They all impact each other and come together in the end.
Story #1 - About 56 (I think) years ago John K. became the big brother to a delightful little girl named Shirley. Shirley has Down Syndrome. I don't know all the ups and downs of that sibling relationship but I do know that there is a lot of love shared between the two.
More than twenty years later John met and married Mary Ellen. She had had a little bit of experience with people with disabilities before meeting John and shared his love for differently abled people. Their passion for people with special needs grew and after having three birth daughters they began fostering and eventually adopted 4 children from the foster system. Two of them have Down Syndrome!
About 6 years ago they decided it was time to adopt one more child with DS and brought Aiden home from Bulgaria! He is a big wonderfully comedic 14 year old boy now with the best Bulgarian accent you will ever hear.
Story #2 - My husband Jon met the K family about fifteen years ago when their first adopted child with DS, Brent, was about 3. He remembers playing with and loving him at church each Sunday. They were good buddies. After high school Jon decided to volunteer with the K family at camp Amasa where they ran camps for adults and children with special needs. This was his crash course into the community of the differently abled. He can tell you many hilarious, life changing, perspective altering moments from that summer.
Story #3 - I had always been drawn to supporting, teaching and befriending people with special needs. My mom remembers it as young as 5 years old. When I was 16 my mom made the decision to bring Maggy in to our house. Maggy has Down Syndrome as well and fit in to our family perfectly. She actually could be credited with getting most of us through our teen years relatively unharmed. No matter how mad we where at the world or each other, we were never mad at her. She kept us coming home and was a calming spirit in our house. She is everyones favourite sister. When she joined our family I started talking about wanting to adopt my own child with DS.
Our stories coming together -
Jon and I met in college and started dating about 12 years ago. I remember talking openly about wanting to adopt a child with DS and him being completely on board. His work with Amasa and watching the K family grow had prepared him for me!
We followed closely and watched the K family adopt Aiden. I was so happy for them and wondered when it would be our turn. Aiden came home in October 2009 and in January 2010 Mary Ellen sent me an email from her agency for a file of a little girl needing a family. We didn't end up adopting that child but it got our wheels turning.
It was time for us to adopt a child with DS. Jon and I jumped in. Although it was much earlier in life than we had thought it was the right choice. We have been so blessed by the adoption process and by Sofie, our own Bulgarian angel. In August 2011 we brought her home.
At the airport, first moment together as a family.
Story #4 - John and Mary Ellen's oldest daughter, Heather, has known for a long time that she would adopt a child with DS too. My Jon was in youth with her and worked with her at the camps. We have been honoured to walk with her and try to support her in any way we could. She also chose Bulgaria to find her son. And yesterday, her own dreams came true.
Heather became a mom to Wyatt Timothy Vasil K and brought him home after more than 24 hours of traveling yesterday! (His middle name, Timothy, is after Jon's dad who passed away 6.5 years ago. He was the K's pastor as Heather grew up and encouraged her, reminding her she would make a difference.)
I got the privilege of being their chauffeur between the airport and ferry, as well as photographer for this momentous occasion! Here are the pictures from last night...
Nana's first sight. So much joy in her eyes.
This moment is pure emotion.
Joy. Relief. Thankfulness. Wonder.
Welcome Home Wyatt.
The family that made it to the airport.
He has a lot more of them to meet today!
I'm so glad that you stepped out and chose to adopt this little guy. You and him make such a perfect family together. I'm thankful there are strong women, like you, in this world who are willing to follow their hearts and make a difference. This is really just the beginning. Thank you for letting me be a part of this day and know that Jon and I will support you and little Wyatt in any way we can!
You can read her own blog and details of her adoption HERE.
I adore how all these stories have wound in to each other. I'm tempted to say that Mary Ellen and John's story has come full circle with Heather's adoption now but I don't think that's accurate. I think lives are going to continue to change because they have witnessed or been a part of our stories. I think more stories are going to be made and I can't wait to see that happen.
Thank you Shirley for being born and igniting a passion in your big brother.
Thank you Mary Ellen for marrying John and building the family that you have.
Thank you to you both for setting such a beautiful example of love and acceptance and perseverance in your own adoption journeys and family.
Thank you for preparing Jon for my world and having a huge part in the amazing man he is today. The experiences he has had with you were also a big part of why he was hired in his current career. So really our entire family's well-being is, in part, thanks to you!
Thank you Maggy for being the wonderful person and sister that you are and solidifying a passion for adoption and DS in my own heart.
Thank you to my mom for bringing Maggy in to our lives and being the strong, supportive woman that you are.
