Happy 3rd Birthday Landon!

Dear Landon,

I can’t believe it has been three years since we first held you in our arms. It seems like only yesterday that God blessed us with a big-eyed, easy going newborn. You have changed so much right before our eyes and are no longer a baby, or toddler, but now a preschooler. “Laid Back Landon” has become one of your nick names, and despite some 2 year old moments, it fits you. You like to quietly take your time to do things and I think this is one of the reasons why you notice details like no other child I have known!

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I love how detailed oriented you are – you notice the little things, from teeny tiny bugs to a hole in your shirt (and you refuse to wear anything that is dirty or has a hole in it, oh my). If something is broken, you want to fix it right away and will try to figure out how to do it yourself if mommy isn’t around. Strangers have approached me before to say things like “wow, you have a little engineer on your hands” or “I have never seen a 2 year old stay so focused on one task”. For example, you love to build train tracks and will play for hours with them (if a certain little brother doesn’t demolish them first). I love how you always look to see what color people’s eyes are, try to find the moon in the night sky, and notice when I get dressed up. I love how you ask me if it is “dusk” outside when it starts to get dark. Oh sweet boy, I don’t know how God is going to use your detail oriented mind, but I pray it is for His glory.

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You might have a serious side, but you are silly too! I love how when you know the answer to something, you get this twinkle in your eye and tell me the wrong answer (like telling me you are 6 when you are only 2. Not okay).  My favorite is when you come and tell me “daddy is stinkin’ up my bathroom” or make sure we all know when you are “stinkin’ up” a bathroom. And what is up with this new found hobby of hiding and scaring mommy?! I thought that was only something I had to worry about your daddy doing.

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Your sweet side – it melts my heart. I’ll never forget that moment in the car when I had dirty hair, no makeup on, and you quietly said “mommy you are pretty”. Cuddles from you are the best and they are even better when I get them in the piles of pillows you like to play in. I love how you know the difference between “slow kisses” and “fast kisses” and make sure that we give you slow kisses. And even though it has been work, you are now getting the hand of saying “please” and “thank you” without being reminded. I love how you always use “please” twice in a sentence when asking for something: “mommy, may I please have a cup of milk, please?” Spying on you playing will never get old – I love hearing your little voice make your cars talk or your animals go to the “reminder chair”. You are always so focused on your play that I often go unnoticed for quite a while, and when you catch me, you break out in a big smile. Your daddy and I often talk about how we can already tell that you are so sensitive. We have experience with being sensitive ourselves and are praying now that God will protect your sensitive heart.

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Landon, this year has been one of many changes for you. Even though we often talk about how many transitions Max has had in his short life, we realize this year has been a HUGE transition for you. Becoming a big brother is NOT easy and especially when your little brother is not so little! Even though Max is younger, he didn’t come into our family as a little baby that doesn’t do much, he came as a 2 year old brother ready to play with your toys and demand attention from mommy and daddy. We know this has not been easy for you, but you have been an awesome brother so far! I’ll never forget when you ran up to us at the airport and grabbed Max’s hand. I love how you make him laugh and always ask “where is Max?” when he isn’t around. I hope and pray that you and Max will form a close bond as you get older.

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One of the most difficult times this past year was leaving you for 19 days. Landon, your daddy and I missed you so much it hurt. We knew you were in great hands, and that God was ultimately taking care of you, but being apart from you that long is something we never want to do again (if we can help it).  You did great though, had so much fun in New York, and even got to ride an airplane with your uncle John!

Happy 3rd Birthday to my sweet Landon! Mommy loves you more than you can ever imagine!

Is Max saying “mamma”?? I’ll let you decide…

You know, I haven’t written a lot about Max’s special need because I honestly don’t think about it too much.

It doesn’t define him.

He is so funny, rambunctious, and full of life. He is a typical two year old. Most of the time I am trying to figure out how to break up fights with his brother or keep him from hurting himself since he “has no fear”. These are the typical mommy things I would be doing even if he didn’t have a special need.

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This is how “craft time” ends up at the Eshleman household

 

I know we are still in the early stages of having him home, and we will face more challenges as he gets older, but I think about his hearing such a smaller percentage of the time that I am parenting him….and that is only because I might scream a little louder to keep him from running into the street or eating Daisy’s food ;)

If you didn’t know already, Max has bilateral microtia and atresia. I am still learning about this special need, so I am no pro, but I hope to learn much more very soon. If you are thinking of adopting, this is what I would sit down and tell you over a cup of coffee: that sometimes a child’s diagnosis in their adoption file looks scary when it’s not.

disclaimer: I am not, by any means, downplaying how difficult it is to be a parent of a child with a special need(s). I know there are varying degrees of special needs, and that parenting a child with a special need, or any child for that matter, isn’t easy.

Before we even began our home study, we found our precious little boy on the Special Focus list (a list of children in the China Special Needs program that may have a more difficult time finding a family because their needs are considered more moderate-severe). I am sharing this only because I so desire for people who are adopting to look past a label, or a list, and see the child. When Max reads this one day, I want him to know this is not something that he should be ashamed of, but something we can praise God for because we may not have found him if it was not for this “list”.

Hockey player one day?!

Hockey player one day?!

One of the most common questions I get from people is “what news do you have about his hearing”?

And …we now have answers! This past Friday we had an appointment with a pediatric audiologist at the UNC hospital. The doctors we saw were wonderful and well worth the 2 month wait we had to get in. We are so blessed to live only about 45 minutes away. We knew before we adopted Max that he had congenital hearing loss (hearing loss present at birth) due to his microtia/atresia. We weren’t 100% positive if his inner ear was working properly, but we found out at his appointment that it is! In fact, his hearing was excellent when given a test at the clinic. He doesn’t have an ear canal (atresia) and his ears are not formed like the majority of people (microtia). He has little ears and I think they are the most adorable ears ever.  How does this impact his hearing? I like to explain it to people like this: “it’s like he has really good ear plugs in all the time”.  He can hear really loud noises, but not enough to where he can learn to speak clearly without some extra help.

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Max’s “funny eye” face that he makes quite often

So, what’s in store for his future? He will get a BAHA (bone anchored hearing aid) in a few weeks! This hearing aid will help him hear normally. It will be attached to a band that he will wear around his head until he is about 5-7 years old. At that time he will have a surgery to implant the BAHA.

You can read more about it here

We are so excited that Max will have the opportunity to hear clearly! Soon after he receives the BAHA, he will begin speech therapy which is provided through our state through a program called Beginnings.

Please pray that our insurance will cover the BAHA. Some insurances do not consider this a “hearing aid” (even though it is called a “hearing aid”…I know, I’m baffled too). Once we get approval through our insurance ,or figure out another way to pay for it, he will be fitted for it and will soon be stylin’ in his BAHA :)

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I really didn’t think I would hear him say “mamma” for quite a while (at least not until after he got his BAHA), but I think he is saying it! Landon has been teaching him and he sure seems like he knows that he is saying. What do you think?!

Two Months

It’s been two months ya’ll….two months since our “little tiger” was first placed in our arms. Two months since this video, capturing a flood of emotions, was taken.

In those short two months, our little boy has been very brave. He left a foster mother (and maybe a foster father and siblings as well) who cared for him for a whole year of his life. He came into a big city to meet foreigners, his mommy and daddy, who looked nothing like the several other caretakers he previously had. I would say our little boy is one of the bravest people I know. At two, he has been through more transitions than me… and yet he still smiles…

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And is so very silly…

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And for being able to hear very little, he sure catches on quick! On Halloween we went to one house and after that he knew EXACTLY what to do….he ran up to each house, knocked  on the door, and started grabbing handfuls of candy with his big brother by his side…

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A brother, I can tell, he loves so much already. Despite a few weeks of almost non-stop fighting, Landon and Max are starting to form a close bond and we often catch them cracking each other up. Life is apparently very funny when you are two.

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You sure are brave Ping Ping and I hope that one day you will know that we are here to stay.

Check out this video of our sweet boy, you can totally get an idea of his personality if you haven’t met him yet.

You Know You Have Double-Two-Year-Olds When…

Before you read this, know that I love being a mommy to Landon and Max and I wouldn’t change it for the world! 

1. You start to tell everyone you have to “go potty” when you need to use the restroom.

2. You open up your purse, and instead of finding a tube of lipstick, you find old goldfish, a diaper (hopefully clean) and a matchbox car or two.

3. Your curtains that you sewed as a young married wife now look like this:

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4. You celebrate like you just won The Superbowl (in overtime) because both the kiddos are in bed, asleep, by 7:30.

5. You fall asleep on the couch at 8:30 because the above actually happened.

6. Having a clean house longer than 20 seconds is a distant memory.

7. A trip alone to the grocery store is as relaxing as taking a cruise.

8. All the treats you have hidden have now disappeared because someone now knows how to make himself taller….

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9. You get aggravated when the awesome tower you built with mega blocks, or that super cool train track you spent hours putting together, gets demolished by said two-years-olds.

10. Your couch cushions now have an “almost permanent home” on the floor, but they sure make those two-year-olds pretty happy, check it out….

Those life changing moments

y’all, I LOVE talking about adoption. I always have, even before taking this journey to bring Max home. I majored in Social Work so I could one day work at an adoption agency (God had other plans, but I was able to do a full-time internship at one). My first job out of college was working at a group home with adolescents who were part of the foster care system.  It is something I have felt a calling to advocate for and to be a part of. I have never once felt like I had to care for children without families who could care for them, I have wanted to do it.  Not everyone has that calling and that is OK! For some reason God put it on my heart, and Dave’s heart, and here we are today parenting Max.

So, when someone brings up adoption, and wants to talk to me about it, I get excited! No, adoption isn’t a  fairy tale story that doesn’t have heartache involved in it, but like I have said many times before, there is so much beauty in it.  It’s one of my “things”, like being an artist. When a stranger asks me about Max, I am so happy to talk to them about his story – I only hold the private areas (that only he should know one day) to myself. Someone who I really look up to once told me “believe the best in people”. I’m not gonna lie, this is something I sometimes have a hard time doing. But with adoption comments, I have a lot of grace for people who may not use the correct terms {for example, when they ask if Landon is my son, too, because Max is adopted}. I have grace for people who make these comments, because at some point or another, I have probably said the same things!

Honestly, we haven’t encountered many of those “can’t believe she said that” comments yet. I cannot think of one person we know who hasn’t been excited and supportive of Max’s adoption. If there is someone, they just haven’t said anything, and I am a ok with that :)

Today though, my heart hurt for Max and Landon and the comments that could potentially hurt them as they grow up. Today, I was thankful that Max couldn’t hear the conversation I had with a woman at a play place. Was she malicious, out to hurt me, with her words? Not at all. And, in a way, I am glad she said what she said because it opened my eyes.

She said, “It took us a year to get pregnant and I thought we might have to adopt.” {after first talking about how beautiful Max is while not acknowledging the handsome stud that Landon is}.

I also want to add that we, too, have struggled with getting pregnant.

 I felt the need to write about this conversation only because I want Max to always know that we wanted, with all our hearts, to adopt HIM. I want Landon to always feel special and cute even though he looks different from his brother.

My eyes were opened to the need for Dave and I to pray over Max and Landon and that God will deafen their ears to lies that Satan may try to whisper to them.

And we will forever and always let Max know that he was yearned for, prayed for and wanted! No, baby boy, we didn’t have to adopt you, we deeply desired to adopt you.

Because the beauty makes it so worth it ya’ll

The last three weeks have flown by. I have been wanting to sit down and write because our adoption journey doesn’t end here – it is just the beginning of us falling more in love with our Max.

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Look at that sweet face! Sometimes I can’t get over how beautiful he is. I love all of his funny facial expressions and how he imitates all of us – mom, dad and big brother.

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You know, when you look at adoption pictures on Facebook and read adoption blogs it is easy to forget how messy and hard adoption is and to only see the “happy ending” after that heartwarming gotcha/family/adoption day ….

I think this is one of the reasons I have had a difficult time sitting down to write – I didn’t know what to write! During the difficult moments I wanted to sit down and share our struggles, but I just couldn’t get the words out. I wanted to write about the hard times to be transparent. Why? because I often compare myself to others and look through blurred lens at other’s live, seeing on the perfect side, and I don’t want anyone to do that with our family. I remember being in China with Max and comparing how easy and well behaved everyone’s newly adopted children were. {Max, on the other hand, was far from quietly sleeping in my Ergo baby carrier!} And when I would sit down to write about the difficulties, I was reminded of all the fear I had from reading about the hard stories and how at times it made me question if we were making the right decision to pursue adoption (it’s scary to think I even had those thoughts - I can’t imagine not having Max in our family just because I read about some random person’s bad experience!!).

 I want people to read this blog and know that we are far from perfect and our life is messy – full of hardships and headaches. I also want people to read our story, and despite the messiness, see the beauty hidden underneath!

Because the beauty makes it so worth it ya’ll.

{so if you are scared to adopt, but feel the calling, don’t let the difficulties stop you, they will only make it so much sweeter}

All that to say, this blog isn’t just about the hardships, or just about the happy pictures you see – it’s about both because I believe the most miraculous beauty is that which comes from hardships.

And this little boy?

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HE is worth it all!

So, what have we been up to lately? Mainly breaking up fights and trying to parent double two year olds. It’s been draining at times, but we are starting to see some improvement!  I am thankful for an iPhone because I have a camera ready to capture those rare, getting-a-long moments. Like when they ride their bicycles together..

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See those cute balloons? Our sweet neighbor, Claudia, brought them to us. She also took the time to clean our messy house for us while we were in China. Let me tell you, it was SO nice to come home to a clean house! We have grown to love their family and are so thankful for kind neighbors.

bicycles winter bootsAnd…. Max has no fear! He will roll down the street on that bicycle like it’s a Harley!

Here they are experiencing their first snack time together. I think this was the first full day home. The looks on their faces both read something like “who is that kid on my territory?!”

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We have celebrated daddy’s birthday with his donut cake tradition! And no, he didn’t turn “0” I just couldn’t find any candles in the midst of jet lag…

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And here we are celebrating my birthday…

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And we have experienced a ton of playground trips and even went to the State Fair as a family of four!

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Haha – Max’s facial expression reveals how he felt about the fair. I don’t think he liked that he wasn’t tall enough to ride the rides. Landon on the other hand LOVED riding his first roller coaster all.by.himself.

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And we have been spending a lot of time at home too…for the first week as least!

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We have learned that “cocooning” (staying at home for about 6ish weeks so your child will connect with you) is individualized. Some kids need it for attachment and some don’t. In the case for Max, he is very attached to us and is a very social little fella. We haven’t traveled overnight yet and have only recently left him in the nursery at church alone (after staying with him for the majority of the time).  I believe every child, adopted or not, is different. For Max, and mommy, doing full blown cocooning wouldn’t be the best situation.

So, all in all, we are  slowly getting into the swing of things as a family of four. From people asking how they can pray to us, friends taking Landon out on “dates” and others providing meals for us, we have felt very loved and are so grateful for everyone’s support!

Family of Four

I’m not gonna lie, the trip home was a mix between excitement and anxiety. I so wanted to be home to be with Landon – it felt so weird being away from him for 19 days (I now have a new respect and sympathy for people who are in the military and have to be away from their family) and we were ready to be a family of four in our own home. Living out of a suitcase and in a hotel room was getting old and we were ready to have Max in a place where he could run around and be a two year old. BUT, the anxiety about traveling for 30 some hours with a two year old was there too. Max is a bundle full of energy and had already let us know on a  previous flight he was not a big fan of flying. So, through lots of prayer and encouragement from friends, we pushed through and made it home!

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Was the flight easy? No. Did Max sleep? Not really, just about 2-3 hours. Did God give me an extra bit of patience and peace to get through it? YES. There were some tantrums, but for the most part we let him just be his silly little self, throw lots of food on the floor and bang the tv screen on the seat in front of him. Yep, we were those parents, don’t judge. Some of the best advice I received: you are never going to see the people you’re on the plane with again.  Did every ounce of my people pleasing self want to get up and apologize to everyone around us and try to make Max sit quietly beside us? Yes. But I didn’t. I knew I had to let it go and let God get us through it. He did, and somehow through it, I think some people were blessed by our little tiger…like the elderly lady he led hands will on the last flight home or the people he played peek a boo with during layovers.

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And the best part? Those 30 some hours got us home to Landon and some pretty amazing friends!

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Yep, you can tell we are pretty exhausted here. But look at the excitement in this little guy’s face when he got to hold his big brother’s hand for the first time…

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Yeah, he thinks Landon is pretty cool.

Check out this video. I think it says it all!

Happy 2nd Birthday, Max!

Dear Max,

My heart is so happy that I get to be with you on your 2nd birthday! I know that I am not the only mother that is thinking of you on this day. I don’t know where your first mother is, but I do know that I will be forever grateful to her for giving life to you. You, my little tiger, are a precious gift from her to me. We have much to learn about each other, but I already know that you are strong and brilliant! You are joyful and light up a room when you walk in, waving and smiling so big. The first day you were put in our arms, we were told you were “shy”. Since then, we have learned that is far from the truth!

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I know the transition into our family will not be easy for you…why would it? Children your age should not have to go through so many transitions and so many caretakers. I promise to do my best to offer you the security that you need and to hold your hand as you navigate yet another new home. I pray that you will soon learn that your daddy desires the same for you. I pray that you will see him and ultimately see a reflection of who God is and how He pursues us no matter how many times we try to push him away.

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I already see that God designed you to be a fighter. I pray that He will use that strong personality to help you continue to overcome mountains that stand in your way. I can already tell that you want to talk, that you want to hear what those around you are saying. I hope and pray that God works a miracle in your life and that you are able to one day.

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You are a survivor. There are things about your early life that I will never be able to tell you, but I do know this, you were prayed for daily from the time we saw your sweet face until now. You have already overcome so much in your short life and I know God sent many people to take care of you until we could become your parents.

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I can personally say that I am a better person since knowing you. God is humbling me and showing me this life is not just about me, but about a much bigger story.

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Max, I love you so much and I hope that one day you will discover an even greater love – the love of Jesus Christ. Happy Birthday son!

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Missing Home

I have never been the type of person to get “homesick” but as I have gotten older things have changed. I miss home and miss Landon like crazy! We have three more nights on the other side of the world and 30ish hours of travel and we will get to hug and kiss our big boy again! We cannot wait to be united with our family of four.

In an ideal world, I would have blogged every night here (that’s what I planned on at least). I am going to try to catch up on the the last few days in one post, but that might be a little difficult cause we have been busy !

We arrived in Guangzhou late Friday night after a very difficult 2 hour flight here. Max did not do well on the flight here so we have been praying daily that he will do much better on the flight home. Please join us in praying for him to be relaxed and to SLEEP a lot. He doesn’t like to be confined in small spaces and saying he is squirmy is an understatement. Here are some of the adjectives the Chinese have used to describe his personality so far: “he like tiger”, “how you say…he excitable”, “he has much spirit”, “he expressive”. We are thankful for his spunky personality as it has helped him fight to survive.

Early Saturday morning we had to take Max to a clinic where his visa picture was taken and he was given a medical check.

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They did basic things, like weigh him and check his temperature. The ENT doctor had two squeaky toys that he used to see if Max could hear anything. Each time he squeezed them Max turned his head in their direction! He cannot hear us when we talk in normal tones, but he does respond to us when we yell his name very loud as well as to high pitched noises. Put it this way, we have become a rather loud family .

On Sunday we went to the Pearl and Jade Market as well as the Chen Clan Academy. Basically, it was a beautiful old school that holds a lot of Chinese history and Folk Art. A fun place for a 2 year old?! Not so much haha.

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Yeah, we pretty much broke all of the above rules ;)

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I love those sweet pictures of Max and Dave. Max has still not allowed Dave to hold him or care for him, but we see little glimpses of Max attaching to Dave. Max loves to “pretend read” and here is he reading some pamphlet to daddy. It is so funny, he will find anything and take his little finger and underline all of the words (English and Mandarin) and act as though he is reading.

On Tuesday, we went to the Zoo! Max LOVED the Zoo – he even threw his empty cookie wrapper in the Panda Bear exhibit. Let’s just say, the Zoo here wouldn’t be open in the US ;) I seriously thought the brown bear might jump the fence, it sure was low enough. Oh yeah, and apparently raccoons are cool enough here to have their own exhibit.

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Max was seriously so cute about he exhibits. Every time we went up a cage, his whole body would tense up and he would start laughing and pointing. Sometimes the animal would be hiding (or maybe even dead?!) and he would still get excited! It was so sweet. I have a feeling we may be making a trip to the Zoo at home pretty soon.

Our visit to Max’s Orphanage

I have been yearning to sit down and write this posts for the past 4 days! Things have been busy around here and we are now in Guangzhou. We said goodbye to Max’s birth city, Kunming, this past Friday. It was bittersweet, but we are ready to be home so we can be united with our Landon!!

The Thursday before we left, we are able to visit the orphanage that Max spent the fist year of his life at. In Kunming, babies usually live at the Children’s Social Welfare Institute (orphanage) until they reach one year of age. Once they reach one year, and are healthy enough, they are moved to the foster village and are placed in a foster home. This foster village is still somewhat of a mystery to us. We did find out that each foster family has a baba and mama (dad and mom) and they may have up to 3 children in the home. We were not allowed to visit the foster village or even see pictures of it. When we asked if we could meet his foster parents, we were told that adoptive families are not allowed to because of privacy. I am hoping this will change in the near future! I think it would answer so many questions that adoptive families have and would help the transition to be a little easier.

Max’s short life has already been one of many transitions,with many different caretakers. When Max was first found (move one), he was taken to the hospital (move two) so that could get “scientific feeding” and get healthy. After that, he was moved to the Kunming Children’s Social Welfare Institute (move three). Here, he was taken care of by very sweet nurses until he became big and strong enough to move to the next floor/nursery – the nursery for healthy infants (move four). We were allowed to get a picture of this nursery!

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I am not sure how long he was here for, but the orphanage director told us he was moved here between 4-6 months of age. Next, he was moved to one more floor, with yet another set of caretakers (move five). At around age one, he was moved to the foster village (move six) which is a few hours away from the orphanage. He was here for the longest – one year in a family environment! I think this where he got so healthy and STRONG! He runs and eats a lot and is very very playful. These are definitely signs of being cared for in a foster care environment vs institutional care. Three days before we came for him, he was moved yet again (move seven) back to the orphanage. And this past Monday, he made his final move into our family! The moves that I am talking about aren’t moves that most babies experience (being dropped up at day care or nursery and later being picked up by their parents). These are moves where he had caretakers and then never saw them again (talk about trauma) . This is why attachment is such a BIG part of post adoption and why many adoptive parents may parent a little different with an adopted child vs. a biological child. This is also why Max keeps a close eye on me and sometimes gets extremely scared if I am not close by.

I am so glad we were able to visit the orphanage and meet many of his caretakers. They all remembered him and would come up and call him “Ping Ping” and try to get him to smile. I don’t think he remembered many of them since he spent the last year with his foster family, but I was reassured that our daily prayer was answered: that God would send people to love and care for him until we could. As we were leaving the orphanage, one of his caretakers was just coming in to work so we were able to ask her for a picture!

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We were only allowed to take 2 pictures inside his orphanage and they were in designated spots. Overall the orphanage was very nice. It was clean, big,and there were toys (although none of the children were playing with them) . Supposedly it was built by a company located in Beijing. I think this is big – that China is starting to work within their country to make things better for their orphans. I hope that one day they will get to the place where more people will adopt domestically. I think their culture is changing, but there are so many people that there may always be a need for international adoption. For example, in Kunming alone, there are 4 million people. Kunming is a smaller city in comparison to Beijing, Guangzhou, etc. Raleigh, NC just hit about 1 million people. That is a big difference !

Here are a few other pictures of the outside of the orphanage…

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After some digging and some investigation by our driver, we were able to find the exact location that Max was found. Not everyone is able to find their locations and our guide told us “you very lucky family”. I think it was just another little gift from God. We took some videos and pictures that we will share with Max one day if he wants to see them.

This day was hard, but it gave us more of an understanding of where Max has been and how difficult yet another move will be on him. I promise, we are here to stay Ping Ping :)