Monday, October 6, 2014

Always on my Mind

I was having a conversation the other day with one of my friends who has a daughter from China and I mentioned that it was Vivian's birthday this month.  We talked a bit about our plans to celebrate her birthday and my friend said to me, "I always think about my daughter's birth mother so much around her birthday.  Do you do that?  And I answered, "yes".

But, then I thought about it and thought that really, the answer was no.  I don't think about Vivian's birth mother on her birthday, I think of her almost every day.

Some days I just can't believe the word "birth mother" is even a part of my life.  I certainly did not grow up ever thinking I would have a child that had a birth mother.  I guess I always assumed I would be that for all of my children.

But, now I have a daughter that was adopted.  And she has a birth mother.  And birth father. And that is our reality.

This is all new territory for me, living with another woman hovering around.  She lives somewhere on the other side of the world, except so often it feels like she lives right here with me.

Every adoptive parent has different feelings about their child's birth parents.  And that is as it should be.  It is such a personal thing.  I know there are many people who feel that one of the positive aspects of Chinese adoption is that there are no records of, or ties to, birth parents.  I have to admit, before I adopted, I was one of them.  I figured "out of sight, out of mind".  No confusing scenarios where a child has to navigate relationships with birth parents or half siblings or whatever.  And no one knocking on my door one day wanting their child back.  I don't like to admit this, because now, after years of being in the adoption community and listening to adoptees and birth parents, it is my opinion that this was an ignorant and pretty selfish way of thinking.  It was thinking based more in fear than in love.

I could not feel any different now.  Now that I have Vivian, all I am is sad that there are no records of, or ties to, her birth parents.  Now I hate that there is not a way for Vivian to find her birth mother, or father, or find out anything about them, should she want to.  It seems to me that so many adoptees ultimately want to know something about the people who brought them into the world.  They certainly deserve that.

I have learned that "out of sight" does not at all mean "out of mind".  When I think about how much Vivian's birth parents, and her past, are on my mind I can only wonder what it will be like for Vivian, when she is older.  Will they be on her mind every day?  And if so, WHAT IN THE WORLD will I do or say to help her with that?

Vivian's birth mother, she comes to me often and out of the blue.  Does this happen to any of you, my other friends with children from China?  Sometimes I feel like most people don't obsess about this the way I do.  I wonder, will I still do this when she has been home with us for 5 years? 10 years?

Like a few weeks ago when Vivian excitedly showed me her first "real" homework assignment from school.  She proudly held it up and said, "Picture of me!"


And all of the sudden her birth mother popped in my mind.  And I teared up thinking..... she doesn't know.  She doesn't know Vivian is here and going to school and learning and drawing and making friends.  She doesn't know how smart she is and oh, shouldn't she know?

Or like the other day when I was watching Vivi at gymnastics. And videotaping her doing her cute attempt at a cartwheel.  And then she did one!


And I thought of her birth mom.  Right there in the hallway at the gym the tears came because I thought to myself ...... she doesn't know.  She doesn't know her daughter is here, in America, taking gymnastics and doing cartwheels and being amazing. And I wonder if she was athletic, Vivian's birth mom.  And small.  Or does she get this from her birth father?  And then I just sigh because I just don't know.  And probably never will.

She came to me at the doctor today at Vivian's one year follow up from her heart repair.  As I watched Vivian have her heart checked and heard the good news that Vivian's heart looks perfect, I thought of her and how she doesn't know how brave Vivian is.  She doesn't know Vivian is healthy and her heart is healed.



And again at Vivian's birthday party.  As I watched her smiling and laughing and loving every minute of her first "real" birthday party with her cousins and friends,



I thought of her birth mom.  She doesn't know.  She doesn't know Vivian is happy, and OK, and celebrating her 4th birthday.  And she should.

She should know.  She must want to know.  Sometimes I dream that one day we will meet her.  And I can tell her the one thing I would give anything to be able to tell her because, as a mother, I think it is the one thing she would give anything to know:  I would tell her that her daughter, our daughter, is happy.  And loved.

