Friday, September 12, 2014

Adoption Update: One Week Home

Whoo Hoo we are almost over jet lag!  Settling into things here.  Silly me decided to jump into an Arbonne detox on Monday and wowza those must-have daily ice cream cones in Ukraine are coming back to bite me big time.  Detoxing off of sugar is NOT fun!!  I guess I could have waited to at least get past the jet lag first.  Come Monday I should be back to my normal high energy self but right now I'm struggling to stay awake past 6 p.m.  Last night I kept my eyes open to a whole 7:45 p.m.

The teens.  The home teens are doing good.  They are all happy mom is home.  Vlad has grown up this summer and matured far past my expectations.  Stopping in at the bank and orthodontist all I heard was how mature he was and how he is opening up and a joy to be around.  Garrett is happy with lots of hugs and Katherine now can talk to me to her hearts content.  We're all happy.

A game of Sorry and facial masks!  Home School English and good skin, too!

So how are the Ukraine teens doing?  Settling in.  Daniel is a workhorse when it comes to school.  He will do it for hours.  They are all working on Rosetta Stone American English, a phonics program and IXL math to learn both math and English math terms.  Anna is the one that needs the most encouragement.  She wants to have it learned already and not put the time into it.  Yuri has a good command of English and after several conversations we've decided to let him go to the high school.  We went there to enroll him and met up with the ESL teacher who has Vlad.  I cannot say enough amazing things about Miss Shannon Hadley at Novi H.S.  She is simply amazing and has been such an encouragement to Vlad.   Yuri will go in Monday for some testing with Ms. Hadley and setting up his classes then start officially on Tuesday.

Ms. Hadley also gave me a bunch of Rosetta Stone workbooks and study guides today, one for each of our Russian learners including Vlad.  She is excited to have Yuri and one of these days the other two when they're ready.  I'm happy to have the workbooks.  I'm happy to have the support.  It really makes a difference.

Yuri helping dad clear a downed tree

The two girls are getting along well and have had several fashion shows of Katherine's clothes and the bags of donated clothes.  They are both in heaven although Katherine is not happy that her feet are the same size as mine and not Anna's.  We both have boats so none of the donated shoes fit her.  I keep telling her that's why she's such a good runner.  It doesn't seem to make her happy.  LOL

So all in all we're settling in to being a family.  One week home and it's flown by.  I'm so thankful to be home.

New Bikes!

You're Such a Nice Person! HA!

There are some common things people say to me when I mention adopting teenagers from Ukraine.  I hear them over and over again and always reply the same way.  I wonder if other adopting parents hear them.  They aren't bad things and I am so happy when people are interested in what we did.  Maybe they will remember and talk to others about teen adoption.  I'm not upset when they ask.  They are curious as I would be had I not gone through this.  Especially since I'm a naturally curious person anyway.  If you are a friend or family of someone who has adopted maybe you've said these things yourself.

First a disclaimer.  You might read what I'm about to write and think, wow, those people should never raise kids.  They are mean.  Yup.  I'll be the first to admit it.  But we turn out pretty great adults so I guess how we do it works.  I read a blog about loving your spouse.  It resonated with me.  It's not about love, it's about doing what's right whether you love or not.  Because you don't always love them.  Sometimes you get mad at them.  Same with your kids, bio or adopted.  Sometimes you do what you're supposed to do in spite of how they are acting.

So here are three things I hear a lot.

1.  You are such a nice person.  As a matter of fact I am a nice person.  But I didn't travel half-way around the world and spend 11 weeks bouncing around horrid roads and fighting paperwork snafu's and being away from my home and family because I'm nice.  You don't have to be a nice person to adopt.  I actually know some people who adopt who aren't very nice at all.  I also know a lot of nice people who don't adopt.  Nice is not a requirement of adoption. 

I am a nice person and my husband is a very nice person (yes he is nicer than me) but that is not why we adopted.  We adopted because it was the right thing to do and it's what the Bible tells us to do.  "Take care of the widows and orphans in their distress and live a right life".  James 1:27.  So, we are not doing it because we're nice, we're doing it because we are obedient to Yahweh.  Because there are orphans in the world that live in terrible conditions and they should have a family. 

2.  You must like kids.  Ha!  Not really.  Seriously I'm sure I'll get a lot of grief on this one. Kids are not particularly nice.  They make a lot of work, they fight you on everything (especially when you're working hard to train them up in the way they should go), they are messy,  they are messy (yes, I repeated that on purpose), they eat A LOT, they back talk and I could go on and on.  They make you endlessly tired from the moment they arrive until they are on their own. (This is no different than bio-kids, by the way).

