life with four: how it is

Today I got an email from a social worker and a grant agency both asking the same question. In fact, it is the question I get most (besides, “are they yours?” and “are they twins?”). The question most people seem to want answered is, “how is life with 4 (kids)?”

When people ask how I’m doing and my response is that I am tired, they usually say something that has to do with the fact that we now have four kids. I mean, sure, four kids keeps a mom busy, but that is not the tired I am referring to. The tired I am referring to is an internal tired that is the result of a long two year process of living with a heart and attention divided, of many, many late nights of planning and paperwork, of traveling and living in a third-world country with four kids under 6 years old for two months (there are a lot of logistics stateside, familyside, and ugandaside to coordinate for that!). It is a tired that results from exposure to sadness, brokenness, and injustice on a level that I’ve yet to see and experience this close to home (and in my own home). It’s a tired from having to be ceaselessly vigilant and on top of every detail all the time. Finally, it’s a tired from bottling up the questions, thoughts, emotions and the processing of said journey (because who has time to deal with that messy stuff when there are so many imminent demands in front of you?). But that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about life with four, and I guess, for me, life with four kids is easy and normal and totally doable- compared to what we have been through in the last few months (I’ll call that, “life with 4, plus”). This day-to-day reality where we have to (*get to) navigate temper tantrums, hungry mouths, laundry, play dates, homework, baths, etc (x4), feels restful. It’s restful because we are all here under one roof and we get to focus on just living and being a family. And that, is fun! We sleep well, laugh a lot, and have already figured out how to sneak in some fun adventures (again, it’s all about the perspective… after “adventuring” around Uganda with the four kids, pretty much anything we could scheme up here feels easy).  We have also figured out how to get everyone out of the house on time in the morning (a victory to celebrate for sure)! Macy and Owen continue to be fantastic big sister and brother and there is peace in our home. At some hours of the day it’s a loud, chaotic peace, but it’s peace nonetheless and I am thankful for it.

(And if I take a long time to call or text you back, I hope you’ll forgive me, ha. I didn’t say I have an abundance of time of my hands, I just said I’m having fun!)

today’s milestone: first visit to the pediatrician

Today was a day I had dreamt about for a long time: Cora and Elias’ first doctor appointment. It was nuts. I don’t think I’ve mentioned on here that the kids do not like the doctors. At all. They have some traumatic memories associated with medical care, and every time we set foot near someone with a stethoscope around their neck (even minus the infamous white coat), the tears start flowing. This is why I have put it off a few weeks since our arrival home. I really wanted to give the kids some time to adjust without putting them in a situation where they had to be afraid. Time’s up!

We get to the doctors office and I’m greeted with 2 stacks of paperwork to fill out. The kids play happily with the toys and I start filling out the papers. All is well, I think. But the doctor is fantastically timely today and less than 5 minutes into my paperwork, the nurse comes out and calls us back. Then it begins- measurements, examinations, poking, prodding, and the grad finale, some vaccinations. I’m still trying to fill out the papers, but the kids are really upset and this is my chance to comfort them and establish more connection by meeting their needs. Paperwork loses and I’m on the floor, two crying babies on my lap. Doctor, perched on chair, talking through vaccination catch-up, circumcision quandary, and developmental milestones. It was unlike any previous appointment I’d had. We leave (babies comforted and quieted by now), and it’s my turn to cry. Thinking about these two, their crazy medical history, and the care they have needed but have been unable to get, is overwhelming and has been a point of sadness throughout our process. To be able to provide that care, is something quite wonderful (even though they hate it).

Today I’m thankful for that mess of an appointment- for the screaming babies, the vaccinations that made them cry, and for the oh-so-patient doctor and nurses who somehow managed to get high-fives from the kids on their way out…  it’s another thing that has been re-framed for me in this season and something that one of you dear people will need to remind me of years down the road when preventative care (for myself or for my kids) is something that feels inconvenient.

elias on the scale

Elias on the scale. Both kids have gained 5 lbs already! Elias is in the 10th percentile and Cora is in the 2nd. At the rate they are growing it won’t be long before they are right on track.

post shots

I call this the “I survived my first round of vaccinations” photo. Pictured is the good-natured nurse (in her cowboy costume for halloween) who gave them their shots. #snacksmakeeverythingfeelbetter #sodohugsfrommom #butmostlysnacks

Quote

“And this is the great paradox of Africa: the beauty and the messiness all co-existing together.” -Shelley Homeyer

Maybe that’s why I found it refreshing. It coexists. There’s no concealing of one or the other and one is not diminished by the other’s presence. Both exist in abundance. Where I live we avoid the messy (certainly the appearance of it) and we struggle to embrace both because we are afraid that the messy and painful will take away from the beauty and goodness. I’m learning that the ability to look both square in the eye and live fully-present among them is possible and actually very freeing.

