Thursday, August 30, 2012

Birthday Recap!

Taking a momentary break from blogging about our upcoming trip to post about a momentous event that occurred this month: Caroline's 4th birthday!

Our sweet baby girl is now a full blown kid.  It really did sneak up on me.  Spending my days with her is a hilarious adventure.  Love her to pieces.

If you've hung out with Caroline for more than two minutes at a time lately, she probably has assigned you a character to be.  The imaginative play stage is in full swing.  My role changes probably a dozen times throughout the day, and I am supposed to keep up with who I am and stay in character.  The first two things out of her mouth in the morning usually are, "Can I have some juice?" and "I'm ____, you're _____, and Daddy's _____."  A lot of times Luisa and Ellie and Maggie (the dogs) are assigned roles too.  Those blanks can be filled in a myriad of ways.  Andy/Andy's mommy/Andy's daddy, Jane/Wendy-all-growed-up/Peter Pan, baby tiger/mommy tiger/daddy tiger, etc.  

We had her check up today at the doctor.  We love our pediatrician.  As soon as Dr. Dudgeon walked in the door, Caroline said, "I'm a bear, and you're the bear's doctor."  He laughed and played along.  He said to me, "You know, imaginative play is a better indicator of intelligence at this age than traditional academic standards."  That settled it in my mind.  She's a genius.  She may not know all of her letters (although she did recently conquer counting to twenty without skipping 16), but she can imagine ALL DAY LONG.

By the way, she has finally hit 30 pounds.  I don't know Luisa's weight yet, but I'm willing to bet it's going to feel like carrying a ton of bricks after toting around this tiny thing.  And she's gaining in the height area; she's 41 inches (75th percentile).

On to the festivities:

We had her birthday party together with her little friend Sophie, who was turning two.  They had a Peter Pan themed party, complete with matching pirate ship shirts. 

On Caroline's actual birthday, she got to pick the activities and meals for the day.  She chose oatmeal for breakfast, a stop at a consignment sale to spend her $5 of birthday money (which bought her a Handy Manny and a princess carriage), a trip on the carousel at the mall, pancakes for lunch (which was eaten at her little table that I carried into the kitchen "for a special treat"), and Chuck E. Cheese for dinner.   Happy birthday to our sweet Caroline!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

One Week Countdown!

One week from today, we'll be headed to our daughter's birth country.  We'll spend about a month there, completely immersed in her birth culture and wrapped up in our own cocoon as a family of four.  I am so excited and so completely terrified at the same time.

Visas in hand!  We took a trip to Atlanta to the Colombian Consulate.

With the exception of a cruise and a trip to Canada, neither of us have traveled internationally before.  In fact, we got our passports for the purpose of this trip.  Neither of us speak Spanish.  Philip at least took it in high school, but I took French.  Bonjour!  Sorry, Mrs. Bagwell, but my ability to sing Jingle Bells en francais is not much help right now.  ("Joyeusement, heureusement, teintent les grelot...")

But, we are as prepared as we'll ever be.

We've researched the travel and the cities.  I've read lots of blogs of others who stayed in Cali and Bogota, the two cities we'll stay in.  We've had the wonderful benefit of following along with a family that is left Colombia TODAY with their two new sons.  Their boys were at Chiquitines along with Luisa, and they have shared a wealth of information with us about the process, things to do in town, etc. 

I've read through lists others have posted about what they are glad they packed and what they wish they hadn't taken.  Packing for a month is a daunting task, especially packing for a child you don't know!  We are taking lots of crafty things (playdoh, coloring books, paper/scissors/glue) to help pass the time we will be spending in the apartment.  We are also taking lots of movie.  And popcorn.  I have heard that snack foods are hard to come by down there.  We will be mostly cooking our meals.  Groceries and eating out are both inexpensive.  (I am wondering how difficult it will be to stay gluten free in Colombia.)  However, toys/clothes/material items are much MORE expensive than in the states.

