Saturday, August 31, 2013

First Week of School

Cava got through his first week of school with no problems. For anyone who's followed our blog for some time knows, this is no small accomplishment for him. It was so nice getting to wait in a car line to pick him up from school because that meant I didn't get a phone call telling me to pick him up early because of behavioral problems. Waiting in a car line is not something I'll ever take for granted again.

But Cava is not the same child as he was last year. 

Here's an example of this, while waiting in the cafeteria line, another boy accidentally hit Cava in the back with his lunchbox. The boy apologized to Cava and Cava responded with, "That's all right. It was an accident." This is a huge step for a boy who would've gotten physically aggressive if that had happened last year. 

Cava likes his teacher and his class. He is excited every morning to be going to school and he's disappointed when he doesn't have homework.

I pray that this attitude continues all year. 

For now, I just focus on each day and I'm thankful for how far Cava has come.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Superheroes Not Needed

Far too often, whenever I'm talking to someone about our adoption experience, I get the response, "That's soooo amazing" or, "Oh, I could never do that. I don't have the . . ." Fill in the blank, which is often the word "patience" or some other word that means fortitude. They often act as if my wife and I have special powers or something. Well, we don't.

No radioactive spider has bitten either of us nor were we hit by gamma rays.

We are not superheroes of any kind.

Nor do I, and I cannot stress this enough, have more patience than a majority of people. People who read the blog or know us, marvel at my seemingly endless patience. Well, you're not there 24/7. There are times when my patience snaps and so do I and I find myself barking more than our dog. There are times when I don't handle the situation correctly. There were many times when I felt like I was in over my head and drowning and I could only ask God, "Why?"

I am learning patience, but it's a lesson that doesn't come easy to me.

I won't lie, there have been moments when Cava was at his worst, that I wondered not only, "What have we gotten ourselves into" but I had those thoughts of wanting to send him back. I read a quote once that said, "The children who need love the most often ask for it in the most unloving of ways," and, boy, is that true! Anyone who's read my blog for any time can attest to that. But the fact of the matter is, both Danelle and I saw past the actions to the truth that Cava did need love and he needed it desperately. We also understood that God had given us this child.

When you adopt a child, you're adopting a damaged and broken individual. The idea that all it will take is love and prayer are incorrect. Many of these children will need outside help (behaviorists, psychiatrists, counselors, play therapists) as well as medication. They will also need and test their parents' patience. Cava did this in an attempt to either get our attention (something he'd learned in the orphanage) or to see if we would send him back. For the longest time, he told us he was going back to Ukraine with his puzzles. It took months before he realized he wasn't going back, he was a part of our family, and that we did love him no matter his actions. He also is learning that actions have consequences, either good or bad, depending on his choices.

Know that your child may not know why they do the things they do. Often, after Cava's done something he's not supposed to, and I try and talk to him, when I ask, "Why would you do that?" he, many times, admits, "I don't know." We are working on helping him try to understand his actions and, he's begun to express himself through emotions other than anger (as it was a very big step for him to cry instead of hit).

We are not special people with special gifts. I will admit, I don't know how anyone who doesn't believe in God can adopt, as prayer has been one of the biggest areas of solace for us.

Adoption is hard. It is a difficult, long, and slow process.

Know that you are not alone, though you often feel like you are. I know after we adopted Cava and we were going through the worst parts of the adjusting, we wondered, "Are we the only ones going through this?" So often, I would read other people's adoption blogs and see only the sunny, rose-colored glasses portraits of adoption. After reading them, I'd get depressed and wonder why God gave them normal children and why ours was so damaged. And I wrote as honestly and lovingly as I could about our difficulties and struggles. That's when I began to get e-mails from soooo many others who, like me, thought they were alone in this.

