Tuesday – Consulate Appointment, Shopping, Touring, and the Pearl River Cruise

Today was a full day – much fuller than I actually anticipated it would be. I got less sleep than anticipated, but it was partly for a good reason. FangFang woke up around 4:00 needing her diaper changed, so I took care of that and put her back in her crib, but about 5 minutes later, she burst into tears and announced that she wanted to be in my bed. I put her in bed with me, fully expecting her to tell me immediately that she wanted to go back to her own bed, but she didn’t, and she actually slept with me for the rest of the night! Unfortunately our night ended at 6:30, much too early for this night owl, as we had to meet our guide in the lobby at 7:30 to head over for our Consulate Appointment.

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At the Consulate Appointment, you present your child’s information and medical exam results to the Consulate, you take an oath that it’s all correct to the best of your knowledge, and they take your child’s passport to work on issuing the visa. That was our last official appointment here in China! Now we wait for FangFang’s visa to be issued so that she can legally enter the United States, at which point she will become a US citizen! It should arrive tomorrow afternoon, though the consulate recommends that adoptive families not leave the area until 2 days after their appointment, just in case of an unexpected delay.

We took advantage of the rest of this day to do some more exploration of Guangzhou. I mentioned to our guide, Elsie, that we’d like to visit the pearl market and the jade market, and she said on the way back from the Consulate Appointment that if Danny and Sharon and Mei Mei could get ready, we could go in about 20 minutes, so we threw things together in our room and got ready to head out!

Elsie took us to a jade store she recommends and at which she can get a significant discount and then to a store for pearls, and we looked around a bit at the surrounding stores, as well.

These ladies are FAST at putting together the pearl necklaces!
These ladies are FAST at putting together the pearl necklaces!
a pedestrian street near the Jade and Pearl Market building
a pedestrian street near the Jade and Pearl Market building

By the time we were done, we weren’t sure there was enough time to head back to the hotel and grab lunch in that area before we’d need to meet up with the rest of our group for the afternoon’s activities, so Elsie recommended a restaurant near our meeting spot, and we enjoyed a good lunch there!

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Then we met up with the rest of our group and went over to the GuangXiao Temple, an active Buddhist temple, which we enjoyed exploring, and Elsie told us some about its history and about Buddhism and its presence in China.

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Next we went to the One-link Market for toys and gifts. It’s sort of like a Chinese version of a combination of Pier One, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, and a flea market. Here was a store at which we bought a few things.

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Shopping there with 2 small children was actually pretty stressful for me. The aisles are super narrow, so it’s impossible to keep far enough to the center that your kids cannot touch items on either side of the aisle, and it’s not laid out in any sort of logical fashion, so it’s not like you can just go in with an idea of what you want and get it – you have to wander and look around. And there are no western toilets. But…we were only there for about an hour and a half, and Daniel and Sharon had a number of gifts they wanted to buy and were able to get a lot there, and I was thankful we made it out without breaking anything.

We’d wanted to do the Pearl River Cruise, and its dock was near the One-link Market, whereas our hotel was across town, and Elsie wasn’t sure we’d have time to make it there and back before the cruise would depart, so we just went straight to the dock after our time at the market. We’d left for the pearl and jade market earlier thinking we’d just do that and then be back at the hotel to pack up for the rest of the day, so it was a little stressful not getting to return, but we made the best of it.

We actually arrived too early to board the boat itself, so we walked around some, saw some more sights, and found a western toilet for Madeleine CaiQun! And little FangFang, on her third day running of no-afternoon-nap (because her mommy keeps accepting offers for afternoon plans), took a brief snooze in the stroller 🙂

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Then we walked back to the dock for the Pearl River Cruise. We went ahead and did the dinner buffet with it, and the food was fine, though not spectacular. What really makes this a fun activity is getting to see all the lights, including those on the Canton Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world.

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Then it was back to the hotel for a little bit of play time and getting ready for bed! FangFang couldn’t decide (or enjoyed making me go back and forth) whether she wanted to sleep in her crib or my bed, but she ultimately ended up in her bed, and we’ll see where she finishes the night!

