Adopting an Older Child: The Gill Family’s Adoption Journey, Part 2

Howie on left, with his siblings

This continues the story of the Gill family. In the previous blog Scott and Lisa, with three of their biological children, traveled to China to bring home Ho Han (Howie). In our interview they left off discussing some of the challenges adoptive parents face with an older child from another country.

Meeting challenges.

Adoptive children have to adapt to home culture and in Howie’s case an altogether new culture in a new country. The challenges are different with an older child, and the Gills had to be prepared for Howie’s future as a teenager then eventually an adult.

Can he learn how to drive a car?

Can he hold down a job?

Can he live on his own?

The Gills believe Howie can, but given his executive function issues it will be harder for him than the average young person to get to those milestones.

“Our job is to help Howie find something he enjoys and is good at doing over his next three years in high school,” Lisa said. “Right now we are watching him grow and change incrementally over time, and it’s wonderful to see.”

But it hasn’t always been an easy road.

“We had raised thirteen-year-old boys, so we thought we know what to expect,” Scott said.

“Though we had six kids and felt like we knew a great deal about parenting, we had a lot to learn.” Lisa said. “With Howie, we have to be very flexible and more creative.”

“He has different needs and different challenges than our other six, so we had to learn all over again how to be parents,” Scott said.

Lisa remembers the early challenges. “When Scott struggled, I lifted him up. When I struggled, Scott lifted me up. And our children were amazing. If Howie wanted to climb a tree, they climbed a tree with him. If he wanted to go look at turtles, they’d go look at turtles.”

“Joshua is pretty independent, and all of our kids have been, but Howie is more dependent,” Scott said. “When Howie gets home, he likes to find out what room I’m in then come in and ask me lots of questions about whatever the topic of the week is. It’s gone from Iwo Jima to the Kennedy Assassination to Anne Frank to the presidents to World War II and Normandy. He has an amazing capacity for endless questions.”

“It’s been fun for Howie. He can finally ask someone questions. And he loves history. He’s very curious” Lisa said.

“Looking back on the last three years, Howie has been a really good child,” Scott said. “He’s been friendly, obedient and compliant.”

Lisa chimed in, “Recently, when we got Howie’s fall schedule at the high school, one of the teachers told us, ‘Howie is so pleasant. He’s fun to be around, and I loved having him in my classroom.’”

Howie has made good friends at school, and in particular with the boys on the cross country team. Cross country has proven to be wonderful, inspiring experience for Howie.

Adoption’s rippling effect on their adult children.

“Even though there was a part of us looking forward to our parenting days winding down, we both decided we liked being parents. We liked raising kids,” Lisa told us.

At first their two older boys Jordan and Jeremi wondered why their parents would do this. However, in time the boys’ hearts and minds changed so much that both of them are considering adoption. And this goes for the Gills’ younger children as well.

Their youngest child Joshua said, “If we can change a life, we should.”

“That’s been one of the neat things about our adoption, how it has influenced our kids,” Lisa said. “For our older children, our experience has expanded their vision for adoption. That’s exciting.”

A stronger family.

The Gills shared a story not long after Howie’s arrival.

The Gill family has twenty acres that includes a bounty of trees and wildlife, and Howie really took to that and became interested in photographing nature. Scott showed him how to use a camera so he could snap some photos of the landscape and any deer he might come across.

One afternoon while Howie was taking pictures, Lisa called Scott at Real Wood Floors. Panicked, she said, “Please come home right now. Howie has been arrested.”

Scott raced home to find a sheriff’s patrol car at his neighbors’ house. Beside the police car, Howie stood, handcuffed and weeping. Lisa was there, too, and also in tears. At the time Howie was thirteen and knew very little English. The neighbors had called the police when seeing a hooded Howie in the fields, snapping photos, and they feared he was casing their home. Thankfully within an hour it all got sorted out.

The Gills were afraid that Howie wouldn’t want to walk in the neighborhood again and that he would have an uncomfortable feeling around police. Wisely, the Gills made cookies, took a family photo that included Howie, and went around the neighborhood and introduced themselves to the neighbors. They also journeyed to the sheriff’s station where the captain showed them around and even went so far as to handcuff Scott and put him in the back of a patrol car. The Gills felt this was an incredibly kind gesture to show that they are all on the same side.

Though painful at first, the experience ended up being a good thing as Howie connected with neighbors and local law enforcement. Now it is all a good laugh and another family story.

Since Howie’s arrival, many events and memories have become a rich part of the fabric of the Gill family story.

“It’s about celebrating the little things,” Lisa said. “When Howie got here, he had never been on a bike. We told him, if you learn how to ride a bike, we’ll get you one. He learned in a day. Our whole family was excited for him, and we went to Wal-Mart and bought him a bike. He had never swum before, so his siblings Caleb and Sarah taught him how to swim. In the evenings on the couch, Howie is prone to process his day in Mandarin. That evening after he learned to swim, while Howie was talking, Caleb recorded it via Google Translate, and we got to hear Howie’s thoughts: ‘When I lived in China, people told me I’d never learn how to swim, and I’d never learn how to ride a bike. But my brother taught me how to swim, and he taught me how to ride a bike. I can do it!’”

Paying it forward.

“The experience with Howie and adopting an older child has grown us as parents,” Scott said.

Scott and Lisa smiled as they talked about Howie’s endless capacity for learning and his love of history.

The Gills kindly offer to talk to any family who is interested in adopting an older child.

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