Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What's Working for Us #2 - Teaching about Family

Lots of times when I need to correct Wenxin's behavior, I preface my correction with the phrase, "in our family." For example, "In our family, we use kind words," or "In our family, we don't hurt each other."  We don't punish bad behavior until we've taught the correct behavior. And we usually teach it in the context of "our family."

Children who've been living in state care, don't automatically know how to live in a family. It's the job of parents to teach them what family means.

As I go through my day to day life taking care of Wenxin, I often explain to him that "this is what Mamas do." When he falls down and scrapes his knee I scoop him up and whisper that he'll be OK. I clean his knee and apply first aid cream and a colorful band-aid. All the while, I'm narrating, "Mamas take care of their children when the children get hurt. That's what Mamas do."

What's Working for Us - Part One of a Series

We've been home 3 months and I've decided to write a little series of blog posts about what's working for us.  I'm not writing these posts because I'm suddenly an expert.  I'm not.  I'm writing now because I'm a new adoptive parent who's still in the thick of things.  It's not years after the fact when I look back and only remember the good stuff.  It's right now, and we're still slogging through each day.

But some things are working.  None of these ideas are original, but they are currently being tested and found true in our household.

#1 - Find safe, playful, loving ways to touch your older internationally adopted child. 

We did not expect seven year old Wenxin to immediately want to be held or cuddled by us.  When we walked into the orphanage in Beijing, someone brought him in and said, "Say Mama and Baba," and minutes later we left with him.  It was all so quick.  Suddenly we were a family.  But we were still strangers.

Wenxin went with us willingly, but did he really have any choice?  He was pretty happy, but hyperactive -- on constant alert.  I remember wondering if I'd ever be able to snuggle up with him like I do with my other kids.

One of the first things we taught him, was how to play "thumb war."  Within a couple of days he could say with us, "One, two, three four, let's have a thumb war.  Five, six, seven, eight, open up the battle gate."  Playing this game over and over was a fun, safe way for us to touch and hold hands and just get used to each other.

In the same way, Mike carried Wenxin on his shoulders almost everywhere we went in China. 

We held hands when we walked together. 

I brought lavender baby lotion and every night after his bath, I'd sit on the bed with him and "lotion him up" from head to toe.  He loved it and would remind me about his lotion if I forgot.

Later, after we were home, I taught him a little baby nursery rhyme.  I trace circles on his tummy as I say, "Round and round the circle goes the teddy bear.  One step, two step, tickle Wenxin up there."  Wenxin is almost eight, but he loves this and wants to do it before bedtime each night.  Then he runs over to Mike for "This little piggy. . . "  These fun little games that all American parents play with their babies seem to fill Wenxin's emotional tank.

Lastly, we sleep with him.  I'm not sure if Wenxin's ever slept alone.  As a baby, he slept in the bed with his foster mom.  Families sleep together in Asia; cribs are a Western thing.  Later, he slept in the orphanage in a room full of boys.  Mike lies down with Wenxin at night in Wenxin's bed and stays with him until he falls asleep.  I tell Wenxin that when he wakes up in the night, he may come get in bed with us.  That way, he has the security of knowing we are always available to sleep with him, but we still get at least part of the night without a squirmy child in our bed.  Even though it would be more comfortable for us to have him totally sleep on his own, night-time parenting gives us lots of opportunities to snuggle and hold him and help him feel safe as he sleeps.

Three months of this kind of safe, fun, high-touch parenting have produced a much more relaxed child who loves nothing more than to snuggle with his mama.  Lots of safe, playful, loving touch is working for us.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Oh December !

December happened.  It happens every year.  Decorating.  Buying gifts for all the kids.  Shipping gifts for family out of town.  Teacher gifts.  Christmas parties.  End of the quarter school projects.  Out of town travel for Christmas?  If we go up north, do all six of us have enough warm clothes?  Drive or fly?  Weekend soccer tournaments.   Big brother's birthday.  Should we have a party?  Will anyone come at this time of year?  Trying to stay on budget.  Christmas cards - we send over 300.  What about lights on the outside of the house?  Shipping deadlines. 

I love Christmas. I love the music.  I love the magic.  I love decorating the tree and remembering each and every ornament.  But since becoming a mom, Christmas has morphed into my most stressful time of year.  I know it shouldn't be that way.  I vow to keep things simple.  I try. 

This year I entered the Christmas season already drained.  Parenting Wenxin has been a wonderfully exhausting adventure. Enough said, except did I mention that he has a December birthday as well?

Thanksgiving weekend was devoted to the Christmas card photo.  My goal was to put up my tree the next Friday.  Wednesday afternoon found me sitting outdoors in freezing Florida weather watching the girls practice for the upcoming weekend's soccer tournament.  That evening as I worked on the computer my neck got stiff.  By bedtime my left shoulder and arm were hurting.  The pain kept me up most of the night.  Thursday morning I wasn't any better and began to feel tightness in my chest.  Hoping he'd call in a muscle relaxer for me, we contacted my doctor who promptly sent me to the emergency room.

