Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pass the Grace, Please.

Wenxin, Julia, Katherine and I stepped off the wooden walkway onto the white sands of Cocoa Beach's Jetty Park.  The sky was clear and the blue-green flag flying at the lifeguard station signaled almost perfect swimming conditions.  Dragging a cooler, boogie boards, pails, shovels, chairs,  bags and towels, we made our way across the sand.

For some reason, this was our first beach day this summer.  Out of state trips and lots of rainy days when we were in town kept us away from the coast.  So when Mike and Nathan left for a weekend camp-out, I decided to brave the beach with the younger three kids.  This would be the second time eight year old Wenxin had seen the ocean.   The first time was almost a year ago.

Anyone feeling nervous at this point? 

We parked our cooler at the perfect spot -- far enough from the water that we wouldn't get washed away when the tide began to come in.  We unfolded my chair and spread out a straw mat for the kids.  Julia and Wenxin grabbed the pails and shovels and ran closer to the water and began to build.

Katherine wanted to try her hand at boogie boarding so she and I ran into the surf.

After watching Katherine ride a few waves, Wenxin came out and wanted to try.  That's when everything began to go downhill.  You see, he really, really wanted to try boogie boarding.  It really, really looked fun.  But he was really really scared.

He learned to swim earlier this summer, but this was his first time to try to swim at the beach.  He didn't want the salt water in his eyes and mouth and nose.  He was afraid of being swept away by the waves.  He wanted to . . . and he didn't want to.

He refused to lie down on the board.  I strapped the cord to his wrist and it was all wrong. . . too tight. . . too loose. . . not comfortable. . . wrong hand.  No matter what I did, it wasn't right.  He was not going to be able to boogie board like Katherine, and somehow it was quickly becoming all my fault.

He cried and screamed and thrashed around in the water. 

I tried to help him name his emotions. "I know you really want to boogie board but you feel scared," and "I know you aren't used to how the salty water tastes and feels." I don't remember exactly the words I used, but I tried to help him process his feelings.

He stood in the surf and stomped his feet.

I tried to stay calm. "Why don't we try again later?" I suggested.

Screaming louder,  he demanded to try now.

"We can't try again right now, because you've lost your self-control.  You are frustrated, but you can have self-control.  You can stop throwing a fit.  Tell me when you have your self-control back."

"OK," in a loud voice that was just a little more controlled, " I have my self-control.  May we try again?"

So we tried again, and within minutes he just lost it.

Finally, I walked out of the water with Wenxin running and screaming behind me.  He even slapped and kicked at me.  I tried to stay calm.  "You may not hit and kick me.  We are taking a break.  We will try another time."

Across the beach we went, heading toward our stuff.  If I'd known this was going to happen, I would've set up closer to the water. 

Instead, off we went - slapping, kicking, falling down, crying, whining, stopping for little talks, walking again, holding hands, jerking away.  We were putting on a show for everyone.  I kept wondering when some beach-goer from the audience was going to yell, "If I'd acted like that when I was little, my mom would've worn me out."

Back at our stuff, I offered Wenxin a chocolate chip cookie from the cooler, but he took one look at his sandy hands and began to cry that he didn't want sand in his food.  . . he was sick. . . we needed to go home. . . now!

When I didn't start packing up right away, he wailed loudly, "You must hate me!" 

A bunch of seagulls were watching the drama from across  the sand and on a whim, I threw a piece of cookie their way.  About 12 of them descended on the cookie at once, the lucky winner grabbing it in his beak and flying away.  Wenxin laughed.

I stuck a cookie in Wenxin's mouth and he just sucked on it, leaving half of it dangling outside his mouth.  The hungry gulls were all watching us now. 

"If I were you, I'd get the rest of that cookie in my mouth - fast," I warned.  "I'm afraid one of those gulls is going to fly over and take it from you."

As Wenxin laughed and gobbled up the cookie, the evil spell was broken.  We watched the birds and ate snacks, accidentally dropping some pieces for the birds from time to time, until Julia and Katherine came in for a break.  Afterwards, all three built sand castles for the rest of the afternoon.

Late in the day, I looked up from my book, just in time to see Katherine pulling Wenxin across the waves on the boogie board.  A few moments later, Julia ran up the beach and yelled, "Mom!  Wenxin wants you to come and watch him do it."  He was riding the waves like a pro.

