Family Stories

At No Hands But Ours, we love family stories. Since our inception in 2008, we’ve featured a wide variety of family stories – and we continue to add new stories regularly. Please use the links in the right sidebar to click through to stories on specific special needs, or you can scroll down this main page to read all our family stories.

If you are home with your child from China, and would like to have your family story featured here, just use this form to let us know.


Two Butts Are Better Than One: A Story of Siblings

December 14, 2017 by nohandsbutours 1 Comments

“Old McDonald had a butt,” was the chorus coming from the back seat as we drove from Denver to St. Louis over Thanksgiving weekend. You pick your battles on a twelve hour road trip, and the four-year-old giggles resulting from my kids’ silly song were worth ignoring the potty humor for once.

I found myself smiling at both the song and how much fun the two of them were having together.

The long drive, our first as a family of four, gave me plenty of opportunity to reflect on the special relationship between our children. Our son Jonas came home over two years ago from Kyrgyzstan, while our daughter Johanna joined our family just ten months ago from China. Completely coincidentally, their birthdays are only five days apart, and our “twins” are the best of friends. It’s hard to imagine that one was ever without the other.

Bringing home a sibling for our son has had numerous benefits for both him and her. They have learned about taking turns, sharing items, and solving problems. A few days before our road trip, I went to the dollar store to stock up on little toys to dispense as needed to keep boredom at bay. Somewhere near the border of Colorado and Kansas, I handed out fold-up paper scenes. Johanna started with the castle one, and Jonas had the car shop, but they quickly worked out a plan to trade scenes after a few minutes and share the figurines. A small spat erupted over the coveted paper knight figure but, with assistance, they made a deal to take turns playing with it. The negotiation and problem solving skills learned from having a sibling will hopefully serve them well in the future.

After lunch off some highway exit in Kansas, Jonas put the McDonald’s happy meal box upside down on his head and shouted, “We’ve got a birthday back here!” Johanna put on her “birthday hat” too, and they sang several cheerful rounds of “Happy Birthday” in unison.

No, it wasn’t anybody’s birthday, but these two find ways to celebrate life together on a regular basis. On Halloween, he dressed as Peter Pan and she was Tinkerbell. She sprinkled pretend pixie dust on him, and they “flew” all around the neighborhood collecting candy.

Jonas congratulates Johanna for the latest piano song she’s mastered, and she tries to copy the latest moves he’s learned in martial arts class. Once I found the two of them playing downstairs in our closet, Jonas wearing my husband’s work pants and Johanna in my heels and a dress. They declared they were going on a “date,” and that the babysitter would be showing up soon.

Whether it’s enjoying holidays as a pair, rejoicing in each other’s successes, or creating their own parties, having a sibling makes every celebration more fun.

Near Kansas City, Jonas and Johanna put their fists together and recited the PJ Masks chant, ending with “into the night to save the day!” Lately, they have been obsessed with pretending they are Catboy and Gekko from this animated series. Before they saw a few episodes of that show, she was often Belle and he was the Beast. Sometimes he’s a knight and she’s a princess, or he’s “Daddy” and she’s “Mommy.” Or they are both kittens or construction workers or scuba divers or police officers.

Family members and friends often assume that I’m so much busier now taking care of two children than I was with one. Interestingly, the opposite is true. Jonas now has a full-time playmate! Their imaginative play is filled with costumes and creativity, and they’ll often entertain themselves for hours on end. Having a sibling is like being on a permanent playdate!

“Gym-nas-tics. Com-put-er. Kyr-gyz-stan,” I heard Johanna chanting quietly when we were about six hours from our hotel. She was practicing the words that Jonas has been working on pronouncing lately. Her sibling, the most outgoing and talkative one of our family, is probably the most responsible for her quick acquisition of English, as Johanna hears Jonas talk all day long. Unfortunately, he’s been “too good” of a teacher, and because she’s nearly caught up, she doesn’t qualify for speech services! Of course, she does make some of his articulation errors and grammar mistakes, as her sibling’s speech patterns are passed on to her. Having someone her own age unknowingly teach her a new language has helped tremendously. I’ll often find myself asking Jonas to explain something to Johanna in a way she’ll understand, and now I’ll even ask Johanna to translate for me what Jonas is trying to say.

