Blogging about life in Minnesota, raising our six kids with Down syndrome while battling Breast Cancer.

Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says, "Oh shit! She's up!"

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Eight years: First meeting

Eight years ago today Axel met Dean for the very first time. He was 10 years old here, wearing size 4T clothes (to compare, Angela who looks very tall in the video, is only 4ft 8!) Our boy is a man now. 18 years old. I can't believe that tiny little voice is his.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Eight Years

Eight years ago yesterday, I sat in a small office in Kragujevac, Serbia, signing the papers that would make me mother to this amazing little boy! Axel was 10 years old, but looked like a 5 year old, and I was bringing him home. I couldn't even believe it! Now he is 18, and graduating from high school!!
Here is what I wrote that day:

Djordje Spring

Adopted from Kragejevak, Serbia on December 9th, 2010

(the sign says something about the city of Kragujevak)

So, I suppose you want to know how to pronounce that name? Let me try to un-butcher it for you. The "j" makes a zh sound, like the s in "measure". The second "d" is silent...I think. His name sounds like 


Except that he goes by a nickname "D'jolli"

That's "D'zholli (short "i" sound, not long!) 

In Serbia, the birth certificate is produced with the child's birth name on it, and his or her new last name. But don't worry, as soon as we get back to the U.S. we'll be ordering a new with his American name.

Axel is my grandfather's name, and Maurice is my father's middle name, but already answers to Axel. If I ask him his name, he does not yet know what I mean, and responds with a long-winded stream of gibberish.

Do you want to know how to pronounce the name of the town? It only took me a week to get it right, so let me try to help you out. Remember to roll your r's. ;-)

Krag uh ya vech.

Now say it REALLY fast, roll the "r" and you might be close!

Ok, enough of the language lesson already, on to pictures!

Weds night Axel and I packed up all our belongings. At first he was quite confused, looking at me like, "What? We're not living in this 10x10 room forever?"

Thursday morning we got up nice and early,( Axel is a pokey eater so we had to allow enough time for him to eat breakfast) and got all squeaky clean and dressed! Here he is in his adoption day clothes. He looked so handsome and grow up!
Then we drove just a few blocks to the social center. First they had to verify that everything on the adoption decree was correct, and had me sign it. 

"I certify that from this day forward I am the mother of this child." No turning back now! LOL (Shelley, do you see the paper NEXT to the one I'm signing? That's Grifyns adoption decree! They were comparing the two documents to make sure they were using the same wording. I glanced over and realized I was seeing "Bedford" all over it! LOL

I thought, "Umm...THIS is the "ceremony"? The woman in charge must have seen the look on my face, because she said, "Don't worry. This is just the legal part, we'll have the ceremony in a little bit."

The documents done we all filed into this huge room. Interestingly, there were A LOT more people at this ceremony than I'd seen this far. There were 12-15 people in the room. Maybe more, I lost count as they kept filing in. This is only their second international adoption from this city, and everyone was very excited to be part of it. 

In Serbia, everyone wears many hats. The woman who did the legal documents is also the head psychologist for the social center, and apparently also wears a couple other hats. She switches from one to the other quite easily. Now it was her job to conduct the ceremony.

We were all sitting a conference room at this huge U shaped table. Axel sat on my lap, happily coloring away, oblivious as to how his life was about to change, and that his new mama was going to be a in puddle of tears any minute!

The boss lady said (paraphrasing of course) "We want you to know how happy we are for Djordje. To know that he is going to have a new life, with freedoms and opportunities that he could never have here."

.......picture sobbing mom here, along with tears from everyone in the room......

"As you know, you are the first single parent we have allowed to adopt, and that we gave your family much consideration. We have seen the wonderful things you have done with your daughter, and the opportunities available to her. We have seen how well the contacts with Djordje, you and the foster family have gone. We have seen how much he has blossomed while in your care just these few short days."

......more crying here....

"We are satisfied that that you are more than capable of caring for all his needs, and that he will have a wonderful life with you. We look forward to hearing all the things he is now able to experience in his new life. We now formally pronounce you as his mother, just as if you were his natural mother by birth."

Yep, I was pretty much overwhelmed with emotions at this point, and so were all the people in the room. At some point she said, "I'm glad you're crying! I get worried if the parents don't cry." LOL
There was much chatter before and after the ceremony. At one point one of the women on the other side of the room pointed to me, and indicated my glasses. Everyone nodded in agreement with whatever it was she said. Finally it was translated:

"The two of you have the same eyes. Everyone agrees, and it is amazing!"

