Monday, August 31, 2015

Adventures in Toddler Nesting

For over a year now we've had basically no control over the adoption process. All we can do right now is wait, and waitand pray, and wait some more.  For someone like me, who plans contingencies for her contingencies, it has been all kinds of maddening.

Naturally, all that energy had to go somewhere. So I turned my attention to converting one of our guest rooms into a room for Little J. I spent hours pouring over bedding sets, room themes, and color swatches. But eventually, I landed on a little piece of history. 

Baby J's wall mural, and the kitchen Howie is sure she will love to play in.
Before we knew that Howie was going to be a boy and chose his airplane pattern--Jake: "His Dad is a pilot. How else would we decorate his room?"--we found a pattern for a little girl we just adored. It was girly but not traditional "girl colors," cute but something a baby wouldn't outgrow for a while.

It came up in conversation as I was scouring the bazillion baby sites on the web--not super thrilled with any of them--and it just clicked. Not only was it something we loved, but it was also in a color scheme that is very similar to the place where Little J is now. We are hoping the room will be comfortingly familiar to her. 

We weren't sure we'd be able to find the pattern, though. After all, it had been six years since we first picked it out! It took some serious internet digging, but eventually I was able to piece together the whole set. I found a great little company to make wooden letters for her; I found a woman on Etsy who made a beautiful set of matching wall decals for her; and by serendipity, a Houston artist of whom I'm a fan had done a beautiful piece of artwork in exactly the right colors to compliment the rest of the room. And as an added touch, Howie decided that his kitchen would look great in Little J's room (such a sweet big brother!).

Bookshelves in need of filling. We're working on it!
We picked out some furniture for Little J's room, then got to work on paint selection. Jake and I have this entire process of elimination we go through with paint samples before we land on a color. Usually we wind up going through thirty or more swatches. But this time around, even as we observed our whittling ritual, I think we both knew that Little J's room was going to be yellow. Jake was a little uncertain of the color when it went on the walls--"it's really bright!" he said, as though he hadn't spent quite a bit of time in the colorful city that is Manila. But once everything was in the room, he changed his tune. 

Getting the room together was not without its challenges. For instance, the furniture that we ordered arrived in boxes. Unassembled boxes. While Jake was on assignment in Louisiana. Of course they did!

It took hours and hours, but I'm more than a little bit proud that I put it all together myself! And it made me chuckle because exactly the same thing happened six years ago--Jake was gone, and I put together Howie's furniture too! So I guess now it's a tradition I should prepare for; if furniture needs assembling, Jake is sure to be gone!

The other issue, of course, is that the eighteen-month-old in my head isn't eighteen months old anymore. She's three! (Yep, that's how long this process has taken!!). My baby, but not really a baby anymore. Instead, a small walking, talking person. So, what started out looking like this:

We started with a crib but...

Had to be converted to this:

Now Baby J has a toddler bed.

I have to confess, I was a little heartbroken to change it, thinking about the missed years and missed milestones of her life the change represented. I let myself have a five-minute pity party and a few tears. Then I reminded myself to look ahead--I choose joy.

So, with this (relatively) minor change, we're ready! So very, very ready! And with the room finished, I'm now looking for some other place to channel all my most frenetic energy. (Suggestions welcome!) So far my usual "fill the schedule" ritual isn't really working. Also, it's slowly starting to drive Jake just a little bit crazy. 

Then again, this entire process is kind of crazy-making. Lord, give us patience! 

Also, please let us bring our baby girl home soon!


Friday, August 21, 2015

To My Sweet Girl on Her Birthday

Our Sweet Baby J,

Today is your birthday. Three years old! It's the second birthday that you have passed since we asked to become your parents.  It's a long process, and it's definitely weighing on me. I'm ready to have you home! Ready to stop waiting and start building our new life with you in it.

But I hope it's not weighing on you. I hope you passed the day happy, playing with your friends, noshing on your beloved spaghetti. I hope your third birthday is bliss for you!

You're so loved, baby girl. Even as I feel my heart breaking that you are still 9,000 miles away from me, it's filled to the brim with how many people are praying for you, harboring hopes for you, ready to embrace you wholeheartedly when you do finally come home. 

You aren't just getting a family, sweet little one, you're getting a village! And oh, the strength and the heart of this village!

Your Kuya Howie is so excited to love on you. He talks every day about the things he will teach you, ponders what you will like to eat, what toys you will play with. Let's just say he's really hoping that chocolate and super heroes make your "likes" list! 

He made a beautiful doll for you with painstaking care. Okay, so a very nice lady in San Jose actually made it; but he poured over every detail--she should have hair like Baby Sister, with a flower. She should wear orange--Howie is sure that you will love orange--and blue so you'll have his favorite color too. 

Howie was hoping to give your new little friend to you for your birthday, but things didn't go quite as we hoped. Instead, you will meet her when you meet your brother (hopefully soon!). He's so very excited to see the smile on your face! And he's a hugger, so you should prepare yourself!

I got a little something for you too, Baby J. What can I say? I couldn't help myself! It's nothing big, just a little bit of shine that is all your own. Peridot is something of an odd birthstone; I hope you like green! It reminds me a little bit of the tropics where you've been spending your days. I can't wait to spend some time there with you as a family!

You'll find I really like to shop with a cause, sweet baby, and this necklace I chose for you is a special one in that regard. It was made by people who have overcome their own challenges, just as I know that you will overcome the ones that are in front of you!  I'm in awe of your strength, little one, to have endured so much in your short life, and still to wear a smile.

You're three, so I doubt this little trinket is one that will last very long. But I can imagine the smile on your face as you open the little box--a gift that is all your own!

I don't know when we will get to celebrate with you, Little One. I hope that soon we will all be together, and that your Kuya, Daddy and I can love on you in person! Learning to be a family is going to be, in itself, a journey. It may be a wild ride sometimes, but we're ready! We can't wait to finally finally be a family of four that is all in one place! And we can't wait to introduce you to our incredible village.

But in the meantime, we are sending you every ounce of love in our hearts. We are thinking about you, we are praying for you, and wishing you the happiest, happiest of birthdays sweet Baby J! 

I hope you can feel all the love and warm wishes all the way on the other side of the world!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

When the Going Gets Tough, Hit Your Knees

My God,

It was a year ago today that I first laid eyes on her. She was so tiny, so sad and beautiful, and leaping right off the page at me. We loved her even before we knew she was ours.

It was a dangerous proposition, but we trusted You. Now she’s officially a Hicks, and we are so incredibly grateful for this wonderful, indescribable blessing. Thank you, God.

I know it’s Your will. You’ve told us that care for orphans is “pure religion.” And by adopting us all, letting us call You “Father,” You demonstrated exactly what it looks like when love makes a family. 

But even more than this, I know that adoption is Your will for our family.  We have seen You move through every step of this long, winding process with us. We’ve watched You direct our steps as we navigated the sometimes rocky path, as You brought us to this point in our journey.

We’ve trusted You through the long years of waiting for the unknown, and now through the year of waiting for the known—a call that we can finally go pick up that tiny piece of our hearts 8,700 miles away.


We’ve prepared our home; we’ve prepared our daily lives, our friends and family. And oh, how we yearn for the day we will finally stop preparing, and start being.

I know that Your timing is perfect—things happen when they should.  I know it, but that doesn’t stop my heart from aching or the tears from falling. Why must we wait so long? I’m struggling to see Your plan. I don’t understand.

I can enumerate the long list of reasons she should be home now, but You know them all (and not just because I’ve told you a million times!). If “not yet” is the answer, I know the reason is good. Help me believe that. Help me really believe it, when I say it.

Give me peace, oh God. I need peace. More patience; greater trust in You. Help me lean on You. Help me loosen my Type-A stranglehold on the situation before I drive myself mad.

Help me get outside of myself and serve You while I’m waiting. Help me let go of how things “should be,” so that my heart is open and ready for the things that will be.

Help me wake up each morning and push through the ache in my heart for what’s missing, so I can focus on what’s here and now. I don’t want to miss it!

