Sunday, October 12, 2014

The First Six Months of Forever

Hard to believe we are well past the 6 month anniversary of Caleb's gotcha! Seems like only yesterday we were flying around the world to meet him! I'm amazed at his progress and the amount of change we've all adjusted to in such a short time! People often ask how everything is going and I'm never quite sure exactly how much information they really want to know. I usually smile and tell them we are doing well...which is true....but I fear that this oversimplifies and does not do justice to the reality of our new normal. As I sit and contemplate how best to update those that love us, I am (as always) acutely aware of the need for honesty to be tempered with grace and respect for the privacy of my family and of Caleb, as ultimately, how he has come to us is HIS story to tell someday when and how he desires to tell it. I was recently talking to another adoptive mom about some of the struggles we've faced in these early months and she said "I am so glad to know it isn't just our family that has struggled at times. I read so many blogs that are all so happy and beautiful and I think I'm failing!" Nope. It isn't all rainbows and butterflies!! That being said, I promise you that what I share here is the truth and that the details I choose to reveal are those that I feel confident might encourage others on their own adoption journey and also give friends and family a glimpse into our every day lives.

River front family pic

Honestly, these early months have been hard!! They've been like having a newborn and a 2 year old rolled into one! They have been rewarding beyond belief. They have been fun. They have been exhausting. They have been incredibly joyous, yet not void of grief. They have been chaotic at times. They have been laborious. They have been belly laughs and frustrated tears. They have been progress and change. They have been growth. They have been mistakes and wrong turns and forgiveness. They have been healing and adjusting. They have been many many things, but easy is definitely not among them!

my li'l pumpkin!

I have been more aware than ever before of the reasons God gives us those early months and years with our children as infants. It is through those early days of their total dependency that we form a strong bond -- a bond that is strong and secure before the need for discipline ever enters the picture! With Jasmine and Joshua I had close to two years of caring for them before it ever crossed their minds to disobey or tell me "no". With Caleb I had maybe an hour. Disciplining a toddler is difficult in the best of circumstances, but disciplining a toddler while also attempting to form a tight parent child bond and earn their trust is one of the most difficult things I've ever attempted to do!! Not only did Caleb come to us with zero knowledge of what a family means, he also came to us as an energetic, strong willed toddler, having never experienced loving discipline! Thankfully, our agency provided training for us throughout our process and also helped us to have realistic expectations. Overall, things are going well in this area, but we have not been perfect. There have been days I have been so pleased with the way we've all handled challenges... and there have been days I've failed miserably. (There may have been an incident in which a banana was thrown at me by a certain toddler and I completely lost my temper and made all three of my children cry before we were through breakfast. I may have later called my mother in tears convinced that I was the worst mom on the planet and that my children deserved better. The only defense I can offer for this hypothetical scenario is that it occurred on day eleven of a twelve day business trip my husband was on and I WAS SO SO TIRED. Hypothetically, of course.)

I recently read a couple of blog posts about the early months home with an internationally adopted child that blessed me down deep in my bones. You can read them here and here.There is no shortage of feelings that surface in everyone involved in this process and sorting through those feelings is no easy task. I decided to love Caleb when I started the adoption process, even before I knew who he was. Then I saw his picture and knew I'd move heaven and earth to get that boy into my arms and into my home. Though there is no question that we love him, the experience of joining him to our family is so very different than when a child joins by birth. I've had to let go of comparisons and mommy guilt over feeling differently and realize that adoption is different and that's ok. It's still love. And sometimes love means we do the right thing when we don't feel like it. Sometimes it means fighting for a piece of a child's heart that he has locked away. Sometimes it means fighting for your own heart when all you feel is exhausted frustration.  Sometimes it means grieving with and for your child. Sometimes it means putting your feelings and your guilt in the deep freeze and moving ahead with being mommy for the sake of your family. And sometimes that ooey gooey overwhelming warm fuzzy feeling we think of as "love" sneaks up on you and catches you unaware and you cry like a baby when you realize your child is terrified of thunder and all you can think of is "who comforted him when it stormed in China??"

He loves slides!

