Saturday, March 12, 2016

Finally Home

We are finally HOME! It's hard to describe what the past two days have felt like. It will take sometime to put into words the overwhelming feels of both joy and responsibility that I've felt over the past 36 hours. I'll save that for another time as it is quite late and I'm still recovering from jet lag.

We kept the specifics of our travel dates and information fairly private until we returned. I felt uneasy advertising the fact that our house would be empty for two weeks. While we were gone, I updated family and a few friends.

February 28, 2016

I apologize for the delay in getting an update out. Facebook and all Google services are blocked in China, and the VPN we bought to get past the block has not worked well. Funny how now that we don't have access to Google that I'm realizing how much we depend on it everday back home for a hundred little things!

We arrived in Guangzhou at about 2:30am Sunday morning. We are 15 hours ahead of home here, so that would have been 11:30am on Saturday back home. We were exhausted. We rested for about 10 hours at the hotel and then caught a bullet train to Nanning.

It's 3am as I write this (though I didn't send it till several hours later) on the night before we meet our little girl, and I'm wide awake- partly from jet lag, and partly out of anxiety.

Part of my anxiety comes from some of the challenges we've encountered in the short day we've been here. The biggest challenge by far has been communication. I had assumed that, like in many parts of the world, there would be a fair amount of people that have a basic working knowledge of English. Perhaps that assumption is part of the American arrogance that most foreigners can't stand about us, but either way, it has surprised me how puzzled people have been at what we assume to be fairly intuitive sign language. They seemed baffled that we don't understand Mandarin and insist on repeating themselves, regardless of how much I try to let them know that we don't speak Mandarin.

Needless to say, we have felt completely helpless when we haven't had our guide with us, so much that it's comical. I mentioned to Camden last night to take mental note of how frustrating and tiring it is to be so incapacitated by a language barrier, and that HengXin will feel even more helpless and vulnerable when she is back home with us.

But even with the few frustrations we've had, it has overall been a very positive experience so far. There is much I've seen that I like about the Chinese culture. China is absolutely beautiful.

We will be meeting our little girl in a few hours at 2:30pm Monday (11:30pm Sunday back home), and assuming custody. We will leave the hotel a bit earlier so we can visit the site where she was found by a policeman when she was five years old. It's a simple street corner but for some reason I feel compelled to go- to visit the place that forever changed the course of her life.

Please pray for her. She didn't choose any of this- not her abandonment, not her special need, not living for so long  in an orphange, and certainly not us. I pray that when we can't communicate with words, that our hearts will make up the difference, and that she knows that she is loved in a way that surpasses human understanding. How could we love someone we know so little about? Even I don't know, but somehow we do, and deeply so.

I'll try to give my next update soon after we take custody of her, which will just be in about 6 1/2 hour from now.

We love you and thank you for your prayers and well-wishes. They mean more to us than you know.

February 29, 2016

(Rita's update)

I apologize for the terrible pictures. I forgot my camera cord and our old laptop does not have a card reader. Here are some pictures I took with Dennis' phone from off my camera. I apologize but they'll have to suffice until we get home and I'm able to download them. We were waiting outside the room where she was waiting for us at the civil affairs office and our guide came out and said she was crying inside with the orphange director as she waited for us. That put me over the edge and I started crying too, realizing that no matter how nerve-racking this was for us, she was a hundred times more terrified than we could ever be. What a brave little girl she is. She came in to meet us, walking tall but very nervous and gave us hugs. What an amazingly brave little girl. She showed us a picture album of her friends and had small gifts for each of us. Her orphanage director had bought her a cute little suitcase filled with clothes, framed pictures of her friends, and her favorite snacks. I am so grateful that my little girl seems to have been cared for so well. We are unsure about her name still. She told us she likes the name Sophie, but she also laughed and said she likes her own name as well. We are in no hurry to change her name until she is good and ready. From what we can tell, she is very, very sweet. Very thoughtful and giving, offering us some of her favorite candies and showing us things from her life. Though her file and the guide say she is timid, she seems to have warmed up to us quickly and smiles and laughs easily. As the evening winds down though, I sense that some of her initial excitement is beginning to wane. Perhaps she is tired and perhaps reality is beginning to set in. Please continue to pray for our brave little girl. It seems fitting that we took custody of her on the 29th of February- leap year. What a big leap for us, but an even bigger leap for her as she leaves behind every stitch of comfort and security that she has ever known. I love this sweet little girl.

