Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Do you have any brothers or sisters?"

It was the one question I answered without thinking about our cultural differences. Sure, I remembered where I was as we sat at that wooden table in the middle of the dumpling restaurant. Sitted next to me was Daniel. He was on my left, but on my right was a local. A local meaning a Chinese resident. We shared a table with another couple, 2 ladies taking their lunch break I assume. If we spoke the same language, we easily would have been a part of each other's conversations. We were sitted close. Like pass me the salt, er,  soy sauce close.

In the van ride from the Beijing airport to our hotel the night before, we were acquainted with our first guide, Flora. She is only a few years younger than us. In fact, it was the first thing she noticed about us. Typically couples who adopt from China are older with biological kids of their own. We learned quickly through our adoption that most of the families who adopt already have kids, bio or adopted. To have a couple without kids to adopt from China isn't as common as one might think. Flora's exact words to us were "You're young."

"Thank you." I knew she was my favorite for a reason.

We talked government laws on the way to the hotel. She wanted to know how we were able to take off work for our China trip. She was intrigued with the concept of the FMLA. Giving both women and men time away from work without fear of being fired to bring home a new child was a foreign concept to Flora. She agreed it is a good government program to have for its citizens.

12 hours later we sat at the dumplings restaurant waiting for our (melt in your mouth, so delicious, take me back to China this minute, fantastic) dumplings to arrive and continued our small talk. When she asked about our siblings, I didn't really think too much about it. Her next question helped trigger my memory about the country we were presently in. She asked, "Are you close?"

Flora grew up under the One Child Policy in China. Over the years, there were exceptions about the number of kids based on the number of siblings between a husband and wife. For the most part, it was the same. One child. Not by choice, but it was the law. Flora was intrigued by the concept of having a sibling while she only had close friends who she shared an apartment with. Just like most of the people who she knew, it was rare for her to meet someone with a sibling (or more). In that moment, my heart broke for Flora. Not knowing the pure joy of growing up with another human(s) who could relate to the current issues and situations happening in your household made me sad for her. So I took it upon myself to (over)share life with my sister. I told about growing up with a younger sister and our fantastic Hawaii trip just 1.5 years prior to being in China. Flora was intrigued, fascinated, and hanging on every word. Then the food came out and all talking was over, because we were stuffing our faces with dumplings using chopsticks, drinking warm Chinese Coke from a can, and wiping our faces with a tissue. (Tissue meaning a one-ply sheet of a toilet paper square. The Chinese do not believe in making a mess while eating apparently. Each table had a box of these "napkins". I always used an entire box of "napkins" at every meal, because, hey, I get messy when I eat.)

This lunch started our lifetime bond with Flora, our guide, who is now my personal pen pal. We just recently reconnected through emailing each other. She is a sweet soul who is eager to learn about others and their lives. She became more than just our guide during that week we spent with her. She became family. She was the last one to see us as Todd, party of 2, the first one to see us become parents. She Go-Proed, took our pictures, shopped with us (i.e. with me and she loves H&M), ate tons with us, was patient with us, made us feel like a local, and guided us through the most important decision of our married lives. We love and miss you terribly, Flora!

at The Great Wall
March 7, 2015

riding the bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin
March 8, 2015

one last picture with Flora before we left for the airport to fly to Guangzhou
March 12, 2015

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Wu-Mart

Ah, yes. Welcome to Wu-Mart!

The Wu-Mart in Beijing was located on the corner of the streets. We first saw it when we made our middle of the night McDonald's run. I needed hairspray and Daniel wanted to check out the local shopping so we decided to head out one night after another several hour long, jet-lagged nap.

The buggies were outside the entrance, which seemed unorganized to say the least. The entrance didn't have doors but rather had the long plastic strips to help keep in the heat and the cold out. This should have been my second clue that I wasn't entering an American-style supermarket. (The first clue being I was in China.) There were several floors to this supermarket and honestly I don't really remember much about the entrance once inside. I knew that I needed hairspray so we found the hygiene area. Have you ever been shopping in an Asian store where none of the words are even recognizable? In some non-English countries, one might be able to decipher the meaning of a few words, but in an Asian country it is very hard if one isn't familiar with their characters.

