Monday, October 29, 2012

Changing Seasons

I have never in my life seen a more beautiful little girl.   
How did we get so lucky?

It's been a long time since I posted on this blog.  I'm not sure why because it's really been my only journal for the entire adoption process and I can't believe how much of the past 8 months I've probably already forgotten.  Thank goodness for pictures!  

I guess I can't start this without commenting again on the amount of rapid growth that we have watched our daughter go through.  It's astonishing to witness the effect that good nutrition has on the human body.  When we met Princess Petals in China this past February she was wearing 6-12 month clothing.  This week I have started purchasing 2T for the winter!  I am really excited for her next Well Child visit to see where she is falling on the growth charts considering she was barely on them just 8 months ago.  We are assuming that because of this tremendous growth her body is in need of major sleep.  Our precious daughter slept 14-16 hours a night over the summer with 2-4 hour afternoon naps.  Once the school year started it just wasn't possible to allow her to continue that schedule so she only gets 12-13 hours a night during the week with an afternoon nap, and has made a habit of catching up on the weekends with 17-18 hour nights.  On the 18 hour nights we skip the nap and just shoot for an early bedtime!

Everyone always asks about bonding and I am thrilled to say we have had no attachment or bonding problems.  I attribute a great deal of this to the recommendations that we were given by our agency as to how to conduct ourselves once arriving home.  We stayed in...a lot...for the first three months.  We kept her close and limited interaction with people outside of our family as much as possible.  Very few people held her and only Jon and I met her basic needs for food, diapering and comforting.  Was it tiring?  Absolutely.  Was it worth it?  Absolutely.  Is everything perfect?  No.  We are still getting to know Princess Petals as her little personality continues to develop and there are episodes that are difficult to label as "normal toddler" or "orphan" behavior.  For example, sometimes she gets really clingy to me, even at home - the I can't put her down for an hour kind of clingy.  Not truly knowing the cause is tough, but we roll with it and I just vacuum and piddle around the house with her strapped to me in a Moby Wrap until she squirms to get down.  Sometimes she just seems to need the closeness and I'll admit I love the snuggles although we get pretty sweaty doing housework that way!  Then as quickly as her need to be pressed against me comes on, it goes, and she is off playing with her brothers or rummaging through the kitchen cupboards pulling out the Tupperware.  

I've never really thought about it much before, but now I am in complete awe of large families.  I love my children but three little ones are honestly exhausting and the jump from two to three kids was much more difficult than I thought it would be.  One more person creating a need for laundry, dishes, diapering, playing and cleaning up.  I'll be honest and say I have a hard time keeping up.  Jon takes care of his own laundry now and the kids and I pretty much dress out of laundry baskets...  I hope that by this time next year I am more efficient at managing my time and can feel better about the state of our home.

The Summer Of Many Firsts:

At the end of May Princess Petals played in a sprinkler for the first time.  She wasn't really sure what to think of it...

She LOVED playing on the playground though and figured out how to climb the ladder very quickly - she is a determined little thing!

In June, when Princess Petals was 18 months, we had her tested by the Early On program through our school district and she qualified for speech and occupational therapy.  We've been going twice a week since school started.  It's all play based and she really seems to enjoy the program.  I wouldn't say she necessarily has a speech delay, but she is missing some of the early sounds that a child who grew up listening to English would have naturally.  She is adding new words constantly and we're loving watching her little personality develop.

First fireworks!  The park across the street from our neighborhood puts off an awesome fireworks display every June so Princess Petals got to see her first fireworks.  We were a little nervous that she'd be scared, but we should've known better - she loved it!

Next we went to the zoo!  She was much more interested in running free than visiting with the animals. With the difference in ages of our children (6,3 & 18 months at the time) it was tough getting them all interested in the same thing...but everyone enjoyed the carousel ride!

We learned this summer that Princess Petals is more sensitive to sunscreen than the rest of our family (notice the swollen/squinty right eye above).  Even though I've always purchased "tear-free" for the boys, it was definitely not "tear-free" for Princess Petals.  It took a lot of experimentation but we finally found a brand that works for her.  Sunscreen put a real downer on several outdoor events before we got it figured out!

At the very end of June Princess Petals had her first haircut.  She'd had lots of buzz cuts in China, but on this day she went to a real salon and had just the back trimmed.  We are growing out the front and sides and just trimming the back until the rest catches up.  To date she has had two hair cuts now.

In early July we traveled south because although my Mom had met Princess Petals when we returned from China, my Dad and Jon's parents had not yet had the opportunity to fall in love with their new granddaughter.  First we visited with Grandma and Grandpa in Georgia where Princess Petals and Grandma played dress up.  Fire works started a little late for her and amazingly she slept through the awesome display that was set off by my parents neighborhood right in front of the house.  This kid can sleep!!!

Then we traveled up to Tennessee to visit with Jon's family.  Princess Petals got to meet not only Jon's parents but much of his family as well.  It was wonderful to see the love that everyone already had for her!

