The Dance

OK, I’ll jump in with both feet here. Attachment is hard work. There, I said it. Now that we have that (or rather now that I have it) on the table, I will just jump in with both feet. But first, a bit of housekeeping as I like to call it on my blog. No, this is not my normal posting day (yes Stefanie has a schedule for us which I very much appreciate with my Type-A personality), but I … ahem … missed my last scheduled day due to a momentary hissy fit if you will. Seriously, I have run the gamut of emotions on this latest adoption journey we’ve found ourselves on … and some of them have not been pretty. Alas I feel I’m back on my feet … at least for the moment … and I just have some things I need to put down. Perhaps they will be helpful to someone else.

Why the title? The Dance.

Well I am not a dancer per se. I mean, The Prez and I have had our share of slow dances, especially back in the day when what we would wear to the next high school dance was the biggest worry I had. Seriously folks. Yeah, The Prez and I have been dancing for over 20 years now in one form or another. But I digress. When I think of dancing, I think of one person being in the lead and the other following. Except sometimes, when the people dancing are not sure of their footing or even their hand holding feels a bit unnatural … well the dance can look quite comical and perhaps both people feel it is a bit forced too.

Sound familiar?

This thing us adoptive parents refer to as attachment reminds me of an awkward dance at times where we are just doing the motions, but our heart doesn’t seem to be in it. Other times, it feels so fluid that we think I could soak in this moment forever and never move from this spot. Even if my arms feel like they will just go numb and fall off, I’ll stay like this as long as she is snuggled in and relaxed and completely abandoned to the moment, fully TRUSTING, fully embracing the love I have for her.

I sometimes doubt we’ll ever get there. I am confident the attachment dance is going well in our home with our little girl. But it is hard work. She still struggles at times with complete trust. I don’t blame her. She has been let down a LOT. In the photo above and below, for the first time in 18 months home and after many failed attempts, this past Easter Sunday she REALLY trusted me to push her on this tire swing in our backyard. And she swung with total abandon. Total trust that Mommy would not push her too hard, would stop the swing if she said, “Stop, Mommy!” and would giggle along with her as she enjoyed the moment with complete abandon. It was quite the dance that day as she swung and Mommy pushed and started and stopped the tire swing more times than I could count … each time savoring the huge smile that overtook her face.

Me knowing she was completely trusting … her knowing that I was completely trustworthy.

As the dances continue, some not as magical as the one that day, I have just learned to accept that sometimes the song playing in the background doesn’t seem to fit the moment, or the moment doesn’t seem to fit the song. But we find our groove and the dance continues. And if the music stops, we start it over again. Or sometimes, we don’t have any music at all. And we just wait until she is ready to dance again.

In the night when her wakings arouse the grief and terror all over again, that is when the dance can be the hardest. Who wants to dance at 2 a.m.? I almost laugh (except I know the gravity of their ignorance) when I read pre-adoptive parents considering the 3-4-year-old range “because they don’t want to go back to the middle-of-the-night wakings of babies.” I can’t recall a whole week—a whole seven days straight—where I’ve not been awakened by her cries in the last year and a half. Yes, the dance continues in the wee hours of the night. It has improved: our wee-hour dance, but she still needs that specific dance at times.

My favorite dance is the one that comes out of nowhere, where she comes totally unexpected and says, “I Love You Mommy.” And then she wants some cuddle time … and as quickly as she appears, she is finished with the dance. But I realize that particular two minutes in time was oh so worth the wait and oh so worth the wee hours dance that led us to that dance.

As we are getting so close (that I can almost taste it) to embarking on yet another journey halfway around the world to a son, I know there will be dances. I wonder what type of music his heart will need. I wonder how many times we’ll step on each other’s toes as we try to find the groove. I wonder how the dance will look 18 months from now. I told someone just yesterday that I almost wish I could push the fast forward button and skip the first six months home. But then I realize I would miss so many dances: those first, awkward dances where you often just go through the motions because the EMOTIONS are not there or you’re just not feeling them in that moment. But you go through the motions because as parents, we never want to miss out on an opportunity to dance the attachment dance with our children.

