Friday, November 23, 2012

One Year as a Family of Four

Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. Isaiah 40:31

We got home from Rwanda with Jonathan on Oct. 30, 2011- a little  over a year ago. I remember those first  few months, the days seemed so long and hard as we all learned how to adjust. Jonathan was learning how to navigate his new world (things like not running in the street, not to touch the stove, how to use a toilet), how to relate to people outside the social system of an orphanage (this is an on going process) and learning a new language. Gaven, was learning how to be a sibling  after being an only child for almost 10 years. Max and I were learning how to best connect with Jonathan. I was exhausted everyday. I used every ounce of energy (mentally, physically and spiritually). There were times I wondered how I was going to make it another day. A dear friend of mine who has 3 adopted kiddos from Rwanda of her own told me things would settle down and seem “normal” in about a year. A year seemed so far away… Amazing how the year flew by! I wished I journaled and documented more but I did the best I could and took lots of pictures and videos. My friend was right on with everything. She said the first few months would seem like a blur and my son would probably forget most of it- both are true. She said he would learn English in about 3-4 months- he did. She said 6 months would be a turning point of sorts- it was, life started to get a little easier. Now at a year it seems like we’ve always had Jonathan in our lives . None of us can imagine life without him- to quote Gaven, “life would be boring.”
Our Re-Adoption Day in California!! 
Jonathan adds so much to all our lives. He has stretched us in ways we never would’ve otherwise been stretched and grown. Adopting a toddler truly causes you to lay down your life, pick up your cross and rely on God. Your weaknesses will come to the forefront of life and demand to be dealt with- which is not easy to do in the midst of everything else going on. Life’s blessings will also become much richer and you will understand God’s unconditional love and sacrifices much deeper and personal way. And when you connect with another adoptive family walking down the same path as you, the bonding is immediate as you relate to each other’s stories.
Hiking at Red Rocks, NV - Nov. 2012

Jonathan’s transformation has been amazing to witness. Not only seeing how fast he has learned to navigate his new world but also seeing his “true” self emerge as his brain literally rewires itself from survival mode to trust and safety in everyday relations. I would love to write more about what that has looked like another time.
At Grandpa & Grandma's house - Nov. 2012
Jonathan loves his family. He snuggles with me and his dad. He has a really sweet, nurturing side- he will stroke my face and say how pretty I am or sit in my lap and pet my hair.He likes the feel of skin so he rubs my arms when I’m holding him. He also adores his big brother, Gaven. Gaven has been amazing with him. Gaven has more patience than any kid or adult I know! Gaven has taught Jonathan about giving and playing better than anyone. Jonathan has also gone from being scared of the dog to wanting to have him sit on his lap and pet him when on the couch. Jonathan has settled down so much. He can actually sit still now and has an attention span. This list of changes that have happened over the year is endless. We have worked very slow and patiently with him- introducing him to things very slowly and at his pace. We’ve allowed him plenty of space to grow (not reacting to his intense reactions), realizing he is sensitive to stressors of any kind and trying to be proactive about accounting for those needs. We could not do this without the support and encouragement of our family and friends. It truly has taken a village.
Preschool Thanksgiving Party - Nov. 2012
My Simplified, Best Advice if You Have Adopted
Find a support group of other adoptive families, don’t be shy about asking for help from family or friends (you need time away, even if for an hour), educate yourself about raising a child with past trauma (even a stressful pregnancy and delivery can alter the brain’s stress chemicals and is a risk factor for behavioral problems).

My Simplified, Best Advice if You Know Someone Who Has Adopted
Don’t wait for them to ask you for help, freely offer it! And don’t just offer help- schedule it! Say “I want to come over Friday night so you can your spouse can go out. What time should I come over?”… or something like that. The first year, especially the first months are so hard that trying to ask or accept help can seem too overwhelming to coordinate. Bring a meal (that can be frozen) or bag of snacks. Reach out over the phone (to listen, not judge or give advise), send emails (that don’t require the person to respond to), send cards- anything to provide encouragement. It can be so draining and isolating (especially for the stay at home mom) that anything you can do to uplift the family or individuals in the family (don’t forget about the siblings!)  is well appreciated.

