Being a mama is hard for a million and one reasons.
And one of the biggest – for me at least – is when your kids go and get all big and grown up… and live hundreds of miles away.
And are only are able to come visit a few times a year.
Which makes the best part of my year? The days when all my babies are at home and, even better, within squeezing distance.
And all that togetherness, which only happens a few times a year, deserves to be captured in a photo or two, right?
And so… that’s just what we did.
We didn’t have the time (and I lacked the inclination) to go too far or try for something too elaborate.
But downtown Birmingham is fun and colorful – and there were a few spots that I wanted to visit.
The weather was at least agreeable in that there was no longer ice on the ground, but the sun would not be making an appearance.
So we pulled out some of our most colorful dresses (and warmest jackets) and headed out.
It was cold. Cold enough to make me promise them all that, if they’d just give me a solid 30 minutes and a few grins, my gratitude in having just one picture of them all together would certainly spill over into something wonderful for them.
Wonderfully yummy, that is. Which is pretty much my favorite kind of wonderful.
So we set out and walked about ten blocks – up one side of the street and back down the other side – and I put my camera away and called it good.
And then crossed my fingers that there were a few in the mix that I hadn’t overexposed or poorly composed or just flat out messed up.
And that, out of those few, the kids hadn’t looked away or made a face or just looked flat out silly.
Then, determined not to worry about what was (or wasn’t) on the memory card tucked inside my camera, I took my babies to our favorite Chinese restaurant where we warmed up on heaping plates of beef lo mien, General Tso’s chicken and fried rice.
In the end, I did manage to get a few that I think are incredibly sweet, and we did all eat our body weight in delicious Chinese food. So, I’d call it a win-win.
Being a mama to big kids living far away is oh-so hard on the heart.
But having our time together captured in a few pictures to hold close makes all that hard feel just a bit softer.
It’s the last day of November – a big month in the adoption world. It contains Orphan Sunday and is even slated as National Adoption Month.
It is also a perfect reason to take an afternoon to pull on dresses and scribble smiley-faces on palms to capture this moment in time in our family.
And while the kids may be thinking of colored leaves and pinecone wars, I’m thinking long on what adoption means to me.
And to this family.
It’s hard to beleive that there was a time I had no idea what adoption meant.
And, because I was just completely clueless, I probably said all the non-PC adoption-related things.
And asked all the non-PC adoption-related questions.
My eyes were simply closed to the indescribable gift that is adoption.
But one day. He simply stopped me in my tracks.
And cracked this heart of mine wide open, peeling off layers of selfishness, foolishness and preconceived notions.
And left me astounded at all we had missed by simply not looking with eyes to see.
What a privilege it is to be part of this grand story He is writing in the world and in this family.
And living with eyes to see Him in all things.
For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and by him all things hold together.
– Colossians 1:16-17
We missed Zach so much, who wasn’t able to be here until after the New Year.
(insert sad mama face here… I might have shed a few tears.)
But, for the first time, we had Victoria’s boyfriend Jon join us on Christmas morning. And his presence (he is positively adored by all the kids) added lots of extra fun to an already much-anticipated day.
Instead of typing out a rundown of the day, I’ll just let the (over 90!) pictures do the talking.
But I do want to share just a few of the details from the kiddos – starting with Miss Magnolia – so I don’t forget what made this year special for each of them…
Favorite gift: New phone. Because I wanted it. Favorite Christmas-y event:Gingerbread houses! Jon and Tori helped me fix my gingerbread house not fall. Sprinkles fall down and I eat them!
Favorite gift: Trolls (meaning Poppy Troll) Favorite Christmas-y event: She really loved the Nutcracker ballet at Samford because she danced not only during the performance but for days afterward. She also loved decorating the gingerbread houses…
Me: Clementine, what was your favorite thing we did at Christmas? Did you like the ice skating?
Me: Did you like decorating the cookies?
Clementine: Head nodding no.
Me: Gingerbread houses?
Me: And what about the Nutcracker? The ballet?
