Saturday, December 28, 2013

Finally...PICTURES!

I know this is the post you all have been waiting for.  We just got to Guangzhou and my VPN is finally working, so I'll be posting more photos, I hope.  Internet was spotty at best in Zhengzhou and the VPN I had set up wasn't working at all, though J. somehow managed to post a bunch.  I know the formatting is weird because of the app I'm using to post, so sorry about that.   Here are the pics: 

Our first glimpse of A. in real life....outside the civil affairs office. 
Getting to know A....inside the civil affairs office. 
Back in the room
More back in the room 
The hotel lobby.  The Christmas tree and "Lao ye ye" aka Santa
Some of the kids from A's orphanage.  We had to go to the city where he lived as a baby to apply for his passport.  This was a four plus hour trip for all of us, one way.  It was a long day and we got there at nap time.  As you can see, some of the kids were *not* asleep!   
Some of the selections at the local Walmart.  I could have wandered around in there for hours.  So many interesting things! 

Shaolin Temple.  This was an amazing side trip into the Songshan Mountains.  I'd highly recommend it if you're ever in Henan.  My middle son is convinced that he wants to come back when he's a bit older to study at one of the Kung Fu schools in the town there.  
A was having a tantrum because it was my turn to carry him, not his dad's turn.  I was trying to distract A.  with "LOOK!  Birds!"  and some of the monks saw what was happening and took pity on me.  They gave us some walnuts which they were cracking to eat/share with the birds.  Worked like a charm!  Tantrum over. 
More views of the Temple
One of the reasons for our last minute travel (TA on a Monday, tickets booked on Tuesday night, left Saturday at 7AM) was A.'s birthday!  We made it in time and we got to share birthday and birthday cake together! 
Our first glimpse into the quieter side of A.'s personality.  He matched up all the animal cards on the floor, showing me each one as he went along. 
Street scene in Zhengzhou
There are literally thousands of mopeds/scooters/motorized bikes/ old school bikes on the sidewalks and streets, sometimes in terrifying traffic. I think I saw three people wearing helmets, including toddlers who ride on the front or back of their parent's bike. 
Our caucasian children are quite a hit here.  This woman approached us in the train station and told us about her daughters (she has two!) approximately ages 2 and 4.  She showed us pictures before suggesting that they would make beautiful wives for our older sons.  
Our brave travel companions, my mom and her BF.  We took the bullet train from Zhengzhou to Guangzhou today.  It was amazing to just look out the window and take it all in...between diaper changes, tantrums, chatting with fellow passengers, stopping for photo-ops and corralling the older boys who were bored at times.  
Scenery from the train.  It's really hard to get a clear photo when you're going 300 km/hour.  Sports mode doesn't really cut it! 
Cuteness, see below. 
More scenery.  Three people walking in the middle of the pic. give you some sense of scale. 
Instant celebrity. 
A selfie.  Wow, so I look tired!  And OLD!  Just keeping it real, folks.  
More cuteness below.  A. crawled into his dad's lap to wake him up and was not impressed when his dad didn't automatically want to get up and play. 





Wednesday, December 25, 2013

J's dream journal: night of Dec 24 - the day after "gotcha"

I dreamt last night that i was hunting in familiar woods.  It was early winter as the forest floor was covered with leaves and i could see far through the trees which were barren.  In the distance i saw two small animals jumping and playing.  I crouched behind a fallen tree, put down my shotgun, and got out my binoculars.  I saw a standard red fox romping with a jet black fox.  I was excited to have stumbled upon such a scene as well as the fact that they hadn't seen or winded me and ran off.  I picked up my camera to get some pictures, but as the animals grew closer, the exotic black fox became a common black labrador dog.  I thought it strange as i was sure it was a much more exotic creature.  A man emerged from the woods, the red fox was gone, and he called his lab to him and they kept walking.

some thoughts and Q + A

(J again)

1) to my young friend who was disconcerted that we would be "missing" christmas because we were to be in China: let me assure you, they do have christmas in China.  In fact they have unabashed, unironic, guilt-free, secular commercial christmas and nothing else.  There is no backlash against the crass commercialism of the holiday as there is in the United States.  All they have is the crass commercial chirstmas and they have it everywhere - carols and trees and nutcrackers are inescapable.  Trying to get back to our room the other night my two younger sons and i (i have three now!) had to run the gauntlet of a stocking capped chinese children's choir warbling carols to a choregraphed light and sound show. They were blocking the stairs to our room so at a pause in the choreography we tried to as politley as we could to basically squeeze through their show.  Didi and I laughed hysteracilly about the absurdity of this (he is only 6 but he knows when something is bizarre) as we stumbled back to our room.  Maybe China can be a bastion for all the Fox News, mandatory "Merry Christmas" types.  As a secular Jewish family, we find all of this pretty funny.

