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Archive: 2010

Living By Our Words

I wake up almost every morning with a song stuck in my head. Sometimes it’s something totally irritating (Ke$ha, I’m talking to you) and I want to render myself deaf from the inside out (on these mornings I’m convinced that Kevin somehow subliminally plants earworms in my subconscious while I snooze. He’s REALLY good at torturing me that way). Usually, though, whatever song it is tends to reflect my mood. Today’s song, which I also belted out in the shower, was “Fly Me To The Moon”. Any day that starts out with Sinatra is probably going to be a pretty decent day.

I hit the chorus as my conditioner sat on my head, and it dawned on me that I have never been as happy as I was right at that moment. Now, I’ve always thought I’m a pretty happy girl (let’s just say that I don’t wake up with a lot of Morrissey running through my head). I have an awesome life: I live in a spectacularly wonderful town by the ocean, I have a roof over my head and food to eat, I have a beagle who is neurotic (in a hilarious way), my husband has a terrific job with an excellent company, I’ve had wonderful opportunities to see parts of the world that most people only dream about…..Yeah, those things alone add up to a nice little package.

But here’s the deal: Those things are the little things. They’re the pretty and shiny things on the surface. The foundation of my happiness is SO much deeper. I have friends who have stood by my side for more than half my life. They know where the bodies are buried, but I know they won’t tell. I have an incredible family who love and support me no matter what my flaws. I have a husband who kisses me goodbye every. Single. Morning. before he leaves for work (which, come to think of it, could very well be when he plants those pesky earworms). They say that girls grow up to marry their fathers, and I’m so proud to say that I did just that. My Dad is smart, funny, and he taught me how to embrace life’s opportunities, and I couldn’t ask for a better gift than that. I have a mother who, by example, taught me the skills I needed to be a mother myself. Finally, (and by God, I do mean FINALLY!), I have a child whose smile stops my whole world.

I have a lot to be thankful for this year (and every year), but the biggest blessing I’ve EVER had is my baby boy. Watching him not only adapt but thrive is the single greatest joy I’ve ever known. He picks up our quirky personality traits and makes them his own without ever losing a single piece of who he is. He’s loving, inquisitive, and just about the smartest kid I’ve ever seen. He has amazing lung power when he cries, and he does a mean Hulk impression when he’s angry. He doesn’t care when I belt out songs frighteningly off-key, either, which is a huge plus. I will never grow tired of watching him discovering his world and who he is. Mostly, though, I have never known love like I do when he hugs me.

I love Thanksgiving because it’s the one day of the year where people vocalize their gratitude. I’m thankful every single day for the blessings in my life, and I don’t say that as much as I should; none of us do. John F. Kennedy once said that “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them”.

I woke up this morning with a song not just in my head, but in my heart. Most of my days start out just like that. There is nothing on earth big enough to contain the gratitude I have for that one simple fact (even when the song is by Ke$ha). Yes, the foundation of my happiness is planted deep and true, and I have all the motivation in the universe to live by my words.

Happy Thanksgiving to my friends and my family, and to the friends that ARE my family. Every single one of you makes me a better person, and I am so thankful that I have you in my life. Now go eat some turkey. 😉

Adventures In Adoption, Or The Griswolds Take Beijing

Ah, yes. It’s finally time to tell the story of the actual trip. Don’t worry; I won’t bore you with the details of the interminable flight over. Just know that Jacksonville is a loooooong way from China. The trip over took just over 30 hours, and we were fortunate enough to have in-flight internet for the domestic portion (JAX-SeaTac). Sadly, there was no such diversion on the leg from Seattle to Beijing, which kind of sucked since we needed something to take our minds off the fact that we were just days away from meeting our son. We made do, though, and I was unreasonably excited that we flew over Dutch Harbor and Kodiak, especially since King Crab season was underway. I waved down to SIg and the boys, and soon enough, we touched down in Beijing!

First, let me say that the approach to the Beijing airport takes FOREVER. Also, the city is ginormous, and absolutely gorgeous at night. We breezed through immigration and customs (Dude. SO easy! Miami should take notes) and were met by our guide, Jerry. He got us straight out to our waiting chariot, which was driven by a surly man with a clear death wish. I’m convinced you HAVE to have a death wish to drive in Beijing. One of the perks about arriving at midnight, however, is that traffic is only *slightly* terrifying, and we made it safely to the hotel where Jerry made sure we had everything we needed. We quickly crashed and slept like logs.

The next morning we got up, ate breakfast, and met Jerry down in the lobby (the other perk of a late arrival into China is the absence of jet lag. Seriously. We were both totally fine). We headed out for a full day of sightseeing. Our first stop was Tiananmen Square. Jerry gave us LOTS of history before we even made it over there, and we saw a LOT of soldiers. Not police, but soldiers. They march EVERYWHERE near the Square. I also couldn’t help but notice just how precisely the branches of each willow tree were trimmed. They were all exactly the same length, which I’m sure was a huge pain, but man, it’s pretty! We were treated to a lengthy dissertation on the monuments in the largest public square in the world, and Jerry spent a few more minutes extolling the virtues of Chairman Mao, and then we crossed the street into the throng. Thankfully, it was a weekday, so it wasn’t too crazy. The line to get into the Chairman’s mausoleum was only about 3 hours long (yeah, we skipped that part). There isn’t too much to say about Tiananmen Square. It’s big. It’s, well, square. There are a couple of monuments. It’s flanked by government buildings and The Forbidden City. Mostly, though, it’s just square. Very, very square.

One thing of note did happen, though, just as we were making our way to the gate of the Forbidden City. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a police car “caught fire”, and by “caught fire”, I mean somebody tossed a molotov cocktail through the car window. Jerry was a little horrified by it, but it didn’t stop him (or us) from getting as close as we could so we could see what was happening. As we approached the gates, however, there was a whole battalion of soldiers there pushing us back, and you could hear the whir of about 1,000 strategically placed cameras recording the scene.

