Never Apart in Our Hearts

As I sit on our overcrowded couch with nine of my children surrounding me, eating popcorn and watching Toy Story in Chinese trying to finish up this long overdue update, I really couldn’t be happier with how well things are going overall just three weeks home. What a difference we have seen in our daughter from our time with her our first week in China!

She took to Garrick right away.

She took to Garrick right away.

It was with tears (mine) that we headed out of mainland China back to Hong Kong for our return flight home. I am truly lucky to be alive and able to write this after the hair-raising ride from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. As if driving in China weren’t scary enough, we had a driver who was falling asleep at the wheel as we drove along the highways and bridges to our beloved Sky City Marriott. This is nothing new to me as Joey frequently dozes off while driving, but I am able to talk to him to keep him awake. I kept my eyes on the rear view mirror for most of the trip watching in horror as the driver’s eyes would flutter and close and his head would bob a bit as he came back to alertness. I encouraged Joey to ask him questions to keep him awake, but there’s only so much you can converse with someone with very limited English.

HK Disney, where we are the most common Americans in the past three years!

HK Disney, where we are the most common Americans in the past three years!

Which brings me to how things are going…I had planned to get a good video of Chaela coming in the house to meet the kids, but it didn’t go as planned- a theme we were getting used to during our time in China. She came in the house exhausted after being up for over 24 hours at this point and having a very rough time in the descent and landing (vomiting repeatedly), and it looked like all she wanted to do was cry as a swarm of 5 of the kids came to welcome her. The rest were in the bath still as my mom expected us to be home at 6, and it was only 4. So, it might be good that no one was “ready” to greet us, because it was overwhelming for her enough as it was. I really can’t even remember all the thoughts and emotions and events of the rest of the evening- we were in such a daze from the long day and just trying to make it to an 8 o’clock bedtime. The first few days felt like a blur with jet lag and the stress of trying to get Chaela established in some sort of a routine of “this is how we do things”, when we were really just trying to figure out how we are going to ourselves. She looked scared, confused, disoriented and just plain homesick. Sometime during that first morning home the next day, we all sat in the living room and I passed out the little trinket souvineers we had gotten for each of the children. Chaela was sitting on the couch next to Joey and the tears she had been bottling up for nearly two weeks started to spill over. It was the first time she has really cried in our presence alone and the first time her stoic facade has crumbled since the Gotcha and adoption days. It’s hard to explain to our other children why she is so sad, but I hope that the older kids who do understand a little bit more are able to grow in compassion in new ways through this experience with her.
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The past three weeks have been spent in an often difficult dance of keeping Chaela busy and occupied with things she can do that will keep her from sitting around thinking about her situation, but she is no longer looking so lost and sad, and going into the bathroom to be alone. It’s been hard to find things to play that require no reading or speaking. I’ve gone through all of our games and activities and have found only a handful that aren’t overly baby-ish, but do not require knowledge of English to play- but these things like Jenga, picture word Bingo, Mancala and Chinese Checkers only take up so much time in the day. Chaela began her first week home still reserved and shy with us, but she has been warming up more each day with everyone. During nap time for the three little boys is when I do focused school with the three school-aged kids. Having some things she can do independently is critical. She brought with her from China two of her school books, one of them a math book and one a reader. On the plane she saw Caitlin working on her math and happily demonstrated that she knew how to do it by helping her with a multiplication problem. Numbers are the one thing our languages have in common, so while it might sound crazy and too soon, we worked on a math placement test with her to see what grade level she is on her third day home. We found that Google translate will actually convert directions on the test from Chinese into English, and she was able to do most of it successfully. She took great pride in this and it gave her some positive power and control. She is very bright and catches on quickly to everything we are teaching her- American money, alphabet letters and sounds, writing her name, etc. I never imagined we would start back to doing school this soon after getting home, but it structures our regular days in such a way that we really need right now. I just can’t spend 12 hours a day trying to figure out what to do next every 10 minutes with her. That’s about her attention span for any new activity. We remember with Carrigan when we first got home how quickly he would lose interest in one thing and move on to something else. This comes from not ever really having the opportunity for free time, imaginative play, and playing with toys or games. We were told that toys are non-existent at her orphanage (which is common) and anything received is quickly put away into storage, which was evident in the fact that she brought home with her the two care packages we sent completely untouched and unused. She was at school so many hours of the day and her evenings were likely spent doing homework, and weekends watching a lot of TV, that she had no time to just be a child and play, so she doesn’t really know how to do that. I expected her to come to us with developmental delays, which is common for children who have been institutionalized. I have heard stories of 13 years olds coming home and wanting to play with baby toys and resorting back to infantile behaviors and play because it is a period of life they entirely missed out on. But, this has not been our experience with Chaela so far. She seems right on target for her age developmentally.
It took a few weeks, but imaginative play is part of her set of acceptable activities, now.