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the grand finale

When the first 10 minutes of our road trip to the twins’ village included me getting pooped on by a child AND a member of our car throwing up, I wondered if perhaps we had undertaken a little too much adventure. It was our last day in country after-all. Should we stay home and relax? Start packing perhaps? Were we really up for this?

I had known all along that this day was important. From the get go, I had asked our agency if it would be possible to make a trip to the kids’ birthplace, to meet some friends and family, and to try and capture as much of their story on film and in word as possible. I knew there would be a day when, as the kids grew, they would wonder about who they are and where they came from, and I wanted to have good answers. I wanted my kids to know the larger story they tie in to, and I wanted our whole family to experience part of the twins’ story together. So, because we had to wait until after the embassy process was complete, and because we finished that process just 2 days before leaving for “home,” today was our one shot.

The drive out to the village was, of course, beautiful. I still can’t get enough of the Ugandan countryside and all of its beauty. I can stare at it for hours out the window and never lose interest. We made fairly good time and were soon driving down a narrow dirt road to a simple brick home. We pulled up and out of the house bounded the most joyful and genuine welcome I’ve received. I will never forget it. One woman, Nalongo they call her, was jumping up and down waving and clapping her hands, singing and laughing. When I stepped out of the car she embraced me several times, staring deep into my eyes, expressing gratitude and love. Home.

Everyone was glad to see the twins. They all wanted to hold and kiss them, which the kids obviously were not thrilled about. No one could believe how much healthier they looked. It was a true celebration. The love also extended towards Macy and Owen and they were troopers like always- offering hugs, handshakes and photo op’s to everyone who asked (Macy at one point changed her hairstyle because she thought that’s why people were staring at her. She then realized it was her white hair and skin that was attracting the attention, not her ponytail).

We proceeded inside the home for some story-telling time. We heard stories about how the family came to live in that area, how the kids’ mom and dad met, the story of the twins’ birth and the significance of each of their names. It was a sweet time.

After stories were told it was announced that they had made us a meal to share and out from the back of the house came pots of chicken, beef, rice, and matoke. They had even gone out of their way to purchase bottled waters for us all to drink. It was the most extravagant and generous meal that has ever been set before me I’m sure. The sacrifice that went in to getting and making the food was evident and appreciated. It was a gesture of true gratitude.

At the conclusion of lunch, Simon, the children’s father, asked to “bless” the children before they left. What proceeded to follow was probably my highlight of the whole trip so far. Friends and family of the twins crammed into the front room, everyone extending a hand of blessing on or towards the kids. Simon spoke bravely and eloquently, surrendering his children and asking for God’s protection over and presence with them as they go. When he said, “amen” the place erupted in song as people celebrated God’s provision for the twin’s. We concluded by singing the twin’s favorite song all together (their faces, the people, the weight of the moment… too much to put to words).

After some sibling play time, a little sibling gift giving (from Macy and Owen to the older bio siblings of Cora and Elias), and a few more photos, it was time for us to load up again and head home.

I’m so thankful we got the chance to spend some time in Cora and Elias’ village with the people who have been important in their lives so far. It is clear that they are so loved. So much so that their dad has bravely decided that it is in their best interest to be placed in our care, as hard as that may be. After the visit today, I feel a new weight and privilege as I get to parent these two children going forward. They are the children of a mom and dad who had great hopes and dreams for their kids and great love, too. Dave and I get to continue to build off that solid foundation they have built and we will be sure the kids know just how loved they are- by their family in Uganda, and by their family in the US. In many ways, this adoption is more of an “expansion” of our family than it is a simple addition of two new members into our existing unit. Our family is expanding into new countries and cultures. The people we met today are now a very important part of our story and I hope they will continue to be. I’m already scheming ways to make that so.

Earlier this week I used the hashtags #gobigorgohome #gobigANDgohome. I think with today’s adventure we have done just that. It was a big day and I now feel armed with some important pieces of knowledge about my children’s past that I did not previously have, and not just a knowledge, but an experience of it’s beauty and richness that will be forever treasured (by all of us). Now, I think, we are ready. Home we go. #stillsomanyblogstowrite #somanyblogssolittletime

homecoming, HELP!

We are very excited to announce that we are scheduled to return home in just a few days. It has been a very long, wonderful, and extremely challenging 7 weeks for every member of our family. We will have a lot to process and a lot of adjusting to do when we get home on so many levels. We cannot wait to be back home and among our community of support (being away from you all during this time has been one of the most challenging parts for sure). We want to tell stories, introduce you to the kids, hear what has been happening in your lives while we’ve been gone. We know you’ll want to see us, too, and we know that many of you will ask how you can help during this transitional time.

Along those lines, there are a few things we’d like you all to know and a few things you can do to help us. We are hoping that by sending this out in advance it will open lines of communication and ensure that no one feels hurt or takes our requests personally. In no particular order, here they are…

-Cora and Elias are still trying to figure out who their mom and dad are. Because of their upbringing, it is easier for them to be comfortable with strangers and with children than it is for them to be comfortable with two primary care-givers. To help them bond and attach to us, we ask that you not show affection to the children (please no hugging, holding, kissing) and that you understand that we cannot have you feed them, change them, or comfort them at this point in time. They will know they are loved by you by the smile on your face and the way you greet them and talk to them (please don’t feel you have to ignore them).

-Cora and Elias think they live in Uganda with us. Our homecoming is going to feel like another huge upheaval in their little lives. They will be confused, disoriented, and looking for “home.” For that reason, we will limit our time spent in other “homes” until we feel they can recognize and feel safe in our home.

-Macy and Owen will want to share about their new brother and sister, but they also have many great stories from our travels that are not adoption related. Please ask them about things related to how they are doing, their highlights, etc, and not just about their new “brother and sister.”

-If you see us out and about (and you will!), please be reserved in your greeting of the twins. This means no huge greeting, quick movements, and no touching initially unless they seem comfortable enough with your presence (you’ll know) (and even then, a high five or “bonga” (knuckles) is as touchy as it should get). Remember: though you all know them, they have no clue who you are. They will be comforted by your interaction with us, and will warm up to being able to interact with you. It won’t be like this forever!

-If you see us eating out, please be especially careful. Eating is a very sensitive time for the twins and they freak out very easily when someone approaches them (or their plate). Please do come say hello (or join us!), but we ask the kids be given a lot of space at meal time.

We hope these requests don’t make you want to avoid us until we get settled but rather that they will provide an understanding between us as we transition. We will need a lot of love and grace as a family. We want to see you (read: we NEED to see you), and we cannot wait for the kids to get to know you all. Please don’t feel awkward about asking us questions, or getting clarification about why we might be doing things a certain way. We hope you will keep short accounts with us as I’m sure we will do things that seemingly don’t make sense or that frustrate those we love. We hope that’s not the case, but we know we will all be tired, emotional, and transitional. It’s your turn to embrace crazy. Here we come!

We love you all and we cannot wait to see you.

our final days: from adoption process to internal process

These last few days in Uganda are weighty for sure. It’s a different kind of weight than we have experienced so far. This is not a weight of a cumbersome and paralyzing adoption process, this weight comes from so many different emotions to take in and pay attention to now that the burden of the adoption process has been lifted and I can actually begin to internally process all that has gone on these last 9 weeks. It’s the weight of another season and chapter (and adventure) closing, and my desire not to just let it pass quickly by.

Here are a few noteworthy things about our final days that are occupying my mental space tonight:

Today was the twins’ birthday and that alone was a pretty fantastic way to end the trip. Cora loves the Happy Birthday song. She tried to sing it several times today, clapping her hands in joy, and delighting in her accomplishement of getting us to sing along every time. The crowning moment of the day came after dinner when the cupcakes came out and we sang (once more) “happy birthday” to Cora and Elias. You could see in their little eyes and faces the joy of being loved and celebrated. They felt special and in that very moment, all the stress and frustration and weariness of the last 2 years mattered no more. They are home. They are taken care of. They know it, and they love it. Something about that is just so right.

We also picked up the kids’ Visas today. More reason to celebrate. We are now officially able to leave the country WITH the kids. Our homecoming is now an actuality and is coming soon! We also ended up in the embassy waiting room with two of the other adoptive families we met while being here. The camaraderie and mutual joy was palpable. It was as if we had all fought a common battle together and though  we hardly know anything of each other, we have deep connections based on what we have survived. Not many words are needed to bring comfort when you are able to look in the eyes of someone who knows the reality you have faced/or are facing and who stands in it with you. It was a sweet way to end our in-country process for sure.

We are also starting to say goodbye to some of our new Ugandan friends which is a strange thing when you don’t know if or when your paths will cross again. I’m sure our family will return here again, and I hope there is a way to stay in touch with these people who are dear to us already. To think that some of the faces who have been present in this last season will not continue to be present is very odd, especially given that it has been such a significant and challenging season for us as a family. And to think we are going home to those who know and love us most but who have not been able to be here physically with us and who haven’t seen and experienced life here and this transition with us is also weird. I can’t think of too many other times in life where this happens.

On deck for tomorrow: traveling to the village the twins were born in to meet some family/friends, take some photos and capture some memories that the kids can have as they get older. It’s a long car ride, and it feels like a big undertaking the day before we fly home, but I know it’s one of the most important things we can do and that it will really mean a lot to Cora and Elias one day. Plus, I kind of like an adventure, and this seems like a pretty good one. I can’t wait to meet people who knew them at birth (I’m sure they will be surprised at the health and growth of the kids) and who knew their mom. I can’t wait to hear stories about the family, how their parents met, and to see the faces of their older siblings. I know this will also be really, really hard.

Status

Everything is running out… dish soap, conditioner, malaria pills, jungle oats, chocolate syrup, anit-itch cream, catsup (for pretty much all of Tyra’s meals and for Macy’s hair), diapers, my patience… it’s time to come home. #workingonit