Caleb obeys us amazingly well considering the short time we've been together. I continue to be amazed at how loving, consistent boundaries and discipline actually seem to strengthen his bond to us. He tests and says 'no' and throws tantrums, but honestly after having raised two previous children past toddler-hood, he seems to be a very typical two year old. He wants to do things himself. He gets frustrated when he can't do things without help. He loves to tease. He loves to read the same books over and over until I have them all memorized and could recite them in my sleep. He loves Elmo. He loves cars and trucks and buses and airplanes and "choo-choos" and loudly points them out when he is in the car or outside. His language is progressing nicely. His receptive language is amazing. I can't believe how well he understands. His expressive language is a work in progress. There are words he says very clearly and other sounds that he doesn't seem able to make at all. I understand 80-90% of what he says (but only because I'm his mom!) but every now and then we hit a wall and both of us get frustrated. He is good at gesturing, sign language, and showing me what he wants, so we do pretty well overall. We are having First Steps come out for an evaluation to see if they might be able to help with his speech. (First Steps is Kentucky's early childhood intervention program. It is free for kids under 3 so he may get a little bit of speech therapy if he qualifies.) He occasionally puts two words together, but has a hard time saying more than two syllables at a time.

The three kiddos at the Falls of the Ohio

In August we celebrated Caleb's second birthday. He had no clue what we were doing, but he loved the cupcakes and the presents!! It felt so odd to me to celebrate a birthday with a child that is mine but that I didn't birth. I am just so very grateful to the mother that gave him life and will always acknowledge both this special day and that very special woman.

Happy birthday, Caleb!!!

When the big kids went back to school, Caleb started Mothers Day Out two days a week while I work. He goes to the same school the big kids go to (they have a full preschool program) which has been great! Not only does it minimize the running I do, he also knows that they are there and has seen the pattern of them getting dropped off and picked up every day. He has adjusted well to this, but struggles with crying at nap time. The teacher says he cries for me, which is hard to hear, but a good sign of healthy attachment. This is an area where it is impossible to tell if this is an adoption related issue (possibly all the kids on cots all over the room remind him of the orphanage and he freaks out and cries for mommy) or a normal toddler thing (he doesn't want to stop playing and take a nap so he cries. For the record, he loves nap time at home and is very compliant with it, often asking for "night night" when he gets sleepy!)  His teacher has been phenomenal with understanding his circumstances and communicating with us to help him through it. If I didn't need the childcare for my job, I wouldn't have chosen to put him in a childcare setting so soon, but overall he does remarkably well with it and it seems to have been good for his social development and language.

 SO excited for school!
 First day of Mother's Day Out....with bro and sis and a backpack bigger than he is!!

I'm happy to report that Joshua is doing fantastically well. He struggled so much for the first few months we were home, but he has come through that crisis and has settled into a beautifully normal relationship with his little brother. Caleb idolizes him. He calls him "Jah-Jah" and follows him around and imitates everything he does. Joshua handles it well and rarely has to be reminded to be a good example. He is usually happy to see Caleb after school and play with him a little and then he yells for me to make Caleb get out of his room or make him stop touching his stuff. Beautifully normal.

Big bro helping Caleb eat some yogurt (one of Caleb's most favorite things!)

Jasmine still thrives in the roll of big sis. Caleb usually calls her "sissy" but sometimes he says "Shazzy" too. He has learned that if mommy's hands are too busy to help him at any given time, he can yell for Sis and get a pretty quick response.

Caleb quickly learned to LOVE swimming this summer!!
I am so blessed to be part of a group of adoptive moms locally that gets together monthly for dinner out and plans lots of play dates for our whole families. (Most of these moms have Asian children.) I am so thankful that Caleb has a community of people his age and his race with his background to grow up with. I am also blessed beyond measure by the women in this group. These. Are. My. People. This community has been invaluable to our success as a family and in many ways, to my sanity.

Caleb & I and my dear friend, Jennie, with her daughter, Kate, adopted from the SAME ORPHANAGE as Caleb!!!
a group shot from a recent outing with our adoption group

Caleb is still a cuddle bug and very much a creature of habit. When we first came home, we'd point to ourselves and say "mommy", "daddy" and so on. We'd point at him and say "Caleb" to help him learn his name. Every night when I'd put him to bed, I'd kiss him and say "I'm so glad God picked me to be your forever mommy!" I'd pat my chest and say "forever mommy" and pat his and say "forever my Caleb." Now he initiates this ritual at night and if I forget, he quickly gets my attention and says "mommy, Day-Day (how he tries to say Caleb), evuh!"

