Not the Day I Dreamed Of

I spent countless hours watching beautiful adoption stories on YouTube.  The first introductions.  The tears.  The hugs.  For every YouTube video I watched, I would then imagine the beautiful day that we would meet our little lamb.  I pictured tears, and hugs and our little family huddled in a corner somewhere cuddling our new little one.

The day before we met our sweet boy, the social worker acting on our behalf in South Africa met with us.  She gave us a brief run down of how our first day would go and how we were supposed to behave when we met our little guy.  She said that we would be brought into another social worker’s office and they would bring him to us.  At that point, we would need to show him some toys and interact with him while he figured us out from a distance.  I had this all planned out in my head as we approached the baby home where our little one lived.

As we walked up the front steps to the office, a kind woman met us at the front doors.  She explained to us that the lady that was to meet us that morning had obligations at the hospital that had taken longer than expected.  Because she wasn’t in the office, we were to now go on a tour of the facility.  We weaved our way through several small “cottage” style buildings, through a playground and around the corner to another little “cottage.”

At this cottage the woman paused and said, “I think the manager is in here, I’ll introduce you to her,” and she opened the door to the little house. In we all stumbled, still feeling a touch groggy from so many hours of travel, time changes, and a new culture.  We did indeed meet the manager inside the home and we exchanged a few pleasantries, until the woman stated, “Well, there he is.  Do you know which one he is?”  There were 4 little ones lined up in a row on the floor, all with shaved heads and all with matching shirts on.  I was dazed, completely not expecting to be meeting him at this moment.

It was a disaster!  I was busy untangling the bag of toys, cameras and extra sweaters from around me, as I quietly murmured, “The only pictures we have of him, were when he had hair.” IMG_1854 Thankfully Dan spotted him right away and we got down on the floor to show all the children the toys we had brought along.

At this point the staff encouraged us to pick him up, and take him to the playground.  We had officially broken all the rules that had been given to us the day before and I didn’t have one single picture of our boy the moment we had first laid eyes on him.

At that point we trekked out to the playground and soon there were many toddlers and preschoolers running around, IMG_1863
begging to be pushed on the swing and fighting over the one and only ball we  had brought with us. It was soon time for the little ones to eat, so we found our way back to the house.  I was able to feed him his lunch before nap time. IMG_1859 It was an exhausting morning and naps were in order for everyone before having a quick little play in the afternoon.

It wasn’t the magical beginning like the ones I had imagined.  It was our beginning though.  It has become the precious story that is better than any story we could have imagined because it is the story of how we became a family of six.

The beauty in this day was watching our little girls, walk hand in hand with other children.  IMG_1864It was sitting down in the grass and having children race to sit on my empty lap.  It was watching my husband play catch with a little boy with Down’s Syndrome.  The beauty of this day are the memories that have been forever etched in our hearts.  This is the place where 5 became 6 and we were able to see God’s goodness in the midst of trauma, and brokenness. This is the ground where God set the lonely in family.

 

Booking Flights and Finding Accommodations in South Africa

It was this time last year, that we were journeying to the other side of the globe to meet our wee boy.  I had hoped to share some travel tips and tricks much sooner, but to say that life has been hectic since our return home would be a bit of an understatement.  So I’ve pulled out my journals, itineraries and receipts and I am going to do the best I can to share some of what worked, and what didn’t work for our family.  I will also include some of our favourite accommodations, attractions and adventures while we were in Durban.

Some people may not know that Air Miles or Avion points are transferable between card holders.  We were able to transfer Avion points to one card holder, which resulted in enough points to book return flights for 5 people and 1 infant on the way home.  Such a gift!  Keep in mind, to use travel points to fly you will have to book at least 15 days before your date of travel and run the risk of not being able to transfer or change travel dates, should you have to stay overseas longer than planned. At the time, our agency was recommending five and half weeks in country.  I’m not a gambler and so we booked 7 weeks in country.  As it turned out we would have needed EXACTLY 6 weeks.  Adding that extra week to our timeline, definitely eased some stress as we waited for various documents to be approved.

