Friday, January 24, 2014

Two weeks home and counting

We've been together as four just over three weeks and have been home for two weeks. Honestly it feels so incredibly good to be over jet lag, to feel more settled into our new reality and to be beyond the initial days that were so challenging. 

Reshma has continued to adjust and connect with us day by day. Especially when we are at home alone - just the four of us - we feel she has come alive and connected with us deeply. Every day seems to have something brand new for her. Sometimes those are little details and sometimes they are huge adjustments.

Despite the fact that we haven't seen 50 degrees since we've been home (save one day) we still had two very willing children at the suggestion of ice cream :)

Kelley has loved the addition of all things girl. Levi was intrigued by the painting of toe nails...and Dad compromised to allow two toe nails to be painted just this once... In pride Dad made it out without any girl paint...

On the one warmer day we've had (MLK day) we had a wonderful hike to Triple Falls in the DuPont Forest of North Carolina. Considering this was probably only her second time in the woods (first was last week) she did awesome!

Ceasar's Head:

Having spent her entire life in southern India, ice was a fascinating thing to Reshma. She was thrilled to break off chunks of ice and throw them in the river over and over...

Both our kids got a bad case of 'lazy legs' during the hike. We felt like a few pack mules...

We've eaten a lot of Indian cuisine this month. Reshma loves to help cook and when left un-checked will tear around the kitchen throwing ingredients into a pot attempting to make something from India she liked. On this particular morning the soup in the red bowl was hot as fire. It tasted like it had 5 times the amount of spicy it should have! We all grinned and bore the terrible burning :) Reshma even admitted it was 'a little hot.'

Our walls are full of freshly colored pictures. Coloring has been so therapeutic...

We were so blessed to have an Indian/American family bring us some authentic Indian food for dinner tonight. We took the opportunity to invite another friend who is a grad-student at Clemson to enjoy it with us. He speaks Reshma's native tongue - it was so fun to hear her chatter away with him in Tamil. He just said, 'She talks a lot.' :)

God has been so good. His faithfulness continues day by day, hour by hour. Our days are still scattered and challenging. We have beautiful moments and incredibly hard moments. All considered we feel so honored at God's amazing gift of our children. Words really don't suffice. This whole journey has already been so long in some ways and yet still continues to just begin in many more ways. Worthwhile - it's all been so worthwhile. Week three here we come!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Names, Easy Street and Levi T.

Happy 'holidays' to you! Reshma calls any non-school day a 'holiday' and it's been fun looking at every day out of routine in that light. Considering she has only done two formal days of homeschool so far it's probably seemed like life will just be one long string of 'holidays!' 

There have been a few things we've wanted to share that haven't yet made it into other posts so we thought we'd take a little time during 'holiday' to share. 

1. Her name
You may have found yourself in our writings wondering how in the world you should pronounce R-E-S-H-M-A. That was us, too, until about six months ago when we finally decided on a pronunciation - mostly because we were referring to her name a lot since we had finally learned it. REEsh-mah is what we had been calling her but when we arrived in India and heard every Indian pronouncing it with more of a long 'a' sound instead of a long 'e' we started rethinking our pronunciation. Wanting to keep her birth name yet make it as easy for Americans to pronounce as possible, we were in a conundrum that was finally solved when Reshma's communication improved enough to give us her opinion. While she's still not so sure about the three names we've tacked onto her first, we are confident in time she will learn to appreciate each. We wanted her to forever carry and remember her story. And so, finally, we can share that she is officially-- 
Reshma /raysh-mah/- silky
Amariah /am-ah-rye-ah/- promised by God
Elaine /eh-lane/- sun ray, shining light (family middle name on the Harrell side)
Tegen /tee-gen/- the last surname she will have to carry until Mr. Husband 

2. The Latest
The past week held many more firsts for Reshma - she is taking everything in stride like she's been going to the grocery store, tromping through dense forests and eating in our school's cafeteria all her life. Her favorites so far (which all seem very therapeutic) are to sit quietly and color with Jason, play simple card games like 'Uno' or 'Go Fish' and late night hide-n-seek with the family. 

We had one particularly hard day this week. Reshma withdrew emotionally quite a bit like what was normal during our first week in India together. In response we simplified/rescheduled and spent a quiet morning at home before visiting the Indian grocery store in the afternoon for a little heart TLC. Her eyes lit up at all the products she recognized and on more than one occasion she kissed her hand to some of the favorite things she found on the shelves. It's so easy to forget how foreign everything is for her - including foods that seem so normal and tasty to us. 

