Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Regarding Ruslan


So, here's what happened...I stopped posting.  I didn't mean to.  It just happened.  Then more and more time passed so that every time I thought about writing, I would get that image of Molly Weasley screaming, "Where HAVE you been?" to her wayward children and cringe a bit inside.

Well, let me just insert this handy visual aid.

See?  I mean, could you walk away from all that loveliness to hole up in a room and write?  Because I couldn't do it. 

Suddenly, now it's six years later (SIX YEARS!) ...So much has happened.  I'm down to six kids at home, two have left for college and one moved out to have a life and family of his own.  Our little ones progressed through preschool and kindergarten and our youngest is now in third grade. My nest is getting empty.

It wouldn't be an issue except in 2014, I took all my earlier blog posts and had them published in a book--a real paper book, with exactly two copies made; one for me and one for my parents.  Oddly enough, my kids just love the "Family Book."  We end up reading entries at bedtime, over and over, so I have the same love/hate relationship with it as I do with Green Eggs and Ham, with one difference.  The other day I realized when we get to the last page, my heart drops and I wish I had recorded more. 

Something must be done....

So, I'll start with Ruslan, since he was my first reason for writing.  For those of you who are just jumping in, we adopted Ruslan from Ukraine in 2010.  He is now seventeen, still with many special needs and, thankfully, turning into a kind-hearted young man.

However, we went through some really hard years with him and just about the time he started sixth grade, he became full-on impossible. The only time he spoke was in order to argue or complain. He had a completely over inflated, irrational view of himself and his abilities, with no friends, no insight, and basically no redeemable qualities.  He got to the point that belligerence was his only personality trait. He was so hard to be around that every time he walked into a room the whole family would simply leave.  At school, he had no friends and during lunches, he was walking from table to table trying to find people to eat with.  I finally called the school and with no other options, the principal ate with him for a good part of middle school. I was the only one who could tolerate his presence (love is blind) and, lest you think I'm being too harsh here, I'll just point out that when the rest of the family reads this, they will accuse me of sugar-coating.  

Three things happened to save him from a group home. 

1. Counseling.  This is not going to end the way you are expecting, so read on. We consulted a few professionals--both private and with the state.  In the end, we were told that, "in order for counseling to be effective, two things must be present; the ability to understand what is happening and a desire to change."  Ruslan possessed neither trait. So, that saved us a lot of time and money, but didn't really solve any problems.  Things at school went from bad to worse and got to the point that he was ending up in the EBD (Emotionally/Behaviorally Disturbed) classroom just about every day.  His behavior was so bad that the school finally recommended (asked) us to consult the state about some one-on-one mentors, employed by the state, to be with him in school and hopefully help him behave.  During the intake, he got another set of letters after his name; ODD as in Oppositional Defiant Disorder.  I don't know why, but for some reason, this diagnosis really helped everyone understand what was going on and gave us gumption to move forward.  In the end, we couldn't get funding for the mentor, but that diagnosis clarified a lot. 

2. Discipline. Many of my friends recommended reading books by Karen Purvis.  I did read some of them and in many ways, they were helpful, especially when it came to feeding the kids six full meals a day and working consciously to establish a connection.  The point that I deviate from her methods is the lack of any real negative consequences (also called punishment) when kids are willfully misbehaving.  I'm a Calvinist.  I've never had to teach my kids to misbehave.  They come up with it all on their own and it's simply not true that all bad behavior is just misguided, noble intentions.  Willful bad behavior requires punishment.  

It works both ways, by the way.  If my husband and I were ever under the delusion that we had anything resembling proper familial love/patience, a few years living with an EBD child was more than enough to change that idea.  When the Bible talks about God fashioning man out of dirt, I read with the full understanding that my soil is just as toxic as the stuff under Chernobyl.  

However, beyond the general sinful nature, the main problem we were having with Ruslan was his complete unwillingness to follow directions.  I wrote earlier about offering him his favorite dessert, just as a test.  I would do this occasionally, to remind myself that I was not crazy.  I would put his two favorite desserts on the table, lets say cookies and brownies and say, "Ruslan, there are cookies and brownies for snack today."  Without fail, he would answer with, "Why can't I have ice cream?" or "Why can't I have lemon bars?" etc. etc. because no matter what he was told, his response was to argue or complain.  If he didn't get his way, he would have a full on melt down, which is why he was spending so much time in the EBD classroom.  

It got so bad that one day, after series of wholly ridiculous meltdowns, my husband asked me to find another home for Ruslan.  This was an entirely reasonable request.  Ruslan was constantly disrupting our life and our children's lives.  Things were bad enough that I knew he had to shape up or he was going to be shipped out, literally.  

So, I sat Ruslan down and told him that from this point on, when he was given directions he would have one chance to say, "OK" and do what he was told without arguing or complaining or he would be sent to his room for the rest of the day.  We wrote a contract and I posted written reminders throughout the house.  

