Friday, December 28, 2012

Getting the Christmas I Wanted



This year we got a little closer to the type of Christmas I want for my kids, and we did it by celebrating Advent as a family.

You know, I don't get upset by a lot of things that seem to really bother some Christians. I don't care one iota if the cashier at Target says "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" to me. I really don't. But I do want Christ to reign in my heart and the hearts of my kids. All year long. And I can't help but notice how hard it is for Jesus to compete with Santa and presents and all the glitz and glamour of Christmas each year.

Some of my friends deal with this by just banning Santa, and I respect their decision. But I'm not sure that just removing Santa causes our children to truly treasure Jesus in their hearts. Honoring Christ at Christmas has to involve more than just the removal of the secular.

Starting the fourth Sunday before Christmas this year, each evening we gathered as a family around the table and lit the Advent candles. (Because Advent wasn't part of my religious tradition growing up, I had to do some research on the order of the candles and such.) Lighting the candles added mystery and significance to our time. Then, in the flickering candlelight, I read a chapter from Jotham's Journey, historical fiction about a Jewish shepherd boy living in Israel at the time of the Messiah's birth. Each night, the story ended with a cliffhanger.

My children know the biblical Christmas story well, so they had fun following the fictional Jotham on his journey. We met characters, both biblical and fictional, who shared the longing the Jewish people had for the Messiah's appearance. We saw the story through fresh eyes. A little bit each night. By candlelight.

And the comments were priceless.

"Mom, if Jesus hadn't come, we wouldn't have any way to get to heaven -- Right?"

And from Nathan, the oldest, "Mom, did you notice that the angels said they had good news of great joy for all people? I think the angel was saying the gospel was for all people all around the world, don't you?"

"Wenxin, have you invited Jesus into your heart? Because I really want to be with you in heaven."

We still watched Rudolph, and we pretended that Santa stuffed stockings and brought new bikes and a remote control helicopter and a camera.

But Jesus held the special place of honor. . . each night. . . by candlelight.

And on Christmas morning someone said, "Hey Mom, don't you think we should burn the Christ candle all day long?"

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Shared at "Hear it on Sunday. Use it on Monday."

Monday, December 24, 2012

Cutting it Close (and a linky party)


Does this make me a bad parent?

Here's how it all started this year. Because I had a torn tendon in my ankle, the kids climbed the ladder and decorated the tree. The torn tendon actually gave me an excuse to slow down, and I anticipated a more relaxed, layed back Christmas this year.

Then, a week into December, our only working car died. . . died permanently -- as in, died for the last time. Died, as in, "Oh great, now we get to buy a new car that we didn't exactly budget for."

So. . .much of this December has been spent praying for God's wisdom and provision, crunching numbers, and shopping for a car. Add in a scary medical procedure for Mike, a thirteenth birthday for Nathan, and a weekend soccer tournament for Julia, and I 've found myself wondering what happened to my dreams of slowing down and savoring Christmas this year.

Finally, two days ago, I got a beautiful, new (new to me, that is) van -- just in time for Christmas. It is so pretty. . . it runs so quietly. . it seats 8. Merry Christmas to me!

I confess, I'm still shopping today. I've never cut it this close before. But it's a lot more fun to cut it close when you're driving around town in your new car.

I'm linking up today with We Are Grafted In's Adoption and Christmas Linky Party. Take a moment to link to a post you wrote over the last month: anything relating to adoption and Christmas. Browse the other posts. You might even find a new blog to follow.

I've got one more Christmas related post up my sleeve. I want to share how my family celebrated Advent this year. Gathering around the table each night for a story by candlelight was a favorite part of this season for each one of us. This little tradition has truly prepared our hearts to celebrate Christ's birth, grounding us a little, even with the busy-ness of the season. Maybe I'll write about it tonight, after everyone is in bed, and all the presents are under the tree.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why the Christmas Picture is Totally Worth It. . .


Every year the kids get a little bigger. . . Mike gets a little grayer. . . and I get a little blonder. Here's a look at our family through the years.

Christmas 2006

Christmas 2007

Christmas 2009

Christmas 2010

Christmas 2011

Christmas  2012

Thankful for the blessing of family this Christmas.


Little by Little

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bloggers with a Personal Connection to Newtown




A mom of a son with a violent mental illness. . . an adoptive  mom who also happens to be a psychologist. . . a homeschool mom who fell in love with Newtown and moved her whole family there . . . and a first mom who used to wonder where the child she relinquished was every time tragedy struck. These blog posts, by bloggers with personal insights to the Newtown tragedy, have helped me process things this week.

I am Adam Lanza's Mother - What would you do if your son had a violent mental illness and no one would help?

The Inconvenient Truth About Mental Health and Gun Control - Is it better mental health care. . . or gun control?

Newtown as I Know It - What would it be like to live in Newtown?

