Saturday, August 30, 2014

Keep it Simple

When I think back at the very early days of starting a family we seemed to have needed everything. Over the years, like most people, we have accumulated so much stuff it's unthinkable. Though my kids are still young I'm finding that less is more. Slowly but surely I'm tossing all that unnecessary baggage that seems to demand more attention that own children. When you have five kids your house will never look model perfect but if I reduce the clutter and non-fulfilling objects naturally life gets a whole lot easier. In that same spirit I want to eliminate the clutter in relationships and my mind. I need to free myself of life sucking "friends" that deep down know nothing nor do they care anything about me. If I free up my heart and mind, I'm bound to be more loving and peaceful. Life will never be perfect but I just want less complications and more memorable loving moments. I finally started walking again. For me, walking isn't necessarily about losing weight but it's my daily cleanse mentally and spiritually, although walking with weights has really helped to tone my legs. It's a three mile walk that is filled with beauty. I love to look at the beautiful oak trees with spilling Spanish moss, to see the lake curve around the lake grass and water lillies. If I'm lucky I'll see the occasional otter or bobcat playing in their natural habitat. My soundtrack each day is Sister Hazel. Yes, I'm biased because they too are from Gainesville and I grew up with their music but also because many of their songs are about simplifying life and embracing what we have. We all need reminders of that but for me all of these things energize me to take on the day. Like this blog, I'm not writing to make money or to gain anything more than a release of my feelings. If I can write and cleanse my soul this way then that's what I'm going to do. We're given so many gifts all around us which are taken for granted. The phones, the media, the news and graphic images poison us and then we wonder why depression is the number one treated mental disorder in this country. I choose not to watch TV and very rarely do I go to the movies. I want to fill my brain and spirit with positive and beautiful images and stories so I can be a more peaceful and loving person. This journey is messy and it's never too late to make changes to enjoy it more. Keep it simple! Clean house and clean your soul!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Boot Camp for Life

I'm often criticized, talked about, and downright blasted by people for sending my kids to public school. Every time I hear the chatter I want to cringe. It's not a matter of loving your kids any less in fact it's because I love my kids so much more and I want to do the best job possible to prepare them for real life. What is real life? For most people in the world, it's really, really hard. So many people grow up in a world where they don't know where their next meal will come from. They live in a world where they fear for the safety of their children. They're battling poverty and health issues beyond anything we've ever seen. I, on the other hand, live in a bubble. It's not that fancy of a bubble but a bubble none-the-less. We planned it that way so our kids could run free and be kids, as they so well deserve. A big gate protects them from the evils of this world and most people that live within our gate are good tax paying citizens. The issue is that it's not the real world at all. How can I make sure my kids don't freak out at the first site of a crime, or they're faced with a question on safety of walking to their car late at night after working a long shift? How can I protect them from the guns, drugs, sex, and all the evils of the world once the gates open and they're free to go? I can't. What I can do is prepare them the best way I know how. Two things I believe are pinnacle...God and tenacity. Tenacity to me is equivalent to being 'street smart'. Teaching children to pray, to go to church, and that there is a higher being gives them the strength they need to get over the hurdles we face each day. Tenacity to not only survive the hurdles but to embrace them will ease them through many situations. Together these two things will be their boot camp training for life. Every single day there will be trials and they know it. Teaching them to tackle it on their own can be painful for a parent but something that is critical to their training. The other day my daughter started fearing that she couldn't succeed in an AP course. Mind you, if I took the class I would fail miserably because I'm way too right brain for that. Anyway, she wanted me to get her out of the class. Now, I'm not the kind of parent where I push to extremes. I talked her through it and asked why she felt she would fail. Obviously the regular class would be a much safer choice. I suggested SHE meet with the guidance counselor to weigh out her choices before she made a decision. I asked her what her goals were to succeed in high school and tried to help her see that taking a chance on a tougher course was better than breezing through an easy one. On her own, she ultimately decided to stick it out. She made that decision, not by me, just my little coaching on how to make a good decision. So back to the public school debate that is ongoing. What many people don't understand is that all the major universities in a state, in our case Florida, are indeed public schools...University of Florida, Florida State, UCF to name a few. Our schools and the FCAT are all strategically designed to get our kids to that bigger public school. Though not everyone agrees, for the most part, it does work. The difference is getting your kid to WANT to be on the RIGHT track. They need to decide if they're going to take the easy route or the challenging route to be successful. I think this is the part that the nay-sayers get caught up with. They only see the slugs that choose to take the simple road to graduation. Just like the real world, taking the more risky and challenging route typically yields greater success. As with the quality or kinds of kids going to public school, it's nothing more than a mini microcosm of the real world. I honestly believe that. What better place to learn about people and how to deal with real life experiences under the careful watch of teachers and administration. Though it's definitely not perfect it's far better than a teacher, that I'm paying, to tell my kid that they are the most important and that they are above everyone else in the world. That entitlement attitude will quickly get them into trouble in college and especially in the real world. Here's the deal. I'm a pretty successful person. I've worked for a Fortune 100 company for almost 20 years. The people that judge me for having 5 kids and sending them to public school need to realize that I CAN DEFINITELY AFFORD TO SEND MY KIDS TO PRIVATE SCHOOL BUT CHOOSE NOT TOO. There, for all the reasons I mentioned, there it is. I'm a product of public school. I fought the fight of figuring out who I was, on my own. I came up with MY plan to kick it up a notch, take a big chance, and to go NYC to get ahead in my life and career...on my own. No handouts. In the early 90s the economy wasn't much better and I knew that it was up to me to figure out a plan to get ahead of other graduating student heading to the marketplace. I worked three jobs and put myself through school and graduate school. I kicked bums off the stairs trying to get to my apartment. I was frequently approached by drug dealers on my walk to school. I had a single dollar in my pocket to sustain my life for food and water on most days. I befriended people that could have sucked me into their shallow and destructive world. I was strong and felt protected by my believes and by the tenacity I learned from my family (of 12). Everything I have gained and provided for my family required hard work, sacrafice and a commitment to live the best life possible. No one can ever hand you that on a silver platter. No one can pave the journey for you and expect you to succeed. For all the parents who try to prevent the hurt and the tears and the real images of life, they're not at all helping their child at all. I'm proud to see my kids coming into their own. I know they will make mistakes and sometimes bad choices but overall, they are pretty grounded. My kids know they live in a bubble and they know that life is not easy. They see me working and ask questions. They understand how to save and budget for the things they want. They know it can all go away if the right decisions aren't made. We're all in this together and we're ready to take on the world!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Old blog, new look

