Day 6: Constant State of Action

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This is the state of my kitchen in the midst of cookie making with 4 boys.  They are over at the table devouring their masterpieces at the time of this picture.

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Jenga has quickly become a favorite game.  No English required and so fun for everyone.  Until little Drew hits the table….

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A little Christmas ornament painting. Notice this activity took place while Drew was sleeping.

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 A new haircut

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A little gingerbread making

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Throwing the baseball with Steve and Jacob

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And of course wrestling.  A favorite pastime in this house.

We seem to be in a constant state of action.  One of the goals of this program is to give these kids the time of their lives.  We are trying to do all the things he loves while being realistic in showing that the world doesn’t revolve around him.  A hard balancing act.

Evidently, pouting is a typical orphan behavior.  Day 4 held lots of pouting, day 5 a little less, and yesterday even less than the day before.  Before he would pout and shut us out completely.  Yesterday he went to his room to pout.  After a few minutes, I went to his room, showed him we were making gingerbread houses, and told him we would love him to join us.  5 minutes later he was down with a happy face making gingerbread houses.  He is taking no easier.  We had a few episodes of having to really put our foot down to get him to obey, but he did it.

Day 5: His likes and dislikes

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I’m discovering he is adventuresome.  He likes to stay busy.  Like most boys. They need to stay busy.

He loves to ride bikes and scooters.  Soccer is by far his favorite sport and he is really good at it too!  When he plays he puts on Jacob’s adidas shorts and Messi jersey.  He loves power tools and was trying to drill holes in the garage wall.  I stopped him just in time.

Car rides are a treat.  His favorite car is a “Moostang” as he says in his Latvian accent.

He loves to help do anything.  You never have to ask him to do anything for himself.  He is fully capable of taking care of himself and needs no help.  He has amazing patience when he is trying to figure something out.  He is methodical and calculating.  He is a great problem solver, very creative, and incredibly bright.

Whatever he does he does it fully and completely and in a particular fashion.  He is neat and tidy.  He cleans up after himself. I’ve never had to ask him to put away dirty clothes or dishes.  He just does it naturally.

My movie box is a disaster because I just throw movies in with no thought to neatness.  When he saw my disorganized box, he sat down with it and organized the box neatly stacking everything so it fit properly.  He began really speaking my language then!

He is the best eater I’ve ever seen in my life. He has not turned down one thing offered to him. He eats everything our family eats with zero complaining.  This is amazing given how sweetened, salted, and processed American food is.

He loves rap music.  We compromised and I put Christian rap on Pandora.  Honestly, he doesn’t know the difference since it’s in English, but rather than hearing lyrics of hating people we are hearing lyrics of loving God 🙂

On Wednesday we were riding home from picking the boys up from school when I turned the christian rap up really loud.  Through the rearview mirror, I saw Jacob’s eyes about to bulge out of his head, so I quickly turned and told him it was christian music.  He let out that breath he was holding and started bopping to the beat.  I almost cracked up when a song came on and Jacob said, “Oh this is my favorite song.”  He’s never heard one of those songs a day in his life!  But it was so fun watching those boys with sunglasses on bouncing around the car.

His bond is deepening with Steve.  When steve is at work, he is asking how much longer.  He gives thought to Steve throughout the day.  At Walmart he picked up a pack of gum and asked me to buy it for “dad”.  When he made an ornament, he wrapped it and gave it to “dad” as a gift.

Most things I offer he says no to, but I just begin doing it and he joins me.  “You want to help me cook?”

“No,” he says initially.  Then he slowly moves towards me and picks up a spoon and starts to help.

“You want to play cars?”

“No,” he will respond as he watches me rolling cars back and forth.  30 seconds later he is joining me on the floor.

He will give anything a try for the most part.

I watch his eyes while he is watching family life take place all around him.  It’s all soaking in.  Likely something he has never seen before.

During a Christmas cookie baking activity, I had a job for each of the boys.  His natural reaction is “Me.”  That is natural of most kids, but particular an orphan who is visiting America and experiencing all of these fun things for the first time.

He reached his hand out and tried to take Zachary’s measuring cup away from he saying, “Me.”

Zachary quickly gave it to him, and I was on the verge of stepping in to explain that we must take turns and not to take from each other.  But I didn’t have to.  An expression came over his face as his hand stopped in mid-air with the measuring cup.  He turned back to Zachary and said, “You.”

The two boys went back and forth insisting each take a turn until I told Zachary to please allow this opportunity for Viktors to allow someone to go before himself.  Zachary felt uncomfortable with this, but Viktors felt a sense of what he sees in this family.  A give and take.  And for the first time he was on the give side.  I imagine he felt warm inside.

