Tuesday, February 28, 2012

T +3 Days... So Far, (Mostly) So Good

It's so weird to be home, like there was so much work, toil, tears, preparation, paperwork and more and then BAM WE'RE IN CHINA and now there's this little girl sleeping in my room and I can't get the little ABC theme song that her toy phone plays out of my head.

Home is a wonderful thing.  As Jen described, I would be more than happy living in a cardboard box full of eels after that plane ride from Hong Kong.  Nobody should be in a plane for that long, much less the tired and emotionally frayed parents of a toddler who has only just decided to like them.  I spent most of the flight holding her and standing back in the galley where the flight attendants prepare your drink carts and the line forms for the bathrooms.

But we're home!  Bags are mostly unpacked, life is mostly normal, though I have a creeping suspicion that the definition of normal has changed somewhat.

I like to think that the violent roller coaster that was getting Nora, adjusting, bonding, then travel kind of made me skip my "holy crap I'm becoming a Dad" mindset and go straight to this morning where I got her out of bed, gave her her favorite breakfast (sweet corn meal and bananas) and played with blocks before realizing what just happened.  I feel like I'm slipping into the Daddy role pretty well, due to the fact that Jen has been extremely sick and can't do much for Nora as she is, and the fact that Nora is actually pretty independent most of the time.

So yeah, Jen brought home what the doctor thinks is either bronchitis or some kind of walking pneumonia.  As of right now, this is the longest I've heard her sleep with out violent coughing fits.

We miss our travel group a lot, we miss China a lot, but it's nice to have family over to meet our fantastic little girl, though it breaks our hearts to have to tell everyone not to hold her just yet so we can continue to work on bonding and attachment, which seem to be going pretty well so far.  Some family has a harder time with it, but we try to explain about how a child who has lost a primary caregiver can have serious issues with bonding with a new one.  She needs to know that we are the mom and the dad.

I'm back to work on Thursday, and I hope Jen is feeling much better by then (we're both pretty well adjusted to the time difference now), but I'm going to miss being able to come hang out with the baobao all day.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Home!

We made it! I always used to get annoyed when a family wouldn't blog as regularly once they got home, but now I get it.

The flight was ok. Nora did ok, save for a spot of turbulence which forced us to attach her little seat belt to ours which lead to a tantrum bad enough that a well-meaning stranger asked if I wanted her to hold her so I could have a "mental break" and a flight attendant asked what she could do, to which I may have lost it a bit. Hooray for breakdowns in front of strangers! As soon as the light went off, Kevin stood up with her and the screaming stopped. She hates being confined.

We're doing ok, but still fighting the jet lag. Nora wants to wake up at 12:30 every night to play for a while, but in a couple weeks she should be all adjusted. Kevin has been amazing in every way and is taking Nora and Tikka on a walk right now before dinnertime. I went to the doctor this afternoon and confirmed that I have some sort of weird chinesey form of bronchitis. Here's hoping that the antibiotics and narcotic cough syrup will result in the first night of sleep without coughing in over 2 weeks.

I'll write more tomorrow, probably, but for now I have a wonderful world of drugged sleep calling my name. Until then!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Day 16: Away We Go

Hey, friends... sorry I don't have any pictures for you right now.  I've been out grocery shopping while Jen has been doing all the packing and early tomorrow we get on a whole bunch of airplanes and hopefully our child won't scream and no one will want to murder us.

I admit that I'm a bit sad right now.  I'm sad to be leaving China.  I'm sad to leave our travel group... we've made such good friends here.  I'm sad to leave the protective bubble that is everyone we know all attempting to parent at the same time to children from somewhat similar backgrounds.  We meet every day in the playroom to share stories and Jen and I lap up the advice and the encouragement toward what we're doing.  I freely admit to needing a lot of that to keep going.

But HOME!  That is exciting indeed.  I'm a Dad now, and that is pretty awesome.  I have a little girl that is adorable and sweet and playful, and who needs a lot of care.  I have a wonderful wife whom I absolutely adore with all my heart and wouldn't want to do this without her.

We're coming home, everyone!  Please send your prayers and good vibes and all that so our flights go well with her.  Then, after some adjustment time, we'd love to have you all meet our wonderful little Nora YinCi.

Peace out, China... it's been amazing.  Thank you for every little thing.

 - Kevin

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Day 15: Guangzhou - Nearing the end

We are nearing the end of our trip and, like Kevin said, we are ready to be home. Don't get me wrong, I will miss China terribly. We love it here and plan on coming back when we can, but living out of a hotel while trying to understand your very active toddler is tricky on a good day, and those are few and far between. This post will be a bit random, but that's what you get at the end of a long day.

We've been lucky enough to make some good friends here and plan on staying in contact with as many of them as we can. Sean and Nora especially seem to have taken to each other and we'll be sad to say goodbye to their family. Tonight at dinner we met downstairs for another impromptu get together with our travel group and when we walked over to Sean and family they both lit up and started babbling to each other.

Things are improving so much with all the families, and Nora is no exception. Her tantrums, though still intense, seem to be fewer and we are doing better about dealing with them without letting her frustrations become our own. They mostly stem from a change to her routine, so we can avoid many by just staying on the ball. her smiles and giggles come more frequently and she checks in with us more and more while she plays, which is great progress. It was pointed out to us that even though Nora's tantrums are difficult to deal with, she is at least not hiding how she feels. The fact that she trusts us enough to show her emotions is actually a big deal and we are so grateful for that, no matter the headaches her screaming causes.

Today we had our consulate appointment at the US embassy. After everything it was rather anti-climactic. We stood and swore that the information we provided was true and complete, we got more papers to sign, we went down the many escalators to the ground floor and that was it. The final bit of adoption business to be conducted in China. After lunch and a nap, we went with Jim, Joslyn, and Sean to visit the smaller park in the area. Aside from the oppressive humidity, the need to carry the babies, and our poor decision to wear sweaters, it was a lovely time. I'm quite sure we were the only Americans there and we got many stares, as we typically do. I don't care for it, but I'm more used to it. We saw a man fishing from a small boat in the lake, the amazing performance of the "70's Experience" band, and older men with cages filled with birds in order to bring them to visit their bird friends outdoors. I loved it. Only in China.

