Marathon Parenting

Two months ago I finished my first ever half marathon. That would be 21km of feet hitting 20170316_155509the pavement at a slow jog. Though my times were nothing to brag about, I finished and I have a medal to prove it. The medal is hung from a wide silk ribbon and it is in the shape of a hot air balloon. It is pretty, but let me tell you the race was anything but pretty.

Okay, parts were pretty. The location was in Taitung, Taiwan. Known for beautiful mountains and blue/green ocean. We started out in Forest Park, which is just that a park forested by trees. We ran towards the mountains. That means that I ran uphill for at least 3km of the race (I calculated), but it also means that I ran downhill 3km. The rest of the layout was flat along the river basin with the view of the mountains the first half. The last half I noticed rice fields flooded, rows of green tomatoes hanging from their tepee-like frames all while dreaming of the finish line and a cold green tea.

Because…

It was HARD! I mean I had trained for this day. It wasn’t like I just showed up and put on a number hoping that I’d finish. No, I’d spent the last six months building up my stamina for this day – and it was still hard.

It’s funny how your mind sees things differently when your body is in pain. Like those slight inclines turned into steep cliffs and the curves in the road became tormenting hairpin turns hiding the turnaround. Then the last 3km of the race perseverance was a must. No joke. I was back in the park when I saw the 3km marker. Seriously? I still have three more to go? But I’m in the park! My legs were feeling the burn, I had slight abdominal pain, and the sun choose to come out and shoot rays of hot fire at me. I got to the 500m marker and rounded the turn with a sharp inhale. Where is the balloon filled archway announcing the end?!?! I wanted to lay down right there. Another “more mature” runner was in front of me. He and I had been encouraging each other with the Mandarin phrase “Jia you”. With his encouragement we finished together.

It was during the last stretch that I remembered I had written an article comparing  parenting a child with special needs to a marathon with hurdles placed throughout the race. At the time of writing that piece, I had only run a 10k. I used testimonies of other long distant runners to write that piece, but I can now testify that I was pretty accurate.

A few weeks ago a friend reposted a quote on Facebook. She, too, is parenting a child with special needs. It said..

“Every parent plans to raise their child for about 18 years, set them free for 30 years and then hope they come back to help them face the final years of their own life. A SPECIAL NEEDS parent plans to raise their child for 65 years and while doing so also has to prepare for the other 20 or so after they themselves are long gone…. Let that sink in for just a moment and you will begin to understand the drive and determination that many of us have while we are here on earth.”

I don’t know who wrote that. It wasn’t me, but it was definitely the feelings I was having during that hot Sunday morning. Let me explain.

I sometimes feel I’m running uphill. Life is hard and sometimes a struggle. Let me give you a glimpse from our meal times: Jie Jie, who is now 13, but mentally about 4, has to have her food cut up into tiny bites so she doesn’t choke. We have to watch her closely when she feeds herself as she tends to take 3-4 huge bites at a time and proceeds to choke anyway. Then she gets upset with our oldest because he has his elbows on the table, and then she thinks her chair needs a cushion (although before the meal she said she didn’t) or we need a completely different chair altogether. By the time she finishes her meal, everyone else is done and the table is cleared.

I feel my body giving out. It has been reported in health studies that parents of children with special needs age quicker. This is due to the stress. Stress of child choking to death. Stress of child getting hit by a car. Stress of trying to plan for the future. Stress from the IEP meeting or trying to figure out how best to homeschool your child. These are just a few that I know parents deal with on a regular basis. For me my body gave out in the form of a sprained shoulder. I was in physical therapy for about three months repairing the damage, which we believe may have been caused from years of me daily tightening my neck muscles every time Jie Jie would grab me in a super bear hug squeeze. Some days this happens 10-20 times. I have a very tight neck.

I am tired and weary at times.  Many kids with special needs may not sleep all night long. Many parents go about their day on about 3-4 hours of sleep. Plus all the trips to the hospital for therapy, check-ups, and surgeries. Fixing supper? Laundry? Who has the energy?

I can’t see the finish line and afraid I never will. Just like those deceiving turns from the half marathon that blocked the finish line, I can’t see the finish line of parenting. And this is where that quote hit home for me – it can be overwhelming. This is when perseverance has to kick in. There are days I want to give up, but I can’t. I want to finish this life well.

