Saturday, December 28, 2013

3 & 4

3 & 4 month milestones…and technically almost 5, since I am so behind in blogging. I always have plenty of good reasons for putting this blog on the back burner. Besides the holiday busyness, getting used to two kids, trying to potty train Willow, and whatever else is going on--there's also our internet restrictions which have been barring me from posting for over a month. Our internet is also extremely slow, which means loading pictures takes hours, if not days, to achieve. 

Anyway. Sorry again, Noah. 
The cabbage pictures were taken on his 3-month birthday, however. And the pictures that say '4 months' on them were taken on his 4 month birthday. So, that's something, I suppose. 

We took similar pictures of Willow at this time of year, two autumns ago. She even had a similar outfit on! Haha, aren't we clever.

I like this montage of Willow grabbing Noah's toy and giving it to him. She looks so grown up here. Noah is so entertained by his sister and their interaction is very sweet and usually funny.

These two babies are so funny together! I guess that they sensed they were near one another, and so they spent several minutes trying to hold one another's hands. It was hilarious and cute to watch them flailing their baby arms around and every once in awhile they would succeed.

The major milestone for the 4th month was that Noah's two bottom teeth finally popped through. He's still very restless at night and waking up a lot because, I think, he's in pain. I'll be so happy when he starts to sleep for longer than 1-3 hours again.

Noah also went to the children's hospital in Shenyang for an ultrasound on his kidneys. It was a very interesting experience. I brought him there by myself, never having been there before, I was at the mercy of the taxi driver. The international clinic had texted me the address, so I showed that to the driver. He dropped me off at a location I've never been around before (obviously), and thankfully the hospital had English wording on their sign otherwise I wouldn't have known which building to enter.

Once inside, I met a nurse of the international clinic who helped me through the process and did all the translation work. I counted 7 counters she had to go to before we were finally in the room where Noah received his ultra sound. The medical system is so different in China. You have to go to separate counters/rooms/floors within hospitals to register, pay, sign-up, etc. It would be impossible to do on my own without adequate language or knowledge of the system. The nurse lead to me several places where I mostly just sat and waited for her to do all the running around/paying/consulting. The one time I had to do anything was one we saw some doctor who looked at Noah's hand and asked some questions about his health (to determine if he did in fact need the type of test we were asking for). Her room was very small and very warm, while the rest of the hospital was cold. So many very sick babies were being carried around in faux mink blankets. There was vomit on the floor, and lots of loud talking on overhead speakers. Once we were in line to get the test, we had to wait for about a half hour.

There were several other little babies, and one preschooler who was very naughty. He went directly before Noah, and I couldn't help thinking that he was a little gross since he kept eating his boogers. When we were inside the ultra sound room, there was just a wooden table, very makeshift (not nice at all) without any sanitary paper on top. Fortunately, I had a receiving blanket for Noah to lay on. The test itself was very quick, and the technician said everything looked normal and good; no tumors on his kidneys. Noah was so good during the test, no crying at all! Even though the gel must have been cold all over his belly and back.

While I was re-dressing Noah, the technician (a young male) was talking about fat American babies. Apparently, because I had come alone (without spouse or grandparents or a house helper), Noah and I stood out as unusual. It was true, since all the other kids at the various waiting rooms had at least 2 or 3 adult family members with them. He said that Chinese kids were spoiled because they have too many adult caregivers in their lives and no siblings to share the attention with. He said that this was causing a generation-wide consequence and that these kids were not going to excel as adults. I feel like I shouldn't even be writing this down, but it was so fascinating to hear such candid opinions about child raising from a young, educated, medical professional of that same culture.

Anyway, I was beyond relieved to have such positive results immediately (something else that's different from one medical system to the other). I didn't have to wait for a phone call or a consultation days later. He will go again around 6 months to get another kidney check, and also to check the status of his heart hole. We are optimistic that it has closed up on its own at this point.

Willow is looking over my shoulder right now, and has titled this picture, "Noah is Barfing on the Carpet". 

Noah is teething fiercely. His favorite things to chew on are…everything…including my face. 

Stay tuned for Noah's 5 month update…you know, since he'll be 5 months in less than ten days and all. Maybe I'll have that post on time actually! 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Month of November

The month of November is awesome because the heat---supposedly---turns on the first day of November. Our government controlled radiators are only a little warm this year--they are old and need some serious work or replacement--and only some are actually working. But those that are warm are definitely warm now...though it's November 10th.

