Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The lame kind of travel

Guangzhou's train station
Well, we made it to Hong Kong. It was a very long hot boring dumb travel day. I will not rehash the boring details, but can tell you I laughed out loud when I reread my previous post which said we "take a train and then arrive at the hotel" or some such. Between those two events there was a shuttle bus and another train and a long walk with a sleeping baby in the carrier because the stroller just didn't cut it.

I think Primrose was a bit further traumatized by our travel at first. She probably thought we lived in the hotel in Wuhan, and then the one in Guangzhou, and when we packed up there today she was definitely a bit confused with all these major transitions. I could even say she was agitated, getting a bit demanding at breakfast, feisty with the other kids while we waited for the group picture and then again while we waited for her visa to arrive.

By the time we were on the train, however, she had leveled right out.

Look at the difference.

Here she is on that sad first day together, just two hours after meeting us in Wuhan:

And after ten days with us (turn down your volume and back away from your computer):

There is so much awesome packed into this one kid. I can't wait to unleash her on America.

Holy frijoles, we're on another train?!?!
Mama, what is with you people and trains?

Start of our ride.

End of the ride.

Last time on the Metro for a while.

We spent our last morning here taking the metro the opposite direction from before, toward the “biggest mall in Guangzhou”. It apparently has an ice rink like Lloyd Center in Portland but probably much nicer and definitely 100% free from any threat of running into Tanya Harding.

Despite some hilarious miming we tried with a pair of confused security guards who wanted to give us directions, we did not make it to the rink. Wandering is fun and we found some great shopping anyway, much better than the mall I was gushing about before. This new mall was filled with a thousand adorable kiosks packed with random cute things. The target audience seemed to be mostly young student-types. There was a whole shop full of Totoro goods, and a thousand more with other mixes of cutesy things. I had hoped to find some little trinkets for the boys, but just about struck out there. I did get myself a great bracelet, and we again ate in the food court with upper working class and students.

Primrose sat with daddy, happily eating his ramen and dumplings. I think her favorite parts were little bits of heart or liver or who-knows-what organ. She pointed daintily to each one, then as the soup cooled just reached right in for what she wanted. Someday she will understand how much her daddy loves her when she learns he gave her any bit of the meats she wanted from his plate in their first two weeks together.

She charmed several students including one who had studied English while completing a degree in math, who helped me try to find something without pork in it at the ramen shop. I wish I had snapped a picture of her, she was very kind and I liked her even more as soon as she said, “Yes, I saw your daughter when you were walking. She is so very cute.”

I am pretty tolerant of crowds in foreign countries and big cities, but I am not sorry that we don't have to ride the Chinese metro for a while. our line to the Marriott has been packed at all times of day. I am often not even able to move into the middle of the car where people will immediately offer a seat when they see our girl in my arms. Instead we are packed so close it is hard to find a place to hold the poles and Primrose likes to try touching all the people around us. People almost invariably smile and talk to her, but it can be a bit awkward. Despite them being fairly well air conditioned, I am always hot and sweaty when we finally arrive at our stop in the busier train cars. 

Greeting one of the ladies who clean the tables.
We get to take a big group photo with all the Holt families currently in Guangzhou in a few hours down in the lobby when Fang Fang’s done with her nap. We’ll take our junk down with us and head out from there.

After a nice train ride, we’ll check into the airport hotel in Hong Kong where the internet is finally open and the TV has way more channels. It's probably the first time Primrose has been outside of mainland China. I cried for her a bit when we left Wuhan, and will probably be a bit sad for her to fly away again. Adoption always starts with losses for the child. We are so grateful to be part of the restoration of a family for this exuberant child, but loss is part of her story as well.

We’ll be in Portland on Thursday morning August 28th, and should be done with immigration by about 9:45am. One of the best moments of this journey (besides the moment she walked into the Children’s Welfare Institute and every moment she has given us her trust & affection since then) will be walking out of the security gates and into the arms of our friends and family. I can hardly wait to see my boys, and to watch her meet them. They have been waiting years for a sibling, and we’ve simply been given the perfect one.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Level up... final level.

