Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cava's Story

For homework, Cava was asked to write a realistic story. Originally, he was writing about our trip to Disney World. Being a literalist, he began writing about our trip down to stopping to get gas and buy snacks. In fact, he had written the entire front of a wide-ruled sheet of paper and had not even gotten to Florida yet. I stopped him and explained to him what a story was and gave him suggestions. Cava being Cava, he decided to scrap the Disney story and write one about Ukraine. This surprised me since he's never written about his time there.

Here is what he wrote:

Cava woke up and got dressed in his nice clothes.  "Don't get your clothes messy," the care giver told him. "You want to look nice for the family coming to visit you today."  Cava was nervous and excited because no one had ever come to visit him before.

It felt like forever for the time to come when he would meet this family. When it was time, another boy came to get him. He took him to the office. Now Cava was very scared. What if he said or did something wrong? What if they didn't like him?

He opened the door and saw the family. They looked nice and happy. He wanted to be happy, too. They brought him toys. He had never had a toy before. It was a truck and Legos. They sat with him on the floor and played with him and his new toys. After awhile, Cava was asked if he wanted to be a part of their family. "Yes," Cava said. He wanted to be in a family most of all.

Now in his story, Cava had to change his name because the story wasn't supposed to be about him. It's difficult for our very literal-minded son to write an imagined story about an imagined child. Still, I am so happy that he did choose to write about this moment in his life. Once more, I see the healing process taking place. I also love this story for the insight it gives us about what he was thinking, feeling, and going through the day we met him. I cherish every glimpse I get into his past and this story will definitely be going in his life-book.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


I must admit that when I saw the trailer for this film, I cringed. Paddington was a charming children's book that I loved and, like many of those, I feared that this had been turned into yet another awful adaptation of a beloved classic (i.e. The Cat in The Hat). Rotten Tomatoes has the film at a 98% in terms of positive film reviews, which is higher than many of the films nominated for best picture  for an Oscar this year. Still, I went in wary but found myself charmed by this movie about an orphan bear who is taken in by the Brown family.

When he first gets to their brownstone in Notting Hill, we find that the family is disconnected from each other. Each in their own room and their own little world. From the moment she first saw this little bear in Paddington Station, Mrs. Brown (played beautifully by Sally Hawkins) has felt a small connection to him. While Paddington has literally lost his family, she, in her own way, has too.

A family and being in a new place is all strange and unfamiliar territory for Paddington. He makes a lot of mistakes and struggles to fit in with these humans, just as they don't know what to make of him. The eldest daughter, who, herself, is trying to fit in at a new school. She doesn't want this "strange" bear in their family because she thinks they are "weird" enough.

Unlike many family films, this one cares about its characters and shows that there are more to all of us beneath the surface, as shown in the father's storyline (played by Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey fame). He, like the father in Mary Poppins, goes through a transformation that shows how deeply he really does love his family. His character is not the typical movie father, but all of his struggles are out of a genuine concern for his family's well-being. But he will have to learn, as Mrs. Bird tells him, "This family needs that bear as much as that bear needs you." This line is true for any adoptive family about their adoptive child . . .

. . . because, ultimately, this film is about adoption.  Just as in adoption, the family's life becomes a mixture of chaos and joy. I, like Mr. Brown, wanted my family's life to just return to "normal" after Cava's arrival. Like Paddington, Cava put our house in sixes and sevens and upset the routine of our days, but, like the Browns, our routines needed upsetting so that it could be filled with more love and joy than it had ever been before. Cava was our little brown bear who opened our family up to so many new experiences and people that we never would have had or met without him. As Mr. Brown says, "It doesn't matter if someone comes from halfway round the world, if you love them, they are family." This hit straight to my adoptive father's heart because of how true it really is. In so many ways, our family, like the Browns, have grown closer and stronger because of him being a part of us.  

When he came to London, Paddington had a small note attached to him for someone to "please look after this bear" and the filmmakers clearly have. This film is absolutely delightful, warm, and full of heart, It's a treat for the whole family.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reflecting On Two Years

When Benjamin was born, I remember quite clearly that feeling I had when they were checking he and Danelle out of the hospital so that we could go home. It was a feeling of being overwhelmed and thinking, "Are they crazy??? Don't they know that we don't know what we're doing???"

We didn't.

At all.

