Beautifully Broken (part 1)

This month is National Adoption Month. There have been so many beautiful posts and pictures about parents and children becoming families. All of the posts that I’ve seen are by parents. For the concluding day of Adoption Month, I thought I might add a siblings point of view with you all. (though now I’ve realized this will be super long, and not done in one post…)

I had a great childhood. I was the fourth child in my family, and the only girl. Ever the charmer, I stole my daddy’s heart and enjoyed the perks of being the only princess.

I can still remember my dad calling my mom, asking about a baby at the hospital. My ever-listening ears heard words like “little girl” and “no family” and “very sick”. My mind raced with these words: “could I have a sister?” “I love babies!” “I know we can find just the right spot for her in the house.” My mom tried to head me off, telling me how sick she was, and that she was going to die. That didn’t stop me, and I sat on her feet, begging for a sister.

This was the first time my little heart would break over a hurting baby. The thought of a baby being left alone was more than my head could comprehend.
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Growing up in a two-girl house had its fair share of challenges. Bonding was not one of them. Hope merged into our family beautifully. It seems that she’s always been here. She taught me how to share, to accept being wrong, to enjoy every moment that life brings, and to never turn a heart baby upside down. 😉

My life would be pretty normal for a long time. When I turned 12 , my parents gave me another sister, biologically, this time. Grace was the sweetest baby and -being 12- I was allowed to hold her much more often that 6 year old me was allowed to hold Hope. (And I don’t blame them!)

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Around the time I started college, my parents started talking about adopting again. My parents included us all in the conversations, because it would affect us all. I rememeber thinking, “more babies? How much could that really affect me?”

Boy, how wrong I was.

We first got matched with Maisey, and the girl count upped to three. Her little face stole my heart, instantly. After her, we were matched with Ben. This was new territory, as the first little brother. I was expecting my parents to go to China, come back, and our family would go back to normal. I was not expecting my heart to be broken again, and more severely.

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We expected Maisey to be deaf, so I was anticipating a scared little girl when she came home. Instead, we got a kiddo who could hear quite a bit, caught on to signs crazy fast, and adjusted to loving pretty darn quickly.

What I didn’t anticipate was Ben.

When Ben came home, he was so scared. He hid food everywhere- floor vents, toy cars, bookshelves, pillowcases- because he was so scared that there wouldn’t be any food. He had never had a momma to give him snacks, or a sister to sneak him candy, or a fridge that was always stocked. It completely broke me to watch him. How could a toddler understand what it means to not have food? To be alone? 424290_4371545496809_223551253_n.jpg

Ben taught me the importance of connection, family and love. He showed me how vital it is to have connections early on in life, and how necessary it is to go back and rebuild the connections when they aren’t there.

To be continued…

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First Week of Summer Break!

School is out! Besides sleeping in, watching movies, and playing new video games, Reece and I have spent a lot of time with the kiddos on my first week off. Between doctors appointments and parents visiting Wisconsin, Reece and I have had quite a bit of fun.

**Warning: if you don’t want to see a ridiculous amount of pictures of the Littles and Middles, you should skip this one…**

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Weekends are video game and Kindle time. Reece has been teaching the kids how to play Minecraft, and we have been revisiting my childhood with MarioKart 8. If you want to hear the Littles talk, ask them about Mario!

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Victory for Eli!

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Maisey frequently watches videos with the speaker of the Kindle next to her head. She likes it better than headphones, for some silly reason.

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Game faces on everyone!

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Evie: “Oh, I like-a when Reece help me play. Yay!”

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Eli: “This is my Mario-winnin’ face!”

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Codey even joined the fun! It could have been because my allergies are making me sneeze every five minutes. Sneezing is his favorite thing. No, we don’t know why. Haha.

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Group picture!

Then, Mom found a new sprinkler. We may have forgotten to mention that hose water is cold….. 🙂

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“Save me, Hopey!”

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Those faces say it all…

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Maisey was signing “Water, Play, Fun!”

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Lainey’s belly laugh just kills me.