I know that I will likely never meet this woman.  It makes me sad for me, but it breaks my heart to think of what that reality might mean for Vivian one day.

Sometimes when I watch Vivian, I feel like I am seeing bits and pieces of her birth mother.  A glimpse into what her smile might look like,


a glimpse into what her eyes and her face and lips might look like.


I might never meet her, but the truth is, because I know Vivian, I do know a little about her.

I know she must be smart.
I know she must be determined.
And for sure, she must be beautiful.



And I think of think of those three words that the nanny's used to describe Vivian in her file: "strong in heart".

And I think, it must be .... like mother, like daughter.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Love Affair

There is a little love affair going on in our house right now.  It is a love affair between my oldest child and my youngest.


He is such a good big brother to her.  He has been since day one.  He helps me a ton with her.  She trusts him completely and he takes really good care of her.  A few weeks ago we had a babysitter for the night. Vivian was OK when we left but started crying for me at bedtime.  The babysitter was having a hard time settling her down, so he went in and laid in bed with her until she fell asleep.  It is just little things like that he does all the time that make their relationship very sweet.



My oldest started middle school this year.  He also started playing football.  These two things have really changed his schedule and he spends much more time away from the house than he ever has. On the days he has football practice, he stays at school until practice starts and doesn't get home until 8:00 or so.

We all miss him.  Especially Vivian.  And he misses her, too.

He will ask me to try and keep Vivian awake until he comes home on football nights because he doesn't like to go all day without seeing her. Because she has a pretty early bedtime, she is rarely awake when he gets home. But if she is, she gets so excited to see him.



On weekends, she doesn't let him out of her sight.  She follows his every move and he is so patient with her.


There is no doubt she is his biggest fan.


It's a bit of an unlikely love affair to me because of the age difference between them.  When we decided to adopt, I guess I kind of figured he would be the least involved of the three, and the least interested with his new sibling because they would have the least in common. They are 7 years apart.  I was wrong.



I love watching them together.  Sometimes when I watch them I think back to all of the "concerns" that were often expressed to us by others when we announced we were going to add another child to our family by adopting.  I remember the "concerns" about our other children and how this decision might negatively impact them and how this new child might "take away" from them.

While I know many of these concerns came from a loving place, I never agreed with that thinking. Sure, I guess in some ways there are some changes in our family that others might consider negatives. I will admit that we have had to spread our attention, energy, and resources a bit thinner since adding Vivian.  But I don't see it negatively impacting my kids. Actually, I think it has been the opposite.  It has made them all, including Vivian, more flexible, patient, understanding and less selfish.  I think, sometimes, people underestimate kids and their ability to adapt and to love.

I always felt, in my heart, that adding another child would be a positive experience for my kids.  I'm so glad I listened to my heart because, as it turns out, I was right.

And I think these two would agree.



Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Special Gift

A few months after returning home from China, my aunt and uncle came to visit from New Jersey. When they got into town, my aunt called and told me they had a little gift for Vivian.  I was expecting maybe a new outfit or a doll, so I was very surprised when I was given this


This is a cradle that my aunt and my mom played with when they were young.  As you can see, it has suffered some "wear and tear" over the years.  You can't get the rail on one side to pull up all the way and there are dents and scratches on it.

I love it.  For so many reasons.  She called it a "little gift".

 I call it a "treasure".


My mom and my aunt are as close as two sisters can be.  I love watching my two girls play with this cradle and when I watch them I try to imagine my mom and my aunt doing the same.  


I often wonder what Kate and Vivian's relationship will be like as they grow up.  I wonder what kind of sisters they will be.  I can only hope they will be there for each other like the two sisters that played with this many, many years ago.



