Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Another Perspective

For almost a year now all of our friends and family have been praying about our adoption.  Most have been very welcoming toward Brandon.  He's been home 3 months now and he really loves it here in America (minus the school work).  I want to share another perspective of this welcoming.  This is just one example I am sharing of many, so I thought it was necessary.
At soccer practice last night all sorts of boys came up to Brandon, said his name and did the manly handshake thing.  Even teenage girls and adults were saying "Hi" to him.  Katie, Kylie and Haley stood right beside him and no one even acknowledged them.  Katie leaned over and said to me, "How come everyone knows his name and likes him and he's been here 3 months and no one knows my name and I've lived here 5 years?"  It was a genuine hurt feelings tone of voice.
I really appreciate everyone being so welcoming of Brandon.  Please keep it coming.  He really feels the love and the kid needs lots of love.  He thrives on this love.  It means a lot to Tim and I that many of you go out of your way to talk with him and make friends with him.  However, if the girls are standing there, could you please at least say hi to them as well?  I know no one is intentionally leaving them out, but from their little perspectives, Brandon is a superstar and they're not important to anyone at all.  Thanks, Guys!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I am an avid reader.  I enjoy reading many different styles of books.   I love the romantic books by authors such as Nicholas Sparks.  I love Christian “self-help” books such as 5 Love Languages or any book by Beth Moore.  I love informational books such as Fields of the Fatherless by Tom Davis that covers a biblical view of adoption.  Recently I read an autobiography by Conor Grennan called Little Princes.  I absolutely loved this author’s style of writing. It is about a single man who used his entire life savings to start orphanages as a refuge for trafficked children in Nepal.  His journey started out to be a trip to help orphans in Nepal to impress his friends and win the hearts of the ladies.  However, everything changed when he unexpectedly fell in love with the children (at the orphanage called “Little Princes Orphanage”) he worked with and developed a passion to find the families of some of the trafficked children in the orphanages.  The book had me laughing one minute and crying the next.  I want to share just one example of his dialogue that had me laughing hysterically.  He was describing his first meal that he ate with a family in Nepal. 
Conor writes,
After maybe a half a minute of watching my host family eat, I noticed they had stopped eating one by one and were staring at me, wondering why I wasn’t eating.  I came to my senses.  I had been with this host family for all of 10 minutes and was on the verge of causing some irrevocable offense.  I force a smile, took a chunk of rice and daal and a smidge of some kind of pickled vegetable, and placed it gently into my mouth.
It was spicy.  It was spicy in the way that your eyes instantly flood with tears and your sinuses feel as if someone inside my skull had ordered a full evacuation.  The children started giggling. They were watching what would happen next.
What happened next was that I opened my mouth to breath, but the back draft only fanned the flames in my throat.  I grasped for the tin cup of water next to me, oblivious to the shouts of the father, mother and three children and realized too late that my hand was burning because the water in the tin cup was boiling…..
You can’t go through an experience like that with a family and not become closer... 
Clearly I already have a passion for orphans, but this book really opened my eyes to what goes on outside our safe, little bubble here in America. We get so wrapped up with our lives and our own children that we turn a deaf ear to the cries of needy children all over the world.
It's easy to forget that this life here on earth is not forever.  1,000 years from now will it really matter what belongings you had on earth?  This part is just a vapor (James 4:14).  Use this life as an opportunity to serve God and earn eternal rewards in Heaven (Philippians 3:14).  I’d like to encourage everyone to make every day count.  Every dollar you spend, challenge it and do your best to give some away towards eternal things. 
But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and in truth. (1st John 3:17,18 NASB)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fun Questions and Answers

Now that Brandon is getting better at his English I am able to ask him questions and get answers.  It is a lot of fun to hear about his life before he came to us.  We have a lot of conversations like this one on our way to and from school during our 35 minute commute (the ONLY positive thing I can find of a commute this long).

1.       Did you have a lot of thunder and lightning in Ukraine and are you scared of thunder and lightning? 
No.  I no scared thunder and lighting.  Orphanage, big tree, through glass. Broke window.  Boys and girls sleep outside.  Glass.  Boy and girl beds.