It took a few weeks, but imaginative play is part of her set of acceptable activities, now.

 There are, however, some things that she is very immature about. She thinks it is quite funny to use potty talk and tell everyone “Bien Bien” (poo poo) repeatedly. She is enjoying things about being a child that she missed the opportunity to do in her younger years. It was complete joy to watch her ride a swing for the first time at the park as she squealed with glee. She’s learned to ride a bike and tie her shoes, and there are things she has brought to our family that I didn’t even know were missing. We seem to have a new element of fun and spontaneity since she’s joined the family, and it’s been a blessing for us all to bond in a better and closer way. It’s warmed my heart to watch each of my children welcome her into the fold and love her as if she’s been here from day one. We’ve had unplanned karaoke concerts, jumping on the trampoline games, piggyback rides to bed, and have had more family game nights than I can count. The girls act like every night is a fun sleepover and the children have helped her bonding and adjustment with us immensely. She watches how they interact with us, and it has shown her what a family does and how we relate. She is definitely still a daddy’s girl, but she is reaching out to me more each day with hugs and affection. She still wants me to help with some of her self-care, so I continue to bathe her, help her dress at times, and help mend every real and imagined “boo-boo” she has. These things are great for bonding and attachment, and I am thrilled that she allows me to demonstrate to her in a concrete way what a mother does.
She learned to swing quickly!

She learned to swing quickly!

Claire's fit will not spoil the fun!

Claire’s fit will not spoil the fun!

We dominated the bowling alley.

We dominated the bowling alley.

We’ve gone on a few fun outings to bowling and play places, and a field trip to Daddy’s work so she can see where he disappears to each day, but most of our outings have involved doctor’s visits of some sort. She is a tiny 58 pounds and 54 inches tall (she will be turning 11 next month) and so far all we know from her extensive lab work is that she is vitamin D deficient. She’s been to the cardiologist for testing of her heart condition, and the good news is that it seems her surgery was successful and she does not need another one! She still has a murmur and a weak aortic valve that may present a problem at some point, but she’s expected to lead a normal lifestyle physically with the exception of heavy lifting. The main concern now is focusing on getting her significant dental issues fixed, and Friday is the first of several appointments she will have for cleaning and fillings. It seems from the X-rays that most of the rot and decay in her mouth is on baby teeth, and we got her home just in time to save most or all of her permanent teeth, we hope. We’ll know more once the dentist can really get in there to work, but we needed clearance from cardiology first before the process can begin. I thought it would help to let her play a fun “my first trip to the dentist” app on my IPAD to get her ready for her first appointment. Wrong. The game consisted of not just brushing the little cartoon monster’s teeth, but drilling and giving shots in the character’s mouth while he moans and screams in agony. Great. I fear this really may be the case for her come Friday.
We'll never forget our precious time in China together!

We’ll never forget our precious time in China together!

Speaking of royally messing up- we have a love/hate relationship with the Google translate app that is supposed to help us communicate. Unless you talk extremely slowly and enunciate each word just right, you will get messages translated into sometimes obscene things that I won’t mention, but the worst was: “you are going to die” when I was trying to explain what the next day’s trip to the doctor would be like. These blunders are quite difficult to backpedal out of, and it’s no wonder she has not once wanted to talk into the translator to try to tell us something in Chinese. We also probably should have thought better about how close sounding “Charlotte” and “Chaela” are to a non-native speaker- she turns to look each time Charlotte is called, and we also found that depending on what tone we speak her name with, it translates as “sheep” and “sleepy” on the translator. Whether or not she likes her name, she now uses it to tell people her name, and the only time we have heard her tell her name as “Li Xiao Mei” was to Chinese people, which is sad to me in a way.
China will always be a part of our lives.

China will always be a part of our lives.