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This is what happened when she saw the camera. She’s figuring it out!

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“I pose, pose, pose, like this, and then you just do the camera. Okay? You can do it! I pose good, so your job is easy.”

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I just adore these faces.

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They tried so hard to take a good group picture….

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I have loved seeing these faces more! I enjoy my job, but I have missed seeing Reece, my mom, and the kids so much. Stay tuned for more updates on our summer adventures. 🙂

Just In Case

Saturday, we had Ben’s Day.

Ben’s Day was filled with Ben’s favorite things: Panda Express, water balloon fights, The Iron Giant, ice cream, hanging out with family, and bus rides. He wanted to have chicken noodle soup for lunch before he realized that he could actually pick somewhere for lunch! Ben Day also got us this picture:

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Not too shabby, right? I lucked out and got to play with the fancy camera all day. I like taking pictures, but I’ve never been one for hogging the camera. As the kids were wandering out in these adorable t-shirts (made by the lovely HeritageKidsDesigns ) and I couldn’t help but take pictures of them.

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As I was going through all eight million (okay, two hundred) pictures that I took, the kids kept asking me why I was taking so many pictures. Which honestly got me thinking, “Why did I take so many pictures?” Another look showed me that I took quite a few pictures of this handsome face.

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I mean: can you resist that face? Neither can I. 🙂 But again, I asked the question: why so many pictures? The answer I kept getting around to: just in case.

I wanted them, just in case.

I wanted every scrunchy eyebrow, every giggle, every smirk, just in case.

I wanted Baby Ellsbury to have a picture with Uncle Ben, just in case.

I wanted everyone to have one more picture with Ben, just in case.

That thought shattered me once I had put it into words. Here I was taking pictures of my brother just in case he dies. But that’s the hard truth, right? He could very well go to Boston and not come back. These could very well be the pictures I have to print out for a funeral board instead of a wall collage.

That’s the beauty of my siblings, though. They have taught me more than I could have ever imagined. They have taught me to love without fear of the future, but they have also taught me to cherish the moments in the “just in case”

I always kiss my husband goodbye in the morning – just in case.

I try my hardest to make time for every “I need a waid in my hair” and “Can you give me pretty curls?” –just in case.

I try to play more and worry less – just in case.

Because, when the just in case finally does happen, it’s the kisses and the waids and the dance parties and the pictures that will be soothing to my heart.

“I won’t let sadness steal you from my arms. I won’t let pain keep you from my heart
I’ll trade the fear of all that I could lose. For every moment I’ll share with you” -Mark Hammitt

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Not The Spring Break I Had In Mind…

As you might know, I teach second grade. My husband is currently in college, and we were lucky enough to have our Spring Break dates line up. We were planning on driving up to Chicago, then over to Madison to see my brother and sister-in-law. Fun little road trip to take a break from life. It ended up being that Mom and Dad left for China right after Valentine’s Day, and they would be back right before Spring Break. Perfect timing, right?

Mom and Dad took Jessica to children’s hospital 1.5 hours away, to check on her kidneys. Her levels ended up being so bad that they needed to hospitalize Jessica. Mom needed to be there for comfort, and Dad needed to be there to watch all the complexities that Jessica has. So, Reece and I stayed with the kids. The plan was that she would only be in the hospital for a day or two, so we pushed back our plans a few days. A slight hiccup, but no big deal.

Then we found our that her stay would be a week. With that length, we either had to leave the kids and grandma to fend for themselves, or cancel our plans.

We cancelled our plans. 

I’ll be honest with you, I was upset. School has taken quite a toll, and after three weeks of parents in China, I was ready for the vacation. I was grumpy and pouted quite a bit. But then the temperature hit 70 degrees, and we took the kids outside, and I saw this….

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How can you not fall in love with that face? I decided that being a grump wouldn’t get Jessica home any faster, so I would just need to fix my attitude. Besides, this is the second China trip that has ended with a hospital stay, and the second time I have been left to assimilate a kid fresh from China. Last year, Jasmine’s hospital stay left us at home with Elyse and Max. I didn’t screw them up, so I figured we could manage it again. Plus, I had two native Mandarin speakers on my side this time. Easy, peasy, right?

