In Training

Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Prov. 22:6)

Ephrem is at an age where I hear the phrase, “I want to do it! Let me do it!” enough to make my brain scream. (He seems to have an internal sensor for when we’re running late because that inevitably is when he throws a fit about whatever-it-is-that-he-wants-to-do-himself.) While this streak of independence often makes us at least 5-10 minutes late no matter how much time I pad into our departure, I’m beginning to value his insistence on doing things himself.

While it’s easier, faster, and more convenient for me to [insert: brush his teeth, brush his hair, get him dressed, etc.] for him, in the long run, that’s not best for him. He has to learn – to train – to do the things he needs to do every day for himself. Some day he will be an adult and I am preparing him for that day.

So I’ve been considering how to train my children. For training to be successful, you need a goal. We need a purpose for what we’re doing, a focus. Many times new runners start with the idea of completing a 5k after some period of time – a purpose for getting out every day and running even when they don’t feel like it. This goal, this focus helps them to do the work necessary to achieve their goal.

I’ve developed a goal for how I want to parent – the end point for what I hope my parenting achieves: I want my children to love and fear God (spiritual); love people (relational); be responsible decision makers (practical); be good, self-sufficient workers (practical); and be confident and healthy (whole). At the end of the day, I need to reflect on what I’ve done to help coach, train, encourage our children to that point.

What I’ve observed recently is that training is in two parts. There is the explicit part where I’m coaching directly. “Hands are not for hitting.” “We use our words when we’re feeling ____.” “We respect others.” “Great job eating with your fork!” “Way to go!” “We do not lick your sister. …Or the dog.” (The last one was from today.) This is critical feedback that needs to be given so that my children see what we’re doing right/well/properly and what needs to change. This is an important part of the training process.

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But there’s an implicit part of training – one that is probably more meaningful to my children than anything I could say directly. One that is more meaningful for me. I’ve learned in the last couple years, but especially this last year, that Ephrem is watching me keenly. I learned quickly how much he’s watching what I say and do in how he interacts with others. He is learning to interact with the world based on how interact with the world. He and Ainsley observe my actions (well, Ainsley less so right now). And these actions will speak louder than any words I could try to use. All of this has led me to think about my own behavior, attitudes, thoughts, and actions. Am I being kind? Am I being patient? Am I controlling my temper or is it controlling me? Is my tone showing respect? If Ephrem did what I’m doing, would I be upset or disappointed by his behavior? Is this how I would want to be treated by someone else?

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Oh man.

I read recently that marriage is a mirror and motherhood is a magnifying glass.

Looking into this magnifying glass, my shortcomings have never felt so exposed, so large, so disappointing.

Because I’m learning that when I’m not as patient as I need to be, when I’m not as kind, when I speak in anger and without love, I fail my kids. I tell them that their behavior matters but mine does not. I tell them that they are expected to live by one set of rules and I live by another. I don’t want to be that sort of parent.

I want my children to see my life and think, I want to be like her – not because I’m great, but because I’m the adult that I want my kids to grow to be like. Because I’m the sort of adult that they want to grow to be like.

Ironically, while I thought I was training them, it seems that they are training me.

Here’s hoping that I pass the test.

 

Teach Us to Number Our Days

Teach us to number our days, Moses writes.

Those words echo in my heart as I’ve been so overwhelmed by this mix of emotions that motherhood brings. There are days when it is so hard that I have to give myself a pep talk just to get out of bed, let alone smile as I walk out of my bedroom door to face the day. There are nights when I go to bed so completely mentally and emotionally drained that I can’t articulate a thought before I am asleep. There are moments throughout the day when I’m having to discipline a behavior – the same behavior that I thought we had just corrected five minutes ago – when I just wish away the clock.

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Then, then, there are the moments that make me want time to freeze. Ephrem giggling at something that I’ve done, something so ridiculously silly that I would never do in front of my friends. Or watching him accomplish something and seeing the pride light up his little (no longer a toddler) face. This little boy is funny, and sweet, and becoming his own person. How did that happen? Each day I see him more and more as his own person. I see our fingerprints in his personality, for sure, but he is becoming his own version of Ephrem. I can only imagine that continues as he grows. I have these flashbacks of new parenthood with this little toddling boy and I realize that that little toddler is a shadow only found in photos.

