Thursday, July 24, 2014

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A girl and her dad

Being it is Father's day, I have decided to write this blog post about Rob. 

If you have followed this blog from the beginning, you know that Rob was pretty quick to say yes to the idea of adoption. 

He was not so quick, however, to actually say yes.

In fact, he "thought about adopting" for over a year.  During that year, in all the many conversations we had about it, one thing that never came up was a fear of not being able to love a child that was not his biological child.  Rob never had that.

Sure, Rob worried, but not about that.  He worried about managing 4 kids and more specifically, providing financially for 4 kids, but he never really worried about loving 4 kids.

Loving children comes pretty easily to him. 

And then we got "the call" about Vivian.  Rob felt she was the one.  But, was he in love with her?  No, honestly, not in the way I was.  Rob will tell you he wasn't as much "in love with her" as he was "committed to love her". 

So we went to China.  Again, if you followed my blog on Gotcha day, you remember that I was a COMPLETE mess. I remember so vividly pacing the hotel room, making a million trips to the bathroom, shaking and just feeling SO incredibly nervous.  Rob was just sitting there, completely calm, drinking his coffee and reading the paper like it was any other morning.  At one point, I actually got mad at him for being so calm. I remember kind of yelling at him, "AREN'T YOU EVEN THE LEAST BIT NERVOUS???"

 And I will never forget his answer. 

He said, "Yes, I'm nervous.  But I'm really glad  I'm nervous.  I'd rather be here, being nervous, getting ready to do something good like this with my life, than sitting at home on my as* doing nothing with my life."

In the days leading up to "Gotcha Day" as Rob and I walked the streets of China, we spent a fair amount of time discussing how we thought our Gotcha day might go.  We went through all kinds of different scenarios.  People told us to be prepared for a sad, grieving child.  People told us we might feel more like babysitters than parents the first few days.  People told us it might take time to feel real love for our child.  I know Rob was prepared for all of these realities.

What he was not prepared for was to fall in love with Vivian right there on the spot.  And that is what happened.  Just like with our other three children, he was in love the moment he met her. 

In this video clip, we have had Vivian for about 30 seconds.  I love Rob's first words about her:


I'm sure all the wives reading this will agree with me that watching your husband become a father is one of the greatest  things in the world to witness.  You feel a deeper love for them as you watch them parent your children.  This was true for me with the birth of each of our children.  I have to say, however, that there has been something especially wonderful about watching Rob become a "father to the fatherless".  There has been something really special about watching him fall completely in love with a little girl from across the world.

God knows he had to work to earn her trust!  She was NOT so sure about Rob in China.  But, with time, he won her over.  They have such a special relationship now. 



I know before we adopted, Rob worried about some of the things he would have to sacrifice and give up to bring Vivian home.  And now, I know that he would tell you none of it feels like a sacrifice.  He would tell you that what he has gotten in return has been far more than he ever could have dreamed.  He changed her life, and she changed his. 

This is the beauty of adoption.

Adopting a child was not Rob's "calling".  It was not his dream. It was mine.  And I am so incredibly grateful to be married to someone who values my dreams enough  to want to make them come true. 

In making my dream come true, I like to think he has made the dream of a lonely little girl come true, also.  He has given her a daddy.  Of all the accomplishments he has had in his life, I think being a dad is the one he would rank right up at the top. 

Happy Father's Day. 

"Any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad"

Monday, June 2, 2014

The past is not in the past

This weekend we celebrated 11 months  home with Vivian.  She has come so far and changed so much in these 11 months.  So much that sometimes I think it can be easy to forget where she was, and what her life was like 11 months ago.

I think people see the happy, well-adjusted, beautiful child we have and assume she has left that painful part of her life behind her. I think people assume our hard days are behind us.   Friends say things to me all the time like, "She's not even the same child she was in China", and "It's like she doesn't even remember her old life", and "she's just like any other kid now".  And in many ways, they are right.  She has changed so much, and she is mostly happy and moving forward with her life and she is, in so many ways, like a typical 3 year old.

But in other ways, the they are wrong.  She IS the same child that she was in China.  And she's NOT just like any other kid.  And she CERTAINLY remembers.

We see the scars of her past show up in our lives in subtle and not so subtle ways.

