Sunday, March 31, 2013

It's a Long Road Trip

If I see another Cracker Barrel, I just might scream.

Central Florida to Central New York -- this is the longest road trip we've ever attempted.  Mike and I are on our way to speak at a church missions conference in Scipio, NY.  Visiting Grandma on the way up and on the way back will be a real treat, and hopefully we'll even squeeze in a day in D.C. Three cheers for having a reliable vehicle that can make a long trip.

Using the search engine at Six Suitcase Travel, I found a great hotel for us tonight. Our room has two queen beds and a queen sleeper sofa, so it comfortably sleeps all six of us.  I included the link because in the past, I've found it really difficult to find hotel rooms for our family of six. At some hotels our only option is two adjoining rooms which gets pretty expensive. The room tonight includes breakfast tomorrow morning, and with our corporate discount it was $84 including taxes and fees. That seems like a steal to me.

So for the next couple of weeks I'll be homeschooling and blogging from the road. And as I think about future posts, I have a question for you. 

What topics would you like to see discussed here at Death by Great Wall? The sky's the limit because while I might not be qualified to address that one special issue that's been nagging at you, I'd love to find a guest blogger who is qualified. I have this dream to make Death by Great Wall one of the best resources around for parents considering older child adoption. But to do that, I need your input.

Have an idea that's off topic -- a little outside of the older child adoption box -- that you think might work here? I'm open to those as well. 

Throw out all your ideas -- even ones that might seem silly to you. I'm listening.

Who wants to go first?

Friday, March 29, 2013

This is Freedom

I am humbled this Easter by the freedom bought for women by Jesus Christ. My favorite part of this music video is where Jesus replaces the head scarf of the woman caught in adultery, restoring her honor. Remembering the sacrifice of my Savior today.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Charmed Childhood

These are his people:  siblings, cousins, friends

Charmed childhood. That's how I would describe Wenxin's life these days.

The words first came to mind at our church picnic. Sunlight sparkled through the trees as a gentle wind sent tiny shimmering leaves swirling through the air like confetti at a ticker tape parade. All afternoon, I watched Wenxin in amazement. These were his people. This was his church. As we spread our blankets on the ground and got in line for food, he was off to play corn hole with friends, confident and carefree.  He asked if he could have Coke in a can with his hot dog, and to my surprise, Mike said, "Sure." After lunch, Wenxin got in the dunking machine line over and over again until finally he threw that softball, hit the target dead center, and dunked the pastor.

Charmed childhood. I thought about those words again on Saturday as Wenxin scored his first soccer goal ever. It was a beautiful shot that sailed right past the goalie. I screamed myself hoarse while he ran back to the center of the field, high-fiving his teammates. These were his people. This was his team. Later that day, he played in a second game and scored again. We celebrated with the ridiculously high-priced snow cones that some really smart person sells at the soccer fields.

I love the joy I see on Wenxin's face these days, but sometimes I still second guess myself.

Does that fact that he seems to be enjoying a charmed childhood mean I'm sheltering him too much? Besides church and soccer, his everyday world is very small.. He goes to school at home with his mom for his teacher and his siblings for classmates. He doesn't have to stress over tests, or homework, or bullies. One of his parents is almost always nearby.

But then I remember that although his chronological age is ten years old, he's only two and a half years old in our family. Protecting him and keeping him close is appropriate for that age. Allowing him to enjoy the innocence and wonder of childhood makes total sense to me.

He had a lot of losses early on, so I'm glad we're able to protect this part of his journey.

It's a lot of fun to watch.

Shared at We Are Grafted In.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Blogaholics Anonymous

I got a little off my normal schedule this weekend. Saturday afternoon I posted The Art of Parenting My Preteen Daughter. If you didn't get a chance to read it, be sure and catch up today. Then on Sunday, I snapped  the adorable photo above of said preteen daughter being silly and sweet with Mike.

This Blogaholics Anonymous is coming a couple of days late, but the links are so good, I didn't want to wait until next weekend to post them.

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.  This blog addiction serves me well as I learn to parent my child from the hard places. Every week I share my favorites with you here at Death by Great Wall. 

You must jump OUT of the Trauma Tornado - when parenting trauma background kids, the parents have to be the first to change. This is a simple, easy-to-understand explanation of why we have to parent trauma kids differently.

a letter to my 4 year old on her birthday - Birthdays are perfect times to remember birth parents, even when your child is only 4 years old.

