Forest: Day 2 and beyond

Now at the laptop, which makes for easier typing, but no photo access. I’m looking forward to being stateside. :)

Day Two: Adoption Finalization Day

At 7:15am my husband called our guide to find out what time we needed to be ready for Adoption Finalization appointments…. 8am! We had not had breakfast, had not assembled gifts, had not converted our money, had not gathered and sorted the necessary documents. We were scrambling! We were able to make it in the nick of time downstairs to the bus, along with the other two adopting families.

 

We took a short drive to the Civil Affairs Office where we wrote out promises to never abandon or mistreat our little boy, to educate him and provide medical care, and so forth. We wrote out an explanation of why we wanted to adopt him. The lady at the Civil Affairs Office was so kind; she gave gifts to our children who were there with us, and we gave her our gift as well. After a good 45 minutes of signing and signing and writing and signing, we had to give them his official name – which at this point had still not been decided upon. As of Monday morning at 8:45, Sun Fu Yan became Forest Andrew FuYan (and then our last name).

 

We went into a large conference room and waited for the other families to go through the same process. I met one family who was adopting a 12 year old boy – number 13 in their family!

 

After the Civil Affairs Office, we got back on the bus and rode to the notary. Waited forever and a day on the elevator (opted to take the stairs on our way down!), and then signed more papers. They give you a line about 1″ long to sign, which is hard when your full name is 29 characters long…

 

After Civil Affairs Office, the families split up to complete various parts of their adoptions. All our kids were from different orphanages in the same province. Our guide took us out to lunch, and Forest emphatically insisted that he wanted spicy peanuts to eat. So peanuts he had! My husband decided they were pretty tasty. One phrase I’ve been able to understand in Chinese is “Let’s eat!” because anytime we are headed for food, Forest will chant “Let’s eat, let’s eat, let’s eat!” all the way there. :)

 

After that, we took a 2 hour ride to his orphanage. We still did not know if he understood he’d be coming back with us, versus staying at the orphanage. The ride was long and HOT. The American portion of the bus was dripping with sweat and nauseated. Our little fella on the other hand, pulled out his jacket from his backpack, put it on over his long sleeve outfit, and took a nap.

 

When we got there, we were greeted by the Director. He seemed like a kind man. They took us to Forest’s classroom where he got to introduce us to his friends. He called each of us daddy, sister, brother, mama, depending on the person. We gave his teacher the hats that our daughter had spent several months knitting, and they gave us crafts that the kids at the SWI had made.

 

It was a very bright and air facility, and the nannies all looked very happy. We next saw Forest’s bedroom, in a line with a dozen+ other little toddler beds. He was very happy to show it to us. We started noticing that he’d run ahead to show us something, then race back to take my husband’s hand. One of the nannies asked Forest if he wanted to spend the night in the orphanage again. *sigh*

 

After that we saw their sensory rooms, their physical therapy rooms, and then the outdoor playground. Forest ran off to go down the slide, with our other kids following behind. After one turn, he came right back to us and held on to my husband’s hand again. A new nanny came out with a gift bag that Forest had decorated, and a pile of his school work. I need to look up the name of the curriculum once I have google access again, but it’s a kindergarten curriculum. Mostly math work that I could see. Our little 4 year old has already had quite an education! They also gave us two printed books all about his orphanage. There are pictures of him in it, as well as some of his little friend Zoe who was adopted earlier this year. We saw the greenhouses and gardens where they grow fruits and veggies to supplement the diets of the children. It was pretty amazing.

 

As we left the courtyard to go to the bus, nannies stood at the windows watching us go, and waving. Forest nearly dragged my husband all the way to the bus. Another 2 hours back – this time in some rush-hour traffic – and finally back to our hotel around 6:30 or 7pm. An 11 or so hour day. We got a LATE dinner at the mall next door, and then crashed.

 

Day Three: Free Day

I don’t remember when we got up, or most of the early portions of the morning, but we headed down to a nice, leisurely breakfast and Forest got to go through the buffet line for the first time. He was very excited about all the food prospects, and had a lot of opinions on what he wanted to eat! Tea-boiled eggs, potato cakes, fried eggs, watermelon, mango, honey dew, dragon fruit, some kind of pastry, watermelon juice, yogurt, sausage, and rice. Never ending tummy. :) He peeled and ate his egg like a pro. Once he was done eating, he hopped off his chair, grabbed his chopsticks, and started playing with them as drumsticks against his chair. Silly guy. :)

 

We spent some time in the hotel room playing with Legos and coloring – he loves to color, and is very detail oriented and precise. He reminds me a lot of someone else I know….

 

We walked to 16 Celebration, in hunt of swim caps – required for use in the pools in China. Hunted up and down everywhere, and had no luck. We went to the drug store portion of 16 Celebration and finally settled on shower caps. (I figure being strange doesn’t count in China…). As soon as we stepped out of the drug store – we were face-to-face with a huge display of swim caps. Go figure. Our 12 year old suggested we return the shower caps – but there was no way I was going to try to explain THAT with a language barrier – and total, we’d spent somewhere around $8, so we figured we would just keep our collection. 😉 We did buy two swim caps though – but only 2, because they were pricey.

 

After all that, we had a quick lunch and had the kids rest for about an hour. Gave me a chance to get showered! Forest settled down in his crib with his backpack, and thumbed through his pictures, then put them away, and colored quietly in bed for a bit.

 

After naps, we got all dressed up for swimming. Forest was stoked. On his Forever Family Day, his nanny had promised we’d take him swimming in the hotel pool and we weren’t about to not live up to that promise!

 

There was a warm ‘kiddie pool’ area that was just right. He was a little terrified at first, and clung to me in the water – which was great! But within 15 minutes or so he was allllll about the pool – jumping in fearlessly, giggling and squealing with delight.

