Monday, November 24, 2014

We're Still Here

Sorry we've been MIA.  Those who are friends on Facebook will have been kept abreast, but I know there are people who read here who are not on FB or not my friends.  We're almost two months home now and we're all settling in.  I will try to do another post with lots of pictures later today.  For now, information!

Overall, the only real issue has been Finn's health.  Of course, we knew it was precarious when we adopted him, but we didn't quite realize how truly close he was to death.  We thought that he'd need to be admitted to the hospital the moment we stepped off the plane.  We were surprised to discover when we picked him up that he seemed much healthier than we'd been led to expect because the orphanage made it clear he was dying very quickly.  We were able to bring him home and spend two weeks bonding before his first appointment with the hematologist.  Towards the end of those two weeks we began to notice changes in his health and behavior, but we believed those were due to his need for a transfusion.  We were really glad to have that time when blood tests were done and it became clear all was not right inside, even if he seemed okay on the outside. 

All children with transfusion dependent Thalassemia have very high ferritin (or iron) levels when they are not being properly treated.  A normal person has a ferritin level of somewhere between 47 and 300.  Children with Thalassemia frequently come home with ferritin levels in the thousands.  Chelation medications can be used to draw iron stores from the body, but children in other countries are often not properly chelated, which was the case with Finn.  His ferritin levels were astronomical.  Some children come home from the orphanages and their levels show that they were still thriving even with ferritin levels of 10,000 or above.  This was not the case with Finn.  His organs were suffering severely and were on the brink of a massive shut down from his levels of iron.  He spent nearly two weeks in the hospital receiving heavy doses of IV chelation meds.  When we left the hospital his ferritin levels were still around 6000 but that was a big drop from where he'd been before.  At current, his ferritin levels are in the 4000s.  We take this as a great sign that his oral chelation meds are working.  He's been hospitalized a second time in the two months we've been home, but we are really hoping that inpatient care is behind us for awhile.   

Emotionally, Finn is doing very well.  He does suffer from severe medical PTSD from his hospital experiences in China, but I think that can hardly be a surprise considering.  Some days are better and we can get tests done, some days he's just hysterical the entire time and we can't even get close to getting things done.  At home, he's a smiley, happy, clever, bit overemotional, boy who clearly has experienced severe trauma in his short life.  We have a lot of emotional work ahead of us, but we can see a healthy Finn at the end who is slowly working through baggage that most of us would never survive, let alone at six years old.  He's a very, very, very smart boy who continues to surprise us every day.  His English is coming along nicely.  Now that the IV line that was installed in his arm and went straight to his heart has been removed (and replaced with a surgically implanted port under his skin) he's able to attend school with the rest of his siblings and is thoroughly enjoying kindergarten.  

Jake is less interested in learning English, and that makes sense to me.  He's older and his cultural identity is a large part of his overall identity.  I know that he struggles with not belonging in our world and that grieves me, but we do have many Chinese speaking friends and we take him often to local businesses owned by Chinese families to give him a chance to interact.  We hope that in a few more months he'll be a little more willing to try out the English language.  He's doing well in school and emotionally he's doing well at home.  Of course, he does have his moments as all 11 year olds do, but overall he's a very good kid who takes pleasure in doing the right thing.  He loves having grandparents and seems very pleased whenever he has the opportunity to spend time with any of this three local grandparents. 

Jake was evaluated last week by the school with a Mandarin speaking interpreter, which we really appreciated.  We have friends whose school districts will deny their requests both for testing and for people to help them accomplish testing in their own language.  Our school came to us on the first day and told us that because he does have brain difference they wanted to test him for placement immediately and make sure he got any services he might be in need of.  It did take some time to get it all lined up, but they accomplished it last week.  We haven't received the results yet, but we're fine whether he needs a little extra help or not.  We did learn that he has great vision in his right eye, but his left eye does have some blindness.  That's not a total shock as the left side of his body does suffer from some paralysis.  So there will be some trendy glasses in Jake's future!  I don't think he's currently mature enough for a contact lens, but that's no doubt an option in the future.  Jake loves Saracha and puts it on everything, and I do mean everything.  Yesterday, he ate it on oranges, and the other day he treated himself to a peanut butter and Saracha sandwich :\ 

Overall, the boys are doing great and when we're not spending 24/7 at the hospital, we are all settling in quite well.  I will not vouch for the state of my house when those hospital stays come along, though...

