Friday, June 21, 2013

Our NOT So Happily Ever After

If you are reading this post instead of the Our Happily Ever After post, then you want the gritty, real, messy details about what it's really been like to transition into life with three new kids from a different country.

If you prefer to only know the happy, "life is perfect" details, you will want to skip this post and read the Our Happily Ever After post.

You've been warned.

This morning when my alarm rang, I leaned over to turn it off and then started to cry.
I simply didn't want to face a new day.
Sometimes I give myself a choice and allow myself to sleep in.
But this morning I didn't have the choice, so I wiped my tears, took a deep breath and got out of bed.

Since we've been home, so much has happened.
When people ask me about how the adjustment is going, I usually respond,
"We couldn't have expected it to be much better."

And it's true.
There are a lot of good things (read the Our Happily Ever After post if you don't believe me!)
I should feel happy and blessed and excited that things are going well.
Some days I do.
Some days I don't.

Many of the challenges were expected.
To a certain extent.
Some of them are harder to deal with than I expected.
Some of them are not as bad as I expected.
Some of them were a complete surprise.

I've learned a lot over the last 112 days.
The biggest thing being that I still have a LOT to learn.
It's overwhelming and scary and difficult.

I find myself wanting to escape from the overwhelming, scary and difficult.
Sometimes I look for errands I can run by myself just to get out of the house.
Sometimes I lock myself in the bathroom for long periods of time just for fun.
Sometimes I hide in my closet or under the covers and pretend I don't hear children calling "MOM" over and over again.

All of our children are AMAZING individuals.
But I'm not perfect.
And they aren't perfect.
And parenting is HARD!
Especially when you are expected to be the mature adult and you feel like having your own temper tantrum...

Here are some of the hard things we've been dealing with:
  • Our Ukrainian kids only like about 3 types of food (potatoes, bread and mayonnaise).  Americans like variety.  This has made mealtime difficult.  Especially since ALL our kids feel a need to express how they feel about the food I serve.  I try not to take it personally, but when I take a lot of time trying to come up with meals and ideas for food that they may like and there are lots of complaints, it's hard not to get a bit frustrated.  As a result, I'm not cooking meals nearly as much as I was when we first arrived home from Ukraine. 
  • I was SHOCKED that one of our Ukrainian children displayed a sense of entitlement.  Our biological children know that this is an area where I have little patience.  And since I wasn't expecting an orphan to get ticked at me every time I said "no" to buying whatever their little heart desired (or letting them do whatever they wanted), it caused some interesting drama in the beginning.  We're still working through things in this area, but it's been a challenge!
  • I have one child that either worships the ground I walk on or wishes my death by shooting lasers out of their eyes.  There is never a middle ground.  And the feelings toward me can change in an instant.  I started noticing that every conversation I had with this child would start out positive and would suddenly shift to a negative/angry/complaining place.  I would dread every time this child asked me a question because I never knew how to respond in order to keep things from going crazy.  With my biological kids (especially now that they are older), I've gotten used to actually conversing with them.  With these kids, it's like parenting toddlers all over again.  Especially with the language barrier!  It's been hard, especially when I'm not looking at a toddler.  Sometimes I want to say, "Grow up and act your age!"  But that wouldn't help, so I have to try to act MY age instead.  Believe it or not, this is actually really hard for me.  *sigh*
  •  Sometimes I wish for my previous simple "I know what to expect" life.  Not that I wish our Ukrainian kids were out of the picture, because I don't!  But I crave the feelings of stability and comfort and ease that I had before we jumped onto this crazy adoption train.  Every day is a new adventure with new lessons to learn and new challenges to figure out.  It's exhausting.  I feel guilty that I struggle to enjoy each moment with my new amazing family.  Many days I feel like I'm just enduring until I can get the kids to bed (which is usually quite late at night with teenagers!)  I find myself wondering if it will ever get back to that comfortable and more often than not, enjoyable place again...
  •  I am not as patient with 7 kids as I was with 4 kids (not that I was overly patient before).  
  • We haven't used real plates since March.  I realize this is really bad for the environment, but I just don't care right now.  There are still so many dishes!  I grew up in a family with 8 children and we never used paper plates.  However, I can't for the life of me figure out how we didn't have stacks of dishes in the sink all the time!  Until I figure that out, my current family will likely continue using paper plates (there were some great paper plate coupons at Costco this month!)
  • I don't know how to give my kids everything they need.  I'm talking about their emotional needs here.  Someone told me that I need to realize that it's okay if my relationship with my Ukrainian kids is different than with my biological kids.  They told me that it will take time to love them all the same, and that it will take time to create a relationship and history with my Ukrainian kids like I've already established with my biological children.  They tried to comfort me by telling me that what I'm giving them, even if it's not what I originally envisioned, or is different than what I give my biological children, is still better than what they had.  This concept is still really hard for me to accept because I thought I would be capable of being more than I currently am.
  • I have realized that God has a vision for me.  He is trying to recreate who I am.  I recognized this early on in this journey, but I didn't realize how much reconstruction I needed.  Sometimes I feel energized and ready to take on whatever He throws at me.  But much of the time I HATE IT!  It hurts.  It's hard.  And it's not like I was a bad person before, was I?  :-)  I've realized that He has a vision for me to become something different than what I've been trying to become.  I'm not supposed to fit the mold that I was trying so hard to fill.  This is a painful process.  This is a scary process.  This is a vulnerable process.  And I'm having a hard time really looking in the mirror at who I am and realizing just how much I need to change to become who He wants me to become. 
We've had some amazing experiences since we've been home.  As challenging as things have been, the Lord has been SO evident in our lives.  I have never had so many spiritual experiences.  I have never felt so guided and directed in my life.  He is constantly there waiting to help me.  He is constantly forgiving me for throwing my own temper tantrums or growing impatient or hiding from my kids.  It's been such a growing experience.  It's changed who I am.  It will continue to change me.

