Monday, March 29, 2010

Claire Happy

Sunday evening at dinner I went around the table and asked each child if they were going to have fun at school the next day. All three older kids looked at me with that "are you serious?" look and I looked back at them with that "you better say yes if you know what's good for you" look. Then I got to Claire and asked her if she was going to have fun; she responded with yes! Then she smiled and said "Claire happy!" I cheered for her and told her that when she's happy, I'm happy.

This morning she hopped and skipped downstairs for breakfast and then while doing her hair she told me about seeing Madeline at school today and playing on the playground with her. While driving to school she made sure to tell me "Claire happy" again; you know, just in case I forgot. I used the drop off lane this morning and she was a little bit confused but figured it out when Emily and Matthew jumped out and after she got out of the van she looked back at me and smiled.

Emily walked her to the classroom today and helped her get her stuff put away and she said Claire started to get tears in her eyes when she was leaving. I think this should get a bit better each day. I'm so proud of her!

Friday, March 26, 2010


The first time I took Claire to the school to drop something off for Matthew she shut down so it made me realize that we needed to start talking about the fact that she would be going to school and it is a lot of fun. From that night forward she was excited about school and would tell everyone how many days were left in the school countdown. The night before her first day she realized that she was, in fact, going to school when she saw me picking out her clothes for the next day. She started telling me that she didn't want to go to school but I told her how much fun it was. Yea, that tactic didn't work all that well.

Day 1
The next morning she woke up happy and was excited to get dressed and eat breakfast and was even excited to see the school saying "Claire, school!" when we pulled up. We dropped off her enrollment paperwork and I took her down to the classroom. We met her teacher who showed her around the classroom and was more than accommodating to let me stay in the classroom for as long as needed. Claire settled in and started her morning worksheet and then joined the class on the carpet to do calendar and story time. Just as I was thinking ‘this was too easy, she’s doing great!” I could hear her sniffling. When she sat down for story time I was no longer in her line of sight and she thought I’d left. This set the tone for the rest of the day. I joined her on the carpet and reassured her that I was not leaving; she got better but remained very quiet. I stayed with her through lunch and recess but once they got started on new activities in the classroom I decided it was time that I leave. I could stay all day but that wouldn’t make the next day any easier; eventually I had to leave and see how she did.

From what I hear she was pretty upset all afternoon. She cried and refused to do much of anything. They brought Emily down to her room who initially helped comfort her but then when Claire got upset again Emily did so as well. Emily is very protective and has taken her sister role very seriously so having Claire be upset made her upset as well. The counselor came and took her on a walk around the school and I think that helped a lot. She was very happy to see me when I returned and even jumped up and down saying "Claire happy happy!" but I noticed something throughout the evening. Claire will usually say "I love you" many times a day and that day she would not. Even when I would tell her that I loved her she responded with silence; that just broke my heart.
Later that evening she got quiet and said "school tomorrow?" and responded back very excited "yes, it will be fun!" and she said no, followed by "Claire no happy."

Day 2
Before school I had Claire pick out a necklace to wear and she picked one with hearts on it. I pointed to each heart and said "Mommy loves you" and told her she could look at her necklace when she got sad. She fully understood that because once we were at school she pointed to her necklace and repeated "mommy loves you.' I didn't plan on staying in her classroom because I had an appointment to be at. I went in her room with her and helped her get her stuff put away but when she got seated and I told her I was going to go she started crying. I told her many times that I would be back and then I left. The counselor checked in on her several times and then called to give me an update after lunch. She said Claire calmed down but didn't engage for awhile but then decided to participate and from then on she had a great day. When I arrived to bring her home she was happy and told me "mommy, me playground 3 times!" and then showed me her good character stickers for the day. Later that evening she again said she didn't want to go to school the next day.

Day 3
I did the same thing as the day before- walk her in and help her get settled before leaving. She held onto my coat this time and got a little more upset than the day before. It sounds like she didn't engage any quicker than the day before but once she joined in she had a great day.

Day 4
I was hoping to walk Claire to her classroom and let her go into the room and put her stuff away without me because starting on Monday I plan on using the drop off lane instead of walking her to her room. This didn't quite go as planned. Instead of putting her stuff away, getting seated and then starting to cry she latched onto my arm immediately and refused to do anything. I kissed her several times, told her I would not leave her and that I will be back, and then I left. When I came back at the end of the day her teacher said she had a great day. The counselor reassured me that even though it seems like it is getting harder for her to separate from me that it is actually normal. She said most kids get a little bit worse before getting better because after a day or two they realize how long the day is. Today she brought home artwork and papers and was very excited to show us her work. When J asked her today if she had fun at school she said yes.

