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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The One Question You Should Never Ask a Parent Ever

     Holden and I went grocery shopping at Walmart today.  As usual, when we are out in public and he's using his wheelchair, he gets a LOT of attention.  People will tell him, "Nice wheels!" or "look how well he can move that thing!" or "Wow, I've never seen a wheelchair that small before".  We even see flocks of teenage girls point and smile and say, "oh my goodness, look at that little wheelchair, he is sooooooo cute!"  We smile and gladly accept all of this attention.  Sometimes it gets a little exhausting.  I mean, we could literally have 50 comments and/or mini conversations with people in the course of one morning of errands.  Yet overall, my impression has been that everyone is so very kind and supportive of Holden and essentially, he has this little cheerleader section wherever we go.  Yay, everyone!  Thank you for being so kind to my child.

     A few times people have asked, "So he can't walk?" to which I'll just kindly respond, "No, he's unable to stand or walk.  He has a condition called arthrogryposis which affects the joints, muscles, and nerves in his legs."  I'll be honest, it feels a bit nosy to me for a stranger in Walmart, but I can tell that people are just curious and have kind intentions.  I have always responded back kindly.  Once the word arthrogryposis comes out of my mouth, people just kind of leave it at that!  Today at Walmart, we even had a few guys in their early twenties who asked if they could take a picture of Holden and post it on their facebook page with the caption, "Respect".  Since these guys didn't know our names and couldn't easily turn into stalkers or anything, I said, "You can take a picture of him if you can catch him.  He doesn't stay still in his wheelchair for long!"  Holden realized what was happening when the guy took out his phone, and he sweetly posed for the camera with a smile.  It was a little bit awkward, but again, these guys had good intentions.  They were essentially saying, "We think this little kid who is different is cool.  He gets around the world differently and that's ok.  Respect."  Good intentions, and they treated my little boy kindly. 

     As we're nearing the egg section, we pass an older couple (early 70's maybe?).  They don't smile or wave.  They just stare at Holden blankly.  I think nothing of it until the man stops and walks over to me as I'm looking at eggs and says, "Excuse me, what's wrong with him?" as he is pointing to Holden.  I cringe.
Can I pretend he didn't ask this question?  Can I pretend I didn't hear him?  As I'm trying to compose a response, he asks again, "Did you hear me? I asked what's wrong with him?"  (still pointing at Holden and has yet to say hello to him or acknowledge him as a person). 

The root of this question just hurts me.  Chris and I think that Holden is perfect.  We believe that God carefully creates each life and values each human equally.  We believe that everyone is "fearfully and wonderfully made" Psalm 139:14.  We also believe that God, in His providence, chooses to give disability to some, not because He loves them any less, but because He has plans and ways much bigger than ours.  This is illustrated in Exodus 4

     10 Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past      nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”
11 The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

Some may say that God is cruel or unfair to make some with disabilities and others without, but we disagree.  I know with my whole heart that God looks down upon Holden and sees a beautiful person created in His image, and I will protect my son with everything I have from a world that will point their finger at him and ask, "What is wrong with him?"

My adorable owl at Halloween.  He is fabulous and perfect and everything wonderful and right about the world.

I took a deep breath, and composed my response:

"I think he is perfect, but he has a condition called arthrogryposis.  I think your question is inappropriate.  You don't ask someone what is wrong with their child."  

The man stares at me blankly, then raises his hand to his ear, and says, "What? I didn't hear you."

So again, I repeat my spiel a little louder.  This time I just lead with, "Your question is not ok.  It's not ok to ask someone what's wrong with their child."  I am visibly flustered, but I am saying this in a direct and calm way.  My voice is raised to a loud talking voice so that he can hear me (no yelling or shouting, just talking).  He still looks very confused.  His wife, who is 10-20 feet away, says, "Are you done getting your lecture from the smart-mouth, honey?"

At this point, my eyes widen in shock.  I am frozen.  Since when did telling someone that what they said was inappropriate make you a smart-mouth?  I used no offensive language.  I stated my case plainly.  I was not sarcastic or sassy. 
The man starts walking away, as he does so, he turns to say:

"You know what you can do? You can go to hell."

My eyes nearly popped out of my head.  I was standing there mouth open, in absolute shock.  Where had all this anger come from? 

My eyes started filling with tears.  Another lady was nearby and heard what this man said.  She asked, "What was that about?"
I briefly explained and at this point tears are coming down my face.

She said, "You are absolutely right.  Your son is beautiful and perfect, and that man was out of line."  

Then she gave me a hug.  

(Holden chimed in with "Mommy no hug!" I don't think he likes seeing me hug anyone but him.... rude awakening when Daddy gets home, buddy!)  

I pulled it together and we quickly finished our shopping trip.  

In my head, the whole interaction just keeps running over and over.  What did I say?  What did I do? Should I have humored him?  He could have asked that question 100 different ways and I would have graced him with a response.  How about, "Why does he need the wheelchair?" or "What is his diagnosis?"  (Again, it's a bit nosy to be doing this with strangers in Walmart, but still, I would have obliged.) 
Conversely, if this had been a child asking, "What's wrong with him?" I would have gladly responded.  I would have said, "Well, we think Holden is just great, but he has arthrogryposis...."  
This was a very, very grown man who knew better.  This was a grown man who acted like my son was an object or a spectacle and not a person.  A child has never treated Holden that way.  Honestly, I love it when kids ask questions about Holden.  They're curious.  They want to learn.  I love sharing more about him!  

Again, this was a grown man who knew better.  

Yes, we have all said things we wish we would have phrased differently.  We have fumbled over words or realized later, "Yikes, that was hurtful and I totally did not mean for it to be!"  Even when normal people are confronted with someone who they might deem oversensitive or easily offended (I don't count myself in this boat, but still, for sake of comparison, let's say I am in the boat.)  If said person states that they were offended, said offender usually says, "Oh my goodness!  I'm so sorry!  I completely did not mean it that way, but I see what you're saying.  What I mean to say was...."

Said offender does not tell the other person to go to hell.