Additional Amazing facts about Jonathan:
September 2011 height & weight- 39.5 inches & 34.5 pounds
November 2012 height & weight- 45 inches & 43.5 pounds
In this past year, he’s grown over 5 inches & gained almost 10 pounds!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Our First Few Months With Jonathan

We brought Jonathan home on October 30th, 2011. So we've had him home about 3 months.

First Weeks
The first few weeks were great... we still were on the honeymoon :) Jonathan was still quiet, super eager to please, did whatever we wanted, eat everything put in front of him. It was great... however, it was also probably just his uncertainty with his new situation. He woke up every night crying. Thankfully, we would just go in his room (which he shares, with his older brother- who slept through it all) and just soothe him back to sleep and he would sleep until morning. I have no idea why he would cry and wished we had words back then to talk to him about it but we didn't. He was basically potty trained. However, he had a few accidents (no biggie). We put him in a pull-up at night. I don't think he was ever night potty trained. He loved playing outside and quickly learned how to ride a Razor, skateboard and bike!! One of his favorite things to do was look at the photo album I made of our time in Rwanda together. I printed all the photos of him and us and put them in a book. I also added photos of the family as they came to visit. He loved to look at the pictures from when we first met and would visit at Home of Hope, pictures of Isabella (the girl that was adopted by the other couple from Gladney in Rwanda the same time we were), and pictures of his bed and the sisters at Home of Joy (the orphanage he was moved to in January 2011).

The Next Month
The first month after the first few weeks were the hardest. He was feeling more comfortable and safe in his new family- which is great. But he also started saying NO to everything and we didn't know enough words to communicate things so it was frustrating. He wouldn't want to put on his seat belt, he didn't want help with anything (even things he could do)... We joked he was in the terrible 2 stage. And Gaven's teacher (who had adopted 2 older kids from Russia and was/is very helpful to us and Gaven) called him No-No-Noel. That time has probably been the hardest because he didn't know enough English for us to communicate with him and no history to base what we were doing on. We just loved him through it and did our best to no to judge him based on his tantrums. We had enough training to know it wasn't defiance but fear and uncertainty that drove his behaviors. Another really hard thing for me was his constant need for my attention. He wanted me one on one all the time. His favorite words were "Look, Mama, Look". It was sweet but so non stop it wore me out. I could be looking right at him and he would still say it over and over. I figured he was making up for all his lost time on not having one on one time with anyone before. I did my best to give him all the attention I could with a smile even when I wasn't feeling it. It was about this time he started sleeping through the night. A huge deal for my husband and I!! We started getting a full nights sleep! Jonathan started to show food preferences. He still eats like a horse and doesn't seem to know when he is full.

One of my saving graces during this time was walks with Jonathan in the stroller. So many generous friend gave me Target gift cards that I was able to buy a jogging stroller (the other ones were too small for Jonathan). Everyday we would take the dog for a long walk. The other benefit of this time was it was a way for Jonathan to have down time. He would just sit and totally relax.

One nice thing is that he is very attached to his mama and papa. When he first mets new people he likes us to hold him and he looks away putting his head on our shoulder. This is good because sometimes when a child is adopted they have no idea of the various levels of relationships (stranger, acquaintance, friend, distant family, close family) and will go with anyone. This made me very nervous- but thankfully he warms up slowly. Once he does know the person he is super playful and interactive. He loves to talk on the phone to his grandparents, Aunt Amy and cousin Leah (especially Leah because she uses Face Time so he gets to see things while he is talking).

