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!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Family Day Photos!



So the blog is hopelessly, eternally behind, and uploading pictures to blogger from here is tediously slow and incredibly annoying, so I'm going to skip over the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Hutong, and our first impressions of Hohhot (with apologies to my mom and anyone else who might be reading this who isn't also on my Facebook, where I can upload the pictures with no problem) and skip to the really important part: I have Gracie and she is AMAZING!

The assistant director (I think) brought her to the hotel this morning -- the guide called, we went down, and there she was!  Her hair is much longer than in her referral photo (thank goodness!) and she is much bigger than I had been led to believe (which speaks well to the care she has been getting, which clearly has been excellent, but doesn't bode well for the clothes I brought.  Oh well).  She was shy but curious, and she cried (understandably) when they handed her to me for the official photo.  She came warmly dressed (but not so layered she couldn't move) and carrying the album and stuffed animal from the care package I sent through ladybugs and love.  The hand off was quick and the orphanage lady left.  Aggie, our sweet guide, came back up to the room with us and I signed my name about a million times, as well as filling out a lot of information that I have filled out in a million places before.  Grace sat on my lap whileI was doing that. sucking on a lollipop she brought with her.  By time we finished and Aggie left, she was calm.

We moved over to the bed and started to play with a light up wand (hooray for the Target dollar aisle) and some other toys.  She loved investigating her little backpack.  She pulled out The Very Hungry Caterpillar book and turned the pages very intently, sticking her fingers in each hole.  When we got done with that (and with using the book as a hat), the ate some goldfish and fed some to the stuffed elephant.  Joy graciously went out got us some rice, noodles, and bread for lunch (we are on the all-carb diet here) adn Grace ate, drank some milk, and let me rock her to sleep.  She slept for about an hour and a half.

After nap we broke out the stacking cups, which provided hours (literally) of entertainment.  She's very intentt and planful in her use of them - stacking, nesting, touching wach one, lining them up and putting a goldfish on or under each one, etc.  Very serious.  When we added some craft pom-poms, even more fun ensued!  We ventured out across the street to a restaurant for dinner, and she got a little nervous as we left the hotel, but she did well.  She sat on my lap and ate noodles, dumplings, and congee and drank warm water (apparently in China you must never give children cold or even room temperature drinks, for fear of upsetting their stomachs.  It seems gross to me, but she liked it fine).  After dinner, more play (including much fun looking at herself in the mirror in her new hat and more stacking cup excitement), then lotion, pajamas, prayers, and rocking to sleep, which took a while, but I didn't mind (and she didn't cry)!

I need to go snuggle in beside her, because I barely slept last night in nervous anticipation and I'm tired, but I at least wanted to get a little information up here.  Honestly, in my wildest dreams I couldn't have imagined it going any better.  She's obviously been extremely well cared for, because she is confident and silly and adaptable (and solid, not the tiny little thing I had expected based on the measurements I got).  She's potty trained (mostly) and knows how to wash and dry her hands.  She watches everything and is incredibly imitative in play, facial expressions, etc.  I think someone must have signed with her, at least a little, because she imitates my signs very easily -- she's done cracker, cookie, fish, monkey, lion, open, more, please, water, milk, finished, noodles, meat, including a few without an immediate model (i.e., we were playing iwth the pom-poms and I was handing them to her one at a time and making her sign "more" for each one, and after a few times of modeling it before each one, she did it herself.)  She holds my hand, leans forward to be kissed, and reaches out to be picked up.  She has clearly been paid attention to and loved, and for that I am incredibly grateful.  I feel like the luckiest mom in the world to have such a great support network at home and  such an amazing little one in my arms here in China.  I know this could be a honeymoon period and that the morning or the next few days could get rough, but for now I am just marveling in the wonder of it all!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Adventures (and misadventures) in Beijing (Day Two)

Ni Hao!

It's now Sunday morning and we are killing time in our hotel tin Beijing, before we head out to the airport for our flight to Hohhot (Gracie's city!) this afternoon.  I had originally hoped we might go to church this morning, but for reasons that will become clear in a minute, I was too nervous to risk it.  So instead I'm trying to catch up on overdue blogging.

Our first full day in Beijing (Friday) dawned a little overcast (or smoggy, not entirely sure) and chilly but not bitter cold.  We started out in the hotel breakfast buffet, which offered an interesting assortment of Western and Chinese food.  There was traditional breakfast fare -- eggs, waffles, french toast, bacon -- as well as food we would associate with other times of the day (such as cold cuts, salad, and baked beans), Chinese selections (fried noodles, wonton soup, a variety of dumplings and baozi (buns)), congee (regular and "purple"), and some items unusual for any hour, such as "ham sushi."  The food was overall tasty, if a little bland, although Joy said the coffee was awful.

