Two China Dolls and a Prince!

This blog chronicles the story of 2 of our adoptions, both older children when they came home. It begins in 2008 and will continue in the hopes we can be of encouragement and information to anyone thinking of older child adoption.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Endings and Beginnings

As I write this, James, our only biological son, is 3 days away from graduating from high school.  I think back to almost 18 years ago when we first moved to where we live, and what has transpired in our lives since.  James was not even a year old, just beginning to walk when we moved into our home.  It's the only home he remembers.  That is significant because when I was a child, we moved ALL the time.  Between the ages of 10 and 18, we moved every single year.  For a shy kid like me, that was an excuse to blend into the woodwork and just get through until the next move.  Forget making friends, joining clubs, sports, etc......what was the point, I thought.

So I made the vow when I had children, once they were in school, would never move.  They would have the advantage of growing up with the same kids, having "roots", a place to call home even if they were exploring the world.

To say James is happy is an understatement.  Just last night, he told me this last year was his best, between basketball and going to State, and having his wonderful girlfriend of seven months.  And then in August, my baby boy will go off to the Navy to begin his next great adventure.  I am both thrilled and anxious for him, scared and proud, and extremely happy that he'll be engaged in such a worthy start to his amazing future.  We are proud that he is going to serve his country and follow in the footsteps of his Grandpa.

Now since this blog focuses on adoption and these last three years, on teen adoption specifically, James' graduation, while closing a chapter of his life, marks the beginning of a new and more intense battle for ME.  No, we aren't adopting (have learned our limits the hard way), no exchange student next year, so things should calm down, right?  No.....because the real battle ahead is the one for NingNing's future and part of that battle is with NingNing himself.  He is almost 17 years old and LIGHT years away from being able to live independently in our society.  He is not alone; there are many, many older children like him who have come from China with no thoughts of a future or how to get there.  I've tussled with our school district for three years to get services for Ning that he needs to succeed at even the most basic level.  This last year was probably the best in terms of actual academic progress.  Yet he is still being allowed to "fail" some classes (his online ones), but will still be passed on to 11th grade.  This is most public schools' answer to the difficult-to-teach, non-traditional student.  Give 'em what the law requires without spending too much time or money and get 'em out seems to be the mantra.  What makes this battle even more difficult is that Ning has realized that no matter what he does, as long as he shows a little bit of effort (not a lot, mind you), he will get by, much as he did in China.  He abhors school and education; sees no value in it.  He attends only because he doesn't have the option of staying home.  He even at one point told his ESL teacher he didn't have to take finals because "it's me!".  He believes everything he is being taught or has learned is useless, so useless in fact, he commits nothing to memory.  His mind is like a sieve through which all things flow away.  He claims no memory of his life in China, significant events in his life here, or even his own address and phone number.

The difficulty that lays before me is not in getting him to graduation, our school will see to it that he does, no matter what.  He'll have about a fifth grade reading level (maybe), but that will be of no concern to the school; their "job" will be done.  Then it's up to us to figure out how to launch a functionally illiterate 19-year old as a productive member of society, but who has no desire to become something more, no desire to use the tools now before him to give himself the best chance, who deems even his past tutors' teachings as "not important".  We simply continue to pray that sometime, somehow, something will click, something will take hold, and spur him to the accomplishments we know he is capable of.

My point in this post is not to point out our son's faults or be purposely negative.  It's just the TRUTH, harsh and unglamorous as it may be.  This is our life and our battle.  No sugar-coating, no embellishments, no cutesy blog post on home redecorating, kids' awards, warm fuzzies, etc.  Whether our son gained his traits biologically or environmentally, what happens now is his choice.  We have tried to encourage, cajole, reward, support, and love to no avail.  Love is NOT enough (I naively thought the love of a good family could overcome a lot).  I'm not the only adoptive mom with this battle either.  I'm writing to educate those newly home, those still waiting, and those thinking about it.  If you are lucky enough to adopt a child who loves to learn, likes school, and sees value in education, your particular battle will be that much easier.  Your main battle will be with your school (unless you're homeschooling) and getting your child the education they need and deserve.  But alas, if your child is like ours, and whatever circumstances have led them to see school as mine does, ah, then your battle may become one of epic proportion.  If you are reading this and are getting scared, GOOD for you!  Be scared, BUT be prepared.  Gird your loins, hoist up your suspenders, dig in, and get ready for the ride.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Here I am, back again with another 3 month update.  As usual, our lives run at full tilt with nary a slowdown.  My attempts at keeping things short and sweet have not always been accomplished but I'll try :).
Jessica - Jessica is 20!  Can you believe it?!  She will graduate from her community college in May with an Associates in Applied Science and is coming back home to attend our local college to finish her degree in Biology (her choice so far).  As James will be off the Navy, this will work out well :)  She has a very nice boyfriend of more than a year, and we expect certain "announcements" at some point.  But Jessica, (who apparently does listen to me sometimes), says she will get her degree before settling down, as I did.  He makes her happy, and loves her for who she is, and isn't that the best thing of all?
Jessica and Joy have become close as well, which is great.....Jessica loves having a "sister" close to her own age.  I don't have a lot of pictures of her because she rarely comes home and she spent Christmas with her boyfriend's family this year, her first away from home.  I guess I have to get used to that, as we don't know if James will be with us either next year (sigh).

