Five weeks home

We’ve now been home for five weeks. I can hardly believe it. Things have settled down this week, fewer outbursts and meltdowns. Since I already wrote twice about this week, there isn’t really anything else of note to talk about.

Last night we had a repeat of the previous evening’s “are you hungry?” experience. Only this time, I tried to deflect her question so that I wouldn’t be eating a late night snack. Unfortunately, she poked my stomach and it betrayed me with a gigantic rumble. When we came upstairs, DoubleShot told Jeff, “she hungry!”

So now I have been referred to as “hey” and “you” and “she.” Progress!

We went to bed late last night and everyone woke up early. We were getting ready to come upstairs a little after seven and heard DoubleShot stirring. When we glanced in her room, she offered a “hi!” She sounded ready to get up so we had her get dressed and come upstairs for breakfast. She was up an hour and a half earlier than normal so I have a feeling everyone will be dragging by this afternoon!

Five weeks home and we’re finding a rhythm. I look forward to seeing what the next week brings.

“Are you hungry?”

I want to make sure I share some of the really amazing moments to help balance out the really hard moments. Last night we had a really amazing moment that gave evidence as to how far we’ve already come.

I went down to bed a bit early because I was so tired. DoubleShot and Jeff stayed up longer working on the puzzle. DoubleShot came down to use the bathroom and saw that I was still awake. She went back upstairs but came down a couple minutes later and threw herself on the bed right next to me. I could hear Baba upstairs, making DoubleShot’s before bed ramen.

“Are you hungry?” she asked me.
“Yes, a little.”

She grabbed my hand. She grabbed my hand! She’s done it before, but this level of contact is huge for her. Normally, when I touch her, she yells “yucky!” She will voluntarily touch me, but it’s usually not skin to skin contact. And even her touching me will sometimes elicit a “yucky!” comment.

“Go!” She pointed upstairs and started dragging me out of bed.

We went upstairs, where she stopped right in front of Baba.

“Hungry.” She pointed at me.

Baba gave me his ramen so that DoubleShot and I could sit and eat at the table together. She scooped out a spoonful of noodles and gently put them in my bowl. Another HUGE step forward. In Taiwan, sharing your food with someone is an act of caring. Giving them something off your plate and putting it on theirs is a sign that you care. I have tried to feed DoubleShot before, but she has always pulled her plate away so that I cannot. She has offered me food before but always snatches it back before I can eat it. So for her to share her ramen meant a lot to me. I ate her noodles and made appreciative sounds. I very slowly took some of my noodles and transferred them to her bowl, watching to see if she would reject my offer. She didn’t.

“What are you doing?”
“Sharing my noodles.”
“Oh, ok.”
And she ate them. Huge, huge strides.

Afterwards, when I went back to bed and DoubleShot and Jeff came downstairs for bed themselves, she snuck in her first “pig!” of the day. *sigh* I thought I was going to go a whole day without being called a pig.

But she asked if I was hungry. She made sure that my needs were met. She shared her food with me. She let me share in return.

A beautiful moment and it does show that we are making forward progress overall.

My own stuff

It amazes me how much my own stuff influences my day to day ability to parent. On Friday, I crashed and burned. A combination of hormones, a rough week culminating in my daughter yelling at me that she hates me, and a realization that a long holiday weekend changes nothing in my routine. Yes, my husband doesn’t work on the weekend, but my day doesn’t change. I still wake up, eat meals, wash dishes, focus on bonding with my daughter, keep her safe, etc. Monday, Thursday, Sunday, it’s all the same.

By Friday morning, I felt like I was drowning. I woke up in tears and couldn’t control my emotions. I was fully aware of the hormonal aspect of life *ahem* but was worried that DoubleShot would freak out over my tears. By the time we woke her up, I was no longer crying, but was still feeling like my window of stress tolerance was nonexistent.

My husband suggested I get out of the house for awhile, relax in the car with a mocha and a good book. I couldn’t bring myself to go to a coffee shop because I didn’t want to talk to anyone, but I did find a place to park the car and try to relax. After a lot of prayer, some time with a good book, and listening to the radio, I finally felt pulled together enough to complete the grocery shopping and head back home.

It’s hard because my daughter’s behavior and challenges may be similar from day to day but my ability to handle my emotions while dealing with those behaviors does not remain stable. I get overwhelmed. My feelings get battered from her constant push and pull. I know that none of it is personal. I know that her behavior is normal for kids coming from a background of loss. I know that in the grand scheme of things, our transition is relatively “easy.” That doesn’t make the hour to hour coping any easier.

