One Year with FangFang

This week we celebrated one year of life with FangFang! It has been quite a year. She was not a fan of us (of me, in particular) at first, and candy was my biggest ally.

But even on that first trip, in China, we saw glimpses of the joy that we now know permeates her heart and soul.

These first kisses were so precious to me.

And she warmed up to Matt pretty quickly once we were home 🙂

It has been quite a year since then. We’ve traveled to Omaha 4 times for 1 clinic visit and 3 surgeries…and we hope not to head back until the middle of next year!

While FangFang still uses butt-scooting as her primary form of mobility at home, she’s also learned to crawl and stand and even cruises on the couch! And, after some fighting with the insurance company, she got her first wheelchair for increased mobility in public places.

And beyond all these skills, we’ve grown as a family. Any time a new person joins a family, all of the family dynamics change, and it takes time to make those adjustments. We’re still figuring out all of these relationships ourselves and coaching our children through them – I expect that will remain true forever 🙂 But it feels like every member of the family is more settled, and we’ve grown into pretty stable, positive places!

FangFang was excited to celebrate being part of the family for a whole year, and we were happy to go along with her requests for Chinese food and ice cream 🙂 FangFang is passionate about all things China, but really, one thing everyone in the family can agree on is Chinese food! Atticus had a hard time leaving the park Matt had taken the kids to visit that afternoon, and Madeleine CaiQun comforted him by telling him, “It’s okay, Atticus, we’re going to have Chinese food for dinner!”

FangFang, you are a true source of joy, and we are so glad you are home and part of our family <3

 

for your amusement – some memories from a year ago

Today marks one year from the beginning of my trip to China to bring FangFang home. I feel all the feels as I remember that trip.

You can read about our first day of touring in Hong Kong here if you’d like, but there were also some cute, funny stories from that day that have been part of my reminiscing but that didn’t make it into that sight-seeing post. Adoption trips are intense, and while those first few days in country are always colored by the knowledge of that upcoming intensity, they are also fun. I treasured that time exploring a new city with just Madeleine CaiQun and my brother and sister-in-law.

As part of our Big Bus Tour, we were given cheap headphones, which could plug into a jack for each seat, and, upon making a language selection, you could listen to historical and contextual information about the island. Madeleine CaiQun was intrigued by this, and she asked me which language we should choose. When I responded, “English,” she said, “Oh, because we speak English?” I answered in the affirmative, and she responded with, “Oh. Well, what language do Uncle Danny and Sharon speak?!” She did not find it at all self-explanatory that they would also speak English 😉

Our language discussion then continued later that evening during dinner.

The restaurant we visited provided for ordering dim sum style – there was a card listing out the options, and we’d put a dot next to the selections we wanted to order. We discussed what we wanted to order, and Daniel filled out the card, after which the waitress came to get it. As she was walking away, Madeleine CaiQun asked, in all earnestness, “Mom, do we understand English, but she understands dots?”

It may have been the sleep deprivation, but we all laughed hysterically for quite a while. I hope it’s at least slightly entertaining to you 🙂 Happy Friday!

Home, Sweet Home! – Reunions and Introductions

When we walked in the door on Friday afternoon, Atticus was in the middle of his afternoon nap, and Matt had fallen asleep with him. I got to give my sweet Miranda girl a big hug, though! It was so good to see her – I’d missed her so much! FangFang was definitely a bit overwhelmed even with this smaller contingent of the family, so we took the introductions slowly at first. She stayed near me and gradually got acclimated to the others.

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Having some toys nearby – as we always do at our house! – definitely helped, and it wasn’t long before we were able to snap a pic of those 3 beautiful sisters all together! These girls (and their brother) have my heart.

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FangFang was really nervous around Miranda at first and didn’t want her nearby, and my heart broke for my big girl. As an adult who knew what to expect and knew the reasoning behind kids’ rejection of their new families, it was still a challenge for me to continue to pursue FangFang as she rejected me, and I knew that it would be so much harder for a six-year-old. Miranda and I talked about how it would take FangFang some time to warm up to everyone and get to know all of us and trust us, and it can be sad and frustrating when she rejects us, but our job is to love her no matter what, and we need to respect her wishes but also continue to move toward her in gentleness and kindness. Miranda flip-flopped some, sometimes willing and able to do that, and sometimes needing to walk away for a while, but the consistent undercurrent for her has been wanting to play with and love her new little sister, and I’m so thankful for her heart in that. Hours of effort on her part went into the creation of this happy pre-bedtime moment.

img_4820After a bit of time at home, we went upstairs and woke Matt and Atticus, and it was so good to see them again, too. I wasn’t sure how Atticus would respond to my return – Matt had been telling him I’d be home soon, and he had been increasingly frustrated with others’ presence instead of mine, telling my mom and dad and brother to go away. He was happy to see me, and the feeling was more than mutual! It was so good to hug my little buddy again! And of course it was great to see Matt, too 🙂

Atticus and FangFang quickly settled in to the dynamic that currently pretty well defines their relationship – jealousy of each others’ time with me!

