Friday, December 31, 2010

A Year Ago We Arrived Home from Ukraine

0 What are your thoughts?
A year ago, Nina and I arrived home from Ukraine. The journey was long, and we had been stranded in the Ukrainian airport for 2 days. Stranded in Frankfurt for one day. We were tired, exhausted, and I was an emotional wreck.

The flight from Chicago to Minnesota was short, as soon as you take off it feels like you are landing. Nina had finally fallen asleep in my arms, and I held her close to me.

The pilot announced, "We will be landing int he Minneapolis International Airport in about 15 minutes."

They came slow, but they came with force. Tears began spilling, and soon I was crying out loud, sobbing, shaking uncontrollably. The plane was small, and as my sobs became louder, the plane became quite. I could hear myself sobbing, the lady across the isle glancing at me wondering if she should come over and offer a friendly word. There was no thought of embarrassment. I was finally coming home! It was a long and hard journey. We were finally coming home!

A man waited for us at the gate with a wheelchair for Nina. I propped her down, still sleeping, wrapped in my coat. "please get me out of here as quickly as you can" I pleaded with the airport man. He did, and I was thankful. As soon as the door opened to the baggage claim section (where you finally exit security) I began frantically searching for Andy. As soon as I spotted him, holding Nichole, and Ellie by his side, I began running. Yes, I was the crazy woman, flailing my arms like a crazy octopus. Some hands pushing people out of my way, the others ready to embrace my family. "Andy!" Ellie came running first, and I hugged her tight. Then I fell into Andy's arms and I lost it once again.

I have no idea what the man pushing Nina was thinking, but he was there when I turned to look.

A year has gone by, and what a difference a year makes!
Here are some links of our long journey home:
The Journey Home: Kiev Airport
The Journey Home: Frankfurt, Chicago, and Minnesota
The Journey Home: Reunited 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Poor Visibility and Driving Conditions (Mess on I-94)

2 What are your thoughts?
You know that it might be a hard travel when you hear "Poor visibility and driving conditions. Drive carefully" But really, would you be expecting this?

The 2 pictures above were taken at 10:07 am on I-94 this morning. North Dakota, coming from Bismarck to Fargo. They might seem like the same to you, but they are not. Really, after all day driving through this, they seem are different. In the second picture, the road was "clearing up" a little. Yeah sure, laugh. Yeah, right now, laugh at the minor difference in the picture. I am laughing too. No, really, I am! Because I agree, there is no much clearing up going on, but boy did we love it when the road looked like the second picture for a few seconds. Yeah, you read that right, seconds.

At 10:09 am, we were back on as you can see.
 This following picture was taken at 10:20 am. Now that was a good road! Oh and it lasted...well, a few more seconds! Yeah! Sure you can cheer! You can say, "I am so glad that Andy and Ellen did not have to travel in that treacherous weather all morning/afternoon, and they got  a little break for a somewhat clear road for...well..." let me finish that sentence for you, it was a few longer seconds. Yeah seconds. But do notice, I said longer seconds. It was longer, I promise.

(Sure, you can see ahead that we are about to hit the "brick" or snow once again)

For the next couple of pictures taken at 1:11 pm, please keep in mind that I did not "accidentally" post blank pictures. No really, there is a road in there. No really, I promise. You don't think so? Really, take a closer look. Click on the pictures and enlarge if you need to, but that is a road, it is I-94.

Oh but don't worry, it cleared up afterwards.
Now, this picture makes the road look "nice" compared to the previous ones, doesn't it? Except...wait a second... yeah, that is right, it looked better compared to the previous pictures, but really, is this any better?
 Just a minute later, and still look at that mess.
I-94 was closed due to weather and visibility of up to "zero." Oh really? We thought it was about a "one."
Okay sure, we were on the road, what were we thinking? Just trying to get back home, and there was no pulling over, now that would have been dangerous. With no visibility, the last thing you want to do is be at the side of the road where nobody can see you until they hit you.