When we returned home we had lots of family time playing in the backyard.  Princess Petals warmed up to the sprinklers and had a blast with her brothers.  At the end of this afternoon our oldest son asked me when we were going to adopt again.  He said he'd very much like another little sister so there would be two boys and two girls.

We took Princess Petals across the street to the park and introduced her to our ducks.  She enjoyed throwing bread but found chasing them much more fun!

In August we tried something new - tent camping with kids.  I thought it sounded exhausting and I admit that I had zero interest in this, but some good friends made plans to go and my husband really wanted to try it with we did.  I'll admit I was wrong and even though it was cold and rainy the first two days we all really enjoyed it!  

The sun peeked out on our last day of camping with our friends and we were able to enjoy some time on their boat.  Princess Petals liked tubing...

...but not enough to be able to stay awake!

After her nap on the tube she was a happy camper again!

Everyone had so much fun that we planned another weekend of camping a few hours away on Lake Michigan.  While there we had the good fortune to meet another adoptive family.  They have a little girl that is very close in age to Princess Petals, came home from China around the same time and also has a limb difference!  What are the chances???  They were a wonderful family and we hope to get to see them again next summer.  

All the kids enjoyed the fire pit and we were burning wood from breakfast until bedtime.  

When we could pull the kids away from the fire we went hiking through the woods.  

First time playing in the sand!  Loved it!

School started in September which brought with it a hectic schedule of running around from D's elementary school to W's pre-school and then twice a week to Princess Petals' speech/occupational therapy.  Mid-month we celebrated D's 7th birthday - where does the time go???  

The rest of September was just a lot of running around in the backyard trying to enjoy the awesome fall weather.  Princess Petals has grown very interested in cameras which I love!  My boys are over it and typically look away now.  It's nice to have a willing participant again!

After our camping adventures we decided it was time to spruce up the fire pit in our back yard and make it a little safer with some retaining wall rather than just a hole in the ground.    

And here we are in October!  This means cider mills, pumpkin patches, W's 4th birthday and watching Daddy at his Cyclocross races.

Princess Petals' first CX race.  Go Daddy, go Daddy, go!

First pumpkin patch.

Today we enjoyed a little pumpkin carving.  Last year at this time we had just received new pictures of Princess Petals and we were putting together a care package to send to her orphanage while we waited for our LOA (Letter Of Action) from China so we could submit our second round of Homeland Security paperwork. 

But now, a year later, she got to play with pumpkin guts - another first!

So that gets me all caught up on many of Princess Petals' "firsts" over the summer and fall.  She has truly been a blessing in our lives and I had no idea how comprehensively her adoption would change me.

During our 8 years of fertility treatments I prayed and I cried and I wondered, "why me?"  I never thought in a million years that I would ever be thankful, so utterly thankful, to have had fertility problems.  Yes that's right, I am thankful.  For all of it.  I am not angry or resentful for what we went through. Everything we experienced led us here - and here is a great place to be.  I know in my heart that Princess Petals was meant to be in our family and I wouldn't change one step of our path.

Another part of our adoption journey that I wasn't expecting was the commitment I would feel to the children left behind.  Shortly after we arrived home I started advocating for orphans in the Waiting Child program.  I can't unlearn what I know and am haunted by the children who are still in China waiting for their families - many of whom are living in conditions that we simply cannot comprehend.   Princess Petals slept on a piece of plywood with the paint peeling off around her.  She had bites all over her body from Scabies and still has scars from all the scratching.  At 14 months she was barely crawling, had not yet tried solid foods and was at the very bottom of the growth charts.  I look at her now and marvel at how much she means to me beyond the love I feel for her.  With her came a purpose and I am overwhelmingly thankful to have been brought to this place in my life.  

If you are even the least bit curious about adoption - forget what you think you know and all the reasons you feel you can't do it.  Learn about the program and search your heart.  There are thousands of amazing kids waiting for their families to find them.  Don't let the idea of a "special needs" child scare you off because beyond whatever physical issue they may have, their biggest and most urgent "special need" is love.  

Please email me at if you have any questions about the Waiting Child program in China and/or adoption funding, and before you move on, please take a peek at the sweet babes in the next post - they are just a glimpse of the children waiting for someone to take a leap of faith.

Monday, May 28, 2012

May Update And New Adoption Video

A few exciting things have happened around here lately.  First, my husband put together another short video that you'll find at the bottom of this post.  The original video found in the February 27th post just captured her gotcha day, the new one is a before and after adoption snapshot with both photos and video clips.  Initially he put it together for me to show the wonderful ladies in my MOPS group, but then it was also shown during services at our church on Mother's Day.  Princess Petals has become a bit of a celebrity and it amazes me just how many people have opened up to me over the past few weeks that they have adoption in their hearts and want more information.  It never really occurred to me how much our adoption would impact the people around us.  It is truly an amazing thing and I hope more families step out in faith and follow their hearts.  There are so many children waiting to be loved both domestically and internationally.