I like them sometimes.  When they watch for you to see if you're watching them run a race in cross country and come up afterwards to give you a huge hug and say thanks for being here mom you forget momentarily that you've been standing there freezing for 3 hours and wishing you were at home.  I like them when they ask to say the blessing over the meal after months of saying the Bible is stupid.  I like them when they do something without being told or when they help other a fellow kid without us having to force them.  I like them sometimes.

#15 out of over 400 runners - worth being there!
Parenting is not about liking.  It's about doing the right thing whether you like them or not.  Being the mean parent when you have to and being there to listen when they are having a rough day.  Calling them out on bad behavior and teaching them the right way to do things even when you're dead tired and just want to go to bed.  Or have one moment to yourself.  Or take a shower in peace.

We did not adopt because we "like" kids.  I refer back to #1.  We adopted because we are obedient and we are doing our best to raise these kids to be great adults who are independent and don't suck the life out of us or society.  Who stand on their own two feet and not look for handouts.   As I tell my kids, I am not your friend.  Maybe I'll be your friend when you turn 25.  That is entirely up to you. 

3.  I could never do what you are doing.  Actually yes, you can.  Anyone can.  There are no requirements to adopting except be willing to take on another person and raise them to be self-supportive.  There are teens all over this world who need a person just like you.  Just say yes (wrote a whole blog article on that one word - and start filling out the necessary paperwork.

Lots of excuses.....Here are just a couple of the most popular.  

Single?  There are lots of places that accept single parents.

No money?  HA!  We could have fallen back on this.  We did fundraisers and took out a loan.  Or adopt out of the foster care system which still takes some money but not the tens of thousands international adoption takes.

It's hard.  Really?  (Said this with a spike to my voice and raised eyebrows).  Yes, it is hard.  It's the hard road.  The one the Bible talks about.  The one that is narrow and few are on it and it's hard, darn hard.  Harder than hard.  Some days excruciatingly hard.  THAT is the whole point.  Yahweh doesn't reward for the easy stuff.  He asks us to do the hard stuff, the stuff we DON'T want to do.  That's how Tom and I know it's what He wants.  Because we DO NOT want to do it.  We look up and ask, "really?".  Then we shrug and say, "yes".

Seriously we did not want to adopt - ever.  Or adopt again once we adopted one.  Nor do we want to go there and adopt again, but we will go back for our daughter who is stuck there.  But this life we live is not about us and what we want, it's about obedience to Him, no matter what.

I want you to really get this.  This is not about loving a child.  This is about doing the right thing.  I believe we have gotten so wrapped up in our current society which teaches "if it's right for me then I'll do it" that we've forgotten that our way is not Yahweh's way.  His way is be obedient to Him whether you like it or not.  It's doing the hard things regardless of our feelings.  Feelings mess everything up.  That's why the Bible tells us not to trust what is in our hearts.  Feelings fool us.

6 Amazing Teens
Now before you think we are absolutely horrid parents let me say this.  We do like being parents to a brood of teenagers simply because no matter how hard something is or whether you wanted to do it or not, there is joy to be found.  The book of Philippians talks about joy in spite of circumstances.  There is also a sense of fulfillment and responsibility.  The contentment of a job well done.  Watching kids that had no future begin to fulfill one is joyful all on it's own.  Watching them complete milestones is joyful.  There is a lot of laughter and fun in our home.  Because to do a thing you're asked to do but do it with a bad attitude is almost worse than not doing it at all. 

So we will do this hard task, and any others that are asked of us, and we will do it with fun and joy.  We will make the best of hard situations.  We will bond with our new children over homework and biking to the park and we will get through the silent treatments and storming around the house because they get mad at us.  And we will move one more step forward in this parenting journey.

This has been Simply My Opinion!


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Flashback Adoption: August 6th Ukraine

From time to time you'll find a flashback article.  These are things I've written that either have not been published or were published to our super secret members only Facebook group.  Now that we are home safe and sound they will slowly but surely be making it to the blog for more to enjoy, learn from our mistakes and just have a good laugh.  

Wednesday August 6, 2014 Zaporozhye, Ukraine

THIS is the long and never-ending day. Grab yourself a cup of something yummy and enjoy our ride!   We spent most of the day either waiting or driving and we were up for 22+ hours!  We were in Zaporozhye region, Ukraine, the day after picking Anna and Daniel up from their orphanage which is a nearby teeny, tiny village filled with goats and chickens and gardens.

We woke up at 5:55 to go to the kids’ room to wake them up for breakfast. Knocked on the door and before I could put my key in the lock Daniel opened the door. They had gotten up at 5, ironed their clothes, gotten dressed, made the beds (they didn’t know maids would be doing that), and were sitting on the beds waiting for me to get there. Wow!

