Sunday, August 28, 2011

Poop Cookies Part 2

Continued from Part 1...

Bring in iTunes and a few new downloaded albums:
  • Lemonade Mouth: Lemonade Mouth  The kids wanted this after seeing the movie.  The songs are catchy, fun, and have encouraging lyrics.
  • Toby Mac: Tonight  We love Toby.  We got the extended album and can't listen enough.  The kids want to hear more of Toby's son "TruDog" Truett.  I don't know why I didn't get this album sooner.
  • The Afters: Light Up the Sky  Fun CD, the title track being my favorite song, but they are all good.
Listening to one of Toby Mac's songs, Hold On, I actually had tears well up as I thought how glad I am they have these words in their hearts and minds instead of songs that end with "I wanna have you naked by the end of this song."  (And you who know me know I love me some Justin Timberlake.)

Here's a portion of the lyrics from "Hold On."  (The portion that made me tear up. Mostly because I was thinking about my girls and how, just two days prior, they had come in feeling very bad about themselves because of how some other kids were treating them.  THIS is the kind of music I want them to go to their rooms to listen to.  Not something about having a gun and the other kids better run fast.)

Wake up to the rising sun
thank the Lord for the things He's done
lift your eyes up to the hope that's ever true
Wanna see you smiling girl
you're a light in this jaded world
wipe away those tears
this one's for you

Come on, move a little bit closer, you can put your head on my shoulder
Yeah, yeah

[Chorus]

And the stars are up there shining for you
oh, the Father does adore you
His love will never change
And you and I
we were born to follow
the hope that will lead us to tomorrow
and no one can take it away

So baby hold on
just another day or two
I can see the clouds are
moving faster now
and the sun is breaking through
If you could hold on
to the one that's holding you
there is nothing that can stop this crazy, crazy love from breaking...

Yes!  I don't care if my kids wanna listen to pop, country, hip hop, rap, or hard, heavy metal like Living Sacrifice. (Which, to me, sounds grating like hip hop/rap sounds to my mother.) as long as what is being engraved into their minds over and over and over again through the music is a message that is in line with our family's worldview, I'm good with it.  You may have to remind me of this post when TJ is 12 and wanting to download every Living Sacrifice album.

At one point, we were listening to a song that we all agreed had a great sound, rhythm, and was just fun. But there in the middle of all the fun were some tacky lyrics.  "But it's such a good song! That's just one little part of it."  Yep.  Poop cookies.

In our family, we all know the story we call "Poop Cookies."  It goes something like this:  A dad offers his daughters delicious chocolate chip cookies.  He explains that he used special fine flour, the richest butter, the most expensive chocolate.  He asked if they wanted one.  Of course they did!  Before they took a bite, he let them know he did add just a touch of the dog's poop from the backyard.  As the girls gagged and threw the cookies across the room, he said, "But they are the BEST cookies with all the best ingredients.  There is only a little tiny bit of dog poop."

Of course you wouldn't want the cookies touching your mouth.  So why make the same compromise with what you put in your mind and what gets engrained there for your entire life?

Hearing parents are bad enough about not knowing what kids are listening to.  (I'm an example.  I was listening to stuff when I had no clue about the words.)  For Deaf parents, I would want to take extra care to really look over the lyrics of popular songs as well as stuff on your kids' computers and iPods.  Looking at the lyrics isn't always enough.  (I'm thinking of Britney's song "If You Seek Amy.")  Check the music video, too.  That will provide even more insight into the band and meaning of the song lyrics.  (Although not always. That song Pumped Up Kicks had a video that would never clue one in to the meaning of the song.)  There are websites that analyze the meanings of songs.  Many songs are interpreted on You Tube now and even by very good interpreters.

Eric Witteborg is my favorite.  I love watching him preform songs. He hasn't done too many recently, but what he HAS done is unbelievable.  Last month, he downloaded one minute of a super-fast rap song. It's WOW!  I can't watch too many times. Cry Me a River is another favorite that he does.

Tiffany Hill is someone I've just discovered this week.  She's GREAT! She has a couple of current popular songs posted right now.  Her interpretation of "Firework" is awesome!

This guy is amazing, but be warned. ALL are explicit, very sexualized songs.  But for Deaf parents, you can truly see the meaning of the song.

What about you Deaf parents or hearing parents? How do you monitor your kids music?

Poop Cookies Part 1

Last week, I downloaded a few new albums.  After trying to listen to Mix 102.9 for a while, I decided it just wasn't worth any of us having that mess in our minds.  And I didn't even understand many of the lyrics we were listening to.

Just out of curiosity, I looked up the lyrics for this week's top 40 in pop music.

#1 Katy Perry Last Friday Night All about getting drunk, acting stupid, being naked, having a threesome and ready to do it again next week. Starts of "There's a stranger in my bed."  Nice.  Number one song.  Wow.
#2 LMFAO: Party Rock Anthem Again, party, drink a lot, lose mind, wanna see a girl naked. Actually one of the tamest of the top 5.
#3 I was sad to read some of the lyrics from "Moves Like Jagger" because that song is so good.  The kids and I love the chorus, the sounds, the beat, and love Adam Levine when he's singing clean music.
#4 and #5 Super Bass by Nicki Minaj and Lighter by Bad Meets Evil (Bruno Mars and Eminem)
These next two on the top 40 include the F-bomb in more than one instance.  I know the songs are "cleaned up" for radio (ha!), but you're fooling yourself if you think kids don't know what's being left out.  Kids also go find the "real" version of the song elsewhere.  I know I did when I was younger.
#6: Give Me Everything by Pitbull. Basically, a song convincing a girl to have sex tonight because 1: you look good 2: the world might end 3: I'm going to drink too much and accidentally slip and fall on top of you.  Hmm...really?  That works, does it?
#7: Pumped up Kicks by Foster the People  Can it be? Nothing about sex, drinking, or being naked?!  Yes!  Oh, but it's about shooting someone?  Honestly, I'm not sure if there is deeper meaning behind this song, but reading the lyrics, it's one guy warning some other guys to run fast because this other dude has a gun and is ready to shoot them.  ??  Maybe I'm under-analyzing.
#8: Tonight Tonight by Hot Chelle Rae  Okay, so these lyrics are about equal to my era's "Dancing on the Ceiling."  Not bad.  Think I'll check the video to get more insight into the song meaning as well as the band.  Umm...no.  Okay, next?
#9: Good Life by One Republic  Another one with a bad word, but not overly-offensive to me personally.  Not one I'd want my kids to listen to.  Aside from that, it's just a decent song with no redeeming qualities other than the chorus is very catchy.
#10: I Wanna Go by Britney Spears  Well, what do you expect?  Basically a song about her letting out all of her dirty thoughts and desire for sex.

