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! ❤️

Saturday, January 7, 2017

One Month In Our Arms

Christmas Eve marked one month since we met our beautiful doll... and December 29th was the one month anniversary of the day we got custody of her! One month of hugs and kisses. One month of sass and sweetness - sugar and spice! One month of hairbows, sparkly shoes, and princess songs. One month of tucking our little darling into bed each night and waking up to her smile each morning. One month of snuggles and giggles and beautiful memories together! This post will recap all of her "firsts" with us so far, and some of our favorite things about Kate - but for now let me just say - I have experienced more JOY in the past month with her than I ever imagined possible! At bedtime on our 1 month-iversary" when I said "I love you", she repeated it back to me three times before I turned off the light. I thought my heart might burst! 💗


I've had friends ask if every day with Kate is magical... and the truth is, most days are more comfortable than they are magical (and there is a sweetness in the "comfortable" too!) Most of the time, it honestly feels like she's been with us forever! She fits so beautifully into our family, and she's doing so well that we have to remind ourselves that we've only had her for a month! But every now and then, the magic sneaks up and surprises me. Suddenly an ordinary moment will feel so extraordinary - because the reality that she is HERE and she is OURS will set in anew. When I get to sing her to sleep.... it's magic. Seeing her play in her room for the first time had me crying happy tears in the corner. Watching her dance to Christmas music while I make breakfast, and seeing her sitting beneath our Christmas tree at night makes my heart swell! And while opening Christmas cards addressed to "The Jackson Family of THREE" or "Rusty, Ericka, & Kate Jackson" I could not hold back the tears. There are plenty of difficult times that we are still experiencing as we adjust to life together - but then there are these moments when our life with her feels so completely picturesque... like watching my daughter play with my Dad for the first time, and hearing the song "Cinderella"come on my Pandora app at that exact moment. Suddenly my Dad and I were singing Kate the song we danced to on my wedding day, while she giggled. I wanted time to stand still!

* * * * * * *

We missed so many of Kate's "firsts" while we waited on her the past few years - first smile, first words, first steps... but we sure are enjoying the "firsts" we get to experience together! In the past month, Kate has enjoyed:


Her first tuk tuk ride in Chiang Mai (she would ride them all day every day if we’d let her! She LOVES tuk tuks!), first paddle boat ride in Bangkok (Swan Boats in Lumpini Park), first train ride at the Birmingham Zoo (for Zoo Light Safari), and her first airplane ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand! (Followed by the long trip home – Chiang Mai to Seoul to Atlanta to Bham!)


Kate also had what we believe was her first trip to the beach in Pattaya (it was just a few minutes in the carrier on our first day after custody - but we'll say it counts!), the aquarium in Bangkok (she loved the penguins, otters, sea turtles, and sea horses), and the Zoo in Chiang Mai (she loved the elephant, birds, and tiny monkeys!)


We've taken our little girl on her first shopping trips too – to the mall in Chiang Mai for her first (shiny silver) tennis shoes (she never wants to take them off now!), and to the night bazaar (she picked out a bracelet and a coin purse).


And of course our most favorite "first" so far, was having Kate here for her first Christmas HOME with her family!!! It's taking me longer than expected to update my blog (personal time is few and far between these days) - but I hope to have a recap of Christmas (and a video) to share here with you all soon!


* * * * * * *

A few more things about Kate...

SLEEP

I prayed so hard that I would have a good little sleeper… while literally EVERYONE told me to kiss sleep goodbye. Luckily, God knew just what I needed! Kate sleeps anywhere from 9-12 hours a night (she even pulled a 14 hour night our first 2 nights home after travel!) She also takes a 1-2 hour nap most days. She is fully potty trained and only had one nighttime accident the first month with us. She loves bathtime before bed (she had never had a warm bath before... only cold showers at the orphanage due to the heat), putting on her PJs, and brushing her teeth. (One night she brushed them 8 times in a row!) We have only had 3 nights of “grief” that came either before or after a big move/transition (the first night of custody, then the night before the trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and the night after we traveled from Chiang Mai home to America). She is a bit of a night owl and fights sleep at times (melatonin helps with that), but once she’s down – she is a sound sleeper! When she wakes up in the morning - she is a happy girl, who likes to stay in bed and snuggle a bit with Papa before eating breakfast. We loved co-sleeping with her in Thailand and our first few days home, but she decided on her own that she wanted to start sleeping in her own bed Christmas Eve Eve! (And her Mama cried! I wasn't ready for that yet!) She ends up in our bed sometime in the middle of the night still (each night), but I'm proud of how brave she is wanting to sleep in her own bed.