Were Any of the Children Killed at Newtown Adopted? - What goes through the mind of a mom who relinquished her baby for adoption when she hears the news from Newtown?



Monday, December 17, 2012

Which Words Would You Pick?




I made this graphic last night on Wordle, and I really like how it turned out.

If you were to describe your family or your adoption journey with a bunch of random words, which words would be sure to make the list?


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Newtown - Searching for Truth



Heavy sighs.

Tearful eyes.

Searching for words.

Longing for Truth.

My heart has hurt ever since I turned on the TV Friday and learned the extent of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

As a mom, I know the deep hurt of losing a child, albeit from very different circumstances. I'm certain all those families are walking around today in a heavy fog of grief. My heart hurts for them.

As a Christian, God's Word is the rock I run to when faced with evil and suffering and seemingly unanswerable questions. This morning, longing for some truth to cling to, I found an article written by John Piper -- first as a response to Columbine and later updated in response to September 11. The mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary is a tragedy of those proportions.

This is not a light reflection on the events. It's a collection of scripture references for Christians seeking to minister to others and seeking to think biblically when facing great evil . . . great tragedy. . . great loss. If your heart is longing for stability, truth and comfort in light of Friday's events, I urge you to take a look at John Piper's article, How Shall We Minister to People?


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Holiday Traditions Celebrating Our Adopted Kids



What to do about the Christmas ornaments? Believe it or not, that question weighed on my mind back in 2010 as we prepared to travel to China.

When my first child was born in 1999, my mom started a Christmas tradition. Each year, she gives each grandchild a personalized engraved pewter ornament.  Eventually, I even bought a small tree especially for the children's ornaments. They have a lot of fun each year when we pull out their individual collections and let them decorate their tree. The older the child, the more ornaments they have.

Anticipating 7 1/2 year old Wenxin's first Christmas in our family, I wanted him to have an ornament collection as well. 

Deep inside, I wished my mom would think about catching him up and volunteer to buy him an ornament for each Christmas of his life. I wanted her to get it. But intellectually, I knew I was being unrealistic. For one thing, it would be very expensive.  And I knew she wouldn't see the point. For all the other kids, she started buying ornaments when they entered our family. Why should she buy Wenxin ornaments for all the years he wasn't here? I decided this was a need for me,as his mom, to meet.

But was it really even a need? I wasn't sure, however some gut instinct told me that this family tradition had the potential to make Wenxin feel like an outsider.

Family traditions are just like family stories. They're one of the things that separates the insiders from the outsiders. I had this nagging feeling that Wenxin needed a collection of ornaments that celebrated his life to feel a part of our family tradition.

Christmas 2010, Grammy gave Wenxin his first personalized ornament from her. It was just like the one that Nathan, Julia, and Katherine received that year, and it was very special. I also bought two beautiful picture frame ornaments and inserted a couple of my favorite photos of Wenxin, bringing his collection to three. Then, on the day we decorated the children's tree, I brought out  a set of beautiful cloisonne ornaments from our trip to China and gave them to Wenxin. Just like my other kids have ornaments from Grammy that celebrate each year of their lives, Wenxin has a beautiful set of ornaments that celebrate his life in the country of his birth. He couldn't be prouder.

Linking up at WMFW.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

When You Fall in Love with a Photo



Back in 2009, I fell in love with a photo . . . and that photo changed my life.

Today I'm honored to be a guest blogger at Love Without Boundaries. I'm talking about older child adoption and things to keep in mind when you fall in love with the photo of a waiting child. Come on over for the rest of the story.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Pinterest



Do you use Pinterest?

I love Pinterest, but I try to use it purposefully. I don't think it's a good use of my time to sit at my computer, mindlessly "pinning" for hours. But used intentionally, it's a great tool.

I just updated two Pinterest boards I thought you might like: Art Projects for Kids and Older Child Adoption Resources. Take a look!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Behaving Badly at Christmas: Is it about Adoption?

 

Thank you so much for your encouraging response to my last post, It's Jesus' Birthday, and He Doesn't Mind. One thing I'm getting from your comments is that large gatherings with extended family are a big challenge at this time of year.

I think there are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, the big Christmas celebration with extended family is usually festive chaos to the extreme -- lots of people, lots of food, lots of noise, lots of gifts -- and for some of our kids, it can push them over the edge.

The second reason it's hard is that if our kids should melt down at a big family gathering, it's easy for people who aren't familiar with parenting kids with a background of trauma to offer lots of "unhelpful" advice. We, the parents, find ourselves trying to explain their behavior and our responses to people who think a good swat on the bottom would solve everything.

When our kids are "behaving badly" it's easy for folks to wonder, "Is that really adoption related. . . or not?" Sometimes we wonder the same thing.

Here's a short video from Empowered to Connect that addresses the question.


Encouraging you to remember where your child has come from this Christmas. Keep parenting with wisdom and compassion!