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If one is on my lap, the other wants to be there, too. If one is being held, the other wants to be held, too. FangFang actually seems more jealous of Atticus than he is of her, which I would not have predicted. That makes me especially thankful that I took another kiddo to China with me, so FangFang did not have 2 weeks of completely undivided attention – I think coming home to sharing the limelight as one of four would have been even harder for her had she not had to share adults’ attention with another child while in China.

This dynamic is definitely a challenge for me, though I knew it was a likely possibility. I love, love, love my kiddos, but I am an introvert who appreciates a few moments of quiet, alone time a few times a day, and right now there’s not much of that other than at nap time and after bed time. I’m trying to strike a good balance, to cultivate attachment and bonding – hold FangFang when she wants to be held, sit with her when she wants me to sit with her, and play with her. But the reality is also that I have 3 other children for whom to care and a household that needs to be run. My mom was here through Monday, my dad through this morning, and my brother leaves tomorrow, and it’s been a huge blessing having them do so much of the food prep and dishes and cleaning and other household stuff. I’m trying to do the bare minimum to keep the household running, while also cultivating attachment with my newest baby, while also caring for my other kiddos, some of whom I was away from for 2 weeks, all while still being jet-lagged! It’s pretty exhausting. I am continually reminding myself of the counsel that I’ve given so many other adoptive mamas before – “You’ve only been home for a few days. This is not what the rest of your life is going to be like. Everyone is reeling right now from all the adjustments, and half your family is still super jet-lagged. It’ll be 2 weeks before you’re even fully over the jet-lag, and that makes such a difference. Give yourself time. This will get so much easier.” Repeat, repeat, repeat.

I am so thankful for the timing of our trip and the fact that Matt doesn’t have any teaching responsibilities right now or for the next couple weeks. And mostly I’m trying not to think about the fact that he is going to have to go back to work eventually – and we’re going to have to do school again someday – and I’ll have to go back to work, too – eek! We’ll just not think about that! Anyway, it is so sweet to see the beginnings of Matt’s new relationship with FangFang! Just look at that girl and that daddy – so sweet 🙂

ah, my heart melts!
ah, my heart melts!

She prefers me – she seems to have decided that since Danny’s and Sharon’s departure, I am her safe person, which makes sense, as she’s known everyone else for even less time than she’s known me. She’s getting more and more comfortable with Matt, though, and she’s been pretty open to him from day one.

I’d been hoping to stay awake that first day until the kids all went to bed around 9:00, but my body, having been awake since 3:30 AM central time and running on only about 8.5 hours of sleep during the entire 75 hours prior to that time, quietly gave up on its resistance to sleep and fell into a brief nap on the couch that evening. Thankfully FangFang was getting more and more comfortable with the other kiddos, and they happily scooted around the house with her. She doesn’t crawl but scoots herself around on her butt quite deftly, and the other kiddos, Miranda especially, have taken to doing so with her 🙂

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It was a good first evening together. These relationships are still growing. It’s always complicated adding a new member into a family, and I think that’s infinitely more true when the new family member is not a baby but a small child with already-formed opinions and desires and preferences of her own – some of which she can communicate and some not! But it’s also a beautiful thing, seeing those bonds truly start to come to fruition.

The next morning I posted this photo with the caption, “I’ve been awake since 4:30, and yet I’m still not dressed, and there are toys everywhere and suitcases still to unpack. AND I’M HOME WITH MATT AND ALL FOUR OF MY BABIES!!!!!!”

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It still feels surreal, being here with everyone. It’s hard, but it’s good, and I’m ever so thankful to have all four of my babies here, together, with Matt and me, all six of us home together before Christmas! The real journey lies ahead of us, but it’s a relief to have been able to start it now. I’m quite blessed.

Thursday – Friday – Travel Days!

