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 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

My new "gig" (Love Without Boundaries)

“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else's skin. It's the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. ” 

If you have been following my blog for a while, you may remember that a few weeks ago I wrote this post about coming home from China with a broken heart. I came home with a feeling that I wanted and needed to do something more for those children left behind.  A feeling that no, there cannot be peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy for these children. 

I did not really know what that "something" would be.  I contacted some friends involved in orphan care in China and offered my help, and submitted volunteer applications to some of my favorite organizations who work with orphans in China.  For weeks, I heard nothing back.

Until a few weeks ago when I received an email from Love Without Boundaries.  They had found their way to my volunteer application and had an opening they felt I would be a good fit for.  I was beyond excited.

If you are not familiar with Love Without Boundaries and the work they do in China, you should be. They are AMAZING.  If you are on Facebook, I strongly encourage you to "like" the LWB page. Do it as soon as you are done reading this.  You will find both heartwarming and heartbreaking stories of the amazing ways they are working to help orphaned and impoverished children in China in your news feed everyday.

But what you will not see on your news feed is the even more amazing things that are going on behind-the-scenes.  Since joining the LWB team I have been absolutely amazed and inspired by the incredible amount of time, energy and love all of the volunteers put into serving these children.  EVERY SINGLE child in EVERY SINGLE program is known and loved by these volunteers.  It is truly the most incredible group of people doing the most incredible things and changing the lives of these children every day! I am so honored to be a part (albeit a very small part) of their team.  It is being a part of a group of people who share this same feeling that there can never really be peace and joy for us until there is peace and joy finally for these precious children.

So, what is my small part?  Well, one of the things LWB does is bring education to orphans who otherwise would have no hope at an education.  Many people do not realize that orphans in China are rarely educated.  Children with any kind of special/medical need are not permitted to attend public school and receive no form of education.  Love Without Boundaries is working to change this through the “Believe in Me” school program.  These Believe in Me (BIM) schools go into orphanages and train teachers and set up classrooms and serve children  (mostly special needs children) who may not otherwise have a chance of attending school and receiving an education.  Instead of sitting in their cribs or orphanage rooms all day, these children are able to attend school and spend their day playing and learning and interacting with their classmates and teachers.  This is an incredible, life-changing experience for these well-deserving children.  I only wish Vivian could have experienced something like this instead of spending 22 hours a day in her crib.

I am the proud coordinator of the newest Believe in Me school located in the Lanzhou orphanage.  You can read more about this school and see a few of these adorable kids in the link below.  There are 34 students and all 34 of these children will need sponsors in order to continue their education.

I am including the official blog post from the LWB web page below.  In this post there is a link to the sponsorship page.  There are a few kids from the Lanzhou school up on the page right now, and as we (hopefully) find sponsors for these kids, we will feature other students in the school.

I would LOVE it if some of my blog readers would consider sponsoring one of these kids.  You can sponsor a child at whatever amount you are comfortable with on a monthly basis, or you can give a one-time donation to a child.  Either way you will then be given quarterly updates and pictures of the child you are sponsoring. 

I can't wait to watch how these adorable students grow and change and blossom.  I am so excited to be given the chance to be small part of bringing some joy into their lives.  I hope some of you will consider being a part of this with me.  If you are interested, please click on the link below.  If you have any questions I would love to answer them.  Please feel free to leave a comment on this post and make sure to leave an email address for me to respond to.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Just one of the guys

As I was going through and organizing some pictures the other night, I noticed how many pictures I have of Vivian playing with the boys.  And not just my boys -- other boys.  Yes, she and Kate spend the majority of the time together.  Their relationship has really grown and I need to do a separate blog post about that.  However, Vivian really, really enjoys hanging with the boys and their friends.  And the sweetest part about it?

The boys seem to love it too.

I love my kids' friends.  They both have really great friends.  From the day we brought Vivian home, their friends have been interested in her and incredibly sweet to her.

These are the boys we carpool with.  Vivian loves them.  This was one of the first times Vivian was in the car and I yelled into  the back of the car for someone to help get Vivian out

Enjoying some baseball at the park with the boys.

This is one morning when my oldest had his best friend spend the night.  Very sweet that two 5th grade boys spent their morning trying to teach Vivian how to catch. 

We have great neighbors and our neighbors have great kids.  There is a really fun group of boys that congregate at our house many afternoons to play football or basketball. 

Vivian used to hang inside with me, but over time she has gotten more and more used to this crowd and now she thinks she is one of them.  They include her and let her run around with them and it is very sweet.
 These days, whatever the boys and their friends are doing....Vivian must do also.

Earlier this week we had snow!!  The kids were out of school and had a blast playing and sledding. Vivian loved it.   She was out there all morning, hanging with the boys, of course.

But, at the end of the day, as much as she may like the boys hanging around our house, her three favorite boys are still the ones she lives with.