FOOD

She is a GREAT eater. She has eaten almost everything we’ve offered – at least while we were in Thailand (though we usually were offering familiar Thai food). She has been more picky now that we’re home, but we’ve tried to keep rice, noodles, and spaghetti (all her favorites) in rotation often. She has no food issues as far as we can tell – she does not hoard or overeat. She will even share snacks happily with Mama and Papa, and with her friends too! Her favorite "treats" are gummy bears, gingerale, sprite, and anything chocolate!



LANGUAGE

We have definitely slowed down her English acquisition with the fact that we speak basic Thai... but it's just been so much easier to actually be able to explain things in a way she can understand (instead of forcing English on her). We primarily spoke Thai to her in Thailand, but are working on more English now that we're home. Her English vocabulary right now consists of, "Mama, Papa, Baby, Puppy, Bunny, Pooh, Belle, Airplane, Yup, No, Yucky, Yummy, Banana, Apple, Medicine, Potty, Bath, Uh Oh, WOW, Please, and OTAY!" (okay) - plus some people's names (friends and family) - which I think is pretty good for only 2 weeks of English immersion. She will repeat other things, but these are words she uses on her own. She can also sing "Happy Birthday" in English (I think she learned that at the orphanage), and every time she sees a candle she thinks it's time to sing "Happy Birthday" and blow it out! Haha! (Her birthday is going to be so much fun!) She can also do a few of her ABC's and 123's (which is something she was learning at the orphanage in her English classes!)



FAVORITES

These are a few of Kate's favorite things (right now anyway!) After not really being interested in stuffed animals the first 1-2 weeks with us, she now loves her Pooh Bear, Belle doll, and Bunny. She is constantly watching “Tigger lah Pooh” (My friends Tigger and Pooh) and watching the videos (in Thai) of the songs "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes", “How Does She Know”, and "The Farang Song"! She loves being tickled, dancing, and GOING! Whether it's in the car (she hasn't cried once getting into her carseat), a train, tuk tuk, or an airplane. She loves to watch the airplanes that come over our house too! 

Now that we're home she likes her baby dolls (she takes their clothes off and on a million times)... but during our hotel stays she loved playing “elevator" (our closet was her pretend elevator), playing with rolls of toilet paper (she would make herself clothes out of them! Haha! She looked like a mummy!), and playing with the phone in the hotel room (we had to detach the phone line so she wouldn't call other rooms!) She also loves the water – whether she’s swimming, taking a bath, or just playing in the faucet. Sometimes she’ll wash her hands a half dozen times just so she can continue to play! 

Kate loves animals, and is OBSESSED with "puppies" right now. She has watched the movie "Santa Buddies" (the one with the golden retriever characters) at least a hundred times since we got home! I don't think she's ever been around animals, and now she squeals every time she sees a dog. I am grateful that we have so many "puppies" on our street (a bulldog, german shepherd, corgi, golden doodle, and 2 labs) and for our sweet neighbors who patiently let her look at them and pet them all the time! 

At least once a day we play a little game we've made up called "Mai Sabai". Rusty asks Kate in Thai, "Sabaidee Mai?" (Are you well?) and if she wants to be tickled, she responds, "Mai Sabai!" (I am not well!) Then she gets tickled until she yells, "Sabaidee Mak Mak!" (I'm very, very good!) Her giggle is the new soundtrack to our lives! 



* * * * * * *


In the midst of our brutally long wait to be matched with a child, I remember having an emotional conversation with a fellow adoptive mom one afternoon. I don't remember the details about what we said that day, but I do remember one thing she told me, "You cannot miss your child." She reminded me that God knew exactly who our daughter was, and that no matter how much time passed or how many errors we dealt with in our case, we couldn't possibly "miss" her. I wanted desperately to believe my friend, but at that time I thought, "How crazy. We could be matched with any number of kids, and the truth is - we'll love any child we are matched with." And while that might be true - after meeting Kate - there is not a doubt in my mind that she is specifically ours! It is no mistake she's in our family. All that waiting wasn't for "any child" - it was specifically for HER. She was handpicked from heaven for us, and it's so evident that she is OURS!


Kate is definitely Rusty’s child because she loves sweeping with her broom, and she always wants everything (including her) to be clean. If a single piece of spaghetti falls on the table she wants it wiped up on the spot! And if her hands and face get messy, she begs for a wet wipe! She also likes to take photos and videos (just like her photographer/videographer Papa). She has so much fun with her wooden toy camera – telling us where to stand and how to pose. And she has taken no less than 10,000 selfies and photos on our iPhones (usually pretty bad ones blocked by her little thumb. Haha!) She is also athletic like Papa, and can pitch and hit a foam ball with her foam bat, and catch and throw a football surprisingly well. And then there is the most special "sign" that she is Rusty's child... on our 2nd visit we realized that Kate has a birthmark on the back of her right hand – exactly like Rusty had when he was her age! Isn't that amazing?