Thursday morning it was time for us to head out! Our guide met us in the lobby of our hotel at 9:00 AM to help us get to the train station – our first step in our journey toward home! We had a lot of luggage, so our guide helped us to hire someone to get our largest suitcases onto the train for us, all for less than $10 – definitely worth it when you’re negotiating the train station in a foreign country with 2 kids, a stroller, 5 suitcases, and an assortment of backpacks, diaper bags, and purses!

The train ride from Guangzhou to Hong Kong went smoothly, though it’s always a little emotional for me to be leaving the country of my children’s birth. Last time around, I knew that – barring catastrophe or direct instruction otherwise from God – we’d be back to adopt again. This time I don’t think we will be. In fact, Matt is quite certain we will not. I think we’ll be back to visit, maybe someday even for an extended period of time if we can make it work, but we think our family is probably complete at six – and so, I don’t know when we’ll be back to this place that has blessed our family so immensely. I know that in the next few weeks, FangFang is going to begin to lose her Mandarin. She’s going to become more and more at home in American culture and less and less part of Chinese culture. There is both loss and beauty in that, and it always strikes me in particular as we leave China to head home.

Once we arrived in Hong Kong, we waited in line for taxis to take us to the airport – due to our large amount of luggage, we needed to split up into 2 separate taxis. Any time we had to split up was a little nerve-wracking, since we didn’t have the same ability to communicate with each other by phone as we would in the States, but it all went just fine. We met up at the airport and got ourselves and our luggage checked in. The customs and security checkpoints there were pretty intense, so we were glad we’d given ourselves hours of extra time at the airport. We’d thought we’d be sitting around for a few hours just killing time, but by the time we had gone through all the lines we needed to do, it was about 4:00, so we finally started looking for a restaurant at which we could eat a very late lunch! Then we collected our things, bought some bottled water, and headed over to our gate.

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Unfortunately, there was yet another security checkpoint as we boarded the plane, and they wouldn’t let us take any of our bottled water with us – frustrating!

We ended up arranging ourselves differently than I ever would have predicted ahead of time – we had a row of 3 seats from window to aisle and then, in the row behind, the middle and aisle seats. On every train ride we’d taken through that time, FangFang had insisted very strongly that she sit with Danny and Sharon, so while I never envisioned my newest child sitting anywhere other than next to me on her first flight, it seemed pointless to make it a point of contention, so we buckled her in between Danny and Sharon, and Madeleine CaiQun and I settled into the row behind them, with the plan that I’d swap with Danny or Sharon for a bit when it was time for FangFang to go to sleep.

This was FangFang's idea of how best to sit in her airplane seat. She wasn't sure why we were all so amused.
This was FangFang’s idea of how best to sit in her airplane seat. She wasn’t sure why we were all so amused.

Mei Mei actually did great with all the travel – mostly due to the provision of a well-stocked iPad for her use 🙂 She also enjoyed the in-flight entertainment options and watched some Hello Kitty and Doc McStuffins shows. Sitting next to her was quite relaxing, and I actually got to do some reading on our travels!

About an hour into our flight, just as the flight attendants were serving dinner, we began to hit some major turbulence – the flight attendants crouched down behind their dinner carts and soon abandoned serving food in favor of buckling themselves into their seats. They did later return to delivering dinner – much to Madeleine CaiQun’s relief. I’d been the last person served before the turbulence hit, and, engrossed in her show, she failed to notice for a few minutes but then, oblivious to her volume, yelled out over the sounds coming from her headphones, “Where’s my food?!?!” But even as the flight attendants began to move around the cabin sporadically, the turbulence remained pretty significant, and the “fasten seat belt” sign was on for four or five hours. I was so nervous – probably my biggest fear prior to traveling was that our plane would crash, and I’d never see the rest of my family again. I knew the probability was small, but still, I worried about it. I spent most of those turbulent hours praying. I certainly wasn’t going to get any sleep.

Finally things settled down. I wasn’t really able to get any sleep, though, before FangFang woke up (she’d just gone to sleep next to Danny and Sharon). And then Danny said he hadn’t slept at all yet, either, and he wanted to switch with me and have me take over with FangFang so he could try to sleep, so I went and sat with her while everyone else slept. She wasn’t thrilled to be with me again, but she calmed down pretty quickly, and I did my best to entertain her in our confined space. And after a few hours, she curled up with her blanket and went to sleep again, and I was able to sleep for a couple hours, too. FangFang certainly did better than I thought she might on the long flight – sometimes kids are just miserable and scream and cry for hours, and we were certainly glad that was not our reality. Mostly it was just long and exhausting, and I just wanted to be home.

