Monday, February 13, 2017

Travel Diary: Day Six

Friday morning dawned bright and early.  Our girly likes to wake up around 5-5:30, but if I pick her up and hold her, she will go right back to sleep until a little after 6.  We got ready for breakfast and headed downstairs.  I have definitely gotten spoiled by China breakfasts!  Breakfast is my favorite meal, and I wake up hungry, unlike Zeke, Kinley, and Camp, who would love to wait 2-3 hours after waking up to eat.  It has been nice to just walk downstairs, hand them our breakfast vouchers, and have a HUGE buffet spread out for us!

After breakfast, we met our guide and two other families for our medical appointments.  We went to the International Travel Clinic, where we were so lucky to be the only three families there!  We had to wait a few minutes until the doctors and nurses were ready for us, but once they started, the process moved pretty quickly.  There were three places for us to visit to have our paperwork filled out--a weighing/measuring station, a room for a general checkup, and an ENT room.  She was weighed (8.9 kg fully clothed!), measured (27" long), and her temperature was checked. We then went to the general checkup area.  She asked a few questions about her special need, whether she is walking or standing (not yet!), and we were able to ask about her nose bleeds.  She checked her over and spent some time chattering with Judy Lin in Chinese.  She wanted that stethoscope so badly!

We then waited a bit and had some time to talk and look around the clinic before going to the ENT room.  

These were a couple of random observations in the clinic.  We thought this eye test was pretty cool, and check out what Santa brings!!

When we went in to the ENT, he checked her vision, her eye tracking, hearing, and looked in her ears and throat.  He seemed to like her too, and she was amazed by the little light on his head.  Zeke said that between my sweatshirt (H&M in China because it is COLD and I like crazy prints, even though he is making fun of me) and his thing on his head, this picture does not look like 2017!  And in case you're wondering, apparently Chinese doctors have illegible writing like American doctors do.  All of the people that I have watched so far write individual Chinese characters.  The doctor is the first person I have seen who connected Chinese characters in his writing.  

On our way out, we found a vending machine on the bottom floor.  Apparently, if you are upset by your diagnosis or decide to self-medicate, this is your place!

Oh, the randomness of China!  

We came back to the hotel and had one of the hardest days with our girly that we've had so far.  I don't know if it was the medical appointment that bothered her, or if she realized that these crazy white people aren't going anywhere or taking her back to her home, but she was quite upset and nothing would calm her down.  We started seeing the scared look on Wednesday afternoon when she would wake up from a nap, but today we saw it most of the day.  She is confused when she first wakes up and can't figure out where she is or who has her.  Once she fully wakes up and we can give her food or make her smile, she seems to do better, but it's that in-between part that hurts my heart.  So today, we spent a lot of time sitting and rocking and holding and walking to try to make it all better.

The best news today is that our laundry was delivered!  We sent it out yesterday and today it came back, packaged neatly and ready to go again.  Our guide knew someone who came to the hotel and got it for us, and it cost about $50 USD, which is much cheaper than the hotel prices and the fee for overweight luggage.  I'm wondering if I could do this one more time before we leave so that I don't have to wash when we get back?!?! 

Several more Lifeline families arrived today, and we are excited to get to meet more new friends.  The support from other adoptive families here--from our agency as well as others who stay at The Garden with us--has helped tremendously.  It has been awesome to have some of the sweetest people to share this journey with, and hearing English is a comfort!  We have the weekend to hang out, do some more paperwork, and wait for passports to be issued so that we can go HOME!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Travel Diary: Day Five

Travel Day Five was Thursday.  In Chinese adoptions, Thursday is the day that families take their children back to visit the orphanage and, if possible, the child's finding spot.  For many children, it is a reassurance that they are not going back to that place.  Imagine that someone comes and takes you from an orphanage and gives you new clothes, all the food you want, and a warm, soft bed--yet none of the words that they say make any sense.  Are they telling you that this will end?  Should you enjoy it while it lasts?  For many of these babies, once they go back to the orphanage, say goodbye, and then leave with this new person, it helps things to click and they understand that they are never going back again.  It is the deep breath that they have longed for.  For adoptive families, it is a chance to see where our baby has been so that we can one day answer questions that our babies may ask, and to thank the people who have cared for our babies until we could get here.  We really, really wanted to go and visit the Foster Center where our Judy Lin was cared for since she was four months old, to thank the sweet nannies who worked around the clock so that she wasn't in the hospital alone when she was four months old.  Out of curiosity, I wanted to go to Suixi and visit the Suixi Welfare Institute, since that was what we first knew of our sweet girl--that crying baby in "Swayshe."  And selfishly, I wanted that sweet picture of redemption--our girl, on the steps or by the gate where she was left all alone, with her forever mommy and daddy.  Maybe someday we will return and take her there, and explain to her all that we know, but we did not get to go on this trip.  It is a six hour drive from where we are now!  It is in the same province, but we are in the northern part of the province and she is from the south.  Our guide suggested that we not make the trip.  We would have had to leave after our Police Department appointment, and would not have arrived until almost 11 p.m.  Since we have not been able to stay up past nine, this would have presented a problem for all of us!  Then we would have had to make the return trip the next day.  Judy Lin seems to be getting stronger, but we don't know if she is actually getting stronger or if it just seems that way to us because it is possible that she was affected by making that long trip on Monday to come to us for Gotcha Day.  If a one way trip was that hard for her, a round trip in 24 hours could be too much.  Also, she is doing pretty well with us, and we don't want to jeopardize that in any way.  So, although I would have loved to see where she was, we decided not to go.

Since we weren't going to the orphanage, we had an "extra" day with no plans.  Our guide said she would take us to a museum or a park, depending on the weather.  It was quite chilly out, but when she came to pick us up, she said that we were going to a park and that we might see some elderly people "doing some exercises."  I was picturing a big, open field with a group of little people doing yoga somewhere, but boy, was I mistaken.

We arrived at the park and got out and I strapped Judy Lin on.  There were beautiful flowers and a lake.  We started walking down the path and talking with Aron and the other couple that has been with us this week.  We were enjoying our coffee, people watching, and looking around at the beautiful landscaping in the park.  It was so crowded!  There were lots of grandparents with their grandchildren.  Aron said that the parents work and the grandparents take care of the babies and young children for them, even if the parents want to hire a nanny or put them in daycare, because they say they can do it better.  And the parents worry that their babies will be more spoiled because they are with grandparents all day.  It is so funny how much alike we all are!

As we continued to walk, we saw a group doing yoga.  I mentally checked that off the list--group of people exercising, check.  Just as Aron said!  However, I was totally unprepared for what I was about to see!

We turned a corner on the path and there was what looked like a colorful children's playground.  There was brightly colored painted metal everywhere--not a piece of equipment was not in use, and there was not a child in sight.  The "playground equipment" was actually exercise machines!  There were rowers, bicycles, and ellipticals.  There were machines with rollers sticking out at various angles (Hello, Protocol!  We need these!).  There were pull-up bars and stations with solid circles with bumps on them to massage your palm and improve circulation.  There were stretching posts.  There was one really cool little contraption that you sort of rode back and forth on?  It looked like it did something to your hips.  And ALL of these machines were being used by elderly Chinese people. Kinley jumped on the pull-up bar and Zeke joked that she lowered the average age on the equipment by about 60 years.  There was even a 70+ year old little grandma doing the splits on a bench.  Zeke said, "We let ourselves get old."  It was amazing and inspiring and a little bit funny, all at the same time.  We watched for a bit, then kept walking, but as we walked away, two sweet little Chinese grandmas came up beside us and started chattering to Judy Lin in Chinese.  She loves that, so of course, she was grinning at them.  One of them reached out and rubbed her on the cheek, then smiled at us and gave us a big thumbs-up and kept walking.  We haven't really been able to discern what the people here think of the Americans who come and adopt their babies, so this was a nice gesture and (of course) it made me cry.

We kept walking and there were badminton courts and ping pong tables, all full.  There were groups of elderly people playing hacky-sack--and playing it well!  There were places to play music and people practicing for the Canton Opera.  There was one spot where we stopped to watch some folk dancers, and on one side of the sidewalk there were two groups under a tree: one group was doing ballroom dancing with their huge boom box, and the group beside them was doing some kind of sword dance exercises, with their huge boom box.  Across the sidewalk were the folk dancers on a stage, in costume, with their music and microphones.  We kept walking and came to a group of women line dancing, with their music.  And all the while, there were crowds of people around us.  It was so interesting!  We didn't know where to look next, but we were so busy looking we didn't really take any photos.  Zeke videoed some, but I'm going to have to go back for pictures.

We did find a playground while we were there.  Judy Lin wasn't really big enough and it was pretty chilly, so we walked through and came back out.  There was also an amusement park beside it, so Zeke and Kinley headed off with our guide to buy the card needed to ride.  They rode a jerky roller coaster and some cool little cars on a track above our heads.  It looked like you had to pedal them, but they found out while they were there that you didn't, so I think they took a free ride.  There were arcade games, fishing, and little ride-on cars on a track, along with the usual fair rides--spinning things, swings, etc.  Some of the characters decorating the rides looked a little scary to us!  It was also a good place for the two of them to practice saying "thank you," which sounds like "she-a-she," or at least we think it does!

While we were in this part of the park, I fell in love with the Banyan trees.  They are beautiful!  The branches have to be trimmed because they will grow down into the ground.  There is some kind of moss hanging from them also, and Aron said they need lots of water, so they are only found in this part of China.  I wonder if they would grow in North Alabama?!?!

There were also beautiful flowers and flower arrangements in the park.  Since the Chinese New Year celebration has just ended, everything is decorated here like it would be for Christmas at home.  Guangzhou is known for its flowers, and the red one is the official flower of Guangzhou.  Aron said it is used for food and for medicine, although she wasn't quite sure what kind of medicine they make with it.  It was beautiful and I enjoyed looking at all of the landscaping and getting ideas for my own yard!

When we came back to the hotel, we decided to have the buffet for lunch with the other couple from our agency.  They have adopted a sweet little 22 month old girl, and we have enjoyed getting to know them!  It was nice to sit and relax for a bit.  We wandered around the hotel, then came upstairs and napped for a bit before deciding to go for a walk.

We went down to the grocery store to kill some time, and I bought Judy Lin some new shoes since all of the ones we brought are too big and it is COLD outside!  I found some that she and I liked, and I took them to the sales lady.  Here, at a store, you take your purchase to someone and they write a ticket for you.  You take the ticket to the cashier and pay, then take your receipt and the ticket back to the sales person and they give you your merchandise.  It seems very inefficient!  When I handed her the shoes, she made a face and reached behind her.  She got a pair of leather tennis shoes that looked like boys' shoes.  They were red and white striped on the toe with a blue heel with white stars.  I don't know if she thought we needed them since we are Americans or what, but thank goodness when she held them up to Judy Lin's foot (chattering in Chinese the whole time!), they were WAY too big.  After trying another pair of red leather tennis shoes, she decided that her foot really was tiny and she let us buy the pink pair we really wanted.  Judy Lin loves them!  I think she's a shoe girl.

She enjoyed some snuggles with Daddy before bedtime.  She LOVES playing with the sticks that move the curtains from side to side!  They are her favorite toy and how we calm her down when she is upset.  She is such a sweetheart and she has adapted so well.  We are starting to see some new parts of her personality come out.  She wouldn't let me give her any water the first two days, and has just started drinking again.  There are some small ways that we realize we are seeing her grieve, and it is hard to watch.  We will just keep loving her hard so that she realizes she can trust us and that we aren't going anywhere--at least, not without her!

Travel Diary: Day Four

Day Four was a pretty lazy day for us, with only one appointment at 2:50 p.m.  It started out with some sweet snoozing.

When she woke up, we quickly got ready for breakfast.  We learned our lesson yesterday!  Judy Lin does great with eating so far.  They told us she wasn't picky, and they weren't kidding!  After she finished, we decided to go for a walk in the garden at the hotel.  This place is beautiful--there are two waterfalls, fish ponds and bridges and walkways and a tennis court.  So pretty!  We got so tickled at Kinley--she ran ahead of us, yelled "Act casual!" and struck this pose.  What a nut!

We came back up to the room and decided to go out for a bit, do some shopping, get some lunch, and come back for nap time.  It was supposed to rain in the afternoon and we wanted to miss that, and pick up some warmer clothes for the cold front that the rain was bringing in.  We got everyone dressed and started out the door, and I noticed that Judy Lin's nose was bleeding.  Like, a lot.  We grabbed a towel and tried to keep it wiped, but she HATES for her face to be wiped, so it was a struggle.  I finally just decided to try to keep it off of our clothes, but it was a losing battle!  I got most of it off of her, but I ended up changing clothes completely and Shout wiping everything.  We finally got dressed again, reset, and headed out.  

By this time, it was lunch time again, and Kinley voted for McDonald's.  Honestly, sometimes it is exhausting trying to find something near the hotel that has either a picture menu or, even more rare, an English menu, so we have been playing it safe with some favorites.  We did decide to venture out to Pizza Hut, which isn't all pizza and isn't what we would consider acceptable toppings for pizza, but which still seemed pretty safe, considering our other options.  Judy Lin loved their lasagna!  

We ate and headed out to do some shopping.  Kinley picked up a few things at H&M, and we went across the street to the Friendship stores.  They are like malls, but instead of having a Men's Department and putting all of the men's casual shirts in one area and pants in another, they are organized by brand.  It is like rows of little boutiques in every direction.  It's nice if you know what brand you'd like to buy, but if you just need an assortment of men's polo shirts to choose from, it makes your task a bit more difficult.  Especially if your man has a chest and arms.  Who knew that "Asian fit" shirts were even a thing?!?!  We walked from boutique to boutique, not finding anything larger than a size medium Asian fit polo.  We were so tickled!  Finally, we found a size XL in one little area and he went in to the dressing room to try it on.  A few minutes later, he came back out with a serious case of the giggles.  Needless to say, we did not purchase that polo.  It was a blessing in disguise--we didn't know it was an expensive brand and that the polo was actually over $300 USD!  Finally, we found a Jeep section, and Zeke got a long sleeved t-shirt that worked.  

When we came out of the store, it was raining.  Hard.  And we had no umbrella, no rain jackets, nothing with us.  Back in we went, and found an umbrella.  For $75 USD.  We walked on, and found a second umbrella.  $375 USD.  I suddenly remembered the 7-11 on the corner and we ran there.  We found an umbrella labeled "Cheap Umbrella" and for less than $10 we purchased two!  Score!  Judy Lin was fascinated by the umbrella above her head while she was in the carrier.  I'm pretty sure she had never seen that before.

We came back across the road just in time to drop off our things and head to our appointment.  We were going to the Police Department (no photos allowed!) for Judy Lin's passport application.  The (scary!) van ride took longer than the appointment did, but the best part was that the first girl who interviewed us on Tuesday met us there and delivered some paperwork to our guide.  It was our official adoption certificate!  Aron gave them to us and congratulated us--on the China side, our adoption was complete!  She is officially ours--now we just have to complete the paperwork and wait to get her visa so that she can leave China and go the United States.  Yay God!  Now let's get this baby home! 

Travel Diary: Day Three

Judy Lin's first night with us passed pretty uneventfully.  She slept in her crib until about 10:45, when she woke up crying.  I picked her up and she went right back to sleep, but woke up every time I tried to lay her down, so into our bed she went.  She was a pretty active sleeper!  We were up early again, and just snuggled with her and watched her sleep while we called home and talked to the boys.  She finally woke up, and this girl wakes up hungry!  She took a little bit of her bottle, but she wanted real food so we got dressed and went to breakfast.

Dressing a little girl again is so much fun!  My heart is so torn now that Kinley and I can wear almost the same size.  It's nice to double our wardrobes, but I really did miss the cute little outfits.  I got so tickled because we saw another adoptive mom who is here, and she said, "She looks like Alabama!  Ruffles and big bows."  That's how we long as she lets Mama choose!

We had to go back to the same Civil Affairs office where we had Gotcha Day for our adoption and notary interviews.  While we waited our turn on the purple couch, she fell asleep.  Not only was I super happy to get to snuggle her while she slept, we had time to admire these pretty eyelashes!

We went in to a stark government office filled with flags for our adoption interview, and the girl there asked a few questions--our ages (the hardest question we had to answer!), where she was from, her Chinese name, whether her adoption was done by free will, if we were satisfied with the child that had been provided for us, and we had to promise not to abandon or abuse her.  When we answered these questions, we signed, gave her a gift, and left. It was strange--obviously just jumping through hoops, but also emotional when they asked if we were satisfied with our baby girl.  Yes, yes, and yes.  

We went upstairs to another office where we had our notary interview.  We had to wait a while here, and were able to visit with other families from various agencies who were there for the same interview.  It was amazing to see babies who had been screaming on Gotcha Day holding on to their new mommies and daddies.  24 hours makes a big difference!  Judy Lin woke up just in time for our interview, so she could participate in this one.  We answered almost the same questions again, but this time they added, "Why China?"  It is a question that we have been asked so many times before.  We have always wanted to adopt from China, ever since a little girl in a shoe store made me smile before I was even a mom.  And now, we want to adopt from China because it is where our girl is!  We were also asked our impression of Judy Lin, which was in the middle of her charming the lady with a very official presence with her sweet smile.  It was so much fun to watch her work her magic!

When we finished, we came back to the hotel and played.  She loves to play with her toys, so we sat on the bed and let her play!  She also loves rice cakes and rice cookies, and she kept turning and looking at me with half of a cookie sticking out of her mouth.  So cute!

We ended our day with a trip to a Noodle and Dumpling house recommended by our guide.  We couldn't find the restaurant at first, and an English-speaking Chinese man from the wrong restaurant took pity on us and walked us from his restaurant around to the right one.  It was seriously the BEST food we have had!  They brought Judy Lin a steamed egg that she did NOT like, but she can put away some dumplings and noodles!  We ordered noodles, pan-fried dumplings, and sautéed mushrooms.  It was all so good!  There was a tiny miscommunication with the water--we asked for water and the waiter said, "Right here," and poured some steaming yellow water in our cups.  It was some kind of tea, but we declined and decided to choke everything down!  We will travel with water bottles from now on!  Kinley couldn't make herself try anything because she was afraid of getting sick, so we got her some comfort food in the form of McDonald's on the way back to the hotel--and some cokes for us to wash down the noodles.  Day Three--in the books!

(This Chinese New Year decoration is outside McDonald's.  Zeke and Kinley are trying to figure out how to bring one of the dragons home!)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Travel Diary: Day Two--GOTCHA DAY!!!

Gotcha Day dawned....way before dawn.  We napped late on Sunday and then couldn't go to sleep on Monday night, and true to American-person-in-China style, we were up around 3:30 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep.  I knew that the day would be long and emotional, but even that couldn't convince my body to relax and go back to sleep!  Finally, we left for breakfast around 6:30.  We got tickled when we saw that another American family was coming out of breakfast as we went in.  We all have messed up sleep patterns right now!

After breakfast, we came back to the room to get the backpack/diaper bag ready for the day.  We met with our guide, Aron, at 9:30 in the lobby to prepare our paperwork.  We made copies of passports and paperwork in the business center first, because some of our paperwork had to be copied onto A4 sized paper for China.  We then went upstairs to the "Carousel," got our itinerary for the trip, and rearranged all of the paperwork that we had brought with us to be ready for all of our upcoming appointments.  After that, Aron walked us to Aeon for some baby shopping!  We got bottles, bottle brushes, diapers, formula, rice cereal, and some Chinese snacks--rice cookies, rice crackers, and hawthorn cookies for Judy Lin and animal crackers and strawberry marshmallows for Kinley.  We came back to the hotel and made plans to meet Aron again at 2:00.  

Zeke, Kinley, and I went to the restaurant downstairs for lunch.  We decided to order from the menu so that we could get some Western food on our nervous stomachs.  We ate (cheeseburger for Zeke, chicken wings for Kinley, and Pad Thai for Lisa), and then I attempted to ask for the check.  I said "Check please," and the girl asked me to repeat it.  I did and she said, "Oohhh," followed by a Chinese phrase.  I nodded, and she left.  She returned a moment later with a latte.  Not a check, but it was the best coffee to date in China, so it was ok with me!

We met Aron and the other Lifeline family that we are traveling with in the lobby and we all nervously climbed into the van.  We drove for about 15 minutes, but it was quite a scary ride!  Apparently China saves money on road construction by not having merge lanes.  And Zeke swears we drove for 15 minutes and were five blocks from our hotel!  Lots of u-turns and bicycle dodging was involved in the trip.  When we arrived, Aron told us that we would get out of the van and take a quick shortcut to the Civil Affairs building.  We walked through some back alleys and suddenly we were there!

Aron had warned us that when we got there, things would move abruptly and quickly, and she was right.  We walked into a room that I had seen only in pictures.  There were already several families there and several sweet babies in various stages of meltdowns.  There was a curtained room to the left where the babies and nannies waited for their families to be announced.  We were led to a place on a purple couch and went over some paperwork.  Finally, Aron motioned to us that it was our turn.  We walked just outside the curtained room, saw some movement, and then suddenly there was the face that we had, to that point, only seen in pictures.  She was in the arms of the Orphanage Director from Suixi, where she had stayed for her first four months of life.  He didn't seem to ready to give her up, so I awkwardly finally reached in and took her from him.  She came to me willingly and quietly, without crying at all.  She studied my face and looked back and forth from me to her nannies, who had by that point come closer, and then to Zeke and Kinley, and back to the nannies.  Believe it or not, I was too overwhelmed to even cry.  It was such a strange, beautiful moment and it seemed that time almost stood still.

We were finally asked to snap out of the fog and move back to the couch so that other families could get their babies, and we sat down and found some toys for her.  Finally, she gave us the big grin that we had seen in those pictures!  We signed some more paperwork and were able to talk with Peggy, the Foster Center Director, and the nannies who traveled with her to bring Judy Lin to us.  It was so obvious that they loved her.  They were sure to tell us about her "witching hour" from 6-7--that she would get fussy, but that it would go away.  They told us how she liked her bottles, her daily schedule, and what she liked to eat.  They gave us precious gifts for her--a baby book (in Chinese!) that they had kept for her, a photo book that they had made of her sweet pictures from the Foster Center, a letter from Peggy, and a card from one of her nannies that I can't wait to have translated.  We were also given a flash drive with pictures of her time at the Foster Center--from the tiny, frail baby who arrived to the smiling, growing girl that they delivered to us.  It was so very obvious that she was loved by these ladies who stood in the gap until God brought her to us and we will forever be grateful to them for all that they did for our sweet girl.  We gave them gifts too--Beehive Bath House lotions from Iris Jane and English Toffee from Morgan Price candy.  Then we all took pictures together, and it was time to leave.  Her sweet nannies came to her and took final pictures of her and kissed and hugged her--all while she was in my arms, they never offered to take her back--and both of  them started to cry.  I hugged them and thanked them over and over, but I don't know if they'll ever know how grateful I really am.

We walked back out to the elevator and back outside the building.  It seemed crazy that what we have been waiting and wishing for was already over, and she was in our arms.  We walked back through the alley and back to the van, and on the streets my heart started praising God for the very real little girl in my arms.  She was quiet and content, just looking around and taking it all in.

When we got back to the hotel, we went upstairs to a playroom to finish filling out some paperwork.
When we were finished, we came back our room and took some time to just watch her.  She loved playing with her toys!  She seemed so content and happy--there was none of the crying that we had prepared ourselves for.  We held her and loved her and played and fed her some puffs--thank goodness for those--and let her look outside.  She had not napped all day, so we ordered room service and I started undressing her for bath time around 6 p.m.  She did not smell bad, just different, and although I know there are lots of great organic things out there for babies, I had planned ahead and brought some pink and yellow Johnson and Johnson's.  I used that with all three of my bio babies and wanted her to smell like mine.  She LOVED her bath!  I was afraid that she would be scared but she played with her toys and didn't whimper or fuss at all.  I held out her pajamas and let her choose which ones she wanted, and since she's definitely mine, she chose the polka dots.  I fixed her bottle, snuggled in with her warm, yummy-smelling, footie pajama-clad body, and right after she took her bottle, she was sound asleep.  Picking out parents is hard work!

We were all exhausted, so I laid down with Kinley just to hang out with her, and within a few seconds, we were both asleep.  Zeke crashed on the couch but managed to wake up long enough to sign for room service, then woke me up.  We made it through a cheeseburger and fries, and then crashed again.  Kinley couldn't even wake up for dinner!

Even looking back on it three days later, it was a crazy day.  Our emotions were all over the place--we were nervous, excited, scared, overwhelmed, ecstatic, and overjoyed.  Things somehow happened in slow motion and all at once at exactly the same time.  We had looked forward for so long to kissing those sweet cheeks and loving on that squishy little girl, and having those dreams fulfilled was a feeling we won't soon forget.  I don't think we realized how exhausting it would be to scrutinize every little move she made, trying to determine what her health was really like, or how we would stare at her as though if we looked hard enough, we could see her future.  What I do know is that these moments were planned for us since before the beginning of time, and that she--and we--are right where we are supposed to be.  Welcome home, baby girl.  You are ours, and we are yours...we love you already, and we'll love you forever.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Travel Diary: Day One

I woke up around 9 this morning and my first thought was, breakfast ends at 10:30.  I've heard a lot about this breakfast buffet at The Garden!  I woke Kinley and Zeke up and we threw on some clothes and headed downstairs.  We were a little adventurous in our food choices--I had rice and fried noodles, and Zeke had some beef bacon--but mostly stuck to our American standbys, like toast and jelly and fried eggs.  We walked across the street to visit Starbucks before we came back to the room.

The first week of adoption trips to China is spent in the child's province, and the second is spent in Guangdong Province where the US Consulate that handles adoptions is located.  Some families are in one province until Friday, and then travel here, but because Judy Lin is from this province, we get to stay here the entire two weeks!  That means that we have a definite advantage, not only in staying in this gorgeous hotel for two weeks, but also in unpacking and making ourselves at home!  We were able to completely unpack, rearrange our furniture, get gifts together, and get everything organized for our stay without having to worry about repacking in a few days.  It was nice to feel settled in!

We decided to check out the rest of the hotel, then go out for lunch. Our initial plan was to come right back after lunch and rest some, and then get out later for grocery shopping and dinner.  However, when we got out, we just decided to keep going!

We walked through our hotel and checked out the pool, the rooftop views, the restaurants, and the flower shop.  It really is beautiful here.  We changed some money and headed out for lunch.

We found McDonald's and decided on some quick comfort food.  After we ate, we walked into the 7-11 and through a little mall that is connected to McDonald's.  It was interesting to see what products were the same as those we have at home and which ones were very different!  Then we searched for a grocery store without finding it, so we changed directions and went to another one.  We walked through the department store first, and then found the floor with the grocery store.  That was interesting!  We picked up a few Chinese snacks to try, but we also grabbed Snickers and Coke.  The exchange rate worked in our favor--we got quite a bit of food for less than $20!  We also went up to the toy floor and got a sweet little bunny that we had heard was a must--it lights up and plays Chinese music and Chinese nursery rhymes.  Hopefully, if our sweet girl is upset tomorrow, she might like to hear her language and see the lights.  We actually took the wrong escalator out of the hotel, but we found Wal-Mart and another Starbucks on the backside, so it wasn't a total loss!

At that point we were hot and getting tired, so we walked back to our hotel.  We decided to shower, try to stay awake and just rest, and order room service for dinner.  However, after the shower, we could barely keep our eyes open!  We tried our best, but I finally set an alarm and caved.  About an hour and a half later, Zeke woke me up, but I swear my arms and legs wouldn't move.  I was mostly awake, but I couldn't make myself get up for anything.  Jet lag is a real thing!  We ordered our food and ate, and now it's time for bed again!

Random things we noticed while we were out today:
  • We were the ONLY people wearing sunglasses on a very sunny day.
  • We were the ONLY people wearing short-sleeved shirts.  It was 70 degrees.  Most people had on jackets, sweatshirts, or coats. ?????
  • All of the sweet little babies we saw had on so many layers!  They were puffy.  It was cute but I thought they had to be hot!
  • Kids are kids, regardless of where they are or what language they speak.  I'm pretty sure we saw a Chinese version of Camp today :)
Tomorrow is our Gotcha Day!  The diaper bag is packed and the crib is ready!  We will meet our guide and another family in the lobby at 9:30 to go over paperwork, and we leave for the civil affairs office at 2:00.  I can't wait to hold my baby girl.  It seems unreal that tomorrow night, we will have our second daughter in this room.  Although she has been ours in our hearts since we said yes, she is officially spending her last night as an orphan tonight.  It will be the last time she will lay her head down without a mommy and daddy to comfort her if she cries.  Tomorrow, finally, I will get to kiss those sweet cheeks and tell her I love her.  We have prayed all day that she will feel at home with us and that her little heart will be open to receive our love.  I can't wait!

Travel Diary: Travel Day!

Travel Day started out super early in the morning!  We planned for a 4:15 a.m. departure from our house, on the Papa Bus, to Huntsville International Airport.  If you know us well, you know that means we left at about 4:30.  We had three big suitcases and each had our backpacks as carryons.  Somehow, we (think that we) fit everything we need for four people and two weeks in China in those!    Sweet Papa dropped us off, then parked while we got our boarding passes and checked our luggage.  The sweet Delta lady had trouble printing our boarding passes because of the infant notes for our return trip, and when we explained why we didn't have the infant with us yet, she said, "My pastor is adopting from China!"  When we asked her where she went to church and she replied that she went to Lifepoint, we told her that that was where we had heard about our little girl for the first time.  She said, "Oh, y'all are them!"  It made me smile--God has definitely worked in this story! Papa walked us upstairs and prayed with us before we went through security.  We had just enough time to grab some breakfast and get on the plane.

The trip to Detroit was easy--except that was when Kinley started getting nervous.  She did great though, and we arrived in snowy Detroit right on schedule and with plenty of time to walk around and grab one final meal at our favorite stand-by Chick-fil-a before boarding the plane.

Kinley had worked out her nerves and was excited on the plane to Beijing.  We had a small delay because when they counted the luggage before takeoff the count was off.  We finally got to take off!  We realized that 14+ hours on a plane is a LONG time!  We watched some movies, Zeke and I caught up on The Big Bang Theory and Fixer Upper, we ate some mediocre airplane food, and took a few really short naps which really didn't amount to much sleep.  When we finally touched down in Beijing, we were more than ready to stretch our legs and walk around.  We made it through immigration and were approved to enter the country (thank goodness!).  However, that was about the time I turned airplane mode off on my phone, and we had a text from Lifeline that said it looked like our third flight, from Beijing to Guangzhou, had been cancelled.  We kept following signs to go through security, hoping that we could get something worked out.  We didn't tell Kinley, who wasn't feeling well from exhaustion and not really eating, and was getting nervous again at all of the signs she couldn't read and people she couldn't understand.  When we got to the security checkpoint to be able to transfer to another flight, we got stuck.  We had a camera and a battery pack in our backpacks.  For some reason, they had to be taken out, walked across a huge carpet, and handed back to us.  I still don't really understand what happened, but they let us keep them and keep going, so we just shrugged and kept walking!

We followed the herd and found the ticket gate for China Southern.  I walked up and asked them about our cancelled flight and they told me there was another flight at 7:30, and to walk around the corner and turn right and they would change it.  We walked around the corner and to the right, waited in a long line of people checking bags, and finally were told we had to go to the ticket counter to change our ticket.  I told her that we had just done that, but she told me to go back.  So...back we went.  Thankfully, the guy who told us to go there in the first place took our boarding passes and walked us back over and went behind the counter (no waiting in line again!) and had them fix it and check our luggage.  Whew.  One more time through security, and we were on our way to our gate.

We got to our gate around 5:30 and knew we would board at 6:45.  We were all a little bit hungry and Kinley and I kept seeing McDonald's bags, so we walked around until we found it and grabbed a snack for all of us.  We spent the rest of our wait trying not to go to sleep.

The final plane was very nice--probably the newest plane we were on.  We were in the middle row, so we all got to sit together.  Kinley was nervous again and this time we were the only Americans on the flight--pilots and crew included--but thankfully, the exhaustion took over and she slept most of the flight.  She woke up for essential oils and crashed again.  This flight had the most turbulence of the three, and there were several people using the little bags by the time the flight ended.  If you know me, you know Kinley and I had our fingers in our ears so we wouldn't join them!

