Chinese Culture

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After three trips to China (four for me), reading a number of books about China written by Chinese authors as well as our favorite American in China, Peter Hessler, and learning some rudimentary Chinese we’re starting to feel like we know a little something. So we’ve got the Chinese outfits, have learned a little Chinese, and we think we’ve got this nailed, right? Not so fast…2013-08-01-DSC_0582

Turns out that there are not pandas everywhere.  We had to buy these guys since pandas were a close second to a new sister for Rion.  He nearly threw at tantrum at the Great Wall because there weren’t any pandas there.  We did see one sleepy panda at the Hefei zoo.  She was hiding in her glass enclosure due to the extraordinary heat.  She ate a few bites of bamboo and went to sleep with her posterior (as Julia likes to say) facing the window.  Rion didn’t understand why there weren’t pandas at the Holiday Inn since they had small bamboo plants on the breakfast table.  He asked Julia’s foster mom why they didn’t have a panda on their rooftop garden since they had bamboo.  (Yes, we met Julia’s foster family – more on that in another post.)

2013-08-01-DSC_0556It turns out there are a lot of things you can do on the streets of China that you might not find in the U.S.  A quick haircut on the sidewalk is common-place both in in Beijing and Hefei.  What was somewhat unique in Hefei were the earwax ladies.  Every day we walked past these women with lights strapped to their foreheads and a handful of tools with little brushes on the end.  Business was thriving.  It was rare to see them without a client apparently suffering from severe earwax.  I’m not sure the ladies would have passed California’s standards for sanitizing those tools.

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We didn’t find anyone familiar with fortune cookies by the way, and this is what a real Chinese take-out box looks like:

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Prayer time for Olivia and our family

We just got notice that Olivia has left her foster home “The House of Love” to go back to her orphanage in Fuyang.  Her transition to her forever family has begun.  She is leaving the only home and family that she knows, being taken by a stranger on a train to an orphanage she doesn’t remember, and left there on her own with more people she doesn’t know.  In about 10 days, some other person she doesn’t know is going to take her on a train or in a car to the city of Hefei.  Then she’ll be handed to her new family.  But as a two-year old who has never had a mom or dad, can she even understand what that means?  We pray that she’ll remember what her caretakers at The House of Love told her when they showed her our pictures.  We pray that Jesus will fill her heart with peace and let her know she’s in a safe place and that she is loved.

We ask for your prayers for the transition that will come once she is with us.  We hear on occasion that we’ve got it easy since we’ve already made it past the newborn stage.  But adoption is not a painless process.  Some children transition extremely well, like Julia did.  Others deal with a great amount of grief and confusion, like Rion did.  Still others are very traumatized by the losses they’ve experienced and by the neglect and maybe abuse they’ve suffered.  They are never able to attach and bond with their families without years of therapy. Even then, they may not ever relate the way most people do.

We have every reason to believe that Olivia has been cared for so that she will attach to us well and that she will accept love from her family and give it in return.  At The House of Love they not only take care of the children’s physical needs, but also provide as much of a family environment as they can. Still it can be a hard road.  We pray for a smooth transition, but know that it may not be easy.  Yes, Olivia’s two and might sleep through the night, or she might cry out in fear and sadness and suffer from night terrors.  I read a post the other day from a family who adopted one of Olivia’s little friends a few weeks ago.  She seems to be doing well, but spent at least one of her nights in China sleeping on the floor right next to the hotel room door, trying to get as far away from her new parents as she could.

We have to ensure Olivia feels secure and loved.  At the same time, we have to provide structure and discipline appropriate for a 2-year-old.  With Rion that was often a tough balance to strike.  Especially as a rambunctious 3-year-old, we had to respond to some of his inappropriate behaviors, but that didn’t always seem to create an environment that helped his attachment.  In an established family, the structure is part of the loving environment, but in the case of a child that has been raised by different people, in a different culture, and is perhaps acting out due to grief and sadness as opposed to general “terrible twos or threes” behavior, it’s not always easy for parents to know how to respond.