In China, I started singing the song "A Thousand Years" to him every night as I put him to bed. That has become our special song and he wants me to sing it to him every night and also if he is scared or wants comfort. He asks other people (Steve or grandma) to sing "Jesus" (Jesus Loves Me) but he always wants me to sing that special song.  (He calls it the Bah Bah song..I have no idea why but that is how he refers to it). The whole song felt like the perfect fit to our journey to him and our Gotcha day, so if you don't know it, you can hear it in our coming home video here. The chorus says "I have died every day waiting for you/ Darling don't be afraid I have loved you for a thousand years/ I'll love you for a thousand more/ All along I believed I would find you/ time has brought your heart to me/ I have loved you for a thousand years/ I'll love you for a thousand more."  I've never been so tired of singing one song in my life, but I do it every day because I know these days of his babyhood are so fleeting and what seems now to be boring and endless repetition will soon become sweet and distant memories.

taken through the kitchen window...Caleb playing in the sandbox while I made dinner

When I reflect on the last six months and look ahead to the future of our family I can't help but be overwhelmed at the blessings we've received from obeying God's call on our lives to care for the fatherless through adoption. What a miracle it has been in each of our hearts. We could have said no. We could have ignored God's call to go to China. We could have had an easier life, more money, more space in our home. We could have missed all this. I could have missed hearing Caleb's first 'yuh-yoo' (I love you) as I laid him in bed one night. I could have missed out on beautiful friendships with some of the most amazing people I know. I could have missed watching God awesomely provide every penny we needed to bring this boy home. I could have missed teaching my children so many lessons about love. I could have missed hearing Caleb say 'Jesus' when he wants to us to sing 'Jesus Loves Me' to him. I could have missed seeing the love for their siblings grow and blossom in all three of my children! I could have missed his morning requests with outstretched arms for "oven" (lovin').  So many miracles we could have missed, not the least of which is an amazing little boy who calls me "mommy."

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Celebrating 3 Months As A Family of Five!!

On June 24th, we celebrated three months with Caleb in our forever family and on July 3rd, we celebrated being HOME as a family of five for three months!! It is hard to believe, but in some ways it feels like he's been with us forever!

People keep asking me for updates and wondering how we are doing, so I thought I'd post an update about each of us and how we are adjusting to our new life together. I've been working on trying to get this together for several is hard to find time to blog these days!!

Our first family pic as a family of 5!
We've discovered that in many ways, parenting a newly adopted toddler is completely opposite of the way we parented our big kids who had been with us from conception. (Of course, the big over-arching themes and goals are the same, but some of the specifics are very different, especially in these early days.) We have been so very grateful for all the training we were required to do throughout the adoption process and we feel like we were very well prepared and equipped for the shift in parenting style.

 First time swimming...Memorial Day weekend

With the bio kids, we worked at getting them comfortable with other care givers so that we could leave them for brief periods of time and know they were in good hands. With Caleb, we have been neurotic about NOT letting anyone else care for him at first. When we first got home, he had a lot of "indiscriminate friendliness." He would go to anyone and often lifted his hands for strangers in a gesture of asking them to pick him up. Obviously, this isn't normal or healthy for a toddler who has grown up in a family! Toddlers and older children adopted out of institutions have missed a very vital part of normal development in attaching to a set of caregivers or a family! It is extremely important that we work hard at getting Caleb attached to us these first six months home in order to start him out on the right path developmentally. Before us, all the adults in Caleb's world were orphanage workers! They all basically existed (to him) in order to meet his needs. He was never exposed to any strangers or even the idea that all people are not safe. He had zero understanding of family. At the orphanage, they called all the nannies "mama" he called all adults mama for quite awhile! People would hear him say it and comment on how quickly he was knowing me as mama when in reality he thought everyone was mama! (This bugged me a LOT more than I care to admit!)  We "cocooned" with him as much as possible after we got home, really intentionally telling him "this is home" and "I am Mommy/Daddy" "you are Caleb"etc. When we did go out, we did not allow anyone other than Steve or myself to hold, touch, feed, change, or care for Caleb in any way. We instructed people that if he lifted his hands to be picked up or sought anything from them to please direct him back to us. (We were trained on all of this during our adoption process). We still prefer this although we are loosening the boundaries a small amount at a time with our family allowing him to know grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc a little bit at a time.  We have to do this slowly as change is still overwhelming to him! We taught him to call me "mommy" and Steve "daddy"...which he does, but occasionally a loud "Maaa-maaa" still escapes him, especially when he wants to get our attention quickly! We have seen that indiscriminate friendliness essentially disappear. Several times people have gotten close to him or reached to hold him and he has shaken his head "no" and turned to me, which is a fantastic sign. He does seek us out in a group when he needs something now instead of just walking up to the closest adult.

