Monday, March 25, 2013

Double Happiness


Double happiness, double joy...in China, it's the way a marriage is described, thus the character you see above.  
If you want the language lesson here it is.  The character you see above is not really a character.  It's actually 喜 + 喜 (xi3 + xi3), or 'joy' + 'joy'.  It's called a 双喜(shuang1 xi3), or literally double joy.  
Is this starting to sound like a commercial for Doublemint Gum? "Double your pleasure, double your fun, With Doublemint, Doublemint, chewing gum!"  But I digress.

This past weekend, we were privileged to attend the wedding of a good friend, our Chinese sign language teacher.  We have known her for nearly 3 years and rarely did we meet without her mentioning her desire to get married.  She's 35.  Normally, if a woman reaches her 30th birthday without being married, it is assumed that there is something wrong with her.  This friend is different though.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with her.  In fact, she has her set of values and has stuck to them, waiting for a man who shares those same values.  

Around September, she began to talk about "this boy" she though was cute and she "kind of liked him."  She was quite giddy about it all. By October, she mentioned that they had decided to date.  Then she very quickly began talking about marriage.  Again, this is completely out of the cultural norm.  Generally a Chinese couple dates for a year or so before even mentioning each other to their families.  Then it's another year or two before marriage is even mentioned.  To go from dating to marriage in less than six months is virtually unheard of.  

We met the "boy" in passing one time, but we never had a chance to get to know him. Still, we had many talks with our friend, and it was obvious that this union was meant to be.  That became even more obvious at their wedding.  

Right from the get-go, love was beaming between the two love birds.  But even more so, we saw the joy in their eyes.  It's a joy that only comes from above.  It's a joy that can't be taken away and is meant to be shared.  And share, they did!  No doubt, many people walked away asking why this couple was full of such joy!

Several things stood out to us as being different from what we normally see at a Chinese wedding:
  • rings and vows were exchanged in a ceremony 
  • the groom washed the bride's feet
  • the bride and groom served tea to each others' parents and gave a special blessing to them
  • a choir sang several special songs
  • some words explaining love and the Source of Love were shared with the crowd
  • there was a sign language interpreter--YIPPEE!!!
As you can see from the pictures below, this wedding was truly filled with a double portion of joy.  


And maybe next time I see my friend, I'll give her a pack of Doublemint gum!









Here's a video of some Chinese Sign Language 
for those of you who are interested.  






Thursday, March 21, 2013

Stinky Boys...Now Stinkier

Boys are stinky!  It's a fact that can't be changed, but over the past two weeks that stink got just a little bit sweeter for this Mama.

Living in another country is just hard for kids sometimes.  TCKs* have it rough, and we know it.  That's not to say that there aren't some pretty great perks to living in a foreign land and experiencing everything that goes along with it!  (There's a great post by another parent in Djibouti entitled 15 Things I want to Tell My Third Culture Kids that really resonates with us)

The hardest thing for us to watch our boys struggle with is making friends. For our first 2 years here with kids, just enrolling them in Tae Kwon Do and encouraging them to play with other kids outside was enough.  Lately though, we've been noticing that the superficial friendships at TKD and with the neighborhood kids just isn't cutting it anymore.  They have a hunger for some deeper friendships.  Because they don't go to Chinese school, because they are homeschooled, because their Chinese is not perfect, because kids here are in school till 6pm and have hours and hours of homework on top of it, and because they are just plain different, making friends is difficult for our boys.  Josh and I have gone through the whole scope of discussions (which I won't get into) about how best to deal with this.  Social life is so important for children.  It's how they learn to function in the real world.  We've cried, we've discussed, and we've PR'ed.  Basically, we came to the conclusion that Father is the one who will have to provide such friends.  So we continued to PR.