November 7, Noah turned 3 months.
November 8, Willow turned 4 months + 2 years
November 15, which is coming up, is Adam's 27th birthday

Yesterday, we were able to skype with family who was gathered for Emma's birthday. It was fun to watch her open presents (including a new bed--which she needed because no one knows how old the mattress she used to sleep on actually was), laugh over youtube videos, and since happy birthday to her. I can't believe she's 15! 

These pictures were from a few nights ago when we went outside at dusk. The pictures aren't the most impressive since it was VERY dark. I turned the ISO up and tried to get Willow and her friends in focus. What an IMPOSSIBLE task since they were non-stop movement. I also got a few cute pictures of Noah for his mini-three-month-photo-shoot. But I'll post those separately.

Willow, with her Buzz Lightyear and Woody action figures. She's pretty attached to them.
Noah, chilling in the double-stroller. It was a COLD night, maybe below freezing by the time the sun had fully set.

The little girls on the right are siblings. They are also bi-racial; not to mention super cute and intelligent. The four of these kids (below) together are all approximately a year apart. Ages 3, 2, 1, and 3 months old! It's fun to have little friends! The little girls are part of the play group that Willow and Noah are in.

These are all varying stages of blurry-ness, but I think their expressions are fun!

The cool blue of twilight.

The San Hao bridge outside of our complex. Seeing the moon, without smog, seems rare these days!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

His Ears

Pictures in this post were photographed by Kristi Witek when Noah was exactly one week old--nearly three months ago! We recently received the disc of pictures in a package--and I'm so excited to have them. I'm very glad we had a chance to get some family pictures, and then some of just the kids. 

When Noah was first born, I didn't notice his ears right away. Adam pointed them out to me immediately, once Noah was finished getting checked out by the nurses. My first reaction was dismay. What in the heck was wrong with his ears? I have never noticed or heard of skin tags before. Alas, for my ignorance, I didn't even know what to google at first.

Within hours, we knew a little more about skin tags, having 'educated' ourselves with some online searches. By the time the pediatrician checked Noah we were prepared with some questions. The first thing that the doctor said was that Noah should have his kidneys checked for any abnormalities since ear tags on both ears are in rare cases connected to kidney issues. He ordered an ultrasound, and sometime during the night/early morning of his first day he was getting his first ultra sound.

The results were good, and I felt relieved. Who knew that skin tags were a sign of kidney abnormalities?! Over the course of the next month, we had upwards of 8 doctors tell us that Noah could have his skin tags removed quite easily. It would be the most convenient to do so during his hand surgery since he would already be under anesthesia. It would just add 10-15 minutes to the operation time. I took some level of comfort in knowing that Noah could have 'normal' ears in the near future. My confession for the moment is that I didn't love his skin tags at first sight. It has taken me nearly three months to get used to them. To not loath them as that 'first sign' of something not being right in Noah's body.

But somehow, I love them now. I'm even considering not having them removed at all unless he wants to when he's older. I've decided that I don't want to be the one to make that decision for him. Now, I think they are so much a part of who he is, I would be sad to have them removed at all.

This change of heart came about in several ways, but the most significant reason why is due to China. Which was completely unexpected! When we were flying to China, I had this dread in the pit of my stomach that the Chinese people would pick on Noah because of his skin tags. I know from my experience with the orphans here, that many of the orphans are children with disabilities or birth defects. I didn't want them to reject my son or to mock him for his physical appearance. Perhaps I was over dramatic in my anxiety, and I can acknowledge my wrong thinking.

The first time we went out in public as a family, all we did was walk to the market to buy some food. We took the stroller and enjoyed the feeling of being in China again. But as soon as we arrived at the market, my stomach twisted in knots because people started to gather around us. They can't help it! A foreigner, with an Asian-looking wife, and not one but TWO kids. Not to mention they are little kids--one being a 1 month old baby. They are drawn like moths to a flame and we had a crowd around us the whole trip. They ask questions and pick up on our story, and eventually they start to tell our story to others who join the crowd. I didn't want to explain Noah's story, to have to defend him in another language, to justify anything...It's hard enough to do in English, let alone across the divides of cultures and languages. It's something I wouldn't be able to do fully; and knowing I wouldn't be able to defend him against attacks was terrifying.


One enthusiastic lady pointed out Noah's skin tags and basically went into cardiac arrest because she thought they were so cute. She went on and on about how cute they were.  At first, I didn't know if she was making fun of him or not--but it didn't take long to grasp the phrases she was giggling out.

I pretty much choked on my tongue, seeing that this was the exact OPPOSITE reaction I had been preparing the defenses of my heart for.