Albina asked me last week if I ever regret adopting them.

She said, "You took three kids!  That's expensive and lots of work.  I see that you are tired and stressed.  Do you ever wish you didn't adopt us or that you had adopted different kids?"

Here is my answer to that question:

This adoption has been the hardest thing I have ever done.  Taking on three more kids has been and continues to be exhausting.  It is stressful.  But there has not been a moment that I have ever doubted that these kids were meant to be in our family.  God had a plan for our family, and it included Albina, Alina and Maks joining us.  This knowledge is what keeps me going.  It's what gets me through the difficult days.  And it's what will continue to help me work through the challenges!

Not once have I questioned that the Lord had a part in this journey.
Not once have I doubted that He led us to these kids.
It has been made very clear that they are meant to be a part of our family.

And with that knowledge, what more could I ask for?

Our forever family in front of the St George LDS Temple.

 Note:  We haven't gotten professional family pictures since Isabel was a little girl (14 years ago).  When our Ukrainian kids were sealed to us in the St George LDS Temple, we hired a photographer to come and take family pictures.  Everyone was happy and excited to get pictures taken.  We got our individual pictures taken first.  Then we gathered for our first family picture.  Someone accidentally stepped on Alina's foot while getting into position.  She was mad.  As a result we do not have ONE family picture without Alina pouting, annoyed, angry or crying.  I struggle to look through the pictures without getting frustrated that every single one of our "happy" family pictures have one not-so-happy person.  
I will laugh about this someday, right?

Our Happily Ever After

We've been home for 112 days now.
That's longer than we were in Ukraine.

Many people have messaged me asking me to please post an update...

I haven't been ignoring you.
I've just been paying attention to a lot of other things first.

Since we've been home, so much has happened.
When people ask me about how the adjustment is going, I usually respond,
"We couldn't have expected it to be much better."

