Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snippets of Conversation

James: Patrick, computer .....
Patrick: James, it needs charging, it's low on batteries. BAAA-TER-EEEES.
James: Patrickkkkk, computer!
Patrick: BAAAAA-TER-EEEEEES!
James: Patrick, you owned!
Patrick: No, YOU owned!
James: Patrick pookala [pass gas]. POOOOO!
Patrick: No, James pookala!
(These last two you can play on a loop as long as you like)

Rosie: Julie -- M and I are going out sledding. Wanna come?
Julie: No. Julie, Mommy.
[Julie's sentences resemble addition word problems, where she strings together a bunch of words as though adding them all up]
Julie: Mama? Julie, Mommy, macheena, storya. Yes?
Me: No, Julie, not right now. Nee see ches.
Julie: Mama? Julie, Mommy, help, mmmmmm, oojin? Mmmmm, dinner?
Me: Yes, Julie, you can help me make dinner.
Julie: Owww!
Me: Julie, maybe if you give Mom some space (gesturing like a crazy person), I won't step on your foot when I turn around.
Julie: yaneepaneemyou [I don't understand].

Thursday, January 22, 2009

School on the Run


Seemed like a simple plan when I made it. Clear the morning calendar. Make a nice space in the dining room for ESL (English as a Second Language) lessons. Every morning, get the other kids on the bus, then sit down with James and Julie and proceed to teach them English. Follow each well-taught lesson with a trip to the barn together for chores, and then a stroll down our country lane, pointing out the English words for familiar items such as fence, tree, goose. Throw a few bluebirds twittering around our heads and you get the picture.
Yeah. Well. That's happened all of like, twice. More commonly, we're picking one of the kids up from school to run them to the doctor or orthodontist, going to the grocery store for the third time in a week, schlepping out to the social security office for more paperwork, or any one of the myriad of things that keep popping up to fill these new gaps in my calendar.
So usually we have school on the run, as we listen to ESL CDs in the car or I point out things while we're driving around, like truck, bus, train, etc. Skojit "hobo". One drawback to this method is that I'm about to lose my friggin' mind. If I have to listen to this Bryan Adams wannabe and his cheesy accompanying musicians sing "What's Your Name" or "Supermarket Sally" one more time I am going to leap out the window and start playing in traffic. But the kids love it. "Mom, Mom, What's Your Name. Please? What's Your Name." OK. One more time ....
Another occupational hazard to being in the position of ESL teacher is that I've come to resemble a silent movie actor in my manner of speech. As I point out a new word to them, I am striving with every nuance of my facial expressions and body language to convey its meaning. Imagine, if you will, my melodrama as I teach by charade the words happy, or angry. While it seems helpful during the lessons, it's gotten to be a hard thing to switch on and off. I might say to someone, "I like your shirt (sweeping my arm up and down across my torso to indicate shirt). It's pretty (with a stupid happy face on). It's red (might gesture to several red things at this point)". They just look at me and I know what they're wondering. Where's her 'special helmet'?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Daniel


Daniel. The baby of the family. The red-headed monkey. For as long as he's been on this earth, Daniel has been making people laugh. He definitely has a gift for story-telling, and will captivate his audience du jour with his vocabulary and creativity when spinning his latest yarn. He has the need to pace when he talks, so be prepared to get dizzy as you watch him walk round and round the table while his eyes sparkle, his dimples deepen, and his tongue waggles. Not sure how it's possible, but he seems to grow more freckles as he talks.

Besides creative story-telling/writing, Daniel is also a gifted artist and never ceases to amaze me with his artwork of knights, soldiers, dragons, maps. He can play for hours, with only himself for company, creating set-ups with his army guys, his Playmobil castles, blocks, or whatever he has on hand at the moment. Or I'll see him in some corner of the house, wearing a mask and cape, wielding a sword against some unseen enemy, keeping the house safe from imminent danger. His imagination is bottomless, and his ability to tap into it never fails to enthrall me.

He, like his brother Patrick, has provided me with quite the challenge over the years when it comes time for discipline. A parents prized possession is the privileges we allow our children to enjoy. But because Daniel has such an incredible ability to use his imagination as a source of entertainment, we can remove every fun modern kid magnet from his world and he's still good to go. No X-Box? No problem. No TV? Doesn't put a hitch in his stride. Time-out? Plenty of fun material in that brain of his to keep him entertained for a good long while.

