It’s taken a while for me to process the one year milestone in our adoption journey. (Our “Gotcha Day was Oct. 21st. & we arrived home Dec. 4th.) Many facets of this journey are still uncertain and my feelings still unreliable, but over the last couple weeks, I’ve felt like it is time. Time to start trusting myself again and share a little bit more about our journey- or more importantly, what our journey has taught me up until this point in the game. 

There are two things I’m very conscious of as I share our adoption story. I don’t always get it right, but I sure do try and I think about it every time I talk (or write) about it.

  1. Things are not all good, but they aren’t all bad either. I try not to lean too heavily on one or the other, but sometimes life doesn’t balance out evenly. There can be several good days followed by several bad weeks and vice versa. More than anything, I want to paint a clear, honest picture of our reality. 
  2. I want to share my story, without sharing their story. There are details of our boys’ past they have yet to learn about. I’ll leave those for them to share if and when they are ready. My attempt to know what’s going on in their minds is still just speculation. (I look forward to a ten year update one day and seeing how wrong I was about certain things I think today.)

During our time in Brazil, I re-read Jen Hatmaker’s one year adoption update, and the one piece of advice I took to heart was to set my feelings aside for a while (or something like that). If there’s anything that’s helped me get through this year more than anything, it was that. I did all I could to keep my eyes focused forward without looking inward too much. And I’m so grateful for that advice. Whenever I was tempted to check on my own feelings, what I saw was ugly and unbecoming. There are times to look inward, (I spent a year in counseling prior to bringing them home), but this wasn’t the time.

The Beginning: October-January
We spent this first season getting to know one another. Our two boys, Felipe and Rafael, came to us as very active and energetic nine and ten year old boys. For them, life moved at lightening speed. They were tough as nails rarely feeling pain and not knowing what sickness felt like. (I’m still waiting for them to get sick and I’m a little surprised we haven’t had any serious injuries or broken bones. But then again they are pretty tough.)

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My hero of a husband and our boys days after we met. I can’t believe how much smaller/younger they look here.

Adopting boys who were older than our biological kids created a shift in our family dynamics. Our first-born daughter went from the oldest kid to the middle kid (though I see no evidence of her giving up her place), and while she rarely seemed bothered by it, I often reminded her she was and will always be our first. No one could take that place.  

While the boys were chronologically older, they still had have a lot of growing up to do. This lumped all of our kids into a similar “maturity” category. There are many days our youngest acts more mature than our oldest. 

The biggest miracle during this first phase was how well all of our kids got along. Every time we met with the social worker in Brazil she was amazed at how they interacted (especially since our bio kids weren’t speaking Portuguese very much then). She said it looked like they’d always been siblings.

Routine and schedule was established early to help build security and trust (and sanity!). This was something we already had in place with our bio kids, but we quickly realized would have to become more rigid now with five kids. Our bio kids weren’t mature enough to counter the (over)activeness of their new brothers. They couldn’t understand that the boys were acting out of nervousness/anxiety, and to them, running up and down three flights of concrete stairs that echo through the whole house (and quite possibly the neighborhood) while screaming six o’clock in the morning seemed like a fun activity. (I think that only happened once…I wasn’t going to have it for 29 days- that’s long enough to form a habit I’d have to carry home with me. NO thankyou!)

Every meal and activity needed more guidance and oversight. There was a lot less free play and a lot more directed and organized play. We took homeschool curriculum with us which was a huge blessing- especially the first four weeks when we were limited to what we could do and where we could go.

Getting to be a part of the “firsts” was the best part of these few months together. Eating at a restaurant, playing at a playground, flying a kite, riding horses, swimming in a pool, seeing an automatic sink at the airport, seeing a bathtub in our home (and taking a bath!). All of these were fun to watch them experience. (Very similar to watching a baby’s first steps or words, just a little more sobering.) The boys still had a childlike sense of wonder about them, and while life tried to steal it away, much of their innocence was still in tact and they were still being introduced to the world. They were amazed to see a real train track and better yet, a train. Simple things in life still amazed them, and for that I was grateful. 

The Dark Middle: January-May
These four months were some of the most challenging and dark days we experienced. I home schooled the boys during the day while the other three went to school & preschool. We wanted to give them time to adjust and have a stronger foundation with our family before sending them to school. They also needed time to transition without the added academic pressure. This was around the time grief began to show up. 

Grief
The boys began grieving a lot (one more than the other). Grief brings a long with it anger, resentment, and confusion. Even when things are going well all you see is what’s wrong or different (and in this case, different was not well received). It was during this time they fought many of their losses- family, friends, culture, the freedoms they once had, etc. Outburst and tantrums were a regular part of the day and it was difficult to know where the trigger would come from. Most of my energy went toward keeping the peace for them, me, and the other kids.

