First months home

Ethan’s first time on a train with his already beloved Dad on the way to Hong Kong

First time on Winnie the Pooh – their eyes were huge! Loved sitting behind them.

Ethan thought Iron Man was the best thing ever!! Really fun ride.

Who cares if it’s 105 degrees when your Dad is giving you a ride?

Headed to the international clinic for their 5 hour appointment and thinking they are looking pretty hip in their sunglasses.

First s’mores – they were skeptical and then they were in love.

First days at school. Math is comforting because the numbers don’t change.

Some of their amazing early Lego creations.

First time in a tree – they thought it was amazing and just a little scary.

Anna brought this home and made my week – we have come so far from those tough, tough days in China.

Tons of fun with Rinnah at college!

Rinnah the birthday girl with all her sibs.

Our Moon Festival cookies.

Ethan learned to ride the bike by himself in 8 minutes!!

Noah the birthday boy.

First trick-or-treating.

Working hard with our Chinese tutor, Angie, on our Chinese school homework.

Anna the birthday girl with my mom.

Ethan the birthday boy with Nathan and being photobombed by his brother, Toby.

Our new family picture.

Family dumpling party on Thanksgiving morning.

Our cross-cultural Thanksgiving dinner – turkey, steamed sweet potatoes, steamed buns, apple bread, pork dumplings, bean sprouts, corn, stuffing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, cranberry sauce, and the requisite green bean casserole smack in the middle.

Enjoying siblings.

Christmas decorating for the first time.

Caught a family shot, a very rare opportunity!

It’s safe to say that I don’t remember a time in the last decade that I have been this overwhelmed with all that is happening. So much of it good, quite a lot of it hard, and we are getting to place where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m sad I wasn’t able to keep up with my blog as I wished I had a better record of these first few months, but there simply hasn’t been time. Putting some thoughts, some FB posts, and a lot of pictures here just to record what has happened.

My last post we were heading to Hong Kong on our last stop before bringing our new children home. We added this extra day just to show them Disney at Noah’s request – he had loved going there on his way home and wanted to share it. We took the speed train there, and then two subways which we somehow managed to change without losing any baggage or children – we each had a death grip on someone, and I swear my heart rate didn’t return to normal until we were off the subway an hour. We were exhausted and then waited another hour for a bus that refused to allow us to board with our luggage and a driver who was incredibly mean about it – not our favorite memory of Hong Kong. We finally split up to take two taxis which was also nerve wracking but we all made it and checked into our last hotel.

We spent the next day at Disney and it was a fun day. The kids have never seen anything like it, and you would expect them to be so excited, but they were more nervous. However, after the first couple of rides, they were starting to warm up, and after the Iron Man ride for Ethan (he got off yelling, “again, again, again!”) and It’s a Small World for Anna (who literally danced in line the entire time we waited she was so excited) the tide turned, and we really had fun the rest of the day. We went back to the hotel and packed up for the long plane ride home.

We got to Newark fine, and the kids did remarkably well for their first plane ride ever, especially considering it was 16 hours long! We had seats together in the center all the way in the back of the place, but at least we were together which was a massive improvement over our flight in. I was in a row with Ethan and Noah, and Nathan sat behind me with Toby and Anna, and Rinnah and Rachel were in the third row with one poor lady who got stuck in the middle of our family. Everyone slept a little, ate a little (why is airplane food so bad?! Why? Why?!) and we made it. Immigration was different here than when we were in Dallas with Noah – they separated me and the new kids and sent us to a “special office” with no info on where we were going or how long it would take which made everyone nervous. But we were the only ones in there and it took less than 15 minutes to process Ethan and Anna as the newest citizens of the US. We joined the rest of the family who had been waiting out in the terminal and headed for our flight home. Sadly, we were delayed several times, but we did eventually get out. Some of the people who had planned to meet us weren’t able to because it was so late, but a few stalwart friends stuck it out for us and it was so good to see them and be home!