When my other kids were born, they all ended up with things that had been "passed down" in the family.  Baby clothes, baptism outfits, cribs, furniture, recipes, etc.  They all have things that, at some point, belonged to a grandparent or aunt or uncle.  That is part of being in a family.  You pass things around.  It ties you to each other and to generations past and generations to come.

For Vivian, the day she entered her orphanage she lost all ties to her birth family.  For orphans in China, this is the reality.  It is such a HUGE loss.

That is why it was so special to me that my aunt gave this gift to Vivian. The day my aunt gave this to me, we loaded it into my car and I thanked and hugged her.  And then I got in and drove away and I was suddenly overcome with emotion and I just cried.  I cried at the reminder of all Vivian has lost. But mostly,  I cried because it hit me that my child had just been given a family heirloom, so to speak.  A symbol of the fact that she is a part of our family now, our entire family.  She has a place to belong.

I by no means see myself, or my family as "better" than her birth family.  That is not what I am saying.  I do, however, think our family is a "better" option than life in a orphanage.  

The girls, at this age, don't really get the significance of this gift.  To them, the cradle is just another toy they play with for a little while and then move on.




  
But one day I think they will appreciate its' significance.

The other really cool thing about this cradle is that it carries reminders of my grandpa on it.  Tape and wire that he fastened on with his own hands years ago still remain.  Marks and reminders of him.


Signs of love, in my opinion.  I can relate to the joy it must have brought him to watch his daughters playing together with this.  

I wish my grandpa could have known my children.  I wish they could have known him.  I have to laugh when I think about what his reaction would have been to the news that he was getting a Chinese great granddaughter.  He wasn't exactly the most politically correct person, if you know what I mean, so I can only imagine some of the comments he may have had!

I don't know what he would've thought at first, but I do know that if he had been able to meet Vivian, he would have adored her (and all of his great grandchildren).  


Vivian and her great grandfather, they actually have some things in common. They both had to leave their birth country at a young age to find their life in America.  

Being the only Chinese-American in our family (at this point), I am sure there will be times Vivian will feel alone with that. But I hope in those times she can remember that she is not the first person in our family history that was not born in America.  Rob and I's roots trace back to several different countries.  We are here today because of distant relatives who were immigrants to this country.

I think she could learn a good lesson from my grandpa.  My grandpa came to America from Ireland when he was 11 years old.  Although he physically left Ireland behind, it never left his heart.  He was so proud to be an Irishman.  He was able to hold on to that part of who he was while also feeling so proud and grateful to be an American.  

I want Vivian to be proud to be an American citizen.  But, I also want her to be proud of being Chinese.  She comes from an amazing culture full of amazing people and I so hope she has many chances in her life to go back.  I hope she always holds it in her heart.  


The other thing they have in common, my grandpa and my daughter:  America is a better place with them in it. It is a better place because of Vivian and my grandpa and so many others who have journeyed from far away to live in the land of the free.  

Thanks Aunt Ro, for giving Vivian a special tie to our family.  It means so much to me.


“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”  
― Franklin D. Roosevelt



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

AMAZING UPDATES

I have neglected my blog for most of the summer, but I am back with some very  amazing updates.  If you've been following me for a while, you may remember that when I returned from China I wrote this post about an adoption agency (A Helping Hand, which is now Nightlight Christian adoptions) that was given a partnership with Vivian's orphanage.  I asked for donations to this partnership and many of you told me you donated (THANK YOU! THANK YOU!).  I am thrilled to be able to show you today some of the amazing ways Nightlight has used the money they have raised to make a HUGE difference in the lives of these kids.

One of the first things they were able to do was to get the adoption files of many of the children prepared.  Not only have many of the children had their files prepared, but several have found families!!  In that post I mentioned earlier, you may remember this sweet face.  This was one of Vivian's friends.  I am so excited to share that she now has  family and I can report she is home and thriving!

Here is the picture of Emma we got from our guide the day we visited the orphanage. Such sad eyes.


