Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cava's Faves

Every so often, I like to update on the latest likes that Cava has acquired. It's interesting to me to see what new things he enjoys and how varied that list can be. Here's his newest favorites:


1. As part of his love of puzzles and word searches, Cava has added the TV show "Wheel of Fortune" to his repertoire. He tries to solve the puzzles along with the contestants. Whenever someone wins, he tells them, "Awesome! Great job! Congratultions!" and genuinely means it.


2. Whenever Cava hears the phrase, "Blah, blah, blah," he bursts into laughter. I think this stems from my once asking him if that's what we sounded like to him when he first got here to the United States.


3. Tacos are now one of his favorite meals and he can usually eat two or three of them. He even likes Guacamole on his. 


4. Puss in Boots. And the photo above is his favorite scene. Even just seeing this photo made him laugh.


5. The card game Kings in the Corner. This was one of my favorites growing up because my sister and I could play it anywhere. When I taught it to my boys, I never expected that Cava would want to play it every night. 


6. Stitch from the film "Lilo and Stitch." I think he identifies with this little blue alien who's adopted by a Hawaiian family and struggles to behave.



7. Like many, many people, Cava loves this bizarre song by Ylvis, a band from Iceland. And for those who've never seen this video before, no the song is not meant as a joke. My favorite line is "Fish go blub," which sounds like the name of an alternative band. His favorite part is the animated fox at the end. A warning: this song will get stuck in your head.


8. He loves to read about Harry the Dirty Dog. I think part of this is due to Cava's love for animals, especially dogs.


9. One of his favorite series of books is I Spy. He can spend hours studying and scrutinizing the pictures to find the objects. 


10. The Carolina Panthers. While we often don't have a reason to cheer, it's fun to hear Cava cheering loudly for them when they do something right, "Great job! Awesome!" or when they mess up, "Great day! Really?!!? Really?!!? Come on!" 


11. Cheese. Especially when it's melted on crackers, which is his nightly snack. He also loves grilled cheese sandwiches.









Friday, September 27, 2013

Benjamin, Destiny, & Science Experiments


We're so proud of Benjamin who was chosen by his science teacher to be one of the students from their school's 8th grade to be a part of a two day program sponsored by UNC's Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. Their Destiny Bus is a 44' portable laboratory in which students will spend two days participating in various science experiments. Benjamin is thrilled that he gets to do this. As anyone who's read this blog knows, our boy loves himself some science! How many other kids ask for a Bunsen burner, test tubes, a microscope, and a centrifuge for their birthday or Christmas?  Or sleeps under a poster of the Elements (and can sing the lyrics to Tom Lehrer's song about them) and another of Great Scientists? As his parents we are not only proud of our son, but excited that he gets to take part in such an exciting opportunity. 

Way to go, Benjamin! Nobel Peace Prize, here he comes! (No pressure).





Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Blog of the Day


It's been awhile since I posted one, so I thought I'd share another blog  of the day. Today's blog is Newberry, Party of 6 (http://www.newberrypartyof6.com/).

This family is currently in the process of trying to raise funds (they need $9,500 more) to bring home their daughter from Ukraine. Part of how they are raising money is through the beautiful handmade scarves they've made. Their kids even went door-to-door in order to sell them (as seen in this photo from their blog):


Be sure and check their blog out, pray for their family, and, if called, donate some money towards their adoption or buy one of their scarves.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fatherhood Is Not For The Faint Of Heart


So often in our pop culture, fathers are a thing of ridicule. There are very few shining examples of dads on television (Andy Griffith, Billy Cosby). Commercials are even worse, portraying fathers as buffoons. Why is there such a negative attitude in our portrayals of fathers?

Have father's dropped the ball? I think, in this modern age, part of the problem is that there are two many boys and not enough men. Fathers are too often being the buddies and not the dads. Or they are absent all together. And our society is paying greatly for this loss.

Fatherhood is not easy. I think a great father has to lead by example. As I've written, our kids learn more by our actions than our words. I strive to be a good Papa to both my sons. I want them to understand that whether I'm praising or punishing them, both are done out of love. It is my goal to have them grow up to be men of strong character, but to do that, I must model that. Sons need their fathers to model what it means to be a man, a husband, and a father to them. That's a tall order.

