Much to be Thankful For

Li enjoys a traditional Thanksgiving meal of... noodles, of course.
Li enjoys a traditional Thanksgiving meal of... noodles, of course.

It’s now almost two weeks since Thanksgiving, and I know I’m late in writing this but I’ve thought about it quite a bit of late… we have so much to be thankful for:

  • Dominating our thoughts and lives this year is the arrival of our daughter Li and the changes she has brought to almost every aspect of our lives. After nearly three years of waiting, her arrival in March of this year made all of the waiting worth it. We are so thankful that she is part of our family, that she arrived healthy and obviously loved and well cared for, and that she has begun adjusting to life with us.
  • We’re grateful for the love and support of friends and family as we have gone through major changes in our lives as her addition ripples in ever-widening circles. That love and support has shown in many ways including prayers for us while we were in China to get Li; getting to spend Thanksgiving with our friends Nick and Karie and their family where Li enjoyed the traditional Thanksgiving dinner of… noodles, of course; the seemingly never-ending bags of pink clothes from friends Chuck and Heather, knowing how much I like pink; watching Li with her grandparents.
  • We’re thankful that — not coincidentally, I am certain — she has started spending all night in her own bed beginning on the night before Thanksgiving. She’s still not sleeping all the way through the night (she’s only done it a couple of times, and it’s weird when she does) but having her sleep in her own bed means better rest for all of us.
  • We’re thankful for our church family and the support that we’ve received from so many people there as we’ve gone through this major adjustment, particularly from Mike.
  • We’re thankful for the opportunity to see the young man and big brother that Ian is growing into.
  • We’re thankful for having had the opportunity to travel together as a family to China, to spend almost three weeks there getting to see just a tiny bit of the culture and the people from where Li came, for having seen and heard and experienced just enough there to know that we will go back with Li someday when she is a little older and can understand better the path by which God brought us to her and vice versa.
  • We’re thankful and excited for our friend Cynthia and her husband Temo and their new life together and for finally getting to meet Temo on my last trip to DC in November.
Swim goggles are now mandatory attire for yogurt smoothies... who knew?
Swim goggles are now mandatory attire for consuming yogurt smoothies... who knew?

And the list goes on and on… we are truly blessed in so many ways. This year has been dominated by this little girl, this huge gift, and by the opportunity to welcome her into our family and to watch her grow and to realize how much we are growing, too. I don’t have any doubts that Christmas is going to be very special this year, too, as this little girl whose sense of humor is showing up more and more and whose sense of wonder at what goes on around her life each day grows gets to experience a very special time.

And, yes, those are swim goggles — deemed necessary attire by Li for consuming her pre-bedtime yogurt smoothie this evening… go figure.

A Full Week

It has been a full week — our first full week since coming home from China with Li — and it has, in fact, been a full week. We’re starting to get the routine down, and she’s adapting well (and, so are we, actually).

Ian and Li exploring a Lego bucketBy the end of the week, Ian seemed to feel like school was much closer to being under control as he got closer to being caught up. It has involved (and will continue to do so for a few days) going in early for make up sessions with one of his teachers. It was also his first full week of soccer, with training sessions on three evenings and two matches this week. The return to soccer seems to agree with him — probably the combination of getting outside a bit, the exercise, the competition, and the teamwork. And he still found time this week to squeeze in a bit of quality time with his mei-mei (little sister), sharing one of his own loves with her.

Evenings and nap times with Li are gradually settling down, too, with the extended bouts of screaming becoming fewer and farther between, and primarily restricted to just those situations where she has gotten too tired to be rational (we’ve had a few of those ourselves). She’s sleeping better — not typically through the night yet, but for longer periods — and as a result, we are too. We took the leap yesterday evening of moving her out of our room, where she had been sleeping in a portable crib, and into her own room and real crib. She’s napped there each day this week, but the time or two we’d tried this move in the past had just resulted in screaming. She slept well, but only lasted in there until about 4 am, and since we couldn’t get her to really fall back asleep there, we just threw in between us in our bed and squeezed a couple more hours of sleep in. We had expected this shift to be a much bigger step backward, but so far so good…

The best part of bath timeBath times are a bit of a challenge: she turns into Dash from the movie “The Incredibles” as we lower her into the warm bath water, with her legs going about 4500 rpm and water going out behind her in an impressive rooster tail. We no longer have to have a steady stream of Cheerios being fed to her to keep her in the water for long enough to soap, rinse, shampoo, rinse, but she clearly hasn’t reached the point where she enjoys bath time. This, too, would be interesting to explore in terms of how they did bathtime at her orphanage, as she supposedly enjoyed baths. Her favorite part of the whole exercise seems to be sitting in Dad’s lap, all wrapped up in a hooded towel after the ordeal is over.

