School is Hard

School is not one of J’s favorite activities.

In fact, he hates it.

And it turns out that his decision to come here was largely motivated by a promise someone made him that if he stayed in China, he’d have to go to a harder school, but if he came with us to America, he wouldn’t have to go to school at all.

So, as we’ve started up homeschooling, there’s been a lot of resistance–some of it active resistance.  We’re trying to make it as fun as we can (I’ll try to insert zoo trip photos here when I can), but as his parents, we’re both legally and morally obligated to ensure that a certain amount of learning happens each day. And in a home schooling environment, we’re uniquely positioned to do that.

Tuesday was a particularly bad day.  Since the first two days of schooling (last week) had not gone well, I enlisted the help of a CCAI translator to talk about what needed to happen, and that conversation got J. worked up enough that he spiraled out of control.  It wasn’t as bad as the time a couple of weeks ago that he spun out, however.  (And it was the first time since the tablet incident that he hadn’t been able to calm himself either with or without our help.) Fortunately, we saw our counselor on Wednesday, and things have gone a bit better since.

Even so, The strain is showing with B and K–and the adults in the house (including my mom), and we need to figure out how to get everybody some extra love and attention.

We seem to be doing a bit better, but we still have a long ways to go.

Reinforcements Have Arrived

IMG_20160903_152623_418This week has gone much better than last, though there have still been some rough moments.

Still, we’ve been able to spend good time together riding bikes, shopping (yes, we’ve made it out of the house–on an almost daily basis), swimming, gardening and cooking. We’ve been eating family dinners together. Sometimes J is willing for a parent to hold his hand or touch his shoulder. He’s been semi-cooperative about bedtime at least half of the nights. He has been playing Connect Four with B and K and Quirkle with the grown ups, one of whom is my mom, who came in from Ohio to help us out for a bit.

We hadn’t thought we’d need her since our new child isn’t a baby. Obviously we were wrong. It is always good to have her here, but this time it has been especially helpful–we have needed the extra prayer, the moral support, the extra hands helping with housework, and the extra adult to care when more than one child is in distress. B and K are finding this transition rough, just as the rest of us are.

This week, we had one night with lots of struggle around going to bed, but the big struggle has been school. Pray that we’ll be able to find what works best for J, and that he would quickly come to enjoy school rather than see it as a punishment.

What a Week

It started last week with our young man getting noisy, being tossed from church (big misunderstanding there), and walking himself home in a towering rage. In the middle, we had tantrums about all manner of things, but most notably bedtime, the fire in the backyard fire-pit, and siblings making too much noise in the house (as in any at all).

A low point came on Wednesday afternoon when things got so bad that somebody called the cops, and we had to have a trip to the ER for a mental health evaluation. That was scary for all of us, J most of all.

The next day, Craig and I decided we had to start imposing more structure in our lives than we had been using, and J’s initial reaction to that was the angry destruction of the tablet he’s been using as well as a significant portion of our bathroom (fortunately nothing that required calling in a plumber).

After two such awful days, we weren’t sure what would happen next, but we took our social worker’s advice and asked friends to help us clean up our house. We also stuck to the firmer rules. And for a couple of days, we’ve had some down moments, but also a fair number of opportunities to interact and do things together. Tonight, for the second night in a row, J has slept in his own room with hardly any fuss at bedtime at all.

Ben with his complete harp-seal collection. (The biggest was a new birthday addition.)

Today, B had a few friends over to celebrate his birthday, and though the cake-decorating activity didn’t work out the way J liked, and the noise clearly bothered him, he kept himself under control. We went to a quiet place to work on some Lego building for a while, and when that still didn’t seem to be keeping him far enough away from the party chaos, J, K, and I took the dog on a walk. When we returned, we had supper. After the guests left, I cleaned up from the party, and J helped with some of that. Then K asked him to help her with a Lego project, and that seemed to erase much of his bad mood.