“I’m mad at her!” Jonas pouted as we crossed into Missouri. Johanna had finished her puzzle before he had finished his, and he didn’t like coming in second place in the contest he created. Having a sibling has taught our children to realize the talents they possess and appreciate the skills of others (she’s kind of a puzzle whiz). His response, though indicative of his ongoing challenges with graciously accepting defeat, has come a long way.

As a family, we had very serious discussions before Johanna came home about accepting her as a sister and making her feel welcome and wanted. Once here, we had various other talks about why it’s not okay to say you want to send your sister back to China, even when you’re very angry.

Most of the time though, their love for each other is ridiculously adorable. There were multiple instances on the long drive when Jonas rhetorically asked, “Wanna know who my best sister is?” or simply stated, “Johanna, you are my favorite girl in the whole world.”

A few months ago, as she packed her bag to go to Chinese Heritage Camp for the weekend with me, Jonas came into Johanna’s room, handing her a necklace he had made of colored noodles strung on pipe cleaners. “In case you get a little sad at camp, this will help you remember me and how much I love you,” he declared. Johanna, our reserved and more hesitant child, is learning what love looks like and how to show affection toward her family because of her sibling. Upon waking in the morning, she immediately asks, “Where’s Jonas?” Without prompting, they pose for pictures with their arms around each other or giving each other kisses on the cheek.

As we arrived in St. Louis that night, our two very tired children jumped on the hotel bed together and collapsed in wrestles and giggles. Jonas and Johanna may have been born in different countries and on slightly different dates, but there is no doubt that these siblings were meant to be together in one family.

The evening ended with one last chorus of their revised “Old McDonald” song and a smile on all of our faces… “with a butt butt here and a butt butt there, here a butt, there a butt, everywhere a butt butt…”

– guest post by Aubree: email || blog || Facebook || Instagram

Growing Together as Family

December 13, 2017 by nohandsbutours 3 Comments

Tom and I spent two weeks away from two of our children, Adele and Archer, while we traveled to China to adopt Haddie. For an entire year, our young children had waited for their new sister. They were familiar with her face, and by the time they met, they had giggled together on Facetime. Haddie, in China, had clung to the photographs of her new siblings and learned how to pronounce their names. All parties were highly anticipating the party to come.

This is how it went down: Tom, Haddie, and I traveled for over thirty hours from Guangzhou, China, to Atlanta, Georgia. When we made it past customs, and burst through the doors, our two other precious children broke past the security gates that separate the waiting families from the newly arrived passengers and ran into our arms. At first we were too tired to notice whether we were bonding or not, and we were overjoyed to finally be together as a family of five.

After sleeping (at last!) at my parents’ house in Atlanta, we all headed to our home in South Carolina. We were doing great, too! Haddie had the choice to sleep in the room with her parents or in her room with her big sister, and she chose to sleep in her own new bed near Adele. Archer clung to me to make up for lost time, but he was still interested in this new person in our family and, at the moment, there were enough parents to go around.

Then we resumed real life: Tom went back to work, Adele started school, and I had two small children who both needed my full attention… and were willing to do whatever it took to gain it.

Archer was only two, and still learning how to talk and communicate, and Haddie was almost four, but looked and acted more like a eighteen month toddler. My two babies were so lovable, so cute, so huggable and squeezable! It was almost bliss. If only there hadn’t been so much screaming, and shouting, and fighting, and hitting.

When I held Archer, Haddie dug her fingers into my legs, wailed for her Daddy, and plain ol’ bawled her eyes out. When I held Haddie, Archer thrashed on the floor, turned red, and broke my heart. If I put them both down for a split second, we all could lay on the floor together, punch the air, and block out the other screaming with our own raised voices.

What a sight we were in those days. We needed two stay-at-home parents, two working parents (to cover our mounting bills), a chef, a housecleaner, a dog-walker, and a stand-up comedian. Instead, we had one parent who went to work, and one parent who stayed at home and cried with her children. That parent (I’ll keep her anonymous) may have cried because she wondered if it was a mistake to bring this chaos into her home. She may have cried because her oldest daughter wasn’t getting the attention she deserved, or because her son appeared to be regressing developmentally, or because — and this was the hardest of all — maybe her newly adopted daughter deserved a better family.

The day soon came when these crying people had to pick themselves up from off of the floor, take a bath, and head to the pediatrician’s office. If they had known how that appointment would go, they might have saved some tears for afterwards, but as it was, the tissues were spent, the tantrums had tired out, and the tears were dry. The pediatrician weighed and measured Haddie, took note of the scrap of medical information we had about her already, and exchanged this data for a long list of referrals, a poor prognosis, and her best wishes for our future together.

