We’ll head there tomorrow, but today was all about one of Bowen’s great loves, our military. Through a very generous Facebook friend, whose husband happens to work in the Pentagon, we scored an AMAZING day.
From there we went to Arlington to visit the Caisson.
And to see the changing of the guard.
We ate dinner and then went to Fort Meyer for the Twilight Tattoo. Oh my gosh, Bowen was in absolute heaven.
–FullPlateMom, who plans to take her military loving son on the Metro tomorrow, because he loves trains almost as much as he loves the Army.
This is Tess. She is now 7 years old. Tess is a Congenital Heart Disease Warrior, having lived through two complex open heart surgeries. She had a major heart surgery on her 2nd birthday, and again at the age of 4 years, 2 months. Those surgeries each came with difficult recoveries. Tess is incredibly verbal, and around the age of 3 she began to say things that led me to believe that she was experiencing some Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) related anxiety.
Yoga had provided me a great coping mechanism for anxiety when I was working through my own medical trauma. I was hoping it would do the same for Tess. Tess began her own yoga practice shortly before her 3rd birthday. She fell in love. In fact, her 4th birthday was spent in the Yoga Studio, celebrating with all her fellow yogis.
She loved it so much that she was able to tell us that her only wish for her birthday was to share some yoga with Bowen and Cate. Daddy came along too.
Yoga introduced her to mindfulness. So did her local school district. During the year that Tess attended 4-year-old Kindergarten (4K), the Kindness Curriculum was used. This curriculum uses mindfulness practices to help preschool/young elementary aged kiddos learn to emotionally self-regulate. The curriculum is available to you here.
The ideas that I saw Tess coming home with dovetailed beautifully with some of the ideas that I had learned in nursing school to help my tiniest patients work through painful procedures. In nursing school, I had been offered the opportunity to attend a 12 hour training session to learn how to lead children in Guided Imagery. I embraced it and immediately saw its benefits. Anytime I placed an IV or an NG tube, I would ask a few questions about where the child wanted to go and we would let their imagination guide them there. This distraction was key in helping their body relax and rid itself of some of the anxiety that came with these procedures. This did not replace medication to help with anxiety, it was merely another tool in the toolbox.
I had already begun using Guided Imagery with Tess. When she was anxious, we would ride unicorns through the clouds. We would take a trip to the Magic Kingdom in Disney World, on a day when NO one else was allowed to attend. Her and I, alone, skipping down Main Street. This was so helpful for Tess.
Tess was given a small, smooth, pink, heart-shaped crystal by a wife of a beloved teacher who practices Reiki. That crystal was in Tess’s hand the entire time she lay in the Cardiac Intensive care Unit (CICU) recovering from her second open heart surgery and subsequent cardiac arrest. It is always in her hand as she relaxes to fall asleep at night. It is part of her practice.
Tess has a 5-year-old sister, Cate, who is built entirely differently than she is. Tess is a serious, empathetic, intentional, thinker. Cate is a silly, wild, fun-loving, energetic, fast-mover. Tess compares herself to Beezus and Cate to Ramona, the beloved characters of Beverly Cleary’s ‘Ramona Quimby’ series. That is a very accurate literary parallel.
Tess, Cate, and now their 6-year-old sister, Gigi, all share a bedroom. While Tess craves quiet and relaxation as she falls asleep, Cate has sensory needs that make it so she needs something aside from that to help her go to sleep. That ‘something else’ became constant chattering, jumping on her bed, swinging from the bottom of Tess’s lofted bed. Cate could not settle. Gigi is Deaf. She simply removes her Cochlear Implant processor, rolls over, and ignores Cate. Tess can’t. Cate stresses Tess out.
Cate attends a preschool I own, where emotional self-regulation through mindfulness is a huge part of the curriculum. Before rest time, the teacher in the room leads the children through a story that focuses on Guided Imagery/Meditation. She is teaching them to find their own ability to practice mindfulness. Cate told Tess that during these moments, she pictures a giant, purple dog in her head. She rides that dog all around, not in a relaxed fashion, but in a wild way, she and her purple dog jumped over furniture, cavort through the grass. They have the kind of adventure that Cate needs.
Tess seized on this. She now talks Cate through her purple dog adventure. I hear her doing this for Cate, helping her to relax as she and her dog visit our local park, running all around the playground, sliding down the slide together, becoming exhausted, and then slowly laying down in the grass.
Cate breathes in the grass, and she falls asleep.
