One more funny thing from the airport. When Justice greeted Jennifer and put his hand out she started chasing after him to try and punch him! :) This is often how girls deal with boys in Ghana! And remember that Jennifer met Justice and JJ in March so she remembered who they were. Justice still has the Ghanaian way in him of being chased so he ran from her and they were sprinting through the crowd. Once we got into the car I told Justice that the biggest thing we needed to work on with Jennifer and Jasara right now is to show them that it is not okay to hit anymore. I instructed Justice that if Jennifer tried to hit him to gently catch her hand in the midst of it and say strongly, “Jennifer, no hitting.” I told him to absolutely not run and be chased because then she thinks it is a game.
About halfway through our car ride home I realized that I had made a big mistake. The car we have is a Chevy Traverse. It seats 3 in the way back row (it’s a tight squeeze) and then has two bucket seats in the middle. I had thought that Jayla would get a kick out of riding next to Jasara in the bucket seats because she is absolutely intrigued by toddlers and loves to play with them. So here was the seating arrangement…
But within 5 minutes Jasara fell asleep and Jennifer was talking up a storm to Justice in the twi language. [By the way, he translates to us what she is saying, but he responds to her in English]. She was playing with Justice’s phone, and laughing and giggling in the back with the boys. Jayla felt really left out, and it was a horrible way to start everything off since in my mind it was most important for Jayla and Jennifer to connect. By the time we pulled in the drive Jayla went to unclasp her seat belt and it ended up hitting her hard in the head. She started to cry. Ghanaians don’t cry in public (other than babies/toddlers) and when children see one of their peers cry they usually make fun of them and laugh at them. So Jennifer started laughing at Jayla, which made things even worse. Ugh. The seating arrangement was a horrible mommy mistake! I comforted Jayla knowing that the only way to change Jennifer’s mindset was to show her that it is serious when someone is in pain and that we should show compassion – not laugh. In Ghana this is simply not demonstrated. It has always bothered me when we are out in the villages when little children trip and fall down and they lay there crying with no one to help them up.
Once we got inside I let Jake take Jasara and I instantly grabbed Jennifer’s hand. I remembered back from when Justice first walked in our front door. He was SO overwhelmed and got SO hyper from all of the things that he was seeing. His mind had no way to absorb all the stimulation and went crazy for awhile. I led Jennifer around the house s l o w l y and gave her a tour of the bathrooms, and each of our bedrooms while Jayla followed us closely behind. Her favorite part of course was seeing her bed and her dresser full of clothes. Her smiles were just priceless! Then I took her down in the basement. In my preparations for the girls to come I had made a little play room in the basement. It is unfinished so no dry wall, and it has concrete floors. But we put a few carpet remnants down and then left an area of concrete where I put all of our outdoor toys – little tikes cars, big wheels, scooter, etc. I also had found a really great play kitchen at a garage sale so I stuck that down there as well. I knew that Jennifer just needed some time to make her way through all the toys and freak out a bit. Once she would do that she would be more calm when we actually were going to play down there on a later day. (Of course this is not the method that most adoption specialists recommend, but I just prefer to throw them out there and get all the crazies over in the first day). The hard part came when I realized that I had never explained this part to Jayla. Her expectation was that Jennifer would be able to jump into ‘play mode’ just like her friends do when we have them over for play dates. So as we stood there and watched Jennifer hop around from toy to toy, picking things up and then dropping them, and running to the next thing it was pretty confusing for Jayla. At this point I explained to her that Jennifer had never had toys before and so it was going to take her some time to get used to how to play. I let Jennifer go crazy in our play room for about 15 minutes and then she was ready to go eat. We joined the rest of our family upstairs for some sloppy joes prepared by Grandma Sullivan.
Jasara was also having a hard time taking all the newness in. She was pretty weepy, but that didn’t stop her from eating! She ate an entire sloppy joe sandwich while sitting on Jake’s lap! It was about this time that Jayla had her first of what would be a few episodes of spontaneous tears triggered by things that she normally wouldn’t get upset about. This was not like her personality at all. I knew that she was overwhelmed and I could also see that she was very upset that her expectations for her new sisters were not at all being met. In addition to all this, Justice and JJ were recapping the entirety of what happened while we were gone, showing us schoolwork, asking us all kinds of questions, and telling us about events that we needed to get on the calendar. Talk about overwhelmed. These were the moments when it hit me that we now had 5 kids who all were going to somehow need to get their needs met. My heart started to get fearful and my mind started asking, “Lord, what have we done?”