So, out of the top ten of the top 40 songs, there was ONE that had no mention of either getting wasted or nakedness or sex.  And that one was about a homicidal teenager, so that leaves us at a big, fat ZERO for decent music for my kids and me to rock to when we are in the car.
Continued....

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Travis at Six Weeks

Travis is nothing short of amazing.  Really, he's just proving that a 3-year window of no language doesn't have to be a life sentence nor does it mean he will always be behind.  The more he's with us, the more we can tell he hears nothing.

He's already communicating in phrases.  These phrases started the other day when he went up to his dad, tapped him, then signed "DADDY!  TURTLE!" then pointed to turtle.

Why is this such a big deal?  After 6 weeks of exposure to ASL (a natural language to him since his eyes are his superhighway), he knows he can
1. tap people to get their attention.  When we got him, he would just hold his hands up and cry.  Now, he approaches us and taps us on the leg or arm.  He taps his dad, me, his siblings, and even tapped our dentist to tell him he saw a train.  (I should add that he does still whine at times when he wants something, but he watches us with great interest so he can learn how to communicate his wants and needs.)
2. call his dad by name when addressing him
3. identify what he wants by name
4. show his dad where it is.
This is his first sentence.  "Daddy! Look at the turtle!"

Just yesterday, he had a piece of chocolate cake.  (His first taste of it for all we know.)  He was an instant fan and asked for more.  I gave him one more bite and he asked for even more.  I told him we were "all done" with the cake.  "FINISH!"  He looked up on the counter, spying the cake, pointed, and signed "CAKE."
I explained "YES. CAKE. EAT LATER. NOT NOW. GRAPES? YOU WANT? GRAPES. EAT NOW."
He studied me intently while I told him this twice.
While he was watching me, he was forming the sign "NOW".  This was a new one for him.  He didn't have his hands exactly right, so he worked until his hands were in the perfect "Y" position and signed NOW.  He looked at me with a grimace and shook his head "no" while signing NOW (meaning "not now"), then signed "GRAPES. YES. CAKE LATER."  "Later" was also new to him.  At first, he signed it with the "ILY" handshape instead of the "L."  He thrust his hand forward toward me so I would "fix" his hand to make it correct.  We love seeing him do this and he does it often.  He's not satisfied until he gets it right.  We think we have a perfectionist on our hands.  Oh, it reminds me...I put up a poster of the alphabet in English and ASL.  He copied every single handshape, practicing until he had it right.  He'll be signing his ABCs in no time!

He mimics language conversations and it is SO cute!  In the mornings, Travis lies between Ken and me.  Ken and I visit and he watches.  He has started adding to the conversation, stringing some unrelated signs he knows with some nonsense hand movements.  The other morning it was like this:
hands moving FAN TRUCK HANNAH hands moving DADDY MOMMY LOVE hands moving TIAN TRAVIS FAN YES pointing out the window YES.

Travis understands that Ken and I use ASL to communicate.  He's copying how our conversation looks.  He's "babbling" just like any toddler would.  And at 6 weeks, we are impressed, but not surprised.  We just wish more people could witness what constant exposure to visual language can DO for a deaf child!  Yes, even (I would say especially) a profoundly deaf child who has had zero language exposure for his first three years.

A few things Travis can tell us:
He loves us.  We love him.  He needs to potty. He needs to poop.  He wants food.  He wants: milk, crackers, bread, cake, grapes, water, watermelon, meat, eggs, etc.  He wants to put on his shoes.  He wants us to look at something.  He wants to ride his bike. His brother is crying. Daddy is sleeping. I could go on and on.  Most of these statements are two-sign phrases or one sign with a pointing reference.

Personality-wise, Travis is just a doll.  Certainly, he has his toddler moments and can push his little brother or fight over a toy or cry because he's not getting what he wants, but overall, his temperament is very easy-going and sweet.  He loves to help us with chores: sweeping, handing me clean dishes from the dishwasher, and putting away groceries.

Even though he's still not Tian's biggest fan, he shows compassion to him.  Today, Tian was wailing because I had the audacity to not allow him to stand on the windowsill.  I was holding Tian when Travis came up behind him, kissing the back of his head and patting him.

He loves to kiss and hug, especially first thing in the morning or at bed time, but really, any time.  In the mornings, he smiles from ear to ear, lying between Ken and me, hugging both of our necks and having us kiss his cheeks at the same time...over and over again.  He takes turns kissing us on the mouth, then on the forehead, then on the head.  Then he pulls us together so we all three kiss at the same time.  He will sign DADDY LOVE TRAVIS. MOMMY LOVE ME.

Yes, we certainly do!

Tian at Seven Weeks

Little Tian.  He's such a little goofball and a fireball of love and giggles.  He's a ham that certainly likes to have the attention on him.  Many times, he seems older than he really is.  I have to constantly remind myself that he has just turned two.

Tian likes to hug, kiss, blow kisses, wrestle, tumble, and do lots of things that 2 year-olds like to do.  He's silly and loves to laugh.  He'll make faces or silly sounds if he thinks it will make us laugh at him.  (Much like his older brother!)  He has an ornery streak and daily tests me on the rules.  He's very sly, clever and understated when he's being mischievous.

He says quite a few words:
mama, baba, milk (mow), Hannah (anna), potty (pah-e), no no, TJ (ee-ay), Mackenzie (enzie), there he is (dah-e-is), bed, night-night (nie-nie) etc. He will mimic just about any sound we make, but doesn't speak much to communicate.  He mostly uses one-word signs for that.  While we have no doubt that he can hear and can certainly hear our speech,  I still have a gut feeling that he has hearing differences.  Just not sure what those are yet.

Tian has figured out how each person communicates in our family.  He is doing the same thing all the other kids did when they were little.  He will look at Ken and start moving his hands to mimic our signs.  While doing this, he will silently move his mouth.  I need to get it on video.

Tian is probably has about 30 signs.  I should make a list this week.  He makes many of those signs with the "f" or "1" handshapes since he doesn't have fine motor skills to do much else.  We present language to him visually because we know beyond doubt that he can receive it.  We don't have to worry about what he can or can't hear.  He understands the majority of what we say/sign to him.  He also mimics many spoken words and almost any sound we make.

This week, we had a couple of Chinese friends come over to visit.  This was the boys' first time to be in such close contact with Chinese people.  At first, Tian gripped on to me, but he quickly warmed up and even went to them, letting them hold him and sitting on their laps.

He still seemed to understand a lot of the Mandarin they spoke to him, but he wouldn't mimic the Mandrin words like he mimics English.  Not sure why that is.  We were so happy to have these new friends visit and hope to continue our friendship.  We love the idea of the boys being around other Chinese people.  We live in a community full of Asians, but mostly Korean, not Chinese.

