Fall Family Fun

Life has been full these past few months, and I’ve gotten behind on blogging. This blog serves several purposes, one of which is a record of sorts for our family. I love to look back and see where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and where we are now, and I hope that my kids will one day enjoy these records, as well.

And to that end, there are some fun memories I’d like to make sure I document this year for us!

Naturally, I am an introverted, intellectual homebody. My idea of a perfect day would have to include some time curled up on the couch with a blanket and a mug of tea and a good book. But I’m trying to grow in being more of a fun mom, creating memories for my kids and having special outings and adventures, and this fall we had several.

We took a morning and went with some friends from church to Hickory Ridge Orchard and took a tour and visited some animals. The chickens were a bit over-enthusiastic in their pursuit of the food Atticus was carrying, and he was not pleased!

The girls took it more in stride 😊

And then we enjoyed what was definitely a highlight for us – apple picking!

Having 5 apple-pickers, we’re able to get quite a few pretty quickly, and we came home with a respectable haul, to be used to make apple pie, applesauce, apple butter, and other assorted apple items!

Another Saturday this fall, Matt had to work, so the kids and I made the drive out to Longmeadow Rescue Ranch, where our friend Courtney works training horses, to enjoy one of their Wagon Days. We saw Twister paint…

…we enjoyed some of the biggest slices of pizza we’d ever seen from a food truck there for the afternoon…

…each kiddo got to enjoy a pony ride!

The littles, in particular, were thrilled with that experience. They’ve watched their older sisters taking horseback riding lessons, and they loved getting to participate in something similar. Atticus talked all day long about how was now a horse rider, too, and FangFang now refers to the pony she rode, Pal, as her best friend.

We also enjoyed some snow cones…

…and a wagon ride…

…though Miranda was not thrilled about having to wait for the wagon ride, and her expression shows it!

We walked around and visited many of the animals at the ranch, and the chickens were a particular favorite.

Miranda made this drawing of her favorite chicken on the way home!

The next week, we took an even longer trip, this time venturing up to Wisconsin to see the China Lights. In recent years, each fall a group of artists from China have decorated Boerner Botanical Gardens with lanterns, and this year the theme was pandas. FangFang is obsessed with pandas, and we knew she would be beside herself with excitement to see the exhibit, and it was taking place around her birthday. We’d looked at our calendar to see if we could fit in a quick trip to Wisconsin to make it work, but Matt just didn’t have any free blocks of time to do it. Courtney agreed to go with us, and plans were made! The trip was almost de-railed last minute, as three of our kids came down with strep throat (everyone but Madeleine CaiQun), but we were able to get everyone on antibiotics before we left so that they wouldn’t be contagious, and though we had a bit of anxiety about it, we went ahead with the trip, and we were really glad we went. There were some hard parts – sleep wasn’t great for kids who had sore throats (or their mama) – but it was neat to see this exhibit, and I always love giving our family the opportunity to experience different aspects of Chinese culture – and we got to see my mom a bit!

The next weekend, my dad and his boyfriend and my brothers and sister-in-law all came to Columbia for a visit, and we crammed in several fun fall activities! We all went out to Peach Tree Farm, went on a hayride, saw animals, and looked at some gigantic pumpkins.

That afternoon we had some fun at home, with Atticus using my brother Danny as a jungle gym and FangFang practicing her independent standing with my sister-in-law, Sharon!

Matt led the kids in their pumpkin carving endeavors, and the results were much more impressive than if I had been involved with the process 😉

We also enjoyed some outside time – David raked leaves with the big kids, and Danny taught Miranda how to ride her bike without training wheels – a big milestone for her!

We also took in a visit to the big tree.

Close on the heels of that visit was our Halloween fun – this year we had a dinosaur, a cat, a dragon, and a panda – pretty adorable!

I hope you had a fall full of fun activities, and I’m looking forward to seeing what our next season will hold for us!

A New Extra-Curricular Activity – We’re Learning Mandarin!

For a few weeks now, our Friday afternoons have brought us a new extra-curricular activity, one about which I could not be more excited – the 3 girls and I have started learning Mandarin! One of Matt’s students, who is from China and has experience teaching Mandarin to children, asked me if I would be interested in our kids learning the language, and I responded with an enthusiastic YES!

We have tried, at times, to learn some more Mandarin, but we hadn’t found an option that was (1) a good fit for our family and (2) affordable. And now – enter Jenny, who is willing to come to our house and enter into our craziness and teach us!