As much as I like an entertaining story, it's hard for me to write about days like this. . . because we have them a lot.  A week or two ago I wrote a post called Re-Entry Can Be Rough  about the struggles we've had at home since returning from Colorado. I'd love to say that things have gotten easier since then, but honestly, they haven't.  I fear that I'm coming across like a whiner or that people will think I'm creating the problems myself by not being strict enough.  More than once someone has told me, "He's just manipulating you."

I don't doubt he's trying to manipulate me.  In a lot of ways I'm his lifeline, and maybe he feels safer thinking he can control me.  My question is what to do about it.

When I think back over our day at the beach, one thing is clear.  The main way Wenxin has learned to deal with overwhelming emotions is by melting down and throwing a fit.  He needs to learn appropriate ways to handle fear and anger and frustration. 

One of the principles I try to practice in parenting all my kids, is to never correct them or punish them for doing something wrong if I haven't first taught them to do it right.  That's kind of a "no-brainer" to me.

So I think my first step in helping eliminate Wenxin's tantrums is to work with him on appropriate ways to respond when he feels angry or afraid or frustrated.  I need to play act and practice with him.  I need to get some short, sweet phrases that I say to him over and over when I sense he's about to go over the edge.  I'm still mulling over a plan in my mind, but it's clear to me that even though he's eight, we've got some catching up to do in this area.  I'm open to suggestions.

My second thought as I look back on yesterday has to do with judging.  When my eight year old acts like a three year old in public, I feel judged.  When I share with people, sometimes even with people close to me, that after almost a year we still have issues, I feel judged. 

I think I gained a new insight into Jesus's commandment to "not judge."  One reason we shouldn't judge others is that we simply aren't equipped to pass judgement.  We aren't all-knowing.  We aren't God.  When you see that big kid having a meltdown in the store, you have no way of knowing if it's a result of bad parenting or something more difficult -- autism, walking through a family trauma or even an older child adoption.

So remember me and have grace.  We're trying.  We really, really are.  And by God's grace we're getting there.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Little Glimpses of Kindness

Every now and then I see a little glimpse of the boy I hope Wenxin is becoming. 

Wenxin hated what I prepared for dinner tonight and continued to whine and cry that he was hungry long after we'd finished.

Food is a big deal for kids who've suffered significant trauma, so even though I want him to learn to eat what I prepare, I decided I needed to feed him something before bed.  I remembered that I'd bought some frozen chicken strips when they were B1G1 last week and thought that would be an easy solution.

When Wenxin saw what I was preparing he asked, "Can you fix some for everyone, Mama?  I know Katherine really likes those."

Thoughtfulness, empathy, sharing, kindness.  I like that.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Tale of Fatty Ann

"Would you like to hear a story about when Mommy and Aunt Julie were little girls?" 

It had been an intense day, and I was desperately trying to get Wenxin to settle down and snuggle with me before bed.

"OK, " he whispered, moving in close.

"Well,"  I began, "when Mommy was about seven and Aunt Julie was about five, we had a great big baby doll named Fatty Ann.  She was huge -- bigger than Aunt Julie.  Fatty Ann was not an expensive doll.  Her body was made of cloth, and she was filled with stuffing.  And her big giant face was plastic.

"One day Aunt Julie and I were playing with Fatty Ann on the carport and we got the idea to punch her in the face and see what happened.

"So we did. . . and it left a big dent in Fatty Ann's big plastic face.

"We thought it was funny, so we did it again.  Then, all of the sudden, we both attacked Fatty Ann, punching her over and over and over again.  When we finished Fatty Ann's face was full of dents.  She looked terrible.

"Aunt Julie and I looked at Fatty Ann, and we both began to cry.  We felt so bad for hurting her.  And we were afraid we'd be in big trouble when Grammy and Papa found out."

By this time, Wenxin was laughing his head off at the idea of his mom and his aunt beating up their baby doll.  He laughed until he could hardly breath.  Then an amazing thing happened.  He began to yell, "Hey Katherine!  Hey Julia!  Do you know the story of Fatty Ann?"  He wanted to share it with his siblings.  So I had to tell it again.