 

Eventually it was time to leave, so we all headed up to the room to change and figure out dinner plans. Forest cheerfully helped put shoes on our Meghan, so she’d be ready to go. Really sweet little guy.

 

We turned on some Chinese cartoons – some show that’s ALWAYS on – about two bears and a wood cutter. My husband and I decided we’d do dinner in the room that evening – but he, and a kid or two needed to go and get it to bring back. I asked who wanted to go – and Forest jumped up, put his coloring book and crayons away, grabbed his shoes, put them on, then took my husband’s hand to drag him out the door. The other kids were content to keep up with the cartoons. 😉

 

I wasn’t feeling well at this point, so laid down while my husband and Forest were gone. I ended up ultimately sleeping until the next morning – and my husband took care of mealtime for all the kids and himself, and bedtime for all. He’s a keeper! By morning, I was feeling much better.

 

Day Four (Wednesday): The Zoo

….coming after breakfast… :) (it’s Thursday morning, nearly 7am here)

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Forest: The First Four Days

Part One – because I’m too tired to do all four days in one fell swoop. Also, I’m posting from my phone and can’t rotate pictures I’m uploading. So there’s that too.

We’ve been on limited Internet the whole time we’ve been gone, and still working on the whole VPN thing so I can access Facebook – but I can recap our last four days here. :) Life with a new and rambunctious 4 year old is leaving us worn out without a ton of time for Internet and blogging. But here goes.

 

Day One – Forever Family Day

Sun Fu Yan was scheduled to arrive at our hotel room on Sunday afternoon, Oct 11, at 2pm. We’d gotten into Jinan LATE the night prior, so spent Sunday morning doing important stuff like finding the nearest source of bottled water, diapers, and snacks. Finally found a place called “16 Celebration” and stocked up. Walked back to our hotel room and waited.

A few minutes before 2, I got a text from another traveling family that Forest had been taken to their room by mistake! So – he was on his way to ours.

The doorbell rang shortly thereafter and we were poised with video camera and photos ready to go. My husband opened the door, Forest looked us in the eyes – and BOLTED down the hall away from us, whimpering, crying, and fussing. He was terrified.

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After some cajoling and encouragement, the nanny and our guide were able to talk him in to coming in. He sat on the sofa, but made it very clear he did not want to stay. We encouraged him to play with some of the toys we’d brought – including a mini MagnaDoodle. He took it, and wrote out all his numbers, 1-9. He pulled out the backpack he’d brought and showed us his 37 printed photographs the orphanage had printed for him. They wanted him to remember where he’d come from, if he ever asked. They included his Forever Family Cake Party with some of his little orphanage friends, with him wearing a party hat and Playboy Bunny shirt. China is silly sometimes. :)

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When it was time for the nanny to leave, he picked up his backpack to leave with them. I picked him up – and he screamed, kicked, scratched, and punched me. He was scared to death and having none of it. It absolutely broke our hearts. The nanny promised him if he spent the day with us he would be able to see her tomorrow (which was true). We went to get official pictures taken, and then came back to the hotel room.

The rest of that day was a blur. He was a bit manic and intense and wild, with bouts of sweetness. We walked to McDonalds for dinner and got him a Happy Meal. He LOVED the sweet and sour sauce and ate his fries with it, smeared it on his hamburger, and then licked the packet clean. He used the packets as little race cars and crashed them into each other – sound effects and all.

Walked back to the hotel room and he enthusiastically picked out SpiderMan pajamas, brushed his teeth, washed his face, and crawled into bed with his backpack, and with his shoes on. He rocked himself to sleep and was out in minutes.

 

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I Can’t Pretend I Don’t Hear the Train.

Some weeks ago, I read the story of a man who grew up in Nazi Germany. Each Sunday when he went to church, a train would go by. It didn’t take long before the church members realized there were cries and screams of desperation pouring from the cars – train cars full of Jews, roaring by the church.

So disturbed by this noise were the congregants that they made it a point to sing their hymns as loudly as they could, to drown out the voices. They wanted to pretend they couldn’t hear. Decades later, this man was still haunted by the memories of their inaction. He hears the train whistle in his sleep, he hears the calls for help. It is too late to do anything but be plagued by inaction.

It’s easy to be disgusted by the behaviors of people who looked the other way in Nazi Germany, or any place in history where people said “this doesn’t involve me so I will ignore the cries.”

We have five children. Our youngest is adopted and has Down syndrome. Our oldest isn’t even 12. Our current family size and makeup make us an oddity here in the US. And we’re going to China again. We are adopting again.

There are people who don’t support our decision to have a larger family, who don’t support our choice to return to China. People who think we are crazy or weird. Or people who just say “you can’t save them all, you know; focus on the kids you’ve got.”

I hear the train whistle, and I will not ignore it.

We can’t save them all. I know that. And that hurts deeply. There are things I’ve learned since Meghan came home that will never make it into a blog post or social media blurb. But those things I know, coupled with the knowledge that some will never know the love of a family? That some will die behind concrete walls without another person to grieve and remember them? That is a bitter thought to handle. Just because we can’t help them all, won’t stop us from helping those we CAN help.

An orphanage anywhere, even if it’s run by the best people in the world, is still an orphanage. It’s nice to live in a bubble where we can pretend that an orphanage is just like a 24/7 daycare, with caring staff, enough food to go around, a basic education, and sweet friends to play with each day.

An orphanage run by the worst people in the world, is a living hell for it’s inhabitants.

A child is an orphan because they’ve suffered unconscionable loss. We never want to lose sight of that. The very existence of orphans should be enough to call us to some form of action. But how many of us turn away and tune it out?

