I miss my Foster Family…

My oldest daughter is a tomboy but you’d never know it by looking at this photo. She loves to pose for me and she’s always full of surprises.

Last week, she was keeping me company in the master bathroom while I was putting on my makeup and doing my hair when her face suddenly got all serious and she announced, solemnly, that she missed her foster family.

“I miss my foster family, sooo much! I really want to visit them but you won’t let me and that makes me sad. I feel like I have two hearts thumping in me.” Then she patted her chest to show me where those two hearts were thumping.

It was sweet and touching and I stroked her silky cheek with the back of my hand and told her that I love her two hearts with all of my one heart. Then I gently reminded her that she doesn’t have a foster family.

Yep, she made it all up.

She was never in foster care in China so she clearly didn’t really miss her foster family. And she knows what a foster family is so there’s no confusion about that either. She was merely pretending. She has a beautiful imagination and frequently tells stories with fuzzy edges between reality and fantasy and this was just another story to her. She probably hasn’t even thought about it again but I sure have.

She doesn’t have a foster family but if she’d gotten that one critical little detail right, I almost certainly wouldn’t have questioned her sincerity about the rest of what she said. But maybe I should be skeptical because there’s a pretty hefty price to pay if I get it wrong.

As I write this, she’s playing in the other room and she isn’t sad or mournfully missing anyone or bearing the weighty burden of any aspect of her unfortunate beginnings. And that’s a relief because, even though my intentions are always completely honorable, I have tremendous power to influence how she internalizes some pretty hefty issues. I can make her believe that she’s suffered tragic and unfair losses, that people on the other side of the world cry for her and miss her and think about her every day, that it’s perfectly understandable that she’d miss them too. And even though all that might very well be true, there’s a pretty good chance that she wouldn’t be spending any time thinking about it if I didn’t make a ritual out of putting it under her nose and helping her scrutinize her feelings about it. In other words, I’m careful not to treat my kids like injured baby birds because they might start believing that’s what they are.

I feel like I should end this with some really enlightening tie-up-the-loose-ends way but I can’t do it. I know it’s a hard subject for many adoptive parents to discuss because most of us want to err on the side of caution and that means we’ll risk delving into these issues prematurely because we think doing it early will make the path easier to navigate later. Personally, I don’t recommend that because I’ve seen many instances of kids crying for lost loved ones that they clearly don’t remember. But there must come a time when we need to wade out into these waters with our kids just so they don’t think we’re uncomfortable discussing these topics. I’m not sure what that age is but I know it’s not 5 and a half. Maybe ten? If anyone with older adopted kids has started discussions about “loss”, I’m curious to know how it went.

As always, you can see the everyday happenings of my cheerful little brood on our family blog, here: http://2happy.typepad.com/

mother therapy

As parents, we naturally look for our child’s accomplishments. It is a unique gift we’ve been given. An Olympian can have his whole country cheering for him, but the only people he wants to see in the stands are his mom and dad.

When my 2-year old daughter Lydia runs a crayon across a piece of paper, she immediately calls for me to look and cheer for her accomplishment, even if it’s just a scribble. I am glad she wants my praise because it is easy to give. How can anyone ignore these eyes?!

She has grown so much in the year since she came home. Despite having only one functioning ear, she can hear a pin drop and mimic a tune. Her words may not be absolutely clear, but those that know her can understand what she’s asking for. All the tests by the doctors just confirmed what we already knew… that she is a healthy baby… a lot on the petite side true to her Jiangxi roots. We have spent the last year marveling at the person Lydia is becoming. It was us, her parents, rejoicing loudest of all when she overcame separation anxiety at the church nursery.

But despite all her many achievements, I have found myself becoming her worst critic. The weekly flow of therapists in our home is beginning to wear on me. With each visit, we talk about Lydia’s weaknesses and after each visit, I find myself suddenly becoming discontent with her progress. I don’t like feeling this way. I don’t like measuring my daughter up against some standard set by a council.

I have only myself to blame for this. I was the one that sought out these early intervention assessments for Lydia. Because of her special need, I wanted to be sure we weren’t missing something. I wanted to ensure her vocabulary would develop properly. I am thankful these services exist and that many of them are covered by insurance or provided free through the state. The speech, occupational and physical therapists we’ve met with have provided us with good information and observations. If you asked me six months ago about glottal sounds and sensory disorders, I would have given you a blank stare. Now I can hear when Lydia is using her throat versus her lips to produce words. I can also see that her need for constant movement may be connected to a need for sensory stimulation and not her plot to exhaust me by 8am.

I see merit in the services these therapists are providing, but lately I’ve felt that I need to stop participating in the cross-analysis of Lydia. I need to focus on her accomplishments and stop looking for all her weaknesses. My daughter doesn’t need a 24/7 analyst at home.