We met our guide Vanessa and set out for the Mutainyu section of the great wall, about an hour and half outside the city.  We passed by glittery office towers and international hotels, fancy shopping malls, bland-looking residential blocks, and some (although not many) traditional looking buildings.  Eventually the city gave way to more rural sections, where we saw a lot of squat, run-down looking buildings, orchards, and fields growing who-knows-what (a self-described "city girl," Vanessa couldn't tell us.).  We even saw a double-decker truck full of donkeys (which are eaten in some parts of China, Vanessa said) and several herds of cows (we love cows!)

The Great Wall was built over time between 1500 and 500 years by the Imperial Chinese to keep out the invading Mogol hordes from the north (anyone seen Mulan?).  Although the widely-held belief that the Great Wall can be seen from space is apparently a myth, there is no doubt that it is an impressive feat of engineering and labor, stretching west from Beijing for thousands of miles (although many sections have been damaged by times, invaders, and in some cases local farmers taking the stones and bricks to build their houses.)  It is punctuated every few hundred yards by guard houses, some one story and some two, that served as watch stations from which fire or smoke signals could be sent to warn the city of approaching invaders.

At the Mutainyu section (one of three restored sections in the Beijing area), you climb up a hill to  take cable cars from a parking area up to the wall itself, which you can walk on for quite a distance, if you are sure of foot and strong of lung.  We were still a little jet lagged, so we didn't venture onthe steeper parts, but we got a feel for it and enjoyed the sense of history and the sweeping views.

When we got back from the Wall, we resisted the temptation to go straight to bed, in order to keep trying to get settled on China time.  We had the opportunity to meet up with a family from the Chicago area I had net online.  They are here with their oldest (7) to adopt their fourth child.  They suggested dinner at the "food court" of a mall near their hotel, and we agreed to meet them at their hotel, the Grand in the Wangfujiang District.  I explained to the concierge where we wanted to go, and he wrote it on a card and put us into a taxi.  The taxi wended its way through Beijing rush hour (the traffic here deserves it's own post; suffice to say that it makes the Washington Beltway look tame) and we arrived without much difficulty.  Except that our friends weren't in the lobby, and when I tried to call the room, it turned out there was no such room, and no such guest registered.  Uh-oh. Eventually, we figured out that we were at the Grand Hyatt, and they were at the Grand Hotel a few blocks away.  Same neighborhood, different place.  Eventually we made our way to them.  The food court was impossibly crowded, but we found a restaurant with a hostess who spoke some English and proceeded to order a large pot of a sort of stew with chicken wings, onions, beans, potato, and some kind of long, thick, slippery noodle.  Although she tried to tell us it wouldn't be enough for all of us, and tried to convince to order another dish with a whole fish (head included!) or frog (we said "bu yao" -- don't want -- to that!), we couldn't come close to finishing it (although it was tasty).  After saying good night and see you soon (in Gaunngzhou) to our new friends, we wandered around the Wangfujiang shopping area for a while  It was a fascinating mix of high-end stores (Cartier, Burberry), local stores (such as a children's department store with a whole section devoted to Pleasant Goat merchandise), and street stalls selling souvenirs ("Good price for you, lady") and interesting food selections (such as roasted corn, which looked tempting, and roasted scorpion, which did not) 

When we had had enough, we walked back to the Grand Hyatt to get a taxi (we almost got in to one stopped on the street, but when we showed the card with our hotel printed on it, he quoted a price four times what we had paid to get there, and although it still wasn't that much, it made me nervous).  We thought getting one with the help of the hotel concerierge would be safer and easier.  Safer, maybe.  But easier, not so much!  We waited in line for over an hour as taxis pulled in and left without picking anyone up,  people jumped the line, etc.  If it hadn't been so cold and we hadn't been so tired, we could have walked back in less time than it took!  Ah well, a true Chinese cultural experience!

Off to the airport to fly to Grace's city!!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Day One (a day late)

So it's Friday now (I think), and this post is about Wednesday.  Or Thursday.  Or both, since they kind of merged into one another in the a haze of time zone changes and LONG international flights.  The headline first -- WE MADE IT TO BEIJING!

