One month together...

About one month ago, a TERRIFIED toddler waddled into my arms in the civil affairs office in Taiyuan.  Luke and I had a really rough start.  From where I stand now, it's hard to remember where we were a month ago but this blog is a good reminder to what I was feeling and experiencing.  

That first day with Luke was terrifying for me.  I'll be a bit more honest now than I was while in country because I was trying to tread lightly to ensure I could get out of the country without incident.  Luke was given a fairly vague yet possibly very serious special need on our medical paperwork we got before we accepted his referral.  We prayed and sought council from doctors regarding the limited data we had and felt confident that we should go forward with adopting this little boy.  With international adoptions, you are sometimes given a lab report, a small growth report and a few pictures and you're asked to make a decision to adopt with so little information.  When you ask further questions, sometimes you get answers and sometimes you don't.  So with Luke, we asked for more information and literally tried for months to get some specific answers that never came so in the end had to make a decision to adopt him by faith alone.  He could either be "fine" or have some serious special needs.  So with that background information, fast forward to gotcha day and I was handed a terrified little boy who was showing signs of some serious special needs which I now realize were just symptoms of trauma.  For instance, being unresponsive to movements, not tracking with his eyes and a generally weak blob of a kid was mostly all just trauma.  So I'll be honest and say I had a bit of a panicked moment there those first few days.... some might call it an 'Oh NO, what have I done' moment.  

So fast forward to a month and Luke is a happy, toddling, rascally two year old.  He's messing, pulling things off my desk, ripping important papers, trying to turn on the stove and all sorts of 'normal' two year old activities.  He's been to numerous doctors since he's been home.  He's got a few issues he needs to work on and some overall delays physically but everyone has agreed they are from lack of exposure  and he should have no problem catching up in his own time. 

We've made a lot of progress since last month.  While in China he hated to take a bath but now he begs for a bath and has a blast.  He couldn't walk more than three steps without holding on to someone without falling over and now he can toddle across a room before face planting.  He has tried so many new foods.  He's drinking from a straw cup like a champ.  He now seems to love all his siblings, not just Abby (although she still is his favorite person).  He has learned tons of new words.  He smiles most of the day and especially loves fart noises (he's such a boy). 

Before I set out on this journey, it was clear to me that I should be a bit more open and public with my journey to Luke than I had been previously.  One of you readers needs to know what it is really like to adopt a child.  Maybe just maybe, one family will step out and save a child.  So I hope my honesty in knowing that adoption is NOT easy at all but there is hope for healing and restoration when a child comes into a loving, stable home has made you consider adopting.  Luke's an amazing kid and he deserves to have a family who will love him and who can give him opportunities to grow.  Sadly, there are SO many kids still left in those orphanages.  I can't adopt them all.  There is no hope for a child left in an orphanage.  Russ and I are happy to mentor families who are considering adopting. Please reach out to us if you feel like there is room in your hearts for one more.   

Here's some pics from this month:

 Playing with his sister's doll

Playing with his sister's doll

 embracing the hammock life

embracing the hammock life

horse.jpg
 Abigail's math assistant

Abigail's math assistant

 and helping with piano too....

and helping with piano too....

 touring the yard

touring the yard

profe.JPG
kiss.JPG
 I'm so amazed we got a picture with all five smiling!!  

I'm so amazed we got a picture with all five smiling!!  

 

 

Home SWEET home!

It's so good to be home.  It's so great to see my husband and my other kids but our adjustment to this time zone and a new place has been a challenge.  

 He kept these on less than 30 seconds... I was really hoping he would become a movie junkie on the plane.  

He kept these on less than 30 seconds... I was really hoping he would become a movie junkie on the plane.  

 This lasted less than two hours.

This lasted less than two hours.

The plane ride was long but not awful.  Luke only slept for about two of the 16 hours so we ended up doing a LOT of laps around the plane.  Luke made lots of friends on the plane.  All the flight attendants knew him by name by the end of the flight.  He refused to watch anything on the tv in front of him but thankfully I had some Elmo in Mandarin on my phone and that kept him interested for about 15 minutes.  

We made it through immigration lines at Newark in probably about 30 minutes and 30 minutes through customs which is way better than when we came home last time.  We still got detained by immigration as we were bringing in a new citizen and they had to verify some info but that only took a few minutes.  

 Getting to know his big brother. 

Getting to know his big brother. 

We had been doing video calls with the kids every day while we were away so all the kids looked familiar to Luke and he will tolerate all of them for a few minutes.  Abigail is still his favorite person but he will sit with the other kids for a few minutes longer each day.  He will go to Russ also for a few minutes but when he's tired or wants to be comforted, he still feels safest with Abby or myself.  The attachment will grow to the others but it can be slow. 

 Of course Abby heads straight to the piano and where Abby goes... Luke follows.  

Of course Abby heads straight to the piano and where Abby goes... Luke follows.  

Monday we had his first pediatrician appointment and as suspected, once he saw the doctor, he screamed.  He wouldn't even let them measure his head.  He will have a lot more doctor visits in the future so I'm praying he will start to do better as he feels safer with us.  

 Getting a close look at his sister.

Getting a close look at his sister.

 He loves oranges, blueberries, watermelon, eggs and seaweed.  Surprisingly he spits out strawberries.

He loves oranges, blueberries, watermelon, eggs and seaweed.  Surprisingly he spits out strawberries.

 Trevin taking Luke for a tour of the yard.

Trevin taking Luke for a tour of the yard.

 After fighting naps all day, he finally fell asleep in the car on the way to the doctor... and slept up until the doctor walked in... then he screamed.  

After fighting naps all day, he finally fell asleep in the car on the way to the doctor... and slept up until the doctor walked in... then he screamed.  

Luke, Abby and I are really struggling with jet lag and getting Luke to sleep in general.  We've resorted to having Abigail climb in the crib with Luke and staying until he falls asleep.  That has worked fairly well the last few days.  He is hyper aware so he has a hard time shutting down and relaxing.  

When he's awake and fed, he's a pretty happy kid.  His words are expanding every day.

Overall, we're doing well... just very tired. The kids are really enjoying their little brother and being very sweet and patient with him.  

Continue to pray as we transition to a family of seven!!

 

 

Last day... can't wait to get home!

Yesterday we left Guangzhou around 4pm, traveled to the train station and got on the 5:30 train to Hong Kong and arrived around 7:30pm.  Somehow we managed to wrangle our luggage through the train station, through security multiple times (I think they scanned our bags three times yesterday) and on and off the train.  We're staying at the Sky City Marriott next to the airport. We had to wait to fly out until Saturday so we had to find something to do in Hong Kong today.  We debated going into the downtown area but everything in Hong Kong is so far from the airport and so expensive to get around.  So, we took the hotel shuttle to Hong Kong Disney and I used some of my reward dollars and we went to see Mickey Mouse.  We fully recognize this was not a day for Luke since he really is too young to enjoy it but the rest of us really enjoyed having a little fun and letting off some steam after a challenging two weeks.  Hong Kong Disney is the smallest of the Disney parks in the world and easy to get through the place in a day.  We spent about 6 hours there before we called it quits. 

We were reflecting at dinner tonight how crazy this whole adoption process is... who would want to spend almost two years working on paperwork, then travel to pick up a child you don't know and know so very little about, and have him/her scream and hit you for a few weeks and all the challenges that come along with raising a child whose had an early traumatic life. Like seriously... when you spend some time thinking about it... it's just nuts!   My selfish self thinks I'm crazy to do this.  It really is a divine sort of love that has driven me to take on this journey.  It is not easy... but then those things that are most worth it, are never easy.  Adoption is really a beautiful picture of how God pursues us... even when we fight him and reject him...  He still pursues us and adopts us into his family.  As I shared earlier on, this process of bonding with Luke was much harder than with Rachel.  I have struggled a lot with him but we've come a long way in two weeks.  I look back now and can't believe I was second guessing myself and why I was here.  This young boy is worth every hour spent on paperwork, every dollar spent to get here and every tear shed.  When I talked with Rachel this week and saw my beautiful girl and was reminded how far she has come in every area since we adopted her, I was reminded again why we do this.  I encourage you to consider opening your heart to adopting a child.  It's not easy in any respect so know it is a labor of love... but these precious kids whose circumstances have left them orphaned, deserve a mom and dad who will love them, guide them and care for them.  

I can't finish off my China adventure blog without saying how much I appreciate Priscilla for coming along with me and taking almost three weeks off of work to be here with me.  This is not a vacation.  This was a hard trip full of emotions and sacrifice and downtime.  Our agency requires us to have two adults travel with you because it's not easy and I was reminded again how important it was to have another adult.  I could not have done this without her.  I especially appreciate her humor... she had me laughing until I was crying much of the time.  Good friends are hard to find... she's such a blessing! 