I am not more patient, but I'm having to learn to be more patient than I was because that's what Cava needs. I can't parent him like I do Benjamin because Cava's background is so different and he has grown up without the tools he needs to cope. This means I have had to seek a lot of outside help, whether through professional help for Cava or reading books on the subject or researching online. I try to pass what I find on in my blog, as well, in the hopes that, if it's working for us, it might work for others in the same situation.

We firmly believe that God led us to adopt, to adopt from Ukraine, and to adopt Cava. Because of this, we knew and continue to know, we'll make it through whatever tough times and troubles we face. And, since we know grace, we can also extend grace to Cava.  It also means we have to forgive him and ourselves nightly because we aren't perfect.

I know people who say, "You guys are so brave" or "I could never do what you guys have done," mean to compliment us, but the fact is, we're not brave or extraordinary. We simply followed the path that God has led us on. We trusted Him to lead us to the child He had chosen for us and we continue to trust Him on a daily, if not moment by moment basis, that He is with us through the good and the bad.

For those considering adoption, be realistic and read a lot before you go into the process. The Beatles once sang, "All you need is love," but these kids need so, so much more.

Don't let fear dissuade you: either the fear that comes with making the decision to adopt, the fears that come once you've begun the process, or the fears that arise once you have adopted. Remember that "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind" (2nd Timothy 1:7). If God's called you to adopt, trust that He will take care of you.

It's ordinary families who adopt, not superheroes. Adoption is not a heroic act, but a loving act. It is an act of acceptance, just as God has accepted us into His family through adoption.

As the title of this piece says, "Superheroes are not needed, but loving parents are!"

Consider adoption, whether international or through foster care. These children don't need superheroes, they need you.

As a side note, one of the biggest compliments I ever got was when Cava told Danelle that his name wasn't "Cava," but "Spiderman Elliott Blackwell." (Below is a photo of my little Spiderman).

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ideals, Literature, & A Solitary Nature

We all have ideals. Ideal places, ideal situations, ideal people, etcetera. 

My ideal anything typically involves books. It always has. I truly believe I came out of my mother's womb with a book in hand and I'm seldom anywhere without books. If you don't believe me, go look in my car and you'll discover at least two in my dashboard. (Here's proof):

Two collections of short stories (Eudora Welty and Katherine Mansfield) because short stories are easy to get into and, if pressed for time, don't take as long as a novel. And Pride & Prejudice because I can pick that novel up at anytime and get into the narrative immediately! The books in my dashboard rotates according to my reading habits at the time.

My ideal vacation spots tend to be literary places. I long to go to England where soooo much of my favorite literature was written. To visit the houses of Dickens, the Bronte Sisters, Wordsworth's Dove Cottage, or the home where Jane Austen wrote (the table she wrote her magnificent novels on is in the picture below). I want to visit the homes of Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, and Emily Dickinson. 

Or to go to specific bookstores: Powell's in Portland, The Strand in New York, and Shakespeare & Company in Paris (I've been to two out of three. Still working on Paris). 

I dragged my family all over Kiev until we found the Bulgakov museum and I could take a photo of me with his statue:

When Danelle went to Odessa to apply for Cava's visa, she made sure to take a photo of the statue of the poet Pushkin for me. If I'd been there, I would've dragged everyone to the home of the poet Anna Akhmatova, too.

When we were in Kiev, I stopped at any bookstall or went into bookstores to look, even though I couldn't read any of the books in them.

Whenever I used to imagine what my child would look like, this is what I imagined:

Yes, that's right, Rory Gilmore from the TV show "Gilmore Girls." She was smart, sweet, and absolutely loved to read. In one episode, her patient boyfriend waits for her while she scours a local book sale - for 3 hours! Like me, she carried a book or books with her everywhere. So I used to imagine that, one day, I would have just such a daughter to go with me to book sales or bookshops where we could spend time together finding that perfect book(s) and we could talk about the books we loved or read together. 

