Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Other Baby

So this year it was Sawyer who struggled at the photo shoot. Although from these shots, it is hard to tell. But between those busted up teeth (thankfully I think we will have a braces gap between Finn and this one) and that 6-going-on-16 attitude, it was all we could do to get even a few pictures of him smiling, and not in a tortured sort of way. The shadow on this one is a bit strong but that try denying that face!

Sawyer, since birth, has been our leaper-jumper-runner-no-heights-are-too-high child. It is amazing he hasn't broken anything (ok, anything on his body...). We are constantly telling him to "take the crazy outside" and it works for the most part. He is never cold. Even with colder weather coming in he still wears shorts almost everyday to school. I know parents judge, but they were judging me when I let him climb the monkey bars at age two (because he totally could!), so judge on parents! He is our total "dude." He always asks who our favorite NFL team is, who our favorite quarterback is, and we are constantly googling answers to appease him. He scored 8 baskets the other day in his basketball game, so we just might have to become sports people for this one.

 This boy is going to be trouble with the ladies. He is a charmer. He and his best buddy "Bro" are the boys the other kids try to be with and please. While it is adorable in some sense because they both have their own little speech issues, this is not good. Why is this not good? Because he knows how much other children look tohim. Plus, when his first grade teacher asked what the reward for fun friday should be, he responded, "Go around all day with your shirt off. For the boys anyway." A dude. Shirtless, sports-talking, poop joking dude.

But dude or not, he loves his baby sister. He gets bored with her "lack of skills" quickly, but is always interested in what she is doing, where she is, and what he can do to get her to smile. Which, for the record, is just about anything. These two are going to be a pair...

Friday, December 14, 2012

Middle by Birth, First by Declaration

Two years ago when we had our last formal family photo shoot, Grayson was, well, "had the hardest time", shall we say? This year, he was a pro! As we were walking out the door he asked if he could take a banana Laffy Taffy. I was harried and didn't care what he brought, so long as he made it to the car. Just before pictures he popped that thing in his mouth and I seriously think the sugar rush came into play, but we got the most adorable and amazing photos from him. In fact, his turned out the best, I think. It was hard to chose even just 5 or 6 for this post, because there were so many good ones.

Gray has had an amazing year. While quiet and reserved at times, he has such a big personality for a 4th grader. He defiintely sets the tone for our house, so we have enjoyed his enjoyment of life this past year. Not thrilled with reading, he has never really jumped into a series, but over the summer his reading blossomed and he dove into the Harry Potter series. I am so proud of him since he swore he would never read a book that long. He is almost done and we catch him reading here and there often, which is an amazing sight to behold. With Sterling's arrival he moved rooms and shares a room with Finn now and it is so great to watch the two of them interact. It has been good for Gray and has helped him mellow out a little.

While he has played soccer and is currently playing basketball, he has stumbled upon his newest passion: Jump roping. An amazing student teacher (seriously, watch her in this video of her at her high school talent show...yes, she was jumping with her butt @ minute 1:25!) started a Jump Rope Team at Belle Heth. After several weeks of practicing late into the cold dark nights, in his bedroom, and with his imaginary rope in the living room, Gray made the team. They work hard, too! He wants to join the jump rope team for the Jr Olympics and while he has a ways to go, I can totally seeing him do it. Gray has that kind of personality. If he is not interested, good luck-never gonna happen. If he is, watch out! I love that about his personality. Jack always says he is the most like me and that we are going to probably go the rounds when he hits his teen years. But I turned out ok, so I say bring it!

Monday, December 10, 2012

How to choose? Finn First.

We had our family photos taken the other day and so many of them turned out so great. I was having trouble decided which ones to get printed and which to put in scrapbooks and which to put on the blog. So it is going to be a series of posts. Redundant at some level, yes. Oh well. I realized I have not really blogged about the boys this year, so I thought this would be a good chance to catch up on their comings and goings.