We completed our last level in this Chinese Adoption Challenge EX 2014. The Embassy went very well. A little boring, with an atmosphere made of 20% James Bond and 80% DMV, but everything approved. I think Primrose thought it was a too-long play date for newly adopted friends in a kind of lame play area with lots of glass walls and a gray stone floor and not enough toys.

Here is my gorgeous gal getting ready for naptime with her hankie-sized soothie blanket.

Tomorrow our guides pick up our Visa packets, meet us in the hotel lobby with them and we leave for our pre-flight night in a Hong Kong hotel attached to the airport. Then we get up a bit early, schlep to the airport and head out! Lunch layover in Tokyo... on to Portland.

When she is admitted through immigration to the US in PDX, one Ms. Primrose Ward will be a citizen. I will cry, unless I'm distracted because she's throwing a tantrum or throwing up. One year old... gotta keep the bases covered.

Here's the star herself. It's considered a selfie when you're one year old even if your mama takes the video. She is saying "That's YOU!" at the beginning.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Spicy Wuhan Girl

Hey! Here in Guangzhou China I have found a club worth joining. Between that and the "constant temperature swimming pool", I believe the hotel next to ours might just have something going on.

"Tuning Life Platinum Club"
We walked t' hell and back tonight, as my Papa would have said. We were looking for some local grub, and went about a mile radius. Turns out we are in the garment district and the many fancy-looking malls all around us are used by garment wholesalers. The weird thing is, at 6pm at night the shops are all empty. I mean not just of their people. It looks like an apocalypse has swept through and it's been looted already. Sometimes in the barren shops there are one or two people working on huge plastic bagged bundles of... jeans? shmancy underthings? ringer tees? You can't ever really tell what they are by the time they're bundled. These malls have no food, except one where we saw signs pointing through half-lit hallways and over stopped escalators toward a McD's. If you thought the food in American McDs was bad (we are not fans), apparently the Chinese ones have been recently cited for knowingly using tainted chicken. Our guides even specifically advised against going to them.

So on we walked. You should know we crossed the street twice. Yes, we are made of courage. In one place there was a friendly crossing light and crowds ready to walk from both sides. I tried to get a video for you, but as soon as we started into the street we had to run like refugees from the safety of the sidewalk. The video was a comical dizzying mishmash of feet on a dirty street. Everyone scurries across as there are no guarantees that a pedestrian will EVER have the right of way here. The second time we crossed it was a small... well, four lanes are small here anyway... one-way street. We waited for it to look completely clear and then ran as fast as we could with the stroller. A Chinese couple who went at the same time weren't casual about it either, running just as quickly as we did.

Having survived crappy uneven-street crazed-traffic frogger, I was glad to see the concrete stair flyover on our last big crossing. It's hot and uncomfortable climbing them with her stroller, but much less likely that we'll have a bad day. They are mostly crumbling and rusted, but even with communist building standards your odds are still going to better than down on the street.
Have you noticed how ordering takes for EVER when you are starving and maybe even tired to the point of yawning?
Finally we gave up, trekked back to our hotel and ate in the Chinese place there. I have to say, it was amazing. Our beautiful girl ate most of my abalone (abalone!), rice, cabbage, the most delicious scallion pancakes I've ever had, and noodles.

The noodles were in a hot red soup/sauce, and we thought she would love those. Apparently, we have found the ceiling for her spice tolerance. You have to give her some true Wuhan girl props: it's a very high ceiling. I tried a few bites of her daddy's noodles, too, and they left me spluttering and coughing from all the red pepper oil. Much more dignified, all she does is hang her mouth open and finally refuse to eat any more of them. That, my friends, is a big statement right there.

Tomorrow is our US Embassy appointment. We aren't allowed to bring our phones, so sadly there will be no cute or humorous photos. In fact, we have to bring only essential items and only in clear ziploc bags. Let's hope our new citizen (and her mom) is in a compliant and cheerful mood. 