Again, I am so thankful that God has been cutting my fearful thoughts off with truth. One of the verses that has really spoken to me over the past few months is Romans 8:15 ~ For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.
The word ‘again’ reminds me that the cycle of a fear popping in, and then the worry that follows is Satan trying to literally enslave me as he had before in my former life, before God put His spirit in me. I don’t have to be enslaved to that cycle anymore – God has set me FREE from that. FEAR IS NOT FROM THE LORD! HE IS NEVER THE SOURCE OF IT!!!! The devil had been trying to discourage me all day, and here he was sneaking in again. As my mind contemplated the fear that we had just gotten in way over our heads, God reminded me of something that I read in my book on the airplane…
God is not part loving, part graceful, part peaceful, part forgiving. Instead He is all loving on top of all graceful on top of all peaceful. He is not divided up, so we each get a piece. We all get all of Him we need, all the time.
My mind wanders to my home, where Todd and I are currently parenting nine children. How can I be more like God, instead of trying to break myself up in equal size pieces for everyone, which never feels good or works out right anyway? What if, instead, I could be all myself, wholly offered to Him, so that He can spill out enough onto my family? (‘Reckless Faith’, page 153)
That was my answer.
We finished dinner, our extended family said their goodbyes, and by this time it was 7:30pm and dark outside. Our flight schedule had set us up for the perfect transition into the time change for the girls (Ghana is 5 hours ahead of Iowa time). Next up would be bathtime and then bedtime.
As we gathered up our pajamas and started the bath water Jayla really perked up. She loves her baths! This was one thing I had prepared her for – that all 3 of the girls would take a bath together (we have a pretty good-sized whirpool tub in our master bath), so she was excited for this. Jennifer also gets out-of-this-world excited when you say the word ‘shower’ because she knows that when she is with us she gets to feel warm water! She started jumping up and down when she realized what we were doing. The girls all made their way into the tub and as I put Jasara in, just the pure sight of the bubbles in the water made her start giggling. As she started laughing this opened Jayla up and she started laughing too. Before I knew it, all 3 of the girls were splashing, laughing, practicing blowing bubbles underwater, and fully interacting together. Jayla started talking a mile a minute which is how you know when she is excited. She became a running commentary of Jasara’s every move. Finally, they were all connecting. I thought to go grab my camera to take a video, but I decided to just enjoy the moments and take it all in. The girls took a bath for almost 45 minutes and I would say these were the first moments that I felt a sense of relief that Jayla and Jennifer would indeed be friends!
After we got lotioned up, jammies on, and teeth brushed, I sent the girls out to the living room to go wrestle with Jake while I cleaned up the tub since Jasara had decided to poop in it (and unfortunately this is becoming her trademark because she’s done it two nights in a row!). Once I was finished, I went out into the living room but Jayla and Jennifer were no where to be found. But I didn’t have to look long. I just had to follow the giggling down into the basement where I found the girls playing together in the play house we have down there. When they heard me come down they hid under some blankets and then jumped out and said, “SURPRISE!!!!” My heart jumped for joy! I was so excited to see them playing together! I went back upstairs and as JJ heard their giggling downstairs he remarked, “Wow, Jayla and Jennifer are already friends!” Definitely making progress anyways!
By 8:30pm it was time to put the troops to bed. For this first night Jake handled the boys and I handled the girls. I piled us all into Jayla’s bed to read a story. Jennifer and Jasara do not know what to do when you read them a book yet. This is my mission, because our family loves to read picture books together, especially before bed. As I read, I had to stop a few times to tell Jennifer and Jasara to “shhhhh” and to lay still. Jennifer understood. Jasara started to cry her painful cry, but since she was tired I could tell it wasn’t going to turn into a tantrum. As I continued to read, I watched as Jasara reached out her index finger to Jennifer who then started massaging her finger. I had noticed Jasara rubbing her own finger in Ghana when she would cry before naptime as I laid next to her. It clicked in my mind that this must be something that soothes/comforts her when she is distressed. I took note of it, and also watched as Jennifer told her in the Twi language to lay down and close her eyes. I could tell what she was saying because Jasara complied with Jennifer’s commands. I knew that I would need to teach Jennifer over the next few days that she didn’t have to be Jasara’s ‘mommy’ anymore. She could be free to just have sister duties. :)
After we read, I asked Jennifer where she wanted to sleep and much to my surprise she pointed to the top bunk! The orphanage director that we work with always told us that they don’t like having bunk beds at the orphanage because the kids are afraid they will fall off so they won’t sleep on them. I was going to give Jennifer the option of sleeping with Jasara on the full bed below the top bunk, but Jennifer was so excited to crawl up the ladder into her bed. Jake and I had a discussion about what to do for Jasara’s first night during our plane time. Jasara has always been used to sleeping next to someone so I just wasn’t sure how she would do being in a big bed all by herself. Jake advised that we have her go ‘cold turkey’ and start sleeping in her room in her bed the first night. I have a baby monitor set up in the girls’ room, so I reasoned that even if she woke up a few times in the night and cried I could still get up and go lay with her until she was comforted enough to fall back asleep.