Some more playing, followed by a meeting about our departures and dinner from a local Chinese place made for a full, but enjoyable evening. We will miss our little makeshift family here. The first-time parents (we affectionately call ourselves the noobs) getting great advice from the experienced folks. The kids of various ages running around and playing together. The common thread we all share that our decision to adopt from China happened simply because it felt "right". We know that we've been on the receiving end of so many miracles with this adoption, but I never thought that the group we went with would be part of the plan. We are so very blessed.

I was also thinking today that I never really got a chance to post my thoughts, etc. on Nora day. Here's what I remember. We were all very anxious to meet the babies and new they would be coming at any moment. We scrambled around trying to make sure that pictures and video of the moment we met would be taken care of. The first group of kids came in and I lost it a bit. How could this be real? How could it finally be happening? How could it get any better? Lisa and I (the mother of the 12 year old) stood together wiping away our tears and asking each other how we could be so lucky to be a part of something so beautiful as seeing families united.

After the first group, I think they said Nora was coming in the next one. I don't know if they really said that or I just new that she was next. I looked out the window and saw a van open it's door and saw our sweet girl in person for the first time. I remember wanting to be sure it was her, but I knew it was. She was wearing the same orange scarf and hat we had seen before and I recognized her Ayi. She was there. only separated from me by a door. That's it. I think I told Kevin a few times that she was here and I saw her. Then she was inside and they called her name, meaning we were to go up and meet her. I could hardly believe it, but amazingly I wasn't crying anymore. I think my brain decided it wasn't real, so I shouldn't get all worked up about it. I went to hold her, but with all the layers she had on and as tight as she was clinging to her Ayi, I couldn't get a good hold on her. Finally, I managed to get her in my arms and she looked at me with big scared eyes. She reached for her Ayi a couple times, and that's when the picture book we sent was pulled out so that Nora could see we were the same people. When she realized that the Ayi wasn't going to rescue her from the strange people she started to cry a bit, but a banana quickly remedied that problem.

We got to ask the Ayi a few questions about her routine (warm bottles, hold her to comfort her) and early information (first words were "mama" and "baba") while she made sure I took note of Nora's new shoes. All the while she clung to that banana and looked dazed and so scared. I managed to thank her Ayi and we both got a little teary as it came time to say goodbye. And that was it. We were suddenly parents of this amazing little person. I remember looking at her sweet face and thinking how beautiful she was. How perfect her eyelashes were. Why did my brain need to point out that detail to me? Her skin was as soft as I knew it would be, and she was heavier than I was prepared for.

For two solid days she clung so desperately to me and I felt so inadequate to heal her wounded heart. I had read that a child's play can offer insight into their emotions and she played by throwing her ducky to the floor with all her strength, knocking over towers, and ripping tissues to shreds. She never smiled while she played. She refused to eat bananas. It was an incredibly hard time and I am so glad we are through that rough patch. There are miles yet to travel with her attachment, but the foundation is being built and I love seeing her progress.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Day 14: Guangzhou, City Zoo, Group Dinner

Gonna keep this short.  I won't name names, but someone was a little stinker last night and decided to wake up every 30-45 minutes to remind us that she could cry really loudly.  She's out right now (thankfully) and it looks like she should sleep tonight, and so should I.

Today was another optional tour, so we got onto a bus and went to the Guangzhou city zoo.  We were actually both completely exhausted after a night of no sleep, and we didn't really decide to go until the last minute... we figured we'd be even more miserable staying back at the hotel room.

We're so glad we went, though, because we had a great time and Nora got to point at all the animals and make happy little noises.  For 10 yuan you could get a handful of branches with leaves and feed the giraffes, and I had Nora with me when we did.  We got a great video which I will post when we're home and video isn't a huge pain to work with.  I'll also spare you pictures of animals, because you know what animals look like, and taking pictures of animals at the zoo always sounds like a good idea at the time, but then you feel like a total tool for taking pictures of zoo animals, because who is going to want to look at those?  People who haven't heard of Google, that's who.

Our little group arrives.

Nora, being a year of the tiger baby, communes with her kindred spirit animals.
Um... we took this picture of what appears to be the life cycle of a zebra.  Apparently zebras get born, play, study hard, eat McDonalds, shoot some hoops, then sprout wings and soar?  My college zoology class is a bit distant now, but I think some steps are missing.

Nora took a big, fat nap after we got home (hooray), and apparently I curled up on the little lounge chair here in the room and totally crashed myself (hooray).  I don't even remember Nora getting up or Jen taking her down to the playroom so I could have some quiet.  Jen is a wonderful wife, that one.

This evening we had another group dinner and went to the Cantonese restaurant around the corner from us, and as always, the food was amazing.  What was more amazing was that we tried feeding Nora a regular dinner before we went, made sure to find quiet tables away from large bunches of people, and she completely behaved in my lap, as long as I kept some noodles or an occasional sesame-crusted cashew coming her way.


No one seemed to know if the restaurant had a name.  Everyone just called it "the Cantonese restaurant."
Being mainly a seafood restaurant, here is where you can have a little meet 'n' greet with your dinner before service.  This also serves as the neighborhood seafood market, and there were a lot more tanks than pictured here.
Alligator tail, anyone?
And finally... a new contender for the Award for Best English Mistranslation: Clothing Category.

Tomorrow's big plan is our visa appointment at the U.S. consulate... when that's done, we can officially leave for home.  Wow, home...

I love China, I love the people here, the culture, the food, the art, the history, but living out of a hotel room gets really, really old, even if it's a nice one.  I just want my own bed, my dogs, my own shower (okay, that's not true, the giant overhead rainfall shower here is joyous), and the joy of not worrying about where to go for food two meals a day.

I love China... but I'm ready to be home.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Day 13: Guangzhou, Part 2

So Jen just staggered up to where I was putting some things away and managed to communicate through some primitive grunts and gestures that her Robitussin had kicked and she would need me to finish her blog post.

Here are some pics from the morning's little photo gathering:

I'm aware of how corny this is to all dress up our Chinese kids in traditional Chinese dress, but dang if it wasn't the cutest thing ever.
Our little CCAI travel group.
Yuexiu Park!  It was enormous, full of green things, and immaculately maintained.

Seriously.  Your pretty will regret it for years to come.