On the one hand, I’m happy to have a few “babysitters” visit each week and play with my daughter, but I need to step away from all the scrutiny they bring. I need to see her as my daughter and not a special needs patient. The love and nurturing I can provide is more powerful than any therapy session. She needs me encouraging her to use any words, even the glottal ones. She needs me chasing after her and cuddling with her. She needs me to be her mother… not her therapist. They get an hour each week but I get a lifetime!

She will have many coaches, teachers, doctors and specialists in her life… but she will have only one mother.

SPD And Me

newly edited, but originally posted at Our Little Tongginator in October, 2009

Now that we’re into the last week of October December, I thought I’d stop procrastinating and write a few posts about Sensory Processing Disorder. I mean, y’all DID know that October is Sensory Processing Disorder Awareness month, RIGHT?

(I’m nothing if not timely.)

*gasp* You mean you DIDN’T know?? Well, you do now. Although I suspect a few of you are totally scratching your heads at the moment, asking yourselves, “umm… what the heck IS sensory processing disorder?” Well, I happen to be a pretend expert, seeing as how I have it, as does my daughter, my nephew, my brother-in-law and quite possibly even my maternal grandma. Because there totally has to be a label for my grandma’s special brand of wackiness. And please ignore the fact that I sport her same label. Because – despite evidence to the contrary – I am NOT wacky.

Much.

Anyways, last October I blogged quite a bit about sensory processing disorder at my personal blog because Our Little Tongginator is primarily an adoption blog and – surprise! – children who experience international adoption often struggle with sensory issues. That’s because, as evidenced by my wacky family tree, SPD is genetic, running in families, but it also tends to appear in premature babies, children who experience stress in utero and children who were internationally adopted.

Why?

Because the nervous system develops throughout a mother’s pregnancy, plus it continues to grow and form during the first year of life. And if a child doesn’t receive adequate stimulation during those formative months, the nervous system doesn’t always form as well as it could. Our Tongginator, whom we adopted at just under a year, was diagnosed with severe sensory delays at 13 months of age, then later received a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder.

So what did those sensory delays look like when we first arrived home?

Well, let me preface this by saying that sensory issues look different for EVERY person, although most people with SPD do struggle with tactile issues. Our little Tongginator is mostly a sensory-seeker, although she is sensory-avoidant in some ways. Taking my cues from Colleen, I thought I would list some of the issues we faced that directly related to the Tongginator’s SPD:

low muscle tone
extreme oral defensiveness
strong desire or need to feel dizzy
delayed gross motor skills
delayed fine motor skills
extreme tactile defensiveness
self-stimulatory behaviors
high pain tolerance
under-responsive to sights and sounds, unless startled – and then over-responsive
strong desire to smell objects
lack of body awareness and body positioning

Umm… yeah… now y’all are thinking, ‘that’s a lot of nonsense words, TM. And I have no idea what they mean.’ So let me describe them a bit, at least when it comes to our Tongginator.

Our Tongginator had (and still struggles a bit with) low muscle tone. The best way to describe it is to call her a “floppy” child. She had a significant head lag even at twelve months. Her arms and legs would just flop down if you raised them, then let go. Her core muscle strength was almost non-existent, causing her to truncate (sit with her hands braced against her feet to support her body) rather than to sit upright.

sitting versus truncating: RedFish and the Tongginator in Nanchang

Extreme oral defensiveness… I cannot even begin to tell you how this phrase causes horrific flashbacks. To quote an occupational therapist within our county’s early intervention program, the Tongginator was “THE most orally defensive child I have ever seen.” At 13 months of age, the Tongginator could not drink thin liquids, only formula that had been rice-flaked to death. She could not handle solid foods that didn’t match the consistency of said Rice Flake Formula. And the Tongginator, being the Tongginator, would rather go on a Three Day Hunger Strike than drink formula that contained slightly fewer rice flakes as compared to the day before. It took six weeks and lots of therapy and grit to rid the Tongginator of rice flakes in her formula. The Tongginator also rejected anything placed in her mouth that was not Already Approved Tongginator Food… this included teethers, infant or toddler toothbrushes, medicine droppers, infant or toddler eating utensils (including chopsticks), straws and sippy cups, toys, and on and on. Interestingly enough, once we overcame the Tongginator’s oral defensiveness, she began to crave strong flavors and textures in her mouth. The child is now obsessed with foods and chewing and all things oral, except for dentist visits, which continue to be a nightmare.

