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.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Caring Lost......

Wednesday as I picked Jaxon up from tutoring, I asked, as I usually do, “How was school today?” I always know the answer, but ask anyway so I can always say my son talked to me at least once that day. But yesterday, this is how our conversation went:
Me: So how was school today?
Jax: Why do you always ask me that question?
Me: it’s just a way to have a conversation; to talk to you. I’m interested in what your day is like.
Jax: It sucks. School always sucks.
Me: Oh. Well, if you keep working hard like you are, in two and a half years, you can be done, unless you want to go to college. Or you can just go to work; it will be your choice.
Jax: (after nodding) Working sucks too.
Me: So if school sucks…and work sucks….then what do you want to do?
Jax: I don’t know (with a bewildered laugh)
Me: (pursuing this a little) – if school and work suck, then what makes you happy?
Jax: I don’t know!
Me: Does playing video games make you happy?
Jax: No, not always. I play because I get bored.
Me: Ning, being happy is not about big things. It’s about all the little things that make you feel good. A beautiful day, your favorite food (for me it’s chocolate), relaxing on a Saturday afternoon, a cold drink on a hot day, things like that.
And that was where the conversation ended, he didn’t respond, and the iPod came out. But I’ve been thinking on that conversation ever since. I go back to last Thursday. We went to Taekwondo for class, only to find out they were having pictures taken; Jaxon refused. I told him I would love to have a nice picture of him in his uniform, but it didn’t matter (in this particular case, it didn’t help that Dad didn’t think pictures were a big deal either). But it illustrates the loss of caring my son and other children experience growing up as they did. With no one to teach them to be compassionate and consider others’ feelings, it is a sometimes unteachable concept at a later age. In short, Jaxon did not care about my feelings enough to do the pictures, he is unable to fathom putting someone else’s needs or desires over his own, the essential definition of love. Another example was just yesterday, I was in a small car accident. Fell asleep at the wheel; I was alone thank goodness. When I got home, all the other kids were happy to see me and concerned when I told them what had happened, asking me if I were ok. Ning never even looked up, never acknowledged me or acted like he cared whether I came home...or not. These kids are broken, broken from the very get-go. While some children are loved dearly from birth, showered with love and affection, taught how to care and empathize with people, how to interact with people… too many cases, our adopted children are not given this chance. To grow into a complete and whole person, a child needs that essential nurturing and love in their early years. Without it, parts go missing…important parts. I ache for the little boy my son once was, for the chance he had to be a whole, happy person, that got screwed up somewhere in his very early past. Perhaps his life from birth was not happy, maybe he lived in poverty, maybe he was beaten. Then he got sick. And then, somehow, he lost his birth parents. Maybe he just got lost in that bus station, maybe his mother said “now sit right here son and I’ll be right back”, but then never came back. I close my eyes and try to imagine the terror, the fear, the tears when he could not find his mama, why she was not there. What did his little mind think at that moment? Was it then he decided mothers couldn’t be trusted, that their love didn’t last, that it wasn’t “real”? Was it later after the police took him to the orphanage and he knew mama wasn’t coming back? Did he look out the window every day watching, wondering when she would return and why she didn’t, day after day? I wonder at what point he gave up, lost the trust, decided it was safer not to love, not to care, because it just hurt too much. How can he be blamed for wanting to protect his broken heart?
And thus he grew up, ok with his new life, resigned to it, but not “happy”. After all, if you look for reasons not to be happy, you will find them everywhere. It is much easier and safer to find the negative and dwell in it, than to look and dig for happiness. Happiness takes WORK. And so he is unable to be completely happy here as well, despite everything good in his life. He cannot see it, cannot embrace it, because it is not SAFE to be happy or feel love, because then it might disappear….again. Even the tremendous love we have for and show to him is not and has not been enough to heal the brokenness inside.
If a fairy godmother were to appear before me and grant me one wish, I would not wish for success, or money, or good health……………I would wish for my son to be healed in his heart, to be able to feel genuine love for another human being, to feel pure, unadulterated joy in something, to laugh with total abandon, to have the ability to see the future as something exciting, not something to be, at worst, feared, and at best, endured. In short, to put back the parts that went missing so long ago, to fill in all the cracks, so that the love he has now will stay inside and heal him, instead of just passing through.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Softball, Church camp, and fun

