Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Catching Our Breath: One Month Home

This week marked one month of Jack being home.   In so many ways, it feels like he has always been here.  The kitchen table is finally full (and even noisier!).  The toys that were left sitting in boxes and baskets before have new life with a new set of hands.  

Penny has a built in playmate...

Trent has a little boy that watches his every move with awe…

Kate is able to dress and play with her new "living" doll…

The weeks we spent in China were priceless in our bonding to our new son.  Dustin had to go back to work just a few days after we returned, so his time with Jack was very special to both of them…

Jack wanted to be carried often and thankfully, it isn't hard to oblige because he is such a lightweight!

When we came home, my parents left food in our fridge (and seven layer dip which I devoured in about ten minutes!) and spent a few days here before they headed back to California…

And then real life kicked in to full gear.  Our first week home was the most difficult so far.  Jack had been with Dustin and I for two weeks in China but he still had familiar sounds, smells, foods, time zone, etc. to keep him feeling in control of his life in some small way.  All of that disappeared in an instant.  I could see a physical change in him at the airport in Detroit.  He looked distant.  His eyes showed confusion.  His mouth turned down and he began to become melancholy - just sad and desperate really.  The boy that had given us a hundred giggles a day for the past week suddenly cried any time he didn't get his way, or could not be understood or wanted something we didn't have.  The grieving is hard to share.  

People say to us often ,"Boy, these kids are so lucky/blessed to be in your family" and by all means, I totally understand the intent as complimentary.  But, honestly, there is nothing "lucky" about our son's grief.  He has been in the middle of grief and loneliness and confusion.  And in many ways, we brought him to this place.  It can be hard to do.  I do think I was a little more prepared for what to expect in his transition after going through it with Penny but each child is created uniquely by God and comes to us with a different set of circumstances and past experiences so there is no magic answer.  The best we have been able to do is offer consistency, grace, love and patience.  

But that isn't the end of the story by FAR! I mean, this kid is resilient with a capital "R"!  He has learned how to navigate our home, has started to warm up to the family dog, Lucy (sort of - still a work in progress), ride a tricycle, be held in a swimming pool (while smiling, which is no small task given the blood curdling screams we heard the first few attempts!), being hauled around in the family taxi to dance class, baseball practice, soccer practice, doctors' appointments.  

We have gone to birthday parties and family cook-outs.  He has a fantastic appetite and is sleeping 12 hours straight through the night in his own room.  Routine has been a great way for him to develop feeling safe.  We haven't had anyone to the house for the past month so that he can establish who is his immediate family and who is not.  We are still waiting another month or longer before leaving him with anyone but us - it is important to us that we establish ourselves as his parents because this concept is so new to him.  This is the hardest part for me as mama, just because it means I don't get "breaks" during the day but I know this will pass with time and all of those moments when he peaked around the corner calling "Mama!" and his eyes light up when he finds me, will be worth it.

This kid LOVES to laugh.  I don't know why I am amazed every time I look around the table at dinner or look back in the mirror of the van to see the four kids together.  But I AM amazed: that this boy from another continent is a PERFECT fit as a DeMaio… (I mean, it's almost like God had a plan for this!)  

I am still looking forward to the day when my body is mine again, when the little guys are able to play for more than five minutes without coming dangerously close to sticking their fingers in a light socket, and when I can finally turn off the baby monitor.  But it is SOO fun to have a toddler in the house again.  And even better to see Pen leading her minion around the house and hearing him mimic her every sound.  Jack is not interested in learning English - he has made it pretty clear that he expects us to learn Mandarin if we want to communicate with him… I'll let you know how that goes.

In the meantime, "No ah-ah" means "no whining", "mah" is "more", "uh-eee" is "up, please" and mommy daily butchers the Mandarin language with my sad attempts at "Fei-ji" for  "plane".  It's a good thing we have a lifetime to get to know each other!

**And a HUUUGGE shout out to all of our friends who have brought meals and helped us during this transition - Asburys, Schleichers, Jones, Cobes, Reames, Runges, Dixons, Crulls, and a HuGe number of you who have called or texted or prayed for Jack and for us.  THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Day 5: Park Strolls and Panda Zoo

Our favorite part of the day, by far, is after breakfast when we are able to walk the perimeter of the lake right outside our hotel.

A wooden boardwalk lines the shore and the chinese people love and use their parks so much more than we do in the states.  Groups of women do tai chi while men sit at tables playing cards, children pop bubbles from the local street vendor's toy stand and mothers sit fanning themselves with babies under foot.

 It is beautiful to see generations mingling together and the scenery is breathtaking.

Even the street vendor's sign is gorgeous!

Jack is such a great traveler - he just enjoys taking it all in.

Even their manhole covers are ornate!