Cali has a tropical climate, so we'll be packing warm weather clothes to wear there.  It is hot and humid.  We both grew up on the Gulf Coast, so it will be nothing new.  Bogota, where our last week to ten days will be spent, has a cool climate.  The average high is 66 degrees, and the average low is 44 degrees.  We will be packing layers for this leg of the trip!

We are trying to wrap everything up here.  Everything I am planning to pack is being corralled in Luisa's room.  I am wondering how on earth it will fit into our suitcases.  We have some awesome friends and family here that will take care of everything stateside while we are away.  They are cutting our grass, keeping our dogs (thanks, Mom and Dad!), getting all of the girls' winter clothes ready for when we return, getting our mail,  hanging pictures of the four of us in Colombia on our walls before we return, stocking our refrigerator, and bathing us in prayer.  We are so grateful to have such awesome support!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Travel Date!

Woohoo!  There is an actual plan in place for us to go get Luisa!!!  We are leaving on a jet plane (pause to let the verse play out in your head... "don't know when I'll be back again," which is actually somewhat true).

We've actually booked our tickets.  We're leaving on Wednesday, September 5th.  Two weeks away! Fourteen days!  Aaaaggghhhh!

We anticipate being in Colombia for four to five weeks.  Yes, that's a long in-country stay.  Yes, Caroline is going with us.  Yes, we'll all be there the whole time.

Every country is so different in their adoption process.  Some require two trips.  Some just one trip of varied lengths.  Even the cities in Colombia have different expected in-country times.  This is mainly due to the speed of the court systems in different cities.  Cali (Luisa's city) is actually on the quick side for Colombia.  Adoptions in Bogota often take 8-9 weeks.  :)

Here's a basic (much simplified) overview of our trip:

We'll leave on Wednesday (9/5), meet with the orphanage staff on Thursday, meet Luisa on Friday (Hallelujah!), and she is with us from that time forward.  We spend a week in out apartment in Cali being low-key and bonding.  Then there is a "bonding" meeting with Colombian officials, after which (if everything is going well) our adoption application is sent to court to be signed.

We wait a couple of weeks for the judge to sign the Sentencia (adoption decree).  During this time, we are taking in all the sights Cali has to offer (fruit market, zoo, water park, sugar cane plantations).  When we get the Sentencia,  Luisa will be officially a Ryle kid.  We get a new birth certificate and passport and head to Bogota.

We'll be in Bogota about a week.  We meet with the embassy doctor, wait for the TB test results, get her visa, and head home.

I know the in-country time will be hard.  I know we'll get homesick.  But I am also looking forward to experiencing our daughter's birth culture.  In addition, I realize what a blessing this built-in, intensive bonding time is. (We won't have to explain/defend adoptive cocooning to everyone for those first few weeks, at least.)  It'll be just the four of us, learning how to be a family.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Working with Abby

The latest update by Abby, one of my two favorite therapists:
"Work with Little Girl Number 1. As I mentioned in my last post, Little Girl Number 1 is three years old, has cerebral palsy and is getting ready to be adopted by an American Family through the Gladney Center for AdoptionThis session we focus on self-help skills to make her more independent with her daily routines. With instruction and stabilization (to compensate for core weakness and increased muscle tone in her legs and arms), determined Little Girl Number 1 completes the majority of undressing and dressing herself, which is quite a feat! During this, we also work on snapping and unsnapping fasters and working with the Velcro on her ankle/foot braces. Then it’s snack time and we focus on using a fork to eat and drinking from a cup without a lid. The high tone in her thumbs and the low tone in her mouth also makes this a difficult task but she perseveres, listening to instructions and tolerating help with a smile on her face the entire session. We finish by working on the sequence and movements needed to wash her hands."
I know the staff at Chiquitines is amazing.  I have heard nothing but good things about the staff there.  It is so wonderful, though, to know that she is getting some personal, targeted attention while we are not there to love on her.  Hopefully we will be there soon!