Though I wasn’t able to be there for much of it, B seems to have enjoyed his party. We all still feel strung out and a bit exhausted, but we’re doing better than I dared hope a few days ago.  J even had some fun with the neighbor late in the week:


I don’t think we could have made it through this week without great help from a number of people: Lila Bauman, Rainey Hall, Jill Flateland, Bonnie Deener, Victoria Smatla, Joshua Zhong, Sheila King, Aunt Dottie and Uncle Dave, & Steve and Cathy Byers, thank you, thank you, thank you. You all are amazing. We’re so blessed to have all of you in our life. And blessed as well by so many others who have helped and called and prayed (and sent gifts or spent time with us) over the past few weeks. Thank you all. You are helping so much more than you know. Love you bunches.

Pictures coming when I have time to get them off phones and onto the computer..

Two steps forward . . . or was it back?

It has been a bit of a hard week. The younger two kids started school, and since (among other things) we were having a very hard time with bedtimes, we decided to make a switch in room arrangements. That got J very upset, and there was one night that he shouted and pounded and threw things for several hours before finally settling. Every night since has been a struggle (and he is yet unwilling to sleep in the new room). That means everybody at our house is short sleep, and there’s a certain amount of crankiness going on.

On the other hand, we’ve managed to get out of the house a couple of times for short bike trips (J initiated two of them). We’ve done some side-by-side meal preparation. We’ve been enjoying playing with the dog (and have been working on being gentle and talking kindly). We had another backyard fire in the fire pit. J has made a space for himself in our living room (putting up shelves and an arrangement with chains to corral electronics cords), so at least when he camps out, he’s in the midst of us. There have been at least a couple of positive connections with him every day.

B and K have each had their struggles as well, but I think school starting has been a good thing for them. We’ve also been working on getting a little individual time with each of them, and it has been nice to connect with all of our kids.

So, we’re still hanging in there. Sometimes it feels like we’re hanging by our fingernails, but we’re hanging in there.

Food, Fires, and Fences

IMG_20160807_203421_560It has been a long, hard week, but I think it was still much better than last week.  We’ve managed to connect with J over several activities, and that has been good.

Food continues to be an issue, but J likes to experiment in the kitchen, and we’ve connected over making popcorn (he’s going to keep trying sweetened/caramel varieties until he gets one to work, I think).

IMG_20160807_204753_661Turns out J loves setting up fires in the firepit.  He’s good at it, too.  Roasted marshmallows are the first truly American food he seems to love.  We’re only doing fires on weekends when it’s not raining (and we had a bit of a sulk when we wouldn’t let him start a fire in a shallow hole in the ground instead of in the fire pit), but on the whole backyard campfires have been a good thing.  Maybe camping together as a family is in our future after all.  (We may try backyard tent camping here soon as a trial run).

We had a bit of a downturn on Thursday when it came time to visit the school.  We actually went, which was a good thing, but it was very clear that he felt traumatized by being there, and the school recommended we try home-school until he’s more willing to attend class.  I’m not totally excited about going back into home-schooling, but that’s my problem, not J’s.  We always knew it might be a possibility.

Friday, our neighbor rented a cherry-picker and helped us take down the dead tree in our front yard.  This made a ton of noise and was hard for J, but he lived with it when we explained that in this part of the world, especially in the winter, the wind gets very strong, and could easily knock the tree down on our house.  He was surprised we took the tree all the way to the ground, but approved when we explained that we wanted to grind out the roots and plant a different tree in the spring.  Jon (the neighbor helping us) was super understanding of the entire situation, and he and Marlena even brought a mechanical toy for J around at the end of the day–and we had a good several hours putting it together.

We spent much of Friday outside working, and J took it upon himself to (quite literally) mend our fences.  It was, on the whole, a good day.  There were some bad moments, but more good ones.

Then, Saturday, we worked on getting the dog we’ve promised him.  There was an adoption event at the local pet store (run by a local shelter), and that was stressful for both our boys (and for K, who was off camping with cousins and couldn’t be there), but we found a super-friendly two-year-old chihuahua mix that seems to be fitting into our family quite well already, and as expected, J is able to be affectionate with her in ways he’s not yet able to be with any people around here.

