Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Valencia's 1 year anniversary

On January 21st it was one year since Valencia came home to us from Haiti. Wow, what a year. On New Year's Eve right around midnight, Jared and I were sitting on the couch and just let out a big sigh. It had been a tough year but we're pretty sure it's all uphill from now on.

It is truly amazing to look back and see just how much Valencia has changed and grown this past year. She entered the orphanage a couple months before turning 3. Here is our first picture of her:

I visited her only a few months after being in the orphanage.

We received pictures and updates each month and then the following year Jared flew to Haiti and visited her just before she turned 4.

We continued receiving monthly pictures and updates (very brief updates -- you can imagine with 60 kids and limited staff the updates were a lot of work). Then we received word FINALLY that we were through all the paperwork and steps and we were just waiting for Valencia to receive her visa. We were honestly waiting for that phone call that would tell us we could fly to Haiti and pick her up. Then the earthquake happened. Luckily, we only had to wait 4 hours before learning that she was safe -- her orphanage had not collapsed.

At that point we still didn't know what was going to happen... when she would come home. Days later we received word that they were trying to find a way to get all the kids out from her orphanage. We were told we needed to be in Florida in case they did get out -- they had a date with a goal but everything was in limbo and they didn't really know - but we had to be in Florida in case it did all work out.

Honestly, it felt like the craziest time in our lives. We packed up and all of us flew to Florida. Tallie was thrilled to be a part of it. In the original plan (pre-earthquake) I was going to travel to Haiti with my dad to pick up Valencia. Tallie really wanted to go to Haiti too but we didn't feel good about taking her there at such a young age, so for her this worked out great.

The night before we left Beckett became very sick and had a horrible cough. We were really worried and didn't know what to do about it -- we didn't really have a choice, but he seemed a little better in the morning. It was a rough trip on him and he slept terrible every night in the hotel, but he survived it.
After arriving in Florida things were still unsettled. And actually, it wasn't until the plane was in the air that we knew it was a for sure. Thanks to amazing people in Haiti and one of the adopted dads that made his way down to Haiti shortly after the earthquake, all the paperwork was collected and the embassy was visited and all the kiddos were approved to leave the country on humanitarian parole.

Valencia's plane was scheduled to arrive in the evening so we had to keep busy that day. We were in Florida so we went to the beach.
It looks like we're having fun, but everything was done with HUGE knots in our stomachs. I've honestly never felt the way I felt that day before. It was painful to wait out the day. Definitely one of the longest days ever.
I'm not sure if I have all my facts straight now -- being one year later, but I believe it was around 5pm that we were to gather together (all the adoptive families) at the hotel and travel together to the airport - to a special hanger where their chartered plane would arrive. When we all met in the lobby of the hotel we were told the plane was delayed and to come back in an hour and we'd go to the airport then. Another hour! We thought waiting until 5pm was tough. I honestly don't remember what we did to pass the time but finally we were on our way to the airport - with knots as big as ever in our stomachs.

At the airport we didn't go into the main terminals. They took us to a special hanger used by chartered planes. When we arrived, there were news people and cameras, balloons and food, and a lot of anxious parents waiting.

Then we all waited...

...and waited......and waited.
In fact, (again the facts are fuzzy), I think we waited for a couple of hours for the plane to arrive. They had a large tv on with CNN and at one point we saw a news story from Haiti with our kids getting ready to load the plane in Haiti. Watching that cheered everyone up. Once we heard the plane arrived we still had to wait (I think close to an hour) for them to go through customs before the plane came to our hanger. Too much waiting.

And then we saw it... the plane was here!

I think you can tell from my voice how nervous/anxious/excited I was. By the time the plane arrived it was late - Tallie & Beckett were tired and we were all exhausted with waiting and the emotions we had been feeling all day. But once we saw that plane all of it went away and we were full of life again and couldn't believe we were actually going to see Valencia.

Tallie brought a doll for her new big sister.
Tallie was SOOOOO excited to meet Valencia. I just wonder what Valencia thought of all this.
You can see us in the background of this CNN clip on Larry King Live. That tells you just how long we had been waiting - that broadcasts at 9pm and I think we were towards to end of the show.

We got Valencia some food and ran her to the potty (I'm sure you noticed in the video she needed to go). I think it had been a VERY long day for her. We learned that she and the other children had ridden on a helicopter to get to the airport and then loaded up on the plane. The almost didn't make it out of the country because they took too long to load the plane and were denied takeoff because of how busy things were at the airport, but things ended up working out and they let their plane leave.

If you notice Valencia's wrist you'll see a piece of paper taped to her arm. Her piece of paper said "Layton" on it. This was how "official" it all went down.
We didn't stay at the airport long - in fact, we were told some type of official was coming to make sure everyone had carseats (something weird like that) and so they shewed us all off quickly so there wouldn't be any problems. Back at the hotel the girls changed into their matching pajamas and played for a little bit. Even though it was late everyone was wound up. Tallie and Valencia seemed to have no problem getting along - Valencia talked away in Creole and didn't seem at all affected by the total change of life and people.
If you look at the clock you'll see how late it was by the time we got everyone asleep. It had been a very long day, and we were flying home to Boston early the next morning.
The next day Valencia started out excited again with all that was happening.
It wasn't until later on the plane that she seemed more quiet and I'm sure wondered what was going on and who we were. I looked over at one point on the plane and saw her quietly crying to herself - everyone was exhausted and I don't know if it was from being tired or from all the changes, or both.
Here we are arriving in Boston. We had some friends meet us at the airport -- I'm afraid we were all too tired to be very social - but it was great to feel the support after such a long excursion. We were a little bombarded by news people too, but now after the fact I'm glad to have the coverage.

