Stromberg's Adoption Dream

The journey to our little girl in China

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Happy Birthday Lydia!

This post is late in coming, but Lydia is two!  On April 12th we celebrated her with a sweet little family birthday party.  We decided on a farm theme because since she arrived home we have read her Big Red Barn, for every nap and bedtime.  She loves the animals and the rhythmic storyline and what strikes us as funny is that she has most positively never actually seen a farm.  🙂  None-the-less it’s her favorite.  So with toy farm animals and a farm themed cake we celebrated little Lydia DanQing.  Her first birthday party.  Wow.  To think how we fussed over first birthday parties for our boys and here she was being truly celebrated for the first time.  It was a wonderful day.

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In contrast her actual birthday, two days before her party April 10, was a bit of a strange day for me.  I experienced a strange mixture of joy and grief on that day.  Adoption is beautiful, and messy and as I think my older sister put it once, life can be a bit of ‘beautiful mess.’  That’s how it felt on Lydia’s birthday.  I woke up, went in to her room, got my usual big bear hug from her, snuggled her, and went about getting ready for the day.  I was overcome with my love for her.  Lars and I say it often, “we couldn’t love her any more!”  She is so wonderful.  After knowing her for all of three months I could say she is quick to learn, clever, determined, responsive, receptive and  SO loving.  She is ‘all-in’. She snuggles hard and hugs tight and wants to be held most the time.  She can’t get enough.  She is a beautiful, active, smart little girl and she is a delight.  …Here is where the ‘mess’ comes in.

Somewhere in China, there is a woman who will never know her daughter.  At one point in the day I was overcome with sadness over this fact, and  sat sobbing at my computer.  I just sobbed.  Grieving for Lydia’s mother  in China who didn’t get to know this child.  I think of Lydia’s birth mother often, like every day.  I pray for her and I wonder about her.  And I grieve for her loss.  Because no matter the difficult circumstances surrounding her being unable to keep Lydia, she gave birth to a child, and is I’m sure, remembering her in some way.

This email best sums up the emotions of the day for me.  And for all the fellow adoptive parents reading this blog, I’m sure I’m not alone in the emotional messiness I experienced on this day.

“Family,
What a special day. A bittersweet day. So strange the emotions I’m feeling. I could not be more in love with this little gem that has forever changed our world. I am so, her mother. She is ours, such a treasure. Such a gift to us.
And yet, I have burst into tears twice today as I think of Lydia’s mother in China. Because no matter the circumstances that surrounded her having to give up her baby girl, she is remembering today…this week…last week, whenever her real birthday is/was. She will never forget carrying Lydia and giving her away. I am so overcome with grief for a woman I will never, ever know. The reality of her loss has hit me like a brick and I’m just so sad for her.
So, please pray that this mother out there somewhere, halfway around the world, has some crazy knowing sense that Lydia is fine. That she is adopted and loved and provided for. I believe God is that big, so pray with me.

Love you dear family.
Kate”

And God is that big.  So if you’re a praying person, pray with me. Pray for Lydia’s birth mother (and father) somewhere in China.  That God would touch their lives, reveal himself, bring them health and peace and a knowing sense that Lydia has found a home where she is safe and healthy and loved.

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“I’ll Be Here In the Morning.”

The last ten weeks have been full as we have become a family of five.  It’s a whole new dynamic. And we are quickly finding a new normal. And honestly I’m amazed to say the only real bump in the road has been sleep. While in China we had some sleep struggles, and after an initial two weeks home of what I might term, ‘happy shock” adjustment and decent sleep, Lydia wised-up. She realized that we are here to stay. Day after day, we were not leaving. And so she has been bonding, like all-in, really tight, don’t leave me ever , bonding. This is great. Except for the fact that she only wanted to sleep in the blue chair with me holding her for hours at a time. Or in our bed, which was not working for either Lars or me.

Then came surgery. She did great. She was a champ, and truly we hoped that perhaps how very tired she was post-surgery or the medications she was on would send her to peaceful rest in her crib. Not so.

We came home from the hospital on a Thursday and on Friday I attempted this.

Didn’t work, not close enough.

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Then Lars finally said the words I didn’t want to hear.  “Kate, I think it’s the crib…”  My heart sank, because I knew he was right.   It was the crib.  Lydia had spent the first 21 months of her life mostly confined to her crib.  It was her playpen, it was where she ate (saw this at the orphanage), slept, and probably sat for hours every day…   But for me, her crib meant one thing.  It meant she was a Baby.

I had sat in my blue chair for months dreaming of and praying for the baby girl who would love that crib.  Who I would peacefully lay down to sleep in that crib.  My Jenny Lind, gifted to us from the church when Quinn was first born.  The bumper, my only spurge, that I had carefully chosen and based the whole room around.  The $18 vintage Swedish table-cloth I had turned into a crib skirt after hours of searching on Etsy.  I thought she would love it.

I roll my eyes at myself when I think of how attached I was to the whole idea of that crib, but when you don’t get to have a pregnancy in anticipation of a child, you put your maternal energies into, cribs and nursery colors and honestly anything that makes you feel like you are preparing for something BIG.

