Thursday, July 24, 2014

Five for Five

It's been such a long, long time since I've given any attention to this blog.  Five months to be exact.  I love the IDEA of blogging - journaling milestones for my loved ones to read now, and maybe for my children to look back on in the future.  It's just the reality of finding time to sit down and do it that I struggle with :).  So here is my attempt to bring you all up to speed on life at our house the last five months...

March:  Bou turned eight!  While she is strong, athletic, and competitive (poor kid got a double dose of that last trait from her parents), Bou exudes pure feminine beauty in her choices of clothing, hairstyles, decor, etc.  So it was no surprise to me that she wanted to have a real tea party for her birthday.  I tried to convince her to have it at the local tea room here in town because it would be easier for me.  I am not ashamed to admit that my parties are never Pinetrest worthy, nor do I even  attempt for them to be!  Anyway, Bou insisted that she wanted to have it at home, so I finally agreed, and gave party planning my best shot.  We moved the patio table inside to the dining room to have enough seating, dug out some some semi-matching tablecloths (well, one may have been a twin sheet from the closet!), and made a few tissue paper flowers to hang.  Bou thought is was beautiful, and that was all that mattered.  My dear friend Suzy came over to help me with the party and even brought some delicious homemade goodies.  We served Maui Mango and Strawberry Lychee teas, cute little sandwiches, scones, and more.  Then, per Bou's request we played Bingo.  All the girls seemed to have a lot of fun, and afterward they ended up playing in the yard,  squealing and laughing until their parents arrived. 

April:  Buddy turned four and Bear turned six months old!  This sweet boy was so happy to wake up and find a chocolate muffin and a couple of presents sitting at the breakfast table.  Later that afternoon he had his first "real" birthday party with some friends at My Gym.  He had such a great time - made my heart happy to watch him. 
 And this baby continues to bring so much joy and laughter to his siblings (and to us).  His personality is really emerging and it's fun to see how much he favors his older brother.  He is still quite the snuggler too, which makes his mama happy :)
May:   Our house addition was finally finished!  This project was in the planning stages for a long time, then under construction for about nine weeks.  We really needed an accessible bathroom for Bella, and though we tried to be creative, there was just no way to retrofit our two existing bathrooms (built in 1950) to accommodate a wheelchair.  Ultimately, we chose to add on a bathroom and bedroom.  Back when we bought our very modestly-sized house, we believed that our family of four was complete.  Now that we are a family of six, a little extra room comes in handy - but it's really the bathroom and the 36 inch doorways that have improved life for us so much, as the care providers.  I assumed that the new bedroom would be Bella's alone, that Bou would stay in the girls' old room, and the two boys would be together.  For this reason, we kept the bedroom small to keep the cost down, and made the closet about half the size of the other bedrooms.  Much to my surprise, Bou wanted to continue to share a room with her sister, so we moved the two of them over, purged lots of stuff, and were even able to fit everything into the small closet very nicely.  I love their new room, and Bella LOVES having her sister in there with her. 
The bathroom is small for an "accessible" one, but it has everything we need.

