Take My Hand

Once upon a time, there was a mommy who loved her girls very much.  Though her daughters had started their journeys in different provinces of China, their stories were similar.  Their mommy prayed that someday they would become best friends.  She hoped they would be able to love each other, to encourage when one was sad, and to treasure the friendship that had been blessed to them.

First Meeting

On May 6, 2011, the girls met in Jinan, China, for the very first time.  The meeting was on Mother’s Day.  As you can see it was love at first sight . . . or was it?  My oldest had been mommy’s #1 girl for close to three years, and she did not have any idea how much a new sister would change her life and her family’s.   Even though she brought a lot of joy and humor to the family, she also delivered tantrums that could wake the neighbors, performed thumb sucking that was so loud you’d think a vacuum was on, and gladly contributed to an infinitive amount of teasing!

One Year Later: Taking One Step at a Time

The past year brought us many surprises: our daughters were different-just like day and night!  As much as one liked dolls, tea parties, and reading, the other one preferred wrestling with her brothers, swinging and playing outside, playing with toy cars in the mud, and had the terrible case of the  “me, too” syndrome.  This simply meant that anything someone else had, she wanted, and if they did not give in, “Boy, would she scream!”

Sisterly bonding just didn’t happen.  Occasionally, my oldest would try to play with her new sister, but it usually resulted in a great deal of frustration.  Needless to say, our family dynamics, for the last year, had been in a complete uproar!

17 Months Later

October 6, 2012, marks seventeen months of adjustments.  Though we still have a ways to go, life between the girls is getting much better.  My youngest wants her hair styled just like her “big” sister and loves to wear pretty clothes on Sunday mornings.  At night, big sister has been known to cuddle in bed with her little sister!  Today, the girls were downstairs playing dolls–can you believe it!  Who knows what the future holds for my darling girls, but I know one thing for sure . . . they will always be sisters–growing up together and loving from the heart!

A sister is God’s way of proving He doesn’t want us to walk alone.

So, take my hand and walk this journey with me, dear sister.

 

Adjusting . . . One Day at a Time

I cannot believe that I have four children!  So much has happened since we jumped off the plane from China with our daughters in our arms.  Adjustment #1: For starters, I now home school our two boys while our daughters attend a local Christian school.  This seems to be a good fit for our family for now-especially since one of my son’s has severe dyslexic tendencies and needs much one on one.  Adjustment #2: Because of this lifestyle change, I resigned from public school teaching after 18 years.  Though I am still teaching my boys from 8-12 every day as well as teaching 13 hours of adult education, the paycheck is just not the same and so, Adjustment #3  has occurred . . .   bread making every other day!  My son, a 5’10”, was eating, on average, 3 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches a day-with store bought bread.  The homemade wheat bread has limited him to only one sandwich!  Surprisingly, our grocery bill decreased by $30!

Adjustment#4: After 20 years of being away from my folks, they now live only 2 miles down the road.  The kids love having their grandparents so close by.  I, being the only child, love having my parents, especially my mother who is becoming my best friend once again. However, the adjustment comes in on how to teach our kids about Alzheimer’s; sadly, my dad was diagnosed with this in January.  Watching the daily changes in my dad causes us to reflect  both a family and as an individual:

  1. Take one day at a time and be thankful for every day blessed to us.
  2. Focusing on the future is not an option.
  3. Being flexible with the needs that arise is a must.
  4. The Lord is daily teaching and preparing me on how to better serve my folks while maintaining a joyful household.

Below is an example of  a homeschooling day  tossed out–my youngest son was bonding with his Grampie!


Matthew 6:25-27, 34  Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Autumn Beginning

“[T]hat old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air … Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.”
Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

There is no doubt that the above quote describes my September.  It is hard to watch summer vacation fade and embrace a new season of schedules.  However, life is a journey, and we do grow from our mistakes.  And now, the third year of homeschooling is upon us.

A Blessing: Homeschooling is Peaceful.

