This Little Man

A little over two years ago, we were given a precious gift.

Since he came into our lives, Levi has made every day more active and interesting.

Finding new ways to use the Fish Puzzle pieces... (Pretty impressive tower, really.)

And louder. MUCH louder. :-)

Sunshine and Levi - best friends forever. :-)

Happy 3rd birthday, Munchkin! You make my heart smile!

The month that Levi turned two...

April. Oh, April. Where did you go?

Still, I welcome May with open arms, with all its inherent sunshine and green things and outdoor activities.

Besides disappearing in the landslide known as "tax season", April was notable for two major events in our house: Levi's second birthday, and an adoption shower thrown for us by our church.

At just past a year, it seemed a good time to reflect on the changes our family has gone through in the last year, and the way we have grown because of it.

At Levi's first birthday, we had had him in our home for less than two weeks. His attachment to us was still very weak, but to the Stanleys, it was very strong. He was confused about what was going on, and often unhappy. When the Stanleys came over to see him (which was very often in the first month), he got confused on how to behave, and acted out in ways he wouldn't normally do to see if he could draw the attention of his Nana and Papa, and see whether they would correct him.

At the party, I felt like an outsider, since Levi didn't really see me as his mother, and he craved the attention of his previous caregivers. Not only that, they missed the little man terribly, and unintentionally contributed to my feelings of imposition by usurping roles that the parents would normally play at their child's birthday party... but at that point, was he really "our child", yet? No, not emotionally. Not in any way but verbal agreement between the caregivers concerned. Emotionally, we were just the babysitters who had planned the party.

The adults involved were feeling a wide range of emotions that were common to us all--guilt, fear, regret, sadness, grief, uncertainty. We were trying to redefine our relationships to each other and to this precious boy that bound us all together beyond what our previous friendship ever had. There were other emotions that accompanied grief that had to be dealt with. Relationships had been torn, and needed to be mended in a shape different than how they had begun.

The process was painful, and felt interminably slow, but as time went on, and steps were made, healing has continued. The new shape of our family tree may be slightly unconventional, but the ugly scars are starting to heal and fade, and the overall beauty of the design is beginning to be seen.

Levi is still very attached to his brother Quinton (whom he calls "Tintin"), his birth mother Jenn (whom he calls "Nen"), and his Papa and Nana (Jennifer's parents). But, he is also most definitely Levi Winters, now, and Jason and I are "Dad" and "Mom", and Jude, Noah, and Jabin ("Ju", "Wa-wa" and "Dabin") are some of his favourite people, too.

After some hard turns on the road of our friendship, the adults have regained firm footing in where we stand with each other--and maybe a new level of love and respect. Jenn and I have gotten to know each other, now, and I just so appreciate how respectful she has been of me as Levi's new mom. She may be more like the "cool aunt" in his life, but she still loves him dearly, and I am glad that he will continue to have a relationship with her as he grows. Perhaps he can avoid the issues of abandonment that so many adopted children face, because everyone who loved him is still a part of his life.

Pictures from the birthday party:

Levi gives his brother Quinton a cuddle.

Chocolate cake--a Winters Family birthday tradition.

Musta been good!

Happy birthday to you!

Grandpa Mike can't help but tease the boys. Grandma Laurel helps me serve dessert.

Despite the many environmentally-conscious and fiscally-responsible adults at this party, it so happened (because of schedules, etc.) that each person there brought their own vehicle. It was so funny to see so many cars in our yard for such a small party, I had to take a photo.

Papa and Nana (Brian and Laverna) Stanley

Opening presents with Jenn. The little hat was one of her gifts.

Surrounded by brotherly love--and help, too! :-)

The following Saturday, First Baptist Church put on an adoption shower, organized by my good friends Larrissa and Cheryl, with help from another lady I am just getting to know, Joanna. I was delighted when I got there to see the "Moustache Party" theme, with adorable bow-tie napkins, and moustaches everywhere. (Larrissa and Joanna have a real flair for decorating.) Sadly, I did not think to take photos until just before clean up commenced, so I did not capture it in all its glory. (Being the centre of attention has a way of making you forget about taking photographs.)

Jenn and Laverna both attended the shower, and it was such a blessing to be able to share with my church family about how this change has brought our families closer, and how much courage I believe it took Jenn to make the decision she did. It was an even greater blessing later on to hear how that day brought some  healing between Jenn and Laverna.

