The gentle, sensitive, artistically natured, little diva that we are so proud to call our eldest daughter.

We have built our family through adoption.  It’s definitely been an interesting process…  We went from zero to three children in just under a year.

The gentle, sensitive, artistically natured, little diva that we are so proud to call our eldest daughter.

Our eldest daughter joined our family less than a month after her younger sister.  She had been the foster sister of our son, and from the moment we had met her, my husband was swept off his feet by this little girl with an amazing genuine giggle.  Our son was also very attached to this beautiful young girl that he considered simply to be his sister, and talked about her often in our home.  As we were lucky to remain connected to their foster family, we were able to continue visiting with this little girl until the placement for her adoption was approved.  Now we maintain the connection to their foster family as they are simply part of our extended family.  Our kids all refer to them as “Auntie” and “Uncle”, and they are an important part of our world.

Our first visit with our son, was also our first introduction to the little girl that would one day be our sweet daughter.  Though we were there to meet the beautiful little boy that we had been matched with, it was a day full of giggles, many children and the spark of a relationship between my husband and his “soon to be” daughter, though at the time, we had no idea.  I remember watching them on the swing set in the backyard, calling each other ridiculous names and giggling.  I think that the favorite name at the time, was “pickle face”.  This darling little 6 year old girl had shouted it out, and could barely keep herself on the swing as she was doubled over giggling.  To this day, that memory remains a favorite!

I remember the day that she finally gave me a real, genuine, squishy kind of hug.  I was on my way out the door at the time, and she ran up to me and reached out her arms.  Up until this point, hugs only happened when prompted and consisted of leaning her shoulder into my side for a few seconds and then she would dash away to continue her playing.  When she reached out her arms for a real hug, the kind when she wrapped her little arms around me and squeezed like she would never let go, it took every ounce of composure I could muster to keep from bursting into tears.  For me, that meant more than the first time she called me “Mom” or even than the first time she told me she loved me…  In that hug, I could feel the sweet, gentle, terrified little girl that finally trusted me enough to allow herself to open up, even a little bit.  Now, I look forward to those kinds of hugs every day and I need to remind myself that it took a lot of hard work and patience to get there…but we made it.

Our beautiful daughter with a big heart pushes us every day.  She will always be my reminder that we all need reassurance and a push to allow ourselves to be genuine in every moment.  We all need a soft place to fall when things don’t go quite according to plan, we need to take small steps to conquer our fears even if what we’re facing doesn’t seem so scary to anyone else, and we need to know that even when we get hurt that the people that love us will still be there.  Even when we test that love, we need to know that it won’t break.  My amazingly brave but sensitive little girl, on the verge of becoming a young lady, has helped me to remember that love, patience and respect are all things that come with time and are treasured once achieved.  Every step we take together with her becomes more and more exciting to see the truly amazing soul that she is.  We are so lucky to be part of her journey!

Working on attachment with our sensitive daughter has taken us down a bit of a different path than the one travelled with our other two children.  Though our family’s “ground rules” are the same, we take a bit of a different approach.  With our eldest daughter, much of our focus is on creating a sense of self and working through emotions before regulating.  This means that we work hard to stay completely neutral and calm in her hurricane of emotions.  There are many strategies that we use to create a safe place for her to put all her angry, negative and self-destructive thoughts out into the open and then once we have been able to regulate our breathing and emotions, we will tackle each of them one at a time.  We talk about where they come from, how they are working for us, what kind of reasons do we have to back them up and if maybe perhaps, we could be looking at things a little differently.  The concept of choice and that each choice comes with a consequence (good or bad) seems to be one that is sinking in, though impulse control can be difficult in the chaos of emotion.  This seems to be especially true on the many occasions that my and husband and I make ridiculous requests (like turning off the lights and earth-shaking music when leaving a room, cleaning up toys, wearing a jacket and toque in a blizzard…) that is received with impressive eye rolling and grunting!

