Friday, January 21, 2011

Alive and well. . . .mostly ;-)

Once again, I am sorry for leaving everyone hanging. After the jet lag, doctors appointments, visits with the social worker, homeschooling and finding our new normal, I find I have very little coherent thought left to offer when I finally have a chance to sit down at my computer in the evenings. While I am sad to say that my mental state at the end of the day hasn't really improved much, I have decided that I can no longer ignore your pleas for an update and so I simply ask for your forgiveness for the nonsensical post that is about to occur. . . .

I can still remember the very moment that I knew that we would adopt an "older child." Richard and I were on the first leg of our journey home after our first trip to Ukraine in 2007. There were several other adoptive families on our flight and all of them had adopted children between the ages of 5-13. I can still vividly remember the excitement, nervousness, relief and trepidation on their faces as they each began a new, scary, but wonderful, chapter in their lives. One little girl in particular caught my eye. She was 7 years old and joy absolutely radiated from every inch of her little body. As she bounced up and down in her seat while looking out her window, I watched her steal many happy glances at her new mommy and daddy and then place her tiny hand in her mother's and nestled into her side. That is the moment that I knew that, some day, we would adopt an "older child" too.

Fast forward three years. . . Alexis and I are sitting on the first leg of our journey home from Bulgaria. She is so happy to finally be going home that she cannot contain her joy and I cannot help but smile at her energy and enthusiasm, despite the fact that it is 5:30 am. As we take off she sits next to me, bouncing up and down in her seat, looking out her window, watching the sights and sounds of Sofia (and life as she has known it) fade into the distance. Every few seconds she steals excited glances my way and asks me when we will be in America. Then she puts her hand in mine and nestles into my side, so happy to finally begin the next chapter in her life.

Our journey home took 26 hours. All flights were on time and, despite the fact that Alexis didn't sleep a wink until our last flight (and consequently, neither did I), she was an amazing traveler and we had a great time! Unfortunately, when I checked in for our flight I was told that my carryon was over the weight limit and that I would have to unload some things into my checked luggage. As much as it pained me, my camera was one of the first things I had to unload (too many other travel essentials in the bag) and so I wasn't able to capture just how excited my little Bulgarian princess was. I was more than a little annoyed when we boarded that plane and I saw dozens of bags, much larger and heavier than mine, being carried on. If I hadn't been so tired, I might have remembered to pull it out of my bag before rechecking it in Philadelphia after going through immigration, but I am sad to say that I didn't. I'm still kicking myself for that one because the reunion of Alexis and her daddy at the Dayton airport was absolutely priceless. As soon as Richard stepped into sight Alexis yelled "Daddy!" and took off running towards him and he scooped her up into a huge bear hug. Boy was she excited to see her daddy (and I think the feeling was mutual)!

By the time we got home it was almost midnight and all of the kids were sound asleep in their beds. We debated letting them sleep, but decided that it would be better to wake them and introduce them to their newest sister. Alexis was especially insistent that she see Lily. Although Lily was a bit disoriented from being woken up, she recognized Alexis immediately and the girls gave each other a great big hug. By the time we went to tuck Alexis into bed, Lily was wide awake and her excitement was apparent.

By 1am, Richard and I finally turned in. . . .and by 5:30 am, everyone was wide awake and ready to get on with life as a family of 10 :-)

For the most part, the adjustment is going very well. I do find it interesting that, while this adjustment has been MUCH easier for Alexis than it was for Lily and Alayna, it has been a more difficult adjustment period for ME. I am sure that the fact that we have had to find a "new normal" twice in five months doesn't help. Or the fact that we had been out of our normal routine for several weeks (Christmas break) prior to Alexis' arrival. Or it could be largely due to the fact that January is always a crazy month for our family and January 2011 has been no exception (5 birthdays (Joshua, Richard, Maren, Lukas and Jacob), homestudy update, doctors appointments, post placement reports, school, and a major surgery in Philadelphia (Alayna-next Thursday. .I'll save the details for another post). Then again, sometimes it is simply due to the fact that I often fail to remember that 8 kids between the ages of 4-8 (6 with various special needs) is hard work and I need to cut myself some slack ;-)

Alexis is adjusting beautifully. She was obviously well prepared (the orphanage in Stara Zagora is blessed to have an amazing psychologist working with the kids) for the HUGE changes that would be taking place in her life and she has responded amazingly to having her life turned upside down and inside out! Of course, there are many deeply ingrained habits and behaviors that will likely be a "work in progress" for quite some time, but as I have mentioned before, Alexis responds very well to redirection and discipline and she is learning quickly. There is a BIG personality in that tiny body and she often rubs her siblings the wrong way (have I mentioned that she is bossy (regardless of whether or not you can understand her) and that her favorite method of negotiation is the "hit and run"), but again, she is quickly learning that is not the way we operate here and, consequently, relationships are improving :-)

