Monday, July 24, 2017

BLOMPS Beach Week 2017

Each summer, we are so lucky to spend one week at the beach with my hub's "side" of the family and one week with mine. Last week, we closed out the year with our last big family vacation with my "side," and boy did we have fun! For virtual scrapbooking purposes, here are my Top 10 memories from our BLOMPS Beach Week 2017. 

(1) Having all BLOMPS cousins together. There is just something so special, and so important, about cousin time. I have five siblings, and between the six of us, there are currently 11 cousins, with Banks (age 7), being the oldest! And because all of us, and my parents, pile into one house for the week, it means things are loud, crazy, busy, chaotic, and FUN! When I asked my kids their favorite part of the whole week, they didn't hesitate: "Playing with my cousins!!!"

(2) Shark tooth walk. Early one morning (6:30 am early), I took my Banks on a 25-minute beach walk down to the pier. We then spent 45 minutes searching for shark's teeth (one of his most loved beach activities), and then walked the 25 minutes back, just the two of us. It was magical. <3

(3) Sibling night out! Mid-week, my parents were so gracious to hang back at home with the 11 littles while us "big kids" headed out for dinner. I am one lucky, lucky sister to have my siblings as my best friends. <3

(4) Pool time. For the last three years, we have stayed in the same, beachfront home in the North Myrtle area, one that is large enough to accommodate all of us (between 20 and 25!) under one roof. We were so excited when we learned that the house and been sold to new owners, who completed updated it and even put in a pool. Bonus - they are Clemson fans, which means there is a huge Tiger Paw on the bottom of the pool. :) The pool was a major blessing to have! We basically spent the first half of the day on the beach and then second half in the pool. It was especially nice one afternoon when it poured rain for several hours - we just swam in the pool the whole time, enjoying splashing in the pool with the rain coming down. So fun! 

(5) Beach time with my babies. My little Lu Crew's world is about to get flipped upside down; so, it was nice to get solo time with each of my littles this week. From mermaid sighting to dolphin watching, from beach gymnastics to minnow hunting, it sure was fun! And of course, we had our traditional family night walk on the beach. 

(6) Night fishing. One of my brothers "in law," is quite the beach fisherman, and Banks looks forward to fishing with him on the beach every single year. This year, Harrison got to join in on the fun one night, and Banks was happy to show him the ropes. Aside from fish, a sting ray and shark were also caught this year!

(7) One big ol' happy family. Each year, we do beach pictures as a family, with yours truly serving as the family photog. :) I love, love, love getting to capture all the cuties, and it is so special to see my parents surrounded by all 11 (soon to be 14!) of their grandchildren. <3

(8) Aunt Lu time. Have I ever mentioned (maybe a time or 10,000) that I love being an aunt. I made it a point to sneak in little individual moments with all eight of my BLOMPS nieces and nephews this year. There were baby snuggles and tickle wars, manicures and sand castle building, boogy boarding and playing pool. And it was all so fun. <3

(9) Tooth fairy visits the beach. Banks has had his fifth loose tooth for awhile now, and that sucker really loosened up one night at the beach. He decided that he felt brave enough to finally pull his own tooth; so, he did! I was so proud of him because he was scared but did it anyway. And then the tooth fairy the beach! 

(10) The last night. It has become tradition that the last night of our beach week, we let the kids stay up a little later and have fun on the beach as a big ol' family! We have bubbles and glow sticks and sparklers, and it is so fun! The perfect way to cap off an awesome week!

And that's a wrap! Thus ends our last vacation as a family of five (Holy Moly!) But man, it was a good one. <3

Friday, July 14, 2017

Adoption: What to Expect When You're Expecting

I remember my pregnancies with each of my three biological babies...sort of. I mean, I know there were times of nausea and insomnia, exhaustion and discomfort, joint pain and back pain, and all the other usual suspects. And I KNOW there were moments where I thought, I don't know how people do this more than once. It just felt so hard at those times, not to mention the months that followed the births. And yet, I birthed three babies. It's because the reward is worth the pain, the reward is worth the months of anxious anticipation, the reward is worth the wait. 

And now, we're adopting. And I've had the same thought at numerous times during our adoption journey. The one I had when I was pregnant those three times: this just feels so hard. How do people do this more than once? And yet, I know, without a doubt, the reward will be worth the pain, the reward will be worth the months of anxious anticipation, the reward will be worth the wait.

Now, I don't want to sugarcoat things here. Adoption is HARD. We don't even have our little lady home, and I am already trying to prepare: there will be trauma to work through, for years and years; there will be attachment to try to build and strengthen, for years and years. There could very well be undocumented medical and developmental issues, that will require intensive intervention, for years and years. There could be, and will be, so.many.things. that we aren't expecting. Isn't that the case with parenthood in general? But with adoption, it's just, well, different - the trauma, the attachment, the adjustment. Adoption is a BEAUTIFUL thing but it is a hard thing. And we haven't even adopted our amazing daughter yet!

