Monday, January 31, 2011

Journey to Maire, Part III: Meeting Maire

OK, This one’s probably going to be the toughest. In this episode we finally meet our daughter who we’ve waited some four years for. There are some details about her that we haven’t made public, which certainly played into our first few days with her, but have since become fairly inconsequential. You’ll see what I mean.

We wake up Monday morning in Changsha. It’s still Sunday evening in Missouri. We’re up early, but not so early as we fear with the time change would have us. So it’s 5:30 a.m. and we flip the tube on to catch the last quarter of the Seattle v. Chicago game. Then, we watch the Jets’ surprising defeat of New England. All this is doing a fairly good job of distracting us from the monumental life change we are about to undertake.

At halftime, we bundle up in our sweaters and fleece to go down to the lobby to get to our breakfast buffet. We’re unsure of what to expect. There’s supposedly western breakfast available. In fact, there seem to be several styles. Their idea of which constitute western and which are Asian is questionable. Along the western side there are sausages and bacon, French toast and cereal, fried eggs and dumplings? Meat buns? Steamed buns? Polenta cake? Where does that come from? I suppose it isn’t China. Anyway, all this non-western western food is bringing the reality of what we’re doing a little too close to the surface, so we head back to the room to warm up and watch the final death throes of the Patriots.

At 10 a.m. we bundle up to meet our guide, Richard, in the lobby. Jim and Cora are there as well. Jim and Cora got news that their daughter and her caretakers weren’t able to get an early train to Changsha, therefore she will be delivered to them at the hotel. This frees them up to take pictures for us and act as support that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. Jim’s idea of support seems to be to make fun of Angie. He takes a few cracks, but we’re all pretty stiff. The anxiety is a little high.

It has started snowing; something we’re told doesn’t really happen all that often in Changsha. The locals are bundled up like they’re in the Alaskan tundra. I would guess it’s about 27 degrees Fahrenheit, maybe even slightly warmer.

The five of us pile into a taxi van to brave the Changsha traffic. Richard explains to us that there are two types of drivers in China, crazy and crazier. The Changsha traffic is kind of like the pictures I’ve seen of the trading floors of Wall Street just before the final bell. Nobody uses lanes, traffic signs seem to be merely suggestions that no one follows, and the drivers can’t stand to be stopped for more than a second. If you’re stopped, you change lanes. It doesn’t matter that no one is moving in the next lane over, you just push your way through there anyway. If there’s no other place to go, just drive in the oncoming traffic. If you can’t get to the opposing lanes, just pull up on the sidewalk and drive to your destination from there. If you’re a pedestrian, be ready to jump. The drivers don’t care if you’re softer than their car. In fact, they see that as their advantage.

We somehow survive the Changsha traffic to find ourselves delivered at the Hunan Adoption Services building. It’s this fairly insignificant looking office structure tucked in behind apparently more important institutions. We walk into this cave-like industrial structure directly to the elevators, no inside lobby. Our hearts are really beating now.

All we’re doing today is picking up the children. There is no paper work being done, this is all about the families meeting the children. There will be several other families in the same room receiving their children.

It’s important to note here just what Angie and I know about Maire before meeting her. We had gotten sick of waiting for the traditional process, so we had gone to the waiting child list to find a child we felt we’d like to adopt. The waiting child list is made up of children older than two and those born with birth defects or deficiencies. Cora sent us Maire’s profile from a group called Love Without Boundaries, an advocacy group for special needs children who find children and try to get them adopted faster. Sometimes, as with Maire, they place them into foster homes until they are adopted.

Angie and I had discussed it at the time and felt that we were really the perfect candidate family for a special needs child. We once adopted a blind and deaf dog that had many other problems. That dog was the best dog we ever owned. We’re both extremely patient people. Angie chooses to work with three-year-olds. Plus our shared laid-back personalities just told us it made sense.

Maire’s special needs did not seem that severe initially. We were told she was developmentally delayed, which was no surprise for a special needs child. That’s no surprise for any orphan. We then got word that she had been diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy. Even before we met her seemed as if any CP was very mild indeed, if not entirely inaccurate. In the pictures we received she did seem to hold some tension in her arms and hands, but she seemed to improve as she got older. She only started walking in August or September. She turned three in December, so that tells you quite a bit about how delayed she was. Then in December we got news that she had been diagnosed with pediatric epilepsy, not CP. This came as a bit of a shock to us, but did not rock us in our resolve that she was the right child for us. We realized that this meant it was going to be a more difficult transition for her and us than we had initially thought, but we figured we could work through it.

