Friday, September 2, 2016

A Birthday Story

Last Monday, after I took Lulu for her first visit to First United Methodist Preschool, I pulled out all the kids memory books so she could see that Madi, Charlie, and Joseph had all been students there. The one thing that caught her attention most in all three books were the birthday photos. 




Lulu's all about birthdays, you see. She loves to sing happy birthday; she loves to say happy birthday; she loves to celebrate birthdays. I'm really not sure that she understands the whole concept, and I don't know if and how often birthdays were even celebrated in her orphanage, but Lulu had already made up her mind that she wanted her own birthday party at preschool. Like pronto.

So, even though Lulu's real birthday took place in June, I promised our daughter that I'd ask if we could hold a belated celebration for her. Honestly, I wasn't sure if they'd be okay with it, but I knew this would be a perfect hook for her attendance at school!  I spoke to the kind-hearted powers-that-be and they gave their approval instantly.

And the plan? It worked beautifully. We heard "Lulu Happy Birthday" out of her mouth every five minutes since Wednesday. She could not wait for this day! She told her baby dolls about it; she told me and Daddy about it (1000 times); she basically told anyone who would listen to her...

Yesterday, we went to Target together and picked out some cookies for the special occasion to share with her new friends. This morning when she entered the classroom, she was donned with her crown and sticker by her sweet new teacher, Mrs. Baraldi. This girl was in Heaven.


Do y'all have any idea how relieved I am today? Yeah, I guess you probably do. Thank you for all your prayers for Lulu. As she waved me goodbye this morning with a confident and non-crying, "Bye, bye, Mama," I knew it was going to be a beautiful day for her. And I feel cautiously optimistic that it will continue in the weeks ahead.

Preschool rocks. End of story.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Plan B...the school year

No one said this would be easy...and I'm not quite sure why I thought it would be. We have now moved to a "Plan B" with Lulu and school.

Lulu did so well the first week of her staggered start of Kindergarten. Actually, I take that back. She cried a few times daily, but nothing that seemed terribly traumatic.


But then, after the weekend, it got worse...much worse. And honestly? I am not comfortable with worse. I get the whole "she'll be okay" and "she'll get used to it" but this Mama can't bear the separation anxiety which appeared in the form of sheer terror on her face. I am not going to share the details here of Lulu's behavior after school on Friday, but let me just say that she was completely derailed, and she was not herself at all. I knew in my heart that she couldn't go back. Maybe it was too academic. Maybe it felt too institutional...we don't know. But with that, Jimmy and I had to honestly, and prayerfully, re-evaluate our initial thoughts about our daughter's readiness for school. In some ways she is, but in other ways, she clearly isn't. I need to remind myself (and other people) sometimes...

Our daughter, though cared for in a smaller orphanage, was in an orphanage for five-and-a-half years--no mommy or daddy to constantly coddle her. Yes, her basic needs were met by all indications, but she was not given the consistent one-on-one attention that we sometimes take for granted in the lives of little ones. This information weighs very heavily on my heart. And shouldn't it?? We, as Lulu's parents, have the responsibility of tending to her spirit first, before her education. I cannot--I will not--leave her again with the look that she had on her face Friday morning or pick her up in the state she was in Friday afternoon. It's not at all worth it to me, and Lulu needs to know--beyond the shadow of a doubt--that Mommy always comes back. She'll get there, she will, in her time. We are grateful that she feels so attached, actually, when attachment issues are sometimes such a difficult roadblock in the adoption process.

I have to give extreme kudos to Banyan Creek. Lulu's teacher, Miss Bender, is a saint...I mean, really, a saint. Her efforts to help make Lulu comfortable were just above and beyond compassionate. The entire administration has been nothing but supportive and understanding of Lulu's transition and our decision making process. This school is clearly FOR THE CHILDREN. I am grateful for social media because some of these people have seen Lulu come home and they've watched her beginnings in our family. That has been a blessing in more ways than one, I'm sure. And you all wouldn't believe the kids who were in her class. Talk about compassion...these little ones showered Lulu with love and encouragement that would bring you to tears. I am so thankful for all of them, and we've made it understood that this isn't about them at all...I believe it's about our little girl's brain and her deep-seated fear of being left by her mother...again.