We all met downstairs for the breakfast buffet at 6:30 and out the door by 7 to drive to the orphanage to meet with the director and the lawyer for the orphanage who was hopefully going to help us straighten out this mess we were in.  As some of you know we had a major issue with Anna's birth certificate not listing her DOB as the same as on the court decree.  Everything must match exactly and the official date was July 7th.  Court documents listed it as June 7th.  Later we found paperwork that also listed September 7th.  Craziness.  She has no idea and over the years has celebrated on all three dates.  Her official date from now on is July 7th. 

We got to the orphanage at 7:30 and Dima (our amazing translator) said wait here in the foyer where there are a couple of benches.  (VERY hard benches).

Daniel pulled out an English/Russian dictionary that has seen better days and he opened it up and started saying words to himself. I realized it’s something he does a lot. He has been teaching himself English, long before he knew we would adopt him and long after his chance of being adopted had passed. 

Who was this kid who was teaching himself a language from a country he would have little chance at ever visiting let alone live in? At 17 he had almost zero chance of ever being adopted and visa’s to the U.S.A. from Ukraine for orphans just do not happen. Why was he putting so much effort in? Because he had faith. Like the scene in “Facing the Giants” plant the field and Yahweh will provide the water. Build it and they will come. Daniel was planting the seeds despite the odds that were against him. I looked at him and thought, this boy is something very special. A nugget of gold that everyone passed over time and time again because of his age, his tiny stutter, his face. I wanted to just hug him and cry at that point because I realized what we had been given. And so happy that he was going to be able to fulfill the potential that Yahweh had given him. It will be fun to watch him grow into a man.

I held my hand out for the book and he handed it to me. I pointed at a word and he said it, then if he pronounced it correctly I nodded. If not, I said it then he said it. We did that for about a half hour. 

There are no other children here. They are all at camp. There are a few workers but that’s it. An empty orphanage. We sit and Dima goes off to meet with the lawyer and director. And we sit, and sit and sit. And sit some more. The minutes then hours tick by. It’s now 4 hours later, 11:30 a.m., and we are all antsy. There is nothing to do. We’ve walked around the orphanage but already took pictures the first time we were here and most rooms are all locked up. Finally I decide to go see if I can find out anything so I take Anna with me to go find Dima. He is there with the lawyer in a tiny, hot room with one little fan blowing. He is sweating profusely. He looks up and me and shakes his head. Ugh, not good.

They are having trouble getting everyone together and agreeing to have a special court to fix this. I remind him we need to check out of the hotel by 2 and need 45 minutes to get there and get our stuff out before that. He remembers but shrugs his shoulders like I don’t know if we can do that. This is most important. So Anna and I go back downstairs to wait more. 

Then I remember I have a pack of UNO cards in the car. Tom goes out to get them. Daniel finds 2 little chairs and we sit, the 4 of us, playing UNO on the bench. They start learning their colors in English and numbers, too. We have a lot of fun and laugh a lot. We realize that these two not only get along well with each other but they are very quick to laugh. I wonder, how can someone who has had their life laugh so easily? I think why don’t I? I’m a pretty serious girl (which is why Yahweh gave me a husband who makes me laugh) but these kids… would think they would be sad and serious but they aren’t. They are happy and smile easily. They are an absolute joy to be around.

At 12:30 we ask Daniel if there is a store around within walking distance. We are all getting hungry and there is no food anywhere. We find out that 1 km away is a little market so we all jump up, happy to have something to do. We walk along the dirt road and past the darling little houses with massive gardens and think, what a wonderful way to live. They have no grass yards here like we do at home. Manicured to the nth degree. Here they fill their yards with fruit trees, flowers, tomatoes, peppers and more. At first they look just wild and unkempt but then after you really look you realize they have little pathways, benches, and there is a method to them. In a word, they are functional, and beautiful at the same time. To walk out of your door and pick your vegetables and herbs, to pick a few pears from your tree and go inside and stand by a huge window to make your dinner. How peaceful it all seems. I wonder why we need grass lawns with a steady stream of pesticides and fertilizers to keep them “beautiful”. Then pay for gasoline for lawn mowers to keep them a certain height. 

Chickens run everywhere and goats are by the side of the road, Ukraine’s natural weed eaters. A few cows here and there. There is one word that comes to my mind over and over again – peace. 

Showing off her dried fish before she ate it
So we get to the little market and go inside. We end up buying 4 large bottles of water, no gas. Water here comes 3 ways, carbonated (gas), extra-carbonated and no carbonation. I’ve made the mistake a few times of getting gas. Tom is a fan of it.  I'm not.

