Friday, August 16, 2013

Dinner With Friends

This past weekend was my high school class reunion – Thirty Years. 
That one hurt. 

I felt the first shock of this a few years ago.  I was hanging out with some athletic friends so I casually let it drop that I used to be able to swim 100 yards in 1:01 (as in one minute and one second).  At this point, I might swim 100 yards in 1:30, if there was a shark on my tail.  Of course, rather than revel in past glories (which was my POINT), my friends had to "focus on the now" and ask why I couldn’t swim that fast TODAY.  So, I had to answer that my 1:01 time was “30 years ago, when I was 15.”   Unfortunately, that phrase, “thirty years ago, when I was fifteen….thirty years ago, when I was fifteen,” played over and over again in my head during the entire morning and for the next several days until I was ready to shriek.  Since then, I’m afraid I’ve gotten even older. 

The whole Thirty Year thing must have been painful for everyone else too, since out of a class of a few hundred students, only 80 people showed up and a handful of them were spouses.   My own husband missed my reunion, by the way.   He had a triathlon on Saturday in Richmond and another on Sunday in Baltimore.  After we found out about the reunion date, he hemmed and hawed for a full week before I put him out of his misery and told him to go do the races.  This way, I got to torment him about neglectfully missing my reunion (which I really enjoy), with the added bonus that I knew I’d have a better time without him.  He wouldn’t have known a single soul and I would have been torn between talking to him vs. talking to my old friends.  It was better this way.  Shortly after I let it drop that he was not coming, the spouses of two of my closest friends backed out as well.  Things were coming along nicely.

The second obstacle to my stag night out was the problem of extracting myself from my children.  The reunion was in my hometown, so I planned to leave them with Granny and Grandpa for the evening.  This should have been easy.  They LOVE their grandparents.  But, the night of the reunion, my kids suddenly got cold feet.  I don’t know if it was the unfamiliar town, the unfamiliar house or the phase of the moon, but they sure didn’t let me go easily.  I had to promise to keep my cell phone ON, call as soon as I got to the banquet hall and call again as I was driving home.  You would think I was leaving for an arctic expedition rather than a three hour dinner, but I did manage to extract myself and drive, alone, to a Saturday evening out with my girlfriends for the first time in….well, in a long time. 

This was so much fun!  No wonder people go to dinner together!  I sat with my closest friends from high school and it was wonderful to re-connect.  The only damper on the evening was that everyone looked so….old.  Most of the men I didn't remember anyway, but I remember my girl friends and the sad truth is that we are all thirty years older and there's  just no getting away from those subtle signs of aging.  If you don’t believe me, ask the people in Hollywood.  They will back me up on this one.  If you’ve seen any recent pictures of Meg Ryan, you’ll know what I am talking about—and bear in mind:  SHE HAD THE SURGERY.  It’s just a little shocking to see a roomful of women that you knew once as bubbly eighteen year olds re-appear thirty years later as bubbly forty-eight year olds.  We may still be beautiful and fun to be around, but we are not still eighteen. 

I saw a documentary once called, “Forever Fourteen” about two girls who were abducted as teenagers by the same man.  One was murdered and the other lived.  The survivor wrote and produced the documentary.  The point of the title was that the girl who was killed will be “forever fourteen.” No one can enjoy life with her or have memories of her beyond that age.  It’s one of those haunting documentaries that I keep thinking back to when I ponder the progress of life. 

I realized as I drove back to my parents that, even without a death, memories of my friends from high school were along the lines of “forever eighteen,” because that is when I saw everyone last.  Now, thanks to the reunion, and that fact that life rudely goes on,  new images, more along the lines of “forever forty-eight” will be replacing the old ones.  That is, until 2023, when I’ll be facing “forever fifty-eight” and the final years of all this alliteration.  It only gets better. 

As I was pondering this, my cell phone rang.  It was my daughter, Reilly, sobbing into the phone and wondering why I wasn’t home yet and WHY I didn’t answer when they called TWICE before.  Sadly, I had left my cell phone ON, but on vibrate and in my purse…. Oops.  Reilly was too distraught to talk so my dad got on the phone and amid substantial background wailing, he explained.  They had called a few minutes into the dinner because Harper needed a diaper change and no one could find the diaper stash.  Sadly, I didn’t answer the phone.  They had called a second time because Ruslan had knocked over a cabinet in the kitchen, causing a terrific crash and sending Harper and Laura into a tizzy.  Grandpa tried to help calm everyone down by dishing out ice cream, only to be reminded later (and apparently none too gently) that Harper and Laura are lactose intolerant.  The second call was because they couldn’t find the lactase tablets that I keep on hand, just in case.  Sadly, again, I didn’t answer.  Then Reilly got back on the phone to tell me, between her sobs, that Laura was crying in her bed and Harper was crying so much that she threw up and she just wouldn’t stop and ask me again WHY I had to go out to dinner!?!  Then Paul, my 14 year old son, got on the phone and quietly said, “Mom, you left me like a lame zebra in a pack of hyenas.”

At this point, I was pretty much in the driveway and I could hear the crying even without the phone.  I hung up and headed toward the door.  All the kids circled around me as I walked in, trying to touch me like I was some sort of a god and if they could only make physical contact, all would be well.  This is no small matter when you are talking about eight kids. 
My dad, who was sitting in his chair, hiding behind a newspaper, looked up as we all swarmed into the living room and said, “WELL, I Hope You’re Happy.”

This is now my new favorite thing to say when everything falls to pieces.    

The next morning, my husband sent me a text.  He finished eigth place in Richmond and third in Baltimore.   After the Baltimore race, he went to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the grave site of our friend, Bruce.  Every time he has a race near there, he stops by and puts his metal from the race on Bruce’s grave stone.  

My next thought was that, "Bruce is forever forty-one."  ...I won’t be complaining about class reunions anymore.  The grey hairs are much less painful than the gravestone. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

And Now We Are Home, Thank God.