Over the weekend, it all started to become more clear, and on Monday, I decided to take Lulu for a visit to First United Methodist Preschool where her siblings attended VPK (mentioned in a previous post). This kid ate it up. When I texted the pictures to my husband, he replied, "Looks like this might be a good fit." And he was right on. She played on the floor with our beloved Mrs. Avogardo. She ran into every classroom, including our dear Mrs. Bivins, eager to see the toys inside. She voluntarily took part in their yoga for recess. It felt like home--for both of us.

 

What baffles me is that in all the preparation for her schooling, we had completely overlooked and forgotten the fact that Lulu was never given the opportunity to play in China. We nurtured that part of Joseph who came home at the same age, so why would we deny her the same experience?

This morning I took her back to preschool. She was reluctant, but her new teacher was incredibly sweet and accommodating. She allowed me to introduce Lulu to the class of ten students and even pulled down a globe so they could see where Lulu was born. She encouraged me to stay and sit with her on the rug for circle time. When it was clear that Lulu was engaged to a good, healthy degree, I took the chance to exit for some paperwork. She never came out crying, and I never re-entered the classroom. The Director (and my friend), Anastasia, sent me this an hour later.

 

My dream of having Lulu at Banyan right now was clearly my plan, and we all know what happens to "our plans" sometimes. This Mama Bear will just have to wait another year for her bear cub to be ready for the "big school." We truly believe Lulu is in the right place for now, and our hope is that nurturing the baby and toddler in her spirit will give her a healthier start and an easier introduction to socialization and the English language. She's in the very same classroom that her Grandpa Murphy donated and installed a new sink and cabinet six years ago when her big sister went to school there! I might show up at 1:30 to a puddle of tears today, but we will forge through this process with her one day at a time. And, with a three-day school week, we can schedule her physical therapies on her off days.

Please continue to keep Lulu in your prayers. It is obvious that she wants, so badly, to go to school and learn, but fear holds her back. We pray that her trust and security prevails in her heart, so that she can feel secure enough to leave this nest each morning with full knowing that she'll be back in a matter of hours. We wholeheartedly believe this is the right fit for her...we just need her to believe that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Month three

Whoa. I typed this same statement last month, I know, but I'm in awe of the leaps and bounds of progress in Lulu's transition. She just amazes us everyday. Again, it's not all perfect, but it sure is getting closer each day.

Since my last "update" post, Lulu is now sleeping in her room and in her own bed! At the beginning of August, Lulu's Godmother alerted us to a beautiful bed that a friend was selling, and it was absolutely perfect. Funny that I had been online price shopping beds that week but knew that finances would prevent a purchase. This bed was a fraction of the price of all of them and the quality is probably double and then some. It is fit for Princess Lulu, and I love that it has a trundle for co-sleeping transition and sibling sleepovers! She's made it about halfway through the night in her bed and finds her way into our bed, but no tears and no meltdowns--this is a huge step for her. And last night, she slept through the night for the first time!


Lulu had her first visit to the Pediatrician in August for her initial physical and to get her school forms and referrals for additional medical evaluations. Little Miss Brave needed three vaccines and a finger stick that day, which she took like a champ--no tears, not a flinch, just an itty bitty "ow" and that was it. I can't get over how her body has physically transformed in three months time. She has grown almost two inches (!) and gained about 3.5 pounds, but she looks like a different child based on her physique alone. Her muscle tone has definitely improved from everyday living. I think back to when she first came home and needed assistance to climb onto a chair at the kitchen table, and mere months later, she gets up all by herself.

Mid-summer, Jimmy and I made a decision to take the ipad away from Lulu (from all the kids, actually). What initially started (watching Boonie Bears and other Chinese cartoons) as a source of comfort when we first came home started to become a hindrance to her learning English, or that's what we suspected at least. As much as we'd like Lulu to retain her understanding of Mandarin, the first priority right now is English. A month-and-a-half later, she seems to be speaking and understanding much more than before, so we've given the ipad back to her with only learning apps in English. Buh-bye for now, YouTube Kids.

Lulu's meltdowns and fear-based fighting episodes are few and far between, thank God. She is adapting, and she is adapting well. Our littlest one started her first day of Kindergarten today and though my heart feels torn to have her away from home so soon, I know this will ultimately help her soar, and I pray that her separation anxiety is minimal knowing that I am right around the corner if she needs me. I am so thankful and beyond blessed to be her Mommy...

Friday, August 12, 2016

Open House day

My aim was to show up early in hopes of accomplishing something (not sure what) but it ended up with a twenty minute wait outside in the heat. Oh well. The kids made themselves comfortable.


What made up for it was the moment that Lulu spotted her teacher, Miss Bender, in the breezeway. She charged towards her with open arms and gave her a huge hug. Unfortunately it happened so quickly that I didn't get a picture, but I'll never forget it. It was priceless.

In front of the classroom, we found her name, and yes--it choked me up a little. From a million miles away in an orphanage, into our family in less than a year, and now a Kindergarten student at school with her siblings. That's pretty priceless, too.

 

We made our way into the classroom...first ones there, of course, and walked around until Lulu found her seat. She immediately pulled it out and sat down all ready to go.


We then decided it was time to find the boys classroom, and on the way we found our beloved Miss Mara, who was Joey's ESOL teacher last year. He adores Miss Mara, but we found out over the summer that she's leaving our school for a better opportunity. We were just grateful to see her today so Joey could show her his new glasses.


We found their new school home in the class of Mrs. Howard. She introduced herself to the boys and seems very kind. Joey felt compelled--in the softest (and sweetest) voice--to confess to her that he can't yet read or write. She threw any inkling of shame right out the window and reassured our boy that they would work on that together this year. His comfortable smile made my day. We found their desks and then Charlie found a stash of stuffed animals. Mrs. Howard has unlocked the key to his heart. We were informed that they are "reading buddies" and oh how I love this for Charlie, and Joseph too!  



 

The boys went home with their best buddy, Mason, and Lulu and I ventured over to 5th grade to check out Madi's new digs for the year since she's still at camp until tomorrow. We love her teacher, and I think it's going to be a great year for her...for all these Murphy kids actually...

Monday, August 8, 2016

Our Camper.

Yesterday I drove our first and oldest baby to sleep away camp for a week. SIX NIGHTS AWAY FROM HOME.

I can't explain how weird it felt. I mean, we've left her three times to go to China for two weeks each trip. But there's something different, I guess, about your baby leaving you. I suppose I'm just getting a small taste of what you empty nesters feel. Ugh.

But at the same time, I am SO very happy for Madi. Because I know this experience will be so good for her, and time away to make new friends will be good for her soul. This is way out of my her comfort zone, and that's a blessing.

Sleep away camp was never on my list of things I wanted for our daughter. But my dearest sister-in-Christ brought it up at the beginning of summer--that her oldest daughter was a counselor at this Catholic faith-based camp, and she asked if Madi would want to go with her daughter, Ana (who has been one of Madi's best friends since they were babies.) Much to my shock, Madi gave a resounding yes with no hesitation whatsoever. I swear the Holy Spirit shielded me from the calendar. Had I realized this camp took place the week before school starts, I might have insisted that it would be too much. But it was too late.

Halfway through the summer, Jimmy and I became concerned about Madi's ankle (the one she fractured in the spring) because it just didn't seem to be healing properly. Once again, I worried about this camp and if it were the right thing for her. And then we found out that the girls would not be sleeping in the same cabin, and I really became reluctant to send her. But I encouraged her to attend anyways and explained that perhaps the Lord had a better plan and a reason for their separation. We talked to the girls about the fact that, even though they wouldn't be together, they might miss something life-changing if they said no. We were so proud of them for still giving their yes.

Last week I confess that I had some sleepless nights. I imagined Madi going to bed that first night without anyone she knows. I pictured her weeping silently (I know...you think I'm crazy) and I worried about her, because our girl is pretty attached to us and this is totally foreign territory to her. But then I'd wake up feeling hopeful in the morning, aware that this week will be a blessing for her.

Yesterday we packed up the van--Carrie and me, the two girls, her youngest, Kolbe (our Godson), and Lulu (we agreed that Lulu should be there to understand what was happening)--and drove several hours north. Madi was quiet when we arrived at the campsite, and Mama was already feeling sad about separation (but I hid it well). Carrie's daughter, Camryn (the counselor), came to greet us with a big smile and we headed to registration. The girls were still quiet as we unloaded their luggage and strolled to find their cabins. That's when we were told that there was a big mix-up the night before and that all the cabins has been rearranged. 

And would you believe that the girls ended up together in the same cabin? Tears shot right to my eyes. I looked up to the sky and thanked our Heavenly Father. I knew this was divine intervention. He knew she needed this. Truth is, maybe He knew that I needed this. 

