Monday, January 23, 2006

End Days

No apocalyptic pun intended.

I’ve received some gentle prodding (euphemism for get it together and let us know how you are doing at home) to do the trip post-mortem. So, with a heavy heart tonight, I’ll tell the rest of the story. My little grandma died this afternoon, she was one month shy of 95 and lived a hard/good life, but I just thought she would last forever. All five feet two stubborn funny inches of her finally wore out and she left us today. If you have the capacity, please keep my mother in your heart tonight. I just wish Grandma could have met Nora; she would have liked her I’m sure.

The last day in Guangzhou started late. I had finally adjusted to China time and slept until 7:00 am. Then I ran around buying the stuff I swore I wouldn’t buy this time and an extra suitcase to carry the unnecessary stuff home for good measure. The kiddie rides under the raised roadway to the hotel were open this morning. The girls went round and round while I surreptitiously snapped photos of the groups practicing Chinese opera, ball room dancing, some form of martial arts, you name it, there were folks out doing it Wednesday morning. The Chinese winter holiday started last week so there were a lot of kids at the play ground too. I had a lovely conversation with a young man who had taken the Anglo name of LeBron. He wants to go to school at Harvard and become a businessman/conservationist, he’s mad for anything NBA and I think I really disappointed him because I don’t follow sports and only listen to NPR on the radio and couldn’t tell him about my favorite music. I was getting so burned out on photo snapping, that I forgot to get LeBron’s picture.

Most of the families (I don't know if the Myracles got the memo) met for a group photo before boarding the new buses the White Swan recently purchased to cart families back and forth to the new consulate location. As we boarded the spanking new cruiser, I asked Connie if the White Swan had bought the buses to keep the US adoption travelers in its property after the consulate moved off Shamian Island, her look was like, yeah, duh. Oh, and totally off topic, but to those families that have fought for food at the White Swan breakfast buffet, imagine what it would be like if you were the ONLY family in the room from 7:30 am until after 8:00 am like we were on Sunday morning, thank you Kim Jong Il, who says you’re the second most evil dictator in the world?

We jetted over (irony, there is no jetting in Guangzhou, it seems like you go in circles just to get up to the freeway to get off again real soon) to the Tian He (sp?) high rise commercial district where the consulate is now located. And here’s another irony: YuYu’s beloved gege (sounds like guh guh, Chinese for older brother) earned the right to attend a pretty prestigious military academy (equivalent to say the Air Force Academy, not quite West Point) in Guangzhou. His plan to support her when he finished university may have actually worked. For those reading this who have traveled to Guangzhou and stayed on Shamian Island, you may have noticed the trim young men in cheap green uniforms stationed around the island and they march in formation to make shift changes. (And after a wild goose chase to the island security center to find someone who may know gege’s unit and phone number, every inch of that island is on video, so don’t let your baby pee in the bushes (yet another stab at irony, Chinese babies pee anywhere they want to). YuYu’s parents had contacted gege’s instructors to ask permission for YuYu and I to meet him while we were in Guangzhou, but since he is a first year student, he can’t have any visitors unless accompanied by his parents, crap. So there we were at the new consulate and there he was, right across the street standing guard (when not in class and classes were over for the winter holiday) as the Eastern Railway Station, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it, crap. Even if we had time to go poke around, I certainly would not have wanted to get him in trouble while he was on duty.
So they herded all of us into a waiting area (after security screening and much aimless milling) and there must have been what? 100 families, seemed like a mob. It really took a long time, but each parent must be seen by a consular official (even en masse) before the adopted child’s US immigrant visa can be issued because we swear that the information we provided on the immigrant application is true and correct. Then, in an anti-climatic flash, you’re done. All those months of paperwork and waiting, all over in an I do solemnly swear or affirm statement that takes 7 seconds to repeat. But a big relief no matter the lack of ceremony.

Our family and the incredible Myracle family (again, no pun intended, but what a burden Mike carries in his professional life, Dr. Myracle, whew) left straight from the consulate to the airport to catch the 9:00 pm flight back to Los Angeles. This was the Myracles’ third adoption in very few years, and their newest son is named Ben and talk about your contagious laughter, what an adorable kid. Their other children are simply gorgeous too, but this little Ben is certainly a sweet, sweet child, and the fact that he toddled over to me, motioned to be picked up and planted a big wet one on me in the Guangzhou airport has no influence on my opinion of him at all. In a few minutes, Ben liked me a ton more than Nora did/does. I just have to say that the Myracles were like a well-oiled machine, all eight of them passing treats, wipes, juice boxes, diapers, like an Olympic relay team. I want to be the Myracle family when I grow up.

The flight was long, but I know I got some sleep because it seemed like we were over the Bering Strait in a thrice. YuYu slept like a bump and Nora, not so good, but still more than not. When the drink cart came out shortly after take-off, I was all xiao xing (careful), bu yao pun (don’t touch) to Nora with an open cup and then I proceeded to dump her juice all over my lap and down my leg and I finally snapped. Two weeks of living out of suitcases and a child who didn’t like me came down on me hard and I just cried over spilled juice. YuYu was stunned, I know she’s never seen me cry and all I could say was I’m okay, I’m just tired. (Last night I must have said something about being tired and YuYu said, “Mom, you better go to bed before you cry,” so my breakdown had a lasting impression on my sweet girl.)

There were only four adoptive families (only one baby, going home to Roy, Utah, the rest were a little older) on that flight, talk about unusual, so we flew through immigration and when we popped out of customs, we were met by Kim Ma and her 5yo Alex and fresh off the plane 1yo Sydney. Kim and I were in a big group when she adopted Alex and I adopted Mimi in 2001. Kim drove down from Simi Valley for just a few minutes to chat and catch up and I so appreciate her effort. Her Alex is slightly younger than Mimi, but good heck, what a tall tall lovely child. I know she would tower over Mimi, because she towered over YuYu. What a treat to hold little Sydney, such a healthy beautiful baby. Congratulations Kim, you have a wonderful family.

Notice how I conveniently omitted photos from LAX that include me? The power of the blog.