Tomorrow we leave for the airport at 7am and board a 10:30 direct flight home to Newark.  Praying for a safe flight and no delays.  Here's a few shots from the last few days.... next post we will be home!!  Can't wait!

 

 Luke made himself a seat out of Abigail's backpack on the floor of the train to Hong Kong.

Luke made himself a seat out of Abigail's backpack on the floor of the train to Hong Kong.

 We did get a lot of smiles out of Luke today... he especially loved the fountain that responded to music.

We did get a lot of smiles out of Luke today... he especially loved the fountain that responded to music.

 Main Street, USA (they said... if only)

Main Street, USA (they said... if only)

 On the train around the park... he fell asleep two minutes after the train started.

On the train around the park... he fell asleep two minutes after the train started.

 Luke got really excited to see Daisy Duck!  

Luke got really excited to see Daisy Duck!  

 Had to go shirtless at dinner... need these clothes to go home in tomorrow... totally out of clean clothes!!!

Had to go shirtless at dinner... need these clothes to go home in tomorrow... totally out of clean clothes!!!

Last day in Guangzhou

Yesterday we took the subway to Walmart to get a few more supplies to help us get home.  We It is SO hot here!  Humidity is out of control and it's just plain HOT!  We walked one block and we all needed a shower.  We were back in the room for some quality american peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (which we've been eating for lunch for about 12 days now).  We put Luke down for a nap which was rough again but once he was out, he did sleep for a few hours.  

 This is the face of a rascal who stole a snickers bar, opened it and ate it.  When there's a quiet toddler... there's always trouble. 

This is the face of a rascal who stole a snickers bar, opened it and ate it.  When there's a quiet toddler... there's always trouble. 

 This is my favorite!!

This is my favorite!!

 Our whole group of Holt families!  So thankful to travel with others who are experiencing the same as us.  Everyone is amazing about helping out each other. 

Our whole group of Holt families!  So thankful to travel with others who are experiencing the same as us.  Everyone is amazing about helping out each other. 

We joined the rest of the families for a group picture and then went with a group to the Pearl River Cruise.  We boarded a dragon boat, had pizza delivered there and enjoyed two hours on the river with about 7 other families.  Luke has still be picky with what he will drink.  Last night, the waiter put a hot tea on the table and he grabbed the cup and started drinking it.  I had a gatorade and he begged me to pour it in the tea cup, which I did and he drank that all down also.  That went on for 30 minutes of combined drinking and spilling gatorade all over me.  I'm confident he is no longer dehydrated and eventually had to cut off the drinking.  He even tried OJ at breakfast.  Phew, we are making it.  

 On the dragon boat river cruise.

On the dragon boat river cruise.

 Our boat!

Our boat!

We had a fun little adventure this morning.  I'll be honest, I'm done doing laundry in the sink or tub.  Luke has one more clean outfit... so rather than washing, I wanted to run out and buy something else clean to get him home in.  We ventured to the mall three doors down from our hotel.  By the time we finished shopping, it was pouring.  We had to sprint back to the hotel.  Well Priscilla's hair gets crazy frizzy when its wet so she took a shopping bag, put all her hair in it and ran down the street.  So if we didn't stick out enough as it is, we really put on a show for the locals this morning.  

 Priscilla and her attempt at keeping her hair dry.... Luke and I got soaked. 

Priscilla and her attempt at keeping her hair dry.... Luke and I got soaked. 

 

Luke's language is coming along.  He says mommy, daddy, Abby, more, bye bye, all done and thank you but it sounds like tattoo... so if he says tattoo... please don't attempt to give him one.  

I will be getting Luke's visa today and at 4pm we leave for Hong Kong by car, train and car.  It will be a late night of traveling.  We get on a flight home on Saturday morning local time and arrive home Saturday afternoon local NJ time after a grueling 16 hours of flying.  

US Consulate Interview Day

It was an early morning for us... we actually had to wake up the baby. We were downstairs at breakfast by 6:30 and joined a group of 12 families on the bus to the US Consulate.  Here we had to take an oath to take care of our child and go through the steps to make Luke an american citizen.  Thankfully he passed his medical visit and does not have TB so was cleared to get into the US.  Now we wait until Thursday for his visa to come in and we will head out of town for Hong Kong.  

 This is about half our group who had consulate appointments this morning.  The other half has them tomorrow morning.

This is about half our group who had consulate appointments this morning.  The other half has them tomorrow morning.

We had a relaxing afternoon in the room, napping and reading and I had a meeting with the other parents at 2pm and then all the other families met at 5pm to walk to a family style cantonese restaurant.  It was excellent!!  

 I did get him to fall asleep in his crib for an hour or so which was a huge victory and when he woke up, Abby picked him up and he went back to sleep for 30 minutes.  He really loves his sister. 

I did get him to fall asleep in his crib for an hour or so which was a huge victory and when he woke up, Abby picked him up and he went back to sleep for 30 minutes.  He really loves his sister. 

 Out to dinner with the other families! Luke's favorite food is definitely noodles.

Out to dinner with the other families! Luke's favorite food is definitely noodles.

We have a Burger King in our hotel and they are selling 2 ice cream cones for 5 yuan so we got four ice cream cones for 10 yuan which is like $1.50.  This was our second attempt at getting Luke to try ice cream and this time was far more successful.  

 Wearing breakfast, lunch and dinner on his white shirt.

Wearing breakfast, lunch and dinner on his white shirt.

 Ice cream was a hit!  He wouldn't eat the cone though.

Ice cream was a hit!  He wouldn't eat the cone though.

Luke is doing really well and getting into everything as he should at this age.  We've really turned a corner this week in Guangzhou.  He still does not drink as much as he should but the official liquid strike has ended and we do get him to drink some juice and water every day.   Last week I couldn't even get near his teeth to brush them and tonight I was finally able to brush all his teeth and to actually get in there to see if he has all his teeth.  Amazingly, he let me cut his fingernails also tonight which was really needed because he's already left a few scratches on Abby's face.  Best of all, Luke and I are really starting to bond as well.  He is bonded to Abby the most at this point but he is asking for me more and we are finding our way together.  He talks to his siblings and dad every day and really seems interested in Rachel.  He calls her big sister in chinese over and over and lights up when he sees her.  Excited to see where that relationship goes.  Tomorrow is another free day while we wait for Luke's visa.  

Seeing the sights...

Little man has decided that the crib is not for him.  We have to hold him until he falls asleep and transfer him into the crib.  He will stay there for some amount of time and then end up in my bed for the rest of the night.  I must have slept walked and carried him because when I awoke, he was next to me.  I swore Priscilla must have gotten him in the night but she doesn't remember him getting in there either.  Anyway, we both awoke surprised to find him in bed with us.  He has gotten better about not screaming in absolute terror as long as we hold him. 

IMG_0144.JPG
IMG_0172.JPG

We went to Shamian Island to shop and walk around and get a few iconic pictures that all adoptive families get while they're in town.  We tried out a stroller today and thankfully he loved it, so much in fact, he passed out during our stroll and slept through lunch at Lucy's.  Lucy's is full of American fare and American movie memorabilia on the walls.  We can only handle so much noodles and white rice... those cheeseburgers were delicious. 

 Sleeping through lunch... no cheeseburger for Luke

Sleeping through lunch... no cheeseburger for Luke

We came back to the room for Abigail to work on her online class homework.  Luke was not interested in having Abigail divide her attention so he was tugging on her feet and climbing on her while she worked.  I'm thinking our school year is going to be quite unproductive this year.  When she wouldn't give him attention, she went and emptied the suitcases and Abby's backpack.  He's becoming quite the rascal.  

IMG_0210.JPG
IMG_0219.JPG
 Why bother putting a GLASS door on the bathroom?  Luke likes to mess with the toilet.  Yeah!

Why bother putting a GLASS door on the bathroom?  Luke likes to mess with the toilet.  Yeah!

In the evening, we took the subway again (starting to love this subway system, so clean and easy to use and so cheap) and went to what they call the Toy ad Gift Wholesale Market.  It was like a six story massive mall with small flea market type vendors weaved in throughout the entire building.  It's hard to explain how massive this place is and how overwhelming it is.  It was filled with toys, lego knockoffs (so incredibly cheap), housewares and all sorts of items   I strapped him in with the carrier and he eventually fell asleep... probably because he has overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people and stuff.  

 This is the toy and gift wholesale market.... 6 stories of this!  Really cheap prices.

This is the toy and gift wholesale market.... 6 stories of this!  Really cheap prices.

 This boy loves pizza!  

This boy loves pizza!  