I began thinking, "Is there ever a situation where it's acceptable to point to a child and ask their parent, "What's wrong with him or her?"
I cannot think of any.

If a child was throwing a temper tantrum in the store, this would not be an appropriate question.
If a child is unable to speak or see or move in the way that we are used to seeing others move, this would not be an appropriate question.
If a child is way shorter than his or her peers, or way taller, or way thinner, or way larger, this would not be an appropriate question.
Even if a child is on the floor having a seizure, the appropriate question might be, "What's wrong? How can I help?" Yet it would still not be appropriate to point to said child and ask, "What's wrong with her?"

If after this older man told me he couldn't hear me, and I said, "What's wrong with you? Why can't you hear?" This would not have been an appropriate response. 

It's decided, then.

There is no case ever no matter what in any universe or realm or state of altered consciousness where a person should ask a parent of their child, "What is wrong with him or her?"

Not allowed.


I'm putting this one in the rule book.
But wait, guys, this story gets better.

                                                                 I know, I can't believe it either.

I promise you, this really happened.

 I'm putting my shopping cart away in one of the parking lot "corals" if you will, and all of a sudden, I hear a quick, "beep beep!"  I turn to look.  The older lady (wife of man who likes to damn people to hell for caring about their children) is flipping me off.

I am not even kidding you!  

Again, I am in absolute shock, and at this point, my eyes are popping, and I just have the biggest grin on my face as I'm shaking my head back and forth because I'm in disbelief that any two people could be this angry about what happened in that discount superstore.  I just had to smile.  I mean, is this for real? 

The best part of the story is this:

I was fortunate enough to be right behind them waiting at the stoplight, so I kindly memorized their license plate.

So to all my dear, local friends.  If you ever see a gray Toyota Tundra with South Carolina license plate EFC-149 , please pray for them!

And keep your children far, far away.



Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Deployment and Disability: How they come to terms one month in

     Today marks one month since I said goodbye to Chris.  We're guessing it will be about eight more months before we see each other again. 

Goodbye photos.  Can you see the sad eyes and the fake, plastered smiles?

 How I'm feeling:

     There is this blanket of loneliness that is always there.  Sometimes the blanket drifts high into the sky, like a lost balloon.  It's there, and if you look up, you can see it, but it doesn't disturb your day or really affect how you experience the world.  Other times, the blanket feels so very heavy and exhausting.  The blanket is overbearing in its presence, and it's hard to even get yourself to do things because it's so stifling. 

     In those stifling moments for me, I try to slip off to an empty room without Holden noticing, and just quietly sob for a minute or two.  Then, I wipe my eyes, and return to my adorable boy with a plastered smile on my face.  Sometimes these moments are on our walks around the neighborhood.  If it's an especially beautiful night, I'll start thinking about how much Chris would enjoy it, and what we'd all be chatting about as we strolled.  And I'll cry and try to keep my voice from shaking as I talk to Holden about the birds or trees we're seeing.  Sometimes, these moments are just after Holden has asked, "Daddy come playground?" or some similar invitation for his favorite guy to come join in the fun.  I'm really good at calmly answering him, "No, Daddy can't come today... but he'll be home someday..."  Surprisingly, I keep it together for those questions every time.  Then later, I let myself be sad for my little boy.

Not for long, though.

I never let myself be really sad for more than a few minutes. 

My mantra after that is, "Buck up!  You've got a job to do!"

Super cheesy, I know. 

For me, it's that reminder that despite the huge void in my life that only my husband can fill, I absolutely cannot dissolve into a mess of ineffective goo. 

It's not an option.  

Let that sentence sink in for a minute.  

I think within our cushy, American culture, we give ourselves permission to complain and break down far too often.  We love to compare "life is hard" tales on facebook.  A rough day consists of marker on the walls and snotty noses... and I'm guilty of it too, my friends.  I am guilty.  

What if we didn't allow ourselves that option of whining, or even worse, sinking into despair?  What if we simply called upon God and let him take over our thoughts, and remind us of how good He is, and how blessed we are?

When I am tempted to retreat to the whiner's refuge, I think about my little boy instead.

My darling child needs me to be both Mommy and Daddy for him right now.  

No, I can't do both jobs perfectly, but I absolutely have to get up each morning and try.  I have to.

I also think about my husband:
Being goofy with Daddy

He is sharing a room with five other guys.  
I share a room with no one, and have 6 extra rooms in the house that are also mine.

He can't go anywhere, except for brief port calls. 
I can pretty much go wherever I want, whenever I want.  (Granted, my little buddy will be along, but still!)  I can travel home to see my family.  I  can go to any store I please.  I can just....go.

He has very little time to call his own.  
I have naptime and bedtime every day, and preschool starting soon (woohoo!)  I am positive that I have far more free time than he does.

He has no ability to see any of the people he loves most in this world.  
I get to spend every day with our little boy.  I get to spend time with friends and family. 

Essentially, I have freedom, and he doesn't.  

              I am thankful.  I am blessed.

Beyond all of this, I think the reason that deployment hasn't hit me as hard as it may for others, is that there is a struggle I deal with on a daily basis that is so much more difficult than Chris being gone.

My little boy can't walk. 

Nothing for me, has compared to the sorrow of watching my little boy sit in the grass, playing by himself, while other children run circles around him. 

Nothing compares to the night it finally clicks as to why my son is obsessed with shoes, and crawls around constantly with them on his hands.

He is pretending he can walk.

He is pretending that he is just like everybody else.

On that night, I hide away in the bathroom, and I weep for hours--stifling the sobs with my hands and heaving in despair.  I can't even bring myself to tell my person, because the pain is too deep, and I'm afraid I'll break apart and never be put back together if I even mention it.  That night happened while Chris was still at home. 

No trial that I ever face in this life will come close to that sorrow for him.  

Yet, even still, God reminds me again and again of how blessed we are, and how blessed Holden is.

