travel day – by the numbers

We’re home!!!

Saturday, March 2, 2013 was the longest day of my life – literally. For us, this one day was 38 hours long. Here are some other numbers to describe our day that, I hope, will give you a sense of what it was like!

Hours in the day – 38

Hours spent traveling (consecutive) – 29.5

Hours slept in said 38 hour day – 7.5 (maybe?)

Number of flights – 3

Miles flown – 8,239

Number of times I held a barf bag for my daughter whose body deals with jetlag by throwing up – 5

Poopy diapers changed on airplane seats – 2

Number of diapers that leaked onto me – 1 (luckily just pee that time!)

Number of times MCQ was happy as we strapped her into an airplane seat for take-offs and landings – 0

Number of suckers consumed by MCQ during take-offs and landings – 18 (or something like that)

Hours spent reading the books I made sure I had downloaded onto my Kindle for my “downtime” – 0

Number of times I was grateful that my mom traveled with us – innumerable

Number of friends whose help along this entire process but particularly as we traveled home has been invaluable – also innumerable

Number of times I cried during our travels – 2 – the first at the Detroit airport when I was so tired and so hungry and, within the space of about 20 minutes, Miranda was telling us she didn’t feel good and we were wondering whether she was going to start throwing up again, Madeleine CaiQun became an American citizen, and we had to say a quick goodbye to my mom, whose help had been so incredibly important through our whole trip; the second when we walked out of the secured area at the St. Louis airport and saw our friend Maureen standing there already waiting for us and holding a strawberry banana smoothie that she’d picked up for me on the way

I have never been happier to walk into my home than I was last night when Maureen dropped us off around 11:15. We carried the girls upstairs and quickly changed them into new diapers and pajamas and tucked them into our bed; both Matt and I took showers (and brushed our teeth! with tap water! I can’t even describe how wonderful that felt); and we sat on the couch downstairs and spent a few minutes relaxing and debriefing. I enjoyed a cup of hot tea and a small snack. We finally climbed into bed around 1:00 a.m., and the night actually went better than we expected. CaiQun slept all the way through until 9:00 a.m., when we woke her. Miranda slept until around 4:00, and then I was up with her until around 6:30, and then she slept again until around 9:00 a.m., and we had to wake her, too. Both girls are napping now, and hopefully they’ll wake without too much trouble this afternoon, and we’ll be well on our way to getting onto US time!

We’ve been home for less than 24 hours and already I am feeling overwhelmed by all that our friends have done and are doing to help us as we transition into this time at home as a family of four, in addition to all the other ways they’ve already blessed us. As I mentioned, one friend picked us up at the airport and drove us home. Another had stocked our refrigerator with essentials like milk and juice. Another coordinated with our neighbor regarding several packages that arrived while we were away. Another finished up the dishes I hadn’t had time to do before we left and checked on our house while we were gone. We came home to a largely clean house because another friend came over the night before we left and actually cleaned our bathrooms and did some random other cleaning tasks that I hadn’t managed to get to yet. Another friend (or friends?) shoveled our driveway for us before we got home yesterday. Some friends are bringing over a meal for us for dinner tonight, and another friend is coordinating some meals for us for the next several weeks. Another is going to drop off some fruit and other produce in the next couple days. And I’m sure there are even more things that my jet-lagged friend is just not thinking of right now!

We ventured out this morning to go to the first part of our church’s worship gathering. We thought staying through the entire gathering would probably be too ambitious, but it would be good for us to get out to help combat jetlag, and we’d enjoy worshipping as a family and seeing our church family. I cried there, too, in awe of the God who has orchestrated this beautiful process of bringing Madeleine CaiQun into our family and has blessed us with such a wonderful transition so far, and so thankful for our church body who has surrounded us with love and support through this whole process, many of them making significant sacrifices of time and money in order to help us complete her adoption.

There is of course trauma and pain involved in adoption, and there are parts of it that are hard for everyone involved, and yet there is so much beauty, too. Just look at my little CaiQun settling right into playing in her new room this morning. She’s been making herself right at home here, and it’s so wonderful and beautiful to watch – we are home again, and she too is finally home.