During family movie night of Polar Express, I passed out candy to each of the boys on fun Christmas plates.  The Mike and Ike’s Viktors had been begging for since the moment they entered our house.  When I sat down, my child who will share anything with anyone (Zachary), held his plate out to me to offer some candy.

“Aww, you are so sweet, thank you for sharing.”  I smiled and savored that tiny piece of candy.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Viktors watching closely.  5 seconds later he held his plate out to me and offered a piece of his own candy to which I graciously took a piece.

It’s all soaking in.  Family life is being absorbed into him like a sponge.  This child can do family life.

Day 4: Who I Am

Jason Gray – Remind Me Who I Am (Official Music Video) from jason-gray on GodTube.

Please take 3 minutes and click the link above.  We can all relate to this song.  We all need reminding who we are to Him.  You won’t regret this 3 minutes. I promise.

I pray Viktors will discover who He is in Christ.

He doesn’t belong to anyone. But he does, he just doesn’t know it yet.

Today was less testing.  He shuts down at certain times.  Bedtime he completely shuts down on us.  At one point today I found him in bed with his head covered blocking out everything around him.  It was through the promise of taking a car ride that I was able to pull him back out of himself to join us.

I find myself constantly saying to myself “He is an 11-year-old orphan.  Period.”  He will not respond the way I expect.

There is a language barrier and there are emotional walls.

But he is capable of love and he is capable of accepting love.  A lot of processing occurs.

He is a wonderful little boy.  A strong will for sure.  Through Facebook postings today, I was reminded that it is his stubbornness and strong will that has enabled him to survive to this point.  It is what he needs to say no to drugs and crime.

Praise God Viktors is stubborn.  Praise God he is strong-willed.  He needs to be.  It will serve him well and has served him well to this point.

Pray this child would come to know the Lord and would channel those traits to serve Him one day.

We are sustained by your prayers.  We truly feel every prayer lifted up for our family and Viktors right now.  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Day 3: Testing Begins

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Testing has begun.  Boundaries are being tested.

I laid out a shirt for him. “No”  10 minutes later he was downstairs in a shirt he brought with him.  I let it go.  Not worth the battle.  He requested a movie.  No problem we had time for a short movie before we needed to leave the house.  After the movie ended he wanted another.  When I told him no, he pouted and was very upset to be told no.

He wanted to go to the park, so we went to the park.  He wanted to play soccer, so Steve took the boys to play soccer.  He wanted McDonalds, so we had that for lunch.  He got lots of yes responses through the day.  But when he got the “no’s”, things didn’t fly so smoothly.

The day was likely very overwhelming for him.  And he is trying to figure it all out.  And he doesn’t know how to process emotions like we do.  Every interaction with him must go through a different filter.

He wanted to go to the park after dark.  I said no and offered 2 fun alternatives inside.

“Hmmph!”  He sharply turned his head away from me and wouldn’t look at me.  When I finally convinced him to join us in the family room, he did so, but covered his body (including his head) with a blanket and pouted.  He basically shut down the rest of the night.  I sat right next to him for as long as I could.

We asked him to come upstairs to get ready for bed, which he did, but he did it all silently.  At night he has been playing his Latvian audio bible, a gift from us that he loves.  While he was brushing his teeth, I started the player for him.  He climbed into bed and immediately turned it off and turned his back to me.  But he is a hurting child, and we will show him love with firm boundaries and consistent actions.

Steve went upstairs to check on everyone after they had been tucked into bed about 10 minutes.  His Latvian audio bible was playing.  And he was sound asleep.

You could hear Latvian all the way downstairs he had the volume up so loud.  I looked at Jacob and Zachary laying in their beds while Viktors lay sound asleep.  “Boys, is that bothering you?”

With 100% genuine sincerity, in unison, they said, “Oh no!”  “It’s perfectly fine, Mom.”

And my heart grew another couple of sizes.

My children have amazed me through this process.  I’m seeing parts of their hearts I’ve never seen before.  True compassion.  True concern.  True selflessness.  True sacrifice.

They have less of me.  A lot less.  They have less of Steve.  Yet not once have they shown the slightest bit of jealousy or concern for their own needs.  When Viktors pouts and behaves childishly they don’t ridicule him or imitate his behaviors.  They feel his pain.  And they simply show him love.

Day 2

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His head rested on the arm of the chair, gaze transfixed on the rainbow of lights on the Christmas tree.  Fingers lightly grazed the ornaments then stopped.  He gently removed the ornament from the tree.  “Mom”  I’ve grown so accustomed to hearing this.

