February 23, 2012

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No Hands But Ours

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February 21, 2012

Trust and Pretty Shoes

Trust is a funny thing.  You kind of don't notice it, until it is gone... or was never there.

I think the sword and shield is the universal symbol for
"I don't trust you yet!"
Me:  Okay Ping, we have to run into my work for a second, then we will go home.
Ping:  Okay.  Can I see where you work?
Me:  Of course.  Here we are...
Ping:  Oooooh, you have a lot of computer.
Me:  Yes, yes I do.
Co-Worker:  Hello, you must be Ping!
Ping:  How you know my name?
Co-Worker:  Because your Daddy has told me all about you.
Ping:  What?!  Are you joking me?
Me:  I talk about you all the time.  I tell everyone how beautiful you are, and how nice...
Ping:  I KNOW you are joking me!
Me:  No really, I do.
Ping:  Uuuungh.  Daaaaaad!
Me:  Okay, Ping, this is Daddy's friend Miss Y.
Co-Worker:  You have very pretty shoes.
Ping:  WhaaaAAAAaaaat?
Co-Worker:  I like your shoes.
Me:  Miss Y has a bit of a shoe problem.  She has a whole drawer full of shoes!
Co-Worker:  WHAT?!  I DO NOT!
Ping:  What?  You joking me again?
Me:  Nope, look in the bottom drawer of her filing cabinet.
Ping:  *looks at drawer*  That is a big drawer.
Me:  Yes it is.  And it is FULL of shoes!
Ping:  *looks at Miss Y*  Do you has shoes in dere?
Co-Worker:  No.  No I do not.
Me:  Hey!  You can't lie to a little child!
Ping:  My Daddy is joking me.  Right?
Co-Worker:  Right.  You are so smart!
Me:  Hey!  Don't tell her I'm lying!  You want my daughter to think I'm lying to her?!
Ping:  *thinks hard, looks at me, looks at Miss Y*  You got shoes?
Co-Worker:  No.
Ping:  Daddy joking me, I know'd it!
Me:  *siiiiigh*

... two weeks later while having breakfast ...
Ping:  Mommy, Daddy joked me.
Wife:  What?
Ping:  He say, his friend have shoes in drawer.  But I know'd he joking me.
Me:  Ungh, its Miss Y at work.  She has a drawer FULL of shoes, but she won't admit it to Ping.  So Ping thinks I'm lying to her.

... a while later ...
*ring* *ring* *ring*
Me:  Hello, you've reached the Yeti at work.
Wife:  Hey, we're just passing by and Big D needs the bathroom, can you let us in?
Me:  Yea sure.  Is Ping there?
Wife:  Yea, why?
Me:  I want her to come in and see Miss Y's shoes.
Wife:  ... really?
Me:  Yes!  She can't continue to think I'm lying to her!
Wife:  ... really?!
Me:  Okay, Miss Y, Ping is coming in a couple minutes.  I need you to show her your shoes, because she thinks I'm lying to her...  and that is not good.  We don't need more attachment issues.
Co-Worker:  Oh fine.  I'll show her.
*Ping comes bounding in*
Me:  Hey baby, look, do you remember Miss Y?
Ping:  Yes!  You don't have any shoes in your drawer!
Co-Worker:  That's right!  I have no shoes in my drawer!
Me:  What?!  No shoes?!  Ping, just go open the drawer, you will SEE them all!
Ping:  Daaaaaad, stop joking me.  I go see Mom now.  Bye.

... a few weeks later ...
Me:  Hey Miss Y.
Co-Worker:  Hey, oh, hi Ping!
Ping:  Hi.  Do you have shoes yet?
Co-Worker:  How do you remember that?
Me:  It is very important to her.  You know, because she thinks I'm lying and all that.
Co-Worker:  Okay, Ping, come here.  Look.  *she cracks open her drawer a little*
I'ts like in some cheesy movie where Pandora's box is opened - light comes streaming out of the drawer, illuminating both the girls faces...
Co-Worker:  Shhhhhhhh!
Me:  I told you I wasn't joking you.
Ping:  Can I see all your shoe?
Co-Worker:  Sure.
And the two girls spent the next 1/2 hour reviewing all 30 pairs of shoes, in the drawer, hidden under the desk, and behind the computers...

See, trust takes time.  Love, you can't rush it, but you can help it along... maybe, after all, I know a thing or two about da ladies.  You can buy flowers, bring chocolates, stand out in the rain holding a ghetto blaster above your head while playing Extereme's "More Than Words" outside your beloved's window... ghetto blaster... no, it is a real word.  It was something for playing music.  Kind of like an iPod.  But bigger.  A LOT bigger.  Yes, it was portable.  You could put it on your shoulder.  No, not your pocket.  Yes, it had batteries.  About 12 D-Cells.  What's a D-Cell?!  Oh c'mon!  I'm not THAT old.  Where was I?

Oh yea, but back to trust, how do you help advance it?  How can you build it?  I'm not sure.  I mean, I can be as steadfast in my love, and as trust-worthy as one can possibly be... but trust is really out of my hands.

See, with the shoes, I was tell the bang on 100% truth.
Ping, just simply did not want to believe me.
There was nothing I could do to change her mind.

