Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy Birthday, Levi!!!!

My precious Levi,
 
Today I can say that I am a 27-year old mother of a 15-year old. I can't believe it!!!!  It seems like just yesterday that I heard about a little boy with the biggest smile in the whole world. Just one simple line in a random message, an offhand comment, and yet I knew that instant that you were MY boy. I remember EVERYTHING about that moment....I was standing in a field at a festival that I was performing at, the sun was shining, and Daddy was with me. You filled up my whole heart that day. And I bawled my eyes out with happiness, because God told me that day that you were MINE. July 31st, 2011 baby boy, around 11am. Then after one year in hell fighting to get your paperwork done, we finally met you in August of 2012. You were thirteen. We brought you home in November and you immediately turned fourteen. And now suddenly, you're fifteen.
 
Yesterday you were a rail-thin little boy, who fit under my chin when standing up straight. You had a huge smile and a drive to survive and succeed that still makes me tear up with pride. You could only communicate through gesture and mime, but instead of letting that make you bitter, you tried to teach everyone around you the signs you had made up. You would hug me in public, and you were obsessed with riding your bike.  
 
Today, you are all muscle and are almost eye level with me. You have a little moustache and we can wear the same shoes. You still have a breathtaking smile that splits your face, and your drive to succeed and survive still amazes me. You sign so beautifully....and I don't think you stop from the moment you wake up, until the time I pass out watching your stories. You don't hug me in public anymore....now we fist-bump. At home though, you will walk up and kiss my cheek. You're obsessed with wanting to learn to drive and you want a red truck or a red porsche.  
 
You've grown up so much this past year, especially the past three months. You have no idea how proud Daddy and I are of you, even though I try to tell you every day. You have shown such maturity and responsibility, and you've become an incredible young man. I am so blessed to call you my son, and I love you so much that it hurts.  

This birthday is hard for me.......you've grown up in so many ways, and yet, you're still my baby boy. I fought so hard to bring you home.....waited three years to pull you into my arms and protect you. And now you're growing up and I am having to let you go. Trips with your youth group, Crossfit, basketball camps and soccer, biking and running around our neighborhood alone, being interested in girls, getting pre-hired for a JOB, getting a cell phone......(you haven't seen it yet, but I'm giving it to you today for your birthday and it is COOL! You're gonna FLIP!!!!!!!!)
 
Thank you for being my son. You are a blessing beyond words and you make every day incredible for us. You light up our lives and our hearts. I love you, my precious son. Happy Birthday!!!!!!!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Small Piece of Understanding

I always knew I couldn't understand (not even remotely) the trauma and pain my kids went through when they left Ethiopia. My kids were forced (they had no say) to leave everything they'd ever known, and travel with two strangers 18 hours across the ocean to a completely different and shocking world. Permanently. They lost everything in an instant. Friends, culture, language, history, familiarity, traditions, beliefs. Gone. 
 
 
Forever. 
 
 
Don't get me wrong, my kids are happy to be in America. They love it here. But they love Ethiopia too. And a huge part of who they are has been lost forever, slowly disintegrating and fading into fuzzy memories, which are kept in the corners of their minds, collecting cobwebs and slowly being forgotten. No matter how hard I try, it's impossible to give them both worlds, and slowly but surely, their previous life is orbiting away from their current one, fading into the distance. And I can't stop it. Because gravity is too strong. And Ethiopia is too far away. 
 
My children are happy. We love them more than anything. We'd do anything for them. But we can't protect them from pain; can't protect them from their loss. We can't ease the hurt. We can't even begin to understand it. 
 
 
Until yesterday. 
 
 
Yesterday I was shown what an idiot I am. I was shown how much I CAN'T understand my kids' loss and pain. I was shown how attached I am to meaningless, material things. I was shown a TINY piece of what they lost. 
 
 
As you may know, I was in the emergency room in September for my hands. Without getting too graphic, they were bleeding, swollen beyond recognition and splitting. The pain was HORRENDOUS. I was using two boxes of bandaids a DAY. I had terrible eczema as a kid (and through allergy shots found out I am allergic to things like cats, horses, dust, some dog dander and multiple other things), but since moving here, it hadn't bothered me. It was only really last year in January....right when I started really doing Z's hair. I went to my doctor and got a prescription. It didn't clear up. I went back. It still didn't clear up. Long story short, in June I called for a dermatologist. I was given an appointment--for the beginning of October. Basically, I toughed it out as it got worse and worse all summer and fall. By September, I was beyond miserable. My fingers were feeling numb. Then one night I woke up and had lost all feeling in four fingers. My hands were hurting so bad I started crying and I woke Abe up and left for the ER. For $2,000, I was seen for 5 minutes and given a prescription for prednisone. Because I'd been in the ER, Abe called every dermatologist in the city and found a place that would also see me. I went in. The staff and doctor were incredibly rude and insensitive and told me I was allergic to my fiddle. (I later proved them wrong on that.) They gave me a higher dosage of prednisone scheduled to be taken for fifteen days. I followed their plan, and also went to my original appointment, where the doctor was also BEYOND rude and who also prescribed prednisone. 
 
As soon as the prednisone taper started, my hands started flaring up again. I went back to the dermatologist I'd seen after my ER visit. He told me he couldn't keep me on prednisone because it was too dangerous and asked how bad the side effects had been. I asked, "What side effects?" Without explaining any of the dangers to me, they'd had me on an incredibly high (60 mg) of prednisone and I had been too sick and in pain to even consider looking it up. Just to give you an example of prednisone side effects:
 
-blurred vision
-numbness or tingling
-weight gain
-trouble breathing at rest
-trouble thinking, speaking ,or walking
-abdominal or stomach pain
-eye pain
-facial hair growth in females
-fractures
-fainting
-fever or chills
-vomiting
-trouble sleeping
-nausea
 
There are actually like 20-30 more symptoms that are "common".........I was LIVID. Thankfully, God was gracious and I experienced none of the above. Small mercies for what was to come. I was told that between the prednisone and steroid cream, my hands should have cleared up. Since they hadn't, I would need patch testing. HUH??? Okay, patch testing is a torture test: they take 100 of the most commonly known allergens (chemicals or products) and put them on your back and they stay that way for two days (you can't shower or sweat) and then they remove them and read them, and then you go back again two days after that and get them read again. This test costs $1,000. I almost didn't do it. But being so miserable and knowing my hands would just get worse again, I agreed to it.
 
 
My patch testing was this past week. 
 
Monday I went and got the patches put on. The lady who did them for me was awesome. Super cool. I promised to bring her a coffee on Wednesday when I went back. 
 
Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning. The patches made me sick. And they hurt. And itched. And I had them on for about 48 hours. The kids were awesome and took care of me and let me nap and nap and nap. Which helped time to pass and took my mind off the pain and how uncomfortable the patches were. 
 
Wednesday morning: I bring my lady some coffee. I get the patches off. I get some bad news about the reactions on my back from a girl removing them ("Girl, yo back is ALL lit up!") but they tell me to wait till Friday to see what's definitely going to happen, versus a possible sensitivity reaction. Because they start measuring reactions after a .5 and mine were all above 1.0+ and I had a 2.0 as well.   
 
Friday (yesterday). Go in. Get the reactions read again. Even though the patches had been OFF for two days and I'd been able to shower twice, many of them had gotten WORSE. And gone above a 2.0. Apparently I am deathly allergic to a TON of things. Like nickel, formaldehyde, lanolin, fragrances, and MethyChloro-2-methyl-4-isothiazolin-3-one. (I actually asked the doctor to repeat that just because it was funny. Then I jokingly told her I wanted to hear it again so that I could record it and put it on YouTube. She wasn't of my generation and didn't think it was funny. :)) Oh, AND I'm allergic Bacitracin. Which I was putting on my hands a million times a day pre my ER visit. AWESOME.