There are some things we’re planning to do tomorrow, but we don’t have any early morning deadlines, so I’m hoping to get some good sleep tonight! It’s hard to believe, but tomorrow is our last full day in Guangzhou! I love being in China, in spite of its challenges, but I am so looking forward to being home and seeing Matt and Miranda and Atticus, plus my mom and my other family members who are arriving for Christmas. I’m also fantasizing about potable tap water and widespread availability of western toilets. There is so much I love about China, and I hope it’s not too many years before I’m back here again, but I also cannot wait to get home!!

Adoption Day!

As I mentioned in my post about yesterday’s Family Day, we actually took custody of FangFang yesterday, but we would not finalize her adoption until today. Our agency called to check on us this morning, and after I talked with them about how things were going, the girls woke up. FangFang was not thrilled to realize she was still with us and didn’t want me to pick her up for a little while but got interested when I brought out a new dress and offered it to her. We all got dressed and then headed back to the Civil Affairs Office to finalize her adoption.

I understand the reasons behind this practice, but it still seems cruel to me. We put a child (who, in our case, is too young to understand what is really happening) through one of the most traumatic experiences they could possibly have, and then the next day we return to the exact same place to see the same people, but just to do some paperwork and a short ceremony. FangFang was clearly confused, and once she saw the orphanage representative and the nanny, she cried and reached for them.

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I had to complete an interview, prior to the adoption finalization, which I don’t think I had to do with CaiQun’s adoption – everything seemed to be more of a formality there, and while the same is probably true here, too, they asked more questions with more intensity. They asked how our first 24 hours together were, whether we’d been able to FaceTime with Matt and what he thought of her, whether we understood her special need and what our plans for medical care for her were, and questions of that nature. The question that always gets me is, “Is this child satisfactory to you?” What answer could I possibly give to that question? How could I look this child in the face and say no? How could I have any expectations for her at all?

And that, my friends, gets at what I think is at the heart of adoption in so many ways. There are millions of children in the world without parents – thousands of them adoptable right now. People write posts advocating for them and ask the question, “Is anyone interested in him?” or “Would anyone like to know more about her?” How can we, as a world, look at pictures of these children, knowing that each picture represents a child, a child made in the image of God, and say “no”? No, I am not interested in that boy. No, I don’t want to know anything more about her. Children are meant to grow up in families, not alone in institutions. Please, please, please consider what you can do now, today, and in the future, to move us toward a world in which every child spends their days loved and well fed and is tucked in at night by a loving mom or dad.

The ceremony at the Civil Affairs Office was brief but nice, and FangFang was presented with a gift from the representative of the orphanage, which is sweet. Then we went to the registration office, where I did another interview and paid some fees, and then we headed back to the hotel.

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In both places, FangFang reached for Danny and wanted him to hold her, and she has also been attempting to engage with Sharon. I talk a big game about attachment and about parents being the only ones to meet key needs, and I am committed to that idea, but I also understand the weight of the situation. FangFang has just been torn away from everything that is at all familiar to her, and if it would offer her some modicum of comfort to be held by my brother for 5 minutes or play peekaboo with my sister-in-law, I’m going to allow that for now. They aren’t her parents, but they are going to be important in her life forever. And in the China adoption community, you’ll often hear phrases like, “China is not real life,” and “Getting through China is all about survival.” Obviously what you do during your time in China matters. You’re establishing the foundations of your life together; you’re beginning to build relationships. However, nothing about your experience of time in China is similar to what your normal life once home is like. Everything is different for everyone. I’m going to do what I can to encourage her to form her primary bond with me, and I have a lot of tools at my disposal to do that, but I’m also not going to stop her from interacting with Danny and Sharon.

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After we got back to the hotel, we ventured out to explore the area a bit. We’d heard that – in addition to the mall attached to our hotel – there was also a mall a few blocks down the street with some great restaurant options. We walked over there and ate at Grandma’s Home – we got a ton of awesome food, all for less than $25 total for the 5 of us! FangFang continues to be primarily interested in suckers, but she did deign to eat a few bits of our food, and we were pretty able to demolish it 🙂

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Then it was back to the hotel for naptime. We’re very flexible in China, but I also realize that toddlers do best with naptime, so we’re going to try to be reasonably consistent with that!