That's why I'm thankful for my Dad. He helped mold me into the Papa that I am today. As a kid, I didn't often see what he was doing and I more often than not, didn't thank him for his contributions. Like all kids, I took him for granted. It's only as I got older and had kids of my own that I realized just how truly hard being a dad can be. When I was younger, I often used to say, "I won't say that when I'm a Dad." Then I became one and found myself saying many of the things my Dad said to me. Sometimes I even hear his voice in my own when I say them.

Sons need their father's approval and their blessing. They want the man who they looked up to to tell them, "Good job." Hearing one's father do this builds a stronger relationship between a father and son. I am grateful for the times my Dad did this for me. But I also want to take this time to thank him for all that he's done and that went unnoticed and unappreciated.

I also want to wish him a very happy birthday.

Happy birthday to the man who helped shape me into the man, husband, and Papa I am today. I still strive to follow in your footsteps.

Love your son,

Elliott

Friday, September 20, 2013

Huge Mile Stone For Our Blog


I'm absolutely amazed!

Our blog hit a big mile stone today - over 100,000 hits!

This is not something we take for granted but are grateful to everyone who has read and responded to our blog. When I started this just over a year ago, I assumed it would be read by family and friends, but never suspected that we would get the attention that we have.

It is truly astounding how many countries this blog has been read in. Some of them I'd never even heard of before.

What has meant the most is all of the kind words, the prayers, and the e-mails we have gotten from others. Some of you are now friends (even if it's only through the internet). I read your blogs and follow the journeys your families are taking. Our family prays for your families daily. This has become more than simply recounting what our family is going through, good and bad, but a way to connect to others out there who are going through the same.

It's amazing to me that so many of you have taken the time to read and respond. I am truly humbled by all of this and can only say that it is all God and not me. My main criteria when I write each blog entry is to not write something I wouldn't show to Cava when he's old enough to read it, to offer hope, to be open and honest, to show the daily struggles and joys associated with adoption of any kind, and to point, ultimately, to Christ. I honestly pray before I ever sit down to write.

Thank you again. I really am overwhelmed by the love and support you have offered our family over this last year.

Elliott

Car Lines




One thing having an adopted child has taught me is an appreciation for small things that probably would've either gone unnoticed or unappreciated before we adopted Cava. 

One of those under appreciated activities was waiting in a car line to pick a child up from school. Now I have been doing this for years with Benjamin and it tended to be tedious and sometimes a source of irritation (especially if the weather was hot or cold - and don't get me started on those people who cut in line), but now I am thrilled that I get to wait in the car line instead of getting a phone call from the school saying I need to come and get Cava immediately. Only those who have gone through what we've gone through this with a child who has had behavioral issues knows what I'm talking about.  

Each time I pull my car up to wait in the long, ever extending line, I think, "YES! He got through another day! This is so awesome!" And I tell him how proud I am of him each time he gets into my car and tells me he had a "great day" at school. This is no small feat and is a real answer to prayer.




Thursday, September 19, 2013

Eight Months


WOW!

It's hard to believe that 8 months ago Cava came home. It's been an amazing journey so far and our family feels blessed that he is a part of it now. Cava is not the same child that he was then and he has grown so much and in so many ways. There is a life and a light in him that wasn't there before.

We are so grateful and feel so blessed that God chose our family for Cava to be a part of. As I have written more than once before, Cava may not have been born to us, but he most definitely was born for us.

We love you so very much, Cava.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Special


For one of his homework assignments for school, Cava was asked to brainstorm and list ways he was special. Then he was to take that list and write a paragraph. So I sat down at the kitchen table with him and asked, "Okay, Cava what makes you special?"

He thought for a moment before replying, "Nothing."

My heart sank because I really do think that he sees himself as not being special. Since I wanted to lift him up, I overly exaggerated my response of,  "WHAT??? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? YOU, NOT SPECIAL? Cava, are you tricking me?"

He smiled.

"You must be tricking me because you are one super, duper extremely special kid. I think the hardest part of this assignment is narrowing it down to just a few ways that you are special since there are sooooooo many ways that you are. The teacher didn't even give us enough sheets of paper to write all the ways you're special."