Tian is sleeping all night.  We can even leave him in the crib when he's still awake and he will go to sleep happy.  He loves that TJ is in there with him.  Last week, TJ sneaked Tian out of the crib and into his bed and read to him for a while before returning Tian to the crib.  This thrills my heart.  TJ had been hurt in the past because Tian lets the girls hold him, change him, and "mother" him.  He doesn't let TJ do the same.  So this evening ritual they have is special for them both.   I love the bonds Tian is developing with each of his siblings.

What joy Tian is bringing to our family!  Seven weeks.  Can that really be all?  Can't imagine our family without him!

Jill Radford's Letter of Resignation to Utah School for the Deaf

Jill's letter is eloquent and beautifully-written.  It's not only a problem in Utah, but all over the nation.
 To Whom It May Concern:

To be a leader, one must have courage, passion, and vision. It is beyond doubt that USDB’s current superintendent has courage; he fears nothing and no one. It is also true that he is possessed of the passion and vision to promote the listening and spoken language skills for Deaf and hard of hearing children (and I use the capitol ‘D’ here to emphasize the specific and separate cultural and linguistic community of Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing individuals). Yes, he fulfills the three necessary attributes of the leader – but in this case, he does so under only one specific methodology. Unfortunately, he has been chosen the leader of a school with the vision of a dual track. His leadership is therefore ineffective in its current application. Without dedicated support for ALL programs, schools, and classes, the office of the superintendent will continue to fall short of its responsibilities.

Through my years of service to my position, it has become increasingly evident to me that the problem goes much deeper than this office. Quite simply, the system in Utah is broken beyond repair. As long as the current climate remains status quo, the battle will be ongoing for Deaf and hard of hearing students hoping to be educated in their natural language. The attacks on Schools of the Deaf will continue unabated. The students of these schools will forever shoulder the blame for a desperately flawed system – a system that allows students who have “failed” the LSL or mainstreaming approach to be given the opportunity to learn using American Sign Language as their means of communication. Under the current educational structure, “failed” students are given a second track through which to learn, but years of development are lost in the process. As a result of these lost years, these improperly served students of Schools of the Deaf are forced into a game of continuous “catch up.” The culture of “failure” is thusly perpetuated.
It has become evident to me that I can no longer serve an office that continues to blame these “failures” on the student rather than the system itself. Further, I can no longer in good conscience serve a system that views the Deaf community as an enemy to be silenced at all costs. And I can no longer be a part of an office that does not value the individuals most dedicated to improving the life experience of others like themselves.

In my years of service, JMS has become a part of my soul. It devastates me to have to write this letter. I have tried to put my feelings behind me and do what I think is right from within my current position. But at the time of this writing, I have found clarity. As long as I remain in this post, I am hindered in my ability to fight for the ensured success of all students served in the Utah education system. If I hope to exact real and measurable change, I simply cannot continue to work for a superintendent who so blatantly demoralizes the efforts, dedication, and passion of the faculty and staff at JMS. And so with a heavy heart, I submit this letter of resignation. I anticipate my last day two weeks from today and request administrative leave until that date.

While this is a letter of resignation, it is not a concession. I will continue to fight as a Deaf adult for the rights and needs of Deaf and hard of hearing children all across this great state. I will not rest until students such as these have access to a visual language (ASL), literacy skills, and oracy skills.

Sincerely,
Jill Radford, Ed.S.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Meant To Be

This links to my post one year ago today.

Ken nor I could have imagined that one year later, we would have only been home a month....and with TWO little ones!

We are beyond thankful that we didn't let others' reactions deter us from bringing home both Tian and Travis.  I wish I could have captured some of the faces and "are they crazy?!" glances we saw when we told people we were even considering adopting two.  It happened so much that I began to preface our announcement by saying, "I know it's crazy, but...."

It's not crazy.  It's what God clearly led us to do.  Because Ken and I talked about it, prayed about it, and kept our eyes and hearts open to His leading, we knew when we saw Travis' file that he was our son.  We looked at two other files.  Last week, out of curiosity, I looked back at those files.  I pray they have forever families.  I didn't see them on a shared list any more.  They are precious boys, too, and worthy of love, hard work, a forever family.  But they weren't our boys.  I had read over and over again of families who saw a photo and "just knew."  It doesn't always happen that way, but it certainly did with us with both boys.  Now we can't imagine our days without them both.

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for
“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:14-16

I wish I could say that I always have "the mind of Christ" in every situation, every decision, every action. That would be a lie.  So often, I ask God for direction, but just don't see it.  Just as often, I don't even consider seeking God before jumping into a project, confronting my kids or husband in aggravation, or heading to the internet to try to find some help and answers.  

This adoption process forced me to my knees.  (Not literally.  I've never been a knee-pray-er.)  The utter uselessness, inability to control, unknowns and downright scary moments leave me completely dependent on Him.  The more Ken and I were open to the sometimes frighting things we felt God calling us to, the more He made it clear we were on the right track.

Now, we have these five incredible kids.  Two new Brownies that we can't imagine living without.  Yes, they wear us out some days.  Yes, we'll have to buy more groceries, spend more when we travel, put them in fewer outside activities, wait a few more years before I go back to work, and not give them every single little thing they want, but who can compare those things with the joy they have brought us, the fact that they are out of temporary homes and orphanages, and the fact that we are a family. Forever!

[As a side note, I've seen some chatter on various blogs where people despise the fact that people like me would dare to say these boys being in our family was God's will. "Was it God's will that they be relinquished by their birth family?  God's will that Travis be deaf and Tian be born with a deformity?  God's will that the boys would be "ripped" (as it is stated) from their birth country?"  Yes.  I do believe that.  As ticked off as that might make some, I most certainly do.  Do I believe their suffering (and the suffering of others) grieves the heart of God?  Yes.  But I also still believe Travis and Tian were always to be a part of our family.  I found it interesting that one of the guides in China said the Chinese people themselves believe these kids were "predestined" to be in our families.  Interesting.]

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Forgiveness and Funnies

A few cute, funny, or warm-hearted things happened this week that I need to note.

1. I discovered little two-year-old Tian on the floor, holding a baby doll with one hand on the wrist and the other on the head, teaching it to sign "daddy".  He was saying, "Baba. Baba."  (Which means "daddy" in Mandrin.)