We’ve slowly started to introduce her to our circle of friends late this week as well. She clearly does better with low key people (which is understandable, given her parents), does better on her own turf here at home or where food is involved (John and Tiffany at Great Harvest Bread were big hits!). She and Deb went to both of Ian’s soccer matches (or most of each of them) this week, and she seemed to do fine: she enjoyed being outdoors, actually paid attention to the match, and did pretty well with all of the attention. She seems more open to adults than kids, in general, too.

Li had her first doctor appointment — a normal well-baby check — this week, and that was hard. Lots of immunizations (by the time it was over, she looked like a pin-cushion) and they drew blood (it seemed like they pulled about 3 quarts) for a number of additional tests just to check for other possible problems. That was the hardest part, as a parent, to watch: for the first time since we met her, we saw real tears — and lots of them. All the screaming to this point has been all wind and no rain, but there were tears aplenty by the time that was over. It made an impression, because we had to take her back in for the results of the TB test this morning and she clearly did not have fond memories of the doctors’ office.

She’s standing on her own more and more, and for longer periods of time. She took a sort of stumbling pair of steps yesterday, but they were more caused by a loss of balance than a desire to go from point A to point B, so we aren’t really counting that as walking. Those first real steps, though, are clearly not far away.

Li exploring one of our book casesLi loves books. Just can’t seem to get enough of them either. Her favorite right now is a board-book version of Noah’s ark that we read at least 10 times every day — her favorite page is the one where the reader has to howl like the two wolves, roar like the two lions, and trumpet like the two elephants. I don’t know how much, if at all, she was read to in the orphanage or whether she had books there to look at, but ever since we gave her a couple of books early in China, she has been drawn to them. I don’t specifically recall anything in the adoption paperwork where we touched on our love of books and reading as a family, but this is just one more way that God made sure this little girl has, as the Chinese would put it, “fallen into the honeypot”.

So, as week 1 draws to a close on Li’s new life with us and our new life with her, we can look back at this week and offer a prayer of thanks for

  • a really full week together
  • the love and joy this little gift of God brings to our family
  • the kindness, support, prayers, and patience of our friends and extended family as we all adapt

Tomorrow marks Li turning 15 months old and the start of our second week home. We can’t wait to see what this next week holds for all of us…

Slow Return to Normal

Life is in fact slowly returning to something that is beginning to feel like normal. A new and different normal, to be sure, but normal none the less.

Ian is back in school, spring soccer has started up and we have our first league match this evening, most of the snow is now gone (aside from the shaded places in our back yard and garden where we had some pretty impressive drifts pile up over the winter), and we are gradually getting caught up on things around the house. I’m still at home these days, and will continue to be for at least a couple more weeks. I can’t imagine having to go back to work at this point and realize how blessed I am to be in a position of being able to have this time with family.

Li as her smiling, happy selfOur new normal is of course dominated (dictated?) at this point by the rhythm of life with an almost-15-month old little girl. Li, for the most part, is adjusting extraordinarily well: she’s healthy, happy (most of the time), active, curious, learning, babbling away, and definitely eating well. Bedtime and naptime are still tough, but bedtime is in actually getting a little easier, and she’s sleeping better. We’ve finally gotten 6 and 7 hours, respectively, of uninterrupted sleep the past two nights which makes a huge difference for her and for us (although I think Deb and I will need a few more of those to begin to feel like we are not sleep-deprived). She’s eating well, loves to be read to (which Deb and I both find exciting and surprising, because we don’t believe she has been exposed to books before), and yesterday we started seeing her stand on her own for a few seconds at a time.