But it all adds up to one interesting little package. Each day with Daniel is a new adventure, and I always look forward to seeing what's in store for the day when he's around.

Julie


Julie is the most recent addition to our family, and 5th in birth order. There are 7 months separating all three girls, which means that life as we know it should be kicked up a notch in a few years when they are all teenagers. As you probably all know, I didn't know a thing about this girl till the day I met her in late Oct 2008. How she ever kept herself contained, sitting primly and quietly on her chair as all the grown-ups prattled on about procedural stuff, I'll never know. She had passed the years 2001 - 2008 in two different orphanages, just life as usual, when all of a sudden Fred and I show up and they tell her, these people want to adopt you and take you to live with them in America. MinistryofEducationOfficialsayWHAT? She was kinda like, uhhh, OK. But it seemd more of a question than a statement. What it was was a gigantic leap of faith. And it's a leap I'm glad she was willing to make.

She is one of the most vivacious, fun-lovin' little gals I've ever met. She's always laughing, and if she still has a bit of a shell to come out of, I have to say it makes me nervous. She has an uncanny knack for comprehension, piecing together bits of language, facial expressions, and context so that she pretty much has known what we've been saying to her from the day she came home.

She loves pink and red, dogs and horses, running and riding her bike. She also loves to tease James and then play the part of the innocent, turning big doe eyes at me when he accuses her of name-calling. I look forward to knowing her more and more each day. I love her to pieces already and can't wait to see the person she will become.

Rosie


Middle-of-the-bunch before we began adopting, Rosie is sandwiched between her two bio brothers. I believe this, in part, along with the crazy genetics she inherited, helped form her personality which can best be described as bulldog meets sweet pea. As a toddler, if there was something she wanted, I would see her set her jaw, squint her eyes, and march right on over and make it happen, Clint Eastwood style. This is probably also why she loves being goalie on her soccer team. She looks at that ball and just dares it to even think about approaching her goalie box. If it does, she'll jump, dive, leap, stretch and kick till it's outa there. And yet her teachers, year after year, have described her as a sweet, kind eager learner, always taking the initiative to help other students. Consistently a straight-A student, she's also a talented drummer and loves to choreograph dance numbers to her favorite music. She gives new meaning to the expression "Daddy's Girl" and she lights up the second he walks in the door. Anyone ever messes with her Poppy, they're gonna have to answer to her. So she's pretty cool. Smart, kind, beautiful, athletic, loving.
So what if she's a bit ..... gassy.....?
It's a point of pride with her, actually. She can rapid-fire burp if she's had the privilege of enjoying a soda and she'll challenge any takers to surpass her numbers. As to the gasical stylings of her preference, I won't share with you the details. Just suffice it to say she takes pride in her work and keeps her friends and family rolling their eyes and trying to suppress their giggles. But that's a hard thing to do when she starts filling the house with her laughter. Perhaps she's not roses to our noses, but her laughter is music to our ears.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bella


Third by birth order but fourth to join our family, Bella is quite possibly the sweetest child on earth. As my sister says, she is a muffin. A love muffin that could cuddle with you all day and not tire of it. She is observant and nurturing and bright .... in her own way. She also has a learning disability as well as a speech impairment, but she doesn't let those things slow her down. What she lacks in ability she makes up for in effort and eagerness, and is generally an honor roll student, witht he help of her loving teachers and learning support staff. Her tastes in playthings/entertainment have matured considerably in the last couple years. Where she loved playing with Barbies and babies and kitchen, she now prefers her DS and her iPod and watching the shows required of all preteen girls, like Hanna Montana, Zoey 101 and HS Musical.

Sadly, as she and her school peers get older, they are beginning to notice differences more and pull away. Although it bothers her for the "pop-a-lar girls" to treat her badly, she has never let it destroy her world, and still has a smile on her face and love in her heart when she goes off to school. Don't know how long she'll be able to not let it get to her, but I'll continue to talk to her about it and support her through it the best I can.

She's a paradox on two legs. She would be a couch potato if I let her, and yet she's definitley got athletic talent. She's great at gymanstics, dancing, and ice skating (the latter she is taking lessons for currently). She's also quite a good shot with the basketball, though it's funny to see this little shrimp of a girl so accurately sink the ball through the net time and time again.

