Showing posts with label Favorites. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Favorites. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My Favorite Posts Revisited: "They Said"

They said, "What about your other kids?"

They said, "You can't save them all, you know."

They suggested Nathan would have difficulties.

He'd always been the only boy.

He'd never had to share his room.

They said, "You need to think about the kids you already have."

Well. . . we thought about it.

And we took a risk.

Not just for us. . . but for our kids.

Last Saturday, Nathan, who'd never had to share his room, climbed an enormous tree

with his brother.

And Nathan said, "One of the best days of my life was the day we adopted Wenxin."

First posted November 2012

Ni Hao Yall

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

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Moon Festival Adoptive Family Style

If you are Chinese, you might want to skip this post. Because my family's unconventional Moon Festival celebration might make you cringe. For example:

There they are. Howling at the moon. Every last one of them.

I don't think Chinese people usually do that.

Wenxin's been our son for two years now, but this was the first year we celebrated the Moon Festival.

Because even though I write an adoption parenting blog, I've got a long way to go as an adoptive parent.

That first year, when the Moon Festival rolled around, we had just arrived home from China and were still dealing with jet lag. Wenxin was grieving and raging, and honestly, it was all we could do just to hold things together around here. No Moon Festival for us.

Last year, I intended to buy mooncakes -- I really did -- until fall hit with a vengeance. School. Soccer. Julia's birthday. Before I knew it the Moon Festival had come and gone, and I was on my way to becoming the worst adoptive mom ever.

Back in the summer, Wenxin brought it up.  He told me about the Moon Festival in China -- how it was really fun.  He wondered if our family could celebrate it this year.

So this past weekend, while I was running from soccer game to soccer game and packing for New York in between, I googled "when is the Moon Festival in 2012?" It looked to me like the Moon Festival ran a whole week, so I figured if all else failed, we'd hunt down some mooncakes when we got to New York and celebrate up there. I also posted a Facebook message to ask my friends where they buy them and discuss  favorite mooncake fillings (more on that later).

6:30 pm Sunday night, I checked Facebook and saw this message from my friend, Jerry. Jerry's wife, Evelyn, is Chinese.

"It's tonight, you know. Tonight's the night you give the mooncakes."


I called an Asian food market downtown.

"Are you still open?"

"Yes, we're open til 8."

"Do you have mooncakes?"

"No, all gone."

Panic.  Panic.  Panic.

Googling Asian markets in town.

I found one that looked to be close to my house and called. Now it was 6:45.

"Are you open?"

"Yes, we are open until 7."

"Do you have mooncakes?"

"Yes, we have a few."

I grabbed my purse and ran to the car. Mike looked up from pushing the lawn mower just in time to see me screech off. A woman on a mission. In search of mooncakes.

I pulled into the Asian market parking lot at 7:02. I could see the owner reaching to unplug the "OPEN" sign.

"No, no, no, no!"

I ran to the door and pushed it open before she could lock it.

"Mooncakes," I gasped and staggered inside.

Selection was limited. The few that were left had red bean filling. Mooncakes, at least the ones I bought, are small -- about the size of moon pies, for my southern friends. Many of them have a whole egg yolk cooked inside -- like a full moon.  I opted for the no egg version. (I know, I'm a wimp.) There was a decorative tin with 4 mooncakes for $21.  I decided to buy a single mooncake ($5.99) for Wenxin, and then another single for the rest of us to share.  Something told me that would be enough.

"What do families in China do on this night -- besides give mooncakes?" I asked the owner.

"Usually we share a huge meal, like Thanksgiving, " she said.


Just great.

I didn't even have a plan for dinner.

"And you have to wait until the sun goes down."

Finally, a part of this whole moon thing that I could get right.  It was already getting dark outside.

Remembering there was a little jasmine rice left from lunch, I raced to Wal-Mart and bought a bag of frozen pot stickers.  No, they're not Wenxin's favorites. We'd never even tried them before. But I was winging this Moon Festival thing, and it was the best I could come up with on short notice.