Once she woke up, we headed back to the mall down the street for dinner, this time eating at another great restaurant with a bird cage theme. FangFang was thrilled with herself and with our applause as she built towers of markers and then pulled them apart, and I also kept her distracted with coloring until the food came instead of pulling out suckers, and then she let me feed her a lot more real food instead of insisting upon suckers.

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Mei Mei wanted to ride in the stroller, too, and we gave it a try on the way there, but it made me nervous, knowing that one wrong move from Mei Mei could exert too much pressure on FangFang’s bones, and they could fracture. And while FangFang appeared happy about it at first, she began to look less so, and after dinner she made sure to point at the stroller and announce that it was for FangFang and hold out her hand to try to keep Mei Mei away!

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Mei Mei really is doing pretty well with FangFang, but she is experiencing a bit of jealousy and a desire for her own one-on-one time with Mom. It’s a tough balance to honor that and care for her while also bringing FangFang into the family, but that’s what so much of life is about. Danny and Sharon are trying to devote some good time to Mei Mei, as well, and I think that’s helpful.

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Tomorrow is just a day for rest as we wait for FangFang’s passport to be processed. We’re going to head to a park with Glenn in the morning and just relax and continue to try to bond and build relationships. I’m hoping, too, for a health boost – I’ve had some yucky chest congestion and coughing, and Madeleine CaiQun has been coughing a bit, too. Then Thursday we’re going to go to Beihai, the city in which ChenFang’s orphanage is located. I’m still not positive it’s the right choice to go. It was so hard for her to see the people from her orphanage this morning, and I’m not sure it’s kind to take her back into a confusing environment. However, I also know that it’s important to people who have been adopted to have information about their pasts. There are so many gaps in her story that I won’t be able to fill in for her, but I want to be able to give her as much information as is possible, and I can’t give her firsthand information about her city or her orphanage if I don’t go. We’re going to try it. And we’re hoping that by waiting until Thursday and giving her a bit more time to build a relationship with us, a visit will be less traumatic for her. You could definitely be praying for our day tomorrow to go well and for her heart to be comforted in the midst of our day trip on Thursday. Thanks so much for celebrating and praying with us, friends.

Family Day with FangFang!

We spent Monday morning getting more set up and ready for FangFang. I unpacked, and we made a Walmart run to get diapers, wipes, a stroller, some more water, and some Ramen for lunch. Our hotel is actually connected to a huge mall, which has a Walmart in it (as well as a Dairy Queen!!!), which is super helpful. The hotel brought up a pack ‘n’ play for FangFang, and Daniel put together the stroller, and I re-organized things to pack a backpack for FangFang of toys and snacks I thought might entertain her. This was my, “We’re heading out!” Instagram photo!

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We met our guide, Glenn, in the hotel lobby at 2:30, and we headed over to the Civil Affairs Office. He explained that FangFang would be playing in a playroom, and we’d go into a separate interview room to do paperwork and a brief meeting with an official, after which they would bring FangFang in to us. I met with the official and signed the necessary paperwork for our 24 Hour Harmonious Period (China offers parents a sort of “trial period” before they commit to finalizing the adoption), and then FangFang came in!

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It was not exactly love at first sight. She was willing to accept a few Honey Nut Cheerios from me, but once the nanny tried to hand to her to me, she was completely uninterested.

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She cried for the whole time at the Civil Affairs office. Glenn suggested that I get up and walk around with her, which I did, and that calmed her a bit, though she was still very unhappy to be with me. She called for her ayi (nanny) and asked to go home and cried big, unhappy tears.

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Even now, a day later, these photos are hard to look at – and trust me when I say that these are mild compared to others that we have. I’m trying to strike a balance between being respectful of her grief versus being real and honest, both for those who come after us in pursuing adoption and for myself and for our family – this blog serves as a journal of sorts for our lives. Adoption is beautiful, but it’s not all sunshine and roses.

We took our official adoption photo, and then we headed back to the hotel. I think she must have missed her nap – she was obviously exhausted and was so close to falling asleep in the car as I stroked her hair.

