Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Claire is 8!

My baby girl is 8 years old today.   It's official, I sound completely crazy when asked what ages my kids are- 12, 10, 8 and 8.  Let me tell you, that raises an eyebrow; especially if I tell them my last two are 8 months apart and my kids aren't with me.  I tell them sometimes just to see their face.

It has been a joy watching Claire enjoy and soak up the special attention her birthday has brought.  She has shared with us that she would have a small cake on her birthday in China but never a birthday present.  She was very loved by her foster family and having a small cake is more than most children waiting for adoption receive but she has definitely been waiting for those presents.
She patiently waited through all the birthdays in the family and commented frequently about "my first birthday in America!"  I was a little worried she was expecting a pony or something with the amount of her excitement, but no, she was just looking very forward to her special day.  I found this t-shirt months ago and tucked it away for today.  Now the whole world will know it's her birthday and I'm sure she will be quick to tell them it's her FIRST birthday in America.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Older Child Chronicles: Part 4

Siblings and More

I feel very unqualified to write this post.  For, I don't know the answers, haven't figured out the answers and feel far less than qualified to pass on answers to anyone else.  This post has been swirling around in my head for a couple months now.  To me, it feels like normal life so I'm having a hard time trying to separate what is just sibling behavior and what is related to adoption and adding an older child to the family.  And, I think when you're in the thick of it you don't have a subjective viewpoint as someone on the outside looking in would.  But, I guess this could just be a "this is how it's been for us" type of post and take from it what you may.

Keep in mind though, every adopted child, every child already at home and every family is different so you may experience none, some or all of this in your older child adoption because we all have different personalities that make relationships all different.

First let's tackle taking siblings to China.  
There are so many personal opinions on this topic and some agencies even weigh in heavily with their opinion so the question of "should we take our other children to China" becomes a very hot button topic.  I don't think there is right or wrong answer; let me explain.

We really wanted to take our three other children to China with us.  We knew it wasn't going to be a vacation in the traditional sense but we also knew we couldn't load up the van and take a road trip to China next summer either.  The main (and probably only) reason we didn't take our other children with us was because of cost.  Three more plane tickets at $1500 each and adding a hotel room at each location made our travel costs almost triple.  It simply wasn't feasible at the time.  They also would have missed three weeks of school and that would have been hard to make up but I'm certain we could have made it work if the finances would have been favorable.
We thought by having our other children with us it would help Claire see and understand a parent/child relationship simply by observing.  We also thought they would help make her comfortable through play and normal child to child bonding.  And while it wasn't a vacation, it would have given our other children the opportunity to see the culture that Claire grew up in and maybe help them understand a bit more why she may do some of the things she does.

Once we decided it was too much of a financial strain to bring them with us we began looking for the positives of leaving them at home.  Their schooling wouldn't be stressed by missing so much, it would give us time with Claire to really bond without the distraction of other sibling interactions or behavior, it would make the official adoption visits easier because we wouldn't have to keep 4 kids entertained with only 2 of us, we wouldn't have to pay extra fees because our agency strongly discourages siblings on the trip (and shows their discouragement with additional fees,) we wouldn't have to juggle luggage and transportation for 5 (and then 6) people.  The kids are old enough to carry some of their own stuff but a suitcase outfitted for 3 weeks is a bit beyond their capacity so we knew that would fall back to us.

Now, our experience traveling without our other children.
The travel part was obviously easier with just the two of us (and then 3 on the way back) than making sure the kids were comfortable and entertained on the 14 hour airplane ride.  We were able to bond solely with Claire without the distractions that other children bring.  We didn't have an issue, beyond those first couple of hours, with Claire being shut down so the benefit of our other children to play with her wasn't necessary; not that it wouldn't have still been nice.  Growing up in a foster family for most of her life, Claire understood the parent/child relationship fairly well.  She grew up more with a grandma relationship but still, she had that authority and caring adult figure before she came to us.  The official adoption visits weren't hard but I'm sure it would have been harder having 4 children with us.  For some of those visits (notary, medical exam, consulate appointment) you just sit for an hour or more, so entertaining 1 instead of 4 was definitely easier.

Now for the flip side.  Being with Claire, and Claire only, for nearly 3 weeks brought a few negative things as well.  For the first part of her time with us, it was only her and us; she didn't have to share us with anyone.  She had 100% attention and while that is probably the way it should be, it did bring home a bit of attitude when she had to share us with the other children.  It's a double edged sword, no right or wrong answer here.  She needed the time with us to bond but then that proved to cause some difficulty when we got home and she no longer had that undivided time with us.  I could see it in this picture I posted, taken when we arrived home at the airport.  Others may not see it but I can tell Claire's face is really thinking "wait, I didn't have to share these arms for 3 weeks, who are you?"
If we had just one, or maybe even two, other children we would have most likely taken them with us.  I think the positives of having them on the trip outweigh the negatives.  This would be based solely on your other children's personality too, though; some children travel really well and some would rather be at home.  But, after going on the trip and everything we experienced I would take them, in a heartbeat, if the finances allowed it.

The first few months at home I did see Claire trying to put herself between us and the other kids; sort of like a hierarchy in her mind and she needed to be at the top.  I noticed this the most with Daddy and pointed it out to him because it's really hard to see for yourself when you're in the middle of it.  But, if I subjectively stood back and watched I could see her turn on some charm when he was around and get different treatment from the others.  It would be very helpful if you spoke with people who will be around you after getting home and ask them to look for behaviors that you might not realize are happening.  Speak with your other children that treatment of the new child is bound be different than them, simply because they started out in your family a different way and that requires different treatment at times.

Claire would often point out when one of the others would get in trouble that "I never get trouble."  At first I ignored it and then warned her that those comments would indeed get her into trouble if they continued.  Even now, 8 months later, she will once in awhile make reference to the fact that the other kids get in trouble more than she does.  Her idea of getting in trouble is a bit skewed as well.  If I get onto Matthew more than once about Legos being all over the floor and threaten to take them away if they aren't cleaned up, Claire will sometimes say "I always pick up my Legos, I never get in trouble."  I have started to point out that she's not much different than the other kids; they all leave toys out, including her.  I now make it a point to include her in my griping about clothes being left strewn around rooms or toys left in places they shouldn't be.  I didn't at first because she didn't know the rules but she took that as special treatment that made her better than the others.  I've encouraged our other children to speak up when they feel something isn't fair and many times I've agreed with them and tried to consciously make an adjustment in how I treat Claire.  Not that I treat her worse because they say it isn't fair but if I complain about Emily having 4 pairs of shoes on her floor I will now look around and see that Claire also has several pairs on the floor and I'll make them both put them away, whereas I didn't do that the first several months she was home.

The relationship between the kids is fluid, ever changing.  The first month or so was a honeymoon period.  Matthew invited Claire to play with him, Emily made it a point to play with dolls with her (which she never touched before), Jacob would do silly things to make her laugh, etc.  The next couple of months brought some real adjustments instead of just accepting everything Claire did as OK.  Emily wanted to read at night but Claire needed to go to sleep, Matthew decided that he didn't want Claire in his room all the time playing with his things but Claire didn't understand that because she could play with them before, Jacob turned back towards being a 12 year old boy with a 7 year old sister; he didn't want her hanging around him asking questions all the time but she didn't know why that wasn't OK anymore because it was before.  I would get onto the older kids for not including her as much but at the same time try to explain to her that I will let each of them have their own space and time and they don't have to play with her or entertain her all the time.  I encouraged her to play with something that she wanted to but it became more obvious that she wasn't used to that.  She was the older sister to a handicapped brother in China; he played whatever and whenever she wanted to.  She was the boss and never really played alone.  She spent some time unhappy because nobody would play with her; she still does occasionally but she's learning how to entertain herself a lot better now.  When I'm in the kitchen preparing dinner she will color or play with her dolls or go outside.  This is a huge step in independence that she didn't show before.