2. Outside the other night, the Brownies were playing with friends.  Ken and I were watching the two littles ride their new Strider Bikes.  As we were gathering up the boys to come inside, I asked TJ to grab one of the Striders.  TJ was lagging behind and one of his friends, who happens to be Black (that will matter in a second), asked TJ if he could ride the Strider.  TJ told him that, no, it's just for our family.  (Truly, he should have said it's just for the little boys, but I digress.)   TJ's friend ran to his sister, who was playing with our girls, and said, "TJ just told me only white people can ride that bike!"   We all cracked up.  Either he was being silly or he really misunderstood TJ.   The boy's sister just looked at him and said, "I don't know you."

3. Such a sweet thing happened this week.  Hannah was getting a little bit rowdy playing with the boys.  She was on the floor, roughhousing with Travis when his head accidentally slammed into her nose.  She began crying in pain, saying that she heard a crack.  Ouch!  Not hearing her cry or seeing her face that she had buried in her hands, Travis just laughed.  I pulled him off of her and then jumped up to get her into the kitchen for some ice.

After getting a bag of ice on her nose, I went back into the bedroom to find Travis, standing with his face hidden in the side of the crib, looking sad and scared.  It hit me: This boy has NO idea what's going to happen to him!  He doesn't have history with our family to have any clue. I knelt down in front of him, lifted his face, and rubbed his forehead, asking if he was okay.  With that, he began sobbing a sad, hurtful sob that broke my heart.  I hugged him, kissed his forehead 50 times, rocked him and hugged him tighter.  He cried for a good 3 minutes.  He doesn't normally cry much, but I know his "physical hurt" cry.  His tears weren't from a bumped head.  He was grieved over what happened and it seemed he felt like he did something wrong.

Hannah came in, still full of tears herself, and sat down.  He looked at her and she told him it was okay, she knew it was an accident.  She held out her arms to him and he smiled and ran to her, hugging and kissing her over and over.

Forgiveness.  Had he experienced that before?  Had he simply been "put away" until the situation calmed down?  Had he been punished in such circumstances?  Had he just been given the silent treatment?

After the hugging stopped, I explained to both boys that, in our family, we forgive just like Jesus forgave us.  We don't hold grudges.  Accident or not, we forgive.  Period.

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13

I told Hannah that I'm sorry she hurt her nose, but I was glad that happened.  The boys are adjusting so well that I sometimes neglect to think about the fact that they haven't been with us, therefore they can't anticipate what our reactions will be to new events.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A New Homeschooling Adventure

This year poses an entirely new series of challenges I've not yet faced in my 7 years of homeschooling.  I have older kids that will need more serious study time.  It makes me tear up to think that Hannah is entering sixth grade!  I so remember sixth grade.  What an awkward year.  Fifth grade, I first realized the hierarchy of cliques among school kids.  Sixth grade was fun.  (My teacher was Mrs. Brown. I had no idea I, too, would become a Mrs. Brown!)  I was in a small Christian school where my mom was teaching.  There were eight kids in our class: four boys and four girls.  I met a friend that year that ended up being one of my best friends ever.  We had so much fun that year and in years to come, even though she moved out of town and I moved to a public school.  But I digress....

Hannah is a sixth-grader!  Okay, I'm in full-on tears now.  My other two school-aged kids are entering 4th and 3rd grade.  (I loved my teachers during these grades.  What carefree days those were.)

Now, I am responsible for their education AND our two newest Brownie sons.  The boys are only two and three, but they are both "blank slates" linguistically (ASL/English).  Tian has obviously been exposed to spoken Mandarin, but Travis came to us with no, and I mean NO language whatsoever.  So, this year, in addition to schooling my older three, I'll need to manage two toddlers and work with each of them, feeding them as much language as I possibly can.

How do I plan to do this?  Well, right now, our goal is to establish ASL as their first language.  That means we sign everything.  Tian can hear speech, so he hears his siblings, hears me talking, hears the TV, and hears my iPod playing podcasts, but ASL will be the priority language for now.  The boys will also be exposed to written English by seeing the words in books.   We will focus on identifying objects, colors, letters and numbers.  For the boys, this year's school plan is just to get them caught up to their age linguistically with ASL as their primary language.

English is crucial to their future success and independence. Notice I didn't say speaking English or listening to English.  Fluency in written English, both in understanding and in an ability to express themselves, is vital to their success and independence as older kids and then adults.  However, the boys are just barely two and three, so this year, we will really focus on their acquiring their first, primary language, ASL.

We will certainly take advantage of speech training in the coming years, but that's not even on our radar at this point.  There are far too many more important things for them to focus their time, energy and brain power on right now.

In my past post, I talked a bit about language development for deaf kids.  That lays out a path of sorts for me to keep focused.  Since Tian can hear speech, his and Travis' language development will look different for sure.  So far, it's been lots of fun to see them both grow so much, so quickly, in such a short period of time.

As for the Brownies, we're keeping it pretty basic this year with the Three Rs.  Here's what we have going so far:


Math: Mixture of Singapore and Teaching Textbooks

Writing: The girls are taking Institute of Excellence in Writing with an excellent homeschool mom/teacher. I'm SO thrilled about that for them!

History: We are on our 3rd year of a two-year history core with Sonlight.  I am giving myself this year to finish and think that is a pace with which I can keep up.  We are at the end of the Civil War moving forward.

Bible: We haven't been in AWANA for the past three and a half years, but I was looking through the AWANA handbooks this week and plan to work through memorization with the kids.  I'm also going to read through Leading Little Ones to God with my two middles.  I'm still on the lookout for a devotional/plan for Hannah.  I have some Doorposts books I might have her utilize, but she needs to want to do it, so that's something we need to figure out this week.

Science: We really slacked on formal science last year, but we took tons and tons of nature walks/rides around Andy Brown Park.  We observed snakes (for hours), beavers, fish, bullfrogs, and all kinds of waterfowl. 
I have a lot of science books and supplies unused from last year, so we'll be picking up where we left off with  Sonlight Science D.  In addition, I'm considering just letting my kids watch Myth Busters every week and that be science.  Seriously, the other day, I asked my daughter why they were blowing up toilets and she answered, "They believe that the water in the toilet carries highly combustable substances that will cause it to explode when....blah blah blah..."  Yeah.  Love MythBusters.  In fact, it's 10:30pm and their bedtime choice of TV time was MythBusters: MacGyver Myths.

Reading: The Brownies enjoy reading, so this isn't a huge challenge.  I AM going to have my oldest read something other than Harry Potter.  She has read those books over and over and would keep doing so if I let her.  Kenzie loves hitting the library and picking up chapter books at random, though she mostly picks stories involving a girl close to her age.  TJ seems to like the Magic Tree House books, so I will encourage him to read through those this year. 

That's it for this year!  The kids each have a handwriting book, typing tutor games on the computer, spelling activities, Draw-Write-Now books they adore, tons of language arts workbooks and other things I can give them if they need extra work.   In my dreams, I'd like to have them each think back on the China trip and do some writing and research about things they saw there.  That may just be a pipe dream, though. 

