Friday, June 24, 2011

"All About My Mom and Dad"- A lesson about love

As part of our history curriculum the kids are learning to keep their own histories by writing in a journal regularly. At least three times per week I sit down with each of the kids and ask them about a particular topic. They narrate, I write, they illustrate. Aside from being a great keepsake (and hopefully a lifelong habit of journaling), it has been a wonderful opportunity for quality one-on-one time.

Earlier this week, I asked the kids to tell me a little about themselves. Yesterday I asked them to tell me a little about their mom and dad. It was a wonderfully sweet (and eye opening) experience to listen to them share their thoughts about their dad and I. With their permission, I'd like to share some of those thoughts. I should probably mention before I begin that we did our journal writing right before dinner which may account for the constant mention of food from every single one of them (I highly doubt it is because I am such a superb cook. . .I'm really not!).

Alayna: My dad makes fries and pizza. Sometimes he makes sandwiches for lunch. He vacuums. He takes me to the potty at night. He takes me to the park. He runs errands. My dad goes to work. Before he goes he gives us hugs and sings, "So Long, Farewell." He goes to the store to buy food. My mom takes me to Philadelphia. Soon I will get my prosthetic there. Sometimes she goes to meetings. She takes me to the potty. She makes breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday. She takes me to the doctor. My mom loves me. She tucks me in at night. She makes gluten-free pizza. She cleans the house. She is helping me write my history.

Alexis: My daddy goes to work. He gives me hugs and sings me songs. He takes me to McDonalds. He takes me to the store. My mom goes to the store. Mommy makes breakfast, lunch and dinner. Mommy helps me with schoolwork and reads to me. She watches "Phineas and Ferb" with me. Mommy gives me hugs and kisses.

Evan: I love my dad. He takes good care of me. He helps me get dressed. He earns money. I love to run errands with my dad. I love my mom. I love her cooking. I love her because she takes good care of me. I love her because she helps me go potty. I love her because she helps me get dressed and she feeds me. She helps me do schoolwork.

Maren: My dad plays baseball with me. He takes me on errands. He makes yummy waffles on Saturday. He plays Hide-n-seek with me. He's in love with my mom. Mommy makes eggs, muffins and pancakes. Mommy teaches me math. Mommy helps me with my worksheets. Mommy gives me baths. I like to read and do school with mommy. Mommy makes smoothies. I love mommy and daddy.

Lukas: My dad is cute. He makes me smile. I love my dad. My dad plays with me all the time. He goes to work to earn money. My dad teaches me that sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do. My mom is cute. She teaches me lots of lessons. I love my mom. I like to do school with her. I also like her cooking.

Jacob: I like my dad because he plays baseball with me. Daddy plays games with me. Daddy goes to work. He earns money and helps raise money for our babies. Mommy makes yummy pizza. She makes me smile (Daddy makes me smile too). She makes yummy homemade fries. I like to play games with my mom. I like to hang out with her too. She makes pretty things for our house. She says prayers with me.

Joshua was "too tired" to share his thoughts with me yesterday so I will have to share them another time. Lily isn't quite ready to narrate her thoughts yet, but she lets us know how she feels about mommy and daddy in other ways (she loves to look through picture albums and point out all of the pictures of mommy and daddy. . .this is HUGE for her).

It was very interesting to see what was important to each of our children. It was particularly interesting to see how much our older adopted children (who came to us at 3.5, 7, 7 and 8) focused their thoughts on basic necessities (food, clothing, toileting, hugs and kisses), needs that often went unmet in their previous situations (Evan especially). Our biological children (who have never had to go without the basic necessities) focused their thoughts more on activities, quality time and relationships.

What a blessing it was to get such an intimate look into how our children see us. As always, I am humbled by the simplicity of their unconditional love (and their willingness to overlook our MANY faults) and I am reminded that it is the little things that matter most to our little people. They are watching us ("Daddy is in love with my mom"), they DO listen to us ("My dad teaches me that sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do") and EVERYTHING we do matters to them! Once again, I tip my hat to my children for teaching me the most valuable lessons in life.

Friday's Fabulous Five

Last week (Thursday-Saturday) was our 4th Annual Adoption Yard/Bake Sale. Needless to say, I didn't have much left to give by Friday evening, hence the absence of last week's Fabulous Five. So, here are five things that have happened in the last TWO weeks that have given the Riebens something to smile about:

1. Like many of you who are claiming the Adoption Tax Credit (now refundable), we are STILL waiting for our refund (we filed our taxes at the beginning of February). We had hoped to use this money to fund our current adoption, but unfortunately, it looks like we are going to have to raise the bulk of the funds for this adoption the old fashioned way! For the past 6+ weeks, friends, family and even strangers have cleaned their closets and donated items to our 4th Annual Adoption Yard/Bake Sale which we held last Thursday-Saturday. Prior to the sale, we prayed that we would be able to raise enough money to get through the next steps in the adoption process. As things drew to a close on Saturday afternoon and we began adding the money we realized that we had raised the EXACT amount needed to file our I800A and complete our dossier! For those of you who are considering taking the leap of faith to adopt a child, but are worried about finances, let this be another lesson that, if the Lord calls you to it, He'll see you through it! We'd like to offer an ENORMOUS "Thank you!" to all who donated, shopped, helped and supported us in this endeavor!

