Monday, January 14, 2013

Advocating for a Particular Child

Greetings from the 20Stuffers!

In the world of adoption, letting people know about a particular child available for adoption is called advocating.

I would like to advocate this evening for a little girl to whom I will refer in this post as Amanda. Amanda is about ten years old and has grown up in the same loving foster family in China as our oldest daughter, "Sunshine." In fact, their foster mother describes the girls as not just foster sisters but best friends.

Amanda is now on China's "Shared Waiting List," which means a list of special needs children waiting for adoption. She has two special needs. The first is a condition in her right eye that causes it to "wander up," as if it were looking away from wherever the other eye is looking. Her other condition is mental delay -- this is not a girl who will likely be attending college someday, if the information in her file is correct.

We are unable to adopt Amanda due to a variety of circumstances, even beyond our being unemployed right now and not having a current homestudy, but I am praying that a special family will come forward who can love this girl, special needs and all.

Please contact me if you would like more information!

Cheers,
Ms. 20Stuff

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Update on Joy

Greetings from the 20stuffers!

It's been just about seven months since our former daughter, "Joy", left for her new family. I know that a few of our readers follow the blog of her new family, so you know how well she is doing, but I thought for the rest of anyone who reads our blog that it would be appropriate to offer an update.

First, a bit of background for anyone coming across this blog for the first time. In August of 2011 we heard about a teen girl about to age out of orphan care in China, and we were told that she had cardiac disease, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, and one other health situation. We were not interested in adopting a teen but couldn't bear the thought of this girl living on the streets. We also barely had $100 in the bank but were told we'd need $12,000 to add her to our dossier (we were already in the process of adopting an eight-year-old girl, our Sunshine). I asked the agency for three days to pray about it, and within three days, God provided $15,000 -- enough for the dossier AND for her airfare and hotel expenses. Overwhelmed, we were certain He intended for us to adopt her (and still are certain).

Six weeks later Joy was in our home, and she was anything but joy-filled. Already angry about her unexpected adoption, she misinterpreted a number of events that happened early on and dug in with a fierce determination to have as little to do with us as possible. In our ignorance we pretty much paved the way for her to fulfill that goal. However, I was certain that she was "a star waiting to shine" and that she simply needed a second chance, a fresh opportunity to be a beloved daughter. Through an amazing series of events that I have to believe God orchestrated once it was obvious Joy was not going to attach to us, a new family came forward, and Joy was in their home within one month.

In the blogpost in which I announced that Joy was with her new family, I predicted she would go through a rejection time with the new family, but "secretly" I had very high hopes that she wouldn't, and I am thrilled to tell you that has been the case! By God's great and marvelous mercy, this lovely girl began blending in with her new family almost immediately and has never gone through that rejection stage. The family dynamics are such a better match for her in her new family. She is no longer the oldest child but one of the youngest. The family has no preschoolers in diapers, racing about the house and stomping little feet on wooden floors. :-) The family has other, older adoptees from China who had made at least some peace with their adoption by the time Joy arrived. Her mama has exactly the kind of personality I had prayed for, the kind that I had noticed from Joy's first weeks with us was the kind that Joy responds to best, AND the mama is a pediatric nurse! How good is our God! The family also has several pets, something Joy had longed for at our house -- the only Americans she knew in her former country had a dog in their apartment, and Joy loved the dog.

This family could not have adopted her at the time she was aging out in China, but we could. We could not keep her in our family, but this other family could.

When she lived with us, Joy used to walk ten feet behind us when we took her anywhere (which was not often because of her behavior when we were out and about). She would sit at a different table than we did if we went to a restaurant. She would refuse to acknowledge me if I asked her what she wanted to eat. Except for one spontaneous occasion, she never thanked us for anything we did for her, no matter how big or small, even when Chinese friends asked her to (or maybe *because* they asked her to!). When we attended Chinese church, she made as much effort as possible to distance herself from us. She cried in complete devastation when our whole family accompanied her to her school Christmas concert (just two months into her stay with us). She responded to even the mildest correction with dramatic "fight, flight, or freeze" reactions that took over our household. She made no effort to help with family "chores", no effort to interact with our other three children unless it was, in effect, to "yell" at them, no effort to communicate with anyone but me, and then only if she needed something. We had visits from the police department when she would run away, and visits from the fire department across the street when she would have a meltdown. Mr.20 and I struggled with two different, almost opposing views on how to parent her, which put a serious strain on our marriage. Our children were frightened or at least significantly intimidated by her and were aware that the need to calm her trumped their need to have us present for their events. Her continual anger and defensiveness forced us to plan even the smallest family events around keeping her calm. In essence, she had "hijacked" our family, whether or not that was ever her intent, because everything about our lives came down to keeping her calm.

