Tuesday, May 9, 2017

How's It Going?

This is by far the most common question I get right now. I appreciate it. I love that friends and family are so invested in our little Margaret that they want to hear how the first few weeks at home are going. The only difficulty is how hard it is to answer that question.

It's good, maybe even great. We're all back home safe and we're relatively healthy. We all adore this newest member of our family and it is exciting to see her personality and to get to know her better. Everyone works hard to see her smiles and to hear her giggles. She's got more and more of them too. We're coming out of the jet lag fog and I really appreciate how well she's sleeping. There have been some sleepless nights, but they are getting fewer. We are settling into the best routine we can with our now ten kids. Above all, I just feel blessed. I am blessed to be called to parent this beautiful girl and all of my children.

Still, it's hard work. For every sweet crooked smile and little giggle, there is still fussiness. She still cries sometimes and while at times she accepts our comforting, she also still is clearly grieving the life she left. Often her frustration is the normal almost 2 year old difficulty with trying to communicate with limited verbal skills, but it's compounded by language barriers. Everything she was learning in China now has to be relearned. She frequently gets upset when we can't figure out exactly what she wants. One dinner it was ketchup. At a table with 11 other people, it was 10 solid minutes of fussing and crying before we understood she wanted ketchup for her sweet potato fries. We now know she *loves* ketchup (can't get anymore American than that) and it's the first thing on her plate, but that discovery was hard earned. There are so many others just like it and we're still just figuring her out.

There are also a lot of us that she has to figure out. I took her to Joseph's school for an event and was amazed at how quickly she recognized him and loved the excitement she had at seeing his face. She is learning she has her older sisters wrapped around her fingers. They will stop and give her attention and pretty much anything she wants at a drop of a hat. She gets a little frustrated with the younger ones as they tend to give her too much affection.

She's also realized that Mom is not as much fun. I make her get dressed, I wipe her nose, I put her to bed, I change diapers. None of these is as much fun as her sisters and the constant new fun they show her. We didn't want to stifle the mutual love for each other, so we instituted a rule that only Mom feeds her. This has been invaluable in our bonding. Much like a newborn learns love and trust for a mother through feeding, Margaret is learning to trust me through food. She grabs my hand for snacks and such often now. She also has learned I provide comfort. I think she first saw this from the other littles. She watches them and it has helped her to see through them how important a mom is. Last night was the second night she cried and wanted me to hold her. That is an indescribable feeling to finally break through a little.

A friend in our adoption group posted her experiences on Facebook and used a Lego analogy. I loved this because we brought home a ridiculous amount of Legos from China. They've overrun our house. The friend spoke of building a Lego house, staggering the next row over the seams of the previous row for strength. She built a house like this for her children with many little details she was sure they'd love. The kids did love it and naturally her 5 year old wanted to add to it. (This is adoption for our family, there is so much love that our kids want to add to it.) He built his addition using columns to butt up next to her house. The column method was ineffective, and it wasn't stable. They had to together tear down her carefully built wall to add his addition onto the house in a manner that would be stronger. She went on to relate this to adding a new child through adoption. We can't just slap an addition onto the side of our house, we have to dismantle part of our walls so that we bond together stronger. We also can't just add a child without breaking down a few of our own walls too.

This is our life right now. We're breaking down a few of the walls in an effort to have a new stronger home and family. This is evident in the logistics of our family life. Managing the logistics of nine kids was often overwhelming and adding now a tenth child who in the short term needs a lot of attention has had it's difficulties. We've missed a few activities, we're figuring out a new school routine, daily life has to find a new normal and we're figuring that out. Our buddy system is being reworked, our chores are being reassigned, and even our meal schedule is being refined. These are no small tasks. We've already begun trying to make decisions for the next school year as deadlines approach quickly. Add to this end of the year events, soccer games, and TWO sacraments this week and the logistics can be overwhelming.

Those aren't the only walls either. Each of my children, in some way, has to figure out their new position in our family. This is most obvious with Jack who struggled with Mom being gone and is now struggling with not being the baby. The others feel it too though. Mary was convinced that Margaret was adopted just to be her friend. It has been hard for her to have Mazie favor the older girls simply because they can carry her around and have more access to fun looking items throughout the house. The older ones too are craving the balance and peace that comes from Mom and Dad having things figured out. We're working on it, but the walls have to come down before the addition can be added more securely. It's a work in progress right now and sometimes it's hard and messy.