This is not a gray area. What do you do when you fly overseas to pick up your new child, only to find out that she has living family members -- a mother even -- and they haven't relinquished her. How do you pray about your adoption? How do you ask others to pray?

How Magic Johnson Became My New Favorite Basketball Player - This Dad is with his family in China, right now, adopting twins. The fact that both his new children are HIV positive no longer frightens him.

Ni Hao Yall

Friday, March 15, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

--- 1 ---

Today I'm joining Jennifer at Conversion Diary  for 7 Quick Takes Friday. It's a chance for me to share seven little bits of randomness from life this past week. So for starters, let me tell you why I love Jennifer's blog. Jennifer is a former atheist turned Catholic, and I love the conversational way she explains her faith. She's also funny and great at building community. You should check out Conversion Diary.

--- 2 ---

I can't get what 10-year-old Julia said this week off my mind.

"Mom, sometimes I wish I was a boy."

Julia is an athlete, and she explained that everyone thinks boy athletes and boy teams are better. For example, if a girl is able to earn a spot on an all-boy team, it's considered quite an accomplishment. But the reverse is never true.

This is new territory for me, friends.

--- 3 ---

You might have noticed that I really love this blogging thing. I love it so much that one of my dreams is to attend a blog conference.

But did I mention I'm an introvert? So the thought of flying to another state to spend the whole weekend with hundreds of strangers is a bit intimidating. And then there are those bloggers who photograph their entire conference wardrobe. Yikes! Makes me think I need to go shopping first.

But by far the biggest obstacle for me is simply deciding WHICH conference to attend. Just google blog conference. There are tons.

So help me out. Have you been to a blog conference? Which one would be perfect for me?

--- 4 ---

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand homeschool words. Best grammar lesson ever.

--- 5 ---

As I read through  Katherine's homeschool writing notebook this week, I happened on one of her original poems.


Awesome and yummy.
The sweetness takes over me.
Every child's dream.

--- 6 ---

My kids are toughening up through classic literature. Julia and Katherine just read Old Yeller, and (spoiler alert) in the end, the boy has to shoot his beloved dog. My how times have changed.

Birth and death used to be a very real part of children's lives, at the very least, through animals. They saw animals born. They saw them die.

Modern childhood is very sanitized and removed from both birth and death. I wonder if that's a good thing or a bad thing?

--- 7 ---

"The plan of God is not to be undone by this world

Her true design pokes through, ripping at the veil of pain and despair

Surrounded by love, embraced in family, belonging to God

Healing can happen"

This week I found this beautiful reflection of biblical truth about our children from hard places, written by an adoptive father. Visit NonStopDad to read the rest of his resolute and hope-filled declaration of truth in a post he calls Statement of Understanding.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

When Your Child Sabotages His Own Happiness

Sore throats and sniffles are running rampant at my house this month. As the latest victims, Katherine and I are staying home from church this morning. In a  few moments, we'll herd everyone else out the door, and settle in for a little time together in God's Word. How I treasure moments like this with my contemplative youngest child.

Today I want to share an email from one of my readers in hopes that you might have some words of encouragement for her. This mom and I have never met in person, but as you'll see, we both adopted Chinese boys of about the same age. . . from the same province. . . at about the same time. We have a lot in common.

I'm choosing to not include her name because I don't want her friends or family to stumble upon this blog and feel threatened or offended by her honesty.

I, for one, appreciate it. And I think you will too.

Here's her email:

"I am writing to you as a loyal reader of Death By Great Wall.  I told my husband that if anyone mirrors our adoption story, it is you and your family. Thank you for helping me through the rough times.

"One of those times is today. I am turning to you when friends and family can't seem to help or understand. I am struggling with the fact that my boy, age 10, adopted at age 6 from Beijing, continues to seem to wrestle with letting himself be happy.  Do you see that in your son?  Do you struggle with wanting it for him?

"Sorry if I am confusing and rambling. What I am talking about is when something good happens, when he finally gets something he has been waiting for, he continues to find a negative.  When our family is doing something fun, when the rest of us are happy, it is almost as if he sabotages the occasion and does something that he gets in trouble for.