So to think of taking it down, meant all those hopes of her loving it were not-to-be.  But more-so, it meant I had to be honest with myself and admit that although Lydia seems in so many ways a baby, in truth, she is a toddler.  I had to let go of my desire to ‘hold-on’ to the crib, since it was clear it would not help Lydia sleep peacefully through the night. And I had to quickly work through my sadness over each step we had to take away from her ‘baby-dom’. A sweet ‘baby-dom’ that sadly, we had missed out on. We had already had to take-away her bottle prior to surgery, and now the crib too?

But the truth remained that Lydia had decided she was done with cribs and no amount of Jenny Lind spindles, or Pottery Barn bumpers or soft blankets would make her like it.  She was done.  So, just as Lars knew I would, I had a ‘moment’.  I sat down in the blue chair, had some tears, took a breath and watched as Lars dismantled the crib.  He even left it in the boys room for a couple days, in case I should want to put it back up.  But, I knew it was down for good.

The next night looked something like this.

…Still not close enough for her liking.

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So, the next day, we decided to go for it.  I went mattress shopping and we brought up from the basement the beautiful bed a sweet neighbor had gifted us for Lydia.  It was perfect.  And Lydia loved it immediately.  Again I had tears..this time happy ones.

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We then spent about a week sleeping with Lydia in her bed: taking turns.  She slept, we didn’t so much.  We began a very deliberate bedtime routine.  Same book (Big Red Barn), same CD (Hidden in My Heart:  a lullaby journey through Scripture), prayers, kisses.   And the very first night she fell asleep peacefully, no tears, no fussing.

And because God is God and he wants to show me over and over that He does indeed care about the details of my life, I watched as Lydia drifted to sleep to the following lyrics. “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.  Know that I am with you.  You will never be alone.”

And that is God’s word for Lydia.  His truth and my prayer.  She will never be alone.  This idea struck me to the core.  This is one of God’s most incredible promises in scripture.  To never leave us orphans.  How grateful I am to live into this truth daily.  God is with me.  I can know him.  And because of this truth, I can rest.  And so too, can Lydia.  She can rest knowing she is not alone.

The day after the big girl bed went up Lars preached a sermon.  It was about this truth from Scripture and about Lydia.  Read it here.

After a couple weeks of sleeping with Lydia we moved to sitting in the blue chair until she fell asleep and then quietly slipping out.  And then just three weeks ago, Lars decided to try what had worked with the boys.  He said good-night and left the room.  She cried.  He came back in, said, “put your head on your pillow honey, goodnight, love you, I’ll be here in the morning.”  He left, she cried.  He did this for an hour.  And then she finally put her head on her pillow and went to sleep.

And that was it.  She sleeps.  And the key words for her were, “love you, I’ll be here in the morning.”  I have actually watched her body relax as I speak those words.  She is believing those words to be true.  She is resting.

Three months ago today, Lydia walked into my arms and went from orphan to beloved daughter.  And by God’s grace she is resting in our love and the knowing that we will be there in the morning.  She will never be alone.  How good God is to give her (and us) that awesome promise.

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“Ah, la la”

Wednesday of this week marks two months of having been home from China with Lydia.  And now I’m choked-up…  How can it be, only two months? Eight short weeks ago, we were still just getting to know each other in China; signing papers, touring, signing more papers and just barely beginning to take-in all that is this precious little girl, our daughter.  In the last eight weeks this precious little girl has had much to take in.

First, she was ever-so-quickly introduced to two brothers.  And within days they were wrestling, laughing and hugging. Alby refers to Lydia as “you cute little baby’ more than he actually uses her name.   And while the arrival of baby sister, definitely upset his world (nearly six years of being the baby) a bit, he has fully come around, and man he is smitten. He doesn’t even get that mad when she breaks his legos.  🙂

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Quinn was a natural, being a bit older and so excited for her arrival.  He’s a rather excitable child so what I mean is SOOOOOOO excited for her arrival.  🙂  Quinten lights up when Lydia comes in the room, finds her entirely entertaining and Lydia is quite aware she has him tied-around-her-little-finger.  It’s great.

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Not only has she been introduced to siblings, but also, the other special people in our lives.  Extended family.  She was greeted by all four grandparents and one great-grandma at the airport. Day two of being home she met her aunt Kara from St. Paul, so fun!  My older sister, Emily with Abby (Em’s middle girl) in-tow came for a quick visit a few weeks ago.  Emily was as startled as we were when upon entering the house, Lydia literally ran to greet her with a big open armed hug!  Tears all around, so awesome.

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Lydia has had a few trips out to Mormor and Papas house, including a Peterson family gathering.  Mormor comes on Tuesdays while I’m at Bible Study, and Liddy has quickly learned that Papa will give her anything she wants.  Anything. 🙂  Last night when he was babysitting, she wanted three cheese sticks.  Three… ‘really Dr. Judge?’- says her digestive track.  And just last weekend Lydia got to spend some good time with Grandma and Boompa from MN.  She loved every minute of their attention and they hers.  Precious.  And here’s the thing.  Kids just know.  They know who the special people are.  They have a sixth sense about who family is and somehow what it all means.  It’s been a joy to watch her take-in so much love.