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My favorite moment of the day with Ainsley is when she first wakes up. She smiles ear-to-ear as I get her out of the crib. And then I get to hear Ephrem say excitedly, “Ainsley is AWAKE! Ainsley, are you ready to play pat-a-cake with me?” And she smiles even bigger for her brother. I could nestle down and live in that moment forever. She’s giggling. She rolls over and reaches for and can hold onto toys now. And most of all, she loves her silly brother. In just five short months, she has started to emerge with a little personality that was hidden inside of her little newborn self.

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The parenthood equivalent of Moses’ words is the saying, “The days are long but the years are short.”

I can see how quickly time has already gone by with these two little loves of mine. There are exhausting, difficult, did-I-really-lose-my-patience-again moments. In fact, I’ve never experienced exhaustion quite like parenthood. But each of those moments is countered with a beautiful moment where I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

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So, I pray that I learn to number my days so I can present a heart of wisdom. I don’t think that I will always remember not to wish the hard minutes (or hours as it may be some days) away. But I pray that I wish  away fewer moments and embrace those moments because they make the other moments glow even more.

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Our forever family – Two years

Two years ago, we became a forever family. I will never forget that day. I’ll never forget carrying you down the corridor at the airport to meet your dad. I’ll never forget your little eyes studying his face as we hugged for the first time as a family. I’ll never forget the joy in my heart that we were all together.

First family photo - all on one continent!

First family photo – all on one continent!

I may not have carried you in my tummy, but you made me a mom, Ephrem. You gave me the most special title I could have, mom. I can’t express how much that means to me. The first time you called me mom, my heart burst. I didn’t know that one simple word could make my life feel more complete. Even now, when you call me Mommy, my heart is full. I can’t imagine a better little guy to call my son. You are a joy to watch as you grow and I can’t wait to see the man you become. God blessed your dad and me immensely by allowing us to be your parents.

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Photo Courtesy of Lauren Grow

Photo Courtesy of Lauren Grow

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Today we celebrate our family.

We love you, Ephrem.

Ainsley’s Arrival

For anyone who is interested in Ainsley’s birth story, here it is. (No worries – I left out the gory details!)

Miss Ainsley’s entrance into the world wasn’t what I expected. After such a smooth pregnancy (a true blessing!) I was ready for her to come early (like my brothers and I had for my mom). Everything was ready – my pre-baby checklist was complete, the hospital bag was packed, and my birth plan was ready to go. I was so ready for her to come that I think I tried almost every Old Wives’ Tale to get her out – long walks, spicy foods, evening primrose oil, etc. (The midwife wouldn’t let me try castor oil, but I was ready to!)

Evidently, I don’t take after my mother when it comes to pregnancy/labor.

As my due date inched closer and closer and I started to feel more and more ready (and more and more like I was a walking house), it was becoming increasingly clear that this girl was quite comfortable in there and not really interested in coming out. My OB was on vacation so I ended up seeing one of the midwives. I might have been in tears at my last appointment before my due date when the midwife said that there hadn’t been any progress and mentioned the i-word (induction). (I was glad it was a midwife and not my OB, who I’m pretty sure wouldn’t have known what to do with me crying.) We scheduled a scan to make sure she was doing ok for the Monday, with the hope that I would go into labor over the weekend.

Despite wishing and trying to convince her to come out, I didn’t go into labor.

So Monday, we did the scan and she was doing well (strong heartbeat). The midwife said she would schedule the induction for Thursday, April 24, and was still hopeful that I would go into labor on my own before then. I was intimidated by the idea of being induced, but my sister-in-law reassured me that it wasn’t as scary as I had imagined.

I did have contractions for four days, but Ainsley wasn’t budging.

Thursday bright and early, we went to Halifax for the eviction induction. They got me set up – even managed to find a decent vein for the IV lock (I have terribly small veins so IVs aren’t my favorite thing because the nurses often have to stick me a few times – The blood bank won’t even let me donate blood because of my veins, which is sadly because I’m O-, the universal donor.). At some point, the nurse asked what my birth plan was (especially whether I wanted an epidural). “It went out the window when we had to evict this girl. Bring on the epidural!”

