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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Almost Famous

My friend Heidi at The Blissful Stitcher--the ├╝bertalented lady who made the boys' adorable "Worth the Wait" shirts--asked if she could use pics of my cuties on her etsy site. She's doing something of a specialization in adoption-themed clothing, having found herself surrounded by families who have received God's call to grown through that specific path.

Anyhow, she asked. I, of course, said yes. I've waited a long time to share those little faces with the world. If I can brag on God, my boys, adoption, and a friend's gift all at the the same time ... whoa! I'm taking that opportunity.

So here they are: Oli and Mani, in their etsy debut. Go ahead. Tell me how cute they are. :-)

Friday, July 30, 2010

No news as of yet ...

Just to update anyone who has been wondering, we still haven't gotten word from Kathmandu on how Bee's second interview went. At first I suspected that it was because of power outages, but now I'm wondering if she was indeed turned down.

We continue to pray and wait. I'll update when I know.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Monsoon season

Mr. Blandings and Bee, whose visa is up for approval again.

For long, burning years, I lived in drought.

My heart yearned, my soul ached, and I suffered, daily, through a thirst that man could not satiate. Lord, please take this desire from me. Give me contentment with where I am. I have three children; who am I to ask for more? Take this burden from me, or give me relief, Jesus.

From the spring of 2004 until the spring of 2008, I anguished. There were periods of blessed respite, times when I felt strong enough to embrace other people's babies, to rejoice at the news of new arrivals in this world, to attend a baby shower without breaking down into tears. I lived for those times. But the rest of my days were punctuated by realizations, anew, of the grief that never quite left me and the God who would neither lift my longing nor fill the cup I extended.

Those were hard, lean years that honed my faith into something that I never could have achieved otherwise. I am thankful, in retrospect, for every tear I shed, every bitterness I had to overcome, and every moment I had to acknowledge that God was God ... and I, most certainly, was not.

And now, of course, I find myself in a different place. If those four long years were ones marked by the desperate, dry drought, well ... the past two and a half have been marked by a different gift altogether. Monsoon.

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. --Luke 6:38


I can see clearly now why the Lord seemed to ignore my pleas for peace in matters of family size; His plan, farther reaching than I could imagine, had to have a firm root in my heart in order for me to truly lay down my own desires and follow His leading. God didn't want me to desire a baby. God wanted me to build a family. And there is no room for self-seeking fulfillment in the building of a family. It's not about "being pregnant". It's not about "giving birth." It's about more than that--the death of self and the love of what God has built for His own glory.

I entered this monsoon season completely unsure of what God would bring my way. With the addition of Oliver to our home, I hit my knees in gratitude. I sang like Hannah. I praised the Lord, who had taken notice of me and turned my tears into laughter. For all I knew, Oliver was the last little one I would ever hold, and you know ... I was fine with that. One was enough. One more little person showed me that my longing was from the Lord, that it was not a vain ambition, but it was something that God had blessed and ordained.

Then there was Mani. I was over-the-moon thrilled, unable to put my elation into words. Finally, one morning a few days after he had come to us, I was reading the story of David accompanying the ark and came to the line where David is said to "dance before the Lord with all his might." And for the first time, I understood that kind of joy. God had heard me, and blessed me twice. What a mighty God we serve!

Who was I to ask or expect anything more from God? I rejoiced in my gifts, gave thanks, and prepared to move into a new season of life.

But God was not finished pressing down the measure.

Mr. Blandings met Bee, and knew she was our daughter.

Then this woman, whose heart had finally accepted that her body was no longer a vessel for bringing life into the world, found out that God had placed His hand of protection over her and a new little one.

From three to seven. Monsoon.

This morning, we received joyful news. Not only am I now at the relatively "safe" 32 week point, at which Seven's little lungs will require so much less assistance were he or she to be born now, but, adding to our joy, is the fact that Bee's visa is up for consideration again. Her interview went very well. So well, in fat, that the embassy has asked her to come back again. There is hope! God is working on our behalf.

He always is, of course. We just often can't or won't see it. During the drought, I cried out to God countless times. Where are you? Why aren't you answering?

He was there. He was answering. Just not in the way I wanted to hear.

Maybe it is the Lord's plan that, as Seven is born, we will welcome Bee home as well. Wouldn't it be amazing to have that full measure poured into my lap all at once? Two adoptions, done. One birth, gifted to you. And a visa, yes. All in a few weeks--not even months--time!

