This is a summary of Mei Li’s transition into American family life for the first 6 months covering bonding, language development, eating and sleeping. Every adoptive family has different experiences, because every child is different. We see our child’s personality blossoming into something very beautiful…she’s brave, smart, determined and adventurous. We just adore her.
Month One – November: Honeymoon Period – Things are, for the most part, blissful. This little girl we’ve worked so hard to meet was actually sitting in our family room. She’s actually here! This is blissful. We battle through jetlag, with James having the hardest time. He’s awake from midnight to 5 am for several days, despite not letting him take naps. Finally he caves and one solid night kicks the jet lag to the curb. Mei Li wakes in her crib during the night, talks happily to herself, and goes back to sleep after an hour or so. This happens several times through the night for the first week, until she settles into our time zone. We continue to see amazing results in our bedtime routine. We give her a bath (which she loves), read books (she has no idea how to even hold one or turn pages) and then tell her in Mandarin “Shuìjiào”. We put her in her crib and she happily pulls the blankets over herself. We turn out the light and shut the door, never hearing any fuss. Believe me when I say…”Yes, I know how lucky we are regarding this fact!”
Mei Li still seems to still be dealing with “hypervigilance” (Hyper-vigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose primary purpose is to detect threats. Hyper-vigilance is also accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion.) She is very, very happy….constantly moving….unable to focus on something for more than a few seconds….and then sleeps and sleeps and sleeps. Her afternoon naps are about 3 hours long and she sleeps about 13-14 hours at night.
Eating habits proved to be a bit more challenging. Day 1 we made pancakes, fresh fruit, juice, etc. She wouldn’t eat any of it. Jim made a package of rice…she ate the whole lot herself. He joked, “You can take the girl out of China, but you can’t take China out of the girl!” So, we eased her into our style of eating and in just a few weeks she eats whatever we eat…just with more vegetables! Can’t complain about that!
Bonding with James is our #1 priority. He is still pretty excited to have this sister he prayed for, and she seems to be thrilled with him, but she still bites and scratches, probably due to her hypervigilance (intensity of behaviors). We work extra hard to provide James with plenty of opportunities to have some “alone time” with one of us, but it never seems like enough for him. It will never be the same for him in terms of the sheer number of hours he once had with us, and this is tough for him to adjust to.
Bonding with us would seem, to an outsider, like it’s going very well…because she is so happy all the time. However, she will go to (and with) just about anyone who approaches her. This means she is not really bonded with anyone. After taking the required Parenting Classes for Adoptive Parents, we realized that this will take time. Mei Li’s happy personality makes it seem like she isn’t having any trouble adjusting, but she is petrified of our cats, the hairdryer, vacuum cleaner and automatic toilet flushes (since one flushed while she was sitting on it and caused a major meltdown.) These will be things we work through over the next several months.
Language Development – We still use several Mandarin phrases with Mei Li during the day, and she seems to understand them. She also asks for things in Mandarin that we can understand. She is quite good at “copying” behaviors, so she pretty much just follows what James is doing if she doesn’t understand what is going on in our schedule during the day.
The Mandarin phrases that we found very helpful were:
Drink – Hē
Are you thirsty? – Nǐ kě ma?
Eat – Chī
Are you hungry? – Nǐ è ma?
Sleep – Shuìjiào
Hold Hands – qiān shǒu
toilet – cèsuǒ
sit – Zuò
I love you! – Wǒ ài nǐ!
Good or No Good? – Hào, bù hǎo?
Younger Sister – mèi mèi
Older brother – Gēgē
We learned a lot more Mandarin than that, including body parts, clothing, types of food, and songs, but the short list of words above were used most often.
Month Two – December: Ho Ho Ho, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa!!!
Sleeping – Still awesome! She still sleeps long, long hours….sometimes totally 16 hours a day.
Eating – No problems, besides the sheer amounts that she seems to want. She never eats to the point of throwing up, but it is amazing how she can “pack it away!”
