Madeleine CaiQun’s Birthday Celebration

Last month we celebrated Madeleine CaiQun’s 7th birthday! One thing that was super special about this year was that Matt’s mom and sister Stacey came to visit us the weekend of her birthday, so we had family here to help us celebrate, and that made the whole weekend seem like a fun treat. We don’t get to see them often, so it’s very special when we do.

Stacey had ordered a giant cardboard house for the kids to color, which the kids thought was amazing.

We talked to Mei Mei about how she’d like to celebrate her birthday, whether she wanted a party with friends or to go somewhere special, or what sounded best to her. I wondered what she’d choose – I thought she might say she wanted a party like Miranda did, not because that would necessarily be most enjoyable for her but because that’s what her sister had done. I was glad, though, that she thought about what she’d really like and chose accordingly. She said wanted to celebrate with just our family, to have a fun day at home, to get Chinese food for dinner, and have a pinata. We told her we could certainly make that happen!

She got some fun gifts, and we all enjoyed diving into them. The game Blokus will, I think, be a good one for our family, and Madeleine CaiQun is a very spatial thinker, so I think she’ll be good at it.

And she was happy to share her jewelry making kit with Miranda (she’s super generous), and of course both girls still love all things Star Wars!

I was exhausted – Madeleine CaiQun’s birthday fell at the end of the week during which FangFang’s tooth started hurting tremendously, and neither she nor Matt or I was getting much sleep – and by that afternoon I felt like I couldn’t put together a coherent sentence and went upstairs to get just a bit of sleep. Grandma Nancy and Aunt Stacey stepped in to help the girls make the birthday cupcakes, and then we all enjoyed Chinese food and cupcakes for dinner!

I love it when Madeleine CaiQun smiles – when she does, she radiates joy 🙂 She is such an incredibly sweet child and brings so much joy to our lives. That sweetness was evidenced by the fact that she was totally fine with sharing a bit of the spotlight on her birthday with little brother, who was incredibly jealous that she got to blow out a candle!

And, I blame it on my sleep deprivation, but I completely forgot about her pinata until the morning after her birthday! No worries – we had just as much fun with it then as we would have the day before 🙂 She had chosen a gigantic dinosaur pinata – the largest one at the store – to our amusement! We’d filled it with candy…

And then we let the kids take turns whacking it with a stick 🙂 Matt had to help a bit to get it to break open, but everyone was quite entertained by the whole experience!

Madeleine CaiQun is such a beautiful soul. She’s sweet and kind and has a strong sense of justice. She’s self-aware and thoughtful, and she loves to snuggle. I am so thankful to have her in our family <3

Another Good Parenting Tool: The Hoot Owl Hoot Game

In my family of origin, we grew up playing games. As the oldest child, I learned games like Monopoly and Risk at an early age – primarily, I always thought, so my dad would have someone with whom to play! I loved playing games, too, though. My brother Danny and I played quite a bit on our own, and we’d play games as a family. I have fond memories of spending hours fighting to conquer the world in Risk. We played card games, too, especially a game called Sheepshead, which is played primarily among the German-American population of Wisconsin. It’s rather cutthroat and even includes insults specific to its play. And yet game-playing, and specifically that game, were so integral to my experience of time with my family that when Matt and I started dating, it never even occurred to me that he might not learn the game.

And now my children are getting to the age at which we can play games together! That is glorious – except that they (some in particular) are fairly bad winners and very bad losers. That severely limits the games we want to play with them and the times at which we are up for playing games.

However, we recently came across a game that has been such a blessing for our family! Matt’s birthday was last week, and (among other things) we got him the game Hoot Owl Hoot for us to play as a family. It’s a cooperative game, so all players work together to accomplish their goal (getting all of the owls back to the nest) before the time runs out (when the sun rises).

We’ve played it with all of our kids, and they ALL love it!

Atticus will sit with me and “be on my team.” FangFang doesn’t entirely understand the strategy of it, but she loves choosing which color to play and moving the pieces around the board and just generally being a part of it all with her big sisters. Miranda and Madeleine CaiQun are old enough to understand and even be part of formulating a strategy to try to work together and win the game.

When we lose, it’s not such a heavy blow, because we all lose together. And when we win, we all get to be thrilled together!