So, Friday morning, June 7, we ate an early breakfast at the opulent buffet/coffee bar at the Guangzhou Marriott.  Our fifth plane ride of the trip (Gunagzhou to Beijing) was scheduled to leave at 9am, landing in Beijing at 1:00 with a six hour layover in Beijing before our next flight to Washington, DC.  I was a little worried, since a six hour layover with kids is sure to be painful.  But, as it turned out, all that worry was over nothing!  Our plane was delayed in Guangzhou.  They did this to us once before, in Nanning, but they announced on the plane that there was a delay, turned on the AC and served us a meal to pass the time.  THIS TIME, there was none of that senseless pampering.   After we boarded the plane, we sat in silence in the sweltering heat, waiting for takeoff.  About an hour into the wait, my shirt was so soaked and stinky, I texted my friend Cindy (who was picking us up in DC) and asked her to bring me a clean shirt.  A few minutes later, they turned on the AC, but it was murder.  Thank God we adopted girls.  If we had boys, I think everyone on the plane would have suffered a breakdown.

Once we landed in Beijing, we had to get our luggage and take everything to a different part of the airport to re-check in, re-check our luggage and pass through customs again for the international flight home.  The airport was a mad house.  We waited in line for an hour for one elevator.  By the time we got to our gate, we had only thirty minutes wait before they started boarding.  So much for the six hour layover!

The flight home was thirteen hours.  We left at 7pm Beijing time and landed about 8pm Washington DC time.  It was glorious.  I didn’t realize how much I missed America until I nestled into my padded blue seat, buckled up and saw the unavoidable TV screen 18 inches from my face.  Once I got a diet coke in my hand, I was home free!  (Note to the reader:  there was coke in China, but no diet coke—only in Beijing.  Considering the body mass of most Chinese, the diet version is unnecessary.)  

We landed at 8pm, but by the time we got through customs and drove home, it was well after 11pm USA time.  This was 11am China time, so rather than force the issue, we let the kids all bundle together in the living room and watch movies until they fell asleep.  NO one slept much.  I was so glad to be home, it was all I could to not to lay on the carpet and roll in it like a dog.  Thank you God, for my home!  I love it here! 

People often ask how we can handle having a houseful of kids with special needs and not go crazy.  One of the answers to this is that we have great friends and family who help us out all the time.  Our refrigerator was gloriously stocked with food on our arrival and we had a steady stream of meals coming from our church, bible study, neighbors and friends for almost a month.  Another friend of ours mowed our lawn, built an awesome set of bunk beds for the girls room while we were gone, painted them and set them up for our arrival.  We have four girls in one bedroom at the moment and without those beds, it would have been really tight. 

We also have babysitters that our kids LOVE and are able and willing to come at a moment’s notice.  The same Cindy who picked us up at the airport had been living at our house with Ruslan and Will for the past month.  I don’t know what we would do without her.   She is so much fun to be around, I don’t think Ruslan and Will missed us at all.  She also cleaned our house from top to bottom, waxed the floors, washed every bit of cotton fiber in the house (including the doll clothes), and repaired things I didn’t even know were broken.  I don’t think my home has been this clean since the last time we traveled and had a house sitter.   Some people talk about moving every few years to ensure proper purging.  I need to adopt every few years so that my house gets a good cleaning.

So, you may have noticed that it’s been a few weeks/months since my last posting.  This is because we have had a rough time settling in.  It’s not as bad as those first few weeks with Ruslan and Will, but it has been busy.  We all spent the first week in the throes of jet lag.  We had 13 hours to shake off, so it took a few days.  We also had a stomach bug make its way through the family.  This was somewhat of an irony, since we’d just spent a virus/bacteria free month in CHINA, but overall, I’m grateful we were sick in the states, with a washer and dryer handy, rather than in China, where I was doing laundry in the bathtub.  Another complication was that both QingBei and ZiXuan regressed in their potty training.  I know this was typical, but that knowledge didn’t make it any less annoying.  All in all, it’s safe to say I spent the month of June swimming in a river of my kids bodily fluids.  I think my couch cushions have been on the back porch as many days as they have been in the living room.  

A final complication was that Bill has been travelling a good bit since we got back. He had a few triathlons. The first was on June 8 (yes, our first day back), which made me happy, because I get to call him a lunatic over this.  He also had a bunch of business trips/classes that he had to attend so he was gone for about half of June, with triathlons on the weekends.  It’s better this way.  There is always a few months of insanity when we first adopt and he doesn’t really deal well with chaos.  He is a wonderful, amazing man and I am lucky to be married to him, but there are some situations that he just needs to bypass entirely.   On the flight home, I was able to watch a few episodes of The Big Bang Theory that I’d heard so much about.  Of course, they were rated “G” episodes, since this was a plane.   I found out later that the show is not all I had hoped for.  However, if you have ever watched it, I can explain the situation fully using their handy visual aide:  I married Sheldon. 

Things are quieting down now.  The girls have settled into our routine and we are deep in a maze of medical/dental/physical therapy appointments.  Laura has an CAT scan on August 2.  After that, we’ll start scheduling the surgeries.  I should post again in about a month.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Last Days in China - Twenty Two to Twenty Four

Most of that last week in Guangzhou is a blur.  This is partly because it rained a lot –really rained, like in a tropical climate.  So, while the mornings were nice, we were stuck inside most afternoons.  Another reason was that Bill was working almost non-stop to prepare for yet another government audit of his work records.  We didn’t mind him working because most of the family was wiped out, so sitting in the hotel room was not so bad, but it doesn’t make for great blogging.

On Tuesday, we went to a shopping center near the coast and The White Swan Hotel (just about every adoptive family stays there while in Guangzhou).  It is being refurbished, so we were at a local Marriott, but we could visit the shopping centers!  The whole complex is on an island that was once occupied by Great Britain and the stores all had plaques explaining the year they were built (early 1900’s) and their original purpose (banks, embassies etc.).  It was interesting, but our kids had no intention of letting us hang out and read plaques.  Reilly and Sharon were there with one purpose:  to prepare for tea time.  We left China with four distinct Chinese tea sets (four girls, four tea sets) and seven Chinese dresses, each a different size (to account for the neighbors).  Everything was so cheap, it was hard to say, “no.” 

On Wednesday, the whole crew from our hotel went to the “Oath-Taking Ceremony” at the American Consulate.   About a dozen families from our hotel crammed into a bus and drove to the embassy together.  Now that we had both QingBei and ZiXuan, there were eight in our family and we took up the whole back of the bus.  Therefore, I couldn’t really hear the interpreter all that well.  She had a soft voice and despite the microphone, it was a lost cause.  Even the parents in the middle of the bus were making eye contact, trying to see if anyone else knew what she was saying.  I finally just stopped listening, figuring that eventually I’d get the information I needed. …This was a mistake. 

The American Consulate was on the fourth floor of a huge building in downtown Guangzhou.  Our interpreter started collecting everyone’s bags in the first floor lobby, so my kids handed over their backpacks etc. and I thought all was well.  What I didn’t hear on the bus was that we couldn’t take ANYTHING into the Consulate besides our passport and one bottle/diaper per child.  When I got to the metal detector/scanner on the fourth floor and handed over my fanny pack, the whole operation came to a grinding halt.  Bill ended up collecting my phone, fanny pack and another couples things (who, it’s only fair to note, were sitting in the front of the bus) and running back to the first floor to find our interpreter and  have her hold it all.  Of course, he couldn’t find her and ended up going to a bank and paying them $20 to hold everything behind their counter.   Then, since he wasn’t with our group anymore and didn’t have an interpreter, the Chinese who were guarding the elevator wouldn’t let him back onto the fourth floor without a considerably heated conversation.   

He finally found us, only to realize that he was better off in the lobby.  For reasons which are still unclear, the American officials crammed all of us into a small waiting room for about half an hour.  Just as the noise was becoming intolerable, an adolescent American came over to the bullet proof window and had all of us raise our right hand and swear that all the information on our paperwork was true to the best of our knowledge.   That was the Oath-Taking Ceremony.  I’m afraid I laughed out loud over this. We’ve been handing them money and paperwork for over 15 months now and signing the same oath at the end of every document.  If we were going to lie….oh, never mind.  We got our kids Visa packets and headed back to the hotel. 

On Thursday, we went to a huge park right across the street.  The middle of the park was the center of the original city.  There was a huge central building/temple and parts of the original city wall.  Inside the building there was a museum including a map of the city with different city walls outlined in lights showing the city growth over the centuries.  It was really cool.  It would have been a great morning if it wasn’t for the Chinese staring at my kids.  

At one point, I was planning to climb to the top of yet another tower with Bill.  We left the kids at the bottom of some outside stairs and thought we’d just run to the top of the tower and get some pictures.  At the landing, just outside the entrance, I turned around to check on them.  They were all huddled in a corner of the stair way and there were three Chinese men standing well within their personal space and staring at my kids as though they held some life-changing truth within their eyes.  I rushed back down the stairs and got between the men and my kids and got them to back off.    They went to the other side of the stair way, but they were still staring at us for the next several minutes and even followed us as we walked to the park exit. 

I’m afraid this left us all pretty jaded.  They had used up our last bit of patience with staring Chinese.  So, a few minutes later, when a different Chinese man started walking much too close, all I wanted to do was dump the full measure of my wrath right on his head.  I glanced over at him and gave him a mean look, but he just kept coming closer.  Just as I was about to say something really terrible, since he couldn’t understand me anyway, he stepped in front of me to catch my eyes and said to me in English, “You care for Chinese children.  You kind person.”   

I was so surprised by this, I became totally tongue tied.  Looking back, I should have said plenty.  I know that what he said was a statement, but he meant it as a question.  I could tell by the tone of his voice.  And, here’s the thing;  I’m a Jesus Freak.  There is a very specific reason why I care for Chinese children and it is NOT because I am a kind person.  In fact, what seems like an act of kindness to the outside world is really an act of selfishness on my part, but I don’t have much success convincing people of this.  I care for Chinese children because the same God who created the universe and sent His only Son to atone for my sins is, occasionally, very clear about how I might bring Him glory.  At the moment, my brain was reeling over the fact that bringing God glory does not include mouthing off to innocent Chinese who are so surprised by what they perceive as selfless love, they will follow a family across a city park to try to understand more.  I was having a really hard time switching gears.  I knew what NOT to say, which is pretty good for me, but I didn’t have any idea what I should say.  We talked for a minute about how he learned such good English and how we will fix QingBei’s face, then we parted ways.  …I missed my chance.  I’m still annoyed with myself over this.

Anyway, we walked well over three miles that morning, all of it uphill, and took the subway back to the hotel.  Everyone collapsed that afternoon and we spent the evening packing for the trip home on Friday. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

China Day Twenty and Twenty One - Photos of China

We are exactly 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time here.   As I write this it is 5am, Tuesday morning, but it’s 5pm, Monday afternoon at home.   We have three more days here (T, W and Th).  Friday, we fly to Beijing and then to Dulles (in VA).  Because of the time zones, that last flight will take approximately one hour, since we will leave Beijing at 7pm China time and arrive in the states at 8pm EST on that same Friday  (oh, the complications of living on a sphere).

Anyway, when we adopted in Costa Rica and Ukraine, everything was topsy turvy.  You never knew what was going to happen next.  We planned to stay for about two weeks in each country and we were in Costa Rica for a month and in Ukraine for two months.  At any time, an official may or may not want to meet this week, or show up for his/her appointment, or sign your adoption papers etc. etc.  Here in China, we are enjoying the opposite experience.  Everything is happening according to an iron-clad agenda.  There are Americans everywhere, all adopting Chinese kids and all going through the same assembly-line-type week.  We’ve made friends with a bunch of families who are not even using the same adoption agency or staying in the same hotel as us, but we see them everywhere since everyone’s on the same schedule.   

