Properly characterizing the year that was 2009 is more difficult than it may sound.
The year began shortly after Sara and I decided to embark on another adoption journey. That decision came pretty easily to us after a slew of failed attempts at fertility treatments. Our experience with Lleyton's adoption certainly solidified for us the fact that we wanted to adopt again, we just weren't sure it was going to happen this quickly.
In January, I spoke with Sue at Celebrate Children International and we made the decision to hire her and her agency to help us along on our journey to Ethiopia. We were introduced to Parker in January through the CCI website and a video that Sue sent to us from one of her visits to Ethiopia.
Going into this adoption we were set on adopting an infant as young as possible, but after seeing Parker's picture and learning of the relative ease of adopting more than one child from Ethiopia, and after weeks of contemplation, in February we decided to commit to adopting Parker, knowing that shorlty after we brought him home, we would be looking at referrals for infant girls as well.
Another highlight from January was the very brief, albeit enjoyable day we spent with friends in Florida. Lleyton (and I) loved his visit to Rob's Naval base.
February brought with it the excitement of knowing that before too long we would have a brother for Lleyton. The excitement was accompanied by plenty of nerves about adopting an older child that was coming from a place that we knew very little about and who had suffered more change and loss in his short life than I could imagine. But we hadn't made this decision without doing our homework and talking with numerous families that had been through this process, and each one of them had told me how simple the transition had been for them.
As March came about, my 30th birthday came and went in America while Parker was formally introduced to his new family through a care package that we sent to him in Ethiopia. It's funny looking back at this picture of him receiving the care package and not having a clue who the Bengals were, and now as we sit here today he is so disappointed the Bengals game is on too late for him to watch it tonight. Hopefully someone little boy in Ethopia is wearing that shirt with pride right now, as Parker graciously left his nice clothes and toys from the care package behind in Kamashi for his friends there to have.
With April came nicer weather and our house experienced one of the many transformations of the year, as Parker's room was put together. Sara really enjoys decorating the kids' rooms, and she did a great job giving Parker a room any 6 year old boy would love to have. With the good weather came a few chances for us to get out and about and have a good time with Lleyton as well.
May was the month we had been waiting for. The month that we would boarding the plane to travel to Africa to experience a place, a culture and a country that would undoubtedly change our lives. Following Sara's 30th birthday, we spent quite a bit of the month gathering donations for children Parker would be having to say goodbye to, and the rest of the time was spent squeezing any moment we could in with Lleyton, as we knew an older brother would demand quite a bit of our time. So we had Lleyton Day, a day that consisted of all things Lleyton. His favorite breakfast, a trip to feed the horses, his favorite lunch, some time in the bounce house, a trip to the park, and his maiden visit to Graeters. Looking back, it was the most enjoyable day of the year.
On May 30th, we said our goodbyes to Lleyton and headed off to Ethiopia. Our trip to Ethiopia was as expected, life changing, in many ways. Our introduction to Parker wasn't what I had envisioned in my dreams, he didn't come bounding out of the door into Sara and I's loving arms, it was a bit more reserved and uncomfortable. Our friends that we traveled with, the Berrios family, captured the moment for us in this picture.
When you really think about it, and I actually talked with Parker about it last night, he was scared, he didn't know us, he had never met us, and didn't understand exactly what was going on, so the feelings of uneasiness on his part, are more than understandable.
The rest of our days in Ethiopia we were spent trying to get to know our little guy and experiencing his country. The trip was more than eye opening. The poverty that exists in Ethiopia is overwhelming. As we were on a drive to the highest point in Addis, we came across this not-uncommon scene, an elderly woman carrying what seems like a load weighing three times what she does down this mountain. Heartbreaking.
We knew that upon arriving back home with Parker, we were going to face some challenging times, but we had no clue regarding the extent of the challenges. I believe I outlined it as well as I could at the time, but looking back and remembering those first two and half months as a family of four is still quite painful. We were lost. We didn't know how to properly handle many of the situations were put in. The language barrier was huge, the fact that Parker had probably never had much structure or discipline was difficult. The fact that Parker didn't know us, didn't know where he was, he didn't know if we were going to be there the next day (as he had experienced quite a bit of loss and change, as noted earlier).
We leaned on every shoulder we could to make things easier, but it came down to figuring out worked best for us. For families going through situation not much unlike ours, I would recommend going back and reading about a few of the techniques that worked best for us.
We were very fortunate to have the boys at a daycare that was very supportive and helpful, especially in the most difficult times. There was more than one occasion where I was expecting them to ask me not to bring Parker back, but they never did that, it was those times that they actually helped us come with ideas on how to help Parker progess. Thank you to director and staff at All About Kids, you certainly went above and beyond.