In those moments where you just go through the motions, I think those are the moments where often the “heart” work is most evident. It is easy to dance when our heart is feeling the groove. When it is not, it takes real HEART and hard work. So we dance on knowing that as the dance continues, so does the work in our own hearts and theirs. And we find our groove. And in some of the most magical moments, we do feel like instead of being a spectator watching the world revolve around … we feel like the world is revolving around us.

Reflections from my first time in "the waiting chair"

Welcome to Kristi, our newest contributing blogger. Kristi has three children adopted from China and her newest daughter, Darcy, joined their family in February. Kristi blogs about their family at Fireworks and Fireflies.

Wednesday of this past week I joined a club. A club I never would have imagined myself in just a few short years ago. The waiting chair club.

I’ll have to be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to being a member. Oh sure, I was all “cool hand Luke” until Tuesday. I’d casually toss out a request for friends to pray, but I was calm and relaxed.

But then “the day before surgery” came. As my baby girl’s goniotomy (one potential pressure reliever for glaucoma) drew closer, I became less and less calm, cool and collected and more and more a bundle of raw nerves. I could hardly get my thoughts together enough to compose a post on my personal blog.

The more I thought about it, the more confused about my own emotions I became. On the one hand I knew that there were so many other mothers out there who had/were/will be facing soon much more serious and complicated surgery for their children. Open heart, spina bifida, and various transplants to name a few. So I began to feel guilty for being all nervous about the outcome of outpatient eye surgery for my Darcy.

But on the other hand I kept having flashbacks of Dr. F saying that while she promised to do her best, there are risks associated with any surgery. Risks which in this case include the possibility of permanent blindness in Darcy’s “helper eye.” Or remembering that paragraph about general anethesia that made my head spin and eyes tear up. If you’ve never seen “the paragraph” before, its the one that lists the possible negative effects of “going under.” The one you have to sign right beside so they know you understand the risks associated. The one that includes the words “and in rare cases, death.” In my mind I knew that it is very rare that there are such complications. But I also knew that out of all births, port wine stains only occur in an estimated 0.3% (according to the Vascular Birthmarks Foundation) AND (according to WebMD) only about 8% of people with facial port wine stains have Sturge Weber Syndrome. Leave it to me to let my mind wander…

So I was vacillating between guilt and fear. Honestly neither was a pretty destination for my thoughts.

The good news is that eventually I got a post up to let family and friends know that we were finally approaching a potential solution for Darcy’s eyesight. And I requested prayer. I wasn’t eloquent enough to get a list of specific things to pray about up, but I did get a general call out there. Pretty soon comments, emails, and phone calls started rolling in. About that time, peace returned to my soul.

Peace returned because I realized what the problem had been. I had wanted to take control of the situation. I wanted to be the one to make Darcy’s eyesight better. I wanted to be the one to protect her and keep her safe. I wanted the surgery to be successful. I, I, I…

While it is of course natural ~ and I guess somewhat good ~ to have all those desires, the problem was that I was trying to take it all out of God’s hands. After all, I’ve known since my first dream about a daughter named Darcy that He has been writing her story to become part of our family ever since she entered the waiting child list. I had to place my trust back in Him. Because if He brought us this far, He wasn’t going to leave us now…

And Wednesday night in my exhaustion I nearly cried when I read emails that listed all the specific things people prayed about in the hours leading up to Darcy’s surgery. Prayer requests I wanted to make on Tuesday but was unable due to my guilt and fear inner turmoil. Prayers requests that were offered ~ and this next part is HUGE here ~ by other Mamas on the other side of sitting in the waiting chair for the first time. Women in this circle who have gone before me and understand the fear. Prayers that were answered even though I was not able to communicate them.