"He continues, after four years, to have high anxiety about new things and worries about being embarrassed. He does not seem to trust us when we tell him what to expect and how to prepare. He still thinks we might be wrong. I am also growing weary of still explaining his anxiety-rooted behavior to extended family, who seem to think that by four years in the U.S. he should be over it."

I know this sweet mom is not alone. I see a number of issues here. 

Her son is struggling, and she isn't getting the support she needs from friends and family. Can anyone relate?

He seems to sabotage his own happiness. Can anyone relate?

He has high anxiety, even after being home for four years. Can anyone relate?

He worries about being embarrassed. Can anyone relate?

Today, would you leave some words of wisdom, encouragement, and advice for this struggling mom?

We're all in this together.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Mothering a Traumatized Child

Three links for you today. All written by moms.

She Ponders: Mean Words - Realizing that third grade boys are bad mirrors for the self-esteem of a young girl, this wise mom called in some better mirrors to help weed out mean words. 

My Learning Curve: Stuck Like Glue - Yes, there are consequences to behavior. But when you are parenting a child from a hard place, the consequence might be different from what you'd expect. Because family life is really nothing like orphanage life.

Through the Eyes of a Traumatized Child - What's wrong with that kid? Why are you going so easy on him? This mom explains trauma behavior and therapeutic parenting in a way we can all understand.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Make it Fun, Moms. Make it Fun.

Ever ask your child to clean up her desk (or her dresser or the dining room table), and when she's finished, it looks something like this? I think I see a stick of deodorant. Right there on Katherine's desk. . .  in my dining room.

Katherine's Desk Before

I hate clutter. It makes me tired. 

But the fact of the matter is there are six of us in a smallish house, and we use every last square inch of our space. We live here. We play here. We homeschool here.

Mike and I even work here.

And because of that, clutter happens.

This morning I tried something fun with the kids. I had each of the younger kids - Julia, Katherine, and Wenxin - pick one household surface that was cluttered. 

Each of them took a before photo. That's Katherine's before photo at the beginning of this post. 

Then they set a timer and had a five minute frenzy, decluttering at lightning speed.

When the timer sounded at five minutes, they each took an after shot.

Katherine's Desk After
Julia took the reading nook.

Reading Nook Before

It wasn't too bad to begin with, but just looking at it now makes me happy. 

Reading Nook After
Wenxin took the dining room table. 

Dining Room Table Before

Dining Room Table After
They were so stoked after the first round that they all picked another area, took their before shots, and set out on another five minute frenzy.

In under 15 minutes, I got six areas of my house totally decluttered with almost zero complaining. Sweet.

Racing against a timer. Before and after shots. This was so much better than lots of verbal commands and correction from me. This was fun.

I wish I'd thought of this on my own, but I didn't. Asha and Christine, authors of a new book, Minimalist Parenting, sent me the suggestion this morning via email as a part of their ongoing MinCamp. (Sign up for MinCamp -- it's free -- and they'll send great ideas like this to your inbox each morning.) 

OK, actually, their idea was for me to set the timer, and for me to take before and after shots, and for me to learn a little about conquering clutter. 

I like my way better.

FYI, I know that my children must learn to work hard. . . to respect my authority. . . to do their chores with excellence. Life isn't always fun. I get that.

But wouldn't life be better with a little more fun? 

Shouldn't we moms inject silliness and fun and joy into daily life at every chance we get? In the same way that I want my parenting to be gentle and winsome, I want our home to be fun. Sometimes I just need some new ideas.

Thanks, Asha and Christine. Keep the creative ideas coming my way! 

And for those of us struggling to make it fun while keeping all the plates spinning -- wouldn't it be nice to still look stylish in the process? Check out my two latest posts on fashion: Working My Mom Style and Stitch Fix, I Want to Love You.

All photos in this post were taken by my kids!

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works for me wednesday at we are that family

Monday, March 4, 2013

Dear Christian Parent Adopting an Older Child

Adopting an older child is different from raising our bio kids.

Dear Christian Parent Adopting an Older Child,

I want to plead with you not to spank.

I realize you've parented your biological children well. As you've taught and trained them to love and follow Jesus, spanking has been one of the tools in your toolbox. You've seen it bear fruit in their lives.

