Our First Two Weeks Home
Team Odell Junior - China Crew 2015.

Team Odell Junior – China Crew 2015.

Watching the most exciting two minutes in sports!

Watching the most exciting two minutes in sports!

The first two weeks home with Carrigan have been filled with ups and downs, two steps forward, one step back. There are good times where we seriously consider re-using our Dossier and going back to China to do this all over again, and other times where it feels like we have a hundred kids and I think I should instead make an appointment for Joey to have a vasectomy. Our lives switch between an episode of “Leave it to Beaver” but with a much larger family, to a crazy clip from the “Family Circus” funnies multiplied exponentially. When someone isn’t spilling something or throwing a fit, there is someone grabbing my leg to simply give me a kiss and a sweet new son who loves to climb up on my lap and say, “Mama, I wub yooo”.

'Nuff said.

‘Nuff said.

Yeah, he's cute.

Yeah, he’s cute.

Our most difficult times with Carrigan center on bedtimes. He hates going to bed and seems afraid of sleeping- maybe it’s that he doesn’t know where he will wake up, maybe he is having nightmares (he does thrash around a lot in his fitful sleep), or maybe he is afraid he will wake up and this will all be just a dream. We think he may be having some night terrors/ PTSD type issues that surface around sleep times since he seems only semi-coherent during some of his fits at night, and he has wet the bed a handful of times during these episodes. He’s been “waking up” almost at midnight on the dot in a full-blown tantrum that lasts about 20 minutes. It’s hard because there is nothing we can do to calm him down but wait it out. We weren’t getting a lot of sleep before Carrigan came home, and we really aren’t now. We have yet to come up with a good sleeping arrangement for him that makes the situation any better. We started out with a toddler bed for him next to our bed, but he falls out of it nearly every night. We have tried having him sleep with us, which he seems to prefer, but he kicks and hits us constantly in his sleep, which has sent Joey downstairs to the couch, so it’s not a habit we want to start. We have switched him to the playpen in our room since he also fell out of our bed onto the hardwood floor, but he hates that option, too. Our ultimate goal is to get him to sleep on the trundle pull-out in the boy’s room with Corin and Griffin, but we’ve got a ways to go before that happens. Our latest is pulling the trundle right up to our bed and staying next to him until he falls asleep and reaching out to hold his hand next to us in the night when he wakes up whimpering. Nap time is non-existent for this kid. We need him to at least lie down for rest time like all of our other children 5 and under, but he screams almost the entire time. We don’t know how a child who is so exhausted cannot sleep- he has not napped since we’ve had him- not even with jet lag, and he wakes up at the crack of dawn. It really is incomprehensible how he can go on such little sleep- it’s no wonder he throws so many fits.
The dog has limited tolerance for Carrigan.

The dog has limited tolerance for Carrigan.

Given how tired he is, it’s amazing that he is generally so happy and sweet-natured most of the time he is awake! He loves his new family and he is quite a little ladies man! He loves to play with his sisters’ hair, points to my eyes with raised eyebrows to express his approval when I wear my eye makeup, and loves to hug on his sisters and the baby, as well. He says most of their names already and he loves being a part of the group and participating in their many games- until someone tries to take something he considers “his”. He’s a very typical two-year-old as far as his emotional maturity and development. He and Griffin are still trying to decide what they think of each other since they are about on equal level in most things. He has had a lot of outdoor time with the beautiful weather we’ve been having. It’s sad to see him not have a clue how to do things that any other 5 year old little boy should know how to do- climb, ride a tricycle, jump on a trampoline, go up and down a steep slope, walk normally down a set of stairs- so many life experiences he is just having for the first time but he is getting more coordinated each day. He is speaking more words and phrases from “water” and “juice” to “oh my gosh!”. He still hasn’t eaten much of anything but massive amounts of meat, but we’ll work on that gradually. We keep reminding ourselves that Charlotte wouldn’t eat anything that wasn’t white for the first few months she was home, and now she is eating a normal diet. We have intentionally kept his world very small so far, limiting visitors and outings so he can learn who his immediate family is, what our routine life is like, and practicing proper behavior, attachment and bonding. We have taken him the park across the street, but we left shortly after he proceeded to hug every child in sight, and I did attempt another grocery trip, keeping ever mindful of the fiasco it was in the Chinese supermarket that first day we had him. It went much better with him riding in the cart and not being able to reach all the things he pointed at and asked for. Just getting out of there with my sanity in tact was a huge success.
These two together?  Photogenic... and trouble.

