One month since we adopted Haddon

Well, where to begin? We’ve been home from China three (almost four now) weeks. It’s been one month, six days since Haddon became part of our family  (I keep adding to that number because this post has taken almost a week to write). Life is very different from just six weeks ago, when we left for China!

The overall theme is joy. Haddon has attached to us really well so far and we have attached to him. He is taking all the changes surprisingly well and is an overall happy kid. We love this little boy and it all feels right — like he belongs here with us.

All of the above may not seem like a big deal, but it really is. There are so many sticky spots with adoption and I don’t take for granted the fact that things have gone so smoothly and the love is naturally flowing in both directions. It’s a grace from God and we are so thankful.

I’ll go back and write in more detail about our time in China (in short, it was amazing!) but right now let’s focus on the past three-ish weeks.

The journey itself home from China was not fun. Everything went as planned — we are so, so thankful there were no delays or hitches — but traveling for more than 24 hours straight on little sleep and with a two-year-old is just never going to be easy. I felt bad for those seated around us on the flight from Beijing… they heard more than a little crying and screaming.

But our arrival in Chicago was beautiful. We were so happy to be home and my entire family was there to greet us with Corban and Mara, and signs and cupcakes. Haddon instantly perked up after crying through customs (which did get us to the front of the line, by the way) and just had a blast running around the airport with his siblings and cousins.

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It was a sweet greeting, and I’m so glad our friend and photographer Anna Sparks was there to document it.

The first few days home were emotional and overwhelming. Our house was a complete disaster in every way. We were jet lagged. Haddon had nights and days mixed up. I was sick for a couple days on top of being in a haze of sleep deprivation and overwhelm, grateful for friends and family reaching out yet not ready to re-enter normal life yet.

Peter went back to work right away on Monday (we got home Saturday night) and I am so grateful my mom came to help out for a few days. She helped with meals, kid-wrangling and cleaning. Without her it would have felt impossible to move beyond the piles of laundry, suitcases and just generally dirty house (that’s what happens when cats are the only inhabitants for any amount of time). It also would have been daunting getting the kids all to nap at once!

Thanks, Mom!

Haddon was overwhelmed by our house at first. In China he lived in a small apartment with four foster siblings, and then in a hotel room with us — he’s always been surrounded by people at all times. So our four-bedroom home is a change for him. For the first few days he would start to panic if he was in a room alone even for a few seconds. Nothing too intense, but it was a sign to me that we needed to keep his world small for a while, as adoption experts recommend.

So our first week was spent at home recovering, playing, cleaning, helping Haddon explore our house and neighborhood and minimally venturing out (both for Haddon’s sake and mine — I was terrified to take all three kids somewhere on my own). We cleared our schedule but still played outside with neighbors and had a couple drop-in visitors. Even with minimal stimulation the days felt busy and exhausting, for Haddon probably even more than me.

We’ve attempted to keep that quiet, low-key lifestyle up but even when I don’t go out of my way to make plans, somehow we end up doing things. That’s been fine for the most part. Corban and Mara basically beg for social opportunities, and Haddon’s attachment to Peter and me is strong and he is happy to be out and about too, so we’re rolling with it and slowly adding more as it’s comfortable.

Three across in a Ford Taurus for the win!

We’ve had friends over to play, met friends at parks, gone to beer gardens, had Peter’s parents visit for a day, gone out to eat (once), gone to church, etc. These are a lot of things that attachment experts advise against in the first few weeks, but like I said, Haddon’s attachment to us is strong and these are things that just feel appropriate and necessary for our family’s happiness. Going forward I think we’ll be at normal activity level. We even went to the pool today with friends.

One of the biggest blessings of this past month (aside from Haddon himself, who is beyond wonderful!) is how loved and supported we’ve felt from our family, friends, neighbors and even people we just met, barely know or haven’t talked to in ages. It is incredible and makes me tear up just thinking about it. The emails, phone calls, texts, Facebook messages, prayers, meals, gifts, cards, offers of help… I’ve at times felt overwhelmed but, oh my goodness, is genuine care from those around you not the best thing to be overwhelmed by? I thank God every day that He has brought people into our lives who are so supportive and generous with their words and time. Without all this support this all would be so much harder. It’s a beautiful thing to feel the warmth of community and I wish every family going through a big transition would feel this kind of embrace.