I don't tell you these so-called "problem" behaviors in anger or judgement against her -- she was a broken, frightened child in an underdog situation, and we did not understand her needs or how to reach her, which left her further helpless and hopeless -- rather, I want to show you how dramatic the difference is now that she is in her second family.

Joy holds her mother's hand when they walk in a crowd and likes to sit on the arm of her mother's chair when her mom is working on a project, and recently after returning from a youth group trip, Joy told her new mom she missed her! Joy takes her turn washing dishes in the evenings and does so without complaint. She jokes with her new brothers and gets along well with her sisters and knows that her father is on her side, even if she still shows post-institutional hesitation around him. She counsels by phone other struggling adoptees and tells them what they're doing wrong (oh, the fun irony!). She is looking forward to the upcoming arrival of another adopted sibling. She participates in church and even read from Chinese scriptures in an international program on her second or third Sunday. There are no visits from the fire department or police department, and apparently no messages from school talking about disrespectful behavior. She is a different girl! Or rather, she is her real self, the girl I hoped her to be deep down, the one hiding under all the anger and powerlessness of suddenly being adopted away from her orphanage, country, culture, language, and friends.

Last night I read a support group post in which another adoptive mom claimed there are basically two groups of older international orphans. Group 1 includes older children who are basically content in their circumstances. They do not have a clear picture of the hopeless life that awaits them after they leave the orphanage if they are not adopted, and they do not feel any particular need for a family. These children often do not do well in adoption. Group 2, the group that orphan summits and conferences and sermons focus on, are the children who have spent every day of their lives dreaming of having a loving family. They have watched their friends leave for America (or other countries around the world) with adoring families, and they dream of and pray for the day this will happen to them, too. These children often thrive in their adoptive families.

I realized as I read that post that essentially we had adopted two older children who were not interested in being adopted! Joy was thrilled when she first learned that she would be adopted, but the closer she drew to the reality of what adoption meant, the more unhappy she grew, to the point that she decided very early in the adoption that it was "impossible," as she told translators who tried to work with her in our home.

Our little Sunshine, precious, precious child, still struggles with her adoption. I believe that she is attaching to us, that she loves us and knows that we love her, but I also believe strongly that she did not understand when she came to us that adoption is permanent. I believe she thought it was some kind of adventure in which she was supposed to call the nice people Mommy and Daddy (which she has done with great enthusiasm from the first moment), but that she would return home eventually to the foster family she loves and who loves her deeply. She often asks questions about adoption, the permanency of it, and why she had to come to America. Often when I am on Facebook, pictures of friends' adopted children come up, and Sunshine asks me why they had to come to America. Just a few days ago I explained of one child, "Because he had no mommy and daddy," and Sunshine's little forehead wrinkled as she immediately and rightly protested, "But I had a mommy and daddy!"

It breaks my heart. For her, for us, it breaks my heart.

I am comforted by the fact that she has better opportunities here in the States than she would ever have had in her birth country, better education that focuses on her special needs, better health care by far than what she was receiving there, better chances at finding love and respect and dignified employment, better opportunity to learn that God loves her deeply and cares about what happens to her.

But I grieve her losses.

And I wonder, at times, if Joy has the better chance (as compared to Sunshine) at doing well with adoption because she has had this second chance, this opportunity to step back and re-evaluate what has happened to her. In this second go-around, she has had a far more informed opportunity to make choices about how she will respond, and she has chosen well, and she is doing well.

May God bless us with wisdom and insight for raising these precious children, whom He loves even more than we do.

Blessings,
Ms. 20Stuff








Tuesday, December 11, 2012

MegaChurch and Adoption

Greetings from the 20Stuffers!

Sorry I don't post very often. :-) We aren't at all driven to be a high-traffic or monetized blog. Just sharing a few thoughts here and there (both of them).

We are members of a local congregation with a normal weekend attendance of 12,000 (or at least that's what it was when we became members four or five years ago). We took a seven-month break to attend Chinese church, but we are now back to attend this "megachurch" congregation, which I'll call Hope CC for the sake of this post.

We chose Hope CC for four reasons. One, it is within our "denomination;" two, a college acquaintance of ours was the senior minister; three, the main campus was only ten minutes from our house; and four, it has a large, thriving adoption community. We did attend almost all the other congregations within our "denomination" within reasonable driving distance, one Sunday each, before deciding on Hope CC, but because of the four factors above, we were fairly certain we would wind up at Hope.

One of the most common complaints that I hear about "megachurches" is that "you can get lost in the crowd" (I tend to think that is a ridiculous and defensive excuse. GET INVOLVED!), but we knew more than 100 people within our first two months there, and I'd say we know closer to 400 people now -- after all, 12,000 people in our area attend there -- we're bound to know a certain percentage of them away from church. We see someone we know every few minutes as we walk down the hall (or the concourse, as it is appropriately called) and have a hard time getting to class on time because we see so many dear friends. Those people fall into different groups -- school friends, work friends, Sunday School class friends, community people that we have met here and there, former therapists of our kids, etc.. One of the bigger groups is made up of adoptive parents.