Our gentle, artistically natured daughter shines brightest when it comes to our family pets.  She giggles when the cat tries to chew off each of her hair elastics that she has carefully created into a full, arm length bracelet (leaving me to wonder where all the hair elastics have gone!), she will cuddle with the smelliest of dogs, allowing the dog to crawl all over her in search of the last piece of dinner that is sure to be hiding somewhere on our daughter’s face, and she will spend hours playing catch outside with the dogs throwing snowballs that mysteriously disappear once they hit the ground.  Our beautiful girl will pour over books about horses, dogs, cats or bats, working hard to discover all of the animal’s secrets.  She spends time with each animal every day, stroking their hair and gently telling them how special they each are as she rubs their bellies.  When it’s time to watch a movie on the couch, she takes up most of the couch herself, with two dogs draped over her legs and a cat in her lap.  During the summer, every bike ride or walk has multiple stops along the way to allow the ladybugs, crickets, ants or spiders to cross the path safely.  She is an amazing little girl with a heart of gold.  We are so proud to call her our daughter!  We love her so much and are so honoured to be walking through life with her!

Posted by: Cara

The feisty, funny, dramatic, little social butterfly we are so lucky to call our youngest daughter.

We have built our family through adoption.  It’s definitely been an interesting process… We went from zero to three children in just under a year.

 The feisty, funny, dramatic, little social butterfly we are so lucky to call our youngest daughter.

Our youngest daughter joined our family officially, just ten months after her brother.  Biologically, they are half siblings.  In our family however, they are simply brother and sister.

Our first meeting with our daughter was filled with anxiety.  We had known about her since our first meeting regarding her brother, but there were a number of challenges in actually moving forward with the adoption.  We met her when she was two-and-a-half.  She was full of “piss and vinegar” (I hope it’s okay I say that here!) even then.  She was also meeting her brother again after having been separated for 11 months.  At this time, we were simply facilitating the relationship between siblings.  There were still many battles to come regarding adoption, though that was always the long-term plan.

My first memory of meeting our littlest girl was watching her walk into the coffee shop, stop, check everyone and everything out around her and then the biggest smile came over her face…she had found the cookies!  She was a little girl that knew exactly what she wanted and proceeded to charm and visit with everyone in her path to the cookies.  She then moved on to creating a clear, itemized list of all that she would like to have purchased for her, flying through the shop on her tiny little legs.  It was quite the visit…and it was the first of many, though I did learn quickly to avoid shops and stores for a while.

We visited with this little social butterfly regularly for the next 7-8 months, but I clearly remember driving to pick her up from her foster home for the last time.  We filled the van with her many clothes and toys and then finally it was just the two of us in the van for the trip to the house that would be OUR home.  She was buckled in her car seat and I turned to look at her before I pulled out of the foster home’s driveway.  She looked up and made this determined little face and said “I will call you Mommy.”  She took a deep breath, and asked “Did you bring my coat?  Did you bring my blanket?  Did you bring a snack?  Did you bring my toy?  When I get home I will play with my stroller.  I will play with my doll.  I will go to the bathroom.  Then we will go to the zoo.  Did you bring my stuffie?  Did you bring my pink shirt?” and it went on and on for the 45 minute drive home.

Our sweet, funny little girl loves life.  She is full of enthusiasm and looks forward to every new adventure.  She will spend hours hunting for ladybugs or just cuddled up on top of me.  She will lean down and talk to her younger 3 year old cousin and try to carry him around even though he towers over her, being twice her size.  She is basically talking to his hip, but she doesn’t notice as she’s so busy “taking care of him”.  Even though she is five years old now, when she’s sick, tired or scared she will come running and will leap onto me and wrap her little arms around me as tightly as she can.  It is one of my favorite things about her.  It’s one of the ways that I can see that she needs me.  She can be so fiercely independent sometimes, proving to the world that she is her own person and doesn’t need anyone.  It’s nice to know that she lets down her guard enough to need me sometimes.  We love her so much and are so proud of her.  She makes us laugh every day, and we are lucky to be sharing each day with her as she’s figuring out this world around her.  It’s such a gift to look at things through her eyes and it makes me smile.  We argue about whether the ramp turning off the road is called a “turnip” or a “turnoff”, and the genuine moments that we get to share with her are ones that we will treasure forever.  She’s an amazing, bright little girl who grows so much every day, it makes it easier that she credits her aunt with teaching her letters (because they talked about them once) or my uncle with teaching her how to build a puzzle (because they built a puzzle together once).  She has told me that she will still let me play with letters, numbers and puzzles with her, even though I didn’t teach her about them…(for those of you that don’t know us, these are activities that we do together every day!)  Our little girl.  All of that feisty attitude wrapped up into this tiny little package.  I’m excited to see the young lady that she’s going to become!