Obviously our kids do need to learn to win well and lose well – but this game also reinforces the idea that we, as a family, are in this life together – we’re a team. And that lesson is of primary importance for us. Collaborative games are a safe way to ease into experiencing the ups and downs of winning and losing (both in life and in games) while knowing that your family is with you.

We’ve played this game over and over again since we got it, and it has been a great, fun, connecting tool for us with all of our kiddos! If you have young kids (ours are currently ages 2-7), I’d absolutely recommend it!

Year In Review: Homeschooling 2016-2017

Most places wrap up their school years in May, perhaps June. Here at our house, we finished our home-schooling year in mid-August! It was an odd year for us – we’d finished our previous year later than I’d originally thought we would, mostly due to Matt’s heart attack. That meant we started this year’s curriculum later than I’d thought we would. And on top of that, we were finishing up our adoption process last fall, necessitating hours of paperwork for me, trips to our Secretary of State’s office to certify documents, travel coordination, and so much other logistical work that we didn’t get through as much of our curriculum as I’d originally hoped in the fall – and then, of course I went to China. And I returned from China with a 3-year-old, and we all had bonding and attachment needs, and she had major medical needs. But God 🙂 Honestly, it stressed me out, not being ahead of the game in terms of our school schedule. I am a perfectionist, and I like to be well ahead of the pack. Except there is no pack. There’s learning and growing together – or not. And we’re learning and growing together. And truth be told? My kids (and I) do better with year-round structure. They (and I) do not do well with weeks of totally unstructured time. It was a good thing for us to do school over the summer. We still have a ton of fun – pool time and parks and playing – but we also do some work. It’s a good balance for us.

I’m actually quite proud of the ways in which we’ve grown as a home-schooling family this year. It feels like we’ve settled into more of a groove. We’ve figured out more of what works well for us, and we’ve stuck with that, whether it matches up with what anyone else does or not. I used to think that we had to start our day with Bible reading, because obviously your day should start with Bible reading! It turns out that doesn’t work so well for us. Starting our day with math works well for us. It’s the most intense of our “seat work” subjects, and if we don’t get it out of the way early, it’s a real battle to try to tackle it later. If we do math and handwriting right off the bat, they’re done well and they’re done quickly – at least more often than when we do them later in the day 🙂

And then we do something that gets us moving. I love checking off boxes. If it were up to me, we’d do all of school right away, and then we’d be done and have the rest of the day to play. It turns out that this is another area in which my initial expectations just don’t match up with the reality of what works well for our family right now. My kids do so much better if we take a break after their seat work is done. Cosmic Kids Yoga is a favorite. 

If I were less of a check-list mom, we’d probably go out to the park more often (also if it were easier to take 4 small children, one of whom uses a wheelchair and one of whom is an untrustworthy runner, to the park). Or even for walks. But I am a check-list mom, so we do yoga 🙂 And I work on growing toward being more laid back.

One thing I’ve loved about this year has been the continued cultivation of a love of reading. We love the majority of Sonlight‘s book choices. After we take our mid-morning break, we dive into reading – often for hours a day – and we enjoy it. These were some of our favorite books from our core curriculum this year.

Reading quality books has also been a huge part of cultivating a love of reading in our kids beyond school. One morning I looked around me, and this was what I saw – all 4 kids looking at books.

That warmed my heart. More than I want to impart any particular pieces of knowledge, I want to instill a love of reading and of learning, and my hope is that we are doing that through the choices we’re making.

Part of that has been making some curriculum adjustments. I mentioned in some of the posts linked above that I was exploring different math curriculum options for Madeleine CaiQun, and I’m glad I did that this year. Singapore Math is an excellent curriculum for Miranda – she loves mental math and just gets math in general. It didn’t click as much for Madeleine CaiQun. After doing more research, I bit the bullet and ordered an entirely separate curriculum package – Math-U-See – for her, and it’s a great fit. The use of manipulatives helps her to understand each lesson so well, and I’m seeing her manifest true mastery of concepts. It’s certainly not financially optimal to have two kids using two different curricula, but one of the beautiful parts about homeschooling is that when you have two very different children who learn and think in very different ways, you have the freedom to teach them and help them learn in very different ways, and I’m thankful for that.