We stopped by a Panda Zoo this morning on our walk - for $10 we climbed a thousand steps (with a stroller - not recommended) and sweated off about 5 pounds each.  We did see a panda though!

Jack watched the red panda exhibit with careful attention.

There are more varieties of plants in their public parks than I have ever seen in one place before... and they have all been planted with purpose in an overall design, which is gorgeous!  I'm not a photographer but even I couldn't take a bad picture of the plantlife.

We are looking forward to a change of scenery tomorrow, when we head to Guangzhou by plane but we will miss West Lake Park in Fuzhou.

Day 4: Meaning in the Monotonous

Today felt a bit like Groundhog Day to Dustin and I... wake up at 7, breakfast by 8, walk around the lake with Jack while it is still doable to be outside before the midday heat, back to the room for nap, play time until dinner at the hotel room, down to the restaurant for dinner, back to the room for bathtime and bed...
But the thing is, although this is our "routine" for the next few days, there is absolutely nothing routine about it.  Because for our sweet boy, every moment we are spending with him, we are creating bonds and trust and structure.  Each time I pull out the changing mat to change his diaper and he comes running over with a big smile, laying down with his wide eyes looking back at me with trust, I am grateful for the monotony.  He is learning so many new things with every giggle, every conversation.
We have been able to facetime with the kids at home at wake time and again before bed and that has also been great for Jack.  He is now starting to recognize their faces and is saying "hello" and "I luh you" along with kisses blown across the screen to another continent where his brother and sisters can catch them.  We sing the nursery song "Open, Shut them, Give a little clap" about thirty times a day and he is happy as a clam every time he hears things familiar.
Nap time and night time are the hardest - it is when we see him grieving the loss of what has been the most.  Last night he reached over to hold my hand as he feel asleep and clung to me in the night, when he stirred in his sleep.  These are difficult moments to watch.  We are praying that with each time he grieves and sees us there when he opens his eyes, he is beginning to feel safe.  We are never going to leave him.  He is home in our arms.
Along with the emotional journey in his heart, we have also had some seriously silly moments.  Like when I pulled out the party blowers and he stuck them all in his mouth at once and blew... belly laughs followed from all of us!

Or when I pulled out the ipad for the first time and he spent a good hour popping bubbles on the screen...

Notice the glasses on top of his head - that is how he insists on wearing them, even though I tried to show him how to wear them, which lasted for about three seconds...

We've learned to make our own fun with what we have - Dustin and Jack have spent lots of time wrestling and having tickle wars...

There is definitely meaning in the monotonous!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Day 3: Market and Playtime

We woke up at 6 am this morning but I'll take it!  At least we feel well rested and on "China time" now.  Jack woke up and reached over to touch my face and kissed me so sweetly - melt my heart!

He is so awesome (have I said that already?)  We headed down to the hotel breakfast buffet at 7am.  We learned last night at dinner that Jack is a MASTER at chopsticks.  We've taken several videos of it, although I'm not sure how to record that and put it on my blog - I'll post a video of him showing us a thing or two tomorrow.  He flips the chopsticks over so that the fat end is in his bowl, which gives him a bigger surface area to grip with (I told you this kid is a smart cookie!) and just handles it like a master.  He ate a bowl of noodles, a bowl of rice and two eggs all with chopsticks this morning.  It is amazing.  I'm sure the locals are getting a kick out of Dustin and I oooing and aaaahing over every time he uses his sticks to scoop a bite.  It's hilarious!
After breakfast we headed out with our map to find a supermarket where we could get some diapers, wipes, laundry soap and a stroller.  We found the store and everything except for the stoller.  I went up to a lady who worked at the market and started pantomiming like a crazy person, pointing to Jack and then making stroller wheel motions with my hands but she had absolutely no idea what I was asking for.  She had half the store of workers talking a hundred miles a minute in mandarin to us, pointing every which way about where we should go but in the end, they just shook their heads and we gave the obligatory "SheiShei (thank you)" and walked out.
We were back at the room by 10 am and thought we'd try the hotel pool with Jack.  We bought a pool float for him at the market and got ready to go down.  When we arrived at the pool, Jack held on to my hand for dear life and started shaking his head and pulling me back out of the gate.  Nope.  No pool for this boy... not today anyway.
So... a whole day ahead and nothing on the schedule.  The hotel we are at sits at the shore of a small lake surrounded by a wooden boardwalk for pedestrians, so we thought we would venture out to a small carnival/ park area about a half mile from the hotel.

Did you notice we don't have an umbrella?  Yeah, I didn't either... until a little elderly woman came down the boardwalk toward us and stopped us, pointing at the sun and at Jack and obviously scolding us for not having our son under an umbrella, like she was holding.  Eeek...  we stopped at the next street vendor and bought a very overpriceed umbrella (Dustin said we got hosed) so we wouldn't offend any more sweet little ladies on their morning walks.  Dustin looks so manly with his gold embroidered umbrella ;)

We took Jack to a little carnival area at the park where there are kiddie rides and he rode a little choo choo train.