We thought about taking a paddle boat ride, but then remembered we have two sometimes very squirmy kids with us.
The pictures were fun, the park was very beautiful and green and featured several little lakes, one of which had bajillions of koi, and another of which featured what I could only guess was a koi hatchery.  Bajillions of tiny koi in tanks everywhere.  You'll just have to trust me on how cool it looked... my camera battery died because I forgot to plug it in last night.

My take on the food here:  a couple that we've become friends with here actually spend two years in the Peace Corps teaching English to rural teachers.  The first night they were served a family banquet, there were brains and intestines and unidentifiable parts in many varieties.  I guess it's safe to say that I'm experiencing quote-unquote real Chinese food, but I'm experiencing the side of it that Westerners are more familiar with anyway.

That said, holy crap it's delicious, and no I couldn't get sick of it in the quantity we're eating it.  I cherish our big, giant, western-style breakfasts.  I'd probably be thinking differently if I were eating noodles for all three meals instead of my waffles and bacon at breakfast, but I really have loved about everything I've eaten here.

The really cool thing about ordering food in a big city is that it's apparently a Chinese thing to have pictures of all your dishes up on the walls to attract more customers, so even if you didn't speak any Mandarin you could just go in and point, then hold up a finger or two to represent quantity, then the order taker tallies your bill, types the total into a calculator and shows you the number so you know what you owe.  Often there is someone in the restaurant who can speak some English and will help through the ordering process.  My new favorite place in Guangzhou helped me out at lunch big time, so at dinner we came back and ordered twice the amount of food.  It's just really, really good.

So after lunch and the park we went down to the playroom to find that most of our travel group had spontaneously gathered at the outside playland to burn off all the excess energy before bedtime.

How many different ways could YOU play airplane baby using only this equipment?

Good day today.  Good food, good company, another bit of Skyping with some family.  I'm really starting to itch to come home, and I wish that the official paperwork parts of this trip weren't so far apart.  I love China and I'm going to miss it terribly when we're gone, but I just want to sleep in my own bed, eat food of my own making, and curl up with my ladies and my dogs and have a massive snuggle party.

Of course we'll be inside a couch-cushion fort.  What are we, barbarians??

Day 13: Guangzhou - Pictures, gardens, and playdates

It's starting to hit me that we will be headed home soon. I still find myself not believing that any of this is real. I wake up and look to my left to see the tiny little person still there and wonder when her parents are coming to get her. I suppose it takes time to get used to the idea of a permanent new person in your life.

As Kevin previously mentioned, I found Nora's sleep button and evenings are so very much easier now. We have a nice little routine. I have to quickly strip Nora of her clothes as the tub fills up before she can try to climb in the tub, she splashes around for 20 minutes or so, then it's dry-off time followed by a quick rubdown with lotion while Kevin heats her bottle. Even though she chugs down her formula in about 1 1/2 minutes she is asleep by the end of it. I rock her gently for a few minutes, carefully lay her on her back and it's night night for baby. Other than waking for a diaper change and the occasional night terror, she sleeps soundly in spite of my coughing.

I am feeling a bit better and finally got some cough syrup tonight. Apparently, you can get Robitussin in China. Of course, the instructions are all in Chinese, so I may have overdosed by accident...we'll see.

Today was blissfully underscheduled. We met in the lobby of the hotel for family pictures with the babies in traditional Chinese dress. I have to say, Nora in a red qipao with squeaky shoes and a little silver bracelet that our friends bought her was pretty adorable. She was in high spirits right until the cameras came out. Then she decided she was no one's performing monkey and immediately put on her serious face. No tears, though. After that it was time for a nap, then a quick lunch before a playdate with her little friend Shawn. The two of them are hilarious together and today was no exception. The 6 of us all have a good time together and opted to go to a nearby garden that had the best sign ever.

We enjoyed the nice weather, moderate humidity, and clean air while strolling though a beautiful garden and talking about what we are most excited to go home to and what we will miss most about China. The unanimous vote was not having to go out for every single meal. These kids seem to eat all the time and trying to come up with a place to eat 2-3 times a day is a bit taxing, particularly in this area where there aren't a ton of options.

By the end of the walk, the kids were pretty tired, so we gave them some snacks and rest time before Kevin and Jim ventured to a nearby takeout place for a very tasty dinner. A big thing of pork noodles and dumplings costs a whopping 30 rmb, or just under $5 US, so that is a bonus. We've had people ask us about food, so I will try to answer those questions. No, we are not sick of Chinese food. It is delicious and has so much variety that I don't think I could get bored after only 2 weeks. It probably helps that our breakfast buffet is huge and includes western options as well. My favorite things have been the sweet and sour chicken we had in Zhengzhou, steambuns in Beijing, and four season green beans in Zhengzhou. Basically anything we ate in Zhengzhou was amazingly good. We haven't eaten anything crazy, but we've eaten whatever someone puts in front of us. The food hasn't been terribly different than in the states. Less thick gloopy sauce and no neon pink colors. The taste is fresher and better, though.

After dinner we let the two littles run around together in the room. They decided today was the day they should form a band together. We discovered the other day that Nora is a pretty good imitator of noises and pitch. Shawn would make a little noise, then Nora would make the same noise, which set them both to giggling. It went on like this for a while and the "songs" became louder and higher. Then they set up their drum section in the bathroom, banging on the toilet lid until Nora decided to be a good friend and show Shawn how to open the lid and stick your hand in the water.

It's been great to be able to have a bit more of a routine and set some structure for Nora. I'm sure once we get home it will be even better. I was going to write more but my cough syrup is apparently a nighttime formula and has kicked in. Maybe I'll have Kevin finish up.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Day 12: Guangzhou

I shortened the title of my recurring entries.  Whoomp, there it is.

A prelude:  we've received a bunch of personal emails that have been amazing and have done wonders for our very souls.  Thank you to all of us that send personal messages over Facebook or by email.  They mean so much to us.

First, a short video interlude!  Sorry, I can only post video that I took on my mobile phone since our super new camcorder has out-supered the little Windows XP laptop that we brought that only ever otherwise ran the sound at my band's gigs.  It really can't handle the HD video... I'm working on it.

This is an intersection in Zhengzhou, across from where our hotel was.  Now imagine that those scooters are all cars, and you basically have a busy Beijing intersection.  The rules of a China intersection are that there are no rules.

video

Now imagine that those scooters are the neurons in my brain when I sit back and realize that there's this completely adorable little girl asleep next to my adorable wife on a bed in a hotel room in China.


