Wednesday, January 29, 2014

It's cold here people!

We have been pretty home bound around these parts.  For the most part I like being home bound when we have lots of things to keep us busy.

We've been making food as art. Berry tarts are good.

 The middle boys and the hubs had a concert.

Puzzles at the table.
 And some really fun tactile finger paint.  1 cup of cornstarch and 3 cups of water, whisk, heat until thick, color with food coloring.  Next time (for Nellie) I would put essential oils.
I don't want winter to end because I love it.  I would really love a HUGE snowstorm.

I'm a New England girl at heart and I'm having reverse cabin fever!!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How will our two Bulgarians communicate with us?

How will our two Bulgarians communicate with us?

How will we know what memory they are experiencing when they display symptoms of grief (anger, lashing out, grumpiness, crying, "perfect" shut-down behavior)?

How will WE help them communicate (since it really is on US)?

Because it IS on US we will be attentive to our:

  - Tone of voice (An intense voice can seem like yelling to someone who had been through trauma.)
  - Facial expression (We might want to spend some time in front of a hand mirror during the day.)
  - Words (Just because they can speak some English words doesn't mean they have the receptive ability to understand complicated word groupings and inflection and tone..... see how COMPLICATED this gets!)
  - Body posture (again, some time in front of a mirror might help.  Are we standing over them when we speak?  Are we rubbing their back, holding their hands, being kind while we correct?)

Communication is SO MUCH MORE than WORDS!
We call this facial expression the "Nate face".  Sometimes Nate can have a grumpy face :) .
How are we watching how WE communicate?

And how are we PROVIDING them with ways to communicate?  Don't leave it up to chance!

Do we tell them AGAIN AND AGAIN that we love them?  That NOTHING they say will make that love go away?  That NOTHING they say will make us go away?

Do we encourage them to open up?

Do we use role playing to help our second language learners to understand?  (You will find SO MANY ideas on Christie's blog!)

Do we lower the stress level in our home so that the words will flow?
What does this face communicate?
Communication is so important in a family.  We will do anything needed to help our newest kids be able to talk and converse with us.  Nellie isn't talking at all yet and so we are coming up with many ways to encourage her to find her voice (if she doesn't that is OK too).

We plan to:

Sing with Nellie (and Marin)
Give her an echo microphone
Make noises like "bbbbb" and "shhhhh" on her hand
Telling her things that she loves over and over  - like "cat Nellie"  "Nellie likes cat"
Being very intentional in how we speak to her, giving spaces between the words

All these things I think and think about while waiting and waiting.  I want to make the transition to our family as easy as possible and finding a way to communicate is key to this.  

Luckily some members of our family never stop talking.  I won't point fingers because I am so above such behavior.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Odysseus Had It Easy

Waiting for this adoption process to move along is bad.  I can think up other, more nuanced words to describe it, but really, it's just bad.  Plain BAD.

And recently it has gotten worse. Once I came back from Bulgaria and the last little morsels of our paperwork were done and in, we were left with nothing to do to distract us while we wait.  No paperwork to do or fingerprints to take and send in and then retake and resend.  No oddly numbered government documents to fill out paperwork for, or strange notifications that are oddly numbered from the government to look forward to. Sure, there were the holidays, but they have left us, and I can still recall the feeling on January 2nd as I drove in the car and it suddenly dawned on me that the holidays were over, and I knew I had nothing to distract me from the waiting.

Odysseus, as you may have heard, took a long time getting home from the Trojan War.  But he kept busy on this long (not going to write odyssey...not going to write odyssey....) voyage by poking out a cyclops' eye here, having his friends turned into pigs there, dodging whirlpools and smashing rocks here and get the picture.  

Tying yourself to the underside of a sheep to keep from getting eaten alive will take your
mind off of other things.  Photo © Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe

Even Sisyphus got to watch the rock roll back down the hill and then push it back up again - at least he could keep busy.  For us it's, "Yeah, just stand there, over by that big rock.  No, no need to push it up the hill.....we'll be in touch in a couple months......oh, and.......don't call us, we'll call you....".

