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Archive: 2016

Adventures in Adoption, or Leave A Tender Moment Alone

Full disclosure: I have no idea what I’m doing.

Back in the Fall of 2010, in China, a very nice lady handed me my son and sent me on my merry way back to the US. My husband took to parenthood like a duck to water. I had a harder time. I had taken all the required pre-placement classes. I sought out advice from other moms, from books, even from irreverent parenting blogs. You know, people smarter than me. I faked it for the first year. I got the hang of it the second year, and by year three I hit my stride. It was sometime in that third year that my kiddo decided he wanted to go back and visit his home country.

Dateline: 2013
Jack: “Mommy. I want to go to China”.
Me: “Sure, honey. Someday we’ll all go back.
Jack: “I hope that someday is soon”.

And so it began. Jack has always known his story. The day after we got home from the last trip I put together what’s affectionately known as “The Jack Book”. It has every picture we have of him, including those from his time in the orphanage. It’s filled with memories, mementos, and milestones. He LOVES it. We’ve read it countless times at bedtime, and he’s even taken it to school for Show And Tell (more than once, actually). My point is, he knows where he came from and how he came to be ours. He knows he had a China Mommy and Daddy before he had us, and he knows he had nannies to care for him in between. We talk about it ALL THE TIME.

It was no surprise when he started, in the summer of 2013, to ACTIVELY lobby for a homeland trip (and NOBODY lobbies like this one. He is the future of Washington, y’all). We had always planned on it, but it was looming distant on the horizon, floating in the ether. Once again, I turned to smarter people (this time I enlisted the brains of adult adoptees–the Holy Grail of smart people) to help me get a plan together. Turns out that the overwhelming majority agreed on the same thing: the earlier you can go home again, the better. It’s easier, it seems, to integrate heritage, culture, and ethnicity before cultural bias has a chance to kick in.

I began to work on our itinerary last November. Up to that point, adoption talk had ramped up to prodigious proportions. It was an every day occurrence: Birth Family, the weather in China, the orphanage, Chinese geography, nannies, Chinese history….It was mind-boggling just how mightily China Fever had taken hold of my child. We answered every question as best we could (with a lot of help from Siri), and we were unflinchingly honest about what we did and, more importantly, what we DIDN’T know. The last thing we wanted to do was paint a forgery of his early life. The trip would be a whirlwind of every major city and attraction in China (think Great Wall, Terra Cotta Warriors, panda holding, Li River cruise).We each picked an experience we wanted to have (Jack’s was tobogganing down the Great Wall. He loved it, by the way. I was ALL ABOUT the pandas). I scheduled all kinds of classes, and worked with a phenomenal travel agent who hooked us up with a bunch of in-home visits so we could experience actual family life. We decided to pull Jack out of the last week of school so we could stay a little longer.

The one thing we (my husband and I) were on the fence about was an orphanage visit. Our son just turned 7 (he was 6 during the planning phase). I didn’t think he was ready for that quite yet. The hubs insisted on, at the very least, visiting Jack’s hometown. I was down with that, but I remained unconvinced about a visit to the SWI. One morning on the way to school, after a particularly intense conversation about his Birth Family, I asked him if he wanted to see where he was from. I have never seen my kid so excited about ANYTHING. Later that night, I sat with him in the quiet dark of his room, and after stories were read and lullabies were sung, I asked again. This time I really, really listened. I listened between the lines.

So we added a couple of days to our already overstuffed itinerary. We booked an additional guide and translator, we paid the orphanage fee, we arranged transportation to his town from the capital of the province. And we prepared ourselves to pull the plug on the whole thing. I remained unconvinced that it was a good idea. Nevertheless, we made sure he knew what to expect. We talked about the babies and kids there, we showed him pictures, we reached out to other families who had BTDT.

Our first week back in China was beyond anything we could’ve imagined.The FIRST thing he said when we stepped off the plane in Beijing was “MOM!!! There are SO MANY Chinese people! There aren’t any Americans anywhere! I love it here!!!”. I had NO IDEA that he felt that way. Maybe I hadn’t been listening as hard as I thought. But still I remained unconvinced.