Yesterday's Recap

Yesterday was one of the optional trips that we can take while here in Guangzhou, and of course we want to do all of them (except for the dinner cruise, but nobody went because it interfered with bedtime). Yesterday we did the Guangzhou city tour which included the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees, which was amazing, featuring a large central pagoda that is unfortunately closed to enter because it leans a little bit to the side.  Apparently this is some sort of structural hazard.




This temple was extremely beautiful and Jen relates a moment that I missed:  while I was off somewhere else, one of the monks, in full robes, passed by Nora being goofy, took her face gently in his hands, and touched his forehead to hers.  Many adopting couples visit this temple while in Guangzhou and the monks are happy to leave their blessings on the children.

The next stop of the day was at the Chen Clan Academy, one of the oldest surviving family houses in China.  today it serves as a museum full of jade carvings, embroidery, and other art from that era.

I'll post some of mine and Jen's pictures...  I didn't get to go inside because it was my turn to walk around with the little baobao...  she was super tired and over stimulated and just wanted to be held and walked around, but was quickly reaching the Land of Unconsolable Spazzing when Jen came back, picked her up in the baby carrier, and she went right to sleep.







We finished our tour with a stop at (of course) a shopping center, where there was some nice jade and porcelain tea sets and lots of very pretty things.  I walked to the little market across the street and bought a Coke Zero.  There is no Diet Coke in this country from what I can see, and Pepsi Light (my preferred foreign diet beverage) is very difficult to find.  My life is an empty shell without my precious daily caffeine fix.  Hey, if I'm being forced to give it up cold turkey, I may as well stay off it.

The rest of the day was more daddy time so Jen can feel better and then we had a pizza party in Jason and Christie's room... three couples got together with the new kids and we actually ordered Papa John's.  It was pretty good.


Today

Bringing us to the present, I only had two goals for the day, and the first was going to visit a supposedly reputable pearl shop, but you can't help being kind of skeptical in a shopping center that was SIX FLOORS OF JEWELRY.  There was gigantic sea of pearl shops, agate, jade...  It was all very pretty, however, and we trust our guides to help us buy good quality stuff.

Hmm... am I hungry for pizza, chicken, or BRUCE LEE'S FIST???

Sneaky picture of some very armed guys who don't know the gun rule about not pointing your gun at things.

Yes, enough pearls to have the raw ones in giant bags on the floor, like almost all of the other jewelry shops.


This last photo is an example of why I eventually got nicknamed the "pack mule," carrying my man-bag with camera gear, full diaper bag, and baby carrier attached via carabiner, and sometimes baby.  I am learning to be PREPARED for things, should things occur.

My second goal of the day was to give Jen the afternoon off.  She's been working so hard with this little girl and is sick besides, so I took Nora for the last half of the day so Jen could sleep.  We went to the playroom, the outside play area, and then the Liu Hua Lake Park, which is a beautiful park where I also saw people practicing Tai Chi, playing table tennis (every court was full), badminton (same) or exercising in the outdoor exercise equipment.  I absolutely love that aspect of the Chinese people.  (shot these with the photo feature of our camcorder... didn't want to bring the Nikon as well)

Haven't you ever wanted to see the great scenery with the special feature?  I think this sign broke my brain.


I read this sign and had to immediately move Nora further back from the bank.

Liu Hua Lake and Guangzhou.

Lots of daddy time today, lots of great time with my girl.  Today is good... if only Jen would get better.
 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Jacksons in China: Day Eleven, Guangzhou

We're back on Blogger and Facebook and all that good stuff now!  Many, many thanks to our good friend Nanette who watched her email vigilantly for emails from us to post here.  Now we can take care of it on our own.  This will be a post of many parts, enjoy in chunks or one delicious, gluttonous gorging.

Whew... all is right with the world for now.  Jen is in the bath trying not to cough her guts out, the Marriott hotel world ad is playing on an eternal loop on the TV (she likes to fall asleep to music), the baobao is sleeping pretty soundly on our hotel bed, and the drivers out on the China streets are honking their little mechanical guts out, and I have some quiet time alone with the computer to update our blog and give you, the yearning masses, some more pictures.

First, a snapshot of where we are:  Guangzhou (gwahng-joe) is the city know more historically as Canton, and is very hilly and beautiful and full of trees and parks and we're not freezing to death when we go outside.  We're in the five-star China Hotel Marriott across the street from a Lamborghini dealership (I'm not joking).  There is a Starbuck's Coffee right in our hotel and a McDonald's right next door.  It is extremely posh and that makes it absolutely nightmarish for two brand-new parents of a feisty, sweet, grabby, extremely active little toddler.  Better keep an eye on that phone, low-level glass-top desk, finger-smashing sliding drawers, lower-cabinet minibar...  we're learning to adjust, though

Let me back up a bit add to Jen's statement from the other day...

But first!  Before you think this is another woe-is-us kind of post, I'd like to point out that things are generally much better with us and the baby right now.  My post from the other day about two steps forward, one step back... well, now these steps are gigantic.  We've had some incredible moments and some terrifying heartbreak, but things get better and better as we figure out what makes this adorable little girl tick.


The Flight

Back to the flight that was the worst of my life... I just want to add what was going through my head.  I can't imagine what it looks like to the good, working people of China when Americans come into their country and take their babies away, and the looks we get are mostly dependent on whether Nora seems happy at that moment.  On our flight, when I picked up our child who had been violently thrashing around, throwing her bottle (still leaking (thankfully just) water onto the Chinese businessman's coat,)  squirming, and screaming at levels that were painful to the ears, just to walk her to the back of the plane and change her diaper, I'll never forget the looks in a hundred pairs of Chinese eyes and the hurt I felt at what I imagined they were thinking, but a lot of that might have just been in my head due to my mental state at the time.  Maybe.

At least the flight was short, and apparently Nora wasn't the only one screaming.  Not that we would have known, of course.  I do need to point out that that marks (cue drum roll) KEVIN'S... FIRST... TIME... CHANGING A DIAPER... ALL ON HIS OWN!!!  Since Nora gets a bit squirmy, we usually tag-team the diaper swap, but that was my first go all by myself.  Hooray for me!  Mail my medal to China Hotel Marriott, 122 Liu Hua Lu,Yuexiu District, Guangzhou, Guangdong, 510015, China.

