Here’s to an AWESOME 2014!

Published December 31, 2014 by megchristo

2014 was one of the best years of my life…..actually probably the best!  I sure hope 2015 can compete!  While tomorrow I will work on goals for 2015, today I want to reflect on the unbelievable events of 2014.  Here is a list of my favorites moments:

1.  Holding Bo in my arms for the first time!

2.  Speaking in front of three audiences of some the smartest people in the world about my passion, Down syndrome.  It certainly didn’t hurt that I was able to give these talks in Monaco, Zurich, and San Francisco.  I hope I am able to continue this work into 2015 and beyond!

3.  Kissing MJ from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

4.  Taking the best awards trip that MJ earned to Bali.  I loved everything about Bali.  I certainly hope that someday I am going to make it back to this beautiful, spiritual island.

5.  Walking on the Great Wall with Elle, Gabe, and MJ. I also loved meeting Amy Doerring in a Beijing park to take pictures of Elle amongst the lotus blossoms.

6.  Meeting Renee Booe in the Zhengzhou airport.  We became instant friends, and I love her heart and mission in life.  I hope to be able to partner with her more to help make a bigger impact to help orphans.

7.  Opening the new GiGi’s Playhouse Des Moines.  While this task seemed to consume all of my “free” time and I think nearly killed me in the process, it has been great to see all the families taking advantage of what we have created.  The sky truly is the limit for individuals with Down syndrome, and we are on a vertical trajectory straight up!  Thanks to all who helped along the way!

8.  Wandering around Monaco with my love on one of the best days ever.  While we were soaking it all in I received updated pictures of Bo via email.

9.  Any time I was able to see Gabe play basketball.  He likes to say my tiger mom pops out when I watch him, and I think I have to agree!  He says he likes it….someday that will end….I know.

10.  Exploring Lucerne, Switzerland and going to the top of Mount Pilatus.  I met a new friend during that adventure, and we ended the day enjoying some delicious fondue. What a beautiful city!

11.  Watching Carsten play baseball, and seeing how awesome his coaches, teammates and the community are to him!  That kid’s smile melts my heart!

12.  The moment we came down the escalators in the Des Moines airport and embraced Carsten, Griffin, Mae, Bo, Elle, and Gabe all at the same time.  Finally we were all together as a family of 8!

13.  Watching Griffin create the best sidewalk chalk pictures I have seen since Mary Poppins!  I don’t know where he got his creative brain, but it is BEAUTIFUL!

14.  I loved watching Elle blossom into a confident, keep up with me if you can 5 year old.  Whether that has been at school, during softball, or while playing with her siblings.  Elle is a force to be reckoned with!

15.  Listening to all of the crazy, sassy, and hilarious things Mae Mae says.  I now finally know what it means to have a toddler daughter.  It’s like someone is constantly popping quarters in her.  She is either talking or sleeping…nothing in between.  Luckily what she has to say is brilliant, funny, sassy, and honest….four things I can never get enough of!

16.  After being home one month, Bo started writing his name, and saying, “B-O, Bo!”  Then he points to himself excitedly.

17.  Taking the kiddos on our first road trip to the Black Hills.  While we had some crazy moments, they all added up to a fun and memorable Christofferson Road trip.  Our new goal is to do one of those a year.

18.  Partaking in the happiest places on earth at Disney World in Florida with the whole family and at Disney Land Hong Kong with Gabe, Elle, Bo, and Matt.  I just can’t help but let my inner child out when I am there.  I am like a smiling fool!

19.  Hong Kong….I don’t think a week goes by without Gabe mentioning something about Hong Kong, and how much he loves it there.  We agree with him.  Hong Kong is the cat’s pajamas!

20.  GiGi’s Playhouse “i have a voice” gala.  This is one of our favorite nights of the year!  MJ and I love it!  We have so much fun with all of our friends and family.  Every year we have had more and more people join us there to celebrate Carsten and GiGi’s.  Last year there were 74 Carsten’s Crusaders there dancing the night away!  That’s 74 people that travel from across the country to show their love and support of us and Carsten!  MJ and I are so blessed to have you all in our lives.  We can’t wait to celebrate with all of you again on February 28, 2015.  This will be our first year to celebrate Carsten AND Bo, and give our financial support to GiGi’s Playhouse Des Moines.  Thank you!

