Parenting by Grace

I don’t have parenting down. I make more mistakes than I make right decisions. Heck, my oldest child is 6, I have YEARS ahead of me of more bad decisions, but I’ve found a game changer.

Recently I was having a conversation with a group of adoptive moms about the challenge of parenting children who have never had parents. I was reminded of a time when Sweet Girl had just been home 3 or 4 months and we were having our first post placement visit with our social worker. The conversation turned into how well Sweet Girl was apparently adjusting. I said that my challenge was determining when to enforce boundaries and when to give in. When to be hard and when to be soft. Basically, she was having meltdowns. It could be over small or large things. For example, if I told her no more chocolate, she would turn into a heap of crying red curls on the floor. Since I didn’t have the benefit of history with this child, I was unsure which parenting choice to go with.

1. Do I ignore the crying and say that it’s for manipulation for more chocolate?

Or, 2, do I get down on her level and comfort the crying and offer support in her sadness, even though she still wasn’t getting more chocolate.

The immediate result is the same in either case, she gets no more chocolate. But, I was so afraid to make her into a spoiled child who could manipulate me with her emotions. I was afraid that by giving in to the emotion, I was creating a child who would take a mile if I gave an inch.

The social worker, an adoptive mother herself, changed my life with her words. She said, “I wish, when the presented the chance, I would have always given grace. Give grace.”

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For our simple scenario with sweet girl that meant picking her up and taking her to our favorite chair and rocking and rubbing her hair and whispering to her that I was sorry she was sad. Sometimes she would be angry and resist the comfort. I would give her grace to be upset. Sometimes she’d yell “more chocolate” at me. I would give her grace to not like my answer all over again. Sometimes she would steal more chocolate the next minute. I would give her grace when she was caught. Two hours later, when she would come up and ask nicely for chocolate, I would give grace AND chocolate. When she would apologize for her anger I would give grace. If she never apologized, I would give grace.

Sometimes the scenario is more challenging and someone has hit or kicked or broken a toy on purpose. Sometimes it’s in the car when the logistics make dealing with it properly impossible.

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This concept of giving grace has taken on many forms with Sweet Girl, but it’s also going into the rest of my life. When my whole being is screaming at me to throw up the walls. To stand my ground. To be strong. Don’t give in. I’m learning instead, that by giving grace, I am released. You see, giving grace isn’t about the other person, it’s about allowing me to be free. I’m allowing my children to mess up. I’m allowing myself to comfort them. I’m allowing them, and myself to be weak. And through my weakness, I am free.

I no longer have to be perfect, I just get to give grace.
I no longer have to feel guilty for yelling, I just get to give grace.
I no longer have to wonder if my children know how much I love them, I just get to give grace.

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So, since God has a sense of humor, I’m expecting my three tiny loves to lose it tonight and me to be tested on this giving grace business. Since I fail 98% of the time, I’m sure I will fail. I’m encouraged that the amount of grace I will be given is limitless. I am free.

Happy 1st Russia Party Sweet Girl!

When we were in Russia, we collected several gifts to give to Sweet Girl every year on the anniversary of when she became ours forever. In November, we were sick around this anniversary, but we talked with her that soon we’d have a party with Russia things to celebrate her being in our family for a year. She started calling it her “Russia Party.” Time slipped away and she kept asking when her Russia Party was going to happen. I had all these grand plans and because I wanted to do it right, more weeks slipped by. Finally, I told her we’d have her Russia Party before her birthday. The day I had her birthday invitations printed I knew I better get on it!

We already had dinner with friends scheduled last week so I decided to bite the bullet and just combo our little get together with her Russia Party. A few cupcakes and a sign later and it was not the extravagant celebration in my mind, but she loved every second of it!

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The gift we chose to give her this year is a book that teaches kids numbers. There are lots of number games and puzzles in this book and even those it’s a book, the puzzle pieces come out and can be put together separately or in the spot in the book. So it’s Russian, but because she doesn’t speak or read Russian, she can still use it since numbers are universal.

20140328-100443.jpgSweet Girl, we are so over the moon in love with you! I can’t imagine my life without you. Your papa and I are so proud of all you have done in 16 months in our family. Your sisters adore you and you are so patient and so kind to them. You are the perfect fit for us.