As quickly as it had started, the fire was put out (seriously. NYC could take lessons from just how quickly the whole “incident” was squashed. By the time we walked to the other side of the street via an underground passage, it was totally cleared up and traffic was moving normally. The whole thing was done in under five minutes), and there was a whole lot of the Chinese version of “Move along, folks. Nothing to see here”. We found ourselves at the most well-known entrance to the Forbidden City, directly under the MASSIVE portrait of Chairman Mao (the thing weighs in at 1.5 tons). This is probably the picture that everyone has in their heads of both Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City itself. It is the Wumen Gate, also known as the Meridian Gate, so named because it is located on the central axis of Beijing. Also, note the complete and utter lack of people in the picture below. Holy evacuation, Batman!

I won’t go into too much detail (I could spend hours explaining the significance of the number of posts inserted above gates, or doors, and don ‘t even get me started on the significance of numbers) about the architecture (amazing), beauty (stunningly gorgeous), or the massive scale of the place (dude. It’s HUGE. There’s a reason why the refer to it as a city), but I will say that I’m so glad I got to experience it firsthand. Most of the jewels and treasures are now located in a museum in Taiwan, so there are mostly just empty halls, but the buildings themselves are spectacular and treasures in their own right. I will note that it was our first encounter with high thresholds; you REALLY have to make an effort to step over the 12 inch (or more) barriers in doorways. These are meant to keep ghosts from being able to enter rooms. Ghosts, it seems, can glide and even run, but they lack the ability to step over obstacles or jump. Good to know.

Also, I know there is one very important subject that I haven’t touched on yet. I know, I know, the question is burning. The answer is YES. I did, in fact, encounter my very first squatty potty. Luckily for us, Jerry steered us toward the Four Star-rated restrooms. I still had to bring my own paper, and I still had to squat, but it was clean, and I was VERY proud of myself for conquering that particular insecurity. It gave me all the confidence in the world, and by the time we boarded the plane for the US, I was the master of the squatty potty!

After the Forbidden City, we took a quick break for lunch and then headed to the Pearl Market. Kevin got to fish out his own oyster, and we got a crash course in pearls. We learned everything from the history to how to tell real pearls from fake ones. We (okay, I) did a little shopping, and then it was on to the Temple of Heaven. There’s definitely a reason that this is the symbol of Beijing; nothing I’ve ever seen comes close to the splendor of the grounds of the Temple. There are beautiful parks surrounding the central buildings, and we saw men doing water calligraphy, which I could have spent all day watching. It’s elegant and simple, and there’s a poetry in the motion.

One interesting tidbit about the temple (okay, two, and then I won’t bore you anymore): There are no nails used ANYWHERE in the construction of the Hall of Prayer For Good Harvests ( I LOVE the Chinese names for things; they’re so lyrical), and the central pillars were replaced after a fire in 1889 by massive trees shipped from Oregon. Really. Most importantly, though, I got to scratch another item off of my personal bucket list. We made an offering at the Temple of Heaven, and that was one of the highlights of my entire time in China.

We took a quick break for coffee (I ordered iced coffee and actually braved the ice against ALL advice. I was totally fine; in fact, I ordered drinks with ice for the remainder of the trip and never had a problem. I even–GASP–brushed my teeth with water straight from the tap. I know, I’m a rebel), and then we headed to the Kung Fu show. Kevin was super excited about it, but it turns out that I actually liked it more than he did. It wasn’t just a bunch of kung fu; it was an elaborate production that told the story of Chun Yi, a young warrior on the path to become a kung fu master. Read more about the show here. From there, we told Jerry that we were up for a traditional Beijing-style dinner, and he willingly obliged. He took us to a noodle house where we filled up on some pretty awesome homemade noodles. It was pretty cool to watch the cooks carrying HUGE trays of fresh noodles down to the woks. It was crowded and noisy, and *exactly* what China is all about. We loved it.

So there you have it: 1,250 words JUST about Day 1 in China. In typical Griswold–look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!– fashion (although my Mom would say that I was just being my normal Julie The Cruise Director self), we managed to see a little more than half of the good stuff in Beijing in a single day. We had one more full day to spend in the city, and we still had the Great Wall to check off the list. One more quick thing of note: I’m fairly certain that our days were purposely designed to wear us the hell out so we would be too tired to obsess over the fact that we were mere days away from meeting our precious boy. For that, I am eternally in Jerry’s debt.

Adventures In Adoption, Or The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

For those of you keeping score, Kevin and I started the adoption process almost five long years ago. In fact, it was about this time in 2005 that we decided to commit to the process (although we didn’t tell our friends and family until quite a few months later). The last time I checked, most women are typically pregnant for 9 months. That means that they have a mere handful of weeks to plan a nursery theme, obsess about names, buy baby clothes, read child-rearing books…..You know, all the usual stuff. I’ve had FIVE YEARS. We’ve changed nursery themes twice (granted, it was because surprise! we had a boy, but still), we’ve debated every single baby name in existence as well as a few that aren’t, we’ve bought enough clothes to make Suri Cruise look like a vagrant, and I’ve read just about every book ever published about children and adoption. Additionally, I’ve spent the last five years learning everything I possibly could about China (and I’m SO glad I did. That “squatty potty” research really paid off!). Mostly, though, over the last five years I’ve learned to squash any and all sense of hope or anticipation.

I spent the first year convinced my referral was just around the corner. I studied charts and timelines detailing average wait times. I did MATH, for crying out loud (like real math, too, not just simple addition. I DIVIDED stuff. By HAND. With no calculator). After the first year, though, and my extensive mathletics, I came to the ugly realization that we were in for a VERY long wait. Sometime during the beginning of the third year, I learned to let go of anticipation. I stopped stalking China adoption websites. I withdrew from the message boards. I screamed in my head EVERY SINGLE TIME somebody asked me if we were still planning to adopt or why it was taking so long. I buried my hope so deep that I convinced myself that it never really existed. And in doing so, I was able to go on living my life. One of my favorite verses is Hebrews 11:1, which says that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen”. My faith wasn’t gone, but it was getting *really* hard to find the substance of things hoped for.