But…(here’s the encouraging part)

We don’t run alone. Just like the other runners in my half, there are other parents who are running this race with me. They may not live in the same town, and maybe not even the same country, but, they are on social media. We are there to support and encourage each other in our knowledge, our joys, and even in our frustrations. We understand the pain and the fear. I am part of a Facebook private group for those dealing with the same syndrome that Jie Jie has. If you are not part of a group, I highly suggest either searching on Facebook or on a search engine.

Spectators.  Running through a small village near the mountain’s edge a few elderly people sat in white plastic chairs cheering us on. In life, I have people who come alongside me and help me. That morning of the race, a dear friend came to our home at 5:50am to be there when Jie Jie woke up so the rest of the family could complete their own race (yep, I signed everyone else up for the 10/5km).

Qualified Help. During the run qualified EMTs on scooters rode up and down the road ready to attend to those in physical need. As a parent of special needs, there may come a time when qualified help such a therapist, counselor, or psychologist is needed. Don’t shy away from mental health help. I just read in a local English newspaper here of a elderly Taiwanese man killing his sister who had special needs because of the stress from the past 30 years of taking care of her. None of us want that. We need to take action before it gets bad.

So, who are you?

  1. A runner? Parenting a child with special needs?
  2. Active spectator? Maybe you’re the spouse, the grandparent, the aunt/uncles, or maybe a friend who helps out. Thank you. Thank you for your help, your encouragement, your presence in our life.
  3. Sideline spectator? You see families, but not sure how to help. You may not even know anybody with a special needs – they are not in your line of vision. I have a challenge for you: First, look – you always see what you are looking for. Second, just smile and say “Hi”. Seriously, just that small act of kindness speaks volumes to us. It’s a reminder that we are human and that you acknowledge that we and our children are humans

Just as the scenery during my half marathon was beautiful, a small act of kindness brings beauty to a harsh world – no matter if that person has special needs or not. I challenge you to do one small act of kindness this week to anyone, but you’ll get extra points and a virtual medal if you do it for a family touched by disability.

The Leaving Series Part 5: Leaving in a Hurry Doesn’t Mean Grieving in a Hurry

Today’s guest writer comes all the way from DjiboutiMany of you, I’m sure, are familiar with her writing. You may even be familiar with her story, but today she has so graciously opened up and shared even more of that evacuation from Somaliland and what she learned from that traumatic experience. Please welcome, Rachel Pieh Jones.

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In 2003 my family evacuated from Somaliland. I have written about it here (The Big Round Table) and here (Brain Child) but the short story is that we had thirty minutes to pack a small bag and leave and I didn’t go back for over ten years.

We first flew to Ethiopia, where we stayed for three days. Then we flew to Kenya where we stayed for three months. Then we resettled in Djibouti and have now stayed here for eleven years.

In the flurry between that final phone call and when we started the drive to the airport, my husband and I had to close down our house, remember to grab the essentials, keep our toddler twins from becoming frightened, and hold our own broiling emotions and thoughts in check.

There were a few flashes of fear, a few brief tears, even some laughter as I helped the kids wave goodbye to friends they couldn’t see and toys they had left behind. But there was no time to fully feel the impact of what was happening. We had to function, keep moving, don’t think, don’t feel. Just get out.

The emotions struck like an earthquake two days later.

I had to walk away from our family meal at a cafeteria. I climbed rickety stairs in the hotel in Ethiopia, up to our tiny room. I lay down on the bed and cried.

Once the ‘just get out’ had been accomplished and everyone was safe, once we had informed our families and read some newspaper headlines, once we had time to sit down and breathe and no work to rush off to since we were in limbo-land, I started to see flashes of the faces of the people we had left. I started to think about what had happened to cause our flight, the gunshots and dead bodies. The what-ifs.

I kept crying off and on for a few days. When the kids asked about whether or not they would see their friends again, when the kids asked after a book we hadn’t brought along, when my husband asked where we should go and we tried to talk about work prospects.

We flew to Kenya where we received some post-trauma counseling. We made plans to move to Djibouti, on the invitation of a Somali friend who wanted my husband to work with him, teaching. We moved on.