The ceremony done, we had to walk a few blocks to the police station and get his new birth certificate, and order his passport. (There is another story here for this that I will save for another day.) 

This is Axel walking with one of the social workers who was most involved with the foster family. He is a very nice name, and is adopted himself. He was SO happy to see Axel finding a forever family.

Here is Axel's certificate of citizen ship listing his new name. What, you can't read it? Bummer for you!

Axel just chill'in while they redo the birth certificate for about the 4th time.

We had to wait awhile to make sure there were no additional problems with these documents and the butchering of my name in Cyrillic (that's the untold story from above). While we were waiting back at the office, the head psychologist sat next to me with Axel's entire file in her lap. Suddenly she says, "Axel looks just like his birth father, would you like to see a picture of his birth parents?"

Who would say no to that?

She flipped through the file and pulled out a photocopied page that had both of his parents' Serbian identity cards on it. (like a driver's license) There they were, his parents! I asked if I could take a picture of it so I could show Dean later. She said, "Oh, I'll give you a copy of it."

She proceeded to hand me a copy of his parents' identity cards, with their full names and DOB and everything. I was told during our meeting with the ministry officials last week that they, particularly the birth father, are interested in having contact. They would like to know what kind of life Axel has in the states, and would love to watch him grow up. Needless to say, I was THRILLED to have this information. In Serbia, there is no such thing as 'open adoption', and it is frowned upon. They don't realize that in the US, open adoption is normal, and that adoptive families often have some level of contact with the birth family. 

When this was all done, we went to lunch at a local restaurant called "The Hunter". I had eaten there earlier in the week, and the food is very good. But, while we were eating outside in the BEAUTIFUL weather, as predicted earlier in the day it suddenly turned. The winds came, dropping the temperature about 15 degrees while we sat there. We quickly loaded into the car for the 2 hr drive back to Belgrade.

Tonight while going through pictures, Axel did a "first". When he saw a picture of himself, he pointed to his chest, then signed, "Axel"!! What a perfect day for him to truly understand his name for the first time! 

We are now happily settled into my friend Mary's lovely flat! Today I'll go to the US Embassy to pick up some forms, and get some groceries. The weekend will be pretty much open. Then Monday will be a flurry of activity as we get Axel's medical visit done (a requirement for the visa) have his visa appointment, and wait for his visa to be done.

We will be flying home Tuesday afternoon!!!!

USA, here comes AXEL!!!

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Making things work

Angela is an extremely social young lady. She is also quite adventurous! When she first started at her work program, which takes place in a city skyway system, she got lost on the very first day! And by "lost", I mean she was six blocks away from where she should be, and had no idea where she was. This happened because, although it was her first day, she thought she knew her way around so she just kept walking...and the wrong direction.

Once Angela realized she was not in the right place, and she didn't recognize any landmarks, she kept walking until she found a security officer. Then she called me,  "Mom, I'm lost. Here. Talk to the security guy." and handed over her phone. Her job coach reconnected with her very quickly, and all was well.

Angela learned a couple of lessons in the process:

1) ANSWER your phone when you hear it ringing. Both her job coach and I were calling here and she wasn't answering. We don't know if she was refusing, or if she couldn't hear her phone.

2) If you don't know where you're going, don't walk in the front of a group. Walk in the middle or the back so someone who DOES know where they're going can show you the way. If you walk in front, and they turn a corner without you realizing, you will get lost.

3) If you can't find a security person, you can FaceTime Mom or the job coach so they can see your surroundings, and they can find you.

4) Once in awhile remind Mom to verify "find my phone" is turned on. ;-)

I probably don't need to tell you how panicked I was during this event. Or that the job coach, who wasn't yet familiar with Angela and her over confidence, was just as worried as I was. After that event, we started having Angela wear an AngelSense GPS tracking device. It has a lot of features that were really great, and we used it for over a year. However we recently decided to try a different GPS device. We still use the Angelsense for a couple of our other kids when we attend crowded community events.

After doing some research, we switched Angela to a Gizmo Watch. The device itself works great for Angela. Unfortunately we encountered a couple problem that are unique to Angela. First, Angela can't get it on herself, because it has a buckle. That second problem is that after a couple months of use we have discovered Angela is allergic to the silicone watchband. Hmmm we really like the device so how could I modify it to make it work for her?