21.  My cousin Sean is official moving in!  The kiddos all love and adore him, and he is such great help to have!  OK…MJ and I love and adore him too!  He is the perfect 9th member of our family. 🙂

22.  Waking Gabe up in the middle of the night to watch a meteor shower.  We actually never even saw a shooting star, but we had a great time anyway.

23.  Having Jo (my mother in law) move to Johnston.  I know!  It’s weird how much I love my out laws….I mean in laws, but I do.  Jo and Brooke have been great helpers this year with the kiddos.  Scott, Jen, and Brooke are always the first to travel back from NC and AZ to attend the gala and Buddy Walk.  They are awesome, and they somehow tolerate me!

24.  Taking an 18 mile bike ride through rural Bali with MJ and our guide.  We were able to meet local rice farmers out at their rice paddies, go through a forest filled with monkeys, visit a Hindu temple, and we visited an orphanage.  The man that ran the orphanage had over 80 kids living there, and he only had volunteers as helpers (which of course is inconsistent at best).  He himself was in his 80’s.  He was so inspiring.  Whenever I think I “can’t” do something, I think about him.  As I tell the kids, can’t never did a dang thing.  Can’t and the Christoffersons have nothing in common.

25.  Being out hearted by my 11 year old.  The morning after visiting the orphanage in China we went down for breakfast.  MJ and I could barely speak because our hearts hurt so much.  Then through the silence Gabe said, “Mom I have been thinking.  With a few modifications to our house, we could adopt that little boy in the wheelchair that didn’t have any legs.”  WOW!!!  Gabe doesn’t seem to have a selfish, shallow bone in his body.  He never worries if doing the right thing….the hard thing…would somehow take away from him.  His heart impresses me.  It’s so genuine and natural.  I can say at 11 years of age I was no where near his level of enlightenment….I still am not sure I am at his level.  I can’t wait to see what he does in this world.

Now 2015….time to plan for how I will make you as awesome as 2014!

Happy New Year everyone!!!!!  Cheers!!!!

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I am overwhelmed with happiness, joy, gratefulness, and love.  I am one blessed momma!

I am overwhelmed with happiness, joy, gratefulness, and love. I am one blessed momma!

SPUR ON LOVE

Published December 14, 2014 by megchristo

We had the amazing gift of having a friend photograph our “Gotcha Day” for Bo in Zhengzhou, China this summer.  I call her a friend now, but we started this journey as strangers.  Renee Booe is an amazing photographer with a wonderful heart.  She felt called to capture the love and emotions of adoption in the hope of “spurring others on in love.”  This weekend I received the CD with all of her amazing pictures.  What a perfect Christmas gift! Thank you Renee!  I wanted to share a few of them here in hopes of helping her reach her goal to Spur on Love.  You can find out more about Renee and her project at http://www.spuronlove.com or email her at reneebooephotography@gmail.com to help her continue her mission.  As always, I am happy to speak with anyone about our adoption journeys.

Enjoy!!

MJ and I are not so patiently waiting for Bo to arrive!

MJ and I are not so patiently waiting for Bo to arrive!

Elle and Gabe are helping me keep watch for Bo's arrival.

Elle and Gabe are helping me keep watch for Bo’s arrival.

Elle sees Bo coming!!!  Bo is here!!

Elle sees Bo coming!!! Bo is here!!

"You all seem so sure, but I am not." :)

“You all seem so sure, but I am not.” 🙂

I waited so long to be able to hold and kiss my sweet son.

I waited so long to be able to hold and kiss my sweet son.

It's official!

It’s official!

Daddy's boy!

Daddy’s boy!

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And family feels good!

And family feels good!

I am overwhelmed with happiness, joy, gratefulness, and love.  I am one blessed momma!

I am overwhelmed with happiness, joy, gratefulness, and love. I am one blessed momma!

