Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Three Months home: staying alive

In our current culture, we love good stories.  We want something to click "like" on that gives us warm fuzzies.  Even in Christian circles we want to hear positive answers to prayer, news that makes us reply "Praise God" or "God is good!".  We see negative news or stories and pass it over.  "Why did that person just make me feel bad?"  "Well she's just trying to get attention and pity- I'm unfriending her".  Why is this?  It is the self-gratification monster that has enveloped our generation.  When we see negative news or a negative light on something everyone is supposed to be positive about, it stirs our hearts to do something.  We are uncomfortable.  We want to pass if off as unacceptable and move on to something that stirs happy feelings again.
I'm sorry to say this, but I'm becoming a culture warrior.  I don't want to sugar coat my life.  On Facebook I try to pull out positives of every day, find joys to share with those who want to stay connected to our family but can't because of distance and busyness.  Some days they aren't there and you get to see some of the nitty gritty of life with 5 kids. But I really feel the need to be real on my blog.
Our family dynamic has become even more unusual since Lottie has come home.  Not only are we a family that is committed to Jesus and is heavily involved in church, but we have 5 children, we are a special needs family, an international adoptive family times two, we are an international ministry family, we are a homeschool family, we live in a 160 year old historic home our family is slowly restoring, and we have an uncommon career schedule/lifestyle to follow.  This makes us weird.  Really weird.  And it's a good thing I don't mind being different.  Because we definitely don't fit any molds anywhere.
This month Lottie has made some more improvements.  She can now kick a ball with both of her feet!  She can go up two steps without a railing by herself.  She can break into a shuffle-like jog!  She can take off almost all her clothing unassisted and can put some of her clothing on at bedtime.  She is beginning to love cuddle time at the end of the day and initiates it with me.  She is doing great in her classes at church and is getting familiar with the three year old group we are placing  her with (since she is being held back from Kindergarten this fall).  She tries to imitate lots of sounds, has perfected a kiss, and can initiate a few single syllable words intentionally, like "no", "yeah", "hi", "bye", "stop", and "up".  I have even heard a call for "mama" a few times this week, but am not sure if she says it babbling to herself or if she's talking to me!  She is able to open the screen door and step down to go on and off our back porch now too, but only to watch others who are outside (no wandering, yet!).
She loves music, rhymes, and prayers, and wants to copy them (and sometimes can get a few sounds out successfully).  She is also learning to do some self care, like getting a cup of milk out of the fridge and putting it back (but we often have accidents with other contents and big messes ensue!).  Her eating is getting faster so meals don't last an hour anymore (yay!).  With a specially ordered fork and spoon to accommodate her poor muscle tone in her arms, she can scoop up food with less effort and mess!

Lottie has also learned some not so great behaviors.  Now that she is comfortable with our family, and she started developing from a 12-18 month level when she came home, we are now experiencing some "terrible two's" behaviors on a daily basis.  There is lots of screaming to communicate dislike in things, mostly when her brothers disrupt her or take something away.  There is lots of crying when she's teased by a brother or pushed hard to do something she doesn't feel like doing.  Her screams and cries are her way of talking at this point, but they are very distracting when the other kids are trying to do homeschool.  She wants to be with them and gets bored, so gets into all their things if they are sitting out, or finds her way into the bathroom and plays in water.  Toys, papers, books, household items, you name it gets strewn all over, in every room of the house.  The quiet, calm little girl we took home has come alive in many ways, and while it is good developmentally, it is very time consuming and exhausting!

This month has been a crossroads for us.  I have come to admit we can't do everything we are doing perfectly.  The kids and I can't manage four trips to therapy a week, five full days of school for the other four kids a week, my manage trying to work a night shift a week, minister to international students throughout the week, spend individual time with each kid and as husband/wife to keep our bonds/relationship close, stay committed to our church, do extracurricular activities, keep our household running smoothly, and nurture friendships and relationships we have elsewhere.  My body and mind just can't take it, and the kids all admit it's not working for us.  So we have decided to modify or eliminate things that are non-essential at this time.  It was very difficult, as everything seemed important.  The kids had already given up so many activities and trips they love for Lottie to be adopted.  I sought counsel from other special needs adoptive moms in a private group who shared with me their experiences over the years.  It was such a comfort to know that even though I've never met them, they have been there.  They get the heart wrenching feeling that I can't do it all, that I'm over my head, that something has to give.  After talking it over with Kris and trying not to make an emotional decision, we decided to cut Lottie's therapies in half.  We will intentionally work with her at home to do what the therapists have told us they are doing in their office.  We are also modifying homeschool in a big way for the boys.  They need more structure and independence in studying, with less distraction.  The chaos in our "classroom" has been unlike anything we've had over the years. They need change. We are still making decisions but they are favorable to them.  There are some other changes we know need to happen, but we trust that God will open those doors for our unique challenges we have as a family.

