Keeping It Simple At Christmas

The holidays are literally around the corner. And here I am, once again, feeling a little behind and slightly overwhelmed at ALL THE THINGS that need attending to.

And last year at this time, with twin infants, and all the to-do’s and parties and holiday things and shopping and choir performances and all the in betweens…by the end of the holiday season I felt defeated and utterly exhausted. And I’m thinking that is simply not how it’s supposed to be. At least not to that extent.

So I vowed to take it all back this year. To take Christmas and family time back and make it a priority.

Not that all the get togethers aren’t fun, but sometimes {most times} it’s just TOO much.

Last year we decided not to get a tree. Which was hard, but with the babies being so little, and the two older ones with so many things on their own calendars, and then us deciding we’d be putting the house up for sale in the new year, we chose to forego the crazy and try to just enjoy the time we could.

And it was still slightly chaotic.

And this year will have it’s fair share once again of chaos, but I am determined to keep it in check. I am embracing the simple and being OK with saying NO.

And not having to explain myself. I don’t need to apologize for choosing family time and less chaos over all things sparkly with frosting on top.

{although, frosting is tasty}

This year, we are getting a tree. It’s a tradition we love and my big kids really missed it last year. In anticipation of it, I bought some “shatter proof” ornaments on sale last season and have them ready and waiting to be used this year.

Funny thing is, Christmas trees and toddlers don’t exactly mix. And I am just hoping to keep my youngest son from shattering the “shatter proof” ornaments. If they survive him, then I will be thoroughly impressed with their “shatter proof” claims!

Taking it all back. That is the plan.

The other day, my husband and I sat down and talked about what we REALLY want out of the season. What is the MOST important to us, and to our kids. And then we chatted with our oldest two about things. What do THEY want out of this. What are some of their favorite traditions and maybe something they’d like to add? Or take away?

I think it’s important to include them in the planning. We have a slightly unique set up with two kiddos in elementary school, and then twin toddlers who are pretty clueless to all the “traditions” for now. But, some things might not mesh too well with the twinnies schedule, but we cannot discount what the older two would like either.

It’s definitely a balance we are striving for this year. And it’s not going to be easy.

We also have to consider our oldest daughter and her special needs that don’t always allow for certain events or locations that the rest of us enjoy. Large crowds and loud noise and looong lines…NO THANK YOU.

We’d all be tearing our hair out. It wouldn’t be fun for any of us.

So, we have to evaluate all the things and decide which ones are worth it and which ones we can do without. And making sure everyone gets to do something they really enjoy, even if that means a smaller scale activity of it.

Like I said, it’s a balance.

I think it’s also OKAY to re-evaluate year to year….especially when your kiddos are younger. And I am learning to be OKAY myself with letting things change. What was once fun to the under 5 crowd, maybe not be to the over 10 crowd. And that’s okay. Some traditions are long term and awesome, and others have their time and it might not be but for a short time.

So, we wrote a list. This year, things that matter the most to us are:

-Advent {this is a long-term one that we all love}
-a REAL christmas tree
-decorating outside
-SIMPLE decorations inside {twin toddlers= SIMPLE}
-going to see christmas lights
-cookie decorating
-hot chocolate and favorite holiday movies
-baked french toast for Christmas morning {hubby’s request}
-opening Christmas cards as a family
-simple holiday crafts {oldest child’s request}
-Christmas Eve service at church, followed by simple dinner at home and FAMILY time
-stocking “hope notes” {a long-term tradition we’ve done for several years now}
-baking Russian tea cookies and making peirogies (and some other simple things) for New Years celebration {for my oldest daughter}

It’s enough. And simple and family focused. This is just a rough list, but it works for us. We might add to it or change it up a bit, depending on how things are going.

{Oh, and there will definitely be random dance parties to our favorite Christmas tunes}

But, I like this list. And there are still some holiday performances and get togethers tossed in there, but it’s more manageable this year. At least that is what I am hoping!

What are some of your absolute favorite holiday traditions and memories?

Mommy Time Out

It’s been a week.

More like a couple weeks of very emotion filled events and happenings.

And mama needed a little time out. I needed some down time to be creative.

