Friday – a Travel Day

Friday was a travel day for us, going from Nanning to Guangzhou. We worked on packing up all of our stuff, a somewhat stressful process, as we had acquired some extra things and an extra person and would need to negotiate both train stations and the train with my 2 suitcases for the kiddos and me, Danny and Sharon’s 3 suitcases, our new stroller for FangFang, and 3 backpacks and a large purse. Packing up took us most of the morning, and we just had time for a quick bite for lunch, so we walked over to the mall attached to the hotel and had lunch at the same restaurant we’d eaten at for dinner the night before. Not a lot of restaurants in that mall had English or picture menus, so we figured we’d just go to the place we knew would work. Our lunch experience that day was less ideal, though – the servers seemed to find us an interesting attraction, and several of them stood around watching us eat and competing for FangFang’s attention. I was quite ready to go by the time we were done eating.

Unfortunately, the hotel hadn’t made a record of our request for a late checkout (which they’d approved the day before), so our keys had been deactivated while we were out. It took us quite a while to get someone to help us get into our rooms and get our luggage, so by the time we checked out, we were running about 15 minutes late, and I was worried we might miss our train. Thankfully we arrived in time, but we were at the back of the line to board, which was somewhat problematic given the amount of luggage we had. We managed to get on board, but it was hard to get spots for all of our stuff, and we ended up with suitcases and stroller distributed all throughout the train car. Travel days are always stressful, but it felt like we’d run a marathon by the time we even got on the train.

We started out with Madeleine CaiQun, FangFang, and me sitting together with Danny and Sharon in the row in front of us.

2016-12-16_15-05-41_909

That didn’t last long, though. FangFang made her preference for Sharon very clear, so I passed her forward, and she sat with Sharon and Danny for a while. I was a little sad but figured I’d also been so emotionally and physically taxed all week, it wouldn’t hurt me to sit and read a book for a bit, so I tried to enjoy the break.

At some point, Sharon handed FangFang back to me, and she was quite disgruntled, making her dissatisfaction clear to everyone in the train car. I offered suckers, iPad, and toys, and I tried walking up and down the aisles with her, all to no avail. She was having none of it, not interested at all in being with me. After what felt like an eternity of trying to calm her (all the while being the object of the attention of a good number of people on the train), I asked Sharon to take her back, and she calmed immediately.

I may or may not have spent a good amount of time crying after that. I’d worked so hard to get to China to adopt this child, I’d spent hours researching osteogenesis imperfecta to know how best to care for her, I’d worked hour after hour of extra work time to earn money to bring her home, and she wanted nothing to do with me. Intellectually, I knew that I could expect nothing from her. I do the right thing because it’s what I’m called to do, not in order to obtain any sort of positive emotional response from her. However, that doesn’t change the fact that it still hurts when it happens. I knew she could reject me. Kids coming from orphanages or foster homes often have trouble attaching to more than one person at a time, and they’ll often choose one adult to whom to attach and completely reject all others. I don’t think I had sufficiently considered the possibility that even though Danny and Sharon and I were clear on what the ideal scenario would be, and they were going to leave the attempts to build a relationship with FangFang to me, she might choose to attach to them anyway. All things considered, this is far from the worst case scenario. She wasn’t rejecting me outright – she just preferred Sharon. She’d still play with me and interact with me, and she understood that I was her source of food and diaper changes and getting all basic needs met. She was beginning to bond with me to some degree – she just preferred Sharon. And experiencing her refusal to spend any time at all with me that afternoon was so hard. I felt like I’d hit a new low.

I kept reminding myself of the advice my friend Becky had given me about pursuing and caring for FangFang but letting her receive comfort from Sharon if that’s what she wanted, plus the counsel of so many adoptive mamas (counsel that I myself have given to others), that China is all about survival. It still stung. I also felt like I was experiencing the reality of how different God’s love is from mine – Romans 5:7-8 says, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God makes the first move. He moves toward us even while we are rejecting Him, and He does so joyfully. When my daughter rejects me, I want to cry and have a pity party. I get over it, and I do move toward her, but it’s hard. 

We finally arrived in Guangzhou, and thankfully it was easy enough to find our guide at the train station. The elevator wasn’t working, so we had to do multiple trips down the escalator to get all of our suitcases down, but it worked, and we connected with Elsie, and we were relieved to be there. She took us over to the Pengman Apartments, where we’d reserved a 2-bedroom apartment for our week in Guangzhou. Our agency usually has families stay at the Garden, which is a beautiful hotel, but it doesn’t have great room configurations for a party of our composition. We’d need to meet our guide there, though, so we wanted to be nearby, and the Pengman Apartments were right across the alley. They’d offer us more space for a much lower price.

