Friday, July 13, 2012

Nine Things I'm Glad We Took to China

We sat, a little damp and disheveled, in the lobby of the Beijing Children's Welfare Institute. Minutes earlier, when the congested morning traffic threatened to make us late, our guide had suggested we'd make better time by getting out of the van and walking.  So much for looking good for my new son.  We slogged through puddles in a light drizzle, finally arriving at the orphanage.  I was already tired and jet-lagged.  Now I had wet hair.

For months, I'd pictured this moment time and time again.  Rain had never been part of the picture.

We signed some documents that we couldn't read and stamped our thumbprints in red on each one.  Just as we started to record a little intro to our adoption day video, we heard footsteps.

"He's coming," our guide said.

And then it happened.  A woman we never saw said, "Say Mama and Baba," as she pushed a little boy in brand new pink sneakers through the door.

"Mama. . . Baba. . ."  And we were a family.

It's a weird way to become a family.  Honestly, it is.  I think all three of us were scared.

How do complete strangers become a family?

How do you bond with a child who is not a baby?

How do you get past the language barrier?

Your agency will give you a packing list for your adoption trip.  You can find additional lists online.  But think about this.  What are you putting in your suitcase to help you build a strong attachment with your new child?  It's possible to pack with attachment in mind.

Here are nine things I'm glad we took to China.

1. Bubble Bath - I worried about bath time.  Orphanage kids probably haven't had a daily bath.  Some may have never bathed in a tub.  Would he be scared to take a bath once he was alone with us?  Wenxin, however, was quickly enthralled by a bathtub full of bubbles.  This nightly ritual was fun and helped him relax before bedtime.  FYI - both hotels we stayed at in China provided complimentary bubble bath, but I'd take it again, just in case.

2.  Lavender baby lotion - After his bath we continued the bedtime ritual with lavender baby lotion.  He'd sit on the bed in just his pajama bottoms while I rubbed him down with sweet smelling lotion.  This was established as a "Mommy" job -- important because initially, he bonded more quickly to Mike than me.  This bedtime ritual gave me an excuse to touch him in a safe non-threatening way.  It was relaxing and helped him settle down before bed.

3.  Fun snacks like Teddy Grahams -  Our new kids need to know we won't let them go hungry, so carrying a few snacks at all times is a good idea.  Fun snacks are even better.  You don't have to go overboard packing food.  They have snacks in China, and a trip to the grocery store to let your new child pick out some favorites could be a special treat.  But I'd definitely pack a handful of fun snacks from home to get started.

4.  A digital camera for him to use -  This one was a fluke.  We packed an old digital camera for Mike to use, so we'd both be able to snap photos.  Wenxin, however, quickly claimed the camera as his own, and it turned out to be a great thing.  He was able to document his own trip. He took pride in his photos.  And it provided lots of opportunities for his new parents to clown around in front of the camera.  In those first days, every chance we have to lighten up the situation and play around together is a big plus.

5.  Bubble gum- Lisa at One Thankful Mom shared that chewing gum has a calming effect on traumatized kids.  And I'd add that blowing bubbles is great silly fun.  I'll never forget sitting with droves of new adoptive families in the American Consulate in Guangzhou, waiting for the swearing in ceremony.  As Wenxin sat on my lap facing me, we crammed our mouths full of bubble gum and had a bubble blowing contest.  It was a long wait for a room full of restless kids, but Wenxin and I were having a blast.  Play, laughter, eye contact -- all great attachment builders -- and all it took was a little Double Bubble.

6.  Blow-up beach ball and pop-up hamper - Inexpensive pop-up hampers like this one have always been life savers for me while travelling with kids.  Pop-up hampers keep the hotel room neat.  Wenxin and Mike, however, soon discovered that pop-up hampers are also great for shooting baskets once you dump out all the clothes.  Add a blow-up beach ball from the Dollar Store for fun that won't put you over budget or over your luggage weight allowance.  

7.  Crayons/Markers/Pencils and sketch pad - Drawing and coloring together is a great way to bond.  Wenxin is all boy and at first wanted nothing to do with the crayons and markers we brought him.  But one morning after breakfast, Mike and I sat down in the floor of our hotel room and began coloring together.  Before long, Wenxin joined us.  Drawing together is something we did a lot those first weeks we were home.

8.  A soft blanket - Every kid needs their own blanket, don't you think?  We actually sent this blanket to Wenxin in a care package before we traveled to China.  The nannies showed it to him and then put it away for safekeeping until we arrived.  Orphanage kids don't have much in the way of personal property, so it was special to be able to wrap him in his own super-soft blanket each night.  He sleeps with it to this day.

Yes, that's Mike crashed in the background.

9.  A crossbody purse - I don't really like backpacks for me --they're hot and cumbersome -- so a cute, crossbody purse was perfect for sightseeing trips and "official" appointments.  A crossbody purse left both hands free so I could focus on Wenxin instead of focusing on my purse.

OK.  This list is definitely not exhaustive.  What "attachment builders" did you pack for your adoption trip?  Adoptive parents please chime in.  Thanks in advance for helping me write this post.  Many times you guys put the best stuff in the comments section.