So while Chinese families around town were feasting on big meals, our celebration was more like "Moon Festival in Time of Famine."

No, that's not the appetizer.  It's the whole meal.

But it didn't matter.  When Wenxin saw what I was doing, he got so excited.

"Should I put on the Chinese music, Mom?"  He ran to find the CD of Chinese folk songs he brought from China.

We did our best to eat pot stickers and jasmine rice with chopsticks.  I even broke out some fortune cookies.

And then there were the mooncakes. Even though I lived in Asia for seven years back when I was single, this was the first time I'd ever had mooncake. I've heard them compared to fruitcake in America.
When I opened the cellophane wrapper , a little package of silica  fell out. You know, the little packets that come in your box of new sneakers that say, "Do Not Eat."  I kid you not.  I'm sure there's a perfectly good reason for that; I'm just not used to finding those in my food.

When I sliced the mooncake that Nathan, Julia, and Katherine were going to share, everyone yelled, "Chocolate!"

"No," I corrected them, "It's red bean."  Yummm.

The looks on their faces as they chewed and swallowed confirmed one of my theories about traveling in Asia. "Eat, eat, eat, but stay away from the desserts." For most Americans, smashed red beans just don't belong in cake -- of any kind.  Oh well, Wenxin can't stomach cheese pizza.  But he seemed to genuinely enjoy his mooncake.

Moon Festival adoptive family style. For us, it was a good start, and it was fun. Our family made a memory together, and from what I understand, time with family is what the Chinese Moon Festival is all about.

Next year, I'll try to give the "feast" part a little upgrade.

Little by Little

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Teaching Reading to Newly Adopted Kids

Two years ago when we adopted Wenxin from China, he was a 7 1/2 year old who'd had no formal schooling. He could speak Chinese, but couldn't read or write it. He didn't speak a word of English and couldn't tell an "A" from a "Z". To top it off, he was 100% boy with boundless energy and zero tolerance for anything involving pencil, paper, or books.

Homeschooling allowed me the wiggle room to relax about all this; to spend our first months focusing on bonding and learning to live together as a family; to put away the English flash cards unless we were using them in a really fun game. In the process of normal life with a mom and dad and three English speaking siblings, Wenxin quickly became an English speaker himself.

We spent our first year playing with the language in preparation for learning to read. I taught Wenxin the English alphabet and a sound for each letter using an alphabet puzzle and fridge magnets. We played rhyming games. We sang songs. We drew pictures together which I labeled with words.  And I read aloud. Every day. For long periods of time.

Reading aloud to my kids is my favorite part of homeschooling. We do it every day. I start as the kids eat a morning snack, and when they finish eating, they do something quiet with their hands as they listen  -- coloring, play-doh, or even quiet building with Legos.

Last year, I read good children's literature aloud to the kids -- chapter books that were often way beyond Wenxin's language ability. I didn't really care if he was understanding every word or even any of the words for that matter. Does a baby understand all the words swirling around him at first? Of course not. But just like a baby, Wenxin was soaking in the sound and cadence of the language. And before long, I realized his comprehension was exceeding my wildest expectations. I believe that reading aloud to him has been the most important thing I've done in helping him become literate in English.

Today he speaks English fluently and is on his way to becoming a fluent reader. Below are some of the tools I'm using as I continue to teach Wenxin to read this year.

Alpha-Phonics - This is my favorite phonics program. It's a simple, non-consumable book that I've used to teach all my kids to read. Once your child recognizes the letters of the alphabet and learns their common sounds, he can begin to work through Alpha-Phonics.

Providing tons of practice blending sounds into words, this book will have your child reading simple sentences the first week. There's not a single illustration in the entire book, so it eliminates the temptation to just guess from the pictures.