Probably the biggest way is in her fear of being away from me.  If I go out, to the grocery store, or even on a run, she hugs and kisses me and hangs on my legs and follows me out like it is our last goodbye.  She still cries when we leave her with babysitters.  She did end up loving preschool and stopped crying on school days, but we had the same conversation on the way to school EVERY SINGLE DAY up until the last day of preschool.  I kid you not, every single day.  The entire car ride this is our conversation,

Vivian:  "Mama right back"
Me:  "Yes, Vivian, mama will be right back"
10 second pause
Vivian:  "Mama right back"
Me:  "Yes Vivian, you know mama will come right back and get you"

This would go on the entire ride.  Over and over every school day.  I could not reassure her enough.

She is totally happy if I am nearby.  Remember the pictures of her first day of gymnastics? And how she looked just like every other kid smiling and jumping and playing?   Well, she was, until the moment I decided to go to the bathroom and she didn't see me and this is what I came back to.  Complete panic.

Sometimes I will try to get a little walk in on my treadmill.  The treadmill is in a room right off of our playroom so with my other kids I could walk on the treadmill and they would play in the playroom.  Not with Vivian.  This is where you will always find Vivian when I am on the treadmill. 

Same thing happens when I work on my computer.  There is one place she likes to be:  right next to me.  Oh, and if we are touching she is that much more content.  Sister does not understand the concept of "personal space" yet.

She also still has food issues.  She HATES if you take her food away.  She likes to have her breakfast plate left out until her lunch plate comes out and then likes her lunch plate to stay out until her dinner plate comes out.   Yesterday I cleaned up her breakfast plate b/c I thought she was done.  When she came back to the table and saw it was gone she literally fell to the floor hysterical that her bacon was taken away.  This happens all the time.  We have been feeding her as much as we can for 11 months and she still does not seem to trust that there will be enough food for her.

And every once in a while she just has a sad day.  I don't really know how to explain it or how to put my finger on what it is, but she will have a day where she will just seem far away.  Like a few weeks ago when she woke up one day and literally just would NOT be put down.  All day.  And then in the afternoon my non-napping child crawled up on my lap and situated herself so I had to hold her like a baby and closed her eyes and fell asleep on me.  I can only imagine that transitioning to a new life can be exhausting on some days.

There are times when I can tell people think I am coddling her too much.  And maybe I am.  But I just don't think it would be fair to try and parent her exactly the same as my other kids.  She just didn't have the same start in life as them.  My sister had 3 premature babies.  I remember she fed them different formula, adjusted their age for certain things, and cared for them differently than I cared for my full term babies.  They had a different start to their life and so they needed different things.  So do kids from hard places.  They sometimes need different things, different strategies.  You just can't expect them to "fall in line" with your family and do things the same way your other kids did.  You can't expect them to leave their past in the past.  It is in their hearts.  You have to make adjustments for them, for all they missed. You have to allow them room to grieve.

And make no mistake, they all grieve.  How could they not?

The other thing I think people have wrong is when they tell us how "lucky" Vivian is.  Everywhere we go well-meaning friends and strangers say "what a lucky little girl".  Just a few days ago Rob took Vivian to breakfast.  A sweet old woman came up and said to Rob .... you guessed it...."isn't she lucky"?  He came home and said to me, "I hate when people say that,  I mean, what am I supposed to say to that?" 

Of course we understand it is meant as a compliment to Rob and I and our family.  And we appreciate that.  We can all agree that Vivian is better off here with us than in that orphanage.  We can all agree that we are glad the orphanage decided to file her adoption paperwork when so many others at her orphanage were not given that chance. 

But I have a really hard time finding anything in her life that should be deemed "lucky".  When people use that term I feel it minimizes all the hardship she has endured.

My daughter was left alone on a cold night in the middle of the winter at the gates of an orphanage.
The only information she has about her first few weeks in the world are a few words written in her file, "female abandoned baby found at gate and sent to Welfare Institute to be raised".
She lived in an orphanage where she was left in her crib 22 hours of the day for 33 months.
She was fed congee, and only congee, for every meal for 33 months.
She was not fed when she was hungry, she was not picked up when she cried, she was not held when she was sick or scared, and she was rarely taken outside.
She was one day handed over to complete strangers by the only people she trusted in this world and, as soon as they handed her over, they disappeared from her life forever.
She left China with ONE possession to show for the almost 3 years she spent there:  a pair of squeaky shoes.
She will never know the man and woman who brought her into this world.  She will never know whose eyes she got or who her beautiful little lips come from.
She will never know if she has siblings in China. 
She will never know why she was left.

