Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Beautiful Baptism

Johanna was baptized into the Catholic faith on Mother's Day at our church, Most Precious Blood, here in Denver. Her godparents are my cousin Jason and his wife Amy, but they live in Ohio and are coming to Colorado in July, so they couldn't make it for the ceremony. But my parents came in from Michigan and Zack's dad and stepmom visited from St. Louis, and everything went wonderfully.

We ended up getting really lucky with how things worked out. Children over the age of one are usually scheduled to be baptized at a quarterly post-Mass ceremony at our church, so our plan was to go to the 10:45am Mass and stay afterward for her noon baptism. I was pretty bummed that just because we had adopted an older child, she couldn't be baptized during the Mass.









But earlier in the week, I found out my friend Mark DeMott (we grew up together in Michigan), who is now a priest, was going to be in Denver over the weekend saying the 10:45am Mass! He was specifically coming to perform a mutual friend's baby's baptism at that Mass, and he pulled a few strings and worked it so Johanna could be baptized by him too! It was so much more special than it would have been if the original plan of the post-Mass ceremony done by the associate pastor had happened (no offense to him!).





So Johanna was baptized at Mass and did great! She really held it together, even with sitting in the front row, being the center of attention, having lots of strangers reaching out to bless her, getting water poured over her head, and posing for lots of pictures. She was most excited about getting to wear her fancy white dress and big bow! Some people wondered where I got the dress and if we brought it back from China. No, it was just from Amazon! I didn't want a First Communion dress, and Baptism ones are usually baby-sized, so I thought this one worked well and honored her Chinese heritage as well. The big white bow with a cross in the middle was ordered from Etsy!











After Mass and pictures, we all went to Beau Jo's Pizza for lunch and cake and presents. After naps, we continued the fun with family, playing outside and enjoying a dim sum dinner and marshmallows cooked in the fire pit. It was a wonderful weekend, with great weather, good food, and fun family time.

Johanna did have two huge meltdowns on Monday as a result of the emotionally charged and overstimulating weekend, but today (Tuesday), she seemed back to normal (happy, sweet, and helpful). Even Jonas had a bit of "grandparent hangover" yesterday and was extremely sensitive and grumpy. I think it's hard for our kids to have so much fun and get all that attention and love and then have to say goodbye after just a few days.

Mother's Day was a perfect day for Johanna's Baptism, and I loved being able to celebrate the holiday with both my son and my daughter (and my own mom)! I'm so glad everything went smoothly and even better than expected. Now we've just got to get a corrected baptismal certificate made, as the one given to us has Johanna's middle name as "Wayne"!






Thursday, April 20, 2017

Three Months


Well, we're a bit past the three month mark now of Johanna being part of our family. Everything is going pretty smoothly, though there are still some tough periods. It's definitely become more automatic to do everything twice (make two lunches, get two coats out, buckle two carseats, read two stories, etc.). It feels strange now to go somewhere with just Jonas. I love having both a girl and a boy and seeing the differences between the two of them.






We moved Johanna's mattress upstairs to her own bedroom a couple of weeks ago. That seems to have caused a bit of regression, as we have seen daytime meltdowns more frequently since doing this, even though I stay with her until she falls asleep. However, she learned to sleep through the night without waking up to cry after only a few nights, and she willingly stays in her room until her green light on her "OK to Wake" clock comes on in the morning.












Her language ability continues to impress us. She can speak in full (short) sentences now, sing along with several songs, and she and Jonas can actually have conversations as they play together. She's actually pretty funny sometimes, and we find ourselves cracking up at some of the phrases and facial expressions she puts together. Her sense of humor is good; she understands nuanced jokes in movies and simple sarcasm and teasing. Lately, Zack likes to call her "Grandma Johanna," as she has kind of a grandmotherly way about her (caretaker, helpful, old soul, etc.). She takes it pretty well, laughing as she tells him, "Johanna no grandma!"