Today we joined a group of other families and went to the Guangzhou Zoo.  We had gone to the safari park last time but our guide wasn't encouraging that trip this year because they increased the prices so much for the summer and its so HOT and a long day.  So we opted for the closer, smaller and less time out.  Luke did get excited to see a few of the animals but probably got most excited to see the giant goldfish.  There were lions, tigers and pandas but the goldfish held his attention the longest.  

 Honey, should we buy him a fish? 

Honey, should we buy him a fish? 

RCEK2342.JPG
 There were two pandas at this zoo but after seeing the amazing pandas at the reserves, these just looked sad and HOT! 

There were two pandas at this zoo but after seeing the amazing pandas at the reserves, these just looked sad and HOT! 

After the zoo, we headed back to the room for Abby to work on her classwork and amazingly I was able to get Luke to sleep for a nap with minimal fussing.  Success!! 

We ventured out on the subway again and visited Beijing Road which is a popular local shopping road.  We found a decent restaurant  with pictures and some english and successfully ordered dinner.  This sounds silly but we've had such a hard time finding places that we could order dinner.  The waitress kept trying to take Luke from me.  I was trying to keep calm about it knowing this may be a cultural thing but Abigail nearly went protective sister bear and yelled at the waitress.  

We're all getting antsy and ready to go home but making the most of it while we are here.  Luke's is opening up more and feeling safer with us.  He really enjoys being strapped to me and going out and around the city.  He loves to people watch.  Whenever we get into a car or bus, he yells, "beep, beep" out the window and the proceeds to fall asleep.  I think he will be a good road tripper as long as he can embrace car seats.  No one uses car seats in this country but they really should... driving is terrifying.  

Tomorrow morning we have a very early appointment at the US Consulate.  After that, we wait three more days to get his visa and we can leave for Hong Kong.  

  

Can only get better from here...

We did have a small victory yesterday morning when he decided to finally start drinking.  It wasn't a lot but at least he took something from the new bottle.  He took a little bit of juice and did have watermelon and fruit at breakfast.  

drink.jpg
 Our Taiyuan group along with our guide Maggie. 

Our Taiyuan group along with our guide Maggie. 

Yesterday we met our guide in the lobby at 11:30am, received Luke's passport, and headed to the airport with the other two families.  We made it through security with only a minor incident when the guard made me put him down so they could scan me and he freaked out.  He ended up falling asleep in the carrier while we walked laps around the airport which I was trying to avoid but I couldn't keep him awake.  He slept for maybe 30 minutes.  They loaded us on the plane and then we sat for about two hours before taxing from the gate.  He actually sat really well for those two hours playing but then started to get annoyed with being contained and we still hadn't left the gate.  The flight crew was not very informative so when you see them bring out dinner and you're ON THE GROUND... you know you're in trouble.  

 First time seeing airplanes... he had a lot to say about it but I didn't understand much of what he said.

First time seeing airplanes... he had a lot to say about it but I didn't understand much of what he said.

 This was a first... served our meal while still on the ground.  

This was a first... served our meal while still on the ground.  

The next three hours were full of screams and monkeying around the plane.  He stood up on his seat at one point and was jumping up and down and screaming.  Earlier in the week, he was very stoic and didn't do much up until today.  He rarely would walk around or touch anything.  Yesterday he decided to become a messing toddler.  He was emptying the garbage, turning on the tub and soaking the towels, unpacking luggage... which we were thrilled to see rather than the stoic shell of a kid.  

 Helping himself to the garbage.

Helping himself to the garbage.

 Boy love his yogurt drinks.

Boy love his yogurt drinks.

plane food.jpg

Luke stayed awake for the entire flight and through the airport and finally did fall asleep in the bus on the way to the hotel.  I had him in a carrier that I strapped to my chest and he stayed asleep through a chaotic check in and we successfully transferred him to a crib.  He stayed asleep until 1am and then I brought him into bed with me and he slept until we woke him up at 7am.  

We met up with the other Holt families at 8:30am for what may be the worst part of the trip (I haven't endured the plane ride home yet).  We had to take all our kids to a medical clinic where they needed exams before getting a visa to the US.  There were 13 toddlers in my agencies group, ten toddlers in another group and a few other families all in the medical clinic at the same time.  Who thinks this would be a good idea???  Luke must have some major medical trauma in his past because the minute he sees a white lab coat, he freaks out.  He was terrified of the doctor at the hospital, and was screaming whenever he had to go into a medical office this morning.  At the clinic, the kids have to go through three separate exams and then get a blood draw for TB screening.  He screamed through every doctor, even when they tried to weigh him, measure his head.... everything.  The nurses take the children into a room without parents and take their blood.  They were taking two kids in at a time and three children went in and our while they had Luke in there and you could hear his blood curdling screaming throughout the clinic.  Our guide explained they were having trouble getting a vein.  Ugh, it was terrible.   As soon as that was done, we left and headed downstairs and waited for the rest of the group.  He definitely earned a lollipop after that appointment.  

after medicals.jpg

He headed back to the hotel and did some laundry in the bath tub and Luke took a nap.  When he woke up, he was a happy messing toddler.  He got into Priscilla's suitcase and was checking out all her expensive beauty products. He can open just about every type of container.   He's becoming quite the rascal.  

make up.JPG

 

Overall, we are all doing a lot better emotionally and physically.  The flight and medical checks were terrible but that's the worst of it we hope.  He is definitely coming out of his shell a bit more and exploring around and talking.  His favorite word is Abby!  Abby was singing in the shower (shocking I know since she is always singing) and Luke was at both bathroom doors in our hotel room yelling, "Abby!"  They have definitely developed a special bond.  We ventured out and learned the Guangzhou subway system to get to a grocery store.  Of course it's a walmart inside another massive mall.  The chinese people love their malls.  We found a cafeteria style restaurant which made ordering dinner so much easier.  We could just point and they put it on a plate.  Finding a restaurant with a picture menu has been quite challenging.  The subway system is super clean and cheap.  It was less than $1 for the three of us all together to ride the three stops to the mall.  

Continue to pray that Luke will bond and trust us more so he feels safe.  He is not drinking a lot but he is drinking more than before and having more wet diapers so we are feeling better that he's not dehydrated.  

We are in Guangzhou until Thursday night and have a few more appointments and then will head to Hong Kong.  One more week we will be on the plane home.  

 

 

 

Shocked we lived to tell this tale...

I slept better last night and woke up feeling better and ready to take on the day... and boy did I need that rest because today was challenging.   Luke seemed a little better earlier on in the day.  He giggled a little bit this morning and was using a few more words.  We had breakfast and he ate really well.  At that point, still had not drank anything.  We went to the park again this morning and even with all the heat, he would not take any water.  He drank about half of a capri sun.  And that's all he drank ALL DAY!  After the park, we had our guide come up to the room and try to get him to drink.  She tried different cups, tried gatorade, juice, formula, honey water, hot drinks, ,cold drinks..... she spoon fed him drinks and tried coaxing him and nothing worked.  The only thing he would drink is yogurt cups which I'm not sure if that counts as a liquid.  So we are still fighting this battle with liquids.  He won't even try anything.  We called his orphanage again and they assured us he drank honey water from a bottle and never fussed.  We bought a new bottle today that our guide believes he would like and he won't even try it.  Please pray this kid drinks! 

 This kid has no expressions... he's so miserable and shut down.  So sad.

This kid has no expressions... he's so miserable and shut down.  So sad.

This country is a little backwards in some of their rules.  Traffic laws don't seem to apply anywhere... you can drive on either side of the road, you can text and scooter and go diagonal across intersections the size of the garden state parkway and drive cars and scooters on sidewalks... but you can't go on the slide on the playground without getting in trouble with the park police!  Seriously, no adults can go on the playground equipment with their children, don't run too fast, climb too high or have any sort of fun or the park police will whistle and yell at you.  We did get a small giggle out of Luke while trying out the seesaw at the park.  

see saw.JPG
 Maggie, our guide, worked with Luke for 30 minutes trying to get him to drink anything. No success.

Maggie, our guide, worked with Luke for 30 minutes trying to get him to drink anything. No success.

We attempted a nap after the park and he did fall asleep watching puppy videos on youtube (thanks honey) but did not transfer to the crib and woke up and has been up ever since.  He started the day at 5am.  It's been a long day for this kid.  He is on high vigilance right now and can't shut down his brain because he doesn't feel safe with us yet.  So the slightest changes and he's awake and can't relax.  He was so tired at dinner (which our amazing guide ordered in for us) that he passed out on Abby's bed watching a movie.  

Wherever we go, we literally stop traffic and turn heads and draw a crowd.  So there are very few white people in this country, even less indians and certainly not a lot of chinese children with white people... so the locals are quite curious of us.  We have literally not seen a single indian person in this country.  So Priscilla is quite an attraction.  Pair her with a white child and a chinese baby and you've literally got entertainment for the entire city.  