IMG_1765We flew through London, Johannesburg and then to Durban.  As we were booking flights we were picky about layovers.  We didn’t want a ridiculous amount of time to kill in airports, nor did we want to have to rush through huge airports with our small tribe of children.  Our 5 hour delay in the Heathrow airport  gave us plenty of time to get through security, grab some lunch and freshen up before another long flight.  We had a few close calls trying to make connections, but thankfully for delays, we didn’t miss a flight!

We were nervous about driving in South Africa, especially after thirty plus hours of travel.  Our Canadian adoption agency recommends Tezz at Bonana Tours & Transfers to help at the airport, so we booked our airport transfer with her.  Tezz and I had messaged a few times before we traveled, so it was so great to put a face to a name.  I cannot say this enough; book with TEZZ! IMG_3816 She went above and beyond time and again through the duration of our stay in SA.  She became a dear friend and we all shed tears when we had to say goodbye.  Tezz helped us with figuring out doctor’s appointments, navigating the Home Affairs office and understanding the cab service in Umhlangha.  She took us on a few tours as well as going shark cage diving with Dan and another friend we met in South Africa.

We arrived in Durban, South Africa on a Sunday morning.  There was a little grocery store right in the airport where we were able to purchase some food to get us through the next 24 hours.  I was very thankful for those snacks at 2am when all the kids woke, wide awake with hungry tummies…ah, Jet Lag!

Monday was a driving day!  WAHHH!! We were all pretty nervous about the next four hours.  IMG_2745We packed into our Toyota Avanza and began the drive.  Dan behind the wheel on the right hand side of the car, and sitting on the left hand side of the highway.  We had written directions to the B&B we were staying at, as well as the GPS.  We had heard several stories of malfunctioning navigation systems so that is why we had written directions as well.  It gave us some peace of mind as we journeyed on.  Though we were happy to trade in our vehicle after our week out of town, for more relaxed travel with Tezz, many families choose to rent a vehicle for the duration of their stay and manage just fine.

Our first week was spent out of town while we transitioned and then went to court to finalize the adoption.  Friday we headed back to the city and went straight to Heaton Cottage.  This is another recommendation of our agency.  You will hear of other Canadian families who have been in South Africa, fondly refer to Heaton Cottage as “Shayne’s.”  Shayne is the owner of this gorgeous B&B.  Definitely, another beautiful person who went above and beyond to ensure we felt at home, were well fed and well cared for while we stayed in the cottage. She even drove us to a doctor’s appointment and waited patiently with us while we waited and waited…and waited.  Most every week someone in our house declares, “I MISS SHAYNE!”  heaton-cottage-bed-breakfast-durban-kzn-accommodation-travel

Heaton Cottage was “cozy” for our family of six, but we managed to fit.  The cottage was equipped with a kitchenette, so when Shayne ran to the grocery store each afternoon, I could hop in with her and grab our dinner and a few snacks for the kiddos at the local grocery store.  We have kept in touch with Shayne since our days in South Africa and it likely comes as no surprise to you that we all highly recommend that you spend your first week or two at Shayne’s to help you rest, relax and settle into life in a new country with a new baby by your side.IMG_2062

(One cannot go to Shayne’s without mentioning her 5 star breakfast that is included with your stay!)