When I weighed Jonas and Johanna the other week, they were exactly the same...32.9 pounds. She is noticeably taller than him now; she looks to have grown about an inch since coming home. Her legs are super long, and much to his dismay, she uses them to her advantage to out-climb Jonas on some playground equipment, rocks, and trees! She still eats anything and everything and takes a daily nap. Hooray!












Johanna loves gymnastics, music class, dancing, swimming, and art projects. She was very into decorating eggs at Easter! She also loves learning. She practices writing letters on her own for fun (she's actually doing it as I write this), often asking for paper and a pen and then showing me her work. It looks like she might be left-handed after all! Another thing she enjoys is to ask what something is called and then saying, "Wha' 'bout Johanna try?" and then she'll want me to ask her what it is so she can practice the word.








Since the last update, Johanna had her first haircut, as we're trying to even out the orphanage bowl cut. Her bangs are starting to grow out, but I always have to put some sort of hair tie or barrette in to keep them out of her face. We're now down to three molluscum on her face and one on her neck that hopefully are on their way out. The big ones she came home with are all gone; these are newer ones that came afterward.











We also went on our first camping trip over Spring Break, spending two nights in Fruita, Colorado. Johanna loved helping set up camp and sleeping in the tent, along with running around and biking in the desert. We've had good times at the Denver Zoo, the Children's Museum, the Botanic Gardens, and lots of visits to Washington Park. Johanna can almost keep up with Jonas on her Strider bike, and she loves going on the swings.














She still copies Jonas like crazy, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. They do get in arguments and fights occasionally, like all siblings, but they play together super well most of the time. I think Jonas is pretty happy to have someone to follow him around and do whatever he suggests (at least for now!). That kid needed a playmate very badly, and the fact that he talks nonstop sure helps her language acquisition!


As I mentioned, the meltdowns are still happening. Right now they are averaging about two to three times per week, sometimes pretty hardcore and full-on. It's usually something little that sets them off. Last night it was me getting Johanna out of the bathtub first when she wanted Jonas to be first (he wanted her to be first, so it was a lose-lose choice for me!). She'll start out upset about the small event, but then she'll deteriorate into full meltdown mode and it becomes very obviously not about the catalyst event at all. Major ones will have the flailing/kicking/hitting/screaming and last about thirty minutes, but they all end with her deep grieving cry, which is very distinguishable from her regular "I got an owie" or "I'm a little upset" cry. It's kind of a haunting cry that seems to come from deep within, and she often wails for Nainai in the middle of it. So sad. At least she lets me hold her now while she "gets it out." After it's done, she sort of snaps out of it and everything goes back to normal like nothing ever happened.



Recently, Johanna has been very interested in looking on as I've been organizing pictures on the computer from our trip to China. I've let her see whatever pictures she's interested in, including ones from the orphanage visit where she's pictured with Nainai and her friends. She always wants to keep looking and likes talking about them. Just the other day she was looking at her "apartment" on the orphanage grounds and pointing out where "Nainai cooks eggs" (the kitchen), "Johanna go potty" (the bathroom), and "Johanna sleeping" (her bed).












Last week, we even had conversations about pictures where Johanna was wearing that infamous red coat! She told me Nainai gave it to her, and we talked and laughed together about how she didn't want to take it off for many days. I mimicked how she would zip it up even higher sometimes, and I told her about how she eventually took it off for her bath and was okay. A few days later, Johanna repeated her version of the story to me happily while looking at another coat picture. It had several hand motions and went something like, "Johanna coat, no take off, Mama Dada say off, Johanna no off, coat off (unzipping motion), Johanna happy!"







Though Johanna happily views pictures from China and likes discussing them in the moment, I think her recent exposure to those images, along with her bed being moved upstairs has led to the increase in meltdowns we've seen in the past week or two. When she's not having meltdowns, things are great. Her attitude is better overall, and she's much more willing to say, "Okay Mama" instead of fighting back when I ask her to do something. She's still not a morning person, but at least it's just silence for awhile instead of scowling. And I've been able to put her extremely helpful nature to use for my benefit sometimes, including emptying the dishwasher, doing laundry, feeding the dog, fetching items from other rooms, etc.!