There are orphanages in this world where children spend every minute of every day of their lives never seeing the outside of the crib. They have the ceiling and the bars of their crib to keep them company. Their hands and feet their lone entertainment. There are places where children starve to death – sometimes because the orphanage is too poor to support the children, and sometimes because they just don’t care. There are orphanages where older children are expected to take care of the younger ones — and by “older children” I’m talking about 5 year olds. Five year old kids coming home from orphanages who can change a diaper and scrub a floor clean but cannot stack blocks or draw a circle.

So many countries in the world full of so many children. And yes, our own country, too. Our foster care system is a mess, I know that. There are orphans here in the United States.

There are good orphanages run by caring people who want to make a real difference. And they do make a difference. Those people are some of the best people in the world. But an orphanage is never the same as a home, and a caring director is never the same as loving mom or dad. I am extremely grateful for those who devote their lives to caring for buildings full of children. It is a tremendous sacrifice that few are willing to make.

But just because some places may be sort of good? That’s not reason enough for us to do nothing.

I’ve heard the comment “adoption costs tens of thousands of dollars. That money could make a difference to a LOT of orphans if you’d just donate it. Why spend it all on just one?” If you are called to send tens of thousands of dollars overseas to support orphans around the world, I’ll be your biggest cheerleader. What an awesome use of your money. Really! If you’re interested in helping organizations that serve orphans, I’ll be glad to send you all sorts of websites that are worthy of your support and funds. Show Hope, Love Without Boundaries, and more are WONDERFUL organizations to support. I’ll praise their work til the day I die. But the world also needs people who will say “I will serve the one.” And if that’s what you’re called to do? To save the one? DO IT.

Adoption is hard. It’s messy. It’s full of hurt and heartbreak and grieving. I cannot even imagine the grief of an adopted child. Adoptive parents grieve the choice a biological parent had to make – sometimes to save a life. Attachment isn’t easy or instant. Love becomes a choice.

In a perfect world, adoption wouldn’t be necessary. Every child would be wanted, loved, nurtured, and healthy. But we don’t live in a perfect world. And even though it’s hard, our family feels called to try to make our difference. We can’t pretend we don’t hear the train. I may sometimes be haunted by the fact that we can’t do more, but I never want to be haunted by the fact that we did nothing.

Everyone can do something, and everyone can make a difference. Adopt, foster, advocate, pray, sponsor, volunteer, educate, donate, speak for those who have no voice.

“I lived in Germany during the Nazi holocaust. I considered myself a Christian. I attended church since I was a small boy. We had heard the stories of what was happening to the Jews, but like most people today in this country, we tried to distance ourselves from the reality of what was really taking place. What could anyone do to stop it?

A railroad track ran behind our small church, and each Sunday morning we would hear the whistle from a distance and then the clacking of the wheels moving over the track. We became disturbed when one Sunday we noticed cries coming from the train as it passed by. We grimly realized that the train was carrying Jews. They were like cattle in those cars!

Week after week that train whistle would blow. We would dread to hear the sound of those old wheels because we knew that the Jews would begin to cry out to us as they passed our church. It was so terribly disturbing! We could do nothing to help these poor miserable people, yet their screams tormented us. We knew exactly at what time that whistle would blow, and we decided the only way to keep from being so disturbed by the cries was to start singing our hymns. By the time that train came rumbling past the church yard, we were singing at the top of our voices. If some of the screams reached our ears, we’d just sing a little louder until we could hear them no more. Years have passed and no one talks about it much anymore, but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene.”

Categories: Adoption, Life. | 2 Comments

Love (ALL) Unconditionally

“Love (ALL) Unconditionally.”

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For a couple of weeks now, we have been running a t-shirt sale with that message, as an adoption fundraiser for our newest family member. I’ve been mentally composing a blog post all that time to explain why that concept, that phrase, is so important to me.

But then, the shirt started selling, and selling some more. Nearly 100 shirts later, to many people I don’t know – and I thought “people GET it. They know what I’m talking about!” And I wondered, do I really need to explain?

Well, maybe I don’t need to explain why that message is important – but I did want to at least share what’s on my heart.

A lot of you know my older brother has Down syndrome. Much of my childhood was spent with people with various abilities and physical and mental challenges. Special Olympics weekends were a way of life. These folks with special needs were awesome, and their coaches, their teachers, the judges, the volunteers – all of them AWESOME. Living, breathing examples of unconditional acceptance and love. It was and is an awesome thing to witness.

I spent my middle school and teenage years volunteering with various service organizations. I remember making newborn clothes, and personally giving them to a teenager who was pregnant and visiting a crisis pregnancy center and food bank where I served. I remember the way the organizers acted, always with a smile and an embrace and a “we are here for you” message of encouragement and support. They were living, breathing examples of unconditional love and acceptance to people who were facing HARD decisions, and often times the rejection of family and friends.

I remember organizing a holiday toy drive for an impoverished family in our community when I was a teen. I remember watching my friends and classmates bring in bag after bag of wrapped toys and clothing, for this fairly large family. Youth doing good things, serving and caring and saying “yes you matter, and we are going to show you unconditional love.”

I remember my Dad taking me to a homeless shelter in our downtown metropolitan area and being struck by the enormity of poverty. Children my own age with no toys, no home, maybe a hand-me-down coat. In my own state.  It was probably 25 years ago, and the images and smells and sounds are etched in my mind.

Disabled children and adults. Pregnant teens. Impoverished families. It was all a part of my life growing up, and I loved to serve, but even more so I admired so deeply the people who gave up their lives in service to others. I wanted to feel like in some way, some teensy tiny way I could make a difference for someone. Even if the difference was that that one particular day, somebody smiled at them and spoke kind words instead of turning away in disgust.

Nothing makes me happier than stories of people loving unconditionally. A police officer who buys new shoes for a homeless man. A little old lady half a world away, loving on orphaned children and the societal outcasts. Teachers reaching into their own pockets to meet basic needs of their students People sharing their artistic talents to brighten the lives of children with terminal illnesses.