 Finn is in the 9th grade. Although a Freshman, he does not carry himself as such. But anyone who knows Finn knows he was an old soul from the time he was born. He continues to keep us in line and serves as the third parent on many occassions (again, which he has done since the moment he had someone to parent...sorry Gray). He is  a great brother and babysitter. He has begun babysitting for hire and he really enjoys it. It reminds of when Jack was a nanny in college and he loved it. Academically he is doing outstanding. He has three advanced classes and he has had straight A's since the year began. He is excelling in band also, playing in the honors band at RU this past month. It is crazt to me that three years ago he didn't even know how to read music and now he is a real saxaphone player.
 Ever the prude, it makes him crazy when we tell him "He's sax-y and he knows it!"
 He is on the Science MACC team and Scholastic Bowl team. The other afternoon he called and said SB practice was cancelled. In my mind I raced through picking him up early and what that would entail but before my thoughts could materialize he said, "But I am going to join Spanish Club and Andrew can bring me home afterwards." I actually asked him if he could start under-achieving a little more. (And we won't even talk about having him have friends who drive...)
Between the orthodontist and dermatologist, he is going to be in tip top shape by the end of next year. Standing at a taller-than-mom-since-he-was-eleven 5'12 he is still my Finny. I can tell he is getting older because it used to drive him crazy when I called him that. Now he just pats me on the head and talks about the old people's home he is going to send me too.
It's great having a teenager around! I've said it before and I stand by it.He's fun to be around, witty in his conversations, confident in who he is, and I am proud to call him my son. I am grateful he sometimes says no to his friends and chooses to stay in and hang out with us. He might beat me at most of the games we play anymore, but I'll take it! Love you Finn!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Not So Glamour Shots

Testing our props and outfit selections
 So we just had our professional family photo shoot and they turned out great! Thrilled! I couldn't be happier. But for those, you will have to wait. Instead, here are the ones we took with our camera, while we waited for the photo family magic to begin...

This is before we even left the house...

Yep. And within about 15 minutes of our arrival.
I know you will be on pins and needles waiting for the rest.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Filled to the rim, with Brim."

Every time I start to think or say, "I am filled with " all I can think of is that dumb coffee commercial from the 80's.

Something dumb happened the other day. It was stupid, but I started to feel a little self-pity start to creep in. You know, when a teeny tiny pity party starts. Then something else dumb happened and the party started hoppin'. But before the cops could get called on my raging pity-party, I saw it. I saw her. I saw all four of them actually, interacting, and I was filled...

There is a sense of unity, of completion, of wholeness here. I feel it. It makes me laugh out loud when no one is around. It makes me to cry tears of joy when I look at photographs of all SIX of us. This feeling is so filling. It's feels surreal, often. It's funny, because while we are swimming in a haze of bills like we never have seen and a haze of sleep-deprivation like we forgot existed, we have this new amazing reality and it supersedes the haze! Watching the boys love Sterling and care for her fills me with excitement and unparalleled love for all four of them. Watching Jack and I experience parenting a newborn as, shall we say, more weathered parents is gratifying and makes me realize we can probably take on anything at this point (although please hear me, universe, when I say, we are finished with the hard stuff, easy only from here on out).

First day of school breakfast (the only time we eat bfast together on a weekday)
Sometimes I feel like someone needs to pinch me. It happened. It really happened. We wondered, we worried, we waited. Sterling is just part of us now. It's crazy. The drama, the chaos, the's all known, and it worked out. (Now nothing is final until the lawyer sends us "THE" paper, hopefully in Feb or March, but we are calling that a mere formality at this point.) Also funny is the notion of us as "a little family." We are not little. As a party of 6, we do nothing small or discreet. We are big. We are loud. We are a presence. But we feel small to me. We feel right.

I have an abundant life, blessed beyond what I thought possible. I am sad I wasted half a day thinking about stupid things I don't have. In regards to what matters, I have it all. My BRIM runneth over.

Monday, October 29, 2012

You don't have to read the whole thing, but I have to write it.