2.       Did you get a lot of snow in Ukraine?
No.  A little.  (He gestures maybe 6 inches). 

3.       Did you play in the snow.
Yes.  A little.  I like this (he gestures sledding).  I no like cold.

4.       Did you get presents on your birthday? 
Yes.  Present.  Pencils.  Pens.  Paper.  Small Car.

5.       Who gave you this present?
Babuska.  Bogdon play broke my small car.  Me sleeping my birthday.

6.       Was any woman or man mean to you at the orphanage?
Yes.  One woman.  She say, “good morning. Out bed now.”  Me say, “me very tired.”  She come and say “Now Serejo” push me bed and me on floor.

7.       Were you the only child that she was mean to?
No.  Me and 3 boys push floor.

8.       Did any man or woman at orphanage hit you?
No.  Man or woman no this hit.

9.       Did you get any presents at Christmas?
I no like Christmas.  Last Christmas.  Box.  Pencils. Pens and Barbie (insert disgusted tone of voice, a scowl and arms crossed).

10.   Do you want Mommy and Papa to buy you a Barbie again this year?
(Laughter) No please.  Thanks.  Watch.  Maybe yes?  Maybe no?

11.   You want a Barbie watch? Okay.  Yes.  We will get you a Barbie watch.
(More laughter).  No please. Thanks.  Maybe black one. Eagle.  (He’s referring to the one he saw in a catalog the other day.  His sisters showed him to put a black Sharpie circle around it and his name so we know what he wants for Christmas). 

12.   What did you eat on Christmas?
Borsht or soup or salad.  I like this Borsht, soup and salad.

13.   Did you eat 3 times a day at the orphanage?
No.  I eat 7 times a day.   1 at Good morning.  2 at clean. 3 at school.  4 at lunch. 5 at play. 6 at 7.  7 at Good night.

14.   Did you like school in Ukraine?
Ugh.  No.  I no like school in Ukraine.

15.   Ohhhhh, so it’s not just American school that you do not like?
Yes.  I no like Ukriane school and I no like American school.  I no like English lesson.  I no like writing and no like math.  I no like ‘no talking.’  Ugh. 

16.   Do you like Mr. Kellett?
Yes.  I like Mr. Kellett.  Mr. Kellett like sports.  I like sports. I like Mr. Kellett.

17.   Do you like America?
Yes.  I love America.

18.   Do you miss Ukraine?
A little.  No a lot.  A little.

19.   Do you like Mama and Papa and your sisters?
I love Mama and Papa.  Sisters no (insert impish grin because he knew they were listening and he just wanted to hear them scream). 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Funny Story

Friday when I picked up the kids from school, Brandon was clearly ticked off about something.  His scowl was deep and his arms were crossed. I said, “What’s wrong, Brandon?  Why are you so mad?” We’ll call the following boy “George” to protect his identity.  He answered, “George no my friend.  George laugh me reading. Friends no laugh (at) friends.”  Kylie verified this boy (and another boy) truly laughed at Brandon while reading out loud.  We were really disappointed in George because he has been over to our house a few times and spent the night.  I wasn’t sure what in the world to do.  I hate to be the type of parent that always rescues her son.  There has to be a time where a kid learns to deals with problems on their own.

I confided in a friend who adopted a child a year ago from Ukraine and she and her husband suggested that we just speak to the teacher to let him/her know that this is going on.  We are on this teacher's side, but this behavior toward our son (who already struggles to get out the door to school each day) is unacceptable.  We were also going to speak with the boys’ parents so they are aware of what is happening.  We would want to know as parents if our kids were making fun of other students.  We do not tolerate that behavior at all.

So, today on our car ride home after church Brandon says, “George is my friend.”  I said, “I thought you weren’t friends anymore because he laughed at you while reading.”  He said, “Church, George say he wants sit by me.  Me said no.  You no my friend and you no sit here. You laugh.  Me reading.'  George said, ‘I’m sorry.  I no laugh no more.’  Me said, ‘You sorry?  It’s okay.  You friend.  Please sit’.” 

