End of a Chapter

Yesterday, we went to Carlisle for a 3:00 p.m. hearing where Sarah’s adoption was finalized at the Cumberland County Courthouse. With Carlisle nearly three hours away, it was an all-day event!

Yesterday’s finalization was the final step in the legal process. It not only marks the end of Sarah’s adoption process, it also marks the end of a chapter in our lives that began four years ago. In the summer of 2006, we attended an informational meeting by Adoption Horizons in Carlisle, followed by the submission of a formal application to pursue international adoption six months later. Thirteen months after that, we flew to Korea to get Ethan (February 2008).

Toward the end of 2008, we started making plans for a second adoption, and in October 2009, we flew to Korea to get Sarah, whose adoption was finalized yesterday.

The hearing was short and sweet. It involved answering a series of questions after which the judge signed the order formalizing our adoption of Sarah. The final questions essentially asked if we knew what we were getting ourselves into and if we still wanted to move forward (although it was asked with a bit more elegance, I suppose). Among other things, the action changes Sarah’s name from her Korean name to Sarah. She also becomes an American citizen.

Judges tend to enjoy adoption hearings because there’s no opposing party and nobody walks away unhappy. It’s also a photo opportunity. We posed for a photo with Judge Masland (a United Methodist, we were told) after the hearing.

One of our favorite moments was when Ethan, just before the photo was taken, leaned over and tapped on the judge with his fist and said, “Knock, knock!” It’s generally not a good idea to hit a judge, but in this case, the judge didn’t seem to mind! 😆

As we did for Ethan’s finalization, we went to Spring Garden Restaurant to celebrate afterward. Every time we go to Korean restaurants, we seem to get extra attention (as well as unsolicited parenting advice :-)).

Well, this final legal step is the end of a chapter. But the journey certainly continues. As does our gratitude to God!

Memories of Korea

We spent 8 full days in Korea in February 2008 when we picked up Ethan and 4 full days in October 2009 when we picked up Sarah. We wrote a number of posts while we were there both times, which has helped us remember more than we would have remembered otherwise.

It was an especially memorable time because it was such an intense time. In the months following our first trip, in particular, I think I had daily flashbacks of being in Korea. The flashbacks were so vivid that it felt like I was there. As we get further away from our trips to Korea, the flashbacks have gotten less frequent and less intense (although we still have them).

Here are a few of the more vivid memories of our time in Korea …

  • Visiting both kids’ foster homes. When we visited Ethan’s foster home and Sarah’s foster home, each time we met a baby we had come to know through photos and reports, but it was obvious they did not know us. We also remember when we showed up to get Ethan the day after we met him that he smiled as soon as he saw us (apparently, remembering us from the day before), but that didn’t last long …
  • Goodbyes with the foster families. We’ll never forget the goodbyes at the elevator at the SWS offices. Each time, we went into the elevator with the child we were receiving (or taking away, as it must have felt like for the babies) and watching tearful foster parents give their last goodbyes.
  • The Takeaways. There were a few differences between Ethan’s Takeaways and Sarah’s Takeaway, but both were pretty brutal (in fact, the word “brutal” kept going through my mind with Ethan; we were much more prepared for Sarah). It’s hard to tell what kind of mark those experiences left on the kids, but they certainly left their mark on us!
  • Holy Flames Methodist Church. We enjoyed connecting with people at Holy Flames. At the end of the main worship service, we were asked to stand at the exit so that people could greet us on the way out of the sanctuary. Being greeted by so many Koreans bowing to us in their traditional greeting was a memorable experience.
  • Small Group. We had been looking forward to meeting with a church small group while we were in Korea, until we learned that we would be picking up Ethan a couple of hours before small group. As it turned out, it was a tremendous experience, once we’re glad we didn’t miss!
  • A man at Incheon Airport. We often wondered what Koreans thought about us with a Korean baby, whether they viewed it positively or negatively. In 2008, Chung Suk Kim, senior pastor of Kwanglim Methodist Church, perhaps the largest Methodist Church in the world, expressed gratitude to us for adopting a Korean baby. But our last memory from Korea was going through customs at the airport in Korea on our way out of the country. Joleen and the baby (Sarah) were at the counter and I was waiting in line. An older Korean man was behind me and asked if we were adopting a Korean baby. When I told him that we were, he patted me on the back and said, “Thank you!”

But, as I’ve said before, WE are the lucky ones!

Sarah’s Language Development

Sarah is at the point where we’re expecting hear the transition from babbling sounds to words. Recent experiences have reminded us of something we learned when we welcomed Sarah into our lives in Korea.

In Korea, we were told that Sarah’s foster family played peek-a-boo in Korean and they told us the Korean version of the phrase. In the earliest days (weeks?) while making the transition home with Sarah, we (mainly Joleen) used the Korean word/phrase occasionally. Since then, we’ve used the English phrase, “peek-a-boo.”

However, in the last week or so, I was with Sarah and she was playing peek-a-boo with me, but she said what sounded like the Korean phrase. On another occasion, Joleen also heard her use the phrase.

Amazing!

It’s funny. During our two adoption journeys, a number of people have asked us what language the kids speak. Well, because they were so young when we brought each of them home (around 8 months), they really didn’t speak any language (although, Korean was the language they were used to hearing, at the time).

But we have always wondered what impact the language/culture transition during infancy has on a child’s language development (does it delay because they have to learn all new sounds and words?).

Ethan has very strong language development (which continues to develop, daily, of course; I wrote a little recently about Ethan’s language development and plan a follow-up post in the near future), and we’re looking forward to watching/hearing how Sarah’s language develops!

Six Months with Sarah

Six months ago today in Seoul, Korea, one day after meeting Sarah for the first time in her foster family’s home, we welcomed Sarah into our lives.

