One Last Update

I would like to post one last update on this blog. I simply just do not have time or am not willing to make the time to maintain it. I have deeply enjoyed having a place to post about our adoption journey and other things on my mind. What it comes down to for me is that I am simply too busy enjoying life to take time out to blog here, and this place seems to have served its purpose in my life. For anyone who would like to continue to follow our family, you can find me on Facebook–Kim Sanders Stewart. I’m slightly better about posting photos there. 🙂 Just add a note that you found me through my blog, in case I don’t recognize your name.

I am writing this post to say that it is worth it…all of the wait, the worry, the anticipation, the shock, the adjustment of bringing your child home. Those of you who have followed from the beginning know how hard it was for us in China. We were honestly in shock–culture shock and shock of the changes this handful of a girl was going to bring to our family. Following other families, Tommy and I now try really hard not to judge any family’s reactions while they are in China because it is such a very stressful time. Fortunately, it doesn’t last long.

Don’t get me wrong–I love China. It is my daughter’s first home. Rachel and I regularly talk about going back to visit China which I intend to do when she is older. However, I think I will be able to enjoy and appreciate China much, much more as a tourist than as an adoptive parent. Advice that is repeated over and over on the Adopting Older Kids–China group that I am part of is “You just do whatever you have to do to survive and bring your child home safely while you are in China.” That is the truth.

I have tried to share on here before about how different it is adopting an older child. You look longingly at every photo you receive of your child during the wait, studying every aspect of them, trying to imagine what they are really like. Then comes the day you first meet your child, the day you’ve been longing and praying for. Sometimes you are met with a quiet, withdrawn, frightened (terrified) child; sometimes you are met with a screaming, kicking, hitting child; and sometimes you are met with a very hyper, talkative, into-everything, toddler-like child. There is no normal reaction for a child who is undergoing this type of change in their lives. Sometimes they are well-prepared for adoption. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are told good things about their adoptive families. Sometimes they are told horrible things like “If you are not good, they will send you back.” Either way, there is simply no way for a child to be prepared for having strange-looking people come, meet you, and immediately take you away from all that is familiar to you.

There are those families who have the love at first sight moments. Although some would not admit it, I think those are probably the exception. So that is why I want to share my experience.

Your time in China and the first weeks and months home, you just survive. You do your best to learn your child. You do your best to develop a relationship with them. You do your best to help make their adjustment to their new life easier. Meanwhile, you are struggling to survive, often sleep-deprived, grieving the loss of the way things were before–yes, this happens no matter how good the changes in life are.

Gradually, the relationship between you and your child unfolds. It happens slowly over time so that you can only really see it when you look back. You hold and comfort your child when they are grieving. You hug and kiss them when they are hurt. You tell them how much you love them even if you don’t feel that love inside you. It’s that kind of unconditional love that Jesus talks about–you act loving even though you may not always feel it. And slowly that love begins to grow. It starts out so small–those first feelings of pleasure over your child. They gradually grow stronger. Until one day you suddenly realize that when you see your child or hug your child or snuggle in bed with your child, you heart feels warm and tingly and like it is going to explode at the delight you feel toward her.

Whether you believe in God or not, what happens in adoption is a miracle. You feel “something” nudging you to step out in faith–adoption is always an act of faith–believing that there is something good in this for everyone. Then you are changed by this experience. The “something” that was missing in your life, the thing that you may not have even realized was missing, is now “found”. And even though your life may be crazier than you ever imagined, you realize that this “something” is changing your life for the better–making you into a better person because of their courage and resilience and hope and joy, their zest for life and love, and you wishing you could be more like them.

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Rachel Update

Rachel has just blossomed. She has always been very affectionate, but now it seems to come more often from a place of love inside her instead of a place of extreme neediness. She spent the summer swimming with her brothers and friends. Caleb taught her to swim, and she’s quite good. She has enjoyed tagging along with the boys at our many sleepovers this summer, including playing sardines and playing hide-and-seek with flashlights outside at night. Rachel turned 7 June 1st, and Titus turned 7 July 2nd. We enjoyed having her cousins, Mary Carsen and Eliza spend a week with us in July.

Rachel is 7!

Titus is 7!

Rachel lost her first tooth on her 7th birthday.

I love this photo of Eliza and Rachel!

I continue to homeschool. She is in first grade this year. She is eager to learn to read. She asked, “Can we do school?” periodically throughout the summer, and she still does sometimes on weekends. But she has also learned that school is not something you are supposed to like. So whenever I say that it’s time for school, she says, “Awwwww maaaaaan,” (imagine with very dramatic voice with southern drawl).