Check out Our Adoption Toolbox for more older child adoption tools.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

It's Jesus' Birthday, and He Doesn't Mind



Dear Adoptive Moms - especially those of you who adopted older kids who came with a truckload of trauma -- I have something I need to say.

Jesus doesn't want His birthday celebration this year to cause you stress. He doesn't want you to lose ground in attachment with your adopted child because you have to go all out to celebrate His big day. It's OK with Him if you scale way back. . .or just stay home. . . or even skip the whole thing -- although that's probably not necessary. It's Jesus' birthday, and He doesn't mind.

Aunt Susie, on the other hand. . . Aunt Susie wants you at the family Christmas dinner. Aunt Susie is going to die if you mess with the way your family has always celebrated Christmas. But Jesus understands your situation in a way that Aunt Susie probably never will. And Jesus is on your side.

My family is keeping Christmas simple this year -- just like we have for the last two years since Wenxin came home. The first year was just our immediate family. Then last year, we stayed home, but Grandma came to our house to celebrate with us. This year we'll stay home again and travel to visit cousins the week after Christmas. Our families have been understanding, but I know that's not always the case.

So why do the holidays seem to be so hard for internationally adopted older kids? Why do meltdowns increase as the decorations go up? And is there any way to help our extended families understand?

I suppose there are lots of reasons why Christmas is hard on our kids. The first thing that comes to my mind is CHANGE. Most of our kids do better with structure and predictability. But Christmas is a season of festive chaos. Decorations = Change. Parties = Change. Guests = Change. Gifts = Change. For most of our kids, even happy change is stressful.

Children home less than a year are still learning language so they have the added stress of trying to figure out what the heck is going on without the language skills to communicate on a deep level. Just what we need -- added stress.

Then there's the fact that adoption issues are magnified during the holidays. Just the other day, we decorated a small tree with personalized ornaments that belong to all my kids. 3 of my kids have ornaments that say Baby's First Christmas with the date. They all know that Grammy bought the ornaments for them when they were babies. As they pulled them out, I heard it three different times.

"Oh look! Here's my Baby's First Christmas ornament!"

Wenxin doesn't have one. Of course he had a first Christmas. But it was far away and filled with loss. Thoughts of Baby's First Christmas have the potential to raise lots of questions for him. What about his first mom? Why couldn't she keep him? There's more to it than everyone else having an ornament that he doesn't have.

While language difficulties become less of an issue the longer our kids are home, I think that dealing with adoption related questions will be a lifelong process. And there's something about the holidays that seems to make all of us miss people we've lost.

Which brings me to the main reason I think the holidays are hard for our kids who were adopted as older children. Underlying everything, they all have a history of trauma.

No older child is available for adoption because he's had a good life.

As we parent them, we gain an appreciation for how much they've suffered and how far they come. Sometimes, to protect their privacy, we don't tell the harder parts of their stories. So while we celebrate each step forward and are impressed with how far they've come, it's easy for our extended family members (who may not know the whole story) to lose patience. It can seem like this adopted child, a newcomer to the family scene, is suddenly ruining Christmas for everyone.

This child has a loving family now. Can't we all just move on?

Let me answer that question with a hypothetical situation -- a situation so scary it's hard for me to write.

Suppose that a year ago, Julia, my ten year old daughter, had been abducted by a stranger. Imagine the trauma for her. Imagine the trauma for us.

Then suppose that nine months later, Julia was rescued and returned to us physically unharmed.

Now here's my question. Would anyone expect Julia to just jump back into normal life? Would anyone believe that being reunited with her family would wipe away the trauma of the last nine months? Would family members understand if we had to stay close to home because crowds made her nervous? Would people give us grace?

I'm certain they would.

So why is it different for our adopted kids? Why do people not "get it" when it comes to their trauma?

I think there's a simple answer. People don't get it because the trauma in our adopted kids' lives happened before they knew them. For most people, their starting point with our kids is when we adopted them. They don't remember that every adoption begins with loss.

It's easy to forget.

So give Aunt Susie some grace. If she really understood, she'd probably want you to do whatever it takes to help your adopted child heal. And it's OK to do it all or keep it small as you remember the birth of Christ this year. Feel free to celebrate Jesus' birthday in whatever unconventional way fits your family at this stage. After all, Jesus was never conventional. He'll probably love it!


I'd love for you to comment on how you navigate the holidays. How do you meet your child's needs while being sensitive to the desires and expectations of other family members? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts! Comments make my day.

Check out Our Adoption Toolbox for more older child adoption tools.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

This is NOT our Christmas Card Photo!



But it was a finalist!

(Maybe one day I'll blog about the futility of trying to take an outdoor Christmas card photo of a family of six on a very windy day.)

