Monday, July 23, 2012


I'm taking a blogfast. 

My spell checker just went crazy.  Blogfast, it seems, is not a word.

But you know what I mean.  From today until August 1, I'm fasting -- not from food, but from blogging.

I love this blog.  Building Death by Great Wall this summer and meeting new readers has been fun.  It's become a passion.

But the new school year looms on the horizon, and I need to get ready.  Because these kids -- well, they are an even bigger passion.  Over the weekend, Mike and I made a huge decision that affects this upcoming school year, so I have lots of work to do.  I can't wait to share about it when I get back.

There are great things coming in August.  A couple of friends are working on guest posts.  I can't wait for you to meet them.

So I'm signing off for the week.  For a little blogfast.  I'll be back August 1.  See you then.

**Have you liked Death by Great Wall on Facebook? Even during the blogfast, I'll continue to post links to adoption related articles there.

Friday, July 20, 2012


This will be quick because Wenxin and I are headed out the door this morning to meet with the certified teacher who is reviewing his homeschool portfolio for this past school year.

Our state requires a yearly evaluation of all homeschooled students, and they give you several options for how to do it. Julia and Katherine took a nationally normed standardized test. For Wenxin, that would have been too stressful and since he's a second language learner, it wouldn't have truly reflected his progress. For him, I went the "portfolio reviewed by a certified teacher" route.

Since she needs to sign a statement saying he's making progress, I decided to carry along his portfolio from last year -- to show how far he's come.

When I went to get it from the homeschool closet where I expected it to be, all I found was his work from the second half of last year. His portfolio from the first semester was gone. The longer I searched, the more desperate I felt.

Because you see, this was in that portfolio. . .

The first piece of art Wenxin made in America.

Our first day home, he painted this out on our  back porch.

See his name in Chinese characters.  

And this. . .

A few days later he drew our family.  It melted my heart.

And who could forget this. . .

The tool I created to teach Wenxin how we act in our family.  

For three hours yesterday, I thought they were lost for good.  

And I grieved.

Because I don't have many mementos from Wenxin's childhood.

No baby footprints.

No lock of hair from his first haircut.

No handmade Mother's Day gifts from kindergarten.

Crazy thing is I'm not normally sentimental.  I throw away a lot of

stuff that most moms would keep.  

But when you have absolutely nothing . . .

It felt like a loss.

I prayed.  Mike prayed.  The kids prayed.

And I found it.

"Mommy, does this mean you're not going to cry now?"

This post shared at imperfect prose on thursdays.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

He DID NOT Just Say That!

"When I grow up and have kids, if they REALLY misbehave, you know what I'm going to tell them? . . . I'm going to tell them they're adopted."

Shoot me now.  Did someone just say that with Wenxin sitting here?

Making my way over to stand near Wenxin, I jump into the conversation. "Well that shouldn't bother them. Adoption is a good thing. One of the best days of my life was the day we adopted Wenxin."

"Was it the VERY best day of your life?" Wenxin asks, looking up at me for a response.

"One of the VERY, VERY best, Baby. "

I give him a little squeeze, and he goes back to munching his snack.

So who was it that told the insensitive adoption joke right there in my kitchen? Well, it was none other than Wenxin's 12 year old brother, Nathan.

Now before you get mad at Nathan, let me say that Nathan adores his little brother. This joke wasn't motivated by jealousy or anger or a desire to "put Wenxin in his place." It really wasn't. It was just a joke he heard at Boy Scout camp. A joke that he found funny and repeated without thinking very deeply about how it might make his brother feel.

It got me thinking about the clueless things that get said to adoptive families. I just googled "What Not to Say to Adoptive Families."  You know, stuff like, "What happened to his REAL parents?" and "What do your REAL kids think about him?" and "How much did he cost?"  It came back with over two million results. 

I had to ask myself, "Why doesn't this bother me more?" Because honestly, I don't lose a lot of sleep over it.

A few random thoughts:

1.  We chose to become an inter-racial family and just seeing us out together raises questions. I just realized that my most asked question in the grocery store is, "Are they all yours?"  Until I sat down to write this post, I always assumed the question was being asked because there are four of them.  But now that I think about it, maybe sometimes they are asking because one of the four is Asian.  How dare they? (That last part was a joke, guys.)

2.  It's not everyone else's job to learn all the politically correct adoption lingo before they can talk with me. My own sweet mom once asked me about a friend who had recently adopted: "Does she have any children of her own?" 