 The only thing he drinks is yogurts.

The only thing he drinks is yogurts.

Okay so as if all our troubles to this point with Luke were not enough, our guide here and Guangzhou, both decided that he should have some spots on his face looked at by a doctor in his province.  The reason is because he has a doctor's appointment on Saturday with the US consulate and if it was chicken pox then they would not let us leave the country and we'd be stuck here until he was better.  I was 99% sure it was not chicken pox and really didn't want to deal with a doctor's visit but the guides insisted it was necessary to have a doctor's report so we wouldn't have problems getting out of the country.  So I agreed and off we went.  Well, there are not doctor's offices here... everyone goes to the hospital.  We went to the Shanxi Children's Hospital and I'm still having trouble articulating this experience.  Thank God for our guide because I would never have figured out this crazy system.  Here goes: first you make an appointment online and pay a 25 yuan ($4) appointment fee.  You get a number and then when you arrive, you are seen in order of your number.   We arrived and they were on number 3.  We were number 27!  That took about two hours to get to our number.  We found our way to the skin wing (their translation for dermatology) and sat in a waiting room full of metal chairs and lots of children in split pants or naked butts who were sitting on the floor and chairs. This hospital was anything but sanitary.  When your number appears on the board, you go to another room where there are tons of people crowding one doctor.  You literally get about 2 minutes with the doctor while there are tons of other people crowding around you, pushing into the room and speaking over each other.  The doctor diagnosed him with a viral skin infection and not chicken pox.  We got a sealed note from the doctor.  They said there is not cream to heal this and they wanted to scrape them off him then and there which I absolutely refused.  We will deal with that when we get home and were assured by the guide in Guangzhou that we shouldn't have problems getting out with that diagnoses.  While I was in the crowded room with what felt like 50 other people crowding over the doctor, Abby and Priscilla were in the hallway where a pack of at least 6 children passed them infected with chicken pox.  So now if we didn't have chicken pox, we probably now have it.  Please pray none of us come down with chicken pox.  That was the exact reason I didn't want to go to the hospital because that's where all the germs are and this hospital takes the cake for germs!  I don't panic around sick people and germs but I was starting to really lose it in there.  At the end, we ran out of there to step into the scariest cab ride of our lives.  The hospital is over 30 minutes by cab and this driver had a death wish.  We've been in a ton of cabs already and the driving is crazy around here but this guy literally was insane  of which the scariest was nearly getting hit in the side door by a bus.  We all screamed and clung to each other the rest of the way back.  Our guide even yelled at him and she's not phased by much.  So the hospital visit cost me $4 and the 30 min cab ride cost me $3.  So I guess you get what you pay for?!  We ran into the hotel and showered everyone immediately!

 See the moon?! They were everywhere!  

See the moon?! They were everywhere!  

Tomorrow we have a 2pm flight to Guangzhou where we will be staying for a week to handle all the appointments to make him a US citizen.  I'm feeling a lot better but Luke is still very stoic, not drinking much of anything and eating occasionally.  Our guide assures us this is normal for trauma but I'm not sure how many more days we can do this and there is no way we are going back to a chinese hospital.  Luke has some serious stubborn in him which will help him fit in with his super stubborn older brother but this is getting a little out of control on his liquid strike.  Keep praying for Luke and for all of us.  I love all the messages and comments.  I really do appreciate it.  It's good to hear we aren't alone.  These orphaned kids deserve a chance at a healthy life and a loving family and Luke is worth all this insanity to give him that.  

Fake it til you make it...

Fake it til you make it is my new motto for this portion of the trip.  I'm pulling myself together and trying to just meet Luke's every need.  He is still very tough.  He started the day at 5am and would not go back to sleep.  We had made plans to meet the other families at 9:30 and go to a local park.  He fell asleep on the cab ride there and then was super tired and lethargic.  We stayed for about an hour and then headed back to the hotel for a nap.  That consisted of him crying again for an hour and sleeping for an hour.  While he slept, Priscilla helped Abby with her grammar homework.  Attempting an online class from here has been quite the challenge.  The VPN to get past China's firewall is inconsistent and she can't stay awake late enough to get on her 10am EST class which is 10pm here and the recordings haven't worked well.... so essentially Priscilla has been teaching Abigail all about nominative predicates and linking verbs and diagramming sentences.... all the stuff I can't be bothered to remember. Thank God for Priscilla.... but seriously, we've decided she's the glue holding everything together.  So thankful for my dear friend whose willing to go to the other side of the world with me, who reminds me God is bigger and able and we can get through this one day at a time.  

park.jpg
 He's so tired and most of the time is miserable.... he looks depressed.  It's so sad.

He's so tired and most of the time is miserable.... he looks depressed.  It's so sad.

grammar.jpg

We attempted the pool again today and he was not having it.  We got him as far as the steps and he was refusing.  

swim.jpg

We have still been having trouble getting him to drink.  We tried warm honey water again and he refused that.  We tried hot soymilk from breakfast and he refused that.  We tried plain water.  We tried some disgusting juice (we've seen the locals drinking it so it looks quite popular but it tasted like honey)  from the mini fridge in the hotel room, he drank a sip and that was it.   By this evening I was desperate to get some liquids in this kid.  We went to the store and bought Capri Sun Juice and gatorade.  He has refused the gatorade but did drink an entire capri sun juice pack.  So at least he will drink that.  He also likes those drinkable yogurts and he will eat watermelon all day.  So we stole some watermelon from breakfast and we are trying to get him to eat a lot of that.  

capri sun.jpg
 We tried ice cream with him and he did take a few bites before refusing anymore.

We tried ice cream with him and he did take a few bites before refusing anymore.

His report from his nannies says he sleeps ten hours at night and takes a four hour nap in the afternoon.  He is definitely not sleeping enough but don't know how to fix that now.  He is so shut down and quiet and like a blank shell right now.  It's probably a combination sleep deprivation and trauma.  So essentially, he's still a mess but I'm doing slightly better today.  I'm so thankful to all my spiritual sisters who emailed, messaged and reached out yesterday and today.  You guys are amazing and help me remember why I'm here and how this is completely normal stage of trauma.  I've been trained in this multiple times over and train other families in trauma but living it out all over again is so darn hard. 

 He fell asleep on Abby tonight.  

He fell asleep on Abby tonight.  

Day number 2...

I'll be honest... this has been a trying 24 hours.  There's been a lot of tears and not just from Luke.  My heart breaks for what Luke is experiencing and I'm trying to hold it all together.  Usually when crazy emotional stuff happens, Russ is around to help me through.  This has been hard with him on the other side of the world.  I miss him and the other kids like crazy.  I'm counting down the days until we get home.  

When Luke cries, his cry is of pure terror.  The look of fear in his eyes is something I've rarely seen.  He is scared to the core and especially at night and when I try to get him to sleep.  The fact that a young child has to even face such terror just plain sucks!  The brokenness this two year old has experienced is more than I've seen in my 38 years.  I know he will eventually adjust and this will get better but right now, it is HARD!  

Abigail has been amazing!  She has been patient beyond her years and so so good with being silly and getting Luke to laugh.  She has an innate ability to bond with him.  I'm so thankful she is here.  Luke and Abby have started to bond.  I'm a bit further behind in attaching to him.  This is different than Rachel.  I attached to her right away and we clicked and even though she was sad and grieved, it was somehow easier than this. Also so thankful for the mandarin Abby has learned that last two years.  She has been able to translate a lot of what Luke's being saying and also has been able to help us buy things, get shoe sizes.... oh thank God for that girl.  She has saved the day over and over.  

civil affairs.jpg

We went to the civil affairs office this morning and signed all the necessary papers to make Luke an official Highton.  We have to wait until Friday for everything to be ready in this province before we can fly to Guangzhou for the US consulate appointments.  Yesterday we couldn't get Luke to drink anything, not water or formula which his nanny said he takes via a bottle.  So we talked to his orphanage director this morning and she said he will only drink hot sweet water!  What, why didn't you tell me this yesterday??!  So we went out and found a jar of honey and warmed up the water and sure enough he drank some.  We still have not had any success getting him to take any formula.  I may abandon that idea and try something else tomorrow.  After his very short nap (I think he cried more before going to sleep than he actually slept), we tried out the pool.  He was very cautions and kept shaking his head no but we eventually got him to take baby steps into the pool.  Started with getting his feet wet, slowly sitting him on a step and eventually Abby had him in the pool.  After witnessing a woman cutting her toe nails on the side of the pool and throwing the clippings in the pool, I decided the pool was not for me.  Ugh, the unsanitary things that go on in this country.... and I'm not even a clean freak or germ freak at all... but come on, some basic standards please!

pool.jpg

We ventured down the road a bit and had Papa Johns for dinner.  I know, I'm in China and should eat the local food... we've done a lot of that and it takes forever to order when there's nothing in English... so we treated ourselves to a nice picture menu where it was easy to order.  Luke tried pizza and at first didn't want any but that gooey cheese won him over.  He especially likes the crust.  We ventured into a mall to buy him shoes since he came with one pair of sandals that are too small for his wide feet and I didn't bring him any shoes.  

pizza.JPG

When we arrived home, we attempted to put him to bed which consisted of an hour of terrified screaming but he eventually fell asleep on me and I was able to transfer him to the crib.  Praying that sweet boy sleeps well.  Please do keep praying for us.  I feel like the Lord is carrying me through this because it's become quite apparent I can't do it on my own.  Thank you friends and family who continually pray.  This is much harder than I expected.  