2. I am happy to announce that, sweet Rieben baby #10 (previously "He-who-is-yet-to-be-named") now has a name! The name that we have chosen is one that has been pushing itself to the front of my mind for a long time, but because it has never been on my list of favorites, I have always casually pushed it aside. As I settled into bed one night last week, I found the name swimming around inside my head once again. The next morning, Richard poked his head out of the shower and asked me if I had considered this name (I had not mentioned it to him previously). The fact that the name had been on both of our minds and that we actually agreed upon it made it golden, but before we made it official I decided to see what the name meant. . . .and I laughed, realizing once again what a great sense of humor our Heavenly Father has! The name means, "Twin." No, the boys are NOT twins, but they are only a few weeks apart in age, share an extra chromosome and certainly LOOK like they could be twins and already, people are referring to them as "the twins." As a mother of multiples, this drives me CRAZY! At the same time, I recognize this name to be a beautiful reminder that these precious boys, though they did not share a womb, were meant to walk through this life together as brothers. So, now that you have all waited SO patiently while I have rambled on and on about this name, Rieben baby #10 will be known as. . . . .

Thomas Christopher (TC)

3. Just in case you didn't hear us celebrating this piece of good news around the world. . . .Alayna's second skin graft was a SUCCESS!!!! She is still taking it easy as the new skin settles into it's new home and puts down roots, but her chronic wound is officially no more and we could not be happier. We will be heading back to Philadelphia at the end of July for her first prosthetic fitting and are hopeful that she will have two feet on the ground and be running circles around us all by the end of the summer! Hallelujah!!!

4. While most of you were relaxing by the pool, playing at the park and working on your tans this week, the Rieben kids were hard at work. . . . .at school! We started school again at our house this week. Earlier in the year (as we were driving back and forth to Philadelphia every few weeks), we made the decision to follow a "year-round" school schedule. Not only does this accommodate our traveling better than a "traditional" schedule, but it has helped our children who are behind (Alayna, Lily and Alexis in particular) have more opportunity to "catch up," AND it helps us to maintain a more consistent schedule (which is vital for so many of our kids, adopted and biological). We have had an EXCELLENT first week and, although homeschooling 8 children does make me want to pull my hair out on a regular basis, it also gives me A LOT to smile about! Seeing my children get excited about learning and knowing that I helped to facilitate that love and excitement is incredibly rewarding!

A glimpse of our "school room!" (we found these desks on Craigslist and were able to purchase 10 of them for $75! What a steal! And it has made such a difference for the kids to have their own work space.)

We learned a little about archaeology in school this week. Today we set up our own archaeological dig site in our backyard.

Our site manager

Budding archaeologists

Our record keeper (Lukas would be a brilliant archaeologist. . .he is incredibly detail oriented and organized. He LOVED this activity!)

5. This week the kids and I started a project to benefit other adoptive families. It combines my love of creating beautiful things with my love for adoption AND my kids are an integral part of it! We're not quite ready to share all of the details yet, but we are SO excited for this opportunity to bless other families on their adoption journeys! As a sneak preview, these fun fabrics will be a part of our creations. . . .

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday's Fabulous Five

Several years ago I started keeping a "joy journal." At the end of each day, I would write down five things that had happened that day that made me smile. I called them my "Fabulous Five." It is so easy to get caught up in the challenges of raising children that I was forgetting that the joy in motherhood often comes in moments and, rather than focusing on these moments, I was letting them pass me by. In the beginning there were days where it was really a stretch to think of five "fabulous" moments, but as I continued to look for those joyful moments of motherhood each day, I discovered that those things naturally became the focus of my day, allowing the challenges and frustrations to fade into the background.

It is also easy when blogging to focus only on the "big" events in life and to gloss over the little things that make day-to-day life so sweet. Beginning today, I would like to introduce "Friday's Fabulous Five," an opportunity to share with you a few of the joyful moments that we experience each week! So without further ado, here are a few things that have given the Rieben's something to smile about over the past few weeks. . . .

1. Last Thursday, my sister-in-law, Lauren and my brother, Ben, welcomed their first child into the world. Miss Kayden Paige entered the world at 9.5lbs and 21 inches (Lauren is my hero)! She is a beautiful baby and I cannot wait to get my hands on her!