Change
Getting a new life is great for a kid whose life isn’t heading down a good path, but it brings change in every way imaginable. And these changes were initially met with resistance. There were many things the boys had to learn that were very different from the life they knew prior. They didn’t understand why they couldn’t stay home alone when I went to pick-up/ drop-off the other kids at school or had to run errands. Roaming the streets at a very young age was the life they knew, and though they were too scared to roam our streets, I didn’t know that then. Many of my days revolved around getting cooperation to go where I needed to go. It’s one thing when a two year old throws a tantrum- you can pick them up and buckle them into their carseat, it’s quite another when a ten year old does. I couldn’t exactly pick them up and buckle them into the car. 

Responsibility
The boys were also being given new privileges (toys to play with) and responsibilities (putting toys away after you use them). They were accountable to their actions and choices (if you hurt someone, there are consequences and you ask for forgiveness, when an adult talks to you, you look at them, not at the floor). All of this was new to them. All of it required a lot of patience, and a lot of training and discipline.

Discipline/Training
Disciplining and training is part of showing love. An undisciplined/untrained child is an unloved child. These boys were/are learning what love looks like- how to show it and how to receive it. They naturally pushed people away and it was a fight to not let them. They viewed themselves and life in a very negative way (which is completely understandable given life didn’t deal them a fair hand to begin with). Making eye contact and speaking positive, life-giving words (about ourselves as well as others) has been a huge part of our training this year (and will probably be for a while).

Language
During these few months, we were all speaking Portuguese 95% of the time at home. Our family goal is for all of us to speak both so we focused on learning their language first. During these months, the boys were not interested in learning English, and having several Brazilian family members and friends nearby removed the urgency to learn. While it will take longer for them to be fluent in English, it was the least of my concerns at this point.  

Birthdays
During these dark months, we had the privilege of celebrating their birthdays. This was special for all of us because they’d never celebrated it before. One of them still asks me on occasion when his birthday is. He just never learned and it’s still taking time to set in.

The Brighter Middle: June-August
By the time summer came, we had climbed a steep hill and made significant progress overall. The boys were more responsive and willing to accept our family way of life. School was out, and the freedom from fifth grade math made me so happy. But now I had five kids at home all day, every day who needed direction most waking hours of the day so we stayed as busy as possible. We took a week-long vacation in South Carolina, went camping a few days, spent many days at the pool and the park, the three boys took swimming lessons, and all five kids attended a sports camp near the end so I could exhale a little. We did whatever we could do to survive the last few weeks before school started.

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By the end of the summer, I could sense weariness in the girls. I’d anticipated a breakdown of sorts and sure enough they came. They were all together a lot and it was taking a toll. We had tickets (a Christmas gift for the girls) to see Taylor Swift and the timing of that night couldn’t have been more perfect. We survived summer and school was only days away. We made it, and had a night to celebrate!

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We spent much of the summer working with our school district to have the boys held back a grade and rejoiced when they finally agreed. All five kids would attend the same school. Hallelujah. 

The Final Stretch: Sept-Dec.
The boys started the first day of school as scared as could be, but that second day of school spoke volumes. They couldn’t wait to go back.

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School has been one of the best things for them this year. It’s given them a little more personal space, responsibility, and it’s made a huge difference in our home. The academic side is not easy for them (both the teachers and I agree it’s not the top priority), but they finally feel a little more like normal kids and are treated as such. It’s made such a huge difference in their confidence and behavior. They have great teachers who understand them, but keep the bar set high for them. Speaking English is still difficult, but by this point, they could understand most of what people said.

Celebrating “Gotcha Day” was a long-awaited milestone. We went to a Brazilian steakhouse for lunch (a first for all of our kids), and Filipe took them on a camping trip.

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There’s so much more I could write about this year, but these are the highlights. As 2015 came to an end, I can look back and see huge strides and progress.We are learning to be more patient and to love them through their immaturity and the slightly annoying behaviors. Filipe and I were talking the other night about how it’s those behaviors (the annoying, difficult ones) that are good and healthy and have protected them up until this point. We have the privilege of training them to be strong, healthy, and godly men who will change their family tree and the world.

We all still have a long way to go, but I’m more hopeful now than ever that I haven’t ruined my kids permanently (there were days I wasn’t so confident). I still don’t trust myself or my emotions a whole lot, but maybe that’s just wise. The things God is teaching me has made me more confident as a mom. I’ve let go of control in areas and tightened the reigns in others. I’ll be posting some follow-up posts about a few of those in the coming days/weeks.

Mandy Sig