The upshot was that for almost three months, he spent just about every afternoon and evening in his room.  I would give him directions and remind him every time, "you have one chance to say OK and follow directions without complaining."  Usually, he would argue and complain and end up in his room.  It was horrible, but honestly, our family really needed the break.  For months he did this and believe me, he was not happy.  He hated being away from "TV/screens" and hated being alone, but he just could not bring himself to say, "OK." 

Until one day, and it took three months for this to happen but one day, when I told him to hang up his coat, he paused for a long time and finally said, "OK," and then he did it, which was a full on miracle as far as I was concerned.  I remember it as clear as crystal and it was the first of many wonderful moments in our life together because from that moment on, saying, "OK" was an option, not every time, but the response was finally admitted somewhere into his brain and is still in residence, Thank You Jesus.

3. Wrestling.  About this time, out of the clear blue sky, I got a call from the EBD teacher, who was also the JV wrestling coach.  Talk about an unsung hero...  

He called to ask if Ruslan could join the wrestling team.  I could hardly believe my ears, because remember, this was the EBD teacher.  He had been dealing with Ruslan from the very beginning of the year and here he was asking to spend more time with him?   Beyond just getting him on the team, there was a huge amount of logistics involved, that were going to take a lot of effort.  The coach thought that I would be worried about Ruslan, but my concern was really about the coach.  I need not have worried.  When God passed out patience, he must have allotted an infinite amount to that man.  

The practices were not at the middle school and the season was from November to February.  So, through the winter (in rain, snow, sleet and hail), the coach ended up pushing Ruslan in a wheel chair uphill to the elementary school gym, then collapsing the wheel chair and taking it home with him every evening.  He also arranged for Ruslan to take the regular bus to and from the wrestling meets and went out of his way to find wrestling holds and exercises Ruslan could do while the other students scrimmaged. 

As he predicted, this is just what Ruslan needed.  He suddenly had a sport, an identity, a goal and a dedicated team who were not going to put up with any nonsense.  

Now, mind you, this is not The Blind Side.  He didn't end up becoming a star player and I wouldn't exactly call him popular, but over time, he did win a few matches and it does wonders for his discipline, self concept and self esteem.  

What's more, when he hit high school the new coach and the new team took him right into the fold.  Now, rather than being wheeled to the gym, one of the many beasts will hoist him onto their shoulder and carry him upstairs to the wrestling room.  During the meets, at least a few of them will cheer with interest when Ruslan is at the mat and the crowd is definitely interested.  Afterwards there is usually one or two players who will help with his braces and walker/crutches etc.  It's really beautiful, to be honest. 

So, now Ruslan is in tenth grade, with goals, a peer group, the ability to say, "OK" and working hard to pass his classes and get a diploma.  He's come a long way!!

There are lots of other stories to tell.  A lot can happen in six years, like the time we totally missed that offer for our own reality TV show, the time the school guidance counselor called DEFACS and accused me of child abuse, the narcissistic psychopath who became our elementary school principal, setting the thermostat on fire, setting the lawn on fire, setting the oven on fire, the pet dog, the pet goat, the pet chickens, our newfound love for prescription drugs, and our new family mantra, "bad decisions make good stories."   God willing, I will get back to writing them down. 

In the meantime, please take a minute to thank God for our wrestling coaches and our son. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Maryann Got Married

Years ago, when Exreme Makover, Home Edition was at its peak, I watched an episode about a widow with a handful of children and a crumbling house.  I can’t remember how her husband died, or much about the makeover, but I do remember that in the middle of touring the gorgeous new home Ty Pennington and crew had just created for her, she stopped and, with a look that was somehow a mixture of both hope and resignation, she said, “There is happiness for us, in this life.”

I remember this because I was enduring my own hardships at the time.  Like many believers, I had a slew of Bible verses and stories at my fingertips and I knew about Gods love, His ability to make beauty from ashes and rescue His children from danger.  I wanted to find comfort in these things, but I know the truth, which is that God doesn’t always make beauty from ashes and some of His children don’t get rescued from danger.  (Don’t waste our time trying to talk me out of this point.  I’m a Calvinist, and I’ve been to Ukraine.)

Besides, reading about the end of someone else’s story, even if they do get rescued, isn’t all that helpful when I happen to be in the middle of my story and might be headed for a different conclusion.  I’m glad Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead but He hasn’t been doing that sort of thing lately, so it looks like I might need to accept the alternate ending for my own time on earth. 

What I really wanted was someone here, now, who was enduring some of the same things I was enduring, with no promise of an imminent miracle, but could still look me in the eye and say, “yeah, I don’t really get what’s going on here.  I’m in agony and I hate this but even so, I know that God is good.”   That widow’s happiness, even in the midst of all her sorrow, was more along the lines of what I needed to hear.