June:  It has become our annual tradition to go to Maui the day after the kids get out of school.  We normally spend the entire time at the same resort, because the kids absolutely love the pools, lazy river, rope swing, and slides there - all things water!  They couldn't care less about the room or food or anything else.  However, this year we decided to spend half of our vacation at The Royal Lahaina.  My husband's childhood friend is the hotel's marketing director, and thanks to her graciousness and hospitality our time there was memorable - so memorable that I want to write an entire post about this place a little later.  One of the highlights for the kids and me was being able to see a monk seal beach herself nearby every day, for what is called a "catastrophic molt".  The first thing the kids would do when they woke up each morning was run outside and see if she was still there.  Monk seal sightings are very rare these days, but what made this one even more special was that a SECOND very young monk seal joined the first one on the beach!  The Monk Seal Foundation volunteers who watch over the endangered animals when they are beached said that they have never seen two together on the sand, as they are loners.  The older seal clearly did not want to be bothered by the younger one, who just couldn't seem to take the hint and move on to another stretch of beach :).
July:  The month of the cast(s).  Actually, it should read "the months of the cast(s)" since the first one went on in June - but the majority of them are actually being worn in July.  Right after returning from Maui, Bella was scheduled to do six weeks of serial casting in an attempt to get her feet into a nice neutral position.  All that means is that she would go in once a week and they would remove the previous week's casts, manipulate the position of her feet a little more toward "normal", and recast them in that position for the next week.  The process would be repeated times six.  The goal is to have feet that are corrected enough to be placed into AFOs (a type of brace) and eventually get her standing.  It is a slow journey with many more steps to complete and many more factors that must fall into place to make standing a possibility.  But we are all working hard to give her every chance to accomplish that.  One of the biggest obstacles for Bella right now is that her head is so large and so heavy due to her hydrocephalus that she cannot hold it up more than a thirty seconds, let alone balance.  We are hoping that as her body grows and becomes more proportional to her head, and as she continues with therapy, that will be less of an obstacle.  

Anyway, instead of casting both feet as originally planned, she ended up in a long leg cast for a broken femur right after we returned.  As I have mentioned in the past, Bella has severe osteopenia from her years spent in the orphanage laying room.  This particular bone has also been broken several times in the past, prior to her adoption, as seen on her xrays.  So into a long leg cast she went, and we delayed serial casting for four weeks while the femur healed.  That cast came off, the bone looked great, and we moved on to the feet.  However, the left foot looks so nice at this point that the orthopedic surgeon decided it didn't need casting - yay!  We are now just serial casting the right foot.  The surgeon said there's about a 50/50 chance that the casting will be successful, given the degree of damage caused and the fact that there are bony changes present from lack of intervention.  At the end of this six weeks, Bella will have surgery to remove the hip hardware placed in last summer's surgery, and at that time they will also surgically correct her right foot if necessary.  So there you go, that's the latest on Bella's journey to health!  She gets to pick her cast color each time, and so far we've had pink, purple, and green :).  
 Sweet kid fell asleep playing with her princesses after we got home from the hospital :)

Whew, well that's it.  Hopefully from now on I can average more than one blog post every five months!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Splendid Saturday

This post is mostly for our families - Nana, Papa, Grandma, Lola, and Lolo - so that they can get a peek at some of the weekend fun that was had by their grandchildren :).  We live on the windward side of Oahu, where there is a rainy season for a couple of months during the winter.  Recently, we have had daily downpours that have made it very hard to get out and enjoy the beach.  It looked like the weather was turning around some though by the end of the week, so on Friday night Rob and I made plans to get up early and take the kids to Kailua Beach Park.  We really like going there because there is a sidewalk that goes through the park and all the way to the sand (about 20 feet from the water's edge), and let's face it, when you are pushing two strollers that is a big plus!  There is plenty of shade and the kids have a blast here.

My favorite time of the day there is early morning:  the water is usually calm, there is little to no wind, and most importantly, parking spots are still available!  So we got down there as fast as we could on Saturday morning.  I forgot my camera, but still took quite a few photos on the iPhone.  This view greeted us as we came to the top of the small grassy hill overlooking the ocean:
 Sandy, salty perfection and we practically had it all to ourselves (at least for a little while)!
There were already quite a few paddlers gearing up to go out on the water - it was so calm that I was a little envious.  I would love to have brought my stand-up paddle board, but with six people in the car there's not a lot of room for a SUP these days.  Have to save that for a day when I'm alone (in say, a couple of decades!).
While Bou and Buddy immediately ran down to the water and began spraying each other with their water squirters, I parked Bella and Bear beneath my favorite shade tree and enjoyed the view for a few minutes.  
 