Things like: Darcy ~ my kiddo who toddles down the hall most mornings straight from her bed saying, “Ma-ma, I eat cereal” on her way for her morning hug ~ would not be miserably hungry as she waited for surgery scheduled around 10:30. {She never even asked for as much as a drink from the time she woke up until she went back for surgery}

My peace of mind. I think that’s enough said. {I caught up on a book club reading, went downstairs to check out their pediatric eyeglass frame options, and chatted calmly with Ian while we waited. And I was not anxious, at all. Well, okay, I did get a bit uneasy,when it was about an hour after Dr. F came out to talk to us and we still hadn’t been called back to Darcy in recovery. But the recovery nurse eventually called me back to be with Darcy as she woke up because she had been in my shoes before.}

Her surgeon would be skilled. {We knew that Dr. F was a leader in pediatric glaucoma. Then Wednesday we met another family whose daughter also has Type II Sturge Weber who did extensive research on pediatric glaucoma surgeons and flew in from Chicago to have Dr. F do their daughter’s surgery. This woman shared that Dr. F is considered the top in the country.}

Darcy would wake up gently. I had been warned that many kids come up swinging or very agitated. {She rolled over, said “Mama” and reached out her arms to me. No crying, no fear.}

Darcy would not experience nausea. {She downed four packets of graham crackers and 16 ounces of apple juice in recovery and then managed to eat a banana and an entire package of Ramen upon our arrival home.}

Darcy would have a quick recovery. {It was all we could do to keep her from playing rough with her older siblings that afternoon.}

Follow up medications would not be an issue. {She gets eyedrops ten times a day (Four different types, some four times, some two times ~ it’s complicated enough that we have a daily calendar…) and calmly lays her head back each time we come at her with a bottle.}

These are just a few examples of things that people wrote in comments and emails that they prayed for. There are more.

And will be again. Next time.

Because even if this surgery was successful (we won’t know for sure for about five more weeks) there will be the other half of the goniotomy. And if it wasn’t successful there will be surgery to implant a tiny stint.

But what I must remember is that I wasn’t in that chair on Wednesday alone. There were so many who have sat there before. Knowing just what this Mother’s heart was feeling. Knowing just what my concerns were. And praying.

And most importantly, Darcy’s Heavenly Father was listening.

While I can’t say that I think I’d ever get to the point of liking the waiting chair, now that I’m on this side, I know that I can face it again.

And when you are the Mama getting ready for your first time in the waiting chair, know that you will make it too. Because when anxiety takes over and you don’t know what to pray for, I’ll be among the group of Mamas able to lift up specific prayers for you and your sweet child just like so many other mamas did for me.

Are You Looking For The Blessings ?

I am writing this post from Uganda as I prepare to meet my newest two angels … As I have mentioned before when we put in our paperwork we didn’t check the box marked SN this time … Maggie is still keeping us on our toes and with lots of surgeries now and in her future we just weren’t sure it would be something we could handle, but then God gently nudged us towards our sweet Joseph … I have no idea what today will hold, but I do know that I am looking for the blessings from the Lord in it all … THE HARD, THE JOY, THE SCARED, THE LOVE, THE STRENGTH, ETC …. A couple of weeks ago I was standing in my kitchen when Maggie walked in and said, “Mom, I so happy I have a family, I love you.” I was standing in my kitchen in the presence of the FATHER weeping at this gift … He was doing a mighty work in healing Maggie and I was His vessel … I want to be His vessel again to love on Joseph as he finds his way w/ his hearing impairment … I can’t tell you how many people have asked me how bad it is or how much can he speak or have you learned sign language … I probably should know all of that or be better prepared, but honestly I feel like God will direct it all … If he is completely deaf we will go in one direction and if he is partially deaf we will go in another … I trust the Lord will guide us and we have an amazing facility in TN for hearing impaired … Scared yes, and looking for God to show us His blessing each step of the way …

UPDATE ON MAGGIE … Her scalp expansion is going well … The doctor would like for us to start coming twice a week and it will take a few more months … Big prayer request – He may need to put in another expander if one of them doesn’t start expanding more of the scalp … Please pray w/ me that another surgery like this is not needed …

Blessings and check out our blog for updates on my journey here in Uganda !!!

Whatever Wednesday

Each Wednesday we post links from the previous week that touch on special needs adoption. Our hope is that these small snapshots provide you with a glimpse of life after adopting through China’s waiting child program… both the long-term blessings and the challenges that come with parenting a child with special needs. We also hope to raise awareness about a variety of special needs.