Ready for some pool fun!

We did allow my mom to form a special bond with him as I needed to return to work about a month after we were home and I was not about to let anyone outside the family watch him just yet. What a blessing to us that my mom had retired this past winter! She comes to our home and watches him for the 20 hours a week that I work and he has gotten very attached to his "Dee-Dee!"

We've also just in the last few weeks, begun leaving him in the church nursery for an hour. At first, Steve and I took turns walking around with him during the sermon and then lately I'd gone into the nursery and stayed with him a few times to observe how he would do in that environment. Our post-adoption counselor advised us of signs to look for to know he was ready to be in that type situation for a short time and we felt comfortable giving it a go, so we did. He cries and clings to me when I drop him off (a very good sign) but quickly calms for them and then is SO happy to see me when I pick him up. So far so good on that, but we will continue to take it slowly with him and it will still be awhile before we check him in for both the worship and the Sunday school hour.  (Thankfully, we go to a large church with a pretty large population of adoptive families and the nursery volunteers have been terrifically understanding!)

First trip to the Rockies

Another thing that is super different about parenting Caleb is that we were thrilled when he started to reject certain foods! Most toddlers reject foods and it can be (and at times past has been!) such a huge frustration...but with Caleb it means he is trusting us and knowing that he will be fed! When we met him he would eat ANYTHING and everything and want to constantly hold food in his hands, etc. This is common in kids who've lived in institutions and who've been traumatized as they may not have always had their hunger satisfied and this can be an attempt to have some sense of control over their world when they are fearful from so much change. He still eats fantastically, but he doesn't always clean his plate and he will show dislike for a few things now from time to time.

I feel like I am finally knowing the "real" Caleb as he is healing from the trauma of all that he has been through and is trusting us more and more all the time and attaching to us as his forever family. It is only now that I can look back at our time in China and our early weeks home and realize how much of what we saw in him was a result of fear and trauma! So many behaviors have changed for the better! He is sleeping well, thriving on a consistent schedule, growing like a weed, and has a very happy nature. He tests us, like all toddlers do, and we have special methods we learned in our training that we use to correct inappropriate behavior. So far, those methods have worked beautifully for us! I am so thankful that people have devoted years of study to bonding, attachment and disciplining children from hard places!

Love these three.

We recently went on our first vacation as a family of five! We drove to Colorado for a family reunion in the rocky mountains in honor of my precious grandma's 90th birthday! Caleb did fantastic. He was nervous and unsure at times and definitely had moments of fear and frustration, but I was greatly pleased overall. He kept asking everyday that we were gone, "home? home?" We've worked really hard on helping him learn that this house is our home and that we are his family. When we got home, he was giddy with excitement and kept yelling "home!! home!!"
Hiking in the Rockies!

Without a doubt, my sweet six year old has had the hardest adjustment to having Caleb home. I don't want to share too much as I desire to respect his privacy, but I think it is also important to be honest and realistic. Joshua has struggled. Big time. I've talked to our social worker and post adoption specialist and even our pediatrician about his struggles. Thankfully, things seem to be looking up, but he still has good days and bad days. I hadn't thought about it exactly this way before, but until now, he's never experienced a major life change, so the combination of losing his spot as the baby of the family and transitioning to the role of big brother (a role he so desperately wanted) has been hard. Not only did he get a new brother, he got an active ball of fire who gets a LOT of special attention!  He said to me one night, "Mommy, the thing is that being a big brother is so much harder than I thought it would be!" Bless his tender heart. I love that boy to pieces and I've started telling him that as my middle child, he's right in the middle of my heart! His struggles have provided a lot of teachable moments. He has learned a lot about love (as we all have!). Learning that loving through actions and commitment can precede and even induce the emotional feeling of love is a very deep lesson for a six year old!
My mountain climber at 12, 000 feet!