We were not going to push it anymore, our plan was to stay in Fargo and stay for the day. When we were only 10 miles away from Fargo (we estimated it would have taken us about 45 minutes to an hour because of how slow we had to go) we were detoured. Turns out there was a bad accident just ahead of us where they estimate over 100 cars were involved. Oh I know, I am given to exaggeration, I know. However, this is no exaggeration. When you are driving 15 miles an hour (sometimes less, sometimes a whooping 25 on the good stretches) when you have limited visibility, and I forgot to mention the road is pure ice, well, one time you see snow, the next there is a car and when you  brake you slide, you hit the car ahead of you. And then since not one person can see more than 10 feet ahead, well...the cars pile up...quickly. And we barley missed being sent away, I bet there were only about 15 cars ahead of us that made it to the detour as well.

The was BAD. And God saved us from what could have been a bad accident as we slid off the road. I do call it a miracle as we slid into the on-coming traffic lane, avoiding a collision in front of us of about 4 or 5 cars, and we slid back into our lane following a large semi with lots of lights (which made it easier to see) It was like God was playing cars and he just gently moved our car away from harm.
This last picture is of Fargo. The town actually, no more I-94. yeah, it looks bad too. And the ice was accumulating on the windshield like crazy. At every stop light, people would get out of the car and scrape the wipers or windshields. It was really that bad.

And if the pictures were not enough fun, I will delight you even more, here is a little video so you can "see" what we could (or could not) see. And for an added bonus, a Veggie Tales song in the background.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Have a Merry Christmas

5 What are your thoughts?
From our family to yours...Merry Christmas!

This year, all 5 of us will be together for Christmas! And this will be Nina's first Christmas! We are so excited for her, as she will be able to get it. She understands presents, and she understands family. Ask her about Christmas and she will point and herself and tell you all about it, "Nina's grandmas and Nina's grandpas, and Nina's aunties and uncles, and Nina's cousins." 

We tried, we really tried to have a nice family picture, and our friend even brought candy to entice the girls. But, there is only so much success you can have with a 3, 4 and 5 year olds. Especially if one refuses to be in the picture, while the others struggle to get real smiles.

 From the mommy and daddy...Merry Christmas!
 From the big sister...Merry Christmas!
 From the little rascal...Merry Christmas! (And this is the face we ALWAYS get now a days when she sees the camera and she is getting her picture taken)
 From the Ukrainian princess...Merry Christmas!
 The rascal wished for pictures to be over.
 And the big girls smile and say goodbye.
I am not sure if I will be able to post as we will be enjoying time with family. But I wanted to share these pictures.

May you have a wonderful Christmas, and take time to think about the wonderful miracle of God, becoming man. Coming to us as a baby, helpless, needy. How helpless we are without Him, and how much we need Him.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Year Ago Nina Left Her First Home

1 What are your thoughts?
A year ago, I walked through the doors of Nina's orphanage, knowing that I would not see that place for a long time. Knowing that Nina would be leaving the only home she had ever known.

One of the workers broke down after lovingly dressing Nina. She quickly exited the room as tears fell down her face. Nina was unaware of what was about to happen. She had no concept of having a mother, and she did not understand what it would mean for me to take her away.
I thanked all the workers for taking care of Nina for three and a half years. I thanked them for what they do for these children. 
We took a picture outside of Nina's home. She was scared, she was nervous. So was I.

The translator and facilitator were with us. Smiling with us, excited to be a part of this day. They too wanted to be remembered on the day that one of the children they helped would be going home to her mama. I am so thankful for all their hard work.

The day was long. Our first night together was a nightmare. She was scared, and she did not understand my funny way of speaking. She cried that night for almost 3 hours. She cried every night.

It has been a year. I would do it again, I would do it all over again. The crying, the screaming, the rejection. All over again. She is my daughter. We have come a long way in our relationship, and we still have a long way to go. But she no longer cries at night, she is no longer scared. She has a family, she has a home.

Here is the post from a year ago.

I leave you with a short video from our first nght. She had had a bath and I had been teaching her how to play with her baby doll (she had no idea what to do with it at first!)

Sunday, December 12, 2010


1 What are your thoughts?
Remember when you were little and you asked yourself, "What do I want to be when I grow up?" The dreams were endless possibilities. I wanted to be a ballerina, a mommy, a chemist, a veterinarian, a lawyer, a psychologist, someone who worked with children with Down syndrome, and a writer.

Little glimpses of those dreams have come true, others will surely never happen.

