Monday, September 28, 2015

One Less...A Three-Year-Anniversary

Over a year has passed since I've posted anything on the blog!  Adoption is a roller coaster.   When we are UP, I am too busy treasuring the moment to write.  When we are DOWN, I have no desire to write.  The cycle continues non-stop, and so writing doesn't happen.  But every up and down is worth it...Adoption is worth it.

I am overwhelmed with excitement of how our "adoption story" continues... A year into our adoption of Ajay and Smita, I realized that our journey was bigger than us.  We were just a small part of a much bigger plan being orchestrated by God.  It makes my heart explode to see tiny puzzle pieces still falling into place because the big picture He is creating is amazing.  This keeps happening over and over again!

Today, on the three year anniversary of our 2-day Both Hands/House of Heroes Project (the service project that funded our adoption), I am overjoyed to share the story of Michelle and Sneha.

Michelle and her son showed up to work on our Both Hands/House of Heroes Project even though we were strangers.  We shared mutual friends, but we had never met.  I don't even know if I had a real conversation with Michelle on the day of the project because I was so completely overwhelmed with the work, schedule, and details of the of the craziest days of my entire life!

Looking back on photos of the day, it is clear to see that Michelle is amazing!

This photo melts my heart...  
Michelle and her son working alongside my sister, my brother, my sister-in-law, my dad, and my two daughters... no one having a clue that one day, Michelle would be like "family"...
no one knowing that on the other side of the world, she had a daughter that was like a sibling by circumstance to Ajay and Smita.

One year and two months after our project, we were finally given permission to travel to India to get Ajay and Smita.  As we were walking out of the Ashram for the last time, Mr. P, the orphanage director, stopped us and said, "Wait. There is a child that I want you to meet.  Take photos and videos of this child.  Give them directly to your agency.  Find a family for her in America."  He explained that the little girl had a misshapen hand and feet, but she could write and "her mind was sharp."  Mr. P sent for the caregiver to bring Sneha into the main office to meet us.  She was adorable, beautiful, vibrant...  She followed instructions and counted her numbers for our video camera.  She allowed us to snap photos of her.  And then she RACED Smita across the orphanage courtyard to demonstrate that her physical disabilities did not slow her down one bit!!!  She had overcome that obstacle!  She was just as fast, if not faster, than Smita!  She was truly an amazing little girl!  Mr. P explained that in India, she did not have a chance of finding a family...but in America, she could thrive.  He heaped extravagant praise upon Americans for their willingness to accept "special needs" of all kinds.  He spoke awhile about God's blessings that would be heaped upon the family willing to accept Sneha.  "God will bless them."  Sneha was the only friend in the age group of Ajay and Smita that we were permitted to meet, so we seized that moment to take photos of Sneha with our children, thinking that it would be the only physical treasure of past friendships that they would take with them from India.
 Although they had never had toys to call their own, Ajay and Smita gave their new toys of a Delta airplane and a four-color ink pen as gifts to Sneha.  I was humbled by their generosity.  Leaving the orphanage for the last time was already emotional, but there was an added sadness knowing that Sneha had watched her friends leave with a family...and she was being left behind. 
After returning home to America and settling in for a few days, we finally mailed the photos of Sneha to our agency.  I also advocated for her on an India adoption forum.  Several families expressed an interest, but one family ultimately came forward, knowing that Sneha was their daughter...Michelle's family!

After all of the grueling work of completing endless documents, fundraising, and the painful wait, the adoption of Sneha is legally complete!  Two years after we met Sneha, she officially has a family, and they are ready to get her!

My closest friends know that I LOVE special dates and anniversaries on the calendar!  Sooooo...TODAY, on the three-year-anniversary of our (2-day) Both Hands/House of Heroes project--the project where I first "met" Michelle, the project on which she worked so hard to help a widow and to bring Ajay and Smita home not knowing that it would ultimately lead to the finding of her own daughter--Michelle, her husband, and her son are boarding an airplane for India to finally unite with Sneha!  AMAZING!  What makes the story even better is that they have family members that live about three miles from where we just moved!  I foresee a glorious reunion in the future!

Three other children from the Ashram have come home to America in the last few months that were very close to Ajay and Smita.  All of these friends are now like family.  Our network of Ashram mommies and daddies is so crucial to the growth, survival, and healing of our adoptive families...and I can only imagine how important all of these children will be to their own healing in the future.  They shared beds, clothing, meals, triumphs, traumas, sorrows, everything together.  Only God could write a story where orphans as close as siblings would be reunited on the other side of the world to be lifelong family friends.