The midwife arrived at 8am and broke my water, and at 9am they started the Pitocin. The contractions started about 20 minutes after that. I wanted to go as long as possible without the epidural because I knew it could slow down labor and I really wanted to get through it as quickly as possible. I got out of bed and tried walking around as much as I could tethered to the monitors and the IV lines. (The nurse who did our birth classes was a big proponent of using gravity to help the process along :-).) The hardest thing about the Pitocin was that the contractions were right on top of each other, making it difficult to catch my breath for the next one. When they checked my progress at 10:30, I asked for the epidural, which came around 11:30.

While the epidural definitely made me more comfortable and the contractions more bearable (Evan said my whole body just relaxed when it set in), it did slow things down considerably for hours. We tried shifting me in another position and my BP dropped and so did Ainsley’s heartrate. I knew something was wrong because all of the nurses were incredibly calm and there were many of them. Once they got me back in a position where my BP and Ainsley’s heartrate were both ok, I had to stay that way. Sadly, being in that position didn’t help me progress at all. By 5pm, the on-call obstetrician came in and said that if I didn’t progress in the next hour, she would have the staff prep me for a c-section.

That meant baby girl and mom had to talk. I told Ainsley that she had already stayed in there five days too long and she had to come out, that a c-section wasn’t an option. Not only did I want to meet this little person who was refusing to come, I didn’t want to try to be a mom to a 35-lb toddler for the next six weeks after having a c-section. Period.

Somehow that talk worked and by 9pm I started pushing.

At 9:43pm, Ainsley Grace was born weighing 7lbs 1oz and 20 inches long. Because she had swallowed some meconium in utero, I had to wait to hold her — but the moment I held her, she took my breath away. She was so beautiful and I couldn’t believe that we had lived any part of our lives without her.

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After she was cleaned up

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After her first bath – Both of us were pretty tired

Four and a half weeks later, we are all in love with this little girl.

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Holding his “Ains-a-ley” as he says her name.

She’s pretty frowny, but when she does smile, her whole face lights up. (Also, aren’t baby yawns the sweetest???)

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Ephrem is a fabulous big brother. He loves to hold her, and probably would hold her all the time if we would let him. He loves to make sure her toys play their music for her. I’m learning to be home with both kids and easing into a new routine. It’s getting easier every day, though the days that I get more sleep are definitely more bearable, obviously.

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Cuddling with my two babies

After bringing Ephrem home, I didn’t imagine that I could be more blessed.

Somehow, it was possible.

 

Dear Ephrem (February 2014)

Hey Sweet Boy -

One thing that I’ve learned as a parent is how quickly the year goes by. I meant to capture all of the things you can do or love around your second birthday, and well, it flew by without me doing it! I’m so sorry, Bubs.

But you’re growing and changing so fast that I have to capture things as they happen. Otherwise, I’ll forget. And someday you’ll ask me what you liked to eat or do as a toddler and I’ll have to scrounge the back of my useless brain to try to remember.

So here’s you at 2.5 years old. You are an incredible kid. You smile almost all the time. You just started to do this fake laugh, which makes you really laugh and that makes mommy laugh with you. You love to be chased and tickled (“Mommy get you?” you say). You sing all the time – mostly Veggie Tales songs, but sometimes other songs. You love shapes – octagons and circles tend to be your favorite (and are the first to disappear from your shape puzzles). You love to pretend that your green oval is Larry the Cucumber and your wrist band is Bob the Tomato. You just started like to Thomas the Tank Engine (which mommy finds boring but endures because you do love it). You like the library, but only tolerate Story Time with Ms. Brenda. You wake up waaaaay too early some days, but you’re usually singing so it’s adorable, even before 6am. You would eat pizza or chicken “nugs” [nuggets] for every meal if we would let you. You love to run and are pretty fast! You give the best hugs and kisses a mommy could ever hope for.

Sweet Boy, you’re the kiddo I never knew I’d be lucky enough to call my son. I love you always.

Ephrem2pt5years

PS – Stop growing up so fast! Mommy doesn’t feel like she can keep up!

 

Happenings (February)

Whoops. Got a little busy around here. Sorry for the 1200th time.

