Saturday, May 23, 2015

Happy Birthday Caleb!

   
                          


       It's always the same story.....how can he already be five...and yet, it seems as if he's always been a part of our lives....time is weird like that.  But seriously, how is our little baby five years old?!  Craziness.  He is so full of life...so full of personality....excitement....humor (he sincerely just wants to make people laugh at all times)....and love.  He loves people....just can't get enough of being with friends, which is essentially everyone he meets, because everyone is his friend.....possibly even his best friend.  (Keira has given up asking how everyone can be his best friend....she has learned to just smile and give us "the look" when he claims another person is his best friend).

     So today was his birthday and his first ever "friends" birthday party.  We've had family parties, and done small things, but decided that for certain years we'd do a big-to-do.  Five seemed like a milestone and a time when he'd really understand and be excited about having his little (and big actually) friends come to celebrate with him.  I think we were...well, 1000% accurate on that one.  He is ecstatic!  He was a bit discouraged that we couldn't just invite everyone we met....you know, he'd play with a kid at playground, or on vacation in another state, and wonder why he couldn't invite them to his party.  However, otherwise, just pure excitement....which as a parent is so fun to enjoy.

        Superheros are totally his thing right now, so it was obvious we'd have a superhero party.  Thank you pinterest for the easy deceptively easy ideas that helped to make this happen!  No, it was fun really, spending the time to make the details meaningful and special.  He was up before me, as usual, and when I came downstairs, before I could even make it in to say happy birthday, I heard..."mama...did you forget something?!"  And to Levi...."Levi, say happy birthday to me!"  He is quite the character.  We waited for everyone to be up and ready and then let him open his gifts....more excitement......


And then the big surprise....I think we were maybe even more excited since we knew how excited and surprised he would be!  I asked if he remembered meeting this man before and he just nodded very seriously and said "the library".....and I asked if he remembered what he had....again another serious nod along with "animals".....he seemed to be in a state of shock that this man was here for his birthday with all his reptiles and animals.  He'd talked about this for months after seeing it at the local library, begging me to see it with him again.  I tried to explain it wasn't something that happened everyday and he probably wouldn't be back to the library for a while.  And then we figured since we wouldn't be doing this every year, we'd make his birthday really special, and surprise him with these creatures in his own house.  I think it was a success!  Pretty priceless really.....









                       This is just so Caleb....yeah, so, I have a reptile hanging out on my shirt.....
                     







  And then on to the eating, playing, present opening etc.....it was a beautiful day....thank you so much to everyone who made it special for our special little guy!





       So thankful for this precious gift God has entrusted to us....he brings so much joy to our lives, and has taught us so much....his sweet, sensitive, yet outgoing and people-loving personality is such a delight.  We love you sweet boy!!

                        *                                   *                                     *                                      *



        Yesterday we took 5 year photos at the park....our go-to place for yearly pictures.  It gets more fun each year as they get older and are able to show off their personalities and really enjoy the time together.  We spent almost two hours wandering around the park, enjoying nature and one another.  And while I did capture some adorable pictures of our sweet boy smiling for me on cue, my favorites were the ones where he was just being Caleb.....silly, goofy...trying to make me laugh....and succeeding.







Of course it was hard work so we had to stop for a cookie from the Farmers Market.....


                      And checked out every animal in the area......



He was really pleading through clenched teeth at this point to go play with a random cat walking by...
























Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Forever

      Forever.  навсегда.  Always.  бесконечный.  Infinitely.  No matter what.  Now.....when you're big......if you're nice....when you're not so nice.....when you listen, when you don't listen..... when you're happy, when you're sad....when you have your own family....if you go to college, if you don't......  We will always love you....you will always be our daughter....you will always be part of this family.

      Sometimes our conversations are the same as many we've had before.  How do you convey forever to one who has never had that certainty.  The concept is understood, but the application to real life is hard to grasp...hard to fully believe.  And while it seems to stick, it comes easily unglued at the slightest bump in the road.

      But this is not my house, she says.  "I not buy."  We try again to explain that this is our families home......she is part of our family, always will be.  "Really? Forever? I have room here forever?"  Yes sweet girl...forever.  "But.....what if you have no money and can't pay for house.....we live outside?  What if you had more kids and decided it was too much work....I go back to Ukraine?  What if".....and then stopping herself...."okay sorry, you say forever."  