The more we fight to get Lottie what she needs, the more I realize the incredible lack of resources in our area.  Making phone calls to people in our community who answer "I don't know" or "we don't have that" is very disconcerting.  To find understanding over special needs children and the challenges they and their families face is a rarity.  I never knew this until I was there myself.

I am continually reminded by the special needs adoptive community I connect with daily that the first year is "survival".  We were so spoiled when Anna Faith came home.  While she was just 18 months old, she still fit into the groove of our family quickly.  Even with her medical special needs, getting 5 surgeries scheduled, handling healing, and follow up was rather simple and uncomplicated.  It didn't consume every day like Lottie's needs so.  From a statistic section of adoption training some time back, Anna Faith was considered in the 33% of internationally adopted kids that jump right in and thrive.  There's the 33% who struggle, but can eventually overcome with lots of work, effort, investment, and adaptations.  We anticipate Lottie is in that group.  Then there is the last 33%.  For those my heart breaks.  They are the adoptees who always struggle medically or developmentally, may never bond, may never trust, and have poor outcomes as adults.  When you look at a photo and a medical report of a child in China, you are never sure which percentage group your child will fall into.  When you commit to adopt, you commit to the possibility that child will never thrive despite your best efforts and most desperate prayers.  There are thousands of American adoptive families today who daily struggle to make it.  Please pray for them.  They are the bravest of the brave, the most selfless, sacrificing people I've ever come to know.  They are in the deepest trenches as they battle with their children who will never return love, trust, or affection.  They will only cause pain.  These are the stories that go untold, because they scare people away from adoption.  But this is the reality of adoption.  It is a calling you go into blindly, despite your best efforts to remain in control.  When you step in to commit to a child, there are no guarantees of a happy ending.  Many, many adoptions turn out into beautiful stories.  But even underneath those positive stories, behind closed doors, there has been struggle, pain, and sacrifice.

Our lives have truly been altered by Lottie's adoption, but with time, we will find our place, renew some old friendships and make new ones.  We don't expect everyone to understand.  Like I started out this post, we are a very unusual family.  We are still trying to find our new normal, still struggling through days and weeks with stress and transitions, but still finding little joys in each day to celebrate as well.  We are so thankful for people who have helped in little ways, sent encouraging messages, out of the blue wrote they are praying for us.  I consider myself a very strong, independent person.  But in this season, I am so thankful for the "helpers" in my life.

Here's a few photos of this past month with "Boo".

Lottie's Certificate of Citizenship came after 2 months!  She now has a SS Card :-)

Playing at Discovery Park

Encouraging Lottie to crawl through tunnels- she was pretty scared of them!

Learning to hug- she's getting the hang of it now!

At SkyZone Homeschool Day- it was a good way to exercise and try to balance but she got worn out quickly!

Smelling a Rose after physical therapy- she doesn't try to taste flowers anymore!

Playing in her swimsuit for the first time- this is at the local splash pad

Trying to learn forming sounds in play/imitation.  She's picking up quite a few to build on for future words!

Snuggles- Lottie initiated now!

Mother's Day 2018

She's beginning to pose for photos now- and wants to see them afterwards!

Lottie's first Mother's Day with her Mommy
Parent/Child Dedication on Mother's Day in church.
Our friend's mother came from Beijing to watch him graduate.  She stayed with us over a week and Lottie had a Chinese "grandma" to spoil her and speak to her in Chinese (she knows no English).  She enjoyed being babied.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Two Months Home: struggles, realities, and provisions

Cardboard Testimony at our church's Passion Play

If someone could see into our future a year ago and tell us what having Lottie home would look like, I honestly would have run the other way.  It would have been fairly simple to change to another waiting child at any point before our dossier went to China in September.  Yet through the entire process we knew in our hearts that she was the daughter God had chosen for us, so we must choose her.  We walked in uncharted waters in blind faith, trusting God knew what we could and couldn't handle. We knew she had more significant special needs than Anna Faith, but also knew there was a reason we had to wait 3 years to bring her home.  God was preparing us.   One year ago, we weren't ready.  But through all the delays, fighting, and sacrifices to bring her home, He strengthened us and grew us to ready our hearts for the challenge of being her biggest cheerleaders.
Speech Therapy twice a week.  We love Mrs. Stephanie!

Occupational Therapy in Jackson.  Ms. Nancy is great!

Occupational Therapy

Physical Therapy with Mr. Brian.  She loves working with him!
These two months home have had so many ups and downs, disappointments, struggles, and pull-my-hair-out moments.  There have been days when I've felt so alone like no one understands our day-to-day hardships, then there are days when someone I never knew well before our adoption comes over to meet a need and is used by God as such a comfort to our hearts and ease the load.
Having a special girl like Lottie in our lives gives me much more compassion for parents of special needs children.  I get it now: the exhausted look in the church service, the slow reply to messages, the no show to the parties or concerts, the lack of connection with families with bright, accomplished children.  The envy that creeps in when the "normal" families go on vacation to a water park, take a family bike ride, go camping (I so miss that), go see a concert.  I see the "different kids" at stores and instead of acting like I don't notice, I do notice and smile big and let them know I affirm them, to let them know their child is a blessing, not someone to overlook or try to diagnose as I pass by.  I hear stories on Facebook and cry tears of empathy when a special child is struggling, in the hospital, or if a parent vents over hurt or frustration.  Getting a message of encouragement from a friend who can relate is like having a breath of fresh air infused into me.  No, we are not alone.
Learning to put on socks by practicing on her sister

Trying to get off the bar stool by herself- so much work!