Conveniently, Madi was dying for the top bunk and Ana wanted nothing to do with it...a match made in Heaven. They claimed their perfect space and ran off to put on their swimsuits for their required swim test. But not before we insisted on a picture. 


The girls are in different groups so they'll get the best of both worlds--separation to spread their wings during the day and closeness at night when they need comfort. The camp sent us a link to photos that are uploaded daily. Yes, I am a stalker. Though we miss her like crazy already, I just know it's going to be a great week...I can feel it.

Would you please join me in offering these prayer intentions for our daughter (and the other campers, too)?  It would be most appreciated.

~That her faith and relationship with Jesus are strengthened through this spiritual encounter.

~That she is able to open her heart to her new sisterhood in faith and finds pure joy in making new friends and bonds with them on a deeper level.

~That she and Ana have a beautiful experience that will continue to forge their friendship for life.

~That Madi is filled with the peace of Holy Spirit this week and returns to us as a renewed soul to begin her new school year.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The New Bear Cub

Making the decision for Lulu's schooling wasn't easy. We were fortunate to have two solid options that would both serve her well. One was placing her in Pre-K 4 at First United Methodist to learn the basics on a three-day per week schedule. All of our kids have attended this school, and it has truly been a Godsend. The teachers are like family to us. The other option was sending her to Kindergarten at the elementary school where all of her siblings go. We adore this school, too, whose teachers are precious to us and we have history with, so we really had to think this one through carefully and prayerfully.

Yesterday we registered Lulu as a Banyan Bear.

This is the thing...even though she's delayed a bit in all areas (understandably) and acts more like a four-year-old than a six-year-old sometimes, she also gives us signs that she's incredibly eager to learn and very determined to succeed. Through this process, whether in person or via email, whenever I've expressed a concern, the staff members at Banyan all reassure me the same way, "She'll be in good hands." And I know she will!  That's the  most comforting part! Yesterday I wrote to our awesome Assistant Principal to tell her about Lulu's registration (and still voicing concerns). Her reply?  "It takes a village and we are going to do this together." Well, Amen to that.

And because Banyan is a public school, Lulu will be evaluated for a host of services that she will likely qualify for including physical therapy, occupational therapy, ESOL (language), and speech therapy. We just couldn't resist that major factor. Of all our kids, I swear she's the one (we believe) who will rise to the challenge because she is active as the day is long. I'm sure it won't be without struggle (I can't even think about homework yet) but it will give Lulu a good dose of immersion being there on a full-time basis. As I mentioned, her siblings will all be at the same school this year (the only year since Madi moves on to Middle School the following year), and Lulu's already familiar with "the drill" having spent the last month before summer break delivering them and collecting them each day. The best part is that the school is seriously right around the corner, so if they need me, I can be there in a flash.  If she can't master it all this year, then we can simply repeat Kindergarten next year.

I *just* got word this morning that our request was accepted, and she'll end up in the same classroom with the same teacher that her brother Charlie had last year--the spectacular Miss Bender! Lulu has already bonded with her more than a handful of times, and it's obvious that our daughter "feels the love." Praise the Lord.



Friends, will you please pray for Lulu in this important transition? Though she's already role playing how she'll say, "Bye bye Mama" each morning, and she's thrilled to have one of Madi's backpacks to bring along with her, I know this big step won't come without some separation anxiety and fear (and, yeah...some tears).

Our little girl is so fierce and brave. We have faith that ultimately she'll thrive in Banyan's loving environment. We're so excited for our new little Bear cub!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Our Summer Getaway

After working ten + years to build our family, it's recently been on my heart...a feeling of the Holy Spirit whispering, "You've worked hard to build this family, now go make memories."

And that we did. Last Thursday, we packed up the car (enough for two weeks, it seems) and we drove across the state to the west coast for some fun and family bonding time on the beach for the weekend.

It was so needed...

The kids joyously embraced the journey. They packed their suitcases together. They bonded over plans of childish mischief. The most important part was that they bonded. Miss Lulu seemed to grasp the concept of "vacation" somewhat as we attempted to communicate our plans. At the end of every explanation, she replied, "Home-uh?" And we would reassure her that home was, indeed, at the end of our journey.

I can't say that our drive over was uneventful, thanks to torrential Florida downpours that terrify me. Poor Jimmy. That's all I can say. When we arrived in Fort Myers, we were hungry and in desperate need of something to erase the stress of the ride, so we made our way into the town center and found a cool spot to decompress (which equals beer, and in my case a margarita or two) and some late lunch. The timing was perfect since check-in was at 3:00. We made it to our hotel right on time.