I decided not to ditch my old blog since I have so many stories in here that I didn't want to lose. I'll keep rebranding it until I get it right. For today, this is as good as it gets. We're deep into the summer and the kids are non stop. It's been good and everyone is happy for the most part. More adventures ahead as our vacations are planned for the end of the summer. I can hardly wait to shut down and get off the grid for at least a week or two. More to come...

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hanging in There

It’s been a really long time since I’ve written. I have had my hands a little full. The Holidays were fabulous, complete with a magical snowland adventure to Tennessee and Christmas was close to perfect. Life got busy again when everyone went back to school and I went back to work. Ava is well underway to “getting better”. Her daily regimine now consists of a growth hormone, choline, fish oil and an ADHD meds that I can’t pronounce. Is it working? Hard to tell. She seems to be behaving better in school with less and less notes home, although she has a sub that is “pretty” and she told me that she’s acting good because her teacher is a “princess”. At this point, I’ll take it. If it means she has a princess for a teacher…all the better! At home, the eating thing is enough to drive me insane. The child just has no appetite and will cry and fuss to interrupt any meal. I’ve surrendered to stress-free mornings which means she can eat what the others eat, but if she doesn’t, she get an Ensure Plus for the bus ride to school. Most days I’m breaking out the Ensure. The throwing up thing is still happening too. When she’s totally fed up with eating and doesn’t want to hear from us anymore, she just makes herself throw up. Bulimia is just not my thing. I really believe I raised by Italians and food is the most cherished experience there is. Why in the world would you ever want to make yourself sick? This kid is so complicated and full of stories that made her this way, ones we’ll never really know. Raising an institutionalized child from a land far, far away is not for the soft at heart. They will rock your world. Yes, it’s love in a different way. They’re testing you because they gave up on everyone else. This is no difference. In one minute I’m putting Ava in timeout, the next she’s singing how much she loves her Mom…go figure! I just don’t get it! Anyway, she still struggles with everything academic but the pulling of hair and random hits have gotten a bit better. Yesterday in church a random women who sat next to us, by herself (believe me, I was saying prayers that she wasn’t going to yell at me after mass) stopped me and said “you have the most wonderful children…they’re so well behaved”. I gave her that “what you talkin’ about Willis?” look but tried to just listen and nod my head and say “ah..thank you?”. THAT never happened before. Yes…I do have great kids but most days I’m praying to just survive. Turns out that woman was #15 of 15 kids…I’m #5. I typically gravitate to the middle children of big families but I have to say this youngest (who was probably pushing 70) was pretty personable and inquisitive for the baby of the family. Don’t get me wrong…the youngest of big families are not always the other way around but they had it pretty good compared to the older siblings. My parents were instilling the rules when I was a baby and sipping Bloody Mary’s with their friends when my youngest siblings were babies. Let’s just say my parents were much more relaxed with them. I have found that I am much harder with my younger kids. I have very high expectations of them because I see what the older ones are going through right now. I want them to succeed and I want them to be happy. Believe me, I let them “be kids” but there’s a time and place for everything.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thankful for the Inches of Progress We've Made

This week we finally started to make some progress with Ava. I had another long talk with her teacher and we are very focused on getting Ava's IEP as soon as possible. After calling her psychiatrist repeatedly, I finally have a script that should accelerate her IEP with the school's administration. In other news, Ava started her growth hormone therapy yesterday. Now, for the record, I am not a big proponent of growth hormones but Ava's endocrinologist strongly recommended it as she is only projected to be 4 foot 10 inches at most, as an adult. Thankfully, this therapy is covered 100% by our insurance. The nurse came out to our house last night to teach us how to give her the shots...every day, until she goes into puberty. I have also started Ava on a Choline supplement which showed promising results with FAS kids. AND we have an appointment set with a very sought after RAD therapist in Orlando for next week. So, needless to say, we have made some big strides. Ava is very good about all of this and knows that all of these things will help get on a better track than she currently stands. She hasn't thrown up a meal in almost a week and really is trying to eat a full meal without my constant reminders to "take another bite and swallow". The journey with an FAS kid is a complicated one. And as everyone knows, Ava never got the diagnosis when in Lithuania but she clearly has it, like most kids who are institutionalized in eastern European countries. She is a very loving and happy kid but the lack of impulse controls gets the best of her. She honestly cannot stop herself from pulling a pretty lock of hair that is waiving in front her as she stands in line at school. I am learning so much from books and other families who share similar stories. I try almost every effective method to hopefully "fix" her, even if it's just a little. I remember the days leading up to Ava's adoption and how excited we were. All we could think of was how this little girl was going to complete our family with so much promise. We never prepared for the complicated struggle of her condition. The fact is, she has this condition and we have to give her the support and tools she needs to meander through it. We love her and she so loves us. Are hearts are stronger and more able to bend because of her in our life. I don't think it will ever be easy but I think we have a good chance getting to a better place than where she started.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Tangled Web of an FAS Brain

FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) is so complex. If I were to look under the hood of Ava’s brain, it most certainly wouldn’t be normal. It’s not her fault at all but she has learned to deal with her inabilities by using negative behavior. The first couple weeks in Kindergarten were okay with the occasional note home from the teacher. Now we’re getting notes on a daily basis. What’s happening is that the kids are beginning to accel with their in class assignments and Ava is getting more frustrated. Because she literally cannot do the work, she acts out. Her classic move is pulling a child’s hair or running around the classroom . As long as the attention is on her, good or bad, she is happy. I had a parent teacher meeting today where Ava’s teacher was almost in tears because she didn’t know what to do. I told the teacher my usual coaching which is to “stay firm and don’t let her take over”. What Ava really needs is an IEP but living in Lake County, it could take up to two years to get. Now Ava has been to every kind of doctor imaginable. She’s active with a Psychiatrist and we’re working on getting her in with a special RAD therapist. If we weren’t doing anything, I’d really be worried. She’s on meds to calm her down and very soon she will start growth hormones for her extremely small two year old stature. Through all of this, I’m not sure what’s worse…Ava’s bulimia (yes, now she makes herself throw up) or getting the daily note from her teacher telling me she pulled another child’s hair or hit another child. And every day, she gets the same punishment which is to sit in her room in time out until dinner. It’s the right punishment for her because she loves being with all of the kids and she does not like to be left alone. The crazy thing is, she keeps doing the same stupid things day in and day out, as if she completely forgets getting in trouble the day before. Another friend of mine used the term “swiss cheese brain” and that really stuck with me. It’s as if Ava only remembers certain things and forgets all the important stuff. You can probably tell I’m a bit frustrated. I get so many compliments on Ava, “Oh, she’s so adorable!” and “Oh, she’s so sweet!”, little do people know the monster that’s hiding behind that little girl. It really is like Jeckle and Hyde. All I can think of is what a mess her mother made with this poor child’s brain, not only physically with alcohol abuse but emotionally with neglect and abandonment. We’re learning how to deal with a child like this but Ava is a mastermind of manipulation and will try to find her way out of trouble with most anyone. One of the main reasons for not keeping up with this blog is because I really need to keep my eye on her when she’s home. We’ll keep plugging along and hopefully one day this child will realize that she cannot rewrite every rule that was ever written to be in her favor. In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging away, trying to get the IEP and the much needed therapy that this little one needs. Ah…good times!!!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

So Complicated

That’s the only way I know how to describe Ava. She is so complicated and unpredictable. I haven’t written in a while because we have been knee deep in all of Ava’s issues. Ava had a terrible cough for a few weeks and was on antibiotics but before then she started throwing up after each meal. At first I thought it was viral but then it’s been going on a few weeks, even after we completed the antibiotics. I deep down believe she’s making herself throw-up. Scott doesn’t believe that to be true but he also doesn’t believe she has fetal alcohol syndrome and every medical professional has shown me the markers for it and she has 80% of them. I finally brought her to a psychiatrist and it was probably the best move I’ve made so far in this journey. This doctor basically said that these kids who were abandoned and institutionalized are so complex, that it’s like peeling back an onion with so many unexpected levels. That’s the best way to describe it. The doctor also confirmed that Ava has RAD, the disinhibited kind (where she will exhibit affection with total strangers). Most people think it’s cute but it’s a bad thing to have especially when they become teenagers. Ava is already demonstrating her preference for Daddy since he’s much more accepting of her behavior and I’m more of the disciplinarian. These are all of things we’re addressing with the doctors but these kids are programmed so differently than normal kids. The next couple of weeks we’ll be visiting a host of different doctors to determine if there are other issues we’re up against that we didn’t know about from the beginning. Tomorrow is then endocrinologist where they will determine her bone age based on the hand Xray we had done today. There’s also a really good chance that she still has all those nasty parasites in her gut. Though she never threw up back in the early days when she was ridden with the parasites. One thing I will tell you is that these kind of kids know how to get attention. I am constantly aware of how much attention she pulls away from other kids to her benefit. I always make sure that the other kids are getting the attention they deserve. She even believes if she doesn’t know the answer to something on her homework that she can rewrite the rules, so “A” is not really “A”, it’s “Z”. She will then proceed to make you believe it’s “Z”. It’s so fundamentally complex that it’s even difficult to write about it. The fact is, she’s ours. We’ll love her and give her the care that she needs to hopefully have somewhat of a normal life. Time will tell. I hope by Christmas we’ll at least know a little more about what lies underneath this little soul’s skin, physically and mentally.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