My precious and nurturing nine year old thrives in the role of big sis! She loves the point that I tell her multiple times a day to "give him some space!" I am not at all surprised and as a big sister to two younger brothers myself, I see a lot of me in her....which can be good and bad! She has been sympathetic and caring toward Joshua and his struggles as well. She's bossy...always has been. But she has a beautiful loving heart and to tuck her in at night and hear her pray sincerely for orphans ....there are no words. This girl may just grow up and change the world.

Estes Park selfie
My husband was made for fatherhood. Seriously. Could not be better at it. He loves his kids and his role as daddy more than life itself. I am so very glad my kids have him for their dad. He loves easily and nurtures well. He is a strong example and boy oh boy is he fun!! The biggest change for him has been that just a few weeks after we were home, he started a new job! Still with the same company but in a different role and with a much better schedule. We've loved having him home for dinner every night and spending weekends and holidays as a family! He is my rock and my safe place for all the emotions I'm experiencing all the time as I process becoming a mother of three.
 Letting Caleb touch the freezing mountain water
I am still processing everything we saw in China. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about the kids we left behind. I see their faces in my mind, both at Hope Healing Place Foster Home and at the orphanage. My heart is wrecked for these kids...for these families torn apart.

I knew that adoption always starts with something broken, but I didn't know how much that would affect my heart until I did it. The miracle of this child being grafted into our family tree is so beautiful it brings me to tears almost daily. Yet there is grief. When I had a baby born to me, it was accompanied by the purest joy I've ever experienced. Although there is great joy in having Caleb there is also the terrible sadness that comes from the reality of where he came from. This beautiful, sweet, innocent baby boy loves me and calls me mommy ...and he was born of someone else. There is a quotation attributed to Jody Landers that says "A child born to another woman calls me mom. The depth of the tragedy and the magnitude of the privilege are not lost on me." That pretty much sums up what's been going on in my head for the last three months!! I believe that I will continue to process this for years to come and I'm thankful that I serve a God who specializes in making beauty from the ashes!!

First Independence day as a US citizen!!!

A few of my favorite things Caleb currently does:
Yells "Home!!" when we pull into our garage. He started this on his own and the first time he did it brought tears to my eyes. Yes, sweet boy, you are home!

Wrestling. This boy loves to rough house and he is fun to rough house with!! We joke that his love language is sumo wrestling (yes we know that is Japenese, not Chinese, but still.)

He'll run up and grab your hand and pull you and say "'mon"....meaning "come on." If you aren't close enough to grab a hand he will gesture at you to come.

Charades. This kid can act things out like you would not believe. I fear he will never really talk because he can ask for things so well by acting them out. For example if he wants a tissue, instead of asking with words, he will walk up to you and get your attention and pretend he's blowing his nose. He does this with all kinds of things.

PEEPAH!!! that's his word for pizza. He says it with joy and enthusiasm and he eats it in the same fashion!

He holds his feet up and makes kisses with his lips every night after bath....his way of asking me to kiss his feet. I do it. Every. Time.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

On Mother's Day: An Open Letter to My Son's Birth Mom

Dear "Her",

We don't know each other. In all likelihood we will never meet. I have no way of finding you.  Despite your anonymity, I have thought about you frequently in the last six and a half weeks. You were on my mind when I traveled to the other side of the world. Thoughts of you tugged at my heart when a precious little Asian-eyed boy was placed into my arms. You were on my mind as I took an oath to never abandon or abuse him and signed it with my thumbprint. Thoughts of you consumed me when I visited the orphanage where he spent the first months of his life and the spot where you left him to be found. In the weeks since we've been home I've thought of you a little less often as I've settled into being his mama. At times I have an irrational pang of guilt when he lavishes his kisses on me or when he cuddles closely to my neck on his way to sleep. I wonder if you would have made a different choice had you known how healthy he would turn out to be.