Going up the stairs without holding railing- we were amazed!

You may wonder why we make such a big deal about every one of Lottie's milestones.  After all the diagnostic testing she's had from her therapists, she is averaging physical abilities of a 12-18 month old in most areas.  She is currently 5 years, 4 months old.  Being in an orphanage holds a child back developmentally by an average of 30% every year.  So instead of being at an expected 3 1/2 year old level, she is much more severely delayed.  Taking a first step off a curb unassisted after lots of cheering and encouragement, sliding off a chair onto the floor for the first time after prodding and instructing for an hour, drawing a circle after practicing a month, pulling up into the car so I can lift her into her car seat, learning basic signs over meals to tell me she is done or wants more, even opening and closing the refrigerator door to get out a drink, these are all huge!  So many parents (like me before) take for granted the ability our healthy children's brains have.  Hers, according to the radiologist report, was squished and compressed at birth by excess fluid to misshape her brain's growth for a time.  It is now out of proportion in most areas and is working hard  to compensate and wire itself to allow her to have normal motor, processing, and verbal skills.  Lottie is uniquely made and no child is just like her.  There is no diagnosis, no "label", just challenges to function in many areas.

God placed her with us not just because she needed us, but we needed her.  Life has slowed down a lot for us. I don't mean this to say we don't do anything, we are much more on the go than ever before.  We are thankful for a minivan with great gas milage and have many songs on the Christian radio station memorized (even Lottie hums along to them now).  It is chaos almost every day to get everything that must be done accomplished.  A stack of 10 thank you notes have been sitting in a box and took three weeks to complete, but not before they were torn apart and/or drawn on by a curious little girl.  Messages on my phone have taken days or weeks to reply to.  To-do's on a list stay there for weeks on end, even if the task would only take 10 minutes.  I've always taken pride in being a Type A personality.  I set my mind to do something, and put it on a list and it gets done.  But through all this "new normal" I'm beginning to realize I don't HAVE to have it all together.  I just need to trust the One who does.  If we got another "easy" child like Anna Faith (she exceeded almost every typical international adoption expectation in just the first month), we would not be seeing our faith be stretched nearly as much. We wouldn't be able to relate to other families in the trenches of the unknown.  We wouldn't experience the service of people we only knew by name before helping us in areas we always thought we could manage ourselves.  We wouldn't get to see answered prayer after answered prayer through our daughter's bonding, trust, and test results.
At another doctor's visit. 

Getting an x-ray of her hip to figure out walking issues
Right now Lottie is in therapy four days a week.  Juggling PT, ST, and OT around homeschooling my other four, keeping up with our international student ministry, getting in night shifts at my job when possible, and maintaining life in general with all its relationships and responsibilities has been hard.  Even when we are home it is like having a toddler in the house.  Lottie needs lots of attention and training.  Just teaching basic skills like removing clothing or taking off a jacket can be exhausting.  Trying to get her to take one step up a stairway without railings by herself takes lots of cheering and encouragement.  We have given up on potty training for now because it was so time consuming and has had no results.

At the Passion Play with Josiah

Watching workers through the window.  She is getting to be a very friendly girl!

First picture caught of her cutting up!

I have become very aware of my physical limitations through this adoption.  I now have four different prescriptions to help me manage life as a nearly 41 year old with such a heavy load in this season, and make time to see a chiropractor once a month.  (I know that statement may generate a lot of private messages trying to sell me alternative supplements and remedies- please realize you won't be getting a reply!).  But it is important to remember this life isn't about being comfortable.  It's about dying to self and living for eternity.  If being physically uncomfortable for the glory of God is in His plan, then I must yield to that.  It's part of partaking in Christ's sufferings.   I'm just thankful for God's provision of practitioners who understand what I need and are sensitive to that.
Taking the step of faith of choosing Lottie wasn't hard.  Living out that faith day by day and not longing for what used to be is.   We love her dearly.  We continue to fight for and advocate for her to get the best chance to meet her full potential.  We know that the Lord is walking each step of the way with us.  We also know He provides relief and blessing through some very special people who have come into our lives.  I know they don't do it for recognition.  They don't even think that what they are doing is very significant.  But they get to be partakers in being Jesus' hands and feet to us.

