Thursday, November 3, 2011

About love and sacrifice, about prayer, tears, and hope

 Hello, everyone,

Warning: This may be a depressing post with no pictures. Yet, it is a deep one, one that talks about love and sacrifice, about prayer, tears, and hope. Moreover, after having posted it on one group and having received not one single reply, I'm copying and pasting it into my blog--to see if someone reads it.

Jamie, one of the members of the Dream_Bulgaria group, had posted something that couldn't have been said in better terms: I'll quote her when she said that "God did a loaves and fishes miracle in our bank account." That's entirely true because each adoption is a miracle itself. In our case, every time it was a true miracle, although not miracles of unexepted cash outpourings from external sources, but miracles of love, sacrifices, and pulling together by the members of our own family. Those were miracles that brought Thomas, Nicholas, and Stephen home with no regret at all for the consequences. Only we know how very much my mother is suffering because of the loss of her eyesight and of all movement in her legs--something that could have been very easily prevented by cataracts and knee replacement surgeries. And she did have the means to have had those surgeries done privately even if Medi Care wanted to charge her $700 per month because she did not have the ten quarters of work in U.S. She did not hesitate to sacrifice her entire well-being for any more years she has ahead in order for her monies to go towards the adoption expenses, first from Haiti and then from Bulgaria, with two failed special needs adoptions from Russia and Uzbekistan in between, which, by the way, were even more expensive than the successful ones. My mother makes the Sign of the Cross every time she needs to transfer from her wheelchair to bed or vice versa, or to get in or out of the van--because of the pain, the difficulty, the fear of falling down every time. Yes, she is happy the way it is, and if she could go back in time, she would do it again with no hesitation. Before Catherine or I could help her by ourselves--but not any more. Now only Gerard and Warren can do it. And I assure all of you that when their time will come to apply for medical school, which is not that far ahead any more as now at 14 they are applying to college already, there will be no other candidates as deserving of admission as the twins are. What they are doing in helping their Grandma transfer from one place to another and in helping their younger brothers with everything, including homework, comfort, and personal hygiene is worth much more than all the achievement, all the volunteer work, and all the research experience they can have in their resumes.

Catherine contributed grad student loan monies she should have used for her own expenses and for which she is now obligated under her own name. She contributes her time, so that I don't need to spend one penny on child care at any time. The twins do the same, and do without many little things that are deemed "must haves" for teenagers these days.

The Catholic Church did help.

I must admit that despite having been raised not only to reach out to others but also to be humble, I always had a very hard time with that second part. Perhaps now God is trying to teach me to finally learn what my parents and grandparents always modeled for me and I refused to assimilate. They had much more than I do, but were humble at all times. Worst of all, my lack of humility is not even based upon my own merits, but upon what my family used to be. Yet, no matter how extremely difficult is for me to accept the fact that I needed (and need) help, I have the integrity to acknowledge it. More than once in my blog I posted about help received from the Catholic Church. I also feel I should disclose that last April, when after the moving expenses it seemed there would never be enough funds for a new homestudy (and not even for a new home), one of the quietest members of the Dream_Bulgaria group contacted me and offered some help. I hope she won't mind if I post her name: Tammy Groenendyk. I'm trying to finally apply to my daily life last week's Gospel: "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matthew 23:12). Perhaps now it's my turn to learn what I refused to assimilate from my family for so many years.

As most of you know, for the adoptions of Maximilian and Philip we (and I use the plural because it was a joint, unanimous decision) did not hesitate to move from one coast to the other, thinking that by doing it we'd be able to find a shortcut to the inflexible, arbitrary waiting time imposed by the homestudy agency in CA. It was a huge leap of faith, and somehow we made it through it, but not without stumbling upon more roadblocks than we could possibly anticipate. Although we do like RI, and would not like to go back to CA, these initial times are far from being easy. I'd like to clarify that although I've said that our family comes from a very privileged background, it was more in terms of birth than wealth, as our ancestors go back to the oldest Italian nobility--but there was never a real fortune. It was more the old-fashioned European image of the "impoverished aristocrat" about which many movies were made forty or fifty years ago. Now all family resources, which were not that sizable, are exhausted. In the past, even second- and third-degree relatives used to help each other--but nowadays almost nobody else remains in our line. Other relatives have passed away already or are too old. After me, my parents desperately tried to have more children, both biologically and through adoption, but nothing worked out. They wanted to be pioneers and adopt non-Caucasian children, but interracial adoptions were even illegal those days. They wanted to adopt children with special needs, and those children were not even available for adoption because they were considered "non-adoptable" to start with. They couldn't do it, but passed down that zeal to me. And actually, they did adopt in the end: my Mom gave up her own health and well-being for the sake of the adoptions, and the very next day after my Dad, who had gone to Heaven fifteen years ago, told me in a dream that he had gone in person to Haiti to solve a problem with the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, the problem was solved, and Thomas and Nicholas came home.