James - our oldest, a senior this year of course.  In the throes of basketball, aiming for state.  He is, as of tonight, 204 points away from making the goal of 1000 points, which puts him "on the wall" of our school.  But the main thing is going to state if they can and working together towards that goal.  The big news for James is in November, he signed up for the Navy, following in his grandpa's footsteps.  We are so proud he chose to serve his country! He will graduate on May 15 and ship out to boot camp August 11; I know already I will miss the great discussions and debates he and I have.
Warming up before a game

From 3 to 17 - my, how they change
Our Navy man
Joy - our lovely Chinese exchange student.  She is sweet, intelligent, definitely has her own ideas about the way things shoud be, and is somewhat unorthodox in her approach to learning, and ADORES music and art.  She excels at the piano.  Coming from a traditional "teach to the test" format in China, she is non-typical in that she believes that true learning cannot really take place if children are only taught to regurgitate material in a test format.  Chinese students are steered from an early age towards the gaokao, the all-important college entrance exam.  Stories abound on how students spend their lives preparing, the hours of study, and the ultimate prize of a good score, thus entrance into a good college.  In China also, so Joy tells us, one must choose their field of study upon entering university and cannot change once begun.  Joy decided not to enter college this year as she would have in China, but instead to challenge herself by coming to America and experiencing a complete culture change.  Let's just say the complete culture change is definite!  She loves some aspects of America (she loves Casey's pizza!), us, and the people she's met.  She has also found some that our own public school system is not so very much different...our teachers do not really have time to sit and discourse over art and music and other abstract interests, and our students as well are often "taught to the test", ending in an overall pigeon-holing by state-mandated testing each year. 
She is also learning going from being an only child to living in a large family, respecting others' space, working around others' schedules, sharing parental time with other siblings, have their own challenges.  She hopes to return next fall to attend college in the states and she hopes to come "home" for the holidays :)  She REALLY loved Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Picking apples at Grandpas

Halloween - meet "Cowboy Joe"
Basketball! - never played...ever
Jaxon - though yes, we still mostly use NingNing, though I often think it's time to switch to encourage him in embracing life here.  What do I say about my quiet, timid, introverted, scared-of-life, "I don't care", full-of-general attitude, son?  Learning English continues to be a source of contention for him and one he's not inclined to rush.  This summer he did finally begin speaking in sentences and responding to people in short and simple conversation.  That has been helpful in everyday life, the basics of figuring out his needs and wants.....but figuring out his soul....what makes him tick, what excites him (nothing so far), what and who he really is....he still keeps all that wrapped tightly inside, sharing nothing of his thoughts, questions, concerns, ideas, or his previous life.  In fact, he claims no memory at all of his life in China.  I find this impossible to believe, but perhaps there are memories, both good and bad, that evoke emotions he can't handle.  Perhaps he still misses his carefree life in China with no rules, free to goof-off in school, run around, etc. Or perhaps the memories are not happy ones and he'd rather just forget.  I am coming to expect and sadly accept we may never know.  Ning was doing some Taekwondo, but after some difficulties in late October, we took him out.  He wasn't liking it anyway due to a new teacher who wasn't as easygoing as the first one (he wanted Ning to be respectful in class; can you imagine the gall??!!).  He claims he is going to play baseball which begins in late February, but truthfully, I think it's because he knows if he doesn't do something, we will be insisting on him getting a job.  Time to start saving money for either college or an apartment of his own at some point.  He did get selected for our school's National Honor Society as an "honorary" member, in the hopes it would encourage him to become more involved.
As far as the family goes, he tolerates us, but does not love us; having never experienced our American style family type of love, it is not something that comes naturally to him.  If I were to put our family in order of his preference, I believe it would go like this: Jazmin, James, Dad, Joy (maybe Joy first because she speaks Chinese!), Judi, Jessica, and me at the bottom.  I am the "pusher', the one who asks for something from him, expects some level of participation in the family, makes and enforces most of the rules for the sake of peace, therefore, I am the least favorite.  Yet I am also the only one who can help with school, makes special food, does the doctor/dentist stuff, yada, yada, get the picture.  If I stop (if I have the audacity to get sick, for example), it ALL stops. 
There is one piece of progress I think is important.  When we go places he doesn't want to go, he will text me now if he wants or needs something.  It's always short conversations and basic English, but he always uses the proper grammar and I like to think it helps his reading, as well as give us ANY type of connection, no matter how tenuous.  He knows if he's home alone, I will be checking in and he BETTER text me back or there will be no more staying home alone!
School is plugging along; it will continue to be an uphill battle until graduation at some point.  He is doing a new program this year that allows him to translate into Chinese, affording him some measure of grade-appropriate learning. However, he is very unmotivated to excel in his academics, so future options are on our radar now that he's over 16.
NHS pinning by big brother

