Kari and I went into the summer with a blank slate… no calendar, no agenda, no plans. We had a few things we wanted to do and a few things we needed to do, but mostly our aim was to just bond together as a family. Having no idea what state our family would be in… like, would our bio kids be insane, or would our adopted kids try to run away every time we opened the front door…? We decided to not get too crazy-organized with summer plans. Overall, we just wanted to have some fun and make some memories doing what “normal” families do. Thankfully, our family is doing, on the whole, fairly well. Summer was a good season for us.
We spent a good deal of time in West Michigan at the beach. Such great times playing with friends and family! We ate at our favorite Dutch restaurant, Russ’, a few too many times. It’s hard to go anywhere else when you can feed a family of 7, with drinks and a delicious pie to take home, for under $40. We love Russ’… We tend to get a lot of unique looks there, however, along with warm smiles as well! The best comment we overheard at a table of three 75+-year-old women talking amongst themselves was, “Wow, they’re just sooooo dark!”
Here at home, the kids participated in soccer camps and spent time at the community pool. We went to a Kane County Cougars game, and Brayden and I got to go to Great America to celebrate his book reading accomplishments during the school year.
One of the personal highlights for me each summer is taking Brayden and Wyatt on our annual father-son camping trip. I debated and prayed about including Caleb this year on our trip. I felt a real peace about just taking B & W, and I’m so glad I did. They desperately needed a break from the adoption and new siblings craziness. We spent 3 days on North Manitou Island in Lake Michigan. It was an awesome trip and great time to reconnect with just the older two boys. We’re planning on Caleb joining us in 2014!
Just when you thought the paperwork was done and all the adoption bills were totally paid… Whomp, whomp! There’s more!
But, in all seriousness, August 13 was actually a big day for us. All 7 of us traveled to downtown Chicago for adoption court. Not every state does re-adoption, and it’s not a requirement, but it is highly recommended by most people. Our agency has a great lawyer they work with, so we decided to go for it. Working with this attorney and through the Illinois court system, we went through the legal process to adopt Caleb and Izzy in Illinois. This allowed us to legally change their names, get Illinois birth certificates, and have all the other documentation they may ever need (passports, social security cards, etc.) all in their correct names, linked to an American birth certificate. This makes life a lot smoother and easier for them whenever legal paperwork is required. For example, to get a driver’s license, play in Little League, or enroll in college.
We decided to take the train down to Chicago all together. It was a lot of fun.
The whole family entered the court room, we raised our right hands, went under oath, and all stood before the judge for questioning. Surprisingly, the judge actually asked a lot of questions, spending most of her time talking with Brayden and Wyatt about Kari and I, our family, and their siblings. Our boys did awesome, and we were so incredibly proud of them. They seemed so grown up and so brave standing in front of a judge in the Daley Center in downtown Chicago, answering questions about their home, family, and adoption. This father’s heart was bursting with pride as my boys talked about how they love Caleb and Izzy, and where they go to school, and about their church. The judge was full of smiles and satisfaction. We were quickly approved, and we celebrated the occasion with some Garrett’s Chicago Mix Popcorn on our way back home on the train.
13 years of marriage…
This summer, on July 8 to be exact, Kari and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary. We were planning a 10-day trip to Tahiti (ha, ha!), but instead opted for a night out in Grand Haven, MI, while my mom and dad watched the kids for a few hours. We had a great time, enjoyed some delicious food at a new local restaurant, and even got to catch the Musical Fountain, but left early because it seemed like it was “Katy Perry Night” or something.
Each day I’m more amazed at how good God has been to us. How faithful He has been and what an adventure He has taken us on. From Wheaton College, to LeaderTreks, to Zambia, to HoneyRock, back to LeaderTreks, 5 kids, adoption… The list goes on and on. He has been so faithful and good. Just the other night as Kari and I were making dinner together for the family, I asked her, “Did you ever think 13 years ago that you’d have 5 kids and be loading an extra-large cookie sheet with 50 fish sticks for dinner?” We both laughed. We wouldn’t have it any other way!
60 years of marriage…!!
One of the highlights this summer was being able to celebrate Kari’s Grandma and Grandpa’s 60th wedding anniversary in northern Indiana. Over 100 people, friends and family, came to celebrate their faithfulness to each other and their amazing marriage. What an encouragement to everyone there, hearing how God was and continues to be the center of their marriage. Such a blessing and legacy for our family.