Next week, I'll be blogging about navigating the holidays with newly adopted kids. Is there anything you think I should address? Leave a comment.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Free to Adopt: A Guest Post by Christine

Hey new friends! I'm Christine, the designer behind Great Oak Circle, a studio that creates unique and fun branding elements for print and web. I'm excited to share a little of my life with you as a designer and most importantly as an adoptive mom.

My husband and I have long desired that adoption be part of our story, and not because we couldn't have kids, and not for humanitarian reasons (although neither of those are innately bad reasons). Our heart to adopt came from having a heart like Christ, whose Word clearly teaches about...and commands...the care of orphans. The Bible is full of adoption, indeed the Bible is based on adoption. Our adoption as sons of God (Romans 8), describes that the whole redemptive story, our salvation, is wrapped up in adoption. Not only that, the love of Joseph for Jesus, a child not his own, furthers the example for us as believers. And we don't have to stop there, but see more stories and commands from Christ to care for this special population. I'm fully convinced that God equips us for that which He calls us to. What encouragement as we started a journey that led through a failed adoption in one country, and a pile of paperwork for another country before landing us close to home in a domestic adoption.

Can I be super transparent? In the beginning I felt like domestic adoption was not for us, it wasn't enough somehow. Can I be prideful or what?! Then I heard a Spirit-filled sermon from our pastor about our stand against abortion and its direct correlation to caring for the sweet children born from all this counseling and preventing and choosing of life. Just think about that for a minute. Wow. So when we heard from a friend of a friend of a friend that a baby was due in 3 weeks, we spun our international home study into domestic and then we were parents. Our story was not without drama and anxiety and frustration, but it produced in me a new level of patience and trust in the sovereignty of God. Acts 16:9 continued to encourage my family of God's sovereignty even when circumstances and "good" plans were changing.


Our Levi is a 20 months old now, and while we didn't go through many attachment problems with an infant who only knew me as Mama, we did experience a refusal to accept our mixed race baby by a family member. We may always face questions about our choice to adopt, which sounds good to me, because I want to share the Gospel, and that door is WIDE open!


God has graciously blessed our family with Great Oak Circle and the ability to use my skills to minister, provide for my family, and spend time with Levi. I design logos, blogs, websites and print materials for small business owners and bloggers. I consult, teach and equip newbies to the online world, helping them make good business decisions and spend money wisely in design and advertising. I would love to tell you more about my design education, history and current services over on my website. If you're interested in a few free branding tips, I recently wrapped up a 31 Days series on Branding Your Biz or Blog.

I have also recently started an adoption ministry through Great Oak Circle called Free to Adopt. Every month I offer a free design project to a Christian family currently fund raising for a domestic or international adoption. I want my business and my talents to be dedicated to God, and this faith work has blessed me as much as the recipients. The design could be a t-shirt, a prayer/donation postcard, blog for an online auction, submission for an auction, or any other creative use of my skill set. The ministry is brand new and a little casual; I sort through and pray over those that email me and pick one. If you or a friend is interested in this ministry, please feel free to email me or connect by social media.

Thanks for chatting with me today. I hope to connect with you again soon,

Christine

Thanks, Christine, for sharing your story and ministry with us today!  Head over to Great Oak Circle and see what Christine has to offer. I love her work! 
Shared at the Tuesday Baby Link-Up.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

They said. . .



They said, "What about your other kids?"

They said, "You can't save them all, you know."

They suggested Nathan would have difficulties.

He'd always been the only boy.

He'd never had to share his room.

They said, "You need to think about the kids you already have."



Well. . . we thought about it.

And we took a risk.

Not just for us. . . but for our kids.

Last Saturday, Nathan, who'd never had to share his room, climbed an enormous tree

with his brother.

And Nathan said, "One of the best days of my life was the day we adopted Wenxin."

 


Monday, November 26, 2012

Ten Things to Do While You Wait



International older child adoption involves lots of waiting. Here are ten things to do while you wait to bring home your new child.

1. Read the Connected Child. If you don't do anything else, read The Connected Child, by Karyn Purvis. To parent your internationally adopted older child, you need to learn to think differently about his behavior and your responses. Dr. Purvis shows you how.

2. Follow a few adoption blogs. Unlike books, which are often written by experts, adoption blogs give you updates from real parents in real time

3. Join an online support community. My favorite group these days is Trust Based Parenting, a Facebook group for parents of kids from the hard places. When you join, write a quick post to introduce yourself. This is a place where you can ask questions of experienced adoptive parents and get timely answers. 

4. Make a detailed resource list. Go ahead and make a list (including contact numbers) of all the professionals you might need to access once you bring your child home. Include your pediatrician, medical specialists (if your child has a special need), a dentist, and a counselor with experience working with adoptive families. 

Think about education. Include local schools both public and private that your child might attend. What resources could they offer your family?

Include the names and phone numbers of all the adoptive families you know locally. Are there any ethnic food stores that sell food from your child's home country in your area? Are there families who are ethnically similar to your child? Put them on the list.

