Thursday, February 01, 2018

Top 10 of 2017

It's time for the Top 10 of 2017.

Hahaha.  That's a funny joke.  Everyone here knows I didn't keep it to just ten. I just can't help it - I start looking through photos from the past 12 months, and all the feels just come at me, and soon they're dripping out of my eyes. 

So, let's call this post "My Biggest Feels of 2017". That's better. 

In chronological order, because I could never pick a favorite. Here we go.


Silas Jacob was welcomed into the world on March 7, and Macy marched right in and took her role as Big Sis very seriously. I'll never forget her squeaky little 23-month old voice saying "Hi, Tiny! Hi, Little Squeaker!" like she had been waiting nine months to call him those names. Her squinty eyes and squishy cheeks pointed up in the most sincere smile, this girl was sister-material from the beginning.


Just two days after welcoming Silas, we celebrated Macy's second birthday. Sweetest little sunshine girl, celebrating her comes easy.


When Macy was a baby, Carter tolerated her. He might have even liked her, a little bit. But his relationship with Silas is different. Maybe it's brotherhood. Maybe Carter has matured. Maybe he practiced with Macy and is perfecting it with Silas. Whatever it is, I like it. 


Blurry sister, but I don't care. These are the early days with three kids. The photos were blurry, and so was our life. Things are clearing up a bit now, but these blurry days still look so good to me. What she doesn't know is this boy she calls 'Tiny' will soon be as big as her, and into all her stuff. Either way, love still grows.


Those blurry days I talked about? Even the teeth brushing sessions were precious. Three kids, a tired mom, and so much goodness. These are the moments I'll cry for 10 years from now. 


Remember that one time, when Carter turned 9, and we asked him what he wanted for a cake, and he said "Lemon pie"? And we kept asking him over and over, because he couldn't possibly want that. And then his party came, and he was ecstatic to see Lemon Pie. Remember that? Carter knows what he wants. He can tell us what he wants. When he tells us something, we believe him. 


My Grampie, and my baby - at Carter's 9th Birthday.  Just a few weeks after taking this photo, I learned some hard news, and the reality was that there was a chance this would be one of the last birthday parties my Grampie would attend. In an instant, this photo became ultra-special. Turns out, he's going to be around for a while. But this photo serves as a reminder to me of the fragility of life, and the power of our Right & Just God.


Our first photo as a family of five. A little crooked, a little wonky, but totally perfect. This is us.


This is our summer, in a nutshell. 


This girl and her daddy have something all their own. His 'mini-me', in more ways that one.


I'm just a mom, trying to figure out life with three kids. By mid-summer, we're getting there. Carter is either a tremendous help, or the one who needs the most help. There's no in-between - but when it's good, it's soooo good.


When it's good - it's sooooo good. How can we help him get to 'good'? How about making a permanent kiddie pool for him to play boats in? What if we add a filter with a little fountain? Success.


Here we are, three-fifths of a family, being pushed and stretched in all directions. This baseball outing was one of the first outings with Carter after taking the gluten-free/dairy-free/egg-free/peanut-free/rice-free plunge. It's been an amazing journey of growth for all of us - but here we are, trying something hard (restaurant food) with our kiddo who wants nothing more than a dang bun and ice cream. But we helped him through it, and he was a champ. Here's to growth.


"Mom, your my bester friend ever!". Yes, dear one. The feeling is mutual. Let's be bester friends forever and ever. We need each other.


Saint Germain, 2017 - a hard week for our nine year old who wants so badly to be independent like any other nine year old...but can't be trusted alone for more than a second. For a few minutes, he played in his room with his beloved 'pink baby' and as I watched to see what he would do, I saw a happy, tender, caring boy who rocked and kissed his baby so sweetly. Independence is growing, and we'll get there.


This is Macy, two years old and so confident. From head to toe, uniquely perfect.


This is what it looks like to be understood and loved. Run free, sweet boy. Run right into the good things ahead.

Read more here.


Tubbies in the sink after an evening of playing outside after dinner. Time, slow down. 


As his personality develops, we see a sweet little boy underneath the perfect amount of rough-and-tumble. Sensitive, gentle, and kindhearted. This is Siley-J. Siley-Jaybird. Si-si. Casa (Carter gave him this we embrace it). Sweet guy.


In those days when life seemed blurry and out of focus, this guy helped me to reign it back in. Here he is, doing something he used to hate. He's enjoying it, he's interacting with Macy and I while he's doing it, he's focused and determined. It's hard to believe there were days I never thought we'd get here.