Now, when I asked him what made him special, Cava answered, "I'm happy."

"In what way?"

"Before, when I had no family, I was sad, but now I'm here and I'm happy."

"That's an awesome one."

He then began to come up with other ways he was special:
- Being from Ukraine.
- Flying in a plane over the ocean.
- Learning to speak English.
- That he can do puzzles.
- His ability to do flips.
- He has a fish named Marlin and a dog named Chloe.

As he began compiling his list, I encouraged him and kept saying, "And what else?"

Each time, he would give me that Cava smile that I love so much and he would come up with more ways he was special.

After he'd compiled his list, I said, "See, look at all those ways you're special - and that's only just a few of them. We'd never get this homework assignment done if we listed all the ways you're special. But the one thing I want you to always remember is that God made you special and unique and that there is no one else in the world just like my Cava. And I love you very much just the way you are."

This was definitely a homework assignment that Cava needed and continues to need to learn.




Monday, September 16, 2013

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friendship


While I was putting the breakfast bowls and dishes in the dishwasher this morning, Cava was watching Clifford on PBS Kids. Next thing I knew, his hand was on my arm and I heard him quietly say, "Papa."

"Yes, Cava?"

"I wish I had a friend to play with," he told me and it was all I could do not to cry. Here was this solitary little boy admitting, for the first time, that he wanted a friend. It made me sad and hopeful all at the same time. And I saw this moment as a huge step for him because Cava had never expressed this desire before. Having grown up in orphanages, he has grown up with the idea of other children as competition or, sadly, as abusers who hit and kicked him because he was small. When he got here, that fear continued and he has always been apprehensive and aloof from other kids.

One day, when Benjamin was over at a friend's house, I took Cava to our local library. This is one of his favorite places to go and we always end up with a tote bag full of books for him to read. On this particular day, the library was having a special program for kids. The Schiele Museum was bringing over some of their animals to talk about and show kids. Cava was thrilled.

After we checked out, I told him to go on to the room where they were having this program to get us a seat while I took our bag full of books out to the car. When I got back inside, I discovered Cava was sitting in the very back of the room away from all the other children. "Cava, why don't you go sit down there on the floor with all the other kids so you can see better?" I suggested, but he dismissed this with, "No, I don't wanna'."

"What if I sit with you?"

"Okay," he said and he smiled. We sat on the floor but I noticed he sat on his heels as if he were going to bolt at any moment. I also saw that he nervously fidgeted with his hands the whole time. Even with me there, he was still frightened of being amidst this small sea of kids.

During this past summer, we have had kids over all the time and we took numerous day trips. They were always Benjamin's friends and, though Benjamin and his friends, especially Megan, tried to include Cava, he tended to remain apart. Or, he'd play for awhile, then return to his solitary activities of word searches or his puzzles. It was only on our last trip to Hands On, that I noticed a change in Cava and that he not only interacted with Benjamin, Megan, and Madison more but also with other kids that he didn't know. This was a big deal to me since he'd never done this.

Then he began second grade.

The first day he was not the least bit apprehensive or fearful. He walked in confidently, which was something new for him.

Over the last three weeks, he has slowly begun to tell me the names of kids that he's playing with. This is all amazing progress for him, so when he told me he wished he had a friend to play with, I encouraged him with, "You're starting to make friends, Cava, and that's a big deal. You're learning their names and playing with them at recess. We'll invite them to your birthday party. You're a great kid with a wonderful personality, so it won't be hard for you to make friends."

"I hope so," he replied.

"You will, it just takes time, buddy."

All of this just reminds me that, though he is biologically eight, developmentally he is much, much younger. His socialization skills were stunted and so he struggles with fitting in and making friendships. He has trust issues and, rightly so, because of the hardships he's experienced. But he is trying and he is slowly opening himself up and I am extremely proud of him for doing so. I pray that he does allow himself the opportunity to make long, lasting friendships.

The fact is, I will be over-the-moon thrilled when we can invite one of Cava's friends over to play with just him.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Standing Up


"Stand up for what is right, even if you're standing alone."

Those are words said by the character Atticus Finch from one of my all time favorite novels and movies To Kill A Mockingbird. Yesterday, I had posted these exact words on Facebook due to a recent incident where I had to do just that. Benjamin saw me post it and knew why I had posted it. He asked me if I would do the same thing over again, knowing now, that I would be alone.

