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 :)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Our Nine Year Old Boy

Carter is nine years old (that's one birthday away from ten). 

Boats, airplanes, and garbage trucks won out this year (and last year, and the year before that, and the year before that...anyone looking for some well loved trucks? I've got a stash.)

Carter asked for trucks this year, and lemon meringue pie. We kept double checking with him as the party approached.

"Carter, are you sure you want yellow pie?"
"Carter, do you want yellow lemon pie, or chocolate cake?"
"Lella piiieee!!!!"

Yes, he ate it. Yes, he liked it. Yes, he knew what he was asking for.

Sometimes this boy has us scratching our heads. Year Eight had us doing tons of head scratching, and readjusting, and trying this, and deleting that, and, and, and...

Year Nine, we welcome you.

We've learned to adjust and go with the flow. We've learned how to see a rough patch coming, and prepare for it. But that doesn't mean it's easy or fun.

{Macy has learned things too - like how to sit back and relax while brother picks his favorites off her plate. I try to tell myself that this is good for her, long-term. Because, justice.}

So we try to stay ten steps ahead, without running ahead too far. We try to keep the family balanced and happy. We try to buy the nine year old baby dolls so that Macy's dolls can stay out of the pool.

We try and try and try.

And then we realize that the trying is too much, and we sit back and let life happen.

Everyone relaxes a bit. The floors get dirty. The laundry piles up. The grass gets long(ish). 

Then wine is enjoyed on the patio - family and friends run through the backyard with squirt guns in hand - last minute play dates at the pool have us splashing until bedtime.


So, to our Big Boy on his 9th year of life. This could be your best year yet. Or maybe it will be your worst. I'm just being real.

Whatever the year ahead brings - we're doing it together. Step by step, feeling you out, learning you more each day, asking God for help to understand you best. You're a complex little boy, and we'll spend every day learning how to love you.

First photo as a family of five - and I can't think of a better big brother for Macy and Silas. You're teaching us how to be better parents, and for that, Macy and Silas owe you.

As Macyn would say - "Carter B! Buddy! Brudder Bear! I wuz you!". Here's to year nine. Let's tackle it together (trucks in hand).

One Thing I Know For Sure: We owe you!

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Tomorrow we will take our Siley J to his 2 week doctors appointment. While we're there, we will pop in to visit all the people who helped us get to where we are today.

This is our Thank You.


I still remember the first conversation that started this crazy journey. My friend, Juli, was over for coffee and she asked when we would start having babies. After all, Carter had been home 3 years and she knew we wanted more kiddos.

I told her we'd been trying for almost 2 years, and I was starting to think we'd just adopt a baby.

A baby.

Adopting Carter at 3 years old was good. We wouldn't change anything about how our 'first born' came to us. But for as long as I can remember, I've longed to have a baby.

Juli mentioned 'the midwives', and I called to make an appointment the next day.


My first appointment was with Brenna. I was nervous, because - what if she confirms the worst - that we won't be having any babies?

She created a safe place in that room - and I instantly felt like I was chatting with an old friend. She asked me some questions, ran some tests, and put me on a teeny, tiny dose of levothyroxine (for my thyroid). 

As she was leaving the exam room, she turned back around, peeked in the door, & chirped "Girl - we're gonna get you pregnant!".

Hope. Maybe this could actually happen.

Our soon-to-be Big Brother, with Macy's ultrasound pictures

Three weeks later, I was pregnant.


My head was in the clouds for most of Macy's pregnancy. I had some weird pregnancy symptoms, but my excitement that we were actually pregnant overshadowed all of the jaw pain and hip pain and gum pain (pregnancy gingivitis is a real thing, apparently).

Her due date came - and my 'old friend' Brenna was on call. Through 16 hours of labor, she was in & out of our room - affirming me, making small talk, and offering Jake some support, too.

Ninety minutes of pushing - and I needed Jake & Brenna for every single second of it. I was full of doubt that I could actually do this. They told me I could.

They were right - I did it. We did it.

The second Macyn was born, Brenna said "She looks just like Jake!". No truer words have ever been spoken :)

Five minutes after she was born, I told Jake that I couldn't wait to do that again. I was serious. I felt amazing. I had always questioned if I could actually deliver a baby without an epidural. It seemed like something other women could do - but was I really strong enough?

I was. We were. It was a team effort.


Fifteen months later, Jake and I decide to start trying for the next baby - fully expecting it to take us 'a while'.

It didn't. Within a few days, we were pregnant.

This pregnancy was easier than Macy's, even. I didn't have all the weird pregnancy symptoms, and I was busy. Mom to a toddler and a second grader, plus a gamut of other things on my plate...this pregnancy was over in a blink.

Heading to the hospital late at night, feeling so ready to meet our baby boy - wondering how our lives were about to change.

Loree was on call - and I saw her for just a few minutes during my 5 hours of labor. When it came time to push, she came in and said "You're the expert - just do it!".

I did it. Two big pushes and our sweet boy was in my arms.

We did it.


As I type this, all three of our kids are soundly sleeping in their beds. Each one, a gift. Each one, unique. Each one, cherished.

