Saturday, August 29, 2015


Titus has been a Johnson for a month now!  In many ways life with him still feels so new, and in other ways it feels like he's always been here.  Without a doubt, it feels right.  We are so blessed to have him as our son!

So, what's it really like?  How are we doing?  What is HE like?  The best way I can put it is that having him home is like having a 3-2-1 year-old baby.

Like other three year-olds, Titus has a zest for life!  He has boundless energy that begs to go to the park at 6am (which I sometimes indulge) and the pool almost every afternoon.  He is a sponge for immitating behavior.  His memory is incredible - he remembered a week later that the bakery lady gave him a free cookie the first time and now he gestures for it each week!  Now three weeks later he says "mmmmmm" (yum) when we pull in to the parking lot!  He likes to be helpful and you'll often find him running the swiffer on the floor after dinner or helping place newly washed clothes in the dryer.  He is independent in some ways I didn't expect, such as washing his own hair in the tub and rinsing his dishes in the bathroom sink after a meal.  He enjoys displaying his ability to put his socks and shoes on by himself.

Like his two year-old brother, he is finding his voice and learning to express his opinions.  He didn't have many options in the orphanage and now enjoys the freedom to accept, reject, and make requests.  Giving heed to his reasonable wishes are a great way of buidling trust with him.  He is learning the expectations and boundaries in our home.  He has a heart to learn and do what is right.  When he finds an activity he likes he desires endless repetition, whether it is walking up and down the stairs, climbing in and out of the pool or humming a new sound sequence.  He's working on making new pathways in his brain and it is exciting to watch.   He loves anything musical and hums his way through his days.  He is not speaking much and his speech is not clear, but he is vocalizing more sounds than he did when we first received him.  He understands and obeys simple commands in English now, such as "come here", "sit down", "lay down", "give me a hug/kiss/high five".  Last night I asked him, "Do you want your (Chinese childrens') music?" and he answered, "My moo!"  

Feeding him and taking care of his basic needs is more like having a one year-old.  He is a little guy, wearing 18 month sized clothing and using the size 3 diapers Zane outgrew about a year ago (glad I hung on to them!).  He was still formula-fed before coming to us, with the excecption of soft fruits, rice, noodles, and soft steamed buns, so most of what we feed him is soft and cut into small bites.  His laugh is infectious and he loves simple games like peek-a-boo and simple toys like stacking cups and shape sorters.  So many things are new to him that he walks around with the kind of curiosity and wonder of a younger child.  It is enchanting to see him take in a new environment the first time we go somewhere new.

As for all of our children, we hope and pray that his development will allow him to excel in life and make the most of every opportunity.  For now, though, in the newness of him coming to our family, I am so thrilled with the ways he is asking for and accepting the nurture of an infant.  The bonding opportunities it provides are priceless and he is showing increased trust daily.  His coos and hums are like a young baby and he has the cutest squeak that reminds me of my others' newborn days.  We all missed quite a lot when he was tiny - during the years we didn't know he existed and the year we worked hard to bring him home.  I'd give anything to get to snuggle "Tiny Titus" and have him never know years without a mother's love.  Much of his first year was spent in an isolette, without the touch and nurture we take for granted with our biological children.  Now that he is finally home we have a lot of lost time to make up for.  On average, I spend 2-3 hours daily rocking, bouncing, swaying, and soothing.  His head cradled against my chest, I sing the hymns and songs my other children have known from the womb. I pray healing over his body, spirit, and soul, and talk with God about my hopes and dreams for the kind of man this little heart will become.  He spends another hour or so each day sweet and snug in the Ergo carrier while I homeschool, cook meals, or clean.  This baby loves to be close to his Mama and often drags over the carrier or ball to let me know he needs it.

A phrase we've heard several times in our adoption training is "invest now, or pay later."  We are giving all we have into the investment of attachment and bonding.  Like most things that are truly worthwhile it is wearysome, but oh so good.  Over the three weeks we've been home, he has progressed from scant eye contact to sustaining eye contact while we cuddle.  In the last few days he has begun giving unprompted hugs and kisses!  He has gone from rejecting Daddy to running into Daddy's arms.

So, in these "newborn" days and with also spending several hours each day in homeschooling and being sure to give Zane the much-craved one-on-one time we used to share, I rarely have a moment alone and I can't always tell you the last time I managed to shower.   I'm in a foggy state of bliss and wouldn't have it any other way!  Our family is smitten with him and as Kaira would say, "He is just the cutest thing ever!"  Emmalia says, "I can't imagine if we didn't adopt him.  I don't even want to think about it."  The outpouring of love we have received from our community through meals, drop-by chocolate, phone calls, and encouraging messages have helped give us the energy it takes to keep up with our new 3-2-1 year-old baby and spend so much time focused on bonding and meeting our family's emotional needs in this transition.  We are so grateful!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Are You My Mother?