So now, we’re about to meet our little girl. We know she hasn’t had an incredibly happy life thus far, but in the past couple of months she’s really progressed and we’ve even seen a picture of her smiling. Before the elevator even opens we hear her crying. We’ve no reason to believe it’s her. She’s not even supposed to be in the room before we get there, but we know. The doors open and we see the words “Hunan Adoption Admin…” on the wall, we don’t look long enough to read the rest. We look over to our right and see a very unhappy stiff little girl in a white winter parka with multi-colored polka dots on it. She’s crying with tears running down her cheeks. There’s no doubt it’s our Maire. She looks just like her pictures. She’s tiny. Her mouth is locked open in a strain. Her face is still beautiful, her eyes sparkling from the tears.

They shuffle us into the room quickly. There’s a sense of embarrassment from the slight breach in protocol of not having us settled and ready to meet our daughter before we see her. Richard had suggested earlier we chose one of us to receive the child, so she can imprint on whomever might be the primary caregiver. There was no question that it would be Angie. She’s home much more than I. Plus, I didn’t want her the put on her angry eyes. Angie sits as they bring her over to us. We’re amazed to see her. The joy is palpable. Our smiles are too large. I shuffle out of the way, but not so far that I might be excluded.

Maire has never heard anyone refer to her by that name before. We’ve been calling her that for nine months. It’s the name given to her by Love Without Boundaries. We liked it so much we kept it. Her Chinese name is Chen Lou. Her foster family called her Chen Chen. We’ve decided to go with Maire Chen until she’s used to her new given name.

Maire shambles over to Angie. ‘Shambles’ is the right word, because she walks with such stiffness in her limbs. I suppose this is where someone felt CP might be an issue, but it doesn’t look like that to anyone who meets her that day and anyone she will meet during the rest of her time in China. She doesn’t seem to have any real issues with her motor skills, fine or otherwise. She just carries herself with such fear and an awkwardness that suggests she just hasn’t used her muscles enough.

Her face is in a perpetual grimace of concern. She whines pretty much constantly, but the tears and outright cries have subsided. The whines appear to be her only form of communication. We say “Ni hao, Chen,” a Chinese greeting, “Ni hao, Maire Chen. Ni hao.” She doesn’t appear to respond, but she goes to Angie as if she may know her.

She doesn’t close her mouth, and continues to whine despite the fact that she seems to be comforted by Angie. Because her mouth is perpetually open, she drools. There is a good deal of saliva coming out of her mouth. Her collar is soaked. She’s beautiful anyway, but Angie and I will confess to each other later that the amount of drool coming out of her mouth at that point initially concerned us. That combined with the extreme stiffness she displayed had us thinking that her problems were even worse than had been indicated to us. I was concerned, but never disappointed. My thoughts were that it would just be more difficult caring for her. My timetable for how quickly we could adjust shifted in my head. It would be a longer road, with more therapy than we might have anticipated. She was still our beautiful daughter.

Of course, another problem I had with the drooling that I never confessed to Angie, but she was likely to surmise from her own knowledge of me, was that I have a very sensitive gag reflex. We’ve never been able to adopt a dog breed that has been known to drool, because the drool just sends my gag reflex off. Again, that’s something I’ve never articulated to Ang, but I’m sure it was something we both considered each time we’ve adopted a pet. That day, however, my constitution was strong, and the drool didn’t bother me a bit. I didn’t even think about after a while, but I want it on record that the problem had occurred to me. We would later learn that our concerns about the drool were slightly misdirected.

As I’m watching Angie’s joy and Maire’s confusion, Richard taps me on the shoulder. I have to talk with him and the orphanage director about Maire’s medication. They hand me a bag full of stuff. Wow! There are a lot of drugs here. As you can imagine this adds to my concerns. They speak with each other in Chinese. There is a photocopy of what looks like a grocery list. Apparently this is the doctor’s prescription orders. They can’t read it. Doctors’ penmanship is even illegible in Chinese characters. Their chatter is getting more frenzied. You see, no one at the orphanage actually knows much about Maire because she’s been in foster care. I listen intently, as if I’ll catch a word or two. Unless they’re saying “I love you” to each other in Chinese, that’s not gonna happen.

After a failed attempt to call the doctor’s office and get the orders straight from the source, they call the foster mom. We’ll learn later why they were reluctant to call her. Most of the bag is filled with these purple boxes, but the director seems more concerned with the two bottles of pills. One is B6, obviously a vitamin supplement. The other is sodium valproate, which we’re told (and later confirm) is for her seizures. They’re not sure what the purple boxes are. Richard tells me, “It’s a Chinese herbal medicine.” When we start giving them to her later in the day they seem more likely to be M&Ms.

So the orders are 1 B6 a day, seizure medicine 3 times a day, Chinese herbal M&Ms 3 “pills” 3 times a day. That last one seems excessive.

