Zoo day 10/16

North Carolina can be brutally hot and humid in the summer.  And our winters have been so unpredictable lately...seems like a good snow is hard to find.  

But we have two seasons of glorious here...spring and fall.

One Sunday last fall provided one of those blue sky beauty days and we decided to head to our state zoo to enjoy the outdoors.

Because we are members, and therefore frequent visitors, there is no pressure on any of our visits to observe each habitat.  That leaves plenty of time to explore Kids Zone.

Ian and I set the boundaries and then stood back for the next 45 minutes to watch them engrossed in their surroundings.

over the years they've found their own interests, but from time to time they still fall back into "that twin thing"
does a mama's heart good...

From there we took in the wonder of the animals "not from around here."

My little buddy still wearing his fake glasses taped for "nerd day" at school.
Cracks me up...

To our delight, many of the North American animals were up and active in the cooler temperatures.  We most enjoyed watching the bears as they typically just sleep in the hotter months.

But for some reason the real animals never hold a candle to the statues scattered throughout the park.

And so as we walked we stopped time and time again for the crew to climb a rhino or pose with miniature elephants.

And even though they bickered plenty, we were reminded yet again that we've been blessed with an amazing set of kiddos.  This five minute march (minus one who was displeased over something one sibling had said moments before) made the entire day worthwhile, and made us look forward to see how the pack would embrace their littlest brother.

I think we'll keep 'em!


...nine will be just fine...

Time is spiraling somewhat out of control these days and I'm just doing my best to hang on.
Fortunately I have a padawan running around to help keep things safe at the M8 house.

Unfortunately this Jedi in training has no respect for what his getting older does to a Mama's heart...

Seriously though, he's a pretty terrific kid.  Yes, he can pitch a wicked fit like no body's business when he's overtired or his blood sugar is low (truly my son in this respect and he's not even genetically mine...) and he's just a teeeennnyy bit competitive (my mini-me).

BUT.  This kid throws himself into what he's doing with his whole heart.  He wears a sense of justice for the downtrodden on his sleeve.  He gives the BEST hugs per pound ratio that I've ever been smothered with.  He wishes for the world to know just how much Jesus loves them.  And he loves his family fiercely.

Eight was great.

And so I have no doubt that nine will be just fine.
(Though I'm having a hard time coming to terms with him being so close to double digits now).

For the month leading up to his birthday he was requesting the Pioneer Woman's "from scratch" chocolate cake with Nutella frosting, strawberries and homemade whipped cream.  And then two days before (after I had already bought all the ingredients for the chocolate cake) he switched gears on me and asked for a fruit cake.  Imagine my confusion as I thought he was asking for one of the brick cakes that gets traded at Christmas...I couldn't figure out when he had ever even seen one.  So upon questioning he said, "You know, like the ones in the fancy bakery shops.  But I want mine to be Star Wars."

Two things saved cake.
A "fruit pizza" Pinterest search and the fact I had already purchased some Lego mini-figures to decorate the other cake...

It certainly wasn't the most elaborate cake ever, but I think the combo of fruit (the boy hasn't met a fruit he doesn't like) and Star Wars left him pretty speechless.

Truly a cake for this fruit loving boy...

And then it was time to shower him with gifts.
A remote control BMW Ian doubled back to a store to purchase while we were in China.

A bird feeder for him to paint and then treat our backyard friends.

And Poe Dameron's X-wing fighter.

Grandma was here up until his birthday morning and when she took him for his shopping trip he carefully selected some Pokemon cards, an orange and grey watch, and his new light saber.  You know, a padawan can never be caught off guard!

Daniel Zhenyu, I love you to the Outer Rim and back.

ps ~ A few weeks ago, when you were still 8 and we were both counting down the days until you were 9, you beat me forever in our nightly "I love you to..." game.  I said I loved you to the horsehead Nebula and back and you quietly responded with, "I love you from my heart to your soul."  I'll never be able to top that one kiddo, but the Outer Rim was the furthest Star Wars place I could think of.


so long elementary school

So elusive. 
Lately I've come to see the passage of time much like a rubber band. Moving along, catching and stretching slowly and then suddenly snapping and rocketing at an alarming pace.

I've experienced hours that stretched into what seemed months and years that vanished more quickly than a collection of weeks.  