After we picked up our checked baggage (THANK YOU GOD that it all made it with us!), we met our guide, Aron.  That little green sign that said "Lifeline Children's Services" really let me take a deep breath!  It was nice to have someone direct us the rest of the way.  When she saw our luggage she asked us, "Is this all you have?  You packed light!"  I couldn't decide whether to laugh (because I wasn't sure I could fit everything we had into our suitcases before we left) or worry (that I didn't bring enough!).  We headed up to the car that was waiting for us and began the 30 minute drive to our hotel.

We had heard so much about The Garden Hotel, and it did not disappoint!  This hotel is AMAZING.  We are so happy to be here for two weeks!  Aron checked us in and came to our room with us to make sure we had everything we needed.  The crib sitting in our room made my heart skip a beat! It really started to seem real that we are here and will soon have a sweet baby girl in this room with us.  We can't wait!  After she left we decided to hold off on anything other than sleep until tomorrow.  We changed clothes, washed our faces and brushed our teeth, and crashed.  It was almost 1 a.m. in Guangzhou, or 11 a.m. at home.  30 hours of travel with very little sleep caught up with us quickly!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Letter to Our Family and Friends

Dear Family and Friends,

If you've been following along with our adoption, you know that we have less than two weeks until we will hold our sweet girl in our arms!  Yay God!  Although it has been a long journey to get to this point--our application was submitted in July 2015--these past three months have been a whirlwind of activity.  We have learned to hurry up and wait with the best of them.  We are in awe of the mountains that God has moved to take care of our girl--His girl--and we can't wait to get her home.  However, we know from research, our adoption education through our agency, and watching other sweet adoption journeys, that although we may feel like we are at the finish line, our journey is just beginning.

We don't know what life will look like in two weeks, or two months.  We do know that this will be a season of adjustment for our family.  In many ways, we will still be raising our new little one much like we have raised our other sweet babies--loving unconditionally and seeking to bring her up "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."  But there will be a few initial differences from the way we have parented in the past.  And because YOU have taken so much time to support our family--to encourage us, pray for us, and support us--we wanted to share with that with you.  We hope that sharing this will best equip everyone around us to lay a strong foundation for our girl emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

God's design for families is PERFECT and beautiful--a picture of His relationship with us.  Attachment between a parent and child naturally occurs over time when a baby has a physical or emotional need and communicates that need.  The parent meets the need and soothes the child. This repeats over and over to create trust.  By God's very design, an emotional foundation is laid in the tiniest of babies, which will affect the rest of their lives--their learning, brain development, growth, and future relationships.  Security provided by parents will give children a trust for and empathy towards others.

Children who come to their families through adoption have experienced interruptions in this typical attachment process.

Maybe the best way to describe what is happening in Judy Lin's little life right now is with a story from when Kinley was little.  It's one of the first times that, through parenting, I saw myself as God sees me.  If this doesn't make sense at first, hang in there...maybe it will at the end.

Kinley was about 7 months old.  We lived in our old house, and she and I were playing in the floor.  She was at one end of the hallway and had something in her hand.  I can't remember what it was, but I remember that it was one of those "things" turned toys that all babies love to grab--a stick, or a straw, or something.  She couldn't crawl if she was holding anything in her hand.  I was at the other end of the hallway, and although she didn't know it, I had a new toy.  I kept asking her to come towards me, but she couldn't make it unless she put down what she was holding.  Because she was holding something, she thought it was enough.  She didn't realize that what I had for her was better--what she would really want--because she wouldn't put down what she had.  When I took what she had away, she cried--until she realized that what I had was what she wanted all along.  

Fast forward 11 years.  Here we are at the end of the hallway.  Our girl is at the "other end of the hallway," in China.  She is holding on to what she knows--life in a group setting with multiple caregivers--because it is what she has and all that she knows.  And when we come to get her, she won't know that what we have--a home, a family, identity forever as a daughter--is better for her than what she is holding on to, because she is holding on to something.  When we take what she has away, she will likely at first feel--on a much larger scale--much like Kinley did.  Even though what we are giving her is, in the long run, better, it may not feel that way to her immediately.

Judy Lin has experienced the loss of her biological parents already, and will soon experience the loss of familiar and loving caretakers as well as the sights, sounds, and language of her birth country.  When she comes home, EVERYTHING around her will be new.  Imagine your first few days in a new country.  It looks different, sounds different, tastes different, smells different.  It may be overwhelming for her!  She will need time to learn not just about her new environment, but also about love and family.  Although she has had loving caregivers at the Foster Center, she has not experienced God's sweet design for a family.  She may struggle with feeling safe and secure and she may not trust that we will meet her needs.  The good news is that we can now, as her parents, rebuild that bond and attachment, and help her heal.

So, what does this look like for us?  After much prayer, research, stories from adoptive parents who have gone before us, and at the advice of our adoption agency, we will be doing what is called "cocooning" when we bring Judy Lin home.  We will mostly be staying at home.  We will limit our time out and we will be limiting visitors in. By keeping our lives very small, routine, and predictable at first, we'll be helping our girl feel safe.  We will also be the ones to hold, snuggle, soothe, feed, change, and take care of her.  Hopefully, as this cycle repeats, she will learn that we are trustworthy and that sweet, strong bond will form.  I know you are all ready to hug, kiss, and help spoil her--who doesn't want to get their hands on those cheeks?!?!--but it is recommended that we be the only ones to do that at first to improve her chances of attaching strongly to us.  Until we feel that she clearly knows that we are her parents, we will need to take care of things for her.  As strange as it may seem, adopted children who act very outgoing and affectionate with strangers is not necessarily a healthy thing.  Orphans often have so many caretakers that, as a survival mechanism, they become overly charming to all adults.  This is called "indiscriminate affection" and can mean that they haven't really attached to anyone.  We want her to reach for us and look to us for security--that means she knows that we are her people!  We have also been advised that it is best that we meet every need quickly and consistently, which may make it appear that she is truly being "spoiled."  She may show her grief and confusion in many ways, and we are prepared to help her through it and prove that we are here for her--we are her forever family and we aren't going anywhere.  

