Thursday, January 10, 2013

Jennifer Update

Our girls are changing SO FAST and hitting so many milestones that I have got to squeeze in some time to write an update!

The biggest change around here is that Jennifer started Kindergarten last week!!!! Here she is getting ready to head out to catch the bus on her first day of school (yes, it is dark out when they get on the bus)!
I know many of you adoptive families want to pick my brain about how we knew she was ‘ready’ and what we based our decision on so I’ll give you a rundown. First off, the biggest thing was that Jennifer has not struggled with attachment since coming home. Thankfully, since I get to stay at home full-time with my kids, I've had two and a half months at home with the girls, connecting with them, playing with them, disciplining them, and being there to meet their needs 24/7. Jennifer has really thrived under our routine and expectations, and transitioned and adjusted into our family even slicker than Justice did when he came home. She has shown no signs of emotional disengagement or rejection to us, thanks be to God. On the flip side, she also looks to us for comfort, direction, affection, guidance, help, and to meet her needs.

Another big factor that played into our decision to get Jennifer going in school is her age. We feel that her estimated age of turning 6 next month in February is right on. After the first few weeks of Jennifer being home, both Jake and I knew that it would be most beneficial if she and Jayla were NOT in the same grade at school. With them being girls and so close in age, we’ve realized that we have to be very mindful of helping them create their own identities and not be too concerned and comparative with one another. Jayla will turn 5 this May and will start Kindergarten this fall. So, since we knew that we did not want them in the same grade, and since their ages paved the way for this, it was an additional factor that played into our decision.

Other supportive factors were that Jennifer caught onto English extremely fast. By Christmas she could understand and follow our every command and instruction. She was formulating choppy sentences and could communicate her needs, questions, thoughts, and feelings verbally in English. We felt comfortable in knowing that we weren’t just ‘throwing her out there’ but that the ground work had been laid for her to function in a classroom setting...she would be able to figure out the teacher’s verbal directives for starters. Also, Jennifer is age-appropriately obedient. This has come by discipline because she was not obedient to us, respectful of our commands, or submissive to our authority during our time in Ghana or upon her homecoming. Over the past 2 ½ months, we’ve had many opportunities for correcting her, disciplining her, and leading her into obedience and respect for us as her parents. She has responded positively, so we knew that she wouldn’t be a distraction or unruly subject to the teacher in authority. My main point to share this as a factor in her starting school is that Jake and I wanted to be the ones to teach Jennifer obedience. We didn’t want to throw her into the classroom being wild and uncontrollable and put this parental duty on the teacher. Although discipline is unpleasant for all involved, we’ve found that God often gives us parents those times as an opportunity to connect emotionally with our kids when their hearts are laid open. Discipline has become a gateway for growth in our relationships with our kids….and with our adoptive kids, it is an opportunity for connection which is needed in the attachment process.

Lastly, since Jennifer has come home, she has had a strong desire to learn as Justice also did. She was constantly practicing her writing on pieces of paper, and breezing through Kindergarten level work books at home with my help. Part of the foster care fees we paid while the girls were in Ghana were school fees. School is taught in English in Ghana, so Jennifer had learned how to write her ABCs and how to count among other things.

On Jennifer’s first day of school her teacher emailed me in the morning to let me know all was well….

Jennifer is off to a great start. She is so cheerful and respectful :)

That’s our girl! I was at such peace the rest of the day in just reading those two sentences! And since her first day, everything has been going great! One of Jennifer’s favorite parts of school is the songs that they sing for their different activities….there is a hello song in the morning, a song to learn the days of the week, a song for lining up...pretty much a song for everything. Of course she would love the singing because this is also a big part of school in Ghana…..and not just Kindergarten level kids. Even secondary school students in Ghana march around singing their school songs….it’s part of the culture. I am sure that the song-singing really gives Jennifer warm reminders of Ghana!

Jennifer is also very social and inviting for friendships. She is proactive in finding people to play with. Even Justice commented after her second day of school, “How does Jennifer get along with people and adjust to them so fast?” This came after he had observed her with her new friends on the bus. I just smiled and told him that it is the way God has wired her. Her teacher nailed it on the head when she described Jennifer as cheerful. She really is such a cheerful little thing….and she’s genuine….the perfect ingredients for a great friend!

