Saturday, July 30, 2011

Weekend Best of the Web

Thought I'd share a few of my favorite links from last week.  Enjoy!

Seeing Beyond Mad to the Sad - More great insight from Lisa Qualls about older child adoption.

Passion Following - I love this article about following your passion and finding your dream job.

Beautiful Home at The Inspired Room - OK, I have weakness for beautiful homes.  Here's a real beauty.  I may never live in a place like this, but it sure is fun to look at the photos.

Tim Hawkins - Warning - this is very "irreverent," but Tim Hawkins' family friendly comedy is getting a lot of laughs at my house these days.  Mike, Wenxin and I saw him live in Colorado so now we are bigger fans than ever!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Re-entry Can Be Rough

The trip to Colorado turned out to be a roaring success.  Wenxin's confidence grew by leaps and bounds as he tried new things and basked in the undivided love of both parents.

Our conference ended Tuesday night with a big outdoor celebration.  We got plates of snacks and settled in at a table with friends.  All of the sudden, Wenxin lit up and shouted, "I see one of my teachers!  Can I go say Hi?"  And off he went.  He ran across the crowded lawn and gave his teacher a big hug.  This is the same kid who only a few days earlier, clung to my leg and mumbled loudly, "I hate everybody in this place."

He told me later, "Mom, I really liked Kids Camp.  I think I just had to get used to it."

Next, he spotted one of his new friends.  Soon, he and a bunch of other eight year old boys were wrestling and racing and break dancing. 

One of our friends noted, "Dana, it's been over 30 minutes and he hasn't checked-in with you."

We'd shared with a lot of friends at the conference that one of the most exhausting things about my life these days is that Wenxin has to check-in with me about once every five minutes.  He'll play with his siblings or friends, but every five minutes or so he runs back and gives me a hug, or a little kiss, or tells me he loves me. . . You get the picture.  It's sweet, but after a while, it's exhausting.  It's like he has to make sure I'm still there.

But that night at the party, he forgot about checking-in with me.  He was in his element and having a blast!  The kid has some moves.  You should've seen him dance.

However, arriving home in Florida the next day, all the progress we'd seemed to make in Colorado simply evaporated.  Re-entry has been rough.  Wenxin is clingy and jealous.  He obviously resents having to share us with his siblings.  It's discouraging.

We've had two days of tears.  Mostly Wenxin's - but some from the other kids.  And he's checking in again - constantly.  The other kids are checking in a lot too -- they haven't seen me for 10 days and they want to catch up.  I read once that "being a mom is like being pecked to death by chickens."  That pretty much describes my last two days.

I'm still impressed by how much the other kids give him grace.  Yesterday, he cried all morning.  I'd had it.  I felt like I needed some time with Nathan so I offered to take him out to lunch while Mike stayed with Wenxin and the girls.  It's something we've talked about doing all summer. 

After a few moments, Nathan came back and said, "Mom, I don't feel right about going without Wenxin.  Would it be OK if I invited him to go with us?"  I tried to let Nathan know that he didn't have to feel guilty about special time just for him.  But he insisted.  And he was probably right.  We had fun eating and hanging out -- just Mom and the boys -- for a couple of hours.  Wenxin relaxed and enjoyed being a brother.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Scenery

What About the Other Kids?

With so much emphasis on Wenxin (after all, this whole blog is pretty much about him), people often wonder how the other kids are doing. Are they getting lost in the shuffle?

I guess the honest answer is:  Time will tell.

Any time you add a child to your family, even a biological child, it requires sacrifice from everyone. Adding an older adopted child is probably even more challenging - and not just for the parents.

But just as everyone has made sacrifices, everyone has gained so much in the process.  Nathan, Julia and Katherine have all gained a brother they adore.

 And we are having a lot of fun as a family of six.  We spent spring break with Mike's family in the D.C. area.  We took a vacation to Alabama to see my folks in June.  And we are wearing out our Aquatica passes this summer!

Mike and I are trying to be especially sensitive to each child's needs during the transition.  I still make sure each child gets some personal "snuggle time" each day.  It's true that Wenxin gets way more than the others, but he's quick to remind everyone, "Mama's catching me up." 