 He is smart.  Guys, he is seriously so smart.  He has an adorable sense of humor, and he will talk your ear off once he gets to know you.  He is creative -- always coming up with a new way to play a game, or a new way to get himself around in this world.  He is joyful.  I have seen so many things roll off of this child's shoulders without him even giving it a thought.  (Yes, we're still working on joyful sharing, but this is kind of the first time he's ever had anything to share...)  He is kind and compassionate.  When he sees someone cry, whether in real life or a TV cartoon, he makes a sad face and says, "it's ok."  He loves to give messy yogurt-face kisses and belt out, "You are so meeeeeeeeeee!"  He is determined.  When he falls off his scooter or hurts himself playing, he is right back up 90% of the time, saying "try again" through tears.  

Honestly, I could go on and on.

The message here is:  I know parents who would give anything for a child who could talk to them. 

I know parents who would give anything for a child who could live.

We are blessed, and Holden is blessed.

 11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
    from those whose walk is blameless.
12 Lord Almighty,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you.
 ~ Psalm 84

We are far from having a blameless walk, yet still, we are blessed. 
Let me make one thing clear, in talking about Holden's disability:  the sorrow I feel is not for me.  

I don't feel sadness in Chris and I not having a "typical child".  We chose Holden.  Out of all the children in the world, we wanted him.  We wanted him more than we wanted a biological child, and we still do.  He was our first choice.  Period.  We think he is exquisite and perfect.  We grieve because we are parents who want to give their child everything.  We grieve because it's hard watching your child suffer -- knowing he will struggle with this his whole life. 

Even in this grief, I gain perspective from this post: The Most Frightening Prayer I Could Pray for My Children, and I am convinced that God will use this struggle in Holden's life, and Holden's eternal future is far more important than anything else.  Still, I wish it didn't have to be so.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
~ James 1 

(Just read all of James 1.  I like it.  I hope you will too :)

Praying for this mindset.  Praying it for Holden.

So, deployment for me, is not so hard.  

I think the greater lesson here, is that all of us, wherever we are and whatever the struggle, can allow ourselves to gain some perspective.  

There is always a blessing, and a reason for gratitude, and a God who loves us and desires good for us.  




Wednesday, June 19, 2013


     Holden got a new scooter yesterday, and he is absolutely loving it!  Putting together the scooter was also this Mama's first time at playing Handyman with Chris away.  Success on both fronts!

     Here's Holden having a blast on his scooter.

Here's what Holden does when he wipes out. 

He laughs, and right after this video was taken, he got right back on that scooter.


And the scooter doesn't have breaks, so he balances and maneuvers onto it while it wiggles around.  Then he picks his legs up one by one and places them on the scooter.  And he is off!

I haven't seen too many other two year-olds who respond like this when they wipe out. 
Goodness, I've seen plenty of five year-olds who whine or have tears over events like this. 

Not my Holden. 

He's tough.  Tougher than most kids I know.

Recently, I was a bit insulted by some individuals implying that Holden is coddled or over-protected or that it's hilarious that he needs knee-pads at the playground.  There is nothing that makes me more angry than people implying that Holden is not tough.  Spend a day with this little guy, and he'll put you to shame.  Most of the grown-ups I know could learn a lot from him (myself included).

Here are all the ways my little guy is incredibly tough.  Tougher than you, and tougher than me.

He has never cried more than 5 minutes at a time since we became his parents on April 5th.  On average, he cries once or twice a week tops.  How many other parents can say that about their two year-olds?

We have never seen him throw a temper tantrum.  Whining is very minimal, and it is immediately addressed by us.  We stop the whining, make him take a deep breath, and use his big boy voice to explain what he wants.  How many parents are that diligent about addressing whining in their own kids?

Holden rarely ever heard an English word while in India.  Since coming home, he has learned over 100 words.  He repeats EVERYTHING and wants to practice his English all the time.  He never gives up on trying to pronounce new words.  He constantly asks for his books so he can learn more words.  That is mental toughness, my friends.

On our trip home, we flew 13 hours straight from Delhi to Newark.  Then we immediately grabbed a rental car and drove 12 more hours home to South Carolina.  Holden whined and/or cried 15 minutes tops during that entire 25 hour period.  I don't know many grown-ups who would tolerate a trip like that so well, let alone a two year-old. 

Holden starting sleeping in his own bed in his own room ALL BY HIMSELF (after being used to co-sleeping his entire life) after less than 2 weeks home.

Holden made it in the church nursery all on his own the second time we took him to church. 

Some of this might seem like we have a child who shows no emotion or has attachment issues.  That couldn't be further from truth.  Holden is the most joyful child I know.  He shows us affection, laughs and jokes constantly, and accepts our love, affection, and comfort freely. 

The only explanation I have for all of this is that our little boy is one of the toughest, most resilient people I know.

No one is more acutely aware of the need to foster independence in their child than we are.  It is constantly on our minds.  We are always trying to balance showing Holden love and affection with pushing him past his limits and teaching him not to give up.

If anyone EVER wants to imply my child is not tough or that we coddle him, how about I inject your legs with lidocaine and succinylcholine so they're numb and paralyzed, and we'll see how you get around and cope with that...

THEN we'll talk. 

I'm fairly certain that what we'll discover is that you--dear, sweet, supposed grown-up, are not nearly as tough as you might have thought. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Moment I Fell in Love with Chris

    We were nearing the end of our sophomore year of college.  I was preparing to leave for two months of volunteering at an orphanage in India -- very certain that the time I spent at the clinic and hospital there would confirm what I already knew about my future.  I would go to med school, become a pediatric cardiologist, and a husband and children would... maybe never happen.  If they did, they would be afterthoughts for sure. 

     Chris was studying mechanical engineering.  While he was doing just fine, he wasn't excited about the subject or looking forward to an engineering career.  I asked him what he dreamed of doing.  When he looked at his future, what kind of career or life would really excite him?

     This is what he said: 

     "I'm not really sure what I want to do for a career.  All I know is that I want to be a really good dad." 

(the whole fighter jet pilot thing didn't come into play until a year later...)

     Chris went on to describe how incredible his own dad was -- how he never missed a single game of Chris' (and Chris played 3 sports) how he spent hours playing with him and practicing with him.  He described a dad who loved and cherished his mom more than anything.  A dad who taught his children how to love their spouse, and how to love their kids.  Chris' dad was his biggest fan, and Chris wanted to be that person for his kids. 

