Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas Card Ordered - Check!

Finally, it's done!

Now on to decorate that nine foot tree that's calling my name. Oh, and I guess everyone expects to have dinner tonight.

Classic Damask Frame Christmas
Click here to browse our Christmas photo card designs.
View the entire collection of cards.

Monday, November 7, 2011

National Adoption Month: Processing What I've Come to Believe

November is National Adoption Month.  I love adoption, and I love my precious son who came into our family through adoption.  And yet, some parts of the adoption culture in America make me cringe. As we've navigated through the adoption process, I've learned the importance of thinking with both my head and my heart, and along the way, I've developed some pretty strong beliefs about adoption.

National Adoption month seems to be a good time to try and voice my thoughts.

Adoption should be about finding families for kids; not finding kids for families.
If you google adoption, you will find agencies promising to find you a healthy baby in a short amount of time.   Personally, I would run from those agencies.  Why?  Because it sounds to me like they are in the baby business.  They are promising to provide a product - a child.  And children are not products.

I hold to this so strongly because of something else I've come to believe through our adoption process:  If at all possible, parents should raise the children born to them.  Put another way, I believe the best place for any child is with their birth family - provided it is safe and loving.  In a perfect world, that's what would happen.  Every time.

Of course, our world is far from perfect, and every child isn't born to parents ready to give him or her a safe and loving home.  Sometimes babies and kids of all ages need to be placed for adoption.  In those cases, adoption becomes a redemptive response to the tragic loss of a child's first family.

Personally, I would never "pray" that a birth mother would give up her child.  Why would I pray for a woman to find herself in a situation so desperate that she couldn't keep the child she carried for nine months and then labored to bring into the world?  Why would I wish upon a child the loss of his first mom?

But I would pray my heart out for the child whose mother felt she had to give him up.  I would pray for that child to be placed in a loving home with wise godly parents who would help him process his unique history.  I would pray for healing in the first mom's heart.

Do you see the difference?  A family for the child.  Not a child for the family. 

A few years ago, contemplating adoption, we found ourselves at an adoption fair at a local church.  I'll never forget a conversation I had at one of the booths.  The staff person for this private adoption agency introduced me to one of their adoptive moms and asked this mom to share her story.

Glowing, she shared how her sweet son came into her family through adoption, but the longer she talked, the more uncomfortable I became.  She was particularly critical of her child's birth mom.  Apparantly, after introducing them to the birth father, a few months later the birth mom showed up at the hospital in labor -- on the arm of a new boyfriend.  "Oh, that's really common," the agency worker chimed in.  "They do that all the time." 

I couldn't figure out for the life of me why it was necessary to deride this child's birth mother to me, a total stranger.  Was she trying to let me see how better off her adopted child was with her?  I wanted to scream, "That young girl you're so smugly belittling gave you HER CHILD!"

This agency seemed very confident in their ability to talk young girls out of their babies and deliver their product to us, the adoptive parents.  I sensed a superior attitude, a sense of entitlement.  As we walked away I told Mike, "There's absolutely no way in the world I'd ever work with those people."

In our first interview with the agency we eventually used, we were told, "We find parents for children, not children for parents."  That's what I wanted to hear.

Even with that confidence, during the adoption process, our agency came under scrutiny as they were accused of unethical "recruiting" methods in Ethiopia.  We didn't know what to do.  We'd already been matched with Wenxin and were in the process of bringing him home.  And yet, the accusations were just too serious to ignore.

To be fair, we listened to our agency's side of the story.  I talked with our social worker.  By this time I had formed some online connections through message boards and adoption blogs, so I was even able to contact some of the families involved in accusations against our agency.  The internet can be an amazing tool!

We did more research and found no complaints about our agency's China program.  And by that time, Wenxin was our son in our hearts.  He'd spent a long time in the orphanage and we wanted to bring him into our family as soon as possible. 

So finally, shaken, we proceeded.  And Wenxin came home.  For good. 

We live in a fallen world and often the adoption process is flawed.  It's not a reason to "not adopt." But please, please, please think with both your head and your heart as you enter the process.

National Adoption Month is a time to highlight children who need families.  It's also a great time to open the discussion about adoption.  It's a great time to break the silence and voice honest questions, honest concerns.  Using our heads and hearts, we can make a difference.

Monday, October 24, 2011

It's A Birthmark

"This is going to grow, " the pediatrician told me back in 2002, when she noticed a tiny birthmark on Julia's two-week old arm.  "It's called a hemangioma.  We won't need to do anything about it," she said.  "It will eventually go away."

By age six months, the hemangioma was bigger than my baby's arm. 

Because of the birthmark, I dressed Julia in long sleeves for most of her baby pictures.  Even though it was part of her, I was afraid if the birthmark showed in a photo, it would be all anyone would notice.  On just one occasion, I had her photographed with her birthmark in plain view.  As she grew older, I wanted to remember everything about her baby years - including her birthmark.  I wanted her to know that I wasn't ashamed of how God made her.

Everywhere we went, people stared.  Some asked questions.  Occasionally kids were mean, but most of the time they were just embarrassingly honest.  My standard line was, "It doesn't hurt.  It's a birthmark and it will go away on its own when she's older."  My matter of fact response was mainly meant for Julia's ears.

Nine years later, Julia's birthmark is almost gone.  The doctor was right.  The huge mass has mostly vanished and it's no longer bright red.  What's left is mostly stretched-out, loose skin on her right arm.

Today I asked her if she'd like to have the loose skin on her arm removed by a surgeon.  Her response was priceless.

"Why?" she gasped.  "This is how God made me."  She seemed appalled that I'd even suggest such a thing. 

"This birthmark is something special that God gave me.  When God looks at all the people in the world, this birthmark is part of what makes me, me. . ."  She stumbled for the right words.  "Why would we want to remove a part of me that God made?"

"Do people ask you about it?"

"All the time."

"What do you say?"

"I say, 'It's a birthmark."

Well, there you go.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sometimes the Pictures Say it All

I'm finishing up Wenxin's 12 month post placement report.  For Wenxin's adoption, China requires updates at 6 months and 12 months.  These updates involve having a social worker visit us in our home and write a report on how we are all adjusting.  We also have to include photos. Tomorrow, we are mailing our last report!