IMG_3423After the reams of paperwork subsided a bit, we were able to move further away from Durban.  We chose to spend a few weeks by the ocean in Umhlangha.  We loved the walks along the promenade, the salty air on our lips and the ease of grocery shopping, dining and finding things to do in this area.  It was only a short distance back to Durban if need be and we felt very safe taking cabs, going for walks and shopping in this area.  IMG_3427Our favourite spot to stay while in Umhlangha was Cabana Beach Resort.  The resort had activities by the pool for the kids each day, and a full service restaurant, We enjoyed sitting on our balcony each day to enjoy the ocean view.  (Don’t let the photo fool you.  Our days were busy with kids, and sunshine, but there was the odd nap time I may have snuck away for some quiet time)

IMG_1825 IMG_1810We had one week left before heading home and we spent that back in Durban at the Palmiet River Lodge.  The Palmiet was another recommendation of our agency’s.            The Palmiet is tucked away in a well treed area, with a creek running through the backyard.  It is a large house with a shared kitchen, dining and lounge area.  Lucky for us there was another Canadian family there the same time as us that we really enjoyed. We were able to relax, visit and enjoy some laughs together in an incredible setting.  At the Palmiet, we were only a short walk to a little mall, so we would often walk there.  We were also in close proximity to Tezz, so if she was running to the mall, she would offer to take us along to run errands and pick up groceries.

We did stay at a few other places, but these were our favourites.  We had to move A LOT, and I wouldn’t recommend all the moves if you don’t have to.   Overall we found everyone to be very friendly and so helpful.  We concluded that if  you set out using the recommendations of your agency, you will be off to a great start on your South African journey.

I’ll be back this week, with some of the excursions and activities we enjoyed. I also hope to share with you what our first few weeks were like as a family of six. I will highlight some of our favourite moments and some of the hard times we encountered as we all started to figure each other out.   I’d also love to hear from you.  What are some things you are wondering about as you prepare to travel to South Africa to meet your little one?  Do you have questions about your travel, accommodations, safety, transitioning your new child into your family or how it felt to meet our little one?  I’d love to try and answer some of the questions for you this week on the blog, so stay tuned.

Shopping for Toilet Paper

Contrary to what my husband says, I really don’t enjoy shopping.  The thought of packing up and heading out with 2, 3, or maybe all 4 kids,IMG_3729 is less than ideal. I consider myself to be a very patient person.  For the most part I am tolerant and happy to have my kids by my side, until I have to make a trip to the store for items like toilet paper, laundry soap, napkins and you get the picture!  I’m not quite sure what it is, but there is a certain store in this town that sends me into a different realm.  I try to avoid it like the plague, but there are just some things I was having to go there for.

There has got to be a better way, I would think to myself, as I stood in a line up at said store. And then one evening as I was placing an online order, it dawned on me.  I could order my toilet paper online!  ( I had actually been shopping online for another item and needed to add one more thing to my cart to qualify for free shipping, how about household products I had wondered?!?) I know right?!?  Lazy…perhaps, ridiculous…a little bit, genius…absolutely!  It really has been a game changer for me.a-smile_color_btn

My favourite store is Amazon; no joke!  I buy books, birthday presents, kitchen appliances, toys  and now toilet paper from this store.  Before you roll your eyes at me and question why I can’t just go buy these items as I need them, let me explain.  I am a mama of 4.  I homeschool and try to feed our family healthy whole foods.  Between all three girls we are at the dance studio 5 days a week and we run to ringette practice and church activities through the winter.  We are busy, and time is of the essence.  I just have a hard time pulling away from my day to shop for these products.

I feel like this information is too good, not to share.  I was chatting with some friends  recently and some were shocked that I would order toilet paper off the internet.  I love that these everyday products get ordered from my living room and delivered right to my door.

So when it comes to  Toilet Paper, I hop on over to amazon and get my shop on. I get to sit on my couch in my pjs, with a cup of tea and shop til my heart’s content. Moms, let’s be honest, when we have a free evening, we don’t need to be running to the store for Toilet Paper.   We need to be booking a coffee date with one of our best girls for some great conversation and dessert at the nearest coffee shop.  Retail therapy is highly overrated, at least when I have to have my hair and make up done to participate!

I try to support local businesses as much as possible.  I shop at the specialty shops in town for little treasures, home decor and sporting goods, but  the boring old things, I have decided;  I can get them delivered.