Around this time she became obsessed with one of Emily friends who lives in the neighborhood.  "Kate" would come over to play with Emily but end up entertaining Claire the whole time; imagine that struggle for Emily.  Claire was getting nearly 100% attention from Kate, so she "loved" her.  That has backed off quite a bit as the newness has worn off and the 10 year old girls want to hang out together occasionally without a younger sister.  They still involve Claire a lot when they play but I've noticed Claire's obsession with Kate has faded as Kate wants to be with Emily more.

I noticed the next phase between the kids as more sibling rivalry.  I've always had an attitude of kids can work out their issues without parent involvement (to an extent) but I've noticed that I settle many more sibling fights now than I used to.  This is hard.  Sometimes I get upset with the older kids for nit-picking stupid things that Claire is doing, or saying.  I remind them that even though she's conversationally fluent in English, there are still a lot of nuances in speech that she does not understand.  Instead of helping her make sense of something she's not saying right they tend to tell her it doesn't make sense in a nit-picky way.  I usually step in and remind them and then help Claire reword what she's wanting to say so she can also learn from it.  Then other times Claire gets upset because one of the other kids tells her what to do.  All of a sudden that stubborn streak shows up and she will get feisty with them.  Sometimes I get onto her about that because it wasn't that the other kids were trying to boss her around, it was more that they knew I would say something if she left her toothbrush out, or clothes in the bathroom after her shower, etc.  So it may start out as Emily saying "Claire, you left your toothbrush on the counter" and Claire responds back with "don't tell me what to do" and then progresses to "Claire, I'm not telling you what to do, I'm just telling you that you left it out" and then I'll hear "Emily, why you so mean to me?" and a response of "I'm not being mean, Claire!" and of course the voices shriek a little higher each time and then Claire gets downright mad.

I don't want to come across to the older kids that I always choose Claire's side but also don't want it to be that I always defend Claire and the older kids can't do anything right.  It's a balancing act, a tight rope at times.  I fall off the rope a lot, sometimes upsetting Claire, sometimes upsetting one of the others.  It's a good thing that kids are very forgiving.

So, if we take this sibling situation back to the idea that bringing home an older child is really like bringing home a newborn, this is how you could interpret the stages.

Bring home the baby: Older siblings are in love, they are being such "big helpers" and everything in your world is rose colored.

Baby starts to crawl: Older siblings are finding toys for the baby, who can now hold onto things and get around, a little bit.  This is fun, the baby can play!

Baby turns into a toddler: Mom!  Baby is messing with my toys. MOM!  Get the baby.   Mom doesn't come quick enough, of course, so then the baby starts crying.  "what did you do?  Why is he crying?"  Older sibling has a look of "uh oh, maybe I shouldn't have whacked him with that toy." look on his face.

Older sibling and Toddler, now preschool age learn to get along and play a bit better and you sigh a sigh of relief that the 2 year old stage is over.

Older sibling goes to school and gets his own friends.  "Mom, make him get out, he's bothering us!"   And so it begins again.

It's fluid and it changes.  
It's not easy, it's not hard (at least all the time).  
It's cool to watch your family swell with love for another, it's covering your head up with the pillow at the end of the night and hoping that morning is a long time away.  
It just is.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Older Child Chronicles: Part 3

What can happen at and after Gotcha

I had read many, many stories of other adoptions before traveling.  Just when I thought I'd read enough, I'd read more.
I knew the children being adopted would most likely be shut down when you first meet them.
I knew that nearly all children cry, some even hitting, kicking and screaming.
I knew all of that.  I even understood it; the child really has very limited understanding of what is happening and they are frightened and may even be (in their eyes) fighting for their life.

I expected it.

And then it happened.
When we first met Claire she was smiley, said 'hi" to me after I said "ni hao" to her and let me hug her.  She gleefully went through the backpack we brought and quickly finished a package of teddy grahams I'd stashed in there.  When her last teddy graham was gone we watched as she quickly realized what was happening.  We were forced to sign paperwork while she watched and then she broke out in full hysterics.  She cried, and cried, and cried while saying in Mandarin "I want my grandmother, I want China, I don't want to leave China."  I don't know anything that the orphanage worker or our guide told her as it was all in Mandarin.  After about 10 minutes of her heartbreaking cry it was time for us to leave.  The orphanage worker walked us out of the orphanage and Daddy carried Claire to the van, while she was crying, pleading and begging to stay.  We were put in the van, Claire sitting on her new Daddy's lap and we left.  She was crying, I was crying and our guide was repeatedly trying to reassure her.

It felt like we had just kidnapped her, and by all accounts, I'm sure that is what it appeared like as well.  Two Americans in the back of a van with a Chinese child being held while she screamed; not exactly what I had pictured in my head of the day we met her.

Once she stopped crying hysterically she rejected anything our guide would say.  Our guide would try to redirect her attention to the baby doll we brought, she grunted and pushed it away from her.  Our guide would say something about her new Mommy and Daddy and she would yell out a very hostile "bu shi" (NO).

Even though I knew this could happen and actually expected it to happen, it still caught me off guard.  I was surprised by the way it made me feel.

I felt so wrong, like we were not doing the right thing, like we just kidnapped a child.  I questioned everything.
I questioned our motives.  Were we being selfish and doing what we wanted and not what was really best for her?
Was she better off staying here in China with her foster family?
I felt completely helpless.

I didn't know what I was supposed to feel; immense joy that we were just given our daughter we'd dreamed of or extreme guilt and hurt that we were breaking this little girl's heart?  I didn't really know how to process what I was feeling; I wasn't really able to think beyond that exact moment and what Claire must be feeling.  I couldn't see past that moment and it was almost like I had blinders on and the future was literally one minute at a time.  I focused on the time in the van and didn't think much about getting back to the hotel; I simply couldn't think that far ahead.  The only thing other than Claire that my mind thought of is that we needed prayer.  I prayed the whole time we were in the van and used the rented cell phone to call my mom back in the states to tell her to start praying for us.  Honestly, I have no idea what time it was in the states and I didn't even think of that at the time; I just knew we needed as many prayers as we could get.

We stopped at a Kodak store on the way back to the hotel to have our photo taken for our adoption registration.  Our guide and the worker at the Kodak store dried Claire's tears and tried to make her look somewhat happy in the photo.  That didn't work, she has one mad scowl on her face in our registration photo.

We got back to our hotel and had about an hour and a half to get some lunch and hopefully get Claire to calm down.  She was very quiet at first.  I can't begin to imagine what she must have been thinking.  Two people that look nothing like her nor speak her language picked her up, took her picture and brought her to a place unknown to her.  Looking back now, I'm surprised she didn't fight longer.