The kids loved exploring the new weekend digs--a cozy two bedroom unit with a kitchen and living area plus a nice patio. Joey even said that he would like for us to live there.

We hit the pool first, much to mom's desire to head beachside. Kids will be kids. But we made a deal for sunset to take place at the beach, and the family stayed true to that. A beautiful swarm of dragonflies escorted us to the beach. There were a hundred of them. It was quite heartwarming given that Jimmy's mother LOVED dragonflies and they remind us of her presence. Sadly, I have no pictures of the amazing and colorful sunset that evening, but boy did we have fun soaking in Mother's Nature's pool. And the littles, as I suspected, thoroughly enjoyed digging in the sand together...teamwork at its finest.





The next morning, we decided to hit the beach first. I had successfully convinced the kids that searching for seashells was as much fun as hunting for treasure. We found a live baby sea star! Jimmy and I discovered, through the day, a fear of the water in Joey and uncovered that he's watched a few television shows about sharks--enough to keep him out of the water. This too shall pass, I'm sure (or I hope!) Madi and I noticed a wispy cloud formation over us that looked like an angel. It hung out for about an hour.


I went back to the room mid-morning to grab a few things and went to check the time in the kitchen. The microwave read 2:22. I knew it was wrong (it was actually 11:09 a.m.) but it was too coincidental (friends who know our adoption story and how Ephesians 2:22 became our adoption verse will understand). I should've snapped a picture but the lighting wasn't right, and once I pressed a button in an attempt to increase the brightness, it was gone. Crazy. I headed back to the beach in awe. When I got back, I found Daddy down in the sand with the kids digging their way to China. Not kidding. Jimmy had practically dug a sink hole in the earth. The kids were stoked. And thankfully no one fell in!  


We heard thunder after a while and decided that it was time to head up to the room. As we made our way, we couldn't help but notice the rainbow formation in the clouds. It felt like another beautiful sign of the "Built Together" day it was shaping up to be. 

 

We took in a game of Left, Right, Center played with Skittles. Charlie was the big winner but, in typical kind-hearted fashion, shared the pot with his siblings.




You might remember the "Petro Princesses" who've showered our children with special surprise packages dating back to Daniel's hospital stay. I've blogged about them before. Well, the Prince of the house paid us a visit for dinner Saturday night. It was such a treat to spend time with him and for the kids to meet him too. Lulu loved Uncle Tim instantly.


Tim was able to tackle the impossible and successfully snap a desperately wanted family photo of all of us--finally together--and wearing our Built Together adoption fundraising shirts. 


We made it just in time because then the rain came down, so we headed back up to the room for a painting project and visiting.

 

  

 

Then we had some bubble fun on the patio. It was such a perfect day.




The week of our trip, I'd reached out to a long time friend from Ohio knowing that they have a vacation home in Fort Myers (but not knowing the exact location). Jimmy went to college with her hubby. And it turned out they were there in town and only seven minutes away! These friends? Y'all...we were engaged at their wedding. Yes, they were selfless enough to allow us to share their special day with us. That was twenty-five years ago. And this weekend? We were reconnected with them in such a beautiful way. We got to hang out with their family and they finally got to meet ours.

 
 

 


The boys loved having "big kids" to hang out with. And Madi got to go on a jet ski for the first time. She was terrified at first (and maybe I was slightly nervous, too) but I knew she was in good capable hands with Daddy. They were gone for a while and her facial expression was priceless when they got back. She thoroughly loved it.

After soaking in hours of sun and fun, we headed back to our place to eat dinner and hit the sack. The kids were wiped out. Of course the vacation wouldn't be complete without some sort of sheer craziness, and that came in the form of a fire alarm just as we were all in our pj's and ready for bed. It took me several screams to wake up Madi, who was already passed out from the events of the day. Fun, fun...definitely something to remember!

The next morning, Lulu and I woke early and headed to the beach for a last-minute visit before check out. The whole drive back, Lulu repeatedly asked, "Home?" and we repeatedly confirmed her greatest desire--to go home. When we finally hit the nest, these kids (all of us, maybe) faced a little post-vaca emotional breakdown. But mostly the flood of tears came from Lulu, who was just obviously so relieved to come back to the place she's come to know and love so much in these couple of months--her home. And our summer getaway was the perfect family experience to show her that we always come back...