Fast forward to 2014.  I don’t hate my life, but I have been in a bit of agony.  A few years ago, I wrote about the death of our good friend, Bruce, and his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.  It was three years ago, last month, that we buried him.

When Bruce died, I told his wife, Maryann, to call me anytime (day or night) that she needed to talk.  Her mom had died when she was in college and her dad died a few years later.  I hate the idea of anyone feeling alone in this world.  So, I kept encouraging her to call me and to my great relief, she did. 

That first year, she called every day and sometimes two or three times in a day.  Once or twice she called in the middle of the night.  I didn’t mind. I was grateful that she trusted me with her grief.  

Often when we talked, the first thing she would say when she got on the phone was, “I miss Bruce!”  Then we would both tear up and I would ask, “what would you tell him if he was here?” 

So, that first year we spent a lot of time together.  We had Thanksgiving together and Christmas.  We made sure she had plans for things like their anniversary, the anniversary of Bruce’s death, Bruce’s birthday, Maryann’s birthday...   It’s bewildering, the extent to which events that are usually so very wonderful become so very not wonderful when someone is missing.  

Sometime toward the end of that first year, I ran across a friend of ours from church.  His name is Mike.  I was in a women’s Bible study with his wife, Brenda, a few years earlier.  She had been fighting cancer for a long time and tragically died about three months before Bruce. 

As we were talking and catching up, Mike, in his charming way, mentioned that he had a date, which meant that he was open to dating, which meant that I could start plotting. 

I waited a few more months, and then I introduced Maryann to Mike. 

So, there was a year of loneliness, then a year of dating.

They went back and forth for a while and I really wasn’t sure they were going to make it.  They lived two hours apart and were attempting to blend a lot of family history.  Most of my conversations with Maryann were still about Bruce or their kids.  She still missed him dreadfully and I wondered if her heart was really open to anyone new. 

And then one day when I picked up the phone, to my great relief and joy, instead of saying, “I miss Bruce,”  she blurted out, “I miss Mike!”   

So, there was a year of loneliness, a year of dating, a year of engagement and last week they got married. 

My friend Maryann got married to someone who is not Bruce. 

I went to the rehearsal dinner at Maryann’s home and I watched Mike, so happy, smiling down at Maryann in the middle of the kitchen that Maryann and Bruce re-modeled, while their kids played pool together in the middle of the rec-room that my husband, Bill, and Bruce re-tiled. 

I held it together though, because I’m just that good. 

The next day, I watched Maryann, who is not Brenda, walk down the aisle to Mike, who is not Bruce, and get married. 

I was really doing OK for most of the ceremony.  It got hard in the middle because they had invited the families of their first spouses and I got a glance of Bruce’s dad sitting in the front row.  Bruce’s dad looks almost exactly like Bruce and Brenda’s sister looks almost exactly like Brenda.  That was hard enough to swallow, but on the way to the banquet hall, a friend of mine mentioned that I was the only person at the wedding who had been friends with both Bruce and Brenda.  For some reason, this brought clarity to the one thought that had been lurking at the back of my mind all weekend, “Please… don’t let this be real.”

I totally lost it then, because I’m just that pathetic. 

Of course, there were no tissues anywhere and the bathroom was outside the banquet hall and it was raining. I went over to the food table, grabbed a napkin roll and threw the plastic silverware in my purse.  By the end of the night, I had a table setting for six. 

I looked around and realized that I was the only one crying.  I had planned ahead for this.  I took on the job of decorating the getaway car.  Bill and I found a few boys to help us collect cans, borrow a few hydrangeas from the table centerpieces and make a sign.  Then we all went to the parking garage and decorated.  

Wouldn’t you know, when Maryann and Mike left, he escorted her around the front of the car and the photographer didn’t follow them outside.  No one saw the decorations besides me, Bill and handful of boys.  To be fair, it was raining, but it was an awful waste of some good centerpieces on a mighty fine car.  Unappreciated beauty is so tragic!

I realized as we walked back into the banquet hall that Maryann and Mike were handling things much better than me, even though they had lost far more.  The upcoming week in Cancun might have had something to do with it, but even so, Maryann has mentioned that one of the hardest things about marrying Mike was the full understating that God might take him away too, at any time, just like He took Bruce. 

It was not the same as other weddings I’ve been to, where God seems so much more kind and the world seems so much more safe.  Yet here were Mike and Maryann, beaming as they got into that car.  They were reveling in their supreme act of bravery—being willing to love another person, despite the challenges, the pain and the risk involved.  It was not that God made beauty from their ashes.  It was that they accepted His beauty, along with their ashes.

I’m starting to understand that look on the widow’s face.  There is happiness for us, in this life.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Laura's Many Surgeries

So, here is a picture of my sweet baby girls.  Laura is four and she is holding Harper, who is two. 

Laura’s first surgery was to fix the cleft palate, which is the hole in the roof of her mouth. 