And I love books, not downloadable ones, but real, physical books that I can hold and flip through and enjoy the smell of. There is nothing like the smell of a new book! For those bibliophiles out there, you know exactly what I mean. I love the experience of browsing a bookstore or library in the hopes of coming across that book which will become one of my favorites. And I can spend hours in one, which drove away many a girlfriend. I think that's one of the reasons why Danelle and I got married: she allowed me to browse to my heart's content.

Throughout my life, the characters in books or the worlds they inhabit have been more real to me than the people and places around me. Books have led me down the rabbit hole with Alice, through the wardrobe into Narnia, past the first star on the right to Neverland, down the Mississippi with Huck Finn, hunting the elusive white whale with Ahab, and a host of other marvelous experiences and adventures that have enriched my life enormously. Among my closest friends have been Meg Murray to Holden Caufield to Prince Myshkin. And all of these books have made me realize that I'm not alone.

As I've written about before, reading was partially responsible for my having a longing to adopt. (How Literature Helped Lead To Adoption).

Once again, in my mind I had ideals for a girl who read avidly, like Anne of Green Gables:

I've also wanted to visit Prince Edward Island specifically because of that book.

To say I'm an "avid" reader is an understatement. I tend to have 2 to 3 different books going at a time, depending on which one I'm in the mood to read. People would rather help move my furniture than my books. And my idea of decorating is purchasing another bookshelf to accommodate my ever-growing library. I like being surrounded by books. As Thomas Jefferson once said, "I cannot live without books." It was the books he donated that became the Library of Congress. After he'd done this, he immediately set to rebuilding his own library again (and was one of the reasons he died in debt). 

Reading is a solitary habit. I have always been a very shy and introverted person and it shouldn't come as a surprise that I turned to books because I could be safe behind the covers of a book. I could go to a social gathering, take a book along, find an empty room, open my book and escape. Socially, I'm awkward and have always tried to fade into the walls at any gathering. I've never been the life of the party and, the few times I tried, it always appeared that the person I was attempting to converse with, clearly wanted to get away and talk to someone else. I never had this problem with characters from novels. They took me into their confidence and their lives. So I went to parties with Anna Karenina or the characters that inhabited society as captured by Edith Wharton. 

Before we adopted, we prayed that God would give us the right child for our family. At times, I've wondered about what God was thinking when He chose Cava for us. But there are other times that it is blatantly obvious. This inward, solitary child who loves to go off to his room to do puzzles, word searches, or to read is, in many ways, very much like myself. I didn't come from the same background as Cava, but my childhood was often a lonely one where I didn't fit in and retreated to books and the imaginary worlds I created. So, is it any wonder that God would have me be a Papa to this boy? 

Even when we were at Hands On, Cava went to the pretend nursery and found some books. He read all them from Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to one of beginner's words. 

And I've been reading to him from E.B. White's beloved classic Charlotte's Web so that we can share in this experience together and bond over something we both love to do: read. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Back To School

Today was the first day of school for the Blackwell boys. Benjamin started 8th grade and Cava is in 2nd. 

We started off our morning with breakfast and some Mandisa playing (especially "Good Morning" and "Overcomer"). 

Once the boys were dressed and ready, as it has been for every first day of school, I had to take photos of them. To my surprise, Benjamin didn't balk at having his picture taken (I guess he realizes resistance is futile); in fact, he even wanted to go first.

And then Cava.

Of the two of them, Cava was the most excited about starting back to school. He's been ready to return to school for some time. I think he both needs and likes the regiment that school requires. All throughout the morning, he kept telling me, "Papa, I'm so excited." He even began singing, "It's school today. It's school today."

As we got in the car for the mad scramble to get them both to school on time, we did pause so that I could pray for them and for, not only their first day of school, but for their school year. Just as we have with every school year, we turned on our favorite Christian radio station. 

The drop-off line wound itself throughout the parking lot and we took our place in it, unlike those whose time is far too important for things like drop-off lines and who either cut or pull their cars up beside the line to let their kids out. This is a real pet peeve with me but I kept my ranting to a minimum since Cava picks up on that and begins to mimic me in his irritation. Impatience is not something I want to pass on to him. When it came time to let Benjamin out, I was glad that Cava joined in with me in wishing Benjamin a great first day and that we both loved him. 