Back To School…
I think Kari was just as, if not more, excited than the kids to have school start. By the end of summer, we were all desperate for some change, some routine, and some structure. Kari especially had had just about enough of all 5 kids at home! Kari was one of the select few moms who shed not one tear as 4 of her little ones headed off to school. I actually think she gave me a high-five and had a mini-celebration for herself!
Kindergarten has been great for Caleb. The structure and routine are so good. He loves his teacher and his classmates. He and Annika are in the same 1/2-day class, so it works out really well. Annika is thriving too. The big boys are off and running also, loving their teachers and seeing old friends and making new ones.
The transition to school has been a little rough for Izzy. She’s only 4, so she can’t go with the other kids, and she feels left out… That’s been hard for her. She enjoys the time with mom, but she really wants to just be like the other kids.
How’s it going…?
We still have so many friends, especially those who have adopted older kids, encouraging us, praying for us and asking, “How’s it going?” Still, in so many ways things are going great, better than expected in many ways. We are still not “out of the woods” yet, by any stretch of the imagination. We feel, in many ways, the “honeymoon” period starting to end, and we’re moving into real life. There is still a lot of hurt and pain and struggle that’s going on in Caleb and Izzy… especially Izzy. The other night she could hardly keep it together emotionally. She was tired, but ultimately just sad about something. After talking with her, and hugging her and holding her, I learned that she was just “missing my old house (the orphanage),” I know, I know… It’s hard not to shake her and say, “WHAT?!? How can you say that?! Your old house was a dump, where you got no food, no love, slept on the floor, and were absolutely miserable.” Amazingly, God gives you the patience to not say that, but to lean in, hug tighter, listen, and try to understand. Her world has been ROCKED, and she’s got pain and stuff she’s dealing with. It is just HARD on some days. The next morning she’s running around in a tutu, playing Barbies, and loving life. This is the roller coaster we are on right now. We pray for healing. We pray for God to give us grace and understanding.
As we begin to move past the honeymoon phase, we’ve also noticed more from Caleb and Izzy that they realize they are black kids living in a white family in a predominately “white world.” We have not faced any direct intentional racism… yet. But we know it is coming. We also know the time is coming when someone asks Caleb, “Why is your mommy (or daddy) white?” We know the time is coming when we need to talk about slavery, Martin Luther King Jr., white privilege, racism, etc. But right now, we’re dealing more with situations when Izzy points out every black person she sees… at the pool, at the store, in a movie, or in the pages of the book. Her reaction is usually loudly saying, “Look, Daddy… black skin, like me!” It’s normal, it’s okay, and we talk about God making all people, God loving all skin colors, and “how cool it is that God lets me, a white dude, be the daddy of a cool girl with black skin like you.” We know more is coming, so we just keep praying for the ability to deal with the race stuff well.
We’re also still deep in the “food issues world.” Both Caleb and Izzy had inadequate care until they were adopted, and we know and can tell that they were inadequately fed. We can see that previous food was used by their caregivers to punish, control, and get good behavior. We know that they had to fight for food and were often not fed fairly. Caleb and Izzy may deal with the effects of this early unkind and severe treatment their whole lives. We pray they won’t, and we pray for healing. Honestly, it’s starting to get really old and exhausting dealing with food. They still don’t trust us that there will be enough, obsessed with who has what food, and why and what food they do get. At EVERY meal, one of them, or both, will ask, “After I eat this chicken, can I have more chicken?” when they haven’t taken one bite of the huge pile of chicken on their plate yet. It’s just a weird, hard, patience-testing experience. We’ve had to completely change many things about how we used to eat meals and deal with food before Caleb and Izzy were in our family. We know some of these changes have been hard and frustrating for our biological kids, but we roll with it.
On a positive note, we see such awesome progress with attachment. Both Caleb and Izzy are deeply and thoroughly attached to Kari and I. Their behavior with other adults is improving as well. They are learning appropriate boundaries, and cultural norms and normal behavior is getting better too. It’s also worth noting that they are doing incredibly well with English. Wow! Their new favorite phrase is, “Man, you’re totally freaking me out!”
Thanks for all your love, care, and support and for letting us be open as we journal our experience through this blog.