Marin took this picture of me without my mask on.
Yes, my head actually is a basketball.

I do think of Marin and Nellie over in Bulgaria waiting and I think that it must be even harder for them; they have even less of an idea what is going on, just that sometime in the near future their lives will change radically.  But this doesn't make me feel any better or help me to count my blessings; it just makes me anxious because I can't comfort or help them right now - that's not really what I was aiming for.

So I try to keep busy and focus my mind on other things - those related to the upcoming trip and bringing the children home and things that I won't have time to do when they get here.  
I think about what I will feed Marin and Nellie while I am in Bulgaria with them - what will
nourish them and help them feel comfortable.  And I think about how I will probably live
on Bulgarian yogurt the entire time because, well, basically that's how dull I am.

But most of all, I spend my time thinking of our newest children and the time I spent with them and what I want to do with them when they get here.  I think of them and dream that they are here and that this period of time has ended.  

I wish I could share some words of wisdom about this, or break out with some revelation I had because of it, but that would be insincere. 

Because it isn't deep or chock full of meaning - it's just bad. REAL BAD.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Parenting that Heals

Today I have the pleasure of talking with Christie, mom of 4 sweeties (two adopted domestically, two from the Ukraine, two after adoption disruption) and three grown sons.  She writes at her public blog Parenting that Heals .  

You won't find any "techniques" on her blog, no "steps to take" that can be overwhelming.  

What you will find is a change in perspective.  You will find principles to frame your parenting.  You will find gentle prodding to work on yourself so can provide a safe space for your sweetie(s) to heal from their trauma.

Many of the parents reading this are either struggling with their child(ren) or waiting and preparing for their children to come home.  I wonder if we could focus our conversation today on the concept of wanting our children to obey out of love not fear or anger.  I think that is the sticking point for most people.  Sometimes we are stressed or in a hurry or our children have been with us for X months and we just want them to OBEY ... and don't think of the cost.  Can you help us understand what this means, why it is important, and what it looks like in real life ?

All of us want our children to obey.  After all, scripture says, "Children Obey Your Parents for this is right!"
And it IS right.
The problem comes when we have children who have trauma backgrounds.  Our children come to us with brokenness and pain.  Parents were not somebody that existed in their lives, neglected them or broke their trust, causing them terrible harm.

The KEY to children obeying or listening to us, is TRUST.  And when they first come home, they do NOT trust us. They want to, but pain gets in the way.

I think about the song, "Trust and Obey".  Notice, it doesn't say "Obey and Trust".  In fact, we must TRUST the LORD before we OBEY him.

We have found that as we walk in a trustworthy manner towards our children, showing them unconditional love and acceptance, even the hardest of hearts has been turned to trust, obey and LOVE.

Does this mean that before they trust we don't expect any form of obedience?
Of course not.
But their obedience might be reluctant or after much discussion.  We may be asked to explain a "Why?" And that is ok.  Sometimes they NEED to know that "why".  
But as time goes on, and we model for them what obedience looks like, what love looks like and what parents look like, the hardness of a little heart hurt and protected behind that wall of opposition, begins to chip away, and obedience comes.  
It doesn't come because of consequences or punishment.  It comes because of a deep trust, just like our obedience to God comes from a deep trust in His infinite love for His children.

So what does that look like in real life?  Let's say you are struggling with your 10 year old adopted daughter.  She's been home 8 months and you think you have provided a trusting atmosphere and she still whines about picking up her room or yells at you when you ask her to pick up her dishes.  How do you get your relationship back on a positive track?  How do you do it without using fear or anger?  How do you put the relationship first but don't feel like you are doormat or the live in maid :) ?