She and Titus are two peas in a pod. For the most part, they are inseparable though they occasionally have days where they need some time apart. We call them “the twins.” This past spring when Titus and Rachel traveled with Granny to visit Aunt Christy in Nashville, they stopped at a gas station for snacks. The cashier asked Rachel and Titus if they were brother and sister. Rachel responded, “Yes, we’re twins.”

In May Rachel had a check-up with her cardiologist. She is doing great, and we do not have to return for a year. She has also caught up with Titus physically. She is about 1/2 inch shorter than he is, and they are about the same weight. I just checked our wall growth chart. She has grown 4 1/2 inches since coming home. I need to check on her weight, but she has gained at least 10 lbs in the past year and a half. She eats enough to! She still loves meat but enjoys almost anything else. She is not a huge fan of very sweet things and is not a big fan of breakfast foods; both of these qualities are very Chinese of her. She frequently eats Ramen noodles for breakfast and Asian dumplings if we have them.

Dumplings for breakfast on her birthday

She has anxiously awaited months and months for the day that she could start dance lessons. She began in the middle of August taking ballet and tap. Her brothers make fun of her in her leotard with her hair pulled back in a ballet bun. I tell her to ignore them–that is their job. She is in the 5-6-year-old class, but her teacher said that she is the best one in the class. So she may be moving up to the 7-8-year-old class in December.

My pretty ballerina

Rachel in an outfit we bought in China

We have started going to a new church. I wish I had a video of Rachel during worship. She is a very expressive worshiper–hands waving, dancing. “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Let me just say that this girl really knows how to celebrate God’s love. I love it!

Rachel today after church

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I AM GOING TO ETHIOPIA!!!

Yes! I am excited!!! Follow my journey here.

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ONE YEAR!!!

One year ago today a little dark-haired girl walked into a room in China, saw us, and ran to us yelling “Mama! Baba!” changing our lives forever!

Here is a video my sweet husband made of Rachel’s first year with us:

I can hardly believe that it has been one year! Rachel and I have been talking a lot about China lately. I ask her questions about her foster family and life there because I want to know as much as I can, and she has not seemed to remember much so far or else she invents wild stories. Example: She told me recently that her foster dad has long pink hair. 🙂 She has been asking me how she came to live here. So I tell her the story over and over. I don’t know which one of us enjoys it more.

Last week after asking me about coming to live here again, she thoughtfully said, “Sometimes I like my home in China, but I like this home better.” A few weeks after getting home from Christmas travel, she said when we walked in the door, “I like this home!” These things just warm my heart!

This past year has been quite a ride, but it’s one that I would not have missed for the world!

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Favorite Photos of the Holidays

Christmas Eve

Granny and Rachel on Christmas Eve.

Christmas morning, Caleb put on his Patriots helmet first thing and didn’t take it off.

Rachel put on her Little Mermaid sunglasses from Santa and didn’t take them off all morning.

Our in-house movie star waiting for her nails to dry after her manicure

Titus had a Lego Christmas. At one point he said when opening a present, “I hope it’s not another thing I have to build.” But he loved it all. Reminds me so much of Eli at 6.

Caleb and Tommy putting together Caleb’s vibrating football game. Yes, just like the ones they had when we were kids.

My Eli. Love this guy.

Mom and Rachel lounging Christmas afternoon

Our family

We spent a few lovely days at home around Christmas Day. Then we were off to celebrate some more. These photos are from Christmas at Grandma’s house.

Caleb with his Tom Brady jersey and Patriots helmet

This is about as excited as Eli gets. I promise he’s jumping up and down on the inside.

Tommy’s mother has these gargantuan magnolia trees in her front yard. They are perfect for hiding and playing in. Once you enter the leaves, you are in your own little world. The kids play a game they call “monkey” with Aunt Susan. They are monkeys, and Aunt Susan’s the zookeeper looking for the escaped monkeys.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

We spent New Year’s Eve with our dear friends, the Thompsons. Then my sister and family came down from Nashville New Year’s Day.

New Year’s Day. Granny with all of the grandkids.

Eli with Aunt Christy

Rachel and her cousin Eliza. Two peas in a pod. These two have so much fun together, and they wreak havoc on Granny’s house together.

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Reminiscing

Since we are coming up on the one year anniversary of having Rachel in our family, I have been reminiscing about the year and all of the changes we’ve been through. We are still adjusting, but it is SO MUCH EASIER than it was back in January and February. Every person in our family has come a long way. But no one has come as far as Rachel. She amazes me!