I realized something that night.  Wenxin needs to hear my stories.  Even though he's been in our family less than a year, he needs to be connected to the stories of his parents and grandparents.  Every family has an "oral history" - those funny stories that get repeated over and over again.  It's what separates the outsiders from the insiders.  That night, Wenxin felt like an insider.

At that point it was really getting late, but everyone begged for one more story.  So I told them about a time when I was really little.  I'd just learned to go to the bathroom on my own, but on this particular day, I lost my balance and fell into the potty.  I frantically began to grab for anything I could use to pull myself out.  Unfortunately I caught hold of the handle and flushed the potty by mistake.  Now my terror was over the top. . .   because I'd seen what happens to things that are sitting in the potty when it gets flushed. . .

"So what finally happened?" Wenxin wanted to know.

"Oh, just in time, Fatty Ann ran in and saved me!"  I just couldn't resist.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

His Story Didn't Begin With Us


"Joseph Michael Wenxin: This is your story. It is all about you, your life in China and how we became a family." - from the opening page of Wenxin's lifebook.

This summer I've been working on Wenxin's lifebook. It's a book with photos and text that tells what I know of the story of his life.

Wenxin's life didn't begin the day Mike and I met him in China.  While his lifebook will have lots of photos from our adoption trip to China, there's more.  I'm including pages about his birth parents, his life with his foster mom and his time in the orphanage. There's important information about his Chinese culture and the province where he was born.  My hope is that his lifebook will be a tool for us to use to help him process his unique history.

What a daunting task!  It's been made way easier with the help of Kristen from My Story Lifebooks.  I'm using the template I purchased from Kristen to make an 8X8 hardcover book on Shutterfly. The pages are all laid out and much of the text is written.  All I have to do is add photos and  tweak it to make a lifebook that is uniquely Wenxin's.

Kristen has pre-made pages that she can include for all China adoptions.  Things like a country map, a fun page about Chinese zodiac, and a page of things that came from China.  She's already thought through how to communicate sensitively about birth parents and China's one-child policy. 

I was impressed with the level of personal service Kristen provides.  She asked  if Wenxin had any special needs, and designed a couple of pages with sensitive prose explaining some medical issues he faced while still living in China.  I had not intended to include that info in Wenxin's book.  I just didn't know what to say. Kristen's suggestions were perfect.

It's coming right along.  If you need to make a lifebook for your adopted child, check out, My Story Lifebooks.  On the website you can see samples from templates for China, Korea, Vietnam and Guatemala.  And if you don't see what you're looking for, just contact Kristen.  She can make a template for any type adoption.

P.S. - I don't get a kick-back if you purchase a something from My Story Lifebooks.  I'm just so fired up about this I had to pass it along.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tonggu Momma Does it Again

Tonggu Momma came up with another great post today.  Her list of ways to help brand new adoptive families should be a must read for every local church.  Even the comments are good.  Her list especially applies to the international adoption of toddlers and older kids.   Click here to read.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Happy Anniversary to Me!

We're enjoying our last few days of summer. Everyone's playing Lego's in the living room - most still in pajamas.  Since we were in Colorado for most of the past two weeks, the fridge is almost totally empty, so what I really need to do is get in gear and make a meal plan and grocery list. 

But what I really want to do is stay in my pajamas and blog. 

Oh, and by the way, 13 years ago, today, Mike and I got married.  I was 36 and he was 38.  I sooo wanted to be a wife and mom, but wasn't quite sure it would ever happen.  Now look at us 13 years later!

Since it's a special day for me, maybe I can justify just a little more time drinking coffee and reading blogs.

Here's a link to an important blog post by one of my favorite adoption bloggers - Tonggu Momma.  I love her because she's funny and she types with a Southern accent.  But most of all, I love her because she balances her affection for her beautiful adopted daughters with realism about some of the harder aspects of adoption.  Tonggu Momma has decided to speak out - not only for adoptive parents - but also for adult adoptees and first moms.  Click on the link above to read what she shared about adoption with the ladies from her church at the baby shower for her newly adopted daughter.

And if you're dropping by for the first time in a while, I actually wrote 7 new blog posts during July.  I'm officially back.  You don't want to miss, "Off to a Shaky Start at Kids Camp."  Take a look and catch up!