So what else is new?  We celebrated Princess Petals' baptism on Mother's Day.  She looked to us for reassurance a few times after being handed over to our pastor, but overall she did great!
In other news, our little girl has started eating solids and almost completely ditched the baby food!  It is getting easier to feed her and she is also using utensils which just amazes me!  Her eye-hand coordination is just awesome!  We're keeping her on formula until she's two though to help her body deal with her intense growth spurts.  We just had her second Well Baby exam since coming home this past Friday.  In two and a half months since she's been home baby girl has gained 3 lbs and grown 2 1/2 inches!  She is still quite small, but seems to be growing at a very fast pace and has advanced on the growth charts from 3% to 7% for height and 1% to 10% for weight!  She has been trying out her running legs and climbing the stairs faster than I can believe.  She is laughing a lot and trying to talk more.  Her main sounds are "mama" and "dada" but they cover a myriad of things as she tries to communicate.  She points to herself in the mirror and excitedly squeals, "Dada!"  Daddy and her brother are also "dada."  The words "more," "kiss" and "meow" all have become, "ma!"  But "mama" is still just me and I love when she starts singing her "mama" song of saying my name over and over with different inflections.  She is just a little love bug and so very, very, very affectionate with us.  Hugs and kisses galore.  Even in the grocery cart she leans over and kisses my fingers as we stroll the aisles.

She does have some stranger anxiety and puts on a very serious face out in public when people talk to her or try to get her to smile which made getting pictures a little difficult, but overall she is doing spectacular. The stranger anxiety is actually a good thing in her case and although it has meant no babysitters or day care at church or the health club, we are just so happy at how well she has bonded with us and that she knows exactly who she belongs with.
My last note on this update focuses on her "special need."  Her limb difference was, admittedly, a big deal when we were first presented her file last September.  However, we reached out to some people we found online through the "Adopting Children With Limb Differences" and "Sammy's Friends" Yahoo Groups, and "The Lucky Fin Project" on Facebook and learned so much from them.  They kindly shared personal experiences and told us how their kids have adjusted to life with limb differences and really opened our eyes to a special need we had previously been a little nervous and uneducated about.  I am now amazed at how little I even think about it.  Lately as the weather has warmed and she's wearing short sleeves I suppose it is more noticeable to people because after two months of never hearing any comments about it out in public, it seems everyone is noticing now.  We are at a point of having to decide exactly how to handle the comments and questions in a way that doesn't embarrass Princess Petals or humiliate the earnest questioner.  Rude and intolerant remarks will of course be dealt with on a case by case basis by her overprotective parents.  Fortunately she is too young to understand right now so we have some time to figure it out.  Just today at the grocery store a woman remarked to me, "oh look, she is just so beautiful!" and I (beaming at the compliment) said "thank you!"  Then came the, "oh...and her poor little hand..." and with a sympathetic pat on my back, "...bless you, she is beautiful."  No we are not saints as her pat on the back implied, we are just a family who wanted another child and found acceptance with something that even we were leery about at first.  I know I can't educate every person I see about how amazing limb different kids are but, please, please, please, don't pity them.  They're gonna be just fine.

I can't wrap this post up without mentioning my son's friend, Z.  She and D were in the same preschool class and are now at the same school for Kindergarten.  Last week on the playground I overheard Z explaining to another little girl about Princess Petals' missing hand.  She was very matter-of-fact and even when the other little girl said, "well I'm glad I have two hands," Z replied, "but if you didn't you'd figure out how to do everything just like Princess Petals does."  It was obvious that a family discussion had taken place in their home.  It seriously warmed my heart and made me realize what a difference Princess Petals' adoption into our family is having on not only our lives, but everyone she comes into contact with.  I am so happy that we adopted and thankful that we were led to China's Waiting Children program.  We have been blessed beyond measure by all of our children, but Princess Petals has opened our eyes and our hearts to things we likely never would've known without her presences in our lives.

Without further ado, here is the new video.  After sorting through literally hundreds of pictures and several hours of video my amazing husband managed to capture Princess Petals' adoption story in just a little over 3 minutes.
If the video is loading slow on Blogger or you would just like a much better picture, please use the following link to Vimeo:


Friday, May 4, 2012

God Is A Show Off

This past year, more than any other time in my life, God has been a complete show off.  Now that the adoption is done I have been pondering how we got here and I just can't believe how many times I felt like I was being led to this very spot, and how many times things worked out "just so."  

I went back and read some of my original blog posts the other night - back when all of this was new and this blog was supposed to be a private journal.  I can't believe how far we've come and all that we've accomplished in such a short amount of time.  I am so very thankful for my daughter and all that I learned during this process about myself, my husband, orphans, China and special needs.