July 28 and school needs to start again!  But honestly, the kids have had a pretty good summer, but are getting bored and needing something to do besides tv, video games, chores, and goofing off.  They have had some good times though.  Jazmin and Judi's softball teams both won trophies in their divisions, so the season ended with a bang.

We also went to Florida for vacation....first time Ning has seen the ocean.  He never acts like anything impresses him, but we saw some smiles and he played in the sand and was a really good time.

Right after vacation, Ning had a new camp!  Now, remember, Ning does not believe in Jesus....he was raised with no religion at all.  He goes to church and a Chinese Christian church, but has so far remained resistant to God's Word.  So it was a surprise when he asked to go "camping" with his best friend, Seth.  Actually, we already knew, but we always wait for Ning to ask if he really wants something or it doesn't happen.  So he asked.  NOT because he really wanted to go to church camp, and in fact, we didn't think he was quite ready for such an intense "God" time, but Seth's parents wanted him to go, and he wanted Ning and Ning being the good friend he is, suffered for his friend, lol.  Here are some pictures from that camp.  Both boys said they did not like it and didn't have a good time, but these pictures prove they just might have had a little bit of fun and maybe, just maybe, a little of God's love for them stole into their hearts.

Another change in the household is that after 8 years, a new job opportunity knocked on the door for Jr.  He decided to go for it, as it is a nice bump in pay, but the downside is he is away from us more and gone overnight 2 nights.  Because of the timing and the way the job came about, we felt it was an answer to some financial prayers and couldn't turn away.   My hours at the hospital have been reduced for several months due to budget concerns, so the new job was truly a blessing.  
Last but not least, our new adventure (we hope).  Jr and I have always wanted to host an exchange student and since it seems our adopting days may be finally done, it seems like a good time.  We were going to wait perhaps until it was just the girls at home, but as we realize Ning will probably be staying put until he feels able to tackle the big bad world, why put those dreams on hold until "just the right time"? There is no such thing!  After some glitches, we are praying for approval for a student from China who sounds like she'd be a wonderful addition to our family for 9 months and an asset to our school.  Please keep us in your prayers for approval!
Until next time.......

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Art of Communication

I seem to be on a roll of updating about every 3 months.  The days just seem to fly by until I look up and so much time has passed.  But my mind has been on many things these past few months, but one thing in particular.....the art and design of and need for......communication.  As human beings, I believe we crave connection with another person....or I used to believe it until I met our son.  He truly seems to have no desire to communicate his own thoughts, opinions, or feelings.  True...this still is a great deal of China-raising, but after almost two years, it is clear being a loner is also just a facet of his personality.  Communication with him still remains an issue, verbal speech still elusive for unknown reasons.  Recently, we advocated strongly to have him tested at our school to look for underlying issues (not adoption-related) contributing to this and other issues.....we failed in our efforts.  Is it enough to say you tried? When you tried hard enough to make yourself a nuisance that no one wants to see you coming, even if you feel you are trying to move mountains to help your child?  What if the child themselves doesn't want your help either?
Since our piano debacle in January, Ning has decided having a mom who cares enough to make waves and "meddle" in his life isn't what he wants.  He's civil to me (pushes it sometimes), but wants no real connection with me.  That is probably the hardest thing for me to deal with, but as my husband said, we did tell ourselves something of this sort could happen, especially with a boy.  Reality bites.