To google I go! I found a few tutorials on how to make watch bands, and tonight I made one that is made with fleece. Not only will it be better against her skin, but it is stretch so she can get it on herself.

I used to do a lot of sewing, but haven't been able to in years. I barely remember how to thread my machine! I think this turned out ok. We'll see how it works for her then I'll make more. Hopefully this stays together and we don't lose the watch! LOL

Although I was planning on Christmas themed fabric
Angela chose this Star Wars fleece. 

I'd like to learn how to make velcro watch bands, however I would need to be very careful that the scratchy velcro can't touch Angela's skin at all! Her skin is incredibly sensitive and it would cause a breakdown within a day. I think these stretchy type bands are going to be the best option for her.

For those with loved ones who wear a GPS like this, do you have any other suggestions? 

7 years! Asher

Happy Adoption Day (yesterday), Asher!!!! This post is copied from our adoption blog. Asher's birth parents are reading this post. We have been in contact with them for several years, and they are good people. They made a very difficult decision based on the social climate for people with disabilities where they live. Please be respectful.

December 5th, 2011

Ivanna (pronounced Eevanah) the orphanage social worker. Asher is blurry because he wasn't really interested in posing. 

Ok, he'll hold still for this one. Ivanna was trying hard not to cry at this point. Just off camera are caregivers in tears. After this, Ivanna handed me a bag. There is one caregiver who has cared for Asher since the day he was born, and often takes him to the grocery store and other places with her. She said the bag was something for Asher from his caregiver, who did NOT come to work today because she could not stand to see Asher leave. Later when I opened the bag, I found a size 8 brand new outfit. Size 8...something he will wear next year. And brand new outfit; something I know was not easy for her to do.

Seven years ago, his guardian walked through these doors with a tiny baby. One of the least of these. I know a lot about his birth parents, and I know they were doing the only thing they could. The story is for Asher, and not one I'll share here, but I can tell you Asher WAS loved, and in fact his birth family was just here to visit him knowing that he would be leaving. I cannot imagine how difficult that was for them.

Driving to Kragujevac. Americans get a little freaked out about the lack of carseats here. Even when a family does have a carseat, it isn't used anywhere near the way it's supposed to be. LOL Here's Asher, sitting on my lap facing me to watch out the window.

Signing the adoption decree!!!

The actual ceremony. I'm going to tell you what was said, not to pat ourselves on the back, but so you can see how these adoptions touch everyone. (and I look horrible in the pictures because I'm crying!)

This was toward the end of the ceremony, when we all stood up for the formal part. Susanna the psychologist was talking, saying just three months ago they received Axel's update and were so thrilled to see how wonderful he's doing and the opportunities he has. To see that he has the medical care nobody even knew he needed (I included pictures of Axel in the halo and explained what had happened.) Then when they received our request for Asher they were so excited to know the family he would be going to, and to be able to tell the birth family just what kind of life Asher would have. They thanked me for coming back to Kragujevac to give a family to one of their children.
 Then she said something funny: In our paperwork for Axel and again for Asher I explained how many times adoption has touched my immediate family, and that my sister had 9 children, four of them adopted. They wondered how much more space WE have in OUR house, and if they will get to see us again next year. LOL

The head minister did not participate in our ceremony with Axel because he was out of town, but he lead this ceremony and was very glad to be part of it.

This is Susanna, talking about how our family has taught them all a lot about love and acceptance, and that by seeing the updates on Axel they have a new understanding of the importance of family for these children, and the progress that can be made when a child is raised in a loving environment. They hope all their children can be so lucky to find their way to a family like ours.

Certificate of Serbian citizenship, and his new birth certificate listing him as Lazar SPRING, with me as his mother!

"Uncle Zoran". Zoran is a COCI staff member who is nothing less than a Godsend to adoptive parents! He is translator, driver, and playmate for the children when you need your hands free. You will get more Serbian history from Zoran than you will anywhere else.
 After a VERY long day we drove home in Zoran's a CAR SEAT! (with a lap belt. LOL) But Asher was comfortable and fell asleep holding my iPhone to his ear.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Today you are 30

The second day of December, 1988.

 I had a 14 month old toddler, Noah, and was massively pregnant with my second baby. I knew he was a boy, and this day was his due date. There was SO much to do! Christmas would soon be here, I just knew if we didn't get the Christmas tree up, it likely wouldn't happen once this new baby came. After dinner my (then) husband and I took little Noah to the local tree lot, where we found a cute little tree for our tiny living room, that we could also afford. Times were lean for this young family!