There isn’t much else except candy bars, alcohol, sausages, dried fish and ice cream. We opt for 4 ice cream bars.  Anna gets some dried fish. Then we go out to the little area they had outside with a picnic table. It gives me the chance to people watch. The market was the town “place to be” and there was a constant stream of people in and out of it. A very large man rode his bike with his little daughter in front of him to buy some things. Three little ones no older than 6 came together down the road, holding hands and little sacks. They went into the market and out again a few minutes later with things in their sacks. A woman in a beautiful dress and heels, yes, I said heels (5" heels), rode her bike to the market and then left with a bag tied to her bike. A man walked up and into the market then out again with a piece of bread, sausage and cup of beer. He sat down at the next table and ate his lunch. I'm having fun watching everyone and wonder how these women ride bikes all over in dresses and heels.

Outside the orphanage.  My new shirt that Anna, the pastors wife, gave to me.
Standing outside the orphanage
That point in the process could have been very stressful but it wasn't.  The day before, riding in the car back from the registry office, I had given it all over to Yahweh. This process belonged to Him and I was here to enjoy my kids and enjoy this peaceful environment that He had given to us. After we finished we walked slowly back to the orphanage. I asked Tom to take pictures of the little kid’s play garden. They had made all of these animal and plants out of used soda pop bottles. Very creative. The gardens in the orphanage were just beautiful. This director was very special. Every time we’ve seen her she has been dressed in the same outfit. She does not spend money on herself. She had people painting and gardening and cleaning. There were murals painted on the walls and you get a sense of pride about this place. Daniel and Anna were blessed to be put here. If they had to be in an orphanage, this is the one. 

We got back inside and before long Dima comes walking fast down the hall. He goes everywhere fast. Always in a hurry. We like that about him. He doesn’t mess around. He walks by us saying, “Let’s go”. We grab our stuff and follow him out to the car. He tells me they have finally got the court to agree to a special session at 3 p.m. It’s now 1:15 so we have to get to the hotel, get our stuff, get checked out and back to town  for court by 3. It’s going to be tight. And he tells me they still haven’t located the two jurors who are on the case. 
We drive to the hotel, past the checkpoint, which is now becoming no big deal we are so used to it. They stop us (which they haven’t done before) and ask where we’ve come from. Dima says Matveevka. They ask us to pull over. Ugh, not now. We don’t have time for this. Dima sighs and shakes his head. The police comes up to his window and asks what we are doing. Dima explains we just came from Matveevka and are going to our hotel in Zap. The police says OH! Seems there is a town in Donetsk region that sounds very much like Matveevka and he thought Dima has said that. Donetsk region is just a few kilometers away and that is one of the two regions who are war right now. The checkpoints are to keep trouble out of other regions. The police officer waived us on. Whew!

We get to the hotel, grab our stuff, check out and drive back through the checkpoint to the court. We now no longer have to look at maps to find our way through this city.  That is good but just tells us we have been here too many times.

We get to court at 5 minutes to 3 and Dima says to get out and wait for him. He has to drive and pick up the social worker and prosecutor. We walk over to some shade, where it’s still 95 degrees and wait for them. We decide to people watch, a very fun thing to do here in Ukraine. I’m still astounded how the women here walk in 5 inch stilettos on these cobblestones. Tom and I had actually seen two girls on a hiking trail in the woods in heels a few days earlier. Seriously??????? I have trouble in my tennis shoes. 

Then you have the babushka’s carrying their grocery sacks and they are NOT wearing heels. They are the grandmothers who wear their scarves tied around their heads. Babushkas. Most are hunched over from years of hard labor. Sweeping, gardening and the like. They shuffle along on their daily walks to and from the market and fruit and vegetable stands. I wonder why someone hasn't made brooms that have longer handles so they don't have to sweep all bent over?

Dima arrives back with the prosecutor. The social worker, a cute girl that wears her skirts so short you hope she is wearing panties, had walked up a few minutes earlier, of course, wearing stilettos. By the way, they walk as fast as I do in tennis shoes. I have no idea how they can do that. ????

We go up 3 stories to the court. There are no elevators. I don’t know what they do if someone is handicapped. Someone must carry them upstairs. We get into the courtroom and finally at 3:15 the judge and same two jurors we had at the original court hearing come in. We go through the, now normal, getting to know everyone and everyone agreeing on who everyone is and that they are qualified to be here. Then the judge reads the request. She asks if anyone has any objections and we all nod no. She asks the social worker some questions, mostly about how did this happen, which the social worker had no control over at all, it was the registry office who made the mistake. Then she made the decision in our favor. 