God is so good! He has been so gracious to us during this year. One thing I have come to be most thankful for is His timing. Rachel pretty much jumped right in our family and just took off while our heads were still spinning. She had a few moments of grief early on. But it seems that she has begun to have spells of grieving more and more as reality sets in that this family is for good. And maybe she is feeling safe enough to share her sadness with us. God has been so gracious in letting us have the first part of the year to deal in large part with our own adjustments. Now I am in a place where I feel that motherly protectiveness of her so that I can be who she needs to comfort her during her grief.

Several weeks ago Rachel and I went shopping together. I was trying to buy some stocking stuffers along with other items. With the boys I have always been able to shop for small Christmas items while they are with me. They don’t notice a thing. Rachel, on the other hand, does not miss a thing. (I also never had problems hiding gifts before she came along. She finds everything.) So I was a bit frustrated already that I couldn’t get my stocking shopping done. Then we’ve had the ongoing, “I want that for Christmas,” from Rachel every time she sees a toy commercial on tv or something in the store she likes. Yesterday she told me, “Mom, I want some Skechers.” She’s six! So we’ve been talking for weeks about how you don’t get everything you want for Christmas. You just get a few things that you want. This particular morning Rachel kept saying, “I want this for Christmas,” til I could not stand it anymore. I had already asked her several times to stop asking for things, but I finally snapped.  And I snapped at her as we were checking out.

In the car on the way home, she was quiet and pouty. She has the pouty bottom lip thing down. 😉  When we got home, I went about my business. A few minutes later she came to find me and hugged me sobbing and saying, “Mom, I just want to say I’m sorry for saying, ‘I want that for Christmas.'” She was truly heart-broken. I just held her and talked to her. She lay in my arms letting out heart-wrenching sobs for about 10 minutes. Somehow I just knew that this was not only about the whole store incident. It was much deeper.

Then one night this week I went to a concert (to hear Todd Agnew!) with some friends. Tommy told me that while I was gone Titus told him that Rachel said that she was going to climb out the window. She came to Tommy crying and saying, ” I don’t want to be in this family anymore.” When he asked her why, she said, “Because I always get in trouble.” Then she sat beside Tommy and cried and cried.

She does get in trouble a lot for not listening (she’s usually talking 🙂 ). But, for the most, part she has really come a long way. She really doesn’t need correcting much more than the boys. She does seem to have a skewed view of things. She’s always asking why Titus and Caleb get to do such and such. Then I point out to her that she already had a snack, or she got to go to the store with me yesterday. I wonder how long the whole jealousy thing is going to last.

Recently I looked back at some photos of our Gotcha Day. It just struck me how terrified this child was. I’ve mentioned before that now that I know her I realize that she gets extremely hyper when she’s nervous. That day she must have been terrified. I remember watching her and thinking, “This child never stops moving or talking.” When I think of all that she’s been through in her life and then this HUGE change to a completely new life, I am just in awe of this beautiful girl child.

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Flower Girl

Rachel was the flower girl in the wedding of a dear friend this past Saturday. Laura is the children’s librarian at our library, and we have become very close friends. I have had the honor of praying with her multiple times as her relationship with Eric developed. So it was so wonderful to get to be a part of this special day. And it was truly one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve been too.

This is Laura and Rachel at the rehearsal dinner.

During the rehearsal Rachel asked, “When they gonna say ‘Kiss the bride’?” This is her first wedding, so I have no idea where she heard that before. But it was good for keeping her still during the wedding. I told her that she had to watch close or she would miss when they said “Kiss the bride.”

Here is Miss Priss eating a hamburger in the dressing room before we took photos.

Rachel loved hanging out with the bridesmaids all day and made many new friends. I know it’s supposedly not healthy for adopted kids to be too friendly with other people. I feel like she’s attached to us fine-she keeps up with where we are all the time and knows that she belongs with us. We are still working on not being too affectionate with people you just met. But this child is very far on the extrovert end of the scale. She’s always going to make friends wherever she goes.

The lovely bride

This is what Rachel did for most of the reception except for the few moments that she sat down to eat a bite. Dance!

She made friends with some other girls who were dancing.

I wish I had gotten a better photo of this one. The father and mother of the bride asked Rachel to dance with them. So sweet!

My handsome men:

Eli

Caleb

Titus

Eli and Tommy

Rachel with the bride and groom

This is my favorite! Rachel eating a plate of strawberries at the reception.

We also went in the rain and cold on our annual quest for the perfect Christmas tree at Longview Tree Farm. This is our 11th year to get a tree there. Every year the owner says it is his last year. We are really going to be sad when he finally does close down. We’ve grown rather fond of our visits with him every year.

Rachel, Titus and Caleb. Eli opted to stay dry and warm in the car.

Making our gingerbread house

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

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