Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Starfish and Red Stairs

There is a well-known story of a boy walking along the sea shore throwing starfish that had washed on shore back into the ocean. An older man approaches him to teach a lesson about common sense. He tells him there are so many starfish on not just this beach but many others like it. He tells the boy throwing these few starfish is really making no difference. The little boy throws another into the ocean and replies, "It made a difference to that one."

This is our one more starfish.

These last few weeks I had the distinct privilege of watching 14 new children have their lives forever changed. At its peak in 2005, around 15,000 children were adopted internationally by American families, mostly from China. International adoption has sharply and steadily declined since that time. Last year there were around 5,000 international adoptions and about 2,500 of those were from China. If the pattern continues this year, the following photo shows roughly 1% of this year's American adoptions from China.

The families in this photo are truly amazing. I have been inspired, awed, and blessed by getting to know them. We've shared tears of happiness, and tears of exhaustion, homesickness, and frustration as we've all struggled to bond with our new children. Each one was drawn to adoption for their own reasons, each family making incredible sacrifices to help just one more child. For many of these families this was not their first adoption, and most have biological and adopted children at home or travelling with them. Listening to their stories has encouraged me to pray and advocate more for the children left behind.

Nine years ago when we traveled for Juliana's adoption it was tradition to take "red couch photos". Chinese adoption has changed so much since then and now we take "red stairs photos". Here is our red stair family picture. We're almost done with our time here and I am anxiously waiting to have our whole family in one picture.

Easter in China

Our first full day in Guangzhou happened to be Easter Sunday. I have to admit I was particularly homesick all day. Before we left I had a conversation with a priest who told me about some locals here who had never had the opportunity to see an Easter vigil. I decided then that I would offer up all I could on Easter Sunday for them and the others of this country. I feel particularly blessed with a parish that has a beautiful Easter celebration. When we knew we would miss this day with friends and family I was very sad, but after that conversation I knew I had to be thankful for the opportunity to experience so many beautiful Easter mornings.

Here in Guangzhou it seems as if the world had no idea of the importance of the day. There is a trade show occurring the next three weeks and the area is flooded with business men and women. There are people everywhere. We decided to skip the group tour of the Buddhist Temple (not quite the Easter Sunday outing for us), but wanted to meet the group at a local craft mall. The joke was on us as we spent Easter morning wandering the back streets of Guangzhou when the cabbie dropped us off two block away from the right place and we ended up lost.

Thankfully, someone in the group had an international calling plan and a kind hearted local teenager helped us find our way. Also, Mazie took the opportunity to grab a nap.

We did eventually find the group and the craft mall. After a meeting to get more paperwork filled out, that evening we decided to skip the cabs and took the subway to Beijing Rd. for some shopping. Sunday night must be a popular night for this as it was wall to wall people. It felt a little like Times Square.

In the middle of the street, there was a glass plate revealing the excavation of a 14th century Ming Dynasty Road. It was beautiful, but I could not get a decent picture.

I also loved this sidewalk propaganda.

At some point there will be a post of my favorite signs from China, for now here is one I'd like to hang in my kitchen.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Last Day in Zhengzhou

On our last day in Zhengzhou, we decided to take it easy and go for a walk around our hotel. There was a lovely little park right next door.

We were serenaded by men playing Chinese stringed instruments, and there were many children playing.

The evening before there was a man with a 10-15 foot whip practicing, thankfully with all the kids he wasn't there in the morning. 

We battled the local scooter traffic mixed with taxis who create their own lanes to beat the traffic.

We walked more than 3 miles to make it to McDonald's for some deep fried pies. In the US they switched years ago to baking the pies, but China still puts them in the fryer. Mazie got her first taste of ice cream. We'd heard that many of the kids in our group didn't care for the cold texture, but she loved it.

It was quite sunny and I considered buying a pair of sun glasses, but these were a little too expensive and I was afraid of what they'd do to my eye sight.

We found a Chinese edition of David's electric car.

And decided not to try the local street food for fear of sickness, despite how wonderful it smelled.