Despite the long list of stuff above, I truly just want the kids to learn to work independently this year.  My goal for the older three is for them to self-start, manage their time, and improve their diligence regarding school work.  They also have their chores and extra jobs they can do to earn a commission, so add "money management" to this year's syllabus!

Homeschooling is a challenge.  This year presents a whole new challenge.  *deep breath*  Here we go!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

One Month Later

Wednesday marks one month that we've had Travis. That means we've had Tian for one month and 6 days. :)

We are continuing to learn so much about the boys and their personalities. We truly can't imagine them NOT being with us. They are just Brownies. Plain and simple. They don't seem to have really grieved the loss of their life in China. Ken and I totally expect it to hit at some point, but it hasn't happened yet that we can tell. We show them photos (we are so fortunate to have many) of their first years. They look at the photos with great interest. They smile and wave and seem to enjoy looking at the photos. Our hope is that looking at photos helps them remember their early years and keeps some continuity in their minds.

They are settled into a daily routine and sleep schedule. Most of our days are just spent hanging out and getting to know each other better, looking at books, playing outside, watching TV (it's so hot, TV time happens more than usual this summer), and playing with toys. They both still wake up one or two times every night. They fall right back to sleep after we give them a hug.

Some of you may wonder how we are feeling about adopting two at once. Ken and I both love it! I'd lie if I said it was easy. There are lots of ups and downs. Having two toddlers is just as hard as it was when I had THREE toddlers a number of years ago, but we wouldn't change a thing. The boys aren't "tight" just yet, but they are growing on each other and seem to engage with each other more every day.

I have tried to jot down the signs the boys are doing now. I'm sure I'm missing some, but here's my list. I'm only listing signs he has initiated on his own at some point. He will copy anything we show him. He will also practice and perfect the sign until he gets it right. So very adorable!

Travis has just about 50 signs already!!
wait
what
Travis
love
who
sad (he's SO cute when he signs this one)
cry
happy
hot
corn
banana
cracker
candy
cookie
home
yes
no
boat
butterfly
turtle (we love to see him try to get his hands just right for this one)
flower
more
drink
food/eat
Daddy
Momma
water
potty
shoes
"get dressed"
fish
finish (all done)
airplane (he will show various speeds when he signs this)
rocket
helicopter
car
truck (today, he signed fire truck)
bike
dog
bear
baby

Tian is signing:
Daddy, Mama, potty, more, food, fish, shoes, socks, car, airplane, what, cracker, candy, cookie, hot, TJ, Hannah, (he's working on Mackenzie), cry, milk, shoes, socks, star, bird. I'm pretty sure he has more, but I can't think of them all at this point.

I have more to post, but it will have to wait until tomorrow. It's way past my bed time.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day at Children's

It was a surprisingly nice day today at Children's Medical Center in downtown Dallas.  We went early this morning, expecting to spend about an hour and a half there, getting the boys each a physical exam then referrals to various needed specialists.  We ended up staying five hours, seeing not only the pediatrician, but getting blood work done, and seeing an audiologist and ENT.

The two middle Brownies visited their Nana and Pappy's house while Hannah stayed with us for the appointment.  We were met in the parking garage by Liz, the lady we've been communicating with since first registering for the international adoption services.  She took us to the pediatrician's office.  A sweet volunteer, known as the waiting room "grandma" was in there, ready to help us by playing with the kids while we filled out paperwork.  She was super sweet and we enjoyed visiting with her.
Having fun with a magnifier. 


Each boy got a full physical, then were observed for their developmental level.  They did so well!  They didn't fuss at all during the exam and they participated nicely during the observed playtime.

Listening to the heart
Travis' scars seem to be from chicken pox.  That's reassuring to us as we found ourselves imagining the worst.  We don't have the full report regarding the boys' developmental levels yet, but it seems Tian is pretty close to being on track and Travis seems to only be behind with language, but we aren't worried about that.  He is adding new signs every day and is very smart.

Next, we headed over to the lab for bloodwork.  They will be testing for infectious diseases, lead levels, and a few other things.  We also got the cups to take stool samples.  Fun times, I know, but we do want them checked for parasites.  Giardia is a common parasite picked up in China, so they will test their stool for any of that business.

Tian had fallen asleep on our way over to the lab.  He was groggily waking up when the nurse began cleaning his arm.  He didn't shed one tear!  Travis cried a bit, but the nurse had to poke a few times before getting a good flow from his arm, so who can blame him.  As soon as the needle was out, Hannah was there with Skittles to help ease the owie.

It ended up that the audiologists had an opening, so we headed upstairs to see them.  Both boys' eardrums aren't moving.  That may be due to the fluid in their ears from the ear infections.  During the hearing test, Travis didn't respond to any noise.  They cranked the sound up to 95dB, but he "didn't even flinch", as the audiologist put it.  Not surprising to us.

Tian certainly heard the audiologist's voice over the speakers.  He looked whatever direction the sound was coming from and even copied her saying, "Uh-oh!"   When it came to some of the sounds though, he didn't respond.  I think some things he simply didn't hear, but I also believe some of it was because he wasn't getting a response from me.  In the beginning, he would hear the sounds, look at me and "gasp," wanting me to say something to him, acknowledging that I heard it, too.  I was not allowed to respond to him.  After about 10 times of turning to me, excited by what he heard, and me not giving him any feedback, he sunk back, burying his left ear into my chest and ignoring any sound coming from the speakers.

Due to their eardrums not vibrating and the infections, the audiologists wanted to get them to an ENT. The ENT there had an opening, so we went down the hall to see him.  He said it appears Travis has had chronic ear infections.  They also commented that, after 7 days on antibiotics, the boys' ears should look better than they do, so he decided they both would benefit from tubes being put in their ears to help with the draining.  While the boys are under anesthesia, they will have an ABR hearing test done.  An ABR simply tests the brain's response to sound (using electrodes stuck on their forehead and behind each ear)  while the kids are sleeping or under anesthesia.

Why all the hearing tests if we sign anyway?  Well, first of all, we would like definitive answers as to what they can and can't hear.  We're pretty sure Travis is 100% deaf, but with Tian, he can hear some.  We will utilize whatever hearing he does have.  Secondly, in order for the boys to receive early childhood services and other medical services, we need a valid auditory report.

Tian has mictotia and atresia of his right ear.  We are curious what's behind his closed ear.  His entire middle ear could be un-formed; it could just be his outer ear, we don't know.  We do not plan to do any "repairs" on that ear, but still want to be completely informed.