Lily and Alayna have had the hardest time adjusting to their new sibling. Not necessarily because of personality clashes (they actually all get along quite well), but because Alexis' presence and hearing her speaking Bulgarian (and calling Lily by her birth name) reminds them of how life used to be. We have seen a little regression and recurrence of some previously abolished behaviors in both the girls, but we are working through those things and have made it a priority to address any insecurities or fears that this change may have brought to the girls. As we had anticipated, there is some jealousy and competitiveness between Alexis and Lily (and it goes both ways), but fortunately, it is not nearly as intense as I imagined it might be and most of the time, rather than cause frustration, it makes me laugh (which makes Alexis laugh and because, Alexis and I are laughing, Lily joins in as well. . . .have I mentioned that Alexis is also very easily "diffused"? A quality I hope she passes on to several of her other siblings!).

Honestly, other than the normal stresses and difficulties of the "adjustment period," things are going beautifully and we feel SO blessed that Alexis is part of our family! As we begin to settle in as a family of 10, we will also be switching gears once again as we prepare to add children 9 and 10 to the family. So, stay tuned because, as I am sure you have all come to expect, more adventures with the Rieben family await :-)

Our fabulous friend, Keely (who took care of our kids during the day while I was in Bulgaria for my first AND last trips) was kind enough to take most of these pictures for us. All of the amazing hats in the pictures were lovingly handmade by Keely for EVERY member of our family! Once she gets her Etsy store up and running, I'll share all the details with you! Her creations are worth every penny!

13 comments:

Palmer Family said...

So happy you are home and happy! I knew Gage was joining your family, but is there another that I somehow missed? I love you guys and look up to you so much. Thanks for being my friends and my inspiration!

Crystal said...

This is so wonderful. I am glad you are all home together now. I love your school room. I would love to ask you some questions about homeschooling if you have time. You can email me at finecrystal@knology.net

Yvonne said...

Valerie,

Thanks for the update! I can't wait for your friend's Etsey store!! I love the hats! Congrats on Alexis' homecoming and so excited to hear about your further adoption plans... :)

Yvonne

Charity Brown said...

oh wow! i didn't realize there were two more still! i thought it was just gage? i'm excited now to hear about this second child! you guys are amazing! love the big family picture! so happy for you all!

Jill said...

What a great post! It's so nice to hear how you're doing, Val, and to catch up on all the latest! I wish you were closeby to hold my hand through this next adoption to Russia. There's a chance that we might move back to OH next and I told Tyler that I wanted to move nextdoor to you!!! Miss you! :)

eliz said...

Welcome Home!!
O.K. now who's next?? Don't leave us hanging! LOL!! I love your group family picture!

growing our love... said...

I had tears in my eyes as you where telling the story about adopting an older child. Thank you for sharing. I am so happy to see your family grow. She is a doll!!!

Difference2This1 said...

Valerie..I find it simply amazing you have two minutes to squeeze in posting an update, but I loved reading every word. Prayers for continued adjustments in the new "normal" that keeps changing every few months and the upcoming surgery and endurance and good health you and your husband as you love all these precious children. Blessings, Jennifer (waiting for Nathan and Peter in Bulgaria) P.S. Loved the schoolroom photo...precious!

travcat said...

Hi Valeria,

That's great that Alexis is home! Do you know if Uzbekistan is still open to adopt from? Would you mind e-mailing me about potential good agencies to use?

Thank you!

Catherine
zoo35511@bellsouth.net
http://wronginalltherightways-travcat.blogspot.com/

Nan and Dan said...

love the photos! so happy you are home and settling back in. hoping and praying all went well for alayna yesterday! so sorry we were not able to meet up in philly, maybe next time!

Autumn said...

Hi! I'm adopting a brother/sister sibling pair from Stara Zagora. I would love to know more about the area if you had pictures or anything to share, who knows...if you have any photos from the orphanage maybe you have pics of them! I know you are super busy and wouldn't even ask but it seems to be taking so long to get to my kiddos and I'm getting antsy to learn more :) My email is autemin at hotmail dot com. Hope to talk to you soon!

Sarah said...

Great to read your update...blessings to you as you continue to settle in.

Krista said...

Wow! Just followed a link over here from another page & read briefly about your family. You are an AMAZING couple!!! Yes, please do cut yourself some slack! You deserve it:)