And then we entered Year Four. It started regularly enough: Time at the beach, walks with The Beagle, the usual. One day at the end of March, everything started to change. I saw my son’s picture for the first time. We had 24 hours to lock his profile, and after a very late night discussing it (and his special need. Also? I cannot emphasize this enough: ALL INSTITUTIONALIZED CHILDREN HAVE SPECIAL NEEDS. There. I feel better now) we did just that. Really, we knew from the second we saw his sweet face that he was our son. As soon as we signed our Letter Of Intent, the funniest thing began to happen. My hope began to come back. It was a little like the Grinch looking down at Whoville, really. With every step we completed, my hope grew and grew until it was huge and tangible. It filled entire rooms. It shattered the numbness that had been my self-preservation. Mostly, though, I don’t think I needed the plane ticket to fly to China, since I’m pretty sure I could’ve sprouted wings by the day it was finally time to travel.

Soon enough I’ll bore everybody with the actual details of the trip; I mean, we really did see and experience some amazing things. All of it, though (even Chinese WalMart and the Great Wall) takes a backseat to October 18, 2010. People who haven’t experienced “Gotcha Day” (or as we’re calling it, “Family Day”) really have no concept of just how strange and wonderful it is. You wake up in the morning, and it’s just like any other day. You shower, have breakfast (and if you’re me, you remark at the oddity of having goose feet available on the “Western” breakfast buffet), read the news, and then a car comes to pick you up. You’re not headed to the mall or the airport, though, but rather to a nondescript building that sits off of a busy city street. You park, walk up 5 steps, and get in an elevator with a guy who is smoking like a chimney. Three floors later, you emerge into a hallway. On the white wall, in huge gold letters, are the Chinese characters and English words: “Hunan Adoption Registration and Service Center”. You take a quick right into a room outfitted with low-slung bamboo chairs, tables, and couches, and you wait. All this time, though, you feel like you’re moving in jello. Nothing seems remotely real, except for the super-urgent sensation of desperately having to pee. Okay, maybe that part’s just me.

You feel like you’re jumping out of your skin, but on the outside, you’re holding up remarkably well. Also? You feel every millisecond of the four and half years you’ve been waiting; in fact, every second that ticks by feels like ANOTHER four and half years. You sit calm and composed, though, as babies are brought into the room. You quickly scan faces, but none of them are yours. And you KNOW which one is yours, because you’ve been obsessing over his picture for the last six months; every dimple, every freckle, every eyelash. And then it happens.

J’s nanny came in with two babies, a little baby girl and my sweet boy. Kevin didn’t recognize him at first. I had to point him out. We got up and slowly walked over to him. He shrank back into his nanny, and she tried so hard to get him to come to us willingly. He was not a fan of us at ALL. After a few minutes, though, I couldn’t stand it anymore and I picked him up. He immediately began to wail (duh. Who WERE we, anyway???). She tried to explain that we were his new Mama and Baba, but he was having no part of it. I held him for a little while, then handed him to Kevin (we were both in tears, and I think Jack either thought we were nuts or wanted to petition for different parents at this point). Shortly after that we were able to ask his nanny some questions (you know, important things like naps and poop), and then we were on our own. Parents. Of a toddler. Just like that.

Somebody somewhere (including a couple of social workers) gave the go-ahead for us to be parents (although I’m fairly certain that if I had mentioned my deep and abiding–not to mention creepy and a little stalker-like–love of Don Henley then they would have reconsidered). It’s not like being pregnant. If you get pregnant, with or without medical assistance, you still don’t have to run the adoption gauntlet. You don’t have social workers asking about details of your marriage or family relationships or looking in your closets or cabinets. You don’t have to justify your desire or ability to parent a child to various US (and for us, foreign) government agencies. Don’t get me wrong; I actually think that ALL parents should be subjected to the rigors of the adoption process. I think it would *definitely* change some minds, and at the very least, people would get an education in child development and crisis management. In fact, forget watching “Teen Mom”; just have teenagers attempt to fill out the 18 million forms for the adoption process. That’ll work better than any condom would. Oh, okay. You can still watch “Teen Mom”, but you get my drift.

My point is that the weirdest and most wonderful experience in the wide world is having someone hand you a child who, until that exact moment, was a stranger to you. We were judged to be two people capable of lovingly parenting a child, and I’m not sure I believed that about myself until the minute I held my son. As soon as I picked him up, though, I knew two things with absolute certainty: This was my son, and I had this whole Mom thing locked.

Our journey was a long one, and I’m not just talking about the eternal flight to China. The process that morning though, from the time we got in the car until the time we loaded back into it with Jack, took less than an hour. It’s amazing how quickly four and a half years fell away. Four and half years of waiting, of self-doubt, of fading faith, of hope buried so deep I was honestly afraid it would never again see the light of day….Four and half years vanished in the blink of an eye, and I became a Mom.

One More Day

Tomorrow is our last day in China, and I can’t believe how quickly the time here has flown. It was wonderful to get back to Beijing last night; after two weeks of constant flux, we felt like we were coming back to something familiar. It’s crowded, hazy, noisy, and a bit intimidating, but I think we were surprised at just how much we like Beijing. We’re taking it easy today, and tomorrow we’re heading to the Beijing Zoo and to the Lama Temple. We’ll be through with the last of our sightseeing in a short 24 more hours, and then we can focus on getting all packed up to go home. I’m a little bit sad that Delta doesn’t take a page out of China Southern’s book and do a plane-wide video-led exercises that promote a harmonious meridian. It’s definitely interesting to see a whole plane full of people doing seated calisthenics right before the plane lands! Maybe Kevin and I will start that trend on the approach to Seattle…..

I would give anything to spend a few more days in Hunan; we were shown incredible hospitality, the food was amazing, and, most of all, it’s where our son’s story began. The five days we were in Changsha are so precious to me, and I’ll always remember every little detail (especially about Chinese WalMart. Dude. I LOVE some Chinese WalMart!!!!). I can’t wait until J is old enough to bring back, and until that day comes, I’ll love telling him the stories of his home province. Also, when we do visit again, Kevin and I will take him back to his home city of Chenzhou. I really wish we could have made that trip this time, but it’s nice to know we have something special to come back to.

Our time in Guangzhou was less fun; doctor’s appointments, shots, a new hotel room (with yet another EXTREMELY hard mattress), no real guide to speak of, and nothing really special to see. We were very fortunate to stay in a hotel located in a VERY Chinese neighborhood; no English speaking people around for miles! There was a maze of side streets lined with every shop imaginable: small grocers, butchers, dumpling shops, shoe shops, bicycle repair, even a whole district selling HazMat gear! No matter what the district, though, there were two constants: There were cigarette shops about every 50 feet, and tea stalls EVERYWHERE!


That was actually very fun, and I was so glad to be able to experience the “real” China. Forget the hutongs of Beijing, or the swanky high-rise apartments in Changsha; the neighborhood surrounding our hotel was definitely the highlight of our time in Guangzhou. Sure, we walked over to Shamian Island, we paid too much for souvenirs (although most of the things were still pretty inexpensive), and we even broke down and ordered Pizza Hut (because really? The food in Guangzhou is NOTHING compared to the food in Hunan!), but again, we were glad to see the city lights of Beijing last night.

We’re taking it easy today; Baby J was up WAY past his bedtime last night, and we’re making sure he gets plenty of naptime to compensate. The Little Man get super F-U-S-S-Y when he hasn’t had his beauty sleep! Soon, we’ll head out for some lunch, and maybe walk to the park around the corner. We’ll be back in the hotel room tonight, and we’ll start to think about packing up (believe me, packing the baby’s bag is a MAJOR undertaking).

Tomorrow will go by in a blur, and we’ll be up before the crack of dawn on Saturday morning. In 48 hours, we’ll be flying somewhere over Siberia, on our way back home. Too soon, our time in China will be a memory; we’ll slowly start to forget the smells and the sounds, and our boy will adjust to his new American life. He won’t remember how much he loves real, authentic (even spicy!) Hunan food, he won’t wake up in the night anymore scared of yet ANOTHER new room, he’ll forget how he first called his Daddy “BaBa”, and he’ll learn to speak with a perfect American accent. I can’t wait to be home and get settled into our permanent family routine (not to mention smooch The Beagle!) but a big part of me is very sad to be leaving this all behind. I know we’ll be back, and Kevin and I will do our very best to teach our child to value his heritage. When we first arrived, I was definitely in a bit of culture shock, but in spite of myself, I have fallen in love with China, and I can’t wait to share that with J as he grows up.

Adventures In Adoption, Or Everything I Need To Know I Learned From A Fortune Cookie

Everything about China adoption involves milestones (and acronyms. Lots and lots of acronyms). PAPs celebrate DTC, LID, LOI, I(800)A, the PA of the I(800), even the IH3*, and time is measured by how long it takes to achieve these things. These are the constants, and they are some of the only “sure” things about the process. We take comfort in our ability to control them, especially since everything else is WAY outside of our control. We take even more comfort, however, in marking the passage of time.

Since we first saw our son’s picture back in April, time has ticked away in an endless loop of two-week cycles. Seriously. EVERYTHING has taken two weeks: Two weeks to schedule the homestudy, two weeks to have it finalized, two weeks to get child abuse clearances, two weeks to file the I(800)A, two weeks for it to be approved, two weeks to get the Article 5, two weeks for TA, two weeks until travel, two weeks in country……But here’s the thing: After waiting four and a half years, it’s incredibly refreshing to be able to measure time in small blocks. It means goals are actually being accomplished and the nebulous “wait” is drawing to a close.

We’ve also tried to make the most of the last few months. I’ve read everything I can get my hands on about China (I don’t think this comes as a shock to anybody who has read my rambling discourse on Chinese toilets or heard me profess my deep and freakish desire to patronize a Chinese Wal Mart). We’ve thrown ourselves into learning as much as possible about local culture. This, of course, includes cuisine (and here’s where we run into our first little hitch).

I have a painful admission to make: I don’t like Chinese food. I used to, way back when I was a kid. I couldn’t get enough of garlic chicken or Moo Goo Gai Pan. I never met an eggroll I didn’t like. And then, one fateful evening, I got food poisoning. Right before I boarded a flight to Winter Park, Colorado for a ski trip. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that it was a number of years before I could even *look* at a Chinese food menu again, and I’m pretty sure I still get evil looks when I go near a bathroom at DFW International Airport. When I finally decided the coast was clear to once again venture into the land of Chinese food, I got food poisoning AGAIN, this time from suspect shrimp toast. Another 5 years passed before I revisited my food nemesis, but, alas, I’ve never quite regained my early passion for the PuPu Platter. I’ll happily eat a dumpling now and again, but if given a dining option, I’ll head straight to the Mexican food restaurant every time.

I am fully aware that American Chinese food and Chinese Chinese food are two totally different animals. I know full well that authentic Chinese food does not consist of gloppy, overly sweet sauces, nor do genuine dumplings resemble what you can order from your local delivery place. With that in mind, Kevin and I set out to find an actual Chinese restaurant here in the greater Jacksonville area. We took to our local FCC forums (Families With Children From China), we researched every corner of the internet, and we finally discovered that there is, indeed, an authentic Chinese restaurant about 45 minutes away. And on one rainy Saturday in July, we piled into the F-150 and headed down.