I have a little game that I play sometimes as I walk down the hall with our kids. For every five internationally adopted kids that I see, I give our kids a kiss on the top of their heads. We ride a shuttle bus from the parking lot to the foyer area (largely for our children's amusement, as there is closer parking available), and regardless of which shuttle we take, there is nearly always at least one family on board with one or more internationally adopted children, not to mention children who may be fostered. When we walk into the foyer, people don't stop and stare at our interracial family because there are other international/interracial adoption/foster families larger than ours walking around. There are other internationally adopted children in each of our kids' Sunday School classes. Our congregation celebrates Orphan Sunday in the fall and actively promotes adoption at other times and in other ways.

It is not considered by the congregation to be a "problem" that our kids have special needs (and of course there are other adoptive families, foster families, and bio families whose children have bigger special needs than ours do). This congregation welcomes people with special needs and even holds a special "prom" each fall in which more than 500 adults with special needs attend, wear fancy clothes, dance to the accompaniment of a live band, eat a meal in the cafeteria, and otherwise "have a ball", while hearing the Gospel message at some point in the midst of the fun. These special adults who were probably not able to attend their high school prom, if they were even able to attend high school, year after year have their own prom here, hosted by this congregation, an evening that is entirely dedicated to them and is usually "over the top" in everything from the band to the decorations to the red carpet treatment to the overall experience.

That having been said, there is really not a good set-up for Sunday School for children with sensory processing issues, which many, many adopted and foster children have due to childhood trauma of one kind or another (abandonment, neglect, abuse, malnutrition, untreated illness, etc.). I'm told that our congregation used to have a special classroom just for sensory issues, but I can easily imagine that it was difficult to keep staffed in a way that was legally ok, and besides, there is such an enormous variety in the nature of these sensory issues -- how could one classroom possibly accomodate all the needs? Some children are sensory seekers, some are avoiders, some go back and forth from one minute to the next. I cannot imagine one classroom that could accommodate the needs of the extremes that are out there, and some parent would feel that his or her child's needs were not being taken seriously.

So I really don't have a problem with the fact that our gigantic congregation does not provide for our children's particular needs.

But I myself do have a problem in that my anxiety-ridden children struggle with the Sunday School set-up. As with many megachurches, the children are "warehoused", so to speak, in big groups of 40, 50, 60 kids. Sunday School follows a particular pattern each week and there is movement and preparation and smaller "life groups" within the big groups and all of that, but in the end, my children are herded around for an hour with 40 or 50 other kids that they really don't know and can't hear, anyway. Both of my daughters complain first and foremost about the noise. On the eight Sundays that I attended their class with them as a visitor, I couldn't have agreed more -- there were just too many kids and too much piped-in music for the noise level to be bearable for people with sensory issues.

It's not the same as school. Yes, there is noise at school, especially in the cafeteria, but at school there is recess, mealtime with their class, stops by the waterfountain, friends whom the children see every day five days a week, quiet times of working, their own desk and cubby for a sense of belonging, a teacher with whom they build a relationship, etc. and just a great deal more dependability in what is happening around them. Church is just once a week, they have no spot to call their own, they don't know from one Sunday to the next who will be there, and they can't hear the people who are there, anyway. The volume of the piped-in "worship" music or skit music is beyond what the children deal with at school. The noise level is very different than what they experience at school.

It's not that my girls hate the class time, even as chaotic as it is. They enjoy the activities once they arrive and once we make the separation. But the class is always sensory overload, and they dread going and start fussing about it on Saturday. They have to "gear up" for it every week, and they're very fussy after they come home, even if they had been happy at the time we picked them up from class.

We have considered a variety of options: attending a smaller congregation, getting a babysitter to take care of them at home while we attend, volunteering in their classroom so that they can cling to us anxiously every single second, not attending church at all while the kids are small -- we do teach the children at home -- etc.. Nothing seems to fit the situation as well as simply telling the children they need to attend class and get used to it.

Real life is not easy and quiet and orderly, not for anybody, special needs or otherwise. There are things we just have to get used to doing.

But I wish so much that real life WERE easy, and that my children didn't have to struggle so much, so often, to get through "normal" life. I wish there were a great, easy solution that fit our particular situation and our kids' particular needs.

Anyway, just thinking aloud about the benefits and struggles involved in attending a large congregation when we have special needs kids. Thanks for listening!

Blessings,
Ms. 20Stuff






Sunday, November 11, 2012

Interview with "Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities"

Greetings from the 20Stuffers!