I will admit, I still pat myself on the back every time I get a parcel delivered and I open it up to find Paper Towels,   Toilet Paper, Kleenex and Laundry Detergent.

I recently signed up to “Subscribe and Save.”  These items now ship monthly or bi-monthly to our doorstep with free shipping.  Please do yourself a favour friends and buy your TP online!  I’m quite certain when that big amazon box shows up on your door step loaded with all sorts of essentials you’ll be glad you did.

How We’ll Do It, Summer School 2016

As excited as we all are to be finished the scheduled curriculum for the year, there is a level of uncertainty about having three months of unorganized, out-of routine, late bedtime, and lazy days ahead of us. I’m sure most of you have seen the summertime rules that float around on Pinterest.  Last summer we gave a summertime rules printable a go, and let me tell you, it worked like a dream!  It was a list of tasks the girls needed to accomplish before they could ask for screen time.

I honestly didn’t care if they got everything checked off everyday, I just didn’t want them to utter the words, “I’m bored.”  Well most days, they got so caught up with the list of activities that needed to be checked off the list that we never made it to screens.  They were eager to get their tasks completed so we could get out the door to the lake, spray parks and the pool.  This mama was singing the Hallelujah chorus on our way out the door, because most days the kids were happy and they had their rooms tidy and a little job done happily without me uttering a word.

Because it worked so well last summer, I headed over to Pinterest to find a list again.  I found what I was looking for here, holiday-rules2

Summer task list for kids

I also added 20 minutes of math to this list.  Now that I had my list ready, I needed to get some activities organized for the girls to do everyday.  I pulled out my fold n’ file, (https://www.mythirtyone.ca/) and decided to make a few different categories. (Math, journal writing, shapes and patterns, and summer reading passport)  IMG_6006Now each day all the girls have to do, is pop the Fold n’ File onto the kitchen table and pull out an activity.  Everything will be right at their fingertips and super easy to clean up!

 

 

 

Our littlest is working on money to finish off the school year and because most of our curriculum is American, we run into some confusion when it comes to counting our money.  I had her pack up her books and we headed to our local toy store to purchase a game I have been eyeing up for awhile.

IMG_6031 We had a trial run at the game on Friday and everyone loves it!  The best part of this is that not only is it fun, but everyone is learning how to count money while they play.  You can get the same game at amazon, Money Bags Cdn Version by Learning Resources.

IMG_6030I wasn’t certain that our older two would enjoy Money Bags, so we grabbed another game while we were out shopping.  A few friends have been raving about the Gamewright games so we decided to try Gamewright Sushi Go! Am I ever glad we did.  Today during the little man’s nap time all 5 of us had a chance to play and we had a great time!  The best part is, there is multiplication, addition and subtraction involved in every round! IMG_6004 I am hopeful that we will love our math station each day this summer!  When the girls don’t feel like doing a group activity I have added a variety of math activities into our file, that involve shapes, sorting and patterns! mathgeekmama.com has tons of great ideas and most are FREE!!!

A friend told me about summer-reading-program-2016, so we decided to give it a whirl. This summer our kids are going to fill their World Passport (reading log) with books they read that take their imaginations to countries all over the world.  I’m really excited about this concept, the company that initiated this reading program and the books that are available through Barefoot Books!  I can’t wait to let you know how it goes.

I’m excited to get started on our summer schedule.  I love tossing the curriculum for the summer and feeling more flexible, but I love that we will continue to learn and grow as a family over the next three months.  How about you?  What do you do to help maintain a level of organization and structure in your home through the summer while keeping fun the main priority?

 

Understanding the Heart of Adoption

It was on our hearts to add to our family through adoption.  I believed that the calling was scriptural and part of God’s plan for our lives.  I would tell people that the heart of our Father is adoption and we wanted to live that out.  It has been in the last month, a difficult month, that I have begun to grasp spiritual adoption. I don’t think I was able to understand the heart of adoption until I experienced it first hand. Now that I am in the trenches, I can say our reason for adopting is different now, than when we started.

