Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Birthday, Sweet Baby!

Our foster son turns one on Tuesday and I've been thinking about his mother.  I actually think about her a lot and wonder where she is and what she is thinking.  I want her to know that her son is loved and cared for.  I know she will never read this but I wanted to write her a letter.

To our foster baby's mother.

Your son turns one on Tuesday and I've been thinking about you.  I am a  mother and you are a mother and that gives us a strong bond.  I wonder if you are from a village.  I wonder if you are from the city.  I wonder if I have ever seen you on the streets of our city.  I wonder if you think about your son.
Sometimes I look at your son and I think "Who are you?"  He has a name that was given to him by the orphanage- what was the name that you gave him?  Who is he really?
I wonder what it was like for you.  Did you notice that something was a little off?  Or did you find out what was wrong with him when you took him to the hospital when he was two months?  Did you think that going to the orphanage would give him a better chance?  That maybe he could get some help there?  Or did you just see the hard reality in front of you- that you had a child that could not get help or be educated in this country.  That your son would never be able to take care of you in your old age.  In this country of only children , that is a hard reality.
Most mothers would go down with their children if the ship was sinking.  But somehow you jumped off to save your own life.  I have to believe that you felt desperate.  I choose to believe the best of you.  I believe that your heart aches for your son.
Your son has a condition and it is called Down Syndrome.  It's not contagious or dangerous.  It's a condition that not many people in your country seem to know a lot about.  But your son is not the sum of this condition. He has issues associated with it- low muscle tone for one.  He has some unique physical characteristics like lower set ears and wider set eyes.  He'll learn differently than other children.  Yes, he can learn if he is taught in the right way.
But he is so much more than that.  He is fun and sweet and cuddly.  He loves music.  He loves being held.  When he wakes up in the middle of the night, I love holding his sweet little body.
He loves peas and carrots.  He loves his bottle.  He needs to nap!  He wakes up every morning happy and talking.  He loves our cat.  He loves his Jie Jie.
Things have been hard for your son. He was near death when we got him. He became very small in the orphanage and has some lung damage due to inhaling formula.  We have to watch him closely when he gets a cold.  We spend a lot of time making sure that he is getting enough oxygen.  He spent five days in a hospital because of a pneumonia that led to an oxygen deficit.  We don't want to go there again.
Maybe the most important thing that I want you to know is that we love him.  We love him because he is very lovable.  We love him because he is worthy of being loved.  We love him enough to know that he needs a younger family who can care for him long term.
We are committed to finding him a forever family when the time is right.  For now, we are doing all we can to keep him safe, help him to be healthy.  He has a group of loving people in his life that think he is very special.  His doctor's will come to our house to make sure he is healthy.  Other people will watch him for us so that we can go out occasionally.  Our neighbors ask about him.  He is surrounded by a community of love.
So happy birthday to our sweet baby.  You (and many like you) are truly the boy who lived.  We pray for you and we pray for your mother.  You are a gift in our life.

Ni Hao Y'all

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Flexibility and volleyball!

Playing sports in China can be a geographically challenging thing for kids in international schools.  If they are in large cities like Beijing, they can compete with other international schools.  However, if they go to school in a smaller (8 million) city like ours that has one international school, there is no one to compete against.  
The parent company for our international school handles it this way- Volleyball is in Shenyang, Basketball is in Wuhan and Soccer is in Qingdao.  So this weekend, students and coaches from QingDao, WuXi, Wuhan, Tianjin and ChengDu came by train and plane to ShenYang.  Every year, the tournament is held at a local sports college.  This year, the school got last minute (as in on Friday when the tournament started) that they couldn't use the college because of student protests.  Student protests?  In China?  Apparently so.  No one seems to know what they were protesting or why but it was a fairly unusual occurance to say the least.
Fortunately, the number one lesson of overseas living is flexibility.  So the school got ready to have the tournament actually at the school and it went off well.  We were blessed with great weather and wonderful parent and teacher support.  It was  a good day all around.

It was a little chilly in the early morning.

Some of the high school kids are going on a service trip to the Philippines.  Baked goods were sold to make money for the trip.

Philippine decor and food.

One of our Philippina moms and a mom from Yap sold at this table.