Misc. Tib-bits
*We made the decision to put Claire in kindergarten. Age wise she would be in 1st grade if she started kindergarten at 5 years old. If we had half the school year left I probably would have put her in first grade but with only one quarter left in the year we really had to think ahead and having her ready for 2nd grade in only 3 months (they start school in July here) seemed like a much bigger jump than ready for 1st grade. I homeschooled her for a month and was able to bring her to the equivalent level of 4th quarter kindergartners so I am a bit worried that once she is fluent in English and reading she might be bored. But, a bigger worry was that she'll always be behind and struggling. Before enrolling her I spoke with the principal who reassured me that moving Claire up a grade would not be a problem if it appears that we didn't make the right decision. With that peace of mind I decided that kindergarten would be the best place for her now.

*The school has been absolutely amazing with Claire's transition. The counselor even took the time to visit with me and ask for tips because she wanted to handle Claire differently than normal separation anxiety. She understood that her situation was different because Claire truly thinks I am leaving her there and not coming back since that it is her history. Everyone at the school has gone above and beyond to make Claire feel safe and welcomed and reassured her that Mommy is coming back. Since we move often we have been in several schools and I know beyond a shadow of doubt things would not have been handled so well in past schools; another visible God moment in our journey.

*I've packed Claire's lunch each day because I'm not ready to have her tackle the lunch line and choices yet. I have packed her thermos a couple of days, one day was fried rice and today I put vegetable lo mein. She was excited to see that I packed noodles for her. My hope is that she has something familiar and comforting at lunch to help with all the different things in her day right now.

*We had to make a decision of putting Claire in a different school within our district to receive ELL (English language learners) classes or put her in our school with Emily and Matthew and forgo the ELL. We made the decision, along with the principal's support, that she would be better served in our school with her siblings than in a different school with ELL. In the first few days at school this has proved to be the right decision. Claire has seen Matthew and Emily several times during the day and tells me after school that she saw them. She's seen Matthew after lunch and on the playground and she spotted Emily outside during a fire drill. I told the counselor that walking Claire by their classroom to show her that they are still there might be comforting to her so she has done that. I know this has helped Claire because she knows she's not alone in the school. Today Emily came out of her classroom and talked with her in the hall and reassured her that I would be coming back.

*With the increase in English that Claire is speaking we have noticed a sharp decrease in her mandarin. Last night she could only write the characters for 1-5 whereas before she could write up to 10. When we asked her to count to ten in mandarin (we started with e, er, sahn 123) she counted up to 5 and then stopped and looked around. My heart broke. We counted to ten in mandarin and after a couple of times she spit it out just as quickly as she did in China. I know it's too much to expect her to maintain both, especially when she isn't with mandarin speaking people every day but it is still sad not hearing her talking freely in mandarin. My hope is that having 7 years of mandarin in her brain before learning English she will be able to pick it up later in life if she chooses. Most children stop speaking mandarin all together and won't even talk to other Chinese people after being home for awhile. We still use mandarin words for quite a few things mixed in with our normal speech. She knows the English word and Chinese word for many things now, so if we say beeng jee leeng she knows we are talking about ice cream. When we say the mandarin words for the colors she usually responds back in English. I think it's amazing that she can translate in her head at only 7 years old.

*One cute thing- Thursday was library day so Claire came home with two books that she checked out. When I took them out of her backpack she was excited to show me the front cover. It had an illustration with an Asian man and Claire pointed to him and said "something something China!" Then she flipped to the back and showed me that it had instructions for making origami birds. I asked her if the teacher helped her find the book of if she found it and she said she had found it by herself. We want to maintain her Chinese heritage and raise her to be proud of being Chinese so it made me happy to see she sought out a book with an Asian subject and illustrations.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The longest of updates

Consider yourself warned- This is long and will entail a lot of scrolling. Don't start this until you have a drink in hand and time to kill because it will take awhile.

Before we came home from China we tentatively planned a trip back home to introduce Claire to all of her extended family. We thought a month after arriving home would give her time to settle in for a bit before taking a trip. In hindsight, I would have waited longer and/or done things differently.

Here is what we did:
Throughout our adoption journey we had many, many prayers lifting us and Claire up from the church that several of my family members attend. In particular a group of school children took a real interest in our journey to Claire and prayed for her every morning during their Sunday school class. In addition to introducing Claire to these family members (one of which is her great grandmother) we attended church with them on Sunday morning.