We fed her a big plate of egg fried rice, her favorite, and opened up the suitcase full of toys.  By the time we left for our appointment with the government official she had warmed up and showed our guide the toys she brought to play with.  The second time we arrived back at our hotel she went with us willingly and the rest is history.

God is good.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Letting the guard down

After reading many stories from other parents who adopted older children I expected Claire to resist affection from us and also not want to share affection with us either.  I was surprised when she kissed Daddy on the cheek the first day and didn't physically resist a hug.  In fact, she never resisted hugs or kisses so I was a bit surprised after reading that most older children do resist it.  I mean, I can understand not wanting someone you just met to hug you.

I never really thought much about it except for the fleeting thought of that it was one challenge we didn't have to work through.  That is until about a week or so ago.  Even though Claire didn't resist affection from us and would show us affection as well I noticed a shift in her; almost like a guard came down and we worked our ways into her heart a little more.

She hugs back now.  I mean really grabs on and hugs back instead of having her arms around us but we're really doing the hugging.  She seeks me out to give me a kiss.  When it's time for the kids to catch the bus they wait in our front yard until the bus starts coming down the street and then they hurry to to the bus stop.  Every day this week she has run back up to the front porch towards me.  The first day I said "what's wrong honey, did you forget something?" and she smiled and said "no, I give you kiss."  She had big puckered lips and laid a big fat kiss on my cheek and then ran off saying "bye bye Mommy, I love you."  It just made my heart melt.

She initiates the affection now and I can clearly see it is different than before; even though I didn't know before that anything was off.  It is so neat to see the guards come down and her heart fully open up to us.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Older Child Chronicles: Part 2

Packing Your Suitcases

I dug around for the packing list I used for our trip and luckily I found it. Here are the basics:

I recommend casual clothes with one outfit that is a little nicer for appointments with government officials and "gotcha" day. I took more clothes than recommended and ended up glad that I did. Our laundry in Beijing took 4 days so if I had only taken 3-4 outfits as recommended I would have been wearing the same thing for 4 days while I waited for the laundry to be done.  It is going to be easier to rewear clothes if you travel in the cooler months because your clothes are going to get raunchy quick when it's hot out; especially in Guangzhou.  Pack one outfit for each person traveling in a carry on so if your luggage gets lost you will have at least two outfits to get you by until the luggage is found.  I packed two sets of undergarments in my carry on as well so I could change during the flight if I wanted to and still have another set if my luggage got lost.

Clothes for your new child
A lot of people say to take only a couple of things and then buy clothes in China after you have them so you have the right size.  I didn't do that.  I used the measurements I got and bought clothes according to size charts.  The most helpful ones I found were Lands End and Children's Place charts.  If the measurements you receive are during the winter, assume they are a bit bigger than what your child actually is.  They layer on those heavy winter clothes and that adds a few pounds.  The measurements I got for Claire right before we left were 44 lbs and 45 inches tall.  She was really about 38-39 lbs and 43-44 inches tall.  This made a difference of an entire size.  So, I would estimate on the smaller side of clothes.  I brought everything for her, clothes, panties, pajamas, socks, shoes, coat, mittens, hat, etc.  I thought she'd come to us with a coat but I wanted to be prepared in case the orphanage wanted to keep it.
Also assume the foot measurement you get (if you get one) was taken with their shoes on, not of their actual foot.  The measurement I got for Claire was 7.1" (after I converted the cm to inches) which was a size 12.  This sounded right to me because my nephew was about the same size and wore a 12-13 shoe.  So I bought size 12 boots and took them with us.  Imagine my surprise when I saw the size of shoe she really wore!  She actually wore a toddlers size 9 shoe and is just now in a 10 1/2 toddlers.

Goodies for your new child

I had to go back and find a couple of pictures to try and remind myself of the things we took for Claire.  I took a lot of stuff but I'm glad I did because she moved from one thing to the next very quickly and I had enough to keep her occupied.  Here is a list:
Calin Doll-  I bought this doll long before we traveled.  As part of our last care package I wrote a simple story book with pictures for Claire to introduce our family and also help her understand what was going to happen.  We took a picture of everyone with the doll to include in the book and then I brought the doll with us when we met her for the first time.  She immediately recognized the doll and got the book out of her backpack and showed us that they were the same.  Definite hit!  I took clothes for this doll too so she could change her clothes.  She played with the doll and clothes a lot while we were in China.
Back Pack- Hello Kitty is huge in China so I got one with Hello Kitty on it.  Now I think Dora would have been even better.  We took this backpack with us when we met her filled with Teddy Grahams, M&Ms, sunglasses, small coloring book, crayons, little ladybug and her doll.
Leapster- We already had a Leapster (and lots of games) from Matthew so it wasn't something I had to buy just for her.  But, if I had to I probably would because it was the most played with toy I took.  Even though she really didn't understand the games, she enjoyed playing with it and was hearing English while she played.  The favorite game was Mr. Pencil because it is coloring and drawing; even though she didn't know English yet she figured this game out really quickly.
Kids Meal toys- When we eat out I get a kids meal most of the time so I saved those little toys and put them in the suitcase.  These were small and could be crammed down inside a shoe for packing and she liked a lot of them.
Hair bows

Hair brush- Bring one for the child just in case you run into an issue like lice.
Water bottle- the one I found had a snack container that screwed onto the bottom.  We used this during our outings in case she got hungry or thirsty.
Books- I wouldn't take too many and I'd only take easy ones.   The wordy books I took kept her attention for a total of 20 seconds; she had no idea what on Earth I was saying so she lost interest really fast.  The toddler books I took were the best.  Ones like First 100 Words (Bright Baby)My First Colors Board Book (My 1st Board Books)Big Board Books Colors, ABC, Numbers (Bright Baby) are the best, in my opinion.  You can open it, tell the child what the words are and when they lose interest you can put it away until next time.  We taught Claire all the colors in English before we left China and it was with a simple colors book aimed at toddlers.  We also knew the colors in Chinese so we would show her a blue page and say "lanse, blue."
Crayons, coloring books, blank doodle books- Try to get one of the smaller, top bound books so it fits in a backpack easily for plane rides, etc.
Beach ball- a definite must have.  I brought two and we played with them a lot.  We also used it to help her learn the colors.  We would point to a color on the ball, say it's name and then throw it.  She started doing the same thing quickly.
Inflatable swim ring- She really liked this too; she thought it was fun to lay on it on the floor and we also used it to play beach ball basketball.
Bubbles- Don't forget bubbles!  They brought the first smiles and giggles from Claire.
Bath toys- I bought small, cheap ones and then left them behind when we came home.  Claire loved taking a bath so these were a good thing to bring.  They could also help a child who is scared of the bath feel a bit more comfortable.
Pictures of your house, their new room, and family members.

Most of what I brought, except for the doll, backpack and Leapster were things I found at Target's dollar spot.  That way if something got broken, lost or left behind it wasn't a big deal.

I dreaded taking up precious space and luggage weight by packing all the different medicines.  But then I'd think, if I get XYZ in China, do I want to try and find a medicine to treat it?  Short answer- NO!  So, I packed all the medicines, just in case and I would probably do the same thing again.  There are pharmacies in China and the pharmacists are very helpful so if you don't want to take all this stuff but find you need treatment for something there get your guide to take you to a pharmacy.

