coming out from a shower or something, trading off with Josh, and asking "what new rules or anything do I need to know about?"

One day Josh told the kids after lunch that they could go outside and play or they could choose to take a rest (nap). But if they came inside, that child would then need to stay inside and take a rest. Obviously they chose to go outside. I remember telling Josh "you are a genius!" And I meant it! Thinking up something like that was huge! Josh proceeded to take the kids a tiny little snack every 1/2 hour. They would use these little bits of food to play kitchen (like playing house). They were happy. We were happy. It was awesome!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Not THE Dress Mommy!!!

We had such a short amount of time to prepare for our travels. I hadn't prepared our clothes for court in advance. I found "the" pink dresses for the girls but I couldn't find something appropriate for myself and we were running out of time. Finally I decided to take a dress that I rarely wore and cut it and sew in some elastic to make a skirt. But I didn't realize that the dress was in the photos that I had sent ahead to the kids. When the day for court finally rolled around, I took out my newly crafted skirt and JoAni was horrified. Not THE dress mommy!!!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Things We Didn't Know

There were 10,000 things that we didn't know when when we started all this. But more specifically, I am thinking about the things that were going on in their heads.

I shared before that we didn't know that all the prior parents had taken the kids on the first day. The kids had to have been so confused when we left that first day.

A week or so into things, Josh told me that he heard JoAni telling the other kids that they better be good or we would send them back to the orphanage. I was so angry. I assumed that she was manipulating the other kids. Thankfully there was some reason that I didn't have a chance to talk with them about this for a little while. So when I finally had time, I sat them all down. At this point their English was still very limited and I had to keep it super basic if I wanted Sylvia to understand me so that she could translate for Sarah and Ryan given that at that moment I was not trusting JoAni to translate properly. I told them "if you have good manners, I love you, and if you have bad manners, I love you, no orphanage, no more". Much later, I learned that a pair of siblings had been picked up from the orphanage by a muzungu mommy and daddy. Later those kids were returned to the orphanage without an explanation. Our kids had reason to be afraid of this happening to them. They had seen it happen. Just recently Sylvia told me that those parents packed up in the night and left without saying goodbye. I have no idea what their reason was. Maybe there was a good reason. The information I have is all through the eyes of children. When Sylvia gave me this extra detail I suddenly realized, we had moved hotels multiple times while with the kids while in Uganda. I asked her what she thought the first time we packed up all of our stuff to change hotels. I asked if she thought they were going back, she said a rather firm "yes". Remember when I told you about Sarah going into meltdown after the first time that we changed hotels? She had to have been so very scared that day. I had no idea.

On a lighter note. We bought some hot dogs in Uganda as something that we could make quick and easy. The kids at first liked them. Then they refused to eat them. We were so very tired and so very burnt out and totally frustrated that they wouldn't eat this easy to cook meal. Well their English was still limited and our parenting was still new. JoAni had translated the name of this new food for them... "hot" "dogs".... It took months for us to convince them that hot dogs have no dog in them!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Big Day

October 21, 2011 was our day. It was our court date. For over a week, the girls had been asking if today was THE day when they would get to wear their pink dresses. We got dressed. I put little pink headbands on the girls. Sylvia's shoes were much too big and she had to stuff them with some toilet paper to keep them on. JoAni's shoes were pretty tight but they did fit (by the time we would head back to the States 4 weeks later, you could barely pry them on). Ryan's size 3T pants would barely stay on even when Josh rolled the waste band down 2 times. He also rolled up Ryan's pant legs. The girls were absolutely glowing. 

I have heard of SO many court dates getting rescheduled. We had been warned that sometimes you would show up and wait all day only to find out that the judge wasn't going to be in that day. When a court date gets rescheduled, you don't get your new date right away. You get it when you get it. In the meantime you sit in limbo. So we were thrilled when we arrived at court and an hour or so later were informed that the judge had been seen in the building. Our attorney came to us at one point after 2 or 3 hours of waiting and asked us to not get impatient or give up and that we just needed to wait. We told her that we would happily wait until 8pm if it meant our case being heard that day. 

We learned that our children's grandmother and aunt had arrived. The village elder and another woman from the community also came to testify. The kids were very excited to hear that they were there. It felt wrong to try and keep them apart. So we went to find them. They were all so happy to see each other. We got out their crayons and they showed the pictures that they had drawn. I had put together a little photo book which included pictures of our family and house back home that was to be given to the judge. The girls were so very excited to show their grandmother and all the others. 