When Levi first came to us, I read a very excellent book called "Attachment in Adoption" by Deborah Gray. I was surprised when I read that everyone involved in an adoption grieves--the birth parent or caregivers for what they have lost, and the adopting parents for what the child has lost, and in our case, we were also grieving for what our friends had lost. For the child, they grieve many things, depending on the situation. I believe Levi grieved (in his own way) losing daily contact with a mother and grandparents and brother that were his whole world, and being put into a new situation where he felt very insecure for months before strong attachments began to form.

For the adopting parent, there may also be a period of grief if they discover their child has some special needs, as they will then grieve over the hopes and expectations they had of their child and their own family's future that will never come to be. While Levi does not have any special needs, Jason, in particular, had a period of grief over having our family go back to having such a little guy around--while there is much joy in having a little one, there are many restrictions that he was sure we were beyond.

But God gives grief a beautiful function--to heal. If we allow the process to continue, and do not get "stuck", time will heal the wound that caused the grief in the first place. In the process, he remolds our ideas and beliefs and values, and if we allow it, brings them more in line with his.

Over a year after Levi joined our family, I believe that all those involved are either in the final stages, or have moved beyond grief to focus on the joy and blessings to be found in the new configuration of things. I am thankful that the Lord has allowed us to grow in these ways. As I shared at the shower, "When an artist is making a sculpture, he has to make many cuts into the marble to reveal the beautiful image beneath. The cuts are painful, but without them, the final sculpture will never be seen."

I am so thankful for the beautiful sculpture I am beginning to see. Lord, continue your work in me.

"Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6 (NIV)


Growing, Learning, Loving Levi

The last couple of weeks have been interesting and unusual in our house, but nothing dire. A round of the cold bug has hit us once again, with Levi getting it first last week, and Noah and I catching it from him. Jason was gone all last week for training in Edmonton, and has thus far escaped that particular virus, although he was laid low a bit over the weekend by some kind of stomach flu. He has recovered nicely, and Levi has all his former energy back, so I am hoping my own recovery isn't far behind so I can keep up with him again soon!

Sometimes, when raising children, you look at your child and realize that you have entered a new phase and hadn't really noticed the transition. The changes might be subtle, but they are there.

After a week of being the only parent home, Levi has bonded to me that much more, especially since there were several days where all he wanted to do was lay on me and sleep. Since he is such a "daddy's boy", it was nice to have him actually ask for me once or twice after Jason came home, as this has been pretty rare in the past. Also, he is starting to understand more and more--actually doing tasks that you ask him to do sometimes. Of course, he keeps testing the boundaries, too, just to make sure they are still there.

Levi has started to want to "help"--whether it is loading the wood box, or unloading the dishwasher, or running to put something in the garbage, he likes to transport things and be involved in the tasks of the household. Sometimes the help is less desirable--such as when he gets his goat's milk out of the fridge for you but accidentally spills something else that was sitting on the shelf beside it. :-) Oh, well. It's all part of the process.

Levi's current obsessions are: shoes--he constantly pulls out the rest of our shoes and boots and walks around in them, getting frustrated when he can't lift his oversized footwear over steps or his little ride-on truck toy; toques--he is always pulling out his two or three favourites and walking around the house with them perched crazily on top of his head, sometimes even trying to wear more than one at a time; his bellybutton (still!). He rarely has an idle moment where his finger isn't poking that little hole on his belly. I don't know what the fascination is, but it has become a running joke around here that he is "pumping the primer", or that it's his "go-button."

After nearly five months of having our days all to ourselves, I feel like I am finally just getting back into the groove of having only a toddler home all day. Seriously, I used to be much better at this. In my memory, I was totally organized and had all kinds of ideas for keeping the little guys occupied. However, I also remember being tired a lot. :-) Maybe the memory of organization was only on the days when I wasn't overcome with exhaustion, which has blurred out the disorder of the rest...

However, a combination of Levi learning to be more self-entertaining and less clingy, and me having better ideas of things for us to do together or him to do on his own, has made our days (the ones not plagued by illness-caused lethargy) much smoother. I am thankful.

At Papa's and Nana's for brother Quinton's birthday, Dec. 25.

You make every day an adventure, little man!

It's Official!

As of today, our adoption of Levi is complete.

Last week, the adoption order came in the mail--with some other child's name on the letter. I am so glad that when I went to the courthouse today, it was simply a matter of re-printing the letter with the correct name on it, as the rest of the process was complete and correct.