Then, Richard interprets a list of questions that we have about Maire’s everyday life. What does she like to eat and drink? When does she nap? Where does she sleep? And a bunch of other things that we were pretty much asking just because he said we should ask them questions. It really doesn’t matter in this situation because the orphanage director doesn’t really know any of the answers to these questions, since Maire didn’t live at the orphanage, but rather with a foster family. She pretends to know the answers, or Richard makes it seem as if she does through his interpretation. Also, we may have obtained a lot more information about Maire than most families would normally have in that situation. I’m not saying where we got it, but I was just going through the motions so Richard and the orphanage people didn’t think we didn’t care. It’s also good to see if the answers match up with our information. But, really, I want to see my baby.

I miss her first five minutes with Ang while I’m dealing with the orphanage director, so I’m not really sure how all that went down. When I turn to them, Angie hands me Maire and it’s clear almost from the start that Maire chose her own parental bond. She studies me intently. While I was talking with the orphanage director, Angie had given her a picture of me. She holds it in her hand. Looks at it. Looks at me. Looks at the picture. Looks at me. She does this for a substantial amount of time. It feels like ten minutes. She can’t believe the man in the picture is actually holding her. I can’t believe I’m holding this little girl whose pictures I’ve been looking at for the past nine months.

She does this thing where she looks from side to side very quickly. Like she’s watching a tennis match with a jet-propelled ball. She does it when she’s tense, but she also does it as play. After a while, I feel like her looking between my picture and me becomes a game to her, although her amazement remains.

She continues to whine and drool. We find a washcloth and mop her mouth as quickly as it comes out. We hand her books and papers. Richard’s daughter Cindy draws amazing pictures for her. Cindy and Jim had held a drawing duel at dinner the previous evening, and she proved herself to be quite the artist. It’s through Cindy’s drawing that we discover the most effective soothing device for Mairecrinkly paper. The physical texture of things works too, but not like the texture of sound. She crumples a paper right up next to her ear, and her whines almost turn to cooing for a moment.

There are a few other formalities that need to be taken care of. We’re rushed into a room at one point to take her picture for her passport. But, the majority of the fine print will have its ‘i’s dotted and its ‘t’s crossed tomorrow. Well, I guess it will be more like its little houses will be roofed and its exit symbols will be double forked. That’s a little Chinese writing humor for you.

Sooner than seems appropriate, we are bundling Maire up to brave the unusually wintery Changsha weather. We emerge from the elevator cave, and it seems almost like stealing now that we’re shoving this kid into our van, piling in and driving away. We didn’t even give them anything. ‘Course, like I said, we’ll be back tomorrow for that part. That will be our last chance to back out, Richard says. We’ll have to take an oath not to abandon her at that point.

The ride back to the hotel is quiet. Maire seems quite put out by being in the car. She also seems very comforted to be in my lap. Yes, I said lap. These people don’t drive in lanes, heck they’re not even on the street half the time; you expect them to have car seats? She sucks on her hand most of the way home. She also seems quite enamored of Cindy, who unfortunately suffers from car sickness by the time we get back to the hotel. By then, Maire is mostly calm.

It’s at some point between meeting Maire and getting her into the car that Angie discovers the main source of Maire’s drool. She likes to store things in her mouth. I initially thought it was another comforting mechanism, but I think it’s because she doesn’t know she can spit stuff out. If she gets something in there she doesn’t like, she just holds it in there. By the time we get back to the hotel room and Angie fishes out the cracker she’d been given just before she met us, it had been in there for almost two hours. Angie’s gag reflex doesn’t fare as well as mine.

We decide to strip her clothes off her. The Chinese believe that they have very poor circulation, I guess, especially as children. They layer like their trapped in the arctic. Although it’s winter, it ain’t as cold as they’ve got this child wrapped. We remove her coat. She’s wearing a red sweater. Angie snaps a picture of her sitting in my lap. I look happier than Maire does. She doesn’t like getting undressed. Too much change. She doesn’t do well with change. Well, I’ve got news for you darling.

We take off her red sweater. She has a striped wool sweater under that, and there’s some sort of wool garment coming up over that sweater from her legs. We take off her jeans. They’re thick jeans, with some sort of inner quilt lining. Once we have the jeans off we can see the wool leggings. They are a pair of wool knit long underwear with a split in the crotch for easy… Let’s just say easy access. It isn’t custom in China to wear diapers, at least not for orphans. The jeans were probably put on special for us, since they had no split in the crotch. Or maybe they did. I can’t remember.

So we get the wool sweater and leggings off and she has one more layer under that. We get a diaper on her, put a onesie on her, a pink turtle neck and a pair of new regular American jeans. We think that should suffice for the hotel room. If she gets cold, we’ll turn up the heat. We’re Americans!