So much joy from this little boy…

Trevor’s Birthday each year reminds me of how blessed we are. I can’t help but be taken back to those very hard days of trying to conceive and to make it past the first trimester. Loss after loss, there was just no reason at the time and I started to think we would have to stop and just be content with the two healthy children that we had. Although, those births didn’t come without issues and several weeks with each were spent in NICU. But Trevor was different. Almost a year before I had my stillborn son, Matthew. He had died in utero at 25 weeks. I had to give birth to him and he was perfect in every way. There were absolutely no abnormalities with him but my body failed him. I wouldn’t be diagnosed with Graves disease until years later, which ultimately was the cause of all my losses. I sought help through an incredible healer, Dr. Li, in Atlanta. He was an acupuncturist who came from China and practiced for over 50 years. Once I got pregnant with Trevor, he cryptically said in Chinese, “you no lose this baby…this baby is special”. Of course, with each passing day and each doctor’s appointment I prayed to see that flickering heartbeat on the ultrasound. When successfully made it to 37 weeks the doctor decided to induce, to be on the safe side. I was all for that. My doctor at the time, Dr. Crawford Long, was a very outspoken, funny man from New Orleans. The day of my induction he walks into my room and says “let’s have a blond haired, blue eyed baby boy”. At this point, I had not found out what gender we were having so I was a little disappointed that he spilled the beans right before delivery. Regardless, I just wanted a healthy baby. I just wanted to make it to the finish line. They hooked me up on all the monitors and right off the bat, there were issues. The baby’s heart rate kept decelerating down to 30 beats a minute. I’ll never forget the look on my doctor’s face. We sped up the induction to get the baby out as soon as possible. I didn’t labor too long and my blonde hair, blue eyed baby boy was born…with a cord over seven feet long and a true knot right in the middle. You see, a normal cord should be no longer than the baby. Trevor made it, against all odds. I later found out that the pregnancy proceeding a stillborn the mother’s body goes into hyper drive to ensure a living child in the next pregnancy. For whatever reason, the body “thinks” a longer cord will promote a healthy outcome. Still a mystery and that question is on my list when I meet the big man. Trevor was born smiling and hasn’t stopped since. He has the gentlest heart and the sweetest smile. He finds joy in everything. Most days, in the early days as a newborn, I would just stare at him in wonder. I really think deep down Trevor at a young age knew how special he was. He hasn’t the biggest heart of any human being I’ve ever met. I always tell him that “yes, you almost didn’t make it but God had bigger plans for you. You will do something really great.” Each year that we celebrate his Birthday, I get so emotional and reflective of this gift he has brought us. I could never imagine what life would be like without him and if I had given up. Trevor, you are the light of my life. Each night when you go to sleep and each day when you wake up with that big smile, it melts my heart all over again. I know how lucky I am to have you and will never forget your journey to this world. You will do great things, I just know it. So much joy from this little boy…

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I Used to Be More Sensitive…Not So Much Anymore

Maybe it’s old age. I used to cry on seeing a homeless person on the sidewalk. I used to cry watching every chick flick that was ever made. Maybe it’s what I’ve been through so far in life that makes me “stronger”. Sometimes I just wish for that old softee person I used to be. Then it dawns on you that you’ve had to be ‘strong’ for others for so long, so naturally you’re not as sensitive. Today my best friend asked me to be more sensitive to her situation. I know she’s going through a tough time with moving and losing the house where she brought her babies home…but I see it as a new beginning for her. A chance to start over, which is exciting, right? Then, Ava, who’s trying so hard to be a normal girl in America. I watch her starting Gymnastics and see her striving to keep up with the other girls. I’m not worried, because deep down I know she loves it and will become a wonderful gymnast. So I’m not sure what’s made me so “hardened”. I know I have to be tough for my kids. I know I have to be on top of my game at work. I know I have to keep it together even when I just want to give up. I see so much loss and sadness, like most people, every day. Every day I pray that we all stay healthy and we all stay happy no matter what. I know that I have little to do with God’s plan in the end. These past couple years I’ve been trying my best to change my perspective on things. They say that everything happens for a reason. You always hear that. Sometimes it’s hard to swallow but ‘the plan’ is what it is. “How” we deal with it is what matters. I look at Ava. She’s probably thinking, “what the hell just happened to me?!?!” Life was good in Lithuania. Now I have this family who expects so much out of me! How will I EVER keep up with all of their expectations!!! I tell her, “Ava, you came from a hard place…it will take time but you will be happy and a better person because all of this…we have high expectations because we know you can do it”. I see her in swimming or gymnastics and she totally embraces it. She loves to learn and loves to be part of an environment that is making her life better. She knows it. I know she does. I talk to her about “perspective” about what it would’ve been like if she stayed in Lithuania. She knows without a doubt that her life will be better. Not many kids have that perspective. They shouldn’t have to. But if you come from “hard places” you understand perspective naturally. I love how people look at Ava. They look at her and say, “there’s just something about her”. Yes! I say! It’s her spirit. She has a spirit of appreciation and to thrive. She knows where she came from and knows that she’s lucky. When we first brought her home, she would thank me over and over again. She would just say “thank you, Mommy”. It left me speechless. I didn’t know what to say. Then, I learned to say, “Ava, you deserve to have a life of possibilities and love, just like anyone else”. Now all the impish orphan things she does, still really “gets me” but I do believe deep down that she will be better off. Ava and I share something similar. We’re both Lithuanian and we’re both very determined. Now, we know her fetal alcohol will stall her but I tell her, “Ava, you have to try harder…you have to work harder than most kids to get it right”. I know it will always be a challenge for her. I also want her to know that it’s not her fault. My other kids say that all the time. “Mommy, she has been hurt…she is trying…she will get it…maybe not now”. My other kids have been so good to me. Again, maybe because I have become less sensitive…maybe because I expect so much more. The funny thing is, my parents NEVER had ANY expectations of me. I know they loved me but I don’t think they cared how I’d turn out. I think I realized this at some point in my teens. I think I held myself accountable at a young age. I knew that even though I came from a large family, I can only depend on myself to make my dreams come true. I had no “big dreams”, just dreams to be self-sufficient, to provide for my family. Dang, now I see that as not so bad. Oh, had I wished my parents would’ve said “you would be an awesome Doctor!”, or “wow! You would be a wonderful teacher!”. That didn’t happen. Those thoughts went through my head on cold nights in the Y in Hell’s Kitchen when I had no money for my next meal. I remember thinking that my next day was another chance to live and to overcome. I had to make it on my own, no matter what. At that point, I didn’t care what my parents or family thought, I just had to survive. So, when I see someone who has so much possibility. When I see someone who has so much to give but doesn’t know how…it breaks my heart. Ava has this gift. That’s why people look at her and scratch their head. Why do fully capable adults struggle with their talents, their ability to make a difference? I know that God gave me a wonderful “hall pass” in the last decade or so. Don’t get me wrong, I work hard and truly love what I do. He saw the struggles I had in my early 20’s, trying to make sense of it all…the losses, the deaths, the struggles to prove myself. I know that it doesn’t last but I will continue to work hard to support my family and show my children that it does matter. I really just wish there was more appreciation for the little things. I try so hard to stay grounded. I try so hard to have that perspective so at the end of my life I can honestly say that I did my best to love and make a difference. It’s tough. It’s tough to raise kids and it’s tough to raise orphans. I do love it though and would trade a day with anyone!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Back to Normal, or is it?