This was a really hard trip. When we went to get Noah, it was hard, and he was scared and grieving and we were scared and trying to figure out how to help him, etc, but he’d also been well prepared, and we had no issues with the adoption or anything. We really had a very smooth trip, and a lot of time to sight-see and enjoy things and he was in a place to be able to do that and it felt really bonding overall for our family. This trip felt like the whole adoption process had before it – more of a fight. It was so hot, the things with Anna were so emotionally difficult, we had problems with multiple parts of the process that were very frightening and exhausting, and it was just incredibly stressful. I am so grateful it’s over. Honestly, I feel a little like I have PTSD from the process, and I’m not sure why it has to be so hard. I mean, some parts of it are just going to be hard, there’s no getting around it, but it seems like we had so many hard things that don’t need to be that way. And it makes me sad for the kiddos who are not going to adopted because they’ve made the process so difficult. I don’t really want to talk to any government entities for a while. There’s a whole year still at least of paperwork before we’re truly done with everything, but at least the big stuff is over, they are here, and they are ours.

The week after we got home we had to hit the ground running. Toby started middle school literally a day and a half after getting home. Noah and Rachel started two days later. Rinnah left to start college a week after that (talk about a one-two punch for mom emotionally). And Ethan and Anna had their big appointments at the international clinic and the dentist and Anna had a huge intake for the cleft team at the hospital, all while we were dealing with pretty crushing jet lag. I felt sick for about two weeks! But somehow we got through it all. I’ve been struggling with being mad at our agency – if we hadn’t had all the setbacks with wrong info, etc, we would have been home many weeks earlier and not had this crazy transition.

We also realized that we were going to have to send Ethan and Anna to school pretty quickly if we wanted to be able to go with them and help them – Nathan had to go back to work, and there was no way for me to be two places at once. Nathan actually put off going back to work an extra week because we couldn’t figure out any other way to transition them. He ended up going with Ethan and I went with Anna for a week and a half, and then I did a half day with each of them for another week and a half or so. American school is just light years different from Chinese school, not to mention that neither of them spoke English, so that was really important. The first day I only took Anna for half a day, and when we left, she cried. I thought it was the stress, but it turned out, she was having fun and didn’t want to leave! Even though that was much earlier than I thought we’d send them and there were definitely ups and downs, they both really love school and I’m so glad we were able to get it done the way we wanted to. And shout out to our school – they have again just bent over backwards to help us do whatever we needed to to help the kids feel safe and comfortable, and that is definitely not always the response of schools.

Quotes from FB from Anna’s start to school:

Spent the day with first graders helping Anna adjust. Here are some of my favorite 6 year old questions:

(When we were 2 minutes late) “Did you come here straight from China?”

“So, if you’re her mom, why didn’t you just teach her to speak English?”

“Are your other kids from England?” (uh, come again?)

And my favorite, asked by 4, count ’em, 4 different kids at different times all while looking straight at me:

“So, are you Chinese?”

We also had to start the kids almost immediately in Chinese school just because of how the semesters run. We were afraid if we waited, Anna especially would just lose too much. It’s very important to us that the kids maintain their language. It’s such a gift to be bi-lingual, and also such an important part of their history, culture, and identity. And when we take them back to China someday, we’d really like them to be able to talk to the foster parents if we are able to visit them!

So, by one month home, we had a pretty good handle on the new kids’ medical situations, they were transitioned into school and doing pretty well, and they both knew all the Chinese words we knew and had picked up enough English that we were limping along pretty well as far as communication goes. It has been an incredible blessing to have Noah able to translate when things were hard – he doesn’t like to do it as it’s stressful for him, so we try not to ask much, but he’s a real trooper about it and I’ve been so proud of him and his desire to be a good big brother, something he was intimidated by.

We’ve also come a long way with our relationships. Anna’s and mine started off really rocky, but she is very attached to me now. As she’s gotten more language, she’s also expressing a lot of sadness about China and missing her foster family there (it is not like foster care in the US, they would not have been allowed to adopt her) and I am so glad we are still in contact with her family. They love her very much and are always happy to hear how she is doing, and it’s very comforting for her to know that we know how to find them and that they are happy she has a permanent family with us. We try to be open to talk about anything, and I really stress that it is fine for her to love both of us and that we also really appreciate and care about her foster family.

Ethan has been slower to warm up to me – he loves, loves, loves Nathan! So, while it’s not that he doesn’t like me, I think he just wanted all Nathan at first. He was so excited to have a dad! But I am so happy that he really has been opening up, and we’re doing well now. He’s much more guarded in his feelings, and keeps things to himself, so it’s a privilege when he shares himself with you. He’s started being more open to affection and expressing himself more, and I’m just really looking forward to getting to know him. We love them both so much already.

