Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Meaningful Analogy

Sometimes I find myself at a loss for words unable to efficiently explain how Shaling must have felt during the first several months home (and may still be feeling today, at least somewhat). I think there is a storybook notion that we "saved" her. While it's true that in the future, her life will almost certainly be better because she'll have a lot more options available, at the time we adopted her she was perfectly happy and well cared for. Yes, she wanted to be adopted, because she wanted a forever family. As an adult in China, her job opportunites would have been limited and marriage wouldn't have been a realistic possibility because orphans tend to be looked down upon. However, I'm not sure she is aware of any of that.

On one of the adoption Yahoo groups of which I'm a member, someone shared the following analogy, which helps the reader see the world through the eyes of an adopted child. It's written more at the toddler perspective, but there is value in it for every age.

Immense Loss; Walk a Mile in Baby’s Booties
--Written by Cynthia Hockman-Chupp, analogy courtesy of Dr. Kali Miller

Imagine for a moment…You have met the person you've dreamed about all your life. He has every quality that you desire in a spouse. You plan for the wedding, enjoying every free moment with your fiancĂ©. You love his touch, his smell, the way he looks into your eyes. For the first time in your life, you understand what is meant by "soul mate," for this person understands you in a way that no one else does. Your heart beats in rhythm with his. Your emotions are intimately tied to his every joy, his every sorrow. The wedding comes. It is a happy celebration, but the best part is that you are finally the wife of this wonderful man.

You fall asleep that night, exhausted from the day's events, but relaxed and joyful in the knowledge that you are next to the person who loves you more than anyone in the world…the person who will be with you for the rest of your life. The next morning you wake up, nestled in your partner's arms. You open your eyes and immediately look for his face. But IT'S NOT HIM! You are in the arms of another man. You recoil in horror. Who is this man? Where is your beloved? You ask questions of the new man, but it quickly becomes apparent that he doesn't understand you.

You search every room in the house, calling and calling for your husband. The new guy follows you around, trying to hug you, pat you on the back,...even trying to stroke your arm, acting like everything is okay. But you know that nothing is okay. Your beloved is gone. Where is he? Will he return? When? What has happened to him?

Weeks pass. You cry and cry over the loss of your beloved. Sometimes you ache silently, in shock over what has happened. The new guy tries to comfort you. You appreciate his attempts, but he doesn't speak your language-either verbally or emotionally. He doesn't seem to realize the terrible thing that has happened...that your sweetheart is gone. You find it difficult to sleep. The new guy tries to comfort you at bedtime with soft words and gentle touches, but you avoid him, preferring to sleep alone, away from him and any intimate words or contact.

Months later, you still ache for your beloved, but gradually you are learning to trust this new guy. He's finally learned that you like your coffee black, not doctored up with cream and sugar. Although you still don't understand his bedtime songs, you like the lilt of his voice and take some comfort in it. More time passes.

One morning, you wake up to find a full suitcase sitting next to the front door. You try to ask him about it, but he just takes you by the hand and leads you to the car. You drive and drive and drive. Nothing is familiar. Where are you? Where is he taking you? You pull up to a large building. He leads you to an elevator and up to a room filled with people. Many are crying. Some are ecstatic with joy. You are confused. And worried.

The man leads you over to the corner. Another man opens his arms and sweeps you up in an embrace. He rubs your back and kisses your cheeks, obviously thrilled to see you. You are anything but thrilled to see him. Who in the world is he? Where is your beloved? You reach for the man who brought you, but he just smiles (although he seems to be tearing up, which concerns you), pats you on the back, and puts your hand in the hands of the new guy. The new guy picks up your suitcase and leads you to the door. The familiar face starts openly crying, waving and waving as the elevator doors close on you and the new guy.

The new guy drives you to an airport and you follow him, not knowing what else to do. Sometimes you cry, but then the new guy tries to make you smile, so you grin back, wanting to "get along." You board a plane. The flight is long. You sleep a lot, wanting to mentally escape from the situation.