Newborns come with a natural inability to move about (and they sleep quite a bit), whereas toddlers may spend the majority of their days in full destruction mode.  Newborns might occasionally seem “boring” to their siblings, but toddlers come ready to fight for their toys (yelling in Chinese by the way).  We’ll need (and want) to spend a lot of time holding Olivia, who is weighing in at impressive 28 lbs, so our back muscles will be challenged.

The blessings of adopting a toddler are numerous though!  We get to go through about a thousand “firsts” in just the first few days, weeks and months.  First smiles, first giggles, first hugs, first kisses, first games with her siblings, first English words, first “I love you”, and so many more.  It’s like a fire hose sometimes, but then it’s also the most amazing, rewarding experience you can possibly imagine!

News from China!

Rhodes family-Yang Yu Zhen photos2 Rhodes family-Yang Yu Zhen photos3

It was so fun to receive an update on our little cutie yesterday!  She looks like she’s growing every day!  Here are a few things we now know about Olivia.  She’s 89 cm tall – I’ll make you do your own math!  🙂  I compared that to Julia’s marks on the wall and she’s about as tall as Julia was when she turned 3.  (Olivia turned 2 in March).  She’s 28 lbs, so I’ll be working on those biceps for the next month!

She’s a healthy eater and sleeper (ha, my new baby sleeps through the night!) and naps for 2 hours during the day.  She seems to be able to do almost anything with her hands and doesn’t need any special help.  She’s walking well and won’t need special shoes.

Phil may finally have a mini-me personality-wise.  Julia and Rion are showing strong tendencies of my personality.  (I’m sure the stubborn part of Rion is all Phil though).  Julia’s competitive spirit is alive and well just like mine.  And just to prove that he’s MY son Rion started organizing my very-well-organized pantry yesterday!  🙂  Olivia is apparently much more reserved.  She likes to watch and observe before she gets involved.  They said “she needs time to adapt and understand the stranger” and “she will be very quiet in a strange environment”.  I liked how they described what makes her happy (because it shows how they loved her in the foster home): “Combing her beautiful hair and praise her.  Putting on new clothes sent by her parents will also make her happy and proud.”  I think God knows we needed another quiet person around here.  Of course, I know that won’t always be the case, and we can’t wait to hear three sets of giggles and shouts in our house!

 

Redeemed

DSC_0065“I’m ready”, Julia said last night when I asked what she wanted to pray for,  “To ask God to come into my heart”.  What an amazing Easter gift!

We already knew our little girl believed.  Her favorite stories of the Bible are the ones surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus.  She has been able to explain clearly for quite some time now how God planned these events to save us from our sins.  And it is personal for her.  She knows just how much Jesus loves her and that she can always count on him.  She has such a mature understanding that we thought Easter week would be a great time for us to specifically ask her if she’d like to pray to invite Jesus into her heart.  Friday was the big night.  We were a little surprised to hear her simply say, “No, thank you”.  Hmmm.  We just told her that was fine, and that if she felt ready at some time we would be happy to pray with her.  We never wanted her to do it for us, but only once she was ready to make her own decision.  We figured it might be months or years, but we were confident the time would come, because God has been clearly working in her for so long.  I was happily surprised when she said she had been thinking about it yesterday and had decided she was ready.

Watching a little one grow in their faith is such an amazing experience.  Sometimes their faith seems to outpace our teaching and what we could even imagine they could understand.  Just the other night I asked Rion what makes him happy.  His first answer was “Jesus”!  After that came Mama, Julia, Olivia, and Baba (Daddy).  The fact that Jesus could come first tells me that Jesus is actively doing great things in his heart.  This little boy is only just learning to formulate sentences that don’t contain Chinese words.  The hugs, kisses, comforting, games and everything else he gets every day come from those of us he can SEE.  Yet Jesus is already so real to him that He gets first ranking.  Oh please, let Jesus keep that position in Rion’s heart!

We’ve prayed for each of our children before they came into our family.  But God has loved each of them long before we even knew about them.  The Bible tells us that caring for the fatherless is at the very heart of God, that he is a father to the fatherless and that he sets the lonely in families.  Adoption allows us to understand him and know him in a whole new way.  God pursued each of us when we were destitute and alone and he himself adopts those of us as his children who turn to him and trust in his son, Jesus.  Despite the pain and loss that goes along with adoption, I pray that their adoption experience will help our children understand God in a profound way.