When I left the house on Friday morning, DoubleShot was awake. She waved at me and said “goodbye!” as I was headed out the door. Then she looked surprised that I wasn’t telling her to come with me. She ran after me, following me out the door, and dove into the car. In her bare feet. I smiled and laughed, told her that she was staying home, and made motions to start the car in hopes she’d head back into the house. “Wait, wait!” She held up her foot, showing me she needed shoes. I told her that Baba wanted to spend time with her at home and that Mama was going out today by herself. She looked confused and the tiniest bit hurt that she wasn’t coming with me. My husband called to her from the doorway and she went inside.

While I was gone, he texted me that DoubleShot ran to the window a few times to check and see if I was back. That made me cry because I was struggling so much and she was worried that I was gone. I felt a moment of guilt but pushed the guilt away. I have to take care of myself too. When I got back, she glommed herself on to me. I sat down to take my shoes off and she plopped down right next to me and put her head on my shoulder. Yup, we are definitely working toward anxious attachment.

Of course, within minutes, she had called me a pig and tsk tsk’d me for buying too many groceries. Yup, back and forth, push and pull. But at least I then had the fortitude needed to make it through the day.

While sitting in the car, I heard a song that flooded my soul and gave me the courage I needed.

I tried to select just a verse or two of the lyrics to share, but the entire song is wonderful so I am including all of it.

Hold it all together
Everybody needs you strong
But life hits you out of nowhere
And barely leaves you holding on

And when you’re tired of fighting
Chained by your control
There’s freedom in surrender
Lay it down and let it go

So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held, just be held

If your eyes are on the storm
You’ll wonder if I love you still
But if your eyes are on the cross
You’ll know I always have and I always will

And not a tear is wasted
In time, you’ll understand
I’m painting beauty with the ashes
Your life is in My hands

Lift your hands, lift your eyes
In the storm is where you’ll find Me
And where you are, I’ll hold your heart
I’ll hold your heart
Come to Me, find your rest
In the arms of the God who won’t let go

God never asked me to parent DoubleShot alone. When we stepped out in faith to embrace older child adoption, we knew that we were only going to survive (and hopefully thrive!) by the wonderful grace of God. I am a frail human being. I can’t heal my daughter’s heart. I can’t protect my own heart from breaking into a million pieces while seeing the pain reflected in hers. All I can do is continue to rely on God, pray that He will use me, that He will bring healing to our entire family.

I do not regret adopting my daughter. I love her so fiercely that it hurts. It’s when I rely on my own strength that I fall apart and cannot recover. When I go back to God, remember the ways He reassured us that everything will be ok, and draw on His power, I can face the day. I pray that someday my daughter realizes how precious she is and how much we love her. Even more, I pray that someday she will know God and see how God has worked in her life.

Four weeks home

I can’t believe it’s already been a month!! We’ve been home four weeks today. I agree with parents who say that it feels like it’s been so much longer even as it feels we are just getting started. This week has been monumental in growth and adjustments. So much has happened.

There has been a lot of positive growth in all three of us. I want to highlight a couple of the things I’ve noticed this week.

DoubleShot’s English usage keeps going up and up. She often echoes back things we say, so we are slowly trying to expand her exposure. This week, we’ve gotten a lot of “Good morning!” “Good night!” “Are you hungry?” “Are you tired?” “Mario! Game over!” Most of her English is short phrases or single words, but last night she voluntarily told me, “I no tired.”

We registered ourselves as homeschoolers on Monday. I made the mistake of researching and filling out the declaration form in front of her. When she saw the school website, she recognized that it was about school. She assumed we were enrolling her in public school and started freaking out. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.” Emphatic head shaking. The look on her face was heartbreaking. I quickly reassured her that we are not sending her to school, that she is learning at home with mama (she knew this was the plan before we met her). Throughout the day, she asked several times about school and I had to break out the translator and reassure her. She wanted to know about the registration form so I told her that we are notifying the school that she will not be attending, that we are learning at home. She took the form to the mailbox herself and relaxed after that point. I’m not sure WHY public school here is such a huge fear for her, though I can guess – new people, new language, and she may just not be ready to go back to school. Whatever the reason, I’m so glad that we can give her the safety to learn at home!