I came up as allergic (all over 1.0+) to about ten things on Friday, but the four listed above were at 2.0 on Friday. The doctor explained that I would have to eliminate those elements from my daily life. Then she broke some of the bad news. She told me that those four allergens.....are in EVERYTHING. Literally, EVERYTHING. And worse yet, lots of those allergens have multiple combinations in a single product. Like PLASTIC. WOOD. FOOD. She did a cross reference in a data base and got me a personal list of what I need to get rid of/avoid. Then she said, "You HAVE to follow this list exactly. You can't buy products NOT on this list because you have some unusual and very strong reactions to allergens that are commonly mixed in products so you are going to be VERY limited. Any contact you have with any of these specific four can cause your hands to break out again. Like if you touch plastic that has one or more of the allergens in it." 
 
Oooooooooooooookayyyyyyyyyy.............so, do I walk around in a hazmat suit and eat only organic free-range chicken for the rest of my life?  
 
Here's where it gets extra tricky. the list of what I cannot have is SO huge (and this is just for basic products, like toothpaste, soap, and detergent) that she had to give me a list of what I CAN have. She told me I need to throw out or give away every liquid or gel product in my house and replace them. I was like, "Okay, I've got this. It's okay. It's life, right? it's not that bad."
 
So I went home. The kids and I started looking through the list of "cans".  And this list is TINY. And I've never heard of any of the brands. For example: out of the 267 brands of shampoo in the world.......I can have six. Because it can't contain ANY of the four allergens. And they all cost $12-$32 a BOTTLE. Ever heard of them? Cleure? VMV? Magick Botanicals? Me either. I love me some Biolage and Herbal Essence and other cool brands. ;) Out of every toothpaste in the world....I can have three. And one is Tom's of Maine Silly Strawberry Children's Fluoride Free Toothpaste. I bought some last night. It tastes like vomit. Out of every razor ever made, I can use ONE brand. And on and on the rules and restrictions go. For 70 pages. Not even exaggerating to be funny.
 
I'm going to help you understand what I am facing. Let me give you some examples. Here are my four main allergens and products they are used in: 
 
-Nickel: chocolate, cocoa powder (thank goodness I don't even like chocolate, right???), spinach, cashews, almonds, lettuce, peas, pineapples, bananas, raspberries, grains, oats,  tea, shellfish, corn, beans, soy, belt buckles, bra hooks, cell phones, "hypoallergenic jewelry", scissors, jean studs, gold, eye glasses frames, coins, jewelry, etc., etc.   
 
-Formaldehyde: cosmetics, nail polish, furniture, hair products (dye, gel, mousse, hairspray, shampoo, conditioner), almost every kind of fruit and vegetable (it is naturally occurring in those), textiles, paper, glue, cleaning products, polishes, medication, and smoke (wood, coal, tobacco), etc., etc. 
 
-Lanolin: cosmetics, nail polish and nail polish remover, ointments, moisturizers, creams, polishes, waxes, textiles, leather goods, baby oils, hairspray, shaving cream/gel, shampoo, and veterinary products, etc., etc. 
 
-Fragrances: I can't have any fragrances. No Victoria Secret Love Spell. No soaps or scents or candles or sprays or deodorants or hair stuff that has ANY scent. (Because I have used Love Spell FOREVER, we are doing the "cleanse" of everything but after three months we are self testing by bringing stuff back into my life one at a time and this will be the first.
 
-MethyChloro-2-methyl-4-isothiazolin-3-one: textiles (people, do you realize that textiles include things like tissues, toilet paper and paper towels? Not just paper itself?), printing ink, detergents, shampoos, hair conditioners, other hair prducts, medicated creams and sunscreen. 
 
 
Are you overwhelmed yet? Because I was/am. But I was still doing okay at that point. Then I started checking to see where stuff could be purchased (food was the smallest concern overall because I HAVE to eat and those products are in almost everything. So I need to do gluten free and as vegan as possible but that's about all I can do. And since it is impossible to avoid, I can try keeping with my almond milk or coconut milk and see what happens.) And as I was trying to figure out where I could buy my stuff, I realized that almost all my household products have to be purchased online. And they're super expensive. 
 
I was still holding it together. 
 
Then I started gathering my stuff to put away. I grabbed my nailpolish and looked at the list of what was permitted. I have maybe 25 bottles of nail polish, half professional tans and creams and grays, and half crazy and glittery. If you know anything about interpreting, you will know that interpreters LOVE nail polish (because we can never wear color....always want what you don't have, right?) and that any time we have a little break, our nails become psychadelic colors. Anyway, lots of my polishes are special to me, because Abe bought them for me, knowing the crazy sparkling midnight blues and tangerine oranges would make me happy. Looking at the list and the few brands listed, I realized none of my polishes passed inspection. Not one. Even my $8 Essie nail polish and a gold sparkly Gems Crush that Zahria bought herself for me for $6. The few listed polishes were all clear (no color). A tear slipped down my cheek. Then another. I started crying at the kitchen table. I tried not to because my kids were there, and it was so stupid.....I mean, it's NAIL POLISH, right??? But I kept on crying. 
 
Zahria ran away from the table and up the stairs. A minute later she came back with all of HER nail polishes, some that she had just been given the week before by my friend as an early Christmas gift. She said, "Mommy, if you can't wear them, I won't either!" And then I started crying harder. She began scrubbing nail polish remover on her nails to get rid of her current polish.
 
Levi was trying to hold my hand and asking if he could do anything. He kept signing, "I'm sorry, Mom. I'm sorry!!!"
 
Then, as I was crying, I started to feel like an idiot. And a jerk. An "idierk". Because here I was, crying about nail polish and stupid material things, and yet my KIDS had to leave everything they'd ever known and come with strangers to a new place. They can never go back. They lost EVERYTHING they had and they came to a place where they are looked down upon for their skin color, and all they had were memories and some old, borrowed clothes on their backs. They came and they persevered and they were BRAVE. And here I was, crying about fricking nail polish. At least I live in a country where there is medical help and I DO have access to products that I need, even if they are ugly and not very good quality. But my kids lost EVERYTHING. And it really hit me yesterday. A small, SMALL understanding.... an inkling of the pain and loss that they had experienced. And my heart broke for them again. 
 
Z hugged me tight. "Mommy, it's okay! God knows you are sad but you don't have to be sad because He gave us Jesus and He loves us and He is with us. And Jesus is the most important thing. God didn't want to give up His son Jesus but He did and it's okay!!! Cause He loves us and He takes care of us."
 
OWNED. By my precious nine-year old daughter. Who is SO much wiser and stronger than I will ever be. 
 
 
P.S. I'll be bringing my nail polish to Ethiopia with me and giving it to the kids at the orphanages or on the streets. Whaddup now, Satan?
 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The (Frustrating) Things People Say

I was rude the other day. And I'm not sorry.

People are constantly saying stupid stuff to me about adoption/my kids. Hurtful, stupid things. And often these comments are spoken in front of my children. As if they aren't there, or can't understand the rude, prying, and hurtful things being said about them.

Usually, I try to have grace. I know that often, people are asking out of curiosity and ignorance. I know they usually do not mean harm. I know they haven't been educated on proper adoption terms like, "biological" versus "real". And I feel like if I respond to their questions with snippy answers or retaliate by embarrassing them, that does nothing positive for the adoption world, or for my battle to follow Jesus and love as He loves. I also understand that my family looks like a walking circus to most people, and they are usually fascinated by us. We are a triple-race family, Abe and I are super young (I mean, Abe had the monumental birthday of being able to borrow a used car...woot woot for 25!........ .....wait, we can adopt a teen and middle-schooler internationally but he couldn't rent a car till this year????.......), our kids are older, and we use our hands to talk. We stick out everywhere. So I understand the looks. The questions. They don't even usually bother me. I accepted it a long time ago. I try to be kind and friendly and help educate people on how to approach adoptive parents. Now we've been approached and questioned TONS of times. Abe and I had a talk BEFORE the kids came home about how we would handle these questions that everyone seems to feel like they have a right to ask.  Here are some examples of real conversations we have faced:


"Babysitting huh?"

"Where's her REAL mom???"

"DO you want kids of your own?"

"Ooohhhhh, so you can't have kids of your own?"

"Why didn't you get babies?"

"Wow, your kids are SO lucky!!! You're a saint."

"Did you get to meet their real parents?"

"Are they brother and sister?"

"Why can't their real mom take care of them?"

"How much did you pay for them?"

