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.