Saturday, November 28, 2009


I need to tell someone, so I'll just say it here. I'm totally overwhelmed by the adoption process. I think part of it is that we are trying to go fast. Since we are pre-approved for a specific child, there is an urgency to everything. Part of it is that it's very involved and complicated and I don't yet understand the whole process very well. And probably a big part of it is that we're trying to do it while homeschooling, while Mike is travelling internationally, at the holidays. . . in other words, I don't have the time to sit down and do things in a thorough way.

Today, I took an hour or so to work on a couple of items that are left to complete for our home study. I read more of our info from CWA and understood a part of the process that I had felt confused about. Here goes. Every document that we are sending to China has to be notarized. Then it has to be sent to the Secretary of State in the state where it was notarized to be authenticated. We're talking about a whole bunch of documents: birth and marriage certificates, police reports, physicals,financial statements, etc. Then the whole packet of notarized and authenicated documents has to go the Chinese consulate to be authenticated by them. Finally the whole thing goes to China.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Choosing Photos to Introduce Our Family

We're making a photo album to send Wen Xin to introduce our family. I've spent so much emotional energy trying to choose the right photos. Halloween photos might scare him. We want to look fun and loving. And so on. . . Guess I won't include these two. Kids at my house seem to get hurt a lot these days.

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Learning Curve: Resilience

I'm continuing to plow through my phonebook-sized reading assignment from the agency and today I happened on a topic that's got me thinking: resilience.

Some people just seem to be more resilient than others. Resilience is the ability to fall down and get back up; to suffer great adversity and keep going. You get the picture.

Some kids coming from the worst of situations seem to grow up to be healthy and happy with very little baggage from the past. They overcome. Others struggle with a lifetime of fallout.

I'm praying that God will make Wen Xin resilient.

It makes me think of the Old Testament story of Joseph. Joseph was resilient, and God used all the evil that the world threw at Joseph to bring about great good. That's why "Joseph" is my American name of choice for Wen Xin. I've just got to get Mike onboard.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What I'm Learning: Older Child International Adoption and Language

It's the question I'm asked most often these days: "Does Wenxin speak English?"

My answer: "Not yet."

So we're doing a few things to prepare. I have a close Chinese friend who speaks Mandarin and has a heart for adoption. She's going to work with us over the next few months, helping us learn some basic Mandarin phrases. And better still, she's willing to come to my house and translate for us when Wenxin first comes home.

We're looking into buying Rosetta Stone Mandarin (the homeschool edition) so the whole family can take a stab at learning Mandarin.

And I'm reading, reading, reading about language acquisition in older adopted kids. To be honest, a lot of the research is surprising.

For example, everyone -- from our social worker to all the experts in the books to my Chinese friend -- believes that Wenxin will forget how to speak Chinese within 3 months of coming to America. That blows my mind! If Julia Grace was adopted by a Chinese family tomorrow, would she really forget English in 3 months? The "experts" say she would.

It's called "Subractive Bilingualism." What that means is that as he's learning his new language, he'll totally forget his first language. It's what happens with internationally adopted kids unless they are adopted into a home where there are native speakers of their first language. These kids are different than the children of immigrants who learn English as a true second language while still speaking their first language at home.

Subtractive Bilingualism brings with it a unique set of challenges. I read last night that kids ages 4-8 are the most at risk for problems. Wenxin should pick up conversational English very quickly because he'll be totally immersed in a home where other kids are speaking English all day long. The problem comes when trying to do higher level reasoning -- the kind that's required in school -- in English. Many kids adopted internationally from ages 4-8 have problems in school.

I'm glad to have a homeschooling mindset and background. I plan to keep Wenxin home for a couple of years. I hope that with one-on-one attention I can help him tackle any problems he may face with language and reasoning.

And then there's the issue of his birth language. Mike and I are having a hard time swallowing the fact that he will most likely lose his Chinese. We value language. We believe that speaking Chinese will be a real asset to him as an adult. It's on my list of questions to ask our adoption counselor. But the more I read, the less I'm confident that he will retain his Chinese.

What I'm Learning: Older Child Adoption and Attachment

We're learning everything we can about older child adoption. We have to complete a certain number of "Parent Education" hours before we can submit our dossier to China. As I dive into these courses, I can see there is a lot to learn.

From what I'm learning, our top priority when we bring Wenxin home will be to begin to develop a mutual strong attachment with him.

This usually happens naturally with a biological child. The baby hears the mom's heartbeat and voice even before birth. Feeding times strengthen the bond. The mom holds the baby close and looks into its eyes. Lots of hugging, snuggling and eye contact. The baby learns that the parents, especially the mom, can be depended on to meet his needs.

We'll be starting this process with Wenxin much later in his life. We know that he'll come to us with a history of loss. He lost his birth family as an infant. He spent a couple of months in an orphanage before entering a foster home. And he'll lose his foster mom as he joins our family. That's a lot of loss.

From what we're learning, it may be a big plus that he was in foster care. Attachment seems to be a learned process. Learning to attach to someone early in life helps form the basis for other attachments later on. So even if Wenxin grieves the loss of his foster mom, if he was attached to her, it greatly increases his chances of attaching to us.

So much of what we are reading deals with strategies to promote and strengthen attachment. Here's a little summary of what I've gotten so far:

That first week in China will be crucial. Wenxin will be scared. And we will have the opportunity to begin to care for him and empathize with him. Even though it will be tempting to rely heavily on the Chinese guides because of the language barrier, it's very important for Mike and I to talk directly to him (even if he doesn't understand), hold his hand, carry him, and do all the caretaking. This is one reason we probably won't take the whole family to China (the other reason - $$$). Having to care for our other children that first week could keep us from focusing on Wenxin.

Physical touch will be really important. We need to find unthreatening ways to touch him. Hugs, pats, letting him sit in our laps to read a book. Swimming together. Helping him brush his teeth and putting lotion on him as he gets ready for bed. Possibly letting him sleep with us.

When we get home, even though he will be seven, we need to structure our lives as if we had a new baby. We need to cut out unnecessary activities. We need to get him on a routine. We need to keep him close. For at least the first year, I don't plan to leave him. If for some reason Mike and I both need to go out of town, we may leave the other kids with grandparents, but Wenxin will need to go with us.

While we will need to set boundaries for Wenxin and help him learn how live in our family, we're learning that some types of discipline aren't appropriate for older adopted kids. Instead of "time out" where the child is isolated from the family, most of the researchers suggest a "time in" where the child sits in a chair in the same room with the parent.

Right now it's all theoretical. It's all something in a book. But very soon, we'll get to try out all these strategies. I'm hoping that some of it works in real life.

The original post did not have a photo of Wenxin due to China's pre-adoption rules.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Blanket

Yesterday I teared up as I checked out at Kohl's. I made my first purchase ever for Wen Xin - a blanket.

We're making a little photo album to send to him in China as an introduction to our family. I wanted to include a small gift and finally decided on an extra soft blanket. All of my kids have their own. Big Brother sleeps with his. The girls use their blankets when they are sick and need to snuggle up on the sofa.

And now Wen Xin will have one. His is navy and has cute pics of baseballs, basketballs, footballs and soccer balls.

Monday, November 2, 2009

"We're Getting a New Brother From China" - kids update

I'm hearing it more and more these days: "We're getting a new brother from China." When Julia shows his photo she says, "This is my brother in China."

As I watch their fears melt into acceptance and even excitement, I'm learning a thing or two about being a parent. One, we shouldn't "ask" the children for "permission" as we make major family decisions. "Do you want to adopt a brother from China," is the wrong question. They are still children. They lack the wisdom and life experience to make grown-up decisions. The burden for making decisions and living with the consequences belongs to me and Mike -- not our kids.

On the other hand, as we make decisions that affect them, we need to actively listen to their concerns.  Katherine worries that she won't be able to communicate with him.  Julia is afraid that another child means we'll need to buy a bigger house and move. She loves our house. It's the only home she's ever known.  Nathan worries about sharing his room and that we'll never have enough money for "extras" anymore. "Now if we want to go to Disney, we'll have to buy six tickets instead of five."

Their concerns are valid. Lots of little conversations are a big part of getting us all ready to welcome Wenxin into our family.