Monday – Safari Park

Today is another day of waiting for FangFang’s medical exam results, so we got up reasonably early and packed up to head to the Chimelong Safari Park. Last time I was in Guangzhou, we’d visited the zoo, but most of the kids in our group were younger that time, and I’d heard the safari park was great for slightly older kids. Our guide recommended it and offered to set up a driver for us, so we wouldn’t have to take a taxi or the subway, so we went for it!

We started off our visit with the “Safari On Wheels” – basically a zoo tram through a number of different animal habitats. That part was very cool – we were so close to so many animals!

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People could also drive their cars individually on this same path, which many did, and it was clear that they did not take these signs seriously –

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We saw person after person hanging out through their sunroof windows throwing food to the animals!

After our tram ride, we ate a bit of lunch and then walked through the rest of the park. One of the first exhibits we saw was that of the white tigers. They were actually finishing up a show in which they suspend pieces of meat above the water so that the tigers will jump to get them and then fall into the water. We weren’t thrilled with that idea…but it was nice to see the tigers!

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The highlight of my day came around the giraffe exhibit. For 15 yuan (about $2) you could buy a leafy branch to feed to the giraffes. I bought one for each of my kiddos and got FangFang out of the stroller so she could participate. The giraffes grab on and tug pretty hard, and Madeleine CaiQun lost her whole branch to the giraffe right away, and while FangFang wouldn’t hold it herself, she LOVED seeing the giraffe eat the leaves when I held out our branch. I bought a few more, and both girls were so happy about it.

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And then, I don’t really know what prompted it, but FangFang decided it was time to snuggle up to me!

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And then she puckered her lips for some kisses!

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It can be so easy for me to focus on her preference for Sharon – her constant calls for “jiuma! jiuma!” – that I can miss the growth that really is occurring in FangFang’s and my relationship. We have a long way to go – which is to be expected! We’ve known each other for only a week! – but we’re making progress each day.

The moment ended, though, and we moved on to see some more animals!

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Daniel bought some bananas to feed to the elephants, and though the girls didn’t quite have the arm strength to make the throws themselves, they enjoyed that experience, as well!

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After feeding the elephants, we finally made it over to see the pandas! This was one of the highlights of the safari park for me. These are the triplet pandas born a couple years ago!

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Making that exhibit even more enjoyable was the attendant near the exhibit, who spoke very good English and talked with us all about pandas – it was great to learn more about them!

The last animal we saw was the pygmy hippo – I don’t think I’d ever seen one before!

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Then it was back to the hotel! We stopped and got ourselves some 4 yuan ice cream cones at McDonald’s before going in – FangFang was quite impressed 🙂

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And then we ended up back at Macau Street Restaurant for dinner!

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There was time for a little bit of play afterwards, and then our no-napping-again-today baby needed to get to bed. I think I actually let her stay up too late, because she was very tired and cried for quite a while at bedtime. It’s hard to distinguish between grief and a tired 3-year-old’s anger at having to stop playing and go to sleep, and I think both were probably at work tonight. She finally did fall asleep, though, and after some more playtime, Madeleine CaiQun did, as well.

FangFang and I have an 8:30 AM Consulate Appointment tomorrow morning, for which we need to be in the hotel lobby at 7:30 – eek! – not this night owl’s favorite plan! But it’s for a good reason 🙂 Then I think we’ll have some more sightseeing with our guide in the afternoon and evening. We’ll be home on Friday, which still feels so far away, but we really only have 2 more days in Guangzhou, which is crazy. It seems like this trip has been so long, and yet there are also ways in which it feels like we just got here. I can’t wait to see the rest of my babies – and yet my heart also harbors sadness for FangFang at this next loss she will experience, leaving her language and her culture, probably not to return for several more years at least. And yet, she is now a precious and beloved member of a family that adores her, and she’s about to become an American citizen and be connected with some of the best doctors in the world for treating OI. I think the benefits outweigh the costs, but the costs are still significant – but while we mourn for those, we celebrate that she is coming home, that we are all going home soon!

the tipping point

Today’s the day – or at least our best guess as to the day. Madeleine CaiQun has been with us as many days as she lived in China without us. My emotions as I’ve thought about this day have been something of a mixture.

On the one hand, I believe that it is best for children to grow up with the mothers who gave birth to them. A mother bonds with her baby during the 9 months the baby spends in her body. A baby recognizes his or her mother’s voice at birth. It’s good and natural and right for families to be preserved whenever possible.

Sometimes, however, family preservation is just not possible. I don’t know the circumstances surrounding Madeleine CaiQun’s departure from her first family, but whatever they were, she and they suffered a profound loss at that time.

And while I believe most nannies in most orphanages do the best they can to care for the children with whom they are surrounded, the staff-to-child ratio is generally far too low, the resources far too scant, and no matter how good, an institution can never replace a family. Some children fare better in that environment than others, and our little one was not doing so well. At age 2.5, she was beautiful but only the size and at only the developmental level of a 15-month-old. She was so small, so behind, that she actually qualified for a failure to thrive diagnosis at her first visit to our pediatrician. As prepared as I was for all sorts of possibilities, I felt a lump in my throat as I looked at the lab slip with those words written across the top.

Our girl came to us hungry for food and for love.

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And now, 2.5 years and 5 days later, she’s had as much time as a beloved family member as she had without us. To say that she has blossomed would be an understatement. No more silent tears. No more clutching at a snack cup as she drifted off to sleep. Our little Madeleine CaiQun is a beloved daughter, sister, granddaughter, and niece, and she knows it. She radiates joy and is full of love. Her innate intelligence is readily apparent and her perseverance admirable. She empathizes easily and is quick to share and to encourage.

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We’ve been oh-so-blessed by the years we’ve had with her thus far, and we’re so looking forward to the future we have together.

a resurfacing of loss

“Jie jie shouldn’t say that; it’s unkind,” says Madeleine CaiQun from the back seat of the car, with a pout.

We were on our way home from the park, and Miranda had looked out the window and announced, “There’s the hospital where Atticus and I were born!”

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Through much of our daily life, the loss that is an integral part of adoption remains in the background. Of course we acknowledge it, and its presence frames much of the way that Matt and I have chosen to parent. It informs our choices about our parenting philosophy, about our sleep expectations, about how we discipline our kids, and about where we keep food in our kitchen. And certainly we have conversations about China, about adoption, and about Madeleine CaiQun’s life before she joined our family with relative frequency. Most of the time they are quite matter-of-fact.

But every once in a while, our little girl has a viscerally emotional response to a situation that we know is rooted in that deep loss she has experienced. There’s a wound there that will always be a part of her story – and a huge part of that wound is the reality that we just don’t know.

I can tell Miranda and Atticus the specifics of when and where they were born and what the first hours and days of their lives were like; I have no such information to give to Madeleine CaiQun, and that’s a loss she feels deeply.

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Adoption is a beautiful thing. Children should grow up in families, and those who, for whatever reason, cannot remain with their first families deserve to grow up in another. But it is always, always, always born out of profound loss, and never can we forget that. Our kiddos who come from hard places need to be loved in light of that reality, and sometimes that brings up hard stuff.

And so, last night, we talked about the sadness inherent in feeling different from her siblings and in the un-knowing-ness of her story. But we also talked about the beauty in God giving each person a different story and about how we celebrate each one. And we’ve promised to take Madeleine CaiQun back to China, hopefully to the city from which we believe she came, to fill in what gaps we can for her. We hope and pray we can love her well as she continues to express her emotions and raise any questions she may have.