Wednesday in Nanning – A Low-Key Day

Today was to be a low-key day, and for the most part, that’s what it was. Madeleine CaiQun and I were actually up pretty early – me because FangFang woke up and was crying for help getting her blankets and pillow rearranged, and then I was coughing and couldn’t get back to sleep, and Mei Mei because she had a bad dream. Once everyone was awake, we went downstairs to enjoy the hotel breakfast buffet. FangFang is always a little bit sad – though less so each time – when she wakes up, so she was not thrilled at waking up in and of itself. And she LOVES being in her stroller and often requests it upon waking – I think, honestly, because she’s not comfortable with intimacy with me yet and prefers sitting in the stroller to allowing me to hold her – so she was not thrilled that I wouldn’t let her stay in the stroller as we left the room to go to breakfast. As an adoptive mama who knows that one pathway to children’s hearts – particularly children who have spent any time in institutional care – is through their stomachs, I offered her a chocolate donut 🙂

We met Glenn around 10 and headed over to a park near our hotel. This park actually had a playground – not typical for the parks in China that I’ve seen – and Mei Mei was thankful!

ChenFang insisted that she wanted to go on a swing, too, but she was pretty obviously surprised by what it felt like and was ready to be done and get back into her stroller after a minute or so!

Mostly we walked around and enjoyed the scenery and talked with Glenn.

Madeleine CaiQun has not really enjoyed the walking involved in this trip, and she is often requesting to be worn in the Tula. Glenn tells us that in China, six-year-olds would never be carried like that, because they can walk. However, she is experiencing some jealousy and a bit of regression, and while we’re not going to cater to her every whim, I’m okay with her wanting to be worn some of the time.

Our breakfast had been large, so we just snacked in the room for lunch – instant oatmeal, granola bars, trail mix, and some of the odd flavored Pringles chips that you find only in China (cucumber flavor was alright; Mexican Tomato Chicken flavor was completely disgusting to everyone except FangFang). And then we went to Dairy Queen 🙂 It was a bit of a challenge ordering because of the different menus (and our not reading or speaking Mandarin), but we all managed to get something – I got a Mango Jelly blizzard!

FangFang is definitely stepping up her attempts to reject me and bond with Sharon. She cried for about 5 minutes straight at Dairy Queen because I wouldn’t let her sit next to Sharon and let Sharon feed her – until I finally got a bite of ice cream into her mouth, and she was willing to sacrifice her desire for Sharon in favor of her desire for more ice cream 🙂

I feel like I’m making it up as I go in terms of how to live out the specifics of encouraging FangFang to form her primary attachment with me while we’re in country with Danny and Sharon. When both parents travel and one is rejected in favor of the other, it can be really hard emotionally, but it’s pretty straightforward practically – there’s a pretty standard course of action to take in that scenario. However, when you’re traveling as one parent with two non-parents, it’s not quite so simple even from a practical standpoint. Everyone agrees that the parent should be the primary person to meet the child’s needs…but everyone also agrees that flexibility is key while in China, and sometimes “ideal in a perfect world” is not the same as “would actually work well in this situation right now.” For the moment, I’m meeting all of FangFang’s basic needs – I change her diapers, I get her dressed and undressed, and I feed her. I’m also trying to be proactive in engaging her playfully – I tickle her and play peekaboo with her and play with play-doh with her. Today I puckered up my lips to blow a kiss to her, and she leaned in for an actual kiss, which was encouraging, and we’ve been blowing kisses back and forth. I always have her sitting next to me at restaurants, and I push the stroller when we’re out and about. Sharon isn’t specifically seeking her out but does respond to her when she interacts playfully, and I think that’s alright. The biggest un-crossable line for me right now is that if I offer her something (i.e. ice cream), I’m not going to let her succeed in turning me down and requesting that same thing from Sharon instead. Treats come from Mom 🙂 It is tricky, though. It seems a little mean to pull her away from someone she’s seeking, but it is for her benefit – in just over a week, Sharon will head home to Washington, D.C., and FangFang will be left with just me, so the beginnings of her most primary relationship need to be with me.

After Dairy Queen I put FangFang down for her nap, and I did a few more sink-loads of laundry. We should have a washer in the apartment in which we’re staying in Guangzhou, but I need to have at least enough clean clothes for everyone to get us there! Madeleine CaiQun took a bath while I did laundry. This girl LOVES her bath time, so she’s been very much enjoying playing in the water for an hour or so each day while FangFang naps.

