The Congo . . . And Now

Yesterday marked 3 months that we have been home from the Congo with Addie Rose and Palmer. I know I have been neglectful in posting pictures  . . . until now. I had to do some editing to protect the identities of children still in the Congo.

Most of the pictures since we have been home have been taken on Ken’s phone and posted on Twitter and Facebook.

But for what it’s worth, here are pictures from the Congo, and now. We hope that you can see the light in our kids eyes that has brightened as they have spent time in a family, and had the weight of the lies they were told to tell lifted off their shoulders. You’ll also notice several pictures of the kids of the family that we travelled with, both then and now. They have also undergone the remarkable transformation that occurs in a child who comes to know the love of a family.

Today, I’m thankful that the hardest days are over (hopefully), and that our kids are increasingly feeling the love that surrounds them by their family, their heavenly Father, and their church family. There is certainly more than enough love to go around.

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Well, That Was Awkward

Today was the dreaded parent-teacher conference at Palmer’s school. I wasn’t dreading it because he’s been doing so poorly. I was dreading it because I would have to tell her what is really going on with our son.

I went in early to see if I could catch the Principal or Guidance Counselor, but since neither were available, I went and sat outside the classroom, twenty minutes early. Within just a few minutes, the teacher came out, saw me sitting there and asked if we could start early.

Um, yes. I think that would be a good idea.

Once I was signed in, she began to gush about Palmer.

“Palmer is doing AWESOME!” she exclaimed. She started to continue on, but I needed to get it off my chest.

“Um, that’s because he’s not five,” I explained. He’s actually eight.

Stunned silence.

I know the feeling.

I explained that our kids had been told to lie and why and that we had only confirmed it two weeks ago, but that we were getting a letter from Vanderbilt Childrens’ Hospital today that reflected what we believe to be a more accurate representation of their real ages.

“If all goes according to what the pediatrician wants, we will be moving Palmer to first grade shortly. We still have a few hoops to jump through.”

“Oh, I’m going to miss him. He’s been such a good student and a hard worker.”

“The good news is that even though you’re losing our son, you’re gaining our daughter!”

“Wonderful!” she exclaimed.

And then I had to explain that though she is six, she has an unspecified developmental delay that we are still investigating with chromosomal studies and other assessments. I relayed that while she will be a very delightful and happy student, she will not have the academic prowess that our older child has. We may be setting her up for failure, but we do have to give her a chance to be in a challenging academic environment. After all, she may surprise us and her delay may be more limited to just her motor skills.

We bounced ideas back and forth for the next hour. Palmer has completed nearly all the goals for Kindergarten after only being in school for a month. Though he’ll have a tough time in first grade, to be sure, he will still be in an English learner’s classroom. With his academic ability and interest, we both have high hopes for him.

We also hope that once Addie is placed with five and six-year olds, she’ll start behaving more like a five or six-year-old rather than the three-year olds she has been in class with. As much as we have loved the preschool where she has been and would recommend it to anyone without hesitation, she needs to be in an age-appropriate classroom.

After the hour-long conversation, I went to hunt down the Guidance Counselor and/or Principal. The Principal wasn’t available, but I talked with the Guidance Counselor for twenty minutes about both of our kids. She knows Palmer, but Addie is new to her. She agreed that moving Palmer to the first grade would be a good step, even though a big one, to get him closer to his age group, but she couldn’t give us permission. It has to come from the Principal. There was even some talk of moving him to the second grade, but the Guidance Counselor and his teacher and I all agreed that for a child that speaks almost no English but is already enjoying academic success, it may be too much. I’ll have to call and schedule an appointment with the Principal.

In the midst of my conversation with the Guidance Counselor, she stopped me and said, “How are you doing? This is a lot!” I told her the truth — that beyond just the issues with our kids, my boss was diagnosed with a brain tumor a week ago, suddenly retired, and we have our four-year accreditation in 3 weeks. I have pretty much returned to work full-time, even though I’m still carting Addie to the doctor every other day. I just have to work into late into the evenings.

I am tired.

Back to reality.