And let me just say that I am super impressed with her skills, since Caroline, who is 10 months older than Luisa, has just now begun to dress and undress herself.  :)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Happy 4th Birthday, Caroline!

Four years ago today, we were blessed with the gift of parenthood when our sweet Caroline was born.

This past year, we have seen quite a bit of her shyness fade away. She LOVES franchises of all sort, especially of the Disney variety. She does not discriminate; princesses and pirates both get playtime at our house. She would spend all of her time watching television if I allowed it, but she has also become very imaginative and animated in her playtime. She is a great storyteller, and will recite one of several of her favorite stories for you if the audience isn't too large. She is a rule-follower and needs expectations spelled out for her in great detail. She has finally mastered counting to 20 (if the number 15 isn't viewed as too important). She owns a few dozen stuffed animals and plays with every single one of them. Her favorite ice cream topping is gummy worms.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Loving on Luisa

As I mentioned in this post, our agency has a ministry, Superkids, that sends therapists (physical, occupational, etc.) into orphanages around the world for varying lengths of time.  A very special person, Abby, made it to Cali, Colombia last Wednesday.  She will spending eight weeks working with the children at Chiquitines. 

She posted to her blog today, and she mentioned our sweet girl.  It makes my day week when I get updated news about her, as updates are so few and far between.
I should also mention that yesterday I got to meet a little girl who is being adopted by an American family in a few weeks. She is three years old and has cerebral palsy. I finished evaluating the babies on Friday afternoon and decided to find her so I could get to know her. She was in the open courtyard with other children her age dancing to music played by her teacher on the guitar. It may have been the most adorable thing I have ever seen! Imagine 15 brown-eyed three-year-olds dancing around with each other in the sunshine as they act out the words to a silly Spanish song. The smile on this little girl’s face as she crawled around playing the part of a lizard to the song’s lyrics like the rest of her peers made my heart melt. I can’t wait to work with her more!
We can't wait for her to join in our family jam sessions soon!  Caroline will be thrilled that Luisa will want to dance with her!

We are so grateful to Abby for taking two months out of her life to invest in our little girl and dozens of other precious children.  Hope to meet you soon in Cali, Abby!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ready for a Sister!

Caroline: "I bet Luisa will like to play with me."

Me: "Yeah, like maybe playdoh."

Caroline: "Or mean stuff, like Captain Hook.  Luisa can be Smee, since she's littler than me.  I'll be Captain Hook."

This little girl is so ready to go get her sister.  Ever since we told her about Luisa, she has been asking, "Can we go get her TODAY? But WHEN?"

When we sent our letter of intent to adopt Luisa in February, our agency and we thought that we would certainly be with her by her birthday in June.  We took time to celebrate with a sundae bar at my parents' lake house with all the cousins.   

Caroline often makes observations like, "There are one-two-three of us here.  When Luisa's here, there will be four.  She can sit right there (pointing to the empty chair at our kitchen table)."

Sometimes it's things like, "Luisa is a little bit darker than me.  She can still be my sister, though.  I'm a little bit lighter than you, and you are still my mommy."  I am thankful she has been around so many interracial adoptive families.  It doesn't seem the least bit odd to her that a child doesn't look like her mommy and daddy.  Adoption and birth are just two ways kids enter the home.

She already likes being the BIG sister.  She enjoys pointing out what she's big enough to do that Luisa may not be yet.  "I like to watch the scary part of movies.  Luisa can't watch Peter Pan yet because it's too scary for her."   "Mommy, is Luisa big enough to play with this/ride this/do this?  I am."

She also has been great with our fundraising efforts.  She has been so patient and understanding (for a three year old, anyway) with the amount of time I had to put into the yardsale and making hair bows.  She knows it's all for Luisa.  She even helped out at the yardsale by selling bottled water and chocolate covered pretzels.    I realized the other day that she is wanting to contribute more.  "Mommy, I'm collecting these rocks and sticks for Luisa."  If anyone is looking to purchase a pebble, she's your girl.  :)

Caroline's love language is most definitely quality time (as is mine).  She tells me several times daily, "Mommy, I like being with you."  It's her "I love you."  She looked at me recently and said, "Mommy, I miss Luisa."  Me, too, baby girl.  Me, too.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Journey to Luisa (Part IV)

If you missed them, read Part IPart II, and Part III of our journey to our little girl.  This is the last leg of the catch-up to our story (and my favorite part).