A meal from a friend… huge blessing!

Some areas to note about Haddon (if I’m on top of things I’ll update monthly (OK, maybe bi-monthly?) to track progress):

Play

Haddon plays independently really well — his favorites are toy cars, our play kitchen, musical instruments and the kiddie pool (he would probably choose to live in that thing). He runs around with Corban and Mara but otherwise I think it’s still hard for him to truly play with them — both because of the language barrier and because he tends to be really possessive of the toys he’s playing with. I’m not sure if that’s an issue relating to being in an orphanage setting or just normal toddler behavior. Probably both.

Language

In China, we tried to speak to Haddon in our limited Mandarin and not throw too many English words at him. He came to us speaking simple Mandarin sentences, but I’m not sure how wide his vocabulary actually was/is. We have learned some basic Mandarin words and phrases (which, by the way, I love and want to continue learning) and can generally figure out what he’s saying as it relates to a need or desire.

But oh is it exciting to watch him learn English! Upon our arrival home,  he had learned to say “I love you,” “good morning,” “diaper” and “bye bye,” without us really trying too hard to teach him.

Within his first day or two home he knew our cats’ names and “gentle” a.k.a. our mantra to him when petting the cats (also, he’s obsessed with the cats! They can usually cheer him up if he’s fussy). He calls both Corban and Mara “Co-ban.” Slowly but surely he’s started using more and more words on his own and in context: All done, potty, baby, fish, deer, otter, dog, ball, baby, banana, fan, drink, milk, hungry, etc…

I remember how exciting it was when we first realized Corban understood certain words and could point out pictures we named in books. It’s no less exciting to hear Haddon point to a picture of a ball in a book and say the word in English, or say to me at dinner “milk” and “drink” when I forgot to bring his cup to the table. You can see his little mind at work as he looks at something and tries to recall the right word in English. It doesn’t happen super often but more and more he is attempting to speak English and it feels just as magical and unexpected as hearing our biological kids speak their first few words.

Physical development

Well, we’ve had three doctors appointments so far and many more scheduled. Some of them are standard appointments every adopted child has: child development center for initial evaluation, pediatrician for vaccines, ophthalmologist, audiologist, dentist. It was not mentioned in his medical file but we learned our first day with Haddon that he walks on his toes on his left foot, causing him to limp. So for that we’ve seen a neurologist and rehabilitation doctor and will also see a physical therapist and orthopedic specialist. We’re certain we’ll have follow up eye doctor appointments based on our observations. So by the end of the summer our doctor appointments count will be well into double digits. It’s kind of like cramming all the visits you have in the first few years into a few months.

The important details: Haddon has cerebral palsy, which affects the muscles in his left leg. It’s a scary diagnosis but doesn’t change what we already knew about him: he’s smart (cerebral palsy is caused by a brain injury but it does not affect cognitive abilities) and he still gets around just fine, running and playing like most kids, and with therapy should be able to walk fairly normally. Right now it looks like treatment will consist of a leg brace and physical therapy. We have started doing ankle stretches with him and already his achilles tendon seems to be loosening up a little.

Haddon seems small compared to Corban and Mara, but is on the growth charts at around 30-40% for both height and weight. So he’s small for a Sherwood, but not that small really. It still feels like none of his clothes really fit, though! I think he’s somewhere between size 24 months and 2T, if that’s even possible. He wears about size 5 1/2 or 6 in shoes (but his only shoes that fit really well are from China so I don’t know that they translate exactly to a U.S. size).

Attachment

We’ve been blessed with quick attachment to and from Haddon. He started calling us Mama and Baba on day one and really seems to understand we’re his and he’s ours.