In love, in attachment, I could have read any number of books... okay, I could have had my WIFE read any number of books, and there would bee different ways to address love and attachment.  I'm sure there are ways to try to encourage the growth of trust as well... but I haven't read anything on it... or, my wife hasn't read anything on it and told me all about it.

But what can you do for trust?  I had thought of pointing out every trust worthy thing I did in a day...

  • Hey Ping, remember when you were on the stairs, and I did NOT push you down them!?  Yea, see, I'm trust worthy!
  • Ping, remember when you came home from school, and were banging on the door to let you in?  Yea, I totally let you in.  I didn't have to.  But you can trust me.  I opened the door.
  • I TOTALLY didn't eat your Skittles!  Your Mom did.
  • Remember when I said you were driving me crazy?!  Well, look!  I'm CRAZY!

Maybe that's a bad idea.  Maybe trust is just something that grows with time.  I can't force it.  Goodness knows I want to.  But each day, she trusts me more and more.  I'll just keep bring trust worthy, and maybe she will eventually believe me... you know, over some total stranger that she just met like Miss Y.

What's not to trust?!

But in the end, I know it is hard for her to trust, it is hard for anyone to trust who has been hurt before - sometimes a "wounded" perspective makes it hard to see how people may love you.  So am I going to worry about it?  Nah.  Will it hurt when I can see it plain as day that she doesn't trust me?  Yup.

But then I'll choose to see past that, to adjust MY perspective to see where she can and will be able to trust me.

Like when she gets scared at night, and calls out "Daddy, I'm scared of the dark!" - trusting that I will make it better.  I just remembered, before I started this post, she was crying about the dark saying she was scared... a great opportunity to help her confront her fears head on, and help her over come them, to build that bridge of trust between us... or, I may have simply told her something along the lines of "suck it up, you're fine!  Get back to bed."  

Hmmmm... and I wonder why we have trust issues... just... can't... figure it out...

February 16, 2012

I am the Abductor

This might come off sounding awful,
but here it goes.

When my new daughter comes into my arms, {17 days from today!} I think it's ok if she cries.
Screaming, wailing, flailing... it's all ok with me.
And here's the awful part, part of me is hoping there will be "a reaction" or some kind.  I'm secretly hoping for a big awful transition.  Ya, that must sound awful.  It feels awful too.
You may have guessed that we hope that Mazie will be happy and smiling, and everything goes smoothly on that instant that she is passed to our arms.
But we don't hope that at all.

You see, we have a child that was passed into our arms that had no reaction at all to being passed to strangers.  No crying, no fear, no shut down, no nothing.  We were just another caregiver in what we assume was a long line of many.  And we've seen how that affects a child's soul long term.

Not that I want my child to suffer. I don't want Mazie to experience pain and sorrow and grief.   But if I'm to be honest, not only do we hope she cries, but I hope she's scared.  And frightened.  And even terrified! Maybe so much so that she throws up, even on me.  Or can't look at me.  Or pees on me.  Or kicks us and bites and tries to scratch our eyes out.  It's totally ok with us, if she tries to run away.  Or if she bangs against the hotel door, for hours and calls out the only woman she's ever known as mama.  It's ok if she does it for hours and even days, and I think it's good and true for her to be able to process the feelings and emotions.  I hope she has a reaction, any kind of reaction to what is happening to her.
It'll be heart breaking to see.
It'll be gut bewitching to watch this happen to our child.
But these things are reactions that we can hope for, if our daughter is having a healthy reaction to what is happening to her.  If she has had a healthy attachment to someone in her past, than these would all be normal reactions.  And I have prayed every single day since I saw her face that she has had an attachment to someone... anyone.

Let's take Trolley into the land of make believe.
We have a 9-year-old son, Boo.  He knows no other family.  He only knows himself by the name we've given him.  He lives in an American style home, wears American style clothes, and eats American style food.  He's a pretty normal kid.  (and pretty stinkin' handsome too if I don't say so myself, but let's not get sidetracked.)
And let's pretend that one day, that I drive him to the county court house and give him to a wonderful loving couple from another country.  {Yes, I said "give" him to someone else.}  And maybe they give him a piece of candy and a toy to entice them to their arms.  Surely I would cry as I handed off my child, that I have raised for years, to someone else.  I would cry hard giving my boy to these strangers.  But he didn't know any of this was going to happen!  I didn't tell him!  And it soon would become obvious to him that he is being given away.  To them.  To strangers.  Forever.  And away from the only family he has ever known.  He would miss me.  He would miss his family and his home.  A lot!  Miss doesn't even seem to be the right word for such a life-altering event.
He would soon realize that he knows nothing about this new country, or its people or food or new family.  He doesn't look anything like them.  They have different skin and hair and clothes.  They smell different.  He doesn't speak or understand their language, or even know where it is or how he's going to get there.  The food is weird and he gets hungry.  He only knows that everything he now experiences in different.  Every smell, and taste, and sight, and sound.  And those loving strangers keep touching him.  Maybe they are stroking his cheek or insisting on holding his hand or rubbing his back.  Even his name has been changed to a new one that he's never heard of.  Nothing at all is familiar anymore.  Despite the fact that these hypothetical new mom and dad seem nice, it's all different, and it's very very scary for him.  And he does this all this while grieving his old family and his mama and his papa that he soon realizes he will Never. Ever. See. Again.  He remembers them.  He can't stop looking for them.  Or stop thinking about them.  And on top of being terrified of it all, it breaks his heart.

Lastly, take away all the ability for this child to process internally and rationally comprehend and communicate even to himself  like a 9-year-old would... because the child is actually only 23 months old.  Same feelings, same terror and panic about being taken away, and same memories about the love she once had for someone that is no longer there... but when you're a toddler none of it is processed with words and none of it can be explained.  All she'll know is the moment she's in right then and right there.  The overwhelming fear and the grief.

This will be my daughter as we get her on March 4.  I Simply. Can. Not. Imagine. the feelings she will have.  She will be taken from her foster parents, the only mama and baba that she has known since she was days old, and driven 3 hours to our hotel.  There she will be given to us. That word "give" seems so trite.  Like it's candy or a handbag or even a puppy we're talking about.  It's not.
It's a person.
A real live human being, one person being given to another.
A person with
a soul,
and terror,
and panic,
and memories,
and possibility for anything in her future.

When this person, my daughter is given away, to us, I hope it rocks her world!  And if that means that it rocks her world to the point that she is physically ill, then so be it.  I'm fully prepared to accept it all.  Or at least I'm trying to be.  I'm praying like mad that she has attached so well to her foster parents that this transition to us will be momentous.
I'm praying to be prepared to be hit and pinched and bit.
Prepared for screaming.
Prepared for nightmares.
Prepared for rage and overwhelming depression in a toddler.
Prepared for terror in the eyes of a 2 year old being taken from everything that she knows and love.

And I'm prepared be the abductor.

Until the love can shine through.

This is Jude just a less than 5 minutes after he was placed in my arms, September 1, 2008.
It's with a bitter sweet heart that I look forward to this fast-approaching day of giving and receiving.  I'm so anxious to wrap my arms around her, to claim her {as nobody has done before}as my daughter once and forever, to plant my kisses on her cheeks, and feel the warmth of her head in the crook of my neck.  I want to touch her skin and feel her hand in mine.  But I don't want to  won't will try really hard not to exacerbate her fear for my own peace.  A peace she will be so so very far from in those moments.
It will be a fine line of offering our love and not scaring her further.

I pray we navigate this line well enough for her.


February 15, 2012

Welcome Diana

 So excited to share our newest contributor to No Hands But Ours, a longtime friend of mine and mom to four beautiful daughters. Diana blogs at First a Pearl, then Three Rubies, please join us in welcoming her to NHBO!


What a fun blessing for me to be asked to contribute here at NBHO.

Adoption began for us with our first dossier in 2005. That small leap of faith plunged us into the most amazing journey of our lives. We say to this day if anyone ever told us we would have four girls, three from China, we would have laughed...Loudly! God's plans never cease to amaze me. So, here I am seven years later with four daughters, three from China. All special, unique and amazing!

In 2007 I gave up my briefcase to carry Ruby Mei's diaper bag, and I have not looked back! Other than a super cool volunteer job with Pearl River Outreach I am blessed to stay home to raise my crazy crew! It is definitely the hardest (and most rewarding) job I have ever had!

So my goal is to add something special here at NBHO! I hope to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone like I did with each adoption!! I promise when you do, the blessings will be plentiful! I look forward to sharing the journey with you wherever you are in your call to adopt!

~ Diana

February 13, 2012

"Why is one nostril bigger than the other?"

That was the question I got over the weekend from my 7 year old son, Quan. We adopted Quan from China in 2007. He had a cl/cp. Both were repaired upon arriving home, he was in speech therapy until 2010, and he has done AMAZING.

I know not every experience with cl/cp is this simple. I do not take for granted how easy Quan's special need has been in our case.

Or maybe I do.

Because honestly? I've forgotten about it. The repairs and therapies seem so long ago!

So when he asked me this, of course I said, "What are you talking about? One nostril is not bigger than the other!"

"It looks that way to me" he said with his eyebrows all scrunched up.

I got right down close to his nose and scrunched my eyebrows up too....searching....really trying to see the smaller nostril.

"Nope. I don't see a difference. Kimmie? (same age sister adopted at same time as he) Do you think one of his nostrils looks bigger?"

"Not really. I can't tell any different," she said with all honesty.

Quan said, "Well, it looks different to me."

I really tried to look at his nose from a different perspective....not from my momma-who-only-sees-an-adorable-dimpled-7-year-old-bundle-of-silliness-and-fun.....but from somebody else's perspective. I remembered how many people have met Quan and didn't even know he had a cl/cp. Maybe there IS a teeny tiny little difference in the size of his nostrils....so I say,

"You know, one might be a little smaller, Quan. But I certainly can't tell much of a difference if at all!"

That was good enough for him, and off he went to finish his lego plane.

Quan has an upcoming appointment with an oral surgeon to see if it's time to get his cleft in his gum-line repaired. Maybe since he's aware of that appointment, he is really processing and thinking about his mouth and nose and how he was born with a cl/cp....maybe that sparked his question. Or maybe he's just 7 and was picking his nose in the bathroom mirror and realized one nostril is bigger.

Regardless, it is what it is. We take the questions as they come, we answer with honesty, and we pray for wisdom as we navigate the road of parenting. Thank the Lord we do not have to do it alone!!!!

I don't know about you, but nostrils are not the first thing I see in a person. :) And in Quan? Yep, pretty much all I can see is 100% CUTENESS!!!!!!

February 11, 2012

My baby

Last Sunday we celebrated five years since our oldest child was placed in my arms in a hot room in southern China.  That means that I'm precisely five years and six days into this glorious adventure called motherhood.

The learning curve was vicious at first, but I've come a long way.  I feel that I can say I've come a long way with conviction.  You see, while I had these grandiose visions of instantly knowing all the answers before I was a mom,  along the way, it has become clear to me that I still have so, so much to learn.

And that sometimes, my kids teach me the most important lessons.

Take my youngest for example.  Or should I say my baby.  He has taught me volumes.

He ran into my arms ~ and therefore into my life ~ at nearly 35 months old.  He had been the apple of his foster mother's eye.  Because we were confident that he had been well loved in his younger days, my first instinct was to treat him as an older toddler instead of an infant.

But even though he was just shy of three, he wasn't ready to be a big boy yet.  And he let me know about it.

It started about two months after he came home ~ as soon as he had enough vocabulary to express himself.  Since then we've had a nightly post-bath ritual.  He gets out of the tub and immediately comes to find me.  Then he stands with outstretched arms while saying, "I baby Mommy!"  That is my signal to scoop him up into my arms and cradle him for a few minutes.

We spend the time looking into each other's eyes with him making little cooing noises. In that time it is just him and me, no distractions by siblings competing for my attention. Then, as quickly as it begins, he ends our bonding time with puckered lips (waiting for a kiss) and a wiggly, "Get down Mommy," and then he is gone, in search of his favorite Lightning McQueen pajamas.

The whole routine lasts just about two to three minutes a night.  But those sweet little moments are golden.  They have helped further cement our mother/son relationship and have given me back a precious time with him that I otherwise would have missed.

I'm so thankful he let me know that he still has a little baby left in him after all.  And that I had the insight to listen...

February 10, 2012

The Plan vs The Unknown

You know that saying...
You want to see God laugh?  Just tell Him what your plans are!
I'm pretty sure it went down like that.

In July of last year Papa and I carefully looked over our agency's special need's list.  It's a paper that lists about 50 possible special needs.  Hepatitis C, missing limbs, cleft lip and pallet, dwarfism, deafness, heart problems...  Potential adoptive parents, like us, are directed to check yes, no or maybe next to each special need.  The agency then uses this list to "match" special needs children with potential adoptive families.  Papa and I prayed and talked many many times about it over a couple months.  And we didn't agree on many things.  Not many at all.  But there were some needs that we did we agree would be something we could tackle and might be a great fit for our family.

But in the end... we ticked only 1 box as yes.  It was our plan.
Only 1 box on the whole paper.
I felt guilty, but still knew it was the right decision for us.
Papa and I knew that by only accepting 1 possible special need, we'd likely have a long wait for a match in front of us.  We decided that we'd wait 6 months then re-access.
Can't you just see God giggling already.

On September 29th, our agency called us with Mazie's file thinking she might still be a match for us.  And no, it wasn't the special need we planned on.

In fact her special need wasn't listed on the form.
Well... so what special need does she have?  we asked. 
Developmental delays.  Delays beyond her peers at the orphanage.
Why? was the obvious follow up question.
It doesn't say.  They don't know.  It just says that's she's quite behind.  

Oh God, really?  I mean really?  Now?  Jump out of the plane now? 
And we did. 

So here's the thing.  Mazie was in the standard non-special needs program.  At 15 months she had some testing done because we assume her delays were evident.  She was tested, and she tested quite low in some s things like walking and language, and she scored average in others.  And again, we're talking delays significantly beyond the scope of her peer at the orphanage.  So she was transferred to the special need's program. 

We've of course consulted with an international adoption doctor who is reviewing Mazie's medical information and progress, why she might be delayed.  We consult this doctor every time we get any information on her.
We've repetitively examined all the photos and videos, and so has the doctor.  We're all looking for clues to explain away the why's.  But there is nothing that indicates specifically why Mazie is so delayed.  The orphanage has been asked, and they say they don't know either.
Here's the big scary part... don't let those cute photos with chubby and adorable cheeks fool you.  There are likely very real reasons my daughter is delayed.  Things like autism, brain damage, and cerebral palsy just to name a few... scary words to see next to your child's name.  Things I'd rather not dwell on for too long.

Mazie's foster parents are working with her in hopes of "catching her up" to her fullest potential.  What that fullest potential is remains to be seen. 
We'll know much much more when we finally meet her... maybe.  And even though much of that scares us, that's ok with us.  Until we can answer the why's, we'll let our faith will be enough.

International adoption, and especially special need's adoption is full of unknowns.  And honestly, maybe it is better that Mazie's "unknowns" so out in the open.  If we had been referred a child that fit into our plan, maybe that would have created a false sense of security.  Maybe we would have fallen into the trap of thinking we knew what type of child we were getting.  And the honest truth is that nobody knows what child they're going to get... ever.  We don't know much about Mazie's needs yet.  And there's a very real possibility that we won't know of any of her limitations for quite a while after getting her.   It is so important that adoptive parents go into adoption not only accepting the obvious challenges inherent with international adoption and post-institutionalized children, and special needs they are made aware of, but they additionally need to go into it accepting for the unknown. 


February 9, 2012


I am going to try and help you understand something that may SEEM a bit odd, but I am finding it occurs more and more these days and before you get knocked over w/ the EMOTION of it perhaps I can make you aware of it, so that is can be ignored ...

One of the many blessings of parenting a sweet SN angel is the sisterhood of amazing mothers, grand-mothers, aunts, and siblings that I have met along the way that understand my life and have given so much encouragement and prayer ... There is an instant connection of the heart because of the journey we are on together  ... Let's be honest ---many days and nights are BEYOND hard ... Healing a child whether physical or emotional can be draining on a family emotionally, spiritually, physically and financially, yet there is NOTHING we would trade for this journey we are on ... We see GOD so much clearer in everyday life ... We see HIM in the big and small things of our day ... We bask in HIS mighty arms when we are at therapy, at the hospital, up in the middle of the night, etc ... HE is our anchor !!!

So here is the kicker and the thing to be IGNORED or JUST LET IT ROLL OFF YOUR SHOULDER ... When someone who hasn't parented a sweet SN angel, but wants to give you unsolicited advice just fall into your place of grace ... Or when someone says they were going to adopt SN, but God gave them (what the world would call) a healthy child instead and they want to give you advice then just keep on walking to your place of grace ...  The INTENT to do something and the ACTION of doing it is two different things ... I want you to know that when people are looking into your life and they think they understand (WHEN THEY DON'T) then you just need to ignore it and keep on going ... You are strong and equipped w/ the LORD and don't ever let their second guesses or their advice distract you from the JOY of your life ...  You may feel like you are on display at times and that gives people the right to GIVE THEIR 2 cents worth, but I disagree and I feel like it is becoming somewhat of an epidemic in adoption circles ... Ignoring it and not feeding into the drama of it is the best way to move on and not let it creep into your heart ... It can sometimes make us feel inadequate or like we aren't doing all we can, but in reality HEALING takes time and when people are looking in they are measuring most of your life by the WORLD's standards and that is no way to go about the journey ... YOU ARE YOUR CHILD'S BIGGEST CHEERLEADER - so don't ever let anyone coax you into traveling this road any other way, but with the Lord ..

The need for people to want to help you FIX your child is a natural instinct and most mean well, but you may need to politely let them know the best help they can give is by praying for your family ... ALL of our children are fearfully and wonderfully made by the LORD and no matter what their unique make-up or life experiences up until they joined your family they are PERFECT in the sight of the LORD ... And the journey to HEALING is a GOD journey, but the journey of FIXING is a worldly journey ...

So not matter what the intentions (whether kind or nosey) from others just pull out your GRACE and keep on GLOWING AND GLORIFYING in the LORD !!!

blessings !!!  Gwen Oatsvall (Oatsvallteam.blogspot.com)

February 8, 2012

What we're reading Wednesday: links

From the last few weeks, some good stuff we've read that relates to adoption and/or parenting a special needs child.

As always, if you are a traveling family, or have posted something, or read something, that you'd like to share here on No Hands But Ours, please let us know at nohandsbutours@gmail.com.

From the blog world:

Please keep the Wife of the Prez and her new daughter, Sallie, in your thoughts and prayers. At last, Sallie is in their arms, but she is having a hard time and grieving terribly, which is made worse by her very complex heart condition.

Our very own Tonggu Momma shares about her therapy equipment (aka toys!) for children - like her daughter, Squirt - with gross motor delays.

Yvette, who blogs at Bringing Home Holland, has a biological child with dwarfism and an adopted child with dwarfism. And she shares her heart on adopting a child with dwarfism.

La Dolce Vida shares how she created very special lifebooks that tell the adoption story of her daughters.

Mary Beth, at Letters to Maggie, shares about her daughter Maggie's time in a spica cast and now how she is learning to walk since having the cast removed.

Danielle at Westhaven Kids takes a very honest look back at her son's gotcha day, and shudders at the thought of what it would have been like if she had been totally unprepared.

Jen, at Love Laugh Learn and Grow, takes a look back at her son Johnathan's adoption, who has now been home 100 days.

Kelley from Gazing Upward shares her thoughts on being honest on a public blog and answers a question she often hears regarding adopting an older child.

And our newest NHBO contributor, Nancy from Ordinary Miracles and the Crazy 9, takes a look back at her daughter's attachment journey, and recognizes that, for children like her Tess, it's a marathon, not a sprint. 

From the news:

From the Courier-Journal, Babies Read Our Lips More That We Thought. A fascinating read about how and when babies read lips, and then, at a year, move back to focusing on our eyes. But, if confronted with a foreign language, they go back to lip reading. Adoptive parents would be wise to read this and consider it when communicating with their newly adopted children.

Traveling Families:
And lastly, if you're like all of us around here, you'll want to take a few moments (or hours!) and travel vicariously with these families currently in China to bring home their kids.

February 7, 2012

Learning to Cry

"It's normal," said our international adoption doctor.  "Normal, at least, for where she's come from...."

Our daughter was 11 months old when she came home from China, young for a special needs adoption.  She had spent 10 months in the orphanage and one month in foster care.  Overall, she was doing very well and was on-target or perhaps even beyond in every way.  But one behavior worried me.  Or more accurately, it was the lack of a behavior that worried me.  When she got hurt, she didn't cry.

In China, during one of our first days together, she was cruising along the furniture, tripped, and hit her head.  It wasn't a terrible injury, but one that should have hurt.  Had to hurt.  Yet she didn't cry.  She laid on the floor and very deliberately breathed deeply in and out.  In through the nose, out through the mouth.  In through the nose, out through the mouth, like she was attending a Yoga class.  Then she pulled herself back up and continued her cruising.  During our first weeks together, I saw this repeated many times.  Any little injury and her eyes would glaze over and the Yoga breathing would begin.  In and out.  In and out.  Sometimes she put her thumb in her mouth, hugged herself with her other arm, and gently rocked.

Her paperwork, written when she was 6 months old, said, "she's learned the ways of the orphanage and does not cry to interrupt adult's work."   Even before I met her, I knew what that meant.  She hadn't learned, "Oh, I see that you're busy; I won't interrupt you."  She'd learned, "when I cry, my throat hurts and my eyes burn and my wood mattress gets wet.......and no one comes anyway."

So when I talked to our doctor, herself an adoptive mom, she said I should overemphasize the owies.  Every owie.  All the time.  With our other kids, who had no trouble at all producing a healthy wail, a typical response to a little trip and fall was, "Up you go!  You're O.K.!"  With Cholita, those tiny owies became hug and kiss fests.  We snuggled, we coddled, and I'm proud to say, within a month, she was screaming like a banshee just like our other children.

And as much as my husband and I joked that we'd created a monster, I was happy to have my work interrupted by a crying baby who was looking to her Mama for comfort.

After all, Yoga will still be there when she's 40.

February 3, 2012

welcome Nancy

I am excited to share that we have another new blogging mama who is joining our team at No Hands But Ours. Nancy blogs at Ordinary Miracles and the Crazy 9... and since she says it so much better than I do, here is bit more about her and her growing family! 

My name is Nancy, and I'm tickled pink that the NHBO has invited me to contribute! My hubby, who is an adult adoptee himself, and I have been together since we were teenagers, before the invention of the wheel, circa 1984, even before cell phones and the www. I had always wanted a big ol' family, and even from my earliest memories, I clearly remember wanting to adopt to build my family. With the most wonderful Godly man and best friend by my side, we now have 6 little ones ages, (several of which are hardly little any more) and another on the way via Jiangxi, China. All of them, ages 18, 15, 13, 9, 4, and 4, are still living at home and this make me a very happy, and very busy mama, who almost always has a laundry pile the size of a small baseball stadium waiting for her.

Oddly, I may be the only contributor to NHBO that hasn't adopted from China... yet. Our 4 year olds, Tess and Jude, were both special needs adoptions from VietNam that we got just as the program was crumbling to a close in 2008. We adopted them at the same time when they were 12 months old. They were often crib mates at their orphanage in Saigon. Jude was identified as a special needs adoption with bilateral foot deformities. We suspected from his photos that he had bilateral club feet, and this did turn out to be the case. He has had 2 surgeries, much serial casting, a couple years of physical therapy, and still wears a brace 12 hours a day. His special needs were as straight forward and his attachment went smoothly. Contrastingly, his sister, Tess, was not identified as special needs, however it was indicated that she was a preemie with low birth weight of 3 lbs even, (likely 3 months premature) and also likely malnourished. Upon getting her, we quickly realized that there were a host of other post-institutionalization issues that would need to be addressed over the years, including on-going attachment issues that we still deal with.

Our newest bundle of joy, who we are naming Mazie Jade, is an amazingly adorable, almost 2-year-old girl, and is currently living in an orphanage in Jiangxi, China. We will leave to get her in the next 3-6 weeks. Her special needs are a bit unknown, and frankly that's really scary, but with faith in God, we trust that we will have all we need to provide her with a strong wonderful future. So right now we're in the thick of waiting... and waiting... and waiting... to bring her home. The waiting is getting excruciatingly hard. But again, with faith we know our time will eventually come. I plan on sharing here on NHBO regularily both before, during, and after our travel. I'm excited to share our feelings and experiences about attachment issues, transitions, and what adoption of special need's kiddos looks like both in the long and short term.

Over at our family blog, Ordinary Miracles and the Crazy 9, you'll also find me spending my free time blogging, gathering dirty laundry, dabbling in photography, sorting laundry, cooking VietNamese food, doing more laundry, dreaming of travel, folding laundry, living the chaotic art of having a large family, making far more mistakes than I care to admit, and still doing more laundry. Some of the most valuable lessons I've learned about special need's adoption have been through reading blogs of other families that have blazed the trail before me. I've learned the differences between my expectations and reality, and have found comfort when times got tough. I very much appreciate the opportunity to share our ongoing journey and be a part of the NHBO community!


February 1, 2012

I not be fraid~

Happy February everyone! I for one can't believe how fast time is moving. I'm sure it's about to slow to a snail's pace for my family though as we have just submitted our LOI for a new son this week. The wait has officially begun again. :)

Many of you know that we lost our son, Seth, in November in Kunming. We recently learned that he died from complications to his open heart surgery. I wrote in detail about it on our family blog, so I won't go into here, but it has just been a wonderful piece of closure for us. We've learned so much. We've grown so much.

I remember decorating our Christmas tree the week after Seth died, something that is never a chore for me because I love it so, and this year just feeling so sad. And frustrated. And if I'm honest, mad. We had only loved him for four months. But goodness, he was part of us. Already grafted into our hearts.

I'm hanging ornaments and our five year old son, Joel, out of the blue asks me...

"Why my baby bruh-wer die, mama? Why my Seff in Heaven?"

{our beautiful Thai Tornado}

I put down the ornaments in my hand, loved on him and answered him the best I could. And then I looked to Jason, my rock and the love of my life, with a question of my own.

"Will we do this again, babe? Will we find another little boy?"

"I'm sure we will. We will just pray, babe."

"Will we bring home a heart baby?"

"I can't think of any reason why we shouldn't."

He was right, ya know. We are doing this again. We have found another son. We have chosen a heart baby. Not in the same way that Seth was a heart baby. Seth's condition was more grave. We knew that going in. Still, I really believed he was coming home. And the rug was pulled out from under my feet and I felt myself come crashing down with no rug to soften the blow. That's just how I felt though. It wasn't the truth.

Because God was {and is!} rich in mercy. And we have peace. And closure. And a new son to sing over! A son with congenital heart defects that need fixing. But ones that are probably not going to take his life before we get there. Still, my breath catches as I write that. Because we are just beginning to feel the rug has been placed snuggly under our feet again.

This little guy is 11 months old {Eeeeek!} and his precious heart has two defects {PDA and PFO}, his left heart is enlarged, his main pulmonary artery is enlarged. He has some pretty severe urogenital issues as well. All of which, we stand ready and willing to deal with and make better as best we can.

I'm a part time photographer and was sitting at my desk doing some work for a client last week. The rain was falling again {we had a very wet January!} but it wasn't storming. The only sounds I heard were a steady rain and Joel building his latest roller coaster out of wooden train tracks in the floor in front of my desk. All of a sudden, a roar of thunder rocked our house. In a blink, literally .7 seconds, Joel was all over me. Grasping my arm, head buried in my chest.

"What that noise, mama?"

"It was just thunder baby. It's okay. I've got you. You're okay."

"I no wike funder, mama."

"I know, baby. It's okay to be afraid. But you don't have to be. I've got you."

"My new baby bruh-wer be fraid of funder, mama?

"Yes. I'm sure he will be."

"I take care him, mama. I help him not be fraid."

"That's so sweet of you, Joel. I'm sure he'll be so happy to have a big brother like you."

"I take care him, mama. I teach him sing, 'God wuvs me, I NOT be fraid, not be fraid, not be fraid! God wuvs me, I NOT be fraid, not be fraid anymore!' "

I have never heard Joel sing this song. I have no idea who taught it to him. But he was the mouth of God for me in that moment. I had so many doubts about stepping forward for another heart baby...though I knew that God had called us to that road. And I knew that this sweet boy's heart was less severe than Seth's. But fear overtook me many days leading up to our decision. I was scared that we may be too old to parent a child this young again! Yet, God put those fears to rest as well.

I told our case worker last week, it feels like we are on the edge of a cliff. Our toes are pointed over the air and our heels are firmly planted to the safe, hard ground. Behind us is all that is comfortable and careful and easy. Jumping off is hard and tiring and burdensome. But I know that I can't trust my feelings. They will lead me astray many times. I felt that my world was crashing down before, I felt that the rug wasn't there to catch my fall. It wasn't true at all. He held my world, He caught my fall. And this Truth will sustain us. God loves us. And we'll "not be fraid."

Today and everyday, that's more than enough.

{I love that our Joel knows in whom he can trust!}

January 31, 2012

Communicating through ASL

This has probably been a familiar scene at some point in your home ... your young toddler child is sitting in the middle of the floor throwing a temper tantrum. Tears are streaming down her face, her nose is running and her hair is matted to her face. She's kicking the floor and screaming ... and you have absolutely no idea why. You have tried everything to calm her down and nothing has worked. Age appropriate? Of course. Frustrating for both of you? Definitely. Sometimes there really is no reason for the tantrum ... but maybe sometimes there is?

I think it's safe to say that one of the biggest frustrations for toddler-aged kiddos is lack of communication. Or it's at least been one of the biggest frustrations for Brooklyn since she came home from China last June. I am convinced that since we brought her home at 13 months old, she's known exactly what she wanted and how she wanted it. But given the language barrier, her young age, and her un-repaired cleft lip and palate ... well, there wasn't much communicating happening from her side.

Enter our non-verbal saving grace, American Sign Language (ASL). We had used a few signs with our biological children when they were Brooklyn's age, but mostly because I thought it was cool and seemed like a good thing to do. We didn't actually depend on the signs for communication. But with Brooklyn, signs have pretty much become a way of life. I'm not just talking about the signs for "more" and "all done" ... I'm talking about complete non-verbal communication with ASL. Not full sentences mind you, but "toddler talk" using ASL. At 20 months old, our super-smarty-pants can sign over 40 words and the list keeps growing. She has a better vocabulary than my son did at her age. She can also understand just about everything we say, and thanks to ASL, she can respond appropriately using signs. And although we still have the typical toddler meltdowns, Brooklyn's non-verbal communication skills have drastically cut them down.