Most of all, help me remember to be profoundly grateful. She is ours, wherever in the world she is. She is loved, and will be all the rest of her days.

And when the time comes, when the call comes to finally bring our missing piece home, help me remember where every good and perfect gift comes from, and say “thank You.”

I offer this prayer for my daughter in Your sweet son’s name,

Amen.

Monday, July 27, 2015

"Ready," Set, Glitch

I never thought I would hate any word as much as I hate the word "Ready" right now. I've seen it so many times that the word has lost all meaning at this point. I would really love to banish the word from my vocabulary entirely, and I will just as soon as I find a suitable alternative (suggestions welcome). But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Howie:
"Big Brother Whale is giving Baby Sister Whale a ride."
We received confirmation from ICAB of our formal match with Baby Girl Hicks on March 12, 2015, but we had no idea when the official documents--match certificate, birth certificate, medical records, etc.--that we needed to continue the adoption process would arrived in Houston. In international adoption, you have to get your "approval to adopt" renewed annually, and we were coming up on the expiration of our approval (end of April 2015). Since we had no idea when the documents would arrive, we started the process of getting our approval renewed. 

Because this was our second renewal, we had to submit all new documentation, new background checks, an all new home study, new finger prints: the works! Fortunately, our local agency handled the background checks, and we were able to get the documents gathered and schedule meetings with our social worker for the home study update really quickly. But that still left fingerprints which, if you've been following me all along, you know is quite the process.

And because nothing is ever simple, this time around Jake was away (again!) when his fingerprint appointment was scheduled (of course he was!) and we had to mail off for a new one. Fortunately, he was able to make the appointment the second time around. Additional bright side? At least this time he wasn't in Afghanistan, where the military police had to do paper fingerprint cards and mail them home, praying that they would (a) actually arrive, and (b) be accepted by USCIS.

Meanwhile, Baby's documents arrived in Houston on April 6, 2015. Read: we didn't actually need to jump through the renewal hoops after all because we filed before our old documents expired (!!). But we were already so far along, we completed the process anyway. 

As soon as the documents arrived, I got right to work. First, we had to fill out an I-800 petition to have Baby designated as our relative (i.e., our daughter) for immigration purposes. We also had to fill out an I-864 petition to prove that we could care for Baby (financially, medically, etc.). Between them, the two applications were well over 100 pages, but we managed to get them compiled, notarized, and sent off by April 10, 2015. Meanwhile, we also had to send information to ICAB so that they could apply for Baby's Filipino passport (still in the works at this point).

Both the renewal and the I-800 were approved on May 15, 2015, and on May 21, 2015, the State Department sent us a letter letting us know that Baby's application for a visa had been submitted to the U.S. Embassy in Manila.

I was thrilled! After three years of "hurry up and wait," we had made a ton of progress in a sixty-day period. I started thinking that maybe we would have Baby home this summer! Especially when I saw this:

Redacted by me because the internet
So, really exciting, right?!?

Sure. Until four days later when something caused the entire global visa system to glitch. For nearly a month, not a single visa could be issued. Anywhere. Well, you can imagine the backlog from a technology failure like that. In many parts of the word, including the Philippines, the issue is still not fully resolved.

I check the State Department system every day, and every day I get the same screen I've been seeing since June 5. So that's where we are now--"Ready."

"Ready?" READY?!?! Well, yeah! Ready...and about to pull our hair out that an entire immigration application process can take the same amount of time we've been waiting just to get a visa and actually bring our daughter home! 

Ready...to do any kind of planning whatsoever for our family's process of going from a threesome to a foursome. 

Ready...to know something--anything???--about what's going on, when this will resolve, and how our Baby is doing in the meantime. 

Does she know about us? Is she wondering where we are? It hurts my heart, but I kind of hope the former answer is "no," just so the latter is too! 

The past week, several of our friends who were also stuck in the "Ready" holding pattern saw movement on their files. It's so wonderful, and it's giving us hope that our file will be moving again soon, too. But in some ways, it also just makes me even more impatient with the "Ready."

If that's even possible. I guess we'll see when I check status tomorrow...


