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find my family: Simeon

November 20, 2014 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

We are so very happy to report that 13 of the original 15 Bamboo children have found their forever families. Nearly all are in their new homes and adjusting to the overwhelming love available to them by their parents & siblings…ADORE is not a strong enough word! And they are thriving; what some medical care, a little protein and a lot of love will do for a child.

China has continued the release of children with Down syndrome to multiple international adoption agencies. This sweet boy is still waiting and he NEEDS a new forever. Simeon, now age 2, with Down syndrome

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Simeon enjoys listening to music & playing with toys. He kicks his cushion when there is music playing and laughs when teased. Simeon enjoys sitting and watching the other children play. He also enjoys being cuddled. Isn’t he precious?? I know he would absolutely thrive with a loving home and a little bit of therapy. If you or someone you know (please forward this anyone you think may be interested!) would like more information regarding this cutie patootie, please call 1-877-64-ADOPT or visit Bethany. This little guy is on the Shared List making him available to any agency should you be established somewhere other than Bethany Christian Services.

Simeon’s family likely already has a heart for their child they’ve never met. Please join us in praying that they are able to step out in faith to bring their son HOME soon.

It turns out that chicken fried rice does not count as culture

November 19, 2014 by Mike 5 Comments

I am the textbook definition of a white guy. Beyond simply a scarcity of melanin, I have almost every other stereotypical characteristic that one might associate with my race – a general lack of rhythm, limited vertical leap, a “John Cougar Mellencamp” playlist on my iPod, an unhealthy relationship with ketchup, and a generalized ignorance of what it means to be in the majority… because I have never known anything else.

To paraphrase John Mellencamp’s famous ballad to another Indiana village, I grew up in a “white town.” My graduating class in High School had almost 700 people, and I would guess that 680 of them were white. (Even my ignorance of this number speaks volumes. I suspect that my classmates in the minority could tell me exactly how many people from their race were in our class… with the answer sometimes being “one.”)

With this as background, it may be surprising to learn that I ended up in a family that is 50% non-white. With the adoption of 4 Chinese children, I now have more Chinese people in my house than I used to have in my entire neighborhood. (It is a strange irony that I also have more Chinese kids in my house than 99.9% of the families in China.)

In the course of the international adoption process, my wife and I were required to take several hours of adoption preparation classes. One of the most common topics in those classes was on how to celebrate and preserve my adopted child’s native culture.

During one class, we were required to watch a series of videos. One of the videos featured adults who had been adopted transracially. When asked about his experience, one young man explained how important it was that his family lived in a diverse community where he could meet and interact with people who looked like him.

To be transparent (a reference to authentic communication, not the almost see-through nature of my pale skin), I was not open to this message.

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A picture of our four Chinese kids on the first day of school.

I was not an opponent of having a diverse community or celebrating their cultural heritage, but I could hardly argue that I was a passionate advocate for it. Having grown up blind to the hidden privilege and omnipresence of my own majority status, I had no appreciation of the value of cultural identity. I would probably have argued that it was “good,” but I would not have called it a “critical” or “urgent” need for our family or my youngest four kids.

I mistakenly assumed that their cultural identity would shift when their last name and citizenship did. I thought I was being egalitarian in my assumption that their needs would be no different than those of my bio kids. From a cultural identity perspective, I mistakenly assumed that their membership in our family was “enough.”

I was wrong.

There have been a lot of examples over the last few years where my cultural competence and sensitivity has grown. I now feel out-of-place in restaurants populated only with white people, in contrast to an entire youth spent in precisely those same places.

But nothing has driven this reality home more than our recent school change.

Late last year, we felt led to look at some different school options. During our search, we came across a very small school just about a mile from our house. (That tells you how small it is… since it was a mile away and we didn’t even consider it before now. 

This school is special in many ways, but any visit would highlight one of its most noteworthy aspects – only 30% of the students are white. Almost 50% of the kids are Asian. (For perspective, a professional photographer who visited recently described it as one of the first times he could photograph a “diverse” mix of kids without needing to stage the shot.)

Mom and the Four Littles

A picture from Grandparent’s Day at the school. It may be hard to believe that the woman in the middle is the aforementioned grandmother (my mom)… not because she is a different race than the kids but because she could not possibly be old enough to have grandchildren.

While the diversity numbers were impressive to my wife and me, they were downright shocking to our kids.