Jack went to the dentist!
adoptive momma (China) Deb at The Invisible Red Thread… great news about dental work her cleft-affected son does NOT need

Hospital Update: Easter Sundayadoptive momma (China) Awesome Cloud’s Mom at Zhe Shi Wo Ying… a short report about her son’s intestinal blockage as a result of recent surgery

Surgery and We’re Home — adoptive momma (China) Kristi at Fireworks & Firefliesthoughts and emotions one day before her daughter’s goniotomy surgery

china addresses it’s great withinadoptive momma (China) mama d at the life that was waiting for us… listing the recent changes within China’s orphan care program, including the fact that the Half the Sky program will be phased out within the next five years

H.E.L.P.M.E. — adoptive momma (China) A at grrltravels… what should she do about kindergarten for next year?

Questions for the Spina Bifida Clinic — adoptive momma (Ukraine, Russia and Siberia) Christine at Smiles & Trials… questions she plans to ask at the spina bifida clinic


When I was pregnant with our third child, our second daughter, I made a mistake not uncommon to mothers who encourage free thinking in their children, free thinking in principle at least. I asked the kids what they’d like to name their sister.
At ages 8 and 5, they were short in stature, short in temper, but not short in creativity or determination.
“Chrysanthemum!” they both shouted.
I should have seen it coming. The title of Most Requested Book in our house that year belonged to Chrysanthemum, written by the immensely talented Kevin Henkes. In the story, the little mouse, Chrysanthemum loved her name. She loved it, that is, until she started school. Teased by the other children, the name she once thought was absolutely perfect, was now absolutely dreadful. Poor Chrysanthemum wilted. But with lots of hugs and kisses and Parcheesi (not to mention a sympathetic music teacher, Delphinium Twinkle), Chrysanthemum finally blooms.
Despite my insistence that Chrysanthemum (It scarcely fits on a name tag!) would not be gracing their sister’s birth certificate, my son and daughter patted my belly and whispered, “Chrysanthemum. Chrysanthemum. Chrysanthemum.” They went at me tag-team style. “It’s absolutely perfect,” one would say. And then the other would finish the quote. “And precious and priceless and fascinating and winsome.”
In the final weeks of pregnancy, sensing my determination, they suggested a last minute alternate name, the equally unique moniker of Blossom Sprout. I’m embarrassed to say that my husband and I caved. Well, we compromised. The kids were so enamored with floral names, that when their sister was born, we agreed that she was as beautiful as a Rose. It was absolutely perfect. Just like our baby.
Five years later, we all stared at the computer in awe of the stunning baby girl whose picture graced the screen. Our new daughter. Their new sister.
Her name was Jin Qiu Ju. The paperwork said, “Jin is the name of all babies from our institution and means gold.” The name “Qiu,” it said, “is for Autumn, the season when she was found.” That was it. Nothing about Ju.
We called my brother-in-law, who happens to be fluent in Mandarin. He asked us to scan the name onto our computer and send it to him so he could check the character to be sure. We waited together for him to call us back.
The phone rang. “It’s a very popular name in China,” he said. “An auspicious character. It means Chrysanthemum.”
Tears came to my eyes. I announced it to the children, “Her name is Chrysanthemum!”
“Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum,” they all chanted.
They finally had their sister, Chrysanthemum. It was absolutely perfect.
Just like our baby.
And oh yes, we’ve found that she’s also precious and priceless and fascinating and winsome.

This I Can Give Her

Since my daughter’s birthday, I have been thinking long and hard about what she lost to be part of our family. After blogging about it, I received a number of emails asking if I feel guilty for taking my daughter from a loving foster home. The answer to that is complicated. In a perfect world, Cheeky would never have been separated from her biological parents. She would not have been in foster care in a country where family size is mandated by law. She would not have been on the shared list, and she would not have become my daughter.

But this is not a perfect world, and Cheeky’s story, like all of ours, is filled with imperfections and little and big sorrows. That is part of who she is, and to effectively parent my daughter, I must acknowledge it.