All the days here are essentially the same.  We wake early and send Bill off to exercise.  Then we all hit the breakfast buffet in the hotel (and try not to stuff ourselves) and meet about five other families for morning touring.  We come back about noon for lunch in our hotel room and naptime, then we wander around the city looking for a restaurant that is both clean and affordable for dinner.  By the time we get back to our hotel, it’s usually time for bed.  The few variations that get thrown in here are Bill lugging me along to exercise with him, trips to wal-mart, swimming in the hotel pool or doing laundry in the hotel bathtub. 

On Sunday, our tour was to a local Buddhist temple. It was a 500 year old temple made of four large buildings surrounding a well-kept courtyard.  It was essentially a tourist trap.  Each building held a different kind of Chinese craft for sale: calligraphy, silk, embroidery, jewelry, painted bowls etc. etc.  It was a comical mix of old architecture and new capitalism. 

This was my favorite photo of the day. It’s a soda machine that is at the end of a corridor between two of the buildings. Such scenes make me happy. I don’t know why. 

After the temple, we hit a sort of shopping mall that sold jewelry.  It was huge, four stories high and just rows and rows of jewelry.  I’m not into jewelry, so we went to McDonalds.

This is just one wall of a pearl store.  It had three walls like this and there were at least twenty similar stores.
On Monday, we went to another Buddhist temple that was actually a temple.  I didn’t know this, but there are many Buddahs, each with his own purpose, so this was many buildings filled with many different Buddahs.   

At the last building, there was a Buddhist priest available to bless the children.  We declined.   I can’t help getting annoyed at stuff like this.  Buddhism is the largest religion in China and these people are the ones who were planning to essentially neglect my babies during their formative years, if not longer, and you think I want a religious leader from such a culture to give my child a blessing? 

After that, we went to a spice market.  This was also huge, but rather than a multi-story mall, it was just rows and rows of city streets filled with little shops of spices and pots and …bugs. 

We spent the morning looking for a deep fried scorpion for Paul to eat (I’m going to spare you my thoughts on the Bucket lists of 14 year old boys).   We failed at this.  All we found were live scorpions.  ZiXuan, who wanted me to carry her the whole time, saw a huge vat of scorpions and wanted down.  She went right over to them.  If I hadn’t grabbed her, I think she would have put her hand right into the bowl. 


Both days, we came back to the hotel about 1:00 and napped until dinner time.  The heat here just sucks the life out of us.  It’s in the 90’s which wouldn’t be horrible, but the humidity is stifling and by the time we get back to the hotel, everyone hits the hay for at least two hours. 

We usually eat out at a local restaurant.  Sunday night, we hit a popular Chinese spot.  It was jam packed and, honestly, the food was great, but the staring at QingBei is just so hard to endure, we went to an American Coffee Shop Monday night.  This is ZiXuan, discovering ketchup. 


That is pretty much our days here.  Three more, and then we head home. 

China Day Nineteen - First Full Day in Guangzhou

We are in another ridiculously opulent five star hotel.  I just have to say a few words about this place, because it begs for commentary.  Many of the hotels we stay at have been near shopping malls.  This one is on top of its own shopping mall and that is on top of a subway station.  I say, “it’s own mall” because all of the walls in this hotel are marble and the walls of the adjoining mall are matching marble.  Plus, there are advertisements and signs pointing to the different stores/restaurants between the mall and the hotel.  This place is so fancy, it’s laughable.  It’s like some wealthy benefactor had nothing better to do with his money so he stopped by one day and vomited opulence twenty stories high.  Everything is either marble, or glass, or mirrored or carved. 

The best part is the hotel room itself.  The bathroom has NO WALLS.  It’s all glass windows.  I can stand at my bed and look through a glass window into the bathtub/shower, through another glass wall into the sink/toilet area (am I the only person in China who feels a need for bran cereal and a little bit of drywall?) .  Even better, there is a blind that comes down (remote control) on the outside of the glass window—the bedroom side.  It took my kids five minutes to figure out how to lower the blinds and three milliseconds to figure out how to push the blinds aside and void any thought of privacy for the next week. 

Saturday morning, we took the clan down to the second floor for the plethora of breakfast items in the next buffet.  This one covers about twice the square feet of last weeks buffet, but I couldn’t see too much of it because I was covered in children.  QingBei now insists on sitting next to me at meals and ZiXuan is in my lap almost all the time.  I realize this is ridiculous, but everything in their little lives is so unstable right now, there is no way I am going to add to their stress.  This is the third hotel we have been in with QingBei and the second with ZiXuan.  The upshot was that I sat with the girls and my other kids brought us breakfast items and tried to describe, with wild eyes, the choices they were forced to make that morning (we make them finish their plates, so they have to be prudent). 

After breakfast, we met three other adoptive families to get our Chinese babies a medical checkup for the American Consulate.  Every Saturday, at this same medical center, they have a sort of all-day clinic for adoptive parents.  There must have been fifty families there, all hugging terrified Chinese toddlers and going from station to station to get their babies checked out.  It was essentially un-eventful, except that both QingBei and ZiXuan wanted me to hold them, which was a little tricky, and the last station required a blood sample.    
Of course, the Chinese would not let the parents go into the room while they took the sample, so we had to hand them off to perfect strangers and stand outside a closed, locked door and listen to the screams.  It was awful.  We had to wait in line for about thirty minutes and each child that went in that room came out traumatized and crying.  My girls were terrified and the closer we got to the door, the closer they wanted to be held.   I finally just sat down on the floor for the last ten minutes while I drilled my tour guide about all the different ways/reasons they might let me go in that room with my babies so I wouldn’t have to send them in alone.  This was pointless.  There was no way they were going to let me in that room.  ZiXuan came out crying and QingBei was just hysterical. 

After the clinic, the rest of our tour group went to Wal Mart, but I took the girls back to our hotel for a nap. 

The morning was awful, but the evening was wonderful.  A few years ago, we were a host family for a Chinese college student named Luyi.  She didn’t live with us, but we met her often throughout the year and we love her!  At the end of the year, she moved back to China and is now married and working in Hong Kong.  She and her husband, Lu, came to visit and we had a wonderful time!   After three weeks being surrounded by strangers, I was surprised at how comforting it was to see a familiar face!  They showered us with traditional Chinese presents.  They brought a bunch of traditional toys for the kids, a beautiful set of celadon bowls from their wedding and some traditional Chinese snack food.  ZiXuan went right for the dried shredded squid and QingBei was right behind her. 

We were all sitting in our hotel room, enjoying each-others company, when QingBei suddenly took a good look at them, realized they were Chinese and had a total melt down.  She has no “roof” to her mouth and her mouth/lip muscles are not really functional, so it is hard to understand her speech, but Lu was able to glean that she was saying, “I want to stay.”  Poor Baby, somehow she had the idea that because they are Chinese, they were here to take her away.  I was glad that she was sad at the thought of leaving us, but it did make the evening a little tricky, because she had me in an unrelenting vice grip for the next five hours.  Luckily, ZiXuan, who will not go anywhere near Bill or Matt, went right over to Lu!  So, he carried ZiXuan and I carried QingBei for the rest of the evening. 

We hung out with them for as long as we could, but they had to leave at 9am the next morning to catch the train back to Hong Kong.  It’s so nice to see the people I love happily married and thriving.  We will miss them!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

China Day Seventeen and Eighteen - QingBei Comes Around (phew!)

Thursday was another free day (no adoption paperwork, just hanging out).  Bill and I have walked/ran to the North, West and East of our hotel this week.  It is mostly city streets, street vendors and mopeds as far as the eye can see.  There have been a few parks, but they are so smelly, we have avoided them.  Thursday morning, our interpreter took us south of the hotel.  Not two blocks from our hotel, there is a gorgeous park that is CLEAN with a huge lake, a handful of gazebos, a playground, sand pit, roller blade park, swimming pool (not filled, but still there), amusement park (complete with carnival rides and rigged games with cheeze prizes) and a military style lazer tag set up on the top of a hill.  Plus, there are cement walkways all around the lake, plenty wide with no-cars-allowed and, it’s not stinky. 

I asked the tour guide if he could think of any other time before the last day here that he might have mentioned this.   AAAhhh!!  Honestly, it wouldn’t have mattered much because we’ve been busy most mornings and it has rained most afternoons, but still—we could have run there, rather than the city streets.  It’s just beautiful. 

I thought I should give an update on QingBei, since she was so antagonistic toward me earlier this week.   She would not come anywhere near me, wouldn’t hold my hand and would not even look at me most of the time.  We started off battling this earlier in the week by getting her UN-attached from Reilly.  Most of my kids are addicted to screens—TV screens, Nintendo DS screens, computer screens – except for Reilly, who just loves babies and toddlers.  The other kids like QingBei, but they don’t have the patience to play four-year-old games for hours on end, so they interact with her for a few minutes, until they get bored and then they ignore her. So, whenever we had free time, it was always Reilly playing with QingBei and the other kids on screens.  It was no wonder QingBei became attached to her.  I finally told Reilly that she really had to find something else to do and stop spending all her free time with QingBei.  Reilly was great about this and has really backed off.  Of course, rather than play with me, QingBei drifted toward every other family member besides me over the course of the week.  I looked for a chance to move in, but she really wanted nothing to do with me.

This changed a little when ZiXuan arrived on Monday.  QingBei started walking over to me, mostly to hand ZiXuan things, but at least she was getting close.  She also started playing with me more.  She loves to play tickle monster and hide and seek.  In fact, she is always playing tickle monster.  She greets people by tickling their belly and giving them a playful growl (we’ll work on this later).  I would try to tickle her a few times each day, but she always turned her head and pushed my hand away.  Over time, she tolerated me more and more, but didn’t really acknowledge my existence until Wednesday at the park.  As I wrote, she walked right up to me and held my hand as we were walking to the tower.  This was huge.  It was also painful, because I was carrying ZiXuan (380 steps total to the top of that stinkin tower), and there was no way I was going to let go of QingBei to switch hands.  Luckily, Matt stepped in and carried her so I could finally switch ZiXuan to my other arm.  If only there were triathlon –type sporting events involving baby-juggling, I might have a chance to place!

Sometime during that walk in the park on Thursday, something clicked and suddenly, QingBei was on me like white on rice.  It would have been wonderful, but rather than just hold my hand, she wanted me to carry her and I was already carrying ZiXuan.  The result was that I would end up finding some steps somewhere so I could hold them both on my lap until QingBei was ready to move off again, but on that day, I officially became the mother to two new babies, one that I carry and one who holds my hand as she walks. 
We spent the rest of Thursday in the hotel (essentially swimming and bickering) because of the rain and got ready to fly out on Friday. 

We had a free morning on Friday, so Bill got up early to work out at the fantastic hotel Health Center and I had the morning with QingBei and ZiXuan.  Glory of Glories, QingBei woke up calling, “ma-ma” for the first time.  She also let me take her out of the crib and stuck by me for most of the day.  When I left about 11am to go running, I had to sneak out and when I came back, she was glad to see me.  We left for the airport about 2pm and by then she had develop an almost neurotic obsession with holding my hand.   We flew out at 6:30 and landed at 7:30pm.  She sat next to me on the plane and stuck by me like glue as we drove to the hotel, checked in, and went to a local McDonalds for dinner. 