  1.  My youngest son has started two new programs: Math-U-See and All About Spelling.  Both of these are teaching him the needed skills to overcome his dyslexia.
  2. My oldest son has  is using Teaching Textbooks and values all of the one-on-one explanations that he gets.  Both of us are loving the Vocabulary from the Classical Roots.
  3. We are doing a Maine Studies unit and love the freedom of exploring different parts of Maine.  Our reading time has been  novels (i.e. Lost on the Mountain in Maine, Dear America: Like the Willow Tree (about the Shakers) and the Sign of the Beaver; we have also been reading many Maine children’s books.  Being able to incorporate geology, genealogy, World History, and writing  has made schooling more simple.   Here’s my son’s writing blog: http://jmp2.edublogs.org/2012/09/14/jakes-sequel-to-like-the-willow-tree-by-lois-lowry/
  4. My oldest will be a teenager in December and is growing up fast. He made the soccer team for our local public school.  He has taken the leadership role by encouraging his team mates to join him at youth group.
  5. My oldest daughter went back to the Christian school; she did not want to be homeschooled.  Though she misses mommy, she loves the social part.  Her only complaint is that she wants more homework!
  6. My youngest daughter (adopted in 2011) is now in preschool.  Her English is progressing very quickly! She also likes being home and participating in our home school activities.

“There was something of jubilee in that

annual autumnal beginning . . . “

THE MOST INCREDIBLE BLESSING

OF SEPTEMBER!

Watching our sons be baptized this past Sunday definitely was a jubilant occasion.  When my youngest son said, “I should have done this sooner, mom.  I feel different . . . so clean in the Lord.”, I knew that this Autumn was a new beginning for us all; last year’s mistakes had been forgiven.

Wisler’s Wish . . .

 

Gotcha Day?

Okay, so today, July 28,  is our oldest daughter’s fourth Gotcha Day.  We share this special family time with our friends and their daughter Emily, who was also adopted from China in 2008.  Lately, I’ve been seeing some Facebook posts about whether or not one should even celebrate this day; some are even concerned that their biological children will be angry or will harbor feelings of jealousy in the future. Here’s my response: Have your biological children found you permanently missing-never to return or be seen again?

Romans 15:1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

Unless the Lord intervenes, I will never be able to reunite my daughters with their birth parents.  Certainly, I can honor both my girls and their families by loving and serving them- especially on the anniversary that we became a forever family!

As far as the term, “Gotcha Day” is concerned, I had no idea so many in the adoption community were bothered by this term.  To me, it was just a poorly worded phrase that meant, “We got each other on this special day.”  However, here are some thoughts from others about these two words:

  1. Some adoptees feel like they were snatched away from their birth families, and we were the one who did it–almost like they were the prize that was won.
  2. What is the  purpose of “Gotcha Day”–to celebrate new family or becoming parents?  And what about the birth parents and their losses?  Is this something to celebrate?
  3. This word is something one could say when grabbing an object too quickly, “I gotcha now!”

I can certainly see how this phrase “Gotcha” could be interpreted this way.  However, only the Lord can see one’s heart, and this is how we chose to celebrate our “Gotcha Day”:

  • Took our daughter out to breakfast (alone) and looked at her special photo album: pictures taken in China and throughout her first year.
  • Prayed blessings over our daughter and asked the Lord to bless her birth family with peace, health, and salvation–after all, we love our daughter’s Chinese family.
  • Presented her with an Asian gift: a tea set decorated with panda bears.
  • Surprise gift: we received an eighteen page document from Half the Sky Foundation.  Inside, there were baby pictures, hand and foot prints of our daughter, and weekly updates of her early development.  We printed this document off and created a “real” baby book for her.  A wonderful surprise from the Lord!
  • My son wrote a note: inside, he had four things he liked about his sister.  Each year, he wants to add another one, using the same card.
  • Everyone enjoyed Chinese food, swimming, and yummy cake.
  • We had a firework show!  By the way, her brothers had no problem lighting the fireworks!  They like to party, too–including being able to water tube, eating, and playing with matches!
  • Emily and our daughter received a photo album of their special times together as friends; we will keep adding to this scrapbook each year, although the term “Gotcha Day” bothers some, my daughter loves the term. When asked if we should change it to Family Day, she replied, “Why would we do that, mom?  Didn’t you fly on a very big plane to get me?”
  • The girls also received a new picture book about adoption.  Each of us signed and dated the books.