Clementine: Ballet! while nodding adamantly yes
Favorite gift: My Kidizoom Watch and my Pink Polka-dotted Bible Favorite Christmas-y event: My favorite was the skating rink because I saw how Clementine was being funny – every time when Dad lets go she falls down and says, “Whoa, whoa!”
Favorite gift: Shimmer Art Favorite Christmas-y event: Probably the gingerbread houses. There were lots of different things you could put on and my gingerbread house looked delicious.
Favorite gift: My (Stuffed) Chicken Coop Favorite Christmas-y event: Probably the Christmas cookies because we got to decorate them and they were yummy.
This Christmas season I wanted to be really purposeful in finding ways to make the season memorable – without either spending a small fortune or increasing my already-sufficiently-high level of holiday-induced anxiety.
And, taking those two things into consideration, well… doesn’t leave a whole lot of things.
Even gingerbread houses.
But these? With the already-built graham cracker sides? That require no rolling or cutting or baking of gingerbread pieces? Or purchasing of any pre-fab kits?
I was all in.
Especially after calling Victoria and confirming she’d be up for being an extra set of hands to help the kids with their constructions.
Before we got started, the girls and I made a run to WalMart with these little chalets in mind, picking candies specifically for making them extra fun.
Sour Patch Kids.
Sprinkles of all kinds.
Peppermint and mini-marshmallows.
Christmas-colored M & Ms.
Pull-apart Twizzlers (that we pulled apart to separate the colors).
And little butter cookies to use as wreaths for our tiny graham cracker doors.
All held together with Royal Icing.
We’ve made graham cracker houses before but never used Royal Icing. It held up surprisingly well, especially once we got the hang of how much to use to keep the little houses firmly planted and supported.
The exception being one three year old who insisted on covering her roof with small sour people and sugar-covered trees despite numerous warnings to desist.
The un-named three year old might have suffered from numerous construction calamities, (thankfully all resolved by simply adding more Royal Icing).
Overall, the project turned out even better than I could have hoped – all of us had such fun.
And, in the end, we had a village of tiny masterpieces, each joyfully created by one of my babies.
They all wanted me to choose a favorite, but that’s just not going to happen.
I’m pretty convinced that each is the cutest little gingerbread house there every was.
Just as we were digging into a our sundaes (oh my, y’all – the Big Spoon Sundae was to die for.) we heard, “These are for you. You all look so nice today, we just thought you might like these.” And she gifted us with a box of chocolate-chocolate-chip-cookie goodness.
Today marks three years since we landed on US soil with our oh-so-fragile girl.
Three years since God began changing my heart – teaching me, daily, how very perfect His plan was in knitting a child with Down syndrome into our family.
I was so very afraid of all the ways I might fail her as a mother, of how her needs might overwhelm me, of how parenting a child with significant needs might make me less capable of parenting my other children well.
And, in many ways, I was right. She did have significant needs. Undisclosed needs we had never even heard of or imagined.
She did and does require unique parenting.
But in so many more ways, I was wrong. I never could have imagined all the ways she would galvanize, cultivate and alter the very fabric of our family. This child – non-verbal, non-mobile and in the most fragile of health just three years ago – is showing us how to be more like our Maker.
So instead of trying to encapsulate all the ways, I’m going to leave it to her siblings.
Tallula: Since Clementine came home we’ve learned more sign language and we’ve learned more things about her like that she’s so cute and smart. She feels the same feelings as other people – when they’re happy she feels happy and when they’re sad, she feels sad.
Poppy: She brought joy into our family with her silly faces and cute laugh. She likes to include everybody in things, like singing and dancing, even if she doesn’t like them very much.
Vivienne: She has taught us never to give up. When she went through surgery it hurt her a lot and she was so brave. She never stopped trying.
Shepherd: When she came home she was really sick and couldn’t talk. She kept trying to learn new things, watching Signing Time and trying to communicate. Now, when I see her talking and signing, I’m reminded that she had to work hard to do that and it helps me to work harder.