Easter Day in front of our home.
Thank you for all the encouraging words and messages you send.  When each comes, it is always timely.  We need to hear them.  Even if I don't reply or can't respond with more than a "thank you" when we are in person, knowing you notice and affirm us means the world!
I don't like candy coating adoption.  It is hard.  I can't emphasize this enough.  It is not a fairy tail.  It's messy, it's painful, it's sacrificial, and it's life altering.  But it is a privilege to be called to do it, and I consider it an honor that God chose us to walk this path and stretch us, mold us, and use us, even when we don't see clearly and must trust His purposes.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Life with Lottie: one month later

It was one month ago today that Lottie joined our family.  I wanted to give an update on how all of us are doing since many of you ask and I normally only have time to say "pretty good" as we try to navigate crowds and hurry away from uncomfortable situations for her.

One month has brought many changes for us.  I never imagined how different it would be bringing Lottie home versus our experience with Anna Faith.  We knew that the difference in age and special need would bring special challenges but you can never really prepare or have realistic expectations for a life changing event like this has been.

Because of her age, her specific orphanage, and lack of medical services, Lottie has suffered a lot more detrimental effects from being in an orphanage than Anna Faith did.  We thank God there is no evidence of abuse and she also seems to not have any malnutrition issues either.  However, the deprivation of nurture, education, therapy, exercise, interactions with those with verbal skills, and medical interventions have caused many issues that will take a long time to correct.  We won't know for years, but some issues may never be fixed and she will have to live with them the rest of her life.
Kris and I had to go through the stages of grief when we hit this reality.  There are still many unknowns, but time will tell what being in our family combined with therapy services will do for her.
All we know is that if she were left in that orphanage crib for a couple more years, she would likely be crippled, disabled and alone for the rest of her life, living in an institution. That is the sad story for many special needs children in orphanages across the world who aren't chosen.

I try to maintain a positive light when I share our milestones and special moments with Lottie.  Some of the biggest "hallelujah" moments have been with bonding and trust.  She is now attached to her family.  She loves us.  She clings to us when she's afraid, lets us put her in our lap when she's tired or nervous, gets a twinkle in her eye when she falls asleep next to us.  She trusts us to not let her be hurt when in an uncomfortable environment.  When she cries, she seeks our comfort.  She's understanding what a parent-child relationship is, and for that we are so thankful.  Many parents who adopt children, especially children her age or older, may never experience that kind of bonding.  Another hallelujah moment is sleep!  She still has some night terrors but sleeps through them.  She falls asleep very easily at night with a parent next to her, and sleeps all through the night without us in the room.  She wakes up in the morning unafraid, gets out of bed, and with the help of a sibling and goes down the stairs to meet a parent.  To accomplish the hurdle of sleep regulation after a time change of 14 hours, a strange new home, and being in a big room with only a sister to share it with has been a big answer to prayer!

Lottie has had some progress in terms of her muscular control because of her freedom to move and play.  For those who haven't learned of her medical special need, she developed hydrocephalus either during or shortly after birth.  This was the reason for her abandonment.  It was never treated, just observed in the hospital.  From the measurements we have in her records, her head was very swollen with fluid for a while.  Because of the excessive cerebral-spinal fluid, there was neurological damage.  We don't know the extent of the damage, but we are seeing now the differences between an orphanage delay and a neurological impairment requiring therapy and correction.

The first issue needing immediate help is her vision.  She is near sighted in her right eye, has a stigmatism in both eyes, and severe strabismus in both eyes.  Her lack of depth perception and issues with balance and coordination could all be partially related to her visual issues.  An excellent pediatric ophthalmologist we use took two hours to evaluate her issues.  Her new glasses are in the mail and we hope will be on her in a matter of a few days.  We are excited to see a positive change from her wearing them.

Another issue needing lots of therapy is her speech.  While she is able to repeat some simple words to us, she has difficulty communicating with anything other than generic sounds, grunts, points, and gestures.  However, when we aren't activity working with her, she has been blurting out quite a few English words to herself, as if she's thinking out loud!  She has come to understand English extremely quickly! It has been both fascinating and frustrating to hear so many words used passively when she can't use them in communication.  We were able to come in for a Speech Therapy evaluation today with a very wonderful therapist we have come to trust and love in our town.  She diagnosed Lottie with apraxia today.  Apparently because of damage to her brain, she can not connect the words she is thinking with pronouncing and expressing them in active communication.  With a lot of work, patience, time, and effort, our speech therapist is optimistic she WILL be able to communicate with words.  But it will be a long process.

Another issue we are working with is her coordination and balance.  Lottie falls a lot.  She sometimes can't even stay in a chair and falls backwards, hitting her head.  She can't lift her legs to get into the tub, bed, or up a stair without a lot of help or effort.  She can't put on or take off clothing without help, because she falls down trying.  She is unable to do more than a shuffling walk because she works so hard to keep her balance.  We have an Occupational Therapy consultation in Jackson next Wednesday to start therapy in these areas.  This will help her fine motor skills as well, which are severely delayed due to no use of her fingers in play or activity for most of her life.