I took her to the hospital Friday morning, September 20th.  We were told to arrive at 8am, but of course, it was just after 11am when we were finally taken to the prep room, three hours  can be very long when you’re holding a four year old who hasn’t had anything to eat or drink since midnight.  The staff met me in the pre-operating room and explained the procedure. Then, they gave Laura a much needed sedative and let me carry her to the operating room and hold her hand until she fell asleep. 

The staff were wonderful, but let me just say here that this is the sixth time I’ve had to watch one of my babies fall asleep and leave them in the hands of perfect strangers.  It’s not getting easier.  I realized as I walked out of that waiting room that I will never get used to it.  It’s that same pang I feel as the school bus disappears around the corner every morning, only this time, I’ve just signed a release form that fills up a whole page of single space type and include the phrase, “possible death.”

I went back to my corner in the waiting room and paced the floor.  The surgery took three hours. Apparently, they are sometimes able to just sew the two sides of a cleft palate together, but Laura’s hole was so large, they actually cut a patch of skin from the back of her throat and used it as a patch.  If they cut the skin off entirely it would die, so they cut a three sided flap and pulled it into her mouth and sewed it in place.  It’s still attached to her throat and the air from her nose comes down either side of the skin flap. 

She stayed three days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit because they were worried her throat might swell and hinder her breathing.  The white thing in her nose is a tube that goes through her nasal cavity to ensure an unblocked airway.    She looked so bad when she first got out of surgery, I didn’t take any photos of her mouth.  There was dried blood all over her face and it was caked on in thick layers.  We just left it until the last day because she was so sensitive to touch. This picture was taken the third day, after we got her cleaned up a little. 

The staff told me we could leave her alone in the PICU, but there was NO WAY I was going to let my little girl wake up in a strange place and in pain with no one familiar to comfort her.  Bill and I ended up alternating 12 hour shifts over the weekend.  The surgery was Friday and by Monday morning when she was discharged, we were wiped out.

She was in surgery again on November 20th for some dental work.  We found a dentist who is specializes in cleft palate patients.  She only had four cavities, but he recommended putting her under since the unique anatomy of cleft palate children means they can’t always guarantee their mouth will be numb at the needed spot.  So, she was under anesthesia for the seventh time, but just for an hour.  

The final surgery was Friday, December 13th.  This time, she was the first patient on the docket, so we didn’t have the long, hungry wait.  We went through the same routine, with the same release forms and I handed my baby over to relative strangers for the eighth time.  It never gets any easier, but this was especially hard because it took all day long.  They did a great job of updating me every hour, but man, that was a long day. 

This time, they worked on her whole face.  They sewed the extra opening on her left cheek.  They released the skin from her bone on her right side and
 pulled all the extra flesh toward her nose in order to raise her bottom eye lid, close the gap in her cheek, and form an upper lip.  It was well after 6pm when I finally saw her for the first time.  They did a marvelous job.  She looked so wonderful, I just couldn’t stop crying. 

They told me that the few hours just after surgery would be the best that she would look for a long while and they were right.  She started to swell up the next day and then the areas with stitches turned bright red as they started dissolving.

This is after about two weeks, just before Christmas.  The blue piece over her eye was a bit of foam they sewed in place.  It was there to secure a place holder for a future prosthetic eye.  And so it goes.  I'll try to post more photos as she heals.  But, if you are wondering why I haven't posted in five months, this is my visual aide.  We've been wiped out, but also grateful, very, very grateful.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Dinner With Friends

This past weekend was my high school class reunion – Thirty Years. 
That one hurt. 

I felt the first shock of this a few years ago.  I was hanging out with some athletic friends so I casually let it drop that I used to be able to swim 100 yards in 1:01 (as in one minute and one second).  At this point, I might swim 100 yards in 1:30, if there was a shark on my tail.  Of course, rather than revel in past glories (which was my POINT), my friends had to "focus on the now" and ask why I couldn’t swim that fast TODAY.  So, I had to answer that my 1:01 time was “30 years ago, when I was 15.”   Unfortunately, that phrase, “thirty years ago, when I was fifteen….thirty years ago when I was fifteen,” played over and over again in my head during the entire morning and for the next several days until I was ready to shriek.  

That was three years ago.  Since then, I’m afraid I’ve gotten even older.  The whole Thirty Year thing must have been painful for everyone else too since out of a class of a few hundred students, only 80 people showed up and a handful of them were spouses.   My own husband missed my reunion, by the way.   He had a triathlon that Saturday in Richmond and another one the next day in Baltimore.  After we found out about the reunion date, he hemmed and hawed for a full week before I put him out of his misery and told him to go to the races.  This way, I got to torment him about neglectfully missing my reunion (which I really enjoy), with the added bonus that I knew I’d have a better time without him.  He wouldn’t have known a single soul and I would have been torn between talking to him vs. talking to my old friends.  It was better this way.  Shortly after I let it drop that he was not coming, the spouses of two of my closest friends backed out as well.  Things were coming along nicely.