I cannot wait to see Sneha in the arms of her family!

(Awesome photography of Both Hands Project by my friend Jawan McGinnis.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


One of our biggest adoption decisions has been how to meet the educational needs of our new children...public school? private school? home school?  When we were completing our home study, we assumed that the children would not know any English, so we would need to home school at least until they learned enough language to succeed in a traditional school setting.  It was impossible to know what we would be dealing with until actually meeting the children.

We were told that the children were in second and third grade, and that they attended English Medium School. 

English Medium School

We were given progress report cards from their preschool/kindergarten year at the English Medium School (2010-2011), but there were no other formal records for the following school years for some unknown reason.  While we were disappointed that the report cards were not current, the teacher's comments for both children regarding behavior and demeanor were spot-on accurate and gave incredible insight into their behavior once we got them home!   The teacher described their typical responses to discipline along with strengths and weaknesses.  These short remarks were the most informative pieces of information that we received on the children throughout the whole adoption process.  We were relieved to know that some behaviors we were seeing were "normal" for them and not just a reaction to being in a new environment.

S also attended Gujarati school which was held at the ashram.  For some reason, A was not included in Gujarati school.  I am not sure if Gujarati school was cultural or academic.  The children tell us that instead of Gujarati school, A did chores around the ashram. A was the only school-aged boy out of around 100 children, so Gujarati school may have been geared toward girls.  We may never know... but let's just say that A was trained well in floor sweeping and mopping, tub and toilet scrubbing, and laundry folding.  If all else fails, he will make a fabulous custodian. 

I spent the month of December assessing where the children were academically.  Rather than second or third grade, they were at a Pre-K/Kindergarten level.  While they could count to 100 aloud in English, they did not understand the numerical values.  They had no concept of time, money, how to add or subtract, how to count by 5's and 10's, etc.  They could recite the English alphabet aloud, but they thought ellemenopee was one letter (haha!),  could not visually identify all of the letters, and did not know all of the letter sounds.  While they obviously could not read in English, it also appeared that they were illiterate in Gujarati and Hindi as well.  They both have beautiful handwriting that is age-appropriate and are wonderful artists!  They knew a considerable amount of English vocabulary (names of animals, foods, and body parts) which eased their transition into our family.

After visiting their new sister's school for a Christmas party, they started begging daily to start school in America. Our placing agent recommended that they start school as soon as possible for the structure and routine of it, after all, they had attended school for several years in India and loved it!  After many weeks of being at home with them with no break, traditional school started sounding very enticing!  I was starting to feel a little bit trapped like I would never have a free moment to myself again.  I called the public school system to find out what special services they might be eligible for such as English as a Second Language, speech, physical therapy, occupational therapy.  I also wanted to know if they placed children into grades based on their to age or academic level.  They said that they would place according to academic level.  It would make no sense to place them in a 4th or 5th grade classroom when they could not read.  I also had a great conversation with the school psychologist who strongly recommended placing them in the public school system right away to provide them with an "English-rich environment" which would lead to quicker and greater success.  We met with a panel of school officials which included the assistant principal of the school, teachers, the county's curriculum coordinator and ESOL representative, the county's psychologist, and the school's speech pathologist.  We also had a second meeting with a panel of kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade teachers.  Both meetings went very well.  The children made a wonderful impression, and the educators were very enthusiastic about our children.  They determined that the children should be placed in a 1st or 2nd grade classroom setting.  Due to their age, they felt that kindergarten would be too young for them.  While they were willing to offer ESOL, they did not want to place any labels on the children for other special services until they were placed in the school system for awhile. 

The day after our initial school meeting, we had our appointment at UAB's International Adoption Clinic in Birmingham.  UAB strongly recommends that children stay home from school for at least six months to ensure the strongest bonding and attaching possible, although they do recognize that this is not possible for all family situations.  Often times children can confuse being sent to school as being abandoned again to another institution, they can bond with teachers and/or students rather than the parents, or older children can triangulate--pit teachers against parents or vice versa by telling lies about the other side as a survival mechanism.  This was not the news that I wanted to hear at the time because traditional school with a daily break was sounding like the easiest solution.  However, we were committed to make the right decision for our family, whatever that might be.