     At that moment, I knew I couldn't let this one get away.  A man who cares more about being a good father rather than having a successful career; that's a man who has his priorities straight.  Providing for your family and working hard are important things, don't get me wrong, but setting your highest goal as being the father your children need you to be... wow. 

     India turned my whole world upside down.  I came back knowing only one thing:  I wanted to be a really good mother to children who desperately needed a family. 

     God had already provided the perfect person to take that journey with.

     Chris, you are not just a "really good dad", you are the best dad. 

     I see the way Holden looks up to you and wants to be just like you.  I see how much fun and laughter you two have together.  I see how you look at him, and believe in your heart of hearts that he is absolutely perfect just the way he is.  You are his biggest fan.  I see the way you prioritize spending time with God and praying for our sweet boy -- and praying that God would show you how to be the dad Holden needs you to be. 

     I am so very blessed to be taking this crazy parenting adventure with you.  God couldn't have chosen a better person.

     Thank you to Mike, Chris' dad, for showing him how to be such an incredible father. 

     Happy First Father's Day, Christopher!  You are so very loved and admired by our little man
(and me too!)


Friday, June 14, 2013

My Love will Find You

     Last night was the very first night I read my favorite children's book to Holden-- "Wherever You Are, my Love will Find You" by Nancy Tillman.  When Holden first came home, he would only listen to about two words on each page before he was grappling to turn it and look at the new picture.  I didn't want to bring out these special books only to have him tear through them.  Yesterday, I realized how far Holden has come.  His attention span is incredible.  He has an animal book and can name over 65 different animals... both in real life and in books.  This is not just repeating sounds.  I will point to the animal, and he immediately calls out its name.  This child amazes me every day. 

     I received several Nancy Tillman books from a dear friend as soon as she found out we were "matched" with Holden last January.  The first time I read through these books, my eyes filled with tears.  Wherever You Are, especially, contained the deepest longing of my heart:  that Holden would know and feel both mine and Chris' love, but also God's love from thousands of miles away.  My prayer throughout the adoption process, more than any other request, was that God would make His presence and love known to our sweet boy.  That somehow God would impress on this little boy's heart that everything would be ok--that he was loved with an incredible, eternal, limitless love. 

     The waiting was so hard.  Harder than I ever would have admitted at the time.  I casually brushed it off when other people asked about it, because if I had told you how I really felt, I would have burst into tears every time.  I did burst into tears plenty of times pleading with God as I tried to sleep at night, "Please, please bring our little boy home; Please cover him in your love."  When you have no idea when the end will come, and there is no due date, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to bring your child home any faster, it is just hard.  It's a time when you really learn to depend on God and trust that He is at work, because that is really all you can do.  I'm thankful for that lesson.

    God answered my prayers in bigger ways than I ever dreamed.  God provided Holden with a foster mother who loves God and prayed and taught Holden about Jesus daily.  God provided Holden with peace and comfort as he transitioned to our family.  Most of all, God has given Holden this incredible joy that I believe can only come from Him.  Holden continues to amaze Chris and I every day, and we are overwhelmed with God's blessing and provision during this adoption.

     When I would read this book during our time of waiting for Holden, I pictured reading it to a quiet, timid, scared-to-death little boy.  I never imagined that at just two months home, I would read this book to an expressive, joyful little guy -- that he would ooooooo and ahhh at every page and point out: hippo! water!  elephant! kangaroo!  sheep sleeping! bear dancing!  I was smiling in amazement as we read together while tears streamed down my face.  Holden Anil, you are a ball of pure joy, and I can't get over it.   

     I love how the very first page of the book sums up my thoughts both during our wait and forever as Holden's mom:

I wanted you more
than you ever will know
so I sent love to follow
wherever you go.

The book goes on to describe a love that goes as high and wide as you need it to -- a love that is with you no matter what you are doing or where you go. 

My love as a parent will certainly fail at this sometimes, but the book really describes God's love.

Your unfailing love, O LORD, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.  Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the ocean depths. You care for people and animals alike, O LORD.  How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings.   
~ Psalm 36:5-7

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
~Romans 8:38-39

My other favorite passage is this:

And if someday you're lonely,
or someday you're sad,
or you strike out at baseball,
or think you've been bad...

just lift up your face, feel the wind in your hair,
That's me, my sweet baby, my love is right there.

     Again, that's God's love and His making His presence known, and I am convinced that He did this for Holden during our wait, and continues to do this for Holden as He draws Holden to Himself. 

     My desperate prayer for Holden is that he'll continue to feel God's love, and that one day He'll respond to God's call on his life and choose faith in Jesus. 

     My other desperate prayer is that I won't get in the way of God's love.  I am so fallen -- so imperfect, and honestly, the only good love I can offer Holden is when it comes directly from God.  I just want to be a vessel that spills out some of God's love, and gets out of the way of what God is doing. 

    Thank you, Lord, for this incredible little boy.  Thank you for loving Him with your perfect love and being patient enough to teach me how to be a vessel for that. 

I'll leave you with a sweet picture of my little joy ball. 



Saturday, June 8, 2013

Funny thing about a Fighter Jet Family

     In our family, when Holden asks for the airplane ride, it's a slow, smooth, gentle ride.  I make a quiet zooooooom sound.  I carry him around and jog at a gentle pace.

     When Holden asks for the jet ride, I move at lightening speed.  I imitate the sounds of bombs exploding and guns being shot.  I twist and turn quickly, trying to simulate the effect of a few G's.  I intentionally make the jet ride far more exciting than the airplane ride. 
Call us aircraft snobs, if you will, because we kind of are.

     When you're a fighter jet family hanging out with other fighter jet families, and some kid calls an F-18 an "airplane", there will be another kid who immediately pipes in and corrects him. He will say, "Well actually it's a jet.... It's an F/A-18 Hornet."


     When you're a fighter jet family, your kid will know more about different types of aircraft and aerodynamics at age 6 than 99% of the adult population.