You are almost done with your kindergarten year and everyone at your school loves you and protects you. You’ve had a few bumps learning how to be a good friend and learning that it’s okay to mess up. We remind you a lot that being kid means that it’s your job to mess up and try again and it’s our job to help you learn how to make good choices.

This morning I was telling you how super cute you looked in your pigtails and you were getting annoyed with me gushing on you. You finally said, “Is your brain on top?”  I asked if you meant, “Is your brain on today?” and you said, “Yeah, that’s it!”.

I am looking forward to being your mama for as many days as God blesses me with the honor!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost childhood

Up until a month ago, this picture, dated 9.6.10 (it’s tag is european dated) was the earliest we had of our sweet girl. I cherished it and all it represented, but I secretly prayed for a baby picture of her. How many times in your life have you referenced your baby picture? How many times when you were in school did you have to bring in a copy for some project or another? I didn’t want sweet girl to go through any trauma with not having a picture of herself before 18 months.
Our brave girl has been home for 18 months now and I thought again that I’d try to do the research to find baby house pictures. I try every couple of months but never had any luck finding anything older than this picture.
But then, I found a girl. She posted a picture on an outdated web journal years ago.
Do you see her? Do you see my sweet girl? She is down in the bottom left. A couple more inches and she wouldn’t have even made the picture. Even with this tiny snipet, I knew it was my girl. Afterall, I’m her mama. More web sleuthing (all in Russian btw), resulting in me finding this girl’s VK account (Russian facebook). I messaged her in English and Russian and introduced myself. I begged her for more pictures.
God heard my pleas and through this sweet angel of a girl, we received these:
Joy doesn’t even begin to describe it. These were pictures of my baby in her baby house. This meant they were pre-2010!
My angel wasn’t done though. She then sent these:

The one in the stroller I believe is the earliest pictures. I’d estimate that she’s 4-5 months old in this one. Do you see her little hands? At almost 6 years old they are the exact same. She’s a skinny little kid, but her little fingers are still chubby like that. She still has the same ears and the same cheeks. And she still has the same look in her eyes. It’s my baby.

Moving on over!

I imported all my old posts on Blogger over here! Yay! I thought that would be the hard part. It’s not, going through all those posts and tagging and categorizing them and wiping them clean of identifying information is a little harder. Be on the lookout for tons of new old posts soon! I’m not sure how they will show up yet, so I appreciate the patience!

In other news, I did the dishes last night. It was major. Even the husband said, “Are you okay? You are doing the dishes?”

She fell off the monkey bars

I feel like at any minute the police are going to show up and haul me to jail. I mean, my kid says her arm hurts and I tell urgent care “she fell off the monkey bars”. It is the most common childhood injury ever but the nurse looked at me like I was joking. No really, at the park yesterday she thought she could do the monkey bars by herself and plop landed on her wrist and back.

We gave it a good 20 hours and things weren’t improving so here we are waiting at the local urgent care. We have been waiting over an hour and they don’t seem to be in a rush to get us out of here.

I asked if I could take her picture:

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Then she picks to try to sit on the spinning stool with one arm. Dissuaded her from that! She doesn’t understand why I don’t think it’s safe.

She keeps asking how long and I keep telling her to look out the window. 1. It gives her something to do and 2. Hopefully staring at them will make them hurry up 🙂

 

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It’s clear the doc doesn’t think it is broken and I didn’t see anything on the X-rays but I am certainly not a radiologist! I can’t decide if I hope it is broken to justify spending the $50 copay and 2 hours of my life or if I want it to be okay so we can get out of here!

Well, the doctor said it’s just a sprain and sent us on our way. Poor kiddo is still complaining a lot though.

I missed a call from the urgent care the next morning. The voicemail said, “We have made an appointment at the orthopedist for 1pm today for your daughter. Please call us with any questions.” Um, yes I have questions! When I called they said that when the radiologist was filing the final report he saw a break and we need to see ortho. Um, okay, but now it is Monday morning and I just send my kid to school with a broken arm and told her to be brave!

Ignoring the possible incompetence, we finally made it through orthopedics yesterday afternoon and my sweet girl now sports a very pretty purple cast. And the best part – it is waterproof! Yippee for mommy and daddy!