These two together? Photogenic… and trouble.

He's ready for anything in this crazy place.

He’s ready for anything in this crazy place.

We were so fortunate in our first adoption to have a truly best-case scenario. We did not count on things being that easy again, though of course, we hoped for a similar outcome. Really, we can’t expect Carrigan to be doing a whole lot better than he is given his age, institutionalization and early hospitalization his first years. We have recently discovered allegations of abuse occurring in his orphanage, so at best, he was neglected, and we are on alert for symptoms of anything worse. We knew adopting a little bit older child would present new challenges that we did not have with Charlotte- the language barrier is more difficult, he has more ingrained bad habits to overcome and survival skills that helped him do life on his own for so long that he doesn’t understand are no longer needed. From our assessment, he really is one of the better-case adoption stories so far- he is bonding better than we even hoped for this soon, when he throws huge fits he isn’t lashing out violently at us or any of the children, and he is picking up words and phrases that give us hope we can soon communicate without the google translator app to help. He is amazingly resilient and quite a little love! He is very affectionate and loves to be held and rocked and sung to- he even sings his little song we made up for him (each child has their own personal song- except Gaige- sorry Gaige) along with me. I tried to get a video because the way he talks is so adorable, but he knew the camera was on him and he got extra silly.
This guy?  Silly?  Nooooooo...

This guy? Silly? Nooooooo…

He fits right in with the other kids.

He fits right in with the other kids.

As I’ve had some time during his rest (the few moments he is quiet) to reflect and gather my thoughts amidst the craziness and fullness of our lives right now I can’t help in each quiet moment to remember those precious faces we left behind in China, each little pair of eyes forever imprinted on my heart. They are still there- while Carrigan has been set free, they are still tethered to their beds, silenced from screaming out the frustrations they hold in their hearts, and mostly sat in front of a TV to waste away childhoods that should be spent in a loving family, playing and discovering and being read to and hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ- the only one who can truly save them from a life of bondage. I am not going to lie- adoption is really hard. It is tiring and downright exhausting and frustrating and there will even be times of wondering why we did this in the first place. But then, I’m reminded of that call in the Bible to die to self and present our lives as a living sacrifice, and a reminder that this life is not about our own pleasure or comfort. It’s a call to follow Christ in whatever capacity He calls us- to use the blessings he has bestowed on us to bless others. To realize that serving in a ministry might mean motherhood and nothing else. And that’s okay. Motherhood IS a ministry, and I can’t think of a better one to further God’s kingdom than raising children for Him and His glory. If you have ever thought about adopting or fostering or orphan care in some fashion- the time is now. The field is ripe for the harvest. Souls are languishing in unthinkable places in horrific conditions right now and we have within our power the ability to do something. I have read that if 7% of those who call themselves Christians would adopt, we wouldn’t have an orphan crisis. I don’t know if that statistic is accurate, but what if 70% would? And, what if the other 30% who cannot gave and prayed so that other 70% could? What a different world we would be living in. If we don’t go, who will? No one.
Not our genes - but just as precious to us.

Not our genes – but just as precious to us.

Our blessings are for a purpose - even this fantastic home.

Our blessings are for a purpose – even this fantastic home.