     When you're a fighter jet family, and you see an airline pilot walking through the airport looking all self-important you'll roll your eyes and think, "My husband compares your job to being a school bus driver."

When you're a fighter jet family, and someone asks your husband what he does for a living, he'll respond with a simple, "I'm a Marine."

When they pry further, he'll respond with,
"I work at the Air Station."

When they ask, "well what do you do at the air station?"
he'll say, "I'm a pilot."

Finally, when they ask what he flies, he'll very quietly and casually say,

 "I fly the F-18 Hornet."
And then it happens:

The "oooooooohs and wows, and women immediately looking at your husband like he's a GQ model, and they give you that raised eyebrow like you've won the lottery.

     And you'll smile knowingly because you have won the lottery. Your husband has worked so hard to earn the privilege of flying F-18's. He continues to work incredibly hard to keep earning this privilege every day. He knows that it wasn't just hard work but a bit of blessing and luck and being in the right place at the right time that got him here.

    And it was guts.... a whole lot of guts to admit that he wanted to be a fighter jet pilot and to throw himself into the ring and fight for it.

     You'll also smile knowingly because only you and the other pilot's wives know how unglamorous his job can often be. Only you know that sometimes on the aircraft carrier, he'll sit in his jet for hours waiting to be catapulted off, and the cooling system doesn't work until you're in the air.

     Only you will know how old the jets are and how often they break, and that praying for your husband's safety and worrying about that knock on your door isn't just a reality during deployment. 
 It's a daily reality.

     Only you will know that sometimes, for just a few minutes, you'll wish your husband was boring and got to come home at 6:00 every night, or heck, even 7 or 8 every night.
     Only you will know how often he's gone for weeks at a time for training.

     Only you will know how very hard this lifestyle is.  It's so hard, and you haven't even made it through your first deployment yet; let alone your sixth or seventh.

It's overwhelming just thinking about it.

     And only you will know that sometimes it feels very uncomfortable to get all of the sexy attention when you know there are all these other incredible men and women in the military--working just as hard and sacrificing just as much.

     And only you will know that despite your occasional dreams of living a normal life; that you are incredibly blessed -- that the same qualities that made your husband become a fighter jet pilot are the qualities you love and admire so much. 

     He is strong, and determined.  He is honorable and hard-working.  He is smart and motivated.  He puts others first, and would sacrifice everything for his family and his country.  He is brave, and a risk-taker.  He is creative and fun.  And somehow, at the end of a 12, or 14, or 16 hour day, he can still come home and listen to how many times your kid went pee-pee on the potty, and that he learned the words camel and otter, and that he ate more at lunch than he did at dinner.  And he'll sit on the edge of his seat listening to this, because that's how amazing and selfless he is.  So even though sometimes you wonder what life on the other side might be like, you know you wouldn't trade this life for anything.  You wouldn't trade him for anything. 

Funny thing about a Fighter Jet Family...


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day at the Beach

     A few weeks ago, Holden had his first real day at the beach.  His actual first day was windy and cold and went something like this:

     He had an ok time despite the pre-hurricane force winds, but it doesn't really feel like the beach unless you're sunbathing, swimming, and building sandcastles.  Grammy and Pappap were great sports, and Chris used a camouflage tarp of some sort to build us a terrific wind shelter as we all tried to act like jackets and 50 mph winds were the norm at the beach.  I love how Marines can witness any sort of problem, and then they'll just kind of pull out random tarps and tools and camouflage-pattern jiggymadoodles and get to work protecting and defending stuff.  It's awesome and cute (and of course, super manly.... mandorable, if you will)
     A week later, the weather was sunny and perfect, and Chris' family was in town for a visit.  We headed back to the beach for Round 2.  Holden had a great time! 
     And yep, I did just post an Extra-Large (as blogger so aptly put it) photo of myself in a swimsuit on my blog.  I think it's a nice family photo, and it documents our first day at the beach, and it hasn't been photo-shopped, and if anyone wants to debate whether or not nice Christian girls should wear bikinis at the beach, well... that's a whole different blog post altogether.  I'll debate the merits of special needs adoption and giving more of your money to children in need right back.
I'm on the fence about which topic is more important in the grand scheme of things. 
Swimsuits....children without parents...swimsuits...children mistreated....swimsuits...children dying...
It's a tough call, I'll give you that.


     Anyways, back to our amazing time at the beach. 

     There was this shallow pool of water just before the ocean that Holden and his cousins had a blast playing in. 

     Holden would start shivering within seconds of getting into the water, but he had so much fun, he didn't want to get out.  Chris and I would literally start saying, "Are his lips turning blue...?  I can't tell...?"

     "Alright, the sheer amount of shaking and shivering going on is ridiculous, we have got to get this kid out of the water and dry him off!"

     Shivering under his bundled towel, Holden would point, "Mama, water, Daaa, water,"  ready to go back in for more. 

     I love that spirit in Holden.  He is a child who easily ignores discomfort and finds the fun in everything!  He could be tired, hungry, stuck in another doctor's office waiting room...doesn't matter--he always finds something to laugh and joke about. 

He always finds the fun.

     Chris is an amazing dad.  I'll just throw that in there.  Holden has so much fun with him.  When Chris gets home, or Holden sees him first thing in the morning, he lights up:
I love to watch their relationship grow. 
This is Chris, Holden, and I with our nephews, Brayden (right) and Isaac.  Chris' mom said this picture makes it look like we could easily handle three kids -- like we've got it all under control. 
"Noooooooo-ooooooooohhhhhh!" I say. 
     We are a long way off from three kids!  We are still trying to get a handle on how this whole thing works with one kid.  Believe me, one kid is plenty enough.  I will now quit looking puzzled and confused and sad when I see and hear of only children.  I will instead give a look of understanding. 
Yes, one can be quite enough!
(God now folds his hands together and gives a slightly menacing chuckle...little do they know...)
Can God give menacing chuckles???  Once again, a topic for another blog post!

