Hoping to someday find M's brother adopted in the U.S. -
Myckola Oleksandrovych Markov - 8/26/2003

Saturday, November 22, 2014

National Adoption Day

In honor of National Adoption Day:

The very first pictures I ever saw of my kids before I met them.

How could a mama NOT fall in love?

When I saw this face, my heart said, "MINE."

We always thought that we would adopt babies, but there are waiting lists of families hoping to adopt babies while older kids wait on lists hoping for a family to adopt them.

My heart hurts for the kids that still wait.  
November is National Adoption Month.  
Consider mentoring, fostering, hosting, or adopting.  
If you cannot then consider praying for, donating to or offering support to a family that does.

Monday, November 17, 2014

911 and old cell phones

This child learned an important fact about dialing 911 from an inactive cell phone.  I answered the door to find a police officer standing on my doorstep.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Little Advice to the Me I was One Year Ago

One year ago today was our first full day as a family of 8.  I was a relieved puddle of mom jello.  Finally I had all of my kids on the same continent, forever.

If I could go back in time and give my one year younger self some advice though, I would say, "Trust your instincts; they are God given.  Don't worry about what people think; God didn't ask them to do this."

Somewhere along the way its been taught that if God means for something to happen then it will be easy and no one will get upset.  We start to question if we made a mistake as soon as things get hard.  I have tried, but could not find the verse that said life would be easy if we did what God asked.

Sometimes God asks us to do impossible, unpopular, uncomfortable things that requires getting angry at injustice, flipping tables and results in people hating you for ruining their comfortable status quo.  And you know what?  Not only is that ok, it can actually be what we were supposed to do.

When I woke up one year ago today, I had no idea the struggle I was about to take on.  The research, the tears, the late nights, the frustration, the pain.  The me of one year ago had absolutely no experience with ESL law, and very little knowledge about Special Education law.  Has it really only been one year?  I feel like I've lived another lifetime in some parallel universe educating myself on ways to help my children.

It has been my great honor to fight for my children.  It is a privilege to be the first person in their life that has taken the time to understand them enough to know what they need, and refused to back down until they got it.  I made a choice to be a mother to these precious little ones who have spent so much time without one.  I have spent a year in meeting rooms, sending emails, researching, and calling everyone I could think of to help me.  We have started therapies, requested evaluations, disagreed with evaluations, requested MORE evaluations, and finally here we are at day 366 looking at some real answers.

I will share more later, but we are looking at another year full of learning new things about how to help our children.  Some of my initial instincts about what was wrong were actually correct.  But I was told "No that's not what's wrong." and I believed it.  But here we are at one year home and I am wishing I had stood my ground and demanded my concerns be given the time and validation they deserved.

This past year has not won me any new friends.
On the contrary, I have lost friends.
Or maybe they weren't really friends to start with if when the reality of trying to get help for my children meant having to take on a broken system made them angry.

I have learned so much about people this past year.  Particularly the ones who warm chairs and pews on Sunday morning.  My deepest hurts have come from those within the church, those I counted on to care.  I can't say I regret what I have learned, but it has been first both shocking and hurtful then second infuriating.  How can anyone who claims to love as Christ loves be ok with what I have seen, with what I have had to fight against?  "The least of these" the ones with no voice should have long been spoken up for.  My reality has once again been shattered.  What I thought was is not.

If I could go back and give myself advice on this morning one year ago it would absolutely something like,

"Hey Erin, I know you are thinking that the struggle is finally over because your kids are home.  Sorry to disappoint you, but the real battle for their future was just beginning when you walked out of those orphanage gates.  I know you don't like to ruffle feathers; that confrontation on any level makes you physically ill, but this year will require you to do all.of.the.things that are outside of your comfort zone over and over and over again.  It will be hard.  It will cost you sleep and disrupt your peace.   So, when you know what is right, do not be afraid to point it out.  Just because someone has a degree in front of their name does not mean they are right; do not be intimidated; stand your ground.  People will lie, so record every meeting and trust no one to do what they say.  I know this sounds like a fresh level of hell, and it will be.  But there will be joy intertwined with the struggle.  These children could grow up to do great things.  Their talents and gifts are hidden.  Those who do not take the time to care will miss the brilliance hidden in your children because its smeared with trauma.

Find it.

You may feel as though you lost your church, again.  
It will hurt, again.  
But your worth is not found in a membership or the number of Sundays spent sitting in service.  The judgement you feel is not from God.  Those who do not take the time to come alongside you do not have the right to judge your heart.  Do not hesitate to act for fear of angering those who are committed to not wanting to understand.  "When the church is not for those who are hurting, the church is not for Christ."       