On arriving home, I called the Lead Coordinator at the English Learners Office to update him and he confirmed that indeed there was precedence for allowing medical documentation to trump birth certificates (since we can’t legally change our kids’ certificates because of anti-terrorism laws). He also has already contacted the student services offices about testing a non-English speaking child for special needs. One step closer.

Our final step will be getting the Principal’s permission, but it looks like Palmer will be headed to first grade, and Addie to Kindergarten shortly. Very shortly.

I received the letters from our adoption physician officially declaring our childrens’ new ages. It’s now done. The lie has been abolished and we live in a new reality.

And THEN, I went to work.

315.9 Developmental Delay NOS

Addie Rose and I went back to Vanderbilt today for the third time in seven days. We met with the adoption physician to finalize plans for reassigning ages and determining a plan to diagnose not only Addie’s bone marrow issues, and confirm her normal echocardiogram, but the reason for her developmental delay. I’m always thankful when physicians respect my opinion as a medical provider, and as we bantered back and forth different ideas, she was both receptive and insightful.

At one point, we were discussing the order in which to do tests: Which ones should we allow to come back before ordering more? What will insurance cover? We really can’t just do a smattering of tests, and expect insurance to pay. We have to take a thoughtful approach. We’re going to start with the diagnosis of general developmental delay and the proceed to more specific diagnoses as we can.

And there it was, the diagnosis: 315.9 “Developmental Delay Not Otherwise Specified”

It’s official. There’s something wrong. With MY daughter. Not just any patient, not just a favorite patient, but MY daughter. The numbers on the lab sheet did not lie. It’s no longer just speculation. It’s truth.

After an hour-long appointment with the adoption physician, we marched through the usual procession of departments. Sixth floor for Addie to have 10 tubes of blood drawn. Lab tests repeated. New lab tests ordered, including chromosomal studies. Then downstairs to radiology. Eleven x-rays: skull, arms, forearms, thighs, legs, abdomen and pelvis. We’re holding off on the bone marrow biopsy, for now.

As I sat in the various waiting rooms for the third time in a week at Vanderbilt, I realized that I was in the presence of an unintended society of parents. No one was there because their children were healthy. In fact, quite the opposite. The vast majority of parents in the room were there because their children were sent for serious health issues. The tension was palpable. Nerves were on edge as the contradictorily playful sounds of cartoons belied the assumption that everyone was happy-go-lucky. Only, no one really was. Every once in a while a child would pass through who was happy — playing with toys, reading books. Other children bore the signs of having more life experiences than a child their age should have — bald heads, masks over their pale sun-deprived faces. A few have profound delays — mask-like faces, strollers and wheelchairs for nearly adult-sized bodies. Occasionally, Addie would chatter joyfully, but even she knew, as was evidenced by the tenth tube of blood drawn, and the eleventh x-ray taken, that something beyond her comprehension was wrong. But soon enough, the promise of a sticker and some pop beads at home would break the anxiety, and bring her back to laughter.

My new society was a silent one. None of the parents spoke to each other. We were content sitting in our own private purgatory while we contemplated what the future might hold for those whom we love the most. The only conversation starter I could think of was, “So, what’s wrong with your kid?” Not very appropriate. But I know we were all thinking it. We were too tired, too stressed, too embarrassed, or too worried to ask. Perhaps we all knew that it would be too painful to be asked the same question in return.

I would have killed for some free wi-fi.

As I sat there with my daughter, who only 2 weeks ago was a “normal four-year-old,” I contemplated that this very well could be our new normal. Our new silent society of unintended members, which we entered with the code: 315.9 “Developmental Delay Not Otherwise Specified.”

Bone Marrow Business and Biblical Blues

I got a call from the adoption physician this morning saying she had talked briefly with hematology/oncology (blood disorders and cancers) about Addie’s enlarged bone marrow. Though she didn’t have an answer from them, they recommended calling me and getting me in for an appointment, as soon as possible. So she wanted to schedule me for this coming Monday at 9:00 a.m. to discuss, well, she wasn’t sure, but she would call me later this afternoon.