Just as we realize we have no idea what to do with her now, Richard calls. The Jim’s and Cora’s baby is here. We race to his room with Maire and the camera to capture their reactions. Now, this will be fun.

Stay tuned for Part IV.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

We did what?!?

So I sit here in my comfy midwest home, suffering from a bit of jet lag, and it occurs to me: We actually did it. We actually adopted a child! Something Andy and I talked about for years...13 to be exact. So many ups and downs during the process--I'm not sure I truly ever believed it would happen. Like one of those "winning the lottery" moments you fantasize about. Or the dream of being offered the exact job you want. One of those things you play out in your mind, but don't really expect to ever happen. But it did happen. I have proof sleeping in a crib at the foot of my bed. A beautiful sassy little 3 year old with amazing eyes and even a more amazing smile! Life as we know it might never be the same! At least hers won't be. Thank the lord for this small miracle!

A brief recap of the last 28 hours: Hong Kong to Detroit (14 hours in economy seating!), clearing customs, becoming US citizen, flight from Detroit to KC, Hicks family welcome party at airport complete with balloons and signs, Wendy's french fries, 2 hour drive home in a car seat, new house, fuzzy furry thing licking her face constantly, 2 big brothers desperate to help change diapers, put on pjs, sing night night songs--begging for her to sleep in their room--only to change their minds after 2 minutes of screaming--2 beyond lethargic parents who have not slept in 28 hours. Life seems good to me!

Details to come later--but can I say---this child has yet to complain about anything mentioned above! All smiles and laughs from our sweet girl! Welcome home Maire.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hong Kong Bound

It is friday morning here in Guangzhou and we are packing up our room and headed south! We will take the train to HK, then overnight at the airport Marriott. Our flight to the states leaves Saturday morning! We have loved Shamain Island. It is beautiful here.

It makes me sad to think this is the last day we will spend with Jim, Cora and Chloe. Maire has become very fond of them-well, so have Andy and I, too. I hope we have the chance to spend time with them again. Our girls share a bond, and we cannot let them forgot that!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Winding down....

Now that's quite a broom!

Maire is dressed and ready to go! She loves "going bye bye".

Simply beautiful

"Mom, you are too close to me. I'm trying to walk here!"

Smiling girl!

Today is our Consulate Appointment!! Our 14 days in China is coming to an end in 3 days... Can I tell you how excited I am about that!! I know I should be enjoying my daughter's home country, and I am. But I miss my boys! I am ready to get back to real life. For months (ok, years) this adoption has been weighing on our shoulders--obviously we are thrilled to have Maire in our arms, but so much of the process is frustrating. We are just ready to live our lives as a family of 5!

Maire continues to amaze us with her personality and abilities. She is so smart and already her motor skills have improved 100%. She eats like a champ (not too picky) and sleeps solid for 10 + hours. She laughs and giggles and plays. We love seeing her so happy. She still HATES baths--and I mean HATE. We've tried cool water, hot water, with mom in the tub, with mom OUT of the tub. We've tried toys and bubbles and splashing--nope. She hates baths! But she always smells so wonderful after her bath, and she forgives us pretty quickly! I know one day she will scream when we take her OUT. Until then, we will just suffer through blood curdling screams in another language!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Just pics!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Journey to Maire, part II

26 hours after we landed in Seattle, the sun finally rises in Beijing. But, I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

You’d think after the small amount of sleep we’ve gotten over the past 48or has it been 60?sleeping through the night should be no problem. So my body thought as soon as it slapped onto that concrete block China’s luxury hotels are calling a mattress; but at 2:30 a.m. Beijing time, I could no longer ignore the calls from my subconscious telling me that we would surely sleep in too late. We would miss our flight from Beijing to Changsha. We’d be stuck in Beijing. We would miss our appointment to pick up our daughter on Monday. We’d be unacceptable parents in the eyes of China, and we’d have to say goodbye to another child.

Since I’m now waking up every hour on the hour, there isn’t much chance that we we’re going to miss anything. Also, the concrete mattress is doing great things to those muscles that got so suddenly woken in Minneapolis earlier in the trip. I haven’t been so stiff since the last time I went skiing more than ten years ago. Angie sleeps like a rock.

So we’re up and at’em at 5:30 a.m. Beijing time, even though we don’t need to be in the lobby for another half-hour. In the lobby, paranoia continues to drive me to bug a man I think to be the bellman for our shuttle bus. For all I know, this guy’s just another traveler, but I fall behind the language barrier excuse.  The bus shows up at 6:15 on the money, just like we were told. We make a five-minute trek to the airport, through streets I’d never guess were Beijing. I don’t know what I expected. I guess it looks kind of European to me.