Take the time to love even when you are exhausted from fighting.  Remember who you are fighting for.  Do not take the stress out on the ones you are doing this for.  Focus your anger at the injustice and go after it.  Do not listen to those who tell you this is a fight you cannot win.  Do not listen.  They sit and offer words of discouragement, but what value do their words have?  You know what it is to stare in the face of the impossible and accomplish it.  No one knows what you have been called to do therefore they cannot understand it.  Your prayers for wisdom will be answered.  When you hear a whisper in your heart, listen to it even if it seems crazy because God hears you and when you seek to do what is right He will guide you.  God will send help, but it will never be in the form you expected.  Do not be afraid to trust your instincts and listen to the whispers of hope.  Always try one more time."  



Friday, November 14, 2014

Learning Disabilities

We have had some surprises with several of our kids recently.  It's been difficult for me to hear some things but then I saw this:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

One Year Home

November 14 marks one year home for us.  One year since we made those flights home and walked out of the airport with 3 more sons.

I got the boys a little gift to commemorate the day.  I gave it to them tonight since school mornings are so busy.

I love these kids so much!

Gotcha Day!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

World Adoption Day

Happy World Adoption Day!!

Use #worldadoptionday to see more photos of people celebrating adoption!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Special Needs Parenting - Also Known as Drowning on Air

Let me start off by saying that before my children, I didn't understand people who were parents.  One cannot understand why some people think its acceptable to leave toys lying in the floor even when guests come over, unless you also have kids.  The same is true with parents of special needs children.  You cannot understand why they find it necessary to have lawyers or advocates to attend IEP meetings with them unless you have also been there.

I mean… Don't the schools WANT to help the kids??  Don't educators go into their line of work because they like working with children and want to help ALL of them succeed no matter what?

I used to think so too.

That was before…

Before I sat in an IEP meeting requesting therapy for my child only to have the amount slashed by 1/4 and deemed "only necessary to access the school environment."  Yet she couldn't walk, color, draw, use scissors, write intersecting lines, or cross midline at age 5.  

Before I saw in a meeting with a teacher that told me, "He isn't interested in learning" about my newly adopted son who had been home for 2 months.

Before I had a child with an attachment disorder that would seek affection from a homeless man in a barber shop or a random stranger the park.  Before I had school staff tell me that they WOULD keep hugging her despite my requests that they redirect affection seeking because "We hug all the other kids."

Before my disabled child's IEP was not followed and after multiple close calls, she was thrown out of her seat on the school bus, hitting her head.

Before my non-English speaking child got off the bus and handed me his broken glasses with no explanation.

Before the school refused to evaluate my severely speech disabled child for speech services.

Before my children brought home 5 packets of fundraisers asking for 10 addresses EACH, the next day, from children who couldn't speak or write English and have disabilities.  The school took time for that, but they couldn't take time to make sure the ESL teacher showed up or call the translator I provided them with.

Before I was blamed for my son's academic difficulties because I homeschooled him for 2 years.  Before they dragged the evaluation process out for 9 months and then found him to have a learning disability that had nothing to do with how I taught him.

Before my children were denied adequate or appropriate ESL services.

Before my children were acting out in class because they didn't understand a word of what was being taught while no one was taking the time to explain.

Before I attended hours long meetings every single week for weeks only to later find out that half of the things we agreed to in the meetings were never actually done.  IEPs were not followed.  ESL plans were not even given to teachers, so... WHY!?

Before the school psychologist decided that my child with a trauma history did not have anxiety.  Before she decided that my child was intellectually disabled.

Before we got the Independent Educational Evaluation from a neuropsych that diagnosed her with not just "debilitating anxiety" but PTSD along with "normal intelligence."

Before the school ignored my explanations of my child's anxiety related to being told she couldn't use the restroom facilities at all times and further traumatized her at school by denying her.

Before I took my son up to the school (during hosting) and asked the principal what we needed to do to make his transition and his brothers' smooth and well thought out after their adoption.

Before I emailed the school from Ukraine during our adoption process, explaining the kids' needs and asking what I needed to do to have them properly evaluated when we came back home.

Before those emails were ignored.

Before my children were not evaluated.

Before necessary services were not provided.

Before I was belittled, ignored, and then alternately harassed about meeting dates.

Before we made the decision to move outside of our children's current school district in hopes that a different school would be better.

I so wanted the school to welcome my children and offer suggestions and formulate a plan to help me help my kids.  I wanted that.  I was naive enough to expect that because its what I would do if I ran a school.

That didn't happen.

So I filed complaints.  I started climbing the chain of command in the district.  I went to the top.  Then I went outside of the district with my complaints.