The Last Month
I can see the tide changing. Jonathan can speak English so well. He really has picked up the language fast. He doesn't get some things but we get what he means. For example, when he is hungry he says he wants food- sometimes food means he wants a meal, not a snack but a bowl of rice, beans and salsa. If we offer a banana or something and he says "No, I want food." We know he wants a meal. It took us a few times to figure it out... we kept saying "This is food." and he would say "No, I want food." He loves rice mixed with any sort of bean or lentil and veggie combination, especially with salsa. He thinks salsa and ketchup should be a meal on it's own. He could eat a bowl of both (not mixed together) with no food to go with them! Because he is always wanting food, I typically leave a bowl of nuts and fruit and his water bottle out for him to graze on throughout the day. He still loves to eat but has started telling us when he is full- a great thing!

His attention span has also grown along with his language skills... which means he will sit and watch a cartoon. This is an awesome break for me! He likes "the monkey one" = Curious George and Elmo. Some other things he enjoys is drawing. He will draw things on 30 different pages and saves them all for his grandma Jackie. Another great thing has been the Aquamat. We can draw on that for about 20 minutes. He figured out he can make raindrops by shaking the water pen above the mat. He will do that until the whole mat is covered with rain. When my older boy is home from school they build legos together. Jonathan loves his older brother and Gaven is amazingly good with him. He still loves to play outside with a ball, Razor and skateboard.

We still do our stroller walks, although a lot of the time he wants to walk part of it. We have a routine. We walk the same way almost every time. About a quarter mile from home we end the walk at a beautiful ocean overlook. Lately, Jonathan has enjoyed spending up to 20 minutes there just sitting on the bench on my lap or finishing his snack. Then he likes to walk home, not in the stroller.

He still needs Pull-Ups at night. We aren't even close to thinking about trying to get him night time potty trained. Our oldest son didn't master that until he was 5 or 6 so we don't care. We are just happy he sleeps all night!

He doesn't look at his photo book everyday like he use to but if I pull it out he enjoys it. I like it because it gives us an opportunity to talk about Rwanda and his home now. Each time we look at it we talk about a new things (as well as the same stuff we always say when we look at different pictures). My hope is that the topic of his adoption and anything related will always seem ok for him and if he has any questions he will have the opportunity and comfortability to ask. As he learns more English I expand my questions and comments on the photos.

We have a new saying around our house it's "say it nicely or try again nicely". Jonathan can be very demanding and yell his requests. So we are teaching him to use nice words. We praise him for it over and over. Instead of yelling or crying he is using his words and he will say "Jonathan says it nicely".  It's basically asking for a redo. It's working really well. It's a lot to keep up on but I have found if I'm consistent and don't slack off because I'm tired he is also more consistent. At times when everything is good we will joke around and role play about being not nice and being nice. He laughs when I act not nice and claps when I act nice. Then he does the acting and I do the commenting.

As we get over hump of these first few months it has been getting easier and he feels more and more like my son and less and less like I'm babysitting a relative. I would say I'm probably 80% of the way there. My playfulness and goofy reactions are becoming more automatic and less conscious. I noticed the other day I started using affectionate nicknames The latest is sweetie pie, and the other day when we left the dermatologist he told the doctor "Bye Sweetie"! I realized my love for him was deepening. I use silly, affectionate names for my oldest son all the time.

Things are moving alongs slowly but surely. I could write a ton more but this post is getting long. Next time I will write about preschool, church and an "almost" overnight at his aunt's house. :) Thanks again for all your prayers and support. It is so amazing to see how God is forming our family and touching the hearts of others for adoption at the same time. God never promised it would be easy but He does promise to be there through it all. God is loving us through it all and putting lots of people in our path to love on us too! We appreciate it all!
Christmas morning at Grandma Jackie's house with cousins.
Fun swimming in Grandpa and Nona's pool over Christmas.

My Wonderful Guys!