I feel the last six years were both eternal and instant at the same time.  August 2011 came at me like a freight train.  We were settling into our new home, there was a new toddler in the house, and I was preparing to send my eldest child to kindergarten.  

first (staggered entry) day of kindergarten
 august 29, 2011

We won't even go into the emotional mess I was that first day.
And it wasn't just me.
Her siblings weren't ready to let her go either.

So yeah, that fist day was rough.

Okay, week.

Alright, alright, month...

But somehow she and I and her siblings survived it.  And before any of us knew what had happened, there she was finishing kindergarten.

jumping for joy on the last day of kindergarten
june 7, 2012
And if I thought that first year went fast...
I had no idea how time would continue to roll over me like a bullet train once it reaches top speed.  The next year my "twins" headed to kindergarten, the next we welcomed Nat into the family and then year round swimming started, then the process to bring Nicholas home began, we once again took this beauty on a trip across the world (she's been back to her homeland five times now), and before long I found myself standing beside Ian watching our big girl file into chairs with her class for the "moving up ceremony."

Moving up as in GRADUATING from elementary school.

What the what?
How does this even happen?
Miraculously, even though I was prepared to be the emotional wreck mom, I managed to stay composed with just a couple of silent tears escaping when our principal addressed the parents and said something about how we felt that first day of kindergarten.  It was just that realization of how quickly it actually does go.

Our girl received her completion of elementary school certificate along with the rest of the graduating 5th graders and then two classes of us headed inside to watch the slide show of all the kids through the years.

This was a great opportunity to get some pictures with a few of the friends that made her elementary career grade a blast.

Then outside for a cake and lemonade reception...along with more pictures.

And how could we forget her amazing teacher and student teacher?  These two ladies made 5th grade stand out as her very favorite of the six years she spent in elementary.

It's hard to believe that she's finished with D elementary school.  But we look at her, how she's grown (um, hello I'm wearing wedge heel sandals in this picture) in both height and maturity and we realize it is time for her to embrace a new chapter of life.
She's ready.

Me however?
Well, I'm still holding on to memories of this very first day she and Lottie walked to kindergarten together.  Surely they are still those tiny little girls I remember in my mind?

first official day of kindergarten
sept 1, 2011
Or not.

last official day of 5th grade
june 8, 2017

At least I know that they'll be tackling middle school together.
That makes me embrace it a tiny little bit more...besides, I think she may be ready to spread her wings.


reflections on the first two weeks home

And here we are, having logged two weeks and two days home...just as long as we were gone.  

up early that first morning...and discovering that he did in fact like blueberries
 That first morning I heard the faintest little footsteps in the hallway around 6am.  All I wanted to do was roll over and try to chase the elusive sleep jet lag was stealing from me, but I considered that if others in the family were still sleeping, someone had to take one for the team and keep Nicholas out of trouble.  It turned out to be a sweet morning with him discovering more of the playroom and that he did indeed like blueberries.

this build a truck has seen many construction supervisors

 As the morning wore on other faces began to emerge from their state of slumber.  Natalie was "oh so happy" to have a swinging buddy!

 My sister had stayed the night in a hotel down the road and did a bit more grocery shopping to top off what friends had stocked our fridge and pantry with before we got home.  She also did all five loads of our "China laundry" and prepared us a NC BBQ dinner before heading back home.

nerf guns seem to bridge language barriers
"grandma's boys"

Much of the first week was a blur if I'm going to be perfectly honest.

someone had a "case of the mondays"...or maybe it was just jet lag catching up with him
 I have no idea how my kids did it, but they attended school AND their first week of swim practice for our summer league team.  Of course all of us were in bed and sound asleep by 8:15 at the latest.

That first day was hard for Nicholas.  We were able to tell him in Mandarin that his siblings were going to school and they would be back in six hours, but he was every melancholy...I'm not sure he trusted us.  He slept a good bit that day and we did a good bit of unpacking (though I still have a small suitcase full of souvenirs yet to deal with).  Let me tell you about that smile when his siblings got home that fist day...

eyes on the prize

Our little guy was giving American food (that so many of our friends were kind enough to bring to us as we came out of the fog) a good try, but some things just weren't hitting on much.  Therefore Ian and I decided that a "field trip" to our large Asian market on Tuesday of that first week was in order.  We were trying to find a few things he had enjoyed on the breakfast buffet at the Marriott (oh China Hotel breakfast buffet I miss thee so!).  As we walked the aisles he made it VERY CLEAR that he wanted a can of fried dace with salted black beans.  And then when we went to the food counter to get BBQ pork baozi, he refused one and insisted on eating his fish instead.