Our flight was a full hour early, so it was great to have the time to chat with Kim before the wonderful and talented Suzanne DeCuir came flying in to scoop us up and take us to her home that is located conveniently near LAX, but there’s no way you would ever know it, such a quiet, great neighborhood. Suzanne brought her mandarin speaking friend Macy with her to help with Nora and that really really was a big help. We got to her house where we found Anna (Ellie’s orphanage buddy), Ellen, same age as Mimi and we traveled two weeks apart in 2001, but Ellen is from Chengdu, Sichuan and Mimi is from Fuling, Sichuan, and the adorable Qing Qing, 2.5, from Fujian (I could be way off on that). The last time we saw the Moody-DeCuirs was at breakfast in LA in November 2004 when we flew back with YuYu and Qing Qing was new to their family too. All the girls fell to playing and I fell on the wonderful Thai food Suzanne knows how to order. Then Patrick got home from work and it was great to see him and he ate a late dinner and we had a good visit. They gave us the master bedroom, but all I did was go in and turn out the lights, never got close to the actual bed. YuYu played all night long with the Moody girls’ toys and Nora had a 1.5 hour nap around 1:00 a.m. We disrupted their entire family routine just to sit in their front room and play with their toys until 5:00 am when we left for the airport. Thank you again Patrick and Suzanne for your home away from home for a night.

I’m glad I had snapped the day before over spilled juice, because those of you who saw my shameful display at the immigration counter in 2001 know I can get ugly during my end of trip snaps. If I hadn’t snapped earlier, I might have unleashed two weeks of ugly combined with good coffee deprivation on the s.o.b. who wouldn’t give me his aisle seat (we ticketed late and all of LA was dumping into Park City for Sundance that morning and our seats were split). I had a bag of McDonalds and I said, fine, you feed them breakfast and that one doesn’t speak English, but he would not budge. When the aisle seat in the row behind got off her cell, I asked if she would mind taking the middle seat so stretch (I did not say stretch, but good hell, he was all of 5’6” on a 1.5 hour flight, how important is that aisle seat) could maintain his seating status and she very graciously agreed. The kids became comatose in minutes (it was 8:30 pm China time). We landed in SLC and it was really hard to wake YuYu and we rode the moving sidewalks to the luggage area with YuYu weeping big juicy tears and Nora with wild child of Borneo hair and if those creative types from Sundance didn’t see a movie in that little vignette, then they need to find a new profession.

Grandma stayed with us Thursday evening and Nora and YuYu slept a little. Nora only wanted Grandma and sure she’s great, I like her too, but hey, Nora had only just met her and I’d been trying to get her to like me for two weeks. When Grandpa came to get Grandma on Friday evening, Nora laid by the front door and sobbed for 10 minutes until distracted by Ellie. I put her in bed withme at 10:00 pm and she sobbed herself to sleep, Wai Po, Wai Po, Wai Po (maternal Grandma in Chinese and I know it meant her new Grandma, she didn’t have a foster grandma, she had a foster grandpa). Ellie was at a slumber party (they had postponed it two weeks to make sure Ellie could be there, so I HAD to take her), but called at 11:00 pm to say she was fine (the other girls were calling their parents, I wish the party mom hadn't allowed that). That woke Xiao Ye up from her nap and she cried, cried, cried, cried, cried for the next five hours. But she went from crying as far away from me as possible to letting me hold her hands, to letting me hold her, but swear to God, she never stopped crying, tears and everything for five hours. I was impressed, exhausted but impressed. At 4:00 am, Mimi was whining (too lazy to get up to pee), so I went and helped her and remembered the Benadryl and dosed Xiao Ye and the next thing I knew it was 8:00 am and I had slept, really slept for 4 hours. Xiao Ye woke up happy enough, no more crying, she let me touch her and help her get dressed and that's a big change. She made it until 6:00 pm on Saturday before she crashed, 6:30 on Sunday and almost 7:30 tonight. Her clock is almost reset. She loves loves loves playing with her new sisters and she has a cute way of touching the top of her head and asking “wo de?” mine? When given something new to hold or play with. She loves loves blue jeans and insists on sleeping in them. What the heck, why not?

I took the kids to school this morning and then took Mimi to drop her off at Montessori. Nora sat right down in the calendar circle with Mimi and it took several attempts to get her to go with me. My Mom was supposed to watch her this week, but with my grandma’s imminent demise, Mom was in Logan where she needed to be and I took Nora to the office with me. Within 15 minutes she was crying for Mimi. I asked a Chinese speaking friend who works in my building to explain that I could take her to Mimi but that I could not stay. She brightened right up. I took her back to Montessori at 10:30 am and she was absolutely happy (but loud, not the Montessori way, but she’ll learn, I hope) until 3:30 pm, the kid does pre-school like a pro. Thank you Half the Sky Foundation.

And you know, she is a great kid. Sure, she doesn’t like me all that very much yet, but she did yell Ma MA when I got her attention in the play yard this afternoon and ran off to play some more, but she seemed happy to see me. She has no idea what a mother is good for, how to use me to her best advantage, but she will catch on. She is a tease and is funny and plays rough, so what a nice spice to add to the Hanson girl line-up; Ellie the calm and adaptable, YuYu the tender-heart, still waters running deep, Mimi, the odd-ball, goofy princess, and Nora Xiao Ye, the exuberant scamp. There will actually have to be some conscious effort on my part to promote bonding and attachment, but I can do that. I am glad for the opportunity to be her parent and I hope to do the role justice.

I have camera fatigue, so there’s no at home photos yet, I’ll update in a few days when I can get some good kids pics.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Best Wishes for a Strong Net

Okay, I'm trying hard here to gather my thoughts and observations about Xiao Ye dze (not sure how to spell that last sound, but it’s a diminuitive, like Margarita or Pepito in Spanish) and that's what I've been calling her, emphasis on Ye, Shou YEH dze. In my mind I'm picturing the Disney animated version of Pecos Bill trying to lasso the whirlwind. She's a beautiful child, but she swears like a sailor. She curses out strangers, you should die, you're a pig, etc. (Connie caught her telling a man passing on the sidewalk this evening that he should die, I wondered why he looked at her so sharply). On the other hand, she saved the last bite of White Swan Deli bun for YuYu on the bus today. Everything she touches is "wo de" or mine, but she is consistent about turn taking and hands the room key to YuYu if I make a mistake and it isn't her turn yet. She wants me to buy everything she touches, but if I say no, she puts it back and moves on. She started to stamp her feet and was almost beginning a temper tantrum because I picked up stray coins she had gathered at a temple but left on a bench (you throw the coins in a big, tall iron thing for good luck) and gave half to YuYu. I got them back from YuYu explaining that I couldn't tell Xiao Ye why I divided them. I put them all in Xiao Ye's hand and she calmed right down and instantly gave all the coins right back to YuYu.