Dima asked to waive the 5-day waiting period and she would not. Someone might come forward and object to the change in birth date. Really?????? This 5-day wait will cost us $1,000. 

Yesterday we should have picked up the birth certificate, changed the Tax ID and even applied for their national passports. Then today finished up with those and applied for their international passports then gone back to Kiev, never to return to the region again. We got none of that done. We have the birth certificates, which are now correct, but none of the other stuff. So we will come back here again next week for two days to finish up. Travel, hotel – UGH! 

So we wait in the hallway while papers are being drawn up and then leave. 

Now the fun really begins. 

It’s almost 5 p.m. by the time we leave the courthouse. Dima has his wife and baby son (5 months) in Crimea spending the summer with her parents. He hasn’t seen them in weeks because of so many adoptive families coming. He has a 5-day break so he is going to go there and pick them up to take them back to Kiev. We are in the rental car so he plans to drive with us back to Kiev and then take a train to Crimea. I look at him and say “are you crazy? You are so close to Crimea here in Zap. Can you take a train or bus from here”? He said, “yes, but how will you get to Kiev”. I look at Tom and we laugh. “We’ll drive the car”. Dima looks shocked, “by yourself?????? No way”.  We said, “yes way”. After quite some debate we convinced him. So we drove him to the train station to be sure he could get a ticket. He came out with it in his hand. 

By now we are all starving. Dima’s train leaves at 9 p.m. and we have no schedule but need to get going as fast as possible. We have a very long drive ahead of us and we are on our own. Most of those hours will be after dark. There is a McDonald’s in town about 8 km away so we decide to go there. Yes, I am eating McDonald’s. The choice between street food made from horse or dog or McDonald’s – well, I go with McDonald’s. 

At least here in Ukraine it’s non-GMO. AND they have great bathrooms, something special here in Ukraine! A big plus! Tom somehow finds it on a map and guides Dima driving there. Tom is amazing when it comes to maps. We get to McDonald’s, use the bathroom, then order and get in the car. The plan is for Tom and I to eat in the car while Dima drives back to the train station, then Dima can eat his while waiting for his train. It takes us 20 minutes to get back to the train station with the traffic because by now people are off work and going home. Crazy lights, trolley buses, trolleys on tracks, regular buses, oh my! Navigating around all of them while trying to eat in the back seat of a car is quite a feat.

We stop for a quick gas up and Dima gives us instructions on getting gas. They are all full serve here to we have to know how to tell the attendant what kind of gas and how much. I go inside to pay and get us all water bottles then come out to find everyone all in the car waiting. The windshield is filthy so I pick up the brush to clean it. Both men thought it was funny, hence the picture. Ha!

Finally we get to the train station, Dima hops out and is all concerned. “Are you sure? I can still go with you.” We are fine! Go! He takes his bag and walks off. We are confident but this is still a pretty huge thing. We look at the map and it’s 514 km (319 miles) and should take 7 hours. OK! 6 p.m. now we should get in around 1 a.m. HA HA HA! I don’t think Google maps takes into consideration Ukraine roads. We ended up getting in at 4 a.m. But that’s getting ahead of our story.

I drive for 2 hours then we stop for bathroom and more water at a really nice gas station. Then Tom took over driving. Here the speed limits, unless posted otherwise are 60 km/hr inside a town or city limit and 90 km/hr outside. You have a 19 km/hr leeway so really you can drive 109 km/hr without worry of being stopped. I had been driving between 80 and 110 depending on the roads, sometimes slower if the roads were really bad. So Tom gets in and immediately starts driving 110. Within 5 minutes he is flagged down by a police officer to pull over. Great! We are two American’s with two Ukraine teens in the back. Dima had given us their papers, the court documents and we had our passports so hopefully everything would be fine.

We pull over and Tom rolls down his window. I lean over and with a huge smile say, I’m sorry we are American’s. The police officer was wonderful. He smiles and tries to tell us what we were doing wrong. I say, we don’t know what you’re saying, but they do and I point to the back seat. He starts talking with Daniel. Then he looks at me and I point up and ask, “too fast”? He said nodded his head. I said, “we will go slower” and point my finger down. He nodded again. All with a big smile on his face. Then he steps back and waived his baton to move along. Whew! Wish we would have gotten out and taken a picture with him. After we pulled away we were wondering why he wasn’t more curious as to why two American’s were driving in Ukraine with two Ukraine teens in the back seat. Oh well. 