So, whether you choose to use the words, “Gotcha Day”, Family Day. or Adoption Day, take the time to honor both your child and their biological family.  Have the other siblings be part of the celebratory day.  This day is just another way to allow family members, especially biological siblings, to follow the Lord’s commandment:

John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. . . “

This is a celebration for the entire family to enjoy–can’t you tell?

The Importance of Bonding

Bonding is crucial in the development of a baby.  This deep attachment does not always occur immediately, although I know that some mothers feel instant bonding after giving birth.  I suffered postpartum after my first child was born; I cringed at the crying and was extremely exhausted from his lack of sleeping and constant need to eat!   When it was time for my husband to return to work, I cried out in desperation, “Why didn’t we just get a puppy!”  Eventually, about three months later, the bonding clicked–I was in love with my boy, couldn’t imagine life without him.  Just by taking care of him and meetings his needs, I became his mommy, his number one fan, and his caregiver:

  • bottle  feedings (rubbing his back)
  • rocking him
  • singing, reading, and talking to him (holding him close/eye contact)
  • constant eye contact during diaper changes
  • giving him baths (skin to skin)

According to Kids Health on “Bonding with your Baby”, scientists have discovered that bonding is crucial for a child’s emotional, cognitive, and social development.  The bonding relationship between a mother and her child (dads, too) is the first model of an intimate relationship; a strong security and high self-esteem are the final results from bonding.

But what about bonding and adoption?

Bonding with your newly adopted child is critical, and THERE ISN’T AN AGE REQUIREMENT!  We adopted both of our daughters (2008, 2011) when they were close to three.  Daily, meeting your child’s needs (like the above list) is so important.  I am still looking for ways to keep the skin to skin contact ever-present.

  • sitting on my lap while eating
  • going in the pool (forces the child to cling to you)
  • baths/showers
  • playing baby
  • planting gardens on their bellies
  • combing their hair

For the most part, adopted children have not had this stage met.  If we want our children to grow up and have a healthy relationships, including a successful marriage, then, we must be always looking for ways to facilitate bonding and meeting this need daily.   I was reminded of this tonight when my oldest, who will be seven shortly, said, “Mom, I am trying to decide if being a baby is more fun or being a little girl?”  Immediately, I pulled her close to me, snuggled down in bed with her, and pretended to feed her a bottle.  She sighed deeply and began to share her heart with me.  I knew, then, that we had reached the needed “intimate” level which was calming and soothing to her.

Does this really work?

Tonight, my youngest refused to go to sleep for daddy.  She waited for mommy to come home.  As I rocked her, holding her little body close to mine, she played with my hair, touched my face, and tried to plant a garden on my arm.  We kissed, hugged, giggled, and looked deep into each other’s eyes; finally, it happened . . .  “Mommy, I’m tired.  I want to go into my room to sleep.”

And . . . after fourteen months of refusing to sleep in her “scary room” as she likes to call it, my little one fell asleep!

 YOU MAY ALSO LIKE TO READ THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES:

“Doing” the Bottle

Bunk Bed Bash or Not

For more information on bonding and attachment: go to The Heart of the Matter seminar.

 

Bunk Bed Bash or Not?

I posted this on Facebook last night; it made me slow down.   You know, stop and think . . .

Screaming child in the other room–1 hour and 45 minutes later . . . still fighting bedtime–this is part of adopting, too. Not handling it well tonight, though–wanting to do a little crying myself–when will this child go to bed on her own!

