Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What are Sisters Made Of?


Everytime someone asks me if Cami and Delilah are sisters, I cringe a little inside. I cringe because I know what they are really asking and I know what they will say when I answer, "Yes, these two are sisters".

They will then want to know if they are REALLY sisters.

Deep Sigh. Sometimes I just say yes and move on. I don't feel I owe the world a genetic background check just because they are curious. Sometimes the trail of questions jumps the track and people want to know if my girls are twins. They aren't the same age or the same size, but I find people generally don't look much further than the fact that they are Chinese. That is not enough to make them twins.

Most of the time I try to keep these encounters short and as sweet as possible, guarding first the feelings and comfort of my children, and then the questioning adults. There is no reason my girls unknown family tree needs to be brought out and examined just because someone who thinks all Chinese people look alike has some time to kill.

Recently I started thinking about the sisterhood of my two youngest girls. What people usually don't know is that not only are they sisters to each other, but there are actually four sisters in our family, along with one brother. All these relationships are unique and usually they go unnoticed and unquestioned.

The relationship drawing the most interest seems to be the youngest duo dancing a tango to their own music, making it up as they go along. Watching their dance has been one more unexpected fringe benefit to adoption. It's been one more chance witness a miracle unfolding in front of me! I'm thankful to be their mom with a front row seat.

When siblings are born into a family, they come as small helpless babies that might make noise, but they don't move around alot. For Cami, gaining Delilah as a sister was a sudden jolt into the reality of having a noisy and fast moving person taking up lots of her space, touching all her things, and claiming her most treasured possessions.......her mom and dad! Cami was 3 and Delilah was 2 years old on that hot, steamy afternoon in the Galactic Peace hotel in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia when Delilah limped into our life like a colorful, somewhat frightening, sometimes magical character in a fairytale. (The limp was a surprise. She had been in a bike accident just days before we arrived. Her foot was caught in the spokes and it was by the Grace of God that she suffered no worse harm) If you've been in China or seen the traffic, you know the lives of the bike riders are constantly at risk!

Below is a photo Cami, Delilah, and mom and dad, taken just a few minutes after we met our newest daughter.


And a bit later, this classic photo shows that Cami might be just a little stressed. The poor child she is playing with is our guide's precious little girl. How do you like this for an adoption poster-child? LOL! Can't you just feel the love!


Anyway, my point of writing is to describe the sister relationship and how it evolved. Cami had been well prepared for her little sister coming home. At least I thought she had been prepared. Look back, it's striking to remember she was only three years old and had heard her first word in English only about a year earlier. I will never know what she really expected.

Yet somehow both girls had an instinct for becoming sisters.

Becoming sisters is wearing matching pajamas and brushing your teeth while making faces in the mirror.

Becoming sisters is sitting side by side on a bus, unable to speak the same language, holding hands instead.

Becoming sisters is sharing mom's lap, sharing a bowl of noodles and a bottle of water.

Becoming sisters is sharing sleep and bubble baths and a stroller.

To be fair, it was not all rainbows and unicorns during those first weeks. Without language, toddler girls pull out rather primitive means of settling their differences.

We went to a family cookout soon after coming home from China and one of the little cousins later told her mom she could tell which girl was which. She said, "Delilah has the black eye and Cami has the scratches on her throat". Please see Exhibit A posted below!


But still, they held hands. They identified as sisters, as one of a pair, of part of something special. Before our second adoption, I spoke with an attachment therapist and she gave me a couple incredibly helpful bits of advice:

She said, "Treat the girls as one unit. Bathe them together, feed them together....if you kiss one, immediately kiss the other". The therapist indicated that both girls would be watching (very closely) to make sure they were equally loved.

And then she told me, "Never leave them alone with each other".

These words were the most practical and helpful advice I received while planning our adoption.

The weeks rolled into months and our life shifted and changed and we were molded into something entirely new. We were also beaten and pounded, by work, by exhaustion, and we stayed in survival mode for a very long time. We were, and we remain, a work in progress.

We were and we are also becoming........something new..... 

Cami was not always pleased with her little sister. Cami keeps her world in order. Delilah was like a hurricane.

One amazing quality Delilah brought to life was imagination. We didn't realize how little pretending Cami had been doing until Delilah burst on the scene..... part princess, part power ranger, and always in costume!

True, authentic, and healing play began even before the scratches and bruises had healed. And everyday now they play from morning to night. Playing is a good way to become sisters.