Next time I take the little man to see the doctor, I won't have to give a big long explanation about why he answers to a different name than the one on his Alberta Health Care card. :-)

We love you, Levi!

Your ticket, please

This fall has been a bit of a wild ride, but it seems to be settling into a routine at last.

A little more than a week after my three oldest boys started school, just when I was beginning to figure out what the new shape of my life might look like, Jason received a job offer with a start-up branch office of an IT Services company. Unfortunately, the job would have required us to move to Fort St. John, B.C., a nearly 3-hour drive west of here.

The job was appealing because it offered Jason a chance to gain shares in the company incrementally over time, which is not the kind of thing that comes along in his industry all that often. However, the initial salary offer was not enough to make us think of the decision as a no-brainer.

So, after much prayer, and research, and two fact-finding missions to Fort St. John, Jason sent them a counter-offer that we could live with. They couldn't, and that was that. The process described in the last three paragraphs was about four weeks of limbo and turmoil in our lives, though, which made for a rather emotional September. But at least, in the state of "are-we-going-to-sell-our-house-or-not?", I got my kitchen linoleum replaced—no more holes! Yay!

Thankfully, we have had a beautiful "Indian Summer"-type of fall again, which means that, while we did not accomplish huge chunks of our yardwork in September, we have been able to get winter-ready (for the most part) in October.

After Jason's super-stressful summer, he decided to take two weeks off in October so we could actually finish up a few of the "summer" projects he had been meaning to do--not to mention, get a mental break from work! Yesterday was his first day back at the office.

While he was off, I managed to butcher the last of my spring roosters, so I now only have one remaining (which Jason pithily named "Lucky"), other than one or two in a batch of chicks still too young to be certain about at only 2 1/2 months. The garden got taken in and prepped for winter, our collection of old appliances got hauled away, and on Sunday, Jason and Brian Stanley put our deck on at last! (Yay! It's been sitting on blocks in the middle of the yard for two years, ever since we purchased this mobile home.)

Jason is still hoping to build a roof over our woodshed before the snow flies (because wood burns so much nicer when it is dry).

Now that Jason is back at work, and the outside stuff is mostly done for the year, I find that I can be in the house focusing on my "inside projects"—except, not really. Levi has reached the stage where he needs almost constant supervision, and thinks all things electronic are things he must get his hands on—and throw. Or at least (in the case of keyboard), copy the typing action everyone else does on it. :-)

Ergo, office work while he is awake is pretty much out of the question. I can do some kitchen stuff (like the bread I plan to bake today), and have been making progress on some knitting patterns I have been designing, but I have been praying for God to help me remember how short this phase is as I try to subvert the frustration I feel at not being able to get even basic office work done some days.

Going back to the baby phase—and now into the so-called "terrible twos"—has been more of a change than I thought it would be, and I realize how much freedom I had with the ages of my other three boys. They were all old enough to be trusted with a certain amount of independence, and I had peace of mind knowing they were all looking out for each other while they were outside, too.

I think I'm going to have to find some friends with boys this age so Levi can start having play dates, and I can start having sanity time. And I'm going to keep praying. A lot.

Levi: Week Two

The second week with Levi in our family has seen some significant changes, not the least of which was the little man turning one!

Before last weekend, we had not yet had even one whole day home together as a family. However, thanks to a four-day weekend that Jason got over Easter, that was rectified. At the beginning of the weekend, Levi was still ultra-clingy to me, exclusively. However, by Monday, he had decided that this "Dad" guy was okay to be with, too.

He has been more and more settled as the week has gone on. Also, I think the tooth that has been bothering him has gone up a little. That irks me, since I know we'll have to go through all those symptoms of teething (including clinginess) again, but it has given us some temporary relief from the Cry Baby.

The rest of us, too, seem to be finding our new groove with a baby in the house. It has been helpful that for the most part, he has been sleeping through the night for the last week. He goes to bed at about 8-8:30, and has begun sleeping until 6:30-7:15. That's exactly what we were hoping for.

Sleep training during the day is not going so well. He still wants to be held or rocked to sleep, and as soon as he is put down, wakes up and fights it. As many of you know, I don't have time to hold a baby (nor the strength to hold a 26-lb. bundle!) for an hour and a half so he can sleep. One day, he had three short naps of 20-30 minutes each. Yesterday, he slept for five minutes, and refused to sleep any more. That cherubic photo at the beginning of this post was taken in his carseat on Wednesday, when he fell asleep in town and had a rare, 1 1/2-hour nap.

