Thursday, December 31, 2015


We started this year wondering who you would be, when you would join our family, what you would be like.  Now we end this year with you tucked into your own bed with a soft dolly and ridiculous 'Frozen' blanket, your two brothers sleeping across the room in their bunks. My pantry is full of soups and baby food, bottles and all their parts dry on the counter, and little girl toys are mixed with trucks and dinosaurs. Each night I fold dozens of grubby t shirts and holey boy jeans but there's a new pile of pink! and ruffled socks added to the mix. Our dog is exhausted from following three kids around all day. Each day you discover something new and each day is one more day that your brain ticks off as steady, the same, forever. We haven't left you yet little one, and each day you're beginning to realize that family really is forever.  

We went to the beach today. Your first time I'm assuming. There's so much about you that I don't know and so much that I will never know about your first three years. I don't think about that very much though but I will remember that you had a life before us and we will always honor where you came from and talk about it when you're ready.  But today was your first beach trip and it wasn't your favorite thing. But you suffered through the sand everywhere and the scary waves crashing on the shore and even smiled a few times at your crazy brothers. I think you'll learn to love the ocean someday. As you clung desperately to me during our walk down the beach, I tried to remember how much you've been through in just one month. One month! One month ago yesterday we met you in that adoption office in Guangzhou that so many families know so well. The one with the uncomfortable velvet couches and covered up ping pong table. Your tiny self was carried in by the orphanage director and when they handed you to me your face went completely flat as your eyes squeezed shut and your mouth hung open for a cry. I know that face well now. And √≤ne month ago today, we traveled back to that office and signed the papers that promised we would never leave you or abandon you. You are now grafted into our family and as you're slowly discovering, family is forever. We had and honestly still have a long road ahead of us. But look how far you've come in one month!  One month ago, bundled in a million layers of clothing, screaming for a loss you couldn't even fathom.  And today, bare toes in the sand, screaming for your mama to save you from the seagulls overhead and the waves crashing near by. 

Time flies like seagulls at the oceanside.  Who knows where you'll be next month?  One thing I can promise, family is forever so wherever you'll be, we'll be there with you. 

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from our family!  Amidst the crinkled up wrapping paper and over excited little kids rushing about with new toys, I was reminded that this little pixie of a girl squealing at a new baby doll, was just a few short weeks ago waking up in an orphanage half a world away. She has come so far- physically and in every other way- in such a short amount of time.  Our family looks differently now, behaves a little differently now, and we are just relishing in the reality that our three kiddos are together, under the same roof- family. So Merry Christmas- from our FAMILY!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

In the trenches?

Every once in awhile I am reminded of all that has transpired this past year. A distant relative reaches out because they have always wanted to adopt, friends and acquaintances deliver Christmas presents and congratulations because they have been touched by a tiny little girl who is now residing in our home. The new Christmas cards from adoptive families displayed on our shelf- once only names and profile pictures, now dear friends and kindred spirits. A comment here and there that maybe adoption isn't out of the question... I am so overwhelmed by the thought of how many little hearts could have a home if even half of these interactions were acted upon. The connections, the lives touched, the reworking of my heart into something better- all only God. And yes he used an adorable, tiny, little girl as His instrument and in some cases our clumsy lives too.  And I am so awestruck that He would choose us- by no means the perfect family (just ask our neighbors).  But at the same time, isn't that how God loves to work?  This Christmas season reminded me of this truth. That The Greatest Gift to mankind was heralded to earth by the poor and unlikely- smelly shepherds and foreign magi. Not kings, priests, or upstanding members of society. But unconventional and unexpected average men who simply heard God's voice, saw His star, and sought Him. 