When we got off the plane, she was a completely different girl.  One of the things we've learned is that she's quite comfortable and soothed when we pick her up and carry her.  It was funny how she immediately went quiet when I stood up with her to go change her diaper.

Come to think of it, that's how this whole trip can be summed up:  one (sometimes painful) learning experience after another.


Guangzhou, Yesterday

Jen talked a little bit about this, but there are two huge reasons that we have to come here to Guangzhou, even though the adoption is "official" the day after we get her:  1) she needs to go to a medical testing station so doctors can give her a once-over to make sure all is on the up-and-up, and 2) she needs a U.S. visa to get home.  Yesterday we took care of that first thing.

We all piled onto a bus and headed for Shamian Island, where we stopped at a tiny shop to get a current picture taken, then over to the medical office set aside for U.S. immigrants to have the doctors take a look and make sure that the medical reports were accurate.

Got an adopted child?  Examine them here!

Our little CCAI group waits for the doctors to poke their children.

Then we had a bunch of free time to explore the island which is full of beautiful parks, waterfront walkways, and is just immaculately clean. It also has a Catholic church, which I didn't expect to see.  One thing I'd heard about China, though, is about how people tend to gather in public parks, and it was away from the high-speed world of Beijing and the brand-new world of Zhengzhou that I finally saw it happen.

On the waterfront park were gatherings of people of all ages playing badminton, practicing Tai Chi or Kung Fu forms, singing in a choir, practicing a sword dance, and generally enjoying the weather.  It was pretty incredible to watch.  We met up with Jim and Josslyn, two of our friends from our group, and talked about what America would look like if Americans got together to practice Kung Fu in the park everyday.

True title of this statue: "The Evolution of the Chinese Woman."  It might be just my imagination, but that last one looks just a bit Western to me.
Uh... I don't see a toilet in front of that guy, so maybe I'll just go in the bushes.

 Two (of many) dudes doing Tai Chi in the park.
Part of the waterfront park.



Random snapshot of the waterfront: words on the back of a girl's (maybe 16 or 17) t-shirt:

"CLICK FOR GREAT EXPERIENCE
CLICK FOR AUDIO TOURS
BE HOME BT MONDAY AFTERNOON"

The BT in there is exactly as it was written... I decided not to click the girl's shirt.  I need to find these shops where they are selling these fantastic manglings of the English language.

After the day's adventures on the Island, we hopped on the bus back and a couple of hours later had our big group dinner at the Macau Street Restaurant, which had really good food

I have to point out here that everywhere we've been in China we've had a local native Chinese guide to help us through absolutely everything from when to get on the bus to which restaurants are safe, and they've all been nothing short of amazing.  Cindy in Beijing had a vast knowledge of the history of ancient China, Yisha and Vivian in Zhengzhou guided us through getting our children and signing the paperwork (Yisha also taught me, while she was on the phone with the front desk of our hotel, that you should never, EVER make a Chinese woman angry).  Here in Guangzhou we have Grace and Maggie, also very knowledgeable about the process of adoption and the local history and culture.  It's been our guides all along who arrange most of these amazing group dinners.

Food at the Macau, like most of your better Chinese restaurants, is served family style, where the group just orders a bunch of dishes which are placed on a giant central turntable, which we spin slowly around, taking whatever bits of whatever dishes we want, until we're stuffed silly.

A ginormous sea of Americans with Chinese babies at the Macau Street Restaurant.


Learning and Leveling Up

Now, for a hard bit of reading: in the interest of blogging about our entire experience, leaving nothing out, I will relate that the night of our dinner at the Macau, on the way home I experienced a complete, sobbing emotional meltdown, built up by sleep-deprivation, sickness, and working through Nora's tantrums that afternoon... and finally triggered by losing one of Nora's shoes.  I just kind of lost it while walking back home, looking everywhere I could for that one tiny shoe, when I got home and Jen informed me that she had picked up the other shoe and stashed in the diaper bag.  I felt completely helpless, like I no longer had any control over my life with this small roller coaster of a girl.

Before you book your flights to come and give me a hug, re-read the note at the top, where I say that things have generally been getting better and better, bit by bit... as of tonight, things are good.  Not great, just yet, but good.

If you've ever played either a video or tabletop game in the role-playing genre, you know that your character starts the game as a complete nobody, with no name and no story, and eventually through your quests and battles you earn enough experience to reach your character's next level, where you are granted new powers and abilities.  Often times you reach a new level by fighting what's called in video-game parlance a "boss," or a really large and powerful enemy at the end of a dungeon or the top of the mountain.

A while back Jen and I decided that our lives were a bit like role-playing games, and we'd tackle a difficult day at work or a big project improving the home and say that we "leveled-up" in, say, home plumbing after I installed a dishwasher and an in-sink garbage disposal without any help.

This last week has been the biggest, most daunting quest, with the most intense battles of the RPG of our lives.  Last night Jen, after a difficult battle with the Creature Who Cries and Flails and Won't Go to Sleep, leveled up in a major way when by accident she discovered exactly how the ayis at the foster home must have put her to sleep.  Now, after her nightly bottle of warm formula, she goes right to sleep every time.  Jen gained the magic powers of Sleeping Without a Snoring Toddler On Your Chest.

We learned that Nora needs to feel like she has control over something, anything, but especially food.  We leveled up and gained the magic powers of Fewer Tantrums if She Can Just Hold a Cracker Everywhere We Go.

Last night, my meltdown was a huge boss battle for me: learning that her emotions are not my own, that there are deep wells of emotional distress that our daughter must work through, and things are going to go out of control now and then, but like Bruce Lee taught (we watched a documentary the other day), I must be water, taking the form of whatever situation I'm in, but flowing freely.

A hot shower and some alone time while the girl was out and I felt like a new man, with new Fatherly powers and abilities.


Enough Sob Story Already

Guess what else has happened?

 - This afternoon we had some Daddy Time to let Jen nap where not only did Nora run to me with arms extended, but let me put her in the baby carrier where we walked around the block (braving plenty of strange looks at the large, bald American with the Chinese baby) to a little grocery store where I bought an aluminum thermos for bringing hot water with us when we leave the hotel (it's awesome having a couple of not-first-time-parents around for these tips).  We looked at the fish in the big tanks at the fish market.  We gave them names.  Every once in a while she would flash that big grin at me and gurgle random syllables.  Remember three days ago when she wouldn't leave Jen at all?