I spent the next few weeks consulting other home schooling moms, researching curriculum options, and calling different private schools in town.  I was confused about what to do.  The breakthrough came when I called a wonderful church with a Christian school that has a heart for adoption and foster care.  The members of this church have been a great support to us during our adoption process over the last two years.  They offered us the option for A and S to attend special classes at their school (P.E., Music, and Art) along with lunch and recess three days a week.  Plus they permitted us to order school curriculum through them!  This solution allowed A and S to feel like they were attending "real" school, gave them an outlet for socialization, enabled me to have several breaks during the week to run errands or burn off steam at the gym, and solved the endless search for the perfect curriculum.  What a huge blessing!

My lofty goal is to get the children through the kindergarten and 1st grade curriculum before the start of the next school year in the fall.  Hopefully by then they will be prepared for 2nd grade (as little 10- and 11-year-olds).  Our focus is on reading and math at this time.  When fall comes, we will re-assess our education plan...public school? private school? continued home school?  Realistically, they will never be at the academic level of their age group.  They will never be able to skip a grade to catch up.  That would be too big of a challenge for even our two "gifted" biological daughters.  But starting from scratch with them in kindergarten will give them the educational foundation that they need to succeed in academics in America.

After six short weeks of home schooling and attending special classes at WCS, I am seeing many positive benefits of our decision.

1)  Educational Foundation... Starting their American education from the very beginning of kindergarten, I am able to personally discover their academic strong points and areas of weakness as both an educator and a parent.  I am able to see how they react to being pushed academically and am learning more about their personalities.  I am seeing where the "holes" are in their education and can spend more time teaching in those areas to give them a solid foundation of learning and understanding.

2)  Memories... Pictures and topics trigger the children's memories!  When they remember an event in their life (both good and bad), they are able to tell it to me immediately.  I am finding out about foods they have tasted, holidays they have celebrated, field trips they have taken, birds and flowers in their homeland, sorrows that they have experienced...  If they were in a traditional school setting, I would not be hearing these stories and learning about their past.  In all likelihood, neither would the teacher.  There would not be enough time for another teacher to hear all of these stories in a traditional school setting. 

3)  English-rich environment...  There is no way that a public school would provide a richer language environment than what I am able to give my children.  We talk ALL DAY LONG.  They ask, "This what?" repeatedly.  I am able to explain and demonstrate what this is and what that is ALL DAY LONG.  I am able to restate their broken-English phrases into complete sentences so that they can hear the English and repeat it ALL DAY LONG.  I can teach new vocabulary as we encounter new things throughout the day just by living life.  A traditional school setting simply cannot provide this one-on-one attention despite best efforts. 

4)  American Family Life...  As a result of being institutionalized for nine years, our children had no concept of family or real life outside four concrete walls.  Having them home with me during the days has enabled me to show them what a family looks like and how it functions.  We are learning a lot about love and respect, sharing, and that fairness does not necessarily mean equality (what's fair and right for one child is not necessarily fair and right for another---hard lesson to learn when things are usually divided equally in orphanages).  We're learning about basic American manners and etiquette.  We're learning appropriate ways to show affection because they were not given affection or shown the proper way to do that.  We're also learning about life, in general.  Our children were very sheltered and are naive.  They did not know that babies came from mother's bellies and that mommies make milk for their babies.  They have asked when were they in MY tummy?  They have asked when Willow, our DOG, was in my tummy?  They have asked if our biological daughters are from India, too?  They thought that babies came from police stations and ashrams. They do not understand the concept of different countries and  different ethnicities.  I don't think they know the real difference between a male and female.  They thought that elevators, cell phones, and Kitchenaid mixers were magic.  Their minds are blown on a daily basis as they learn about life in America.  In some respects, their minds are as much of a blank canvas as a newborn baby.  Because of that, it's important to me to be the primary person pouring knowledge and nurture into them as opposed to a teacher who is not family or other school children who may not be as "innocent" as my little ones.  They are like hungry sponges that soak up anything and everything they hear... For example, within a few measures of a song on the radio, they'll start humming along and trying to mimic the words.  I am finding that I have to re-evaluate what we're listening to while driving down the road because I don't want the new words coming out of their mouths to be garbage. With them home with me during the day, they can learn about grocery stores, gas stations, libraries, restaurants, doctor appointments, etc...things they've never experienced before.

