Monday, September 12, 2016

One week in

We are nearing the mark of being together longer at home than in Guangzhou. It may just be me, but each time stamp that brings us together for longer than we've been apart/moving around/etc helps to ease the tension of worrying about his comfort. What does he think when he wakes up in this room? What goes through his mind when we strap him in the carseat? Does he feel a little less uncertainty each time? This is my full time job, at least for the time I have at home. I go back to work in less than two weeks, which sounds just awful for attachment until I remember, oh yes, I am off every other week and during the day from the moment he wakes until the late ish afternoon.

At this time stamp, Thomas has shown us the most delightful laugh. We know it can be elicited with rolling him over and over and tickling his neck. He has gone from shaking with fear when the dogs are around to feeding them and holding the leash. His independent spirit has broken somewhat free and he is (like his sister) very interested in latching his own seat belts and going up and down stairs without my hand. It is a far far change from our first couple of days home in which I had to hold him continuously. I think the secret is in the squeaky shoes. Wearing them seems to bolster his confidence.

He loves music, enjoys the little piano tremendously, and noticeably relaxes when we sing to him.

We are working on communication, moving from grunts and wails to "mama help" and "mama please." It's a process.

His cries are guttural and deeply intense. I can't tell if he's grieving, but sometimes I hold him through it in case he is, not trying to suppress or stop the cry.

A day at a time, from moment to moment, trying to breathe, slow down, and see the forest when the trees are being whiny. :)

Watching Baba power wash

discovering sticks and dirt

helping clean out mama's summer garden 

sunday morning 

what are we supposed to be looking at?

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Home for the first time

29 hours, three planes,  16 long lines, a handful of tantrums and very very little sleep later, we made it home. Ah, travel, the end and the beginning really really stink but the actual experience is everything. 

Thursday, September 01, 2016

One last note from China

While I write, Ben is out watch shopping and the kids are snoozing away. We used our last day to explore the "safari park" that is one hour outside the city, which, in a city of 25 million, is saying something. The park was wonderful and well worth whatever we paid to get in! It was kind of like a more open, lush, interactive zoo. There are stations to feed many of the animals and over lunch we watched the Tigers being fed (Serena's favorite). There were panda triplets and toucans and only one meltdown, which we all survived. See photos on the Facebook album :) not of the meltdown, though ben did take pictures of it "to look back on later." I nearly fed him to the tigers at that point. 
We are sad to leave China again but looking forward to returning home. Tomorrow Thomas will board three planes. Let's hope he weathers them the way he has weathered all of his other firsts: short plane ride, paddle boat, escalator, many many elevators, taxi, cruise boat, and subway. All within 1.5 weeks. 
We will be cocooning upon returning home as much as we can for this little guy to feel safe and come to understand love, but do send messages and visit! 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Consulate Day!

Means we are one step closer to finishing this marathon. After leaving the consulate our way out was even marked by those metal barricades used at races, so the metaphor was quite fitting. Ben and I raised our right hands to promise to care for our son, did a 5 minute interview, and whoop, we are done with all the official part of our stay. We celebrated with Cantonese lunch surrounded by smoke and aquariums of turtles, snakes, and swordfish for our choosing. We did not but perhaps should have as the beef was mostly fat. Lesson learned. Thomas has been, for lack of a better term, cranky. I'm not sure if he is grieving. He doesn't seem scared at all, apart from the ride to the consulate reminding him of the clinic. In many ways, he very much seems younger than 2, in ways we didn't experience with Serena. He cries when hungry, is content to rock in my arms to sleep, and coos when happy. Mix that with characteristics of a typical 2 year old - keeps us well on our toes! He is not content yet with Ben (reversal of Serena), won't even let him push the stroller, but they have had good moments and it will get better. 
Things that make him happy: Chinese crackers, chasing Jie Jie, being thrown up in the air, and we have quite the water baby on our hands! I'm pretty sure that a few more sessions in the pool and he'll be swimming independently! He loves it and yesterday began jumping off the side into my arms. He began singing twinkle twinkle little star in his sweet little voice and each night echoes back "wo ai nee," which is I love you. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana

The days are swiftly moving by in a flurry of touristing, eating, picking noodles off our clothes. Yesterday we visited a Buddhist temple; we were meaning to return to the same temple we visited with S last time but something was lost in translation or perhaps the cab driver thought we'd like this one more, I'm not sure. In any case the visit alternated between peaceful strolling and "don't touch that," so typical parenting adventures. We stopped for dim sum on Shamian island and *i think* it was delicious - there was much toddler angst. He's from Chengdu, they don't do dim sum there. Like his mama, though, he went for the sweet pork buns and we both enjoyed the cuddle fish. We revisited old haunts from Serena's time and I welled up with tears in front of our old hotel; at that time I had no idea whether she would ever accept me as mama. Oh, how our stories can change for the good! 
We ended the day in a boat with all the other families on the Pearl River cruise, eschewing the remarkably bad food remembered from last, this time for pizza instead. The night air was perfect and little T raised his hand to feel the wind. Serena wanted to dance or play "dragons." If you are curious about "dragons," dear reader, just ask her. :)
It is nearly impossible to upload photos from this app, so I think I will create a private fb album for those interested. If you've commented or I know you're reading, I'll make it visible to you. Xoxo

Sunday, August 28, 2016

1 week ago

We were desperately trying to get here after all the plane delays and today, (Sunday), the three are four. This day in Guangzhou was for touring around. We had breakfast and took off to a large family shrine. The Chen family (Serena's given family name) established this shrine in the 19th century. It was peaceful and full of truly amazing carvings. Serena was most excited about the tiger scroll she found and I was attempting to find serenity for Thomas who, as it turns out, was hungry from the moment he woke. We fed him crackers until we ran out. He was momentarily distracted by the animals and creatures at the medicine market we went to afterwards but his mind was never far from food. There were smiles of glee as I threw him up in the air at the shrine, his little hands reaching for the tree leaves, but he grieved yesterday, and we held him through it. 
There was a cool breeze tonight as we walked the streets of Guangzhou, taking in a tea shop or two and buying a little street food (fruit). He opened up and resched for kisses near the end and my heart may have burst. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016


Today, Saturday, began as no proper Saturday should, with our final trip for the nasopharyngeal swab and ended somewhere right about perfect. T woke up hungry, which was awful because had to be fasting for the test. He rummaged through my bag looking for food which was heartbreaking. Both Ben and our guide explained to him that we would be feeding him and so he seemed to calm, at least until we reached the clinic which of course he recognized. Fortunately, once we reached the clinic the actual test was over quickly. After a better-than-the-day before breakfast (he is 2 in every sense and yells "boo Yao" if we approach with a less than desired food offering, we set out tour a nearby museum that we actually also visited with Serena. Walking through, all I could remember was feeling trepidation; I was carrying her in the Ergo and kept waiting for her to protest and reach for Ben. In mighty contrast, I pushed T in the stroller and we kissed at each other and played peekaboo the whole way through. Both times, Ben geeked out on the Chinese relics and completely missed out on any attachment drama :) after naps and lunch we headed to the pool which is really lovely; I snuck in a few laps before the rest of the family joined and T made big strides! He sat on the edge for a long while, splashing with his feet, and with the help of a bath toy from another adoptive family, he made his way to splashing around in my arms. Joy! 
Tonight we strolled through a local park and enjoyed the night life energy.  We had dinner at a surreal little place right on a lake. We'll have to tell you about it in person. It was wonderful to enjoy good food outside while the kids scarfed their noodles/soup. T demands to feed himself (and we let him- may be the only thing he can control right now) so it takes ages and we take advantage.  There was even a cool breeze in the air and we encountered street karaoke on the walk back to our Guangzhou home, surrounded by others out walking, bicycles rushing by. I'll try to upload pictures but blogger is very very slow here. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Birthdays in China