When we started all this we had no idea who Princess Petals was - which is crazy to think of now since I feel like she's always been with us.  She just fits into our family so perfectly and we feel an awesome connection with her.  I wondered what it would be like to adopt and as much as I secretly doubted what I'd read other adoptive parents write - it is completely true.  I love Princess Petals as if I gave birth to her myself. Gone now is the image of my fictional daughter having blue eyes and blonde pig tails....I look at Princess Petals and I see MY daughter.  She is amazing and we are head over heals in love with her.  
So what's new?  Princess Petals is eating!  After the first few days in China the novelty of a spoon wore off and she was completely back on bottles (formula mixed with rice cereal).  Until arriving home the only other foods she would eat were Cheerios and mashed bananas.  We kept her on the formula and treated her like a 6 month old meal-wise.  She's been eating pureed baby food and recently started experimenting more with solids.  A few weeks ago we ordered Chinese take-out and on a whim I offered her a lo mein noodle off chopsticks and Egg Drop soup out of a cup.  She loved it!  She prefers to be fed over feeding herself - even her bottles now - she's either gotten lazy or has just decided to trust us with this part of her life.  It's actually a pretty big deal if you've read anything about institutionalized children and food.  When we first received her she would suck down her bottles in 30 seconds flat and I kid you not when I say she was sweating by the end of the bottle.  We can only guess that in the orphanage she had a set amount of time to eat and she learned to do it quickly.  Now, lazy girl chews on the nipple, throws the bottle (knowing we'll fetch it) and sometimes doesn't even finish it!!!  What a change!  When she sees me putting a bottle together she gets antsy - she wants it - but I think she knows us well enough to trust that she won't go hungry if she doesn't finish.  I'm sure the full tummy from solid food is helping with this immensely as well.  So far so good on this front.  She's up nearly 3 lbs in just two months.
What else?  Princess Petals is walking!  I don't know if I've ever witnessed such tenacity before.  I'm stubborn, but WOW this little peanut is downright determined!  Around mid-March she started pulling herself up to stand in the kitchen and testing out the balancing waters.  Then it started.  On March 22nd she took a few steps and I started fumbling with the camera trying to capture the moment.  I was reduced to tears watching her fall and push herself back up again over and over and over and over.  She fell a lot in the beginning, as most toddlers do, and we cringed at how hard she was landing on her hand and "nubbin."  Did she cry about it though?  Nope - she just got back up and gave it another go.  Once she had it down I couldn't help but smile watching her toddle around overflowing with pride in herself - it was amazing to witness.  I honestly don't really remember the boys' first steps...I know it was exciting at the time and I recorded it in their baby books...but March 22, 2012 will be burned in my memory forever.  Just look at the expression on her face from that day - she is ecstatic!!!    
What else?  Sleeping!  Okay so we really lucked out here.  Princess Petals is a great sleeper.  We had her in our room for a few weeks and then made the transition to her own room.  She woke up a few times during the night the first week but only needed a little cuddle before going right back to sleep.  We had some sketchy nights while working on a couple of molars last week, but other than that, she shoots for a solid 12 hours every night and is still taking two naps a day.  The orphanage staff told us she only took one nap a day, but while we were in China she just couldn't keep her eyes open.  I blamed all the extra stimulation from being out and about because it never dawned on me until we got home that she was likely napping in her crib on and off during the day.  I can only imagine that I would sleep on and off if I was left in a crib 20+ hours a day...  I'm sure all the extra stimulation she has been experiencing since we received her is exhausting as well, but feel pretty sure she was sleeping more than they let on.
What else?  Bonding!  Adoptive families are advised to keep their new children at home as much as possible and limit visitors for the first few months as the child gets accustomed to their new surroundings and family.  The idea is to keep her world as small as possible to nurture bonding and attachment.  Well...when you have two children already that have school and activities outside the home, life just can't stop completely.  We make efforts to keep her home when possible, but I'll admit to taking her out quite a bit when Jon is out of town.  She absolutely LOVES W's music class.  I was nervous and a little curious to see how she would react in a room of strangers.  After some careful watching the first few classes she has started to smile at the other parents and kids and really enjoy herself during the class, but she always stays very close to me when not in my lap - another small victory as we adjust to her new life with us.  We've also started taking her to church, but we keep her with us instead of using the nursery.  We are looking forward to her upcoming baptism and introducing her to the rest of her new family this summer.  
Our incredible girl has even learned to like the cat and dog!  She was nervous around them for a few days and then one day she decided to tackle her fears...literally...  
So that's basically it - that's all I have for an update.  She is doing awesome - better than we could have hoped.  We love her.  Her brothers have amazed us with how much they adore her as well - and how quickly they've adapted to having a sister.  Her missing hand has been a complete non-issue so there's really nothing to say about that...  
Princess Petals is just a beautiful, healthy, happy, awesome little girl!!!!!!!  We will be forever thankful that she is a part of our lives.

...adoption video coming soon...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Guest Appearance by Jon

There are two sections to this post.  The first which is labeled, "Travel, Lodging and Electronics," is really intended for those who are actually planning on going to China.  The second section labeled, "Adoption," is Jon's personal thoughts on adoption from a father's perspective.