"Yes, Benjamin, I would," I replied, "Sometimes the right thing to do is not the easy thing. Oftentimes, doing the right thing will not make you popular, but I honestly believe popularity is overrated. More often, it will isolate you from the crowd." To quote Atticus Finch again, "The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

In this day and age, it is far easier to go along with the crowd than it is to rock the boat.

Benjamin and I then had a lengthy discussion and I told him, "It's not going to be easy for you to stand up for what is right in a culture that has become so permissive and is not protective of children. Other kids will get to see and do things that you won't. You may get made fun of for this or be left out or not invited. Values are not valued. And just because the majority believe something, doesn't make it right. You may be the lone voice. And if you go into science, your faith is really going to be questioned greatly by others who would scoff at them. You have to decided what is more important to you: your faith or the opinion of your peers. That's never going to be an easy choice. Ever. But your choices define who you are. Ultimately, you will have to stand before God for them just as I will have to stand before Him for mine. I don't take this lightly. But even before I stand before God, I have to stand before you and Cava. I can't just tell you what you should do, I have to live how you should live. Integrity and character are defined not just by what one says but, more importantly, by what one does. And you and Cava can see that: when I have been a man of my word and when I've missed the mark. When I, or you, do miss the mark, then we must do all we can to right it. We must seek grace in the same manner we extend it to others."

As I'm talking to Benjamin, I become aware that Cava is listening in on our conversation. I'm glad. I don't know how much of what I'm saying he understands, but I hope that, with time, he will.

When our conversation ended, Benjamin told me, "Papa, I'm glad that you did stand up."

I am too because it meant we got to have that conversation and that he saw me doing more than just talking.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Boxes


Working for a toy company, I get a lot of displays in the Fall to promote the toys in store for the Christmas season. This year was no different, as I got around 40 boxes of displays. As I began to take the displays out to install them in designated stores, I left the empty boxes in our living room, knowing all too well how much the boys would love playing in and with them.

And I wasn't wrong.

Of course, Benjamin was the first to set to work creating things out of the boxes. His first structure was this arch:

He then went on to make a skeeball game and a complex system of tunnels. It never fails to amaze me how many hours of fun kids can have with empty boxes, especially when our entire living room is full of them.


He and Cava made a racetrack for Cava's Matchbox cars which they raced.


Benjamin and Megan had fun building forts that they took turns attacking by throwing a ball to see who could knock the other's down first.


Or created box mazes and would blind fold whoever had to navigate their way through it, while the other person continually moves the boxes and the shape of the maze.


They had a blast building and tearing down their creations. 

What I love about this is that this kind of play requires both physical and mental activity. Unlike TV, the computer, or video games, when they build with the boxes, my kids have to use their imaginations. I think it's vitally important that they do and that they are encouraged to think "outside the box," if you'll excuse the pun. I enjoy seeing what they create, even if it means they take over the entire living room (at least that room is being used for something. If we ever move, I won't have a living room - which is a misnomer since people barely even use such formal rooms anymore - I'll use that space for a playroom).

I also like this because it's just another way they can make childhood memories.




Saturday, September 7, 2013

The End of Bedtime Stories?


Recently I read a really disheartening statistic. In a poll conducted by Harris Interactive, they found that "only 33 percent of U.S. parents read bedtime stories with their children nightly. Fifty percent of parents say their children spend more time with TV or video games than with books." While I'm not surprised, my heart sank. Growing up, I remember my Mom reading to me a chapter or two each night when I was little. It was by her reading to me this way, that I heard A Pilgrim's Progress, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Anne of Green Gables among others. It was this fostering a love of reading in me that encouraged me to become such an avid reader.

When Benjamin was little, I began reading to him every night. He and I shared in books that had been favorites of mine (The Phantom Tollbooth, A Wrinkle in a Time, all of Roald Dahl), as well as discovering books that became his favorites (Inkheart, Coraline, the Percy Jackson series). It was a quiet time that we had together where words took center stage. He and I would become caught up in the stories, the characters, and the worlds created by some amazing authors. It was a time where we had to use our imaginations to visualize what was taking place. Books also provided us an opportunity to talk about many different topics and subjects; both lighthearted and serious. Books provided a bonding experience that the more passive activities of television and video games cannot.