She has always shown a strong desire for or need to feel dizzy. As a baby, she often flung herself backwards while in our arms so that she could hang upside down, then feel a rush as we raised her up again. She spent hours in a doorway jumper, riding her rocking horse and spinning round and round on her sit-n-spin. I used to spend many an afternoon with her at the local playground, pushing her on the swings. The Tongginator also spent her first few months with us head banging both us and objects. And, when she could finally walk, she would spin around in circles with her arms spread wide for long, LONG periods of time. Now? She swings every morning before school. She asks for us to hang her upside down and to “squeeze my head, please, Momma.” All of those things help her to concentrate.

playing the upside-down game with
Tonggu Daddy in the Tokyo Airport

Sensory kids often display delayed gross motor and fine motor skills. Now, it’s difficult to know what is an institutional delay and what is sensory, but extreme delays are something to check out, regardless of the cause. The Tongginator did not roll over until 12 months of age, crawled at 15 months and walked at almost 19 months. She did not even begin to consider possibly attempting to self-feed until she was almost 14 months old. We still cope with motor planning issues, which means the Tongginator struggles to figure out how to PLAN movement. Pedaling? Confused her for a very long time. Swimming? Still working on that one. Her fine motor skills are also still delayed, mostly because she can’t figure out how to exert enough force to do certain things, including buttons, zippers, opening up a child gate and such. She possesses excellent handwriting because it doesn’t involve too much push/ pull effort, but she does often complain of hand pain because she presses her pencil too hard into the paper.

Our Tongginator also displayed extreme tactile defensiveness. She hated skin-to-skin contact, and not simply because of attachment issues. The Tongginator pretty much loathed anything touching her skin unless it was 100% cotton, including water, the wind, another person, carpet, wood floors, grass… well, you get the idea. Diaper changes, bath time and pretty much anytime was fairly horrific our first two months home. We ended up dressing her in long pants with long sleeves for several months, even though it was spring and summer in the Washington, DC area. We bought a second wipes warmer, so that we could gently heat lotion in it before applying it to her skin. It took several months of daily exposure to help the Tongginator overcome most of her tactile defensiveness. We still accommodate in some areas. For example, the only tights and panties she wears are from Hanna; we purchase seamless socks; she wears dresses most of the time because she hates feeling constricted around her waist; I could go on and on. Don’t even get me started about the potty training. Oy vey. I once wrote a hysterical post entitled “The Ebb and Flow of Pee,” only the husband wouldn’t allow me to publish it.

Sniff. Sniff.

As for self-stimulatory behaviors? That’s basically a nice way of saying that the Tongginator enjoyed hurting herself. She comforted herself by banging her head into walls or furniture… by picking at her skin (especially her nail cuticles)… and by pulling her own hair. Obviously all of this means that she also has a high tolerance for pain. And illness. Only once has my Tongginator ever clung to me while sick. Turns out she had strep throat, a double ear infection and a urinary tract infection all at once. Poor little gal.

In terms of sights and sounds, the Tongginator showed a strange mix of under-responsiveness and over-responsiveness to life happening around her. For over a year, I took the Tongginator to either the local playground, on a play date or to the tot lot inside our local mall every blessed day.

EVERY BLESSED DAY, Y’ALL.

(Did y’all know that I absolutely loathe the mall?)

The Tongginator craved the busyness of people going to and fro. She loved action and wanted to be in the center of it all. She could not… function, for lack of a better word… if we hung out around the house for even one day. Our first two years home, I planned our days in much the same way that I once created lesson plans for my classes. However – and this is a big however – she did NOT like loud, repetitive noises such as smoke detectors, the microwave timer, a fire alarm and on and on. If those things occurred, she often returned to the hand flapping, rocking, self-stimulating behaviors that once were so prevalent. I can’t tell you the number of times complete strangers (and one idiot nurse) asked me, “is your daughter autistic?” during our first year home.

The Tongginator loves to smell things. Not every child with sensory issues focuses on smells, but – for the Tongginator – this is THE number one issue. The Tongginator loves to smell everything, even stinky things. She finds comfort in smells. I remain convinced that the Tongginator fell in love with her cherished Doggy because Doggy arrived in a package containing a perfumed sachet.

with her beloved Doggy

She continues to struggle with body positioning and awareness. In other words, the girl walks into walls, falls off chairs and trips over her own two feet, just like her momma. She also took forever to learn how to dress herself and still can’t quite manage some fine motor tasks, including (hurray!) child gates. She often drops things or slams things down too hard. She craves her special, sensory Tongginator sandwiches. She basically loses track of where her body is in space.

Then again, so does her momma.

There are many more sensory issues that the Tongginator struggles with, but those are the most memorable. SPD is a spectrum, ranging from mild to severe… while the Tongginator is now on the mild to moderate side of things, please understand, y’all, that our experiences during our first year home were some of the most challenging our social worker had ever seen. Add attachment issues, the fight to avoid a failure to thrive diagnosis and my depression to these sensory challenges… and… well… it was a lot. But it was ALL worth it.

Because the Tongginator is worth it.

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.

Our First Six Months Together & Thoughts On Older Child Adoptionadoptive momma (Russia and China) Michelle at Born In Our Hearts… thoughts about their recent adoption of an eleven-year-old during their first Christmas together

7 Questions for a… College Student with Cerebral Palsy
momma to a child with CP Ellen at To the Max… an interview with a college student about her life with cerebral palsy

HIV testing will not be required for obtaining visas for international adopteesat the PEAR blog, which is Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform… a new ruling about HIV testing and international adoption

Yet… I Think He Was Always Beautiful adoptive momma (Russia, Ukraine and Siberia) Christine at Smiles & Trials… a photo journey of her son Dennis’ many cranial-facial surgeries over the past two years

The Best Christmas Gift!!waiting to adopt (China) Kim at Our Journey to Addison Hope… receiving updated photos of their soon-to-be-daughter, who now sports a spica cast

Non-recurring Adoption Expense Reimbursements

I know, it’s a mouthful. But it’s worth taking the time to toss around as many families adopting special needs kids from China qualify for up to $2000 back from their state.