For the first time in their life in America (outside of our local Chinese restaurant), there were more people that looked like them than there were that looked like us.

 

To be clear, both our church and our first school have Chinese kids… but almost all of them were adopted internationally. Their parents look like me. This is what led to the fascinating observation by one of my kids – “Did you notice that the moms and dads of the Chinese kids at my new school are Chinese?” (in a tone conveying far more shock than that seemingly obvious statement would normally merit.)

 

This was only one of several sobering and insightful quotes from our early days there:

  • “Do you feel weird?” – One of our boys whispered this question to my wife at a school event where she was one of the only white people in the room.
  • “He’s your kind. What are you called?” – A dinner-table response when asked to describe a new classmate. Based on the description and some follow-ups, we determined that the classmate is white.
  • “Do you think that is what my tummy mom looks like?” – Our daughter’s question, tinged with both hope and sadness, upon first seeing a “Chinese mom” at the new school.
  • “My Chinese words are sleeping.” – Our daughter’s frustrated response when unable to respond in Chinese to a question from one of the moms who, incredibly, comes from her same town in Hunan Province.
  • “Oh, that’s great! We are Chinese, too!” – My Caucasian wife’s enthusiastic response when trying to connect with a “fellow” Chinese mom. It took her a while to explain after the long awkward pause.
  • “Sorry about that. You white people all look the same to me.” – An Asian parent apologizing that he could not remember my name.

While I recognize how stupid I must sound in saying this, I never realized how important it was for my Chinese kids to be around other Chinese people… for my non-white kids (and all of us, really) to be part of a community that looks like them (or at least not 100% like me.) 

Diversity matters to my kids. A lot.

Will and the Hay Ride

A snapshot of diversity from a class “hay ride” at our new school. It is a shame that Will (orange sweatshirt) doesn’t seem to like it there.

It has been such a blessing for them to be around other Chinese kids and families. It has been fun for them to see us making friends with Chinese parents. They are looking forward to next week when we are going over for dinner with one of the Chinese families of a classmate.

My kids are learning a lot about themselves from finally having a place of their own where they are not in the minority, and I am learning a lot about myself from having a place where I am.

Some of the lessons for me are wonderful. It is hard to imagine something more beautiful than worshipping with the kids at the school’s weekly chapel service. Different kids from different families and different nations all united in praising God. I suspect that it may be as close to a picture of heaven as I may ever see here on earth.

It has been wonderful to get to know Chinese Christians. Knowing that the birth families of our younger kids are likely still in China, it is tremendously helpful to learn about what God is doing there and how we might pray more intentionally for their salvation… and for a reunion some day in heaven. In those discussions with Chinese believers from the school, our differences seem insignificant in comparison with what we share in Jesus.

Some aspects of the diversity have been challenging at times. I have had several occasions when I could not understand what a parent was saying because of their accent. I have stumbled more than once in trying to repeat a non-traditional name of a child. (Huge apologies to Ahninuh. After six times, I think he just agreed that I was close enough.) I have heard a student’s name and had no idea what their gender was. I confess some fear that the Chinese food at next week’s dinner will be more authentic than the Americanized versions I have come to appreciate.

But whatever ludicrous inconveniences or moments of discomfort I might face, they pale (no pun intended) in comparison to the benefits we are seeing for our kids. They love it.

I am not Chinese. (And regardless of what she may believe, neither is Anne.) And I am just now recognizing the loss for my Chinese kids that their parents do not look like them or share their cultural heritage, and the value of seeing and being in community – and in fellowship – with other parents who do.

I also do not assume that Chinese faces are the only ones that matter. I think there is as much to learn from a classroom of varied brown and black faces… and even a few kids that “look like me.” This is not about replacing one homogeneous environment with another. This is about REAL diversity… the messiness that comes from living life in community with people that are different than me – for the mutual benefit of all.

So there you have it. I am a reformed advocate of diversity.

What does this mean? It means I will no longer accept the status quo of homogeneity for my family. I will fight… in my choice of schools, neighborhoods, churches, doctors, friends, etc… to insure that my children live in a world with others who look like them and still others that don’t look like either of us.

We are a multi-racial family. It is my responsibility to insure that we are living a multi-racial life in a multi-racial world.