I'll say it again, our family is nothing special. I love each member of it fiercely but honestly, we're all mostly average and a little weird. By saying yes to adoption, we didn't use supernatural strength or abilities, but it was a moment of surrendering our plans, our finances, and our family to God. We know He cares for the fatherless and desires these little ones to be placed in families- we simply said, "yes Lord- use us."  This was and continues to be something beyond our capabilities.  And the Lord has shown up big time. We had a remarkably quick and smooth paper chase- documents sailed through authentications and reviews and we had only minor waits in the grand scheme of things. Our friends and family came along side of us, helping with garage sales and giving generously to off set the costs. The weeks leading up to travel, we felt the Lord's presence closer than ever- preparing our hearts and the hearts of our boys who would be staying at home. In China we received our little daughter and her very confused and hurting heart. As her grief was manifested in deliberate acts of rejection towards me, still we felt God's hand in the hard times.  Austin received strength to step in as the main care giver and though there were many nights that I sobbed into my pillow- longing to take some of my little girl's pain away but realizing that there was nothing I could do- God was close by. Again through the wise words of friends, encouragement from other adoptive moms, and a whole lot of prayers, we made it through with determination and hope. 

We have been home almost two weeks now. Mila has made leaps and bounds of progress. She no longer rejects me but delights in having someone who will cuddle, comfort, and provide for her. She is learning what family is and adjusting to having two brothers. She even likes the dog!  Each day there are new steps being made, new connections formed in her brain, and tiny pieces of her heart that are slowly healing. 

And yet, it is so easy for me to feel swallowed up in this day to day. In adoption talk, they call it 'in the trenches.'  Prior to arriving here, I expected the trenches to be a little more glamorous- all this super intentional parenting sounded exciting with new milestones being achieved each day and again, the awareness of God's presence in our lives.  I was feeling distant from God, worn down by just the challenge of adjusting to three kids, and the mountains of laundry that magically appear each morning.  And underneath it all an enormous pressure that if this is all there is at the end of this long road, what will others think?  Will those who were moved by our adoption be swayed in their own plans?  Do I sacrifice authenticity in order to paint a happy adoption picture?  

Life in the trenches is monotonous.  The laundry is real and the dishes in the sink pile up quickly. The kids all eat- three meals a day!- and then we run out of groceries and the prospect of facing the store with my three is enough to send shudders down my spine.  Gone are the days of independent play- one child has never learned it and needs as much mom- face time as possible and the other two are struggling with their new roles in our family.  There are rivalries to break up, discipline to be learned, messes to be cleaned up.  And loneliness.  The reality of being surrounded by little people all day (like seriously, no bathroom break) and to still feel so alone in this self-inflicted mad house we've created.  God, are you there?

But then, like a ray of sun shining through a break in the clouds, I know that He is here. I mentioned those tiny pieces of Mila's heart that are being healed but what I so easily overlook are the pieces of my heart also being made new.  A softening where there used to be anger.  Patience instead of frustration. Appreciation for things that were once overlooked.  And a letting go of stuff that just doesn't matter.  God is here in the monotony just as He was in the adventure.  The trenches are a hard place to be- I know from others' experiences that we are just only beginning our journey through them- but as I've learned this year, hard things can be good things.  

So if you see us out- maybe my kids don't have jackets and I'm wearing the same leggings and boots combo you've seen on me for the last few times.  Someone might be whining or crying - or both! And I might have a crazed but determined look in my eye.   You're catching one of my brave moments.  One of my real life, this is how we do hard things moments.  Know that God uses the average and little bit weird for great things and we feel privileged to be trudging along in the trenches, even on the hard days.  Adoption is hard- it is exciting and adventurous but it is also day to day, deliberate, and intentional.  But adoption is absolutely redemption and the clearest picture I've experienced of God's love for us.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Tale of Two

Once there was a Little Leo.

He marched to the beat of his own drum...

And then one day, a little-r surprise arrived.

Even though she was little, she had a Mighty big personality. And also marched to the beat of her own drum...

Little Leo struggled with his loss of status- "send her back!"

" wherever she came from..."

But slowly Little Leo began to realize Mighty Mila wasn't going anywhere...

In fact, she seemed to be EVERYWHERE!

And little by little, Leo and Mila began to realize that one is not as fun... TWO!

And Little Leo and Mighty Mila decided to march to the beat of their own drums...