Amber

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

ONE WEEK

Saturday marked one week home, and we decided to celebrate by going to the zoo.  To be honest, I wish I had more time to blog but I'm just extremely tired.  The boys are like babies, that are really big and much better at grabbing things they shouldn't have.  In the first couple of days they were home, Finn stuck a fork in the toaster, got a hold of a butcher knife he shouldn't have been able to reach and went gleefully running through the house with it, and found a handful of matches.  This last one is particularly perplexing to us, as we don't keep matches and haven't for almost 14 years.  So apparently Finn is so determined to remove himself from the gene pool that he's now pulling dangerous things from the ether lol.

The boys are fitting in pretty darn well.  I wouldn't call it a honeymoon, because they aren't shy about letting us know they aren't pleased, challenging our authority, or just plain being bratty, but they are also funny and charming and pretty naturally Andersons.

Having five kids isn't exponentially harder than having three.  The only very significant difference is how long it takes to get everyone in the car and out of the house.  Seth has been late to school every day for the last week! 

Saturday morning we packed everyone up and headed to the zoo to celebrate one week home.  We went with some family friends of ours and we got this group picture on a convenient bench.  The two girls in the pink belong to the Garcia family and are just adorable!  The rest are members of the Anderson clan!  On the bench, in order, Finn, Seth, Evie, and Jake, and Gillian is crouched on the ground.  I won't mention the names of the two girls, because I didn't ask their family for permission. 
It was super hot at the zoo even though it's cold a lot already, so kids immediately started getting lazy.  A wagon was definitely in order!
Finn and Gillian are sitting pretty in the zoo wagon, but the Garcias had a wagon too, and the littles weren't the only ones getting lazy!
Jake also enjoyed a little wagon down time.  Yes, his nails are painted red, and so are Finn's.  They saw me doing Evie and Gillian's nails and they definitely wanted to be a part of that lol.
We decided to take the time to watch the polar bears getting fed, which meant standing in front of the polar bear enclosure for nearly half an hour watching for the zoo keeper and his buckets of fish.  Here's how the kids felt about that.
Yes, they were less than impressed.  And yes, that's our nearly 14 year old being bored in a tiny wagon.  By the time the polar bears actually got fed, the kids seriously couldn't have cared less.  Here's the face most of them made.
When we finally left to get some ice cream, here's the face most of them made...
All in all, the most popular thing at the zoo was the wagons!!



~~Amber

Thursday, September 25, 2014

When In Rome...Uh...China

I feel like in a lot of ways, I haven't had an organic China experience.  I flew into Guangzhou and have stayed here the entire trip (except for a short visit to Shenzhen, more on that later) and to be honest Guangzhou isn't exactly "China".  It's very metropolitan, very cosmopolitan, and, honestly, relatively European.  Almost everyone I've spoken to, even on the streets, speaks at least basic English.  Lots of them are very fluent.  The area we're in is full of restaurants, stores and night clubs.  There's many, many Europeans on the streets here and it's clearly a popular tourist destination for the entire world.  I've eaten Chinese food off and on, but we've mostly eaten versions of popular restaurants the world over.  KFC and McDonald's are popular.  Also frequently seen is Pizza Hut and Subway.  Of course, there's a Starbucks in every neighborhood.  What I have to say I didn't really expect is the overwhelming popularity of 7-11.  In America, 7-11 is definitely out of style and I'd say their numbers are really dwindling.  But there's one on every corner here in Guangzhou, and that's literally not a joke.  If you are on a side street, you'll see a 7-11, go around the corner to the major road, and find another one waiting. 

Here's our view from our hotel window. 




Pretty much sans the Chinese characters, we could easily be in a nice hotel in Manhattan.  Mike had a more "China" experience in Zhengzhou where he picked up Jake.  Many less English speakers, lots of scooters driving on the sidewalks and some seriously crazy traffic (not that the traffic isn't also crazy here.)  Actually, speaking of 7-11, right there in the bottom corner, where the light is always shining there's a 7-11.  If we go out the door and turn left, there's another 7-11 about one block over. 

It is SOOOOOO hot here.  Coming from New Mexico, we just aren't used to the humidity.  It's like 900% humidity every moment of the day.  When I first got here it was still in the mid-90s every day but now it's into the low 90s and sometimes even into the 80s.  Our guide says it never gets very cold here.  I guess winter is setting in for them lol.  It isn't just me either.  People who know me know that I've been inclined towards feeling like just existing is too hot since the moment I was born.  But the other adoptive parents feel the same.  Jake and Finn are runners, so we spent our first couple of tours dripping in sweat and chasing down these crazy boys.  At that point, we decided touring wasn't worth it lol.  We started just staying at the hotel during arranged tours after that.  We have had dinner with a couple of other adoptive families, and we've been up to Shamian Island three times.  We might go a fourth time, depending on our schedule tomorrow. 