That was exactly the same feeling I had when Danelle and Cava were flying home from Ukraine two years ago. I felt that same mixture of excitement and worry. An eight year old boy who spoke no English was coming to live with us. Forever. There was no turning back now.

Did I mention he spoke no English?

Or that I really didn't speak Ukrainian other than a few small phrases and words?

It was a good thing that I didn't fully realize the upheaval our house would be in for awhile as we adjusted to this new dynamic to our family. Now I had read numerous books about adoption, about attachment disorders, about all that can happen to families who adopt internationally, but none of those really and truly prepared me for what was about to happen to us. And, at first, I felt like we were drowning and just trying to tread water to stay above water as the huge waves crashed down over us. To say it was hard was an understatement. The books don't tell you all about the exhaustion: about how you wake up tired and go to bed tired and stay tired throughout the entire day. They don't tell you that you might be so tired that you pour orange juice on your cereal instead of milk and then wonder why it tasted funny.

When he first got here, we weren't sure we could do this, that we would ever be a "normal" family again, but now, two years later we are a new kind of normal. We aren't dealing with the survival mode of those earlier days. The chaos of transition are gone and Cava is learning what it means to be loved unconditionally. This is something that is totally alien to him. He is discovering that just because we may be disappointed in his behavior or his making a bad choice that it does not mean we love him less and that our love for him does not fluctuate depending on how he acts.

That first year was filled with scars for all of us, but now we have climbed out of the rubble of that year and now we are no longer in the period where it felt like everything was being torn down around us and we are rebuilding in a better way than before.

Was it hard?


Does it get better?

Thank God, YES!!!!

But we also realize that it will always be hard because we are dealing with a child who has deeper hurts and grief and struggles than we will ever have.

No matter how many books we read or how many families we know who've adopted, we were ill-equipped and learned early on that it was going to take a lot of patience, mistakes, prayer, tears, and love to get all of us through it. And we have. And we still do.

That season of fear and feeling constantly overwhelmed subsides and we watch as this child goes from what, at times, appears to be animalistic anger to a child who comes up, hugs you, and says with a big smile on his face, "I love you." And you know that, no matter how bad those early days were, you could not imagine your life without this child.

After Cava first got here, Danelle and I struggled daily with burnout and constant exhaustion. At times, I will admit, we were resentful and angry and at others just defeated and wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.  What our family was learning was that healing doesn't come easy. Healing is hard work and it comes at a price.

Now, at two years in, we see the true beauty of adoption. Cava feels love and acceptance, not only from us, but from so many people around us. Many of the places we go now are filled with people who love him and are rooting from him (school, church, the library, even the places where Danelle and I work).

This brokenhearted child is growing in health, in height, and in heart. He is a good kid and so much of the success of his growth is due solely to his wanting to. Cava has a good heart. He wants to do better.

We have learned a lot in two years. Things like 1-600As and dossiers are replaced with 504 plans and IEPs.

We have learned that we are stronger than we thought we were and have come to rely on God far more than we ever did before.

We have learned that adoption is not only hard and complicated, but that all of the struggles and hardships are worth it when your child makes even the smallest of breakthroughs. You watch as this child begins to see himself differently and that there is hope. You see that God is faithful and that He was there during the worst of it. His hand never left you and that He is truly making all things new in our family on a moment to moment basis.

And adoption is a moment to moment process.

Early on, it was too hard to go day by day, and we could only look at the moment, the here and now. Adoption is hard, but it is also joyous. It is filled with moments of deep hurts and momentous hurrahs.

But when I reflect on the last two years, it is filled mostly with memories of joy and love. I am amazed every time I look at Cava because of how much he has changed in this short period of time. He looks healthy and happy and full of life and love.

A game he and I have played many, many times is one called, "I love you the most because . . ."  Essentially we tell each other that we love them the most and then give a reason why. It was a fun way to instill in Cava that he was loved and give him reasons why. It was also a way for him to learn to express back his love for us.

Over the last two years, there have been so many reasons as to why I love Cava. Here are just a few:

I love him for his great, big Cava smile.

I love for his ability to just suddenly burst out into dancing for no reason other than he felt like dancing.

I love him for his attempt to sing a song, even when he doesn't know the lyrics.

I love him for his moments of unbridled joy and enthusiasm.

I love Cava for his appreciation of small things, like seeing a flower bloom or getting hand-me-down clothes from friends.

I love Cava for his good heart.