Thanks a lot. Did I mention that I have to lecture today and it’s really hard to concentrate when the doctor is telling you that the cancer department is telling her that we need to come in as soon as possible to discuss results in person?

So after class today, the adoption physician called us back and said basically, they don’t know what’s going on, and they’re not sure if there’s anything to worry about or not. Her blood cell counts are normal, or were a month ago, but they want to recheck those and do a modified skeletal survey, which basically means lots of x-rays checking to see if this is an isolated finding, or widespread throughout her body. They’re not sure exactly what they are looking for, but they are looking.

We talked for a long time about how to know when to stop testing something when we don’t know what the abnormal result means. It’s a careful balance of not wanting to let something dangerous go unchecked and overtesting a variation of normal. She made an off-handed remark about people wanting full-body CT scans, but you typically find lots of little variations of normal and you’re never quite sure what you can overlook versus what needs attention. I said, “Well, actually, after yesterday’s tests, we’ve now made our $5000 deductible, so I figure, why not?” They are doing so many x-rays, which are not going to get to the bottom of her developmental delay, that why don’t we go ahead and do an all over scan because it seems like we’re eventually going to get there anyway. In the last month, we’ve done stool studies, blood work, chest x-rays, wrist x-rays, echocardiogram, audiogram, why not just shoot for the moon and finish it off? We have two more months left in the year, why not?

So she agreed that we would be aggressive with the medical mystery of Addie Rose until December 31, when our deductible resets, and then we’ll see where we are.

Basically, Addie’s bone marrow could be a sign of something ominous, or it could be nothing.

Now, the best news in all of this. The people who have the appointment after us at the International Adoption Clinic? Our friends that we traveled to and from the Congo with!! Woohooo! We’ll get to have a little reunion!

So where are Ken and I in all of this?

We do not think it was a mistake that we adopted these kids. Adoption is about God choosing our children rather than creating our own, and God does not make mistakes. We are upset at our agency for deceiving us because we were not prepared for kids their age and their developmental ability. They aren’t who we expected, but that doesn’t mean we have a single regret or love them any less. We’re just adjusting to new expectations and plans for their future — school, therapy, church, etc. Planning for a 6 and 8-year-old is very different than planning for a 4 and 5-year-old. It’s not bad, it’s just different.

There are aspects that make us sad, just as any biological parent would be sad if they discovered that their normal 4-year-old overnight became 3 years developmentally delayed. Do we love her any less? Of course not. But it’s still a loss for her, and for us. And it’s okay to mourn brokenness, I promise. It is not unBiblical, nor does it demonstrate a lack of faith, or a deficiency of trust in God’s plan. Similarly, I’m sad that I missed all of Palmer’s snuggle-with-his-mommy years. I get 3 fewer years to spend with him before he leaves home. I hit the teenage years really soon, and I won’t have 12 years of trust built up with him.  How would you feel if you went to sleep tonight and woke up to find that 3 years had passed while you slept? It would be okay to mourn those lost years, I promise. It is not unBiblical, nor does it demonstrate a lack of faith, or a deficiency of trust in God’s plan.

In fact, Matthew 5 in The Message says:

 You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Those who go through difficult times are uniquely blessed in that they get to experience God in ways that they never would if life was normal. And we are. God’s grace is more than sufficient. We have not had a single regret about our kids’ adoption, nor in our God. We have not lost our hope, or our joy, or our dependence on God to accomplish whatever He deems to be the best plan for our lives.

Today’s Appointments

Our ENT audiologist appointment went well this morning. We took Addie to the place I used to work, and loved. I was able to watch Addie in the sound booth, and give pointers for dealing with her distractability. Her results came out a little inconsistent, but most resembled mild sensorineural hearing loss. The audiologist recommended I practice with Addie on what she’s supposed to do during a hearing test, and return for another test in a month.

I thought since the loss was mild, not even worth putting a hearing aid on Addie, that there was no real point in repeating the test that soon. Dr. Fortune agreed. He thinks the mild hearing loss, in light of her medical history, is expected.  He recommended following up in a year to ensure it’s not getting worse. He felt like it didn’t cause her developmental delays, but was part of the overall picture.