Pain relievers- Adult and child  (If your child has a special need that compromises the liver, take only Tylenol,)
Sleep aid- Some people may feel as though they don't need this but having something to help you fall asleep is very helpful on the airplane and the first few days in China while you're getting used to the time difference.  You could take a pain reliever PM, or something like Simply Sleep or Melatonin.
Cold medicine- Bring one antihistamine and one decongestant.  You may need the decongestant if you will be in a large city with a lot of smog.  Bring allergy and/or asthma medicine if you use it here.  The air quality there is atrocious and will make asthma sufferers miserable.  Saline spray would be helpful for pollution induced issues too.  Bring a child version of cold medicine as well.
Acidophilus- the good bacteria in yogurt that helps "right" your digestive system.  There is plenty of things in China that will mess up your digestive system so you can try and keep it balanced by taking Acidophilus regularly.  Another help is to eat the yogurt there to help your system stay balanced eating food there.  The yogurt there is very good; it has a thinner consistency than our yogurt and a bit sweeter.
Stomach settlers- Pepto Bismol and Immodium.   We didn't need the Immodium but I did take Pepto Bismol for the first several days because my stomach just didn't feel "right".  I never got sick but I did notice the Pepto Bismol took away that feeling of "oh my, this isn't headed in a good direction."  When we ate traditional Chinese food I would take it before I ate.
Cipro- You will have to get this from your doctor.  It is an antibiotic you will need to take if you get sick from the water.  It is also a broad spectrum antibiotic so if you need one for something else it will probably work.  My doctor wasn't comfortable giving us medicine to take just in case but this one she was OK with because it is a CDC recommended treatment for an illness related to water supply.
Band-aids, antibiotic ointment- bring fun ones for the child because you'll probably need at least one or two.  Or you'll need a whole bunch if something like this happens to your child too.
Hydrocortisone cream
Yeast infection treatment- hopefully you will not need it but this is one of those "do I want to be in China when I get this and not have a treatment box written in English?"  Big fat NO.
Powdered pedialite- This may apply more to younger children but I took it just in case.  The only store I found this at was Walgreens.
Insect repellent

Lotrimin AF for rashes
Lice treatment- Again, one of those you probably won't use but if you need it the $10 box will be priceless.

Shampoo, conditioner- I bought the bottles in the travel section and filled them with my own shampoo, conditioner.  That gave me enough stuff for the 20 days but also took up less room than a full size bottle.  I brought child shampoo as well.
Hair products that you can't live without
Razors (make sure to pack in your checked bag or it will be taken away at airport security)
Shaving cream
Brushes, combs
Nail clipper and nail file
Travel packs of tissues
hair clips, rubber bands
moist wipes

Misc. Items to pack
Travel sewing kit
Locks for your suitcases- make sure you get the TSA approved locks.  It is very important to lock your suitcases when taking domestic China flights as well.  We went with combination locks even though they were a few dollars more.  I can't imagine losing the key to my suitcase half-way around the world.
Food- Dry snacks, something you can cook with boiling water like oatmeal, easy mac, etc.  I forgot to pack our instant oatmeal and was so bummed because there were many times it would have been a welcomed lunch or dinner in the room.  Also pack a small thermos so you can have something to make your food in and then eat it.  We bought plastic silverware there but I'd throw a few in your suitcase as well.
Peanut butter and you can buy crackers there.  Since I forgot the oatmeal, peanut butter on crackers became lunch and dinner sometimes.  I bought the individual peanut butter containers so I could only use a little but at a time if I wanted.
Gum, mints- this will help keeping you from tossing your lunch when hit with the many smells of China
Ziploc bags- a MUST have.  Bring different sizes.  I packed a lot of stuff in ziploc bags to keep it all organized and then I could use them for other things I needed in China.  I packed Claire's clothes in ziploc bags, by outfit, so I could get them in the suitcase in the best way to take up less space.  The most useful bags I packed were the x- large ones with a handle.  I found them at the dollar store- 2 for $1.  We used them a ton!  We used the snack size bags along with a thin piece of cardboard to transport our money within our money belts; that way the money wouldn't get wet if we got sweaty.
Travel size detergent- Powdered is the best for traveling.  I make my own detergent so I placed enough for 2 loads in a ziploc.  I washed many clothes in the bathtub of our room.  See?
Hand sanitizer- squatty potties don't have sinks usually
Travel alarm- find one that uses batteries
Magazines, books- something to occupy all the time you will sit on a plane
Plug adapter- This worked great until I tried to plug in the hair dryer with it and POOF, it blew a fuse.  That happened on the second or third day there so we didn't have the rest of the trip.  That was OK because we took things that were dual voltage and the hotel had a plug (usually on or around the desk) that would accommodate western style plugs.  It was not a voltage converter so you still have to make sure what you plug in will handle 220V.
Laptop- Some people are able to travel without one but we couldn't.  We skyped every day with our 3 other children back home, and updated our blog.  We bought a cheap netbook that was lightweight and small.
Plastic zippered envelope for all your adoption papers.  I bought two, one for papers we needed to carry with us (USCIS approval, travel approval, etc.) and one for documents and receipts we received from officials.  Make sure you write on the receipt what it was for and the amount because it will all be in Chinese.  That way when you get home and organize your receipts for tax purposes you know what each one was for.  I also took along a separate folder that had a copy of all critical documents, our entire dossier and several copies of our passport.  Just about every official visit in China will require a copy of your passport and Chinese visa.
Gifts- We needed 4, orphanage director, nanny, civil affairs official and the notary.  Make them small and don't stress too much about it.  They don't open them in front of you and it is seriously just a formality and not personable.  I included: lotion, lipstick and hand sanitizer (travel sized and bought during clearance time) from Bath and Body Works (made in the US), a postcard from our city with Chinese on the back thanking them for their role in our adoption, and a package of Jelly Belly jelly beans (also made in the US).  They can't buy Jelly Bellies there and they like them.  I packed small red bags (like a lunch bag) and gold tissue paper and assembled the gift bags there.

Try not to let packing stress you out.  It IS stressful but the most important things are your passports, visa, money and adoption paperwork.  If you have those then you can wear the same clothes every day and buy shampoo and a toothbrush when you get there.   It will all be OK.

Good luck!  Pretty soon you will have your bags all packed for the biggest trip of your life, just like this.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Older Child Chronicles: Part 1

Preparing Yourself and Your Children

I read, and read and read as much as I could before we adopted Claire.  We read the required books for our home study but then we also sought out books that others recommended.

Hands down, the best book, in my opinion, was The Connected Child: Bring hope and healing to your adoptive family.  I found this book not only helpful for bringing in an adopted child but great for handling difficult and everyday situations with biological children as well, especially those who fall on the Autism spectrum in one way or another.
Other books that we read:
Parenting with Love and Logic-  Probably my second favorite book and it really deals with children across the board, not specifically adopted children.
Adopting the Older Child-  This book is old (1978) and out of print but was recommended to us by our home study agency; I was able to find it online.  It does have a lot of good information in it.  The biggest piece of information I took out of this one is taking your child back to infant stages when you get them. (more on that later) Raising Adopted Children, Revised Edition: Practical Reassuring Advice for Every Adoptive Parent-  We read an older version of this book so I'm not sure what the revised version has changed.  This book does not deal solely with international adoption, or older child adoption but some things about raising adopted children are the same across the board, such as the feeling of abandonment, rejecting their birth family, etc.