There is a picture of my daughter sitting in her first grade classroom in China. It was taken the day my husband and I arrived in Chongqing, just hours before we met Cheeky. She is at the front of the classroom, looking at the camera. My eyes scan the photo each time I look at it. I see the other children – little boys with round cheeks and glossy dark hair cut short, little girls with pigtails or ponytails. And there is my daughter, right at the front of the class, her hair clipped boy-short. She wears a half smile, but I know that she is not happy in the photo, and I think that while I paced a hotel room, sick with dread and fear, she sat in her classroom, filled with the same emotions.

Since Cheeky’s birthday last week, I keep going back to that place and those days when we barely knew each other. Cheeky came to me as a seven-year-old. She walked into my arms on June 22, 2009. There has been no turning back for either of us since then. Cheeky accepted us as easily and quickly as we accepted her, and our story has been one filled with joy and discovery and very little drama. Often, I feel guilty for the ease at which we all transitioned into a family. And then something happens, like the March 31rst phone call between Cheeky and her China Mom, and I am reminded that there has been drama and grief. The fact that there has also been joy does not negate what was lost and does not take away the sorrow of that.

I blogged a few days ago about how it hurt to parent Cheeky. Not because she is a difficult child or because I mourn the time we didn’t have together, but because I cannot give her back what she has lost. As much as I love her, that love can never replace the love of her China family. It should never replace that love.

To feel the truth of that is to understand the paradox of adopting a child from a loving foster home. We know that these children must have a family name to call their own. We know that they need the stability that only a forever family can give. And so we bring them home. We give them the best of ourselves. We pour it into them…all that love and care and acceptance. If we are fortunate, as I have been, our children lap it up, drink it down and thrive. Trust builds, love grows, we move into an easy rhythm of togetherness that is called family.

But, as much as we give and love and accept, there are always pieces of our children’s hearts that belong to other homes and other families.

To sit with Cheeky and talk about how she misses China Mom breaks my heart, the reality of her loss sweeping over me. To not talk about it would break Cheeky’s heart, and so we must look back even as we move forward.

Cheeky’s world has expanded since her years in China. Now, it includes two mothers, two fathers and a host of siblings. On days like today, when Cheeky mentions China family frequently, I boot up my laptop and pull up the photos that China Dad uploaded while we were in China. I sit with my daughter, pointing to the photos, naming the people who were once her entire world, and listening as she tells me stories about a past that we did not share.

“There you are, Cheeky,” I say, “Getting a piggyback ride to the taxi that will bring you to meet us. There you are, waving goodbye. There you are, in the taxi with the ladies from the orphanage.”

There you are….

coming to me, while I am coming to you.

And sometimes, I have to hide my tears.

But Cheeky is never sad when she talks about her China family. She simply wants to look and share and remember, and I must remember with her. No matter the hurt it brings. I cannot give my daughter what she has lost, but I can give her this.

There you are, Cheeky, coming to me while I am coming to you.

That is the triumph of this story. Because there is not simply sorrow at my daughter’s losses, but joy in what we both have found. Two people with separate pasts, separate loves, separate families, looking into each others eyes and realizing they are home.

"How much did they sell her for?"

I originally posted this on my blog one month after returning home from China with our first daughter – almost 5 years ago. We’ve heard a few variations of this question over the years and even though we get better at answering the questions, we never really get used to them.


I went to Walmart yesterday and found $200 worth of things I didn’t even know I needed. However, there was no charge for the amusing conversation I had with the cashier (Socorro) who noticed right away that Gwen was Chinese.

I had a bit of trouble understanding her because of her very heavy accent but she was chatty and seemed proud that she was able to guess that Gwen wasn’t my daughter.

I explained that she *is* my daughter and happily added that she was adopted from China just a few weeks ago. She paused her scanning duties briefly and looked me straight in the eye and asked me with great curiosity how much the Chinese people sold her to me for.

I should point out that she wasn’t hostile with her questions. Even so, I was a little bit taken aback. Maybe she just assumed there was a market for Chinese babies and, somehow, the birth mothers of these children benefited financially from the transaction. She probably couldn’t imagine any other motive for a mother to give up her baby. It’s not unusual that she thought this so I (nicely) set her straight.

Truth is, Gwendolyn cost less than the hospital bill for my bio son’s birth 17 years ago.