Once FangFang got up, we broke out the play-doh for a bit, and then we headed back to the mall down the street to do a bit of shopping and have dinner. Madeleine CaiQun had been insisting that she’d seen a shark in a tank at the mall. None of the rest of us had seen it at all, but she said it was there, and we promised to look. We walked all around the 5th floor – nothing. We said we’d go up to the 6th floor, and we started to make our lap, and we hadn’t gone too far before she said, “Guys! Stop!” and there it was! We weren’t sure what to expect from her description of a shark in a tank…but it turns out there really was a shark in a tank at the mall! Why? It’s completely unclear. But there was a shark in a tank 🙂

After we found the shark, we had dinner (back to Grandma’s Home – it was very good again!) and then did a little bit of shopping before heading back to our hotel. We made a quick stop in our room, and then Danny and FangFang and I went back to Walmart to pick up a few necessities (more water and more suckers!) and get some things to take for donations to the orphanage tomorrow.

I put FangFang in the Ergo for that brief trip, and she was NOT pleased. I’d tried it earlier in the afternoon to an even more disgruntled reaction, but I wanted to try it again to see if it would be at all an option for us for our day trip tomorrow, since Glenn’s advice was to leave the beloved stroller at the hotel. She doesn’t seem physically uncomfortable in it, but the emotional intensity of our closeness is pretty overwhelming for her. Her first reaction was to cry and arch away, but when I offered a sucker, she stopped crying and just leaned away from me and was rarely willing to make eye contact or even look up at me. So…for the moment, it’s an option, though it’s not ideal. But when we got back to the hotel room, I took her out of the Ergo and let her scoot herself around for a little while, and she was back to her happy little self, jabbering away and wanting to be tickled and laughing her adorable little laugh 🙂

Both girls are asleep now, and I’m going to join them shortly. Please be praying for our trip to Beihai tomorrow. Please pray for Madeleine CaiQun’s heart as she continues to adjust to being a big sister again. Please pray for the logistics of train travel with a new-to-our-family 3-year-old with OI, and please pray for the emotions of returning to a place at which she lived for quite a while and perhaps seeing people she knew before her time at her foster home (and almost certainly seeing the people who brought her to us on Monday). Glenn has told us we should not expect to be allowed to enter the orphanage and the baby rooms themselves, as we do not have any official permission to do so, but I’d love it if you’d pray that something would change, and we’d be able to go in. It has happened before. I’d love to have as much information possible for FangFang as she gets older. We’ll also visit her finding spot and perhaps see some more of the city which her birth parents may call home. It sounds as if it’s a pretty small city – actually small, not just small by Chinese standards! Glenn estimated its population as around 60,000 people, so that should be really interesting in and of itself, as every city I’ve visited thus far in China has been home to millions of people. I also may not get to update tomorrow night – we will return to Nanning around dinner time, and then on Friday we will take the train to Guangzhou, so we’ll need to get most of our suitcases packed up again tomorrow night. If you don’t hear any official update from me tomorrow, please be praying for our travel day and for our settling into the apartments we’ve reserved in Guangzhou (and that they’d be alright). Thanks for following along and supporting us and praying for us in this journey, friends!

An Answer to Prayer

I shared a couple weeks ago that we had gotten some unexpected news from the foster home at which our daughter-to-be resides. It is common practice in China that children return to their orphanages before being adopted – sometimes this is because paperwork needs to be completed (generally a physical and a passport application), and other times it is because of the (mistaken) belief that a child will react better to their adoptive parents if the orphanage removes the child from the foster home and the parents are taking her out of the orphanage than if the parents are seen as removing her from the foster home. However, there are significant challenges inherent in caring for a child with osteogenesis imperfecta, and because of that, as well as the good relationships that our little girl’s foster home has generally maintained with the orphanages from which their children come, usually children with OI who are coming from our daughter’s foster home are cared for by the foster home right up until their adoption day.

We’d believed that would be the case for our little girl, but after we received our travel approval, the orphanage told the foster home that they’d be coming to get her. The foster home tried everything they could to attempt to convince the orphanage to reconsider, but they insisted that she return. We asked at that point that you all pray with us that she be allowed to stay, and we submitted (through our agency) a request that the orphanage allow her to remain with her foster home and her caregivers there as long as possible.

We didn’t hear anything – which, honestly, is exactly what I expected – but neither did the foster home. I praised God for each day that no one heard from them, because that was another day that FangFang would get to stay in this foster home, receiving loving and expert care.