It's a long list, but to give you a clear picture of Brooklyn's non-verbal capabilities ... here are the words she can sign and understand: hi/bye, yes/no, milk, bedtime, play, all done, eat, more, help, blanket, bath, come, napkin/tissue, wash, sorry, book, thank you, shoes, socks, car, mommy, daddy, brother, sister, dog, hat, stop, music, clean, diaper, wait, yogurt, baby, scared, ball, up, down, hurt and hair ... there may be more but this is the running list I have. She can point to the body parts on her face and I also have another handful of signs that I am working on teaching her: I love you, coat, happy, train, brush teeth, kiss, want, dance, sit, stand, banana, friend, gentle, outside, cat, color, and TV. And there are countless more I'd like to learn but I try to only introduce a few at a time. She can pick up some immediately after showing her just one time, others take longer. Some signs are used for multiple words, a few are ones that are not actually ASL (just made up over time), and some are Brooklyn's toddler version of the sign. I'm happy to say that ASL has become a routine, necessary, easy part of our life.

Teaching Brooklyn ASL was not always easy though. In fact, the first sign I taught her, "milk," was probably the most difficult. I started signing a few important words when we were in China but didn't really begin trying to teach them to her until we had been home for a few days. Every time we had her milk out to drink, I'd hold it in front of her and sign "milk." I even amazingly got her to imitate me doing it a few times. I did this ... a lot. All the time. Once I knew that she could consistently do the sign AND that she understood what she was doing, I only gave her the milk when she signed for it. There were definitely temper tantrums during this transitional period and it was tough ... a battle of wills on more than one occasion. Two strong-willed ladies both wanting different things made for interesting days. But within 2 weeks of being home, she was comfortably signing "milk" and it was absolutely effortless for her.

I continued to sign other words with her while talking, but didn't intentionally teach them to her for a little while. I wanted to make sure we had "milk" down cold before I slowly started introducing others. When she started to use "milk" for everything, I knew it was time to learn more. It was slow-going at first and certainly an uphill battle on many occasions, but worth every ounce of work. Brooklyn learned a burst of signs in late November/early December when she was 18 months old - she was picking up multiple signs each week! We also noticed a drastic reduction in her temper tantrums around that time. I think that part of it was just being more comfortable with us, but I can also attribute her behavior change to language acquisition.

Using ASL has been really fun for our two biological children as well - they can interpret what Brooklyn is saying for other people who don't understand it and they even help teach her signs! My oldest daughter learns some ASL at school and she is always excited to teach us the new words she has learned. Brooklyn is still pretty non-verbal. She does not say any words, although she makes a few sounds that mimic words and she uses different tones extremely well. Sometimes I know what she wants just by the tone of her sound. She can say "ow" when something hurts and she makes an adorable "hu ha" sound when she wants me to sing to her. She can say "mamamama" but that's more mimicking a sound than an actual word. I expect that her verbal language will start developing when we begin speech therapy after her palate repair on February 21st. I really believe that all children could benefit from using ASL, whether they are speech-delayed or not. Research has even shown that verbal language acquisition is easier for children who know ASL!

Before you ask, no - I am not fluent in ASL and I did not know it before I had children. In fact, I only knew a handful of signs before we brought Brooklyn home. I have learned from a book, videos and yes, I'll say it ... an iPhone app :-) The resource I have leaned on the most is a great book called Teach Your Tot to Sign by Stacy A. Thompson. I have yet to look up a sign that wasn't in the book. I also like the Baby Signing Time videos because they show multiple children doing the signs in their own ways. The iPhone/iPad app that we have is called Baby Sign and Learn - it has digital cartoon-like babies that show the signs. There are many, many more resources out there for parents, theses are just the ones that I am using.

Communication with little ones is always difficult, whether they are biological or adopted. Now that Brooklyn has been home for 8 months, the initial language barrier is not an issue anymore. But there are still times when Brooklyn is passionately signing a word and I have no idea what she's saying. I am so happy though, that she has the skills to be able to effectively communicate what she needs and wants. And if it's something we haven't signed yet, the information is only a book, video, or iPhone app away.

January 27, 2012

Adoption Tax Credit for 2011

Anyone who has adopted should know about the Adoption Tax Credit. It's a huge blessing for adopting families to recoup a portion of expenses when adopting a child. But if you're most of us, that's about where your knowledge ends.

Internet to the rescue.

With tax season upon us, here are some links to help you maximize your credit, and minimize the effort.
The numbers below reflect the total Adoption Tax Credit amounts. Note that only in 2010 and 2011 are these amounts refundable, which means that the refund is received in a lump sum. This was a huge surprise to many of us last tax season when we learned that our refund was going to be significantly larger than anticipated. But the IRS insisted on auditing many adoptive families, so it is wise to make sure you have all your receipts and documentation of expenses organized and ready to go before you file for 2011. According to the IRS website, "Taxpayers may also be asked, after filing their returns, to substantiate any qualified adoption expenses they paid."

2013: $5,000 or $6,000 for a special needs child (projected)
2012: at least $12,170 (will be indexed for inflation), non-refundable
2011: $13,360 (will be indexed for inflation), refundable
2010: $13,170, refundable 
2009: $12,150, non-refundable
2008: $11,650, non-refundable
2007: $11,390, non-refundable
2006: $10,960, non-refundable

Adoption Tax Credit Amount Source: William Perez - about.com 

If you have any sites or tips to share for this tax season, please do. I know that many of us learned way more about taxes than we wanted to last year when the vast majority of refunds were being withheld due to audits.