The night before the orphanage visit, we sat down with him (again) and prepared a list of questions he wanted to ask. I don’t know how he managed to fall asleep that night, he was so excited. I remained unconvinced. The next morning we met our guide, boarded the G train and headed out. I remained unconvinced. We piled into cabs and fought traffic through downtown. I remained unconvinced. Our cabs stopped in the middle of the street (traffic jam), and we were unceremoniously dumped on the street and told we had to walk the rest of the way. I remained (way) unconvinced. And then we crested a hill, and my son saw the building he had seen so many times in his Jack Book. His face lit up in a way I had never seen. I have never seen a smile so big. I swear I saw his heart light up in his chest. He couldn’t get there fast enough.

Right then and there I realized it didn’t matter AT ALL what *I* thought. I took my baby’s hand, and we walked through the door together. We met the Director, reviewed his file, asked questions, and then the door opened and a lady walked in with a large picture frame. In it were all the pictures we had sent them over the years. It had been hanging in the Baby Room; a reminder to other kids that families DO come (there were too few frames on that wall, by the way). The woman that came in? She was his nanny. His caregiver. Think about that word: Care. Giver. One who gives care. She didn’t have to; she could have treated him like so many others are treated: feed, clothe, move on. But she CARED. She GAVE. We looked at the pictures of the two of them in his file. She immediately hugged him, then didn’t let go. I will never be able to put into words the depth of the gratitude I have for her for caring for my baby until I could get to him. I’m crying now just thinking about her.

We went upstairs to the Baby Room. We met the sweet lady who had brought him to us six years ago. His nanny couldn’t stop touching him, but she managed to let him go long enough so he could explore the room and see the other kids there. He even got to see his crib! What I saw was my child’s soul healing right before my eyes (in truth, he’s been so much more at peace since we visited. He’s such an inherently happy kid that I had no idea that he WASN’T at peace until I saw that he WAS).

So much more transpired that day, but I fervently believe those are not my stories to tell. Those moments, while unimaginably special to me, ultimately belong to my son. When, and if, he’s ready, I have no doubt he’ll share it much more eloquently than I ever could. What I want to leave you with is this:

There was a team of volunteers at the orphanage while we were there. One of them pulled me aside and asked me how I knew it was the right time to bring him back.

I thought about it for a minute. I could’ve given the stock answer of “Oh, the experts say yadda yadda yadda”, but I went with the truth: I listened to someone smarter than me. It turns out that it just happened to be my seven year old son.

Zhuang Ancient Town, Longji Rice Terraces

Guilin was BEAUTIFUL. We got to see the China that you see in pictures. In fact, 95% of the photos you see of Chinese rice terraces are taken where we were in Longsheng. We had quite the hike through the paddies and up the mountain! We then had lunch with a local family. Every thing on our table was sourced from their farm. In fact, the chicken for the soup was running around the front door just minutes before it found itself in our pot. Even our greens were harvested from the local mountain. Talk about farm to table! 
Our drive from the city to the terraces took a bit longer than expected due to a BAD accident, which unfortunately is not uncommon on the twisting mountain roads. It was quite an adventure! We were stranded for a little more than an hour, along with every other car and truck, as we waited for the roads to clear. Luckily, we were out of the way of the rock slides; a few other cars weren’t so lucky. We got the chance to chat with other people on our same predicament, eat some local snacks, and just hang out and enjoy the scenery. 
The Longji terraces have been there since the Yuan Dynasty (more than 600 years). The same families have lived in the village for generations, and it’s completely obvious. They sure know what they’re doing! Jack had a BLAST picking his way through the terraces, and especially racing up the mountain. Me? Not so much with the racing, but I made it to the top, so that’s something!