In retrospect, and this is for those considering adopting an older child, we should not have started him in school so soon after coming home.  We should have kept him home at least a little longer to build some sort of attachment to us.  Instead, he formed his early attachments to people at school instead of us.  Lessons learned too late.  He does well with our younger girls, and he and James are finally beginning to find some common ground with the Xbox, so that's great to see.  In truth, Ning may just see us as "temporary", as all the other grownups in his life have been.  After all, even he's with us the next 10 years, he will eventually move on.  As with all our children, our only hope is that he's able to live a full and happy, independent life with love included.

On the homefront, the last 3 months have been busy as always.  James finished up basketball and the team did great!  James won several awards and can't wait for next season, though that will be bittersweet as it is his senior year.  Jazmin and Judi finished basketball, we had a short break, and then softball began.  Jazmin is playing on a recreational and competitive league (her choice) and is handling that and dance with grace and aplomb as always.  Judi like softball, but loves basketball, so she may stick to that in later years.
James started baseball, then decided his heart just wasn't in it; now he's looking for a job to keep him busy this summer, as is Jessica, who will arrive home May 17th.  With 5 kids in the house again, it will be back to noisy!
NingNing is taking Taekwondo and seems to be enjoying it.  He's moved up a belt already and is working on the next level.  It helps him work off some frustrations, I think, as it's fairly physical and constant movement....he gets bored very quickly.  For summer, he will continue Math and Science tutoring with a Chinese friend, English tutoring through our library, and speech therapy again through our local college.  Sounds like a lot, but it will keep him out of bed and off the iPod.  Along with Taekwondo continuing, we did not want a repeat of last summer, where all the kids got used to being a little too lazy :).  That's it for now; I will post some pics soon.....

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Holiday Happenings and other stuff

The holidays have come and gone and generally went well for the Cavender family.  Overall, everyone was very happy with their gifts, yes, even NingNing!  He anticipated it quite a bit more, knowing what was coming....not to mention the fact that he had asked for a PSP and got it.  However, that was another misstep on our part, as once again, he tends to use electronics as a way to avoid speaking and personal interaction. So we have made the executive decision to not give any more electronics to him for Christmas!  Unless they are toys or games or something interactive.  He has an iPod and now his PSP..that is plenty.
James and Jessica are into Black Friday now and helped me out as I had to work.  James stood in line for an hour and a half waiting to purchase an Xbox.....his had died in early September and it wasn't practical to buy a used one for just a few months, so he waited all that time for another one....and then we made him wait until Christmas to open it!  Nothing like prolonging the anticipation, lol!
The girls are always happy no matter what we get them....Jaz got some neon green basketball shoes and a green shag rug, and she would have been happy with just those, but of course they got more stuff.
Ning also got some of his Chinese snacks and i think he was happier about that than even the PSP!  Soon I will post a video of when he opened's the most excitement I've seen from him since he arrived.
We have been SO busy since October!  James, Jazmin, and Judi are in basketball, and the girls also do dance 3 days a week.  Jaz just informed me she got selected for the honor choir at school, so that will be another thing during February.  Some things have changed with my work, and in not a good way, so the stress was really getting to me and spilling over into home.  I have really  had to work hard at letting it go so I don't come home all snappish with the family.
James is a captain in varsity basketball and has really stepped up his game.....he made his career high the other night of 24 points in a game!  We are so proud of his effort this year.  Jess continues to do well at college and after a month home, was ready to get back to her "life"!  She did call twice the first week and said she missed her mama!  She's my sweet girl and we are so happy college is going well for her.
Ning continues to keep us guessing and STILL not talking to any major extent.  We have just passed the 17 month mark.  Sometimes, like in September and over Christmas, things just seem to "click" and seem to really start moving forward, and then it's almost like he catches himself acting like one of the family and stops again.  He is a hard kid to figure out.  His continued unwillingness to communicate with us to a great extent remains our one big stumbling block.  We have a lot of misunderstandings and unexplainable issues because we don't know what he's thinking, what he really likes, or why he's upset or unhappy.
One bummer...we recently had to end piano lessons.....this was such a hard decision because it was the one thing Ning asked for....we went and bought a piano just because he didn't like our electronic keyboard.  The only problem was, Ning doesn't seem to realize that to be good at something, you must PRACTICE!  He would, but would only play what he wanted, not what the teacher gave as homework. The teacher talked to us about it in front of Ning and it embarrassed and angered him.  We gave Ning the chance to show or tell us he wanted to continue the lessons...asked him 3 times over a week what he wanted and he always said "I don't know".  He took his anger out on me as usual..........someone told me it might be because I was "safe" to be mad at....I would still continue to be there and love him......maybe.....
So instead of piano, he gets to try Taekwondo which he's not happy about.  If he doesn't like Taekwondo, he's going to baseball.  I told him the other day I knew how it was for him in China, that he didn't have to do anything and his foster parents let him be, but this was not China anymore, and things were different here.  I also told him I simply could NOT allow him to lay in bed and play PSP all afternoon and evening as it wasn't good OR the best thing for him....we didn't allow the other sibs to do it, so not him either!  Until the piano thing, everything has been going fairly well, if incredibly busy.

