So here are a few of my thoughts...
Our time in China...
- Beijing was a great experience. The weather was perfect (warm but not that humid and very blue skies which we had never seen in China before). Visiting a section of the Great Wall we had not seen before was the highlight for me. Hiking the Great Wall was a workout with two children but an incredible memory. It definitely made LeighAnn and I thankful for CrossFit workouts! My other highlight was meeting friends for dinner in Beijing that we met on our last trip to China. The only glitch in our time in Beijing was all our checked luggage not arriving to the airport. We were told that it would be delivered the next day. That did not happen. We called the airport on the morning we were supposed the leave Beijing to check on our luggage (our flight from Beijing to Guangzhou would leave that evening). They stated it was there and that it would be delivered late that afternoon. I told them that we were leaving on a flight that evening and needed it sooner. The airport staff member in broken English said they couldn't get it there till the afternoon. I told them I was an "angry American" and "I needed my luggage within two hours"....short pause on the phone and then the guy says, "ok....we are on our way with luggage now." When I told our guide what happened, he was surprised we were able to get it sooner. He liked that I used the "angry American" line and thought that's why they changed their minds! Guess I need to keep that phrase in my back pocket if needed again!
- Gotcha Day....Great experience at first, but almost too good to be true. LeighAnn and Linnea dressed up the same (a sweet lady from Fayetteville made all three girls matching dresses and we were able to send Abbie her dress a couple months prior). We were told later that Abbie picked out what she wanted to wear this day and she chose the dress we sent her. So, all three girls matched and that helped with an instant connection. When she came out, she went straight to Linnea first and then LeighAnn and made eye contact with the dresses. It was a neat moment and hopefully I can get the video posted soon. Abbie sat with us nicely on the couch and played with a few little things we brought (bubbles, etc). I worked with Miko on getting a few things translated in regards to her daily habits such as what she likes to eat, sleep schedule, etc. We realized Abbie was very strong-willed and independent rather quickly. She did not like being told what to do and pitched royal fit when we had to take her hand to get her to come out of a computer office she had ventured into after she decided to explore her surroundings. She hit and screamed but finally calmed down after some time as well as soothing words and water from LeighAnn. I have to be honest, I was thinking, "What have I done to my family!?" Here is Nathan and Linnea watching this child try to beat us up, she obviously is very strong physically, and I knew this was going to be TOUGH! My wife and I didn't really state our true thoughts until a day later, but we were thinking the same thing. This probably sounds so selfish but just being honest.
- Week one in China....Each day got a little better but Abbie still had meltdowns. We had great moments with her. She has an infectious smile and laugh. She is a beautiful little girl. We got to have a lot of fun with here. Then something would set her off....usually her not getting her way and she would pitch a fit. One of the worst was when she threw herself down on the ground outside the hotel in the rain. She was dead weight. The guide was talking to her in Chinese and she refused to move. That was hard to watch. I just wanted to pick her up whether she was hitting me or whatever. Instead we were encouraged to just let her get up on her own. So, I watched my sweet and gracious wife sit down next to her outside and sooth her wife her words while stroking her hair. One thing that was obvious once again on this trip was I definitely married way up! To see your wife be hit, scratched to the point of being cut, kicked to the point of having bruises all over her legs....and in return to hold this little girl, speak softly to her, stroke her cheeks and hair....it was just evidence of His Grace in her life that she in turn could be so merciful and gracious. No, it was not easy to watch as you just want to stop it. I did not want to see my wife crying like she was while these tantrums were happening or afterwards when it was over. My Son even asked me why she could get away with that (knowing that he is not allowed to treat us like that), so it was a great teaching moment for him. Sure, I could have stopped her kicking and hitting by physically overpowering her (which I must say was my instinct that I had to constantly fight back) but my wife would just say, "I got this, just let me hold her." As my wife posted, we reject authority in our lives all the time. We fight God unfortunately. We were able to point Nathan to Jesus on the Cross when He asked his Father to forgive those mocking and torturing Him as He took the pain Himself. Plus, we were able to teach him that Abbie may not know any better and that she was in "survivor mode." We were total strangers to her, spoke a different language, ate different things, etc. She did not know where her next meal would come from, where she would sleep or how she would be cared for. I asked Nathan to think about him in the same situation since he was the same age. He thought about it for a while and then stated, "yeah, I think I would probably act the same way."
