Thursday, March 31, 2011

The T21 Traveling Afghan

We really enjoyed our week with the T21 Traveling Afghan. This is a special blanket that has been passed around to families all over the world that have a child with Down syndrome. It is such a wonderful tangible reminder of the common bond we share.

Antalya loved cuddling up with it in the afternoons to watch a show or read books (Victoria liked it too).

We had fun throwing it over our heads and making up games to play with it.

And it got to travel with us to our speech therapy/playgroup sessions.

To see where else the T21 Traveling Afghan has been, click here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Count It Backwards

My conversation with Antalya last night at bedtime.

Me: Will you go pick 3 books.
A: No, 10!
Me: You want to read 10 books?
A: 9.
Me: You want 9 books?
A: 8
Me: 8 books?
A: 7
Me to Jason who was in the room: Are you hearing this?
Me to A: You want 7 books?
A: 6
Me: 6 books?
A: 5
Me: 5 books?
A: 4
Me: 4 books?
A: 3
Me: 3 books?
A: 2
Me: 2 books?
A: 1
Suddenly Jason and I break out in cheering so loud you would have thought we won the lottery! Antalya loved all the praise and was beyond thrilled with herself. What made the moment even better was that she showed us a new skills without any prompting from us - in fact, I had no idea she could count backwards. Not sure if this is something she has been working on at school, or if she just happened to figure it out in the moment. My Talya is always full of surprises!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sheridan's Visit - Isle of Wight

We really packed it in while Sher was here. Less than 12 hours after returning home from our trip to Northern England, we were all piled back into the car and headed down to the Portsmouth on the southern coast to catch a ferry to the Isle of Wight. Jason took the day off to come with us!

The girls loved the ferry ride! I kept hearing, "boat, boat", "water, water"! And if that wasn't exciting enough, there also happened to be a dog on board which the girls were thrilled about!
(Not sure why Victoria looks so sad in this picture - she really was loving it)

Isle of Wight was beautiful. It reminded me a lot of Ireland with it's narrow hedge-lined roads and little cottages.

We visited Osbourne House which was built by Queen Victoria as a holiday home for her family. This is also where she came to mourn the death of her husband, and where she later died.

We spent the later bit of the afternoon at Alum Bay throwing rocks into the English Channel.
alum bay

And as the sun was setting we were back on the ferry and heading home.

It was a whirlwind week with Sheridan, but I am so grateful she was able to come visit and that we could see so much while she was here.

Sheridan's Visit - Trip Up North

Although Sheridan is American, her mom is English, and all of that side of her family still lives here in England. I was thrilled when Sheridan invited me and the girls to Hartlepool with her to visit her grandparents and other family members.

We stopped in York on the way up for lunch. York Minster was breathtaking. It is one of the largest Gothic Cathedrals in Northern Europe. And we took a walk through the narrow medieval streets know as the shambles.

We spent a day and a half at her grandparents home. Sheridan and I have been friends for many years now, and it was so fun to finally meet her English family. I felt right at home from the moment we walked in. Hartlepool is right on the coast of the North Sea so we got to make a trip to the beach too.

Enjoying our morning toast.

The moment the girls saw the water they started running towards it, and didn't stop until they reached it.
But the water was so cold, that their smiles instantly turned to tears.
But nevertheless, we had an enjoyable time - it just didn't involve playing in the water like the girls were hoping.

Sheridan's Visit - London

It was so much fun having my friend Sheridan visit last week. And the weather was absolutely unbelievable - sunshine eight days in a row. I think we hardly even saw a cloud the whole time she was here.

Here is some of what we did in London while she was here.

A trip to the Olde Sweet Shoppe put a smile on everyone's face, although I was disappointed when Sheridan told me my favorite sweet tastes like wax. To each their own, right?!

Shops on High Street near our home.

"Bumming" around Hampstead Heath

Dinner at a cute Italian restaurant. I tried gnocchi for the first time and loved it!

The English are getting very excited about the Royal Wedding coming up next month. William and Kate are everywhere you turn. And I just saw today that there is a DVD that will be released the week of their wedding outlining their "fairy tale romance". I'm not all that into the royal hype (I'm American, what can I say?), but it will be nice to have another school holiday.

In China Town we bought some Emperor's Dessert. The white strands are made from honey, and are wrapped around nuts. When we asked how the strands were made, the lady replied with a big smile and Chinese accent, "Yes, honey made it!" So, there you have it - I've no idea how the white strands are made, but there are most definitely made from honey!