These are pics from our second night home. Valencia ate with her gloves on -- adjusting to Boston's January weather was tough on her - she was constantly cold.

Our first movie night.
We had 2-3 days of the "honeymoon" stage as they call it with Valencia before the bad behavior set in. We were told this would happen and expected it, although expecting it and actually experiencing it are two different things. Her behavior was extremely difficult for the first 2-3 weeks, but remained hard for probably 5-6 months. It began with horrible tantrums - at least 1 per hour -- laying on the ground kicking and screaming and moaning. Unless you have heard an orphan moan you cannot fully appreciate what it's like. I found it pretty disturbing. She would get a glazed over look and (usually without tears) would moan. It's very different from a cry. It's a loud moan and she'd appear emotionally disconnected. It happened so often that at night when everyone was asleep and the house was quiet I would hear her moan in my head.

The tantrums were hard and happened over just about anything. It's very difficult to discipline a child when all the rules have changed, she doesn't know you and how things work at your house, and she doesn't understand anything you're saying. We taught her the phrase "good girl" and used that to discipline and explain what was appropriate. The constant tantrums made it hard to leave the house. I never knew what was going to happen and with two other children younger than her it was often more than I could handle and I would avoid being in public. But that was also hard because she would get very stir crazy at home and would behave worse sometimes. Food was always a good motivator with her so I'd keep little bags of m&ms in my purse for emergencies (for bribing) and that definitely helped.

In the beginning she also had no concept of appropriate behavior... of any sort. Things like looking under bathroom stalls, eating food off the ground (in a public bathroom!!), sidewalks vs road (she ran right off the sidewalk one day straight in front of a car), laying on the ground when she felt tired no matter where we were, yelling, crawling on the ground in public, hitting, biting, scratching faces, throwing toys, touching complete strangers, etc. She would also refuse to get in the car whenever we were going somewhere, and believe me it is hard to get a 5 1/2 year old into a car and carseat that doesn't want to, and then she would refuse to get out of the car (equally hard to force her). Frustrating. Everything was difficult.

In our case I think some things were harder because we had no family around to help and understand. You really need help and constant encouragement in the beginning -- (that statement is coming from an extremely independent and self-sufficient person). There were days when it was more than I could handle. I remember one Saturday morning waking up and telling Jared while still in bed that he needed to get up and take Valencia somewhere for the day -- I didn't care what they did but I didn't want to see them until dinner.

The unpredictability of her behavior as well as feelings of protecting her and not wanting people to judge her based on her current behavior, and wanting my kids to get used to each other and bond, we were completely unsocial for probably the first 9 months of her being home. That too was hard.

But after all that, she has progressed and developed amazingly. She definitely went through many difficult stages in her first year. But now, one year later, she's doing great -- she really is. She is social with kids and makes friends easily (one of her challenges in the beginning -- she viewed kids as mean and out to get her), she does well academically at school, she is well behaved, and will do any task you ask her to do -- very very helpful little girl. She still has some challenges and things we are getting used to. She is an EXTREMELY high energy child and everything she does is intense. Moving to a house with a big backyard in a neighborhood where she can run and play would be very helpful to all of us :) She also talks incessantly - from the minute she wakes up until she goes to bed. If she has nothing to say she'll comment on everything she sees happening "oh, you're eating with a fork", "why are you sitting there", "we're having rice for dinner", "I'm going to turn on the light". That can definitely drive me nuts, but it's not "bad" behavior so I'll learn to deal with it :)

In the year that she has been home she has also physically changed. She has grown 4 inches and lost her big belly. Look at the old pictures.
And here she is now

Valencia brings a lot of energy to our home and I think will always be the life of the party. She loves to have fun and dance and sing. She and Tallie are really best friends and enjoy having each other. I had worried so much about the two girls getting along and prayed that they would be close. It is definitely the case - they LOVE playing together. It's been good for both of them in different ways to have each other.

Christmas post -- finally!

Our ward Christmas party this year was the theme: A Night In Bethlehem
My pictures turned out fuzzy but you get the idea... the kids had fun dressing up in Biblical clothing.

I have to say it was the best was the best ward party I've been to. The food was awesome - kabobs, couscous, and pitas -- a nice change from the standard funeral potatoes and ham :)

Here we are decorating the tree (something must be wrong with my camera because they are fuzzy too). Valencia was especially excited since it was her first time doing all these Christmas things.

On Christmas Eve we had a special dinner -- fondue. We've had several people in the past that we've gotten together with for Christmas, but unfortunately this year everyone was out of town. We were feeling a little bummed about having it all by ourselves, so to make dinner feel special I did fondue -- we had two pots - a cheese one to dip bread and a chocolate one to dip fruit & pretzels. We had finger sandwiches too. This cheered everyone up.

Tallie's shirt didn't survive past this evening -- it was COVERED in chocolate when we were all done.Christmas Morning!!
Being Valencia's first Christmas in a lot of ways (her orphanage was great and they did celebrate Christmas with the kids, but it's not the same as a typical Christmas morning), I was expecting her to come downstairs and see the tree with all the presents and gasp at the sight. Not quite what happened. You'll see it in the video.

It was funny to see the different personalities from my kids. Beckett opened his first present and wanted to play with it and not be bothered opening anymore - he was quite content. Tallie would very slowly and carefully open each present and look it over and take it all in and spend a fair amount of time with each one. Valencia would tear open her present and without hardly looking at it would toss it on the couch and ask for her next one.

After all that hard work of opening presents and playing with new toys the kids settled down together to watch a movie.

That night we had ice cream sundaes. They were a big hit!