While Matt and I were incredibly excited about the opportunity for some of us to start learning this language spoken in the country of birth of two of our daughters, not everyone was thrilled initially. One of the kiddos we’ve adopted is very ambivalent about all things China – and that’s absolutely fine with us. She has every right to those feelings. But we explained to her that part of our job as parents is to keep doors open for her. Someday she might want to return to China for an extended visit or even to live there. It’s possible – though improbable – that she could someday find members of her birth family still living in China. Someday she might want to be more involved in the Chinese American community here in the States. She is not now and might never be interested in any of those things – but she might change her mind as she gets older. And if she does change her mind, having some Mandarin will be an asset for her. Learning now keeps doors open for her for her future. We will never push her through any of those doors. Her life is hers to live, and those decisions are hers to make. But our job is to make sure the doors stay open, so she has the tools to make those decisions when the time comes. And now that we have gotten a few weeks into our language learning and she has started to become more comfortable with Jenny, she is warming up to the idea.

And Atticus…well, he remains uninterested and unfocused. Mostly we just set him up with something else to do while the rest of us learn 🙂 But he does deign to join us for the fun art projects Jenny brings for us to work on!

We are so thankful for this opportunity! Part of that is just getting to know Jenny more. I’m always so thankful for Chinese and Chinese American people who are willing to invest in my Chinese American daughters. As their mother, I can do a lot for them, but I will never be able to pass on to them my own firsthand accounts of living life as an Asian woman in America. It’s so special for me when they are able to have relationships with other people who can offer them something I cannot! That includes far more than language, though of course it includes language, as well.

Madeleine CaiQun and FangFang don’t really remember much Mandarin – before we started our lessons with Jenny, they knew only words that I also knew (which were very specific to toddler adoption – things like “milk” and “bed”). Their pronunciation, even now, though, is pretty good, which is so nice for them, because, honestly, at least for me, it is hard! I really have to think about the tones, in particular, because they are such an integral part of speaking Mandarin that really is not analogous to anything in English. But the current star of our little Mandarin-learning group? It’s actually Miranda! She is motivated to learn and enjoys success, and Jenny says she speaks like a native Mandarin speaker. Jenny has offered to give her extra lessons after our group times, and she eats up that extra attention! She’s already learning a lot.

And the rest of us are learning, too 🙂 This past week we started working on our first Mandarin dialogue, which the girls and I are practicing in preparation for this week’s lesson! Jenny is great at working with us where we’re at. I told her we were practicing during the week, but that was both a blessing and a curse, because we all remembered more when we practiced, but practicing meant that I had to lead our lessons, so instead of hearing a native Mandarin speaker, the kids hear my American accent! After hearing that, she made audio recordings of herself for us to use this week in our practicing 😉

I’m so thankful for this opportunity. Not only does it offer our whole family an opportunity to build a greater connection to Madeleine CaiQun’s and FangFang’s birth country and its culture, but it opens up more opportunities for all of us in general. There may be more countries that use English as an official language, but China’s population is over 1.3 billion people, and learning a language spoken by that many of our world’s people can only serve us well. I know it’s so great for kids to learn another language, and Mandarin has always been what I’ve wanted our kids to learn as part of their schooling, and I’m so, so thankful that they now have the opportunity to do that. Plus it’s another opportunity for learning for me – a challenge, for sure, but it’s one worth tackling!

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!

Family Day with FangFang!

We spent Monday morning getting more set up and ready for FangFang. I unpacked, and we made a Walmart run to get diapers, wipes, a stroller, some more water, and some Ramen for lunch. Our hotel is actually connected to a huge mall, which has a Walmart in it (as well as a Dairy Queen!!!), which is super helpful. The hotel brought up a pack ‘n’ play for FangFang, and Daniel put together the stroller, and I re-organized things to pack a backpack for FangFang of toys and snacks I thought might entertain her. This was my, “We’re heading out!” Instagram photo!

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We met our guide, Glenn, in the hotel lobby at 2:30, and we headed over to the Civil Affairs Office. He explained that FangFang would be playing in a playroom, and we’d go into a separate interview room to do paperwork and a brief meeting with an official, after which they would bring FangFang in to us. I met with the official and signed the necessary paperwork for our 24 Hour Harmonious Period (China offers parents a sort of “trial period” before they commit to finalizing the adoption), and then FangFang came in!

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It was not exactly love at first sight. She was willing to accept a few Honey Nut Cheerios from me, but once the nanny tried to hand to her to me, she was completely uninterested.

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She cried for the whole time at the Civil Affairs office. Glenn suggested that I get up and walk around with her, which I did, and that calmed her a bit, though she was still very unhappy to be with me. She called for her ayi (nanny) and asked to go home and cried big, unhappy tears.

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Even now, a day later, these photos are hard to look at – and trust me when I say that these are mild compared to others that we have. I’m trying to strike a balance between being respectful of her grief versus being real and honest, both for those who come after us in pursuing adoption and for myself and for our family – this blog serves as a journal of sorts for our lives. Adoption is beautiful, but it’s not all sunshine and roses.