 Luke spends a lot of time at the window saying "Beep Beep!"  Another car guy in the family.

Luke spends a lot of time at the window saying "Beep Beep!"  Another car guy in the family.

 Luke had a big ME TOO moment tonight that cracked us up!  Abby cut her leg in the pool and needed a band aid and of course Luke needed one to match Abby.  My TBRI friends would be proud... using those band aids for connecting moments.

Luke had a big ME TOO moment tonight that cracked us up!  Abby cut her leg in the pool and needed a band aid and of course Luke needed one to match Abby.  My TBRI friends would be proud... using those band aids for connecting moments.

We have Luke!

We went to the civil affairs office around 3pm along with two other Holt families.  Luke's report said that he was afraid of strangers and that showed through today clearly.  He initially came to me and Abby but after a few minutes started crying and pretty much kept up with it until we left the civil affairs office.  

IMG_0662.JPG
IMG_0871.JPG

Watching a child grieve and be absolutely terrified is heart wrenching to watch.  I've looked back at Rachel's gotcha day blog post and remember how scared she looked but its just so miserable to experience it all over again.  My stomach is in knots of emotions over this little guy.  

After the civil affairs, we walked down the road to get pictures for his official documentation.  Once we got in the van to come back to the hotel, he cried and was so terrified to be taken from his nannies.  He did calm down again and we've been on the brink of tears all night.  There are a few happy moments intertwined with lots of tears.  

Continue to pray for endurance and peace for all of us.  

IMG_0993.JPG
 A few smiles!

A few smiles!

Tomorrow we have an 8am appointment with his orphanage director to finalize the adoption.  

One more sleep...

It's Sunday night here in China and we have one more sleep until we get to meet our little boy.  Adoption can be so hard and often difficult to understand unless you've been there.  We fall in love with a picture and who we think a child is or can be and then wait almost a year to meet our child.  Then you finally get to meet this child you've loved from afar and they completely reject you.  I've been down this road and I know that rejection and grieving is a healthy part of this process but it doesn't make it easy.  So I'll be honest and say I've got a bit of anxiety about how tomorrow will go.  

We spent today preparing for Luke.  We did laundry in our room, Abby caught up on her online class homework, we walked the city and found the grocery store and tried to scope out restaurants where we'd like to eat dinner or order out from.  We must have walked through or looked at 20 different menus and most of them do not have pictures or English, and the ones that did have items like eel, bull frog and snake.  I'm not super picky but I do have limitations.  There are fast food restaurants around but trying to avoid those and enjoy the local food.  We ended up going to a noodle place that other adoptive parents recommended across from the hotel.  It took over twenty minutes to order through google translate!!  Even when pointing to a picture, she wanted to give me choice after choice.  Finally I just said give me anything and it turned out to be great and cost a total of $4 USD for the three of us.  At least the food is super cheap.

We found out that we won't get to meet Luke until 3pm tomorrow.  His city is 5 hours by car from here so his orphanage director and office administrator will leave tomorrow morning and bring him to the capital city of Taiyuan.  We meet him tomorrow and will bring him back to the hotel.  We will go back the next day and sign all the official documents.  

Here's some random thoughts on our adventures so far:

+ Taiyuan is known for it's coal mining so the sky is always gray and the smog is worse here than the other cities we've been in.  We also have not seen a blue sky since we've been here.  The pollution is terrible in this country so it's rare to ever see a clear day.

+Every city here is just massive and there are SO many people.  The population of NYC, which is the biggest city I've spent time in in the US, has 8 million people.  Every city we've been in has like 15 million people and most of them ride on motor bikes and follow no traffic laws.  Crossing the street is absolutely terrifying.

+There are so many different types of foods that I don't think you can find anywhere in America.  I'll definitely bring home some seaweed flavored cheetos for my seaweed loving Asian at home.  

Still adjusting to the time change so heading to bed... the next post should have pictures of Luke.  

 

Panda babies and Sichuan cooking!

Our last day in Chengdu yesterday we got out early and went to the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center.  Our guide Victor has been amazing in getting us into the locations quickly and showing us exactly where to go and when.  We saw month old pandas and toddler pandas and kindergarten age pandas (11 month old or so) and then three year old pandas and older.  They were beyond adorable.  

IMG_0437.JPG
IMG_0443.JPG
 There were so many cute pandas and we have hundreds of pictures... so hard to choose just a few.

There were so many cute pandas and we have hundreds of pictures... so hard to choose just a few.

 

We were done with that center by 11am and then our guide Victor dropped us off with another guide named Ocean who took us through a local market.  She handed us each a red envelope with a mission and yuan and we each had to complete the mission.  Abby's mission was to order spring rolls in chinese and pay for it.  She had an easy job.  Her limited chinese has been SO helpful on this trip.  She knows basic words and counting... so thankful I brought her.  Ordering water from room service was a challenge until she jumped in and did it for me. Priscilla had to find and order a hundred year egg.  I had never heard of that... so we all got educated on that one.  I had to order and make chaoshou which is similar to a dumpling.  After the market, we went to a local restaurant and learned to cook some really amazing meals.  We've decided that the best food we've had so far was the food we cooked and the airplane food on our Air China flight!  We are working to find some more amazing food.  

Here are some pics: 

IMG_9640[1].JPG
cooking.JPG
 Our food was so good!

Our food was so good!

Pandas!!

For those unaware, my 13 year old daughter Abigail has a mild obsession (if an obsession can be mild) with pandas.  Her bed spread has pandas, she's slept with a panda her aunt gave her since she was born and has made us visit numerous zoos in the US with pandas.  Well since we were coming back to China for Luke and already toured Beijing the last time, we decided to take a few days to adjust to the time zone while visiting the panda reserves.  We flew into Chengdu yesterday from Hong Kong.  We're staying at the JW Marriott in the center of the city.  We walked around last night and found Tiafu Square (the center of Chengdu), the People's Park which reminds me of central park right in the middle of a busy city, and the Wide and Narrow Alleys which is just a walking area with restaurants and shops (and lots of street food and NO Steve, we didn't eat any of it). 

This morning we headed out on a tour with a local guide named Victor to the Giant Panda Research Center at Dujiangyuan base.  It was about an hour and half drive from our hotel.  This is one of several reserves for Pandas in China.  It is located right on the side of a mountain.  We saw red pandas, giant pandas and a few baby pandas with their mother.  Our tour guide used to work at a panda reserve so he was a wealth of knowledge.  Here are a few shots of the pandas:

 

IMG_9560.JPG
OFXY7351.JPG

Best of all, Abigail got to sit and take pictures with a panda.  She has dreamed of this moment for the last six months when I told her this could be a possibility.  This girl babysat and worked hard to raise money so she could make the required donation to sit with a panda.

OCNP2405.JPG

 

 

OFXY7351.JPG
KUJN2447.JPG

After spending a few hours with the pandas, we headed to Mt Qingcheng to hike to the top.  It was worth it in the end but it was a rough climb to the top.  Our guide said it was 20,000 steps and my legs feel every single one of them.  This is the location of the beginning of Taoism.  It is also the location where the movie Kung Fu Panda is set.  The buildings were reproduced in the movie.  Here's a few shots:

QWZM8212.JPG
DUGB5026.JPG
 There were so many steps... our guide said 20,000.

There were so many steps... our guide said 20,000.

 The view from the top.

The view from the top.

 This is the temple at the top of the mountain!  We made it!  It was so hot and humid... we're actually soaking wet from sweat in this picture.

This is the temple at the top of the mountain!  We made it!  It was so hot and humid... we're actually soaking wet from sweat in this picture.

We're heading to China... again!

Whoa... there's a lot of emotions flying around here.  Some of us excited for a new brother, some scared how a new brother will affect their position in the family, some sad that mom is leaving for almost three weeks... and one very tired momma who is all emotional herself over leaving three babies to go after one.  