Adventures in Adoption, or I Can’t Even

You guys. I seriously can’t even with this day. We have spotty–at best–internet, so for now I’ll keep it brief, but I wanted to update a bit on just what we did today. <br>
We caught an early bullet train from Changsha to Chenzhou. Jack spent the first 19 months of his life there, and today was his triumphant return. When we got off the train, it was HOT. Like, Texas in August hot. We had an eventful cab ride to (almost) the orphanage. We didn’t make it all the way there due to a traffic jam, so it was sidewalk city. We trudged up the hill, and there we were. We were able to meet the director, but more importantly, we got to meet the ladies that cared for Jack until we could. As a mother, I can’t describe how completely life changing this was for me. There just aren’t words for the depth of gratitude I have for the woman who kissed his first boo boos and tucked him in. She never left his side the whole time we were there. We got to see his other nannies, too, and each of them greeted him like their own long lost child. He was definitely the star of the day. It was also beyond overwhelming, for us, and definitely for him. He got to spend about an hour in the baby room, which is where he spent the majority of his early life. The babies and toddlers there are loved as best they can be by a skeleton crew of a staff and too few volunteers. Shout out to Team Chenzhou who is in town for two weeks; it was great to meet y’all today!
When it was time to go, we took a few more pictures, and I hugged his nanny so hard I almost broke her. How do you put into words that kind of gratitude? I hope she felt it. I couldn’t have held back the tears if my life had depended on it. I have a feeling I’ll have leaky eyes for a while yet. We learned that his finding spot was very close by, so we walked to it. And in the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.<br>
After lunch (chicken head!!!), we boarded the train back to Changsha, where we had tea with our dear friend Ashley, his wife, and their two boys. Jack, ever the diplomat, was fast friends with the boys in about 2 seconds flat. Language barrier? No problem for those kids. They were having a BALL. iPads emerged and epic Minecraft battles ensued. Soon enough, all three boys were speaking an awesome combination of Mandarin and English while the grown ups enjoyed a slow tea and some MUCH needed downtime spent with friends who are family. I am beyond grateful for our Chinese family. Even though we haven’t seen them in 6 years, the time melted away like we had never left. I needed the comfort and warmth today more than any other day in my life. If we were in the States, I would’ve called my girlfriends and had (a lot of) wine. How lucky I am that we have people here, on the other side of the world, to be my touchstone during the hard times.

After tea, we went out to dinner, where the boys ran around together like lunatics, just being boys. Plans were made for other visits, and they can’t come soon enough. In the meantime, the internet will continue to be our lifeline to one another, and that’s just fine for now. I’ve tucked my sweet baby into bed, and I fervently hope that the toll I KNOW today has taken on him will hold off just a bit longer so he can rest. There’s no question that today was a hefty dose of both yin and yang, the bitter and the sweet. Thankfully, the sweet won out in the end. 

So yes, there’s more, but for tonight, I’m spent. 

Another Big Day!

We had another super busy day in Beijing today: Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and Temple of Heaven were on the agenda. This meant HOURS of walking, and sadly, it was not a blue sky day. It was pretty smoggy, and we came close to breaking out the masks.

We started the day in Tiananmen Square. This time, unlike our previous trip, we were able to get close enough to the outside of Chairman Mao’s tomb. We didn’t go in, mostly because the wait is HUGE. Everyone in China wants to make the pilgrimage to see Mao. We settled for a picture outside instead.


After walking the length of the largest public square in the world, we entered The Forbidden City. It is truly spectacular. You can’t imagine the scope of it until you’re actually there. It was just as impressive this time as it was 6 years ago. Jack had a ball rubbing the gold knobs on each door for good luck!

We took a break for lunch at a hot pot restaurant well known for its dancing noodle pullers. I’ll eventually get around to a more in-depth recap of that (complete with video!) but for now I’ll just say that it was both delicious AND super fun. Once we were sufficiently fed we headed to the Temple of Heaven. Again, you cannot fathom how beautiful it is until you’ve seen it in person. Yeah, I know Epcot’s version is pretty, but nothing compares to the real deal.


Finally, we ended the day with dinner with our dear friend Jerry and his wife Ivy. They’ll get a whole post to themselves (hopefully I’ll have a bit of time on the train to Xi’An tomorrow), but for now I’ll just say how unbelievably lucky we are to have him in our lives.

Now it’s time for sleep, and not a minute too soon. This mama is tired!