Special needs domestic adoptions are eligible in every state for a one time reimbursement of non-recurring adoption expenses. But many states also reimburse non-recurring adoption expenses for international adoptions. Since each state has discretion over the distribution of funds, not every state will reimburse for international adoptions.

States also vary on when you must apply for reimbursement, most states requiring that the paperwork is initiated before the final adoption occurs. After placement, the paperwork is completed. Typically, proof of the completed adoption and proof of non-recurring adoption expenses (travel expenses, agency costs, homestudy fees, etc) totaling the amount to be reimbursed is required.

The reimbursement amount varies by state and ranges from $500 to $2,000. Certainly enough to be worth investigating. And I recommend thoroughly investigating the laws in your particular state. Make the calls to the person in charge of the unit, don’t assume that what you read on the internet is current. You might be pleasantly surprised to find out your adoption qualifies for reimbursement!

Visit the NACAC site for details on who to contact in your state.

The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t

Last year, there were four kids bouncing around the house Christmas morning.

This year there were five.

But there almost weren’t.

I was thinking about that this morning. Thinking about how I didn’t even know Cheeky existed on December 25, 2008. That Christmas morning, I had a vague image in my mind of the daughter that would one day be. She was around five years old, had dark hair and deep brown eyes. I think God must have smiled at my imaginings. I think He must have chuckled as I searched stores for Asian-looking dolls and worried about whether or not my dream daughter would wish she had light hair and eyes like her siblings.

This morning as Cheeky woke and came out of her room, her white hair mussed, her arms reaching for a hug, I remembered how I hesitated as I filled out the special needs checklist for our agency, the pen hovering above albinism. We’d requested the file for a girl born with the condition the summer after we began our paperwork. A little red-haired, blue eyed doll on our agency specific list. We were too early in the process to be matched with her, and I hadn’t thought much about her until I began filling in the special needs paperwork.

And then she was all I could think about.

My husband and I discussed albinism. We decided that as long as our daughter wasn’t completely blind we could handle the visual impairment that went with the condition. Then my husband, being him, told me that I should go ahead and mark albinism if that is what I thought God was leading us to.

That’s the part of the story everyone knows.

What they don’t know is that I didn’t mark albinism on the initial form. My mind was set on that little dark haired dream girl, and I sent the form in marked with minor special needs and a few moderate ones.

But not albinism.

That very day, I received an email from our former social worker. I hadn’t heard from her since we’d moved from Maryland. The email said that the special needs program needed families willing to adopt children older than six. It said that these children were the ones who waited longest for families and that our agency was looking for families who felt led to adopt an older child. The email ended with the admonition to not jump into older child adoption just to move the process along more quickly but to carefully consider whether or not one of these children would fit into our home.

My husband and I had requested a child between the ages of three and six.

I told my husband about the email, and his response was quick – So, let’s change our age specification. Let’s tell them that all we care about is that the child be younger than Sassy.

And it felt so right to do that. It felt like what we should have done from the beginning. I contacted our social worker and told her our plans, and she asked that I resubmit the checklist with the new age range. I reprinted the form, filled in everything as I had before, then wrote on the bottom that we were requesting a child born after 2/12/01.

And that should have been the end of that.

I had the envelope addressed and stamped, had that SN checklist in hand, was ready to shove it in the envelope and mail it off, but a sick awful feeling kept me from doing so. Every time I thought of putting the list in the mail, I felt physically ill. It wasn’t changing the age that was making me feel that way. It was that word, that condition, that moderate special need that I had hesitated over before.

Albinism.

It was as if God were whispering in my ear, “Let go of your dream. Accept my dream for you.”

Before I could second guess that thought, I checked albinism and shoved the paper into the envelope.

She won’t have albinism, I thought as I mailed the SN sheet. Only one in 17,000 people are born with it.

But my dream was already changing. I was beginning to picture a very different little girl. This one with light eyes and fair skin. With blond or light brown or strawberry hair.

Three days later, my social worker called. She said that our agency’s China team wanted to know if we understood the eye issues that went along with albinism. I assured her that we did. I explained all that I had learned about albinism and actually told her that if the team felt uncomfortable with our request, we’d take it off the list.

Yes, I really did say that.

She assured me that the China team was just making sure we understood, and then she asked me questions about the age range, about a few other needs we’d listed and that was that.

That was Friday, February 6th. On Tuesday, February 10th, I was out shopping with my kids. I’d forgotten my cell phone but didn’t think much about it. When I returned home, I saw that my caseworker had called. I hit play, thinking she wanted to ask more questions about our checklist.