The second obstacle to my stag night out was the problem of extracting myself from my children.  The reunion was in my hometown, so I planned to leave them with Granny and Grandpa for the evening.  This should have been easy.  They LOVE their grandparents.  But, the night of the reunion, my kids suddenly got cold feet.  I don’t know if it was the unfamiliar town, the unfamiliar house or the phase of the moon, but they sure didn’t let me go easily.  I had to promise to keep my cell phone ON, call as soon as I got to the banquet hall and call again as I was driving home.  You would think I was leaving for an arctic expedition rather than a three hour dinner, but I did manage to extract myself and drive, alone, to a Saturday evening out with my girlfriends for the first time in….well, in a long time. 

This was so much fun!  No wonder people go to dinner together!  I sat with my closest friends from high school and it was wonderful to re-connect.  The only damper on the evening was that everyone looked so….old.  Most of the men I didn't remember anyway, but I remember my girlfriends and the sad truth is that we are all thirty years older and there's just no getting away from those subtle signs of aging.  If you don’t believe me, ask the people in Hollywood.  They will back me up on this one.  If you’ve seen any recent pictures of Meg Ryan, you’ll know what I am talking about—and bear in mind:  SHE HAD THE SURGERY.  It’s just a little shocking to see a roomful of women that you knew once as bubbly eighteen-year-olds re-appear thirty years later as bubbly forty-eight-year-olds.  We may still be beautiful and fun to be around, but we are not still eighteen. 

I saw a documentary once called, “Forever Fourteen” about two girls who were abducted as teenagers by the same man.  One was murdered and the other lived.  The survivor wrote and produced the documentary.  The point of the title was that the girl who was killed will be “Forever Fourteen.” No one can enjoy life with her or have memories of her beyond that age.  It’s one of those haunting documentaries that I keep thinking back to when I ponder the progress of life. 

I realized as I drove back to my parents that, even without a death, memories of my friends from high school were along the lines of “forever eighteen,” because that is when I saw everyone last.  Now, thanks to the reunion, and that fact that life rudely goes on,  new images, more along the lines of “forever forty-eight” will be replacing the old ones.  That is, until 2023, when I’ll be facing “forever fifty-eight” and the final years of all this alliteration.  It only gets better. 

As I was pondering this, my cell phone rang.  It was my daughter, Reilly, sobbing into the phone and wondering why I wasn’t home yet and WHY I didn’t answer when they called TWICE before.  Sadly, I had left my cell phone ON, but on vibrate and in my purse…. Oops.  Reilly was too distraught to talk so my dad got on the phone and amid substantial background wailing, he explained.  They had called a few minutes into the dinner because Harper needed a diaper change and no one could find the diaper stash.  Sadly, I didn’t answer the phone.  They had called a second time because Ruslan had knocked over a cabinet in the kitchen, causing a terrific crash and sending Harper and Laura into a tizzy.  Grandpa tried to help calm everyone down by dishing out ice cream, only to be reminded later (and apparently none too gently) that Harper and Laura are lactose intolerant.  The second call was because they couldn’t find the lactase tablets that I keep on hand, just in case.  Sadly, again, I didn’t answer.  Then Reilly got back on the phone to tell me, between her sobs, that Laura was crying in her bed and Harper was crying so much that she threw up and she just wouldn’t stop and ask me again WHY I had to go out to dinner!?!  Then Paul, my 14-year-old son, got on the phone and quietly said, “Mom, you left me like a lame zebra in a pack of hyenas.”

At this point, I was pretty much in the driveway and I could hear the crying even without the phone.  I hung up and headed toward the door.  All the kids circled around me as I walked in, trying to touch me like I was some sort of a god and if they could only make physical contact, all would be well.  This is no small matter when you are talking about eight kids. 

My dad, who was sitting in his chair, hiding behind a newspaper, looked up as we all swarmed into the living room and said, “WELL, I Hope You’re Happy.”

This is now my new favorite thing to say when everything falls to pieces.    

The next morning, my husband sent me a text.  He finished eighth place in Richmond and third in Baltimore.   After the Baltimore race, he went to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the gravesite of our friend, Bruce.  Every time he has a race near there, he stops by and puts his metal from the race on Bruce’s gravestone.  

My next thought was that "Bruce is forever forty-one."  ...I won’t be complaining about class reunions anymore.  The grey hairs are much less painful than the gravestone. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

And Now We Are Home, Thank God.