5)  Socialization...  At WPS, I am able to observe the children interacting with their peers (1st grade classroom).  Another little girl in the classroom has been home from India for one year, so she may give the children a sense of comfort and familiarity.  I am slowly getting sneak-peaks of a variety of interactions.  I have seen them slowly opening up with new friends over lunch, I have seen them acting shy on the playground, and I have seen them volunteering answers in a classroom setting on topics that they comically know very little about (counting money).  Their courage has amazed me.  I have also heard cute stories such as how they tried to microwave their turkey sandwiches at school because they saw other children using the microwave.  I have been so impressed with the support and encouragement that they are receiving from their young classmates!  They are greeted and fare-welled warmly everyday.  When they attempt new things at school, so many children say, "Good job, Ajay!  Good job, Smita!"  It is really precious!

6)  Challenges...  There's no doubt that we've got some learning and behavioral challenges on our hands.  One child is a mental and physical mystery, but we were expecting it, so it doesn't come as a surprise.  We have learning issues that could be a symptom of sleep apnea resulting from enlarged tonsils and adenoids, deprived oxygen to the brain, ADHD, chronic fear, hypervigilance, or a combination.  I'm cautious to label this early in the game, after all, they've only been in America for three months.  Karyn Purvis in The Connected Child mentions how a child may know his complete ABC's great one day, but then the next day he may only know ABC and D.  After being reminded by another friend who recently attended Purvis' Empowered To Connect seminar about "Felt Safety," we are working really hard to disarm the primitive brain's fear response.  "If a child feels threatened, hungry, or tired, her primitive brain jumps in and takes over.  Physically located in areas of the brain such as the amygdala, this primitive brain constantly monitors basic survival needs and behaves like a guard on patrol.  When the primitive brain is on duty, more advanced areas of the brain--particularly those that handle higher learning, reasoning, and logic--get shut down.  Helping a child feel safe relaxes and disarms the primitive part of her brain.  We purposefully soothe and disengage the primitive brain so it won't bully the child into poor behavior... When fear is in control, a child cannot grasp discussions, sermon, or lectures, complex reasoning, logic, or stories, philosophical discussions or abstract concepts, solving puzzles, or mathematics."  The primitive brain gives the child a fight, flight or freeze response.  As we work on disarming the primitive brain by building trust, reducing stress, alerting to upcoming activities, making the day predictable, giving appropriate choices to share control, preventing sensory overload, not cornering the child (this was a mistake I was making), and honoring their emotions, we are seeing great improvements in learning.  Thank you, Karyn Purvis.  I'm also very thankful for awesome adoptive moms who are there to remind me of what I've learned and to encourage me in this journey of loving children from hard places.  It takes a village.

7)  Successes...  In three months, the children have learned the letters of the alphabet, the sounds of the letters, and to identify vowels.  They are learning phonics and can read blends and three letter words.  They can visually identify and write their numbers to 100 and add numbers 1 through 10.  They are learning to tell time and count money (pennies, nickles, and dimes).  They have learned about patterns, rhyming words, shapes, and colors.  They initiate all conversation in English and are starting to speak in complete sentences!  They are starting to use pronouns instead of speaking in third person.  They have made it halfway through the kindergarten curriculum in six weeks!  I am very encouraged!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

More FUN Firsts--Snow, Beach, Party, and More!!!

 First time seeing SNOW, playing in SNOW, and SLEDDING!!!

First Snowman!

First Trip To The BEACH!!!  

Given that the kids' first snowfall and first beach trip happened within days of each other, they were very confused!  They kept referring to the sand as "snow!"  They kept trying to gather the sand up and mold it into a snowballs to throw!  Ajay even laid down in the sand to make a snow angel.  It was hilarious!  They enjoyed the feel of the sand and showed no signs of sensory or tactile issues.  They were very intimated but intrigued by the ocean waves.  They were a little uncoordinated in the sand and fell down frequently, especially when running from the approaching waves.  Toward the end of our trip, they were brave enough to fill their buckets with water.  They are looking forward to warmer weather this spring and summer so that they can swim and play in the water!  I think they are going to love the beach as much as the rest of us!
 Big sisters teach how to build sandcastles...

 "Snow Angel" in the sand!