Mike spends individual time with each child as well.  He and Nathan enjoy some time together almost every night.  Mike puts the boys to bed and often hangs out by Wenxin's bed as Wenxin falls asleep.  That kid falls asleep faster than anyone I've ever seen; it takes about two minutes!  As soon as Wenxin is asleep, Mike sits down by Nathan's bed and they talk about whatever is on Nathan's mind.  It's become a special time.

We let each child try a new activity this summer.  The girls went to "Annie Jr." drama camp.

And Nathan became a Boy Scout.

Probably the biggest sacrifice for our bio kids is having parents who are stressed and totally exhausted most days. I don't quite know what to do about that one.

Over and over, as I've met up with old friends here in Colorado, I've been asked, "How are you doing?"  I usually answer with, " Fine," or "Tired, but fine," if I'm feeling a bit more honest.

I always wonder if people notice the 10+ pounds I've gained over the last year, or the big fever blister on my lip, or the fact that I've chewed every one of my fingernails down to almost nothing.

Hiking together in the Rockies today, we talked a lot about our need to keep physically fit.  I think that getting exercise would help reduce my stress level.

But back to the kids:  Have the sacrifices that Nathan, Julia and Katherine have made to welcome a new brother in their lives deepened their character and increased their capacity to love?  Are they better people as a result?

Time will tell, but I'm hopeful.

The other night, Mike and Nathan were out late, so I had the job of putting Wenxin and the girls to bed.  I was exhausted and had no intention of standing by Wenxin's bed as he went to sleep.  I tucked him in, prayed for him, gave him a hug, and headed out to the sofa for some much needed "down time." 

Wenxin began to cry.  In my mind, that was just too bad, because I was not going to be manipulated.  I was ready and willing to let him "cry this one out."

After a few moments Julia got up.  She gently reminded me, "Dad usually stays in the room talking to Nathan as Wenxin goes to sleep.  Mom, he's not used to being in that dark room alone."  Julia let me know she wasn't trying to be disrespectful, but she felt like I should do something.

So , right or wrong, I went in and carried Wenxin out to the sofa and let him lie down with me.  He was out in just a minute.  Mike carried him to bed when Mike and Nathan arrived home.

What struck me most, was Julia's compassion for her little brother.  She wasn't irritated that he demanded so much attention.  She was able to put herself in his shoes and see why this might be a hard situation for him.

I was very proud of my girl.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What's Working For Us #4 - Meeting New Adults

Our recent trip to Alabama to visit friends and family could pretty much be filed under the category of "disaster" as far as Wenxin's behavior was concerned.

We were reminded how much meeting new adults stresses him out.  As we introduced him to lots of people who've prayed for him throughout this journey, he thanked them by clinging to me, hiding his face and occasionally grunting at them.  His overall demeanor said, "Everyone get away from me."

I spent lots of my time lamely saying, "He's shy," in response. 

After that experience, we seriously reconsidered our plans for this trip to Colorado.  There are 5000 people at this conference - and a whole lot of them have prayed for us through our adoption of Wenxin.  Daily we meet friends from around the world - people we only see every few years at times like this.  We were afraid it would push Wenxin - and perhaps us - over the edge.

Before making a decision, I made a phone call to our social worker, Debra Hewitt, and explained the situation.  She empathized with Wenxin.  Even in China, we were told he was naturally shy in new situations.  And she reminded me that for kids in state care, new adults are not always good news.  She could see how meeting new adults would be stressful for someone with his personality and background.

But even in light of all this, Debra felt that we had to teach him the skill of responding appropriately when being introduced to our adult friends.  She helped me come up with a plan.

First, she asked me to quit saying, "He's shy," to excuse bad behavior.  She reminded me that while shy people may have to try harder in social situations, being shy in not an excuse to growl when your mother introduces you to a friend. 

Next, she asked me to role play meeting new people with him every day in preparation for our trip.  When I pretend to introduce a friend, he practices responding by looking at them and saying, "Nice to meet you."  (Believe it or not, it really, really helped him to have a memorized line to say in response.  I never thought about how having to come up with the response off the cuff, might be stressful to him.)  We also practice answers to the few questions that adults usually ask kids upon meeting them.  "How old are you?"  "What grade are you in?"  And so on.

Lastly, we came up with a plan to help him have a lot of success at this conference.  Every time he responds appropriately to being introduced to a new adult, I slip him a little treat.  I'm walking around the conference with a bag full of gum, mints and other little goodies. 