(Dennis' update)

So far, so good. We went to the civil affairs office today and got temporary custody of Hengxin. She is with us now, and we've been able to play, color, and walk around with her. We've asked her if she is afraid and she indicates that she is not. You could tell she was nervous when she met us, and our guide told us that she had cried some before they brought her to us, which is a good thing. She is somewhat shy, but her smile melts my heart. Her smile is what hooked me from the beginning, and it was comforting to me to see her smile and laugh with us today. Tomorrow we go back to the Civil Affairs office to finish the final adoption paperwork and fill out an application for her visa. She is very considerate and we are looking forward to another day. Language is a barrier but we've enjoyed having her help us learn a few words and phrases. We have yet to have her try to speak any English words yet but i'm hoping it will happen as she becomes more comfortable and less shy. She is a good girl and we are loving finally having her. Camden is great and has tried hard to make her feel comfortable and they both laugh every time he tries to say something in Mandarin. Look forward to tomorrow.

March 1, 2016

Today was a difficult day for me. Not because of our little girl, but because of the emotions that came with the reality of what my little girl has been through in her short life. With each passing day I'm learning what a survivor she is. She unexpectedly opened up to our guide, who she really seems to like and trust, and told him about the day she was abandoned by her parents. Her file was unclear on details of her abandonment, just as it is about almost everything else. I don't believe it's because the orphanage intends to be untruthful, but simply because of the sheer volume of children that are in their care and because of the many things that are lost in translation when their file translatess from Mandarin to English. She remembers in heart-breaking clarity the day she was abandoned. She was about five years old and recalled to us many of the details of that day along with valuable but heart-breaking information about her early years at home. When the civil affairs office gave us a copy of the newspaper article that sought her parents after she was abandoned, I couldn't stop the tears. Her little face, along with a dozen other children's faces who were also abandoned and whose parents were being sought was too much for me.

Today was a stark reality that adoption is not a happily ever after. It is just one more step along a cobblestone road of broken hearts and loss. Hopefully a step towards that happily ever after, but still just one more reason to grieve and another challenge to create familial bonds with nonfamilial people.

After finalizing the adoption at the civil affairs office, we visited her orphanage and foster home. Her foster mother is a lovely woman who seemed quite smitten with Camden. She kept offering him food and at the end of our visit gave him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek, which is not typical affection towards strangers in China. What a sweet lady. She mentioned several times how helpful HengXin was to her and how helpful and kind she is to everyone around her.

Nanning is a beautiful city, with many trees and parks. She will miss this place. The sounds, the smells, the people. I'm sad for her just thinking about it.

We did have a few difficult moments of grief today, but she once again amazed me with her attempts to tell us how she was feeling with our little pocket dictionary. She is a precious girl and as of today, I can finally say that I am officially and legally her mother.

March 3, 2016

We've spent the last two days visiting Guilin, a place known as one of the most beautiful places in China. I read about it in a book and wanted to come when I realized it was only a short train ride away from Nanning. It's pretty much heaven on earth. I told Dennis we need to sell everything and move here, especially considering how Super Tuesday went. But in all seriousness, being here feels like coming home to me. Of all the places I've been to, this definitely is at the top of my list of favorites. Last night we watched the night fisherman who use the comorant fishing birds. If you get a chance, look up some video clips online. Amazing. Today we took a 4-hour river cruise down the Li River. Absolutely remarkable. I kept thinking about my dad and how much he would like it here- the agriculture, the breath-taking scenery, the simplicity of life.

HengXin is doing well. She is remarkably patient and tries very hard to be positive and kind. Her and Camden have become fast friends. It's cute watching them together. Every evening she seems to withdraw within herself and shut down for about thirty minutes. From what I've learned, this can be common, especially in the evenings with adopted children, but she recomposes herself and moves on. She amazes me. As I type this, her and Camden are jumping around the hotel room, playing with a helicopter toy they bought today. Bringing him was one of the best decisions we made.

I'm saddened to see how people here watch her as she walks by and to hear some of the callous things people say to her. She draws more stares and attention than we do as foreigners. I'm by no means an expert in the Chinese culture, but it seems like there is a very narrow definition of beauty and she is an outlyer. It saddens and frustrates me but she seems to take it in stride.

She bought me a beautiful silver bracelet today in Yangshuo and I'll treasure it forever. Partly because it was bought in a charming 1400 year-old town, but mostly because I felt like it was her way of showing love to her new mother. She is a darling girl. I can't wait for you all to meet her.