This afternoon was Addie’s echocardiogram at Vanderbilt. While we still don’t have final results, I watched the echo, and talked with the tech afterwards about what we saw. Of course, she’s not allowed to give me results, but she did drop some pretty good hints. She told me the cardiologist had already glanced at it as we were getting ready to leave and the indication that we were sent there for (an enlarged heart) should not concern me. I asked her if the appearance of the enlarged heart was due to poor positioning of Addie during the original x-ray, and she said that I sure sounded like I knew what I was talking about. (It was an AP x-ray, rather than a PA.) Vague, but positive.

We haven’t heard anything about the enlarged bone marrow, but knowing her heart is normal (I’m pretty sure) makes me feel much better about her bone marrow. Hopefully we’ll hear final results about the echocardiogram and from hematology/oncology about her bone marrow tomorrow and have some next steps.

We’re very thankful for the good news about Addie’s hearing, although still wondering  if there is any specific reason why she is so delayed, and if there is any part of her delay that we can fix as we look at getting her into elementary school. We’re even more thankful that we don’t have to add an enlarged heart to her list of problems.

Thank you all for your outpouring of love and prayers today. We felt them.

The Good and the Not-So-Good News

What a day.

First, the good news:

My boss’s tumor was completely resected, and he is still talking, texting, moving, giving orders, and making jokes. Given where the tumor was in his brain, this is a huge relief. We are so thankful for the prayers of all the saints, the power of God, and the technology that was used in the surgery.

We got Addie’s bone age back. Indeed, she is not four years old. Actually, interestingly, her bone age was the same as Palmer’s. If you’ve ever spent time with them, you know there are years difference between them developmentally.  There is 18 months of error on either side, so there’s a big margin. So she too could technically also be as young as 4 1/2 or as old as 8 1/2. So we are choosing to keep their ages as they have told us: age 6 for Addie, and age 8 for Palmer.

(Grab your Pepto and your Tylenol.)

Now, the not-so-good news:

I had called our attorney last week about changing their birthdates, and she finally had a chance to call me back today. She said Immigration will no longer allow changes in birthdates, because of new anti-terrorism laws, and sent me the documentation from Immigration to prove it. She said we CAN change it at the State level, but that Immigration won’t recognize it. Having two different birthdates, one at the state level, and one at the federal level is not seen favorably by any government agency. This will make it nearly impossible, if not impossible, to get passports, citizenship, drivers’ licenses, voters’ registration cards, etc. She said the decision to change their birthdates has serious ramifications.

Because children who are internationally adopted go through puberty early, having them at non-age-appropriate grade levels is not good. We’re back to them going through puberty in first and second grades.

We’re hoping that the school system will take the doctor’s word for it, but not require us to go through the process of officially changing their birthdates. We shall see.

The bigger concern came from the x-rays Addie had to prove she doesn’t have tuberculosis and the one used to do her bone age. We found out this evening that Addie Rose has a very enlarged heart, and needs an echocardiogram at Vanderbilt as soon as possible. Tomorrow afternoon, actually. And in addition to having calcium-deficient bones, she has significantly enlarged bone marrow. This means that hematology/oncology has to get involved, in addition to pediatric cardiology. The two could be related, which would not be good.

The news about Addie Rose is difficult as a parent, and as a medical professional. Still, we don’t know exactly what all of this means until a whole plethora of doctors weigh in on their thoughts. We are also headed to the ENT tomorrow to have Addie evaluated for hearing loss, as we try to figure out the cause of her developmental delays.

I think we could use a little more of the good news, don’t you think?

Searching AGAIN for the New Normal

The morning after our kids admitted they were much older than our agency had told us, we went to work on a new plan. In addition to already known, although minor, health problems, we now had a new set of problems on our hands. I think Ken said it best when he said, “I feel like someone kidnapped our kids, and put 2 others in their place.” Our son should be in 3rd grade, rather than Kindergarten, and our daughter should be in 1st grade, instead of the 3-4 year old classroom in a local preschool.

