Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On pictures and updates

Ah, photos! Those little things we take so for granted in this age of digital cameras and instant gratification. Those little peaks into the lives of these kids that are so crucial to those of us waiting to bring them home.

It was hard the first month after her referral going from photos of her at 5-6 months to 11 months in the space of a week or two. I don't know if this is common knowledge, but kids grow and change a lot in that amount of time. I began to worry about how much she would have grown by the time we got there. I had delightful dreams where we were brought a rather sassy 12 year old and told we should have gotten there sooner. It's unreasonable, but I do worry about these things. Then, I am lucky enough to be given a new photo to obsess over. Like this one.

Clearly, an unhappy baby. This photo is less than 24 hours old, so I am assured that she is not, in fact, a teenager yet. I love her cute pink overalls, her full-face smile, and the fact that I can practically hear her sweet giggles.

Pictures and updates are both happy and sad for me. I go through a bit of an emotional sugar high with each one. Fortunately, I have learned the pattern of how they affect me, so I can deal with it.

Step 1: The High. Get new picture and lose focus on all the things I was supposed to do that day
Step 2: Memorize photo, email it to family, post on Facebook
Step 3: Obsess more over picture and look through all the photos again
Step 4: The Crash. Look at calendar and realize it's still quite a while until we will be able to be in the picture with her.
Step 5: Spend the rest of the week hoping for more pictures and being disappointed when they don't come. Pretend that I don't expect any while secretly hoping that I can trick the universe into sending me more.
Step 6: Distract myself with work and getting ready. Avoid looking at photos so as not to get too depressed. Feel bad that I don't look at all her photos everyday. Stop expecting any new information, for real this time.

I don't pretend that it makes any sense at all. I just know that by tomorrow morning I will probably be a bit down. Oh well, for today I get to see my girl.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Yes, we are spoiled

This is a long post. There, you have been warned.

For anyone not familiar with the China adoption program and how things typically run, please don't think that our experience is the typical one of all adoptive parents. It's really not. Most children are not in foster care or western-run group homes. Most will get one update with a few pictures if they are lucky. Most have to worry about if their child is warm enough, getting the care they need, or even being taken out of their crib each day. It's not that orphanages are horrible, it's just that there are usually so many children that caretakers are lucky if they are able to get everyone's basic needs (being fed and changed) met each day.

I fully admit that we are one of the very lucky couples who know that our girl is being well cared for. She gets played with and fed more than just thickened formula. She knows her name because the nannies talk to her. In fact, they are now calling her XiaoNora (pronounced kind of like the first part of shower. It means little) so that she will be used to her English name. They help her practice her walking daily, and she is developmentally right on track. It may not seem like much, but believe me when I say that these are huge things that are not the norm.

In addition to that, Eagles Wings has volunteer groups come help out. In October they had a group come and live with the kids for a month. They helped care for, feed, play with, and go on outings with the children (no field trips for the babies yet, obviously). They also made the following video the help educate about what Eagles Wings is and what they do. It's short, but very well done. Watch for Nora being adorable at 3:50

We've watched it a few dozen times now, and I thought it couldn't get better than seeing my sweet girl smiling so big and looking so happy. I was wrong.

A bit of searching led me to the main page of the group that volunteered in October. Imagine my surprise when I saw that there were blog posts from people who had been in China during that time (it's a big organization, not everyone was at Eagles Wings). Then I found a blog post with pictures written by the girl who narrated and filmed the above. I found a picture on Nora and was so excited to see there was a contact link on her blog. I wrote her a quick little note telling who I was and thanking her for what she had done. I didn't expect to hear from her, especially since she was now in South Africa.

That same day I received an email from her thanking me for the kind words and telling me that the orphanage director had told them that Nora had a family waiting for her and they had seen the picture book we sent. She wanted to know more about our family and told us how cute Nora was. Again, awesome and I thought that was it.

A couple days later I got an email that included the following information:

Nora is such an amazing girl and is always smiling (I am sure you saw the video clip of her whipping her head around with a huge smile on her face). She rarely cries and she holds her own around the 6 toddler boys she lives with. There are also two other girls in the house, but they are both younger than Nora.

When I left a few weeks ago Nora was just starting to walk, she could take a step or two on her own but then she sits down. The house moms have been working with her on it everyday though, so I would not be surprised if she is now walking on her own.

The baby house has three rooms. One for the older boys, one for the babies (where Nora sleeps) and one for the house moms. They have lots of toys to play with, which usually end up all over the floor and [orphanage director] is great about making sure each kid has their own set of clothes.

As if it couldn't get any better, she included 9 pictures. 9! That almost doubles the number of photos we have! Since that is what you came for, enjoy!