On this momentous occasion, I feel I should write a deep insightful post about our first year together.  And I'm officially stumped.  How do you put it all into words? 

Our family's journey has best been told in stories from our day to day life.  I've tried to tell them honestly.  I've tried to paint a picture of what an older child adoption looks like in real life. 

So for today, let's just let the photos do the talking.

That was then. . .

And this is now. . .

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Fall.  Four home schooled kids.  Three soccer teams.  One Boy Scout troop.  A husband who travels.  And a mom with a broken foot.

It doesn't leave much time to blog.

But some things are too encouraging to leave unrecorded.

Last night, Wenxin and I were lying on my bed just having some talk and snuggle time before bed when he looked up at me and asked, "Do you think if another mom had adopted me, I would love her as much as I love you?"

It was a great opportunity to talk about how God works in our lives.  God knew what kind of Mom Wenxin needed.  And he knew what kind of son I needed.  God led us together and we are perfect for each other.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pass the Grace, Please.

Wenxin, Julia, Katherine and I stepped off the wooden walkway onto the white sands of Cocoa Beach's Jetty Park.  The sky was clear and the blue-green flag flying at the lifeguard station signaled almost perfect swimming conditions.  Dragging a cooler, boogie boards, pails, shovels, chairs,  bags and towels, we made our way across the sand.

For some reason, this was our first beach day this summer.  Out of state trips and lots of rainy days when we were in town kept us away from the coast.  So when Mike and Nathan left for a weekend camp-out, I decided to brave the beach with the younger three kids.  This would be the second time eight year old Wenxin had seen the ocean.   The first time was almost a year ago.

Anyone feeling nervous at this point? 

We parked our cooler at the perfect spot -- far enough from the water that we wouldn't get washed away when the tide began to come in.  We unfolded my chair and spread out a straw mat for the kids.  Julia and Wenxin grabbed the pails and shovels and ran closer to the water and began to build.

Katherine wanted to try her hand at boogie boarding so she and I ran into the surf.

After watching Katherine ride a few waves, Wenxin came out and wanted to try.  That's when everything began to go downhill.  You see, he really, really wanted to try boogie boarding.  It really, really looked fun.  But he was really really scared.

He learned to swim earlier this summer, but this was his first time to try to swim at the beach.  He didn't want the salt water in his eyes and mouth and nose.  He was afraid of being swept away by the waves.  He wanted to . . . and he didn't want to.

He refused to lie down on the board.  I strapped the cord to his wrist and it was all wrong. . . too tight. . . too loose. . . not comfortable. . . wrong hand.  No matter what I did, it wasn't right.  He was not going to be able to boogie board like Katherine, and somehow it was quickly becoming all my fault.

He cried and screamed and thrashed around in the water. 

I tried to help him name his emotions. "I know you really want to boogie board but you feel scared," and "I know you aren't used to how the salty water tastes and feels." I don't remember exactly the words I used, but I tried to help him process his feelings.

He stood in the surf and stomped his feet.

I tried to stay calm. "Why don't we try again later?" I suggested.

Screaming louder,  he demanded to try now.

"We can't try again right now, because you've lost your self-control.  You are frustrated, but you can have self-control.  You can stop throwing a fit.  Tell me when you have your self-control back."

"OK," in a loud voice that was just a little more controlled, " I have my self-control.  May we try again?"

So we tried again, and within minutes he just lost it.

Finally, I walked out of the water with Wenxin running and screaming behind me.  He even slapped and kicked at me.  I tried to stay calm.  "You may not hit and kick me.  We are taking a break.  We will try another time."

Across the beach we went, heading toward our stuff.  If I'd known this was going to happen, I would've set up closer to the water. 

Instead, off we went - slapping, kicking, falling down, crying, whining, stopping for little talks, walking again, holding hands, jerking away.  We were putting on a show for everyone.  I kept wondering when some beach-goer from the audience was going to yell, "If I'd acted like that when I was little, my mom would've worn me out."

Back at our stuff, I offered Wenxin a chocolate chip cookie from the cooler, but he took one look at his sandy hands and began to cry that he didn't want sand in his food.  . . he was sick. . . we needed to go home. . . now!

When I didn't start packing up right away, he wailed loudly, "You must hate me!" 

A bunch of seagulls were watching the drama from across  the sand and on a whim, I threw a piece of cookie their way.  About 12 of them descended on the cookie at once, the lucky winner grabbing it in his beak and flying away.  Wenxin laughed.

I stuck a cookie in Wenxin's mouth and he just sucked on it, leaving half of it dangling outside his mouth.  The hungry gulls were all watching us now. 

"If I were you, I'd get the rest of that cookie in my mouth - fast," I warned.  "I'm afraid one of those gulls is going to fly over and take it from you."

As Wenxin laughed and gobbled up the cookie, the evil spell was broken.  We watched the birds and ate snacks, accidentally dropping some pieces for the birds from time to time, until Julia and Katherine came in for a break.  Afterwards, all three built sand castles for the rest of the afternoon.

Late in the day, I looked up from my book, just in time to see Katherine pulling Wenxin across the waves on the boogie board.  A few moments later, Julia ran up the beach and yelled, "Mom!  Wenxin wants you to come and watch him do it."  He was riding the waves like a pro.

As much as I like an entertaining story, it's hard for me to write about days like this. . . because we have them a lot.  A week or two ago I wrote a post called Re-Entry Can Be Rough  about the struggles we've had at home since returning from Colorado. I'd love to say that things have gotten easier since then, but honestly, they haven't.  I fear that I'm coming across like a whiner or that people will think I'm creating the problems myself by not being strict enough.  More than once someone has told me, "He's just manipulating you."

I don't doubt he's trying to manipulate me.  In a lot of ways I'm his lifeline, and maybe he feels safer thinking he can control me.  My question is what to do about it.

When I think back over our day at the beach, one thing is clear.  The main way Wenxin has learned to deal with overwhelming emotions is by melting down and throwing a fit.  He needs to learn appropriate ways to handle fear and anger and frustration. 