5. Master some phrases in your child's language. Find a native speaker of your child's language and have them help you master a few simple phrases. This will provide comfort for your child in your first days together. . . or maybe just some comic relief. 

6. Invest in your marriage. Even though all your extra money is going to the adoption, please still take the time to go on dates together. Don't let every moment together become a business meeting about what needs to be done next in the adoption process. Breathe. Laugh. Have fun.

7. Paint your house. OK, you don't really have to paint your house, but if you're stuck waiting, and don't know what to do, now would be a good time to complete any home improvements you've been meaning to tackle. Put another way, once you get home, you're going to have your hands full parenting your new child. You're going to need to create structure and consistency in your family. The week after you return home won't be a great time to install a new kitchen. We remodeled our master bath, painted and put down new flooring in our main living areas, installed a new water heater,and repaired some termite damage while we waited to travel to China. And we haven't done a big home improvement project in the two years since.

8. Have a “baby” shower. Yes, a celebration is appropriate for your new adopted child, no matter how old he is when he joins your family. Often, friends want to throw a party for you but aren't quite sure how to do it. They may suggest waiting until your child comes home so that the child can enjoy the party too.  Personally, I don't think that's a good idea.

The child you're bringing home will most likely be overwhelmed by large gatherings at first -- especially large gatherings where he is the star of the show. Your child will be facing huge adjustments. This is not the time to put him on display.

Instead, once you have official permission to adopt your child, let your friends and family throw a baby shower for you. Make sure to display a photo of your new child at the shower. Perhaps you could also take time to share your adoption story and some of the challenges you'll be facing when your child comes home. 

People want to give gifts but may be unsure what is appropriate. Help them out. Gift cards are great. Let them know your favorite stores and restaurants. How about building your library by adding books about your child's country and culture along with a few good adoption resources? One of the best gifts I received was a rice cooker and a giant (20 lbs or more?) bag of rice. The bag of rice is long gone, but I still use the rice cooker multiple times each week. 

9. Get Grandma on board. One of the biggest challenges of older child adoption is helping your extended family understand the unique challenges you face and the somewhat unconventional decisions you may be called on to make in response to those challenges. Most people will naturally assume your child is "grateful" to have a family, and that your love will wipe away the past. If only it were that easy. 

Start by making a copy of your favorite chapter in The Connected Child and sharing it with Grandma. Simply say, "We're learning a lot about the challenges of parenting older adopted kids, and I wanted to share this with you because you are going to be an important person in our child's life." If at all possible, it's important to get Grandma on board with your parenting philosophy. She can help everyone else understand if you need to skip out on the big family Thanksgiving celebration next year.

10. Take a vacation. Get away for a family vacation. Or a girls weekend with friends. Or an overnight date with your husband. You've worked hard on all the adoption stuff. Relax and have some fun before the real work begins. 

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list. If you've adopted an older child internationally, what would you add?

Reminder:  It's Cyber Monday. If you're shopping online today, don't forget to go through Ebates for cash back.

Shared at the Tuesday Baby Link-Up.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Secret Shopping Tip and A Winner!



Are you saving money Christmas shopping for all the Black Friday deals today?

Not me. I'm doing other things today, like getting my hair cut and starting my Christmas decorating because like many of you, I do about 95% of my holiday shopping online. If you're an online shopper, there's a tip I can't wait to share with you.

Back in 2008, I discovered a secret that makes all my online shopping a little sweeter. That secret is Ebates

Hundreds of popular online retailers participate in Ebates, and every time you shop online with one of them, you get free money. Since 2008, I've gotten $300 in cash back from Ebates, just by registering with them and clicking through their site to do my online shopping. There's no catch. And it's fun to get a check after Christmas.

Follow this link to register with Ebates, and then start shopping all the places you normally shop online. For Black Friday, lots of retailers are giving double cash back. I'll also leave a link to Ebates on my sidebar throughout the Christmas season.

Oh, and my 12 year old son, Nathan, who reads this blog religiously wants me to tell you that Ebates gives me a bonus every time I sign up a friend through the links on my blog. (He's not a big fan of advertising, but he is a huge fan of complete honesty.)

Lastly, the winner of the signed copy of Red Thread Sisters is Christie from Satisfaction Through Christ. Check your inbox, Christie, for an email from me so we can get your book to you right away.


Monday, November 19, 2012

China Adoption Myths Busted



There are a lot of myths surrounding China adoption. A while back I wrote a post called How Did You Get a Boy From China? to address the myth that all Chinese children available for adoption are girls.

Today I happened on two more myth busting articles.

Valentina's Happily Ever After - debunks the common misconception that Chinese people don't adopt domestically, and that if they do, they never choose girls. Valentina found her forever family in her own birth country, China.