People ask me about you. Sometimes they insensitively refer to you as his "real" mom. I know what they mean. Usually they want to know if I know anything about you or have any contact with you. They want to know why you "gave him up." You see, we live in such an abundantly blessed country that most people here can't fathom the desperation that would drive a mother to abandon her child. Most people here don't know that the only way to give a child up for adoption in China is to abandon him and hope for the best. They assume that you didn't love him or that you somehow were hard and uncaring. They don't know that many times the children found abandoned in China are wrapped up in blankets with hot water bottles to keep them warm and have a note pinned to them begging someone to help the precious child they can't care for. They haven't seen the footage from the security camera at the Guangzhou baby drop station that shows sobbing mothers walking, crawling or being dragged away from their babies, consumed with the agony of an unthinkable choice.

I know how it feels to have life move inside you. I know how it feels to bring a child into this world only to find out that as they leave your body, somehow they take a big piece of your heart with them forever. I know how it feels to love someone so much more than you ever thought possible. I can't imagine the decision to lay down my child and walk away. Considering the hopelessness you must have gone through in coming to such a decision shatters my heart.

Did you save the news clipping in the local paper that featured his picture asking you to come forward to claim him? Did you ever consider doing just that but then realize your circumstances hadn't changed? Do you think about him every day even though it has been nearly two years since you 've seen him? Does your heart ache this Mother's Day with thoughts of a child you once held that has your eyes?

The truth is that I will never have answers to the questions. I will never know his family medical history. I will never know if he has your nose. I will never know if you were too young, too sick, too poor to meet his needs. Maybe you hid the pregnancy so that you were not forced to kill your unborn child. Maybe he was a forbidden second child that you were forced to hide as he grew in your belly. There are a million maybes and all I have are a few rudimentary facts. Someday when he asks, I will tell him that you chose life for him in a country that encourages and at times forces women to abort their babies. I will tell him that you left him in a place where you knew for certain that he would be found and cared for. I will tell him that you did the best you could. I will assure him that you loved him.

If I could, I'd tell you about this amazing boy that you brought into this world. I'd tell you how he loves watermelon and red raspberries more than anyone I've ever known. I'd tell you  how he loves bath time and peek-a-boo and how he starts to dance at the first note of music. I'd tell you how smart and funny he is and how he has the best belly for blowing raspberries. I'd describe how he smiles and laughs with his whole face until his eyes disappear.

I would assure you that he is safe, that he is well fed and that he is loved. Oh how he is loved!! He has the kind of daddy most people only dream of having. He has a big sister and a big brother who dote on him constantly. He has the best sets of grandparents in the world and a slew of aunts, uncles and cousins that adore him.

I promise you I will always put his needs above my own. I will make sure he gets a good education. I will make sure he eats his vegetables and washes behind his ears. I will comfort him when he is afraid. I will nurse skinned knees and broken bones and head colds and tummy viruses. I will hug him often and protect his heart and his mind and his body. I will be there when he has his first broken heart, when he makes the team - or doesn't, when he graduates from high school, when he marries the one he loves. I will teach him to balance a checkbook, to scrub a toilet and to iron his own shirts. I will encourage him to pursue his dreams and work hard to achieve his goals. I will do these things and more because I am his mother.

There will always be a part of his heart that belongs to you. There will always be a piece of his life that is yours. The truth is that without you he wouldn't be mine and I would have missed the blessing of mothering him. Thank you for the precious gift of this boy's life.

I pray that your heart finds peace and that you know that he is loved.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Two and a Half Weeks Easter Update

It's hard to believe we will celebrate one month with Caleb this week! He has been officially a Porter for almost a month and home for two and a half weeks!! I am happy to report that he is doing amazingly well!! When I think about all the change in his little life over the past six weeks I am completely in awe of his progress. His world was shaken when he was moved from Hope Foster Home, where he had lived for the past year, back to his orphanage in preparation for adoption and then two weeks later it was shaken again when he was driven to a hotel and handed over to two people he'd never met! He spent time in three different hotels with us in China, took three airplane rides and countless van rides with us and then ended up on the opposite side of the world with a bunch of pale skinned people who spoke a language he had never heard, ate food he had never tasted and called him a name he had never answered to!! It makes my head spin!!