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

New... Normal?

Not quite normal yet but starting to get glimpses of what this 'life with three little kids' looks like. Austin is slowly going back in to work- today was a successful test run of him going in for a half day and the house not burning down/kids remaining mostly clothed and happy/and me not locking myself in the bathroom with chocolate or something stronger. Before he left we did a quick run to Target as one happy family (note: only one child climbing on the walls)

Mila is doing better in the car seat- no tears today!  She's eating better (quantity not diversity-still only liquids). After naps, we took the balance bikes to the deck to teach Mila how to ride. She liked it!  But was more interested in trying to hold ALL THE TOYS and keep them from Leo.

Contemplating this new brother- sister relationship. 

The three amigos slowly dismantled the house while I attempted to make dinner.

Help with dinner prep...

Austin finally came home and dinner was eventually served. Bedtimes have been going well and overall everyone is getting along. Looking forward to learning a little more of our new normal tomorrow. 

Monday, December 14, 2015


We're home! Jet lag is real and a monster so I took a few days off from the blog (sorry Katie D.) but I had to write about our trip home and the first few days as a family of five before I forget everything. 

We got Mila's passport with her visa in it and the Very Important Brown Envelope from the consulate that is sealed and stamped and written in multiple languages "do not open!"  Our GZ driver loaded us up and took us to the border of China and Hong Kong (I don't know the political details of China and HK... But you have to cross the border, do a customs check, they have their own passports and currency that is different from China... I really should read a Wikipedia or something on that but honestly it's a little low on the list of priorities....) and then we switched vans to drive into HK. We got in a nice van with a guy who didn't say a word but just drove us off... I kind of wondered in the back of my mind if we had just willingly been abducted but then... Why?

Anyway, we crossed into Hong Kong and were dropped off at our hotel. The driver popped the trunk and we scrambled out and before I could dig out some HK dollars for a tip he gruffly said goodbye and drove off.  We must have paid him well...

We took a hotel shuttle to a nearby shopping mall and metro station.  It was incredibly foggy out which was a bummer because we were contemplating doing a little sightseeing but instead opted for wandering the mall... Which was filled with designer outlet stores and served as a kind of culture shock. We grabbed dinner and went back to the hotel for sleep. 

The next morning we were up early for the 7 am shuttle to the airport. We went to check in and found out our flight was delayed. And thus began a very long day of travel. We wandered the HK airport a bit, got something to eat, face timed the boys one last time ("mom- is Mila still there? Can we talk to her?") and then boarded. 

We flew about 4 hours to Japan and the had to circle the Tokyo airport due to extreme crosswinds. When our pilot finally went for it, our Leland rocked and bounced more than any aircraft should and lets just say items may have shifted in the overhead compartments. 

With shaky knees, we deplaned to discover all of the airport at a standstill due to the winds. Another delayed flight. When we finally boarded we were informed we would be missing our final flight home from lax to San Diego. 

Thankfully it's faster to get from Asia to the U.S. than the other direction... And even more thankfully Mila slept almost the entire flight!  We landed and trudged through customs..and Mila officially became a U.S. Citizen! (We handed over our precious brown envelope to the immigration officer who tore into it without a second thought. Austin and I both gasped and the officer told us it was his job to open the envelope... We know... We've just been protecting that thing with our lives for the past 24 hours...)

We collected our luggage and found out we had been rebooked on a flight home in... 7 hours!  No way Jose- we would take a bus, a train, or beg for rescue from someone before we spent 7 hours in an airport 2 hours away from home and our boys. 

And that's when our amazing people starting putting a plan into action. I don't even know the details but it involved Austin's parents rushing to our rescue after getting a car seat from our friends (and making a detour for a diaper) and others communicating to our would-be welcome party that plans had changed. 

We made it home around 5 pm and Corbin and Leo were waiting for us with welcome home signs. It was wonderful to be together -even though Mila was pretty shell shocked at that point!  But she was intrigued by her brothers and they were over the moon for her. 

Ahhh... Home!