She is going to think we live in a shopping mall.

Today and yesterday we spent most of our time at the mall, which is air conditioned and shiny. We have probably spent 5 or 6 hours there over three days, though we didn’t buy much. I found some cute cheap leggings at the supermarket on level 2 and a great lunch (both days!) at the food court on level 3. The leggings have stuffed animal birds sewn to them and cost less than $10. I like buying her the cheaper Chinese-Western clothes rather than the full-on Western expensive stuff that is also everywhere. The low-brow things are quirkier than what I have seen in the states and certainly the price doesn’t hurt. 

Today we were joined on our outing by some friends from our Wuhan group who were the first other family I met when we arrived in Wuhan. They have a spicy-sweet 3 year old, whom we have loved to watch as she opens up to her new family. Despite sporting some serious feistiness, she is so gentle with our Primrose, and never seems to take offense when our girl asks to hold her dolly, patiently mothering her younger adoption group sister. They kept kissing and trading toys, and our little friend was happy to walk along with her hand on Fang Fang’s stroller. That’s a big deal, as she has insisted for six days straight that her new mother carry her almost everywhere. That woman is going to have guns of steel, I tell you.
Have some milk, little sissie!
From the way many of the other preschool aged kids behave and a few things I have observed in Chinese families in public places, I wonder if there is more slapping going on in Chinese parenting in general. It could be these are just universal frustrated-kid behaviors, but some of them seem learned. There is a gruffness to the tone of voice used with children that then comes right out of the kids’ mouths when they are annoyed with us or each other.

This is another thing we have been mostly spared because Fang Fang is just so young. We made a game of crossing our arms, turning our head away and saying "BU!" when she starts to get sassy. It turns her right around and I think shows her we can handle it if she decides to try out being a mean grump. She has tried a bit of slapping, but not with great conviction and not in a way that a quick correction hasn't cured. Some of the older kids need more time to let those habits work their way out of their systems. 

Primrose was so happy to have a friend in her room, she kept running around with her hands in the air going "OOOOOHHHHH!!" I can see we're going to owe her a lot of girly play dates when we get home. 

Almost all the rest of our group went out to a safari today. I cannot imagine voluntarily sitting out in the sun in 93 degrees and 70% humidity but who knows, it might have been better than I thought. It was nice to still have some camaraderie even though we opted out, and I’m really glad our friends were looking for an alternative as well.

The Wuhan group overall is doing pretty well, all things considered. There is one older child having a very rough time and it is terrible to watch. I won’t be specific as it’s their story to tell. Please pray for them to see improvement and make it to the states with them all in one piece, both emotionally and mentally. The little I know of her new family (it's a very good match) and her old story leaves me in tears just thinking about it. Please do pray for her and for them. She is broken like no child should be and distraught, and we are all so helpless to do anything for her.

I think we may be in for the night, except perhaps foraging for dinner. "The best hotel in China" prices their food accordingly, so eating in is not an option. We’re probably going back to the pool later, and hope to see more of our friends. The pool is gorgeous, and the hotel is a comfortable place to pass a week before being released to go home. The pool's outdoors but up off the street and inside the u-shape of the guest room towers. Yesterday we saw the sun set while cooling off, pointed at airplanes and enjoyed a cooling breeze. Well played, Marriott. I suppose we’ll forgive you for the expensive bottled water and dearth of towels. The hotel room came with a "welcome adoptive families" basket with a teddy bear and baby wash inside. Between that and the Starbucks downstairs, we are just about set. Two more nights, then one in Hong Kong. So close. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ready to be home.

Tonight Fang Fang ended with quiet hitching wailing tears and something else that makes my throat tighten up every time I see her do it. When this child is jussst about asleep, laying on her side in my arms, she does that pseudo-sucking thing tiny babies do when they’ve finished nursing and are about to conk out. She makes quiet little clicking noises, purses her heart-shaped lips, and this is when she likes to rub her little soothie blanket. Sometimes she’ll pat my chest or play with my necklace, but I am secondary to what is happening in her own private world.

