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.

IMG_1133

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.

IMG_1130

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!

IMG_1057

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!

pic edited

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!

IMG_1138

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!

Christmas 2016

Christmas of 2016 was an odd one for us. Having been in China, I’d missed nearly all of our church’s Advent worship gatherings. And while we did see Christmas decorations in China, we spent all of our time in the southern part of China (think: Florida), and my heart was focused on adoption, official appointments, bonding, attachment, and parenting, not on Christmas. We arrived home on the 23rd, so by Christmas, we were still crazy jet-lagged. And most of the at-home family was sick with a bad cold and cough.

We made the most of it, though, and tried to celebrate Christmas a bit. Matt and my mom had done some decorating, including setting up the Christmas tree. Of course, my mom and brother David were here when we got back, and my dad had been here before and then flown out to meet me and fly home with the girls and me, so we had a small contingent of family here to celebrate. Conventional wisdom is that you should keep your newly adopted child’s world small when they arrive home, limiting interactions primarily to immediate family until they learn what family really is. Larger Christmas celebrations with extended family don’t quite fall into that description, but we figured things in China were so chaotic that a few more days of chaos weren’t going to ruin everything, and we’d only have a few extra people. We’d limit holding FangFang and feeding her to just Matt and me, but we’d enjoy our time with family. All of them had been here helping while I was gone, and we wanted to give them the chance to meet FangFang and see MeiMei, and I wanted to see them.

Plus they agreed to handle the Christmas dinner preparations 🙂 True to their word, they did just that – with my mom’s help, David made us some awesome vegetarian lasagna, and my dad made his traditional cheese torte. They also handled most of the clean up and were just generally helpful in those crazy first few days home! And in the midst of the craziness, we managed to have some fun 🙂

We made and frosted our customary cut-out cookies!

img_4836

We’ll just pretend that Madeleine CaiQun was dressed for the occasion…

fullsizerender

The littles were, of course, more interested in eating than in frosting, and, what with it being Christmas and all, we allowed the indulgence 🙂

img_4835

On Christmas morning we decided not to drag it out but to let everyone dive into the gift opening.

img_4853

img_4867

Everyone got gifts with which they were thrilled – it was a morning of blessings 🙂

img_4864

img_4860

When you have OI and an always-planning mama, you and your brother may both get giant bean bags for Christmas! They’re tons of fun in general, but they’re also perfect for comfort after major fractures – this way we’ll have them when we need them, but we can also just enjoy them for now!

img_4904

We, of course, used the day together to continue to cultivate those precious new sibling relationships.

img_4887

Miranda really has stepped up to the task of welcoming FangFang into the family and being a loving big sister to her, and that has been such a sweet thing to see.

And of course my two big girls continued to enjoy being reunited! They have moments of sibling drama, but they also play together so well so much of the time.

img_4871

And we enjoyed our sweet treats – cheese torte for the win!

img_4878

And for me? Honestly, all I wanted was for my whole family to be home and together. However, Matt really outdid himself. When we bought our house, the room we both agreed was most in need of some updates was the upstairs bathroom, but there were always reasons to tackle other rooms first, so we still hadn’t gotten around to that one. While I was gone, Matt completely renovated it for me! The full details are here, but in essence, he took this:

is-1uxuo5zlmk199

The whales, people. The whales. Also, not pictured: a door that never quite shut all the way.

And he turned it into this!

img_0908

I love it. This guy is a keeper.

It may not have been our most put-together, well-planned, healthiest, Christ-focused Christmas. But we did what we could, we enjoyed our time together, and we sought to bless each other and celebrate amidst the crazy, and for this year, we count that as a win 🙂

Preparing for Attachment and Bonding (and How You Can Help)

The process of adoption is intense – the home study, the paperwork, the money, the travel, and the attention to detail through it all. It can be easy to see the travel to complete your child’s adoption as the finish line, the point at which you will have accomplished what you set out to do. Then the process is over, and you can celebrate! The celebration is, of course, real and deserved – a child who was without a family is now a beloved son or daughter. However, that is not the true finish line but rather the starting point for the real process – parenting, living life together, loving this child.

Matt and I have been thoughtful, these recent days and weeks, about what that will mean and what our next few months will look like. A lot of the specifics are still to be determined, depending on how her adjustment seems to be going in the first few days and weeks. But what we do know is that we’ll need to be showing FangFang that we are her forever family – that we will consistently be here to love her, to care for her, and to meet her needs.

There’s a lot about FangFang’s past that we don’t know – and even what we do know is her story, not ours, and it’s for her to share when and with whom she chooses. However, I do feel comfortable in laying out the implications of the obvious. This precious little girl, before she turned 3 years old, had lived in 3 different environments. Before she reaches 3.5, she’ll be in her 4th. Imagine with me for a moment what that would feel like – how it would affect your sense of security and your ability to trust – to live in 3 different places in less than 3 years, and not just 3 different places, but with 3 entirely different sets of caregivers. Imagine what it would be like if you were a child, and not only was this happening to you, but you had little to no understanding of what was occurring. You didn’t have the language to comprehend it, even if someone tried to explain it, and certainly no one asked your opinion about any of it.

That’s not the way God designed life to work. What’s supposed to happen is that a baby is surrounded from birth by familiar people, whose voices she has heard while in the womb. The baby expresses a need, and those people meet her need, and her relationship with them deepens. She learns to recognize and express her needs, and she learns that her needs will be met – that she will be warm, well-fed, safe, and loved – and she learns that these people are the ones who will take care of her.

But we live in a broken world, and that’s not the way FangFang’s life began. Because of that, we’re going to be parenting her a little differently than we would parent a biological child. We need to build these parent-child relationships from scratch. We need to show her that Matt and I are the people she can count on to feed her, keep her warm, love her, and care for her – and that we’re different from everyone else she’ll encounter. Doing that with a 3-year-old is a little bit more complex than doing it with a newborn baby, but we’ve been reviewing and will be using some tried and true attachment-building strategies that adoptive parents have been putting into practice for years. We’ll be working on developing eye contact (sometimes using stickers and funny games). We plan to treat her as younger than her chronological age, and we’ll hold and carry her as much as she’ll allow. We’ll offer a lot of healthy snacks and allow her to grow in her security with us through seeing our consistent provision of food. We’ll be band-aid parents. We’ll do mirroring play. We’ll cocoon – keeping her world small for a time (the length of which has yet to be determined) to enable her to get to know us and focus on building relationships with us without the distractions of other people and activities.

And as we do that, we also ask for your support and help. We need to give her the opportunity to learn what family really is and to learn to trust Matt and me specifically. And we’re not starting from a blank slate – we’re coming into her life at a time when she has learned, through experience, that caregivers leave, that the people she trusts today may be gone tomorrow. In that context, Matt and I need to be, for a time, the only people who meet her needs. To that end, we ask that you would refrain from offering her food, comfort, or affection. Please feel free to wave or smile at her and to interact with us as we are holding her, but please stay away from things like picking her up or giving her hugs or kisses, even if she seems to be initiating that contact. We plan to keep her close by, but if you see her seeking food, comfort, or affection elsewhere, please re-direct her toward us instead of offering to meet those needs yourself. A simple, “Oh, it looks like you’re hungry! Let’s find your mama,” would be so helpful. In time, after we have established the foundational family relationships, we are excited for all of you to get to know her as you know our other kids and to surround her with the same love with which you surround them. We just need to allow her to form bonds with us as her parents before she branches out into those other relationships, and it would be a tremendous blessing to us if you would support us in this process.

And if you have any questions about any of this, please feel free to let us know at any time – we always welcome questions and conversation!