Kids are back at school. It’s quiet around the house once again but I can finally work uninterrupted by requests, arguments and other daily kid things. Believe me, I miss them but I really need to focus on work right now. It took only two days for Ava to get in trouble at school. She pinched and pushed another child. I don’t think that will happen again anytime soon as she got to sit in her room until dinner. For Ava, I think it’s an immediate reaction to hit, pinch or push. She had to defend herself for so long. I try to tell her that there is no way she will get away with that behavior at home or at public school. I will find out. All of the kids seem to be pretty happy with their classes and teachers, even Lydia who just started High School. Time seems to be rolling by so fast. I can’t believe my Baby Blake is in Kindergarten and my oldest is in High School. We had such a wonderful summer and can only imagine summers from here on out. They will certainly be less stressful. I got a call today from Ava’s speech therapist. I heard her say three things. Ava has a learning disability, Ava has all the characteristics of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and Ava will have a challenging time growing up to be “normal”. I knew all of these things to be true all along but when she articulated what she did to me, it hit home. For Scott, the glass is always “half full” and he never wanted to believe she was special needs. It’s that kind of belief that can cause a lot of issues later on, as she grows up. I wish he would just accept that she is not a normal kid. Since she started school Ava struggles with homework. The simple page of rewriting the alphabet is like calculus for her. She basically just scribbles the letter “A” across the whole page. Yesterday we worked on the letter “K”. She just could not rewrite it no matter how many times she tried. To think of all the alcohol her mother consumed while pregnant with her had to be incredible. Most every day now I’m getting emails or notes from Ava’s teacher. Each and every time I have to explain to her that Ava is not a normal kid and will require a whole lot more attention. Does she need to be in a “special school”? Probably not, but the thought crossed my mind many times. Having a daughter like Ava has been a challenge. School stuff aside, she is very manipulative and demands so much attention. She certainly has RAD (reactive attachment disorder), which her therapist also pointed out. What child goes up to a complete stranger and gives them endless hugs? Ava. So many people find this cute but to me it’s quite disturbing. Ava continues to have issues with her eating as well. I constantly have to remind her to chew and swallow and take another bite. If you don’t keep reminding her she’ll start playing with her hair or a button or staring off into space. Don’t get me wrong, we’re in it for the long haul but it’s not the pretty picture that everyone imagines adoption to be. It’s messy, it’s a struggle of will, it’s a strain on your heart and family. We all love her and she will always be part of this family but to say we won’t have issues with her as a teenager and adult would be ignorant. Every time I try to talk to Scott about it, he laughs it off. When he pushed to select her from the list back when, I warned him that her issues were pretty great and we would not be dealing with “normal” as he was expecting. All of that aside, we keep trudging along, teaching her and reteaching her right from wrong, good from bad, up from down, all which she seems to forget on a daily basis. The letter “A” is about all she can write…frustrating. In other news, I’m more convinced that I found Ava’s birth mother. There was only one person on the Facebook registry with her name and she looks JUST like her. What doesn’t match up is the 1974 birthdate that is one Ava’s birth certificate. This mother clearly looks like she was born in 1994 instead. I had sent her a few messages and pictures but there has been no response. Yesterday I checked again and there was one picture of Ava and a princess from Disney that was “shared”, according to Facebook. Based on that, it seems that this possible Mother had shared this picture with others somehow, further convincing me that she is truly her Mother. We’re not hoping to gain anything out of it, I just want Ava to know if she’s ever curious. I want her to be curious about her background, why her mother gave her up and what kind of substances she consumed while pregnant with her. I know we’ll probably never learn everything but for me, I would want to know as much as I could about who I was before my life changed completely. I wish I could post pictures of the Mom but I need to protect her privacy. It’s pretty clear that they’re related.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Being a Parent is One Tough Job

