What do you think about adopting out of birth order? What about virtual twinning?

For those of you not part of the adoption community, these may seem like strange questions. But as someone who has been a part of the adoption community for 6+ years, of which about 4.5 have been as an adoptive parent, I have heard these questions asked, in one form or another, multiple times a week for years. And as an adoptive parent who has both adopted out of birth order and virtually twinned children, I feel qualified to be a voice speaking to both questions. Obviously specific counsel varies depending on individual situations, but this post should be taken as a collection of general guidelines.

First, some definitions. Adopting out of birth order is adding a child to your family who will not enter your family as the youngest. Displacing your oldest child is a particular form of adopting out of birth order in which the child who is joining your family will enter as the oldest child. Virtual twinning (also called artificial twinning) is adopting a child where there will be an age difference of less than 9 months between that child and another child in your family.

(from left to right, Atticus (whose birth order we disrupted by bringing home a sister older than he was); FangFang (the sister who is older than he is but joined our family after he did); Madeleine CaiQun (who is only about 4 months younger than our oldest and is thus her virtual twin); and Miranda (our oldest))

Second, I’d make this recommendation to all adopting families, but, in particular, if you are considering adopting out of birth order or virtual twinning, I think this counsel is important – please look for a well-recommended, experienced, wise social worker. A good social worker is worth more than their weight in gold. They’ve seen many, many adoptions. They have a lot of experience from which to draw and a lot of wisdom to offer. They are also, yes, tasked with evaluating whether a family meets the qualifications required to adopt from a certain program and what age(s) and gender(s) of child would be wise for that family to adopt, as well as what special needs that family is prepared to handle. Both when we virtual twinned and when we adopted out of birth order, our social worker was on board with us doing so. She has years of experience working with adoptive families, she’s seen a lot, and she knows our family well. We know she is there to support our family and to help everyone thrive, and we very much value her opinion. If she had not thought it was wise for us to pursue either situation, we would not have pushed her to approve us to do so. She has never thought it would be wise for us to adopt a child older than our oldest and has never approved us to do so – and we agree that to do so would be extremely unwise for us!

Conventional wisdom from social workers and experienced adoptive families has generally been that out of birth order adoptions should be undertaken rarely and with great thoughtfulness, particularly if a family is displacing their oldest child (which is very, very rarely recommended). The same goes for virtual twinning. Adoption is hard. Children who are being adopted have, without exception, experienced trauma, and that trauma is going to manifest itself somehow, and adoptive parents need to be prepared and parent well, often using a more limited range of strategies than those generally considered to be acceptable for parents in our society. Adopting out of birth order or virtual twinning adds additional variables and challenges to an already challenging situation. The immediate challenges may be any or all of the following, plus more:

  • Abuse (physical, sexual, verbal, etc) from a new child, who may have been exposed to absolutely anything in their former environment and now enters a family as not the smallest, weakest person.
  • Attachment difficulties, stemming in particular from 2 major concerns:
    • If there is abuse, it is hard for everyone to bond – the younger child being abused, the parents witnessing their baby being abused, and the new child, who is constantly tempted to lash out at their smaller (or same size) siblings.
    • If you bring in a new child as your youngest child, everyone understands that that child needs to be the “baby” of the family and should be treated as such. Bringing in a child who is not the youngest creates behavioral expectations for that child, that they be as mature as other children in your family and that they make room for babying a (likely regressing, due to the major change and potentially their own lack of understanding) younger child, as well.
  • Complex emotions on the part of children who may feel replaced by an older or similar-age child, moreso than they would by a baby.
  • Competition between similar age and/or similar developmental stage children.

Additionally, displacing an oldest child would set up difficulties in which the former oldest child (likely a child who, based on studies of birth order, likes to be a leader, likes to know what to expect, likes to be in control) is no longer the oldest child, and yet, they may remain the most mature child. The new child may refuse to follow the “lead” of the younger child in learning appropriate family behavior and instead may try to take the lead in promoting unsafe or inappropriate behaviors among all the children in the home. The now younger child may not appreciate having an older sibling who is less mature than they are. This can create tremendous tension. As an added concern, displacing an oldest child means that parents are now parenting a child who is at an age at which they have never parented a child before. It’s hard enough to figure out parenting, let alone adoption parenting, not to mention adoption parenting of a child who is years beyond any other child you have parented before.