Since we were treating them as a unit, for the first six months or so, the girls were not separated. I remember the first time I took only one of them out. Delilah had an eye appointment and I let Cami stay home with her big sister. I had not given much thought to how significant this separation was for them. It was touching to see them come back together after that hour apart and hug and kiss as if they had not seen each other in years. And they still react the same way, even today, after every separation.

Not only are they sisters, but they realize they were not always sisters, and I like to think they have some awareness of the huge and beautiful forces that moved mountains and more in order to bring them together.

As I watch them playing now, rolling out play dough cookies for the Queen's birthday, I am in awe of their communion, the way they fit together, perfect puzzle pieces, in spite of, or because of all the ways they are different.

I don't claim to know how it all happened, but there is something I know to be true.

These girls became sisters. And it was more than a coincident, the way we have all ended up altogether.


Friday, March 25, 2011

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Every once in a while I stumble upon a book so vivid and alive I am forced to read pages more than once, crawl out of bed in search of a pencil for underlining, and tell everyone who will listen about the things I have learned from reading.

"A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" by Donald Miller is just that sort of book. 

The subtitle of the book is, "What I Learned While Editing My Life".  Donald Miller shares with readers the experience of editing his life for the sake of a documentary movie.

And he shares something even bigger.  The truth is that as long as we are alive we can edit our life, we can tell a different story.  Let that soak in.  It is exhilarating to imagine how we might begin today to alter history by taking the first step towards changing our future, and even more importantly, the future of our world and the way life turns out for others! How much change? How many others? Each one of us will find our own answers if we are willing to awaken and fully participate in the precious gift of our life. 

Miller writes, "I thought about heaven, about how if we were shooting a movie about heaven, at the airport, we would want to shoot it there, and how in the movie, people would be arriving from earth and from other planets, and when the angels picked us up, they'd put us in their cars and drive a million miles for a thousand years...and it would be miserable....until we got to where we were supposed to stay......"

He continues, "I wonder if that's what we'll do with God when we are through with all this, if he'll show us around heaven, all the light coming in through windows a thousand miles away, all the fields sweeping down to a couple of chairs under a tree, in a field outside the city......."

"And we'll sit and tell him our stories, and He'll smile and tell us what they mean........I just hope I have something interesting to say".

If you enjoy thinking about life and considering the impact your choices and actions have on the lives of others, this book will feed your imagination.  If you have a desire to create a new story with your life, one that you would be proud to tell God or anyone, then this book will be food for your soul!


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Girl in Translation

"Girl in Translation" is a novel by Jean Kwok.  It is a coming of age story about a girl who moves from Hong Kong to New York at the age of 11.  What she and her mom dreamed was a chance for a better life following her father's untimely death, turned out to be a plan by an oppressive and greedy relative to find cheap labor for her factory.

As the mother worked long hours in sweat shop conditions, Kimberly attended school and found her niche in which to succeed.   After school, she joined her mother at the factory, and then they returned to a run down apartment without heat or furniture.

Though it seemed a dismal life, secretly these strong protagonists made plans to rise above the prejudices and family jealousies.  Kimberly earned a scholarship to a prestigious private school and developed a special relationship with one of the young men in the factory. 

In the end, goodness prevailed, hard work paid off, and the world seemed a much brighter place.  The story was interesting and well written.   The struggles and perserverence presented here are character traits worth striving for in any situation, but it seems especially important to consider how difficult it can be moving into a new culture and language and still finding a way to succeed. 

Whenever I read a story such as "Girl in Translation", I am moved by the courage in the face of overwhelming difficulties, and I'm left wondering if I could find it in myself to ever be so brave.

Friday, March 18, 2011

My Name is Mary Sutter

Book Review #1

"My Name is Mary Sutter", written by Robin Oliveira, is the story of a second generation midwife who has a single driving desire, to become a doctor.   A victim of her time in history, this bright and courageous woman is refused admittance to medical schools and apprenticeships just because she is female.   Her spirit is frustrated but not broken.

The characters come to life beautifully as family, love lost, babies born, babies lost, solders, nurses and doctors.
When the Civil War breaks out, Mary is determined to take her medical skills to the field and help the soldiers,  with or without permission.

