Thursday, September 5, 2013

Summer Recap & 5 Months Since Adoption Day

I've had 10+ blog ideas over the past 2 months and just can't force myself to forego sleep to update the blog! These are my thoughts from the past 2 months. We are slowly breaking ourselves out of the "adoption cocoon." We've had a lot of fun - and some growing pains too. We're all growing in some form or fashion. I've been amazed by Hannah's progress in her language and in her relationship with us and her brothers. The boys have been so sweet and helpful.

Summer English School
We committed the month of June to helping Hannah at ESL camp. We did not commit to anything else as a family. We were thankful to have a sweet friend stay with the boys every morning, so that I could stay with Hannah. Auburn City Schools organized the ESL camp for all of the international kids in the community. There were kids from all over the world learning English together. 3 hours a day for the entire month. I stayed with Hannah a lot, and slowly backed off towards the end of the month. I think she did well. She learned a lot about the basics of school - sitting in a desk, following instructions, playing with other kids, listening to the teacher, finishing a task, sharing, giving other kids privacy in the bathroom (seriously!), etc. These were all foreign concepts to her. Her English skills improved as well.
I love Auburn Schools and their ESL program!!

There were some struggles as well. Hannah was on sensory overload. All of the lights and noises and people were very overwhelming to her. The teachers and aids were very patient and helpful to her. She was exhausted when the day was done. Her brain seemed to be overworked.

We committed 5 weeks to "summer homeschool." We have been working on 1 letter of the alphabet every day. Each day, we would focus on 1 letter - go on a hunt for objects that begin with letter, handwriting that letter, eating a snack that has that letter, and making a craft based on that letter. Today was the letter R. We went to the flower nursery and counted all the different "Red" flowers. It's been a lot of fun! Even little Elijah said "I want to do our school stuff."

We also committed to swim lessons for Hannah and Elijah. The water has been extremely calming for Hannah.

We had a good visit at the UAB Adoption Clinic for a follow-up. The therapist gave us some good direction regarding school for Hannah.

We decided to enroll Micah at a local Christian school for Kindergarten. I am fighting back the tears even now as I write this. This was a big decision for us. We waffled back and forth between homeschool, private and public for the loooongest time. This school seems to be the best fit for us this year. We will re-evaluate again next year.

Hannah's awesome teacher, also a friend from church.
Only the Lord could work out these details!!!
Second Grade
We decided to put Hannah in public school. It was a difficult decision for us, mainly because of our desire to build a stronger relationship with her. But as we searched through all of the facets of her
needs, and our needs as a family, we are certain public school is best for her. She is receiving so much support from the ESL teacher, the Special Ed teachers and her peers. Everyone has been so accommodating and helpful. I've always had the idea in mind that I would homeschool, but it is free-ing to trust the Lord with the unseen.

We've found that boundaries have helped with so many of Hannah's behavioral issues. If we don't set boundaries, life gets completely out of control. There has been a void of loving discipline in Hannah's life, and I think the boundaries help with security and her anxiety.
  • Social boundaries - we wave to strangers; shake friends' hands; hug family
  • Time boundaries - There are certain times when we are quiet; when we can be loud; when we rest; when we play
  • Talking boundaries - We play a game at dinner time called "The Talking Tie." Each person wears a necktie for 1 minute (set a timer) and only that person can talk. Take turns with the necktie.
  • Good behavior/Bad behavior boundaries - Our reward system. Each child has an empty jar and gets 1 pom-pom ball for good behavior. (ie helping each other; no meltdowns; doing chores) A ball must be removed for bad behavior. 10 balls gets you a prize in Mama's treasure box.
  • Respect boundaries - "No touch" things that do not belong to you; no interrupting when Mama and Daddy are talking; use your words instead of having a meltdown to get what you want; no touching other peoples special belongings
  • Privacy boundaries - enough said :)

Some other family milestones
Micah's First Day of Kindergarten
  • Hannah lost a tooth (the first one with us; the first one she is able to keep!)
  • Elijah is out of his crib. Tears. After getting his chubby legs stuck in between the bars and having awful bruises, I figured it was time.
  • Micah is reading!
  • Our first grocery store outing with Hannah, and our first outing to eat at a friends house. Both were successful with no meltdowns!!!
  • Todd and I had our first date night since before we went to China, and the kids did great with Granny

So we've definitely come a long way in 5 months! We are slowly getting into a groove. We still have some really difficult moments. There are still a lot of tears. There is still a lot of frustration. There is still a lot of misunderstanding. Outings are still difficult if Todd is not with me. But I can usually understand what's going on now when there is a meltdown. We have built enough trust and Hannah has learned enough English that we can communicate better.