This evening we have the privilege of hosting my interview with the author of "Raising Five Kids with Disabilities." You may check out her wonderful, often funny blog at http://5kidswdisabilities.com/

She has an amazing story that this tiny interview could not begin to cover, so be sure to check out her book (available through Amazon), which she mentions at the end of the post.

Here are the questions that I asked her:
1) Your special brother shaped your life. Can you tell us what connection his life had with your adoptions?

2) Can you help us understand what types of disabilities your children have had and how that has impacted your family life?
3) How have you dealt with the way that strangers (or even friends and family) have viewed your family? Did you experience more love and support or more rejection and awkwardness from others throughout your family's journey?
4) How have techniques for parenting special-needs children changed over the years of your family's history?
5) What have been your greatest joys in raising children with disabilities?

So let's get started!

1) Your special brother shaped your life. Can you tell us what connection his life had with your adoptions?

Living with a brother with severe disabilities, (deaf, blind, severely developmentally delayed and schizophrenic) taught me that "God don't make junk"...that everyone is valuable and worthy of living as full a life as possible.  As a result, I have lived a life of complete acceptance of everyone.

I have a biological son, and chose to add to my family through adoption because, basically, it made more sense not to have to go through another pregnancy.  (Selfish, I know, but the truth...)   I desperately wanted a daughter, and adoption was the only way to guarantee that!  As it turned out, my son had hereditary congenital blindness, so adoption was the best option. All of the children we adopted, with the exception of my youngest daughter who is deaf, were placed with us as "healthy children".  We had no idea they would end up with disabling conditions.


2) Can you help us understand what types of disabilities your children have had and how that has impacted your family life?


My biological son, Frances, has a congenital vision impairment the same as my brother.  Fortunately, he does not have my brother's other disabling conditions.  He has a gifted intelligence and a sense of independence which has served him well.  (He has obtained his PhD from Cambridge University in human computer interaction, and he is now a department manager at a major computer company where he works on developing computer apps for individuals who are disabled.)   We ensured that he was able to do everything a fully sighted child could do, attend his public school, ski, swim, wrestle, and take care of his own needs independently. His vision was a "minor inconvenience", (his words.)

Our oldest daughter, Dinora, came to us as a "healthy" infant from Guatemala.  She turned out to be profoundly deaf, a condition which was healed miraculously on one Christmas eve. (I have the medical records to prove it!)  As the daughter of an alcoholic birth mother, she had Fetal Alcohol Affects which led to attention deficit disorder and anxiety.  Additionally, as a teenager, she herself became an alcoholic, something for which she is now in recovery.  It was explained to me that because she was Mayan Indian, she would have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism.  (It appears that Indians did not have the habit of using alcohol until a few centuries ago, unlike Europeans who were used to wine and alcohol.  Therefore, their bodies become more easily addicted.)

Steven was adopted after he had been our foster child for three years.  He had been placed with us shortly after birth, still in withdrawal from the cocaine and heroin he had been exposed to by his birth mother.  The best way to describe his ensuing disabilities is that his internal wiring was screwed up.  He has autism, severe sensory integration deficit, obsessive compulsive disorder and severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.  He has been our most challenging child as he is not one to eat out, take on vacation, go to the mall, celebrate holidays or actually participate in community activities.  It was easier to just change our lifestyle to accommodate him than to insist he participate, which would lead to meltdowns and violent self-abusive episodes.  (When he was 6 and it was time for him to make his first communion at church, he hid under the pew and banged his head on the floor.) 

Angel has the most unusual disability...Dissociative Identity Disorder...(multiple personality disorder.)  This was caused by severe abuse during his early childhood.  It develops when the pain is so bad that the brain separates itself and creates an alternative personality that does not feel the pain.  It is a coping mechanism which shields the child from the abuse.  He came to live with us at the age of 3, again placed as a "normal, healthy child".  The first clue of the darkness within him came a few months after he came to live with us when he kicked me down the stairs when I was attempting to put him in a time out, and later completely denied he had done so.  He was officially diagnosed at age 6, which I understand is a very early age.  Since his diagnosis, he has been in intense therapy, and he is doing well.  He has accepted his "peeps", (as he calls his personalities,) and they have learned to work together.  (For instance, the peep that studies for the math test is the same peep who actually takes the test.)  He has done tremendously well in this area, but still does not know all of his parts, and similarly does not remember most of the abuse he suffered.