In October we went to Taylor to visit Rinnah for her birthday. It was so good to see her! I’ve really been struggling with her leaving for school – I love her dearly and have missed her so much. She’s been really homesick too, especially with the new kiddos here, and it’s been hard to hear her sad. But that is also turning around as she makes friends, and I do think her school is a perfect fit for her. We also celebrated Moon Festival with her while we were there, and brought moon cakes and made moon cookies, etc. The kids all brought their scooters and we trekked all over campus – it was so fun!

We also had Toby’s birthday and Noah’s birthday and Ethan taught himself to ride a bike in eight minutes (no joke!). I also headed to Nashville for my first time away to record the vocals for my new album – I’ll write about that in a separate post. We also tried to explain Halloween and had our first trick or treat.

A hilarious conversation with Anna who was trying to wrap her mind around this bizarre American holiday:

Anna: So, Anna princess.
Me: Yes, you wear your princess dress.
Anna: My go house, say “Tree, oh tree!”
Me: (giggling because it’s like arbor day) Yep, say “Trick or treat!”
Anna: Okay, my say “tree, oh tree!” Then they candy. In my… um… pillow? (this is clearly getting weirder and weirder)
Me: We will bring a pillowcase for the candy. Yes, they put candy in the pillowcase.
Anna: And my say “thank you.”
Me: Yep. You got it!
Anna: Okaaay, mama. (In a very, if-you-say-so, where-the-heck-have-I-ended-up, Americans-are-very-strange way.)

Finally, in November I headed back to Nashville to shoot music videos for the new album, we had Anna’s birthday and Ethan’s birthday just days apart, and we celebrated a very Chinese and American Thanksgiving. The kids both struggled a lot with anxiety just before their birthdays, just like Noah did last year. Because they’ve never had a birthday celebration, it’s like they have this intense worry that what if it isn’t the way they dreamed it would be? Or what if we forget them or don’t celebrate them the way we do every other family member? It’s was pretty intense leading up to the days, but getting through it helped so much. We had some massive behind-the-scenes drama getting Ethan’s presents that he never knew about (long God story, but He sure showed up and so did my family!) and it was just amazing to watch Ethan realize that yes, he was going to have a birthday celebration just like everyone else. These are the things that build trust and bond the family and make the kids realize that they do belong here and they are loved.

So, this has been one of the most challenging seasons I’ve been through for so many reasons. One, emotionally it’s just been tough. The kids are grieving and anxious and don’t know how things will be or work, so that is all hands on deck all the time. The time pressure has also been intense. There’s so much more work just with the fact of six kids, and also with the new album. Getting them into school and praying and hoping that they will be comfortable and accepted there, and just the work that needed to happen to get them settled. Sitting with the kids every night for an hour until they fall asleep because they are still so scared at night and in the dark. Making sure we have food they will eat so we have one less stress for them. The adjustment by our whole family to two new people, personalities, problems with communication, all of it. It’s been hard, and I feel like we’ve climbed a mountain.

But with that said, I feel like the worst of it is behind us. We have adjusted. They are getting more English every day. They are genuinely happy at school and have made good friends. They have learned to like many foods here. They are connecting and attaching to our family and we love them.

Now we are looking forward to Anna’s foster sister, Quinn, being adopted by our friends the Moses’ in January. We can’t wait to meet her and reunite the girls! We are looking forward to Ethan and Anna’s first Christmas and sharing the truth of Jesus with them. We are looking forward to having Rinnah home for several weeks of school break. And we are just looking forward to more normalcy and having some time just to be a family and solidify those bonds!

6 Responses to “First months home”

  1. Mary Thomas says:

    Praying for your family. Lord may the children feel your love and care. May they create lots of fun family memories.

  2. jennifer says:

    Thank you, we so appreciate the prayers!

  3. Mei says:

    Hi Jennifer, I heard about your blog from a friend and have been reading your adoption posts. I wish you the best going forward! As my husband and I are praying about adopting as well, someone told me something I will never forget. “Don’t even think about adopting a child from another race unless you have a friend from that race yourself.” I was floored by this because of the truth of it. It makes adoption about the child and not our needs to be a mother or a savior.
    As an Asian-American, my heart drops when I hear about transracial adoption because non-intentional ignorance abounds, and Asian children growing up in all-white contexts all suffer from identity issues. I hope and pray that you and Nate are willing to put your children before yourselves and let empathy be your guide as you raise your children, even if it means moving to a city where there is a large Asian population. Maybe you already recognize how important that is. I hope so! I hope you are ready to deal with issues of race head-on as your children get older and be their greatest advocates. My friend sent me this article, and I think any good adoptee mother would want to read it, as we want to be in tune with our children and to grow them up with the most love possible. I have other articles as well, should you be interested in more dialogue. Blessing in Christ.