So, a better week.  There were lots of down moments most days, but there were a few good moments most days too–and a few of the days (like Friday and yesterday), we had more good than bad, I think.

Baby Steps

It’s been another hard week.  We’re doing better with sleep, but still not as well as we’d like (I’ve probably averaged closer to four hours a day than two); the boys have been sleeping through the night.  We’re still struggling with food–in part because we tend to eat supper late, in part because our American stuff is just not what Junyong is used to.  Turns out he does like green beans, especially ones he picked himself from the garden, though.  Thank you, Charity, for keeping them watered while we were gone.

Speaking of watering, that is one of J’s favorite activities.  He also still enjoys baking (He did a lot of the work on Craig’s birthday cake yesterday).  We’ve also enjoyed playing basketball together—and just tossing a beach ball around the house.  J and K are connecting a bit over some of these things.  He and B seem to mostly ignore each other at this point.  I think that if we could get them onto some kind of shared computer game, they’d connect well, but so far that hasn’t happened.

On the other hand, J has been very reluctant to leave the house for any reason at all (part of this is that he gets quite car sick, and feels particularly queasy in our little car.  My parents have graciously given us a good deal on their minivan, and are driving it out before too long, so hopefully that will help.  In the meantime, we’re going to try biking down to church today.  We’re very glad we picked a place that is near enough to get to by alternate transportation modes.)

J also gets upset by the mention of school, showers, changing clothes, or any kind of scheduling, and when he gets upset, he tends to yell, destroy things, and avoid us.  He went so far as to barricade himself in his room yesterday.  The founder of our adoption agency, Josh, came by to chat with him–and that seems to have helped at least some.  We really appreciate the support.

We are also thinking we need to get the lock removed from the boys’ bedroom door.

When J gets in a state, it’s hard to talk him down, and hard to know what exactly to do.  We’re gaining a bit of experience, and we’re seeking some counseling (for him and for us), and hopefully that will help some.

B is also finding the transition tough.  He tends to withdraw into computer time, only surfacing for meals and a few chores (which he has been fairly diligent about doing–a great help to me.)  He tends not to want to talk about how he’s feeling.

K has been engaging more with all of us–I think she has more natural social skills than the rest of the family, and seems to have a good instinct for what we’ll enjoy doing together.  But sometimes when we’re working on something together (cooking; gardening), J tries to stop her from participating.  I’m not sure if he’s craving the parent time, or the opportunity to learn skills he’s never learned, or if he doesn’t think she’s old enough to handle the jobs.  (She is, but it’s possible a Chinese kid of her age wouldn’t have been allowed to do them.)  It may also be a culture clash thing–K, as an American kid, feels they’re more or less equal; J, as an older Chinese boy, sees a huge distinction between himself and his kid sister.

Still, on the whole, this week (with the notable exception of yesterday morning) went a touch better than last.  Perhaps, in another few months, we’ll find everybody living in a state they at least consider tolerable.

First Week in Review

We’ve been back from China for a week (and almost a day).

It feels longer than that.

Possibly that’s because each day seems to stretch on and on.  It’s hard even to know when to start counting a new day.  In my mind, I typically start a new day at the point when I get up after sleeping.  But when I don’t get to bed until four (or five or six or seven or eight), and I only get to sleep an hour or two, it doesn’t separate the days out like a nighttime nap does.

Things I’ve learned this week:

It is impossible for any two people in a family to have the same reaction to jet-lag.  We’ve had children up almost round the clock.  The last few days have been a bit better.

Everything we cook is weird.  Fruit is good, and frozen jiaozi (potstickers,) is often acceptable, but ramen noodles are not as good in the summer as in the winter (should have guessed that one, maybe).

It’s fun to go crazy watering the plants.  Weeding is not as exciting.

Assembling things like basketball hoops is only interesting for the first fifteen minutes.  Actually, very few things are interesting for more than fifteen minutes–except movies, TV shows and playing catch (which can take hours).

Chinese TV shows end on cliffhangers so it’s hard not to binge-watch them.

Teenage temper tantrums look a lot like toddler temper tantrums–but feel scarier because the kid is so much bigger.

