Monday, September 28, 2009

Almost done in Guangzhou!

It's another cold, windy, rainy day here in Guangzhou. By noon today we'll be headed to the American consulate for immigration paperwork. Tomorrow morning we have the swearing in ceremony, then it's rush rush rush as we check out of the hotel, catch the late flight to Beijing, stay overnight at the airport hotel, and then fly Continental to Newark in the morning. Whew! I'm tired already!

The stomach bug seems to be gone. What a relief! I'm still battling some symptoms of dehydration. Sheesh, I feel like I'm always guzzling water, tea, and juice. It's gotta work sometime.

I miss the salty fresh air of home - it's been nothing but pollution here the whole time. Rain and pollution, sun and pollution, wind and pollution.

The concierge is making a valiant effort to fix the broken wheel on the stroller with crazy glue. It may be crazy, but it just might work.

The housekeeper is very sweet. She is here now, cleaning - I invited her in, and we had a stilted conversation about art, airplanes, pinyin, and the words "yisheng" (doctor) and "gaoxing" (happy). She is the sweetest thing ever!

People here seem thrilled, beside themselves even, when I attempt to speak Chinese or show some interest in Chinese culture. Grace, our tour guide yesterday, was rapt as I explained to her that I had some passing familiarity with Buddhism. And at breakfast, when I said "Xiexie" to the waitress pouring my tea, she giggled and practically squealed when she said, "Bu ke qi."

I am encouraged to continue my studies! In the long run, it will help AwesomeCloud if his parents are interested in and actively learning his language and culture.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I got my wish!

The Chinese do not offer top bedsheets. They make their hotel beds with a single, massive comforter in a pillowcase-like cover. That's all you get. Even in sweltering Guangzhou.

I pulled my comforter out of the cover and discovered (dis-covered! haha!) that the cover by itself was an adequate sheet. Unfortunately I did this after a poor night's sleep.

The housekeeper, upon finding the separated bed linens, must have realized that I was dissatisfied with the traditional arrangement. So when she made up my bed, she left the uncovered comforter and withheld the sheet/cover.

I chased her down and attempted to trade. Her English was poor, so she called her supervisor. The supervisor entered my room and asked me to explain.

"I just want the cover. Bu yao (the comforter)," I said. "I made it warm for the baby, but that means, when I use (the comforter and cover), I am hothothot!"

She nodded vigorously and then asked me to go over my explanation 4 more times, which I did in various ways.

"Hothothot!" I said, fanning myself. "Bu yao."

"Okay, only the sheet, not the (comforter)," she agreed, and then added, "There is air conditioner."

So then I found 2 or 3 ways to explain to her that I adjusted the air conditioner for the baby's comfort. He kicks off his sheet, which isn't much to begin with, and it's easier to have a warm room than to get up every hour to cover him again.

She got it. I have my sheet. I am about to get an early start on sleeping while Rick is still out souvenir shopping with kiddo.

On my way into the room just now, I passed a pair of women admonishing their little girl, "Shut up! Shut up!"

I smiled sympathetically and told them, "I've said that to mine, too. I figure that as long as they don't understand English, it's okay." I also use a very flat tone of voice so the kiddo can't detect my annoyance so easily... when I remember to. I rarely have the energy for vocal expression these days anyway, so a flat voice is not as hard as it sounds.

Anyway, the two ladies then proceeded to complain about their daughter's relentless crying. My kid's better! Yay! In fact he was quite good at Lucy's restaurant this evening, until the end.

Lucy's is an American style restaurant (sort of) that we would ordinarily try to avoid on principle. But it's so cheap! And they're prepared for kids! And they're right near the hotel! Who cares about principle when your kid's been wailing all day? Their one big weakness is that they dont serve everyone at the table at the same time. This is common in the Chinese style, where everyone shares dishes, but Rick and I each ordered something the other didn't like. The chicken congee we got for the kiddo, however, was excellent.

Guangzhou yay!

I am currently sitting in a nice little hotel room in the White Swan hotel, with American families wandering about with their newly adopted children all over the extensive grounds, and a marathon screaming session going on immediately to my right. We've done everything for him. He got a tour of the island early this morning, a stroll around the jade statues before and after lunch, he's clean and fed and watered and held for hours with Irish ballads playing. I don't understand how he even still has a voice now. He works himself up to a horrible screech, with fists clenched and/or fingers in his mouth. That's another thing I don't understand. When he's crying this hard, doesn't he bite his fingers? But he seems not to.

While he grows more and more determined to be inconsolable, I grow tireder and tireder of everything, in general, not just of trying and failing to console him. He slept a solid 9 hours last night, and I slept 5. While he keeps the volume up, I've lost my voice several times over from singing softly.

Fortunately, my husband is still somewhat sane and functional. My guys have both outlasted me. Not that any of us are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

I don't think the stomach bug is bothering me anymore, but the Potato Effect has kicked in. See, when I go on long vacations and eat out a lot, I hit a certain point at which I can't indulge anymore and I order a baked potato. My friends laugh at me, saying, "Why don't you have one of the delicious entrees?" But no, I only want a baked potato, and my appetite stays more or less poor for the rest of the trip.

I figured, after having the stomach bug for 4 or 5 days, the Potato Effect would not apply. But it seems to have. I can enjoy small amounts of food, sometimes.

AwesomeCloud has been doing a few more little things of interest. This morning he and I played nicely with colored wooden donuts for several minutes. Yesterday he decided he liked solid food after all, and now he adores it so much we have to practice portion control and endure screaming hissy fits when we make him eat slowly.

He's still screaming. I have no idea how he does it... or why. I guess he's starting to hate this room as much as he hated the last one. That makes no sense to me. Surely he didn't spend his days rolling around in a stroller for hours and hours at the orphanage. And now even that last vestige of peace is starting to not work anymore. (The sling works better when he's not fussing and elbowing me in the chest constantly. Sorry, but I'm only human. I have limits. Actually my limits were crossed, steamrolled, and pureed a long time ago and now I'm just operating on blind, dumb faith in the idea that I'll be home someday.)

The Guangzhuo guide and I had a nice little shopping trip to the shopping district yesterday. I tried a mango freeze drink which was very good. She took me around to a baby clothes discount store, a book/CD store, and a department store and I bought a bunch more baby necessities. Materially, I feel better prepared than ever before. What a relief. I don't think the eternal scrambling and scrounging we were doing in Nanjing would have done my poor overstretched sanity any good if we were still having to do it.

Tomorrow we're going on a half-day tour. This will either be a very good thing or a very bad thing. I will be thrilled beyond words, though, if it just turns out to be a way to pass the time. Lately, we've taken to saying to each other, "Oh no! It's only 10 AM! What do we do for the rest of the day?!"

I wish he would nap. He only drifts off in the most inconvenient positions (frequently, again, with an elbow in the chest of whoever is holding him) and jolts awake, ready to cry, with the slightest readjustment of position.

I need to read some accounts of more difficult babies, so I can be reminded that he's of kinda average difficulty. Unfortunately, the parents around here are good for one conversation each, and part with reassurances and promises, but I haven't had a real second conversation with anyone.

Also, what am I supposed to do with all the diapers we got that don't fit him so well? They're way too bulky to pack and bring home, and the size isn't the problem so much as the style. Is there a baby item trading protocol around here? I guess people just trade with other families in their group, and we don't have a group.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Goodbye Nanjing, hello airport

Again, thanks for all the comments. I'd like to answer each one individually, but I have a lot of packing to do. We are leaving Nanjing in mere hours! Our plane leaves in 11 hours, which is not ideal, but as soon as we check out of the hotel room, I'll feel like we're practically gone already.

Kiddo hates the hotel room. He hate hate HATES it. At first we thought, nah, that's silly, he's crying for a multitude of other reasons. But now we've decided that it's true. When all other problems have been solved, he will cry long and hard simply because he hates this room.

Rick took him to Walmart in the stroller, which is no small task. They're taking a taxi there and walking back - the walk takes about an hour. I get 2 peaceful hours to pack, and I'm packing like mad. I feel like I haven't slept in 2 days, even though last night I actually did finally get some sleep, but the realization that the kiddo hates the hotel room takes a huge weight off of me. That, combined with leaving.

Zai jian, Nanjing. It's been real. (A little too real.)

For the record, my passionate loathing for Nanjing is primarily a coping mechanism. I'm sure, in its own right, Nanjing is a reasonably nice place. But it feels so good to say, "I hate Nanjing!" and type it over and over. Doing so prevents me from having to make a number of other negative statements that I'll regret more than I'll regret this one. Nanjing is not AwesomeCloud's home town, it's not the entire nation of China, and if we decide never to return here, no harm will be done. Someday we may go to Wuxi and find that it is delightful. Beijing (without a baby) gave us lots of good memories. Nanjing, and I, however, do not get along at all, and neither one of us will be sorry to see the other go.

We do have some happy memories. Two days ago, Rick took the baby to a park and discovered a pond with koi and turtles. He also discovered that AwesomeCloud likes books, and there's a great little bookstore nearby that sells cute bilingual picture books for the toddler crowd.

He even started acting a little playful on that trip, smiling at Rick and waving his bottle around. And then last night, we took him to a fine restaurant with our guide. I had been advised by the MD not to eat meat or veggies - just toast, water, and other mild foods until my stomach recovers. (He did not give me antibiotics - apparently, if this is from the bacteria in the water, it's a very mild case and all I need is time.)