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Once we got back to the hotel, though, she was wide awake and clearly still unhappy. I had to do some paperwork, so Glenn came up to our room, and I pulled out all the stops trying to engage with her, even playing with a toddler app on my phone, but she remained pretty committed to her understandable dislike of my holding her.

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Then Glenn held her while I filled out and signed paperwork, and she calmed some, and eventually he laid her down on my bed, and she fell asleep.

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I was, of course, immediately overjoyed to have my fourth baby in my arms, but my heart hurt and still hurts for her and the pain she is so obviously experiencing. We believe it’s in her best interests for us to adopt her, or we wouldn’t do so, but that doesn’t mean it’s without significant pain and loss for her. Just think of any 3-year-old you know, taken away from the caregivers they know and love and handed to a stranger, and not only that, a stranger who looks different, speaks differently, smells different, and is basically different in every way from everyone you know and trust. I knew it could be easier, and I hoped it might be, but the afternoon went basically the way I expected it to go.

It’s actually a very good thing for her to grieve so heavily, as it means that she has experienced true love, true care, and true attachment with the nannies caring for her at her foster home these last 9 months. And that means she will likely more easily be able to learn to trust and attach to us. However, that in no way makes it easy.

Fortunately, once she woke up from her nap, she experienced a pretty huge transformation. Thanks to a sucker, I was able to get her first smile 🙂

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Then she began to get interested in some other toys and more interactions!

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She played happily for a couple hours, and then another wave of grief seemed to hit her, and she just wanted to lie in her bed alone. Danny and Sharon and Madeleine CaiQun went out to find some dinner for us, and while they were gone, it was pretty hit and miss whether I was able to keep her engaged and reasonably happy or not. When they came back with Pizza Hut pizza (one small Hawaiian pizza; one medium cheese pizza with cheese only, no sauce – not quite what we wanted but ordered only that successfully because of the kindness of a man who had spent some time studying in London and volunteered to help them), she was delighted to see them and happily got out of her bed and joined us for dinner. She kept saying “tang” when I offered her food, which I thought meant she found it unacceptable, but I realized later that, with a different tone, “tang” means “candy,” and she was asking for more suckers!

She scooted herself around quite well on the bed and enjoyed playing with everyone, and we even got to FaceTime with Matt and Miranda and Atticus for a few minutes. Be still my heart – I miss those kiddos so much. I love China, but I can’t wait to be home and have all four of my babies under one roof.

I was so glad FangFang seemed happy interacting and playing yesterday evening, and she was agreeable to changing into some pajamas, and she was even happy enough to pose with her signature victory sign in some photos!

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Overall, I think the day went better than I expected. I expected major grief. I expected tears and an active dislike of me and of the rest of us. I was pleasantly surprised that she seemed so much more willing to engage yesterday evening, and I’m so glad she is starting to open up to us, even a little bit.

Madeleine CaiQun is doing pretty well, too. She definitely wants some extra attention, and I’m thankful Daniel and Sharon are here to help answer her questions and get her set up with what she wants to read and play and help her in this transition, and I’m trying to make sure I give her some love and attention, as well.

My prayer is that I can be for FangFang what she needs me to be, especially during these next few days, and also care for Madeleine CaiQun well. I hope that I can pay attention to FangFang’s cues and offer her things that might begin to earn her trust and be a good mom for both of my girls here in China.

We Made It to Hong Kong! Plus Some Plane Ride Reflections

We made it to Hong Kong! Our flight landed on time around 6:00 a.m. local time this morning (Friday), and we had a full day of adjusting to local time and sightseeing thereafter.

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It was awesome – but I have been awake since something like 3:00 this morning and got only about 5 hours of (frequently interrupted, not very good) sleep, and that was after a week or so of limited sleep as the preparations for our travel intensified. It’s now a little after 9:00 pm Hong Kong time, and I am exhausted. Everyone else is already asleep. Tomorrow I’ll try to write more about our travels and day one in Hong Kong, but for tonight, I’m going to try to get some sleep! However, I will leave you with these reflections that I wrote on our flight –

I’m writing this post from somewhere over northern Asia, about 10 hours into our flight from Newark to Hong Kong. Anyone who has asked me recently how they could pray for us in our travels knows that I’ve been nervous about the flights – I’ve flown many times before, and I know the probabilities of anything going wrong are extremely small, but still, I’ve been nervous. I’m feeling calmer now that we have one flight down and are over halfway through our second.