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But, I wonder, does she understand love?  Surely, she was loved by the nanny that cared for her in her orphanage.  We have pictures.  Precious pictures, where she’s playing with her nanny, being silly with her, even giving kisses.  In our months of waiting, the boys and I prayed often that one of the nannies that cared for her would really love her, bond with her, give her extra care and attention.  And I believe God heard that prayer.

But still I wondered does she know?  Can she know how deeply loved she is.  From the day we met Lydia, we have been telling her over and over that we love her.  I tell her many times a day.  And a few weeks back God gave me a verbal gift, from my non-verbal child.  Lydia is limited in her speech.  She can make the following sounds, ah, pa, na, ma, la and guh.   Her cleft, limits her ability to even try forming many sounds and we can’t wait for the day she finds her voice, literally.  But, the gift I got a few weeks back told me that though, she can’t form many sounds, she understands nearly everything we are saying. We can say, “Lydia, bring me the ball”, or “put this in the garbage”, or “wave goodbye” and she does it.  But, her understanding was fully confirmed when I was rocking her in the blue chair before bed and said, “I love you” because she took my face in her little hands, smiled and responded with, “Ah, la la.”

There was my answer.  She knows.  She knows that she is so loved.  And as has happened so many times in the last ten plus weeks of having this little girl as my daughter God has showed-up in and through her.  She doesn’t speak words yet, but she has been a mouth-piece from God to me.

This Sunday was the first in ten weeks that I sat in a Sunday service and heard a full sermon.  I ventured to leave Lydia in the nursery for the first time.  She was there with the boys and our beloved nursery workers (her future preschool teacher) and she did great.  The sermon was from John 15:1-17.  About the True Vine and the branches.  I’ve read it, heard it preached on before, many times in fact.  It’s a beautiful passage.  But this time, I heard something new.  Verse 9-10 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands you will remain in my love…. vs17 This is my command: Love each other.”

Lydia is remaining.  God wanted me to know Lydia is resting in the love He has for her -the family he has placed her in.  She is knowing and experiencing love as Jesus intended it and she is learning to trust and love in return.

“Ah, la la”, Lydia.

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Post-Surgery Update- All is well!

We are over a week out from Lydia’s surgery and I am thrilled to say, all is well.  She is doing great, today being the first day I did not give her pain meds.  She seems pain-free, except for the fact that she’s got some teeth coming in.   Here is the recap of the surgery.

We got into University of Chicago on a snowy morning at 7:15am.  We met the anesthesiologists and other Drs who would be working on her in surgery.  The primary surgeon is a wonderful man, who has great bedside manner and has clearly done this particular surgery many times.  What a blessing.  We got Liddy all dressed in her little ‘gown’, gave Daddy (ga-ga) a big smooch, and off she went with the sweet anesthesiologist resident.  The Dr. was extra smiley and put Lydia at ease.  That, and we let her bring the tube of chapstick and aquafor she found in my purse into surgery.  🙂

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Then we waited.  We walked down the hall, got on the elevator (I had some tears), just nerves I guess.  We ate some breakfast downstairs and came back up to continue to wait.  We texted, read, Lars took a cat-nap and then we got a call from the surgeons about 1.5 hours later saying the stage 1 cleft repair was complete and now the ear tubes would be put in.  Great news!  The surgeon came out and said the surgery went well.  I asked to see pictures and he showed me a picture on his camera.  They made little incisions in her inner cheek to allow the uvula to come together in the back of her throat.  Pretty fascinating to see. We shook the surgeons hand, said a big thank you and a wash of relief came over me.  We were close to being finished.  I had not been away from Lydia for this long in her waking hours and it felt strange.

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It was at this point that I had a revelation about recovery.  I asked the Dr. could we please not put her into a crib for recovery.  I knew she would freak out and, honestly anyone might, the part of the crib without bars is covered in plastic, and frankly it’s exactly like a cage.  Forty five minutes later we were called again and told they would be moving her to recovery.  We followed and found our little munchkin laying their peacefully in her bed. Still very much asleep.

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She was hooked up to lots of monitors.  But her oxygen looked good and on we waited.  It took probably close to 45 minutes and she started to stir, at which point I was able to get into the bed and hold her.  Perfect.  She was groggy for a very long time, but rested peacefully in my arms.  We had to wait for a bed to open upstairs for nearly 2 hours…  But when it finally did, we were moved their quickly and relieved to have some privacy.

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The nursing staff was wonderful and Lydia hardly fussed.  It was now 2:45 and Lars and I ate some lunch.  Lydia woke and fussed a bit on and off all evening and through the night, but likely from discomfort, not pain.  She was medicated and all in all she was a champ!  Nurses came in throughout the night to check various monitors and see how she was doing, and mainly she stayed sleepy.  She did wake at 3am an wanted to drink, which was awesome.  One step closer to getting to go home!  And thank goodness she did so well and I didn’t need much help, because poor Lars was out of commission with some form of food poisoning, from the Au Bon Pan downstairs…  Bummer.