I had packed a couple little packages of cookies in my backpack. It was lunch time, we were still waiting, and we were all hungry. So I broke out the cookies but I felt nervous the whole time, thinking that someone would see us sharing cookies with the kids' family and think that I was trying to bribe the family, as if 2 little cookies per person would bribe a person to give up a child. Ethics in adoption is a big deal and so you have to be very careful, but looking back on it now I feel pretty confident that those cookies didn't cross the line.

After about 4 hours of waiting, we were called into the court room. When we entered, another family's case was in the process of being heard. The judge called the adopting mom forward. He asked her many questions. The couple already had one adopted child and they were in the process of adopting 2 siblings. When he asked her if they wanted biological kids, she replied that they didn't know yet. Her answer was not very clear and kind of bounced around. Right away I could feel that the judge didn't like her answer. I don't think he was looking for a yes or no. I just think he was trying to get a picture of what the situation was and didn't appreciate a vague answer when he was trying to determine if they were suitable parents for these two children.

We sat waiting for a good hour before our case was heard. The room was very hot and insanely humid. Sarah sat on my lap. Ryan sat on Josh's lap to the left of me. Sylvia and JoAni shared a chair to my left. Somehow they understood the importance of that day. At one point the kids had to pee. I was rather proud of myself for herding them in and out of the courtroom as quickly and quietly as 4 young children are capable.

The judge questioned the aunt, he called the village elder, and the woman from the community. 75% of the case took place in Lugandan. The whole time I was bracing for the moment when he would call me and question me like the prior adopting mom. It never happened. I would like to think that he saw how well we were getting along with the kids and how they looked well cared for. Then came the grandmother. She was moaning, wincing, and even howling as three people carried her into the room. It's hard to explain what I witnessed. It was clear that she was in support of this adoption. It was clear that she was speaking clearly and telling the judge exactly what she thought, no holding back. When he was done questioning her, he said something and she did a little victory arm shake up in the air. Clearly she felt that it went well. The judge told us that he would give a decision in a week.

After all was said and done we packed up and headed out. Our coordinator told us that he thought it went well. JoAni looked up at us and said "we go to America?" She was so hopeful. I felt horrible that she thought it was done, that she thought it was over, and that it would be that easy. Over the next week or so, I managed to communicate to her that we needed a yes from the judge and a yes from the US embassy in order to go to the States. It was difficult to be honest and help her know what to expect, without scaring her with the idea that it could fall apart. How do explain something so complicated with so much at stake to a kid?

Let's Not Sugar Coat It

Prior to going to Uganda, our agency gave us a piece of advice. I think it was on a conference call with a larger group. They advised us to focus on the positive. To journal about the good things. To write home about the good things. 

I have read a very large number of blogs over the years about adoption. The greatest conflict that I have in my mind about blogging is that I want to respect our kids' privacy. But at the very same time I have come to the realization that the large majority of blogs out there provide a severely, dramatically, and extensively edited picture. I still want to respect our kids' privacy. But I hope to find a balance between that and sugar coating it. I want to be real in an appropriate way.

So here is what is real: That first week that we had the kids was hard. It was really, really, really hard. We were still very sick. We felt isolated in that we were at a guest house where we were the only muzungus. No one else shared our culture. No one else understood the strain of adoption. Don't get me wrong, they were nice, but it's different, we were different. The kids wanted our attention 24/7. I mean literally 24/7 unless they were sleeping. Once we finally had the kids in bed, we would practically stare off into space while sitting on the couch. That or we would scramble to get things done in order to prepare for the next day. I remember talking with my parents via email and they asked if the kids ever played on their own without demanding our attention. I think in the first few days to maybe even a week, we had 30 minutes where they played on their own. We took shifts trading off being with the kids while the other person just crashed. I remember laying down and just crying and crying and crying. I was so very overwhelmed. I was so very exhausted to an extreme I had never known before. I felt alone. You see while Josh and I were on the same page and working together as a team, we barely saw each other. We were almost always within 50 feet of each other, but not interacting directly. It was like a marathon relay race. 

Yes, we asked for all this. Yes, we knew what we were signing on for. Yes, we were (and are) happy. But I can't even begin to explain the extremes that we felt that first week. 

Lotion and Laughing

Written in my journal on Tuesday, October 24, 2011.

Tonight the kids were watching Finding Nemo and I came out with my lotion to put on my legs. All of a sudden they all turned away from their beloved Nemo and started rubbing lotion into my legs. They were laughing and having such fun. Finally my skin could absorb no more and so I told them to rub what was on their hands into their own skin. They wanted more lotion so soon I was dabbing it on each kid as they exclaimed "here! here! here!" as they pointed to their legs, arms, cheeks, noses, or any other inch of exposed skin that they could think to moisturize. They were having such fun. Soon it was time for bed and I sang Jesus Loves Me to each one before tucking them into bed. It was a good end to the day.