In retrospect, I think the great Hoosier poet Mr. Mellencamp may have understood diversity more than I originally assumed as one of his most famous song includes these lines: 

I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be

Not bad for a white guy from Indiana…

 

Adopting a Child with Albinism

November 19, 2014 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

Our daughter Phoebe was almost nine years old when we adopted her. She is our sixth adoptive child from China, our fifth adoption of an older child, and our first with albinism and with severe visual impairment. The only previous experience my husband and I had with visual impairments is one of our teenage daughters has nystagmus, which is when the pupils shake from side to side. It increases with fatigue, stress, nervousness, and she sometimes tilts her head to see with a better angle, but most people do not notice her eyes shaking and it does not affect her life very much. Our other adopted children had a friend from their orphanage who had albinism, so they were very comfortable with this need.

Albinism is characterized by the absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes, which leads to visual impairment and sensitive skin. Phoebe is very healthy, and we take her to the doctor once a year for a regular medical check. She gets through a lot of sunscreen, and we have discovered the best sunscreen combination is a spray for body and a stick for her face. It took a while to get her used to wearing sunglasses, hats and sunscreen, but we rarely forget them now. It takes about ten minutes of being in the sun with no protection before her skin starts to burn. She will often also go pink from being warm, but it’s not sunburn unless she is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light.

When we first adopted Phoebe, I had expected to meet a child who would need to have a lot of assistance to get around, but we were surprised by how well she managed. While we were still in China, I held her hand (for bonding as well as assistance) and warned her of upcoming steps. She orients herself easily, but sometimes the depth of a step will throw her off when she is in an unfamiliar place. We were amazed to see her memorize our home layout very quickly, and once she started school she also memorized her school building and campus.

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Phoebe is classified as legally blind, which means she has 20/200 vision, even with glasses on. The lack of pigmentation in her eyes as a result of her albinism hinders her vision, and there is no cure or correction for this. Most children with albinism have some visual impairment, and Phoebe’s in particular is quite severe. Our understanding is that it will not worsen over time. Phoebe also has nystagmus, quite common amongst children with albinism. As soon as we came back from China, our pediatrician referred us to a vision specialist. Four months later, and then one year later, we went back to the vision specialist to check if her glasses needed any adjustment. She now sees her vision specialist once a year. Phoebe was prescribed glasses for nearsightedness, and her doctor recommended that we purchase transition lenses to help with her sensitivity to light. These make her glasses more expensive than a regular pair of glasses, but it means that she does not need to have a separate pair of sunglasses.

Phoebe qualifies for an individual education plan (IEP). Under this, she has a vision instructor whom the school provides. Her vision instructor works with her once a week to aid her in using her vision to the best she can. This includes instruction on how to use the technology and equipment provided for her by the school, including an iPad, a video magnifier and a monocular (a small telescope).

Our greatest difficultly with the school has been the lack of understanding of how poorly Phoebe sees. As she compensates so well with using sounds, voices, size, location, and smells, she can often piece together a situation without using her vision. This can trick people into thinking she can see better than she actually can. Children will call to her across the classroom, or wave to her across the playground and she cannot see them. Kids don’t always understand that, and they think she is ignoring them. Recently, Phoebe and her visual instructor prepared and gave a presentation to her entire class to explain more about her visual impairment. They showed everyone the equipment and technology she uses and described to them what she is able to see. Her vision instructor has also offered to bring in simulation glasses to teach everyone at school what Phoebe is really able to see.

Her IEP also includes mobility instruction. She has been learning how to use a cane, and how to commute on public transport, both skills which will prove essential as she grows older. Her cane will help to identify her as a person with a visual impairment, as well as help her to gather information about her surroundings and to navigate safely. Our vision instructor tested Phoebe for her ideal font size, the best size of print so as to not fatigue her eyes, and she has her workbooks copied to that font size. She also referred us to our local Association of the Blind, and a staff member came to evaluate Phoebe and brought her a video magnifier to use at home. This is for her to use as long as she needs it, at no cost to our family.

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Some parents have difficulty getting services and assistive devices for their children because their child’s vision is seen to be “too good.” As a parent, it is important to advocate for your child so that they receive the services they need to assist them in their learning. Our involvement is a yearly IEP meeting, and we keep in touch with her vision instructor via email to address any issues that come up. When Phoebe first started school, she had headaches at first from the bright lights, but after we spoke to the school about this, the administration agreed to adjust the light in her classroom slightly to solve this.