We adopted our second daughter on Mother’s Day, 2011.  While in China, she was scared of a bed-didn’t want us to cuddle with her at all.   Of course, no one could blame her.  Up until that point, she had never seen a bed. So, she spent many nights in a stroller. Can you imagine!  The only way we could get her to sleep was to push her through the halls of the White Swan wrapped up in my pink fleece; if we moved her, she would wake up.  Thus, her new bed became . . . the stroller (minus the popsicle, that is). .

One Month Home

We would either lie down with her or rock her to sleep.  She slept in a crib converted into a toddler bed.  Every night, we would lie down with her; once asleep, we would place her in the toddler bed next to ours.

Five Months Later

We sold the crib.

She was in her new room with her sister–still needed the same routine: either being rocked or one of us lying down in her bed with her.

Several Months Later

The words came, “Don’t like my room.  Room is scary.”

Now

Almost fifteen months later, we are still rocking her–in our living room.  Some nights she falls asleep in five minutes, and other nights it is closer to fifteen.  Sometimes, she falls asleep on the couch while we finish up school work. Only occasionally, have we put her into the bunk bed half asleep.  Not now . . .

Last Night

So, in the midst of watching our daughter disconnect with us, her stiffening body screaming and trembling all over, I come across this blog post: Long Term Sleep Issues

I was reminded of this . . .

  • If I want to be “done” with mothering for the night and have my own agenda, my little one can sense this.  She is operating out of the “emotional” part of the brain not the logical.  Not sure how to change this–I am home all day long.  After all, I am only human and get tired, too.
  • Dad manages to stay calm every night.   I am thinking that he should do the night time routine.
  • Tiredness evokes grief . . . she is so busy during the day.  Then, the brain slows down; the emotions awaken.
  • Her birth parents left an emotional brain print.  Like many, the child falls asleep with their parents, but wakes up with strangers . . . in an orphanage.  Talk about trauma!

I get it!  She doesn’t want to lose her forever parents!  I wish I didn’t have to  be reminded of her past this way!  I know why . . .

Life gets in the way; life happens.

As far as a bunk bed bash, this sleeping arrangement with the two girls has not been a party by any means.  My oldest (adopted from China 2008) has not slept well for the last year. Mainly, because she was on the top bunk and misses the constant hugging and rocking at night–not to mention being the only girl.  We’ve resolved this problem two ways: Doing the Bottle and putting both beds on the floor–good-bye bunk beds.

Tonight

A success story–our little one did crawl into her bed and stay there for a while.  I was on the other bed pretending to be asleep.  However, suddenly, she began to cry, seems to be panic-stricken.  My husband is away; it is up to me; thankfully, tonight, I am emotionally calm.  Back to the living room rocking chair!  Ten minutes later, she’s asleep and in her bed, down for the night.

Adoption is hard work; it is certainly not for the weary.  I am reminded of this verse:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.  Acts 20:24 NIV

“Doing” the Bottle

July marks our four year anniversary with our oldest daughter, adopted from China in 2008.  At that time, she was almost three; now she’s turning seven.  She has grown up so much–she can read, write, dance, sing, and is such a social butterfly!   Sometimes, I forget that she didn’t grow in my tummy (although she did grow in my heart for many years!).   I am honored that she love me and calls me Mommy– even though I don’t look like her.  She has far more grace for my many imperfections than I do for myself.  Putting it simply–she is a blessing to us, the constant reminder that the Lord is ever-present and ever-moving.

Life is moving so fast, but today, the Lord put the stopwatch on me once again.

It is nine o-clock at night, and we are trying to get four kids QUICKLY into bed after a late night of baseball.  As I pull my oldest daughter out of the shower and wrap her up in a towel, she begins to quietly sing a song to me that she has written.  I place her on my lap and listen to the rest of the song; she immediately nestles up close to me.  Suddenly, she cries out, “Ma Ma, I want to be a baby and have a bottle.”  Though my first reaction is to throw the pj’s on and toss her into bed, I am reminded of this:

“Reparent” the child’s real age not the chronological one.