Hours later, the plane touches down. The new guy is very excited and leads you into the airport where dozens of people are there to greet you. Light bulbs flash as your photo is taken again and again. The new guy takes you to another guy who hugs you. Who is this one? You smile at him. Then you are taken to another man who pats your back and kisses your cheek. Then yet another fellow gives you a big hug and messes your hair. Finally, someone (which guy is this?) pulls you into his arms with the biggest hug you've ever had. He kisses you all over your cheeks and croons to you in some language you've never heard before. He leads you to a car and drives you to another location.

Everything here looks different. The climate is not what you're used to. The smells are strange. Nothing tastes familiar, except for the black coffee. You wonder if someone told him that you like your coffee black. You find it nearly impossible to sleep. Sometimes you lie in bed for hours, staring into the blackness, furious with your husband for leaving you, yet aching from the loss. The new guy checks on you. He seems concerned and tries to comfort you with soft words and a mug of warm milk. You turn away, pretending to go to asleep.

People come to the house. You can feel the anxiety start to bubble over as you look into the faces of all the new people. You tightly grasp the new guy's hand. He pulls you closer. People smile and nudge one other, marveling at how quickly you've fallen in love. Strangers reach for you, wanting to be a part of the happiness. Each time a man hugs you, you wonder if he will be the one to take you away. Just in case, you keep your suitcase packed and ready. Although the man at this house is nice and you're hanging on for dear life, you've learned from experience that men come and go, so you just wait in expectation for the next one to come along.

Each morning, the new guy hands you a cup of coffee and looks at you expectantly. A couple of times the pain and anger for your husband is so great that you lash out, sending hot coffee across the room, causing the new guy to yelp in pain. He just looks at you, bewildered. But most of the time you calmly take the cup. You give him a smile. And wait. And wait. And wait.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Reunited And It Feels So Good

Via Yahoo & Facebook, I've been able to connect with other adoption families, including specifically a group of families that have adopted children from LongGang SWI of Shenzhen, the orphanage in which Shaling lived. One of those special families is the VanCamp family from Kansas. Christie & Mark have adopted 5 Chinese daughters, RaeAnne, ZoraLin, Jordis, Tessa, and Kendalan. Tessa, formerly Long JiXing, is Shaling's "little sister" (mei mei) from LongGang. Christie's blog is Raising Sunflowers.

After a family trip to Wisconsin, the VanCamps graciously agreed to stopover and spend a night in Springfield on their way home so that Tessa & Shaling could see each other again. Tessa was adopted in August 2010, so it's been a year since the girls have seen each other. They've both been through just a few changes since then - longer hair, new names, new living quarters, etc. Oh, and then there's that little thing called a "forever family" that they each have now.

We started by meeting them at the Crowne Plaza, where they'd booked their rooms. The kids all went swimming while the adults chatted. It honestly felt like we were old friends. Shaling & Tessa were a bit shy (or perhaps awkward) at first, but eventually were chattering away. After awhile the Stengel family (or at least part of it - Lynne, Josh, & Jimmy) joined us. Josh & Jimmy are from LongGang SWI as well.

Shaling & Tessa Swim from Amy Reynolds on Vimeo.

Eventually, we were all quite hungry and I talked Mark into trying Springfield's specialty, a horseshoe. We're big fans of Top Cats and it is really close, so it became our next destination. We had a table for 14 -- with 9 of the 14 being kids, we were a noisy group of 14..."Chinese Invasion" as Christie called it. The food was a hit, as most people, including the kids, cleaned their plates. Mark was the only one who did not, but not because he didn't like it. He enjoyed the horseshoe, but was defeated by the quantity.