But the aftershocks of grief followed us and occasionally shook the ground, unexpected. I was surprised by this. We hadn’t lived there long, no one I loved had been killed. Just a home, possessions, work, and an idea of what the future would look like. But it was still loss and so I learned to let myself feel it. I was also surprised by the resurgence of it now and again into the following months.

I still thought about people, still wondered what had happened after we left. Who was now taking care of the chickens in our yard? Who would keep the dirt watered so the neighbor’s goats could come and munch weeds? Who would hire our guard so he could continue to provide for his family? And I thought about all that we hadn’t finished – my husband hadn’t finished the semester at the University. What about his students?

Eventually the sadness faded, as we stepped into the new place and new life, and after a long time, as I began to feel at home in Djibouti, I came to think of our village in Somaliland with nostalgia. Sadness had somehow transformed into a tender affection. Gratitude even, for the privilege we had been given of a few short months living there. I don’t think that is what happens with all forms of grief, not even close. This is one of the biggest things I have learned about loss. It comes in all shapes, sizes, and time frames and so does the grief that follows. Leaving in a hurry doesn’t mean grieving in a hurry. And so enters grace. Grace on ourselves and on others to allow each other to uniquely grieve.

Thanks Rachel for sharing with us today. I really appreciate your willingness to share your grief with us. I love your last few sentences, which is why I bolded them. Such wisdom.

If you still would like to share your leaving story with us, you can contact me at mdmaurer135{at}gmail{dot}com. I will be closing the series in a few weeks unless I hear from more writers. I’ve truly enjoyed reading and gleaning insights from you all.

Here are links to the other stories if you didn’t get a chance to read them: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

djiboutijonesRachel Pieh Jones lives in Djibouti with her husband and three children. She has written for the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, FamilyFun, Babble, the Big Roundtable, and Running Times. Visit her at: Djibouti Jones, her Facebook page or on Twitter @rachelpiehjones

Beach Therapy…for my daughter with special needs

20151003_162231For the past nine years we’ve found ourselves living as educators/cross-cultural workers/Christian workers (we’re still figuring out what to call ourselves) on an island that sits on the brink of the Pacific Coast. I have come to realize that being on the beach with a good book and drink is therapeutic to the mind, body, and soul. There is just something about the whooshing sound of the waves, the warm sun and sight of green mountains, blue sky, and blue/turquoise water that just makes me exhale deeply. Seriously, just writing about it I exhaled…

While I quickly discovered this amazing way to relax – remember I grew up in Midwest, USA – I had NO idea how taking my daughter with special needs would be beneficial to her as well. And to be honest, living overseas makes it difficult sometimes to find therapies for our TCKs with special needs. So, I love it when I can do things that I know are beneficial and inexpensive.

1. Digging in the sand – She uses both fine and gross motor skills as she digs holes and her sandpit is HUGE.
2. Filling buckets – with the sand that she just got from digging holes and also the countless trips back and forth to fill up the buckets with water to pour into the holes.20151003_160440

3. Sand – Just the texture of the sand itself is therapeutic. Many kids don’t like it, so they have to be introduced to it over and over – but others, like my daughter, LOVE it. For us, we had to teach her that it was not okay to put it in her mouth.

4. Running/walking in the sand – If you’ve ever tried running on the beach yourself, you know the workout you can get from it. Enough said.

5. Standing in the waves – This really depends on how strong the waves are. Of course, if they are pretty strong – then do not put your child in the water. But if the waves are mild, then the constant motion is great for balancing. *

6. Jumping the waves – I know our PT has worked with us on getting Jie Jie to jump and this is a fun way to jump over something.

7. Collecting shells – We can work on balance as she 20150919_160228bends over to pick up the shells and walking without dropping the shells out of the bucket.

8. Playing with the hermit crabs -Jie JIe is an animal lover, and last month her younger sister introduced her to hermit crabs. She loves picking them up and letting them scurry across her hand or trying to scare me with them.

9. Boogie boarding – My daughter is not able to do this completely on her own, but she loves to lay on the board and let the waves take her in and out. We also go out with her sometimes and help her catch a wave that is a bit farther out.

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10. Surfing – I’ve not had the opportunity to do this, but from reading about Surfer’s Healing, it is something I’d love for her to experience. Below is a picture of her out in the kayak with her dad – this girl loves the beach.20151003_151111

We’ve just moved to a new city, finally – but transition is rough. I think tomorrow we are in need of some therapy….beach therapy.