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Interminable Wait

Seven Months. That's right, seven. Honestly, I thought we had the whole waiting thing on lock. I mean, we've been in this adoption process since 2012!! We know all about waiting!

But none of the other waiting prepared me for the void that followed our request to be matched with that tiny little girl with the tiny little profile.  It was July the first time we saw her on paper--this little bitty person with the huge, sad brown eyes staring right at us, a stark contrast to her pink floral ruffles and puffy white sleeves. We could see her entire, sad little story in the glance captured by that single picture. It remains, to this day, the only one we've seen of her.

It was the first week of August before our caseworker finally got a response from the Inter-Country Adoption Bureau (ICAB) acknowledging our interest in this little girl. But immediately, there was a hiccup--one of her special needs was not listed as "accepted" on our "acceptable special needs" list. When we got word of this issue, Jake was in Kansas (of course he was!) and I was traveling for work (of course I was!), and so the corrected form didn't arrive until three days later. Then came more silence. 

We heard silence all through August and all of September. The first thing that is supposed to happen after you request to be matched with a child is to receive their comprehensive file, and then state definitively "yes, we want this child." But two months had rolled by with no files, and we were beginning to think well, if they won't even send us files on the child, odds are they are not going to pick us for her.

On October 8, 2014 we finally received the little girl's full file. It contained the same picture we had seen previously, plus details about her history (sad indeed, and for a different post), as well as details about her medical issues. 

It was more information, but nothing that differed from what we learned about her through the little paragraph that originally accompanied her picture. We immediately notified our caseworker that "yes, we want this child," and she conveyed our response to ICAB on the same day. Which is a good thing, because we were given a deadline of less than a week to respond!

After that...More waiting. The rest of October passed us by, and half of November, too! On November 20, 2014, our caseworker received an email from ICAB asking if we were still interested in  the child, and noting that we must reply within three days. More hurry up and wait!! But it was an easy question to answer; in fact, my email back had only one word and five punctuation marks in it: 
"YES!!!!!"
After that email exchange, guess what happened next? Yep! More waiting. Thanksgiving passed us by, and then we rolled into December. When we were headed toward Christmas, I became convinced I was getting news as my Christmas present.

Never convince yourself that something out of your hands is going to be your present. Ever. It was a super rough holiday, and I did it to myself.

Christmas passed with no news, as did New Year's Eve and Day. It was two weeks into the new year, on January 14, 2015, when we got an urgent email from our caseworker, with loads of questions to answer about our family.  ICAB wanted to know more about Howie's medical history; they wanted to know more about our home dynamics; they wanted more information about Jake's service and his retirement plans. It was a ton of questions, but none directly related to the little girl we requested, which was a bit confusing. We didn't know if this request was about her, or if ICAB was just updating family files.

And, again, we were given a very short time frame in which to respond. 

There's nothing like waiting forever to be thrown into the frantic, over and over. 

We cobbled together answers to all the questions (read: the wordsmith in me poured over them endlessly until I thought they were perfect), got a letter from Howie's doctor regarding his medical history, and managed to get it all sent off within four days. I'm actually really proud we managed to respond so rapidly. 

...And you know what happened next. 

Honestly, these in-between places sometimes feel like a game of Jeopardy that will never end, theme song on a perpetual loop, when all I want is for someone to shout the right answer!! Anyone? Anyone?

On February 25, 2015, we received a FedEx package from our adoption agency containing, among other things, the news we had been waiting for...
"The Inter-Country Adoption Bureau has approved the placement..."
Oh the joy! I laughed and cried and would have been dancing in my office, if I weren't still trying to prove to my then-new coworkers that I was sane and well-adjusted. (Although I have it on good authority, however, that others were crazy-dancing on our behalf).

I was so excited about the news that I *almost* missed the fine print. The letter from ICAB was dated February 9, 2015. And the first line of the second paragraph read:
"Non-receipt of the couple's decision on the placement within fifteen (15) days...will be deemed a rejection of the proposal."
Anyone catch the math? We got the package on Day 15 in the U.S., which meant that Day 15 was already over in the Philippines. 