Our bonding has strengthened. DoubleShot seems to be moving toward an anxious attachment. We still have a long way to go to reach secure attachment, but at least we’re on the right path. She has now started following me into the bathroom, which is something that would have surprised me had I not read about it happening with other families. When we sit on the couch and watch a movie, if she’s regulated, she has to sit curled up against me. If she’s not regulated, she’s frustrated with me and sits on the other end of the couch… But most of the time she’s curled up against me with her head on my shoulder. Or, she’s sitting pressed up against me. The other night we were watching Wall-E and she was sitting next to me. She kept reaching out two fingers and laying them on my arm. So sweet!! If I let on that I notice, she pulls away. But if I ignore the contact, she quite happily stays glued to me for an entire 90 minute film.

DoubleShot is now voluntarily choosing to play English word games on the computer, two games similar to Boggle. I introduced her to them last week and she didn’t seem interested. But she’s now playing both games at least once a day. She wants one of us to sit with her and show her words that will earn her lots of points. We keep the words simple, using the game to test her knowledge. I will say a word, wait a second to see if she can start spelling it, and then name off the letters one by one. It’s increasing her letter recognition as I can tell she’s getting faster. Sometimes she can spell the words without prompting and sometimes she can find words on her own. She knows how to spell numbers and has found “cat” and “dog” and several other similar words without prompting. I don’t force her to play, just follow her lead when she decides it’s time.

Another positive development this week is that DoubleShot is now telling us when she is hungry and when she is not hungry. She’s very hesitantly opening the fridge or freezer door and pulling something out, looking over to make sure that we are ok with her food choice. It shows that she is gaining confidence to express her needs and desires, reassurance that her food needs are being met, and that we will not punish her when she attempts to meet a need.

As for me, I am re-learning the importance of self-care and the necessity of staying calm, patient, and nearby. I’ve run twice this week and will run again after breakfast. I’m taking 15 minutes or so per day to work on my Chinese studies. I wake up about an hour before DoubleShot and will spend time reading a devotional and then writing emails or a blog post or catching up on Facebook. The days are longer because I’m not getting as much sleep as I used to. I find that I am able to stay calm and regulated myself most of the day but start running out of emotional energy toward the end of the day. I am introvert and it’s hard to be available to a needy child all day long! But I’ve been praying for strength and really do feel God is helping me every day.

We’ve had one massive challenge this week and it is one we were hoping to avoid but, alas… DoubleShot has a Facebook account, one that she signed up for while at her orphanage. We have not allowed her access to it for multiple reasons. I feel that Facebook would be opening a massive can of worms. First, because Facebook has no guaranteed safety from child predators, we would have to monitor her Facebook friends, her time spent using Facebook, and it would be a struggle for me to keep up with what is posted (all in Chinese). Second, she already has a computer/electronics addiction and this would be adding fuel to the fire. Third, we need for her to focus on bonding with us, not her friends. Fourth, the orphanage and her social worker in Taiwan and the agency in Taiwan all told us that they do not want her to have contact with her friends until she’s settled here, until she’s learned how to be part of our family.

Another huge reason that we do not allow Facebook has to do with DoubleShot’s past. We will not share that information with others, but it does play into our decisions. An advantage of adopting from Taiwan, rather than China for example, is that we were given a lot of information about DoubleShot’s past. We are still missing very large pieces of her story but we have enough information to help guide her. Facebook falls under the category of “DoubleShot may not understand, other people looking in may not understand, but this is what is best for my daughter and people will have to just trust that we are making decisions for her emotional well-being.”

A quick note here before continuing – I don’t share these things to embarrass my daughter. I share because I decided to blog about our adoption and our parenting experiences in hopes of reaching out to other families who are considering older child adoption. I leave out a lot of the details but the stories are true.

So with all of that said… DoubleShot finally worked up the courage to ask for access to her Facebook account. We have her login information, which I don’t think she has memorized, and her computer usage is completely monitored with one of us sitting with her at all times. I was greatly amused with her way of asking.

“Oh yeah? What are you wanting to buy?”
“No, no computer.”
“Cell phone!”
“No, no cell phone.”
Me – “What do you want a cell phone for?” (I walked into that one, oops!)
“No, no Facebook.”

Before I even had a chance to address this further, she melted down and started whining. She kept asking why. I slowly gave her a few reasons, having to navigate in English, follow up with my attempts at Chinese explanations, and then pulling out the translator and trying to explain further. I told her that Baba and Mama want to keep her safe and that Facebook is not safe. She asked why I am allowed to use Facebook and she is not. I told her that I am an adult and she is a child. I told her that the orphanage will not allow her to contact her friends. She wanted to know why so I told her that they want her to learn English and that they want her to learn how to be a family (they gave us both explanations while we were in Taiwan).