Preparing yourself:
I've read and heard some statements about adopting an older child that equates to it being easier because you don't have to deal with the baby stage.  Please don't fall into this thinking.  It is in no way easier than adopting a baby who will wake up several times a night, need feedings every few hours, and so on.  You will still do those same things with an older child and then have additional attachment issues on top of it.  In China I woke up several times a night, Claire had to potty, she needed a drink, she fell out of bed, etc.  Instead of waking up for a bottle, she woke up for other reasons.  She was completely on edge, and in a full alert sense when we first got her; she didn't know us at all!

Seek out the "worst case" scenarios, google RAD (reactive attachment disorder), and really read what those families go through, then ask yourself if you can handle it.  One thing we know with international adoption is you really don't know most of what a child is like before you travel and have them with you.   I'm going to be honest, I don't think I could handle a child with full blown RAD.  Maybe I could if they were our only child but with other childrens' safety to factor in, the decision would be very difficult.  To lessen the possibility of RAD I scoured the information on the children we were considering.  I read into anything that I could.  When a child who has lived in the orphanage has descriptors like "introverted" or "quiet" I read into it that it could mean they weren't given attention in their earlier years and now don't even seek out attention or acceptance.  Is that the case in every child's file?  No, but it could be.
We knew going into adopting an older child we wanted a child who had lived with a foster family.  All literature we read said her initial grieving would be harder but if she had formed the attachment bonds to one family, she can form those bonds again.  Children raised solely in an orphanage are dependent on the staff for forming those healthy attachments and some orphanages do a better job than others; and some countries do a better job than others.

We had many discussions with our other children (ages 11, 9 and 7 at that time) about what it will be like when Claire comes home.  Things we talked about:
*We asked them to imagine having one name for their entire life (so far) and then one day someone started calling them a different name.  We talked about the fact that we may call her by her Chinese name for awhile and ultimately we would let her decide what she wanted to be called.
*We told them that she might start crying for an unknown reason and explained grief in the simple terms of relating it to a death of someone very close to them.

*We explained to them that she might not like them at first and although we have been anticipating her for months she would most likely not share in that excitement.  She may reject them or act out behaviorally towards them.
*We talked about the reality that we might not be able to go places for while like we are used to.  This was wrapped up in the talk about the possibility of behavior issues relating to attachment.
*We went over the ethnic differences with them including culture, habits and food.  We explained that I might make two different meals for awhile to help Claire feel comfortable until she liked American food.
*We role played situations they might face at school or anywhere relating to their sister being a different race.  Questions like "is she your sister?  No, I mean your REAL sister?" 
*We talked with Emily a lot about sharing a room.  She's had her own room for 10 years and now shares with Claire.  She was very excited about this but as her parents, we knew this newness would wear off so we really talked about how they will still share a room when Emily is done with sharing and wants her own room again.

And then after all that, turn all those situations and discussions around and ask/tell yourself the same things.
*Your child will most likely reject you at first, how will you feel?  What will you do?  What if they reject one of you for longer than you thought they would?  How will you handle the situation if your child rejects one of you and the other parent gets overwhelmed?
*How will you handle the name situation?  I know some feel strongly that you should keep their Chinese name first because that is all they come to you with.  Many parents use their Chinese name for their middle name and a few give them all American names and don't carry over any of their Chinese name.  Will you start calling them by their new name immediately or ease into it?
*How do you think you'll handle the grief episodes?  Holding, rocking, talking or more of a hands off approach (and I don't mean that in a bad way) if they reject your touch and talking?
*How ready are you for behavior issues related to attachment?
*Are you comfortable preparing two meals for awhile?  How comfortable are you preparing Chinese food?  Do you know of any Asian stores or supermarkets you can visit?
*What if your new child doesn't want to sleep where you've arranged for them to?  Will you set up a bed in your room, or let them sleep with you?  How will you handle moving them to their room (either own room or shared room)?
*Think out what you might say when people question your adoption.  Questions like "Are you her
real mother?  "Why didn't you adopt from the US?"  or "Could you not have any of your own?"  
*Will you incorporate Chinese culture into your life?  If so, how?
*What are your plans for school?  Will he/she attend regular public school, private school, mandarin immersion school, etc?  What programs (ESL, reading, speech, etc.) are in place to ensure your new child's success?

I'm sure there are more questions and things we contemplated before adopting Claire but those things came to mind right now.

Next post:  Packing those suitcases!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

6 months home

This may look like any standard 'ole picture but this picture has taken 6 months to fully mature. See that little girl with 1, ONE ponytail? Claire's hair has been growing since we met her in China. She has had a couple of trims to try and even up the layers she had before but other than those trims she hasn't had any hair cuts. I was able to put her hair into pigtails about 6 weeks ago but today was the first time I got it into one ponytail, successfully. When I finished fixing her hair she reached back to see what I'd done and got very excited.
"Mommy, you one ponytail?! Oh yay, that is cool!"

I guess that sums it up well. We've had our little girl home with us for six months today; I can't believe they have gone by so quickly but at the same time it feels like she's always been here. Now that all of our kids are back in school I'm hoping to write some blog posts/articles on older child adoption; things that I think would have been helpful to know before we traveled. The key word in that sentence is hoping, because keeping up with 4 kids is a full time job.

Monday, July 12, 2010

In one day

Claire got on a bike today for the first time since arriving in the U.S.

I insisted that she start with a bike with training wheels and J insisted that she could do it without. I.was.wrong.

We both insist she should ride the first few times wrapped in bubble wrap because as soon as she falls one time that will be it, owies are the end of the world for this girl and we all know how bad bike owies can be.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Grief sneeking up

Things have gone so well the last four months that these last two weeks really snuck up me. Claire has been grieving a lot lately, a lot more than I anticipated. I think this is related to many things all adding up together.

*School is out and her routine of keeping busy during the day is not happening.
*The more English she gains (which is a lot, she's basically conversationally fluent) she is able to tell us stories. For a couple of days last week she talked non-stop about China, her aunts, her grandmother, her friends, everything. We loved hearing her stories and it seemed as though everything would trigger a story. One time we were looking for fabric and she told us her "sister" had something that looked like a particular fabric. (I say "sister" because this girl was actually a friend who lived in another house.) But then she had a hard grieving cry later that night when she went to bed and had some quiet time to think on her own.
*She's forgetting Chinese. When she realized she was actually forgetting the words it made her sad and she said she wanted to remember Chinese but then when we would practice with her she didn't remember some words and would start off a sadness circle.
*The "honeymoon" period is pretty much over and the tip toe of "don't make Claire upset, give her want she wants" is starting to wane. Going from the oldest of two and dictating how things are done to the youngest of four isn't making her too happy. We encourage the kids to play fair and all but in reality there is a pecking order in siblings; there just is. Even if everything is fair, with four kids they only get what they want 25% of the time.
One example: The other kids had to prove they could handle a Nintendo DS by starting with a Leapster, progressing to a Gameboy and then purchasing a DS with birthday money. We don't make the other kids share their DS with her and then she gets upset that she doesn't have one.

I typed the above post on 6/20 and then stopped. I always intended to come back and write more but summer things, like swimming, were just too important!