Below are a few details, in pictures!  I'm having a little difficulty getting blogger and the netbook to cooperate, so bear with me if the layout is a little lacking!
Drat, blogger won't let me rotate photos 

We left bright and early and made it around the Beltway in record time -- no traffic!  My wonderful friend Katherine and her able assistant got us to Dulles with plenty of time to spare!  We checked in quickly, and our luggage wasn't even over weight!
What I really wanted to capture was the screen that showed how many miles to go, which was some close to 7000!  Watching the flight path on the seat-back screens was a major diversion during the 14 hours.  We flew north, almost to the pole, and west.
The flight (United direct from Dulles to Beijing) was less than half full.  Joy and I had a whole row (5 seats) to ourselves, along with the extra leg room of "Economy Plus" (TOTALLY worth the extra $125 each way, for anyone planning on making this trip soon), so we were quite comfortable. We passed the time chatting, reading, watching movies/TV, and resting.

Joy is amazing - she can sleep anywere, at the drop of a hat!  I don't do as well , especially at sleeping sitting up, so I got some sleep, but not a lot.

Flights with food, remember those?  We got lunch shortly after take off, a midnight snack, and a second lunch shortly before landing.  The second one reminded us that we were almost in China (and was actually pretty tasty).

First view of China.  Well, I think it was China.  It might have been Mongolia.  Brown mountains with snow.

Our guide Vanessa was a few minutes late, but arrived with her sign in hand before we started to panic.  She and our driver (who hasn't told us his name and may or may not speak any English) conveyed us safely through the heavy Beijing traffic to the Jianguo hotel, our "home" for the next few days.  I realize now I didn't take any photos of the hotel yet, but it's very nice.  It has a few quirky features, such as a slot inside the door into which you have to put the room key to make the lights turn on and beds that are not quite as hard as park benches, but close.

We were deternined to try to get on China time, so we resisted the urge to go straight to bed upon arriving at the hotel.  We cleaned up a bit and then ventured out to explore the neighborhood.  We passed by the McDonalds and Starbucks in favor of a local place calling itself "Dollar Soup," where we ordered by pointing at a picture menu!  We got Joy's bowl of rice, meat, veggies and sauce, dish of pickled sea weed and hot tea, plus my large bowl of noodle soup (which I found too spicy to eat, but Joy liked) and order of steamed dumplings (which may have been from Costco :)) for 36 rmb  (about 6 dollars).

So that was Thursday!  Now it's Friday evening and we are off to meet up with an on-line adoption friend of mine and her family for dinner.  Wish us luck, we're going to take a taxi!!  I'll post about our first full day in Beijing (including pictures with me in them, I promise) when we get back.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Leaving on a Jet Plane

After years of dreaming and months of anticipations and moments of panic and piles of paperwork and so much love and support poured out, it's finally here:


We leave tomorrow (Wednesday) at noon and after a non-stop 14 hour flight and a 13 hour time difference, land in Beijing on Thursday afternoon.   We have a couple of days in Beijing, visiting the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Hutong District, the acrobat show, etc.  We head to Inner Mongolia (where it is cold, but not as cold as it was a couple of weeks ago, thankfully) on Sunday and meet Gracie on Monday.  Then we have few days of paperwork and sightseeing in Hohhot before heading to Guangzhou (in balmy Southern China) on Friday (3/2).  Guangzhou is for US paperwork, and hopefully meeting up with various on-line friends who are traveling at the same time (all US families have to travel to Guangzhou after completing their adoptions in their child's province).  Then, probably before we know it, we'll be packing up all our stuff for the marathon journey home, but this time with Gracie!

Contingent on having internet access and some coherent thoughts, I hope to be blogging (or at least putting up pictures) from China.  Thank you for all your good thoughts, prayers, and support; they mean the world to me.

Monday, February 20, 2012


For the last couple of days, when people have asked me how I am feeling, the word has been "overwhelmed".  I think that's the best way to describe it.  I am awash in so many feelings: so hopeful, so scared, so excited, so so so many things.

 I am overwhelmed by a combination of anxiety, appreciation, and amazement.