So there I was, eating a sad little bowl of white rice and some green tea, with all this great food spread out in front of us. (Our guide over-ordered significantly, probably hoping I'd cave in and stuff myself. Can't, doctor's orders!) The kiddo was parked in his stroller right next to me. He kicked the table cloth. I giggled. I poked his foot and said, "Bingbingbing!" He giggled. After a while of that, he looked up at me and made kissing noises! I made them back. We laughed and laughed and I gave him tiny tastes of rice and bok sprouts, the first solid food he's willingly eaten in a while.

I do use the sling. When I get it right, it's wonderful and he likes being in it. The trick is putting it on right in the first place. Once it's on, it's hard to adjust or take off. Also, it doesn't fit Rick because of the way I made it. I'll alter it when I get home. So he's getting stroller time too, which he's perfectly fine with. Anything he does that is not screaming death and agony in the hotel room is a relief to us. We'll put in the serious bonding efforts when we get out of here.

Sorry, still no time to post pics. Maybe in Guangzhou, depending on how the internet connection is there and how I feel. Or maybe I'll just wait till we get home.

Our last full day in Nanjing!

We had a rough night last night - very little sleep. I slept even less than AwesomeCloud. Now I'm paying for that, and the stomach bug which won't quite let me eat, and the horrid pollution. Rocking and singing to the baby as much as I can, but I'm not very energetic and now I've lost my voice.

The MD is supposedly coming to maybe give me antibiotics. i don't know when. i can't understand English with a Chinese accent over the phone. Probably the hotel phone's fault in particular. The MD was more interested in the baby. I'll be happy to talk to him about the baby, but only when he's here so I can understand his responses. He said he was coming at a specific time but I didn't catch what time that will be.

The baby is making some progress. He seems to enjoy looking at us a little more. He was rejecting food so often that now he's getting all formula all the time. We'll still offer him other things, but if he rejects these things, he gets formula. If he starts rejecting the formula... well, he hasn't yet. Maybe it won't become a problem.

Thanks to all for your comments of support, advice, congrats, and commiseration. The internet truly is a lifeline! I can spend 5 hours rocking the baby, walking him around, and singing to him till I'm hoarse, and then I can log on and be greeted by 15 comments. 15 little bits of sanity in text form. Oh, how I love sanity, even in comment-length increments.

Tonight we are going out to dinner with our guide. We need to ask for a late checkout tomorrow because our plane to Guangzhou leaves at 7 PM. We can only waste so much time at the airport! Sheesh! Our agent also recommended the cultural museum, which is quiet and not a tourist trap. I haven't decided yet if we want to try that with AwesomeCloud. He did so poorly yesterday morning with the sightseeing that my protective instincts are being very resistant to the idea. If I can gain some strength and carry him in the sling the whole time... or, if my husband and the guide don't mind me sitting out parts of the museum on an occasional bench, I could maybe do it.

I'm looking forward to Guangzhou, especially if it's really that much nicer than Nanjing. I'm still focused on getting home, but if I can wait out my last week in China in someplace nicer, maybe someplace less cigarette-stinky with some other adoptive families around, my spirits will have an easier time staying up. I think it's a good sign that, when I'm at my wit's end, it's not the baby I want to get rid of - it's the entire city of Nanjing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nanjing adventures, yesterday and today

This is the part where much happens and I have very little time to write about it. Internet service at the Nanjing Ramada is purchased in 24-hour increments, which is better for us than the pay-by-minute service in Beijing. We like to look at all our websites in one long session, and chat with family/friends if we can. We've decided to alternate days. So, today, no internet. By the time you all read this, it will be tomorrow.

A quick summary of the things that have been happening here:

The Good

*AwesomeCloud is an angel in public. He greets cooing strangers with a look of mild interest. He brings everyone who sees him a moment of joy.
*AwesomeCloud seriously loves music. When he's upset, as long as he's not TOO upset, the “Mama hao” lullaby works like a charm. But pretty much any music pleases him.
*AwesomeCloud loves his bottle. He cannot be without it. I feed him by hand every now and then for that essential bonding experience, but we let him carry it around with him wherever we go. It's better that way.
*He sleeps well. In fact he's sleeping now.
*He's a good size, and healthy too. Aside from the issues we knew about ahead of time, he doesn't seem to have a thing wrong with him.
*He is alert and intelligent. The orphanage was not lying about that.
*As of sometime this morning, he is legally ours! Yesterday we just had him on loan for 24 hours. Now he's here to stay.
*We got the baby sling to work. It needs to be altered a bit, but I can carry him around in it as it is now, and he seems to rather like it.
*We tried him out in the stroller too, which is a relief. One less thing to worry about for the plane rides from here to Guangzhou and from Guangzhou homeward.

Side note: I'm a long-term thinker by nature. Ever since we got here, I've been looking at the faces of all the men, wondering what AwesomeCloud will look like when he's 10, 20, 40, 80 years old. He's a permanent member of the family now, which means that when we're 80, we'll have a 40-year-old Chinese-American son. Hopefully a happy, healthy, successful one, however he defines success at that point in his life. Our grandchildren will be at least half-Asian. When he takes his girlfriend home to meet his parents, his parents will be white. The word 'adopted' will be spoken early and often by everyone we meet, even when he's a grandfather himself.


The Bad

*Remember when I remarked that I'd consumed so much tap water that it was a wonder I wasn't dead yet? Guess what! Actually I'm not doing so bad. I feel lousy and have no appetite, but the messiest symptoms I could be suffering are absent.
*As a result, I don't really want any more Chinese food. Or much of any kind of food really, but especially not a tripe-and-weird-vegetable stir-fry with glutinous rice.
*I don't like Nanjing. Sorry, but Beijing was more appealing on several levels. Not least of which is that the English speakers actually knew English! If it weren't for our wonderful guide, I don't know what I'd do. Draw pictures every time I order takeout, I guess.
*I went to a local restaurant and ordered takeout by drawing a chicken, a turnip, and a bowl of rice on the ordering pad. It was hilarious and a cultural victory I'm mighty proud of, but I don't want to do it again. Once was plenty.
*The feeding of AwesomeCloud has gone through some difficulties. We learn from our mistakes. We got him some nutritional formula for older babies, which takes some of the pressure off of feeding him a balanced diet. He's regressing to formula and other fluidy foods like congee until we get him home, and he seems uninterested in solid food right now anyway.
*He does scream. Mostly when we're in the hotel room. He's not the screamiest screamer ever to scream, but it's still nerve-wracking. You still go through the process of checking his diaper for pinches, feeling his forehead, and scrambling for other causes of distress, even though it's likely that nothing like that is wrong and he's just having an emotional moment.

There is fruit in the room. I think I can tolerate a banana. Did you know it's easier to peel a banana from the bottom? Ever since I learned that, I've been eating my bananas from the bottom, and it really is easier. My husband laughs at the idea, but he doesn't even like bananas, so it doesn't affect him.

Today is my husband's birthday. We were going to do something special for food. I don't know what it was going to be. He went to McD's with AwesomeCloud, just to do it, while I stayed in and washed dirty clothes in the sink. Yay. Oh well, he got a kid on his birthday. Hard to beat that no matter what I dream up.

Those last two items belong in the “Good” category. In fact, I'm even kinda enjoying this banana.

The Ugly

Yesterday, when I wrote this entry, I didn't have much of an 'ugly'. Nanjing is pretty ugly, but that was about it. However, today I can say that almost the whole day was ugly. Our guide made a valiant effort to bring us sightseeing. When we got to the brocade museum, there was no English-speaking guide available, so she guided us herself. She brought us to the Nanjing City Wall. She offered to bring us other places too. However, somewhere in the middle of this, AwesomeCloud went fully catatonic. I was worried for him, so we cut the adventures short and came back to the hotel.

I gave him a bottle of formula and convinced him to nap for ½ hour, or maybe he just went catatonic again. Then he jolted awake and went into a full-scale meltdown. Scary stuff. I was holding him on my lap, letting him scream and scream and scream and scream and scream and scream while I sang and rocked him... when... the front desk called. They were concerned about the crying baby. I couldn't hear exactly what the woman said, and I'm sure she couldn't hear what I said either. But I gave her a long explanation about why babies may sometimes cry like this, and how I'd take him elsewhere but there's nowhere else to go. She said, “Okay okay okay.”

And that was it, except the frantically trying to keep him quiet we've been doing ever since. He has never liked the hotel room much, and he cries less when he's going somewhere. But that may change after this morning's erstwhile sightseeing attempt.

This adjustment period would be hard enough at home, where no one would call to complain about the crying baby because the neighboring houses are too far away to hear him. Where we'd have our own stuff, our own routine, and family and friends to support us.

Here, we have more than nothing – we have our agents on the phone, our wonderful guide, shops to buy stuff from, and at least the hotel room is our own space in a manner of speaking. But oh my god, do I ever want to get out of here. I now officially hate Nanjing, and I dread Guangzhou. I love the baby, and in general I love China, but both at once is so hard.

I want clean air, clean streets, and my clean hybrid car. I want trash I can take out myself. I miss the cats something awful. I want my house. I want my parents and my sister and every shred of advice they can think of.

My husband's been wonderful throughout this, but we're in the same boat. We're dealing with the same problems in much the same ways, except that he's coping by eating fast food (of both the chain and local variety) and I'm eating almost nothing at all. Some cookies and some fruit.

And cake. The hotel gave us a birthday cake. It's delicious, if not quite traditionally American in its composition, and it was sweet of the hotel to honor us in that way. It's huge, though. I wish we had people to share it with. I wish we had other families with screaming new children to commiserate with, right here in the same hotel, so the pressure won't be all on us.

We're both very lonely.

I was going to post pictures. Forgive me for the delay. Maybe next time.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Awesome Cloud!

We got him. He is the sweetest little thing on the face of the earth. Right now he's having a crying jag, probably one of the longest of his life - the orphanage director told us he hardly ever cries for a long time. But he's very gentle, he doesn't flail about even when he's wailing, and his favorite coping mechanism other than crying is rocking side to side. We're taking turns holding him. Hug therapy! Thanks, Lori!

Verdict: AwesomeCloud is Awesome.

Yay! Spread the news!

He's not eating yet. He keeps showing interest, but as soon as he stops crying and gets the bottle in his mouth, he acts startled at his own quietness and goes back to crying again. Silly kiddo. Gotta drink sometime.

The worst thing is the gradual heavyness of his body when you hold him for a long time. At least he's not being actively difficult to hold, but he's not exactly cooperating either.

Thus we become parents.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

We climbed the Great %&#! Wall of China! (Photos)

Nanjing and ready to get our baby

Thanks to everyone who has left me comments. I can't log on to reply on Blogger, but I can read the comments on my email, and I appreciate that people take the time to let me know they're thinking of me. It's only been about 6 people total, though. My agents all waited till I emailed them personally, and I haven't heard from any family members yet. Maybe they forgot I'm here. Hehe, just kidding.

Yesterday we went to Tiananmen Square, where Chairman Mao's presence is strongly felt. Next door to that is the Forbidden City, the massive fortress where the Chinese emperors lived from 1424 to 1926. Dr. Sun Yat Sen, who is considered a hero in spite of his vocal disagreements with Mao, was responsible for the arm of the revolution that deposed the emperor and opened up the Forbidden City. It is nothing but a tourist attraction now, but it's huge and there are lots of buildings that have been converted into museum rooms. It's Gettysburg Meets Smithsonian, except much older by far than anything in US history.

Culinary discoveries yesterday include corn gelato. Yes, it's pureed frozen corn with a little bit of sugar added. It's delicious! It came with the Peking duck lunch, which is a staple in our tour package. The duck itself was also pretty good. It was cut into small slices and presented with a basket of mu shu pancakes and a tray of assorted condiments. We had to dip, add, and spread our way through lunch. A fun way for adults to play with their food! Afterwards, I announced, “I'm full! Now all I need is some ice cream.”

I was joking. I love ice cream, and there's plenty of it in the tourist areas of Beijing, but we didn't come here just to eat the same old foods we eat at home. However, just then, the waiter presented us with the corn gelatos.

Rick was impressed. “Wow, you can conjure up ice cream,” he said.

I'm going to skip over a bunch of stuff. We meet our next guide, Sandra, in 2.5 hours, and she's going to deliver us directly to the official building (which I am too disoriented to remember the name of) where we will meet AwesomeCloud. The kiddo. Our baby. The person who is about to become a third and permanent member of our household. The person on whom we've been utterly fixated since we first got his referral, since that fateful Mexican dinner at Sam Diego's where we gave ourselves barely an hour to make our decision, but actually only needed ten minutes.

(But that's not counting the 5 or 6 hours I had to wait for my husband to get out of work so we could have the conversation in the first place, meanwhile negotiating frantically with the agency and my boss so that their respective sets of urgent paperwork would both be done in time.

But that was the past, and now the real AwesomeCloud is very, very much in the near future. Am I nervous? Hell yeah.

Our struggles with the language, while not as bad as they could be, are emotionally taxing and socially isolating. The people who promised us they'd be there to help us with anything are actually so far away. This hotel room is brand new to us, and I'm a little nervous to be bringing a child here when we're not comfortable with it ourselves yet. The toilet broke (but my husband fixed it), one of the lights doesn't shut off, there's minibar food and bottles everywhere, the internet doesn't work as of the time I'm writing this, there are no sheets but only heavy comforters on the twin beds, the receptionists barely speak English, I don't know if the kiddo will want to sleep with one of us or if he'll need a crib, I don't know yet if the hotel lends cribs, it's raining outside, I don't know where else but this tiny room I can bring the kiddo to run around, I have a stroller but I was instructed not to use it, I have a sling but I can't figure out how to
tie it, and I'm really




of having to remind myself not to brush my teeth with the water. That is much harder than it sounds. Also, fending off dehydration by having to buy drinks all the time. I've slipped up so many times while brushing my teeth, I'm surprised I'm not dead yet. And I've guzzled ridiculous amounts of tea at every meal so I won't have to worry about stopping to buy a mysterious liquid in a bottle in between meals.

Although one mysterious drink turned out to be rose tea, and tasted very strongly of roses. The whole bottle was a bit much, but I enjoyed the first half.

Am I nervous? A little bit.

We're supposed to be on our own with the kiddo for the first few days anyway. We need to work on attachment, and that'll happen more slowly if there are people everywhere helping us all the time. It's not the absence of human help that worries me more, anyhow. It's the absence of reliable resources. My own space, my own books, my certainty that if I bring him here or there, we won't be in anyone's way. If he breaks anything, it won't be my property and it won't be all right. I don't care what he takes his frustrations out on in my own house; I'll replace it, or maybe I won't. (Except the cats.) I have bunches of things in the house and the yard that he can swing, bang on, stomp on, throw, or even break and I won't worry a bit.

Here, I can't even always rely on the ability to ask for what I need. We have a Chinese dictionary and some knowledge of grammar. We don't even have a map of the neighborhood yet. Our suitcases have gotten disorganized by all the times we've had to rifle through them. I lost my hairbrush for two days. There's a bowl of fruit in the room.

Okay, the fruit is a good thing. In the absence of chocolate, fruit is comfort food, and it's good for the kiddo too. I think it's complimentary. If not, it risks rotting, so I'm going to assume it is.

Some people have told me not to worry that he won't love me right away, not to take it personally when he doesn't, and not to think when he's throwing the mother of all temper tantrums that this moment will last forever. Well, I guess that's more productive than telling me not to worry about my house flooding, since it's flooded twice already this summer.

I wonder about the tendency of people to tell each other not to worry about unrealistic things. (Or realistic things, for that matter.) Does it ever help anybody? Maybe it helps the reassurer because they don't want to discuss the unpleasant details. Instead of being told not to worry, I'd like to be told what to do. If he's kicking and screaming and just cannot get a handle on his own emotions, and the most helpful thing a person can advise me to do is to not lose my own emotions, there's a whole level of helpfulness that's not even being addressed there. Maybe I'll stand there passively and tell the curious passer-by, “Oh, I'm fine. He's not.”

I dunno, I think there must be something more I can do.

Also, I'd like someone to tell me how to use this sling. And I wish I knew if it's the right size. Sometimes I'm afraid it's too big, sometimes too small. I can't alter it here. I hope I can get it to work right without strangling him or having him fall out.

We climbed the Great %&#! Wall of China!

2:22 AM Sunday, China time (2:22 PM Friday, EST). Yesterday we got the guided tour. Rocky is a vivacious gentleman who is indeed named after the movie character. He loves China and America both and is interested in politics on the human level, but is quick to be modest. We talked a lot about ancient and modern politics and about Mao Zedong, but I won't go into that here. We were just two common folks chatting.

First we went to the Ming Tombs. A thick haze covered Beijing throughout the day. Still, the museum and the grounds were lovely. Most everything had English translations, including the museum displays. Souvenir shops lurked in the corners, discreet enough to stay out of photographs but bold enough to entice visitors.

The museum was at the tomb of Tong Le, a remarkable man who reigned the Ming Dynasty for a mere 24 years but accomplished a lot during that time. Interestingly, he arranged for the funerals of the King of Borneo and the prince of another country. During their diplomatic visits to China, you see, they'd died of disease, and he took care of them with respectfully lavish funerals. He was the one who moved the capital to Beijing and established the Ming Tomb system, and while he was at it he built tombs for his three emperor predecessors - his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. How very Confucian of him.

After that was a tour of the jade factory, where they make jade statues and trinkets of every size. Literally. Some of it was like a museum, displaying massive sculptures of exquisite artistry. Most of the pieces were much smaller, and for sale. The store took up the bulk of the facility. Our guide dumped us on a clerk, an adorable young woman with an adorable voice, which we heard frequently as she followed us around asking us variations of the question, “Would you like to buy something?” We split us several times, and then used the restroom, and finally we lost her. We admired her dedication, though, and so when we chose our piece, we went back to her to purchase it from her.

It is a Chinese cabbage made of pure white Beijing jade. You might ask why anyone would want a Chinese cabbage made of jade. Apparently, American importers wonder the same thing; I've never seen one at a Chinese gift shop at home, and I've been to a lot of Chinese gift shops.

It's lovely, though. It looks like a lily.

Then we went to lunch at a stunningly gorgeous restaurant where the waitstaff did not speak English. There was a wedding going on, so they were being less attentive to us than they could be. Poor Rocky kept coming over and asking us if we need something, and then hounding the waitresses for whatever we needed. Food trickled in, but eventually we got every dish he ordered for us.

It was funny how he took care of every detail. “Do you like Chinese food?” he asked.

“Oh, yes!” we assured him. Thus he was able to rule out his backup steak restaurant.

Later, “Do you have any limitations? Anything you do not wish to eat?”