Claire has started to have less grieving than a few weeks ago when I started this post but we still see more than we did initially. She cries most often when she is upset, rather it be from not getting her way, getting hurt or being scared. Recently she was at a playground and I was watching her while sitting on a bench. The bench was in the sun and I got hot so I moved 4 feet to other side of the sidewalk to stand in the shade. A couple of minutes later she ran off the equipment with a look of panic on her face and when she saw me she started crying and said "I not see you, I think you leave me." While we don't see much fear of abandonment on the outside, it is definitely there inside and it is probably something she will always wrestle with. I reassured her that I will never leave her but the mood was set and we had to get through a grief episode and tears before moving forward with the rest of the day.

So, what does a grief episode look like?
This may be different for each child but here is what happens with Claire.
I can tell when a grief episode is coming. When an episode is triggered by something she doesn't like, she gets quiet and reserved. She is usually talkative and very happy so I know something is up if she stops talking, won't answer questions and especially if she just looks at me without a response when I ask her what is wrong. She gets this look in her eyes that she's not really here, almost like I can visually see her "check out" and go to another place. I'm sure that place is her memories from China. As I see her check out, her eyes will usually fill with tears and one more "what is wrong" is enough to bring the full episode of tears. Most of the time she answers with "I want China" or "I miss China" but sometimes it is that she misses her nai nai and a yis. We usually just hold her, hug her, kiss her and rock her. Several times we have told her we miss China too and we always validate her feelings. Her grief is real, it's raw and most times all we can do is hold her and reassure her that she is safe here and we are forever.

When she was telling many stories during the day a few weeks ago she cried several nights in a row after I tucked her into bed. Around the third night I was starting to wonder if we were doing the right thing. I actually looked at J and said "what should I do? Are we making it better or worse?" He didn't know either so then while holding Claire I looked at her and said "what can mommy do to make you feel better?" Her response? "Sing me rock a baby"; the song I sang to her when she cried that first night we had her in China. By the end of the song she had stopped crying and smiled.
I thought to myself "wow, why didn't I just ask her all this time what would make her feel better?!"

Last week my sister-in-law and her family stopped by for a visit and we talked about the increase in grief episodes lately. She lost someone very close to her last year and when comparing Claire's grief to that of losing someone she said that her grief peaked out about six months after he had passed away. It was about that time that she realized that the person she lost was really gone and not coming back.
Claire has been with us for 5 months now and I think the same thing is happening. The honeymoon is wearing off and she's really here to stay.

I always thought that we'd have the most grief at the beginning and then the time between episodes would get longer as time went on. This is not what has happened. We saw very little grief in the beginning and it really snuck up on us around the 4 month mark.
It's happened at home, at the houses of our family members, at a restaurant and most recently at the amusement park; grief doesn't care where we are.

I hope this is helpful to parents adopting older children. I read as much as I possibly could before we traveled to bring Claire home and thought I knew what to expect. While I do think we were fairly well prepared, there have been a few things that I wasn't expecting and this is one of them.

Friday, June 11, 2010

the end of kindergarten

This post is also published on our regular family blog, Living With Chaos. As I try to combine the two blogs I will start publishing regular "kid" stories, pictures and things there if it doesn't directly deal with adoption. To make sure you get all the Claire "fix" you can handle, you can follow that blog too.

Recently we attended the end of the year program for Claire. They didn't dress the kids up in cap and gowns for the traditional kindergarten graduation but this program was very cute. The kids sang several songs (we now know why she loves the song "My Country Tis of Thee") and then went through the class showing their picture and saying what they want to be when they grow up. Imagine our surprise when Claire said she wanted to be a doctor; what about all that medical anxiety?!

Here is Claire with her teacher who has been amazing and helped Claire adjust with so much patience and understanding.

On the last day of school we pulled into the driveway and as I was helping the kids out of the car I look back and see Claire crying, big crocodile tears running down her face. I asked her what was wrong and she was able to sniff out a "Ms. V..." She doesn't understand yet that Ms. V will get new kindergartners and she will be OK in a new classroom with a new teacher. I anticipate the first week of school to be a bit rough but hopefully nothing like the very first week of kindergarten a couple of months ago.

These two girls are a couple of Claire's friends; we hear their names the most. She is such a social butterfly and loves having fun with her friends.
One of her friends "N" asked me on a recent field trip "does anyone in China have blond hair?" I told her no, mostly everyone has black hair and she said "so is that why Claire loves my hair?" I had to laugh because if a blond haired person visits China you will nearly be assaulted; everyone wants to touch blond hair and have their picture taken with blond haired people.
Claire has become very aware of the American flag; so much so that she points it out every time she sees it. Do you realize how many American flags are flying just on a simple drive to school? We cannot say our country isn't patriotic if you base it solely on number of American flags flying! Claire tells us that she likes the China flag and the American flag and we always tell her that we like them both too. One day she made this picture for me to scan and email to her foster family showing both of the families she loves.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


My heart aches to go back to China.
Just as much as my heart was ready to return home after being there for nearly 3 weeks, my heart wants to go back.

I miss all of it,

the history
the beauty
the colors

the people
the children
the need

the simplicity
the technology
the two of them intertwined

the red lanterns
the jade
the porcelain

the great wall
the temples
the culture

the subway
the hot pot
the supermarket

the hackey sack dances
the exercise parks
the morning exercise routines

the stores
the language
the food on a stick carts

the river
the trust
the amazing blessing

the need
oh, the need
realizing I can't fix all of the need

I miss China at times like I miss my own home. I look at my daughter, the amazing blessing China has entrusted to me and somehow feel like I'm away from home and need to go back. It's a physical yearning that I want to be there. I've been thinking of ways that will take me back to China to experience even more of it, to help fill a need, to do something, whatever that is.

I struggle with not being able to help all the children that need it. I mentally know that I can't fix it all but I feel, hmm, almost unfulfilled if I don't try to fix what I can.

I will be back in China one day; I know I will.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I have family

Yesterday I received a quarterly email from an adoption agency granting access to a website where they list waiting children available for adoption. I don't know why I must look at all of their sweet faces; we are not in any position to adopt again and not even talking about it but I just have to look when I know a new list has been posted. Self control is not a strong suit of mine when I know there are so many children needing families.

As I was looking at the many, many sweet boys on the list I clicked on one and both girls appeared over my shoulder. Emily said "oh, he's so cute, isn't he cute Claire?"
Claire looked at the many children on my computer screen and looked a bit confused. Eventually she asked "mommy, whasthat?" in her cute accent. I told her all these children need a family to love them....just like you did. I knew when it came out of my mouth that the answer I would get back wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear but I continued anyway.

Me: You needed a family and we wanted you to be our little girl.
Claire: Huh? I have family...China.

What do you say? At the tender age of 7 and not a full understanding of English, I left it fairly simple.

"Your family in China couldn't keep you forever but we can; we will be your family forever."

She looked at me sort of confused and I left it at that. Most likely it will be years before she understands her whole story. We have good reasons to assume she didn't know she was a foster child and after six years with the same family, I'm sure she feels like the rug was pulled out from under her. The only thing we can do is reassure her each and every time that we are forever, that she will never be taken from us. We also tell her that her family in China loved her and they still do and it's OK for her heart to love two families. Right now she doesn't want any contact with her foster family and it is hard for me to tell them that but I have reassured them that we know they love her and we will keep a dialogue with them so she can have the opportunity to explore that time in her life when she's ready.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Four months ago

Four months ago today we walked into an orphanage in China with so much excitement and uncertainty to meet our new seven year old daughter. While the first few minutes of our meeting were happy, Claire eventually realized what was about to happen. She was about to leave with people who don't look like her, don't speak her language and her hope of returning to her foster family wasn't going to happen. This picture is the last one we took at the orphanage before Claire started crying. While I'm smiling, you can see the pain and fear in her eyes. Looking at this picture brings tears to my eyes now; just seeing her emotions written all over her face.