   This is a difficult post to write but I'm finding it necessary as we ease in to finding our new normal with Titus home from China.  One of the things that we covered extensively in our pre-adption training is a concept called "coccooning".  This is basically a period of time, maybe three months, maybe more or less, maybe a year, or maybe it gets revisited often, when a family with a newly adopted child steps back from a lot of activity or commitments outside of their home in order to envelop the new child in their family.  The idea is to keep their world small and their social contacts smaller.  For Titus, he was never outside of two rooms in his orphanage until the day we adopted him.  He is having a ton of new experiences all at once and it can get overwhelming.  Actually, Titus really does enjoy getting out and seeing new places (as evidenced by his constant antics to try to get out of the house) but he doesn't really know how to act appropriately in these settings yet, so we're keeping a close watch for signs that he is ready for new situations.  However, we can not give up certain core parts of our lives, like our church, AWANA, and homeschool community, although I have given up the bulk of my responsibilities in these so that I can focus on helping Titus adjust to them.

You will find that Titus is extremely social.  He is so cute, and he knows it!  This was a survival mechanism for him in his institutional life.  The ones who are cute, who endeaer the nannies, get better fed, better care, and more attention. The challenges is that Titus has had a countless number of nannies.  We can only make guesses from our observations, but when we visited his room there seemed to be three nannies assigned to his room at the time.  His current favorite nanny had just left when her shift ended and it was mid-day.  There was reference to the "night shift" nannies.  My guess is that there are 3 shift rotations in a day, so 9 nannies/day.  We were told that the nanny he was closest to quit a few months ago.  I imagine it is likely a high turnover job.  So, let's just take a wild guess that it is possible he has had 20+ nannies in his life.  Want to know what he has called every single one of them?  "Mama".

As a result of this background, Titus feels very comfortable around just about every woman.  To him they are ALL potential sources of affection, food, and care.  He will go up to other women and lift his arms to be picked up.  He will charm and entertain and beg for attention.  (And He's SO SO SO cute when he does it!)  He will blow kisses, offer to share bites of food, and try to grab your cell phone or rummage through your purse.  The clinical term for this is "indiscriminate affection" and if not kept in check can lead to significant attachment disorders, and can be dangerous for him.  We all want our kids to have a healthy fear of strangers, right?

The most important task we are facing is helping him to understand what "mama" REALLY means.  It is SO important for Titus' well being, our family's health, and his future relationships that Titus learns that God's intention and his new reality is that he has ONE mommy and ONE daddy who do not quit, do not rotate off, do not disappear without explanation; who love unconditionally, have consistent expectations, and do not need to be manipulated in order to meet his needs.  

Because of this, I have to ask you to (not) do some things that may feel counter-intuitive.
The most helpful guideline is to deflect attention and affection and guide him back to our family.
What does this look like?  Here are some examples:

  • Does he want to hold your hand?  Gently hold his wrist while guiding him back to mommy (or daddy).
  • Does he want a hug?  Say "Save your hugs and kisses for your mommy and daddy." and again, direct him back to us.
  • Does he KEEP insisting?  Settle for a high-five and direct him back to us.  
  • Does he want to be picked up?  Tell him "Go have your mommy/daddy to hold you."
  • Is he looking to you for attention?  Point and say, "There's your mommy/daddy."
  • Does he want to feed you or you to feed him?  say, "No thank you.  This is mine/That is yours.  Share with your famiy."

Please, do not under any circumstances:

  • Correct or discipline him if I'm available to do so
  • Give him food or drink
  • Give him gifts directly
    (Gift and food items may be handed to mom or dad and we can find the appropriate time to give them.)

Please don't be surprised, offended, or hurt if we:

  • Pull him away from a situation where he is getting too much attention, whether from adults or children.
  • Leave immediately and unexpectedly if the situation is counter-productive for his attachment.
  • decline invitations for parties and play dates for a while.
*** We may even need you to treat our other children this way if Titus is around, or it would be confusing to him.  Remember, at the heart of all this, is a child who has no understanding of what family means.  Both his caretakers and his roommates (other children) have been transient.  Siblings are a new concept too.