“Yes?”

In his hands he held an ornament of 2 carolers, one an adult, one a child.  His finger pointed to the adult then pointed to me.  “That you,” he said in his thick Latvian accent.  He pointed to the child represented in the ornament then pointed to himself.  “That me.”  And he smiled.

He’s connecting the dots.  He knows what he wants.  He wants a family.  He wants to belong.

Later in the morning he continually asked me to play with him.  Using the translator app, I typed, “I have to finish my chores first, then I can play.”

“Ah.  Ok.”  He understood.  But he didn’t run off to play by himself. He stood right by my side as I unloaded day old dishes and scraped dry food from 2 days ago off the counters.

He picked up a dry erase marker and wrote on a plastic cup.  “Hmm,” he said as he tried to understand this marker with ink that wiped away so easily.

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Gently, I took the marker from his hands.  “Here, watch this.”  On my dry erase picture frame, I wrote “Hi”.

A smile broke across his face, and he quickly snatched the marker from my hands and began drawing a Christmas tree.  I drew a smiley face.  He drew a face on Santa.  I drew a cross.  “Ah,” he said as he pointed to the cross made by Jacob that has hung on our walls for a year now.  “Yes,”  I said.  “Jesus” and I wrote Jesus.

We ran out of space to draw.  Using his finger he tried erasing a small section.  Eyebrows furrowed as he discovered the magic of a dry erase marker.  Simplicity at its finest.  A precious moment wrapped in the disguise of sweet, precious, simple.

He erased everything except the cross and Jesus.  We drew around that for awhile until he eventually erased it.  It was as if he knew that was important to me and he gave thought to my feelings.

He’s intrigued by “dad”.  I’m grateful for Steve’s active role in entering Viktor’s life because I imagine it’s Steve’s influence that will truly impact his life the greatest during these 4 weeks.

Viktor spotted the soccer goals up the street and started pointing saying “Futbol!  Futbol!”  When “dad” took all the boys for a soccer match while I cooked dinner, it was the highlight of Viktor’s day.  Especially when he was able to wear Jacob’s Mesi jersey.  Steve is good at getting to know people, and it’s because of Steve that we are discovering all of Viktor’s likes and dislikes.

Es milu tevi.  I love you.  I said to him, “Es tevi milu”.  He laughed and said “Es milu tevi.”  He dipped his fingers in some water and on Steve’s windshield wrote love as he pointed to me.  I smiled back and said correctly this time “I love you too, Es milu tevi.”

Movie time he snuggled under a blanket.  When Andrew joined him on the couch, he patted the spot right next to him, inviting Andrew to draw closer as he held out the blanket to cover little Andrew.  He’s a kind and thoughtful young man.

So many small moments sprinkled through the day.  Beautiful moments and a few slight challenges, nothing different that what we deal with our own children.  But a little bit of pushback, refusal to shower, me standing firm and insisting then spending 10 minutes dealing with the struggle.  He obliged.

I’m not finishing the day as tired as yesterday.  He was more comfortable, therefore I was more comfortable.  We were all a little more able to just do family life like we do every day.  And he fit right in.

Day 1

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5:45 the clock read.  A mostly full night’s sleep to start the day.

6:30.  Slowly, I opened the door to the boys’ room, fully expecting everyone to be sound asleep though Jacob and Zachary needed to be up getting ready for school.

“Hi!”  It was the first time I heard him speak.  The nightlight silhouetted his beautiful smile.     Movement spread in all the beds.  For the first time in history, all 3 of my boys bounced out of beds with cheerful hearts and sunny smiles.  They were dressed and ready for school in 5 minutes compared to the typical 40 minutes it takes them.  There was no bickering, no fighting, no complaining.  It was a parent’s dream morning on a school day.  Lovely, lovely, lovely.

First meal together as this temporary family of 6.  The blessing was said, little was eaten.  Excitement maybe?  Steve voiced concerns that he hadn’t eaten anything and got out the translate app to make sure Viktor understood to let us know when he was hungry.  What he didn’t eat at breakfast he made up for quickly.  He basically ate all day long.  An entire bag of carrots, 4 hotdogs, banana, 4 pieces of cornbread, 5 slices of ham, 3 cheesesticks, almonds, 3 glasses of milk, 5 glasses of water, full plate of spaghetti, and I’m sure more I’m leaving out.

Boys headed out to school, Steve off to work.  “Come on Andrew, let’s take Viktor upstairs and show him his clothes.”  The 3 of us made our way into the guest room where we have drawers set up for his clothes.