The next morning, Lydia was more awake, looking at books and wanting to eat.  She ate some squeezy baby foods, the Dr. checked-in and after a bit more waiting, we got to leave around 1pm.  Hurray!  All in all, a really good experience, as hospital stays go.  🙂  Funny thing, a couple nurses commented on swelling in her face, to which I replied, nope those are just her cheeks!  Seriously she wasn’t swollen.  🙂  LOVE those cheeks!

Lydia’s recovery at home has included all pureed foods, which she’s sick of… And wearing little arm stabilizers that don’t allow her to bend her elbows and reach her mouth.  Kind of sad to see, but she manages to play just fine with robot-like arms.  Her next surgery will be in the Fall, and we hope that surgery will close the opening and allow her to focus on learning to talk with the help of speech therapy.  For now, we are just happy that we have one surgery behind us.  One step closer to a repaired cleft.

And, to think, for seventeen of the seventeen and a half months we waited for Lydia, cleft palate was not a medical condition we had said, ‘yes’ to.  It was not on our list, seemed too daunting.  But God knew better 🙂 and he gave us a change of heart at the perfect time.  Lydia’s cleft palate, her ‘special need’ is the very thing that brought us together.  So, with each surgery I will remain grateful for God’s good timing, for his good plan for Lydia’s life,  and for the ‘special need’ that brought Lydia into our lives.

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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back…

Feb 20th, we had our big Dr. appointment for Lydia.  Her first big evaluation by the ‘Cleft Team’ at University of Chicago, to determine where we are at, and what exactly is going on in that little mouth of hers.  It was a great appointment with her first surgery set for this Wednesday morning, March 5th.  And since the appointment, while we continue to see wonderful forward momentum in many areas, we’ve experienced some regression in others.

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Two Steps Forward:  Bonding

After being home from China for 1 month all my hopes and prayers for bonding have been met, even exceeded.  My precious daughter likes me.  Hurray!  She likes me and I like her, love her, am mildly obsessed with her darling little self.  Her little face, the scrunchy thing she does with her nose when she’s trying to be funny, the way she takes my face in her little hands and just smiles at me, those beautiful dark eyes, her silly open mouth kisses, how she plays with my pony tail when we snuggle.  I’m a puddle.  Two weeks ago when I left the house to run an errand, she burst into tears, like mad, how could you leave me tears.  This was huge.  It was the first time she was visibly upset to see me leave.  I felt bad leaving. (but may have done a silent fist-pump over the gesture of her tears, thinking “she likes me, she really likes me!”)  It was thrilling.  We have bonded and it’s oh so sweet.  (Important note- she likes her daddy too.)  🙂

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One Step Back (or several…): Sleeping

Even with the assurance of our forward steps toward healthy attachment and bonding, we’ve experienced some set-backs in the area of sleep.  She has never liked her crib.  I think it’s because she spent too much time in one for the first 21 months of her life…  I wouldn’t like it either.  But somehow, after our big Dr. appt day, her feelings have taken a turn from moderate distaste to pure disdain.  She hates the crib.  This means that the routine we had for 5 weeks in China and at home, of rocking her to sleep and then carefully placing her in her crib no longer works.  Now the moment we begin to lay her down, so jolts awake in a fit of rage.  She is ticked!  How dare we leave her in that crib.

So the last week+ has been filled with failed attempts at sleep.  We’ve tried holding her hand through the crib. No go.  Music. No dice.  Whimsical ceiling projections.  Didn’t work.  Singing.  Nope.  Laying with her on the floor beside her crib.  Not sure what I thought this would accomplish.  I have prayed over her.  For sweet dreams and deep sleep and happy thoughts about her crib.  Nothing has changed, she’s just not having it. Some days last week I devoted 6+ hours a day to rocking her at nap and bedtime.  And the boys got very little attention.  I felt horrible.  It was a no-win.

This means that she ends up, (gasp) in our bed.  And here’s the thing.  We are not bed-sharers.  Never have been.  We have a queen that fits the two of us fine, but once a child is added it feels somehow dangerous.  Like where did the space go, who will fall our first, dangerous? But it’s the only thing that works, so Lars has ended up on the couch and Liddy with me. And I don’t sleep for fear of smooshing her and I also get kicked and slapped all night because she’s a mover.  It’s grand…

But on one particularly frustrating night a few days ago, (when I had to tell the boys to put themselves to bed, again) I had a grand realization as I sat in the blue chair rocking sleeping Lydia.  All this sleep craziness, is actually answered prayer. How ironic.  For months I sat in the blue chair, praying for Lydia.  I prayed that she might feel safe and secure in our love.  That as we held her, she would attach to us, trust us, bond.  And here we are.  She has no interest in being soothed by a soft toy, the edge of blanky, a pacifier or even her thumb.  She just wants me.  I’m it.  I’m the soother.  I can pick her up after a fit of heaving sobs and she is sound asleep in my arms in mere seconds.  She feels safe and secure and peaceful.  She rests.

