FAQ: Home Almost Six Weeks! How’s FangFang adjusting? How are you?

At times it feels longer and at times shorter, but we’ve now been home with FangFang for almost 6 whole weeks! Some of the questions I get most frequently these days, in my few interactions with people who are not medical professionals or grocery store employees, are about the big picture of her adjustment and ours.

Attachment and bonding are always processes, processes with many variables and unknowns, processes best examined in retrospect. However, they are of such paramount importance for adoptive families that we adoptive parents are constantly on high alert, watching for indicators of progress (or lack thereof). We wonder to what degree our children are really getting it, that this is what family is; we wonder if they are really beginning to trust us; we wonder to what degree to indulge and to what degree to push; we wonder if we’re making the right decisions for our new children and for our families as a whole.

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You may remember that FangFang did not exactly appreciate my presence or attempts at caring for her in China. Having spent our time in China telling myself just to stay calm and positive and keep pursuing her in love regardless of what she did, I’ve needed to make sure I have been doing things to cultivate the warm, fuzzy love feelings for both of us. I’ll sometimes wrap her up in a blanket and rock her back and forth and look into her eyes, taking advantage of the oxytocin bump for us both. I’ll hold her on my lap while I read out loud or offer a hug or a kiss or a smile as we pass by each other. I try to take advantage of those 3-minute lulls in activity to do something relationship-building with her (and the other kiddos). We’ve incorporated more loving rituals into our lives as a family as a whole to build connections between all of us; for instance, before we begin our “reading school” time each day, the kids and I all sing the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, What a Wonderful Child You Are” song together. And as our time as a family of six grows, the love between us all is growing, too.

FangFang had actually decided pretty quickly after we left Sharon and Daniel that I was her person now, and that has been consistent, for which I’m thankful! The Ergo or Tula carriers, which she despised in China? She would now love to spend hours being worn and often protests when I tell her she needs to get down and play.

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She looks to us in new situations, and she frequently asks to be held – she’ll scoot up to me and put her arms up and ask, “Baby FangFang?” multiple times a day! She’s a pretty snuggly little girl. One night one of us casually mentioned something about love, and she, sitting next to me on the couch, looked up at me and put her hand on my cheek, and announced, “FangFang love.” Cue heart melt!

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She has continued to warm up to Matt more and more. She still prefers me, but she allows him to put her to bed, and if I’m unavailable, she’ll let him hold her, and she asks about him when he’s away from home.

She is generally a happy little girl, for which I’m very thankful, since that was the impression we got of her from the photos her foster home shared. I was worried that it would take a long time for her spark to come back after leaving them and coming to us. She does have occasional sad moments whose reason we can’t entirely discern and for which her English is insufficient to explain, which is very sad but is also very typical for kids adopted internationally. We try to hold her close and reassure her that we love her and she is safe, and eventually something (usually food) brings her back to her typical happy state!

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She also loves the other kiddos, and they love her, though there is certainly a large amount of interpersonal drama between any and all of them, too. We’re trying to cultivate kind, generous hearts and develop good relationships, but everything is a work in progress!

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I’m not entirely sure how to read her interactions with others outside of our family. Thus far, we have kept her with either Matt or me at all times. We haven’t exactly cocooned (a common adoptive family bonding strategy, keeping your child’s world small for a period of time after they come home, staying home as much as possible), largely due to the necessity of medical appointments and evaluations – in addition to our visit to the Omaha clinic, so far she has seen our pediatrician, had a local X-ray, a CT scan, a private PT evaluation, a private OT evaluation, an evaluation by the school system, and met with a local orthopedic surgeon. We’ve also been going to our church worship gatherings on Sunday mornings and just keeping her in the sanctuary with us for the entire time, and we’ve had a few people come over for dinner since we’ve been home. She is definitely more of an extrovert than most members of our family – she loves interacting with others. For the most part, she warms up to people pretty quickly but still continually looks to us for reassurance and generally behaves appropriately with them, which is encouraging. However, we do notice some overly affectionate tendencies, and there was one night recently on which some friends stayed for dinner, and within minutes of their arrival, she was reaching out toward the guy for him to hold her – the return of the mommy shopping! We weren’t sure that she initially realized that he wasn’t Matt – but it was still a little disconcerting.