She is eventually able to work with a doctor in one of the makeshift hospitals full of injured and dying men.   If you like historical fiction or the Civil War period, this book will capture your attention from beginning to end.   I was led to consider so many factors about the war that I was never taught to think about in history class.  I had never considered how thousands of men, volunteering for war could be fed, given clean water, or kept healthy when they descended on an area.   It is sobering to realize this was a time without electricity, or phone lines, or running water.

I also learned that the most common injury soldiers suffered without being instantly killed was the loss of a leg from being struck by a musket ball.   Most of what the field doctor did was amputations.   Other injuries mercifully were mortal.   The amputations were described with great detail, which again gave me insight into the limits a surgeon had during this period of history.  Mary Sutter learned a great deal by assisting the doctor performing amputations in a primitive setting, and I did too!   Unfortunately, antibiotics had not yet been invented, so after surviving a brutal amputation, most men died from infection.

Let me state clearly, this is not a gory book.  The frank historical information is truth that cannot be ignored.  The writer handled it with dignity.  Mary is presented as a tireless character whose heart for medicine continued to push her onward through every imaginable heartbreak and set back.

Along with the historical and medical themes, there are are story lines concerning romance, family, and dreams lost and found.   I enjoyed every twist and turn of this story, and found Mary Sutter to be a character I will long remember with admiration.   Maybe she lived, maybe she didn't, but I have no doubt there were many women like her, unsong heroes in our country's history.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sick Beds Anyone?

There is an interesting story in my family about the day my grandfather was accidentally shot.  He lived on a farm with his parents and his 11 siblings.  One afternoon his older brother was sitting on the porch cleaning a shot gun and it went off, sending a bullet out into the yard, and ultimately into my grandfather's abdomen.

Luckily, his family owned a car so they put my grandfather in the back and some number of the worried family headed 25 miles  to the hospital in town.   One of the fascinating details of the story is that the bullet entered his body in the area of the navel.   But due to the very bumpy country roads and the early edition (bumpy) car, by the time he arrived at the hospital, the doctor could not locate the bullet.   Surgery was performed and the bullet was finally found about six inches lower, having been bumped down that distance  by the ride into town.  

My grandfather survived with a wicked scar and a most excellent story to tell the rest of his life.  

One detail of the story that captured my attention as a child was my grandfather's description of his first memory of working on the farm..   He said every morning, as his family headed out to work in the fields, his mother put the baby in a hole that had been dug in the dirt.   Because my grandfather was next to the youngest, his job was to stand by that hole all morning and push the baby back in if she tried to climb out.   To him, all the other jobs looked infinitely more interesting I'm sure!  

Just a few years ago, I found an actual news story about the shooting incident, written in the local newspaper.   It was written in that captivating style of days gone by and places gone forever where the reporter could assume everyone in the town knew each other and enjoyed hearing all sorts of endearing details about the people involved in the news.  

Even though I can't remember a time in my life when I did not know this piece of family history, once I had the chance to read the written news report, I was struck by a completely different perspective.  I found myself drawn to the character of the mother in the story.  She was my great, great grandmother and I never knew her in this life.  

I know she lived on a farm without electiricity, and she worked every day indoors and outdoors.  She lived without electricity, but she could bake amazing Black Walnut Cakes and coconut pies.   I can't imagine how she did it all without light or central heat, a dishwasher, or electric washing machine.  And she managed to give birth to 14 children, 12 of which lived to adulthood.  

As I read the news article, most of the details were familiar to me, and I was pleased that through the telling and re-telling we had managed to keep mostly honest.  But there was one part of the story no one had ever shared with me.  There was one sentence that jumped out at me and haunts me even now.

The article read, "In spite of having pneumonia, Lucy B got up out of her SICK BED when she heard that her young son had been shot in the front yard".   Wow.   I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around the idea of a sick bed.   How did a woman with 12 children manage to spend time in her "sick bed"????  

All I can come up with is that during this period in history, before antibiotics, if you became ill, you went to bed and either you got better or you didn't.   That's what my historical thinking brain tells me.   But my mother brain can't stop thinking about all the things that fall apart and don't get done if happen to take a nap.  I've been a mom for 24 years, and I've never taken to my sick bed!!!!  

I'm not saying it was a sign of weakness on her part.  Not at all!  I am sure this woman could run circles about me and my whimpy little microwave warm ups and numb back side from typing on my labtop!  She is my hero!   But how did she do it?   The logistics of it puzzle me.......