So, he is still learning how to self-soothe. However, as long as he is sleeping at night (so the rest of us can sleep, too!), handling a fussy, tired baby during the day becomes a lot easier to do.

All in all, after two weeks, I feel like we are beginning to discover what the "new normal" is. Even though our lives remain full, as I did not have time to do the normal "weeding-out" of activities that would have happened had I been having a baby the traditional way, he has begun to fit right into it like he has been there all along.

In other news, Jude is taking a belt test for karate today, going for his yellow belt. Unfortunately, it is in Grande Prairie, and the weather is not that great. Jason is supposed to let me know what the roads are like when he gets to work--I'm not sure whether I hope he says that they are fine to travel, or I should stay home! At least if we go, Levi should get a nap! ;-)

Happy Friday, friends!

... And Baby Makes Four

Our family has experienced some major changes in the past, as many of you know. What family doesn't? However, this week has brought about one of the biggest in the shortest amount of time that we have ever gone through. (It may be at the top, but my sleep-deprived brain is a little too cloudy to focus on sorting them out by weight at the moment.)

We have a new family member, as of yesterday. We are adopting our friends Brian and Laverna Stanley's grandson.

This all came about at breakneck speed, but the smoothness, and timing, can only be God-ordained and God-provided.

Last Friday (the 15th), we called the Stanleys to invite them to a late pool party celebration of Noah's birthday on Saturday. (The celebration was late, not the pool party. :-D) At that time, we got the first news that their daughter had recently reached the conclusion that she could no longer care for her son in the way that he needed. They were in the process of gaining legal parental guardianship.

When Jason got home, I shared the news with him, and we discussed our concerns (me through my tears as I prayed for this situation and this little boy), which we knew would be the same concerns that the Stanleys must be experiencing. They have health and age issues to consider in being able to raise a little boy to adulthood.

Unbeknownst to me, Jason offered that we could adopt Orion while he and Brian were discussing the situation on Saturday. Unbeknownst to both of us, this was an answered prayer for the Stanleys. (And for us, too, really.)

On Monday, they called to say that they were open to the idea, and to set up a meeting to discuss it.

On Wednesday at the meeting, we cleared up any concerns on all sides, and Orion's biological dad gave approval to the adoption right afterwards, so we were in the clear to proceed.

On Friday morning, I picked him up, and most of his accompanying gear (I forgot how much STUFF babies have!), and he spent the day doing errands in town with the kids and I and Grandma Laurel, and then when we got home, Brian brought out the crib. The only real fussing he did all day was while Brian was bringing all the pieces into the house, going back-and-forth to the truck. Apparently, he normally does that when his Papa comes home from work, too--Papa Stanley is his favourite person in the world right now, I think.

Last night, we began sleep training the little man. He did pretty good for a first-timer, but the rest of us are not so used to middle-of-the-night interruptions, and we all had pretty rough sleeps. I was actually not able to go back to sleep after getting up with him at 3:45, so other than a dozy nap after Jason got up, I'm running on adrenaline. That is petering out fast, so as soon as I am finished this post, it is off to bed for me.

This transition, while for the good, is definitely taking an emotional toll. For us, we are thrilled to be able to add him to our family, but our hearts are breaking for Brian and Laverna and Jenn, his biological mom. For them, they know that this is the best and right thing to do, but they are going through the grieving process. However, they are also looking with hope to the other side--when they get to be grandparents for the first time in their lives. (They are already raising their other grandson, Quinton, who is buddies with Noah and Jabin.)

We have decided to rename him Levi Simon Winters. Simon is currently one of his middle names, and is a family name from Laverna's side. "Levi" means "joined" as he has joined our family, and "Simon" means "he has heard." It was the only name they asked that we keep the same as before, and really, it is so SO perfect.

He has heard my petition for another child in our family for the last seven years.

He has heard the Stanleys' prayers for a loving family for their precious grandson that would allow them to still maintain a relationship with him.

And, He has heard Jude, Noah's, and Jabin's prayers for a baby sibling. (They were rooting for a sister, but they are just over-the-top THRILLED that they have a baby brother, that it is the little boy they already knew and loved, and that we are calling him Levi, as that was their favourite name from the options we had narrowed it down to.)

I haven't had much time to take photos, yet, but here is one taken yesterday of our soon-to-be one-year-old Levi with his new big brothers. (Even Jabin, who is SO excited to be a big brother at last!)