There was never a formal, or informal, invitation to participate on Rebecca's blog.  This is her blog and she does an amazing job expressing her thoughts and emotions through her words.  While initially I was not a fan of Rebecca putting details about our family on the world wide web, I began to see, based upon the feedback she received, that for some folks her words were a source of comfort and hope, and for others it was another resource to help navigate through the adoption process.

So, in an attempt to share the male perspective on our journey I have offered the editor of this blog my words...


After twelve years of accumulating Skymiles we finally cashed out.  Completely out.  At the beginning of February we had 440,000 miles in our account...we now have 350.  Was it worth it to cash in all our points to ride in the front of the plane?  I don't know...but we enjoyed ourselves.

Our main concern was for the flights back to the US when we would be traveling with Princess Petals.  We wanted the additional space to spread out.  She is under two years old so we were able to have her in our seats as a lap child...

Couple of comments about traveling with a child...

*On international flights a lap child is NOT free.  There is a 10% of the normal seat prince for the lap child.  Buy this ticket when you arrange your own tickets.  We were told, "oh you can get that ticket at the airport when you are leaving."  Fortunately we didn't take that advice, because guess what...that means you would be paying 10% of the day of...last minute...walk up to the ticket counter price for an international flight.  You don't want to do that (especially if you fly business class).

*Rebecca read a lot of different people's ideas about whether or not to get an additional seat for Princess Petals.  Everyone has their own experience and opinion and no one can tell you the best way to travel.  Since we were up front we didn't need the seat for more space.  If we had been in the back, we probably wouldn't have needed it either.  Princess Petal's behavior on both flights was just another of many answered prayers.  But for me a huge one.  I am not a fan of crying babies.  Even less so on a plane.  Even less so if it's my baby.  All I can say is, "good luck!"

Initially we had an itinerary that we thought was ideal.  Minimal days traveling.  Straight in and out of Guangzhou.  Short and sweet.  Then those plans fell apart when Delta's partner airline didn't confirm our reward travel before the itinerary expired...  Add three additional days and a detour through Hong Kong and we had a new itinerary...and it was perfect.  I cherish that short amount of time Rebecca and I had alone.  We didn't do anything amazing, we just did it together.  We don't get much time alone and if we do the evening usually ends back at the home with the boys, which is wonderful, but not time alone.  We knew our boys were in good hands and everything back home was out of our control.  So we took that time to just enjoy one another...that's what got us into this mess 12 years ago.  

If you do travel through Hong Kong en-route to Guangzhou, consider using a van service for that part of your trip.  We flew to Guangzhou from Hong Kong but ended up using a van service to get back at the end of our trip.  The cost for the van was 360 yuan plus tip, or roughly 60 US dollars plus tip.  The travel time for us was about 2 and a half hours and the border crossings were painless.  The train is supposed to be a good option as well and costs about the same.  Just keep in mind you will be hauling all your luggage with you at the train stations which might be cumbersome.

Speaking of luggage, our guide, John Feng (we'll talk more about him later) commented that we had the least amount of luggage of anyone he had ever worked with.  What did we have?  Rebecca and I each had an Eagle Creek weekender backpack that contained most of our clothes.  We also had an additional small backpack and a "really cool" fanny pack that contained all our cameras.  Our final piece of luggage was a large roller suitcase.  The suitcase was for Princess Petals.  Formula, diapers, bottles, toys, yada, yada, yada...  On the return trip souvenirs replaced the used formula and diapers.  We checked this bag both ways and kept it right at 50 lbs.  You will notice from our pictures that we appear to be wearing the same clothes for 13 days.  Optical Illusion.  It was probably one of four outfits and we only did laundry twice which cost us about $30 each time.

In Guangzhou we stayed on Shamian Island at the Victory Hotel's renovated west side.  The first room they gave us had a large balcony, however, the balcony consumed valuable floor space.  We ended up switching to a room that was considered the same style, but it did not have a balcony so the room was very large with plenty of room for a baby bed and still room to sprawl out and play.  Staying on the island was wonderful.  At anytime you can step out the door of your hotel and take a stroll around in a park-like setting and not be in a crowd.  Not to say that the island isn't a busy place, but it's not overcrowded.  If you desire crowds, they're just a 15 minute walk away over by the Holiday Inn.  The island is also small.  Several times Rebecca would head out to shop and I stayed back with Princess Petals while she napped.  When Princess Petals would wake up, the two of us would head out to take a stroll and see if we could find Mommy.  I bet we were 5 out of 6 for catching up to Rebecca.  Why not just call Rebecca to find out her location?  We chose not to use our cell phones or get Panda phones while we were over there.  How refreshing!!!  No calls, messages, no alerts...the silence was the loveliest sound I have never heard.  I have been tethered to my cell phone working on-call for the past 6 years for 24/7 days a week, probably around 340 days per year...