I sometimes miss having those days filled with hours of creativity, making pretty things to send off to people when I ran a handmade business.

I don’t so much miss the crazy, hectic busy that filled my days with running orders to the PO and all that goes with it, but I do miss the creative process.

These days of late are filled with diaper changes and toddler chasing and endless board book reading, in addition to the homework doing and therapy goings of my two older kiddos. And not that I don’t absolutely love it, I do. I really, really do. I know these seasons are short, and I ADORE my kiddos and baby snuggles….but sometimes the day in and day out of it all, I begin to lose a little of me. Of the creative me that loves to design and paint and make pretty things.

I try to get little doses of creative time in, but it’s not always possible. And the past couple weeks or so, it’s been almost non existent…except for a few creative moments with my kiddos, which are awesome too. But, I needed some just mama time.

My husband can tell the look I get when he knows I need that break. And I did.

So, last night I decided to hide out…err…I mean paint the downstairs half bath. It needed a refresh from the boring greige the previous owner had painted. Not that the color itself was so terrible, I just really wanted something brighter and less blah in there.

So, I holed myself up, put on a little Vespers and whatever else played on whatever pandora station I had on {I didn’t really care WHAT, just that it wasn’t a kiddy tune}, and got to work. I informed my family that I was NOT in there…no, no I was not. And I wasn’t coming out until I finished painting.

And I didn’t. And now I have a newly painted bathroom and a refreshed sense of self. And when I got up today, I was MUCH more ready to face the challenges ahead.

Which, of course, started off BAM with Sensory issues galore for Sunshine before she even headed out the door for school, and then two demanding toddlers wanting mommy ALL to THEMSELVES. And then a mini food throwing contest at lunch, which resulted in a baked sweet potato wedge landing in my coffee. But you know what? I’m laughing it off, because I got a little painting therapy.

So, I dumped out my coffee and poured another cup. Ahh. Now, to drink it before it goes cold….


Forever Family

Yesterday we celebrated our 3 year Forever Family Day. Sometimes I call it our “familiversary”, and many refer to it as “gotcha day”.

We call it Forever Family Day, because it is THE day we officially became Sunshine’s forever family.

We celebrate it, as we also celebrate her birthday. And as I type the word “celebrate”, it’s difficult to put into words exactly what that means.

Because for every celebration…each new milestone reached, or difficulty overcome, there is a bittersweet reminder of WHY.

As I was making her very special request of “hot chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles”, I had time to reflect about that day three years ago.

The anxious feeling in my gut. The wondering of what was it truly going to be like, now that she will be with us.

We arrived at the, now familiar, older child orphanage. Even though she was only 4, she had already been living there for over a year.

We filed into the small office and were told to wait there while they went to get her. As they brought her into the room, I could see the anxiousness in her eyes. I know she could tell this day was different.

I remember them telling her caregiver in Russian that today was the day. I saw tears fill her eyes as she reached down and hugged Sunshine so tight and kissed her I think a hundred times. I saw the love this woman had for my daughter. I remember it breaking my heart.

In all the preparations of becoming an adoptive family, I don’t think I ever was fully prepared for this day. Much like having your first {or third} child, you imagine how you think it will be…and how, more often than not, it is completely different. Sometimes amazing, sometimes heart-wrenching.

As we had driven the hour and a half it took to get to the orphanage, thousands of thoughts raced through my head. I felt anxious. I felt scared. I felt excited to finally not have to wait any longer…that SHE did not have to wait another day to be in a safe and loving family. I wondered what her true personality was like. Would she and her brother get along? Would they be able to develop a strong bond, and healthy bond, yet still be like siblings that occasionally fight? Would it be all nice or would it be all chaotic? Both? A happy balance of both is what I hoped for.

I remember hoping my oldest would understand that those hard days were ahead. Had we prepared him enough? We had several talks about what it might be like and how she might react to things and that it is perfectly OK to have hard days and feel sad or angry. But, talking about it and the actual doing and living it are completely different things. I hoped he knew that we always, always would love him. Even though I knew in my gut those hard days were coming…and they did. And they do.