 Granddaddy demonstrates how to feed the seagulls!
Playing at the shopping center... He's so small he looks like one of the toddlers!

 Feeding the gulls again!
 First time at Waffle House...
 First time visiting a library!
 First time visiting the doggie store.
 First time attending a birthday party!  Princess Costume Party!
  First time spending a weekend at Memommy and Granddaddy's House!  
Mommy stayed too, of course.
 First time attending a beauty pageant and showing support for big sister!  
The kids got to meet the high school princess!
 We were all very proud of big sister!
Ajay and Smita are starting to recognize and appreciate the importance and love of Family!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Set Free and Singing

Psalm 68:6 
God sets the lonely in families, He leads out the prisoners with singing...

Show Hope posted this verse on their Facebook page today.  I had used the first part of the verse many times during our adoption, specifically with our Both Hands Project--God sets the lonely in families.  However, I had not paid any attention to the next phrase--He leads out the prisoners with singing.  After reflecting on this verse this morning, I recalled how our children were referred to as "inmates" repeatedly throughout the adoption.

And then I remembered our glorious drive away from the iron gates of the orphanage.  As we pulled away, Ajay and Smita never looked back.  They sat comfortably in our arms and lifted their voices with the most beautiful singing all the way to the hotel!  They were set free!  God is so good!  

(I have no idea what they were singing or what the words mean, but it was beautiful to our ears.)

After Dinner Entertainment!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Eight Weeks Together!

Eight weeks ago, THIS happened! It was an unbelievable Thanksgiving! When Jeff and I got engaged on Thanksgiving of 1996, we never imagined that we would be in India 17 years later adding new children to our family!

It is hard to believe that we've hit the two-month mark already. Time is flying by quickly as all six of us have been working non-stop to bond, attach, and peel back the mysterious layers of 9-years of institutionalization. Oh how I wish I could hold these babies and start with them from the very beginning. I've only allowed myself to dwell for a brief moment on the thought that when I was rocking and nursing my youngest biological daughter, A and S arrived as infants to the orphanage without parents to care for them, and then they stayed there for 9 years. 

Baby Ajay
Baby Smita

I laugh a little when I reread the first posts describing the children because we were clearly still in the honeymoon phase.  Shortly after week two when our biological daughters began their Christmas vacation and were home during the day, the new children started feeling comfortable enough with us to show their true colors (which is actually a great thing).  We began to see tears, physical tantrums, and stonewalling (standing like a statue and refusing to look at us).  Sometimes the tantrums and stonewalling would last for many hours.  Most of these behaviors would begin as a result of correction or discipline, but once the emotions started flowing, they turned into grief.  It is expected that adopted children will grieve the loss of the life they have left behind, even if it was not a great life.  They grieve the loss of their caregivers, friends, language, culture, food, etc.  We are so thankful for all of the adoption training we received and for our amazing network of adoptive families who have educated us on how to correct/discipline children who come from hard places and how to recognize grief.
Dealing with the tantrums and stonewalling has required unbelievable patience as we have never experienced anything like it from our other children.  The good news is that we are seeing progress!  The hard behaviors are occurring less frequently and they are decreasing in duration.  We can now recognize the signs of an impending meltdown and adjust our reactions accordingly.  Our current goal is to avoid confrontation as much as possible to encourage bonding and attachment.  Just this week we were very proud when the children used their words to express their emotions instead of breaking down.  Once they explained their thoughts and feelings, we were able to mend situations.  Several times this week, instead of dealing with a situation by shutting down for hours, they only "froze" for a minute, then chose to communicate and move on with life.  Hooray!  The hard times drain us emotionally, physically, and mentally, but we are always experiencing a time of sweet reconciliation afterwards which is a blessing.  We are getting into the habit of following Dr. Karyn Purvis' advice of taking the children back to the "scene of the crime" for them to repeat whatever needs to be repeating with respect.  They always do this for us, and then they give sincere apologies along with heartfelt hugs and kisses.  They are sweet children who want to do the right thing.
There is always sunshine after the rain.  After the most difficult day of four hours worth of tantrums a couple of weekends ago, we decided to relax on our back porch and enjoy the first sun rays that we had seen in days. 

After the tantrums and reconciliation, we turned on some Indian music that we had played on repeat for the two years that we waited to bring the children home.  It was the first time that we had played the music since returning to the U.S., and the kids went crazy!  They knew all of the songs and the dance moves to go along with them!  While we had been listening to these songs in America longing for our children to come home, they had been listening, too.  They danced on our porch that evening exactly as we had imagined that they would.