Okay, then.  I guess they “kissed and made up” so to speak.  It’s nice to know boys don’t hold grudges forever like girls!  I'm also glad I don't need to speak to anyone either because Brandon handled it on his own. :)  Brandon isn't playing around, People.  You mess with him and he'll let you know what he thinks of you.  But he does forgive.  Awesome.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

1st Week of School

The kids finished their first week in school.  Our very driven and enthusiastic learner, Katie, loves 5th grade.  Her only complaint is that everything is a review so far.  She wishes they would start learning something new. The goals we have for Katie this year are to slow down and write neatly and to make new friends.  We’ve been talking with her specifically about being a friend to others.  She is the type that if you’re mean to her once, she figures you are not a good friend. She is in no way interested in being mistreated.  She also figures if someone doesn’t like the same things as she does, she might as well not be friends with them.  She tends to hurt a lot of feelings that way.  She has her 2 or 3 good friends and she is fine with that.  What can I say?  She’s a work in progress.  We are encouraged with Katie because she is very grounded.  She will not participate even if everyone else is doing wrong.  We feel this is a wonderful quality in a child who has leadership qualities.  We hope she will use this quality to lead others to do right.

Our social butterfly, Haley, loves 1st grade so far.  She is excited that she got Miss Meads as a teacher like her two older sisters and some of her current friends are in her class already and is making new friends.  We have two goals for Haley this year and these are for her to read aloud with confidence and to not get in trouble for socializing during class.  I got a call from her teacher on Friday where she said, “Haley had a great first week.  I haven’t had any problems with her (insert sigh of relief here).”  Then she finished her thought with, “Wow, Haley is very outgoing compared to her two older sisters.”  It’s funny because at the house we barely hear a peep out of the kid.  She doesn’t chatter on unless she is one-on-one with Tim or me.  I guess she comes out of her shell at school or when she is not near her older siblings.  Haley has always acted so much older than she actually is.  She has a maturity about her that really makes us laugh at times.  It is rare that she is not sitting poised with her legs crossed like a grown lady.  The way she thinks and talks sometimes makes you feel like you are talking to a peer instead of a small child.

My two 3rd graders are the ones that are going to be the challenging ones this year.  Kylie is my homebody.  It doesn’t matter what school she attends or who her teacher is, she would much rather be at home with her Mommy every day of the year.  I don’t recall her ever saying “I’m bored” or “Where are we going today?” in her entire life.  Home is where she is loved and accepted and she thrives on this. She struggles with making friends.  She would love to have just one friend that always just hangs out with her.  She actually had a girl last year say, “I like you as a friend, but you really need to make other friends because I like a lot of people and not just you.”  The cold, harsh truth hurts sometimes.  Kylie is our super sensitive child that gets her feelings hurt very easily.  While all of this crying and drama could be very annoying, we recognize that she is also our most caring child and by far the kindest of the pack.  If you ever need a shoulder to cry on, a hug or someone to tell you that you are beautiful, Kylie is your girl!  Our goals for Kylie are to make new friends and to have a good attitude each morning when she wakes up for school. 

Then there is Brandon.   The poor kid hates school.  It doesn’t matter that his teacher is awesome.  It doesn’t matter if he is in a class with a lot of his friends.  He absolutely, 100% HATES to have to sit at a desk and work.  He hates having to line up and be quiet.  He hates having to read aloud.  He hates having to cut his hair short, to tuck in his shirt, to wear long pants and to wear a belt. Besides all that, he is also very much a homebody. So he very much hates that our family is all scattered apart throughout the day. He is happiest when the 6 of us are all together at home or when he can be on a soccer field (or playing any sport) while we watch him and cheer for him. The homebody part is because he’s never had a real family and now that he does, he really wants to be near us.  I think his hatred for his desk at school could be because he’s never really had to learn.  They didn’t have 7 hour days of schoolwork where he was in Ukraine.  They played outside a whole lot more at the orphanage.  His school was in the actual orphanage and his small amount of work was simply copying words or math problems out of a text book into a notebook.  He was not tested or quizzed on what he was retaining.  He just had to copy it.  So, as a result of all that copying, his handwriting is exceptional!  Unfortunately, however, most of the things he copied he did not retain.   He’s really going to have to work harder than most kids this year to even pass 3rd grade.  We have many goals for Brandon this year in school.  First, we want him to learn English and learn it well.  Second, we pray that he will begin to love learning.  We want him to advance a few grade levels over the next year or so.  It’d be ideal for him to be in Katie’s grade and graduate together one day.  He so very badly wants to be in school with kids his own age and size.  If he is lazy or does not have a desire to learn, we worry it will get very awkward in a few years when he will be so much taller than the other children.  Right now he is 3 years older than the 3rd grade kids and because of the nutrition he is getting in America he is catching up quickly to his own age with his size and height. 

