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.

Snuggles, Tantrums, and Perspective

One day this past weekend I came downstairs this afternoon after snuggling my two babies to sleep, and my heart was full.

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As I was lying between them, I’d told myself, “This is what you were made to do.” 

This return home has not been without its hard times. Our original 3 are all working through the adjustment to having another child join the family, and we’ve seen some jealousy, some big feelings, some good (and not so good) conversations, and some world class tantrums. Jet lag is so intense. Matt and I are working through how to do marriage as parents of four and how to support each other in the midst of this new reality. I still have the last little bits of unpacking to tackle. This past week and a half has been immeasurably intense.

And in the midst of that, I’ve been so thankful for the encouragement of friends. A sweet friend of mine from Chicago, whom I don’t see nearly as often as I’d like but who is still such a blessing in my life, texted me the other day and said, “The gifts God gave you are an unusual mix – smarts, common sense, discipline…exactly what you need to do what he’s called you to at this time.” Those words of life-giving perspective were just what I needed in the midst of that afternoon.

I need to remember that parenting is good work. It’s work that God has called me to, it’s work for which He has and is equipping me, and it’s of the utmost importance. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that. Parenting isn’t generally grandiose. But the hearts and souls of these little people whom God has entrusted to my care are so precious, and the ways in which I interact with them matter. It’s easier to be peaceful and joyful in those interactions when I have a precious toddler sleeping on either side of me; harder when one of those toddlers is going on minute 25 of an intense tantrum. But whether a sweet moment or a challenging one, I am trying to remind myself that the time I’m spending investing in these little ones is important, and it’s the main work God has given me for this time in my life, and He is with me in every minute of it.

I actually thought I’d be less emotionally intense about the entire adoption process and the adjustments when we came home, having been through it all before, but that has not been the case. I was emotional while in China, and I’m emotional now.

That applies to the good and the bad. We got to go to church on Sunday morning and worship God as a family. Even up until the night before, we weren’t sure we’d attempt it. FangFang exhibited some pretty strong “mommy shopping” tendencies in China, but that has diminished some since we have come home, so we thought it might work for all of us to go and just to keep her close, and I think it went pretty well!

We sang the song, “Rejoice” by Dustin Kensrue, and as I sang the lyrics, I couldn’t help but reflect on our adoption journey:

All our sickness, all our sorrows
Jesus carried up the hill
He has walked this path before us
He is walking with us still

Turning tragedy to triumph
Turning agony to praise
There is blessing in the battle
So take heart and stand amazed

Rejoice, when you cry to Him He hears
Your voice, He will wipe away your tears
Rejoice, in the midst of suffering
He will help you sing

Rejoice, come and lift your hands and
Raise your voice, He is worthy of our praise
Rejoice, sing of mercies of your King
And with trembling rejoice

It’s such a blessing to be home with all four of our babies, and I know that God’s hand was in this whole process. I think of the health obstacles, the emotional obstacles, the financial obstacles, and everything else we had to work through to get to FangFang and bring her home, and I think of how it all came together with what in so many ways is perfect timing, and I know we couldn’t have done it all on our own. In the midst of the good and the bad, in the midst of sleeping babies and intense tantrums, in the midst of enjoying reconnecting with Matt and not really enjoying nights full of interruptions to our sleep, I’ll rejoice, thanking God for this work He’s given to me to do and thanking Him for bringing us to this place.