The Littles

Upon my return from China with FangFang, Matt and I started referring to groupings of our kids as “the bigs” (Miranda and CaiQun) and “the littles” (Atticus and FangFang). It’s unclear to me whether this was an actual misunderstanding or a purposeful attempt at redefinition, but it became clear one day that Miranda was using the words rather differently. In her mind, “littles” was a category that included Atticus and FangFang but also CaiQun, whereas she, Miranda, was grouped together with Matt and me in the separate “bigs” category. This is classic Miranda. We’ve attempted several times to explain to her our conceptualization of the groupings, but she seems to remain unconvinced. However, for our purposes, “the littles” are our toddlers, Atticus and FangFang!

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The littles have an interesting relationship, and we’d anticipated this even while we were reviewing FangFang’s file, and we’d discussed it with our social worker. There is a term in adoption – “virtual twins” or “artificial twins.” It’s usually defined as two biologically unrelated children in the same family whose difference in age is less than 9 months. This is obviously not a naturally occurring phenomenon, and it can come with a number of issues, and some social workers and adoption agencies will not allow adoption of a child whose adoption would create a set of virtual twins.

Technically our big girls fall into this category, though they’ve often not seemed like it. Miranda has always been very verbally advanced, and Madeleine CaiQun seemed so much younger than her age when she came home, that they seemed farther apart developmentally than they were chronologically. Now they seem much closer to being twin-like, and I do think that exerts a certain amount of pressure on each of them, but at least right now, I don’t think it’s significantly different than the experience of siblings born within a couple years of each other, and honestly, I think they benefit from having each other. They are each others’ best friend and playmate.

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The littles are not technically virtual twins, as FangFang is 14 months older than Atticus. However, practically speaking, they are much more virtual twins than the bigs were. This is due in part to the effects that osteogenesis imperfecta has on FangFang’s size and gross motor skill development. She’s smaller than he is and is quite adept at scooting herself around the house on her butt but does not crawl, stand, or walk. Additionally, as she is transitioning from Mandarin to English, her English language capabilities are obviously behind his.

This small age gap was honestly, something I was excited about. We’re ready to be done having babies, and we are loving the age that our bigs are at. We like playing board games and doing puzzles. We are dorky people and love reading books together and doing homeschooling. We’re looking forward to being able to travel more, to visit museums and historical sites together. Having all of our kids pretty close in age will allow us to do a lot of that together as a family. And it will simplify homeschooling in some ways. But most of those are future advantages to which we’re looking forward. The current reality is that we have two toddlers, two in diapers, two who are not safe to stand alone in a parking lot, two who need help getting dressed, need help falling asleep, and on and on. Even as a somewhat experienced mama, an adoptive mama for several years, and a mama to artificial twins already, I think I slightly underestimated the challenge that this next year or two may really be!

The first few days home were particularly rough. If one little one was on my lap, the other wanted to be there. If I was holding one, it didn’t take long for the other to find me and request to be held, as well. It was pretty overwhelming.

Home almost 2 weeks now, I’m seeing some light. She’s actually more jealous for my attention than he is, which I had not anticipated – the foster home at which she was living was also caring for several other young children around her age, so I’m certain she did not receive continuous one-on-one attention, but she sometimes seems to think that’s a right to which she’s entitled! I’m doing my best to give both littles some good quality time, and I think they’re each getting used to the other’s presence.

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I still think this relationship is going to be a challenge. They’re both similar to your average 2-and-3-year-olds in terms of their interest in sharing, which is to say that they have no interest in sharing anything 99 times out of 100!

Right now, with Matt in the midst of winter break, we’re able to do a lot of tag-teaming in terms of parenting the two of them, but that’s obviously going to be reduced significantly in a week and a half when Matt goes back to work. That’s going to be…shall we say…interesting. Honestly, that’s going to be the true test of how we’re doing as a family of six, how we do once Matt returns to work. But it’s not here yet, and I’m trying to take things one day at a time!

I do see incredible glimmers of hope in this relationship. The other day, FangFang hurt her leg a bit, and as I was comforting her and looking at her leg to make sure it didn’t seem like a fracture, Atticus came over, saying, “Gentle, gentle,” and laid down right next to her. She rolled toward him and tucked into him, and they put their arms around each other and just rested that way.

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Cue mama happy tears!

