Two Years Ago…we became a family of four

Two years ago today we were flying home from Hong Kong, exhausted, overwhelmed, a bit scared but very excited.

That means Big Brother has been home for two entire years!  What a wild, crazy adventure it’s been.  Although Big Brother has come so far, he still has so much to overcome.  But we’ll get there.  We couldn’t be more proud of you, Big Brother!

momavi2Mommy and Big Brother, the first day we met (January 10, 2011)

hk15Big Brother and Little Man checking each other out at the orphanage in Hong Kong

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hkcity Beautiful Hong Kong

 

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Merry Christmas Never Sounded So Sweet

This will be Big Brother’s 2nd Christmas. And even though he is almost 6 years old, this is the first time he has been able to actually sing a Christmas song. Nothing sweeter to my ears than this precious child who we were told would never talk! #miracleshappen

I dare you to watch and not smile…

Party for a Purpose

Are you (or someone you know) adopting? Are you looking for a way to raise funds? I just launched my direct sales business through Trades of Hope, a fair trade company that helps empower women out of poverty by selling their handcrafts. For the month of November only, I am offering to use my business for adoption fundraisers….meaning I will donate all proceeds from your online/catalog party to your adoption fund! Please feel free to share with anyone who might be interested (and please “like” my page, too!) You can learn more athttp://www.facebook.com/LaurenTradesOfHope

It’s time to party for a purpose with gifts that give twice!

The Gift

He had a traumatic and tragic birth history. He spent his first four years of life in two different orphanages.  He was diagnosed as being severely mentally delayed.  He was nonverbal and faced a life of institutionalization.

Flash forward 1 year and 10 months, a new home, a new family….

He is diagnosed with autism. It is found that he possesses a gift.

The gift is numbers–math.  He counts everything.  He can count a collection of hundreds with a single glance.  He can add, subtract, multiply and divide in his head and does so all day long with great joy.  His entire world is a puzzle of numbers.

He is five years old.

He is now being placed in a 4th grade level math class at school.  His verbal skills are at a 3-year-old level and his self-care skills are about the same level or below.

But his gift is amazing.

His story is still unfolding, and how lucky I am to be a part of it. He has taught me a lesson that I very well might have missed out on otherwise.

What would this world be like if we could all see past each others weaknesses and instead only focus on the many gifts around us?

 

 

The Power of We

Today is Blog Action Day, a time for bloggers from around the globe to unite and join a global discussion about one important topic.

“The purpose of Blog Action Day is to create a positive discussion that enables social good about an important topic. We ask bloggers to take a single day out of their schedule and focus it on an important issue.

By blogging about the same issue, on the same day, from their own perspectives, the blogging community focuses discussion and give their audiences the opportunities to take part in a global conversation, raise awareness or even funds for not-for-profits.”

The topic for today is The Power of We.  I love this topic so much and was really excited to write about it.

the reason I started blogging in the first place…..Little Man and I meeting at the orphanage in Vietnam for the first time

I started blogging in 2007 as a way to chronicle our adoption journey.  At the time, it was just a way for us to keep family and friends updated on the long, complicated journey.  Over time, my blog changed a lot.  I wasn’t sure what to write about or how to use my online presence.  But then slowly, after the adoption of our second child (a special needs, older child adoption) I knew what purpose I wanted my blog to serve.

My blog, you see, became my voice.  A voice to raise awareness on the issues that had affected my life personally: autism, special needs adoption, older child adoption, HIV adoption and the HIV/AIDS orphan crisis and non-profits providing aid to orphanages and children around the world.  I  even found my voice in encouraging others that adventure and the outdooors are for everyone–especially for children and those with special needs.

In 2009, through the power of blogging, I was able to team up with some other adoptive mama’s to start a series of campaigns to raise funds for children and families in Vietnam.  We had never even met in real life, but we had forged a connection through our sons’ shared heritages and our online voices.  We took a small idea and using he Power of We, were able to give life-saving surgeries, meals and other resources to people in need.

In 2012, again through blogging, I was able to connect and meet with the moms involved in the World Moms Blog and was able to spread my voice even further by becoming a contributor to their social good column.

And again in 2012, I was able to join a coalition of moms called the Global Team of 200 in an effort to spread my message of social good far and wide.

I am just beginning to harness the Power of We.  I don’t know where I’m heading, but I know it’s right where I’m supposed to be.  Blogging has not only let me find my voice, but has let me truly discover the amazing Power of We. I am so excited to see where this journey takes me.