This was our view for more than 6 hours
The rest of the night we took turns switching drivers every hour. We expected to get in by 1 a.m. but as midnight got closer we realized it was taking us a lot longer because of the roads. And as I mentioned earlier the lights on our car were in the very dim mode (we had no clue there were different levels of low beam lighting) so that made things even more challenging. We stopped a few more times for bathroom breaks. Seriously we were VERY blessed to be driving from Zap to Kiev. It was a more major road than most, had more open gas stations and some signs saying this way to Kiev. And we had two map programs on our phones, Google maps which showed us a map of where we wanted to go and which would use satellite to pinpoint where we were. Between the two we could figure out our route, as long as we didn't run out of battery.

We rolled into the outskirts of Kiev around 3:45 and decided to fill up one last time so we could turn the car in full and not have to look for a station near us in the morning. Once we filled up, pros now at it, we got back on a “real” highway into Kiev. Things started looking familiar. Up ahead we saw the walking bridge to the island. A landmark we recognized. And for those of you here in Kiev a little something. The walking bridge is lit up beautifully at night. Just gorgeous! 

All that walking we’ve done has come in handy. Not only do we know where we are but we know exactly how to get down in the middle of the city to our apartment. We drive down past the bridge, get off the highway onto the street that goes right down where we walk all of the time. I have to go around a weird traffic circle but we’ve walked around it so much I know exactly what to do. Then we drive to the bottom of St. Andrew’s descent, a very steep cobblestone street at the bottom of St. Andrews church. We’ve walked up it many, many times but always during the day when it’s filled with street vendors. At 4 a.m. it is completely empty. The car works hard to get up the steep hill. I come to a spot where it says no entry – ugh. We never realized it was a one-way street coming down from there. “Wait a minute, we see cars going up here all the time, I’m going to keep going”. So off I go to the top, then take the road to the right then around a few more streets, then we are home! YAY!

The kids are so happy to get out of the car and so are we. We all go upstairs and wash up and crawl into bed. 4:30 a.m. but safe and sound back in Kiev with our kids. Now to rest up before we have to travel back to Zap again to finish up everything we didn’t get done.
That was one day of international adoption in Ukraine. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Family Rules!

Someday Tom and I will write a book on this subject because so many people have asked us to do that but for now here are a few of our family rules to get you started.  They may or may not work for your family but they've been working for us for over 32 years and so far the older ones are pretty awesome adults.  Tweak them how you may.

First who are we to share how we do things and why should you even think of listening to us?  Well, we are Tom and Kathe.  That's the start of things.  We are not a democracy or even a republic.  Most decisions are not a consensus but a decision between the two of us.  We're parents, we have long-term vision and we pay the bills.  Sound harsh?  Maybe, but it's worked well for us so far.

We have a saying in our house, when you can make the house payment, then you can make the rules for that month.  Ha!  In 32 years not one of them have ponied up the money. 

We got married with each of us having 2 children.  They were ages 5 - 12 years of age.  Mine were the older two boys and Tom a girl and boy.   Then we had 2 more, a boy and a girl.  Then we adopted a teen from Ukraine.  We just recently adopted 3 more teens from Ukraine. So we are quite the blended family.  Now we've added two daughter-in-law's and soon to add a son-in-law plus we are expecting grandbaby #6 in April. 

These rules are in no particular order but they all stand on #1.  Without that, well, you may as well throw the whole lot out.  Some of the comments will only make sense if you're a blended family like ours but you should be able to get a nugget or two even if you're still in the same relationship and all kids are joint.

And by the way, this is probably not how most families run things.  If you have a different opinion, run with it.  I'm hoping enough are on the same page that as my kids grow up and get married they will find good matches with similar upbringing.  So far, that is exactly what is happening with our older ones.  Funny how that happens.  Quite nice to know there are others out there. 

Rule #1.  Parents on the same page - no matter what.  You'll hear me use that phrase a lot in my writing.  I'm a "no matter what" kind of girl.  It works for me.  Basically I'm all in.

This rule means that it does not matter which kid is "mine" and which is "yours" if you're a blended family.  They are "ours" from this point onward.  Whether you are blended or not the decisions are joint and if one parent says no, then both say no.  There is also the "what did mom say" and conferring with the other parent to make sure that is exactly what mom said and no matter if you agree or disagree you have to go along with it because you NEVER undermine the other parent in front of kids.  You are a UNITED FRONT at all costs.  Kids know where they can worm their way in and cause problems so don't give them that opportunity.  It's you and your spouse against the crew.   Remember someday it will be just the two of you (I'm dreaming here) and you want to have the respect and love of that person long after children are grown and gone.  Too many divorces are caused by ignoring this rule, especially in blended families.

Rule #2.  Goes along with rule #1.  Parents make decisions in private away from children.  And have your disagreements there, too.  (Yes, all healthy marriages have disagreements, especially those with lots of children from all sorts of places).  Talk through these situations out of earshot of inquiring ears.  Once the decision has been agreed upon, then present your united front decision to your child(ren).  No more arguing with parents.  Child can try but there is no point. 