She still loves her homeland of Kazakhstan, and her trip there with us in 2008 was probably the highlight of her 11 years. She has some fond memories of orphanage life, where she spent her first almost six years, but she can remember some pretty traumatic events, too. Perhaps because of that, there is still not a day that goes by that she doesn't appreciate just about everything, and she relishes life. Each day I learn from her. She is truly one of my role models.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

James


James (Borya) is our second child by age, but 5th by order of joining our family. I met him in August of 2003 during the bonding period while adopting Bella. I was taken with him from the beginning, with his quiet manner, his way of taking everything in with his soulful eyes. I remember him as a kind, generous, helpful boy who seemed so much older than his 8 years. On my first day in the play yard, with Bella in my lap and a million other kids swarming around, he quietly asked me, leaning over my shoulder, if I would find him a Mama too. That's the moment he took up residence in my heart, and I vowed I would find him a Mama. I just had no idea at the time it would be me.

So, as the story goes, we lost track of him, then found him again, then developed a relationship with him through correspondance, then finally learned we could adopt him. And adopt him we did, five years after meeting him. When I met him again in 2008, he was just as I remembered: quietly observant, artistic, kind, helpful, generous, bright.

I still sometimes feel like I'm living in a dream when I realize he is home with us, part of our family. A dream that was started in a dirt play yard on a hot August day halfway around the world so many years ago. Borya. A dream come true .....

Monday, January 5, 2009

Patrick

Our first-born child, Patrick is quite the character. Stubborn from before he was born (I was induced the morning of Fred's BD, but he was finally dragged kicking and screaming into this world by c-section the next day -- guess he wanted his own birthday), he could debate the hind-end off a mule. Many's the day that Fred and I were left scratching our heads in wonder, not knowing why parenting this kid was so trying. It didn't work for us to go by the books, suggestions from friends and family, our guts or our hearts. We pretty much had to throw out all the rules and wing it. Though we've come a long way and have learned a thing or three, he sure keeps us on our toes.

In the past, he's dabbled in wrestling, soccer, karate, and even dog agility (with our awesome Aussie Blue), but these days he's content hanging out with his friends playing x-box, listening to music, or watching some of his favorite shows or movies. When he's not ridding the world of evil zombies, he enjoys wrestling with his sibs, paint-ball in our field, or tetherball, BB, riding his bike or his Ripstick in our driveway. Just between you and me, he also enjoys reading and chess.

He could get straight As in his sleep if he would buck up and consistently do his homework, but since that's not his thing, Fred and I are left singing the "...you can enjoy these privileges if ..." song (any other parents of teenagers know that tune?).

He's a great kid, though. Always willing to help a sibling with homework, very giving, bright as they come, sharp wit, full of vim and vigor. I've yet to see his eyes without their sparkle and he's always ready with his next wisecrack. There are times I try not to laugh, wanting to get my point across with a stern look on my face, but he breaks me down and I'm left giggling helplessly.

I've heard that you don't learn as much about yourself from your "easy" kids as you do from your "difficult" ones. If that's true, I've learned more about myself from Patrick than I ever cared to know! But I can't imagine life without him. He changed my world completely, and he is a young man whose life I feel blessed to be a part of.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Here's the story, of a man named ....


Fred.

And what a terrific guy is Fred. Smart as they come. Tall and broad and handsome, great Dad, wonderful husband, best Trauma Surgeon/Intensivist/General Surgeon/Surgical Residency Program Director you'll ever meet. Should have won Patient-Saint-of-the-Year Award several times over and yet he's never even been nominated. Because although what he yearns for most in life is quiet order, he instead married me and by doing so has taken on my ensuing chaotic horde of six kids and a couple dozen critters. Who knew back in '88 what uttering those two little words "I do" would actually DO to his life? Because he values his privacy, I won't say much about his personality/what makes him tick, but I can tell you a little about his life: he was raised in South Jersey (in pretty much the same house all his childhood) as the sixth of seven kids. He loved Little League (for which his Mom was coach) and running all over the Pine Barrens and cranberry bogs with his friends and brothers. Some of his pre-college graduation jobs included babysitting, construction work, cleaning the grease traps at good ol' Mickey D's, pushing carts in the Shop-Rite parking lot, movie theatre usher/projectionist/manager, MAB Paint salesman, and more. Today he enjoys reading (biographies and books on quantum physics are among his favorites), woodworking, and trying to catch up on a few of his favorite shows or old movies. His favorite things to do with the kids are teaching them fix-it projects around the house, bowling, taking them out to the movies, or playing ball in the yard.