One of the principles I try to practice in parenting all my kids, is to never correct them or punish them for doing something wrong if I haven't first taught them to do it right.  That's kind of a "no-brainer" to me.

So I think my first step in helping eliminate Wenxin's tantrums is to work with him on appropriate ways to respond when he feels angry or afraid or frustrated.  I need to play act and practice with him.  I need to get some short, sweet phrases that I say to him over and over when I sense he's about to go over the edge.  I'm still mulling over a plan in my mind, but it's clear to me that even though he's eight, we've got some catching up to do in this area.  I'm open to suggestions.

My second thought as I look back on yesterday has to do with judging.  When my eight year old acts like a three year old in public, I feel judged.  When I share with people, sometimes even with people close to me, that after almost a year we still have issues, I feel judged. 

I think I gained a new insight into Jesus's commandment to "not judge."  One reason we shouldn't judge others is that we simply aren't equipped to pass judgement.  We aren't all-knowing.  We aren't God.  When you see that big kid having a meltdown in the store, you have no way of knowing if it's a result of bad parenting or something more difficult -- autism, walking through a family trauma or even an older child adoption.

So remember me and have grace.  We're trying.  We really, really are.  And by God's grace we're getting there.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Little Glimpses of Kindness

Every now and then I see a little glimpse of the boy I hope Wenxin is becoming. 

Wenxin hated what I prepared for dinner tonight and continued to whine and cry that he was hungry long after we'd finished.

Food is a big deal for kids who've suffered significant trauma, so even though I want him to learn to eat what I prepare, I decided I needed to feed him something before bed.  I remembered that I'd bought some frozen chicken strips when they were B1G1 last week and thought that would be an easy solution.

When Wenxin saw what I was preparing he asked, "Can you fix some for everyone, Mama?  I know Katherine really likes those."

Thoughtfulness, empathy, sharing, kindness.  I like that.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Tale of Fatty Ann

"Would you like to hear a story about when Mommy and Aunt Julie were little girls?" 

It had been an intense day, and I was desperately trying to get Wenxin to settle down and snuggle with me before bed.

"OK, " he whispered, moving in close.

"Well,"  I began, "when Mommy was about seven and Aunt Julie was about five, we had a great big baby doll named Fatty Ann.  She was huge -- bigger than Aunt Julie.  Fatty Ann was not an expensive doll.  Her body was made of cloth, and she was filled with stuffing.  And her big giant face was plastic.

"One day Aunt Julie and I were playing with Fatty Ann on the carport and we got the idea to punch her in the face and see what happened.

"So we did. . . and it left a big dent in Fatty Ann's big plastic face.

"We thought it was funny, so we did it again.  Then, all of the sudden, we both attacked Fatty Ann, punching her over and over and over again.  When we finished Fatty Ann's face was full of dents.  She looked terrible.

"Aunt Julie and I looked at Fatty Ann, and we both began to cry.  We felt so bad for hurting her.  And we were afraid we'd be in big trouble when Grammy and Papa found out."

By this time, Wenxin was laughing his head off at the idea of his mom and his aunt beating up their baby doll.  He laughed until he could hardly breath.  Then an amazing thing happened.  He began to yell, "Hey Katherine!  Hey Julia!  Do you know the story of Fatty Ann?"  He wanted to share it with his siblings.  So I had to tell it again.

I realized something that night.  Wenxin needs to hear my stories.  Even though he's been in our family less than a year, he needs to be connected to the stories of his parents and grandparents.  Every family has an "oral history" - those funny stories that get repeated over and over again.  It's what separates the outsiders from the insiders.  That night, Wenxin felt like an insider.

At that point it was really getting late, but everyone begged for one more story.  So I told them about a time when I was really little.  I'd just learned to go to the bathroom on my own, but on this particular day, I lost my balance and fell into the potty.  I frantically began to grab for anything I could use to pull myself out.  Unfortunately I caught hold of the handle and flushed the potty by mistake.  Now my terror was over the top. . .   because I'd seen what happens to things that are sitting in the potty when it gets flushed. . .

"So what finally happened?" Wenxin wanted to know.

"Oh, just in time, Fatty Ann ran in and saved me!"  I just couldn't resist.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

His Story Didn't Begin With Us


"Joseph Michael Wenxin: This is your story. It is all about you, your life in China and how we became a family." - from the opening page of Wenxin's lifebook.

This summer I've been working on Wenxin's lifebook. It's a book with photos and text that tells what I know of the story of his life.

Wenxin's life didn't begin the day Mike and I met him in China.  While his lifebook will have lots of photos from our adoption trip to China, there's more.  I'm including pages about his birth parents, his life with his foster mom and his time in the orphanage. There's important information about his Chinese culture and the province where he was born.  My hope is that his lifebook will be a tool for us to use to help him process his unique history.

What a daunting task!  It's been made way easier with the help of Kristen from My Story Lifebooks.  I'm using the template I purchased from Kristen to make an 8X8 hardcover book on Shutterfly. The pages are all laid out and much of the text is written.  All I have to do is add photos and  tweak it to make a lifebook that is uniquely Wenxin's.

Kristen has pre-made pages that she can include for all China adoptions.  Things like a country map, a fun page about Chinese zodiac, and a page of things that came from China.  She's already thought through how to communicate sensitively about birth parents and China's one-child policy. 

I was impressed with the level of personal service Kristen provides.  She asked  if Wenxin had any special needs, and designed a couple of pages with sensitive prose explaining some medical issues he faced while still living in China.  I had not intended to include that info in Wenxin's book.  I just didn't know what to say. Kristen's suggestions were perfect.

It's coming right along.  If you need to make a lifebook for your adopted child, check out, My Story Lifebooks.  On the website you can see samples from templates for China, Korea, Vietnam and Guatemala.  And if you don't see what you're looking for, just contact Kristen.  She can make a template for any type adoption.

P.S. - I don't get a kick-back if you purchase a something from My Story Lifebooks.  I'm just so fired up about this I had to pass it along.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tonggu Momma Does it Again

Tonggu Momma came up with another great post today.  Her list of ways to help brand new adoptive families should be a must read for every local church.  Even the comments are good.  Her list especially applies to the international adoption of toddlers and older kids.   Click here to read.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Happy Anniversary to Me!