We decided that we needed to loosen the reigns a little for both boys to give them more opportunities for friends.  That meant allowing them to be outside when the other kids were out even though it didn't follow our "schedule for a structured day".  It meant giving their friends an open invitation to come to our house whenever they have free time (Chinese, especially kids, don't plan in advance so arranging a play date doesn't work).  It meant becoming much more flexible and much more tolerant of spontaneity....AAAAAHHHHH!  I like structure, I like schedules, and I like predictability--it's what I thrive on.  But my boys needed me--needed us--to let go of that for their sakes, so we did.

About 2 weeks ago, Tegan and Preston met two boys at the basketball court of our complex.  Over the next few days, the boys met up each evening to play together, and every few days, another boy joined the group.  There are now six of them.   The other kids have a 2 hour lunch break each day.  Usually kids rush home to eat then either study or take a nap before returning to school.  These boys are different.  They don't take naps and their parents aren't concerned with them studying during this break.  As a result, they all get together to play just as soon as they can eat lunch.  Inevitably, there is a knock at our door each day between 12:30 and 1:00 asking if 海威 (Tegan) and 海博 (Preston) can go out to play.  These same boys show up again each night around 7:00.  They usually play soccer and basketball, but they also enjoy hanging out at our house.  Apparently, Alyia is the little sister none of them have, and they love her to bits.  Tegan and Preston don't mind getting her to show off all her tricks either.

These boys are good, responsible kids!  They are not typical of most boys their age.  I'm so proud of the friends that Tegan and Preston have chosen.  I don't worry about what kind of trouble they are getting into, though I do still worry about skinned up knees and broken arms ;)

I just snuck outside to see what they were up to and this is what I found...
an innocent game that was a combination of tag and hide-and-seek.






Then they caught me spying..."Oh, come on, Maaaawm!"



The amount of time they spend together is quite possibly a little excessive and we'll probably end up having to set some boundaries, but for now we're planning a late movie night to follow one of their soccer games.  I'll be armed with lots of food, boy humor, and air freshener.

In the desperation of our PRs of late, we've been given a solution.  Four great friends for Tegan and Preston practically showed up at our doorstep.  I'm enjoying having a stinky house because I know that the needs of my boys are being met in a way I ever expected.  Father is so good to our kiddos!  He knows their needs and is always sure to provide!



*Third Culture Kids--kids who have melded 2 or more cultures together to form a third unique culture

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Happy Birthday Alyia Bontu

One of the last blog posts, also featured our daughter. It was not on purpose, its just the way the important dates happen!

Renee and I got to celebrate her first birthday with her, while we were in Ethiopia for our court hearing.  We are honored that we got to do that, because in adoption its rare that you get to celebrate every birthday with your child!


Alyia, you are the most amazing girl in the whole world. You are funny, cute, stubborn, silly, sensitive, brave, willing to stick up for yourself. You know what you want, and will go after it. You are one of the best things that has ever happened to your Mommy and I-and your brothers as well even if they dont admit it- and we love you more than you will ever know.

You have accomplished and experienced so much, here are just a few of them:
your first birthday candle, in Addis Ababa

your first birthday "cake" also in Addis Ababa

The day we became a family

you were dedicated

discovered how much you love the iPad

you discovered water....

you saw the White House

you met Grandma and Grandpa

you met Oma and Aunt Dora

spent time at the beach

discovered the fun at Yue Lu Shan

you love baths

got to visit country number 6

became your Daddy's  Princess
showed us just how much you are like your Mother

you as a ballerina
made friends and adjust to China

you and your friends
Your life has changed drastically in the past year, but you have handled it well, and done amazing. We are so proud of you, and can not wait to see where the future will take you! Happy 2nd Birthday!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Abortion

Because of China's "One Child Policy" which you can read about here, the need for birth control is no small topic.  After a woman has had her allotted child, she is left with no choice but to use some form of birth control, and many must be able to prove that they are on it.  The most common and easy to prove form of birth control used here is "the ring".  Because it is inserted by a doctor annually, simple medical record is proof enough.  Some still use the pill, and I'm guessing receipts of purchase are proof enough. Birth control is very easy to come by and is quite inexpensive.  Some can even be purchased over the counter.  