We were able to find one of Reshma's Indian favorites, Maggi (essentially Indian Ramen noodles), that she'd been asking for since coming home. It was great to find that and so many more 'comfort foods' for her to stock up on - including a few other little things like the shampoo she always used and the puffed rice she ate often for breakfast. It was hard to know where to draw the line and say no because she would have brought home the whole store! Needless to say, we'll be trying lots of Indian dishes based on the bags we toted out of that grocery store! Radha Grocery was very thankful for Reshma Tegen this week!

3. Homeschooling.
Homeschooling is going well thanks to the amazing support of homeschooling friends in our area. Just last week as we were looking up expensive curriculum options, two homeschooling moms blessed us with FIVE huge bins full of books! We're still wading into the waters of this intimidating ocean but it is so comforting to find other families out there with us. Even though this is hard work, it's the best decision for our family at this point. One of our greatest concerns and biggest prayers in keeping her home, though, has been for good friendships with girls her age. In India she had rich, close friendships with about five different little girls and her having to say goodbye to them added a heavy layer to the difficulty of her leaving. But already in this past week and in the play dates arranged for the coming week we are amazed by the answers to these prayers.

4. Daddy's Girl
Watching the change in Jason has been awe inspiring. That God would allow a husband to humble himself and listen to a wife talk about dreams in the night then act on those leadings and fully embrace an almost pre-teen girl is amazing. Every time I see him wrestling or coloring or making over a little over dramatized boo-boo, I'm amazed and thankful. Already, he'd do anything for her...even let her give him a bindi! (Though he's drawn the line with shaving his beard and growing his hair which she's asked him to do multiple times.:) Good things are happening in both their hearts as she's being loved extravagantly by this man! 

5. Levi T.
We also wanted to take a minute to share about Levi. While Reshma's gotten most of the blog spotlight, Levi has been getting lots of attention on the home front. This transition has been no easy street for him. Getting an older sister, traveling halfway around the world, eating spicy food, and on and on... The boy has had lots of adjustments to make and a lot of the attention he's gotten hasn't been for the positive. But just yesterday we saw our silly, fun Levi emerging again. Let me share a little of his antics-- Yesterday he got up with me before everyone else and we spent a little time together in his room. For Christmas he got two fake fish from the grandparents as a way of preparing for possible real fish in the future (the only pet we're allowed to have in our apartment complex). Levi has LOVED those little fish - which are magnetized and appear to 'swim' around their little bowl even though they are plastic. Almost daily I see him scooping them out of the bowl toting them somewhere or cleaning out their tank. When the fish were missing yesterday I asked where they were and Levi proudly led me to his top bunk to find them 'safe and cozy with Sir Topham Hatt (from Thomas the Tank Engine)' just as Levi had left them the night before. 

"But fish can't live outside of water," I told him.

"I won't take real fish out," he said. "We'll just buy them a waterproof blanket so they can stay warm and cozy in their bowl!"

"But Levi, you can't put your hands in their water will make them sick. And by the way, the water in their bowl so dirty - have you been putting your hands in it?"

Levi adamantly began declaring he hadn't been playing in the water as Reshma came into his room and shed some light on the subject... "No fingers, but he fed them crackers yesterday." LOL

This boy makes up for the hard parenting moments with his sweet, innocent disposition! Sometimes it's all we can do not to laugh out loud. Like when he was getting disciplined for not telling the truth about eating something and lost the Indian cookie/cracker in his hand as a consequence. The only thing he had to say for his actions was, "Oh man, I should'a ate it faster..."

Oh, this boy!

We're thankful for the joy that gets mixed in with the sorrow! Parenting is a great adventure and one we wouldn't trade for anything in the world which that leads us to our final thought for the morning...

6. Good Reads
Much like becoming a new parent and scouring through What to Expect the First Year, it's been nice to have a similar book for this new parenting adventure. One that I've found to be exceptionally insightful and helpful to us is Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child by Patty Cogen. We hope this resource reference might be helpful to other adoptive families as well. We'd be interested to hear about other books Indifamilies have found helpful too!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Two Weeks Together

We're finally making our way back online to share after battling that terrible monster called jet lag. Our own bodies tell us 1:30 to 3 a.m. is the waking hour...and by mid-afternoon our bodies have again screamed the opposite. It's nearly impossible to keep a 3.5 and 9 year old awake when this is the case. You know it's serious when your kids turn down the opportunity to watch a show because they just want to sleep! We've progressed a little each last night we did everything in our power to keep all four of our sleepy eyes pried open until 10:00pm in hopes the sand man would visit all night long. Our efforts to stay awake past 7:00pm have made for some great games of hide and seek in our little apartment :) And it finally happened...our first night of full sleep in probably two weeks happened last night!