I hesitate to post this at the risk of sounding prideful, so I will share some things I am ashamed I ever thought, but in case even one other person has had these thoughts (I hope I am not the only one!), I will. I did not always have a heart for adoption. I used to think adoption was only for people who couldn’t have “their own” children. Before Joey and I got married, I thought we would one day adopt (more because Joey wanted to than I did), but as we started having biological children at a rather rapid rate, I forgot about it, and then honestly thought I was “off the hook” with God for having to do that (not that it is a requirement, but the desire in my heart to do it was not there). I remember a friend of mine preparing to leave for Ethiopia to adopt two little boys, and hearing her story did not stir up feelings of compassion for the orphan or the desire to do it myself. In fact, it stirred up sinful pride in my own heart. I remember thinking that somehow I was quite possibly a better mother to the children I already had than she was. How could she leave her kids and go around the world with her husband, risking her “own” children becoming orphans in the process, and bringing children home that could have diseases her “own” children could catch, and what if the adoption meant her “own” children got the ‘short end of the stick’ and it really messed up their family? I had all these thoughts and was content to never do it myself. I never voiced these thoughts, and clearly it was the Lord who changed my heart over time. Being on the other side now, I see how adoption has softened the hearts of my biological children- they have more compassion, more life experience, more hands-on exposure to the hard stuff of life. It’s not just sad stories they hear about, but they have shared the experience of looking into the eyes of an orphan and handing them a lollipop, they have seen as they share their mommy and watch me rock a grieving child that 4 weeks ago did not have one. It has made a difference in their lives for the better and forever. How wrong I was!
This beautiful girl is better for her adopted siblings, not worse.

This beautiful girl is better for her adopted siblings, not worse.

Corin's thoughtfulness showed in his trip to China.

Corin’s thoughtfulness showed in his trip to China.

Garrick has two more older siblings to help him become the person he is supposed to be.

Garrick has two more older siblings to help him become the person he is supposed to be.

There are definitely some adjustments and sacrifices that need to be made to have a bigger family and to embark on an adoption. Besides the obvious financial and time constraints, we’ve had to re-structure things to make it work. I’ve had to really re-think my goals for the children’s schooling and education. Believe me, there have been days and seasons where I have researched private schools and seriously considered the idea (this may be one of them again!). I’ve gone from attempting to implement the Classical model of education, complete with Latin instruction for the older children, to chucking it all for the basic 3R’s, and I’ve had to remind myself why we even wanted to homeschool in the first place. I’m sure the children could be getting a much better education elsewhere (sorry, China!), but we aren’t homeschooling to create scholars (though that’s possible!) or get great test result scores. We are doing this primarily for relationships- our relationship to them and to each other, and ultimately, that they hopefully transfer our teaching for a relationship of their own with the Lord. As more little ones have come, the bigger ones have begun to do much of their morning school hours on the computer (math, typing, spelling) while I am engaged with the little ones. Nap time is critical in our house so that I can have about 2 uninterrupted hours in the afternoon to do direct teaching, so hopefully Carrigan will get on board with my agenda soon- though he seems quite content with his own agenda for the time being. We’ve implemented things that make our family work: the buddy system for outings, division of labor with chores, “partner time” where little ones pair up with a big one for 15 minute rotations each day with set activities so I can work with each child individually on reading, set bath nights, “special days” so each child gets individual undivided attention, very limited outside activities (only children over 5 have things like music lessons, gymnastics or sports and electives and we don’t do traveling competitive sports teams). I tell you all of this because we get a lot of questions from people who are curious as to how our family works and people who say they couldn’t have more kids or adopt because they probably feel like I used to- like their current kids might somehow get shortchanged in the process. It does require cutting back and rearranging priorities, but it is worth it!
Worth it.

Worth it.

We are feeling the Lord may be calling us to not just adopt once or twice, but to live a lifestyle of welcoming and caring for orphans in whatever capacity we are able. Obviously not primarily because we want to expand our family- we are doing just fine with that on our own! But, because there is a great need, and He has given us every resource we need to do that, and grows our heart more for the orphan with each experience He puts in our path. We will see what the Lord has in store for us, but for right now, we are swamped with medical appointments and follow-up care for a once very sickly little boy. He spent much of last week at doctor’s appointments for blood draws and testing that will determine the status of his hepatoblastoma. We have referrals to the International Adoption Clinic in NYC, an oncologist and a urologist for a circumcision. We have an appointment tomorrow for another blood draw, ultrasound, vaccinations and a re-test for an elevated kidney level that was a bit of a scare last week. After further inspection, the doctor thinks that cause of the poor test result is…meat. Lots and lots of meat. We hope that’s all it is. Right now what this little boy needs most- and what all orphans need- is love. Lots and lots of love. And we can give him that.