The fact that I'm not doing fundraisers may give the erroneous impression that I don't need any help. That's far from being true. The issue is that when you have a position with a fixed remuneration, fundraisers are the only ways to make the additional income that is needed. When you're self-employed, it appears easier to concentrate your efforts on trying to get some additional work rather than embarking in the almost unknown field of organizing some sort of fundraising event. Moreover, I'm not the kind of person who has friends all over the place to invite for the occasion.

I do have four books that I self-published, namely on inspirational poetry, inspirational fictional and non-fictional short stories, etiquette for children, and homeschooling--but I sent them to print a few years ago in a rush, and there are a few errata I need to correct, and a fe points I need to upgrade--and cannot find a few hours to do so. My books advocate for those great values I have been taught since early childhood, such as the sanctity of human life, equality, social justice, family, and the rights of the disabled, but I never got the IBSN number for any of them. I don't even find the point of having a talent for writing if I don't use it--but I spend ages on arid legal paperwork instead, and quite often I don't even find any sense in my practice of law. I'm not a great adoption attorney sending little ones home as Toni does. Quite often my clients are faced with abusive ICE officers and cold-hearted, unfair government attorneys and judges--and there is very little, if any, I can do to help them. Besides, I'm licensed in CA--not even in RI or MA yet. For immigration and tax law, if licensed in any state or territory, you can practice anywhere in U.S.--but it's not the same. Developing local networks takes a while. Ironically, I am also expecting some monies to come for sure--but not so soon. . . and my fear is whether or not they'll arrive soon enough for these adoptions.

I don't want to depress anyone. When I look at my children and see how very much they're blooming, I feel that there has to be a way in which God will help with the adoptions of Maximilian and Philip as well. Once again, I am truly convinced that the greatest blessing for Thomas, Nicholas, and Stephen (and, let's pray, for Maxmilian and Philip as well) is not having me as their mother, but having my mom as their grandma, and Catherine, Gerard, and Warren as their older siblings. When children are faced with unanimous unconditional love, they respond with love as well. Something changes inside them forever.

I'm sorry for the very long post. I don't know how I'm saying all this to people I have never even met in person before. Yet, most of the people who read my blog are moms who adopted children facing different challenges, with many of them being from Toni's Dream_Bulgaria list. Toni's admirable work brought together a group of people who share something in common--and I hope you will understand how I feel, how concerned I am--how terribly concerned we all are. Please keep these new adoptions in your prayers-and anything else you may be able to suggest or do will be appreciated more than words can say.

God bless everyone,

Lillian Godone-Maresca

Clam chowder with pepper, mustard, and ketchup

I'm super behind in my posts. Today it's Nov. 3 already (2011 is almost gone!!!), and I'm posting pix from July 3, four months ago, when the day before the 4th of July the local fire station held a very nice family event, culminating with breathtaking fireworks.

Why did I give such a strange title to my post? I hate clam chowder. Yet, that day I had a full bowl of it for one single reason: the Fire Department was offering it for free. I cannot believe I used to feel unhappy about  the over-protected, over-privileged, pampered childhood I had. I cannot believe that as a child I arrived to pray for problems because I wanted some merit of my own. I wanted a chance to prove myself. Yet, against the common opinion that spoiled kids develop into spoiled adults, for my mom's sake and for the memory of my dad and my grandparents I can say that it was precisely that pampered, overprotected past what best prepared me to face life challenges in my adulthood. If in order to fulfill adoption training requirements anyone ever took the Heart of the Matter online seminar, they say something very similar: "In order to build independence first you need to build secured dependence." Although that refers to adopted children, who never felt loved and secure before, it is true for all children.

In my case, I had a little too much perhaps---but was not spoiled either. Far from being raised to be selfish and conceited, I was always taught by word and example by my parents and grandparents about love, caring, reaching out, equality, social sensitivity, and social justice, in the light of the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church.