Rule #3.  Discipline.  Touchy place when you are a love (step)-parent.  (We never used the word step in our house.  Reminded me too much of a Stepford something).  I agreed to love his children when I agreed to marry him so they are my love-children.  I accepted them as my own, no matter what.

Getting back to discipline.  When one parent disciplines it's all them.  The other parent needs to zip the lip.  And if he is disciplining in a way I don't agree with (especially if it's one of "mine") then maybe I need to go into another room, or get in the car and drive away if I can't keep my emotions and words to myself.  Later, when things have settled you can have a discussion, in private, with your spouse.  Children should never see that they can cause a rift between parents.  They will use it when you least expect it.

And if you're a mom, sometime dad's need to discipline boys or have boys do things that make you go eeeeeek!  Walk away, just walk away if you don't agree.  He is teaching them to be men.  He knows how to do that much better than you do.  

Rule #4.  Personal Responsibility and the 24-hour rule otherwise known as either pick up your stuff or when you go looking for it you might have to travel to the Salvation Army or nearby garbage disposal facility.

No parent needs to be the maid service.  More times than I can count I've reminded my kids that I'm not your friend, your maid or your servant.  I am your mom.  Maybe I'll be your friend when you hit 25.  That depends on you.  Right now you clean up after yourself or you will have less stuff to worry about.

And if you decide to eat in the family room, keep your shoes on in the house, or not pick up your dishes after eating you are just saying that you want to sweep and mop the floor and do kitchen duty.  Thanks! 

Rule #5.  I love you no matter what and I like being around you, at least most of the time.  That means you get mom time or dad time without any other kids from time to time.  Maybe it's just a walk around the block.  This is one of Vlad's favorites with me.  Many times you'll see us walking arm in arm around the neighborhood having conversation.  Katherine likes to go to lunch and chat.  Tom will take someone with him to Home Depot.  We make time for each of them.  Go too long without it and they'll get really weird.  If you find one of your kids getting weird, just do something with just them.  You'll see them turn around pretty fast.  Anytime you go someplace grab a kid to go with you.  That is unless it's one of those times that you better get some alone time or someone might lose their head.  Then it's OK to leave them all at home.  I've heard it's really difficult parenting from prison.

Rule #6.  My job as a parent is to turn out an adult that is a useful member of society and respects both Yahweh and others.  That he or she knows how to run a household, keep good finances and not rely on others for support, or to do the dishes.  As they grow they get more responsibilities.  For example in our house by age 12 they are learning how to do their own laundry.  That means start to finish with all steps in between.  They learn how to properly wash their clothes. They help with cooking, cleaning, yard work, etc.

Note:  They will complain - a lot.  I don't hear complaining.  I talk to them about the book int he Bible which talks about having joy in spite of circumstances.  (Philippians)  And I turn the music up louder and laugh and dance.  Nobody said you couldn't have fun and wash a floor at the same time.  

I had a high school counselor call me one day and say Mrs. Ray, out of 500+ graduating students your son is the only one I've counseled that actually seems ready to be an adult.  He had his own checking account and knew how to balance a checkbook.  He had a job, his own car and goals.  He knew how to cook and did his own laundry.  Now he is a dad of 3, happily married and his wife says I grew her a great husband who actually helps her around the house and knows how to do it all.  That is the highest compliment a parent can get.  Remembering that helps me stay strong through raising 6 more teenagers.  I want that compliment from their future spouses. 

You are not the maid.  You do not have to do it all.  When you do everything yourself you are not teaching your children how to be adults and care for their own home someday.  Remember your job is to grow decent humans that are capable and responsible.  They don't get that by watching you do it all.

Rule #7.  Probably right up there with rule #1 in importance.  Parents set the example.  Your children will model what you do, not what you say.  Have integrity.  Be authentic.  And work on your marriage every day.  Someday you want your children to find an amazing spouse.  Believe me I have two married and I LOVE their spouses.  They are both amazing women and I thank Yahweh every day for them.  They are fantastic spouses and mom's.  I couldn't have asked for better. 

Love your spouse and do something every day to make your marriage better.  And the more children you have, the busier your life, the more you need to make him/her #1 and take time to love on them.  Date nights or even just walks with them in your neighborhood.  A time to talk without constant interruption.  Remember what I said about a kid getting weird?  Well it will happen to your spouse, too.  If they start getting weird ask yourself when was the last time you two had alone time?  Yup!  Been awhile right?  Fix it now.  You'll have a changed spouse.  Laugh with your spouse and have some fun.  Life is not all dirty dishes and homework.  Take time to work on your best investment.