But when you adopt your new child, it's going to take a long time to build trust.

Think about it. You didn't spank your bio kids when they were infants. In fact, by the time you got to the point of using corporal punishment, even just a swat on the bottom, you had consistently been meeting their needs for many, many months.
"Yes, I'll feed you."

"Yes, I'll change your diaper."
"Yes, I'll comfort you."

Before you ever said, "No," you said, "Yes," about a gazillion times.
They knew you. They loved you. They trusted you.

You will not have that same love and trust in the beginning with your newly adopted older child.

What's more, you probably won't have it for a really long time. This child you're adopting has experienced trauma and loss. She has been repeatedly let down by adults who were supposed to care for her. You're going to have to work hard to gain her trust. You would never spank an infant. This child is an infant in your family. So please don't spank her.

Use the other tools in your parenting toolbox. Pick up some new tools along the way. And always, always, always view her behavior (and misbehavior) through eyes of compassion. You'll never be more like Jesus!

I'm cheering for you,


Wenxin's Gotcha Day. He was 7 1/2 years old. Does he look like he trusts me yet?

My purpose in this post is not to debate the pros and cons of spanking in general or to evaluate whether or not it is commanded or even endorsed by the Bible. I acknowledge that good people, including many Bible-believing Christians, have different opinions about corporal punishment.

My purpose is to reach out to Christian families in the process of adopting older kids.

My purpose is to encourage you not to spank.

Here are a few more reasons why:

1. Your older adopted child may have been a victim of  physical abuse. 

I would never spank a kid who has a history of physical abuse. Never.

Even if I spank with restraint and even if I comfort the child afterwards, it's likely that the act of being hit by an adult will trigger memories of the abuse.

The scary truth of older child adoption is that there are a lot of unknowns. A lot of a child's history never makes the official paperwork. The older child you're adopting may have been a victim of abuse whether you know it or not.

2. Your older adopted child can't learn when they are operating from fear. 

On my last post about Christian parenting of adopted kids, Lisa made a comment about spanking children who come from a background of trauma and neglect.

"Discipline is meant to disciple, teach, and train our children. Our children have already experienced enough pain in their lives that spanking does not instruct - it puts every cell in their little bodies on high alert, and they switch into self-protection. There is no learning going on. Yes, we may be able to force them into submission, but I hope that is not our true goal - we want them to be more like Jesus and to grow to love and serve Him."

3. A lot of our older adopted kids have sensory issues. 

I haven't noticed any sensory issues in my son, but it's something I hear discussed over and over again in online adoption forums. Here's a short video where Dr. Karyn Purvis discusses sensory processing disorder in adopted kids.

In my opinion, if your child doesn't process sensory information normally, it just doesn't make sense to spank them. Sensory processing disorder is not the adopted child's fault. It's just one more way the fallout from their early abuse and neglect continues to follow them long after they've been adopted.

4. You can still discipline your new child.

At first, because of the language barrier, we had to get creative with how we taught Wenxin about living in our family.

As Wenxin learned our expectations, we often had him simply stop playing and sit in a chair near us when he disobeyed. After a designated time, usually about five minutes, we'd let him try again. This gentle approach established that we were in charge and reinforced our house rules.

The Connected Child offers more suggestions for correcting behavior along with simple scripts that help you communicate briefly and clearly.

I'd love to hear from my readers. How do you correct misbehavior besides spanking? What works for your family?

To spank or not to spank. . . that is the question. I guess everyone knows where I stand now. What about you? Shared at Titus 2 Tuesdays, Tending the Home Tuesdays, Missional Women, and . . . 

Ni Hao YallOpen Letter Campaign

Friday, March 1, 2013

Godly Parenting May Be Different Than You Think

When I had my first child, lots of my friends were following a parenting philosophy that was popular with Evangelical Christians at the time. I think a lot of people still use it today.

It goes something like this. With newborns, parents are encouraged to establish a sleeping and eating schedule. You put infants down at night and for naps while they are still awake so they can learn to go to sleep independent of nursing or snuggling or rocking. Because feeding is parent-directed, it's done on a schedule and not in response to a crying or fussy baby. Instead of picking up a crying baby, the goal is for them to learn to self-sooth, making them happier in the long run.  And the big claim is that by following this plan, babies will quickly sleep through the night.