The people at Children's were friendly, informative, and helpful.  They seemed genuinely interested in our family and our boys.  The facility itself is not only HUGE, but beautiful.  It's so colorful and family-friendly.  We were impressed and pleasantly surprised.  (Soon, I'll post about our plans for the boys regarding their language, literacy, etc.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

8 Days Home

How are the boys doing?  

First of all, they were both sick!  We got them to the pediatrician Wednesday (??) after Travis was running fever and coughing and Tian's cough still wasn't letting up.  They both had major ear infections.  Tian's pulse O2 was low, so he got a breathing treatment.  Travis got his ears cleaned out.  I so wish I had taken a picture.  He had a good 1/2 inch of waxy, dirty, gunk pulled out of his right ear.  His left ear was a bit better, but the doc uncovered a watermelon seed!  What?!  He hasn't had watermelon with us.  Who knows how long it had been in there?  At least it hadn't sprouted yet. (And yes, he's still deaf.)  They are improving a bit after several days on a strong antibiotic.  I was pleasantly surprised that the doc recommended probiotics for the boys as well.

Developmentally, Travis is improving at an amazing rate.  He signs more and more every day.  Right now, Travis' signs are:
cracker (new today), yes, more, food/eat, Daddy, water, potty, shoes, fish, finish (all done), and of course airplane, car, bike, dog, bear, baby and some others he's been signing since China.

He will also sometimes sign happy, sad, sleep, and a few others.  He's still copying anything we sign to him.  Today, he started "parroting" many phrases Ken signs to him.  This is great, because it's a normal part of language development.  We are just amazed at how quickly he's doing it!

Every morning, I take the boys out for a walk to the park about 1/2 mile away.  We go just before sunrise so we can play for a good hour before the heat kicks in.  During our half-mile walk, the boys interact with each other in the double stroller.  Yesterday, they were delighting in the airplanes flying overhead.  When Tian pointed and signed "airplane" with his "f" handshape, Travis grabbed his hand and corrected him, pushing down his middle fingers and pulling up his index, pinky and thumb.  Then he signed "airplane" in Tian's face, showing him the correct way.  SO SO smart! I'm amazed that he was communicated with as if he was an animal for the past two years.

Tian is signing AND talking.  The more he's with us, the more I feel like he has complete hearing in his left ear.  He signs many of the same things Travis does: Daddy (he says "baba"), Mama, potty, more, food, fish, shoes, etc.  He is also SAYING: mama, baba, bye bye, uh-oh, fish (he says fsshh), I love you (sounds like "I nuh new"), Hannah, more (sounds like "MO-ee"), "there he is!" and no.

They both took to the car seat very well. No fussing at all.  A few times, Tian has decided after 20 minutes or so that he's ready to get out and will arch his back, but that's short-lived and we aren't driving much longer than 20 minutes at a time, so, all is well.  

As far as adjusting to the family, the boys just seem to be "at home."  They like us, even love us, it seems.  They give us hugs and kisses, laugh, don't want to be more than a couple of yards away from us.  This week, we will be working on getting Tian more comfortable with his daddy.  He will go to Ken, but is still kinda moody about going to him for comfort, sleep, etc.  Travis will come to me, allow me to put him to sleep, feed him, etc., but he still chooses his dad over me if we're both around.  I love it!

The three older Brownies are doing well, too.  We take time to hang out with them, visit with them, snuggle with them and give them attention.  They are still such a huge help!  I can't imagine doing this journey without them.  The two boys love their siblings.  Ken and I know the older kids were a major factor in helping the boys adjust and feel comfortable here.  Again, we are so thankful and credit their adjustment to lots of prayer, God's grace, and preparation.

We've had a few visitors and the boys have done well.  They don't seem upset to see visitors, nor do they want to leave with our guests.  We have learned that short and sweet visits are best.  We still don't feel 100% normal yet and get SO very tired pretty easily.  We certainly aren't up to playing host by any stretch of the imagination.  I still feel like I have a lot of work to do around the house, but in my short spurts of "free" time, I feel the need to sleep.  Meals being brought several times per week has been a true God-send. If you ever have the chance to schedule meals for a family or just bring a meal to a family going through a transition, do it!  Don't ask them if you can.  Just do it!

The boys are napping at the moment.  My littlest one just started crying.  He doesn't wake, but cries and flails.  He won't let me touch him.  He did this a few times in China.  I put him on the ground and let him flail and toss and turn.  He finally opened his eyes, looked shocked, and held up his arms to me.  I rocked him and he was "back asleep" (I don't think he was every truly awake) within seconds.  Poor guy.  Those are the moments I wish I could know exactly what they are thinking.

Darkness

Just after my previous post, Ken and I both fell into a "funk" that we knew would hit.  We were both so tired, it physically hurt.  Emotionally, we were drained.  Sleep deprived, trying to adjust to schedules, sick boys, Hannah sick, trying to parent these two new members of the family and still run the house and, for Ken, get back to work.  Tuesday really was tough for us.  I would describe it as dark, desperate, and depressing.

The beauty?  We knew to expect it!  We are so very thankful for adoptive parents who were honest about their adoption experience.  We're grateful for those who don't try to make it all look like sunshine and rainbows.  We had been told we would go through a grieving period.  Just like the boys will grieve for all they lost (birth families, foster family, nannies, the familiar), we will grieve for our "past life."  Having three kids above age eight is a breeze compared to having five kids, two of them toddlers who are new to your family, your routine, your country, time zone, and your culture.  Tuesday was the day the thought of "What have we DONE?!" popped into our heads.  What would we be doing right now if we hadn't gone to China?  How in heaven's name am I going to homeschool my school-aged kids with these needy boys around?  How am I going to give Travis, especially, the one-on-one time he needs to language development?  What. Have. We. Done?!

Again, because those who went before us told us that feeling would come, then would go because God's mercy is new every morning, we acknowledged this feeling to each other and, as best we could, laughed it off.  For me, I told Ken, through tears, "I know it will get better. I have no regrets.  But for the moment, this sucks."

And guess what?  God's mercies ARE new every morning.  Each morning got a little better.  Each night, the boys slept longer and longer with fewer wake-ups.  For the past 3 nights, the boys have slept at least 9 hours.  They're going to bed close to 8:00 and waking around 5:00.  We still hope to tweak that a bit so that they sleep more like 9pm to 6:30 or 7:00, but we can't complain about their sleep schedule right now. It's truly amazing and an answer to prayer. 

What God called us to do, He will carry it to completion.  He didn't call us to lead an easy life with few cares.  He called us to do this amazing, hard, beautiful, blessed thing by parenting FIVE kids. Ken and I couldn't be more joy-filled than we are with our five Brownies.  They bless our life and those blessings far outweigh the tough and sometimes dark times.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Three Days Home

Three days home and we are working on falling into a routine.  It's sometimes surreal to look at the boys and see them here in the house after all this time of waiting.