One of the amazing things about adopting older children is that they have memories...and they can talk.  They are telling me everything about their previous life.  They talk about the daily routines and schedule at the ashram, about the dining hall procedures and how the dinner bell rang and what food was served and what child sat where...When they see a food item or drink, they will say "ashram yes" or "ashram no" to let me know what they had and what they didn't have.  They tell me which children ate with their hands, who used silverware, and who licked their fingers.  They have described their beds, their linens, the sleeping order of the children, who had their own beds and who shared beds, which children had sleeping disorders, etc.  They have told me which children shared clothing with each other. They have described their bathing and grooming procedures.  They have pointed out the exact facial cleanser and mascara that their caregiver used while shopping in the grocery store.  They have told me about their schools--English Medium School and Gujarati School.  You name it, they want to tell me about it.  They want me to know every detail of their former life, and they know that I long to know every detail.  For the first two or three weeks, everything they told me was extremely positive...then they started telling a different story.  From what I have read and been taught, I can only assume that they reached a point where they felt safe enough to confide in us.  They have shared hard, dark, awful, heartbreaking things with us.  They have shared these things individually and together.  Their stories are consistent.  For a couple of weeks, every time I would tuck them in at night or if we would be chatting over a meal, a new story would just pour out of them.  Their stories give me an opportunity to show compassion and share the meaning of family and how family treats each other with love and respect--how our family would never leave them, our family would never lay an abusive hand on them, our family would not shame them for making a mistake or accident...Family loves.  I think they are starting to truly understand the meaning of family now.  I have been recording all of their stories, writing them down and audio recording.  There are details that I don't understand due to the language barrier, but maybe one day they can clarify or explain should they choose to revisit the topic when their English improves.  I have not cried or mourned over their stories.  If my biological daughters shared these stories or experienced these hardships, I would be devastated.  I consulted with another adoptive mama this past weekend who has been at this for a long time and is an awesome mentor.  I wondered why I have not been too affected.  Am I hardened?  She said no.  She said that at this point in the game, I don't have the luxury to stop and that I just know that I have to be strong for the kids.  The last thing they need is for me to lose it.  She said I just keep going because that's what is needed right now.  Makes sense to me!  I have been journaling every night.  I write what they tell me, what new behaviors we see, any tantrums or stonewalling, what I think triggered the behavior, how we handled it, what worked or didn't work, successes, failures, etc.  Every day is packed with so much juicy is fascinating around here right now!  Ha! 

We have been fortunate in that we have not experienced many food issues (gorging, hoarding, refusal to eat).  We did have an incident where one child refused to eat for 36 hours due to grieving.  We were mentally preparing to go to the hospital for a possible IV, when the other sibling laid down the law in Hindi demanding that the other EAT.  That worked!  We have not had any further incidents with food.  We are so impressed with their willingness to try new foods every day.  They have great appetites and eat all of their vegetables and fruits!  We are trying to pump them full of nutritious foods, vitamins, protein, and whole milk.  We weigh them daily.  Although we're not seeing huge increases in numbers, they do seem to be filling out a little bit and gaining some muscle.

First Krispie Kreme donuts!
We have also been blessed in that the children are WONDERFUL sleepers!  We kept them in our room for the first couple weeks on a futon and toddler bed.  Smita eventually asked to sleep in her pink big girl bed first, then the following week, Ajay moved to his big boy bed.  The kids go to sleep without much fuss and sleep through the whole night.  They wake up very cheerful in the mornings.  They surprised me within the first few weeks by making their own beds, folding their own laundry, and clearing their own dishes!  When they found me cleaning their bathroom, they quickly informed me that they had cleaned the tub, toilets, and floors at the ashram and showed me their skills.  I was very impressed!

After our bout with indiscriminate affection, we holed up in the house for some more cocooning.  The kids are doing great with family boundaries now!  They either hand shake or high-5 now when they meet up with friends or meet someone new.  The other day, a teacher that the kids had met only once went to hug Smita.  She turned around so that the woman was hugging her back.  I thought that was great!  She recognized the boundary!
Much of our first few weeks have been filled with medical appointments.  We have been to two different pediatricians in town for various ailments.  We discovered that their ears were filled to the brim with compacted ear wax as hard as rocks.  After softening the wax for a week, we road-tripped to Atlanta where awesome nurse Auntie removed all the wax making their ears squeaky clean!  For the next few weeks afterwards, if they heard a loud noise, they would cover their ears!  They can hear now!