First trip to the park

The first days home were HARD as we had expected. We'd been told that jetlag in a toddler takes 1-2 days/nights to overcome for EVERY HOUR OF TIME DIFFERENCE!! That translated into 12-24 days to correct his schedule! We were blessed that it only took about 7-10 days before he was sleeping pretty well and seemed to have his nights and days straight. He had a hard time adjusting those early days and it was impossible to differentiate between jetlag, fear, anxiety, frustration and just being a toddler who didn't like to sleep. It was likely a mixture of all of these! With loving consistency, he is now sleeping alone in his own bed in his own room all night...and seems to like it!! He goes around and blows kisses to all of us and says "Nigh-nigh" and then gets right into his bed!! He still likes to reach his hand out and hold the hand of whichever one of us is putting him down as we sing to him and occasionally he will lay in our arms and let us rock him which is so very sweet.

I've never seen a kid love a bath so much or wash so voraciously!!

His English is coming along too. He seems to understand almost everything we say and even though he only says a very few words (at least in English!), he is very good at getting us to understand him through gestures, sign language and sounds!

He has become extremely affectionate with both Steve and me. He will often run up to us and throw his arms around us and give us kisses. He is beginning to do this with the big kids as well, though they are often still in his personal space more than he likes! I got one unprompted kiss in China and I get several a day now. Watching his trust and love for us blossom is so incredibly beautiful!!

apparently this book is hilarious!!
We have been "cocooning" these early days home, meaning staying home as much as possible and minimizing interaction with people outside our immediate family. The purpose of this is to help Caleb firmly attach to us as his parents and siblings. We've gone to the park, run a few errands and had some short visits from grandparents but we have made sure that Steve and I are the only ones directly caring for Caleb. We had our first pediatrician visit and our first post adoption visit with our social worker. Both went very well. We went to church but kept Caleb with us as we will wait a few weeks and make sure we are seeing strong attachment before we leave him in the nursery.
Sliding with sis! 
Adoption and the change it brings are so beautiful and yet so very broken. I look at this beautiful boy who is giving us his heart and his kisses and I think of the woman on the other side of the world who gave that up and my heart aches. I think of the months of his life that I know nothing about and my heart aches. Someday Caleb will face these realities and the unanswered questions and his little heart will ache with the loss of his first family.

This kid falls right to sleep in the car!! 

I feel compelled to share our journey as a family in the hopes that it will encourage others who are considering adoption as well as sharing with all those who helped us so much through our adoption process. At the same time I feel very protective of certain parts of the story as I realize that all three of my children are human beings with their own stories to tell and I want to honor and respect that and not share things carelessly without considering this reality. This addition has brought change to our family and change is never easy. There have been moments when I have thought about how easy life used to be and I've longed for that easiness, but at the end of the day I wouldn't trade this journey or this process or most of all this SON for all the ease and comfort on the planet!!

When we started this process I wondered if I could love a child I didn't give birth to as much as the ones that I did. While I admit it has been extremely different getting to know a 20 month old that is suddenly my child with all kinds of ideas, habits, personality traits and experiences I know very little about than it was getting to watch a newborn grow and develop with my own genetics, I am here to tell you that motherhood is truly a matter how it happens.  I love this sweet boy to the moon and back and then some!!

Caleb's first Easter!! Worshipping the risen Savior with Mommy!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Home Sweet Home!

We made it home!! I can't even begin to describe how wonderful it is to be home and together as a family of five!!

Our flight went very well overall - much better than we had expected! We joked about how Caleb's  behavior on the plane is a true testament to the power of prayer, Dramamine and Benadryl!! He didn't have any tummy problems and he only got really upset a couple times. He mainly sat and played and slept. He took about 3 naps on the long flight. We had bought a few toys for him in China and kept them hidden until the plane ride, which proved to be a good idea!