Somehow, I know that I need to stop and “do the bottle” with her.  By allowing her to regress back to that infant stage, I know that her past, unmet needs are finally being fulfilled.  Her independence will only grow and develop as a result from being allowed to be dependent on “one person” instead of many different caregivers.

For more information about reparenting, go to The Heart of the Matter: Because We Waited series.

 

Another Piece of the Puzzle

In March 2011, we received our travel date to fly back to China to adopt our second daughter; the wait was finally over!  However, I had a dull ache in my heart, and her name was *Jillian, our daughter who we adopted from China in 2008.  I wasn’t obsessively concerned about leaving behind our homegrown boys (*Jon, age 12, and *Jack, age 8) since they had been separated from us when we traveled to China the first time. Now, though, Jillian had begun to regress by showing signs of clinginess, nail biting, and the quivering bottom lip– all were running rampant in this five year old’s demeanor.

Not long after receiving the travel dates for China, I was sitting on the edge of my bed, tying my shoes, when Jillian crawled into my lap to face me, wrapped her arms tightly around my neck, and, with intense articulation, pleaded, “Mommy, I can’t let you go.  You have only been my mom for three years, and I cannot live without you while you are in China getting my new sister.”  Then . . . the gut-wrenching sobs came.

Somehow, I knew that part of Jillian’s journey was to travel back to “Her China”– the nickname she often called her birth country.  Our daughter had always been very inquisitive about her past—her foster family, the orphanage, her birth parents, and the Chinese culture in general.  The confirmation came when I found out that Jillian’s Chinese social worker was in the states and had agreed to ask her foster family back in China if they would like to meet us.  When I received the resounding “Yes” from these surrogate parents, I knew that the “three” of us were traveling back to China to adopt our new daughter and to also personally thank this family for taking such good care of Jillian!

May 2011, Guangzhou, China

We are now in “Jillian’s Town” and are finalizing the adoption of our second daughter.  Up until this point, my oldest has embraced both her Chinese culture and her people, although the stinky tofu on Snack Street in Beijing wasn’t a big hit!  Even though I still have some concerns about her going through a new season of grief and unfamiliar emotions, adding another piece to “her adoption story” trumps the decision.

The afternoon finally arrives, and we all cram into the back seat of a taxi, holding our daughters on our laps, while our guide sits in the front.  As we are zipping down the highways, which seemingly took us all the way across the city, our guide chats away on his cell phone, Cantonese style, to our daughter’s foster father, trying to get more specific directions.

Finally, the taxi comes to a halt, and Jillian’s foster father is waiting for us with much compassion and happiness etched on his face.  I could tell immediately that he wanted to scoop up our daughter and carry her back to the apartment, but I could also sense her uneasiness since she was clinging to her daddy’s leg.  Without delay, I spoke to our guide, asking him to inform the foster father of Jillian’s apprehension.  My husband scooped her up, and I carried our new daughter; we, then, began to follow our guide and the father through the weaving alley ways which were, surprisingly, very clean.  The tall, eight story apartment buildings, that were all similar in appearance, loomed over us as we walked and made me wonder who was watching us, but I knew we needed to do this for both closure and healing.  Finally, after climbing many flights of steps, we had met our destination: Jillian’s Chinese home.

Walking in and seeing the same set-up of furniture and décor’, like our daughter’s pictures, was all very surreal. The foster mother was pleased to see us, but I could sense some nervousness mainly because they were currently fostering another child and could lose their jobs for agreeing to see us.

It was apparent they loved our daughter deeply.  Between the triangular conversations: the foster father, the guide, and us, I could tell they still adored Jillian.  I nearly cried when they brought out a stack of baby pictures to show us; some I had never seen. Before we had time to give our tokens of gratitude, they blessed Jillian with a singing pink poodle; she was so delighted with this present!  Then, we presented our gifts from Maine: salt water taffy, handcrafted jewelry, a letter written by Jillian with the Cantonese translation, and a picture album of our family.  The foster father had questioned where Maine was, and we were able to write our names on a world map that hung on their living room wall.  While we were doing this, Jillian began to relax and joined her new sister who was already playing with toys.