We also have appointments for dental care(her teeth likely have multiple cavities, thank goodness they are all baby teeth), physical therapy here in town (beginning tomorrow), and a neurosurgeon to examine her next week and order a MRI with sedation to see the status of the fluid in her brain and what kind of damage is there.  I have been on the phone, texting, and on the internet pushing and pushing people to the point of irritation to get her services.  Being in a rural area, dealing with insurance red-tape, and dealing often with people on the phone who don't care whether we wait a week or two months has cause lots of obstacles to getting her help in a timely fashion.  Lottie has been ignored and pushed aside for five years.  Now that she's home, she has a family to fight for her.  Her family isn't going to be passive about her needs.  We are doing everything we can to get her assistance to thrive!

Through all of these appointments, phone calls, and literal headaches (I've had too many), we have started back homeschool with our other four children.  They have been very flexible starting and stopping class for appointments and phone calls for their sister.  They haven't complained about quickly warmed up meals because our day gets so long or because Mommy is tired with a headache at the end of the day.  Because of our travel and adjustment period we will be doing homeschool at least a few weeks after all the other schools let out for the summer.  But they complain very little and have great attitudes.  They are just happy Lottie is now with us and make the best therapists and new best friends for her!

Lottie is still very fearful about many things.  One of the most difficult things is her fear of our dogs.  They are very gentle with her, yet she sees them as monsters.  She panics and screams whenever she sees them, even through the window.  Getting in and out of the house to the car is a dramatic event because they are always there waiting to see us.  Taking her outside to play takes coaxing because she doesn't want them near her.  We hope this phobia settles down as she learns to trust them to not knock her down or hurt her.
She's also fearful of new places.  She has gone into too many doctor's offices since coming home.  If it isn't for her, it's for me, the kids' dentist, or a brother's check-up.  She has to come to them all, because she can't be away from a parent for at least 6 weeks for proper bonding (we take the advice of the adoption professionals).  She is petrified of being at appointments and now cries when anyone in scrubs or medical attire is in a room with her. Going to church after being home two weeks was also very uncomfortable.  As much as our church family has wanted to meet her and love on her, she doesn't want to be touched by strangers.  She is comfortable giving them a high five and will smile for some people or wave to them.  But she watches every new person very carefully to make sure they aren't dangerous.  Her walls go up everywhere we go.  We know with time the walls will start coming down and she'll let others into her world.  Everything is still very new and scary.
First Sunday at church

On top of all of these new adjustments with Lottie, we have had issues with other personal things involving our home, like a busted pipe discovered after a very high water bill coming in the mail, issues filing taxes, getting multiple estimates on needed work on our home this spring, designing and constructing an adapted play yard in the rain and mud for Lottie to play in, etc.  I have had personal health issues and lost my practitioner since returning from China, causing a hurdle of trying to get needed mediation from another one when there have been delays, cancellations, and difficulties getting someone else to see and evaluate me.  Our dropped off dog we rescued at Christmas completed heart worm treatment only to have a false pregnancy (hormones going crazy) and fainting spells causing the need to go back for treatment for her weak heart, causing more trauma for Lottie (imagine her riding in a van with a dog panting behind her, then going into a small room to watch the dog be examined- it ensued with one hour of crying and screaming).  We are trying to restart our International student ministry after taking a break for our adoption and are having difficulty getting out to meet students and connect with the new ones.  Josiah just got a major dental appliance installed and needs help adjusting to it.  And then I am still trying to recover my lost new phone from the airlines- it has photos and video on it from our trip that can't be replaced, especially photos and video of the orphanage that may help the orphans find their forever families.  In the meantime my old phone gives lots of issues. We are also still working with Lottie's orphanage to get the orphans advocated for and send them some special toys and blankets.  I am trying to get everything regulated to be able to return to working my part time night shift job as a supervising nurse as well.  So far I have been unable to return when asked to help fill a shift, but need to very soon.

We love having Lottie home.  It is such a blessing.  But hopefully by this honest description of our lives right now you can understand more what life is like for our family now.  It is more than just taking home a healthy newborn baby.  Adopting an older special needs child takes parenting to a whole different level.  Adding a fifth child, especially a child who requires much time and patience, adds a great deal of stress.  Reminding myself each day to breathe, to not beat myself up for being weak, to take each little success, each accomplishment in our day as a celebration, keeps me smiling and thankful.

We are in love with our new daughter.  I don't regret or look back at our decision to adopt her for a moment.  Please don't try to read between the lines to think we were shocked or taken back by her special needs.  We came into this adoption knowing that Lottie would have challenges, and God doesn't make mistakes when He calls a family to adopt.  We do, however, need support and encouragement.  Facebook comments and likes are nice, but to be honest, prayers and being hands and feet to our needs are much more effective.  If you are wanting to be a blessing, please just jump in and offer.  If you live a distance away, praying specifically for needs to be met for Lottie and the rest of our family will be such a blessing to us. A big weakness of Kris and mine is we want to do everything ourselves.  It is humbling to say "we need our village".
 But if God is leading you to meet a need, please let us know.