Oh- and our home- filled with food, fruit baskets, cards, toys for the kids, a baby grand piano.  We were shocked!  Have I mentioned how much we love all of you guys? I'm pretty sure our fridge and pantry have never been that full!  

We all managed to sleep fairly well- even Mila despite sleeping practically the entire day before. The next morning we enjoyed pancakes with all of our kids (Mila stuck to her liquid only diet) and started the process of getting to know each other. It was amazing to see how quickly the kids started playing- smiling, laughing, exploring the house and toys together- they bonded quickly. And it's really helped Mila see how the boys interact with Austin and I. Corbin and Mila seem to have hit it off right away- Corbin has prayed for her and waited for her for a long time and I think he's just enthralled at her tiny self. And she thinks he's pretty great. 

Today was supposed to be our 'normal day' test run. Austin got up and took Corbin to preschool while I stayed with the little kids. He called to check in and decided to go to work for a few hours. I got the kids fed and dressed and we played together for awhile. Leo and Mila together are interesting. Even though Leo towers over her, he interacts with her as a typical two year old- he kind of rough plays, follows her around and tries to hold her ears, and says "it's o-Tay Mila, it's o-Tay". And he gets mad when she takes his toys. She doesn't really know what to make of him- she swats him away or kind of whines when he starts to bug her.  

But today she arched Leo run across the kitchen and jump into my lap over and lover again. She acted a little jealous and climbed into my lap - and then Leo jumped on top of both of us!  Mila squealed in delight and soon they were taking turns running through the kitchen and jumping on me. After that, they pretty much meandered from room to room causing trouble together,occasionally tussling over toys but for the most part getting along. 

Austin made an unexpected trip home due to not feeling well so I picked up Corbin and  made a quick target run for a few things. And I didn't remember that everyone is Christmas shopping until I attempted to find a parking spot!  Our quick trip took a little longer than anticipated and when we got home, austin had put both kids down for a nap. 

After naps, austin declared that we needed a Christmas tree so we headed to Home Depot with all the kids. Mila did great in the car seat- entertained by her brothers no doubt- and the boys were so excited to pick out a tree. We let them run wild but Mila only wanted to hold my hand or be carried by me!  I was happy to oblige!  We got the tree home and the rest of the evening was spent managing chaos as we got ornaments down from the attic, made dinner, decorated the tree, vacuumed all the needles, redecorated the tree after Mila and Leo took all the ornaments off, vacuumed again, and finally got kids in bed.  We put them in matching Christmas jammies and read the Christmas story together as a family. It's good to be home!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

November 9, 2015

Rainy day in Guangzhou! We woke up to steady rainfall and it persisted all day and night. The weather forcasted over an inch of rain today alone. So we hung out ALL DAY in the hotel room. I think Mila enjoyed the day- I went a little stir crazy. 

We didn't have anything official on the agenda aside from receiving Mila's passport with U.S. visa and immigration documents from our guide in the evening. Had it not been raining cats and dogs, we probably would have ventured out to a new part of the city but instead we spent our last full day in China indoors. 

We attempted to get Mila interested in a movie (airplane practice) but she was mostly into finding little treasures for her backpack. These treasures include small toys we brought for her, crayons, a map from the hotel, a couple of receipts, a broken pencil, an empty food pouch, and a few stray puffs that she has no interest in eating. She has also acquired a few ziplock bags that she stuffs full of her treasures and carries around. I found my phone in one of her baggies a couple times today.  Mila also spent time strapping her dolly into the stroller and pushing it around the hotel room. She likes to bring me a bag full of stuff, unpack it, chooses one or two items to entrust in my care, and then goes and does something else for awhile. She eventually comes back and demands her treasures back. All day. 