If you have a headache, are feeling nauseated, or are even mildly disinterested, please feel free to skip this post. If you are interested and feeling well, grab some Pepto and Tylenol for what’s to come.

Here are the people who are helping us decide on a new plan, as well as continue with the necessary parts of our current plan:

  1. Our family physician, Dr. Wallace
  2. Our international adoption physician, Dr. Rothman
  3. An ENT specialist, Dr. Fortune
  4. A developmental psychologist, Dr. Ashford
  5. An occupational therapist, who evaluated Addie as being 3 years old in her motor skills. This wasn’t really a problem when she was 4, but now that she is 6, it is.
  6. Several radiologists, who have caught a rare abnormality in Addie’s neck, as well as who are determining their bone age (Palmer’s has been done, and Addie has hers on Monday)
  7. A team of neurologists to consult about Addie’s neurologic state
  8. The public health department– because they come from a country where diseases that are rare in the U.S. are common
  9. Metro Nashville Public Schools, including the local school, the English Learners program, and soon-to-be a few others
  10. Addie’s preschool staff
  11. Ken and I. We both have advanced education in medical and developmental psychology, but want to make decision as a team.
  12. Our kids

Where do I begin? Well, first of all, we have to decide how old our kids are. Once we found out their birth certificates were falsified, we realized we should throw out their birth day and year. We now have to, as a team, decide what age our kids are. Aging of internationally adopted kids can indeed be difficult.

An important consideration is puberty. Studies have shown that internationally adopted kids go through puberty very early. Girls start as soon as 8 and boys as soon as 10. This means we have just 1-2 years before our kids are likely to start puberty. On our current schedule, that would put Addie in 1st grade and Palmer in 2nd grade when they start to develop. So it’s really not okay just to leave them where they are at on their birth certificates.

Another consideration is that our kids know their age when they were in the orphanage, and know that they were told to lie. If they didn’t know, we might have more options. In fact, the picture in which they said they were 6 and 8 was from last December. Whether they know that it was from a year ago, is questionable, but they could even be 7 and 9 at this point. They aren’t talking about that, but we’re aware it’s a possibility.

Another factor is that they are not speaking English. Addie essentially admitted to me what I have believed: that someone told her not to speak English. That someone is likely the person she shares a room with. It is very difficult to assess childrens’ developmental abilities without language comprehension, since much of intelligence is based on receptive and expressive language.

We have found out from other parents of children from the same orphanage, that Addie has always been “slow.” She has never talked, walked, or run as other children her age do. She was always very loud, even for the Congolese. So her developmental issues aren’t because of a cultural shift. It’s who she is. I find it ironic that other children knew she was “slow” but the adoption physician wasn’t astute enough to pick it up. Ahem. We are having her hearing tested to see if hearing loss explains her delays and speech problems.

Now that I know that her speech problems are not cultural, and her actual age is 6, we have to be more aggressive with getting her therapy to maximize and even realize her potential. Because she is 6 instead of 4, the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) should be involved. She will qualify for services that would be very difficult for us to afford with our extremely-high-deductible health insurance. We will likely have to say farewell of our plans to send them both to private Christian school once their English comprehension was up-to-speed.

I called the school where Palmer is attending on Monday to explain the situation. Their first reaction was expected: “What in the world?” Their second reaction was that they believed that even though we don’t have their birth certificates changed, we needed to move Palmer to the third grade, according to the law, because we know about the age disparity. We wrestled with MNPS all week long, played phone tag, talked to lots of different people, but ultimately it was decided that we will need to advance Palmer more slowly, but the goal is to get him within one year of age level within the next year or so. This means skipping TWO grades in approximately 1 year. Remember, he’s not even speaking English yet. It’s a very tall task.