“Nothing weird,” we said. “No endangered animals.” We all laughed, but it's a serious issue. Asians love to impress with food. All those delicacies of questionable morality and/or legality are real. We saw shark fin soup on the menu of an unassuming little restaurant last night. Who cares about custom and diplomacy when it's the world's ecosystems at stake?

Anyway, we got spicy beef, kung pao chicken, steamed broccoli, white rice, and jasmine tea – all stuff we love for both its authenticity and its familiarity. It might not be something cooked in kitchens throughout the country, but it's common enough on upscale menus. Even if it wasn't exactly the cuttlefish and corn.

Corn! We saw cornfields everywhere once we got out of the urban circle. The Beijingese love their corn on the cob. And that's the truth.

Besides, in my opinion you'd have to be pretty desperate to eat a cuttlefish. Rick points out that Chinese cuisine is “famine cuisine.” It consists of whatever people can find, catch, or scavenge. Wild plants, the entire chicken... I once watched my friend Kok Win reduce a Cornish game hen to three bones. Most Westerners do not seem impressed by that. We take our waste for granted.

Next... the Great Wall of China. For real. OMG.

We climbed 4 towers' worth of the wall. The fog was opaque by then, and as we walked up it, we could barely see the next tower ahead. Rick mused, “I was expecting the Great Wall to be more... horizontal.” The part we climbed was up a mountain. And on the other side, up another mountain. It's all stairs. Uneven stairs. With twisty parts and way too many people getting in your way. If you trip, you're going to knock out your spouse, a small child, and a German grandmother before you stop.

The third tower reeked – apparently a lot of people think there should be toilets right there. The fourth tower had a gift shop selling everything from brass dragons to popsicles – which meant they had electricity. It also meant the gift shop attendant trekked up that far every day for her job. Well, that saves her on gym fees!

We were beat by then, so we headed down. It would have been nice to keep going, but, um, no.

At the tourist center again, I got a popsicle (those popscicle coolers are ubiquitous) and as I sat at a picnic table, chilling, catching my breath, I casually looked around at the view of THE %&*$! GREAT WALL OF CHINA!!

OMG...I.. I mean... OMG. There it was, being all great, disappearing into the mist like it was a Wonder of the World or something. Holy moly.

If that experience didn't turn me into a fangirl of China, then nothing will.

Then we had some time to kill, so we went to a tea house called “Dr. Tea.” It was owned by the government, which amused Rick and me, but Rocky explained that everything on his tour was owned by the government. Rocky joined us sipping tea. It was essentially a Tupperware party for tourists, and we got the sales pitch afterwards. We bought a small litchi black tea. Yum! It's a good thing for them we were going to buy tea anyway; we are a hard sell, but it was nice to give Rocky some cred at the tea house. We would have sprung for the puerh tea – man, that stuff is no joke – but we genuinely can't spend our money like water.

Maybe like bottled water. Haha! The smog here makes us so thirsty that we're always conserving our bottled water. And guzzling our tea.

Then dinner at a buffet. We ate light, but I did have some cantaloupe and blueberry ice cream. It was just as good as American ice cream. Real ice cream does exist in China! It was a lot like Cirque du Soleil. But my eyes... just... wanted.... to close.

I was hoping that long day would acclimate me to China Time, but here I am in the middle of the night (afternoon for you North American east-coasters) blogging away. Oh well.

Tomorrow we see Tienanmen Square, which we haven't yet in spite of it being two blocks west of the hotel, and the Forbidden City. The festival kicks off on Oct 1, the day we leave China, but in the meantime the city has been filled with drills and rehearsals and troupes of children and other performers bused in from around the country. It is the 60th anniversary of Communist China! And we're here to witness... the buildup! Well, it's still pretty exciting.

The Red Party merchandise is everywhere. Yes, we got some. Yes, we are ironic but appreciative people, maybe a touch existentialist, with a sense of humor both explosive and dry. And, after this experience, a touch more worldly.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Day 1 in beijing

5:30 AM, Chinese time (5:30 PM EST)

You use the card to turn on the lights.


We had a night without lights, which would have been great on many other nights. However, I went to bed at 4 PM, and it's a lot to ask of me to sleep 15 hours straight. Even if I was up for 24 hours straight. It turned out we have a portable reading lamp with us, which is tiny! But! It allowed me to take a shower and wash the travel grime and smog off me. I'm feeling pretty good now. Breakfast is in 1/2 hour. Dum de dum.

Earlier, while I was waiting for the breakfast buffet to be served, I went down to the front desk to tell the receptionist that our lights don't work. She didn't tell me we need to use the card. She sent the housekeeper to tell us we need to use the card.

I'm making tea while I wait. I didn't drink nearly enough tea yesterday. Usually, when I'm at home, I have an ongoing cup of tea. When it gets low, I add more hot water, and when it gets weak, I add another teabag. Yesterday there was too much rushing in the airport, and I did get some tea on the plane, but it was only a little cupful twice during the flight. Which is better than none. But I need some now.

Mmmm, properly boiled tea. A wonderful thing. I'm partial to Irish, but Chinese tea is good too. Actually this is Ceylon. Go figure.

6:18 PM. At 6:00 AM the buffet finally opened up. It was tai hao le. Pretty incredible, even. There were Eastern and Western selections, and we mostly went for the Eastern. Dim sum, rice dishes, sushi and smoked fish, interesting fruits; we had to remind ourselves the we didn't have to eat one of everying, since we'll have this breakfast twice more.

The tour guide had the day off today - our official tour time starts tomorrow. Today we were free, so we took an unguided foot tour northward, through some of the last remaining hutongs. These are single-story homes arranged in little squares with narrow entrances and courtyards, with tiled roofs and storefronts facing the streets. We passed some businesses in modern buildings arranged in the hutong style, but much newer, before we got to the real things.

We climbed the drum tower and the bell tower, our first paid tourist attractions. From above, you can see the ancient tiled roofs, some of them not so tiled anymore. Some have grass growing on them. Some have watermelons. Some have pigeon cotes, mother-in-law apartments, and/or solar panel units. I wonder how well those work in this smog!

Afterwards we walked southeast along a long lake with paddleboats and cute stone bridges. Very picturesque! We did our first souvenir shopping. I won't tell you what we got - some of the items are birthday presents.

This was all very very early, and as we were walking, many of the stores were still opening up. We puttered around until almost noon, looking for the perfect restaurant for lunch. But then I began to worry that if we waited too long, other people would also want lunch, and they would smoke near us. So we ducked into a little place with hardly any signs.

The menu had a few pictures but no English, and the waitress only knew a few words, but more than we knew Chinese. So we pointed and nodded a lot and patched together a spicy dish with chicken and bok sprouts and mutton on a stick. It was delicious. We remarked how unfortunate it was that Westerners come to China and are afraid of the food. Sure, there's a chance that you'll get something unpleasant, but when you win, you win!

Unfortunately two of the other early lunch eaters were smokers. So much for beating the cigarette haze.

More shopping as we headed home. We're starting to learn to shop with the few words we know. We haven't been bargaining; everything is so cheap, and we're so shy about messing up, that it doesn't hurt a bit to pay double what they charge the locals. It's not like we're buying tons of stuff. We don't have the room for it in our suitcases. As in the US, we are a hard sell. We say, "Bu yao, bu yao" without a problem.

One rickshaw driver was harassing us as we stopped to people-watch on a rock along the lakeshore. He asked us several times if we wanted a tour. We said, "Bu yao" and shook our heads several times. then later, he came back again to ask! We laughed.

Headed homeward, we walked through a very narrow park where crews were landscaping like mad. Some stores in that area were in the process of shutting down for the holiday already. They had been closed when we passed them on our way out of the hotel - we may never get to check them out! I've heard the shopping is also good in Guangzhou, though. It's not too late.

Back at the hotel, Rick sorted photos and I napped for.. four hours. Meh. Now we've switched. He's sound asleep and I'm blogging. I think I'm starting to get hungry now, and we don't want to eat at the hotel. Almost time for a new culinary adventure. I think I want dumplings this time.

Here are some pictures of our day:

Some funky orange phones

The picturesque street through the hutong neighborhood, lined with shops.

Me standing next to one of the drums in the drum tower.

A great view of the hutong roofs from atop the drum tower. Note the smog.

Our totally authentic and wholly delicious lunch.

A tote bag in a shop window with some broken English.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Marathon blog entry!

1:32 PM, Newark to Beijing. Continental Airlines rocks! 250 movies, TV episodes, assemble-it-yourself music playlists, flash games, and a running commentary of our flight progress. Right now we have 12 hours to go before we reach Beijing. Our ground speed is 538 mph and the outside air temperature is -56F. We are over Quebec province, in the Central time zone.

I can write journal entries on my laptop while listening to 4GB of music on my iPod and watch a movie, all while flying at an altitude of 33002 feet. Someday my son will laugh at me for fawning over such pathetic, dated technology.

Although, y'know, he's not going to be wired and hooked up into every latest gadget and gizmo. Not in this family. We are a little bit frugal when it comes to life's trendy luxuries. We can always make exceptions when we choose to. I think showering children with every new thing is as bad as buying nothing at all for them.

3:15 PM EST. 10 and a half hours until we reach Beijing. We are over Hudson Bay - the big one in northern Canada. Not what I sometimes refer to as Hudson Bay between New York City and Jersey City, New Jersey. That one is actually just the Hudson River or something. Nope, no Wall Streeters and fashionistas here. This is polar bear and caribou country. Maybe not so much polar bear country anymore. If I were sitting by a window, I could tell you that the whales look like ants, although I'd probably be making that up.