Jude: Clementine has taught me to be happy when others are happy, even though sometimes I kinda don’t want to be. During birthdays, when other people get presents and cake, she’s happy… even though the presents and cake aren’t for her.
Isabelle: Before Clementine, our family was way more serious. But now, since she came home, we do all sorts of goofy stuff with her because she’s so cute and funny and now we all laugh and have way more fun.
Sophie: She’s taught us how to be happy with what we have. She doesn’t think about what she doesn’t have and is able to take something simple and make it fun.
Dalton: Clementine is a living representation of love. She loves without expecting anything in return and finds joy in simply making others happy.
Asher: She always looks at the inside of a person instead of the outside. She’s taught me to look harder at a person before deciding the content of their character. Also she’s really cutie.
Yup. What they said.
Four years old and technically considered to be “cognitively delayed” and yet teaching us all, by example, how to be better people.
And this year, like last year, our plans included some good Halloween fun and games – all within the confines of our local Publix.
Our favorite stomping grounds for sprinkle cookies, buy-one-get-one free deals, fried chicken and once a year Halloween-ing.
The fact that all the kids wanted to go this year was an indicator that, although the candy accumulation is less-than-extraordinary, there is some fun to be had.
They played games.
They decorated cookies.
And they collected as much candy as possible at every opportunity.
(And one of them, who shall remain unnamed, snuck in with her little dog just so she didn’t miss a chance to watch her chocolate-faced siblings run around on a sugar-induced high.)
Finally, they all lined up for the obligatory family picture in the dairy section.
Because mama insisted.
Clementine, while being adorably excited about Halloween this year, was not excited about wearing the hood to the costume. Nor the eyeliner-turned whiskers and nose that usually go along with being a kitty cat.
Which resulted in her having a single dot of eyeliner on her tiny button nose.
Instead, she opted to carry a makeup brush along for the entire evening. Because sensory stuff.
Magnolia, on the other hand, loved playing the part of a puppy, makeup and all. Which wasn’t surprising considering her current TV crushes are Clifford and Paw Patrol.
We hung out front for a bit afterward, catching up with Victoria (who now lives 30 minutes away!) and her boyfriend, Jon.
Six weeks old seems big enough for their first field trip.
I probably should have tried doing this sooner. But digging deep into the interwebs trying to learn all you can about potential chicken-predators will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
And keep your baby chickens under lock and key.
So I waited until what seemed like a safe age and determined a safe place (fenced in, that is)
and chose several helpers (only requirement being that they were bigger than a hawk) and off we went.
Down to the garden.
It was a beautiful day and the chicks, after a bit of an anxious start, got busy with all the pecking and digging and scratching that chickens are so fond of.
Oh, and running around. There was lots and lots of running around.
The kids got busy, too – happily digging up worms and catching unsuspecting grasshoppers to try to feed to the chicks.
But the recipients were not so sure. One poor grasshopper made several successful escapes from the semi-uninterested chicks but continued to be recaptured by Tallula (who is surprisingly good at bug-catching). Finally he was pecked at enough that his legs came off and all he could do was wait to be consumed by the only chick brave enough to eat him.
Chickens can be brutal.
They can also be adorable.
And surprisingly huggable.
Because much of the garden was past its prime, we didn’t have to worry about the chickens getting into anything and could let them roam and scratch and peck wherever their hearts desired..
Honestly, I needn’t have worried anyway. They were all curious and busy… but not nearly as destructive as I feared they’d be. Seems that chicks raised without a mama hen to show them what to eat (and not eat) tend to err on the side of caution when trying new foods.
And our chicks seem to be doing this very thing.
So, to the kids’ disappointment, significantly fewer worms and bugs were consumed than they’d expected.
But, even better than bug-eating, the afternoon provided a fun opportunity to watch our little chickens be little chickens.
Which resulted in a lot more chicken-hugging because, well… they’re pretty darn cute.
Especially with flowers in their hair.
Which is a really good thing, because catching these little ladies turned out to be ridiculously more tiresome than turning them loose.
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