That is a very good question!
I can use our own family as an example.  We adopted our last daughter almost 3 years ago at the age of 11.
This little one was so traumatized by her past, we honestly didn't know what to expect. We knew that the Lord had called us to bring her home, but we also knew it would not be easy.  And it wasn't.
That said:
When she was first home, we didn't play the "I'm your forever mama" or "We are your forever family" card.
She had had too many of those and wouldn't have believed it.  
I simply told her, "My name is Mrs. Minich, and I'm here to keep you safe." 
Children are so vulnerable to the adults that make decisions for them.  They want to feel safe, but when they have had their hopes dashed, time and time again, they begin to shut their hearts down to protect themselves from any further pain and even act out in order to just get the next relationship overwith because they are convinced in their hearts that it won't work anyway, so why bother.

Some might call that RAD. 

The first thing I will say is that our expectations need to be lowered a bit.  There is time to learn, but a child cannot learn everything at once.  We don't send our kindergartners to college, so we really shouldn't expect our 11 year olds to understand how to do the household chores they have never done before.

ASSUME that is was not good if you can't know it.
LISTEN to them and ask inviting, open ended questions when you are in the "getting to know you phase."
If you have not done this yet, and are having relationship problems, no matter how old they are, you are still in the "getting to know you phase."

As soon as they will let you, take on the role of a loving mama.  If they are reluctant to touch, start with polishing nails or putting lotion on feet. Eventually they will get more used to touch.
Then, when you are doing this happy activity, open dialogue.

Make your expectations simple at first.  
We must make our bed.  
We must help load the dishwasher.
And then, come alongside and kindly and patiently, with humor teach your child how to do this.
Your 5 year old may know how already, because you taught them. Don't expect a newly home 15 year old to know how. They won't.
AND.... it will seem awkward and overwhelming for them at first.

Doing it WITH THEM and giving them confidence that they too can do it will go along ways towards success.

We had a specific incident with our 4th daughter that I still chuckle about, though it wasn't funny when it happened. 
She didn't want to do the dishes and was banging them into the dishwasher.  She banged them in and I quietly took them out and told her, NO!  That was a firm no! And then a QUICK switch to a softer, kinder tone.... "I think you might need some help!" with a soft smile.
I showed her, and she slammed.  I showed her and she slammed.  I showed her and she slammed.
I showed her, and said, "I know you can do this! It's ok, we'll do it together, and she complied!
And then we high fived it!  A job well done!
And then we headed to the rocking chair to snuggle and talk about what happened.
She then FELT safe!  (for the moment)

That experience was VITAL.  She expected to get into trouble.  She TRIED to get into trouble. 
Instead, we focused on relationship and healing, which led to obedience.

Today, she cleans the kitchen well, for one week at a time just as her sisters do.

And when you mean "open dialogue" with them you don't mean nag and lecture right?  (I'm making this point to myself since I have a tendency to use these "open spaces" as "teaching moments" when really I should be building our relationship.)  I find that in these moments when the relationship is strained (I did this when i worked with teens mandated to come to therapy by the courts) just me talking or rattling on helped bring them out of their anger or hurt.  Rattle on about sports (using what little you know), or visit your teens favorite singer's fan site and get something to talk about!  Don't expect THEM to make the relationship.  We need to take the first steps and KEEP taking those steps right?

Absolutely! I do not mean nag or lecture.
When we go to talk about things, after something has happened, such as the dishwasher incident, It will usually include an "I really like how we finished that!"  
A word of encouragement, and then maybe a humorous turn in conversation.
Or.... you sure did respond strongly to dishes, can you tell me what happened a long time ago when you did dishes?
You'd be shocked what you might find out, and how open they are to share!
Always encourage, and never demand.
There is a difference between "Can you share with me?"  And " Tell me what happened before!"
One gives permission and room to not share, the other is a demand.

This may seem subtle, but for the hypervigilant child, they are not subtle at all!

There are other times where we just talk, to talk.  Leading questions while in the car etc.
Those are the times to just talk dancing, sports, favorite music.