Though the lighting wasn't ideal, we took a few group pictures (at least of the kids). Left to Right: Preston Reynolds, ZoraLin VanCamp, Kendalan VanCamp (in front), RaeAnne VanCamp, Shaling Reynolds, Tessa VanCamp (in front), Jimmy Stengel, Josh Stengel, & Jordis VanCamp

Shaling & Tessa had a sort of handshake/song/chant that they obviously remembered from China. I thought it was really cute, so I asked them to do it again and I took a video. Unfortunately, again, the lighting isn't ideal, but you can hear the audio:

Shaling & Tessa's Secret Handshake from Amy Reynolds on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Grandma & Grandpa Reynolds Come to Visit

We hosted Grandma & Grandpa Reynolds for the weekend. Someone (I won’t say who, but she’s 9-years-old, beautiful, & Asian) wanted Grandpa to sit next to her everywhere we went – out to eat, church, on the couch at home watching television, etc. She also pretended she was leaving with Grandma & Grandpa when they left to go home. She gave Mom & Dad big hugs while giving us a sneaky grin and saying, “Goodbye Mom; Goodbye Dad!”

I think she bonded a bit with Grandma as well. Grandma helped her get started on a beginner’s cross-stitch (stamped). Grandma also showed an interested in Shaling’s dolls. Grandma is the ideal houseguest – she makes her own coffee, puts the bed sheets in the washer (and sometimes dryer) before she leaves, and helps herself to whatever she needs. I have to give Grandma a special public thank you here for making what turned out to be a very popular dish (a grape salad) at our neighbors’ big cookout & party Saturday night.

I missed most of the cookout/party because I wrote the trivia questions for a fundraiser night for another adoptive family. The fundraiser happened to be Saturday night and I was running the Powerpoint slide show of questions. The trivia night was combined with a silent auction and a mostaccioli dinner, plus several side games (i.e. 50/50 drawing). It is my understanding that the evening went extremely well financially, and it was apparent to me that people were having a good time as well. The family is planning to bring home a 13-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son at the same time.

For church Sunday, as we always do when Brock’s parents are visiting, we went to the Methodist Church (where Brock is a member). We were blessed to have our friends, the Stengels, join us there. They are the ones that brought home Josh (XiaoXiong) & Jimmy (GuangHui) from LongGang (the same orphanage as Shaling) in April. The Stengels are considering attending the Methodist Church (instead of their home church, Rochester Christian Church) with us for awhile. The hope & prayer is that our newest children will then grow strong in their new faith together.

Now might be a good time to announce that I recently made the decision that the kids & I will forgo attending our Lutheran church for awhile in favor of attending church as a family with Brock at the Methodist church. Though Shaling thoroughly enjoyed Sunday school and Vacation Bible School (not to mention the overnight camp week at Camp CILCA), she is struggling to follow the service at my church. The flow of Brock’s service seems easier for her to follow. Plus, there are far more kids at Brock’s church. She tells us, “I love Dad church.” I figure I have a new Christian here and it’s more important that she develop a relationship with God than it is important where she develops that relationship. To be honest, I didn’t just make this decision for her benefit. I think it will do a lot for me & Brock to get back in the habit of attending church as a couple and as a family (he used to attend the Lutheran church with me when we lived in Carlinville).

Back to less personal (and more light-hearted) stuff: Shaling had a great time swimming with Josh & Jimmy Sunday evening while her brother Preston got to go boating on Lake Springfield with his friend Paul. Earlier that day, Shaling spoke on the phone briefly with Natalie (her orphanage ‘sister’ who was adopted by Carl & Kim from Florida at the same time Shaling was adopted). Far different than those first few conversations after arriving home, the girls spoke in English the whole time, though I wish they would speak in Chinese. A couple of Chinese waiters/waitresses have told us that Shaling is starting to forget some of her Chinese. That breaks my heart. Brock & I were both happy to hear Shaling chattering away in Chinese with Josh & Jimmy later that day. Shaling keeps asking to go to Natalie’s house. She is not swayed by the fact that it takes 20 hours to drive there.

She is attending a softball camp from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Monday through Thursday this week. I think she’s happy to be playing again. She also got to go swimming with her friend Katie last night. Later this week, she will have some more firsts. We are taking her & Preston and 3 of Preston’s friends to St. Louis for 2 nights and 2 days in lieu of a birthday party for Preston. We are staying in a hotel with a pool. We will spend one day at the St. Louis Science Center and one day at the City Museum. She is going to love the City Museum. Check out their website; it is incredibly misnamed. There is nothing museum about it. It is 6 stories of tunnels, caves, treehouses, slides, and other climbing structures for the kids. Plus there is a small aquarium area. In that area, the kids can actually slide through a clear plastic tunnel down the middle of a large tank of various fish (including small sharks) and they can feed stingrays.