I was thinking about control and responsibility. Some people may get the impression that I'm a control freak, but I'm actually not. Healthy attitudes about control requires a balance. Whichever direction within that balance you're working toward, there will occasionally be times when you have to switch directions. It's like Buddhism, which, as I was remarking to a friend, is catered toward a dominant male perspective. Buddhism tries to teach you to let go of the ego and de-emphasize the self. When you are approaching it from the opposite direction, actively forming an underdeveloped sense of self, the rhetoric doesn't quite ring. Let go of your ego, let go of your...wait... what?

9 hours until we arrive in Beijing.

This whole adventure is getting more and more real. There are Chinese people on the plane, many with Chinese children. In fact I'm sitting next to a little girl and her father. They are both bilingual, but she chooses to speak Chinese most of the time. Likewise, my husband is sitting next to a little boy who does not appear to know much English. He's very cute, in a relentlessly bouncy sort of way.

We're approaching Baffin Bay. Baffin Bay, people. Unbelievable. We are now in the vast, vast region where all those europeans searching for the Arctic Passage got lost and, frequently, died. Or - and this is the hilarious part - found and cared for by native tribes. I love pioneering stories. the storytellers often gloss over the fact that these intrepid explorers encounter native peoples, but stop and think about it. Native peoples are PEOPLE. They're intrepid every day of their lives for hundreds of generations.

Baffin Bay. Yeah, I'm in an enclosed vessel with a comfortably constant temperature. No need to kill a seal to stay alive here. But still! Baffin Bay!

5:53 PM EST. We've gone 2954 miles and we are well north of Baffin Bay. Only 7.5 hours and 4298 miles to go.

I've watched about 2 hours of TV so far, 2 hours more than I usually do. I'm as mesmerized as anyone by the magical moving pictures, but when offered so many choices, I get very picky and have trouble finding many shows that interest me. I watched some Penn & Teller (eh) and 2 episodes of "30 Days." In the first episode, a deer hunter lived for 30 days with a vegan animal rights activist family. In the second episode, host Morgan lived for 30 days on the Navajo reservation. This one interested me because we spent last Christmas just outside the res. We met some very likable people with compelling stories. the food was excellent, the accents were charming, and the poverty was shocking. To gain a true understanding of life there, you can't just armchair philosophize. You have to go there. Even then, we only got a tourist's taste. You can learn as much about Italian-American culture by watching 'The Sopranos' as you can from a week of Native American
souvenir shops. Of course, talking to the real people helps, and we did.

The whole time, i was thinking cultural thoughts in terms of my son. His culture is so complex, so fleeting. From year to year it can change dramatically. What, now environmentalism is in?! Now Chairman Mao merchandise counts as nostalgia?! Who can keep up? Everything I know about China is sooooo yesterday, or last decade, or more accurately Korean.

I see culture as a continuum, which might not be a concept one can easily find discussions of. But then I am coming at Buddhism backwards. If some people find my perspective offbeat, at least it's not unprecedented.

If I were in a window seat, the endless white I'd be looking down at would be snow. maybe still clouds. But under the clouds, assuming i could see that far down, there is snow.

So. Culture as a continuum, and what that means in practical parenting terms.

Well, it can mean lots of things. It can mean that I don't have to frame every cultural lesson in terms of the kiddo's Hanren heritage. When he learns about the Navajo, he will learn as an outsider to their culture, but only as much as I'm an outsider. White American/european culture is not the center and starting point of all human culture. People who are immersed in it think it is. We may even convince our minority neighbors that it is. I am always a bit dismayed when nonwhite Americans define themselves in comparison to white Americans. We may be the ones to beat in the grand cultural rat race, but we're not automatically the default point of reference. even if we think we are. Even if our delusion is shared by other groups. Some people think the Hanren is where it's at. And maybe they're right. Hey, maybe some Navajos think their tribe is the culture of cultures... although the show I saw didn't suggest that. Neither did anything I saw and heard
myself in Arizona. But that's understandable. The last 100+ years of Navajo history, 300+ or even 400+ for other American tribes, has been about us using them up and spitting them out. The Hanren don't have that kind of all-consuming history with us. They have their own. For much of that history, we only have a bit part.

How would I teach AwesomeCloud about his culture? I'll start simple, of course, because he'll be so young. But as soon as I can, I'll convey to him that it's sooooo storied and complex, that there are patterns and facts and traditions he can rely on a little bit, and that the rate of change is dizzying. And that he can accept all of this at the same time. and when someone says, "Nooo, you're doing it wrong," which they already do, because they know more than you or they like to keep their old ideas or they're just like that as people, I can assure AwesomeCloud that he is not doing it wrong. That he's learning anything at all is superb. That he's keeping his mind open puts him well ahead of the experts. The person who asks questions is wiser than the person with ready answers.

If someone tells him what to think, they should be in for a surprise. If they want to tell him about themselves, that's when he should listen. That's where the good stuff is. And, just like they should not define themselves by him, neither should he define himself by them. Not even if they are white Americans.

We're at the north pole. I know this because our trajectory just shot ahead. On a journey totalling almost 7000 miles, a sudden jump has to mean your map is skewed. Which it is. Even better, on the other map we just entered the black area over the map. We are off the map, people. north pole for sure.

37002 feet over the north pole, to be accurate. And it's a balmy -50 degrees.

So yes, I have big plans to teach my Han Chinese son about the Navajo Nation. He doesn't have to relate to it, in spite of the parallels of their tradition-rich histories and dramatically different modern existences. He absolutely should know about it. We may bring him there ourselves. We do want to go back to AZ someday, so it only makes sense.

I think the sentiment of "teach him American culture, but teach him his own culture too" is silly and small-sighted, and perpetuates the delusion that White America is the center of everything. what's even worse is "teach him American culture, but only teach him specific types/amounts of his own culture." My agent wouldn't answer my question about Confucianism in his region because "Communism changed everything there!" No duh! Complexity doesn't mean that some elements are unimportant because other elements are more relevant. Time is a continuum too. i decide what is relevant, and I'm deciding that everything is relevant. Why would I ask if I didn't genuinely want to know? I don't need to be set straight. There's no such thing as straight knowledge. It's all messy and interrelated.

I must be getting tired. OpenOffice has a function in which it fills in a word you've typed previously if it suspects you're typing that word again. Its guesses are getting longer and longer. First it was 'themselves' but then it started giving me 'perpetuates' and 'interrelated'. I used to use bigger and bigger words as I got tired, back in the day. It's interesting to learn I still do.

We're really zooming across the north pole stretch. We are juuuust about looking at a map of Asia now, Yup, there's Siberia. It is now nighttime on the Cape, according to the map.

And that was all the blogging I did on the plane. For the last 5 hours, my eyes ached from watching that little TV screen up in my face, and I alternated trying to sleep and trying to watch more. Then I started to get scared - my head got all stuffed up. The staff handed out a form to deal with quarantine, and I was sniffling so severely that I felt compelled to check off the 'runny nose' symptom. I could just imagine myself standing in front of the quarantine officer, saying, "I'm *snif* all right, *snif* no symptoms!"

When we landed, I was still sniffling like crazy. Plus the sleep deprivation was making me red-eyed, and dammit I just lost the whole quarantine story. I was typing away and looked up and only the last few words were left.

Okay, I'm not quarantined, although I had to go into the quarantine booth to explain to the official that my form had 'runny nose' checked off because I'd developed a runny nose as the plane descended, but it was gone now and I'm not sick. He was very nice about it and it was taken care of quickly. In truth, I'm sure I'm having sinus problems, but it is a smog-induced sinus infection brewing - NOT swine flu.

We almost lost the baby car/flight seat at the airport. It was in 'oversized luggage' but the area we were looking in was empty. We finally found the correct area, found the car seat, and met up with our guide, Rocky. Rocky is great, but he knows less English than he lets on. He had a very outgoing demeanor and speaks very confidently. We will have to make an effort to keep it simple. Rocky says my Chinese pronunciations are excellent, considering how little Chinese I know.

The hotel is very nice, but some things are confusing. We were not greeted with bottles of water everywhere, as our agent had mentioned. But my husband managed to exchange some currency and buy us some water. I was really, really thirsty, but now I'm conserving what's left, as I'm in my PJ's and do not wish to go seeking more water bottles.

And how do you turn on the lights? There are things that look like light switches, but nothing happens when you flip them.

Internet is not free. It's pay per minute, with a maximum of $15 a day. (I do not yet know what that is in Yuan.) Blogger is blocked and Livejournal isn't. So I'm going to go ahead and post to LJ, and use my proxy to post on Blogger if my email is not blocked. I don't know why all the adoption blogs are on Blogger. I guess LJ was blocked, too, at one time, though.

Tomorrow we are on our own to rest and find food and wander around. Tienanmen Square is supposedly done up for the holiday, but it will be a mob scene.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Marathon blogging! Boston to Newark

7:02 AM, Logan Airport. We woke up at 4:00 and immediately realized we'd left Melody on the bed all night with no access to her litter box. After showering and grooming, we tossed her into the bathroom and shut the door, hoping she'd go. No such luck. At 5:00, our cab showed up, and we had to give up and enclose her in the bedroom. We lock the cats in the bedroom whenever the builders need to be in and out of the house a lot. Shoulda tossed the litter box in with her. I hope she doesn't turn something in the bedroom into a litter box! It's likely, though. She can only hold it for so long.