- Week two in China...Much better week for Abbie as she started getting more into a routine. However, we figured this would start all over again once we got back home with a new routine. Life at a hotel and going from appointment to appointment is not reality back home! Abbie's tantrums seemed to be subsiding. She would still get into 'moods' but those are easier to deal with. We went to the circus and a couple other fun things which she really enjoyed. We finally asked the guide to tell her to point to things that she may like (food, toys or whatever). She started to do that so it helped to know what she likes. We bought her a couple toys and treats she liked and it seemed to make her day to have some things of her own. She definitely likes to shop now so I'm in more trouble with three girls in the house that like to shop! Everything was getting better with Abbie until the plane ride home. She did not like being confined in a seat belt. Not sure if she had ever had one on. I can't imagine how she felt since she had never seen an airplane before and her first trip was a 13 hour flight. She had about four kicking and hitting fits, with the last one being the worst. She was yelling so loud that about 15 other passengers gathered around us plus some of the flight crew. We had a three hour layover in LAX so we were able to get some food and relax for a little while before getting on the next flight. Plus it gave us some more time to get some snacks she liked and pray some more that the next flight would be smooth for her. It did go much better. She slept a good portion of the trip. When we were getting off the plane, I made the mistake of taking her carry-on bag from her. Keep in mind this small pink pull-suitcase had just about every possession she owned in it. She was having trouble pulling it down the airplane aisle as we were disembarking so I said something like, "let me get that for you sweetie." Well, looking back, of course she didn't understand me or my intentions. All she probably saw was me taking her bag of possessions and that totally set her off. She WOULD NOT get off that plane. She started crying and sat down in the aisle in front of me and all the passengers trying to get off the plane behind me. LeighAnn was ahead of us with Linnea and some other carry-ons. We basically had to pick her up with her fighting us to get off the plane. It took about 10 minutes in the jetway to calm her down. She was fine going towards baggage claim and it was so nice to see so many of our friends there to greet us at such an early hour on a Friday morning. What a sweet reunion it was to see Luke and Ethan!!!!
- Since we have been home.... We were so blessed by our wonderful friends ....our yard was taken care of and even landscaped, the pantry and refrigerator were stocked and a meal schedule was posted on our refrigerator of the people bringing meals in the first couple of weeks we were home....WOW! Totally blown away. Also, I had asked our associate Pastor while we were in China if he could help coordinate moving Abbie's bed out of Linnea's room into LeighAnn's craft room. We decided while in China that it would not be a good idea to have the girls in the same room. Our long term intent was for Abbie to have her own room within a few months but we were going to have the girls together for a little while. Well, with Abbie being like a "little Mommy" at the orphanage, we realized we had to make a change quickly. We thought we would come home to a craft room with a twin bed in it. Instead, all the craft stuff was moved down to our guest room and the room was decorated for Abbie. "Abigail Joy" in letters were on the wall, a dollhouse was in the corner, white children's furniture was in the room, and the list goes on. Sometimes it drives me crazy how much my wife uses certain words ("cute" being one of them!) but this room did indeed look cute. Abbie had her own room to sleep in and enjoy. It was fun to see her reaction. It is also fun to see her reaction to experience so many "firsts" in her life. She seems grateful and we are trying to go slow to not overwhelm her. We are trying to stay home as much as possible because over-stimulation can overwhelm her. Her tantrums are very few now, maybe one a day if that. She still gets upset and angry, but she is controlling it much better. We just sit her in a chair, sit next to her and let her calm down. She usually is not thrusting or hitting anymore....usually just some tears or silence. Then we ask her is she is ready to play again, talk to her in basic English about her actions (using a good amount of hand signals in which she acknowledges what we mean), give her hugs and then she is back to playing again. She has come a long way in a short time. She still speaks Chinese to us and we have picked up a few words (thanks to our friend Annie who speaks Cantonese and helped us with this). We have learned key phrases in Chinese to help her (and us) in this transition. We play outside a lot which she loves. Her brothers seem to like her and are helping her adjust. Linnea is probably having the hardest time. Sharing is the main thing we are working on with Abbie. Her favorite word in Chinese seems to be "it's mine." She is getting the hang of the sharing concept now but it will take time as she is still pretty reluctant to share. We find her hiding things under her pillow and sheets. We find her sneaking snacks. All these things will probably subside in time. Yesterday I came downstairs and she had an apple in her hand. She looked at me like, "can I really have this?" and I motioned that she could. She just got this huge smile on her face. (We keep a basket of fruit on the table so she can learn that she can know that food is available to her!) Here are a few more things from this first week:
- Friday -- First day home. Several of our friends and family followed us home to help with the luggage. It was great to have them come. Afterwards, we enjoyed our first breakfast as a family of seven!!!