2) to everyone who wants to know ... soooo ... is your new adopted Chinese son (I'll call him A) as much of a character as he seemed in all the photos and videos of him spazzing out, singing at the top of his lungs, and basically demanding center stage at all times?  In short: yes.  When we arrived at the government office to meet and take custody of him, we were the last family among the Americans who were meeting their new children their that day.  As we exited the van and were getting ready to climb the steps to the building, he busted out of the door with his nanny in hot pursuit.  We got him bck inside and plopped down on the floor in front of the door.  He went and got a small riding toy (despite his joy, putting a little safe distance between us - I get it buddy) and rode back to us on the floor where he proceeded to unpack his small backpack which presumably had been bought for him for this big trip.  He waved a piece of Chinese candy in my face and i feigned expressive astonishment at such an amazing thing.  He liked this and pulled out a pack of chewing gum at which i put my hands to my head in "doh!" fashion as if to say "Holy crap!!  For real??"  He thought this was hysterical and by this time the whole family had crowded around.  All the other American families receivng children seemed to be sitting quietly and calmly on the floor reading books to their docile cherubs.  We were screaming and dancing and singing in hyperbolic exageration as he whipped out pieces of junk food from his pack.  He never stopped laughing ... or moving!!  We are in such a deep debt of gratitude to all his caregivers at Beijing's Angel House for they obviously prepared him so well for our coming.  At various times over the last couple of days with him our guide has told us that he is babbling things like "My new brothers!  My new daddy!" and "I am going to take a train and subway to my new mommy and daddy's house."  He seems to have known what to expect as well as a 3 year old could.  And when we left the office that day for the first time with him, he strained from my wife's arms and wanted Daddy.  Despite the fact that he had some male caregivers at Angel House, perhaps a father is a more exotic treat than a mother for a child who is an orphan.  He rides my shoulders, insists i take him to the bathroom, LOVES playing my guitar, and had a fit when i took Gege and Didi downstairs for dinner tonight and left L in the room bathing and prepping him for bed.  My older boys and I were siting in the lobby restaurant and I heard a scream of "Daddy!!" which echoed off the marble (yes marble.  lots of marble) in the lobby of the hotel as L brought him to eat with us - he wasn't having this going to bed in the room while we were hanging out downstairs stuff.

3) Another question we got a lot prior to the trip: So, are you learning Chinese?  and my answer was always "No, he will learn english."  BUT i have learned some useful Chinese - Gege and Didi for older and little broher.  Now that our previous Didi is the middle brother he like to go by Gedi or Dige but i'm pretty sure those aren't proper Chinese conractions.  Forgive me - this is all phonetic and probably wrong at that, but we also say "How hi ze!" which i think means "Good boy!"  We use that to offset our copious use of "Bu how!" which roughly translates to "What the hell were you thinking?"  We all screamed that in unison when - in a bid for attention - A decided to open the van door on a crowded Chinese highway today.  "Schway" is water which he uses to tell us he is thirsty (or just wants to pouch some water in his cheeks in order to spit all over us) or wants to see the fish in the pond in the hotel lobby.  

4) We are seeing some pretty run-of-the-mill attention seeking behaviors.  Once we get home and get on routine, we will nip these in the bud.  We have already began - each bite of food must be preceeded by a "more please" and accompanied by an approximation of the sign.  After he gets the item, he is prompted to reciprocate with a "Sheshe Mama" or "Sheshe Papa" (oh that's another chinese word i learned - it means "thank you.")  When the concierge in the hotel let me know that what he was screaming wildly in the lobby to all that could hear was basically "I'm gonna shit myself!!"  i waved the sign for "toilet" manically in his face and made him imitate it as we ran for the head.  He has begun to more consistently use the sign to let us know (fingers crossed on that one!).  If left to feed himself he will stuff until he pukes - again, not too surprising for a kid who lived in institutional care.  We make sure to feed him each bite and cut him off when the amount of food he has ingested exceeds our guestimate of his carrying capacity.  He usually ends a meal with the old "I'm gonna shit myself!" so yeah, we are getting into something of a routine ...