I don't want to say this was a mistake but we learned first hand that Claire definitely has issues relating to her adoption. This sounds like an obvious statement, almost like "well, of course she does!" but we don't truly see them every day. 99% of the time she appears to be very well bonded and attached and is genuinely happy so her sudden fear and emotional response was a little bit of a surprise to us. The minute we walked into the Sunday school room she burst out in tears even though Daddy was holding her and had no intentions of putting her down. We aren't sure why she broke down but the theories we have are maybe she thought we were leaving her there or seeing pictures of her at the orphanage triggered memories. We are leaning towards the first theory because she showed signs of abandonment fears a few times during our trip.

Before leaving for our trip I told her we were going to Meme's house (J's mom) and she looked at me and said "NO." I told her again that we were going to visit Meme's house and even though she knows exactly who Meme is, she still said no. I assured her that we were all going and she would never be without Mom or Dad and that we were going to stay 7 days and then come back home. She cheered up and the day went on, until I actually packed her suitcase later in the evening. When she saw me putting her clothes in a suitcase she told me no again; she did not want to go to Meme's and I reassured her again that I would be with her.

After getting to Meme's she was very happy and adjusted well and a couple of days later we were going to my Mom's (Nana) house for dinner. When I told her we were going to Nana's house to eat she gave me the look and said no and began to cry again. I told her that I would be with her and told her I would never leave her, she still told me no. We went to visit Nana for dinner, she adjusted well and was happy all evening.

For the rest of the week she was great and then I told her we were going back home, to our house and I got the look again. Just when she got comfortable after a few days I told her we were going yet another place and I could see her brain going into abandonment fear again. I explained to her, our house, your bed on top and Emily's bed on bottom, mommy's bed, etc. She asked "my bed top, Emily's bed bottom?" and I told her yes. She got it. You know how I know she got it? She literally jumped up and down several times and yelled "YAY, YAY, our house!"

So with our first trip done she has learned that we leave together and return home together. But, I would give advice on doing things a bit differently than we did if I had to do it again. This is really a trial and error type of thing and what worked or didn't work for us might be completely different for another child.

1. I would wait longer before taking a trip for a long period (we were gone 9 days).
I really think she thought we were leaving our house for good and if we had done a one night trip it would've been less time that she mentally separated herself from our home. All of our family lives 4-5 hours away so a one night trip to visit them would've been too much so a one night trip staying in a hotel with just our family would have worked. It would have been a quick trip to show her that we leave and come home together and we most importantly, we return to our house. The next time we take a trip I will be taking along a picture of our house with a visual countdown so she can see how many days until we return home just to try and solidify to her that we are going back home.

2. I would have family come to our house to meet her.
Would we would have family members who couldn't come 4-5 hours to our house to meet her? Yes. Is it more convenient for us to go the 4-5 hours and meet everyone in one trip? Yes.
But, in a few days Claire met her grandparents, great grandma, my aunts and uncles, my cousins and their children, our siblings and their children and close family friends. It bordered on too much sometimes. She handled it extremely well and she may have the same response if we did it more gradually but she was all of a sudden surrounded by people who love to look at her and I could see the thoughts of her head written all of her face. She was shy with each new person for a bit but then once she warmed up she was very comfortable with everyone; which I think that is to be expected.

3. One night towards the end of our trip J and I decided to try and get away for a few hours; we left the kids with a very gracious Meme and explained to Claire that she was staying with Meme while Mom and Dad went to eat together. She seemed to understand so we left but stayed close to home in case she needed us to return. Towards the end of the evening we got the phone call that we needed to return home. Claire did fabulously until bedtime which is when we thought she might fear that we wouldn't return. The first night in China she was fine during the busy daytime but it was at night that she slowed down and realized she wasn't with her nai nai. We immediately went back home and she was happy to see us. I got her out of bed and cuddled with her on my lap for a bit to reassure her that we will always return and then she went to bed fine. J and I were able to spend a few hours together and even got to see a movie so the night was definitely not a waste.
If I were to do it over I would do the time away during the day so we weren't gone at bedtime. After a few times of that I would venture into trying to be gone during bedtime but this would only be with one of our Moms because she knows them and is comfortable with them.

4. Before meeting anyone new I would show her pictures of them and explain their relationship. She had never met my mom in person but had talked with her on Skype so when she saw Nana in person she knew exactly who she wasn't near as shy as with those people she'd never seen. When she'd meet one of our brothers she was all of a sudden face to face with a grown male who wanted to talk to her and she was pretty hesitant. She would sit with me or J and eventually warm up and then she was OK but I think it would have gone better if we had shown her pictures of everyone before meeting them.

