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Wife. Mommy. Lover of cookies.

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RT @HonestToddler: Toddler Tip: She has a bounty of nerves underneath that "last" one. Don't worry :)

Archive: September 2011

Adventures in Adoption, or, I’m Going To Wally World!!!

We started our adoption process back in 2006, which obviously gave us lots and lots of time to dream/plan/fantasize about every aspect of the actual trip to China. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent scouring the interwebz for every piece of information about tourist destinations, food, shopping, and basic daily life. My mother would be the first one to tell you that I get all Julie the Cruise Director when it comes to travel planning (in my defense, though, I my system totally WORKS. You may be exhausted after I’ve dragged your butt all over kingdom come–sorry, Kevin, but there was a lot to see in London–, but you will definitely have seen everything you wanted to). So in between picking out baby names and painting the nursery (twice, because, hey! It’s a boy!), I obsessed about the stuff I wanted to experience.

Now, five years is a LOT of time to dig up information. The more I read, the more I was determined to see as much of China as I possibly could. I dreamed of the Great Wall. I yearned for the Temple of Heaven. The Forbidden City? Not so forbidden anymore, because, dude, I was GOING TO SEE IT IN PERSON. My research wasn’t limited to the tourist hotspots, though. I subscribed to random news feeds that covered all aspects of Chinese life. I freaked myself out about the food–I don’t like American Chinese food– (which was pointless, as it was all delicious. Well, except for those noodles. Those? Not so much) and the bathrooms (again, pointless. AND xenophobic). I devoured every little thing I could get my hands on. And then, one day, I saw this article on Buzzfeed. Chinese Wal Mart??? Oh, yes please. 1000 times YES. I knew *immediately* that I had to move heaven and earth to experience Chinese Wal Mart for myself.

Once we had our Travel Call (that’s the call with your agency that prepares you for what to expect, what to pack, what you’ll do in-country, etc.), a couple of things became abundantly clear. One, we were actually going to CHINA, which, after the wait we’d had, didn’t quite seem possible, and B), we weren’t going to have a whole lot of free time. Those agencies do a damn fine job of making sure you’re well-occupied, which now that I think about it, is not unlike my whole Julie the Cruise Director approach to travel. If I wanted to see Chinese Wal Mart, I had to be crafty and strategic. I pored over our itinerary. I knew Beijing was out of the question; we were simply WAY too over-scheduled as it was. The Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, the pearl market, the jade market, Olympic Village, a Hutong tour…And that was only 48 hours. Definitely no time there.

Next, I looked at the time we had in Guangzhou. It was a possibility. We had quite a bit of down-time, and we were spending almost an entire week there. The problem was, however, that there just wasn’t one anywhere close to where we were staying. Also, although we didn’t realize this until we got there, there was another family to contend with in Guangzhou. Ah, yes. The Kirbys. For now, let’s just say that if we never see them again, it will be too soon. And worry not, I’ll be covering that particular story in the near future. So that left Changsha. Logistically, I wasn’t too sure how it would work out, but I KNEW that there was a Wal Mart about 20 minutes from Civil Affairs.
Once again, let me say that Ashley is one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. From the moment we introduced ourselves, he was a friend. He was so completely accommodating of every single request we had, almost before we’d voiced it. He was a scheduling magician. So on the ride into the city from the airport, after having set eyes on each other only minutes before, I was (almost) comfortable enough to tell him my deep secret wish to see Wal Mart. He told us to let him know if there was anything special we wanted to see or do, but at that moment, I realized how completely ridiculous it sounded to say “Hey, I came all the way to China so I could go to Wal Mart.” Luckily, Kevin loves me, and he knows me better than anyone, so he stepped up and put it out there. Thank God for Kevin.

Ashley didn’t make any promises that day, but he DID say he would try to work it out. The next morning (as a guy with a canvas bag full of thousands of dollars in currency sat in our hotel room counting out bills—again, part of a future installment), he worked out a schedule. That Thursday looked promising, and as fate would have it, it was right after we finalized everything at Civil Affairs AND we could even fit in lunch at McDonald’s (the food was awesome, but we’d been in the country for awhile, and we were ready for a taste of home, not unlike the time I hunted down a Wendy’s in Venice because I was dying for a burger after two weeks of the best Italian food I’d ever had. Yes, you read that right. Wendy’s. In VENICE. Operation Ugly American was a go.

So there we were. Finally a family, and the first thing we do was head to Wal Mart, and it was everything I’d dreamed it could be. First, let me say that Chinese Wal Mart is an upscale affair. Not like Prada or Vuitton, but definitely upper-middle class. The one we went to was also GINORMOUS. Two stories of awesome. I made Kevin stop out front so I could take his picture.