I'll leave you with one cute story about Johanna looking at the pictures from her time in China. In the same session where she was pointing out all of the rooms at Nainai's place and various things about the orphanage, we got to the end of the album, where there are pictures of her sobbing as she says goodbye to her foster mother and friends. One of the last pictures is the one posted here, with all four of us in front of the sculpture out in front of the orphanage. Even though she's obviously miserable in the picture and having one of the worst days of her life, Johanna pointed to this picture as it flashed on my screen the other day and happily shouted just one word upon seeing it. "FAMILY!" she declared. And that's how I know we're all going to be alright.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Two Months

Johanna has been with our family for two months now! Sometimes it feels like we have a little stranger walking around our house, and at other times it feels like she's always been here. We're definitely having a lot of fun with her, and she's really starting to adjust and get more comfortable here at home.

Her language abilities are amazing. She comprehends much of what we say, and she's definitely got over 100 English words of her own that she uses on a regular basis. She talks a lot in the car or at our house, but she's still pretty quiet out in public. She won't really talk to anyone else but us if she's not at home. But that's okay. I think that'll be her personality in general...quieter than Jonas and not as outgoing.







She's healthy as can be. Even when the rest of us were sick the other week with either the flu or strep, Johanna got none of it. The runny nose she had upon first coming home is totally gone; she probably just had to get used to the clean air! Some of her molluscum are clearing up, and though we're still battling new little ones that have appeared, overall they look tons better. She's also gained at least two pounds (she's only two pounds lighter than Jonas now) and probably some height as well. Unfortunately, her dentist visit revealed that she did come to us with three cavities in her back molars, so we'll have to get those fixed in the near future.

She continues to love music. Frozen is her favorite movie by far, and she asks me to tell our Echo Dot to play "Let it Go" several times a day. She also sings her own version of it. Walking down the hallway of Jonas's school, she points out every single backpack with Anna and Elsa on it (and there are several). Songs with hand motions are especially appealing to her, and she learns them remarkably quickly. She and I will be starting Music Together classes in a few weeks, which I think she will love.

Other activities include a weekly art class we do together while Jonas is at school, which she really enjoys, and gymnastics with Jonas. Today was the first day she didn't have any tears or meltdowns before or at gymnastics, so that was a huge step. She absolutely loves the class and is so proud of herself when she does it, but it's the only activity (so far) where she doesn't have access to me (I have to sit on the bleachers and watch). So the anticipation of having to "go it alone" often stresses her out and leads to fearful tears and rages. But today was great! It's not looking like Zack and I will get to have a date night any time soon though!

Girly things also continue to be a hit. She loves picking out hair accessories that match her outfits and having me do her hair every day. I love it too! Her bangs are growing out and her hair is getting longer. Her go-to dress-up outfit is a blue princess dress, and she likes her dress-up doll sticker book and Minnie Mouse toy where she gets to change her outfits and bows. Lately, we've also been having fun playing board games together while Jonas is at school. She picks up on the rules quite quickly and enjoys playing several rounds in a row.

Johanna finally went swimming (and loved it), and we went to the zoo yesterday (she loved that too). I'm dying to sign her up for some dance classes, but I'm not sure she's quite ready for that type of separation, as they would be without Jonas as well. She's gone to a couple of parties and a parade and done pretty well at those too. As her language ability increases, we are able to explain things to her, and that seems to make a big difference in her comfort level at activities and unknown places.

Both sets of grandparents have now met her, and she did very well with both visits. There were a few evening tears on the first day of the visits after they left our house, but Johanna warmed up to them appropriately and enjoyed their attention while they were here. She definitely made the connection between the family pictures displayed in our house and the people visiting. Seeing them on video chats beforehand also helped.