It’s the self-soothing-ness of it that kills me. We confirmed at her health check yesterday that she had two separate surgeries in her first year of life. Imagine soothing yourself through all that without the stability of one caring mother. Different nurses, different smells. It’s not the way it should have been.

Were her tears tonight just tiredness, overwhelm from a long fun day, or part of the grieving we were told to expect? We attribute extra meaning to her reactions and each time she does anything new. We have to; it’s all we have. It’s probably not fair or reasonable, but we’re only human. Humans crave context, and with her first 18 months we’ll probably never really have any.

In the hotel pool today she started out timidly clinging and even whimpering a bit, but was soon making up another new game (a daddy game!) and kicking her legs. Had she been in a pool before? Or can I imagine that she feels so comfortable with us now that even in a strange situation she will find courage in our arms? I wonder how long it will be before I stop wanting to shout to everyone (and post here) “LOOK! Did you see that? Do you know what it MEANS?”

Soon she’ll just be any toddler reacting the way toddlers do. Tendencies will be attributed to her personality and not her past, and we will let some of her whims go unanswered. Tantrums won’t be so fraught. The curves of her face will be as familiar as my own.

We have completed all the tasks we wanted done here. She trusts us enough to travel like any one year old (be afraid, fellow travelers!) and we’re ready to go. Waiting on the Embassy so we can leave in 4 more days feels so artificial now, disconnected from the rest of the journey.

Tonight we even managed to buy her some Chinese New Year outfits called “silks”, a doll wearing her own tiny red silks and two bracelets my gorgeous daughter and I picked out together. We found these tourist treasures when we wandered into a low-rent indoor flea market and got it all for less than a meal at Red Robin. I swear I am so bad at bartering and Primrose was so charming that the lady started lowering the price her dang self. Our loot is ready for the luggage and if I ruled the world we’d be heading back to hug our boys and see her with them.

I love being in China but there is more giving left: we get to finally place the three Ward siblings together. Their relationship will probably last even longer than ours and have facets ours never will. They will surely roll their eyes in unison at their doofy parents, together in a way that was set before we sent the first page of our application.

She likes: Balloons, Bunnies and Baba!

We have developments! 

Primrose's fear of Jonathan and need to control how much contact he has with her both seem to be dissipating.  We’ve been sure to have him feed her almost from the start, and to have him put her in the stroller or hold her up to reach things. We try not to cross the line to flat-out manipulation. If she doesn’t want the food from J, then I will give it to her. If she doesn’t want him to lift her, then I do, and when she refuses we both say, “That’s okay, sweetheart.”
The whole wide world speaks "selfie"!

Just, y'know, havin' lunch with Baba.

There are lots of ways of approaching this bonding business, and as you know I am by no means an expert. We read all the books and the blogs, we took the training courses, but what does that all add up to, really, when your specific child is in your hands? We have what appears to be an easy kid, plus she is small enough to pick up and carry like a sack of tantruming potatoes if need be. The orphanage director tried to tell us, in fact, that she was very easygoing but at the time it did not seem to match what we saw. Like I said, we don’t really know what we’re doing. I think her mix of obstinacy and pragmatism will serve her well as she takes her place in our family and I hope throughout her life. It really doesn’t seem to have that much to do with us. She is leading this whole dance. If we have done anything right, it has been letting her do that.

And God bless the make-up kiosk lady who gave her these balloons right off her display in the middle of the mall.
Letting her lead sounds lovely and all, but what it really means is letting go of your parenting style and accept that people may think you are different than you are (and Miriam, you shouldn’t be thinking about that anyway). If ever it wasn’t about us, now is the time. So, if she wanted to sit on the floor at the medical check (EW!), if she wanted to put her mouth on all the balloons (NOOOOOOO!), if she wanted to ride all the escalators (CRINGE) and drink all the orange sodas (DI-BETUS HERE SHE COMES), we will smile and say yes, darling (for now…).