She’s pretty cautious and shy at first around other people, particularly at first, which is both understandable and a good thing as she continues to bond with us. We’re taking it pretty slowly in terms of exposing her to friends and even to family.

To those of you who have offered your help and your prayers, we say a huge “Thank You!”. You have no idea how much those have helped and have meant (and continue to mean!) to us these past weeks.

Chinese Weightlifting Team

Li Zhong, NanchangDeb and I have decided that we are now official members of the Chinese weightlifting team. We seem to be competing in the flyweight division. We find it interesting that as the smallest people in this adoption group, we were matched with the heaviest of the children. By the end of each day, we are exhausted and every muscle in our arms, shoulders, and backs is incredibly sore. I’m still trying to figure out how to say “ibuprofen” in Mandarin… but having said that, I look at her and I see God’s hand in this match between her and us in so many ways. She’s beautiful and she’s perfect and we are so blessed to have her as part of our family. This is indeed a match made in heaven.

Evenings are still very hard on Li (and therefore on us). There clearly are some areas there where we hope things will smooth out over time. Other than that, we are all adjusting well. Li is eating, pooping, drinking well. She is much more active and extroverted now — her smile and her laugh just light up a room. (Those cheeks are so big, she has about 4 dimples on each side when she smiles!) She got a waiter in a restaurant in trouble yesterday at lunch because she was smiling and laughing at him so much that he just stopped and was playing with her until one of the older “aunties” working there came over and scolded him to get back to work. She’s cruising the furniture around the room now, too, which brings a whole new set of challenges since it is really hard to kid-proof a hotel room you are trying to live in.

Tang Weng Pavilion, NanchangWe visited Tang Weng pavilion yesterday morning and spent several hours just wandering the grounds and exploring the pavilion before sitting in on a musical performance with traditional Chinese dance, singing, and music. Li was enthralled, particularly by the dance. The pavilion dates back more than 1,400 year and it is amazing. The grounds are beautiful and Li seemed to particularly like the ponds and plants on the grounds surrounding the pavilion itself.

This morning involved a trip to Porcelain Street (the Jiangxi province is known for its porcelain) and a Chinese book store for a bit of shopping. It was pouring down rain this morning — something we haven’t seen since Monday — so we didn’t get to spend much time outside and it showed in Li’s demeanor this afternoon. She did take a bit of a nap early this afternoon which made for a much more pleasant dinner for all of us. As soon as we were back in the hotel room, she went into scream mode again until she just plain wore herself out, at which point she simply collapsed asleep in my arms.

Li Zhong and Deb, NanchangTomorrow morning, we leave Nanchang for Guangzhou, which makes me sad. Nanchang is an amazing city and it will always be a special place for all of us as this is where we got Li Zhong. It is a city of extremes: extreme poverty, extreme traffic, extremely bad air, extraordinary beauty, incredible history, incredible food, and the people here have been more open and friendly and curious and supportive that we would have thought possible. The looks on their faces when they find out why we have these girls is such a blend of excitement and joy. We will leave here with an incredible gift and with fond memories of this city and a strong resolve that we will come back to show Li this place that is now such a special place for all of us.

Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers; please keep them coming. We’ve got lots of travel ahead of us, more appointments with the governments on both sides of this particular equation, and we are all still definitely working through this process.

One week and counting (down)…

One week from today — less if you take the time difference between here and there into account — we will be in Nanchang and will welcome Li Zhong into our family. At times, it seems hard to believe that more than 3 years have passed since we started this journey. The only thing that really made that time period bearable was our faith that God had a plan for all of this, and that it simply wasn’t yet time for us be matched with a little girl — until now.

These past couple weeks have seemed to take absolutely forever. Time seems to have slowed to a crawl… and yet, as with so many other things, that has worked out: I’ve been able to clear almost all of the major work-related deliverables off my plate, something that just didn’t seem possible 10 days ago.

The timing of our trip with Ian’s spring break from school also counts as just one more little miracle in this process, being just about the only time during the school year that would make it even marginally feasible for him to be part of this next part of our adoption adventure.

Please keep all of us in your prayers these next few weeks: for safe travel for all of us to, in, and from China, and for peace and patience for all of us including Li as we go through a life-changing transition.

Now, back to packing, and list-checking.