5. Explain to everyone that although she doesn't speak English all that much she actually understands quite a bit so try and talk to her normal. She's not 3 and she's not deaf so speaking slow and loud isn't really going to help; she'll either understand it or she won't. At the same time explain to people that putting her on the spot in front of people is probably not the best idea. We are guilty of that as well but once I realized that she was very uncomfortable with everyone looking at her I tried to treat her like any of the other 3 kids so she didn't feel singled out.

I guess with all of this it almost appears that our trip didn't go well but that isn't the case; it was a great time and we all had a lot of fun. We also watched Claire overcome her fear of two more dogs and learned that she really loves cats. She was not afraid of putting her face right next to the cat and she loved to pet it whenever she could.

Today she started school and I was going to tack that onto this update but it truly deserves its own post; it will probably be another long one. I also have a lot of pictures from our trip and I plan to get to those after the new school stuff calms down and I finish unpacking and cleaning up around here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

First trip to the dentist

We knew before traveling to bring Claire home that we would most likely be spending a fair amount of time with her at the dentist. Children's teeth are not a priority there and unfortunately Claire's 7 years of no dental care and no fluoride has taken its toll.

To my surprise she did wonderfully at her first visit. I was only hoping they could look in her mouth and come up with a treatment plan but she let them take all x-rays, polish her teeth and put fluoride on! And just as we assumed, we will be spending a lot of time in the waiting room while Claire is having dental work done. She has 7 teeth that need to be fixed, ranging from simple fillings to extractions and spacers. I just wish I could snap my fingers and have it all done for her.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Doggie Love

The first night we arrived home left both of our girls in tears over the same thing- Toby. Toby is the 12 lb. white fluff ball that joined our family about a year and a half ago. Claire was crying because he was here and Emily was crying because she didn't think Claire would ever love him and/or we'd get rid of him. Emily is a huge dog lover so the first few days of Claire rejecting Toby was hard on her.

We had some indication while in China that Claire might be too keen on the idea of having a dog in the house; something about "I don't like dogs" being spouted off in mandarin with a nasty sounding tone gave us that clue. But upon coming home that first night we were met with screams and tears when Toby was released from his crate. The howls continued whenever Toby would come within a few feet of her for the next few days.

Little by little Claire grew to accept that Toby was A. not leaving our house and B. not spending 24 hours a day in his 2x2 foot crate. She will now run up and pet him, give him kisses and let him lay on her; such a change in the short three weeks that she's been home. She loves to give him commands like sit, lay down, or get on your bed. She tells him to go potty when she opens the back door and greets him with a good boy when he comes in. Today she ran to find me and then said "Toby, outside, cat!" and then made the motion of zooming around with her hand. It was easy to figure out that Toby just chased the cat outside!

She is still very afraid of big dogs and I'd guess of any other dog besides Toby but it has been a huge relief and joy to see her accept Toby and learn to love him.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Finally the weather was nice enough for the kids to go outside and play for awhile. Claire was right out there with the boys as soon as I gave her the OK.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Once again, I got bit by the blogger bug and posted a bunch in one day. Keep scrolling down until things start looking familiar.

Claire, hard at work figuring up how much my groceries are going to cost.

It's going to cost you an arm, leg and everything between, but no worries; I have a credit card!

This is the look I get many times when I point a camera in her direction. She is quick too, I'll try to act like I'm not taking her picture and she'll smile and then bam, I push the button and get this.

Princess YaYa

All the little girly things that we saved from Emily's younger days are being put to great use. Here is Princess YaYa taking a break from her princess work to play a little Dora on the Leapster.


Claire loves Dora the Explorer. We ordered Dora in Chinese off of eBay before our travels but unfortunately they did not arrive before we left due to a lost shipment. We made it through China fine without them but I would recommend getting them and taking them with you because Dora is a big deal in China. Claire knew the theme song and every thing so having Dora in Chinese was very familiar to her at home. The words that would be in Spanish are in English in the Chinese version. In fact, we've figured out that the phrases that Claire could say when we arrived weren't from any tutoring but rather from Dora. We aren't even sure if she had any tutoring at all and they probably had fun with our $150 and just made up the spreadsheet of "lessons" to make us feel better.