Today was Thomas's second birthday. We celebrated in style by taking him again to the clinic for the induced sputum testing. And you thought your last birthday was lame. 
Our thoughtful guide brought a chocolate treat to give once the testing was done - a treat that he noted, might have been outlawed in the US due to the toy that accompanies it (yikes!) fortunately he concentrated on the chocolate and could care less about the toy. 
Today brought several smiles and less self-soothing. He has given me luxuries that I have not experienced before- falling asleep in my arms- so lovely - and the luxury of  getting drenched with bottled water in the hot Guangzhou air because his favorite thing continues to be dumping it over his head and thus anyone close by. 
We confirmed that he and S are definitely related as they both did a little dance for the same beloved Chinese crackers. 
On that note, she had a much better day; still with frustrations but she made a few breakthroughs and seemed more herself. 
For his birthday celebration our hotel delivered a cute little lemon cake which S loved and T mostly fed to me (great attachment progress!) and we played with bubbles under a gentle rain. The siblings then took turns jabbing each other accidentally with the ends of fuzball table rods (handles missing on most of them), 
At 2 years of age Thomas:
Has many words but prefers "bu Yao." He sweetly says "Jie Jie" to  acknowledge his sister. He also has the sweetest little baby gibberish. 
Is determined to feed himself and often the most difficult way- prefers real silverware over the kid friendly spoons I brought
Seems to love to run and chase and slam doors :)
He can stack blocks like a champ but seems to prefer to put toys away:)
We can't really tell what he likes to eat so far- has been variable and not quite what we were told . He seems to like watermelon and noodles.
Tomorrow is the last day of sputum testing. We are grateful. It is so hard as he wakes up hungry and we can't feed him until the test is over (doesn't help to build trust at all!)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Which day is it again?


Ebb and Flow

Upon arriving in Guangzhou on Wednesday, I think, we crashed hard into our hotel. It is unfortunate that we spent only one night in an airy modern studio with storage space aplenty and Malin and Goetz toiletries only to drop suitcases in a much smaller space that is ensconced in dark tones. Fortunately, the hotel is surrounded by beautiful gardens and while it is very humid, it isn't intolerable so we are able to get out. We spent the next morning in the medical clinic. Because of his special need (he was diagnosed with HIV but later tests were negative, we are told), he has to undergo three days of "sputum testing," which actually involved sticking a tube down his nose to retrieve. Add to that a little blood work and various other pokes and prods, and it's no wonder he is scared and remarkable to me that we get little glimmers of his personality. They are brief but intense. He spent much of yesterday shut down but he is reaching for me (Brandy) and calms easily if upset. We have 2 more days of sputum testing but no more blood. 
Serena is having a difficult time as big sister. We think she used up all of her reserves on the long trip here and is regressing such that I even carried her in the ergo this morning. We are hoping that with a little extra nuture, she will feel reassured. 
We received pictures of him outside but it seemed obvious yesterday that he has never been on a playground. He loves water so I was super excited about taking him to the pool but he was quite terrified of it- maybe the temp? 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

24 hours in Chengdu

*apologies for sloppy writing - am falling asleep as I type :) Typically with adoptions outside of Guangzhou, families spend several days in their child's home city, to tour and "do paperwork," but our flight schedule set us back that we spent only 24 hours in T's city, which is very sad as it is quite beautiful l. In the center there is large breeding center of pandas and so, with limited time, we jumped at an opportunity to spend the morning there. It was hot, as in don't leave your bone at all costs summer in Arkansas kind of hot, but we trudged through the thick forest of bamboo despite the sweating. T alternately shut down and became interactive, playful and smiling. He does not seem to be favoring one of us *relief*. We are fairly certain he was rarely told "no." 
We spend the afternoon doing paperwork, more on that later, and then took T on his first plane trip to Guangzhpu. He did quite well! Settled down and zipped/unzipped his backpack repeatedly and played with stacking blocks. We landed late this evening and now everyone is sweetly snoring away. 
Pictorial tour of the day:

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

First meeting jitters

We didn't have enough time to be nervous this time around, especially with S chatting at me the entire 45 min trip from airport to meeting place. He has shown a couple of signs of fear but playing with us helped him to open up, laugh, and be silly- he poured a bottle of water over his head and thought it hilarious! He loves the bath. Our first meal together was rice and jiaozi, which was splendidly messy. 

It took so long, yet here we are

This will be the shortest of posts but, after three days of travel due to airline delays, we made it at last and in sharp contrast to Serena, for whom we had everything laid out and ready, we were taken straight to the airport to a hotel where T was strollered in without warning. Pictures will speak for now, more complete story later. We suddenly went from this:
To this:
Followed by:

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Monday beckons...away we go!

“I didn’t give you the gift of life,
But in my heart I know.
The love I feel is deep and real,
As if it had been so.
For us to have each other
Is like a dream come true!
No, I didn’t give you
The gift of life,
Life gave me the gift of you.”

New Beginnings!

It is August and in the South, that means back - to - school. For Serena, this means kindergarten (!) and for Ben, full time teaching. 

We were sad to learn that Serena's school had to close this summer. She loved her teacher and we all loved seeing how she learned through the Montessori method. All worked out well, as things tend to do, when we learned that there was an opening at the school where Ben would begin teaching. They get to commute together. And while she will miss out on the age old experience of riding a school bus every day, which she will gain by being at this school is significantly more. Here's to a successful year for both!

exploring a bit around school

Mom I'm too distracted by the bus to smile

Daddy makes it better

We celebrate you while you are still 8000 miles away, Si Yuan

I have determined that every Sunday afternoon available should be spent eating dessert surrounded by one's community. This was inspired after The Most Wonderful Kim and Steve threw us a shower for Thomas. This was not the most traditional shower - there were kids and men around (they supported one another) and it was great. We chatted and dreamed together and drank coffee and devoured home made banana pudding and locally acquired petit fours. We are blessed. We are thankful.

We may or may not have known each other for, gulp, 18 years- freshman year, ya'll. 

Travel Approval!

Yeah!  Flights are booked, suitcases under the weight limit, and our spirits are high. We are preparing to help him through this very hard change; we pray that we are ready to hold him through his grief, his loss, and are thankful to the Ayis who have brought him to this place. Serena grieved hard and rejected me for 12 of the 14 days of our trip but she slept, ate, and traveled well. We can only hope for such a scenario the second time around.

Of course, she'll be around to show him the Utter ropes :)

Back in La Petite Roche

Back to the rhythm of paper chase, which keeps changing. Once we received I800 approval, our next step was to apply for a visa for Thomas. This is done *thankfully* online but the catch is that you have to log on when the site isn't busy, otherwise you can't get through. It took two tries and I was timed out once but we did it, then printed out the application (of course) and sent to our agency. At the same time, once our I800 was approved, it was sent to the National Visa Center. My task for this was to email the NVC every day until I receive a "GUZ" number, which is our number logged into the immigration system. I was instructed to begin this process 5 days after I800 approval. With me, yet? Once we have a "GUZ" number, I can email to ask for an "RTF" which is a letter stating that our information has been forwarded to the US Consulate in Guangzhou. That didn't take long and once the RTF was mailed to our agency, they forward it to their courier in Guangzhou who takes the information along with the rest of our dossier to the CCCWA to drop off. It takes 2 weeks between drop off of this information and pick up.

So during these two weeks we carried on with life, soaking up of the end of summer with pool days, late summer evening walks, and visits to Nai Nai's house.

I've been trying to soak up the ease with which we function as a family of three. I am ready for the disruption but not before appreciating the quiet chance to do things like this:

Next step: Article 5 pick up and wait for travel approval!

Hot Texas Sky

Thankfully, the 3 week wait for I-800 approval was the longest wait left. In order to find out our approval status, we are instructed to call the USCIS on a daily basis to inquire. If we are lucky, we are put in touch with our "officer" whose job is to approve the application or request more information (shudder). On this side of adoption, we do not know what the officer's responsibilities include or how busy they are. It seems, perhaps, cumbersome (and annoying?) to call someone, theoretically interrupting their work, to see if your part of their work is done. Combine this with my complete intolerance for phone calls = UGH. However, it is not surprising that the motivation to get to China outweighed my intolerance. So I called. and then chickened out and emailed. Eventually, the form was approved without any need for further information (=delay)! The next step is to wait (yes) for a GUZ number. And so, while waiting, Serena and I hopped in Subaru no 2 and hit 1-30 W to Texas, where friends from long ago waited to reunite.

Kristen, Joanna, and I got to know one another quite well during our mutual quest to conquer general chemistry in college. We were equally determined and passionate about this conquest. And it bound us together as these things tend to do. 15 or so years later we find ourselves same same, but different, as the book title goes. All that to say, it was glorious to get together and catch up on our lives and introduce our children. We stayed up entirely too late and there was wine and we talked of children, of books, of work, of spirituality, all the things that compose our lives.

Also, Joanna runs a small farm, which is awesome:

We explored Dallas Museum of Art where Serena and I saw our first Frida Kahlo (not pictured):
The kiddos experienced the museum while sketching as we went along
 And I saw what must have been the original inspiration for the minimalist movement:

The heat was real but not a deterrent! Downtown Dallas allowed us to take it on with splash pads and shaved ice.

What a tremendous blessing to have these women within driving distance!

Quick Weekend Explore

In the weeks following our LOA, we applied to immigration to accept our specific child. The application itself was not at all painful but the duration of time between sending off a piece of paper and receiving another felt like ages. So, to distract, we took a little mini trip. I had not ventured to Eureka Springs since medical school and have a vague recollection of winding streets of charming shops. As we began our ascent into the mountains, the air felt a touch cooler and we were thankful. The mountain scenery opened up to a resort town feel of B & Bs, restaurants, and tours. We turned on on the main street and our first stop was food: Aqaurius Tacqueria fit the bill ever so nicely. We shared Mexican street corn, flavorful salsas, and I tried the grapefruit margarita which was a great blend of sweet and tart.
We anticipated walking off lunch a bit at our next stop - Thorncrown Chapel. It was as beautiful as advertised but only the quickest of walks winding in to it. I expected to feel a rush of peace and tranquility sitting in such architecture that melds in with the surrounding hills (a la churches in the UK) but the forbidding signs of "don't walk here" and "sit, no walking inside the chapel," along with a volunteer to make sure we didn't break any rules kind of prevented that possibility.
After settling into our little cottage for the night,

cute, right? We took off to visit Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge takes in abandoned, unwanted, or abused animals with a focus on big cats. The Refuge is set off on rolling hills and for a moment, I could almost imagine being back at Tenwek:
We took a tour and learned the animals' histories and stuck around for feeding time. It is a peaceful place and while it is unfathomable to imagine the abuse/neglect/disregard that the animals have been through, it is wonderful to experience what kindness can do.

I would highly recommend a trip. Serena had approximately 2000 questions for the poor guide. We all learned from her questions, though!

We ended the day with dinner at Local Flavor, which we also highly recommend!

The next morning we set out for a quick hike around a local lake,
followed by brunch and town exploration:

'Twas a quick trip and we said good bye and we'll be back -
Off then to explore a little of the Buffalo River, which did bring the peace and tranquility as mentioned above:

We checked out camp grounds for future ideas and Kyle's Landing was definitely the top pick. Are we crazy to hoping to go camping this fall with a 2 year old? Time shall tell.