Reading exercises - that's what I call this book. We do a little bit each day. Just like the drills Wenxin does at soccer train his feet to automatically respond in the game, our daily reading exercises train his brain to automatically decode written words as he reads.

Explode the Code - Most beginning phonics workbooks scream preschool. I needed to find a phonics workbook for Wenxin that looked cool enough for a 9 year old boy.

The Explode the Code series fits the bill. The illustrations are a little edgier (see the cover), and the sentences are often funny. I bought a stack of these inexpensive workbooks at the homeschool convention, and Wenxin does 2-4 pages a day.

Fly Guy series - These are our favorite easy readers about a boy named Buzz and his pet fly, Fly Guy. Funny enough to get some laughs from the teacher, this series was definitely written with boy readers in mind.

At this stage, it's essential to listen to kids read aloud, but many  beginning readers are nursery-rhymish and just plain lame. Fly Guy is way cooler, making reading aloud almost painless for nine year old boys and their moms.

Sight-Word Bingo - English is full of words that break the rules (sight-words) and other words that occur so often you shouldn't have to stop and sound them out every time (high frequency words). To become a fluent reader, there are a lot of words a child must learn to recognize by sight.

In addition to teaching sight words with flash cards, last year I purchased this sight-word bingo game to sneak in some extra practice. My super competitive kids all love WINNING at bingo, so I don't have to twist arms to get anyone to join Wenxin in a game.

Saxon Math 5/4 - Here's perhaps the strangest item to make the list: Wenxin's math book, Saxon 5/4.

Let me explain. Wenxin is very good at math. For the last two years, I've taught him using the Saxon Math homeschool curriculum. It's a very solid, challenging math curriculum, and Wenxin has done well with it. Saxon, however, is very language heavy. Lots of word problems = lots of reading = Wenxin couldn't do it independently = I had to sit with him the whole time he did his math practice = shoot me in the head; I'm exhausted.

This year I initially decided to switch to a computer based curriculum so that the computer could read his math problems to him. Problem solved. I had visions of actually getting other things done while a computer talked Wenxin through the math lesson.

But then, I met Cheryl Bastian, a teacher and home educator who evaluated Wenxin's homeschool portfolio from last year. When I mentioned the new math curriculum, Cheryl said, "That's a mistake." She encouraged me to keep him in Saxon, the more challenging program, mentioning that perhaps this strong area (math) might be used to pull up his weak area (reading).

And you know what? That's exactly what's happening. While we're doing math, Wenxin sits a little straighter.  He feels competent. And I've noticed that while he's feeling competent because we're working in one of his strongest subjects, he's more willing to take a stab at reading those problems for himself. His ability to read the math book is growing by leaps and bounds.

Who would've guessed? Reading practice in a math book.

Fridge Word Magnets - And finally, while the front of my fridge will never make a magazine cover, cluttered with these tiny word magnets, it's a fun place to play with the English language. Whenever inspiration strikes, we take turns coming up with the silliest sentences we can imagine. For Wenxin, this is another fun way to sneak in a little reading practice.

"Funny" is always good when teaching kids. "Funny" makes things stick. "Funny" makes learning hard stuff much more enjoyable. I have a theory that laughter aids retention in learning. I wonder if there's been any research on this?

In my experience, teaching kids to read is like pushing a giant boulder up a mountain. There are so many skills that have to be in place, including many we take for granted, before they can even begin the complicated process of decoding words. It's hard work, and progress seems slow. But at some point, you push the boulder over the top, and things really start moving. I think we're cresting that hill.

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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.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

When Fear Looks Like Disobedience

Yesterday, Karen shared an amazing guest post about what older child adoption looks like in her family.  Karen shared that older child adoption is exhausting.

Karen gave me so much to think about.  With all the challenges of parenting my older adopted child, am I really trusting God, or do I suffer from the sin of independence?  Does any part of my weariness come from trying to make this journey in my own strength?

