Gazing Upward



Sorry for the lack of posts during the last week. My computer was hijacked by my 12-year-old when she discovered that she could watch Chinese TV shows and movies online. The last week has been great in that we’ve had some steps forward. But it’s also been difficult in many ways. There is a lot I won’t share on here for the sake of my daughter’s privacy, but here are some recent observations and thoughts. I’ve had a lot to process this week!

EXPECTATION: Because I did so much reading, talking to adoptive families of older children, praying, researching, etc., I thought I’d be more confident in how to handle each situation.
REALITY: I am constantly second-guessing myself and my decisions. Just like babies, every child is so different that not one can be treated “by the book.” I continuously battle questions such as Are we bonding quickly enough? Should I give her more space? Do I teach her more English phrases today or is she overwhelmed? Do I lay down the law now or go easy with her for a few more weeks?
EXPECTATION: Given that Caroline is 12 years old, I thought she might more easily grasp the truth that I repeatedly tell Grace and Carter: “Mommy always comes back.”
REALITY: Knowing her background of being abandoned at nearly 2, leaving beloved caretakers at the orphanage at 5 to join a foster family, being adopted domestically and then going back to the foster family two weeks later, and then leaving the foster family she has loved for 7 years, this girl probably has more heartache, insecurity, doubts, fears, confidence, and courage than I could ever imagine. This past weekend, she asked Scott how “we could love a random stranger.” We explained to her that we have loved her for months, and we also choose to love her and nurture her. Last night, when I asked Caroline if she believed that we love her, she responded on Google Translate with “That bad.” When I asked what was bad, she replied that she might lose us again one day. My heart skipped several beats as I realized that she still has fears that she’ll lose her forever family. She finds it “bad” to believe in our love and to return our love because she thinks it’s necessary to protect her heart. Deep down, she fears that we’ll leave her. It had been a rough day, so I assured her that no matter what she does or says, even if she is really angry or rude to me, we will love her and will never leave her. She is our daughter forever. Her response was, “that would be best of course.”
EXPECTATION: I knew food would be an issue, as nearly all Chinese people find American food hard to adapt to. Chinese food typically doesn’t include butter, cream, cheese, herbs, or seasonings, so meals can taste incredibly foreign to them. Just as some Chinese delicacies might make us bite our lips and cringe.
REALITY: I have been making HUGE meals with the hopes that at least two items would appeal to Caroline’s taste buds. Some nights, she hasn’t liked anything I’ve prepared. I wanted her to be honest and tell me her true opinions, but when she has (and even made a gagging motion after tasting my chicken pot pie!), the flesh in me wanted to stomp away and let her go hungry. HOW HORRIBLE IS THAT??? Even when I know she may not like the meal and I totally understand where she is coming from, I find it difficult to not take it personally and to stifle my sinful reactions. I have to remind myself that I would make a gagging motion too if I were taken to China at age 12 and given chicken feet for dinner. I took Caroline to an Asian supermarket and we stocked up on some Chinese ingredients, snacks, and noodles. And really, she has done so well trying and eating new foods. She strives to not be picky, and even when she gives honest feedback, she is not being rude at all.
EXPECTATION: Given Caroline’s affection and enthusiasm in China, I anticipated being best buds when we returned home. I dreamed of spending time together reading her bilingual books, bowling on the Wii, watching So You Think You Can Dance, playing games, learning English and Mandarin phrases, and more.
REALITY: I lost my cool factor pretty quickly. When we’re in my minivan, she sits all the way in the back even when it’s just the two of us! 🙂 She hasn’t really wanted to spend time with me. She has preferred reading, watching Chinese movies, and some crafts. While I candidly share my dreams, I also knew it was unrealistic to expect that closeness. But even when you have realistic expectations, the reality is harder to embrace when it arrives. I talked to one mom on the phone last night who adopted a 12 year-old from China two weeks before us. She has so much wisdom and insight, and she shared that her daughter responded the same way. She suggested that both girls might have become scared when they realized they were starting to fall in love with their new families. Maybe they even feel guilty for loving a new family when they loved their foster families. And just maybe they’re freaking out and pulling back because they don’t know how to process their emotions. I know that Caroline and I will continue to bond in time. Twelve is a difficult age because kids still long for the comfort and boundaries from their parents while also feeling the need to spread their wings and test their independence. A hopeful sign that we’re progressing in attachment is that every morning this week when I have dropped Caroline off at ESL camp (English Second Language), she has looked back at me right before walking in. She wants to be sure I am watching her and that I am still there. I hope to entice her to cook with me this weekend, as she has expressed interest in preparing some of her Chinese favorites.
EXPECTATION: With China’s Communist history and mentality, I assumed parents had strict regulations and rules.
REALITY: We just learned from a Chinese friend that since the government cracks down so hard, parents usually don’t censor much. One of Caroline’s frustrations is that she feels “over-regulated” because we limit her time on the internet, we don’t allow food in her room, and we have forbidden her to read comics online. While the anime comics are very popular with tweens and teens in China, many of the stories are incredibly violent, provocative, and inappropriate. However, the whole concept of parents censoring media is new to our daughter so it seems abnormally unfair to her. I never expected censorship to be one of our first battles! But the flip side is that Caroline loves to read good books and has finished two classics in three days.
EXPECTATION: That Grace and Caroline would form a tight bond very quickly.
REALITY: It’s Carter and Caroline who have clicked immediately. Grace has really taken to her big sister too but it’s so sweet to observe how much Carter and Caroline enjoy each other. Yesterday, Carter climbed into Caroline’s bed so they could each read their books. He is also very protective of her. EVERY time we get in the car, he says, “Remember your seatbelt Caroline! In America, it’s the law.” (In China, no one wears seatbelts.) Last week, when we dropped Carter off at his grandparents to spend the night, he stopped playing and ran up to his big sister before we left. He held up his pointer finger, saying, “Remember your seatbelt!”
It’s been a hard week in that we’ve had to establish more boundaries, discuss disobedience, and face our tween’s sadness and frustration. But we’ve also had sweet moments, laughter, hugs, and breakthroughs in understanding. My heart melts every time I hear Caroline’s sweet voice call “Mommy.” I continue to pray for wisdom and discernment to know when to push her forward or when to step back. I want to be more affectionate without smothering her. I want to encourage her to open up without prying too much. I want to make our authority as her parents clear without appearing too harsh. Sometimes I just wish she would let her walls come down and cry in my arms. Then I remind myself that we’ve only been home two weeks. We have a long road ahead, and we’re with her on this journey to eternity. She’s stuck with us!