All she really wants is someone to be with her.  To be near, like listening to our heartbeats, near.  And then she rests.  It’s beautiful.  And if I didn’t have other children to care for, homework to help with, other needs to meet, I would gladly sit in that blue chair forever and just rock and rock, because it’s heaven.  But with Lars working three or four nights a week, I have to do my best to figure out how to juggle three at bedtime.  And the truth is I haven’t really and I’m tired, we’re tired.

Thankfully, in recent days we have found that we can lay down with Lydia in our bed, and silently slip out of the room after she falls asleep and then move her to the crib hours later.  Works most of the time.  Until it’s two in the morning and she wakes up crying and we start the process all over again…

And in one day any sense of ‘figuring out sleep’ will go by the wayside, because miss Lydia will be in surgery, and then recovery and we will start the figuring-out all over again.  But one thing remains, I  get to be her soother.  I will climb in that hospital bed with her, I will hold her as long as she wants me to and I will treasure the way her little body molds, and rests in my arms.  Amazing to think Lydia waited 21 months for a mother’s embrace.  And now that she has it, it’s all she wants.  It’s her peace.  How awesome.  I believe God made us with a deep longing for this kind of love and so even in my very sleepy state, I will remember, this is exactly what I prayed for.

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American Girl

We have been home for two weeks and I marvel at the fact that Lydia is an American. Just like that she became an American and now she has the diet and experiences to prove it. She loves mac n cheese, she enjoyed shopping at Target, she even ate a hot dog at Costco (well part of one). 🙂 She has seen some part of Star Wars Episode One, thank you Quinn and Albin for exposing her to America’s film culture so young. She is all-in. She’s even cheering on the American Olympians with us as we are enjoying the Winter Olympics. And she’s loving it. The food, the sights the sounds of suburban American life. And one day, much to her mother’s delight, she will have her very own American Girl doll. I’m already much too excited about that shopping trip, and even purchased an American Girl doll, Chinese silk dress while in China. Yep, that happened.

And while I am thrilled for her new identity as an American, I can’t stop thinking about China and feeling some loss for dear Lydia.

On the day we flew out of Henan province, leaving for Guangzhou, Lydia and I both had tears. Lydia sobbed for the first 20 minutes of the flight. Maybe it was her ears, maybe the loud sound of take-off, maybe she was over-done with the stimuli of the airport. Who knows. She finally settled as I held her in her blanket and then suddenly I was overcome.

I began to cry, silent heaving sobs the kind that took me by suprise. Lars leaned over asking if I was okay. I wasn’t but couldn’t figure out why. I continued to cry, and then it occurred to me, I was feeling a sort of grief. We were leaving. We were leaving Lydia’s province, her city, her very birthplace behind. All the things that were so tied to her identity, the things that made her distinctly Chinese, we were leaving. And the truth is no matter how we try, we won’t be able to recover her identity as a Chinese person. As someone from Xinyang. Because that is no longer who she is. And as much as I wanted to get to Guangzhou, have that consulate appointment and get home, I was so aware that something needed to be grieved. There needed to be a leaving before there would be a cleaving to a new identity as an American. So I cried. I cried on Lydia’s behalf as she slept in my lap.

Once we landed in Guangzhou, I had had my tears and felt a new sense of purpose – let’s get home. I didn’t revisit the emotions of that plane-ride after that, but in the last few days as I have watched the Chinese olympians compete with Lydia by my side, I have begun to wonder at how she will engage with her Chinese heritage and identity. I wonder at the complexity of her teenage and young adult years as she tries to understand her identity as an adopted Chinese American. Is that even the right terminology?

And as I have pondered these things, something occurred to me, that felt rather revelatory. Lydia and I are not so different. We are both Americans, who have to work to learn about and celebrate our cultural heritage. And just as my parents worked to keep our heritage alive, bringing us to visit both Sweden and England, Lars and I will one day do the same for Lydia. We will return to China. She will experience Chinese culture, visit Xinyang, possibly even see her orphanage.

And as much as my childhood was filled with markers of my heritage by way of a Swedish smorgesbord every Christmas Eve, dala horse decor and goofy British humor, Lydia’s childhood will be marked with Chinese Artwork in our home, celebration of Chinese festivals and New Years traditions and trips to ChinaTown.

And then there are our names. I am Katie Lyn, named after my two grandmothers, Carolyn and Gwendolyn, one Swedish, one English. Lydia’s middle name DanQing, was her given name in China, kept as a way to honor her heritage. Our very names call us to recognize where we came from, the heritage that marks us. And every time she fills out a form she will be reminded of her Chinese roots. Of the Chinese nannies and orphanage officials that cared for her and named her after the color combination of reds and blue-greens used in traditional Chinese paintings. How beautiful. We hope she sees her name as a gift, a way to honor the land of her birth. Or at very least a piece to her identity puzzle.