We came back to the room to order some noodles to share (this heat really kills the appetite) and face timed with the kids back home.  It was so good to see their faces.  We miss them terribly.  Jack liked playing peek-a-boo with the kids on my phone:

We are back at the room now.  Jack is napping and it gave me time to catch up on writing.  Our internet is sketchy so  finding a time when we can get on has been tricky but not impossible.  Tomorrow is another open day with nothing on the schedule so we'll venture out to a park and possibly some shopping, but mostly we just want to spend time playing with this little guy.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Day 2: It's Official!

Our first afternoon and evening went very smooth with Jack.  He played with toys in the room, we ordered room service for dinner, which proved be a bit tricky, because only a few staff members at the hotel speak English - I've learned now that we should say "English?" before rattling off our order. Then we usually wait several minutes for them to find someone who can help us.  The hotel staff has been extremely helpful and kind, even if they don't understand us.  We have many curious glances but no one has been hostile.  I imagine they just wish they could ask us what our story is.  And I wish I could tell them, "Hi!  Yep.  He's pretty awesome.  I know he's the cutest boy you've ever seen.  Uh huh - he's ours and God has been directing this story from day one."  But for now, we just smile and nod and say "Ni Hao" like 50 thousand times a day and "Shei Shei" another hundred thousand.
We had ordered a rollaway crib for Jack for bedtime.  He had not taken baths before so I knew we may have a sponge bath ahead but I thought I'd give a regular bath a shot first.  He watched me fill the tub with a curious look on his face.  I took off his clothes and slowly lowered him into the bath.  For the first few minutes he just stared at the water, holding his arms out so they wouldn't touch the surface.  But as I poured warm water down his back, he relaxed and began to enjoy it.  I brought a few bath toys with me and those are a big hit.  We were told that he bathes twice a day and I thought that was a little excessive.... until we spent our first full day out around town on Monday.
Hotter than Hades! is how Dustin put it.  Not only is it about 100 degrees out by noon, but the humidity is in the 90 percent and above range - I have never felt anything like it.  Ten minutes outside and your back becomes drenched with sweat.  I am sooo glad I cut my hair this spring because our heads drip after 30 minutes.
Monday morning we were picked up by our guide and driver to run to several appointments around the capital.  We stopped first at our interview at the civil affairs office, which is where our adoption of Jack would be finalized.  Our guide, Ring, has been super efficient and very kind.  Driving around the city is similar to our experience in Ethiopia - cars, mopeds, people everywhere - but the driving is more agressive here.  Good thing we had a driver who doesn't take no for an answer!  He ruled the road and we got through all of our appointments in 2 hours (record tiime, Ring said!)  Can I just say that our little man is the most amazing traveler EVER!  He sat in my lap in the van (no car seats here) and munched on his cheerios or looked out the window, so content and happy.  Ring said that when we pulled in to the civil affairs parking lot he said, "We're here!".  He is such a smart boy.  I wish we knew everything he is saying.  I think he is talking a lot we just have no clue what he is trying to communicate.  I'm amazed at how patient he is with us.  He hasn't grown frustrated with the communication barrier at all, so far.
Once our appointments were over, Ring drove us to a restaurant nearby our hotel so that we could eat lunch.  Outside of the hotel there are very few people who speak English.  This restaurant was no exception.  Ring could not stay with us to eat so she came in and ordered for us and then left - she has been very helpful.  She also drew us a map of how to get to the big supermarket and a few other restaurants close by, incase we want to venture out over the next few days on foot.  By the time we got back to our hotel roo after lunch, we were a sweaty mess and all needed a shower and a change of clothes.  We were still feeling the jet lag so after freshening up, we all laid down for a nap.  We woke up 3 1/2 hours later!  I can't believe Jack slept that long but I think his body, mind, and heart all are dealig with so much change that it is a coping mechanism - a way to process all that is shifting.  We went to the hotel's western restaurant for dinner.  It has a massive buffet and we opted for that.  I don't think we will do the dinner buffet here again... there just weren't enough things that we understood how to eat them to make the cost worth it.  The buffet was gorgeous though.  It seems to be the restaurant that people of affluence in this part of town come to eat at.  I just wish I could go up to someone and ask what we were looking at.  Half of the buffet items were just gorgeous to look at but I had no clue how to eat them.  We spent the evening playing back at the hotel room until bed time.  Our hotel room is much like any western hotel room with a bed, chair, desk, side table, nightstands and TV.  There is plenty of room in the center of the room for Jack to play on the floor.
Bedtime has been our most challenging part of the day so far  - it is just so different from what he has ever known.  When it is time to go to bed, we take off his shoes (he looooves to wear shoes) and that just doesn't go over very well.  Both nights Dustin has turned off the lights and sat with Jack on the floor at the bottom of the bed until Jack feels comfortable without shoes on.  Then eventually Dustin coaxes him onto his lap and scratches his back for a few minutes.  Once Jack is relaxed I can scoop i up and put him in bed between us.  This seems to be working so far-  we just have to take things slow and allow him to feel control over his situation.  The things we take for granted are brand new to him - things that seem routine to us are new experiences for him and he is handling it all like such a champ!  I think we are finally feeling adjusted to the time change so hoping for a full nights rest tonight.  Tomorrow is a "free day" with nothing on the schedule so we hope to get a little shopping done.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Gotcha Day