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We are exhausted, but we’re doing well 🙂 We’ve started unpacking (one suitcase down!) and have gotten a start on the mountains of laundry, and Matt and I have managed to stay awake until now (almost 4:00 p.m.), and while we’re so tired, we’re hanging in there. And Miranda and CaiQun have been enjoying playing and are doing really well together. It feels so right to be a family of 4 now. I’ll share more details about how we’re doing settling in and how we feel like bonding and attachment are going soon, but I think I’m too tired right now to be particularly thoughtful, so I’ll leave that for another day and for now will just say that everything is going remarkably well, better than we ever hoped it would. Tomorrow morning we’ll take CaiQun in to see our pediatrician, and we hope and pray that all will go well with that visit. We’ll keep you posted 🙂

last night in China

This is our last night in China, and I find myself feeling quite ambivalent.

I cannot wait to be home – to sleep in my own bed, to do laundry in a washing machine, to be able to drink the tap water, and to see our friends and begin to settle into what life will be like for us in these coming months. This time in China has been an adventure, and we’ve done some tourist-type activities, but at its heart, this trip has been a mission. We have been here to get CaiQun, officially adopt her, and bring her home, so that we can begin to live our lives together as a family of four. This time was not meant to last forever, and I’m excited that we’re coming to the closing chapter of our travel.

However…it has been amazing. We’ve seen a totally different part of the world. We’ve interacted with different people of different cultures. We’ve eaten different food, seen different homes, worshipped in different ways and in different places. We’ve thought different thoughts. We’ve been enriched. And, of course most importantly, we’ve added a daughter to our family.

And now we prepare to leave the people, the culture, and the country from which she came.

I wonder when she’ll feel like our house is home?

It hit me tonight that there is a great deal of energy consumed by simply living outside of one’s comfort zone. For the past two-and-a-half weeks, we’ve been in a place where we don’t speak the language, are not aware of the cultural norms, and would have an incredibly difficult time functioning without our available-at-all-hours-of-the-day-and-night guides. Today I crashed and napped for 2 hours on my mom’s bed in the “living room” of our suite while Matt and my mom and the girls played all around me. A lot of that had to do with the fact that we haven’t gotten as much sleep the last couple nights, and Miranda was up a lot during the night last night, but I also think that some of it was the wear and tear of living in another place so different from my home for an extended period of time – and not only living there but having a series of tasks to complete, each official and proper and required to be done exactly right in order to adopt our daughter and bring her home.

And I wonder…in the same way that this trip has been full of life outside of our comfort zone – and wonderful experiences, but still strange and different from our normal – for us, how much is CaiQun still experiencing the strain of life outside of her comfort zone? And how much is that sense going to increase as we travel back to the United States? When will our house feel like home to her?

In so many ways, she is coping with all of this change far better than we would. We’re seeing so much laughter and so many smiles. She’s able to communicate with us quite effectively through guestures but has also learned and has started to use several English words. She clearly understands much of what we say to her in English already. She tries new foods and takes new experiences in stride. We’re so thankful for all of that, but I’m sure she still feels the strain of it all. I pray that this next transition would go smoothly for all of us but especially for her.

And I pray that we make it home tomorrow. We’re tired and so ready to be home. Even if all goes as scheduled, we’ll have 28 hours of traveling tomorrow, which feels pretty overwhelming. Hopefully we really will make all of our flights and our girls will sleep well and feel alright and we’ll make it home cheerful and ready to start settling in!

Goodnight from China – for the last time (on this trip at least :)). We’re looking forward to seeing all of you back home soon!

Thursday in Guangzhou

Today Matt and I and CaiQun got up early (that 6:00 a.m. alarm is a killer for me, no matter what continent I’m on) so that we could leave our hotel at 8:00 a.m. to head to the US consulate. We needed to take an oath (basically swearing that all information we had provided throughout the adoption process was true and accurate to the best of our knowledge) and finalize the paperwork requesting CaiQun’s visa to immigrate to the United States.