The Korean moms came out in full force and sold amazing Korean snacks. These ladies are super fun to work with.

The tournament is a big family event and these girls had a blast.  They are a United Nations unto themselves.  China/US,  Philippines, Yap/Fiji

There was some volleyball.

And more volleyball.

Even more volleyball.

We saw our friend Jennifer- we met her in Inner Mongolia last summer and we may even forgive her since the team she helps coach won all their games!

Suitcases stayed close by as most teams had to catch trains or planes back home in the afternoon or evening.

Lunch was provided by a Korean restaurant.  

Tournament t-shirts were given out by the tiger (with bear ears), a teacher and a parent volunteer.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

When the lion lies down with the tiger and whirled peas.

Elisabeth goes to Shen Yang International School and she is the volleyball team mascot.  They just had a new tiger costume made- look closely at the ears....and the white fur next to the golden fur.  Anyway, she tried it on at a friends house and their son got on his lion suit for some pictures.
I am sorry to say Paul has picked up the habit of making the peace sign in pictures.  We'll have him deprogrammed when we are in the US for a few months next summer.

I am not sure what a Smoovlatte is but I didn't buy it.  This is why I carry a small camera with me all the time.

First try with peas!

Apparently a hit!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Today I am a guest poster!

Today I guest posted for my friend Gillian's blog.  Gillian is a mom committed to her family and to writing.  She is currently writing a memoir about giving birth to a child with Down Syndrome and later going back to Ukraine to adopt a child with Down Syndrome.
Thanks for letting me post, Gillian.  This is a whole new world for me and you've been a wonderful resource.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Guest Blogger

Today I am having a guest blogger.  My friend Peggy sent this to me yesterday and I got her permission to post it. Peggy has lived and worked in China for over 12 year.  She is my go-to person for all things Chinese!  I can ask her any question about Chinese language or culture and trust her answer.  Our family appreciates her.
 Our Chinese teachers have told us that if we are ever in a bus and notice that our cell phones or wallets are stolen, that would should tell the bus driver to stop the bus.  Apparently it's true!

Yesterday after a meeting, I left the international school on the staff bus 
with the Chinese staff at 4:30.  Some of us got off at the foreign languages
 high school and I walked with another woman up to the bus stop.  After a long
 wait during which the bus I wanted never came, I decided to get on a bus that 
would take me part way, then change to the 167 to get the rest of the way home.  
The result of this decision was very interesting.

As I waited for the bus, there were two guys talking behind me.  When we got
 on the bus, I noted that one of them had a student bus pass (when you swipe
a student pass, an electronic voice announces, “student card” – I guess to cut
 down on misuse).  I also noticed that he was quite short, but his voice didn’t
 sound like a student’s.

When we were about halfway through the 10-minute ride from that stop to the
 one near our apartment (with several stops in between), the woman next to me
 suddenly called out, “Driver, my cell phone is gone.  Don’t open the door.”
That got everyone’s attention, but nobody said or did anything.  The driver said to
 call the number, and of course she asked how she could when her phone was missing
.  Then a man near the front of the bus asked what her number was.  She called the
number to him and right next to me a phone started ringing.  She couldn’t tell where
 the sound was coming from at first – she started going through her own bag looking
 for it, but from where I was standing, I could tell it was coming from a bag that the short man
 with the student pass was carrying.  Soon she figured that out too, though no one
 else said anything yet or made any move.  Meanwhile, the bus had pulled off to the side
of the road.  She started talking to the man, saying things like, “I can see that you are young
– just give me the phone back and I’ll let you go.  I won’t press charges if you just give the
phone back to me.  Just let me have the phone.”  The man didn’t say a word or acknowledge
 that anyone was addressing him; he just walked to the back door of the bus to get off.  I was
 afraid that the driver was going to open the door and the man would be gone in a moment.
 But instead, he kept the door closed and started driving down the lane that goes to our local
 Xinggong Street police station, off the main road.  I think we all wanted to cheer, but still no one except
 the woman said anything.  As the bus got closer to the police station, a couple of other people
 urged the man to give the phone back before the police got on the bus, but he made signs as if
 to say he was deaf and didn’t know what they were saying.  The woman made one last plea,
 “Just put the phone on the floor and get off the bus, quick before the police come,” but by then
 the police were getting on the bus.  One policeman grabbed him and told him to get off the bus. 
He just stood there and then the policeman started yelling in his face to get off the bus.  Eventually,
 he just pulled the guy off the bus.  Then another policeman asked if anyone was with him.
  It seemed like a man at the front indicated he was, but I can’t imagine why he would admit it.