To the Mum in the UK and to All New Moms with a Child with Down Syndrome

Published October 25, 2014 by megchristo

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First off let me address the mother in the UK whose adult son has Down syndrome.  Your article broke my heart.  To hear another mother albeit from another generation wish her son with Down syndrome had never been born left my heart hurting and my head spinning with confusion and disbelief.  At first I thought the article had to be fabricated.  No one who has had a child with Down syndrome could possibly say these things because they know what an awesome gift they are to their families.  There was no possible way that a mother really felt this way.  Then I looked at my adopted son Bo, and realized that times and cultures are different.  In today’s time does it have to be that way?  Is it too late for you to enjoy your son in his adulthood?  Is it to late for him to feel appreciated for the person he is vs the person he isn’t?  Is it too late for your community and family to rally around him and let him feel what it is like to be fully loved and cherished?  I truly hope not.  I will keep you and your son in my thoughts, and hope and pray that it is not too late for any of you.

To any new mother or expectant mother of a child with Down syndrome, please do not take what this mother wrote as universal truth.  I must assume it is her truth, but believe me when I say she is by far in the extreme minority.  The times we are raising our children in are different.  Please also listen to my truth, which I believe is more the norm this day and age.  My sons are not anchors to be drug through this life weighing me down. They are sails that help guide my ship on this journey of life. My sons go to public school.  They are in the typical classroom 90% of the time.  They have friends that have an extra chromosome and have friends that just have 46 chromosomes.  Carsten is on the little league team for Johnston.  They go on vacations with us everywhere…Disney, Hawaii, Mt. Rushmore, China.  We have no issues with them travelling.  In fact, they are our best travellers.  Both of them talk, sing, dance, play, run, climb, hug, laugh, love, and live. I think if you talk to any of my fellow “sister mothers” at GiGi’s Playhouse they would all say the same thing.  Our children have given us all so much.  It’s hard for outsiders to understand, and I think that’s why we like to hang around each other so much.  We get it, and we are all passionate advocates for our beloved children.  Perhaps that is also a sign of how things have changed.  We truly have a community.  Just today a bunch of us families gathered together to celebrate Halloween at GiGi’s Playhouse.  Our kiddos always had a great time, and talking with other “sister mothers” strengthens our soul.  We get each other.  When we talked about the article the mother from the UK wrote, we all shook our heads in confusion.  You see our children are not burdens to us.  They are our gifts, our sunshines, our angels, our loves, our children….just like all of our children are.  Do we have challenges?  Of course!  If you have parented any child, you know that you will have challenges.  The biggest differences are that our challenges are a little more anticipated, which can cause unnecessary anxiety.

Please know that our lives are good.  Our lives are rich.  Our lives are fun.  Our lives are very normal.

How I Wish It Would Have Gone

Published October 2, 2014 by megchristo

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Last night I was having a great conversation with a good friend and colleague of mine. She is currently in the process of getting her doctorate degree, and is taking an ethics class. Last week their topic of discussion was on the “ethics” behind terminating a pregnancy when the parents are told their baby has Down syndrome. While I try not to get too emotionally charged about this issue because I know it is a deeply personal decision, I do have a strong opinion that the parents should be given far and balanced information. For example, I don’t think it is right for the physician delivering the news to assume that the parents’ decision will be to terminate. I also do not feel it is “ethical” to give the parents only the scary medical, worse case scenario information without the other side of the story. The other side of the story needs to be told from the perspective of those of us actually living the life. Yes it may seem scary or overwhelming to imagine your life with a child with Down syndrome if your only thinking of the possible health issues, the time he will spend in therapies, how society will accept or not accept your child, and what your other children will have to face having a sibling with Down syndrome. In honesty, these were all things that came crashing into my world when the doctors told me they believed Carsten had Down syndrome 10 hours after he was born. I can now tell you that nearly all of those thoughts and worries have not manifested themselves in reality. As I have said before, fear is dirty liar. Don’t believe fear. Look for the light. In the light, you will find the truth. Do we have hurdles and stress? Absolutely!!!!! The truth is the positive far outweighs the hurdles and stress. It isn’t even close.

So after talking to my friend about my opinions on the topic, she asked how I wished the doctors had told me. After some further contemplation, here is how it went vs how I wish it would have gone.  Take a journey with me into my fantasy of how I wish it would have gone.