As I said, despite all of these additional challenges, we’ve chosen both to virtual twin and to adopt out of birth order. So why did we do it?

With our first adoption, our daughter Miranda was almost 3, and we brought home a 2.5-year-old daughter, Madeleine CaiQun. Although only about 4 months apart in age, the two would be on either side of our school district’s age cut-off date for entering kindergarten, meaning that if we did choose to enroll them in public school, they’d be in different grades, and for social activities based on children’s grades, they’d be in different groups. We felt that would cut down on competition. We also knew that Madeleine CaiQun was significantly behind developmentally, so we figured that the girls wouldn’t really be competing with each other. We’d view Miranda as the older child and Madeleine CaiQun as the younger, and even though their technical birthdays were close together, we’d still create a pretty firm birth order.

(me with my virtual twins, together in China, 2013)

For the most part, that has played out well for us, and I really don’t think we hit most of those initial challenges I mentioned above. However, what I think we under-prepared for were the challenges we are facing now, 4.5 years later, as the girls are preparing to start 1st and 2nd grades, and there are many ways in which there is not such a firm-seeming “birth order.” Based on our experience (and those experiences of other families we know who are a similar length of time into the process), I’d encourage families to consider the following:

  • How will you handle it if your child at home is more advanced than your new child across the board?
  • What happens if the “younger” child or child who joined the family later, actually is better than the “older” child in certain areas? How will the older child feel about having a younger sibling who is more advanced than they are?
  • How will you avoid constant comparison of your children? How will you interact with other adults in your children’s lives, who may have a tendency to compare them? What about other children making comparisons?
  • How will you navigate social situations? What if one child is more social than the other? What if the two enjoy being together but invitations are not always issued to both children? What if the two don’t enjoy being together?
  • How will you navigate extra-curricular activities? The kids do the same activities (convenient, but it’s a lot of time together and can lead to competition)? Different activities (gives kids some space but is a lot less convenient)? What about the social implications of whatever choice you make with regards to those extra-curricular activities?

(my virtual twins together, 2016)

In terms of adopting out of birth order, we avoided some of the challenges by virtue of who our children are. We knew that FangFang, though 14 months older than Atticus, would be significantly smaller than he would be and definitely behind him in terms of gross motor skill development – she wasn’t going to be bullying him. Additionally, because of her needs, we’d have to “baby” her in a lot of ways, often carrying her and assisting her in other ways. Also, Atticus, as a third child, was quite used to the reality that the world did not revolve around him, and because we also had other families and kids in and out of our house frequently (even caring part-time for a friend’s little boy close in age to Atticus), he was used to sharing us with other kids. We also knew that Matt’s flexible schedule would allow him to be helpful with any challenges that did arise once FangFang came home.

Even so, it was a difficult transition for him. I’m not sure it would have been significantly less difficult had we brought home a younger toddler, but the reality is that it was hard on him. There were many instances those first weeks after I arrived home in which either Matt or I had to be fully engaged with Atticus for a period of time while the other cared for the other three kids.

(my two littles with me, soon after I returned home from China with FangFang – if one was sitting with me, the other also had to be there, December 2016)

Again, based on our experience, but also the experiences of others whom we know who have adopted out of birth order, I’d encourage families considering adopting out of birth order to consider these questions:

  • What will you do if your new child attempts to bully your younger child? How will you keep your younger child safe? Are you willing and able to keep your new child with you – as in, within your line of sight – at absolutely all times?
  • How will you facilitate bonding between a new child and the younger child they are bullying, between the new child and any older siblings who don’t appreciate seeing their youngest sibling be a target for this new child, and between you as parents and this new child?
  • How will you give your new child the babying they need to attach to you as parents, while also caring for your other, particularly younger, child(ren)?
  • How will you care for your younger child(ren), who will probably be stressed out by the addition of this newest child, and so will probably be regressing? Can you baby both your new child and your younger child(ren), all at the same time? What resources do you have to do so?
  • If your children are not bonding well and require constant supervision, do you have other people in your life who can provide the intense care that they need? If not, how will your marriage handle not being able to get away for time without kids?
  • Assuming your new child comes home with some special needs, you will likely now need to spend significant time at doctor appointments, in the hospital, at therapy appointments, and/or on the phone coordinating all of these needs, etc.; how will your other children, particularly any younger children, who are less able to understand the reason for all of this time away, handle this? How will you equip them to handle it well?