      The longer she is home, the more memories we have together as a family of five.  The more pictures and videos of holidays and special events, that she sees herself in.  "Now there are Easter pictures with me in them......" she beams.  It's only been months, so forever is still hard to grasp....but each new milestone brings us all a little closer.....

      She lights up when she talks about her baby sister......the sister that will always know her......that she will be a part of her life from day one just like everyone else, is not something that has escaped her thoughts.....and it means a great deal to her.  Someone that will have lived their life with her presence....forever.....truly forever.  But not Caleb and Levi she reminds herself......and I try to help her understand that they will not remember life without their big sister.....but either way, forever more, she will be there sister.....

     Some nights are harder than others.....the memories flood in without warning.  Why don't they write me back.....why don't they care?  Missing those she loves and has left behind......grieving that there was not the forever she longed for.  And the questions come again, as the doubts pry at her still uncertain acceptance of the forever we insist is true.  All I can do is to tell her how sorry I am.....I grieve for her, but try to keep it together.  And remind her again and again how special she is....and how much we love her....how much God loves her.....always.  And through her tears she whispers..."mama, you little bit like Jesus."  I choke back tears and wait until I am in my room to let them free.  The mix of emotions overwhelms me.....humility as I heard her words echo in my head... undeserving and inadequate in so many ways of this gift, this child who loves us so easily and deeply, who trusts us and soaks in our love, and pours it back in return.....I am so far from being anything like Jesus....but oh how I want her to know His love, and I am so glad that she feels loved....that she knows we care.  And I hope and pray that the seeds planted about forever and always, have rooted a little deeper tonight.

   There's a song....from a movie maybe, I can't really remember when we heard it, but she pointed it out, relating it to us....."you and me together forever".... it goes....and I hear her happily singing these words often.....

    Life before was so different......most of what we teach is so contradictory to her former life, yet she soaks it in.  Memories usually include behaviors that we may teach aren't quite so appropriate, and she'll often share and then sheepishly apologize.  Some were beyond her control, and I try to help her see this....and others, sure they were choices, but in a place where you are so fearful and focused on survival, what can you expect?  I remind her these things were not her fault, and tell her how sorry I am.  She reminds me it is not my fault either.....smart kid.  And asks whose fault it is.  Oh the hard questions..... In the end, more reminders of our love.....no matter what has happened in the past, or will happen in the future....always always always, forever love.  This is always what she needs to hear.  

    With her entire world having changed, it's hard to believe how well this sweet girl has adjusted, attached, and acclimated to our way of life.  She questions things, yes.....but she always believes fully what we teach her.  As she's started school, been developing friendships with others, and we've been out and about more, she's noticed that everyone does not adhere to the same lifestyle...rules....guidelines...whatever you want to call them.  I found myself surprised that she believed that what we taught just must apply to everyone.  And also that she has no problem "teaching" others what is "correct!"  It's great when she reminds Caleb and Levi to thank me for something, or to apologize.....but a little more surprising when she's telling her friends to use their manners. : )  I love the innocence.  It's added a whole new dimension to teaching and training, however, as she looks at me in shock, or whispers her concerns to me, when others do not follow our same principles.  She's slowly realizing that yes, we do have high standards, and yes there are guidelines that we expect our children to follow....but not everyone around you will do the same.  And more importantly, there is a reason why, and that we will love her always regardless of any mistakes or misbehaviors.....and she is starting to see in a few areas of her life now, the importance and value to what we are teaching.  And also that in family, there is forgiveness and grace....we remind frequently that she is not perfect and neither are we..."only Jesus" she'll remember.  We are able to look back and laugh at her first time out and the silliness of some earlier behaviors....because she finally has a foundational understanding of forever...and love that was missing in the early days.....she understands that each time we correct and teach that we are not trying to belittle her nor does it mean we do not love her.....but rather that we are teaching because we love her.  And we care about what kind of forever she will have.    

