Archives for July 2013

It’s A Rollercoaster Ride For Sure

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We’ve now had Olivia in our family for 7 days. It’s a bit hard to explain how the transition is going. Moment to moment it’s sweet, crazy, sad, funny, frustrating, expected, unexpected, and sweet again. Last night after some really naughty dinner-time behavior Olivia gave me this little grin that I swear said “Yeah, you bought it hook, line, and sinker. I worked two years to create this narrative on the ‘An Orphan’s Wish’ website and you bought it. Hah! You thought I was this sweet quiet little girl, but this here is the real deal!” The thought totally made us laugh.

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Yes, our little Olivia is a total sweetheart. She has the cutest smile, the most infectious raucus little girl laugh, and the most beautiful eyes. She is also a little person with a very strong mind of her own and a screaming voice to back it up. When she’s playing with Julia and Rion and doesn’t get her way I’m sure most people in our hotel know it. When she starts to get bored with breakfast she likes to throw noodles and other food items at the waitresses as they walk past. She is rough and tumble and even though we keep fussing at Rion for being too rough with her, she’s usually still laughing.

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She has mostly warmed up to the kids and gets along with them like most siblings do, well at times, and not so well at others. Her relationship with us seems to be on a constant uphill slope, but with little dips in between that sometimes confuse and surprise us. With everything we’ve learned about adoption over the years and with two behind us, you’d think we’d just roll with it, and we mostly do, but there’s still this strong desire to feel the love back. We know it’ll come in time and we’re certainly seeing a little more each day.

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Phil is out of the doghouse now and she’s starting to give him a lot of smiles and likes to play games with him. At first she was terrified of him and every other white male she encountered. We’ve been working on having him give her little snacks and things to help gain her trust.

Olivia seems to have figured out that I’m her mom and she comes to me when she’s hurt or needs to be held. But, I think ours is the most back and forth relationship in the family, and from what I hear from other families here that seems to be so common. I think it’s because I’m the one replacing her former caregivers and people she loved. She wants my attention and affection, but will often shove my hand away angrily when I try to stroke her. One minute she’ll grin at me and flash those twinkly eyes and the next moment she’ll glare at me like I tried to hurt her. The good thing is the happy moments are happening more frequently. The other good thing is that the angry moments show us that she had some sort of attachment in place before we came along. And that’s so important for her future bonding process with us.

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At the moment we’re just trying to follow her lead and let her go as far with us as she is comfortable to do. She won’t let me kiss her, but she’ll now follow my lead, kiss her own finger after I kiss mine and then touch fingers, bringing a sweet smile to her face. I let her moments in my arms be as short as she wants them and then she’ll usually come back for more. So we’ll just keep enjoying the moments as they come and rejoice over each new victory! Can’t wait for a big grin, a giant bear hug and a kiss for those sweet little lips though!

 

Day 5? 6? 7? – We’ve Lost Track

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As much as any place, Guangzhou feels like home to us in China. We’ve stayed here, in three different hotels, a total of about four weeks over the past three adoption trips. Guangzhou feels very welcoming. Trish and I both feel drawn to it more than anywhere else in China. I wish I had a week to just get out with shoes and a subway pass to explore the city randomly.

It’s a very cosmopolitan city. Lots of Westerners live here, and lots of immigrants from Africa and other countries live here as well. It’s far enough away from Beijing that it’s isolated from the politics of China. (Think Texas compared to D.C.) People here seem to have a bit more freedom, although it’s still very much communist China, one-child policy and all.

The city is huge, and if I could get to Wikipedia, I could tell you how huge. (But, you can’t get to everything on the internet in China.) Everywhere direction you look though, dozens of tall buildings dot the landscape, most seemingly apartments.

Guangzhou is tropical, and very lush, and it’s the middle of the rainy season here. It’s been quite a nice change from the sweltering heat of Hefei in Anhui province. But it’s supposed to get hotter over the next few days.

Thankfully, Guangzhou is also honk-free! Whoever runs the city has outlawed honking. Seriously, I know it’s not uncommon in countries other than the U.S., or New York, but Chinese drivers honk for everything. You might as well build a horn button into the driver’s seat. Traffic seems a little more orderly here than some cities in China.

Guangzhou’s also probably China’s greatest commercial city. You can buy almost anything made in China here in the city. Every October, Guangzhou hosts the world’s largest import-export convention and businessmen from all over the world flock here. It has a long history as a commercial city and all the Western trading powers and companies established outposts here in former Canton as early as 125 years ago.