We thank everyone who has welcomed our daughter into our family.  Yes, she's a fifth child!  No, she's not any less special or should be less celebrated than our first, second, third or fourth.  Our quiver is full, and our hearts are too.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Hong Kong and Travelling Home: February 9th-10th

Exhausted girls
On Friday the 9th we began our long trek home.  We got up at a normal time, had breakfast, and then got to packing.  By some small miracle everything fit in our bags!  We got packed in enough time to not be rushed to wait on our guide and driver.  Lottie's Visa was picked up and delivered to us when they came to take us to the train station.
Hong Kong at night
View of Hong Kong Island during the light show
When we got to the train station things were crazy.  It was very busy there, just like in Beijing, but at least there was more space for everyone to run around.  The station had four floors!  We went through security, then had to figure out how to get upstairs.  A guy picked up our four big suitcases and checked them through until we got to Hong Kong for a hefty fee.  We really didn't have any choice because without a cart we couldn't carry them ourselves.  We went upstairs in the holding room, Kris grabbed lunch, and by the time he got back and Lottie had a diaper change we had to hurry to move through the immigration process to leave China and wait in another holding room to board.  When immigration interviewed us they asked about Anna Faith.  She had a US passport but they wanted her Chinese name.  We gave it but told them she has had US citizenship for 5 years and has an English name now. They called another agent up who wanted her name in Chinese characters.  We couldn't give it because we can't write in Chinese.  They finally dropped it.  How strange!  They didn't ask a thing about Lottie.  When we went to holding we had to choose between taking an elevator for special needs families (pregnant women, elderly, or parents with small children in strollers) or go in the massive line.  The special needs line was short but the elevator only took a few people at a time and was very slow.  We figured we were better of in the huge line as it was moving quickly.  Good choice.  We could have missed the train if we waited.  We boarded with enough time to be sitting down before it took off.  Much better than Beijing!