Have you ever spent time in your sick bed?   Have you ever had crazy thoughts when the doctor says you need to "go home and take it easy for a few days" or, the one I love, "stay off your feet".   It's not only not possible, but the disasters that would await me when I got back on my feet, would certainly undo any healing that took place during my rest.

So I puzzle over how it must have felt to be so sick and have none of the modern conveniences.  And I try to imagine how it was to stop everything and take to a "sick bed".   It was a different time.   I wish I could travel back into that era.  No doubt this woman could teach me many things.   She was definitely strong and smart, hardworking and creative. 

Yes, an ancestor such as this woman could teach me many things that have been lost by our modern way of life.....I'm sure I would be astonished to learn what her daily life was like.  And if it I was able to spend time with her, I bet there would be a twinkle in her almost familiar eyes as she took me by the hand and showed me how to take to a sick bed when needed.  

Monday, March 7, 2011

Faces of Special Needs Adoption


I belong to a yahoo group that advocates for children in China who are waiting for a family to call their own. These children are considered to have "special needs".

In an attempt to remove some of the stigma and fear surrounding the special needs label, real families have been asked to write a blog post to share the secret!

Do you know the secret?

Once the secret is out, my hope is more families will look beyond the scary sounding medical terms and see the precious child who WILL amaze you if given a chance to live up to his or her potential.

The secret is..... these are children first and foremost. They are so much more than the sum of their medical needs. And they will thrive with the love and care of a family.

We have adopted twice through China's Special Needs program.

Cami was born cleft affected. Her lip surgery was performed by a female craniofacial surgeon at a large medical center thanks to a grant from Love Without Boundaries.

We were with her for her palate repair and though she most likely will need one more surgery, braces, and speech therapy for a while longer, these needs are not out of the range of normal for any child born today.

Cami is a smart and active little girl who loves to draw and go to gymnastics.

When we planned to adopt a second time through the China Special Needs program, we surprised ourselves by falling in love with a little girl who had a need I had always been afraid of.

Delilah was born with a form of spina bifida. She had surgery in Shanghai, thanks to China Care.

The neurosurgeon who follows her here in the US said "the surgery was textbook perfect" and exactly what he would have done.

Delilah has no effects from the special need label she was given. She runs and jumps and plays. Her special need is now basically a SCAR on her back.

If you have adopted a child who was considered special needs, I hope you will also blog about it and show the world the face of your child.

Special Needs children make great SISTERS!


and Great Little Mamas in Training!


And like all children, they carry themselves with mystery and majestic beauty. They know the secret...... They know the truth is they are SPECIAL and their needs are as special as they are!


Sunday, March 6, 2011

For Crying Out Loud

Picnik collage

Lately I find myself saying, "it's not always like this" and immediately hearing a little voice in my head speaking up and saying, "um, yeah, it kinda pretty much IS like this".

I realize it is significant that I'm trying to convince so many people that the level of noise and chaos they have suddenly encountered when near me, or my home, is something out of the ordinary for us, when the truth is, I can't escape the truth revealed by the sheer number of times I find myself making the statement.

It is my well-delivered explanation line to the neighbors, grandparents, Fed-ex man, anyone who calls me on the phone, and the older children who assure me they are within the danger zone of suffering a nervous breakdown. How can a teenager possibly get enough sleep to be healthy when sounds that put the haunted mansion to shame start up at the break of light every day!

I have realized my little girls do not have inside voices. They have one voice, and it is often too loud for use even in the great outdoors. How many people have to tell their children to be a little quieter when playing outside?

But still there is a difference in their loud playful voice and their loud wails of displeasure. These wails are the noises that often start early in the morning. And I regret to admit I haven't been able to prevent the wailing. It can be caused by many things. For Delilah, if she is not the first person to get to the potty, then the seat is too warm, and don't you know that you can't expect her to pee while sitting on a too warm seat. She likes her seat cool. Princess complex anyone?

Yet I have learned to deal with the general noises over nothing, even before coffee in the morning. What disturbs me are the rages. Yes, my girls still have rages. They are deep, primitive things that take us all back further than we want to go on any given day.

They come out of nowhere lead us to nowhere. They are just suddenly there, like a rainstorm unexpected.

Cami has a mantra that she repeats while crying loudly. It is usually, "Mama, I want to tell you something", a sentence she repeats over and over while she cries inconsolably. And she never tells me the "something". Some days I can see a rage on the horizon and I know that no matter what I do to change the weather, it will come. This clue tells me the storm is coming from inside of Cami, rather than a reaction to things in her environment.

