Somebody turned TWO!!!

That's right! Our baby girl turned two years old on Thanksgiving Day! We were at the lake with family, so we celebrated there and then had a small birthday party when we got home that Sunday. I think Grace's favorite part was blowing out the candle.
She had me relight it several times so she could blow it out over and over again.
Her party had a Kai-Lan theme, and I have to thank my sister for sending me a link months ago with ideas for it. We had little fortune cookies for the guests...
Kai-Lan party blowers...
a Happy Birthday banner I ordered from Etsy....
Chinese lanterns...

and of course, lots of gifts.
Grace actually discovered her baby stroller when she woke up from her nap before the party. This has been, by far, her favorite present. She will literally make laps throughout our house for 30 minutes at a time while she pushes her baby doll.

Grace had a blast celebrating with cousin Cece, and friends Lia Kate and Hannah Grace.
Lia Kate came home from China last year on New Year's Day. Emily and I can hardly believe our daughters are really home with us now!
Cece loved modeling the Chinese dresses I had for the girls. (We bought a bunch of the traditional dresses in different sizes while we were in Guangzhou.)
Carter even dressed up himself, and thought he was pretty cool. He ran through the family room doing karate chops and kicks. :)
He also loved playing with his cousin Graham.
Grace ended up getting overstimulated by the attention and gifts. She decided she just wanted to play with the first few gifts received. So Carter (eagerly) pitched in to help me unwrap the rest of the presents.

So now, until January 29th, 2011...I have TWO 2-year-olds. :) I know that down the road, I'm going to really wish I could revisit these days.

Happy 2nd Birthday Grace!!


Two Little Turkeys

Last Friday, Carter made his stage debut in his school's Thanksgiving show. The K2's were turkeys and sang three songs. While Carter would sing his songs around the house for weeks before the show, I don't think he opened his mouth the whole time while performing. However, he DID flap his turkey wings, smile big at Scott and me, and seem to enjoy the whole experience. With him being so shy, we weren't even sure whether he'd stand up there or look at the crowd. :)
This picture is so blurry, but I just love his sweet expression!
The parents went back to the kids' classrooms after the performance for some snacks and treats.
After school, I let the kids play on the playground for a while. Here are some candids I caught.

Carter was helping Grace down the kiddie slide. Mind you, she climbs up and fearlessly slides down the really BIG slides, but Carter enjoys playing the "big brother" role.
Grace says, "Thank you, guh-guh!" and gives him a big hug.

Grace singing....she totally makes up words and melodies, but they sound real. :)

Carter is really getting into using his imagination. Here they were pretending that a "big scary monster" was coming. Carter added that it was a "big crocodile!"

From our turkeys to you and yours, we wish you a wonderful and meaningful Thanksgiving!


Happy 12th Birthday Caroline!

On the other side of the world, in a southern province of China, there is some celebrating going on. Here in the Brown household in Birmingham, Alabama, we're toasting our waiting daughter who turned 12 today! We sent another letter and a birthday cake through Ladybugs n Love and hope she was able to receive and enjoy it.
We have officially given our little girl the name of Caroline. We will give her the option of being called by her Chinese name or by Caroline. We've heard from other families that many older kids get to America and want an "American" name. Until then, we just keep alternating the names when talking about her. :)
One of the joys of reviewing Caroline's referral was the extraordinary detail of the report by her orphanage. We also love how the Chinese use (and translate) certain phrases and descriptions. We've opted to keep some of her file private and allow her to share her story on her own. But here are a few highlights from her history to give you a taste of this girl's vibrant and sweet spirit.

"(Caroline)* is an outgoing, innocent and active, clever and beautiful little girl. She has very sweet smile, and her bright eyes look like the pure and beautiful moon."

"At the age of 3 years, (Caroline) began to study in the kindergarten of institute. In class, (Caroline) put her hands at back and listened to teachers very carefully with a pair of bright eyes open wide. She was willing to learn new things and had strong acceptance, had learned to read children's songs, count numbers, sing and dance, etc. At that time (Caroline) liked outdoor activity very much, she was always the most active one when playing games on the playground with other children, she ran, jumped, talked and laughed all the time and was unwilling to stop when teachers asked them to rest. She was active and restless, even a little naughty. (Caroline) was energetic in studying and playing in day time, but at night she slept sweetly like a meek cat which was very delightful."

"In order to give (Caroline) a warm family life, when she was 5 years old, we sent her to live in a foster family employed by the institute. The whole foster family like this very clever and beautiful little girl very much and gave her considerate care. At that time (Caroline) transferred to a kindergarten near her foster family to study in the top class."