Night times are very tough.  I have gotten no more than a few hours sleep at a time for the past five days, so I'm ready for a solid 5-6 hours tonight.  The boys did better last night, but still wake up briefly often throughout the night, checking to make sure we are there and crying a bit.

Mornings are good.  The boys are happy and awake, as are the rest of us.  We've developed a morning routine of breakfast, outside play at sunrise, snack, indoor play, lunch, then naps.  Afternoons are tough because the boys want to stay asleep and are fussy when we wake them.  It's too dang hot to go outside (111 today!), so we are making plans to go out somewhere, either Bass Pro Shops or Target.  To help overcome jetlag, we need to get outdoors in the sunshine and also stay active as much as we can.

Tian is very congested and still has a cough he's had since we got him. Hannah seems to have the flu. Could you pray for her to feel better?  Travis has been running a fever today and is beginning to cough as well.  We will get them all to the doctor this week.  While I'm sorry to have some sick kids, I'm thankful they didn't get sick in China.  We can deal with fevers and cough here in the States.

Despite the feelings of illness we're experiencing, we are happy to be home.  The boys are doing so well.  They still don't like being too far or out of sight of any of us.  They are enjoying playing together and with their other siblings.  These days and nights are hard, but as with the entire trip, it's all worth it!

First 30 Hours Home

The airport greeting crew was such a welcome sight as we walked through the terminal of DFW toward baggage claim.  I want to apologize here for not getting the word out very well about our flight home.  As you can read, it was a whirlwind, especially there at the end.  The plane was basically backing out as we boarded in LA.  My hands were shaking and I was holding a sleeping Tian, so I could barely hold my phone, much less type out a message and get it sent to everyone before I had to turn off the phone.  For those who wanted to be there, but weren't, I know you were with us in spirit on our entire journey.


Those who did come helped us get home.  Home.  It felt unbelievably nice to walk in and smell the smells of our own home.  It smelled like America!  It smelled like freedom!

TJ got out of the car, walked into the garage, grabbed his fishing pole and headed to the pond to fish.  He had been aching to fish for weeks and this early morning hour was the perfect time for him.

The rest of us came upstairs and introduced the boys to their new home. They both loved the Hot Wheels cars and airplanes and adored the slide on TJ's bed.

Hannah went right to the couch to sleep.  Nana and Pappy stayed for about 10 minutes to help us get situated, then they headed back home for some sleep of their own.  (They had come to the house the night before to turn on the AC and put some food in the fridge.  The temp in the house was 97 degrees!  Needless to say, they didn't sleep in that heat, so they were ready for rest.

All of us napped after a couple of hours.  Slept several hours each. 

Our dear friends stopped by with dinner.  The meal was such a blessing, because I felt like I couldn't move.  So. Very. Tired.

Nana came back later in the evening to help unpack.  We Brownies were all just tired and felt run over.

Sleep was not great. Tian only slept 45 minutes, then another 30 or so.  He didn't want to be in his crib and would wake up and grab on to my neck before drifting back off for a very short sleep.  

Travis didn't stay in his bed, either.  Ken laid down with him.  He slept about two hours or so, but also woke.  

By 2:30, all of my Brownies were awake.  Hannah had slept all day, waking up in the evening, so she was still functioning on China time.  I let Ken sleep while I stayed up with the kids.

At sunrise, TJ headed out to the pond to fish.  At 7:30, the girls and I took Tian and Travis out to see TJ and play on the playground.  The sand seemed to be a new experience for them. Sliding down the steep slide, they each got a mouthful of sand.

Travis went grocery shopping with Ken while Tian played "tennis" in the courts, the only place we could find shade.

How we've felt emotionally:
totally thankful to be home. The hassle, headache, and physical pain of our trip home are all worth it for us to just BE HOME!
grateful that we have the boys here and all 7 of us are together. 
thankful that the boys appear to feel comfortable here. They are going to have rough nights and some grieving to do, but they are adjusting very well.
in love with my family.  I don't know what I would do without my love, my teammate, my partner Ken.  He is an amazing man, husband, father and leader of our home.  I'm lost without him.

How we've felt physically:
drained, sore throats all around (expect our middle child), several of us have flu-like symptoms, which are typical for jet lag fatigue.
heavy and dizzy.  I've felt very off-balance since we hit Shanghai.  Yesterday, a few of us, including me, felt very heavy, as if wearing a weight vest. 
From everything we've read about jet lag, this should all work itself out within the next two weeks.

The Rest of the Story - Part 3

I don't know what I was expecting the international arrival area to look like, but it was nothing like I imagined.  It was very "governmental," dark, and colorless.  We stood in a que to process our paperwork. Our passports were looked over and stamped.  We handed over the boys' visa documents then those were passed on to the proper people.  Ken grabbed all of our bags and we headed down for more waiting in line.  Ken was able to get all of our boarding passes except his, so we split up and I went on with all the kids through security.  Not fun, but we got through it.

Ken got through 20 minutes later and we headed to the Admiral's Club.  It was so nice to be in a quiet spot.  Hannah was feeling sick, cold, and clammy.  I was worn out from almost no sleep in 40+ hours, so both Hannah and I slept (on the floor and a chair) for a short time.  TJ and Kenz found a playroom and took the boys there.  It was a cute little room, just perfect for them to play and us not worry about disturbing others.

We didn't make the first flight, but another was boarding just after, so we headed to that gate.  We were positive that if any of us made it, it would not be all of us.  The flights were all packed and we were down the list of standbys.
Sure enough, after calling about eight standby people ahead of us, four of us could get on.  Hannah tearfully said she wanted to stay behind with her dad and Travis.  We were all tearing up by the time we got up to get our boarding passes.  That's when the lady said she could take one more.  Hannah declined through even more tears, saying she didn't want to leave Ken and Travis "alone."  Such a sweetie. And she was feeling so very sick.

Then, as if God made seats appear on the plane, they said they could get all 3 of them on! They asked a couple of people to move to the exit rows so that our kids could sit elsewhere.  Obviously, two people agreed to move.  I bawled. Ken teared up.  The kids cried.  The plane's engines were getting louder as another attendant said, "Time is literally up.  We have no more time.  Go get on NOW."  So we hurried down the way and boarded the plane.  We had to split up in different rows all over the plane, but who cares?!  TJ and Kenz sat on the same row, both in the aisle seat, so they were near each other.  Ken and Travis sat at the very back.

I was supposed to sit in a middle seat between two men, but when the gentleman at the window saw me come in, he offered to switch with me since, as he said, it would be easier to be by the window with a child.   Then another man moved so Hannah could sit next to us.  Their kindness was SO appreciated.