Bonding with James – PROBLEMS! James is struggling, big time! He is tired of being scratched, bit, and sharing his parents with his new sister. He is acting out at home AND at school. Up until this point, James has maintained his stance, “I wish Mei Mei didn’t bite and scratch, but I still love her.” Now he was asking if we could take her back to China for a different sister. In addition, Mei Li is starting to be bothered by James’s constant crying, and she is making her needs well-known as well. It seems like there is always someone crying in our house….and I will admit, I cried sometimes too!
Time to put the brakes on, which is hard to do during the rush of the holiday season. We cut back on the number of family parties and events we would normally do in December and took each and every day, minute by minute, putting out flames, building connections, and teaching skills that biological siblings develop gradually by the time the youngest is 3 years old. James was tossed in with a child who instantly wants to play the same things, use the same toys, runs almost at the same speed, etc.
Bonding with us – Since Mei Li spends her days with Jim (who graciously took 3 months off of work to help her adjust), she is closest to him. Sometimes she even outright rejects me, which does hurt my feelings, but then sometimes I get home from work and she barrels toward the door screaming, “Yaaaaaa!” which melts my heart. Sometimes she wakes up in the morning and looks up at us with the biggest grin, which says, “Oh yaa! You’re still here!” Then she climbs into our arms and hugs us tight, looks us in the eye, smiles, and hugs us again! That’s the absolute best.
Language Development – Slow. Mei Li tries so hard to say words to us in English. She watches intently as I move my lips to pronounce, “O-pen! O-pen!” Then she tries, “Ah-na”. She just can’t seem to get her mouth to do the same sounds, unless the consonant sound is repeated twice, like “Dada, Mama, MeiMei, GeGe, bye-bye, baby, paper, purple. She also drools excessively, which I was told could be because she doesn’t have the muscle control in her mouth to hold in the liquid. I asked our pediatrician if she was getting teeth and he said she has them all. We decided to get her speech evaluated with a Mandarin interpreter.
You tube video of our first two months at home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTmjE5-EYlM
Month Three – January – A new year brings new beginnings!
Sleeping – Still awesome! She is still sleeping long hours at night (12-13 hours), but her naps have shortened to about 2 hours.
Eating – No problems other than our discovery that oranges “may” NEVER be part of her normal diet for very disgusting reasons. (Update: This seems to have changed, but we still try to avoid too many of them.)
Bonding with James…Less blood equals signs of hope. For the first 8 weeks, we tried to help Mei Li understand that biting and scratching were not acceptable. We feel she understood us, because she would bite James, and then say in Mandarin, “Don’t bite!” yet she still bit!! She also never bit anyone else….just James. So, although I didn’t want to resort to this, we allowed James to bite her back. Mei Li was shocked. She looked at her arm, then at James, then at us. Then she cried. The frequency of her biting and scratching diminished over the course of the next two weeks, so that by the end of the month, it had stopped completely. The funny thing about this, is when we told James to bite/scratch her back, he looked at us in complete and utter disbelief. “What do you mean, bite her back?” He had never intentionally hurt anyone in his life, and couldn’t believe what we were asking him to do. (I couldn’t believe it either, but after hearing James’s shrill shrieks of pain 10-15 times per day for over 8 weeks, I was desperate for a solution.) See evidence of sibling “abuse” here:
Bonding with us- Improvements noted! This month, our extended family came to help us celebrate James’s 6th birthday. At the party, several people who had already seen, held and played with Mei Li tried to get her to come to them. Mei Li grabbed on to my neck and buried her head in my shoulder. This was interpreted by our family member as a negative setback for Mei Li, in that Mei Li went willingly to her last month and now wouldn’t go to her. However, in the adoption world…this is exactly what we want to happen. Mei Li needs to know that we are her parents, she is safest with us, and it is not acceptable to go to anyone who holds out their arms for a hug. This is behavior that needs to be taught to adopted children. She’s learning quickly! We also started Mei Li in swimming lessons because she seems to LOVE water, and we have a pool. This is helping with her fear of hair dryers, because she sees other children getting their hair dried in the locker rooms after the lesson. Mei Li has a desperate desire to do everything that everyone else is doing, so using the hairdryer is a breeze now. She is also in love with our two cats, and they tolerate her incessant petting. Vacuum cleaners are still a work in progress.