Jason watched the girls for an entire day so could spend it sight seeing. We walked all over London, and took a boat tour down the Thames River, and made it to the theatre that night. It was an awesome day!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Kirill's Story

I have been saddened by the story of this sweet little boy. My prayers go out to the Davis family that hearts will be softened and they will be able to bring their son home. You can follow Kirill's story at Our Eyes Opened

Two years ago Greg and I began praying for God to do whatever he wanted with our lives. We handed him a “blank check” so to speak, and told him to cash it. He opened our eyes to children with disabilities wasting away across the ocean in Eastern Europe. We joined God and started our adoption journey.

Our family is more than equipped to handle a child with special needs. I have a degree in Early Childhood Education. I am a member of the Board of Directors of Best Buddies of Alabama. I have volunteered for RISE and Eagles’ Wings. All of these organizations serve individuals with special needs. My husband I have close friends and family who have special needs and we are a big part of each other’s lives. Our wedding party included some of these special people. Our involvement with individuals with special needs led us to adopt a child with special needs; specifically, we chose Down Syndrome.

As we prayed over the faces of thousands of orphaned children with Down Syndrome, we ultimately chose a little boy named Sergey from Russia. Eight months later, as we neared the finish line of our adoption, one of Sergey’s family members in Russia stepped forward to adopt him. We were heartbroken for our loss, but God showed us that we were following him, and his ways are perfect. We knew we still wanted to adopt, so the way we saw it, two children would find homes because of our journey…Sergey went to his family and now we would choose another child to come into our family. We took great comfort in knowing that God could see this when we first committed to Sergey! We were honored to be a part of his plan.

Shortly after losing Sergey, we received a new referral with a grainy photo of a four-year-old blond-haired boy wearing pink glasses named Kirill. We were instantly in love with him. We had to re-file a lot of our paperwork because of the change in referrals and regions of Russia, but we were fast and we thought we were looking at three more months at the most until we would have Kirill home.

That was well over a year ago.

Since then so many things have happened. A tragic story of an adoptive mother sending her child back to his country alone on a plane with a note pinned to his shirt rocked our world…he was from Russia. Adoptions in Russia came to a screeching halt. Kirill’s region stopped processing adoptions for eight long months. The judge refused to accept any Amercian adoption cases until an official treaty was signed between the United States and Russia.

Even though we wouldn’t be able to finalize the adoption in court until the treaty was signed, we were allowed to go visit Kirill and sign our official petition to adopt him in August 2010. We fell more deeply in love with him. This was our son.

During that time, we found out that Kirill is the first child from his region EVER to be adopted with Down Syndrome. A birth mother keeping her child with Down Syndrome is unheard of in this area of the world. Adoptions of children with Down Syndrome just don’t happen there, these children are literally hidden away from society in orphanages and mental institutions. As our process continued, it became apparent that Kirill would be a pioneer. If our adoption was approved, it would pave the way for other children with special needs to be adopted from this region.

Then, a miracle happened around Christmas and the judge in this region suddenly changed her mind and began processing American adoptions again. We were elated. Could this be the light at the end of a very long tunnel? I was somewhat nervous about Kirill being the first child adopted with Down Syndrome from his region, but our agency was very confident that if we got a court date, our adoption would be approved. In seventeen years, they had never had a case rejected IF the family was issued a court date. We were told not to worry, so I didn’t. After meeting the judge’s requests for several supporting court documents, we were finally granted a court date-March 17, 2011. St. Patrick’s Day…I was thrilled. This would be our new favorite holiday! Our son was coming home!

Our other son, Clayton, who had just turned three when we started this adoption process, has prayed fervently for his brother. He is now almost five. When we told him Kirill was coming home, oh my…we had an excited big brother on our hands! At one point he even went to his room, dumped out his toy cars and divided them into two stacks…one for him and one for Kirill.

Last week, as we sat in the courtroom and suffered through five agonizing hours of difficult questioning, we were not prepared for anything but an approval of our case. Two doctors, two social workers, and the Minister of Children’s Services all made very strong statements on our behalf. They fought for us. Hard.

But when the ruling was read, the judge said, “Your application to adopt is rejected.” The basis given was that Kirill was “not socially adaptable” due to his “medical condition” and he was better off in an institution than in a home with a family. As the judge read her ruling, she stated several times that we were a good family, that we met all the criteria to adopt a child, but that she would not approve our adoption because Kirill has Down Syndrome. She told us that we could adopt another child, because legally our application had no problems according to Russian adoption law. She said she would approve our adoption for a “typical” child, but not this child. Why? The only reason? Because he has Down Syndrome. Even though we were approved by our home study and by the USCIS to adopt a child with special needs. It makes no sense whatsoever. Denying a child a family because he has Down Syndrome is a violation of human rights at its most basic level!