For now we just have to take it day by day.  I have to remind myself not to stress out over this.  We have so much to be thankful for.  If this battle with schoolwork is all that we have to deal with Brandon, we consider ourselves very blessed.  I have read many blogs and many stories of families who adopted older children that have had far more issues than just schoolwork.  We are grateful for our beautiful, loving son and so happy God saw fit to lead him into our family.  I am truly honored to be his Mama! 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Lost and Found

Sergey (Brandon), Age 9. Lost.
The boy on top is a lost boy who had been in and out of various orphanages for a few years.  His silent eyes cry out, “Someone please love me.”  The boy on the bottom is a boy that was searched for and found.  His eyes sparkle with joy!  What a difference Jesus Christ can make!!!!  Someone recently said that adopting doesn’t change the world, but adoption does change the world to one life.  This boy has a hope and a future.  We pray that as he begins a new school year this week he will quickly come to know Jesus Christ who can make us new creatures! 

2 Corinthians 5:17  Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old things have passed away.  Behold, all things have become new.

Brandon, Age 11. Found.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

New Emotion

Yesterday when we were driving home from our day, Brandon opened up his heart to me for the first time.  He expressed in his broken, yet improving, English that he was nervous about school starting on Tuesday.  He said that he still does not understand a lot of what people are saying to him and thinks he will do poorly in school.  This was groundbreaking to me that he talked this way about a concern on his heart!!  Up until that moment he had only shown two emotions—happy and annoyed (such as with his sisters or losing a Nintendo game).  To me, this is a great sign that he trusts us more to open up with his feelings.  And perhaps this means he is now willing to try hard with his schooling???  All summer he has seemed unmotivated with learning.  Only time will tell.  Please pray for him.

For those of you who have adopted or those who have had children who struggled in school, I need your help.  How do I assure him that everything is going to be alright, but not encouraging his previous unmotivated behavior?   

Friday, August 5, 2011

Grandfather Mountain

Today we hiked Grandfather Mountain.  It was an absolute blast!!  I recall last year’s trip to the mountains and looking from the top of the mountain across hundreds of miles of mountains and valleys. I remember how blown away I was by the beauty of God’s creation.  I meditated upon the verse in 1 Corinthians 2:9 that says No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.  I thought to myself that I cannot imagine anything more beautiful that this view!  And yet He promises Heaven is greater than that!

Today would have been even more fun if it was not foggy all day.  Yet, those same breathtaking mountains and valleys were there even though they were masked by the fog.  We were in the midst of the beauty, but we could not see it.   This idea made me think more about God.  While we might not physically see His face or audibly hear His voice, we can always be assured that He is present -- and actively revealing Himself to us.  God is active in our lives and manifests Himself to us through other things—through Creation, through unusual circumstances and through His people.

A few weeks ago we watched 6 little bird eggs hatch and the babies quickly grew and left the nest.  In 100+ degree temperatures the mother sat on the nest to shelter the babies from the heat.  God designed that mother bird in such a way that she could nurture and protect those babies.  Likewise, He fashioned every detail of the beauty in the mountains.  Even fallen trees serve a purpose in preserving and maintaining the life within the forest.  I am assured God is real when I see Him work out the trickiest situations such as the adoption of our son.  I saw His provision a few years ago, when I followed His prompting to check on a common “thump” during my 2-year-old’s “nap time.” I was able to rescue her from suffocating when she had pulled a dresser down on herself.  I can see Him every time I look into my children’s laughing eyes, when prayers are answered  by miracles and when fellow Christians write and say to me, “I’m not sure why, but God laid it on my heart to pray for you today” and it was exactly a time when I needed prayer most.

May I just say that usually when I think about God, I am blown away by Him?

