Saturday, May 20, 2017

My Mother's Day Story (+ interview)

Mother's Day has come and gone... but I'm still thinking about last weekend and counting my blessings. After spending the last 5 Mother's Days #waitingforKate with empty arms and an aching heart - I sure was grateful to have my daughter in my arms this year! We still can't share photos of her beautiful face, but I love this sweet shot from the day. One of my favorite things to do right now is to lean over and whisper in her ear, "You make me HAPPY!" The way she giggles and smiles when she hears my "secret" is the sweetest thing.

We are still working through this huge transition with Kate, and walking through plenty of grief. We still have lots of hard days, and plenty of tears. To lose everything you've known for 4 years is not an easy thing... but we are grateful we get to be the ones to comfort her and the ones who will now be here FOREVER for her. I'm truly in awe of our daughter's courage, strength, kindness and compassion. She is such a precious child. Even in the midst of brokenness - this little darling has brought so much joy and beauty to our lives. Hearing her call me "Mama" is the greatest gift! 💕


A few days before Mother's Day I was invited to share my story on WDJC in Birmingham (thanks to my friend Stephanie who is their awesome drive time DJ!) It was really emotional to walk back through the past 5 years and to remember all we've been through. I shared some very personal things - including an extraordinary part of our adoption story that we've never shared publicly before! So I am excited to post the interview here too!

When you have a few minutes, I hope you'll pour yourself a cup of tea and take a listen. You'll hear a recap of our 5 year journey, and some encouragement for those of you still walking through your own adoption journeys. And I hope that maybe, just maybe, someone will listen to our story and be moved to adopt too!

Part 1: The Calling & Confirmation



Part 2: The Obstacles



Part 3: Cutting The Red Tape



Part 4: A Message For Waiting Mothers




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Thanks friends, for reading and listening! (And thanks Stephanie for the opportunity to share - and for your patience when my 4-5 minute segments turned into 6+ minutes. Oops!) If you're ever curious about other parts of our process - feel free to leave a question in the comments! And if you're thinking about adopting, let me say it one more time: these children are worth the work and worth the wait! 💕

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Four Months In Our Arms

Confession: I am writing this blog very late and back-dating it. The past two months have been busy and hard and I just keep falling behind... but I don't want to forget any of these details from our first year home with Kate! March 29th marked 4 months with our darling little girl in our arms... so here's a recap from month #4! 

FIRSTS

Believe it or not, we're still enjoying LOTS of firsts with Kate! On March 5th she took her very first trip to my alma mater, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried holding her in my arms as we took our first steps onto campus at Toomer's Corner! She took her very first photo at the Auburn sign in front of Samford Hall, and I thought my heart might burst while I watched her playing with one of my dear college friend's little girls on Samford Lawn. She made the funniest face when she tried Toomer's Lemonade for the first time (she is not a fan of sour things!) but she loved all the tigers she saw everywhere! 


Kate also attended her first AU Singers Show. Tears sprung to my eyes again when I watched my baby hop up on the front row and try to mimic the dance moves during the show! She saw her mama perform for the very first time when I joined the choir to close the show with "What Would I Do Without My Music" and even tried to sing along. It was precious! Maybe someday she'll be an AU Singer too! ;)


My little helper got a chance to make her very first "Fireball Cherry Pie" (video above) which is a family tradition that I loved sharing with her! I only wish my MeMaw was here to taste it... she would adore our little brown eyed girl and Kate would love singing and dancing (and cooking) with her! Kate went to Oxford to visit her Yaai and Dtah at work for the first time this month - and did surprisingly well being introduced to lots of new people. She loved surprising Yaai with flowers on her birthday and singing to her in her office!


This month Kate celebrated her very first St. Patrick's Day home... and we couldn't resist snapping a few photos to commemorate the holiday. (She looked like the cutest little Thai Rainbow Brite in those leggings ya'll!) She has so much fun "modeling" for these shoots. Like a true diva she wore her first vintage fur collar (to match Mama) one cold Sunday this month. She also watched Beauty and the Beast for the very first time and LOVED it! She now regularly talks about "Da Beast!"


We had an incredible afternoon in the park this month where Kate got to pet baby ducks for the first time ever. We just happened to come across the sweetest, tamest Mama duck who let us pet her (and her fluffy ducklings) for a while. Kate was in heaven (and I loved it too!) while Rusty almost had a heart attack because he was so worried the Mama duck was going to attack us. Haha! (For those with our password, you can watch the hilarious video from that day above!)



LANGUAGE

We are still making progress with our language... slow but steady! Our little chatterbox wants to be able to *really* talk to us so badly... and I hate the fact that we still can't really communicate with her. She is trying to tell more and more stories these days in an effort to connect with us. Most of them are still in a kind of gibberish/baby talk - but sometimes we can pick out enough English/Thai words to get an idea of what she's trying to say. I celebrated the day she was finally able to tell me what she had for breakfast without me giving her prompts. Whoo hoo! It may not seem like a big deal, but it is to me! (God bless my precious husband who feeds her breakfast every day and lets Mama sleep just a little bit more! I love having her climb up in bed and tell me, "Namfon eggs... milk... chocolate milk... All gone!" with the biggest smile!)  


Kate points and asks to know more and more words with every passing day. She has learned to say "Bing!" when she wants us to buy something (she's mimicking the sound of the item being scanned at the checkout! Haha!) She still LOVES presents - but doesn't know what to do with the fact that so many people give her gifts for no reason! So she asks, "Happy Birthday Namfon?" every time someone brings a present. It is the cutest thing! She still sings the "Happy Birthday" song to her stuffed animals often during playtime, and LOVED attending 2 birthday parties for her friends Lydia and Karis this month! 