Suddenly, a miracle occurs–Jillian squeals with delight and pulls out a stuffed cat wearing a jogging suit from the toy box.  This was the childhood toy we had often seen in her pictures–we had even tried to find her one of these stuffed animals in the states.  She loved this toy and would often point it out to me.  Ironically speaking, this family had two and gave Jillian one of them!  Finally, after drinking our hot water, nibbling on some exotic Chinese fruit, and exchanging both emails and addresses, it was time to call a taxi and head back to the White Swan.

Sadly, I felt mixed emotions; I could tell that Jillian was happy to have met her foster family who had cared for her until we could fly over on the big plane, as she often said, but I was also nervous about the emotional impact this meeting would now have on her.  As we said our good-byes and took pictures, Jillian’s foster mother handed her a fiery red, golden embossed envelope with two hundred Chinese currency inside and a huge tin of cookies.  I will never forget the look this foster mother had for Jillian; the love and affection in her eyes will be ingrained in my heart forever.   Our daughter had been deeply loved in China, too.

Home Once Again, Winter 2012

Now that we are back home and have finally settled into a routine of having a new sister and daughter to love, I find myself often gazing up at the gifts: the pink poodle and stuffed cat that Jillian loves so much.  Though Jillian doesn’t say much about the visit, she looks at her life book frequently, and I find her smiling at the pictures of her foster family.  At one point, right before bedtime, Jillian questioned who she was suppose to love now since she felt torn between her loyalty to us and her foster family.  My only response was to tell her that she could love us both.  She, then, smiled and kissed me goodnight; I knew that this answer was only sufficient for now. It is inevitable that Jillian will have more questions about her story in the future, and because of this, our family will begin to pray for the next piece of the puzzle.

*Names have been changed

*This article originally appeared in the April issue of Adoption Today (2012).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Took That Honey!

Have you ever read Christine Moers’ blog: www.welcometomybrain.net/?  Well, she’s quite the character, and I had the pleasure of viewing her on the following Youtube video:

Basically, her six minute video was talking about therapeutic parenting and how to reach the traumatized child by helping them “find their silly”.  What does this look like you may ask?

SNOW DAY DRAMA

Today, we did not do “homeschooling”  because of the unwritten rule: if dad has a snow day, then, we do, too!  Hubby, who still thinks he’s twenty and a professional ice hockey player, decides to take our boys and oldest daughter ice skating–IN A SNOWSTORM!  Because we do not have skates for my youngest, I thought it would be a wonderful way for us to do some “more attaching and bonding”.  WRONG! Our newest addition to the family wanted to go and threw a tantrum that made my ears ring–I have no doubt that these raging screams were heard two towns over where the family was skating!  So, what did I do? Well, I first sent her to her room and left the door open.  I needed to clear my head and not react to her emotions with my frustrations. Usually, I prefer to keep her in the same room, but I had a migraine--not fun!  Shortly after, with screams bouncing down the hallway, I began to unpack the groceries and found a gigantic bottle of honey (See Picture). I, immediately, ran back into the room; our conversation went something like this:

MOM:“Do you want to help me empty the bear’s tummy?”

CHILD: She has stopped screaming to listen carefully at my quiet voice.

MOM: With intense excitement, I continue, “I’ve been looking for this bear EVERYWHERE, and I finally found him!”

CHILD: She is softly whimpering and whining at this point.

MOM: “Will you help me put the honey back where it belongs–in the honey pot?  That bear should not have stolen the honey!”

At this point, my little firecracker agrees, walks down the hall, and helps me!  Look at the picture!  It worked!  I felt compelled to share this because many of my friends either have adopted traumatized children or teach them.  By doing something completely out of the ordinary and SILLY, you are really helping the child change their frame of mind, giving their emotions a new “adrenaline rush” of something new, and are taking them out of the pattern of emotional frustration.   You will be pleased to know that after we filled the honey pot, we had a nice cup of strawberry tea with HONEY and played a game of Old Maid.