I researched laws late into the night for months at a time.  I would be so upset and stressed out that I would be shaking as I read what the law said and then read what the school was telling me.  "We do not evaluate children in Ukrainian."

I realized that no matter how many evaluations I asked the school to do, they would come back with the same line that my kids were either "borderline cognitive ability" or "intellectually disabled."  With that line of reasoning, they told me "Not to expect much progress because they are performing at their cognitive ability."

I wanted to scream, "They can't all just be stupid!"  Because lets be real, "Below average cognitive ability" used to be called "Mentally retarded."  The new phrase might be a kinder, more respectful, and more politically correct way of saying it, but it still MEANS the same thing.  If a child is not actually "intellectually disabled" then what is gained by labeling them as such?  What does it benefit the child if everyone is convinced they are unable to learn when the real problem is with how they are taught?

So I learned how to dissent in an IEP meeting.  Then I learned how to request Independent Educational Evaluations.  Then I involved our social workers.

Finally I've had two of my children (D and M) evaluated by someone who specializes in internationally adopted children.  Finally.  And I got the first report back.  Thirty one pages of validation for me.  Its hard to read all of the things that are actually going on with my child, but I KNEW that it was not an intelligence problem.  I KNEW that.  To read things like, "severely dyslexic, visual impairment, traumatic brain injury, learning disability, math disorder, visual processing deficit" and finally GET why my kid struggles is priceless.  E has yet to have his evaluation, but I filled out the 45 pages of forms for him as well and mailed all.the.things. so he can be evaluated next week.  So if you are counting, that is 135 pages of forms I have filled out for three kids.  Not to mention the 100s of pages of IEP paperwork, teacher forms, and evaluations that I also had to send in for this.

To finally reach the point where someone who is a professional in the field of neuropsychology working with adopted children is able to evaluate your kids is amazing and incredibly heartbreaking!  Finally we have an accurate picture of why our children struggle the way they do, and that is both painful and wonderful; it it took a LOT of pain and tears and work to get here!

Then to have people actually ARGUE with you about what the report says and why they disagree with it is the most infinitely frustrating thing.  I can't even formulate words to express the pain and anger and mind boggling, overwhelming frustration I am feeling right now.

I have researched the laws.  I have damned it all back to hell a thousand times when people said it couldn't be done, and I found a way to bring in the professional to tell me how to help my children.  I refuse to listen when someone says "We can't." or "You can't." or "They won't."  I don't believe the doubters and the naysayers.  They sit and watch while I go out and DO.
I know at this point what needs to happen, but getting there is proving to be my own personal hell full of those who all know a better way to do what I have devoted all of my time and effort to doing.  No one really wants to hear what its like because that takes actual time and effort to understand our complex situation, but they all want to offer advice on what I should be doing, what I should not be doing, or how to fix it.  How can you fix what you do not understand!?      

To be alone in your understanding of what your children need without resources available to help them is to be a fish out of the water with everyone around you trying to convince you that to learn you must breath air and walk on two legs.  How can fish argue with those insisting they could just breathe air if they only tried hard enough?  At some point fish must just quit wasting time trying to convince others how badly they need water or they will quite literally drown on air while trying to walk on fins.

And that's where I am at now.  I am drowning in my realizations of what my children need and how hopelessly ignorant everyone else is of that. Maybe everyone else can breathe out of the water, but we are stuck on an island of isolation and misunderstanding unable to breathe.  I am sitting here quite literally drowning while everyone around me is insisting I am simply breathing the wrong way.  "If you will just…." and the seconds tick off the clock.  My children who have already lost so much time are losing more; there are many things in the works as we refuse to give up, but meanwhile the clock ticks and I feel like I cannot breathe. I am drowning while surrounded by the same air that is sufficient for everyone else.  How can they all be content to just watch?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Orphan Sunday - How Hosting Changed our Life

"What better place to celebrate Orphan Sunday than with a bunch of kids who aren't orphans anymore!?"

He's right.  My children are home.  

But please remember those who are not.  Thousands wait in foster care and millions wait worldwide for someone to quit pretending they don't exist.  I never thought that I would be a mom to 6 children at 28 years old, but it has been God's greatest blessing in my life!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Happy Birthday V

V turned 10 this week.  His first birthday ever with us in America!!

I met this little guy when he was 7 and now he's 10.  Time flies.  
I'm so glad he's mine!

V gets so emotional and can't stand himself so he covers his face with his hands. The first time I saw him do it was when I had to say goodbye at JFK. Some moms remember their child's first cry… and well so do I.

He was SO HAPPY.  

We witness a miracle every time a child enters into life; but those who make their journey home across time and miles, growing within the hearts of those who wait to love them,are carried on the wings of destiny; and placed among us by God's very own hands. --Kristi Larson