She has started talking about Meow (her best friend from the orphanage) and Pa (the adoption director at the orphanage) more this month. Anytime we say "everyone" when we're teaching her (for example - that's your bellybutton! Everyone has a bellybutton!) she will list off her family members (Mama? Papa? Dtah? Yaai? Tutu? - yes! We all have bellybuttons!) followed now by Meow and Pa (yes, they have bellybuttons too!)  It is sweet and sad at the same time. They were like family to her and I know she misses them! I'm just glad she's finally started talking about them a bit with us, so that maybe we can help her work through her grief.



ATTACHMENT

Despite 2+ weeks of sickness (a fever virus for both me and Kate, followed by a bad bout of bronchitis for me, followed by bad allergies for all 3 of us!) we have made major progress with attachment the past few weeks. 90% of the time this month I've been allowed to kiss and touch Kate without her getting upset or pulling away! Praises!!! I was also finally able to touch and kiss her a few times at night (when we transition her to our bed) - which was a HUGE deal. In the past that would have made her very upset (she feels so vulnerable when she's sleepy). She even wanted to snuggle with me a few nights out of this month (which made for a very sleep-deprived, but very happy Mama!)

Working on Yaai's computer... 

We have convinced her that she has 2 cheeks because one is for Mama to kiss and one is for Papa to kiss! It's become a sweet new game, and she loves being "smushed" between us for kisses. She will then turn and point to Rusty's face and say, "Mama's cheek - Kate's cheek" and we'll give him kisses... followed by my turn ("Papa's cheek - Kate's cheek") which is the sweetest thing!

Being silly with Dtah!

We have been working on teaching Kate the names for her emotions the past few weeks, and she is finally picking up on that (which I think is helping with her grief, fear, and attachment). She can understand and name "Happy", "Sad", and "Angry" these days. I've been telling her that her kisses make me HAPPY - and now she'll look at my face after she gives me kisses, smile, and say with a sense of accomplishment - "Mama HAPPY!" It is adorable. (And as you can see from the photos in this section, she is also very attached to her Yaai and Dtah - my parents. They have so much fun together!)



A few more things about Kate...


This month Kate started blocking doorways with her arms and telling us it's "locked" when we want to get through. We tried looking for "keys" or tickling her to get through - and then I turned it into a game that required kisses (and the person needing to get through has to figure out WHERE the kiss is needed to unlock the door!) It has been the best, most fun way for Mama to get and give lots of kisses! Sometimes I have to kiss both cheeks, her forehead, her chin, her nose, and both hands before she says, "OPEN!" while giggling!


She loves, loves, loves her Lincoln Logs her Dtah bought her, and makes "Puppy houses" out of them (for her toy puppy) with Rusty multiple times a day. Listening to them playing together in her room is the sweetest sound. She's getting really creative and she's so proud of what she makes! She got another beautiful quilt this month from our dear friend Kathy Hindes (photo above) and she loved playing with her babies on it (in her Belle dress of course) too. 

Her Tutu (Rusty's Mom) came to visit during Spring Break and Kate loved spending time with her. Unfortunately that was the week I was sick on the couch with bronchitis (which was really hard on all of us), but Kate enjoyed a trip to the Zoo (where she got to feed the lorikeets!), feeding the ducks at the Park, and lots of time playing outside with Tutu! Tutu also snuck her a little bit of lipstick (which I guess is another "first") and her Papa didn't like it one bit! Haha! What are grandmother's for... right? ;) Both of Kate's grandmothers sure are enjoying spoiling her!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Three Months In Our Arms

Since there wasn't a "February 29th" this year, March 1st marked 3 months since we took custody of Kate. We have one quarter of a year behind us, and I can barely believe it! Here's a recap of the last month with our little girl...

FIRSTS

Believe it or not, we are still celebrating plenty of "firsts" with our little girl. This month she enjoyed her first trip to visit her grandparents' house in Oxford, and her first trip up to the waterfall on our family's land. She LOVED exploring in the woods and throwing rocks in the water! She also had her first trip to her Aunt Tammy & Uncle Grant's new house, where she picked her first flower for Mama (a daffodil). She took her first ride in her Dtah's (grandfather's) convertible too (just down the driveway) and now she wants to ride in it all the time.


She held her first newborn baby (Violet Knowles) and kissed her first boy (Mason Knowles) on the cheek! Her daddy was not too thrilled. Haha! (I'm sure she might have smooched a boy or two before she came home... but for record keeping purposes, we'll give this honor to sweet Mason!)

After weeks of riding her little pink tricycle, and begging for a BIG bike like the other girls on the street, Kate also got her first real princess bicycle (with training wheels). It even has a seat for her bunny to ride (it is the cutest thing!) She also chewed her first bubble gum (that we know of) and played with her first bit of bubble wrap. When she popped all the bubbles in it, we had to go to the store and get her more! She also went to The McWane Center for the first time, and subsequently ended up with her first "sick day" since she got home. (Taking her to such a "hands on place" in cold and flu season was definitely a "rookie mom" move! Oops!) Unrelated to her sick day, she had her first big doctor's visit (since she got home) at the International Adoption Clinic this month too. She was amazing! She had 8 vials of blood taken with NO tears! WHAT?! WOW! We have such a brave girl!


She enjoyed her first Valentine's Day with us, where she was spoiled with chocolates and flowers from her Papa. She also tried cotton candy for the first time (to our knowledge) and got her first Princess Dress from her Yaai (grandmother) - a Belle dress of course! She wants to wear it every day!


