Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Oh, my poor neglected blog.  I had such high hopes for it.  Ah well!

We made it home after a rather epic journey, involving a train, a cab, a wonderful dinner with an old friend, a bus, two planes, and a car.  Gracie was pretty good, overall, but slept VERY LITTLE on the flights (except the last two hours of the Tokyo -- Dulles 11.5 hour leg), so that meant, of course, that Joy and I slept very little, either.

Finally conked out somewhere over the midwest!  Had to wake her up to get her off the plane!

We passed through immigration quickly, handing over the precious "brown envelope" whose safe placement in my backpack I had checked at least 20 times over the course of the day (especially after having to take it out and actually hand it to the generally clueless ticket agents at the Hong Kong airport, who did retrieve our botched up Economy Plus reservation but couldn't manage to get us three seats together -- fortunately someone switched with Joy (although after nine hours of Gracie's non-stop antics, Joy probably wished she hadn't).  Just like that, Grace Mellier LiRong Helfrich was an American citizen!  Joy tried to take a picture to commemorate the occasion, but was shouted down by agents of the agency formerly known as INS.

My mom and aunt came out to Dulles to meet us, which was fun.  My dear friend Katherine had planned to be there as well, but couldn't due to sick kids (but so sweetly leave my car and bag of much needed snacks in the Valet parking area -- hooray for good friends!).  Gracie slept the whole ride home through DC beltway rush hour, managing to wake up for playtime and a little dinner when we got home, and then sleep through the night.

I'm writing this on Tuesday night, so we've been home almost a week.  I'd like to say we are all settled into a routine, but that would be a lie.  Gracie is sleeping fairly well, although struggling to go down sometimes and also often waking for an hour or two in the middle of the night.  Food is a challenge, and there is a lot of limit-testing, as is to be expected given all that she has been through.  I'm working on adjusting my own sleep schedule, maintaining my sense of humor, and not getting too discouraged/frustrated when I make a misstep and end up in a lose-lose power struggle with a little one who is definitely living up to her orphanage description of "playful, active, and obstinate."

Things Gracie likes at home:
  • Taking the magnets and pictures off the fridge, examining each one, and putting them back on.
  • Taking walks around the neighborhood
  • Baths
  • Yogurt and ramen noodles straight from the bag (uncooked)
  • Coloring
  • Her grandparents
  • Toilet paper -- unrolling it is very fascinating
  • Throwing things in the trashcan
  • Her Fisher-Price school bus
Things Gracie does NOT like at home:
  • Getting OUT of the bath tub.
  • Any thing vaguely resembling a vegetable
  • Dogs -- even on a video (Hermione is still in exile with my parents!)
  • Pants (or really any clothing, but especially pants).
  • Her hands being messy, or food being dropped on the floor (we need Hermione to come home!)
Signs that Gracie has used without an immediate model, or has shown understanding of:  Water, Cracker, Cookie, More, Help, Open, Light, Shoe, Dirty, Flower, Brush Teeth, there might be a few others.

A few pictures from the first few days at home (now that my official photographer has gone home to Montana, I don't have as many!)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When you run out of Pull-Ups, it's time to go home . .

Us with our guide, Aron (who actually is from Gracie's hometown) at the Yuntai Gardens,

I can't believe we have been in Guangzhou for five days already, or that we are leaving tomorrow!  On the one hand, I feel like we have been in China forever, and the "real world" feels far away.  On the other hand, it it feels like we just got here, and there is so much left to explore.  But our clothes are dirty (and it's hard to get handwashed stuff to dry here in this humid climate), we've eaten all the goldfish, and we only have a few pull-ups left, so are time here must be almost over!

During these few days, I feel like we have seen more of Grace's spunky personality, and also a lot more testing.  She's much more independent -- last Tuesday, she cried when I went into the bathroom and she couldn't see me; today she played happily by herself in living area of our "mini-suite" while I packed in the other room.  She wants to walk more places (although she still enjoys riding in the carrier) and is very adament about feeding herself, choosing which shoes to wear, etc.  I'm beginning to see where the "active and obstinate" in her personality description came from :).