As we approach the airport terminal, our jaws go slack. It’s huge. It’s like some futuristic city we’re approaching. I half expect to see flying cars buzzing around the arrival and departure zones. Our bus driver lets us out, grabs a cart for us and unloads our bags onto it. We’re still in a daze. We push the cart into the terminal, and I suppose this is what an ant colony is to a mere worker.

Inside it’s even larger than it seems outside. You could fit five of my home towns inside this place, but you’d have to multiply those five populations by twenty. Where the f---, er, um, hell? Do we go? Luckily Angie’s eye is more on the ball than mine. She points us in the direction of China Air. How the hell did she see that? Should I stop saying hell? I can’t; this place is too huge!

We find a ticket counter, but you see, unlike American airports, you can just walk in and buy a plane ticket on your way to 2000 miles away, like it’s some sort of bus terminal. The biggest damn bus terminal you ever saw, that is. We’ve found a ticket-purchasing counter, but we already have tickets, and we need to check bags. After some low level, pre-language grunting is exchanged, the cashier sends us to the next aisle to check in. We turn the corner and it’s like market day in downtown Bangladesh. There’s a frenzy of people pressed up against the counters in what seems like hundreds of lines. What th--?

The next thing we know this woman approaches us wearing all black. No badge of any kind. No sigil of China Air. “This way. This way. You come this way. I’ll check you in,” she says, quite authoritatively, and in the best English we’ve heard in Beijing. We’re aware of the danger here, but with no bearings whatsoever, it’s all we’ve got to go on. She motors us right to the front of a line and starts demanding our luggage. “One at a time!” she barks. “Passports!” There’s no way I’m saying ‘no’ to this woman.

So she appears to have us checked in properly, with our bags sent off to their proper flight; though, really we have know way of knowing that particular detail. The tickets she hands us are to the right flight, so that’s encouraging. Now, she tells us that the extra bags were on her “card”, so we owe her 200 yuan. Now, this isn’t really a whole lot of money, but it’s about twice what we had already looked up that it would be. Angie goes into Super Travel Agent mode. “No. No,” she snarls, “I am a travel agent! I know what this is! We’ll give you 100 yuan. It was only $20!”

The airport monster grabs me, “No. You owe me 200!”

“Andy! Don’t give her that! Let’s go!” Angie snaps.

“But we do owe her something, right?” I whimper.

“Fine!” Ang huffs.

I give the beast 150 yuan. “It was a tip,” I justify, “I mean she really did help us out back there and 100 isn’t quite $20, I think. The extra bag was supposed to be twenty, right?”

Security is chaotic, but something simpler than American airport security. You still have to remove your laptop, but nothing else. No fighting with taking shoes on and off, which is something of a load off.

Now, about two years ago we met another set of unfortunate victims of our adoption agency through the Internet. They live near Seattle. They haven’t been able to have children of their own, so they’re adopting. Their names are Jim and Cora. They’re a little goofy, like Ang and I. They like the same types of movies. They have similar senses of humor. And, miraculously it worked out that we got to adopt our daughters at the exact same time. They arrived in Beijing a few days early to do some sight seeing. This morning will be the first time we’ve ever met in person.

So we walk a couple miles to our gate, and in the distance I recognize a face as belonging to that snarky guy who so frequently leaves humorous comments on my facebook statuses. Then, Cora gets up with her fiery red hair, and we’re sure it’s our good friends we’ve never met in our lives. Isn’t the Internet strange? ‘Course, since they’re the only other white people amongst the gazillion other people traveling that morning, we probably wouldn’t have missed each other if we tried. 

We talk to each other like old friends. There’s no sense we’ve never really met before. Jim comments on the coffee he’s forcing down his throat, likening it to some sort of contaminated soil. Jim also points out the interesting foot fashion choices to be found in China. It will become something I cannot help but notice either. Women must spend most of their money on knee-high, high-heeled boots and calf-length coats. And, there’s certainly some sort of national contest going on for the most flair-filled combinations.

Finally, after what seems like weeks, the sun rises. We watch our luggage being handled like bags of trash onto the plane. We board our China Air flight to Changsha. The four of us are the only white people on board. Many people stare at us. The flight attendants are very good with us, however. The speak English well, and it seems China’s attitude toward air service is something closer to what it was in the U.S. thirty years ago. The customers are valuable additions to the flight, rather than burdens.

They offer us breakfast. Eastern or Western. The Eastern breakfast consists of rice and a couple of bugs or something. The Western is an omelet, yogurt, some fruit and bread. It’s rather good, for airline food. Most everybody get the Western. The gentleman we’re sitting with gets the Eastern, but doesn’t eat much of it.

After a seemingly short 2-hour flight, we’re landing in Changsha. This is where we will meet our Maire, who we’ve waited so long for.