We're enjoying our last few days of summer. Everyone's playing Lego's in the living room - most still in pajamas.  Since we were in Colorado for most of the past two weeks, the fridge is almost totally empty, so what I really need to do is get in gear and make a meal plan and grocery list. 

But what I really want to do is stay in my pajamas and blog. 

Oh, and by the way, 13 years ago, today, Mike and I got married.  I was 36 and he was 38.  I sooo wanted to be a wife and mom, but wasn't quite sure it would ever happen.  Now look at us 13 years later!

Since it's a special day for me, maybe I can justify just a little more time drinking coffee and reading blogs.

Here's a link to an important blog post by one of my favorite adoption bloggers - Tonggu Momma.  I love her because she's funny and she types with a Southern accent.  But most of all, I love her because she balances her affection for her beautiful adopted daughters with realism about some of the harder aspects of adoption.  Tonggu Momma has decided to speak out - not only for adoptive parents - but also for adult adoptees and first moms.  Click on the link above to read what she shared about adoption with the ladies from her church at the baby shower for her newly adopted daughter.

And if you're dropping by for the first time in a while, I actually wrote 7 new blog posts during July.  I'm officially back.  You don't want to miss, "Off to a Shaky Start at Kids Camp."  Take a look and catch up!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Weekend Best of the Web

Thought I'd share a few of my favorite links from last week.  Enjoy!

Seeing Beyond Mad to the Sad - More great insight from Lisa Qualls about older child adoption.

Passion Following - I love this article about following your passion and finding your dream job.

Beautiful Home at The Inspired Room - OK, I have weakness for beautiful homes.  Here's a real beauty.  I may never live in a place like this, but it sure is fun to look at the photos.

Tim Hawkins - Warning - this is very "irreverent," but Tim Hawkins' family friendly comedy is getting a lot of laughs at my house these days.  Mike, Wenxin and I saw him live in Colorado so now we are bigger fans than ever!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Re-entry Can Be Rough

The trip to Colorado turned out to be a roaring success.  Wenxin's confidence grew by leaps and bounds as he tried new things and basked in the undivided love of both parents.

Our conference ended Tuesday night with a big outdoor celebration.  We got plates of snacks and settled in at a table with friends.  All of the sudden, Wenxin lit up and shouted, "I see one of my teachers!  Can I go say Hi?"  And off he went.  He ran across the crowded lawn and gave his teacher a big hug.  This is the same kid who only a few days earlier, clung to my leg and mumbled loudly, "I hate everybody in this place."

He told me later, "Mom, I really liked Kids Camp.  I think I just had to get used to it."

Next, he spotted one of his new friends.  Soon, he and a bunch of other eight year old boys were wrestling and racing and break dancing. 

One of our friends noted, "Dana, it's been over 30 minutes and he hasn't checked-in with you."

We'd shared with a lot of friends at the conference that one of the most exhausting things about my life these days is that Wenxin has to check-in with me about once every five minutes.  He'll play with his siblings or friends, but every five minutes or so he runs back and gives me a hug, or a little kiss, or tells me he loves me. . . You get the picture.  It's sweet, but after a while, it's exhausting.  It's like he has to make sure I'm still there.

But that night at the party, he forgot about checking-in with me.  He was in his element and having a blast!  The kid has some moves.  You should've seen him dance.

However, arriving home in Florida the next day, all the progress we'd seemed to make in Colorado simply evaporated.  Re-entry has been rough.  Wenxin is clingy and jealous.  He obviously resents having to share us with his siblings.  It's discouraging.

We've had two days of tears.  Mostly Wenxin's - but some from the other kids.  And he's checking in again - constantly.  The other kids are checking in a lot too -- they haven't seen me for 10 days and they want to catch up.  I read once that "being a mom is like being pecked to death by chickens."  That pretty much describes my last two days.

I'm still impressed by how much the other kids give him grace.  Yesterday, he cried all morning.  I'd had it.  I felt like I needed some time with Nathan so I offered to take him out to lunch while Mike stayed with Wenxin and the girls.  It's something we've talked about doing all summer. 

After a few moments, Nathan came back and said, "Mom, I don't feel right about going without Wenxin.  Would it be OK if I invited him to go with us?"  I tried to let Nathan know that he didn't have to feel guilty about special time just for him.  But he insisted.  And he was probably right.  We had fun eating and hanging out -- just Mom and the boys -- for a couple of hours.  Wenxin relaxed and enjoyed being a brother.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Scenery

What About the Other Kids?

With so much emphasis on Wenxin (after all, this whole blog is pretty much about him), people often wonder how the other kids are doing. Are they getting lost in the shuffle?

I guess the honest answer is:  Time will tell.

Any time you add a child to your family, even a biological child, it requires sacrifice from everyone. Adding an older adopted child is probably even more challenging - and not just for the parents.

But just as everyone has made sacrifices, everyone has gained so much in the process.  Nathan, Julia and Katherine have all gained a brother they adore.

 And we are having a lot of fun as a family of six.  We spent spring break with Mike's family in the D.C. area.  We took a vacation to Alabama to see my folks in June.  And we are wearing out our Aquatica passes this summer!

Mike and I are trying to be especially sensitive to each child's needs during the transition.  I still make sure each child gets some personal "snuggle time" each day.  It's true that Wenxin gets way more than the others, but he's quick to remind everyone, "Mama's catching me up." 

Mike spends individual time with each child as well.  He and Nathan enjoy some time together almost every night.  Mike puts the boys to bed and often hangs out by Wenxin's bed as Wenxin falls asleep.  That kid falls asleep faster than anyone I've ever seen; it takes about two minutes!  As soon as Wenxin is asleep, Mike sits down by Nathan's bed and they talk about whatever is on Nathan's mind.  It's become a special time.

We let each child try a new activity this summer.  The girls went to "Annie Jr." drama camp.

And Nathan became a Boy Scout.

Probably the biggest sacrifice for our bio kids is having parents who are stressed and totally exhausted most days. I don't quite know what to do about that one.