We also have the freedom not to have to work through all things on exactly the same timetable, and I’m thankful for that, too. Miranda is still finishing up Singapore’s Year 2 math, even though we’ve technically finished the school year, and that’s fine. Not having started her new math curriculum until mid-year, Madeleine CaiQun is also obviously not finished with it, but again, that’s fine – we’ll work through it and move on to the next level once we’re ready for it. We also needed to take a bit of time after the end of this school year to finish up our Language Arts program from this school year, and we’re only about halfway through the first book from our Spelling curriculum. I’m always reminding myself – this was their kindergarten and first grade year of school. They are doing great, whether we make it through an arbitrary number of lessons in a given year or not. Obviously if they were showing significant deficits, we’d be concerned and would take whatever measures were necessary to address that – but that’s not the case. They are learning and growing and doing beautifully. 

I think we had a successful year. We learned, and we grew. We made it through (approximately) one year’s worth of curriculum in approximately a year for most subjects. We’ve found some routines that are working for us. We’re getting a lot of quality time together. We talk about anything and everything. This was a good year, and I’m so looking forward to our next one!

Post-Surgery and Travel Update

Thank you so much to all of you who prayed us through our travels to Omaha for FangFang’s oral surgery and our return trip back to Missouri!

We left early Thursday morning and made it to the hospital just in time to meet the dentists who would be performing FangFang’s surgery the next day and do our pre-op consultation with them. After that we had the evening to ourselves, so we went and checked into our hotel…

…and then went out to dinner at Block 16, a hipster sandwich shop downtown, which all of us enjoyed! We tried to get FangFang a good last meal with all her teeth 🙂

She went to bed pretty well, and she actually did better than I thought she might with not being able to eat or drink after 8:00 AM. I woke her up around 7:45 to give her a clear liquid breakfast (jello and apple juice were her choices), and then I let her play with an iPad as a distraction while Catherine and I took turns getting some breakfast. We had a 10:00 AM check-in time at the hospital, so the morning was actually reasonably leisurely, and it wasn’t long before we were playing in the hospital playroom with brief breaks to consult with our nurse, a nurse practitioner, the dentists, and the anesthesiologist.

She was pretty happy right up until surgery. I actually declined Versed, and everyone seemed to think that was a good choice, because she seemed so comfortable and happy interacting with everyone, but as soon as she got about 10 feet down the hall from me, she started wailing, and they said I could come back with her. Her oral surgery was taking place in the procedure suite, which apparently has a lower standard of sterility than the OR, so I was allowed to walk into the room with her. I really wish all hospitals would do that for all procedures, whether they’re in the OR or not. FangFang is going to need a number of surgical interventions over her lifetime, and I’d prefer that, as much as possible, she see hospitals as places that help her, as opposed to the locations of traumatic experiences. Nurses seemed very concerned that it might be overwhelming to me to see her go under sedation in preparation for the procedure or have her throat suctioned afterwards, and they didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable. I assured them that I’d witnessed my husband experience cardiac arrest, so nothing they were going to do that day was going to make me uncomfortable, and if I needed to get out of the way, I’d do it. And most importantly, this is about FangFang, not me – if she’s more comfortable with me there, that trumps all else. They let me hold her and sing to her while she went to sleep, and I was so glad.

Catherine and I grabbed some lunch at the hospital cafeteria and then headed back up to our room to wait for FangFang. The dentists came and talked with us and said they’d pulled 5 teeth – the offending back molar that had the deep cavity giving her so much pain and her 4 front teeth, all of which had significant cavities. Because they’d pulled so many, they hadn’t needed to cap any teeth, but the crowding in her mouth will continue to make brushing and flossing a huge priority. They do not believe she has dentinogenesis imperfecta but that it’s more likely that we’re playing catch-up from her years in an orphanage, plus the crowding of her mouth, which is good news, because it means there’s some chance she won’t continue to have such serious dental issues.

It wasn’t long before I was allowed to go back to FangFang in recovery, and I walked in just as she was starting to open her eyes. She was in pain and angry. We got her Tylenol right away, and she wanted to leave that area, so we got to go back to our room right away, but she was still mad. We gave the Tylenol a bit of time to work, but it didn’t seem to be taking the edge off at all, so it wasn’t too long before we requested something stronger, and once she had a dose of Oxycodone, she started to calm. She cried for the mouth pain and cried in hunger and cried from her sore throat every time she had to swallow (she’d been intubated for the procedure). We started gradually introducing some clear liquids – apple juice and water and then jello, and she handled that well (no projectile vomiting!), and just before 4:00 they said we could go!