He was asleep when we landed in Chicago. He slept peacefully through another moment in the series of moments that have changed the life of this precious child in the past few weeks! This was the moment he became an American citizen! As we started our descent, I looked over at Steve and said "he's about to become an American!!" to which Steve replied with an excited "I know!!" The way the adoption process works for Chinese adoptions, their paperwork is prepared in advance and once they are on American soil, they officially become a citizen. I was struck yet again by what an awesome privilege it is to be an American. So many people want to come here and never are able to do so! We saw this first hand at the American Consulate in Guangzhou. Crowds of Chinese people lined up outside trying to obtain visas to get to the US! It really is such an awesome country! I had grown up hearing and believing that, but something about seeing first hand how much people want to come here brings a new sense of patriotism!

We got off the plane, strapped Caleb onto Steve with the carrier and quickly made our way through the line for immigration and customs. We were still with the two other families we'd been with for the entire trip and despite our exhaustion after having just survived a 15 hour flight with toddlers, we all had this excitement over our new little citizens!

We had almost a five hour layover in Chicago. We weren't sure how long customs would take but it turned out to be pretty quick for us. We grabbed some food and settled down to wait. During our wait we had to say goodbye to the other families that had been our travel companions. We were so sad to part ways but we were all so ready to get home!

After 4 gate changes and an hour delay due to the crew for our flight being on another late flight, we finally boarded the plane that would take us home! Caleb had done well for most of our layover but at the very end he was really struggling! I think the exhaustion and the long hours of travel were taking their toll on all of us! While we were waiting to board the flight to Louisville, we met another family from Louisville with several Chinese children. They were on their way home after a spring break trip and they struck up a conversation with us when they noticed we had a Chinese child. It turns out that they have a 7 year old daughter adopted from the same orphanage as Caleb!! What a small world and what a blessing to have met them! The little girl was so cute! She came over to me and said "I'm so sorry, but I don't remember your little boy!" Her dad explained that she had been adopted before he was born and then she was quite relieved to know she had not forgotten an old friend!

Once we boarded the plane, all three of us went to sleep. At this point, we'd been traveling over 24 hours and Caleb had napped intermittently but none of us had gotten very much quality rest during that time. The flight was very quick and I woke up just as we were landing. We were home!! I was so happy and the knowledge that I was minutes away from hugging Jasmine and Joshua coupled with my exhaustion started to make me very emotional!! As we approached the area where everyone waited for us I found myself walking faster and faster and then I caught a glimpse of my kids!! I dropped my bag and ran toward them and they ran at me and we were all hugging and I was bawling. Joshua said "I'm so happy I feel like I'm going to cry!" There was a big crowd of friends and family cheering for us, waving "welcome home" signs and waiting to greet us, even despite the lateness of the hour! It was amazing. So many people who had helped us fundraise, who had given freely of their time, energy and money, who had prayed for us faithfully every step of the way were now welcoming us home. I am still so humbled at the memory of it all!

The last several days we have been soaking up family time. The big kids still had Friday off for spring break, which was wonderful. We had some nice weather and played outside and inside. Friends have been bringing meals so that we could spend time resting and bonding with Caleb and that has been an incredible blessing!!

Jet lag is an ugly beast, especially when it involves a toddler trying to adjust to a new hemisphere's time zone! The first several nights were very difficult but we are beginning to see improvement in Caleb's sleep habits. He is definitely now at least tired at the appropriate times, but he still wakes up to make sure we are still here. I'm pretty sure he has never slept in a room alone before so that takes some getting used to, but he is adjusting well for the most part. (I've been talking to the other mamas we travelled with and their little ones are doing a lot of the very same things, so I am quite reassured that this is to be expected!)

Caleb is a strong willed, resilient, smart, silly and loving child. I'm amazed at his ability to smile and to love so freely after all he has been through in his 20 month lifetime! We have finally been home longer than we were in any one hotel with him in China, but I keep reminding myself that he has gone through so many rapid changes in the last few weeks that it will take time for him to realize that our family is forever.

He absolutely ADORES Jasmine and Joshua and the feeling is quite mutual. They are all very much in a "honeymoon" phase. I don't expect it to last forever, but I am eating up the sweetness and the newness as we settle in to our new normal.

Caleb is learning English quite well. He seems to understand a great deal of what we say and has begun to repeat a few words. He says "hi" and "bye" very well. He  also says "more" and just this morning he looked at Steve and said "daddy"! (He has been calling us both "mama" and Steve keeps telling him "I'm not mama, silly! I'm daddy!")

So this is it. Home. Let the journey truly begin!!