  • Comment by Mary — July 22, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

    What a beautiful post. I've been watching your journey so intently. We'll be praying for all of you!

  • Comment by Debby — July 22, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

    Such enlightment. As you know, the whole thing is a journey, but I know it will feel good once the journey feels a little more settled…
    Enjoying your posts.

  • Comment by B-Mama — July 22, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

    Prayers continue! I pray you look back on this post in a few months and rejoice in ALL the good God brings as an answer to these changes. Day by day. You are taking baby steps, but they're probably so small, they're hard to see. Give yourself time and breathe. You are inspirational. God bless.

  • Comment by Joel and Lee-Anne — July 22, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

    I so love your heart…..and your transperency and rawness is such a testimony of how much we need Him. Afterall, He is the one who called you to this place in time. What a testimony your journey is to the relationship He wants with us… He longs for our attention, love, affection and trust…..maybe He is using your journey for US, your friends and supporters, to remind US (all of us) of His love for each of us.

    I heard a quote this week and thought of you – the quote was 4 simple words “Don't hog the journey”…..meaning that we can all benefit from one's struggles and heartaches and even triumphs. Thank you for not hogging your journey. You are such an inspiration to me and I cannot express how much I appreciate your rawness… comes through in every post…..yet it always wraps up with how much you seek Him…..

  • Comment by Peggy — July 22, 2011 @ 6:45 pm

    I've been thinking about y'all a lot lately. Thanks for this post. It will certainly help to me to direct my prayers. May the Lord grant you everything you need to do His work.