Enjoy the pics....then below those I expound on as somewhat more serious subject.
December School Concert and a rare smile from NingNing

James and Jaz clowning around

Practicing his 3-point shot in pre-game

Flying down the court

We are so proud of his effort this year!

Ning on his iPod - he does this every game -says watching basketball is "boring" -but we make him come sometimes anyway to have some family time
My lovely family (with Dad and Carol)

January 2014
The above link is a family's blog who stopped their adoption due to fraud.  What, fraud in adoption, you say?!  Yes, as in all things, there is corruption here also.  Over the last month, through Facebook, Yahoo groups, and emails, I have become aware of a growing trend.  MANY older children are now being adopted, especially from China.  But wait, that's a good thing, right?  Not always, my friends.  I hear of so many families that are struggling because the son or daughter they were told wanted a family so bad either a) actually have family still in China and are therefore a "manufactured" orphan, b) are coming specifically told to "get an education and come back", c) or were coerced, lied to, manipulated into agreeing to being adopted.   The families as well are misled.  Many files are embellished, falsified, changed, or altered to make the child more "adoptable".  Let's face it; these are teenagers.  How many people are DELIBERATELY wanting to add an almost grown-up to their homes??
We were.  We stepped out in faith that this was what God wanted us to do.
We adopted NingNing based on the information we had in his file. Because his friend was doing so well, we had high hopes for Ning's transition. We were naive.  Most of the information in his file is false and when we tell Ning some of what it says, about his likes and dislikes, he looks at us like we're crazy.  He has told us no one ever asked him any questions.
Was there absolute fraud with Ning's adoption as I've heard of in others?  I would call it more of a "deliberate intent to mislead".  It was evident when we got to China Ning was not in any hardship.  He had clothes, food, friends, an education, and complete control of his free time.  Granted, he did lack a "real" family and as we've learned more in bits and pieces, his foster parents did no actual parenting...of Ning at least.  Because Ning showed a penchant for laziness (his file said only he didn't like to study), they let him be and required nothing of him.  Is it any wonder his also-unknown stubborn streak rears it's head when we ask for interaction, effort, communication, etc.
We also have recently come across information as to Ning's reason for coming to America.  For privacy's sake, I will only say that a family, a home, or an education were not his main considerations.  And as will happen, life moves on.......if a person can't move with it, they are left behind or "stuck" in between the new and the old.
I know of at least two families that are or have dissolved their adoptions because you can't maintain a healthy relationship if it's built on lies.  Lies to the children, and lies to the families.  In some cases, the children know about it, but are admonished to keep their secrets.  While we believe that Ning did indeed spend most of his life in the orphanage and is a "true" orphan, we also think there are some secrets as yet untold.   There have been times dissolution has crossed my mind (I will not sugarcoat it) ONLY because Ning has sometimes seems so lost and above all, he deserves to just be happy.  He rarely smiles or laughs and so far, has resisted embracing his American life.  What stops us is God telling us NOT to give up, NOT to give in, to persevere, that he is SUPPOSED to be here with us.  Our whole family loves him and can't imagine life without him.  I send up prayers every night for God to open Ning's heart to his life and family.