Major meltdowns have pretty much ceased. We haven't seen the tantrums with face hitting, kicking, etc. in a couple of weeks. Even the gymnastics meltdowns were mostly just major tears and screaming. That's not to say she's not moody. Girlfriend is not a morning person! Or a post-nap person! She has this scowl sometimes for no apparent reason at all. Even Jonas will call her out now, asking, "Why do you have a mad face?"





She's gotten a lot better about accepting the word "no" from us, usually. She pretty much knows the rules and sticks to them, unless of course Jonas is leading the way! She does get mad when she wants to do something herself, and we won't let her. It could be because it's dangerous, or we're in a hurry, or it's something parents should take care of, or it's Jonas's turn, or whatever, but she definitely dislikes when we don't agree to her "I do it!" yells. This poor girl must have had to do everything for herself in China. Sometimes we literally have to tell her to take a break or to "let me be the Mama!" And sometimes when she gets frustrated, she gets pouty, but she's learning pretty quickly that words will get her a lot further than whining!










Johanna loves to have fun. She copies Jonas word for word and motion for motion for much of the day, and those two have a blast together. Jonas is very protective of her out in public, sometimes to a fault, yelling at kids on the playground or at the zoo if he perceives that they are trying to steal her turn or push her! It's fun to see how creative they get in their playing together, whether it's turning a box into a spaceship or toy containers into boats. She forces him to dance; her forces her to swordfight! Her giggle is adorable, and it especially comes out when Zack gets home from work and wrestles with the kids.










She still sleeps and eats incredibly well, which we feel so fortunate for, as those are two areas that many adoptees struggle with upon coming home. I'd say she now eats more than Jonas! Lately, she's especially loved meat, asking for third and fourth helpings! Her mattress is still downstairs by our bed, but I bet we could get her into her own room pretty soon after explaining the monitor and her "okay to wake" green light clock. She sleeps through the night, still takes a daily one hour nap, and comes upstairs after waking to find us without any tears (the scowl might be there though!). We really can't complain about anything in these areas!

I do think Johanna is still warming up to us and her new life, understandably. She's not spontaneously affectionate yet (usually), and though she seems to understand that we are her "special people," I don't think she trusts that we'll always be around. She's always kind of eyeing people and places suspiciously, and you can tell she's often not at ease out in public. Thankfully, she has Jonas to look to for learning how to attach and view the world, and in time, I'm sure she'll start to understand what "family" really means.



We're so thankful for the family, friends, and community members who have rallied around us as we made (and continue to make) this sometimes-difficult transition. From dinners delivered to our doorstep to surprise presents in the mail for our little girl to understanding when Johanna needs to be "ignored" by others at church or MOPS or art class or given special attention at gymnastics to accepting our homebound nature lately to cards or messages we receive just checking in on us, it's all been appreciated and made things much easier. I think we're starting to come out of our cloud and get some sense of normalcy around here. Johanna is a sweet little girl, and we're enjoying seeing how she fits into our family of four. I'm still posting almost daily on Instagram, so go there if you'd like regular picture updates on both kids!

Common Questions

Here are some questions I've been asked (several times) since Johanna's been home, so I thought I'd put the answers here for everyone...

Question: "How's she adjusting?"

Answer: See the blog post coming soon about our two months together!

Question: "How do you pronounce Johanna?"

Answer: Actually, I don't usually get asked this one. I'd prefer if people asked! People often just say it wrong, especially at doctors' offices! It's correctly pronounced like Joe-Hannah. The "han" part rhymes with "man," not "tron." I do understand that mix-up. However, when she gets called Joanna, Joanne, or Johnna, I'm at a loss.

Question: "Are they (Jonas and Johanna) twins?"

Answer: "No, they are five days apart."
That answer really throws people. I kind of enjoy the confused looks and reactions! They really look nothing alike, folks. I get that they're both Asian, but come on!

Question: "Are they from China?"

Answer: "Nope, she is, but he's from Kyrgyzstan."
Enter the confused looks again. Understandable, as I had never heard of Kyrgyzstan either. But believe it or not, not every Asian adopted kid is from China!

Question: "So do you have any kids of your own?"