Today marks just that - two weeks of being together as a family of four - and every day we see a little more of our girl's spunky personality. While we know we are still in the honeymoon phase and that Reshma still has a ton to adjust to, she is the most precious, well-behaved child we think we've ever known. In our first 14 days together she has yet to have a bad attitude (or anything close) even one time. We're really amazed and almost bracing ourselves with the thought, "Surely she is going to melt down at some point." It's yet to happen. She takes initiative to serve others, cleans up after herself, obeys without question, makes her bed on her own initiative...we could go on and on. Even more meaningful to us than these is her continued comfort and opening up to hug genuinely and allow us to love on her. We're so thankful to see a real joy in her after some of the hard, heart-breaking days in India. We know those will come again, but she truly seems to be embracing our family and this monstrous culture change that's been thrust upon her.  

So far, Reshma has met several of our friends and most of our family, experienced Walmart for the first time seemingly un-phased (all she said was, "It was very big!") and become increasingly verbal. We can't express how wonderful it is to see her learning how to express herself so much more effectively in her thickly accented, broken English. Sometimes she'll sigh deeply after several times being misunderstood and say, "I only know how to say in Tamil." ...which brings us to an interesting tidbit of information or lack thereof. Our initial information about Reshma said she was a Kannada/Malayalam speaker. We emailed to clarify then chose to learn a few phrases in Kannada and on the initial hard days Kelley would whisper comforting phrases to Reshma in that language. But as we get to know Reshma better she continues to insist she doesn't know much Kannada and only prefers speaking in Tamil/Malayalam. So much for the tongue-twisting studying and reciting of comforting Kannada this point she acts as though she doesn't understand a one of them!

Today will begin our first venture into the world of homeschooling. Being in the middle of a school year and already having missed nine years together, we're not willing to give up seven hours with her each day. We've been planning for a while to homeschool this semester and make the final decision this summer about her schooing in the fall (which she will also have a say in). Thinking about school choice and homeschool groups is a whole new world for us. While we're eager for Reshma to make peer connections, we're also excited about more cocooning time and focused catch up time in English and some other areas - family connection being the highest priority. One specific way (one of probably a hundred) that God has provided is us being contacted by a friend before we left for India about joining her two days a week as she's homeschooling two little girls close to Reshma's age for the next month. The timing has worked out perfectly. Reshma has spoken of school with excitement from the beginning. She genuinely enjoyed going to school 6 days a week in India. We are so thankful she loves school and that God has provided the answer to a need we didn't anticipate we would have so soon. It's a reminder of how often God goes before us. We had no idea she would be ready and enthusiastic about starting school within the first week home. Honestly we think it'd be unhealthy for her not to start getting some structure to her days having been used to 6 days a week at school for the last several years. This is just one example of many that have surprised us as we have been home. She has adjusted and warmed up much more quickly than we had imagined would be the case.

We know you didn't just come for the words here - actually we know it's just the pictures :) So, we leave you with a few pictures from our first week at home! We've organized and printed pictures from India (including her foster family) for her room, handed out presents to a couple visitors, ventured to Walmart and the park, and played lots of family games like boys vs. girls hide and seek (boys destroy). She's doing incredibly well on her new bike and almost riding without help (we - Jason - decided to skip training wheels)!

Remember, this is not (and has not been) one romantic thing after another. We hope you've seen both sides of our journey. We want to be so careful to be transparent and real enough that it has been heart-wrenching too. So in looking at the pictures and reading our thoughts, please remember serving our God and loving people in His name is the highest honor...but is not generally easy or comfortable. We don't have pictures to share of the times where Levi has hit Reshma in anger or our anxiety is high because we feel the weightiness of suddenly being responsible for a 9 year old. Though we can't highlight these things with pictures we do mention them openly on purpose. This journey for us has not been without it's bumps and difficulties (and both will continue). We aren't somehow better or more able than any one else who is a child of God to walk this road - and we certainly aren't more holy for it. God has already taken care of defining our righteousness aside from works! 

Romans 4:6-8
David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are those who transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.'