She is definitely my child because – she is for sure a girly girl! Kate loves to have bows in her hair and at least once a day she'll put her hand on her hip, cock her head to the side and ask, "Soi mai kha?" (Am I pretty? YES you are baby girl!!!) She also loves to pose for photos just like her modeling Mama! Kate likes lotion, anything you can spray that smells good (perfume, hairspray, febreeze, essential oils, etc), and pretending to put on makeup. She LOVES shoes – and her first few days home she would rather change my shoes for me 15 times (I wore dress shoes with pajamas a lot those days!) than play with her toys! She also loves princess songs, princess dolls, and crowns. She got a Princess Sophia doll as a Christmas gift, and within 10 seconds of having her out of the box she’d taken her crown off to put it on herself! Haha! That’s my girl! (She was certainly named appropriately! ;) She likes to sing and dance – and loves to have music playing. She has already figured out how to work her toy microphone at home (thanks Aunt Kristian!) and in our hotel room in Chiang Mai she would pull the coffee table up to the bed to create a “stage” for herself to dance on! She also loves bunnies – which makes me smile! 


* * * * * * *

There are so many other memories I wish I could record, but for now I want to write down a few more things I don’t want to forget about Kate at this age... like the smell of her sweet little head, how soft her skin is, and how her precious little voice sounds saying “Mama!”. The first time she kissed me, what she looks like when she's sleeping, and how her tiny hand fits into mine. Hearing her try to sing along to my worship music, hearing her read to herself in “toddler Thai”, and the sound of her giggle (it is the best sound in the world!) The first time she saw a photo of me dressed as Belle (she gasped and smiled!), her bragging to the other kids about how pretty her mama is (we were told she did this every day after our visits to the orphanage! So sweet!), seeing her mimic me and pretend to put on makeup in my lap, and the very first time she said, “Love you Mama!” 


If you're still reading this long post, and you're considering adoption (or even if you're not) - please say YES! Start the process NOW! Every child is precious, and every child deserves a family. Kate has been the biggest blessing we've ever received! There is no way I could ever love a biological child more than I love this little girl. I can't believe that we could've missed her if we had said "no" to adoption - or if we'd given up when things got hard. My worst day with her is so much better than my best day without her. She was absolutely worth the wait! 💗 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Welcome Home Kate!

We are HOME with our beautiful daughter. 
We are finally home with her in our arms... and it still feels completely surreal! 


We left Chiang Mai, Thailand around midnight on Saturday night, December 17th - which was hard on our little girl who loves to sleep! Kate usually gets anywhere from 9-12 hours of sleep a night. Our first 5 hour flight was a rough one - with it being in the middle of the night, we had a very sleepy, fussy girl on our hands. She cried hysterically for the last hour - and we were so afraid the rest of the travel day would look the same way! But as soon as we got her out of the plane to play in the Seoul airport, she was our happy girl again! We ran around with her a LOT there, boarded our 13 hour flight to Atlanta, and she slept peacefully for 6-7 hours! She finished the flight by playing with the kiddos in front of us (they shared stickers back and forth through the seats for an hour. She is such a good sharer!) She even hugged them goodbye - it was precious!

When we landed in Atlanta, I started getting emotional. After the traumatic 5 year process we have been through - I could barely believe we were finally on US soil with our daughter!!! I got teary when we saw the US Immigration sign, and cried when we hit the customs line. Our adoption still won't be completely final for another 1-2 years (we still have to do post placement reports, finalization in the US, and finalization with the Thai consulate) - but having her here in America is such a HUGE step!!! She was fantastic through customs (we have such a great kid ya'll!), and was excited to let me change her into her cute Christmas PJ's before our final flight HOME!

I was not prepared for how emotional that last flight would be. Many of you who have been following our story on Instagram and Facebook know that Kate has been pushing me away a lot - sometimes all day, every day. It's been hard and heartbreaking. But it has slowly gotten better and better - and on our travel days we finally turned a corner! She finally started asking for me again - wanting to sit in my lap sometimes, and rarely pushed my hand away when I reached out to comfort her. She started the final flight on Rusty's lap, but once we took off she decided she wanted to sit with me!