Answer: "Well, they are my own!"
Yes, I was actually asked this the other day. I gave the answer above with a smile on my face, and the lady immediately backpedaled and there were no hard feelings on either side, but geez. I get that it's just ignorance about adoption-friendly language, but it still stings. These kids are 100% "my own." I didn't take it personally and chose to see it as an opportunity to educate her, saying next, "I have no biological children" (not that it was any of her business anyway). Terminology matters sometimes, folks.

Question: "Will you adopt again?"

Answer: "Do you want to give me $35,000?"
It's hard to see all those kids in the orphanages and not want to bring them all home, but I think we're done. Our family feels complete. Our home feels full. Our finances feel drained! Our little family of four is just fine. I mean, unless you want to actually give us $35,000... :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Words Galore

On this VERY difficult day with Johanna, complete with not one but TWO colossal meltdowns, accompanied by a refusal to participate in gymnastics, I'm going to try to focus on the positive and create a list of the words/phrases she says so far in English on her own (not just repeating us):

  1. Mama
  2. Dada
  3. Jonas
  4. Johanna
  5. Molly
  6. doggy
  7. woof
  8. duck
  9. quack
  10. kitty
  11. meow
  12. monkey
  13. giraffe
  14. all done
  15. there you go
  16. the end
  17. eat
  18. drink
  19. food
  20. apple
  21. banana
  22. brush teeth
  23. sleep
  24. what about
  25. ear
  26. eye
  27. owie
  28. uh oh
  29. no thank you
  30. thank you
  31. school
  32. home
  33. up
  34. potty
  35. poo poo
  36. stinky
  37. book
  38. car
  39. pretty
  40. beautiful
  41. yummy
  42. let it go (she's a Frozen fan)
  43. yucky
  44. yes
  45. no
  46. watch
  47. ball
  48. bubble
  49. one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten
  50. help
  51. come on
  52. get back (we say this to Molly)
  53. no touch
  54. hot
  55. cold
  56. hug
  57. cheers
  58. shoes
  59. goodnight
Not bad for less than three weeks at home! I'm sure there are some I'm forgetting, as well as some she says that we don't understand. She also understands many many more words than the ones she can say. Here's hoping she can communicate her problems rather than having a meltdown about them in the very near future!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Life Around Here

Making up for four years of
no hair accessories in one day!
Life has been pretty good around here lately. Johanna is becoming more comfortable day by day...more words, less whining, fewer meltdowns, etc. She picks up on things very quickly and can already sing along and do the motions to several songs, including the alphabet, "Itsy Bitsy Spider," "Wheels on the Bus," "Little Bunny Fufu," and more. She understands a ton and talks up a storm at home with us (often a mix of Mandarin and English), but she's still basically silent out in public or around others. We're happy that she's learned the word "yes" in addition to "no," though her words that end in "s" often have a "ch" sound to them, so "yes" is more like "yetch."












Dressed up for our mother-daughter date!
We've been able to take Johanna on a few more outings, and they've gone well. Last weekend, we had a mother-daughter outing to a Chinese New Year show put on by performers from her province in China (totally coincidental that they were in Denver)! She loved the music and dancing, and we had a nice girly night out.








Some day Johanna will be doing this, right?!




On Valentine's Day, Johanna came with me to Jonas's party at school, and she enjoyed sitting next to him for some snacks. We had a pretty relaxing evening at home with a heart-shaped pizza and a living room dance party, but we did get out for some ice cream that afternoon.



Despite her expression here,
she was actually having fun!
On Wednesday, after a bit of coaxing, Johanna actually participated in gymnastics class with Jonas, and she had a great time! It was cute to see her so proud of herself for doing it. Can't wait for her to do it again this week!


















Johanna had an ophthalmology appointment last week, and her eyes look great, so she won't be twinsies with Jonas in the glasses department at this point. She also caught up on immunizations with eight shots at once (ugh!). Zack took her to the appointment, and apparently she actually cried out appropriately when they stuck her. It's weird to be kind of happy about that! We're still battling the molluscum on her face with various remedies.
Johanna has been to church twice now, just sitting with us and taking it all in. She likes watching the musicians and trying to figure out what's going on up front, so she wants to be held a lot so she can see. Playing on the playground outside afterward is also a nice perk!
















