Monthly Archives: September 2013

A month with the family

Today marks one month from the time we met Leo for the first time.  We spent two of those weeks in China and the past two at home.  Before everyone was asking how Leo was adjusting and now people are asking “Are things really going as smoothly as you make it seem?”  Well, yes and no.  We’ve added to our family five times, and each time there has been a transition.  Things have been crazy at home, but I wouldn’t say that they’re crazy in any adoption specific way.  This is what life has been like:

  • Leo cries for a few minutes before naps and bedtime even though Matt and I keep him company – -probably adoption related.
  • He is scared of the dogs, but he’s coming around to the cat – -I guess adoption related since he hasn’t been exposed to household pets because of his orphanage upbringing.
  • Leo is very nervous around adult strangers and if they try to talk to them he will avoid eye contact – -definitely adoption related.  It breaks my heart to see him so nervous when friends and relatives visit for a short time because I know that he is worried that someone is going to take him to yet another new home.  IMG_2256
  • We continue to meet with doctors and take Leo for tests.  For the most part, his medical needs are what we were informed of and what we expected.  There have been some things that were different, but still fall within the realm of minor and/or correctable and we are very comfortable with them – -definitely adoption related.
  • Someone has been sick almost every day for the past two weeks as all of the kids passed around the fall fever/cough thing that is going around – -just plain family related.
  • Leo got the fever/cough thing last and he’s been wanting to lay around on my lap and cry all day, and has trouble sleeping at night – -illness related.
  • The children have been arguing more because they all want to be the one playing with Leo, or holding him, or entertaining him – -new family member related.  It’s kind of funny that the general perception is that children don’t get enough individual attention in large families.  Based on our experience, the youngest gets completely spoiled by his siblings while us poor parents try to set some boundaries.
  • Everyone has clean clothes and is learning at least the basics but don’t ask when I last vacuumed or swept the floor – -new family member related.  It always takes a while to find a new routine when you have a new baby.  IMG_2233
  • If Leo doesn’t like what we feed him, he will be terribly offended and refuse to even try something else until the offensive food is cleared off the table – -two year old related.
  • Besides “mama” his first English words were “mine” and “no” – -definitely two year old related.
  • Leo really doesn’t like it when we tell him no – -completely two year old related.  He will make a pouty face and refuse to make eye contact with us. Then his siblings rush over to sooth him and tell him how sorry they are that mean Mama or Papa told him no.

So you can see that we are having our ups and downs, but most of it is just the normal part of adding another member to the family.

If I were a real blogger then I would make two posts out of this, but I’m not.  The other topic I wanted to write about was how much we have seen Leo just blossom as part of our family.  When he is fever-free, his personality is really coming out now.  I am continually amazed at how quickly he came to love us all.  He lights up when his brothers and sister come down the stairs in the morning and runs over to hug and kiss them all.

Last week I received copies of the progress reports the nannies kept for the Half the Sky program Leo was a part of in his orphanage.  The orphanage director told us several times that Leo was an easy baby, and I guess one of the results of that is that if he was content to lay there on the floor then he didn’t get as much attention.  You might remember this picture–

babyroomI post it again because I was so surprised to read in the progress reports how delayed Leo was.  He entered the program at six months, when all of my children were starting to sit well on their own.  He was described as having weak neck muscles and they were working with him on rolling over and raising his head while lying on his stomach.  These are things more appropriate to a three month old.

At nine months, when three of my four children were crawling, Leo could raise his head to look at a toy when he was on his stomach, but he couldn’t sit unassisted.  At a year old, he could finally sit unassisted, but couldn’t stand up at all unless the nanny supported all of his weight.  These are called “orphanage delays” unless there is an underlying medical condition.  Children raised in institutions will lose one month of development for every three months they spend in an institution.  Even in an orphanage filled with caring and attentive staff such as Leo’s, he was missing out on the nurturing environment of a family and it showed in his development.

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At around fifteen months was when we committed to adopt Leo, and also when he was moved to a foster home (unrelated, as far as we know).  We knew that he was a little behind, but he had just begun to crawl at that time, so he wasn’t as far behind as he had been between six and twelve months of age.  Just as he made big gains when he began the Half the Sky infant nurture program, he began to thrive in his foster family.  We received three updates on him, and each time he had learned some new skill.  First he was standing on his own, then taking a few steps.  In his eighteen month progress report, the nanny comments that she has seen such a change in him over the past year and that he now “looks plump with rosy face.”

