Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Our adoption story

S. here today. This is an announcement that has more or less been announced to many friends and family members, but people following the blog are asking what’s up, so we’ll write it out:

We’re trying to adopt a child with special needs.

Here’s the story, and where we are right now. About a year ago, I became aware of a program called Reece’s Rainbow, a Christian ministry which advocates for and facilitates the adoption of children with Down Syndrome into families. They work with international adoptions, primarily because domestic special needs adoptions are covered by other agencies, and the situation for children with special needs in other countries is distinctive. After being established five years ago, they decided somewhat recently to add children with other special needs to the website, although their first focus is on the gift of people with Down Syndrome to the world. (The director has a son with Down Syndrome.)

Reece’s Rainbow works with many countries, but the bulk of their child listings and placements are from eastern Europe (Russia, the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Serbia, Latvia…). Almost all the children are in orphanage settings, and the special needs children are sometimes in need of medical treatment as well that is not available in their country or … they just don’t receive it. In most of Eastern Europe, when children are born with special needs of any type, the parents are urged to place them in an orphanage. Since there are few if any resources for raising a child with these needs at home, parents do just that. Poverty feeds into this mix, but it is more a cultural attitude than anything else. (And before we Americans get on our high horse, remember that 90% of children diagnosed with DS in the womb are aborted in this country. It’s questionable as to whether we are much better.) There are efforts to change attitudes in these countries, but it is an uphill battle, and the short story is that these children have a bleak future. Once they are 5 or 6 years old, they get placed in large mental institutions (called things like “The House of Invalids”), mixed with adults, and are shut off from society. It is hard to pin numbers to the death rate of these older children in these conditions, but it is said to be high, and largely through neglect. This is a human rights issue that has been addressed by Human Rights Watch and Disability Rights International.

I got drawn into this following the story of a family who adopted two younger children, both with DS, from one of these countries. And then another story, and another story. I talked to the woman who runs the ministry for a class I teach on Catholic Social Teaching, and was deeply impressed. It was getting increasingly difficult to ignore the “tap tap tap” on my heart, so I (again) raised the idea of adopting with J., who said…well…but maybe God’s calling you to get involved with the organization, not to adopt. And he rehearsed all the reasons why adoption could be a challenge for our family (which were true).

So I organized a fundraiser in October 2010 for a 5 year old child needing help named Tori. Tori has CP and had already been transferred to an older children/adult facility. Another woman, unknown to me, began fundraising for this child at the same time. They barnstormed the internet and all kinds of real live people they knew for donations, and somehow, someway, (a miracle?), Tori ended up being fully funded ($23,000) in two weeks. Her soon-to-be family decided to “put in” for her just hours before the fully funded total was released—a real leap of faith on their part. Long story short, Tori is now named Reagan Faith Burman (see right!) and lives in Texas with her family . She is reportedly doing fantastically well. The sister who was adopted with her is physically struggling, and needs prayers, if you care to offer them. It’s not clear what happened, but Carrington was adopted at 3 years old… and 11 lbs. That gives you an idea of how great the need is for some of these children. She is getting stronger and gaining weight.

Since Tori was funded before the fundraising month of October was over, I continued fundraising through the month for Anthony, who is 5 years old and has CP. Although he has a significant grant, he still needs a family, and more funding would help. There is more about him and ways to donate at .

So, in general, that work bore fruit! But I still had this impossible to ignore pining for actually adopting one of these children. So on a dinner out, I raised it with J. again (for the last time, I told myself), saying—look, I really wonder if this may be God calling. J. was sympathetic (he was very touched by the Tori story) and said it was a good cause, of course, but--don’t we have too much going on? Our own pretty big financial challenges? Could we really do this? And then 10 reasons why we couldn’t. Well, after this conversation, we were urged out of the restaurant (it was busy and they wanted the table), and then we headed to the car thinking “what now? We still have 30 minutes of babysitter time.” After tossing around possibilities, we decided to go talk at the Cathedral. (Well, it’s near our house, they have big tables and chairs, it’s always open, and they aren’t going to sell us more food!) So we went, sat, and realized people were coming in for a late night mass. Not exactly private. And I was quiet and a bit sad, so it wasn’t like conversation was flowing anyway. So J. suggested we go pray about this adoption piece in the adoration chapel they have there for ten minutes, and then go home. So we did. I sat there and quietly prayed. Walking out of the chapel, we bumped into the priest getting set to preside, I thought J. was acting somewhat strangely, and then J. ushered me out to the car, quickly shut the door, and exploded “Um. I think we have to adopt!” and began laughing. J. had a major spiritual experience in that short prayer time that changed his mind radically on this, and to our amazement, we began looking seriously at what this would involve.