None of this is lucky.  It is tragic actually. 

I want people to stop telling her how lucky she is because I don't want her to grow up feeling like she has to feel lucky.  I have no idea how Vivian will feel about her adoption as she grows up.  But I do know that she will be allowed to feel however she wants to about it.  If she feels lucky, great.  If she feels sad or angry or confused, that will be completely understandable and fine with us.  I am afraid if all she ever hears is how lucky she is supposed to feel she may struggle to admit when she is feeling some of those other emotions.

I do not consider Vivian lucky.  But you know who is lucky?  Rob and I.

Vivian has lost so much.  We have gained so much.
Vivian has experienced so much sadness.  We have had nothing but utter joy since the day we met her. 
We got to choose to adopt from China.  She had no say in being taken from her birth country.
We got to choose Vivian to be our daughter.  She had no say in who would be her parents.

Lucky for us she seems, for now, to be pretty happy to have gotten stuck with us.

And while her past shows itself from time to time, she does not let it have the last word.  I hope that is how it can always be for her.  I don't ever want her to forget all that she has been through. I think it has made her an incredibly brave and strong person.  But I hope she can continue to hold on to this amazing ability she has to live in the present and with an open and trusting heart in spite of all that she has been through.  I need to follow her lead because God knows I spend more time wrestling with her past than she does.  She has such an amazing spirit.
She is my hero.

Friday, April 18, 2014

My Girls

My girls.

They have come so far in 9 months.

When we told Kate we were going to adopt a little girl from China, she was over the moon about the idea that she would have a sister.  She was so excited and so sweet while we waited for Vivian.  I had a lot of hope for their relationship, but I also wondered what the reality of having Vivian here would mean for Kate.

I worried.

I worried because for six years (SIX YEARS!) Kate was the princess.  Our first and only girl.  On Rob's side of the family, the ONLY girl for a long time.  I worried that once Vivian arrived Kate would NOT be so excited about the person she would have to share the spotlight with.  I worried it would be hard for Kate.

And it was.

Kate heard she was getting an almost 3 year old sister and she had grand ideas of how they would play dolls and house and share a room and on and on with all these ideas she had in her head of how it would be.  She could NOT wait.

Then she got her sister.  And her sister was scared.  And quiet.  And didn't understand our language.  And had NO idea how to play, or pretend.  She only wanted me 99% of the time and Kate was crushed.  And sad.  And frustrated.

I kept trying to reassure her that one day Vivian would want to play with her.  One day Vivian would prefer her to me.   But I heard a lot of comments those first few weeks like, "She doesn't love me", and "She only wants you", etc.  Kate acted out and Rob and I knew she was reacting to all the changes in her life.  There were tears and tantrums and all the things we saw with our other two kids when a new sibling was brought home.

It was hard.

The thing is, Kate never gave up.  She never turned on Vivian.  She just kept trying.  And slowly but surely,  we started to see their relationship bloom.  Vivian started to become more interested in Kate.  She started to trust Kate.  She became less worried about being attached to me at every moment.  Kate's efforts started to pay off. 

And now, they are like sisters.  It has been the coolest thing to watch happen.

Now, Vivian waits all day for Kate to come home from school.  If it is not a school night, they beg to sleep together.  When Kate walks in the door from school, Vivian does not leave her side.  They even share a chair for snack time every day b/c Vivi wants to be RIGHT next to Kate.

What I want Kate to know one day is that this is all because of her.  Because she kept on trying.  Because she took a back seat.  Because she gave Vivian all she had and showed her grace as she struggled to adjust to our family.

Because of Kate, Vivian is learning how to be a sister. Because of her, Vivian knows about playing dolls, and school and house.  Because of Kate, Vivian has learned the joy of playing and dancing and pretending and twirling in "twirly dresses."

And more importantly, Vivian has learned about love. Kate has shown her such a great example of love.  The kind of love that is patient, and kind. 

The kind of love that does not envy.  That is not easily angered. 

The kind of love that always  protects, always trusts, always hopes

and never fails.

Please, please do not take this post to mean that I am saying that every day is as picture perfect at these pictures.  OH NO!  It is not.  We still have, among wonderful moments like above, moments like this (can't even remember what she was upset about here)

I am just saying that the girls have come so far and I want Kate to know how proud Rob and I are of her. I want her to know how much we love her and the way she has handled the addition of her sister. 