Our new little daughter was too little. She was below the zero percentile for both height and weight. Her muscle tone was poor, and based on the multiple accounts we had from her previous caretakers, she was exceptionally delayed in her native language, which meant that learning English might prove impossible.

In addition to her lack of muscle strength, her doctor wondered if she was missing some bones. We weren’t sure if she knew how to eat solid foods, and it appeared to be a miracle that she could walk. We needed to dig deeper into her medical needs, and our next step was to join long waiting lists for specialists and therapists.

In the meantime, the best thing to do was to stay occupied and avoid the war zone (our house). The late summer weather was nice, so we headed to the park. Here, we learned, Archer had something to offer Haddie. She walked up to the playground not knowing what to do. She stared at the twisting plastic and screechy metal chains. What was this place? She tugged on my sleeve to take her back to the car, but Archer was already marching forward. When he looked back and saw that she wasn’t coming, he turned back for her, grabbed her hand, and took her with him to explore.

“C’mon, Haddie. Come here!” he shouted at her. Quite an improvement from, “No, Haddie. Dat’s my mama!” He scrambled up a short ladder, calling her name. I wasn’t sure this frail and fragile child would be able to follow. Did she have the strength to pull herself up a few feet? Did she trust him enough to go after him? Did she know how to play? I lifted her up to the platform, and she followed her brother to the slide and, mimicking his actions, slid down behind him, laughing. He patiently showed her how to climb back to the platform again, demonstrated different ways to go down the slide, even how to climb back up the slide itself. She was willing to try anything he could do, so they soared into the sky together as I pushed them in the swings, and later they ran around in circles, Archer often slowing down a little to allow for Haddie to catch up.

By the time we made it to the top of the waiting list to see specialists, Haddie had gained so much strength, her doctors thought the pediatrician had made a mistake worrying about her muscle tone or missing bones. Her motor skills developed at such a rapid pace that we never needed a physical therapist. One of her doctors even called her brother “the best therapist she could have.” From him, she learned how to throw a ball, how to run up the stairs, how to swim, how to play hide and seek, and how to jump on Mommy and Daddy on Saturday mornings so we wouldn’t sleep in accidentally.

Within a few months, Haddie was zooming down our street on her balance bike.

Within a year she had surpassed normal developmental expectations for gross motor skills.

Her language blossomed as well, and what made this growth really special was that she helped improve Archer’s language skills, too. When we first brought Haddie home, Archer had a limited vocabulary and wasn’t particularly verbally inclined. He was a natural athlete who could ride a bike without training wheels at age two and do tricks on his skateboard at age three, but he was a man of few words. Perhaps his tendency to use the same set of words repeatedly was an advantage for his sister because this gave her the opportunity to hear the same words and phrases over and over until she learned them.

In spite of her doctor’s concern that she would struggle with language, she mastered English quickly. Archer taught her how to say important phrases such as “Happy Birthday,” “Georgia! Bulldogs!” and “You my best friend,” but we’re pretty sure she learned how to say, “I want to go to school” all on her own. Archer surprised us all and suddenly became a chatter-box himself, maybe because he needed someone around at his own level with whom to talk, or maybe because Haddie sparked his competitive nature.

Haddie has now been home three years, and we’ve made great progress on our sibling feuds. Archer and Haddie have scaled back their fighting, and probably only shout at each other a dozen or so times a day which, based on my experience with my own brothers, is well within a normal range. Now that he’s able to communicate at the more advanced level of a six year old, Archer will ask some difficult questions about adoption that Haddie likes to avoid, such as “Who is Haddie’s China mom?” and “If Haddie is bad, can we just take her back to China?” And yes, some of these questions are horrifying, but they do lead to healthy conversations adoptive families need to have.

When I question my own parenting abilities, and return to my doubts of being able to provide the best family for Haddie, I find great comfort in Haddie and Archer’s tumultuous relationship. If these two people, who are sometimes downright mean to each other, can help each other in astonishing ways, then children don’t need perfect families. They need families who will stick out the hard times, forgive each other, and do their best.

My children are still learning how to love each other, and in doing so, we all have learned that love is something we work on every day.

– guest post by Lara

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