When she said she had a referral for us, I nearly fell over. My hands were shaking as I dialed her number. She answered immediately and said she was relieved I’d called. We had less than twelve hours to make a decision about the referral. We had to let the main office know by the end of business.

I didn’t hear much after that. Just a few words – Six years old. March 31, 2002. Chongqing. Albinism.

And then I was looking at the picture on my computer. Looking at that cheeky face and that happy smile and that white, white hair.

And my heart knew what my stubborn head had once tried to deny. This was my dream daughter. This blond-haired, blue eyed child was the fulfillment of all I’d been hoping and praying for.

Last year, we celebrated Christmas as a family of six.

This Christmas we celebrated as a family of seven.

Cheeky was excited and bouncy and exuberant.


It didn’t occur to me until today that this Christmas almost wasn’t. That things could have been much different. Four kids instead of five or a brunette instead of a blond. Dark eyes instead of blue. Five years old instead of seven.

My dream instead of His.

It is true that I would not know what I’d missed out on if I hadn’t checked albinism on that list. It is true that I would not know the feel of Cheeky’s arms wrapped around my waist, the sound of her silly laughter, the scent of her purple shampoo. It is true that I would only know my own dream, and I would probably be very satisfied with that.

But I did listen to that whispered thought. I did check albinism.

And I do know all those things.

Sometimes we must give up our own dream to have the best dream. That is the lesson I have learned from my journey to Cheeky.

And I am so very, very thankful that I did.

Kara

By Michelle, mom to Kara from China, adopted as an ‘older child’

December 21st marked six-months since we first met Kara. I struggle to believe it has been six months. On one hand, it seems like she has been a part of our family for far longer than that, but on the other, it seems like such a short time ago that we were in China to bring her home.

Kara Family Day 062309 (1 of 1)

Does anyone remember this lovely photo? I look at it and remember how we were dripping under those masks that we were required to wear due to China’s fear of spreading the H1N1 virus, barely able to breath because the ones that we purchased had too many heavy layers of cotton gauze, not to mention we were wearing them in late June in southern China in a non air-conditioned building. It was the memories that took place after leaving this room that were the fond ones for us.

So much has changed since this picture was taken. I often get asked how everything is really going. I can honestly say, it is really going great! I am amazed every day at our daughter who lived 11 years in another country, in a vastly different culture, spoke a completely different language, communicated through complex characters and not our alphabet, ate different foods, lived in a very large city, etc. etc. Her ability to transition into her new world with such ease is beyond comprehension – and truly, EVERYTHING about her new world has been new. I know I will not be able to do this justice, but I am going to attempt to highlight our first six months together. This is probably going to be a long post, but I hope it highlights our journey for anyone who might be interested in older child adoption.

Kara (1 of 1)-2

Kara knew no English prior to her adoption. And I really have no way to explain it, but communication just happens. We didn’t speak the same language, but we were able to communicate through our own little form of charades, just enough so that we would each know what we wanted.

I am sure Kara was processing the changes in her life inwardly, but she was not showing any outward grief or aggression in any way. She seemed to fit into our family with ease, just with a few minor bumps in our first month together as a result of some jealousy and vying for mom and dad’s attention among all three girls – but primarily Leila and Kara. Leila knew that she would be giving up her role as the oldest in the house, but how can one – especially an 8-year old – really comprehend and prepare for this? They can’t. She became very jeolous and hurt by the amount of attention we had to give Kara early on and started acting out with her behavior. In fact, this started while we were still in China. Nothing too drastic, but a lot of negative attitudes and talking back. This lasted less than a month before Leila adjusted back to her sweet self and went back to becoming best buds with Kara.

I had worried about all of the possible “what ifs”, such as violence and severe emotional outbursts, but our biggest difficulties with Kara early on were brief pouting episodes that primarily resulted from saying “no” to her – mostly to her requests to buy her something or to write her name in black sharpie all over her new belongings. These were brief and they were minor. None of the worst-case scenarios that I had envisioned in the months leading up to our adoption every came to fruition. Praise the Lord!!!

Our most heart-breaking moment in those first few days together came not from Kara, but from Leila, who had difficulty sleeping the first few nights home and would come into our room crying. Leila has NEVER had problems sleeping. She is our rock sleeper from the moment her head hits the pillow. I knew something really had to be bothering her, so I put myself in her shoes. Here Leila had just seen us travel to China to bring home Kara at age 11, after Kara had been living with a foster family for nearly five years. In Leila’s eyes, if we could take Kara away from her family, what would stop someone from taking Leila away from us? It just broke my heart to think that Leila had been worrying about this for who knows how long. I sat her down and explained the difference between Kara’s foster family and us, her forever family. From that moment on, Leila went back to sleeping peacefully. This is deeply personal and painful for Leila, but I share this in hopes that it might help another family have this conversation beforehand. I only wish I had.