March 5, 2016

Sometimes when we pray for wisdom, instead of granting us wisdom, God instead gifts us with people who have the wisdom that we lack. Today was one of those days for me.

We arrived in Guanghzou late yesterday. The American consulate is here and it's where we will stay to finalize her visa paperwork until we leave.

This morning HengXin was scheduled for a medical exam. I realize that I don't have the same knowledge or education as a doctor, but even as a nurse, I could see that the exam was a far cry from thorough. I am anxious to have her examined in the United States by our pediatrician. She obviously needs glasses and has a significant goiter in addition to her main diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency. I suspect hyperthyroidism because of what I've observed this past week, but we will have to wait and see for sure.

On the way back to the hotel she unexpectedly shut down again. But this time there was open defiance which we hadn't seen in her before. She had experienced carsickness in the van and adamantly refused to get back in. She sat down on the sidewalk and said she would never ride in a van again. Oh, boy. We agreed to walk back to the hotel, which was thankfully only a 15 minute walk. With each step, she seemed to shut down more and more. By the time we got back to the hotel, she wouldn't make eye contact with us and wouldn't let me within 10 feet of her.

Dennis had to go back to the lobby to complete more paperwork with our guide so it was just me and her in the hotel room. By now the wall felt 10 feet high. I went into the bathroom and prayed that I would be granted the wisdom and the patience to break through this wall. I sat quietly next to her as she cried. I reached out to touch her shoulder but she jerked away angrily and stormed out of the hotel room. Afraid she would try to run away, I chased after her. As the door shut behind me, I realized I didn't have a room key and we were locked out. Thankfully, she couldn't activate the elevator without a room key, so we sat in silence in the darkened hallway for what seemed like an eternity, though it was probably only 30 minutes. Any time I tried to close the 15 foot gap between us, she seemed to become more angry and more determined to shut me out.

I can't do this. I'm not patient enough, not wise enough. I'm not made out of what it takes to do this. I don't want to do this... the thoughts kept coming and I felt more and more discouraged.

When Dennis returned, I quietly told him I needed a break and that I'd grab some lunch with Camden. I had to take a breather.I felt helpless, rejected, angry, and scared as hell.

Camden put his arm around me in the elevator and asked if I was okay. "I'm frustrated," I told him. "I just don't know what to do."

He told me I needed to look at the big picture and remember that in the week she's been with us that she had been wonderful. This has been her worst moment. He reminded me that considering all she's been through in her life, she's entitled to have her moments of grief and that we need to be patient.

After lunch he suggested we stop at the corner 7-Eleven and buy some ice cream to take back to HengXin. I skeptically told him I didn't think she would take it.

"You're probably right," he agreed, "but hopefully she'll appreciate the gesture." Wisdom far beyond his years.

As we approached the hotel, Dennis and HengXin were leaving to get lunch. Camden offered her the ice cream and she quietly thanked him.

After some time, Dennis returned to the hotel room with her- both of them laughing and grinning ear to ear.

I later asked him how he had broken through to her, and he said he had used Google Translate to tell her in small sentences about when he had left home to live in Australia for two years. He told her how much he missed home and how he cried himself to sleep every night for a long time. He told her how much he missed everything about home. And then he told her how much he loved her and how honored he was to be her father. He loved her smile from the first photo he saw of her. He was afraid she might not learn to love him as much as he loved her but that he hoped someday she would. And then he cried with her.

I think God wanted them to have that moment together. Perhaps that's why wisdom and patience evaded me.

So today I thank God for the men in my life that make me better than I am- that bridge the many gaps in which I lack.

Since I'm all teary writing this, I have to inject some comic relief.

Camden asked to stay in the hotel while we took HengXin for her appointment this morning, knowing that he would just be sitting in a waiting room.

While we were gone, room service came to clean the room. He pulled out his handy dandy Google Translator and told the cleaning lady that his parents had gone out with his adopted sister and that while we were gone, we had asked him to clean up the room a little and do some homework.

Humiliated, he told me that his phrase translated to, "My parents went out to party with my adopted sister and left me."

I guess between that and Luke telling the Bakers that we feed him tobacco, I shouldn't be surprised if DCFS comes knocking at our door soon. To the wonderful people who are watching our children while we are gone, please disregard any and all incriminating statements that our children make about us in our absence....