I realize that most men like him, with his brilliant career and the respect of his colleagues and community, would have a pretty little trophy wife, two kids, maybe a small hypoallergenic dog, and a house in the 'burbs with neatly trimmed shrubs and an ornamental tree. But instead of that trophy wife, he got his Tomboy wife with a smudge of dirt on her cheek, jeans with holes in the knees, a t-shirt and her "barn gloves" on, with strands of hair falling out of her ponytail and into her eyes. However, if you looked closely at the eyes under the hair, you would see they were brimming with love and admiration for the big guy. Because he's everything to her. And he's given her her whole world. And she knows theirs truly is, an Endless Love.....

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Till the one day when this lady met this fellow ....

...and they knew that it was much more than a hunch....

Yeah, well, you guys get the idea. Short story: A long time ago Fred and I met, fell in love, got married, had a bunch of kids.

Long version:

A Prolonged Beginning
Fred and I have been in classes together since our days in middle school, 7th grade. Didn't really get to know each other till senior year, when we worked in the movie theatre together (he an usher, me the cashier). We got to be good friends. Then the prom came, and although he went with E and I went with S, we somehow experienced love at first sight that night, five years after our first meeting (we're a little slow). We slow-danced to the prom theme song, Endless Love, and that was all she wrote. The next day a whole gang of us went to Great Adventure, and Fred and I walked the park holding hands, all lovey-eyed for each other amid much wretching and puking from our friends.
A few short months later, it was off to seperate colleges and the beginning of a long-distance, long-term relationship. This was before the days of e-mail and texting, so we actually had to write letters to each other a few times a week. On paper. I know, gasp. We talked by phone once a week, but saw each other only a few times during the school years. Still, we managed to keep the love alive in our hearts, as well as the nausea alive in the stomachs of our friends.
Because I worked through school, I took the "5 year plan" and finished college with a BS in Occupational Therapy. Fred finished with a BS in Chemistry and started med school. So after his 1st year of med school and my last year of college, we tied the knot. As per the regulations of the 1980s, the wedding was a pink and grey pastel affair, with much layering and lace. We had a 3 day honeymoon in an inn not far from Atlantic City, then got back to work.

Movin' On Up
When summer was over, we moved out of Fred's Dad's attic and into our 1st apt in Central Jersey. I finished up my internships and got a job, Fred kept plugging away at being a med student. I can remember him practicing his stitches on the back of our 2nd-hand bile-green sofa.
After graduating from med school, Fred landed his surgical residency. So we loaded up the truck (and all our collective friends' trucks) and we moved to Delaware (are you singing this to the Beverly Hillbillies tune?). We rented what seemed like a palatial split-level, 3 bdrm 1 1/2 bath house. We had so much room that we invited some friends to move in (unbeknownst to our landlord). B was in residency with Fred. They had sold their house in VA, but hadn't yet bought a place in DE. So we said they could bunk with us till they found a place. So B and J, and their children ages 4, 2 and newborn, along with their Great Dane, moved in with us for a bit and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Ahhh, good times, good times ....
Our friends weren't there long before they found a place, and life went on. Then one day we came home to find a sheriff's sale sign in our front yard. Whatever our landlord was doing with our rent payments, paying the mortgage wasn't it. We quickly scrambled and found an old farmhouse for rent in nearby MD. It was the beginning of the end for poor Fred, in his losing battle against me and the animals. This old house had a barn and 5 acres, and I promptly put a horse in the pasture. Our critter count was upped considerably in that house. Our landlady there was a quirky old character. We could only guess her age at that time to be anywhere between 60 and 80. She smoked like a chimney and always had a floppy-eared drooling Bloodhound in tow. She kept all her important papers stuffed in Ziplock baggies and had a habit of talking to you as she was walking or driving away.