5) No worries about inhibited attachment but we will certainly keep our eye on the possibility for indiscriminate attachment.  He is charming and seduces everyone within ear shot.  In the car he has our guide and driver cracking up at the ridiculous things he says in Chinese.  He knows how to get a laugh and loves to work the crowd.  This is certainly functional survival behaior for an abadoned child, but now that he has been "found," it will be important to imprint on him whom he belongs with and whom he must go to.  Again, we are so indebted to his caregivers at Angel House.  On our "gotcha day," after we feigned thrill and astonishment as he emptied his backpack of all its junk food, he zoomed off on his toy car, flipped it over, and busted his lip.  I came up behind him to scoop him up and he clung to me and buried his head in my shoulder.  He had known us in person all of 10 mns at this point.  My sense his that he spent a lot of time over the past year being shown our picture and being talked to about us and what it means to have a family.  He runs to us, he calls out for us, he cries when he can't see his two Gege, and he even had his first "I don't wanna go to bed" temper tantrum tonight.  L did what she does best - she held him and soothed him and held him some more and ... he fell asleep.

"from the sky we look so innocent and brave" - Jason Isabel


(this is J posting)

Its 1:30AM local time on Dec 24 here in Zangzhou China.  I write you from our hotel room - an American chain but far nicer than any hotel I would generaly spring for myself  Don't even get me started on the differences between this time and the last time I was in China back in 1996.  That was the trip where I snuck illegally into Tibet by myself, visited monasteries, slipped small photos of the Dalai Lama to monks who furtively slipped them in their robes and flashed me a grin, and unsuccessfully tried to avoid the Chinese police.  Laura was so releived when my arrest from that trip did not preclude my entry this time!!  Things are very different now.

So much has happened - a 33 hour travel "day" from Baltimore to DC to Newark to Beijing to Zangzhou.  Our older boys - 8 and 6 years old - were STELLAR.  Seriously - the 14 hour flight from Newark to Beijing produced not one peep of complaint.  What was there to complain about?  They had unlimited video games, TV, and movies in their seats and food was constantly being served to them.  Our oldest son (I will call him Gege which is "older brother" in Chinese) was in absolute heaven as he lingered over his airplane dinner for 2 hours, perused his kindle, and watched movies.  I was never a slow eater and envy that he is.  We are always rushing him at home to "Finish up!" and "Put that book down and eat!" due to life's hectic schedule.  When they came around to collect the meal trash on the plane, my first instinct was to hustle him along, but i caught myself and said "Buddy, you have damn near all the time in the world.  Enjoy it."  And Gege did.

Even our often needy and busy Didi ("little brother" in Chinese) did fine.  And they both slept the last 4 hours or so of the flight.  Aside from turning around to catch him swinging from the latch on the emergency exit door at 30K+ feet (WTF!!!), he did great.  

The Beijing airport was huge - we took a train from the international terminal to domestic  transfers and then a bus to our appropriate domestic terminal.  Huge.  It was night time and looked like we were in the middle of some pea-soup fog blown in from the coast.  But in Beijing I believe that is just how the air is - almost unbreathably polluted.  Even here in the relatively smaller (though still hosting 6 million + people) town of Zangzhou, the sun only shone yesterday through thick haze.  Our guide - Tina - said it had been cloudy recently but my friend Jack (who accompanied us on this trip with his partner, my mother in law) are betting that this is not weather but pollution.  Tell the anti-government types at home to come over here an see what it is like without an EPA ... but i digress.

So we got in here late - the boys' bodies told them it was morning and they were all fired up.  After rallying through some fatigue during our transfer to Zangzhou from Beijing, it caught up with me and I was in physical pain, fall apart tired.  We all got to sleep.

I went to bed feeling more anxious and fearful about what we were doing here than i had felt prior.  I figured the ridiculous fatigue was exacerbating my anxiety.  When i awoke i was still tired and some of the anxiety abated after coffee and breakfast.  

I practiced picking up cheerios at the table using chopsticks with Didi.  By the way - Chinese honey-nut Cheerios are THE BEST.  I don't know what they put in them but they beat the pants off the ones at home.