What about you?  Have you seen Him lately?  I’d love to hear how He’s worked in your life.  He promises that if we search for Him, we’ll find Him. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

One Year Post Adoption Goals

Before we adopted, I read all kinds of information about various difficulties adopted children might have.  Some talked about issues such as post-traumatic stress syndrome and others spoke about emotional attachment disorders.  While we don’t see any sign of any major issues going on with Brandon, I remember reading an article regarding post adoption and family adjustments that might help those of you that are adopting or have adopted.

 In the article it said that the main goal in the 1st year after adoption is to encourage a secure, well-adapted family.  The following recommendations to assist in this goal are:

 *To minimize change
*To maintain and celebrate the adopted child’s connections with all the important people in his/her life
*To meet the child where they are at mentally, emotionally and physically
*To allow the child to grieve

As I read back over these 4 things, a few things jump out at me with regard to Brandon.  As easy going as he seems to be, we truly want to keep him that way.  The kid has been through enough in his young life and the last thing we want to do is stress him out. 

We need to minimize change.   Brandon has moved several thousand miles away from where he was born.  He spent at least the last 4 years of his life in Ukraine never leaving the 1 ½ acre orphanage campus at all. I can’t even imagine not going anywhere outside 1 ½ acres for a month, much less 4 years or more.  Additionally, after I had the experience of living in Ukraine for over 6 weeks, I know that almost nothing about America is the same as Ukraine.  America smells different.  It looks different.  There is a different language.  The diet is different.  Clothing is different.  Families are different.  Hygiene is different. Transportation is different.  Priorities are different.  Education is different.  The list could go on all day.  The point is he’s had enough change.  We need to remember to keep his world as simple as we can and not change what he now knows as “normal.”   

We need to maintain and celebrate the adopted child’s connections with all the important people in his life.  If you were to ask him who is most important in his life he would probably tell you the 5 of us and the rest of his new extended family that he now has.   We would add to his list his living biological grandmother and biological uncle still living in Ukraine.  However, I'm not sure how long that will last since he can barely remember Russian already.   If I try to speak what little Russian I know to him, he scolds me.  “I’m American; I like English” he will say.  Nevertheless, we will do our best at this one.

We need to meet Brandon where he is mentally, emotionally and physically.  It is really difficult to measure where he is in any category other than physically.  He is definitely physically coordinated beyond his chronological 11 years old.  He is on track in clothing ranging from 10-12 boys and a 5 boy’s shoe.  He’s a rugged 73 pounds and has a very strong muscle tone.  At times he acts like a 7 or 8 year old child in that he likes Cars movies and Transformers toys.  He wanted Sketchers light up Transformer shoes for school (I had to tell him and his dimples “no” on that one and diverted the blame on the school uniform rules).  He has no shame in wearing a Burger King cardboard crown out of the restaurant.  He is fascinated by airplanes and helicopters.   I got sympathetic looks from other shoppers a few weeks ago when he freaked out over seeing himself on the video cameras at Sam’s.  On-lookers all think because of the way he reacts to certain things in public and his broken language that he is a “special needs” child and they all grin at me with understanding.  In reality he has a wisdom and maturity beyond adulthood.  He has no problem sharing and giving.  This is more than most adults can say.  It’s sad when a kid who has had nothing will give anything and everything he has without hesitating, but most adults have a “me first” and “everything should be mine” mentality in America.   

We need to allow Brandon to grieve.  Really, this is the most difficult for me to comprehend.  He is seriously never sad (with the exception of not getting the light up shoes).  I can’t imagine him ever grieving.  He is so full of life and joy.  It is really hard to ever be in a bad mood with him around.  It does worry me a bit because I’ve never met anyone that is never ever sad.  I wonder if one day grief will hit him.  I’m not sure how we will respond if or when that happens.   

As for now, just 4 months after meeting Brandon for the first time, we are simply enjoying getting to know our son.  We like that he has a childlike innocence.  We get to “re-parent” him in many ways.  We get to teach him to do right.  He eagerly complies with family rules.  He desires to please us.  Though American society says he should be in 5th grade and rolling his eyes at his parents, we choose to allow him to be 7 or 8 and in 3rd grade.  We choose to not rush him to grow up and to catch up. Rather, we take the time to allow him to be fascinated over the little things in life.  He is growing and thriving in his new surroundings.  We can’t wait to see the man that God molds him to be.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mama's Boy

One of the things I was most concerned about when we were given information at the SDA appointment about Brandon’s past was how he would act towards me as his mother.  To some children the idea of a mother (or either parent for that matter) is not a happy or nurturing picture in their minds.  Many orphans all over the world have been abandoned by their parents, or abused.  Conversely, many orphans loved their parents dearly but lost them to death or tragedy and now they guard themselves from loving any parent figure (this was the case with Maxim and Roman).   

