Tuesday, June 28, 2011

3 (and a half) week Update!

Ok, so my lofty goal of doing a weekly update on this blog has turned out to be pretty laughable! I have hardly any time to sit down, much less think through what to type on a blog post!

Everything on the home-front is going amazingly well. After all the drama and tantrums in Colombia I fully expected coming home to be even worse but it has been just the opposite. Yes, we have still had a few tantrums but they are short lived and FAR apart! We are so thankful for that! The kids are doing a great job catching on to our lifestyle and habits. I have been trying to be vigilant about starting off with the manners and rules that I have fallen lax with our bio kids through the years. It's been good for them, too!

In an attempt to not paint an unrealistic picture, we have struggled trying to make our family not feel like two separate sets of kids. Our bio kids have not had the greatest patience with their new siblings and the first week or two we had LOTS of discussions about being inclusive and not exclusive. Although we haven't fully arrived at the goal, I am beginning to see glimpses of compassion and acts of graciousness. It is a good growing process for them all. The bio kids are learning how to love people when the other person is not easy to love. They are learning what it looks like to "die to the flesh". They are becoming more aware of the idolatry of self that is bound up in each of our hearts. So, although, it is emotionally draining continually dealing with correction and discussion discipline, the Lord is giving me an eternal perspective in the midst of all the drama. He is using this time to smooth off the rough edges of their character and mold them into His children who look and behave like Him. For that I am thankful.

We've had a full 3 weeks so far. Lots of visitors that have welcomed us home with loving arms. Lots of meals- so many we can't fit more in our freezer! I have been so blessed by seeing how in each step of this adoption process, the body of Christ has stepped in and collectively helped bring these children to their forever family. We love each of you!

In addition to lots of visitors, we celebrated Luisa's 8th birthday. We chose to keep it very low key. The kids had received lots of gifts from family and friends in the week or so previous so we tried to keep the celebration muted (just our immediate family) to decrease the sensory overload. She chose hamburgers and hot dogs for dinner and then she helped me bake a PINK cake with PINK icing and lots of pastel decorations for the top. She got an art supplies kit and several blank journal books from us- which is right up her alley. If you could see the massive amounts of paper and markers, crayons and play doh this child has stashed in bags and boxes all around her bed you would be amazed! She is going to be so fun to buy school supplies with! LOL!

The kids have been doing well attending children's church each Sunday. Caitlin has gone back with them the past two weeks so Brent and I could hear the sermon, which is so nice of her. Jonathan is even starting to participate by answering questions (not sure how he's understanding the story, though! LOL). Cindy has been going to the toddlers class alone and is doing great, although everyone says she doesn't talk! Not the Cindy we have at home! This kid is hysterical. She already has quite the sense of humor. And she is still her Daddy's girl. They have a unique bond, which is so awesome! I love to see Daddy's girls!

We've visited the park, took walks by the river, gone to our Sunday School picnic, had a campfire with marshmallows (they'd never seen them before) and gone to my mom's house to see their miniature horses.

Yesterday we took our first long road trip to a little amusement park in Pennsylvania called Knoebles. You pay by ride so it is cheaper for us to do as a big family! We prepped the kids ahead of time that they were not allowed to ask for any food or games or they would have to sit on a bench and not ride on the rides. (We had a picnic lunch and plenty of snacks so they didn't starve!) They didn't ask a single time!! So we surprised them with a treat of popcorn at the end of the day. They loved the rides and especially the one where you get totally soaked. That was quite the hit!

English is coming slowly, but it is coming. They are very interested in learning and often ask us to quiz them on the English that they know. The doctor suggested that Cindy (and possibly Jonathan) see a speech therapist so we will check into that soon.

Overall, everything is busy, but good. I am just trying to keep up with everyone and all the cooking, laundry and cleaning. Brent is back to work full time now, so we are starting to fall into a routine- albeit a loose one! At least everyone is doing their morning chores before breakfast with no problems! That makes life much easier on me!  I'm still a little panicky about how in the world we are going to fit homeschooling into our day, but hopefully once that time comes life will be a little less chaotic and I will have a firmer grasp on how to best manage things.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Home Update!

We've had a bunch of people begging for an update now that we're home! So I'll try to fill everyone in!

Travel on Thursday was very uneventful, thankfully. The taxi driver was so wonderful and stayed with us as we checked in the airport and all the way up to immigration where he wasn't allowed further. He was extremely kind and even got teary-eyed when we said goodbye. I was so thankful for him as it took a LONG time to get through check in. I guess 9 people, with a bunch of legal paperwork and 11 bags to check is a lot to get done. I was glad we allowed the full 3 hours ahead of time.