Language Development- Still the same as last month. Although she is picking up new words, she still only says a very small part of each word. “Elephant = El” “Octopus =Ah” “Cup = Ca”. She does understand how to hold a book, and turn pages, and can sit quietly while we read to her. She can easily point out where different animals/shapes/objects are on the pages when asked to “Find the (fill the object).” So she is definitely understanding a lot more than she can verbally say.
Month Four – February –Happy Birthday! Happy Chinese New Year! Happy Girl!
Sleeping – Still awesome! She now sleeps 10-12 hours at night and about 1.5 hours per day. We feel she has conquered the hypervigilance. She can focus on tasks like play dough/coloring/blocks for long periods of time, sometimes 30 minutes or more.
Eating – Mei Li has become pickier about what she will and won’t eat, which poses a slight problem, as her disability requires a special diet. As parents, we are not huge fans of cooking separate things for our kids, so we have started playing “hard ball” with dinner time. If Mei Li chooses not to eat something, that’s fine, but there won’t be any alternatives. If she leaves the table hungry, that’s her choice, but she doesn’t get anything but water until the next snack or mealtime. This is tough to enforce, especially since she doesn’t have language skills to express herself yet, but she is a quick learner, and it only takes a few times for her to get the message. Although it’s been 4 months, and some newly adopted children might still need constant access to food because of the previous treatment they received in an orphanage, Mei Li was in a very loving foster home where delicious food was always available. Although she enjoys eating, after 4 months at home, we know food isn’t a primal need she was ever deprived of in the past. Therefore, we felt we must teach her how our family works in terms of mealtimes and snack times.
Bonding with James – Deliberate aggression toward James is a new factor to deal with at home, and James has, for the most part, rejected his sister. Her biting and scratching was usually during play, but now it is definitely intentional. Ten percent of the time they are together he absolutely loves her, proclaiming, “I love my sister so much. She is the sweetest thing.”
The other 90% of the time he leaves the room when she gets near him or whines about her getting into his things. True siblings! They aren’t together very much, because James is at school all day, and after church on Sundays he goes skiing with either Jim or me. When they are together, we encourage games that they can play nicely together. Usually that involves running around the “circle” in our downstairs in some sort of dress up gear, or taking turns jumping from the arm rest of the couch to the couch itself, which often turns into a cry fest, because taking turns is very difficult for Mei Li. She cries pitifully EVERY time it’s James turn to jump, and then screams “NO!” when it’s her turn because she’s so mad that James had a turn. The kids also like to do Wii Dance, which also can turn into a nightmare if the “favorite” song isn’t playing, or one person is 6 inches closer to the TV than the other child. So this area of their development is still very much a work in progress. (Less face facts, biological kids are forced to make adjustments too!) James stressed about his sister’s upcoming birthday, because he felt everyone would pay attention to her and none of his cousins would play with him. I alerted the extended family about his anxiety, and everyone made an effort to help James feel good about celebrating her special day.
It was pretty awesome to celebrate this little girl’s first birthday with us! We kept her party simple, with just immediate relatives, and she seemed to really love the attention, especially when they sang “Happy Birthday!” because it is a song she tries hard to sing herself.