We have not been super strict about letting other people pick him up or help him with things when we’re in social settings. I never wrote a letter to friends and neighbors explaining attachment or cocooning, like some adoptive families do, and honestly have not really laid out any “rules” for friends and family (don’t feed, don’t hold, don’t offer too much affection, etc.). I figured Peter or I would just be there with him anytime he’s around others and be able to take care of his needs. Well, with two other kids in our care it doesn’t always work out that way! But I think we’re beyond the point of it really mattering, and since Haddon is pretty wary of strangers to begin with it hasn’t been a big deal if someone helps him tie his shoe or holds his hand while he walks up a couple steps. He does not show indiscriminate affection and is quite shy around new people.

While in China, Haddon seemed to be more attached to Peter, but since day one here at home he switched into Mama mode. I’m sure it’s because I’m the one home with him every day and I put him to bed most nights. He does ask about Baba throughout the day though (he started repeating, “Baba at work,” and that seems satisfactory even though I know he has no idea what it means).

Sleep

I don’t even want to know how many hours in the past month we’ve spent lying silently next to Haddon’s crib waiting for him to fall asleep. Every naptime and bedtime in China meant lights out, all of us lying down and pretending to sleep. It wasn’t always a quick process.

At home, Haddon sleeps in a crib in his own room. For the first few weeks, I would lie down on the floor next to his crib while he fell asleep. If he would wake up in the middle of the night (a normal occurrence at first, especially with the jet lag!) I would go back in and lie down. He would cry if I would get up and leave before he was asleep, so many nights I spent hours lying there (and falling asleep myself).

After about two weeks or so of that, I was going crazy feeling like I had no time away from the kids, and Haddon was taking longer and longer to fall asleep, watching me closely to make sure I wasn’t going to try to sneak out. It wasn’t working for any of us.

Now, one of us puts him to bed with a story, prayer and song, then tucks him in so he’s turned toward the wall (and not straining to watch us) and sits in the rocker in his room for a minute or two before leaving. He sometimes cries for a minute before quieting down and going to sleep. Although I think it was necessary for us to make him feel comfortable and secure in the first few weeks by lying down in his room, this is now a much better plan for all of us.

We had sent Haddon a care package in China with a photo album and a stuffed panda, and I’m so glad we did. His panda (or Mao Mao, as he calls it — panda is Xiang Mao in Mandarin) is his comfort item and he holds it and pets it while he falls asleep. When he’s tired and fussy, if we hold him and give him Mao Mao he calms down right away.

Food

Haddon is a good eater for the most part. His favorite foods are meat, eggs, dried seaweed, grape tomatoes, bread and fruit. Unfortunately there aren’t many vegetables I can convince him to eat, and oddly he doesn’t seem too crazy about rice. He eats very independently and is skilled with a fork and spoon.

Even though the milk in China is different from our milk (the stuff he drank was shelf stable instead of fresh), Haddon didn’t bat an eye at the switch to regular milk. He loves the stuff and drinks a lot.

We hit up our local Chinese grocery store last week and Haddon got really excited about some snacks he spotted there. It was cute and we stocked up on some of the snack foods we became familiar with in China (we are all fans). It’s nice that we have a local spot to find those things.

Potty training

I am back to cloth diapering. It was a tough reality to face at first but I guess it’s like riding a bike.

In China Haddon was not potty trained at all that we know of, but from the start he has shown signs of being ready. We didn’t want to push it until he was fully adjusted here though.

Well, looks like we are already boarding the potty train (ha) and I think the cloth diapers will be packed up again before long. Haddon has gone on the toilet a number of times in the past week, and has even initiated it himself a few times, saying “potty” to us. He gets really excited each time he uses the toilet successfully, so I think it’s time to make a sticker chart and make it official. He’ll be three in just over five weeks so this isn’t surprising.

Family dynamics

This has been a big adjustment for Corban and Mara too. They are handling the changes well (both the new brother and me being home full-time), but it can be a test of my patience since there are still the normal arguments and competitions but with a third one thrown in the mix.

There are times when Mara wants to be babied by me, and times when she tries to baby Haddon. Neither scenario goes very well. I think one-on-one time for her and me is going to be important in helping her get the attention she desires. Today was a rough afternoon for Mara so tonight I took her to Costco with me after Peter got home and it really changed her mood around. She was such a delight (and oh how much easier it is grocery shopping with one kid instead of three!).