Amidst all of our very challenging times, there were good times as well. I caught this very cute moment of the boys enjoying a show a couple weeks after Parker got home.
July brought with it Parker's birthday and Emily's wedding, on the same day even.
By August, Parker's English was really improving and he was looking forward to starting Kindergarten. Although our tough times were not gone as soon as school started, that seemed to be a point where they diminished. I can't point to exactly what it was, but I think the combination of improving communication and getting settled into a daily routine helped relax Parker a bit.
August highlights also included our trip to the Florence Freedom game, our dinner out at the Ethiopian restaurant, but who could forget the best of all, the day we saved the turtle!
In September, Sara and I finished up our most ambitious home improvement project yet, as we removed the carpet and existing hardwood from the first floor of our house and replaced it with new hardwood. That accompanied by some pretty cool looking molding in the dining room made for a huge change. Home improvement projects turned out to be one of the effective ways of keeping ourselves from going crazy during the difficult times of the year. Here is the end result.
We knew heading into this fall, we were willing to start looking at referrals for infant girl starting in October. Well, to our surprise and delight, on October 5th we got a referral for the girl of our dreams. The boys instantly fell in love with their "Baby Sister."
Disappointingly, things have not progessed as we have wished with Baby Sister's adoption. Tuesday of this coming week will mark the three month anniversary of our referral, and sadly, nothing has happened during that 3 months that makes us any closer to adopting this little girl than we were the day of the referral. Hopefully, with a new year will come a stroke of luck and something will happen and we can go over and pick up the little girl we consider our own.
As in any other year, the months of October, November and December seemed to fly by, as each is very busy with holidays that we love (my love of Halloween has only come about over the last year, as it used to be one of my least favorite, but now with the kids and the tradition of heading to Indianapolis, things have changed. I know that during the years when Halloween falls on a weekday, I can't go to Indy, but I will have to deal with that when it comes.)
Halloween pics for the ages.
December also took us to the Cincinnati Children's Hospital for the second time with Parker. The trooper that he is had his tonsils and adenoids removed and after a very rough 10 day recovery, he felt much better and Sara and I's concerns about his sleep were gone.
Christmas picture of our boys. Best friends.
As we ushered 2009 out the door the other night, I must admit, I wasn't sad to see it go. 2009 was the most challenging year of my life. It challenged me in almost every way.
Going into the year, I was pretty sure I was the world's best dad. At the end of the summer of '09, that feeling was gone and I was doubting I had what it took to be the dad I always wanted to be.
Somehow, at the same time, this year was the most rewarding of my life.
Through all of the difficulties and frustrations and doubts and second guessing, I came out of it feeling that Sara and I accomplished what didn't seem possible. There were points when it seemed hopeless, where Parker was always going to feel like a guest in our house, an overnight friend of Lleyton's maybe, but through hardwork, perseverance, tears, you name the emotion, we came out of 2009 a family. A family of four. Not a family of three and a guest, we were a mom and dad to two wonderful boys.
To be as honest with you and myself as I can be, I am glad we didn't know how difficult this was going to be, because if we did, we would not have done it. We would not have Parker here with us, and I cannot imagine not having him in my life, not seeing his excited face each night when he gets home from school, anxious to give me a big hug and tell me what he learned that day.
I am so thankful for my boys.
Thank you for opening my eyes to how others live in the world, it changed my life.
Thank you for not resenting me when I was not able to see the world as you were seeing it.
Thank you for being so adaptive to the changes we instilled in your life.
Thank you for being such a big Bengals and Bearcats fan with me, it's good to have you aboard.
Thank you for being so open about Ethiopia with Mommy and I and teaching us about where you came from.
Thank you for being an awesome older brother for Lleyton (or as you call him, Llater.)
Thank you for accepting Mommy and I into your life, we will never replace the Mommy and Daddy you had in Ethiopia, we will just continue what they started.
I love you.
What can I say, you are the best thing that ever happened to Mommy and I. You opened our eyes to how wonderful it is to be parents. Thank you.
Thank you for making us laugh constantly.
Thank you for teaching Parker how to throw a ball like a boy.
Thank you for still letting me hold you and hug you and kiss you as much as I do. I should cut back, but I can't.
Thank you for rooting for the Colts for Mommy, you are the biggest Momma's boy ever.
Thank you for still not having to go to the emergency room once, your agility and balance are amazing.
Thank you for making the worst days great when I see your face.
Thank you for accepting Parker into our house. I had no doubts you would love to have an older brother, one that you lovingly call, "My Parker."
You are the coollest three your old boy I have ever met. Mommy and I are going to have our hands full, and we can't wait.
I love you little buddy.