After an overnight stay in the hospital, I was declared to have a very healthy heart.  The best guess was that I had muscle pain, most likely brought on by stress.  I went home on Friday night, only to get up early on Saturday for a weekend of soccer.

At some point that weekend, we set the tree in the living room.  I was too busy to decorate it on Monday.  Our home school day just ran too long.  I set my sights on Tuesday night.  But come Tuesday night, I was back at an urgent care clinic with a bacterial infection.  I started antibiotics only to find out a few days later that I had a strain of bacteria that was resistant to the medicine I was taking.  On a different antibiotic, I finally began to feel better.

Mike made a decision that we'd stay home this Christmas - even though he really had hoped to take Wenxin to meet his side of the family.

At some point the tree got decorated.  It's all a blur to me now.   
It's indeed magical.  Possibly the prettiest tree we've ever had.

For the next week or so, I put out a few more simple decorations each day.  No rush.  

Christmas cards from friends and family around the world hang from winter tree branches.  Mike thinks this is hideous and can't believe I put it on the blog.  He says it looks like it should be in someone's front yard along with the cars up on blocks. 

My parents came down for a week and celebrated an early Christmas with us.  Wenxin met them at the car and actually hugged them.  I was amazed.  He met them briefly when he came home from China and hasn't seen them since.  But he warmed right up to them and Mike and I were able to go out on our first date since the adoption in September. 

Nathan turned eleven.  We were able to give him an amazing lazer tag birthday.  We have too many kids to let everyone have a big party each year.  So most years, we celebrate as a family and the birthday child gets to invite one special friend to celebrate with us.  But this was Nathan's year for a big blow-out birthday with friends.

So a lot of the big stuff is done.  Tree's up, school's out, presents are shipped, Christmas cards mailed, Nathan's birthday celebrated in a big way and 2010 soccer's completely over.  I can finally catch my breath.  I'm looking forward to some quiet days at home.  And I hope to catch up on blogging.  There's so much to share about all I'm learning along the way. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mission Accomplished!

The elusive Christmas card photo!  It becomes more elusive with each new child.  And then, add Wenxin to the mix.  Click here to see our first family photo.  All you can see of Wenxin is the top of his head.

But recently, he's been looking at old family photos and commenting that they are missing a very important person -- HIM!

He's also pointed out that in our new family photo, he plans to be the child sitting on Mama's lap.  Not Katherine or Julia, but -- you got it, Wenxin.

So I played it up.  "Mama wants a family photo with Wenxin on Mama's lap."  He began to warm up to the idea. 

We decided to take the photo in our back yard to minimize stress.  Yes, that broken down old fence is in my backyard.  It's my neighbor's fence that was blown down by Hurricane Charley in 2004.  All that's left is a panel or two, and I guess it makes a nice backdrop if you want a casual rustic look for your Christmas card picture.

Thirty minutes beforehand, I fed Wenxin one of his favorite meals.  I tried to change his clothes. When he put on the shirt I requested, but balked at the pants, I just backed off.

Then I promised him that if he smiled nicely so Mama could have a good photo of our family, he could have a whole pack of bubble gum.

At first things did not look promising.  When we all smiled, he scowled. 

Then we tried another approach.  "Let's all make angry faces."  And here's what we got.
 He ran behind the fence and peeked through a hole. . .
And hung upside down like a monkey. . .
It was kind of contagious. 

Finally, all our efforts paid off.  I think we have a winner.  Coming soon to mailboxes everywhere!

Christmas Cookies Christmas
Shop for elegant Christmas photo cards.
View the entire collection of cards.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Downloaded from Wenxin's Camera

Wenxin takes that little camera and documents everyday life at our house:  the good, the bad and the ugly.  The fat, the tired, even wrinkles and nose hairs.  Yep, he likes extreme close-ups, but I'll spare you.  Guess I'm really trying to spare me.
We've been having really long homeschool days.
Daddy was brave enough to get a haircut, and we have about 30 photos to prove it.
Look what happened next.
Didn't I make a rule against stuff like this?
Wenxin's getting way too good at the Wii.
The TV provides endless photo ops.  


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Conversations that Wear Me Out

I'll probably never publish this post.  This is probably just a chance to vent a little and then hit "delete."

A lot of my conversations these days end up wearing me out. 

It usually starts with someone asking a "why" question about Wenxin's adjustment.  I try to briefly explain things about older child adoption that it's taken me over a year to learn.  A year of reading tons of books and blogs.  A year of talking with other adoptive parents.  Plus two months of actually getting to know my new son and reading more and asking more questions of folks who've "been there done that."

I offer my best "short answer."  Then. . .

Raised eyebrows.  An objection.  A concerned look.

The most tiresome are the conversations where I feel the need to defend something that goes against what a person would normally think.  Like . . .

- the fact that Wenxin would not like to meet the Chinese person they know and talk to them in Chinese. (I got this one wrong initially.  I thought he'd like to talk to Chinese people in Chinese.  Not sure what it triggers in his little mind, but right now he doesn't seem to want to go there.)

- the fact that even though he's 7 1/2, he's still terrified of doctors and dentists.  And strangers, even when they are family friends.

- the fact that we don't feel it's best to force him to switch to an American name unless he wants to switch.