This is the x-ray, the break is in the larger bone in her arm at the top – on the left side of this bone, you’ll see a little spot that protrudes, this is the classic presentation of a buckle fracture. The break goes all the way across her bone right there. 

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Our excellent cast tech had her all done in less than 10 minutes – speedy!

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Little sisters were great troopers. I stuck them in this cubby hole in the cast room and turned on the iPad. The cast tech didn’t even know they were there!

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Back at home and resting – don’t let her fool you though – this hasn’t slowed her down one bit!

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Where to begin?

Let’s see, since I last updated our sweet girl turned 5! We had a jampacked summer full of so much fun! We moved. We went to the beach. We stayed up too late catching fireflies with Russian friends. We went to the zoo. Sweet girl had her first overnight trips to Annie’s house. We went to the mountains for the 4th. We played in the lake. We went fishing. We hung out with friends. We played in the pool. We played in the backyard. We went to Jaime’s wedding in PA. Sweet Girl started Kindergarten. She had her first sleepover at a friend’s house. We took some family pictures. We played ring around the rosie in a field.

Sweet girl is beyond fluent in English. She can count to 50. She knows her ABC’s and can identify the majority of her letters. She knows all her vowels and the sounds they make.

She is memorizing bible verses and hearing her little Russian accent tell me about doing to others just undoes me. It’s precious. Her fine motor skills are advancing – she can now draw pictures with purpose and write her letters. She’s getting a steady hand with the pearler beads.

She’s a wonderful big sister who loves to play with Cranky and Happy. She’s mostly patient with them, but has no problem tattling. She believes in fairness and equality and the most disruptions occur when she thinks one of those has been broken.

She LOVES to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and up until this week could care less about anything else on TV, but in the last couple days she has said she likes Doc McStuffins. She went from being terrified of animals to letting Annie’s doggies lick her and run with her.

She’s getting less picky on food. She’ll eat almost anything these days except most vegetables (tomatoes are still a hit) and chicken. Spaghetti and macaroni are still the favorites. Her hair has grown 6”, but because it’s corkscrew curls, it doesn’t look like that much. When it’s wet, it’s partway down her back. She loves baths with her sisters, but prefers showers alone.
She has gained 9 pounds. She is a solid 4T in the waist now, but is still tall for a 5 year old so pants are still a challenge. Thank goodness for Gap slim fit with adjustable waist! She just had her first ear infection. The rest of the house had a little cold we thought she avoided, but she must have caught it enough to have some fluid in her ears that got infected.
Saturday is the one year anniversary of Sweet Girl being officially ours in Russia! We didn’t get to pick her up for several more weeks and we didn’t get to the US until 11/18, but she was ours!

First Birthdays

If you ask Sweet Girl how old she is she will hold up 4 little fingers and proudly exclaim, “Foah!” And when you ask her how old she will be when she has a birthday, there is no hesitation with a full five fingers and her little “Fiyav!”.
Her birthday is in 2 days. She’s asking every day now how many more days until her birthday. With all the other life activities right now, we aren’t able to throw her the bash she deserves this week, but we’ve told her she’s going to get two parties. One party will just be mama, papa, Cranky and Happy on her birthday. She will get Spaghettio’s with cucumbers and strawberries on the side. Then she knows that in a couple weeks, she can have all her friends come to the new house we will have a big party! Every day she picks out different invitations and I can’t figure out what theme she really wants (So sorry to family who haven’t gotten an invitation! I need to get on that).
She is so excited. She seems to be completely overwhelmed with the thought that she is getting a party. She keeps saying, “Sweet Girl party?” and when I reply with “Yes, just for you!” her little face lights up.
Mama is a little sad. I’m mourning the day of her birth. I’m mourning the other 4 times April 4th rolled around on the calendar and there were no balloons, no cake, no favorite foods and no mama to give her hugs. It has taken 4.5 long years for my sweet little light to finally have a mama and papa who tell her every day how special she is and how loved she is. We are so blessed to be able to share this birthday with her and we pray every day we have many more to share together.
When she leans over her little cake with her name on it and blows out 5 little candles, I’m likely to have tears running down my face. I can’t always keep her safe and protect her heart, but I know for that moment in time, her world will be safe and she will feel loved.
This will be her picture of redemption.