In the afternoon, David decided to get a haircut. This is his before picture.  

Since it was Good Friday, we met some other families and prayed the rosary in the hallway around 3 PM. Missing Holy Week and Easter has hands down been the hardest part of the trip for us. We have tried to celebrate in small ways, but it is difficult. 

We spent the evening back out for American BBQ. It was nice to be at a restaurant where we could speak and hear English. The owner of the restaurant spoke with us both nights. 

The next morning was our last at the fantastic breakfast buffet. I've really enjoyed the mix of traditional Chinese breakfast foods and Western fare. 

We then loaded the bus and drove to the airport to head to Guangzhou. Mazie did us the favor of falling asleep on the plane and the flight was as easy as possible for us when flying with a group of 14 children on a packed Chinese airplane. I doubt our next plane ride will be as easy. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Third Day's a Charm

Little Margaret had spent two days crying so many tears. I thought I was prepared, but this transition was harder than any other we've had. I know this is because she received such wonderful care from people who truly loved her. In the long run that care will help her to bond to us, her family. Still, in the short term, this was harder than I had anticipated. I had a rough night the day before. I was home sick. We can't even talk to Jack. He cries when we're on the phone. Mary grows quiet and I wanted so much to hold her. The older girls have been so helpful and I just want to thank them. I missed Catie's first soccer games, and well, I'm just missing them all. It was hard to be so home sick and try to help little Margaret transition.

Today, though, we turned a corner. She woke up and let me get her out of bed. She wanted Dad, but tolerated me, more importantly she didn't cry. After breakfast we came back to the room and played. She laughed and giggled. She loves to take things out of the bags and then put them back. We passed her snacks back and forth and laughed when they fell or when she threw them. We saw real smiles, we heard giggles, and she laughed. It did wonders for me. I didn't realize how sad I had been, but with each smile I was reminded why we were here.

We decided to take the subway to the Exhibition Center in Zhengzhou. There is a lake behind it and we walked around the entire "Golden Egg" Lake. Again, it was a beautiful spring day although it did get a little warm.  The area is known for it's futuristic buildings.

It also had the wonderful smell of spring from the cherry blossoms.

Little Mazie has had enough of the carrier and so I gave up and bought a stroller. I had wanted the carrier for better bonding, but the stroller has been a good decision. She likes the extra freedom and my back is thankful too.

She also likes to walk quite a bit. She really enjoyed jumping down the stairs and getting a reaction from us. And she really thinks Dad is quite the funny guy.

After all this walking, we went back to the hotel for some more paperwork (it truly never ends) and then opted to take a taxi to dinner. David did a little internet searching and we opted for TripAdvisor's number 1 restaurant in Zhengzhou for American BBQ. The taxi ride was quite the experience. The cabby was talking on a walkie talkie AND a cell phone, creating his own lanes, and the car was below empty. It was an exciting ride.

Nothing a good beer and some good food couldn't cure. Even little Mazie really enjoyed the corn bread.

Zax BBQ was excellent. Each meal was served with plastic gloves because the Chinese don't like to eat with their hands. I can only imagine what they thought of us digging into the chicken and eating American style.

When we told our guides about our dinner trip, they told us that they've taken their Chinese friends to this American restaurant and the Chinese felt sorry for us having to eat like that. We found it delicious though, it was a nice change for us especially at this point in the trip when we are battling our own homesickness.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Day 2 -- The Yellow River Scenic Area

On his last trip, David and my dad decided to take a taxi to the Yellow River Scenic Area. This is perhaps the Chinese equivalent of Mt. Rushmore. I should know more about the history, but will have to look it up when there is a spare moment. The guide told us they were the heads of two emperors, Huang and Yan, but that's all we know.

This trip he was determined to go back and he convinced a few in the group to join us, even our guides decided to add it as an attraction. As soon as we arrived and left the bus we were whisked onto a hovercraft boat and taken out onto the Yellow River. Unfortunately, this happened so fast that this is the only picture I got of the hovercraft.