None of these are things people have to do. They are choosing to do them, and it’s a life-changing thing — for both the people doing and the people receiving.

Several years ago, a little girl who was loved, loved deeply we believe, was no longer able to be cared for by her parents. She was left near a police station in China, where she was certain to be found. Since child abandonment is illegal in China, that location was an incredibly dangerous place for her parents – but it was an incredibly safe place for her. Love so deep, that her parents risked themselves to ensure a future for their daughter. (Before you judge too harshly child abandonment, I implore you to read this article).

She was moved to an orphanage and seemed to thrive and grow, and then something happened to her.

Referral Photo

Referral Photo

We don’t know what happened or what changed, but she needed help.

3 years 2 months old. 13 lbs.

3 years 2 months old. 13 lbs.

Luckily we were already well on our way to bring her home to our family. Yes, I was wholly overwhelmed with the extent of her malnutrition and delays. But we had committed to loving her, and loving her unconditionally.

When we met her, it was a no-brainer that we would be bringing her home.

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We toured orphanages. I was overwhelmed, I was sickened. I was heartbroken. Even the GOOD, amazing, wonderful place we toured — providing wonderful life saving care and offering love… It broke me. Hundreds of children with nobody. NOBODY that was really “their” person.

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I came home from China a changed person. Knee-deep in appointments and therapies for awhile with our newest, we also set out to find ways to help support some of these organizations, advocating for orphans left behind, and finding out needs for these places to see what we could do.

It was in this time advocating that I met “Forest.” The mother of a little girl we met in China was advocating for him, as he had the same need as her daughter. I saw him and knew. He was ours.

"Forest"

On Christmas Day 2014, China granted our preapproval. A month later, we are nearly done with our home study and dossier. Christmas 2015, this little guy should be in our home. (Hopefully sooner than that, even.)

He was abandoned when he was just days old. We hope he is loved, we hope he is valued.

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We want him to know we love him, exactly as he is. He does have special needs, as our daughter did, and we want him to know that he is perfect and lovable and perfect. We want him to know we love him UNCONDITIONALLY.

We want to meet him in China with our other children there (yes, taking the whole family to China), we want them to meet him on “his turf.” We want our children to see and experience firsthand where their littlest brother is coming from. We want them to have a different perspective on life, and changed hearts. We want to serve in China alongside them.

I have this vision of someday walking down the street in Random City, USA holding my boy’s hand. I imagine seeing somebody I don’t know, wearing a “Love Unconditionally” shirt. (Be forewarned if this is you). I imagine squealing and jumping up and down and running toward you with my little boy in tow. I imagine pointing at your shirt and pointing at him. Saying “this boy, THIS boy, because you said ‘YES, I agree with this message’ or ‘YES, I support this adoption!’ because you said THAT, this boy is HOME!” And I’ll high-five you or hug you or something. Because you’ll be one of those awesome people spreading a message of unconditional love – and making a living, breathing difference.

In four days our t-shirt sale ends. Please consider sharing our message of Unconditional Love. $20 – just $20 – can truly make a difference. Available in YXS – Adult 5XL, in two different colors, here.

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Expectations. 6 Months Later.

There are times it’s hard to believe it’s been 6 months since we met Meghan and finalized her adoption, and other times when – looking back – I wonder how on earth we have done SO MUCH in the last 6 months.  We’ve made the rounds through ALL the specialists.  Types of doctors I didn’t even know existed.  There was a time where every single day new words and medical terms and body systems were thrown at us faster than I could process them, and therapy terminology and goals – and instructions – were moving toward us at warp-speed.  We would sit in a stupor at night, unsure whether to just let everything process, or whether to spend hours on Google educating ourselves in this new language and vocabulary.  The first few weeks, the stupor won out.  Aside from getting her fit for ankle braces, and having a neck X-ray done, and aside from follow-ups on every specialist we’ve already seen (just about), we’re pretty much in a groove of stability.

 

Our 6 month post-placement visit was last week, and I took a few moments to reflect on our expectations of Meghan, our expectations of what I thought life would look like – within our family, personally, publicly.  And where things are, related to those expectations.

 

This little girl was tagged at being developmentally 6-9 months of age in August 2013.  Now 6 months later the estimate is 15-18 months, developmentally.  Phenomenal, really.  She’s nearly walking – oh. so. close.  She can hold tightly to a single hand, and take fairly confident steps, one after another.  Let go and uncertainty wins out, she wavers and topples.  She loves toys that make noise, she loves pushing buttons, rolling balls, turning pages in books.  She loves taking off her shoes and socks, which is an important skill to master in wintertime. (Or not).  She’s still pretty resistant to chewing her food.  She’s got BITING down (with the front teeth), but the CHEWING (with her back teeth), she just isn’t keen on.  We’ve been in therapy specifically for that, once a week.  Hoping to bump it to 2x/week soon.  She is signing well, she’s saying a few words – mama, dada, eat, night-night, and a phrase we swear is “I love you” (“ahhhhh luh-ya!”).  She’s learning signs for eat, more, all done, please, help, ball, and probably others too.  Some days are better than others – some days she’s very “tuned in” and eager to learn and go and do.  Other days, she’d rather just cuddle or even lay down by herself with some toys (and people) nearby, without truly interacting with them.  We now do physical therapy every other week, occupational therapy weekly, speech therapy twice a week, and feeding therapy once a week.  (Add in PE for the other kids, piano lessons, AWANA, scouts, etc., and it feels like we’re going non-stop!)