The hardest thing of being a parent, which I realized even before I had kids is the “what if” they get sick, really sick. We’ve had a couple scares in the 14 years of raising kids but thankfully, the scares always turned out to be minor ones. This week we had a minor scare with Trevor. He had a big lump on his upper leg. I made the mistake of researching it on the internet which said it could be a hernia or a lymph node. If it’s a lymph node, it could mean lymphoma. Man! Was I scared. It turned out to be a pulled muscle but for the 48 hours before the diagnosis, I was a bed ridden ship wreck. Last night I let the two little boys go to bed with me and I held him so tight. I cannot imagine what a mother goes through when her child gets that kind of diagnosis and I pray every night that we stay healthy. Life is so fragile and these types of episodes will pop up now and again. As my mother says, “this is why we go to church”. No one is free of these scares. It’s not a matter of if but when. Will you be ready. I read this wonderful blog about someone who survived against the most incredible odds. How do you find the courage, the strength, the belief that you can survive something with the worst odds against you? I DO believe in the mind/body connection. I do believe that God certainly has a hand in how things will turn out. I do believe that we ALL will be faced with these scares. How we approach it and how we get through it is up to our beliefs. Read this incredible journey

Today is Ava’s “Gotcha Day”. So hard to believe it’s been one full year since we “got her”. Believe me, it’s not been an easy one…by far!!! But, she knows where she needs to go. She knows that we expect a lot out of her…not pressure, but ‘rules for engagement’ in a family. For someone like Ava, it’s very hard to shake off those ‘old Orphan ways’. One minute she’s absolutely normal, then she transforms into someone we don’t even recognize. The first couple months, I was very easy on her. I wouldn’t expect much and really worked on the ‘language thing’. Now that she knows the language and the rules of the family, the strict mama comes out. Sometimes it seems that I’m being too hard on her but deep down, she and I know, this is what it takes. I tell her with every timeout, why she’s being punished. Believe me, because of our discipline, she’s much better as a result.

Here’s the thing. Adopting a child is hard. It’s really hard, especially when the child is not a baby. Ava KNOWS where she came from, which is good, but she also remembers her mother and the friends, who were family, that she left behind. She had to learn a whole new language and learn how to love strangers for the first time. She’s forced to eat food that she really doesn’t like and she can’t understand why she HAS to learn to write her name and learn the A-B-C’s. She’s bossy, really BOSSY, she’s stubborn and STILL wears a size 2T. It’s who she is. I know someday when I’m old and grey, she will tell me the stories, probably in a different way, her way. I’ll tell her, “Ava, we loved you no matter what…we just wanted to give you a better life”. I know she will agree that she IS lucky. I’m lucky to have had her. This whole adoption thing has stretched me in ways I never predicted. Would I do it again? Of course!!!!! Man, how I would love to visit that orphanage again…to visit a town like Siualia again…to give another human being a chance at a life full of love and opportunity. Not sure if that’s in the cards for us right now but I’m never shutting the idea down. This time with Ava was important. One kid at a time. I really think they need that time to adjust and get the attention they need individually. I wasn’t opposed to two children but it didn’t work out like that. God gives you what you can handle so in Ava’s case, having just us was the right thing.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Epic Roadtrip: Days 11 thru 14

Maine was fabulous.  In fact, we stumbled upon some lobster docks on the way out of town.  This was way past anything touristy so I was thrilled.  Men in their big rubber pants and their daughters selling lobster what looked like a lemonade stand.  They were selling lobsters right off the boat for $5 each.  Of course, we figured out how to pack them and get them home in 3 days.  We ventured to my cousins, Trish and Mary’s, in Springfield Mass.  It took us almost 4 hours where it should have taken us 2.   Once we arrived the kids, who were extremely pent up from the car ride, jetted to the pool.  Within ten minutes Ava had an accident in the pool and it wasn’t a pee pee accident.  Not only that, she had the runs for a few days which made skimming the pool pretty challenging.  My cousin’s husband Bob did the honors while I sat with my beer extremely embarrassed.  We stayed a few hours catching up and then headed out to our hotel in Connecticut.  Siri was at it again and took us through some of the worst, most crime ridden neighborhoods of Hartford.  We could not find the hotel, which turned out to be on East Main and not Main Street, and just gave up the search.  We decided to drive towards my sister in-law’s house in New Jersey well after midnight.  Little did we know that there would be zero hotels available in the area.  We drove until three in the morning where I finally begged some old man for any vacant room.  He made a call down the street to a Holiday Inn in Princeton where we finally crashed for the night.  We paid far too much for the room but the beds were comfortable at least.  We backtracked the next day to visit with Scott’s sister and then made our way to Ocean City MD.  We got there late afternoon and there was still time for the beach and a fun dinner on the intercostal.  The boys fished along the docks while we girls enjoyed mock cocktails and the sunset.  We arose early the next day to drive to Assateaque Island.  The island was gorgeous and pretty much untouched with the occasional campers setup on the dunes.  We parked the car and saw three ponies right away.  We then saw a heard of horses down the beach and the kids took off.  We spent a couple ours checking them out and enjoying the solitude of the beach and then set out for the long ride home.  We chose to visit Wilmington NC because I had heard so much about it. We were not impressed with the town or the beach but made the best of it, since it was our last night on the road.  We vowed not to eat seafood again, since we ate that for the past week and ended up at Outback (up until then, ate a no chains) for steak and yes, crab legs.  We made it back to Gainesville exactly at four o’clock and enjoyed a big lobster dinner with my parents.  Most of the lobsters made the journey but there were a few victims that got wet from melting ice.