 -  We went to the play room in our hotel, and she giggled while I threw balls around the room and we made towers out of Duplo blocks to smash down.

 - Jen was down working on some paperwork, I was in our room with Nora, laying on the floor, when she cackled, ran around the corner of the bed and full-body body slammed me, laughing the whole time.

 - One of our favorite wind-down activities is to have her take my hand and we go walking down the hallway...you just say "gei wo shou!" ("give me your hand").  She loves to explore and gives these happy little noises all along the way.  I discovered that she especially likes to find shiny surfaces like the mirrors next to the elevators here. There's an outdoor play area where I can let her run around without my hand.

 - As of right now, she's been asleep for a record first sleep of 3 1/2 hours.

Dang it, I love this little girl and her soft brown eyes and her adorable smile... she's just hard to get along with sometimes during this massive, difficult period of adjustment where we're still mostly unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar rules, but dang it, I love this little girl.

Good times at the Six Banyan Temple.



Final Note

Thank you all... we can't really thank you all enough for your prayers and faith for us.  We need it right now.

I'll write about today, tomorrow.  Okay?  Okay.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Greetings from Guangzhou

The last two days have been a bit crazy to say the least. I am going to keep it short since we all need some sleep, but I will say that the 2 hour plane ride from Zhengzhou to Guangzhou was one of the worst things I have ever been a part of. Nora can throw a tantrum like it's going out of style and she chose the plane to really test her skills, legs, and lungs. I got punched, scratched, kicked, hit, and spit on all within the first hour. For those who like to smile and say welcome to parenthood, please don't. I didn't find it funny or entertaining. I felt humiliated and helpless.
I don't want to dwell on it anymore. Even writing this much has put me in a pretty bad mood.

Moving on. The last day in Zhengzhou we walked around a bit after breakfast, packed our things and got ready to leave. Someone in charge had the brilliant idea to have us take a plane that left at 6 pm, allowing the babies to freak out due to their disrupted dinner and bedtime. We arrived at the hotel at around 10, I washed off baby and myself as best I could, tried to not be too upset by the room not being anywhere close to baby safe, and Kevin ran next door to grab McDonalds. It's not that we are sick of Chinese, it's that many options aren't available to you at that time of day in a new city and with a baby who is still letting you know how much she doesn't like you.

Today we woke up tired, having only gotten a few hours of sleep, but something wonderful happened in the night. Nora allowed Kevin to comfort her and she slept with him for about an hour or so. My first lone sleep since we got her.

The main event today was a trip to Shamian island where the kids all got medical exams that were barely even a formality with their brevity. Afterwards, we walked around the island enjoying the warmer weather, clean air, and beautiful scenery. Nora refused to nap this afternoon, preferring instead to run around the playground and getting very revved up. We decided to join the group of parents who were going to eat at a local restaurant that was extremely nice. Nora decided to fall asleep about 10 minutes before we left, and I should have just stayed back at the hotel with her. Dinner was rough, eating in shifts while unsuspecting diners learned that a tiny girl can have lungs the size of an opera star. I left while Kevin sorted out the bill, gave Nora a bath and her bottle. She was asleep before she even finished drinking it.

It's been a very hard couple of days. I'll just leave it at that. I realized this evening though, that if this is going to work I'm going to need to be a lot more brave and patient with her than I ever have been in my life, and I have to remind myself that this will all be worth it (I know it will, no need to remind me).

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers. I am still sick and it's progressed to the point where I have lost my voice and cough almost all night, which doesn't help any of us sleep any better, not that we'd get much sleep anyway.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Jen's Post

I have de-latched the young one for a nap and am actually eating a bit of lunch (though quickly and surruptitiosly) and wanted to thank everyone for their nice comments and support. kevin reads them all to me while I try to get nora to stop fighting me/sleep/eating/everything. She is very strong and I am more than geting a workout. I know it will get better, and I will write a decent post tonight, hopefully, but let me say this is hard in ways i never thought it would be. I got a nasty cold on our last day in Beijing and my energy was already low as my body ried to heal itself. Of course, it wasn't able to much because of the (not so) tiny little wonder who has decided that i am the only thing she can cling to right now. It will get better, I know that, and there are moment of absolute wonder and joy, but there are lows. Oh such lows for both of us as we try to learn to be what each other needs and try to figure out how to work kevin into the equation. Here's the thing. Nora's behaviour toward me is not love, or trust, or attachment. It is desperation. it is a tiny little girl who has gone though absolutely terrifying situations before she was even 1 year old. She has lost her birthmom, and every other caretaker she's ever had and her desperate grip on me is merely her being determined to survive by not losing another caretaker. For me, there is so much love, but for her she is wary of placing her affection on another transient entity. in time it will chage, but in the meantime I hold back the tears from her eyes as she wakes from her naps crying for Mama and definitely not meaning me. It will get better, and in many ways it has, but each new day has new struggles, so please keep us in your prayers and thoughts. That she may come to trust Kevin, that she will know when she wakes we will be there, that we may earn the trust of this wonderful sweet girl who has already made our lives so much greater than before.

Day 8-Jen Speaks

Amazingly, I am able to be a tiny distance away from Nora right now, but only by trickery while she is napping. Even that is huge progress. As Kevin said, it's a struggle and many steps of progress and reverting back. She is adorable and has the absolute best laugh. There is nothing more amazing to me right now than when her little head lays against my chest and she lets out a contented sigh. I'm not going to go into the details of the lows here, but for those who are reading this while preparing to go to China, feel free to email me if you want more info. In the meantime just know that this is harder than any wait we had to deal with throughout the whole process.

Onto other things. Today we went with a couple other families to the Museum of Henan history or something along those lines. I don't think that I got much out of it as Nora had to do her laps, eat puffs without my help, and charm every person she sees. People stare, but smile as soon as they hear her belly laughs or see her toothy smile. She is easy to love, and she knows it. It doesn't hurt anything that even though they see her white mama, I am speaking to her in Chinese. I may be putting to much into it, but it seems like they give a tiny nod of "Well, at least she will stil get that much." Little do they know that my two or three sentences to Nora pretty much sum up 80% of my vocab. Still, it's been HUGE to be able to communicate with her at all. I am even more convinced that anyone adopting from China should be able to speak the language a bit.