The island has four or five excellent restaurants.  Local cuisine, Thai, French and an American style restaurant are all available.  The only downside to the island is there isn't a "fast food" place.  Our friend Ed decided that the noodles and fish balls at the 7-Eleven would be an acceptable option to curb his appetite.  Ed didn't strike me as the kind of guy who would walk into a 7-Eleven here in the states and grab a couple of chorizos that had been rolling around on the heater for a couple of days so why a pot of steaming noodles and fish balls in a Chinese 7-Eleven seemed like a good idea I will never comprehend.  Ed paid the price for several days and I don't think he would recommend them to anyone else...

Despite the fact we laughed at our guide and only took the phone number to be polite, Papa John's pizza in China tastes very much like it does over here...all three times.  We didn't order it because we didn't want to go out to get some local grub, but at 6 o'clock at night with a tired little girl it was just the best, safe option.

The US Consulate and Physical Examination Center have both relocated off the island and we were part of the last group of families to go through before the move.  Some shop keepers indicated that foot traffic in their stores has decreased due to the closing of the White Swan.  I'm sure some of those shops will close down.  There are plenty of them and they all sell the same things.  I hate to see them lose their shops but that is capitalism in socialism at its best.  The restaurants were full of locals so I'm sure they will not be affected by a decrease in Westerners.  Unless a strong case against staying on Shamian Island could be made to me, I would definitely prefer staying there to other locations.  But, "you don't know, what you don't know."

John Feng...pronounced John Fung.  Demand him by name as your personal guide.  As a guide he was professional and knowledgeable.  As a person he is a warm, caring and fun individual who seems to have a passion for the kids.  He volunteers with a few organizations that help the orphans with what little spare time he has.  I could go on and on about John but I will stop so as not to embarrass him.

Do you enjoy blogs?  I realize at this point probably not as much as you used to...  Nothing embodies freedom like the ability to know that Sally "just burned her toast" or Bob "is upset about the Spartan's loss but his perfect cup of morning coffee is easing the pain."  We are accustomed to quickly disseminating such vital information through Facebook or Blogger.  The government of China is aware of the chaos such information sharing can cause...72 friends all confirming that they too have burned toast...and therefore seen fit to block access to some web sites.  If you would like to access these web sites, you will need to have a VPN (Virtual Private Network) before you go over to China.  I picked two and signed up for a one month subscription at a cost of about $12 each.  The one we ended up using was Overplay.  Very simple to use.  The second one was HideMyA$$.  I'm not saying their product doesn't just didn't work for us and I wouldn't use it again.  

In order to charge our computer and cameras we borrowed a power converter from a friend.  Initially we purchased one from REI but on closer inspection of the user guide it cautioned not to use with computers.  The one we borrowed (from Brookstone) may have originally had the same statement, but we didn't have a manual with cautionary notes and therefore didn't have to worry about it.  Anyway, it worked well and kept us in the videography, photography and Skypeology business.

***  ADOPTION  ***

As Rebecca has already written on this blog, adoption was her idea.  I was content, and sometimes exhausted, with just the boys.  I had always thought I would have a large family when I was younger.  Part of that thought process did not account for getting married at 31 and not having our first child until I was 34.  Fast forward 3 years and numero two comes along when I'm 37.  Between our two boys sometimes I feel 70 years old.  When we discovered that we would not be having a third biological child I didn't have the same sense of loss as Rebecca did.  I suppose that's a guy thing.  Just conceiving our sons had been quite a process.  Sometimes I felt that space exploration would have been an easier endeavor...and I'm talking deep space, not just a few rotations around the planet.  If you're familiar with the movie 'The Right Stuff' and the astronaut selection scenes, that's about what the process begins to feel like.  Not to mention the abuse I saw Rebecca put her body through injecting multiple drugs into her system trying to get the right chemical balance to conceive...and then there were the miscarriages... 

So Rebecca comes to me with this adoption idea and I enthusiastically reply, "okay."  As time passed I occasionally ask if she had learned anything new about the adoption process..."where are we at?"  As if "we" had been doing anything.

Time goes by and the details get fuzzy but I know Rebecca kept plugging along with the paperwork.  At some point Rebecca mentioned her blog to me - but it was still private.  Only her first post so it was more like a diary.  After nagging her for awhile she finally logged on and let me read it...I'm not sure she wanted me to...but that's the power of nagging.  I got it.  I was all in.  I read words that expressed things Rebecca had never directly said to me...and it was not the part about me being a "wonderful man."  Rebecca has a way with words so I probably read better than I actually am.

We knocked out the home study and eventually started the matching process.  We received our first two files and before we opened them I reminded Rebecca that we did not have to accept either.  Rebecca has already detailed our process with those files.  We were moving forward with Princess Petals.  She was cute as a button and we were excited.  But, time goes by and some of the excitement wears off.  We talked about Princess Petals, we thought about her, we tried to celebrate her, but the fact was that we didn't yet know her and she was at this point just a picture of a little girl on our fridge. 