I actually got a bit emotional there, which caught me off guard. It’s something of a formality – we’ve already prepared the paperwork and filled everything out, and our guide has helped us put together a folder containing all of the documents in the proper order, etc. But just thinking about my daughter…the lives she could have lived here, had things been different – whether with her birth family or in her orphanage – and the life she will instead live with us in America. My heart hurts for her that she has experienced so much loss already in her short life, though I’m glad she will spend no more days in an orphanage, and I want to honor the sacrifice her birth mother made and honor CaiQun as we live out this life with her.

Our guide will pick up her visa and some other paperwork tomorrow, and once we land on American soil on Saturday, CaiQun will be an American citizen!

afterglow

After our appointment, we came back to the hotel, and while Matt ventured out for more adventures at art museums, my mom and the girls and I went back to the play area in our hotel.

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Then it was back to the hotel room for some oatmeal and bananas and peanut butter for lunch, followed by a nap for the little girls! After naptime, we took a taxi over to Shamian Island and met up with another family from our group. The US consulate and the building for the medical exams used to be on Shamian Island, and pretty much all adopting families from the United States used to stay on the island in the White Swan Hotel, now closed for renovations.

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And honestly, walking around the island this evening, I kind of wished that was still the case. Everything was very peaceful (don’t be deceived by the parking-lot-and-construction photo above). Car traffic is limited. You can walk places in peace. You’re not quite as likely to be hit by a car. It’s quieter. There are playgrounds and fountains and a restaurant called Lucy’s that serves both Chinese and American food. I now see the appeal of the island. Even if we don’t get to spend our week there, it’s still a nice place to visit and walk around.

We took the traditional photos with our kiddos joining the line of statue children here.

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And then it was back to the hotel. The early wake-up time had us all worn out pretty early this evening. We played a bit in the room – here’s a picture of Miranda playing “store” with some empty water bottles and CaiQun happily dragging her sippy cup around inside of an empty bag that used to contain diapers – when you’re on day 15 in China with limited supplies, you use what you’ve got 🙂 And don’t mind the dirty laundry strewn about the room…again, it’s day 15 here for us!

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Tomorrow we’ll shop for a new suitcase (the zipper on one of ours has started coming apart from the rest of the suitcase, so I’m not sure it will survive the trip home) in some of the shops near our hotel and begin to pack up all of our belongings in preparation for our journey home. I’ll probably post again tomorrow, but in case I don’t get a chance, please do pray for our travel home, specifically –

1. for safe travels for all of us.

2. that our flights are not delayed and are able to safely take off, fly, and land as scheduled! Every domestic in-China flight we’ve been on so far has been delayed by several hours. Guess what the first leg of our trip will be on Saturday? That’s right, a domestic in-China flight, which, if delayed too long, will cause us to miss our international flight back to the United States. We’d really like to get home as scheduled, both for the joys and comforts of home and to avoid spending long hours in an airport (or an airport hotel) with two little girls.

3. for our little girls to travel well. This is going to be an incredibly long day of traveling – over 24 hours by the time we get home. We’re not particularly looking forward to it.

Thanks, friends. We’re looking forward to seeing you soon!

attachment

A friend asked what all we were doing to promote attachment and bonding with CaiQun, and I thought others of you might be interested, as well…perhaps even more interested in that than in how we are spending our free days (while we wait for paperwork to be processed)!

I’m not sure I can make a comprehensive list – some “building attachment activities” have always just been a part of our routine interactions with Miranda and so they don’t feel like intentional bonding activities to me, even though they certainly serve that purpose. And of course that makes sense….obviously we seek to bond with and build attachment with our biological children as well. That process is usually just a bit more straightforward. I’ll share a bit about what we have chosen to do with CaiQun as she has come into our family.

Examples of activities that fall into the category I mentioned above – our routine interactions with Miranda – are things like playing peekaboo, throwing a ball back and forth, and mirroring activities (mimicking what your child is doing and attempting to have them mimick you). Another would be tickling – cultivating both laughter and skin-to-skin contact are excellent ways to bond and to improve brain chemistry. And we try to get down on her level and play with her in whatever she is doing. We have been intentional in doing things like that with CaiQun, but those interactions are very similar to interactions we’ve had with Miranda over the past couple years.