If the definition of a monsoon is a sudden glut of much-needed water, then I am, happily, swimming in it. We know that many people look on in horror as we laugh yet again at God's abundance in this area of our life. Please don't ask us to disparage His timing, His generosity, or His plan. Because we were parched, and now we drink deeply. We asked, and we have received. The Lord has seen fit to pour out His blessings, and we, His humble servants accept them with gratitude!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Adopted

If Oli's adoption was the sweet conclusion to a long, drawn-out parade of state errors, then Mani's was just the opposite. And here's another thing: no one cried at Mani's adoption. Not even me.

Manolin's former state worker--the one who had taken him into custody almost exactly two years ago and wondered if he would even live--was present. The smile on her face was nearly as big as my own.

"I am so happy for him!" she kept saying, over and over. And I believed her. I believed her with my whole heart.

His adoption worker, who has only known Mani for the past seven months, came to witness the event. A slightly rumpled, nutty professor type, he surprised me by being so emotional.

"We did good social work right here," he told me, waving his hand towards my son and indicating everything that could have been an obstacle, but wasn't--thanks to a whole lot of people who Did the Right Thing.

And finally, there was the judge, who beamed at our growing family as he swore each and every member in.

"You guys have made my day," he told us as we hoisted Mani high and all did our own silly Blandings version of a courtroom appropriate happy dance. "This is why I do what I do."

Mani laughed. He ate animal crackers. He investigated the judge's robes. He dashed around the courtroom live the two year-old deverish he is. And he was, at the end of the session, adopted.

Welcome to our family, Mani! We are so proud to have another Blandings lighting up the world!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

TOS Review: Travel Kits


Nearly eight years ago now, I had this ingenious little idea. I was looking ahead at a nine (count 'em--nine) day cross-country move with Jo, Atticus, and Logan. At the time, my little angels were 5, 2.5, and 4 months. And you know, nine days in our Volvo 240 station wagon were sounding more like a challenge than an adventure, if you know what I mean.

So I had this idea: I'd gather a batch of fun little survival goodies. I'd wrap each of them in colorful paper, and even put some cute ribbons on them. Then, as the trip wore on, I'd slowly dole out the treats ... one by one.

I went to work. I got a box of those little fruit gummy snacks that I never buy, opened it up and wrapped each individual packet. I raided the dollar store shelves for light-up pencil toppers, post-it notes, cheap toys, etc. I bought beads to string, lacing cards, lap-sized puzzles, candy bracelets, wiki-stixx. It was a whole load of stuff, and to be honest, Mr. Blandings blanched when he saw me haul my box of treasure into the front floorboard of the already groaning Volvo.

"Seriously?" he asked, "We need all of that?"

Oh, baby, did we ever.

It was that box of goodies that saved the day on more than one occasion. We made it to our destination (WA) none the worse for the wear. And folks, we didn't (and don't) even own one of those dvd players for the car.

You know what would have made my trip west even more fun, though? If someone else had blessed us with those little doo-dads. And that, my friends, is the premise of The Old Schoolhouse's ebook Travel Kits. For $12.45 you get detailed instructions on how to pull together a fun, functional assortment of specialized goodies to literally bless the socks off of a family undertaking a long road trip, a novel vacation, a cross-country move ... whatever the circumstances are.

Travel Kits offer creative tips on what kind of container to use (my cardboard box wouldn't make much of an impression when held up against some of these neat ideas), how to include something special for mom and dad, and how to make the most of the individual event. It's a sweet "how-to" guide that your whole family will be excited about putting into action, especially since the kids can be actively involved in pulling together little lovies for their friends and family, too.

Having read this ebook, I'm inspired to revisit the idea of the blessing box for the sheer joy of sharing with others. Now I just need a friend to hit the road ...

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this product for review purposes. Refer to my general disclaimer for more information on my policies regarding reviews.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Manolin

Genesis 50:20
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.


Placed October 31, 2008. Adopted July 20, 2010.

Story to follow ...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tomorrow

Logan and Mani traipsing through the sprinkler

After tomorrow, I will never again have to post "photos with non-identifying features only" of any of my kiddos. By 3:45 p.m., Manolin will officially be a Blandings, and at that point, I can reveal to the world his adorable little face.

But, you know, I'll probably still sneak in a few "back of the head" shots ... if only because I admit that I've grown fond of them. :-)

But I won't have to. It will be a choice. And really, the choice is what makes all the difference.

Let the countdown begin!!!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Holland, revisited

I think I was in high school the first time I read the essay "Welcome to Holland," by Emily Perl Kingsley. It was printed in my local paper's Dear Abbey column one weekend morning, and I vaguely recall being somewhat interest in the analogy--having anticipated one thing, you end up with another. By allowing yourself to experience the new and unexpected "other," you find yourself embracing it, finding beauty, and, eventually, living in joy.