As soon as we walked in, we knew we had hit the jackpot. We were handed two different menus; one was packed standard Americanized Chinese food options, but the other…..Oh, the other. It was a heavy tome, filled mostly with pictures. Sure, there was congee (and Kevin was particularly interested in trying his very first congee, as we know it’s a staple on the hotel buffets in China), and there was a dizzying variety of dumplings. As we leafed through, we discovered duck feet (boneless!), bird’s nest soup, squid, chicken feet (not boneless), eel, and octopus. Grasshoppers were offered in at least three different preparations, and the homemade chili oil on the table was so potent that it stuck with me for the next two weeks (come to think of it, let’s add Mr. Chan’s Chili Oil into the two week cycle).

We ordered vegetable dumplings, beef congee (with a cilantro garnish. I got to give Kevin a little culinary lesson on how cilantro is also known as Chinese parsley. If you know Kevin, then you know that cilantro is a food group for him, along with cumin, garlic, and sometimes oregano), and a couple of entrees (we based this on picture alone). I won’t go far enough to say that it was the best meal I ever ate, but it was definitely authentic. And it was good. Kevin took comfort in the knowledge that congee is always a good option, and I learned that chili oil that’s been steeping for God knows how long is POWERFUL. Delicious, but capable of causing your ears to steam. When the check came, we were a little bit sad to see that the ubiquitous fortune cookie had made its appearance (Fun Fact: Fortune cookies aren’t found anywhere in China. They were invented in California and based on a Japanese cracker recipe). The fortune cookie at the end of our meal was the only thing not 100% authentic about the restaurant, but we went with it anyway.

I’ve been known to save the little paper fortunes for YEARS. I still have one floating around that I got when I was 12 because it made me giggle. In fact, if you go through old purses or wallets of mine, it’s a certainty that you’ll find at least one small folded fortune tucked in somewhere. It’s an idiosyncrasy of mine, and a bit of a superstition, too, I suppose. If it’s a particularly good fortune, then I feel bad for tossing it away, as if somehow it won’t come true. It’s silly and illogical, and I recognize that, but I can’t help it. So, even though we were presented with a totally non-authentic fortune cookie at our newfound authentic Chinese restaurant, we still opened our cookies to read Confucius’ words of wisdom. Mine was something vapid and nondescript, but Kevin’s? Wow.

Kevin’s fortune read “Remember three months from this date. Good things are in store for you”. You see, even though we were still locked tight within the dreaded endless Two Week Cycle, we knew that the math lined up. Three months from that particular date contained 6 two week cycles; the last 6, as a matter of fact. The very last day of the very last cycle falls on October 30th. That’s the day we bring Jack home for good. It’s a Saturday, and it happens to be exactly three months to the day after we read that fortune.

That tiny slip of paper is now tucked safely into Jack’s baby book. One day we’ll tell him the story of how his Mommy and Daddy were on a quest for real Chinese food, and we found, along with an appreciation for a good dumpling, that faith can, in fact, be found in a fortune cookie.

*Translation: Prospective Adoptive Parents celebrate sending their Dossier To China, the Log In Date of said dossier, the Letter Of Intent to adopt a certain child, the application to adopt a foreign orphan, the Pending Approval of said application, and the visa that signifies that your child is a citizen upon entering the US.

Adventures In Adoption, Or Ode To The Commode

It’s pretty common knowledge that we got our TA last week, so you can just imagine how chaotic things have gotten around here at Chez Donahue. Kevin has been amazing at assembling every single piece of paper we need to bring (and I know I’ve mentioned it before, but we’re singlehandedly responsible for the deforestation of America), and I’ve made, oh, about 1,000 lists of things we need to remember to pack (hello? I don’t want to get caught without an emergency packet of EZ Mac. I’m a fairly fearless eater, but I know my limits. Just ask my Mom about my quest for a cheeseburger after we’d been in Italy for a week).

Sure, we’ve had 4 1/2 years to research this stuff, but now that we’re leaving in just over a week (holy crap, can that be right?!?!?!?), I’ve kicked it into high gear. I swear I think I saw my router catch fire the other day. I have at LEAST 8 different packing lists bookmarked, I’ve been stalking FCC forums, and I may be solely responsible for eating up Rumor Queen’s bandwidth. There are a few things that show up on pretty much every list: Pepto, Cipro, hand sanitizer……All pretty standard, and nothing too unusual.

Armed with a list long enough to rival Santa’s Annual Chronicle of Naughty & Nice, Kev and I headed to the store on Sunday. Actually, we headed to TWO stores, and we still have at least one more trip to make, but I digress. I methodically ticked each item off the list: baby Aveeno, Delsym, Q-Tips….Still no big deal. Then we get to the Kleenex aisle. I tossed one 8-pack of mini Kleenex into the basket and reached for another. Kevin immediately said “I think you’re better off just getting one tiny pack. There’s no WAY you’ll need that many tissues”. So there I stood in the middle of the grocery store, surrounded by happy families, and I knew the time had come. I was going to have to venture into the Land Of The Overshare. Kevin needed to be brought in on the secret of the Chinese bathroom.

You see, while he was busy researching the tensile strength of different diapers, I was *obsessing* about all things potty-related. I’ve kind of covered this before, and I know it must seem like I have an abnormal fascination with what goes on in a bathroom, but the truth is that I just like to be prepared. It’s no secret that we’re pretty intrepid travelers (I’m fairly certain that Kevin’s Great Goat Encounter of 2009 earns us big points in the cultural awareness column), and a big reason for that is knowing what awaits you BEFORE you travel. We were ready for The Great Goat Encounter because we had a fairly decent grasp on Maasai culture. I’ve applied the same principles to researching our trip to China.

So. The Chinese bathroom. At this point, I have to warn you that this story is about to take a dark and twisty turn. You may very well want to stop reading now, because I’m going there. In detail.

The first time I was confronted by the….let’s say….minimalist approach to a bathroom, I was on a train from Zurich to Milan. I was incredibly jet-lagged, and I REALLY had to pee. I was all of 12 years old, and I congratulated myself on finding the bathroom on the train all by myself. I opened the door, and it only vaguely dawned on me that it was frigid in there. After I stood in the empty compartment for about 10 seconds, realization began to creep in. There was no toilet. There was a (rather tiny) hole in the floor. It led directly outside (hence the fact that icicles had begun to form on my eyelids. It was early spring in the Alps, for crying out loud). I bucked up and figured it out, but I sent up a silent prayer that I would never be confronted with that ever again.