I’ve been trying to remind myself of the truths that I know – looking at Psalm 103 and its truths about who God is, remembering that God tells us in Psalm 46 that He is our refuge and strength, and reciting Deuteronomy 31:6 – one of the first verses I ever memorized – to myself – “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” A good friend also texted me while Madeleine CaiQun and I were having dinner in the St. Louis airport and told me that she’d been meditating on Psalm 40 and David recounting how God had delivered him in the past, so he could trust Him to do it again.

I really appreciated that and spent some time reading and praying through Psalm 40 on our first flight. It was particularly poignant to me, because on Tuesday night, less than 24 hours before we were to leave to begin our journey to China, I connected with a woman who played a huge part in FangFang’s story, a woman and a part I hadn’t known existed. There is another adoption agency working in China that has a partnership relationship with FangFang’s orphanage. As such, they send medical teams there to evaluate the children’s needs and gather more information about them for prospective adoptive families, and they provide assistance in caring for the children and in preparing their files so that they are eligible for international adoption. This agency sent a team to FangFang’s orphanage in January, and this woman was part of that team. While she was there, she saw FangFang, and she talked with the orphanage about it perhaps being a good idea to transfer her to the foster home at which she has been residing for the last 9 months. The transformation in FangFang’s development and in her demeanor since moving from the orphanage to the foster home is nothing short of amazing, and this woman was part of bringing that about. And what’s more, all of this was happening just as we were seeing a blog post advocating for FangFang and praying about pursuing adopting her and praying that, regardless, she would have a family and that she would receive the best care possible for her while she remained in China. It was around that very same time that God was putting into motion all that would need to happen for FangFang to move to what I believe is the best foster home in the country for caring for children with osteogenesis imperfecta and, we believe, calling us to be her family.

I don’t believe any of this is accidental. I think God was answering our prayers 11 months ago, and I interpret the timing of this connection I made the other night as a reassurance from God that He is at work in FangFang’s story. He hears and has been answering prayers for her for months now. That doesn’t mean He’s a genie and that her life will be perfect and anything I request on her (or my) behalf is going to happen. How could it? In that case, she would never have endured the staggering loss of her first family. But it does mean that He is involved in her story, and because I can see the fingerprints of His faithfulness in her past, I can trust that He is going to continue to be faithful in His care for her in the future. My hope is that that means safe travels around and home from China! But regardless, I am honored to be a part of His work in this precious child’s life.

Travel Approval!

Our Travel Approval (TA) was issued today! This is the very last approval we need in order to travel to China and adopt our sweet little girl!

We need to wait another 24-48 hours to book plane tickets, as we wait for confirmation of our Consulate Appointment. Our Consulate Appointment is when we appear in person to take an oath at the US Consulate in Guangzhou, and they then issue our daughter an immigrant visa to enter the United States. When the US Consulate is able to schedule that appointment, in large part, determines our travel dates.

We’re required to submit our top five choices in order of preference. Please pray with us that we get one of our top two choices (12/20 or 12/21), so that we can travel when we’d like and have a 12/12 Family Day and be home before Christmas! Our agency believes chances are high that we will be able to get one of those dates, as we’re requesting them so far in advance, but there are never any guarantees. If we have to move on to our 3rd or 4th choices, we’d likely be gone over Christmas, which would be manageable but pretty sad – so, if you are a praying person, please pray that we get one of those top two choices!

Also, as I shared in my last adoption update, we are still a bit short of where we’d like to be in terms of our funds for our adoption costs. There’s an organization from which we applied for a grant that is meeting Wednesday evening to make a decision about grant awards, and we would so appreciate your prayers for favor with them and that they would have funds to offer a grant to us!

For those of you friends and family who have offered us your encouragement and support on this journey, we so appreciate it! Thank you! We are almost there!