On the other hand, we want to go ahead and treat Addie like she is 6 right away so that she qualifies for services and get her in a more academic setting as soon as possible. Her current preschool has 15 minutes of academic work per day, and she is surrounded by one 4 year old, and seven 3 year olds. Behaviorally and academically, this isn’t good for her. Her preschool is trying to test her for Kindergarten readiness, but Addie hasn’t been very cooperative. She knows we’ve called her bluff and our expectations are changing. We’re not sure if she has a fundamental lack of intelligence, or has had a lack of being challenged.

Essentially, we are asking 2 different things for 2 children with the same problem. Fortunately, MNPS realizes what a pickle we are in, and has expressed both condolences and sympathy. They are taking a week to think about it. Because we have no proof at this point how old she really is because her birth certificate was falsified, we are at an impasse until the international adoption physician (and all of the above) helps us assign a new age and create new documentation.

Addie has an abnormality in her spine that was picked up on a chest x-ray. That, coupled with the fact that she is 3 years behind in her fine and gross motor skills, make me and the adoption physician wonder if it  is related to her developmental delay. It is an abnormality that is so rare that we all thought it was a typo, until I did some research and found that it is not all that abnormal in African children. No one here has heard of it, either, until they get out the journals. We are going to let the team of neurologists from Vanderbilt look at the original film, and decide if they want to sedate her for an MRI. What follows after that could vary. Just therapy? Surgery and therapy? We’ll see. It could be nothing, or it could be a big deal.

As you can see, deciding why Addie is so delayed is becoming as big of a dilemma as what to do about it. Palmer’s biggest challenge will be the fact that regulations say that he needs to be in an age appropriate classroom as soon as possible. We’re asking MNPS to do what is best for our children individually, and that’s a tall task for a huge school system.

Oh, and have I mentioned, we still have to file for readoption, refile our 2011 taxes, and apply for the Certificate of Citizenship? Oh, and have I mentioned that I have pneumonia right now?

International adoption is hard enough, but we are overwhelmed with the to-do list to make our situation manageable. We’re searching for the new normal.We march on. This is the race we have been called to run. Two to three doctors’ visits per week. We’ll be needing to add psychological and occupational therapy to that soon as well. It’s daunting. I’m running out of time on my part-time maternity leave. Soon, Ken and I will both be working full-time. Our families are thousands of miles away.  

We have to grieve after the kids go to bed, or while they are at school, because we in no way want them to think that we are disappointed in them.

Forgive us if we don’t want to talk about it in passing. It’s just too much for casual conversation, especially in front of our kids. If you want to take us to lunch or out for a cup of coffee, or call us on the phone when the kids aren’t around, we’ll talk. We love to hear the words of support, which have poured out since we broke the news on Tuesday, through e-mail, text messages, and cards. We need them.  We need a team of cheerleaders in our life, because our team is tired. Very tired.

We know that though this situation has been brought about by much evil and deception, God has intended it for good. I’m reminded of when Joseph said to his brothers who had sold him into slavery, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done.” Genesis 50:20, NIV.  We cling to that.

The Truth Comes Out

When Palmer and Addie Rose got home yesterday, they knew something was up. I sent them outside to play while Ken and I talked. We hadn’t had a chance to debrief the news we received only 48 hours before that our kids weren’t who we were told they were.

Yesterday morning, Palmer had spit oatmeal at me, refused to wear his jacket, and threw a temper tantrum all the way up to the point where he was climbing the school stairs, and he suddenly realized that it wasn’t cool to have a temper tantrum in front of 100 other kids. So he lost his backpack of toys and his jacket yesterday for the way he acted.

I’m sure they were conspiring about how to run away, so I decided to break it up.

I called in Addie Rose, and asked her to sit down with me and look at her picture book. I took her picture book that we had sent to her in Africa, and showed her the picture of her in the orphanage. I asked her how old she and her brother were in the picture. I wasn’t too hopeful I would get an answer, since they don’t speak much English, but she actually said that she was 6 years old and he was 8 years old in that picture. I made sure we were understanding each other. Yes.

I also got a good look in her mouth, and counted her teeth. She has her six year molars. Four year olds can’t have six year molars, especially when they come with a history of malnourishment.

My four-year-old is actually six.