Hannah is beginning to dream for herself. She has hope. She is beginning to blossom. What a privilege to dream big with her. What a ride, this journey called adoption. I'm so thankful for God's grace that has sustained us. I'm so thankful for coffee and chocolate. I'm so thankful for our family and friends.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Happy 2 months, Hannah!

Dear Hannah,

Congrats! You've survived 2 months as a Pate. I bet you didn't think you'd make it this far with these crazy folks and this crazy food. Yes, we love to put cheese on everything. Yes, Southern Baptists love donuts. That's right, Mama does not like to talk before I have my coffee. I know, it is strange that we play outside all day and catch bugs and play in the mud. And that boys can run around without their shirts, but it's not ok for girls - insanity! It is pretty amazing that we can put our clothes in a machine and they automatically get clean. You don't have to hand wash anymore! I think you're starting to catch on to American life, and the Pate life.

I long for the day when we can talk to you about these things.

You made it through your first day of ESL camp! You did so great. You played with other kids. You sat still and listened to the teacher. You even shared your snack with another girl. I never thought I'd see food leave your hand to give to another person. You even didn't snatch the donuts off the table! You didn't cry or get frustrated! I hope school today was a much better experience than your school in China. I'm sorry those kids were so mean to you in China. I'm sorry they didn't give you another chance. You are so smart. You are so determined.

Watching a movie with brothers.
You got everyone a pillow
and blanket.
Once in a blue moon, you don't eat your meal, and you start crying. And I finally figured out today what's going on. You are scared that if you don't eat at that moment, that you might not see food again. I said "it's ok if you don't eat" ... the tears immediately stopped and you smiled. Hooray for smiles. Mama is starting to understand a little better. Yes, sweetie, there will be food for you tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

Family of Five!

I am so sorry that people look at me, and then you, and then they do a double take. I am so sorry that people look on you with pity. I am sure it feels awkward and strange and you're probably wondering "why are they looking at me like that?"

I hope that one day you will learn to connect with other Chinese people. Right now, it seems as though you don't really care to speak to Chinese people. That's ok if you don't.

We are praying for your heart, Hannah. Your heart is so hard sometimes, and other times so fragile. I pray that you will grow into a confident and selfless woman who loves Jesus more than anything else this world has to offer. There is nothing greater than knowing that we are loved by Almighty God and that He created us for His glory. God had a purpose when He made you. God has a plan for you today and for your future.

We are so glad to be your family.

Love, Mama and Daddy

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Get me out of this cocoon!

Well, things seem to be getting a little better around here. We're slowly starting to break out of our cocoon shell. We've been to church together, had some play dates and having more friends come to the house. We still keep our visits short, but we are thankful for the little bit of time around friends and family. We are so thankful for our friends and family that have been extremely helpful and understanding. Getting out does us a lot of good, but we cross into over-stimulation very quickly. Over-stimulation for Hannah means more tantrums and frustration. I am ready for us all to be back in church again, and for Todd and I to go on a date, and to be able to run an errand with the kids...but we are not there yet. Hopefully soon!

We are communicating more with Hannah, and she is getting into our family rhthym. It's pretty amazing to see the wheels turn in her brain. She has learned so much in 6 weeks! She is constantly practicing her English on us. She's also learning, the hard way, that temper tantrums are not the way to get what you want in our house. I feel sad for Hannah, that for 10 years, she's had to scream at the top of her lungs to get her needs met. [I feel so sorry for our neighbors too that have heard it every day]

Some funny communication moments:
- The Chinese word for noodles sounds like "mean"... when the boys say "you are being mean"...Hannah points to the noodles.
- The Chinese word for rice sounds like "fun"...when we say "are you having fun?" ....she points to the rice
- Hannah has a hard time distinguishing between the "b" and "p" sound. It's pretty funny to help her learn the difference between "I have a boo boo" and "I need to go poo poo."

We are still struggling lots of Hannah's emotions mid-morning. For some reason, there's an emotional switch that gets turned on around 10:00 a.m. It doesn't matter where we are, what we're doing/not doing, what we've eaten or what we're playing with, there will be tears. I've started keeping a meltdown log, trying to find some kind of pattern to help us figure out what we can do different. I pulled out a daily calendar with pictures, to help her see what I have planned for the day. It seems to help when she's not blindsided by a new activity.

Personally, this week has been better than last. I've been overwhelmed by all of the needs of the family and the house. There is usually at least 1 child that is unhappy at all times. I've had to learn to be o.k. with my children being disappointed. I've never been a morning person, but lately I've been waking up way too early with a lot of anxiety about the day. I'm learning to trust God with my day and with my family. I'm learning to pour out my heart to God like David did in the Psalms. I'm learning to let a lot of things go. It's really hard to live by faith. I prayed for joy this morning and it's amazing to see how God flooded my heart with His joy.