The six-month mark is a milestone because it’s only after this point that we can legally file our petition to finalize the adoption (although, for legal purposes, the official date is two days from now; as with Ethan, the agency made the date we departed from Korea as the official starting date).

Sarah’s doing well. Ethan’s adjusting. We’re growing together as a family of four.

Here are a few photos from the past six months to show some of her growth …

Ethan’s Signs of Caring

If you’ve been following our journey (i.e., most recently, welcoming Sarah into our family), you may recall that Ethan has struggled in this process, especially in the early days and weeks. Now that Sarah has been with us nearly six months, we’ve noticed recently that, while Ethan still has his moments, he is starting to show some greater signs of caring for Sarah.

For example, when she use to cry/scream (perhaps while traveling a longer distance in the car seat), Ethan would tell her, rather emphatically, to “Stop screaming!” Now, he’s much more likely to try to soothe her. And while he’s not yet completely ready to share his toys with Sarah, he is more open to playing with her (though there’s still a lot of room for improvement!).

On a couple of occasions, Ethan has tried to help Sarah learn to walk by holding her hand. The challenge, though, is in getting him to slow down to Sarah’s speed!

We noticed another area of growth during the two nights we spent in Lancaster, PA this week. Both nights, Sarah woke up in her crib, crying, and then spent the last few hours of the night in our bed. A few weeks/months ago, Ethan, who slept in the other queen bed in the room, would not have been happy about that arrangement! But it didn’t seem to phase him this week.

Edited to say that during dinner, following the kids’ naps when I wrote this post, I noticed another first: Ethan and Sarah spent several moments making each other laugh. One would look at the other and laugh, making the other one laugh. Another sign that they are interacting more and more — due both to Sarah’s development AND Ethan’s adjustment!

As our transition continues to move along, it’s good to see some signs of growth along he way!

Adoption and Bonding Dynamics

Six weeks after bringing Sarah home, we reflected on bonding the second time around.

Now at five months, I recently visualized the difference in dynamics between the two experiences. When we brought Ethan home, Ethan entered a circle of two people, but when we brought Sarah home less than two years later, Sarah entered a circle of three people.

Those are two completely different sets of dynamics. Breaking into a circle of two is much easier than breaking into a circle of three (especially when one of the three is a two-year-old!). Ethan’s entrance was a non-issue (he had our undivided attention, well, except for polishing dissertations!).

Due to the different set of dynamics, Sarah’s process of entering the circle has probably been slower than Ethan’s was (naturally), but thankfully, Sarah is doing her part to make this bonding experience as easy as possible! 🙂

Sarah’s Laugh

Sarah has been with us almost five months. When we first met her, she smiled and laughed a lot. But it struck us a few weeks ago, that she wasn’t laughing or smiling as much. We felt we had to work fairly hard to make her laugh.

But I also realized today that Sarah is (and has been) laughing and smiling a lot lately. Joleen also remembers that our caseworker once told us that some adoptive families have noticed that their child seems to become a completely different child around the six-month point.

Even though from all indications, Sarah has handled this transition very well, it’s impossible to fully understand the trauma of the change she’s experienced — being “taken” from her culture (family/home, scenery, language, scents, etc.) and brought to a new one.

Sarah’s renewed smiles and laughter has us reflecting on her journey with us so far. It’s also really good to see her smiling and laughing more!

Sleep Adjustments

It’s been a while since we’ve posted an update on how Sarah is adjusting (last two posts were Family Leave Report and Checking in on Sarah).

Sarah has been with us a little over four months now, and all along, we’ve been saying that she is adjusting really well. The two areas that were perhaps the most challenging were riding in the car seat and going to sleep at night. She’s doing a lot better in the car seat, although our lengthier trips are few.

Our biggest challenge in the past four months was getting Sarah to sleep at night. In the earliest days, Sarah would often cry (and sometimes scream) herself to sleep at night, up to 30-60 minutes. Nothing seemed to work. We’d usually hold her till she fell asleep, but as soon as we’d lay her in the crib (or even move toward it), she’d wake up, and not be happy about it.

The transition was similar for Ethan but, if we remember correctly, Ethan’s transition (i.e., going to sleep calmly at night) was much quicker. It has only been in recent weeks that Sarah has been doing well at night (she has long done well for morning and afternoon naps; nighttime was always the challenge).

For a while there, it seemed like it was taking forever to get her to this point, but in hindsight, three to four months isn’t really very long in the grand scheme of things, I suppose.

The current challenge with Ethan’s sleep is that he’s been getting up much earlier ever since we returned from Korea (6:30 am +/- an hour). They go to bed at the same time (7:30-8:00 pm), but Sarah sleeps much later (around 9:00 am or so). We’re hoping that the beginning of daylight saving times helps Ethan sleep a little later (we miss having more productive time before the kids get up in the morning)!

In spite of these challenges, though, we have been extremely blessed that both Sarah and Ethan normally sleep throughout the night! We’ll say it again, we are extremely blessed!

Ethan’s Second Gotcha Day

Two years ago today, while in Seoul, Korea, we welcomed Ethan into our lives. Two years ago, we “got” Ethan. In some ways, it’s hard to believe it’s *only* been two years — it feels like he’s been part of us so much longer!

Ethan began the day with a couple chocolate chip muffins, blowing out two candles on the first one. Then, we went to Chuck E. Cheese in Altoona where we ate pizza and played games.

This year, we were able to give a little more explanation to Ethan on the importance of the day than last year (last years posts: Gotcha Day and Gotcha Day in Pittsburgh).

At the end of the day, we read a new book we got for Ethan, In Case You Ever Wonder by Max Lucado.