We had to leave the beach park at about 9:30 for Bou to play tennis.  But we were having such a good morning that we decided to go BACK to the beach after tennis.  We stopped for some pizza at Bob's and since the beach park was crowded by this time, we drove around awhile searching for the ever-elusive parking spot before hitting the sand again.   Happily, I got the same spot under my favorite tree again :).  This haole's gotta have some shade!
There was plenty of time for more swimming (and you know what's funny about this pic is that Buddy was having a great time but as soon as he saw me about to snap a photo he said "I don't want my picture Taaaaken!"  So sorry, buddy, you got the wrong mama then!),
playing ball,
sibling love (for brief moments),
and just general silliness.
I just love to see the pure joy that little kids have as they sprint right into the water.
Bear hung out under the tree, and did some of this...
and this (I love his little folded hands, sweet sleeping boy).
And in case you are wondering where Bella is....well, I thought I'd share a little video of what she likes to do best at the beach:  sit in the shade beside Bear and listen to music, practicing her "hula" moves, which she can only do with her left arm but who cares.  My favorite is when she says "Mom, I watch Bear for you.  I be your good helper!"  Yes, big girl, you definitely are my good helper - such a little servant heart in spite of the limitations your body places on you. 
And finally, no day at Kailua Beach would be complete without a stop at Island Snow for shave ice.  For me it's about the flavor (cherry with ice cream in the bottom and a snow cap on top is STILL my favorite), but for the kids it's all about the rainbow colors.  Taste doesn't matter, as long as those three syrup flavors you get to choose mix together to create as many hues as possible!



Sunday, February 9, 2014

Look Who's TEN!

Last year was the first time Bella ever celebrated her birthday.  She had no idea what one was, really.  Home from Ukraine just under two months, the learning curve of life was steep for her, and there were an overwhelming number of things she'd just never been exposed to (including birthday parties).  Couple that with the fact that she had a broken hip which was externally pinned, and we decided to keep the celebration small.  We invited a few friends from church over to play and eat cake.

This year, oh how things have changed :).  Every single day for WEEKS now I've heard the phrase "I so excited for my birthday!".  She understood that there would be food and cake and gifts and most importantly PEOPLE who she loves there to participate in her big day.  We kicked off the birthday weekend on Friday, when I brought treats to school for her class.
 She came home on the bus with two gifts: one from her special friend S. and one from the school bus assistant.  With the assistant's gift was a singing card, in which she'd written "Thank you for making my day every day on the bus!  You are very special to us.  Have an amazing birthday!  Much Aloha."  She included her phone number, and went on to say that if Bella would like to go on a walk with her and her golden retriever that she would be happy to take her, since she lives just down the street from us. 

On Saturday we had Bella's party at a local beach pavilion.  Almost 40 people, grown-ups and kids, came out.  Most were from our church, with a few friends from our community and even a few from the hospital where she receives her care, in the mix.  There was a lunch of hotdogs, chips, and fruit at Bella's request.  After lunch we sang Happy Birthday and had cupcakes.  There was also plenty of time for just hanging out.  She was absolutely thrilled by the whole thing (even though she got very tired after about two hours).   
Getting all set up.
Balloons - one of Bella's favorites!
Her sweet friend Ms. A, whose native language is Russian.  Bella met her the first night she arrived in America, and they have a special connection.
 Some of her little friends being crazy :)

On Saturday evening we opened her gifts at home.  She kept asking what each one was before we opened it, as if I somehow magically knew :).  I was overwhelmed with the thoughtfulness behind each gift.  It was clear that they were bought or made with careful attention to who their recipient was.  Now I do not want to give the impression that gifts are important to us - in fact, if you ask me what my kids want or need, my response is usually "Nothing!".  Being surrounded by friends who are celebrating them is gift enough.   But these presents touched my heart because as she sat surrounded by pretty bags and brightly-wrapped boxes, my girl felt special.  For almost nine years she was not made to feel special.  She was not celebrated.  She was just kept alive, after being cast aside by people who were supposed to love her and by a society who hides children like her.  And now - NOW, after all those years of neglect - to see people treat her like she IS special, well it's almost too much for words sometimes. 