Beautiful crew (except for that weird lady above Jessica photo-bombing the picture, lol)
Jazmin and Judi - ah, our precious girls.  They light up our life with their unadulterated joy and happiness about everything!  They constantly tell us how much they love us, generously dole out hugs and cuddles, and are true sisters in every sense of the word.  Both girls are involved in dance and basketball this year again, and Jazmin in softball again soon.  With James AND Joy also in high school basketball, we just need to buy an RV to park wherever the games are!  Jazmin is a very goal-oriented, focused person.  She already has her dream, to be a pediatrician, and maintains straight As along with all her activities.  She started sixth grade this year; she was a little nervous, but quickly settled in as usual...she is very interested in student council and wants to be secretary!  Her absolute favorite shopping destination?  Office Depot, of course!  And this year, on November 15, we celebrated 10 years of joy on her Gotcha Day.
Then there is our firecracker, Judi, almost 10 years old.  We will celebrate her 5-year Gotcha Day on March 1, 2015.  It escapes me where the time went!  Judi is in 4th grade now and excelling as well.  She is a little less enthusiastic about studying than Jazmin, but still does ok :)  She is our "techhie".  Give the girl an electronic; she's got it all figured out in minutes.  But all good things in moderation, which she discovers when the electronics are overdone.  She tends to be blunt, and say exactly what is on her mind, sometimes to the detriment of a relationship.  As in her and Ning.  Sadly to me, she has pretty much accepted that she is not Ning's favorite person, and at first it really bothered her.  But now she is more calm about it, more matter-of-fact, secure in the knowledge that she loves him and to her, that's all that matters.  She has a huge, sensitive heart really and asks questions that wouldn't often occur even to a grownup.  She talks about China often and her memories and both girls love to hear the stories of their adoption days.

Christmas pajamas


The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker - she was a boy!
And last, but not least, Mom and Dad.  We work, come home, change clothes, run to ball games, dance, doctors' visits, help with homework, watch movies with the kids, play, laugh, then go to bed, and do it all over again.  My work has become much more stressful, so coming home to cries of "Mommy!" (the girls, NOT the boys, lol) is such a blessing.  Jr attempted a new job during the summer, making a much higher income, but wound up working so many hours we never saw him.  It wasn't worth it, so when his old boss called him asking him to come back, he did.  He didn't want to miss all the things going on just this year alone with basketball, softball, coaching, senior years, graduations, vacations, and just plain spending time together.  We were glad to have him back!  I have made some peace with the state of my relationship with Ning.  I went through some very low times a few months ago,  not being able to understand why he didn't want a relationship with me when I tried so hard and felt I was giving so much, while he gave nothing in return.  Finally, I realized I was trying TOO hard and I just had to let it be.  HE had to want to change, to be loved, to love in return, to want a mama who cared and until that change happened, all I could do was keep on keeping on, one foot in front of the other, doing those things that a mama does because that's just what mamas do.  I did stop making him the center of my attention, thoughts, dreams, and shifted my focus to other areas, like, oh yeah, my four other kids!  He is better with Jr because he is just one goofy guy and messes with Ning in fun.

I think that's it in a nutshell (ok, a big one).  There is so much more I could write, especially about NingNing and me, what I wish for him, what I wish could be....but it would be a book.  Suffice it to say I pray for the health and happiness of all my kids every night, but add in a special aside just for him :).
Stay safe and happy until next time!