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When I look at how attentive his caregivers are, and I see pictures of Leo with his foster family, part of me wonders how he was able to walk away so easily from all of them.  He loves to look at the little book I made with pictures of him in the orphanage but he doesn’t seem particularly interested in the pictures of his nannies or foster family.  I guess the answer is tied in to why he developed so quickly when he began to get more individual attention.  Children are supposed to be in families, and Leo knows that he has a family now.  The best and most caring nanny or foster mother still knows that he is not her child, and somehow with us, he can tell that we are his family.

So at one month from the day when Leo joined my family, I am thinking about why children need families.  I don’t think I will every be able to forget all of the children we left behind on the day we visited Leo’s orphanage.  I know that most of them will not ever be adopted into a family, but I still hope for it nevertheless.

“Human life is precious because it is the gift of a God whose love is infinite; and when God gives life, it is forever.”  –Pope John Paul II

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Happy Birthday, Leo!

We are so fortunate that we were able to have Leo home with us in time to celebrate his 2nd birthday with our family.  There were times when it seemed like we wouldn’t make it, but then everything came together in the end.

Scanned Image 132630000I’ve heard many adoptive moms say that they think of their child’s birth mother every birthday, and I can see that will be true for me as well.  Leo’s birthday falls right after the Autumn Moon festival, which is a big holiday in China.  I heard it best described as the Chinese version Thanksgiving, only you sit around with your family eating moon cakes instead of turkey.

It is hard to lose a child near a holiday, and I know she will be thinking of him every year.  Maybe she already knew that she would have to give him up, but in my mind’s eye I see her with her family in 2011, eating moon cakes and filled with excitement for her upcoming birth.  Maybe her parents were sharing their wish for a grandson while she and her husband said “No, boys are too expensive!  We are hoping for a girl!” which is something all of our guides in China said to us.  I’m sure last year’s holiday gathering was a somber occasion, or maybe they found some excuse not to get together.

Leo was in the orphanage for his first birthday.  They don’t celebrate birthdays there because there are too many children.  He was placed with his foster family a few months after his first birthday but he came home with us before his second birthday so he never celebrated a birthday with the foster family.  He was with them for a few holidays, and from this picture it looks as if his foster mother got him all dressed up for one of them.  Maybe the Dragon Boat festival in June?

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So today was his first birthday celebration with a family, and I’m so excited that we have many years to come of cake with candles and opening presents.  Leo had no idea how to unwrap the presents, but he loved the toys he received.  I know he got some cake at the orphanage (parents will often have one sent for their child for a birthday or just to celebrate and they are shared among the children) because he sure recognized it right away.  He also noticed that it tasted a bit different.  The cake we had in China was more of an angel food cake with whipped cream for icing and that is usually the type I see in photos taken at an orphanage.  He decided it tasted fine and ate his whole piece.

Happy 2nd birthday little guy!

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First days home

So far my experience with adoption is not much different from having a new baby.  The jet lag is like that post-birth exhaustion.  The children are all completely enthralled with the new guy only instead of arguing over who gets to hold the baby they argue over whose turn it is to play with Leo.  There’s well visits and insurance paperwork.  With a toddler, there’s no doubting whether or not those smiles are real or gas, though!

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Leo continues to adjust well.  I don’t think we could ask for an easier transition.  Sure, there are times where he is clingy and fussy.  He still cries himself to sleep at night and before naps although Matt or I make sure he knows that he’s not alone.  But for the most part he is a very happy and easy going little guy.  He loves his siblings.  Every morning when he sees them he gets this look like “Hey, you guys are still here!!” and runs over to give them a hug.  He’s very affectionate and gives us all lots of hugs and kisses.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA He still likes Mary Evelyn best, and he can sometimes be jealous of Vincent.  If Leo is in my lap and Vincent comes over, then Leo will push him away.

He is still a picky eater.  Our rice cooker has been working overtime, and he still likes oatmeal.  We try him on new foods when he is happy, but when he’s tired or hungry then we give him his favorites.  Sometimes we are surprised at what he will or will not eat.  He keeps spitting out grapes, but tonight he ate a large bowl of chili and cornbread that a friend brought over for us (thanks, Jennifer!).