At this point, DoubleShot was no longer regulated and I stopped trying to explain. She is not able to truly hear what I am saying while upset so all I can do is physically and emotionally stay with her. She kept repeating “why???” and “I am 13 years old!” in both English and Chinese. She was laying on our bed during this conversation and had a meltdown. She was kicking our bed and yelling. I laid on the bed with her, close enough that she could feel my presence but far enough away that I wouldn’t get kicked. This is where my Heather Forbes parenting class kicked in (something I may post about later). Because she kept looking over to make sure I was nearby, pausing to evaluate the situation and then going back to her tantrum, I joined in. I told her to tell me how mad she was. I kicked the bed too and that made her giggle. After that, I stayed quiet and calm because she was not allowing herself to calm down.

For almost an hour, she laid on our bed and kept up her tantrum. I internally laughed at the irony. Here she is insisting that she is 13 years old and should thus be allowed on Facebook while throwing a tantrum like a three year old. At some point, she started yelling that she hates me, both in English and Chinese. I responded that I am sorry she feels that way but I love her. Her response? “Yucky.” (We’ve been telling her that we love her for awhile now. At first she would reply “yucky” with emphasis. Now she just listens or will respond “yucky” with no meaning behind it.)

We’ve had two days now of repeated requests for Facebook and repeated tantrums. The “I hate you” only happened during one tantrum, which I am grateful for. I understand that it’s normal for teens and definitely normal for older adopted children to express their frustration in this way. It might be normal and I might have expected it, but it’s a blow. Thankfully I didn’t respond other than to reassure her that I love her even if she hates me.

Overall, I see so many positive signs in these tantrums. She’s stayed near us the entire time. Before this, she would shut down (rather than act out) and retreat to her bedroom or to the other side of the room from us. But she chose to stay on the bed with me. She kept checking to make sure that I was nearby. I’m also happy that DoubleShot now feels safe enough with us to request something and to express her feelings when that request is denied. Yes, we will need to work through healthy forms of expression. But it’s better for her to get her feelings out than for her to keep them bottled inside. She was able to express herself and see that even with her tantrums, she is not beaten or yelled at. Baba and Mama (by the grace of God) have been able to stay calm through each of them and have been able to reassure her that we are safe even when she is angry.

Four weeks home and we see so much growth. DoubleShot is finding her way in our family. She’s learning that she is safe. She is learning that we care about her and that we will meet all of her needs. She’s learning that we have boundaries and how to navigate within those boundaries. I’m really proud of her. We’ve all gone through some growing pains. My husband and I have made mistakes but we’ve also made some really good decisions. We’re growing as individuals and growing as a family. This week has been emotional and while I hope for many calm moments this upcoming week, it’s facing the challenges that we grow the most.

Tender roots

I’m so excited to see signs that my daughter is starting to put down roots in our family.

When we arrived home from Taiwan, we wavered a bit as to whether to encourage or force DoubleShot to empty out her suitcase so that she’s fully moved in. When we saw how she is protective of her privacy, we decided not to address it at all. She’s been living out of her suitcase for 3.5 weeks, mostly wearing clothes she brought with her. She’s worn a couple t-shirts, a pair of jeans, pajamas, and a pair of sneakers that we bought her. But all of her other clothing has been familiar items from Taiwan, pulled out of her suitcase.

As I wash laundry and fold her clothes each week, I’ve been quietly putting everything away in the dresser. She’s been fine with that but it hasn’t changed everything else being stored in her suitcase.

Yesterday I waited until she was in our bedroom and then very deliberately went through our suitcase, pulling out the last couple things that I hadn’t put away. I carefully checked all of the pockets, making sure the suitcase is empty, and then put the suitcase away in the closet. It had previously been standing near our bedroom door and being used as a shelf for towels… I said nothing about what I was doing. I just went about my chore.

Less than an hour later, DoubleShot was in her room rummaging around. I took a quick peak and saw that it looked like she was cleaning so I left her alone and waited. 45 minutes later, she bounced into our bedroom and threw herself on the bed. She handed me two art projects she had made in Taiwan and indicated that I was to pick one, that the other was for Baba. Then she handed me a stack of achievement certificates she’s earned in the past few years so that I could look through them. She asked if I could read one of them, so I started reading aloud in Chinese. She said “very good.” Whew! I passed the hanzi reading test!