Over and over, as I've met up with old friends here in Colorado, I've been asked, "How are you doing?"  I usually answer with, " Fine," or "Tired, but fine," if I'm feeling a bit more honest.

I always wonder if people notice the 10+ pounds I've gained over the last year, or the big fever blister on my lip, or the fact that I've chewed every one of my fingernails down to almost nothing.

Hiking together in the Rockies today, we talked a lot about our need to keep physically fit.  I think that getting exercise would help reduce my stress level.

But back to the kids:  Have the sacrifices that Nathan, Julia and Katherine have made to welcome a new brother in their lives deepened their character and increased their capacity to love?  Are they better people as a result?

Time will tell, but I'm hopeful.

The other night, Mike and Nathan were out late, so I had the job of putting Wenxin and the girls to bed.  I was exhausted and had no intention of standing by Wenxin's bed as he went to sleep.  I tucked him in, prayed for him, gave him a hug, and headed out to the sofa for some much needed "down time." 

Wenxin began to cry.  In my mind, that was just too bad, because I was not going to be manipulated.  I was ready and willing to let him "cry this one out."

After a few moments Julia got up.  She gently reminded me, "Dad usually stays in the room talking to Nathan as Wenxin goes to sleep.  Mom, he's not used to being in that dark room alone."  Julia let me know she wasn't trying to be disrespectful, but she felt like I should do something.

So , right or wrong, I went in and carried Wenxin out to the sofa and let him lie down with me.  He was out in just a minute.  Mike carried him to bed when Mike and Nathan arrived home.

What struck me most, was Julia's compassion for her little brother.  She wasn't irritated that he demanded so much attention.  She was able to put herself in his shoes and see why this might be a hard situation for him.

I was very proud of my girl.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What's Working For Us #4 - Meeting New Adults

Our recent trip to Alabama to visit friends and family could pretty much be filed under the category of "disaster" as far as Wenxin's behavior was concerned.

We were reminded how much meeting new adults stresses him out.  As we introduced him to lots of people who've prayed for him throughout this journey, he thanked them by clinging to me, hiding his face and occasionally grunting at them.  His overall demeanor said, "Everyone get away from me."

I spent lots of my time lamely saying, "He's shy," in response. 

After that experience, we seriously reconsidered our plans for this trip to Colorado.  There are 5000 people at this conference - and a whole lot of them have prayed for us through our adoption of Wenxin.  Daily we meet friends from around the world - people we only see every few years at times like this.  We were afraid it would push Wenxin - and perhaps us - over the edge.

Before making a decision, I made a phone call to our social worker, Debra Hewitt, and explained the situation.  She empathized with Wenxin.  Even in China, we were told he was naturally shy in new situations.  And she reminded me that for kids in state care, new adults are not always good news.  She could see how meeting new adults would be stressful for someone with his personality and background.

But even in light of all this, Debra felt that we had to teach him the skill of responding appropriately when being introduced to our adult friends.  She helped me come up with a plan.

First, she asked me to quit saying, "He's shy," to excuse bad behavior.  She reminded me that while shy people may have to try harder in social situations, being shy in not an excuse to growl when your mother introduces you to a friend. 

Next, she asked me to role play meeting new people with him every day in preparation for our trip.  When I pretend to introduce a friend, he practices responding by looking at them and saying, "Nice to meet you."  (Believe it or not, it really, really helped him to have a memorized line to say in response.  I never thought about how having to come up with the response off the cuff, might be stressful to him.)  We also practice answers to the few questions that adults usually ask kids upon meeting them.  "How old are you?"  "What grade are you in?"  And so on.

Lastly, we came up with a plan to help him have a lot of success at this conference.  Every time he responds appropriately to being introduced to a new adult, I slip him a little treat.  I'm walking around the conference with a bag full of gum, mints and other little goodies. 

And you know what?  It's working!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Off to a Shaky Start at Kids Camp

"I hate everybody in this room!"

Earlier that morning, Wenxin and I packed his lunchbox for his first day at Colorado Kids Camp.  We filled his water bottle and put on sunscreen.  We talked about how Daddy and I would go to the meetings for our conference, and he'd go to camp.  (Our other kids were at home with grandparents, but since Wenxin's only been home 10 months, we chose to bring him with us on this work trip to Colorado.)  We planned to pick him up at 3 pm and then come home and swim together.  So far so good.

But when we pulled up to the elementary school where the kids camp was held, the whole atmosphere changed. Things went downhill quickly.

Wenxin began to cling to my leg and whine.  He didn't want to stay.  He wanted to go with Mom and Dad. 

First stop:  the Health Check station where they weed out any kids who might be sick.  Wenxin tried his darndest to fail the health check.  Cough, sore throat, stomach ache?  He had them all.

On to his class:  Wenxin  refused to take a seat.  In fact he stood, stiff as a board, in the middle of the room and mumbled loudly, "I hate everybody in here!"

The teacher greeted him.  At my request, she brought the day's schedule over and explained about all the fun things they'd be doing.  But Wenxin wanted no part of it. 

I asked if I could move with him to the side of the room where we could just sit together and observe the class for a while.  He gathered his sunscreen and water bottle from the desk. He took the name tag they'd prepared for him, emphatically throwing it to the floor.

By this time Mike had parked the car and come in to see what was taking so long.  I walked  over and talked with Mike for a moment, and when we looked back, huge tears were rolling down Wenxin's face.

Our hearts hurt for him, but we were not surprised.  Over the last 10 months, we've learned that certain situations trigger anxiety in Wenxin.  A big one is places that look "institutional."  This includes doctor's offices, schools, churches, etc.

I talked with Wenxin and told him that all the kids at the camp had parents who would be picking them up at the end of the day, just like we'd be picking him up.  No children would spend the night at the camp.  I tried to ease his fears.

Context is everything.  With no context, if you saw an eight year old boy refuse to take a seat, say that he hated everyone in the room, and purposefully throw his name tag to the floor, you would probably think his parents should impose swift consequences for his disobedient and disrespectful behavior.  What eight year old acts like that?