What happened next felt like a dream. She got out my phone because she wanted to listen to music (this little girl loves music, loves to hear Mama sing, and has already started dancing and trying to sing along when she hears us play songs in English!) She especially loves worship songs. I turned on my playlist for our trip - which includes the song "Mine To Love" - our song for Kate's adoption.  Every time I have heard this song for the past 4 years - I have seen our little girl in my mind. A mini video would play in my head and heart each time I heard those words... of us meeting her for the first time... hugging and kissing her for the first time... hearing her giggle and seeing her smile... and of course, us coming home with her. Well, imagine my surprise when she took out the earbuds we'd given her, put one in my ear so that I could hear too, and happened to "skip" to the song, "Mine to Love". It came on just as we started our descent to Birmingham, and I could not hold back the tears. (Luckily, she was focused on the phone and couldn't see me crying!)

More than anything, I wanted to walk into our Airport Homecoming with my daughter in my arms. I've dreamed of that moment for years... but with her preferring Rusty so strongly, I just knew it wasn't going to happen. There have been a lot of times in this process that I felt like God was distant... but on this day, I was reminded that He is very present, and He is still a God of detail. Kate wanted Mama after the flight - and that's what she got! We rushed through the airport with butterflies in our stomachs, hearts beating faster than ever, and the biggest smiles on our faces! Kate hopped on the escalator holding Mama's hand (she wanted to ride it with her Pooh Bear!), and my darling little girl was in my arms when we ran into our parents' arms!






I am crying again as I type this blog and see these photos. More than anything I wanted to sit down and sob in that airport - tears of relief, JOY, and thanksgiving! But Kate has never seen me cry - and I didn't want to scare her when she was doing so well! So I let myself cry a little (as you can see in the photos below - I couldn't help but cry the moment I had my baby girl in my arms, and I had made it back to my mama's arms!), but I tried to hold back the tears (until I came home and truly let them go once I saw her playing happily in her beautiful room!)


[Introducing Kate to her Yaai and Dtah! (my parents)] 


[This was such a special moment! I'm so grateful my mom made it through her spinal surgery well 
and was able to be at the airport to meet her first grandchild! I couldn't hold back the tears!!!]

[Kate meeting some of her soon to be best friends - Piper, Karis, and Evie - as all her grandparents look on!]  

She was a total HAM at the airport - LOVING the attention, and putting on a show for everyone! Every time we counted "nung, song, sam!" (one, two, three!) for a photo she would throw her hand into the air and yell - "YAY!!!" It was hilarious! She loved meeting her family and friends (those who could make it) - just as long as she was in Mama or Papa's arms (which shows great attachment! We were really pleased to see that!) Towards the end when the crowd thinned out, she would run back and forth to me and Rusty and jump into our arms to be spun around. (I told ya'll - she loves to put on a show! Haha!) She is just so much fun!!!

[Kate with her Yaai & Dtah] 

[Kate with her Tutu and Pappy] 

[Kate meeting all her new friends! These babies have helped pray her home, and they were all SO excited!]



December 18th will always be a special day in this family! To everyone who came to welcome us at the airport (and to Heather who took these beautiful photos - and Kali who shot the video that we'll share here soon) - we can't thank you enough! We know this is a busy time of year, but it meant the world to us to see your smiling faces (and special signs!) when we came down that escalator! You gave us such a beautiful homecoming, and it is a memory that we will never forget. Thank you for being there to welcome Kate home at last!

And now, our "Happily Ever After" begins... 

* * * * * * *

I apologize that this update was delayed a few days, but our first few days home we were both deliriously happy - and delirious from exhaustion. Haha! A 26 hour travel day + jet lag with a 3 year old will really wear you out! Luckily we have an awesome little sleeper - she got 14 hours the first two nights home, and 9 hours the next two nights. These days we are sleeping when she sleeps though - because she insists we go to bed together (we are co-sleeping) which means we aren't getting much of anything done, but that's okay! We go to bed early, wake up early, and play with her all day every day. Our bags are still mostly packed, we have up minimal Christmas decorations (a barely decorated tree + stockings is it this year!), and we can't leave the house without her getting extremely upset (there is still fear that we won't come back!) - so our 2 trips out have had to be as a family of three. This is why "cocooning" is so important! She is still learning what it means to have a family! 

These first few days home we've been focused primarily on giving Kate as much attention as she wants. This is another big transition for her, and she's in a house with walls between us (she can't see us if she's in another room here - versus our time in Thailand where we were in studio style hotel rooms!) So we play a lot together wherever she wants to be, and we come running every time we hear "Mama! Papa!" so that she knows we're there! 