So I stood there in front of the shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, hair gel, lotion, and body wash aisle examining each bottle and how the product would go from inside to out of the bottle. I was grasping for any clue while searching for hairspray. I found a bottle with a pump on it and asked Daniel for his advice. Did he think it was hairspray? Is there a chance it could be hair gel with a pump instead? Or could it be something completely different? We agreed it likely was hairspray and I would ask Flora, our guide, the next day to make sure I wasn't misusing this what I believed to be hairspray product.

So we decided to explore. We went up the escalator and found where all the food was located. And there were bins of fresh produce as far as the eye could see. Next to the produce were other bin-type containers holding all of the fresh meats. Now these meats would NOT pass the American food laws because they were out like the produce. Not wrapped in plastic and some not even in coolers. Most of the meat you could tell which animal it came from since it wasn't cut  into smaller sections or grounded up. Nope. We saw it all there. Pigs, octopus, rats, rabbits, cow, and other mystery meat that we could only imagine it was.

It was a very different grocery shopping experience compared to here in America.  It was almost like a market type store, but it was inside and it felt very dark despite the overhead lights. I wish we would have GoProed our experience.  Maybe next time.

Here is my Chinese hairspray from the Wu-Mart. I am still using it a year later!  You can see my delimma when looking at the bottle and trying to figure out exactly what it was. My guess paid off!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Untold China Stories: McDonald's and the Americans

It's no secret that when you travel 24+ hours to the other side of the world to a different country to a different hemisphere crossing the International Dateline there will be stories that go untold. Obviously our main focus while in China was to adopt Paisley, but we also took that time to explore her birth country so we could share bits and pieces of her heritage with her as she grows. This meant getting submerged in China. Although we had our guide with us most of the time, our agency did encourage us to venture out on our own. Scary? Yes! Did we do it? Of course! We didn't want to be cooped up in our hotels the whole time. Just like with any new experience or trip there is always a story to share so please enjoy the upcoming blog series of our untold China stories, which are quite lengthy. I don't want to leave out any details, and you're welcome.

Disclaimer:  If you've never been to a non-English speaking country, please remember this is where we were. Also keep in mind we were in a communist country so I was also secretly terrified for my life even though we were told it was fine.

McDonald's and the Americans

We spent our first day (3/6) in China sightseeing Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and taking a Hutong Tour in Beijing. It was an exhausting day, and we got back to the hotel around 3pm. We made plans to meet Flora, our guide, the next morning so dinner was on us. Since we were still jet-lagged, we thought a nap would be appropriate.

(Let me stop here and describe the Chinese beds. I am all for a firm mattress. Give me the firmest you got, but these Chinese mattresses were highly uncomfortable. Maybe it was this particular hotel or maybe we got used to them as the trip went on but I did not sleep well in Beijing. Also, the pillows were terrible and there was a fitted sheet and a down comforter. No top sheet in China. Either you burned up from the covers or you froze from not being covered. True story. And during this time of year, Beijing is cold. It was in the 30s during the day while we were there. Walking around. Walking, people! We rarely took a taxi in Beijing except from the airport, to/from The Great Wall (2 hours from Beijing), and to the train station.)

Back to the story: This nap turned into a 5+ hour nap so it was 9:30pm when we woke up. And we were hungry. I suggested running down to the convenience store next to our hotel. Quick, easy, and very limited time in the cold. Daniel didn't want to do that and wanted "real food". So we decided to walk down the street to see about trying some local cuisine. There were noodle shops every block so it was about trying to decide which restaurant's menu looked the most appetizing. The menus were plastered to the windows for easy view. 

We found a restaurant that we both agreed to try so we went in. The guys were in the back cleaning so we looked at the menu to make our final choices. One guy came running to the front when we came in the door. He quickly realized we didn't speak any Mandarin and proceeded to tell us it was "open". We said, "Ok, great! We want numbers..." "No, no, no. We're open." "Yeah, ok. Good. We want..." Then he realized he meant to say closed instead of open. We apologized for not knowing they were closed, and Daniel asked where the closest McDonald's was. (In China, there are noodle restaurants on every block and every few blocks there are McDonald's.) The guy gave us very vague directions with a lot of turns and "crossing of the streets". Frankly, I knew we would get lost. I wasn't confident in this guy's English since he said the store was "open" when it was indeed "closed".