Overall, it was a wonderful trip and the kids learned so much.  They saw places they had never seen, ate foods they’ve never eaten and met the most interesting people.  They learned about patience and getting along in a cramped car and learned that their mother is only human and really needed help along the way.  If we ever decide to do this again I would certainly pack a lot less, especially food that went uneaten.  I would stay in fewer places for longer periods of time and would factor in more time for sleep.  I think the kids will have some great memories and a desire to visit some the places we went once again.  They most certainly were thrilled to come home to all the great things we have here.  It was such an important trip for us all to reconnect and remember that no matter what, family is foremost.  We left our familiar world behind for a short time to focus on each other and to forget about the unnecessary drama that goes on in our daily lives.  I’m a bit sad to be getting back to our old routine of work and school but we’ll definitely make time for more adventures soon.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Epic Road Trip: Day 10 Newport, RI to Ogunquit ME

So the average one pound lobster costs about $28 in Newport RI and about $14 in Maine, in a comparable casual dine restaurant.  Lobster was less expensive than shrimp in Maine.  I can sleep tonight because it was pretty darn good lobster and the kids loved it too.  Florida lobster just doesn't compare. 

Siri took us through Boston today, on our way to Ogunquit.  What was she thinking?  Not only did she bring us through the city she really wanted us to see every neighborhood.  After that debacle, the ride was quick and smooth sailing to Maine.  The boys fished most of the day while the girls lounged at the pool.  Tomorrow we will take a Lobster boat out and pull in some traps.  I really wish my kids would appreciate all this lobster stuff.  Lobster is awesome, especially the tail.  Forget all the legs and stuff, although the claws are sweet and yummy. The rest is just too hard to eat and the green stuff is for the hardcore crazies.  I bought six ice cream cones after dinner and it didn't cost more than ten bucks.  I almost fell over.  New York was all about paper tickets for EVERYTHING!!!!  Parking...take a ticket, Ferry...take a ticket, you name it, they have a paper ticket that you can lose so quickly and easily.  By the last paper ticket I was like, "really, don't you know that people down south have an app for this sort of thing?"  I think they do it to piss you off.  Regardless, we had a great time up here and just wish we had more time to sink our teeth into the local eateries and beaches.  Newport was great but it was truly designed for lovers and not rugrats.  They need a slogan that says "bring your ATM card and leave the kids at home".  The boys still managed to fish a majority of our stay.  I can rate our stays based on the number of fish my boys catch. 

I'm sort of sad this journey will end in a few days.  I love the freedom of the road.  The small towns that are so picturesque and the people who are so friendly.  I sort of dread going back home where you walk in Publix and your neighbor pretends not to see you as they run in a different direction.  My kids really have had a great time, regardless of the petty fights and the redundancies of the movies they watched along the way.  Every time I would see something worth seeing I would turn everything off and pull over.  I would stop and stay "this is really worth seeing...blah, blah, blah".  Lydia was always the good student and would ask a question or two while the boys somehow managed to wrestle in their car seats from behind.  Ava just hasn't figured out why in the heck we're doing this.  Each day she asks, "are we going home today?" and I simply say "no".  "This is an adventure to open your minds and see all that is beautiful and different".  She doesn't quite understand all of that and continues to ask when she will go home.  She's tested me a few times and has rarely slept along the way. 

Back to Siri.  She just pushes my limits sometimes.  She knows very well that there are alternative routes around big cities yet she always manages to forget and takes you through the worst parts, with the worst traffic.  Let's just say that I've yelled at Siri more than I've yelled at my kids this trip. are some pictures from Newport RI and Ogunquit ME today.  I'm sure we'll have many more stories before we're home but doing my best to keep up with the ones happening now.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Epic Roadtrip: Days 7 thru 9 Narrowsburg, NYC, Fire Island

