Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mere' turns 6

Mere' was the center of attention last night as we celebrated at Chuck E Cheese for her 6th birthday. I am amazed at how fast the time goes, as if everytime I turn around another year is over.

Mere's birthday is always an event in my mind. If I rewind, every birthday is another major milestone in her life.

She was born 13 weeks early, at one pound and 14 oz., to a crack mom who left the hospital after delivery and never looked back. She was the 5th child born to this mom who continued to make poor life choices while each child suffered more for it. I think I have dealt with my anger towards her, although when I see Mere' struggle with things that other children master easily, I feel my throat tighten and my stomach gurgle with the feelings.

I met Mere' in the children's hospital about an hour and 1/2 from our home. She had a feeding tube for nourishment that they had put in shortly after a major surgery that removed a huge portion of her small intenstine. Her tummy was a massive scar from hip to hip, and the TPN line was in her leg giving her life saving medications and nutrients her body was missing in order to thrive. My job was to learn how to care for her needs, bring her home as a foster child and keep her healthy until her adoptive family could care for her needs. I spent hours getting to know her, took instruction on caring for her TPN line, her feeding system and her wound care. I learned how to bathe a tiny baby that was hooked into all sorts of machines and tubing that sustained her. A month after meeting her, she came home, lock, stock and barrel. She began to turn her little head to the sound of our voices, while we stroked her rigid arms and legs, willing her body to relax. The longer I cared for her, the more possessive I became of what her future held. It seemed wrong to invest so much of my heart and soul into this little being, and then turn her over to someone else. We appealed to the state to adopt her, and at 18 months old, she became one of us forever.

She gradually ate on her own, advancing to the stage of removing her feeding tube and shortly after, having the wound repaired and closed. The surgeon also repaired the scars on her leg from surgeries just after birth, and we brought her home to heal again. Around 3 she had her first set of tubes in her ears, and her speech improved immediately. She advanced in her therapy sessions, both physical and speech, to the point where she was released from both. After a second set of tubes, she entered preschool. I would love to say she sailed through it, but school was a difficult time for her. She had her little brother in the same class, just 6 months apart in age. He thrived, she struggled.

By the end of preschool, Mere got glasses. What a huge difference that made!! She could hear and see now, and she was ready to soar!! This past summer we saw so much growth and change in Mere's whole personality. She seemed more confident and self assured, not as fearful and more willing to try new things. She often asks for the story of her scars, which I love to end with, "And God has a wonderful plan for your life!!"

So now, at her 6th birthday, I look back at all the ways she has grown, and it makes me smile. She runs and plays, laughs and giggles. Her sense of humor is so much like ours, and she gets the most enjoyment out of the simplest things. She's making it just fine in kindergarten, and has recently learned to write her name (although it's backwards and the e's are upside down!!)

It's been alot of work but so much more joy to help Mere get to this place in her life. She has so very much to offer with her joyful little life, and we are so grateful that our lives are entwined. We continue to watch her grow, constantly amazed at her grasp on reality, while enjoying the pretend world she creates with all her tiny toy horses, dogs and cats. She is alot more like her peers now, and we were not sure she would ever be at that level.

Happy Birthday, my tiny Mere'. I hope it's another great year for you.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Memories 2009

The most exciting things about the holidays are usually the small stuff that alot of people don't notice. Since we have several young ones at home, the small stuff happens on such a regular basis that I miss them if I am not careful. I especially want to remember several things from this Christmas season, thus today's post.

"Why are there so many Christmas's at our house, mom?" says Tommy.
"There is really only one Christmas, but a lot of celebrations." I said.
"Oh. So when does it all end?" he asked.
"Well, when the last party is over, I guess." I replied.
"I hope the parties are never over." he said.
Me too, Tommy, me too.

I love having all the family and friends around. I think Christmas this year, if there were no little ones in the house, would be almost boring. Their laughter, squeals and excitment have made it the most pleasant. The toys scattered all over, the paper wrapping pushed to the side until I can't stand the mess anymore, the candy and cookie crumbs throughout the place. That's the parts I look forward to.

We often talk about our kids "other families", their birth relatives whom, for various reasons, are no longer connected to our lives. Our Tommy, 5 years old, has two half- brothers that we keep in contact with on a yearly basis, typically through photos that their adoptive mom is great to send us. This year, like many other families, she choose to send online greetings instead of through the mail. Since it is a yearly updated photo, I still wanted to print it out for his scrapbook, and after viewing the Elf Dance video she had placed her childrens faces in, I froze one of the frames and printed it out.