Great Wall at Mutianyu and The Summer Palace

We headed out early this morning to the Summer Palace, which is located in the north of Beijing. Jack,lived the dragon boats and the Buddhist temple, and of course the huge marble boat. I think his favorite thing was the tags the put on the trees to indicate their ages. Green tags mean a tree is between 100 and 300 yea s old; red ones mean 300-500 years old. There are a LOT of red-tagged trees. <br>

After that, we drove about an hour and a half further to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. We stopped for lunch, which was amazing. *Real* Chinese food is phenomenal, and worth the 14 hour flight to experience it. Just sayin’. <br>

After lunch, it was time to hit the wall. We all headed up on the cable cars, spent a couple of hours hiking up, up, up, down, down, and back up some more. We climbed a watchtower or two, and then it was time for the BIG DEAL. Mom and I headed back down via cable car, but Kevin and Jack took the giant toboggan to the bottom. <br>

Jack LOVED it. He loved it so much, in fact, that he slept like a log for the nearly three hour drive back into the city. This poor kid is EXHAUSTED, but he NEVER complains. He is just so excited to be here, and we’re just as excited to see it all through his eyes. The last stop of the evening was dinner, and now we’re tucked back into the hotel for the night.

Welcome Home, Baby

It’s no big secret that Jack has been super excited about coming back to China. He’s fading pretty fast this evening (Good Morning to y’all, by the way), but we were all VERY moved when we got to the hotel room and saw this:



We have big adventures planned for tomorrow. Tonight, though, we’re settling back into China. I can’t quite explain our affinity for this country, but man, it sure does feel good to be back. It definitely feels like a homecoming. Jack is over the moon and super proud to be Chinese. I’ll get into that a bit more another time, but suffice it to say he was crazy excited when we got to the airport in Beijing. He said “There are SO MANY CHINESE PEOPLE!!! I don’t see ANY Americans!” He was just beside himself that he (for once) didn’t stand out as different. I have absolutely NO doubt that this was the perfect time to bring him back here.

We Made It!

25 hours after we woke up, we have finally made it to the hotel in Beijing. We’re working on getting our VPN set up so we can update Facebook, but it’s proving to be a bit of a challenge. Jack was AWESOME. Both passengers and flight attendants remarked about how well behaved he was. He barely moved and didn’t make a peep the entire flight.

Next on the agenda is a shower, some food, and then some much needed sleep.

And We’re Off!

3AM came EARLY today. So far, at least, things have been going off without a hitch. We’re hanging at DFW for a couple of hours, and then we take to the skies one more time. Next stop: Beijing!

And once again, Jack is the chillest child EVER. He truly is super easy to travel with. I’ve never seen another kid go with the flow as much as he does.


Adventures In Adoption, or Who Are The People In Your Neighborhood

Jack informed me this morning that we leave for China in 120 hours. Now it’s more like 110. I think we *might* be a little excited.
Jack has always been an intrepid traveler. He’s been proudly hauling his own luggage since he was 3. I have lost count of the number of plane rides he’s taken. Don’t even get me started on the road trips. He’s a TROOPER. I’ve never seen a kid go with the flow as much as this kid does. Now, I love every little thing about my child. I love every hair on his head. One of the things I love the most, however, is his innate ability to adapt to his environment. He is so. Much. FUN to travel with.

Kevin and I have been around the world (literally). We have seen and done some incredible things (just ask Kevin about that goat). We have collected stories and memories from far and wide, but more importantly, we have collected friends. When our friend Bobby visited us late last year, Jack thought it was totally normal that he was visiting from Kenya.

A couple of years ago, we were lucky enough to meet up with our friend Jerry, from Beijing. He was visiting Florida with a Chinese delegation. We met “Uncle” Jerry on our last trip to China. He was our assigned guide, but he immediately became our friend. He explained it to us like this” In Chinese culture, you have a “yuan” with some people, a kind of unexplainable, invisible connection. Your paths are destined to cross and remain tangled for life.


In Changsha, Ashley was our assigned guide. The minute we landed at the airport we recognized him. He is the only person on earth who has known Jack *exactly* as long as Kevin and I. Again, he became so much more to us. On our last night in Hunan, he and his family hosted us AT THEIR HOUSE. To this day, I’ve never heard of another family who has had that experience.

Since we brought Jack home, we’ve kept in touch with both Jerry and Ashley through email. We send pictures and updates a few times a year. Kevin installed WeChat so now we actually get to talk to them, too, which is super fun. When we planned this trip, we made sure that we included plenty of time in Beijing and a side trip to Changsha with the hope that we could squeeze in a visit with both of them. Jerry is busy, though, and he travels all the time. Same with Ashley. This was by no means a sure thing.