 

Meghan loves my husband.  She adores her siblings.  She’s hot and cold with me.  Some days, I’m really awesome as far as she’s concerned.  Other days – usually the weekends, when the FAVORITE parent is home – I’m just some creature she has to tolerate.  She’s been known to hit, kick, scratch, and push me away.  Even now, 6 months later.  But hurts don’t heal completely in 6 months.  They may not heal completely in 6 years.  Or 6 dozen years.  She not only experienced a lot of loss in her life, she was fighting for her life at times.  While she’s physically healthy now, those are scars that may impact her for much of the time to come.  But for now, I’m grateful for the times her whole face lights up when she sees me walk in the room, the times she’ll pat-pat-pat me on the back when I hold her, the slobbery wet kisses and accompanying hugs she’ll give me at bedtime.  In time, hopefully, the rejection will diminish and love will win. :)

 

In many respects, our lives outside of Meghan are amazingly the same and altogether different.  One thing we never saw coming was being moved to a new church home.  The week we returned from China, we reminded our former minister that we would be taking some time off from church responsibilities to focus on Meghan, something we had stated at several points prior to our trip.  This was a time in our lives when we were spending sometimes 8 hours in the Children’s Hospital in a single day, with multiple appointments flanking that in a single week.  It was a tremendously wearying and stressful time.  We had nothing left to give, with every ounce of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy being directed elsewhere.  He then informed us we were only to speak with him through the church elders.  We tried to do this, and tried to speak with him directly, too.  In the end though, after many tears and hurt and a deep, deep feeling of loss, we felt we had no choice but to move on.  God placed our family in an amazing new community of faith, where we’ve felt a wonderful connection with so many like-minded families and individuals.  It was incredible to walk in that first Sunday and hear “Oh! You need to meet so-and-so, she has a 3 year old that she adopted from China!” It’s not a mega-church by any means, but there have already been many people we’ve been able to form connections and friendships with.  It’s been so renewing and refreshing to us to be able to go on a Sunday morning and simply be fed and leave with a rejuvenated spirit.  I look forward to a time when our involvement can be more than just ‘seat warmers’ but I don’t know when that time will be.  3 months? 6 months? 24 months?  I know the time isn’t now, but we’re prayerfully focused on the future.  This church is in the process of starting up a special needs ministry, and while I have NO intentions of taking on any kind of leadership role (we are still very much laying low!) I’m excited about being a part of it’s inception.

 

Kids’ activities have evolved these last few months; we are continuing to streamline in many respects, and are very thoughtful in what we allow to take up our time.  They all continue with their piano lessons, and with recitals coming up in a month I’ve been hearing a lot of Mozart and a bit of Tchaikovsky.  Kinda makes me wish I’d spent more time with Classical music myself when I was a student, instead of being so infatuated with Scott Joplin and other bouncy musicians.  I’m very thankful for their amazing piano teacher.  They have become very involved in children’s programs in our new church, and I’m thankful too for the leaders they have and the friends they’re making.  On Wednesday evenings, they go to their AWANA classrooms, and my husband and I have what we call “date night” — yes, we sit in the lobby of the church, with a squirmy 4 year old in one set of arms or the other, and chat with other parents.  Simple folk, we are.

 

As for me.  I’m starting to look forward to having some free time.  Some day.  Right now the extent of it seems to be “Hey, I’m going to run to the grocery store for 45 minutes…..alone…!” when my husband is home.  I love being with the family, I adore my kids and spouse, which is a good thing since it’s been family 24/7 for the last 6 months. 😉 Looking forward to a coffee date with a girl-friend or 4 one of these days.  Or a date with my husband that doesn’t involve choir practice in the background.  But life’s good.

 

I don’t know what to expect from the next 6 months.  I’m curious and excited to see where Meghan will be.  I’m excited to see where God will place our family – I think.  Sometimes being shuffled around isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  At least, not at the time of the shuffling!  In another 6 months I’m expecting to see a little girl confidently walking through our house, a little girl who trusts me a little more, who accepts our love a little bit deeper.  Expecting to see new friendships and relationships form and/or deepen.  Expecting, unfortunately, to see other friendships fade away.  Expecting change, I guess.  Which may be the best thing to expect.

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Treasured.

In Fall of 2012, we fell in love with a little girl.  At the time she was two and a half years old, and aside from having Down syndrome, was perfectly healthy.

Referral Photo

Referral Photo

We had three referral photos of this little hairless beauty, and a file that described a girl with spunk and joy and a zest for life.  We fell in love.  Without a dossier in China, we went ahead and requested preapproval for Meng, and on October 23, 2012, China said we could have her, as long as our dossier was logged in within 6 months.

We had 6 months, but we sprinted.  I had a goal of being “Logged In” by New Years (two months time).  I didn’t want her in an orphanage any longer than she needed to be, I wanted her here – with us.  But first we had to be logged in.  Our dossier, and the roughly 8.5 million pages it contained made it to China in January, just barely past my goal.  And then we waited, and waited, and waited.  Our next step was “LOA” – our Letter of Acceptance or Letter Seeking Confirmation (LSC).  Our agency had a policy discouraging care packages and communication before this LOA date.

I got wind of a family visiting her orphanage, though, in early March — prior to our LOA date.  I emailed them right away and said “Please, ask about Meng.  Try to take some pictures for us.”

When you’ve been living off of 3 photos for the last 5 months, pictures are like gold.  You’re hungry for any information about this child you’ve been dreaming of.  The family did indeed find Meng at the orphanage, and did take photos.  On March 18, I emailed them and included the referral photos of Meghan.  The email I sent read “Let me know if these photos come through.  They were taken in July, so I assume she looks a little older – and maybe even has some hair!  Thanks SO much!!!”

On March 19th, we got an emergency update from our adoption agency that due to pyloric stenosis, Meghan was somewhat malnourished.

On March 22nd, the family that visited her orphanage emailed us the photos they had of our now 3 year old girl, taken approximately 8 months after her referral photo.