We need people in our lives who surface questions like that.

Karen's post also caused me to think a lot about the kind of behaviors that fear triggers in our children who've come to us with a background of trauma.

Remember 10 year old Cami rolling on the floor and whining at her sister's kindergarten graduation?  Later that day, Karen discovered that all the talk about the end of school and summer vacation had put Cami in fight or flight mode because Cami didn't know what the terms end of school and summer vacation even meant. 

Fear can make our older adopted children behave in ways that mistakenly look like disobedience or immaturity. 

Remember when I posted the following story last year?

"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 darnedest 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.

Lord, give us the grace to parent our kids from "the hard places" with eyes of informed compassion.  Give us wisdom to see behind the bad behavior.  Help us ignore the weird looks and insensitive comments from folks who just don't understand.  Help us to be gracious to those people too, because not that long ago, we didn't understand either.  Amen.

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Coming up tomorrow:  a little post on why I'd like to be in a medically induced coma for the rest of this week.  It's true.  Check back tomorrow to see why!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How Did You Get A Boy From China?

"How did you get a boy from China?" 

It's a legitimate question.  I get why someone would ask.  But often, the immediate follow-up stings.

"I thought they wanted boys."

I understand the question, but when it's put that way, I cringe.  Please be sensitive when you ask questions of an adoptive parent -- not so much for the parent's sake, but because little ears are often listening, especially when we are talking about them.  "I thought they wanted boys."  What does it do to Wenxin's heart to hear a statement like that?

But getting back to the original question, let's talk about adopting a boy from China.

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.  Smile.  Here's what today's average informed person knows about China adoption:  China has a one child policy.  (What most people don't know is that China now allows some families to have two children.)  Chinese families want their one child to be a boy because in Chinese culture, adult sons are responsible to care for their aging parents.   For this reason, baby girls are often abandoned at birth so the parents can "try again" for a boy.

This limited understanding of a very complex social problem gives people the idea that there aren't any boys in Chinese orphanages.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

When you look at "waiting children" lists from China there are always boys --lots and lots of boys. 

Here are just a few reasons a Chinese boy might be waiting  -- sometimes for years -- to be adopted:

  • Chinese parents may give up a male child when the parents already have one or two other children.
  • Chinese parents may give up a child who has medical needs, even medical needs that seem minor to Westerners.
  • Sometimes parents die, and there's not another family member to take the child. 
  • Adoptive parents seem to prefer girls, especially when adopting an older child.

So I want to shout it from the rooftops, "Yes,you can adopt a boy from China. . .  Yes, you can.  We did, and our family wouldn't be the same without him." 

Would you consider adopting an older boy from China?  If you're an adoptive parent, how do you answer personal questions about your child's history?

Love Without Boundaries produced an amazing video about adopting a boy. Take a look.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Building Trust

If there's one thing I've learned along our adoption journey, it's that the unexpected tough times -- the meltdowns, the tantrums, the defiance, the whining, the over the top emotional responses that take us by surprise -- are really opportunities in disguise.  They are opportunities to understand our child.  They are opportunities to show love.  They are opportunities to build trust.  When our child is hurting and doing everything in his power to push us away, we have a chance to show him once again, that we're not going anywhere.  This mom and dad are here to stay. 

Last week we had an "opportunity," and of course, it came at an inconvenient time -- a time when I'd have rather been sleeping.

"It hurts!  My throat hurts!  Make it stop!"  It was 1 a.m. and Wenxin could not be consoled.

We weren't surprised because Nathan had been sick for days - sore throat, fever, cough - sick enough that we took him to the pediatrician, something our family doesn't do for every little sniffle.  However, the doctor had no magic pills to zap this nasty bug.  Like most viral illnesses, it would just have to run its course.  When Wenxin began to get sick, we knew he felt awful.  We'd been watching Nathan feel awful for days.