(the littles playing on “boats” together, July 2017)

Additionally, for anyone considering pursuing an out-of-birth order or virtual twinning adoption, I’d encourage you to be honest as you consider, are you pursuing this child because you truly believe that is what’s best for this child and for your existing family, OR are you pursuing adopting this older, harder-to-place child because then you don’t have to wait as long for a match?

In general, I think it’s good for families to be aware of guidelines that adoption professionals use as “best practices” and that experienced families consider to be wise. As many of us BTDT parents say over and over again in discussions within the adoption community, if you are proceeding with adopting, there are many unknowns. Think about what the worst case scenario is. If you’re not prepared for that, don’t proceed. There are many success stories of families adopting out of birth order and virtual twinning – and, honestly, the people with those stories are more likely to stick around as part of the Facebook groups and the resource lists for people preparing to adopt. But just because someone else’s experience went well does not mean that yours will, and if you can’t handle a harder version of what your potential future reality could be, it would be wise not to proceed.

I’d also recommend checking out this blog post, written by another adoptive mom who has been around for a while, in which she shares some wisdom and links to many other resources for people to read and think about as they consider proceeding with either of these scenarios.

And if you have any questions or want to talk more, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. You’ll notice that I shared very few details about our specific challenges and adjustments, which is purposeful on my part – I don’t think my children’s challenges should be google-able – but I’m happy to talk with you about your specific situation and offer more info that might be helpful about challenges we’ve faced (or have seen play out for others) in private interactions 🙂

Post-Surgery Update

It’s been a while since I’ve written – too long – and I miss this space. I have more to say and share here, but first I want to start with an overdue update on FangFang’s surgery and recovery. My last post was written the night before surgery. In the morning, we were up and checked out of our hotel and arrived at the hospital by 6:45, our designated check-in time.

Her surgeon actually saw us in the lobby while we were checking in and came over and talked with us. He said he might end up only rodding her right leg – that was the first I’d heard of this plan to potentially leave the left femur alone, and it left me anxious that we’d have to go through this surgery twice in a short span of time, instead of getting the recovery period for both legs over with all at once. There is a reason that we travel to Omaha, though – Dr. Esposito is one of the best (if not the absolute best) pediatric orthopedic surgeons working with children with OI, and we’d have to trust his judgment.

Overall, we were pretty impressed with the team in place in Omaha as we talked with them in preparations for surgery and as they helped FangFang get acclimated.

We had only one unpleasant interaction – one of the pre-op nurses had asked us to get out a favorite blanket or stuffed animal for FangFang that she could take back to the OR with her, so we did that, only to be told by the nurse who was wheeling her back for surgery that she wasn’t really supposed to have her own things with her – but when FangFang protested and I argued that the other nurse had specifically encouraged us to get out her blanket, she was allowed to take it back with her.

Once FangFang went back to the OR, my mom and I ate breakfast (FangFang was NPO in preparation for her surgery, and this girl loves her food – no way were we going to be able to eat in front of her without feeding her!) and then sat in the waiting room and did a bit of work.

I was initially disappointed when the nurse came out to tell me that they’d finished with her right femur and were not going to touch her left, but when Dr. Esposito and Dr. Wallace came to talk with us, they said it was because the rod in her left leg actually looked better than they expected, and they didn’t think they could get it much better right now, so they’d rather not touch it, and hopefully we’d get a couple years out of it. I could live with that!

The before and after pictures are pretty striking. You can see the extreme curve in her femur as it was before surgery (and the way it lights up bright white, indicating that it has broken and healed that way over numerous untreated or poorly treated fractures, which makes my heart ache). And then you can see how much straighter it looks now with the rod placed. Of course, the surgeons had to break her femur in two places in order to straighten it, which is a major cause of the pain she experienced after surgery.