Kayden Paige

2. With so much going on in the past few weeks, I have managed to get a little behind with the laundry, particularly MY laundry. When I went to get dressed last Friday morning, I discovered that I was out of clean jeans. . . .except for the "skinny" jeans tucked away in the deep recesses of my dresser drawer. Preparing myself for disappointment, I pulled out a pair, took a deep breath, stepped in. . . . .and pulled them right on! It was a GREAT day :-)

3. Last Friday, Alayna finally got her new glasses (she has needed a stronger prescription for quite a while and has been without her glasses for several months now). When she put them on she gasped and said, "I can see!!!" Then she turned and looked at me and said, "Mommy, I see you. . . .you have a little head!" She has insisted on calling me "Little head" ever since. It always puts a smile on my face.

4. Nothing relieves stress after a long week like a Friday night dance party (those of you who are LDS might recognize some of the songs. . .the CD is called "Popcorn Bopping'" and consists of jazzed up versions of many of the Primary songs. . .hilarious!)

5. Last, but DEFINITELY not least. . . .Last Friday we received word from Bulgaria that the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) had accepted our commitment application for two precious baby boys with Down syndrome! Surprise! Introducing #9 and #10:

Benjamin Daniel
(named after two of my amazing little brothers)


"He-who-is-yet-to-be-named" :-)
(accepting any and all suggestions that work with Christopher as a middle name)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Knowing when to say, "When!"

Making complicated medical decisions on behalf of your children is never easy. Those decisions WILL alter your child's life (hopefully for the better) and consequently, yours as well. Making the decision to travel to Philadelphia to receive a higher standard of medical care for several of our children was NOT a difficult decision. When we made that choice over 3 years ago, we knew what it would entail, but we readily accepted the challenge because we also understood the difference it would make in the lives of our children receiving treatment and our family as a whole.

On January 27th, Alayna had her right leg amputated through the knee in Philadelphia. . . just three weeks after bringing Alexis home from Bulgaria. Alayna had been looking forward to this surgery since we picked her up from the orphanage in July. She was ready for a prosthesis and the chance to finally put two feet on the ground-the chance to walk and run! We never could have guessed at that time that we would spend the next 4+ months traveling back and forth to Philadelphia trying to heal a chronic wound caused by the improper healing of her surgical incision.

After 8 trips to Philadelphia, the healing of Alayna's wound had stopped progressing. It seemed we had reached a plateau and nothing we tried seemed to help. In addition, her pain was beginning to increase and it got to a point where I think she could feel every raw nerve ending across the surface of her wound (8cm long, 4cm wide). She was miserable.

Alayna was not the only one suffering from this prolonged healing process. After four months of traveling back and forth to Philadelphia, never truly being able to establish a firm routine, all of the kids were paying the price and it was evident in their behavior. The chaos was particularly hard on Alexis, who had very little time to adjust before being thrown into the whirlwind of traveling back and forth between home and Philadelphia.

As I sat in the waiting room at the pediatric dental office one day, watching my children struggle to control their emotions, listening to Alayna moan in agony because of her pain and reminding Alexis for the fifth time in ten minutes that it was not appropriate to sit on random strangers laps, I knew it was time to change directions. I wasn't being fair to my children and it was wreaking havoc on everyone. I made the decision right then and there that we would continue to seek treatment for Alayna's wound closer to home where we could be more aggressive with treatment and where we could establish a solid routine that would only be disrupted for hours at a time rather than days.

As soon as we left the dentists office I called our pediatrician and made an appointment for Alayna to be seen 15 minutes later. After examining the wound, our doctor placed a call to the general surgeons office at our local children's hospital (a doctor who just happened to specialize in burns and chronic wounds). Two hours later we met with the general surgeon to establish a new game plan and, less than 24 hours later, Alayna was in surgery for a skin graft.

Unfortunately, the first graft didn't take :-( Alayna's wound is located on the back of her right thigh and is under constant friction from sitting, laying down and even pulling her pants on and off, none of which promote healing. This is what caused her surgical incision to open in the first place.

Two weeks after her first graft (last Friday), she went back to the operating room to undergo a second skin graft. Although the first graft did not take, the wound HAD decreased quite a bit in size and the doctor felt much more confident that this graft would take. To increase the chances, a cast was also applied to her right leg to protect the graft site. We should know this afternoon whether or not this graft will take. . . . .

While changing directions in our treatment plan has certainly not been stress-free (far from it actually), it HAS allowed all of us an opportunity to spend more time focusing on establishing a routine that will help our family thrive as a whole and has also allowed us to focus more on the individual needs of our children (giving us the chance to move from "survival mode" to finally finding a "new normal").

When you have multiple children with significant special needs, it is SO easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of doctor's appointments, therapies, treatments and surgeries. It is easy to forget that, while those things are important and often vital, it is just as important to allow your children the opportunity to just be children. Sometimes you just have to know when to say, "when!" and I am so grateful for my Heavenly Father's guidance when it comes to making these life-changing decisions. He ALWAYS knows best!

We are still far from the finish line, but we can finally see the light at the end of this tunnel and, once we reach it, we will be taking a nice, LOOONG break!