March 6, 2016

Part of me is cautiously nervous that this week has gone so well. Aside from three relatively brief episodes of shutting down, she has done phenomenally well, much better than I had even dared to hope she would. I don't think she has fully grieved yet, and that grief will surely come eventually. It has to. But in the meantime I will be grateful for the wonderful time we are having. A wise friend, who is also an adoptive mom, wrote on her blog several months ago about the so-called honeymoon period that many adoptive families have. The honeymoon is inevitably bound to end- just like it does in any relationship- but helps establish a baseline of trust and provides opportunities for bonding moments, so I'll be grateful for it while it lasts.

The last couple of days have consisted of walks, card games, sharing card tricks, coloring, and laughing at how epically Google Translate screws up what we are trying to say to each other.

Many have been curious about why we have chosen to keep HengXin's Chinese name as her first name. It's common for adoptive parents to give their children an English first name to facilitate pronunciation, but she has remained adamant that she wants to be called by her Chinese name. She's proud of it, she tells us, and its meaning has great significance to her: Eternal Joy. And from what I've seen of her over the past week, her name is spot on. I love it.

I think of what I've learned about those two words recently- of both eternity and joy. Eternity does not always simply mean that something lasts forever, but also that it comes from and is of God. And joy... well, I've learned that we can't know joy without knowing pain. But pain is what sweetens that joy and helps us recognize it in an otherwise bland existence.

So, yes... HengXin sounds about right to me. I apologize in advance for the difficulty in pronunciation. Maybe practice it and roll it around in your mouth a bit since I know it's hard to say and even harder to remember. If it helps, it's pronounced "Hung-Sheen." If it makes you feel better, she has a hard time remembering and pronouncing our names too. We were practicing her new last name today and she said that Americans have a bad habit of saying things backwards. We had a good laugh about that because here, the last name is said before the first name. She has been known as Xia HengXin her entire life, but said she does not want to keep her Chinese last name. We were told that her last name was likely given to all of the orphans that were found that year in her province. I imagine it's a stark reminder of her abandonment, and something I understand why she is happy to shed.

A dear adoptive momma, who is here bringing home her 11th child, bought my little girl a beautiful gift today- something that we'll always treasure. It's HengXin's name artistically written in Chinese calligraphy. HengXin loves it and when we got back to our room, she eagerly wanted to teach us how to write her name. She showed us the sequence of the different strokes and was very complimentary of our chicken scratches next to her graceful handwriting.

March 8, 2016

Today I was able to breathe a final sigh of relief. We finalized HengXin's visa paperwork at the American consulate and part of the interview included her giving her final consent to be adopted. Even though the past week and a half has gone extremely well, a part of me has wondered if maybe it has all been a little too good to be true- if perhaps she was just in denial. I still think she is to an extent, but I wondered if it really came down to it and she was asked to leave everything behind, if she'd really agree to it, or if she was ready for this week-long field trip with this goofy American family to be over with. But when the interviewer asked her if she understood that she was coming to the United States with her new baba and mama, she smiled broadly and said, "yes."

She's continues to have episodes of shutting down on a nearly daily basis, but I've started noticing patterns and identifying possible triggers. She came out of today's shutdown relatively quickly after only about 30 minutes, and it was with less defiance. I hope that's a sign of developing trust and a realization that we accept her as she is- the whole package- including her pain and grief. If there's one thing that I admire about her and aspire to become more like, it's her ability to pull out of her funk and move on. She doesn't pout or hold grudges. Within five or ten minutes of climbing out of it, she's back to her normal, cheerful self. When she's done, she's done- something I'm endlessly grateful for.

Some of you have asked about her personality. I sense A LOT of similarities to Luke. It's definitely a strong personality type, but one I love and admire greatly. The first few days after we met, I caught her several times staring intently at me, as if she was trying to decide if I was someone who could be trusted. Trust seems to be everything to her.

She is extremely thoughtful and loves to show her affection with small gifts. Last night after her shutdown, she spent several hours making me a bouquet of origami flowers- I'm guessing as her way of apologizing. She stayed awake long after rest of us had gone to bed, working intently on them.

She loves to share. This, again, has surprised me, since I had expected that a child raised with very few personal possessions would want to cling on to everything she has. But the first thing she wants to do with a treat or a new toy is to offer it to everyone around her. Today my labor of love for the day was to try the pickled chicken feet that she offered me- bones, claws, skin and all. I barely choked it down but she seemed pleased as I crunched away.

She is smart... like, really smart. I'm almost embarrassed at how much I assumed that there would be some delays, but she is extremely bright- not just by orphanage standards, but by any standard. I'm curious to see what testing reveals in terms a of grade placement. I imagine she will only be one or two years behind Camden, at the very most, which is to be expected. She seems to love to learn so I don't doubt that it will take her very long to learn English.