I simply replied, "Yes, she has three biological kids and one newly adopted child." 

I didn't get snarky about the fact that the adopted child was her own as well. My mom wasn't trying to offend me. She was actually showing an interest in my friend and her family, a point I would have totally missed had I decided to go to war over her choice of words. Hopefully after hearing my response, she has a better idea how to ask next time. And even if she doesn't, is it really that big of a deal?

3.  Short and sweet answers are usually best. Just like I did with my mom, most days, it's easy enough to smile and respond briefly with grace.  And especially when the conversation is with a stranger, it's not necessary to explain all the details of how we became a family. In fact, I actually have a responsibility to protect Wenxin's privacy. He needs to own his story and chose what he'd like to share with whom -- and when he'd like to share it.

4.  Finally, just because I'm OK fielding questions that aren't always worded in the best way, doesn't mean that Wenxin is OK. Home for almost two years now, Wenxin's made it through the initial adjustment period.  He's fluent in spoken English.  He's secure in our family.  But he has a lifetime ahead of him navigating what it means to be a Chinese-American international adoptee. He and I view his adoption through different lenses and clueless comments may well affect us differently.

So maybe it's time for me to be pro-active in giving him some tools to use when faced with questions about his history.

I'm thinking about ordering W.I.S.E. Up Powerbook, a book that teaches adopted kids and teens four choices of how to respond when peers or even adults ask intrusive questions about their personal histories. I haven't read it yet, but it's gotten pretty good reviews, and I like the idea of empowering Wenxin by giving him some choices about how to respond.  

Have any of you used W.I.S.E. Up Powerbook? What did you think? What other things have you done to help your adopted child deal with the remarks of others? I'd love to hear some input from adopted adults as well.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Blogaholics Anonymous

I'm a blog addict, an information junkie. I read decorating blogs, home organization blogs, adoption blogs, political blogs - anything that makes me learn or think or laugh or grow. Here's a smattering of posts I've enjoyed lately. Disclaimer: By posting these links, I'm not saying I endorse all the views expressed; but I am saying they made me think. 

How Married Women Can Serve Single Women Better - I married at 36, and I ditto the message of this single Christian woman.

When Enough is Enough - Answering the question, "Do we adopt again?"

Before I Was Adopted - A  teenage girl, pregnant as the result of rape. Lied to by those who proposed to help her. Adoptive parents, overjoyed to be chosen to raise her child. Lied to as well. And finally, the adopted daughter who, as an adult, uncovers the truth for them all.

What I Learned from My Children:  Go Low -- A Path to Selflessness - A Christian perspective on the sacrifices of motherhood.

10 Tips for New Bloggers - I'm sure someone here is thinking of starting a blog. Or maybe you have a blog that you'd like to take to the next level. This is the post for you.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Nine Things I'm Glad We Took to China

We sat, a little damp and disheveled, in the lobby of the Beijing Children's Welfare Institute. Minutes earlier, when the congested morning traffic threatened to make us late, our guide had suggested we'd make better time by getting out of the van and walking.  So much for looking good for my new son.  We slogged through puddles in a light drizzle, finally arriving at the orphanage.  I was already tired and jet-lagged.  Now I had wet hair.

For months, I'd pictured this moment time and time again.  Rain had never been part of the picture.

We signed some documents that we couldn't read and stamped our thumbprints in red on each one.  Just as we started to record a little intro to our adoption day video, we heard footsteps.

"He's coming," our guide said.

And then it happened.  A woman we never saw said, "Say Mama and Baba," as she pushed a little boy in brand new pink sneakers through the door.

"Mama. . . Baba. . ."  And we were a family.

It's a weird way to become a family.  Honestly, it is.  I think all three of us were scared.

How do complete strangers become a family?

How do you bond with a child who is not a baby?

How do you get past the language barrier?

Your agency will give you a packing list for your adoption trip.  You can find additional lists online.  But think about this.  What are you putting in your suitcase to help you build a strong attachment with your new child?  It's possible to pack with attachment in mind.

Here are nine things I'm glad we took to China.

1. Bubble Bath - I worried about bath time.  Orphanage kids probably haven't had a daily bath.  Some may have never bathed in a tub.  Would he be scared to take a bath once he was alone with us?  Wenxin, however, was quickly enthralled by a bathtub full of bubbles.  This nightly ritual was fun and helped him relax before bedtime.  FYI - both hotels we stayed at in China provided complimentary bubble bath, but I'd take it again, just in case.