Anxiety about things great and small:
  • Did I get everything I need?
  • Can I fit everything I need into a suitcase that conforms to international and intra-China flight rules?
  • Will the flight go ok (I'm not a nervous flier at all, so I am not worried about our safety, but I have never been on a flight even close to this long, so I don't know how I will feel, do, sleep.  And the thought of the flight back with a three-year-old is really too much to contemplate).
  • How will Gracie react to all this?  For almost a year, I have been hoping and praying and working and waiting for this day, but Gracie hasn't been doing any of those things.  She has been living the only life she has ever known.  For her, this is going to be very much like being kidnapped.
  • Will I be good enough -- patient enough, flexible enough, creative enough, resourceful enough, to help through this, to meet her needs (immediate and long-term), to be the mother that she deserves?
Appreciation, for the amazing outpouring of love and support I've received:
  • From my family: my parents taking care of my dog and helping with all kinds of logistical and material support to make this happen (down to my mom taking my car to be washed and vacuumed so her granddaughter would ride home in a clean car!); my AMAZING "sister-aunt" Joy taking vacation time and traveling across the country to travel across the world with me; my extended family for their calls and e-mails and gifts and encouragement
  • From my friends: from high school and college and grad school and book group and past jobs so many places for the encouragement and the facebook posts and the gifts and the hand-me downs and all the other tangible and intangible expressions of caring and love for Gracie, and for me
  • From my colleagues: cheerfully dividing up my tasks and allowing me to focus on Gracie for the next several months, as well as so many warm wishes and words of advice
  • From my church family: so many expressions of congratulations, encouragement, and support (and a BEAUTIFUL prayer shawl); so grateful to know that so many people are holding Gracie and me in their prayers!
  • From my "virtual" adoption community: so much advice and encouragement throughout this process
  • That this is really, truly, finally happening!  I feel like I still don't really believe it, and maybe I won't until I am actually holding her in my arms.  What an astounding, astonishing, OVERWHELMING gift I am about to be given. 
Someone told me once that, "Mercy is not getting what you do deserve (reprieve from punishment) and grace is getting what you don't deserve (unmerited favor)"  This whole experience has been one of overwhelming, unimaginable grace.

So there's a lot still on my to do list (including posting the travel details for anyone who wants to know) and I'm sure tomorrow I'll be pretty panicky.  But tonight I'm focusing on the fact that a week from now I'll be holding my little girl, and just feeling overwhelmed by it all, but in a good way!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Happy Birthday Little One!

It's tomorrow in China now, I guess, but here it's still February 9, Gracie's third birthday.

I doubt she knows that it's her birthday.  I don't think that birthday's are a big deal in China, certainly not in the orphanage, and even more so for a little girl who doesn't have any language.

But I know!  And I wonder how we'll celebrate it next year.  Pink cupcakes and a princess party?  Or as a friend (also mom to a Gracie, who happens to be one of the coolest kids I've ever known) pointed out, maybe it will be blue cupcakes and fire trucks and light sabers.  Or maybe no cake at all, if she is like a certain Chinese friend of ours, who never touches the stuff.   I can't wait to find out what she likes, what she'll want, who she is.  So much will change for her, a9nd for me, in the next year.

So tonight I am mostly looking forward (and looking at my to-do list, and freaking out, but that's another post), but I am also looking back.  I'm imagining the day (or night) she was born. I'm wondering about her first family, how they prepared for that day, how they felt, how they came to make the decision that they couldn't parent her.  The reality of China adoption is that we'll probably never know.  There is no legal process for "making an adoption plan" in China.  There is no mechanism for children adopted from China to find out about their origins, in most cases (although there have been a few instances of finding first families, it's exceedingly rare.  China is a huge country, and Grace is from a big city, so the odds are slim). There will always be questions, wonderings, unknowns.  Someday Gracie will probably ask all those questions.  I can only hope that I can help her find answers that she can be at peace with.

So far now I look back at Gracie's past, with a little sadness for what she (and her first family) have gone through.  And I look forward with joy and anticipation and not a little anxiety about how this will go, what it will be like, if I will be good enough!  And nothing is for certain, except that this is the last birthday that she will spend without a family.

So happy birthday baby girl!  I hope you had a good day! I'm counting the days until I see your sweet face!

Monday, February 6, 2012

I've got a golden ticket!

I still haven't gotten around to telling the complete story of the paperchase, which I still want to do, but in the meantime, there is a BIG NEWS:


TA, for people who don't speak China Adoption, is TRAVEL APPROVAL, the last piece in the paper chase puzzle that started almost a year ago!  China says "Come and get her!!"

So, here is the travel plan:
2/22/ (yes, in just over 2 weeks, if you are counting) -- Depart Dulles for Beijing.  You fly non-stop for 14 hours and arrive the next afternoon, because of the time difference.
2/23 - 2/25 -- Sightseeing (and adjusting to the time change) in Beijing - Forbidden City, Great Wall, etc.  (Much to Joy's disappointment, not the Terra Cotta warriors, which are far away in Xi'an).

2/26 -- Fly to Hohhot, Inner Mongolia.  Bundle up -- temperatures in the single digits!  Brrrrr!

2/27 (three weeks from today!) -- Getting Gracie Day!!

2/28 -- Paperwork to make us a family forever!
3/2 -- Fly to Guangzhou (southern China) for the US part of the paperwork.
3/6 - Consulate appointment -- Grace's "swearing in" that allows her to become a citizen
3/7 - Pick up Grace's visa and head out for an overnight in Hong Kong, then fly home, arriving approximately 3 hours after we left (after about 16 hours of flying, including a quick layover in Tokyo and a 13 hour time difference).

WOW!  It's really, really happening!