How it went: Ten hours after Carsten was born while I was holding our precious new baby 7 doctors (a mix of attendings, residents, and medical students) filed into my hospital room. MJ was sitting next to my bed on the left. They entered silently and very sombrely.

How I wish it would have gone: I wish only two physicians had entered the room. I don’t really care which two, but I feel two could have done the job. I wish they had entered with smiles and happiness. For heaven’s sake I just had a baby….let’s be happy. I wish they would have come over, acknowledged Carsten, and congratulated MJ and me. I wish they would have introduced themselves to us.

How it went: With tears in her eyes, the first attending physician asked if, “anyone had talked with us about the concerns they have about our baby.” After shaking my head no, she says now crying, “your baby has a lot of the markers of a child with Down syndrome.” Then she lists a few of the physical signs that Carsten had.

How I wish it would have gone: I wish she would have:
A. Not cried and instead actually smiled sweetly
B. Used Carsten’s name as the birth certificate had already been filled out and it was official
C. Intermingled some positive words in with her clinical observations. Such as, “see how it looks like he has fireworks going off in his eyes? So beautiful isn’t it?” Really his eyes are so beautiful, and it does look like fireworks are going off in his eyes.

How it went: When I asked what does this mean, the next attending started listing off all of the possible scary medical things that can accompany Down syndrome. Some I needed to know in that moment, but most I didn’t. She started the list by saying “mental retardation.”

How I wish it would have gone: “Individuals with Down syndrome do have developmental delays both physically and cognitively. While intellectual disabilities and delays are a reality, that does not define who they are as people. Carsten will learn to read, ride a bike, and be potty trained. He will do these things on Carsten’s time table, and I don’t know today what that will be. Only Carsten knows. He will have close, loving relationships with his family and friends.  When looking at the impact that individuals with Down syndrome have on their families, there is a research study that was led by Dr. Brian Skotko. Dr Skotko is a geneticist and Co-Director of the Down Syndrome Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, and happens to have a sister with Down syndrome. In his research he found that 99% of parents said they love their child with Down syndrome. I think if you surveyed a group of parents of teenagers you would find a rate much lower than that. (LOL! I don’t think most parents would appreciate humor in this moment, but I would have) He also found that 97% of brothers/sisters, ages 9-11, said they love their sibling. Individuals with DS are living full, happy lives. The important things are to set your expectations high, and most of all love your new baby. That’s really all you need to focus on right now just like ever other new parent on this floor. There are many resources available in the community. I will leave you information about a local group….(insert the blank….now of course I would love for them to give out information about our GiGi’s Playhouse and hand them the binders and book we have left all of the local hospitals.)” Then I wish they would have asked if we had question. Smiled and congratulated us again on our beautiful baby because honestly he looked like a cherub….so cute! 😉

So that’s how I wish it would have gone. I am sure every parent whether they received the news prenatally or after their child’s birth have a movie script like this one. The way they wish it would have gone. This is just mine. I really think it would have made a huge difference, and saved MJ and I a lot of unnecessary tears.  I think this discussion would have shown us the light instead of shrouding our minds in the darkness.

Spur on Love

Published September 22, 2014 by megchristo

We were very fortunate to have a professional photographer meet us in China to photograph our family while in Zhengzhou. She was with us in the moments leading up to holding Bo for the first time and for several days after. Her name is Renee Booe, and I am lucky enough to now call her my friend!

We meet for the first time in the Zhengzhou airport. Instantly I knew we would be great friends! Our mutual friend, Mary Rossow Lewis, connected us via Facebook. It’s amazing what can happen via Facebook and a blog! Mary asked if I would be willing to have a photographer meet us in China to capture “Gotcha Day.” I immediately said of course because…hello…what a gift!!! Renee is currently living in Japan with her hubby and their two beautiful children. She felt called to do something more with her gift of photography, so she started a non profit called “Spur On Love.” The mission is to use her photography to spur others on to love! We were her first project! What an honor!!!!