Something we’ve been doing that I don’t think I’ve read about specifically in any books but that I think has helped our girls bond and, my sense is, has helped CaiQun see a bit of how she fits into our family, is having Miranda along on our travels and giving the girls similar items/activities/clothing. Of course there are pros and cons to traveling with your other children. It has been harder than we anticipated to have Miranda here with us, and my mom has been invaluable in caring for her and helping us. But I think CaiQun has more quickly adjusted to our family and to certain activities that could have seemed scary to her (i.e. bath time) since she has been able to see Miranda engaging in them and enjoying them. Both girls also seem to enjoy that each of them has a snack cup and a drink cup – they know whose is whose and return them to each other. And I’m not sure how much CaiQun has even noticed this, but Miranda has told me that she likes it when she and CaiQun are wearing matching outfits.

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This seems an appropriate place to mention that attachment is a two-way street. It is generally easier for parents (or the already-in-your-home children) to bond with their new children – we’ve been staring at this picture for months, imagining what it will be like to hold this child in our arms, and visualizing them in our family. They, however, even if they’ve seen a photo album with our pictures in it, really have no idea what’s happening (at least at this age). Therefore, while my focus here is on how we are seeking to facilitate CaiQun’s attachment to us, it is also important for us to make sure we are bonding with her and that she and Miranda are developing a sisterly bond. I think those things have been happening fairly naturally for us, though that’s not always the case, but it’s important for us to be aware of.

Beyond the activities we are doing with CaiQun that are often part of routine parenting and the ways in which we are visibly demonstrating to both of our girls that they are sisters, these are some other things we’re doing to seek to facilitate attachment –

  • Matt and I – exclusively – are holding her, feeding her, and changing her diaper. We are also interacting with her far, far more than anyone else. Even though my mom is here traveling with us, she has yet to hold CaiQun, feed her, or change her diaper (she tells me that I should tell all of you about her incredible patience). She interacts with her a bit but far less than Matt and I do. As we’re all in our hotel room playing together, they inevitably talk or laugh together a bit, but there are never times when my mom and CaiQun are just spending time together or playing on their own. This pattern will continue for as long as we feel it’s necessary once we return home (see our request to friends and family for their assistance with that here) – probably at least a couple months.
  • We’re treating her as a little baby in ways in which that’s possible. As a toddler, she wants to play with toys, and she wants to run around and explore, and those things are great, but there are also ways in which she is very much a baby. We see her as a mix of her chronological age, her developmental age, and her family age. When Miranda was CaiQun’s (chronological) age, I’d spent a lot of time working with her on contentedly falling asleep in her own bed by herself – however, I spent months snuggling with Miranda and holding her until she fell asleep when she was a baby. CaiQun can fall asleep in her bed by herself, but she didn’t get to experience the holding and snuggling when she was a little baby, so we’re doing that with her now, as much as we can. I’m also happy to carry her when she wants to be carried or (when it doesn’t interfere with necessities like my also getting enough to eat) hold her on my lap when she’d like.
  • We’re co-sleeping. I know this is controversial (particularly outside of adoption parenting), and I understand that. Matt’s and my general tendency toward the “attachment parenting” end of the spectrum is another post for another day, but adoption parenting is, in some ways, its own separate category. Children coming out of an orphanage have almost universally been deprived of normal levels of human contact. Our bodies and our brains need that human touch to grow and develop appropriately. In particular for toddlers or older children who are on the go throughout the day, co-sleeping is a great way to get in hours of physical closeness. Adopted children are also entering their new families through trauma – orphanage life is generally not good, but it is familiar to our children, and we’ve just pulled them out of that. They need comfort and reassurance – and far too often, their experience has been that when they are hurt or when they are scared, they are alone. We don’t want that to be CaiQun’s experience with us. We want her to know that we as her parents are there with her and for her. She isn’t (yet) comfortable with being held and snuggled all night long, but she is comfortable holding our hands as she falls asleep and tucking into us during the night. We’d love for her experience in our family to be that drifting off to sleep is accompanied by comfort and security and love. Add to all of this the simple fact that she expressed a preference for it – the first night she was with us, we got her and Miranda ready for bed, and Matt pointed to the crib and to the bed, and she pointed to the bed. Since then, she and Miranda have been napping together (with a pillow between them, because they both sleep a bit like helicopters!), and at both naptime and bedtime, I lay with them until CaiQun falls asleep and then snuggle with Miranda for a few minutes before I get up and let her go to sleep, and the 4 of us are co-sleeping at night.