- Saturday and Sunday -- mainly spent these days outside playing. Abbie has quite an arm as we noticed when we were playing baseball. May have to sign her up sometime for softball if her mom allows me!! We also went swimming. I think this was Abbie's first time in the pool. She was unsure of the water but eventually got in with us holding her and mainly played on the steps.
- Monday -- Abbie's first Memorial Day. We went out to breakfast ...Abbie's first Chick-fil-A experience. I was wondering if she would like CFA (especially the nuggets since our kids love them and b/c she would not eat McDonald's chicken nuggets in China). She loved them and even asked for more!!! Made my day!!! Sorry McDonald's but real chicken always wins out!!! After breakfast we went to the graveside of a fallen soldier I knew. We placed flowers and small flags at the graveside and talked about what Memorial Day was really all about. Our boys (led by Luke) wanted to say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing "My Country tis of Thee" so we did both. Monday afternoon -- gave Abbie her first bike. She now has a bike and scooter so she really likes both! What a smile on her face when she got this! We had a cookout that night (other firsts for Abbie ...hamburgers, hotdogs, baked beans, corn on the cob, etc)
- Tuesday - Thursday -- A lot more playing outside and more pool time. Abbie is now walking in the shallow end on her own so by next week I bet she will be jumping in! Abbie picked out a pair of tennis shoes from Target and was so excited about those. When I got home, she took my hand and motioned me to come upstairs to her room. She pulled out her tennis shoes, held them up, smiled VERY big and pointed to herself. How sweet that she got so excited over a pair of shoes that we her own. I got my lesson for the day in gratefulness right there. On Tuesday night, Abbie came over to me with an alphabet train puzzle. She wanted to go through each letter and practice. It was almost like she was stating, "ok, I'm ready to learn to talk your language!" We got about four letters into the puzzle and she walks off. I figured she was done. She came back with a leap frog alphabet machine. As we went through each puzzle piece letter, she would find the matching letter on the keyboard, press it, and then proceed to make all the sounds (i.e. "A"..."AAAA", 'Ahhhh", "Apple"). We went through the whole puzzle twice. I then took her over to the piano and broke out a lesson one book which Luke had been working on. We worked on her finger position, finger numbers and a C scale. We went through what each white key note was. She stopped me, walks over and grabs the leap frog, points to the letter "H" and then points to the piano and shrugs. She wanted to know where the "H" was on the piano. Ahh.....this kid is going to be smart! It was hard to explain since she could not understand my English that the white keys go from A through G and then start over with A, however, it was neat that she realized this!
- Friday morning -- Abbie heading to her first pediatrician visit. Hope everything goes well! Probably more pool time later!
Thank you again for walking this journey with us. We are blessed to know you!
P.S. Friends --- we will probably stay home as much as possible as Abbie adjusts. LeighAnn will probably stay home with her while I take our other Children to Church with me. Here are things we are specifically working on so it may help you understand why we are staying put for now (and also how you can pray for us):
- Abbie thinks she has to help all parents with their smaller children. Again, this probably comes from her having and wanting to help with the smaller children at the orphanage. This may take some time being away from small children for this to reverse.....not that we want her to lose her sweet spirit of serving, but to allow her to realize that she does not have to be responsible for small children.
- Sharing ...probably a new concept for her which is much easier to work on within our family than with other children. This also goes into her taking things and hiding them (which would probably be seen as stealing to most). As soon as we correct her and tell her she cannot take a certain item and hide it, she does not do it anymore. For instance, she took some Chinese money that I had leftover out of my pocket and placed it under her pillow. If you ask where something is like this through motions, she will lead you right to it. This will take some time for her to realize that she does not have to take and hide things.
- Obedience and getting her way ...these are the two things that lead to most of Abbie's outbursts. She is obeying MUCH better now but still has her moments. It will take time for her to learn her boundaries, our expectations and right from wrong.
- Attachment --- this is probably the biggest issue for all adoptive families....we want Abbie to attach to us. Right now she would go to any adult and seek affection from them. She would even call other men "Baba" (Daddy) as she may be confused by this new person /role in her life.
Thanks again for your prayers!!