The ride there was uneventful.  Lottie was curious and Anna Faith was wiggly too.  They were anxious to get to Hong Kong.
We arrived there and had to figure out how to get our luggage from the station to the hotel.  We were told ahead of time we were on our own to transport it.  No one could help us.  The hotel was a 5 minute walk, but involved an elevator or escalator, a walk up a ramp, and going through a mall before getting to the hotel on the other side.  When we picked up our luggage, they let us use a cart!  We weren't supposed to take it past the station, but figured we could return it when we got it as far as the hotel.  I pushed the luggage, Kris pulled the carry ons, Anna Faith pushed Lottie.  It took 2 elevator trips and lots of muscle, but we made it!  When we got as far as a flight of stairs leading to the hotel, Kris went inside and asked for a luggage cart.  He met us on the top and transferred the suitcase, and just like that we got them to our room!  It was a huge answer to prayer!
By the time we weighed our suitcases in the lobby and made sure they weren't over the limit (somehow we keep it under 50 lbs each!) we bought WiFi for about $7 for the night, got in our room (aka closet) and enjoyed the beautiful view outside of skyscrapers all around us.  We had 2 twin beds to sleep on and no space to walk.  We left the room at 5:30 after settling in and went out in search of diapers for Lottie.  In Guangzhou there were none to be found unless we took a taxi to a department store.  We decided to wait.  In the mall we found a drug store and bought them, then went on outdoors walking to find somewhere to eat.  We wanted to eat outdoors where it was cheaper than a fancy indoor restaurant.  Food in Hong Kong is very high!  We settled on a meat on a stick place and the meat was delicious!  We got food at a local bakery to go with our meat and bought donuts and bread for breakfast since our hotel room didn't include it ($25/person for breakfast at the hotel was out of the question).  We walked around to see the lights and try to find a clearing to see the light show the city does every night at 8:00.  We finally found a park on Google maps and got a fairly decent view from a high point!  It was really cool to watch.  We decided to take the metro back to the hotel and were glad we did.  It was getting late and to walk would get us back much later.  This time we didn't get lost and got out very close to the hotel.  We got the girls settled and put them to bed in a twin bed together.  The way they contorted themselves to fit was so cute.  They ended up laying on top of each other in their sleep.  Lottie fell out once but Kris put her back in.  For Kris and me, it was much harder.  We laid back to back and still were coming off the edges.  He tried the bathtub for a while but couldn't sleep in it either.  We didn't get much sleep, especially since the bed was as hard as a rock too.  Asian beds are normally much harder than American ones.
We got up earlier than planned and started repacking carry ons for the flight to Chicago and then Nashville.  A really nice van was at the hotel to transport us.  We paid a nice fee too, but had no choice. The shuttle service didn't have a schedule we could use to get there and we didn't want to arrive late.
We checked in after being scrutinized by TSA, went through security, then were told we'd go through security again at the gate so couldn't buy liquids to take on the plane.  Hong Kong doesn't mess around with security!  We only had a few minutes at the gate to talk to the boys on FaceTime, and boarded early with the girls.  It was so nice they let us do that because we take so long with walking Lottie and having to get toys, blankets, etc. out for them before packing our carry ons on the plane.
The girls were wide open for over half the flight.  They didn't want to sleep.  Eventually we told Anna Faith to try and she did.  But Lottie couldn't calm down.  It was still daytime in China and she couldn't rest.  But we knew we'd get to the US and it would be morning and she'd want to sleep.  She still didn't fall asleep until the last 4 hours of our 14 hour flight.  By then I had a pounding migraine.  My neck had already taken a beating in the bed in Hong Kong and trying to sleep in the plane was really hard. There were no spare seats to lay across like our flight there.  My legs are so long I can't even stretch them out.  I took 2 melatonin and they didn't work.  I took a migraine pill which normally works and makes me sleepy.  It didn't work either and the pain was getting worse.  So I did what I rarely do: I took a second pill.  The side effects of my migraine medication are nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and rebound headaches.  I took tiny catnaps but could feel I was getting sick.  I tried to eat crackers but they made me more nauseated.  The last hour of our flight as we were descending I could tell I was in bad shape.  Kris could see I was getting pale.  I was afraid to move in fear I'd throw up.  Finally the plane landed and I stayed frozen in place.  Kris packed up all the kids stuff.  I told him "make sure to empty out the seat pockets- there's a lot of stuff in there".  He told me he did.  I couldn't even turn my head to look.  He was across the aisle from me since we switched for him to try to get Lottie to go to sleep mid-flight.  After all the people cleared the plane behind us Kris told me to try to get up for us to leave.  We had 2 hours to make our connection to Nashville but had a lot to do to get to our gate.  As soon as I moved I threw up in the airplane bag- a lot.  I needed a second bag it was so bad.  Afterwards I felt better but was shaking in weakness and was as white as a ghost.  I was so dizzy it was really hard to walk.  I asked Kris again "Did you check all the set pockets?"  He said "Yes, everything is cleaned out!" Kris helped me off the plane and a wheelchair was waiting for me.  I knew I couldn't walk through all the stops and across the airport to our next gate.  My head was throbbing terribly at this point and it was all I could do to open my eyes.  Kris said that four times people asked him if I needed medical attention.  I didn't look good at all with shaking hands and a pale face.  I barely looked up for the next 1 1/2 hours as we made our way through immigration, Lottie's immigration process, customs, transferring luggage, and getting on a train to go to our other terminal.  We went up and down elevators, through security again (where I was thoroughly patted down while shaking because they made me stand up- I almost threw up on the woman examining me), and finally got to the gate.
We were barely seated when they called us to get on the plane first again.  I walked on and sat down and never opened my eyes but a few seconds until we were in Nashville.  I got a few more catnaps but was still feeling so sick it was hard.  The girls passed out by this point and slept most of that 1 1/2 hour flight.  Finally we were done with flying!
We were walking towards the baggage claim when I asked Kris to get out my phone.  I hadn't used it since we boarded the flight in Hong Kong.  He said "where is it?"  I told him "You got it out of my seat pocket so I figured it is in my bag where we usually put it". He said "I haven't seen your phone at all this trip- I thought you had it".  Then it hit us- it got left on the plane when we got off in Chicago.  I started to cry.  It is only 4 months old, but even worse, it had photos and videos of our adoption trip that were never transferred to other places yet.  Fortunately the best ones were shared on Kris' phone or on social media, but others weren't.  I was so sick again.  We got our luggage, waited for a ride to the parking place we left our van, and loaded up before he started calling the airline.  They weren't helpful at all.  They refused to transfer us to the desk at the airport to inquire because they weren't authorized to do so. We had to go home and fill out an online missing article form.  Kris was disgusted.  Likely the plane hadn't even left to go back to Hong Kong yet and if the phone was still there someone could retrieve it.  We could give them the seat number.  If it was brought to the gate they could put a mailing address on it and immediately send it back.  But instead we had to fill out a form that we were told may take 30 days to process.  So frustrating.
By then I was less dizzy, just very jet lagged and weak.  We stopped for Kris to get a Mountain Dew to drive the 3 hours home, and started our drive back.  We explained to Lottie we were almost home.  She smiled really big.  She really understood we were going to our house and she was going to meet her brothers.
We came home to a dark house.  Our Korean friends were keeping out kids the last two days at home with their kids so they could be home when we arrived.  When I walked in first, the lights switched on and everyone yelled "surprise!"  The boys hugged the mess out of me and I got the camera ready to film their meeting their sister.
Happy with her family, finally home!
When Kris brought Lottie in she had big eyes and a serious face.  The boys hovered over her and to her they were giants.  They were so excited and talking to her loudly.  She stuck her lower lip and out and started to cry.  We told the boys to get on the floor and talk quietly.  Within a few minutes she was smiling big.  We brought her in the den and they all took turns talking to her.  Before long she was being toted around like a baby and spoiled rotten.  She was in hog heaven :-)
Our Korean friends who watched the boys the last 2 nights
We had a vase of flowers, a table full of food, and a beautiful frame with well-wishes to Lottie written around the matting by friends at church.  There were streamers and decorations hanging from the ceiling in the hall, kitchen, den and Lottie's and Anna Faith's room.  She even had a couple helium balloons to play with!  The boys made some signs to welcome her as well.  What a special homecoming!
The trip was so brutal, and my phone still has not been recorded as found, but I'm so thankful we are home.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Thursday, February 8th: Guangzhou Safari Park