Still, Wenxin's reaction seemed a little over the top.  As we sat up with him in our family room in the middle of the night, nothing we tried helped.

"I don't want to snuggle!  I don't want you to hold me!"  Fighting me on the sofa, he arched his back and screamed, " MAKE IT STOP HURTING!" 

Mike made him a mug of warm water with honey.  "No!"  We offered cough drops and throat lozenges.  "No!"  Finally, he let me feed him a cup of children's ibuprofen.  Of course, that stuff doesn't work instantly.

I tried to calm him with my words.  "Mama knows you feel bad.  I'm not going to leave you while you're sick.  You'll get better."

Wenxin responded with . . .more kicking. . . more screaming. . . huge tears.

I prayed softly over him, asking God to heal his sore throat.

Eventually, Nathan wandered into the living room.  The noise had woken him up.  "I'm afraid something is really wrong with Wenxin," he said.  "I'm scared."  At only 12 years old, even Nathan knew this was not a "normal" reaction to a sore throat.

We reassured him and sent him back to bed.

"Maybe he has a really low tolerance for pain?" I sort-of-joked out loud.  Mike and I both agreed that he was truly sick.  We also agreed that all this screaming couldn't possibly be helping, but that point seemed lost on Wenxin.  We asked each other, "Where is this over the top reaction coming from?"

Exhausted, I asked Mike to get his guitar.  Wenxin screamed while Mike strummed.  Mike and I sang praise songs together.  In a few minutes, Wenxin's volume went down and he snuggled up with me -- just a bit.  Mike, who's a little out of practice, stumbled on some chords, bringing the tiniest of smiles to Wenxin's lips.  Finally, around 2 a.m., calm descended on the room, and we were ready for bed.

Stories like this make us scratch our heads. We've come so far.  Most days, Wenxin's just another kid in our family.  And then something like this happens.  . . something that seems really abnormal. . . .at least, really abnormal for a nine year old.

We've been piecing together what we can about Wenxin's history.  For whatever reason, sometimes the records you get with an international adoption aren't completely accurate.  Wenxin's special need was listed as burn scars, from a severe burn he received, according to his adoption records, before he was one month old.

Wenxin, however, insists it happened when he was in foster care.  He believes he was three or four years old -- old enough to walk and old enough to remember.

He's told us the same story in detail several times.  The last time he told me, I said, "You know, Wenxin, when Daddy and I went to China to adopt you, they gave us some papers that told about your life.  In the papers, they wrote that you were burned when you were a tiny baby, before you lived with your foster mom."

"Fine." Wenxin said sharply.  "I was a baby." 

Then, turning to walk away, he mumbled loudly, "LIARS."

On that night, weeks later, as we  tried to get Wenxin to calm down and let us comfort him, Mike said, "This makes me think that maybe he does remember being burned."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, a burn injury is extremely painful.  If he has a memory of that time, it might explain his over the top, emotional reaction to any type of pain."

It's a possibility.  It's a possibility, although we may never know for sure.

We can, however, be sure that even after a year and a half, we are still in the process of building trust with Wenxin.  Kids who are older when they are adopted have probably had their trust broken many times.  How are they supposed to know for sure -- not just in words, but deep down in their hearts-- that these new parents are any different?  Will we really be there for them when they are sick . . . or upset. . . or out of control?

I think we did OK that night.  Finally, around 2 a.m., I asked Wenxin if he'd like to sleep with us, since he was sick.  That made him really happy.  As we got in bed, he wrapped his arms around me and snuggling up close, had a coughing fit, right in my face. 

So I wasn't surprised a few days later when my throat began to hurt and I began to cough.  By early afternoon, I decided to take a nap on the sofa.  Wenxin brought me his favorite blankets and tucked me in.  Made my heart smile.  Looks like we're not just building trust.  Hopefully, we're building compassion too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

National Adoption Month: Processing What I've Come to Believe

November is National Adoption Month.  I love adoption, and I love my precious son who came into our family through adoption.  And yet, some parts of the adoption culture in America make me cringe. As we've navigated through the adoption process, I've learned the importance of thinking with both my head and my heart, and along the way, I've developed some pretty strong beliefs about adoption.