So as I reflect on my tears as we left Henan Province, I feel glad to have grieved on Lydia’s behalf, committed to keep her heritage alive for her as she grows and thankful for her new identity as an American. She is indeed our little American girl. An American girl who looks like some beautiful combination of her Chinese birth parents. And who will undoubtedly eat both Swedish meatballs and fried rice. A girl who will dance around a maypole at family Midsummer gatherings, and receive red envelopes on Chinese New Year.

And we are certain Lydia will do her own grieving and celebrating as she grows, but for now she is just a happy toddler with darling black pigtails running around in pink Osh-Gosh overalls. And life is good and simple for this little American girl.

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3 week old

20 days ago a tiny stranger walked into my arms. She was tired from a long train ride, she was a little feverish and she had on five layers of clothing. This morning she lays in her own crib. Not metal and cold, but a soft Jenny Lind style spindle with a sweet bumper and soft balnkets. She’s home. Oh, and she only has on a onesie and some soft jammies. 🙂

We’ve been on a sleepy roller-coaster all week trying to figure out the time change and manage a 21 month old who is essentially really only a three week old to us. During our third night home when I was on the 11:30-1am shift with Liddy, feeling dangerously sleepy, it occurred to me, she’s really just a three week old. She’s only known us for a little shy of three weeks. Would I let a three week old cry themselves to sleep in their crib, now way. I remembered how my Dad, a Family Dr., always says that for the first 3 months of a baby’s life, you are on their schedule. They signal hunger and you feed, on demand. They want another nap shortly after the one they just had, let them sleep. You follow their cues. And you build trust. They learn to trust that when they signal for help or comfort or sleep or food, you will respond, every time. Thus building strong attachements. It makes sense.

So here we are with what amounts to a very large three week old. 🙂 She’s learning that we will respond to her needs, every time. Or maybe moreso, she is un-learning some things. When she was one of twenty other babies in one room, it’s certain that the nannies couldn’t respond every time she signaled for help. Even if they were doing their absolute best, it’s certain she was at times hungry, or too hot or too cold, or perhaps, lonely, just wanting to be held. So she is un-learning the idea that crying doesn’t always help. Fussing doesn’t signal, I have a need. She now has not one but, four people ready to hear and respond. And honestly I have somehow relished this idea. When she cries waking up from a nap, I run up the stairs, picking her up. Oh, and get this. She has started reaching. This is huge. Rather than just lie there, staring at the ceiling, with tears streaming down her cheeks, she stands up and reaches. Not every time, but it’s becoming more regular.

And then comes the best part. I get to pick her up, and say softly in her ear, “Mommy’s here, mommy’s here.” And she just rests. Her little body relaxes and molds and we rock together in the blue chair. I can’t remember how many times something must be repeated for it to become established as routine, or trustworthy in our minds. But I know that each time we respond to Lydia’s signals we are getting closer to erasing the idea that crying doesn’t signal help, and establishing the idea that it not only signals help but comfort and love.

We’re getting there. Three weeks in and we already know her fussy cry vs her mad or sad cry. We are learning this little girl and we are responding.

In other news she has experienced a lot of firsts. First trip to the Dr., did great. First trip to Target, first time in a shopping cart, did great. She is starting to understand stairs and that she can not walk up them like an adult. Hilarious/dangerous to watch. She is loving American food, pizza, pasta, stuffed peppers, mac n’ cheeese, gerber graduates baby food, chocolate chip cookies. Today she will watch her brothers basketball game. She is loving life with busy, loud brothers. She has yet to attempt to eat a lego piece and she is awesome at building with duplo legos. She has also had a tea party with her brothers and even joined in a wrestling match with the boys and Daddy. And it’s all feeling so normal. Except for all the pink-ness and ruffles, and hair-bows. That isn’t feeling normal for me yet, but rather, just plain wonderful. 🙂

So here we are with our rather large three-week old Lydia, and we are all loving life as a family of five. And the three-week old sleeping schedule is coming along. Last night was huge. We, actually, wait for it….slept through the night. Like, long enough for me to dream and remember it. (I dreamt I had dinner with the Royals. We shared favorite Christmas traditions, it was awesome.)

Lydia is still sleeping right now, in fact. And I’m just waiting to hear her whimper, her signal. So I can rush up there and respond. Responding is why I love motherhood. Each time I respond I get to build trust with the dear and precious little ones God has entrusted me with. And in turn these precious little ones learn that Mommy and Daddy hear them, we are safe and trustworthy and loving. The very things we want them to learn about their Heavenly Father. He hears them. He is safe and trustworthy and loving. And He will respond to their needs, every time.

Here are some pictures from our first few days together.

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Home

We are home. (insert Hallelujah chorus here)

The end of our journey was fairly smooth, or as smooth as it can be with a 21 month old on a plane for nearly 15 hours. We left from Hong Kong, ever so thankful for our last minute decision to purchase a seat for Lydia and there we sat three ducks in a row. Lars and I so aware of all that was about to change. We would be a family of five. Lydia would be meeting her two brothers, her grandparents, one great-grandmother and dear friend of mommy’s at the airport in a ‘mere’ 🙂 15 hours. Lydia DanQing Stromberg would become an American citizen once her feet touched the ground in 15 hours. So much was about to happen for Lydia and there she sat in between Lars and I totally unaware. Beautiful.