Please take a look at her project, her website, and if you would so like you can donate to help her keep going on her mission!! She will be sharing the other wonderful families in our travel group’s stories and pictures. Keep checking her site to see more, or sign up for notifications. 🙂 Renee is an amazing person, and I am so thankful for her being with us. I am so grateful for these wonderful pictures that so show all of the emotion going on in those few days. Please also share on Facebook Renee’s page, so it can reach more people to spur on love!!

http://www.spuronlove.com/gotcha-day-bos-adoption-photography/

10 Things I Always Want My Children to Remember

Published September 3, 2014 by megchristo

So it’s a little after midnight, and I can’t sleep. My mind is racing with lessons and words of wisdom I want my children to remember. When they are 80, I want them to look at their grandkiddos and say, “Your great-grandmother Megan always said….blah…blah…blah, and that’s how she lived her life.” So here it goes. I am sure I am not the first person to say these things, but they are still important.

1. Fear is a liar. Fear is a no good coward who keeps you from being the person you really want to be. Fear will tell you your dreams are impossible. It will tell you you aren’t good enough, smart enough, strong enough. Fear is almost always irrational…unless you are in a dark alley and hear strange noises.. Fear is a dirty liar. Slap fear in the face, and push yourself. By the way, fear is the ONLY thing you can slap. You may not slap your siblings, me, the dog, etc. Don’t let fear stop you from being amazing!

I am actually laughing to myself because I use the fear of the “Bedtime Monster” to get my children upstairs and into their beds at night. This tactic actually works, which means two things: #1. I am a genius. #2. I am a terrible excuse for a mother. Fine kids you got me. The “Bedtime Monster” isn’t real. Some nights I am just disparate to get some sleep.

2. Today is the best day EVER!!!!! This is what you got….right now. What happened yesterday doesn’t matter, and what will happen tomorrow is just a figment of your imagination. Enjoy the moment you have today. Breath it all in for the awesomeness it is. Enjoy the colors, sounds, and people around you. Smile because today is beautiful.

3. If money can fix your problem, then you don’t have a problem. This one is my dad’s favorite line…or maybe it’s my favorite of my dad’s many lines. I remember when he would say that to me when I was younger I would think, “Yay, easy to say when you have money.” Now I get it. I look at my life and think I do not have one real problem….not one. Wow! Life get’s a little easier and has a little less stress when you realize you have no real problems. I think my whole family needs a shirt that says that. “We Have No Problems.” I see a family portrait in the near future! Maybe we can make one of those “best/worst family photo lists.” Apparently I need to order the cards through Walmart to get on that list. Consider it done!

4. Speak up!!! When you see injustice, speak up! When no one else is being the voice for the voiceless, speak up! When you see an underdog or friend that needs encouragement, speak up! When you see wrong doing, speak up! You can make all the difference. When you speak, speak from a place of love…speak of love….speak of possibilities….speak of acceptance….speak of a world without boundaries.

5. Be happy. No matter what you choose to do with your life, choose it because it makes your soul sing. Life is short. Everyone will have opinions on what will make you happy…even your dad and me. It comes from a place of love, but we can’t tell you what will make your heart happy. Follow your heart because it will lead you to great and beautiful places.

6. Don’t let others define you. That is 100% your job. Figure out who you are, and let it shine through you and onto others. Other people’s opinions about you and your life do not matter. The only opinion that matters is yours. Isn’t that empowering?

7. Approach every obstacle with a good dose of humor. Other’s may not appreciate your humor or think it isn’t funny at all, but see number 6. The humor is for you…not them. If they appreciate it too, then great. It’s an added bonus. If people found me half as funny as I found myself, I’d be as popular as Ellen DeGeneres. Clearly I am not, but that doesn’t stop me from laughing so hard I cry at my own jokes. Just ask me about Gabe and the pink scooter in China. I still roll with laughter on that one!

8. Life isn’t always easy. At some point you are bound to be faced with real problems or what seems to be a real problem in the moment. Preserver. Dig deeper. Make lemonade out of lemons. These are the moments where true character is built. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by to be a better you!

9. Forgive. Holding on to hurt keeps your heart from healing and growing. Categorizing all the things that someone did to you or said bad about you only holds you back. You don’t have to keep these people in your life, but don’t harbor hatred. Forgive and move on. God only gave you so many tears. You don’t want to waste them all on one person or event. Someday you may need those tears. 🙂 Most importantly, forgive yourself. We are human, and therefore mess up everyday. Acknowledge your mistakes. Learn from them. Forgive yourself. You are too busy to spend time beating yourself up!