Thank you, Lord, for mercy in that moment. It was like balm, so soothing and wonderful to hear someone squeal with delight about my son's skin tags. She jumped up and down, clapped her hands, and made all sorts of baby-talk noises. It was a bit shocking, so I thought it was an exception to the rule. 

The next time we went out in public, we stopped in a little accessory shop while in a mall. The ladies in the accessory shop went mental over Noah. They brought out their smart phones to take pictures and were literally screaming with happiness over his ear tags. I was so confused over their reaction, so I asked them why they liked his ears.

"Because they are so special. He has lucky ears." 


Almost every time we are out in public, similar scenarios happen. I feared Noah might grow up to the sound of ridicule, but now I think he might become the super-star of our neighborhood. If for the confidence factor alone, Noah is definitely living in the right place!

Even now, I feel wonder in my soul, mixed with guilt in my stomach. These strangers had more appreciation and acceptance for my son's skin tags than I had up to that point. Don't misunderstand me; I love Noah to pieces and I even 'liked' his skin tags...However, they symbolized abnormalities and birth defects. They were something that alerted doctors to danger. They were something that people told us to get removed. They were something to downplay and call attention away from. I'm his own loving mother, and I had start to buy into this!

Yet, these strangers were basically convulsing in excitement because they were so happy about his lucky ears.

Now, I've had a chance to ask around, and I've found out the cultural background to this: Chinese people, culturally, like skin tags. They are marks of luck--one is good--but having two is even better.

So, it's an actual cultural difference that I had never known about before.

....BUT STILL---Chinese people taught me how to love Noah's skin tags, and finally accept them completely.

For some reason, God gave Noah skin tags. 

On a cosmetic level, they are not the West's definition of 'beautiful'. 
To the East, they are markers of 'luck' and prosperity. 

But to me, they are a reminder of God's provision and plan for Noah.  

His deformed ears.
His lucky ears.
His blessed, specially created ears. 

Those first two encounters really helped reshape my mind about having Noah's skin tags removed next year. There's no medical reason why they should be removed; it would be a cosmetic surgery. But is it my call to cosmetically change a baby boy? What would that tell him about body image and self-image. I know it's a common for girls to deal with body image issues, but boys can surely struggle with it too. He'll already have a full plate to deal with his his hands and arms being different sizes and needing corrective surgery for his syndactyly. I don't want to tell him with a few incisions that a surgeon can make on his ears, "you weren't good enough for me".

Man...writing this is very cathartic, guilt wrenching, and liberating.
God is surely find the deep places in my soul, where it's painful to clean, and redefining my ideas of beauty, sovereignty, and provision.

Because of these experiences, I want to teach Noah that his worth isn't based on how he feels about himself, or how others see or treat him (even if all that shakes out positively). Ultimately, his worth is established in who he is in Christ, a child and heir of the King. His physical and spiritual identify needs to be wrapped in the person of Jesus Christ.

If he can learn that at an early age, his ears can be a blessing to him and to others. I pray that he will grow to be thankful for who God created to be. And that he will be able to turn that mindset out towards others and love the least of those around him.

"For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your words; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, everyone of them, the days that were formed for me when as yet there were non of them." 

-Psalm 139: 13-16

When I look at Noah, I see glimpses of the man he'll become. I look at his ears and his hand and wonder what challenges he will face. Will they be internal battles, struggles against bullying, or physical hurdles to face? Will he rise above adversity and be shaped by a grace-filled life? Will he become a righteous man, like the Noah of old, a man full of character who was strengthened by trials?

"We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love hasbeen poured inout hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." 
-Romans 5:3-5

In this tension between East vs. West, I have discovered yet another fascinating bit of diversity: skin tags.

To one culture, they are a sign-post of potential difficulty and a defect. To another, they are a symbol of luck and beauty.

If Noah is anything like Willow, he will notice his extra bits of skin by the time he's two years old, and wonder what they are there for. I think I'll tell him that it's where God kissed him, so that he would have ears to hear the Gospel. And to remind him to be a good listener to those who are suffering.

Not only has God redeemed my heart for Noah's skin tags, I believe he will redeem the skin tags themselves. Whatever challenges Noah might face on account of keeping the tags, I know God can use it for good. It reminds me of that passage in Genesis 50 when Joseph was reconciled with his brothers: people can intend evil against others, but God can use those same events and use it for good.

"And we know that for those who love Good all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." 
-Romans 8:28

Enjoy the rest of the pictures. Thank you, Kristi, for sharing your talent with us! I couldn't really choose which I liked the best--hence the plethora.

Noah didn't want to wake up for any portion of this photo shoot. This was the extent of his awake time. He fell right back to sleep after peeking at us for a few seconds.