My kids–all of them–have great smiles (which we never see if we have a phone or camera in our hands)

In many ways it has been a very hard week, but maybe the next one will go better.



More baking past midnight

The nice thing about being up in the middle of the night here is that it’s nice and cool.  I can run the oven without feeling uncomfortable.

We did sugar cookies and chocolate chip zucchini muffins this time.  J enjoyed watching the muffins take shape in the oven, but didn’t enjoy eating them so much.  The cookies, though, were a hit.  Then he took off for bed (around 2).  K (who had joined us) wasn’t willing to go to sleep until past five.  Somehow I didn’t manage to get up in time to get to the gym this morning.

At least I know jet-lag doesn’t last forever.  I fear we’re in for a bad couple of weeks, though.

Biscuits past midnight

Nobody wants to go to bed.

Well, none of the kids anyway.  And the parents can’t go off to sleep leaving the three children to entertain themselves all night.  I’m sure they’d be happy to, but I don’t think  it’s either safe or healthy.

So we’ve banned electronics between 10 and 5 and insisted on lights being out.

Which is apparently akin to torture.  We’ve been told we’re very bad people (in words that I don’t understand, and can’t find in a dictionary.  Probably just as well I don’t know what they are.  Makes it easier to not take offense.)

And some folks won’t sleep anyway–so last night we had a baking session between 3 and 4 am, and I didn’t get to bed until past 8.  AM.  Tonight’s a little better. Everybody in bed (or at least prone in a reasonably comfortable spot) and quiet by 2.  At this rate, we might have semi-normal bedtimes in a week or so.

I’m beginning to think it might be even worse trying to get over jet-lag with tweens and a teen than it was with toddlers.

Day 1

Jet lag–gotta love it.


So the trip home was the usual trans-Pacific marathon (About 26 hours all told–going from Guangzhou to Shanghai to LA to Denver.  We had a van, a couple buses, three planes, an airport shuttle, three security lines, two customs/immigration checks, and finally, at the end, another van).  The normal exhaustion was complicated by a security gentleman in LA deciding Ben’s bag needed to be gone through with a fine tooth comb (the search found nothing, but resulted in a missed flight and the need to tramp to another terminal to catch our back-up).  We also had a couple of bouts of “You go on; I’m tired and want to stay here.” Fortunately the “You go” bits didn’t last too long, and each time, after a few minutes of rest (and sometimes some food), everybody was willing to move on together.  We were very glad we didn’t have to force anyone onto any airplanes.

When we got in last night (I suppose technically it was this morning), the children who had been dragging their feet through the last two airports suddenly had boundless energy.  Who could sleep?  Didn’t I know it felt like morning?

But, hey, we were home.  Even J smiled a bit.

Our boys show what they love best about being home: the access to wifi and electrical outlets.

Now we’re on to the challenge of trying to show all our kids that we love them, even if they’re tired and grumpy, and even if we’re barely keeping our eyes open (and somewhat grumpy ourselves).

Besides the jet-lag, screen time and food have been the major challenges so far.

With screen time, it’s a matter of J feeling like he shouldn’t have any limits at all, and us feeling that some limits are essential to family relationships and everybody’s health and safety.  So far, the only rule we’ve insisted on is “internet-connected devices only get used in public spaces.”  When I enforced this one, I got mutterings about how I’m not an OK person.  I suspect today is not the last time I’ll hear that.

With food, the trouble was not having much in the house when we got in, and then realizing that many of our usual foods are things J doesn’t like to eat.  We did have some instant noodles to tide people over to the morning, and we picked up some fruit and other things that served us fairly well today.  We’ll have to keep going by trial and error until we can figure out what works for all of us.  At least we know that most fruits are welcome.  I also foresee more Ramen and other noodles in our future than we’ve been used to.

We had jiaozi for supper, and B dragged himself up from a nap to eat a few before returning directly to bed.  (I love that King Soopers has tolerable Chinese dumplings in their freezer section.)

So day one as a family in our own home is nearing a close.  Thanks to all of you who’ve been thinking of us and praying for us along our journey.  I know it has helped immensely.