So, even with the free clam chowder, we had a great time. It takes a while to get settled in a new place--but still I don't regret our move to RI at all. Catherine arrived a little later, and with her own money bought popsicles for everyone--even for me. Everything would be perfect if we did not have the omnipresent shared concern over those two little boys still so very far away.  It's not easy to enjoy the present when you feel that something is not totally complete.--and we all feel that, no matter how much love we have each other, our family is not yet complete.

I hate how I look in that picture--but they look nice!

Using some very trite wording, I can say that financially things were far from what they used to be--but their smiles are priceless!!!

Here there is another picture. I'm right, am I not?

Isn't it heartbraking to see that the very first thing that Nicholas did when on the fire truck was to pick up the radio and talk into it? His speech is not intelligible--but he does know what he wants to say!

Look how happy he is with the radio in his hands!

And more priceless smiles. . .

Nicholas' determination is admirable. In Haiti, he learned to walk on his own--defying doctors' prognosis that he'd never be able to walk.

Gerard is helping Nicholas off the fire truck

Stephen's turn to get down. Warren is picking him up.

Thomas is enjoying his turn on the fire truck.

Thomas is comign down by himself, with a fire fighter ready to cathc him just in case.

Waiting to watch the fireworks.

It was Stephen's first time to watch fireworks.

A belated post about Nicholas

 Hello, everyone,
I should have posted this long ago. Nicholas b-day was in June--and we're in October already! By this time of year we expected we'd have both I-800A and I-800 approval for the adoptions of Maximilian and Philip--and stilll don't even have the first one! Things turned to be much more difficult than expected. Yet, I don't regret the move from CA to RI--but that will be the topic for a future post. 

For now, I'd like to devote this belated post to Nicholas.I must confess that I still feel guilty towards him because I know that it took me some time to get to love him. I met Thomas and Nicholas in person for the very first time on July 5, 2008, when I arrived to Children of the Promise, in Cap Haitian, on my pick-up trip, with not only the adoption decrees but also their visas already issued. Unlike Thomas, who immediately ran up to me, called me "Momma!", hugged me, and estalished an instant connection, back those days Nicholas used to have some sort of an almost blank gaze, lost somewhere in space. After coming to meet me for a moment, he soon lost interest and went back to a pile of toys. It didn't take me too long to make my own lay diagnosis and decide that he was showing autistic traits. I thought I was getting more than I had bargained for. Yes, no matter the thought makes me feel now, at that moment I wished I could return home with only one of them.

In reply to a desperate e-mail sent to my family, Catherine replied saying that "now he is your son and our brother, and together we'll make it work out." She added that she loved all the kids at the S.T.A.R. Program, where she had done her last doctoral internship and had been offered a job as a therapist, and where the population served is children with special needs, mainly with autism. Catherine closed her e-mail stating that "Nicholas will be our shining star."

In less than two weeks, Catherine and the twins had worked a true miracle in both Nicholas and Thomas--or, actually, God had worked that miracle on my two younger children (they were still the youngest then) through my three older ones. That's what gave the name to my blog. I entittled it "the miracle I witnessed" because I felt much more like a spectator than a true participant. When the two of them still had some ugly MERSA infections and a rebellious kind of fungus to their scalps, I was much more afraid of contagion than Catherine and the twins were. No matter how many times I'd tell them to be careful, they'd keep on hugging and squeezing their younger brothers non-stop all day long.

In no more than a couple of weeks at home, Nicholas' formerly blank stare had given way to an extremely expressive look. Nicholas would become interested in everything, involved in everything, willing to try everything.

Yet, for a short time, Nicholas would bite and hit. He would throw temper tantrums. He would pee on the floor every time he got changed. I must admit I couldn't love him yet. I was terrified of changing time to the point that Catherine, Gerard, and Warren would always volunteer to do it for me. Yet, all that, far from saying anything negative about Nicholas, only showed what an enormous capacity for love he has. He was loyal to his birthmother, who hadgiven him up for a better life but had kept all her other kids, and in order for people not to criticize her, had been visiting the orphanage with her other children dressed as little princes and princesses. We have a picture of Nicholas' little sister in a beautiful white gown that seemed to be a First Holy Communion dress.

All that Nicholas was doing was out of loyalty to the mother who, even if for a good reason, had kept his sisters and brothers and had given him up. For quite some time I got a new name: Lee-Anne, which was the best way in which Nicholas could pronounce Lillian. I was not mom yet. 