I explained that most of the adoption expenses were for fees here in the United States and airfare and government fees in China. The orphanage got some of the money (which helps improve the quality of life for the other orphans) but the birth mother would never be identified and she gets nothing. I spoke, briefly, of the one child policy and the difficult choice the birth family probably faced.

Everyone in line behind me seemed keenly interested in our discussion. They all thought Gwen was adorable and they were shocked that she’s only been in our family for 5 weeks since she looks so comfortable with me. I enjoyed this opportunity to be an Ambassador to China-Adoption and clear up some pretty big misconceptions!

on the road to healing

Today’s guest post is contributed by Connie, mom to eight children… two recently adopted (at the same time!) from China through the SN program, Kooper 14, and Kinley 2. Connie has shared their adoption story on our Family Stories page, and blogs about life as a mom of many at One More Ladybug.

No doubt, adoption is full of so many unknowns. Our children from China come to us just as they are, many times confused, frightened, broken, without express, without emotion, like a puzzle missing many pieces.

Older children are no exception. Even though they may have memories of their past, they may be unwilling or unable to express what they’ve experienced or how they feel about it.

As I reflect on the five months since Kooper came home, I realize how difficult this transition has been for him. I don’t know what he was told to prepare for meeting his American parents. Based on his actions the first week in China, he was likely told to ‘behave.’ That became increasingly difficult for him, unnatural even. At the time we had no idea how hard he must have been trying to ‘behave,’ but with the passing of time we know his tendency is to look out for himself with no regard for others.

Communication was difficult for all of us, but Kooper didn’t even want to try. It was easier for him to involve himself in a computer game or movie than to attempt conversation with his new parents. It wasn’t until we returned home and began interacting as a family that we realized our son was emotionally six years old, even though he is chronologically 14.

The first few months were difficult but considered ‘normal’ in the transition. Eventually, at about the fourth month home, there were more ‘good’ than ‘bad’ days. He seemed to be getting slightly closer to his siblings, although he wasn’t interested in trying new things. And then we had this week!

Kooper started every day angry. In looking back, we can only note the things that are different about this week: he is on sinus medication; he is back to home schooling after spring break; and he has been to the doctor a few times.

As a mom to eight kids, my human response to his obstinate behavior would be, “Dude, I don’t have time for this; you can go to your room until you’re ready to cooperate.” But God has given me amazing people who have traveled this path and survived the rocky terrain!

We’ve begun to understand that our son is unintentionally seeking what is ‘normal’ to him. He is seeking opportunities to be alone, to be in his ‘safe place.’ See, his story has never had a ‘happy ending.’ He’s endured at least four abandonments. He doesn’t even know if he feels good or bad about those broken relationships; all he knows is that is ‘normal.’ He can’t comprehend a happy ending because he’s never experienced one!

Kooper has no concept of a forever family. He has called us Mama and Dad from the beginning, but those names do not carry any real meaning to him. Whether he’s frightened, sad or angry, he doesn’t know. He is doing what seems natural: “If I don’t trust you, don’t depend on you, then I won’t be hurt when you turn from me, I won’t have to perform for you, I don’t have to risk anything for fear of failing you…or knowing you are going to fail me.”

This knowledge has been huge for us! Even though we couldn’t tell him how much we love him any more than we already do, show him how much we love him, or demonstrate our love for his siblings any more than we do, he simply can’t make that connection. It has changed my response to his behavior.

God has granted me the grace (even in my frustration) to explain to Kooper that we are family from ‘beginning to end.’ I’ve explained to him that his ‘good’ or ‘bad’ behavior doesn’t change how much I care for him. He can make good choices or bad choices, and either way, we will not leave. I drew a picture of our family, and explained how his smaller siblings sometimes must go to the ‘naughty spot’ for making wrong choices. That is the consequence of their action, but it does not change how I love them. Of course, this is something that he doesn’t immediately understand, but with time and repetition it will begin to become truth to him.