We landed in Newark around 9:00 at night and needed to go through customs and security and immigration, and ChenFang became an American citizen! After we collected our luggage, we waited around for our hotel shuttle and finally made it to the hotel around 11:00. Sharon’s parents were there hanging out with my dad, and we all spent a bit of time together before Sharon and Danny headed out with them. I was a bit concerned about how FangFang would do with saying goodbye to them, but, perhaps for the best, we lacked the language facility to communicate that this goodbye was for more than a few hours, so she seemed alright with it.

I got the girls in bed and then got a few hours of sleep myself. I was able to fall asleep just fine, despite the time difference, but FangFang woke me up around 4:30 needing a diaper change, and I was never able to get back to sleep after that, so eventually I got up and showered and started packing up our stuff. I woke the girls, and my dad and I took them down to breakfast, and by 8:00 we were on the shuttle heading back to the airport.

There was a little bit of drama with the seat assignments – the seat Madeleine CaiQun was supposed to sit in was broken – but after working with the gate agent and having a friendly passenger offer to switch her seat with us, we were able to get 3 seats in one row and 1 in the next row, so we were all close together.

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It felt great to be finally really heading home! We were, of course, completely exhausted.

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But still, we were happy to be close to home. I told my dad I didn’t even want to stop anywhere for lunch – I just wanted to get home – so we got a couple things at the McDonald’s drive-through, and I had some snacks left over from what I’d taken with us to China, and that sustained us until we got home.

Finally around 3:30 PM on Friday, approximately 46.5 hours after we’d left our hotel in Guangzhou, we rolled into our driveway, and I could not have been happier to be home! More details on our reunion and introductions in the next post 🙂

Wednesday – Shamian Island, Dinner with a Friend, and Packing Up

Wednesday was another waiting day – this time waiting for the US Consulate to issue FangFang’s immigrant visa, so we could officially bring her into the United States. Assuming all went as expected (which it does, 99.9% of the time), our guide was to deliver it to me at our hotel around 4:30, but we had a free day until then.

We got up and did a little bit of packing and got ready for the day. FangFang loves lotion, which is great, because parents rubbing lotion on their kiddos is such a great way to get in some healthy, good touch. We adoptive mamas never stop thinking about attachment and bonding!

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Then we took a taxi over to Shamian Island for the morning. The island has a lot of western influence, and it also has a lot of history within the China adoption community. Years ago, the US Consulate used to be located there, and all American adopting families stayed on the island in the White Swan Hotel. A while ago, the consulate moved closer to downtown Guangzhou, and the White Swan underwent renovations and marketed itself more to a business clientele, and very few families now stay on the island at all, but it’s still a great place to visit. There are a lot of pedestrian walkways, and it has a quiet, relaxing feel. If I ever lived in China, I think it’s one place I’d love to live – so close to the city itself but a bit removed and so peaceful.

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We took some pictures of the girls with these statues with which adoptive families often photograph their kiddos.

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This was particularly sweet to me given my memories of this same spot from almost 4 years ago!

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We also walked around and did the last of our souvenir shopping, visiting Jenny’s (a shop that’s been around for years and years) and a Gift from China (a shop whose proceeds benefit care for orphans), and eating lunch at Lucy’s, a western-style restaurant.

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Then we headed back to the hotel for a nap for FangFang, some packing for me, and my appointment with our guide to get FangFang’s visa. I encountered some technology issues trying to get a few more things downloaded onto an iPad for Madeleine CaiQun and didn’t get as much packing done as I would have liked, which was frustrating. Danny and Sharon had gotten most of their packing done that morning.

We’d plan to meet up with a friend of ours for dinner that evening. Jackie is a former student of Matt’s, originally from Guangzhou and now returned there, helping students prepare their art portfolios to apply to schools within the United States. It was great to catch up with her, and having a Mandarin-speaker with you has its advantages – we were able to get a private room at the super-crowded restaurant and were definitely able to order better!

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And then it was back to the hotel for bedtime and packing! Packing days were a challenge for me. Being the primary caretaker of the kiddos meant that it was hard to get a solid block of time to devote to packing – the best times being during naptime and after bedtime, but those times necessitating packing in the dark. Finally I finished our packing around 1:30 in the morning and fell into bed, ready to head for home in the morning!