Long Journey Home - tells the story of a boy adopted from China by American parents. As a college student, he returns to China where he searches for and finds his birth family, something most of us assume our adopted Chinese kids will never be able to do. All those unanswered questions? This kids was able to get some answers, straight from the mouths of his birth parents. Grab a box of tissues, and read his amazing journey.

While these stories aren't yet typical of China adoption, they do lead me to believe that times are changing. We need to stay informed, so that in the area of adoption, we aren't operating under old assumptions, still believing myths that were busted a long time ago.

Have you entered to win the Red Thread Sisters Raffle? You still have 3 more days. Winner to be announced on Friday!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Giveaway - Just in Time for Christmas


Wen has spent the first eleven years of her life at an orphanage in rural China, and the only person she would call family is her best friend, Shu Ling. When Wen is adopted by an American couple, she struggles to adjust to every part of her new life: having access to all the food and clothes she could want, going to school, being someone's daughter. But the hardest part of all is knowing that Shu Ling remains back at the orphanage, alone. Wen believes that her best friend deserves a family and a future, too. But finding a home for Shu Ling isn't easy, and time is running out . . .

Finally. A novel about older child adoption. And even better, it's written from the point of view of the adopted child.

I was cautiously hopeful as I began reading. Would this book really paint a picture of the challenges as well as the joys of older child adoption? Or would everything just be butterflies and rainbows? Would the story be compelling enough for kids of all ages (and even adults) to enjoy? Was that too much to ask of one book?

In the end, my hopes were realized. I really liked this book. In fact, I liked it so much I decided to read it aloud to all my kids.

Ages 12, 10, 9 and 8, my kids were the perfect audience for Red Thread Sisters which is aimed at middle grade students. I found it to be appropriate for older elementary kids as well. My one concern was Wenxin. Although the author, Carol Peacock, approaches the subject sensitively, when Wen and Shu Ling share their stories of abandonment, the ache of their hearts is unmistakable.  I cried for them. Would this prove to be too much for nine year old Wenxin, only home from China two years?

I prefaced the book by sharing with all the children that this was Wen's story (the main character), not Wenxin's. And as I read, I saw the biggest response from my biological kids.

Julia, age 10, said, "I never thought before about how the adopted kid might feel."

Following Wen's story, they were able to see international adoption through her eyes. Their empathy and understanding deepened.

As for Wenxin, he listened, but didn't say much, and I didn't push it. I just gave him room to process, and let him enjoy the story.

By the end of the book, all of us, even Wenxin, were cheering Wen on, hoping she'd find Shu Ling a family before it was too late.



After reading Red Thread Sisters, I gathered up my courage and wrote the author, Carol Peacock. She is so sweet. I asked if she'd be willing to give away a signed copy of her book, and she said, "Yes!"

So just in time for Christmas, you have the opportunity to win your own signed hardcover copy of Red Thread Sisters. It would make a great gift for any young reader. It would even be helpful for prospective adoptive parents. There's something about a good story that drives the truth home and helps it stick.

Follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter widget below for up to 12 chances to win! If you've never used Rafflecopter before, don't be intimidated. It's super easy.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Dr. Carol Antoinette Peacock grew up in Maryland, in a suburb outside of Washington D.C. She is the oldest of three children in a family who loved books. When she was young, her parents, Andrew and Gloria Peacock, read devotedly to her, her younger brother, Richard, and her younger sister, Nancy. Carol Peacock has wanted to be a writer since she was eleven. She is now a practicing psychologist and author of six books. Dr. Peacock earned a BA at Cornell University, a Masters of Social Work from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in Psychology at Boston College.

You can find Carol Peacock on Facebook and at carolpeacock.com. And if you don't want to wait for the raffle to end, Red Thread Sisters is available now at Amazon.

Shared at the Tuesday Baby Link-up.

Why I Don't Rest and Blogaholics Anonymous



Sunday morning and I'm home while everyone else is at church. Home for the second day straight. Trying to heal a torn tendon in my ankle.

Why is it that the only time I really feel like it's OK to rest is when I'm sick? 

I grew up with a strong work ethic. I grew up believing that rest was what you did when you finished all your work. Rest was a reward for a job well done.

Problem is, with a family of six, the work is NEVER finished. I can't even imagine what this means for moms with families bigger than mine.

I think I need a paradigm shift. I think that rest needs to become part of the natural rhythm of my life, even when there are a thousand things still screaming to be done. I doubt the change will come easily for me. It's really hard to change something you've believed all your life. You know what they say about teaching an old dog new tricks.

The good news is that since I've slowed down a little week, there's been more time for reading, so I have lots of good links to share today.

Time for this week's Blogaholics Anonymous. You know the drill. 

I'm a blog addict, an information junkie. I read decorating blogs, home organization blogs, adoption blogs, political blogs - anything that makes me learn or think or laugh or grow. Here's a smattering of posts I've enjoyed lately. Disclaimer: By posting these links, I'm not saying I endorse all the views expressed; but I am saying they made me think. 

