One Year with FangFang

This week we celebrated one year of life with FangFang! It has been quite a year. She was not a fan of us (of me, in particular) at first, and candy was my biggest ally.

But even on that first trip, in China, we saw glimpses of the joy that we now know permeates her heart and soul.

These first kisses were so precious to me.

And she warmed up to Matt pretty quickly once we were home 🙂

It has been quite a year since then. We’ve traveled to Omaha 4 times for 1 clinic visit and 3 surgeries…and we hope not to head back until the middle of next year!

While FangFang still uses butt-scooting as her primary form of mobility at home, she’s also learned to crawl and stand and even cruises on the couch! And, after some fighting with the insurance company, she got her first wheelchair for increased mobility in public places.

And beyond all these skills, we’ve grown as a family. Any time a new person joins a family, all of the family dynamics change, and it takes time to make those adjustments. We’re still figuring out all of these relationships ourselves and coaching our children through them – I expect that will remain true forever 🙂 But it feels like every member of the family is more settled, and we’ve grown into pretty stable, positive places!

FangFang was excited to celebrate being part of the family for a whole year, and we were happy to go along with her requests for Chinese food and ice cream 🙂 FangFang is passionate about all things China, but really, one thing everyone in the family can agree on is Chinese food! Atticus had a hard time leaving the park Matt had taken the kids to visit that afternoon, and Madeleine CaiQun comforted him by telling him, “It’s okay, Atticus, we’re going to have Chinese food for dinner!”

FangFang, you are a true source of joy, and we are so glad you are home and part of our family <3

 

a week of anniversaries

In a way that I’d never have predicted, the middle week of February has become one of great significance in our family’s story.

This Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of the shocking death of Matt’s older sister, Denya. Her daughters, in a gesture of which she would have been proud, chose to celebrate her life this week by asking Facebook friends to share their happy memories of her. It was fun to read of her love and laughter as experienced by other friends and family, too, but we definitely miss her. I miss her always encouraging Facebook and blog comments, her support for every new venture we pursued, her wise parenting advise, and, of course, the times spent hanging out together in her kitchen, enjoying and chatting about life together.

Yesterday was actually the one-year anniversary of our receiving pre-approval (PA) to adopt FangFang. We didn’t post about it far and wide on Facebook or anywhere else at that time – largely because we were en route to New York for Denya’s funeral, and we hadn’t yet told all of our close friends and family about our pursuit of adopting her. But still, as we drove on, snow-covered roads bringing us ever closer to the reality of the loss of our sister and friend, we celebrated the news that a new life would be joining our family, a precious girl we knew primarily through these pictures.

Our next milestone is today – the one year anniversary of Matt’s heart attack. One year ago today, after attending the calling hours for Denya, we were all resting in our hotel room when Matt suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. With our children looking on, I called 9-1-1, and our reality quickly transitioned from this

to this.

Matt’s heart attack has been a defining moment in our lives, one that, like having our first child, divides all of time into “before” and “after.”

Post heart-attack life is different than pre-heart-attack life. We have a radically different diet, eating almost exclusively low-sodium, plant-centered, pescetarian foods. Exercise is no longer viewed as a luxury to be pursued “once things settle down” but as a necessity, essential to sustaining life. We’ve become convinced that we cannot allow others’ desires to govern our lives – saying “no” has life-giving power. And beyond the practical changes we have made, we see life differently. Our default assumption is no longer that we are virtually guaranteed to have long, healthy lives together. The statistics for survival after cardiac arrest are sobering. My hope and prayer is that Matt and I will have many more years together – and I dream of what our future may look like – but we can no longer pretend that death is a far away specter of which we need only think once we are retired empty-nesters. Matt shared some of his thoughts on this day and that reality here. And the truth is that it is a source of some anxiety for me. We’re doing all we can to live healthily, though – and that’s all we can do. Beyond that, the calls for us are the same as those for anyone else – we seek to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. We fumble toward one another, seeking to love and care for each other well, to honor our marriage vows. We pursue growth as parents and do what we can to encourage and pray for our kiddos to grow into thoughtful adults who will pursue God, be thoughtful and understanding, and fight for what’s right in the world around them. We look for ways to engage with the community and the world around us.

Life this week, while in many ways haunted by these anniversaries, has, for the most part, been simply normal. We’ve read books, learned about math, coached kids through resolvoing squabbles, played outside, eaten meals, done laundry and dishes, and relaxed with an episode of the West Wing or a game of Yahtzee after the kids have gone to bed.

And we look forward to the last of this week’s anniversaries. Tomorrow 4 years will have passed since the day Madeleine CaiQun joined our family.

This sweet girl has brought so much joy to our family – so many snuggles, so many good conversations, so much laughter. And so tomorrow we will eat Chinese food – noodles and dumplings, in honor of her province and the foods she loves so much – and celebrate.

This week is such a strange mix of reminders of life and death, of mourning and celebrations. We press on and pray that we can act honorably in the midst of it all.

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.

You've Come a Long Way, Baby! Happy 2 Year Family Day, Madeleine CaiQun!

Two years ago today, a tiny girl with a large love of shrimp chips was placed in our arms.

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Two years in, she has gained 10 pounds and 7.5 inches.

But more importantly, she is a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, and a niece, and she is oh so very loved.

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Of course, she lost a lot to get here. She lost her first country, her first language, and the culture into which she was born, and most significant of all, she lost her first family. Those losses are profound, and over these last two years, we’ve begun to have conversations about them. Particularly throughout my pregnancy with Atticus, thoughts and questions about her origins came to the surface. With a heavy heart, I had to respond, “We just don’t know,” to most of them and then give her space to wonder, speculate, and begin to grieve.

There is brokenness in this world, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the harsh realities facing children who find themselves separated from their parents. And yet there are snippets of hope. Children do not belong in orphanages but in families, and we are so blessed that Madeleine CaiQun has become a part of ours.

Over the past two years, we have seen God knit her into our family beautifully. This sister bond is one of the best things that has ever happened to both of our girls. 001

They are learning friendship, forgiveness, and fun every day that they spend together.

And Matt and I? We could not be more in love with our little girl.

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We still work hard at this family thing. The intensity of our focus on cultivating attachment has waned, but we will always be cognizant of our need to be aware, to be intentional, and to lean in toward our children and help them to lean back toward us. We are band-aid parents. We seek out opportunities for hugs and snuggles, and we prioritize eye contact. We know that hunger for food is not always, really, hunger for food. We discipline in ways that are not necessarily typical.

And we celebrate. We celebrate that we are a family. We celebrate that this amazing little girl is an integral part of it.

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We are oh so very blessed.