So, Friday morning, June 7, we ate an early breakfast at the opulent buffet/coffee bar at the Guangzhou Marriott.  Our fifth plane ride of the trip (Gunagzhou to Beijing) was scheduled to leave at 9am, landing in Beijing at 1:00 with a six hour layover in Beijing before our next flight to Washington, DC.  I was a little worried, since a six hour layover with kids is sure to be painful.  But, as it turned out, all that worry was over nothing!  Our plane was delayed in Guangzhou.  They did this to us once before, in Nanning, but they announced on the plane that there was a delay, turned on the AC and served us a meal to pass the time.  THIS TIME, there was none of that senseless pampering.   After we boarded the plane, we sat in silence in the sweltering heat, waiting for takeoff.  About an hour into the wait, my shirt was so soaked and stinky, I texted my friend Cindy (who was picking us up in DC) and asked her to bring me a clean shirt.  A few minutes later, they turned on the AC, but it was murder.  Thank God we adopted girls.  If we had boys, I think everyone on the plane would have suffered a breakdown.

Once we landed in Beijing, we had to get our luggage and take everything to a different part of the airport to re-check in, re-check our luggage and pass through customs again for the international flight home.  The airport was a mad house.  We waited in line for an hour for one elevator.  By the time we got to our gate, we had only thirty minutes wait before they started boarding.  So much for the six hour layover!

The flight home was thirteen hours.  We left at 7pm Beijing time and landed about 8pm Washington DC time.  It was glorious.  I didn’t realize how much I missed America until I nestled into my padded blue seat, buckled up and saw the unavoidable TV screen 18 inches from my face.  Once I got a diet coke in my hand, I was home free!  (Note to the reader:  there was coke in China, but no diet coke—only in Beijing.  Considering the body mass of most Chinese, the diet version is unnecessary.)  

We landed at 8pm, but by the time we got through customs and drove home, it was well after 11pm USA time.  This was 11am China time, so rather than force the issue, we let the kids all bundle together in the living room and watch movies until they fell asleep.  NO one slept much.  I was so glad to be home, it was all I could to not to lay on the carpet and roll in it like a dog.  Thank you God, for my home!  I love it here! 

People often ask how we can handle having a houseful of kids with special needs and not go crazy.  One of the answers to this is that we have great friends and family who help us out all the time.  Our refrigerator was gloriously stocked with food on our arrival and we had a steady stream of meals coming from our church, bible study, neighbors and friends for almost a month.  Another friend of ours mowed our lawn, built an awesome set of bunk beds for the girls room while we were gone, painted them and set them up for our arrival.  We have four girls in one bedroom at the moment and without those beds, it would have been really tight. 

We also have babysitters that our kids LOVE and are able and willing to come at a moment’s notice.  The same Cindy who picked us up at the airport had been living at our house with Ruslan and Will for the past month.  I don’t know what we would do without her.   She is so much fun to be around, I don’t think Ruslan and Will missed us at all.  She also cleaned our house from top to bottom, waxed the floors, washed every bit of cotton fiber in the house (including the doll clothes), and repaired things I didn’t even know were broken.  I don’t think my home has been this clean since the last time we traveled and had a house sitter.   Some people talk about moving every few years to ensure proper purging.  I need to adopt every few years so that my house gets a good cleaning.

So, you may have noticed that it’s been a few weeks/months since my last posting.  This is because we have had a rough time settling in.  It’s not as bad as those first few weeks with Ruslan and Will, but it has been busy.  We all spent the first week in the throes of jet lag.  We had 13 hours to shake off, so it took a few days.  We also had a stomach bug make its way through the family.  This was somewhat of an irony, since we’d just spent a virus/bacteria free month in CHINA, but overall, I’m grateful we were sick in the states, with a washer and dryer handy, rather than in China, where I was doing laundry in the bathtub.  Another complication was that both QingBei and ZiXuan regressed in their potty training.  I know this was typical, but that knowledge didn’t make it any less annoying.  All in all, it’s safe to say I spent the month of June swimming in a river of my kids bodily fluids.  I think my couch cushions have been on the back porch as many days as they have been in the living room.  

A final complication was that Bill has been travelling a good bit since we got back. He had a few triathlons. The first was on June 8 (yes, our first day back), which made me happy, because I get to call him a lunatic over this.  He also had a bunch of business trips/classes that he had to attend so he was gone for about half of June, with triathlons on the weekends.  It’s better this way.  There is always a few months of insanity when we first adopt and he doesn’t really deal well with chaos.  He is a wonderful, amazing man and I am lucky to be married to him, but there are some situations that he just needs to bypass entirely.   On the flight home, I was able to watch a few episodes of The Big Bang Theory that I’d heard so much about.  Of course, they were rated “G” episodes, since this was a plane.   I found out later that the show is not all I had hoped for.  However, if you have ever watched it, I can explain the situation fully using their handy visual aide:  I married Sheldon. 

