Tuesday, September 20, 2016
A very pink birthday cake this year - and one eager birthday girl devouring it. One year ago we were celebrating solemnly as our little girl was waking up on her birthday in an orphanage. Just another day passing her by, no cake, no presents, but more significantly, no adoring brothers singing loudly and no mama and dada cheering her on.
Or at least she didn't know she had all those things and so much more- extended family, best friends, a home of her own, and a slobbering dog. So much has changed in a year.
She has learned to eat solid foods, has started speaking a new language. She can ride a balance bike, pick out her favorite cartoon, and has a growing posse of adoring little boys who all think that she loves them best. But the biggest change- home. Family. Forever. She belongs. She is chosen. She is loved. And she knows it now. Happy fourth birthday baby girl!
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Today I extracted a sliver from a finger, washed out eyeballs that got some thing scratchy in them, cleaned out an old foot wound, dealt with the 'fun' of a suspected uti, checked for broken bones when one of my tiny geniuses attempted flight, and had a blood- splurting gash on my hand from a broken glass-that actually made me consider how I would load up the kids and drive to the ER if I couldn't get the bleeding under control. That felt like a lot. Then this happened...
When I entered through the giant sliding doors and passed under the icy blast of air conditioning, I was an average Walmart shopper, just like so many others. I had my list, my three kids who were out dangerously close to lunch time, and the goal of getting in and out of there as quickly as possible with those listed items. And we were doing so well! My cart was full- yes I had two boys in the basket and my daughter in the seat but also nearly all the things we came in for. None of my crew were yelling, throwing things, or being otherwise obnoxious. That last elusive item was causing me to back track through the store when my youngest, who had gotten eerily quiet, let out a whimper and then threw up all over his brother's lap and down through the cart.
Thankfully he missed all the items in the cart but Corbin let out a yowl and burst into tears to accompany Leo's . Mila watched on perplexed. I removed vomit covered boys from the cart and frantically searched for one of those clean up stations. A lady with a cart rounded the corner, beheld the carnage, and then made a hasty retreat. But not before making eye contact with me and giving me the look of horror. I grabbed Leo's hand, told his brother to keep up, and pushed the cart to the nearest main aisle. Thankfully an employee with a cart full of cleaning supplies appeared on the horizon- I changed course and rushed up to her. "Excuse me! We need a clean up a few rows over- we're looking for some paper towels but don't anyone to get hurt back there..."
I was answered with an icy stare. I motioned toward Leo- soaked and sobbing- and gestured back toward our puddle. She nodded and slowly pushed her cart of cleaning supplies away- without offering me so much as a paper towel.
I pushed on- if we could find something to wipe off the boys, we could get to the front of the store with the cart, run into the bathroom, and return to check out super fast. That was not to be.
Nearly every back to school shopper- nose buried in a list of supplies and weary- eyed children following behind them- proceeded to cut us off in our efforts to escape. Leo's pitch rose and I looked down in time to watch him hurl in front of the paint department. The employee I had seen just seconds ago restocking a shelf had magically vanished. Corbin whined louder and declared this to be 'very bad.'
I pushed the cart a few feet further, still wondering if there was any hope in purchasing the things in there and Leo lost his cookies once again in front of pet supplies.
Decision made for me, I unstrapped Mila, grabbed her and Leo's hands, and pointed Corbin toward the bathrooms. We darted around other shoppers, Leo pitifully crying the whole way and Corbin running with his legs spread wide to avoid feeling the nastiness.
Mila stumbled about 100 yards from the bathrooms so I scooped her up mid-stride and barrel carried her under one arm. Any college football coach would have been proud of our darting and lurching.
At this point shoppers could NOT be oblivious to our spectacle. Wide eyes followed our trajectory and came to their own conclusions. A few snickered. One stooped to wave at Leo and say hello. We blundered past and I gave the lady an incredulous look.