Sleep Tight

For the three and a half months Sweet Girl has been home now, she has slept on a small cot just beside the bed in mama and papa’s room. Having spent her entire life sleeping dormitory style with at least 10 other children in a row of beds, we knew sleeping in her own room, her own bed, would be a big adjustment to overcome. We could not force her to spend those first scary nights alone in her room and we didn’t want to start the habit of her ending up in our bed, so the cot became a familiar extension of the comfortable little pallet on the floor she took to so well to those first couple of unfamiliar nights with us in an Moscow hotel room.
We had fully prepared to begin transitioning her to her own bed when she showed signs of attachment. She had spent some time napping in it during the day, so it wasn’t totally foreign. However, due to many outside circumstances and for a variety of reasons, we have found ourselves selling our house and gearing up to move the family onto a much better situation for everyone. Despite her doing so remarkably well with her adjustment, we have been careful to prepare her for every change and implement them slowly. We knew that moving would be a huge obstacle to her attachment and adjustment. With awareness of that, we decided not to push and not to change the familiar sleeping arrangement she was accustomed to until we were settled in the new house. Of course, this wasn’t an easy decision for us since one of us (9 times out of 10, mama) has been with Sweet Girl every night from her bedtime at 8pm to when she falls asleep, with no break, since picking her up that night in Russia from the orphanage.  Because of this, our available free time together is limited to 7pm-8pm – when the twins go to bed to when Sweet Girl needs to go to bed. It’s hard since we work all day and need time in the evening to reconnect and be still together for a moment without children.
But last night, a break through… rather, a miracle! Sweet Girl, of her own accord, asked to go “nite-nite” in her big girl bed. We were a bit startled and caught off guard, but welcomed any chance. So we quickly gathered the baby monitor and set a trail of ambient light leading from her room downstairs to the open door of our bedroom and said have at it! We talked about the house being quiet and about how she could go to mama and papa’s room if she got scared. After several testing bathroom breaks, she went to sleep in her very own bed by herself! That sleep continued until 3:30am when we were awakened unexpectedly by a toddler bedside in our room. No warning, no noise on the baby monitor, nothing, just a little person whispering “mama!”. We directed her to lay on her cot and all quickly went back to sleep and that was that. When we asked her in the morning what happened, her only answer was “scared”. That however doesn’t seem to deter her as she remains adamant about wanting to go to sleep in her room again. So as I write this, I’m upstairs just outside her room, quiet, watching her on the webcam trying to repeat last night’s brave performance!Morning update: She made it until 5:50am and then came downstairs. She didn’t want to lay in her cot and instead knee’d mama and papa in their kidneys until we were all up for the day at 6:15am.

We have 6 more weeks in our house so we’ll see how she does! She’s very proud of herself and excited so I think she’ll do just fine!

Sweet, precious, spunky, brave girl.

A Tour of Vladimir, Russia

So I had the idea of putting together this post now that Sweet Girl is home and we can speak more openly about her heritage. I’ve had many people curious about where she came from and I wanted to put together a little showcase to give you a better understanding of her town and heritage, which we hope we can preserve as an important part of her.
Sweet Girl was born in a small town near Vladimir and when she was about 18 months old was transferred to the Vladimir Baby House which is where we found her.
Being the capital of the region, Vladimir is a good size city of around 300,000 (not all that much bigger than where we live in the US).  Though not a common tourist destination, Vladimir is part of the “Golden Ring” of ancient Russian cities, has several ancient cathedrals, and its heritage dates back to 900AD. In fact, the Grand Prince was crowed in Vladimir’s Assumption Cathedral up to 1200AD when this was moved to Moscow’s Kremlin and the famous Assumption Cathedral there which was loosely modeled after Vladimir’s.
Old bridge of some historical relevance, though I’m not sure what exactly. As seems to be customary in Europe, locals would affix “love padlocks” to the rails of this bridge.
McDonalds, the only familiar sign of western civilization we encountered in Vladimir. Even though most Russian’s could understand simple English and use a few broken words, we hardly ever encountered anyone to which we could carry on a conversation with in Vladimir. ATMs that would exchange money were common enough (most only in Russian), but paying with credit cards of any variety was not common and most transitions occurred in cash. This McDonald’s was one of the few places we found both credit card machines and an English picture menu.
Assumption Cathedral (1160)
The principle church during Vladimir’s reign as political capital of Russia and where the grand prince was crowned before this responsibility shifted to Moscow’s Kremlin
Back view of Assumption Cathedral.
Monument to Prince Vladimir I and Fyodor the monk in Pushkin Park.
Building of the Gubernia’s Administration (1785)
Sits between the Assumption Cathedral and St. Demetrius’ Cathedral.
Housed local administration during Soviet era.
Now home to the Art Gallery and Hall of Pre-Revolutionary Estates. Seems as though it was undergoing renovation