So, we've had questions about our travel mates. They are pretty awesome. I was hesitant to travel as a group, but I am more and more convinced that these people were meant to be together here. I can't get into too much detail, because it's not really my story to share, but one couple is here adopting their 12 year old girl. She was very scared and even though she initially said she wished to be adopted, was changing her mind. She worried about learning English and being able to communicate with her new family. It was very hard to watch. It was made harder by the fact that once over the age of 10, the child has to give consent. This family did not join us at the notary office to finalize because they didnt know if it was going to be final. Should she decide not to be adoted by this family, she wouldnt be eligable to be adopted anymore, would age out at 14, and would probably live a very hard life working in a factory or who knows what. Not the sort of decision a 12 year old is fully able to understand. Even at the end her nod yes was tiny at best, but she had decided to move forward with it. Another family here, in fact the only one from the same state as this couple, brought their 11 year old girl, who took it upon herself to be friends with this girl. She began by playing a card game with her while teaching her some basic english and she is coming alive. She's still not convinced about her parents, but she loves her new Jie Jie (sister). They even had a sleepover last night. I think they will all be fine now, but it was so touch and go there.

Our group here in Zhengzhou is 8 families strong. 3 of us have no other children and we compare notes in the hallway while holding babies fighting sleep, or walking our little ones around. One of these couples have lived in China during their peacecorps days, so their chinese is quite good (though they say that people tell them they sound like they learned in the country). They live in Montana and their little boy is the cutest thing. He isn't Han Chinese, so doesn't look like your typical Chinese person, but with 56 minority groups it isn't a rare thing to happen. His hair is a big lighter, wavy, and he has the most adorable dimples and big eyes. He and Nora played together the other day and even held hands for a minute while looking out the window.

In addition to the family with the older girl, and the 3 noobs, there is a woman traveling with her two daughters, both adopted from China, to bring home 2 new little sisters. The family with the 11 year old has a boy around 8 years old who keeps getting people touching his blonde hair. They are bringing home their 2 year old little boy. Our group also boasts the most adorable little 5 year old girl who is lucky enough to have a mom who is quite fluent and took about 45 minutes to go from screaming child to nothing but smiles and attachement. Lastly is a family we don't see much of, but they brought their son who they adopted from the Ukraine a while back and who is now 8.

Each child has recieved different levels of care and we have spoken before about how spoiled we are and how well Nora was looked after. It became even more obvious when we all realized that of the 7 babies, Nora, while being the youngest by a week, is by far the biggest. The only one even close is her little friend who was in a special area of the orphanage he was at and was very loved and taken care of. I'll try to get a picture to compare so everyone can see.

I dont have much time to write before naptime is over and no idea if I can write tonight, so I will finish by saying that Kevin has been amazing through all this. It's not easy to be demoted to packmule and playmate (with strong rules). It's harder still to have a sick wife who is not doing a great job of keeping it together and doesn't always say the right thing. He has been a miracle worker and i can't imagine going through this without him. When Nora finally realizes how much better he is than me, I think I will be left in the dust. I wont blame her though. he's pretty much the best thing ever.

Day Eight-Zhengzhou

Thanks to those of you who comment on the blog... we'd love to hear from the rest of you, though, so we can still feel a bit connected to home.  Write me at kevin[at]forkboy[dot]net or Jen at weeksofjen[at]hotmail[dot]com.  We don't mind answering questions. What do you want to know about China?  Adoption?  The meaning of life?

Great day!  The baobao let me hold her for about a minute at the museum, then for a few minutes in the afternoon, then more in the evening!  Today we heard more laughs and giggles out of her than we have before, and she made a best friend with whom she could play a crazy game called "run down the hall as fast as our goofy toddler legs can carry us while squealing so loud that an old Chinese couple comes to the door to be amused by the Amercans" (trademark paperwork is pending on the name). This game is *hilarious* toddler comedy.  More on that later.

This morning was a bit of culture... our original travel plans called for us to take the day and go to the Shaolin Temple (yes, THE Shaolin Temple, where all that kung fu comes from).  I had been excited about that possibility for a long, long time, but after some back-and-forth, we decided that a full-day trip with a girl we've known for only a couple of days involving two 1.5-hour bus rides might not be the best thing for her development.  Plus, we'd have to split the cost of a bus and driver for the half day.  Next time it is.

Instead, we went to one of the three most prominent museums in China, the Henan Provincial Museum, in the giant pyramid building.

Every time I get a glimpse into the vast history of this region and this people, I'm reminded of a bit by the British comedian Eddie Izzard. He was talking to an American audience about England's vast history compared to America's, and how we think that British people all live in castles.  He said (and I'm paraphrasing here) "only Americans could say 'we spent millions to restore this building to how it looked more that FIFTY years ago!'  Surely not. Surely no one was ALIVE back then."  This is what goes through my head when I try to take in a culture that has existed for so many thousands of years.  The museum is extremely impressive, with artifacts, art, bones, and musical instruments from nearly every age of China's central plains.

It was beautiful, and I would have liked to stay longer, but of course we were a group of six of our families with their new kids and so things were a bit hurried.  Here was me:  I had my jacket on, with my large man-bag over one shoulder, the diaper bag with spare diapers, wipes, toys, snacks, the baby carrier, and Nora's coat over the other shoulder, then the video camera and still camera around my neck, trying to keep up with the group.  I took a lot of pictures so I can enjoy the museum later.

Then a bunch of fun moments that made the hardships of the last couple of days all worth it:

 - Inside the museum, I took Nora for a minute while Jen took her coat off... she didn't cry (though *I* almost started to). Mostly because she was stuffing her face with puff snacks.  I had to get a picture taken... it's been commented that there weren't any pictures of dad with baobao... this is because she basically didn't want me near her for a couple of days.

 - Just after our tour, outside the museum, Jen and the 12-year-old girl being adopted into our group each took a hand and started lifting her up high into the air, and she was actually giggling hysterically.

 - Back at the hotel that afternoon, she let me hold her for a full couple of minutes and didn't freak out or lunge for her mom.  This made me so happy I did a little dance with her around the room.