Kingsley's piece is one of those rare, enduring gems that follow you throughout life. Since my initial meeting with it, I've stumbled upon it countless times. I've had it arrive in my email inbox, seen it noted in publications, and heard it referenced often enough to realize that it's part of the common vernacular.

Now that I'm actually parenting a special needs kiddo, I find myself confronted with Kingley's optimistic analogy far more often than I'd like. Acquaintances who realize that Oliver is not quite the typical 3.5 year-old will often quip that we didn't get to Rome, but that Holland is a fine place. Family members smilingly reassure us that we'll find the right guidebooks to help us "see all the sights" at our new destination. Doctors and therapists ask us if we're familiar with the essay--as if this one piece of writing sums up their own philosophy of special needs parenting in a way everything else they have offered cannot.

And yet, for all of its ubiquitousness and acceptance, I have to admit: I am no longer a fan of the Holland analogy.

I feel like something of a traitor admitting this, but there it is. I can't quite put my finger on the why, but something about that particular point of comparison leaves me feeling hollow. Maybe it's something like my gut reaction to those well-meaning folks who pat me on the shoulder and assure me that I must be a very special mother for God to trust me with Oli? As if people who parent kids with special needs won a Holiness Lottery? As if I people are lining up to watch their children struggle through disabilities, difficulties, medical maladies, cognitive issues, autism?

So, so often we Christians see people who carry burdens we don't want and assign to them a particular place in the order of Everyday Saints. "She is so good with him. I could never be that patient." "I don't know how they manage with all of her issues. I can't imagine juggling all that." "Just mothering that little one looks like a full-time job. What a crown is waiting for her in heaven!" Watching a mother or father calm a tantruming pre-teen, seeing the care taken in patiently leading a clearly disabled child through relatively simple steps, listening to the litany of modifications necessary for a certain child to participate in a seemingly normal activity ... it all sounds like the work of selfless, hyper-attentive special parents. Not the kind of parents who deal day in and day out with issues no bigger than ear infection and skinned knees, but the moms and dads who know the best neurodevelopmentalists in the region and can easily rattle off a list of alphabet-soup diagnoses that are meaningless to the public at large.

Maybe most of these people are destined for mansions in heaven for their utter devotion to their special little ones. Maybe they never look at their baby and wonder "what if?" Maybe they don't ask God "Why?" Maybe it's never occurred to them--not for one, tiny moment--to long to see their child with the veil of those diagnoses lifted.

I am not one of those parents. For me, Holland is a rotten analogy. Truthfully, I'd love to go to Holland--or someplace like it--someday. I am a fan of the road less traveled, the path not taken, and the drum that beats to its own time. The place I find myself with Oliver, though, does not remind me of a set of landmarks that I should revel in. Rather, being Oliver's Momma has more to do with loving him exactly where he is while hoping, praying, and striving for him to be all that he can be.

And the Holland thing? Well ... it just implies a certain amount of acceptance that I'm not ready to surrender to. Yes--Oliver has special needs. He has cognitive delays, physical delays, medical issues, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, hearing loss. Those are the labels that tell me where he is today, right now, at this moment. If I begin to buy the Holland analogy, I'm afraid that I will look at those labels and decide that this IS Oliver. But for me, well ... I prefer to think that the REAL Oliver is locked inside the cage of those things. That maybe, with God's healing and grace, with patience and prayer, with hard work and opportunities, with all of us pulling together and giving him everything that we can ... maybe, some of those labels will no longer stick.

I was devastated earlier this week to receive an official evaluation that all but wrote off Oliver's future. At less than four years of age, professionals have decided that this beautiful blessing shows very little promise of blossoming into a productive, capable citizen. In other words, he will stay in Holland. He will enjoy the "slower pace" and simply be. He has no hope--none at all--of ever even dreaming of seeing the sights of Rome.

I, for one, refuse to accept that. God didn't give up on me; I will not give up on Oli. The Lord pursued me, fought for me, won me. Surely I can do as much for my beautiful, sweet, loving son?

I am not a Super Mom. While I was specially chosen to be Oliver's momma, I don't think it was because I possess any particular holiness that the average Christ-follower can't find within him or herself. If anything, it may just be because I am as stubborn as they come and the Lord knew that I would not take the news of Oli's diagnoses as a death blow. Oliver deserves a chance to shine. He deserves as many learning opportunities, as much love, and as warm a family as we can offer him. My heart tells me that sitting on my haunches and letting Oli stagnate would be nothing less than a sin.

He may someday rise far beyond everyone's expectations. And he may not. But, you have my word--it will not be because no one took the time to water this tender little shoot's potential.