She is getting to know the neighborhood children and loving having playmates again! Right now she is outside riding her little pink tricycle with "Papa" and our neighbor friends - so I was able to sneak away and post this blog. Stay tuned for more updates (just as soon as I can slip away and write them!) We have so much we want to share about our beautiful little girl! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I'll Be Home For Christmas

Today marks exactly two weeks since we took custody of Kate, and we are completely in love with our precious little girl! I apologize for not being able to post any blog updates - but I'm trying to be as present as possible as we take our first steps as a family of three. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up with my blog during this trip - but I have been posting a short update each day on Facebook and Instagram - so feel free to follow along there if you aren't already (Here are the links to Ericka's, Rusty's, & Kate's personal account for family & friends!)

I do have a lot on my heart that I want to share once we're home - so stay tuned for plenty of blogs to come about our sweet Kate! Today though, it's time to finally announce that we've booked our tickets - and we'll all be...



... HOME FOR CHRISTMAS!

We leave Chiang Mai, Thailand this Saturday night (Saturday morning to all of you). We'll fly to Seoul, S. Korea (5 hours + a layover), Atlanta (13 hours + a layover), and then we'll finally land at the Birmingham airport at 12:52 pm this Sunday afternoon, December 18th!

We will be having an "Airport Homecoming Party" - as many adoptive families do. If you're a personal friend or family member, you are welcome to come and greet us when we land! We know there are so many people who are anxious to meet Kate, and this will be the fastest and easiest way to make that happen. We can all celebrate our homecoming together, have a short visit, and then the three of us will need to hurry home to get some rest after a very long, overwhelming travel day.

We are flying on Delta - so we'll be coming through that area of the airport for "arrivals". We ask that you all please meet in a group at the bottom of the escalators for us to come down to you! (If for any reason our flight is delayed, we'll do our best to post an update on Facebook!)

* * * 

We have just a few rules for those who greet us at the airport (please make sure to read them all the way through!) 

#1 - Please do NOT pick up Kate. There is a good chance she'll be in her carrier - strapped to one of us - but if she isn't, please do NOT hold your arms out to pick her up. If she reaches for you - please shake your head "no" and point to either myself or Rusty and say "Mama or Papa". It is very important for attachment and bonding that she not be held by anyone but the two of us for quite some time.

#2 - Please give Kate some space. If she is in our carrier strapped to one of our chests, you can hug whomever is carrying her, but please try not to overwhelm Kate. You can greet her by talking to her and waving to her (she knows the sign language for "I love you" if you want to do that too!) - but please do NOT kiss her (it's flu season and she has not been exposed to the germs in America) and please do not touch her intentionally (such as stroking her face, arm, leg, head, etc - she does not like to be touched when she's feeling overwhelmed). If she's doing really well with everything happening, we'll tell you if you are able to hug or touch her. (For the record though - she is more likely to be okay with kids touching her than adults.)

#3 - Please allow our parents to meet their granddaughter FIRST before rushing to us. This is their first grandchild on both sides - so it's important that they have a few minutes to greet her (and they get to hug and kiss her!) before she meets everyone else. You'll know my mom - because she'll have a HUGE banner with Kate's photo and a castle on it. (I haven't seen it, but I've heard about it. Haha.) She has recently had back surgery, so please be gentle with her too!

#4 - Please stay for a group photo! We will have friends shooting a video and photos of our homecoming celebration, and we'd love to have everyone stay (after the "meeting and greeting" is over) for a group photo! It will be special to have a photo of all of you that Kate can look back on for years to come!

We have no idea how this little "party" will go - so please be understanding if Kate is overwhelmed, quiet and withdrawn, or upset. We will have just had a very long travel day, and she'll be seeing a LOT of unfamiliar faces. We have videoed 4 different adoption homecomings in the past few years, and every child handles them differently. While we hope you'll get to see some of our sweet, sassy girl's big personality - the most important thing is for us to make her feel safe.

* * * 

Once we are home, we'll be "cocooning" with Kate. This is a term that adoptive parents use to describe a time where they stay home a lot, and they focus on bonding and attachment between them and their child. I will try to post a longer blog explaining what that looks like exactly - but the short answer is that we'll need to be sure that Rusty and I are the only ones caring for Kate. This means only "Mama" and "Papa" will hold, comfort, and feed Kate. It also means we'll need to focus on helping her adjust to being home, getting in a new routine, and keeping her world small for a little while. She has grown up in an orphanage with multiple caregivers for her entire life. She doesn't understand what a family is yet, or what "home" even means. So please understand that we won't be able to have visitors at first - as we work to make her feel safe, loved, and well adjusted in our home!

Okay friends - I'll share more later... but we look forward to seeing some of you on December 18th! We can't wait to introduce you to our beautiful baby girl!