For families awaiting travel from the Bogota airport here's how it happened for us. We flew Avianca, so I don't know how other airlines are...
We got a Porter to help us carry all our luggage in on a cart and then while Brent and the taxi driver waited in line with the kids, the Porter took me to a window to get an exit tax-exempt stamp since we had been there less than a month. It was not for the chicos, but the rest of us. Then I got back in line with the rest of the group!
First you get into the Avianca line that says to go to the US. (There is another line for Europe and South American Countries.) When we got to the first set of people who were checking us in, I had to give all our passports and show (not give) a copy of each of their new birth certificates and sentencia. Our attorney had already prepared an envelope with those things for us, so I wasn't scrambling to find them. They gave us baggage tickets to stick to our luggage with our address- so filling out 11 of them took a while. Then we were sent to the real check in desk where we again showed the passports, birth certs, and sentencia. Keep them handy! LOL! The lady asked for the "permissions" and I didnt' know what she wanted but thankfully the taxi driver explained that they needed our documents. We left all our checked baggage with her and got our boarding passes.

The taxi driver then took us up the escalators (to the right of the check in desk). Upstairs we went to the left toward immigration. It is smack in the middle of the huge corridor so you can't miss it. First you go through security and then wait in line for immigration. We didn't have to wait for more than 5 minutes in line before we got to the immigration officer. There are about 10 counters set up and there was someone directing us to which one to go to. I think we had to go to the one specifically for people traveling with minors. This was a good 20 minute procedure. He had to look at each person and compare it to the passport (actually both times before they did that too, so don't send someone to the bathroom!). Then I gave him the copy of the birth certificate and sentencia (authenticated!) to keep. He was doing some kind of paperwork on his side of the counter so I'm not sure what that was all about. We were quite the spectacle with 7 kids sprawled all over the floor listening to music on their Mp3's or resting their heads on their backpacks! We got quite a lot of stares and a few of the other immigration officers just couldn't resist asking about all our details! LOL

Once you are through immigration, you head toward your gate. There are lots of stores for shopping or restaurants. There is security again at the actual gate. There are NO bathrooms or drinks allowed past the security. We asked about taking water in for the children and they allowed us to if it was unopened water. But I would check first before doing so. We were allowed snacks also. Thankfully we only had a short 15 minute wait before boarding the plane, but if your wait is going to be longer, you  might consider delaying going through the gate security until just before boarding so you still have food/drink/bathroom facilities!

Flying home was easy with the on board entertainment system. I don't even think they had to get in their bags for toys!
Once in Washington DC, we followed the masses of people to a shuttle that took us to immigration where we waited in another long line. It moved pretty quickly though. Our immigration officer took our big, fat Top Secret Envelopes and opened them. I was so curious about what was in them! It is only just photocopies of all the documents that were given at the Embassy! How anticlimactic! I had a handful of the same things in my backpack! LOL!

After going through another security for agricultural products (apparently coffee beans count!) with a grumpy officer, we were finally free! As soon as we passed through the doors we heard the screams and clapping of all our family and friends there to welcome us home! The kids clung to us for the first 20 minutes or so, but then the ice got broken when someone pulled out an uno game and crayons and coloring books. All the cousins crowded around and played! We stayed there for a while and since the kids were doing so well, we decided to all drive to a McDonalds with a playground for dinner. Gotta introduce these kids to the most American food, right! LOL! 

The playground at McD's was perfect and it really allowed the chicos to get comfortable with their cousins and new family members. By the end of the evening they were hugging and kissing on everyone! I'm so glad we did it even though we ended up getting home late.

At home they were so excited to see everything! They went from room to room squealing and oohing and ahhing over each little thing. Then, we introduced them to the playroom in the basement. Oh, boy! You'd have thought they were in heaven. Dress ups were the ultimate hit! We told them they could either have a bath or play- and they chose to play! Of course! Finally around 12:30am everyone headed to bed.

The first two days home were like another honeymoon. The kids were doing amazingly well. Luisa and Jonathan both learned to ride a bike by the 2nd day!
On Sunday we felt confident to brave going back to church. They did well, although it was totally overwhelming for them. So many people chattering in English and wanting to touch and hug them. Cindy wouldn't leave Brent's arms but Luisa and Jonathan did a good job saying Hola to people. I stayed with them in Children's Church and I think one of us will have to alternate each week until they get comfortable.

The next few days have proven to be a little more challenging as they try to figure out if the rules in the US are the same as in Colombia. A few more tantrums, but NOTHING as bad as they were in Col. Ultimately the kids are doing phenomenal. When I step back and consider what they have gone through I am absolutely floored at the progress they have made.

I am definitely finding that we need to speak more  English. Believe it or not, but we've gotten pretty good at getting our point across in Spanish but I feel like it might be holding us back from progressing with them. So for now we are trying to say every phrase in both Spanish and English. They are very interested in learning, thankfully. They especially love it when a word in Spanish is the same or very similar in English! LOL!