Friday, May 31, 2013

MRI and other Boring Medical Details

     Holden had an MRI of the spine yesterday, and as most of you know, he did awesome!  He was under general anesthesia, and he woke up a little groggy (umm... of course!), but other than that, he was fine.  No vomiting, no irritability, no whining.  A few tears were shed when his IV was taken out, and that was it.  Holden tends to get over things very quickly.  Knowing that Holden tolerated the anesthesia so well has me feeling much better about all of the orthopedic surgeries he'll need in the future. 

     So results of the MRI:  We still don't have an official, concrete diagnosis for Holden.  The neurosurgeon called it a primary spinal cord anomaly (meaning, it happened in utero, and there's something wrong with his spinal cord) and that's about it.  It's not sacral agenesis because his sacrum is there, and he's not missing any vertebrae.  It's not spina bifida, because with his level of paralysis, it would have been a meningocele or myelomeningocele repaired at birth, and that wasn't the case.  However, the neurosurgeon did say he has "a bit of spina bifida occulta" so, essentially defective closure of the vertebrae without spinal cord protrusion.  This matters because the condition can cause a tethered spinal cord as a child grows, so that's something we'll have to watch out for.  However, most people with spina bifida occulta don't even realize they have it until they have symptoms.  They don't have decreased sensation and paralysis like Holden has. 
     The neurosurgeon chalked this up to the "spinal cord abnormality that affects the nerves extending to his lower extremities".  He then went on to say that "it's really hard to get a good look at the spinal cord in young, small children"  So, he wants to repeat the MRI in six months. 

     Hooray!  We had such a fun day we are super pumped to do this again!  He also ordered x-rays of the spine, hips, and knees on our way out.  He called on our drive home to say that, "he does have a slight abnormality of the sacrum"   Ok, so... a touch of sacral agenesis, a touch of spina bifida occulta, and a big dose of some other spinal cord abnormality, is that what we're saying here?  The neurosurgeon was super nice, but he didn't spend a whole lot of time with us.  I'm in the process of getting all of the doctor's visit notes and imaging reports, because I feel like there could easily be pieces of the puzzle we're missing that the docs dictated on but failed to mention to us. 

     The neurosurgeon was very positive in what he thinks Holden will be able to do in terms of his mobility.  He said he knows a child who is missing her pelvis and can walk.  He went on to say, "I don't even know how that's possible." 

     I don't either, Mr. Neurosurgeon, and if you're a neurosurgeon and you don't know, let's just chalk that one up to God because that's crazycakes! 

     I'm still sitting here thinking, "really......???  no pelvis???  I can't even picture that.  How are the legs attached..... just tendons and ligaments..... attached to what......???  I could spend all day pondering this, or I could finish this blog post.....

     Mr. Neurosurgeon wanted to know what Mr. Orthopedic Surgeon's plans were, and I said that he was being rather conservative until he saw the results of the MRI of the spine.  Mr. Neurosurgeon went on to say, "tell Ortho to be very aggressive, because I think there's a lot this kid will be able to do, and it will boost his self-esteem to have feet and knees that look like other kids either way." 
     Ok then; Will do.  We know that Ortho wants to surgically correct Holden's clubbed feet first, and then, if we think he will stand and maybe walk, they'll fix his knee contractures.  We see Ortho again in mid-July.  At that point, we'll have 6 weeks of PT under our belts, and I think the plans for correcting Holden's feet will be underway.  I'm not excited about putting him through pain and suffering, but it has to be done to help with his mobility, and hey, this is where decreased sensation to the lower extremities finally has an upside... less surgical pain.

     Holden has also had a renal and bladder ultrasound.  His kidneys look great!  His residual urine volume in his bladder is super small, as in, a completely normal amount, so we're not worried about urinary retention and reflux into the kidneys.  Also....................... drumroll please.............................

Holden has been potty-training! 

     At 2.5 years old, this is incredibly good for a boy.  As in, my little boy who has partial paralysis and decreased sensation in his lower extremities and was recently adopted, is more advanced than most typically developing little boys.  Way to go, Holden!  You amaze us every day! 

     We are essentially cleared from urology unless we have problems or a year has gone by and potty-training isn't complete.  At that point, there's another test called the VCUG (voiding cystourethrogram) that they will do.  I liked how the urologist put it.  He said, "At this point, I have no reason to believe that there's anything wrong with his bladder or ability to be continent, and if it was my child, I wouldn't put him through this test."  Obviously, at 3.5 years old, if potty training isn't complete, then we'll give him a call and see what's up. 

     Honestly, I was not prepared for this at all.  Chris and I kind of just assumed that we would be using alternative methods to help Holden achieve continence.  So far, that's not the case at all.  If it is the case in the future, I probably won't be sharing that with you here :) 

     I've probably already shared too much on this subject and one day Holden is going to read this and go, "Mooooo-oooommmmm!"  

                Sorry, baby, Mommy is just so proud that you're going pee-pee on the potty! 

     Let me wrap up the most boring blog post ever by saying that I plan on vomiblogging very soon (vomiting up all the blog posts I've been saving up in my head) so you can hear all about Holden's various adorable escapades.

     I'll leave you with this note to show you how amazing our little boy is.  In the 7 weeks that Holden has been home, he has been to 7 doctors and/or OT appointments, had 3 shots, 1 lab draw, 1 in/out cath, 1 renal ultrasound, 5 x-rays, and one MRI under anesthesia, and despite all of that, he has been the most joyful, positive, fun kid you will ever meet.  This little guy never ceases to amaze me.  His joy is limitless, his strength is incredible, and his love is priceless. 

     As I told a friend I got to see at MUSC yesterday, "I think everyone needs a Holden in their lives."  Hopefully, as I start blogging more, you'll all get to experience a little bit of Holden in your lives and feel some of the joy that Chris and I feel every day. 



Monday, April 22, 2013

10 Days Home with Holden

Today marks our tenth day at home with Holden, and, to be perfectly honest, this whole parenthood/adoption thing, has been:

(and now I prepare to duck under a table while moms everywhere, both adoptive and not, hurl pureed food and vomit-soaked clothing at me)
                                                               much EASIER than I expected.