We weren’t sure how FangFang would do on the car ride home, and I was so thankful to have another adult with me who could help monitor her while we drove. She was pretty content watching Frozen and Daniel Tiger, though, and slept just a bit. She was even happy enough to try on goofy hats at a truck stop where we stopped to give her more pain meds and get gas!

We made it back home just before 11:00 last night, and she was very happy to be back, as was I!

Honestly, the trip itself went pretty well. That was really largely due to Catherine’s presence with us. I so enjoyed getting to chat with her on our drives – it was so much more fun than just driving by myself – and as a mom to four, it almost never happens that I get 10+ hours to hang out with a friend! And she was so helpful in assisting me with everything FangFang needed, getting juice or jello or washcloths to wipe up blood, and entertaining her while I talked with the doctors and dentists. I’m so, so thankful she came – such a blessing and encouragement.

And I’m so glad to be done with the procedure. FangFang was in a fair amount of pain yesterday but seems to be feeling a million times better today. She’s really been in pain for almost a month, and I’m so glad we were able to get this dental work done quickly and be done with it.

Re-entry is always rough, at least for me. I’m so excited to see everyone, but I’m also worn out. I really just want to have some quiet, alone time to read a book and relax. But there’s unpacking to do, and I’m behind on my work week since I was gone for 2 days, and kids need to be fed and cared for, and things at the house are just a little out of sorts any time I return from being gone. It always feels overwhelming to me, and I get snippy. There’s nothing that reveals your selfishness like parenting – and I think that’s doubly true when you add in any special needs. I do feel stretched, and I do feel tired, and I do feel overwhelmed at times, but that’s not a license to be unkind to anyone else, and I definitely fail at living that out.

I’ve tried to spend some time helping everyone settle back in. FangFang and I snuggled and read a book this morning, and a bit later Madeleine CaiQun and I got some one-on-one time reading on the couch together. Miranda and I had some chats, and Atticus came and snuggled with me for a while.

Matt has the kiddos out at a park right now, and I’m hoping to use this time well, doing some catch-up on all the tasks I need to tackle, but also to recharge and be prepared to love well when the rest of the family returns. I spent some time reading my Bible and praying and journaling, which has helped to settle my heart. I’m hoping that when everyone comes home, we can have an evening of enjoying being together, both in cleaning up the house some but also in just spending time together. These people have my heart, and I want to live that out, day by day, moment by moment.

Another Trip to Omaha, Another Surgery

Early tomorrow morning, I’ll load a few more items into our van and take off on a road trip with my newest kiddo. This trip wasn’t entirely anticipated, but it’s necessary.

We knew before we even submitted our Letter of Intent requesting to adopt FangFang that it was likely that she’d have dental issues – dentinogenesis imperfecta is a significant dental condition often associated with osteogenesis imperfecta. Additionally, dental care is often not a priority or even feasible in orphanages. And from day one with FangFang, I’ve known with certainty that she was going to be spending a lot of time with a dentist.

We were working through the process of figuring out exactly what would need to happen and making a plan with our local dentist when the situation became more urgent. FangFang woke up one morning with severe tooth pain, in agony if food even touched one particular tooth that has obvious decay. We got her started on antibiotics and some pain meds right away, but still, she was in a fair amount of pain, and then her cheek started to look swollen. We had to switch her to a stronger antibiotic, and all through that time, we were working with our dentist’s office to determine the best course of action for actually dealing with the offending tooth, as well as some other teeth that are obviously problematic. Our local dentist’s office has been great – in the span of that first painful, sleepless-for-everyone week, I spoke with our dentist’s assistant 5 times and our dentist himself 3 times, including twice on his personal cell phone on a Saturday morning.

One of the things I actually most appreciate about people in general – but especially medical professionals – is a willingness to admit when they don’t know or are not going to be the best person to help you. And our local dentist feels like he’s probably not the best dentist to perform the extensive dental work that FangFang needs during this surgery. That’s a bummer, but we definitely want her to be getting the best care possible, and this is significant oral surgery with some potential complications. The term being thrown around is “total mouth reconstruction.” Add to that the fact that she has OI and that the treatments she receives for OI can change how bone heals, and her local dentist thinks it’s best if a dentist who has more experience doing oral surgery for kids who have OI performs this surgery.

We feel so bad for FangFang – she’s been experiencing tooth pain at varying levels for several weeks now and is about to undergo another surgery. And we’re bummed that it has to happen out of town and right now, right at the beginning of the semester, when Matt can’t take off, and we’re kind of cobbling together support to make the trip and the surgery possible, but this is what we need to do, so we’re doing all we can to make it happen.

Matt will stay here with Miranda, Madeleine CaiQun, and Atticus while FangFang and I make the trip to Omaha. I  had been dreading this trip, both because it would be yet another surgical intervention for my child and because I’d need to do it alone. I love road trips with Matt or with friends, but I really dislike them when I don’t have other adults with me and have to do all the driving and keep myself entertained and awake the whole time. That feeling is intensified when contemplating a road trip with myself as the sole adult with a rear-facing toddler, who, for the drive home, will be just recently post-op. I’d stocked up on road trip snacks, and I’d been praying that God would sustain me for the trip, that He’d help me make it through those drives safely.

But because we serve a God who sometimes comes through for us in ways that are beyond what we are expecting or even hoping for, I now have a friend who is going to travel with us! Last night was our church missional community group meeting, and my friend Catherine – whom FangFang loves – happened to mention that this is her “off” week in her 7-days-on-7-days-off work schedule. It occurred to me once we got home that maybe, just maybe, she’d want to join me for a road trip to Omaha, so I sent her a message, and she said the idea had actually occurred to her, too, and she’d love to come along us! That eases so many of my worries about the trip. I could do it myself, but it’ll be so much easier and so much more enjoyable to have a friend along!

I still expect these next few days are going to be pretty intense, but we’re doing what needs to happen to get FangFang all of the care that she needs, and that’s obviously important. Would you pray for all of us during this time? Here are some specific ways in which you could pray –

  • Please pray for FangFang and Catherine and me as we travel. Please pray for our safety as we drive and for us to make good time, as we’re shooting for an on-time arrival for our afternoon pre-op appointment tomorrow.
  • Please pray for Matt and our kiddos who are staying here. It’s a departure from routine and a lot of time without their mama for my kiddos who are used to being with me. I’ll miss them a ton, and I know they’ll miss FangFang and me, too. A friend is helping out in caring for them some, but it will still be a lot of solo parenting for Matt, who is also getting back into the groove of teaching.
  • Please pray that FangFang does alright with the restrictions on her food and drink intake prior to surgery. For kiddos who have experienced food insecurity, this is so tough.
  • Please pray for our sleep on Thursday night. Friday is going to be a big day, and it would be ideal for us to be well-rested heading into it.
  • Please pray that all goes well with the surgery itself – that the dentist makes wise decisions about exactly what needs to happen (with 3-year-olds, for whom it’s nearly impossible to get high quality x-rays until they’re sedated, some of the final decisions don’t happen until surgery), that everything goes smoothly, and that the work they do will ultimately give FangFang relief and protect her remaining baby teeth for as long as they need to last.
  • Please pray for her post-op recovery. After her last surgery, she was pretty sad and wanted a lot of food and drink, which ultimately led to several instances of projectile vomiting, but then rest. Pray for me to have wisdom about what food and drink to give her and how to care for her, and pray for everyone to be gentle and supportive in caring for her after surgery and to do what she needs. Please pray also for wisdom for everyone in determining when she’ll be discharged. This should be an outpatient procedure, but discharge timing all depends on her post-op recovery.
  • Please pray for pain management. The team I’ve been talking with has said that kiddos are actually often in less pain after a surgery like this, which has been precipitated by tooth pain, than what they’d been living with prior to surgical intervention. I’m hoping that’s the case, but we don’t really know how everything will go for FangFang, and I want her to be comfortable as she recovers.
  • Please pray for our travels back home. I’m really hoping for less vomiting and just a straight transition to the groggy restfulness after surgery. If all goes as planned, we’ll probably be discharged around 4:00 pm, and from there, we can just drive home, but we’ll still have a reasonably long drive ahead of us, especially with a kiddo who just came out of anesthesia and may be in some pain.

Thank you, friends. I’ll keep you posted as I’m able!