Monday, May 20, 2013

"I want to see"


"Open the eyes of my heart, Lord,
Open the eyes of my heart, 
I want to see you...
I want to see you..."

When I was in 8th grade, I read a book about the Seeing Eye and I wanted desperately to work with blind people. Back then, I wanted to be a trainer for the Seeing Eye, later a veterinarian for the Seeing Eye. I read every book I could find about blind children, and Annie Sullivan was my greatest hero as I imagined how amazing it must have been for her to open the world of  knowledge and learning to Helen Keller.  I wanted to be like her

In the past 30 years I have worked with countless numbers of children: some blind, some visually impaired, all of them unique and wonderful children.My first classroom of students are now over 30 years old (gasp!) and I still think of them as preschoolers. For more than 25 years I have been working with infants, so if you do the math, they are no longer infants, yet I still call them "my babies". I can honestly say that I love each and every one of these children with a love that is unique, a love that gives them freedom, a love that gives their parents hope, and hopefully comforts them during the very difficult years when they are coming to accept their child's blindness.

Now, almost 4 decades since I read the book about the Seeing Eye, I am the mother of not one, but 2 children who are blind. This was not something I had always planned to do: adopt blind children. It was never soemthing that was my goal. I remember many years ago, teaching  a little girl who was blind and adopted from China. Her mother told me we should adopt a blind child, as  Matt and I were adopting, before we had our birth children. I laughed at that mom, and told her I should not, because I did not have the luxury of being naive about the challenges we would face, but would know them clearly, and have to face them head-on, with no excuses, and no learning curve.

And here we are. For those of you who know our Shane, you know that his blindness is not his primary handicapping condition. Yes, it is a big deal, but not as big a deal as his language and cognitive delays. Parenting Shane is parenting in uncharted waters for us as we learn about respite care (awesome), ABA classrooms, and augmentative communication systems. It is slow and painstaking, and often frustrating, but the rewards for the gains he makes are huge. 

Vincent is like a sighted child who cannot see. Vincent was born with vision, and had vision until he was about 2 years old. He remembers seeing, remembers getting 'sick' and remembers losing his eyes to cancerous tumors called retino blastoma (RB). I took him last week to the ocular oncologist at Will's Eye Hospital in Philadelphia. He was as good as gold, surprising all of the doctors with his mastery of English, his good humor, and his ability to take his prosthesis in and out himself. Again and again they asked how old he is, how long has he been here in the states? One of the doctors walked in the room after we had been waiting for a while and asked "Vincent, how are you?" Vincent did not even hesitate "Hungry!"

While we were waiting for the doctors, Vincent asked if he would be getting 'new eyes'. I told him that they might need to get him new prosthesis when he gets older, but not right now.He looked up at me and said, "No, I need new eyes now. I want doctors to give me new eyes. Seeing Eyes."

My heart skipped a beat, my breath caught in my throat. I looked into the face of the most angelic little boy, and had to tell him the truth. He wanted to see, he told me, like all the other kids :Mickey, Sarah, Meghan, Shannon, Maeleigh, Sophie. He named them all. Tears filled my eyes when I told him that the doctors could not make him see, that his eyes were too bad in China, and they had to be taken, and that he would not see. But I told him I would help him to do everything else he needed to do, that there would be nothing he would not be able to do if he wanted to try, to learn. He seemed content with my answer, and didn't say much after that. But I was not content.

In the past 30 years, I have never felt the feeling of parents who wanted their child's fate to be so different than what it was, but I felt it strongly and bitterly at that moment. I wanted my child to be able to see. I wanted him to see the snow on the trees, the buds on the blueberry bush, the face of his parents and bothers and sisters, the love in our eyes. I wanted him to know the joy of every moment through his own eyes, to experience the world through sight, a sense so many of us take for granted every minute of every day. I wanted Vincent to have Seeing Eyes.
In the three months since Vincent has been home, he has taught everyone he comes into contact with so much about life, about joy, about 'seeing' what is really important. He has shown us how desperately he wanted a family, how much he did not want to live in an orphanage. From the minute we met him, he engulfed us with his love (sprinkled with a few hours of screaming a day!), his amazing wit and his incredible intelligence. Our busy, busy family has become complete with the presence of this little boy, and our lives will never be the same because he has become our son.

 There are so many things in life for Vincent to 'see', so many adventures ahead of him. He will never see as we do, that's a reality that we all have to deal with.I expect that he will mourn the loss of vision all his life, as I know I will. As he gets older he will learn that there are very few things he will not be able to do, few obstacles that will be in his way that he cannot overcome. He will see things with his heart that we will never see, and because he cannot see, he will make us see for him, and thus enrich our lives so deeply.

Vincent may never get his "SeeingEyes" in this lifetime, but surely he will in the next. For now, we will be his eyes and we will show him all the wonders of this world. I will hug him tighter and harder to show him him the love in my eyes even as he cannot see it.

Friday, April 26, 2013

New pictures

Sophie's 12th Bithday

My Dad with Shane

St. Lucy's /Archbishop Ryan Irish Day Celebration

Welcoming Spring with new chicks at at our neighbor's barn

Vincent loving the animals

Meeting Sebastian

Sophie and Vincent doing an Easter Dance!

Vincent loves to dance!