We had the opportunity to visit my family in the beginning of January for my mom’s very special birthday. Ephrem was an amazing little traveler. I was a little nervous traveling with Ephrem but without Evan for the first time, but Ephrem was made for traveling. (I suppose that comes from your first flight being an 8-hour international flight.) As soon as he got in the stroller at the airport, he was easy going, despite waiting through many, many long lines. I thought the highlight of his trip would have been flying, but he actually liked taking the MCO shuttle (“train!”) better.

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A very, very long line to drop off baggage and get our boarding passes

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Getting a quick snack before the flight to PHL

I was excited that Ephrem got to spend time with my family and get to know his Delaware cousins. (I didn’t get more photos of Ephrem with everyone…sorry!)

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Dinner with my Dad

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Flying back to FL

 

Beside that, we’ve been enjoying the park, especially when days are sunny here. Ephrem has been getting more independent when he’s been playing. It’s been awesome to see.

 

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Playing outside during a colder day

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Baseball

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Shapes at the park

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Going down the slide with dad

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Our favorite – the swing

We also had the opportunity to do the zoo with some friends a few weeks ago. It was a perfect day for the zoo – slightly overcast and cooler so a lot of the animals were out and about.

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So here’s an update on Baby Girl. I’m currently 31 and a half weeks. It’s crazy how quickly it’s gone by. Forty weeks seems like a long time until you’re almost 32 weeks into it!

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Photo from a friend’s wedding in December – no hiding that bump now.

People have been asking me if I’m pregnant, so I’m hoping that means I look pregnant and not just chubby. :-)

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Early second trimester photo to late second trimester (It’s funny to see what you think is a bump early in pregnancy and then what is a real bump)

January 28 marked the first day of the third trimester. Holy cow.

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Yikes! Third trimester!

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Third trimester bump

We’re currently taking child birth classes (yikes!). Taking the birth classes as current parents is a little funny. While we didn’t experience child birth with Ephrem, we are parents. So, of course, during the videos, we’re pointing out what will change for folks as their new baby grows. And I start thinking how much less painful it is for a baby to come home on an airplane.

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Part of the child birth class…one that Evan was happy he didn’t have to experience.

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30 week bump

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One thing I didn’t realize until recently is that she’s due Easter weekend. Of course, she could be early or late, but I have a feeling she’ll be close to her actual due date. Nothing scientific…just a feeling, so we’ll see. With Evan being the worship leader at our church and my role as programming director, we have several levels of contingency plans just in case she comes on her due date. (Or a week early.) If she’s late, we’ll be ok. (Well, in terms of responsibilities – I might not be happy…)

So that’s what’s happening here. I have some contract work coming up (probably my last contract until the summer) and then I plan to do some major nesting to make sure we’re fully ready. (Well, as ready as can be!)

The fight

Being pregnant has made me think a lot about the process to bring Ephrem home. I’m  not sure why. I guess because in the moment, I didn’t appreciate all that I learned through that process. Having not gone through physical labor, I can say that the adoption was one of the hardest things I’ve done. I thought a lot about how emotionally tough the process to bring Ephrem home was, for so many reasons. Some days, you feel like every step is a fight, and sometimes you’re fighting something you didn’t expect.

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I was fighting the (vocal) opinions of people who didn’t understand adoption as Plan A. They didn’t understand why we didn’t “try” to have our “own” kids first. They hadn’t seen what I saw in orphanages in East Africa, so this decision to adopt first without knowing whether we could have biological children was boggling to them. I mean, I understood. What we were doing wasn’t “normal.” It was a little a lot different.  But, still, their reaction discouraged me. While we were overwhelmed by support, these few challenging reactions hurt because it felt so personal.

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We had to fight through the paperwork and the legal process. Our process was extremely and unusually fast, but it’s still hard to endure. You have a mountain of paperwork to complete and collect. You have to track down every document that says you’re you. You spend a lot of time in “hurry up and wait” mode. After the dossier is complete, very little is in your control or on your timeline. Because we got Ephrem’s referral so early in the process, it felt like he was waiting on us and there was relatively little I could do to speed up the process. I just had to pray and wait. Pray and wait. Pray and wait. And because we adopted internationally, we didn’t know a lot of what was going on. I still remember the day in January (right off the plane from a visit to Africa) where I got the email that we had passed court in his country. I didn’t even know that we were at the court process!