"Look, Tommy. I have a new picture of your birth brothers. Want to see them??"
"Yes!" He was full of excitment until I showed him the photo. He got a disturbed look on his face and, in all seriousness, said, "Mom, they're elves."
I couldn't help but laugh, and tried to explain how it was just a way that their adoptive mom had 'dressed' them up for their Christmas picture.
Again, with a puzzled expression he says, "Now why would a mom do that to her kids?"

We made a gingerbread village on Christmas eve. It was a Norman Rockwell moment, or at least it started out that way. By the time we were done, Mike scraped icing off the wall, there were candy pieces all over the floor, and several of santa's sleigh's had to be reglued after moving the piece to a smaller table in the corner. Magical. Beautiful renditions of a manger scene, Grinch's cave house, and the neighborhood businesses that none of us could live without. You know, Starbucks, Chuck E Cheese, and the local Church. If you squint your eyes you can tell exactly what each one was suppose to be. Completed only by the licorice and candy pathways that separated them all.

Just after dark on Christmas eve, as our extended family was preparing to leave for their own celebrations coming to their homes in the next few hours, Nelly and Meredith put their boots on so they could scatter our homemade "Reindeer Food" on the front lawn, hoping to attract the lively crew to our rooftop. A plate was set for Santa with some of our best Christmas goodies, and Tommy said he hoped the fire would be cooled off before it got too late so Santa could make it down our chimney safely. All of these things must have worked, because the livingroom was overwhelmed with the gifts from Santa and the tree was laden with all the good things that would make our season bright.

Mike and I made it to bed about 2:30 am Christmas morning, just to be jolted awake a half an hour later, to Nelly saying, "Santa was here!!!" Little did she know that just prior to her arrival, Santa nearly forgot to drop his delivery here. We realized something was missing, traipsed back down to the livingroom to make sure all the Santa gifts were indeed in their places, and barely closed our eyes when Nelly appeared as bright as the full moon, waking us from our exhaustion. Oh Nelly!! We sent her back to bed, putting her off to the more reasonable hour of 6:30 am. I was so tired all day long that I had to fight off the urge to slap or bite her everytime I went past!

By noon, all gifts were fully opened, appreciated and finding their way to the other parts of the house. We had breakfasted on candy and cookies left over from the party of the night before, and were dressing for our trip to the Chicago airport to pick up our Jenni and Jeremy who had flown in from Oregon. Our timing was perfect, the coffee we drank on the way helped keep us awake on the 2 1/2 hour trip there, and the kids were peaceful,some even sleeping, as we traveled. We trudged into the small airport, all 7 kids in tow, when Mike said "Faith, look at your daughter."
I looked down at Mere, smiling up at me, and only then realized she was wearing her new clogs to the airport - without untying the string that held them together. Each step we took was accompanied by her quick paced shuffle - just as quickly as she could go with the distance of the string holding them together.

So when I look back at this holiday season, I will think of all the wonderful times we had with friends and family, all the things we did as our own family to celebrate the special days of being together, and look forward to the year ahead, knowing each year goes by much faster than the last one. So much is in store for our new year, but I hope I am not too quick to forget the fun and craziness of this one.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Things I Learned with a High Fever

If you could peek into my house right now, you would think it was nearly perfect. The Christmas tree is twinkling, little eyes are closed for a restful sleep and I am sitting in a darn near clean house, quiet and at peace.

But really, I am just waiting for the next storm to erupt. You see, our family has been battling the 'flu this week. The gut wrenching, run for your life type, that no matter how much you try to avoid it, it grabs you and won't let you out of its nasty grip until you feel like you were hit by a semi truck.

I am not sure who actually brought this gift of sickness to us this season, but Nicole and I were racing to see which one could reach the bathroom first on Wednesday night. We stayed neck-to-neck for about 24 hours, asking each other for assurance throughout the day if either of us were hurting worse or sicker than the other. We were miserable.

And then baby Bella got it. She fussed to daddy, and as he reached to console her, lifting her up to his shoulder, she "spilled her guts" and daddy about tossed his cookies right with her. I was slightly aware of their awkward rendezvous in the kitchen, but for the life of me I couldn't move a muscle off the couch to assist in anyway. I remember telling him to get the kindergartner's off the bus, and then slept until after supper.

The next morning I felt as close to normal as I did before the semi hit me, so I got kids to school, and went about the festivities of the "last day of school before the holiday break" mode, to which all was going as planned at the younger children's school when the principle showed up in the classroom and warned me that Nelly had gotten ill at school and was not allowed to ride the bus home.