I guess it is time to blog about Sterling's arrival into our family. I have so many thoughts and feelings and emotions that it has been difficult to sit down and put them all to print. In fact, I will never be able to get them all down, and there is so much that I want to hold close to my heart and never publish, but the story is so great, I have to share "the story." You know me, I'm a sucker for a great story.

To catch you up, I had a ruptured ectopic pregnancy October, three years ago. After surviving it, and healing, we knew the only way we could bring our final baby into our family was going to be through adoption. Jack and I both have adopted siblings, so it wasn't a foreign concept in the slightest. We listed with a agency with three months of me leaving the hospital. We just KNEW it went so quickly for us because "our baby" was coming right around the corner. Or that corner. Or down the bend. Or up the hill. Or something. After about a year of waiting, we interviewed three additional agencies. We began the application process with a second agency, because as any good adoption caseworker will tell you, you should list with multiple agencies. After about a month of paperwork, we felt like this was not the agency for us, so we left our money and our efforts there on the table and walked away. We then began the 30 week training to become foster parents and try adopting through the local state agency. After about 2.5 months of attending the 3 hr weekly classes, the instructor called us and asked if she could come visit us at home. When she did, she said she felt like we were not the right candidates for the program. She said they only place children for adoption who are over 8 years old. Children under 8 they place with families not seeking to adopt, as reunification is always the goal. Of course, adoptions do sometimes result in these types of placements, but they do not set them up that way. Deflated, we walked away from that option. Having three children at home in that age range, we did not feel comfortable with their options.
For three years, amidst the chaos of life, we had "this thing" that hung over our heads all the time. "Should we go on the Paris trip, because what if we get the call while we are gone?" "Should we buy the new house? what if it ties up all of our credit and then we don't have a line to pay for an adoption if it occurs?" It was never easy to forget, but there were definitely times we were able to push it to the back of our minds. It's not like there was this dark cloud hanging over our house, but there was definitely a hole that was more easily filled sometimes than others. Sawyer was the one who talked about it most. "Mom, do you think we will get home from the store and there will be a baby sister waiting for us?" Or he'd say things like, "When we get a sister..." And it was always a sister. He NEVER talked about a brother, which we thought was funny. (Lucky for him it worked out in his favor!)

Two years in we decided to commit to a second agency. We were having struggles with our first agency, they were not making very many placements, and we did not feel like they were advocating for us as we had hoped. My sister had worked as a birthmother advocate for a little while with an adoption facilitation agency and she suggested we try an agency she had seen some success with out of Utah. After talking to our friend/unpaid adoption counselor (Here's your shout out FLOSSIE!) on many occasions she thought they were a good agency too, so we called them. After speaking with several people there, and finding out there would be no upfront retainer or fees (which we had already lost with two agencies), we went for it.

In late September 2011 we applied with Heart to Heart Adoptions (call me if you want to talk shop--they were great!) and on the last day of our Brazilian Principal Exchange visit last year, we got the call. There was a birthmother interested in talking with us on the phone. A month!! Just a short month later, we had already seen movement. We were just excited to be chosen to talk with someone, never mind be chosen. This birthmother had all the makings of a very unfortunate and tough life situation, but a perfect adoption placement. She was older, she did not have family support, she had relocated, she was having an interracial baby in a family unwilling to support her, she was in school, her boyfriend had left her. After several phone calls and millions of questions on her end, she called to tell us she had chosen us to raise her...daughter! It was a girl!! She wanted to meet us before the birth, so we flew out and spent the weekend with her. We were supposed to fly to NY that weekend for our anniversary, so we cancelled our hotel and changed our tickets. It was an amazing weekend and it just solidified our plans to drive out to UT with the whole family the day after Christmas to be there for the birth the first of January. We had kept it from the boys as long as we could, but told them about the birth just before we left for UT.