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We had to fight through the fundraising. There are legal fees, agency fees, immigration fees (for international adoption), and (in our case) foster care costs. The overall cost of adoption sucks. It’s a huge barrier for most families (and why some families will never start an adoption). Overall, our adoption was tens of thousands of dollars to complete. We had $1,000 in savings when we started. We had to pray, hold yard sales, pray, apply for grants, pray, and depend on the generosity of our friends and families (and sometimes strangers) to make this possible. I think God redeems the cost to bring Himself glory, because, honestly, there was no way on our own we would have been able to raise the funds we needed.

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Like so many things in life, I didn’t understand the process at the time. I mean, in my head I could say it was part of making our family through adoption. But in my heart, as soon as I saw his photo, I just wanted him home. I wanted the obstacles to go away. I just wanted to hold this precious little boy and tell him that I was his mother and that I would love and protect him forever.

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What I didn’t realize was that the process was making the “love and protect forever” possible. The “fight” was making this child mine – so that when I said “I will love and protect you forever” I knew what that meant because I had been living it for a year before he came home. He didn’t grow in my belly like Baby Girl Shows. As I feel her growing, I think I take for granted that this child in my womb is mine. I couldn’t take Ephrem being my son for granted. I needed to fight for him because I needed to know what a parent would do for her child. I needed to fight for him because he and I needed to know that my unconditional love started before I saw his photo, when he was just a prayer in my heart. I needed to fight for him because he was the child who grew in my heart. I don’t ever want to take for granted what it took to make him our son.

So for those of you who are in the process, fight on. It will be hard. You will have moments when you don’t feel strong enough. You will have moments when you are discouraged. You will have moments when you ask why this couldn’t be easier. But the fight makes you a family. The fight is what grows this child in your heart.

The time Ephrem was granted citizenship

So this is a story about Ephrem gaining citizenship. It was all supposed to be straightforward and simple, but, you know, this is me and I like to make this different…

In August, we finally applied to USCIS for Ephrem’s citizenship. It’s not a hard process, I was just trying to figure out what paperwork I needed to submit, get passport photos for a two-year-old (no small feat, really), and submit the fee. Anyway, between parenthood, etc., it just took me a year to get myself together to apply. I applied in August and then the government shutdown happened at the end of September. I figured we’d probably get his certificate of citizenship (COC) by mail like everyone else I know by Christmas.

Well, then I got a letter from USCIS for an appointment on November 21 at 9am at their Orlando office. I thought it was weird, but the letter said to bring Ephrem’s Permanent Resident card and we’d get his COC. So I figured, meh, must need to do this in person.

We got up super early on Thursday to drive the 1.5+ hours to the office. Beside wanting him to be comfortable for the drive, Ephrem is still working on the potty training thing and I didn’t think that this was anything more than just an appointment to pick up papers, so I dressed him in track pants and a tshirt (easier to use the restroom) and I wore a tunic, jeans, and flipflops. You might be wondering why I would describe our attire. You’ll soon understand.

It was a miserable drive – mostly downpours until I about an hour in the drive. But by the time I got to the USCIS office, it was only overcast.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed that they were incredibly busy this day. Everyone getting out of their vehicles was wearing really nice clothes, like nice. I though, huh, I guess people have to dress up for immigration interviews? We went inside and the line to clear security was really long. A USCIS officer comes out and looks at our appointment letters and tells me, Well you can hold him [Ephrem] during the ceremony.

Ceremony?

Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh crap.

I looked at the letter again…nothing about a ceremony – it just said “appointment.”

We cleared security and went to get Ephrem’s COC. I signed for him on all the forms. The person congratulated us and gave me his COC and told me not to remove a sticky note that says “adopted” until I go inside for the ceremony because they have reserved seating for us. Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh crap. I apologized and said I’m not dressed for the ceremony because I didn’t know. (Again, no one that I know had done a ceremony – the COC was just mailed to them…) She smiled and said that they’re doing a ceremony because November is National Adoption Month. And then told me to go “over there.”

We went to the ceremony room and where do they sit us (again, in our incredibly inappropriately casual clothes)? Front row. Wait, not just the front row: front row and center. I was laughing by the time we sat down (mostly to keep from crying). Evan and my in-laws should have been there, but I hadn’t had a clue that this was a ceremony. Of course, as I was thinking about the people who should have come and how inappropriately dressed we are for something like us, the news crews show up. Yes, multiple news crews. Because who doesn’t like to be the person inappropriately dressed sitting in the front row for for a citizenship ceremony that will be on the local news?