But here we are.

2017 is in the books. I had big intentions for sending out New Year cards (instead of Christmas cards). I designed them excitedly...and then didn't follow through with actually having them printed and mailed out (which, as it turns out, are pretty important steps in the card-sending process). long as you're here...

Here's to 2018. May it be one amazing year.
Even if it's not.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas, from us to you.

Merry, merry, merry.

Merry, x3.

Our three little loves had a fantastic Christmas. They've got Grandparents and Great Grandparents coming out of their ears. So you can bet that we've got a mountain of toys in the middle of the living room that wasn't there a week ago.

A motorcycle ride-on thingy for Macyn. A big boy drill set for Carter. Paw Patrol stuff. Baby dolls. Race tracks (Be careful of little girls who have long hair and like to play with race cars. I've heard sometimes hair can get caught in the wheel, only to be worked on for 40 minutes before deciding to destroy the car in order to avoid cutting out a chunk of hair. I've heard.)  Throw in some twinkling lights and christmas cookies and 'Jingle Bells' (on repeat) and that about sums up our Christmas season.

All good stuff.

But there's so much more. This was the Christmas of our dreams, maybe. Partly because the grandparents didn't totally outdo themselves. Partly because we were able to stay home and have family come to our house (which is a huge win for Carter boy!). Partly because Jake and I worked together as a team to set our kids up for success.

Mostly that.

What do our kids need? What can we do as parents (who, ideally, should have our own selves together enough to put them first) to help our kids succeed? What do our kids need to be their best selves? Can we give them that?

Macyn and Silas don't need much to be successful. They're very easy-going, happy, calm kiddos. Toss a few gifts at them and they'll be happy for hours.

But Carter needs more. And up until recently, we failed to recognize that. We'd drag him to long family gatherings and expect him to hold it together. That's just not something he's capable of right now, and we're okay with that. So the family adjusts, with gladness.

This little book was a project I worked on over the fall. It's a book about our family for Macy (and eventually, Silas). The note on the inside reads: "To Macy, Our family is unique in many special ways. This book is only the beginning of helping you to see the great value that our uniqueness brings! Go 'Team Gibson'!"

We're unique. Fantastically, so. And we embrace it.

Carter has become harder and harder to buy meaningful gifts for. This year the toy grill (complete with burger & the fixin's) was a hit, along with his real drill set and a big red truck like Brad's. The t-shirt below was possibly made for Carter (although the joke is lost on him). 

But we really wanted to find one more thing that would speak to him - saying "Hey, bud. We get you. We understand you. We think you're awesome."  So Jake did some shopping. He's the thoughtful gift giver of the family, so it only made sense that he lead the way on this.

Eventually, he found what would seemingly be the perfect gift for our garbage-loving 9 year old. It was a small, residential size garbage can. Complete with clasping lid, handle for pulling, and of course - wheels. Unfortunately, it was out of stock in all the big-box stores around us and we were too close to Christmas to have anything shipped.

Bummer, dude. Maybe next year!

But then...Jake decided to contact the company that manufactures these little garbage cans. The brand is 'Toter' and they were a dream to talk to on the phone. Jake explained why we'd want one of these garbage cans - we've got a 9 year old with special needs who loves nothing more than taking out garbage, shaking the garbage bag, throwing garbage in the can, etc. After talking for a bit, Jake learned that they don't have an option to purchase an individual item (and we weren't interested in purchasing a bulk set of garbage cans...sorry Carter!). 

Bummer, dude. Maybe next year!

But then...Shelley from Toter called Jake back and asked if she could get our address. She was excited to share that her amazing management team agreed to do what they could to get us ONE garbage can, in time for Christmas. Perfect!

"How much do we owe you?"

"Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas to you, too. How can we get payment to you?"

"That won't be necessary. Merry Christmas."

Cheesy grin, proud stance, I imagine he's feeling so very known and understood. My people get me. They really get me!

Fantastically unique - we know not everyone has a green garbage can in their living room on Christmas morning. But here we are! Embracing it, this Christmas and beyond.

Thanks, Toter. You've reminded us that sometimes our life takes a little extra work, and sometimes it takes help from others, but it's so worth it on Christmas morning. You helped to make this boy's Christmas very special, indeed.

One Thing I Know For Sure: "GARBAAAAGE!!! Shake, shake bag!! Toys in garbage! Hahaha! Empty garbage!!! Pull garbage can!!",  on repeat.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"What Happened To You?" - A Stream of Thoughts.