So we have been looking at help and benefits for people with special needs in Minnesota, looking to people who have done this before (international adoption, parenting children with special needs, and both), getting our financial house in order, and burrowing into the unbelievably complex process that is international adoption. We have not zeroed in on any one child, although we have talked about different children. We have not even zeroed in on a country yet (getting our financial house in order has a lot to do with that, as some countries have adoption processes which are more expensive than others). The absolute cheapest international adoption is around $16,000. More often, they are around $25,000.

So why do we want to do this?
  • First, because God said go. Clearly. Over months of hints and more than hints. What do you do, say no?! So we are trying our absolute best to make this possible and praying for the path to unfold.
  • Secondly, the need is great. There are a lot of children with special needs in these orphanages, and all need families badly—for the sake of being loved but also for the sake of medical care and treatment. Best case scenario, these orphanages are like growing up in a day care with rotating workers. Worst case scenario, children are drugged and sometimes tied to beds. I wish I were exaggerating. At this point, there is no real place for them in their society, and many of these countries do not have a culture of adoption, so international adoption is a temporary but real solution…and especially when these children are adopted at a somewhat young age, they really “bounce back” once in family settings.
  • Thirdly, we honestly believe this will be good for our family. We are all called to reach out to the vulnerable in our society, and living that out in our own living room seems right and good. And we will not make a decision that hurts our children. We are going into this with eyes open.
We’ve been gratified and touched by friends who have supported us, in word and with concrete offers of help—people who come to mind are Fr. Bill Becker, Fr. Andrew Beerman, Annmarie DeMarais, Diane Leutgeb-Munson, Amanda Hardy, Jim and Barbara Allaire—and others I am sure I am forgetting to name. We know some people are concerned. Like I said, we’re going in eyes wide open. And honestly, we see this as a real good, and are humbled and happy that such an adventure may be in our future.

We would appreciate your continued prayers, and will keep you updated. Right now—we need to sell websites.

Peace, S and J

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Things Mudpuppy can do

It's time for another update on things Mudpuppy can do -- and as you may have guessed from the above picture, kissing is on the list! He loves puckering up and giving a big smooch -- preferably on the lips! He thinks it's absolutely hilarious.

He is also walking independently more and more, although truthfully, he still relies heavily on cruising and crawling to get where he wants to go. We've watched him walk maybe ten feet or so on his own when he's "forced" to (like working with the early intervention specialist at ECFE), and he occasionally will voluntarily choose to walk three or four steps from one place to another, but only after thinking about it for a while.

He is also doing some sign language -- particularly the signs for "more" "down" "drink" and "banana." He also shakes his head "no" to refuse things. This has been a huge help, since he has gotten into the habit of whining loudly and insistently while reaching out whenever he wants something. The sign language has helped to cut down on that considerably. He also says several words out loud: night-night, more (in conjunction with the sign), sock, book, alleluia, and a few that I am not remembering at the moment. Oh, he also says "this" -- it's his name for pretty much everything. Not hard to figure out how he picked that up -- we're always asking him if he "wants this" or "Do you see this?"

At the grocery store he likes to help by examining items from his seat in the cart, and then throwing them on the floor. Lately he's been throwing them in the cart, too.

He is unusually observant, always watching what is going on. At Mass, he watches what is happening at the altar like an eagle for a good portion of the service. He lights up when people say things together (like the responses) or start to sing.

He recently discovered how to look out the windows, and
is fascinated to see the world outside. He'll point out there
and look at you and say, "This! This!"

An advantage of walking is that you can get to high stuff --
like the cereal your older sister left out!

Did I mention that he LOVES Life cereal???
(And cinnamon raisin bread!)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mouse: Our new playwright!

Mouse has decided to write a play about a Somalian princess who is forced to flee to Ireland because of the war in Somalia. She has about five pages written -- she is very good at mimicking the style of the middle school readers she's fond of reading right now. It's called, "A Somalian Longing."

The inspiration for the play is her newfound passion for Somalia. Every day after they finish their work plan (in her case, practicing math), they get to choose a culture work, and for the past week or so, Mouse has been researching Somalia, both in the school library and online. She even looked up some real Somalian names for her play.

We'll encourage her to write out an excerpt here.

Learning to read

Jaybird is learning to read -- she's just on the cusp of great things. We've been sounding out words as we read her bedtime stories, and the other night, she sounded out the word "hamsters" with no help from me at all. We took a picture!