Delilah is often triggered by being reprimanded or not allowed to do something she wants to do. She is more physical, bringing full force kicking and flailing which prevent me from getting too close to her until she wears herself down.

So I wait it out. I've learned not to say, "It's okay" in the seemingly harmless way we placate our babies. Because Cami told me No, it is NOT okay, and she is right. So I mostly sit quietly. Or I whisper "You are safe. Mommy is here. I will always love you". I can't be sure my words are heard. Maybe I say the words for me as much as for them.

Eventually, and often the eventually is a long time coming......eventually, I am able to touch, then hold and comfort them, and chase the the demons of rage out the door, or under the rug, or wherever they hide.

I don't read about such things on other blogs. And I often feel I'm the only parent spending so much time sitting by a screaming child who wants to lash out or bang her head on the floor. And yes, this is the same child who just posed for the lovely photos yesterday.

In terms of parenting (though it's really not about me) these incidents might be dealt with better if they were few and far between. But lately I feel battered. Rages take me to a place of extreme patience.......patience stores I had no idea I even had. They are button pushing extravaganzas and I have to remember not to react in ways not productive to healing. I have learned to sit without speaking, which is a far cry from growing up in a time where the tag line was "if you don't stop crying I'll give you something to cry about". (Trust me, I've had to choke back that line many times). I've learned what nerves of steel really means and I will come closer to have those in my lifetime than their counterpart.....the "buns of steele".

Yet sitting in the foyer while one child lies crying on the floor, another child wants to sit on my head, and the last light of day feathers through the small windows on the sides of our front door, I sometimes feel so alone. Adjusting the ice pack on my thigh where I didn't dodge a strong kick, and wiping away tears, I can get dangerously close to thinking it must be me. What am I doing wrong?

Other blogs show me families who have incredibly organized color-coded-for-each- child lives, homemade Chinese food, and children who help run a cottage business. That's why I decided to write about the other side. The dark side of loving someone who may still think, on some level, that you kidnapped them.

It is clear my children are living with pain. I feel helpless to stop it. I feel guilty to speak of it. But it seems to come with the territory of trauma, institution, and adoption. I hope it is a season. When all the tears are cried and all the anger spent, will we have been elevated?

I like to think we are being molded and I tell myself we are not alone.

If you happen to meet us on a loud and stormy day, I will probably say to you that it is not always like this........ and you will believe me and smile......and remember that I'm thinking to myself, "it's not always like this.....sometimes it is worse".

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Long May You Run


Jillian deserves a post. She's been through alot lately. Though each time a new complication arises, I am reminded of how lucky we have been through all these years.

Jillian was born at 28 weeks, a critically ill micro premie in 1994. She was given a 70% chance of surviving and escaping the possible side effects of being born so early.

Survive she did! And she grew up to be kind and loyal and gifted in art and music. She also trained gymnastics for ten years!

Jillian was the baby in our family. For twelve years she was the baby of the family. And then, one hot and humid day, on the 23 floor of the Civil Affairs Bureau in Nanchang, Jiangxi, China, Jillian became a big sister when we adopted Cami.


She handled the transition beautifully. Two years later, we adopted Delilah, and Jillian found herself the absolute middle child. Again, a lesser soul might have had trouble with jealousy or displacement, but Jillian rose to the occasion and became the older sister anyone would be proud to have.


Lately, Jillian has been struggling with health problems and pain. She suffers quietly most of the time, so when she comes to me with a complaint, I know it needs attention.

Most recently fatique and pain have kept her from doing all the fun things she wants to plan and enjoy with her friends. Recent blood tests show extreme anemia. We don't know exactly why she isn't replacing red blood cells quickly enough, so we are going to explore it further with a hemotologist. She will probably be given a boost of iron and I will look forward to seeing her eyes bright and cheeks rosy once again.

The photo at the top of this post shows how tired she often looks, with dark circles and pale skin. Please pray for my precious daughter.

Jillian's older sister once gave her this unusual compliment..... She said, "Jillian doesn't seem to mind when other people have needs". I think it was a roundabout way of describing Jillian's heart for others. She seems to know when someone needs a little extra kindness, a little extra care. And now she is the one with the need. We want to see her restored to full health and energy. The world is waiting for her!
© Drawing Maps of China
CoffeeShop Designs
Damask pattern by Sassy Designs, Inc.