St. Demetrius’ Cathedral (1197)
View perched atop Vladimir vantage point overlooking the Klyazma River
Muronskaya Bridge and Klyazma River leading to Suzdal I believe.
The Northern Trade rows (aka “the mall”).

Located within walking distance of our hotel in downtown Vladimir, this supplied us with a grocery store and all the shopping necessities we needed.

Golden Gates (1163).
Located in the city center, these gates once marked the entrance to the city and were an impenetrable fortress.
More local architecture
Trinity Church (1913)
Vladimir Oblast assembly hall
I believe this is the site where the Tartar-Mongol hordes breached Vladimir’s defenses in 1238. The city has struggled to recover since then in the limelight of Moscow.
19th century water tower. Houses the Museum of “Old Vladimir”.
View of the Assumption Cathedral and Pushkin Park from afar.
What trip to Russia would be complete without your local Vodka factory?
A typical Vladimir street and city horizon
A Vladimir side street.
View from afar of what I called Vladimir’s industrial area we drove past everyday on the way to the orphanage. What you see isn’t a nuclear power plant, but rather a thermal one that produced power and steam for the town. Large steam pipes snaked their way above ground all over the town between buildings as the primary source of heat for the winter.
Entrance to Sweet Girl’s orphanage… down a narrow, rough alley between two high rise apartments adjacent to some sort of military installation. Located about a 10 minute car ride from our hotel in downtown, the orphanage was on the outskirts of town in a noticeably more poverty stricken area than the old world that surrounded us in the city center.
The main gate to the orphanage. This would be locked after 5:00. The entire orphanage grounds was surrounded by a rather creative fence built entirely from rebar.
Once inside “the compound”, the building located in the center was 2-story designed in an “H” configuration with a groupa living in each of the 4 quadrants and common area in the middle. Her  groupa lived in the far quadrant you see pictured above.
The Google earth image shows square “H” style building located in the middle of the high rise apartments. The red line shows the path we took everyday between the two buildings (pictured above) and down the alley to the orphanage. The large complex below the orphanage was some sort of military/police training grounds though I don’t know what. Vladimir is home to the 27th Guards Missile Army and the Strategic Rockets Forces, the latter commands the Soviet nuclear fleet.
The rather square “H” style building was surrounded by 4 playground areas at each of the four corners. The kids would rotate around from play area to play area with the exception of one quadrant that seemed to be overgrown and off limits (see our trip 1 report about the forbidden slide). The vibrant colors seen here were a staple throughout in insides of the orphanage perimeter.
Here is the driveway leading back out of her orphanage to the alleyway. Every morning we would get dropped off here.
View of the high rise apartments that surround the orphanage grounds and tower over them. I often describe the orphanage as an “oasis” in the middle of otherwise run down apartments that would be best described in our culture as ‘projects’.
We hope to one day go back here with Sweet Girl and let her take it all in. We tried to document our experience through pictures and videos as much as we could since we imagine she won’t remember much of it. We are thankful for this place and this staff for doing their best with what they have. Just in talking to them and seeing the grounds, the care and attention they try to give the kids is palpable. But when I see how much Sweet Girl has blossomed with just 3 months of love and focused attention, my heart breaks for the 40 other kids we left behind here and the millions of others in less friendly orphanages and on the streets around the world. No matter how great this place was, NOTHING replaces a family for a child.