Without Hope, none of them would be here.

Someone delivered this baby of ours, too. Midwife - Doctor - whoever you are, we're grateful for you, too.

To The Midwives, Nurses, Ultrasound Techs, and Receptionists (yes, even you!)  -
The work you do is important. You don't just see patients, or check them in, or do exams, or run vitals, or perform ultrasounds, or deliver babies. For me, and for our family, you offered just the right amount of Hope.

Brenna & Loree - I don't think I'll ever forget the value you both gave me in Room 310 (where both our babies were born), almost exactly 2 years apart. You both gave me just what I needed. With Macy, I needed the moment-by-moment care and constant affirmation. With Silas, I just needed someone to show up and tell me to do it.

Our little family is complete (I think). Our days of 'having babies' are over - and now we are in the season of 'raising babies'. This is the season I've always looked forward to.

But without Hope, there would be no 'raising babies' season. The work you do is important.

We owe you!


One Thing I Know For Sure: Forever Grateful!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Silas Jacob is Here.

Welcome to the world, Silas Jacob. You are twelve days old today, and it seems like I've known you forever. 

This is how your story begins.

You happened quickly - we were pregnant with you within days of deciding that we wanted another baby. The emotions were intense. 

We're pregnant! 
Wait, we're pregnant? 
Yes! We're pregnant! 

Due two days before Macy's second birthday. When I dreamt about being a mom (it's all I ever wanted) I dreamt about my kids being exactly two years apart.

We found out you were a boy on a Thursday afternoon. Brenna, the midwife, called with the test results. We were all in our bedroom - Carter and Macy laying on the bed, Dad just getting home from work, and me - putting the call on speaker so everyone could hear. And you. You were there, too.

"Are you ready? Are you sitting down? It's a......BOY!!!"

Celebration and cheering ensued. Dad cried a little, I think. 

I did, too. When I dreamt about being a mom, I dreamt about having two boys and a girl. 

The next several months were filled with snuggling a one year old, buying a minivan, packing school lunches, a growing belly, finishing our basement, reading books in laps, gestational diabetes (bummer - but really not so bad!), countless loads of laundry - countless family meals - countless walks to the lake - countless bedtime stories. 

But you already know all of this, because you were there.

The day before your due date, I felt amazing. I had more energy than I did in weeks. Both Carter and Macy were more needy and clingy than ever, that evening. I wondered if something was about to happen.

Daddy and I went to bed - I was sleeping soundly by 9 - he fell asleep around 10.

At 10:20pm, my water broke. 

At 11:20pm, we were at the hospital.

At 12:20am, I started my first round of antibiotics (because I was GBS+). I was 5 cm dilated.

At 1:00am, the contractions were becoming too intense, and I asked for a little nubain (which allows for rest between contractions, and takes the edge off a bit). 

At 3:20am, I thought the nubain must have been wearing off because everything was so intense again. The nurse checked me...and told me I was only at 6 or 7 cm dilated. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. They gave me a little more nubain.

At 3:40, I told the nurse I felt a little 'pushy'. "NO! It's too early." The midwife, Loree, was called in, I think. And by the time she was at the door, I was pushing. She walked in and said "Ashley, you're the expert. Your body knows what to do. Do it."

At 3:50, you took your very first breath. Dad and I fell in love. The world is forever changed.

Silas Jacob - 7lbs 2oz - 18.5 inches long. Born on your due date, just like your sister.  Five intense hours of labor, two intense pushes, and here you were - big dark eyes looking into mine.

Suddenly, the last 9 months are all a blur. How did we get here? Three precious kids - a daughter and two sons.

This is our life.


Later that afternoon, we had some really special visitors.

For fun, you can go back and look at Macy's birth story - you'll see the same giraffe. And the same big brother. He'll always be there, looking over you (even when it doesn't seem like it).

Some people won't understand him (or his giraffe) - and that's okay. We understand him - and he'll understand you, more than you know. You're brothers, and brothers are special.

Oh, and sisters. Sisters are special, too. Just in a different way. YOUR sister adored you from the minute she looked at you. She had a nickname for you after 2 minutes of knowing you.

"Hi, Tiny!"
"Hold Tiny?"
"Bottle, Tiny?"
"Snuggle Tiny!"
"Come here, Tiny!"

I can't help but think you're the luckiest baby ever.


We came home on a Thursday. We said goodbye to NaNa, who was here with Macy, and put Macy down for her nap.

And then we looked at each other. We have three kids. Each one of them perfectly unique.

I can't promise we'll always get it right. I can't even promise we'll mostly get it right.

I can promise that we'll ask for grace every single day. We need God's Wisdom in how to best love you, uniquely.

But, you know all about that, too.
Grace - Wisdom - Love - Uniqueness...all very familiar principles for your fresh little brain.

Siley J - this is the beginning of your story. It started with great intensity - where will it go from here?

You get to decide, sweet boy. You hold the pen. We'll help to strengthen and guide your hand as you eventually pick it up and write - but this story is all yours.

We owe you, Silas. We'll spend every day loving you the best we can.

One Thing I Know For Sure: We can't wait to discover who you are.
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