Fast-forward 23 years later (at this point, I think it’s only fair to point out that the Chinese think that the Western notion of public toilets is absolutely disgusting. I’ll get into that a little more in a minute, so bear with me, especially because I totally get their point….to an extent). The one thing that kept creeping up in all of my research about packing was the need for a ridiculous number of travel packs of Kleenex. At first I attributed this to the fact that most of the babies have little colds, so that kind of made sense. And then. And then. I came across a (very) detailed article about the public restrooms in China. It would seem that outside of your hotel or restaurant, public toilets can be a bit of a challenge for the Westerner used to raised thrones, sinks, running water, soap, paper towels, and toilet paper. The last thing I wanted to worry about when we’re out and about with The Baby is how to use a Chinese toilet, affectionately called a “squatty potty”, so I did a bit of Googling. About.com lists it as “Average” Difficulty; note that they don’t say it’s “Easy”. There’s even a WikiHow article on it, which was ultra-informative. It included pictures, etiquette tips (line up in front of a particular stall, not at the entrance to the ladies’ room, and it’s always nice to tip the lavatory staff), and practical advice (for instance, not every potty has a “splash-guard”, so learn how to roll your pants up, you almost always have to supply your own toilet paper, and never, EVER look in the wastebasket). Good to know, right? And then there were the myriad suggestions that you practice before you go so you won’t be intimidated. There are lengthy tutorials about how to “rehearse” on your own personal bowl (it involves a fair amount of balance). As far as what the Chinese think of Western bathroom habits, I think one blogger put it best: “How many butts have touched that seat before yours?” I can definitely see the point. In addition, it should be noted that Squatty Potties are far less common than they once were, especially in bigger cities, but I didn’t want to be caught with my pants down (yes, you can go ahead and groan).

So on Sunday, smack in the middle of families still decked out in their Sunday School finery, I had to explain all of this to Kevin. I tried SO hard to be discreet, but Kevin kept pressing me for details. Embarrassing, horrifying details involving proper foot placement and splash-back. I tried using hand gestures so nobody would hear me, but that only made matters worse. You try miming what goes on behind closed stall doors and see what kind of looks you get. I think he secretly enjoyed making me squirm.

And I *know* you’re dying to know, so yes, I have totally practiced. I know to come armed with hand sanitizer and pocket Kleenex, I’ve vowed to never look in the wastebasket, and I am reasonably confident in my balancing skills. I have perfected the art of the Squatty Potty. It’s not graceful, and God knows it’s not pretty, but I’m ready. I didn’t know squat about the ins and outs of Chinese toilets, but I can tackle it now. I am the Commander Of The Commode. Also? I totally threw an extra 8-pack of Kleenex into the cart (Kevin didn’t dare say a word). You can never be too prepared.

Little Sister

There’s a new movie that’s being screened in Toronto this weekend called “Little Sister”. It’s based on one of the earliest versions of the fairy tale we know as “Cinderella”, and it looks absolutely stunning (you can view the trailer here. Aside from the fact that it’s Chinese, the thing that really caught my eye is that it’s produced by Richard Bowen. He happens to be the husband of Jenny Bowen, who is the founder and CEO of Half The Sky.

I know we’ve talked an awful lot about HTS (here, via email, on Kevin’s blog, and on Jack’s blog), but I can’t emphasize enough just how indebted we are to this organization. Supposedly, if this film generates a profit, a portion of it will be used to help HTS orphanages. Since I happen to have a child in one of those orphanages, this hits especially close to home. I’m urging everybody I know to please generate some buzz for this movie. It hasn’t been picked up by a big studio yet, but if it is? Well, I can only imagine how much good can be done. If you have a Twitter account, tweet about it. If you’re on Facebook, please go “Like” it. Got a blog? Blog it. You can do all of those things, and more, from this website.

Baby Jack is currently being cared for by nannies who have been trained by Half The Sky. Because he is, he’s had one-on-one care, and this is SUCH a rarity for institutionalized children. These caregivers have been given specialized training that will minimize sensory disorders. HTS also provides long-term care for the kids who DON’T get adopted. Please take a minute and go check out their website and learn a little bit about the critical work that they do. Then? Go spread the word about “Little Sister”.

Adventures in Adoption, Or, What To Pack? It All Depends.

I’m sure that everybody who has been through the adoption process will tell you that they have their own special milestone moment; for many, it’s the phone call they get when they receive their referral. Others celebrate the victory of finally completing their dossier. My personal brass ring, from the very beginning, has been The Travel Call (yes, I think it’s important enough that I have used capital letters). I have dreamed of The Travel Call since before we even began compiling documents (also? One day I solemnly swear to plant a forest of trees to replace the small rainforest it took to assemble our dossier. I am a tree killer). The Travel Call is the thing that makes it all real (again, this is only MY opinion. Lots of other parents have other things that ring their bells).

Today, we FINALLY got word that we’re having our Travel Call. In fact, we’re having it tomorrow morning. Our agency sent us a rough outline, in an effort, I assume to streamline the 2-3 hour call. They attached some other helpful FAQ-type sheets by people who have been there done that. I have obsessed about what to pack, and I have to say up until today I *really* thought I was prepared. I knew all about the prescriptions we have to bring, I’ve studied about the benefits of bringing a beach ball for the kids to play with (they fold flat AND it’s a toy!), and I’ve dedicated countless hours to calculating the number of American diapers we’ll need to pack (Chinese diapers are fine for the daytime, but you want the security of American diapers at night to prevent blowouts). I’ve spent MONTHS on message boards and blogs; heck, there are entire websites dedicated to adoption travel. Never—not once—during all my research did I come across this little tidbit:

“Also, bring a half dozen or so adult size diapers. You may become sick on a day of travel and you will be very glad you have them.”