Institutionalization has some pretty scary effects. I fear the worse for Hannah. I fear autism or Aspergers for her. I am praying that the things I see will improve over time and that I am wrong.

The kids are screaming for me right now...back to Mama's work.....

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Why We Are in "Cocoon Mode"

Our relationship with Hannah is #1 priority right now. She has no sense of relational boundaries. We are helping her establish what is normal for life, and our family in particular. And honestly, I don't want to deal with emotional meltdowns in public.

For our family and friends here in Auburn:
  • When you meet Hannah, please only shake her hand. No hugging. No lap sitting. We're teaching her about friends/family/strangers.
  • Don't take it personal if you don't see us for awhile.
  • If you stop by, please only come 1 or 2 at a time. Hannah gets very overstimulated.
  • If you want to give gifts, please give it to me first, and I will give it to her.

1 Month Since Gotcha Day

I cannot believe it's been a month since we met Meiqi Hannah in China. We've been home for 2 weeks. Today was a really hard day for us. I am seeing just how difficult it is for Hannah to deal with loss and grief. A neighbor took the boys to church for a few hours, and I was hoping to get some good one-on-one "fun time" with Hannah but it ended up being a sad morning for her (and me!). She saw the boys leave, in our van with our neighbor. She cried for atleast an hour. I don't know if it's because she felt left out, or she didn't understand that the boys, and the van would be coming back soon. I pray for compassion and understanding. But it's been a struggle for me. It was a frustrating morning. I couldn't help but think "Be grateful that you I am here with you!" [I know, it sounds heartless and selfish on my part]

I've had to ask for a lot of forgiveness lately from the Lord. I've never been on my knees in prayer so much, as I have been the past month. Begging for help. Begging for compassion. Begging for His love to flow through me. Begging for a thankful attitude. Begging for forgiveness at my anger at the life he's called me to. I ask Him why, God, have you called me to this? Why, God, is this so difficult? Why can't I have an easy life? And then I realize that I am throwing the same kind of temper tantrum that my wild 10 year old throws. And I hear God say "Kim, be grateful for all that I've done for you. "

I can choose to be thankful, or I can choose to have a rotten attitude. I can choose to trust God. I can choose to believe promises. I can choose to trust God, rather than my emotions. I can choose to view my children as blessings, rather than intrusions. I can choose to not allow my 10 year old's wild emotions control me.

I probably should've asked Todd write a post today. He's usually a lot more positive than I am. He's a "cup-half-full" kind of guy.

Here are some things I am choosing to be thankful for in my children:

- Hannah's bloodwork came back normal. We've been a little nervous about anything infectious being spread around.
- I am done taking Hannah's stool samples!!
- Hannah and Elijah have taken to each other pretty well. She pushed him on the swing and helped him get dressed yesterday.
- I can see God using Hannah's tears to help the boys become more compassionate. They say "Why is she crying again? Is she ok?"
- Hannah chose to read a bible story book for the first time last night! It was an honor and blessing to show her Jesus on the cross. I told her Jesus says "Wo Ai Ni, Meiqi Hannah" [I love you, Meiqi Hannah]
- I am proud of Micah and his patience with Hannah. If she does something to aggravate him, he just patiently says "No, Hannah."
- We're finally in a good routine each day. Hannah has been playing quietly in her room each afternoon this week, while the boys nap/rest so I can have a little time to myself.
- I am so thankful for my sweet husband, Todd. We've met some single Mom's, also in this journey, and I don't know how they do it. Todd is so helpful, and serving, and patient, and a good sounding board for me.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Our First Week Home

We have survived our first week home with Hannah!!! It has been a tough week. We're thankful it's behind us. I've never wiped so many tears in my life, or made so much food in my life. Usually at least 1 child is crying, sometimes two, or all three. Micah and Elijah have had a tough time re-adjusting to Mama and Daddy. Mama and Daddy are still grumpy from jet-lag. And Hannah, bless her heart, doesn't know her up from down. I feel like we brought another newborn home (in the sense of exhaustion, crying spells, being busy), but a tall newborn that can get into everything. But each day gets a little better.

We have been so blessed by our friends and family. Granny was here the first couple of days we were home, which helped a lot. Grandmother did a lot of laundry for us. And meals are being brought to us 3x week. And we are so thankful for all of the people praying for us.

I have noticed how hungry Hannah is, in more ways that one....

A Hungry Heart - Her emotions have been very out-of-whack. I dont think she's ever been taught how to manage her emotions. Now it's compounded by having a family that cannot understand what she says. The emotional issues have been, by far, our biggest struggle.