* Always be extra careful when taking your child with special needs out into the ocean. We always have Jie Jie wear a life-vest even when the water seems calm.

Your Turn: What are some activities that you have found therapeutic to you and has been good for your children as well? Please share below.

 

Good-bye book

As parents we want to help our children adjust to changes as best we can. Living the nomadic lifestyle of an expat leads to a childhood where the ebb and flow of transitions becomes a normal feeling for our kids. People come and go in and out of their life just like waves lap with the tides – in and out, in and out.

It is consistent in that it constantly is moving, but just like waves transitions are not always graceful and easy. Sometimes they are stormy and just plain hard.

How can we help our kids through these times, especially if they are really young? Help them build a RAFT. This could look different for you, but for me it was making a Good-bye Book. Basically, I took pictures of people and places that were their favorite and made a book for them. After our move, we’d pull out the books and look at the photos and talk about the places that we left. It was good for all of us.

I’m a writer, so I crafted them after story books themes that I thought might work with each city. The kids were really young, so I used ideas that would appeal to that age, so we could go back and look at them after we moved. Now that the kids are older, I think I’ll still do something like this but use an online photo book to be printed out and get their input as well – cause I’m sure GeGe and Mei Mei will NOT want a toddler type book this time around.

Below are some pictures of different books that I did. They still like to go through and look at the pictures. They don’t remember the places, but it allows us to retell stories from those places to connect them to their own past. It helps them to develop their own story beginning…

Ge Ge was almost two when we left Shenyang, so I used an ABC style for his.

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When we left Wuhan, I made Mei Mei an Acrostic Book to remember her first home with us as a Maurer.
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For Ge Ge’s Wuhan Book, I did a theme on colors instead of the ABC’s. You can see that I did do an ABC book of Wuhan, but it was for Jie Jie.
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And speaking of stories, remember that I am still taking stories for The Leaving Series. There is NO deadline, just email me your story and some pictures if you have any. I will publish one story each Thursday. I’ll start the first of the series this Thursday – so if you don’t want to miss these stories make sure you are subscribed to receive notifications in your inbox. You can also like the Facebook page and get information about other places on the web that reports about raising kids overseas.

Book Review: SAFE PASSAGE by Douglas W. Ota

SAFE PASSAGE LowRES COVER
SAFE PASSAGE
by Douglas W. Ota
Summertime Publishing
Regardless how long someone has been an expat, mobility issues are a major part of their life. Many expats can quickly estimate how many boxes will be needed to pack their belongings. They know the routine of good-byes and hellos. From personal experience, they know the grief that trails after them from place to place.  They recognize this grief in their children, and may long for a ‘quick-fix’ to help them cope with this grief.
A new book by Douglas W Ota, Safe Passages:  How Mobility Affects People and What International Schools Should Do About It, might just be the essential resource needed for expats.
If you’d like to read more about this book, check out my review at ExpatArrivals.

Saying Good-bye…The Leaving Series

When I look back at my history of blogging, I noticed that I have written a lot about leaving, or saying good-bye. I’ve written about the importance of saying ithelping our kids through it; and how it just plain stinks. I’ve also written about the importance of sharing our past with our kids and taking them back to the places where we once said good-bye. And although, these posts may be helpful – possibly even inspiring – I have found something to be even more powerful. Story.

Stories are powerful tools that can speak from the heart of the writer to the heart of the reader. We connect in the story as we see that our own story is sometimes quite similar, yet different. We feel the pain of saying good-bye; or the relief of the hard-to-deal-with drama; or the difficult times of trying to balance our own emotions while trying to comfort our children in their time of uncertainty. We learn from the hardships of moving valuable lessons about life and living in this nomadic life, called expatriating.

And being that time of year, when so many of you are probably looking at your homes and trying figure out what to save, sale, or throw away, I thought maybe you’d like to read about others who have gone before you. Real people who have packed up all their belongings and moved away from dear and precious friends – and possibly first friendships of your children.

Or maybe you need to share your own story….

So, I’m asking you to share your leaving stories. It can really be anything – from the hardest move to the easiest move. It could be about your most memorable move or a tip on how you helped your kids move. It can be moving for the first time to repatriating back to your passport country. It could be from a parent’s perspective or from your childhood (TCKs welcome, so much to learn from you all as well!). I’m hoping to get my husband to write out a guest post here for this as well.

