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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

This won't hurt a bit...

March 2, 2013

Today was the dreaded day on our itinerary. It was the Chinese medical appointment for all adoptive families here. We probably should have taken advantage of this strategically located vending machine on our way into the doctor's office: we certainly could have used it!

Modern Medicine.

8 new families joined us today as they have just returned from picking up their children in other provinces. We have stayed in Guangzhou the entire trip because Charlotte's orphanage is in Guangdong province (where Guangzhou is)- the same province as the U.S. Consulate that all adoptive families have to visit before they can return home with their children. Charlotte spent the entire morning being poked a prodded and having her blood tested. Remember the Passport picture? That's the face we saw most of the first half of this day. Poor baby! I had to hand her over to some nurses at one point and they took her from me and closed the door to draw her blood. She was so terrified and I hated having to let her go after she's just learned to trust me, but I had no choice. She recovered quickly, though! I am so glad that is over! The only good thing that came out of the visit was finding out that neither Griffin nor Charlotte has an ear infection, despite their colds. That is such a relief- the plane ride home will be bad enough as it is!

Charlotte looking healthy and fabulous.

One of the other families we met here is adopting their 8th and 9th children (3 biological teens, and 5th and 6th adoptions)- two little boys who both have the special need of dwarfism. One of their daughters whom they adopted in 2008 is from Suixi, the same orphanage as Charlotte! They are the second family we know who has a child from Suixi, and the interesting thing is that both have been reading this blog and they both said it was like reading about their own child and reliving the same experiences they had- the crumb concern, sensory issues, sleep issues, etc. The lady today assured me that it was good we did not go to the orphanage. She said it was a really bad place (sad) and that we saved ourselves some heartache.

Thank you all for praying for better nights and naps for Charlotte. Today she barely fussed at naptime and she slept for two hours! Tonight again, she cried for a few short minutes then stopped and played in her crib and went to sleep. I didn't even have to sit by her bed tonight. I think she is learning that we are here to stay! She has had something in her hand since we got her on Monday. Usually it's some kind of snack cup or bottle or cracker. In our adoption training we were told that in order to help her feel secure, we should always make sure she knows that she will not go hungry- so if she wants to hold on to her snack, we should let her so she knows she will never be deprived or go to bed hungry again. She has fallen asleep with a cracker in her hand and with a snack cup of poufs, and tonight with her bottle with the rest of her milk she wouldn't finish when I fed it to her. We realize that parenting her is going to look a lot different than it does with our other children, so that is going to be a challenge.

So happy to know she can eat when she wants!

This next “adventure” deserves a separate post because it is just so incredibly nuts...but most of you have probably already seen the video. If not, read the details here, then click on the link to watch it:
(for some reason the first section of the video comes out with the words flashing very quickly on the screen.  Since it looks fine in WMV form on our computer here, we can't figure out how to fix it, but the lion's share of the video is clear and funny!)
Let me just preface this with a little information about the Canton Tower in Guangzhou, cut and pasted straight from Wikipedia:
Canton Tower, formerly known as Guangzhou TV Astronomical and Sightseeing Tower and also known as Guangzhou Tower is a 600 m-high (2,000 ft) multi-purpose Chinese observation tower. The tower briefly held the title of tallest tower in the world, replacing the CN Tower, before being surpassed by the Tokyo Skytower in 2011. It is the tallest structure in China and the fourth-tallest freestanding structure in the world. The tower has the highest observation deck in the world, having a height of 488 m (1,601 ft) above ground level.



Let me also remind you that I am very afraid of heights. So, I have no idea why I thought visiting this would be a good plan. But, it does look very cool in the pictures and when you're on the ground looking up at it, it's easy to feel brave. We bought our tickets to go up to the observation deck, but for just a little bit more you can ride a “bubble tram” at the top to get a better 360 view. By the time we rode the glass elevator that goes up the outside of the structure, I was already weak in the knees and told Joey I didn't want to go up from the 111th floor of the observation deck 6 MORE floors to get on the bubble tram. In fact, I didn't even want to go stand right up against the window to “observe”. I really just wanted to take the stairs back down if they had any, and not even have to get back on that elevator. Joey talked me into it, since we'd already paid, and some talk of getting some Chinese ladies to go with him if I was too scared, so I relented. We rode the additional 6 floors up and were given a form to sign that we couldn't read since it was all in Chinese. I told Joey he probably just signed our lives away, but he was confident this was a good plan. We boarded the bubble tram and hopes were high and fears were being conquered.
Brave and smiley.
I actually was very calm and even enjoyed the beauty of seeing the entire city that high above it. I was happy standing in the middle of the tram since the floor was solid and the rest of the bubble around it was all glass. I told Joey it would have been neater to see it in the dark with everything all lit up, and how proud I was of myself for being so brave when I had really been afraid to get on this. I pointed out the rails along the side where some poor soul who works there has to actually walk on for maintenance, and how I would really freak out if I had to stand on those laddered open grates that you can see straight through to the ground 2,000 feet below.
Sure would be a bummer to be out there...
As we're enjoying the ride, about halfway through, two cars away from the highest point and furthest from the loading dock...a jerk and a dead stop. At first we just joked a little and laughed, waiting for it to re-start as the lights inside it kept coming on, then going out again. Surely they'd get it up and running in no time. We saw some Chinese official-looking armed guards come out to the entrance area, and then a man harness up and start coming around to each car, including ours, and give the “a-okay” sign- he spoke some broken English and told us we were “very safe inside!”  About 20 minutes later, we notice a team of “adventure directors” (that's what their name tags said) all harness up, and then start making their way to the tram next to us, and that's right, start harnessing people up.
Adventure directors inbound.
 No joke. Three Chinese men came to our tram with harnesses and Chinese guard coats for us to wear, because by this point, it is starting to get dark and at that altitude, it was very chilly and a windy day, as well. At this point I'm starting to freak out. Literally laughing and crying at the same time. I had just said to Joey there is no way in hell they are getting me to walk on that ledge out of here, but I had no choice. I had a toddler strapped to my chest and Joey had no carrier for Griffin, so he had to hold Griffin with one hand and carry him out. Once I got harnessed up, coat on and a 90 pound Chinese man to escort me out, I had to slowly climb down the path, gripping this poor man's neck for dear life, while Madonna's “Who's That Girl” is playing in the background. Oh, yeah, that girl was me.
Slightly less brave and smiley.
I gripped the railing so tight that my hands were literally black when I joined Joey and Gaige in the “staff only” room they took us to calm us all down (of course, Joey thought this was high times, being a parachute jumper and all). By the time I saw Joey, all he could say to me was “WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE?” I had no idea what I looked like, but with wiping away my tears with black hands I now had black ink stuff all over my eye and cheek. I was escorted to the restroom by another Chinese man who was the manager, and assured us that this never happens and we would get a full refund and that we would “never forget this experience”- that's for sure! He offered for us to come back during our stay here and go again. Seriously? You have got to be kidding me. We were literally escorted out of the tower, probably because they didn't want us warning any other patrons on our way out to steer clear of the bubble tram and run for their lives! The Victoria Peak bus ride was a cake walk compared to this!
This is the end result of China thrills - smiles and black eyes!

Monday, March 04, 2013

The land of the not quite right

March 1, 2013

The day started off with a bang...literally. We awoke to a loud thump...Charlotte hitting the floor. We had left the side of the crib down so she didn't get scared by the bars and so far, she hadn't tried to sit up from a lying down position by herself, or stand from a sitting position- we can basically put her down somewhere and she doesn't move from it (like Griffin). Or so we thought. It was so startling and scary- Joey jumped out of bed calling for her in the dark since he couldn't find her and she was totally silent. My first thought of the day was “Oh, God, No! We killed her!” Not a good way to start the day. Once Joey could find her to pick her up (somehow she was not right near the crib), he held her and then handed her to me and ran into the bathroom, thinking he was going to be sick, it was so upsetting. The weirdest part is that she was so stunned, she didn't make a peep and for the first time she didn't wake up screaming and crying and cuddled with me in bed. Maybe we'll think twice about pulling the side of the crib up afterall...

Charlotte is stoked to go exploring and she's graduated from a front to a back-pack.

It seems like Charlotte takes two steps forward, then one step back. Today she wanted little to do with Joey. After the big excitement yesterday and progress he had with her, it was a huge letdown for him. She's acting exactly like she did the day before when she was afraid of him coming near me- just like yesterday never happened. It's going to take a lot of patience as she learns to love and trust us. I can tell she is getting much more comfortable with us, though, because her 'two-ness' is starting to come out more and more. She's throwing off her headband, taking off her shoes, pulling on her socks (they were always barefoot at the orphanage in every picture we saw of her there)- very picky about what touches her and feeling uncomfortable. When she's in a stressful situation (bedtime) she squirms and wiggles like she's itchy, but we've learned it's just what she does under stress. She's always very excited to put her shoes on because she's learned it means we are going somewhere, though she doesn't want to keep them on once we're out the door. She has the same “myself” attitude Claire has- I tried to help feed her (since she makes such a mess and then gets upset that she's messy) and she pushed me away. She wants to get down to walk herself, but then she gets scared and wants me to hold her again. She can't seem to make up her mind what she wants, but she does want to try to run the show! She less concerned today about being messy since she now knows I am going to clean up after her. Oh boy. Today we made her a cup of noodles in the room while Joey prepared her bottle (it feels more like she is an infant than a two year old in many respects). When she would take too big of a bite and gag I helped dig it out of her mouth, then every bite after that she would try to chew, then spit it out on the floor. I don't think she actually swallowed any of it. So much for her concern about the messy floor. She doesn't like the food falling on her bib, either- she just takes it out of the pouch and throws that on the floor, too. I think Flash has found his new best friend at meal time at our house. At least I'll have help cleaning it up.

Oh my gosh, balloons are sooooo exciting!!

We had hoped to do some sightseeing this morning since we had a free day not going to the orphanage, but due to both the babies still suffering from colds (especially Griffin) we decided to stay in our room and let Griffin nap. We didn't have Charlotte take one because it is such an awful process and then she would wake up Griffin with her crying. So, she was up today from 6AM until 8PM. She was pretty happy all day considering. At 1PM we went across the street to a Chinese 'Fast Food' place and ate lunch. It's so funny how people here don't seem to think anything about staring at you and pointing and talking about you, especially while you're eating. I think every worker in that place came out of the backroom and there were four of them- three ladies and a man behind the counter watching us eat and interacting with the baby. He's very popular here, did I mention that? Yesterday at lunch one of the chefs from the backroom actually was filming us and snapping our pictures as we ate. Many places here don't have high chairs, so I guess seeing Joey carry Griffin in the pouch and eat with him that way is just quite a sight they don't see everyday. I'm sure there is a meme circulating China with Joey's and Griffin's picture in it by now.

Just a random observation: the restaurants here play the quirkiest music. At the Italian place we walked in to American rap music, followed up by Eric Clapton's 'Layla', and then some classical Arabic music. At the McDonald's it was Mariah Carey's “All I Want for Christmas Is You”. So odd.

I need some Mariah Carey Christmas music.  I know,
there's a McDonald's!  They will be playing it!

At 1:30 we met with a local lady (Ann of Red Threads) to take us wholesale shopping for some souvineers for the kids and little gifts we can give Charlotte every year on her 'Gotcha Day' from China. As soon as Ann saw us she commented on how young we looked. Since you have to be over 30 to adopt from China, and China is more relaxed about the upper age requirement, there are couples as old as 60 adopting. I took a liking to Ann right off the bat. She gave us some insight into Chinese culture and ways of life here. She couldn't get over how Gaige looks more like my brother, she said, than my son. I told her I had him when I was 16 and she was astonished- she said that is illegal in China. You have to be over 22 to get married here as a woman, and 24 as a man, and children born out of wedlock is a disgrace to the family. Girls are forced to leave school if they are pregnant and are shunned. She about fell over when we told her we have 7 children. She said that is unheard of in China. In the city, only one child is permitted, and in the countryside, if your first child is a girl, you can try one more time for a boy, but that's it. If you have more than the limit, or if you adopt and then get pregnant, there are huge fines the government makes them pay that most people cannot afford. So, that explains the forced abortions and orphan crisis here- especially for girls and special needs little boys. Currently China's International adoption program is only for the special needs children- if you want a “healthy child” the wait is 4-6 years! Most of this we knew from our reading on China (especially Xinran's “Message From an Unknown Chinese Mother”), but it is more interesting and personal to hear it word of mouth on the street here from a local.

However, a man carrying a baby is still legal.
We took the subway to a very non-touristy area and went to the 'underground shops' she knew about to get us the best deals on some items we wanted to bring back with us. Our tour group will take us shopping, too, but only to the most expensive tourist stops. We've realized that nothing we have been to around our hotel- including food- is much cheaper than back home. For $35 US currency this lady takes you shopping and gets it done quickly and inexpensively. We were able to get traditional Chinese dresses for each of our girls for $3 each, Chinese fans for $1.50, tea set for the girls (our hotel sells them for over $100 and we got it for $8) silk scarves, pearls- things traditional to China for a fraction of the cost. We bought a Chinese Lego set at the toy store for Corin, but passed on this:

A nice gift for Grandma.

Griffin continued to be the main attraction on our outing, and having Ann with us to interpret what people are saying to and about us confirmed that people are indeed, very fond of him, and that he is indeed, cold and not properly bundled according to Chinese standards. It helps that he hams it up when people pay attention to him. In one of the stores, despite my uncomfortableness with it, a group of ladies passed him around and adored him. He even got a free gift at one store. A group of Chinese ladies were telling Ann, and she interpreted for us, that they couldn't believe how young and beautiful I looked “for having 7 children” (it's always followed by that, but hey, I'll take it!). I have decided I really do love China!

Griffin is quite popular in China.

Oh, and we found out why Charlotte is giving us blank stares when we try to use some Cantonese words with her. Ann and some of the ladies in the stores today were trying to talk to her, and when she didn't respond, they asked where her orphanage was. I told them Suixi, and they said it is a local dialect spoken there that even Cantonese speakers cannot understand. They told us how beautiful Charlotte is and how nice her ears are (apparently that's a feature that is prized here) and asked what her special need is. When I told them “developmental delay” they laughed and said, “I don't think so!” You can tell how smart she is just by spending a few minutes with her.

It was drizzling outside when we were finishing up, and it was neat to see Charlotte's reaction to the rain on her face. Remember the bubbles picture where she was squealing with delight? She had the same face when the rain splashed her. It's like she's been locked up in a prison her whole life and is just seeing the outside world for the first time. She is fascinated!
Rain just makes the shopping crowds easier.

When we were done shopping, we decided to stay and eat at the warehouse mall at a place Ann said was very good. She walked us there and told the waitresses we would need two high chairs. However, what she failed to do was order for us. We sat down to this:

We can totally read this.
The waitress came by and asked us something in Chinese, to which we replied in English that we wanted the beef noodles and fried rice (what Ann told us to order). She pretty much ran away with her hands over her face, really embarrassed and went to another waitress who shook her head like “no way, I'm not going over there to talk to them! You go!” and they bantered back and forth. We soon realized we were going to be ignored. We gave it about 10 minutes while we tried to decide what to do, and then the first gal came back with a picture menu, featuring this:

It's - it's smiling at me!

We were outta there, and the waitresses couldn't have been happier!!

We were really strangers in a foreign land in this part of the city- no one spoke English anywhere. Thankfully Ann had written the name of our hotel down for us in Chinese so we could get a cab back or we'd still be there. We were all hungry at this point and when our first dining attempt failed, we were thrilled to see the glowing golden arches on the horizon. I really was 'lovin' it' today. There's nothing that can make you feel at home faster in a strange place than that. Charlotte actually nibbled on her chicken nuggets this time, but most of the dining experience, surprisingly, she rubbed her sweet & sour sauce all over the table like finger paints. We'll work on manners later, for now I was just shocked that she would actually touch it and seemed happy to be playing with it! That's not what the textbooks predict for kids with sensory processing issues. I'm still trying to get her figured out.


Getting a cab home was a challenge. It seemed like people were scared to have to deal with us- or maybe the cab drivers were just smart in not wanting to ride with two babies in the car, I don't know. But, several passed us up and it was about half an hour until we could get one that would take us. I was about to cry- in the rain with two babies nearing dark in Crazy Town and far from our hotel. It was rush hour, so it took us 45 minutes to drive the 6 miles back to our place (and only cost $5!). Joey sat in the front seat with Griffin and no car seats here. I was a bit nervous, so say the least. It's certainly not “safety first” like at home!

What?  We're buckled up!