Jonas and Johanna are still two peas in a pod. They play hide and seek on their own, build forts together, and fight like siblings who've been together forever! Yesterday they went to a birthday party with Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and it was pretty adorable. Johanna did remarkably well, mostly because Jonas was there and she feels comfortable around him.















Johanna's mattress is still downstairs next to our bed, and it will be for the foreseeable future. I stay with her until she falls asleep, but then I often go back upstairs to watch a show with Zack or do something else before bed. The other night, she woke up when I was already gone, and she freaked out. So obviously that fear of abandonment is still there, understandably. But the major meltdowns are far and few between now and of a much shorter duration.













So overall, things are getting easier day by day. I'm not sure how many more of these update posts I'll be doing, as we're kind of settling into "normal life," and my Instagram account has basically become my much-easier-to-update daily picture log with captions that tell what we're up to. I will have a couple more general adoption posts about our experience. But check out my Instagram account HERE if you're interested in keeping up with the Keys!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

On the Inside

Johanna's emotions have been the most difficult thing to deal with so far in our adoption journey. Medically, we kind of knew what we were getting into with her (not much, thankfully), but we had a hunch that the emotional aspect of things could be quite different with adopting a four-year-old versus a two-year-old, especially one who was quite attached to her foster mother and has a quieter and more hesitant personality. That has definitely been the case.

Thankfully, the nighttime grieving sessions have seemingly disappeared. Johanna whimpers sometimes as we get ready for bed or naptime, but as long as I stay with her until she falls asleep, she does okay. She no longer calls out for Nainai or has extended crying times in the evenings. Those times were hard to watch, as she was obviously so sad, so I'm glad we've moved beyond those.

She was super excited about her new outfit
and shoes. She shouted "Johanna!"
happily when she saw them!
Johanna can be quite whiny, which is frustrating. We're trying to break of her that habit while still meeting her needs by showing her other ways she can get what she wants. Having more words has helped her a bit. She also absolutely despises being told no. We try to fill her "yes bucket" as much as possible, but sometimes we have to tell her some form of no (like if she takes a toy from Jonas or something), and she does not handle it well at all. She gives us a death stare, goes to the opposite side of the room and flops down, cries, and sometimes has an all-out tantrum. Not fun.

And then there are the meltdowns. They seem to happen if we push her too far too fast, like the one that happened after a hike last weekend. We thought getting outside in the beautiful weather would be good for her, and that it wouldn't involve dealing with other people or an overstimulating environment. The start of it was great, but we probably expected her to walk too far for too long. Even though we carried her for a lot of the hike, by the end of it, she had definitely had enough. She passed out on the ride home, and when we got out of the car and brought her inside, she lost her mind...writhing on the floor, screaming, crying, kicking the ground, hitting herself, stuffing her socks in her mouth, etc. Zack and I basically sat on the floor next to her and tried to stop her from hurting herself until she finally let us hold her about thirty minutes into the meltdown.

These types of meltdowns are not uncommon for adopted children, especially ones who were adopted at an older age like Johanna. It's part of the grieving process, combined with her body becoming dysregulated from overstimulation. She probably also has some sensory issues from lack of exposure. Throw in fear and frustration from communication difficulties, and you have a recipe for disaster that could strike at any moment! She can look like she's doing just fine in the moment, but we end up "paying for it" later, sometimes not until she gets home from an activity.

This is her silly side!
We've witnessed other meltdowns after bringing her to Jonas's gymnastics class and taking her to the recreation center in case she wanted to go swimming (she was loving baths and wanted to put her swimsuit on when Jonas did). In each of these situations, things started out well. She watched curiously and seemed to be doing okay, but by the end, she was in complete meltdown mode...inconsolably crying and screaming. Another one happened the other day when she thought Jonas had taken her jean jacket and then I asked her to put her coat on. She threw a tantrum which lasted the entire way to gymnastics class. You just never know what will set her off, but staying at home as much as possible and keeping her close if we do have to be out and about seems to help.