The restrooms were blocked by the long line of customers waiting for returns. I shoved Corbin through a gap and dragged Leo behind. I think I actually leapt over a preschool aged girl who was sitting in the middle of the floor. We finally all tumbled into the bathroom and I got Leo to the sink. And realized there were no paper products to be seen. 'You're kidding me!' I blurted out to the universe or the powers of Walmart or the two teenagers 'hanging out' in the bathroom. I didn't even know. Or care. I splashed Leo a bit and told Corbin tough luck until we got to the car. And turned and hustled my clan out of the restroom, back through the line of returners, across the lobby, and out the door where a clueless employee dared to call out "Thank you for shopping at Walmart!" I stifled the millions of responses I wanted to shout back and made it to the car where paper towels and wet wipes awaited.
All before 12:30. Contemplating a 1:00 happy hour...
Monday, August 15, 2016
8 months ago all of her food was delivered via bottle. Her teeth couldn't take bites or chew, her tongue didn't know how to move food around her mouth, and swallowing anything other than thick liquids would send her into a panic. Three years of drinking only formula and some unknown trauma around food created a feeding nightmare. We saw OTs and went to feeding group. We introduced purées and I whittled spoons out of vegetables. Several months ago she took her first bite of a banana- with her teeth! Then she discovered sweet potatoes and carrots and polla asada ! Guacamole and hotdogs became favorites, noodles and rice. She's not a huge fan of candy but will happily take a granola bar. And anything with ketchup! Today she ate an in n out cheeseburger and fries like a boss.
Feeding challenges have not been an easy need to meet and handle. We've all been frustrated and disappointed at some point and we're not completely past these challenges. But the progress is undeniable. The confidence that taking a big bite and chewing gives #mightymila cannot be ignored and the growth that God has worked in our family through our daughter's struggles has been surreal. Food and feeding is essential to life- and when that most basic thing is rocked and challenged there is room to implode or to flourish. We've done both in this journey but have come to a point of tangible and intangible flourishing that is amazing to witness. Thanking God for #innoutburger and every bite that has led us to this place.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Some number to consider...
576,000 - official number of orphans from Chinese government, 2014
1,000,000-estimated number of orphans in China from NGOs
2,354- number of children adopted from China in 2015
98%- percentage of orphans with medical or special needs
25%-percentage of adults in America who have seriously considered adoption
2%- percentage of adults who have actually adopted
5%-percentage of Christians who have adopted a child
$25,000-$35,000- average cost of a Chinese adoption
14- age at which a Chinese orphan is no longer eligible for adoption...ever
4- age at which an orphan is considered an 'older child' and much more likely to not be considered for adoption
Saturday, May 7, 2016
Dear First Mom,
This is all new to me. I honestly spend quite a bit of time not thinking about you because there's so much I don't understand and so many feelings to process. But for the sake of the little girl who shares your features and DNA but who calls me 'mama', I will attempt to process those feelings. Because one day she will ask about you. And ultimately, though I will never know your story, I want to express my gratitude and love for you- even though it is messy and complicated and even a little painful.
For nine months she grew inside of you. Brain cells and bones forming, tiny legs kicking and stretching. Your hearts being knit together. Then she was in your arms. I wonder if she has your eyes or your forehead shape. I wonder if you could feel the vibrancy of this tiny person radiating off of her even as a newborn. I know the first time I laid eyes on our girl I knew there was spark and fight and personality that was larger than life, buried under layers of clothing and layers of self preservation.
And that self preservation. That's where things start to get messy inside my heart. She wouldn't have those layers of protection if she hadn't been given away, sent to an orphanage, and left for three years. I don't know why you made the choice you made. Perhaps it was the only choice you had. Every time my little girl closes her eyes tight, closes me out, I battle the anger that it shouldn't be this way. Little children shouldn't grow up inside institutions. Mothers shouldn't have to choose to abandon their children in order to follow the law or even to save their lives. But if this wasn't the reality, then our daughter wouldn't be in my life.... See the complications and messiness that I struggle with?
I wish she didn't have trust issues. I wish dozens of caretakers hadn't been in and out of her life, giving her a tiny taste of what a mama is, only to leave and never come back. I wish she didn't know hunger. I wish she didn't know neglect. I wish she didn't have the skills to charm every adult in the room in order to have her needs for attention met. I wish she had only known nurture and comfort from her mama- from you. But she is here with me and while I wouldn't ever wish her away, my heart is still broken from the what ifs.