- the fact that while Wenxin faces many challenges, learning English is not one of them.  Language learning is coming naturally. 

- the fact that we aren't going to "spank" for the behavior they just observed because we are starting from square one teaching Wenxin how to live in a family.  We're also not going to send him to his room.

It's probably tiring too because it brings up all kinds of insecurity in me.  Because while I've read a lot of books and talked to a lot of people, Wenxin is a unique individual with a unique history.  There are no "cookie-cutter" answers.  So when someone questions my judgement, I wonder, "Am I doing this wrong?"

And that's exhausting.

Friday, November 5, 2010

It's the Smile

I posted this crazy"bath-time hair" photo on my Facebook earlier today.  One of my soccer friends who's seen Wenxin several times a week ever since he came home commented that he looked "different."  He looks different to me to too.  At first I thought it was just the wet hair.  And then it hit me. . . it's that enormous ear to ear smile. 

It's not his normal look.

Of course this photo was taken in the bath.  You may remember that bath-time, especially bath-time with bubbles, has always had a magical effect on Wenxin. 

I'm looking forward to the day when big smiles like this are spontaneous and frequent. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Saved by a Meatloaf

Take a naturally beautiful girl.  Add a famous hairstyle, mom's new white bathrobe, her brother's Nerf gun and what do you get?  One beautiful Princess Leia look alike on October 31. 

We made it through Halloween - whew!  Four kids, four costumes, one newly adopted son who melted down and refused to dress up, but enjoyed trick or treating anyway.  Now, I'm probably going to gain ten pounds, sneaking candy from the kids' bags tucked away high on top of the fridge.

We've been home from China six weeks now.  I'm wondering if six weeks is the standard point where new adoptive parents just bottom out? 

This week I've been hit by a wave of exhaustion.  The last six weeks (and the 2 1/2 before in China) have been intense and I don't see an end in sight. 

I was saved this week by a meatloaf.  A friend at work made it for us and sent it home ready to pop in the freezer for future use.  I heated it up tonight and it filled my house with a yummy smell.  Tasted great too!

So many different people have prayed for us and served us in practical ways.  From helping us get ready by painting our house to delivering home cooked meals and restaurant gift cards our first month home  - the body of Christ has been a blessing to us. 

Do you have a heart for the orphans of the world and yet feel that God is not calling you personally to adopt?  Maybe God is calling you to help by coming alongside a family who is adopting.  This link from Focus on the Family shares practical ways the church can help in a little booklet called Wrapping  Around Adoptive Families:  How to Provide Support to those Called to Adopt.  Take a look!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Posted on the Fridge; Carried in the Car

Take a closer look.  There's the good -- stuff we really like in our family.

And then, there's the bad.  Truth, be told, the whole point of this little poster is to get Wenxin to quit sticking out his tongue so much.  O.K., so he still grabs stuff every now and then, but that's a lot better.  And fighting has never really been a problem.  I wanted there to be a rule that he already keeps almost all the time so he'd feel proud of himself.

Wenxin loves this.  He attempts to draw the pictures.  He tried to explain it to some of our friends at soccer today.  And we've seen a dramatic decrease in "sticking out his tongue" at everyone, because in our family -- we just don't do that.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mama Likes Chinese!

I noticed last week that Wenxin had begun to say, "Wenxin, no Chinese.  Wenxin English."  If anyone said he was Chinese, he would say, "No."  He even said, "Wenxin, no Chinese.  Mama Chinese."  OK, so now I'm the Chinese one in the family.

I get it.  Everyone wants to fit in.

So I've begun a "Chinese is good /Mama likes Chinese" campaign at our house.  At random times throughout the day, I'll scoop up Wenxin and say, " Nathan, Julia and Katherine only speak one language, but Wenxin can speak two!  Wenxin speaks English and Wenxin speaks Chinese.  Chinese is good!  Mama likes Chinese!"

I think he believes me.  Occasionally, he'll come up and out of the blue, he'll teach me the Chinese word for something.  He'll listen as I repeat it and help me with my pronounciation. 

Chinese is good.  Mama likes Chinese.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fall Fun in Florida

 One of the best things about living in Central Florida is that the beach is only forty minutes away.  Another good thing is that mid-October in Central Florida feels like late Spring in other parts of the country.  So you can spend most of Saturday cleaning house and running errands and still make a late afternoon beach run.  Yep, when we should've been pulling the scarecrow and fake pumpkins down from the attic, we ended up doing this instead.
The beach is always magical.  But it's especially magical for a seven year old who's exploring it for the first time.
This has been long week.  Wenxin had four hopelessly decayed baby teeth extracted and two more teeth filled.  Poor kid.  Thank goodness for anesthesia and the tooth fairy and dental insurance.  Katherine and Nathan had throat infections.  Actually, Nathan still has a throat infection and went to the beach with a fever.  We're not really bad parents, but with four kids ages 6-10, if we wait for everyone to be totally well, it may be next summer before we get out of the house.
As the sun went down, leaving us wet and chilly (especially feverish Nathan), we flew this cool kite we bought at Olympic Village in Beijing.  Did you know kites were invented in Ancient China?