So we made our way to the McDonald's on the streets of Beijing around 10pm. Honestly, all I could think about was how frightened my parents would be if/when they found out we were walking at night the streets of Beijing. Not just any city, but one of the biggest cities in the world in a foreign country with no way to communicate if something happened. Yep, I would be grounded if I wasn't 31 and not living under their roof. In fact, Mom was not pleased to hear this story when I told her weeks later when we were home safe.

As we made our way to McDonald's, I noticed that there were quite a few people out. The streets weren't crowded like they were during the day, but it reminded me of being in downtown Birmingham during the day and all the people out. One thing about China is everyone (unless they interact with foreigners daily) keeps to themselves. No one says "Nihao" or anything when passing by people. The Chinese are focused on where they are going. 

After about a mile of walking, we finally made it to the McDonald's! I had never been so happy to see that place ever in my life!! We tried to order but our words were lost in translation and they had to get a paper menu out for us to point to. I got a double cheeseburger combo and Daniel got a Big Mac combo both with Cokes. (We drank a lot of Cokes while in China due to the fact their water is undrinkable. Every day we were given 2 new water bottles at each hotel we stayed.) Let me just say I'm not a big McDonald's fan, but I was forever changed while in China! You have never tasted a more delicious hamburger than at the McDonald's in China. We pretty much ate McDonald's everyday (sometimes 2x a day) during our 2 week stay. It sounds pricy, but everything is so cheap in China especially food. Our 2 combos cost around $7. It was like 2 for 1 over there!

We decided it would be best to eat there before making the cold trek back to our hotel. We found a table facing out the main window with some chairs like a bar type table. As we ate I thought about how hilarious it must be to the locals to see 2 Americans seated at the window table staring out onto the Beijing streets while eating their McDonald's. I will say that we learned that McDonald's delivers in China via a bicycle. And they were making deliveries at 10 o'clock at night.

On our way back to the hotel, we looked at the shops and talked about where we might want to try next. At the end of our street on the corner, we found the next place we would venture to...The Wu-Mart.  

Yes, Wu-Mart, not Wal-Mart. That untold China story is next...

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Pressing On

Life with an adopted 3 year old is the same as life with a bio 3 year old most days. We have our good days, bad days, joyous days, and difficult days. The kisses and hugs are sweet, and discipline is still given even though it looks different from the way Daniel and I received it as kids. The thing one might not expect from watching our family is the intensity of our life.

We don't broadcast the hard times as often anymore, because we are entering into the phase of discovering aspects of Paisley's history. No, we don't have many facts or details about Paisley's early life in China. However, her actions and moods are giving us clues to what her life could have been like and the different experiences she lived through. Though we may never know for sure what her life was like before becoming a Todd, we will always lean towards being overly cautious, loving, and compassionate towards her even during her misbehaviors. We are working closely with doctors and professionals who have experience in evaluating and helping adopted kids and their families overcome hard times and learning to heal from prior events. Their expertise is helping us interpret Paisley's behaviors compared to other kids who have gone through certain situations and shown signs of similar behaviors. As her parents, we will always protect "her story" and will support her as she grows in making sure she feels comfortable in sharing with us first and then, if she chooses, with others.

In light of this new information, I must admit some days I have no idea why God chose me to be Paisley's mom. I feel unworthy of the task and incapable of being the parent she deserves. I grow impatient easily, frustrated quickly, and force myself to show her love and compassion when times get hard. Frankly, my heart breaks for her early years, and sometimes I can't control my tears. It's all I can do to not build a fortress around her to shield her from any more hurt or pain. For me the hardest part is feeling helpless during the hard times. That's when my doubts scream the loudest, and I feel like I am not helping her but opening her wounds even more. It's a constant struggle within myself and a lie from the pit of hell itself, but it's a lie that I hear often.

Nevertheless I must press on just as Paul writes in Philippians 3 towards a goal for which God has called me.

Do I stop loving her? Not at all. Is my bond to her strong enough to fight through my doubts? Yes, but it's still hard. We are still building that connection and bond with her as our daughter. Even though part of our bond has come naturally, there is still a side that struggles. Paisley is still learning to trust us.

From what I can see, Paisley knows who we are and what it means to have us as her parents. She feels safe with us and does trust us to a certain extent. Where her trust with us is lacking is when she experiences things for the first time. In fact, it might not even be us at all. New experiences might be a trigger for her and since her trust with us is still new (having only been with us for 7 months instead of her whole life of 3 years), it might seem like she doesn't trust us. It's still a lot for her to process, but she is getting settled as a daughter quite beautifully. It's like she was destined to be a daughter, our daughter.