We’re also really trying to limit competition between the two of them. Atticus, as a third child, has very few possessions that are truly his – most toys in our house are communally owned – but he does have a few things for which we defend his ownership, including a Little Tikes car, which he loves. Her eyes lit up when she saw it for the first time. We put her on it, and she was ecstatic, and asked repeatedly, “FangFang car?” He, of course, responded definitively, “No! Mine car!” Future requests for a turn for FangFang were also answered with a concrete “no,” so back to Amazon we went, and a second car arrived yesterday around lunch time. And now? Happy toddlers 🙂

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Of course we’re going to work with them on sharing and kindness – we’re not always going to have two of everything – but it’s also okay to give them each a few things that can be just theirs.

This dynamic is going to be interesting in the coming months and years! Of course, when you’re a part of our family, that’s forever, and we work through whatever challenges we face, and we do it together. I think this relationship will have its hard aspects, and we’ll work through those, but I also hope (and truly believe) that it’s going to be an incredible blessing for them both.

Summer 2015 Goals – Mid-Summer Update

It’s the middle of July, so we’re about halfway (or more!) through the summer, so I thought it would be a good time to take a look at how I’m doing with these summer goals! See my initial thoughts about this season’s goals here.

1. Work with the girls on moving toward learning how to swim.

Yes! We joined a pool, and we’ve been going multiple times every week, weather permitting. Both girls did great with their swimming lessons and definitely grew in their comfort with being in the water. Miranda in particular has been growing by leaps and bounds even since then. Earlier this week she was celebrating her ability to put her head under the water unasked and without plugging her nose by doing it over and over again. I’m really happy that they’re making progress toward swimming, and we’re all enjoying our pool time!

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2. Be consistent in working with the girls to develop self-control, kind words, and gentle hands.

We’re working on it! One encouraging development has been that we’ve been having some times in which the girls are really playing well together without my constant refereeing. I’ve been honest about the fact that we’ve been in a difficult season of parenting, and it has been very encouraging to me to see these glimmers of hope.

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3. Work through 4-6 weeks of school curriculum.

We’re doing pretty well with this! Our summer has been pretty laid back so far – on most days we work through half of a day’s worth of curriculum, so we’re almost halfway through our 3rd week, which puts us on track to have about 4 weeks finished by the end of the summer. I’d love it if we were closer to having 6 weeks done, but really, we’ve been enjoying our weeks of summer, and we’re all learning and growing, so I’m not going to sweat it 🙂

4. Get set for a mobile baby – and some days, 2 mobile babies! 

We’re working on this – in actually a much bigger way than I’d anticipated. I mentioned to Matt one day that I had an ideal vision in mind of what I’d like to do, but I wasn’t sure what to do in the meantime. When I told him about what I really wanted to have long-term – essentially floor-to-ceiling built-in shelves in the playroom – his immediate response was that we should just build that now!

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We (and by “we” I really mean Matt) are actually quite a bit farther along than this picture shows. It’s all coming together really nicely, and it’s going to be such a huge help to me!

5. Organize the playroom.

See above! Right now the room looks like a total disaster – toys piled on top of each other, tools all around – but we’re making real progress, and I’m excited about the room’s potential.

6. Blog!

I have pretty much dropped the ball on this. Between the playroom bookshelf project and doing some extra work to train a friend who is starting to work for my company, our last few weeks have been very full, and there just hasn’t been much free time. I’m hoping to get a few more posts written during the last half of the summer, though!

7. Read more, in particular the parenting books I ordered this spring.

I’m working on this one! After finishing No Drama Discipline, I started Ruth Beechick’s The Three R’s, and I finished that a couple weeks ago, and I’ve now started How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, which I’m enjoying. Matt bought me Wish You Happy Forever: What China’s Oprhans Taught Me About Moving Mountains for our anniversary, so I’ve also been reading that. Its author founded Half the Sky, an organization that worked in the orphanage Madeleine CaiQun lived at, and I’m so thankful to them for the benefits I know she received from their care. My heart is feeling increasingly drawn back toward adopting from China again.

8. Make it a priority to have fun. Say yes to things like walks, time at the park, and time at the pool.

We’re definitely having fun this summer! Spending time at the pool has been a big way in which we’ve been doing that, but we’re also having popsicle picnics on the porch, reading books, doing science experiments, and just playing together. This afternoon the girls and I rolled around on the living room floor, and I tickled them and gave them airplane rides – we all had a blast simply playing, and this evening at dinner all of us listed that as the “high” from our day.