After we officially had requested to adopt Luisa, I entered a new phase of my research.  I have always loved blog hopping, and now I could enjoy this pastime with a purpose.  I began looking through blogs of families that had adopted specifically from Chiquitines, Luisa's orphanage.  Then I stumbled on this blog.

It was an old blog of physical therapist, Keely, who had traveled to South America in 2011 to work with kids in orphanages.  I was browsing through her old posts when I recognized Luisa's orphanage.  (After all of the blog reading I had done, it had become very recognizable.  It has a very distinct color brick, and most of the photos taken there are in this beautiful central courtyard.)

So then I began madly looking through her posts for a photo or a mention of our girl, and I struck gold.  I couldn't believe it; I had found a post about her!  I called Philip into the office.  "I found a blog with Luisa! She's younger, but it's her!  Come see!"  She was beaming up at us from where she was lounging in a pack and play.

Any adoptive parent knows that having more of the life story of your child is priceless.  Photos make it even sweeter.  At this point, we had been given two photos of Luisa by the orphanage, but Keely's predated the photos we had.  And her description of Luisa was just beyond words:
"(Courtney) came to Colombia armed with an AWESOME reverse walker that we got for a little girl (22 months old) here in Cali.  Lets start by saying this little thing won me (and pretty much everyone she meets) over from square one.  She is not able to talk or move very well because of her very high muscle tone throughout her whole body…. but man can she smile.   She gives really good kisses, too.
"She is very intelligent and interested in moving and exploring and doing normal 2-year-old things… and she was making so much progress in the short time I was here (and REALLY started making gains with her new braces– THANKS CASCADE!!) , as soon as Courtney committed to coming I started work on finding a walker for her to bring. 
"We were able to work out a way that she can continue to receive physical therapy two times per week (with the walker and braces) and this will be supplemented by some of the marvelous and amazing volunteers here at Chiquitines throughout the week. "
 There were several more photos of her.  There were also before and after videos of her using the walker.  Amazing.

I e-mailed Keely right away in the hopes that she had more photos of Luisa.  I told her that we were adopting Luisa and linked to the post to remind her who I meant.

Silly me.  Keely needed no memory prodding.  He reply to my e-mail:
"Oh my gosh!!! I am crying right now!!! You all are adopting Luisa? I absolutely love that child... I am serious, she is such a light!! I have TONS of pictures of her and stories and ohhh my goodness I am so overwhelmed.
"I would love to give you everything I have.  Please send me an address and I will send you a zip drive full of photos and videos I have of her.  Also, if you would like, I would love to chat and hear about your adoption story and tell you all I can about her!!!
"Oh, wow, I am so very excited.  You probably just made my year."
And then my tears began anew.   All parents like to hear wonderful things about their kids, but when you know virtually nothing of their personality, words like these are priceless.  We were very familiar with Luisa's medical reports.  We had her height, weight, and PT reports.  Chiquitines had introduced us to Luisa, but Keely let us really get to know her a little bit.

She sent us the zip drive with photos and videos.  Her first leg braces.  Her first time in the walker.  She is smiling the biggest smile her face can attain in 98% of the photos.  The other 2% she has a look of intense concentration.  She is very expressive!  And I did get to talk to Keely on the phone.  I was able to hear all about her weeks spent with our baby and to thank her for investing in Luisa.

I can't wait to get there and see that huge grin for myself!

Another therapist, Abby, from the Superkids charity is headed to Chiquitines this week.  She will be working with Luisa (among others), and will most likely still be there when we go to get her.  Please pray for Abby, the kids, and the orphanage staff, that her ministry there will be effective and lasting.
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