But what if you knew that only three years ago, this child had been removed from the only home he'd ever known and placed in an orphanage that housed 1000 kids?  Would that make a difference?  Could you see how getting in a line with a bunch of other kids and being dropped off at a place that looks an awful lot like an orphanage might push all his buttons, putting him into "fight or flight" mode?  Could it be possible that even though this kid now has loving parents and life is good,  this makes him even more afraid that he might somehow lose everything again, for a second time?

We did not punish Wenxin for his behavior because it was rooted in fear, not rebellion.  Mike sat down with him at the edge of the room, and I went out to talk with the Kids Camp director.  At that point a couple of really good things happened.

First, Mike began to play with Wenxin.  When I came back in the room, they were quietly having a war, taking turns shooting each other with a bottle of sunscreen.  The tears were gone, and Wenxin was smiling.  The next think I knew, Wenxin was sporting Mike's sunglasses and conference name tag.  As he laughed and played with his dad, he relaxed.  Play is a key to Wenxin's heart.

Next, the Kids Camp director was quick on her feet and assigned a teacher to stick close to Wenxin for the whole day.  She had that teacher come and get to know Wenxin while Mike and I were still there. 

Finally, I felt we might be able to leave.  So I asked Wenxin, "Would you like to wear Dad's sunglasses when we leave, or can he have them back now?"  Wenxin chose to take his seat in class, hiding out behind Mike's sunglasses, and we were able to slip out the door.  Wenxin had a great "first day" at Kids Camp, and since then, he's marched right in like a big boy each morning.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sticking my toe in the water just a little. . .

Oh how I miss my blog!  It's been months since my last post. 

But I miss blogging and hope to begin to post again real soon.  Wenxin's been home over 9 months and there's a lot to share.

Since I know a lot of adoptive moms stop by here from time to time, I had to post a link to this article today.  I'm so thankful for access to info like this as I learn to be a better mom to all my kids.

Hope to see you again soon.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Feeding My Boy from China - Asian Food

Hot and Sour Thai Soup
- 2 boxes (8 cups) Swansons chicken broth
- 1/2 can coconut milk
- 1 rotisserie chicken - remove bones and skin and tear chicken into small pieces
- juice from 3 limes
- garlic powder- to taste
- red pepper flakes - to taste
- Thai fish sauce - to taste
- fresh cilantro
- 1/2 box angel hair pasta
Bring first eight ingredients to boil.  Break angel hair pasta into thirds and cook until done.  You can also add fresh sliced mushrooms and fresh chopped carrots if you want some veggies.  Just play with it.   We like lots of red pepper flakes (hot!) and lots of lime juice (sour!).  Delicious served with a side of jasmine rice.
Occasionally prospective adoptive parents ask me about recipes for Asian food.  I'm lucky in that I lived for many years in Bangkok, Thailand, so I already love Thai food (different from Chinese, I know, but a lot closer than most American food.) Since Wenxin's been home, I've cooked more Thai and Asian foods and everyone enjoys them.  The soup recipe above is currently our family's favorite meal.

One great thing about China adoptions is they require adoptive parents to spend some time in country.  Our trip was 17 days.  This trip is a great opportunity to observe your new child and find out what kinds of foods they like.  We did the travel package offered by our agency.  They put us in nice hotels with huge breakfast buffets.  For most other meals, a Chinese guide took us to a variety of restaurants. 

I learned a lot about Wenxin's tastes at these meals.  I learned that he'll gobble up most fruits and veggies.  I learned he likes meat.  I learned he can eat spicy food.  I learned he loves ketchup.  Rice and noodles were always eaten.  And McDonalds or KFC were considered special treats.  All good to know.

Food is such an important part of life.  It's definitely an important part of attaching to an adoptive child and helping him feel secure and at home.

A couple of things I learned surprised me.  First, I learned he doesn't like congee - a rice porridge that's a common breakfast food for Chinese kids.  Second, I learned he hates Chinese dumplings.  So no need for me to try to perfect my congee recipe or dumpling making skills.  That was good to know before we got home.

The best "adoption gift" we received was a rice cooker.  It's so easy to cook perfect rice in a rice cooker.  And all rice is not created equal.  Our favorite rice for Asian meals is jasmine rice from Thailand.  These days you can even buy it at Wal-Mart.  A big steaming side of jasmine rice can make most any meal a little more familiar for Wenxin.

I've learned not to throw away left over rice, because fried rice  (with veggies and an egg thrown in) makes a quick easy hot lunch.  Now I cook a little extra rice just so we'll have leftovers.

Finding sauces your child likes can help you easily modify a meal.  I have a Thai sweet chili sauce that Wenxin loves on fried chicken.  So while everyone else is eating their chicken plain, Wenxin can douse his in hot chili sauce.  Win-win for everyone.

In closing, here's what we had for dinner last night.  Everyone had seconds.  Some had thirds.  We licked the platter clean.

Photo from The Pioneer Woman Cooks

Beef with Snow Peas, from The Pioneer Woman Cooks website.  Pioneer Woman, I've come to find out, has a soft spot for Asian cuisine so this is a good place to find new Asian recipes.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Are We Like those Slave Owners?

Friday night Mike took the girls to their first ever Daddy-Daughter Dance.  So, at Wenxin's suggestion, I took the boys out for a Mother-Son dinner. 

On the way home, Nathan made an interesting comment.  He said that when he thinks of how Wenxin is doing, he keeps wondering if we are like the slave owners back in Civil War times.  Huh?  He went on to explain that the slave owners insisted that the slaves were just fine, even grateful for the opportunity to work on their plantations. 

In Nathan's 11 year old heart, he wonders if we are way more excited about this whole adoption thing than Wenxin.  Do we mistakenly think he's grateful?

I was blown away by Nathan's humility. . . and empathy. . . and insight.

Later, I pulled Nathan aside and talked with him.  I told him I believe Wenxin is happy to be a part of our family.  Given the choice, I believe he'd much rather be in our family than in the orphanage.  As I carefully watch, I believe he is loving having a mom and dad and siblings.  He seems genuinely happy.

But even knowing that, we can never forget that Wenxin comes to us with a history of big losses.  I listed them for Nathan.  He lost his first parents and probably will never have any information about them.  He lived in a foster family until he was 5, and then he lost them when he was moved back to the orphanage.  At seven, he lost China  - being surrounded by people who look like him and speak his language.  He lost  familiar foods and smells.  He lost it all to come to a strange country.