Surprisingly, we have managed to spend quite a lot of time around Chinese people since being home. We’ve taken advantage of the fact that we are living in a culturally diverse area for now here in NY, and there are resources we just didn’t have back when we adopted Charlotte in middle Tennessee. We have visited two Chinese churches- our first visit being Easter Sunday, in the hopes that she would hear the gospel and understand our faith and why we go to church and do Bible time at home. We thought we were going to a bilingual service, but it turned out that the entire hour long sermon was entirely in Chinese, with no English interpretation. After it was over the children commented how long and boring it was, and I realized what a good lesson it was for them of what Chaela’s life is like living in our house right now where she understands very little of our dinner time conversation and the things we discuss in daily living. After the service we were led to the dining hall and treated like royalty as the members worked to serve our family lunch and came up to talk to us, amazed by how many children we have and wanting to hear the story of our three Chinese children. One lady told us she wanted to adopt from China, but she gave up because she was told it would take 5-7 years. I told her about the special needs program and she took down my phone number and agency information and seemed genuinely interested in adopting! Another woman told us she goes to China each year to volunteer in an orphanage in a very poor area, and that they are restricted from telling anyone the gospel on the visits. She said she shows the love of Christ in her actions, but as soon as they arrive the government is after them to be sure they aren’t there to evangelize. It was so interesting to speak to Chinese people on the outside looking in compared with the guides perspectives in-country who naively told us that there aren’t restrictions for Christians…as long as you aren’t really preaching, teaching or believing the Bible in a tangible way, that is. My favorite part of visiting the church was hearing the hymns sung in two languages, but with the same meaning, to the same Lord. It made me long for heaven all the more where people from every tribe and tongue will be together, raising one voice in praise to our God. But, for now, I can fully understand why all the people scattered at the Tower of Babel.
The egg hunt is on!

The egg hunt is on!

The coolest family pic of 9 kids you know.

The coolest family pic of 9 kids you know.

Grace introduces Chaela to our pagan rituals.

Grace introduces Chaela to our pagan rituals.

Trying to communicate with someone who does not speak your language is just hard. Amazingly, the Lord has quickly placed several people in our lives unexpectedly that have made this initial adjustment so much easier on all of us. Our local librarian was able to locate for us two high school senior girls in their 4th and 5th years of Mandarin study who are now coming to the house once a week each for an hour to work with Chaela. One does tutoring with her on the worksheets that come with the Rosetta Stone English program she works on daily and I had her check to figure out Chaela’s reading level in Chinese so I could purchase her books other than “Frog & Toad” (which were way too easy), and the other girl is teaching a knitting class to all of my girls so that she can teach some English to Chaela and some Chinese to the other girls. Believe it or not, we have also found a fully fluent Chinese speaking piano teacher (her family is from Taiwan) who comes to our house now each week. Not only that but she has a 10 year old little sister who is in Grace and Caitlin’s weekly gymnastics class! You can guess who has now joined gymnastics and is loving it- and she has a little friend there who can talk to her…if she weren’t too shy to talk. All of these resources that have practically fallen in our lap are just a great example of how God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. We did not have any of this in place until the week we got home. We really had no plan for what we would do when we got home as far as the language aspect. I had spoken with the foreign language department at West Point but hadn’t gotten far when I found out the only tutor available was a middle aged man who wouldn’t be able to come to the house to help. Each of these ladies I have found comes to our home, which is a huge bonus in a big family. The Lord has provided above and beyond what we expected and hoped for in every way with Chaela.
There has been only two instances where Chaela has spoken fluent Chinese with me around- she usually wants me to not watch when she does her Rosetta Stone lessons, or when she converses with the piano teacher. For whatever reason, she is embarrassed to speak her native language around us at all. She stalls at bed time, and I use this to my advantage to read to her. She has only a few books at this point that she can read, and one is a bilingual Bible. I started in the book of John with her, and I read the chapter while she followed along in Chinese. I knew she was actually reading when she told me to “wait” and slow down so she could keep up. Then, I asked her to read a verse and I got to hear her sweet voice in her natural tongue read for two whole verses. It made me sad to think that she will likely lose this voice to some extent. Just tonight again while I was tucking her in, she asked me to read with her. She read three pages of her Ramona Quimby book out loud to me, asking me to repeat after her each line in Chinese. It was so hard to make some of the sounds that the Chinese language uses, and gave me more of an appreciation for what it is like for her to learn English. It was a sweet time with her as we struggled to try to speak the same language when it is just not possible yet.
Dress-up is a universal language!

Dress-up is a universal language!

It is important to us that we work to keep Chaela’s Chinese as much as we are able. We think it will be a huge asset to her life to be able to communicate in both Chinese and English, and we don’t want her ability to be able to speak, write, read or understand Chinese to be lost. This past weekend we visited a Chinese school about 20 minutes away that meets every Saturday morning. We brought the whole family, really having no idea what to expect and found that Chaela was whisked away from us very abruptly (I went along) to the advanced class while they tried to figure out what to do with our other 8 children. The beginners “Panda” class teacher was out that day, so Chaela was in a classroom with just three other people, two English speaking adults who are learning Chinese and a little boy about her age who was fluent in Chinese. She was NOT happy, to say the least. It was the saddest I have seen her look since her first few days home and her time in China. It was almost like being there around so many Chinese speaking people talking at her, asking her questions, discussing where she was from, etc, brought back way too many painful memories she has been trying to forget. I felt awful for her, and also couldn’t wait to get out of there. The teacher was a sweet lady from Beijing, but she could tell Chaela wasn’t understanding everything she was saying because of the dialect difference, and when Joey pulled us out saying that we needed to go because there was no place for the other kids to go that day, we all felt relived to get in the car and leave for McDonald’s. We are trying to decide if it is worth making her go to keep the language strong despite her resistance, it seems now, to wanting to acknowledge her past and use her Chinese. I’ve brought up a few times to her that she can write to her friends, but she seems to not want to yet. I think it is a wound that is still too fresh to rip the bandage off just yet.
As we juggle life and figure out adjusting our routines and schedules for our new family member once again, we marvel at how well things are going. We know this is no guarantee that things will be smooth sailing from here on out, but when the worst thing that’s happened in the last 3 weeks has been the dog vomiting all over our couch and a kid getting a baseball stuck in our water boiler pipe (we joke that’s it’s now a $365 baseball), I’d say we are doing pretty well. Chaela is happy and thriving, trying all the foods I make and liking many of them, and things are going better than I would have dreamed just a month ago when I was bawling my eyes out in Kunming wondering if we did the right thing. Yes, we did. Doing the right thing doesn’t mean it will be easy. Often it’s just the opposite. God calls us to seemingly impossible things so that His glory can be displayed.
Besties!

Besties!

I can't believe they all fit into Joey's office.

I can’t believe they all fit into Joey’s office.

Partner Time.

Partner Time.

A gift from a dear friend!

A gift from a dear friend!

Today also marks one year since the day we met Carrigan- April 13th is his “Gotcha Day” in Shanghai. Next month will be his first annual visit to the cancer “survivorship” clinic, and that in itself is something to celebrate- the Lord has redeemed this child for his purposes! Carrigan is a happy guy with a huge heart- he is the sweetest, kindest soul, probably of any of our children. He forgives quickly, he is gentle, affectionate and loving. He still has his share of issues- but after what he’s been through, who can blame him? He is severely developmentally delayed and acts about half his age, has food issues that may follow him all of his life (he hoardes and obsesses over getting enough food, and eats like a horse- I think he has doubled in size since getting home!) and has impulse control issues and a speech impediment due to his chemotherapy and radiation treatments that destroyed his hearing. But, we rejoice in how far he has come and can’t imagine our family without him in it.
2016 will prove to continue to be a year of changes for our family. Remember how Chaela loves babies? She will be pretty happy come mid-December…it seems we brought two children home with us from China this time!
The girls heard that the 75th Ranger Regiment will be accepting women, soon.

The girls heard that the 75th Ranger Regiment will be accepting women, soon.

“Never Apart in our Hearts” is our family motto. Over the past 13 years of marriage and family, we have often been apart due to the military lifestyle. With each new family member we’ve made adjustments and rearranged the family dynamics over and over again while always trying to remain close despite distance, difficulties or language barriers. We’re thankful the Lord has begun the beautiful process of knitting Chaela’s heart together with ours, and we pray that through the love of family, she will one day come to know the love of Christ.
Happy Easter - Never Apart in Out Hearts!

Happy Easter – Never Apart in Out Hearts!