"She was a polite child, the first sentence she said to teachers every morining was "good morning, teacher" and can get along well with other children, share all food and funny things with others; teachers and other children all liked her deeply. In kindergarten she had learned to read children's songs, recognize characters, draw, handwork, sing dance, etc; she was clever in mind and skillful in hand, she did handwork well and quickly, was good at singing and dancing. Learning to sing and dance was the most happiest thing for her and her singing was the most loud and clear in class, she danced beautifully and had strong expressive force."

"She told everything she heard and saw in school to foster parents every day after school. On her way to and back from school she took an initiative to greet the elders in neighborhood and thank others politely when they gave things to her. All people liked this innocent and active little girl very much who was talkative and had a ready smile. At the age of 8 years, (Caroline) began to study in grade two; in teachers' eyes she was a diligent and inquisitive and hard-working good student, learned well in Chinese, math, music, drawing, and sports, and teachers said she was a hard-working, disciplined good student who also loved labor work. She was a loving child and ready to help others, often helped classmates in need and gave pencils, exercise books and other stationary to students whose family has troubles."

"When she was in grade four, she was fond of play for some time, restless in class, talked to other students around and did not listen to teachers attentively, did not finish the homework seriously, played for a long time outside with others after school and then went back home, and her school records came down. Specific to this condition the teachers pointed out her shortcomings timely and asked her foster parents to guide her coordinately. The staff of welfare institute often talked with her during family visit and went to school to discuss with her teachers. In fact, (Caroline) was a self-motivated child. Through everyone's concern and instruction she realized her mistakes and weakness and began to correct actively."

"With time goes by, (Caroline) is 11 years old now, has bright eyes, and graceful eyebrows, slender, slim and graceful, and she is a beautiful girl. As getting older she becomes more sensible, and with a little shyness especially for girls and less naughty than before. (Caroline) has her own thoughts and characters in doing anything; if she thinks that adults criticize her wrongly, she will defend herself with effort. She knows her own mind, whenever foster mother takes her to buy schoolbag, stationary or shoes and clothes she will chose them on her own. This year (Caroline) is in grade five, now she behaves well on all aspects, and her academic record keeps going ahead. In the past years, (Caroline) has won many awards in school. In school, teachers praised "(Caroline) is a good student!"; at home foster parents said proudly "(Caroline) is our good daughter!"

"Every day after school she finishes homework conscientiously without others' supervision and then takes an initiative to help foster mother do housework. She is sensible and cares about others, often asks people whether they feel hot of cold; she loves foster parents and all people who love her. A little active, clever and confident, this is the beautiful and lovely (Caroline)."

In the next few days, I will answer a lot of frequently asked questions. But for now, please join me in wishing this incredible girl a happy and blessed birthday!! We can't wait to meet her in person, and we're proud to call her our daughter!

*To protect Caroline and to follow guidelines of the Chinese gov't, I've edited this post to only reveal her American name. We will share her Chinese name after we get her home.


I think she sometimes dreams about her...

In the 6+ months that Grace has been home, she has continued to bond beautifully with Scott, Carter, and me, in particular. Whenever she is sad, frustrated, scared, or lonely, she doesn't hesitate one second to call out for me or run into my arms. She wraps her arms around my neck, and I often thank God for the special priviledge of being able to reassure or cheer up my baby girl by simply holding her or looking into her eyes. While Grace can definitely be clingy at times, I am just thankful that she has bonded so well and grown enough in her security to begin branching out in acceptance of and affection for others.

But even with this incredible progress, moments of grief still occasionally surface. And during those (now rare) times, nothing I do seems to help. Such a moment happened yesterday during Grace's nap. While she normally gets out of her bed and comes to find me if she feels scared or insecure, she woke up screaming and crying in bed. She was crying out for "Mommy," but my face and embrace brought no comfort. In fact, they brought more anguish. Grace pushed me away, arched her back, pumped her fists, and screamed with agonizing cries of anger and deep sadness for at least ten minutes before she would let me touch her. (I could tell by her eyes and responses that she was awake, so it wasn't quite a night terror.) All of these things are expressions of trauma and grief. And given that Grace is such a strong and happy little girl, I sometimes forget what huge changes she endured in the first 16 months of her life. I sometimes forget that she was torn from a home and a foster family that she had grown to love for 10 months. And when she cried out for "Mommy" yesterday and yet seemed even more agitated to see my face, I wondered if maybe she had dreamed about her foster mom. Consciously, she may not even remember China. But she's not so far removed from that part of her life that images would not surface during the mind's vulnerable state of slumber.

