Monday, August 19, 2013

You Can't Expect the Unexpected

Over the past few days, I've been thinking about writing a post about the adoption process, specifically as it pertains to traveling to get your child. There are so many factors that go into getting to the right places at the right times so that the right papers can be filed with the right people, that it's impossible to account for every one of those while preparing for the trip. In the course of our adoption journey, I'd like to think that Kristie and I have become fairly good at expecting the unexpected, at learning to adapt to a rather fluid and sometimes seemingly unpredictable schedule. We don't usually get impatient when waiting on someone else to fill out their part of some particular form, and we're capable of handling ourselves in a foreign country, at least to the very limited extent that adoptive families are left to fend for themselves. (Truthfully, here in China, there isn't much at all that we have to do on our own. The guides take very good care of the adoptive families coming through here.) But, today I came to the realization that telling someone to "expect the unexpected" is just plain stupid. It's an unhelpful slogan, and it's semantically nonsensical. That is, it's a meaningless, contradictory statement. If you could expect the unexpected, then it would no longer be unexpected. What's more helpful, I think, is to abide by what seems to be the heart of the matter here, and that's to live with an open mind and heart that we are able to deal calmly and reasonably with unexpected twists and turns that come our way, with an eye on the bigger picture in life. That's not expecting the unexpected; that's knowing that you don't have control over every aspect of life, and that you need therefore to be constantly vigilant to learn lessons from God and to do what He calls us to do at each turn. This was really driven home for me today when we met Isabelle.

For months leading up to our trip, Kristie and I discussed how we should plan our time in China. It would have been possible for us to finish our trip in two weeks, but that would have meant splitting up once we got to China, with one of us going to Jinan to get Hallie and the other going to Guiyang to get Isabelle for the first week, and then all of us getting back together in Guangzhou for the second week. That was tempting, but we decided that it would be best for the girls' bonding with us to stick together. That meant that our trip would be three weeks, and so we began to talk about which girl we should plan to get first. Based on the limited information that we had, we expected Isabelle to be in worse shape developmentally than Hallie, so we thought that getting her first would probably be best. Hallie sounded like a real firecracker, while we had a mental picture of Isabelle as this frail little girl who would be far, far behind her Chinese sister. But, without a lot of hard evidence to go on, we decided to go with whichever plan our agency proposed. That's why we went to get Hallie first. And boy, am I glad that we did, because boy, were we ever wrong.

From the outset, Hallie has been very quiet and sleeps an awful lot (we strongly suspect that she has hypothyroidism like Mikaela, and we'll have that checked as soon as we can once we return home), and she has been very easy in almost every way. It has taken some time and effort for us to start to see her real personality, but she has been opening up steadily, especially over the past few days. Just this morning, she was giggling again as Kristie was bouncing her on her knees. In many ways, she couldn't be more different from Isabelle. When we walked into the Civil Affairs office this afternoon to fill out some paperwork and pick her up, we were astonished to see her standing up, and we quickly learned that she can walk with assistance and even take several steps on her own. Hallie can't even crawl yet. Then, we started playing with Isabelle and talking to her, and we can't believe how smart and capable she is. She's so much further along than we thought either girl could possibly have been under the very best of circumstances, that it took us by surprise. The things that we noticed about her came so fast that I'm not sure I can cover them all, but here goes:

* She loves being the center of attention. Whenever she does something that makes others laugh, she'll almost certainly do it again.
* She loves to laugh. A lot. And her giggle is extremely cute.
* She is a perfect little parrot. Even before we left Civil Affairs to come back to the hotel, she had started mimicking our words. Crazy!
* She's about as tall as Hallie, but much heavier. Her diet has consisted of mostly rice and congee, so her heft is almost certainly due to the empty carbs she's been taking in.
* She is exceptionally smart. We got out her Magna Doodle, and the first thing that she did after drawing a couple of lines on it was to try to write on her hand. When that didn't work, she tried writing on the Magna Doodle with her hand, and then with her foot, trying so hard to figure out why the little pen could draw and nothing else could. Oh, and she also learned how to erase the Magna Doodle after watching us do it only once.
* She is deathly afraid of her cute, stuffed, TSC lamb. She literally shrinks away from it in abject terror, poor thing. Who knew that lambs were so terrifying?
* She can drink out of a bottle, sippy cup, or a regular cup, albeit with assistance. And when drinking from the last, she likes to spit out the mouthful of water, pretending to cough so that she can get some sympathy and a laugh. Little stinker. :-)
* She like to clean up these water "spills". She'll take a wipe or napkin and carefully wipe herself off, and then dab at the wet spots on the furniture around her.
* She can't sit still for more than about two seconds at a time. I'd try to time her at this, but I doubt seriously whether I'd be able to start and stop the stopwatch with any accuracy.
* Another indication of her intelligence: tonight while sitting on our bed, she picked up a clean diaper and tried to put it on herself. Over top of her pajamas.
* She like to turn pages in books, but she has no patience for sitting still and listening to the story itself.
* She calls herself by her Chinese name, usually at random times.
* Her strabismus is pretty bad, so it's good that she already has an appointment with the optometrist set for this fall.
* She can throw a ball at least as well as Mikaela can.
* Her hearing is uncannily good, though I'm sure that she doesn't want us to know that.
* She was clearly loved and well cared for by the people from her orphanage. She actually called the orphanage director "Baba," which means "Daddy" in Chinese. It was hard for her to part from him today, and we expect tomorrow to be hard when she sees him at Civil Affairs again and then has to say her final goodbye.

In short, she might have more raw potential than Mikaela has, and that's saying a lot. Unfortunately, Hallie started to feel overshadowed today and began to retreat inside herself again. Kristie and I have already been talking about the kinds of things that we need to do over the next few days and weeks to make sure that we draw Isabelle in to our family while at the same time maintaining Hallie's stability and continuing to coax more of her real self out from the shell that she's been in for so much of this past week. Hopefully the adjustment period will go well for both of them, and I really hope and pray that they'll become inseparable friends not too far into the future.

Time to get a little bit of sleep before tomorrow morning. We have what will almost certainly be a very full morning tomorrow, although the fact that we filled out most of our paperwork at Civil Affairs this afternoon should make it somewhat shorter than this day was in Jinan. It'll be interesting to see, though, how successful we'll be with getting ourselves and both girls ready to leave at 9:00. I don't know what to expect for tomorrow—or for the days and weeks after that, for that matter—but I'm determined to enjoy each day that God grants us with our family and friends, and in HIs service.


I promise that Hallie's stretching her arm out in front of Isabelle's face, not punching her.

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