The book, by the way, is "Barbie 1-2-3"

Musical rooms

No, we haven't installed chimes in every room -- "musical rooms" is merely a reference to the task of switching around all three bedrooms in order to accommodate Mudpuppy, now that he is moving out of our bedroom. First we moved our office out of one of the bedrooms and back into our bedroom. This involved moving two computer workstations, a filing cabinet, drawers, three bookcases, and various other stuff. Next, we moved Bear's loft back into his old room (formerly the office) and bought a mattress for Mudpuppy to sleep on. Finally, we moved the furniture around in what is now exclusively the girls' room, so that they are no longer in front of the windows. Here are the results:

Mudpuppy gets to sleep on the mattress on
the floor.

Here's the girls' room, rearranged. It is not always nearly
this neat.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Signs of Spring: Strawberries and Swings

Spring seems to be arriving right on time. The handful of really warm days we've had in the past week have brought out smiles on everyone's faces, and the first green shoots. I have already weeded the garden -- mind you, it's frozen solid several inches down, but that has not stopped the creeping Charlie. But after weeding the garden, I noticed that the strawberries that had overwintered in five-gallon pots on the deck were sending out new growth -- yay! That means we will probably expand our strawberry patch on the deck.

Another sign of spring is kids who want to be outside playing until dark (Mouse especially). And little boys who laugh on the swing in the backyard:

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Wisconsin Dells vacation

At long last, here's some video and pictures from our three-day Wisconsin Dells vacation. The kids enjoyed themselves greatly.

By the way, this video mostly captures' the kids' funny reactions to the condo. (It wasn't significantly more than the hotel room, and we were able to cook our own meals.) If you want to see the kids in the water, skip to the last few minutes.

Bear and Mouse in the wave pool, battling waves up to five
feet high. I can imagine any self-respecting sailor asking why
anyone would pay for this experience....

Mudpuppy enjoyed hanging out in the kiddie area.

And he also conked out a few times.
After any vacation there is a lot of work to catch up on, plus we're unusually busy -- I'm trying to sell our websites while maintaining all of my other family and volunteer obligations. And we spent the weekend re-arranging the kids' rooms. And we had a good friend die recently. More on all this later.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Waiting for spring

As you can see, we are kind of tired of winter around here. The girls resorted to sidewalk chalking -- pictures of spring grass, flowers, butterflies, etc., along with sad faces next to snow flakes and the words "Go home, snow!"

Mouse and I ended up going sledding last weekend, though, and had a blast. We had the hill to ourselves, and went down together a few times. We got very silly, and also had a fun snowball fight. (Fun because no one got hit in the face.) She kept saying how much fun she had.

Here are some other random photos:

Watching television.

After-school snack time.

Mouse at her school's science fair, along with her friend,
who designed this cute leprechaun trap. We refused to
let Mouse team up with her friend on this project because
a) it's a science fair, not a mythological creatures fair,
and it seemed like a scientific project would be good; and
b) because her friend was doing all the work! Mouse ended
up demonstrating how to make an egg float by adding
salt to water. "Why is one egg floating and the other not?"
a teacher asked. "I have absolutely no idea," Mouse replies,
for the fun of it (we'd explained it to her).

Meet the toddler!

This is a picture of a boy who has fully embraced his inner toddler, even though he isn't totally toddling yet. He spends his days getting into EVERYTHING. Destructo-kid -- pulling open drawers, pulling stuff off tables, pulling everything out of cabinets. And he's learned how to throw a bit of a tantrum, although in him, tantrums aren't much more than an over-sized fit. In the absence of speech, he has also learned how to whine.

On the word front, he is definitely saying book and alleluia, with a few other proto-words thrown in: dada for "dad," "ba" for "bear," "ma" for "mama," and so on. He also recently has learned to shake his head "no" when he is done eating something, or when we're offering something he doesn't want. For example, I can ask him (if he's in the sling) whether he wants to get down, and he'll immediately shake his head no. He has also learned to point downward to indicate he wants to get down (from his high chair, usually). All of which is very empowering for him and very helpful for us.

And, as you can see, he hasn't lost the cute smile!

Mudpuppy and mom reading a book -- a favorite pastime for him.

Dancing with the toddlers

Last weekend we hit the ECFE Family Dance, which this year had an '80s theme, which made it a little unique, since this time all the adults were walking around talking about how it brought back so many memories.

Bear and Mouse really cut the rug -- I will have to post a video of their fancy dance moves. In the meantime, some photo highlights:

BananaBaby goes "viral"

The original version of this video has now seen more than 1,250 hits. Pretty much everybody we know in town -- everybody connected to a computer -- has seen it. In some cases, several times!

YouTube invited us to put ads on it, which we did, although at the trickly pace this video is spreading, we don't expect to retire early or anything. The version above is shorter (about one minute). Pass it along to your friends who have short attention spans!