This Girl

This girl has been a part of our family for 5 whole months now.

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We have been so incredibly blessed to watch her blossom through this time. What a joy she is! Just look at that huge smile, that sweet, sweet face, and the pure excitement she’s exuding (over packing material, no less).

She is continuing to attach to us and form relationships beautifully. She loves to be with me and to be held, though she’ll also let me know when she’s ready to jump down and get back to playtime. She and Matt have a fun relationship, and she and Miranda are virtually inseparable – their sister-bond warms my heart. She is absolutely confident in her assessment of who is a trusted member of her family and is a firm enforcer of boundaries – if a friend offers her a helping hand, they will almost certainly receive the determined response, “No, Mama do it.” And yet she also distinguishes between friends and acquaintances and strangers.

Her mastery of the English language, 5 months from her first sustained exposure, is astounding. She regularly speaks in 4-5 word sentences, and her vocabulary numbers hundreds of words (at least).

Her growth and development are also remarkable. She has gained multiple inches and pounds since arriving home. She’s now potty-trained. Her gross motor skills have taken off, as well. She regularly announces happily, “Mama, I jump!” or comes screeching to a halt in front of me to announce, “Mama, I run so fast!” At the same time, she has developed a much greater attention span and has maintained her ability to focus with great intensity.

And as great as those achievements are, they do not compare to this unveiling of her soul that we have been granted the opportunity to see. My girl is quick to forgive. She enjoys time with others and by herself. She reads, she plays, she laughs. She is absolutely full of joy.

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She can fall asleep on her own in her bed, but she also, some days, grants me the privilege of holding her in my arms and singing to her as she nods off to sleep. How sweet those times are.

Madeleine CaiQun, I am so blessed to be your mama.

On nights like tonight, I mourn the fact that we will probably never get to know her birth mother, to tell her about the amazing child her daughter – our daughter – is, to share photos like these, to share our joy in this amazing little girl. I mourn the fact that CaiQun will probably never know the woman who gave her life.

And yet in the midst of the bitter, I rejoice in the sweet. This amazing little girl was given life. She is no longer living out her days within the walls of an orphanage. She is my daughter. She is beautiful, inside and out. I see, in both my daughters, imago Dei, the image of God. What a blessing to have had these past 5 months with our little Madeleine CaiQun, our sweet mei mei. I look forward to so many more.

 

our week in photos

I’ll be back with more words later, but for now, I have some photos to share, and I’ll let them speak for themselves (for the most part – I’m a writer, not a photographer, so I know myself well enough to know I won’t be able to keep entirely silent here!).

We’re still singing “I’ll Fly Away” more often than any other song around here. CaiQun can’t really form the words yet, but she’s got the basics of the tune, and it’s clear that she’s singing right along with Miranda.

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We love to read. All of us. This is actually such a blessing. The first few days we were home with CaiQun, the only book I could get her to “sit” through in its entirety was Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe, and that only because it includes motions on each page, and they were what kept her interested. Now she brings me books and plops herself down on my lap, ready to read, multiple times a day. Her attention span and interest in books are growing – and we, in this nerdy, book-loving family, are celebrating that. We’re enjoying our books, and she’s even started to find some favorites of her own – so far, Ten Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed (she does the motions, and it’s adorable – and every once in a while, we’ll be doing something entirely different (like changing her diaper), and she’ll burst out with yells and a wagging finger, explaining to those monkeys that there should be “no more monkeys jumping on the bed!”) and Caps for Sale (for which she also does the motions – I’m particularly excited about this one since it was one of my favorites as a little girl)! (Don’t mind the piles of laundry in the background. You can’t keep all the balls in the air all the time. And when one has to land on the floor…well, putting the laundry away is often my ball-on-the-floor of choice.)

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My “big artist” and “little artist,” as Miranda calls Matt and herself.

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One morning this morning I got up early and went out to breakfast with my friend Liz before she took off with a group from our church on a one-week mission trip to Brazil. Consequently, Matt got the girls up and dressed that day. Here is the result.