March 2013

March 2013

She looked tiny.  She looked malnourished.  This was the most flattering of the images I saw; in another, I could clearly see bony shoulders and collarbones; half-opened eyes.  We were broken-hearted.  We prayed, we called friends, we did everything we could do “from afar.”  Our little girl who had been 19 lbs at referral was now only 13 lbs.
She was transferred to Maria’s Big House of Hope, thanks to the aid of Love Without Boundaries.  It took one entire month in their care before Meghan was finally able to sit unassisted again.  By the time we took her into our arms in August 2013, she had regained most of her lost weight.  This picture was taken at Maria’s right before she left to meet us.
Meghan at Maria's

Meghan at Maria’s

Is that a beautiful girl, or what?

She still had a long way to go.  The malnourishment had taken it’s toll on her body, to be sure.  One of the first emails we sent upon our return to the U.S. was to our minister, detailing the numerous medical appointments and doctor’s visits we had in the coming days and weeks (13 different specialists, if memory serves!).  She was a scared little bean of a girl, so we made certain to reiterate that we were focused on her attachment and health, asked him for his prayers for our family, and assured him that we looked forward to returning to the congregation soon.  We knew we needed the love, support, and prayers of our church to get us through the coming weeks ahead!  We focused all our attention on her; she was glued to my or my husband’s side for weeks; in fact it wasn’t until last month that he and I finally ventured out alone without her – for about 2 hours.

The specialists almost all had wonderful news for us.  And then the therapies began.  Oh, the therapies.  Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, feeding therapy.  She needed to learn to crawl, to walk, to chew.  And we loved on her.  Oh, we loved on her.  And she grew.

She started "walking" with little push toys...

She started “walking” with little push toys…

And she grew…..

Learning to self feed. (still trying to master chewing though!)

Learning to self feed. (still trying to master chewing though!)

…And she grew….

Loving on her favorite "doll" - with her favorite piano close at hand.

Loving on her favorite “doll” – with her favorite piano close at hand.

…And she blossomed….

Swinging at the park yields some of the biggest grins and deepest belly-laughs.

Swinging at the park yields some of the biggest grins and deepest belly-laughs.

The little girl who was so very much locked away in her own mind at “Gotcha Day” – bloomed before our eyes.  Almost 5 months home, and she’s so close to walking without assistance that she looks at me like I’m crazy when I try to put her in her walker.

"I'd rather walk this way, thankyouverymuch."

“I’d rather walk this way, thankyouverymuch.”

 

Her transformation has been such a joy to watch unfold.  But like all things worth doing – it has been hard.  It has been exhausting.  There have been days I’m so emotionally and mentally drained by the end – but those days are fewer and farther between.  There are days I wonder what her future looks like, how far she’ll “go.”  But on Tuesday, our family was blessed with an electronic package.  It included some of her medical files, some photos of our beauty during her time at Maria’s, and….. her admission photo.  Knowing she was 13 lbs just 10 months ago was hard enough.  But seeing it?  SEEING what 13 lbs looks like on a 3+ year old?  It took my breath away, tears filled my eyes, and I literally trembled in grief for my baby girl.  This was a girl who was dedicating every ounce of her being to surviving.  That little wound you see on her chin?  That’s from gnawing on her lower lip until it bled.  Her thumbs have similar gouges in the photos – from where she chewed on them until they bled (easier to see in other views).  In our early days with her, any degree of stress led to her chewing and gnawing on herself.  Those behaviors are gone, but she still has some scars.  Seeing what she had done to herself during that stressful time — and more importantly seeing what had happened to her in the months leading up to the move — was almost more than my heart could take.

3 years 2 months old. 13 lbs.

3 years 2 months old. 13 lbs.

What broke my hear the most was knowing that if we – or another family – hadn’t stepped forward for this precious, precious girl when we did….she would have died and nobody would have known, and nobody would have cared.  The world would go on as though she had never existed.  But she matters.  She is loved.  She belongs.  I can’t help but believe that God has big plans for our little girl, and I’m so thankful that He has allowed us to play a part in her life.

Miss Meghan, you are treasured.

Meghan & Daddy (Photo copyright Holly Austin Photography)

Meghan & Daddy (Photo copyright Holly Austin Photography)

 

Categories: Adoption, Development and Growth | 9 Comments

The Efficient (or LAZY) Guide to Holiday Simplicity

We have, by some standards, a large family.  I’m deviating from my normal postings of all-things-Meghan, or gluten-free food — and sharing my brilliant lazy tips for simplifying Christmas.

I don’t do ribbons or bows.  At all.  I don’t do gift tags.  Most of the gifts under our tree aren’t even labeled.  I buy four rolls of reversible paper each year, tape, and a Sharpie.  And I’m set.

Obviously not mine, as they have ribbon and bows. But a Christmas post needs a Christmas picture.

Obviously not mine, as they have ribbon and bows. But a Christmas present post needs a Christmas present picture.

Every single present for one child is wrapped in the same paper.  And until Christmas morning, they have no idea which boxes are theirs.  One lame reason?  It saves me from having to make decisions.  I over-think things.  Which wrapping paper is best suited to this present? Do I have any scraps that would work for this tiny gift?  Don’t have to think about any of that.  Lego set? Easy – my son’s paper.  Angelina Ballerina book?  Easy – my daughter’s paper.  Christmas morning sets them on a scavenger hunt to find clues to identify which wrapped presents are theirs.  (One clue might say that our oldest has paper with green on it — which might eliminate 3 possibilities; another clue might say our middle child’s paper has circles, or reindeer, which might eliminate a couple options).  They are horribly rhymed clues, hidden throughout the house.  But the kids get a kick out of it.  On lazy years past, we’ve just put a slip of their particular paper in their stockings.  Anyhow – that uses up 5 of the 8 paper patterns.  Another goes to the “family gifts.”  And the remaining two papers?  One for his entire side of the family, one for my entire side of the family.  Labeled with Sharpie.  When it’s time for gatherings with extended family, all I have to say is “Okay, grab all the packages wrapped in Martian-Santa paper!” and we never almost never leave a present behind.  As to the lack of bows and gift tags?  I’ve had toddlers in my house for so long and bows are so tempting – that they inevitably get ripped off or smushed anyway.  Gift tags can fall off, and Sharpie is just easier.  To my extended family: sorry that I’m not more creative. Maybe someday you’ll get beautifully wrapped, stunning gifts.  But… probably not.