I have talked to several people who are considering adoption, and I want to use this post to highlight some of what I've learned so far, as a total rookie in the adoption world. ;)  Further, much like pregnancy, I know that the details of these months leading up to our Bella's adoption will fade. I'll forget the steps that were required, the hoops we had to jump through, the tears that fell, the worry that persisted, the ever-present prayers for our girl. 

So. The point of this post is two-fold. First, I want to remember how some of these hard things felt, because they, too, are a part of the journey. And second, because I have friends who are considering adoption (and maybe others who are reading this as well), I want to offer my...ahem...*expert* (ha!) advice, being the rookie-adoptive-momma that I am. 

So, here we go:
  • Be prepared for the wait. All throughout the process, adoption is a series of hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait. Wash, rinse, repeat. This starts from the very beginning, when you are researching the standards, requirements, and timelines of various countries that allow for international adoption. One of the reasons we chose China is because we knew the wait time would likely be shorter than it would be for other countries, and we wanted all four of our kiddos to be close in age. Now, China is also a special-needs adoption program. Non-special needs international adoptions are no longer available as part of the China program (there are families that have been waiting 10 years now with no end in sight). So, pursuing a China adoption means pursuing a special needs adoption. However, there are other countries that do have non-special needs adoptions, in other words "healthy" children without any known medical conditions who are available for adoption. As expected, however, the wait times for these countries are longer. So. From the get-go, you have to decide, most importantly, where God is calling you to go - where you think your child is waiting, what you feel like you can take on as far as special needs or non-special needs go, and how long you feel prepared to wait until you have your sweet baby in your arms. Regardless, there will be a wait and it will feel like a lifetime.
  • If there is one sure thing in adoption it is that there is no sure thing. In China, several years ago, little girls were readily available for adoption, given the one-child policy. In recent years, however, that policy has been amended to allow Chinese families to have two children. This means that now, there are actually more boys available for adoption than girls (in China). What's more, children with minor/moderate needs who are available for international adoption are becoming a rarity, ESPECIALLY if families want a young girl (in China). This is actually great news for China, as more domestic adoptions are happening, and more kiddos are able to reside in their birth country/culture. However, it is also important for international adoptive families to realize that the wait for a young girl with minor/moderate needs has greatly increased, even over the last 18 months that we have been on our adoption journey. And actually, China just amended the adoption rules last week, which means that many, many families who were in the process of adopting no longer qualify. Hearts are broken. Dreams are shattered. :( So, as I said adoption is no sure thing. And this is why I won't take a full breath again until Bella is in my arms.
  • There will undoubtedly be bumps in the road and unexpected delays. If you are a planner like me, this will drive you crazy! You may have a timeline in your head, or an expectation of when something will be approved, and that time may come and go. In adoption, you have to expect the unexpected. 
  • The information you are given on your child will very likely be very limited. Very. For example, we have newborn and 18-month medical evaluations of our daughter. We have a few photos. We have a few videos. That's it. And, interpretations can get lost in translation. And, medical evaluations in China are not as thorough as they are in the U.S. And sometimes information is withheld. And many questions about your child just will not be known until you have him/her, are able to observe him/her in person, and have a comprehensive medical evaluation completed once you return to the States. We know what we have been told about our Bella. But we won't really know her complete medical picture, nor level of functioning, until we are home. And THIS is where it is absolutely vital to have faith that God has chosen your child for you and you for your child.  
  • Read. Read, read, read. All you can. Read. Read everything you can about adoption. And then read some more. 
  • It is very easy to become overwhelmed. By the process. By the paperwork. By the requirements. By the steps. By the finances. By the waiting. By it all. Therefore, I think it is critical to have a strong support system, especially of those who have "been there, done that." For me, I have two invaluable, local friends who have adopted their beautiful daughters from China and have been my lifelines. I don't know what I'd do without them. And I have "met" amazing women online who are praying and guiding me. Unless you've walked this path, you don't know how it feels, what it's like, how your life is about to change. So, these people are so, so important. 
  • Stay organized. Keep every.single.receipt. Document everything. Make a copy of every.single.piece.of.paperwork that you mail out. Trust me on this one. 
  • Accept help whenever it is offered! Whether it be fundraising along the way to help bring your little home, having meal trains lined up for when you return, getting offers for sprinkles/showers, and everything in between, accept it! Just as you would if you were pregnant with your little one, graciously accept the kindness and help you are offered. You are expecting! Life is about to be turned upside down. So, accept whatever is offered. <3
  • Cry when you need to. Pray even more.  
  • Be prepared for the same hormonal changes to hit, the same nesting instincts, the same anxiety and excitement, the same countdown til your "due" (aka gotcha) date, the same holding of your breath until the moment you see his/her sweet face. You're having a baby! Let all the joys sink in and enjoy this special time. It is a gift. 
So adoption. What to expect when you're expecting? The unexpected. 