And yesterday I received a message from the foster home that they heard from the orphanage, and the orphanage is willing to do 99% of what we asked them to do! FangFang will be allowed to stay at her foster home until the middle of next week, and someone from the foster home will then travel to her province with her and take her to have the physical and the passport application process completed. They’ll stay with her in the city in which her orphanage is located until the morning of the 12th, when FangFang will travel to Nanning with both the orphanage staff and the people from the foster home. The orphanage is insistent that the people from the foster home cannot come with them to bring FangFang to us, which is too bad. I’d really like for FangFang to have that continuity of care – it’s so helpful for kids in establishing relationships with their new families to see their former caregivers and new families together and all on board with the transition. I expect that morning of the 12th to be very hard for her as she says goodbye to the people who have loved and cared for her for the past 9 months and leaves with the orphanage staff to be handed over to strangers (us). But that’s the only thing we’ve asked for to which the orphanage hasn’t agreed, and I’m so thankful that they are agreeable to most of what we requested. I’m counting it as an answered prayer! Thank you so much for praying with us!

the tipping point

Today’s the day – or at least our best guess as to the day. Madeleine CaiQun has been with us as many days as she lived in China without us. My emotions as I’ve thought about this day have been something of a mixture.

On the one hand, I believe that it is best for children to grow up with the mothers who gave birth to them. A mother bonds with her baby during the 9 months the baby spends in her body. A baby recognizes his or her mother’s voice at birth. It’s good and natural and right for families to be preserved whenever possible.

Sometimes, however, family preservation is just not possible. I don’t know the circumstances surrounding Madeleine CaiQun’s departure from her first family, but whatever they were, she and they suffered a profound loss at that time.

And while I believe most nannies in most orphanages do the best they can to care for the children with whom they are surrounded, the staff-to-child ratio is generally far too low, the resources far too scant, and no matter how good, an institution can never replace a family. Some children fare better in that environment than others, and our little one was not doing so well. At age 2.5, she was beautiful but only the size and at only the developmental level of a 15-month-old. She was so small, so behind, that she actually qualified for a failure to thrive diagnosis at her first visit to our pediatrician. As prepared as I was for all sorts of possibilities, I felt a lump in my throat as I looked at the lab slip with those words written across the top.

Our girl came to us hungry for food and for love.

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And now, 2.5 years and 5 days later, she’s had as much time as a beloved family member as she had without us. To say that she has blossomed would be an understatement. No more silent tears. No more clutching at a snack cup as she drifted off to sleep. Our little Madeleine CaiQun is a beloved daughter, sister, granddaughter, and niece, and she knows it. She radiates joy and is full of love. Her innate intelligence is readily apparent and her perseverance admirable. She empathizes easily and is quick to share and to encourage.

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We’ve been oh-so-blessed by the years we’ve had with her thus far, and we’re so looking forward to the future we have together.

some reflections upon reading Wish You Happy Forever

I just finished reading Wish You Happy Forever: What China’s Orphans Taught Me About Moving Mountains by Jenny Bowen, founder and CEO of Half the Sky. It’s the story of her adoption of a little girl from China in 1997 and her efforts thereafter to encourage truly nurturing care for the children remaining in China’s orphanages. She started Half the Sky, an organization that now works all over China to help care for those children most in need.

The book was particularly moving for me, because our little Madeleine CaiQun spent much of the early years of her life in an orphanage that benefits from a Half the Sky program.

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So many children who have been adopted have almost no information about their lives prior to adoption. Because of Half the Sky, we have early pictures of CaiQun, bits of information about what her life was like, and progress reports on her development from the time she spent in China.

And while CaiQun was behind developmentally when she came to us, I believe it is in part because of Half the Sky that she was able to grow and develop as much as she did while in China. Orphanage life is never ideal, but the work Half the Sky has done to improve physical conditions and cultivate environments of loving care within orphanages is huge.

It’s shocking to me when I stop to think about it how far we have left to go in our world today, how much evil persists, how much cruelty and how much negligence there are, how much need there is.

And when confronted with that reality, I’m always forced to stop and wonder, am I doing enough??

I don’t know.

This stage of life, home-schooling and caring for 3 kiddos age 5 and under, feels pretty full to me. I find that most of my time and energies are spent serving our little family and doing the normal rhythms of our life – trying to be involved in the art community in our city and be involved in our church community, going to shows, having people over for dinner, and other such daily-life type activities.

I want to be continually evaluating, though, whether there are other areas in which I and we can serve within this world. Matt and I have started talking more concretely about our next adoption – when and how to proceed. There are so many children in the world in need of parents, so many children we would love to love. We’re looking forward to adding to our family again.

And beyond that, we’ll have to see what God might have for us!