Ephrem's first selfie (as we waited for the ceremony to start)

Ephrem’s first selfie (as we waited for the ceremony to start). 

It was a packed house so the ceremony was delayed by an hour. By the time they USCIS director came out to start the ceremony, Ephrem was done. Done from sitting in the car for 1.5+ hours. Done from waiting in lines. Done from sitting. He made it through the Star Spangle Banner, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the swearing-in ceremony before he started “reading” his book to the keynote speaker and then stating loudly that he had to go potty. We ended up “enjoying” most of the ceremony from the hallway.

USCIS director leading the ceremony

USCIS director leading the ceremony

Citizens 14 years and older took the oath for citizenship

Citizens 14 years and older took the oath for citizenship

Keynote speaker talking on adoption for National Adoption Month.

Keynote speaker talking on adoption for National Adoption Month.

And I forgot to get a good photo of us, so this is what we have:

Our little American!

Our little American!

Apparently citizenship is exhausting for a two year-old because this happened 20 minutes after getting back in the car to drive back:

You can't see because the sunglasses, but he's sleeping.

You can’t see because the sunglasses, but he’s sleeping.

If you  have the opportunity, I highly recommend attending a citizenship ceremony. I felt incredibly proud to be an American and to see a whole room full of people who worked hard to join our country and ascribe to the values and principles of our nation. It was something I won’t forget.

So, Ephrem, Mommy is terribly sorry that we don’t have fancy photos of you in a suit with your parents by the American flag. I’m terribly sorry that Daddy, Nana, and Papa (and whomever else would have wanted to be there) weren’t there. But, this whole thing makes a much better story. Always, always remember to laugh at life. And dress as if you’re going to a citizenship ceremony at all times. Because you might not think that anyone you know watches the local news and then you’ll get a message from someone on FB that says, “I saw you and Ephrem becoming a citizen on the news!” 

Dear Ephrem

Dear Ephrem,

It’s been a while since I’ve written you a note on the blog. Since coming home to be with you more, I have learned all the more what a fun, funny, amazing, smart, incredible little human you are. You are my joy and my heart. I can’t imagine a better way to spend my day than to get to spend it with you. (Well, okay, if we’re able to add Dad in the mix, that’s probably the best day…) You make me laugh in unexpected ways. You make me appreciate the sunshine and parks and cool breezes. You make me enjoy walks and little things like petals on a flower. You help me to realize how big and small our world is at one time.

You are every bit of two years old right now. You are developing (and expressing) your opinions. You are developing your sense of self. I am in awe of all that you have learned and done in two short years. I am so proud of you.

You love to run around the block with Daddy, Mommy, and Pippin. You love to congratulate yourself for doing a good job (I pray this never goes away). You love leaves, sticks, pine needles, and tiny flowers. You love to kick ant hills, which I constantly have to tell you not to do because we have fire ants in Florida and they are mean. (Sorry buddy.) You love to find “squiwewls” and ask to pet them. You love to climb your playhouse and slide down the slide.

I love your little voice. You love to say your alphabet, to count, and to identify shapes wherever they can be found. You sing all the songs that Daddy teaches you. (Even if you won’t let me sing along with music…ever.) You started identifying your family. Even though some days the cup or a box makes the list, I love that you know who belongs to you. I love to hear you call me Mommy or to say “I love you.” Most of all, I love to hear you pray. I know that God is developing a little heart for Him in you. I can’t wait to see that grow.

Some days I don’t feel like I’m the best mom. This role is so much more than I could have ever prepared myself for. I know I need to be more patient. I don’t always know how to teach you best. But I hope you know that this doesn’t reflect anything about who you are. You are incredible, amazing, awesome. And none of my shortcomings would ever change the fact that I will always, always, always love you for the amazing tiny human you are. Nothing that you do – good or bad – will ever change how much I love you.

God created you to know His love. My Little Man, that is my prayer – that more than anything in this world, you would know the height and depth and width of the Father’s great love for you, and that you would share that with others.

My sweet boy, you are my greatest joy and one of two (soon to be three) earthly reason I smile.

With all my heart, I love you.

 

Mommy