And here is Emma with her mom and dad in China


And now home with her family.   Look at this transformation!  Isn't she such a doll??!!


And meet Ava.  Here is Ava when she was living in the orphanage


Ava meeting her mom in China.  This picture melts my heart.


Warming up to her dad in China

And now home and happy!  Another amazing transformation!!  I love what love can do.




You may also remember this face from my past post.


Another one of Vivian's friends.  I happened to see her picture listed  a few months ago with an organization that works with children in this province trying to place them in foster homes.  She was in need of sponsors, so Rob and I signed up to sponsor her and she is now out of the orphanage and living with a foster family.  Through the updates we have received, we can see she is growing, gaining weight and doing great.  And the best news of all is her foster family is working to adopt her!


Nightlight was also able to help this sweet girl that was struggling with a heart defect that needed immediate attention. Nightlight arranged for and funded her heart surgery.  She has gone from incredibly sick to smiling!!


They were also able to help this little boy, Robert, who needed immediate medical attention due to his hydrocephalus.


Nightlight arranged for Robert to be moved to amazing group foster home where he is getting incredible care and was even able to celebrate his first birthday.


(You can read several posts on Robert here if you are interested.)

I think one of the images that has stuck with me the most from when these women visited the orphanage was this one.


This is Timothy.  The team found him in a separate room from the other children, isolated and extremely malnourished.  He stole everyone's heart when he responded so positively to getting some much needed love and attention


Thanks to Nightlight, Timothy has also been moved to a better environment and looks to be thriving there.


Nightlight pleaded with the orphanage to file Timothy's adoption papers and guess what happened when they did:  he has a family that has stepped forward for him!!!  

The last piece of good news I have to report is that a physical therapist, April, from Nightlight is going to be working part-time in the orphanage for the next 4 months.  Each month she will spend 10 days at the orphanage, loving on the children and doing her best to train nannies and lend a hand in the care-taking of the children. You can read more about April's trip here and, if interested, follow her blog while she is in China here.  I know I will be following closely.

I am so excited and touched by all of the amazing things that have happened for these kids since Nightlight got involved.  We feel such a connection to these sweet children.  I want to thank all of my friends and blog readers who donated to this partnership.  You have helped to make an INCREDIBLE difference in these orphan's lives.

Finally, I can't close without asking again for donations to Nightlight to continue their work in Vivian's orphanage. I do know that since Vivian has left there have been a number of new arrivals.  


The need for help will only continue.  I have been back and forth this summer about whether or not to continue this blog (still working that out), but while I do still have it I feel a sense of responsibility to do what I can for these kids.  If you would consider taking a minute or two to donate ANY amount, I would be so very appreciative.  I hope what you have read today will show you that your donation will CHANGE AN ORPHAN'S LIFE.  (this money is also being used to fund April's work in the orphanage).

To donate, click here.  

My very favorite book about Chinese adoption is a book by Jeff Gammage titled, "China Ghosts: My Daughter's Journey to America, My Passage to Fatherhood".  If you are an adoptive parent and you have not read it, go buy it now.  It is so incredibly touching.  At one point he talks about things that the adoption agencies don't tell you as parents.  He goes on to say what he would write if he were to write a brochure for would-be parents.  I want to include it here because this is why I am writing this post:
"Don't think you're going to walk into an over-crowded orphanage, take one child out, and be the same person when you sit down to breakfast the next morning.  You won't be. It's too cruel a lottery.  And your participation in it will mark you.  It would say:  from now on, wherever you may go and whatever you may do, the faces of the children left behind will come to you.  It would say:  when you travel to China, you think you're bringing home one little girl.  Only later do you realize that a host of spectators have moved in.  You think you are tying your fate to the life of a single child.  You find out that you have been inextricably bound to the lives of dozens of others.  And that there is little you can offer those children besides prayers." 
I am hoping that by posting this here I can offer the children still living in Vivian's orphanage maybe a bit more than prayers.




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:


video
 


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"

 
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