Sadly, abortions are still very common. I wish I had some statistics to show exactly who is getting abortions.  I know for a fact that many un-wed women and women who already have a child, find themselves pregnant only have abortion after abortion.  It's not uncommon to meet a woman who has had 3 or 4 abortions.  Most women know little about the effects of abortion on their bodies.  Young girls are not aware that abortions can cause infertility and a host of other problems.

There is a huge lack of education in this area as well as in sex education.   Until very recently the Chinese culture was quite modest.  Ten years ago, you'd have a hard time finding a woman in shorts or with a dress above knee length.  Neck lines truly only showed necks.  Though today busses are adorned with lingerie advertisements and women are showing more and more skin, all topics that even broach the topic of sex still fall under the category "不好意思" (bu hao yi si), or "shameful".  Parents don't talk to their kids about sex, and even in college, students are too embarrassed to have a simple conversation about dating customs.  Some schools are just now starting to have "the 5th grade talk", but most of the sex education comes from movies, advertisements, the internet, and pop culture.  For adults, there is no room for such talk. As a result, many mistakes are made, and many are misinformed.  Unmarried couples have sex not knowing that it causes pregnancy or believing what their friends told them about contraception methods.  They are then in quite a predicament and turn to the solutions that the rest of society has largely accepted.

All morality aside, most don't realize that they are ending the life of a living being.  I like to compare it to a child in the bush of Africa butchering a goat for dinner.  Most Americans would be squeamish and may have nightmares about such an experience, but for the African child, it's just part of life.  In the same way, abortion is just part of life here.   Being such a common thing practice, a woman can walk in and out of an abortion clinic without much of a hitch in her daily routine.  Because abortions are so socially acceptable, there's no counseling, no waiting period, and very little thought that goes into the quick medical procedure.  When a woman goes in for each prenatal checkup, one of the first questions the doctor asks is, "Do you want this baby or not?"  The Chinese word for abortion is 人流 (ren liu).  Literally it means "leak a person",  "banish a person", or "loose a person".  In conversation, abortion is talked about the same way we Americans talk about miscarriage.  It's as if abortion is on an equal plane with a natural miscarriage.  

Though the explanations help me to understand the decisions people make, I still can't agree that abortion is right.  My heart aches each time I pass by an abortion clinic and rejoices when I see one being torn down.  I get sick to my stomach when I learn of another woman who turned to this solution.  The longer I live here, the more and more I realize that the problem isn't abortion.  It's a symptom much deeper issue.  I just hope that by learning more about the people and about what goes through their minds, I can relate to them on another deeper level.  

Population Control

You've heard of China's "One Child Policy".  But what does it really mean?  How is it enforced?

It's a complicated topic and honestly, I'm still learning.  It seems that every time I have a conversation about this, I'm learn something else about it.  Lately pregnancy, birth control,  and child birth have frequent topics of conversation as many of my local friends are getting married and starting their families.  I still don't have all the answers, but I'll tell it as I understand it thus far.

In 1978-79, a law was passed in order to control the rapidly increasing population of the Chinese people.   This law limits each woman to one child.  There are some exceptions to the law.
  • If the first child is a girl, the woman is sometimes allowed to have a second child.
  • If both the mother and father are only children, they are allowed to have 2 children.
  • If the parents are farmers, they are often permitted to have more children.
  • If the parents are non-Han Chinese, meaning they are a minority, the law does not apply.
  • In the case of a multiple child birth, the law is waved.
  • Those wishing to (domestically) adopt an orphan are often given permission for another child.
  • I'm not sure if exceptions are made in the case of the death of a child.
It seems like such a strict law, and it is.  But the population has for the first time ever come under control.  It's so easy for outsiders to say how unfair and unjust the law is, but if you've ever been to China, you'll see just how big of a problem over crowding is. Simply put, the land can only support so many people.