As fair warning for my very huggy Hawkes family, she's not a huge fan of hugs or physical affection. She told us that Dennis was only the third man that she had ever hugged, so we might want to scale back a bit on the typical Latin welcome. I do give her lots of side hugs though, and try to touch her shoulders and back when I can, and it doesn't seem to bother her.

In many ways she seems older than eleven, though in some ways she is a very typical 11 year-old girl, noticing cute boys and playing with dolls. Like Luke, an automatic "off-switch" seems to be when she feels patronized or like someone is talking down to her. We've seen it a couple of times with the guide and I have to stop myself from chuckling. She is totallyno-nonsense... comically so. Many of our laughs this week have come from watching her roll her eyes at something frivolous or someone trying to pull the wool over her eyes. She has very little patience for that.

She is almost always very cheerful and loves to tease and laugh. She is oddly both go-with-the-flow and stubborn simultaneously.  An interesting paradox, but one I've become very familiar with observing Luke for the past almost nine years.

All in all, I truly love her personality. It's refreshingly honest and genuine. I pray people back home will be able to see past any visual differences and love her for what she truly is, which is a truly precious little girl.

I didn't plan on bringing up her physical appearance, but since it has proven to be a point of significant confusion and surprise here, I think it would be a good idea for people to understand a bit about what to expect.

Her medical condition can produce more masculine physical characteristics in women, but the fact that she has been untreated for the past three years has pronounced many of the features. Many people are visibly very confused when they see a child who to them seems very male wearing a dress and being referred to as a girl. I've gently corrected countless people that "he" is a she, and my daughter, and even then they look at me skeptically. Another result of her medical remaining untreated for the past three years has also resulted in a very short stature. At first glance some might even take a guess at dwarfism, but her unlikely proportions and height are simply a result of her untreated condition. Like I said before though, we will learn a lot more once we have her evaluated in the U.S.

Please message me privately if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them the best I can with the limited knowledge that we have.

We're on the countdown. We just need to get through two more days of hotel life and then we're on our way. I miss home. I miss my other kiddos like crazy. As much as I've loved China, there's no place like Idaho.

March 9, 2016

We will be flying out in less than 24 hours and I'm ecstatic to come home again. HengXin woke up with a fever yesterday and again today. She's been laying low and has been doing a lot of self-care. In many ways she seems more intuitive than many adults about what to do when she's feeling ill. I think this tells me one or both of two things: either that she feels sick a lot and knows the routine very well, or she's had to figure these things out on her own with little help. Having met her foster mother and seeing what a kind woman she is, I'd tend to think it's the first of the two possibilities. She desperately needs to be medically evaluated for so many reasons.

She said something yesterday that made me realize that she really doesn't understand the full magnitude of what's happening. We were saying good-bye to our guide yesterday when HengXin asked if she would be able to come back to China next year and attend middle school here with her friends. Oh, dear... We had another shutdown after that.

Before we started learning about attachment, bonding, and grief, I would have assumed that any orphan would be thrilled to have a family. I would have guessed that any grief that came from leaving their homeland would be easily overridden by the joy of having a forever family. Talking to our children at home today reminded me of how nothing could be further from the truth. They've all been staying with wonderful caregivers- people they all love dearly and who have treated them wonderfully and lovingly. But watching Lauren's eyes fill with tears and Luke's lower lip quiver as we talked to them, reminded me that no matter how much they are loved and cared for by the people they're with, there's just no substitute for home- for the security that comes with the familiar.

Please keep HengXin in your prayers tomorrow. We are likely to be embarking on the second most difficult thing she's ever experienced, second only to her parent's abandonment. The flight worries me. A lot. She'll likely be fevered, homesick, and possibly motion-sick all at the same time, flying thousands of miles above the earth and away from her home, trapped in a cramped airplane seat for eleven and a half hours from Shanghai to Seattle. And to top it off, she has a stubborn streak as wide as they come. I can't help but wonder if she'll agree to get back on the plane from Seattle to Boise.

And I realize that's only the beginning. Once we get home, we will be starting another stage of grief and adjustment.

I fell asleep last night thinking of how much our Father in heaven loves her. How He no doubt has a soft spot in His heart for her, as He does for all of the motherless and fatherless. I pray that we will be strengthened on this last leg of our journey home. Please pray for my little girl.

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