It’s hard to believe the weekend is over.  We woke fairly early to pay a quick visit to my hometown.  It took a whole two hours, which I had hope Siri was wrong.  I was so sad to see my hometown of Narrowsburg was no longer thriving. Many of the shops and homes were closed and for sale.  It almost felt like the town was abandoned.  We did not see one family in town or in the neighborhood where I spent a good chunk of my childhood.  It quickly put me in a funk and I had wished it was still that happy place I remember so well.  We didn't stay long and headed toward the city.  We got to Liberty State Park around noon on Friday where it was really windy and rainy.  Our time didn’t last long there once we figured out that we’re only seeing lady Liberty’s backside.  The kids had no interest in taking the ferry over to the statue so we went directly to Benny Tudino’s pizza in Hoboken.  It was exactly the same experience I had almost 20 years ago.  The kids were thrilled with the supersized pizza slices and the 2 liter Coke bottles on the table.  We finished our pizza and headed toward the Lincoln tunnel towards the big city.  It took almost 45 minutes to cross town to the East side.  We finally made it and checked into our hotel at the Wyndham.  We quickly dropped our bags and headed out to explore.  Brent was a bit nervous about all the people but the rest of the kids were perfectly content with it all.  We walked up Fifth Avenue and went to St. Patrick’s cathedral.  We then ventured over to Times Square and went to the M&M store.  I was trying to get the kids on a faster pace as we were trying to meet up with my cousin, Kurt, and his wife Abby.  They met us on somewhere on 7th Avenue where it really started to rain.  They suggested Little Korea for dinner since it was close and I was hoping for some kind of noodles for the kids.  Kurt was great teaching the kids how to use their chopsticks correctly and they did their best to gobble down the big bowl of noodles in the huge bowl in front of them.  The rain got a lot stronger as we set off for the hotel.  Kurt and Abby insisted on walking with us.  We stopped into one of those very touristy Tshirt places along 34th street since Brent wanted a I Love NY tshirt.  Ava proceeded to play with every breakable figurine in the store and actually broke an Obama bobble head doll.  Lydia tried to hide the evidence but it was clear that the very keen store clerk saw the whole incident.  I proceeded to pay for the very unwanted Obama bobble head thing and decided that it would be a funny keepsake for Scott when we got home.  We finally got back to our hotel where we settled in for the in the night.  We woke up a bit early for our liking and headed out to Long Island to find the ferry to Fire Island.  We missed the first ferry at 10 by five minutes but I really needed the extra 45 minutes to gather all over bags.  We finally made it over to the island and met Robin and her family.  We instantly found ourselves in a more relaxed place and our spirits quickly improved.  We settled into their very rustic and comfortable beach bungalow.  It was such a wonderful place.  We went to the beach where it was a bit overcast but I celebrated the diffused sun and sunk into the sand with a much needed cocktail.  It was great catching up with Robin and her family.  This whole trip has been a big reminder to me to tend to my friendships.  Especially the old ones that go much deeper and will hopefully stick with me through life.  We enjoyed biking and exploring the island and the boys fished non-stop.  Greg made an awesome pasta dinner and we all were exhausted by ten.  We caught the ferry the next afternoon yet really didn’t want to leave.  We’re now in Newport Rhode Island.  It’s such a pretty little city.  Our hotel sits on the harbor and we have a great view of the water and all the boats.  The boys were up early to fish again and us girls just woke up around 9:30.  We’ll be headed to Maine in a little while, after we do a little more site seeing around here.  The kids are having an awesome time but I can sense that they’re getting a bit homesick for their Dad and their pets. It won’t be long before this adventure is over and I hope they can remember all the great places and people we’ve seen along the way.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Epic Roadtrip: Day 6 The Poconos

Wow!  What a day!  I’m wiped out.  The kids are still going strong and are playing miniature golf as we speak.  Today was action packed with canoeing down the Delaware River and hiking Bushkill Falls.  The older boys fished most of the day.   I was worried about not exercising but I think I’ve walked at least 5 miles each day and mostly uphill.  Canoeing was so wonderful.  I put on the John Denver Pandora station and it conjured up so many memories as a child.  I think that’s what this trip is all about.  I want my kids to feel some of the experiences and people I knew as a child.  I want to relive some of the experiences with them.  As we were canoeing the song “Dust in the Wind” came on.  Yes, it was my older sister’s Class of 1979 song but it reminded me of summers along the Delaware in a big way.  Even at the ripe old age of 10 I remember loving these songs and knowing what they meant.  “Just a drop of water in an endless sea…”.  To me, it meant that we are so small on this great big earth and we really have to make the most of the time that we have here.  It’s such a complicated thing to teach your children.  I’m always pointing out things in nature that made a big impact on me.  I try to show them all the beauty that exists.  I think they get it.  They have fallen in love with waterfalls.  We’ve been to three on this journey and I’m sure there will be more.  To them, it’s so unusual.  They will play for hours on the rocks and climb the most challenging parts of the falls, without fear.  Maybe I underestimate them or maybe they do have the love and the depth that I felt at a young age. 

Tomorrow we will go to the town and home of where it all began, where I was born.  Each time I drive into that tiny little town in the Catskills, it still takes my breath away.  There’s just something about it, from the scenic mountains, the wonderful people and the familiar vibe I get each time.  Like today, floating down the river, I had forgotten what the river smelled like, I had forgotten that wonderful sound of the water flowing and hearing nothing else.  It was a cool 75 degrees and just comfortable.  I saw my boys casting their poles and trekking through the mud along the banks and it reminded me of my brothers and I on any given day in July.  I think that’s what this trip is all about.  I want to bring those memories back to life…to tell the stories in the most real and animated way.  Just like last night and visiting my grandfather’s restaurant, grabbing that brownie off the table before we had our meal.  We did that again.  It felt so wonderful and so complete with my children.  They learned so much more about me and my family.  Tonight we will close the night with chasing fireflies.  That’s another thing we can’t do back in Florida.  The kids can hardly wait. 

After Narrowsburg, we will head to the big Apple…another important place to me.  My boys are a bit nervous because they really are not city folk, but I think we’ll keep it simple and show them the top 3 things they need to see…Lady Liberty, Freedom Tower, and the Empire State Building.  I don’t think we’ll venture to Central Park because they’d demand to get their fishing poles.  More to come…I just wish the trip wasn’t half over. 

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