Still, I wouldn't trade this work. It is the task to which I've so clearly been called. A few weeks ago in the midst of a particularly overwhelming week this verse was part of the daily Mass readings, "Here I am Lord, I come to do Your will." It has stuck with me and I've been praying it frequently. "Here I am Lord, I come to do Your will." It motivates me to keep pushing forward, it gives me new energy and grace when I feel depleted. It also helps me to let go of all that I don't accomplish. It reminds me that as long as I let Him guide me, He will accomplish through me all that is required. So we push on with rebuilding and pray again, "Here I am Lord, I come to do Your will."

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Guangzhou Day 3

Our third day in Guangzhou was a fairly free day for us. Some in our group headed to the pearl market. Six floors of pearls.

Margaret means pearl and we had hoped to find a few gifts. Jewelry just isn't really our thing. While Margaret certainly is our pearl, we aren't very jewelry savvy and I really dislike the bartering required in Chinese transactions. Most of our group had to return to the hotel to await TB results. Because Mazie is so youmg, we had more free time. We decided on a trip back to Shamian Island where we had stayed on Juliana's adoption trip. There was a trade show in town and we had trouble all week with taxis. David eventually talked me into this.

I hope he will eventually add his go-pro video of the experience. This man on a moped thought nothing of trying to outrun buses and much bigger and faster cars. I held onto that baby as tightly as I could as there were many bumps and turns. Still we made it in one piece for about $1 less than if we'd been able to find a taxi.

The island has a long history of catering to the adoption community. There used to be shops catering to adopting families on every corner. There were only a few left, but the island has few cars and was a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of Guangzhou.

This quiet suited sweet Mazie. She enjoyed walking through the park where there was a little girl blowing bubbles.

A picture with this statue has practically become obligatory in the Chinese adoption community. Mazie did us the favor of being especially cute while we snapped many pictures.

Her favorite part of the island was our stop for squeaky shoes. Forget the toys, and dolls, and hair bows. She saw these shoes and from her seat in the stroller, pulled them off the shelf, put them in my hands, and said, "xiexie (thank you), Mama!" At that point I think I would have bought her 8 pairs for a smile. She didn't even realize they squeaked.

Her giggles and may smiles as she realized she was making little squeaks when she walked were priceless. I'm thankful that after buying these shoes, we found Jenny's store where I had bought shoes for Juliana almost nine years ago. We bought a few more pairs of shoes for home there. After satisfying the girls' needs for new shoes, Dad was ready for one of his Guangzhou favorites.

He was like a kid in a candy shop. Every imaginable creepy crawly sea creature in buckets and tanks.

Not to mention the chaos of cars and people trying to package and ship said creatures.

David brushed up on his Chinese this trip and was able to converse enough to get this guy to let him hold the octopus.

Again, I hope he eventually adds some of the go-pro footage of the market. What can't be conveyed by pictures and video is the smell of this place from blocks away. Our trips to this market are why my shoes made their way to the trash on our arrival home.

We cleaned up for dinner and our red stairs pictures and then went as a group to dinner at a Portuguese restaurant.

Guangzhou Day 2

Bright and early Monday morning meant back to the work of getting this little one home. The first step in the immigration process was to have her get a medical screening. We boarded a big bus once again and this time we decided to sit up front for a good view.

This picture doesn't do justice to the typical China traffic. When we arrived at the clinic it was a typical China hurry up and wait scenario. It's even less fun to wait when you know the next few hours mean talking to doctors and such. We were lucky that Mazie received a clean bill of health and is cleared to come home, am added bonus is that since she is under 2 years old we didn't have to worry about a tuberculosis blood draw.

Later in the evening we went on the Pearl River cruise. The last three adoptions we opted not to go on the cruise, mainly because by this time in the trip we are exhausted. It was nice to see Guangzhou at night and we saw the second tallest building in the world, the Canton Tower. You can see it in the picture below. It is the colorful tower on the right side of the picture.

I'm still not as knowledgeable about my fancy camera as I should be. I took many pictures on the cruise and only realized the next day that I did not have the image stabilizer on. I got many blurry or too dark pictures.

The lights were really amazing. There were Chinese characters scrolling down buildings, large tv screens, and a seemingly endless skyline of sky scrapers.

Mazie enjoyed the music and we enjoyed that the temperature cooled off a little despite the humidity.

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.