Yes were were making efforts to bring her to us, but at this point we did not know her.  Some people write that their heart is bursting with joy, love and excitement about their soon to be child.  I don't want to take anything away from them, but I don't get it.  Yes, I love all children.  I want the best for them.  It makes me sad when I see images of children suffering around the world.  But that's just it, they're images...and so was Princess Petals to me at this point.  There's no shame in feeling this way.  During our home study process I had already expressed thoughts along the same line.  Can I love my adopted child as much as my biological children?  Especially considering some days it seems like a struggle just to love them :)

Day 436 of Princess Petals' life.  The big test.  We meet for the first time.  How will it feel?  Will I feel something for this girl who up until now has been a picture on our fridge?  I would have to wait my turn to get my hands on her.  Rebecca called first rights.  So I waited patiently with cameras at the ready to capture the moments.  I watched my wife light up as she made eye contact with her new daughter.  

And it was a relief to watch Princess Petals make eye contact with Rebecca.  Holding each other's gaze.  Then Princess Petals would look around the room and take in everything going on around her.  Then right back to Rebecca for another long gaze.  

I discovered my eyes were must have been the pollution...  My turn.

I held my daughter for the first time.  I looked into my daughter's eyes for the first time...and I loved her.  Sound corny?  ...maybe.  Why did I love my biological sons the first time I held them or looked into their eyes?  Its only been three weeks since that day...and I love her even more.  Other adoptive parents will tell you the same.  I don't see a little Chinese girl.  I don't see a missing hand.  I see my daughter and she is beautiful...just like her brothers.

I am thankful to Rebecca for pushing us towards adoption.  I'm thankful to the Lord for working in our lives over the past few years and making mole hills out of perceived mountains surrounding the adoption.  Life is moving fast around here with a new 15 month old in the house.  We scramble to keep up with our kids and keep two in clean diapers.  Princess Petals is talking, crawling and almost walking already.  Feisty and tough is my little girl.  I hope she holds onto a good way...because I know she will need it when the world challenges her and her limb difference.  Whether that's hurtful words or a difficult activity, I hope she knows they're just mole hills.

It's too early to know if we'll adopt again.  After all, I am 41 now...but I will share a secret.  I have a wicked cool idea for a set of princess castle bunk beds...

 - Jon

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Life After China

I am not on the computer much these days.  Trying to balance three kids and maintain some sort of order in our house is proving to be more of a challenge than expected.  But, after receiving many emails and texts inquiring about how things are going I decided to sacrifice my kitchen and carve out a little time today to add to this blog as it seems the easiest way to update everyone.  I have to warn you that while much of this post is light and fluffy the end is not.  I keep thinking about Princess Petals' first 14 months and all of the children still living that life.

Our last day in Guangzhou, Tuesday, March 7, was spent with our friends Ed, Sandy and their new daughter B.  We met Sandy on the couch at civil affairs when we all had to return to sign the adoption paperwork.  They have a gorgeous baby girl and we were so honored to be there for some of her first smiles.  We had our last lunch together and then Sandy and I went out to purchase squeaky shoes for our girls (where I was discouraged from buying the proper size because it would allow her feet to grow too big).  We were sad to say good-bye to our new friends and are hoping we'll see them again even though we are several states away.

We were also sad to say good-bye to our guide, John, as we climbed into our van that would take us back to Hong Kong.  We met a few other guides while there and feel like we really lucked out with him!  He was so very open with us and our questions about Chinese culture and customs.  We were also able to answer some of his questions about America.  He and Jon had a long conversation about American history (north v. south) and our taxation system.  Our very skilled driver for the week, Mr. Joe, is also pictured here.

On Tuesday afternoon we took a van back to Hong Kong where we would be spending our last night in China.  When we arrived at our hotel we ran into a family from Illinois, Angie, Doug and their new daughter E, whom we had seen a few times at different appointments in Guangzhou.  They had not been staying on the island so all of our previous encounters had been very brief.  Our rooms in Hong Kong, however, were across the hall from one another and although we were all exhausted we decided to have dinner together.  I'm so glad we did!  They were really great and their daughter was very close in age to Princess Petals.  We wished we had met them earlier in the trip as they are another couple we would've liked to have spent more time with.

While Sandy and I were out stimulating the economy on the island earlier in the week, one of the shopkeepers kindly referred to B and Princess Petals as "sisters" because they are orphans from the same province.  I prefer to link their sisterhood through sharing the same adoption day.  I hope that we're able to keep in touch with both B and E's families so that when the girls are older and possibly struggling with their past they will always have sisters that understand.

On Wednesday morning we packed up for the last time and walked to the airport to check in for our 8:00 AM flight.  Everything was on schedule and although we were dreading all the possible problems of traveling with a toddler we were also eager to board and head home to our boys.  Our flight plan took us to Tokyo for a two hour layover (where I got hit with pink eye) and then on to the US.  

On the flight to Tokyo Princess Petals was excellent.  She slept most of the way and when she was awake she was a very happy little girl.

When we arrived in Tokyo the Delta flight crew presented Princess Petals with a "First Flight Certificate" that they had all signed and she got her picture taken in the cockpit.  

