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 :-)