     We had an incident the other day....it wasn't major in the grand scheme of things, but it was a first for her, and something we knew we had to take seriously the first time so as to avoid it in the future.  We could tell she was so disappointed in herself....like she messed everything up.  It was evident that we were disappointed and we made sure to express the seriousness of the situation, but maybe even more important and a greater opportunity in this situation, was being able to remind her that we loved her regardless.  I took her hands in mine and leaned down to look in her eyes, just as I do with the boys.  She didn't want to look at me.  I made sure to remind her first and foremost that we loved her....so much.  She shook her head, but it was nothing compared to the protests she would have given early on.  We talked about the importance of things like truth, trust and believing one another, and that there would be consequences, but that we loved her so very much.  Always. 

     That night she crawled into bed with a small folded piece of paper tucked in her stuffed animal.  She pretended to hide it, but I know she wanted me to see.  "What is it?" I asked.  I already knew.....  The tiny scrap of paper I'd written "we love you, see you soon" on when we left her in Kiev.  She clung to it as if it was the last bit of our love for her....some hope....I reminded her again and again that we love her so much.  That she would continue to make mistakes....and so would we.  That we would continue to teach her, and there may be consequences, but that we would love her forever.  I reminded her what a sweet girl she is and what a big heart she has and she scrunched her face and shook her head violently.  One mistake and everything can go down the drain.  We talked about trust and how important it is.  We talked about mommy and daddy having to teach these lessons, even when it's hard.  And as we often do, we ended up back at that morning.....the morning we left her in Kiev while she was still sleeping, to catch our flight home.  The morning after a week of constant fun and attention....her first real glimpse of family and having a mom and dad devote time, attention, affection....love...to her.  We'd said goodnight and goodbye (for now) the night before, and she knew we would be gone in the morning.....but she often retells the story of that morning and I know how much it affected her.  Waking up to find our room empty.....finding the note we wrote along with the candy she had wanted the day prior at the store....and sobbing....so broken that we had left her behind.  She wanted forever to begin right then.  The day we met her and she instantly called us mama and papa and said yes, she wanted to come with us.....why couldn't forever have started then.  I know some of the heartache and trials she went through during the waited periods without us there....I know that it took great courage to stand up for what she so desired.....  Again I tell her how sorry I am, and answer her questions about why it has to be this way....that we did not want to leave her, and we too cried as we left and waited in great anticipation for when we could return to bring her home....for forever.

    And here we are, eight months into our forever....it's taking time, as we knew it would....but I know she is starting to grasp it....to believe it....  I know we'll have these conversations time and again, and the reminders will continue to be needed frequently.  I can't imagine the despair of living without unconditional, unending love.....the pressure of having to earn it and fear that it would be taken away at my slightest mistake.  I am so thankful for the love of my family, that I've certainly taken for granted.  And most of all for the unconditional, unending, sacrificial love of my heavenly father....a love that promises forever in a way that no human ever could.  Though it may take time, my prayer is that this sweet girl will truly understand and grasp our always and forever love....but most of all, that she will accept and find her worth in the always and forever love of God.
     



Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever. Psalm 136:1

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Adventures With Levi

   I wasn't feeling well so we skipped out on our usual Sunday night at youth group with daddy.  The kids were outside playing with the neighbors, and I sat watching them.  It was a beautiful night....everyone playing so nicely together.....me dreaming of early bedtimes and getting to sleep early myself.  Just after seven, I decided we'd get an early start and try to make those dreams a reality.  There were no arguments....everyone agreeably said goodbye to their friends and came inside.....even got themselves ready for baths/showers without my constant nagging....I was feeling seriously spoiled.....and thankful....and like maybe this was too good to be true?

   I had my back to Levi as I put the days dirty clothes into the hamper and got ready to bathe the boys.  Out of nowhere he started screaming and crying....not too unusual from this easily frustrated guy who can't always communicate as he so desires.....but as I turned I saw blood squirt out from somewhere....what?!  All I could guess was that he hit the corner of the wall directly behind him because he had a gash in his head....Keira was standing beside me, now panicking, and I ran to grab a rag to hold against the wound.  Caleb was in the bathroom, ready for his bath, so when I ran in...now covered in blood myself....he too began to panic.