Once the man and the police were off the bus, everyone started talking as the bus started backing
 down the narrow street back to the main road.  “He didn’t even have time to turn off the phone.”
 “ I can’t believe he was so stupid.”   “He had a chance to get away and he didn’t take it.”  We also
checked to make sure our own cell phones were still with us.  However, the bus didn’t get very far
because Shenyang drivers don’t pay too much attention to things like a bus trying to back out of a
lane so a car pulled in behind the bus and just sat there.  So people asked the driver to open the door
and let them off the bus.  I got off there, too.  As I started to walk the rest of the way home, I could
 see that the car behind the bus wasn’t in any hurry to back up and let the bus out onto the main road. 
These days, you can almost always get places faster on a bike and sometimes on foot than
by bus or taxi, especially during rush hour times.

So many people have had phones, money and other valuables stolen like that,
 so those on the bus were all happy to see justice done—me included.  I would have been very
 disappointed if the police hadn’t nabbed him.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Weekly recap

*Winter is coming to the NorthEast of China (or the EastNorth /Dong Bei as it is said here).  This means the reappearance of long underwear, extra blankets on the bed and on the baby and the occasional use of this.

*Our trusty air conditioner/heater unit!  We use it for a few minutes and the living room really heats up.  The official heat gets turned on November 1.  We hear gurgling in our pipes and can smell coal in the air so that gives us hope.  We have south facing windows and it's been really sunny, so it doesn't feel all that cold.

*The cold and upcoming winter gives my Chinese teachers lots of opportunities to talk to us about the relationship of cold and health.  This is a strong belief in China and has some actual basis to it.  Our grammar teacher lectured the Japanese and Korean young students as they were falling asleep in class. "Don't fall asleep in the cold.  If you fall asleep in the cold, you will become very ill."  Our classrooms are really cold, colder than outside.  Our speaking teacher told us that we need to wear many clothes and drink red tea.  Red tea is for winter.

With the coming of winter, the da bai cai and da cong have reappeared.  Here is the view from our window this morning.

See the bunch on the edge of the grass?

Leeks and cabbages.

*Large cabbages and leeks are bought and laid outside to dry for the winter.  They are used all winter for soups and other dishes like sauerkraut..  It is mostly the older people who have memories of winters without food that do this.  
These all started to appear this week.  I don't know if there is some official day that marks the beginning of this but it's pretty interesting.
*  We've been told that this winter will be especially cold, so people are stocking up early.  If this winter is colder than last winter, I don't know what I will do.  Seriously!

*  Elisabeth took her PSAT's last week.  How did that happen?

* Our foster baby has been fighting a cold and super congestion.  His doctors have been in to see him twice but so far there is no congestion to the lungs or a reappearance of pneumonia.  Go, baby!

*  In Chinese class, some of us were struggling to understand the reading.  Our wonderful reading teacher just stopped us and said very quietly "Jia You."  This literally means "Add oil" and is used to encourage people to work harder or apply more effort.  It was used in the Olympics to encourage athletes.  I don't know why it cracked me up so much, but I did show up to the next class totally prepared!

*  I attended a parent planning meeting yesterday.  Some of our high school kids are planning a service trip to the Philippines over Chinese New Years.  We are working on some support raising opportunities for them, including selling food at the upcoming volleyball tournament.  At the meeting, I was the only non-American.  The rest of the moms were Korean.  It totally cracks me up that I can be in China, planning a trip to the Philippines, with Korean moms.

*  Our Friday night conversation group is growing by leaps and bounds.  We have more foreigners coming and discussions have been deep and good.  We had a some people from that group over to watch a movie and plan to have them back to decorate Christmas cookies.