"I have a friend who adopted.... (insert horror story)."

"Why didn't you adopt from the United States?"

"Where did you get them from?"

"OMG, LOOOOOOK at her hair!" (While trying to touch Z's hair.)

"Why don't you put a relaxer in her hair?"

"Why don't you straighten her hair? Doesn't she like it straightened?"

"I LOVE LOVE LOVE the extensions." (Not giving the whole scenario, but they were implying that "long" "straight" hair was better than cornrows or a fro.)

"That must be really tough having older kids."

"Well, at least you don't have to change diapers!"

"Are they happy here?"

"Extensions are terrible and you are ruining her hair and her identity. You're trying to make her feel white and you are teaching her not to be proud of her natural hair." (From a BLACK woman. With chemically STRAIGHTENED hair. With a daughter whose dried out and STRAIGHTENED hair looked like one of those  toy trolls from my childhood. Excuse me, I'M teaching my daughter not to be proud of her hair? You don't know me from Jack and you have no idea how I care for my daughter's hair. I actually have her in cornrows and fros 95% of the time. And I LOVE it and tell her how beautiful it is.


Anyway as I said, I usually respond with grace and try to be polite, and educate the person as kindly as possible. I want them to draw a peace line between us, and not a battle line. I KNOW in my heart, they aren't trying to be cruel.


HOWEVER.


The other day I broke.

We were somewhere in a group setting; a mixture of kids and their mothers. Z was sitting next to me. Someone inferred that it was strange that I had a child as old as Z. I looked them in the eye, smiled, and mentioned I had a son turning 15 (it's always fun to see their reaction). This immediately brought the questions and of course the conversation led to adoption, Ethiopia, and Natalie. But then, in the middle of the conversation, the leader of the group paused and and loudly asked, "So wait, three adopted, or three of your OWN?"

 
I just stared at her for a second. Seriously? Asking something SO personal and in such a rude and derogatory way, IN FRONT OF my daughter? An ignorant and irrelevant question putting me on the spot defending legitimacy of my family to a group of people I didn't know? 
 
I looked her straight in the eye. "They're all adopted. And they're ALL my own."
 
DEAD silence. The woman went brick red and averted her eyes.
 
We left fifteen minutes later.
 
 
 
 
By the way, it's not just me that's being questioned daily about my family....people approach and ask my kids. Without my permission. And other kids ask my kids. Zahria told me that at her girls group, some little girls kept pestering her asking why her mommy wasn't brown. I was super proud when she told me her response. "My mama is the most beautiful mama here. And when she was pregnant, she drank too much chocolate milk." I loved her answer, but it still doesn't change the fact that she and Levi are constantly barraged with insensitive questions which bring attention to their skin color and cause them to wonder why there is an implication that our family is not "real". And then my kids start to question why God made them the way He did, and they beg to look like us, so that they fit in, and so that the four of us look like fit together, so that people leave us alone. PARENTS: Please teach your kids about adoption. And go and read this great blog post:  http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/2012/07/parents-please-educate-your-kids-about.html

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Welcome :)


Hi! Thanks so much for visiting our blog and reading our story. :) I was super nervous to write this post for visitors from Give1Save1, because I wasn't sure how to be interesting AND informative.....so here it goes! :)




Who are we?

We are the Ruper family: Abe, Marissa, Levi, and Zahria.



We have two dogs.....a giant Black Lab named JD and a tiny (4.5lb) Pomeranian named Mia. Mia didn't want a picture and anyone who has a small dog knows they are the boss. ;) So here's JD. :)






So about us......
 

                                                                        Abe....



Abe grew up in a small farming town on the East coast. He is an only child. Growing up in a rural area, Abe is familiar with driving and repairing farming equipment. He and his dad worked at a dairy farm for a lot of his childhood. Abe taught himself to play the electric guitar; he's never had a single lesson!

Abe had scholarship opportunities for three great universities. He picked the one that I later transferred to (whew!) and we met and began dating in his freshman year.

Abe now works as a mechanical design engineer. I can't understand any of the big words he uses (seriously, his conference calls sound like a foreign language), but when he breaks it down to baby English for me, this is my understanding: he designs giant million-dollar pumps (like, the size of your house) that are sold to companies overseas and they have to function for ten years or so, underwater, without maintenance. So they need to be perfect. Yeah, he's a genius.


                                                                   Marissa.....



 
I grew up on a small farm on the East coast. I can milk cows, muck stalls, ride any animal big enough to carry me (aka cows....my Dad wouldn't let me get a horse, so I had to make due....). From age 14-18, I had sled dogs (BEST. SPORT. EVER.). I learned to sign the ABC's when I was 10 or so off a library book mark. (My sister and I learned so that we could "talk" during church). Two years later, I tried to teach myself some signs off a borrowed book. Then at age 13, my Mom showed me a magazine article about a deaf orphanage in Liberia. I told her, "Someday I am going to adopt deaf kids from Africa." It was 1998.


 That's the year that Levi was born.


I wanted to go to hairdressing school, but my mom didn't like that and found me an interpreting program. I went to a state college for 2.5 years and then transferred to another college (where I met Abe a few months later). I finished my 5-year degree there and have been working as a certified interpreter ever since. I mainly work at colleges, hospitals, and VRS (video relay service.....I interpret phone calls). I work VRS every day from 4am-8am. I do freelance photography and makeup on the side. I'm living out my hairdressing dream through Z's hair. ;)



                                                                        Levi....
 
 

Levi became deaf at about age 2, probably from meningitis. There was no one and no resources to teach him sign language when he was in Ethiopia, so being the amazing kid he is, he made up a sign system of about 25 specific gestures that he used until we met him. In the past year he has grown 4-5 inches (I am NOT okay with the fact that we will be eye level soon! ;)), put on 14lb, and has sported a fro, a Will Smith 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air' cut, and most recently, a military style 'high and tight'. He will be 15 soon. He loves soccer, running, and basketball, and he's great at all three. Besides the fact that I am ridiculously proud of his sport skills, it also makes being his 'soccer mom' super fun. ;)


Levi's favorite colors are yellow and green. He is doing 2nd and 3rd grade work and 5th grade math (this from have NOTHING last year......incredible!!!!). He loves to draw and play on the iPad. He also LOVES music. We give him headphones and an iPod and he's the happiest kid ever, dancing (and singing!) around our house. He's an awesome kid, and his smile is the BEST! This boy has Jesus shining right out of him. He's also a fantastic storyteller and we are constantly in fits of laughter from his dramatic tales.



                                                                       Zahria....


Zahria is the essence of the word "helper". She is happiest when she is alongside me, doing whatever I am doing. This baby girl is an amazing person and her giving heart puts me to shame. She has also grown about 4 inches and put on 5lb in the past year. She has gone from a shaved head to a full 6+ inches of hair since last October. I LOVE doing her hair; we pick styles together by looking at pictures on Google and then I modify them if necessary. SO. FUN. It took three months for me to be able to make a decent cornrow, but it CAN be done!!!! :)

Zahria is obsessed with gymnastics. She goes twice a week to her gym and she spends more time upside down on her hands then she does on her feet. If you hear a thud in our house, don't worry, no one's hurt. It's just Z flipping or doing handstands. It's literally 24/7. She even watches movies hanging upside-down off the couch.
Zahria is also obsessed with Rainbow Loom (the rubber band bracelets). I have a SLEEVE of them on my arm. She even made 75 bracelets to sell to raise money to buy Operation Christmas Child boxes (she bought two herself!) and she worked to earn money for a Thanksgiving basket to give to a family in need. It was her idea and she earned the money all by herself. 






                                                     How Abe and Marissa met:



We met through a Celtic rock band that we played in through college. Abe was 18 and I was 21. I didn't want a boyfriend and when Abe asked me out, I replied, "I'm looking for a husband. If you date me, I won't sleep with you and you can't say 'I love you' to me till you give me a ring. AND you have to learn sign language because I'm adopting deaf kids someday." And incredibly enough, he replied, "Okay," and then he went and took three ASL classes. Ummm, can you say, KEEPER??? And he's treated me like a princess since day one.

We still play in a band together. www.callanach.com






                                                            Levi and Z's Adoption:


We started the adoption process in January 2010, after the earthquake in Haiti. We always knew we were going to adopt, but didn't know that we would be called at ages 21 and 24 to start the process. We  spent three long years trying to bring Levi and Zahria home. Their story is a complete miracle, from someone paying off our dossier, to us finding Levi and Zahria, to the kids actually clearing (we were told multiple times that this would never happen and that we needed to stop pursuing them). There are hundreds of miracles wrapped up in their story, but it would take me forever to list them all. :) When we brought them home last year, Levi had NO language and NO education. NOTHING. He and Zahria had never communicated before and he didn't even know her name. He was totally isolated. Since last year, both kids have grown in leaps and bounds. They are incredible and we adore them. The last year has been the hardest and yet most rewarding year ever.




                                                    Natalie (this is her bed in Ethiopia)


Natalie showed up at our agency's Transition Home in December, 2012; a month after we left with Levi and Zahria (and "Natalie" means "Christmas" although that's not why we picked it haha!). We saw her picture and information on the Waiting Child List, and I was heartbroken even then to see that she was in the same situation as Levi, but we were so busy learning to become a family of 4 that I didn't think much about her. Then in April 2013, people started tagging me in the private agency group making references to her. In May, I broke down and cried for her. I started crying every couple weeks; I would just see things that Levi is going through and the pain and isolation he experienced and how that will impact him forever, and I was crushed for this little girl. Then on August 18th, I was sitting at work at 4am and God put it on my heart to pull up her information again. I didn't want to. I think I subconsciously knew that nothing would be the same. You can read the rest of how Natalie's story happened at my post here: http://helpabeandmarissaadopt.blogspot.com/2013/09/referral-2.html We are so excited to bring her home and I am DYING to post the pictures that show the difference in her face just since she found out she has a family. She has actually been sending us messages through traveling families; she had one family write down "Mama and Papa, F****** (her Ethiopian name) loves you!" and then she held it up while they took a picture of her and emailed it to me. Brought me to tears. She has also sent two video messages. We got the second video message today and she signed "Mommy, Daddy, sister, brother, I love you." I cried like a baby. This child is so beautiful and amazing that I am crying NOW, just writing about her. She's another miracle. And we are so honored to call her our daughter.




So that's a little bit about us.....thanks for taking the time to read! HUGS! <3

 ~Marissa (Abe, Levi, & Zahria)



If you would like to help us bring our girl home, please go to:

www.grouprev.com/operationnatalie


OR click on the "Help Us" tab on this blog. Thank you!!!!







Saturday, November 9, 2013

D-d-d-dossier!!!!!!

Our dossier is leaving for Virginia within a couple days and then it will be on its way to ETHIOPIA in about two weeks!!!! SOOOOOOOOOOOO EXCITED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



We were not expecting this step to happen until January or February, so this was kind of a shock to us. From our understanding, we needed to get our home study (which is FINALLY arrived last night), apply to USCIS for our immigration, wait for an appointment letter, go to our appointment, then get the actual approval letter, submit our dossier, and start the PAIR process (some kind of investigation that is predicted to cause hold ups) and start our court wait. The wait for court is typically 2-3 months, then you travel, then between court and embassy is three months. Meaning we were expecting Natalie to be home around June or so. (Everything on our side was done in mid-September but we've been waiting on red tape...) But now............maybe she will be home a little earlier???? :) :) :) :)


Our agency contacted me on Tuesday night, asking us to send our dossier immediately. Without our immigration. They said we can send our immigration separately, later. Now sending our dossier is a dream come true. It means that it will be translated and then we can start our wait for a court date. Which means we might be flying in January or February. That's amazing right?!?!?


Except.


We need $5,000 to send our dossier. Originally I thought it was $9,000 like last time, but then contacted our agency and found out it is about $5,000 because it is only one child this time. We will owe another agency fee of about $5,000, but not yet. Abe and I have paid $15,000 cash for this adoption so far (homestudy, referral fee, agency fees, etc.) We have our immigration, which will cost $1,000. And then we have $1,000 left over. Which means we need $4,000. Our dossier can't be sent without it. And now we don't have any time to save up the money.


I sent out an emergency prayer text. Now the past few weeks, I have been feeling extra bold and fearless. I recently met a woman who I can only describe as amazing. She is traveling with a Christian team who reach out to the deaf community and I met her at a deaf Bible study. Then I saw her again the following Sunday at my church. We ended up hanging out immediately after first service (we got coffee...I mean, we are tight for life now ;)) and I told her an abbreviated version of our adoption story. When we got back to church, she prayed over me, and let me tell you, it rocked my world. I cried. She called me a Deborah, told me she could see God moving and working in my life, and told me that God was going to get my kids home. She told me to ask God boldly for whatever I needed because He would provide and that He would give me what I asked because I'm following Him against the odds. (I'm paraphrasing; I was pretty emotional haha :)). She basically told me to just ask, because God would bring the blessings.
 

Fast forward to Tuesday night. Abe and I prayed. I flat out said, "God, we are following you; doing what you called us to....and we need Your help. We need this dossier money now, and we don't have it. We don't have any way to get it. We need you to give it to us. We did what You asked; please show us Your power."


I was pretty excited. We've seen God move in big ways before. Levi and Zahria's adoption--everything about it--was a miracle. We were the youngest couple to adopt from our agency ever. We were the youngest couple to adopt the oldest pair of kids; kids with special needs. We were beyond blessed to be able to pay off their adoption entirely without loans (a lot of work, but no loans). Our kids weren't "adoptable". We were told multiple times during the process that they were not going to clear, and yet here they are, safe and sound, asleep in our house. The whole thing wasn't POSSIBLE and yet it HAPPENED. So we have NO doubt about God's ability to truly provide for us when He calls us. And He's called us. So we know He's got it.
Fast forward to Wednesday morning. I went to work, and someone (an angel?) walked up to me and handed me $500. We've raised $400 this month on our fundraising page which is getting sent to our agency. Then someone donated $100 more . Then I received an email with a gift for $1,000. Then $70 more on our fundraising page. Then an email saying there is a $300 check in the mail. Then 20 orders for frozen cookie dough (mine and the kids fundraiser that we just started). Then a phone call from someone we barely know, saying, "I want to bring Natalie home. Let's talk." 

So we have $1,000. And we were given basically $2,000 in one day. $400 the next day. $3,400!Only $1,600 left....and I'm loving watching God work. Last time around, God blessed us by giving us the opportunity to WORK. We worked our butts off. I worked 18 hours a day. And we saved like crazy. This time around, I can't just pick up extra work because I've got the kids. But God just gave me the opportunity to possibly have some on-call night shifts, which would be great. We also went and took out a loan yesterday, because we know that we will be getting a small refund from Levi and Zahria's adoption so we should be able to pay that right off in six months or so. We got a great interest rate on the loan and it's with a small bank that we love, so we are excited. We are paying off our dossier fee today and putting that baby in the mail. Natalie, we are coming!!!!!!!!!!!






*Update as of 11/17/13.....turned out it WAS $9,000 for the dossier haha.....go figure. ;)









 

Friday, November 8, 2013

One Year Home. (Wait, WHAT?!?!?!?!)

11/4/13



Pretend I posted this yesterday. Like a good, dutiful, organized mother would have. :) I had glorious dreams of having a beautiful blog entry with a mesmerizing one-year-home video that would be posted on November 3rd, the day when exactly a year ago, we landed in America with our kids. Insert a bright light and angel choruses.

Fast forward to 5:13am on November 4th, where I am sitting at work on a break, pounding a Monster energy drink and wondering how to cram a coherent blog post into a 9 minute break.

Not happening. Even with 16oz of Monster pumping through my veins. ;)

Me, the daughter of a Marine, the most punctual person ever, the girl who went straight from her college classes to her dorm to complete the homework assignments so she wouldn't have to stress over them, the girl who can't procrastinate the slightest......she is sitting here with no celebratory one-year blog post, a list of 100 things to do and no time to do them, and an IV of caffeine, which is keeping her alive. Barely.