  4. jennifer says:

    Hi, Mei, thank you for your concern for my children. I definitely hear your heart in that, and I appreciate your perspective as an Asian-American. And that is an excellent article and one that I have read before, thank you. May I very gently remind you that you don’t know me, and there are several assumptions here that are incorrect and actually are pointed to in my post, such as our children attending Chinese school and our family celebrating Chinese holidays and making Chinese food together. We are very aware of how important race is and also, since our children were older coming home, the importance of their culture and recognizing what made them comfortable was absolutely critical. We actually live in a very diverse area with a large and active Chinese community (we had our choice of 4 Chinese schools within 10 minutes of our house representing literally thousands of people). We have Chinese friends, neighbors, teachers, doctors, as well as community members from many Asian countries. We have multiple families to draw on for help and guidance who are long-term friends (friends we’ve had since far before we even considered adoption) and who are also Chinese – they have been invaluable to us in terms of helping with translation, communication with orphanages and foster parents, understanding of culture and even teaching us to cook things the children find comforting.

    I know that this is a problem in the adoption community, and I absolutely agree with you that it is critical. My children have many holes in their personal stories which will certainly leave them wondering about parts of their identity. For that reason and many others, I am passionate that they feel proud of what they do know, and of being Chinese. This is a conversation we already have often. Nathan and I will never be perfect parents, nor can we be Asian, but we will care more about our children and be in their corner more than any other person on this planet and do our best to understand.

    This comment has made me realize that I should do a series of posts about what I think of as the three issues that we can’t talk about – transracial adoption, intercountry adoption, and money and adoption. I have thought about it for a while, but I also must balance openness in the discussion with my kids’ right to privacy, and so have shared less and less as time has gone on. I will have to think about how to do that. But it’s good to be able to have a dialogue, and these are big and complicated issues that should be discussed.

  5. Mei says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful answer. I have tears in my eyes because I think that your openness to engage in dialogue and listen (when you didn’t have to make my comment public) shows your heart. Thank you for doing that. Jesus and grace.
    I didn’t mean to make assumptions, but obviously, I have them, and it stems from my own experiences with Christian families in my own hometown who are unaware, kind people, but sadly, ignorant and want to stay in their ignorance. They are so caught up in “their” adoption story that they didn’t welcome language help nor were they open to any conversation about race. It’s created a bit of a hardened heart in me, and I’m very surprised and grateful you took the time to respond.
    Being in a diverse area is so important, and it’s something I didn’t have growing up. I do not think you need to be Asian to be loving parents to your children. A big piece of loving them is recognizing race and culture, and I’m so relieved that you know this. I will pray for His leading to share on this blog about hard issues. It must be particularly hard for white people to talk about race because Asians talk about it all the time among ourselves. We can’t ignore it. We feel it every day. I highly encourage you to do so because your platform, and frankly, you being a kind and accomplished white person, will speak volumes and you have an automatic audience. I have found that when I spoke up and tried to educate my white friends at church (which was 99% white but trying to be more race-conscious), it is not as compelling because #1) I come from a completely different place and background than they do (Asian culture and values are very different than Western, as I’m sure you know), and 2) white people (particularly men, in my experience) have assumptions about Asian women and do not listen well to us– there is no dialogue. I am hopeful that with you, the conversation will continue. I hear your heart as a fellow mom who loves her children with a love greater than I ever thought imaginable.

  6. jennifer says:

    Thank you, Mei. There can be no progress if there can’t be dialogue. It always makes me sad how defensive and “shout-y” people get on social media platforms especially – no one seems to be listening to anyone. Hopefully we can all listen better. I know that race will play a big part in my kids’ interaction with and understanding of the world, so I need to do the best I can to understand the issues surrounding it. And frankly, just as a Christian and someone who is a citizen of this world, I need to understand the issues surrounding it. I will say, the adoption community is surprisingly divided on many issues, and while I am so sorry that you have had negative experiences (which I totally understand and have heard before many times), you will also find people in the adoption community for whom this topic is incredibly important and who will always be advocates in this arena.

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