* In my Chinese class, the one of our vocabulary words was "Mai Dang Lao"  or Mac Donalds.  One of the North Koreans was asking the teacher how to pronounce it correctly.  It was all I could do not to ask if him they had McDonalds in North Korea.  However, I reigned in my tendency to joke inappropriately and kept my mouth shut.

*Finally, a here are a few pictures of the cat and the baby.  The baby is totally fascinated by the cat and the cat has come to a level of toleration of the baby.

The cat cuddled up by the baby as the baby plays on the floor.  The baby is wrapped in a blanket because he is cold and his head is elevated because he has a cold.

The cat decides it's time to get up.

and walks away with the baby looking longingly at him.

The interest in the cat is replaced by his fascination with his hand.

Here is the cat with the formula scoop in his mouth.  This has become his favorite toy and we try not to over-interpret the fact the the cat's favorite toy comes from the baby's source of nutrition!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

These are the things that are making me happy these days.

Our cat, sitting on top of the TV during movie night, staring people down.  He just wanted the 20 plus people to know who the king was.

Almost every day,during my Chinese class break,  I go down to the "Foreigner Restaurant"  and buy a cup of coffee that is served in this cup.

Baby gymnastics!

My daughter, foster son, cat and panda bear nebulizer!

The fact that our foster son can now reach out and  grab things!

Pizza from Pizza Cooc.  This is a family size pizza (in the US, it would be a personal pizza).  This pizza has ham, pineapple and banana

A weekend at the beach with our friends and their fabulous children.  Sometimes the only way to survive the intensity of living in a big city is to get out of the city. This weekend was a blessing.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

International Day


China and a little Papua New Guinea behind him!

Every year, the Shen Yang International School celebrates International Day.  Students, teachers and parents dress up in national or international dress.  There is a flag ceremony which is really quite moving.  Different students walk in carrying their country or another countries flag.  This year, a Korean boy in Mexican dress carried in the Mexican flag.  Elisabeth carried in the South African flag, while dressed in a Korean hanbok. After the ceremony, the kids are dismissed to eat!  This is one of those times where I am happy not to be a teacher!  There are stations of food from all around the world - all of it prepared by parents.  For example, a Korean mom (who is also my classmate in Chinese class) made taco's for the first time in her life.  The high school part of the food was the Middle East or Africa so Elisabeth made flatbread.  After the ceremony, the kids were able to go to different presentations on different countries.  We flagged down a van that happened to be leaving the school and were able to go home.  That is one more thing I love about China-people really are willing to help out!  The school is far  out of the city and we took a bus there.  If we had waited for a bus back, it would have been two and a half more hours at the school.  So finding someone who was willing to pile 10 more people into his van was really a blessing.
Here are some pictures of the day.  The school is over 80% Korean, so you will see lots of Korean dress!

Primary students lined up.

Elisabeth with her friends.

Deciding what to eat.  There were many choices.

Serving up the food!

Standing up to eat!

Sitting down to eat.

Elisabeth in a Korean Hanbok borrowed from a friend.

Blurry picture of Elisabeth standing by the South African flag.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hanging out with my buds.

Today we were very blessed  to have an occupational therapist and nurse from the US meet with the foster families of some Chinese orphans and the Chinese helpers who work for these families.
It was kind of a crazy day but worth it.  I had class this morning and Paul had to teach.  The team that came used our apartment for meetings and individual consultations.  They spent the morning working with the Chinese helpers and assessing the children.  Then they had lunch.  Then four families came in the afternoon for individual consultations. The children had varying issues- some are organic, some stem from time in the orphanage.  Poor muscle tone is a common issue for children who are left on their back for extended periods of time or children who have organic issues like Down's Syndrome.  We talked about feeding issues, sensory issues and physical therapy.
It was a long and exhausting day for the OT and nurse but valuable information was shared.  The more information we have to help these very special children, the better we can help them grow.

Physical therapy practice for our little guy.  He needs some core ab. strength!

Our little guy hanging out with his buddy JB.

JB thinks our little guy is cool and wants to touch him!  Our little guy is unsure of this approach!

JB has some physical therapy.

Another little cutie patootie and his foster mom.

We are so thankful that we get these kinds of wonderful helpers.  It really makes a difference for all of us!