For us, it’s also the central clearing point for every U.S. family adopting from China. The U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou processes all the immigration paperwork for Chinese children adopted by U.S. citizens. Every family must meet personally with Consulate officials, swear an oath to raise the child (beats me what I’m swearing to), and wait a day or two for final immigration paperwork. Without this, you cannot bring your Chinese child into the U.S. legally.

So, in every major Western hotel in Guangzhou, you’ll find at least a dozen or more adoptive families from all over the U.S. It’s always fun to talk with them, compare backgrounds in the U.S. and their experiences all over China. Every family usually compares how well the bonding process is proceeding. You’ll hear some interesting stories, such as one family adopting an 11 year old girl whose foster mother apparently told her she’d get to come back in a couple weeks after her visit to the U.S.

As reasonably intrepid travelers, Tricia and I enjoy meeting other people as much as anything. I’m lucky (as an introvert) to have my extrovert wife Tricia who’ll strike up a conversation with almost anybody. Without the kids, we probably would have had dinner last night with a group of Fed Ex pilots all speaking Tricia’s former lingo.

We’re enjoying and surviving the trip. It’s Sunday morning in Guangzhou, so we really only have a few more days here. We’ll catch the train to Hong Kong late Thursday afternoon, stay overnight, and fly out to San Francisco around midday Friday. Everybody misses home sweet home after 11 days of travel in three different cities.

Day 3 (and 4) – Introducing Olivia Jade!

After a good night’s sleep in Hefei, the capital of Anhui province where Olivia was born, we went to the civil affairs office. Trish and I waited with butterflies in our stomachs for Olivia’s arrival. An eternity later, she walked thru the doorway in the arms of the orphanage nanny, and burst into tears. But, Tricia has the best smile on her face holding our sweet little Olivia for the first time.

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We banished the nanny that brought Olivia to us from the room as quickly as possible (with the help of our wonderful guide Ting Ting). Without that distraction, she settled down a little with the devoted but somewhat smothering attention of Julia and Rion.

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Once we left the commotion of the civil affairs office, Olivia calmed down quite a bit. She lay contented in the arms of her new mother, who looked great for just “birthing” a new child.

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She giggled for the first time at lunch when she poked at Rion’s eye with her chopsticks. (As I’m writing here Tuesday late afternoon, the three kids are running around our hotel room shrieking and laughing.) We can already tell Olivia won’t have any problem holding her own against Rion and Julia.

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Finally, after one of the most traumatic mornings of her young life, Olivia fell fast asleep at nap time.

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After dinner at Pizza Hut, Tricia gave the girls a bath together. Julia loved brushing Olivia’s beautiful long hair afterwards. Olivia played with mom’s sunglasses, and she looked too cool for school already.

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For the most part, Olivia’s been scared of me because she just hasn’t had many men in her life yet. At first, when I tried to approach her, she started crying and shied away. But, she didn’t seem to mind if I gently touched her arm or her back while Tricia held her. She’s very observant though, and she’s watched me interact with Julia and Rion. This morning, at the civil affairs office again to finalize paperwork, Rion fell and bonked himself hard. Tricia set Olivia down to comfort Rion, I held out my arms a few feet away, and without much hesitation she walked over and climbed up on my lap. This afternoon, we finally had some hands free to snap a picture.

 

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Overall, we’re so pleased with how quickly Olivia has adjusted. In many ways, she’s adjusting faster than Julia did four years ago. She loves Tricia’s doting, and the comfort of either of our arms. She loves playing with Julia and Rion, and she has a great little chortling laugh. We’re just so incredibly happy that we get the privilege of being this darling little girls’s parents forever.

Day One – Beijing

imageDespite the flight and a lack of sleep yesterday, we went on a very full day tour of Bejing.  We went to the Great Wall at Mutianyu.  (There are about five or six different places you can go to the Great Wall around Beijing.  Mutianyu was spectacular.  We rode a cable car to the highest section, and then did some up and down climbing.  It’s just staggering to think of the manpower involved in building the wall during the end of the Ming Dynasty in 1404.  We also enjoyed the drive through the lush green countryside.

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Next, we stopped quickly at the jade factory for lunch (Chinese food of course).  After lunch we stopped at the silk factory.  We’ve never been there before.  It was really quite interesting to learn how they make silk bedding and silk thread from the cocoon of the silk moth.  The kids enjoyed it, and the parents did too.

After that, we took a short rickshaw tour of the old hutong neighborhood pictured below.image

In the hutongs, the Chinese lived in rooms surrounding a central courtyard.  They’re very old Beijing neighborhoods, and more and more of them are being destroyed for newer construction.

For dinner we had Mongolian hot pot (think fondue Chinese style), a very traditional Beijing dish.  Julia wasn’t a big fan, but the rest of us enjoyed it.  Then we visited the night food market, where you can buy almost anything on a stick from fruit to more exotic fare like tiny ducklings (head and all), frogs, and many other “yucky” items, as the kids said.   After twelve hours of touring, our excellent guide Stephanie put a very exhausted Rhodes family in the car for our hotel where we crashed.

Prayer time for Olivia and our family

We just got notice that Olivia has left her foster home “The House of Love” to go back to her orphanage in Fuyang.  Her transition to her forever family has begun.  She is leaving the only home and family that she knows, being taken by a stranger on a train to an orphanage she doesn’t remember, and left there on her own with more people she doesn’t know.  In about 10 days, some other person she doesn’t know is going to take her on a train or in a car to the city of Hefei.  Then she’ll be handed to her new family.  But as a two-year old who has never had a mom or dad, can she even understand what that means?  We pray that she’ll remember what her caretakers at The House of Love told her when they showed her our pictures.  We pray that Jesus will fill her heart with peace and let her know she’s in a safe place and that she is loved.

We ask for your prayers for the transition that will come once she is with us.  We hear on occasion that we’ve got it easy since we’ve already made it past the newborn stage.  But adoption is not a painless process.  Some children transition extremely well, like Julia did.  Others deal with a great amount of grief and confusion, like Rion did.  Still others are very traumatized by the losses they’ve experienced and by the neglect and maybe abuse they’ve suffered.  They are never able to attach and bond with their families without years of therapy. Even then, they may not ever relate the way most people do.

We have every reason to believe that Olivia has been cared for so that she will attach to us well and that she will accept love from her family and give it in return.  At The House of Love they not only take care of the children’s physical needs, but also provide as much of a family environment as they can. Still it can be a hard road.  We pray for a smooth transition, but know that it may not be easy.  Yes, Olivia’s two and might sleep through the night, or she might cry out in fear and sadness and suffer from night terrors.  I read a post the other day from a family who adopted one of Olivia’s little friends a few weeks ago.  She seems to be doing well, but spent at least one of her nights in China sleeping on the floor right next to the hotel room door, trying to get as far away from her new parents as she could.

We have to ensure Olivia feels secure and loved.  At the same time, we have to provide structure and discipline appropriate for a 2-year-old.  With Rion that was often a tough balance to strike.  Especially as a rambunctious 3-year-old, we had to respond to some of his inappropriate behaviors, but that didn’t always seem to create an environment that helped his attachment.  In an established family, the structure is part of the loving environment, but in the case of a child that has been raised by different people, in a different culture, and is perhaps acting out due to grief and sadness as opposed to general “terrible twos or threes” behavior, it’s not always easy for parents to know how to respond.

Newborns come with a natural inability to move about (and they sleep quite a bit), whereas toddlers may spend the majority of their days in full destruction mode.  Newborns might occasionally seem “boring” to their siblings, but toddlers come ready to fight for their toys (yelling in Chinese by the way).  We’ll need (and want) to spend a lot of time holding Olivia, who is weighing in at impressive 28 lbs, so our back muscles will be challenged.

The blessings of adopting a toddler are numerous though!  We get to go through about a thousand “firsts” in just the first few days, weeks and months.  First smiles, first giggles, first hugs, first kisses, first games with her siblings, first English words, first “I love you”, and so many more.  It’s like a fire hose sometimes, but then it’s also the most amazing, rewarding experience you can possibly imagine!

Health Care in China

We are not getting sick in China.  Thankfully, Tricia’s been three times and I’ve been twice now.  Neither of us have really had any health issues in China, and our digestive systems have handled somewhat adventurous eating fine.  So, knock on wood.

We know a couple (through the magic of Al Gore’s internet) that’s adopting a Chinese girl about Olivia Jade’s age that also lived at the House of Love with Olivia.  They’re arrived home from China just recently, and she’s been recounting their China adoption trip on her blog.  While there, she had a health issue that required a hospital visit in Nanning, China, a city of more than 6 million people.  Here’s her story about her hospital visit.  It was quite a bit different from a U.S. hospital.  But, it seems the prescribed treatment cured the problem.  And, the price was right–$80 for the hospital, the doctor and several medications.