It's been a long weekend. And not in the relaxing way. We got a call late LATE Thurday telling us some terrible news. One of Z's friends had lice. And this friend had been at our house for five hours a a few days before. Insert panic. So our weekend basically looked like this:

-500 trips to Wal*Mart, Walgreens, and CVS
-$400 spent at Wal*Mart, Walgreens, and CVS (mattress covers, lice treatments, new pillows, etc. And Gatorade. LOTS of Gatorade. (It's my secret weapon. Sick? Drink gatorade. Tired? Drink Gatorade. Being attacked by disgusting bugs? Drink Gatorade.
-72 hours and counting: shampooing, combing, cleaning, washing, bleaching. REPEAT.
-40 loads (and counting) of laundry. EVERY washable item in our house is being stuffed into our poor washer. And if it can't be washed, it's being tossed. I am NOT taking chances.


P.S. Have you ever tried to comb a brown child's beautiful hair with a lice comb? I just want to state that it's basically impossible. Like, IMPOSSIBLE. I spent SIX hours combing through Z's hair on Friday. SIX. I could have given her cornrows of the year with that much time. Instead, I spent it pulling out half the hair that I so carefully tended this past year.

Luckily we had already celebrated our Gotcha Day (Oct 28th) last weekend, so missing our November 3rd homecoming day wasn't too big a deal. I mean, we still had a family day. And major one-on-one quality time. It was just spent doing laundry and combing hair. But we DID get to watch a bazillion movies together, and hang out all day. :) And I made shrimp scampi and pudding. So it was actually pretty good. :) And now my break is over.............
 
 
 
............Now it's 7:45am on 11/8/13. Maybe this post will be completed by the kids two year anniversary home. ;)

 
I guess I should actually start writing about the past year now, huh? And on that note...........HOW has it been one year already?!?!?!?!? I can't even comprehend how fast this year has gone by. The three years leading up to our kids dragged on FOREVER. Every day was filled with heartbreak and tears and a void. Then the kids came home and BOOM! Time flew. I went from working 18 hours a day interpreting to working 24 hours a day being a mommy (plus my daily 4am interpreting).


November: Arrived home in the U.S.

December: Levi's birthday and both kids accepted Jesus as their personal Savior on December 18th. :)

January: My birthday and we took a trip to NH to visit my grandparents.

February: JD went to the ER for stolen socks in his colon. He almost didn't make it.

March: Levi was in the ER for seizures. I went to Atlanta for Created 4 Care, and the kids went to their first Callanach show (St. Pats) and stayed in a hotel with their grandparents.

April: Zahria's birthday. A big homeschooling report was due.

May: My little sister came and stayed with us for a month.

June: Lots of Callanach recording sessions....the kids became BFFs with crafts and Netflix.

July: First fireworks, and we had an adoption reunion at a big lake with our besties/adoption family.

August: We fell in love with Natalie and accepted a referral for her. Zahria went to the ER for possible cardiac issues.

September: I went to the ER for my hands (long story). We completed all our homestudy and dossier paperwork in 3 weeks.

October: Zahria is doing gymnastics 2x a week and GEMS (Girls Everywhere Meeting the Savior) and Levi is doing Youth Group (basketball starts soon! :)). Gotcha Day was the 28th of course! :)

November: My sister is getting married so we are driving out to my parents for that, and then the usual Thanksgiving fun and craziness. :)



Levi: He is now at the bridge of my nose (about 5'4 and weighs 103lb) and is sporting a cool version of Will Smith's Fresh Prince of Bel Air haircut. Not exactly sure how to describe it but it actually works for him. He's gotten hit on by two girls recently and I am considering using my position as interpreter Mom to go to his events and terp so that I can spy and block. Just kidding. But it's a little weird to have girls checking out my son and flirting with him..... :-p Abe and I were talking about how he could easily be in his mid-thirties and have GRANDCHILDREN. Who would be growing up with our future adopted children. And then we could be in our 50's-60's and have great-grandchildren...................................so we will probably live to see our great-great grandchildren. Okay then......................

We've seen so much growth in Levi this year, both personally and in his schoolwork. He is currently doing second and third grade work with fifth grade math. He is really good at math. His English is coming along slowly (his vocabulary has tripled in a few months though, thanks to Horizons Spelling! :)) but it's improving! I am SO proud of him!!!! He's understanding his schoolwork better, and is able to listen to stories and repeat them back or answer questions about them, which is HUGE. He had no language and no education when we brought him home one year ago, so for him to be able to do work with Zahria is incredible. And exhausting. But incredible. :)

Levi is really starting to mature and we are seeing a huge difference in how he handles himself and how he responds to hard situations. He is a typical teen, loving technology, wanting his cell phone (birthday coming up....!) and he is dying to drive. (Again, the future me, the 35-40 year old me is supposed to be writing this. Not 27 year old me!!!!) He goes between not wanting me to hug him (especially in public ;)) to running up behind me and giving me huge bear hugs. It varies day to day, so I take what I can get. :) He is super motivated to graduate high school and go to college. He is still saying that he wants to be a police officer. He's going to Youth Group and YG events (we let him go to a Colton Dixon concert in PA that was 4 hours away, all by himself) and he LOVES it. I always wondered how the Bible could claim that even if a person isn't directly told about God, that they can find Him. Till I met Levi. He always says, "Mom, I couldn't sign but I used to pray in my mind. I knew there was a God. I knew He loved me." This coming from a child who had ZERO language and no communication with those around him. From a background that does not imply a loving God. And yet the moment we laid eyes on him, we saw Jesus shining right out of him.

Levi is crazy about music and dance (he watches a Korean dance team on YouTube all the time) and he is constantly dancing around our house interpreting the music and yelling. It's pretty funny--and fun to watch, because he's a great dancer and it makes him SO happy. :) He loves to tell stories. In fact, I think if he could have headphones and tell stories all day, he'd be the happiest kid on the planet. :)



Zahria: My baby girl is 65lb and 4'4. She is a ball of crazy laughter and silliness. She is in a constant state of hysterical giggles/screams/belly laughs. COMPLETELY different than the shy, silent girl we met in Ethiopia. She's doing gymnastics twice a week and spends more time upside-down than she does on her feet. She can do splits with either leg and is working on her straddle split. She eats like a horse. It's not unusual for her to have 6 pieces of fruit, 3-4 pieces of toast, and popcorn between meals.

Zahria is a helper. That is what she loves. This little girl is ALWAYS finding ways to help me; whether it be taking out the trash, cleaning up something, bringing me a drink--she never stops. Her heart is about loving people. Everyone. She worked all summer and saved up $70 and wanted to buy Operation Christmas Child boxes. I offered to help her pay for them and she said firmly, "No Mama! I have food and a family and I am safe and I don't have to work.....and they have nothing. I want to pay for it by myself." So this tiny girl spent all her money on shoe boxes. THEN she signed herself up at church on the list of people who will provide a Thanksgiving basket to a needy family. She told me, "I will make bracelets and sell them and buy food." And she did. She made SEVENTY-FIVE BRACELETS. They were beautiful bracelets. She sold them for $1 each. And she is buying her basket. I've never seen such a selfless little kid. She puts me to shame. And she's still wanting to be a worship pastor and "help people".

We've seen a dramatic difference in Zahria too this year. She is handling herself better in hard situations too, and is no longer a silent little girl, hiding behind me and refusing to let go of me. Now she leads the way, goes to multiple events every week by herself, and she's a bit too excited to show people she loves them.....she waves and greets EVERYONE. Including all vehicles within a two-car radius when we are driving. Actually, it's funny (even though she needs some stranger-danger teaching) because she lights up their day too. I'll look in my rear-view and Zahria is frantically waving down whoever is near us. When they finally give her that awkward, "Kid....are you waving at ME???" look, she grins and continues speed-waving and bouncing up and down in her seat like they are best friends. And then the poor people can't help but smile back. It's contagious.


This year was hard, and it was amazing. Someone said adoption has the highest ups and the lowest downs. SO true. But this is incredible and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I love being a mom, and I love being THEIR mom. I am so blessed to hear/see them call me that treasured word. I am so blessed to have these children. They are the most amazing people I have ever known and against all odds they have over come impossible obstacles, and still they LOVE......and they are MINE. My babies. I love them so much it hurts. Two precious faces who are going to change the world. Two people who shine for Jesus. Two hearts that are tied to mine with a bond that can't be comprehended.


I am so proud of you, Levi and Z. I love you with all that I am.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

REFERRAL #2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We have accepted a referral for a beautiful 10-year old deaf girl! That's right, we are adopting from Ethiopia again!

"Wait, how did this happen?" you might ask. "Another adoption????"

Yup. :)


So it has been exactly 25 days since we considered/decided/filled out 100 pieces of paper/accepted a referral/started our homestudy/started our dossier. That's right. It only took 17 days for me to have my HS (at least on my side) almost complete, as well as half my dossier. :) That's AFTER reapplying to my agency, filling out that paperwork and having a meeting with my social worker for approval, requesting my girl's file, and accepting her file and all the paperwork that's gone along with it, I've also recorded and edited a fundraising video, and made up a care package for her. We are on FIRE. :) The paperwork doesn't even scare me this time around. In fact, it's way easier. My goal is to complete everything in record time. Like, I'd like it done in two weeks total. Probably three is more reasonable, but we will see.

So. I guessing you're wondering how this all came about.

A month after we brought Levi and Zahria home, a 12-year old deaf girl showed up on the Waiting Child List through our agency. She was in the same situation that Levi had been in; no language, no education.....basically no hope. I remember feeling SO bad for her and wishing someone would go get her. We prayed for her and then we basically forgot about everything except trying to raise our kids.

In April, she started showing up in my life. People were messaging me about her, tagging me in comments and posts on our agency's Facebook page, and the families visiting Ethiopia were constantly talking about her. I started thinking about her again and praying for her. Sometime in May, I started crying about her. I would think about how alone she must feel, how sad she was (getting teased and picked on), how insanely horrible it would be to not be able to communicate or express your feelings. I would come home from work or an errand and just cry. This was happening every two weeks or so pretty much all summer. I was heartbroken for this little girl.

Then, 25 days ago (Sunday, August 18th), I was at work at 4am. Halfway through my shift, I felt this need to go online and check her Waiting Child List profile. I almost didn't do it; after all, I had the short paragraph that summarizes the basic facts of her life memorized. Why read it again? But something (obviously God) was pushing me to open the page. I clicked and scrolled down to her picture. (Her picture that was listed looked so sad.) I read through her description and basic information and then did a double-take. There, at the bottom of the paragraph, were TWO VIDEO LINKS. I've been involved with this agency for the past four years and I have NEVER seen a video link. It's always, "For a video of this child, contact your Family Coordinator for permission."

I sat there for a few seconds, frozen. I was scared to open the video. I think somehow I already knew. Clicking that video would change me. Nothing would be the same.


I clicked the link.


A blurry video took over my screen and I saw the outline of a child, struggling to sign the Amharic alphabet. Then the camera came into focus and this precious little girl was staring directly at me. I'm talking, RIGHT. INTO. MY. SOUL. Those beautiful eyes spoke straight to my heart. "Mom. I'm trying so hard. Come get me."

I started freaking sobbing. I mean, SOBBING. Tears streaming down my face, in the middle of work, I lost my heart to that little girl. I was sobbing so hard that my friend across from me started crying, and she didn't even know what was going on. I logged off from my work and just sat there, bawling my eyes out. There was no doubt, no hesitation, no wondering if I was being overly-emotional. That was my child. My daughter. And she was lonely and sad and trapped on the other side of the world. And I hadn't known it. She'd been sitting there, waiting for me, and I had no idea. I was broken.

I left work and drove home. Poor Abe was sleeping peacefully when I barged into our bedroom crying and woke him up. Between sobs I said, "We. Have. To. Go. Get. Her," and even in his sleepy state, he held me and listened while I told him what happened. I cried hysterically for about three hours, while Abe just listened and held me. The poor kids woke up during this and after being assured that no one had died and everything would be okay, they went to the livingroom and watched a movie.
 
Around 9am (I had to be at church by 9:30am to interpret), Abe said, "I think this is God telling us to go." "We CAN'T," I cried, and listed four or five reasons why it was impossible for adopting her to work out at the time. "I have to go to church; we'll have to talk later," I added and blindly left the room and went upstairs. The second, I mean, the SECOND I hit the top step, my phone buzzed. I had texted a neutral party earlier asking about their opinion on possibly starting a second adoption for this little girl, and the text was from that person. The text said, "I say go with the child on the waiting list." It was like God himself came down, stood in front of me and said, "GO." I turned around, went right back to Abe and said, "Okay. Let's go."

We went to church and strangely enough the message was about facing your Goliath (impossible situation) and knowing that the fight isn't in your hands. David fought and killed a lion and a bear with his BARE HANDS. So he totally trusted God to help him again, and to take down Goliath. David was unafraid in a scary and impossible situation. He only had to look back at what God has already done in his life to know that the future was secure. My ears were burning as I interpreted. Clearly, the whole Levi and Zahria situation was our lion/bear situation. And now we were facing a Goliath. I looked at Abe and we rolled our eyes. Obviously God had had this message arranged just for us on this specific day.

 (To listen to the message about David, click here.)

 

Right at the end of church another person came over to interpret the music so I went and sat next to Abe. He reached for my hand just as I was sliding into my chair and whispered, "I want A****." ("A****" is another little deaf boy we found on our embassy trip last year.) I whispered right back, "Okay," and we burst into laughter right in the middle of church. Apparently we are just going to adopt a million deaf tweens/teens and for some reason that was hysterically funny. But that's a story for another day. ;)

We went home and I spent all afternoon filling out the application to our agency. I called my old family coordinator and left a voicemail. I emailed the intake coordinator. I emailed our social worker. I wrote out a list of forty or so reasons why are our family should be approved to view the file for our little girl.

And then I waited. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Wednesday afternoon we finally heard back. (Anyone who knows adoption time understands that three days is an eternity.) We had been accepted back into the program.

Long story short (I never do tell a short story, do I?), we had to talk with our agency and social worker regarding why we were qualified/ready/prepared etc., to view the file and that went relatively easily. I mean, I work with words for a living. Give me a chance to explain something to you and I can probably convince you to see my point of view. And my lawyer-like OCD tendencies get me compliments (I took it as a compliment anyway! ;)) like this from my social worker, "When you go after something, you cover all your bases." Anyway, we got her file Thursday afternoon. I called them right back and told them we wanted to accept it. You're supposed to have two weeks to do the official review and acceptance. I had it done in two hours. They emailed me a stack of paperwork. I signed/filled out/completed it and sent it back, along with all the money in our bank account. Friday morning we got confirmation. As far as referrals went, she was ours! (Not legally yet though; we have to go through court for that.)

Saturday all day I did paperwork. Sunday morning I interpreted church again. This time the message was about Elijah and how God led him to Kerith Ravine and Elijah had to TOTALLY trust/depend on God. His life was in danger and he had nothing. God sent BIRDS to feed him every morning and every night. Elijah didn't get enough food for a week, or even a day. He had nothing stored up. He simply had to depend on God to care for him, one step at a time. Oddly enough, God is showing us that He is caring for us during this crazy adventure too. Our savings account had literally to the DOLLAR enough money for our application fee, homestudy fee, referral acceptance fees, post placement and agency fees and USCIS (immigration). Like, to the dollar. And in total dependence and trust in God, we put everything we have into this little girl. Because we know it's what we are supposed to do. And crazily enough, we aren't worried. God's got this and we just need to follow. He has proved Himself before to us (not that He even needed to, but it sure makes following and doing something that seems totally crazy a LOT easier!) and we are just GOING.

(To listen to the message about Elijah, click here.)