They love Sadie, our dog. She is loving life with all their attention and with how often they spill their food! LOL! Brent and I are completely exhausted at the end of each day (thus the delay in posting on the blog!). It is mentally draining to keep up with their activity and be 100% on top of everything all day long. I'm sure that will slow down once we get into a better routine, but for now we are crashing into bed each day!

Ok, that's enough for now! Thank you all again for all the wonderful support you have been and the encouragement you have given. We have been humbled by how greatly you all have loved on us. You have blessed us immeasurably. We love you. Thank you for being on this journey with us.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Day 26

It was a quiet day today (well as quiet as it can be with 12 kids under age 13) at Hotel Paris. Everyone played together fairly well. No major tantrums. Yay!

In the morning we were finally able to get in touch with a Pastor of a church here in Bogota. Brent had been emailing him and we had hoped to attend church with them, but it never worked out. Thankfully he was available to visit for an hour or so this morning. He was super friendly (everyone is!) and was a huge blessing for us to meet. 

At 2:30 Sylvia picked me up to go to the Embassy to pick up the visas. I needed the receipt I had been given (fyi) in order to get in the embassy. It was a quick and painless visit and the man was super friendly. I received 3 fat manilla envelopes that are taped shut with a special signature over it. These are the super important papers that everyone says DON'T OPEN! Otherwise it voids the entire adoption- or so I'm told.

Then we drove to the translation office. We had the sentencia and new birth certificates translated in Colombia since it is cheaper to do it here. These are needed for the readoption in the state of Maryland.  That was a little crazy. First they didn't have the documents ready and we had to wait half an hour. Then I found mistakes on 4 different documents. Names were spelled wrong and Brent's passport number was wrong twice. Thankfully, they were able to fix them on the spot. It was supposed to be a 10 minute trip and it took almost 2 hours!

Back at the hotel, I finished packing the bulk of the suitcases. Cindy has been on a "Papi Only" strike so he ended up entertaining her most of the time so I could get stuff done! We said our goodbyes to the staff who have been so sweet. The main cook is hysterical and jokes around with us (mostly Brent) a lot. We left them all some salt water taffy from Ocean City. Then we took photos with them and the other family. Our kids are going to miss their new friends so much. I can't explain how much of a blessing it has been to be with the other families both in Medellin and here in Bogota. It forges a bond that is irreplaceable- especially as we commiserate and help each other through the daily tantrums and parenting issues! LOL!

Tomorrow we leave the hotel around 5:30am and arrive at the airport at 6:30, but our flight doesn't leave until 9:30ish. So hopefully we will be able to entertain everyone for that long of a time!  I am so excited that this day is finally here! I'm counting down the hours! So are the kids! I can't tell you how many times I answered Jonathan's question about how many more hours until we leave! LOL!

Even though the title says Day 26, that is only how many days we've had our chicos. We've been in country 28 days....

Tonight is the end of the beginning and tomorrow is the beginning of the end!

As I sit here thinking about our past month in Colombia, I am so overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support of our family and friends. We truly couldn't have survived this time without all your emails and FB comments filled with encouragement. Sometimes they were words of excitement, empathy, scriptures to uplift, stories from home to distract- everything! And each one was sent at the perfect moment. Just in the minute it was needed. I love it when God does that!

And for all the family and friends who have blessed us so much by driving us to and from the airport, shopping for us, cleaning our house, fixing us meals,  watching our dog, donating money, giving us hand-me-down clothes or furniture- you are the hands and feet of Christ. You have shown the love of Christ to us and to our family in bountiful ways. It has brought us so much joy to watch the body of Christ in action. Each of your deeds have been in obedience to the prompting of the Spirit and it has brought glory to Him.

This whole adoption has been all about Him from the beginning. He has set the example of a tender loving Father who rescues us- sinners who are lost and in despair. He has been our guide as we set out on this journey. At times it has been difficult to be patient and I'm sure the future will hold MANY more times where we are on our knees praying for help. But it is a comfort to know He IS and HAS BEEN and ALWAYS WILL BE in control of it all.

I hope that keeping up with the posting while in country has been helpful not only for our close family and friends, but also for the adoption community at large. I am so grateful for the other families who have chronicled their time in country. I feel like it made our time here more predictable. And I've gotten a ton of ideas and help. If anyone reading this is going through the Colombia adoption process and has questions, please email me. I'd be happy to help as much as I am able! steppingstonemomma@gmail.com

***Even though the title says Day 26, that is only how many days we've had our chicos. We've been in country 28 days....Adoptive families are always searching the timelines of other people so I wanted to clarify!