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CaiQun loves to rock…and she continues to love her hippo (and the mystery has been solved – it’s Uncle Danny we have to thank for the hippo!).

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We’re into pigtails and alphabet blocks.

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We’ve also started to venture into the kitchen as a group of three girls – we haven’t been too ambitious yet, but here we are making granola bars for the first time since getting back from China.

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Miranda and I had planned to work on her United States puzzle one evening while Matt was giving CaiQun a bath, but she was so eager to get started that she couldn’t wait until little sister went upstairs, and amazingly enough, it actually went well!

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And no photo post would be complete without some documentation of our glorious snow day on Sunday. It was lovely. Most people around here are rather less excited about it, as they were hit with a huge snowstorm (or two) while we were in China…but since we missed that, we were excited to have the opportunity to get outside and play!

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Note that there are no photos of CaiQun actually playing in the snow. She thought it was beautiful from the inside – she couldn’t stop staring out the windows and declaring, “no!” (snow!) to anyone walking by. However, she was significantly less enthralled with the possibility of actually coming into contact with it.

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Later that evening, Matt and Miranda went back out in the snow. I attempted to take CaiQun out again, but it was not happening. She dissolved into tears, and we came back in and rocked in the rocking chair until she calmed down. In my absence, Matt and Miranda constructed this snowman named Ozymandias. I’m not sure what else to say about that.

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And now that we have that out of the way…I think we’re ready for spring!

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home (almost) a week

Miranda interrupted my reading of our “naptime book” (so nicknamed because we read it every day at nap time) this afternoon to inform me, “CaiQun is loved, and I am loved.” In that moment, my heart was so full. She is getting it. She remembers what I tell her every day after we finish reading our naptime book. Even if she doesn’t fully comprehend at this point what that means, she is absorbing it as truth.

I think that’s a picture of a lot of our week this week. Miranda is more fully making the transition from being an only child to being one of two children in our family, and that’s hard stuff. Honestly, I think Matt and I were so focused on preparing for the attachment and bonding and adoption-related difficulties we might encounter as we added CaiQun to our family that we somewhat under-prepared for the normal challenges that face any family adding a second child. We’re working through it, though – disciplining for disobedience but offering hugs, snuggles, and quality time for our firstborn. This morning Matt and Miranda went out for a daddy-daughter date, and she was ecstatic. Of course, the prospect of a Panera cookie for breakfast didn’t hurt.

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And we actually witnessed our girls playing together this afternoon before their nap – not both attempting to play with the same toys and getting in each others’ way, not even mere parallel play, but actually playing together. So sweet.

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And little CaiQun is settling into her place in our family more and more. It’s beautiful to see this transformation occurring before our eyes. I remember reading that getting to know your adopted child is often like peeling back the layers of an onion – it’s not an all-at-once kind of thing, more of a learn-a-little-more-each-day kind of thing.

CaiQun no longer goes to sleep on her own within minutes of her head hitting the pillow, never moving from the position in which we lay her down. No, now my girl knows that there are snuggles to be had, so she stays awake through the before-bed reading and singing of songs and waits for the opportunity to snuggle close to her mommy, hold her blanket and her stuffed hippo (sent by whom? there was no note in the box – please let me know if it was you! she loves it!), and be rocked to sleep. It’s a joy to see those “easy” but atypical behaviors that were cultivated out of necessity during her life in an orphanage begin to disappear and be replaced by a desire for love and care.

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Of course, just as Miranda does not yet fully understand what it means that both she and CaiQun are loved, CaiQun does not yet fully understand what this transformation in her life means. I have no doubt that she is enjoying being with us – the smiles and laughter that never appeared in any photo of her we received from her time in the orphanage are now constantly present. However, we have known each other for less than 3 weeks. I suffer no delusions that she completely grasps the difference between orphanage and family or between nanny and parent. She seems to be attaching to us beautifully. She reaches for us for comfort and reassurance; she keeps a careful eye on us when others are here, making sure she knows where we are; and she seems so much more at ease with us than she did at first. But we haven’t even hit the 3 week mark in this new adventure of being a family of four. We’re still very much building foundations.