Our caseworker had been traveling on business for the adoption agency. No one checked her mail while she was gone. And now, after months of agonizing over whether we would be picked as this little person's parents, we were facing a blown deadline. 

And just like that, the fine print squashed our joyous celebration like a bug.

I don't know if I've ever felt that sad and that furious all at the same time. I raced to put together the materials required to accept the proposal. It was no small task! There were detailed forms to fill out, cashier's checks to obtain, doctors' notes to obtain, things to be notarized, not to mention a slew of things to collect to send to the little one (pictures, stories, etc.). 

Fortunately, I had already been working on a storybook for her, which was basically ready to go.

Mixbook - Create stunning photo books, cards and calendars! | Design your own photo book with Mixbook's easy online editor.

We threw everything together as quickly as we could, sending the acceptance first digitally and then by overnight courier to our caseworker, praying that ICAB might still let us bring home our girl.

It was another two weeks of waiting and wondering before we finally got the news--despite our missing the deadline, ICAB was going to let us proceed with the match. 

On March 12, 2015, ICAB confirmed receipt of our documents, and let us know that the things I sent for the baby were being forwarded to her caregivers.

I'd love to stop right here and stamp the whole story with a "happily ever after," and then pepper your social media feeds with pictures of our little brown-eyed girl. But it's July and we still only have one, rambunctious, boy-of-a-child running around our house, so you know the story isn't over.

No, we learned that the official match was only the beginning of a whole new process (and a whole new round of waiting!) to get from a match on paper to a child in the home.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Finding New Roads Through Transition

Transition is hard. There's nothing remarkable about the premise. All military families know transition is hard. I would bet that most Americans generally understand that transition is hard. But the full weight of what "hard" means doesn't smack you in the face until you are actually in it.

My husband Jake retired from the Army on April 1. It was a really hard decision for him, and one that I don't think he's totally allowed to set in just yet. Like many of the hard choices in life, I think he feels confident he made the right one, but he still mourns what might have been.

See, my husband is a warrior. He's a protector. A defender. He thrives on camaraderie, service, a keen sense of purpose, and getting things done. I'm sure to many of you that sounds familiar. Of course the problem is that this warrior fell for a lawyer, and she turned his world upside down. Marriage, a family, and a wife with a horribly importable career later, he found he'd spent seven years apart from his family--including a deployment when we were really apart--and realized that if he wanted to be there, a decision had to be made.

So now Jake is out, and trying to find his new road. He has a plethora of choices before him, which is precisely the problem. After two-plus decades of a single path, choosing a new one from so many options is a daunting task. If he chooses one, he foregoes others, and he's not yet ready to let any of them go. So what's a guy to do? Meanwhile, our family is going through all of the difficulties of finding a new normal--sharing closet space, actually co-parenting--and I'm trying hard not to push Jake down a particular path because I feel bad that he seems a little lost, and it might be a little my fault. Or maybe a lot my fault.

Transition is tough. It's not unique to our family; it's not the exception, it's the rule. Finding a new purpose is hard, and that's why it is so important that companies like GM support workforce development initiatives like Shifting Gears, and Hiring Our Heroes job fairs, as well as educational partnerships that help transitioning service members and their spouses find their next purpose, their next passion.  These programs, designed to help service members discover places to focus their energy and find community, really g0 a long way in helping with the painful process of re-learning how to be a civilian (and be surrounded by them every day).


It's also why I love opportunities to fellowship with other military spouses, who know not only this military life, but the life after the life too. And I'm so excited there's one such opportunity coming up next week on May 27! I'll be there for the good friends and great advice, but there's a bonus (or rather several) when it comes to this one! If you join us, you have a chance to win prizes, just for hanging out with some amazing men and women!


Jake is still searching for what he's going to do next professionally. I think he will be for a while. I can't really say that he's searching for his next purpose, though. I think he's been sure his whole life what he's on this earth for, and that's to serve. A few weeks before he retired from the Army, he announced that he was taking a summer trip: to Haiti. Yes, Haiti. On a medical mission with Live BeyondHe's actually there right now, working in the hospital complex Live Beyond built to provide medical care to the surrounding villages.