There's a family there who runs a shop called Susan's.  It's a really great place, full of just about everything you might want to buy in China.  But the best thing about Susan's is the husband and wife who run it.  They speak English very well and they are experts in local history and Chinese history in general.  They explained so many things to us.  We even recorded him showing us how to properly make tea.  They really wanted us to come for tea, which of course we didn't know how to avoid without being rude.  We said we had to hurry and catch the bus, which was true, but we also didn't want to be rude and refuse the tea, which we'd have to do, since LDS people don't drink tea or coffee.  But the next time we went in, to pick up some name posters we ordered, he really wanted us to have tea with them and he was freaking out excited.  It was clearly really important to them, so we sat at the tea table and just kind of looked at each other while he poured the tea into incredibly tiny glasses.  Like midget shot glasses.  Finally, I just didn't know how to avoid being potentially rude, so I just said, "Do you have any herbal tea instead?"  It was super funny, he looked at both of us and said, "You don't drink tea?  Are you Mormon?" LOL.  We said yes, and he pulled out the herbal tea and poured us some of that instead.  

He's asked us to come for tea again tomorrow before we leave the country, so we're going to call him and see what time they close and we might do that again.  He gave us his email and has asked us to send them periodic emails.  We do plan to return to China, whether we choose to adopt again or not.  It's our hope to be able to return to China at least every two years, every summer if finances permit.  So making a few friends is fun since we'll be able to see them again. 

Jake gets sick and throws up every time we get in the car.  Part of this is because he'd never been in a vehicle before, part of it can definitely be attributed to the insane way people here drive.  There's definitely no turn signals, no car lengths apart, and no safe changing of lanes.  I wish I could explain the way driving is typically done here.  Three and four cars will try to enter the same lane at the same time and just hope for the best.  It's crazy.  Also, the cars don't seem to have shocks.  It's a bouncing adventure every time we drive. 

I could write for days about China, but it's bedtime now.  I think I'll try to do more posts about China when we get home, since the internet is very spotty here and blogging is hard.

Amber



Friday, September 19, 2014

We're Not Dead Yay!

Sorry for my total absence of posting.  The VPN wouldn't work on my Kindle.  I tried downloading it over and over but it didn't want to work.  So the only VPN we have is on Mike's laptop.  But Mike was in Henan while I was in Guangdong.  Now we're finally back together, but the internet is spotty at best, so my updates might be a little sparse. 

Mike and I both picked up our assigned child on the 15th.  Jake, as might be expected considering his older age, came easy.  He and Mike were a little bit cautious with each other, as one would expect, but they bonded over swimming, which they did every second of every day until they came up to Guangdong on a VERY long train ride.  We only go once a day up here.  It's way too hot to go outside very often.  More on that later.  He came with a lot of super cute baby and little Jake pictures, which he likes to show very often.  The orphanage was super good about making sure he came with a past to remember, which we really love and appreciate! 

Gotcha with Finn was a little bit traumatic.  He was very excited.  Before the appointment, I went to the store and our guide, Judy, called the orphanage and asked what his favorite snacks were at my request.  He said over the phone that he was so excited he couldn't think about what he wanted lol.  However, when the reality came he was less excited.  He wouldn't look at me at all when they brought him out.  He was trying really hard to pretend we weren't there.  When I said hello to him he burst into tears.  I got pretty upset at that point and I think the nannies thought I was sad because he wasn't happy to see me, but that's not it at all.  I did try to explain that wasn't why I was tearing up.  Genuinely scared or hurting children make me very sad.  I cry when kids are undergoing painful medical procedures too.  I was just really sad that he was scared and hurting.  He wanted absolutely nothing to do with me for about three hours after we got back to the hotel, but he came around pretty quickly.  He did routinely refuse to hold my hand for another day or two and he always wanted to sit next to Judy.  But it's all going good now.

