Family picture

Family picture

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Happy Birthday Gracie Chengmei!

Today is a very special day.  It is Gracie's first birthday home after living her first seven years in an orphanage.  I want to share two pictures of our girl with you all today. 

The first one was taken on our long flight home from a very difficult two weeks in China.  The hurt, mistrust, and overwhelming feelings you can see on Grace's face were very real to our girl.  We will probably never know all Grace went through up to her Gotcha Day on February 17th, but we can sure make some assumptions that are more than likely fairly accurate.  Orphanage life, no matter how lovely a facility or how dedicated nannies might be, is still less than.  It is less than in love, in individual attention given, in feeling secure most of the time.  It is less than in so many areas.  The biggest area it is less than is that it doesn't have the ability to help a child grow into a secure and healthy adult.  It helps contribute to making them react as an animal would in so many ways instead of a fully functioning human.  I know there are good and bad institutions, and I know there are many, many dedicated and loving care givers.  I also know what I know about our Grace. 

Our time in China receiving and getting to know Grace was some of the roughest time in our lives.  Those first few weeks rank right up there in my mind and heart as when we have lost our three parents, Kevin's time with cancer, and Ted's earliest days in the special care nursery when he was born.  I know that sounds overly dramatic, and some of you might be thinking, "How could she say that?  How could meeting a new child be as sad and traumatic as losing a parent or going through cancer or wondering if your newborn son was going to be ok?" 

I want to keep it real today.  The time in China was horrendous.  Grace came to us with a final word of parting from her nannies.  "She is stubborn," they said as they walked out the door.  Stubborn didn't even begin to cover what our Grace was those first few weeks and months.  How can I describe such a small and damaged little girl to you?  Kevin stayed home with our young sons, and my friend Deidra and my daughter Sophia traveled with me to receive Grace.  Even though I skyped with Kevin A LOT  and for LONG PERIODS OF TIME, it has still been difficult for him to even understand how damaged Grace was at first.  When I talk of our time in China, he still shakes his head in disbelief at the magnitude of Grace's disturbed behaviors.

Grace, it was instantly obvious, could not process even the smallest details in her new environment.  She wasn't just stubborn, she was not even capable of filtering events and settings around her except to try to manipulate them.  She could only be in "survival mode" at all times.  The only things she could do well were to have gigantic meltdowns and manipulate the adults in her world.  HEARTBREAKING. 

Every trip outside the hotel room was fraught with trauma for her and us.  She was expert at gaining the quick approval of Chinese adults, whether that was the man on the elevator or the restaurant waitress.  We found out later from our guide that the Chinese words she was speaking to others were things like, "I love you," and "I think you are pretty/handsome."  Then she would demand they give her something.  It was the doctor's lunch in the clinic, some sort of merchandise in the store, a different plate and a different food in the restaurant, even things off the maid's carts in the hallway.  The time of the maid cleaning our room was even a tough spot as she demanded and received things from her each day.  We had to constantly be alert to these dangerous interactions on her part.  She approached strangers and acquaintances alike with the sole purpose of obtaining something.  And she did it all in the loudest voice I had ever heard a child her size use.  Her speech was demanding and frantic at the same time.  She had no other frame of reference for behavior.  SAD BEYOND BELIEF.

When I would step in and say no to the person wishing to give in to her demands, Grace would go into some sort of terrible trance and begin her descent into a huge meltdown where she would scream and wail and try to bang her head on whatever hard surface she could find.  She would fall to the ground and writhe as if in pain.  If she happened to stay standing, she would fling her limbs outward in such a freakish way that people would instantly recoil.   This happened over and over again, on dirty restroom floors, in Chinese governmental offices, in our hotel lobby, on the sidewalk as we were walking someplace, in restaurants, while touring cathedrals and temples alike, on playgrounds, in stores, in airport waiting lines, you name it.  And even if people (mostly strangers) gave into her demands, it only fed her frenzy. 

She would hit, kick, scratch, and try to bite me often.  I did therapeutic holds more times than I can count.  I whispered that I loved her, Jesus loved her, she was worthy over and over again.  We were always on "high alert" for danger to and from Grace.  There was never any "down" time.  We were all in "survival mode" during the day and only partly relaxed at night. 