Our Ukrainian kids seem to be adjusting well to American life.
  • Albina and Alina did well attending the last part of school.
  • Alina has made many friends at school and church and was, apparently, the most popular girl in school because she had a cool accent.
  • Maks has been learning English really quickly.  Almost every day I am surprised to hear something new that he has picked up and started utilizing in his vocabulary.
  • Albina sends James and I sweet texts each night before she goes to sleep telling us good-night and that she loves us.

  • Maks "reads" his good-night books to me fairly regularly.  He loves his "Dinosaur Roar" book.

  • Alina loves to draw pictures and create "love" notes.  She leaves them on our bed for us to find at the end of the day.  (Sorry I don't have pictures of these available right now!)

Life has been busy and chaotic with extra people in our home.  I find myself constantly counting kids whenever I go out to make sure we haven't lost anyone (I'm still getting used to taking so many kids places!)

We've had some amazing experiences with our family since we arrived home from Ukraine, and we feel so blessed!  We are amazed at how smoothly things went for our family (It was a total of 7 1/2 months from start to finish.  Unbelievable!).  We are grateful for all the help and support we've received from so many.  It's because of all the support that we were able to pull off such a seemingly impossible feat!  We have felt strengthened by the Lord as we've been on such a life changing adventure!  It's been quite a ride!

Here are some of the things we've experienced in the last 112 days:

We attended a concert at Temple Square with music from around the world.
Easter Egg Hunt: Albina

Easter Egg Hunt: Alina
Easter Egg Hunt: Maks
Alina riding the merry-go-round.
Emma & Albina riding the merry-go-round.
Isabel & Maks riding the merry-go-round.
Hiking Angels Landing in Zion National Park.
Albina & Alina with James on their baptism day.
Our expanded family on Albina & Alina's baptism day.
Alina, Micah & Maks hiked to the top of a waterfall.
Micah made a picnic lunch for he and Maks to enjoy together.
Albina is a US Citizen!!!
Our family was sealed for time and all eternity in the St George LDS Temple.

Not once have I questioned that the Lord had a part in this journey.
Not once have I doubted that He led us to these kids.
It has been made very clear that they are meant to be a part of our family.

And with that knowledge, what more could I ask for?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Homeward Bound

When I was 17 years old I spent the summer away from home.  Almost every night I would listen to the song "Homeward Bound" by Simon and Garfunkel and cry because I was so homesick!  (This is not an exaggeration.)

Today we got up very early and started getting all our tasks taken care of:
  • Paying for medical appointments
  • Picking up passports from the train station
  • Getting medical examinations for the children (this was quite an experience... medical clinics function much differently here than in the USA)
  • Filling out and submitting more paperwork to the US Embassy
  • And receiving the kids completed visas and passports!
  • Final accounting of all our adoption expenses
Once all these tasks were completed we had a number of people saying, "Congratulations!" because the process in Ukraine is finally FINISHED!  We are now free to leave Ukraine with our children and head for HOME!

I'm sure that many of you think that the past 7 weeks has flown by and it's unbelievable that we're already heading home with our three new children.  And in some ways, I agree.  However, in other ways, it feels like it's been FOREVER.  I am so anxious to see my other children and be home in familiar surrounds.  Every time I think about going home I get a little queasy, excited feeling in the pit of my stomach (you know, that feeling you get when you're a kid waiting for Christmas morning to finally come?)  I'm just so ready for to have my entire family under one roof, together!

And then there's the part of me that starts really analyzing this journey and I think about how my life has changed in only 7.5 short (or long, depending on how I choose to look at it) months.  Here is what we have accomplished in such a short time:
  • We met and/or learned of 3 children in Ukraine that needed a family.
  • We fell in love with and determined that they were meant to be a part of our family.
  • We began the adoption process (home study, paperwork, paperwork and more paperwork!)
  • We raised and/or saved approximately $55,000 to help fund our adoption.
  • We flew to Ukraine and finalized the adoption of Albina, Alina and Maks.
  • We returned home (this has yet to happen, obviously, but it will happen before it hits 7.5 months).
 And people say that miracles don't happen anymore...