Overall, adopting a child with albinism and the visual impairment associated with albinism has been quite easy. Before we adopted her I worried that she wouldn’t be able to recognize me in a group of people. I’m not sure why that even bothered me, but it did. When we met Phoebe, I realized that I was right; she can’t tell it’s me from across the room. However, she will guess that I am in my usual chair, and she can identify where I am from the sound of my voice. I’ve learned to say “I’m right here” when we are in a crowd of people, and she finds me by listening to me call her. In reality, I didn’t need to worry about this, she knows that I am her Mama, and she knows that she can find me when she needs to.

A common occurrence among adopted children with limited vision is that they sometimes do not make eye contact well, and they may rock and have repetitive behaviors that look scary. This often also occurs in children who were orphans due to the lack of stimulation and interaction when in institutionalized care. We are working with Phoebe as she presents some behaviors such as these, reminding her to pay attention and encouraging her to watch how our other kids learn. She has to get close to us to see our expressions, which is something that didn’t occur to us before we adopted her. Phoebe is learning to look us in the eye when we speak to her, and this has helped her to interpret what our facial expressions mean. When she looks at items, she holds them just a few inches from her face, which can be awkward sometimes (particularly in a restaurant buffet!), but in general it is not a big issue.

Adopting a child with albinism has actually been a very easy special need for our family to adapt to. She functions well on a daily basis and we give her minimal assistance. As with all our kids who were adopted as older children she is immature for her age, but is rapidly catching up. She is independent in self-care, and she is able to follow our daily routine.

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As a parent of older adoptive children, it has been incredible to watch the transition in our kids as they learn to have the freedom to dream. In the orphanage, they only thought about getting through each day, and now, hearing them speak of what they want to do in the future is a wonderful blessing. Phoebe has decided she wants to be a vision teacher when she grows up so that she can help children like herself. We are so excited to be her family and to walk in this journey with her. She is a wonderful child who we call our “Ray of Sunshine.” She is happy, loving and thrilled to have us as her parents and family. God led us to our daughter, and we couldn’t be more blessed by this child.

~Guest post by Vicki

For more information on adopting children who have albinism or are visually impaired visit Bethel China.

find my family: Emma

November 18, 2014 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

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Emma was born November of 2005 and is listed as having Cerebral Palsy and a history of Hepatitis B. She is turning nine years old this year and continues to wait for a family of her own. She was born November of 2005. Emma’s file is a single page with very little information and some …Read More

Advocacy and Social Media: What’s not to “like”?

November 17, 2014 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

Ah, social media. Sometimes I don’t know whether to love it or loath it. But it’s here, and most of use it.  Think about it: how many times have you “liked” a post? How many times have you made a comment? Or even “shared” something you saw that struck you as funny, important or thought-provoking? …Read More

find my family: Becca

November 16, 2014 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

Is anyone looking for a precious seven year old girl to join their family? We have a treat for you today. This precious girl is Becca. She was born December of 2007 and abandoned at two years of age. She lives in an orphanage in Southern China and gets along well with other children in …Read More

find my family: Lai

November 14, 2014 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

Update: My family has found me! On February 27, 2009, Lai was found abandoned. He just turned 8 years old with a birthdate of October 2006. He is a shy, delicate and handsome little boy. His demeanor is really peaceful, and when he sees a stranger, he stands very still and does not talk. If …Read More

5 Things your Kids Will Learn When You Adopt

November 13, 2014 by Hannah 0 Comments

Today is my youngest sister’s second “Adoption Day”! Aren’t anniversaries like this the best? Because it’s National Adoption Month right now, Orphan Sunday was two weeks ago and World Adoption Day was last Sunday, it’s been hard to not think about adoption. Similarly, it’s been hard not to think about my sweet sisters. I still …Read More

find my family: Marilyn

November 12, 2014 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

When the first thing someone say to describe you is that your “smile lights up a room” you must just radiate joy and that is how Marilyn is described by her current agency staff who recently met her. This shy and soft-spoken 8 year old has Down Syndrome and CHD (PDA). She does well at …Read More

sleep

November 11, 2014 by nohandsbutours 2 Comments

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Thump. pitter pat, pitter pat, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, pitter pat, pitter pat. Glancing at the clock I note it is 3:57 AM, a little later than usual. In automatic response to the oh so familiar sound of little feet jumping to the floor and then making their way across the house to my room, …Read More