Monday, January 2, 2012

How Noel became Jonathan

Bittersweet Beginnings
In October 2011 we traveled to Rwanda to meet our son and bring him home. We started the adoption process in November 2009- so it was almost a two year process. Our trip to Rwanda was an answer to many, many prayers and many, many sorrows. My husband and I arrived on a Sunday and went straight to the orphanage to meet our 4 year old son, Noel, for the first time. Those first few days visiting him was surreal. There were about 9 other families also finalizing their adoptions and bringing their kiddos home too. On Wednesday, we were at the orphanage enjoying every moment with Noel... Thursday we would not be able to visit him because Thursday is a day of prayer at the orphanage and therefore it is closed to any visitors. We were looking forward to Friday because we would forever take physical possession of our precious son! At about 4pm (on Wed.- an hour before we had to leave the orphanage) I noticed our cell phone ringing in my purse. It was my husband's mom. I answered, thinking it was strange she was calling and it had to be important. She didn't talk to me, just asked for my husband. My stomach turned... as I knew something bad had happened... it was in her voice and she never has not talked to me. I handed the phone to my husband and he walked away into a private room. I knew in my heart what had happened but I didn't want to assume anything and I had Noel. I put it out of my mind and played with my son. After a long while my husband returned. We didn't talk about it, both knowing if we did we wouldn't be able to focus on Noel and we wanted to enjoy our last moments with him since we wouldn't get to see him the next day. Max's mom had called to tell us his father had died unexpectedly from a heart attack. This tragedy was the worse news we could've gotten. The rest of our trip was extremely stressful, as each moment in Rwanda was a moment my husband wasn't home grieving with his family. It was horrible on him. One beautiful blessing was the compassion of the Rwandans. They were so sympathetic to our situation they got us out of there in one week instead of the typical two. Then we had 6 days in Kenya to finalize Noel's visa. One bittersweet thing about Max's dad's death was he was showing his friends pictures of Noel at the time he had his heart attack. He was so excited and proud about his new grandson.
Max's dad's name was John- aka Papa Johnny. He was a retired space engineer. He actually worked for the same company his whole life- started and ended his career at Boeing. Isn't that amazing! He was a loyal man, believed in doing the right thing, helped others through difficult times and loved his family.
Naming Noel
One of the things Max and I talked about was naming Noel. We decided in Rwanda to make his middle name Jonathan after his Papa Johnny. Fast forward one month or so..... Max thought maybe we should change Noel's (pronounced "no" "el") to Nole. Noel is typically a girl's name in the United States and Max thought it might be better to alter his name slightly so it is unmistakably a boy's name. One day when Noel and I were in the car I was asking him if he liked Nole instead of Noel. He liked it. Then I asked him how he like Jonathan as his middle name. He boy went crazy!! He pumped his fists in the air and said, "Jonathan, Jonathan!" I wish I had the whole thing on video! He was so excited. The conversation continued about like this:
     Me: You like the name Jonathan?
     Noel: Jonathan, Jonathan (hitting himself on the chest)
     Me: Do you like Jonathan better than Nole?
     Noel: Yes, Jonathan (still smiling, kicking his legs)
     Me: Do you want to be called Jonathan Noel and no Nole Jonathan?
    Noel: Me Jonathan, Me Jonathan (more physical excitement)

From that moment on I knew his name would be Jonathan Noel McGhee. We haven't legally changed his name yet. We will do that at the same time we readopt him (we plan to readopt him so he can have a California birth certificate and US passport). Calling him Jonathan has been an adjustment but we are all getting pretty good at remembering now. Jonathan LOVES his new name. I think his excitement and desire to have Jonathan as his name is a gift from God. It is a beautiful thing.
Too cute not to post!! Jonathan loves his new life!!
I'll write more about our first months home and post pictures in my next entry. It's been a long time since I've wrote anything. It's been a huge adjustment, so much to digest. I've thought many times about blogging but couldn't form words to express everything that has happened and is happening. I think I'm ready :)