She has never known behavioral boundaries and I want to choke the sob who taught her how to swear. News flash sob, it's not cute on a four year old. But it’s been 9 days now and I can correct her when she makes a bad choice and she doesn't mope or sulk or run away from me. She doesn't necessarily prefer me to other people yet, she chose Lisa Seppi's lap after dinner tonight, but at least she will sit in my lap now and today after breakfast, she sat there for a long nice time. She held my hand all the way to and from dinner and that’s a really big change from last week. She consistently yells for Ma MA when she wants my attention instead of just grunting like before. But she does still just grunt a lot like when the waiter tried to remove her glass from the table tonight and she didn't want him to. She didn't say no, she just loudly and sharply grunted at him. She is still very very loud, that may take a long time to change. She just yells, a lot. She is very very very outgoing and strikes up conversations with bell boys and shop keepers right and left. She grabs the phone out of my hand to talk to her sisters and grandma that she has never met, but she wants to say hello. I have to beg YuYu to take the phone to talk to her grandma and I know that YuYu adores that woman.

YuYu explained to Grandma that she thought that Grandma would like Xiao Ye, "but it takes time." I think YuYu is right. It isn’t instant love this time, no fire works like I had for my babies or the need I felt to envelope YuYu in warmth because she was so sad. Xiao Ye is a spitfire and she wants things her own way, and you know, you’ve got to love that in a kid. Tonight, after several attempts, she allowed me a good night kiss when I put them to bed, so I think I’m growing on her. I know she will grow on me, I just wish I could see the net a little more clearly as I fall into this strange realm of mothering a child who doesn’t want it yet and kind of really resents the restrictions it imposes on her previous orphan about town lifestyle.

Tomorrow we hit the consulate in the afternoon and off to the airport right after. This will be my last post from China. I’ll try hard to update after we’ve been home a few days, but no guarantees on timeliness.

Oh Chinese kids aren’t making the peace sign; the fingers in a “v” symbolize the upturned corners of a smiling mouth. The “v” is the equivalent of saying “cheese.”

Travel Soup

I've driven these poor little girls like cattle for the past three days and it's worn me out too. You might have noticed that the blog got a little weak lately. We hit the Six Banyan Temple, the Guangzhou Temple, the Tomb of the Nanyue King, the White Cloud Mountain Park, the Pearl River cruise, the Chen Family Academy and pearl shopping too. And there's still a lot more I would have liked to fit in, but since we're leaving tomorrow, that won't be possible. My check book is starting to scream a little any way so it's just as well. YuYu just keeps trooping along, no melt downs, some small complaining, but I've been so proud of her endurance. Xiao Ye doesn't know the difference or that she has the right to complain. Each time I start to get ready to go again, she just gets her jacket and purse without being asked and she's ready to go again too. She even helps me locate the room key or stuff snacks in the back pack. The last time we were in Guangzhou in 2004, it was just us, no other families and we just didn't push the touring issue and wandered around Shamian Island a lot. This time, if the bus was pulling out, I wanted to be on it and I dragged the girls along too. Guangzhou is a huge and ancient city and if you could ever see the sky line, I'm sure it would stretch for miles. It really will be a long time before I pass this way again and I wanted to make sure I didn't miss any opportunities to see what I could see.

Fellow Travelers

One of the best aspects of adoption travel is being present when new families are made and/or new family members are welcomed. Here are some photos of my fellow travelers that the CHI online family might recognize. I won't divulge their identities on this public forum, but each one is a treasure and their parents are beaming. And of all the babies pictured above, one little stinker will not let her mom get much face time. Hard to understand because Lisa Seppi, is a lovely, lovely woman, oops, forget I said that, you didn't hear it here.

Monday, January 16, 2006

If its Saturday, it must be Guangzhou

Our flight from Nanning was delayed, who knows why, so we arrived in Guangzhou about an hour late, but it was okay because the other families flying in from the hinterlands hadn’t arrived yet either. We were met be Connie Er, our wonderful Guangzhou guide from last year, and again, what a relief to see a familiar face and have complete confidence in her ability to drag me through the last stages of the paper work. Then we met Heather (Park City) and Heidi and Marcus (New York City), their other sister Rebecca and mom Gloria fresh off the boat from Nanchang with two of the cutest cousins (Heather and Heidi are sisters) you’ve seen. Then Coni and Keith Gann, their daughter Jaden and new daughter Jadra from list 10? Very beautiful girls. We wound our way through the Guangzhou airport (HUGE airport) to the bus and as we boarded, Connie called the White Swan to see what day we could move back in from the other hotel we were being diverted to and found out that we did not have to be diverted, that Elvis had left the building (and hey, that’s pretty close, have you seen Kim Jong Il’s hair cut?) and we drove straight to five star heaven instead, whew and yay. I am SO glad we didn’t have to check into a different hotel for two nights, that would have been a royal pain. I cannot BELIEVE that I’m in the White Swan again. When I left here in 1998, I truly never considered a return trip, didn’t cross my mind, at all, really, not a hint in hell that I’d be checking it with my fourth daughter eight years and many gray hairs later. And I know that was only last Saturday, two days ago, but as I sit here and type, good lord, what did we do with the rest of that day? It all runs together. Well, looking through the photos, we must have eaten at the White Swan deli and wandered around a little and then crashed. But she didn’t cry for her foster mother that night, so we’re making progress.

Nora is tolerating me by now, but sure hates to be corrected. I’ve got the bu yao(no), bu yao pun (don’t touch), bu yao le (yuck, don’t touch), bu yao na yang (you can’t do that), and ting (stop) flowing trippingly off my tongue by now. She really knows no boundaries. But after I’ve corrected her, and especially if I make her apologize, she wants as far away from me as possible. Four years in the orphanage and then just five months with her foster family took some of the edge off her, but not by much. In the Nanning airport she was talking to everyone and one man in particular was trying to keep her engaged and entertained. She climbed up on his lap and talked to him and pinched his stomach for whatever reason. A few minutes later, after she grabbed a sticky treat from our bad, she walked back over to him and wiped her fingers on his pants. I just died. I made her sit in a chair until she would say sorry (dui bu qi), but she did NOT want to capitulate and when she finally did, it was mumbled and VERY insincere and I was persona non grata for a long time after. The people watching us in the airport probably thought I was a monster, but that sort of stuff really can’t be tolerated even though her world is topsy turvy right now, that kind of behavior will never be right under any circumstances. Judge Hornak, if you’re reading this, please consider mitigating circumstances when she stands before you in juvenile court about ten years from now, e.g., very hard beginning in life, deprived childhood, controlling mother, you know the drill. Your understanding and tolerance will be very much appreciated, but don’t go to light on her, she needs to learn that there are consequences for bad behavior and if I haven’t driven it home by then, it’s up to you. You’ll have to pick up the baton if it turns out I managed to drop it and we’re looking at you from the wrong side of the courtroom. Of course, all in jest. Kim would have to recuse herself if Nora showed up on her docket. HA, you thought it might be in jest because Nora won’t ever land in juvenile court. HA, guess again. I’ll be totally gray by the time this last little bird flies from the nest, totally and completely gray and exhausted.

YuYu's parents

When we were with YuYu's parents in their housing complex for dinner, we learned that there are several other families in the complex who also foster Nanning SWI kids. One neighbor dropped in after dinner and I learned that she had fostered five girls. I asked, through Matthew, if the girls parents kept in touch with the SWI and provided updates on the girls. I watched her face crumble into tears as Matthew translated the question. No, she had no idea where the girls were or how they were doing. The first child she fostered was very special to her. She fostered the child for 10 months over five years ago and still thought of her daily and was still grieving the loss. I told her that I would send a message to the Nanning SWI egroup if she could give me the child's orphanage name, date of birth and adoption date. She was so grateful, I so hope someone will know this girl or better yet, that her parents are on the egroup and will respond to her heartfelt request for information.
The next day when we dropped YuYu's parents off at their home after visiting the zoo, there were two more foster mom's with photos and information about some of the girls they fostered. If you are reading this and your child was adopted from a foster care placement, run to your mailbox with new photos of your child to send to the orphanage to be passed to the foster mothers. These women loved your children until you were given the privilege of becoming their permanent parents. Without being too melodramatic, they are desperate for news of your girls. Figure it out, join your SWI egroup, click into Adele Hall's website for addresses (, contact your agency for help, whatever it takes, get the packages in the mail.

YuYu's mom and dad met us in the lobby Saturday morning and rode in the van to the airport to say good-bye. We had to say good-bye to YuYu's grandma at the hotel because she was taking care of the new baby Xiao Zhen (YuYu's mom) started fostering (a private arrangement, family is too busy to care for the child, Matthew said it is common in China to let other people raise your child, unfathomable, but it's China). That was so hard to pull away from the curb with her grandma watching us leave knowing that she will most likely never see YuYu again in her lifetime. YuYu was nine months old when she went into foster care and very thin and sickly. Her grandma practices traditional Chinese medicine and is convinced that she brought YuYu back to good health and cured her Hepatitis. Although YuYu never had hepatitis, either the medicine or the love and attention made a difference in YuYu's life and I owe her grandma more than I can repay.
I still can hardly write a word about YuYu's parents without getting weepy. They adore this child and so do I. YuYu was matched and was supposed to have been adopted in October 2001, she would have been 14 months old. But then there was 9/11 and no one ever came for her and her parents weren't told why. Then her blood work was interpreted incorrectly and her mom had to take her in four more times for blood draws and it was all unnecessary and made Xiao Zhen angry and so sad that they were hurting her baby and she couldn't say no to the requests. Then the years went by and they loved her more and more deeply and started to worry about her future. They asked the SWI about the possibility of adopting her, but were "told a high cost." Their teenage son came up with a plan: he would do well in school and go to university to earn a good career position. His parents only had to support YuYu until he could get a good job to take over her support. Then they got the news that I was coming for her and they told me that they were not unhappy, but relieved. They told me they were content for her future and were only concerned that I would love her. On the ride to the airport, Xiao Zhen was holding YuYu and she had not shed a tear up until now. Then, with tears falling down her face, she reached for my hand across the bench seat and Matthew said that she wanted me to know that she could stop worrying about YuYu. She stood and watched us go through security, me crying, of course, YuYu unaware, until we couldn't see her anymore. The loss and gain of adoption, the pain and joy, all in her eyes. There will be three mothers who will always be thinking of YuYu.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

one picture, a thousand words, yada yada yada

Five minutes before the medical, just had to add this photo, kind of says it all.
More later.

Reality check, Chinese style

(sadly, making the photos vertical is beyond my capabilites, turn your monitor on its side instead)

Okay, so where was I? I was conscientious with the blog when I was waking up at 4:00 am, but I’m sleeping longer and not doing as good. I don’t think I’ve told you about our field trip on Friday morning. Our guide Matthew is the site coordinator for GGEF and that job title doesn’t really begin to describe what he does. Nine years ago, an adoptive parent, she’s a social worker in New York, created a 501(c)(3) to direct funds to under-privileged and orphan girls in Guangxi Province to help get them through school: break the poverty cycle and give them a childhood. It grew slowly and Matthew Xu, our guide in Nanning this year and last year, volunteered his services when he was not ranging all over China working as a China guide for Holt International (a big US agency). Two years ago he started working for GGEF full time but it’s still really small. They have 180 girls in the program. I think the link is So, Friday morning, we went with Matthew and his assistant to a village about 30 minutes outside of Nanning. In all of my trips to China, this is the first time I’ve made it out of the big cities we stay in to process the adoptions and hit the countryside.

We were on a really nice new two lane highway all the way until we pulled to the side to pick up Mr. Tong. Mr. Tong is just a local guy (one of many) who keeps his ears open to learn about girls who could qualify for GGEF support. Mr. Tong directed the driver to pull off on a fairly good, by Southeastern Idaho standards, dirt road and we drove for a few more miles until the road got not so good and we soon saw the local teacher by the side of the road whose only English was “Long live Chairman Mao.” He lead us the rest of the way, half-mile tops, to a clutch of homes on a little rise where we were invited into the first home. I didn’t feel right taking pictures inside, I probably should have tried, but it was pretty dismal. Open fire pit in the middle of the room, sick dog sitting in own urine at back of room, dirt floor, well, just out-building like. This is where the little six-year-old girl we were to meet lived with her paternal grandmother. Her father was killed four years ago in a car accident and her mother disappeared two years ago and if that child has smiled in the past two years, I would be very surprised.

Matthew had suggested that I bring a small gift, but I really had no idea what we were doing, where we were going, but here I stood with a stupid bag filled with hotel tooth brushes and combs, a few Mentos and strange treats YuYu’s mom had brought and I knew we couldn’t eat and they have NOTHING. I wish I had known what to expect, I would have gone better prepared. On the other hand, there would have been no preparing me, I had no frame of reference for people living in such meager circumstances like that. I had my back pack with an extra sweater for YuYu, some granola bars, some Wahaha drinks, stupid stuff, and when I walked away from her, the back pack was empty down to the last stick of Trident. Her little cousins wandered over to see what was going on and one little girl was wearing only one shoe and I gave the grandma a 100 yuan ($12 big deal) and told her to buy pretty shoes for the girls, yeah, that’s their top priority. I gave the teacher 200 yuan for a special treat for his students for Chinese New Year and Mr. Tong 100 yuan just because. I’ll sponsor this little girl through school. If she has the desire to walk 1.5 hours each way to elementary school and then off to board at middle school when she is only in fourth grade, she’s stronger and braver than I ever could imagine a child should have to be and I want to be a part of that, definitely.

We left the village and drove back into FuLi, the town where the middle school I located. We were there to meet four girls sponsored by GGEF (and me again with another stupid bag of rejected Chinese snacks and hotel tooth brushes and not even enough of those). When we entered the school yard, the little kids wanted nothing to do with me and if I looked their way, they ran the other way. That is until I took a photo and showed them there faces on the digital screen and then that was all she wrote, I was swarmed by beautiful kids trying their hardest to see their own faces in the screen. After each photo I turned the camera and they would yell in unison, WAH, and on and on, it was a hoot. I met the four girls and told them how impressed I was that they could live away at school at such a young age, completely in charge of feeding, dressing, bathing, studying on their own. They were probably thinking, yeah, what’s the big deal, we’ve been doing since we were nine, get over it.

We left the school and drove into FuLi so I could see a country market. Every three days, the vendors set up on the main drag and sell mostly produce, but there was everything edible that you could imagine. We walked down the market street and I wanted to snap pictures of everyone and everything, it was just so darned authentic. I loved it.

Then back in the bus to Nanning, where for $250 I bought a new, pretty big, Haier (they make everything, you name it and this company makes/labels it, just everything) refrigerator for the three women who live/work in the GGEF office. They don’t have a fridge. How can you have quality of life without a fridge? Well to my way of thinking, you can’t, so now they have a slick little fridge.

We had dinner with an adoptive dad who sponsors 30 girls in GGEF, wow. He just flew in from Ohio and was also staying at the Majestic. He wants to maintain ties with the small village where his oldest daughter was abandoned and has even bigger plans for a girls education program. Where do people get the vision and confidence to take these big ideas and put them in action? The Ohio dad and his wife had worked in China for three years, so he is familiar with the way things work here, but still, I’m so impressed with these parent initiated foundations that have sprung up over the past several years.

Okay, I’m tired. I’ll catch up on Nora news tomorrow. We had a good day, she let me hold her, she fed me fruit, she apologized to the woman she burned with a joss stick at a temple (and boy she didn’t want to), but on the cruise tonight, she wanted anywhere but by me, and when I had to stop her from walking away from me to the end of the boat where I couldn’t see her, she cried for mama (not me) and but mostly angry, not sad. She’s a handful. More later.

quick post

Here's at least one horizontal photo of Miss Stubborn Pants. We made it to Guangzhou, checked into the White Swan after all, we are well and Nora elicits comments regarding her wildness from every Chinese person who stops long enough to observe her, but she is moderating, I think. We must run, much more later. Miss you Ellie and Mimi, love you most.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Bonaparte has a smart mouth

Oh good heck. Matthew says its perfectly normal and Chinese children are raised this way, but that still doesn’t make it easy to take: Nora has a smart mouth. When asked if she wanted anything to drink at dinner, she said no. She always says no. I wanted Matthew to press her a little because she hasn’t had much to drink today and when asked again what she would like to drink, Nora said dog piss. Sweet. When Matthew said something to her about mis-dialing a phone number, she called him a fool/pig. When asked if she wanted to taste a pepper/beef dish, she said, no, too spicy. When the person asking the question agreed that it was indeed spicy and it burned her mouth, Nora said: “you deserve it.” It just comes out fast and without malice, she is smiling all the while. Matthew says it is the Chinese way. I told him that she wouldn’t be learning the English equivalents, I hope.

Today we went to the Nanning zoo with YuYu’s parents. I am filling in the gaps a little at a time. YuYu’s dad is a kind of social worker, but maybe partially disabled? He does not work a full schedule and walked right into the zoo without paying because he’s disabled and had some kind of lifetime pass? He looks fine to me, so if he is/was, it’s an invisible disability. YuYu’s mom is the kindest, most tender woman. And, of course, when she’s around, Nora pretty much ignores me, sigh. Oh well, I’ve got the next 14 years, at least, until she uses that smart mouth on me as she turns 18 and leaves me standing in the dust with a “you deserve it” on the way out.

This morning she and YuYu were playing with a blanket spread on the floor and I looked up as Nora was trying to get YuYu to move, but since she doesn’t know English, she was just hurting YuYu instead. I had to get stern, TING! BU YAO NA YANG (stop, you can’t do that). We went from giggly play to big wailing MAMA, MAMA, MAMA. But I got her to blow her nose and gave her praise and we went on like nothing happened.

We arrived at the zoo in time for the morning variety show. First we fed elephants sweet potatoes. The girls got pretty brave and fed them pieces of potato placed in their nostrils as the elephants reached up into the first row of seating. It was pretty chaotic and one cheeky elephant started reaching too far and Nora got pretty nervous and I had to get between that over-reaching trunk and my kid and pretty much got elephant snot all down the back of me. Matthew called me hero mother. I was just glad that the laundry man was coming today, oh gross. The rest of the show was what you’d expect in a country with no ASPCA or child labor laws: dancing bears, tight-rope walking goats with monkey passengers, bike riding monkeys and bears, contortionist pre-teens, the regular stuff. The animal enclosures didn’t smell, so that’s good, but they were very very small and very randomly grouped. Baboon, next to lion, next to boar, next to Asian porcupine, sure, why not; kind of a Peaceable Kingdom approach to zoo keeping. But I’ll say one thing, the bird collection was incredible, wow, so many and so diverse/colorful. Too bad we were running out of time and had to rush by those exhibits. I talked to Ellie and Mimi on a cell phone while we walked through the zoo, I sure do miss their sweet faces. We ate at McDonalds, the fries were so good, the hamburger meat a little, je ne c’est quoi, Chinese, but oh boy, Nora LOVES catsup. Watch out Mimi, make room for two straws in the catsup bottle. And I got a real self-esteem boost when we dashed into a department store to find a different jacket for me and I can’t wear a women’s XXXL and I’m typing this in my really smart men’s XL jacket.

I finally asked Matthew what he does when he’s not dragging foreigners to the zoo all day. He had mentioned something yesterday about a foundation that helps under-privileged girls go to school and well, he’s the Chinese administrator of it. It’s called Girls Global Education Fund, initiated by adoptive parents and the girls are mostly sponsored by foreign adoptive parents and I’ve got a new favorite charity. We had dinner with three women who also work/live/are GGEF. Someone (local person) lets them rent a three room apartment for a one room rent (concrete floors, no kitchen, very very Spartan, very). One staff member (a divorced woman) and her 16yo daughter live in one room. Two other staff members (who both started as sponsored students) live in another room. The third room has a bunk bed and is used for storage and the common room is the office. We all went to dinner at a nearby restaurant and the food was FANTASTIC. I asked Matthew if the women could take the extra food back to the apartment and he said they didn’t have a refrigerator, so tomorrow they will. GGEF takes applications from orphans (parents have died and the government won’t take them into the state run orphanage because they aren’t abandoned, there is family, no matter how extended, that should care for them) and girls from very poor circumstances (typically, father dies and mother abandons children to paternal grandparents because new husband won’t/is not expected to take on her kids) and tries to keep them in school. Matthew did this as a volunteer for several years and was able to start administering the program full-time for the last two years. They’ve been keeping this going on the most narrow shoe string for nine years. Who knew? I’ll try to find the link and share it another day.

So, I know this should be about Nora, but she’s simply not letting me know what she’s about. She is withholding herself from me really well. She is LOUD, exuberant (when I’m not involved) and very very very pretty, but that’s all I’ve seen so far. Add that to the language barrier and we’re still very much strangers. When people say that they’ve never considered adoption because how could they love someone else’s child, that just overwhelms me: I can’t imagine loving a child more than I love Ellie, YuYu and Mimi, it’s just not possible, these are my children; I would throw myself between them and any speeding object, e.g., bullets, trains, buses. I’m not there yet with Nora, but I did take a big stripe of elephant snot down my back on day four, so I know I’ll get there for her too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I’m still the devil

We tried to Yahoo video this morning and I could see my beautiful children in Utah, but they could not see us. We talked on the phone while I was trying to get the damn thing reconnected and I wanted to reach into the screen to hold Ellie and Mimi, they are so dear to me and I'm so homesick for them. It was so so so so good to see them, but frustrating that they couldn’t see Nora. Nora grabbed the phone and told each of them hello jie jie (big sister) without prompting. There are no shy and/or quiet bones in Nora’s body. She is a force of nature and she's not 100% yet, watch out when she's feeling safe and secure.

YuYu’s mom and dad went with us to this massive park, Green Mountain Park. No rides, just vistas and areas of quiet contemplation if it weren’t so overcast and chilly. Nora and YuYu fed MASSIVE carp, they loved it (all that roiling and fish mouth gulping really creeps me out). There was a “U Pick’Em” kind of fruit farm, very cool and certainly trapped this tourist, by the side of the road on the hill going up to the park (green yes, but mountain is relative). We picked star fruit. Each fruit had been wrapped and tied into a small plastic bag on the limbs to protect it from bugs (?) or help it ripen (?), I don’t know, but what a hell of a job that would be. YuYu just let her dad pack her around on his back and looked like the cat who swallowed the canary: no u pick ‘ems for pampered princesses.

Matthew assumed I would need a break about now and asked if I wanted to approach YuYu’s mom about letting YuYu stay with her during the afternoon. I thought it would be a nice gesture to give her exclusive access to YuYu, I don’t really need a break, all we do is eat and go to parks. However, YuYu would only agree if Nora went with her. So they dropped me at the hotel around 2:00 p.m. and promised to be back around 6:00 and they were and I’m not crazy, really. I felt there was absolutely no risk letting YuYu go with people who love her as much as I do. Probably only a parenting blunder as it relates to Nora because she wanted nothing much to do with me when we met at 6:00 in the hotel lobby. I have no significance in her life yet. She can really just take me or leave me, but mostly the push me away, shake her head, and stick out her tongue at me kind of leave me. YuYu’s mom said she never stopped moving for a minute and that Nora is very different from YuYu, oh yeah, that’s the truth.

Nora had memorized her foster parents’ phone number, so I let her call them from my cell phone in the hotel lobby hoping that might help her with the “closure” thing. Not to be. She darted around the lobby, YELLING at them and seemed very pleased all the while. She could have talked all night although it sounded like she was just repeating the same words over and over. We ate in the restaurant next door, really good food, unique concept: you get a ticket and walk down a long wall of windows into the kitchen areas where the food is being prepared and pick your menu from the numbered pictures of food on the windows. Nora let me help her with dinner and YuYu’s mom bribed Nora into eating a ton of congee (rice gruel prepared with preserved eggs this time). A huge tureen that came out AFTER we’d eaten a ton of food, but even without mine or YuYu’s help, it all got eaten. YuYu's mom told Nora that I’d let her talk to her Guilin foster mom when we got back to the room if she ate some soup. But when we got back to the room, YuYu was konked out (she fell asleep at the restaurant) and there was just me and I’m the devil so she was lost and alone and so sad. Nora was wailing and I was fumbling the phone dialing and when I finally figured it out, she couldn’t talk because of the big crying and gulping for air and I had to just say sorry in Chinese and hang up. Nora was bereft and I’m the devil. I’m curious how this is going to play out. I wouldn’t put any money on her liking me or even needing me any time soon, what with me being either persona non grata and/or the devil. Ouch.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Bonaparte is very sad

I got dumped half way through a long post and was cruelly reminded that I should type in Word and cut and paste. Here goes again, sheesh.

After Nora’s nap, we walked over to the big park close to the hotel. People’s Park, but aren’t they all in China? Terraced walking path around a big dirty artificial lake, amusement park rides, newer looking, but you just put your kids on them and hope your luck holds. The carousel horses don’t have belts, but how fast do those ponies go anyway? Nora held my hand nicely and was very brave. There was a kid roller coaster that YuYu LOVED and Nora did not love, but she was brave, no tears. I asked her if she liked it, yao han ma? And she just calmly shook her head no. We rented a little fiber glass electric motor boat for half and hour and circled the lake, the kids loved it. I am so careful to ask people if I can snap photos (e.g., beautiful older women playing mah jong smiled and said no), but I was just giggling at the number of people who were running, running, to the edge of the lake to take photos of us in that boat. We went back to the rides and YuYu wanted to go on the coaster again and the wonderful ride operator spoke to Nora and then I was so touched as I watched her get in the ride with the girls and Nora just grinned and rode off happily. People are good. The kids would have stayed there all day, but at 10 yuan a ride, I wasn’t holding enough cash, so we ran out of money and had to turn back. We will return I’m sure.

Had an early dinner at the hotel coffee shop equivalent and was reminded of the odd dinner menu, spaghetti with conger eel, weird stuff like that and why we should find a different place for dinner. I ordered two sandwiches and they came with chopped apples in mayonnaise on the side. I got Nora to sit up straight (she just wanted to squash down in the chair and all you could see were her hands coming over the edge of the table to pick at the food) and say apple please for each bite. Or if it even sounded close she got the bite and a lot of praise. Mom, can you imagine, a child of mine eating apple with skin on in MAYONNAISE! Huge deal. We went back to the room and she LOVES the tub with YuYu, loved the lotion, loved having her hair dried with the limp blow drier and at 7:30 YuYu was history, she was so tired. She was doing her best to be a good big sister all day. Sometimes it was too much for her and I would remind her what Ellie would be doing and YuYu would soldier on, holding hands, letting Nora push the elevator buttons, etc. Ellie, I miss you so much but I know you’re at home being Mimi’s best friend and that’s so important.

But then there was no YuYu and just me and Nora discovered the pictures of her foster family in the little purse she had been packing around all day (souvenir purse from her SWI), and oh good heck, I could hear her heart break. She scooted as far away from me as she could and wailed, Mama, Baba, Mama, Mama, Mama until she had no voice. I covered her, dimmed the lights and sang Skinny Marikina Dink (sp?, thank you Kelly and Todd, I never learned that song until you taught it to Ellie in Chongqing) and she faded out, sobbing in her sleep. Oh good heck, she’s in pain. YuYu didn’t display her pain last year. I don’t know how she did it, but she did. I read these reports from other families about the grieving their kids experience and I just couldn’t relate, now I can and it’s horrible. There is nothing you can do for them, nothing. I know it will fade, but for now, at night, I’m the devil and she’s hurting and I can’t comfort her and it’s horrible.

We’re going to try to video with Ellie and Mimi this morning before we go to Green Mountain Park with YuYu’s family. I am frustrated by the internet access in the hotel, it might not work, but I hope we can swing it.

Got an interesting email from CHI this morning. The government has requisitioned all the rooms in the White Swan this weekend so we’ll be diverted for a few nights and that’s fine, but only in China, sigh. What a vast fascinating place.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Bonaparte is retreating

Whew, when she woke up, I still wasn't her favorite, she wouldn't let me touch her, tears leaking out, jerking her hand away from me, but she warmed up during breakfast a little more. Maybe it was the roomful of SCREAMING babies that made her feel not so alone. There are about a dozen French Canadian families receiving babies from a Guangxi orphanage, but I couldn't catch the name, not familiar to me. One of the babies was obviously in foster care because she keened for MAMA all during breakfast. There are a few Spanish families that must have received their children last week and it is so lovely/sad to think of these daughters of China spreading out to all parts of the world.

Xiao Ye has a runny nose and a little congestion, but otherwise, absolutely clean, no bug bites, trimmed toenails, wonderful hair do yesterday, so well taken care of by her foster family. Her family sent four pink qipao dresses that Mimi might be able to wear when she's 14, kind of big, but how generous. I gave her Motrin Cold before we went down to eat and I think that helped matters. She knocked it back like an old pro. I let her make mincemeat of the watermelon with her butter knife, but then when she started to hit the plate, I took the knife away, expected fireworks, but she just let me feed her the mincemeat. She sat on my lap and kissed my cheeks while I pledged fealty and support at the notary office. We went sundry shopping in a HUGE Walmart-like, but so glad it wasn't Walmart store in the bottom of the Dreamland (I think that's what Matthew called it) Mall. Capitalism has hit China with a BIG stick. Both YuYu and Xiao Ye did great riding in the carts, no problems and Xiao Ye helped put things in the cart. Then we went up a few levels for shoe shopping and she was just a 4yo, not especially difficult, not especially helpful, not Ellie, but who is?

She was hell bent for leather on the escalator though, not careful at all, and scarfed up her shin pretty bad. She cried, but the right amount, no extra drama. There's a 1.5 inch scar on her right shin below her knee with not very skilled stitch marks. I think she might just like the pell mell approach and I'll have to watch her pretty closely. We came back to the hotel room, ate cup-o-noodles and wonderful mandarin oranges, started watching Barbie Rapunzel in Chinese, she faded and let me lift her on the bed for a nap, no tears.
I asked Matthew to explain again that rules were for safety and I asked him to try to explain that hitting, sticking out her tongue and pinching mom was not acceptable, but until she gets more English, that's going to hard to explain/enforce. It might get hard again tonight, but today is MUCH better. I'm a mom who likes clear boundaries, she's a kid who hasn't had that many, but she did much better General Wellington today.