Two weeks after our visit, just a couple days before Christmas, we got the call. Our caseworker told us our birthmother had left town. She had cleared her apartment out and all that was left in there was a letter for us and a picture of the three of us we had taken at the aquarium. We were devastated. Words cannot describe the feelings we had as we huddled our little family together in our basement, told them we would not be going to UT and there would be no baby sister. We wept. Weeping. Actually weeping. The boys were hysterical. We were all hysterical. We huddled, hugged, cried. It was a moment I will be able to picture in my mind I think until the day I die. We wanted to run away, but Christmas was just a few short days away. We ran away to Roanoke for the night. We spent with reckless abandon (ok, so let the boys go to Build-A-Bear and make the animal + get clothes, so true abandon, but for us, close enough!) and sat eating at the Chinese Buffet by the mall for hours. We didn't want to be home, but we didn't want to see people either.

Christmas came and Jack and I put on the bravest of faces for the boys. But while it was difficult to curb the sadness, it was important and precious in the sense that we really appreciated and took in everything about the boys relishing Christmas. It was a time to draw closer the things in our life that we loved, and for us, it was each other and our boys. Our friend/unpaid travel consultant (are you seeing a theme?) Amy let us use her house at the OBX, so we woke up early the 26th and got the heck out of Dodge! We spent several days in the OBX just letting the sea wash away our sadness and returned home to a new year and a new hopes.

The hopes we had for 2012 though, were not really baby related. We talked as a family about whether or not we should continue to try and adopt. We all agreed we would put our hat back in the ring, but only one more time. If we had another failure, that was going to be the end. We lived our life. It was actually a great year. We vacationed a lot. We played, a lot. We relished our life as it was, and made plans for the future. We dreamed about trips we would take, lives we would lead, and it was joyful. It felt divine.

Just before we left for our 4th of July trip to see family in UT (yes, a lot of our lives center around UT to some degree) we found a house for sale that we LOVED!! It was exactly in the spot we dreamed of living one day. It had an IN-GROUND POOL-the plan for our next life phase. It was thrashed. It had drain pipes ripped from the house, the grounds were in rough shape, the inside was SO DATED (because we had given ourselves the illegal outside tour of the place on several occasions). But it was in our price range (just barely). We stewed about it a lot. Because of the condition of the house, we could actually afford it. We could spend the next 10 years renovating as money became available. It was ideal!! We decided when Jack got home from Brazil, we would go look at it and make an offer. While I was still in UT, we talked on the phone about that house every night. I finally just said, "Go look at it and make the offer! Just do it!" So Jack called the realtor and set up an appointment for the day before we got home and 2 days before he left for Brazil. 5pm. The appointment was set for 5pm. Then a couple of hours later, he got a call that the house had been rented and they were not selling anymore*. We were devastated. It was a rush of all the things we had thought we were over. Dreams and plans, in an instant, were gone!
The boys and I returned from our trip, the next day Jack left for Brazil, and we knew when he returned we would again regroup and move forward.

It was August 3rd and I was in my bathing suit and coverup. I had just left the boys with Paige at the pool so I could run to the school and help serve lunch to the band kids. As I finished up and was leaving the school, my cell phone rang while I was still inthe parking lot. As most of you know, I rarely answer my phone, but afraid swimming plans had changed and the boys were elsewhere now, I picked up.When I answered, it was Michelle from Heart to Heart who said a birthmother had chosen our family to raise her baby girl and she wanted to talk to us on the phone that night. Jack was in Brazil so I ran home and sent all kinds of messages through email to find Jack. His itinerary was vague for that day (of course) so I didn't have a number to reach him at. When he finally got the email and called, he could not believe it was happening! At 7 pm Aug 3, we had a conference call with Sterling's birthmother and we all just connected. Jack had asked Kelly what one of her favorite bands was (after she had said one of her hobbies was music--just like Jack's) and she said "Flogging Molly." One of the band members of FM was a friend of Jack's from high school, so instantly they hit it off! We talked about her life plans, her hopes, and how her baby girl will be loved and cherished and adored by our family. We talked about how our three sons were hoping for a sister to love and protect and play with and get dirty! She said that sounded perfect because she was a tomboy growing up.It was sad when it was time to hang up because we just wanted to keep talking!
The funniest part of all this was trying to maintain composure for the boys and with my friends. After the failed placement in December, I wasn't going to tell anyone I didn't have to...The night of the phone call to Sterling's birthmother was the night I was hosting a BUNCO party at the house. The phone call with ended at 6:30pm and everyone arrived at 7pm. It was funny because the next day someone emailed me and said I seemed a little off...I can't remember who said it, but yes, I was "off!"