ATTACHMENT

Kate has made significant progress this month with bonding and attachment, and major progress with controlling her emotions. The first couple of months we spent with her, she was a lot more volatile and angry at times, which was most likely because she was grieving the loss of her friends/caregivers, frustrated with the language barrier, and because she felt out of control in this huge transition. (Which is ALL completely understandable of course! I would be an emotional wreck if I'd been through what she's experienced!) So we've been really encouraged to see her be more calm, less angry and whiny, and less anxious the past few weeks. We were also excited to see her using brighter colors when she paints or draws (she'd been using a lot of black since we came home) and coloring in the lines for the very first time since she came home (instead of just scribbling!) We've been proud too of how she's been controlling herself and making good decisions even when she gets upset. She LOVES to chew gum, and we decided this month that gum privileges are lost if she hits/hurts Mama. It's been encouraging to see those instances drop significantly! (We have had hardly any time outs this month!) And if she slips up she is quick to apologize sincerely. She really is such a compassionate and tender-hearted child!


I feel like we've made some great progress with her bonding with me too. She pushes me away less, prefers me occasionally, and has even snuggled with me a few times this month. Unfortunately, it's not linear. We still have unexpected bad days or even weeks with our relationships. We had a few GREAT days this month, that were suddenly followed by 10 days where I wasn't allowed to give her any kisses. It broke my Mama heart. But even on some of those tough days, she decided she wanted to start holding my hand in bed at night as she's falling asleep - and that was a new, precious thing to me!


This month we've seen some great progress with how she shares and plays with her friends, and she has been more affectionate with her friends too. It is so sweet to look down and see her lovingly stroking the face or head of a friend, holding their hands, or giving them goodbye hugs and kisses! She even told our next door neighbor kids "I love you!" this month! Unfortunately we have also seen some "territorial" times with her too. When she came home she was so used to everything being "community property" like it was in the orphanage. I think now it's sinking in that some things are HERS! And so naturally, she is more protective of some of her things at times (which again, is understandable!) She is especially protective of her Bunny!


These days we are seeing MAJOR tears over tiny hurts, which is a sign that she trusts us to meet her needs and give her the attention she craves (all good things!) She is actually a really tough kid, but it's so sweet to see her come to us to show us tiny scratches and ask for kisses or a princess bandaid. She can be quite the drama queen when she wants to be. Ha!

Kate still loves "Family Movie Time" and requests it often. She regularly says, "Love you!" to Mama and Papa now. A few times last month we gave her multiple kisses on her face for bedtime, and these days she requests at least a half a dozen kisses from Papa every time he leaves the house and every night at bedtime! She has to have one on each cheek, her forehead, her nose, her chin, her neck, the back of her head (why? no idea!) and her lips! Mama rarely got to give kisses this month, but sometimes Kate gave them to me in multiple places (my forehead, cheeks, and nose!)



SLEEP & FOOD

Bedtime and mealtimes have been more of a challenge this month. We went through a couple of weeks where Kate would barely nap (it took maybe 20-30 minutes to get her down and then she'd only nap for 30 minutes!) and she was having a hard time sleeping too. One night she got up 8 times between 8pm and midnight. Whew! So we made the hard choice to drop her naps. She was grumpy for a few days around nap time (and still will take a 15 minute catnap every now and then), but she sleeps SO much better at night. We really, really miss the days when she would nap for 1-2 hours in the afternoons (we could actually get some things done then!) - but it's worth it to have her sleeping better at night. She has learned to stay in her bed from 8ish until about midnight - when we go get her, take her to potty, and then put her in our bed (where she co-sleeps between us for the rest of the night). So far it's working well.

Planting flowers with Mama!

Mealtimes however, are getting more challenging with each passing week! She drags them out so. long. every. meal. She wants to be fed... she wants to sit in one of our laps... then she changes her mind... then she doesn't want her food... then we have to zoom it like an airplane... then she closes her mouth and says no... *sigh. I thought maybe it was just because she didn't like a lot of the new food she's eating (and that may be part of it), but she acts the same way even for familiar foods and even for meals she requests. So I have a hunch that she just really enjoys all the attention she gets as we're begging her to eat and both focused 100% on her. It is tough to deal with but we are trying to be patient. I try to remind myself that we're just "catching up" on all the difficult feedings we would have done when she was a baby and a toddler if she'd been home! I also keep reminding myself that she probably misses her friends (she ate in the cafeteria at the orphanage every day) and is still adjusting to not eating on as strict of a schedule. But I'm hoping as she learns more language and can articulate what she likes or doesn't like, mealtime will get better! Luckily she does eat pretty healthy food, and will try most things. This month we realized she really likes salad (caesar or with thousand island dressing), so that's been a fun (and healthy) addition to meal times!


LANGUAGE

Our friends and family keep telling us Kate has made a LOT of progress with language lately. It's harder for us to see since we are with her every day, but I'm encouraged by their feedback. Lately we've been a little worried because she isn't making as much progress as we expected. We had so many friends who told us their kids were speaking in full sentences by 2 months home! But their kids were 2 years old (or younger) when they were adopted. It's very different for a 4 year old who was fluently speaking Thai when she came home!

She has definitely been more verbal this month though. For the first few weeks with us we would ask her questions and she would not respond, or just shake her head yes or no. That slowly transitioned to her saying "MAI!" a lot (no in Thai)... but it was hard to get her to say YES (in Thai or English). This month she's been a lot more responsive and says, "Yeah" and "No" most of the time when we talk to her! She also responds with "please", "thank you", and "yuh wawcom" (it is so cute!) regularly. When she gets in trouble for something, I usually reprimand her by saying, "No ma'am!" - and this month she's taken to mimicking me in the EXACT tone I use! It took me so off guard the first time she did it that I burst out laughing (it was crazy to hear my voice mirrored back to me!), and now I can't help but laugh every time! (I probably shouldn't encourage it but it's just too funny to me!) Kate wants to be able to REALLY talk to us so badly... so this month she's started to pretend we're having lengthly conversations by rambling in mostly baby talk/made up words and sounds - with a Thai word or English word here and there.