We are still working on attachment, everyday.  Our little girl is one of the most stubborn individuals that I have ever met (and I am frustratingly stubborn myself!).  We have days that she will refuse to do a “time – in” and the screaming will go on for twelve hours, just to resume again the next day.  These days will often remind me of the battles with her brother that we used to deal with regularly.  There are so many similarities, but so many differences in how her anger and rage come out compared to her brother.  Though there can occasionally be an element of physical aggression, typically it will look more like complete defiance.  If asked to take a seat beside you, she will create a path through the entire house to lead her to a seat just in front of you, if asked to use an “inside” voice she will loudly repeat “What?” at the top of her lungs.  While waiting for a special snack or lunch, I would often let her know how proud of her good choices I  was, so she would reach down onto the floor, scoop up some garbage and eat it and ask me to repeat myself.  She will ask me for a different “mom” regularly when she’s angry with me.  She will spit on any surface, herself included and smear it around simply because she was asked to clean something up.  Though we still have many of these days, they are becoming less and less.  We spend a lot of time talking about choices and consequences, good ones and crummy ones.  We work really hard so that she gets to make her own choices and learn how to cope with the consequences with our support.  Sometimes this strategy works really well, other times it takes us down a long and rocky path.

Our little girl is full of personality.  She has introduced me to so many new people that we come across on a routine shopping trip, a walk to the park, stopping at the gas station or even waiting at a doctor’s office for a check-up.  It usually starts with her batting her eyelashes at her “target”.  Then she’ll giggle and look away.  She will tell the people waiting behind us in a line up what she ate for breakfast that morning, the name of our cat, if Mom is feeling tired, what she would like for her birthday and it goes on and on…  Sales staff offer her free toys, little bags and purses and stickers in almost every place we venture into!  I am not a social person, so she is certainly helping me step outside my comfort zone every time we leave the house together.  Occasionally she will also tell these random folks that “Mommy hits me.” “I’m so sad today because Mommy yells at me all the time”, “Mommy doesn’t let me play.  Only sit on my bed” or “Mommy only gives me yucky oatmeal to eat”.  On these trips, she will look at me for a reaction as she announces these stories (they are stories, they are NOT true) to the folks in the store.  She will have her lips pursed in a pout and her eyes are welling up with tears.  It truly must be heartbreaking to see this sweet little girl with this terrible ogre of a mother in the stores some days.  Once we have left the line-up and the store full of glares to see if the police or children’s services are waiting for us in the parking lot, she will grin and look up at me and exclaim how she LOVES shopping and maybe we should go have lunch in a restaurant…nope.

Though we have some challenging days with our daughter, every time she comes down the stairs from her bedroom and announces at the top of her lungs, “There’s a beautiful girl coming down the stairs right now!!” starts our day off with a smile.  When she reminds me that I forgot to thank her for offering to help eat the rest of my lunch or for noticing that she chose not to throw the toy at the cat, I have to grin.  That’s our daughter.  Our littlest girl.  One day she is going to make heads spin, just like she does for us each day.  We love her so much and are so proud of her.  She’s an original and we love her for that!

Posted by: Cara

The charming, quirky, full of energy, little comedian that we are so lucky to call our son.

We have built our family through adoption.  It’s definitely been an interesting process…  We went from zero to three children in just under a year.

The charming, quirky, full of energy, little comedian that we are so lucky to call our son.

From the time that we submitted our first batch of paperwork applying to adopt, it was just under a year before our son moved into our home and we became an “overnight” family.  He had just celebrated his fourth birthday with his foster family when we met him for the first time.  I remember thinking what a beautiful little boy he was and when he came up to me, proudly riding his bike, he paused for a moment, looked me over and exclaimed “That’s my Mommy!” and rode off with his foster brothers.  It’s my very first memory with my son and I treasure it.  Now, he’s going to be turning seven years old soon and he’s still a beautiful little boy and he will still stop, look me over and exclaim “That’s my Mom.”.  It sounds different now, but it’s filled with the familiarity that comes with living in the same house, fighting the same fights over and over again, saying “I’m sorry”, the bedtime hugs and kisses, the goofy things that happen each day, our hands that clasp together when we are facing a new situation and the knowledge that no matter how crazy things may be during the day, when we wake up the next morning we are still a family full of love and laughter.  We are a forever family.