I love Cava for his hugs. He gives great hugs. Even other people now ask for "Cava hugs."

I love Cava for his bursts of laughter, even when I have no clue why he found something funny.

I love Cava when he tries to tell a joke, particularly knock-knock jokes, which only make me laugh because he is laughing at his own joke. An example. "Knock, knock."  "Who's there?" "Chicken."  "Chicken who?" Then he begins clucking very loudly. This is followed by him laughing and saying, "That's so funny."

I love that when I read to Cava, he comes over and lays his head against my chest.

I love that he greets me in the mornings with a hug and a, "Good morning, Papa."

I love the joy I feel when I see him coming out of school in the afternoons when I pick him up.

I love that not only has Cava changed, but he's changed us.

I love Cava because he is my child, my son.  And I love him more than I ever imagined I would.

I love that I would not have changed any of this for the world and that I cannot wait to see what our third year together has in store for all of us.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Puzzles, Legos, Minecraft, & ADHD

When we first met Cava in Ukraine, he would come to the small room we had at his boarding school. One night, he found our travel version of Blokus. This hyper boy who was constantly climbing the bunk-beds and doing flips off them, stopped and spent an hour working with the different shaped pieces until all of them were on the board. Is it any wonder then that he loved doing puzzles and has done around 75 of them since he has arrived here almost two years ago. He went from doing small 24 piece puzzles to doing puzzles that are over a 1,000 pieces. He got two Ravensburger 1,000 piece puzzles for Christmas. 

He also got quite a few Lego sets.  

Cava loves Legos. Much for the same reason that he loves doing puzzles and they are very similar in that he has to figure out which piece goes where to build something. Cava is someone who likes having instructions to follow. Since he didn't have any toys back in Ukraine, he doesn't really know how to play with them. With Legos, he doesn't have to play, he just has to build according to how the pictured instructions show him to. (He struggles if I ask him to take his Legos and just build from his imagination. This is something I wrote about in Learning From Legos. Here is a link to that post:

While Cava can get frustrated and upset whenever he finds building with his Legos too difficult, we are working on him taking breaks and walking away to do something else for awhile and then returning to the Legos when he's calmed down. 

I love that he comes to me when he needs help. I grew up loving to build with Legos and I enjoy seeing this love for Legos grow in Cava. It's something that we can share together just as he and Danelle work together on puzzles.

What I like about Legos is that they not only work on Cava's motor skills, but also hold his attention for hours, causing him to focus and develop his thinking skills. He likes that this kind of play is very structured. Like his puzzles, Legos are a way for Cava to work through and persist at a task until its completed. This is great since Cava has ADHD and this provides a way for him to focus on one thing for hours. It also helps build his self-confidence as he builds more complicated sets with more and more pieces, just like with his puzzles. He got so caught up in building with his Legos that he had finished all of the new sets he got by the end of his Christmas break.

Something else that Cava loves that helps him with his ADHD is Minecraft. This is a free-form design tool that requires planning and good organizational skills. It develops his focus and his imagination at the same time. He has to build the world with everything from shelter to equipment. In an article on the website LearningWorks for Kids entitled "Minecraft, Executive Functioning and ADHD," the author of the piece wrote:

"Using the game as an educational tool for children with ADHD can help reinforce and practice key cognitive thinking skills with which these children commonly struggle with — all within the fun world of Minecraft. All this week, we’ll be sharing specific ways to use Minecraft to help kids with ADHD, offering structured projects to try with your child. Each project will target a specific thinking skill, with detailed guidance on exactly how to exercise it during gameplay."

Another bonus to Cava playing Minecraft is that, unlike with Legos, I have no idea how to do anything in that world, so he has to ask his older brother. This has become another way that the two of them have bonded. I love seeing the two of them sitting at the family computer, working together, as Cava delights in what he is either building or tearing down at the moment. 

Puzzles, Legos, and Minecraft have all required Cava to focus, to work at a task, to figure out how to overcome problems, and to not give up until he has finished what he was working on. I have loved seeing how excited he's been to show off a newly completed puzzle, or a Lego creation, or what he's built on Minecraft. And I really love seeing the sense of pride and accomplishment that he has when he's done. They also help foster creativity and imagination in him. These are all things he desperately needed, so for as long as he enjoys doing these activities, I will continue to encourage his love of them because I love seeing what they give him.

To read the full article on Minecraft, here is a link to LearningWorks' site: