Citizens

This week we received FangFang’s Certificate of Citizenship, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

I’m both thankful that we have it and saddened that, this time around, I have felt much more of a sense of urgency as we waited for its arrival. The current political and cultural climate surrounding immigration is frightening to me. Today we have reports of customs agents checking the identification of every passenger disembarking from a domestic flight. When Miranda was a baby, I flew with her with no thought to any need that might arise for me to prove her citizenship. That will never be the case with my other daughters. Earlier this week there were cautions that those who look like immigrants should make sure not to leave home without their passports. You can argue that these measures are aimed at illegal immigrants.

But it’s not too much of a stretch to think that those currently in power in our country – President Trump, his advisers, and the Republican-controlled Congress – might go a step beyond that. Trump advisers have cited the internment of Japanese Americans – citizens of our country – during World War II as a legal precedent for actions they might consider.

My daughters have some access to my own white privilege at this time – but the fact remains that they are immigrants. Legal immigrants, yes, citizens even, but immigrants nonetheless. I have, twice now, entered a US Consulate in another country, in order to complete the formal application for an immigrant visa for a child whose adoption I had recently finalized.

We now have the document that is the gold standard in proving citizenship for both of our foreign-born children. We’ll be applying for FangFang’s passport soon, so that all 6 of us have passports, should a situation arise in which we’d feel a need to travel abroad quickly. I hope that the coming months and years prove that to be an unwarranted fear – and I think it likely is – but I’m not willing to say that I’m 100% certain of that, so we’re going to take what we believe to be the necessary precautions.

And I would ask that, in the coming months and years, when you hear discussions of policy proposals and recommendations surrounding immigration policy, you remember my children, two of whom are immigrants. Immigration policy is, of course, about politics, but for our family, it is also deeply personal. When you make blanket statements about immigrants and their place in our country, please remember my children. They are immigrants, and they – as well as all other immigrants here in our country – deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

a week of anniversaries

In a way that I’d never have predicted, the middle week of February has become one of great significance in our family’s story.

This Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of the shocking death of Matt’s older sister, Denya. Her daughters, in a gesture of which she would have been proud, chose to celebrate her life this week by asking Facebook friends to share their happy memories of her. It was fun to read of her love and laughter as experienced by other friends and family, too, but we definitely miss her. I miss her always encouraging Facebook and blog comments, her support for every new venture we pursued, her wise parenting advise, and, of course, the times spent hanging out together in her kitchen, enjoying and chatting about life together.

Yesterday was actually the one-year anniversary of our receiving pre-approval (PA) to adopt FangFang. We didn’t post about it far and wide on Facebook or anywhere else at that time – largely because we were en route to New York for Denya’s funeral, and we hadn’t yet told all of our close friends and family about our pursuit of adopting her. But still, as we drove on, snow-covered roads bringing us ever closer to the reality of the loss of our sister and friend, we celebrated the news that a new life would be joining our family, a precious girl we knew primarily through these pictures.

Our next milestone is today – the one year anniversary of Matt’s heart attack. One year ago today, after attending the calling hours for Denya, we were all resting in our hotel room when Matt suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. With our children looking on, I called 9-1-1, and our reality quickly transitioned from this

to this.

Matt’s heart attack has been a defining moment in our lives, one that, like having our first child, divides all of time into “before” and “after.”

Post heart-attack life is different than pre-heart-attack life. We have a radically different diet, eating almost exclusively low-sodium, plant-centered, pescetarian foods. Exercise is no longer viewed as a luxury to be pursued “once things settle down” but as a necessity, essential to sustaining life. We’ve become convinced that we cannot allow others’ desires to govern our lives – saying “no” has life-giving power. And beyond the practical changes we have made, we see life differently. Our default assumption is no longer that we are virtually guaranteed to have long, healthy lives together. The statistics for survival after cardiac arrest are sobering. My hope and prayer is that Matt and I will have many more years together – and I dream of what our future may look like – but we can no longer pretend that death is a far away specter of which we need only think once we are retired empty-nesters. Matt shared some of his thoughts on this day and that reality here. And the truth is that it is a source of some anxiety for me. We’re doing all we can to live healthily, though – and that’s all we can do. Beyond that, the calls for us are the same as those for anyone else – we seek to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. We fumble toward one another, seeking to love and care for each other well, to honor our marriage vows. We pursue growth as parents and do what we can to encourage and pray for our kiddos to grow into thoughtful adults who will pursue God, be thoughtful and understanding, and fight for what’s right in the world around them. We look for ways to engage with the community and the world around us.

Life this week, while in many ways haunted by these anniversaries, has, for the most part, been simply normal. We’ve read books, learned about math, coached kids through resolvoing squabbles, played outside, eaten meals, done laundry and dishes, and relaxed with an episode of the West Wing or a game of Yahtzee after the kids have gone to bed.

And we look forward to the last of this week’s anniversaries. Tomorrow 4 years will have passed since the day Madeleine CaiQun joined our family.

This sweet girl has brought so much joy to our family – so many snuggles, so many good conversations, so much laughter. And so tomorrow we will eat Chinese food – noodles and dumplings, in honor of her province and the foods she loves so much – and celebrate.

This week is such a strange mix of reminders of life and death, of mourning and celebrations. We press on and pray that we can act honorably in the midst of it all.

FAQ: Home Almost Six Weeks! How’s FangFang adjusting? How are you?

At times it feels longer and at times shorter, but we’ve now been home with FangFang for almost 6 whole weeks! Some of the questions I get most frequently these days, in my few interactions with people who are not medical professionals or grocery store employees, are about the big picture of her adjustment and ours.

Attachment and bonding are always processes, processes with many variables and unknowns, processes best examined in retrospect. However, they are of such paramount importance for adoptive families that we adoptive parents are constantly on high alert, watching for indicators of progress (or lack thereof). We wonder to what degree our children are really getting it, that this is what family is; we wonder if they are really beginning to trust us; we wonder to what degree to indulge and to what degree to push; we wonder if we’re making the right decisions for our new children and for our families as a whole.

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You may remember that FangFang did not exactly appreciate my presence or attempts at caring for her in China. Having spent our time in China telling myself just to stay calm and positive and keep pursuing her in love regardless of what she did, I’ve needed to make sure I have been doing things to cultivate the warm, fuzzy love feelings for both of us. I’ll sometimes wrap her up in a blanket and rock her back and forth and look into her eyes, taking advantage of the oxytocin bump for us both. I’ll hold her on my lap while I read out loud or offer a hug or a kiss or a smile as we pass by each other. I try to take advantage of those 3-minute lulls in activity to do something relationship-building with her (and the other kiddos). We’ve incorporated more loving rituals into our lives as a family as a whole to build connections between all of us; for instance, before we begin our “reading school” time each day, the kids and I all sing the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, What a Wonderful Child You Are” song together. And as our time as a family of six grows, the love between us all is growing, too.

FangFang had actually decided pretty quickly after we left Sharon and Daniel that I was her person now, and that has been consistent, for which I’m thankful! The Ergo or Tula carriers, which she despised in China? She would now love to spend hours being worn and often protests when I tell her she needs to get down and play.

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She looks to us in new situations, and she frequently asks to be held – she’ll scoot up to me and put her arms up and ask, “Baby FangFang?” multiple times a day! She’s a pretty snuggly little girl. One night one of us casually mentioned something about love, and she, sitting next to me on the couch, looked up at me and put her hand on my cheek, and announced, “FangFang love.” Cue heart melt!

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She has continued to warm up to Matt more and more. She still prefers me, but she allows him to put her to bed, and if I’m unavailable, she’ll let him hold her, and she asks about him when he’s away from home.

She is generally a happy little girl, for which I’m very thankful, since that was the impression we got of her from the photos her foster home shared. I was worried that it would take a long time for her spark to come back after leaving them and coming to us. She does have occasional sad moments whose reason we can’t entirely discern and for which her English is insufficient to explain, which is very sad but is also very typical for kids adopted internationally. We try to hold her close and reassure her that we love her and she is safe, and eventually something (usually food) brings her back to her typical happy state!

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She also loves the other kiddos, and they love her, though there is certainly a large amount of interpersonal drama between any and all of them, too. We’re trying to cultivate kind, generous hearts and develop good relationships, but everything is a work in progress!

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I’m not entirely sure how to read her interactions with others outside of our family. Thus far, we have kept her with either Matt or me at all times. We haven’t exactly cocooned (a common adoptive family bonding strategy, keeping your child’s world small for a period of time after they come home, staying home as much as possible), largely due to the necessity of medical appointments and evaluations – in addition to our visit to the Omaha clinic, so far she has seen our pediatrician, had a local X-ray, a CT scan, a private PT evaluation, a private OT evaluation, an evaluation by the school system, and met with a local orthopedic surgeon. We’ve also been going to our church worship gatherings on Sunday mornings and just keeping her in the sanctuary with us for the entire time, and we’ve had a few people come over for dinner since we’ve been home. She is definitely more of an extrovert than most members of our family – she loves interacting with others. For the most part, she warms up to people pretty quickly but still continually looks to us for reassurance and generally behaves appropriately with them, which is encouraging. However, we do notice some overly affectionate tendencies, and there was one night recently on which some friends stayed for dinner, and within minutes of their arrival, she was reaching out toward the guy for him to hold her – the return of the mommy shopping! We weren’t sure that she initially realized that he wasn’t Matt – but it was still a little disconcerting.

We’ll continue to take things slowly. In the grand scheme of things, 6 weeks is not very long, particularly for a child who has lived for over 3 years outside of a family. There are definitely moments during which Matt and I yearn for a date night by ourselves, or we think about being able to go to our missional community group meetings, or I wish it were easier to go hang out with friends. This is just a stage, though. Laying the groundwork for healthy, secure attachment is so important, and we want to respect that and take the necessary time to do it right, so we’ll hang in there, keep reading the signals, and do what we believe we need to do to facilitate bonding and attachment.

Overall, we are so glad that she really is settling in pretty well. She seems to be increasingly understanding that we are her family and that this is her home. She seems happy. She’s learning English and increasingly able to communicate her needs and desires. We’re all getting to know one another more and establishing these new family dynamics, and everyone seems to be doing pretty well with that. We’re worn out, both mentally and physically, and we know we still have a long way to go, but I don’t think we could ask for much more at this point in our journey!

Moving Toward Normal

Matt went back to work last week, so while we’re still settling into life and working toward our new “normal,” this was a big step toward that normal. It was an intimidating one! When we came home with FangFang, going from being home with 3 kids by myself a lot of the time to having both Matt and me home with 4 kids felt pretty manageable; I was not sure that transitioning to a lot of time of me being home with 4 kids by myself was going to be the same!

Honestly, overall, it has gone better than I expected!

The hardest part has been the toddler naps (or lack thereof). Matt had been putting the littles down for their naps, and they’d gotten used to that, apparently to the extent that my presence is now a significantly distracting novelty. Last Monday neither little one napped. Tuesday only one napped. But Wednesday and Thursday both napped, and it was glorious! I could work! There was a break for me in the middle of the day. It was so nice. No naps on Friday. Monday of this week both littles napped (but only after a combined 2 hours or so of effort from me), and Tuesday neither napped. That has been incredibly frustrating – not only do I not get to work or get any calm, quiet time during the afternoon, but I spend 60-90 minutes trying to get the littles to do something they’re not going to do, and that’s time I don’t get to spend doing anything else productive, and they don’t nap anyway. Then we’re all grumpy for the rest of the afternoon. I’m really not ready for them to give up naps – but whether I’m ready for it or not, I’m not sure they’ll keep napping regularly for very long. I need to come up with a different strategy for getting in my work hours, and I think I may need a different nap-encouragement strategy, as well. I’ve gotten some advice, and I’m working on it. In the meantime, this is an area in which we could use prayers – for patience, gentleness, and sleep.

We’ve been able to do school every day, which has been really encouraging to me. We’re figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Being intentional about getting out some good toys for the littles makes a huge difference. Often times, trying to do everything in the morning does not work; but neither does saving the most intense stuff for the afternoon. We need to start with math right away and get through it before we move on to anything else. And while the bigs are doing math, I can often read to the littles and get in a little bit of quality time with them before I need to devote my focus to the bigs again. Once math is wrapped up, I give all the kids a little bit of time to play. Then we do Language Arts and “reading school” – Bible, history, geography, and the girls reading out loud. If everyone’s stamina is holding up, we can sometimes get in science, too, but it often works better to leave that for after the littles’ naps. We’re making our way through the curriculum at a pretty good pace, and while I would have loved to have gotten more done before we went to China, I’m generally pretty happy with where we’re at right now and how we’re able to move through it even with everyone home.

science experiment time!
science experiment time!

I’m working on the balancing act of my own household responsibilities and investing in the kiddos beyond school time. Miranda really enjoys games like Backgammon and “the dice game,” a simplified version of Yahtzee that she’d been playing with my dad. Madeleine CaiQun loves reading and snuggling. Both littles are very into almost anything I’ll do with them – building towers and toppling them and snuggling and reading together. Everyone loves it when we pretend they are airplanes and I fly them around. I’m trying to make time for those things.

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At the same time, though, I need to pay bills and keep up with dishes and laundry. Friends from church had been bringing dinners for us a few times a week through last week, which was so helpful, but I’m now back to planning and preparing all of our food. I’m incredibly thankful for all of the meals I prepared and froze last summer and fall – those are going to sustain us through much of this semester, I expect. Matt has also been helping out with all of the necessary household stuff in the evenings.

And in the midst of it all, we’re tackling appointments and evaluations. In the space of 11 days, we’ve had or will have 11 different appointments, procedures, or evaluations – not all for FangFang but many of them for her.

The big girls are convinced that while we're waiting for PT to start, they should be helping FangFang learn to crawl.
The big girls are convinced that while we’re waiting for PT to start, they should be helping FangFang learn to crawl.