This month she also started working on flash cards for a few minutes a few days each week, and she's doing well with those. She's also been learning a lot of animal names, and learning the characters on Sesame Street! She points out our garbage man and mailman every day, and LOVES big trucks. She will literally yell "Mama! Mama! MAMA!!!" over and over until I turn around (while we're in the car) and then "BIG TRUCK!!!" every time we see an 18 wheeler, dump truck, cement truck, moving truck, etc. (literally every. single. time. Road trips are fun these days. Haha!) She also points out every bus she sees and tries to sing the song, "Wheels on the Bus" - which includes her cute little change of "all truuu muh town!" (She sang a rousing rendition of this song at the TOP of her lungs on Valentine's Night at Olive Garden. Sorry to all the people who had to hear it while trying to enjoy a romantic dinner! Haha!)


We're continuing to work on colors and numbers in English. She knows them well in Thai but gets confused sometimes in English... and bless her sweet heart, she thinks ZERO is ZEBRA! (It's too cute!) Her pronouns have been giving her trouble this month too. She says, "for YOU!" instead of "for me" and it's the cutest thing. She also says, "My turn!" for everyone's turns.

She tells me every morning, "Get up Mama!" and when chatting with us she'll add, "Mmmkay?"  to almost every sentence. When she finds something she's looking for she says, "HaHA!" instead of "Aha!" And she has this lilting sign when she sees something cute or snuggles something or someone that sounds like a Disney princess come to life. (It is adorable!) Her new favorite word? "TOGETHER!" (And she always wants us all 3 to be "together"!)

She is definitely thinking more in English lately, because she is saying "No" instead of "Mai" (even in the middle of the night when she's half asleep, and even when she's upset) and "Ow" when something hurts (which is actually the word for "want" in Thai). Meanwhile, my brain has flipped to Thai and every time I hurt myself these days, "Jep" comes out before "Ow!"


Last month when I would try to teach her new words (which I try to do CONSTANTLY) she would often yell, "Noooo!!!" and disengage. This month she is pointing to lots of things and wants to know new words often. I feel a bit like Anne Sullivan (Helen Keller's teacher) these days. (No disrespect, I think Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller are both incredible!) - but I have a child who literally grunts and whines, or yells, "Nee!" (this!) and points at things allll day every day - sometimes because she wants them and doesn't have the words - sometimes because she wants to learn the word. It can wear on my nerves at times, but I am trying to just focus on the positive part of how much she's learning. So all day, every day I am pointing and teaching and trying to give her the words she so desperately needs! We still speak some Thai and play a lot of "charades" in our house though to figure things out.

Perhaps the most exciting part of this language update though, is that on February 11th our daughter started calling herself "Kate Jackson!" She still refers to herself as Namfon (her Thai nickname) a LOT (and we call her that too plenty of the time), but when you ask, "What is your name?" she will now proudly tell you, "Kate Jackson!" I love it!


A few more things about Kate...


This month we found out that our little girl LOVES sunsets, painting (water colors and temper paints), having her toenails and fingernails painted (at all times!), having her hair curled, and wearing her princess dress. She learned "this little piggy" from her grandmother and she thinks it's so much fun! She took her umbrella and galoshes out to play in the rain a few weeks back and had a ball. Now she wants to wear her purple galoshes every day!


Kate still loves pretending there are TIGERS around, and being tickled every day. She still adores her Bunny, and the past few weeks she's been sending him on trips with Papa to work, to the store, etc (it is so cute ya'll!) She likes the Sneaky Squirrel board game, and is learning about "taking turns" playing it with Mama and Papa. She also loves to clean and wants to help us with whatever we're doing (making the bed, cooking meals, etc). And these days, she sings all the time!

Speaking of singing... I have often wondered what she is singing when I catch Thai words here and there. I've wished so hard that I could tell what song it might be... perhaps a lullaby from a nanny at the orphanage? Well, one day this month she took a stick from her bunny balloon, attached a valentine's card at the end (to make it look like a flag), and was singing away in the sunroom. When I tried to talk to her she told me to "shhh!" and "Stand up Mama!" as she held up her little flag. Then she showed me to put my hands by my side and stand at attention. That's when it clicked! The Thai National Anthem is sung twice a day all over Thailand (it's played in loudspeakers in every restaurant, mall, market, etc - at 8am and 6pm). I'm betting they did it twice a day at the orphanage too! Could that be what she was singing?


I stood up with her, grabbed my phone, and quickly pulled up the Thai National Anthem on youtube. She instantly held her "flag" higher and started singing along! That was it!!! I'd figured it out! She was so excited (and so was I!) She smiled and told me, "thank you Mama!" We listened to it half a dozen times before showing her Papa and grandparents later that day. She was SO PROUD to hold up her little "flag" and have us all stand at attention while she sang. 

There is so much we don't know about Kate's life in Thailand, and so much of her that we are STILL missing even though she's home - because we just don't have enough language to communicate deeply. So being able to figure out what the little song is she's been singing, showing her that I knew a small part of her daily routine from Thailand, and connecting with her over her National Anthem was so special to me! I can't wait to see what the next month holds for our little girl and our little family!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Kate's Homecoming (Video)

Exactly 2 months ago today, we came home with Kate! On December 18th, we finally landed in the Birmingham airport with our little girl. I wrote in detail about our trip and what our homecoming meant to me when I shared some of the pictures here, but today our video is finally ready to be shared!