You-Tube Video Link to Mei’s First (3rd) Birthday: https://youtu.be/sl4eTG3zPYI
Bonding with us – Mei Li has started full time preschool, now that Jim is back to work. Of course we were a nervous wreck leaving her for the first time. Would she bite the other kids? Would she give the teacher a hard time at naptime? Would she cry when we left her? It turns out our fears were for nought, as her preschool teacher sent us an email half way through the day which stated, “Mei Li is doing GREAT! She actually has a boyfriend. She was sitting next to Michael during project time and kept kissing him! I made 16 bean soup and she told me she wanted some and she ate four bowls. She loved it. Only two other kids would eat it.” Jim and I joked later that night that kissing was better than biting, but only by a little bit (according to dad!). For at least 2 weeks, when I arrived to pick up Mei Li, she was unsure what to do when she saw me. I expected her to run across the room and jump into my arms, but that’s not what happened. She would see me and smile, but then go back to what she was doing. Then she would look up and see that I was still there, while I talked to the teacher, and then kept playing. I don’t think she realized that I was there to bring her home….that she belonged with me! By the end of the month, she was running for me saying, “Home! Home!” Progress!
Language Development: Mei Li has become very interested in the alphabet. By the end of the month she has mastered the entire upper case and most of the lower case letters. She understands that if you turn an M upside down, it becomes a W. Turning a Z on its side looks like an N. She points letters out in books, on street signs, at the store, on our clothing. Her verbal language is only slightly better than it was last month, so we are keeping the appointment to have her speech evaluated at the end of March. Her determination and perseverance to learn, leads us to believe she is quite smart, but we understand she may need some assistance catching up with her peers.
Month 5 – March – “Marching on to peaceful co-existence”
Sleeping – Still awesome, just a little less of it. She is sleeping “age appropriate” amounts now.
Eating – Nothing new to report. She favors bananas, fried eggs with soy sauce, mashed potatoes, vegetable lo mein noodles and any sort of Italian dish. (We think she’s Asian on the outside and Italian on the inside because she asks for “pa-ta” (pasta) every single meal!!) She doesn’t enjoy Mexican food, oatmeal or surprisingly….rice.
Bonding with James – Playtime together is improving, but is still not fantastic. We are not unrealistic to think it will be truly fantastic anytime soon, but we are optimistic that it seems to be improving. After a really long, hard Buffalo winter, the kids are sick and tired of being cooped up indoors, so we expect most of the behaviors to improve as they can get more outdoor opportunities. Sharing is still a huge problem for Mei Li. She has discovered the word, “MINE!” and claims everything in sight as her own. This, of course, drives James completely bonkers and we inevitably end up with one (or both) in tears. Mei Li has also learned to tattle tale. If the two kids are playing in the playroom, we can literally count the seconds until she screams, “MINE!” which is then followed by James protesting, followed by some sort of scuffle and Mei Li running out of the playroom toward me, tears streaming down her face, screaming, “Mama! Mama! GeGe! (Insert some sort of body part that hurts)” Which basically means James lashed out and hit/pushed/bit/scratched her. So now we work to “undo” the permission we had given James a few months ago to scratch or bite her when she bit him, because he seemed to think he had some sort of “wild card” to use brute force on his little sister anytime she annoyed him. We explained to him that she has stopped hurting him, so he no longer has permission to hurt her. If she is doing something that bothers him and he can’t solve it in a peaceful way, then he must come and tell us. This is still a work in progress, and makes me think giving him permission to bite her back was a mistake. Parenting….it’s the hardest job in the world!
Bonding with us – Mei Li seems to really favor me now, and has started to reject Jim. This happens most frequently at night when we announce it’s time for a bath, or when it’s time to use the toilet. Don’t’ get me wrong, she is absolutely in love with him, and runs to hug him when he gets home from work, but during those other two times, she expects my full attention and wants nothing to do with him. This is hard for me, because I miss reading books with James and putting him to bed, so at least once a week, I literally hide in the house right before bath time, because if she doesn’t see me, she willingly goes with Jim without a fuss. Then I get some time with my boy!