For further simplicity, we limit each kids’ gifts to three — a book, a “big” item they want, and a skill-building or learning-gift related to their interests (anything from candy-making to crocheting, acrylic paints to woodcarving).  We don’t have an equal budget per child *gasp*…. and so far, nobody has noticed or cared.  We also do 5 “family gifts” (we have done four in years past, but now that we have a fifth child, this balances things out so each child can open a family gift).  The family gifts — one game, one Christmas puzzle, one read-aloud book for the entire family to enjoy, one DVD, and our newest category — one ‘membership’ (ie art museum, zoo, science museum, whatever).  Things the entire family can enjoy.  Each kid gets to open one of the family gifts – but they understand that it’s a communal gift. My husband and I follow in his parents’ romantic footsteps, and generally give each other home improvement projects.  This year we talked about a dining room ceiling devoid of popcorn texture.  Super, duper, incredibly romantic. Don’t be jealous.

If the kids are giving and wrapping presents – they can use scraps from years’ past.

What I like best?  I don’t have to think.  I like formulas and plans so that I don’t have to think.  It’s either lazy or brilliant, I haven’t yet decided.  But it works for us – and that’s all that matters to me.

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Orphanage Thoughts on a Cold Day

We’ve been homebound with snow and ice for a few days, and I’ve spent a large part of the day thinking about Meghan’s history, about winter and holidays, about orphans.

 

* Our little girl came from an orphanage with limited heat, some rooms completely unheated.  Last year was record-breakingly cold.  I know her orphanage begged the community to donate mittens and hats because of the bitter temperatures.  I have no idea how warm she was, how they dressed her, whether she had blankets.

 

* Meghan is almost 4.  This may be her first winter where she’s ever had warm clothes and a warm bed.  A heated place to live.  Enough food.

 

* She was hospitalized a year ago with “bad lungs,” which I can only assume means pneumonia.  We have such limited knowledge of her medical history (limited knowledge on any of her history, really).  She was likely alone most – if not all – of the time she was in the hospital.  There’s no way to know for sure, but that’s likely.  How does an already understaffed institution spare an employee to go sit in a hospital room?  Nobody to advocate for her, nobody to hold her hand, stroke her cheek, kiss her forehead.

 

* She’s coming down with a little cold today – just some sniffles and lethargy.  Her first illness since she’s been home.  Care is a “given” here — lots of cuddles, watchful eyes, medicine when needed.  With a couple dozen babies in one room with two nannies, what do they do when one gets sick?  Many of the orphans in China have special needs.  How do you keep illnesses from spreading through an orphanage – how do you protect already compromised children?  Even in the most amazing orphan facility in the world, I don’t know how you’d do this.

 

This time last year, we were celebrating what would be her last Christmas Season without a family.  We had what we jokingly called our “Shrine to Meghan” – just a little cabinet in our living room with a digital frame of her three photos, and little gifts we’d been collecting for her.  The kids had been making small tokens for her, and there they remained on display in our living room until we left for China.  We counted down the “lasts” of her time as an orphan.  Last Christmas.  Last New Year.  Last winter.  I’m glad those lasts are behind us, and grateful for all the firsts in our future.  Even her first cold, where she can be loved on and comforted.

 

If it’s on your heart at all, please consider supporting reputable charities that provide care for orphans.  Consider supporting those in your state’s foster care system.  If it’s on your heart to foster or adopt – look into it! Explore your options, even take that first step.  If you have any questions – let me know – I’d be glad to give any information I can, or point you to someone more knowledgeable.

Photo copyright Holly Austin Photography https://www.facebook.com/pages/Holly-Austin-Photography

Photo copyright Holly Austin Photography
Meghan & Daddy

These are some organizations that we’ve worked with:

A Brother’s Love: This organization provided us with a grant that enabled us to bring Meghan home.  Supporting them enables ABL to provide grants to other families, and helps to bring children home.

Love Without Boundaries: This organization worked to get Meghan transferred to Maria’s Big House of Hope, where she received life-saving care.  You can donate directly to them, or can sponsor a child and help provide surgeries and other necessities.  Incredible organization.

Show Hope: This is where Maria’s House of Hope comes from. In addition to working directly with orphans, they also provide grants to families.

New Hope Foundation: I squealed with delight when Meghan’s photo showed up in their online newsletter as a child who’d gone home.  I love following this organization and the work they do.  They also work with Maria’s House of Hope.  The Hills are an incredible couple who have made such a difference in the lives of the “least of these.”

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3 months and counting

Brief updates on life with Meghan and the other kiddos…

Meghan is making great strides every week.  She’s becoming more secure, more confident.  She’s happier, more interactive, and more trusting.  She’s also more likely to throw little fits when she doesn’t get her way – or start squawking if she thinks we haven’t been paying enough attention to her.  All of our initial therapy evaluations are complete, and we are nearly done with first rounds of specialists – only lacking the neuro-ophthalmologist and dentist (really not looking forward to the dentist!).  OT & PT weekly, speech therapy twice a week, feeding therapy twice a week.  She will be getting tubes in her ears soon, and will have a sedated hearing test at the same time – as she miserably failed her initial hearing test.  I wasn’t at all surprised that she failed the hearing test, because it comprised of playing all sorts of random noises and watching to see whether she reacted to them.  As a child who grew up surrounded by non-stop noise, she’s learned to tune out quite a bit.  She does respond to her name, however, and LOVES musical toys.  To me those are good signs that she is hearing.  She’s also babbling like crazy, her favorite word being “gobble, gobble, gobble…”  We aren’t sure why she says it (she’s definitely not mimicking turkey noises, just babbling), but one of our favorite things to do is say “What does the turkey say, Meghan?” when she starts gobbling.  I never claimed to not be easily amused. 😉  She is getting closer and closer to walking – she’s pulling up and cruising, and EAGER to move independently – but I also think she’s leery to trust her own strength and abilities.  She will be fitted for leg braces soon, but mainly because she likes to throw her knees backward and lock them to stabilize herself.  Because she’s hypotonic, her knees bend backward – and we want to make sure this doesn’t become an issue.  The braces will help with that.  PT feels like they won’t be a long-term thing however.