He has slept through the night every night that we’ve had him.  His naps haven’t been as long since we’ve been home as they were in China, but since he’s still sleeping eleven hours at night, I’m not complaining at all.  We’ve been fortunate that no one has had their days and nights reversed since we returned home, but I think most of us have a sort of cloudy-headed feeling for jet lag.  Poor Mary Evelyn got sick after we landed and she’s the only one who has had to jump right back into school.  I’m not starting homeschool for Max and Gregory until Matt goes back to work next week.

Leo’s orphanage gave us a disc of digital photos from his time there, and a few with his foster family.  It was great to have some photos of his first two years, but also bittersweet since we missed that time with him.  It was also amusing to look though them because in the updates we received, orphanage always stated that his favorite toy was any kind of ball.  I think he’s playing with some type of ball in a third of all the photos!

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I think the last thing people have asked me about is the language issue.  He can tell pretty easily when it’s time to eat, sleep, or get his diaper changed.  He makes babbling sounds a lot, but since baby-talk Chinese sounds like babbling to us, I’m not sure how large his Chinese vocabulary is.  He will frequently point at things and say “there” in Chinese (nar).  He also says “wa wa” when Mary Evelyn shows him a baby doll, and that is Chinese for baby.  He says Mama, which is the same in both languages.  His first official work in English was a very clear “mine” when Max tried to take a book away from him. Most children his age pick up a new language and lose their first language in a matter of weeks and he seems to be heading along that progression.

We had doctor’s appointments early this week, our first post-placement social worker’s visit today, and we don’t have specialist’s visits scheduled until October.  We’re just trying to give Leo time to settle in, and we’re looking forward to celebrating his 2nd birthday as a family on Friday.  We’re also enjoying the great non-sweltering weather!

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Trip home

Boy, was that a long trip home! Matt said I had done my math wrong, and he was right. We got up at 4 pm EST on Thursday and didn’t walk in the door at Don and Linda’s house until 9 pm EST on Friday. For the most part, the flights went smoothly. We continually had a problem with our tickets, so for two of the three flights home we spent about 45 minutes at the check-in counter. This made gave us very little time to make it to the flight, and each time we had to go through security twice, and it seemed like we had to show our boarding passes and passports about four times each trip. It seems redundant to have to show our passports to get the boarding pass, the boarding passes and passports to be able to get on the plane, and then have the stewardess standing by the door to the plane request to see it all again! They actually held our flight for us in Shanghai, and we spent so much time getting processed through security and running from the domestic to international terminal with suitcases and a 30 pound toddler on my back that we didn’t even have time to use the restroom or get a drink of water. It was such a relief to step out into the cool weather at home after a week of being constantly sweaty in tropical Guangzhou.

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Since Leo is barely under 2, we decided to purchase a lap ticket for the flights home. We figured he would be clingy and not want to sit in his own seat, anyway. He slept most of the flight from Guangzhou to Shanghai on my lap, and during the flight from Shanghai to Seattle he often shared Vincent’s seat. That flight was the worst trip we had because Leo spent a few hours in the middle crying. Fortunately, he wasn’t very loud and the noise of the plane drowned out most of the sound. Vincent and Leo slept several hours of the long flight, and Gregory took a half-hour nap. None of the adults did more than doze off for 5 minutes here and there. We finally arrived at Seattle, and while we were processed through customs Leo’s magic brown envelope was opened and he became the newest US citizen. He looks pretty happy at the thought but really, he was just happy to be off that plane!

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I was dreading the flight from Seattle to Cincinnati, but we were all so exhausted that everyone but Linda slept pretty much the entire four hour flight. Gregory was asleep before take-off and I woke him up as we were landing. Even Mary Evelyn fell asleep for the first time on the trip. Matt’s dad met us at the airport along with his sister and her family. It was great to see some familiar faces, and to be back home in America. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest impression. Mary Evelyn remarked “You know, I was never homesick for America when we were in China, but it is *really* nice to use a restroom with lots of toilet paper and soap and not a single squatty potty!”

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One thing that I had wondered about was how the Chinese people would react to seeing Leo be a part of our family. While the Chinese adoption program is common knowledge here in America, most people in China don’t seem to be aware of it. It is common for someone to approach a family’s guide and ask why the American couple has a Chinese baby. Of course, it is similar here in America. Most people are unaware that some American children are adopted out of the country each year (most are private infant adoptions, but a few foster kids will find a permanent family in Canada). I know Americans feel both angry and ashamed that we do not have homes for all of our children, and I expected the Chinese to feel the same way.