We have been to the dentist for x-rays, cleanings, and sealants.  Smita had no cavities.  Ajay had only one in a baby tooth.  At this point, there is no need to repair!  Hooray for a sugar-free diet in India!  Based on the build-up on their teeth, the dentist thinks they had never had a cleaning.  They were able to get all of the black and yellow junk off to reveal pretty white teeth!

 We spent an entire day at University of Alabama's International Adoption Clinic to undergo medical and developmental evaluations.  They are being tested for everything under the sun.  So far the results coming in are good.  The only unusual thing is a slight elevation of lead in one child's blood.  We are treating with a low fat, high protein, high calcium diet until the lead level goes down.  We'll retest again in three months.  Our experience at UAB was fantastic.  I will have to devote an entire post to the adoption clinic later.


We have been to the dermatologist.  We have had x-rays to check adenoids and bone density.  We have had hearing tests and asthma tests.  We have upcoming appointments with an ENT (for tonsils and adenoid issues, snoring, and sleep apnea) and an endocrinologist.  Slowly, but surely, we are taking care of business to get these children as healthy as possible.

We were overwhelmed by the goodness and generosity of our family orthodontist when he offered to treat Smita's teeth through his foundation.  Her teeth were a mystery before we met her in person.  We could not tell why one tooth was so high and why one was so low...then more recent pictures had revealed that the front tooth had been broken.  I had asked Dr. Serff if he thought that the crooked teeth were a result of thumb sucking or a deformed palate.  Anyway, we are so thankful that he is willing to help us with Smita's smile.  The name "Smita" means "smiling lady."  She has a beautiful smile and will soon have gorgeous, repaired teeth to go along with it!  What a blessing!
It has been a joy to experience many "firsts" with the children, or at least firsts with us!

First Haircut
First Time Driving A Shopping Cart!

First Time Experiencing Barn Life With Large Animals
 Watching Big Sister Ride A Horse

First Time Watching Blueberry Muffins Bake

  First Time Playing Dress-Up

First Time Flying Like An Airplane With Granddaddy

 First Time Playing With Legos and Polly Pockets...There is no gender preference of toys around here.  

And we are celebrating lots of successes, too!  After the children came home, we soon discovered that Ajay's favorite expletive was the sh-- word!  We can only assume that he learned to cuss from the years of movies that he watched in the orphanage.  After trying out a few unsuccessful disciplines and remedies, we followed the advice of our placing agent and tried a little positive reinforcement.  We gave Ajay a jar of coins.  For every cuss word that he said, he had to pay us a coin.  At the end of a week, he could take his remaining coins and buy the whole family ice cream with it.  On day one, his cussing tripled in frequency, but after that, we have not had any more cussing!!!  I cannot believe how effective this method has been!  The boy loves ice cream and is oh so proud of his clean mouth and so are we!  We are officially on day 16 of no cussing!!!  Haha!

We are currently in a huge decision-making process on how to proceed with the children's education.  We were told that the children were in 2nd and 3rd grade, but after assessing them, I believe that they are at a kindergarten level.  We have spoken with officials with the public schools, homeschooling parents, the international adoption clinic, and private schools.  I think we have come to a decision, but will have one final meeting tomorrow.  In the meantime, we have been working at home to learn the English alphabet along with the letter sounds, phonics, counting, adding, patterns, colors, shapes, etc. Their English is coming along great!  I replayed some videos from our trip in India, and the contrast in their English is unreal!  They seem to understand all of the basic instructions that I give them throughout the day.  They initiate all conversation to me in English now, although not in complete sentences.  Smita speaks in English to Ajay frequently, although he only speaks in Gujarati or Hindi to her.  We are trying record some of their conversations in their first language
so that we will have it should they lose it one day.

We will forever be amazed by how God provided for these children to be a part of our family and how He is continuing to make provisions for their healing and recovery.   We have been so blessed by the support of our local adoption support group, Jeeah's Hope, by people in our community, and by our friends and family.  The outpouring of love and encouragement to our family has been a blessing and a lifeline.

Forever Family

Eight Weeks Home!