These are great foundations to be building, though. The mom-and-daughter time.

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The sisters-with-dad time.

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And through it all, I am feeling blessed not only to be the mother to these two sweet girls, but also to have another window into the character of God and His work in the world. I see my own journey reflected in CaiQun’s, my self-reliance gradually giving way to trust in a God who can take far better care of me than I can do for myself parallel to her growing trust in Matt and me as her parents. I see in my daughters a perfect illustration of our definite status as children of God and yet our lack of understanding of what that means in terms of our relationship with Him and our relationships with one another. I’m grateful for these glimpses into His character and my relationship with Him.

And even beyond that, we’re doing well. We’re finally getting some sleep (sometimes). Last night, not so much, due to some certain small someones being awake from about 4:00 a.m. Tonight I will not make the mistake of forgetting the melatonin again. But the night before last, we all slept for around 11 hours. Glorious! Matt survived his first week back to work (though he’s been on a grading marathon this afternoon), and the girls and I survived our first week with him back at work. We even ventured out of the house a couple times! We didn’t quite do it solo – I wasn’t that ambitious – but my beautiful friend Liz was sweet enough to give up two of her mornings this week, the first to accompany us on a run to the mall post office to send back the CARES harnesses we rented for all of our travels, and the second just to go for a walk around the neighborhood. I almost cried on that first outing – the joy of pushing my double stroller that held my two babies, being back in America where we could stop at any food place we wanted and get food and not worry (too much) about its safety and even order drinks with ice, having real conversation (interspersed with many exchanges with small children) with a friend in person. It felt rather pitiful to be close to tears on an errand to the mall post office, but I’m okay with that. This is good stuff, my friends 🙂

 

the fight

Several friends have said that soon after they began their adoption processes, they felt like they were encountering spiritual attacks. Cars would break down, unsupportive family members would heap on the discouraging comments, household appliances would break long before expected – things of that nature. That has not been our experience.

However, what has rocked us to the core has been our growing awareness of suffering in the world. We haven’t had to look far. In the last month alone, headlines have been dominated by the shooting in Newtown, the gang rape and death of a young woman in India, and the closing of Russian adoptions to Americans (leaving thousands of children unnecessarily institutionalized). And then there are the lesser known stories like the ruthless M23 rebels fighting in Congo and the murder of a police officer outside of Milwaukee by her husband, an Iraq war veteran.

And we don’t know how to live in this world of pain and suffering and evil, of violence and atrocities and devastation. Really, how should we go on living here?

One of the best responses I read to the tragedy in Newtown was by Kelle Hampton. In it she quotes part of this poem:

A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

From REFUSING HEAVEN (Knopf, 2005)

I want my mind and my life to be about something greater than praise of the Devil.

It seems to me that our focus on the horrific may parallel the self-flagellation of the monks of old. Yes, we must be aware. There are horrors in this world, and let us not pretend otherwise. However, I don’t think we are to become so immersed in learning about and meditating on only the horrors that we lose all joy, that we ignore the wonders and the triumphs in this world.

My outrage about the needs of orphans in China does something real. It equips me for the fight – it propels me forward, toward my daughter, and it helps me to inform others and perhaps be a part of drawing them toward adoption. But the reality is that my outrage about what happened to the woman in India does nothing except disgust me with the state of the world. Does it do her or me or anyone else any good for me to fixate on those things? Probably not. But does rejoicing about orphans coming home to their families? Does helping to support missionaries working around the world and celebrating when they see growth? I think so. I believe there is value in delighting in the beauty of a painting or the grandeur of a snow-covered landscape.

I choose to continue to delight in the music that exists despite everything. Like this.

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Glory.

I choose to fight for the Lord, to fight against evil and for good in this world. And I know the End of this story. It will come, and He will triumph. Good will win. I will probably not see that in this lifetime, but I can be part of the fight, the pushing on of human history, and I can hopefully enjoy (and even be part of) the music. May my life have magnitude through til the end.