We will walk to the park when she wakes up from her nap and after that, I'll be scrambling to try to entertain them, but jumping back and forth on the Klingon death slabs (Chinese mattresses) keeps them fairly happy. YuYu's family can go with us to Green Mountain Park tomorrow. Not sure what that entails, but we will have lunch and there is a Miao minority dinner show, so that sounds intriguing.

Oh, and her feet are really big, bigger than YuYu's feet and YuYu has pretty normal sized feet for a 5.5yo. Xiao Ye had to put her footprint on the adoption certificate and it flopped over all the lines. Pretty cute. And man she's heavy, at least compared to YuYu and Mimi, my flyweights.

First Impressions

She is a knock out in more ways than one. She bounced into the meeting room, big greeting, hug and kiss, asking when the plane was leaving, stunning, absolutely gorgeous. None of the pictures I have do her any kind of justice. She is sturdier than Mimi, but the same height, a little shorter than YuYu. YuYu was pretty reticent during the first minutes, but warmed up to her right away and concludes that she will be a lot of fun.

She has already pinched me, hit me stuck out her tongue and that was all during our three-hour honeymoon during which she grabbed, threw or tried to break everything she touched. As my father would so eloquently describe her behavior, she is a bull in a china shop, no pun intended. Someone run, run fast, to my house and put EVERYTHING UP! and I'm not kidding. For the first three hours, it was looking like I might be a pretty good deal. I have to keep looking at the phrase sheet for don't touch, you can't do that, stop, careful, not good. I never had to learn that page with YuYu. Around 7:30, YuYu was starting to run out of gas and I don't know what time Xiao Ye started her day, but she wasn't acting tired. We were making tent blankets and she just reached over and hit me in the head and I sternly, with a look that I think says I mean business, told her BU YAO (and I should have added na yang but didn't have the phrase completely committed to memory = don't do that) and she wanted no more of me. She wailed and raged for her mama, but she didn't hit me. I think she was just very tired too, because it only lasted until I brought her in to watch me do YuYu's teeth. She stopped crying and very compliantly let me do her teeth and watched while I did mine. I laid her down next to YuYu and as I was stroking YuYu's hair and kissing her good night, the crying for Xiao Ye's mama started up in earnest. But it only went on for 10-15 minutes, max. I was singing the same song over and over and finally, more in self-defense than anything else, she went to sleep. She is snoring away in her bed right now, her nose is stuffy and she tries to blow, but isn't very proficient. YuYu was so beat, that she just fell asleep during the Xiao Ye's loud crying.

She is rough rough rough, loud loud loud, fun fun fun, beautiful beautiful beautiful. I have met my Waterloo and her name is Jiang Xiao Ye. The illusion to a battle is intentional. This is one stubborn, naughty child, the game is afoot. Wish I could upload photos, she is really pretty, just like her sisters, two of whom I miss very much tonight.
More about YuYu's parents and the feast they prepared for us today at a later date. And yes, they would have adopted her in a heartbeat but couldn't afford it. They were holding their breath that she wouldn’t be matched and thought they were almost in the clear until "their world crumbled" when they found out she was being adopted. In their praise, they rallied and prepared her for her adoption so well. They love her as a daughter and so do I. I am very proud that they are members of my family, very proud.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Meeting the parents

I better catch up with events quickly, or you’ll be getting the rest of this story out of order a couple of months from now. Matthew told us to be in the lobby at 6:30 and from there we would go to the Dumpling King. We came into the lobby expecting only Matthew and YuYu’s parents were waiting there too. The smile across YuYu’s mother’s face was the picture of pure joy. Just as I was realizing that they were here, she was jumping up to take YuYu out of my arms. She, Xiao Zhen, was BEAMING, she was so happy to hold YuYu again. YuYu’s father, maternal aunt and 8yo cousin were also waiting. As I was taking all of that in, Xiao Xiao called from across the lobby where she was waiting with David Huang and Matthews wife Echo, Matthew’s 5yo daughter Angela. Xiao Xiao also had a little blind boy from Guilin with her. He looks to be about 6yo and I remember him from last year. He was so friendly and curious and was trying to figure out what was in my fanny pack.

I better fill in the blanks better. YuYu was fostered by Wei Xiao Zhen (mama) and Huang Fa Xuan (baba) from the time she was 9 months old until I adopted her last year when she was 4.5. (We had lunch at their home today and I’ll write more of what I learned about them and some of YuYu’s history later to keep it in order in my mind). Xiao Xiao has been involved with helping orphans in Guangxi Province for over a decade. She was an adoption guide for a large agency and she helped establish and supervise the Nanning SWI foster care program. The very program through which YuYu was fostered. I don’t know all the details of how, but now Xiao Xiao is the Chinese center of a charitable foundation initiated by American adoptive parents called Grace & Hope for Children (link at right) and she is spreading foster parenting programs to all the orphanages in Guangxi Province concentrating on children with special medical needs who will really benefit from fostering and family life. David Huang works with Xiao Xiao and he does the foster care updates and was the person who wrote the reports for my Xiao Ye (link at right). I met Xiao Xiao last year when I was looking for a contact to help distribute all the cleft bottles we carried over as luggage. Xiao Xiao is parenting the blind boy because so many foster placements have failed for him and she can’t stand the prospect of sending him back to the Guilin SWI where I gather he was not getting good care (a lot of animated conversation during dinner, all in Chinese of course, about the boy. But when I tried to pry, she said it was very sensitive, I guess not for adoptive parents ears).

So we had a large contingent at the Dumpling King (and still, dinner for 15 (driver included, for $22). YuYu was so very tired, I had to wake her up for dinner, she was a little weepy in the beginning, but I knew that was just tiredness and she was acting extra shy, but clearly in total bliss to be back in her mother’s arms. Her mother fed her like a bird and stroked her face and couldn’t take her eyes off of our beautiful girl. YuYu is so lucky to have three parents who adore her. My feelings are so mixed up. I am so lucky that YuYu is mine to raise and enjoy and be with daily, but that arrangement caused her parents so much grief. And YuYu is happy, but she misses them all the time. She is always aware that she is not with them, but also happy to be with her sisters and me. It was hard to find out much during dinner because there were so many of us, but I found out a lot during our long lunch today. I have to get that down on paper before it escapes me, but I’m going to be someone else’s mother today and I really need to start preparing for that meeting one hour from now. More typing later.