  • Comment by e — July 22, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

    You sound like the mama of a 12 year old girl to me!! You wouldn't believe the number of moms of girls this age I saw when I practiced and I think almost all of them could have written nearly every word of your last paragraph. It is a HARD age period and you are adding so much transition on top of that…I think you are both doing amazingly well. Hang in there!

  • Comment by Melissa — July 22, 2011 @ 8:29 pm

    I have followed your story the whole way kelley! I am learning so much from you. I soooo appreciate you being open and honest on here. Keep it coming when you have time. Love you girl!! So glad we are in this adoption boat together. Can't wait to meet Caroline when I come to bham in the fall or winter.

  • Comment by Ashley — July 22, 2011 @ 10:47 pm

    sounds like y'all have made so much progress already and I”ll pray for the Lord to continue to work in your family as I know He will.

  • Comment by Amy — July 23, 2011 @ 1:18 am

    Hi Kelley. Thank you so much for sharing your joys and struggles with Caroline. I think you are doing a GREAT job with her so far! Just trust God to guide you and keep loving her!

  • Comment by Jen — July 23, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

    Kelly, you are doing beautifully. 12 is such a hard age in general and I'm sure Caroline is frightnened and insecure. Believe in yourself and what you are doing. Remember how far Grace has come. I'm sure Caroline is intently watching how you parent Carter and Grace and she sees the love and natural bond within the family. I have so much admiration for all of you. Sending continued prayers. Jen

  • Comment by Eileen — July 23, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

    Truly, it sounds like you all are doing great. I read something before I left for our most recent adoption that when a child first comes home, don't think of them as their biological age but by how long they've been home. That helped me so much in those first few weeks. I tried to not think of my son as a nearly-four-year-old, but as an infant. Not that I treated him as an infant, but that I realized that infants, by nature, are quite demanding and needy. When he wanted me to sit with him on the porch swing and snuggle him for literally hours (with my other kids wanting my attention as well), I tried to remember that sometimes 2 week olds have days like that. They also have days when they're pretty darn grouchy and out of sorts. On those days you just stay patient and loving and try to meet their needs as best as you can. Then you wake up the next morning and hope that it's a little easier day! It's exhausting, but there's really no rushing through it.

    Our son has been home now nearly 4 months and the easy days absolutely outnumber the rough days. By a lot. However, he still has days when I can tell he's grieving. Last night he told me about when he left the foster village (where he'd lived for 6 months) to go back to Kunming the week before we came. “When I leave, China Mama (foster mother) cried and cried. XiXi cry too. Baba no cry. He hug China Mama and say, 'it O.K.'” I gave him hugs and told him that I knew he was sad and that he missed his foster family. Then he got almost angry and said, “No miss China. No like it in China. Like it here. Want to stay here.” I think he's struggling with missing it, but not wanting to admit that he's missing it. Recently, he's also refused to speak Mandarin. It's like he's made a switch in his mind and he can't be both places. He's choosing his new life, for which I'm thankful, but I also know that's got to come with some emotional baggage.

    Sorry for the long post.

  • Comment by Stephanie — July 23, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

    Thank you for this post. I could write almost all of it myself. We have been home 6 weeks with our 9 year old daughter. Even though she is 3 years younger than your daughter… she acts like a 12 year old! I take each day as it comes. Overall, things have gone well, but I have many of the same concerns as you do. I have had to re-think all of my expectations. My 1 hour of English lessons a day went out the window weeks ago. If you ever want to talk and exchange advice, please email me and I will give you my number. I am always looking for friends who understand what we are going through.


  • Comment by Lisa — August 2, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

    So I've spent my ENTIRE morning reading your blog. I don't normally enjoy reading blogs that are so faith-driven (long story…) but you have written so beautifully, honestly, and with such generosity that I can't help but keep scrolling through your posts. Your family is beautiful and I wish nothing but the best for you all. Thank you for shaing your journey.

  • Comment by avoiceinthestreets — August 7, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

    Hey Kelley!
    I have just discovered your blog and have now spent the past 30 minutes reading about Caroline. My, what a precious gift she is! Praying for you both!
    Kate deFuniak

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment