Part of Our Family

For the past 14 years, I have shared my bed with a little love named Nemo. Each night, he would lay at my feet. I have been told that I would pet him with my feet all night long. 

Once Lydia came along, she joined me in our bed, wedged between her baba and me. Just like her mama, she would pet him with her feet all night long in her sleep. Just like her mama, it became her comfort, her nightly ritual. Most little girls sleep with a blankie or a favorite doll. Not Lydia. Nemo was her comfort. There was a lot of time when she did not like us, but she always loved him. It was him that made our house feel like a place she might want to stay. So protective of food when we first adopted, she was delighted to share each Cheerio with her Nemo. With Nemo, it was different.

We often joked that Nemo had more lives than a cat. His chart at the vet’s office was thicker than most textbooks. ITP. Cushing’s disease. Allergies. Benign tumors. Arthritis. Deaf. Cataracts. Kidney disease. We all knew that this day would come. For the past two years, Lydia would tell people about her favorite dog and say, “Nemo will die in a few days.” A few days or two years. We were all trying to brace ourselves for his exit.

Bryson and I often say he held around just for us. He was with us during the honeymoon years. He provided comfort when I broke my neck. He sat at my feet while I graded 25,000 student papers and sat in my lap as I wrote a dissertation. He sat by Bryson’s side when he started his own business. He was with us when friends exited our lives. He was the loyal one, they weren’t. He licked all of the tears with infertility diagnoses. We needed his comfort so much during the last three years, and he just kept giving and giving and giving and we kept taking and taking and taking.

I often told people he was my Xanax. His fur was an immediate comfort. His paws felt like sand paper and smelled the perfect scent of fritos. His breath was terrible – you could smell him coming and going. But he so loved to give kisses. Lydia says his scent is what she misses most. She said he helped her calm down.

He gave and gave. We took and took.

In the couple of weeks before his death, I think we knew. Lydia suddenly remembered feeding him Cheerios when she first joined our family and asked if I would please buy her some more. I did. And every morning before school, she would sit in front of him and feed him Cheerios one by one. She was saying goodbye the same way she said hello, nice to meet you, here’s a Cheerio.

When he declined, it was rapid. I wanted more time, but he was in terrible pain. And so we gave when we wanted to take even more. We gave him relief and said goodbye. I knew when he was too sick to raise his head up to comfort Lydia that he was in too much pain. The scent of Ammonia on his breath confirmed what I saw.

Lydia is a five year old and fifty year old in one body. She said, “Nemo will be made better in heaven, but my heart will be broken because I’m here without him.” I agree. She begged me to take photos of her with him saying goodbye. It’s like we were all trying to preserve him and all of his preciousness as much as possible. “I must make a book of these pictures,” she said. And it happened so fast, it’s like she needed pictures to believe it.

Since we said goodbye to Nemo, we all have reacted differently. Lydia wailed and then got angry. Barrett threw a tantrum and asked when Nemo would wake up. He is still asking and Barrett didn’t even like him. I’ve been melancholy – even yesterday – I found myself sad at an event I shouldn’t have been sad at. And poor Dory, the little dog who loves to play outside and chase squirrels has refused to go outside and chase squirrels. She just stares at his empty doggy bed.

And though sometimes humans remind us, “Stop. It was just a dog!” You are right, he was just a dog. Ask our daughter, and he was also part of our family. Not a human, but a companion. And though he was just a dog, he so modeled what good companionship, friendship, and comfort looks like. It didn’t matter why we were hurting, but he always knew when we were hurting, and he was present.

Tomorrow, we pick up his ashes. Lydia–who knows loss well–asked us to have a memorial for Nemo and to cook his favorite asparagus, ribeye steaks, and chocolate cake. Because if there was food, he was there, and we want him with us.

Nemo, thank you for loving our family.

 

 

 

 

 

Three Years

At this exact moment, three years ago, Bryson and I met our daughter Yong Feng Qi aka Lydia.

Saying yes to being her mama has been my most meaningful yes. Hard but so good and transforming.

I just cannot even describe to you the joy it brings my heart to see her understand what it means to have a mama and a baba, family, a safe home, and security.

It wasn’t rainbows and unicorns. It was hard work. It was walking away from a successful career. It was dealing with our own garbage. It was putting up firm boundaries with others so she could grow and blossom.

She has.

And even if not, He is still good.

I Hated Valentine’s Day. She Changed That.

I’m not going to lie. I usually hate Valentine’s Day. Bryson and I have never celebrated it.

However, several days ago, I told him that I wanted to make the kids a candlelit dinner. I really wanted to demonstrate what loving pursuit and hospitality looks like. Lydia adores special meals and Valentine’s Day is her favorite because as she says, “it is all about love.” She is an old soul in a little body. 

It made me think why I have an aversion to this holiday, and why she loves it. So much of our culture wants instant gratification, it’s about me me me, consumerism, and often love is equated with feelings. Truth is, when I was very young, I dated an unkind person who overwhelmed me with gifts on Valentine’s Day. I always said to Bryson, “It is what we do all of the other days of the year that counts.”

But knowing my little girl’s true adoration of this holiday, I wanted her to relish in it, and feel our adoration. I wanted her to feel pursued.

Her love for Valentine’s Day made me think about what love means to her.

There was a time when I did not know if she could love us back, and I had to be content with that, and keep pursuing anyways. As I was making chocolate covered strawberries tonight, I thought long and hard about those tear-filled prayers. I begged that she would know love and be able to love in return. Not for me. Not because of me. Because of life. Life is about connection. I didn’t want more hard for her.

For a minute, I thought “I wish I could tell that Mandy, ‘it’ll be okay.'” But then I realized, “Nope. I am glad I didn’t know. So much of our culture wants instant love, they want to know that they’ll be loved in return, they don’t want risk. I am so glad I learned a different kind of love. I am glad I didn’t know and pursued during hard, hard moments.”

Tonight, as we sat down for dinner, Lydia sighed and sincerely said, “Mommy and Daddy, I love happy endings.”

“You love happy endings?” I expected to hear about her new favorite movie, Moana.

“Yes, mommy. Every kid should have a kind family like my family. I am so glad I don’t live at the orphanage. I wanted a mommy and daddy, and now I have you. I love happy endings.”

And I stopped myself from explaining loss. I stopped myself from explaining that we are dysfunctional and that our story is no fairytale. I stopped myself from saying we did not rescue her, this time. I have said it before. I bit my lip this time and simply said, “I wish every kid could have a family too. You add joy to our family.” I do wish that.

We are not a perfect family. I am far from a perfect mom. Bryson is not a perfect dad. Sometimes, I am a connected parent, and sometimes a dysfunctional one.

But this Valentine’s Day, we celebrate a type of love that is not based on DNA, feelings, consumption, religion, gifts, instant gratification, skin color, geographic boundaries, or reciprocation. We celebrate a kind of love that has taken time, patience, risk, courage, commitment, and sacrifice.

We have learned so much from our little Valentine.

I am thankful for the way she has helped me embrace a holiday that I once detested. I am thankful for the ways she taught me to pursue hearts, especially her heart and little Barrett’s. And I realized that tonight’s dinner did not demonstrate what loving pursuit and hospitality looks like, but we demonstrated it–with plenty of mistakes–the past three years.

Oh my goodness Mandy, what love for these two little people.

 

She closed her eyes while we set the table. She had no idea what we were doing.

Bryson gave Lydia and Barrett roses. They both insisted that mommy receives the roses.

Lydia gave me her rose and her new slinky toy.

She was so happy. And Barrett was too. He declared, “I like baba. I like mama. I like Lydia.” And though physical affection weirds him out, little love kissed my hand.

1 Corinthians 13The Message (MSG)

The Way of Love

13 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

Adoptive and Foster Mom Retreat

Hi friends, I am the speaker at an adoptive and foster mom retreat soon and wanted to invite you to join us. Blessings, Mandy

His Hands of Hope invites you to a fun retreat for adoptive and foster moms on April 1 and 2!! Join us in the Fireside Room at Grace Community Church on Friday night from 7-11 p.m. and on Saturday from 8:30a.m. – 3:00 p.m. (Lodging will be on your own).

Our speaker this year is adoptive momma Mandy Moore. She blogs at mooretolove.org. We are so excited she is joining us to share her story!

Cost is $30 which includes two meals, snacks, and more! (Lodging is not included.) Registration deadline is March 23rd.

You can register by visiting www.gcc-online.org and finding the retreat under events. Checks should be made payable to Grace Community Church with HHH retreat in the memo line. Your $30 check can be mailed to Grace Community Church c/o HHH Retreat, 1600 S. Anderson Rd., Newton, KS 67114. Please contact Christy Vogt with questions – rcvogt02@hotmail.com

We look forward to relaxing and encouraging one another and would love for you to join us!

Day 11, Friday (12/11) – Nanning to Guangzhou

Lydia and Kristen spent time together playing and doing a session (Kristen is Lydia’s attachment therapist). I took FanFan on a trip up and down the escalators at the mall–it is his favorite thing in the world.

On our way to the escalators at the mallOn our way to the escalators at the mall

Both Barrett FanFan and Lydia were “off” today, given my long day away in Wuzhou. However, I know that in the long run, every thing Kristen and I learned in Wuzhou is the best thing.

Bryson and I packed up our room and were eager to see the familiarity of Guangzhou, but sad to be leaving Nanning. We were also nervous about getting all of our luggage on the train with two littles in tow. We typically pack light, but this trip, we did not. I had a visit to the ER the weekend before we left, and was left confined to the couch until the day we left for Tulsa to China. We also packed lots of comforts from home for Lydia.

We were to check out and meet our guide in the lobby of the Marriott. From there, we would pick up Barrett FanFan’s Chinese passport and get on the train to Guangzhou. (Domestic air travel in China can be awful and is plagued with delays, so we chose the bullet train from Nanning to Guangzhou).

Once in the van, our guide handed us our paperwork from the Notary in Nanning. We noticed there was an error in our address. It said we lived in Arizona–and though the warm climate sounds lovely right about now–we actually live in Arkansas. This mistake was not good, and meant that with little time to spare and lots of traffic, we had to go back to the notary to have Barrett FanFan’s paperwork redone.

I gave Kristen the look, the look that said “I cannot deal.” She nodded.

If you know Bryson and me, you know one thing. When traveling, we get everywhere VERY early because we always have margin for Murphy’s Law in a foreign country. When traveling with a guide, they don’t always have the same buffer.  In this case, we did not and it proved to be such a stressor.

mandy and barrett

Our guide looked at us and said, “You might miss your train to Guangzhou. If there is any traffic, we will not make it.” Not the words any of us wanted to hear. Oh, there was traffic. Lots.

Bryson and our guide got our paperwork redone and our guide made some frantic calls asking the person to meet us in the parking lot with Barrett FanFan’s Chinese passport. Our guide was sweating, and not because of the heat. When we got to the parking lot, the person had his passport in hand. Our guide then serenaded us on the way to the train station.  Lovely touch, but not the time.

Thankfully, our driver was driving in illegal lanes (not something I would typically celebrate) so that we were able to get to the train station. It was like a movie, except not. It was my life.

The train station was very different and much older than the one Kristen and I went to yesterday.  There were several flights of stairs, many suitcases and carry-ons, one hysterical toddler, and a mom, dad, guide, and therapist running as fast as we could to make our train.

Literally, within a couple of minutes of getting on the train (not seated yet), our train was on its way to Guangzhou. The three adults were in awe that we made it, and Lydia hated that we had to run so frantically to the train. But we made it.

Bryson and I were drenched in sweat. We had both been wearing babies, carrying big backpacks and suitcases in our sprint to the train. And so, once seated, we drank the only very cold beverage available on the train: a Tsingtao (if you have been to China, you know I am not kidding about cold beverages. They are hard to come by). Truly, I should’ve had two.

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The train was an easy four hour ride to Guangzhou, and though not bad at all, Barrett FanFan was sick of it about an hour before Guangzhou. It probably had more to do with the entire day and that it was bed time than the actual train ride.

Entertaining FanFan with selfies.

Entertaining FanFan with selfies.

 

After awhile, Elmo wasn't cutting it. Introducing FanFan to Adele and Jimmy. He is a FanFan.

After awhile, Elmo wasn’t cutting it. Introducing FanFan to Adele and Jimmy. He is a FanFan.

Our bags were in various locations on the train because we were literally the last people to board. It took all three adults splitting up to locate the bags and remove them quickly once we arrived in Guangzhou. Lydia is not a fan of us splitting up, but we had to.

We were the last ones on the train in Nanning, and also the last ones off in Guangzhou.

Kristen and Bryson carried all of our luggage down flights of stairs while I had a crying toddler – which one, I cannot remember. Tears and trains, baby, tears and trains.

We were relieved to see our Guangzhou guide waiting for us in a waiting area and she took us to our van.

Guangzhou, we made it.

Lydia was tired of traveling. Who could blame her? Qe all were and it was 9:30 PM and we were still in disbelief that we made the train.

This time, we decided to stay at the China Hotel in Guangzhou instead of The Garden. I’ll post more about that later.

We got checked in to our amazing executive suite and ordered room service since it was around 11 PM. Barrett FanFan was so tired, he fell asleep on our bed momentarily, just like Lydia had when we arrived in Guangzhou with her nearly two years ago. It was truly deja vu.

Barrett FanFan asleep

Barrett FanFan asleep

 

Lydia asleep in the bed upon arrival in Guangzhou two years ago.

Lydia asleep in the bed upon arrival in Guangzhou two years ago.

 

Proud big sister looking at her little brother as he sleeps

Proud big sister looking at her little brother as he sleeps

 

2015 In Review

2015. What a Year!

January

I started writing for No Hands But Ours with some of the kindest people who love Jesus and are passionate about adoption.

In January, Miss Lydia finished seeing one of the best and nicest physicians I have ever met in my life. When he placed the stethoscope on her chest, Lydia said, “You gonna take dat stethoscope and wisten to my boobies?” He told me the fact that she can say stethoscope at two years old means she’s going to be a physician. I am so thankful Lydia has access to excellent medical care in the US. 

We have had the best treatment at Arkansas Children's.

We have had the best treatment at Arkansas Children’s.

We also saw how Lydia was beginning to relax and trust more. We went to the grocery store one night in January and I couldn’t help but compare that night to every shopping experience just a few months ago. She trusted that no one was stealing our food when we put it on the conveyer belt and that it was coming home with us. That doesn’t sound huge to you? In our lives it was HUGE. “Dis all my food,” she said with a smile.
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Lydia started to refer to herself as the Princess Daughter.
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We saw Barrett FanFan’s face for the first time and submitted paperwork in a rush to say we wanted to adopt him. This is Lydia’s face the first time she saw him in a video. We will be forever thankful to Celeste for telling us about FanFan.
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Lydia also helped me move out of my office at JBU ending my full-time career. Mommy and daddy cried when I closed that office door one last time.
February 
We made the announcement online that Lydia was getting a promotion.
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We received PA from China in early February saying we could adopt Barrett FanFan. We decided to name him Barrett after some precious people in our lives. And his smile. Look at that smile.
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Twenty minutes after getting PA, we found out our business was getting audited. Awesome.
We celebrated Chinese New Year with some of our friends. Lydia was pumped.
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Lydia enjoyed her first time playing in the snow.
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March 
I was in some serious need of self-care. I took my first trip away – and left Lydia in the capable hands of Bryson. I got to spend time with some of the best people I know.
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When I got home, someone was happy to see me and mad. Someone said she was so mad that her mama went bye bye. “I so mad at you. I miss you and you still didn’t come home to Wydia.” I told her it was definitely okay to be mad, but that mama comes home. She kissed me.
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Lydia and I ate lots of ice cream.
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I taught her how to catch raindrops with her mouth.
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We shipped off tons of adoption paperwork.
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We celebrated Lydia’s third birthday. Precious girl and such a gift to the world.
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April
I turned 34. We celebrated by touring a local museum which happens to be one of the best in the US.
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After lots of PT and OT, Lydia was able to pedal a bicycle on her own.
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May 
We went to Washington, DC and met Nina – Lydia’s best friend from her orphanage. What a precious, life-changing visit.
“Once upon a time in China there was a baby girl who lived in a big room with lots of other babies. The girls shared cribs with one another and became great friends. The girls had nannies to take care of them, but each was missing something — a mommy.” from the book “I Love You Like Crazy Cakes”
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Lydia, Nina, and Leah at the orphanage.

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It was like seeing sisters reunited.

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June

We spent a lot of time at her favorite creek, in princess dresses.

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Lydia learned to SWIM!

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We sent a birthday party to China for Barrett FanFan.

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July

Lydia passed her ISR Winter Clothes test for swim lessons.

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Bryson worked hard to finish our documentary, The Making of a Family. It currently has 13,000 views on YouTube. Insane.

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August 

We spent lots of time with some of our favorite people.

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September 

Lydia started preschool. It is unlikely she would’ve been allowed to go to school in China, due to her special need. I was overwhelmed with the fact that my incredibly bright daughter gets to go to school.

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We went to Atlanta and spent some time with precious friends.

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October

Lydia rode on her first roller coaster and loved it.

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We took lots of lovely fall walks.

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We went trick or treating with Stella.

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November 

Lydia and I went to Shriner’s to see her amazing ortho hand specialist, Dr. Goldfarb. He will do surgery on her lucky fin sometime in 2016.

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December

We took Lydia back to China…

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we became a family of four…

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and journeyed safely home.

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The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

We look forward to sharing more memories with you in 2016.

Barrett FanFan

Yes, both of these are Barrett FanFan and they are taken approximately one month apart. Little chunky man. What a gift the orphanage director gave me.

Little Barrett FanFan, what I would have given to have held you in these moments. I am so thankful for the One who placed so many kind and loving women in your life to care for you before I could.

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Day 9, Wednesday (12/9) – Chill and Wait

Lydia and Barrett FanFan in matching shirts

Lydia and Barrett FanFan in matching shirts

 

Tuesday

Last night (Tuesday night), I kinda reached that point where I was maxed out. I was exhausted. It was pouring, so food options with two toddlers was limited. We had spent most of that morning finalizing the adoption, and FanFan was grieving hard.

Our hotel is wonderful  for many reasons, but one of the reasons is because it is connected to a large mall with a Walmart on the first floor. We decided to eat at one of the places connected to the hotel because of the rain. Bryson thought I had a place in mind, I thought he had a place in mind, and after walking for quite awhile, I asked, “Where is the restaurant you want to eat at?” And he said, “I thought you had one in mind. I am just following you.” And my facial expression must’ve been AWESOME. Communication 101 – we nailed it.

Bryson took charge and said he saw a place near the Walmart that was packed with locals at lunch, so we followed him. Once there, Bryson tried to order, but all was lost in translation, and we could not order because of the language difference. So off we went. And so we ate at Pizza Hut and Kristen, Bryson, and I all laughed at how mama was about to lose her mind and how we were eating at Pizza Hut in China. There aren’t many times when I just get to that point, but I was there. And we wanted pepperoni pizza, but when we tried to order that, we realized it wasn’t happening. So we just pointed at a picture of a different kind of pizza. Baba carried Lydia and Barrett FanFan all of the way back to the hotel and just as he was about to put them down, Lydia said, “Oh baba, you are as strong as a super hero.” I laughed and laughed and said he had no choice but to carry the both of them back to the hotel now.

Wednesday

This morning, Barrett FanFan woke up, looked at us and smiled. Though he is grieving, his smile was a welcomed “I am going to be okay.” I can tell he was very well prepared for his adoption. He knows we are his mama and baba, though he is clearly grieving.

He slept on the floor again, and I decided to sleep on the floor with him, within a distance he was comfortable with. Tonight, he slept further away from the door and closer to our bed. Baby steps, and we have lots of time.

Though he smiled, he was cranky and frustrated this morning. We decided to cancel our plans to go to the mountain park, and instead relaxed at the hotel.

Like Lydia was, FanFan is protective of his coat that he came with, and wants to always wear his shoes. We absolutely let him, as the scents of his clothes are familiar and comforting. We let him sleep in these items. Though yesterday, he surprised us when he wanted to wear a matching t-shirt like Lydia’s that said “play like a boss.”

Today, Barrett FanFan felt comfortable enough to change his shirt to SuperMan.

A breakfast photo by Lydia. She nailed it.

A breakfast photo by Lydia. She nailed it.

He also wanted to go swimming at the hotel pool, but hated the cool temperature, I suspected. He was happy to put his feet in the hot tub. His foster mom later confirmed that it is the temperature he doesn’t like in a cool pool.

Lydia is not so sure about wearing the required swim caps, though we are pretty sure she is all things adorable.

Working hard to get that cap on

Working hard to get that cap on

How cute is she?!

How cute is she?!

That night, we finally went to the mall that is a 10-15 minute walk away for dinner. The mall is a very high end mall. Bryson wanted to shop at this store.

Bryson's favorite clothing store

Bryson’s favorite clothing store

We ate a seriously delicious meal at a Szechuan restaurant. FanFan put the food down like a boss. He loves spicy food. All kinds of food.

It was a beautiful walk back to our hotel.

Bryson, Lydia, and Kristen

Bryson, Lydia, and Kristen

We absolutely love Nanning, and cannot wait to return soon.

FanFan fell asleep on my lap and slept closer to the foot of our bed on the floor.

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