Together, our voices united, we can bring about the changes we seek.  I have seen it happen before and I am honored to be a part of the Power of We.

Won’t you join me?

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. ~Margaret Mead 

Hope, Fear and a Mother’s Love

“The central struggle of parenthood is to let our hopes for our children outweigh our fears.” – Ellen Goodman

Yesterday I sent both my boys off to Kindergarten.

Like all mothers, I have hopes and dreams for my children.  And like most mothers, I often find myself drowning in fear and worry about every aspect of their lives.  Sometimes it is easy to push these worries aside and focus on the now.  But yesterday, the fear and worry about my son with special needs was nearly too much to bear.  And as my motherly instinct had forewarned, my worst fears did turn into reality.  Days like yesterday tip the balance of my motherly hopes and fears and I find myself grasping for anything to hold onto, anything to help me regain my footing.

My Little Man was so excited to start Kindergarten and I’m happy to report that he did great.  He was all smiles and couldn’t wait to tell me all about his day. His joy and enthusiasm made my heart soar.

All I wanted for Big Brother was for him to make it through one entire day in his new Life Skills class, but it was not to be.  He made it for a few hours before I received a frantic phone call.  I rushed to pick up Big Brother, my heart nearly leaping out of my chest on the short drive to the school.  The anxiety, the over-stimulation, all the questions, the new people, the new schedule….it was all too much for him. He had an epic and violent meltdown that left us all in quite an emotional place.

All the therapy, all the love, all the medication and we still find ourselves back at square one.  It’s hard when you feel so helpless–when you see your child suffering and cannot do anything to stop it.

I know Big Brother did the best he could.  I know he was scared and did not understand why I was not with him at school.  I know he felt pressure to answer questions he did not know the answers to. I know we prepared him the best we could with visits and meetings. But I can’t help but feel that I failed him somehow….that I am asking too much of him.  I feel that I should advocate harder for him, to make the world see past his trauma.

There are just some days that leave you breathless, grasping for anything you can to find your footing.  There are days when your heart aches more than words can say.

But we will try again and I will work to find the balance between hope and fear.

Until then, we’ll take Little Man’s advice and “just keep swimming, just keep swimming….”

 

 

 

 

 

4 Years Ago {Happy Family Day, Little Man!}

On this day 4 years ago, my life was forever changed. The hubby and I walked into an orphanage in Vietnam as a family of two, but left as a family of three.

the first time I held my son…he looked terrified 

our official “giving and receiving” ceremony

It’s hard to believe that it has been 4 years. It has been (and continues to be) an honor and a privilege to call Little Man my son. There is not a single day that passes that I don’t stop and reflect on what an amazing blessing I’ve been given.  Watching him grow and change over these past 4 years has been the most magnificent experience of my life.  I’m a lucky, lucky mama whose heart is bursting over with joy and love.  I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I am thankful to spend each day with this wonderful little boy!!! Happy Family Day, sweet Little Man.  I love you to the moon and back, a million times over.

 

Adoption: Myth vs. Reality

country, musicI have a confession: I’m not a fan of country music. Now I know that may seem to be a silly and somewhat trivial thing to profess, but living in the land where country music reigns supreme, it’s kind of a big deal. So you may find it a little weird that a country song inspired this entire post. Stay with me, folks.

A few weeks ago as I was riding in the car, I just couldn’t fight back the tears that came when a certain country song came on that I hadn’t heard in years. I immediately felt the tears welling in my eyes upon the lyrics “How long do you want to be loved? Is forever enough, is forever enough?

So here’s my second confession. Years ago I would listen to that song daily as I endured the long, winding  and excruciating wait to becoming a mom. The wait for Little Man was very drawn out and sometimes tortuous (that’s a whole ‘nother post, my peeps, that involves lawyers and international battles.) The song became a comfort to me, a little pick me up to get me through the wait. That song, you see, is a lullaby written to express a mother’s love for her child. Each day that I waited, I would listen to the words and conjure up images in my mind about how wonderful it would feel to finally become a mom. In my day dreaming state, I would hold my sweet precious baby, he would smile and coo at me, we would rock and sing together…..it would be divine. Life would be absolutely divine. I was building a wonderful fantasy in my mind of what motherhood would look like, of what it would feel like. I wanted it more than anything and my entire life revolved this beautiful dream of motherhood.