We don't know how long this period will be.  We will let Judy Lin take the lead and show us what she needs.  As we know from parenting our bio babies, all children are unique and have different needs, so what has worked for other children may look different for us.  We are dedicated and committed to doing whatever is necessary to help her heal and adjust.  Many people think that because she is so young, she won't be impacted as much, and this could be true.  However, we are erring on the side of caution and planning that she will grieve tremendously for all that she will lose.  This will best prepare us to meet her needs.  And it is our ultimate hope that, through meeting her needs and teaching her to trust us, she will one day be able to trust Jesus in the same way.

We do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God is in control!  He is her faithful Father, and He has been working overtime for this little girl, fighting on her behalf.  He makes all things beautiful in His time (Ecc. 3:11).  This is no different.  We are hopeful that things will smooth out quickly and that our sweet girl will realize--just like Kinley realized in that hallway--that the prize is at the end and that we are what she didn't know she wanted all along.  And we will be back to a new "normal" schedule soon!

We are so grateful for your understanding--and we understand if this sounds a little crazy.  This is new and uncharted territory for us too!  Please feel free to ask us any questions at any time.  We are learning too, and we are grateful that you are seeking with us to make Judy Lin feel loved, safe, secure, and home.  We know that it takes a village, and we think that we have the BEST village for our new little girl to join.  We are blessed by your love, your support, your prayers, and your presence in the life of our family, and we can't wait for you to meet her!

Oh--and speaking of meeting her...we would be so excited to see anyone who can make it to the airport when we get home!  Our homecoming is late and on a school night, so we know that might impact your plans, but after traveling for over 26 hours we are scheduled to arrive at Huntsville International Airport on February 16 at 9:46pm.  We would be so grateful if you would allow us to greet Case and Camp first before visiting with the rest of our family and friends.  Please keep in mind that Judy Lin may be completely overwhelmed at this point.  But PLEASE hug and talk with Zeke, Kinley, and me after we arrive!  Extra attention for big brothers will also be great!  We already can't wait to be home!

Lots of love,
Zeke and Lisa

"If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God." 2 Cor. 5:13 NLT

** is a more satirical take on the above REALLY LONG POST that I had a TERRIBLE TIME writing.  Bless you if you read it all.  I found this from a blog that found it from another blog, and it makes me laugh--and cry--every time.  #thosehashtags #truth

An Open Letter to Anyone We Might Encounter Post Adoption:
In a little over a week, we will finally be traveling to China to pick up our child. Here are a few things I’d like our family and friends to know beforehand. (And YES, I’ll probably be seriously tempted to pass this letter out among complete strangers as well.) 

#1 We will be traveling from Huntsville to China, through the entire country of China, and then back to Huntsville. This will include several NIGHT and DAY time changes. We will be a #HotMess. Thank you for understanding! #WeNeedGrace #LotsOfIt

#2 Our new daughter will not feel lucky. In fact, for her, this will most closely resemble a kidnapping. We are ripping her away from everything and everyone she has ever known. This will be incredibly traumatic. It will be worth it. 

#3 Trauma is expressed in different ways. My child may appear distant, hyper, angry, autistic, overly friendly or perhaps, perfectly fine. The child you see now will not be the child you see in a few weeks, a few months, or a few years…

#4 She will grieve. My heart already aches for her and this part of the process. 

#5 We will wonder “what were we thinking” at least once during our pick up trip. Our friends and family are all lined up for this.  “Adoption isn’t something you do alone.” -Joleigh Nicole #ittakesavillage

#6 We might not connect right away. #FakeItTilYaMakeIt

#7 Our first goal is attachment, not discipline. #Redirecting

#8 Hugs & Kisses: They may be legitimately terrified of you, please be respectful of their boundaries. 

#9 Establishing family is important: for the first few months we will be entering what is known to the adoptive world as cocooning. Basically, we will be limiting visitors and becoming temporary homebodies. #Weirdos

#10 Another big part of establishing family means that: we’d prefer (for a little while) that only Mama and Daddy meet their needs for: food, comfort, etc. 

#11 Our new daughter is biologically 1 year old.  However, she has grown up in an institution and will be “delayed.” This is normal; we are OK with it, and you can be too. 

#12 Speaking of delayed…we also plan on “regressing,” as much as she will allow. This will look really odd to the rest of the world; however, regressing allows children to experience all of the stages of development they missed. FYI: We may use a bottle, spoon feed, rock her to sleep, co-sleep, play with infant toys etc.

#13 Our main goal for the year is attaching, connecting and learning some English. I don’t know when she might catch up, and frankly, it doesn’t matter. She will get there when she gets there. 

#14 With that in mind, our daughter may look different than yours for several years. Please remember, their journey is unique. (And thank you for being a part of it!)

“I always questioned if I was ready to adopt, and then I realized that no child was ready to be an orphan.” -Unknown

Mama Bear