Dinner for Sophie's birthday with Nana and Pop Pop

At the Philadelphia Art Museum celebrating Shannon being a finalist in the "Dream at 50" Martin Luther King Art Contest
Shannon's mosaic art work.

Friday, February 22, 2013

This joint is jumpin'...or, Vincent is home!

Vincent has been home now for more than a month, and it has taken me that long to have the time to sit down here and write a post. (Since today is my birthday, I have cart-blanche on the computer!)

There are so many things I can say about Vincent, so many adjectives to describe this little boy. Feisty, funny, cuddly, smart, hysterical, fun-loving, obstinate, stubborn, willful, adorable. He dances, he sings, he imitates, he teases, he laughs he cries. He screams-oh how he screams! Just ask the people in the AC Moore we had to carry him out of the first weekend he was home because he was screaming and fussing so hard!

Vincent was happy to get out of China, and he will tell you that. He was so looking forward to coming into our family, and once Maeleigh told him he better listen to her or we would send him back to China (yikes!) ans he was so upset, he cried and cried. Now he jokes around and says "Bye, bye mama, go to China!"  I pretend to cry and tell him how much I will miss him, and he laughs and says, " Okay, Mama, I am back!" and I hug him and kiss him and tell him how much I missed  him.

In one month, Vincent's language has developed so that he understands almost everything we say, and can answer so many things in English. The best is when he says "Thunk you so mutch!"

I can remember about 2 years ago when I saw the video online of WeiPing Xian, listed as 'Shawn" and saw the most adorable little boy, walking down the steps of the SWI, laughing and playing, splashing water at the Ayi, and I instantly, instantly, fell in love. We had not even had our first home study visit for Maeleigh, and were just getting our heads around adopting again. How could we even begin to think about adopting one more?And why was I so taken by this little boy? I knew the future he would have in China, knew that this boy was smart and capable, that blindness would not hold him back. But how could we adopt 2? Impossible!

Oh, so much I have learned, going through this. So many blessings, so many challenges. God is so awesome in His plan, so willing to help us through all of these hurdles, and we are often so stubborn, so sure that we have the answers, the ideas, the solutions. When I showed Matt the  video of Vincent, he said "That is my son, we need to go and get him." I felt the same way, but was sure God couldn't be asking us to get him! Maybe he wanted us to 'find' him a family! So, I began to advocate for him, sending his video to friends of ours whose son I had worked with. Wouldn't this 'little guy' make a great brother for Andrew? When Andrew's family said they could not even think of adopting, I began to think again, and by the time we had the first homestudy meeting for Maeleigh, we knew we were going to get Ping Xian as well.

God is so good, and so faithful, and somehow he helped to pave the way and open the doors to help us to adopt two children literally in the space of one year, while still recuperating from the other two adoptions! We did fundraising, people generously opened their hearts and their wallets to give us money to bring Vincent home. We were blessed by an unbelievable donation from the most wonderful family: the father had gotten a Christmas raise, and they donated the entire raise to us, and because of their generosity, we were able to pay for all three flights for the travel. Aother woman donated 600 dollars to us, and when I sent her an email to thank her, I had to tell her I did not even know who she was! She had come upon my blog, and they had brought home their son a year ago, and she felt moved to send me the money. Friends sent us hundreds of dollars, people bought soap or chances for our Kindle Fire (Yay Dave Acker, our winner!) Wow...can you even imagine being on the receiving end of so much generosity?  It is humbling, to say the least, and it brings me to my knees, literally in thanksgiving to God for letting us experience the wonder of these people, all because we said yes to adopting.

Having eight children is...awesome. I have to tell you, So many years ago I prayed for one child, and God has given us 8!!! Now many nights I have to count heads to see how many for dinner, I cook as much one night as some people cook in a week, and buy more milk in one shopping trip than my sisters buy for a month! I am busy, I am tired, and I am so, so happy. Our family is complete, and I know that deep in my heart and my soul. Vincent has come to our home and has brought us full-circle, to meet at both ends and complete us.

With Vincent at home, we play tag, make snowballs, play hide and seek,  There is screeching and giggling in the bathtub when he and Shane take a bath together ( a nightly highlight for the two of them), we eat ice cream differently, we eat pizza with gusto, and we hug and kiss and say "I love you" in ways that make your heart melt. This little boy does screaming and temper tantrums better than most, but he does love best of all.

Vincent is blind, and for most people that is a special need that would be so difficult to deal with. I will tell you that it is barely even an issue. I know that sounds hard to believe, but it is true. Vincent  has a way to make you forget that he cannot see, and instead, makes you want to 'see' the world as he does. He is full of joy, full of laughter, full of love (okay, full of screams and stubbornness too) and I am so happy he is here, in our home, in our family, as he should be.
Meghan and Shannon with 'the boys'

He told Maeleigh: "Tell them I waited so long to play in the snow!"

Mama and Vincent at "Bouncing off the Walls"

First day of school!

Discovering our neighbor's barn...he had to go into each and every stall!

so cool!

Visiting Maeleigh at her school

Jet lag

jet lag continued

Playing with "Mickey ge-ge"

Rub a dub dub two boys in the tub!

He loves the animals

Thank you, God, for making it possible for Vincent to come to our family. And thank you to everyone who helped us, supported us, and prayed for us.

Let the games begin!