There had been an unfavorable report about them recently in one of the Facebook groups to which I belong, but we were hoping our experience would be alright. I think the place is fine – but it’s really just adequate. At first we agreed it would be okay. And I was excited that the other family from our agency who is in Guangzhou this week was also staying there. They actually came down to see us and give us some restaurant recommendations right away, and it was great to see them. But over dinner that night (at Pizza Hut, given that it was 9:00 PM by the time we were heading out for dinner), I told Danny and Sharon that I didn’t think I wanted to go through the hassle of switching, but if I had it to do over again, I would have reserved us a place somewhere else, probably the China Hotel. Sharon seemed relieved, and Danny said he really didn’t think it would be that big of a deal to switch, and in fact, they could probably do it the next morning while I was at the medical exam with FangFang.

We discussed it more after we’d gotten the kids in bed (at 11:00 PM), and I texted with Matt a bit, and we decided to make the switch. It wasn’t that the Pengman Apartments were horrible. In terms of general quality, they’re maybe one step below a Motel 6 – peeling wallpaper, mold, random little holes in the wall, etc. That’s all probably to be expected.

2016-12-16_22-36-06_967

The biggest issues for us were related to the lack of real usability. There aren’t any dressers in which to unpack at all; the bathroom has just a shower instead of a bathtub (and Madeleine CaiQun had been playing in the bath for about an hour each day while FangFang napped and was loving that); there’s no bathroom counter on which to unpack your bathroom supplies; they didn’t have a pack ‘n’ play available for us when we checked in (and FangFang is NOT on board with co-sleeping). The elevators took forever. One bedroom was window-less, which gave it sort of a claustrophobic feel.

2016-12-16_22-35-31_259

To us, it seemed kind of like a cheap 2-bedroom apartment you get when you’re a college student. I don’t think it’s a bad place to stay. Under different circumstances, we would probably have stayed. But for this week, for this trip, we decided it was better for us to switch. We looked at the China Hotel and saw that if we went with the cheapest rate (no breakfast included) we could get 2 rooms for not much more than we would have paid for the Pengman for the rest of the week. We felt like we could have made the Pengman work, but it would be something we’d have to make work, not something that was really set up to work for us. If our trip was going as well as possible, we might well have stayed. But it’s not all perfect, and there are a number of other stressors, and I felt like I needed the hotel situation to be something I wasn’t just pushing through. We made a reservation online for rooms at the China Hotel that night and hoped that when we went to check in, we’d be able to get adjoining rooms.

We left everything packed up, only taking out what we really needed, and we headed to bed, knowing we’d have to get up early for us to make sure everything was completely packed up and for me to get out the door to go to the medical exam with FangFang and for Danny to head over to the China Hotel to request adjoining rooms and take the first load of luggage.

Thursday – Visit to Beihai

On Thursday we left the hotel early to head to Beihai, the city in which the orphanage at which FangFang lived is located and which is likely the city nearest to which her birth parents live. This trip to her city was somewhat emotional for me in and of itself – knowing that I’m probably closer to her first mom than I ever have been before and will be for quite a while. I wonder who she is and what her life is like, I wonder how our daughter will think and feel about her in the future and if we’ll ever have an opportunity to meet. I hope to honor her as I care for FangFang.

I dressed the girls in their matching shirts, and it seemed to help Madeleine CaiQun feel more sisterly toward FangFang – we’ve found that matching clothes are a good tool for attachment-building between siblings.

2016-12-15_08-33-25_512

Glenn picked us up at our hotel, and we boarded a bullet train to Beihai. We went to the orphanage first. Different provinces have such different rules – when we adopted Madeleine CaiQun, we were allowed into the orphanage, allowed to take photos of the room and the crib in which she slept and the room in which she played, and allowed to take photos of other children in general and specifically those who had families coming for them who had asked us to take photos. The Beihai Social Welfare Institute (SWI) considers that an invasion of privacy of the children living there. Glenn said that this specific caretaker with whom he was communicating about our visit is pretty laid back, and that’s the reason we were allowed inside the compound at all. We were allowed to take photos of the outside of the buildings and of the courtyard, and we were allowed into the lobby of the orphanage itself. We never saw any other children, and we were not allowed to go into any rooms beyond the lobby. It’s less information than I’d like to have for FangFang as she grows up, but I completely respect the perspective of the orphanage, and actually, it’s one with which I agree in principle.

This blue and yellow building was built about 5 years ago and is now where all the children live.
This blue and yellow building was built about 5 years ago and is now where all the children live.