I woke each morning early, around 3 a.m., and would quietly slip into the bathroom to read the comments from our blog and pray.  I wept as I read each comment, those life-giving, sustaining comments.  You have no idea how they helped strengthen me.  Then I would pray.  Actually, Deidra, Sophia, and I never stopped praying once we received Gracie.  Kevin and so many people back home were praying, too.  We prayed under our breath in hotel elevators, while eating out, in the gardens of the temple, on our knees at the Christian cathedral, and in restrooms.  We relied on our wonderful guide, John, like we were reaching out for a life boat on stormy high seas.  We put one foot in front of the other while praying, and God got us home safely and soundly.  Giving all praise to Him who brought us home and continues to sustain us.  Thanking God that Sophia and Deidra were there in the terrible times to help sustain Gracie and me.

The trauma didn't stop when we returned home.  Gracie's meltdowns were much easier to handle and are gradually being extinguished, but the trauma of her previous existence didn't miraculously go away.  It is slowly improving. And we are slowly learning to love her in such a way that we will never let go, but this road has been one long difficult one, for sure.  For us, and most assuredly for Gracie. 

But now at home, with Kevin by my side, and our little family learning how to relate to Grace and she to us, through consistency and love, discipline when needed, guidance always, through knowledge of the adoption process of attachment and bonding, through family and friends helping to give us time to bond with our precious girl, things are improving.  Through God all things are possible. 

Now look at the next picture.  It was taken yesterday at our homeschool field trip.  Oh my!  Can you believe it?  Only our God can bring such a miracle - beauty from ashes I say. 

Our Gracie is learning what love is, the love of our God and the love of her family.  We are learning patience (not always), perseverance, extreme love, and how to relate to a child so broken but now beginning to heal.  We are far from perfect, and many days we don't even hit the mark, but God is teaching, molding, and guiding us daily.   Gracie is learning what security means, what boundaries are, what joy there is in trying something new and exciting, what living in a family really means - the give and take of life.  She is responding daily to new situations around her and is beginning to do it in a gentle and calm manner.  She is learning to give love as well as accept it. 
Truly on this day, her first birthday home, she is a treasure.  Life is precious, and we are so thankful God brought us together.  Happy Birthday dear one.  We will love you forever.  

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Homeschool Highlights

We love homeschool! 
If you had told us six years ago that we (two public school teachers) would be homeschooling all of our China treasures now, we would have thought you were crazy! 

Practicing for our homeschool co-op's end-of-the-year music concert

Homeschool?  Who, us? 
What about the socialization? 
The night of the music concert from the co-op's music students
 What about the curriculum? 
What about the time constraints? 
What about, what about??
Playing a game of "Duck, Duck, Goose" at our homeschool co-op Field Day

Waiting for the "Balloon Stomp" at Field Day
After Field Day, there was still time to visit the zoo with friends and
see one of the new and exciting exhibits!
I stay home and teach our four youngest children.  Some days are trying - too much to do, too little time (not all that different from teaching in the public school). 
But, overall we are so happy with our decision!  We can pick and choose what and how to teach our kids.  We can shore up their needs and enhance their strengths.
There is so much we can teach - God's word, history, math, language arts, many, many kinds of literature, science, art, music, pe, social skills, and so much more. 
We can do it all through individual instruction, group instruction through our co-op, and field trips with friends. 
Love homeschooling. While I know not everyone wants to or has the time or resources to homeschool, we thank God that He has put this type of teaching on our hearts.  The sacrifices we make to homeschool seem so small compared to the benefits.  Our children are thriving and growing into Godly young people who are interested in the world around them, and we get a front row seat! 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day

It was a sweet day today. 
Church with my husband and children this morning . . .
Brunch with our neighbor, Dottie, and our children . . .
Rounding out the day with our nephew's college graduation and dinner out with some of Kevin's family, including my mother-in-law . . .

The graduate and his peeps
The graduate and his grandmother - a very sweet picture
Ted and his "little" cousin
Alex and some of his groupies
Some adorable people who made my day
Missing my mom today. 
It was her first Mother's Day in Heaven. 
Sending our love and hugs to her. 
But mostly, today was a very lovely day spent being cherished for being a mom and wife, surrounded by my amazing family!