Things are quieting down now.  The girls have settled into our routine and we are deep in a maze of medical/dental/physical therapy appointments.  Laura has an CAT scan on August 2.  After that, we’ll start scheduling the surgeries.  I should post again in about a month.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Last Days in China - Twenty Two to Twenty Four

Most of that last week in Guangzhou is a blur.  This is partly because it rained a lot –really rained, like in a tropical climate.  So, while the mornings were nice, we were stuck inside most afternoons.  Another reason was that Bill was working almost non-stop to prepare for yet another government audit of his work records.  We didn’t mind him working because most of the family was wiped out, so sitting in the hotel room was not so bad, but it doesn’t make for great blogging.

On Tuesday, we went to a shopping center near the coast and The White Swan Hotel (just about every adoptive family stays there while in Guangzhou).  It is being refurbished, so we were at a local Marriott, but we could visit the shopping centers!  The whole complex is on an island that was once occupied by Great Britain and the stores all had plaques explaining the year they were built (early 1900’s) and their original purpose (banks, embassies etc.).  It was interesting, but our kids had no intention of letting us hang out and read plaques.  Reilly and Sharon were there with one purpose:  to prepare for tea time.  We left China with four distinct Chinese tea sets (four girls, four tea sets) and seven Chinese dresses, each a different size (to account for the neighbors).  Everything was so cheap, it was hard to say, “no.” 

On Wednesday, the whole crew from our hotel went to the “Oath-Taking Ceremony” at the American Consulate.   About a dozen families from our hotel crammed into a bus and drove to the embassy together.  Now that we had both QingBei and ZiXuan, there were eight in our family and we took up the whole back of the bus.  Therefore, I couldn’t really hear the interpreter all that well.  She had a soft voice and despite the microphone, it was a lost cause.  Even the parents in the middle of the bus were making eye contact, trying to see if anyone else knew what she was saying.  I finally just stopped listening, figuring that eventually I’d get the information I needed. …This was a mistake. 

The American Consulate was on the fourth floor of a huge building in downtown Guangzhou.  Our interpreter started collecting everyone’s bags in the first floor lobby, so my kids handed over their backpacks etc. and I thought all was well.  What I didn’t hear on the bus was that we couldn’t take ANYTHING into the Consulate besides our passport and one bottle/diaper per child.  When I got to the metal detector/scanner on the fourth floor and handed over my fanny pack, the whole operation came to a grinding halt.  Bill ended up collecting my phone, fanny pack and another couples things (who, it’s only fair to note, were sitting in the front of the bus) and running back to the first floor to find our interpreter and  have her hold it all.  Of course, he couldn’t find her and ended up going to a bank and paying them $20 to hold everything behind their counter.   Then, since he wasn’t with our group anymore and didn’t have an interpreter, the Chinese who were guarding the elevator wouldn’t let him back onto the fourth floor without a considerably heated conversation.   

He finally found us, only to realize that he was better off in the lobby.  For reasons which are still unclear, the American officials crammed all of us into a small waiting room for about half an hour.  Just as the noise was becoming intolerable, an adolescent American came over to the bullet proof window and had all of us raise our right hand and swear that all the information on our paperwork was true to the best of our knowledge.   That was the Oath-Taking Ceremony.  I’m afraid I laughed out loud over this. We’ve been handing them money and paperwork for over 15 months now and signing the same oath at the end of every document.  If we were going to lie….oh, never mind.  We got our kids Visa packets and headed back to the hotel. 

On Thursday, we went to a huge park right across the street.  The middle of the park was the center of the original city.  There was a huge central building/temple and parts of the original city wall.  Inside the building there was a museum including a map of the city with different city walls outlined in lights showing the city growth over the centuries.  It was really cool.  It would have been a great morning if it wasn’t for the Chinese staring at my kids.  

At one point, I was planning to climb to the top of yet another tower with Bill.  We left the kids at the bottom of some outside stairs and thought we’d just run to the top of the tower and get some pictures.  At the landing, just outside the entrance, I turned around to check on them.  They were all huddled in a corner of the stair way and there were three Chinese men standing well within their personal space and staring at my kids as though they held some life-changing truth within their eyes.  I rushed back down the stairs and got between the men and my kids and got them to back off.    They went to the other side of the stair way, but they were still staring at us for the next several minutes and even followed us as we walked to the park exit. 

I’m afraid this left us all pretty jaded.  They had used up our last bit of patience with staring Chinese.  So, a few minutes later, when a different Chinese man started walking much too close, all I wanted to do was dump the full measure of my wrath right on his head.  I glanced over at him and gave him a mean look, but he just kept coming closer.  Just as I was about to say something really terrible, since he couldn’t understand me anyway, he stepped in front of me to catch my eyes and said to me in English, “You care for Chinese children.  You kind person.”   