Months later the big day finally came. My baby was placed in my arms, only he wasn’t that much of a baby at 11 months of age. There were no smiles and cooing. In reality, my son could not stand to even be touched. After 11 months of laying in a crib for 23 hours out of the day with a complete lack of stimulation, the last thing my baby wanted was to be rocked. He would violently rip and scratch his flesh and pull his hair out if I tried. Banging his head against the wall or the ground was the only source of stimulation he was accustomed to. He was scared of me. In an instant, my fantasy that had taken years to build had crumbled down around me. My reality was that I was now a mom to a deeply traumatized little boy. There were no warm, fuzzy lullabies that would make this better. There were not many carefree moments to be found, much less to sing about. There were tears, grieving and profound trauma. It stung like a cold, hard slap to the face.

Oh, but Hiking Mama, you must have been prepared for this, right? Oh sure, I had read every adoption book, followed all the best adoption blogs and even gone through hours of agency training. But still, it’s so different when reality is sitting in your presence, screaming a deep, sad moan of pain and hurt. We all secretly hope that we will be the lucky one to have our fantasy come true. We all hope our baby is the lucky one that will have escaped the trauma of neglect and institutionalization.

Nearly four years later, I am happy to report that my sweet Little Man has come a long way from those first few months. We still deal with the trauma from his past, but it is very trivial as compared to when we first brought him home. After all of this, you would think I would have become some type of adoption expert. That’s what I had thought, too. But fast forward a bit and I’m sitting in a room in China, staring at a four-year old boy who is completely detached from his world. When we met Big Brother, it took days for him to even notice that we were anything more than a piece of furniture or some other inanimate object.

Trauma? Oh trauma was his middle name. And first. And last. He showed absolutely no emotion or hesitation to being ripped away from his current life by us “strangers.” Sleeping in a new bed with people he’d just met who didn’t even speak his language? OK. Whatever. Sure. He had been so hurt by this life that he had completely retreated inward. Life was just something that happened around him; he was merely surviving. There were no Hallmark moments between mother and child. We were in survival mode as we prepared for the long journey to bring him back to life.

Hearing this long forgotten song last night did something to me that I never expected. I have never really minded the fact that my grand fantasy of motherhood didn’t quite shape up as I had expected. There were no tears shed for a loss of my perceived dream of what motherhood would be like. The tears I shed were in honor of the beauty of this journey. As I thought back to those days of day dreams and fantasies, and then considered all that we had been through, I couldn’t help but think, “wow, what a beautiful journey it has been.”

And here’s the thing–had I know how difficult, how painful and how difficult (did I mention that already?) it would be, I don’t think I would have journeyed down this path. I would have been too scared and would have doubted my ability to parent children from hard places. And had I not, I would have missed out on something far more breathtaking and amazing than any fantasy could ever offer.

I have gone to the ends of the earth for my kids. I have fought like hell for their love with every fiber of my being. I have found a strength in me that I didn’t know existed. I have fought for their trust. I have given all of myself to them in order for a chance to receive their love in return. I have fought for them, prayed for them, rallied for them, defended them and supported them. I have often felt defeated, my heart has been broken countless times and my soul has been stretched too thin at times. But I have seen trauma overcome and obstacles melt away. I have seen miraculous progress coupled with sad regression. I have felt joy that makes my heart explode. I have felt pride that is as deep as the biggest ocean. I have seen the scars of trauma soften. I have seen tiny victories that are indeed monumental feats. I have seen my children rise from a darkness that not many of us can fathom. And in the light, they have given me a chance to see the world through a new set of eyes.

We are still a work in progress. A glorious, wonderful, beautiful work in progress. There’s no fantasy that can compare to something like that.

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“Lullaby”

They didn’t have you where I come from
Never knew the best was yet to come
Life began when I saw your face
And I hear your laugh like a serenade

How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough, is forever enough
How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough
Cause I’m never, never giving you up

I slip in bed when you’re asleep
To hold you close and feel your breath on me
Tomorrow there’ll be so much to do
So tonight I’ll drift in a dream with you

How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough, is forever enough
How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough
Cause I’m never, never giving you up

As you wander through this troubled world
In search of all things beautiful
You can close your eyes when you’re miles away
And hear my voice like a serenade

How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough, is forever enough
How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough
Cause I’m never, never giving you up

How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough, is forever enough
How long do you want to be loved
Is forever enough
Cause I’m never, never giving you up
Is forever enough
Cause I’m never, never giving you up

Searching for…The You We Adore {a children’s adoption book review and giveaway}

For those who read my blog, you already know that I’m passionate about the great outdoors, special needs parenting and adoption. My motto is adventure for all, which was inspired by the adoption of Big Brother. If not for him, I’m not really sure that I would even feel inspired enough to keep up with the blog. It is my goal to weave together many stories on this blog that highlight and intertwine my three passions. Today I want to share with you all about an adoption-themed book for children. I know a lot of my readers are not necessarily touched by adoption, but I just had to share for those who are!