Corban verbalized some disappointment in the early days with the fact that Haddon doesn’t speak English (yet). I think the language barrier makes it harder for them to fully connect right now — they are eager to show and tell him things, which is tender and adorable, but since he doesn’t understand everything there’s still a disconnect. There have still been a lot of sweet moments. When Haddon wakes up in the morning or after nap, the first thing he says is, “Corban?”

Corban is often eager to help Haddon out, and he still calls him by his Chinese name, HaoLei, most of the time and I find that really sweet. All three kids love listening to this CD we have that includes traditional English and Mandarin nursery rhyme songs. That music in particular has been a connection point for them, I think.

I always want to remember Corban and Mara’s intense eagerness to give Haddon his gift they picked out — a really cool toy car — on our first night home. That night they all wore matching pajamas and were giddy with excitement.

Overall, things have gone really well in our first month with Haddon. Each day brings new discoveries and joys, and we couldn’t be happier that he is part of our family.

Packing for China

We leave for China today!

Packing for this trip has seemed overly complicated. We will be gone for 18 days and so want to pack light, but we also want to make sure we have everything we need that will be harder to find there—like medicine, for instance.

Then there are complications like, well, all the paperwork we need to bring, the gifts for officials (small, practical items as a token of appreciation—this is important in Chinese culture) oh and clothes and items our son Haddon will need.

We don’t really know Haddon’s size. We have measurements, but they seem a bit unreliable. But toddler sizes are forgiving, so 3T clothes with a few 2Ts will do. We have his shoe size, but again, there is some question there, so I’m bringing two pairs of Crocs in two different sizes (they are forgiving shoes anyway). Thankfully I have a whole bin of cute shoes that Corban wore when he was younger so I just picked through it and didn’t have to buy any. I did end up buying some new shirts for Haddon because I just couldn’t resist.


I’m also bringing a few of our favorite books to read to him (unfortunately some are board books, so heavy and bulky), stickers, balloons, a couple small balls, race cars and stuffed animal for him.

The gifts are something we were told not to stress about. We decided to buy Wisconsin ginseng tea (Wisconsin ginseng is high quality and prized in China) to put in small red gift bags for officials. My friend we are staying with in Beijing will get tea and whole ginseng, and Haddon’s foster parents will get whole ginseng. I also made a locket with Haddon’s picture in it to give to his foster mom. Made one for myself too!


As far as my clothes go, I’m pretty happy with how much and what I packed (at least from my room pre-trip, ha). The weather will be warm (on some days HOT) so no need for bulky items or jackets.

I’m bringing three pairs of shoes: tennis shoes, Teva sandals and nude ballet flats. Three dresses, including one that is quick dry fabric so I can hand wash it easily. Two pairs of pants: leggings and quick-dry joggers for our four flights (there, back and two in country). Two pairs of shorts: running shorts if I decide to work out at hotels and quick-dry shorts I can wash easily.

The rest of my clothes are tank tops and a couple T-shirts,  light sweaters and workout tops. I did splurge and pack light sweatpants and a light zip-up for lounging in the hotel room, because I know after a long day I’ll want those comforts.


I think I could have pared back even further and planned to wash more tops, but I’m guessing I won’t want to spend too much time doing that, and my tops are mostly light tanks that don’t take up much space.

The biggest weight in our suitcase and stressor to pack was all the meds we are bringing. Pain relievers, Pepto Bismol, Tums, Immodium (it’s common to get sick from the food or water so we are trying to be REALLY prepared!), child medicine, mini first aid kit, lice remover, hydrocortisone cream, vitamins, cold medicine, Sudafed, nasal spray… and more I’m sure. I put them all in a plastic shoebox that we can later use to back breakable souvenirs on the way home.


Toilet paper too! We’ve been warned about the public bathrooms there.