Abigail and I leave Tuesday on a direct flight to Hong Kong.  Russ is staying home to manage the younger three.  My dear friend Priscilla is joining Abby and I on our adventure to China.  There's so much to do in so little time... like trying to remember how to use squarespace to blog since (in case you haven't noticed), I haven't blogged since I got home from China over four years ago!  I'm a bit rusty!

I was reflecting in church this morning over Rachel's gotcha day over four years ago.  I remember how she grieved while she slept at night and would cry out at night in her sleep... how she kicked and hit Abby when she tried to engage her in play and all the raw emotions that went along with us literally dragging her away from all she knew.  So going into this a second time and knowing what to expect may be even harder than going into this blind the last time.  

So to all my praying friends, please keep us in prayer this week as we separate as a family and will literally be on opposite sides of the world for the next three weeks.  Pray for Luke that his nannies are preparing him for this transition and that the Lord would give him a supernatural peace.  Pray for Russ and the kids while they're home that Russ can manage kids and work.  Pray for Abby, Priscilla and I for health and strength as this is a vigorous journey.

Here's a rundown of our itinerary: Tuesday, 15 hour flight to Hong Kong, arrive Wednesday night local time. Thursday - fly 3 hours to Chengdu to visit pandas for 2 days, Saturday - fly 2 hours to Taiyuan (capital of Luke's province), Monday - receive Luke and stay in province until we have approval to fly out, Friday - fly 3 hours to Guangzhou. Saturday - medical checks, Monday - visit US consulate to get approval to have Luke enter the US, Thursday - Receive Luke's passport, Friday, travel by speed train to Hong Kong.  Saturday August 4th - fly home!!!

Next post will be from China!!

 

 

 

Here we go again....

As I sat down to write about our journey to Luke I’m looking back at the insanity of the timing in this decision.  Life goes so fast with four kids that I often don’t take the time to sit down and reflect on how God’s at work.  When God impressed upon us to start this journey again, I was quite hesitant.  We wrestled with this decision… maybe even more so than last time.  Without going into too many details, at the time God said start, our finances were not in a place to take on the heavy cost of adoption.  For those unfamiliar with the process, adopting a child costs about $35,000.  Also, with the type of health coverage we have, it will not cover major pre -existing conditions so why one  EARTH would we adopt a child from a country where all the children have special needs?!  Yea, only God has the answer to that one. 

So here we are, surrendering to what God’s doing and we are buckling our seat belts and along for the ride.  Really, I’m excited (and slightly terrified) because only God could have orchestrated all of this. 

I get a lot of questions about how Rachel feels about another child.  She was the catalyst to start this journey again with a conversation we had over lunch one day.  Without revealing more than she might want the world to learn, she wondered why there weren’t more people in the family that looked like her.  We had some raw conversations that started Russ and I to really begin praying about whether the timing was right to start this journey again.  When we started the adoption process the first time, we both told the social worker we wanted to adopt two kids and when we left those precious orphans behind the last time we were in China, we knew we would be back at some point…. But the time never felt right.  Well, when we started this journey…. I really couldn’t think of a WORSE time to start from a financial perspective so clearly, God was asking us to step out in faith because we weren’t going to be doing this one on our own. 

So with that, while it doesn’t seem logical or maybe some might say wise, we are being obedient to the timing and to the journey God has for us.  Every time we’ve taken the risk to do what God wanted for us over what we thought was right… the reward was amazing.  Rachel is just one of many of those rewards for stepping out in faith.  That girl is such a doll.  Such a light.  I cringe to think I could have missed a life with that precious girl had I succumbed to the fear.  She is my beautiful daily reminder that God’s holding our hands and will walk us every step of the way. 

We are excited to introduce our adorable son Luke Eric Highton to the world.  This precious boy will be two years old in June.  We are expecting to be able to travel in July to pick him up.  We are awaiting immigration's approval at this point and starting to fund raise.  Would you consider being part of bringing Luke home?  Here's a link to order Superman Was Adopted tee shirts. All the proceeds go towards adoption related expenses.   https://www.hightonfamily.org/products/

Don't want a tee shirt but want to still help... we are trying to raise funds to meet a matching grant from Life Song for Orphans.  Here's the link: https://mystory.lifesongfororphans.org/stories/journey-to-luke/

 

family pic w Luke.JPG
IMG_7070.PNG

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away....

The last year or so has been hard, very hard, and yet wonderful, amazingly joyful! 

Tomorrow will be a year since we heard the news that our little Lucy, our daughter still in China we were in process to adopt, passed away unexpectedly at her orphanage.  I want to shiver when I think of that heart wrenching pain we experienced as we grieved losing her in those first few months. (See original post here: http://www.hightonfamily.org/adoption-blog/2013/12/3/lucy-jane-forever-in-our-hearts )

It’s really so hard to wrap my head around this year when I look back.  We were riding a high going into the fall last year having gotten our dossier to China and having completed an amazing Both Hands fundraiser.  That project was such a blessing to us.  Soon after the completion of that project, we got the referral for the cutest little China doll.  Oh Lucy was so cute!  We felt so sure she was our girl and peace to move forward and were anxiously awaiting final approvals from China when we found out that she had passed.  We loved Lucy and had such hopes and dreams for that adorable little girl but that was never meant to be, but then why go through the pain of it all?  Sometimes we never get the answers this side of heaven.

Fast forward to now we have our beautiful Rachel home almost 8 months and we all can’t imagine life without her.  She’s such a joy, such a happy girl and she fits in with us perfectly.  My dad had often said to me how he just couldn't understand how we got Rachel because her personality matches so perfectly with our family.  She’s just the right level of stubborn and strong willed to compete with the other strong willed and stubborn Germans and English in our house.  My answer to him all the time was God did it.  There’s no other explanation.

Again this fall, we had more loss.  My dad passed away on October 5th after a two year battle with liver cancer.  Wow, that pain of loss is back again.  My dad was such a big presence in my life growing up, as an adult and in the lives of my kids.  My dad cared about relationships and he spent the time with me growing up to ensure that I knew he cared and we've always had such a close relationship.  He wanted that with my kids too.  He came to cheer them every season at soccer and baseball.  He was at every one of my daughter’s plays at every birthday party and when Abigail called to invite him over for pancakes for dinner, well he got in his car and came right over.  Before he got sick, he was rolling around on my basement floor with my boys wrestling, sword fighting, Lego building and playing dolls with the girls.  He was a super dad and a super grandpa.  We miss him.  Every day my kids talk about him, wish he were here, wish he was coming over with nana, write notes to him and sometimes still cry for him.   I’m beyond thankful that he lived long enough to meet Rachel and vice versa.  Rachel amazes me with how much she remembers.  Every time she sees nana, she asks where grandpa is. 

So I can’t help but think of the verse in Job 1:21, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”  This has been a season where we've been excited with what the lord gave us and so saddened by what was taken away, yet still, blessed is the name of the Lord. 

It’s easy to ride the high during the good, but with the loss of Lucy and my dad this year, I could not imagine having kept my sanity without the presence of the Lord to walk me through.  Dealing with the pain of loss is not easy in fact, it’s just plain awful!  Unbearable at times.  I now have more compassion for those who ‘numb’ the pain through addictions because dealing with it just sucks, but it’s necessary. 

It’s been a very hard year of loss but the Lord’s presence is real, His comfort is real, His peace that passes all understanding is real, His joy is real and I’d be lost with Him.  I still think about Lucy a lot.  It's even more comforting to know our little girl is wrestling around with grandpa or as my kids imagine, Lucy is riding along on a baby panda and grandpa is running along after her.  I can see it and my dad is giggling the whole time.  Despite the loss, I’m thankful that every day I can look into the face of the little reminder of God’s faithfulness as she runs into my bed (bright and early) every morning.  The Lord does give abundantly and He takes away yet I’m still declaring Blessed be the name of the Lord.  

One month home!

Wow, we've been home nearly a month.  Wow, how time flies when you're having fun (or completely jet lagged!)  What a difference a month has made for our little girl.  She has been coming out of her shell more and more and showing us her sassy personality.  She fits in so well in our family!  I love how Abigail, Joshua and Trevin have completely accepted Rachel as their sister.  There's no questions about why she looks different or mention that she's not really part of the family.  To them, she is their sister, they love her and that's the end of it.  Trevin has clearly stated that all the men have someone to protect, dad protects mom, Josh protects Abigail and Trevin's role in life is to protect Rachel and boy does he take that serious.  No one is allowed to mess with his sister, except him of course!!  

 The kids in their Big Sister (Jie Jie), Big Brother (Ge Ge) and Little Sister (Mei Mei) shirts!  Oh my babies are so cute!

The kids in their Big Sister (Jie Jie), Big Brother (Ge Ge) and Little Sister (Mei Mei) shirts!  Oh my babies are so cute!