One day, about a couple of months following their homecoming, Nicholas did not want to get his bath, so I caught him and carried him to the bathtub while telling him and repeating, "I have a prisoner." Nicholas is typically a good loser, and once overpowered he does not get angry, but starts laughing at the situation. Yet, once he was finally in the tub, I thought I had gone too far with the "prisoner thing," and told him, "No, you're not my prisoner: you're my son." Against my expectation, his laughter immediately stopped, and he pushed me away. Rather than finding that a negative incident, I found it to be a very positive one--one that loudly and clearly speaks of Nicholas' loyalty, intellectual abilities way beyond some people's first impression, solid attachment, and need to bond.

It was one day by that time when I was having a migraine and feeling really unwell that Nicholas passed by my side, and we kind of ran into each other. I felt the warmth of his arm against mine--and will never forget that moment when I tthough that had he not been there, I wouldn't have had that warm feeling amidst the misery of my migraine.

Catherine, Warren, Gerard, and my mom loved Nicholas from Day No. 1. Catherine would repeat that he's the cutest child ever. I must admit that for a long time I was not of the same opinion. Slowly I started to get to love him, but still my only concern would revolve around future adoptions. Physically I was at home, but my thoughts were, and still are, very far away.

In December of 2008, when I came back from my first trip to Russia for an intended special needs adoption that would fail in the end, I was surprised when Nicholas jumped out of one of my older children's arms to throw himself into mine. Obviously, he had missed me much more than I could have ever imagined.

Nicholas kept on becoming increasingly bonded to all of us. Yet, it did not bother me to see that he was more closely bonded to my older children than to me. After all, they deserved his love more than I did. One day in May of 2010 during Mass Nicholas surprisingly came up to me, to hug me, kiss me, and show me how very much he actually loved me--something I had never fully realized before. My mom pointed out to me how very happy Nicholas had looked after I had hugged him and kissed him back--how badly he needed to know he did have a mom who loved him back.

Now it seems impossible to even think that at one point Nicholas could bite us. For quite some time when upset Nicholas would still go for his target, open his mouth, and then close it without using his teeth at all. He would smile as if saying, I was about to bite you--but I love you, and won't do it! Twice Nicholas prevented what could had the potential of ending up in a tragedy. At the beginning, when still new to his new home, Stephen would put objects in his mouth in order to scare us to death thinking that he could choke. Once I was working on the computer, and they were playing in the other room, separated by an archway, where I could not actually see them. Suddenly, Nicholas came up to me, grabbed my hand, and forced me to follow him. Initially I didn't pay attention, but my mom immediately realized that Nicholas really meant what he was doing. I followed him--and found Stephen with a toy in his mouth! Another time I had falled asleep on the couch, and Thomas was trying to climb the entertainment center to reach the remote and change the TV channel. Although Thomas had done it before, being able to use only one hand to hold, he could have falled down---on Stephen, who was right there. Both of them could have gotten seriously hurt. Nicholas woke me up just on time.

He is expressive, cuddly, loving, and covers us with hugs and kisses.What else can you ask for? There is something really special in the look in his eyes--the same as there is something really special in the eyes of my three older ones when they look at him. Today, 11/03/11, after the morning rush in which all of us had participated, as it was time for the school bus to come and I was trying to get some work done, Nicholas called me--and he would not go without hugging me tightly and kissing me repeatedly. No matter how much time may go by, no matter how long behind us those erroeneous first impressions of mine may be, there is that poignant sense of guilt of which I cannot get rid. I still keep on thinking I don't even deserve his love.

Opening birthday presents
Catherine is capturing the moment by making a video
Nicholas loves building--and Catherine loves videotaping!
Can love be any more obvious than that?

For now it's only the kitchen table (the antique furniture is still in storage in CA)--but the looks and the smiles are priceless!!!

Nicholas is very busy building something really big. Catherine bought that set for him, and he simply loves it!
This picture is from Nicholas' birthday celebration at school, towards the end of the 2010/11 school year. He does love school!!!

With one of the assistant teachers

Another school picture--the only problem is that the birthday boy is not in it!

Another b-day picture at school

He has many friends--but family is family!!!

Look how much they love each other! (Catherine took this picture at home)
Nicholas and Thomas look so very happy that Mommy got a moment to be on the couch with them. I wish I could have more of those moments. I wish I didn't need to be so busy all the time.

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