Somewhere in there, I realized I hadn't organized my money and ID. I grabbed a handful and headed out the door. I'm still organizing the odds and ends.

I think it's starting to sink in that we're going to China and bringing home a baby. Leaving home must have made a difference. For the past week... month... year, we've been saying all the words while in our familiar, comfortable places. Now we're in the airport with a baby seat and some suitcases full of diapers and crackers. It's starting to get a little more real.

8:58 AM, on the plane from Boston to Newark. Husband's camera ran out of batteries after a total of two pictures. The camera eats batteries. He got some rechargeable batteries for it, but they are packed in the checked suitcases.

We read the safety card immediately upon boarding the plane. There are several rafts available, plus the slides turn into rafts. This will be more useful over the Pacific ocean. From Boston to Newark, we're hugging the coast close enough to get to an airport quickly if something goes wrong. Not likely this morning, though. We have a strong headwind, but no turbulence. And it's only a 50-minute flight.

Newark, lovely Newark. We lived in Bayonne, NJ, for 2-3 years, and then we lived in Nutley for 3 years. Nutley was where we got Trixie and where I first got involved in animal rescue. Well, aside from my two adventures in accidental cat fostering. (Sometimes cats just come along, and you do what you can for them even if you can't keep them.)

So, we know Newark well. We know Penn Station better than the airport; in fact, I don't think I've ever been to the airport. We were train and bus traveling people at that time in our lives. Now we're car people. Can't drive a car to China, though.

How apropos. Frank Sinatra just came onto the ol' iPod.

The clouds are fluffy and broken. We're over land now. Rhode Island, maybe. I offered my window seat to my husband so he could do some cloud-gazing and landscape watching.

He sees Bayonne! Time to turn the laptop off. Newark, here we come.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

1 Day - top 10 concerns while traveling

There are lots and lots of concerns to be had. Here are my top ten, not necessarily in order of intensity.

1) The cats. We lost Trixie once, for five weeks, and it was not a pretty experience at all. A cat as dumb as her is an easy victim for coyotes. It's five weeks of miracles that she didn't get eaten last time, and this time, we have all sorts of people wandering in and out of the house while we're gone. My heart does flips every time my father says, "Shouldn't we let the cat out? She must hate being cooped up all the time." He hasn't said that in years, though. I trust that everyone understands how dumb Trixie is, and doesn't let her out. I mean, she can't find doors. At all. She's pretty dumb.

2) Illness. Not swine flu so much, but bronchitis, food poisoning, and general exhaustion. I'll regularly catch things my husband brings home from school, even if he doesn't show any symptoms himself. I'm not the most fragile person ever, but on the other hand, pollution is one of my catalysts for illness.

3) Unexpected emergencies. I can handle the typical ones, like flight delays and flat tires and the kid vomiting on my shoulder. I won't be thrilled, but I won't fall apart either. The emergencies that get me are the weird ones, totally out of nowhere, that I haven't even been able to imagine yet. And mostly I'm only worried about them because we'll be so far from home. If the kiddo takes a flying leap off the bed and breaks his nose at home, I can cope. In China, I can only hope my support people are there for me. The agent says they will be.

4) Mementos. I'm not much of a memento collector. I'm going to have to continually remind myself to think in terms of mementos. The kiddo will want them later.

5) Communicating with AwesomeCloud. I shoulda learned baby sign language. I shoulda practiced baby-friendly Mandarin phrases more. Shoulda shoulda shoulda. I'll do my best.

6) Communicating with the adults. We'll have English-speakers at our service; that's not my worry. My worry is that they're used to the adoption process and to Chinese customs and I'm not. And that they'll expect me to be on the same page with them when I am absolutely, positively not. It happens all the time. I don't know what they're doing, and they do, so they're going to have to keep on top of things for me. If they expect me to understand what they're doing, they'll be disappointed.

7) The basement flooding. Or the house burning down, or one of the builders dismembering himself with the power tools, or a crazy driver slamming into my parents as they pull out of the driveway... well, I pruned the sassafras just now, so the blind spot isn't as blind anymore. Or my parents trying to haul the furniture out of the basement and injuring themselves. Or injuring a cat. Hey, everyone had better be in one piece when we get back!

8) Paperwork. Not as much of a concern anymore. My husband seems to be on top of it, and the agent assures me she has copies of everything in case we forget something. Whew! Still worried, though. I'm phenomenally unlucky/incompetent with paperwork. Seriously.

9) My friend's pregnancy. Completely out of my control! But her pregnancy was so hard-earned that I can't help worrying. Come on, little fetus, grow grow grow! You can do it!

10) The kiddo's grieving process. This is a known quantity. He will grieve. It will be difficult. We've prepared ourselves. Not all concerns have to be what-ifs, you know. The expected difficult parts also count as concerns. The unfortunate thing is, the agent seems so convinced we'll fall apart, so utterly overwhelmed will we be, that now we're under enormous pressure to get through this part with awesome grace and competence. Okay, that attitude is going to bite us. We need to be genuine and honest, and not be so wrapped up in proving ourselves worthy that we refuse to admit we're having a hard time. We will have a hard time. Everyone does. We need to forget about people's opinions entirely and just concentrate on the family.

Oh hey, I'm done! Good. I can't think of anymore pressing concerns. There are some minor ones floating about. But we're packed, and most of the phone calls have been made, and reservations, and other details. The house isn't perfectly neat. A few things broke today - one kitchen drawer, and the lucky cat. Oh well.

Our budget is calculated - we won't be spending big in China, but we also won't have to worry about overspending.

We have baby stuff, and even if it's not completely assembled and organized, at least we have it.

We have petsitters and housesitters, and hopefully the elaborate housekey dance won't go wrong.

We're nearly out of perishables! We handled the food situation well by eating out a lot this week. (Not so good on the waistlines. Oh well.)

The thank you notes are still incomplete. Sorry.

I'm not worried about the houseplants. I have killed more houseplants than most people have owned in their lifetimes, and I still give away 5-10 of them a year. Just be gentle with the orchid, please.

I just went around the house, and all in all it doesn't look bad. I never installed the doorknob without locks on the bathroom door. I never washed the windows. But I did do a bunch of little things, and the builder said he'd dab a little caulk onto that loose brick while we're gone (so the baby doesn't get the idea of dislodging it and dragging it somewhere dangerous, like the top of the basement stairs) and I think it's all under control.

Monday, September 14, 2009

2 days

It's amazing, isn't it? That we've been able to do all this... that we're traveling to China, where a child from a very alien society will be thrust into our care, and just like that, he will be our son for the rest of our lives. Then we will have a child, an offspring, a kiddo, a spawn, and he will be a purebred Han Chinese learning the ways of the American. We will be a conspicuous family, totally dedicated to our son and ignoring the doubts and cynicism of strangers, and we did it all on purpose.

It's been an incredible, peculiar journey. A year and a half ago, we went to the adoption conference and learned about the different methods of adoption, the strengths and difficulties of each approach. How does one decide from there? We thought about it long and hard, and what a strange process that was.

First we gathered all our options. We dismissed the unrealistic options, like countries that were not really open for international adoptions. Like DSS, unfortunately; we were wide open to an American child, but the process had too many negatives that we just didn't wish to deal with. Likewise for domestic private adoptions. We spoke to agents and other experts. Then we chose an agent we liked personally who had access to several of the options we had left - that happened to be Karen.

Then we evaluated our options based on their difficulties. The path with the fewest difficulties won. Suddenly we were signed up with China SN.

Evaluating by difficulties is a very, very personal thing. Each family has its own priorities. Our priorities are not best, safest, or most altruistic. But they are our priorities. Not everyone else should have our priorities - families are diverse, and if everybody chose the same way to adopt, there would be bottlenecks. We don't want bottlenecks. There are already enough bottlenecks - for instance, in Chinese adoption the bottleneck is for baby girl NSN (non special needs). We missed that one, just barely! But it's important to do it your own way, for everyone's happiness and for greater diversity.

Then we entered the "paper pregnancy," a truly bizarre experience. All of a sudden everything becomes, "Fill out this document for your baby. Speak to this official about your baby." And it stays that way. Slips of paper with phone numbers on them accumulate, and file folders full of cover sheets and photocopies. The three little photographs you receive gradually appear everywhere - on your blog, on your desktop, in your wallet, on your mantel. Your dentist tries to schedule your next appointment; your cousin invites you to his wedding; your volunteer coordinator asks you to help with an event; and you have to tell them all, "I might be in China."

Then you don't go to China, so you attend after all, and have fun, and tell the next round of relatives and schedulers that you might be in China. Then the trip gets delayed and you're still telling people you might be in China.

They all smile at the news in vague fascination, maybe telling you this thing they heard about China 5 years ago, or they start listing off everyone they know who's adopted or been adopted, and they give you their very best parenting advice, and you appreciate it all because you know that everyone is doing their best to show you they care. What else would they say if they weren't giving advice? You may be thinking, They don't really understand what it's like. And you're right, and they know it, but it's awkward to come out and say so.

Now we're going. All the approvals and do-overs and setbacks were small individually, but now that we're poised to travel to China, the whole process seems big. Everything so far has been plot development, and this is the climax. We're already thinking ahead of ourselves, to Book 2: Parenthood, like real authors do, because you can't get the child home without thinking Book 2 through first.