We're honored to point you back to the joy of following Jesus. Joy that is built upon something more than happiness or circumstances. He has given so much richness to our lives...richness that has included difficulty, non-romance and commitment when it'd be easier to quit or run away. To Him be glory.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Day 9, 10 and 11 - Finally home!

It feels so good to be home! Everything continues to be so new for Reshma, but she is taking in all the change with such grace, courage and willingness. We'll let our pictures tell the story of the 30+ hour trip home:

We didn't leave our hotel for the airport in Delhi until 11:30pm local we were all pretty exhausted from the beginning.

Reshma's first international flight!

We had a six hour layover in Zurich, Switzerland. It was the most accomodating airport we've every visited! They had comfortable chairs and little cafe's throughout the airport...but even better, they had a huge indoor play area for children free of charge! It was spectacular - every type of healthy entertainment one could imagine (including coloring stations, dress up bins, books, hula hoops, blocks, etc...) - and not an iPad or TV in sight!

...did we mention there were soft places for parents to crash? Genius airport, we tell ya!

A glimpse into Reshma's fun personality as we continued to burn time in the Zurich airport. That's a half eaten apple (which we paid top dollar for) in her mouth.

The background is faint in this picture, but in person there was a stunning view of the Swiss Alps as we ate a meal at this cafe. We are assuming the prices were exorbitant (like $13 for a little sandwich and $4 for a banana) because of the view haha... 

We are no longer able to travel quick and light. This line of stuff is just our carry-on luggage. It felt like we had to go through about four security checks during our trip home.

On our entry into the U.S. we blew through immigration in about 5 minutes!! After being taken to a side room, the immigration rep stamped her passport allowing us to by-pass the lines of hundreds of waiting people (citizens and non). It was unbelievable how fast and painless it was! Seriously, we had prayed specifically for this process and never have we entered the U.S. so quickly and painlessly!

Arrival finally to Charlotte, NC - Reshma was a little dazed having just woke up 10 minutes earlier from deep sleep on the plane.

Our immediate family was eagerly awaiting this moment! This picture really captures the beauty of what Reshma is entering. She has so much love already...and while she is mouring the loss of her foster family she is entering a ton of love.  We're pretty sure our 'whiteness' is a little overwhelming to her :)

Reshma's first time in her bedroom at home.

This trampoline was a $75 Craigslist find that we bought for Reshma's birthday back in November thinking we would travel then. Arriving home last night it was cold and rainy (and about 1:00am), but we/she couldn't wait to try it out. Afterall, we'd waited over two months to show it to her!

Our wonderful friends on campus made us feel so welcomed back home. Reshma really has no clue how many people in the U.S. are interested in her life and want to know her. :)

Levi got a bicycle for Christmas and has shown little interest (he's probably a bit young yet). However, Reshma has worn the tires off it this morning on her own initiative. As far as we can tell (an inclination backed up by her wobbliness) she has never ridden a bike! She has done great...and we will be buying her a more appropriately sized bicycle soon! Or more accurately, the grandparents will begin their spoiling...

We'll update again in a few days, but Reshma has been excited and engaging the first 12 hours home. Her first item of attention was to organize all her little books, do-dad's and shoes in her room. This is the first time she has ever had a room of her own (which a very western idea/reality anyway).  Of course we are all messed up quite a bit with our sleep pattern, but it has been so rich to have her home finally! 

We are trying to be sensitive to not overwhelm her with too many people too fast. For those of you who live local and want to meet her, please know that we deeply want you to meet her, and that we will have that opportunity...but it will take a week or two to slowly make our rounds. We are so honored to have you walk this journey with us and share your love with our precious new Tegen!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Day 8: Well we were just getting adjusted...

As we write we are preparing to put everything back into bags to start the 30 hour journey back to the U.S. We laugh because it feels like our body clocks had just somewhat adjusted before crossing back 10.5 time zones to the east starting in about 7 hours.

We had a marvelously relaxing day! Levi and Reshma both slept until 8:30am, we ordered room service for breakfast (not bad to have breakfast brought to your door for under $20 for 4), watched some Indian cartoons, visited the pool, grabbed some lunch, colored and did a few hidden pictures (Reshma loves both) and took long naps this afternoon. 

Now we will attempt to pull ourselves together and pack everything back into four bags and four small backpacks to leave India as a family of 4.