Whoa. This stopped me dead in my tracks. I mean, it makes sense, sure, but I have to say that it never crossed my mind that at the tender age of 35 that I’d be researching adult diapers. For me. Not for an aging parent, or somebody in hospice, but ME. I’ve had my share of funny (okay, borderline embarrassing) moments during this process. I like to think that I tend to find the humor in all situations, but this? This was WAY too easy. I collapsed in totally juvenile fits of laughter as I typed in the search request on Amazon. I fully realize that this makes me no better than an 8 year-old, but come ON.

There have been a LOT of days where it felt like we would never get here, and days when I didn’t want to get out of bed. There have been even more days when I have literally screamed in frustration and cried from the anxiety. When we started this journey, the wait was around 9 months. Four and a half years later, we’re finally here. We got our visas today. Tomorrow is our travel call. If everything goes according to plan (which, let’s face it, it probably won’t. That’s another lesson we’ve learned. I firmly believe that one of the things I was supposed to learn from this was patience, and boy, have I ever gotten that hammered into my head), we could be traveling in as little as 6 weeks. The Travel Call has been the light at the end of my tunnel, and until today, I was having a hard time seeing it. Now, though, it feels like I’ve stepped out into the bright shining sun. Everything came into sharp focus today, and I get to spend the next few weeks packing everything my little man needs. Have I committed to buying the adult diapers? I’m not sure yet. It Depends.

It’s Official

We live in the best little town ever. Tonight we drove up to St. Simons Island, GA. It’s been on our To-Do List since we moved to Fernandina Beach, but we’ve just never gotten around to it until now. Kevin came home a little early from work, and it seemed like a perfect day to check it out, plus I wanted to try a BBQ joint that I saw on the Food Network not too long ago.

St. Simons Island isn’t terribly far away (we basically live in Georgia as it is). It’s a pretty little drive up there, and the view over the bridge is stunning. The village itself is cute, but I immediately felt like downtown Fernandina Beach is MUCH cuter. The waterfront was perfectly pleasant, and we found a nice little wildlife observation area, and then we headed to the beach (if I’m around a beach, I HAVE to check it out). Again, I really think that Amelia Island has the edge. After that, we headed to dinner at Beachcomber Barbecue. I first heard about this on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” on the Food Network, so I had pretty high hopes. Yeah…..not so much. I’ve been totally spoiled by The Happy Tomato, and I only have to drive about 5 minutes to get really exceptional barbecue. I think that The Beachcomber is a perfectly wonderful bar, but for seriously good pulled pork, I’ll stick closer to home.

Bottom line: St. Simons Island was pleasant. It was definitely worth the trip up there to check it out, and I’m looking forward to going back up that way to check out Jekyll Island, as well. However, I have to say that Amelia Island is WAY better than St. Simons, and it’s also the best-kept secret on the east coast. I’m in love with our little island. Our tiny little town is just about perfect. Our beaches are pristine (and they’re not crowded, plus they all have sand, which we didn’t find to be the case in Georgia). I honestly think we won the lottery when we moved here, and I don’t ever want to move.

Because it’s been awhile….

Guitars as weapons. Guys in weird masks with Erik Estrada hair. You’re welcome.

One More Resource

Rumor Queen posted a link to a free ebook called “Realistic Expectations”. It’s a compilation of articles on topics ranging from attachment to establishing good sleep habits. Fear not, though, there are also plenty of articles that apply to friends and family, too! Aren’t you lucky? You can download it here. Did I mention it’s FREE?

We’ve had a lot of helpful advice from parents who have been there and done that, and it’s been invaluable. We’ve also had a lot of input from well-meaning people who have absolutely NO CLUE what they’re saying. Few things push my buttons more than somebody patently dismissing my concerns for my child (i.e. “Well, you really don’t know how your child will be affected. He could have no issues whatsoever.). These kinds of statements seem innocuous, but they are at best naive, and at worst harmful. While it’s true that I won’t know just how MUCH my child will be affected, I DO know that he WILL be. And while I fervently hope that he will have “no issues”, I doubt that will be the case, and there’s no harm at all in being prepared for that.

I do know one thing for sure, though: My child is the cutest, most awesome kid EVER, and I can’t wait to bring him home.

Adventures in Adoption, or Moonlighting At The Bunny Ranch

Let’s face it: There are TONS of obstacles that Adoptive Parents have to negotiate that are beyond foreign to biological parents. The paperwork alone is enough to make a grown woman cry. Over the last five years, I’ve definitely had my share of moments where I wanted nothing more than to pull my hair out because of some stupid form, or the wait, or new regulations, or….well, the list goes on. Every once in a while, however, something happens that is so ridiculously absurd that you just have to laugh.

As part of our homestudy update, Kevin and I both have to obtain new statements of good health from our doctor. This really isn’t a big deal, especially because, this time around, it only has to go to our social worker (instead of being sent to China). We did have to have some routine blood work done, though, including the standard HIV test. In an effort to be thorough, the doctor ordered some additional tests.

This is also the perfect time to remind you, dear reader, that we live in a VERY small town. Our doctor’s office is located right at the front of our neighborhood, so pretty much everybody that lives in North Hampton goes there, too. Kevin had already reminded me that almost everyone who works where he does uses this particular doctor, so, like everything else, I needed to be on my best behavior with everyone there (hello? I don’t even get the mail unless my hair and makeup are done, and that’s only at the end of the driveway). News travels fast around here, and that news could be something as trivial as seeing somebody’s wife at the grocery store with curlers still in her hair. Yes, I’m serious.

There was a HUGE wait yesterday at the lab, and I was at the end of the line. There was only one person behind me. They call patients back in groups of two, so she and I walked back together. The phlebotomist told the other lady to have a seat, and then she began to get to work on me. She was reviewing the doctor’s orders, and then she proceeded to say:

“OK. You’re here for HIV, syphilis, Hepatitis, and a full STD panel, right?”