Could there be a better t-shirt for Bella?  Love.
A beautiful skirt handmade with love by one of the ladies at our church who Bella adores.
After the last gift was opened, Bou proclaimed "And now a birthday hug from Bear!" before she scooped him up and laid him down next to Bella.

As touching as the gifts were, it was the cards that were most meaningful to me.  Some contained drawings or beautifully written messages of the heart from little children (I wish I could post a pic of those but they all have Bella's real name written on them, and of course I do not use my children's' real names on here).    Here's a small sampling of cards.


Written inside were messages like:

"We are so glad that God has brought you into our lives.  What a blessing you are."

"You are such a blessing to all those around you!  God Bless you."

"Thank you, Bella, for who you are!  It is such a joy to celebrate your birth.  You truly brighten the world!"

"Today you will get gifts but YOU are a gift to everyone around you, with your joy!  Thank you for embodying gratitude.  You are wonderful."

"You are a precious blessing to us Bella.  Thank you for your beautiful smiles and brave, happy spirit!"

"We love you!"

On Sunday the love continued with more cards and gifts brought to her at church, special daddy-daughter time at the tennis club (one of her favorite places), and a sweet gift from the lovely woman who caters the food there.  She remembered that it was Bella's birthday and knew that she would probably come there with her dad, so she had a little doll and card waiting for her.

Remember what I said?  Special.  She is surrounded by people who see her worth now.  The bus assistant, friends at school, church members, hospital workers, the caterer.  Bella draws people in because she exudes joy.  God has used her life to open eyes and hearts, and let me tell you it is a very humbling thing to watch.

I don't write all of this to paint some fairy-tale picture of older-child adoption.  I don't want people to think that our lives - or her life - are perfect.  They are not.  As thrilled as she was about her birthday, on the way to her party I was once-again reminded that orphanage life is not something that she has buried deep in the recesses of her mind, but rather something that lives in the shallows of her consciousness, and surfaces frequently.  We were riding along, and no one was talking (for once!) when she says something, seemingly out of the blue.  "Mom, at Dietsky Dom I all by myself.  No mother, no father, no sister, no two brothers."  I responded with empathy and reassurance, as I always try to do.  But I know by now that it wasn't out of the blue; it was triggered by the understanding of what her life is versus what her life was.  On the one hand, so happy to be celebrated, but on the other hand, wondering why she wasn't celebrated all those other years.  It is not the first time we have had this conversation, and I am sure it won't be the last.

It would be a mistake to think that Bella's life is easy.  There are quiet struggles with her past.  Moreover, she is completely dependent on us to meet her every physical need.  I am without a doubt completely dependent on God to give me the strength to meet her every physical need (and He does, each day).  She bears the physical and emotional scars of institutionalization and yet, miraculously, she chooses joy.  So I choose joy.  I choose to write about the joy, and share the joy.  Maybe later I will share the hard stuff (because there is hard stuff), but not today.  Today is all about the good stuff :).  Happy Tenth Birthday, precious Bella.  You inspire me!  God loves you, I love you, your father loves you, your sister loves you, and your two brothers love you!

Monday, December 30, 2013

December to Remember!

Prepare to be bombarded with cuteness!  Okay, as the mother of these kids, I suppose I am a little biased, but I couldn't seem to narrow down the photos I wanted to post to a reasonable number - just too many adorable moments to share.  And as I've said before, I write my blog first and foremost for my family; it serves to chronicle the memories that I want all of us to be able to look back on.  So here's what I want to remember about December...

The beginning of the month meant the beginning of our Advent activities.  
In addition to Advent, we kicked off the Christmas season by decorating our tree.  Bella is holding a special ornament given to her by a friend last year.  It says "Home for the Holidays", which was so appropriate since Bella and I arrived in Honolulu from Ukraine just 11 days before Christmas.
On December 2nd, we all attended the annual Christmas Concert performed by Bou's entire school - Kindergarten through 12th grade.  It was a beautiful night, with wonderful, classic songs of worship sung by the children in one of the most historic sites on Oahu:  Kawaiahao Church.  The first Christian church built on the island, it was constructed of over 14,000 coral slabs and was dedicated in 1842. 
(This is actually the photo from last year's concert, because I can't find the one from this year's concert at the moment - oops).  

