When I sat down and began writing our year in review post, I was astounded as I mentally ticked off one by one everything that happened in the life of our family the past year. So much change, so much adjustment, so many difficult days, but also so much love, so much grace, so much joy, so much happiness. 2014 was quite a momentous year for us. As a result of the sheer amount of events my 2014 “year in review” post must cover, I’m going to break the year into four parts and discuss three months at a time. This should also be a bit easier to digest as a reader.
(Perhaps I have an ulterior motive: if I publish this post in four parts, I likely won’t get to the fourth part until after we’ve taken custody of Andre. I can’t publish any photos of him until we take custody, and it doesn’t seem right to discuss what happened in our family during the month of December without including photos of our new son. Hopefully the four-part method will work out better all around!)
So, without further delay, here is “2014: Our Year in Review, Part I.” Enjoy!
When we told people we were adopting an older child, back in 2013 while we were in process to bring Shanti home, we received lots of knowing smiles and comments about how “easy” we were getting it by not adopting or birthing an infant. No diapers to change, no sleepless nights, no screaming crying child to deal with etc. etc. etc. I will admit that some of those things are true, although definitely not all. But what many failed to realize is that bringing home an adoptive child, even an older adoptive child, is every bit as difficult as bringing home an infant from the hospital.
Let me say that again: Bringing home an adoptive child, even an older adoptive child, is every bit as difficult as bringing home an infant from the hospital.
The difficulties are different, but they are no less real. I will freely admit that we had a very difficult transition to life at home as a family. Just as first-time parents often struggle the first few weeks or months with their new infants, we struggled as first-time parents with our new daughter.
And those struggles? They are NORMAL. I can’t stress this enough. Too many adoptive parents bring home older children and expect to have few or no problems. The kids are old enough to understand what’s happening, and usually they had to stand in court saying they wanted to be adopted by these particular parents. Why should there be problems? My passionate answer to that line of reasoning is that there will be problems because these children don’t know what it means to be in a family, and these parents have never before had to parent these particular children, with their already-developed personalities, likes and dislikes, senses of style and views of right and wrong. ALL families face an adjustment period when a new child comes home, whether that child is 2 days old, 2 years old, or 12 years old. ALL families, given enough time and hard work and perseverance from both the parents and the child will grow into a cohesive, unified whole. But no family arrives at that place of happiness during the first month home.
I explain all this to help you understand just why January 2014 in our family was a month of change and adjustment and painful stretching and growing. We came home with Shanti barely a week before 2014 began, and the transition period was hard on all of us. At no point did our commitment to her waver, but it was a daily slog through adjustment pains and grief. Shanti had to learn how to be a daughter, and Arturo and I had to learn how to be parents. It was the dirty trenchwork of adoptive parenting. It was the reason we (still) attend adoption support groups and exactly why we did hours and hours and hours of training before bringing Shanti home.
But those struggles don’t really matter. What matters is that we survived, together. We persevered, and by the end of the month, we had started to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
My parents and grandmother came to visit at the beginning of the month, and it was a magical time. Shanti was hungry not just for parents but for an extended family as well, and she took to all of them right away. My brother and sister-in-law came to visit a week later, and my sister-in-law’s little baby bump enchanted Shanti. Arturo’s mother came in mid-January as well, and she and Shanti hit it off. We could tell in every way that Shanti was thrilled to be part of a big, loving, growing extended family.
Arturo spent one week of January in Disney World for a required work conference, and it was hard on all of us. Many months in advance, we had to make the decision of whether or not Shanti and I would travel with Arturo to his conference, and at that point, we had no way of knowing whether or not she would be ok to travel again that quickly after coming home. We decided to play it safe and have Arturo travel alone. In hindsight, Shanti would have been fine with the trip, but we couldn’t know that beforehand and made the only decision we could at the time. So, Arturo went without us. We Skyped with him every night, and Shanti and I bonded back home, but it was hard being a parental team of one, particularly so early in my parental journey. I don’t know how single parents do it, I truly don’t. On the plus side, during that week, Shanti told me she loved me for the first time, and oh what a blessing that was.
My favorite memory of January 2014 is a somewhat unusual one. After the snow and icky weather we experienced in January, we went to a drive-through car wash at some point during the last week of January. Arturo and I thought nothing of it, but Shanti was FASCINATED. It was the most amazing, incredible thing she had ever seen! She wanted to drive through again and again and again just to see it another time! The joy and wonder on her face that afternoon …. oh my. It was pure magic.