I was a ballerina until I was 17 years old. Now I teach a dance class for the girls in our homeschooling group. Nothing fancy, but lots of fun. Maybe some day I will get to teach an adaptive class for little girls of all abilities. Right now, there are a few in our class.

I am a mommy!

I have a degree in psychology and counseling.

I have a child with Down syndrome. It was the desire to work with kids with Down syndrome that made me consider psychology. You can read about that on my blog at Everyday Health.

And I still want to be a writer. Well, I suppose I am a writer, or this blog would not be here! Sometimes you just need to share those dreams for people to keep you accountable. I have ventured into actually trying to get some things published. While rejection is hard (the last post, "A Hope and a Future" was a rejected article) it is exciting when someone says "yes." So I venture here and try my hand at writing.

When I grow up, I want to be a writer. What do you want to be?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Hope and a Future

4 What are your thoughts?
I sat up in bed and took a deep breath. The air cold and stale from the scent of vanilla air freshener mixed with the cigarette smoke that oozed from the walls of the black and white one-room apartment. The dark brown curtains tried to conceal the light, yet the morning sun had managed to send a few gray rays to sneak around the folds of the heavy curtain.

A little girl pulled on my sleeve and made the sign “eat,” followed by a string of Ukrainian words. Then in English, she managed to say, “Banana.” It amazed me how for Nina the thought of food was enough to brighten her day, while all I could think of was that it had been six weeks since I had been home, and today would be an especially hard day. It was Christmas.

I carried Nina across the room and set her on the black leather couch that functioned as the living room. I pulled a black coffee table close to her, hence turning the living room into the dining room. Thankfully, there was a DVD player and I had brought some DVDs from home. I played “Signing Time!” for Nina often. She loved the music and I hoped that more signs would stick with her besides the sign for “eat” so that we could improve our communication.

While Nina watched the show, I proceeded to get breakfast ready for her: chamomile tea, dry cheerios and a banana. I set all three items on the small black table and she smiled. I knew we would do this again at least two more times that day. It was always the same, the only things I could get her to eat were bananas and dry cheerios. At least she was willing to drink different flavors of tea.

Once she was settled I turned on my computer ready to check my e-mail messages, it helped me to feel connected to my home. Nevertheless, there were few messages that morning. I realized I was angry that everyone else was happy enjoying their families, while I was stuck half way across the ocean. I settled to find Christmas music on-line and searched for Amy Grant’s rendition of “I Will Be Home for Christmas.” I wanted to sing along, especially the line, “I will be home for Christmas, but only in my dreams.”

After my little outburst of bitterness, I decided I needed to lighten up my mood and find a little Christmas cheer. I plugged in our tiny Christmas tree that was no taller than my forearm. The cleaning lady had brought it for us just two days before. I found a Christmas playlist on-line, and I cranked up the volume.

I sang and danced in the middle of the room while Nina watched intently. Then I scooped her up in my arms, weighing less than my two year old, yet twice her age. We danced and twirled to the music. It was a great ball to which we could wear our pajamas. The lights of the Christmas tree giving the perfect colorful glow to the small room.

However, Nina had lived most of her life with little attention, and after just a few songs, she was done with me, done celebrating Christmas. I set her on the white and black checkered floor and she crawled to the corner where she had a few toys. I knew she would be in her own world until she was ready to eat again.

I sulked the rest of the morning. I was engrossed in my own pity party and the little girl playing at my feet was oblivious as to how I felt. I began questioning if it was worth it. The adoption journey had me emotionally drained and it seemed as if Nina couldn’t have cared less about me. Moreover, back home, I had a husband who missed me and two little girls that cried for their mommy and could not wait to see her again. Every day being away from home was getting harder.

As I caressed my wounded thoughts, I looked over and watched Nina play with a box of crayons. She was dumping them out and then putting them neatly back in the box. For a second she looked back at me, made eye contact and smiled while waving the box. Then she continued with her activity, absorbed in her world. Yet, she had given me a glimpse and acknowledged me, if only for a second.

As simple as that moment was, it was the moment where my Christmas miracle happened. My eyes were opened to the beauty of the scene that took place before my eyes. I was not simply looking at a once orphan girl; I was looking at my child.