We brought the tree home and stood it in the living room to "rest", and let the branches drop.   I put Noah to bed, then stood looking at the tree. My husband was supposed to get the Christmas boxes out of the attic, but his day had started at 4:00 am and he now sat on the couch, sound asleep. I took a deep breath and hauled my giant belly up the stairs and opened the door to the attic crawl space, got on my hands and knees, peering inside. It was going to be tough for me to get all these dang boxes out, but I was (and still am) a very determined woman. One by one I pulled out a box, carried it downstairs to the living room, then hauled myself back up the stairs for another. I got the tree into the stand, crawling underneath to secure all the screws into the trunk, trying to work around my belly. I found a couple strands of lights that still worked and wrapped them around the tree. We didn't have a lot of ornaments yet, and it was only Noah's second Christmas so I made sure his two ornaments, and a new one for the baby, were prominently hung on the front of the tree. I couldn't wait to see Noah's face in the morning when he saw the tree!

I quickly put up the other household decorations. When I was done I looked at the now empty boxes, knowing they needed to get back up the stairs. Afraid to sit down for fear I wouldn't be able to get back off the couch, I picked up a box and started to climb the stairs once again.

Finally, after what seemed like many hours, I sat down on the couch next to my sleeping husband to admire the tree. I realized my back was hurting just a little bit, and figured it was due to all the boxes I had just carried. I woke my husband and prodded him to bed so he would get a decent night sleep. I looked at the clock...midnight...No wonder I was exhausted!!

At 5:30 a.m. I was woken by a massive contraction. I reached over to my husband's side of the bed and realized he was already gone for work. I got up to use the bathroom and had another contraction, stronger than the first. I peeked at Noah. I found he was still sleeping, so I laid down on the couch to rest but instead had another strong contraction. They were already two minutes apart! With my first baby, my water had broken with a gush sitting at the table of an extended family member. I went  to the phone and called my husband's work. "Please tell K. to come home. NOW! We need to go NOW!" Thankfully his place of work was very close to our house, so he arrived in minutes. By the time he got there I had Noah up, diapered, and stuffed in his snowsuit to go to grandma's house. While K. was loading Noah I called my mom to tell her the baby was on the way, all the while making frequent stops for contractions I couldn't talk through. While talking to my mom I looked out the window to see if K. was having any trouble getting Noah into the car (you know how men and infant car seats can be!) and the car was GONE! "Ummm mom? He left without me."

Yes, he had left to bring Noah to his parent's house while I sat and waited for him. They were also closely thankfully! When he returned he was moving at lightning speed through the house while I was moving in slow motion, just trying to get my shoes on.

When we finally arrived at the hospital my contractions were very close together, and as soon as I was in a bed my water broke.

On December 3rd, 1988 at 7:42 a.m. Tyler was placed into my arms for the very first time.

Tyler, today you are


You came into this world like a little tornado, and it's pretty much how you've lived your life. An adrenaline junkie through and through! You made me a mom for the second time. You made Noah a brother. You added to the long line of grandkids and great grandkids! I pray that 2019 is kind to you. That you are blessed beyond measure and life treats you kind!

Grade 3
I love you!
Preschool, age 3

Grade 5
Bryon 7, Noah 9, Robbie 10, Tyler 8, Angela 6 mo
Grade 4

Grade 6

Sunday, December 02, 2018

She told me it was urgent!

What malnourishment looks like: Recovery

I was looking through old videos today, and found this one of Asher. I had forgotten what terrible condition he was in when he came home! Just a couple weeks short of one year home. His belly is still giant and bloated. Because his hands and feet continued to grow but his body had slowed, they look too big for his body. When he came home he was seven years old and 36 lbs. By the time this video was taken, 11 months later, he had gained 8 lbs and 2 1/2 inches in height. It takes a long time for a small boy to recover from malnutrition. It would be another 6+ months before Asher was no longer looking like a toddler.

But OH! This boy was SO HAPPY to be here!!! Look at the PURE JOY on his face as he discovers something as simple as making noise, and just being A BOY!

Saturday, December 01, 2018

How did we get here: Asher's adoption process

Here is a link to my old adoption blog, and all the posts related to Asher's adoption process. I can't believe we are coming up on seven years home! This marks the day Asher has officially been our son longer than he was an orphan. He is the first of our kids to reach this milestone! If you'd like to read about Asher's adoption process, CLICK HERE, and scroll back to November 2nd, 2011.