Monday, June 13, 2016

One Month In...almost...

I've gotta be real here. This transition's been hard...hard from a past of institutional trauma, hard from frustration, hard from loss. I struggle with how much to share publicly, because I don't want anyone in any way to misconstrue my honest transparency as disappointment. Adoption is beautiful and it is a blessing, but it's also messy and reveals many blemishes in our human nature. The saving grace is our Lord and Savior who's gone before us and loves us unconditionally despite those blemishes. These children are braver than most of us, God bless them. We know that Lulu needed a family...but she doesn't necessarily know what that means for her life, especially given her age. I can't begin to imagine how scary it must be to just walk away from everything you've ever a different country, with a different language, and different people, eating different food, trusting that you'll be five-years-old, no less. I know how trying it's been for us, and we're not the ones who gave it all up.

Lulu's doing so well, on the whole! She is such a sweet, loving child, and you can clearly see it in her beautiful, cheerful photographs. If you've met her already, you can tell that her personality shines in person. Her highs are extremely high, but sadly, her lows have been painfully low, and each day is different. We have to remember that children from orphanages are usually about half their age emotionally, which makes her like a 3 to 4 year-old. Lulu's struggled with very long and intense  meltdowns, and sometimes it's difficult to pinpoint the "why," much like with a baby who can't communicate. We believe some most of it is frustration from language. I mean, wouldn't things be so much easier if we totally understood each other?!? Of course! Lulu's very hard on herself if she does something wrong, it seems, so we have been very intentional about minimizing those mistakes and reassuring her that it's okay, until she realizes that it truly is okay. We also have reason to believe many of her extreme rages in "fight" or "flight" mode (which seem to have declined a bit, praise the Lord) stem from fear--fear of getting in trouble, fear of being given back, fear of being out of control, fear of questioning what tomorrow brings. This process truly leaves everyone exhausted at times (thus my lack of blogging), and patience and grace are virtues we cry out for regularly, but at the end of the day, we have faith that we're one step closer to a happier and more well-balanced who will trust us with all her heart and understand our pure desire to help her and to love her. 

Although I know it's not right to compare because each child is SO different, I did want some sort of reference point to lean on, so I felt compelled to go seek out this blog post from when Joseph came home, because I'd forgotten (thanks to adoption amnesia), in many ways, how trying the transition into a family can be for these children. They both came home at the same age, but Lulu's transition has been even more emotional than Joseph's We can't wait to look back on these tough times as merely "ancient history," as we do with his. A friend said lightly to me one day, "Be careful what you wish for," and I realized how much that saying just doesn't belong here when it comes to children's lives. God wishes so much more for them, and for all of us, than we ever could, and He doesn't always call us to the easy. And He will get us through the hard.

So, let's talk about the awesome happenings around here, because this beautiful little lady--God made her very special. Don't tell her she has any limitations, because she'll show you otherwise. This kid is strong as an ox. And she is so proud of everything she learns! I do believe Lulu will be a wonderful student based on how observant and determined she is.

Lulu can dress up like a girl, and she can fight like a boy. She was with many boys in the orphanage, and it's obvious that rough-housing isn't new to her. (or maybe they watched a lot of television?) I think Joseph and Charlie are afraid of her sometimes, lol! She seems to be very social and loves being around kids. It's hard to see sometimes, though, in an unfamiliar environment that's not fully predictable to her yet, and she'll tend to be safely clingy.

We are thankful that our daughter, like Joseph, didn't skip a beat when it came to her bedtime routine. It is so shocking how a two week departure from our time zone affects us as adults, yet her little body made the change almost seamlessly. Right now, Lulu is co-sleeping with Jimmy and me as we try to figure out permanent sleeping arrangements here. Even though her mattress is on our bedroom floor, our bed is her choice for comfort, so we'll keep at it until it seems she's adjusted better, and then we can move forward with next steps.  She made it clear that her daily nap was a thing of the past from day one, and since she'll be six this month, we were in full agreement with her plan.

Lulu loves the bath. I think back to China and the tears of fear that came with getting in those first few tubs. She's come SO far. And she LOVES to really loves to swim and went from being terrified the first time in a pool to jumping in (with floaties) and getting her head wet. Daddy's been handling pool duty = true fun. Her smile...need I say more?

Four weeks ago, this child had never even seen a carseat before and needed full assistance. Now, Lulu jumps in by herself and fastens her seat belt with help. She can get out all by herself and will always make sure the van doors are shut because she's very responsible like that.

The language is coming...maybe more slowly than Joseph's, we're not sure. It seems to early to tell. But I can say that, initially, Lulu found comfort in solely viewing Chinese cartoons, and now we see her seeking out YouTube Kids videos of the alphabet and numbers. I also play a DVD in the background that's designed for teaching English to babies and toddlers, so it's the perfect speed for her!

Lulu LOVES to help around the house--from getting the mail to loading the dishwasher. Of course, the help comes easier if it's her idea. Ahem...she's just like the rest of us!

This child eats! She came to us very well-fed, and we haven't found much that she doesn't like to eat. I do believe that her good appetite has helped her body and brain in more ways than we truly realize. Nutrition is such a key factor in brain development, so we are thankful for her love of food.