A Hungry Soul - There is a constant need for love and affirmation for a former orphan. Hannah constantly needs TLC. Constant reminders that "We love you. We are not leaving you."

A Hungry Body - I have never seen a child eat so much! She eats at least 2 Raman noodle bowls a day plus whatever we eat.

A Hungry Brain - She is soaking up anything and everything we teach her. She is learning lots of English, the ABC's, colors, counting .... Learning lots about how to play with toys, how to play outside, how to be safe in the kitchen, how to be quiet when others are resting, how to share with her brothers, how to help with family chores (which she loves to do).

Some fun "firsts" this week....
  • First time to play in the yard. She didn't know what to do at first. She made a face that said "huh? you expect me to play in the dirt?"
  • First walk around the neighborhood
  • First ride on the swing in the yard. She giggled and giggled, and then I pushed her too hard and she belly-flopped in the dirt. Woops! Bad Mama.
  • First outing as a family of five. We went swimming at the Opelika Sportsplex. She loved it.
  • First time to play a piano (thank you Macy Maddox)
I have been complaining a lot to God lately ! The hardest thing for me has been to "give up" my afternoon quiet time while the boys nap/rest. Ever since Micah was born 5 years ago, I've protected 1:00 to 3:00 as my time to rest, catch up on personal tasks, etc. I can't do that now (although I am working towards it with Hannah). But God reminded me of what Jim Elliot said "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he can't lose." My time is not really mine to keep. It all belongs to the Lord. When I give away my time and my life to my children, I am storing up treasures in heaven, treasures that will never perish, fade or spoil.

My definition of success, as a Mother, has been challenged as well. God brought to mind Micah 6:8 "What does the Lord require of you? To love mercy, seek justice and walk humbly with your God." If we are learning about how to treat others with mercy and learning how to bring glory to God, than it's a good day for me.

We are planning to stay close to home for the next month or two. We don't mind visitors, we love visitors actually, just not more than a few people at one time. Hannah gets very overwhelmed and over-stimulated, and we're helping her establish what family is.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Week 1 1/2: Orphanage Visit

We were able to visit the orphanage yesterday. This was the first time Meiqi Hannah has been back since our gotcha day last week. She was very nervous. She held my hand tight for the entire drive there. I think she was scared we were bringing her back, although our facilitator told her (in Chinese) we weren't. The orphanage staff were very warm and welcoming. They brought out some fruit and candy for us, talked with us for awhile, and gave us a tour of the facility. Our family was only the 5th or 6th "International" family to adopt from there.

A Small courtyard for kids to play in. Their only outdoor space.
We learned lots of new things about Meiqi Hannah. We learned more pieces of her "lost" history. We learned more about her life as a baby. Some of it was heart-wrenching to hear. They told us some funny stories about her too. Seeing where she spent her first 10 year of her life gives us a much better context about where she is coming from.

When we arrived at the gate, we could not even see the orphanage. It was hidden behind a big fancy apartment building for old folks.

Hidden. The kids are hidden away from society. No one even knows they are there.

The orphanage was very sterile and very plain. There was nothing "soft" or comfortable about it. Nothing homey about it. No carpet or couches or fluffy pillows. Just concrete and beds and a few toys.

No Jesus. No church. No Sunday School. No VBS.


Her orphanage has about 50 kids. About 20 of them are available for adoption.

We were encouraged that Meiqi Hannah was excited to leave with us. That means she has formed a good bond with us this week and that she trusts us. She was proud to show the nanny's our matching necklaces. She was proud to leave with us. She was not upset.

A room full of babies in cribs. Meiqi Hannah shared her candy with all of them.
I think she spent a lot of time helping the Nanny's with these younger kids. 
We are becoming more in tune with our daughter each day. We learn a little more about her, and vice versa. We are learning to laugh more. As Todd says "If we're gonna laugh about it in 5 years, we might as well laugh about it now."

The word "no" is foreign for orphanage kids. They have no concept of boundaries. But Meiqi Hannah has received more loving discipline in 10 days, than I think she has received in 10 years. It is amazing to see the change a child undergoes when she is well loved.
Even tough love!
It is amazing to see the peace that overwhelms her when we pray for her.

Meet Jesus, Meiqi Hannah Pate.

It's also pretty awesome to see how well she is learning English! She's been greeting everyone here "Hello, how are you?"

Ummm, Todd, can we bring another one home?!

Telling the Nanny's Goodbye.
It has been a tough week for us though, I'm not gonna lie. Adoption is a tough journey. It is not for the weary in heart. The enemy has a tight grip on these kids. He does not want them to be loved. He does not want them to hear the Gospel. He wants to keep them locked up, in a communist country, with very little chance of hearing the Gospel. The enemy will do everything in his power to keep families away.

We are sooooo ready to come home!!!!!!