Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What's Working for Us #2 - Teaching about Family

Lots of times when I need to correct Wenxin's behavior, I preface my correction with the phrase, "in our family." For example, "In our family, we use kind words," or "In our family, we don't hurt each other."  We don't punish bad behavior until we've taught the correct behavior. And we usually teach it in the context of "our family."

Children who've been living in state care, don't automatically know how to live in a family. It's the job of parents to teach them what family means.

As I go through my day to day life taking care of Wenxin, I often explain to him that "this is what Mamas do." When he falls down and scrapes his knee I scoop him up and whisper that he'll be OK. I clean his knee and apply first aid cream and a colorful band-aid. All the while, I'm narrating, "Mamas take care of their children when the children get hurt. That's what Mamas do."

What's Working for Us - Part One of a Series

We've been home 3 months and I've decided to write a little series of blog posts about what's working for us.  I'm not writing these posts because I'm suddenly an expert.  I'm not.  I'm writing now because I'm a new adoptive parent who's still in the thick of things.  It's not years after the fact when I look back and only remember the good stuff.  It's right now, and we're still slogging through each day.

But some things are working.  None of these ideas are original, but they are currently being tested and found true in our household.

#1 - Find safe, playful, loving ways to touch your older internationally adopted child. 

We did not expect seven year old Wenxin to immediately want to be held or cuddled by us.  When we walked into the orphanage in Beijing, someone brought him in and said, "Say Mama and Baba," and minutes later we left with him.  It was all so quick.  Suddenly we were a family.  But we were still strangers.

Wenxin went with us willingly, but did he really have any choice?  He was pretty happy, but hyperactive -- on constant alert.  I remember wondering if I'd ever be able to snuggle up with him like I do with my other kids.

One of the first things we taught him, was how to play "thumb war."  Within a couple of days he could say with us, "One, two, three four, let's have a thumb war.  Five, six, seven, eight, open up the battle gate."  Playing this game over and over was a fun, safe way for us to touch and hold hands and just get used to each other.

In the same way, Mike carried Wenxin on his shoulders almost everywhere we went in China. 

We held hands when we walked together. 

I brought lavender baby lotion and every night after his bath, I'd sit on the bed with him and "lotion him up" from head to toe.  He loved it and would remind me about his lotion if I forgot.

Later, after we were home, I taught him a little baby nursery rhyme.  I trace circles on his tummy as I say, "Round and round the circle goes the teddy bear.  One step, two step, tickle Wenxin up there."  Wenxin is almost eight, but he loves this and wants to do it before bedtime each night.  Then he runs over to Mike for "This little piggy. . . "  These fun little games that all American parents play with their babies seem to fill Wenxin's emotional tank.

Lastly, we sleep with him.  I'm not sure if Wenxin's ever slept alone.  As a baby, he slept in the bed with his foster mom.  Families sleep together in Asia; cribs are a Western thing.  Later, he slept in the orphanage in a room full of boys.  Mike lies down with Wenxin at night in Wenxin's bed and stays with him until he falls asleep.  I tell Wenxin that when he wakes up in the night, he may come get in bed with us.  That way, he has the security of knowing we are always available to sleep with him, but we still get at least part of the night without a squirmy child in our bed.  Even though it would be more comfortable for us to have him totally sleep on his own, night-time parenting gives us lots of opportunities to snuggle and hold him and help him feel safe as he sleeps.

Three months of this kind of safe, fun, high-touch parenting have produced a much more relaxed child who loves nothing more than to snuggle with his mama.  Lots of safe, playful, loving touch is working for us.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Oh December !

December happened.  It happens every year.  Decorating.  Buying gifts for all the kids.  Shipping gifts for family out of town.  Teacher gifts.  Christmas parties.  End of the quarter school projects.  Out of town travel for Christmas?  If we go up north, do all six of us have enough warm clothes?  Drive or fly?  Weekend soccer tournaments.   Big brother's birthday.  Should we have a party?  Will anyone come at this time of year?  Trying to stay on budget.  Christmas cards - we send over 300.  What about lights on the outside of the house?  Shipping deadlines. 

I love Christmas. I love the music.  I love the magic.  I love decorating the tree and remembering each and every ornament.  But since becoming a mom, Christmas has morphed into my most stressful time of year.  I know it shouldn't be that way.  I vow to keep things simple.  I try. 

This year I entered the Christmas season already drained.  Parenting Wenxin has been a wonderfully exhausting adventure. Enough said, except did I mention that he has a December birthday as well?

Thanksgiving weekend was devoted to the Christmas card photo.  My goal was to put up my tree the next Friday.  Wednesday afternoon found me sitting outdoors in freezing Florida weather watching the girls practice for the upcoming weekend's soccer tournament.  That evening as I worked on the computer my neck got stiff.  By bedtime my left shoulder and arm were hurting.  The pain kept me up most of the night.  Thursday morning I wasn't any better and began to feel tightness in my chest.  Hoping he'd call in a muscle relaxer for me, we contacted my doctor who promptly sent me to the emergency room.

After an overnight stay in the hospital, I was declared to have a very healthy heart.  The best guess was that I had muscle pain, most likely brought on by stress.  I went home on Friday night, only to get up early on Saturday for a weekend of soccer.

At some point that weekend, we set the tree in the living room.  I was too busy to decorate it on Monday.  Our home school day just ran too long.  I set my sights on Tuesday night.  But come Tuesday night, I was back at an urgent care clinic with a bacterial infection.  I started antibiotics only to find out a few days later that I had a strain of bacteria that was resistant to the medicine I was taking.  On a different antibiotic, I finally began to feel better.

Mike made a decision that we'd stay home this Christmas - even though he really had hoped to take Wenxin to meet his side of the family.

At some point the tree got decorated.  It's all a blur to me now.   
It's indeed magical.  Possibly the prettiest tree we've ever had.

For the next week or so, I put out a few more simple decorations each day.  No rush.  

Christmas cards from friends and family around the world hang from winter tree branches.  Mike thinks this is hideous and can't believe I put it on the blog.  He says it looks like it should be in someone's front yard along with the cars up on blocks. 

My parents came down for a week and celebrated an early Christmas with us.  Wenxin met them at the car and actually hugged them.  I was amazed.  He met them briefly when he came home from China and hasn't seen them since.  But he warmed right up to them and Mike and I were able to go out on our first date since the adoption in September. 

Nathan turned eleven.  We were able to give him an amazing lazer tag birthday.  We have too many kids to let everyone have a big party each year.  So most years, we celebrate as a family and the birthday child gets to invite one special friend to celebrate with us.  But this was Nathan's year for a big blow-out birthday with friends.

So a lot of the big stuff is done.  Tree's up, school's out, presents are shipped, Christmas cards mailed, Nathan's birthday celebrated in a big way and 2010 soccer's completely over.  I can finally catch my breath.  I'm looking forward to some quiet days at home.  And I hope to catch up on blogging.  There's so much to share about all I'm learning along the way.