Jayla also likes me to lay next to her and sing a few songs as she drifts off. So once Jennifer was up in bed, I got Jayla tucked in and told her I would sing to her after I helped Jasara fall asleep. As I moved Jasara to her bed she started crying. Meanwhile Jayla was mentioning to me to make sure to leave the door open with the hall light on when I left. When I explained to her that we couldn’t do that anymore (we have a night light in their room but sometimes Jayla likes me to leave her bedroom door open too) because Jasara needs it to be dark to sleep (learned that in Ghana) she burst into tears. So Jayla was in her bed crying, Jasara was in her bed crying, and I decided to join the crying party (Jennifer was already asleep by this point). As I laid next to Jasara I tried to cut off my crying with singing but it just wouldn’t come. It was just so surreal that only a few months ago I had laid there thinking about what it would be like once the girls were here in these bunk beds. And now they were. All of our tears were really the culmination of a long and overwhelming day that was oh-so-hard to process when we were all tired.
Eventually Jasara fell asleep, and Jayla was comforted once we went through our usual routine of singing, praying, and then saying good night. This is where again, God showed up and I saw another answer to prayer. The girls slept the ENTIRE night, without making even a peep! WHAT?!?!?! Must have been the cozy, comfy beds! At 6:30am I heard the girl’s bedroom door open and as I opened our bedroom door I saw Jayla and Jennifer come out of their room together. I checked on Jasara and she was still asleep! So, our morning began! I got the boys off to school while the girls watched cartoons and giggled, giggled, giggled! Another heart warmer for Mommy!
Then I got the girls breakfast, and Jasara slept until 8am!!!! She was ready for some breakfast right when she woke up, and look who’s eating on her own in a booster seat now?!?!
I cannot even express how much this has helped her food issues. She gets to determine when she takes a bite, when she takes a drink, and when her tummy is full. This in combination with receiving consistent meals has a made a huge difference compared to the hand-fed-meal-time-Jasara we were experiencing in Ghana! I also did realize what a process it is going to be to get 3 girls dressed and ready in the mornings! It took us over 30 minutes by the time it was all said and done, and Jennifer doesn’t even have hair yet! Here were the sisters, ready to start their first full day together…
The first thing we decided to do was go play downstairs in the play room. This time Jennifer was much more controlled, I was able to lead her in play, and she spent a lot of time focusing on one toy at a time.
Jasara LOVED the Little Tikes cars - every single one of my kids has spent countless hours climbing in and out of these and driving them around.
And Jayla was back to her normal self, breaking out into random gymnastics moves! :)
Before I knew it, TWO HOURS had gone by of us playing in the play room and it was already getting close to lunch time! This first day we fell into a pretty smooth routine. After we played downstairs, we came up and the girls played on Starfall while I made lunch with little Jasara whining for food and eyeing my every move. She is so not used to seeing an oven but quickly learned that is where the finished food comes from!
A lot of people have asked me about what we feed the girls. In hosting many Ghanaians in our home, as well as having been to Ghana and knowing what they eat, I have a good idea of what to cook for them that tastes pretty similar to a meal they would receive in Ghana. I like to offer our adopted kids a transition into American food. So for the first few days I will make sure to give them a lot of chicken or fish, and I offer them rice at either lunch or dinner. Sam’s Club actually has some great frozen foods that are super easy to make and resemble Ghana food. Here are a few of them…
This picture got cut off on the sides but this is tilapia......