One other key to our packing sanity—packing cubes! They’re those green and blue zipper containers, and I’m so thankful they exist. They will help us keep everything organized (we will be staying in three different cities while there) and help crunch things down so you can fit more.


We fit everything into two large suitcases, two backpacks and a medium-size purse. We are also packing a large duffel bag in the suitcase so we can fit anything we buy while there in the suitcases and check the duffel filled with dirty clothes on the way home. Just under the 50 pound weight limit for both bags (phew!).

So why am I blogging about suitcases when we are leaving on the most exciting trip of our lives today? Nervous energy, I guess! 

I’m finishing this post up from the airport where we are munching on some Mexican (thanks, Rick Bayless) and awaiting our flight to Beijing. I will try to update throughout our trip, wifi and VPN-dependent, but for quicker and more reliable updates, subscribe to my email list I’ll be keeping in touch with hopefully: tinylettter.com/alisherwood

China, here we come!

Our family is growing! Why adoption?

In two weeks, we will legally be a family of five!

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No, I am not pregnant — and this is something we’ve been actively anticipating for much longer than nine months: adoption.

So, first, the exciting details. It’s a boy. He is 2 years, 9 months old. He lives in Harbin, China. His English name will be Haddon, after (or inspired by) the theologian C.H. (Charles Haddon) Spurgeon. Peter and I leave in just over a week to bring him home!

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I had intended on documenting the entire process from the start here, but instead found it easier to share this journey via conversations and prayer requests to friends rather than by sitting down and typing it out. At some point I do want to go back and write more about the details that led us to this point, though.

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First, I’ll tackle a question I’ve gotten (not surprisingly) a lot. What made you decide to adopt?

I think if we didn’t have biological kids or were older than we are this question might seem nosy, but for a relatively young couple with a healthy boy and girl, adoption is puzzling, or at least curiosity-inducing, to a lot of people.

I understand why and don’t begrudge anyone for asking. Most people think of adoption as something for people who can’t or don’t want to have biological kids. Adoption is a great choice for those people.

Or they think of adoption as something for very saintly people who want to give unfortunate children a better life. Adoption is the only way millions of kids worldwide have the opportunity to grow up with a family. (Though I would say saintliness is an unhealthy motivation for anything in life, including adoption.)

The reality is adoption fills a need and desire for both parents and children, and I think it’s healthiest to acknowledge both parties’ needs.

So the short answer to “what made you decide to adopt?” is because we want more kids and there are kids out there who need families.

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From the start of our relationship, Peter has talked about wanting to adopt. Before then, I had never really considered it, mainly out of ignorance. It just didn’t cross my mind, but I had no qualms about it. As we talked about it more and because Peter felt strongly about adoption, it quickly became a foregone conclusion as we thought about the future. We are fortunate to have come to know a number of adoptive families over the years and that just encouraged us even more.

So the superficial “why” I sometimes find myself reciting to people quickly when they ask why we are adopting is, “We’ve just always wanted to.”

But there’s more to it than any of that. Why do we feel called to be one of those families when it would be far easier to just have more biological children? Why would we choose to take on the expense—monetary, emotional, mental, physical—of adoption?

Our deeper motivation comes from looking at our status in relationship to God. Through Christ’s redeeming work for us, we “receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:5) We are born under the law, but through Jesus we are called sons of God, receiving the full inheritance of Christ.

In Romans 8:14-17, Paul writes:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

The Creator of the universe loved lowly, little me enough to adopt me as his child. Adoption is a beautiful, mysterious picture of our relationship with our Father—not because we were born His, but because he pursued us and made us His own children.

I’m not equipped to explain it all very well in my own words, but John Piper has an excellent exposition on adoption, where he lays out eight similarities between God adopting us and us adopting children.

Number seven is especially moving to me. A snippet: “The distance between what we are, and what God is, is infinitely greater than any distance between us and a child we might adopt. God crossed the greatest cultural barrier to redeem and adopt us.”

Jesus paid the greatest price for our adoption, so any cost we bear in adopting our son is pennies in comparison. We rely on God’s grace for the strength we will need for the job (just as with parenting our biological kids) and rest in His promises.

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