Since the original plan didn’t work, here’s what my Spring break looked like: 

Spring Break looked like confusion: Liam was very hesitant with me at first. I don’t think he had any idea what to do with me. He called me “mama” a lot, but that was because the nannies at the orphanage made the kids refer to every worker as “mama”. Liam and I would repeatedly play a game where I would put his hand on his chest and say “didi” (little brother) and then put his hand on my chest and say “jiejie” (big sister). After about a million times, I think we got it.

 

Spring Break looked like happiness: Because we have Mandarin speakers, it was easy for me to get a “grocery wish list” out of him. His face when we brought home everything on his list was priceless. I was so glad to be part of his experience of being loved and taken care of by his family.

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Spring Break looked like heartbreak and healing: Speaking of family, it was amazing to watch Liam discover what a family is like. The sweet boy clearly didn’t know what a family would be like: he cried every time I had to help him with his wet pull-up, because he used to get in trouble for wetting himself. I watched him gag on potatoes because he didn’t believe us when we said he could eat whatever he wanted, that he didn’t have to clean his plate, and that he didn’t have to eat it if he didn’t like it. It absolutely broke my heart to see his face, trying to force down the potatoes so that I would be happy with him.  I think me making him spit them out and then me almost crying got through to him, because he’s been much freer with his food choices and his willingness to say that he doesn’t like something.

Big brother Ben has been a huge part of Liam’s transition in our family. Ben frequently walks around with Liam, pointing out things and telling him the English word. We learned phrases like  洗你的手 (shi ne de shou) – wash your hands- to help show Liam that he doesn’t have to lose his native language. I can’t believe how easily he has accepted being a part of a family. He’s still learning what family means, but we’re off to a great start.

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Spring Break looked like bonding: One of the hardest parts about being back up mom is the bonding piece. I don’t want to bond with them too much, but I don’t want to leave them hanging, either. What I’ve come to find: they know who their mama is. No matter how much owie kissing and food giving and cuddling and tucking in I do, he will not every think of me as mama. It is phenomenal to me, but it’s so true. That being said, I wanted to make sure I provided for as many needs as humanly possible for Liam; he’s a tenderhearded little guy, and we want him to learn that it is okay to tell us when he is sad or hurting. He had hurt himself before dinner time, and I had been cuddling him for at least ten minutes. I handed Liam off to Reece, so that I could get dinner going. He cuddled with Reece (Liam likes Reece quite a bit) but you could tell he still wanted me. Enter: the backpack. I have a MeiTai that my siblings call the backpack, that I cart them all around in. I tossed him on my back, gave him a cookie, and proceeded with dishing up dinner. He had on the biggest grin! He even asked to ride again while I was serving breakfast. 🙂

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Spring Break looked like Christ’s love: One of my favorite parts of forgoing our Spring Break trip was watching my siblings see people serving. My parents belong to a rather small church, and yet they managed to bring us dinner for quite a few nights while my parents were in China; no small feat when you’re feeding our army. When they heard that my parents would be gone again, their immediate answer was: let us serve you more. They absolutely blew me away with their selfless love for us. They asked about favorite meals and ingredients, sent paper plates and napkins to ease the trouble of dishes, and managed to send the most delicious desserts. Then, I find out that my Mom’s circle of China-adoption-momma’s sent us a crazy amount of pizza and cookies.

The middles kept asking me why all these people were feeding us. To be able to tell them that they were blessing us and serving us and coming along side us in our time of need, was amazing. They were astounded that people would be so willing to serve us. Good work, friends. You blew their minds. 🙂

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Spring Break looked like fun: At the end of the day, I have to admit that I had a lot of fun. Reece and I were able to spend lots of time with the kids, playing outside in the beautiful spring weather, teaching the kids new games, and spoiling them with popsicles. Though this wasn’t the Spring Break I had in mind, I’ve loved (almost) every minute of it.