    I looked around, assessing the situation....I couldn't usher everyone into the car because...well for one, my children were barely clothed...and secondly I had to hold Levi and keep the rag compressed to his wound.  It was soaking through fast, and making me more and more nervous.  Caleb and Keira were hysterical at this point, poor Levi was crying, but starting to calm down.  Keira ran in asking if I needed oils and holding a neosporin essential oil alternative I'd made for cuts.....I almost laughed.  So sweet.

   I asked Caleb to run as fast as he could downstairs to grab my phone.  He was sobbing, but I don't think I've ever seen him move so fast.  He was back upstairs in seconds with my phone in hand.  I called my parents and they were on their way immediately.  The bleeding finally started to subside, and Levi started acting like himself....actually, he was laughing.  Yes, laughing.  I'm not sure what struck him so funny at that point.  I wish he would have shared with us.  Caleb and Keira continued to wail...but Levi just laughed.  I grabbed some pj's for Levi and left my dad to take care of the chaos at home.  My mom, Levi and I headed to the hospital.

   We're only a few minutes from home when we hear sirens....so naturally we pull over to let them by......or not.  Oh right...they're pulling us over.  I didn't think we were going that fast.  My mom doesn't think so either.  We're experiencing a little tunnel vision I guess.  The cop sits in his car as they often do at first, so I open my window and try to shoo him towards us with my hand...you know to make him hurry up.  I'm sure he thinks we're insane at this point (to which Luke later agreed when I relayed the story).  He says something about being careful because we don't want to get into an accident on top of things, and we're on our way.

   We wait in the ER....Levi's charming everyone as usual....acting like the perfect patient as he often does.  His curiosity is a blessing in anew and different situations because he just becomes in awe of everything around him.  They put the little tape on his finger and he marveled at it for what seemed like forever.  They're asking me questions...you know his name...middle initial...the usual.  I give the wrong middle initial and have to correct myself a moment later.  Seriously, I do know my kids names I try to reassure her.

    We're waiting in our room now, having to hold this numbing goop on his head for 30 minutes, and Levi's diaper gives way.  Oh yeah...I was supposed to be changing him and giving him a bath....now he and my mom are wet.  Fantastic.  I should also add that in this crazy series of events, Levi actually decided to tell me that he had to use the potty....um really.....this never...NEVER happens....and I had to tell him to just go in his diaper.....

    Levi's giving sweet "hi's" and "bye's" to anyone and everyone that enters or leaves.  One nurse comments on his cute bear pajamas....and "ohhh they even have tongues on the feet....oh wait...."  Nope...those are his toes sticking out....one hole in each foot where his big toe is.....when did that happen?!

    They put the staples in and he's seriously still being the perfect patient.  I cringe....it just seems wrong to staple one's body parts, never mind your head.  Nevertheless I'm thankful it's over.  Levi says bye and leans in to kiss the woman who just stapled his head.  He then points to the nurse who was helping and she comes over to collect her kiss.  I can imagine many of you who love on this little boy and have invested much into him, with confused and maybe hurt looks on your faces as you read this.  You, like me, have probably been the recipient of a slap, or maybe some spit to the face.....and you likely had not just finished putting staples in his head.  What can I say?  That's my little boy.  Crazy tornado one second, and the sweetest love you'll ever meet the next.

     We take our now very wet boy with holey pj's, a new middle initial and now staples in his head, home.....he's tired, but just as happy as can be.....I laugh and think, now that's grace....he is one special little guy.  Life is certainly an adventure with Levi!


Family Vacation!

The plan was to take our first family vacation as a family of 5 during the summer.  I should know better.  The new plan is to have this baby at the start of the summer and not attempt a family vacation with a newborn.  So we decided to take a vacation, our first and last before our family grows once again, this spring and return to Rocking Horse Ranch where we visited last year with the boys.  Since we loved it so much and knew it would be good for all ages, it just made sense, and I'm so glad it worked out this way!  It was such a special time for us to get away and just focus on each other without any distractions.  They're all at great ages to really enjoy just about everything the ranch has to offer, so they dove in and enjoyed everything wholeheartedly....which as parents, is so fun to watch!