I asked Tess about this, about how she learned it, about how she became so wonderfully effective at leading other kids through it. This was her answer to me. “I don’t know, everyone just did it with me. My yoga instructor did it on my mat when she wrapped me up and rubbed my feet. My 4K teacher did it when we had our belly buddies and we lay in a circle, watching them go up and down as we took belly breaths. You did it in the Echo (Echocardiogram) Room, when they had to take pictures, but I was scared about my heart.”
She’s right. Everyone in her life has taught her that this is a great way to cope with anxiety. I am so proud that she is now able to help others cope.
A note: I wouldn’t hesitate to have Tess seen by a mental health provider, and to have her use medication if that becomes necessary. And, it may. I am a huge advocate for using ALL the tools in your tool box to help your child feel better. Mindfulness is a tool. So is medication. Please don’t mistake my words here for either/or. This is not. It can be both/and.
–FullPlateMom, who is going to do a tutorial on turning a Beanie Baby into a ‘Belly Buddy.’ But, it will be the stuff of Pinterest, so, consider yourself warned.
Today, to take our minds off the fact that we only have one day left before we bid Joe and Isabel farewell, we decided to head to the science museum. It was one rainy afternoon in Bogotá and the kids were super excited to visit Maloka.
Then we went and ate familiar food. Cam never complained once, but after two weeks without anything typically American, he was ready for something familiar. So, we ate Burger King.
We came back to our little Bogotá abode and there was a beautiful cake waiting for us. We celebrated our last night in Bogotá with our friends at Zuetana. If you’re looking for a place to stay in Bogotá, Claudia who owns this guest house, is amazing.
I am processing so many emotions about leaving that I don’t even know how to put pen to paper, or in this case, fingers to keyboard, to get them out. I am leaving my daughter behind. My fragile, malnourished, daughter. There just aren’t words. The bottom line is, I wish it didn’t have to be this way. I wish we could all just stay in Colombia and be with her until it is time to come home.
Alas, school is calling, literally, for the other kids. So, tomorrow at 4am, we’ll rise to make the long trek home.
We’re now 48 hours from leaving Joe and Isabel behind to finish the adoption process. On Friday, at the absolute crack of dawn, 12 of us will head to the airport and the other two will head a few hours down the road to La Mesa. La Mesa is a smaller town about three hours outside of Bogotá. It’s supposed to be warm, beautiful, and, a retirement community. It’s the Boca Raton of Colombia.
Joe will be there for about a week to go to court and, hopefully, be granted a Sentencia. This is the piece of paper that declares Isabel our daughter. After that, he’ll head back to Bogotá to get her passport, her visa, and then, they’ll come home. We anticipate he’ll be living here in Colombia for 2-3 more weeks. I will be at home, alone, with the other 11 children.
I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t scared. I am totally scared. I’m scared of managing it all at home, and I’m scared of letting go of this process. I feel Joe is ill equipped to handle it. Not the diaper changes, and the parenting without me, he does that all the time. I’m talking about knowing the ins and outs of when to push and when not to, when an ethical line is being crossed, and when what is being asked of you is routine. It will be a steep learning curve for him.
Leaving Pasto today was so hard. Tess cried big giant tears as we left the house on the hill where we had been staying for the past week. The owners became like family to us over the last week. Monica, one of the owners, helped us with the children, acted as a tour guide for us encouraging us to get out and explore Pasto and the surrounding areas, and she made us the best Colombian treats (my children now all love aqua de panela). But, what we cherished the most, was that Monica spent so much time telling us about our daughter’s homeland, and her culture. We know so much about Isabel’s birthplace, because Monica was so willing to share with us.
The guest house she and her husband own is absolutely beautiful. It is attached to their family’s home. Monica checked on us multiple times per day. People thought we were crazy for staying in what we, in the United States, would commonly refer to as a hostel during a time that would be so unpredictable for our family. Adding Isabel to our family wasn’t easy, but the people who surrounded us became part of her story. Even some of the other people staying in the guest house with us became part of Isabel’s story. AJ told Joe he loved having people come in and out and stay in the guest house with us because they came from all over, and he had the opportunity to ask them about their part of the world.
We will miss them terribly. I promised Tess that we would be back someday, to the house on the hill, in the place we first met Isabel.Love has made us brave, and that bravery has blessed us immeasurably.
We will carry it on during the next few weeks as we live apart, and leave behind the country we love.
–FullPlateMom, who isn’t feeling so very brave right now.
Today was spent out and about on the city streets. We needed to paperchase with our Colombian attorney. Signatures, notarizations, all the most boring parts of adoption.