Shaling continues to adjust well. We rarely have unexpected fits of stubbornness anymore and when we do, she’s out of them quickly. She is concerned about our feelings and well-being. She loves to help out around the house. She’s the first kid I’ve ever seen willing to jump in and clean up cat puke. She helped clean the basement stairs and sweep the garage. She likes learning new things (like how to cook). She happily helps carry laundry baskets up and down the steps. When I tell her thank you, she sometimes says, “Yeah. I like help.” Yeah, Shaling, I like help too!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"I watch TV"

Last night in the car, Shaling was chattering away to us about her experience at Vacation Bible School that evening. As we were smiling and nodding along, Brock stopped to compliment her on just how good her English has gotten. We told her we were proud of her. She said, "Uh-huh! I watch tee-vee!"

We both cringed to realize she is crediting the television with helping her learn English, but her opinion is not without merit. We have several movies that have the option of English subtitles, Mandarin subtitles, or no subtitles at all. Believe it or not, she nearly always chooses English subtitles...and she really does do her best to read the words as they go across the screen. She is hearing the words spoken correctly as she reads the letters, so I think there is some benefit.

Don't worry -- we aren't relying this on our only tool. We (Brock especially) do read books with her and she attempts to read all sorts of things on her own. After all, we really wouldn't want her walking around saying, "I tawt I taw a puddycat" or "I'd like to buy a vowel", now would we?


For those who don't follow me on Facebook, let me re-share this quick story. Tuesday morning, I was having "one of those" mornings that we all have from time-to-time. I was struggling to get out of bed, struggling to get motivation, etc. I left the house about 40 minutes later than usual (I usually leave before anyone else -- including Brock -- is out of bed). As I headed downstairs, Brock had begun getting ready and I told him to have a good day. As I stopped in the kitchen to grab my purse and leave for work before I changed my mind and went back to bed, I heard footsteps on the stairs. I turned to look and Shaling came tiptoeing into the room in her nightgown and cheerfully said, "Good morning, Mom" and leaned in to give me a big hug. Made my whole day!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Jesus Confusion & Fort Wayne Visit

Preston & Shaling started Vacation Bible School (VBS) last night. It’s confusing enough for Shaling that Mom & Dad attend different churches (Mom & the kids are Lutheran; Dad is Methodist). To add to her confusion, VBS is held at yet a different church. Our home church, Good Shepherd Lutheran, combines forces with another Lutheran church, Concordia, for VBS. This provides a bigger pool of volunteers and also larger groups of children. Well, when Shaling realized we were headed to a different church, she said,

“Different church?”

“Different Jesus?”

Of course, we explained to her that it’s the same Jesus, just different people worshipping him.

She had a great time at VBS. I watched the last 20 minutes or so, when everyone comes together to sing songs and have a closing prayer in the sanctuary. The songs are the same ones that she and Preston sang at Camp CILCA (the overnight camp they stayed at for a week in June). She was thrilled to be singing along with them again. Apparently she was still excited this morning, because at breakfast, Dad told her that she would be going to VBS again tonight.

She exclaimed, “Jesus; I love Jesus!”

Brock replied, “Yeah, Jesus is awesome.” He then pointed out that Jesus had a role in bringing Shaling to America and into our family.

Her grateful response came quickly, “Jesus, please take me to China.”

Ah, yes…just a small reminder that though this family of four feels so natural and comfortable to us, it really is still new. Six months new.

In other news, Preston & Shaling just returned from a week with Uncle Scott & Aunt Barbara in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Uncle Scott took them swimming at the YMCA nearly every day. Shaling has a new Tinkerbell life jacket and has really learned to rely on it, giving her the confidence to swim all over the pool. They went to the zoo, to a hands-on science center, and more. For the first two nights, they got to play with cousin Braedon from Ohio, plus Shaling got to meet her Great Uncle Dave, Great Aunt Penny, and Dad’s cousin Michael for the first time.