We started working on alphabet flashcards, and she only knew about four. Her preschool teacher said that she knew all of her letters, numbers, and colors when she was at school, but she has been acting like she doesn’t know any of those when she gets home. So, like a good mom, I gave her a time out for not doing her best. Then I promised her a bubble bath with toys if she could get her letters correct.

She got a shower last night instead.

My time out for her to think about how hard she was trying was strategic. I went out to her brother in the backyard, and had my husband ask him, in French, the same question: “How old are you in this picture?”

His head hung in shame.

We both told him that we will still love him if he is older, but we wanted to know what soccer team to put him on in the spring.

He told us (in French) that he was 8 and his sister was 6 in the picture.

Same answer, different child.

Confirmation.

I hugged him for being honest with us, even though it was hard to tell the truth.

They have not told us who told them to lie, but it’s in there. It will come out. We also know that our agency knew their real ages, because it was common knowledge among the children in the orphanage. We were purposely deceived. And our kids have been burdened with perpetuating a lie, so that we wouldn’t send them back to Africa. That’s a heavy, heavy burden for children.

The good news is that we now know how old our kids are.

The bad news is that we are grieving. And we have to allow ourselves to do that. In 48 hours, we lost some good years. We lost 3 years with our son, and 2 years with our daughter. We went from an exceptionally bright child and an on-track child, to a child that is now capable but behind, and one that has very serious developmental delays that will need intense therapy. The fragile picture of our family, as dysfunctional and new as it was, has been shattered, and we now have to start over with new expectations, new rules, and a new plan.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why haven’t I met your kids yet?

Because you don’t work in Lamb’s Club or at their schools, babysat, or haven’t brought us a meal. 🙂

In all seriousness, you all still freak them out a bit. Palmer still cries. every. single. Sunday. after church. Even if he appears happy when he’s there, he is still getting freaked out by all of the attention. He knows how to survive for the moment — smile, participate, etc. but when he gets in the van or at home, he lets us know that church is HARD.

I’ve heard that in Kinshasa, there is a folk story that they tell children, “If you are naughty, the white people will come and steal you in the night and eat you.” Now whether our kids have been told this, I’m not sure, but if they have, can you imagine how they must feel walking through a crowd of 700 people staring and smiling at them?

“Do they like me, or do they think I look delicious?” may very well be their thoughts. They may even still be thinking this about Ken and I.

They are at church every Sunday, but we will not parade them around and do lots of introductions. There will be years for you to meet them and watch them, just like you would with any other child. They are 4 and 5 and didn’t ask to be mini-celebrities. They’d rather just blend in, which is already hard to do. Please try not to stare, be overly friendly, or treat them any differently than any other child in the church you don’t know.

Can I hug your kids?

Please don’t. We’ve actually tried to be flexible on this, but the adoption books all recommend that no one else should hug or kiss them for months as they transition into their new family. Our flexibility has backfired.

If you go to our church, parents, please talk to your children about this:

Every week, at least a 1/2 dozen people ask Palmer for hugs. Often, the same person asks Palmer for a hug a 1/2 dozen times. Palmer is not a hugger. That’s his right. Frankly, it takes a really special moment for him to even hug us, his parents. Remember back in Kinshasa? His birth family hugged Ken and I good-bye, but NOT Palmer. Please allow him some space to heal in this area. To Palmer, your kids are strangers.

Addie Rose has the opposite problem. She hugs everyone. She also calls every woman over 30 “mama.” She had 15 caregivers, called “mamas” in the orphanage, and every preschool teacher, Sunday School volunteer, babysitter, etc. is another “mama” to her. I am her mother. She needs to learn that — even though I’m not the most fun, or the prettiest, or give her as much candy as others. She needs to get her needs for affection from Ken and I, not from a dozen other people, and especially not relative strangers. She may even spontaneously want to hug you. Please remind her that you bet that her mommy or daddy would really love that very hug the  next time we see her. This is a vital lesson for a young girl to learn. Please help her to heal in this area.

Do your kids speak English yet?