We had saved this Dora dollhouse for many years, in fact probably 5 or 6 years. Nobody has played with it and J has urged me many times to sell it in a yard sale but I held onto it for some reason. Maybe it was God working long ago to keep that Dora dollhouse in our house because Claire absolutely loves it. It has been great watching her play "house" and seeing that she knows how houses are set up and how family members interact.
Ignore that laundry basket in the first photo; I was trying to accomplish chores while she played!

Bits of randomness

Yesterday I took Claire to a doctor who specializes in foreign adoption medicine. She will do a very thorough post-placement exam and then pass the recommendations onto your regular pediatrician who usually isn't up to par on issues seen in children adopted internationally. The doctor was wonderful and spent nearly two hours with us going over every.little.thing. The end of the visit brought tears though because Claire needed to have blood drawn to check her immunity levels for vaccinations given to her in China and many other tests to check her overall health. Thankfully the phlebotomist was very quick and accurate and it only took one stick. Still though, she was public enemy #1 and I was #2.

One concern from the visit was Claire has lost 3 lbs since coming home. On a child who only started out at 42 lbs that is nearly 10% of her body weight. She is constantly hungry and I am constantly feeding her so I was very surprised to see that she not only didn't gain any weight but actually lost so much. We will continue to feed her every time she says she is hungry and monitor her weight. The doctor said she sounded like a child with a high metabolism (she never stops moving!) so that combined with the stress of this transition probably has her body in overdrive. With time it should get better and until then we will shovel as much high calorie, healthy food as we can into this tiny girl.

Claire is pretty used to Toby now; I've even heard her say several times "I love you, Toby." When we leave the house she is person that locks Toby into his bed. At first I laughed because I think she enjoyed it a bit too much but now she blows him a kiss and tells him he's a "good boy." She has to be the person that runs upstairs and unlocks his crate when we get home too; although she doesn't have much competition for this job because the other three kids usually fight over who has to do it. The neighbor has a big dog who ran over here over the weekend when we were outside. She completely freaked out and started screaming so she definitely has a fear of dogs still.; J jokes that she just tolerates Toby because he doesn't go away.

She is learning so much English every day. Today I heard her say "mommy, come here!" and I followed it up with "please?" so she repeated it with a please. Now I've heard "mommy, come here please!" all day. I guess she's making sure I get the exercise I keep saying I need.
The doctor yesterday told us that most kids are age appropriate in conversational English in 6 months. That just shows how incredibly resilient and amazing children are!

After the trip to the school that upset Claire I realized that we needed to start talking about Claire going to school in the near future. She needed to know (in her limited understanding) that she wasn't going to stay home with mom forever and that she would be going to school with Emily and Matthew. So, that day after the kids were home from school we got out the calendar and wrote "Claire School!" on March 23rd. She's been counting down the days since then with excitement and when we went to the school this morning to check out the book fair she said "Claire school?" so I think she understands and she seems excited.

I have spent many hours with Claire working on ABCs, numbers, shapes, colors, phonics, etc. She is doing remarkably well. She can now say the entire alphabet and can recognize almost half of them visually. We work on the sound of the letters and with the help of catchy Leap Frog songs she's starting to catch onto phonics. We count to 30 a lot but she also knows the numbers by recognition up to 100 and I've heard her count on her own into the 60's. She knows and can recall the shapes circle, square, oval, triangle, rectangle and sometimes diamond. She can do addition up to 10 but I haven't tried subtraction. She can write her name without being told the letters and she can recognize that 'Claire' is her name and will say it out loud. She knows the seasons winter and summer and we're working on spring and fall. She knows that winter is cold and summer is hot. When we ask her what is winter she wrap her arms around herself and say "I'ma cold" and then fan herself saying "I'ma hot" when we say summer; she is such a ham!

A funny from today:
We ran to Walgreens to get more lotion for her skin. The doctor thinks the itchiness of her skin is related to allergies of some kind and recommended that we lotion her up twice a day to keep it hydrated. While there she found a cash register in the toy aisle and did her "Claire?" and point the cart. I told her no and then saw it was clearanced to $5 and thought it would help me teach her about money so I changed my mind and let her get it. We've played with it a lot today but the funniest thing was when she showed me the total and it was something like 193828192 and I responded with "Oh my goodness, I don't have that much money!" She excitedly ran back to the cash register, pulled out the credit card and smiled. One swipe of the card and the total was 0. What a great teaching...not! So I told her "oh honey, we don't use credit cards in this house, unless it involves a trip to China."

When we first got home I had intentions of posting a picture of Claire every day so we could look back and see her changes in the first year. Yea, that lasted all of about 4 days and then Meme went home and real life took hold. I do have pictures from most days so I'm really going to try and get them uploaded.