She went back to her room and there were more rummaging sounds. A few minutes later, she came back to me and gestured for me to follow her. We walked into her room and she gestured toward the dresser, showing me that she had set up a display of her prized possessions. The room was spotless. Everything put away. The suitcase stored in the closet.

I nearly cried. My daughter has decided she’s staying and finally made the room her own.

Push and pull

I’m writing this post now because I’m still feeling so raw and despite feeling so raw. Last night I asked my husband, “should I write a blog post about what happened today?” His response was that it’s part of older child adoption and may help another family someday. Even if it’s raw, write about it. So here goes…

DoubleShot, like many girls who have lost their birth mother and then been adopted, struggles with having a new mother. I can only guess at the massive emotions going on inside of her, but I am sure that she is scared to death of being abandoned again. She is probably angry at her parents for everything that happened in her earlier years, though she may not yet be able to identify her own emotions. Now that I have stepped into the “mother” position in her life, I am dealing with all of her feelings toward her birth mother.

Yesterday, DoubleShot was not displaying any unusual or challenging behaviors beyond the ones we deal with on a daily basis. However, I was having a really rough day. My window of stress tolerance was very small and I was having a really hard time not letting her behavior affect me. Normally I can laugh or at least dismiss her behavior as an outward sign of what’s going on inside her heart. But yesterday it felt personal. This was my fault, not hers.

In the afternoon, the three of us went downstairs to brush our teeth. DoubleShot was hanging out on our bed and Jeff and I were standing in front of the bathroom sink. I was telling him how badly I was struggling and how hard it is for DoubleShot to want me and then not want me. She wants physical contact and then she doesn’t want to be touched. She wants to spend time with me and then doesn’t want anything to do with me. She’s confused and afraid and I sometimes feel like I have whiplash from her ever changing emotions.

I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve and my emotions splayed across my face. I know that my daughter could not hear me because I was talking very quietly and the dryer was running out in the hallway. However, I know she saw my face and my arms moving and I know she picked up on my emotional aura. She completely shut down. She laid on the bed with her arms over her head and would not respond. We reassured her that she was safe and that she is loved but she had completely shut us out.

I felt horrible!! My frustration overwhelmed my child and made her hide from us. I don’t know if she was afraid we were going to punish her or beat her or if my frustration and anxiety just completely scared her. I laid on the bed with her for quite some time. I was praying, telling God that I was so sorry that I had done this to my daughter and asking for guidance on what to do to help her. He told me just to stay with her and be quiet. So I did. I tried reaching out a couple of times to rub her back, as she’ll let me rub her back in the mornings when I’m waking her up. Nope, she pulled away. Any time she shifted and accidentally touched me, she pulled away.

Eventually I had to use the bathroom and got up. When I came back, she had moved to her own bed. At that point, I wasn’t sure what to do so I went upstairs to talk with my husband. He suggested that he go sit with her for awhile so he took a book downstairs and sat on the floor next to her bed, just offering a regulating, calm presence. After awhile, I could hear them interacting and a bit of laughter from DoubleShot. When I heard that, I sat on the couch and bawled.

I want so badly to be a good mother, someone who can roll with the punches and still be loving. Some of DoubleShot’s push and pull triggers me because I still have rejection and abandonment issues from my childhood. I know that it’s not her fault. I know it’s not personal. I cognitively understand her fear of becoming emotionally close to a new mother. But yesterday, it was too much. I couldn’t handle it, she sensed it, and then she closed herself off. I cried because my husband could reach her and I couldn’t. I want to be able to comfort her but she and I are just not there yet. I am not yet a comforting presence in her life. She wants to spend time with me, she wants physical contact with me, but when she starts feeling vulnerable, she lashes out.

I am amazed at DoubleShot’s resilience, her ability to again reach out for connection even after we’ve had challenges. When my husband and DoubleShot came back upstairs, they played Mario for a bit. She was laughing at how both of them died on the levels and was sitting close beside Jeff. After awhile, when I felt calm enough to finally join them, I walked over and sat down on the other side of the couch. DoubleShot immediately shifted from Jeff’s end of the couch to mine. She laid down on the couch and put her head on my lap, the very first time she’s done that. I melted, though part of me was still raw from earlier. The rest of the time we were playing, she alternated between laying her head on my lap and laying her head on my shoulder. Even though I caused her earlier shutdown, she was still willing to reach out for connection.