The term for this time period in the adoption world is "cocooning," which is exactly what it sounds like. It's the idea that it's best for your newly adopted child to stay home and limit interactions with others as much as possible for a few weeks or months. It's all about keeping things simple and not overstimulating her, while she gets more comfortable and learns who her family members are and that they are her "inner circle." Like a caterpillar in its cocoon, the hope is that when she is ready, she can go out into the world like a beautiful butterfly, confident and secure in her attachments and ready to embrace new experiences and meet new people.

She is starting to get comfortable with a few of our outings. Johanna knows that bringing Jonas to school and picking him up afterward is part of our daily routine. He likes to play with his friends out front afterward, and Johanna just stands next to me or wants to be held. But the minute all the other kids leave, she's perfectly willing to run around with Jonas! Johanna handled this week's gymnastics class okay, though she still wanted nothing to do with participating. We also went to an art class that I had signed her up for months ago, and I told the teacher and other adults in the class to basically ignore her (like avoid interacting with her). Thankfully, they were understanding and obliged. Ah, the weird requests we adoptive parents have to make! She wanted to sit in my lap (which was fine) and didn't say a word, but she seemed to have fun making the clay owl project with me. She also did okay sitting next to me watching a movie on the iPad with her headphones on at my MOPS meeting this week. We've had a few others errands that needed done this week, and since Zack was back at work, she had to come with me. She did okay, as long as I kept her close and kept others away!

This was taken within an hour of that dreadful blood draw.
It'll definitely be awhile before we go on playdates or invite others into our home or visit somewhere like the Children's Museum. It would just be way too much for her. I might attempt the zoo or Botanic Gardens with her while Jonas is in school, just because we could keep it pretty low-key and just stay for a short while. But while I know she would love things like dance class or swimming, I think we'll hold off on those things for now. It's hard to be so anti-social and homebound in the short run, but I know in the long run it's better for her attachment-wise and for making her feel comfortable and secure.

Another interesting emotional aspect to Johanna is her reaction to pain. The other day, Johanna got nine vials of blood drawn at the pediatrician's office. It was for various things like a lead test, seeing which immunizations she still needs or needs again, etc. Her veins are super small, so it took a few pokes to find one that worked. Johanna had a few tears in her eyes, but that was it. No screaming, no crying, nothing. The nurses were amazed. They kept remarking that she was the best behaved four-year-old they had ever seen, and they couldn't believe that she didn't cry. Little did they know that this was not a good thing.

Loving her headband and the
Valentine's Day painting craft!
It's often said that if you visit a room full of babies in an orphanage, it will be eerily silent, with no crying to be heard. The reason why is heartbreaking. Those babies have learned that no one will react to their cries; nobody will come soothe them or feed them or change them or whatever they are crying about. Those things are done on a schedule, not when one certain child needs it. So the babies learn not to cry, because that form of "communication" yields no results. Nobody comes for them. When that happens over and over, a child learns not to cry when she feels discomfort. So even though nurses were digging in her arms with needles and then drawing blood for several minutes, Johanna didn't even flinch, much less wail out in pain like any other child would in this circumstance. So sad.

We've actually had to "teach" Johanna that it's okay to react to pain and call out for help. She's learned the word "owie," and we shower her with hugs and kisses after she gets hurt. While she still doesn't necessarily cry real tears in these instances, she at least comes to us now and tells us where her owie is and likes the attention we give as a result. She also comes and tells us if Jonas gets an owie!

This lack of emotion in response to pain might seem in direct opposition to her extreme meltdowns I described earlier. However, they are two totally separate things. One is a learned response from years of neglect and institutionalization, even if her caretakers were doing the best they could. The other is a primal reaction to being taken away from everything she knows and loves and placed in a new world where things are overstimulating and frightening. Her body doesn't know how to react, so it just goes into meltdown mode. She almost becomes a different person at that point, unrecognizable from the usually sweet and silly girl we've come to know. It's very hard to witness, and there's nothing we can do except be there for her when she's ready to come out of it.