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As you’ve likely picked up on if you follow my blog, I’ve been following other people’s statistics and adoption timelines pretty closely, and I knew that receiving our LOA today would put us exactly on track with what has been happening lately, and I was so hoping that would happen! Well, in reality, I was actually hoping it would come earlier than this week, but once it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, today was my hope!

Like any obsessive pre-adoptive mom, I checked my phone approximately every 2 minutes while Miranda and I were out grocery shopping this morning, just to make sure I hadn’t missed a call or e-mail. I texted Matt at lunch time that every time I saw the little red light on my phone start blinking, indicating that I had some sort of message, my heart jumped, hoping it was good news about our LOA…but nothing had come in yet.

While Miranda was napping this afternoon, I put on the new Mumford and Sons CD – good yearning music – and got started on my work time. A few postings from people with other agencies started to pop up, saying that they’d gotten LOAs or other approvals, but there weren’t a lot, and by 3:15 or so, I’d resigned myself to the idea that it just wasn’t going to happen today (and, to be totally honest, started irrationally wondering if it would just never come), and I needed to be okay with that and continue to move forward with life, doing what I need to do.

The Mumford and Sons CD had run its course, and I got up from my computer for a moment, resolving that I’d put on the song from Sara Groves’ latest CD that starts out with these lyrics:

I believe in a blessing I don’t understand
I’ve seen rain fall on wicked and the just
Rain is no measure of his faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us
No good thing from us, no good thing from us

I needed the encouragement to press on, the chorus of:

I will open my hands, will open my heart
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I am nodding my head an emphatic yes
To all that You have for me

And before I set up the song to play and remind me of the God who is my foundation, Letter of Acceptance when I want it or no, I glanced at my inbox again and saw an e-mail from one of the women in our agency’s Waiting Child department with the subject line, “YOUR LOA IS HERE!!!!!!” My heart lept, and I did a double take. I read the e-mail about 5 times before deciding it was real and calling Matt to tell him the good news!

I feel like the entire day from 3:30 onward has been a sustained rush of adrenaline. China has actually agreed that Cai Qun can be our daughter! In addition to my toddler here at home with me, I have a little girl in China! And we’re really going to be able to go and get her! I can hardly believe it’s real.

I called and texted family and friends and posted an update here that I could share at RQ and with our Facebook adoption groups and responded to congratulatory messages, giving thanks that we have so many people who are excited with us.

And then we went out for dinner with our good friends Aarik and Brooke at our favorite Chinese restaurant in town to celebrate. Don’t you love Brooke’s fortune?

And after Matt and I tucked Miranda into bed, we finalized our decision to give Cai Qun an American name of Madeleine. We’ll retain Cai Qun, as well, but we want her to have an American name, too, and we’ll call her whatever she’d like at different points in her life. And as for our decision on the name Madeleine…I love it 🙂 Matt and I have been married for over 9 years now, and we’ve known each other for over 14 years, and I think we know each other very well. We look back at those traits that initially drew us to one another and we take pleasure in the shared joys that we’ve grown into together – and every once in a while, but not very often, we have a moment of sweet harmony, a realization that something not yet spoken of that has been dear to one of us for some time has also been treasured by the other. The conversation we had about Madeleine L’Engle and the love we each had for her writings growing up and continuing into adulthood was one of those moments. And the name Madeleine – it is beautiful, poetic. I think it will fit our little daughter well.

And tonight I wrote my first letter to our little Madeleine Cai Qun. I keep journals for my babies. I want them to know what they were doing at different points throughout their lives and what our relationships were like and how I felt and thought at the time. I want them to know how much I love them, always. And so I write to them, long-hand, in little leather-bound journals. Miranda’s first letter was written the night of her 20-week ultrasound, when we knew she was a girl, as we were looking toward her birth and her life. And now that we have our official approval to adopt Cai Qun, I felt like I could finally write to her, too. The first of many letters. How I long to have her here with us now!

And yet…WOW. I have a LOT to do before she comes home. I think it’s probably best if I don’t even go there right now – another post for another day 🙂 For now…sleep is calling my name. Goodnight, friends. What a day. I am so blessed.