I was so surprised by this, I became totally tongue tied.  Looking back, I should have said plenty.  I know that what he said was a statement, but he meant it as a question.  I could tell by the tone of his voice.  And, here’s the thing;  I’m a Jesus Freak.  There is a very specific reason why I care for Chinese children and it is NOT because I am a kind person.  In fact, what seems like an act of kindness to the outside world is really an act of selfishness on my part, but I don’t have much success convincing people of this.  I care for Chinese children because the same God who created the universe and sent His only Son to atone for my sins is, occasionally, very clear about how I might bring Him glory.  At the moment, my brain was reeling over the fact that bringing God glory does not include mouthing off to innocent Chinese who are so surprised by what they perceive as selfless love, they will follow a family across a city park to try to understand more.  I was having a really hard time switching gears.  I knew what NOT to say, which is pretty good for me, but I didn’t have any idea what I should say.  We talked for a minute about how he learned such good English and how we will fix QingBei’s face, then we parted ways.  …I missed my chance.  I’m still annoyed with myself over this.

Anyway, we walked well over three miles that morning, all of it uphill, and took the subway back to the hotel.  Everyone collapsed that afternoon and we spent the evening packing for the trip home on Friday. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

China Day Twenty and Twenty One - Photos of China

We are exactly 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time here.   As I write this it is 5am, Tuesday morning, but it’s 5pm, Monday afternoon at home.   We have three more days here (T, W and Th).  Friday, we fly to Beijing and then to Dulles (in VA).  Because of the time zones, that last flight will take approximately one hour, since we will leave Beijing at 7pm China time and arrive in the states at 8pm EST on that same Friday  (oh, the complications of living on a sphere).

Anyway, when we adopted in Costa Rica and Ukraine, everything was topsy turvy.  You never knew what was going to happen next.  We planned to stay for about two weeks in each country and we were in Costa Rica for a month and in Ukraine for two months.  At any time, an official may or may not want to meet this week, or show up for his/her appointment, or sign your adoption papers etc. etc.  Here in China, we are enjoying the opposite experience.  Everything is happening according to an iron-clad agenda.  There are Americans everywhere, all adopting Chinese kids and all going through the same assembly-line-type week.  We’ve made friends with a bunch of families who are not even using the same adoption agency or staying in the same hotel as us, but we see them everywhere since everyone’s on the same schedule.   

All the days here are essentially the same.  We wake early and send Bill off to exercise.  Then we all hit the breakfast buffet in the hotel (and try not to stuff ourselves) and meet about five other families for morning touring.  We come back about noon for lunch in our hotel room and naptime, then we wander around the city looking for a restaurant that is both clean and affordable for dinner.  By the time we get back to our hotel, it’s usually time for bed.  The few variations that get thrown in here are Bill lugging me along to exercise with him, trips to wal-mart, swimming in the hotel pool or doing laundry in the hotel bathtub. 

On Sunday, our tour was to a local Buddhist temple. It was a 500 year old temple made of four large buildings surrounding a well-kept courtyard.  It was essentially a tourist trap.  Each building held a different kind of Chinese craft for sale: calligraphy, silk, embroidery, jewelry, painted bowls etc. etc.  It was a comical mix of old architecture and new capitalism. 

This was my favorite photo of the day. It’s a soda machine that is at the end of a corridor between two of the buildings. Such scenes make me happy. I don’t know why. 

After the temple, we hit a sort of shopping mall that sold jewelry.  It was huge, four stories high and just rows and rows of jewelry.  I’m not into jewelry, so we went to McDonalds.

This is just one wall of a pearl store.  It had three walls like this and there were at least twenty similar stores.
On Monday, we went to another Buddhist temple that was actually a temple.  I didn’t know this, but there are many Buddahs, each with his own purpose, so this was many buildings filled with many different Buddahs.   

At the last building, there was a Buddhist priest available to bless the children.  We declined.   I can’t help getting annoyed at stuff like this.  Buddhism is the largest religion in China and these people are the ones who were planning to essentially neglect my babies during their formative years, if not longer, and you think I want a religious leader from such a culture to give my child a blessing? 

After that, we went to a spice market.  This was also huge, but rather than a multi-story mall, it was just rows and rows of city streets filled with little shops of spices and pots and …bugs. 

We spent the morning looking for a deep fried scorpion for Paul to eat (I’m going to spare you my thoughts on the Bucket lists of 14 year old boys).   We failed at this.  All we found were live scorpions.  ZiXuan, who wanted me to carry her the whole time, saw a huge vat of scorpions and wanted down.  She went right over to them.  If I hadn’t grabbed her, I think she would have put her hand right into the bowl. 


Both days, we came back to the hotel about 1:00 and napped until dinner time.  The heat here just sucks the life out of us.  It’s in the 90’s which wouldn’t be horrible, but the humidity is stifling and by the time we get back to the hotel, everyone hits the hay for at least two hours. 

We usually eat out at a local restaurant.  Sunday night, we hit a popular Chinese spot.  It was jam packed and, honestly, the food was great, but the staring at QingBei is just so hard to endure, we went to an American Coffee Shop Monday night.  This is ZiXuan, discovering ketchup. 


That is pretty much our days here.  Three more, and then we head home.