We got off to a rough start in Guangzhou last Friday -- she did great on the 3.5 hour flight from Hohhot, but she didn't sleep at all, which led to an overtired girl having a killer meltdown at bedtime Friday.  She woke up smiling on Saturday, but the temper/anxiety/frustration/whatever we saw that night has flared multiple times through the week.  It's great to see her asserting her little self, her wants and needs and opinions so clearly, but it's also tiring and frustrating when she needs to control each little thing and when we have to hold her down to get her dressed (she's developed a strange aversion to the process of getting her clothes on, but once we wrestle her into them, she's happy to wear them and happy to get out and go).  I'm looking forward to getting home and settled into a routine, where I can be more consistent with schedule, setting limits, etc, so that she can be more relaxed and continue to work on developing her communication

Don't get me wrong, overall she's delightful.  She loves to give hugs and kissed, likes looking at books, loves to draw with crayons or pens, and continues to impress us with her eager observation of her environment and ready imitation of signs, expressions, etc.  She copies almost anything,including sequences of two or three signs, and has spontaneously and indepently used "cookie," "cracker," "water," and "fish," among others.  she has a wicked sense of humor and loves to tease.  She has an amazing little spirit, and I am so blessed to be her momma.

One of the best things about being in Guangzhou is being surrounded by other adoptive families.  There is one other family with BAAS here, a lovely Air Force family from Omaha bringing home their 5th child, third from China, an adorable three-year-old boy who is as small as Gracie and sings in Chinese the whole time we are in the van or waiting in lines for official appointments.  I also got to meet several people I "know" from the yahoo groups and have spent a couple of wonderful evenings with my on-line friend Christy (who we first connected with in Beijing) and her daughter Mia and new son Noah Wei, who are both precious.  We've seen several other adopted Deaf kids, too.  In addition to the other families who are on our same schedule, there are also groups of families who arrived here over the weekend to meet their children who are from this province yesterday.  We were coming back from shopping and passed a large group of Lifeline families piling onto their bus to go to the civil affairs office to meet their children - so exciting!
Eating lunch at Lucy's on Shamian Island.  She liked the French Fries, but was not impressed by the grilled cheese sandwich or the milk shake.

Its been really fun to finally see all the places that I have been reading about for so many years on some many people's blogs and list postings.  There's so much to share about what we have done and seen here -- the medical exam, Shaiman Island, the Yuntai Garden, the shopping district, etc -- but Gracie was coughing and restless last night, so I didn't sleep well either and I need to get to bed.  Photos and details on all those activities, as well as several other posts (the food, the "interesting" translations you see in public places, the hidden advantages of adopting a Deaf child, etc) will have to wait.  Thanks to Joy's master packing abilities, are stuff is in good shape and we are looking forward to a relaxed day tomorrow and maybe one trip to Shaiman Island before we head about 2:30 to pick up Gracie's visa and take the train to Hong Kong

Gracie feeding the koi in the pond in the garden of our hotel.  I think they look like something from a bad sci-fi movie, but she likes them!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A few pictures from Hohhot!

Shopping for interesting Chinese snacks in the grocery store near the hotel.

I think there was a butcher counter in the back corner

The street outside our hotel at night.

Our dinner the first night in Hohhot.  The menu had English, but the staff didn't.   The food was pretty good, including the "American Biscuits" which we just had to order to find out if they were rolls or cookies (they were cookies).

Pleasant Goat!  And, I think, off-brand teletubbies.

Hohhot street scene.
Shopping for clothes to donate to the orphanage.
     Eating Mongolian Hot Pot in a local restaurant with help from our guide, Aggie.  The tall tower (heating element) and pot of boiling water is placed in the center of the table.  The staff added herbs, shrimp, and few other things to flavor the water, then Aggie cooked beef, lamb, winter melon (very good for the lungs, per Aggie), sweet potato, leafy greens, dumplings, and noodles.  She mixed a variety of things together to make a sauce that everything then dipped in.  Yum!