National Adoption month seems to be a good time to try and voice my thoughts.

Adoption should be about finding families for kids; not finding kids for families.
If you google adoption, you will find agencies promising to find you a healthy baby in a short amount of time.   Personally, I would run from those agencies.  Why?  Because it sounds to me like they are in the baby business.  They are promising to provide a product - a child.  And children are not products.

I hold to this so strongly because of something else I've come to believe through our adoption process:  If at all possible, parents should raise the children born to them.  Put another way, I believe the best place for any child is with their birth family - provided it is safe and loving.  In a perfect world, that's what would happen.  Every time.

Of course, our world is far from perfect, and every child isn't born to parents ready to give him or her a safe and loving home.  Sometimes babies and kids of all ages need to be placed for adoption.  In those cases, adoption becomes a redemptive response to the tragic loss of a child's first family.

Personally, I would never "pray" that a birth mother would give up her child.  Why would I pray for a woman to find herself in a situation so desperate that she couldn't keep the child she carried for nine months and then labored to bring into the world?  Why would I wish upon a child the loss of his first mom?

But I would pray my heart out for the child whose mother felt she had to give him up.  I would pray for that child to be placed in a loving home with wise godly parents who would help him process his unique history.  I would pray for healing in the first mom's heart.

Do you see the difference?  A family for the child.  Not a child for the family. 

A few years ago, contemplating adoption, we found ourselves at an adoption fair at a local church.  I'll never forget a conversation I had at one of the booths.  The staff person for this private adoption agency introduced me to one of their adoptive moms and asked this mom to share her story.

Glowing, she shared how her sweet son came into her family through adoption, but the longer she talked, the more uncomfortable I became.  She was particularly critical of her child's birth mom.  Apparantly, after introducing them to the birth father, a few months later the birth mom showed up at the hospital in labor -- on the arm of a new boyfriend.  "Oh, that's really common," the agency worker chimed in.  "They do that all the time." 

I couldn't figure out for the life of me why it was necessary to deride this child's birth mother to me, a total stranger.  Was she trying to let me see how better off her adopted child was with her?  I wanted to scream, "That young girl you're so smugly belittling gave you HER CHILD!"

This agency seemed very confident in their ability to talk young girls out of their babies and deliver their product to us, the adoptive parents.  I sensed a superior attitude, a sense of entitlement.  As we walked away I told Mike, "There's absolutely no way in the world I'd ever work with those people."

In our first interview with the agency we eventually used, we were told, "We find parents for children, not children for parents."  That's what I wanted to hear.

Even with that confidence, during the adoption process, our agency came under scrutiny as they were accused of unethical "recruiting" methods in Ethiopia.  We didn't know what to do.  We'd already been matched with Wenxin and were in the process of bringing him home.  And yet, the accusations were just too serious to ignore.

To be fair, we listened to our agency's side of the story.  I talked with our social worker.  By this time I had formed some online connections through message boards and adoption blogs, so I was even able to contact some of the families involved in accusations against our agency.  The internet can be an amazing tool!

We did more research and found no complaints about our agency's China program.  And by that time, Wenxin was our son in our hearts.  He'd spent a long time in the orphanage and we wanted to bring him into our family as soon as possible. 

So finally, shaken, we proceeded.  And Wenxin came home.  For good. 

We live in a fallen world and often the adoption process is flawed.  It's not a reason to "not adopt." But please, please, please think with both your head and your heart as you enter the process.

National Adoption Month is a time to highlight children who need families.  It's also a great time to open the discussion about adoption.  It's a great time to break the silence and voice honest questions, honest concerns.  Using our heads and hearts, we can make a difference.