And now, four months later this is what we see. No more fear, no more sadness, her anxiety of being abandoned is starting to diminish, she's speaking nearly fluent English, and she's even beginning to read! Her face looks much happier now, almost relaxed in way. Do we still see some grief? Yes, but it's getting more and more rare that she cries for her China family.
Some big news that I haven't shared yet is that she remembered her phone number in China and we had a contact in the country call it to see if it was indeed her foster family. It was. We have their phone numbers and email address and I've been in contact with her foster aunt (a yi). We have sent them many pictures of YaYa and I've talked on the phone with her a yi. Claire knows that we have contact with them and that she can talk with them if she'd like; she doesn't want to. The one time she thought she did want to call her foster grandfather answered the phone and Claire melted into a puddle of tears on my shoulder; it was too hard for her. We don't know the entire story yet of what her life was like in China. She tells us lots of stuff and we ask her questions but it will probably be a year or two before she can really tell us what her daily life was like with her foster family. One funny story she told me is her two a yis (one big, one little she says) took her at nighttime and they went swimming and came back in the morning. The tone she used made it sound like it was a secret swimming trip. I know her a yis loved her very much. The one I have email contact with has said she will send us photos of Claire when she was little. This would be a priceless gift!

Another long update. You know, I would be able to stop posting such long updates if I did this more often but with 4 kids to raise and a house to manage, the time just seems to slip by so quickly.
Wow, Claire loves school! She fits in wonderfully and has made many friends. She's somewhat of a celebrity among the students and has sparked a puppy love crush in many boys. She decided that she'd like to ride the bus so I let her try a couple of days and she liked it. I still pick the kids up in the afternoon but they ride it to school in the morning. She has abandoned sitting with Emily or Matthew on the bus in favor of sitting with a friend from her class.
She has found her independence while at school and will push Emily away in the hall if she feels like Emily is trying to help her (read: control her). Her teacher is amazed at her progress and has been extremely helpful in Claire's transition. At the start of next year I have consented to have Claire assessed for extra reading help. If she qualifies for the help she will get daily sessions with the reading intervention teacher. This extra help has made me feel secure that declining the ESL services was the right decision. With the work I am doing with her at home and daily reading intervention at school I am confident that she will be caught up and achieving grade level skills by the end of 1st grade, if not before.

All things medical
Claire has a huge amount of anxiety when it comes to doctors or dentists. It took us 20 minutes just to get her to open her mouth at a recent dentist appointment, and that was after I reassured her over and over that it would not hurt.

A bit of advice for parents adopting older children- if any way possible, try to get both parents to attend medical and/or dental appointments. If you both can't attend then try and split them between mom and dad. With J's job it isn't feasible for him to attend appointments during the day and I understand that. After a few appointments where blood was taken or dental work scared her it really started to impact other areas of her attachment with me. I was the bad guy. I was the one picking her up from school and driving her to appointments and I'm sure in her eyes, I was the one allowing others to cause her pain even though I know it's actually to help her. She doesn't understand that we're trying to help her, trying to treat her teeth to make them better; right now she only sees it as pain and I'm allowing it. Not only would splitting up appointments between mom and dad help with the attachment stuff, I have to admit that it is emotionally exhausting on me. I feel selfish even saying that because I know it's 10 times worse for her but it's the truth. For over an hour recently at the dentist I reassured her, stayed positive, gave her choices, tried rewards, tried bribes, got a little irritated and said she needed to open her mouth, felt bad for telling her that and went back to being happy and positive, etc. Then I gave up. THEN, that night she said it didn't hurt. grrrr

The other bit of advice is start out with a dentist who will do sedation dentistry. Claire did so well with her first dental appointment and let them clean her teeth and do x-rays so we stuck with our family dentist to start treatment of her many dental problems. I would count on any child adopted from China over age 2 or 3 to need fairly extensive dental work. Claire needed 4 extractions and 4 fillings. The first treatment visit started out very well but when one tool popped on her tooth and made a loud noise she freaked out. I really don't think it hurt as much as it scared her. From then on getting her into a dentist chair willingly has been difficult. We had an oral surgeon sedate her for the extractions and now we just need to get her fillings complete and her space maintainers in. She won't do it so in June we have an appointment with a pediatric dentist who will do conscious sedation for treatment. If I knew then what I know now, I would have started out with that route to begin with. I do not want to scar her forever with dental anxiety but I think it has already happened.

Claire bonded very quickly to Emily and Jacob but Matthew took a bit more time. I don't know if it's because they are the closest in age or something else but Matthew really had to try to win Claire's affection. If he did something wrong she was right there to dime him out and he really couldn't do anything right according to her. Once she got over whatever it was that she didn't like about Matthew she realized he is actually a good big brother. She even chose to sit with Matthew on the bus at first, which really irritated Emily. Look at this picture taken in the airport when we returned home. I love how Matthew and Claire are checking each other out. He was so happy to meet her and she's thinking "yea, who are you and why is MY mommy so happy to see you?"

Now we hear and see this around the house a lot between the two of them.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sight Words

Wow, Claire is learning amazingly fast! About a month ago I asked her teacher to send us home a list of sight words for the entire year. I had planned to work with her over the next few months so she knows all 57 kindergarten sight words before starting 1st grade in July. At the rate she is going I'm fairly certain she will know all 57 of them before school is out in 3 weeks.

On the official kindergarten list she knows 39/57. I have also added words to her flash cards that I thought we should work on as well; they include the written word for numbers 1-10 and the word of the most common shapes (circle, triangle, etc.). I printed those off on Monday of this week and she can already tell me what they are without any clues.

She's also taking her known sight words coupled with phonics to read! To say she's blown away any expectations I had for one quarter of school is an understatement.

Here is a picture I took of Claire earlier this week. The cards on the right of the picture are words can recognize by sight; the words on the left were the ones she didn't know that day. She learns so much every day that some of those words have already moved across the table!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Climbing the Wall

Here is Claire, climbing the Great Wall of China in January. I love this picture and plan to frame it for her eventually.

We originally took the picture to show how the stones are wore down close to the handrail but now I love having a picture of Claire on the wall without anyone around her.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

While I cherish my four blessings on this Mother's Day, I can't help but to also think about the mother on the other side of the world who does not know her daughter. The little girl who is now my daughter, my blessing.

Legacy of an Adopted Child

Once there were two women who never knew each other.
One you do not remember, the other you call Mother.

Two different lives shaped to make you one.
One became your guiding star, the other became your sun.

The first one gave you life and the second taught you to live it.
The first gave you a need for love, the second was there to give it.

One gave you a nationality, the other gave you a name.
One gave you a talent, the other gave you aim.

One gave you emotions, the other calmed your fears.
One saw your first sweet smile, the other dried your tears.

One made an adoption plan, that was all that she could do.
The other prayed for a child and God led her straight to you.