Welcome to Parenthood
Our first son was born in that house in 1995.
We moved b/c our landlady had one of her many sweet real estate deals pop up: the company that owned the adjoining land wanted to buy her property. So she sold it for millions and we moved. Again.
Instead of renting this time, though, we were able to buy our first house. Fred had finished his surgical residency, as well as a fellowship in Trauma and Critical Care at Baltimore's Shock-Trauma. He took a staff job as a trauma surgeon. I was about 7 mths pregnant with our second child when I quit my job and we moved into our first boughten house in in October of 1997. It was an amazing 260 year old stucco over stone farmhouse with 11 1/2 acres, a pond and a stream. The driveway alone was 1/2 mile long. It needed a lot of work, and was on the small side, but we loved it. We moved in and I gave birth about two months later to our little girl.
Our days seemd too short as we struggled to find the time to parent our two small children, fix up the old house, maintain 11+acres, make fencing repairs, take care of the growing array of critters, and for Fred to work the many hours of a young surgeon. But we managed, and soon added a third child to the mix, in the summer of 1999.
With three children under the age of four, I really felt we were done growing our family. So when I had to have surgery to remove my rebellious gallbladder, I opted for the 2-for-1 discount and got my tubes tied in a pretty little package. With two little boys and one darling girl, I had it all. And wanted to stop.

Stupid Sisters
It's all my sisters' fault. Mary and Veronica are like my best friends. We've been through a lot together and it's made us close. One day it dawned on me that my Rosie would never know the joy of a sister stealing her clothes or hogging the phone or taking too much time in the bathroom. I wanted to have another daughter, but knew that even if I had a reversal of my surgery, there were no guarantees I'd get pregnant again, and certainly no assurances I would ever have another girl. So we (meaning I) decided to add to our family by adoption.

Adoption Pregnancy
So after convincing Fred I wasn't interested in adopting a baby (he wanted no more middle-of-the-night feedings, dirty diapers or teething), we started the research in January of 2003: Domestic or international? Which country? Which agency? What age child? Are we crazy or just eccentric? We finally signed with an agency in February, sent them our completed dossier in May, and beleive it or not, travelled to Kazakhstan in August and brought home our little five year old girl Bella in September. Never even got any stretch marks.

Life Goes On
We settled into some sense of normalcy for awhile with our now four kids. We also hosted some exchange students and I decided we needed to move to a bigger house. So in April of 2005 we said goodbye to our old farmhouse and hello to our new farmhouse 15 mins up the road. We more than doubled our living space, and went from 3 bedrooms to 7, but we downsized our property from 11+ acres to just shy of 7. Fred, laughing nervously, said he hoped I wouldn't decide all those rooms needed to be filled.

Just One Little Problem ....
There was this boy I met while I was over in Kazakhstan visiting our daughter. He was an amazing kid, but since I had no thoughts on adopting a boy, I thought I could find him a forever family through the network of adoptive parents I had met. But as it turned out, they told me he was not available for adoption. So sad, but OK, what can I do? So I thought we would just stay in touch with him. Problem is, the first time I sent him anything, I learned he had been transferred to another orphanage. We lost touch for more than two years, but we finally found him by hiring an in-country PI of sorts. We were still told he was not available for adoption, but at least we could finally begin writing to him as we had hoped. He remembered me, and we began writing letters to each other, and I would send him small packages from time to time. Two years passed this way, and I was finally told I could "try" to adopt him. Yes, they told me if I was crazy enough, I could spend months of my time and an exorbitant amount of money to prepare a dossier and fly halfway around the world so someone could review the case and decide if we could adopt him. Unfortunately for Fred, I am indeed crazy enough, and that's exactly what we did. I started preparing the dossier in October 2007, and was finally given my Letter of Invitation (aka greenlight) to travel to Kazakhstan in October of 2008. Five years and two months from when we were there before.

Just One More Little Problem
Of course, things are never simple. Because along the way of this second adoption journey, we learned that Borya had a younger sister, and that they could not be separated (though they were already placed in two different orphanages and never had any contact with each other). So it was decision time. If we wanted to adopt Borya, we would also need to adopt his sister. Could we adopt a 10 year old child we knew nothing about? Could we go from 4 kids to 5 to 6? Could we one day handle three 15 year old girls all living under one roof? Once we met her, all doubts flew out the window. She's a lovely child, and just, shall we say "interesting" enough to fit into our crazy crew seamlessly. So end of October 2008, Fred, Bella and I flew to Kazakhstan (again) and stayed there about a month to complete the adoptions of Borya and Yulia. Adoptions in Kazakhstan are different today than they were five years ago, so after court, we flew home to await the arrival of Borya and Yulia a month and a half later.

And that, in the biggest nutshell you've ever seen, is how we went from one kid to two, then three. Added a fourth, then brought home the fifth and sixth. As my kids used to say when they were toddlers, "All done!". Fred can only hope ....

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