 Trevin loving on his sister... this lasted for about 5 seconds before Rachel decked him and yelled at him to go away!!

Trevin loving on his sister... this lasted for about 5 seconds before Rachel decked him and yelled at him to go away!!

 Out exploring together!!

Out exploring together!!

As with many children home through adoption, there is a period of time soon after you get the child and runs an undefined amount of time where the child will be on their best behavior, this period is known in the adoption world as the honeymoon period.  At first, I just thought Rachel was an easy kid and so obedient and would go with the flow... well, I believe we were experiencing the honeymoon period. She has begun expressing her opinions a lot more in the last few weeks.  I used to put her in her crib and she laid down and went to sleep as if that was what was expected of her with no questions asked.  Now she lets us know that she doesn't really want to take a nap.  Where she used to sit through her whole meal and eat so well, regardless of what her siblings were doing, now she wants up as soon as they get up and insists on being 'done' as soon as they are.  She wants to do EVERYTHING her siblings are doing, including clearing her plate, load the dishwasher etc.  While that sounds like it's fabulous, she's already broken a bowl and thrown out silverware in her attempt at being a big girl.  She insists on drinking from a big girl cup like her siblings... we've been changing her shirt nearly every day by lunch after she's dumped a purple fruit smoothie all over herself.  Her siblings ride a scooter, she puts on her helmet and is already pushing along on a scooter, insisting she can catch up to them (I'm sure you can imagine that goes well).  While this all sounds cute, there are lots of other things her siblings can do that she can't do.  When we try to 'save' her from whatever attempt, it usually ends in a meltdown.  So we're working on adjusting a lot around here so Rachel can learn what's safe and not safe.  From what we saw in the orphanage, I don't think she ever saw a bathroom or a kitchen.  The stove, the toilet, the refrigerator, outlets, sinks, and cabinets are so much fun to explore but many are dangerous too.  She certainly does not like to be told 'no' so she still has tantrums several times a day but we're starting to figure out how to handle them better. 

We've run into a few communication problems.  Her nannies spoke mandarin to her and she understood that quite well from what interaction we saw she had with them.  Now we've gone and switched up her language so we know that is causing delays but she did not really speak Mandarin much except for a few words.  So her speech development is quite delayed due to her cleft palate and the language change.

We took her to be evaluated at CHOP last week.  She did really well considering we were crammed into a tiny doctors office with five professionals who were all evaluating her.  I can't wait to get that bill.  They determined all the lab work she would need and she ended up needing 9 viles of blood taken.  That did not go well but we were ready with a lollipop as soon as it was over so the tears ended quickly.  So far we know she is delayed with speech and some motor areas but all to be expected considering her institutional environment.  Her cognitive development is right on par.  We knew she was smart!!  We are arranging for her to have therapies to help her catch up and have no doubts that she'll be talking up a storm this time next year.  

We took a last minute trip down to Ocean City, NJ this past weekend.  What a fabulous time it was!!  We debated going because we have been purposeful in staying home with her as much as possible to get used to her new family and home but an opportunity to meet friends down there came up and we decided to go down for one night.  On Saturday, Rachel was hesitant of the water and screamed if you got too close.  She was happy to be on the sand and dig around.  She even fell asleep in our beach tent with dad for her nap.  We walked the boardwalk and she got to experience Brown's donuts (the best donuts we've ever had), George's Ice Cream and Manco and Manco pizza.  It really does not get much better than that!   She had such a great time and was so good about staying close to us and sitting in the stroller.  This is huge progress from the little girl in China who was miss independent who refused the confines of the stroller and insisted on walking everywhere.  By Sunday, Rachel was letting us put her feet in the water and soon was out walking in the water with her dad.  She overcomes her fears so quickly.  I'm so proud of her!  I'm thrilled to know she loves the beach like the rest of us.  

 "There's the water mom, take me over there BUT DON'T put me in it!!"

"There's the water mom, take me over there BUT DON'T put me in it!!"

 Such a happy girl!

Such a happy girl!

 I could listen to that giggle all day!

I could listen to that giggle all day!

 I put her toes in the water quickly then through her in the air!!  She thought it was a game and I was helping her feel more comfortable near the water.  We had so much fun!!

I put her toes in the water quickly then through her in the air!!  She thought it was a game and I was helping her feel more comfortable near the water.  We had so much fun!!

 My happy family of 6!  Oh wait, not Trevin, he's mad we took him away from his sand castle.  

My happy family of 6!  Oh wait, not Trevin, he's mad we took him away from his sand castle.  

 And soon she was walking along with dad!  The first day she refused to get near the water!  She amazes me!

And soon she was walking along with dad!  The first day she refused to get near the water!  She amazes me!

 I can't even describe how happy this makes me that she loves the water and the beach!  

I can't even describe how happy this makes me that she loves the water and the beach!  

When we got home from the beach, she transitioned well back to her crib and slept great.  I feel like the close time with all of us to play together and spend time together last week was such a boost for our bonding and attachment.  While at home, Russ and I are often distracted with house chores, yard work and homeschooling, but at the beach we were just focused on playing together and we all had such a great time!  

All in all, we're doing great.  Our biggest challenge is communication and her speech.  Also, we will be visiting the craniofacial team at St Peters in the next few weeks also to see what other work will need to be done for her palate (if any).  

 Everyone should wear protective head gear while carrying a shovel!

Everyone should wear protective head gear while carrying a shovel!

I was talking with a friend recently who has two children through adoption and we were discussing how difficult the process is but so worth it!  It really is so hard to get through all the paperwork, the matching, the wait, and travel, the expense but it was all SO WORTH IT!  Rachel is just simply precious!  Many people who question whether they could adopt because they don't think you can love a child not born from your womb or because the kid will be so messed up and unfixable... it's all a lie!  You were born to love, designed by the God who is love.  These kids are overcomers and so resilient.  I'm floored every day by what Rachel can accomplish and how quickly she learns.  A month and a half ago, she was an orphan, without a family.  I'm in awe of God's graciousness to our family to bless us with this precious girl to raise as our daughter.  Wow, what we would have missed out on if we did not take that leap of faith to start this journey.  People comment how 'lucky' Rachel is to be in our family... NO NO!!!  We are the blessed ones to call her our daughter and sister.  She has restored the joy that we felt had left us when we lost our little Lucy.  Thank you Lord for reminding us that "weeping may last for the night but joy comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5).  She is our little joy, seriously, she is so happy.  The radiant smile on her face when she sees her dad in the morning, or when she spots her sister across a room full of kids can melt your heart.  She is starting to "get it", that she is part of a family and we're blessed to watch her become a daughter and sister.  

There are times I wake up at night and I can't help but think about those precious faces of the children still left in her orphanage.  I pray for them often that their families will find them.  I read a staggering statistic recently that of those orphaned, abandoned and children who have been trafficked, if just 8% of the world's christians would step out and adopt, there would be no more orphan statistics.  So this is not meant to be a guilt trip at all, but I just want to encourage you, if you've ever considered adoption but think it's too hard or you can't afford it or you just don't think you can handle it... well you can, through Christ who gives you strength.  I can't handle it!  Four kids and homeschooling is enough to drive me bonkers and some days it does, but it's worth it and every day God gives me the strength to love on my babies.  Rachel was worth it!  Those precious babies still left in her orphanage and every other orphanage and foster home are worth it!  Worth every dollar spent!  Worth every late night working on paperwork!  Worth every tear shed!  Wow, I wonder if that's how Jesus feels about me and you... that death on the cross was worth it.  Wow, adoption has stretched us to love more like Christ and we're so very thankful for the opportunity. 

Thank you for your continued prayers and support of our cocoon lifestyle at the moment.  It won't last forever but we see the fruit in Rachel so again... THANK YOU!

 She's SOOO worth it!!

She's SOOO worth it!!

Two weeks home!

Oh it is good to be home!  Many have asked how we're doing so I'm sorry that I haven't updated in a while.

 We really struggled through the jet lag but now feel fully adjusted back to our time zone and happy to be back into our new 'normal.'  We've all been doing some adjusting to our new place in the family.  Trevin may be taking the adjustment the hardest as it is always hard when you're no longer the baby, but each day is getting easier for him also.  All the kids just love on Rachel.  Abigail wants to take care of her all the time so we're learning when it's okay to play mom and when it's not.  Joshua is extremely gentle with Rachel and so patient.  That boy will be a wonderful father one day.  Trevin wants to be in her face all the time and she's really not interested in that.  We're fairly certain she has told Trevin off in Mandarin several times.  He does however love to tell everyone that he's a BIG brother.  Size matters a lot to boys so the fact that he's now the BIG brother and not the little brother... that's big news!  