So on this day before Mother's Day- what the adoptive community refers to as 'Birthmother's Day,' I will attempt to express my gratitude for you. Your choices were your own and beyond my understanding. But I do understand that you chose to continue your pregnancy with our little girl. You chose to give her life. You nurtured her for as long as you were able and then brought her somewhere safe, somewhere she would have the best opportunity at a life that you were unable to give her. Your hearts were knit together- and now through your sacrifice, my heart is joined to yours as well. Mila will only know my love and gratitude for you- a task I take very seriously. She will know that she was always wanted, cherished. And I will pray, every Mother's Day eve, that by God's grace and mercy (for which Mila was named) you will experience a peace beyond all comprehension that your little girl- our mighty Mila- is safe, loved, and treasured.
With love and respect,
Thursday, April 7, 2016
Seven days ago I sat nervously in the waiting room. A sense of dread made my stomach churn as I watched Mila. She was blissfully unaffected by my nerves as she performed chair gymnastics and charmed the sweat pants-clad people waiting their turn for physical therapy. Two weeks prior we had been in this same office. Mila had wowed the occupational therapist and we had a list of feeding tasks to accomplish before coming back. However, we had only one thing checked off that list that day. Mila could eat peanut butter. That's it. No chunks, no dipping, no 'hard' food items anywhere near her mouth. We had failed. I had failed.
We had our session. The OT didn't seem too disappointed as Mila happily participated in 'snacking.' We were instructed to make her modified food- things she likes but with a chunky twist. So yogurt with graham cracker dust sprinkled on top. Apple sauce with cracker crumbs inside. Purées with small chunks. We call them 'parfaits.' And in our session, Mila munched down on all these things, much to our OT's delight. "No more formula and only one pediasure drink per day. Lots of parfaits. And see you in a month."
We went 18 meals without Mila eating. Hunger strike. All the things she ate in front of the OT were refused at home. She was hungry- at mealtime she would climb into her high chair and eagerly babble. Her food would be put in front of her and immediately her mouth would turn down and her tiny hand would smack the table. She might take a bite or two but would then spit out everything and refuse to eat anymore. Her face lost the plumpness that it had gained the last four months home and her behavior tanked along with her blood sugar. Meal times were an angry battle and every other in between time we all tolerated (or didn't tolerate) an angry, hungry tiny three year old. I struggled mightily with accepting her mealtime rejections and dealing with the bad behavior all other times. I tried everything I could think of. We tried letting her self feed. We tried feeding her. We tried tricking her into tasting her food. We even let her favorite buddy JJ try to feed her a big spoonful of applesauce with his chubby baby hand. She turned it all down. Frustration. I dreaded meal times and the battle that would ensue. I hated seeing Mila get so excited to eat and then dump her food on the floor or spit it out all over her clothes. I took it personally and frankly I could feel myself start to place my frustration on Mila instead of on the situation. I wanted someone to blame for this problem and the tiny human covered in chunky oatmeal and screaming at me was a good target. But I knew that was wrong so I distanced myself emotionally from her.
At six days into the hunger strike, I reached my breaking point. I was scared that she was losing too much weight, angry that we were in this situation in the first place, and just sad that I felt myself growing further and further away from Mila. After a day of phone calls and email exchanges with some medical people, I got a few more guidelines to follow for this feeding plan. But what had a greater impact on my heart was admitting all this out loud to my bible study and having a few close friends share words of wisdom and encouragement to me. I was at once convicted that my perspective of this was completely wrong. I was basing my love and affection for Mila on what she could- or couldn't - do. Her performance was a prerequisite for her acceptance and I was way off base. Running parallel to this, as it ALWAYS is, was my relationship with God. I felt that Mila's failure to eat was my failure to feed her. Her rejection of food, and subsequently her rejection of me was because I wasn't good enough. I was assuming that God's acceptance of me (because who else's really matters?) was based on my performance... And I was completely wrong again.
Why is this lesson so hard to learn? Once I 'get it' - everything changes. God's love isn't provisional or limited or dependent. My love, on my own, is all of those things. But thankfully I am not dependent on my provisional, limited love.