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9. Enjoy Atticus.

Of course there is always more I could be doing to enjoy our little guy, but I think I’m doing a pretty good job of taking time to snuggle him, play with him, laugh with him, and generally enjoy him. He really is such a sweet little boy, and even though parenting kids over a larger age range feels like more of a challenge than just having our close-together girls, this boy is such a blessing for our family, and I’m so thankful he’s here.

10. Write in each child’s journal at least once.

So far I’ve written in Atticus’s journal but not the girls’ – I need to get to theirs soon!

11. Finish writing and sending thank you notes to people who blessed us around the time of Atticus’s birth.

I’ve written a few more of these but still have a lot to do.

12. Go on at least 2 dates per month with Matt.

We did this in June, and we’re scheduled for another date night this week, so I just need to plan one more for July, and we’ll have hit this goal for 2 months in a row!

13. Replenish our savings.

We’re working on this! Thus far it hasn’t been so much of a replenishing of savings as much as earning enough to keep up with the playroom update expenditures, but we’ve been able to do that, so I think it’s a win so far, and I think by the end of the summer we will have been able to put more money away in savings.

14. Build a more consistent prayer life.

Honestly, working toward this goal has been one of the most encouraging parts of my summer. I think, as a mom of littles, I am constantly seeing new areas in which I need not to let the “perfect” become the enemy of the “good.” What I would like for my prayer life is to have a long period of totally uninterrupted time each day to read my Bible and actually write out prayers to God in a prayer journal. That just isn’t going to happen right now, but that doesn’t mean I should throw in the towel. I realized that I do have multiple periods of the day that are quiet and somewhat solitary – when I’m nursing Atticus before he takes naps and goes to bed at night. After he would start to drift off to sleep, I’d been using those times primarily for checking my Facebook feed, but, wonder of all wonders, when I made Facebook less of a priority, there was more room for prayer! I’ve also been re-reading David Powlison’s Seeing With New Eyes with some friends, and I’ve found his words about prayer to be particularly helpful and encouraging. I’ve also been faced with daily reminders to pray as a young man from our church came down with a sudden illness a few weeks ago and had to be life-flighted to a hospital 2 hours away and is still fighting for his life there, and our church family has been praying for him continuously. I’m praying more often with more depth and am feeling anew my dependence on God and the contentment that comes with that realization.

Overall I’m pleased that I’ve been able to make progress (or recruit my husband to make progress!) on a number of these goals, and hopefully I’ll have more progress to report at the end of the summer!

parenting is hard work

Parenting is hard work, my friends. I’ve always affirmed that, but I’ve been living it in a different way recently. We’re in a difficult season, and I frequently find myself physically tired and emotionally spent well before the end of the day arrives.

As I pray for and seek to cultivate self-control, empathy, and kindness in my children, I am seeing with new eyes my own need for continued growth. Their desire to quit when they aren’t getting what they want isn’t all that different from my desire to spend lunch scrolling through my Facebook feed when we’re having a difficult day. Their frustration when things don’t go their way is not so different from, well, my frustration when things don’t go my way. The struggle I see in them when I’ve asked them to respond kindly to a sibling who has just treated them poorly is not very different from the struggle I face to reach out toward them in love when they’ve been disrespectful to me.

I am learning to pray for and work toward self-control, empathy, and kindness in all of us.

And tonight I am thankful for grace – for the grace to lean in toward my children. It took a bit more time, but I gave up my chance to grocery shop by myself in exchange for bringing one of my kiddos with me for a one-on-one outing. The dinner dishes remain piled up in the sink, but I spent the evening playing games with one daughter while Matt took the other to an art show. I rocked Atticus to sleep and focused on his sweet little fingers, the swirl of his hair, and his gently closing eyes instead of looking at my phone. I haven’t gotten in as much work time as I’d hoped post-bedtime, but I did go up to comfort the daughter who was frightened of the booming thunder, and I got to hold her and sing her to sleep.

The girls and I are discussing and memorizing 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 right now, and today I am thankful for the opportunities and the grace to choose love.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

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Ironically enough, I wrote most of this post last night, and as I was finishing it, I heard the baby begin throwing up in the other room. This parenting gig is a 24/7 kind of thing!