 - A couple of our friends from the group have a little boy about Nora's age, and we try to get them to play together.  They finally hit it off today when I was off with our guide getting our last huge packet of paperwork ready... Nora and Shawn met out in the hallway, discovered this new, vast open range of possibilities that is the fourth floor of the west wing of the Crowne Plaza hotel and started the aforementioned running-and-cackling game.  Nora was quite glad to have found a friend and we had them run around a lot.

Good day!  She seems to be sleeping well, too.  Things are good right now.  Tomorrow, that may change as it'll be baby's first plane ride.

P.S. If anyone knows of a site where I could post videos that isn't blocked in China (YouTube is), then let me know.


-00000000000000000000000000

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Photos from Day Seven





Here are some photos as promised from yesterday, including our new reusable Walmart bag and the toys we picked up.  I'm happy to report that after a very turbulent evening, Nora and Jen both crashed and slept better than they ever have.  Jen finally got to take a shower this morning with the baby in the tub and is feeling like a new woman.

Things are going well now... Nora is happy most of the time and loves to play.  Today we will go visit the Zhenghou cultural museum, hopefully we can learn some more about the province where our daughter comes from. Zaijian!

The Jacksons in China, Day Seven: Zhengzhou

Two steps forward, one step back.  Always two steps forward, one step back.

This will be hopefully short, as it's been a long, long day.  Fortunately,  we didn't have any place to be today, so it became rest at the hotel day.

Well, that's not entirely true.  Those who wanted to had the opportunity to go and visit the orphanages that their children came from, and there are two or three major orphanages in Henan province, so off people went to visit those orphanages.  The problem with us is that Nora spent most of her life thus far in the care of Eagle's Wings, a small organization that takes kids with special needs out of the orphanages and into a smaller setting so there are more caretakers and the kids can get the medical attention they need.

Our Zhengzhou guides cautioned us against going to Eagle's Wings for a visit, owing to the fact that Nora had such a close relationship with her ayis and seeing them may greatly impact her attachment to Jen and her ability to rely on a new caretaker.  It also sounded like Eagle's Wings was in the middle of  move to a better facility, so at best a visit from us would ben an unexpected interruption, so Eagle's Wings, thank you for taking such good care of our girl, and we're sorry we couldn't visit.

Nora is now giggling, laughing, playing and walking while holding Jen's hand.  She seems to be a classic tiger baby, strong-willed and a bit stubborn.  She is also plagued by some night terrors, and still wakes up in fits of panic.  She still clings to Jen rather tightly (Jen says she's our velcro baby) and won't stay with me longer than half a minute or so.  Our hotel has a small kid's play room, so we've been in there a couple of times to toss around balls or play with the stacking cups around other kids from our group.

It's wonderful to see so much of her come out of her shell some more... she plays with me more now, and she seems to think I can be fun sometimes.  She was fascinated that I could magically make music by blowing across the top of an empty bottle and kept handing it back to me to make the sound, then shoving the whole bottle top in her mouth to try to make the sound on her own.  She can be a very giggly, playful little girl.

At the same time, it's heartbreaking to see how hard she is still grieving for the loss of her beloved ayis and friends.  There's still fits of heavy crying and some screaming but she can still be comforted by Jen, which is a miracle.  Jen has done so much for her to help her through this process and I don't know how she does it.  We'll have some great play times with lots of giggling and playing with toys, then she'll be impossible to feed at night because she's squirming around, scratching, won't let go of toys or whatever she's holding on to, arching her back, and hoarding food in her mouth.  Tonight in particular was rough.

Always two steps forward, one step back, but the amazing thing is that we're moving forward!  As I write this, Nora has been asleep for over two and a half hours, and more amazingly, Jen has been asleep for an hour and a half herself.  Since I can't hold her, I've taken on the support role, making sure that food is ready, bottles are warm, pillows are in the right place, and shoes are tied.

All in all, things are going well and she is warming up to us nicely.  She is so stinking cute when she giggles that I want to do anything to make her do it all the time.  Jen is holding up well, but would probably like to be able to shower sometime soon... there is so much on her shoulders right now.


Some highlights from today:


 - For breakfast, I ate more fried lotus-seed cakes.  They are delicious.  The Chinese, however, are lagging behind in their omelette-making technology.  An omelette should never be over easy.

 - I set off in search of other food options that aren't expensive hotel food or the 7-11, and was so proud of myself for knowing enough Chinese to be able to enter a strange restaurant in an unfamiliar city in a foreign country and get us giant orders of fried rice and pork dumplings with seaweed... all for a whopping 22 Yuan, or about $3.50.

 - We realized today that we really don't have more than two toys for Nora, so like most other couples in our group it was time to make the pilgrimage to Walmart, which is only slightly like any Walmart in America except for the familiar logo on the bags and the doors. Lots of staring still, a couple of instances of finger pointing, but no rude comments this time.  We picked up a couple of assorted puffy balls, a knockoff set of "Happy Family" jumbo lego-like bricks, and an inflatable cartoon kid that has the weight on the bottom so they stand upright.  Nora immediately ignored all of the above except the zippered pouch that the lego-like bricks came in.  We were, characteristic of Zhengzhou again, nearly run down repeatedly by billions of scooters on the sidewalk.

 - Corollary note to the above:  on our first day in Zhengzhou, we were walking in a group to the bank when a woman in our group who has actually lived in China before told me that I was walking in the bike lane and I needed to move over, whereupon I was almost clipped by a ninja-silent electric scooter whizzing by.  Sidewalks in Zhengzhou are as wide as a car lane, but there is a marked path for bikes, and now scooters and little electric bikes, which freak me out because they make no noise..  These just zip by at high speed in different directions, then when you get to the intersection, it's the usual Total Chinese Chaos when cars, bikes, scooters, and pedestrians, are trying to go every direction at once.  This usually involves a lot of honking and yelling.  If you are a pedestrian trying to cross, you have to just steel your nerves, pick a lane to walk in, and own it, taking no prisoners.

 - Baby's first bath!  The reasons why we waited until today are poop-related and I will spare the reader the details here (this marks my official entry into Fatherhood).  But, her bath went well and it turns out that she really, really likes splashing.  We had to close the curtain part way.

Ups and downs... ups and downs... mostly ups.

Again, pics tomorrow.  Tired.  Need sleepy.