The flight consisted of Lydia looking at a great board book, lengthy games of ‘moving cheerios’ between various cups, fitful sleeping, some tears and one good 1.5 hour nap. It was a LONG flight. On a flight that long, watching the map screen on the seat back in front of you, go from ’15 hours’ to ’12 hours’ to ‘9 hours to destination’ gives no satisfaction. It’s just a long time to be off the ground any way you slice it. Lydia did great. Honestly, she was awesome, and she didn’t even kick the seat in front of her. Wow.

The only hiccup came during the landing, when her stomach got the best of her and she threw-up a couple times. Poor kid. We were prepared with zip-lock bags and came away with no damage to us or her sweet little dress. But she arrived in America exhausted and pale. 🙂 But hey, so did I and I didn’t even puke.

We got off the plane, glided effortlessly through customs. And then it was time to present our ‘sealed brown envelope’ to immigration. This was the final document of the adoption. We stood at the counter, handed the envelope to the officer, he looked at Lydia, said congratulations and Lydia promptly threw-up…in my hands. And there it was, a somehow appropriate response to the events of the day, and a bumpy landing. A long plane-ride, citizenship, meeting your family for the first time. I would throw-up too.

We left immigration and walked through the doors. And there was the crew. Both sets of parents, my Grandma Peterson and dear friend Courtney with baby Joy in-tow, and two sisters on FaceTime. It was wonderful. Lydia, fresh from a sick stomach was a little apprehensive, but did so well meeting her brothers for the first time. Lars and I hugged them first and then they met Lydia.

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And there was much rejoicing! And then we got in the car, the five of us, a family. Lydia had never been in a car-seat and cried for part of the way home, and then we came home to this.

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An awesome welcome from our church family. All the people who prayed for and supported us through this long journey. Their messages are precious and we felt so loved. Not to mention the boys and Grandma and Boompa had decorated the house for Lydia’s arrival.

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The rest of the day was spent letting Lydia explore the house. To think, she had never been in a house. Never climbed stairs. Never seen a fridge, a dishwasher, a fireplace. She walked around, content to look and wander, occasionally making sure Lars and I were close by.

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Lydia seemed content and surely tired as she played and explored the house. But truly, it just felt good and even somehow ‘normal’ to see her walking around and playing with blocks and her brothers’ match-box cars. Like, of course, it’s just as it should be. And I know Jesus agrees. After all, this was the story He chose to re-write for her life. This was His idea, not ours. This is His working faithfulness. And He was smiling yesterday. Smiling because all is as it should be. Lydia was rocked to sleep in the ‘blue chair’, she ate dinner with her brothers and grandparents, she has clean clothes and a warm house and toys to play with, she is safe and treasured and so deeply, deeply loved.
And as I think on the last 24 hours, my eyes fill with tears, because Jesus is smiling on little Lydia DanQing Stromberg who is finally and forever home.

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Re-Entry Plan

Well, we’re officially done. We’re done with the paperwork, visa in hand, done packing, done shopping, done with Chinese Yuan money, and totally done with this trip mentally and emotionally. We’re ready to come home in a way that is beyond words.

Lars here, our last night in Guangzhou. We head by van to Hong Kong tomorrow, stay one night and then hop on a direct flight on Sunday morning, yes, the same Sunday morning we arrive in Chicago. The math takes my brain hurt too. We’ll be on one of the longest flights in the world, direct to Chicago. Pray for sleep for Lydia.

So with that in mind, we thought we might share some thoughts on our re-entry plan. These feelings come from our experience with Liddy thus far, conversations with fellow adoptive parents, and a lot of reading on childhood attachment. We do this because it’s important to share our expectations with friends and family upon our return. Bringing this child into our family and community is so fundamentally different than bringing our newborn boys into our world. We think it’s only fair to share a few important items to us. As we shared the other day, it’s all about Lydia right now, and these requests are all in her best interests.

For the next several weeks/or perhaps months, unless we let you know otherwise, we need to be the only people to hold or care for Lydia. We request that you not pick her up or attempt to take her from our arms. Also, we need to handle feeding, diaper changing, clothing, etc. The reason for this is to ensure that Lydia understands who her parents are and that she bonds and attaches to us. God’s design for the family has been disrupted for Lydia, and it will take some work for us to restore it.

So please don’t be offended at home, church or elsewhere when we don’t pass Lydia around. Feel free to greet her warmly, speak to her, and give her a squeeze while she’s in our arms. Lydia is not shy. In fact, our concern is that she is quite indiscriminate. She may well reach for you, and Katie and I will pull her back in our arms. Please understand that we trust and love you all, we haven’t all of a sudden become germophobes or anything like that. We’re simply following good sound wisdom. I am confident that it won’t be long before Lydia is fully integrated into our family and community system and is attaching properly. Until then, we’ll be keeping her close and guarding her from confusion.