You write it and I’ll post it! I’ll be posting them every Thursday for as long as I get submissions. I’ll start the first story next Thursday, April 16th. So here are the details.

  1. Email me your story at mdmaurer135(at)gmail(dot)com (please use a doc formatting)
  2. At the bottom of your story include a brief bio. Here is where you can share your blog site, books you’ve written, etc.
  3. Please also email me 2-3 pictures to go along with the story; one being a headshot to go with your brief bio.

Okay, so there you have it. So now write those stories. I really want to hear from you all.

Please also consider sharing this with your other friends you have that would be interested in writing a guest post. ~Thanks!

Sharing Your Past with Your Kids

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Photo credit: hey Tiffany! via flickr

This is the second part of the Sharing your stories. If you haven’t read the first part click here.

As you probably know my husband is a TCK/MK. He grew up on the island of Taiwan. A few weekends ago he was out with my son doing what father and sons do – jump off tall rocks into the ocean, snorkel, scooter lessons on the backroads, and sleep under the stars – literally.
The thing is, they were in the exact location where one of the many famous stories my husband shares of his childhood took place – Nixon Rock (The rock really does look like Nixon’s silhouette, go back and check out the photo!)

Here’s a brief story: A group of high school guys biked from their “hometown” to the beach village of Kenting. It took them 2 days to travel the approximately 300km. They spent the weekend jumping off of this rock. This rock is legendary among those who have lived on this island – there are legends and horror stories from this rock. Really.

But the story really isn’t the point. The point is, my husband got to share the experience with my son that weekend. They both climbed up the side of the cliff and jumped off. Our son experienced a bit of my husband’s past – the stories came alive (though the son may not have realized it).

I know I’ve shared before the importance of including our kids or being apart of something that we do. I’ve also shared the importance of sharing our stories with our kids – and not just our own personal stories, but those family stories that are passed down from grandparents and parents.

This time, I want to challenge us as parents to go even farther – to actually go back and show the kids these places that you talk about so much. Pictures help to tell the story, but visiting the actually place – to feel the coral cut into your fingers as you climb up the cliff, to feel the smack of the ocean, and to see the the fish and taste the saltwater – yes, to experience a little of what we did or where we lived growing up is definitely something we should share with our children.

Maybe you are like me and grew up in one location near most of the extended family. Plan and be intentional to show your kids those places where the stories that you share took place. Go back to that creek, amusement park and ride the Tilt-A-Whirl, or wherever your most memorable fun childhood experiences took place.

I know, maybe you are a TCK yourself and moved around too much. Or it cost too much to make the trip with everyone. I get it. I know that my family is blessed to be living on the same island where my husband grew up, but I challenge you to try. Maybe not this year, maybe not next year – but try to do it sometime before it’s too late to take them.

Plan it.

Save for it.

Do it.

You won’t regret it.

Sharing Our Stories

The longer I live overseas and raise TCKs, the more I firmly believe my husband and I must tell stories from our childhood. We must connect them to our family “back home” in some way. I also am coming to realize the importance of getting the stories from our parents when we are back with them. These stories are like a tapestry that is woven together to make a beautiful rug to hang on the wall.

I’m a mono-culture kid and knew my grandparents (well one set) VERY well. I spent countless summer days out on the farm searching for adventure with my cousin in the back woods. We were explorers looking for fossils in the creek bed – lost in our own world. We helped gather the eggs in the extremely pungent smelling hen house, stack hay in the barn, and feed any orphaned lambs that ended up in the house. My life was drastically different than my children – but they love to hear stories about that life – especially if they involve mom getting stuck in the muddy garden and having to be pulled out with a 3-wheeler (those were the days before the ATV), only to loose said boots.

And though my husband’s life is similar to my own children – he is a TCK; there are some differences…like furloughs in Germany where he went to a very small country school and learned how to buy cigarettes (those were the days they sold them in vending machines on the street); or the time they returned to the field and he sat in class for months staring blankly as he didn’t understand anything the American teacher said. Stories connect the past with the present.

That’s why I think it is important to learn the stories from our parents and grandparents. Take the time to sit and “interview” them when we have those opportunities. Make the most of those few weeks/months we have with them to hear their stories.