It really didn’t seem that way, though. The most negative reaction I came across was when we were flying from Nanjing to Guangzhou. As we exited the plane there were two Chinese women waiting to clean the plane and I heard one say to the other “orphanage baby” in English. For the most part, people have made very positive remarks. At the end of our long flight home, a Chinese stewardess came by to coo over Leo and said “You have changed his future. He had no future in China without a family, and now his future is bright. He is fortunate to have these brothers and sister, and now he will have many opportunities in American.”

That’s it for today. We need to get back home to our real house where I am actually looking forward washing laundry using my labor saving washing and drying machines! I do anticipate writing a few more posts over the next week or two letting you know how Leo is adjusting, how his doctor’s appointments went, and things along those lines. Thanks again to all of you who followed along on our journey!

Last day in China

I thought 16 days in China would be a really long trip, but I’m sad that it’s time to leave. We have truly enjoyed our days here, and I wish that China were closer so visiting regularly would be an option.

This morning we visited the tomb of the Nanyue king. This was an ancient king who ruled over a small kingdom here in the south of China before an Emperor began to rule most of the country. The tomb museum is on the same block as our hotel, and I have heard from many people that the tomb was found when they were building the hotel, so they had to move the hotel site.

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The museum was large, modern, and air-conditioned which is something that we really appreciate in this sweltering city. They had a large collection of ceramic pillows. They looked quite beautiful, but not especially comfortable. We saw many artifacts which were uncovered in the tomb, as well as the king’s jade burial suit. The suit was made of many small tiles of jade, sewn together with red silk thread. There were also many jade discs buried on and under the body.

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The best part of the museum was that they had preserved the burial site. There are no artifacts remaining, but we could walk down into the tomb and through the rooms. You could even see traces of painting on some of the walls. Mary Evelyn said the museum was well worth the $2 admission charge.

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We spent nap time packing up our suitcases, then we went for one last walk in Yuexiu Park. After supper, Linda and I walked down my favorite traditional street one last time while she looked for a few more souvenirs to buy. It’s an early bedtime for everyone tonight since we have to be in the van on the way to the airport at 5 am. We should land at our home airport around 7:30 pm the same day, despite traveling for over 20 hours.

Shopping day

I want to thank everyone who has left messages either on the blog, via Facebook, or sent e-mails. I have appreciated them all. I really look forward to checking my e-mail when I wake up to see the messages that you have left. Thanks for following along and resisting the temptation to point out all the errors in my exhausted-right-before-bed blog posts. I also wanted to mention that if you like seeing the pictures of China life, I have been updating Flickr daily as well. There are usually at least 10 additional pictures that you can see by clicking through on the right to the Flickr page.

This morning Matt was left at the hotel with the four boys to wait for paperwork to arrive while Linda, Mary Evelyn, and I had a girls’ morning out shopping. I hired a local women who offers a guided shopping service. She used to work at a touristy store, and now she takes adoptive families to the wholesale shops where the touristy shops buy their wares to sell. We were completely amazed to walk into a huge multi-level mall which had nothing but jewelry stores. Linda and I really had a lot of fun looking at everything and making our purchases, but I think Mary Evelyn was regretting agreeing to come along.

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Our guide asked us what sort of items we wanted to buy, and then took us to a variety of stores. She took us to all of these little back alley places. We didn’t see anyone who wasn’t Chinese, so I know we were hitting the local spots. We stopped at a store that sold traditional Chinese clothing. I was trying on a dress when the guide said that I would need to get a XXL. I said to Linda that shopping in Chinese sizes sure kept you humble. The guide asked what size I wore in America, and I said that I was usually considered a small in American sizes. She said something to the store owner and they both chuckled. But I liked my dress just fine, despite the XXL on the tag. The boys liked their outfits, too.

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While I was gone shopping, Matt was finishing up some odds and ends with our agency. We got Leo’s visa in, and the “magical” brown envelope which will turn him into a citizen once the immigration officer opens it, so long as we can complete the quest of traveling home without losing it or damaging the envelope. While Matt was down in our agency’s office, I had him take a red couch photo of Leo. Back when China adoption was in full swing, pretty much everyone stayed at the same hotel on Shamian Island. The hotel had red couches in the lobby, and it became a tradition to take a picture of your child on the couch. Now the consulate and medical exam building are no longer on Shamian Island and the White Swan Hotel is closed for renovation, but our agency bought one of the red couches so that parents can keep up the tradition. It was close to Leo’s naptime, so the pictures of him by himself weren’t that great. I’ll show one with his brothers instead.