Now which of these two women are you a product of?
Both, my darling, both. Just two different kinds of love.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010


Four weeks after starting school I got a phone call that really should have been made much earlier. The school district had to test Claire's proficiency in English so they can offer services if they are needed. I was welcomed to attend so I did.

Claire was tested in four areas but definitely the hardest one was the auditory section. It was determined that Claire is just below or right at the kindergarten level of a native English speaker. To me, I think that sounds awesome. She obviously qualifies for services but we declined them. If we chose to have her be in the ESL program it meant that she would attend a different school than Emily and Matthew.

I am 99% sure ESL services would be beneficial for Claire but I've already witnessed that being in the same school as her siblings is even more beneficial. If she were our only child I would bus her to the school that offered ESL services. If ESL was offered at our home school, I would definitely have her receiving services; but it is not offered due to space issues.

I made sure that declining services now wouldn't affect the possibility of needing ESL services in the future. So, if our school does get an ESL program in the future we can have Claire start receiving services. She assured me that we can reevaluate anytime in the future and she can still receive services, if needed.

We were told by the adoption doctor that most children are fluent in age-appropriate conversational English in six months. The disconnect comes in academic English. Someone who is fluent in conversational English can have poor academic English skills. ESL works to close this gap and bring them up to grade level academic English. Since Claire will not be receiving these services at school, I will be working with her at home to try and close the gap.

It is amazing how much she has learned in only two months. She can recognize all the letters in the alphabet (upper and lowercase) and she has learned all the phonic sounds for them as well. She can sound basic words out using phonic skills and has started to read. She is starting to learn sight words and I hope to have her finished with the kindergarten sight words by the time school starts again in July.

Today on the way to school I heard one of the sweetest sounds. The kids were listening to a patriotic CD with their headphones on and I heard this tiny voice from the back of the van singing something. I listened for a bit and then realized she was singing "My Country Tis of Thee." Oh my goodness; it was so sweet. Then when the song was over she said "Emily, you know what? I like-uh America."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Two months home

I've put this off for some time; always coming up with something else to do because putting up these posts usually takes quite a long time. I tell myself that I'll do it once the kids are in bed but then I just want to sit. So, here we are; one week? Two weeks without a post? I've lost track.

Claire pretty much refuses to talk in Chinese to us. I think she still understands some but when we say something in Chinese that we know she understands she looks at us, shrugs her shoulder and hands and says "I don't know?" in her cute accent and inflection. Today I asked her if she wanted bing jiling (ice cream) and she tried to act like she didn't know what I was talking about but then after some prompting I asked her what it was and she said "ice-uh cream." So, it's in there. She doesn't point and grunt so much anymore; she asks for everything in English. You'd probably never guess that she's only been home two months if you didn't know already. She is starting to use pronouns and talk in 3rd person a little bit less.

Family life
Imagine children when they are about 2-3 years old. In their mind they think "what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine" and when they want something they just take it. The idea of sharing hasn't formed in their thought process yet. Well, even though Claire is 7 and has the mental aptitude to understand sharing, I think she is almost like a 2-3 year old level with her siblings. Remember when I said it was very much like bringing home a newborn when we first arrived home? Well, she's aging fast and we have issues occasionally with sharing or not sharing I should say. She wants to play with the toys that belong to the other kids but no one can touch her toys and if one of them has something that she wants, she will just grab it sometimes and try to take it away from them. She's gotten upset and cried because she wanted to play with a toy of Emily's that she'd just gotten and was a bit more protective of. I let Emily have her space and didn't make her share with Claire (she had already shared that toy several times) and Claire got upset. I let her pout it out and didn't over talk the situation. We've always let our kids have some toys that are only theirs and if they don't want to share them they don't have to. Claire gets the same treatment with her things but doesn't fully understand yet that the rule goes both ways.
Other than the younger than age appropriate sharing issues, the kids all seem as though they've lived together forever.

Claire really likes school now that she knows I am returning each day. I took her some medicine in the middle of the day this week and asked Emily to walk her back to class. I looked down the hallway and saw Claire telling Emily to stay away because she could walk on her own. I had to laugh and it made me realize that she is really comfortable at school now.

Stories from China
We learned last night that the story of Claire attending school in China is not what we thought. When looking at a photo album I had kept with the pictures we received during our wait she said "school" when she saw the orphanage pictures. I said "Beijing?" (what she called the orphanage before) and she said "yes, big big school." Well, now that ALL makes sense. Other families who adopted older children shared stories that their children were taken back to the orphanage much earlier than Claire was and were told it was so they could attend school. Her "really big school" was the orphanage which would also give a lot of insight into why she really freaked out when I told her she was going to school. I also think it has something to do with the melt down when we walked into the Sunday school class a few weeks ago. In her mind, school is where she was taken to when she left her nai nai.
Claire has also started talking more and more about her house in China. She calls it "China house" or "China home." She says it was a little house with three beds. The harder things for me to hear are that her older brother cried "where is my sister" when she left. I asked her if nai nai cried and she said yes and Claire said she cried too. These tid-bits have made it hard for me because it makes me question if bringing Claire here to the US really was the best thing for her. What would have happened if nobody selected her from the list? Would she have stayed with her foster family forever? When she aged out of the orphanage at 14 years old would her foster family allowed her to stay and keep her in their family? So many questions which simply have unknown answers but it makes my heart question if taking her from her China home was best. I know we love her, I know she will have a good life in the US, I know there have been so many times in this journey when I know we are experiencing the hand of God and it makes me think this is the best thing for Claire. But, the lingering questions are still there.

This week was long and I'm sure very scary for Claire. She had her first visit at the dentist on Monday and it was to extract one of her upper teeth. The dentist told me it was the easiest and quickest thing to do so that is why we started with it. It didn't go as planned. The dentist was able to get one tooth filled but when she attempted to extract the tooth it cracked and the noise freaked Claire out. After that she was done and would not open her mouth to allow a second try. We left there with her in tears saying "I no like the dentist" and half of the tooth still in her mouth.
Two days later I took her to oral surgeon to have that tooth removed and three others. She was very nervous and repeatedly told me "I no like the dentist" and I just told her "I know" each time. They put her to sleep to do the extractions and thankfully, she doesn't remember any of it. She was groggy and grumpy for a few hours afterward but was running around the back yard by evening time. She's rebounded quite well but knows we have to return to the dentist to get her "new teeth" (space maintainers). She tries to tell me no but I keep a happy face and attitude and tell her "Yes! You'll have new teeth to eat hard things!" I'm going to win an Emmy yet, even if it is just for the Mommy Red Carpet Club.

And, I know you love reading and all but what you're really checking here everyday for is pictures. So, without further ado, here are pictures of Claire.
I saved very few of Emily's clothes from this size. Emily wore this when she was around 4-5 years old so that means this dress was in a tote for nearly 5 years. Claire loved it when I pulled out of the closet and insisted on wearing it to school. It is actually too big on her but thankfully it has a tie around the waist so I could cinch it down a couple of inches.
Claire has learned how to spell quite a few words. First was her name, then mom, dad and few other easy ones but the first word outside of family relations she started spelling and recognizing is stop. I had no idea what she was writing on her easter egg before dyeing it so we got a good laugh to see she very proudly wrote "STOP" on her egg.
Claire's first Easter with us; isn't she a doll?