And last but certainly not least...Lulu adores her siblings and all day, while they were at school, she would say, "Madi, Charlie, Joey" in hopes that it was time to collect them. They are so, so good with her, and surprisingly patient through the hard times. Madi has even been such a huge blessing in times of grief and tries to console her little sister. We pray that our children, as they witness Lulu's struggles, will be formed into better people having watched their sister overcome them and transform into a beautiful butterfly, because we know she will...she already is! I think summertime will be the best medicine for her heart and learning how to live her new life with a family.

Thank you all for continuing to pray our family through this phase. They say that adoption really begins when your children get home, and it is so true. Those two weeks in China seem unreal, and in many ways they are. So now, we have begun the real work, and we will continue to march forward with angels at our sides. We are so eternally grateful to be the lucky parents to these beautiful children. It is such a blessing and a privilege to answer the call from above, and we thank you for helping us get Lulu HOME!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Coming Home - Mother's Day 2016

One month ago, at this very time, we were on the last leg of our journey home. It all seems like such a blur now, yet it seems like yesterday that we were sitting in that hotel room in Guangzhou and received an email at around 9 p.m. that our flight to Beijing the next morning had been cancelled because of the bad weather that had been sitting over us all evening. I stared at the email in shock and horror. At the same time, we received word that my dad had been admitted to the hospital with bronchitis and serious dehydration. I felt so out of control and desperate to get home, so I contacted our guide, Kathy, on WeChat, asking for help. She was unsuccessful in finding out much over the phone and suggested we check out of our hotel room extra early the next morning and head to the airport in hopes of securing another morning flight out. I didn't sleep much that night, suffice it to say, and emailed/texted with friends back home to check on my dad through the night.

We left the hotel at 5:00 a.m. in a fog. Thankfully, Lulu had a decent night's sleep which was our biggest hope. She was in very good spirits for waking up so early, too. Traffic was crazy at that time in the morning, and it actually felt as if everyone in Guangzhou were racing to the same destination for the same reason we were--to reschedule their cancelled flight.  When we arrived at the airport, our guide went right to work at the counter trying to get some options for us. Our internet was a bust but Jimmy's phone was somehow able to get through to our travel agent who hadn't yet left for the day. He gave us the bad news that there wasn't anything he could do from their end and suggested we take it up directly with the airlines. Kathy finally delivered the news that the earliest they could get us out was on a 1:30 flight. It was that or stay another night in Guangzhou. I fell into a puddle of tears like a big 'ole baby and actually started crying out loud that I wanted to go home. I can laugh about it now, but phew...I missed our kids at home so much and felt like we'd just never get there. Let's just say I don't operate well without sleep. Jimmy helped me to pull it together, and Kathy gave us the strong advice to take the flight to Beijing. With the unpredictable weather, she worried that we'd only get stuck again, and at least in Beijing we'd be one step closer to home. We knew that we had missed our connecting flight to Houston, but our travel agent had--the night before--emailed me some solid options to present to the airline.

We (not so easily) killed eight hours in a really weird terminal of the airport, but at least there was a playroom, which kept Lulu's attention for a while even though the A/C wasn't working and it was ninety-nine degrees (felt like 199 with my hot flashes). We finally took off for Beijing at 1:30 p.m. The flight was uneventful compared to our prior, super turbulent-y China flights, and Lulu was awesome. Since it wasn't so long, we were able to keep her fairly entertained between the food service and the magazines in the seat pocket.  When we arrived in Beijing, an airline representative greeted us and walked us to baggage claim and then to the international counter so we could get to work, which meant getting home. It turned out we could either stay overnight in Beijing and leave the next morning, or we could catch a flight to Los Angeles that would leave in three hours at 9:00 p.m. I was exhausted and the hotel room sounded like heaven to my tired soul, but at the same time, I knew in my heart we needed to get on that plane. Jimmy talked me into it with the promise that he would care for Lulu on that flight so I could get the sleep I desperately needed.  A deal was struck, and my husband stayed true to his word. Thanks to a little help from a friend (Xanax) on the consistently bumpiest flight of my life, I slept at least eight hours of that eleven-hour flight and woke up feeling like a new person. Lulu and Jimmy slept well, too. We thanked God that we made the choice we did.

Lulu became an American citizen at LAX, and we were beyond THRILLED to be on American soil again! There's something about that trip that makes you so grateful for communication--gone with the VPN's and worries of getting on internet. We felt connected again, and it felt really good! I know...first world problems. I was able to confirm that my dad was doing well and would be released to go home the next day. Our amazing village at home had rallied to pick up our kids at school and made sure they were covered for the weekend with sleepovers and playdates. It's the stop-and-drop-everything situations like that--when you see friends pull through for you in the real desperate times--and you reflect upon how blessed you truly are with good friendships. I was thankful to tears.

We boarded the last glorious leg of the trip from LAX to Fort Lauderdale with our newest American citizen on a red-eye flight that departed at 10:00 p.m. (2 a.m. EST). It was another amazing flight for Miss Lulu. She truly was an angel, and I still can't believe she handled all that travel the way that she did. It had been over thirty-six hours. Phew. We landed just after 6 a.m. in Fort Lauderdale on Mother's Day and our trusty friend/photographer, Brooke, was there to capture the insanely happy looks on our faces. So, finally, a month later, I share with you our airport pictures. I cannot even begin to explain the relief. There's just no place like HOME on Mother's Day...or any day for that matter. Thank you, Jesus.