As I’ve mentioned before, Kara felt uncomfortable with hugs and kisses our first few days together. Openly showing affection is not common in Chinese culture. Kara quickly became comfortable with receiving, as well as showing affection. It took Kara a month or two to become truly comfortable with Nolan, but he has proven time and time again what an AWESOME dad he is and I know that Kara realizes that now, too. Kara wouldn’t even think of getting on the school bus or going to bed without a big hug, kiss and “I love you” – or lots of them. While other 11-year olds might think it is uncool to blow kisses to their mom, Kara waves frantically and blows kisses to me from the bus every single morning. And I love it, and by the look on her face, she does, too.
Our summer was filled with making many fun memories -many of which were firsts for Kara. I am so thankful that our travel dates to China allowed us some bonding time together as a family before Kara had to start school. Witnessing every one of Kara’s “firsts” has been such a joy for all of us. The summer also gave us time to hire an ESL tutor to come to the house and help her at least three days/week. That was a huge help to prepare her for entering school.

Kara has adjusted to American food very well. She loves anything with meat or fish, so it’s pretty easy to find something on the menu that she will like. She is not a fan of most breakfast foods, so I bake a lot of banana bread around here, which she likes. I do look at the school menu every day and if there is something I know she will not like (anything with American or cheddar cheese, brunch for lunch or lunch wraps), I will make a noodle dish for her to take. She only uses chopsticks when she eats noodles or Chinese food. Sometimes she even puts those down and grabs silverware.

Kara (1 of 1)-4

Our decision to place Kara in the fifth grade was not one I took lightly. There were many nights of lost sleep over this decision. She is pretty small for her age and her emotional maturity tends to fluctuate greatly, depending on who she is with. After five months, it has proven to be the right choice. Kara’s classmates have been supportive from day one, just as the school principal had predicted. Never once have I heard that any of her classmates have been unkind because she spoke another language or came from another country. (And there is VERY little diversity in our [public] school.) In fact, it was quite the opposite. Her first day at school left her feeling like a little rock star. She continues to teach the girls in her class Chinese characters and seems to fit in just fine.

Early on in the school year, homework was a nightly challenge. Not because Kara didn’t want to study. On the contrary, she was a very willing student and would sit and do what was asked of her as long as it took – often taking up to two hours every night. (It was obvious she was painfully bored, but she did it without complaint.) As Kara’s language gradually improved, so did the homework. It still, however, requires either my or Nolan’s undivided attention, as she needs us to help read and explain the directions to her.

Kara had attended school through the fourth grade in China. It broke my heart when, on one of our first days together, I told her she was very smart. “Smart?”, she asked our translator. “Nobody has ever called me smart before. I always talked in class and didn’t pay attention to the teacher.” It broke my heart that this bright, inquisitive 11-year old girl did not know how smart she truly was. She does admit to me now that she never learned pinyin in school because she was too busy talking. That may have been the case in China, but she has really been focused on her schoolwork and learning here in the U.S … at least for now. Maybe things will change when her language skills improve, but I have high hopes for our little fifth grader!

Kara’s math skills have improved greatly since the beginning of the school year. Addition, subtraction and multiplication came relatively easy for her, but I do not believe she had ever seen any fractions or any of the other math problems that fifth graders are charged with learning. And to be honest, I am learning again right along with her. I often joked with her teacher, “Yes, I have a bachelor’s degree, yes I have a successful career, but NO, I am NOT smarter than a fifth grader!” Sadly, I wasn’t really joking. :) Kara can now work on more of her math independently, but still requires our assistance with word problems and instructions.

Kara (1 of 1)-3

She is a great reader in her native language. We go to the library and rent a stack of Chinese books and she often has them read before we reach our house. She writes her Chinese characters beautifully. As for English, she is reading at a kindergarten level and writing is a challenge, as she still has difficulty pronouncing many of the sounds that were foreign to her only six months ago, therefore the “sounding it out” strategy is more of a challenge for her than most non-ESL kids. e.g. “Red” is “renda.” I have frequent communication with her primary literacy teacher and we are both impressed with her effort and her progress. She has worked very hard and does the best we can ask of her. Her teachers and her classmates adore her, as do we. Because she is graded on her progress and effort and not based on knowing many of the same things that her peers do except math, she earned a “meets” level on her first report card, and I am very happy with that.

The amount of English that she has learned in just six months is nothing short of amazing. There are many things she still does not understand and we cannot yet hold many complex conversations, but she impresses everyone she meets with her language skills. Not everything has a proper name, but we can understand. e.g. The other day she shouted from the shower to tell me, “Number two is over.” I knew exactly what she meant: we were out of conditioner. She also has problems with pronouns. No matter how many times we have told her, men are always “Mrs./she/her”; never “Mr./him/his”. I try not to correct everything she says. She is trying so hard and I know what she is trying to say. I often try to put myself in her shoes and I think I might still just know a few Chinese words by now. Probably the most frustrating thing for me, however, during the past six months is her constant questioning of “what is that?” and “why?”, when I know she will not be able to understand the answers that I give her, but that is my problem with limited patience and not a problem of hers. She has many questions of God and Jesus, as she is active in Awana and Sunday School, but we do not yet have sufficient ability to explain it for her full understanding. Soon, though. Hopefully, very soon. (And she has a new Chinese bible. Hooray!!)