Targeted conversations used for teaching can also be ended on these notes.
Especially if an abundance  of emotional information has been shared. 
You have end with a hug and humor!
"So! How bout them Dodgers!" :)

Christie will answer any questions in the comments so ask away!!

Thank you Christie!  Again her public website is Parenting that Heals.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Cortisol levels

Marin and Nellie will most likely come with elevated Cortisol levels.  Cortisol is a hormone the body produces when it is stressed.

Unfortunately, children from traumatic backgrounds produce it all the time.  All day, all night.  They don't know they are producing it and they don't know how to turn it off.

Why do they?

Imagine you had no one in your life who had your back.  You had caregivers around you but they rotated and you were not in control of their comings and goings.  Some of your caregivers were mean, some gave mean baths, some yelled too much and again, you had no control over this. What if you liked the director of your orphanage?  But why should you?  The last one you "bonded" with left and didn't say good bye.  What if you didn't have enough food and there was no one who "had your back" and gave you food when you were hungry.  You have your peer group but that can change - especially when their are limited resources to fight over.  And the biggest Cortisol stimulant is that when all these things happen there is no one at home who can listen and hear these fears and sadness.

So what does this mean for our little Bulgarians?

It means that some days will be a struggle.  Memories will arise for our newest children that make no sense for us.  A day at the pond with love and kisses and ice cream may cause melt downs and sadness.  They might scream "I hate you!" after a day of fun.  They might be absolutely adamant that they won't bond with us when it is what they crave with all their heart.

We will be rocking, bottle feeding (if wanted), we will wrap them in blankets, we will brush their teeth, we will carry them, we will do all this to stimulate their Serotonin.  We will be staying home for months and making their lives like newborns.  We will be providing them with a therapeutic environment.

This is called "the snuggle chair" in our house. 
We will not be talking about punishments or consequences or limit setting. We will not label their behavior as manipulation.  We will be speaking the language of love.
What can you do to help?

Bring us food (gluten free please), call and check in (or email), love us from afar.  This will be a very new parenting challenge for us.  It might be the hardest one we have ever done.  

But the dividends are sweet.  
This will be the start of their healing.  
Attachment bonds will be started. 
If done well Cortisol levels will decrease.  
They will be able to think and not just survive (it has been documented that language skills increase when Cortisol levels decrease).
They will begin to play and bond with siblings. 
They will begin to relax for possibly the first time ever. 
And they will have the basis set FOR EVERY OTHER RELATIONSHIP in their lives.

Work?  Yes.  Worth it?  YES

Friday, January 10, 2014

Making Braille as common as print in our house

We want Nellie to grow up in a Braille-rich environment just like our sighted kids grew up in a print-rich environment.  Think about it:  sighted kids see the cereal box, the newspaper, the logo on a shirt ...  Nellie needs the same chance to develop those elusive "pre-reading" skills.

So we have started making Braille labels for objects in our house.

Very dirty door.

 It's taking a bit more time to bring Braille to our house.  Someday I hope to buy a Perkin's Braillewriter to do the job quicker.
Nellie's canes next to her bed.  My Raggedy Ann from childhood.  I can't believe that someday soon there will be a little girl laying in this bed!! (Swoooooooon!)
Our dossier has been officially re-submitted back to the Ministry of Justice.  Now we just wait for her/his signature and then it goes on to the courts to be assigned a judge.  Waiting...waiting...

Now was NOT the time to give up sugar but I did and I feel so much better (except for the sugar and chocolate cravings). I've gotten back on my treadmill and have been lifting hand weights.  I want to be strong and fit when the kids come (and for myself....)!  It is the only thing I feel I have a bit of control over so I'm going with it.

OK enough whining, I've got Braille labels to make!

Thursday, January 9, 2014


The book Nate got Marin in Bulgaria. He passed up the Foxwood books in the second picture to my dismay (they are some of our favorites!) Between Braille for Nellie and Bulgarian books for Marin we should have done fundraising for books!!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

When our children come home

When are children come home they will be hurting.  They will be traumatized.  They will be fragile.  They will lose their culture, their language, their "home".  They will lose all the important people in their lives.