As far as enforcement goes, it's a tough one.  I was always under the impression that if you chose to have a second child, you could just pay a hefty fine (followed by extra school fees, registration fees, etc throughout the child's life), and be on with it.  As I'm talking to people though, I'm finding that's not the case.  What I always though was a "fine" is really money being passed under the table.

After a woman becomes pregnant, she is required to obtain permission to give birth.  When she is  pregnant (and beyond 1st trimester), she must travel to her hometown to get some kind of permission slip saying she can legally have the baby.  Without this piece of paper, a doctor is not allowed to deliver the baby.  Without this paper, the baby cannot get an ID card (imagine birth certificate, social security card, and school ID card all wrapped into one--you can't live without it), and most importantly will never be able to go to school.

So when a woman does have an "illegal" baby, she will need to somehow "convince" the officials in her hometown to give birth permission slip.  The doctor delivering the child will also be given a monetary gift because he knows this is not the first child the woman has had.  Then when it comes time to get an ID card, there's even more convincing that must go on.

Many people who have this all figured out run into even more trouble with their (or their husband's) employer.  Employers are charged with keeping watch over their employees.  This includes keeping them out of trouble with the law AND making sure they don't have more children than they are legally entitled to.  If a someone has an illegal baby, the employer will be fined, and the employee will most likely be fired.  Once again, the way around this is for the parents to reimburse the employee for the fine and throw in some extra cash to compensate for the inconvenience.

I'm not too sure about how true this is, but I've also heard that there is some way for an "illegally birthed baby" to obtain a legal ID card without all the pay-offs by simply waiting till a census comes around.  Since the baby is counted in the census, they are given and ID card.  Of course this will only work for the family if the baby is under say 5 years old when it's time for the census because that ID card is needed to begin elementary school.

No doubt, you can see how many people could face a moral dilemma of significant proportions.  The desire to have multiple children goes against the desire to be an upright, law-abiding citizen.  Children are a blessing and a gift, but we are commanded to obey the laws of the land.

For most, the compromise and answer comes only through various forms of birth control and abortion, but that's a whole other topic that you can read about here.   I also have a post  about my recent experience with sex-ed and a friend who is about to be married, and you will soon be able to read about that here.

It's difficult at times to live in this country with our 3 children, while those around us only dream of the children they are not permitted to have.






Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Little Girl Who Stole Our Heart...



One year ago, our life changed forever. The day we had been dreaming about was finally here. We got to meet our little girl, and our life has never been the same.

Deciding to add a 3rd child to our family was the best decision we ever made, and God gave us the best. Its been so much fun to see her change and grow over the last 8 months that she has been with us. We love you Alyia Bontu!





Friday, March 1, 2013

Pineapple and Silk Worms

As children we are taught that Spring means flowers, baby chicks, butterflies, and if you were raised in a traditional home, it meant trading out your black shoes for white.


As we are getting older, as we are experiencing parenthood, China, and the combination of the two, 
we are learning that there's so much more to Spring.



It means the kids can finally get all their pent up energy out in the great outdoors and actually use those bikes that have been sitting around collecting dust.

It means that in addition to feeding 3 hungry kids, a dog, 2 geckos and their stash of live mealworms, we are also feeding who-knows-how-many silk worms.
Our schedule must now allow mulberry leaf hunts every 2 days.

 It means that it's finally warm enough for a certain little princess to start potty training 
without the burden of 4 layers of clothing.

It means that pineapple on a stick can be found within a 5 minute walk, no matter where we are.

It means more frequent baths and grass stained clothes, 
but it's okay because it's just so great to be outside.

It means that long lost friends finally come out of hibernation 
only to show off how much they've all grown during the winter months. 

It means reuniting with those who have spent the long holiday in their hometowns, 
and saying goodbye to them because they've found a new job 
and are entering their own new season of life..

In every part of our life, sometimes it seems like winter is here to stay, especially in Changsha.  
But as we know, 
"No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow."  ~Proverb
And for that, we can be grateful...