Summer is approaching and many of you will be headed back to visit family. I challenge you to sit down and write out some questions you are curious about. Write them down….you’ll forget them if you don’t because we know how we get all caught up in the cuteness of the baby nieces and nephews to remember what it was that we wanted to know. And as you are listening to the stories, record them – make a video or write it down. Then share them with your kids…I believe it is one way we can link our children to their extended family that they see every few years.

Stories help us explain to our children who we are and ultimately who they are – and possibly help them see that their own stories will only add more color to the weaving pattern of the family tapestry of life.

Need some help getting started on questions…here’s some I thought up:

  1. What is your fondest memory during your childhood days?
  2. What was school like for you? Did you go to a public school? a country school?
  3. How did you get there? Any story you can remember about a time going to school?
  4. Did you date (insert mom, dad, grandma, etc)? How did you meet?
  5. Ask about important historical events that would have happened during their lifetime and ask what they remember of that day….how did it affect them?

Book Review: Picture Books

This month I’ve joined an online group called ReFoReMo (Read For Research Month). It’s a group that has dedicated to read and research picture books for a month. I’ve joined because, well, it’s something I’d like to do and am working towards….publishing a picture book. Anyway, in my researching I’ve discovered a few gems that would be helpful to TCKs. Below are three that I’ve found so far.

1. THE NOISY AIRPLANE by Mike Downs illustrated by David Gordon

Not all TCKs begin life in an airplane. Some are toddlers when they take their first flight. This book is a great book to introduce the experience of riding in an airplane: the loud noises, the bumps, the meals, and riding in the day and in the night. I highly recommend it if you are a parent about to take your TCKs on a long flight for the first time.

 

2. THE LEAVING MORNING by Angela Johnson/paintings by David Soman

This book focuses on the morning of the move. Although, the family is probably not moving to a new country – kids can relate to the feelings of saying good-bye to friends, neighborhood acquaintances, and even family. It’s a nice book that might help younger children understand the process of moving.

 

3. THE COLOUR OF HOME by Mary Hoffman illustrated by Karin Littlewood

Little Hassan is new to the UK from Somalia. When his teacher gives the class time to paint, Hassan’s painting begins to tell the harsh story of his family and what he witnessed. I added this book for two reasons because 1) sometimes our children witness some harsh realities of life – even dangerous ones and 2) I felt this teacher was a good example in finding a way for this child who spoke no English to communicate. Although, it is not probably a book you would want to read to a younger child, it is a good book to read as an adult or an older child.

*Please know that in no way am I suggesting ways to counsel children who have gone through traumatic experiences. If your child has encountered such experiences, please seek professional guidance and help. And if it is a student, please talk with the parent/guardian first.

Book Review: RED BUTTERFLY by A.L. Sonnichsen

RED BUTTERFLY

by A.L. Sonnichsen

Description:

Kara lives with her American mom in Tianjin, China. Her mother brought her home eleven years ago after finding her abandoned, but for reasons Kara doesn’t understand or fully know they are not able to travel too far outside their small apartment, let alone move to Montana where her dad lives. After her older sister comes to visit, unpreventable events occur that causes a domino effect in Kara’s life. She uncovers answers to her questions and learns to thrive in new, and sometimes quite scary, environments. The story is told in moving (sometimes to tears) verse.

My thoughts:

I’ve included this book on my list of TCK books because Kara is a TCK. From the beginning you sense it. She’s Chinese, but her mother is American. She looks Chinese, but feels American on the inside. Isn’t that what a lot of our children feel like? The author knows this feeling because she herself grew up in Hong Kong.

It’s also an adoption book – as there are some deep issues touched upon. We “hear” Kara’s thoughts about all that is going on around her: her fears, her questions, her sadness. I think I’ll let the book show what I’m trying to say. You’ll get an idea from this excerpt – which is one of my favorites.

Misplaced

On my way home,

like always,

I inspect

each

passing

face,

realizing

one of them

could be

her.

Sonnichsen understands adoption as well as a mother can. She and her husband adopted their oldest child while living in China.

I totally recommend this book, especially if you have internationally adopted. It is truly a good read. My only warning is that you set time aside, as it will be hard to put down. It seriously is that good.