It was like a terrible dream. We were so unprepared for this outcome. As we left the courthouse in a mental fog, the doctors and social workers that had testified came to us and said, “If you appeal, we will fight for you. Appeal. Fight this decision.” Of course we were going to appeal…I could no more walk away from our biological son, Clayton, at this point. Kirill is just as much my son.

So here we are, asking God to move the mountain that is standing between Kirill and us as we appeal to the Supreme Court in Moscow. There are also three other families who are in various stages of adopting children with Down Syndrome from Kirill’s region; one of the families has a court hearing set for next week.

We are hoping that someone will hear our outcry and help us bring our son and these other waiting children home. His adoption will set the precedent for many other children in his region. There are 98 children in his orphanage with special needs alone. It is one of many orphanages in this region that houses children with special needs. This is about more than just one child, the lives of hundreds of children with special need are at stake. Please help us.

Our Turn!

The T21 Traveling Afgan has arrived! We are so excited to have our turn with this special afghan that has traveled across many states and countries visiting little ones who share one common bond - Down Syndrome.

As I type, Antalya curled up with the afghan, sound asleep on the couch, getting a much needed nap after a very fun, yet exhausting week.

Sheridan left early this morning. We had such fun having her visit and got to see lots of new places. Since Monday we have been all over London, driven to Northern England to visit her grandparents and see the North Sea, and then driven back down to the southern tip and hopped a ferry over to the Isle of Wight.

Victoria just woke up...I'll post some pics this week. Stay tuned for more adventures with the afghan!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Girl Time

What could possibly be better than a girl's night out?

Having your best friend come stay at your house for an entire week!

Sher arrived this morning and I am so excited to have a girl friend around the house for awhile. I tried to find a picture of the two of us on my computer, didn't find it, but found this cute one of Antalya wishing Sher a happy birthday a couple years ago and couldn't resist posting it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring Fevers

The sun has come out and all the daffodils are in full bloom. It is absolutely beautiful outside. I'll repeat what I said last year about this time, that London in the springtime is one of the most beautiful places I've seen.
We have been in all weekend with fevers, coughs, and all sorts of yuckiness. I'm hoping this is our last major bug for the winter.

In the late hours of last night as I was rocking Antalya, trying to calm her, and waiting for her fever to break so we could both get some much needed sleep, I couldn't help but think - as most mothers do - that I would do anything to help her feel better. The fact that I felt like death-warmed-over myself meant nothing when Antalya was suffering and needed me by her side.

Which made me think of the people of Japan and the awful things they are going through right now. I have complete faith in the resurrection and that the way has been prepared for us to be with our loved ones again one day, and I can accept that suffering is part of this life - something we must all pass through, but what breaks my heart is thinking of the children, and as a parent having to watch your child suffer.

What choice would one have if the tsunami alarm sounded and your little ones weren't with you? I'm sure most mothers of little children feel as I do that I am completely irreplaceable in their lives. No one else knows that Victoria must have her sippy cup, doggie, dolly, and puppy all wrapped tightly in her arms before she will fall asleep, or that after her bath, Antalya likes to be wrapped up tightly in a towel and held like a baby while I sing, "I've been working on the railroad." No one else understands intuitively what my little girls want, but can't quite explain. I can't imagine not being there to hold them when they are sick, or kiss their owies, or tuck them in at night.

So tonight, my prayers go out to all the little ones across the world that are without their mommys to tuck them in, and kiss them, and tell them how special they are.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Doctor, Doctor

I love the English school system! In fact, I could go on and on about how wonderful it has been to be here during Antalya's preschool years. The thing I love most is how individualized it is - or at least our experience has been.

Many of you know of Antalya's extreme anxiety whenever she enters a doctor's office or anything that resembles such. For the last six months or so I have really made it a focus to help her get over her anxiety and be alright with a doctor visit. Her school has played a huge part in this too. The have set up doctor play areas, and frequently send Antalya home with a book about visiting the doctor.

Today, all our efforts culminated. Antalya, two of her classmates, Antalya's aid Michelle, and myself headed to a nearby doctor's office. As soon as she realized where we were she started freaking out and wanting to run away, but she quickly realized that everyone was calm and that her classmates were actually have a good time. And that was all it took!

She listened to my heart with a real stethoscope, she stood on the scale, sat on the patient bed, measured how tall she was, got her blood pressure taken (or as well as you can on your forearm), and even let the nurse look in her ears. It was incredible!

I know for a lot of kids this would be no big deal, but for Antalya, today was huge! It will have me smiling for several weeks at least! And the timing couldn't be more perfect - tomorrow Antalya has a dentist appointment. With any luck she will think it is a continuation of today and be excited to see all the new things.