He's Alive - A birthday celebration for a child who will never know his actual birth date

Adopting a Young Teen - Amy Eldridge of Love Without Boundaries shares insights on young teens who are about to age out of China's adoption program.

I've started telling my daughters I'm beautiful - Why it's important for moms to celebrate our own beauty in front of our daughters. This one was a wake-up call for me.

the secret behind a schedule that actually works - This sounds like a secret I need!

Tyler of 16 and Pregnant tells FMF Off - Hold on to your hats for some serious back and forth about the effects of adoption on adoptees and birth parents.

The "Ah-ha" Moment - I wish I did not have to link to this post. Brian Stuy reports on serious allegations of fraud in older child adoptions from China.

Also, don't forget to check out all the great posts at this week's Paint Me a Picture linky party. There's still time to link up one of your own posts.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Thanksgiving Memories

This year, we're staying home for Thanksgiving, and to be honest, I'm kind of looking forward to it because I need to rest. About two months ago I tore a tendon in my ankle, but I didn't know I tore a tendon in my ankle. I just knew it really hurt to walk. Finally, this week when an MRI showed the torn tendon, my doctor put me in a boot and told me to rest. So this year for Thanksgiving, we'll stick close to home.

These photos are all special memories from Thanksgivings past. Wonder what memories we'll make this year?




Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Milestone and a Paint Me a Picture Linky Party


Photo compliments of Nathan. This hawk visits our backyard from time to time. Once we even watched it catch and eat a live snake, but this time it just flew away with a dead rat which wasn't nearly as exciting. No wonder I feel like I live on an episode of Animal Planet!

It's been kind of quiet around here this past week. During the quietness, however, we hit a big milestone. Mike and I went out of town for five days and left Wenxin and the other kids with my parents. Wenxin's been home a little over two years, and this was the first time he'd been away from both parents for a stretch of several days.

He did great. And my re-entry has been smooth. I've held him a lot and even let him sleep in my bed last night. (Mike comes home on Friday.) I've been pleased to see that he's calm and content and doesn't seem to be thrown off balance by the separation.

We kept him very close the first two years. I think our investment in building that bond with him will pay off for years to come. It's a decision I'm happy we made.

Let's have another Paint Me a Picture linky party today. Link to something you've written that helps paint a picture of older child adoption in real life. And don't worry too much about what qualifies as older child adoption. If you have a story to share, we want to hear it.

Here's how it works:  Use the easy linky tool below to link to the specific post you'd like to share. Then, please link back to Death by Great Wall either by grabbing the button on my sidebar or by placing a text link at the end of your post.

Don't have a blog? No problem. Just share your story in the comments section of this post.

Are you part of an adoption message board? Do you use Facebook or Twitter? Would you please pass along the link to this post so that more bloggers can join our party? The share buttons at the bottom make this really easy. Thanks!


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Blogaholics Anonymous



I'm a blog addict, an information junkie. I read decorating blogs, home organization blogs, adoption blogs, political blogs - anything that makes me learn or think or laugh or grow. Here's a smattering of posts I've enjoyed lately. Disclaimer: By posting these links, I'm not saying I endorse all the views expressed; but I am saying they made me think. 

This week, I have three excellent posts about older child adoption. Enjoy!

Language: Could he have kept the Mandarin? The child in this story was only four, but our experience with Wenxin at age 7 1/2 was much the same.

Faith from Doubts - Older child adoption is hard. Thankful for moms who write the truth courageously.

Meeting the Real Lucy - A rare online meeting for a mom and the 13 year old daughter she'll soon travel to adopt.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My Favorite Posts Revisited: Our New Normal




Below is a post first published in October 2010 -- when we'd been home from China for about a month. It's a great snapshot of our lives as we all grappled with adjusting to a new normal.


Here's a little summary of our new normal as a family.

What's working:  Food. I'm committed to have healthy food constantly available. We have three meals and three snacks every day. Usually for snacks I put three to six healthy choices in these divided serving dishes and let each kid fill his or her own snack plate. I leave the leftovers on the counter so they can graze if needed. 

                        

I want Wenxin to know that there will always be food at our house. So far, I haven't seen any hoarding or other food related problems that are common with post-institutionalized kids. I try to respond quickly if he says he's hungry, even if it's close to meal time. He's been super-easy to feed as he likes most fruits, veggies and meats. He also seems pretty proud of himself that he can eat super spicy foods with his new mom. I made a really spicy Thai soup one night, and he pointed out that he was able to eat it while some of the other kids opted for Mac n Cheese. And no, we haven't ordered Chinese carry-out yet.  : )

What's not a problem:  Language. This is the thing that would probably surprise most people. We pantomime everything, but Wenxin already understands a lot of what we say. He says new words every day and is speaking to us in simple sentences.  For language learning, total immersion is the way to go. It also doesn't hurt to be a kid who's brain is still wired for language learning.