We got Newport Aquarium memberships in early January and probably visited 5 times just that month. Each time we went, we took a photos of Shanti with this “how tall are you?” hammerhead shark. Just wait until the “year in review part II” post, when you can see her next to this shark a few months later. She grew so much during her first few months home.
Shanti would consider me incredibly remiss if I didn’t note that she got a hamster, the lovely and loved little Gus Gus, the first week of January.
Here’s my blog post from mid-January, written after 4 weeks home with Shanti.
February brought lots of snow to Cincinnati, and oh my was it wonderful! Shanti loved being out in the snow. If there was snow in the air or on the ground, she wanted to be out in it. The physical activity was great for all of us, and her desire to be outside playing pulled her out of her shell of grief. February, in many ways, was a wonderful turning point for our family. We still had plenty of rough moments (even rough hours), but each day held at least a small glimmer of light, rather than being completely darkened by grief and adjustment. We were starting to find our rhythm. Still lots of mistakes, but together we were getting there.
In early February, I had my first concert after our extended stay in Ukraine. It felt great to be back on the stage again. At the end of the month, Arturo and I both had a concert with the Springfield Symphony, and again, it felt great to have the cello strings under my fingers on a regular basis after so long away from them. (As I write this post while still on adoption trip #2, not having played my cello since we left America on Dec. 8, my fingers are itching for strings under them! I can’t wait until I’m home and once again at the point of “my first concert after an adoption trip.”)
February also included Valentine’s Day, which we lovingly celebrated together. We went to Shanti’s favorite restaurant, our local Indian restaurant, which is also Arturo’s and my favorite restaurant and the restaurant where we went on most of our dates before we got married. Even though it’s not a fancy place, we got all dressed up for the occasion. After all, it was Valentine’s Day!
February was the month when homeschooling took off in earnest. Shanti and I made cupcakes and muffins to learn fractions and measurements, and she worked on Rosetta Stone English every morning, as well as daily word drills we did together. Shanti’s English acquisition was very slow, but her math improved by leaps and bounds right away. Because we spent all day every day together, our bonding progressed very well. It was precious, valuable time learning about my daughter and who she is.
Here’s my blog post from the end of February, when I talked about our Springfield Symphony concert and the work that went into making it possible for Arturo and I to play that concert. Reading back on that post almost a year later, I can hear in my words how relieved I was that things were finally starting to get better and that our family was starting to “gel.”
March started off with a bang: a trip to visit Arturo’s parents in North Carolina and to also welcome home one of Shanti’s best friends from her orphanage, Nastya. We were there as a surprise to Nastya, who had no idea we were coming. On Nastya’s first full day in America, her father took her to the park, and when she got home from the park, we were there in her living room. It was such fun! Arturo and I also got to meet Nastya’s parents in-person for the first time. Because we knew beforehand that our daughters are close friends, Rebecca and Luke had already become dear, precious friends to Arturo and I during the long adoption process. It was great to finally see and talk to them in person instead of over Skype or the phone.
As it worked out, we actually got to visit Arturo’s parents and Nastya’s family twice in the same month. Our trip the first weekend of March was completely spur of the moment. We found ourselves with a free weekend that happened to coincide with Nastya’s first weekend home, and so we packed the car and went. But for months we had already been planning a visit the last weekend in March. We went both times and got double the grandparent love and double the best friend love.
I blogged about both trips to visit Arturo’s family and Nastya’s family here.
In between the two trips, we had lots going on. I played in the pit for a musical at Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center (so much fun!), Arturo and I played another concert with the Springfield Symphony, Shanti had her first (of many) dental appointments, we all had eye appointments (no glasses for Shanti, no change for Arturo and I), and we had our first appointment with a realtor to start house-hunting. March was a busy month!
But even with that busyness, on March 23, we found ourselves with a completely free Sunday afternoon. We decided that I would do Shanti’s hair and makeup, she would do mine, and together we would have a family photo shoot. Oh it was so much fun! The birds even got in on the action. We posed together and separately, Shanti posed with her giant stuffed lion, we were alternatively silly and serious, and we had a blast. These are the moments that build memories and build relationships.