Having said all that, I STILL believe in the miracle of adoption.  I would LOVE to adopt another child.  My heart cries out for the children who truly long for a family and home.  For the ones left behind when an "aging-out", healthy, teen who doesn't really want to come is adopted instead.  Every child DOES deserve a home and family, but NOT every child WANTS one.  There are plenty of great  stories of adopted teens doing wonderfully (I personally know a few) and I am ecstatic for them and their families. Those great stories can be hard to hear however, for those of us experiencing something different , you don't know why, and people point fingers and ask what YOU are doing wrong.  It is truly an amazing thing to see a child blossom under love and care they've needed for so long.  We've experienced it twice with our daughters; we still have hope we might yet see it with Ning if we just.....keep.....going.
I would never tell someone NOT to adopt a teenager, but I would caution them to not be naive, question everything, read between the lines, don't believe the sob stories, be wise.  And be ready....for anything.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Fall Fun...

The Incredible Flying Jazmin

The Incredible Flying Judi

Truly precious gems

August 2013 - during a "peak"


As is usual, all good things usually have an end, and so did Ning's "turnaround". The last two weeks have not been a good time, but we are definitely getting used to the peaks and valleys. Why? Without going into too much detail, after a recent visit away from home, Ning has decided rules at home do not apply to him, especially one particular rule. It is not a harsh rule, or unreasonable, or even a big one, yet the absence of this rule greatly affects his ability to interact with life in general. He simply doesn't think he should have to follow it because he doesn't WANT to, period. Never mind that the other children all have the same rules and are expected to behave which they all find relatively easy to do, EVEN (gasp) older brother. While we know that he had no family rules and no "normal" parental governance of his life for basically 8 years and this is a learning process, it is also a CHOICE. It is a CHOICE of his to refuse to say good morning, goodnight, please or thank you, or even Hello to us; while in public, he does all this just fine. He told his tutor he has no desire to say these things to us or talk to us at any length. Why? We have quit asking that because there are really no answers. And honestly, HOW many teens these days are WONDEFUL kids in public, but go home and treat their families like crap? His teachers like him and expound on how social he is...and talks to them, is polite, respectful of the rules, etc. This is great, because it means he will be able to function in society just fine as a grown-up. BUT, will he be able to form a close, meaningful, emotional attachment to any one single person in his life? Maybe or maybe not. He is a perfect example of what happens to a child that is taken care of physically, but not nurtured, shaped, led, loved, wind up with emotional bankruptcy. Would attachment therapy help? Probably....but one can't force a 15-year old into a car to see a "head" doctor if they don't want the help. For myself, I have stopped asking why in general. Having deep discussions don't work, since he himself doesn't even understand why he acts the way he does. So we are giving him space, lots of space. Saturday we did lots of activities to which he wasn't taken along because we wanted to enjoy ourselves freely without a sour face. Sunday we had church and time at grandparents to which he was expected to come. At church, he fell asleep quite obviously, so when we were done, we left our seats and conversed with friends (close by) until he finally came awake and realized he was the only one still sitting...and sleeping. Because of the way he treats us, it has caused us to question our very family unit, our values, the way we do things, the rules we have, and you know what? We came to the conclusion that we are nowhere near perfect, but we are a GOOD family. We have LOTS of love, LOTS of fun, and we LOVE God and what He's done with our lives (ok, a little more money would be nice, but can't have it all, I guess!). God put Ning into our lives for a purpose. Perhaps we were only meant to be a safe haven from which he can go on and make a better life. And we are certain and satisfied with ONE thing overall. Even if he returns to China at 18 and we never see him again, for at LEAST 4 years of his life, he WILL have known love, even if he doesn't understand it or want it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

14 months since Ning walked into our lives.........