With so many American Christians swearing by this program, I can't help but wonder what happens when many of these same Christians later add to their families by adopting kids from hard places. Does this type parenting work for children with backgrounds of trauma?

I've been observing families for a long time.

Because I didn't marry until I was 36 and didn't have a baby until I was 37, I had a lot of time to watch my friends marry and become parents. I literally took pages and pages of mental notes. Many of my new parent friends were eager to share with me what they were learning.

And since most of my friends were Christians like me, I saw lots of this Christian parenting in action.

Once while visiting a friend, I was surprised to hear her baby screaming in the next room. It went on for over an hour. My friend shared that the baby had to learn to put herself to sleep. She said, "We want our baby to learn that although she is a welcome member of the family, she is not the center of it." Problem was, we weren't even in my friend's home. She was visiting from out of town, and the baby was trying to go to sleep in a strange room. It seemed to me that this might be a time for an exception to the rules -- that the baby could use some snuggling and comfort in a strange place.

Years later, I witnessed an almost identical scenario in another friend's home when she and her family had just returned home from an international trip. Her jet lagged baby screamed and screamed and screamed in the adjoining room, but my friend didn't want to go in and pick her up. "This is the only way to get her back on schedule, " she explained.

When I finally had babies of my own, we found somewhat of a middle ground that worked for us. I held and rocked and nursed my babies as much as I wanted. I'd waited so long; I couldn't imagine not holding them. Many nights our babies fell asleep on Mike's chest. We found the rhythm, the routine, the schedule that worked for our family. And along the way, I came to believe that good parenting is more art than science. I don't think it can be reduced to a formula.

And yet, we all long for a formula, don't we?

"Someone, please tell me the exact steps to take to do this parenting thing right. This is too important to mess up."

And someone comes along with a formula and calls it Christian, and we all jump on the bandwagon.

Don't get me wrong. Schedules are good. Kids, especially our kids from hard places, thrive with the predictability of a schedule. And both my friends described above went on to raise great kids. Really great kids! So obviously a little crying didn't hurt them.

But here's my fear. I fear that sometimes in our quest to get everyone on a schedule, we harden our hearts to our children. We ignore their cries. When we place our highest value on babies sleeping through the night and children having "room time" by themselves, we miss God-given opportunities to connect with our kids, all the while believing we're doing the right thing.

Kids from the hard places come to us hurt. They've got self-soothing down pat, although their methods may look strange to us. What they don't know is how to trust a parent to meet their needs. They need to be drawn close to us, not pushed to be independent. Even when it comes to bedtime. Maybe, especially when it comes to bedtime.

Mike and I both agree that we've made the biggest strides in connecting with Wenxin in the drowsy moments right before he drifts off to sleep. It's when he's the most relaxed, and it's the only time he's ever talked to either of us about his life in China.

To this day, Mike puts him to bed and prays for him. Then he stays with him as Wenxin falls asleep. Some evenings when I sense Wenxin could use a little extra connection, I ask him if I can hold him as he falls asleep. He runs to get his blanket and quickly joins me on the sofa. I stroke his hair and tell him how happy I am he's my son, holding him much like you would a newborn, even though he's ten.

This would be hard to do if we believed that the only godly way to parent was to teach a child to sleep on his own -- right from the start.

But you know, even if we believed that, we could still re-evaluate. We could still change.

The most common comment I heard at the Empowered to Connect conference was, "I thought I could parent my adopted kids the same way I parented my biological kids. Now I see I need to make some changes."

I have a lot of fears in writing this post. I fear people may feel attacked. I fear I'll come across prideful -- like Mike and I have this parenting thing all figured out. I fear I'll discourage parents who are in the trenches -- giving it all they've got, doing the best they can.

It's not my intention to do any of those things. My only goal is to encourage adoptive parents -- and prospective adoptive parents -- to choose parenting methods that help you connect with your child -- even if it doesn't look the way you always thought Christian parenting would look.

Some of you may be thinking, "What in the world is she talking about? Christian what?" Others may think I've gone all hippy, baby-wearing on you. Leave a comment. I'd love to know what you think.

For more on godly parenting and older child adoption, read this follow-up post on spanking.
Shared at WFMW, Emily Wierenga, Missional Women, Mercy Ink, and. . .
Found the Marbles