Speaking of pictures, Ashley smoothed things over (in his typical Ashely way), so I was able to snap as many pictures in there as I wanted. Sure, I got some nasty looks from the guy pawing the bin of raw chicken feet, but it’s not like I took a picture of HIM—just of the chicken feet. I was so completely enamored of Chinese Wal Mart from the minute I stepped foot inside. I spent 20 minutes in the seafood department alone (hey, I’d never seen fish with price tags shot through their fins before, not to mention a bin full of fat croaking frogs). I took my time checking out the large open bins of chicken parts (not just feet) exposed for anybody to sift through looking for just the right thigh. I wandered up and down aisles full of blueberry flavored Lay’s chips, Red Bull, and even Budweiser. I got a little bit lost in the snack foods and beverages.

And then, there it was. I swear it was like a moment out of a movie complete with a ray of light shining right down on it. THE CANDY DEPARTMENT. I have to admit, I went a little bit crazy. I realize that I am, deep down, a three-year-old, but I totally couldn’t help myself. Everything is sold in bulk, and I grabbed a couple of bags and started stuffing with wild abandon. I didn’t care what I grabbed, I just tried to get a little of everything. It was like a bad episode of Supermarket Sweep. I was a madwoman. Kevin finally had to stop me, since we didn’t have enough room in our luggage to account for the amount of sugar I’d just acquired.

Eventually, we headed upstairs so we could get a few baby essentials. The baby store in Changsha had most of what we needed, but we were on a quest for a sippy cup that the boy would actually drink from. It had been a problem up to this point. I’d packed every single kind of cup imaginable, even baby bottles, but he just. Wouldn’t. DRINK. It turns out that I had underestimated my little man (wouldn’t be the last time), and he needed something a bit more advanced and needed something with a straw. New cup in hand, we headed back down to the checkout. Surprisingly, we made it out of there for a hair under $20. A miracle.

As luck would have it, McDonald’s was right across the street, and it was lunch time. Ashley ordered for us, and a few minutes later, there it was. The Chinese Happy Meal. Oh, and a Big Mac and a Spicy Chicken Sandwich.

Jack, as usual, was in food heaven. He INHALED those McNuggets. Kevin and I had our first experience with Chinese ketchup, and we fervently wished it would be our last. Yikes. Kev enjoyed his Big Mac, but I realized I’d made a fatal error with the chicken sandwich. I’m pretty sure that chicken was about 1000 years old when they killed it, because it was stringy and weird. Still, though, I’m glad we had the experience, even if it wasn’t the best idea in the world.
That, my friends, is a lesson: No matter how homesick you are for the familiar, sometimes it’s just better to stick with the local flavor. Trust me on this. At least until you get to a Chinese Pizza Hut, and then it’s on like Donkey Kong.

Adventures In Adoption, Or, Congratulations! It’s a Toddler!

It turns out that two-year olds keep a Mama pretty busy. I swear the kiddo will graduate high school before I get his China story all written out. In the meantime, though, I’ll push on, even though my child is currently walking around the living room with a drum on his head. Best. Mother. EVER. After a (not) brief hiatus, I finally have a minute to continue telling the tales of our trip to China (if you need a refresher of where we left off, click here).
{EDIT: I began this post in JUNE. It’s almost OCTOBER. Yeah, the toddler keeps me on my toes}

Jack was worn OUT from the crazy morning he’d had: a train ride, a big city, new parents, you know, basic everyday stuff for an 18-month old baby. Or not. He slept like the dead even while firecrackers were going off right outside our open hotel window (there was a wedding down below on the street, and fireworks are kind of a thing in China. I’m surprised you didn’t know that). It sounded not unlike artillery fire, but he snoozed right through it, even though Kevin and I were CERTAIN the city was being attacked. When he woke up, though, I learned my first true lesson about what it feels like to be completely helpless. We had prepared ourselves in every way possible for the fact that Jack would be grieving. I read every book, took every class, talked to other parents….you name it. Even with all of that, though, nothing could have prepared me for the actual moment of holding a boy who woke up from a nap and fell into his own nightmare.

I promise I’m only going to talk about this for a minute, and I debated whether to put it out there at all, but the truth is that it’s a part of his story. He may very well read this one day, and I don’t want to do him a disservice by glossing over the hard parts. In a nutshell, the next 30 minutes were the very worst of my life, and I’m fairly certain Jack would’ve said the same thing about his, too. Imagine waking up in a strange place with people who don’t look like you, don’t sound like you, don’t smell like you. You have no way to tell them what you need or feel, but you’re supposed to trust them unconditionally. You can’t feed yourself or meet any of your own basic needs, and the only people you used to know are nowhere to be found. I have a feeling you’d be pretty freaked out, too. As soon as I picked him up out of the crib, Jack started keening. It was a primal scream that started from deep in his gut, and it just. Kept. Going. I did the only thing I could possibly do, and that was sit on the floor and rock him until it subsided, and it eventually did.