What a ride it has been!  The last 14 months have been probably the most challenging of our lives.  In the last 3 months alone, our emotions have run the gamut from frustration to despair to hope to sheer joy and back through it all again.  It reminds me of a country dance, the 2-step.  In tandem with your partner, you take two steps forward, one step back, two forward, one back, but always moving in a forward direction.
Watching Ning emerge little by little from his self-imposed cocoon is a tremendous thing to watch.  This boy who had been essentially ignored by the adults around him in China is finally realizing that, for the first time in his life, there are people who genuinely CARE about him and who he becomes.  And not just us, his family.  Our friends the Sanders and Verhulsts, his friends at school, his teachers, his tutors....a whole wealth of people invested in his future where before there were none.  There have been times when we wondered if we did the right thing bringing him home (even if it was his choice) because of his slow, sometimes difficult adjustment.  But lately, we have seen more and more signs of the sweet, funny boy Ning really is.........just in the last few weeks, we have seen more smiles and heard more laughs than in the entire first year.  He seems to have turned a corner in his own mind and perhaps is finally beginning to believe us when we say he is loved and here to stay for as long as he needs and wants.

Now for just a few updates on our summer events...........August 8 was our one-year with Ning.  Even then, let's just say it was NOT the joyous occasion it was with our girls, simply because the celebrant still wasn't sure he was happy about his decision to come here.  We kept it very low-key; went to Chinese, and I wrote him a letter about the miracle of how he happened to be in our family and close to his friends.  Then just the other day, Ning and I had the occasion to have a long conversation about many things.  He admitted having a good relationship with his foster parents, but mainly because by his own admission, they never bothered him about school, and imposed no rules or expectations on him.  They provided a place to sleep and food to eat and that was pretty much it.  He said the hardest thing for him besides learning English was getting used to the way we Americans "teach" our children by assigning consequences to actions.  This was a totally foreign concept for Ning, but once I explained WHY we are involved in school (because we care about his future) and WHY we discipline (because we care about WHO he becomes), he just seemed "lighter" somehow.

Then on August 18th, we hit another milestone........we sent our oldest, Jessica, off to college.  We all went to move her in to her dorm room, and we couldn't believe our first baby was all grown up.  Ning seemed particularly interested in the goings on, and Jazmin said she couldn't wait to go to college!  Thankfully, as I'd hoped, Jessica has settled in well, made many friends, is doing fine with her grades, and overall enjoying her freedom.

School has started for the rest of the kiddos (I will post school pics soon); James is a junior (gasp), Ning is an official high-schooler, Jaz is in 5th grade, and Judi's a big 3rd-grader. All the kids are doing well, though James is chomping at the bit to get to graduation already.  How do you tell your kids to slow down, to not want to grow up so fast?    Ning continues in his ESL program, and we have him in extra tutoring 4 additional hours a week.  Some of it is through our college's Speech clinic and he is making amazing progress.  He has even, finally, begun to use English in sentences and spontaneously answer questions; you can tell it makes a huge difference in his attitude to be able to communicate even that little amount. He has gone from just learning phonics during the summer to 2nd grade level stories and books already!  And the most amazing thing is that he has begun working extra hard on his English at HOME; that has made so much difference in his progress and his ability to interact with us.

Other news is that we got a "real" piano just this last weekend!  Ning didn't like our 20-year old keyboard for some reason, and I have to admit I love having a piano......I have always wanted one, a childhood dream of mine.  And the bonus is......Ning has practiced every day without me saying a word; yahoo!
Between piano, dance, and basketball, the kids keep us running.  James will start varsity basketball in early November and then things will really get interesting!  And I'm already looking forward to Spring baseball and both my boys playing; that will be fun to watch them both play on the same team.