The Changsha airport is a little more normal in scale. We find that the Chinese approach luggage carousels the same way Americans doeveryone shove their way to the front of the conveyor despite the fact that there’s plenty of room for everyone to line up along the whole thing. This makes it fairly easy for me to grab all our bags later on down the line.

The women decide to go for a bathroom break. We’ve heard all about the public bathrooms in China. They’re quite primitive. I haven’t seen one yet, so I won’t describe it. My plan is not to see one. The women come back a few minutes later. Ang says, “We need supplies.” Laughs, and is gone again to another bathroom. No TP I’m guessing. From what I’ve heard, I’m shocked they haven’t just given up on the idea.

We grab our bags and are fairly quickly out the exit. Our guide is unable to meet us at the airport; so another guide meets us and puts us on a taxi bus to our Changsha hotel.

The ride into Changsha is long. As we get closer to the city, we begin to see signs of a city in the making. The suburbs look like they’re trying to be bigger than they are. A lot of little hovels and then we’ll see this giant condo skyscraper. Soon it becomes apparent that there is a much larger city beyond the smog. The smog in Changsha makes L.A.’s look like air that you could bottle and sell.

It isn’t long before we realize that Changsha is a city unlike any we’ve ever seen. We never really got to see Beijing because of the eternal night. This small for China city of only 3 million people stretches on like some sort of third world Matrix city world. It makes New York City look tiny in scale.

We arrive at our hotel, the Dolton, and the guide checks us in. The lobby of this hotel is a giant luxurious room that is not heated. The doors are wide open and everyone wandering around the lobby is as bundled up as they are in the winter weather outside. 

The check in goes smoothly, thanks to the guide’s interpreting, and we head to our rooms. Remembering to put the key card into the light slot we push into the room, do some basic bag arrangement and lay down. I don’t think I’m going to nap, because our real guide is supposed to meet us at 5:30 Changsha time, just a couple hours. I’m going to unpack. I’ll just check out the bed. Yep, concrete block.

The next thing I know, there’s a strange ringing coming from somewhere. I’m able to discern that it is our doorbell. It’s our guide, Richard. He’s a little younger than we imagined, and he’s brought his daughter, Cindy, along with him. We knew he was bringing her, that’s why he couldn’t meet us at the airport. She’s 7, but looks a little older to me. She has bright energy.

We agree to meet in the lobby so Richard can take us out to dinner. Since Jim and Cora have already spent some time in country, they warn us about the drivers. Cora relates a story about how she was almost killed by a bus. Jim says if your spouse is going to walk out into traffic, don’t hold her hand. Save yourself. Their stories aren’t exaggerated. We cross one intersection wondering if we’ll be short a couple members by the time we reach the other side.

Richard jokes with us quite a bit about the food. He keeps asking us if we want dog or cat. I tell him live squid would be nice. The restaurant has private rooms for small parties like ours. We sit down in a small room that resembles a hotel room with a round table instead of a bed, and Richard orders for us. It sounds like they’re making the food in the bathroom of the hotel room we’re in. Every couple of minutes a new dish comes out. After the first couple of dishes, I’m a little worried that I’m going to go home hungry. The pork still has the bones in it and the tofu soup just ain’t gonna cut it. But the dishes keep coming, the fried rice is great, and soon we’re all full.

We head back to the hotel, and I wonder whether we’ll be able to sleep. The next morning will bring us a little girl. She’ll be scared. We’ll be scared. My goodness, what are we going to do with her. We don’t know much about each other. She won’t understand us. There’s no way I’m going to be able to sleep. Yet, as soon as my back hits that concrete slab, I’m out. Sleep, no problem.

Stay tuned for Part III.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Starting of a brand new day!

So after a 2 hour meltdown last night, Maire finally fell asleep.  She slept for 12 hours!  Today she woke up with nothing but smiles and laughs for Mommy & Daddy.  Even after the medical exam torture session, she still seems to be happy with our company.  I even have proof!  Check out these wonderful shots---Melissa, if you are reading this, get a tissue!!

Holy fit batman!

Today was my "what was I thinking" day!! All was good till about 6:30pm. We moved today from Changsha to Guangzhou. We took the train which was GREAT, but it was all too much for Maire. She got worked up about 6:30pm (I had to fish a french fry out of her mouth) and that ticked her off! It took us 2 hours to get her settled down. She is finally calm enough I think she'll fall asleep.

To explain myself, I shall tell you why I fished the french fry out. Maire has a habit of storing food in her mouth for hours...yes hours. The first day, she had a veggie cracker in her mouth for 2 hours. TWO HOURS she sucked on it. We finally got it out of her mouth, but then later that night we notice she still had watercress from dinner in her mouth, along with one of her vitamins! It had been over an hour since we gave her the vitamin! So now we make sure when we are done eating that she doesn't have any food in her mouth. We not only worry about her choking, but it is terrible for her teeth and gums (and breath-yikes!). So after 30 minutes of letting her suck and a very soggy fry, I make her spit it out--and then everything went wrong!