And you know what?  It's working!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Off to a Shaky Start at Kids Camp

"I hate everybody in this room!"

Earlier that morning, Wenxin and I packed his lunchbox for his first day at Colorado Kids Camp.  We filled his water bottle and put on sunscreen.  We talked about how Daddy and I would go to the meetings for our conference and he'd go to camp.  (Our other kids were at home with grandparents, but since Wenxin's only been home 10 months, we chose to bring him with us on this work trip to Colorado.)  We planned to pick him up at 3 pm and then come home and swim together.  So far so good.

But when we pulled up to the elementary school where the kids camp was held, the whole atmosphere changed. Things went downhill quickly.

Wenxin began to cling to my leg and whine.  He didn't want to stay.  He wanted to go with Mom and Dad. 

First stop:  the Health Check station where they weed out any kids who might be sick.  Wenxin tried his darndest to fail the health check.  Cough, sore throat, stomach ache?  He had them all.

On to his class:  Wenxin  refused to take a seat.  In fact he stood, stiff as a board, in the middle of the room and mumbled loudly, "I hate everybody in here!"

The teacher greeted him.  At my request, she brought the day's schedule over and explained about all the fun things they'd be doing.  But Wenxin wanted no part of it. 

I asked if I could move with him to the side of the room where we could just sit together and observe the class for a while.  He gathered his sunscreen and water bottle from the desk. He took the name tag they'd prepared for him, emphatically throwing it to the floor.

By this time Mike had parked the car and come in to see what was taking so long.  I walked  over and talked with Mike for a moment and when we looked back, huge tears were rolling down Wenxin's face.

Our hearts hurt for him, but we were not surprised.  Over the last 10 months, we've learned that certain situations trigger anxiety in Wenxin.  A big one is places that look "institutional."  This includes doctor's offices, schools, churches, etc.

I talked with Wenxin and told him that all the kids at the camp had parents who would be picking them up at the end of the day, just like we'd be picking him up.  No children would spend the night at the camp.  I tried to ease his fears.

Context is everything.  With no context, if you saw an eight year old boy refuse to take a seat, say that he hated everyone in the room and purposefully throw his name tag to the floor, you would probably think that his parents should impose swift consequences for his disobedient and disrespectful behavior.  What eight year old acts like that?

But what if you knew that only three years ago, this child had been removed from the only home he'd ever known and placed in an orphanage that housed 1000 kids?  Would that make a difference?  Could you see how getting in a line with a bunch of other kids and being dropped off at a place that looks an awful lot like an orphanage might push all his buttons, putting him into "fight or flight" mode?  Could it be possible that even though this kid now has loving parents and life is good,  this makes him even more afraid that he might somehow lose everything again, for a second time?

We did not punish Wenxin for his behavior because it was rooted in fear, not rebellion.  Mike sat down with him at the edge of the room and I went out to talk with the Kids Camp director.  At that point a couple of really good things happened.

First, Mike began to play with Wenxin.  When I came back in the room they were quietly having a war, taking turns shooting each other with a bottle of sunscreen.  The tears were gone and Wenxin was smiling.  The next think I knew, Wenxin was sporting Mike's sunglasses and conference name tag.  As he laughed and played with his dad, he relaxed.  Play is a key to Wenxin's heart.

Next, the Kids Camp director was quick on her feet and assigned a teacher to stick close to Wenxin for the whole day.  She had that teacher come and get to know Wenxin while Mike and I were still there. 

Finally, I felt we might be able to leave.  So I asked Wenxin, "Would you like to wear Dad's sunglasses when we leave, or can he have them back now?"  Wenxin chose to take his seat in class, hiding out behind Mike's sunglasses, and we were able to slip out the door.  Wenxin had a great "first day" at Kids Camp, and since then, he's marched right in like a big boy each morning.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sticking my toe in the water just a little. . .

Oh how I miss my blog!  It's been months since my last post. 

But I miss blogging and hope to begin to post again real soon.  Wenxin's been home over 9 months and there's a lot to share.

Since I know a lot of adoptive moms stop by here from time to time, I had to post a link to this article today.  I'm so thankful for access to info like this as I learn to be a better mom to all my kids.

Hope to see you again soon.