It had been a pleasant morning.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Everyone had been fed breakfast and we were beginning the process of getting set for the day.  Beds were being made, hair and teeth were being brushed and everything was normal, even the piece of railroad track that came sailing across the kitchen was normal.  I calmly asked the little man to please pick up his toys and he screamed, “NOOOO.” I took him by the hand and walked him to the piece of train track and asked him to pick it up.  Instead of picking it up he hit me.  We left the toy on the floor and went to sit together in time-out.

IMG_5996

Most times he is happy to take a time out, and quickly says sorry, goes and picks up his toy and our day can resume.  However, this wouldn’t be the case on this day.  Instead he threw himself into the wall and proceeded to kick at me.  When I sat beside him, and calmly told him that I would stay with him until we figured out how to touch and talk kindly again, he again yelled at me and tried to bite me as this was all he had left. I was holding his hands in his lap and his toes were tucked between my legs.  “What is wrong?”  I asked him as I pulled him into my arms.  I single tear rolled down my cheek and my heart broke into  pieces.  I felt as though I had done nothing to deserve this treatment and yet I had become his punching bag…literally!  There was this very real emotion flowing out of this little boy and there was nothing I could do but hold him.  He continued to thrash and struggle in my arms, and I rocked and sang to him as I could see small glimpses of hurt, anger and frustration, brim to the surface of our wee man.

It was in that moment that I had a clear picture of what our adoption into God’s family looks like.  I realized in that moment that adoption is costly.  Adoption has had more than a financial cost, there is an emotional, physical and time cost.  For God to adopt us into his family, there was also  cost.  He offered his son, Jesus Christ as that sacrifice. Romans 5:6-8 (NIV), “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

As I am reminded of this gift of eternal life, that I did nothing to deserve, I see myself in the arms of our Father, kicking and screaming, completely undone and irrational because I don’t like the situation that God has put me in. Sometimes I’m questioning if his plans for my life really are best?  In that moment, I hold my adopted son that much more tightly and ask for forgiveness from my Father, because I know, in a sense I have behaved like this wee one in my arms, towards a Heavenly Father that has adopted me into his family.  He has paid the ultimate price to have me spend eternity with him, and yet some days I lash out and choose to walk a path separated from God.  I get angry and frustrated that God redirects my plans and sometimes I just really want things to work out my way and when they don’t, I kick and scream.

My heart grieves.  I have invested so much time, energy and patience  into this little life and this is the response I get.  It stings.  And then again I am faced with the reminder of the way my life stings the heart of my Father.  He has been there for me; investing time, energy and patience and I still flail around like  a raving lunatic sometimes.

Galatians 4:4-5,7 says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption of sons, (and daughters).  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”  We come to the foot of the cross with nothing.  There is no part of us that is righteous or worthy of being a child of God, but if we accept the gift of his son Jesus Christ then we are welcomed into God’s family.  We don’t have to do anything!  He loves us, even when we kick and scream.

2015-01-26 005 (640x480)Our little boy came with nothing.  There was nothing he could have done or should have done for us to love him. Our adoption has been beautiful, amazing, hard and challenging and yet there is this unending amount of love that flows out of my heart for him.  It is in the moments of anger, and grief, and in the moments that he pushes me away, that I love him harder and more compassionately.  I feel sad, because I know that I can’t force him to love me back, but I can let him know that I am a safe place for him to fall.  I desire for him to know how loved he is by us, but more than that, I desire for him to know just how much God loves him and wants him to be part of His family.

 

IMG_5097I don’t think I will ever fully grasp just how wide and deep the Father’s love is for me, but there have been beautiful moments over the last few months where I catch a small glimpse of His unconditional love.