Bonding with us – Mei Li is very comfortable with us, so comfortable that she seems to be regressing in her social behaviors. She is acting out more defiantly, standing her ground on certain issues, and ramping up the pestering of her brother. Also, she is again petrified of our 2 cats, the hair dryer and automatic flushing toilets. These are the same fears she had in November. We don’t really understand why she is regressing, or acting out in negative ways, but accept that it’s probably part of the bonding process. According to other adoptive parents, this is normal. I don’t think any amount of parenting classes could prepare you for these crazy moments which literally drive me to the brink of sanity, but I try not to take it out on Mei Li (or James). Sometimes, I know that I just need to take a break and get away for a few hours. Jim is quite awesome when it comes to those times, and takes over without any hesitation. I find that I am a much better mom when I get a break once in a while! I know these behaviors are not Mei Li’s fault, and I don’t claim to fully understand them or even know how to react to them. Adoption is new to everyone…including us.
Language Development: Mei Li is showing some signs of improvement, as she attempts to put two words together now. She practices saying words she is very comfortable with, “Bye Bye, Mama.”….”Bye Bye Kitty.”….”See Horsey.” Stringing three words together isn’t possible for her at this time. Multi-syllabic words are mostly still shortened to single syllables, but words like “cup”…which used to be “cu” are now clear and accurate. We had her speech evaluated, and are awaiting the results. Our local school district will determine if she is eligible for services. Given her absolute drive and positive mindset for learning, we are sure that with a little help, she’ll clear this hurdle without any problems.
Month 6- April – “Spring Showers Bring Mei Flowers”
Sleeping – Still awesome. Despite challenges in other areas of Mei’s development, we are so thankful that bedtime is a breeze. We know that once we close the door at 8pm, she will not need us for the next 11 hours. She may happily play or talk in her crib, but she never, ever cries.
Eating – We’re experiencing the same issues…sometimes she just won’t eat something, but she clearly understands that means she’ll need to wait until the next snack/meal time. It doesn’t usually bother her to say, “I’m done” and know that she won’t be getting dessert if she didn’t finish her plate.
Bonding with James– Overall better! I’d say we’re up to 30% happy play and 70% cat/dog fighting. We have started to leave them to play alone together in the playroom while we clean up in the kitchen after dinner, and let them sort out their issues. After reading a book called, Bringing up BeBe about the differences in French parenting to American parenting, I can see there is a benefit in allowing children time to figure out their own problems, and not hovering to solve every issue for them. We feel this will transfer into life skills as they encounter issues with peers/co-workers, etc.
Bonding with us – We have seen a big improvement in the regression we saw last month in just the last week. She is no longer afraid of our cats, and truly enjoys playing “baby” with me. This means that she wants me to hold her like a little baby and let her sip from her bunny cup with a straw. I walk her around the house, humming or singing softly as if she were an infant. It might seem alarming to outsiders that she wants to do this, and that we allow her to do it. We feel that Mei Li never got the chance to be a baby that was rocked or held lovingly when she needed it. So, we’re happy to fill in that missing piece as she asks us to!
Language Development – Mei Li is making more progress in her speech, but it is slower than we expected it to be. She is quite good at making gestures to help us understand what she wants, if we don’t understand her after multiple attempts. Our school district has approved her for speech services 2x per week, and that will start next month.
Mei Li does have some unusual behaviors that we’ll never really understand. Glimpses of her past life are fading, but she still does some things that we’ll never really fully understand. For example, after every bath, she expertly spreads out her towel, adjusting each corner to lay perfectly flat on the ground. Then she lays down on it, and pulls a corner of it up around herself. She lays very still and quiet. Then takes a deep breath in and out, and gets up. It’s clear the way she deftly maneuvers herself on the towel, she has done this hundreds of times. Mysteries we may never fully solve.
To sum up…the past 6 months have been amazing, exhausting, frustrating and beautiful for us. We are so amazed by Mei Li’s courage to take on this momentous task with, for the most part, a positive attitude. It takes great courage to become the person you were meant to be….and she’s (usually) doing it with a smile! We couldn’t be more proud of her!