Then came Buddy's preschool Christmas Concert.  It was the first time he has gone on a stage and participated in any kind of event, so I wasn't sure how it would go.  He did a GREAT job and we were so proud of him.  His favorite song was "Go Tell it on the Mountain".
Due to the services that she needs, Bella goes to a public school, and sadly they didn't have a Christmas program.  However, we caught plenty of other fun moments with her on camera.  Like seeing snow...Hawaiian style.  What is that, you might ask?  Well, it's the kind that falls (or rather is blasted by a blower strategically placed inside a giant Christmas tree) from within the cool confines of the mall, much to the excitement of all the young kids there.  And of course, it's not really snow, it's some sort of bubble-like stuff.  Hey, we do the best we can.  But check out Bella's face - she loved it!  Huge smiles.

 And then there was this completely adorable baby.  Bou came home from school with an antler headband one day - a gift from a classmate.  It's the sort of thing I generally won't buy, but let me tell you, if only I'd known how cute it would look on my babies, I might have gotten one a long time ago!  As we were walking through the grocery store, Bou decided to stick in on Bear, and the oohing and ahhing commenced.  I couldn't resist snapping a couple of pics.  He looks quite pleased with himself too, I think ;).

The Christmas hula performances are always a highlight of our season.  This year's featured songs were "Born is the King"  and "Lord You're Beautiful".  Bella and Bou are now both attending hula classes, and though Bella can only do the movements very slowly and with one hand, she enjoys the music and the other students in the class so much.  She got all dressed up for the Christmas Eve performance, but only wanted to sit on the front row with mama and watch.  However, if you watch this video, you can hear her little exclamations of "Woo!" throughout, catch glimpses of her, and see her yell "Good job everybody!" at the very end.


And one more video - Bella is the shortest dancer in the front row. 




Everyone in our family except for Bear was sick at some point during the week of Christmas.  Our family has never gotten hit by anything like that before, and while I would have definitely preferred NOT to have everyone ill, it did make us all slow down and consequently enjoy the happy moments more.  Here is one semi-happy moment:  the night-before-Christmas pajama picture :).  It was day three of Buddy being sick, and this was about the best face I could get!
Christmas morning was slow paced and relaxing.  After taking their time opening gifts, the kids enjoyed playing, talking to their grandparents on the phone, and making some homemade cinnamon rolls.

A Happy Bella
 Bear's First Christmas
 Bou's favorite book :)
 Even though Buddy was still sick, he rallied for gift-opening, then crashed afterward, in typical kid fashion.
My favorite moment:  Bou giving Bella the locket that she picked out all by herself and saved her own money to buy.  It has an 'S' on it - Bou informed me it stands for "sisters". 
Buddy's favorite moment was probably when we put the stockings on the floor for everyone to get their goodies, and a LIZARD crawled out of one of them!   From the pale color of his skin, I'd say he'd been in there awhile too.  Living in Hawaii, I have found lizards in all sorts of places (even smashed one with my bare hand in the middle of the night when I got up to close the bathroom window - AGHHH!), but finding one in the stocking was a first.  Buddy thought it was great, and temporarily abandoned gift-opening in favor of lizard-hunting.  He can be heard several times on our video saying "I just want to see the lizard!  Where'd he go?"
 It's the simplest of things that make me smile, too.  A friend dropped of a jumbo-sized tin of various popcorns for us.  Bou put the popcorn packages away, turned the lid into a cymbal for Bella, and tied string around the tin to make it a drum.  They had a great time playing "Jingle Bells" and other songs. 
And I'll leave you with a pic of my favorite gift - this little bundle of joy!  Yes, I've had him for three months now, but the new hasn't worn off yet :)


May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope - Romans 15:13