The journey of adoption had pushed us against a race of time trying to get our documents ready to get Nina. We had until her fourth birthday to rescue her, all because she had Cerebral Palsy. We knew that in her country she would die if we did not bring her home before that dreaded age where children with special needs are taken from their orphanages and sent to mental institutions. These are places where there is no hope and no future. The possibility of adoption is gone and most children die within a year after being tied down to cribs with little food and no medical intervention.

On that Christmas morning, I had chosen to be depressed wishing for what I did not have. Thankfully, I was reminded of what a wonderful day it was and how much I had to celebrate. I had a new daughter.

The little girl sitting by my feet would never have to go to an institution. She would never again know hunger or abuse. Nina had a family, with a mommy and daddy and two sisters. Her disability would not stop her, but rather she would be able to overcome her limitations with a family standing strong behind her, cheering her on. She would go to school, learn to read and write. There was so much in store for her and her life was full of potential. Nina had a hope and a future.

There were many sacrifices we had to make in order to rescue her and bring her home. Was it worth it? Absolutely!

“Nina” I called. She stopped playing and looked at me again. “Merry Christmas sweetheart” I said.

She didn’t understand what I was saying, so I did the best I could do at the time to show her love. I poured her a cup of more chamomile tea… with an extra spoonful of sugar.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How She Walks

6 What are your thoughts?
When it comes to mobility, Nina is doing pretty well. Her main form of movement is crawling, and she is able to climb almost anywhere. She occasionally uses her walker, but still she does not want to cruise holding on to furniture or try to balance on her own. When we ask her if she wants to walk on her own someday, most of the time she responds, "No, I can crawl."

She seems to have little motivation to try. However, we try to push her to do it as much as we can. She is doing fantastic holding on to one hand. And the thing is, she can walk! If she only realized that she is not balancing or "using" our hand to walk. But as soon as she feels us trying to move our hand, she is done.

Cerebral Palsy can be hard to understand, not only for us, but for her too.

So here is a little video of Nina walking. Her left side is much stronger and her right leg drags a little more. However, she can walk! If she only believed it and was willing to try! Like the PT said, it will be a while for her to walk unassisted. This goes beyond her physical capabilities and has a lot more to do with her emotional capabilities. She is just not ready to let go yet.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A New Name

3 What are your thoughts?
 A year ago today, a little orphan girl unknown to the world, received a new name. A name that would change her life, her future. Her new name meant that she had a family, that she belonged. It was the day that she became a Stumbo... our daughter.

In the car, as we drove away from the court house  towards the orphanage, our facilitator said, "Congratulations! This must have been easy compared to having your biological children, no pain involved." Maybe no physical pain, but the journey had been hard, and it was not over yet. Andy would be leaving in 2 days, and I had no idea that 4 more weeks would pass before returning home.

We arrived at the orphanage where Andy said good bye to Nina. He tried to hug her, give her a kiss. But Nina wanted nothing to do with him. After all the visits we had had, she still would not allow Andy to hold her. The pictures we were able to capture were the short moments when he was able to hold her for the camera.

Meanwhile, we had 2 little girls, eagerly waiting at home for their daddy to return, embrace them, and pour out his love.

The journey has not been easy, it has been hard. Really hard.

When we added a new Stumbo to our family, little did we know what we were getting ourselves into. Sure we had read all about adoption, and we knew it would be hard. We were pushed, stretched, and tried. We even questioned if it had been a mistake.

It has been a year since Nina joined our family.

God called us to step in faith into the unknown and to trust Him. We did. Nina has changed much after a year... but so have we.

A year ago she knew no love from a father, she was afraid of a man that wanted desperately to love her, but now she calls his name. The little girl that was scared to touch him, now rests her head on his shoulder and whispers, "I love you daddy."

A year ago God began to refine us more and more. He opened up our hearts and began working in the deep, selfish, and forgotten places in our hearts. He has taught us much about compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.

"Search me oh God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:23-24

It has not been easy. But it has been good. Really good. It has been life changing. It has been worth it. Worth every tear, every heartache. Worth every smile, every discovery, and simply being able to call her our own. Our daughter, Nina Stumbo.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Depraved Indifference

2 What are your thoughts?
This is why we adopted. The journey has not been easy, but it is worth it. Even through the hardships, we would do it again.

Take a moment and watch. I pray that your heart will be moved.



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