The boat took us out to a sandbar that appears when the tide goes out. 

Fortunately for us we timed it well. When we landed and disembarked there were many Chinese there to offer us rides on horses and ATVs. David, of course, could not let the opportunity pass. 

See us way out in the distance? That's probably right about the time that I'm telling him to slow down. I kept reminding him we now have 10 children, we can't afford a stay in a Chinese hospital.

You can tell he wasn't really listening. 

After spending more than a week in two big cities, Shanghai has a population of 22 million and Zhengzhou 9 million, it was nice to be out of the city. The park area had many beautiful paths and it was the perfect spring day to enjoy them.

There was even a peacock farm. Mazie really enjoyed feeding them. She got a big kick out of throwing the corn kernels.

It was one of the few times that she wasn't crying. There were fewer tears today, but still plenty of them.

We spent quite some time just walking and enjoying the weather. The plan was to try to find the way to the top of this.

At every turn there seemed to be more stairs. David would tell us not too many, just about 50 or so.

I'm glad he's not the one teaching our kids math. We never did find the way to the top, but we did find one of these.

And instead of finding the path to the top, we found this...

I can't believe he convinced me to do this.

He was so nervous he borrowed a stroller for the baby.

There was some sort of temple at the other side. I know there are probably many prayers being offered there.

Thankfully we made our way back down the mountain and only had to cross the bridge one way. The view from the bottom was much nicer in my opinion.

The bridge is in the background. The large pole in front was actually a giant speaker which played Chinese music. It was a beautiful park. 

Little Mazie was in good spirits with Dad on this second day, but cried whenever he left or Mom touched her. This was harder for me than I had anticipated. I knew her transition would be difficult, but was a little unprepared for so much, so very much, crying. It was hard to want to mother her and to have her turn to Dad, and it was hard to see so many tears. I knew the bond she had would make this difficult, but in the long run will be good for her.

I'll post about our third day in Zhengzhou when I get another spare moment. Thankfully, she has really turned a corner. She's laughing and playing, she only cries when she's tired. She still prefers Dad, but is happy with Mom. It has been so wonderful to see her finally feeling happy again. There is undoubtedly a long way to go with bonding, but it has lifted my spirits to see her smiles and hear her giggles.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Lost in Translation

On Gotcha Day, orphanage workers and nannies do their best to tell new parents how their child was cared for in the orphanage. Each parent receives a paper detailing a schedule, favorite foods, medical care, etc., then on Gotcha Day they are on hand to answer any other questions. It's hard to convey all this information in one emotional moment.

This is the last paragraph of a new page given to us on Margaret's Gotcha Day.  Without meaning to do so, they pretty accurately captured this sweet girl's day.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

She's Ours!

All our official Chinese adoption paperwork is finished and Liang Qi is now our daughter. Yesterday morning we left the hotel. Margaret (still mostly being called Qi Qi) is always grateful to leave our hotel room. 

Although the elevator makes her quite nervous. She always grabs on extra tight as the elevator starts and stops. 

We then went back to the same building and room where we had Gotcha Day the day before.

This was hard for poor Margaret. It had been an emotional day for her and even I found it hard to be back there so quickly. The moment we walked in the door, she cried, and cried some more. I spent most of the wait time walking in and out of the building. She enjoyed watching some older boys play and they enjoyed performing for her.

 We very unceremoniously signed a few more papers and that was it. She is officially our daughter.

We left that building to go register with the local police department. It was a matter of walking up 6 flights of stairs carrying the baby and all the accouterments and then waiting for photocopies and getting a picture taken. Since we didn't take any pictures all I have is another of her adoption paperwork.

She napped on the bus and then stayed asleep for more than 2 hours. We had to wake her up to go get her passport photo and then we applied for her Chinese passport. Now we wait a few days to receive that passport. It means a few free days for sightseeing and bonding. There were still many tears yesterday. We've seen a few little smiles and there were less tears, but yesterday was still hard for her. We're hoping that each day gets a little easier for this sweet girl.