          Wednesday, July 12, 2017

          Wee One Wednesday: The Last Few Steps

          We are inching closer, day by to day, to having our Bella in our arms. Here's what's happened over the last few weeks (we have been busy bees over here, gathering, copying, completing, and notarizing documents; mailing more fees; waiting and then waiting some more; preparing for travel, etc.):

          Last I wrote, we were waiting for our I800 approval. Although it usually takes 2-3 weeks for approval, we received ours (electronically) after just 11 days, on Monday, June 12th. The hard copies arrived to us and our agency on Friday, June 16th. Our agency then immediately sent off the documents we had acquired so far our Article 5. So, this, too, was completed on Friday, June 16th.

          We then had to wait for a letter from the National Visa Center. This took one week (average) from the date our I800 was approved and was received on Monday, June 19th. I was then able to immediately complete the DS-260, an online form. And THAT was the last bit of paperwork to complete!!!...for now. ;) Our agency forwarded the rest of the paperwork to China for our Article 5.

          On Thursday, June 22nd, after three weeks of waiting, we received an update on our Bella! We had submitted a list of questions to her orphanage to get a better understanding of her current level of functioning, her likes/dislikes, etc. This was really helpful to know how to best prepare our home for her arrival, to know how to pack for her for her international travels, and learn more about her personality. :) We learned that Bella has shown great growth, in weight and height, since the last stats we had from seven months before. We learned that she is not yet walking independently but seems pretty close, that she is not yet potty trained, and that she is quiet and needs time and patience to learn new things (me too, sweet girl!). She loves noodles and dumplings, drinks from a sippy cup (no more bottles!), and sleeps in a big girl bed. She is fearful of strangers and new places (we'll work on that :)) and loves playing games, being touched, and getting hugs. Oh, we can't wait to get our hands on our girl!!

          On Monday, June 26th, we received update pictures and videos of our girl!

          (And here are a couple blurry screenshots from the videos) :

          Our Article 5 (i.e., this is a letter from the US Consulate to the foreign central authority (CCCWA in China) to confirm that the adoptive parents are eligible to adopt and that the child is eligible to immigrate to the US and reside there permanently) pick-up was scheduled for Monday, July 10th. was picked-up! This means that now, we wait for our Travel Approval to show up in the electronic system, which usually takes a few days. Once the hard copy of our TA arrives, we should be traveling to China about two weeks later. Which means, we are so, so CLOSE!!! 

          Meanwhile, we've been gathering all kinds of goodies for our sweet lady and also slowly accumulating some of the things we will need to take with us to China

          We also have her room all ready to go! For months, we grappled with whether we should have her own room or share a room with her big sister. We have a spare room and were prepared to just lose our guest space so that each of our four kiddos would have their room. But Raleigh has been begging to share a room with her little sister. We were torn. We didn't know what would be best for Bella - what would make her most comfortable as she adapts to her whole new world. Luckily, I am part of a phenomenal Facebook group that has been such an amazing support system. So. I asked the thousands of mommas who are a part of the page their advice, and it was unanimous: the girls need to share a room. You see, her whole life, Bella has ALWAYS been in a room with other littles. So, to suddenly throw her into her own room may make her adjustment and attachment more difficult (indeed, she will very likely be sleeping in our room the first several weeks she comes home). So, my girls will be sharing a room! And that is what I can finally share now! We transformed Raleigh's room into a shared sisters' room:

          And that's all for now! In the meanwhile, we continue to accumulate the many things we will need to take on our trip (I'll share our packing list soon for anyone who may need it in the future). We are also preparing for the time we'll be away by writing out contacts lists, helpful instructions, financial information, guardianship information, etc., for the awesome grandparents who will be caring for our trio in our absence. We are also trying to ensure Banks and Raleigh have all they need to begin their new school year (a second grader and kindergartener - wow!), should it turn out we are gone when the school year begins. Further, we are in the process of setting up speech, physical, and occupational therapy evaluations for our girl to more accurately assess her needs and help her meet more of her developmental milestones. In other words, no rest for the weary. :) 

          Hopefully, the next update will include our travel dates and itinerary. As always, we humbly ask for your prayers as we continue this journey. Until next time...