So in just a few hours we will actually be Homeward Bound and the real work begins.  Because, let's face it!  As difficult as the adoption process (or 9 months of pregnancy for that matter) is: the hard part is raising kids!

So perhaps you think I'm excited to be at this point in my journey as the mother of 3 new children?

I am.

But I am also scared out of my mind.  I am completely overwhelmed with the responsibility I've just taken on.  I'm feeling inadequate.  Oh, so inadequate.

I appreciated the honesty of one blogger (a couple that is currently finishing up their adoption here in Ukraine):

With the realization of just how much our lives are going to change in just a few short days, we can’t help but feel like we are reaching the peak of a tremendous roller coaster (one that we have been riding for 8 months!) . I have the same tingly feeling in my hands and feet that I do when the clang of a coaster car’s wheels click to a stop right before the free fall (have I mentioned I’m terrified of heights?). We are both so excited for this next chapter, but at this very moment it seems like such a daunting task. We’ve caught ourselves wondering just what we have gotten ourselves into. But when we really think about it, we’ve never gotten off a roller coaster regretting the ride. Hopefully this ride is no different.

So, here I am.  In Kyiv for my last few hours.  I'm listening to Albina talk on the phone with her friend before she leaves Ukraine.  She giggles and laughs.  I am noticing how excited Alina is to be finally going to America.  I am enjoying the fact that Maks ran to me a number of times tonight to simply give me hugs.  And I have to think that as hard as my life ahead may be... it's all going to be worth it in the end.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Church in Kyiv

This morning we got up and got ready for church.  They kids looked so cute (James did Maks' hair):

Once we arrived at church we attended Sacrament Meeting and then sent the kids to their individual classes.  James and I followed Maks to make sure he was okay.  After he sat down in Primary he looked like he was about to cry, so I went in and sat next to him.  Sure enough, he was pretty scared and out of his comfort zone.  When James walked in and sat by him, he finally relaxed a little and smiled, but he was still near tears for the first while.  Once he went into his smaller class for his lesson he was completely fine (although James and I still stayed with him the entire time).  He was so excited that he learned about Jesus Christ.  He colored this picture:

During Primary he was asked if he had rules in his family.  He said, "Yes.  To help my mama and papa."  His teacher was so good with him and made him feel really comfortable.

After church we took a few pictures outside the chapel and then walked next door and took pictures in front of the Kyiv LDS Temple.  It was so great to be able to go to church and see the temple with the kids.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Exploring Kyiv: Day 2

This morning Albina told us she really wanted to clean the apartment and asked if we could all leave for a while.  (Really???)  James and I took Alina and Maks out to explore some more of Kyiv (and YES the apartment really was much better when we returned!)

Overlooking Kyiv, Ukraine
We aren't sure what this small museum was.  We ended up inside and then realized it wasn't anything we were interested in.  However, I did like this photo.
We got to see a lot of interesting buildings on our walk:

There were also lots of places to shop on the street as well as a number of people begging for money.  Alina kept asking us for money to give to them.  We finally gave her some money and told her it was hers to give as she chose.  She was very kind to everyone she met on the street.

We ended up at The Great Patriotic War Museum.  We didn't end up going inside because the kids were tired and anxious to go home.  However, we did talk them into walking around the grounds and taking some pictures.  Alina took the camera for most of our time there and got some interesting shots.  Here are some of the better ones:

While we were out walking, we came to a place with a lot of hills where children were sledding.  Alina and Maks were excited about the snow and asked if they could climb the sides of the hills.  We allowed them to climb and play for a bit.  We caught this great moment of Maks on tape (sorry it's sideways for a bit and then changes... not sure why?):