Monday, July 12, 2010

Blossoming


I am so, so grateful that Jo is the one I walk through most "firsts" with. She is a resilient, confident, no-nonsense girl. Not much given to the drama that her age and gender often implies, my Jo has a huge helping of that special something that God seems to bestow sparingly. Call it chutzpah, call it poise ... whatever name it goes by, it almost always guarantees that Jo will come out shining, on top, and ready to go another round with whatever life dishes out.

Jo knows herself in a way that I didn't quite manage until well after my twenty-third birthday; even then, I'm pretty sure that backpedaled and wrangled with my emotions far more than she does. She is not conceited--but her confidence and ability to remain above the bickerings and posturings of her fellow junior high cronies can easily be misconstrued as such. Who, after all, expects a girl just shy of her 13th birthday to be invited to the pool party of the summer, to weigh the option and quickly decide that it's not for her? How else to take that firm, "No, thanks," if not as some kind of "above it all" attitude?

Not much given towards being defined by her peers, what's popular, or how things appear, Jo has remained pretty much the same practical-yet-sweet girl that she was at 6, 8, 10. Each year, the naysayers give me a wink and a nod and assure me that this, this is the year that my Jo will turn into the stereotypical teenager with a chip on her shoulder and a growing dislike for everything that Mr. Blandings and I stand for. They promise me that being with her friends will become her favorite past time, and that she will most likely threaten a starvation diet unless we cave in and give her a facebook account, a cell phone, her own lap top, more freedom.

It hasn't happened yet.

Yes, yes, we've seen changes. Jo is no longer as big a fan of her daddy's playful banter as she once was. (We gave her a code phrase to let him know when his teasing has gone too far. It seems to have helped.) She no longer feels the compulsion to play the rowdy games her younger brothers engage in. She prefers a good book to watching soccer with the family, although she doesn't mind bringing her book along so that she can be part of the crowd. And, of course, her morning prep time has skyrocketed, much to the annoyance of everyone else who shares that particular bathroom.

But along with these changes have come a firestorm of "firsts" that I never anticipated. A growing sense of purpose and joy in life. A vision for a future that holds so much. An ability to think far, far beyond today. A desire to see beyond one's self. And, for me ... well, a deepening of our mother/daughter relationship that has filled me in a way I never knew I would experience.

I have no idea what the future holds for and with Jo. But hear this, all of you moms of young girls who look ahead to the pre- and teen years with a growing sense of fear and dread: it doesn't need to be all drama and horror and gnashing teeth. Watching the blossoming of a young woman is, perhaps, one of the greatest gifts the Lord has given me to date. Embrace it.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Love


"I can't believe you're having another baby. Aren't your older kids horrified?"

"Poor Jo. Just when she needs to be the center of attention."

"How do your older kids feel with all those little ones getting into everything?"

"Don't you hate that you can never really give the older ones what they need when you're so focused on the younger ones?"

"I bet Jo hates being the family babysitter, huh?"

"I know the older ones miss out on a lot of opportunities because of the younger ones ..."

If I had a dime for every time someone implied that my older children were put at a disadvantage because of having younger siblings, well ... let's just say that we wouldn't have to settle for the dollar scoops when the family made a special outing to Baskin Robbins.

The wisdom of the world says that the older a child is, the more his family should focus on his needs. The less he should be involved/interested/interacting with younger siblings. The more self-focused he should become. This is The Way It Is. Call it one of the unwritten parenting laws.

The wisdom of the world says that by having young children and teenagers, I am screwing it up. Badly.

My older kids will resent the things asked of them. They will balk at the fact that they are not the center of gravity in the universe of our home. They will be less prepared for the world because they did not have all of the resources poured in their direction all of the time. They will be unable to form a real bond with the younger siblings. They will secretly hate the tots-to-teens make-up of our home. They will feel ignored, unimportant, abandoned, forgotten.

I'm not convinced that this is so.

Every day, I marvel at the connections between my almost-teen daughter and her 2 year-old brother. I watch 10 year-old Atticus delight in asking how much he will be able to do with Seven once he or she is on the scene. I see Oli glow when Logan comes downstairs in the morning, then collapse into a pile of giggles when Logan starts up their ritual tickle game.

I'm not certain, but I think this newborn-to-teen thing is doable. Perhaps--dare I say it--even preferable?

See, I have a handful of real-life acquaintances navigating these waters, as well as a few emaginary friends charting the same course. Ironically, their teens are among the best adjusted, most compassionate, least self-obsessed kids I know. These are the teenagers who think outside of their iPods, look to their family rather than their peer group, and show love without fear of embarrassment.