Marie came to live with us at the age of 7 as a child who is profoundly deaf.  Deaf I could deal with (I knew sign language,) but I was not at all prepared for her post traumatic stress disorder...again from severe abuse up to the age of 7.  If something reminds her of the abuse, she completely breaks down and kicks, bites, spits and crawls into a corner screaming with wild eyes, kind of like a version of the Exorcist.  The only way to get her to calm down is to call an ambulance, have her taken kicking and screaming to the hospital where she would be given a shot of a sedative.  When she would wake up from the sedative, she would have no memory of the episode.  The first time it happened it was frightening and horrible.  Although it has always been a horrible thing to witness, I learned not to be frightened, and that such trips to the hospital were going to be a normal thing for her.  I learned to pack a hospital bag with some bottles of water, a good book for me to read while she was sedated, and a set of playing cards so that when she came around we would have something to do. 

Having these children has not had a huge affect on my life.  I know it sounds odd for me to say that, but after we adjusted our life for Steven, it was normal to include the additional two.  We are not a family that liked to eat out or vacation in Disney World.  We have a small cottage in New Hampshire where we vacation and go on weekends  and it has been our place of relaxation. It is calm and quiet there, and the children have loved it.

Additionally,  I have had a wonderful job which has allowed me the time off any time I need it.  With such flexibility  to leave for an appointment or hospital run, raising these children has been easy. I love them to pieces, and accept their challenges as a part of who they are. 

3) How have you dealt with the way that strangers (or even friends and family) have viewed your family? Did you experience more love and support or more rejection and awkwardness from others throughout your family's journey?

This is an excellent question.  Our family has not always been the most supportive and friends have thought I was crazy.  The looks of strangers....well, I am lucky that I have a personality where I do not care what others think.  If I did care, I would have led a very unhappy life raising these kiddos.  Caring for children such as these is not for everyone...

4) How have techniques for parenting special-needs children changed over the years of your family's history?

I have learned to ease up on my standards.  My house is not immaculate.  Our meals may not always contain all the elements of the food pyramid.  I buy the same black socks for everyone because finding socks that match was too much of an issue.  (I know this may be an "ewwwwww" for some of you, but they ARE washed and clean...)

The one thing that has been consistent is that my husband and I always find time for each other.  My children have always gone into their bedrooms by 9:00.  If they were too old where that bedtime would be too early, they read or......gasp....watch television. (I know, highly not recommended, but it has kept my life sane.)  My husband and I also try to get away to New Hampshire by ourselves every few months.  Finding someone to watch the kids has been paramount for these weekends, and we have often had to pay three different people to watch them at their houses, (that is, splitting the kids up.)  It has been expensive, but not as expensive as a divorce would have been had we not worked on keeping our marriage a priority.

5) What have been your greatest joys in raising children with disabilities?
I LOVE kiddos.  As mentioned above, my house is not immaculate.  I HATE to clean.  I would much rather spend that time with a child, playing a game of Uno, baking a cake, watching Americas Funniest Home Videos, (a great tv show for a child who is deaf.) 

The greatest joy has been watching these kids survive and thrive.  My 4 youngest had awful prenatal and early childhood experiences.  Had it not been for being in an accepting family, I hate to think how they would have "turned out".  I take comfort in the fact that they are doing as well as possible and that I had something to do with that.  All four of them were slow to learn to love, and I would take great joy every time they would make a baby step towards demonstrating affection.  I can proudly say that all of them are now comfortable hugging, kissing, and saying "I love you!"  That is the most wonderful thing EVER!

I am extremely proud of my children because THEY all have compassion for individuals with disabilities and a passion for community service. Frances has traveled all over the country helping out with Habitat for Humanity.  Dinora has assisted with the opening of a soup kitchen in Guatemala. It is amazing to see Angel take the first step and use sign language to talk to an individual who is deaf in the community. (Our whole family "signs".)  Marie will go up to a little child with Down Syndrome and wave and smile.  Even Steven, who was obsessed with reptiles and worked at a reptile facility, would demonstrate extreme patience when a group of kiddos in wheelchairs would come in.  He would take their hands (after asking the parent, of course,) and put it gently on top of the reptile, assisting the student to explore the reptile safely.

I have been exceptionally lucky. I have had a wonderful, adventuresome life with a family I love and that I have loved raising.


If you would like to read more, please check out my e-book, The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane, available through I-Books, (I-Tunes), Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.

***

OK, that's the end of the interview. Thank you, Raising Five Kids with Disabilities, for joining us here on 20Stuff!

Blessings,
Ms. 20Stuff

Friday, November 2, 2012

Blog Interview!

Greetings from the 20Stuffers!

We have the opportunity today to exchange blog interviews with a fellow adoptive mom, who is the author of  Raising Five Kids with Disabilities, (RFKwD) which you may find at http://5kidswdisabilities.com/

RFKwD has an amazing story, as you can guess from her blog title. I have enjoyed reading her blog and getting to know her family a little better. I especially appreciated recent posts about her mother, her unusual brother, and her son who recently graduated with a PhD. 

I am still formulating my interview questions for her. Below are her questions for me:


1)  Could you please let the readers know your underlying reasons for wanting to adopt, and why you specifically chose China.