I hope these two will always be there for each other.  I hope as they grow up they will hold onto the special bond that they have.  I hope they will continue to find joy together.

I hope they can provide a safe place for each other.  And mostly I hope that they will be not only sisters, but friends.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Daughters of China

Vivian and I had a little get together at the park this week.

Me and a few of my mom friends; and her and a few of her friends. 

There is a special bond between the moms, and a special bond between the girls.  All of these girls were adopted from China.  For the most part they all arrived home within several months of each other. 

We have all traveled through this unique journey together.  Us moms survived the "paperchase" together.  I know each of their girls' referral pictures by heart.  We celebrated things together that were sometimes hard to celebrate with friends and family who didn't quite understand.  Things like "DTC" and "LID" and "PA" and "LOA" and the all important "TA" and of course "Gotcha Day".  It is amazing to me we are now celebrating one-year anniversaries of "Gotcha Days".

We get together for play dates and our conversations start like normal conversations between mothers.  We discuss how to handle high grocery bills, piled up laundry, our latest TV show obsessions, upcoming trips, how the big kids are doing, etc.  Undoubtedly, though, we end up in discussions that are NOT like normal conversations between moms.  We discuss birth mothers and finding spots and orphanage behaviors that still exist in our girls; we re-live our trips to China over and over with each other and we marvel at the way EACH of these girls seem perfectly suited for the family they ended up in.  Really, it's crazy.  We cry for what they have been through, for what we missed, and for the years they had to live without  love and without a family.  And we marvel at the changes we have seen in them and the progress they have made since coming home.

We talk a lot about the kids we left behind.  We carry a burden for them in our hearts.  We have watched our own girls grow their hair, gain weight, go from wobbly or unable to walk to running and jumping, from shy and scared to happy and fearless.  And as we watch them run around and play our minds can't help but drift to those who are still living with shaved heads and not enough to eat; those spending their days in cribs, and those who have no happiness. 

It is a unique bond we share.

And a unique bond our daughter's share.  We are so happy our girls have each other.  The first few play dates together they all basically just stared at each other.

Over time we have watched them each grow and change.  As they have gotten  more comfortable in their new lives, they have gotten more comfortable with each other

Slowly but surely they are getting to know each other.  We realize that one day, in the future, the bond they share will be very important to them.  That one day, it won't be just the moms talking about things that others sometimes don't understand.  One day, our girls may be doing that with each other.  Discussing things their other friends don't understand.  We hope they can be there for each other.

They are such awesome girls.  Each one.  Strong, brave, beautiful.  Their transformations continue to amaze us.  They have faced so much and yet they are full of happiness and love.  We are such lucky moms.


These pictures make me think of the song, "The Daughters of China":
"The daughters of china, they fly across the sea. 
Off to unseen places, and possibilities.
They are gifts to those who cherish them, from those who just could not.
Acts of hope and faith and love, we never will forget."


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

One year ago

One year ago today we got the phone call that would change our lives forever.

One year ago today we got the phone call we had been waiting months to get.

It was late. 10:30 pm.  We were sleeping.  I will never forget hearing the phone ring and looking over to see our agency's number on the caller ID.  My heart skipped and sank at the same time.  We had received a phone call  like this twice before and I wasn't sure if I was ready to have to say "no" again.

I answered.  And I remember the sweet waiting child coordinator from our agency saying to me, "Are you sleeping? Well, wake up! Labor comes at all hours of the day".

She went on to tell us they had the file of a little girl they thought we would want to see.  She told me a little about her I agreed to take a look.   I woke Rob up, we turned on the lights, got the ipad out and opened the email.  And saw this:

And our hearts melted. 
I would love to say that we just "knew" in that moment that she was ours (it happens like that for many people), but that would not be the truth.  We thought she was adorable, but we were also scared.  She carried a diagnosis of congenital heart disease, her physical development was delayed and she was barely speaking.  We were scared.  But we couldn't stop staring at her.  We couldn't stop looking at those sad eyes. 
We spent the next day consulting with doctors, reading her file over and over again, and basically searching our hearts trying to decide what to do.  It was one of the most stressful days of my life. 
Ultimately it came down to this:  while we may not have been 100% sure we were ready to say yes, we were 100% sure we could not say no.  Not to her.  She was the one that we just could not say no to.   
The next morning we signed and submitted our Letter of Intent to adopt Vivian and never looked back.
Here we are almost 9 months home and I am happy to say it was the 4th best decision the two of us have ever made together.  And it was made very much together.  It was a total leap of faith and it has been far more rewarding than either of us EVER could have imagined.
We greatly appreciate all that CCAI (our agency) did to help us find Vivian.  We are thankful for the wonderful advice of our doctors and appreciate all the time they devoted to us throughout our adoption process.  We are amazed every day that, of all the orphans in China, and of all the families around the world waiting that night to be matched with a child, we somehow found Vivian.  We thank God, fate, luck and all the forces that came together to make this happen.
Vivian is a dream come true.
It worked out that the week of our referral we were scheduled to take a trip to visit my parents.  We decided to surprise them, and the kids, with the news of our referral.  At this time last year I posted this video of us sharing the good news and I will post it again here.  It was such an exciting time!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Vivian update

Time for an update!!  It has been a while since I have done an update on Vivian.  She is a busy girl these days!! 

First off, preschool is going great!  The first few weeks were tough and involved a lot of crying in the mornings on the way to school.  Now there are no more tears on school days and she is always such a happy girl when I pick her up.  She is playing and painting and singing with her "friends" and all the those things kids do at preschool.  She is even learning to pump on a swing!

We celebrated our first Chinese New Year together with some very special friends and had a blast.

Vivian is still loving her ballet class.  I stand just outside the door so she is very happy during ballet because she can see me the entire time.  She is in a class with girls a bit younger than her and it is a good fit.  It was observation day last week so I was able to go in and take a few pictures of our little ballerina.

She has also started gymnastics.  Kate is taking classes and every week Vivian would cry to go with her.  She would see Kate getting ready and would go find an old leotard of Kate's and put it on and ask to do "nastics".  So finally I gave in and signed her up.  As long as I stay within her eye sight, she has a ball!  She is in a class with girls her own age and so they are a little more advanced than her right now.  But, I have no doubt she will catch up quickly.

Had to include this picture because it shows how small Vivian is compared to her peers
 We had a follow up appointment with her pediatric cardiologist, who reported her heart is "perfect". 
 In the rest of her free time Vivi is just enjoying life and all things that come with being 3 years old.  Still eating everything and anything.  Her language improves every day and she is really talking a lot.  She is loving the warmer weather and has learned to ride bikes and scooters and big wheels.

Like many other 3 year olds she has decided she does not need a nap anymore.  I was hoping napping would last a bit longer, but oh well.  She has also learned to climb out of her pack-and-play (that was NOT a skill I was anxious for her to learn) so she is now in a "big girl" bed. Luckily, she sleeps like a champ so the transition has not been an issue.  She is working on perfecting the art of throwing a fit when someone tells her no (she would be better at her "fit throwing" except that not many people in this house tell her no). She still hates if I am out of her sight and has not gotten any better with babysitters, so we stay close to home most of the time.   All in all, she is just a typical toddler and, in our opinion, is doing awesome.
I am so enjoying this time with her.  It is fun to have a 3 year old around again.  There was a time when I thought I was done with preschool and naps and first ballet classes and so I can appreciate being here because I know from my older three that this "season" will end just as quickly as it began.  This time of Vivian being home with me will be over before I know it.
I appreciate that right now Vivian is happy.  She spends her days, like most 3 year olds, without a worry in the world. 
Sometimes I can't help but worry about what the next "phase" of life might bring.  As Vivian grows and matures and becomes more aware of her story, I wonder what that will mean for her and for us.  Right now things are so SIMPLE.  One day they will not be.  One day she will ask me questions.  Questions like "why" and "how" and questions that I don't have all the answers to and questions I can't think about right now without ending up in tears.
I WANT her to ask these questions.  She NEEDS to ask these questions.  I hope she will always feel that she can ask Rob and I these questions.  I just worry about responding in the "right" way.  I want to have the perfect words and the best explanations, but I just don't know what they are. 

Mostly, I want her to know that for all the things I DON'T know,  I DO know how much I love her.  I know how much Rob loves her and how much the kids love her and how much her grandparents and her aunts and uncles and cousins love her.  That is the one thing I am absolutely certain of.
"oh darling don't you ever grow up, don't you ever grow up, it could stay this simple"
                                                                                     -Taylor Swift