The kids were troopers, and I only had to put the fear of God into one of them once. I can usually just shoot them a look to accomplish this. That was the case today. Not too shabby.
Once we were all done with five long hours of this, we rewarded the kids with dessert first from the corner ice cream vendor, and then we found Chinese food in Pasto! They have been so adventurous with their eating, but it was so nice for them to have something familiar tonight.
Tomorrow is our last full day in Pasto. We will spend it shopping and packing up. Then the whirlwind toward home begins, for me, and Joe will move on to La Mesa.
Again, I’m Scarlett O’Hara-ing that, and enjoying all the mango I can get before I have to leave.–FullPlateMom, who doesn’t want to go!
We are staying in an amazing hostel where the owners live in the adjacent unit. When I told people that we would be staying in a hostel during our time in Isabel’s city, they thought I was insane. This is a huge home on a giant hill, with a locked gate at the bottom of the stairs, and then again at the top. There are two sides to the home, one where the hostel is located, and the other where the owners live with their son. They are an amazing couple with a 7 year old. The hostel is clean, and beautifully decorated, and our stay here has been wonderful.
We were originally going to have all 6 bedrooms in the hostel, but each day there has been someone knocking at the door begging for a place to stay for the night. Each time we’ve given up a bedroom and the backpacker that has stayed has been amazing to our kids. Our kids are getting to know about different parts of the world from the experiences of these people who have stayed with us, and they, in turn, have gotten to set aside some of their preconceived notions about Americans.
Last night as one of the owners sat with us to have a cup of aqua de panela, she told us about a little town, just outside the city, that is easily accessible by bus. We’re already staying in a hostel, with a stranger in the next room, with our 12 kids, one that we adopted three days ago. People think we’re insane.
Let’s do it.
So, we did. We rode the bus to Cabrera.
We packed a picnic lunch and ate on the steps of the church.
We quickly learned an important lesson about stray dogs in Colombia. They enjoy ham sandwiches, and also, they’re persistent.
We decided we would eat as we walked.
Cam and Ally are really enjoying carrying the little kids on their backs. No one asks them to do it, they just offer, and Cam couldn’t care less that the carrier he is using is covered in rainbows and unicorns.
Gigi fell asleep on Ally’s back and she quickly covered her to protect her from the sun. “We’re at a high altitude here.” We sure are.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever hiked in a more beautiful place.
We got to the top of the mountain, and began to hike back down. First, we got a pic at the peak.
We decided that since the ham sandwiches were a bust, we would stop at the small restaurant in the town square and eat a little late lunch before we rode the bus back.
The Ecuadoran man who owns the restaurant was so kind. He found out that we have a tiny fan of everything meat, and he had some carne asada made just for her.
Gigi and Ally gobbled up all the corn with cheese. Yes, cheese. It was a soft cheese that was spreadable all over the ear of corn.
I have never had such wonderful yuca in my life. It was so perfectly prepared.
We are trying to see as much of the area as we can before we have to leave on Wednesday. Everyday is an adventure.
Tomorrow a social worker will come visit us in our little house on the hill. She will decide whether or not we are good enough to be Isabel’s parents. If her report is positive, an exit letter will be issued allowing us to leave the district with Isabel. This will begin the next step in the process, going to court to officially make her a member of our family.
That part will occur without me. The thought of leaving is killing me a little. So, I’ve decided to Scarlett O’Hara that for now, and think of it another day.
–FullPlateMom, who can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.
Today was a slower day, we decided this would be the plan so that the kids could all have time to get to know one another. Right now, we’re in the phase where we’re all in disbelief that we are now 14 strong. It feels odd. Making yourselves into a family doesn’t happen overnight. We are giving ourselves permission to feel like strangers, because, we are.
We decided that our only activity would be visiting the local market and trying to find familiar foods for Isabel that would comfort her. We have committed to eating like Colombians while we are here. So, mid-day, my motley crew headed to the market.
The streets of Pasto aren’t easy to navigate. They’re like the busy streets of many large cities around the world. So, the tiniest of our crew ride on various backs. Tess, Gigi, Cate and Isabel all ride in a carrier. When a brother or sister gets tired, piggybacks are the solution.
The kids commented that, for the first time, it really felt like we were in Colombia. No one around us spoke english. I had to really stretch myself to speak to people. The accent here is a little different.
We bought all kinds of beautiful fruits and vegetables.
The people were so kind. We managed to avoid an international incident when Gigi tried to sample the goods.