The almost-3-hour flight was emotional.  Tian slept all but the last 25 minutes.  Hannah was feeling so sick, she kept a "clean" bag in her lap the entire time.  It was surreal.  Just 24 hours before, we were trying to wrap our minds around the fact that we would be staying in China the entire weekend, splitting up, and not getting home until Monday and Tuesday.  Now, here were ALL were, flying from LA to Dallas.  Together!  It sill makes me cry.  Only God could pull off something that miraculous!  How can I thank Him?  How can I even express my gratefulness?  It's just unbelievable.

Jesus Himself said, "What is impossible with men is possible with God."  We witnessed that first hand.  What relief and peace to all be home, back on US soil, back in our hometown, surrounded by everything familiar.

While WE feel this way, we have strong empathy for the boys who are NOT surrounded by anything familiar.  They have been so strong, so flexible during the past weeks.  We expect the next weeks to be hard for them.  We expect them to love it here, but also grieve the loss of everything familiar.  We know God's grace will cover them as it has all of us so far.

The Rest of the Story - Part 2

After a fitful night, everyone went up to breakfast, but I stayed back.  Still didn't feel well.  The positive side of our stay downtown Shanghai was meeting with the McW family, another Deaf/hearing couple who had just adopted a sweet deaf boy a few days before.  It was nice to meet with them.  I was still feeling very anxious and worn.

Ken and Hannah headed back to the airport to get us "in line" for the day's flight to LA and to check out the airport hotel.  That was a tough several hours while they were gone.  The kids and I tried to get out, but it was not a family-(or stroller-) friendly place.  We ended up ordering room service, eating, napping, then finally going out to get some food for boys.  The walk over to Pizza Hut was a chore, thanks to lots of stairs and major heat, but it was nice to get out of the hotel.  We were only there a few minutes before the boys started fussing and, of course, all eyes were on us.  I quickly asked for a box to go and our receipt.  When we got out, I saw Hannah and Ken walking our direction.  Just seeing them made me cry from relief.
 
Ken said four of us had a very good chance of going home on the evening flight. The AA people encouraged us to split up because all seven of us making this overbooked flight would be impossible.
We discussed it and all agreed, through tears, that splitting up would be best since it would get us home.

We went back to hotel, packed, and left for airport hotel.  Due to the look of the outside, we were surprised at how nice it was.  It probably would have been smart to just stay there in the first place, but we are glad we got to meet with our friends downtown.  The seven of us ate at the buffet, but I still wasn't hungry.  We went up to our room, showered, dressed and split up the luggage.  Ken decided to go ahead and bring all luggage on the off chance we all could make the flight.

Back to the line at 8:40pm, the AA lady said it "looked good" for all of us.  Tears.  Hope.  But cautious hope.  The girls and I walked laps while waiting and thanked God for everything He had done for us so far.  We were so thankful.  I told the girls I felt like I just couldn't ask Him for more, but I also knew He'd want us to ask and He knew our hearts' desires to stay together.  The AA lady came and let us know we were all on the flight home.  Miracle!  The only catch was that we were in different cabins, so I was going to have to sit alone with the two little boys.  Oh my!  Well, it was worth it and I'd do it all over again.  We were staying together!  Two flight attendants told me more than once that they have NO idea how we all made it on the flight.  Another flight attendant started crying when she talked to me about our journey.  The boys and I sat next to a super-sweet college girl.  She's an American who was born and grew up in Boston.  She is Chinese and was heading home to the States for the first time in one year.  She spent the year in China studying.  She was happy to help me, grab drinks, lift trays, allow Tian to put his feet on her lap, and smile, telling me not to worry when one or both of the boys were fussy.  She was another blessing from God.  I wish I had gotten her contact information.

God's grace was over the entire flight.  I WAS tired, sore, and shed a few tears, but after just 12 hours, we were ALL on American soil together.

The Rest of the Story - Part 1

Five days have passed since my last blog, although it feels like it's been weeks.

In the afternoon after our fun day at the safari park, we started packing and preparing for our morning flight out of Guangzhou to Shanghai.  We were so ready to begin our journey home, but we were also unsure of what flights we would get since we were flying standby.

Our original plan was to spend one night in Shanghai, then try to catch the Friday night flight out to LAX.  However, due to several reasons, we decided to try to go ahead and fly out that night.  So we spent a very long, very tiring day at and around PVG airport.  We had planned to meet some friends at their hotel downtown and also wanted to ride the MagLev train, so we hopped the train and headed downtown.  The MagLev was as neat as we thought it would be!  Such a cool experience.  We went as far as we could go on the MagLev, then decided to grab some lunch at a nearby McD's.  The place was packed and we had no place to sit.  Eventually, we found two empty chairs at a bar, so stood around and ate our lunch.  We had several carry-on bags and a stroller, so were quite the sight to see, I'm sure.  Maneuvering wasn't easy and I was beginning to feel "off."  We checked the subway and after seeing how far the hotel was from us, we decided to just head back to the airport.  Before heading back, we perused the MagLev museum.

Back at the airport, we parked ourselves and all our stuff in a quiet place upstairs to rest and hide from staring eyes.  After a while, Ken took all the kids back on the MagLev to ride it at maximum speed.  I stayed back to rest a bit.

In the afternoon, the kids were getting tired and TJ started feeling sick.  When evening finally came, we went to a restaurant upstairs. Not family friendly at all, but we managed.  TJ was in tears by this time, saying he hated China and just wanted to go home.   It was time for us to freshen up and change clothes.  In the process, TJ threw up, Tian fell and smacked the back of his head. Lots of blood, but it was just a cut at skin depth.

Feeling anxious, worn, and some of us sick, finally at 8:40pm, we stood in line 30 minutes to be told 5 of us could get on the flight.  We had not considered splitting up.  I felt so badly for TJ and honestly didn't want to leave any of them.  Just talking about splitting up made the kids cry.  The girls cried, saying they didn't want to leave TJ behind.  So sweet.

We got a taxi and headed to the hotel downtown.  It was a pretty horrible 40-minute drive.  The hotel was a welcome sight.  We got the kids in bed, got meds in TJ, and tried to go to sleep.   From the moment we got in our beautiful suite, I felt uneasy.  My stomach was in knots.  Before we had left the airport, the people from the airline let us know there would be no way we could all get on a flight together and that we needed to plan to split up.  From the looks of it, half of us would have to leave Monday night and the other half Sunday night. That meant 3 more nights in China.

This was one of the most beautiful hotel rooms I'd ever been in, but I felt so uneasy I couldn't sleep. I had also stopped eating from lunch time on.