Another activity we tried in the name of airplane practice was me carrying her in the ergo. I put it on and she immediately looked suspiciously at me. Austin told her she was going to go in it and she started wimpering. He set her in the ergo and the battle started. Our tiny little girl fought like her life depended on it. She threw a monumental tantrum that included kicking, flailing, biting, scratching, crying until there were no more tears. She lasted way longer than I thought she would and all I could keep thinking about is what a strong fighter we have. Her persistence- though not expressed how we want her to eventually express it in our family- is amazing and probably was a great asset to her during the three years prior to her coming to us.  Austin stayed with us and held her hand but she was pretty miserable. Her refusal to allow me to get closer to her- like carrying her and sometimes feeding her- is obviously grieving. We respect that and offer her comfort as much as she allows. But the ergo battle switched to a full on three year old tantrum and we decided to muscle through it for awhile. When she settled down (actually, she settled down about three times-  but they were just breaks between the screams and tears) I unbuckled the ergo and she hopped out and went back to her toys. I sat down next to her and she immediately resumed playing with me and smiling at me. 

I don't know everything going on in Mila's head but I know a few things about orphans. (Mila is no longer an orphan but shedding orphanage behaviors will understandably take some time.)1. They are rarely given limits or boundaries. 2. Tantrums are either given in to or eventually ignored as the child gets older- but behavior is rarely corrected nor character developed as it would be in a family setting. 3. There is a lot of room for negative attention from adults in an institutional setting- therefore, adults are unpredictable and unsafe in the eyes of an orphan.  Mila didn't hold a grudge against me for holding her close in the ergo so I know this was mostly just a toddler tantrum. Her hesitation to allow me to carry her is legitimate fear/self protection and something that will take time for her to be comfortable with- but we will continue to work on it little by little in addition to showing her that we are her parents and set the 'rules.'  She is incredibly smart (in addition to strong and stubborn) and I know she will 'get it' sooner rather than later. 

We grabbed dinner in the lounge upstairs- Austin tried the Chinese beer and Mila had soup... Again.  We played more in the room, did bath time and lotion time, and finally turned the lights out. Mila takes about 15-20minutes to fall asleep- she babbles to her doll and flops around until sleep finally wins out. I wonder how bedtime will go when there are three little bodies talking to their stuffed animals and flopping around, trying to get comfortable...we will find out soon!

(Yes that's a chicken nugget in his chop sticks)

(austin will be getting lessons on appropriate little girl hairstyles in the near future)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

December 8, 2015

I've been rereading The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis. I read most of this book months ago while we were waiting to travel to get Mila. I'll admit, it wasn't easy reading for me- there are lots of examples and lots of studies cited and while it's very interesting, reading it without having a real life child in front of you who could actually benefit from this book was difficult. Things are a little different now though! So if anyone reading this is in the adoption process, here's my advice about 'the bible of adoption books' - read The Connected Child ahead of time.  Skim it, flip around to the chapters that interest you, just get some of it in your brain. Then, when you're facing weird behaviors from a hurt child, you'll remember something and know where to look.  And a lot of it are things you just know- your child doesn't hate you, but their behavior is being controlled by their fear and self protection mechanisms and it can look like hate/aggression/depression/etc.  Its just nice to read that in print from an expert. 

Today was our consulate appointment!  We had the first time slot of the day I believe- 8:30 am which meant we were up early to leave by 7:30. We met Cordelia our guide downtown at the medical clinic to pick up Mila's TB results (negative thankfully- that's a real headache if you have a positive test. It involves an X-ray and the if that's positive, at least another three days added on to your time in China. We met a family who was dealing with that today- say a little prayer that their son's health improves and they get that all resolved quickly so they can get home!). Then we walked across the street to the ultra modern looking U.S. consulate. Like any consulate I've ever been to, there were hoards of people with official looking documents waiting outside to get in. Since we had a confirmed appointment,we were able to bypass the crowds but still had to wait in line outside for a bit. We met a few other families adopting from China and had a nice chat while we waited for the doors to open. Our guides had to wait outside so we were on our own. 