Here are some pics from today:

Reshma is sporting one of Levi's shirts! She is a tiny thing...Jason (who doesn't have particularly big hands) was joking about being able to touch his middle finger and thumb around her calf on her leg and her bicep on her arm :)

We are ready for business (pool time).

We introduced Reshma and Levi to Marco Polo. It admittedly wasn't a pool size that lent itself toward Marco but we had a blast. Rule number one (you can't get out of the pool) pretty much got broken by Reshma every single game :) However, this allowed her to be particularly good at not being caught. Levi was exceedingly bad at this game! Even the four staff that watched us got a kick out of the game.

We passed this Dunkin' Donuts several times throughout our time in Delhi never going in. Today we tried it and as we entered the door Reshma said, What is this? in her thick Indian accent. We thought, well, this is a place where you eat a round pastry that somehow has about a cup of processed white sugar per serving. Funny enough the two doughnuts we bought (to eat half of one each) were pretty crummy and stale though Kelley seemed to thoroughly enjoy hers! :/

Reshma has amazed us at her ability to sit and play quietly (alone or with us). She is mature beyond her years we think in her initiative to help out and sit quietly when needed without much entertainment...especially compared to our unnamed blonde-headed boy. They may as well be on different planets as far as that goes...

Speaking of that...Reshma has enthusiastically just announced that she is fully packed and ready (we don't leave for the airport for 4.5 hours! She loves to organize (Jason's heart language). Below she looks through the books and trains we brought to decide which will be going on the plane and which will get packed away...all on her own initiative!

So this is it. Next time we write will be from our home in the U.S. about 48 hours from now. Reshma had requested earlier this week to call her foster mother before we leave India to speak one more time (as we mentioned in an earlier post). Last night we purchased a little Skype credit (because our cell phones are $2/minute) and she made the call. It was incredibly heavy and hard for all of us - but obviously most for Reshma. We didn't understand much of the call because it was all in the Indian language she spoke at home with them...but we could grasp the overall sense of what was being communicated. It was probably the greatest point of crisis for Reshma since our original meeting at the orphanage. She wept on the phone as she expressed her missing of the family and really seemed to sense the gravity of the moment: she isn't going back to live with them and the plane ride tonight is her new beginning with us as her family. They spoke for about 15 minutes and after hanging up Reshma wept for a long, long time at the loss. Heavy doesn't properly describe our evening last night. Our hearts broke with hers. Kelley again did a spectular job of holding her and mourning with she who mourned as the scriptures tell us (Romans 12:15).

Let us be clear, we believe with all our hearts in adoption and we are committed to Reshma for the rest of her life. We already love her as our own. We are standing upon the foundation of God's promises and direction, and therefore believe deeply in our hearts that God provided the foster family for Reshma for a season of her life...and an incredibly important one. Equally we believe He has called and equipped us from this point forward. But this breaking away that she is experiencing from the family who loved her and took her in when she had no one else is heart breaking. Reshma's situation is just so unique in that she was an orphan, but she had been placed with a loving family unit in the waiting process for the last few years (which is so rare in India). One positive of the evening was that the process of all that happened last night allowed Kelley to really connect with her one step more on a heart level we believe, because it was a moment of great crisis and loss for Reshma (and Kelley was right there in a way that Reshma knew she could trust her).

We are encouraged that even in the moments of crises and great loss for Reshma, she has let us hold her and be close. She has never pushed away or lashed out in anger. Her tears and brokenness have never communicated, I don't want to be with you so much as I really miss my foster mom (these are two totally different expressions). She really seems to trust us and know we care deeply amidst her loss and amidst us being strangers to her before January 2. 

Jason and Levi awoke from their long naps this afternoon/early evening to Reshma enthusiastically packing her bags! She has genuinely seemed excited for the trip this evening. She has been very engaging this afternoon and evening with us. We are so thankful for this and give God glory and credit because we have prayed specifically for it. We know she will have up's and down's along the way during our flights and her mourning the loss of her foster family and her home in India will be long...but we are so thankful she is excited to pack with us and start this journey.

Please pray for our journey...definitely the flights...but more for the emotional side of what this trip represents for Reshma. We are so thankful for this moment. Our minds race back through all the emails we've sent and all the process we've waded through. And it's here. We fly home in a little over 4 hours. God is GOOD! He has answer every single one of our prayers!

One final picture. Jason needed to get some exercise before we get cooped up on airplanes for the next day. Reshma was fascinated at this contraption...must seem like such a pecular thing from her perspective :)