Now we get to see that God is already taking care of Olivia.  She is in the care of wonderful Christians who are hopefully already giving her a glimpse of a loving God.  Now we just need to get her home to her forever family!

Happy Easter everyone!

We Celebrated Olivia Jade’s Second Birthday!

Olivia birthday gift

Monday night we went to our favorite little hole in the wall neighborhood Chinese restaurant to celebrate Olivia’s second birthday.  We’ve actually had a birthday for each of our kids before we adopted them.  Olivia should have received the package of gifts above by her birthday.  Hopefully, pictures of her opening the presents will show up soon.

It was so cute to see how excited Julia and Rion were for Olivia’s birthday!  It probably didn’t hurt that we gave them each a present instead.  Julia’s got a big grin on her face because she got an “Olivia dress,” which makes her look like Olivia’s cartoon pig alter ego.  Rion got his very own mini camp chair.

The kids are so excited they’re getting a little sister and can’t wait to go to China and get her.  They’d leave tomorrow if they could.

Julia Olivia dressOlivia birthday poster

 

 

Adoption Fatigue

The Family Network

A year after bringing Julia home, we started the process again for a little brother or sister. It took longer than expected, but two and a half years after Julia we brought home little Rion.  We adopted Rion, our ever energetic second kid, from Taiyuan City in the Shanxi province of China in May 2012.  He was a little over 3 years old and brought with him a whole new set of adoption challenges.  Our social workers at The Family Network prepared us to deal with the feelings of grief and loss during the adoption transition.  After our relatively smooth adoption of Julia from China in 2009, we felt well prepared.

Rion had lived in one foster home since he was an infant and he had been spoiled and loved!  While the spoiling wasn’t so good, we knew the love he had experienced would give him the ability to love us too and it was a great start for his life.  But the transition was HARD!  Imagine taking any 3 year old from the only family he knows and handing him to strangers who don’t speak his language, don’t look like him, and in an instant he has lost everything he knows and loves.  He has the clothes on his body and that’s it.  It was tough!  The first days and weeks were filled with Rion’s grief and anger at being taken from his foster parents. And despite our training, and the obvious grief he was dealing with, it was hard for us to love him when he was so difficult.  We felt protective of Julia who was dealing with jealousy issues.  We ourselves were tired, jet-lagged, living out of suitcases in a foreign country, and just having a rough time.

The second day with Rion, we ‘d reached our wit’s end.  At one point late that afternoon, Tricia and I sat for a brief rest on a park bench in China with Rion throwing a terrible tantrum.  The deafening noise caught the ear of a police officer who stood across the walk and stared at us.   Of course, our guide and interpreter had the afternoon off.  Tentatively, we started walking to the Pizza Hut at the park edge for dinner.  Thank God, the officer didn’t follow us, even with Rion screaming at the top of his lungs.  And trust me, we found out early, the boy’s got lungs.

It didn’t get any better at Pizza Hut either.  Rion kept screaming at the top of his lungs inside the Pizza Hut.  Quickly, we decided we couldn’t torture the other diners with his noise.  So, I took Rion outside and sat on the steps with him, holding him and listening to him screaming.  Trish sat inside with Julia and ate pizza.  Then, she came outside and took her turn with Rion.  Tricia and I struggled mightily to keep it together with the help of a lot of prayer.  By night’s end, after we’d finally put the kids to sleep, we just wanted to take Rion, go home, and not think about another adoption.

Even after we got home it was hard.  Rion threw insanely long and loud tantrums when he didn’t get his way.  We had to try and put aside our desire to discipline and instead to focus on helping him through this complicated grieving process, but it was so hard.

We’d dealt with adoption, the adoption paper chase, the home studies, the waiting, the praying and the agonizing since May 2008.  We’d had one failed international adoption attempt in Kyrgyzstan, one joyful adoption in China in 2009, and, so far, one challenging adoption.  We needed a break from it all, period.

We agreed not to talk about adoption again until 2014.  Then we agreed to talk about it in 2013, but just not do anything until 2014.  However, despite all our plans, throughout the summer God was moving in us….