2)  How did you feel in that airport as you were waiting for your husband to get off the plane from China?

3)  Your children are amazed at the microwave and watch it go 'round and 'round.  What other American "inventions" have they found fascinating?

4)  You mentioned in your blog that while shopping, buying additional clothes was beyond your financial [capability] at the time.  I think one thing readers may  not realize, unless they have adopted themselves, that there is an enormous financial cost to adoption before you even start the financial cost of raising these kiddos who, in your case, have disabilities.  Could you expand generally on this?

5)  What things have you done with your family that have been the most fun and least stressful?

So let's just jump right in, feet first, and answer some questions!

1)  Could you please let the readers know your underlying reasons for wanting to adopt, and why you specifically chose China.

We weren't actually planning to adopt and didn't have either any noble or heartbreaking reasons for wanting to adopting. We had been students preparing for a future of teaching at a university level and were "too busy" for kids. But a lifelong friend of my parents who runs an orphanage in Taiwan knew we were nearing our forties and still childless, and he persuaded us that we should apply for adoption. We did not know at the time that this small, private, government-approved orphanage only accepts about one in every thirty applications, or we would probably have been far more intimidated about starting the process! But we did start, somewhat reluctantly, and we stated in our application that we would take a child "with problems." Apparently that willingness pushed us fairly high on the list, because only six months later and just two weeks after we'd moved to a different state for my husband to start his doctoral program, we received word about a five-week-old baby girl who was missing her left ear. We agreed to adopt her, then eagerly awaited photos! And less than six months later, just two days after Christmas (2007), we were in Taiwan and our precious little Pumpkin was in our arms.

We knew right away that we wanted a sibling for Pumpkin. I wanted a sister for her, but our orphanage director urged us to consider a boy, and I am so thankful he did. Two years later we were able to adopt ten-month-old Slick from this same orphanage, and he has been such a joy to us.

The first four or five months were not at all joyful to us, though -- we were completely unprepared for Pumpkin's over-the-top jealousy of Slick or for his waking up and crying once every two hours throughout the night. Crazy daughter during the day, crazy son during the night! It was a miserable time, and I felt that we had ruined our family by trying to have two children.

Just the same, in August of 2010, about five months after Slick came home, I happened to see two referral photos of Sunshine, a six-year-old girl with Cerebral Palsy in China,  on another adoptive mom's blog, along with Sunshine's story and a plea for someone to come forward and become this child's family. I couldn't help myself! I loved her and wanted to be her mother. I prayed for three months, and then at the end of October, my husband very unexpectedly said, "You know, our home study is going to expire -- we should look at some agencies if we want to adopt again." I told him about Sunshine, and we began her adoption the next day.

Then in August of 2011, our agency told us about Joy, a chronically ill 13-year-old girl about to "age out" of China's orphan care system in just four weeks. I said I would advocate for her online and did so on our blog and Facebook, but no one came forward for her, so I asked if we could adopt her. Mr. 20Stuff then conducted a Hague-convention adoption in just three weeks! Oh. My. Word. Adoption of a special needs international child usually takes about a year, but through God's mercy, the intervention of everyone from our adoption agencies to government offices on both sides of the water, and my husband's heroic efforts, that adoption was completed in three weeks. I am still amazed! And did I mentioned that God provided every last dollar needed for Joy's adoption? Even the airfare and hotel costs -- everything came in within three days.

Mr.20Stuff flew to China without knowing whether he was bringing home one daughter or two, but within just a few days,  we rejoiced to learn that we would be bringing home two daughters, Sunshine and Joy. But within four days, Joy had become very angry about the adoption (imagine your child at 14 being taken away from everything she had ever known and sent to live with strangers from a different race and language far away from her own country). She raged and grieved and dug in for what was clearly going to be years and years of anger. I have no doubt even now that she was fully prepared to hate us for years. But I could see that she responded well and immediately to a particular type of personality in the women we knew at church, school, and elsewhere, and I saw that she was very intelligent and could be relaxed and happy and even sweet-spirited. As our home life fell apart around her misery, I began to imagine a "second chance" for her, a home with a mom who had that particular personality type that was so able to connect with Joy. Through one of our blog readers, God provided a second family for her after seven months in our home. She is now doing very well in her new home, and our younger three children are relaxing and returning to their "real" selves in her absence.

That's our adoption story in a nutshell. :-) We do hope to adopt one or maybe two more, another boy and maybe a girl, but for now we are recovering from Joy's time in our home and are content with just three children.

2)  How did you feel in that airport as you were waiting for your husband to get off the plane from China?