It was at this point that I became acutely aware of the other patient in the room. She had been fairly unobtrusive before, but she didn’t quite manage to stifle her gasp. I could feel her eyes boring into me, and it dawned on me that she was clearly thinking that “Escort” was definitely listed on my resume.

I tried to think quickly. I started to explain to the phlebotomist that “It’s for adoption”, but as soon as I started talking she said:

“Did they explain to you that you have to come back in to get your HIV results? We can’t give them out over the phone”.

Now here’s the part that gets a little cringe-worthy. I’m sure we’ve all had moments where you wish you could reach out and physically take back the words that just came out of our mouths. This was one of those moments. I said:

“Oh, I know. I’ve done this a few times. I’m a pro.”

Yikes. I actually heard the other woman’s jaw hit the floor. Good job, Merrin. You just confirmed (in her mind, at least) that you are, in fact, a HOOKER.

A couple of minutes later, she was all done; my blood was in neatly labeled vials ready to head to the lab. I got up to leave, and I made the BAD mistake of looking at the other patient. There was a look of horror mixed with pity on her face as she quickly averted her eyes. I couldn’t help it; I started to laugh. Uncontrollably. Somehow, I managed to choke out “Have a nice day!”, and I fled the doctor’s office with tears of laughter streaming down my face.

It’s only a matter of time until I run into her, either while I’m out walking the dog, or at the grocery store. I can only imagine how quickly this “news” is going to spread, and I suppose it’ll go a little something like this:

“Lock up your husbands, ladies; there’s a brand new bunny on the block.”

Time Flies

Every once in a while I feel like somebody hits the Fast Forward button on my life and forgets to slow it down. Things have DEFINITELY been like that lately, and I find myself in the rare position of having quite a bit to say but not nearly enough time to sit down and get it all out.

I had a great time in Texas….but I think my visit was WAY too short (Kevin would disagree). I loved visiting with Camille, Josh, and GMan, and I loved getting to see their families and friends. G is growing up too fast for me, so I can only imagine how Camille feels about all of this. When I was a kid, Mom always said she was going to put bricks on my head so I would stop growing; I totally get that now. I don’t feel like the grown-ups are getting any older, but the kiddos sure are shooting up like weeds!

I’m also SOOOOOO glad that I made the time (finally) to go home. I haven’t been back to the Fort since we moved to Florida, and boy, have I ever missed it. I got to spend time with my family, and I also got to see SO many friends (to those of you I missed on this trip, I’m truly sorry, and I miss you. I’ll try to be back soon, I promise). I think I was long overdue for this trip, too (and not just because I’ve been in severe Mexican food withdrawal). Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE Amelia Island. I don’t want to move away from here anytime soon. But Fort Worth is home. Mama’s Pizza, the museums, family, friends, cruisin’ the Bowie…..All of those things are part of the fabric of, well, me. As much as I love having people come and visit here (and those who HAVE come to visit are probably SO tired of hearing us gush about just how awesome this town is), it’s not the same as being with those people back in the place that made me.

I am one of the luckiest people I know when it comes to friendships. I’m one of the fortunate few who can say that I still have some of the same friends now that I had when I was a kid (Angie: I’m SO glad we’re able to pick up right where we left off!). I have girlfriends who have held my hand through heartbreaks, who stood up for me at my wedding, and who have (on more than one occasion) kicked my ass back into reality when I was being an idiot (by the way? Thanks, Megan and Jessica. Y’all have always been there for me, and always without judgement. I love y’all). I love that, one day, all of our kids will be able to get together and talk about the stories that they’ve heard about when their moms were younger. Wait. On second thought, maybe we should censor some of those stories.

As much as I was ready to go home and see my husband and my dogs, it was H-A-R-D to get on that plane. I could’ve used just a couple more days back in the fold of what is so familiar to me (plus, I really could’ve gone for one more enchilada). The bluebonnets were still going great guns, and I’ve missed that. I would’ve liked to have taken a walk through Trinity Park, preferably during Mayfest (but without the hailstorm, thank you very much). I also didn’t get to see everybody I wanted to (you know who you are). The silver lining in all of this, though, is that now I *know* I won’t let as much time pass before I come back. And also? New buildings may pop up, and roads may get a little wider, but Fort Worth never really changes. There will always be bricks on Camp Bowie, Mama’s Pizza will always be tasty, and the Mexican food will—-without a doubt—-be better than anything I can get in Florida.

And no matter what Thomas Wolfe says, you can, in fact, go home again.

I Love Facebook, But………

Between Facebook and Twitter, I have begun to notice a void. I’ve had my blog since 2000 (although some of the original archives never got moved), and up until late last Fall, I was pretty dedicated to it. I learned a little basic HTML, I updated themes, changed the layout, and generally kept it fed and watered.

Don’t get me wrong; I love social media. It’s even safe to say that I’m addicted to it (hello? Words With Friends is my LIFE). The problem is that I have become a master at summing up my life in 140 characters or less, and in so doing, I’ve sacrificed the chatty part of myself. I came to this stark realization today when I went to tweet about the genius that is Baz Luhrmann, which is something that just simply cannot be done within the confines of 140 little characters. The other issue is that while my Facebook account is extremely private, my blog has ALWAYS been public. I *like* that my blog is public. I enjoy knowing that anybody anywhere can see what I write without unfettered access to every detail of my life (which is precisely WHY my Facebook account is private).

I’ve missed the outlet of putting virtual pen to paper and yammering on about whatever happened to be on my mind at the moment. I’ve gotten lazy, I admit it. Twitter is convenient. Facebook is convenient. And maybe blogging is old school, or even obsolete, but I miss it.

Wow. Just Wow. Love Marriage, indeed.

Wow.

Not since Benny Lava have I been so strangely addicted to a video. Yikes. And if you don’t remember Benny Lava, click here.

You’re welcome.

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