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  • CaiQun came to us taking several bottles a day, and while normally in the United States, she might be considered rather old for that, we’ll maintain that for as long as it seems wise. Bottle-feeding is great for fostering a sweet time of connection. One huge way that newborns are cared for and develop a sense of security with their parents is through the warmth, physical contact, and nourishment of breast-feeding or bottle-feeding. CaiQun has probably never experienced that – bottles for even tiny babies in orphanages are generally propped up – so we want her to experience that with us. Bottle-feeding time is also a great time for cultivating eye contact and setting it in a positive context. We’re holding her and seeking to make eye contact with her as we give her bottles as much as possible.
  • At the risk of being considered entirely a fringe lunatic, I’ll go public with the fact that I’m going to attempt to breastfeed her. Miranda still nurses a couple times a day – she doesn’t need it, but she enjoys it and has never seemed at all interested in giving it up, so I still have a bit of a milk supply. CaiQun may be too old to really get it, or she may not be interested, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll drop it, but if she’s interested, it could be such a good, sweet experience for her. I’d love for her to have that opportunity, so we’re going to give it a try.
  • We’re cultivating regular eye contact in a variety of ways. Many children coming from orphanages are frightened by the intimacy of eye contact. We look into her eyes as we feed her, as we play with her, and whatever other opportunities we get. We also sometimes play in ways that specifically cultivate eye contact (i.e. putting a sticker between our eyes and laughing about it).
  • We’re making a big deal out of it any time she falls down or bumps her head or anything like that. We want her to know that this is a safe place to express hurts, and we are here to comfort her – she doesn’t need to pretend nothing is wrong or just get over it on her own. It’s okay to feel her feelings here and express them, and we’re here to walk through them with her.
  • We’re keeping food pretty available to her. This one has been a bit of a challenge – kids in orphanages do not generally get enough to eat, so it can be bad for their bodies to over-compensate and start eating a lot very quickly, but food also communicates such a sense of safety and care. We want to give her enough food to meet her nutritional needs and help her feel safe but also don’t want to overfeed her.
  • We’ll probably “cocoon” to some degree once home. We’re not sure exactly what that will look like, and we’ll probably have to figure a lot of it out as we go and as we see what works and what doesn’t for CaiQun and for our family. We’ll probably be at fewer art shows and church gatherings and social events for a while. We may or may not be able to have people over to our house easily. We may try to keep our errand running or other outings to a minimum. That will be hard for me in particular, because I’m very much missing all of my friends back home, but we need to give CaiQun an opportunity to settle into our family and life in America without too many distractions if they seem to be interfering with her adjustment.

Those are a lot of the tools we’re using to facilitate bonding and attachment 🙂 Some of these are things we’d talked a lot about beforehand, while others have just seemed right in the moment as we’ve been here, and we’ve agreed to continue to try to do them.

CaiQun really is fitting into our family beautifully. I realize I’ve written quite a list here, but most of this feels very natural and normal as we go about our days here. CaiQun is an incredible blessing, and we want to love her as well as we can!

Feel free to ask questions about any of this – or anything else 🙂 – if you’d like!

Wednesday in Guangzhou

Today was a free day for our family – apart from the meeting this afternoon about our departure plans – so we slept in a bit and then after breakfast headed over to a park across the street from our hotel. It wasn’t exactly what Miranda was hoping for (a slide and swings), but we did get to see some amazing Chinese New Year decorations. These photos were all taken near the entrance to the park.

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Here are a few more from farther up along the path…

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And here are some that my American readers may particularly enjoy…

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Other than that, we’ve really had a pretty low-key day. We had lunch in our hotel room again, the girls napped, I attended our departure logistics meeting, and then we had dinner in one of the restaurants in our hotel. We did some reading and playing (and one more load of hand-washed laundry) until it was time for bathtime and bedtime and got the girls tucked into bed!

A bit more of China experienced and another day down!