Then it was the dash to Cava's school, Matt Redman's "10,000 Reasons" came on the radio and it filled me with joy to hear Cava singing along in the backseat.

Once we arrived at the elementary school where Cava will now go, I walked him inside. He was so happy and greeting anyone and everyone he saw with, "Good morning," and, with one child, he said, "Hello, little boy. What's your name?" He was in the best mood and it only got better when they showed us the room where he'd wait until it was time to go to class because the TV was on and the kids were watching Curious George. "It's George," Cava exclaimed and then greeted all the other 2nd graders who were in there with, "Hello kids, I'm Cava!" When the teacher who was in there asked if he wanted to tell me good-bye, Cava just waved from the other side of the room and told me, "Bye Papa." It made me so proud that he entered without any of the anxiety he has exhibited in the past.

Throughout the day, since I took the day off, as I did my errands and house cleaning, I took time to stop what I was doing and pray for my boys, Megan and Madison, and other kids we knew who were starting back today. Of course, my mind returned again and again to Cava. 

For anyone who's read my blog knows, the school year last year ended in disappointment and heart break. But we have hope this year because Cava is a different child. He has grown so much since he's arrived and he's begun to be able to express his emotions through more than just anger. Cava gets easily frustrated and needs someone who can listen to him and calm him down. I also think it will help that he can now speak and understand English now, so that he'll understand what's going on around him. 

I missed he and Benjamin, greatly, as I moved about our quiet house. It was too quiet! Over the summer it's been filled with kids, laughter, games, and the kind of memories I'm glad I got to be a real part of. I missed hearing "Papa" or "Mr. Elliott." Yes, I was going through withdrawals! 

Since it was the first day back, I picked Cava up early. As he came down the hallway from his classroom, he greeted me with, "I'm sorry, Papa." Not what I wanted to hear right off the bat, so I asked him, "For what, Cava?"

"Me no have homework today," he replied. Only Cava would be sorry for not being assigned homework. I know those words would never come out of Benjamin's mouth.

During the car ride from Cava's school to Benjamin's, I asked Cava all about his day. When I inquired about what he liked best about school, he smiled, "Everything." He did math that he said was "easy," colored, did a word search, played on the playground (mostly the monkey-bars, of course), and ate a corndog and grapes for lunch. I asked him if he made any new friends, he shrugged, "I don't know." 

"But everyone was nice, right?"

"Oh, yes, very nice, especially the teacher."

Knowing Cava, I asked him, "Did you give her one of your big Cava hugs?"

"Papa," he blushed.

I was so happy to hear that he enjoyed his first day of school and that all went well. 

When the bell rang for Benjamin to come out, he, too, came out with a smile on his face.

As he got into the car, I asked, "How was school today?"

In typical Benjamin fashion, he answered, "Good."

"Care to elaborate?"

Like any teen, getting answers is, to use an oft-repeated phrase, "like pulling teeth." 

Still, when I asked him what he liked best about school, he said, "My classes with Megan." He also liked that they had lunch together.

Since I had promised them that if they both had a good day I'd take them to get a treat, we went to one of the boys' favorite places: Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Both ordered their usual: chocolate covered with sprinkles. 

As we ate our doughnuts, the boys talked and laughed. I was glad to see them getting along and I liked that both had a great first day back. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Baptizing Benjamin

Our last day of summer ended on a very high note: our elder son's baptism.

Today, at Robinwood Lake, he made his profession of faith that Jesus was his Lord and Savior.

As Acts 22:16 tells us, "And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name."

As a parent, nothing means more to me, than his salvation. And I told him, after he came out of the water, that I was more proud of him now than I would be at his high school or college graduation because this was eternal.