Soooo much jumping, and flipping...and jumping and flipping.....


Even this guy was much more brave this year, doing his first back flip!  He had a spiderman shirt on the first time and everyone was calling him spiderman.  As we walked away he whispered to me...."they really think I'm spiderman mama!"


After a couple days of observation, Levi decided he was tired of watching.  The staff were so patient and sweet with him as he stood there, refusing to jump or bend his legs!  


They swam and swam and swam....often playing with the other kids there and soon making friends that they played with throughout the week....so cute!



          We spent a lot of time at the playground and Levi loved every second in that sand box!


           
           She is so sweet, always including him and making sure he gets to be a part of everything!


Every night there is a show with some type of entertainer....the kids loved getting to dance before it started....we enjoyed getting some good laughs.....



I'll spare Caleb and Keira as they may not enjoy the general public seeing their dance moves (who am I kidding, Caleb would love it...but Keira is in them too)...but Levi won't mind....for now....





Our kids are big nature/outdoor lovers, so this really is the perfect place.....



Her first family vacation....she said it reminded her a little bit of our time in Kiev, though this was better....so nice to be able to just love on them and make memories together! 




                     The weather could not have been any more beautiful for being outdoors!


 He couldn't reach the pedals....and my legs hit my ever growing belly every time I pedaled.....this pairing was not too well thought out, but I got a good workout in and of course enjoyed time with this sweet boy!


I made sure to take my big helper the next time :)  We were actually on an adventure to find the balls that she had accidentally hit into the lake....we didn't have much success but had ourselves some good laughs...it's so much fun having a daughter! 


A relaxing ride on a kayak suited Caleb much better!


                                                     We all took our turn shooting.....


Keira caught on fast....she's determined when she tries new things....and she did really good (much better than I did)!





                                               Waiting for our horse drawn wagon ride....



                                                               I. JUST.


ADORE.


THEM.


       Caleb wanted to play rock, paper, scissors while we waited....though I'm not sure he'd ever done so before.  Luke said "shoot" at the end and Caleb instinctively held up his "gun."  He was baffled when Luke asked what he was doing.  Oh how I'll miss this age of innocence (and lots of laughs).


        And of course there was horse riding....pony rides for the boys, but this year we were able to take advantage of the trail rides since Keira is old enough.  She was beside herself with excitement.  The first day, her horse sort of had his own ideas....he left the line and went his own way in the beginning....poor girl, she looked so bewildered.  Luke said she looked scared the entire time, but she came back raving about how fun it was!  Day two she was much more at ease :)


                                         They are always SO serious when riding....




What is this, you may ask?  Oh just our caterpillars in their chrysalis...of course they hadn't emerged by the time we had to leave, but were set to do so any day....so they came along......


And of course, within a couple of days, they emerged......  It's a good thing we sleep with a sound machine or we would have gone nuts listening to them all night.  


We've made progress!  We were able to get through an entire game of mini golf, while all staying at the same hole and waiting for one another.....crazy!  As for progress in our skill....not so much.





So fun to see this boy tackle things that he wouldn't have dared just a year ago....and do really well at them too!


              Keira, Caleb and Luke were playing wii so Levi walked over to the worker at his desk, grabbed his hand and pointed to the oversized Connect Four.  He's so bossy!  But this kind man humored him and spent quite a while playing...so sweet!





        Her first time toasting marshmellows....the first few may have been a bit overdone....and ohh the faces over the smoke and heat.....too cute.


         And from Levi we heard "hot, hot.......hot......hot.....hot...." with some pointing to the fire and some more "hot....hot....."  He likes the words he has mastered.


            Caleb prepped the marshmallows on the stick ....and then ate them.  No toasting allowed.


                                                            Checking out the animals



      Let's just say none of us slept very well the last night......so everyone piled in our bed that last morning...but they're still all smiles! (Well almost all..)  I love the appropriateness of Luke's shirt....



      The last thing we did before leaving was to release our butterflies in this field.....they were SO excited and enjoyed the culmination of this project (I would so recommend doing this...it's the simplest thing!)  They chased the butterflies around the field until we couldn't find them anymore, and then headed home....   I'm so thankful for this time away together and the memories we made!