I felt quite apprehensive, because at that point I was well aware that Joy was bitterly unhappy about her adoption, and I wondered what on earth we were doing to our family. Still, I was convinced that this adoption was God's will -- He had shown us in multiple ways -- and I still believe that. Joy's second family could not have adopted her when she was in China and "aging out," but they could adopt her once she arrived and had received citizenship and so forth. They are very, very clearly the right family for her. Of that I have no doubt at all. She has been in her new family for five or six months, now, and is happy and learning to be loved.

3)  Your children are amazed at the microwave and watch it go 'round and 'round.  What other American "inventions" have they found fascinating?

Yes, that was such a funny thing. Both Joy and Sunshine would stand and watch the microwave table turn. And it was through the microwave that we began to get a sense for Sunshine's enthusiastic response to life. One day as I was setting the dining room table, I heard our little Sunshine shouting as she stood by the microwave, "Mommy! Mommy! Hot dog -- BOOM!" She didn't know how else to tell me that the hot dog had exploded in the microwave.

I think what has most amazed Sunshine has been the water park at the zoo. I have never seen a more grateful child in my life. She was utterly thrilled and thanked us over and over again for taking her.

4)  You mentioned in your blog that while shopping, buying additional clothes was beyond your financial [capability] at the time.  I think one thing readers may  not realize, unless they have adopted themselves, that there is an enormous financial cost to adoption before you even start the financial cost of raising these kiddos who, in your case, have disabilities.  Could you expand generally on this?

Yes, good grief! The "start up" costs for bringing in an older child are every bit as expensive as bringing in an infant: bed, bedding, dresser, clothing, shoes, books, toys, backpacks, etc., etc., etc.. In Joy and Sunshine's first seven months with us, we spent about $10,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses. Each girl had nearly two dozen medical appointments a piece, which included specialists of various kinds and a surgery for each of them. We were living on a single income, just my salary as a full-time lecturer at a university while my husband worked on his doctoral program (he's in the dissertation phase), and we hadn't done any fund-raising for the after-adoption expenses (very few families do), so it has been a tough year financially. Yes, adoptive families do struggle with the after-adoption expenses.

5)  What things have you done with your family that have been the most fun and least stressful?

Our children have especially enjoyed activities that we do together: taking walks, craft-time, going to the library, and so forth. This summer after Joy left, we were able to take Pumpkin, Slick, and Sunshine to the zoo and the water park on two occasions and this fall to a children's museum, and they were thrilled with everything. They do have some physical, emotional, and behavioral challenges: cerebral palsy, severe astigmatism, hearing loss, Fetal Alcohol Effects, low muscle tone, poor articulation of speech, anxious attachment, sensory integration issues, etc., so time away from home can be challenging for them and for us. We are also unemployed right now while Mr. 20Stuff is working on his dissertation and I am staying home with our son, so family entertainment that requires admission fees or so forth can be a stretch for us. But God has provided for us, and we enjoy taking the kids places that delight and stimulate them.

Thank you, 5kidswithdisabilities, for interviewing us here at 20Stuff! We have not ever told our full story here on this blog, so it was fun to attempt to "write it in a nutshell."

Your story is fascinating and amazing, and I am glad that we have had the opportunity to  meet up with you through this "adoptive parenting" blog match.

Blessings from the 20Stuffers!

--Ms. 20Stuff













Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sensory Processing or Integration in Children and Adults

Greetings from the 20 Stuffers!

You might be wondering about the title of this blog -- it comes from my foggy brain attempting to explain to my husband that I had moved 20 items at a friend's house as she was packing up to move, but I couldn't think of the right words, so in my tired state I said that I had moved twenty stuff. Mr. 20Stuff loved that and named his blog after it, then asked me and my foggy brain to take over the blog.

My brain sometimes has difficulty organizing all the sensory information it receives during the day. For instance, if I think I smell something burning, I have to turn off the radio in order to "smell" the smell and think about what is happening. My brain cannot organize both the smell and the noise at the same time.

At this moment, I am aware of the sounds of the clicking of the keys on my keyboard, the vibration on the wooden desk each time I make a key stroke, the space heater motor running beside me, two clocks ticking in this and a nearby room, and vehicle engines running on the main street about four blocks away. If I turn off the heater, I am instantly soothed, but then I become aware of the hum of the refrigerator and the very slight "thinking" sounds made by my computer tower. My left ear is mildly plugged from a recent cold, and I am aware of the difference in the way my two ears are receiving sound. AND ALL OF THIS DRIVES ME CRAZY. And there aren't even any children in the room. :-) There is no TV playing, there are no children fussing, there is no sweet husband in the room asking questions. It's just me and all these ridiculously loud objects ticking and humming and rumbling away.

Researchers refer to these noise issues collectively as being "audio defensive." Please don't ask me which researchers -- I couldn't tell you. :-)

I have similar issues with touch. My poor little brain can only organize so much "touch" information at a time. I am "tactile defensive."