I am so blessed that my hubby has the patience of Job. He took over tonight (at about the midway screaming tantrum yelling in chinese fit that Maire was having-she even stomped her foot). They say girls from Hunan province are spicy---I think they mean stubborn!!

Half way!

Well, today marks the 1/2 way mark for our China visit. We left Changsha around noon and are now in Guangzhou. And Guangzhou is GREAT! The weather is so nice and we have a subway (the sandwich shop) right next door! I've already sent Andy after a Turkey Club, chips and a diet coke!

We took the bullet train and it was one of the greatest experiences! We saw such great landscape and rural areas of China, and it was really comfy, too.

Maire still struggles with sadness, but she continues to impress us with her abilities. We introduced her to McDonalds fries today---they were a big hit! Andy is currently holding her hand as she fights to fall asleep. That is really the only time she is truly unhappy---when she is tired and scared to fall asleep. We know that time will help her adjust. Enjoy the pics.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Journey to Maire, part I

First of all, we need to apologize to everyone who’ve been trying to follow our journey to unite with our daughter. Many of you have been waiting for an invitation, and many who are already members have been waiting to read some new posts. Unfortunately, the Internet connection we have in our Changsha hotel room doesn’t allow us to gain access to many sites, including facebook and any site with “blogspot” in the address. We’ve finally gained touchy connection to everything using a tunneling device, something I knew nothing about until a day ago.

Beyond our Internet problems, everything has gone swimmingly with our adoption so far. As some of you may be aware, we prefaced our trip to China with our annual Hicks family vacation. I was wary about attending the family vaca this year because of it’s close time proximity to our trip to China. However, nothing could have been better for Angie and I than to go to a tropical paradise just before embarking on one of the greatest life changes we’ll experience. We were packed and ready for China a week ahead of time, and instead of spending the week before China stressing about every little detail, we actually were able to relax a little. With a lot of help from a resort kids program and free mixed drinks.

So we return home from our Dominican vacation ten hours before we must again depart for our transit to China. Ang repacks what we already packed and I run around gathering last minute changes. We spend the time with our dog Hoagie. Lucy doesn’t deal well with change, so she was booked into the doggie hotel for the duration. Hoagie spends most of our time together asleep on the second step of our staircase. We drop our boys off at school that Friday and we’re off to the airport yet again.

I don’t know who our travel agent is, but she booked us on some pretty tight transfers. Something about us being her cheapest clients or some such thing. At Minneapolis we learn just how out of shape we are as we have to sprint through half of the airport to make our plane to Seattle. Just as we finally reach our concourse, they make a last call for all people boarding that flight. Suddenly, the concourse grows by about a mile and a half, because, of course, our gate is the furthest one out. I hear the flight attendant saying something about the Wells party just as I reach the gates. “That’s us” *pant, pant* “We’re the Wells’!” *gasp!* We sit down on the plane and we hear, “We’re going to be holding for about eight minutes to allow some passengers to make their transfer!” Damn you!!! But hey, at least they had time to get our luggage on.

So then we have to make our international flight in Seattle. We’ve got Internet capability on the Minneapolis to Seattle flight, but I want to save my computer’s battery, a decision I will later regret since the 11-hour flight to Beijing does not have Internet capability. The flight attendants assure us that our Seattle connection will be nothing like the Minneapolis one, since the gates will be in the same terminal. They tell us the gates will likely be only a few gates apart. They are correct, but it doesn’t matter anyway since the flight to Beijing is delayed because some of the flight crew is coming in from a delayed flight from Detroit.

That’s good. We have time to sit and relax for the first time in two days. We eat our last hot dogs and cheese fries for the next two weeks and wander around the terminal. We find a neck pillow to replace the one we lost at some point during the frantic dash in Minneapolis. We change some money to Chinese Yuan. Believe it or not, it’s raining in Seattle.

After a short wait, shorter than we were initially told, our plane is ready to board and we’re off to China. Our plane follows the Alaskan coastline. We’re able to see it out our window the whole time even though we’re chasing the night. The moon keeps the snow lit up. We see vast mountains and snow. Every once and a while there are a collection of lights, and we wonder, why would they live there? Somewhere halfway between Alaska and Russia we wonder if Sarah Palin can see our plane from her back yard.

We don’t want to sleep. We think it will help us adjust to the time change in Beijing. We’ve got to shift half a day. Course no sleep on an 11-hour overnight flight is a tall order, especially since we only got about four hours the night before. The choice of in-flight movies doesn’t help. Sure, it starts good with “The Social Network”, but then the offerings go downhill with “Going the Distance” and “Charlie St. Cloud”. I can’t make it through the Drew Barrymore debacle without a couple Zs, but I don’t miss enough of it. After the Zach Efron ghost thing we each catch maybe an hour’s worth of sleep, bringing our total for the past 48 hours to about five.

So, twelve hours after the sun set in Seattle we’re in Beijing at 9 p.m. We’re so tired at this point we don’t care if we ever see the sun again. A Chinese man holding a sign that says “Mr. Wells” meets us coming out of the airport to take us to our hotel. He doesn’t speak English very well, but after a little checking we confirm that he is indeed from the hotel we’re booked in and we wait for the shuttle to take us to our night’s lodging.

He leads us across a busy street to the parking garage, where our shuttle awaits. We think for a moment we might get hit as the cabs seem too willing to get close to the pedestrians, but it’s a busy airport. I mean Beijing is a big city, right? We don’t really take note of much, as we are so tired. The hotel lobby has little registration islands rather than a traditional counter, and we experience our first money miscue when the very understanding lady checking us in asks us for “200”. When we hand her 200 in U.S. she says, “Oh no. 100 is enough.” She only wanted 200 Yuan, which is less than $40.

Our next little foreign confusion comes when we open our room door. All the lights are on. Everything looks great until the door shuts and all the lights go out. We flip the switches and nothing. We open the door back up and the lights come on again. We flip the switches again and close the door and the lights go out. When we open the door a third time, I notice a little slot just inside the door about the same size as the door key card. I slide the key card in and when the door shuts, the lights miraculously stay on. In seconds, we hit our concrete-like mattress and are out. The next day will bring us another domestic flight to our first week’s destination of Changsha, Hunan, a meeting with adoption friends we’ve known for two years but never met, and hopefully the end of this eternal night.

Stay tuned for Part II.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

We are connected!

We were finally able to get into blogger and facebook, but don't know how long the connection will last! So here is a brief update.

We have our beautiful in our arms!! Day one was ok, but she is very scared and confused. She doesn't leave our side (She loves her Daddy as much as her Mommy), but there are tears and whimpers as she tries to understand what is happening. She sleeps and eats very well for us, so that is good. We are in Changsha now, but head to Guangzhou by train tomorrow. It has snowed here for 3 days straight and it is very cold! Guangzhou will be a welcome with its mild temps. We are getting cabin fever!!

All in all, she is doing great considering the turmoil she must feel. Please pray that she continues to adjust well. Pray that Mommy and Daddy continue to practice patience during this journey!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Nervous tummy...!

So we are headed to the airport to fly home from Punta Cana shortly. Then the countdown begins. I have my list of "last minute" things to do prior to our departure tomorrow at noon! Our friends, the Huffmans are in Beijing! We can't wait to join them. We hope to have email access in China. If not, someone will blog for us! !!


Monday, January 10, 2011

Sunblock and sand

Hi everyone!! Believe it or not, we are on vacation in the Dominican Republic! We planned this family vacation this summer, assuming we'd be back from China by now, but you know what they say about best laid plans!!!

We felt that a vacation with my entire family was exactly what we needed after months of adoption stress! This place is amazing and so beautiful! We are having a blast. The boys love the kids club and often choose it over hanging with mom and dad! The pina colada's are easy to come by and I don't even have to leave my lounge chair! My grandma (83 years young) is having a great time, too!!! She isn't taking advantage of the free booze though!!

We watched the chiefs get spanked while enjoying room service and the ocean breeze blow through our room. Which made the beating seem less awful. But we have stopped telling people where we are from. Jude enjoyed a photo shoot with a yellow boa constrictor yesterday, which freaked mommy out, but he loved that snake! GROSS! Jack had nothing to do with the creature.

We flew out on January 6 and will be back in the states on Thursday. We have about 12 hours to get the boys situated at Grandma's and Grandpa's, run a quick load of laundry, load up the van with the China bags (already packed and at the kitchen door) and head back to the airport for our flight to CHANGSHA!!! We will be meeting our friends the Huffman's on Sunday morning. We established a friendship about 2 years ago (long distance) and cannot believe that it worked out that our girls are from the same area AND that it worked out for us to travel together! We are so thankful for them and are really looking forward to 2 weeks of watching our girls together!

Pray for safe travels for us over the next few weeks. Also pray for our boys who are spending 2 weeks without mommy and daddy. And don't forget to pray for our sweet girl whose life is about to change. Pray for peace and understanding for her, and for guidance and patience for us!

We also would like everyone to pray for the country as we struggle to understand the recent tragedy in Arizona. As we enjoy our freedom in this country, we see others who abuse it or jeopardize it. Keep all lawmakers and their families in your prayers, and those who lost love ones. Pray for the family of the shooter as they, too, will struggle to find understanding.