Where do we go from here? With Kooper’s reluctance to learn, we have decided to seek the advice of professionals. He will take a non-verbal IQ test this week, just to help us understand where to begin. A month from now we will visit the International Adoption Clinic for evaluation of his needs , lab tests and practical advice on how to move forward. Kooper shows signs of various ‘syndromes’ and ‘disorders,’ but without confirmation, we are not trying to self-diagnose or play out the worst case scenario. After all, God moved mountains to bring our son home; He can move even more to make him whole again.

From Food Phobia to Food Network

A couple of weeks ago, I read a post written by a fellow adoptive mom about her son’s recent choking scare. It got me thinking about something… when you are waiting to adopt, social workers use phrases like “attachment issues” and “institutional behaviors,” but you don’t often break those phrases down to recognize what specific issues you might face. But they can occur, no matter whether you adopt through the special needs program or – like we did – through the non-special needs program.

Institutional behaviors. They range from self-soothing techniques to institutional autism to the far-less-scary-sounding food issues. You know, “small” things… like choking. And hording. And oral defensiveness. And oral-motor delays.

When we first met the Tongginator a little over five years ago, in Nanchang, she ate like a champ. She opened wide whenever we presented her with steamed tofu, watermelon, stage three baby food and congee. She loved mashed bananas and scrambled eggs. She didn’t enjoy her bottle all that much, but we just figured we weren’t getting the temperature or thickness right, not to mention the personal nature of bottle feeding during the early stages of bonding and attachment.

Then we arrived home.

Within the first week home, we met with our pediatrician, who happened to be very concerned that our twelve-month-old was less than 14 pounds and severely malnourished, with rickets. Our pediatrician decided that the biggest obstacle we faced were the hundreds, if not thousands, of empty calories in the Tongginator’s daily bottles. Although we’d been slowly lessening the amount of rice flakes in each of the Tongginator’s bottles, she reacted with stiff resistance to our efforts. Now… I’m one tough cookie when it comes to parenting. I used to be a teacher, often with students who displayed significant behavioral challenges. And *insert sarcastic tone of voice* it might surprise you to learn that I’m strong-willed. (Just a tad, mind you.)

Unfortunately, so – too – is the Tongginator.

After two more weeks of oh-so-gradually reducing the amount of rice flakes in the Tongginator’s bottle… and patiently introducing the Tongginator to new foods that WEREN’T the consistency of steamed tofu (did y’all notice that texture trend in her list of accepted foods?)… the husband and I felt ready to cry uncle. The Tongginator expressed her frustration in many strong and various ways, including one 72-hour hunger strike. That’s when we all came to realize that the Tongginator didn’t simply dislike her new diet, she also didn’t know what to do with it once it reached her mouth. She didn’t like the new textures, but she also did not know how to chew. Or swallow properly.

She choked on thin liquids especially.

To teach her how to suck, we bought countless bottle nipples, in both China and the United States, making each hole slightly smaller in China, then transitioning to X-shaped slits, then the size four bottle nipples. Our pediatrician and occupational therapist asked us to go one step further, switching to size three bottle nipples, so we did. And the Tongginator gradually learned how to better suck thick liquids.

She still didn’t know what to do with thin liquids however.

It took four months of extreme patience; therapy; countless trips to the grocery store to purchase organic juices, regular juices, smoothies, shakes and all manner of other tempting drinks; and a God-inspired idea to try decaf iced tea before the Tongginator successfully drank her first sip of thin liquid. Without spitting it back out. Or choking. During those four months, we also worked on strengthening her oral-motor skills by trying to drink through straws, blowing cotton balls across tables and bubbles into the air, chomping on chewy tubes, waggling our tongues and licking peanut butter off of our lips.

And yes, I did everything she did, including the tongue waggles.

(And yes, I’m sure it was a sight to behold.)

We also worked VERY hard to overcome her extreme oral defensiveness, with the coaching of her OT, by gently inserting different objects into her mouth to help her get used to different textures. She screamed and thrashed during each experience, which occurred at least ten times a day for about a month. I know that seems like cruel and unusual punishment, but our occupational therapist insisted on this. And it’s a good thing she did… otherwise how would we have ever gotten the Tongginator to tolerate such strange, yet necessary objects like infant or toddler toothbrushes, infant medicine droppers, infant or toddler eating utensils (including chopsticks), straws and sippy cups, thermometers, and on and on? How about dental tools and musical instruments and all manner of things as she grew older?