"There is no fear in love. Instead, perfect love drives out fear...We love because He first loved us." 1 John 4:18-19
This was a verse I turned to often while we were waiting to bring Mila home. I even made a necklace loosely based on this verse that said "Let your faith be bigger than your fear." At the time I felt that we were stepping over our fear, in faith and love to follow God's call for us to adopt. There were many scary unknowns about the whole process and God was showing me that His love - and what He was calling our family to do in faith- was far greater than my fears. He still is speaking that message to me now that Mila is home. My fears aren't about an adoption failing because China didn't deem us qualified. Nor are they about unknown health conditions that we would discover upon meeting Mila. And they aren't even about what would happen to our family and the boys with another child- possibly one with special needs- coming into our family. My faith is bigger than those fears because God's love is bigger than those things. Ironically, the fear I struggle the most with is believing that God's love doesn't apply to me. That I am not enough for Him to love. And here, manifested in an 18 meal hunger strike by my resilient daughter, that fear flashed to center stage and I let it take over.
Meal 19 Mila ate all of her food. After the prayers of my friends, the confession of my heart, and the reality call that God's love is enough and applies to ALL, we are on a different trajectory. Meal 20, Mila ate her food again and had second servings. Meal 21 she ate a few bites and refused any more. But she is NOT defined by her ability or inabilities. Mila is my daughter, loved, chosen, wanted. More importantly, she is a child of God, who's love for His children never falters. He sets the lonely in families- and as we say in this house, family is forever.
And through these sometimes epic and sometimes insignificant battles in our lives, I am learning that I am a daughter, loved, chosen, wanted by a never failing, good, good, Father.
Mila may choose to strike for another 18 meals. She might have enough will power to actually endanger her health and cause us to abandon the feeding plan we have.
I hope and pray that this isn't the result but what I will continually remind myself of is that God's love is deeper and stronger than the willpower of a fighting three year old and more steady and sure than the insecurities and doubts of a 30 something year old who has striven for perfection and acceptance her whole life. God's love drives out fear and empowers us to love others. May we fix our eyes on these truths and live like we truly believe that God's love is enough!
Friday, March 11, 2016
Ninety days. Twelve weeks. Three months. That's how long Mila has been HOME. I vacillate between feeling like we're just barely staying afloat and figuring this new life out and being perplexed that it's only been twelve weeks- hasn't she been here forever? Today was one of those 'it's only been twelve week?' kind of days. We began working through one more Mila mystery at our first occupational therapy appointment today. We are seeing a 'Feeding Team' to help introduce Mila to solid foods.
We arrived a little early but Mila was having a wonderland time finding 'treasures' in my purse and being confounded by the automatic doors in the dr office. Our therapist Katherine called us back eventually and took us to a small room with kid- sized tables and chairs. She read through the notes in Mila's file and handed me a stack of articles about picky eaters. She then asked, "so, how long has she been having feeding trouble?" I answered, "She's been in our family for three months..."
"You're kidding?! She seems so settled! And you adopted her?"
I gave her a little background... And then she started crying. The therapist. Not Mila.
"I am just SO excited to be working with you guys!"
We spent the next hour dipping graham crackers in apple sauce and practicing chewing on the sides of our mouths. There were lots of exclamations of "Amazing! She is just amazing!" And analogies of watching a flower bloom on a time lapse video (seriously- we apparently got the overly-poetic occupational therapist!). I left with a set of instructions, a plan in place!, and directions to disregard the picky eating articles since that's clearly not the issue. And we managed to get squeezed into a follow up appointment in a few weeks (despite a fully booked month for the office).
So we are putting spoons away and playing with our food. There are plans to introduce dipping and thicker, stickier textures to encourage her little tongue to move food towards her teeth. And so far (and it's only been two meals and a couple hours so early I know) she's eating it up! (Pun intended!). It helps that her partner in crime, Leo, is eager to play along and try new foods and play with whipped cream with his fingers too.
Here's to our next twelve weeks- whatever progress they may hold, we will walk that path one step at a time with our Mighty Mila.