Last night, my husband invited her to come in to our room and read with us. We do this every night, part of our wind down routine before bed. She very reluctantly joined us, though she sat on the end of the bed reading. Normally she lays beside me with her legs draped over me. After she finished reading her first book, she shifted and laid beside me and sighed. Jeff handed me a Curious George book and I read aloud. This was the third book I’ve read to her. The first two times, she giggled throughout the reading and kept telling me to whisper. This time, she actually listened for the first half of the story and pointed to something in the drawings. After the book was done, I let her play Angry Birds on my phone until we were ready for bed. She giggled when we tucked her in.

This morning I am still feeling raw. I started crying again as I wrote this blog post. Adoption is beautiful but it’s painful for everyone involved. As parents, we deal with the grief of missing so much of DoubleShot’s earlier life. We deal with the emotional repercussions of DoubleShot’s past and how that manifests in her behavior. DoubleShot, while she now has a family, has to learn to accept us. She has to learn that we love her and that we want her to be happy and emotionally safe in our family. All three of us have to learn our new roles, how to interact with each other, and how to deal with our own issues without hurting the other members of the family. We have beautiful moments and we have incredibly painful ones. Yesterday contained a lot of both.

Three weeks home

I really can’t believe we’ve already been home for three weeks. This week has flown by! I looked up and realized it’s already Thursday.

This week has seen a slight shift in DoubleShot’s bonding. Yesterday she actually came and got me when something was wrong. The MP5 resurrected itself but the audio wasn’t working. DoubleShot came into the bedroom and gestured for me to follow her and then showed me that she couldn’t get the player to work. This is huge. Before yesterday, she’s never sought me out when something is wrong. I wonder if she’s finally starting to understand that we are available to help her whenever she needs it. We’ve told her that she can ask us for anything. That she can wake us up at night if she needs something. But until last night, she’s never voluntarily sought out my assistance.

The biggest challenge for me as a parent and as an emotionally sensitive person is the constant push and pull of our relationship. DoubleShot wants to be close to me but I sense that she is afraid. She is probably afraid that I will disappear at some point. Maybe that I will abandon her eventually. Maybe that I will hurt her, either physically or emotionally. She will snuggle up to me at times, hang all over me at other times, reach out for physical contact. But at other times, she is completely pushing me away, calling me names in Chinese or not wanting to be near me.

I was very aware of the possibility of this issue from my adoption and parenting training. But being aware and understanding the meaning behind the behavior does not protect my heart. I completely melt when DoubleShot wants to cuddle. Then it hurts my feelings when she rejects my offer to help her with something or calls me a pig. And yet throughout it all, I need to be loving and warm and bond-able. She needs to learn that I am reliable and that I will love her regardless of her behavior. I do love her regardless but it’s hard to act on that love when you’ve just been shoved and called a pig.

I made a massive parenting mistake earlier this week. DoubleShot is addicted to electronics, like most children. I have a love/hate relationship with electronics. I prefer that they be used primarily as a tool and used sparingly as entertainment. DoubleShot is still gaining confidence with our home and still seems hesitant to get out toys or games without being prompted or demonstrated. When I pull out a new toy and start playing with it, she’ll usually join in. But she doesn’t initiate much playing on her own. One day this week, DoubleShot had already spent several hours playing games on my computer. I told her to find something to do besides electronics. We have books (in Mandarin and English), games, toys, etc. available to her. She moved to the couch and started playing with her handheld Tetris game. We took it away from her and repeated that she needed to find something to do that wasn’t an electronic.

That resulted in two hours of her sitting on the couch doing nothing. I came over and sat with her for awhile, reading my book. I asked her if she was ok. She nodded. I offered to do something with her and made suggestions. She said no to each of my suggestions. I later realized that she probably didn’t understand my instructions and that it felt arbitrary and punitive when we took away her Tetris game. Whoops! I’m not sure what shook her out of the lethargy, but all of a sudden she got up and got involved in what I was doing. She was back to her giggling self. I wish I knew what triggered the change. I also learned I need to spend more time with the translator to help her understand my instructions! I felt so bad about the misunderstanding.

This week seems to have been more about my growth than about DoubleShot’s. She’s made progress in her bonding and is becoming a bit more communicative in both English and Chinese, though we’ve yet to hold a conversation. But this week it felt like I was learning more about how to be a mom than she’s learned about how to be a daughter. Her growth is sometimes hard to see because I have no idea what’s going on inside her head!

Back in the language saddle

On Sunday morning, I sat down to write a blog post. It’s still only half finished. DoubleShot got up earlier than expected both Sunday and Monday so I didn’t have time to finish. So I decided to write something else for now.