We’ll continue to take things slowly. In the grand scheme of things, 6 weeks is not very long, particularly for a child who has lived for over 3 years outside of a family. There are definitely moments during which Matt and I yearn for a date night by ourselves, or we think about being able to go to our missional community group meetings, or I wish it were easier to go hang out with friends. This is just a stage, though. Laying the groundwork for healthy, secure attachment is so important, and we want to respect that and take the necessary time to do it right, so we’ll hang in there, keep reading the signals, and do what we believe we need to do to facilitate bonding and attachment.

Overall, we are so glad that she really is settling in pretty well. She seems to be increasingly understanding that we are her family and that this is her home. She seems happy. She’s learning English and increasingly able to communicate her needs and desires. We’re all getting to know one another more and establishing these new family dynamics, and everyone seems to be doing pretty well with that. We’re worn out, both mentally and physically, and we know we still have a long way to go, but I don’t think we could ask for much more at this point in our journey!

Friday – a Travel Day

Friday was a travel day for us, going from Nanning to Guangzhou. We worked on packing up all of our stuff, a somewhat stressful process, as we had acquired some extra things and an extra person and would need to negotiate both train stations and the train with my 2 suitcases for the kiddos and me, Danny and Sharon’s 3 suitcases, our new stroller for FangFang, and 3 backpacks and a large purse. Packing up took us most of the morning, and we just had time for a quick bite for lunch, so we walked over to the mall attached to the hotel and had lunch at the same restaurant we’d eaten at for dinner the night before. Not a lot of restaurants in that mall had English or picture menus, so we figured we’d just go to the place we knew would work. Our lunch experience that day was less ideal, though – the servers seemed to find us an interesting attraction, and several of them stood around watching us eat and competing for FangFang’s attention. I was quite ready to go by the time we were done eating.

Unfortunately, the hotel hadn’t made a record of our request for a late checkout (which they’d approved the day before), so our keys had been deactivated while we were out. It took us quite a while to get someone to help us get into our rooms and get our luggage, so by the time we checked out, we were running about 15 minutes late, and I was worried we might miss our train. Thankfully we arrived in time, but we were at the back of the line to board, which was somewhat problematic given the amount of luggage we had. We managed to get on board, but it was hard to get spots for all of our stuff, and we ended up with suitcases and stroller distributed all throughout the train car. Travel days are always stressful, but it felt like we’d run a marathon by the time we even got on the train.

We started out with Madeleine CaiQun, FangFang, and me sitting together with Danny and Sharon in the row in front of us.

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That didn’t last long, though. FangFang made her preference for Sharon very clear, so I passed her forward, and she sat with Sharon and Danny for a while. I was a little sad but figured I’d also been so emotionally and physically taxed all week, it wouldn’t hurt me to sit and read a book for a bit, so I tried to enjoy the break.

At some point, Sharon handed FangFang back to me, and she was quite disgruntled, making her dissatisfaction clear to everyone in the train car. I offered suckers, iPad, and toys, and I tried walking up and down the aisles with her, all to no avail. She was having none of it, not interested at all in being with me. After what felt like an eternity of trying to calm her (all the while being the object of the attention of a good number of people on the train), I asked Sharon to take her back, and she calmed immediately.

I may or may not have spent a good amount of time crying after that. I’d worked so hard to get to China to adopt this child, I’d spent hours researching osteogenesis imperfecta to know how best to care for her, I’d worked hour after hour of extra work time to earn money to bring her home, and she wanted nothing to do with me. Intellectually, I knew that I could expect nothing from her. I do the right thing because it’s what I’m called to do, not in order to obtain any sort of positive emotional response from her. However, that doesn’t change the fact that it still hurts when it happens. I knew she could reject me. Kids coming from orphanages or foster homes often have trouble attaching to more than one person at a time, and they’ll often choose one adult to whom to attach and completely reject all others. I don’t think I had sufficiently considered the possibility that even though Danny and Sharon and I were clear on what the ideal scenario would be, and they were going to leave the attempts to build a relationship with FangFang to me, she might choose to attach to them anyway. All things considered, this is far from the worst case scenario. She wasn’t rejecting me outright – she just preferred Sharon. She’d still play with me and interact with me, and she understood that I was her source of food and diaper changes and getting all basic needs met. She was beginning to bond with me to some degree – she just preferred Sharon. And experiencing her refusal to spend any time at all with me that afternoon was so hard. I felt like I’d hit a new low.