I was cleaning up some files on my laptop recently, and came across this photo.

This photo was sent to us by our facilitators in Ukraine, just weeks after we had initiated the process to adopt Carter (April 2011). As a soon-to-be-mom, all I could think was how sweet his round face was, how sleepy and snuggly he looked, and how I couldn't wait to get him home.

October and November are typically rough months for us.
We met Carter on October 7, 2011.
We passed court in Kiev on October 24, 2011.
We took him home to our apartment in Kiev on November 9, 2011.
We arrived back in America on November 15, 2011.

Something dawned on me this past summer. Silas was about four months old, and I realized he was the same age that Carter was when his birth parents left him at the orphanage. At four months old, Silas was fully aware of his Mommy and Daddy. He was interacting with us, he looked for us, he loved laughing at his brother and sister, and he already was showing signs of 'stranger danger'.

I felt a lump rising in my throat when I realized that Macy, who is now two-and-a-half years old, is still a year younger than Carter was when we adopted him.

From one of our orphanage visits, October 2011
Carter has been 'ours' for six years now. And I'm just starting to feel the pain for the three-and-a-half years he spent in an orphanage.

We often talk about Macy and Silas being little sponges, who just soak up everything around them - the information presented to them, the experiences they live each moment, the things they see and hear and feel. They soak it all up and it's up to us to help them sort it all out.

Carter was a little sponge, too. For three years, he soaked up everything around him. We're just now sorting it out.

When I was filling up my gas tank the other day, the air was cool and crisp and just a little damp. The truck that was idling next to me gave off some exhaust. The gas station attendant on his break had just lit a cig. And I was taken back to Ukraine. My heart used to long to go back.

I don't long for Ukraine anymore. I grieve for how Ukraine altered our journey.

I often wonder who Carter is without the layers of trauma. I often wonder how long I'll be grieving the loss of that Carter. I often wonder if I'll ever stop hoping that he'll wake up and be healthy and whole.

Recently, our county case worker and I were having a discussion about trauma. She mentioned that they've been having more frequent trainings about trauma, and even schools are recognizing the role trauma plays in the lives of so many kids. She said "One course changed my thinking from 'what's wrong with you?' to 'what happened to you?'"

What happened to you, sweet boy?

From one of our orphanage visits, November 2011

From a blog I posted after a week or so of meeting Carter:
"Do we love him? Yes. Undoubtedly, yes. Not because he fits our expectations - but because we have chosen to love him, DESPITE our expectations. We know there will be difficult, awkward days ahead. That's okay. Love is a choice, we believe. It's not an emotion or a feeling. No - it's an ACT. And we'll choose to love him - hard or easy, fast or slow, up or down."

This is our story. Choosing to love a boy who had so much happen to him.


Carter brings an incredible value to our family, and we are thankful every day for how he's impacted our lives.

The thoughts that I share in this post are me, being vulnerable and genuine.

We used to excitedly celebrate all the Adoption Dates in October & November. We don't really celebrate those dates, anymore. Now we just celebrate Carter, and the growth that he's worked so damn hard for.

One Thing I Know For Sure: Loving him, more every day.

Friday, October 06, 2017

To the Givers, the Carers, the Lovers (on Our Summer of Freedom, and Third Grade)

One photo is all this post needs.

This was our summer, in a nutshell.

I've been learning that for our family to function at it's best, we need help.

In the past, I've fallen into the trap of comparing our family to other families.
"They don't need people to help them at church..."
"They don't need to keep the bathroom door and the baby's room door closed at all times..."
"They don't need grandma to take two-thirds of their kids for a day so they can have a break..."
"They don't need baby gates to block off the kitchen..."
"They don't need to divide the kids up to two separate houses in order to get a date night..."
"They don't need to keep their bedroom door locked..."

But no. We aren't like other families. We need lots of help. From lots of people. Without help, we can get by. We can struggle through. We can survive.

We don't want to just survive, so we ask for help.

We've had very little help in the way of respite - and this summer, we decided to dive in and try it out.  Because - I'm just going to be frank - life with Carter is special and wonderful, but damn hard.

Carter is a little light in our house - bright and refreshing.  But sometimes we just want to turn the light out for a little while and give our eyes a rest.

As I prepared for summer - I couldn't imagine an entire summer with this bright light shining in my eyeballs, 24/7. Add in two other little (less-bright, less-intense) lights, and I knew we needed more help.