We arrived on Friday and spent the weekend before coming home on Sunday. Shaling loves Uncle Scott & Aunt Barb’s dog, Dakota (half-lab; half-husky). She either wanted to stay there or bring “Cody” home with us. Of course, neither happened. We enjoyed a minor league baseball game (the Fort Wayne Tin Caps) Friday night. It was Harry Potter night at the ballpark, so lots of people were in costume. It was also fireworks night and there was a dazzling display following the game.

On Saturday, we grabbed lunch from Chick-fil-A and ate it at the YMCA, where the kids showed off their Dance, Dance, Revolution skills to us and Shaling showed us how confident she’s gotten in the pool. Then, we went to a local chocolate maker for freshly made chocolate-covered caramels and ice cream. After that, we went to the Three Rivers Festival, where the kids enjoyed Mid-Way rides and Brock enjoyed taking in a gigantic flea market. The kids also went for their very first helicopter ride. We finished off the evening by eating dinner at quite possibly the best Chinese food buffet to which I’ve ever been. It was scrumptious.

Several pictures and one video included below. I apologize for the poor picture quality. I forgot my camera and had to use my phone.

Preston & Shaling cheese it up with a giant bobblehead of the Tin Caps' mascot, Johnny Appleseed.

Preston smiles for the camera for me. He actually spent a large portion of the game asking his dad questions about baseball. He was genuinely interested in learning about it for the first time.

Shaling shows off her new swimming skills.

The kids go for a helicopter ride.

Preston & Shaling show off their dancing skills in this video.

Preston & Shaling - Dance, Dance, Revolution from Amy Reynolds on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Reynolds Family 4th of July

We spent the holiday weekend on Lake Shafer in Monticello, Indiana. There were TEN Reynolds family members in one house. The men still outnumber the women 6 to 4, but Grandma, Aunt Michelle, Shaling, and I hold our own quite well. No blood was shed. In fact, I daresay we all enjoyed the time together. Thanks to Grandma & Grandpa, we ate like royalty.

Shaling & Preston enjoyed play time with their cousins Cooper (7-years-old) and Chase (4-years-old). We all enjoyed a couple of boat rides, during which Chase would count up the "hotties" for us. Apparently a "hottie" is any female wearing a bikini, regardless of age. We watched fireworks from the boat Sunday night.

Preston & Cooper enjoyed riding a "banana" - a long inflated tube that is pulled behind a boat - with some of the neighbors' grandkids. Shaling never got brave enough to try it. She did go fishing and caught her first fish. I suspect that is why she didn't want to tube or go swimming with the rest of the kids. She told me that the fish would bite her.

We took Preston & Shaling miniature golfing. Shaling isn't much for finesse. Always trying to show her brute strength, she kept hitting the ball over or past the hole. She didn't take long to pick up a common golf habit -- shaving a stroke or two off her score.

Before we left to come home Monday morning, my brother came to pick up our kids to take them home to spend a week in Fort Wayne, Indiana with him and his wife. Since Brock's brother is named Scott and my brother is named Scott, I typically differentiate by always referring to them AND their wives, i.e. Uncle Scott & Aunt Michelle or Uncle Scott & Aunt Barbara. However, Shaling came up with her own system for differentiating between them. As I explained that "other Uncle Scott" was coming to get her, she asked, "Cardinal Uncle Scott?" Brilliant. We can sort people based on their baseball fandom!

Here are several pictures from the weekend (some of them courtesy of my mother-in-law, Nancy):

Shaling's "big" catch (with Chase standing proud):

Uncle Scott & Aunt Michelle brought a giant inflatable water slide and a slip & slide. The kids truly enjoyed it.

The boys play a game in the hallway during a rainstorm:

Grandpa, master griller, shows off his belated Father's Day gift new apron:

The neighbors had an uninvited guest in their bushes:

For the kids, part of the treat of being at Grandma & Grandpa's house is crowding together in Grandma & Grandpa's king-sized bed and watching television.