First there's security. No electronic devices. Snacks are ok though but if you bring in water you have to drink it to prove its not... Not water?  I don't know. Then you head over to the adoption/US citizen services office. It's a room with ten windows that look like bank teller windows with rows of chairs and a small kids okay area off to the side. There were ten families competing adoptions together at our time slot. We were given numbers and then told to wait. While we were chatting and helping our kids play, consulate employees filed in very official like and formed a semi circle in front of us. They held up folders and dinned Christmas - themed headbands and started to sing Christmas carols!  They sounded pretty good for government employees. It was such a strange moment- these official people wearing ridiculous things on their heads, singing Christmas carols in China to a bunch of ragged families and overstimulated adopt kiddos. I teared up at Deck the Halls- no idea what got to me!

After the concert, they called one parent from each family over to a window to be sworn in.  Then one parent at a time was called to a window to go over paperwork. Austin was sworn in and I handled paperwork. They check passports, go over medical information, and ask a few questions. The consulate employee handed our documents back, gave Mila a sticker, and U.S. A commemorative button for 20 years of adoptions in Guangzhou. Then we were called to another window as a family where they took her passport, asked a few more questions (how old is your child?  What is there special need? Was this need represented correctly to you?) handed us a few documents back and told us we were done. We were in and out in less than an hour and overall it was a pleasant experience. Tomorrow our guide will pick up Mila's passport with her visa in it to travel to the U.S. and the needed immigration documents to enter the country with her. 

We drove back to the hotel and hung out in the hotel room for a little while.  Since we had an early a morning,we decided to try to hotel dim sum (heard it was actually kind of famous in the neighborhood) and try to get Mila down for an earlier nap. The wait staff thought we were nuts for wanting dim sum (we were the only non- Chinese eating there) but we convinced them to seat us and serve the tea. This jasmine tea is starting to grow on me! And the ceremony of pouring it is rather interesting. Our guide taught us a few of the traditions and manners for eating and drinking- we know that you use two fingers to tap the table in thanks for being served (just one finger if you're single though), you always pour tea for others and then yourself, use the serving chopsticks to get food, use your bowl not the bone dish to eat off of, oh and slurping and picking up your bowl to shovel food in your mouth is ok. So we faired ok I think on our own! I just kind if picked random things off the menu and it was all delicious. 

We had vegetable rolls, fried noodles, steamed shrimp dumplings, fried bums with something yummy inside, and sweet buns- these were almost a gelatin outside with a nutty inside. They tasted absolutely delicious but the texture was almost enough to make me gag!  It was a weird sensation.  All of our dim sum eating friends at home- we're ready to try your favorite place once we get back to San Diego!  

After dim sum, Mila took a nap and actually austin and I both got a little nap in too. We let her play for a bit when she woke up and she seemed to be in a good mood... Although that good mood turns a little destructive if left in the hotel room too long. So we took off for a walk down the pedestrian street to the large square. 

We walked a little further and found the street food section- lots of squid tentacles on a stick and little paper plates with whole crabs and other sea life.  We were not feeling particularly adventurous so instead opted for- McDonalds. I'm almost ashamed to write that.

(I don't know what happens at this building)

We came back, got Mila a little soup and then gave her a bath. She lets me do the whole thing now. And she loves being dried off and lotioned up for the night. She chatters away and with her nose still being congested, most of her words are snorts. But happy snorts. We played with her coloring book and crayons and she packed and re packed her backpack, waving bye bye to me and carrying it over to Austin's backpack and then coming back and unpacking everything. She got some of her squirrelies out and was able to fall asleep a little faster tonight. 

She has come so far. It's been a week since we drove back to the adoption office with a very sacred little girl and answered the question, "is this child satisfactory?" Such a strange thing to think about- how else could you answer that question?  She is beyond satisfactory- she is worth the pain and the hurt. The money it cost to travel here to get her and the savings and raising we did back at home. She is more than satisfactory- she is absolutely perfect even if she just looks like a tiny, angry shell. And one week later I see smiles and hear giggles and know that even though she hasn't quite decided that having a mama is a good thing, I know being her mama is the best thing.  It may take years of baby steps but we will get there. And soon she will realize that Austin and I aren't going anywhere- she became one less orphan one week ago and Mila will never again face this life without having experienced the love of her family.