I told Nathan that at different times in Wenxin's life he may grieve these losses and feel angry.  Who will he be angry at?  His birth parents?  Kind of hard, because he doesn't even have a face to put with them.  His foster mom?  Maybe.  But that was long ago and far away.  The orphanage staff?  Probably too impersonal.  Nathan followed my line of reasoning.  "He might get angry at us," he offered. 

I softened it a little by saying, "I hope he never feels that way, but it is possible, as he gets older that he may feel angry at Mom and Dad.  He may need to feel angry at someone, and hopefully he'll know that it's safe to share his real feelings with us."

I told Nathan I don't expect Wenxin to feel grateful to be in our family any more than I expect Nathan and Julia and Katherine to be grateful to be here.  Sure, we are called to be grateful to God for all our blessings.  But kids generally consider "being a part of the family" their birthright.  They don't walk around every day feeling "grateful."  I don't want Wenxin to be singled out as the one who has to feel especially grateful.  It seems even more absurd to expect gratefulness when he got here as a result of loss.

But as for me, I left that conversation feeling grateful.  My 11 year old son, who was scared to welcome an adopted brother into his life, has grown to truly love him.  Nathan loves Wenxin enough to see past the adoption stereotype of "the grateful adoptee."  In this area, he's more mature than a lot of adults I know.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Food and Big Families

Photo from The Pioneer Woman Cooks
First of all, I realize that whether or not my family qualifies as "big" is a matter of perspective.  I think to a lot of folks, four kids make a big family.

And I'm feeling like we are a "big" family.  I no longer assume I can casually ask a friend if I can drop my kids off to play for an afternoon.  After all, there are four of them.  We can no longer have an inexpensive meal at Chik Fil A.  There are four of them now and no one wants a Kids Meal anymore.  So our inexpensive meal runs over $40.  When my parents come to visit, we can no longer all pile in the van for an outing.  We have to take two cars.

But we love children and hang out with lots of other adults who love children too, so compared to our friends who have five or six kids, we are small potatoes.

For the sake of this post, I'm going to just go with the fact that we are now a big family and big families eat a lot of food.  As the chief cook at our house, I'm struggling to keep up.

Recipe Book Makeover - I'm tired of cooking meals that no one (me included) is excited about.  I want my family to have good nutritious food so they'll be healthy.  But I'm also going for the shared memories of yummy tastes and smells, that come from eating a really good meal together.

So over Christmas, I began to clean out my recipe book.  I actually threw away cards that had meals with too much processed junk in them and meals that were just so-so in my family's opinion.  I hung out on the Pioneer Woman Cooks website and found a few new favorites.  After a test-run, if a recipe got rave reviews from most of my crew, I printed it and put it in my book.  Try these cinnamon rolls - they're the best I've ever tasted.  My kids went bananas.  You can't really call them "healthy," but for a splurge - they are definitely "memory makers."

One thing I've realized is my family doesn't particularly care for all the down home southern recipes that I grew up with as a child.  Sweet potato casserole with all the brown sugar and butter and pecans?  No thank you. 

But every one of my children loves Asian food.  Jasmine rice has become a staple at my house.  I tweaked a recipe for a Thai style soup that is full of roasted chicken, lime, red pepper flakes, coconut milk and stinky fish sauce.  When I say that we're having Thai soup for dinner, all four kids start doing the happy dance.  Pioneer Woman's Lettuce Wraps got rave reviews at my house as well.

Saving $$$ by couponing and stocking up - With four kids I understand the idiom "eating us out of house and home" in a new light.  Our family can put away the food.  If I just strolled through Publix and bought enough food for the week, the total at checkout would be scary!

For years I resisted using coupons.  Mike would bring it up, and I would rant about how much time it would take to go through the Sunday paper and find coupons we'd actually use.  Seemed like a lot of work to save 50 cents on a box of cereal.

But the big savings in couponing don't come from just using a random coupon now and then.  Big savings come from holding onto your coupons until your grocery store puts an item on sale, then combining the coupons with the sales for rock bottom prices.  And when you find a rock bottom price, you stock up.

Here's a real life example from last week.  Wenxin loves Campbell's Chunky Grilled Sausage Gumbo Soup.  He calls is "spicy rice."  He could eat it every day.  At Publix, it's $2. 39 a can.  But this week, it was Buy One Get One Free.  So, it was about $1.20 a can. 

But . . . I had a stack of coupons for 50 cents off two cans.  That got the price down to 95 cents a can. 
So.  . . drum roll please. . . I bought 20 cans.  Seriously, 20 cans.  Actually I bought 22 because I had an extra coupon for $1 off 2 cans and that brought the price down to 70 cents a can. 

You should've seen Wenxin's eyes as I stacked all those cans on my shelves in the garage.  "Mama bought lots, lots, lots spicy rice!"  I actually bought a few cans of other varieties for  everyone else, but there was enough "spicy rice" to wow Wenxin.  22 cans can be eaten by my family in 2-3 months and by that time Publix will run another sale on this soup.  I should never have to pay $2.39 a can.

Sometimes an item is even FREE if you combine coupons with a store sale.  When I come home with items that were FREE, Mike looks at me as if I held up a grocery store.

What makes this incredibly easy is that there are websites that post each grocery chain's weekly sales and tell you what manufacturer coupons are available to match with the sale.  My favorites are The Grocery Game (there's a small fee after a free trial) and Southern Savers (totally free.) 

So every week, I use the Publix Sales and coupons to stock up on  items we use regularly.  Then I drive down the road to buy everything else on my list at Walmart - because Walmart's everyday prices are way lower than Publix's if a sale is not involved.

So how about you other moms of big families?  What do you do to stretch your food budget?  I know I'm writing from a "city girl" perspective.  We don't have a garden or farm animals or even a deep freeze - although that's on the list for this year!

Monday, January 31, 2011

And sometimes things don't work. . .

I just took Nyquil and am heading to bed soon, so I thought I'd go ahead and post for Tuesday. 

Lest it sound as if everything is working at our house, here's a typical conversation from a day when I'm trying to homeschool all four kids.