Sterling was supposed to arrive on the 9th of August, but the doctors said they could wait until the 14th to induce. Jack flew home from Brazil on the 11th. On the 12th we went to church, came home and hung out with the boys and told them about their new sister. The morning of the 13th Jack went to work and Jaime took the boys to the Herndons house to stay while we were in UT. Dad wasn't sure what his boss was going to say when he told her he had to leave, but when she found out it was for the birth of our daughter, she was thrilled! So the afternoon of the 13th we flew out of Roanoke to SLC. But mid-flight we were grounded in SC which made us miss our connection to SLC through ATL. When we finally arrived in ATL there was one flight left. Jack RAN through the airport and begged and pleaded and cried and prayed and Noni Shropshire bumped some other passengers so we could be in SLC for your birth! It was one of the many steps along the way where we saw the hand of the Lord guiding our way. We got in around 2:30 am on the morning of the 14th and the induction was scheduled at 7 am. Since the birthmother wanted us there for the birth, but didn't want us to just wait around, we went and did a bunch of shopping for baby supplies and goodies for her. After all, it was a long delivery and hard labor and we kept getting kept texts saying how hungry she was and they wouldn't let her eat. Mean doctors!! We were supposed to go in at noon, then 2pm, then 4pm, and finally around 6pm while we were eating dinner at Pei Wei, we got the call "She wants you here for the delivery and we think it will happen soon. Come to the hospital by 7pm!" Off we flew!

And the rest is history. Actually, it's "her-story" so there are more details and other circumstances that I will cherish and hold close to my heart until Sterling is ready to hear them for herself, and before I share them with the world.
We love Sterling's birthmother and will only tolerate love and respect as she is mentioned in our home and in our story. We are amazed at her strength and devotion to Sterling by chosing a life for her that would be more full than what she could provide at this phase in her life. We have a semi-open adoption at her request, and hope to someday blow the door wide open on it, as she is ready.

So there it is...the little and big things that added up to make us the Six Family. We are so grateful to friends and family that supported us, and continue to support us in our journey. Some people are like, "You have three beautiful sons. Why would you have to adopt?" What compels any of us to do anything? We do have three awesome sons. And now an awesome daughter in the mix too. For us personally, we are guided by something we believe is bigger than ourselves. We believe a loving God had a plan for us, and for Sterling, which couldn't happen any other way. We marvel at this plan that has brought us all together and giggle when we think about the future we have together all six of us. We are joyful. Thank you for sharing it with us.

*As a side note, we later found out the house wasn't actually taken off the market. We believe but cannot prove the realtor was protecting other contingency offers by "true Radfordians." We were later offered a chance to see it when Jack was to return from Brazil, but Sterling popped onto the scene. So we didn't move, but it still worked out for us in the end...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sterling's Debut Part II

There were some "issues" at the hospital with the hospital photographer taking her picture so rather than have our first "No, we are her parents. I know I didn't give birth to her" fight, we bailed with no picture. But it worked out better for us because we got two of our friends who are photographers to do newborn photo shoots with her. Their photos were immeasurably better than anything the hospital could have done. So take that dumb hospital photographer!
Here are some of our favorites from photo shoot number two. Thanks Heather!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sterling's Blog Debut

When Sawyer was about 4, and he wanted to reference the entire family, he would call us "the 5 family." For example, "Is Finn just going or is the 5 family going?"
Now we are the Six Family.

The story of her arrival is long, and we will get to that later. But for now, enjoy these. She had two photo shoots within the first two weeks of her life. Here are my favorites from the first one! Thanks Ann!