Thank you to Jon for being the truly remarkable husband, father and man that you are.
Thank you everyone who has supported us in our own adoption and parenting journey. We absolutely could not do it all with out you.
Thank you to Heather for listening to your heart and jumping in to this with both feet. You are incredible and are going to rock this Mommy biz!
And a huge thank-you to our Bulgarian angels! Aiden, Sofie and Wyatt! You are three miraculous children who have been through more in your short lives than most adults ever will. You are survivors, brave, funny, joyful and loving kids. I can't wait to see what you do in your lives and how you change the world! You've changed our world so much already! I can't wait to see all three of you together one day!
Christmas is always such a magical time of year. Growing up, I remember the season being magical. The idea of wonder and excitement has always been there, but good Christmas memories are non-existent. For one main reason, I remember more stress then wonder. I think that's one of the reasons it's so important to me that my kids don't experience stress at Christmas. I want them to live in the magic and remember that.
This year Christmas was our most laid back one of all. All my shopping was done by mid November. We had extra time to make homemade gifts to friends and family which was a lot of fun for the girls. We made salted caramel for our circle and a few extras, as well as the usual shortbread. The girls had the most fun helping me make glittery snowman playdoh that smelled like peppermint for their friends. We packaged it with some pipe cleaner arms and googly eyes so the recipient could build a snowman!
Our schedule wasn't packed. Jon had a week of vacation he needed to use so he was home in early December as well as almost two weeks over Christmas and New Years. We took the girls to see Santa in early December. The older two girls where happy and excited to see him. Evelyn was fine with waving at him but wanted no part in sitting in his lap. So this happened...
We apparently traumatized her pretty good because she woke up screaming "NO SANTA LAP!" once and would say it at any mention or picture she'd see of St. Nick through the rest of the season. Hopefully she won't remember for next year.
The big girls also had their Christmas pageants. I need to brag here... With kids in a fine arts school you don't have to suffer through their productions. They are actually GOOD! Like REALLY GOOD. Sofie is in Kindergarten and they had their own show singing carols one night. I was so proud when I got to watch her up there singing with her class and no teacher beside her. She knew all the actions and did amazing! I cringed/laughed my face off, when she went and patted the principal's butt during the closing remarks. He didn't miss a beat though, took her hand and let her say goodbye in the microphone afterwards. The timing of my picture was perfect...
Livi's performance was at the Art Centre in town and in grade one to three kids, plus the whole school choir which is all grades and 100 kids. Livi's sang in the back-up choir the whole show and each class was featured in a song. Her class was dressed as the toys, Livi was a stuffed elephant, that the elves were making. She was also chosen for a part during another song where she had to stand very still and get made by an elf. She was hoping to be picked for that part so I was really happy for her when she did :) Of course she did wonderfully. She was a little nervous and told not to smile while she was being made, despite her Aunties best efforts in the front row.
Our Christmas gatherings were spread out this year which was AWESOME! I think it was the first year in our entire marriage we didn't have something on Christmas day. Boxing Day was free too! The Saturday before Christmas was my family get together. The crazies all together under one roof is never short on fun!
The Sunday was our Friends Christmas brunch. These three boys were room mates in college and us wives have been close since then. I adore this group. They are my safe ones. They are very important to me. Our kids adore each other and I hope we can continue our traditions as we all continue to grow up together!
Christmas Eve was church and lights, ended with a house that has a hologram of Santa in the window. It gets my kids to bed so fast because they think he is so close. I am in awe of their pure, innocent belief in Santa. It is such beautiful, uncorrupted magic. Jon went out and rang bells and called "ho ho ho" when Livi was going to the bathroom. She is so excited when she hears him. I was given strict instructions to get to bed right away, because everyone knows Santa doesn't come if you're awake.
Jon's mom slept over Christmas Eve and opened presents with us in the morning. I managed to get them matching pajama's again this year. I love it. I will try to do it again next year! The girls got a few gifts each. I've mentioned how amazed I am by Livi's care and kindness towards others. Well, Christmas morning she shone again. She was more concerned with assisting and making sure her sisters opened their presents than her own. We had to remind her to open her own. Pure love that kid. I think this was the first year that both Sofie and Evelyn were fully engaged with the Christmas morning festivities. It was so special to finally get here.
I love Christmas. It is just so magical and pure. We did a more homemade, relaxed, family focused Christmas this year. I need to do this more for my family. We gave out homemade gifts which were well received and we had so much fun making them!
I know this post is late. I wrote most of it a month ago but am just finishing it now. Merry Christmas to anyone who might still read this blog and I hope your new year SPARKLES!