     Yes, we are still fully in the honeymoon stage of this adoption, and I realize that 3, 6, or 12 months from now, Holden might get really comfortable in our love for him.  He might start to really get that we love him no matter what...all the time...forever; and he might really test what that actually means.  It's a pretty common phenomenon in adoption (although often with kids a bit older than  Holden).  So I am still prepared for difficult times ahead. 
     I also know that at this point, most adopted toddlers are in full-blown grieving mode.  They cry often and for long periods.  They don't sleep well.  They are angry, and tantrum-y.  They are destructive.  They refuse to accept affection and comfort.  Holden does none of these things.  Sometimes I have to remind myself that I still need to filter our parenting through the adoption standpoint, because it's already hard for me to remember that he came to us differently than most families.  We fit together so seamlessly. 
     I was also prepared to feel differently about this whole adoption/parenting thing than I expected.  I read up on post-adoption depression, on feeling like you were just babysitting a kid, feeling like you had a tiny invader in your home.  I read up on being a parent to a child with special needs -- that it can be stressful; you can feel isolated and discouraged.  Again, I don't feel any of those things.  I still have a lot to learn and experience, but being Holden's Mom just feels very natural to me. Also, being a Mom to a child who is differently-abled (got this phrase from Laura, and love it!) hasn't really affected our lives too much yet.  Yes, we still have a load of specialists to go see.  We will soon have physical therapy and occupational therapy.  Holden will get fitted for a wheelchair.  I'm still pretty confident that to us, Holden will just seem like a regular kid who gets around a little bit differently.  We're bound and determined to give this little boy the most unlimited life possible. 

     I've had to do 5 of the first 10 days with Holden solo as Chris has been out of town for work, so don't be too jealous of me, mothers of the world.  Also, I'm fully aware of the fact that I can take no credit for how awesome Holden is doing or what an incredible little kid he is.  I keep saying this over and over, but Chris and I truly are the lucky ones in this arrangement.  I'm pretty sure Holden has had his second thoughts about this whole thing once or twice! 
Little things that tell me Holden is adjusting well:
- He calls me Amma (the word for mother in Malayalam) and Chris Daaa.
- When he wakes up from naps or in the morning, and we come to get him, he greets us with a smile and outstretched arms, ready to be held.  (Seriously, favorite parenting moment ever, this was the kind of stuff I dreamed about before Holden came into our lives.)
- He accepts kisses, hugs, and "I love you's" from us.
- He accepts our praise and encouragement and often claps, and gives a "yay!" right along with us when he does something awesome (which is every other minute, as far as I'm concerned :)
- When I leave the room to do a quick chore (I always tell him first, "Mommy will be right back") he often calls for me or starts crawling to where I am.  He likes to keep tabs on where I am at all times.  (This might seem too clingy for a typical toddler, but for a newly adopted one, it's a good sign.)
- He accepts comfort from us when he is sad.
- The longest amount of time he has ever cried is 5 minutes.
- He sleeps really well at night.
- His appetite is starting to pick up.
- He is always laughing and joking.  I'm telling you, this kid is going to be the class clown.  I'm determined that he'll be a kind, respectful class clown, but still, he just loves to get a laugh out of people.
- He is eager to learn English, and often repeats after me on things we see in books, at the store, or on walks. 
- He plays often and has tons of fun doing it. (Many newly adopted toddlers are too stressed to really play with their toys.)
- He is eager to please Chris and I, and when we have to set limits and tell him, "no" he often gets a little sad and puts his head down.  (And yes, it makes me feel terrible to see it, but I know it's a good sign.  I'm thankful that at this point, a stern "no" is enough consequence for him not to do something again.  We haven't had to do any sort of time out/time in, taking away toys/privileges because a simple "no" stops this child in his tracks.)

     There is so much more I could say about our time with Holden, and hopefully I'll start picking up on this blog stuff again and keep you informed of all his adorable escapades.  For now, I'll leave you with this thought:  adoption can be really hard and take a ton of sacrifice, but it can also be really wonderful, and an incredible blessing.  Sometimes, it seems like people only hear the hard stuff about adoption, under the auspices of being "transparent and real" and too many are scared to even start the journey.  I'm here to tell you that our story is just as real and valid as anyone else's, and it has been an absolute joy.  I don't want anyone to think that every adoption is this easy, but I also don't want you thinking that every adoption is super hard. 

Prepare for the worst, and then be pleasantly surprised when it doesn't come your way... 

It certainly hasn't come our way..... yet! 

And now I'll leave you with some family photos. 

Thanks to Laura Mustio of for these beautiful photos of our very first day together as a family of three.


Did a little tear just form in the corner of your eye? 
I thought so.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

What do you give to the woman who gave your son everything?

I've thought and prayed often over what I would say or do in that fragile, life-altering moment when Holden's foster mother says goodbye to him, and I become his mother. What do you say to the woman who rocked your son to sleep at night? How do you thank her for giving him unconditional love, and showing him that trusting others is possible and good? This woman, Ammini, is so beautiful and kind and incredibly good. She loves Jesus and prayed with Holden and read the Bible to him. She fed him, clothed him, cleaned him, and cuddled him. She let him know how special and beloved he was. She showed him that being different was ok, and being differently-abled would not define him.

I am completely convinced that Holden is a smart, kind, confident, social, affectionate boy because of her love.

What can you possibly give this woman who has given your son everything?

India has strict laws about gifts when it comes to adoption, so even if I had wanted to make a pathetic attempt to repay this woman, I would not have been allowed to do so.

Instead, I made her a photo album with pictures of Holden. On its pages, I let her know that Holden is happy because of her love and care. I told her that her love and kindness would never be forgotten. I thanked her, from the bottom of our hearts.

I wrote her a thank you card that attempted to tell her how incredible we think she is. I told her that she displayed Jesus' love to Holden and so many others. I told her that Holden's life and our lives were forever changed because of her.

I attempted to tell her in person, despite our language barrier, how grateful we were. I told her we would love and care for Holden with everything we had.

When it was time to say goodbye, we took pictures of her with Holden. Then, she handed him a bag of cookies, gave him a sweet, little kiss, and she was gone.