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Shared at Many Little Blessings.
works for me wednesday at we are that family


  1. Dana, great post. I was a little confused at first when you mentioned Bangkok CWI at the beginning but realized it was a typo.

    Balloons were another fun item to have for an older boy as you can play 'volleyball' in the hotel room fairly easily. And they are very light to pack.

    Our 7 year old son also loved having his own flashlight.

    And we brought small sets of Legos to build together. He loves them now but they didn't seem like something he was familiar with.

  2. Great list! We also brought a photo album filled with all the photos we had of him during the wait. Many had his friends in them. Our son enjoyed looking through them, and it was a reason to invite him into my lap as we flipped through the photos which we had printed in 5x7s from Costco! I think this shows the child you know where he's come from, you care about him and you are interested in his life.

  3. Here's a response that came in from Joanna via Facebook: Stickers. Play games putting stickers on each other, especially on the face if the child will allow it. It promotes touching, laughing, and eye contact. Also playing with snacks by feeding each other...again, depends on child's comfort level. Bubbles and balloons fun lightweight toys too.

    1. Great idea as it promotes eye contact without being too intense We tried playing the "owl game" where you stare into each others' eyes to see who blinks first, but quickly found that degree of eye contact to be too intimidating to Wenxin right at first. He loves it now, but at first, needed less direct ways to get him to make eye contact.

  4. A laptop! For our first adoption, we thought we had done all the diligent research and preparation that we could, but frankly, nothing can really prepare you for dealing with a raging child who is fighting (you!) for his life. I needed the life line that the laptop provided to reach out to experienced parents who could talk me down off ledge of absolute panic. I would also add that not only is lavender great smelling, that it is also a natural calming agent.

  5. I "took" a lullaby in Russian. Actually mine just sort of came to me holding my little girl. Its to the tune of The Wise man built his house upon the Rock. It says Don't cry, everything's ok. Don't cry, everythings ok. Don't cry, everythings ok, I-I Lo-ove You! Its become special to even my non-Russian kids, another one of those things that defines our family.

    1. So Carrie, Are you saying you knew how to say that phrase in Russian? So cool.

  6. We traveled in Feb. 2011 to pick up our almost 7 year old daughter. Here are some must haves:

    1. a small photo book. Fill it with clip art: toliet, eating, tub, bus, bed, sightseeing spots you will visit, airplane. It was hugely helpful for Claire to be able to point to what she needed, or else to give her a heads-up of what we were doing next. And she learned to trust us that we would respond when she pointed to a need in the book.

    2. GUM....lots of gum, and lollipops. This is one of those times reason goes out the window.

    3. Her own backpack with a water bottle and snacks. We wanted to make sure she never felt hungry, so she was allowed to snack when ever she wanted.

    4. Shutterfly book of the family, the grandparents that would be at our house when we came home.

    5. We made a small video of her sisters walking her through the main parts of the house, introducing her brothers, and showing her what her bed looked like. We showed it to her several times in China.. She didn't seem that interested, but it paid off when we got home. She had a good sense of how the house was laid out, and ran to her bed.

    6. LOTS of coloring books and blank paper. Since Claire had almost no experience with toys, coloring was about all she could do. It was actually theraputic for her. On high stress days, she was methodical in her coloring. She quickly ran through what I had brought and we never found anything good/cheap in China.

    7. Benedryl...okay this isn't for bonding it is for making it home in one piece. Claire was given to HUGE temper tantrums in China and honestly there is no way we could have gotten her home without it. Even on it, the flights were quit dicey. Thankfully she quit them the second we landed in NY. I think she realized no one spoke her language anymore and she had better change her ways. :)

    8. Good Night Moon. I read this to her everynight in China. She had never been read a book before so she was pretty speechless when I started. But after a couple of nights, she would bring the book to me to read it.


    1. Shona - Thank you so much for taking the time to post such thoughtful comments. I took Good Night Moon as well, but could not get Wenxin to sit still for it. He was a wild man those weeks in China. I still think simple picture books with repetitive language are great!

  7. Swimming was a great way to bond for us. Since our children didn't swim, we would hold them and they would build trust this way. Also the sensory experience of water was great for them. We also would play with shake n go cars and sit opposite from the child to establish eye contact as we would pass the car back and forth. Depending on the age and cultural traditions, some children even at age 4 or 5 love to be carried. For our younger child this established me as her Mommy and we continued this at home. We looked at photos from our home,their new siblings, school and their rooms so that some f that would be familiar once they got home. It also helped with vocabulary as they were learning English.

    1. One thing I didn't take that I would recommend is a pair of water wings. Wenxin wanted to swim, but couldn't swim at all. We rented a hard styrofoam life preserver from the hotel,but it wasn't effective. Cheap, blow-up water wings would have been great! You're right, swimming is bonding.

  8. Dana...I am carol, home a little over 4years now with my little guy Kelly. He is also from Beijing. He was born in 05...any chance they are close enough in age to have known each other? Would love to hear From you...


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