Shaling & Preston pose for a sibling picture before leaving with Uncle Scott:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Birthdays, Perfectionism, Athletics, "Maybe"

Last night was a ridiculously chaotic one around the Reynolds home. Shaling had soccer from 5:00 to 6:30; she had an all-important birthday party (more on that later) that started at 4:30, but that we planned to attend after soccer; she was spending that night at a friend's house. Preston had a friend coming over to spend the night. I am watching over a neighbor's house, cat, & plants while they're gone. We are leaving TODAY for a 3-day weekend with Grandma & Grandpa Reynolds in Monticello, Indiana (therefore, I needed to do laundry and pack bags). The kids will not be coming home with us, but instead will be traveling on to Fort Wayne, Indiana to stay a week with Uncle Scott & Aunt Barbara. We got a last minute phone call yesterday afternoon that a bedroom furniture set we knew were inheriting sometime would be delivered in a few hours.

If that doesn't already sound like I need to be locked up in an insane asylum, I decided to make what turned out to be the worst decision of the day.

I went to Wal-Mart.

On a Thursday night before a holiday weekend.

On the eve of the 1st of the month.

It was freaking nuts horribly busy. Trying to park was my first tip-off. Cars were driving through the parking lot as if the drivers were still on their learning permits. Inside the store, I was losing patience fast with people blocking the aisle, cutting me off, etc. And those with whom I was not losing patience, were losing patience with me being in their way. I only purchased 7 items, but when I looked the direction of the Express Lane, there was between 15 and 20 people in line, so I opted for the regular lane. It seems usually whatever lane I choose ends up being the wrong one, but last night was surprisingly (and pleasantly) different. That was perhaps the only part that went smoothly. Even leaving the parking lot was a nightmare, as I got cut-off more than once and had to survive a bottleneck to finally exit. I honestly felt like honking my horn and shouting with a maniacal laugh in a celebratory voice, "Hey, world, I made it out alive...A-L-I-V-E."

Anyway, back to that birthday party. It was a bowling birthday party for Josh (XiaoXiong), who is one of the two boys that arrived home to Rochester in April. They are from Shaling's orphanage and to her, they are her big brothers. Shaling was excited about it and made him a birthday card out of construction paper, water paint, and markers. She drew a picture of him and labeled it "Josh", after asking me how to spell his new name. She worked on it for a very long time, even falling asleep while doing so. She was meticulous with her work, so I was a bit taken aback when during the car ride to the bowling alley, she looked at it again and told me, "Look, Mom. Not for XiaoXiong. Uh-Oh." She spotted some imperfection that I could not detect and simply decided it wasn't good enough for him. She told me, "garbage", and wadded it up to throw away.

This was her first time bowling and like any athletic endeavor we've tried, she looked like a natural. She picked up several challenging spares. I concede it was with bumpers in the gutters, but her throws were relatively accurate and she aimed well. All of that being said, her most memorable throw of the night was when she threw a gutterball with a bumper in the gutter. That produced several chuckles. She really enjoyed it, so we're going to have to do a family bowling night soon.

I'm learning the hard way that Shaling doesn't get the concept of "maybe". She is hung-up on the fact that some of her friends have cell phones and she doesn't. She is not discouraged by the fact that Preston doesn't either. She presses and presses for when she might get one...10? 11? 12? 13? I once told her "maybe, 13". Well, Josh's birthday that we are celebrating is his 13th. So, on the way to the bowling alley, she clapped in hands together in a burst of joy and said, "XiaoXiong. 13. Phone!" Besides not understanding "maybe", she also doesn't understand the idea that each mother has their OWN rules.

Speaking of athletic endeavors, Shaling just wrapped up a 4-night soccer camp (her first taste of soccer). Despite the fact that she picked up the sport quickly, showed aggressiveness and hustle when dribbling the ball, and even won an individual kicking contest, she has informed us that she doesn't like soccer. She hasn't said why, but I strongly suspect it has more to do with the fact that none of her friends were there than it does with the sport itself.

I truly hope any of you reading this have a safe, fun, and relaxing holiday weekend. Happy Birthday, America.