Very little. But don’t be mistaken, they understand almost everything you say. They are just a little shy in speaking it. School is helping. Don’t be surprised if you ask our kids a question in English, and they respond in Lingala. We think that Addie Rose doesn’t realize that there is a difference between French/English/Lingala quite yet. If you speak French, you can speak to them in French, and they will likely respond to you in French. But we’re encouraging English in our home, and only using French for emergencies.

What do your kids like?

Curious George has been the biggest hit with both of our kids! They love to read all books, but especially Curious George. The Curious George cartoons on Netflix have been a huge hit too.

Palmer loves to learn to write letters. He is way ahead on his homework already (second week of school). I always have to MAKE him stop doing his homework (parent of the year) in order to eat dinner, get to church, etc. He always tells me lots about what he has done at school. I wish I knew what he was saying, but I can catch his enthusiasm!

They love toys that make noise, move, or wind up. It’s almost like they like the cheapest toys the best. They are learning how to do basic puzzles. Lincoln logs and Lego are a hit as well. Putting things together and taking them apart is very similar to what they are experiencing in real life, so that’s how they prefer to play.

Palmer loves soccer and is great at it. Addie’s motor skills are improving in this area. She’s going to be great with people.

Mostly, they play with each other. They are not used to having toys, so learning how to play with toys has been hard for them. We’ve had to push them a bit to practice fine and gross motor skills by playing. We don’t really know very much about what Addie likes to play with because she just likes to play with whatever Palmer is playing with!

Why were your kids brought to the orphanage?

That is their story to tell. When they are old enough, they may tell you, but Ken and I will not. No orphanage story is a happy one.  

Isn’t your life like a fairy tale come true?

We more liken it to a Biblical tale in which we’ve done something dangerous enough to get Satan’s attention. Make no mistake, there is still spiritual warfare going on for the hearts and minds of our kids. We are so thankful to have them home, to have the waiting over, to know them and their unique personalities and giftings. But they are grieving deeply and in their own ways. One responds to deep grief with laughter and dimpled smiles, and the other responds to deep grief with tears and tantrums. And as much as we want to help them, it’s difficult without a shared language. But every day is a smidge better than the day before. Every day, Ken and I earn a little more trust. Sometimes we laugh at how far we’ve come from when we first met them, and it’s only been two months. The best is yet to come.

A Fruit Slice of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down

Our kids began taking their medicine for their imaginary disease today. We knew it would be a battle injecting yucky metallic medicine in their mouths, when they have no understanding of what is going on or why they are taking it, especially since they are not sick. Ahem.

Ken and I thought long and hard about how to explain it. No, they don’t speak English.

We could just force them to take it and swallow. Not so good for trust-building.

We could try to mix it in with food and try to disguise it. No, what if they don’t eat the food? It’s not like we can get more medicine.

So we did what we feel all good parents would do in this situation: bribe them with candy.

Now, lest you think we are totally irresponsible parents, we actually have not given them ANY candy since we have been home. In some ways, their diet has been similar to infants — trying basic and familiar things first, and adding a few new foods per week. Of course we wanted to start with healthy foods, so we just haven’t gotten around to introducing candy. They don’t seem to really like sweets as much as they do vegetables, fruits, and meats anyway.

Ken and I agreed that this was an important enough occasion to break the candy fast.

I carefully drew up the medicine into the oral syringe, grabbed a candy fruit slice (because REAL fruit just won’t do in cases like this), and held both up to Palmer.

“Palmer, this is medicine. If you let me give it to you and swallow it, I will give you a piece of candy.”

His eyes brightened. He nodded. The deal was sealed with a smile.

Squirt. Swallow. Candy.

He ran out of the kitchen giggling, arms waving in the air.

Addie Rose started shouting from the breakfast table in Lingala, “Me! Me! Me!”

So I made her the same deal, and she accepted.

Squirt. Strange face. Swallow. Candy!

She giggled with delight.

Maybe this isn’t going to be so hard after all. This bribery thing really works.

After church today, we walked in the front door of the house with the smell of a crock-pot lunch wafting in the air. Our kids first words?

“Medicine! Candy! Medicine! Candy!”