10. Love is the strongest force in the world. When you see how much needs to be done in the world, it’s hard to know where to start. The important thing to do is to start! Leave this world a little better than how you found it. Yes, you will have critics. It seems that when people are doing something it makes those that aren’t feel a little uneasy. The easiest thing for them to do is criticize. Smile at the critics, and keep moving forward. There is a lot to do out there. Never give up on the power of exerting love into the world. I guarantee the world will smile back. You may not be able to see the smile, but you will feel it!

I love you my darlings….more than you will ever comprehend….to the moon and back!

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Bo Hansen Zhi Christofferson

Published August 10, 2014 by megchristo

Bo has been our son for almost two weeks after living in my heart for two years, and living for almost exactly 6 years in an orphanage. He has endured more in his short life than most of us can even imagine….not even in our worst nightmares.

We have loved learning who our son is, and seeing his personality begin to blossom. Bo is sweet, clever, mischievous, curious, and fun loving. A few nights ago I received my first kisses from Bo! It was a great moment. My favorite look Bo gives is when he is doing something he knows he shouldn’t. He turns of his million watt smile, and shows off his adorable dimples. MJ and I will need to get better at resisting that smile. We also love to hear him sing and dance. It is the sweetest thing you have ever seen and heard!

For the last two weeks, Bo has been trying to keep up with Christofferson speed of life. I can’t imagine going from a world where you never left an orphanage to the fast pace the last two weeks have been. Taxi rides to here, buses to there, a subway ride to yonder, and plane rides across half the world. Once we are home I am afraid there will be a lot more to get use to….mom’s cooking, a new bed, more sibling, school starting, English, etc.
I am not sure how to prepare all of our family and friends on how tiny Bo is. Even though he is six, he looks more like a 2 year old. He is a tiny little peanut, but wants to do must things on his own. When he sleeps, he looks so much like a baby. He is about the same size Gabe and Griffin were at 1 year old. I am pretty sure Mae will be taller than him. I know she weighs more.

Disneyland Hong Kong was quite a treat! We all loved watching Bo’s eyes light up and get as big as saucers. Such precious memories we made.

Today Gabe, MJ, and I were more than ready to get home. Elle apparently loves hotel living…..either that or the pools. In the beginning and ending of the trip I was so glad you brought Elle and Gabe. In the middle of the trip (in particular Zhengzhou), I questioned our decision to bring Elle Belle. It is a hard, gruelling trip with not much time for fun or silliness. She struggled a bit watching MJ and I give our attention to Bo. She was unsure of her place even though we reassured her often. By the time we got to Guangzhou, she was doing better. By Hong Kong, she was her normal self! Yay!!

Bo did not recognize Elle. Oddly enough he did look at pictures on my iPad. I had some of Elle on Gotcha Day 18 months ago. He yelled, “Yue Yan!” when he saw her picture. I said, “That’s Elle. Yes! Yue Yan is Elle!” He looked at Elle, and shook his head no. Elle just shrugged. I ask Elle if she remembers Bo. She says, “Yes, of course!” When we FaceTime home, all the kids can’t wait to see Bo…especially Griffin. I think Griffin is excited to have another brother to lead around. Bo yells, “Mae Mae!” when he sees her. She puts both hands over her mouth and giggles. Carsten requests to see all of us to give us his smiles. That kiddo steals my heart even half a world away

Gabe has been wonderful through the whole trip. Not because we was exactly helpful, but he was never a problem. I could always count on him for a shiny smile or a positive comment. That was priceless. He says he will adopt 6 children…4 boys and 2 girls. Last night Elle said she was going to adopt three…2 girls and 1 boy. My children have never mentioned a desire to adopt before this trip. Of course they still may not, but I love seeing a light turn on in their hearts! His trip has awakened them both in some way. Perhaps it has sparked a love for humanity. It has has wrestled awake the knowledge of more than just our over indulgent world we live in. Our problems pale in comparison to how others in our world live.

Tonight we will all finally be home together as a family of 8. We will begin to search for our new normal. It will take time, but it will be well worth it! I love my big family!!! I love being home together…finally….all under one roof…all of the birdies in the nest!

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