We took our official adoption photo, and then we headed back to the hotel. I think she must have missed her nap – she was obviously exhausted and was so close to falling asleep in the car as I stroked her hair.

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Once we got back to the hotel, though, she was wide awake and clearly still unhappy. I had to do some paperwork, so Glenn came up to our room, and I pulled out all the stops trying to engage with her, even playing with a toddler app on my phone, but she remained pretty committed to her understandable dislike of my holding her.

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Then Glenn held her while I filled out and signed paperwork, and she calmed some, and eventually he laid her down on my bed, and she fell asleep.

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I was, of course, immediately overjoyed to have my fourth baby in my arms, but my heart hurt and still hurts for her and the pain she is so obviously experiencing. We believe it’s in her best interests for us to adopt her, or we wouldn’t do so, but that doesn’t mean it’s without significant pain and loss for her. Just think of any 3-year-old you know, taken away from the caregivers they know and love and handed to a stranger, and not only that, a stranger who looks different, speaks differently, smells different, and is basically different in every way from everyone you know and trust. I knew it could be easier, and I hoped it might be, but the afternoon went basically the way I expected it to go.

It’s actually a very good thing for her to grieve so heavily, as it means that she has experienced true love, true care, and true attachment with the nannies caring for her at her foster home these last 9 months. And that means she will likely more easily be able to learn to trust and attach to us. However, that in no way makes it easy.

Fortunately, once she woke up from her nap, she experienced a pretty huge transformation. Thanks to a sucker, I was able to get her first smile 🙂

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Then she began to get interested in some other toys and more interactions!

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She played happily for a couple hours, and then another wave of grief seemed to hit her, and she just wanted to lie in her bed alone. Danny and Sharon and Madeleine CaiQun went out to find some dinner for us, and while they were gone, it was pretty hit and miss whether I was able to keep her engaged and reasonably happy or not. When they came back with Pizza Hut pizza (one small Hawaiian pizza; one medium cheese pizza with cheese only, no sauce – not quite what we wanted but ordered only that successfully because of the kindness of a man who had spent some time studying in London and volunteered to help them), she was delighted to see them and happily got out of her bed and joined us for dinner. She kept saying “tang” when I offered her food, which I thought meant she found it unacceptable, but I realized later that, with a different tone, “tang” means “candy,” and she was asking for more suckers!

She scooted herself around quite well on the bed and enjoyed playing with everyone, and we even got to FaceTime with Matt and Miranda and Atticus for a few minutes. Be still my heart – I miss those kiddos so much. I love China, but I can’t wait to be home and have all four of my babies under one roof.

I was so glad FangFang seemed happy interacting and playing yesterday evening, and she was agreeable to changing into some pajamas, and she was even happy enough to pose with her signature victory sign in some photos!

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Overall, I think the day went better than I expected. I expected major grief. I expected tears and an active dislike of me and of the rest of us. I was pleasantly surprised that she seemed so much more willing to engage yesterday evening, and I’m so glad she is starting to open up to us, even a little bit.

Madeleine CaiQun is doing pretty well, too. She definitely wants some extra attention, and I’m thankful Daniel and Sharon are here to help answer her questions and get her set up with what she wants to read and play and help her in this transition, and I’m trying to make sure I give her some love and attention, as well.

My prayer is that I can be for FangFang what she needs me to be, especially during these next few days, and also care for Madeleine CaiQun well. I hope that I can pay attention to FangFang’s cues and offer her things that might begin to earn her trust and be a good mom for both of my girls here in China.

Travel Approval!

Our Travel Approval (TA) was issued today! This is the very last approval we need in order to travel to China and adopt our sweet little girl!

We need to wait another 24-48 hours to book plane tickets, as we wait for confirmation of our Consulate Appointment. Our Consulate Appointment is when we appear in person to take an oath at the US Consulate in Guangzhou, and they then issue our daughter an immigrant visa to enter the United States. When the US Consulate is able to schedule that appointment, in large part, determines our travel dates.

We’re required to submit our top five choices in order of preference. Please pray with us that we get one of our top two choices (12/20 or 12/21), so that we can travel when we’d like and have a 12/12 Family Day and be home before Christmas! Our agency believes chances are high that we will be able to get one of those dates, as we’re requesting them so far in advance, but there are never any guarantees. If we have to move on to our 3rd or 4th choices, we’d likely be gone over Christmas, which would be manageable but pretty sad – so, if you are a praying person, please pray that we get one of those top two choices!

Also, as I shared in my last adoption update, we are still a bit short of where we’d like to be in terms of our funds for our adoption costs. There’s an organization from which we applied for a grant that is meeting Wednesday evening to make a decision about grant awards, and we would so appreciate your prayers for favor with them and that they would have funds to offer a grant to us!

For those of you friends and family who have offered us your encouragement and support on this journey, we so appreciate it! Thank you! We are almost there!