Of course he is. Because if there are two things I can be certain of with Jacob Lynn Hicks, it's that he can't sit still for long, and if he's moving, he's doing for others. He remains a protector, and a defender. Transition is hard, but I think for him knowing his purpose, and for me seeing what fulfills him, will go a long way in helping us weather it.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Chevrolet via MSB New Media. The opinions and text are all mine.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Five Important Things About Military Appreciation Month

Some twenty-five years ago, Congress designated the month of May as National Military Appreciation month. It's not a particularly well-known fact, even though there are a number of military holidays included in the month of May. And why, you may ask, is an entire month set aside for honoring our military? Quite simply, it takes that long to really run the gamut of what "military" means to this country. Military is past; it is present; it is future. It touches our lives every day in ways that do not even occur to us unless we actually take the time to sit and consider them.

There are many, but here are just five important things to remember about Military Appreciation Month:


Our Fallen. There is a price for freedom, and it is a steep one. As a nation, we've lost fathers, mothers, siblings and dear friends. The thought of the legions who have given their lives to preserve our American way of life is staggering. The sacrifice is worth remembering every day, but special time is set aside for this very task on Memorial Day.

Our Veterans. May is the month of VE Day, and especially this year as we celebrate its 70th anniversary, it's easy to remember the many lives put on the line so many years ago. But let's not forget the millions of veterans living in this country, with more leaving the service every day. They face some unique challenges, but they also come with the kind of skill and leadership that is not just taught, it's forged.

Our Service Members. May is also the month of Armed Forces Day, honoring the men and women serving in all branches of our military. On the every day, it's easy to forget that tens of thousands of men and women are still serving in hostile territories today, or that even more stand waiting to be called with any threat that comes our way. In fact, their very work is precisely why we can sometimes forget how hard-won our safety and security are. May is a month not to let the price of that security slip our minds.

Our Spouses. Often referred to as the "Silent Ranks" or the "Force Behind the Force," military spouses are anything but. They are vocal advocates for our military and their own families. They sustain the homefront while their service members are at war--raising children, caring for parents, maintaining household and sanity at the same time (which can be no small feat!). They care for their own families while their spouses are working to protect everyone's. They are the force beside the force, which is why the first Friday of every May is designated Military Spouse Appreciation Day.

Our Future. Being the mom of a five-year-old who has been an Army brat his entire life, I can tell you unequivocally that milkids serve too. When a service member commits to our military, the entire family serves. And military life can take a toll, straining marriages, relationships with kids, even the ability to start a family in the first place is made harder by military service sometimes. In a month where we honor families, mothers, teachers--let's not forget those families dealing with the many challenges of live and the many challenges of war on top of them.

I think perhaps the most critical thing in May--besides not saying "Happy Memorial Day"--is remembering that the month continues to have significance. Because our military, their families, our veterans, they are all sacrificing now. Today. Whether giving up time together, dealing with the strain and challenges of military life, or dealing with the wounds dealt to them by war, the sacrifices are continuous.

That's why I'm incredibly proud to be working with Chevrolet as part of its Chevy Salutes campaign. Chevy's programs really span the entire gamut of what it is to be "military." From workforce development programs like "Shifting Gears" and work through Hiring Our Heroes Fairs, to product discounts for military, veterans, and their families, to support of numerous non-profits working for veterans and military families, Chevy takes seriously its commitment to honor our heroes.

And for military families in the month of May, Chevy is going the extra mile (see what I did there?). For anyone looking to "find new roads" in a new set of wheels, the Chevrolet Military Program has you covered, with the best discount program of any car company.

Not looking for a new ride? Chevy still has a fun program for military families from now through May 17:


Now through May 17th, post pictures or video to Instagram (don't forget to use hashtags #ChevySalutes and #FindNewRoads). Participants have a chance to win one of three awesome cash prizes! Check out the official rules here.

How will you find new roads?
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Chevrolet via MSB New Media. The opinions and text are all mine.