No wonder we want to skip over the buildup to the climax, and maybe even skip the climax itself. We're excited about China, but we've been focusing so much on parenthood, it's hard to wait anymore.

We're aware that our form of parenthood is atypical; we won't pretend it isn't. Race matters. The emotional weight of adoption matters. As with anything related to parenthood, people will have lots of opinions. People really love their children. Some people may really love our children. That's a wonderful thing - we want him to have lots and lots of love. I hope people will understand that we have some nontraditional issues, too, and we have to find our own way through them. The best advice we can get is optional advice, with plenty of leeway. Because if doing things differently than other people means we're doing it wrong, then, in fact, we are doing it wrong. Oh no. Panic panic.

Our families and friends are supportive and understanding, and I doubt we'll have much trouble with judgmental, unsolicited advisers. But it's there, the elephant in the room - in some ways, we are different. In most ways, we are parents, just like all other parents in the world. We hope people won't be intimidated by the differences in our family, but appreciate and celebrate them instead.

Or rather, we will be. Leaving for China in 2 days! Meeting our AwesomeCloud in 7 days!


Sunday, September 13, 2009

3 Days

Today I moved all the little white boxes. All of them! They've been stacked in the computer room, soon to be the baby room, in a blue bookcase, since the beginning of time. Okay, that's inaccurate. We've only owned this house for two years, and of course the boxes weren't there before then. Also, I've had to move them and replace them twice in the past two years, because the blue bookcase partially blocks the doorway, and whenever we have to move something large into or out of the room, the blue bookcase has to go.

I don't know if my husband knows I did that. At least one of the times, he wasn't home. I can't remember about the second time.

So now the little white boxes are stacked in 12 or so stacks all along the dining room wall, still more or less in alphabetic order (an amazing feat, thank you very much!), and the blue bookcase is ready to be moved. Once it is moved, other large items can enter and/or exit the room. Like Great-Aunt Mary's genuine oak dresser and bureau. Yeah, my kid's getting the good stuff. No particle-board bedroom furniture for him.

So... while I was trekking back and forth, back and forth,back and forth, between the bedroom and the dining room, Melody, who had been peacefully minding her own business on the Oriental rug (as opposed to doing her business on the Oriental rug, something we actively discourage) decided that she suddenly needed to beg for attention. Melody is the disabled cat. She stumbles more than walks, and when she gets where she's going, she flops onto her side in the middle of whatever open space she can find. As I was crossing the entire house repeatedly, there wasn't any open space that wasn't in my way.

"Meow?" she said as I rushed by with 3 small but heavy white boxes balanced in my arms.

"Get out of my way, dumb cat," I suggested to her, giving her tail a nudge with my foot (which wasn't that hard - the hard part would have been avoiding her tail entirely).

"Yeoww!" she said, and scrambled to her feet, such as it were, to beat as hasty a retreat as she is capable of beating. Which usually involves her backing even further into my path before she succeeds in gaining some forward motion.

Halfway through the great white box transfer, I broke for dinner. And then when I got back to my task... that cat did it again!

So I nudged her again, and she skittered off again. Now I'm trying to make it up to her by holding her in my lap as I type this blog entry. Unfortunately, it's very hard to type this way.

Multiply that by 10 and we'll have life with a toddler. But without the nudging option.

I'm ready, though. I think. Oh well, it doesn't matter what I think about how ready I am, because that's how it's going to be.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

4 days

4 more days till China!

We did some shopping today, but now I'm listening to trance and watching the rain. Sometimes you need a day off from the urgency.

Friday, September 11, 2009


First, I'd like to publicly thank Nitecruzr, who noticed my desperate plea for help on the Blogger support forum and helped me think of reasons why my feed wasn't working. I don't know what the final solution was, but something worked. I now have a feed from Blogger to Livejournal. Also, my new blog entries, which weren't showing up on my friends' blogrolls, are showing up again. Some of you may have noticed that "The Solar Eclipse of the Century" appeared to be my last post, and that was from way back in July. In fact, I've been posting this whole time.

Secondly I'd like to thank my friend Euphrates, who set up my RSS feed to begin with, and then when that one wasn't working, she set up another. Now they both work! My blog posts are everywhere. :)

And now I'd like to mention one of my accomplishments for the day. This morning, when I woke up, I looked like this:

However, when I go to bed tonight, I will look like this:

My husband has nice, silky, black hair. Now, I do too. (Except the nice silky part.)

I still have blue eyes, but other than that, I'm ready to go to Asia!

(There's nothing unusual about me dying my hair black. I'm a blue-eyed, mousy-haired Italian in a family of mostly dark-haired Italians (with a few notable exceptions, like my great-aunt). There have been times in my life when I wished to be more swarthy, just to fit in. I dyed my hair just before I got married, so that I'd look more Italian in all my wedding pictures. Ironically, I've hardly looked at my wedding pictures since then. The only thing in them worth looking at sits across from me at the dinner table every evening and comes to bed with me each night.)

9/11 Anniversary

It's been eight years since the terrorist attacks. Time to do my annual list of ways in which I was not involved.

*I was not in NYC at the time. I was 5 miles away, across the Hudson Bay, in Bayonne.
*I had quit my job that took me through the World Trade Center twice a day 5 months before the attacks.
*I had no reason to leave Bayonne, which was important. The only way off of Bayonne was over one of several bridges, and all the bridges were closed for 3-4 days afterward.
*My husband's school was close by - again, no bridge-crossing necessary - and he made it home without a problem.
*Not a single person I knew died. Not a one.
*We could see the plume from our neighborhood, but our apartment had no windows facing in that direction.
*I artfully avoided watching the TV footage for years. In fact, earlier this year was the first time I saw it. I watched Bowling For Columbine this past summer, and it contained the footage.
*I artfully avoided visiting Ground Zero until my friend dragged me to it the following January. She needed closure. She'd been visiting us the weekend before, and we'd all gone into the city to do touristy things with her. In the evening, I was tired, so I went home alone while she and my husband went to the very top of the Empire State Building. So I didn't have the experience of "being on top of a skyscraper mere days before 9/11" and she did.
*I no longer live in NYC. Nobody is going to attack Cape Cod. Unless they go after Otis AFB. Haha, good luck with that, man. Otis is equipped and ready.

There we go. I was reasonably nearby when it happened, but I was not personally involved. I do have some sense of loss, though. What do I miss the most? Under the WTC was a big sprawling underground mall. It had a Barnes & Noble, a Gap, and a gourmet bakery, among other stores. I'd walk all the way through it, on my way from the A train to the PATH station, and pass a privately owned deli. And sometimes, if I was really tired and thirsty, I'd stop in and get a Snapple or a lemonade. And sometimes a cookie.

I miss that deli.

Aw. Now I have tears in my eyes. In my defense, though, it was a nice little deli. I wonder if the owners survived. The whole mall was destroyed, you know, although it didn't happen immediately. They were able to get the trains out of the subway stations at both ends of the mall before the stations collapsed, thereby saving the lives of the people on the trains.

I don't know about the people waiting for the trains, whether they were evacuated in time. I don't think about it very much anymore. What happened, happened. Can't change it now.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Adventures in China prep

We are making progress on the Almighty To-Do list. Our recent accomplishments include the following:

*We set up the crib. (I think I already mentioned that.)

*We made arrangements with the petsitter and the builder.

*We made housesitting plans with my parents. (I still have to review the instructions and write new ones where necessary.)

*We now have a ride to the airport (5AM limo service!) and home from the airport (Thanks, T&D! You're saving us a harrowing late-night drive home after flying with a baby all day.)

*I'm completely done at work for the rest of the month! I don't have to worry about work until October. The last two days were pretty chaotic, and I wasn't exactly Ms. Attention Span for much of it, but it's done.

*We have flight reservations and hotel reservations. We also signed up for an abridged version of the tour of Beijing. The standard tour is 4 days long. Ours will be 1.5 days. Trust me, it's better that way.

*We have gifts to give - Cape Cod baseball caps for the gents and mini-totes with bottles of nail polish in them for the ladies. We have red wrapping paper.

*We have Skype. I had some errors while downloading it, but when I tested it, it seemed to work.

*We have good news from this friend and this friend - they have made it to China! Only a few more days till they get their kiddoes!

*We have super-good news from this friend. Ready for it? Actually, go look at her blog and find out for yourselves. *grin*

(The bits of news weren't on our To-Do list, but I was excited for them all, so I had to share.)

My husband's first day of school is tomorrow. I'll have the house and the To-Do List all to myself until he gets home. I hope it'll be another productive day. All these To-Do List filled days are getting tiresome, however. I wish we were leaving to get AwesomeCloud right now. Although, if that wish were granted, I'd have to add the caveat that I also wish we were finished packing!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pre-China dreams

I've been having dreams... dreams with themes. In some, my husband and I are finding ourselves in bizarre situations and we have to pretend they are normal.

There are also quite a few male authority figures on the periphery. I don't interact with them very much, but they are there. This may only be because I've been reading a lot of Scienceblogs lately. I like to see what all the latest research results are. (Some of the Sciencebloggers are female; in fact some of my favorites are women. But for some reason, I don't dream about them as much.)

We set up the crib with the help of Brother-in-Law and family. It's in our bedroom. I suppose the plan is to leave the crib in our bedroom but still make up AwesomeCloud's bedroom just for him. We'll get a toddler bed to put in here, and when he's good and ready to sleep alone and in a toddler bed, he'll do so. Meanwhile, he'll have time to accept this room as his personal space, full of toys and books and colorful paintings all for him.