So this summer, Angell came for 4 to 6 hours per day, on 3 to 4 days per week. Carter had respite.

We all had respite.

Our goal for respite was for Carter to have meaningful fun. When we developed this goal in the spring, I was still hesitant and not sure how Carter would fill his time. All I could think of was therapy (which has been over for almost a year) and I didn't want his summer to look like therapy at all.

Looking back, this was the summer of our dreams. Carter went on amazing adventures with someone who truly understands him, and leads him, and loves him. He did things that were fun an exciting for him. He played, a lot. He swam, a lot. Freedom.

And guess what? Carter learned. Carter grew.

And so did I.

This is our vision for Carter's future. Meaningful fun. Bringing the joy. Connections and relationships with those who understand him and want him to be successful.


This summer helped me realize that Carter CAN be passed off to other qualified adults to go on excursions. Carter CAN go to speech, occupational therapy, a restaurant, the park, the pool, EAA with someone else and have an amazing time.

Just, basically, Carter CAN.

And guess what else? Carter came home from each outing feeling special and adored. And when he came home, I had more energy to pour into him. This is what respite did for us.

Respite may have saved me from myself.

Our summer of freedom.

Thanks, Angell.


There's more!

Throughout the summer, other people put their arms around us and said "Me! Pick me! I want to help! How can we share in your burden?".

Some took Carter for an entire day, so I could focus on Macy and Silas.
Some took Macy and Silas for the day so I could focus on other things.
Some came here to watch Macy and Silas so I could run errands.
Some washed windows - put away dishes - washed floors - watered flowers.
Some folded laundry while they sat at our table during lunch.
Some helped us understand Carter's new food sensitivities (long story!) and helped us develop a plan.
Some offered to grab groceries for us.
So many brought fun and joy into our lives, during what could have been a very trying season.

Really, this is what happened when I learned to ask for more help.

We could probably do this without you all, but we don't want to.


Summer is gone, and we're one month into school. There are big changes for Carter this year, and he's handling them like a champ (well, duh). He's with some new people who are genuinely working to understand him and who he is as a person. He's somebody worth figuring out, and they recognize that.

I guess this is a good place to end.

Being understood & felt. What more is there to say?

One Thing I Know For Sure: To the Givers, the Carers, the Lovers - we need you!

Monday, August 21, 2017

St. Germain 2017

Our seventh annual Gibson Getaway has come and gone. I'm here for the recap. Which looks eerily similar to the recap from last year, and the year before, and the year before. The kids are bigger (and there are more of them), but the views are basically the same.

Big boy, in the water as often as possible.

Big girl, in the water as often as possible.

Mom sneaking kisses, as often as possible.

Cuteness overload, times three this year.

Oh, and everyone else. Right. There were other people on 'Macy and Carter's Vacation', too.

Hi, Ben.
Hi, Poppy.
Hi, Tom & Marn.

Hi, Mimi.

"I'm not c-c-c-cold!"
"I wanna go deeper, Daddy!"
"Wanna swim? Ya?"

We did more than swim, though.

Kayaking, flea marketing (chicken gyros!), stroller walking, campfiring, fishing (Carter says 'Awesome!'), play-dohing, bubbles-ing, snacking.

Basically, summering.

St. Germain = squeezing out the last juicy bits of summer.

In the Northwoods, mid-August actually feels a little autumn-like. Chilly mornings and crisp evenings, with a chunk of mid-day that is perfect for the beach.

Or, at least good-enough for the beach.

When you've got your Ana & Elsa swim suit and butterfly sunglasses, 'good-enough' is good enough.

There was some down time, too.

Keeping Carter happy and busy was a little tricky this year, and it left Jake and I feeling very un-vacationed by the second or third day of our trip. But there were good bits, too.

 And then there's always Cathy's for ice cream.

Walking up the long trail from the dock is probably something Carter will always remember. He knows the trail well, and knows exactly what waits for him at the end :)

Get ice cream (or, lemon ice in our case). Sit down. Spoon in. Pinky up. Devour.

Some people even take their family photo at Cathy's. Or so I've heard.

Bye, St. Germain! See you next year - new house, new lake, new possibilities!

And if we do it right, we'll be a new family as we spend this year growing and changing.

Now that's something to raise a pinky to.

One Thing I Know For Sure: On St. Germain Time. Get it? That's okay, half of the people pictured didn't get it, either :)
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