The girl who's doing math:  "What's wrong with me? I can't remember 8 + 5."

Me: "Sure you can, Honey. You've known that for a long time."

Wenxin:  "I don't have anything to do."

Me:  "Here, why don't you draw a picture in your sketchbook until Mommy is ready to teach you."

Girl who's doing chores yells from the bathroom:  "Something's wrong with the potty."

Wenxin:  "Too hard."  Scribbles something and begins to cry.

Me:  "That's good, Wenxin.  It doesn't have to be perfect.  Just do your best."

Wenxin, wailing now: "That IS my best."  Mumbles loudly enough for me to hear: "Not good. . . not good at all."

Me:  "OK, Honey, why don't you just play for a little while."

Wenxin:  "Play what?"

Girl who's doing chores yells from the bathroom: "Don't you care that something is seriously wrong with the potty?"

Girl who can't remember 8 + 5 starts to cry.

Nathan walks by and says, "Mom, do you think it's possible that there really might be parallel universes?"

I utter a silent prayer thanking God that we don't keep firearms in this house.

Hanging on to my sanity by just a thread,


What's Working for Us #3 - Child Labor

Child labor is working for us. 

I spent much of the fall exhausted from the sheer amount of work required to run our house.  I knew that adopting an older child would require a lot of emotional energy but I don't think I really thought about just how much physical energy it would require to clothe, feed and clean up after four kids and two adults.

Then one day, I read something that got me thinking.  If I could remember where I read it, I'd give credit where credit's due, but suffice it to say, this is not an original thought.  The author said there was a time in American history when kids were seen as a "labor asset."  You actually wanted as many kids as possible to have more hands to work your farm.  In today's American culture, kids are seen more as an "emotional asset."  They are valued for how they make the parent feel and not much work is expected from them.  We tend to put our kids on a pedestal and pamper them.

Hmm.  Interesting.

Now I'm not saying that I have four kids so they can help me do housework.  I have four kids because I love being a parent and I see great value in raising them to be great adults who'll do great things in this world.  How many times can I say "great" in one sentence?

But it occurred to me that if I gave each child several small tasks to do daily, it would greatly reduce my workload.  I could spend my time homeschooling and cooking good meals and still have a reasonably clean house at the end of the day.

Here's what I came up with:  Each child has a list of 8 chores that must be done daily.  If everyone completes their chores, I'm given the gift of 32 tasks that I don't have to do!  By doing them daily, the kids gain proficiency in their chores and the sense of pride that comes from being able to do a good job "all by myself."  I plan to shuffle the chores every couple of months with  a transition week in between where the kids train their siblings to take over their old chores.

For example, every day Nathan's list looks like this:

Make bed

Put away stuff on bedroom floor.

Clean off desk and dresser.

Dust bedroom.

Empty all trash cans in house.

Feed fish.

Clean up all toys and trash in the yard.

Put away all school supplies at the end of the day.

Notice that several of Nathan's chores could fall under the heading of "clean your room."  But in my experience, kids need specific instructions about what that means.  So I broke "clean your room" down into a number of smaller tasks and divided them between the kids who share that room.

Everyone makes his own bed and cleans up his own school supplies at the end of the day.  But the other tasks are varied.  Julie does a quick cleaning of the kids' bathroom (lucky Julia), Katherine waters plants, Wenxin cleans the sliding glass door.  Julia sweeps the sidewalk leading to the front door, Katherine mops the foyer, Wenxin cleans up the back porch.  You get the picture. 

Obviously, you don't really have to dust every day.  But consistency is important, so for the sake of consistency, the same chores are getting done daily.

I made a pretty chore chart from scrapbook paper and framed it in a $5 Hobby Lobby frame and placed it on a stand in the living room.  Chores get marked off, right on the glass, with a dry erase marker as they are finished.  The pretty chore chart makes it look like a big deal. 

This is going so well that Mike and I decided to add a twist.  As of this week, we will begin compensating the kids for their chores.  Now that everyone has finished "job training," they are qualified to "get paid."  Starting today, everyone has until 6 pm to finish their chores.  At 6 pm, I'll take a look at the chart, inspect the house, and record who finished and who didn't.  On Saturday night, Mike and I will sit down with them and each child will get $1 for each day they completed all chores.  If they completed them all 6 days, they'll get a $1 bonus.  So they have the opportunity to earn $7/week. 

One thing I explained to them is that "in our family everyone works."  While they are getting paid to do these chores, there will be many times I ask them to do extra work simply because they are in the family.  On those occasions, they aren't allowed to say, "How much will you pay me?"

So that's it for this morning.  Two posts in two days.  I'm on a roll.  See you back tomorrow!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

I'm Back

It's been over a month since my last post.  After Christmas, I promised to help Mike with a writing project and I promised myself that I wouldn't blog anymore until I filled that commitment. 

What was I thinking?  I love blogging.  It's easy.  I can do it at night after the kids are in bed or in the wee hours of the morning before they get up.  Mike's project required hours of concentrated effort and I didn't find those hours until yesterday.  I worked all day while he ran interference with the kids.

So I'm back.  And I hope to post to this blog every day this week.

Lots has happened in my absence.

 Wenxin celebrated his eighth birthday.  This photo was taken the day after his party.  Although we just invited two neighborhood friends over for hot dogs and cake, it was still somewhat overwhelming for him and he didn't really want to pose for photos.
More excitement this month when  Mike took out the trash early one Friday morning and noticed a seven foot alligator under his car.  Here it is after the "gator hunter" shot it and pulled it out onto the street.  Only in Florida!  That would've made a great blog post all by itself. 
 Wenxin's been home four months and what a difference four months can make.  Mike and I are amazed at how well he's doing.  It seems like he's been a part of our family much longer than four months.

Still, I want to be careful about celebrating prematurely.  Do you remember the news coverage of George W. Bush standing on the aircraft carrier declaring victory in the Iraq War?  Afterwards he was ridiculed because the actual fighting continued for years.  So while we're enjoying a degree of normalcy in our family life once again, we want to remember that it's only been four months.  Just four months.

Tomorrow I'll blog again:  "What's Working for Us #3"