We hope you understand. Please don’t be shy about knocking on the door if you’re bringing anything over to the house (thanks for organizing meals, WOW!). We’d love to say hello for a few minutes, introduce Liddy if she’s awake, and give you a hug for all the prayers and encouragement throughout this entire process.

We’re SUPER excited for you to meet Lydia, and it’s hard for us to be so careful with her interactions, but thanks for understanding and supporting us as the process continues.

If this all seems a bit heavy handed, here are some adorable pictures of my daughter. Love to all.

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80%

In the two weeks we have been traveling, certain phrases have made their way into our everyday vocabulary. Two of the phrases were coined by a veteran adoptive family. This family is back to adopt their second daughter and the last time they traveled with…drumroll please…17 other families. Oh my! Now that is a BIG group!

The first phrase is “80%” or “eh..about 80%”
You speak this phrase in reference to something being almost, nearly, or kinda tasting like “home” or “American” or “the way you’re used to it” And typically the phrase is said with a little shrug or twinkle in ones eye.

Here are some ways this phrase can be used.
“How was the burger from the hotel retaurant?” “Eh, 80%.”
“How did you like the grilled cheese?” “About 80%.”
“Good ketchup on the fries?” “80.”

We have been using this phrase a fair amount because at this point in the trip we just can’t eat Chinese food for every meal. Just can’t do it. The way I wouldn’t eat a hamburger everyday at home. Not that the food is bad, because it’s not. It’s very good, or most of it has been, but man are we all craving ‘western’ fare. In truth our days revolve around entertaining the children and looking forward (or not) to the next meal. It’s something to do. We are touring, napping, or eating, when we’re not doing something adoption paper-work related and the desire for ‘westsern fare’ was the birth of the 80% comment. The last time the veteran CCAI family was here they ordered grilled cheese sandwiches and felt they were good, but somehow, something was off, something was different. Maybe the cheese was only partially melted, or the cheese was only partially cheese, but no matter, something made the grilled cheese, 20% not quite right. And boom, there it was “80%.” It’s the perfect phrase. And it need not only apply to food. It can also be applied to street signs, that when translated into English, almost, but don’t quite make sense. Signs such as, “No stepping” “No Funning” “No noises” “No Matches”. Yeah, 80%

Now, we must share that two dining endeavors proved to be 100% there. One is good old McDonalds. But this is only 100% because it’s not really food so you can’t mess it up. True? True. The second is Starbucks. Totally 100%. Way to go Starbucks.

The second Phrase of the Trip:”Survive and Advance.”
The veterans shared this one right off the bat. They shared that when they had come to adopt their first daughter, she lived on poundcake for two weeks. The idea behind this phrase is, “Hey you’re in China, and you were just handed a baby, a tiny stranger. So just do what you need to do to get through the day. And if all they eat is pound-cake, so be it.” Survive and Advance. This has been very helpful to Lars and I. It was helpful when Lydia barfed all over herself and Lars. We cleaned it up, put her in new clothes, apologized to the van. Looked at each other and said a silent, “Survive and Advance” with our eyes. Or when she didn’t eat for two days, spitting out food, throwing it on the floor, having a screaming fit in her highchair. We called it, left the beautiful breakfast buffet with hungry stomachs, walked by all the other babies happily eating, took a breath, looked at sweet, spent, Lydia, and chose an attitude of “Survive and Advance” as we headed towards the elevator. Or when she can’t settle to bed, with huge crocodile tears streaming down her face. And she won’t even reach for us, because she has kind of blankly ‘gone inside’ somewhere. We gently pick her up, let her cry into our shoulders and after a LONG eventually, she falls asleep. Another fit over, another day done. “Survive and Advance.”

The last phrase is one Lars and I are using just between the two of us. And all parents know this well. But somehow, it’s more poignant with this dear child, in this scenario of family forming.
“It’s not about us, it’s about her.”
This phrase is us recognizing that this go-around of parenting, and especially while on this trip, it’s very important for us to remember it’s not about us, it’s about her. We may want her to buck-up and eat the food we’re presenting her with. We may want her to stay in her stroller, or drink more water, or stop yelling, or sleep in her crib. But here’s the thing. A few very short days ago, she was sleeping in a metal crib in a concrete room, with 19 others babies vying for the nannies attention as they cried. And Praise Jesus, that day is done. There will be time for order and correction and proper eating habits and appropriate behaviors and sleeping in cribs. But, not now. Now is the time for extra patience and letting her lead the way. Now is the time for holding her little hand as she falls to sleep next to us on the bed. Now is the time for extra snacks and in-proper meals and whatever the heck she wants. We are building trust. We are proving ourselves present. We are becoming safe and familiar and constant. We are becoming something she has never known. We are becoming family.

We are here Lydia. And it’s not about us, it’s about you.

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Visit to the Pearl Market

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Lunch on Beautiful Shaiman Island

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Back at the hotel for some group pictures.

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Our solution to Lydia’s nightly scratching ritual.

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A fun visit to the zoo on a beautiful day.

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