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My Own Little Holland

When I was young, I heard the poem called “Welcome to Holland” which Kingsley wrote to describe her life as a mother of a special needs child. She talks about planning for Italy, but ending up in Holland. Both have their beauty, but Holland was not what you had in mind. I’ve included it here, so that you can read it if you haven’t before. If you have, go on and skip down. 🙂

WELCOME TO HOLLAND

by
Emily Perl Kingsley.

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.

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When I was younger, I understood that this poem resonated with a lot of parents. I understood that, but it never resonated with me. “Surely it should,” I would think, “after all, I’m a sibling of special needs kids, and that’s close to a parent, right?”

Wrong.

As I’ve mulled this over for weeks and weeks, I’ve finally realized why this never made complete sense to me: I grew up in Holland.

As a younger sister of a brother with special needs, I was an American born in Holland.

I knew I was American (hint: “normal”) but Holland was home to me. I learned to speak their language, where prescription medication and medical procedure names roll off the tongue and auto-correct in your texts. I learned to appreciate their celebrations, where we throw parties for getting off medications and people cry when the delayed four year old says their name. I learned their culture, where co-sleeping, oximeters, doctor’s appointments, wheelchairs, hearing aids and restricted diets are the norm.

I love Holland. It made me into the person I am today; it’s made me appreciative, compassionate, more gentle, more forgiving, and more willing to serve. It’s made me more aware of the people around me, and most of all, it’s given me many friends who, too, live in Holland.

Here’s the problem: there’s a big world outside of Holland.

The world outside of Holland is a fast-paced race to the top, where test scores and high pay and skills and abilities reign supreme. Where we always need to know who is the best, and tell others that they need to be striving towards that person’s abilities; where the different, the odd, the outcasts, are looked down upon in pity or distain. The world outside of Holland is a place that finds no sorrow in “getting rid of” unborn disabled children because of their disability.

As I grew up, I thought there was a lot that I was missing from not being around “normal” people all the time. The community of parents and families of children with disabilities is its own unique group. As I grew up and ventured out of my little Holland, I realized something…

I don’t like life outside of Holland much.

I don’t like a world that can’t or won’t accept all little people, regardless of their ability. I don’t like a world that thinks my siblings are a waste of resources, who think that my friends’ children weren’t worth saving, or that they are hopeless because they can’t score high on standardized tests. I don’t like a world where they can’t stop to see the beauty of their smile, their life, their joy.

As an adult, a lot of people come to me to ask about what adoption and having special needs children has “done to me”. They ask because they want to know if they are going to mess up their child. They might have to share a room, they might have to give up extra things, or they might have to share mom and dad while a sibling is in the hospital. I realize that all of those things are hard for a person that didn’t grow up in Holland to understand; they are hard. I won’t lie; it is hard to have to pick and choose activities, it is hard to have parents be split between home and hospital. But the more I grow up and assimilate myself into the real world and the work force, I realize how blessed I have been to have been gifted these siblings. God chose them, and he brought them to my family for a reason. They have taught me grace, peace, love, joy, sorrow, faith, and so much more. They have taught me to sacrifice myself for the needs of others, to consider others above myself, to celebrate small victories, and to always show love.

All the Difference

We’ve had some rough conversations at our house recently. During Jasmine’s surgery, they tried to complete a muscle biopsy. This could tell us what exactly Jazz has, which will let us know what we’re up against. While we’re waiting, we’ve been narrowing down the options, based on her history and where she’s at now. None of the choices give her an abundance of time. As we’ve talked it’s become more real to little Grace. She’s got an old, sweet soul, and it’s hitting her hard. We were at WinterJam Friday night, and Jeremy Camp played one of our favorite songs.

“But I hold on to this hope and the promise that He brings 
That there will be a place with no more suffering

There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, and no more fears
There will be a day when the burdens of this place, will be no more, we’ll see Jesus face to face
But until that day, we’ll hold on to you always

Troubled soul don’t lose your heart
Cause joy and peace he brings
And the beauty that’s in store
Outweighs the hurt of life’s sting “

Though we all love this song at my house, it sunk in with a heavier weight tonight. Poor Grace just lost it, and spent the song crying the most heart-breaking tears. Tears that shouldn’t have to fall from the eyes of a child. But they did, and they will, and we will never be truly ready for those kind of tears.