In short, they are the kinds of teens I want to raise.

As always, there's no guarantee that my children will follow in those footsteps. But you know what? I'm not afraid that graduating one while teaching phonics to another is a sure a recipe for parental failure as we are told to believe.

For further proof, check out these blogs:
A Baker's Dozen
Steppin' Heavenward
Choice Central

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mani's call

I am struck yet again by the way something as simple as a phone call can rearrange an entire day.

Even though the majority of my hours are currently spent making sure that my couch isn't blown away or allowed to trot off on its own, I still find that things have fallen into a certain rhythm. There is morning chore time, which I supervise from my chair at the kitchen table as I oversee breakfast for Oliver and Manolin and sip my decaf Earl Grey and nibble my toast. There is breakfast time for the rest of the crew, which I observe from the safety and incline of my couch. There is the silent lull of everyone's independent Bible time, during which I conduct a very simple devotional break for the tot set--on the couch, of course. Then there is math for everyone over the age of 8. I often squeeze in a morning check-in with Benny during that time. After that, the day flows quickly towards the lunch hour, with me laying on my left side on the couch or the floor and little people of various sizes consulting me with whatever crises has emerged, be it a train track that won't stay stuck or a hockey stick that refuses to bend into a passable curve or a story line that, frustratingly, has fizzled out.

Then there's lunch, which Jo makes unless she's otherwise occupied. The little boys then head off to naps, the big kids head back outside to play, and I get an hour and a half or so of completely uninterrupted time. Lately, I've been reading my Bible and a Voddie Bauchaum, Jr. book, then knitting some of the small squares that will eventually, maybe, someday, be part of a larger afghan I've been working on for over a year and a half. When I'm tired of that, I work on scheduling school stuff for the fall. And when I tire of that, I call for a child to bring me the contents of the dryer so that I can fold.

The afternoons tend to be a bit more lively. I need the help of the older children to arrange a hearty snack for everyone, especially since nice weather implies that I'm doling out snacks for my own brood plus whomever has ventured into the pick up soccer game constantly in motion on my back hill. Depending on how I'm feeling, I have Atticus or Logan drag a camp chair and blanket out onto the hill so that I can join the foray, or I send the older kids out and try to keep the younger ones happy with videos and Aquadoodles and puzzles and whatever else I can reach from my post on the couch.

If Mr. Blandings is not home, I am usually actively involved in making dinner. Jo is a competent cook, but her repertoire is limited. Note to self: passing on cooking skills isn't optional, it's essential. I wish I had stepped up my training in this area well before I got the ball rolling last December. As it is, Jo can make a simple meal (say, spaghetti) but the bigger things are out of her league. She's learning by trial and error ... something I hope she looks back on fondly. I hope.

And then, Mr. Blandings is home to finish off the day, leaving me to gestate some more on (you guessed it) the couch.

This, friends, is the face of bed rest. :-) Nothing exciting, but a predictable march of days nonetheless.

Until the phone rings, of course, and the entire monotony of the day is set spiraling into a dizzying "This is it!" of excitement.

We got the call, you see. Right in the middle of a transition from one expected, ordinary moment to another.

Mani's call.

His adoption date has been set. July 20th.

See how the mundane pales with just one little nudge from the outside? It's near to impossible to happily knit when your mind is whirling over the fact that in exactly two weeks, Manolin will be ours. Fully and forever ours. It's hard to sit still, let alone meekly rest on the couch. At least I have a distraction growing inside of me that makes waiting all the more exciting. Because even though I can't get up and twirl with joy, Seven can (and does). For now, I guess that's good enough.




Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ordered

I sat upright at my computer today long enough to type in my curriculum order for the fall. While I feel accomplished (one more box checked off before Seven arrives!) I also feel just a tad apprehensive. Who knows what this upcoming school year will look like? Certainly not me.

I looked over my well-planned order--scenes of a sweet newborn in my arms, Manolin no longer content to play happily on the sidelines, Oli transitioning to more time at the developmental preschool, Logan hitting that "voracious reader" stage, Atticus wanting something to physically build,
Jo teetering on the edge of high school, Bee quite possibly home ... this verse went through my mind:

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." --James 4:13-15


And that, I think, is something to keep in mind when planning a school year. You have no idea what will happen tomorrow, let alone next spring. Your kindergartner could learn to read. Or she could decide to spend an entire year perfecting her princess ballerina routine. You could love the science curriculum you bought. Or it could be a massive flop. Your homeschool could hit history daily ... or only manage it once every two weeks. Strap yourself in, enjoy the ride ... and if it's God's will, your plans might just come to fruition.