I waved my hands at the items of clothing in the closet. “These are for you,” I said to him as I pointed to him.  I lifted out a polar bear shirt and pants.  “You like these?”  I asked showing him a thumbs up with a smile or thumbs down with a shake of my head.  He responded with a thumbs up.  The soccer shirt received the same response.  The hand-me-down guitar and peace frog shirts got thumbs up.  The one shirt I picked out, he tilted his head to the side, with this sheepish little grin and shook his head side to side while he gave me the thumbs down.

Clothing settled, we moved into the bathroom where I showed him how to operate the shower, how to adjust the temperature, how to use a washcloth, how to brush your teeth.  Still few words coming from him.

The 2nd word I heard from his lips.  “Mom,” he called out to me as he pointed to a pack of floss broken on the floor.  I always wondered what he would call us.  Would he call us Steve and Renee?  Would he never address us by anything?  Or would he call us what he heard our own boys calling us?

He led me around our house pointing to our family pictures.   He touched my arm as he pointed to my picture.  “Mom,”  he said.  He pointed to Steve.  “Dad.”  As he pointed to each of our boys he held up fingers to show me how old they each were.  Steve had shared this information at breakfast with him.

I began bathing Andrew while Viktor played with cars on my bathroom floor.  “Lay back so I can wash your hair,” I instructed him.  Viktor set his cars aside and joined me at the side of the tub, his arm resting into mine.  Touch doesn’t bother him.  In fact the more we give him the more he wants.  He watched closely as I washed Andrew’s hair.  He leaned in and touched his little blond curls. And he smiled.  Then he turned back to his cars.

As Andrew played in the tub, I brushed my teeth.  Again he stopped what he was doing.  And he watched me.  Closely.  The entire time I brushed my teeth, he never broke concentration.  When I made eye contact, he just smiled at me and looked down.

He raced through the house going from window to window, door to door.  At the first opportunity to go outside, we were out.  Being with him was like being with a toddler.  Not because of behavior, but because of his sheer delight in all things new, all things simple, all things we typically rush right past or take for granted.

Cars whizzing by made him nervous.  Each squirrel he spotted caused him to call for me so I could see it.  We biked down the sidewalk and he ventured off the path mesmerized by the creek, the birds, the rocks.  He noticed everything.  Delighted in it all.

I did life with Viktor today, like I should do life every single day.  I was 100% fully in every single moment.  I ignored the phone most of the day, my house did not look the way I like, I didn’t stick to my typical schedules.  But I was WITH him.  When he rode his bike, I rode mine with him.  Because he asked me to.  When he asked me to ride electric scooters with him, for hours, I did.  The looks I got from cars passing by were priceless.  How many adults do you typically see scootering with their kids.  This was a first for me!

Every white car that went by he would call out, “Dad?”  To which I’d answer, soon.  He continually asked me how long until the boys got home from school.

And I was so invested in the day, I actually did forget to go pick up carpool!  Completely lost track of time and Steve bailed me out.

I have never been prouder of my boys than I was tonight.  They took to Viktor immediately.  They treated him like he was their brother.  Or better.  They had his best interest at heart constantly.

Bike riding and balls are instant bonders.  I walked outside as the 3 older boys were heading my way on bikes.  Viktor hollered out, “Mom!”  as he wildly waved at me.  I heard Zachary say, “Did he just call her mom?”  Immediately, I began to worry my boys would feel jealous.  Bringing their bikes to a halt in front of me, Jacob wore the most beautiful, genuine smile on his face as I confirmed that he did in fact call me mom.  Zachary replied, “That is so cool.”

The evening was full of basketball with Steve, park trip with Steve, soccer match with boys and friends up the street, games, hide and seek, and simply being together.

So many times through the night, Jacob came to me and said how much he loves having Viktor here, will we ever have him here again, etc.

Our family already loves him to pieces.  And he seems to love us back.

As I read bedtime stories, he would lay his head into me.  If I were near him, he would reach his hand up to touch my shoulder.  You can tell he likes the touch, he just doesn’t know how to do it.  With the boys, he tickles them constantly.  Maybe it is the only way he knows how to show affection to our boys?  To Andrew, he will gently touch his curls.  He will walk by the boys and tap their head, which lights them up!  When Steve reached for his hand to pray at dinner, he didn’t hold back.  When we sat down to lunch and I didn’t pray immediately, he said, “Mom.”  I looked at him with his hands together and head bowed.  He saw us do it one time, and he knew it was important and a part of our family and he wanted to take part again.

This post only gives a surface glimpse written in scattered fashion of what we experienced on our first day with our host son.  We are exhausted, but full.  A different kind of joy was experienced in our home tonight.