We are now in Guangzhou (at another five star hotel)  for a week to process paperwork for the American Consulate.  Now that QingBei has bonded with me, I feel like we are essentially coasting.  THANK YOU GOD--and thanks for all of you who were praying for us!  At some point, we should probaby get together and discuss the stock market.  With results like this, I feel we have a reasonable shot at a cool million.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

China Day Sixteen - Small Miracles

We had a free day today and we have another one tomorrow.  We met in the morning and went to a local park.  It was beautiful.  There was a small lake full of goldfish and you could feed the fish for 5 yuan –about 80 cents – and watch the fish clamor all over eachother like wal-mart shoppers the day after Thanksgivng.  Then we took a walk to the top of a hill where there was an observation tower.  It was eight flights of stairs to the top—a spiral staircase.  I should have skipped this, because looking back, it was really stressful   The stairs would have been fine, but ZiXuan would not let me put her down and she is still too afraid of men to let Bill or Matt hold her without causing trauma.  She also has a perplexing habit of putting her short arm down the front of my shirt so I’m usually reaching in to take it out, which is a little awkward in public. 

The top of the tower was an observation room, about 12 feet in diameter.  It was already filled with Chinese when we got up there and our family of eight added in made it a little tight.  I was holding ZiXuan, repeatedly taking her arm out of my shirt, monitoring QingBei, who was so excited, she was hopping all over and dangerously near the spiral stairway, plus monitoring my other kids, so I didn’t get a chance to look out of too many windows.  In fact, I was just edging over to one, when Bill got my attention and said, “take QingBei over to the left.”  I had no idea what this was about, but I grabbed her hand and went left, still hoping to get a glance out the window. But then, Bill immediately said, “now, go to the right,”  which seemed a little odd, until I finally looked up and saw that 80% of the cameras in the room (including video cameras) were pointed at QingBei. 

That was enough.  I said, “Ok, we’re leaving,” and took her right down the stairs.  I know I am becoming obsessive about this but I wanted to scream, “What the Hell is Wrong with you people?” Reilly came down after me with a completely bewildered look on her face and said, “It’s like they think QingBei is part of the exhibits!”  I realized as I was spiraling down that there is no way I am going to win this little war of mine.  There are 1.3 billion Chinese here against my family of eight.  I’m a little out-numbered. 

The miracle here is that QingBei is completely unaware that there is anything wrong with her face.  Thank you God!!  She bounces all over the place and she is actually very curious about people who stare at her.  I suspect she thinks they are being friendly.  She has never shown even a hint of embarrassment.  It might be easier if she was a little shy because then we wouldn’t be chasing her all over, trying to shield her from the paparazzi, but I know it is better that she is oblivious.  I don’t necessarily mind the staring, but I MIND the picture taking.  She is a little girl.    What are these people thinking??

Unfortunately, ZiXuan, who is two year younger than QingBei is a little more aware of her particular "special need."  I made the connection later that day that she is putting her short arm in my shirt in order to hide it.  I don’t know why I took so long to realize this, but she only puts her hand down my shirt when we are in public.  They told me that she was shy about her hand and I noticed she will sit with her good hand covering over her small one in public, and, when I pick her up in public, the hand goes right into my shirt.  It’s a shame, because I love that little hand.  If her hand was perfect, she would be stuck here and I would have to live my life without her.

The rest of the day was full of other small miracles.  During that walk to the tower, QingBei actually ran over to me and held my hand and held it off and on for the rest of the morning.  We went swimming at the hotel pool and QingBei went INTO the pool and played in the water.  Bill stayed in the room while ZiXuan slept and actually got to hold her after she woke up.  I came back from swimming and they were as cozy as Chinese on a city bus.  All my kids took showers/baths, including QingBei, who seems to be over the water aversion.  We also found a nice restaurant in the less-finer shopping mall that served both spaghetti and pizza for the price of an ice cream in the states.  ZiXuan sat by herself at dinner, instead of on my lap, and Paul, who drank a full glass of tap water without thinking is NOT running to the toilet every ten minutes in a total panic. 
Miracles never cease!

China Day FIfteen - Paperwork and Napping (We're Living Large!)

I think all the hotel employees who are on the American holiday schedule are back to work. Today, two hotel people came to visit us at breakfast and there was a handwritten note and teddy bear from guest services in our room when we came back from breakfast.  Plus, the breakfast staff were also all over us this morning.  There are at least ten staff manning the buffet and each one must have offered to help me ten times.  When the main breakfast man asked me, “How are you this morning?” for the 100th time, I finally answered truthfully, “Well, I’m holding a $25 bowl of bran flakes.  I’m not really sure.”

We met this morning at 9am to drive back to the same building where we got ZiXuan and process the paperwork.  We had to answer a few questions, sign about ten pieces of paper, hand over the $5,500 “donation,” and about another $1,000 in other fees (notary, birth certificate, and I can’t remember what else, which is pitiful, since I’ve done it twice now) and now she is ours.  All that is left is to wait for the passport.  And so we wait….

The same two women who handed ZiXuan off to me were in the lobby.  I was a little worried when we saw them, that she might start to cry and tug me over thinking they were the ticket back to her foster mother, but she didn’t  (phew!).   There were five other families who adopted that day and we had to wait almost an hour until it was our turn.  It was oppressively hot inside the building, so we finally went outside to wait.  The administration building is also a senior citizen’s center so there was a really nice garden/courtyard where the kids could play.   This was the first time ZiXuan let me put her down since we got her.  She actually walked next to me and held my hand.  She also walked up to some of the other kids to watch them play.  She is still terrified of the boys, but they were able to get pretty close to her by subtle perseverance. 

The only way to get two children out of China is to adopt special needs kids.  This was fine with us. We prefer special needs children, knowing that they will have the more difficult end in their native country.  ZiXuan’s “special need” is that she has only one hand.  Her right forearm is only a few inches long and she has about half a hand.  I consider this to be fantastically minor.  I lived practically one-handed during my many baby-holding years and I’m back there right now, since ZiXuan is such a Cling-on.  It can be done!