We had heard many things about our son, all gathered through the social services team, before we met him.  We heard about some of his successes and some of his challenges, but there was nothing that could have prepared us for bringing him into our home and getting to know and love him.  He had (and still has) some significant behavioural challenges.  We worked hard on attachment for a long time and it is still an ongoing process, though I think that he is fairly secure in his place in our hearts and family.  He struggles with dealing with his anger still, but I remember the time that he was first able to describe how he was feeling “all squeezy” on the inside.  We were so excited that he was able to identify how he was feeling.  He has come a long way since then, but it hasn’t been without it’s battles.  For a long time, everything was engaging in battle with this tiny little person, or preparing for battle.

He worked hard to control the environment around him and that included us.  His “forever” parents.  It happened through conversations through the day, where he would ask the same question hundreds of time just to engage you, unpredictable tantrums and screaming, bolting through the neighbourhood so that you had to give chase, flinging food around the house that he had begged to eat, physical aggression, unbuckling his car seat and grabbing my hair while driving, hitting the dogs, throwing objects at preschool or attacking other children, using the bathtub as a toilet, smearing feces and/or blood, but it also occasionally took a different path.  He would cuddle up to me to block my face from anyone I may have been interacting with, he would act like a baby – especially when we were around other people, clinging to me and needing to be carried.  He would wait outside the bathroom door if I was inside and would reach under the door, screaming until I came out.  Even understanding that his behaviours were coming from a place of fear, and a degree of an attachment disorder, most days felt like a battleground and it was hard to figure out how I was ever going to feel attached to this child.

Bed time would trigger another battle every day, where he would scream, spit and bite any person he could find (though apparently I tasted best).  We walked around with bite marks on our arms and legs while saliva dripped from our faces and walls.  Even looking back now, I’m impressed with his spitting accuracy…  He would throw his toys, blankets, books and even try to throw his bed out the room or windows.  He would dart out of his room to try and push me down the stairs.  Bed times were terrible.  Eventually, bed times became Daddy’s domain.  By the end of the day, I had little to no composure left and things seemed to calm down significantly once Daddy took over.

We quickly became very structured in our days and focused on natural and logical consequences.  We worked hard allow him the control that he fought so hard for, within parameters that were safe for everybody.  We created his own “boss” corner, where he made all the decisions.  We found an ANGRY bird/pillow/stuffie that he could “fight” with so that his angry didn’t get him into trouble.  We had secret signs that he could show us when he was feeling “squeezy” so that we could give him a bear hug, because the deep pressure and deep breathing helped him regulate.  We had to become very creative, fast.

We still use a lot of the same strategies today.  We can often see the meltdowns coming now, and we can talk with him about it.  We are more aware of his triggers, like the month of November and cement sound barrier walls along the roads.  Even though we don’t always understand his reactions to things or the depth of his anger, we walk with him through it.  I’m not sure that we will ever understand, but we will always love him.

Looking back, that first year was really hard.  Now we see his quirky little personality grow each day, and his sense of humor evolve as he takes great pride in calling his Dad an old man and asks why Dad’s hair is shrinking.  He hides shoes from people when they come to visit, or his sister’s plates of dinner if they dare leave the table during meal times.  When helping with the dishes, he asks his sister if she can “feel the burn”…  He does it all with this impish little grin and a twinkle in his eye.  He holds my hand to walk through a parking lot, and builds puzzles with such precision.  He starts snowball fights that he knows he won’t win and tells me “That’s okay, Mom.  It’s still fun.”  He will take his little sister’s hand and show her how to go down a toboggan hill as fast as he can just to fall out of the sled at the bottom.  He carries his big sister’s books home from school so that they aren’t too heavy for her.  That’s my beautiful son.  My son who was recovering from one of his huge meltdowns and asked “Why did I have to be such a fast baby, Mom?”  We are so proud of the little man that he is becoming.  We are so lucky to call him our son.

Posted by: Cara

Navigating the adoption process – Training

We finally decided to adopt.  Now what?