I was allowed to go back to FangFang soon after that, once she started waking up, and she immediately started crying and asked for me to hold her and wanted food. The nurses warned me that giving her too much food and drink too soon would likely upset her tummy, but as a mama of a child who has experienced food insecurity and who senses safety in part through the availability of food, I made the choice to let her eat and drink more than would usually be offered.

Nervous about hurting her, fresh out of surgery and with so many wires attached, I did leave her on the bed and just wrap my arms around her while we were in post-op, but as soon as we were up on the floor, the nurses helped me get her onto my lap, where she settled in much more happily.

And there I was rewarded for my liberality in dispensing apple juice and jello with several instances of projectile vomit! We got ourselves cleaned up, though, and FangFang slept for much of that first afternoon, leaving my lap only when it was absolutely necessary.

We tucked her into bed at night time, but none of us slept all that well – she still had an epidural in for pain control, and with that, they were checking vitals every 2 hours. The next morning we talked with the pain management team about getting rid of the epidural and transitioning to IV and then oral pain meds. They have a good strategy in place, in which they turn off the epidural but leave it in and see how the patient responds, and if they need the epidural meds, they can always turn it back on. FangFang definitely experienced more discomfort without it than with it, but everyone agreed that her pain seemed manageable, and she appreciated not having to be hooked up to so many wires. She, again, spent most of the day sitting on my lap. We watched some Daniel Tiger DVDs and played with a doctor kit Matt’s cousin ordered for her from the gift shop.

And in the evening we went for a ride in the wagon, which she loved. She so wanted to get out of that hospital room!

While we were out for our walk, I grabbed a photo of these signs hanging on our door. Everything about the Omaha Children’s Hospital speaks to their expertise in interacting with children with OI. It’s not just that Dr. Esposito is so amazing – though he is – it’s that everyone there is experienced in working with kids with OI and knows how to do so.

As wonderful as the hospital is, we’d really much rather be home. We advocated for a discharge as early as possible, and everyone was on board with us leaving the hospital and heading home Thursday morning, earlier than we’d thought possible, for which we were all thankful!

We were able to keep her pain well managed with just the oral pain meds – honestly, she seemed more disturbed by the pain from removing bandaids than by any pain associated with the femur fractures and surgery itself! – and within a few days of our arrival home, we were able to wean her off of the heavy duty meds, down to just Tylenol and Ibuprofen.

We were all glad to be home and be together. For the first day or two, FangFang didn’t move around much, but this girl wasn’t going to let anything like a post-op femur rodding slow her down for too long – within a couple days of our arrival home, she was scooting around the house just like normal. She hated having the splint on, but she tolerated it, and we’d give her short reprieves for a bath or, once she was three weeks post-op, to let her sleep without it. That wasn’t exactly doctor approved, but she was sleeping horribly with it, and consequently Matt and I were sleeping horribly, and we just hoped we weren’t being horribly foolish!

Our instructions were to keep her non-weight-bearing for 4 weeks and then we could remove the splint and go in for follow-up x-rays with our local orthopedic surgeon, which we did at exactly the 4 week mark. Everything looked good on x-rays, so she was cleared to return to normal activity, for which we are all very thankful!

FangFang is back to crawling again, and she and I have been going to aqua therapy – physical therapy in the water. Aqua therapy is particularly awesome for kids with OI, because they’re able to work on developing skills without having to support all of their weight to do so. She’s doing great with supporting increasingly more of her weight while standing, and last week we started working on taking some steps and cruising. She’s just starting to get the motions down for that, which means I support most of her weight while she works on it, and my arms were sore after our last session! She is growing and developing and working on gaining those skills, though, which is so exciting to see.

This phase of the journey is a bit more unpredictable. I knew we’d need to get FangFang into PT, I knew we’d work toward getting her to stand and walk, and I knew she’d need her right femur rodded before she got too far along toward those goals – but now that her surgery has happened, it’s impossible to say how quickly she’ll begin to stand and maybe even walk on her own. She is motivated and excited about each new milestone she reaches, and we’ll just have to see what the next months hold for her and for us!

Homeschooling 2016-2017 – Mid-Year Update

It’s been rather a while since I’ve written about our progress with homeschooling this year, so I think we’re due for an update! I wrote in detail about our curriculum choices for this school year here, and we are in large part finding that those are working well.

Our curriculum outline lays out a pathway for getting through all of its materials in 180 days (36 weeks). By the time I left for China in December, we’d made it through 11 weeks of curriculum, something about which I sometimes felt a significant amount of stress. I knew life was only going to get crazier once FangFang came home, and I was worried that we’d never finish “on time” if we couldn’t even get through a third of the material before I left. Fortunately, there actually is no “on time” in homeschooling, particularly in these early elementary years. It doesn’t really matter if you read about the fall of Rome 10 months or 14 months after you start with Creation. And actually, we’ve been moving faster post-adoption than we did pre-adoption (go figure). In the 4 months between starting this school year and heading to China, we made it through 11 weeks of curriculum; in the 2.5 months since Christmas, we’ve accomplished 8.5 weeks of study. Phew! We will eventually finish 🙂

We’ve definitely had to revise our routine since our homecoming, though. I’ve found that math has to happen first thing in the morning, or it doesn’t happen at all. It’s my girls’ biggest “workbook” type subject, and they don’t have the focus or the patience for it later in the day, whereas if they start with it, they work through it pretty quickly and do a good job. We’ve actually made some changes in Madeleine CaiQun’s math curriculum. I’d started the year with Singapore grade 1 math for her, and I’d known within a few weeks that it might not work for her for the whole year. The program is very heavy on mental math and on grasping numbers as abstractions, and she just doesn’t see things that way right now, so nothing was sticking. Right now I have her doing some Rod & Staff workbooks to really solidify basic addition and subtraction facts in her mind, and once she finishes those I’ll make a decision about what to have her do next. I love that we can investigate and find resources that work well for each child as needed!

After we tackle math, we usually have a bit of play time, and then we move on to “reading school,” by which I mean Bible, History, Geography, Literature, Science, Language Arts, and Reading – all of the subjects whose focus centers around my reading out loud to the girls. I always envisioned us snuggling on the couch and reading together, but it turns out that small children’s vision does not always coincide with mine, particularly when the littles are incorporated into the day 🙂 Usually I bring out some toys with which all the kiddos can play while I read, and it’s been a process to learn which toys work best. Trains still require my assistance to build a good track, so those work only if we build the track before launching into school.

Wooden blocks, Duplos, Whittle World, and Magna Tiles are all good options for us. The general rule for the big girls is that as long as they can play without talking and interrupting while I read and they can talk with me about what we’re reading when I ask questions, they’re welcome to play during reading time! We obviously do a lot of parenting-everyone-mixed-with-school, but we’ve found that it works well for us. We’re usually done with our school day before lunch, and in the event that we’re not, we just pick up whatever we have left to do in the afternoon, either after lunch or after rest time. Then I leave our literature reading for bedtime, which is a much more relaxed, snuggly atmosphere in which to get through those longer portions of fun reading.

The littles have completely given up napping for me, and I’ve decided to embrace it. I could keep fighting for it and block off hours of every afternoon for my generally-fruitless attempts to get them to sleep, which produce high levels of frustration for everyone, or I can just accept the fact that for whatever reason, this is our new reality, and we need to make our choices in light of that fact. It actually frees up our day quite a bit. It means we have more room for walks and park outings. We don’t have to finish school before lunch. I can let the kids play longer when things are going well. I’d dreaded this milestone, but I’m actually enjoying it, though I am pretty wiped out by the time Matt gets home in the evenings.

Anyway, in terms of school itself, we’re enjoying what we’re learning. I appreciate the early exposure to some topics I don’t remember covering until much later. We’ve learned some Greek and Roman history and read some mythology, which was a lot of fun. Most recently we are learning about ancient China, reading about the Great Wall, and enjoying some stories set in China, which has obviously been a great connection for our family! The girls are learning about nouns and verbs and memorizing some poetry. We finished a long unit centered around animals and are now studying the human body. We’re talking a lot about the Holy Spirit right now as we study the Bible, and we’re memorizing some Bible verses related to things we’re working through personally right now. Most recently, Miranda and MeiMei and I memorized Psalm 103:8 – “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love,” reminding ourselves of who God is and how He calls us to follow after Him in acting in compassion, grace, slow-ness to anger, and love, but He also makes it possible for us to do so. Right now we’re talking about how God has a different path for each of us, but we can all follow Him in the individual things we’re doing, and we’re memorizing Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” It’s fun that the littles also ask to have turns repeating the Bible verses as we work on them, and I enjoy including them in those small ways as we go through our school days! We also do just a few things that are truly centered around them, singing songs together, reading simpler books, and working on shapes and colors.

The big girls have continued to do gymnastics, with Miranda in particular starting to develop her own goals there – namely to climb the rope all the way to the top of the ceiling and ring the bell. She’s been working hard, and last weekend she was able to accomplish her goal!

Additionally, we try to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves for us to take the kids out to special events. A few weeks ago, the big girls and I went to see the ZuZu African Acrobats with some friends from church.

And last weekend, we went to a Mandarin for Tots activity at the library. We attend a number of art-related events, as well. Obviously most of our social interaction occurs within the context of our family, but we’re also attempting to teach our kids how to engage with our community, too.

We’re also embarking upon a new adventure in schooling – we’re officially enrolling FangFang in public school. However, she won’t actually attend school outside of our home. In our efforts to do everything possible to make sure she has every chance to grow and develop to her potential, we went ahead and had her evaluated by the local school district, and her delays are significant enough that she qualifies for services. However, given the current fragility of her bones and the fact that we are still very much working on building attachment, everyone agrees that the best place for her right now is at home. I’ve heard horror stories from parents pursuing and working through IEPs for their children, but honestly, we’ve had an incredibly positive experience. It’s pretty awesome to me that in these assessments and meetings we’ve had to evaluate her development and discuss the best possible situations for her, there have always been at least 3 adults (usually more) from the school district involved and offering their input and expertise. Everyone has been happy to answer my questions and to listen to what I had to say – whether about the effects of osteogenesis imperfecta or our focus on attachment – and thus far, it has been a very positive experience. The current plan is that a special education teacher and a physical therapist will come to our home (or we can meet at a park or someplace where we can work on some of our PT goals) once a week for 30 minutes, and an occupational therapist will join them every other week. I’m excited to get started working with them and see how they can add to our efforts to help FangFang grow and develop!

Overall, I am really enjoying our school year, and I love getting to work with the big girls on formal school activities but also give them hours of time to play and enjoy being kids. I am thankful for the opportunity to homeschool and look forward to continuing to learn together!

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.

IMG_1133

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.

IMG_1130

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!

IMG_1057

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!

pic edited

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!

IMG_1138

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!

The Littles

Upon my return from China with FangFang, Matt and I started referring to groupings of our kids as “the bigs” (Miranda and CaiQun) and “the littles” (Atticus and FangFang). It’s unclear to me whether this was an actual misunderstanding or a purposeful attempt at redefinition, but it became clear one day that Miranda was using the words rather differently. In her mind, “littles” was a category that included Atticus and FangFang but also CaiQun, whereas she, Miranda, was grouped together with Matt and me in the separate “bigs” category. This is classic Miranda. We’ve attempted several times to explain to her our conceptualization of the groupings, but she seems to remain unconvinced. However, for our purposes, “the littles” are our toddlers, Atticus and FangFang!

img_4904

The littles have an interesting relationship, and we’d anticipated this even while we were reviewing FangFang’s file, and we’d discussed it with our social worker. There is a term in adoption – “virtual twins” or “artificial twins.” It’s usually defined as two biologically unrelated children in the same family whose difference in age is less than 9 months. This is obviously not a naturally occurring phenomenon, and it can come with a number of issues, and some social workers and adoption agencies will not allow adoption of a child whose adoption would create a set of virtual twins.

Technically our big girls fall into this category, though they’ve often not seemed like it. Miranda has always been very verbally advanced, and Madeleine CaiQun seemed so much younger than her age when she came home, that they seemed farther apart developmentally than they were chronologically. Now they seem much closer to being twin-like, and I do think that exerts a certain amount of pressure on each of them, but at least right now, I don’t think it’s significantly different than the experience of siblings born within a couple years of each other, and honestly, I think they benefit from having each other. They are each others’ best friend and playmate.

img_5004

The littles are not technically virtual twins, as FangFang is 14 months older than Atticus. However, practically speaking, they are much more virtual twins than the bigs were. This is due in part to the effects that osteogenesis imperfecta has on FangFang’s size and gross motor skill development. She’s smaller than he is and is quite adept at scooting herself around the house on her butt but does not crawl, stand, or walk. Additionally, as she is transitioning from Mandarin to English, her English language capabilities are obviously behind his.

This small age gap was honestly, something I was excited about. We’re ready to be done having babies, and we are loving the age that our bigs are at. We like playing board games and doing puzzles. We are dorky people and love reading books together and doing homeschooling. We’re looking forward to being able to travel more, to visit museums and historical sites together. Having all of our kids pretty close in age will allow us to do a lot of that together as a family. And it will simplify homeschooling in some ways. But most of those are future advantages to which we’re looking forward. The current reality is that we have two toddlers, two in diapers, two who are not safe to stand alone in a parking lot, two who need help getting dressed, need help falling asleep, and on and on. Even as a somewhat experienced mama, an adoptive mama for several years, and a mama to artificial twins already, I think I slightly underestimated the challenge that this next year or two may really be!

The first few days home were particularly rough. If one little one was on my lap, the other wanted to be there. If I was holding one, it didn’t take long for the other to find me and request to be held, as well. It was pretty overwhelming.

Home almost 2 weeks now, I’m seeing some light. She’s actually more jealous for my attention than he is, which I had not anticipated – the foster home at which she was living was also caring for several other young children around her age, so I’m certain she did not receive continuous one-on-one attention, but she sometimes seems to think that’s a right to which she’s entitled! I’m doing my best to give both littles some good quality time, and I think they’re each getting used to the other’s presence.

img_4939

I still think this relationship is going to be a challenge. They’re both similar to your average 2-and-3-year-olds in terms of their interest in sharing, which is to say that they have no interest in sharing anything 99 times out of 100!

Right now, with Matt in the midst of winter break, we’re able to do a lot of tag-teaming in terms of parenting the two of them, but that’s obviously going to be reduced significantly in a week and a half when Matt goes back to work. That’s going to be…shall we say…interesting. Honestly, that’s going to be the true test of how we’re doing as a family of six, how we do once Matt returns to work. But it’s not here yet, and I’m trying to take things one day at a time!

I do see incredible glimmers of hope in this relationship. The other day, FangFang hurt her leg a bit, and as I was comforting her and looking at her leg to make sure it didn’t seem like a fracture, Atticus came over, saying, “Gentle, gentle,” and laid down right next to her. She rolled toward him and tucked into him, and they put their arms around each other and just rested that way.

img_4984

Cue mama happy tears!

We’re also really trying to limit competition between the two of them. Atticus, as a third child, has very few possessions that are truly his – most toys in our house are communally owned – but he does have a few things for which we defend his ownership, including a Little Tikes car, which he loves. Her eyes lit up when she saw it for the first time. We put her on it, and she was ecstatic, and asked repeatedly, “FangFang car?” He, of course, responded definitively, “No! Mine car!” Future requests for a turn for FangFang were also answered with a concrete “no,” so back to Amazon we went, and a second car arrived yesterday around lunch time. And now? Happy toddlers 🙂

img_4985

Of course we’re going to work with them on sharing and kindness – we’re not always going to have two of everything – but it’s also okay to give them each a few things that can be just theirs.

This dynamic is going to be interesting in the coming months and years! Of course, when you’re a part of our family, that’s forever, and we work through whatever challenges we face, and we do it together. I think this relationship will have its hard aspects, and we’ll work through those, but I also hope (and truly believe) that it’s going to be an incredible blessing for them both.