The Universe did what the Universe does, though, and sure enough, I’m BEYOND excited to say that we will get to spend a little time with them BOTH! We’ll see Jerry next week in Beijing. He had a last minute cancellation of his planned trip to France, which sucks for him but works out great for us. In an even crazier turn of events, Ashley was actually assigned to be our guide for our trip to Chenzhou, so we’ll be spending the ENTIRE DAY with him. We’ll even get to see his wife and kids later in the evening.

I am a lucky, lucky girl. I have friends on almost every continent (I don’t know anyone in Antarctica, sadly). Even better, my child has people in his global village he can call on. He knows that the world is so, so much bigger than his backyard. His neighborhood is HUGE. He will grow up knowing that, while home is a wonderful, safe, happy place, it’s also the place where adventure begins. He will be able to leave the nest with the confidence that only comes from navigating the world outside his comfort zone. His passport, already half-filled with stamps and visas, will tell the story of a life spent exploring. He will learn that people all over the world have SO MUCH to teach us, if we’re willing to learn. Xenophobia will never exist here.

And in 106 hours, we get to make HIS world a little bigger, by making THE world a little smaller.

Adventures in Adoption, or, You CAN Go Home Again

We leave for China in 7 days. One week. This trip, one that’s been a year in the making, is finally upon us. Hard to believe. Visas have been obtained, i’s are being dotted, t’s are being crossed, bags are being packed, house sitters are being paid. In short, we’re just about ready to go. Those of you that know me know that I am one hell of a Cruise Director. If you’ve ever travelled with me, or if I’ve ever taken you to Disney, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Pretty sure this is me.

Our itinerary is…well, let’s just say it’s “ambitious” (because in reality, it’s straight up crazy town). We are packing every big thing about China into 15 itty bitty days (and yes, I AM HOLDING A PANDA). I have obsessed about planning every detail of this adventure. I’ve spent countless hours on YouTube researching each and every stop, from the Reed Flute Cave to the Summer Palace. I can tell you more than you ever wanted to know about Chinese street food. BUT.

NONE of that is why we’re doing this. Yes, we want to see all the cool stuff. BUT. This trip belongs to Jack. He asked us if we could go back to China. We said “Of course”. He has shown more than a little interest in his heritage. It’s not surprising, then, that our house has turned into China Culture and Adoption Discussion Central.

It began to ramp up around Christmas: subtle questions about China, an increase in discussion about his Birth Family, a bit more of a struggle with his identity. Lately (read: in the past three weeks) there are almost daily conversations about whether or not he is a Chinese citizen or an American one. He knows the difference, and he knows his truth. BUT.

The inevitable pull to be more of who he is has surfaced. Right now, he wants to be more Chinese than American. That’s okay. The tide of his identity will ebb and flow. Right now, he’s still young enough that American cultural bias against China has not set in (making it, by the way, the perfect time to take him on a tour of his Homeland). Right now, all of these feelings are bouncing around inside of him. He doesn’t quite know what to make of it all, but that’s where his Daddy and I come in.

If you think I can research travel itineraries, you have NO IDEA how much effort I can put into broadening my parenting education. I have read every book on taking your kids back to their birth country (this one is my favorite). I have read JACK every age appropriate book about returning to China. We talk about it all. The. TIME. No subject is off limits. Lately, he’s been fixated on the orphanage visit (so have I). He *really* wants to go back to Chenzhou. He told me “It’s a happy building, Mommy”. I love that so, so much.

Jack and I both have some apprehension and anxiety about returning to Chenzhou, though. He’s been having a little trouble sleeping lately, and he’s been a bit more sensitive than normal. I, too, am admittedly, on edge, especially when it comes to him. Never in my life have I wanted to protect him more than I do right now. Even watching him from afar during PE at school today, I wanted to fuss at a couple of the kids who were being less than kind to him. Sure, it was typical First Grade trash talk, but still. Every slight hurts a little these days. I want nothing more than to lock his tender little heart in a box so it won’t be damaged. Feeling that and acting on it are two entirely different matters, however, so instead I put on my Big Girl Panties and move on. We’re navigating this emotional minefield together, and so far, we’re doing okay.

On any given day, by bedtime, we’ve talked about his Birth Family (who and where they are, and why he doesn’t know them), culture, citizenship, his orphanage, and the first 18 months of his life before us. Think about that for a second. It’s a whole lot more than most families tackle during the car ride to soccer practice or piano lessons. That being said, we are VERY fortunate that there are such great resources available to us. Mostly, though, we’re lucky that we have such a resilient, curious, loving kid.