Only one more day until Lottie’s visa is ready! We waited until our last free day to do the best outing in Guangzhou, because today was supposed to be the warmest weather we’ve had. It was sunny and 67 today! I finally got to dress the girls in their matching t-shirts that say “I love my family forever”.
We tried not to waste time getting ready this morning, because from what we had been told, The Safari Park was huge and there was no way we could see it all in one day. We got off after 9:00 and headed to the Metro which let out right next to our hotel. To ride it only costs $1.80 for our whole family one way to the park versus over $30 one way for a taxi. It was supposed to take less time (under 45 minutes versus one hour drive) too! We were up for the adventure because we had done subways in other cities and countries before. How hard could it be to navigate? Our guide gave Kris directions too.
First we had to buy tokens. The machine was all in Chinese so Kris guessed and stared punching buttons. After some frustrating minutes we realized there was an English option. Then it got easy to choose the fare to the stop we were told to go to. I needed to use the restroom before we boarded. Kris said he’d wait, no problem. But the station didn’t have one. I said I’d hold it.
We went 13 stops and had fun getting squished and counting with Anna Faith in Chinese to get to our stop. We got out, exited the station ( not easy with a stroller, by the way- lots of stairs!) , and realized this station wasn’t the Safari Park location. Kris called our guide and was told he only had it partially right- we switched lines at this station! By then I was really needing a restroom, but this station didn’t have one either (Chinese are better at holding it than me!). We went outdoors and looked around. Nothing but construction zones. Kris asked a guard (they are everywhere) and he pointed across the highway. We crossed the highway and after more instructions I finally found a squatty potty in the construction area. So back down to the station we go to buy more tokens for the remainder of our trip. But Kris was out of small bills for the machine. We searched and found someone to change money for us. Back on the next line and in a few minutes we were there! We walk out and see signs welcoming us! Yay!! A worker directed us to the entrance. It said 5 minutes walking. It wasn’t. It was at least 20. We were already tired when we arrived. We bought tickets and entered. By now it was almost 11:00! We started out looking at the animals by walking around. Lottie couldn’t see much because she was in her stroller. We finally got to places she could see without having to pull her in and out. It takes two people to do it because of the safety bar in the stroller and she’s going on 40 lbs.
She started to take notice of the animals and got excited! She kept looking for them in their zones and would point and smile. I tried to get her to make animal noises with me but she just laughed at me.
We were told correctly about this place: you just can’t see it all. Where a normal zoo would have 2 tigers, they had more like 50! A normal zoo has 2 koalas, they had 20! The monkey areas all started looking the same after a while. We lost count of giraffes- there could have been 50 or more! The baby animals there were in their own areas in age groups- so many and so cute! One section was a drive through. We had a lot of fun taking photos on animals in their natural habitats. The girls had a blast!
We decided to go back at 4:00. The girls were wearing out. We realized a free bus could shuttle us to the metro station ( where were the signs or employees directing us when we arrived?!). It took a while to get picked up but saved us lots of stairs with the stroller and 20 more minutes of walking. At the station we thought we had it made. We knew exactly what to do. But I mentioned to Kris that Lottie was going to run out of diapers before we got home, so we needed to stop at the convenience store near the hotel that our guide suggested. That store was where I saw another metro stop, by a museum entrance. So we decided to stop one stop emerald at the stop with that museum title. It had to be it, right? Wrong. We got out and had no idea where we were. Street names looked familiar but no landmarks. After walking another 20 minutes around a huge block we got on the metro again and went one more stop and cane out at our hotel. We walked to the store, and no diapers. Uggh.
We were so tired by then we decided to be Americans tonight. We picked up carry out Burger King and went to our room to eat!
Lottie was so tired from no nap she brought me a diaper and her skin lotion after eating. This meant she wanted to get ready for bed. I fixed the girls a bubble bath (Lottie signaled she really wanted one last night but it wasn’t a bath night). She got really excited and couldn’t wait to get in! She and Anna Faith played in the water with two wash clothes as toys for an hour.
When I got her out and ready for bed she fell asleep when she hit the pillow. She was too tired to even try crawling to her spot like we have been teaching her. Poor Boo!
Anna Faith brought up several times today that she will miss China. She’s sad to leave, but happy to go home too. She really has enjoyed this trip in more ways than coming to get her sister. She feels connected here. She mentions her city, Nanping, and wants to go back one day. I wish we had time this trip but the journey was too far. She still was able to identify with so much of the culture, and now Chinese instead of English ❤️. We are so proud of her!
We pack our bags tomorrow. I won’t have WiFi at our hotel (it costed $40 extra so we opted out) so may not get to update the blog until we are home. Home. Those words sound so beautiful right now! All five of my arrows finally together. I can’t wait to begin our new life with Lottie as a family of 7!