If we may still ask for your prayers, we covet them. As we have mentioned throughout our entire adoption, the hard part is now. As hard as the waiting part was, now is the time where we are faced with questions and unknowns. As time goes by, these questions and unknowns will be answered and revealed; however, new questions and unknowns will appear. It can be a vicious cycle, but we trust God to already be present in those times waiting for us to get there. He has already world out the hard times in order to reveal His glory. He has redeemed an orphan and transformed her into a daughter, His daughter.

Thank you to each of you for the continued support and prayers over the past 2 years. Prayer works, because we are a living testimony!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Paisley's First Birthday Home

Parents throw their kids their first birthday parties all the time.  In some ways, it's also a celebration for the parents for making it a whole year in their new role as parents and trusting they are on the right path to nurture, love, discipline, and care for their chip.  To me, this "first" birthday is more than just a kid turning another year older.  it's about an orphan turned daughter who never has to spend another birthday without her family.  It's about celebrating life beginning at conception and continuing with loved ones.  It's about a mother who gave life and a few days later abandoned that liffle girl's life for a hope of a great future.  Ultimately, it's about a promise being met by our Heavenly Father for our caught to be him before her 3rd birthday.  And He did just that.

I'm not sure I'll ever able to fully express all of the emotions of what her 3rd birthday held. Furthermore I might not be able to tell completely every last detail of our journey to bring Paisley home to her.  What I do know is that over the course of 16 months there were a lot of prayers, tears, and moments of desperation as we longed to have Paisley home with us.  I leaned on His promise He made to us on September 5, 2014.  It was Paisley's 2nd birthday, and she was spending it, her final birthday as an orphan, in China.  My heart yearned to have her home so we could throw her a party to celebrate her beautiful life.  It was a hard day as you can imagine.  My daughter spent 2.5 years of her life away from me.  I haven't seen a lot of her "very firsts":  words, laughs, visits to certain places, baths, etc.  However, God has given us plenty of "our firsts" with Paisley:  English words, genuine smiles and laughs, new foods, her own room, etc.  And this year He gave Paisley her first birthday home.

Saturday, September 5, 2015 was a day filled with 57 different emotions for me.  In true mom-like fashion, I was stressed, worried, and hopeful things would happen easily, which they did.  Beautifully at that.  Not only was I in "birthday mom" mode, but I was an emotional basket-case.  My daughter was experiencing a birthday like she had never experienced before.  Her 3rd birthday was her first birthday as a daughter.  Just knowing and trying to imagine what life was like for her before us sends me into a good ugly cry.  Then I think about how God never went back on His promise and here she is.  Our little miracle!

Paisley's theme for her party was "All-American" theme to celebrate her life as a new American.  She loves America....well, at least we think she does since she love to thank God for America every times she prays.  I thought that a red, white, and blue themed party was appropriate.  Besides how many more years do I have to decide the party theme for her before we have character parties?

It was a beautiful (and hot) day at the park under the pavilion, where we had the party.  We invited those people who Paisley had already been around before.  This way we were not introducing new faces to her at the party.  So we kept it relatively small.  I believe she had a great birthday!  She was a trooper in the heat for so long and never had a meltdown or any other negative behavior for that matter.  She loved to open presents so she could find that one special gift to catch her attention.  This birthday's "attention grabbing"  toy was a toy Dodge Viper car.  A huge shoutout to my aunt for making that purchase.  Paisley LOVES that car!

I'm so grateful for the opportunity and the privilege that God has given me to be this little girl's mom.  She is truly a gift from above.  A gift from her birth parents (mom) that we could never repay.  

Happy 3rd birthday, Paisley!

Happy birthday, Paisley!

The delicious and beautiful cake that Nana made especially for Paisley.

With our little 3 year old

"This is 2 year old Baby Paisley."

Our "Best Friend" shirts from Aunt Sissy and Uncle Josh

The Dodge Viper that Aunt Jane gave to Paisley.   I'm trying to hide my true feelings about this loud and bright toy by acting excited for Paisley.  I get the impression that Paisley doesn't care what I think either way.

Paisley playing catch with Uncle Josh.  He is one of her favs.