With all of the last minute stresses and packing and rush of paperwork gathering before leaving for Taiwan, I studied very little Chinese in July. My flashcards are a very sad reflection of how little I have studied in the past six weeks.


The desktop app does not display exactly how many cards are due, just that there are over 1,000 of them. The phone app, however, tells me exactly how far I am behind – 1,258 cards due in just the vocabulary deck alone. I believe this number was originally over 1,400 but I spent some time yesterday and the day before reviewing cards.

To be honest, I am not sure that studying Chinese helped us in Taiwan or the past several weeks home. Yes, I can use survival phrases to talk to my daughter. I can ask if she’s hungry or needs to use the bathroom or if she’s tired. I can tell her what’s for dinner and where we are going. I cannot however ask if she is sad or if she misses her friends or what she thinks about any number of things. My writing skills are advanced enough for that but my speaking and listening skills are not. Maybe if I had joined a Chinese conversation class and actually practiced dialogue I would be able to do so. But I refuse to look back and regret the time I spent studying and what I should have done differently.

Learning more Chinese now may or may not be beneficial in my relationship with DoubleShot. She is adding new words and phrases to her speaking repertoire every day. Just yesterday she blurted out “all done!” when we finished our Candy Crush level. She knows a fair amount of English from her tutoring at the orphanage but is still gaining confidence to try speaking English with us.

So why bother? I want to be bilingual. I was planning to learn Japanese and had studied it for two years. Then we decided to adopt and I switched languages. I have learned much more Chinese in 1.5 years than I learned while studying Japanese because I learned HOW to study a language. Now that I’ve invested so much time in Chinese, I want to keep going. I want to go back to Taiwan and walk away from a cafe with more than a bagel. We are encouraging DoubleShot to retain her Chinese language skills and I want to be able to have a conversation with her in Chinese someday. We want to adopt again and maybe next time my Chinese will actually help in country and the first few weeks home.

I’ve read a number of blog and Facebook posts about how encouraging a child to retain their first language will slow down their acquisition of a second. That may be true. My husband is left out of a lot of the short exchanges between DoubleShot and I because he does not understand what is being said. But my daughter is already 13 years old and deserves to retain ties to her birth country if she wishes to do so. We are buying her books in Chinese and watch Taiwanese television shows. Just as I want to be bilingual, I want her to be bilingual. When she decides that she wants to be fluent in English, she’ll be more motivated than if I tried to force her.

Plus, DoubleShot so far has enjoyed sitting next to me and watching me study my flashcards. She laughs when I butcher the tones and prompts me when I can’t read a specific hanzi. And hopefully she’ll be able to see what vocabulary I do know and use that vocabulary when trying to tell me something.

I don’t know if there have been any relationship or psychological benefits due to my attempts at speaking Chinese with my daughter. Does it help our relationship in some way? Does it give her confidence to try speaking English? Does she feel loved because I have made an effort to bridge the language barrier? These are questions I won’t know the answer to for months or maybe even ever. There may be as of yet unseen benefits to all of the time and energy I’ve invested in studying Chinese.

Someday I want to be able to say that I can speak English and Chinese. Although I know how to say that sentence in Chinese, it’s not yet factual! Back to the studying I go!

Two weeks home

I can’t believe we’ve already been home for two weeks!! It seems like such a short amount of time and yet it feels like DoubleShot has been with us for much longer. We’re slowly finding our way and working toward being a family. This week, even though my husband has gone back to work, we’ve been creating lots of bonding opportunities. Jeff works from home so is always around, even if DoubleShot and I are keeping ourselves busy.

DoubleShot and I both enjoy Candy Crush. I downloaded a desktop version so that she can play her own game while I have mine on the Facebook app. We sit side by side and first use up all of her lives and then use up all of mine.


We’ve been playing lots of games! In Taiwan, we played hours and hours of Uno. I like Uno but I prefer the Euro style board games. We’ve discovered DoubleShot enjoys them as well!


IMG_20150815_121447Ticket to Ride


This week we tried our hand at hotpot. DoubleShot was so excited to see us gathering all of the ingredients! She took this photo of us while we were waiting for the broth to be ready.


Unfortunately, the hotpot broth was way too spicy for her and she could only eat a little bit. The past couple days have been too hot for us to try again but today is overcast. We’ll make hotpot again tonight with just a simple broth and lots of veggies, jiaozi, and noodles. I can’t wait!