Our brains are designed to organize the hundreds of thousands of pieces of sensory information that come our way each hour of the day. When we cannot, we are said to have sensory integration issues or sensory processing issues, and for some people, this disorganization is at the point of being called Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or Sensory Integration Disorder (SID).

Researchers have focused more on these issues in children, since by adulthood most of us with these issues have learned to cope in one way or another, even though our lives are less successful than they might have been without these challenges, or at the least we have had to "work harder than other people" to achieve our accomplishments.

Sensory integration issues can happen in any one, in any person's brain, but seem to be predominate in people who have experienced some kind of trauma (neglect, abuse, abandonment, malnourishment, disease, accident, etc.) in early childhood, so they are more common in adopted or fostered children than in the so-called "general population." Consequently we adoptive parents tend to talk frequently about sensory integration -- we can easily watch the effects of sensory integration difficulties in our children.

Recently I read somewhere, maybe in a Jean Ayers book, a description of what it is like for a child with sensory integration issues to, say, take a test in class. Imagine for a moment that you are delivering packages in an unfamiliar building, when suddenly the electricity goes off, sirens begin to blare, thick smoke fills the air, and cold water shoots from the fire prevention system above. You might be able to find your way to your destination (or to an exit door!), but all your senses are bombarded with extra information that you must process in addition to finding your way while carrying and protecting these packages. A child with sensory integration issues has one or more senses that have been bombarded during his school day, and now he must find his way through this test while attempting to navigate the senses. Depending on what his senosory issues are, his experience of the test might feel to him like the equivalent of being unexpectedly surrounded by thick smoke or trapped in a dark room or feeling cold water suddenly splash across his skin or having sirens blaring in his ears. His brain struggles to organize all the information. And his teacher, friends, or parents decide that he is "slow," because he cannot pass the test even though he knew the information.

Our oldest daughter has cerebral palsy, and we can observe her struggles in coping with the sensory information that bombards her each day. Not long ago I made friends with an occupational therapist (OT) who has three adopted children of her own, and she is particularly aware of the needs of children like our oldest daughter and offered to evaluate and treat her for free during this time in which we are unemployed and don't have insurance. While speaking with her about Sunshine, I began to talk about our middle daughter, Pumpkin, and the many issues she has physically and emotionally in any given day. My OT friend spent three hours visiting with me, asking questions. At the end of the visit (and after having observed my children during those three hours), she said that Sunshine's issues are actually quite straight-forward and very clinical, but that Pumpkin's are far more complex. Just the same, she is confident that several years of OT can make a big difference in both girls' lives.

Thinking about my girls' issues led me to investigate a bit of information about my own issues. I found an online self-evaluation with 70 or 80 questions regarding sensory integration and followed through with it. The evaluation calls for the participant to weight her responses from zero to five, with five being the "worst", regarding various sensory-related questions/issues such as, "The ticking of a clock or droning of a machine can be almost unbearable." I wrote a "4" on more than half the questions, while my husband found that fewer than a dozen of the questions applied to him in any way, and even those he felt were "coincidental" and not a "pattern". My responses definitely fit a pattern -- I am audio and tactile defensive.

There are seven (some people say eight) senses. The first five we are taught about in elementary school: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Two more include the vestibular -- our sense of our physical presence in space (i.e., where our hand is in relation to a nearby hot stove),  and proprioceptive -- our sense of movement within space (i.e., whether we're upside down or right side up, spinning on a swing or standing still in a crowded amusement park line).  I do not remember what the eighth sense is that people have suggested -- maybe it's the nearly mystical "sixth sense" that was suggested in a thriller movie a few years ago about a boy who sensed the presence of dead people. :-)

If we are not "neurotypical" like my husband who does not have these issues, we can be either hyper- or hypo-sensitive to sensory information, or a frequently changing combination of both. For instance, if we are lacking in sensitivity to touch, as one of my daughters is, we might be continually craving and seeking out more touch, bumping into people, pulling and tugging on people, unable to judge when we have done so too much or too little.

Well, my brain is rapidly shutting down for the evening, so I am going to gracelessly close this post without segue to a tidy conclusion -- or without editing. I just wanted to discuss these rambling thoughts before they leaked out and away from me.

Blessings,
Ms. 20 Stuff






Thursday, October 11, 2012

Abby does NOT have cancer!

Happy news!

Several months ago I posted about Abby, a little girl newly arrived in the States from China, who was thought to have cancer, but today she has received a new diagnosis, and it is NOT cancer. Her adoptive family is overjoyed for her, though the new diagnosis does come with many other facets to consider.

To read more, please follow this link:
http://theresnoplacelikehome-family.blogspot.com/2012/10/absolutely-amazing-and-praising-him.html

You may have to cut and paste -- I have been unable to create a live link so far.

Blessings,
Ms. 20stuff