Rusty and I have dreamed of our homecoming moment with Kate for 5 years. While we waited, we celebrated (and shot video for) 4 other friends who brought their babies home - Gia from Korea, Esther from Ethiopia, Tawan from Thailand, and Eliana from China! Homecomings are such emotional times for adoptive families. It's a mix of so many feelings - JOY and EXCITEMENT (for your child to meet your/their extended family and friends for the first time), PRIDE (it is so special to finally show your little one off to the people you love!), some anxiety (just wondering how your child will do - will she cry? be afraid?), and a whole lot of RELIEF that you are finally home with your little one! I have felt all those emotions alongside my adoptive mama friends as they brought their babies home - and we were so honored to film for each of them... but I'd be lying if I said there wasn't an ache in my heart each time we went to another homecoming too. I have longed for the day that Rusty and I would get to be the ones coming down that escalator with a beautiful little girl in our arms - tearfully running to hug our parents (amidst a cheering crowd of our closest friends). And this was our day. And it was beautiful, and special, and so full of JOY!




Thank you to everyone who came to the airport to welcome Kate home! Thank you for sharing our JOY and helping make our homecoming a memory that we will cherish! We love you all!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Two Months In Our Arms

Goodness - will I ever catch up with my blog? (With an active 4 year old at home, I'm thinking probably not... but I'm still going to try!) In the 8+ weeks since we got custody of Kate we went to a bunch of important meetings/appointments for our adoption, spent almost 3 weeks together in Thailand, moved hotels 3 times, flew around the world, unpacked from our huge trip, decorated for Christmas, celebrated Christmas, celebrated my birthday, and celebrated Kate's birthday (including hosting her first birthday party)! Whew! Add in meeting friends and family, fulfilling more adoption requirements once home (with post placement visits, reports due, and a big doctor's appt) and the really difficult adjustment of being new parents to a 4 year old - and you can see why I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed and behind. While it was incredibly special to have her home for all those BIG moments (like Christmas and both of our birthdays!) I am hoping now that those are behind us - I might be able to stay caught up just a bit better.  January 29th marked 2 official months with our beautiful girl in our arms, so here's my (late) post recapping it all! 


FIRSTS

Over the past month Kate has enjoyed a lot of new "firsts" with us! These include her first trip to Target, first trip to Chick-Fil-A, first sweet tea, first picnic (on an unexpectedly warm January day), first carousel ride (at the zoo), first green smoothie (another favorite!) and first chocolate milk (which she now wants every day. Haha!) She's also had her first official playdate with her friend Karis! Karis' mom is a good friend of mine, and when we looked up and saw our girls holding hands (completely unprompted by us!) I think we both melted into a puddle. They are both so sassy - but also so sweet!


On January 7th Kate enjoyed her first SNOW! It may have just been an inch or so (and really was mostly ice) but she loved it. We were so surprised! She rarely complains about being cold - but we weren't sure how our tropical beach baby would do actually playing in the ice and snow. But we bundled her up and she had a ball! She loved sledding with Papa, and having snowball fights with the neighborhood kids!


Kate giggled and squealed throughout her first bubble bath (which she enjoyed on her 4th birthday). We were thrilled to celebrate her first birthday home, host her first birthday party (you can read more about that here!) - and take her first real photo shoot (in her birthday tutu! She did great - she's such a ham in front of the camera!) Between Baby Jesus' birthday on Christmas, my birthday the 15th of January, and her birthday the 19th - she now thinks every day is someone's birthday! She is always singing Happy Birthday to herself, me, or one of her toys. Ha! (You can hear a clip of her sweet voice singing it here!) And anytime she gets something (for example, Rusty handed her a bag of tangerines after a trip to the grocery store) she smiles and exclaims, "Happy Birthday Namfon!" (as if it is another birthday gift! Haha!)


She had her first outing with her grandparents on January 27th - just to Chick-Fil-A (5 minutes from our house). We were so afraid she would cry or panic, but she had so much fun! (Mama may or may not have cried a little though! It is so hard to be away from your child for the very first time, no matter how old they are!) Rusty and I stayed home just in case they had to rush back... we wanted her to see us home no matter when she returned. But she had a blast playing, ate great, and even wanted to go to Wal-Mart after dinner to do a little shopping. She came home with lots of yummy snacks, and flowers for me - which she presented with a flourish and a, "Happy Birthday Mama!" (2 weeks after my birthday - Ha!) We are SO glad she's bonding with her Yaai and Dtah (my parents) as well as she is, and grateful for a little bit of a break. It's difficult impossible to get any alone time with a newly adopted 4 year old. We definitely can't leave her with a babysitter, but at least we can get a short break if my parents are in town now! That's a relief!


We celebrated our 2nd month-iversary (on January 29th) with her first Sunday at our church! We thought we might just stay through worship and then leave if she got loud - but she was an ANGEL! She wanted to be on the front row to hear the music (she loves music!), and somehow we ended up sitting on the front row for the rest of the service (at her request - that was certainly not the plan!) We had a lot of little toys, play dough, coloring books, and snacks to keep her occupied, and they worked well! She even understood that she had to be quiet. She only got loud once, when she let out an emphatic "WOW" (at the perfect time in the sermon believe it or not! Haha! She was "wowing" something she just drew, but it sounded so planned! The whole church cracked up!) 

She started getting restless during the last prayer so we headed to the back - but she ran back to the front when the music started up again. I didn't want to upset her, so I followed along to see what she would do. She marched right up to the stage and put one hand in the air (just like she had seen me do earlier) to worship. It was precious! It was so special to be there with her - especially when we got to walk past the sign above (with our immigrant daughter). I'm thankful we attend a church that is welcoming to our daughter and supportive of the work we do around the world!


ATTACHMENT 

We feel like attachment is going well. While we haven't had to worry about intense cocooning (not too many people try to pick up or feed a 4 year old, and Kate has never reached for a stranger) - we are still keeping her world very small. We aren't taking any trips, and we spend most of our time at home these days. We try not to overwhelm her with a lot of new people - and when she does meet new people it's usually at our house (in her comfort zone). She did get a bit overwhelmed at the end of our trip back to church (she buried herself in Rusty's shoulder, then pointed to the door and said "BI!" (GO!) after meeting a few people) so that was a good reminder we still need to keep her close to home!

The general rule of cocooning is that no one meets her needs except myself and Rusty. These days she still wants us to feed her often (even though she can totally feed herself), and help her in the bathroom (again, she can mostly potty by herself) - but we are continuing to help with those things as long as she'll let us because they are good for bonding.

It is also important during the first few months home that only the parents comfort a newly adopted child - and this month we saw the reason why! Along with the long list of "firsts" above, Kate got her first skinned knee (since we took custody) this month. Rusty was watching her play, and he instantly ran and scooped her up when she fell. I heard her crying outside - and ran to comfort her as well. Then we both brought her in and I doctored up her knee. Apparently this was a HUGE deal to our daughter, because after it happened - she re-told us the story of how we took care of her 2-3 times a day for at least week! I'm sure in the orphanage she was taken care of when she hurt herself... but it was still an orphanage (albeit a good one!) so she certainly didn't have 2 caregivers rush to her side to scoop her up and kiss her the second she got hurt. Our attentiveness and response to her pain made such an impact on her little heart. It has been so sweet to see her tell us again and again with bright eyes how Papa picked her up when she cried, and Mama ran to her and doctored her knee! We can tell it made her feel so loved and special! 


If you're following our updates on Facebook and Instagram, then you know Kate bonding with me has been a challenge. We have seen some great progress with our relationship this month, though there are still plenty of times she pushes me away, refuses my affection, and takes out her frustration/grief on me. I haven't written about that a lot here (though I plan to share more in a later blog) but I would appreciate your prayers for her heart to bond to mine! Having been bonded to female caregivers in the orphanage (that she then lost), we've been told this response to "Mama" is completely normal, but it's still so difficult! We had our first post-placement visit this month from our adoption agency, and our social worker assured us we are doing all the right things and it will just take time. So I'm celebrating the progress and trying to have patience on the hard days! This month she has started letting me kiss her more often, and is giving out a lot of kisses to me - which I love. (It's still not anywhere near the amount of affection she gives Rusty - but again, I'll take what I can get!) In the picture above, she was supposed to be smiling for the camera - but instead of smiling she pulled me in and covered me with kisses! It was so unexpected and so good for my heart!


SLEEP

The honeymoon phase is definitely over, and our "amazing" sleeper and eater isn't quite as amazing these days. We've had some challenging mealtimes and nighttimes lately - which is really just a sign she's getting even more comfortable with us. We try not to fight over food or force it, and for the most part she's still eating really well... but as we introduce more and more new foods some have been hit and miss. 

For bedtime we both tuck her in and do prayer time as a family. Then we take turns on who lays with her until she falls asleep, alternating each night. She was sleeping through the night in Thailand... and then only waking up once early on here (sometimes not at all) and again after midnight - when she would just come get in our bed. But these days she's been waking up at least twice between when we put her to bed and when we go to bed ourselves, and sometimes more than that. We may have to drop naps soon (which will be so hard on us!) We are still co-sleeping from sometime after midnight until the morning. She usually sleeps well during that time (when she's in bed with us) - which we're grateful for! 


LANGUAGE

Kate has added a lot of new words in the last month! The ones I can think of at the moment are: football (she loves watching and playing football with Papa!), outside, no thank you, CHOCOLATE, love you, book, Jesus, “LET’S DANCE” (exclaimed while she dances along to the final scene of Footloose! Haha!), help, please, WAR EAGLE HEY! (said with an Auburn shaker in her hand! Yes!), sucker, shower, umbrella, rain, sit, uhm, huh?, chicken, sleeping, Big Bird, “Prayer Time!”, and home. Her most used word these days though, is "WOW!!!" 

While she's still not speaking a ton of English, she does understand a lot more than she speaks. She can follow most directions given in English, and my parents didn't have any issues communicating with her on their little outing (which is encouraging!)


A few more things about Kate...

She still LOVES baths, but also enjoys a shower with Rusty (in his swimsuit) every now and then. I walked in to find her shampooing his hair and giggling away a few days ago! It was so sweet! These days she gets really excited about friends coming over and going outside to play with the neighbors. A lot of the time she is just playing by herself outside (around the other children, but not with them). The language barrier is still tough at her age. But she's become more engaged with her new friends this month than she was the first few weeks home. Every time she sees or hears the neighbor kids outside she yells, “PHEUXN!” (which means FRIENDS! in Thai!) and starts begging to go outside!


We see more and more of her personality the longer we're with her. It's so great to see more of who she is (as she gets more comfortable with us)! We've now enjoyed several elaborate story times in Thai (I so wish we knew what she was saying!) and some hilarious dance performances when music comes on! She has started enjoying TV and movies more, and will actually watch most of a program sometimes (she wouldn't watch anything for 5 minutes the first month we had her!) She really loves Sesame Street lately and usually watches it after nap. 