If that's one thing being in Ukraine taught me is that life is too short and too many problems to not enjoy life.  Remember that book in the Bible, joyful in spite of circumstances.  It applies to us, too.  Take time to be joyful and have fun.  And family fun time, too.

So that's a good start to our family rules.  More to come.

Remember, this is Simply My Opinion.  

Things They Don't Tell You About International Adoption....

I was out on my walk this morning.  Those of you who have been following me know I start a lot of stories out like that.  One - I walk a lot and two - it's when I think (because you really can't think clearly with a house full of teenagers).

So I was out on my walk this morning thinking about the past 11 weeks.  I happened by a yard with a patch of sunflowers and tears came to my eyes.  Really?  I mean for the past several weeks all I've thought about was going home to my family, my house, my stuff.  Now I walk by sunflowers and all I want is to be in Ukraine.  Crazy, right?

It got me to thinking about things you don't expect on this journey.  I mean, you know there will be a lot of paperwork and travel and maybe even some unexpected delays and problems. I'm not talking about that here.  I'm talking about sunflowers making you cry on your morning walk.

So here goes.....

They don't tell you that you're going to fall in love with the country you are living in for all those weeks.  That in spite of the fact that you really want to be home there is a culture and a beauty to the country that deep down inside you just adore.  The little homes surrounded by blue and yellow fences with bicycles leaning on them.  The goats, chickens, ducks, geese and cows wandering around in the field in front of said fence, so close to the road that you wonder how many get hit by flying cars.  (You see no evidence of that happening and figure that they must be pretty smart animals).  The fresh vegetables and eggs sitting out next to the road for passers by to stop, honk the horn and wait for a babushka to come out.  So many amazing memories and a place where it seems time has stopped and it causes you to pause and reflect on your own busy life.  You realize you crave simple.

They don't tell you that how much you will be grateful for what you have at home.  We really have it good and I had no clue until this trip.  Ice that comes directly out of the door of your fridge.  Roads that don't give you a concussion.  Being able to sit in a restaurant or walk down a path without smoking another persons cigarette.  And a hundred other small things that when you are somewhere else makes a difference.

At the same time you wish there was a way to merge the two.  Pick the best of both worlds, so to speak.  Have the home with the blue and yellow fence, the chickens and ice that comes from your fridge door.  And you kind of miss the crazy roads.  At least it made the driving and riding interesting.  And I think I actually lost inches with being bounced around so much and working to keep in my seat.     

They don't tell you that once you're home it is weird to walk into a store and where you can read the signs and understand what people are saying.  And that as much as you wanted that when you were there, now you want the quaint way of weighing and tagging produce and you miss the lady at the corner 8-23 who let you hand her your bag of coins to pick through because the coin was just too confusing.  Who in the beginning scowled at you but after 7 weeks or so started smiling.  Especially when you butchered the language attempting to say thank you in Russian.  For some reason she was OK with me as long as I at least tried.  (I wonder if she wonders what happened to me??)  Oh!  The stores over there have these big signs 8-23, 7-20, 0-24 all meaning times they are open.  The 0-24 is open 24 hours.  They go by the 24 hour clock there so 8-23 is 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.  However they can close up on a whim for however long they decide. 

No one tells you that you are going to have so many mixed up feelings.  That there is a let-down from it all.  And you realize that for the most part of the past 11 weeks you were living on adrenaline.  Combine that with the jet lag and it's a recipe for something that I can't put a name on.  When you walk past those sunflowers teary eyed because you miss the huge fields of them you realize that you are forever changed.  That your entire perspective on life is different.  Bigger.  Yet simpler.  Does that make sense?

You take from the country a peacefulness that you didn't have because they are a peaceful people and their way of life is peaceful.  You become determined to have the peace in your home.   You have a mission to merge the lifestyles and pick the best of both for your home.

My advice for returning parents is give yourself time to adjust.  Be OK with the conflicting emotions.  Be grateful that Yahweh has blessed you with a perspective that most people never get.  And cry over the sunflowers.  It means you enjoyed your journey.

A note to those of you who are friends and family of those coming home from an international adoption please give them space and time.  It is more to process than I can tell you in this post.  I read a blog about how to be a good friend to someone who just had a baby and it applies to adoptive parents as well.  Here is the link if anyone wants to read it.

Our family will get it together one of these days and we appreciate you giving us some space to deal with all of it.  We love your messages and your prayers.  And the donations of clothes and other things.  They really do make a difference. 

This journey is just beginning and the hardest part is starting so be sure to add your email to stay updated.