When we finally reconnected Finn was very tired and already in bed and he was NOT excited at the presence of Jake and Baba.  He kept shaking his head and saying no.  Then he shined a light in Mike's eyes and Mike pretended to scream and cover his eyes before falling on the floor and theatrically dying.  That was all it took for Finn.  He was won over.  Now he's a hard core baba's boy.  He wants Mike to carry him all the time and wants to snuggle with him.  Jake is interested in me, but since we can't really communicate very well, we're still not sure what to make of each other.  His body language cues aren't great, so I have a much harder time understanding what he wants.  Mike speaks some Mandarin and Jake speaks a very small amount of English, so they are working it out better than Jake and I do.

Jake is pretty much exactly as we expected.  He's 11 and that should be enough to explain it for most people who've ever had an 11 year old lol.  He is by turns excited by childish things and petulantly being dragged on family outings.  He rotates between enjoying his new taste of freedom and being annoyed at us because we make him do things like eat or take a shower instead of playing on the Kindle or watching TV.  Basically, as aforementioned, he's 11.  He acts just like our bio kids did at 11, but he's under a bit more stress.  He is quite annoyed that we aren't all able to communicate.  He speaks very well and he speaks a lot, and he's not happy that we aren't able to understand what he's saying.  I get frustrated in the store because I can't get any of my questions answered, so I can't imagine how he feels with parents who can't completely meet his needs because we just don't understand what they are.  His special need is pretty much exactly as expected.  Except since he stopped receiving physical therapy from Love Without Boundaries a few years ago it seems he's gotten a little lax.  He's realized that he doesn't have to use his left hand in most cases, and he's gotten lazy about working it out since he can do almost everything one handed. He's a smart, smart boy.  We were a little worried he might be slower to learn English as foreign languages are much harder the older you are, but communicating is so important to him, I think he'll come around pretty fast.



Finn is pure energy.  100% on all the time.  He's always running, always yelling, always jumping, always moving.  He's adorable.  Everyone loves him immediately.  I don't know what he's saying to people but evidently it's funny, because they always laugh, and the ones who also speak a bit of English almost inevitably tell me that he's funny.  He is certainly mischievous.  He is a straight up practical joker and a great lover of getting into trouble.  He dropped 400 Chinese Yuan in the toilet yesterday laughing the whole time.  He also likes to throw away important documents, hide the hotel room key, and run away as fast as he can when we are out in public.  In our family we call this 'a runner' and we had another one in our daughter Gillian, so we used a monkey backpack with a tail that served as a leash.  We wish we had it here!  Finn's condition is certainly serious.  The doctors here say they've never seen a worse case of Beta Thalassemia Major.  However, he's better off than we expected.  We thought he would need to be immediately hospitalized but we no longer believe that's true.



I will post about China in general later on today.  Right now we're headed off to do a little sightseeing with another American mom staying here in our hotel.  She is also adopting an older child with Thalassemia. 

Amber

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Stop! Tally Time! Oh ohohoh ohohohoh!

I leave on Thursday night.  Ohmyheck!  Craziness!  Mike leaves on Friday afternoon.  We will both be picking up our assigned boy on early Monday morning, which will be Sunday night for most people in America.  Crazy that it's so soon!  It's still very surreal to me.   I don't know when it will sink in.  Maybe the day after we get home? ;)  We are starting today needing $4054 to be fully funded.  That may sound like a lot, but we are were at $5700 give or take at the beginning of yesterday!  God is working to help us bring these boys home right now!  We could not be more grateful to all who are sharing, praying, and donating!

Amber

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tally Ho

I thought it would be fun to do a tally when I wrote that the other day.  Turns out it's not so fun when the total doesn't change.  We are at $5704 needed to be fully funded.  Our fundraisers and donations have totalled less than $70 in three days.  Obviously, this is freaking us out since we have no other sources of money.  At this point it's a good time for a miracle.  Please pray for us, share our fundraisers, and donate if you feel so called.  We are grateful for all the help people have given!  Thank you!!!

Amber

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Daily Tally

I think it might be fun to do a daily tally of where we are and where we need to be with our fundraising efforts.  We are starting today with a new Fully Funded total because of a PayPal donation. $21,591 is our new goal. Currently we need $5,772 to reach our goal. I know we've already fundraised a lot. 15k worth! But we're down to the wire. And we can't wait because of this sweet face. I got this picture this morning. Yes, he's adorable. Yes, he's smiling. But it doesn't take a lot to see how sick he is. Please consider our fundraisers or share!  You can follow along with our totals in the corner on the Reece's Rainbow bar.  Thank you so much for helping us go these last few miles!!  And prayers are always much appreciated!


Amber