A couple of weeks ago I was asked if I would like a copy of Searching for…the You We Adore. Of course I can’t pass up an adoption related book, so I excitedly said yes! The author, Valerie Westfall, was kind enough to provide a copy for one of my readers as well.

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Searching for…The You We Adore by Valerie Westfall
Illustrated by Richard Cowdrey
www.TheYouWeAdore.com

When the book arrived, my Little Man excitedly ran to the door to take the package from the delivery man. He immediately opened the package and we sat down, along with Big Brother, to read the story.

What I loved most about the book is that it is a beautifully illustrated and simple story that focuses on the love that adoptive parents feel for their child, especially during the waiting phase. In this story, the love of the waiting parents–symbolized by a red ribbon–is sent out all across the world in search of their child. I adore the fact that this book includes diversity and is suitable for all those who have adopted, whether it be domestically or internationally. The overriding theme is that the parents’ love is strong enough to send them searching to the ends of the earth for their child. You see, both literally and figuratively, we have traveled to the ends of the earth for our children. I love how this sweet book captures that fierce love in such a beautiful, simple way. There is no talk of paperwork or processes, only of the love that unites a family. You and your children will love this book and it will make a great addition to your child’s library!

My kids gave it two thumbs up 🙂

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You can purchase a copy of the book by visiting the website I listed above (psst….you can also preview the book at the site, so go check it out!)

So how can you enter to win a copy of this delightful book? All you need to do is leave a comment on this post! You can also earn additional entries, too. Here’s how to do it:

1. You must leave a comment on this post telling me how you are touched by adoption or why you would like to win this book. Make sure your email address is present when leaving the comment (not visible on the blog) so that I can contact you!

2. For one additional, optional entry you can share this post on your blog. Make sure to leave an additional comment on this post telling me you did so, and please share the link!

3. For an additional, optional entry you can tweet about this giveaway and leave an additional comment on this post telling me you did so. The tweet can go something like this: I just entered to win a cool children’s adoption themed book from @hikemama Check it out! http://hikebloglove.com

4. For an additional, optional entry you can go “like” my fb page and leave an additional comment here telling me you did so. If you are already a liker, just leave an additional comment telling me so!

One lucky winner will be chosen at random at 8 am on Tuesday, July 3.

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I was provided a complementary copy of Searching for…the You We Adore. All opinions expressed, however, are my own.

The Storm

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the beauty after the storm

The other night I laced up my shoes as I geared up for my nightly run (my soles4souls 5K is coming up on Saturday, eek!) My mind was heavey and loaded with things that can’t be spoken into life on this blog. Luckily I was running with a dear friend who does get it….the hard stuff that comes with parenting a deeply traumatized child.

As we ran in the summer heat, a storm rolled in. We kept running. We became soaked and decided to turn around as not to put ourselves in danger, but we still managed to finish our run. There was a part of me that welcomed the storm with open arms.

I couldn’t help but think of how running in this storm served as a great metaphor for my life right now. I could have easily avoided the storm, but instead decided to run straight into it. I embraced the reality of the rain as it pelted my skin, the wind as it pushed strongly against my body, the thunder as it echoed through my ears. I felt strong, calm. As the storm raged around me, I secretly felt free. This is where I wanted to be, I thought to myself, in a place of personal calm as the storm of life rages around me.

You see, I have been avoiding the raging storm in my own life. Not because I don’t see it, but because I have been paralyzed by fear and denial. But today I have chosen to run in head first, to be embraced by the raging storm…to enter it and walk through it in hopes of coming out the other side better than when I entered it.

My child with special needs who came from a history of profound trauma needs more help than I can give. Today, I sought out that help and it was an extremely difficult thing to do.

I have faith that there will be beauty after the storm. But you can’t get to the other side without first venturing through the chaos and turmoil. So while the storm may rage, we will walk hand-in-hand, knowing that the beauty of the aftermath awaits us just around the bend…

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“I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.” ~ Unknown