Yesterday I took DoubleShot to the library. We took her last week but it was still too early. She wasn’t feeling comfortable enough yet to ask for anything, so had just followed us around wide-eyed. But yesterday she picked out some of her own books. When we headed to the checkout counter, she grabbed my arm and gestured back toward the children’s department. I asked if she wanted more books so we headed back that way.


She picked out a ton! Between the two of us borrowing books, our library bag was overflowing. We will need to get DoubleShot her own library card and library bag for future use. The library is my favorite place in the world and I am thrilled that DoubleShot is enjoying it as well!


We’ve had a few challenges as well. When DoubleShot started warming up to me, she started getting aggressive. She’s very exuberant and energetic. When she wants my attention, she yells “hey!” and will grab my arm or punch me in the shoulder. She would shove me in the back or try to push me while we’re walking. I don’t believe it’s malicious. I think she’s crying out for attention in the only way she knows. We’ve been reminding her to be more gentle and redirecting her hands but that was only partially successful.

Finally, I sat down and wrote out the TBRI rules from the teen video (more on that later). I labeled them as our family rules and tried to translate them into Chinese. God sent me a gift and I was contacted by another homeschooling family who speaks Chinese and offered to communicate with DoubleShot if necessary. It was perfect timing! I emailed her the rules I had translated and she corrected my Chinese.

Our family rules:
1 – No hurts. Baba and Mama will not hurt you. You will not hurt Baba and Mama.
2 – We all stick together. We work together. We play together.
3 – We all have fun.

We showed them to DoubleShot and then put them on the fridge. Now whenever she gets physically aggressive, we can point to the family rules. So far it has helped!

Our other challenge was mentioned in my week one post, trying to balance DoubleShot’s emotional reliance on her MP5 player with her need for more sleep. We made the decision to allow DoubleShot to continue using the MP5 player at night and that we would curtail usage once we had reached the one month home milestone. Hopefully, by that time, DoubleShot will be bonded with us enough that the loss of her MP5 player would be a blip in the road instead of creating a major meltdown.

Well, yesterday that issue was resolved for us. The MP5 player was well loved but cheaply made. The power button on it broke off and Baba could not fix it. He made a genuine effort, showing DoubleShot that we care about her and want her to be taken care of. However, he was unable to repair the player and it has now been retired.

We spent extra time with DoubleShot last night before bed. We read a picture book aloud (she giggled through the whole thing), gave her a snack, and just spent time laying on our bed hanging out. She calmly went to bed. I passed out and didn’t wake up until 6 this morning but we never heard her moving around or crying. I’m headed downstairs in 15 minutes to wake her up for the day and we’ll see how she does today.

Overall things are still going really well and we love having her here! We’ve had challenging moments and moments of pure joy. My favorite moment this week was Tuesday night when DoubleShot and I lay on my bed while chatting with a friend on FaceBook. DoubleShot likes to send a bunch of stickers in the chat window and my friend is so awesome that she spent time sending a bunch of stickers back. DoubleShot got a huge kick out of that, especially when I let her take and send my friend several pictures. DoubleShot tried to get me to take a selfie but I insisted that she be in the photo as well. Here’s the resulting photo.


This is the first photo of DoubleShot and I where she is smiling without being prompted by the photographer. Genuine laughter!! It completely made my day.

My little sonar

A couple days ago, DoubleShot started doing something interesting. Quite frequently, she calls out to us. “Hey!” Sometimes it’s loud, sometimes quiet. It’s frequent. “Hey!” We respond back with another “hey!” Back and forth, back and forth. We’ve turned it into a game. I’ll raise or lower my pitch, sing the responses, “hey, ho, hi, hehehe.” She’ll respond back the same.

My husband jokes that she’s turned into our little sonar. Ping. Ping. Ping. “Are you still there? Are you available? Are you paying attention? Do you hear me? Am I visible? Now? What about now?”

Yes, dearie. We hear you! We are here for you! Yup, still here!

It doesn’t matter if we’re at home or out. She does the exact same thing. I am so grateful that I’ve been praying for patience. Before DoubleShot, this kind of behavior would have driven me up the wall. But God has given me a gift and I am able to respond with kindness.

On our walk on Sabbath, Jeff and I even started voicing the meaning behind the behavior when she pinged us. “Yes, DoubleShot, we hear you.” “Yes, we are still here for you.” “Yes, we care about you.” I’m not sure how much she understands, but hopefully some of our affirmations are getting through.