I kept reminding myself of the advice my friend Becky had given me about pursuing and caring for FangFang but letting her receive comfort from Sharon if that’s what she wanted, plus the counsel of so many adoptive mamas (counsel that I myself have given to others), that China is all about survival. It still stung. I also felt like I was experiencing the reality of how different God’s love is from mine – Romans 5:7-8 says, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God makes the first move. He moves toward us even while we are rejecting Him, and He does so joyfully. When my daughter rejects me, I want to cry and have a pity party. I get over it, and I do move toward her, but it’s hard. 

We finally arrived in Guangzhou, and thankfully it was easy enough to find our guide at the train station. The elevator wasn’t working, so we had to do multiple trips down the escalator to get all of our suitcases down, but it worked, and we connected with Elsie, and we were relieved to be there. She took us over to the Pengman Apartments, where we’d reserved a 2-bedroom apartment for our week in Guangzhou. Our agency usually has families stay at the Garden, which is a beautiful hotel, but it doesn’t have great room configurations for a party of our composition. We’d need to meet our guide there, though, so we wanted to be nearby, and the Pengman Apartments were right across the alley. They’d offer us more space for a much lower price.

There had been an unfavorable report about them recently in one of the Facebook groups to which I belong, but we were hoping our experience would be alright. I think the place is fine – but it’s really just adequate. At first we agreed it would be okay. And I was excited that the other family from our agency who is in Guangzhou this week was also staying there. They actually came down to see us and give us some restaurant recommendations right away, and it was great to see them. But over dinner that night (at Pizza Hut, given that it was 9:00 PM by the time we were heading out for dinner), I told Danny and Sharon that I didn’t think I wanted to go through the hassle of switching, but if I had it to do over again, I would have reserved us a place somewhere else, probably the China Hotel. Sharon seemed relieved, and Danny said he really didn’t think it would be that big of a deal to switch, and in fact, they could probably do it the next morning while I was at the medical exam with FangFang.

We discussed it more after we’d gotten the kids in bed (at 11:00 PM), and I texted with Matt a bit, and we decided to make the switch. It wasn’t that the Pengman Apartments were horrible. In terms of general quality, they’re maybe one step below a Motel 6 – peeling wallpaper, mold, random little holes in the wall, etc. That’s all probably to be expected.

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The biggest issues for us were related to the lack of real usability. There aren’t any dressers in which to unpack at all; the bathroom has just a shower instead of a bathtub (and Madeleine CaiQun had been playing in the bath for about an hour each day while FangFang napped and was loving that); there’s no bathroom counter on which to unpack your bathroom supplies; they didn’t have a pack ‘n’ play available for us when we checked in (and FangFang is NOT on board with co-sleeping). The elevators took forever. One bedroom was window-less, which gave it sort of a claustrophobic feel.

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To us, it seemed kind of like a cheap 2-bedroom apartment you get when you’re a college student. I don’t think it’s a bad place to stay. Under different circumstances, we would probably have stayed. But for this week, for this trip, we decided it was better for us to switch. We looked at the China Hotel and saw that if we went with the cheapest rate (no breakfast included) we could get 2 rooms for not much more than we would have paid for the Pengman for the rest of the week. We felt like we could have made the Pengman work, but it would be something we’d have to make work, not something that was really set up to work for us. If our trip was going as well as possible, we might well have stayed. But it’s not all perfect, and there are a number of other stressors, and I felt like I needed the hotel situation to be something I wasn’t just pushing through. We made a reservation online for rooms at the China Hotel that night and hoped that when we went to check in, we’d be able to get adjoining rooms.

We left everything packed up, only taking out what we really needed, and we headed to bed, knowing we’d have to get up early for us to make sure everything was completely packed up and for me to get out the door to go to the medical exam with FangFang and for Danny to head over to the China Hotel to request adjoining rooms and take the first load of luggage.