She is such a compassionate kid, which just makes my heart swell. I got a bad bruise when I wrecked while sledding in the snow ice, and she checked on it every single day until it healed to ask me if it hurt (and even gently put lotion on it for me one day). She also checks on my parents a lot (my mom had back surgery in December) to see if they are hurting by pointing and asking in Thai, "Jep mai?", and if my dad says his knee hurts she will let someone else carry her. She loves to play "doctor" and fix you up if you're hurting too!

Kate is very bonded with her stuffed Bunny these days. He is her very best friend (with Pooh and Belle as close seconds). It's so sweet to see her giving him kisses and snuggling him, and playing "mama" to him. She puts him in her stroller to go for walks, and will tell him to be careful because the cars will hurt him - and not to be afraid of the neighborhood dogs (just like we tell her!) It's so cute! Lately Bunny has been going EVERYWHERE with her. I'm so afraid he'll get ruined - but I just can't tell her no. (So I ordered 2 backups to have on hand just in case! Haha!)


She loves playing with balloons (with or without helium) and can blow them up herself! Her favorite thing to wear these days is bluejeans - and she insists on them almost every day. She still LOVES to be tickled every single day, and loves to play with the wire head massager we got in Thailand (it tickles her so much - and she erupts into giggles every time we get it out!) She also has a blast playing hide-and-seek. One of us will hide, and she will work with the other parent to find the one hiding! (We've found out that Papa has exceptional hiding skills! We've almost been unable to find him twice - and in our tiny house that is surprising!) Kate has also started singing more this month. She surprised me when she joined me singing "There's Just Something About That Name" one night at bedtime, and has since added "Itsy Bitsy Spider" to her repertoire (and it is adorable!) 

Kate loves animals, especially if she gets to feed them. We've gone multiple times to feed the ducks and geese at the park, and she had so much fun! We also went to meet some baby goats at a local store, and she got to pet and feed those too (here's a cute clip!) I thought we'd never get her to leave! Eventually we will have to get her a pet of some sort (once we're all more settled). 


This month we've seen Kate's imagination come to life. She loves to play pretend. She will roll up her rug and pretend it's a boat and her carpet is the ocean full of fish (and then fall off the boat and have to be rescued!) She will pretend it's raining inside, open her umbrella, and pull Rusty and me under it so we don't get wet. But her FAVORITE pretend game right now is "TIGERS!" She has a toy tiger her Tutu (Rusty's mom) gave her. She got it out one day and started pretending it was attacking people! Now she will attack someone with it, yell "TIGER!", rescue them (she grabs the tiger and throws and stomps him!), and then will doctor them up. Occasionally she'll be the one attacked (complete with highly dramatic fake crying!) and then we have to rescue her and doctor her up. (Those with our password can see a clip of Dtah getting attacked and then rescued below!)


The most adorable thing Kate does these days though, is our family chant. One day out of nowhere Rusty started talking to her about how we were "Team Jackson". I joined the conversation and had us all put our hands in the middle to do a "TEAAAAMMM JACKSON!" chant (where we throw our hands in the air). Now it's become our little family bit, and you guys, it is the cutest thing! She will come up and say, "Team Jackson" with her little accent, hold out her hand, and wait for us to join. She just loves being reminded that we are a family, and we love having her in "Team Jackson!"

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Happy Birthday Kate!

On January 19th, our darling little girl turned 4 years old. We still can't believe it! We're so grateful that Kate was HOME for this special day!


We started the morning of her birthday with chocolate chip pancakes with whipped cream, sprinkles, and a candle. She told me she was si bpi (4 years old) and so was Pooh, Belle, and Bunny (so they each got a happy birthday song too!) She LOVED the 4 balloons we tied on her chair (I'm not sure if she's ever had a balloon before?) She called them "baboons" and played with them for more than an hour... pulling them around the house, giggling and clapping her hands!  (Friends and family with our password - you can watch the video of our morning below!)


The plan for the day was simple - to say "YES" as much as possible and to give Kate all of our attention. We thought we might take her to feed the ducks, get ice cream, and ride the train at the zoo - but it rained ALL day, and she was honestly happy to stay at home as long as she got to play with both of us. She sat at the window and watched the rain fall several times throughout the day, exclaiming "Fon!" (Rain!) again and again. Most kids would be sad that it rained on their birthday, but our little raindrop (Namfon) loves the rain!

We played playdough for at least an hour that morning, played with her balloons, and then coaxed her out for lunch at Surin (she was so happy to eat Thai food again! She loves Pad See Ew!) Bunny came with us to lunch, and she was SO excited when she got her own wearable baby carrier (just like ours) to put him in!

When we got home we watched Enchanted (one of her favorite movies), played playdough for another hour or two, and then Uncle Brent came for a surprise visit. Then it was time for "rockabye bunny" and reading books to her bunnies. We surprised her at the end of the night with her very first bubble bath, and she giggled all the way through it!

The night ended with one of our many beautiful Nancy Tillman books, lots of kisses from Papa, Kate singing "There's Just Something About That Name" with me, and finally falling asleep on my chest.

It was such a simple, sweet day - but it filled my heart to overflowing. We adore this beautiful, smart, funny, brave, silly, kind, compassionate little girl, and I feel like the luckiest woman in the world to get to be her Mama!



On Saturday we had the sweetest little birthday party full of precious friends for our beautiful little girl! I still can't believe I was able to throw it together after only a month home with Kate (especially when that month also included Christmas and my birthday! Whew!) - but your baby's first birthday party is too special to skip (even if it's for her 4th birthday). ✨

When we got matched with Kate at 3 years old, I grieved the lost years with her hard (and still do at times). I was heartbroken to know she'd experienced so many years (and 3 birthdays) without a family. I prayed hard for God to help us get her home before she turned 4, and dreamed of a party with 4 little cakes to represent and re-celebrate each birthday we missed. I'm so grateful that Carrie Faucher Allen (a very talented baker here in Birmingham) could fit us in to make these gorgeous cakes without much notice. Aren't they just darling!? Those delicate, gilded ruffles were almost too pretty to eat!