So many of the nannies came out and said hi to FangFang and seemed excited to see her. There were only 5 children adopted from Beihai this year, so it is not a frequent occurrence to have a child leave through adoption. They said there were about 80 children living there, all with special needs. I was impressed with and thankful for the number of staff members involved in caring for the children.

2016-12-15_11-43-03_550

2016-12-15_11-44-29_732

2016-12-15_11-49-28_562

These are the people on staff at the orphanage.
These are the people on staff at the orphanage.

I had been pretty concerned about how FangFang would react to being back at the orphanage. It wasn’t the most recent place she’s called home, but it was her home for a time, and we’d be seeing people she knew and seeing the people who brought her to us earlier in the week. She happily went to each nanny and the nurse who wanted to hold her, and she told the main nanny that she missed her nannies. When asked what she thought of her new mama, she replied, “so so.”

I don’t think the orphanage visit itself changed much about how FangFang is interacting with us. She seems, more and more each day, to be preferring Sharon and sometimes Daniel, too, to me. Mostly she’s not thrilled with me. She doesn’t outright reject me, but she doesn’t really seem interested in bonding with me, either. If I’m engaging with her, she’ll play with me, but in a situation like riding on a train, in which we’re all together and she needs to be with someone, she wants to be with Sharon.

acf-loves-sharon

I messaged with a friend of mine, a much more experienced and knowledgeable adoptive mama than I am, on Wednesday night – sidenote to any of my prospective adoptive parent readers out there – the wisdom of BTDT experienced adoptive parents is gold. Before you travel, one of the most important things you should do is make sure you have the names of a few experienced parents you can text or message or reach out to in some fashion while in country. I’ve been here before, I’ve done this before, but every kid is different, every adoption is different, and adoption travel is always emotional. You’re more likely than not to need those resources. I’ve talked with multiple BTDT adoptive mamas this past week and have been so encouraged by their words. Anyway, my friend encouraged me to relax about it, not to force things, but to focus on pursuing overall felt safety – obviously pursue FangFang, but if she feels safe with Sharon, great; if she feels safe in the stroller, great. We’ll have plenty of time to build our relationship. I’ve been trying to hold onto that wisdom.

After our time at the orphanage, we visited FangFang’s finding spot. It’s not generally legal to place one’s child for adoption in China, so children available for adoption are technically “found” somewhere. We know anecdotally that paperwork does not always match reality, but we don’t know for sure what is true in either of our daughters’ cases. We made the visit and took the photos. My personal feeling is that the specifics of this part of FangFang’s story are private, for her and her alone to share if and when she desires to do so.

After that visit we went out to lunch at a local restaurant. Usually we can find a place with pictures and/or brief English translations of the names of the dishes, but this time we had Glenn with us, so he ordered for us off of the totally-Chinese menu. FangFang was thrilled that we ordered a yogurt-milk drink that Glenn suggested for her – apparently that, not standard milk, is what she prefers drinking. She also announced to him that she thought diapers were itchy and she preferred using the toilet! I was shocked, as no one had ever mentioned potty training her. I took her into the squatty potty there, but I quickly realized that in order to hold her up above the potty, I was going to have to grab and hold her up by the legs, putting her at major risk of a femur fracture, and as I have no desire for her leg to break in a Chinese bathroom, we called off that one very quickly, much to her dismay. I asked her foster home when we got back to the hotel, and they replied that no, they had not begun potty training with her! Perhaps that will be something we’ll try once we’re home, but I’m not about to try to potty train a not-walking, Mandarin-speaking child while we’re in China 😉

After lunch we had a little bit of time before our train back to Nanning, so we drove around Beihai a bit, and then Glenn took us to an old, historic street, now a popular tourist destination, and we walked up and down it until it was time to go. Madeleine CaiQun was not a fan of the walking…or of several other things that day…which was not much fun for anyone, but we made it through.

Beihai is a coastal town, and we drove by TONS of these boats tied up - it's not clear how anyone actually gets their boats out of this area...
Beihai is a coastal town, and we drove by TONS of these boats tied up – it’s not clear how anyone actually gets their boats out of this area…

2016-12-15_14-38-15_820

2016-12-15_14-38-50_106

2016-12-15_14-39-29_847

2016-12-15_14-40-56_009

It was pretty late by the time we got back to Nanning, so we just grabbed dinner at a restaurant in the mall attached to the hotel. Then it was back to the hotel to get the kiddos in bed and begin packing up for our trip to Guangzhou. We were all exhausted. Once everyone else was in bed, I did a little bit of packing, but I really just needed to get some sleep, so I fell into bed around 11:00.