It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a married man in possession of a goodly number of children (not to mention lamentable fortune) must be in want of additional Chinese daughters. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be, this truth is so well fixed in the mind of his bride, that he is considered as the rightful property of said daughters before his befuddled brain can evoke so much as a peep of agreement or protest.
Guest blogger, Rob, here. Kate has been after me for a long time to write a blog post, so here goes (I told her she may regret encouraging me)…
A lot has happened since our return home with the girls in December, so I’ll focus on the high points (i.e., a smorgasbord of random memories that rush upon my nonlinear thought process). Louisa is making fine progress in her English reading skills and was practicing for me one evening recently. It was a little humorous to have Andrew, our second-born who has struggled the most with reading, correcting her pronunciation. She is very bright, proud of each new accomplishment, and eager to demonstrate her skills to an interested father. Louisa and Claire are in fifth grade at Burruss Elementary School. Louisa was a little uncertain about school at first, but has since warmed up to her prospects of one day ruling the world through the knowledge gained at Burruss. Claire, alternatively, has been quite happy about the arrangement at Burruss from the get-go. They both like PE class the best, which I find amusing for some reason. Let’s just say I’d like to be a fly on the wall to see how it all goes down. We hear that Claire is an endless source of humor for her teachers and classmates. Their very sweet teacher has remarked that teaching them has been one of the highlights of her career.
I often wonder, with each new thing the girls experience, what they would have been doing within the gated confines of the orphanage in Hefei had we not adopted them. Getting pressure sores bandaged at the orphanage clinic versus getting an MRI at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta with daddy. Watching the television in the common area at the orphanage versus watching their brothers race pinewood derby cars. Weekend garment washing with friends in Hefei versus spreading pinestraw with daddy and siblings in Marietta. I’m not making a value judgment (i.e., everything is better here); I’m just fascinated by the dramatic difference in their daily experience. Perhaps it’s the context of family that makes all of these new activities more meaningful.
Kate and I took all the kids along with my brother, Shane, and his family to Six Flags on a recent Saturday. Rollercoasters have a unique way of erasing the physical differences among all types of people (well…at least for those who are allowed to actually ride). Big, small, strong, weak…get on, and you’re at the mercy of the engineers who designed the thing. When Louisa was riding the Batman rollercoaster along with brother Joshua and cousin Evan, I couldn’t help but think that her paralyzed little legs were no disadvantage on the twisting, spinning, looping giant.
I am discovering, as the father of a daughter with a physical handicap (Louisa has spina bifida), that I am very thankful when she is able to fully participate in activities. There have been a few episodes when it was suggested to me that she might not be able fully participate in something. I confess that in these types of situations, I start to feel my inner John Locke (from Lost) coming out: “Don’t tell me what she can and can’t do!” But mostly, everyone has been accommodating. For example, we don’t have an elevator in our church building, so the children’s minister started walking all the kids outside the building on the sidewalk to the lower level instead of simply going down the stairs inside. She noticed that Louisa had to go around outside while the other kids went down the steps when transitioning from the worship service to the youth program. Thank you, Donna, and everyone else who has gone out of the way to make Louisa feel like a “normal” eleven year old girl.
Louisa shared with me a page out of her diary (translated by my Chinese coworker):
“August 5th, 2013, Monday, Sunny
My dream is to be a nurse when I grow up. Since I was very weak when I was born, I was very easy to get a cold or a fever. So I want to be a nurse when I grow up, to be there and help others when they get sick.
I know it requires very hard work to be a nurse. I know they have to stay up all night to take care of patients until the next morning. But I’m not afraid, and that’s what I want.
I hope my dream can become true, I know I have to get a medical degree in order to be a nurse, and I will work very hard to make it happen.”
I’m so glad that she lives in a country where achieving her dream is a possibility for her.
While I’m not sure about Claire’s dream, it may have something to do with sparkling jewelry and/or noodles. We knew going into the adoption that Claire has hydrocephalus and we now suspect that she has mosaic down syndrome. Even if she doesn’t (we’re currently waiting on results from a chromosome analysis), it’s a helpful lens through which to view her mental disability. Moreover, she has very poor eyesight and depth perception. When I took her prescription to the Costco vision center, they said that they had never seen a prescription so powerful and that their lab couldn’t cut lenses that thick! According to the girls, Claire didn’t even get glasses until the spring of last year. I suspect it was because the orphanage found out that this “unadoptable” girl actually had a family, so they decided it was time for her to see.
As a result, she holds everything about one inch from her face and is utterly mesmerized by sparkling jewelry. At church one Sunday, while everyone else was singing, Kate and I noticed that Claire was staring at the bracelets we gave her. Looking…looking…twisting the wrist drawn closely to her face and looking some more. It’s quite hilarious to us, but pure delight to her.
As for noodles, even from our time in China it was evident that the girls had a love for Chinese cuisine, and that we would have to accommodate their tastes. However, Louisa was slightly more adventurous and wanted to try pizza, burgers, Mexican food, sandwiches, etc. Claire wanted noodles. After we arrived home, the girls had an opportunity to share important thoughts with Kate via an interpreter, and the thing they wanted to communicate the most was that Claire didn’t like pizza.
Fast forward three months and now Claire begs for, you got it, pizza. She still wants noodles with everything—cereal and noodles, fruit and noodles, ice cream and noodles. Apparently, noodles are the perfect way to top off any meal. But, it’s much easier now that we don’t have to make a Chinese option and an “American” option for every meal.
Needless to say, everything was more difficult at first. The girls may have thought that they were getting wish-granting genies, not parents; we may have thought that we were getting two grateful, well-adjusted angels, not emotionally and socially underdeveloped, hormonal preteens. It probably didn’t help matters to arrive home at Christmas. After opening presents on Christmas morning, the girls were wondering why they “got so little.” If we could speak Chinese, we would have asked, “In comparison to the haul you raked in every year at the annual orphanage Christmas party?” I’m sure that the experience was confusing and overwhelming to them; nevertheless, complaints are a difficult thing for a parent to hear on Christmas morning. I think that everyone’s expectations have since normalized tremendously. The girls seem much happier and we are much saner.
In drawing to a close, allow me to brag on my excellent wife, who is still standing after bringing four wild and wonderful biological children into the world (as Janet King says, at least they’re not wild and hideously ugly!) and emotionally birthing two more right into our midst. In many ways, the emotional ups and downs of pregnancy, infant care, and reorganizing a family’s world to accommodate a newborn biological child are mirrored in the adoption process. While I think it’s safe to say that we’re still smoothing out the kinks, we can also say that we are glad that the Lord has brought us to this place with four more squinty, smiling eyes looking at us in wonder and bewilderment. But, how about the vision, perseverance, and sacrifice of a mother who sensed the Lord calling her and her family to abandonment of (relative) normalcy to bring two orphan girls into a loving family?
In the words of Martin Luther, “Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend–it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own comprehension, and I will help you to comprehend even as I do. Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours. Thus Abraham went forth from his father and not knowing whither he went. He trusted himself to my knowledge, and cared not for his own, and thus he took the right road and came to his journey’s end. Behold, that is the way of the cross. You cannot find it yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man. Wherefore it is not you, no man, no living creature, but I myself, who instruct you by my word and Spirit in the way you should go. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is clean contrary to all that you choose or contrive or desire–that is the road you must take. To that I call you and in that you must be my disciple.”
Happy on a swing with a friend!