It's not much of a plan just yet, but I can't make a fully-formed plan until we've had some time to get to know him and figure him out.

Meanwhile, we've lined the crib mattress with bits of bubble wrap to deter Trixie from peeing on it. She hasn't gone inside yet, but if she does, she may try to claim it. And if she tries to claim it, she'll try to mark it.

She's sitting on my lap right now. Yes, sweetie furry thing! I'm typing about you!!

So... 8 days before we leave for China. I should make some phone calls, but first I'm trying to get my work done. And then I would like to go shopping. I've thought of a long list of odds and ends that we need to get before we leave.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

10 days

Our schedule changed slightly. Now we're leaving on Sept 16.

Today is Sept 6. 10 days!!! Eeeeep!

I was so busy entertaining family, attending the wedding (which was really nice, BTW), and working on my To-Do List that I completely forgot to count the days till we leave.

And now I'm seriously sick to my stomach and I don't know if it's nerves or a flu bug or what. I barely ate two bites of anything last night at the reception, except the clam chowder, which was Cape Cod delicious.

There are many reasons why living on the Cape full-time is wonderful. The ghost-town winters are one of them. The chowder is definitely another. The environmental conservation opportunities and the huge wealth of ecological information to pass on to my son is a third. When each phase of global warming occurs, we'll see it here first. The rest of the country can sit in their air-conditioned inland houses and wonder what the fuss is about. I will definitely need to convey to my son that the Cape is special, and by living on the Cape, our family can also be special.

But I digress.

So. In ten days we head to the airport, and 17 hours later we meet our guide in Beijing. We get a day of rest - Tienanmen Square is only a few blocks from our hotel, so we can walk over and see it in a relaxed fashion anytime we like.

Then, hopefully after adjusting a little bit to the jet lag, we get a 1 1/2 day organized tour, just the two of us, and then it's off to Wuxi, where our child awaits.

I still have some pretty important things left to do before we go...

Friday, September 4, 2009

CA: 9/29, Departure date: 9/15

We got a consulate appointment. This trip to China is FOR REAL! For real, yo.

We are really going. We are really getting our child there, and really bringing him back, honest to God, I swear on my mother's... um... well, I'll soon be able to get my mother to vouch for me. I haven't told any family members yet; they're all headed this way and I'm at work right now so I shouldn't be getting up and looking for cell phone numbers.

My grandmother! She's home! I'll call her.

So, no plans are final so far except the consulate appointment. Husband'o'mine is glad that he'll have the opportunity to be in school for the first few days of classes. Students show up on Sept 10th. Right now he's trying to decide how many days he'll need to settle them in before handing them over to the sub.

His boss (the science department head) is subbing for him. Pretty cool! Husband teaches chemistry, and boss can teach chemistry too, although he normally teaches biology. It is much easier to get a substitute for biology than chemistry.

My husband blushes whenever I mention that he's the Smart Teacher, but it's true! See?

Now it looks like we're leaving on the 15th. Sounds good to me.

We still don't have a Gotcha Day. I'm not sure if the agent provides that. Probably. The travel agent seems to be pretty confident he can start making plans before he learns our Gotcha Day.

It seems we'll be alone on this trip. The travel agent remarked that there were no other families from our adoption agency traveling at the same time. The families we'd thought we would be with, waaaay back when, will be a week ahead of us! Just a week! Sorry, Misty, I guess our caramel mochathingie date at Starbucks will have to be the two of us drinking separately.

I'll toast you, though.

Too bad. The mommies I've been interacting with seem really cool, and I'd love to meet/travel with you all. I'll see one or two of you on the Cape.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

We could be....!

This is what I know so far: our possible consulate appointment dates are Tuesday, 9/22, Wednesday, 9/23, Tuesday, 9/29, and Wednesday, 9/30.

It was kinda funny. This morning I wrote an email to the agency - an epic email, complete with whingeing, begging, bargaining, reasoning... the works. Wordy Mom was being wordy. Then, a few minutes later, I got a response. It was an awfully quick response, barely long enough for my agent to read the whole thing. I was a little nervous - there was no way she could have answered aaaalllll my questions in that short time.

I opened it. It was a one-liner:

"Your TA just arrived. Call me."


I called her. It turned out that I didn't have an actual appointment, just the promise of one, and I needed to pick a day. "Which day?" she asked me

"Okay... um... any day is good! As long as it's in September, I'm happy with whatever day!"

"Call me back this evening when I'm in the office and you've had time to choose a day."


I spoke to Husband'o'mine, and he was in agreement - any day at all was good. Oh, but it would be nice if he could attend school on the 10th and 11th, just to set his students up for the two weeks he'd be gone. But if we had to leave before the school year started, that was doable. Somehow.

I called her back at around 4:30. "Hi!" I said.

"Did you pick a day?" she asked.

"Well, my husband thought it would be good to leave on the 12th, so that he could attend the first two days of school."

This was apparently not the answer she was looking for. Incorrectly formatted, perhaps.

"He doesn't have to," I assured the agent. "Any day is good."

"The consulate appointment has to be on a Tuesday or Wednesday." Right. I knew that. The consulate appointment is at the end of the trip, but it's the starting point around which the rest of the trip is built. I was thinking of departure date, but China doesn't care when we get there.

"The 22nd and 23rd are a Tuesday and Wednesday!" I observed. "The 29th and 30th are also."

"Choose three possible days and I'll try to make the appointment," she said.

"That's four. Four is close to three," I pointed out.

The thing is, the day-to-day scheduling doesn't matter one bit to us. The only parts that matter are the few days before we leave and the few days after we get back. Those are the days when our real life intersects with our Chinese adventure. Once we're in China, it'll all be a wonderland of exotic locales and Mandarin-speaking masses and arriving at appointments in offices we've never been to before and can't find by ourselves.

Oh yeah, and getting to know our new son. Our firstborn. Our AwesomeCloud. As priorities go, everything else is icing and sprinkles.

It's kind of weird to be staring at a calendar and shouting out numbers from it, because none of the squares are distinctive in any way. The only significant part of the calendar is whether or not we have to flip ahead two pages. If we can get GuiGui in September, then the answer to any other question we're asked is, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"

Throw a dart at the calendar! That's fine with me! As long as it hits September, I'll be flying high. Just lay it all out for me and then give me the directions.

My parents are coming on Friday. Perfect timing. I can walk them around the house and give them copious house-sitting instructions. I'll be wordy, as usual, I'm sure. They will probably demand that I leave notes. However, I'd like to point out that my long-windedness is a learned trait. :)

Wait for it....!

Exciting update, coming soon.

I don't actually know what the news is yet, but there may be some. So just... um... hang in there with me.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Practicing on the cat

I've been reading books: "Attachment in Adoption" which I borrowed from my local agent, and found it a very difficult read¹ so I returned it after reading the first few chapters... and "Parenting the Internationally Adopted Child" which is more generalized and is excellent in many ways.

In fact it was recommended as critical reading by several moms on the mailing list I belong to. I will second that - yep, critical reading.

"Parenting" puts forth a parenting style that is starkly different from any parenting style popular in the general community. After a while, you can switch to something more normal and healthy, but for the first several months to a year, your child is grieving and traumatized, and if he's not being obvious about it, you have to figure it out and help him heal in spite of himself.

Oddly, instead of terrified by this idea, I'm actually growing more confident. I can do this! I'm reasonably empathetic. I can feel AwesomeCloud's pain, even if he's not advertising it to the world. Even if he internalizes it and goes through the motions of coping, I'll be on top of things and ready to guide him, willingly or unwillingly, to a healthier state of mind.

In fact I've already started noticing some of the poor coping behaviors in my cats. Trixie is a Dizzy Performer type. (All the types have nicknames.) When she's nervous, which is most of the time, she'll circle around, jump on things, and try to get the attention of any people who are present. She's attached to me, but she'll perform for anybody. When she does that... well, she's a cat, so the solution may be different. When she's circling around nervously, I just let her. I know she's safe. At this point, she'll never change, and I don't have to worry that the wrong approach now might turn her into a maladjusted teenager later.

Melody is a hider. Her Fight-or-Flight reflex strongly favors flight. But this morning, she decided to be a Stunned Ragdoll, just sitting there in terror as the builder noisily bumped around outside.

The routine is supposed to be: feed the cats before the builders show up, and then herd them into the bedroom and close the door. This morning, I was late. The builders showed up, THEN I fed them, and Mel was too frozen in place to eat her breakfast. So Trixie ate it for her. Then Trixie darted into the bedroom, like she should, and I closed the door behind her.

I looked at Mel and thought, You stupid cat. Now you've missed breakfast AND you're stuck out in the open.

But "Parenting the Internationally Adopted Child" says that the frightened child forgets the routine and falls back on old, unproductive survival mechanisms. When he does, you shouldn't blame him for being bad. You shouldn't punish him or let him suffer the consequences for choosing unwisely. When he freezes up and fails to make the right decision, you make it for him. Over and over and over and over for months and maybe even years.

So I scooped up that cat and brought her into the bedroom. Then I poured some fresh crunchy cat food and put it in the room with her. She immediately felt safer; and, feeling safer, she ate.

I win!

I'm going to be all right at this. Someday. When I get the baby finally.

¹ It was difficult in that it covered very serious and disturbing attachment issues that are probably far beyond what AwesomeCloud is likely to experience. I know how to read, thank you very much! If I'm wrong about AwesomeCloud, I can always get the book again.