This is super hard for me.  Like any other new mom, I desperately want to see my friends dote on my new son.  This "coccooning" is a lonely time for most adoptive families.  We need to hear how much you adore him as much as we need you not to show it to him!   While the most natural way to show your support is to love on the child, we need you to love on US instead.  And grace.  There's oh so much grace.  He's hard to resist and we're not going to freak out if you absent mindedly give him a hug, just please be understanding if we pull him away.  And have grace for me.  Please don't let yourself feel like I don't like you because I'm intentionally keeping my child away from you.  If you're a good enough friend that you've read this far, I WANT you in my life!  I NEED you in my life!  We will let you know as we see signs of secure attachment and can gradually let up on some of these guidelines.  In the meantime, thank you for helping us teach Titus about what "Mama" really means.

The Better Conversation

Our first real outing with Titus was to the library.  In China I got used to stares.  I understood what was happening when we showed our Beijing tour guide Titus' picture and she spoke quick, hushed sentences in Mandarin to the driver next to her.  Parenting a child who looks different is different.  Not in the way we treat them, of course, but in the way it shapes our hearts.

So, we're at the library and the kids are looking at the giant doll house, searching for whatever the latest additions are to it.  A child and his mom walk by and I heard him say (rather loudly), "Mom, did you see that baby?  It's freaky looking."  Mom whispered something in his ear and tried to rush him along and he said even louder, "But it is kinda freaky."

Unfortunately that is where it ended.  I've learned in other circumstances that it is best to have a conversation.  Differences aren't so "freaky", weird or scary once we know a little bit about them, and more importantly, once we know about the person.  It made no difference to Titus that day.  Thankfully he doesn't understand much English yet.  But I would have loved to talk to the little boy and given him a gentle education about children and people with differences, and laughed with the mom in comraderie because MY kids have said some pretty insensitive things sometimes too!

A friend asked recently if I would share the best ways to talk about differences so she could prepare her kids.  One basic guideline is to think about the words we use.  Judgments like "scary", "weird", and "freaky" can be replaced with true observations like "Oh, his ear is small." or "His arm is different."  That opens conversation without making judgments or hurting feelings.

For those of you in our circles, I want to give you the opportunity to learn a bit, and more importantly to help your children learn, about Titus and his differences.  I've made it easy for you!  This way we can avoid embarrassing scenarios and awkward apologies and our kids can learn to say, "I like your baby.  Can you tell me about his differences", or even, "Can I play with him?" and we can all have a better conversation.


Hey Kids!  We're going to have a new friend at (church, AWANA, CC, in our neighborhood)!  This is Titus.  He's E, K, & Z's new brother from China.  

Titus is a little different than most kids you know, so I want to tell you about him before you meet him so that you feel comfortable, OK?

First, Titus just came home from China, so he doesn't really understand English well, and he doesn't speak it.  He also has a hard time saying much because of a hole in the back of his mouth that needs to be fixed.  So if you say "hello" to him, he won't say it back, but he smiles really well and gives great high fives!

When he gives you a high five, he'll do it with his left hand, because his right hand is different than most kids'.  If you look at it now in the picture you might not feel like you need to stare at it when you meet him.  
His arm was that way even before he was born.  It doesn't hurt him.  He can still hold things...
and build with blocks...
and do most things that other kids can do.  You don't need to treat him differently because of it.

Titus also has one ear that is smaller and different from his other ear.  The outside of his ear looks different, but inside it is the same as yours. and he can hear. 
 No one's face is exactly the same on both sides, but sometimes one side of Titus' face looks really different from the other, like when he smiles or cries.  It might sometimes seem like he is making a funny face, but he isn't trying to.  His muscles don't work the same on both sides.  But he is REALLY cute!

Titus is three and a half years old, but he acts more like a one year-old most of the time.  That is because before he  was adopted he never left his bedroom in the orphanage.  He never went to a library, a park, a zoo, or the other places you go to that help you learn to be a big kid.  He also never played with bigger kids.  Most of his friends were babies so he didn't see how many big kids act.  He also looks more like a one or two year old because he didn't always have the good food to help him grow strong.  You don't need to make a big deal about his age.  Just enjoy him the way he is!

Another thing you need to know about Titus is that he didn't have a mommy or a daddy for more than three years.  So sometimes he doesn't know how to behave the way your mom and dad have taught you.  Please be patient with him while he is learning right from wrong.

Titus does have a mommy and daddy now, and a whole family that love him!
And even though there are some different things about him, he is a lot like other kids too.  He loves to play and swim.  He likes balls, blocks, and slides, and he really loves to hum and dance!  

He is a really fun kid and I hope you can be good friends!

Speaking of good friends, if you've read through this, with or without your kids, you ARE one!  Thank you so much for being intentional in your love for our family.