      We were asked to meet down on the 3rd floor of our hotel with our guide at 3:15 today to go over paperwork before Little Man arrived at 3:30.  I was literally pacing our hotel room at 2:50 - I was shivering with chills because of the nerves.  Dustin was equally as nervous, double and triple checking our backpack with toys and snacks to entertain our son with while the paperwork was completed.  By 2:55 neither one of us could stand it any longer so we gathered our things and made our way down the elevator to wait in the conference room we would meet him in.  My heart was racing as we stood looking out at the lake outside our hotel and I heard a tiny voice downstairs -- I held my breath.
     A minute later through the doors of the conference room comes bouncing in the most beautiful boy... smiling and carrying a lime green stuffed frog, he looked at Dustin and then at me knowingly.  His caregivers walked in right after him, asking him to go show his frog to "mama" and "baba".  He came right over to us.  They told us he had slept the entire 3 hour train ride from Xiamen and had not eaten since 10 am.  A very wise fellow adoptive mama had told me to pack a big box of cheerios because the kiddos here love them (what toddler doesn't!) and they don't sell them at the grocery stores here.  So I pulled out my stash and handed him the little snack cup - the kind with the rubberized lid that keeps the snack from dumping out on the floor.  He was shy at first, waiting patiently for me to feed him one cheerio at a time.  I handed him the container and he was confused by why the lid kept his snack away from him so he started to peel back the rubber sides and together we held back all six corners of the lid while he grabbed cheerios with his other hand - smart kiddo!  Dustin took some Thomas track out of the backpack and built him a little track on the carpet and pretty much stole his heart.  This boy already adores his daddy!  It is the best thing to watch.  Dustin played with little man while I finished up paperwork - by the time I came back to the floor the two of them were giggling (little man has the most infectious laugh!) and stuffing cheerios in their mouths by the handful.
      After a few minutes of pictures and exchanging gifts of gratitude with his caregivers, they left the room  and we alone, for the first time, with our son.  It felt a bit like that first time our newborns were placed in the car seat for the ride home from the hospital.  I thought, "This is really it. He is here!   A  lifetime of memories ahead."


Saturday, July 26, 2014

In the Air - En route to Shanghai July 26th

In the Air - en route to Shanghai July 26th, 9:45am

We are nine hours into our 14 hour flight to Shanghai.  The jets of the plane are roaring and people mingle in the aisles, stretching their legs and becoming acquainted in tight spaces.  The space between two worlds - this plane really does represent so much of what our next days and weeks will feel like.  We let go of the familiar and embrace the country of our son's birth.  He will fumble, as we do now, with the language barriers, customs, noises unfamiliar.  My body is tired but my heart can't rest.  What will our first moments with our son look like?  What does it feel like to hold him?  I'm certain that his smile will light up the room as much as it has lit up our hearts, staring at it on the screen saver of our computer and phones for the last 10 months.
We have been dreaming about this moment for months and I cannot wrap my heart around the fact that this day is finally here.   And for every thought I have of my nervous anticipation and excitement, I feel an equal amount of heartache for him and all that he says goodbye to, all the while knowing that, in the end, he will be exactly where he should be - in our arms.
I smile at the lady across the aisle with her two young children, close in age to my oldest two.  I want so badly to start a conversation with her, to hear about what she loves about her country, about motherhood, about life.... but the language barrier keeps us from communicating and so we awkwardly nod our heads and smile back and forth knowingly.  With each emotion I feel empathy for our baby boy - I know how badly a 2 1/2 year old wants to communicate their needs and how frustrated he will be.  I am praying that smiling and laughter will begin to feel our days as we get acquainted.
I have been thinking about his primary caregiver also - how she must feel to say goodbye after caring for him and loving him for all of these months...  I wrote her a letter of thanks a few nights ago and barely could put cohesive thoughts together - how do you thank someone adequately that has loved so sacrificially?  But that is exactly what love does right?  Love does the difficult stuff - love never fails.