We kept the party short and simple. Just cake and punch with us, my parents, and the handful of neighbor kids she plays with regularly in attendance. She gasped when she saw the decorations, and spent all morning telling me in Thai that her friends were coming and that it was her birthday! Kate loved the attention, and happily stood on her chair in her tutu as everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to her 4 times! (For family and friends with the password, you can watch the video below!) I know she missed her friends from Thailand on this day (she asked for her best friend first thing that morning) and that broke my heart for her. But I'm so grateful for her new friends here who came to celebrate her! 


Kate dug into her smash cake (she may be 4, but we gave her cake #1 all for herself just like we would have on her first birthday) and it was adorable! She also let her friends help her open her presents (she is so great at sharing!) Her favorites were definitely her baby carrier, stroller, and pink umbrella!

She would not take off her birthday tutu for the rest of the day - and she was just the cutest thing wearing it around! She went outside after her party to play with her new toys in the (unexpectedly warm) January sunshine. She blew bubbles with her new bubble wand from Auntie Shell & Uncle Jaron, and pushed bunny around in her new stroller for hours. She had so much fun playing "Mama" to him!

I wish I could show you all the photos from Kate's beautiful birthday shoot, but we cannot share her face publicly (as we are still meeting our post placement requirements and waiting to finalize our adoption). She was such a little ham though! She had so much fun modeling for us! We were thrilled for the opportunity to finally do a professional shoot with her, and we're completely in love with how the images turned out. After taking pictures of families here in Birmingham through RJackson Media, and children around the world for The Sound of Hope - it sure was special to photograph our own little girl on her special day!

(Playing peek-a-boo with Mama during her first photo shoot!)

Happy birthday darling! We loved celebrating you this year, 
and we look forward to many more years of singing Happy Birthday to YOU! 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Kate's 1st Christmas Home

We finally have Kate's Christmas video finished (just in time to share - right before we post about her birthday AND our 2 month anniversary of meeting her! Goodness how time flies! Maybe someday I'll get caught up on this blog of mine. ;) For our friends and family with the password - simply enter it below for a short video recap of Kate's 1st Christmas HOME!




We were so grateful to be HOME for Christmas with our little Thai darling... but we were also jet-lagged and in the midst of a huge transition for Kate, so we kept things pretty low key this year (while still making precious family memories!) Despite our jet-lag, we managed to get the tree up on the 20th (with minimal decorations), and our mantle greenery, stockings, and one nativity scene up. We let go of a lot of fun Christmas traditions, but made time for decorating Christmas cookies (they may have just been the break apart kind, but our little one still had fun with the icing and sprinkles!) and managed to make a small (out of the box) red velvet birthday cake for Jesus (a precious family tradition from when I was a child).

There are cookies somewhere under all those sprinkles! ;)

Beyond that, we spent our days in our PJ's, snuggled up at home. Kate really, really liked our matching Christmas jammies, and insisted we wear them almost every day the week of Christmas (she would literally go find them in the hamper and bring them back to me and Rusty if we dared to take them off! Haha!) We spent a lot of time resting, attempting to unpack, playing with her, snuggling, and watching Christmas movies (which included watching Kate's choice of "Santa Buddies" at least 10 times a day!) We went out once to show her the Christmas lights at the zoo and to ride the train there. It was a short but sweet outing (she loved it! And she especially loved the snow machine we found on the way out of the zoo!) and I'm glad we gave it a try. We limited visits to close family so we didn't overwhelm her, and we tried to keep those visits short and spaced out. She did well though, and had some really sweet times with her Yaai & Dtah (my parents) and her Tutu (Rusty's mom, who came from Arkansas for a couple of days!)

Kate liked her little nativity, and loved to point out Baby Jesus!

Christmas morning was absolutely precious. For those of you who are family and close friends, I'm so glad you'll be able to see her face in the video above - she was ecstatic when she saw her gifts! We tried to limit the presents, but it's difficult to reign yourself in when you've waited 4 Christmases to spoil a child. So Santa brought her a kitchen set, small trampoline, Belle doll, some movies, and a few other small gifts.


She also got a traditional Thai outfit, a book about Thailand, and a beautiful vintage Thai Barbie (she liked playing with her - but not as much as she liked brushing our hair with her tiny brush! Haha!) Her favorite gift though, was a toy bunny that wiggles his ears and hops around!


Our Thai darling with her Thai Barbie!


There are so many memories from this holiday that I will cherish, but my favorite moments were when we were all snuggled up on the couch at night with popcorn for "movie time" together. Last Christmas Eve, Rusty held me on that couch as I cried because I missed Kate so badly. We spent so many nights snuggled up there, year after year, waiting on our girl. We would take all the cushions off so we'd both fit, and watch our favorite shows, and dream of how our life would look different once Kate was home.


"Do you think she'll fit on the couch with us?" I'd ask. "Do you think she'll like to snuggle?" The answer to both questions is YES. After a few nights of this tradition, Kate began to jump on the couch after dinner, pat the spot beside her, call us both over, and then point for each light to be turned off (except the tree). It meant so much to me that our family snuggle time has become one of her favorite things!

Merry Christmas darling! We're so glad you're HOME! We can't wait to make even more beautiful Christmas memories with you year after year! ❤️