Adventures in Adoption, or Honesty Is Such a Lonely Word

Lately I’ve been struggling with balancing the bitter and the sweet, the firsts and lasts. As Jack sprints headlong into seven, 6 is already becoming a distant memory. Gone are his chubby baby cheeks, long ago melted away into chiseled angles. Gone is the hesitation in his run, long ago replaced by a crazy (if not terrifying) confidence in his body’s abilities to remain upright and strong. I held him and rocked him while standing the other night. I think that’s the last time, as he now weighs 58 pounds, and my 40 year old back simply can’t handle that anymore. Gone, too, are the days where he turned around and blew me a kiss on his way into school (a true heartbreaker, that one). Here, now, is a closed door at bedtime. Here are the days of constant motion, no downtime. Here are the days of “Mom, I’m OLD ENOUGH!!!”. And he is. For so, so much. He can fix his own breakfast. He can take his own, unsupervised, showers, and be trusted to get mostly clean. He can stay up late on the weekends reading under the covers with a flashlight. He can walk the dog. So many firsts, bound tightly with so many lasts. The bitter and the sweet.

This morning on the way to school, he asked me about his China Mommy. I would say it was out of the blue, but in truth, it’s not. Our upcoming trip to China has stirred up some emotions and more than a few questions. Still and all, I was not quite prepared to field the question on limited sleep and no caffeine. Very matter-of-factly, he said “I grew in someone else’s tummy”. “Yes. Yes you did”. This is not new news; we’ve had this conversation since day 1. And then:

“I hope my China Mommy isn’t dead”.

“I hope so, too, baby. I hope that so much”.

“I don’t know my China Mommy. Who is my China Daddy”?

“We don’t know, sugar. We don’t know anything at all about your China Mommy and Daddy. But when you get older, if you want to look for them, we’ll do everything we can to help you. They are very important people, because they gave us you”.

In our house, we tell the truth. Even when it’s hard. Let me give you a recent example, which again took place in the car on the way to school (all the hard conversations seem to happen either there or at bedtime. My theory is that it’s easier for him to ask questions when he can’t see my face. I know it’s easier for me to answer them that way. But I digress). We’re rolling along 8th Street, when out pops “Mommy, did you used to smoke”?


“Yes, baby. When I was a teenager, I made some bad choices, and that was one of them. I stopped a long time ago, though, and I NEVER should have done it”.


Thanks, Grandma! That bus felt AWESOME when it rolled over me. 😉 But the thing is, I was faced with a choice in that moment: lie through my teeth and protect my heretofore untarnished Mommy image, or humble up and tell the truth, even though it was like chewing glass to do so. Thank God I went with the truth. I had no way to know he already knew the dirty details; no, all I knew was that I had about five milliseconds to make the right choice, and I did. Because we don’t lie. Even when we want to. Even when it’s hard.

The day we became a family, I made Jack a promise. I would always answer his questions. I would honor his Birth Family every way I knew how. I would teach him they are important people, even if we never get to know them. I would always let it be HIS decision how his story is told, AND how it unfolds. Back then, I dreaded the day the questions would come. I secretly hoped they never would (don’t worry, I was never truly that naive, but I sure overcompensated in the beginning. Being enough for somebody is terrifying). Imagine my surprise this morning when all of the answers came out easily and without fear. Honestly, the question about my previous smoking habit was WAY worse than this. The bitter: This won’t be the last time his feelings erupt. And it will not always be so easily dealt with, nor should it be. The sweet: He felt secure in the knowledge that honesty would be forthcoming. I felt secure enough to give those answers without a second thought. The razor’s edge between the bitter and the sweet is a scary, exhausting, exhilarating, wonderful place.

Billy Joel once sang that

“When I’m deep inside of me
Don’t be too concerned.
I won’t ask for nothin’ while I’m gone.
But when I want sincerity
Tell me where else can I turn.
Because you’re the one that I depend upon.

It never fails to remind me of the weight of the responsibility we have as his parents. Jack goes deep inside. And when he needs the sincerity, I hope to God I’ve shown him that it’s here. Because in our house, we tell the truth. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.




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