Kara loves music. LOVES music. She loves to sing, try to play any instrument she can get her hands on and dance. She used to put on dance performances at the orphanage, so I signed her up for Chinese dance class here. She seems to like it and she will put on her first performance during the Chinese New Year celebration next year. I can’t wait to see her on stage! (Mia will be taking stage, too, with her younger class.) Kara also takes an advanced Chinese language class and serves as the teacher’s helper since she is further along than the other students in the class.
Because Kara loves music so much, we signed her up for the band early in the school year. I spoke with the band director and explained our situation and she said she would give it a try. I was thankful Kara chose percussion, as I am able to help her with bells since there is much similarity to piano, which I took for 14 years. She is doing great and seems to love it, except for the heavy weight of carrying the bells to and from school. She sometimes complains that she wishes she would have chosen the flute, as it is small and light. :) Oh, and she has asked Santa for a guitar, too.

Christmas 2009-15

I thought Kara was doing well retaining her language, but just today we went to the Chinese grocery store and then to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. I was trying to get her to speak to the people working at both places, but she acted shy and would only say the basic, “hello, goodbye, thank you, and Merry Christmas!” I told her, I can say those things. Say something more. Later on, she told me she was forgetting some of her Chinese. She said she can read and write it just fine, but she is gradually forgetting how to say some words. She and her two friends from China (now adopted in the U.S.) Skype every 1-2 weeks and speak primarily in Mandarin and I have asked her dance instructor and Chinese language teacher to only speak to her in Chinese, but I will need to step up our efforts to help her retain her language, as that is very important to all of us.

She gets along great with her sisters. I love seeing their special sisterly bond – something I never knew growing up without sisters. Along the way, Kara has gradually changed her once dislike of dress-up and all things “girly girl” to that of much enjoyment, as shown by one of their latest fashion shows below.

Kara (1 of 1)

As a I recently wrote to a friend… during the past six months, there may have been difficult moments within a day, but I can honestly say we haven’t had any truly bad days. All days end with super big hugs, tons of kisses and lots of “I Love Yous”. Although adopting Kara wasn’t our plan, I am grateful that God led us to her. She is our daughter, no doubt. I don’t know if we will ever adopt again. I thought we were done at two, and now we have three, so I don’t know what God has planned for us. Adopting an older child isn’t easy, but in so many ways it has been easier than I had expected. I had prepared for the worst, but prayed for the best. God has been faithful.

I am also grateful to her foster family. I still know little about them, but I believe that they provided her a loving home and showed her the best that they could what living in a loving family was like.

Since we have been working so much on fractions and percentages with Kara at school, I will close with this: Kara has spent 52% of her life thus far in an orphanage; 44% in foster care and just 4% with us. It will take a long time for us to gain the majority in this mathematical equation, but our small, growing percentage is made up of many magical, wonderful moments with our amazing daughter whom we love with 100% of our hearts.

Feel free to visit our family blog here.

scared.

I will be leaving in 2 weeks to bring home our new daughter, Vivienne.

And I am scared.

She is 26 months old, 30 inches and 22 pounds. And she seriously scares me.


This will be our fifth adoption, so you might think I know enough about adoption not to be scared.

The truth is, I know enough to be scared. I know enough to be realistic. I know enough to be prepared.

Our second daughter, Sophie, was 27 months at adoption. And she was, and still is, one smart cookie. One very, very smart cookie. She might have just been a toddler, but she read me like a book from the word “go”.

Our other adopted kiddos were younger and much more delayed than Sophie. Less aware. Less able to peer right into my soul. Less able to chew me up and spit me out like the shell of a sunflower seed.

And I have a sneaking suspicion that our Vivi is much like Sophie. She’s been in a foster family. She’s been loved, she’s been attended to, she’s been part of a family. And I don’t think she’s going to like me coming in and breaking all that up. No, not one little bit.

I don’t think she’s going to like me to help her, feed her, dress her, carry her. But I have every intention of insisting on these things, as I fully believe they are the basis for understanding the difference between care-er and care-ee.

I’ve got two weeks in China to focus completely and totally on her. Little Bitty Miss Thing. And I plan to use every moment of that time to get off on the best foot possible. Even if that means making her really, really mad.

In light of the fact that she is, well… two, is leaving everything she knows, and has most likely been properly spoiled to death by her foster family, you might have an inkling as to why I’m scared.

Why I might not be sleeping so well at night…
wondering how our first meeting will go.
wondering if she’ll be able to see right through me.
wondering how long until she knows she’s got my number.

And I can hardly wait.

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.