So what happens now? Well, basically we need to do our homestudy and our dossier done in two months. Usually this paperwork takes about eight months. But because we already have a referral AND because there is a new PAIR process being implemented at immigration (USCIS), we need to move as fast as possible. PAIR is basically an extra investigation to make sure that the U.S. side approves of the match BEFORE the family goes to court in Ethiopia. It's supposed to help protect families and children.....but it also adds up to three months of waiting before you can get a court date. Meaning it could be 5+ months before we travel. It all depends. Not cool. And then the wait time between our court and embassy trip could still be three months. Again, NOT COOL. Anyway, back to paperwork. I have spent the last three weeks moving as fast as possible on it. Like, every day all day. As far as my end goes, my homestudy paperwork is done. Even all the online trainings that we had to redo (12 hours each). Seriously, that was cruel and unnecessary. I'll never get back those brain cells. And I can't justify my precious time, and much less hundreds of dollars to hear things like, "Your child may have emotional and/or behavioral issues," and "Try to keep your sense of humor. Sign up for a joke of the day through email." I'll tell you where the joke is at. Anyway, our trainings are done and so almost everything else. I am just waiting on a few things to arrive by mail (letter of employment, new marriage certificate, etc.) FBI fingerprinting, child abuse clearance, financials, everything. Of course, I need my social worker to do the actual visits and write up. But my side is DONE. First visit is tonight, as well as our 12-month (it's a little early) post-placement visit for Levi and Z. As far as my dossier goes, it's all done except for the same paperwork I am waiting for in my homestudy, plus we have to drive to Albany to get it state certified and everything. And I need to file with USCIS for my I-171H but I can't do that until my homestudy is done. So just waiting on my poor social worker and then my I-171H and fingerprinting approval and THEN we can start the long wait till court. Is your head spinning?

So let's talk about our girl. :) I wish I could share information about her, but I can't. I CAN say that we will be naming her Natalie, and that is how I will refer to her from now on. :) We were so blessed to get some pictures of her already, and we are totally in love. She looks very sassy. :) Abe says he bets her personality is a lot like mine (oh boy! ;)). We even got a video clip and although she doesn't have language, she's going on and on about makeup, jewelry, hair, clothes, and shoes. I started laughing my head off. That is so. my. child. THEN we got two more pictures; one of her in a group photo where everyone is smiling and she is making a kiss face, and one where she is rocking some aviators. Definitely an Ethiopian carbon copy of me. I love it.






                    I can't wait to post a picture of Natalie and me with sunglasses and kisses! ;)




 I also spent three days making a fundraising video for Natalie. You can view it on the bottom left, here. Please share it!!!


Thanks so much for all your love and support. :) Stay tuned!
  

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Best Dinner Conversation EVER.

Tonight at dinner.........


Levi: "You guys are so old! Dad had a white hair today! You guys are SUPER OLDDDDDD!"

Me: "Do you realize that you and Dad are only ten years apart?"

Levi, "I don't get it."

Me: "It means, that when we are old, YOU'LL be old too! When Dad is 80, you'll be 70!!!"

Levi, "NO! NOOOOOO! I'll be young when you are old!"

Me to Abe: "I can't believe I JUST realized this! We are all going to be in a nursing home together! All four of us! We will be using WALKERS together!!!!

Abe: "You know what I just realized? All of our friends who are waiting to have kids.....when they finally start having them, we will be having babies too......GRANDbabies!!!!"

Me: "Let's ask Doc if he can be a guardian again.....for our grandchildren!!!!!"



Hysterical laughter ensues.

The Entire Summer in One Random Post

 *This was written 8/15/13*



It's been a busy summer! A lot of fun, a lot of struggles, a lot of growth. Since I haven't been able to write, I'm just going to summarize the main events. :)


JUNE:

My baby sis came to live with us for three weeks. We did nothing but eat junk food, go to the zoo, Niagara Falls, do photoshoots with different themes, go to Callanach recording sessions (and a show!), watch movies and go swimming. The kids were SO depressed when she left.


Recording for Callanach's new album, "A Needle Pointing North" progressed. We started tracking in May but June was when a lot of the main tracks were laid down. We JUST had our last day of tracking last week and the album is sounding A-MAZING. Can't wait to mix it and put it up on iTunes! (www.callanach.com)

Levi started soccer. He loved it and he was really good at it. His team had a great coach AND a couple kids who could sign a little bit and that made it even better. I am so proud of him; he worked hard and played great, and his team loved him. And I'm not gonna lie, it's fun to be the soccer mom of a good player. ;) "Who's THAT boy??!?!?!" "Oh, that's MY son." ;) ;) ;)



JULY:


Levi had a week long basketball camp. We got him an interpreter (his first time with someone who isn't me!) since it was 3 hours a day for a week. He did great and actually won an award! Five boys out of about 80 were chosen for being the best listeners and working the hardest that week, and Levi was one of them. He was SO excited. And I was SO proud of him.

The kids started swimming lessons through the town. They have AMAZING instructors (we are in our last week!!!). Both kids passed Level 1, and then they both failed Level 2. You have to be able to float for 15 seconds, tread water for 15 seconds, do the front crawl, and the back stroke to pass Level 2. So we are taking it again. :) They are doing great and have REALLY improved; Z can float for a minute and do the backstroke like a little water bug. Her front crawl needs work; she can do it perfectly with a kick-board but can't move fast enough on her own. She just started treading water. Levi can do the front crawl, although he fakes breathing. You're supposed to breathe every time your "breathing" arm comes out of the water; he breathes every three or four times haha. They nicknamed him, "Iron Lungs." He can do the backstroke but is always like 2" beneath the water. Because he is so dense and muscular, he literally CANNOT.FLOAT. So his backstroke makes him look like a submarine gliding just beneath the surface. And when he tries to float, he sinks straight down. Just like Jack in the Titanic. Down, down, down. His first nickname was actually, "Rocks in His Pants", and then it changed to "Iron Lungs". Every lifeguard there gathers to watch him try and float because it is so hysterical. They now allow him to do the "fishy", where he uses his hands like fins. This keeps his face above water, and they are calling that a success. :)

Z started gymnastics again. We were going to two gyms, two days a week but the town gymnastics program is rotten, so we dropped it after three weeks. The teachers weren't nice and they refused to allow her to get chalk for her bar work. Screw that. Her regular gym (she loves it) has been great and she's having a blast as always. I just signed her up for twice a week starting in September again. I made her a duct tape balance beam on her floor in her room but had to get rid of it because I didn't want the carpet getting sticky. She's constantly cartwheeling and doing handstands around the house, or flips onto the couch or beds. It's ridiculous. Abe recently said, "I think she spends more time on her hands then on her feet." Ne'er was a truer statement spoken. The child is obsessed. I LOVE IT.

The kids and I took a trip to Erie, PA and met up with two of my adoption soul sisters and their beautiful kids. (We all traveled together for court last year and the kids were all at the Transition Home together.) It was AMAZING. We stayed at a ghetto hotel (which made for endless laughs and a promise to stay in a high class hotel for our next meet up) and lived off fruit, crackers, bottled water and gatorade for four days. We went to the beach (AMAZING fun) and built epic-fail sand castles (more like mud mountains), jumped waves, played frisbee and raced down the beach, and Levi and one of my friend's husband went fishing. (Levi caught five fish, one that was HUGE!) I corn-rowed multiple heads, and found out that Z is allergic to something in Nyquil. THAT was a terrifying experience. We were all fighting colds and she was having trouble sleeping so I gave her some children's Nyquil (giving her the lower end of the recommended dosage) and when we woke up in the morning, her lips looked like we have botoxed them and she had scratched them to pieces in the middle of the night. Anyway, long story short, different meds, LOTS of lipgloss and Blistex and prayers and her lips healed by the time we left.




AUGUST:

I interpreted a giant music festival and the kids LOVED it. It was SO loud, and they got a front row seat in the deaf section. Levi fist-pumped and signed along to EVERY song, EVERY day, ALL day. It was incredible. I chalked dyed my hair red for one of the metal bands I interpreted for, and it was a blast. The chalk looked great--and got EVERYWHERE. Abe was kind; his words were, "It just looks like you have a lot of blush on, babe." Really, it looked like I was a pink martian. :) Me and my teamer (who I convinced to chalk dye her hair red too) were taking baths in the restroom sink trying to scrub the pink residue off ourselves haha.