They will be feeling intense fear and grief.

And most of the time we show our grief and fear in ANGER.  So Nellie and Marin might be very angry.
They might lash out.
They might act like "perfect" children.
They might cry when they smell a smell that reminds them of their hurt or their people in Bulgaria.
They might bite their hand.
They might rock themselves for comfort.
They might plop into anyone's lap for soothing.
They might tell us daily that they hate us in their actions and words.
They might throw things.
They might have fits in the middle of the grocery store for seemingly no reason.
They might demand things to fill the hole inside.
They might fight with their siblings.
They might look out of control.

All of this is FEAR and GRIEF.  And it is our responsibility to NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY and WORK ON OURSELVES.

We are the ones that are mostly responsible for the "attaching" that needs to be done.  And that is done by dying to ourSELVES and allowing God to fill us with LOVE.

Because the antidote to grief is LOVE.

LOVE that is unconditional.  LOVED because they just are.  LOVE that heals their hearts and gives them a safe space to feel ALL their feelings.

We will have boundaries and limits but our focus will be ON THE RELATIONSHIP.

We ask that those of you who love our family (and live close) please DO NOT pick up Nellie and Marin (they must learn that Mama and Papa are for comfort and what "Mama" and "Papa" really mean).
We ask that you DO NOT take their behavior (or ours :) ) personally.  We might have to do some seemingly strange things to help our children heal.
We ask that you support us while we FOCUS ON THE RELATIONSHIP.
And please pray extra for us when we screw up.  :)

All of you that thought we were "messing up" our family by adoption please open your hearts.
We have NO DOUBTS that their hearts (and ours!) can be healed.

We can't wait for the work to get started!

Our church is so pretty.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Does God provide?

Does God want his children in families?

Marin playing with the fake Lego Nate bought him in B.

Nellie with her piano in B.
While we wait on the tail end of this amazing journey I will ask you all to pray.  

I know that Blessed Mother Mary visits these two before they fall asleep and tells them they are loved.  I ask you to pray that they truly hear her.  I ask you to pray that their hearts will be open and receptive to our love and that our hearts will be open to take in their hurt, pain, and grief and NOT TAKE IT PERSONALLY.  

Please pray that our dossier is quickly moved from one hand to the other and that we receive a court date as soon as possible.  

Pray that the last few dollars in funding is provided.  He has provided $28,500 (through generous donors and grants) and I have no doubt he will provide the last bits to have these two come home to a family.

I have made a promise to myself to update this blog (at least) weekly after the children come home.  I would like to put a face on the TRUE adoption experience.  Not just the journey to get them but what happens after and the struggles to help them heal (and to expand my heart and lean on God). 

And be a testament to the power of HIM to heal all wounds.

So does God provide? 

If I die to myself and lean on him he provides me with everything. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Update with no update

Waiting and waiting and waiting some more is the update I have for you today.  We haven't heard back officially (because of the holiday) but we believe that our full dossier is "officially" submitted in Bulgaria.  That means that it will be picked up by a judge and we will be given a court date.  When that court date comes Nellie and Marin will be officially OURS.


Then Nate will be invited to travel.

If you know me you know I already have his suitcase in our bedroom.  It's filled with Smartwool socks and hats a friend of ours knit and bought.  There are boots for Marin, a tactile set of objects for Nellie, a Braille book, and a manual food grinder for helping Nellie eat in country.  I wish I could stick my little ole' self in there too - but then I would have to pack my baby girl and my attached boy.  Nate will be going alone (and feels very confident in his abilities).

I am confident in his abilities but grieving.  So I'll post again when we have a bit of news or I remember to take pictures of how we are putting Braille everywhere in our house.  Or when I score Nellie a cute pair of shoes on Ebay.  Or the progress on the two sweaters and two hats I am knitting.

These are the things I do to keep myself sane in the waiting.  It's working a bit. :)