I’ve also spent hours filling out paperwork and talking with intake coordinators for various programs and checking items off of our running to-do list with the nurse at our pediatrician’s office. Friends have been kind enough to help out with our kiddos, which I so appreciate, so that I’m not dragging 4 kids with me to every single appointment or procedure. A pretty quick x-ray appointment? We all go. It’s just part of life. However, today’s CT scan for which sedation is required and I need to be able to focus on a 3-year-old who derives major comfort from food and is not allowed to eat for hours before the procedure and whose sedation recovery I’ve never experienced before? I’d like to tackle that one without another 3 kids in tow, thankyouverymuch!

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with all 4 kiddos in the x-ray waiting room

I did leave the house by myself with all 4 kids multiple times last week, an accomplishment of which I was immensely proud! It requires a little bit of planning, but it feels pretty manageable, so I’m thankful for that.

I don’t feel like we’re in any sort of normal rhythm yet. I think we’re tackling everything we need to do in order to move toward that, though, and I have hope that we’ll get there. Of course, we may get there just in time for the end of Matt’s semester, which changes everything again, or for a femur rodding surgery, which will change everything, too, or – please, no! – a femur fracture, which would also change everything, but we’ll work through all of that as it happens. We just keep moving forward, taking one step at a time, and moving toward the goals we hope to reach.

Why I Marched

I’ve generally stayed away from politics on this blog, and I don’t intend to change that in large scale. But I do write about our values, our experiences as a family, what is important to us, and what we do – and all of that affects our politics. I was raised by liberal Democrats; became a Christian and a conservative Republican in college; and have now transformed into an independent who tends to vote Democrat. The details of all of those changes are beyond the scope of this post, but their outline gives a bit of context.

I don’t expect everyone – or anyone – to agree with me. I don’t think my views are typical in America today. But I want it recorded for our family, for my kids, how we are working to think through these difficult issues and try to act honorably in the world.

I’m pro-life. I believe that babies are people, both before and after they exit the womb. I believe that, once created, they have a right to life. However, I also believe that black men are people, that just as the unborn baby in the womb of the woman considering abortion deserves to live out her life, that black man choked or shot by police officers deserved a right to his life. I believe children in Syria have a right to life. I believe children living in poverty in America deserve food and high quality schools and to be treated with dignity. I believe health care should be affordable. I believe people with disabilities – including my daughter – should have the same opportunities as everyone else. I believe in a healthy middle class and in prioritizing support for those who are less fortunate instead of subsidizing those who are most wealthy.

I realize that the Women’s March in Washington DC is, in part, about protecting a woman’s right to get an abortion. However, I do not believe that abortion access is all that’s included under the umbrella statement, “Women’s rights are human rights.” Women’s rights also include the right not to be sexually assaulted by anyone – including the President of the United States – no matter what she’s wearing, no matter how much she’s had to drink, no matter what. Women’s rights include the right to be treated with as much respect as a man in a similar situation. Women’s rights include the right to be seen as leaders instead of as bossy and to be seen as more than just their bodies. I support all of those rights.

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Additionally, it doesn’t seem to me that it’s been proven that prohibiting abortion is necessarily the most effective way to cut abortion rates. It seems to me that, similar to our “war on drugs,” focusing on the demand side has much greater potential efficacy than attempting to regulate supply. Shannon Dingle wrote this past summer about why, as a pro-life person, she was planning to vote for Hillary Clinton, and that post resonated with me to such a high degree that I shared it on my own Facebook page multiple times. It seems to me that the Democratic Party and the causes associated with it is, to a much larger degree than the Republican Party right now, the party of life. It grieves me that there is no party with which I can identify and support completely. However, faced with a choice between two imperfect alternatives, I’m going to choose the better one. I’m going to choose life.

The event here in Columbia was marketed as being for trust, equality, freedom, hope, peace, justice, rule of law, dignity, and prosperity. It was described on the Facebook event page as being meant to “demonstrate a broad opposition to the Trump agenda” and to “show unity in the fight for the rights of women, other marginalized groups and issues including climate change, environmental concerns, minority rights, peace and social justice.” 

I’m for all of that.

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And I want my children to see that there are things we can do, even in defeat. Back in November, on election day, I let the big girls stay up late, expecting to celebrate with them as we saw the victory of the first female president in history announced. Instead we had a somber bedtime that night, and we’ve had many conversations since about what Donald Trump stands for and why we’re disappointed that so many people voted for him to be the leader of our country. I want my children to know and see that even when we don’t win one battle, we continue to work and fight for the principles in which we believe. I want them to be thankful for the many blessings of living in America – not least among them, the peaceful transfer of power and the right to assemble in protest. I want them to see what that looks like and have the opportunity to participate in it.

And so today, Matt and I loaded everyone into the van and went to meet up with the rest of the marchers.

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And together with so many others, we marched through downtown Columbia.

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My big girls chose what they wanted their signs to say. In support of her new sister and her rights, Miranda’s proclaimed, “People with OI matter!!” Madeleine CaiQun’s announced, “I am the future!”

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I was proud to march with them today.

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