Currently, I'm reading a chapter or two a night to Cava from Charlotte's Web. He will come and find me, to ask me to do this. Cava will snuggle up close to me, under his covers, and listen as I read about Wilbur and his friendship with the spider Charlotte. He has to look at each illustration closely. Cava reacts to what is unfolding and he'll comment (an example being that when Wilbur is sad and no one wants to play with him or be his friend, Cava got upset and told me, "That's not nice." "No, it's not, is it?" We then paused to talk about how it felt for Cava to feel just that way when he was in Ukraine. This is a conversation that wouldn't have happened had we just been watching TV).

So it saddens me to think that "only 1 out of 4 parents" are reading to their children at bedtime. What are these parents missing by not taking the time to read to their children? How will this shape future generations? Will this create more and more future parents who won't read to their kids as well?

Reading is a way to show children that they are not alone. It provides them a framework for not only using their imaginations but also helps them to understand others better. By stepping into the shoes of the characters from books, they have to see the world differently. Nothing bothers me more than to hear a kid state, "I'd rather watch the movie than read the book." Movies, TV, and video games are no substitute for the amazing and expanding opportunities that await a child in a great book.


To read the article, go to:
http://living.msn.com/family-parenting/the-family-room-blog-post?post=10abdecb-9489-43f3-a227-047ba332f19e

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day At Reedy Creek


Our Labor Day started off with a bumpy morning, as Cava woke up in an irritable mood. Since this was one of the few mornings where Danelle got to sleep in, I got up to ask Cava to be quiet so he wouldn't wake his Mom up. I ended up having to do this numerous times and, on the final one, he openly defied me and told me, "No!" With that, I took him with me to our kitchen, sat him down, and told him, "You will sit here and be quiet until I tell you to get up again."

This set him off.

Really off!

One of those tantrums that I haven't seen in awhile that escalated with him in the corner, hitting his fists against the wall and telling me what he would and wouldn't do. Needless to say, both my wife and I were disheartened and disappointed by this outburst.

Hoping the rest of the day would go better, we set off for Reedy Creek Park & Nature Center in North Charlotte. The park itself has playgrounds, volleyball and basketball courts, soccer and baseball fields, three ponds, fishing, picnic areas, and a nature center.

The first thing we did when we got there was to let the boys play on one of the playgrounds.





(The last photo is Benjamin on what he called a "DNA strand")

I would like to say that Cava's mood improved, but he tended to remain aloof and he didn't want to play with Benjamin at all, which hurt Benjamin's feelings. He still continued to try and connect with his younger brother throughout the day, but Cava would have none of it.

From there, we went over the Nature Center. Surprisingly, it was Benjamin who was more cooperative in posing for photos. Cava grouchily told me, "I don't wanna'," whenever I asked him to pose for one. Whenever Cava gets in one of his grouchy moods, I teasingly call him, "Old Man Cava," and ask him if he's going to shake his cane at me or I ask him if he put on his "grouchy pants" instead of his regular ones this morning.


Before we even got to the Nature Center, Benjamin caught a tiny frog, which we made him release.


Inside, the boys looked at all the animals on display, especially the snakes.



Cava's favorite, however, was the giant frog on the wall overhead. I teased Benjamin that it was the Papa frog come to catch him for catching his son earlier.


Benjamin took a moment to play possum.


After we'd explored the Nature Center, we went back outside so the boys could play in the tree-houses.


They spent most of their time being chased by a little boy who kept pestering them with, "What's your name? Tell me your name! I demand you tell me your name!"



Bored of the chase, Cava tried his hand at xylophones . . .


And a balance beam . . .


Then we set off down the trail.


Where we saw a small waterfall . . .


A magical tree stump that Benjamin and I decided was a fairy house . . .


And a salamander!


Then the boys spotted Dragonfly Pond and they were off!





Benjamin stopped to give me his "explorer" pose.


The pond really was beautiful and we slowly made our way back up the trail to the parking lot.


While Cava's sour mood did little to improve, the rest of us made the best of our Labor Day and our time together as a family.