An interesting thing happened. After Wenxin had been home two weeks, I invited a friend who speaks Mandarin to come over and speak with him. I thought she could translate and help us have a deeper level conversation. Wenxin would have none of it. He was totally rude to her. I've had several other adoptive parents say their newly adopted kids reacted to similar situations the same way. Which brings me to my next thought. . .

What's been challenging:  Going anywhere with Wenxin.  He does great in our home, provided there aren't any visitors.  But going anywhere is a challenge.  He is more likely to have a tantrum when we're out.  And his default reaction to any adult who dares smile and speak to him is extreme rudeness. 

So when we're out, I'm faced with two uncomfortable challenges. The first is simply dealing with the tantrum or rudeness or other bad behavior. The second is dealing with the behavior in front of an audience. 

My first trip to the grocery store with Wenxin ended with me requesting help to get my groceries to the car.  I couldn't push the cart because I had to bodily carry Wenxin (he's 7 1/2) from the store. When I bought a pack of gum for Wenxin and Katherine to share, instead of buying them each a pack of gum like he insisted, he began to whine and staged a "sit-down strike" in the front of the store.

Last Saturday at soccer, he got ready to go home, and we still had one game left. As Mike coached and Katherine played, Wenxin had a meltdown. He stood in the hot Florida noonday sun and refused to come under the tent where I was sitting with another family. He complained loudly about the heat. If I got within a foot of him, he screamed louder. This went on for at least thirty minutes, and for much of that time he was having an all -out screaming flailing tantrum. Finally, the tantrum subsided, and he let me comfort him. 

What do I make of this behavior? The short answer: I believe that while Wenxin is physically and mentally a 7 1/2 year old, emotionally he's about a three year old. I think that a lot of adoption research would support that possibility.

I don't pretend to comprehend it all, but there's a lot that suggests early trauma and neglect profoundly affect kids.  There's a reason God made babies to be held and snuggled, to have their needs quickly met by loving parents.  There's a reason God made little kids to live in stable families where they are loved and taught and trained by the same adults year after year after year. 

Wenxin didn't have all that. And keep in mind the huge trauma he's undergone in the last month as a result of being adopted by us. I believe it's for the best, and he seems very happy in our family, but think about it:  new parents, new country, new language, new everything. And poof! All the old friends and places are suddenly gone for good. Even though he's enjoying his new home and family, there is trauma all the same.

We keep all this in mind as we decide how to respond to Wenxin's tantrums. He can't help any of what's happened to him. We go back over and over again to our books on parenting kids from the hard places, and we lean on the gentle advice of a network of other parents who've adopted older Chinese kids.

We don't use harsh punishment. We carry him because that's what you'd do with a three year old, and emotionally, that's where he's at. He responds to being carried. He asks to be carried.

We teach, and we train. We set limits. But at this point, we don't expect him to behave like other kids his chronological age.

It probably looks soft to the people who've parented their kids since birth. Everybody in the audience probably doesn't approve, and that's OK. 

Most of the books advise staying close to home for the first few months after an international adoption. They advise simplifying your lifestyle and cutting things from your schedule even as you go into the second year. It totally makes sense to me now. It really, really makes sense.

Shared today at Satisfaction Through Christ.




Friday, November 2, 2012

Look What We Almost Missed While I Was Yelling at You to Finish That Worksheet . . . or . . . Why I Lean a Little More Toward "Unschooling" Each Day


My kids are outside again in the middle of a school day -- even the seventh grader. Outside playing when they should be at school. But they aren't really playing. They are standing awestruck, witnessing a quiet miracle of nature, seeing it unfold before their eyes right in their own backyard.

All morning they kept sneaking outdoors to see if it had happened yet. Eventually they stationed Julia outside with Wenxin's camera -- ready to video at a moment's notice. Finally, Nathan informed me that if I wanted to see it happen, I should drop everything and head out the door immediately.
I could have kept plowing through my plan for the day. I could have insisted on doing the next math lesson in the book. I could have made them stay on schedule.
But then we would have missed this.



It was amazing -- way better than studying the life cycle of a butterfly from a book.


I will probably never be an unschooler. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, unschoolers believe in letting a child learn naturally. Instead of using formal curriculum and traditional instructional methods, unschoolers let a child initiate his own learning and follow his own passions.

We have curriculum. A lot of days we follow a lesson plan. And we have books - tons of them. Unschoolers we aren't.

But the longer I homeschool, I find myself leaning toward less structure, not more. Wanting a lifestyle of learning, instead of a homeschool day that starts at eight and ends at three. Praying for kids who love to learn instead of kids who memorize for the test.

Look at Katherine and Julia in the photo above. They are engrossed in the film Julia just made of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis in our own backyard.

They are learning.

And for just this once, the math book can wait til tomorrow.

Little by Little