Luckily, friends, we serve a God who is our Comforter and our Strength, His thoughts above our thoughts and His ways above our ways. He has a plan, and Jasmine is a part of it. Though His plan has included tragedy, pain, loss, rejection, and suffering, her life now includes joy, laughter, family, hugs, and love.

Do I know that losing Jasmine will hurt? Yes.

Do I dread that day with every bone in my body? Yes.

But here’s the deal. Just as she has been adopted into our family, Jasmine has been adopted into the family of God. This is the game-changing piece here, folks. When Jasmine goes Home, she will be in the presence of the Almighty God, and someday we’ll join her in forever singing His praises. It’s hard to dwell of the sadness of death when there is so much to anticipate.

Do I know how much it will hurt? Yes.

Do I want that day to stay as far away as humanly possible? Yes.

Do I know, despite the pain and suffering in this life, I will spend eternity dancing at the throne of the King with a sister who will be made whole by Him? Yes, and that makes all the difference.

My Mother’s Day Letter

I don’t know if you guys know this, but I have a pretty spectacular momma. Since she never seems to be in the state or the country when Mother’s Day rolls around, I can’t ever nominate her for those “tell us how awesome your mom is” things. So, since I can’t tell them how great she is, I’ll just tell all of you. 🙂

 

Dear Momma,

I know this is going to embarrass you and, yes, I’m going to do it anyway. You are amazing, yet you brush it off whenever someone tells you. You always tell me that I don’t need to tell people about you, cause you aren’t that great of a momma; but you really are. You’ve taught me so many things that I am so thankful for, so I figured I would share a few on here. 🙂

Love:

I have never seen anyone who is so ready to love. You mommy everyone- family, friends, strangers- and I love it. You’ve shown me how to love people unconditionally, even when they don’t deserve it. Whenever my reaction was anger, you would remind me that everyone needs love and the benefit of the doubt. You’ve shown me how much good a smile or a hug can do for someone. You have always been the person that I knew would love me no matter what I did; the person I can always count on to be there for me, even when I mess up royally. You taught me how deep a mother’s love is, both by your love for me and your love for all the littles. I can only hope that I can love my children as fiercely and loyally as you have loved me. 

Happiness:

Along with love, you taught me happiness. I have always been “too-happy” in the eyes of most people, to the point where people in the store would tell you to rein me in. Instead of being upset with me, you would respond with Psalm 118:24, “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”. You taught me that, as long as I was happy with the life God has given me, good or bad, that happy was a good way to go through life. I have been so blessed by you; it would have been easier for you to raise me and make me be quiet at still. Instead, I grew up with (and still have) a momma who will break out into musical numbers with dance routines whenever the urge strikes, who will laugh and joke with me, who doesn’t mind my incessant need to move, and who showed me that it’s okay to be me. Though I’ve grown up, I still laugh easily, sing easily, and skip easily. Though I’ve grown up, you taught me that I can still be a kid at heart. 

Faith:

I have been so blessed to have been raised by a mom who is so ready to trust in God’s plan for our lives. We have gone through hard times in our lives, and we’ve signed up for more, but you are always content because you know that God has a plan for us. His way are higher than our ways, His thoughts higher than our thoughts. Because of that, you trust that His plan will someday make sense, even if we don’t understand it now. I have been blessed to be raised by a mom who taught me that it is okay to be laughed at and made fun of, as long as it is because we are doing the right thing. Though standing up for what I believe and going against the normal trends that society offers can be brutal, you taught me that there are more important things than being liked by everyone. I struggled with this when I was young and you always told me, “If everyone likes you, you’re probably doing something wrong.” I realized just how true that was when I got to college. I am so thankful that you introduced me to that concept long before I had to face it head on. 

I love you, momma. I am so blessed to have you, not only as my momma, but as my friend.