Anyway, we got back to the hotel about lunch time and we all slept the whole afternoon.  No one really moved until 5:00, when we finally went to the finer mall (four stories, with a movie theater and ice skating rink) for dinner.  We hit a Korean restaurant again and they gave us a private room.  These are so nice!  I wish American restaurants would pick up this trend.   After that, Bill took three of the older kids ice skating.   The entire perimeter of the rink was lined with observant Chinese.  I don't know how he does it.  All that staring would have driven me nuts.
I was going to stay and watch too, but it was hard to get QingBei to sit still while the others were skating and ZiXuan was falling asleep.  Plus, it is a pain to be always scanning for photographers.  I don’t mind them photographing me, but they have no business taking pictures of QingBei.  I just don’t like it.  So, Matt and I took the girls back to the room.  Matt (my 15 yo) was great about this.  He wanted to go ice skating, but he knew I would have a hard time walking/carrying both of the little ones back.  It’s about a 1/3 mile walk back to our hotel and there are electric mopeds everywhere.  Plus, QingBei is just a walking electron.  She is all over the place, all the time.  I thought everyone would be up late, but we all fell asleep right away.   

Monday, May 27, 2013

China Day Fourteen - We Get ZiXuan and Everyone is Smitten

Bill woke me at 5am to exercise with him in the fancy workout room.   Then he took me running along a local river.  It would have been glorious.  The weather was balmy, the city was just waking up so the traffic was minimal and the landscaping along the river was gorgeous, but oh the smell….it was like running along a steaming sewer.  --In fact, I was running along a steaming sewer.  It was horrible. 

I got back to the room in time to see Reilly (my 12 year old) taking QingBei to the potty.  Reilly had carried her to the bathroom and was about to take her pants down when I told her that QingBei needs to walk on her own and get her own pants down.  She is nearly four years old.  So, Reilly pointed to her underwear and told her to take them down herself.  QingBei knew exactly what Reilly was asking, but she was so mad about it that she threw a fit, took up her dress and peed on the floor.  Normally, I would send Reilly out of the room and take care of this myself, but considering our bonding issues, I had Reilly tell her, “No!’ and Reilly make QingBei clean up the pee and tell her to get undressed.  There was pee all over her clothes and shoes.  QingBei still wouldn’t undress herself, so I told Reilly to count to three and then we both left the room.  When we came back a minute later, QingBei had undressed herself.  So, we cleaned her up and changed her clothes and hoped this was a one-time test. 

Before we went down to breakfast, I checked at the front desk about the $25 breakfasts.  They said we have no extra charges to our room and that the travel agent was paying for the breakfast.   In other words, somewhere in the depths of the travel fees we sent to our adoption agency last month there were six family breakfasts per day at $25 each. …Nice.  On the first morning, I filled up my plate with every odd, unknown breakfast food item on the buffet.  At the end of my taste testing, I told the kids the reason that most of these unusual food items are not found in America is this:  They taste bad.  Don’t get me wrong, most of the stuff was awesome, but some of it was remarkably bad.  

We spent the rest of the meal discussing a standard problem that we have here—how much per dare?  For example, my eldest son, who tends to bargain rather high,  offered to eat the steamed chicken feet (one whole foot of our choosing, excluding the bones) for $50, and wanted $25 for the pickled fish heads (one whole head, excluding bones but including the eyes and brain, if we can find it).  I felt that was too high and countered with $15 for the chicken foot and $10 for the fish heads, plus a possible $10 bonus if they can do it without grimacing.  By the end of the week, Bill and I hope to have a completed price list.  This morning, I plan to hit the juice bar and sample the “Bitter #$%&# Root Juice” and see what it’s worth exactly.  You just can’t just let such golden opportunities to torment your children go to waste. 

About 10 am, we met another couple from West Virginia who are here to adopt a little boy and we all went to the bank to exchange our dollars for yuan.  China does not sell children, of course, but there is a $5,500 “donation” that we give to the orphanage per child.  …more on this later.

We got back to the hotel about 11:30 for lunch and nap time and after nap, we had our second pee incident.  The same exact thing happened.  Reilly told QingBei to pull her own pants down and instead, QingBei lifted up her dress and peed on the floor.  We told her “No!” again, made her clean up the pee again, made her take off her own clothes again (had to count to three and leave the room again) but this time, since she had gotten it all over, we put her in the shower and used the hand held shower nozzle to spray her down with warm water.   My hope was that this might be traumatic enough to nip this little nugget in the bud.

At 3:00, we met the group to get our children.  We drove to a local Senior Citizen’s Center.  As we walked into the lobby, we could see all the children at a small table to the left of the door, but we couldn’t go near them.  We had to wait 20 torturous minutes for the local officials to come witness the “ceremony”  (I asked our interpreter why any reasonable woman would want to witness five terrorized, screaming infants get passed into the arms of perfect strangers, but he couldn’t explain this.)   When they arrived, they lugged the five Chinese children and five foreign families into a small room to do the baby transfer.  Again, I can’t think of any way the Chinese could make this harder on everyone involved.  All the kids were screaming.  Two kindhearted Chinese women tried three times to pass ZiXuan off to me and of course, she was terrified.  I kept telling them, “No, wait,” in my best Chinese but they kept trying to give her to me.  I could see this was not going to end well and the room was deafening so in a fit of angst, I scooped her up and walked out of the room and into the hallway.  They told me that ZiXuan had a cold and I could tell she was feverish.  She cried for about 30 seconds, then she looked at me and saw that I was also crying (it’s impossible not to be heartbroken for these kids, good grief) and she stopped.  So, we walked around the inside of the building and she listened carefully while I explained to her all the flaws in the Chinese adoption system until our interpreter found us and said it was time to go. 