The Eyes Have It
adoptive momma (China) AmFam at American Family… discussing visual processing disorder, its therapy and how it relates to her daughter’s life pre-adoption

Surgeryadoptive momma (China) Leslee at Finding Lilly Grace… her daughter’s surprisingly bad breath leads to a surprise – and quite necessary – surgery

Ellie’s Medical Update
adoptive momma (China) at Bringing Home Di Di… more about vesicoureteral reflux (VUR) and how it effects her daughter Elise

Letting God Dreamadoptive momma (China) Shirlee McCoy at And Then There Were Seven… about her biological child’s special needs and accepting him for exactly who God made him to be

Yingy and Yangyadoptive momma (Haiti) Christine at Welcome To My Brain… parenting a child through reactive attachment disorder

my little chatterbox
adoptive momma (China) Andrea at Adoption Road… her daughter’s hearing loss does not seem to be slowing down her ability to learn and understand language

Surgery: One Year Agoadoptive momma (China) Kim K. at Musings from Kim K… a look back on her daughter’s hand surgery a year ago

In The Midst of Chaos

**I wrote this blog post prior to leaving for China to get our new daughter Ava. This topic weighed heavily on my heart. I hope that it speaks immediately to whoever needs it.**

Recently there has been a lot of talk about the d-word. The big yucky word that no adoptive parent or professional wants to have to speak about: DISRUPTION. Recently I heard about 3 separate adoption disruptions which occurred just a few days after each family received their child in China. To hear about this was heartbreaking. And although we have never actually disrupted an adoption in China, we have walked through the chaos of receiving a child so sick, so grossly delayed, so not what we expected, so far from what we wanted…. that it was pure absolute gut-wrenching agony and chaos.

And that chaos immediately leads you to a state of panic where fear takes over and you question everything you were sure of just 24 hours BEFORE meeting this child.

And then you speak to yourself in absolute statements:

I can’t parent him.
His needs are too much.
His needs are overwhelming.
His care will tear our family apart.
This is not what we signed up for.

And you’re confused because just the day before you were floating on a cloud of anxious excitement dreaming about Gotcha Day. And now you are wondering how the heck we got to “this place”.

And then the guilt takes over:
I thought I was more loving.
I thought I could handle anything.
I thought I could parent any child placed before me.

I suck.

And then back to here again:
I can’t parent him.
His needs are too much.
His needs are overwhelming.
His care will tear our family apart.
This is not what we signed up for.

And please believe me that I am not making light of this at all. This is truth. This is what happened to us. But somewhere in the 2nd round of “I can’t parent him”, God took a hold of me. And I let Him. He reminded me that He doesn’t make mistakes. He is not surprised or perplexed. God ordained that specific boy to be our son.

But GOD, did you see how he is acting? Did you see his delays? Did you see how sick he is and how he can’t even sit up? These aren’t “normal delays” God. It is clear there are many many things wrong with him and we…. Ok…. I can’t handle it. I can’t parent him. I can’t.”

And at that moment it was clear to me that I had a very serious decision to make.

I could stand in front of my husband, my guide and the Civil Affairs office and tell everyone how my heart and mind were feeling. How this was impossible. How his needs were far beyond anything we could deal with. And looking at Luke, all of these thoughts and feelings would have been accepted and validated by the guide and the Civil Affairs office. He WAS delayed. He WAS neglected. There were obviously many other things wrong with him. But there was that constant voice of God whispering to me. Whispering how this adoption was not a mistake. How this boy was a part of our family.

And I responded to God: “This is going to be a huge sacrifice for us God. A huge sacrifice for ME God and I don’t know what the heck I am doing! I’m not the person you *think* I am.“ And that’s the moment when He gently reminded me that this whole thing wasn’t about ME. It was about Luke. And most of all…it was about God.

On May 22, 2008 we signed the official paperwork in China to adopt our son Luke.

I firmly believe that the only reason that we came home with Luke was…. our belief in God. Because mentally and emotionally I was so stunned, so angry, so upset that I was not in the game. It is our belief that God doesn’t make mistakes. That He wants to bless us but it’s not about it being EASY or COMFORTABLE. It’s sometimes hard and painful. And this was painful. Lots of painful.

Anyone following Luke’s story on our family blog knows that after 2.5 years of searching for a diagnosis, we finally received it. Luke has an Intellectual Disability. This was our worst case scenario that has become reality. And even in my mind when I rewind to those painful days standing in the Civil Affairs office feeling conflicted, angry, resentful, deceived, hurt and sad…. even knowing what I know now…. I would STILL make the same choice over again.

Was it easy? No.
Was it scary? Yes.
Was I still conflicted in China even after we adopted him? Yes.
Was I sure we made the right decision months later? No.
But we did.
And our God walked us through it. And He is still walking us through it.

All this is just to say that I know how hard it is to come to this crossroads…to have to make the hard decision whether to disrupt an adoption in China. I am just putting our story out there. Our chaos, our experience, our lives… so that if 1 person reads this and then experiences the questions, the confusion and the pain…. maybe that person can feel that they are not alone, that their feelings are validated and most of all that God is there to be the guide.