The good news is that things can get better. Just tonight before bed, Johanna started deteriorating into meltdown mode after I put some apple cider vinegar on the molluscum spots on her face, which kind of stings a little. I held her for just a minute, and she was able to pull herself back together and join Zack and Jonas for storytime and go to bed like normal. And I'm sure we'll go back to the doctor for shots in the future, and she'll scream out in pain like any other kid! In the meanwhile, please know that there's a lot going on inside that little body of hers, and though she may be smiling, she's also carrying a lot of baggage that you may not witness in public (or on my Instagram feed!). We're just going to keep loving on this girl and trying to make up for four years of her not getting what she needed and deserved!

Update

Well, it's been just over a week since my last update on how things are going. I'd say things are better but still a bit difficult at times. We all seem to be mostly over the jet lag, so that has definitely helped. But Johanna has a major meltdown at least every other day, and those are hard.

We moved Johanna's mattress downstairs to the floor next to our bed, and now she usually sleeps the whole night through, sometimes just getting up to go to the bathroom or needing a quick reassurance that we are there. I stay with her until she falls asleep each night, and she likes holding my hand if I hang my arm off the side of my bed.



Johanna seems to get more comfortable each day with us at home. She's still super shy and nervous out in public, staying close to me and not really talking. But at home she's very talkative, using a mix of English, what we assume to be Mandarin, and jibberish! It's interesting to see how her language is developing versus how Jonas's did. Because he was just two, he picked up single words, much like an infant does, whereas Johanna seems to be learning English in phrases: brush teeth, Molly poo poo, Jonas school, no touch, good morning, Johanna owie, oh my, etc. Lots of people have asked how we communicate with her. Honestly, we just speak simple English (short phrases and repetition) and use gestures or demonstrate things. She already seems to be understanding quite a lot.






Molly doesn't really seem to scare Johanna anymore, so that's been nice. Now she just gets annoyed with Molly when she's in the way or trying to eat her food (as we all do!). Johanna feeds her, pets her, says hi and bye to her, and tries to play with her. She even orders her around, telling her to get back and such.











It's been fun to see Johanna's reaction to things she's obviously never experienced before. Simple things bring her great joy, and it's really cool to witness that. She laughs her head off when you push her on the swings. She thought it was hilarious when Molly caught a tennis ball and started chewing it yesterday. And once she figured out how to sit in the grocery cart, she thought the feeling of riding on the bumpy pavement outside (versus the smooth aisles inside) was the coolest thing ever.












She and Jonas get along great about 75% of the time. I don't think Jonas understands why she doesn't want to play sword fighting with him all day long, but they've had fun inventing some games in the backyard, dressing up in play clothes, and playing hide and seek. Johanna has been exploring some toys that Jonas hasn't touched in months, which all of the sudden makes them very interesting to him as well (of course!), so old toys have taken on a new life with her here. Squabbles tend to happen when one has a toy the other wants, one takes a toy the other was using, or they are competing over something.





It's definitely more difficult being a parent of two children, especially ones of the same age and who both need lots of reassurance about being loved. If Johanna bumps her head and needs hugs and kisses, Jonas will claim he bumped his head as well and come over for his own hugs and kisses. If Jonas is being held, Johanna will want to be held. And boy do they notice if one gets something that the other doesn't, whether it's an apple or help getting dressed or extra attention! I haven't gone many places with both kids yet, but remembering what it was like in China, it's very difficult to keep track of two kids when they run in different directions!











Dealing with Johanna's emotional state has definitely been the most difficult part of our journey so far. I started writing about it here, but I think I'll make it its own blog entry, as it's a lot to cover. Overall, we're having a lot of fun with our little girl, and she's learning a lot and getting more comfortable day by day. We can't wait to see how she blossoms after another week here!