We got a new car. A truck, really. (Insert ear-to-ear grin.) Abe's car had been a money-pit since May but we'd kept trying to fix it because none of the other cars in our price range were any good. And a car payment (for a decent vehicle) wasn't an option either. Long story short, we did a lot of car shopping and decided to go for it and get a decent one. We found a beautiful Honda Pilot with 60k and made an offer. The dealership declined and we walked out. We went back the next day (because the car was amazing) and counter-offered. They accepted and the head guy came out and told me I was good at negotiating. :) Then something amazing happened. Someone gave us a down-payment for the car. Like, an incredible one. And Abe got a raise because his company looked at him and other positions in his level and decided that he wasn't getting paid enough for what he does. His raise is exactly $4 more than the monthly car payment. In-freaking-credible. I'm telling you, try and out-give God. You can't.


Levi had an eval recently through the school system and he is exactly where I had told them he was according to my homeschooling. He has completed first grade, is currently about a second grade overall level with solid 4th grade math and some 5th. There were six evaluators and they all told me that of course he is super behind and whatever, BUT that the information that he does know is incredible. They said he is doing great for the 8 months (really 5, because we have done nothing all summer) that I have been homeschooling him. They said his understanding of English is better than some of their students who are a higher grade than him. He understands about plurals (he can't always correctly write it himself, but he comprehends) and also that the name of a person/place/thing can be replaced with he/she/it/her/they, etc. They said he catches on quickly, and a lot of other positives. It made me so proud of him (it was scary for him to go and take all these tests, and they were hard) and it made me feel good about how hard the kids and I have worked at homeschooling. Homeschooling isn't easy and sometimes I wonder how we are making out. So seeing six people individually test him and tell me he's right on track with everything I told the state makes me SUPER happy. :) They also did a speech test on him (he laughed at them when they told him they had to test his speech ;) #thatsmyboy) and another audiology exam. He's 95/100db deaf. For people who don't know, 100db is the deafest you can be. So 100/100db means both ears are COMPLETELY deaf. He's 95db in one ear, 100db in the other. So basically he only responds to vibrations.



So that has basically been our summer in a nutshell. The kids are doing great, and have made HUGE strides, especially Levi. I am SO proud of them, and their hardwork, and all the growth that has happened. I wish I could share it all. They have come light years in every aspect of their lives. :) They are so amazing!!!!!!!


One last thing I wanted to share. Yesterday we got home at 6pm or so, and I was SO tired. The kids were trying to set up a tent with a broken pole and I was doing laundry, dishes, and some basic cleaning. I finished and I wanted SOOOOO much to go lie down and watch a movie on my phone or something while they played outside. At the same time, I wanted to go out and play with the kids.....I mean, how often do we PLAY??? I was torn for like five minutes and finally dragged on my shoes and went out. Levi was playing with JD (our giant lab) and Z was in her tent, singing. I unzipped the tent and climbed in. She got this HUGE grin and said, "Mommy! Are you going to sleep???" I said, "No, Z, I came to play with you. " Her face just LIT up (making me feel SO happy that I hadn't gone and watched a movie). She said, "Mommy, you can sing with me," and then she started making up this praise song to Jesus. We sang for seriously like 20 minutes, back and forth, to Jesus. I wanted to cry. It was SO amazing. This tiny little girl, praising her Heavenly Father and saying things like, "Jesus, you saved me. Thank you for loving me. You always take care of me, You will never leave me." I can't believe I almost missed one of the memories that I will cherish forever. I wanted to bawl. Afterwards she snuggled in next to me and said, "Mommy, I love you." I almost lost it.




P.S. A year ago today, Abe and I got on a plane to Ethiopia to meet the kids for the first time.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Advocating for Deaf Adoption

My agency, America World, recently asked me to write a post adovcating for the adoption of deaf children. I wrote a post and thought I'd add it here too. ;)


Adopting a Deaf Child: Meet Levi

Number 1
If you see my family, three things stand out immediately:
  • We are a bi-racial family. (My husband is Caucasian, I am Mexican, and our kids are Ethiopian.) 
  • My husband and I are in our mid-twenties and have a teenager and a nine-year old.
  • My 14-year old son is profoundly deaf and we use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate.
Number 2My son Levi is Deaf. And he's also a normal teen. He's growing like a weed (soon he will be eye level with me *sigh*), he eats like a horse, and he loves basketball, soccer, movies, pizza, his friends, and cell phones. He has a smile that lights up everything around him, and a love for Jesus that shines right through him. He talks (signs) non-stop.
And six months ago, he had a vocabulary of 25 signs.
Levi grew up in Ethiopia with no education and no formal language. I mean, NONE. Can you imagine being locked inside yourself in a world of silence? Not being able to communicate with others? Not being able to tell them how you feel or what you want? Not understanding what people want of you? Not understanding when people laugh at a joke? Not knowing your siblings' names? That's just part of what Levi lived with for 14 years. And it's a wonder he didn't lose his mind and become a frustrated, violent mess. And probably why he signs 24/7 now.
Number 3
When we met Levi on our court trip, he had about 25 "home signs", which are signs he had invented as a system of communicating with his caretakers and friends. He had just started going to a deaf school in Addis, and was learning some Ethiopian sign language. Between learning Levi's home signs, teaching him some of ours (I am an ASL-English interpreter), and gesturing, the three of us were able to communicate at a basic level immediately.
When Levi and Zahria (his biological sister) came home in November, 2012, they could not communicate with each other at all. Six months later, I couldn't get them to stop talking (signing) if I tried. Zahria actually said the other day: "Mommy, before in Ethiopia, me and Levi no can talk. None. Me don't know him. Now us talk all da time!!!" Here is a video of them: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RDNx47pXv8
By the world's standards, Levi is "disabled." “Disabled” implies that something is wrong with him. I don't consider him disabled; he just can't hear. He functions as a normal teenager and basically the only differences are that we use ASL to communicate, and we need interpreters for public events, appointments, etc. Minor adjustments are also that instead of calling Levi's name to get his attention, we wave, or tap him on the shoulder, or flash a light switch so that he turns to face us.

Number 4
Maybe right about now you're thinking, "Hey Marissa, that's cool that you know ASL and have a Deaf son, but I don't know any sign language and that's scary!"
It's totally scary! But it's okay! Not knowing sign language should NOT stop you from considering a deaf child. While both parents knowing ASL would be ideal, it's not the only option. If you are truly willing to learn to sign and communicate with your deaf child, and provide them the resources where THEY can learn to sign or communicate with their mode of preference (sign, sign and speech, oral only, etc.), then perfection doesn't matter. Effort and willingness are the keys. 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents and those parents didn't know sign when their kids were born. You can do this!

Not all deaf people are the same. That seems obvious, but what I mean is that deaf people do not all identify themselves the same, and they use different modes of communication, depending on their personal preference. The two main categories are: Deaf (viewing themselves as a cultural minority and using American Sign Language to communicate), and hard-of-hearing or hearing impaired (using spoken English and or a mixture of spoken and signed English or ASL). People with a cultural view use a capital "D" to define themselves as Deaf. Deaf/hard-of-hearing people also have a range of hearing loss. Levi is 80 and 90db. Basically, a rock concert sounds like a whisper to him.
There are lots of resources for families with deaf children, although they vary depending on the area. Each state typically has one school for the deaf, and that would be the best place to get resources in your specific area. Schools for the deaf typically provide sign language classes, a schedule of deaf events in their area, audiology and speech therapy, hearing aid repairs and resources, sports/recreation, as well as education in a signed environment. Example: www.rsdeaf.org

Number 6

Another resource for communication between Deaf and hearing individuals is a videophone. If I am away from the house, I could call Levi on my phone, using a video relay service with interpreters. www.sorensonvrs.com
There are also multiple online stores that sell devices such as flashing doorbells and vibrating alarm clocks, and other devices designed for deaf/hard-of-hearing people. http://store.hdscenter.org/
Language resources are available too, with websites showing videos of single signs and concepts in ASL (although they do not teach sentence structure, syntax, or grammar). I also have a YouTube page where I post videos of specific signs to help our family communicate with Levi.
ASL Dictionary: www.aslpro.com
ASL Dictionary: www.lifeprint.com
My YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/user/SignLanguageBasics


If you are considering a deaf child, or just want to ask questions, please feel free to email me at marissa.fiddle@gmail.com. I would love to talk with you!

-Marissa Ruper

Number 7