Parties were nearly over, so we headed to her school to get her home safely before she decided all the party options were not all that attractive anymore, and then she went to bed without any complaint. So far, if you are keeping score, that's 4 down, 5 to go.

We had plans to cancel for the evening, dinner was carryout pizza, and we tried to watch a family movie, although some of the kids were not really up to much of that on this particular Friday night. Saturday morning, 5:30 am, Tara decided to join in the fun the other 4 of us were having, and that meant, only 4 left to succumb to the holiday 'flu bug. It was vicious. By noon today, Mike was down for the count, although he had put up a great fight until the end (and no, coffee does NOT keep away the 'flu), leaving a solemn bunch of characters in various stages of disarray.

Supper was cans of spaghettios if you could handle it, or sprite and soda crackers if that had more appeal. I was feeling much better by tonight, and figured I could accomplish something yet today, like dishes that needed washing badly since our dishwasher decided to quit this weekend also. As I finished cleaning the kitchen, Tyler walks up the stairs, reports his bad intent, and grabbed a bucket to keep him company during the long hours he is facing tonight. Just as Bella falls asleep, Nelly reads bedtime stories to the younger ones, grabbing buckets "just in case someone else needs them tonight..." when Tommy says, "I am sleeping on the livingroom floor tonight. My tummy is not very well...." and falls asleep shortly after that at my feet.

Mere is the last standing. Kinda. She said if she slept with Tara she will get sick, although Tara is on the upswing, I think. If she slept with Tommy she will get sick, and if she went upstairs to sleep with Dad, he might get sick on her!

Poor Mere. It's hard to know what is ahead, but in this house, this weekend, it's pretty safe to say she's gonna get it sometime really soon, no matter where she lays her head tonight!!

Oh, looks are deceiving. The house if perfectly quiet for the moment, but I know above me in the girls quarters, and below me in Tylers room, not much real rest is being had tonight. And I am thinking if I get any sleep tonight, it may just be right here on the couch, dead center of them all.

I hope the 'flu bugs don't find out where any of you live this season!! Stay well!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Nativity

All the Christmas decorations are up. The twinkling lights on the Christmas tree glow, creating shadows on the livingroom walls. The printer hums with recipes I've collected over the past few weeks, and the television plays endless, feel good stories of the holidays.

Since we have an "open door" policy at our house all through the year, we have visitors nearly every day, so the coffee pot stays full until we finally turn in for a few hours of peaceful sleep, just to start the magic all over again in the morning.

I was straightening the livingroom just before bedtime, expecting a friend in the morning. The nativity sat on the far end of the livingroom, figures askew, after Mere' had spent much time setting it up and enjoying the bible story of the first Christmas. I know how much she loves babies, and listening to her coo and speak imaginary lines to the players in her drama I was reminded how wonderful the story of the season is, especially through the eyes of a wondering child.

As I knelt down to place the nativity figures in their "proper" places, I picked up the lonely shepherd first. The set had 2 shepherds and 3 wisemen the year it came out of the box for the first time, but after all the curious little hands the last few years, some of the figures have found their way to the bottom of toy boxes, doubtlessly found anytime throughout this years celebrations.

So I knelt with the lonely shepherd, carefully placing him next to the manger, where he could give proper due to the Holy Child. It's probably a good thing that everyone else in the house was sound asleep in their beds, and had been for some time, because I could not stifle the belly laugh that exploded when I saw the "holy child" in our nativity scene was a tiny plastic dalmation dog.

I should have known, especially since Mere' had been the one who last played with the Christmas setting, that it would not necessarily have been a "real" baby that she was cooing too. She's like that. She can turn any toy in her fanciful world of imaginations into whatever she needs it to be. And she loves dogs.

So, with no disrespect to the Christ-child, our nativity still holds one sleeping dog in the manger, with shepherds and wisemen gathered 'round the throne of peace.
I am not sure exactly where the baby Jesus figure has landed in this house, but I do know, no matter where the original piece is found later this year, we will give our ultimate praise and thanksgiving to THE ONE who makes our holiday real, the reason for the season, the umph behind everything we are trying to teach our children about goodness, peace, love and sacrifice.

Especially this year, even if the figure is a dalmation dog in our plastic nativity set, we know the REAL Jesus who came to earth as a simple child so many years ago to give us the gift of eternal life so that we can live with HIM forever.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.