Clowning around in Tokyo during our layover...

Boarding our flight back to the USA!!!  Princess Petals is already asleep and my right eye is about to swell up in a matter of minutes...
Thankfully baby girl also slept A LOT during the flight.  I was so uncomfortable and couldn't keep my eyes open so I wouldn't have been much help entertaining her if she'd been fussy.

As I mentioned before, I got smacked with pink eye in Tokyo.  By that I mean I didn't have pink eye, and then I blinked, and I had pink eye.  It was literally that fast.  The Delta flight attendants on the way back to the states were wonderful and brought me hot compresses to keep on my swollen eye.  I went directly to the doctor when we got home.  It has since spread to my other eye but thankfully none of the kids are showing signs of catching it yet...  A few days after we got home Jon got the flu and is still recovering from that almost a week later.  Princess Petals has an ear infection that didn't seem to be bothering her but the puss oozing from her ear was just gross enough to return to the doctor two days after her first well baby exam.  Nothing a little brotherly love and a round of antibiotics can't fix!

Sleeping - This kid is a trooper.  She has slept through the night the past two nights!  We have her in a pack'n'play in our room with us but are going to finish pinking up the nursery and start transitioning her into her own room now that she isn't needing any nourishment or comfort at night.  We made sure to give her plenty of calories during the day and limited her to two, two hour naps to help her get her days and nights switched around.  Then I put a few pacifiers in her crib to help her self soothe orally instead of knocking her head around like she had been doing previously.  It seems to have worked! I hear her wake up a few times at night, fish around for the pacifier and then suck it until she falls back asleep.  Now that she's not rubbing her head to self soothe anymore the hair on her bald spot is starting to come back in!

Eating - This is the biggest challenge we've faced.  So far the only solid food she's really interested in is Cheerios, mashed banana and baby oatmeal.  She spits out anything with even the hint of flavor so I've been mixing pureed baby food in with the oatmeal.  At first glance it appears that she is going to be a picky eater but she is a work in progress and we'll keep plugging away with new foods.  For now she still loves bottles so we are keeping them in the routine as well.  We did switch to soy formula a few days ago.  She never had another solid diaper after we went with the milk-based in China.  For the amount of Asian children that are lactose intolerant I'm surprised that we had so much trouble finding soy formula over there.  It definitely would've made our lives a lot less messy!

Talking - Jon finally conceded today that Princess Petals is indeed calling me "mama."  She says it intentionally and with purpose.  She says it when she's looking at me, crawling towards me and reaching for me.  Baby girl knows I am mama.  Both of our boys said "daddy" first so this is a special treat for me!

So here's where I am, mentally and emotionally, right now as I type this.  I am thinking about this morning when I was rolling around on the floor with Princess Petals.  She loves to climb on us and like most toddlers she is a big fan of being tickled.  I lifted her over my head knowing that it would make her laugh and as I brought her back down for a kiss I caught myself thinking, "what would Princess Petals have been doing this morning if we hadn't adopted her?"  We've had her less than three weeks and as I watch her soak in all of the affection we pour over her in our home it breaks my heart to think how lonely she must have been up until Feb. 27th of this year.  And then I start to think about all of the children that are still there waiting in an orphanage.  Still laying in their cribs 20+ hours a day.  Still having a sponge bath with cold water.  Still scratching their Scabies bites and suffering from diaper rash and bed sores.  Still not knowing the love of a mother.  Still lonely.  Still waiting.

I know it's not part of God's plan that children should suffer.  We are heavily flawed as humans and we created this mess all on our own.  I believe that God's wish is for us to do what we can to help those who need us.  He whispers to us but we have to be willing to listen.  I know full well that not everyone can or will adopt an orphan, but everyone can make an effort to make an orphan's life better.  If it's in your heart to adopt, follow the calling.  It's scary, it's expensive and it's hard work; however, sometimes in life the hardest things we do prove to be the most rewarding.  If adoption isn't part of your story please find a charity that works directly with the orphans.  We donate monthly to the general medical fund for Love Without Boundaries.  They are an amazing organization and we have every confidence that our money is being used to save little lives and provide a glimmer of hope for children that are living with none.  I don't know if we'll adopt again but I can guarantee that we will donate to orphan care for the rest of our lives.

Please take a moment to check out the Love Without Boundaries web page below.  There is a lot of information about the organization and specific children needing sponsorship for surgery, nutrition or foster care.  They also have a general medical fund which is what we chose to do as it allows LWB to use the money where it's most needed.  There is also a blog and a Facebook page if you want to follow their amazing work more closely.

If you can't adopt or donate, please pray.  Please advocate for these kids and get the word out.  You just never know.  Simply clicking that you "like" LWB's Facebook page or sharing someones adoption blog may be what inspires someone else to look into adoption or donate.  We can all do something - no act of kindness is insignificant.

Princess Petals in November 2011
...and just four months later...

 Princess Petals in March 2012
Daughter, Sister, Grandchild, Niece, Cousin, Loved