Friday, July 24, 2015

forming that forever bond

Every day life with Paisley is anything but ordinary.  We continue to build that trust and felt safety with her so she will know that her years of abandonment are over.  We constantly do things that are the opposite to how we think parenting "should be".

There are a lot of varying opinions about kids sleeping in their parents' bed, but Daniel and I have to remember that the way we parent is to build an everlasting bond with Paisley.  Outside of the adoption world, I am not a huge proponent of kids sleeping with their parents although there are exceptions to every rule.  All kids crave love, affection, trust, and felt safety through touch and being next to their parents.  It is in our being to feel these things.  The question to myself is this:  Why am I denying a child (bio or adopted) these important building blocks for years to come just because I am not a fan or it isn't convenient for me?  Part of being a parent is about sacrifice and raising children who are upstanding people who can make a difference in this world.

Every day I am faced with the real truth and challenge that there was a broken bond between Paisley and her birth mother.  As natural as I would like for it to be, our Momma-Paisley bond will never be as strong as the bond she was supposed to have with her bio mom.  Paisley spent (we only can assume at this point) roughly 9 months living and growing inside her bio mom.  Those are 9 crucial months I will never experience with Paisley.  However, I will spend the rest of my lifetime forming a relationship with Paisley as her Momma where she feels loved, protected, cared for, provided for, safe, wanted, appreciated, adored, cherished, and remembered.  And why is letting Paisley fall asleep in our bed a huge, big deal again?

the littlest Sleeping Beauty in her momma and baba's bed

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

4 months home

Last night I watched some video of Paisley just a few days after getting her in China.  I cried while smiling thinking back to those first days with her.  We were excited, happy, terrified, unsure of ourselves, anxious, exhausted, and blessed all wrapped up in one.  Let me try to convey the 57 different emotions that I felt while watching these priceless times.

As we were living in the early days in China, I knew that Paisley was more advanced than we thought she would be.  I remember thinking just how smart and curious she was with her surroundings always wanting to know how things worked.  She even took an pen completely apart and put it back together while we were in Hong Kong.  Yes!  I sat and watched her do it.  Amazing what her little brain can do!

Paisley in our hotel room in Tianjin
March 11, 2015

As much as I hoped it wouldn't be, the language barrier was a huge obstacle!  Most of the time she would be unresponsive to what we were saying due to the fact that she couldn't understand us.  And she would meltdown because we couldn't understand her.  However, her little voice was precious.  It reminded me of a baby talking for the first time.  You thought her voice is precious now.  You should hear it during our time in China.

Even though she was 2.5 years old at that time, she was super tiny.  I remember just how small she was...and still is for that matter.  She barely fit into size 12 month clothing.  She looked malnourished in a way with her super thin limbs and her huge belly.  It's evident by the way she would eat that she was stuffing her face, because she was scared that she might not eat for a while.  She was very "in tune" to her food while she ate.  She would quickly chew her food and begin stuffing her face soon after swallowing the previous bite.

Now as I watch I can't believe the progress!  Today she is more like a 2 year old in the way she communicates.  Scratch that.  The way she is putting together complexed sentences is like she is older than 2 years old.  We are still working on answering questions when others ask.  Simple "yes/no" questions along with questions like "how was your day" or "what did you do today" still get a blank stare or a simple repeat, but that will come in time.

She obviously is able to interact with us more than she did while in China.  Instead of walking around like she is in her own little world, she is able to carry a conversation as we stroll through the house or swim in the pool.  The relief in knowing that she understands me and I can understand her is huge!

It's the smallest of things that parents with bio kids take for granted.  Having your child know 100% that you are their parent and you will do anything to keep them safe is a HUGE relief for a child.  However when a child is unsure about who their new parents are and exactly what is the circumstance for this new relationship, it makes life for all parties EXTREMELY difficult and stressful.  To some extent, I know that Paisley knows today that she is loved, cared for, and kept safe by us, but there are those moments when her insecurities show.  In those moments, it takes everything Daniel and I have to show and tell her we are here to stay, she is here to stay....forever.

As we reflect back on Paisley being home 4 months today, I am so humbled to say that Daniel and I are the ones who are blessed by Paisley.  She is a living testament that God is real and alive.  He continues to perform miracles, because I experience these miracles on a daily basis.  I still can't believe that He chose me to be her momma.  It's an honor I am undeserving of.