That was pretty much our day.  Back at the hotel, ZiXuan wouldn’t let me put her down (we adopted the Yang and then the Yin of bonding babies).  This was unfortunate, because all the kids were dying to be near her.  QingBei was so excited, she could hardly sit still.  She kept running over to us and trying to give ZiXuan things.  It was really cute.  QingBei also went into the bathroom, took down her own underwear without being told, and asked nicely to be put on the potty.  It was an all-out banner day!
Bill finally took the kids to the local mall (while I rocked ZiXuan) and came back with take-out Pizza.  She was especially afraid of the boys, so Bill took them to a movie (Oblivion, with Chinese subtitles) hoping ZiXuan could relax. --It worked.  The girls and I fell asleep.  She is used to a family bed, so it was nice and cozy.   As I said, she has a slight fever, and I don’t want to scare her by taking her picture, but goodness, she is scrumptious.  Here is a picture of her sleeping, after I was finally able to slide out.


Sometimes when I look at her, I just want to weep for the people of China. Can you imagine giving that little one away? And her mother--she will miss so much! All for a paltry $5,500 to a government that no longer even needs the money. The entire country is selling their birthright for a pathetic bowl of porridge. They have No Idea what they are giving away.  ...But I do.
Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;

...and in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful...
Lullaby, W.H. Auden

Sunday, May 26, 2013

China Day Thirteen - Don't Get Too Comfortable

Have I mentioned that we are in a five star hotel?  This morning, I got to take a shower under one of those shower heads that fall down from the ceiling.   I’ve wanted to try out one of these since the first time I saw BATHTASTIC on DIY.  …It’s actually not that great.  With a wall spicket, you can soap up while the hot water hits your back, but with the water falling from the ceiling, you have to move outside the flow quite a bit to wash.  Thank you Marriott, for saving me from all that envy. 

We also had breakfast at the largest, fanciest, uppity-est breakfast buffet EVER.  They actually had ten different counters and five manned stations including a pancake/waffle bar, a select your own omelet fillings bar,  a noodle bar and a juice bar (novel, but if you are going for taste, get a coke).  AND, just to impress on you what a high-class joint this is, the chocolate doughnuts were actually covered in real, gourmet, melted chocolate-- not the chocolate food product with suggesting influences of plastic and Big Lots, but real, dark, bittersweet, thick, creamy, melted chocolate, with a hint of salted butter, just to keep it soft enough to spread.  Beware my loved ones, Momma’s moving in on your doughnuts. 

Everything was wonderful until we got the bill.  We were told breakfast was included with our room, but apparently not THAT many breakfasts.  They charged us for four buffets ($100 or $25 each—that is US Dollars, not yuan….oopsie!)  The front desk promised us that this was a mistake and we won’t be charged, but I’m not going back into that place until we are sure.  It was a yummy doughnut, but not $25 worth of yum…. Well, maybe not.

We spent the morning moving rooms.  They had given us two rooms half-a-hotel away.   The kids were too far off, so we got adjoining rooms for the first time since we came here.  This is SO NICE.  Logistically, it’s just MUCH easier to have the other kids adjoining us.  We were so happy to be together, we spent the morning just hanging out and playing.

About noon, we were planning to take a walk to a local mall, but just as we got all the kids shoes on and the computers locked in the safe, QingBei tugged Matt over to her crib and asked to be put inside.  It was her nap time.  I had totally forgot.  She laid down for a minute, but as soon as the other kids left the room, she threw a royal fit and started to scream and stomp her feet.  I hate to reward that kind of behavior, so I thought I’d call them back in as soon as she calmed down, but she never did calm down.  I finally asked Bill to come and he stayed with her until she fell asleep.  –Good Man.

After that, we all went swimming in the hotel pool, which was wonderful.  There are two 25 meter lap lanes, a cold pool and a hot tub.  There is a marble/mahogany locker room with a sauna, steam bath and two whirlpool tubs, one hot and one cold, and there is a fully equipped exercise/weight room.  Bill has two triathlons coming up the Saturday and Sunday after we get back home—as in, we land on Friday and the races are Saturday and Sunday, so he has been training steadily, but all he could do up to this point was run.  Now he can swim and bike as well.  When he saw the whole health club set up, Bill's eyes lit up like his favorite fast food sign. He was as happy as I’ve seen him since we arrived.

We spent the evening at a local mall.  It was so nice to be there that I got too comfortable.  While we were walking, I noticed a woman facing us and pretending to text.  I could tell she was taking our picture.  I was in front and I walked right past her.  We almost touched shoulders.  I looked back and saw that she had taken a picture of me.  There was my face, right in her phone screen.  As I was thinking to myself, “Really?” I noticed her zoom in on QingBei who was walking behind me, holding Bill’s hand and she took a picture of QingBei’s face as well.  By the time I realized what was happening, it was all over and Bill was herding me forward.  I walked on, realizing too late, that she took my baby’s picture so she can show it to her friends and discuss the freak child she saw in the mall.   

I know I have to forgive this woman, but all I could think of at the moment was that MY baby’s face was on her cell phone and I wanted it off.  I considered grabbing her hair and smashing the phone into her face, but I realized that would be too violent.  It would not be good to make Nanning News at Nine the day before I get my second baby.  Then I thought about taking her phone and smashing it on the ground, but I figured that might attract the police as well.  My options were limited, since she probably didn’t speak English.  I finally settled on fuming.  I was so mad, I was shaking.  The only reason I didn’t turn around and engage her in a little incomprehensible chat was because Bill kept driving me onward.

One of my parenting mantra's is: "Lose the Battle, but Win the War."  After that, I was back on my toes.  I stationed all the family around QingBei so that all she saw of the rest of the mall was my kids tiny butts.  Then I took up the rear and scanned both sides of the aisles the rest of the evening, looking for people holding cell phones pointed my way.  Twice I noticed women standing up to take our picture, so I gave them my livid-mamma look and they both sat right back down.  I also put my hand in front of her face a few times as I saw people trying to take her picture from far away and derived great pleasure giving them the same look as well.  Bill kept telling me to let it go and not to stay mad at that woman for the entire evening, but I’m certain I won’t.  I’ll be mad at her for at least a month.