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It was almost supper time by the time we were able to get Leo’s passport with visa, so we didn’t have time to go out and do anything this afternoon. We decided to get takeout from one of the many restaurants in the hotel, finish off the last half of the cake (delicious, by the way!), and go swimming one last time. Tomorrow is our last full day in China, so we need to make sure our suits are dry in time for tomorrow’s major packing party.

Consulate Appointment day

Today was our appointment at the US Consulate. The medical exam results from Saturday were in, and it was time to go apply for a visa for Leo. I don’t have any pictures for this portion of the post because the consulate doesn’t allow: cameras, cell phones, backpacks, wristwatches, ink pens, or strollers. The consulate just moved to this new location recently, and it was a complex with a few buildings. The back part had a high privacy fence and as we came around the front, there was a blue plastic barricade. There were a lot of Chinese people waiting around the barricade area, I assume because they came with people who were inside. We went through the barricade, and then to a separate security building. We had to show our passports and when our name was matched to the appointment list, we were let into the inner courtyard.

Once we entered the main building, we were sent to a separate area upstairs. We could see the main area down below where Chinese citizens waited in a long line that snaked around like the wait for a popular amusement park ride. Our room was specifically for adoptions and there was a playhouse and several toys for children. We sat with our paperwork and waited with the other families who had this appointment time. After a few minutes an American man began to give us instructions by using a microphone on the other side of bulletproof glass. Apparently, they don’t take any chances even though we all went through security. Unfortunately, because of the tile floor, lots of of shiny wall surfaces, and a large amount of loud children, it was difficult for all of us to understand him. Eventually we rose to take “the oath.” I’ve read several accounts of people who said they teared up taking the oath so I assumed it was like the promises we made to China to care for Leo, to not abuse him, to love him, and provide him with an education. What really happened was that we swore we hadn’t falsified any documents. A little anti-climactic, but okay. Then we were called to the window one by one while a consulate employee went over our paperwork. We left Leo’s passport and it will be returned tomorrow with a US entry visa sticker in it.

After we got home, we decided to go back to the street where we found three bakeries and buy a cake to celebrate. While the consulate employee stressed that Leo is not a citizen and won’t be until his paperwork is processed when we return to the US, we don’t anticipate having a lot of time to celebrate before we have to run and catch our connecting flight. We choose one cake, but the employee talked us out of it, making faces to indicate that she didn’t think we would like it. We chose the one she recommended, and then headed back. Mary Evelyn wanted to stop in a tea shop to buy a tea pot, so we made another stop.

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The owner went through a little ritual to give us samples of tea. There was a machine that cleaned and sterilized the little cups, so she removed some cups from that. There was one of the great instant tea pots they have here that boil water in 30 seconds. She put loose tea leaves in a small pot and poured the water over it after covering it with a lid. She then poured out a sample of tea over an area that had a decorative drain to catch any tea that spilled out. She also filtered out the tea leaves for us. The Chinese usually drink their tea with the leaves still in it. On the street you see many people with water bottles that have tea leaves floating around on the bottom slung over the handlebars of their bikes. After we bought some tea, we made a quick stop at the McDonald’s that is right next to our hotel. Leo decided he also likes fries.

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After naptime (and more laundry), we were ready to get out of the hotel room again. We decided to go back to Yuexiu Park since it seemed like we had just scratched the surface there. We rented a stroller from the hotel to see if Leo liked that any more than the ergo carrier. He really gets unhappy in the heat, and being strapped to someone’s back can heat you up fast. We had another really great walk in the park. We found the old Guangzhou city walls that were built during the Ming dynasty.

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We found Zhenhai Tower, and watched a team practicing on the soccer field. We walked to the Sun Yat-sen memorial, and found a wonderful view of the city close to sunset.

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Then we walked back to the hotel. Matt picked up some carry-out and decided what to order by asking the guy at the stand what was most popular. We all ate noodles and mystery meat and then had the cake for dessert. The bakery lady had given us a birthday party in a box, including little paper plates that said happy birthday, a cake server, forks, and a pack of candles. I saved the candles for Leo’s real birthday next week. It was the perfect end to a great day.

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