If I am making something like lasagna for dinner, which is something they would have never had before and may not like, then I will just give them a bit of lasagna on their plate for them to try in addition to some chicken, rice, etc. I know how much I dislike being in a foreign country and not liking the food, so I am not going to force the transition. This worked great with Justice. He still eats rice on occasion, but he prefers American dishes now – especially spaghetti, lasagna, and cavatini – well, I guess those are actually Italian dishes! :)
After lunch I showered (with 3 girls at my feet watching me get ready!), then we did naptime for Jasara (she woke up off and on so I had to go into her room a few times), the girls watched a movie while I worked around the house, the boys got home from school at 3:30pm, and then it was time to get ready for our first adventure outside of the house – JJ’s basketball game! As we got ready to leave, Jayla walked up to me and asked if I would move her carseat into the back so she could sit by Jennifer. :)
It took me much longer to get 5 kids out of the house (plus a diaper bag packed) than I thought it would. But all and all we made it on time for warm-ups! My mom met us at the game and got some sweet pictures of the kids…
This last picture makes me smile so big. What a difference a day makes! I had asked my friends to pray that God would plant a supernatural bond between Jayla and Jennifer. Watching them play together so naturally at the game solidified it. There is no way anyone would have ever guessed that they just met one day ago. Pretty cool - thank you Lord!
Another big thing happened after the game. We had to do McDonald’s since we weren’t home for dinnertime. I put Jasara in a high chair and she ate her meal. When she was finished she handed me her boxes of chicken nuggets and fries and tried to lift off the tray to get out of her chair!!!! This was major progress – she had not done this sort of excusing herself from the table yet! She has continued to do this every meal since then and that’s how I know she is done – she hands me her plate! Yay!
Some other tidbits from our first day:
-Jennifer broke out into giving Jake and I random, HUGE hugs throughout the day. :)
-I saw Jennifer running her hands through Jayla’s hair multiple times throughout the day. :)
-My favorite quote was from Jayla, “Jennifer doesn’t speak English, she speaks Ghana.” :)
-I am going to have to work on getting the girls to eat fruit and vegetables. In Ghana they don’t really do side dishes. It’s just the main meal of protein and rice so they are not used to seeing fruit on their plate!
As I get ready to post this, it is now already Day 3, so I wanted to include some tidbits from our Day 2 which was yesterday:
-Jasara is now full time calling me “ma”. When I leave the room real quick she comes looking and hollering for me. Some other signs I am seeing that show she is starting to attach:
-If someone unfamiliar comes up and talks to her and I am holding her she will look at me to see how she is supposed to respond to them.
-If someone unfamiliar holds out their arms to see if she will go to them she will give them ‘the look’ and lean back into me clearly denying their invitation!
-At JJ’s game as we sat on the bleachers Jasara eventually got comfortable and climbed down off my lap and played with Jennifer and Jayla. However, she stayed right next to me and had her hands on my legs and played at my feet most of the time. If she wandered a few steps away she then would come right back to me, her ‘safe place’, at her own will.
-She is easily consoled and stops crying as soon as I pick her up. Last night she woke up in the middle of the night crying. By the time I heard her over the monitor and got to her room Jennifer had already climbed down from the top bunk to console her. I motioned Jennifer to go back up and go to sleep and as soon as I layed down by Jasara she stopped crying. Then she threw a party in her bed, babbling and giggling on and on!-Jennifer is SO happy! She loves to play! The first English phrase she has learned is “be careful” and she says it at the right times! Every day when she gets dressed she puts her clothes up to her nose to smell the cleanness. She closes her eyes and smiles as she takes it all in.
-Jayla and I are glad that we know how to speak the language of “girl”! We spend our days playing lots of silly games that make us all giggle – like peek-a-boo, and tickling and jumping, dancing, flips off the couch, singing, doing art, and of course Jasara is some major entertainment! We have fun trying to get her to repeat what we say and her facial expressions keep us laughing.
-I noticed today that Jayla needs some time to just be alone and get re-energized. She is a very social girl, but constantly having sisters around with no breaks is draining for her. I realized this today when she kept saying, “Jennifer keeps touching me” and “She’s sitting too close - I don’t have enough room”. I started seeing that look in her eyes that I see when a playdate has lasted a little too long, and it is time to go. Except this time we can’t go home, or say goodbye to our guests. This is forever! I was thankful that the Lord helped me to see this today so that I can help to meet her need.
In my devotional on Day 2 God said “Come to Me when you are joyful, and I will share your joy, multiplying it many times over.” That’s how I feel. There is so much joy in my heart right now it is more than my words could ever say. To watch an orphan be transformed into YOUR CHILD by the Living God is such an amazing experience. Even as I observe Justice now, I see so much more how far he has come in 2 years. I feel SO ALIVE!