There are typically triggers for regression in sleep, night terrors, grief, etc. If you have adopted or are planning to adopt, keep these in mind so you won't be caught off guard (as I was yesterday):
- changes in routine
- overstimulation
- separation from parents
- new activities or experiences
- stressful circumstances like hospital visits or dr's appointments

Grace had four of these factors over the last few days, so I'm not sure which one is to blame. Probably the combination of them all! The mind works in mysterious ways, so a child may respond very positively to a new experience and not be conscious of the effect on his or her brain. (You'll find more details on this in adoption/attachment books.) So for example, I took Grace to Disney's Princess Wishes on Ice on Friday. She had a blast!! But it was the largest crowd she'd ever seen. Add on the lights, music, skaters, and her beloved Mickey Mouse in "real life," and her brain may have begun working overtime to process the excitement of it all. Often, the brain copes as if it were under stress, and regressive behaviors or responses can result. (Grace has also reverted to some self-soothing since her nap.) This may not have been at all what led to her naptime disruption, but I had to remind myself of the triggers so I don't combine so many potential factors in the future as I mistakenly did this past week.

Truthfully, I hope Grace's mind does hold onto a few images or memories from her life in China. It will eventually help her as she struggles to understand and build her identity. I can't imagine having the first 16 months of my life be a black void... no pictures, no stories, no details of babyhood. I just hate to see her wrestle with grief. I know Grace feels loved. And I know she loves me. And I am sure she sometimes misses her foster mother, even if it's vague and implicit memories. Moments like we had yesterday are very normal for adopted children. But I pray every day that the Lord will fill the dark areas in her mind and heart with light and redemptive love. And I hope she continues to dream.


Happy Halloween!

I have a feeling that every "holiday" from now on will be more magical and fun as Carter gets older and learns the traditions and meanings of each occasion. This is the first Halloween that he understood the whole idea of dressing up in a costume and going trick-or-treating. And both he and Grace loved every minute of it.
We started off on Friday night with a costume party. Grace was a bumblebee and I was a flower. Carter was a monkey. And not just any ole monkey. He was Curious George. Scott played (and looked) the part of the Man with Yellow Hat perfectly. I wish I had a full length shot of him in the costume!
Tonight, we headed over to my cousin Ashley's house and took pics of Grace and Carter with her two youngest kiddos, Cece and Graham.
Here is Carter with Mary Katherine (my cousin Leigh Ann's daughter). Carter has a huge crush on MK, and I have a feeling she a big reason that he is so excited about gaining a big sister. :)
Carter loved the fog machine. And he kept sticking his tongue out as if he could taste it. I admit...it does smell like roasted marshmallows.
Grace discovered Cece's Disney princess CD player...
and wouldn't put it down the whole night. Hmm...we do have a birthday AND Christmas coming up.
Will is still have the same effect when it's hers?
Carter got into his role as a monkey and began climbing trees.
And appropriately, he rolled around in the monkey grass.
I love the wonder in his eyes!
If today was any indication, the next few months of holiday festivities are going to be really fun.
Happy Halloween from the Brown Family!


Calling All Single Men...

I admit... I am far-removed from the dating scene. But after a close friend shared that her latest suitors have been communicating and planning almost solely by texting, our group of girlfriends knew this social faux pas had to be addressed. I say the following statements with the utmost respect for the male sex and in hopes that men following this cultural trend will discover what a huge turn-off it is and adjust their tactics accordingly.

Men, here's where I need your attention.

We know it's tempting, but texting is absolutely NOT ACCEPTABLE for:
  • asking women out
  • DTR talks (is that still a current acronym??)
  • or breaking off a relationship
Yes, we recognize that it can be nerve-wracking and humbling to ask a girl out on a date. In fact, many of us women don't think we could do it! But think of this: men have been asking women out for centuries without the aid of an electronic device to protect their egos. A phone call, or even better yet... an invitation face-to-face...goes a long way in our books. Please don't let courage, chivalry, and respect die with the times. These qualities are some of the reasons why we love you.

As a sidenote, texting IS okay (and appreciated) for flirting, sweet compliments you know we'll want to read and reread, and other such words of encouragement or humour.

Will the real men please step forward?

We believe in you! :)

Sincerely and warmly yours,


A Year Ago Today...

...we saw Virginia Grace's face for the very first time!!
And we knew she was ours.
Happy Referral Day, Grace!!