We find that Jennifer talks about Ghana….A LOT! If you followed my blog after Justice’s homecoming you will remember that there was a point where he did not want to talk about Ghana at all. Every time I turn around Jennifer is telling Jayla something about Ghana! Part of it is because Jayla will always ask her, “Did you do that in Ghana?” or “Did you have that in Ghana?” or “Do you miss your friends in Ghana?” There is something so innocent and sweet about Jayla interviewing her sister about her former life! There are also many things that spur Jennifer’s memory of Ghana….like when we got our first sack of clementines. As she peeled one herself and took a bite I asked her if she liked the taste and she said, “Yes, I like! We had these in Ghana!” The other day she had her first glass of grape juice and it spurred her to tell Jayla this story:

When I was in Ghana one night I got very, very sick. I was throwing up and throwing up. They gave me some medicine. I couldn’t sleep and I was crying for my Mommy.

I only caught the tail end of the conversation, so I am not sure what spurred it, but perhaps the taste of the grape juice? I wanted to ask who ‘they’ was and I wanted to ask where she was at the time…perhaps the foster home….but I just let the two of them talk in their little people way. For now I love just listening. I know a time will come when I can ask more questions.

Speaking of Jayla and Jennifer, they have literally become FRIENDS right before our eyes! One evening (before Jennifer had started school) it hit me that Jayla and Jennifer had played together all day long in a very sisterly sort of way. Their big thing right now is to pretend that one of them is ‘the baby’, one of them is ‘the mommy’ and then Jasara always gets the role of being ‘the daddy’. :)  They go along with this imaginary game for hours at a time. They also play board games together, dance in their room to music, color and draw together, take turns ‘reading’ books to each other, play house with their baby dolls and stuffed animals, and play school. Before Jennifer started school they were choosing to do every activity together. It is an awesome feeling to see God answering my prayer of giving them a friendship. Yes they still fight and get mad at each other and give each other attitude. But instead of that filling the majority of the day (like it did in the beginning) they now play and talk and giggle the majority with little spats in between. And just this last week, they started chatting with each other after I put them to bed and turn off the lights in their room. Jake and I can hear them gabbing and giggling through the closed door. I even had to go in one night and tell them to be quiet because Jennifer needed to get to sleep for school the next day! Now if that doesn’t say SISTERS than I don’t know what does!
Lastly, I wanted to share two things that happened recently with Jennifer that have warmed my Mommy heart. First, whenever we go to sit down somewhere (at the table to eat, at basketball games, etc) Jennifer has been saying, “Mommy, can you sit by me?” Oh, I just love that! I SO want my kids to want to be around me and near me. As Mark Batterson says in his book ‘Praying Circles Around Your Children’: I want to be famous in my home. This is the deepest desire of my heart and the greatest challenge of my life. Oh how my own heart echos that yearning! Jennifer asking me to sit by her is such a little thing, but yet so encouraging to me at the same time!

Second, the other night I was putting the girls to bed like I always do. I always give Jennifer a hug and say “I love you” before she climbs up the ladder to her bunk bed. On this particular night I said it, and for the first time ever she said back to me, “I love you too, Mommy.” This is a MAJOR milestone when it comes to adoption! Not only is she receiving my love, but she wants to communicate that she loves me back. As with all my kids, I won’t ever forget the feeling of hearing her speak those words to me for the first time. After that I laid on the bottom bunk next to Jasara as we all belted out our nighttime worship song playing on my Ipod. I looked up and saw Jennifer raising her hands to God as she sang. I looked over and saw Jayla sitting up in her bed, eyes closed, hands raised in the air and singing with her usual, childlike passion. And next to me was little Jasara, about a beat behind, but echoing the last word of each lyric that we sang… “ooh-yah....ooh-yah” (hallelujah). My mind floated back to when I laid in their room before they came home, staring at the looming bunk beds that had invaded the space, feeling anxious and pretty much broken over the sacrifices that we were going to be making to add these girls to our family. But now. Now I could not have pictured a more beautiful scene. God is coming through for us. He’s coming through in His time, after He’s taught us the things we need to learn through the rough parts. It’s these little scenes that speak to my heart so personally and so timely. “What one person may see as ordinary, another may see as His miracle.” ~Craig Johnson~ To me, these are little miracles sprinkled throughout our days that give me such a high. I’m addicted to watching God transform lives. Theirs and mine.

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