It was sorta a "because China" moment and we popped the can and let him go to town.

i should have taken a picture of the bones after he cleaned them...
From there our days fell into a routine.  Jet lag had everyone up at the crack of dawn, so there was plenty of time for a morning Beyblade battle before the older set left for school.  Ian, Nicholas and I played games, took walks, and made a few quick ventures to places within our community.

Thankfully Ian was also able to help break the ice between Nicholas and Amber, now mostly known as "Xiǎo gǒu" (little dog). At first it looked like one or the other was going to have to go, but finally there was a breakthrough and Nicholas was willing to touch her...though not look at her at the same time just yet.

Folks have asked how the other kids are doing with him.  Overall they ADORE him.  Part of it may well be his tiny size.  I'm pulling a blank at his height, but in the stair steps when you line them up in age order, he is significantly shorter than his "twin" Nat (older by a mere four months) and weighing in at 35.2 pounds, he's super easy to heft around...or sit on your lap and look at books together.

Ian stayed home with us the first Monday-Thursday and gave himself a "soft re-entry" to work on Friday.  That left Nicholas and I walking home from school drop off with just Xiǎo gǒu, but at least they had become friends. And I learned that if we go at a pace slower than the one I'm used to, Nicholas will happily walk if he can hold the leash.

It was a beautiful no humidity morning, so we met a friend and her twins (who are year rounders that were tracked out) at a nearby park where Nicholas enjoyed both the playground and the soccer field.  He enjoyed kicking around for a while even if he did tire often.

That first Friday we got back to our usual routine of Friday movie night.  Turns out this kid LOVES Darke County popcorn and it made my heart happy to watch him and his five siblings eat it out of my grandma's popcorn bowls.

Saturday morning we took it slow.  The kids had their cartoon time.

my couch is almost as full as my heart
They did some Zoob construction.

A ninja was about...

...protecting his princesses.

A mountain of pancakes were made and consumed.

And then we headed to the pool as a family.  While the water is still cold for him to stay in long, he was THRILLED to realize he can touch the bottom in the shallow end of our neighborhood pool.  Thankfully kid #6 is also a water lover...we were nervous that he wasn't going to be a fan.  That would have made for a LONG summer.  As soon as he gets a bit more language he'll jump in on the swim team as one of the beginners.

Over the weekend Nicholas was introduced to friends that are like family as we hosted a cookout.  He was outside playing touch football in the yard along with the boys as if he'd always been here.  We chilled at home and visited an area science museum to play outside in the treehouse/creek area and the mist.

Finally on the 30th we went for his initial cardio appointment.  It wasn't good news per se, but it wasn't bad news either.  Mostly just confirming that indeed his heart defect is what it was believed to be, though the reason his heart functions the way it does was slightly different than what was suspected.  Our next step is a heart cath to determine pulmonary hypertension levels and then we'll see which road to take next.  The ultimate hope is that he will be a candidate for an advanced palliative surgery, but we'll have to see if he needs some further intervention before that.

it was obvious this was not his first echo rodeo...
 As far as how things are going?  Honest, it's like a dream.  With seven years of orphanage living under his belt, we expected bonding and adjustment to be a much rougher ride.  As we've done in the past, we braced ourselves for the worst (I've read and re-read The Connected Child by Dr. Karyn Purvis so many times I could quote a good bit of it) and hoped for the best.
Truly, in this department I'll say that it is better than the best we hoped for.  He knows who is family and is only affectionate with us and really only interacts with people that we introduce him to as friends.
And speaking of he's not quite ready to join swim team practice just yet, he's making the rounds with kids at the pool while his siblings are swimming.  He loves to play games, is good at sharing, and is in general just a splendid kid.

rubik's race is a GREAT language necessary
 There's much more to say, but this little one is keeping me BUSY!  Kinda like a toddler getting himself into mischief when I take my focus off of him too long.  His morning cartoon in Mandarin (we're hoping that by watching he won't lose his native language completely) is almost over and I've got a kid to chase!

our radio flyer trike is seeing some new action these days!