The Inner Mongolia Museum.

Farewell to Hohhot

One of the things that Grace loves to do is stand on the marble sill of the floor to ceiling windows (have I mentioned that this is a REALLY fancy hotel) of our 17th floor room and look out at the city before her.  She squeals (loudly -- don't let anyone tell you that Deaf children are quiet) and sometimes taps/bats at me to make sure I am looking, too.  I try to guess what has caught her attention, so I can share it with her and give her the sign, but there is so much to see, it's hard to know what exactly she is looking at. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Always and Forever!

I'm finding it a good deal harder to keep up with the blogging than I anticipated -- when Grace is awake, she wants all my attention (and I want to give it to her) and when she is asleep, well, Facebook is easier :)  (And last night I crashed big time after two nights where I didn't sleep well at all.)  BUT I am committed to sharing this experience with others, as so many have shared with me, and also to documenting it for Gracie, so I am trying to make myself focus.

So yesterday (Tuesday) was the finalization of the adoption.  In most provinces you have to go to the Civil Affairs office, which I hear can be drafty and uncomfortable, but all the officials came to the Sheraton where we are staying and we met in a very posh conference room.  In addition to us and Aggie (our guide, who is terrific), there was a translator (whose English was extremely good and who chatted with us about where we were from, etc, and knew about Yellowstone), the provincial government official (who was a youngish man and rather nice looking and very nice, very friendly), a notary, and Mrs. Zhang from the orphanage (the lady who brought Grace to me on Monday and who is the coordinator for overseas adoption at Hohhot CWI.  Gracie has her last name as part of her Chinese name).  I signed a bunch of papers (in additions to the dozens I had signed the day before), and paid some fees.  There was an "interview" of about 6 or 8 questions that I had already answered in writing the day before and that morning, not to mention answered and documented in my dossier, but whatever.  There was a lot of conversation in Chinese amongst the officials that wasn't translated for us; Joy thought it has a lot to do with debating which pens were being used for which purpose.  I also detected a murmur of reaction when I said I used to be a teacher for Deaf children and so I thought we would make a good family.  They put Grace's handprint in red ink on some document, not sure which, (which she was a little skeptical about, as she doesn't like her hands messy).

Mrs. Zhange gave us a certificate, the fabulous Inner Mongolia princess hat (pink with sequins, beads, and a pompom), and a beautiful memory book with her developmental reports from the Half the Sky program, drawings (I guess by her teachers?), and pictures going all the way back to when she was about 16 months old.  What a treasure!  I had a list of questions that I wrote down before I met Grace (what is she scared of?  what are her favorite activities? etc) but in the moment they didn't seem important.  I had asked two key ones the day before (how do they comfort her -- give her snacks and toys! -- and how does she let them know she needs ot use the bathroom -- they said you have to just take her, but in fact she uses a perhaps inelegant but completely and universally understood gesture!).  All I could do was say that it was obvious that she had been extremely well loved and well taken care of, and I was so, so thankful.

Getting ready to go down for the official paperworrk.  Isn't that a cute dress?
The terrific Aggie shows me where to sign my name for the zillionth time (and helps me write the date properly -- year-month-day on the Chinese forms, day-month-year on the English ones)  Gracie supervises from her carrier.

Gracie puts her "John Hancock" on some document by virtue of a red handprint.  She was a little skeptical about this, because she doesn't really like her hands messy.  Fortunately, the ever-prepared Aggie had a wipe ready to undo the damage.

We got the extra copy of our picture (taken Monday during the handoff, when she was not too happy about being on my lap), which was a hit (and almost made up for the red ink incident.)  She LOVES pictures, especially pictures of herself.

The fabulous Inner Mongolia Princess Hat (and the magic light up wand from Target that saved us the first day -- don't leave home without one if you are adopting a toddler!

With all the paperwork done and the adoption finalized, we could get back to the really important stuff, like giving a drink of water to the baby elephant!