Praise God this is not the case with Brandon.  He is very close to Tim and would follow him around all day long, every single day of his life if he could.  He loves to wrestle and never, ever wins against his bully-of-a-dad, but always comes back for more anyway.  He loves to play sports with Tim and help him in the yard.  If he doesn’t want to wear something all I have to say is “Daddy loves this” and somehow he loves it as well.  It is neat to see how he looks up to Tim so much and I can't think of a better role model for my son than Tim.

However, as much as he loves his dad, I would still classify him as a Mama’s Boy.  I can do no wrong in his eyes.  It doesn’t matter if we both know that I’m wrong, he takes my side. If the girls try to talk back to me, Brandon jumps in and scolds them.  He is always giving me gifts.  If he earns a candy treat at school, he will hold it all day long in his pocket to give to me when he first gets in the car.  When we were in Maryland, he picked flowers for me.  With a big smile he handed  me the flowers, roots, dirt and all, but they were the most wonderful flowers I’d ever been given by a boy.  I remember the first gift he gave me.  It was a blue plastic bracelet when he was still living in the orphanage. I will never part with that precious gift.

He never, ever turns down hugs.  He gives me hugs and tells me he loves me several times a day.  If we’re watching a movie he likes to snuggle as close as he can to me without actually sitting on my lap.  He likes when I scratch his back or run my fingers through his thick, blonde hair. Three weeks ago we both had our hair cut at the same time.  He sat across from me getting his hair done while my hairdresser had my hair up in the clips so she could cut long layers.  Brandon looked over at me and said, “Cross-E-Vee Mommy” which means “Beautiful Mommy.”  Only a Mama’s boy could think I was beautiful with wet, sopping hair in ugly hair clips!

He absolutely loves to help me cook in the kitchen.  He is really a good cook already.  I have never seen a boy so young cut vegetables so perfectly for stir fry like he can.  He stirs and sniffs and breathes the scents all in and adds some more seasoning.  He is very, very specific with every measurement.   

Last month we had to move some heavy shelving around in the garage to make room for our extra freezer and he grunted and lifted both shelves into place while I stood back and watched in amazement at how eagerly he worked, just because I asked him to help.  When Katie left for camp, I started to lift her 50 pound suitcase into the car and he took it from me and insisted that he put it in the car for me.

My favorite thing he has done was when we were shopping at Dick’s Sporting Goods.  We were actually there to purchase rollerblades for Katie’s birthday.  We were walking down the aisle and Brandon stopped dead in his tracks and said, “Mommy, please Ku-peet (buy) this.  Please.  Cross-E-Vee (You will be beautiful) Mommy.  Cross-E-Vee.”  I looked at the price and reasoned in my mind I didn’t “need” a new shirt, but he would not take no for an answer.  He wanted to buy it for me.  When we got home and I put it on, he looked at me and he was so proud that I was wearing what he had picked out for me.  I asked him if he liked it and he beamed with delight and said, “Yes.  Mama is beautiful (in that) shirt.”  

Now, don’t get me wrong.  My girls are just as helpful in the kitchen.  They compliment me all the time.  They would lift things if they could.  They have been Mommy’s girls all their lives and would gang up with me against Daddy any day (i.e. about what movie to watch, what restaurant to eat at, whose job it was to do the dishes, etc).  But there is something about a mother’s love toward a son and a son’s love towards a mother that melts my heart from the inside out.  It’s similar to the  special love of the girls have towards Tim and his special love for them that Tim’s been experiencing all these years.  I had no idea what I was missing out on until I actually experienced it for myself.  I can’t help it, it’s true.  I’m smitten by the love of my precious son.  I am SO blessed!!!
The shirt Brandon picked out for me.