We spent the remainder of that afternoon wandering up and down the hallways of the hotel and trying to make Jack feel as comfortable as possible. We played with his beach ball, and we bounced on the bed. One of my favorite memories of those early days was getting the very first smile out of Jack. He thought bouncing on the bed with the green beach ball was the BEST toy. We had the hotel windows open (no AC; the government had declared it Fall already), and the noises 31 stories below us drifted up and blended with the squeaky mattress springs and Sam Cooke singing “Under the Boardwalk” through the laptop.

We ordered room service for dinner that night. We spread out the blanket that Delta was kind enough to let us “borrow”, hunkered down on the floor, and feasted on congee, cumin beef, and yes, ice cream. I couldn’t help but remember another carpet picnic 10 years earlier; a few of my friends will recall sitting on my mother’s living room floor on my wedding day eating take out from La Madeleine. It’s funny how little moments seem so insignificant until their pattern begins to emerge. Apparently, I reserve carpet picnics for the great big important days in life.

After dinner, it was time for bath and bed. I let Kevin do the honors on Jack’s first bath, and he did a great job. Jack, on the other hand, wasn’t too thrilled. I don’t think he’d ever been fully submerged before and he wasn’t quite sure what to think. He was also filthy. This is in no way a criticism of the care he received in the SWI. It’s an observation that gave me a glimpse into my future as Jack’s mom: lots and lots and lots of dirt. He’s a magnet. We got our now-fresh-smelling baby all wrapped up in jammies and began the bedtime ritual. There are no words to describe that very first tuck-in; we didn’t have a plan, there had been no previous discussion, but it was seamless. The way Kevin and I worked together that first night is concrete proof that there is, in fact, such a thing as a soulmate. My very favorite thing, though, about sitting in that hotel room while darkness settled softly through the smog was something I didn’t come to appreciate until six months later. That inaugural bedtime routine? It hasn’t changed. At all. We were lucky enough to stumble on something magical. Kevin has whispered the same thing to Jack every night for almost a year. I have read Goodnight Moon so many times that Jack has it memorized. We thought we were providing comfort in consistency, and we ARE. But mostly? The consistency comforts US. We are unbelievably lucky to be able to share the last quiet minutes with Jack before he sleeps, and that time is the most precious of my day.

The next few days were filled with Ashley striking a delicate balance between keeping us busy, eating, giving us bonding time, eating, and meeting with all the officials to finalize the paperwork (I have mentioned before that the first day we were literally handed a baby without having signed a thing. I’ve had to sign my life away to FedEx when receiving a delivery from Apple, but hey, here’s a baby! Have fun!). I cannot say enough good things about Ashley. He knew *exactly* what we needed when we needed it. He also showed us Changsha in a way that we’ll never forget. We spent one morning at the Hunan Provincial Museum where we saw a perfectly preserved 2000 year old mummy (she was even sticking out her tongue). This particular story, and accompanying picture, bites us in the butt later in our story when we meet the Kirbys, so stay tuned for that one. We also spent a couple of lovely hours at the Hunan Embroidery Museum, which was breathtaking. It was also a little chilly and strange, since we were the only people there. In fact, the lights were off when we arrived, and Ashley had to hunt down the curator so we could see everything. Ashley was SO knowledgeable and taught us everything we ever wanted to know about Hunan embroidery. I won’t go into too much detail, but I will say it is the most stunning needlework I’ve ever seen. Also? We ate. A LOT. We ate some of the best food I’ve ever had, and I miss it. We had dumplings, pork with green peppers, a beef with mushrooms dish that Kevin would very well give his right arm for, and the best char siu I’ve EVER had. We also learned that there is watermelon at every meal. Pretty handy, since I know a boy who happens to love the stuff.

Finally, it was Thursday. Thursday was THE day. The last time we had to meet with Chinese officials. The day they told us that our son was officially ours. I wish I could say that there was some sort of pomp and ceremony involved, but in actuality, we returned to the Civil Affairs office where we waited a few minutes to be called back to a small room with a small woman standing over a small machine. She snapped a quick picture of Kevin, Jack, and me, and then we handed over a stack of Chinese bills which she ran through the machine (turns out it was a bill counter), and ushered us across the hall to yet another small room. {Please, no comments on the money thing. I’ll address all of that in a later post, but suffice it to say that whatever you may think is probably wrong, unless, of course, you’ve adopted from China.} We stamped our thumbprints in red ink on a few papers, stamped Jack’s handprint, and headed to yet another room where the notary awaited. He asked us a few questions (“Why did you want to adopt from China?” “WIll you keep this child safe and healthy?”), and five minutes later, we were on our way.

Jack was ours. Now all that was left was to go celebrate. American style.




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