Nora is in the pink on the left. This is the group that was there. She is getting so big! Don't let the outfit fool you though, she probably has on about 4-5 layers adding to her bulk.
The play area. We've seen it in photos, but never the real layout. Kinda cool!
Nora in her crib. We've never seen this room and didn't know what bed she slept in. This will be so nice to her for her to see as she gets older and wants to know more about her first year.
Two of the guys looking silly, Nora looking cute, and AiBi looking like she is forming an escape plan that involves a helicopter.
Food time. I love her little socks.

I don't really know what it is about this picture, but I love it so much. Its just beautiful.

Awesome sweater? Check! Slightly exasperated look? Check! Chubby (albeit scratched) cheeks? Check! That must be my baby!

This is my new happy thought.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Stumbling Toward Fatherhood

Kevin here! I know, I write maybe one in five posts here, and those probably go unnoticed except by those intrepid readers who notice the faint "Posted by... " text at the bottom of each post. This probably means I will love our daughter 1/5 as much as Jen will.

Anyway, WE GOT THE LETTER OF APPROVAL! We got it a few days ago. This is big, huge, gigantic news. This is the fulcrum of the massive lever of paperwork involved in getting her here. Everything before this was the application process, and everything else after this is just hammering out details. This marks China's official blessing for us to come and bring our little girl home.

I got to sign it. It was on really fancy paper with shiny watermarks and everything.

So we're headed into the final lap of this three-plus-year marathon! Exciting things are certainly afoot, but I've been slowly coming to the realization of how completely clueless I am. I'm sure this will sound trite to those who have experienced parenthood already, but there's a tiny part of me that's freaking out that I'm going to travel to a foreign country and they're going to hand me this tiny person and I'm supposed to just know what to do. There are a few steps missing in my brain between "change first diaper" and "attend MIT graduation."

I'm probably looking at this the wrong way, and I have a feeling other parents will tell me that this is all part of the grand adventure. I have a grand confession to make, though, and I don't want to shock anyone or send anyone calling the authorities: I have never changed a diaper. Ever. My experience in the daily operations of turning a human larva into a viable adult is surprisingly limited considering the sheer volume of younglings present at any given family gathering on either side.

Last weekend, Jen and I had the opportunity to babysit her brother's kids overnight while they had a night out. Neither of us had babysat anyone since we were both maybe 13, so we were both a bit nervous. Jen's nephews are two boys, 4 and 6, who are remarkably self-contained, for lack of a better term. We played in a tent set up in the living room, played a game of "wolves vs. tacos" (don't ask), watched Cars 2 (way better than the first one, I thought), made brownies, and goofed around with our two dogs.

Right at 7:30, we announced it was time to get ready for bed and they both went straight to get their jammies on, brush their teeth, pick a book to be read, and say their prayers without complaint (I should note here that the younger one made sure to thank God for the robots and the dinosaurs).

The next morning, one of our dogs was whining to be let outside at about 6:15 a.m. When I got downstairs from the guest bedroom where we were sleeping, I saw a strange glowing light in the corner. When my eyes focused, I saw that it was the older boy who had awakened, went downstairs, found his dad's iPad and was quietly playing a game, sitting on the heater vent under a blanket. We never heard a sound, even though he had to walk right past where we were sleeping.

When their parents got home the next morning, we had one burning question: how did you do that?

These are the questions that sometimes sneak into the edges of my waking thoughts. I already love that little girl and want to be the best dad ever. In the meantime, I'm more excited about China and finally SQUISHING THOSE CHEEKS (after an appropriate adjustment period) then ever before.

We're coming, Eleanor!!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

3 Months

Three months ago we saw her face for the very first time.

I still remember that phone call. I remember how bad my hands were shaking trying to write down information. I still have that scrap of paper, details scribbled in red ink, complete with misspelled name (hey, D and Z sound the same over the phone sometimes!). I still remember Sarah saying, "We have a file we'd like you to look at and tell us if you think she's your daughter." I remember driving home feeling surprisingly calm and thinking I might just wait to open the email with her information until after Kevin got home. I changed my mind, but did manage to say a little prayer before opening it to ask that if she was our daughter, that I might know.

I've already written in detail about that day, but sometimes I have to remind myself to think of how happy we were during this often frustrating wait. We weren't expecting a referral for several months, and certainly not less than a month after our paperwork was logged in. We hoped to have good news by Thanksgiving, or at least Christmas. "How wonderful," we discussed, "to have a referral before the end of the year. To be able to show pictures of our new daughter to our family around the tree." I should be grateful that we are this far along when so many people are still waiting to get to where we are now, and I am. Sometimes I just have to remind myself to stop and think about all the miracles that have happened so far rather than getting caught up in wishing for another one.

Babies in China are called Baobao, meaning "little treasure" and she certainly is that. One we feel honored to receive. Our LOA will come when the time is right, and in the meantime I plan on spending the day filled with gratitude to be able to use the words "my daughter".

的 宝宝, 我 都 爱 你。