2.  Lavender baby lotion - After his bath we continued the bedtime ritual with lavender baby lotion.  He'd sit on the bed in just his pajama bottoms while I rubbed him down with sweet smelling lotion.  This was established as a "Mommy" job -- important because initially, he bonded more quickly to Mike than me.  This bedtime ritual gave me an excuse to touch him in a safe non-threatening way.  It was relaxing and helped him settle down before bed.

3.  Fun snacks like Teddy Grahams -  Our new kids need to know we won't let them go hungry, so carrying a few snacks at all times is a good idea.  Fun snacks are even better.  You don't have to go overboard packing food.  They have snacks in China, and a trip to the grocery store to let your new child pick out some favorites could be a special treat.  But I'd definitely pack a handful of fun snacks from home to get started.

4.  A digital camera for him to use -  This one was a fluke.  We packed an old digital camera for Mike to use, so we'd both be able to snap photos.  Wenxin, however, quickly claimed the camera as his own, and it turned out to be a great thing.  He was able to document his own trip. He took pride in his photos.  And it provided lots of opportunities for his new parents to clown around in front of the camera.  In those first days, every chance we have to lighten up the situation and play around together is a big plus.

5.  Bubble gum- Lisa at One Thankful Mom shared that chewing gum has a calming effect on traumatized kids.  And I'd add that blowing bubbles is great silly fun.  I'll never forget sitting with droves of new adoptive families in the American Consulate in Guangzhou, waiting for the swearing in ceremony.  As Wenxin sat on my lap facing me, we crammed our mouths full of bubble gum and had a bubble blowing contest.  It was a long wait for a room full of restless kids, but Wenxin and I were having a blast.  Play, laughter, eye contact -- all great attachment builders -- and all it took was a little Double Bubble.

6.  Blow-up beach ball and pop-up hamper - Inexpensive pop-up hampers like this one have always been life savers for me while travelling with kids.  Pop-up hampers keep the hotel room neat.  Wenxin and Mike, however, soon discovered that pop-up hampers are also great for shooting baskets once you dump out all the clothes.  Add a blow-up beach ball from the Dollar Store for fun that won't put you over budget or over your luggage weight allowance.  

7.  Crayons/Markers/Pencils and sketch pad - Drawing and coloring together is a great way to bond.  Wenxin is all boy and at first wanted nothing to do with the crayons and markers we brought him.  But one morning after breakfast, Mike and I sat down in the floor of our hotel room and began coloring together.  Before long, Wenxin joined us.  Drawing together is something we did a lot those first weeks we were home.

8.  A soft blanket - Every kid needs their own blanket, don't you think?  We actually sent this blanket to Wenxin in a care package before we traveled to China.  The nannies showed it to him and then put it away for safekeeping until we arrived.  Orphanage kids don't have much in the way of personal property, so it was special to be able to wrap him in his own super-soft blanket each night.  He sleeps with it to this day.

Yes, that's Mike crashed in the background.

9.  A crossbody purse - I don't really like backpacks for me --they're hot and cumbersome -- so a cute, crossbody purse was perfect for sightseeing trips and "official" appointments.  A crossbody purse left both hands free so I could focus on Wenxin instead of focusing on my purse.

OK.  This list is definitely not exhaustive.  What "attachment builders" did you pack for your adoption trip?  Adoptive parents please chime in.  Thanks in advance for helping me write this post.  Many times you guys put the best stuff in the comments section.

Do you know a family getting ready to travel?  Use the buttons at the bottom to share this post with them.

Shared at Many Little Blessings.
works for me wednesday at we are that family

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What We Did This Weekend


Last Thursday, Julia and two other nine-year-old friends decided to form a 3v3 soccer team. Setting their sights on a tournament just two days away, their goal was to go and play, have fun, and earn an invitation to the 3v3 Nationals at Disney Wide World of Sports next month.

And they wanted to coach themselves.

Reluctantly, they "allowed" Mike to sit on their bench and signal the ref if they needed a sub. And he "allowed" them to keep him on a very short leash.  This was their team.  Their tournament.  Their challenge.

They owned it.

Six tough games over two days in almost 100 degree weather.  With only two little sisters as subs. Over the weekend five people fainted from the heat -- four players and a ref.  It was brutal.

Our girls rocked.  They walked away with silver medals and an invitation to Nationals.  And as you can see, they were pretty pleased with themselves.