Once we overcame the worst of the Tongginator’s extreme oral defensiveness and oral-motor delays, we encountered a new challenge. The Tongginator? Was a hoarder. She hoarded food by hiding it around the house and in her mouth. She often displayed what we called her “chipmunk cheeks.” And she also didn’t know how to recognize when she’d had enough to eat. Twice as a toddler she over-ate to the point of spitting up.

All of this put her at high risk for choking, especially since she continued to struggle with some oral-motor delays.

The Tongginator’s pediatrician, occupational therapist and registered dietitian gave the husband and I many helpful coping skills. We learned to measure her amounts of food and record how much we served and how much she ate. We learned to serve small portions in timed installments during each meal. We learned to cut up her food pieces into much smaller bites than is typical for a same-aged child. We learned to say, “show me… aaaahh” and open our mouths, so that she would then do the same and we could check to make sure she was not hoarding food in her cheeks. If she was, I’d tell her to “make it gone or Momma will have to.” Most of the time she’d swallow what we’d jokingly call “her leftovers,” but sometimes I would have to scoop it out.

The husband also got great at hanging the Tongginator upside-down by her ankles and pounding on her back when she DID choke.

And we learned to navigate her fears that the meal she was currently eating was her last. We did this by serving food on an extremely regular schedule, every two hours, on the two hours. Friends nicknamed her “The Hobbit” because she ate first breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, lunch… well, you get the idea. We also kept some food visible, yet out of reach, at all times so that the Tongginator could feel reassured that food was available, if not accessible. And we remained patient.

Now? Five years later? The Tongginator is an incredible eater, willing to try all manner of new foods and self-confident enough to eat food that other children tease her about. She eats healthfully and knows to stop when she’s full.

She’s also a tad obsessed about food.

She still thinks with her stomach. And her favorite television channel is The Food Network. And she still won’t drink milk without Carnation Breakfast added to it. And she constantly talks about food and looks at food and loves to cook food. So no… I don’t think her food issues have disappeared.

But I do think that – at age six – she’s doing a darn good job learning to control them.

Whatever Wednesday

Each Wednesday we post links from the previous week that touch on special needs adoption. Our hope is that these small snapshots provide you with a glimpse of life after adopting through China’s waiting child program… both the long-term blessings and the challenges that come with parenting a child with special needs. We also hope to raise awareness about a variety of special needs.

Luke 2adoptive momma (China) Nicole at The Baker Sweets… thoughts and emotions after their recent trip to see their developmental pediatrician and later a comment from a stranger who overheard her discussing the trip

Mamaadoptive momma (China) Cheri at Infinite Love… the reaction she received from her daughter upon arriving home after a two-week trip to China to adopt their son

My baby’s eyesadoptive momma (China) Kristi at Fireworks & Fireflies… detailing a recent trip to the pediatric ophthalmologist

Dear Moms Like Me
adoptive momma (domestic and the Ukraine) Tracie Loux at From the Heart… a letter to mommas who parent children with emotional special needs

Geographic Tongue adoptive momma (China) snapshot at Somebody Needs a Nap… a short, informational post (with photo) of geographic tongue

Reduced-Stress Easter adoptive momma (foster care) Hartley at Hartley’s Life With 3 Boys… a list of stress-reducing hints for Easter, especially if you have a child struggling with sensory issues

We Are Home
adoptive parents (China) Glenn and Lori at Our Life With Nora… describing their daughter’s cochlear implant surgery, with photographs

Older Child Adoption and the Education Dilemma
adoptive momma (China) and Love Without Boundaries (LWB) volunteer Lisa Kaden at the LWB Community… navigating education issues with older child adoption

Against All Odds — adoptive momma (China) Paulette at Love You Forever… Annalise beats the odds and is potty training

Grace Owes Me Big Timeadoptive momma (China) Ellen at Frannie’s Journey… a family navigates bleeding issues after cleft palate surgery

brain to toes — adoptive momma (China) Kris at Tell Her This… reactions after hearing an initial diagnosis of chiari II malformation