 Playdoh kept them busy for a good 45 minutes!!  A record!  It's amazing what can be accomplished with the older two with school work in 45 minutes without interruption! 

Playdoh kept them busy for a good 45 minutes!!  A record!  It's amazing what can be accomplished with the older two with school work in 45 minutes without interruption! 

Rachel is learning more English every day.  We're just amazed by her.  She is starting to respect boundaries a little more also.  When we say no to something, the meltdowns last only a few minutes where as they used to go on longer.  

We've seen that she is obsessed with dogs but not so daring as to touch them.  My in laws had their dog over and at Josh's baseball game tonight, she just follows the dogs all over the place and screams if she's not near them but she just can't bring herself to pet them.  

 Josh pushing Rachel in the swing.  She loved it and he loved to make her laugh!!  

Josh pushing Rachel in the swing.  She loved it and he loved to make her laugh!!  

 Finally got her up on daddy's shoulders for a hike through the woods.  She was so scared the first 5 times we've tried this!!  Yea, another success!

Finally got her up on daddy's shoulders for a hike through the woods.  She was so scared the first 5 times we've tried this!!  Yea, another success!

We had our first post placement visit today as well.  Our social worker was amazed by how big she is as most two year old's that come home and are typically a lot smaller than their age and how well developmentally she is doing.  She really amazes us every day.  We expected a two year old child who would be physically and developmentally delayed but she does not appear to be at all.  We showed her a puzzle and she amazed us with how quickly she learned to match up shapes and colors after only trying it for a day or so.  

 She was on a floor with all boys in her orphanage... she fits in well with the boys at home!  

She was on a floor with all boys in her orphanage... she fits in well with the boys at home!  

We are taking her to the Children's hospital of Phili next week for an appointment with the international adoption specialists.  They will do a full assessment on her as well as blood work to see if any of the Chinese immunizations actually stuck.

Others have asked if she came home from China potty trained.  No, she was in diapers when we got her.  They did not start training her yet and we are not yet either.  We will wait until she understands English more and is more comfortable with our family.  She was also using a bottle at the orphanage so we haven't stopped that either as that is still a comfort for her but we probably will soon after meeting with the IA (International Adoption) team at CHOP next week.  For now, we wanted to change as little as possible for her as we could control since there was so much already changing in her life.  

She is attaching well to us but not as much as I had thought so we are going to continue to cocoon for awhile and try to avoid a lot of visitors and try not to go out too much (which with three other kids schedules is quite difficult!)  For those not familiar with the adoptive terminology of cocooning, it is when the new family through adoption will stay home just with immediate family so the child can get used to what a family environment is like rather than their understanding of rotating nannies.  So as her parents, Russ and I will do all the holding, feeding, changing and meeting all of her needs so she understands that we are her parents and only caregivers.  The more regimented with this we are in theory, the quicker the attachment to our family and will help her understand she is safe with us and that all of her needs will be met by us.  I'm thankful for great friends and family who respect and understand these boundaries.

Overall we are doing really well.  I know so many of you are dying to meet her.  Thank you for being patient with us as we try to determine what's best for Rachel's attachment to our family.  

 They look so cute working together don't they?  Yea, this lasted all of about 2 seconds before Rachel started yelling at Trevin to let her do it herself.  She is very independent (when she wants to be).  

They look so cute working together don't they?  Yea, this lasted all of about 2 seconds before Rachel started yelling at Trevin to let her do it herself.  She is very independent (when she wants to be).  

First days at home!

The first night at home was a long one for Rachel.  She was crying a lot and I spent a lot of the night on the floor next to her crib rubbing her back.  She is in Abigail's room so eventually I climbed into bed with Abigail and slept on and off in there rather than making the trip down the hallway.  My house feels huge after spending two plus weeks in hotels and seeing a home in Beijing.  Just a side note, we are so blessed in this country to have so many single family homes with running water and toilets!  Enough said!

Rachel and I got up around 3:30am and headed down to join dad who was already downstairs working on his computer.  Abigail joined us soon after and we enjoyed delicious jersey bagels.  Wow, such a good taste from home.  Even bagels, muffins and donuts in China at fancy hotels do not taste like Jersey.  The breakfast buffets are nice but I'm so done with fried eggs, soggy bacon and the Asian's attempt at a western breakfast.  By the end I could only stomach oatmeal and fruit in the morning.  

Rachel definitely has a 'see' food issue.  She sees food and throws a fit until she gets what she wants.  We know this is a typical survival mode for her as she probably did not always eat when she was hungry.  She is a solid girl so she was not starved but she likes to have all the food she sees.  So my counter which was now filled with fresh fruits and veggies from friends who delivered while we were away was more than she could handle.  We had to hide all the food from view and not open cabinets or the fridge while she's looking.  Hoping this will change over time.  

When the boys got up, we spent a lot of the day just playing together.  Play is the best way to bond with a new child.  So for those who know Trevin, he is always in warrior mode so Rachel got her first experience sword fighting and had a great time.  She was laughing and giggling as everyone she hit would fall to the ground.  

 She refuses to hold the sword by the handle because she knows better.  These are only foam swords so no harm done.

She refuses to hold the sword by the handle because she knows better.  These are only foam swords so no harm done.

 Everyone in their seat!

Everyone in their seat!

 She thought she was hilarious sitting in her chair then standing up and then plopping down again.  She was making us all laugh.

She thought she was hilarious sitting in her chair then standing up and then plopping down again.  She was making us all laugh.

The kids were playing shops where each had a shop and they went around buying things from each other with Monopoly money.  Rachel started following Josh around.  He's so gentle with kids that it was natural for her to start to play with him more before Trevin.  Trevin is a bit intimidating to adults I think, let alone kids with his rough play but she's warming up to him a little bit.  She yells at him in her little Mandarin talk when she gets mad.  It's humorous.  

We went outside but she was really scared.  I could not put her down on the grass.  I really don't think she's even seen it.  I don't remember seeing any grass at her orphanage.  Only paved driveways and a paved playground.  So as long as I held her, she was happy to be outside and watch the kids play.  Eventually, we tried the stroller and she was happy in there as long as I was close.  

 Helping Abigail play Frisbee.

Helping Abigail play Frisbee.

On day number 2 home we've seen vast improvements.  She slept so much better.  She slept through from around 6:30pm - 5am.  She ate well and we made a lot of progress outside.  She actually let me put her down for a few minutes and she walked on the grass for a little bit.  On day one when she saw a neighbor, she started crying and reaching for me to pick her up.  The second day, she saw a neighbor and waved at them.  

We feel like we've won the lotto with this girl.  We expected the worst and she has far exceeded our expectations.  Don't get me wrong, she does throw an epic tantrum when she doesn't get what she wants or she gets frustrated with our inability to understand her.  We suspect she was totally the princess in her group.  She was the only girl left on her floor of all boys and I think the nannies gave her whatever she wanted.  She throws something on the floor and yells until someone picks it up for her.  Well that has changed very quickly.  We responded to her requests on day one but we soon figured her out and now she understands the words 'get it' and we celebrate when she picks up the toy for herself.  She likes the applause and is responding well to a little positive reinforcement.  For the most part, she communicates her needs well but there are times when we don't understand what she wants.  We are working through a lot of issues but she's overall a very happy little girl and has started playing well with the boys.  She does not say a lot that we understand but she has picked up a few words since we've had her.  Her favorite one: uh oh!  She drops something... uh oh!  Someone falls... uh oh!  It's so darn cute!  She also says bye bye and waves and says a lot of 'mama'.  

 All dressed in their outfits from China and she's already a warrior with her brothers sword.

All dressed in their outfits from China and she's already a warrior with her brothers sword.

 I've put so many pictures of her smiling on the blog.  So you don't get the wrong idea that she's never sad, here's one of her tantrums.  She's still so cute!!

I've put so many pictures of her smiling on the blog.  So you don't get the wrong idea that she's never sad, here's one of her tantrums.  She's still so cute!!

 She loves riding in the gator with her brothers!

She loves riding in the gator with her brothers!

IMG_6620.JPG
 She's walking on the grass!  She freaked out when she saw the grass the day before! 

She's walking on the grass!  She freaked out when she saw the grass the day before! 

 Most of the time however, this is how she rides... in mama's arms!

Most of the time however, this is how she rides... in mama's arms!

 Praising Jesus!  No, not really!  She's whining to be picked up again.  

Praising Jesus!  No, not really!  She's whining to be picked up again.  

We're still struggling from jet lag.  It's especially tough when the boys are on their normal schedule but each day is getting easier.  We feel super blessed to finally be home with the little girl we've prayed and dreamed about for years.  Continue to pray for this sweet girl to adjust well to our family, to connect well with each of us and that we can conquer some of the institutional habits / fears.