The other kids are doing very well, and truly enjoy their little sister.  I am flabbergasted by the lack of time I have these days.  I knew life would be busy, but I feel like I’m running 99 MPH all. day. long. between appointments, schooling, housework, cooking, and so forth.  I keep thinking about blogging, but by the time I have 30 seconds of free-time it’s 9:30 at night and all I want to do is sit down with a cup of tea and let my mind wander.  I can hardly put together a cohesive thought, much less type a cohesive sentence.  (to all my friends I owe emails: sorry!).  I wouldn’t change any of this for the world – we feel so blessed to have her in our lives – but it is a BUSY time.  I am so thankful that 90% of our friends seem to understand and accept that it’s nothing personal when we say “I’m so sorry, I really CAN’T help with x, y, z…”  A time and a season….and this is definitely the time & season to focus on what’s happening inside these four walls here at home…or the four walls of the doctors offices/therapists/hospitals/van (do vans have walls?)

I’m asked quite a bit about China.  What the orphanage was “really” like, what Maria’s House of Hope was like.  What China itself was like.  I will say, it was one of the most overwhelming, intense times of my life.  Wonderful in OH so many ways, but we were so ready to come back to the familiarity of home.  As for what an orphanage is really like, all I can say is life-changing.  I essentially shutdown emotionally during our tours, because the enormity of it is so….well, enormously overwhelming.  One of our guides said “You look like a deer stuck in headlights.”  It wasn’t something I could process as I was experiencing it.  There were three little ones that really captured my heart, and I think of them often.  One in particular would be SUCH a blessing to a mama and baba (well, they all would, but this gal – ohmygoodness….).  I know she’s got a file available, but have no idea where she is, as she’s not on the shared list.  We are also asked often if we are ever going back to China.  I truly hope to some day.  I know this isn’t the time or season to rush into another adoption.  The adoption process itself was exhausting – and there is so much going on at home with helping Little Miss.  But some day, I would like to go back.  Not sure what we’d DO when going back (volunteering? adopting? sight-seeing? living?) but yes, I want to go back.

I’m really content with this life we’re living.  It’s streamlined and simplified.  I’m trying to be truly “present” with the kids – less time focusing on other people, other things, computer screens… We have taken a very relaxed approach to homeschooling this year, and I am ADORING it.  Reading, game-playing, more reading, discussion, lots of kid-led project-building.  Certain rooms inevitably look as though a whirlwind came through, but I love seeing signs of activity and purposeful busy’ness.  I know some day those signs will be gone – so I’m going for embracing them.  But it’s good stuff.  Exhausted out of my ever-loving mind, but happy.   Haven’t been out on a date with hubby since China – but seriously, climbing the Great Wall? Visiting jade factories? Eating Chinese food day-in-and-day-out?  And coming home with a living, breathing, thriving, growing, incredible “souvenir”?  That’s the kind of date that could tide me over for a lifetime.

So, while it’s been a couple months since I’ve blogged – suffice it to say life is good, Meghan’s doing well, kids are great, and – exhausted though I am – we are all quite happy and content. :)

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Grief.

Each day, Meghan shows us a little more.  Sometimes it’s in a new physical milestone or letting us see something new bring her joy; sometimes it’s a further glimpse of her personality or further growth in her relationship with us.  Lately, she’s been showing us mourning… grief and loss.  Nothing in particular that shows us she’s grieving her former life, but little things that show us she’s afraid of what’s going to happen with this life.

Today I fixed her lunch – a large bowl of rice cereal + formula, a half a banana, and a half dozen pieces of cheese – not that that’s relevant, except that MAN this girl eats a lot, especially compared to before.  Anyway, she was in her high chair, happily enjoying the company of her siblings who were having their lunch all around her.  The mailman came, and I went outside to get the mail.  The girl who rarely cries started sobbing, and screaming, and just… just SOBBING.  Grief-filled, heart-wrenching, gulping sobs.  She could see me walk out the door, and saw me out the window – all the way to the mailbox.  And I could hear her, 30′ away with her inside the house and me out.  I got the mail and came back to the house – walked into the dining room, and upon seeing me the tears instantly stopped.  This isn’t separation anxiety – this is I’ve been left before; everything has been changed before – everything stripped away from me; why is she leaving and who will take care of me next anxiety.  My husband joined us for lunch and when he headed back to the office, she had the same fat tears and and choking sobs until she looked over and saw that I was right there.  That particular outburst lasted about 8 seconds.

It will be some time before she’s left in the care of anyone else, grandparent, babysitter, church nursery, whatever.  She doesn’t understand – and even if a language barrier wasn’t an issue, she’s spent 3.5 years knowing nothing but loss.  And that breaks my heart.  Her face lights up when she sees us each morning.  She spends her time lurching from one set of arms to the other with joyous squeals when my husband and I are within about 2′ of each other.  She is feeling secure, I think.  I hope.  But all is takes is watching one of us walk out the front door to send her into a tailspin.

I look forward to the day she knows – really knows and truly understands that we are her for always people.

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