I felt guilty. I had to learn how to divide my time between two children…and not in a typical “we’ve brought home another biological child” type of way. Everything about parenting that I had known for eight years was going to change. I was going to have to relearn and figure different parenting ways when it came to a child that we brought into our family through adoption.

Many people don’t think about that. But we have to parent Sunshine differently than we do our oldest. Same as I parent my twin babies differently all together than my two oldest. Each child is already different and in need of different parenting ways…and I have to constantly have a different set of parenting tools at the ready.

And three years ago, as we got her changed into her new clothes we had brought for her, and bundled her all up, we got one last set of good-byes in. She got to go to her group, the only family she’d known, and hugged them and said her goodbyes. Her caregiver hugged me so tightly and thanked me. We both had tears in our eyes…without having to say a word, we understood each other.

Oh how anxious Sunshine was on the ride back to the hotel. I could only imagine how frightening it must have been. She hardly knew us! It was such a bitter sweet day, is what I remember.

As much as I love my daughter, I am saddened about the WHY. Do I believe she was destined to be with us? No. I love her and I am thankful we get to be her family, but there is always a bittersweet undertone to it all.

I wonder about her birthmother. Where she is, what she looks like. Does she wonder about Sunshine?

Three years have passed. Three years we have been Sunshine’s Forever Family.

Is it wonderful and amazing seeing all the hurdles and obstacles she has overcome? Absolutley.

Are there gut wrenching days that bring me to my knees and I wonder “what have we done and why did we say yes?”. Absolutely.

Because saying yes is hard. Living the yes is even harder. There are amazing days and I could not ever imagine our lives without Sunshine in it. But I also mourn what she has lost. Every day.

Three years. I love you Sunshine. Through it all, and on the difficult days when you push the hardest, I still love you. I will always love you. We are your forever family.

Celebrations and Tears

This past Sunday was Orphan Sunday. It also happened to be the 3 year anniversary of our court date in Russia when the courts said YES to us becoming Sunshine’s Forever Family.

I kinda love that they ended up on the same day this year.

And I CANNOT believe it’s been three whole years. It truly seems like we were just there. I can close my eyes and remember it all…

It was a pleasant and unusually warm day there. Not too warm, but just enough that you barely needed a coat and they weren’t blasting the heat in the court room.

{can I get an AMEN? Whew…those that have been there know what I mean!}

I remember the surreal feeling when it was all over. After the questions and feeling at times like we were being interrogated. But, all in all, it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be.

Then the wait began. The mandatory 10 day wait before we could go see Sunshine again. That was hard…after court I remember the FIRST thing I wanted to do was run and get her and just hold her.

But, we had to wait. And we did. And as hard as it was, it was also an amazing time with just our family of 3, about to become 4. We got to spend some much needed down time together, just finally being able to breathe.

Oh how nice that was. No more pending dates and just ONE more significant date {gotcha day} to go.

I had time to reflect on all that had taken place…all the roads and paths and people along the journey.

The rocky paths that I wasn’t quite prepared for. The uphill roads that twisted and curved a million different directions and seemed to go on forever….never knowing when we would finally see a glimpse of respite.

The people that walked along with us, cried with us, cheered with us. The ones we’d meet while in Russia that our lives are forever connected through adoption.

This month is November. And November is a pretty significant month in our lives. For many reasons and milestones, not just adoption.

But, it is also National Adoption Awareness Month.

I know not everyone feels the same way about adoption. I know many within the adoption world that don’t see it as others do.

Adoption has many facets. But, no matter what, adoption is based on loss.

I am both the daughter of an adoptee and an adoptive mother. I have seen two very different sides of adoption and it has shaped me very much into the person I am today. Both the good and the bad.

So, this month I will be writing a bit more about adoption and all that goes with it. I want to be able to show more than just a “rainbows and unicorns” side of things.

Because it is SO MUCH MORE. It is amazing and wonderful and heartbreaking. It is joyful and soul crushing. It is love in a way that blasts past borders and state lines and outside the four walls of your house. Love that takes you places…hard places, joyful places…that you might otherwise never know.

Adoption has changed me. And I am thankful for that. And at the same time, there are things I’ve seen that I can never unsee. Once you KNOW, you can never look away.

So join me as I walk this month through adoption and the many stories and journeys.