The first place team was a year older (3 years older than our littlest sub), and they train year around.  Our girls decided to form a team two days before the tournament.  Not shabby.  Not shabby at all.  Watch out Disney.  Here we come!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Warrior Moms (Blogaholics Anonymous)

Warrior Moms.

That's the term that comes to mind as I think of some of the moms I've met on our adoption journey.

Moms who choose to adopt kids who aren't babies anymore -- kids who come with more than their fair share of medical and emotional needs.  Moms who drag themselves out of bed every day, no matter how tired, and fight for their children.

On the outside they look just like other moms.  They may even color their hair, wear lipstick and love cute shoes, but make no mistake about it,  these ladies are warriors.  Today's Blogaholics Anonymous salutes four such moms.

He said IT - One adoptive mom's thoughts when her son looked her in the eye and said, "You're not my mom!"

Choosing to See - Another adoptive mom's thoughts when faced with spending the summer far from home so her daughter can get the medical care she needs.

Proof of Motherhood Required? - Get ready.  This one might make you mad.  We already love Karen here at Death by Great Wall.  She recently wrote a guest post where she shared that older child adoption is exhausting.  You're not going to believe what happened to her this week.

"First?" Bilateral Amputee to Ride Ripstik? - You have to see this. 

Are you a warrior mom?  It's OK.  Go ahead and admit it.  Now think for a moment. What helps you keep perspective and keep fighting for your child?  Leave a comment and let us know.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

This year, I read Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes aloud to the children.  Every day, for just a little while, we were transported back to Colonial Boston, as events came together that would sweep our Founding Fathers into the American Revolution.  We were inspired by big ideas -- freedom from tyranny, a new kind of government.  And by heroes -- ordinary men who believed in the dream enough to die for it.

"We are lucky men," he murmured, "for we have a cause worth dying for.  This honor is not given to every generation."

And later . . .

"We give all we have, lives, property, safety, skills . . . we fight, we die, for a simple thing.  Only that a man can stand up."    

Happy Fourth of July everyone!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Visit With (Birth Mother,) First Mother Forum

This spring I wrote a post called My Daughter's Death / His Other Moms.  It's all about grief and loss -- my loss of my second child and Wenxin's loss of his first two moms.  Every adoption begins with a loss.

Today I want to invite you to visit this loss from another perspective -- the perspective of a birth mom / first mom.  I've gained so much by spending some time at (Birth Mother,) First Mother Forum.  This blog is co-authored by Lorraine Dusky and Jane Edwards, both moms who relinquished children for adoption back in the sixties.

With their permission, here is an excerpt from their article, What We Think About Adoption, where they answer the question, "Are you against all adoptions?"

Are we against all adoptions? No.

Some are absolutely necessary, and good. There will always be children who, for one sad reason or another, need to find a home and parents, and in many cases, they will not be family members.
We are against unnecessary adoptions whether domestic or international.
In many cases, adoptions  occur because mothers are not told about resources that would allow them to keep their children, nor are they cautioned about the lifelong impact adoption will have not only on themselves, but also on the children.
Women are sometimes coerced into surrender by the adoption industry, prospective adoptive parents, or family members; they are pressured to sign consents within days of birth--in Alabama, Hawaii, and Washington they may sign consents prior to giving birth--well before they can recover from the effects of childbirth, and appreciate their loss; mothers are also sometimes falsely promised that they will be able to maintain contact with their children, and thus agree to an "open" adoption when they would not agree to a closed one. 

We are against adoptions where fathers who are eager and able to care for their child are denied this right.

I've emailed back and forth with Lorraine for the past couple of days and she is a lovely lady.  I appreciate her taking the time to interact with me on this post.

So much to think about.  We owe it to our adopted kids to think through these issues and to listen to perspectives that differ from our own.

You can read the rest of Lorraine and Jane's thoughts on adoption at (Birth Mother,) First Mother Forum.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

He's Back!!!!!

Forgive the not-so-great cell phone photos!  I'm not 100% sure, but I think the washed out cards Nathan's holding up give him permission to carry a knife and start a fire at Boy Scout functions.  Oh, help me.  Whatever they are, they warranted a big smile and a photo!  I would just ask him, but he's still crashed in  bed this morning.

And yes, there's Julia, living out her goal of turning every serious family photo into something from Where's Waldo?  You never know where she'll turn up, but if you look hard enough, she's always there.