So what do you give the woman who gave your son everything? A photo album, a thank you card, and a solemn vow to love and cherish this little boy for the rest of your life.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

First Day with Holden

My first day with Holden, as in the day I became a Mom and get to take care of him and love him forever, went unbelievably well.  As in, better than I thought possibe, as in, I'm expecting my sweet boy to have a breakdown any second because up to this point, he has been amazingly resilient. 

Can you believe I spent a whole day with a two year-old and no tears were shed? There was not even a hint of whining. How is this child so perfect? No seriously, I am so convinced at his perfection. I think he is the best at everything and every little thing he does is adorable. Even when he burps, it is perfect and adorable! I told Laura that I will probably think his farts are the best ever too. Watch out teachers of America, I can already see myself as one of those obnoxious parents who comes storming into your classroom in a blind rage because their child is perfect, and clearly the fact that they have just pooped in the corner and smeared it all over every child's artwork is all YOUR FAULT. I mean, what other explanation is there?

How did a post that was supposed to be lovely and beautiful and life-changing start off with poop in the first paragraph? I don't know, but we're going with it. It kind of represents how I feel as a new Mom. I feel like I have been given the most incredible, beautiful, perfect gift, and my biggest fear is that I will mess it all up. I am continually on my knees asking God to show me how to do this.

The day started off with a long cab ride. I kept myself busy trying to scribble out a thank you note to the staff at Vathsalya Charitable Trust (the orphanage that oversees Holden's care and files all the paperwork for his adoption). I think sometimes I intentionally procrastinate so I can keep myself busy in the moments leading up to a big event. It prevents me from becoming a sobbing mess. I was all excitement and joy as we got out of the car.

Laura and I walked up to the third floor where the offices are, and sweet, little Holden was there sitting on the couch right in front of me. I went over with a big smile and told him it was so good to see him. I am very cautious around Holden right now. I feel like he is this fragile, little faun that I don't want to startle. What I wanted to do was whisk him up into my arms immediately and squeeze his eyeballs out. What I actually did because I thought it would be better for him was kneel down in front of him, talk in gentle, slow tones, and pull some toys out of the elephant backpack I brought him. Within a few minutes, Mary Paul, the orphanage director and one of the kindest women you will ever meet, was calling us back to her office. I picked Holden up and just said, "It feels so good to hold you again." We went over some paperwork, and then I received the most wonderful gift from VCT, a scrapbook of photos from Holden's time with them. There were many photos in the book I had never seen before. Holden just loved flipping through the pages. We will protect and treasure this book forever.

We also took pictures with Holden's foster mother. More on that later. This incredible, beautiful, sweet woman deserves a post all her own.

One of my favorite moments of the day came when I realized that Holden knows I am his Mama. I still can't believe this part of our day really happened. I left the room with a spunky little girl named, Shilpa, because she managed to get a little mess of something on her hands. As I held her hand out and walked off to find a way to clean it, Laura was still in the same room as Holden. She said he kept leaning over and looking out the door to where he could see me down the hall, and would say "Mama". He kept looking at me, then up at her, the. She said, "Yep, that's your Mama... Go see your Mama" Holden started crawling toward me, and Laura called out to me and told me what had just happened. My heart was this big, melty pile. I looked at him, and said, "I am your Mama." I wanted to scoop him up into a big hug, but another little rascal decided it was her turn for some attention and kind of blocked my attempt ;)

For a much better take on the story, check out Laura's blog post:

Before we left the orphanage I thanked Mary Paul and hugged her and told her how very much I appreciate all of the hard work VCT does, and the way they make finding loving foster homes for their children a priority. I told her that Holden is a happy, wonderful boy because of the work they do and the love of his foster mother. We both teared up, and she said, "thank you for noticing all the work we do, because not many people appreciate that." It made me so sad to hear that, and I realized how easy it is for us as adoptive parents to just demand, demand, demand, without ever saying thank you. We always want more info, more pictures, we want to know what's taking so long. Meanwhile, the sweet women at VCT are buried under a pile of paperwork, taking little kids to court, trying to recruit and train more foster mothers, and the list goes on.... They have no more control over the speed of India's government agencies than we do. I promised Mary to send pictures and find VCT on Facebook. I also assured her that we would definitely be back and would show her what a wonderful, young man Holden was becoming.

Little man fell asleep on the car ride home, and I laid him down for a nap as soon as we got back to the hotel. He slept much longer than he usually does, but he had understandably had a big day. I kept sneaking over just to watch him breathe. Knowing my little boy was sleeping peacefully in the same room as me, knowing that I get to love him forever- it was just (and still is!) such an amazing feeling. I kept saying silent prayers, thanking God for this beautiful blessing that I don't deserve.

When Holden woke up, I could tell he was nervous and confused. He looked at me, thinking, "you're not my Ammina. She's the one who gets me up after naps..." I just held him and said, "Mama's here." Then I pointed at him and said his Indian name, then pointed at me and said, "Mama". I tried to make conversation with him in happy tones, then we played cars on the floor. I was sure the tears were coming at any moment, but they never did. He played very quietly and timidly at first, then gradually warmed up to me again.

Laura brought us take-out for dinner, and Holden ate like a champ. He does seem to have a little trouble chewing up chicken. I swear he still had chicken bits lingering in his cheek a few hours later! I'm gonna have to do some finger-sweeping on this boy.

We played with all sorts of things including Laura's wallet and phone. She is such a good sport! We both wondered when Holden would give us a great, big laugh. He is so quiet and serious sometimes. Not too long after that I was chasing him around the room as he crawled around on his hand sandals (a genius invention, I will show you a pic later), and I would get him and tickle him. He started laughing like crazy! It was the sweetest sound I have ever heard. It got to the point where he would collapse on the floor and start laughing before I even got to him. Love this boy so much.

Laura said goodbye for the night and we planned to Skype with some family. As soon as I sat Holden on the bed for skyping, he just collapsed. He lifted his head a few times and gave a wave, but he essentially said, "I am wiped!". Little guy was ready for bed an hour early. He is still sleeping peacefully beside me - most beautiful sight in the world.

Daddy arrives really late tonight!! Can't wait!!!!