He’s here

Viktors

Approximately 45 days of waiting and praying for this orphan boy to enter our lives.

Giving birth to a child gives way to an immediate love.  Love is there in an instant.  The moment they enter your lives.

It seems odd to say we love a child we don’t really even know yet.  One we didn’t birth, one we have only for a short while.  4 weeks to be exact.

I guess that is just what God does when He brings someone into your life and you pray for them.  You just love them.

Now I get it.

We wanted to host him to show him the love of Christ.  Unconditional love.  In order to show that, it must be sincere.  We must feel it.  And God answered that prayer. He placed in our hearts a love for this child.  This child we don’t know.  This child we don’t have any idea of his background.

I couldn’t rest all day.  I was a little too edgy, a little too snappy.  Nervous energy needed a way out of my body.  As the time approached for us to head to the airport, we were all feeling it.  Zachary told us his heart was beating out of his chest.  Andrew talked about how excited he was.  Jacob was concerned about what he must be feeling at that moment.  Steve was doing everything he could to keep us all even.

2 hours of waiting at the airport.  When they announced that the plane landed, I felt my heart begin to pick up the pace.  My legs needed to move, my palms were sweaty.  I no longer could have a conversation with anyone.  I wanted to see this boy.  I wanted to hug him so tightly.

We made our way to the escalator they would come down.  My little boys were bouncing around trying to be the first to spot him.  On the way to the airport I asked if they would recognize him.  “Oh yes!”   Zachary shouted.  “You know, Zachary, he won’t be wearing a purple life vest.”  Long pause.  “I know that.”  He didn’t know that 🙂

Jacob was holding the welcome sign.  Andrew was holding the gift bag.  Steve had camera poised and ready.  Jacob spotted the red shirts, “Here they come!”

All the kids found their host families and we didn’t see Viktors.  We saw a boy who looked similar, but it wasn’t him.  Then we saw 2 little boys standing to the back alone.  His face is thinner than his picture, and he wore a hood on his head.  But when I got up close, I knew.

One of the coordinators asked his name.  “Viktor,” he replied with a shy smile.  I grabbed his shoulders so I could look him in the eyes and said, “Hi Viktor.  We are so glad to have you here.”  My arms enveloped his thin body.  And I squeezed.  His arms never lifted from their side.  They told us in training they wouldn’t know how to hug back.  They are never hugged.  Steve reached in and hugged him.  Viktor’s arms never left their side.  The boys each took a turn hugging him.  His arms never left his side.  We had warned the boys of this.

My heart was overwhelmed.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted to hold him tightly.  And I didn’t want to think about where he was coming from.  Because it’s just painful.

The rest of the time in the airport, I couldn’t keep my arm off of him.  I just kept thinking he was scared to death and needed a reassuring arm on his back.  We quickly discovered he speaks almost no English.  But his smile.  It’s a shy smile.  It’s a precious smile.  And my Andrew knew just how to pull it out of him.

Andrew was trying to sword fight him after knowing him for 10 minutes.  “He’s not talking.  Why is Viktor not talking?”  He repeated this over and over again.

10 minutes into the drive home, Viktor was sound asleep in the car.  When we walked him into the house, I watched as his eyes tried to take it all in.  He wanted to see it all, but he was exhausted, so I led him straight upstairs.

With massive hand-talking and exaggerated expressions, I showed him his choices of sleeping with my 3 boys in their room or the guest room alone.  He didn’t hesitate as he pointed to the boys’ room.  With my hand on his back, I gently guided him to the bathroom, tore the tags off brand new pajamas and placed them in his arms.  “Come get me when you are dressed.”  It took him quite awhile.  He finally reappeared and I pointed to the top bunk. “This good with you?”  I asked showing him the thumbs up sign.  His head bobbed up and down as he climbed the ladder.

He climbed into the bed and began tucking himself in like he would do every night.  But I could see an expression in his eyes that showed he was looking forward to me tucking him in.  I tucked him in like he was my own.  His new soft blanket up to his chin, I leaned down and kissed his cheek, looked into his eyes and said, “I love you.”  He looked me square in the eyes and smiled the most heartwarming smile.

A simple act of tucking a child in bed.  An act I and my boys take for granted every single night.  What did that feel like to an orphan?  A child who belongs to no one?

And right now, I’m too wired to sleep, which is why I’m writing.  I don’t know what tomorrow will look like.  But for tonight the picture was beautiful.  I watched my boys love a little boy who needs to feel loved.  I watched an 11-year-old orphan smile at us, chuckle at my 4-year-old, and let us love on him.  And I felt my heart grow 3 sizes bigger.