We got the application paperwork filled out and submitted.  This was the first step in our journey of “hurry up and wait”.  We discovered that there are piles and piles of paperwork to complete, and each step required some scrambling and tough conversations.  Then we would wait.  Being the analytical type, I may have made these steps a little more exhausting than I needed to…but lucky for me, my husband was prepared for that.  We started our first adoption in 2011, so please keep in mind that some of the steps may have changed or been improved since that time.

So first we had to decide what type of adoption we wanted to pursue.  We looked at international adoptions and what countries we might qualify to adopt from, but we ultimately decided that our hearts were set on the route of a domestic adoption; adopting a preschool aged or older child from our social services system.  Our original plan was that we would begin building our family through adoption and that we may add to our family with biological children down the road (On a side note, now that we have 3 adopted children that plan has changed!).  Once we had made our decision, that’s when the journey really started moving.

Our initial batch of paperwork was submitted, so the next step was to sign up for the next available Adoptive Parent Training session.  I think it was about two months before we were scheduled to attend.  There we spent two days learning about the system that children in care were involved in and the process of adoption.  One of the facts that really stuck with me was that each child in care was considered to have special needs.  Even if there are no other diagnosed needs or challenges that each child may have, they are all children with special needs based on the early trauma in their lives and the separation from their biological families.  Attachment disorders, therapeutic parenting styles and FASD were all a big focus during this training.  I asked my husband what his favorite part of the training was…apparently, it was the shwarma place next door.  (To be fair, it really was amazing!)  When asked to try again, his answer was when we had the opportunity to meet some adoptive families and their children.  It was nice to put some faces to some of the stories that we had been hearing and a chance to ask about their experiences navigating the system.  The home study process was certainly a hot topic for questions when these families came in to visit.  That was the next step in the process of adoption.  Once the training was complete, we started the next batch of paperwork and the waiting to meet the person who would delve into our lives as individuals and as a couple… On to the home study!

Posted by: Cara

Making the decision to adopt. Sounds like a big deal…right?!

I remember trying to figure out the best way to bring up the idea of adoption to my husband.

We had talked about starting our family, but really hadn’t looked at timing, finances, and just generally where we were at in life.  At least not really seriously.  We both knew that we wanted children, but that was pretty much as far as we had gotten.  So I had been walking around with it (the idea of adopting) in my head for almost a month.  Actually, I had wanted to adopt since I was about 13 years old, but I had only started thinking that it was something I was ready for over the last month.  I had looked into the process but really only at a surface level.  I didn’t want to get too excited at the thought since I wasn’t really sure how my husband would react.  I knew that he loved kids and hoped for a family.  I knew that he would be an amazing father.  I knew that he had one of the biggest hearts I had ever seen, but adoption wasn’t something that we had ever really discussed or knew much about.  We both have people in our families that had been adopted, but that was just part of their story.  Who they are has never been defined by being adopted from an outside perspective, so it was never something that we had really looked at in depth.  Our families are our families, and we love them.

After driving myself crazy with excitement at the idea of building our family through adoption, I had to put it out there.  It ended up being on a holiday to the family cabin.  It’s so quiet there.  So peaceful.  I had spent all this time in my head trying to figure out the right time and how to bring it up…  In my head I was thoughtful, articulate and eloquent in my reasons.  We were outside at the fire pit, and I guess I must have been unusually quiet.   My very perceptive husband asked me what was on my mind, and after all the time I had spent thinking through the idea of adoption and how I wanted to present this to the man I love, all I managed to blurt out was “I think we should adopt.”  And then I waited.  I’m not sure why it felt like such a big statement and why I was so nervous about his response, but I was terrified.  Looking back now, almost 4 years ago, it seems a little surreal.  When I look at all that we have in our lives and all that we are a part of…so much of it started with that moment.  That conversation.  I remember so vividly the feeling of anxiety coursing through me as I waited for my husband’s response.  While I was holding my breath, trying to prepare myself for the barrage of questions and funny looks that I was sure to receive from my husband, he looked over at me, grinned and said “Okay!  I always thought about adopting!”.  Seriously??

If he knew what our world would look like after the ball started rolling, I wonder if it would’ve been so easy…  🙂  And just for the record, the conversations we have had with so many others since then haven’t always gone quite so smoothly, but if we had to choose, we would do all of it again!  But that’s for another post.

Posted by: Cara