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.

Baby Shows Referral

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!

Group photo

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.

Family photo MCO

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

What to say?

Sorry for the silence. Aside from trying to gain my bearings as I’ve transitioned out of my full-time job, I didn’t post anything because I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep this secret if I blogged:

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Baby Shows 2 due April (I’m 12 weeks in this photo)

Yup, we are having a biological child. I’m due April 19, which feels like it’ll be here before I know it. We found out in August and it was a hard secret to keep.

Obviously, everything feels different this time around. Instead of looking at a photo of child who is growing halfway around the world, I see my ever-growing stomach expanding. Instead of the paper chase and madly fundraising, I see doctors and can rely on health insurance. Instead of a child growing in my heart, I have a sonogram of the child being knitted in my womb. Instead of airplanes and travel to the most amazing continent, we will be driving to a hospital and meeting our new person.

The processes are different, but my prayer is still the same: That this child would grow in grace, love, and faith and know that God loves him/her very much and that I would be equipped to mother both of these children in the way that brings out the best that God has for them.

While the processes are different, both paths have been uniquely beautiful.

However, I can say that I love that God called us to adoption first. I grew significantly in my faith during that process. I learned so much about God’s faithfulness to us. Although the learning curve on parenting a child who has already experienced so much has been high, I am grateful for the opportunity to be Ephrem’s mommy. From the moment I saw his first photo, I saw my son and was determined to do anything to protect him. It made me realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that love makes a family, not DNA. 

Ephrem & Mommy

That’s a lesson that I don’t take for granted. I remember when we first came home and Ephrem was so scared, so insecure. And we were clueless. We have had to learn to be a family. He has learned to trust us. We have learned how to parent in a way that best suits him. We learned to love first and laugh deeply. We learned that love is an action, more than it is that warm fuzzy feeling in our hearts or words from our mouths.

So this next child may not come home on an airplane, but this child will enter the world into a family that has learned to love well.

The New Season

In 2011 when we first started talking about the adoption, we were expecting it to take two years. That timing would require a lot of patience, but it would work out because Evan would have finished school and gotten a job and we would have been in a better place for me to be home with the kiddo full-time. Of course, our plans and God’s plans are two different things.

We got Ephrem’s referral two days before my birthday in October 2011. (We accepted his referral on my birthday – best present EVER. Seriously, I have a big birthday coming up and Evan simply can’t top that ever again. :-)) Suddenly our two year wait was going to be a 9-month sprint through paperwork and fundraising. God was so faithful. Ephrem came home in June of 2012.

Evan had just finished his degree at the local state college and started looking for work, but nothing was coming up. At the end of my family leave, it was evident that our plans weren’t going to happen. Evan was going to stay home with Ephrem and I was going to go to work. And that was definitely not the plan that either of us had in mind.

Then, in October, he got a job. But it wouldn’t pay enough for me to stay home. So we had to look to daycare – something we just didn’t even consider when we were planning how things would go. I was devastated and felt the true weight of “Mommy guilt” for the first time. Fortunately, God provided an amazing child care center (which I still prefer to call “school”), with an amazing staff that helped us care for Ephrem in the best way possible. They were just opening and super small and it was perfect for all of us.

But as the year went on, I was more and more discontent with a job that I had BK (before kid) loved. I love being a grant writer in education and it’s a meaningful job. I know the funds that I help teams get and the programs those funds enable make a difference to students who often have less than a good chance of making it (especially where I work). But knowing that someone else got to see my Tiny Human learning and growing made my heart hurt. And the crunch being a dual-earner family with jobs requiring long commutes put on our family was hard. Out the door by 6:55am, home by 6 or 6:15pm, hurrying through dinner so we could do bath time, story time, and bed time, and then get ready for the next day. And I realized that’s all we were doing: surviving this day to get ready for the next day. Weekends were merely the time to do all the chores that we had no time to do during the week. Our family time was all of us exhausted and in a rut.

We began to seek God about how we could possibly get me home with Ephrem at least part-time but hopefully full-time. It was going to require a step of faith I was terrified to do. But when God calls, when He opens doors, it’s hard not to walk, even with great trepidation, to follow Him. I still remember reading Psalm 34 as we were praying through this decision and knowing that God was calling me to be home with Ephrem, even if it meant that we wouldn’t have the financial security of my job.

So, the season is changing (so appropriate that the first day of fall was this weekend). I have the opportunity to stay home with Ephrem. I have the opportunity to teach him at home. I have the opportunity to pick up side work when we need it. I have the opportunity to pursue some dreams and make this life more than a rat race. It has required some sacrifice of trusting ourselves and our jobs over God’s provision, but in the end, I want to rely on God first…not my own hand. As hard as it is to give up control, I long to live a life worth living. And, for me, in this season, getting to spend time with Ephrem is really a life worth living.

Safe

Sometimes we face something that feels far too big for us. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by ourselves or the outside world.

God hasn’t called us to walk alone. He uses these moments to remind us that we’re “safe in His arms.”