We believe that you aren't saved through baptism, but that it is an outward profession of faith and, as Benjamin made his, tears streamed down my cheeks. He is my son and my brother in Christ.

And I cannot wait for the day that we see Cava do the same.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Snapshots From Our Summer

Here are random snapshots from our summer that I'd thought I'd share:

1. Cava the acrobat

2. Backyard Tag

3.  Benjamin diving off the high dive

4. Cava as Benjamin

5. Cava showing off his newly completed summer reading chart before taking it to the library & then the librarian filling out his reading certificate. He loved seeing her write his name on it.

6. Going to see Megan play volleyball.

7. Cava at Ikea. He had to try out practically every bed in the place. He told us, "This place is awesome!"

8. Benjamin at Ikea. Of course, he found a computer. He also enjoyed spinning on the egg-shaped chair. 
Between he and Cava, it took us forever to get out of Ikea and I'm sure the folks that worked there were glad when we did!

9. The boys playing chess. Cava didn't understand that chess is a two player game. Here he is "helping" out his older brother.

10. Cava enjoying one of the cupcakes I'd just made.

11. Cava the park statue

12. A quite moment for Cava at Hands On

13. Megan & the elephant take center stage

14. Cava & Megan in the music room 

15. Hide n' Go Seek at the park

16. Love that Cava smile!

17. And what's summer without McDonald's?

I'm sad to see summer end since it's going to be like coming off a sugar rush. We really did have a blast,

Oh well, back to reality!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Hands On

School for us starts Monday, so we are trying to get in those last minute summer fun trips. This one was a trip to the mountain town of Hendersonville, North Carolina to go to a great place called Hands On. Of course, I travel with my posse (Benjamin, Cava, Megan, and her sister Madison). 

For the drive, we had our tunes and our travel games (such as going through the alphabet and saying, "I'm going on a picnic and I'm taking an apple . . ." Then the next person says, "I'm going on a picnic and I'm taking an apple and a banana." We go around with each person saying whatever the ones before them said and adding one according to whatever letter came next). It made the drive go quick.

But once we were at Hands On, the kids really had a blast!

Here's Cava in front of the big world map they had in the kids' travel agency. He was excited that he could find Ukraine on it and told me, "That's where I'm from!"

Cava being Cava, he found a puzzle of the United States and immediately set to work putting it together.

And was proud when he'd finished it. 

I was concerned that he would, once again, stick to more solitary activities while the other kids played together, so I encouraged him to branch out.  At first, it was nothing more than getting him to build a Lego car to race down the track. This took some doing since he didn't have any pictures to go by and he had to use his imagination and creativity.

But he did it and cheered as his car raced down the hill.

Soon the others got in on the action.

From there, they painted (Once again, I was ecstatic that Cava was creating something):

Or made bubbles:

They all enjoyed serving up pretend ice cream in the ice cream parlor:

Or working the grocery store. 

It was cool to see Cava running the register and having to use math to add up the cost of each item and then count out the money. He struggles with even the most basic math still.

But, by far, their favorite thing to do was put on plays! Lots and lots of plays!

I was really happy to see Cava join in. I was extremely proud of him for branching out of his solitary comfort zone and interacting with other kids, both those he knew (such as Benjamin, Megan, and Madison) and those he didn't. To me, this was a big step for him. Normally, when he's around groups of kids he becomes very anxious and fidgets nervously. I didn't see that with this trip.

Of course, they brought me in on the act and I ended up very decorated. I think I look quite stylish.

When they weren't on the stage performing, they had their puppets doing skits.

We took a short break for lunch and the kids also enjoyed their food, especially their Funyuns glasses:

Before we left Hendersonville, we took some time to pose with the bears. It's interesting the difference in poses between Benjamin's and Cava's:

As we headed back home, we were all a little bit sad that this summer is drawing to a close. It made me happy, though, to hear them say that this had been their best summer ever. I am extremely grateful and have thoroughly enjoyed the time I got to spend with them and the memories we all made together.