We saw other American families at breakfast who traveled in a group here to adopt.  In the elevator back up to our rooms, a friendly guy from Tennessee introduced himself and wished us luck.  For some reason his soothing southern accent made me feel better and i felt a little less alone.

Which is perhaps a good segway to explain why i chose to entitle this blog post with a line from the song "Flying over water" from the brilliant Jason Isabel album Southeastern.  The "we" in the song is all of us - humanity.  It all looks so orderly and neat from 30 some odd thousand feet.  Isabel goes on to describe the reality of civilization as "daddy's little empire built by hand and built by slaves" - which is as true of my beloved (yes i actually wrote that) home country of the United States as it is of China and frankly anywhere else that modern humans have touched.  The song's chorus is "take my hand, we're over land, i know flying over water makes you cry" ... what made Isabel's traveling companion so emotional?  Was it the "great oceanic" feeling Freud referenced in the face of the infinite?  Was it the same thing i felt that late summer day in northern Quebec 20 years ago when - after almost 3 weeks paddling down the remote Harricana River - upon entering the mouth of the Hannah Bay, I looked north to see nothing but open ocean sweeping through Hudson's Bay into the Arctic?  That feeling that automatically, unconsciously had me put in  a strong paddle stroke to shore?  Perhaps so.  Because we are small and finite, the ocean is vast and huge, the water is cold and all we really have is each other.  And faith that that might be enough.

So all of that to say that a friendly guy from Tennessee assuaged some of my anxiety about adopting our little boy from China.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Miscellaneous

This is getting real!  We bought our plane tickets last night and our passports were picked up today at the Chinese Embassy.  Thank goodness they all came through and there were no problems!  If you ever have to use a courier in Washington, D.C., I wholeheartedly recommend The Assistant Stork.  Steve is awesome!  I have no idea what kind of magic he worked, but I am so pleased.  

Our house is topsy turvy right now with packing and just general trying-to-get-ready-for a-long-trip.  It is messy!  Well, messier than usual.  I own a small business so I am also scrambling to get everything in order there so that things will run fairly smoothly in my absence.  

I'm off to do some bookkeeping and laundry and hopefully sit a minute or two on the couch.  Tomorrow it's packing inventory and errands to REI and Target and a few hours in the office as well.  Wish me luck- I'll need it to get through the long to-do list!  


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

TA, baby!! TRAVEL APPROVAL

We got TA yesterday as I was on the phone with our agency rep.  She was just telling me that it hadn't arrived yet and that the DHL man usually comes in the afternoon.  Then he walked into the office as we were talking!  She opened the envelope and our TA was right there on top.  It's hard to believe after all this time.  I would be shaking my head if I weren't so busy.  

I got up really early this morning and drove to D.C. to drop off our visa applications at the Chinese Embassy.  I had planned to meet up with a courier....and thank goodness because they didn't accept my mom and her boyfriend's passport and visa application because they aren't part of the adoptive family.  If you're traveling on a tourist visa they need to see your airline ticket or reservation.  Doesn't that seem backward?  Wouldn't you want to make sure you can get into the country before you spend thousands of dollars to buy a plane ticket?!  Nevermind that two different couriers told me that it wouldn't be a problem.  I ended up handing off the passports and applications to the courier who assured me that he could take care of it.  Fingers crossed!  

As I left the embassy and checked my email, I had a new message that we got the consulate appointment we had requested.  This is great news because we'll get to our son before his birthday but also before he has to leave his foster care facility and return to his SWI.  Thank G-d!  This means that we leave on Saturday!  Today is Tuesday, so there is just so.much.to.do. between now and then.   I am so glad that my mother-in-law offered to have a cleaning crew come in and clean up right before we get home!! What an awesome offer-  one less thing to worry about!  

Today has been a frenzy and I'm tired but I'm sure I won't be able to sleep tonight.  *sigh*  I packed for four people, made/received literally about 50 calls and emails to/from different travel agents and our adoption agency, set up a VPN, held the mail, did laundry, emailed coaches and teachers and made a trip to Target.  I have another phone date at 10:30 tonight then I will be grateful to climb into bed.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Heartbreak and waiting on TA

I don't even know where to start to catch you up on what's been going on since I last posted here.  On one hand, life goes on and things have been routine, even boring.  Kids have gone to school, soccer, dental appointments, play dates and birthday parties.  We've had two birthday parties for our boys which were totally different but just right for each of them- one was small, mellow, quiet and the other was big, rowdy and loud.  We've also been preparing for our trip to China.  I've been picking up small things that I know we'll need for the trip for a month or two now.    For folks who are keeping track, we had article 5 pick up on November 26 so TA should come literally any day!  Tomorrow, maybe?  We are so, so anxious after all the hang-ups we've had with timing to get the show on the road, get to China and meet our son!!! Hold on sweetie, we're coming as fast as we can!  

Since we're taking the boys to China with us, they each now have their own electronics.  Our oldest will be fine, he could probably put his nose in a book when we leave the house and not look up until we land in China.  Our other son bounces off the walls at times so that should be really interesting on a 12-16 hour flight! (depending on layovers)  I never thought I'd be the mom who willing buys electronic gadgets for her kids- anyone who know me knows I don't like that stuff!  But it will be worth it a hundred times over if it helps the kids be better traveling companions.  And, of course, they are "learning" toys so I can delude, I mean convince, myself that they are not totally rotting their brains by staring at the little screens for hours.  I am *so* not looking forward the the electronic detox when we come home.  It's gonna be bad. LOL.  

The biggest news, what I actually sat down to write about, is really hard to talk about.  As I start to type it, I have tears in my eyes and still can't believe it's true.  But it is, horribly true.  It will make our trip so bittersweet.  Just four days after getting our LOAs for both kids, we got a late night call from our agency's China coordinator.  I think the first question out of my mouth was, "Are our kids okay?"  It wasn't a referral call, so I knew it wasn't good.  That's when she told me that our daughter was "no longer available for international adoption."  Apparently there was a lot of back and forth as our agency coordinator had spoken with the SWI director earlier that day and was repeatedly told what they thought she wanted to hear.  It's a really rare situation for a family to get LOA and then not be able to bring their child home and this had happened to another family about a year before because China believed that the child was too sick to travel.  I believe in that situation that the story was only partially true and for some other reason, the child was "not available."   

It turns out that our daughter was probably adopted domestically.  This is good for her, I suppose, since she will get to stay in China and I don't think she ever knew about us.  As horrible as it is to write or to say, I hope she didn't.  

She is loved and will be loved.  But let me tell you folks, it really, really sucks for us.  We have all cried for hours over this loss, including our children.  Our oldest, her biggest advocate, took it particularly hard.  He sobbed, body wracking sobs, for hours upon hours after we told him.  He said, "I'll never have a chance to love her."  All I could say through my tears was, "You already do.  That's why it hurts so much."  He is the sweet boy who from the moment he saw her picture said to me, "Mama, you have to persuade Papa to bring her home."   My sweet, sensitive boy.    

We spent seven months planning for her, making room in our hearts and life and home.  The kids have lots of family pictures drawn with two new siblings.  It's been one of the most heartwrenching experiences of my life.  At every turn, there is a reminder of her.  The little trampoline I look at every time I go downstairs to do the laundry.  I bought it because in her file her two favorite activities were stated as "the trampoline" and "going outside".  Last week while rearranging the bathroom closet, I found a little cup with her name on it.  I didn't have the heart to do anything with it, so I pushed it back to a dark corner of the closet where another day, it might not be so painful to get rid of or put away.  We still have her pictures up on the fridge because I can't even bear to take them down.  I did pack up all the clothing, hair bows and girly stuff I bought for her and that was pretty awful.  I won't give up hope that some day I'll have a daughter, so I am not ready to get rid of it yet.  It's waiting in the attic, just in case.  We have had losses before but even my husband had never experienced one like this before.  "She was so real to me," he said.   

I should say that of the friends and family we've shared this with, people have been mostly very supportive and for that I am thankful. I've had a lot of nice emails and people reaching out to let me know how sorry they are.  Our agency has been as supportive as they can be.  If you're unsure of what to say in a situation like this, a simple "I'm sorry" will suffice- better not to ignore the elephant in the room.  

And, yet, like I said when I started this post, life goes on.  "The living must go on living" is a phrase that certainly comes to mind, even though it's awkwardly untrue in this situation.  It feels for all the world like a death.  We will surely mourn our daughter's loss for a very long time to come.  She will always be in our hearts and she will probably never know how many people love her a world away.  Be well, sweet Lucy, live well.