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.