Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Alone with Levi

Wednesday, January 30th (China Time)

7:00 - Ben has already gotten ready and has just left to go to the breakfast buffet.  He is preparing for a very long day of traveling down to Levi's hometown.  I'm gearing up for my first day with Levi without Ben.  I'll admit, I'm a little nervous as to how Levi will handle it.

7:15 -  Just as I get the shampoo lathered in the shower, Levi begins to wail.  He is calling out "Mama".  I pretend he means me and get out the shower quickly to get him ready for the day.

7:30 -  I get Levi changed.  I brought size 12 month clothes, optimistically hoping that he grew enough to fit into them from the time I received his updated till now. They definitely fit, and are bordering on almost too small.  I am surprised and pleased.  We were told in November that he weighed 17 pounds.  We weighed him here in China and he weighs 26 pounds.  Either he gained an insane amount of weigh in a couple of months, or his measurements were way off.  Either way, he is a healthy sized kid.

However, with his sort-of-short pants, random elderly Asian women have been tugging at his pants legs while I carry him in public, lest a square inch (or centimeter, as we are in a metric country) is exposed to the comfortable temperature air.  I have been smiling politely and over bundling my child in blankest to appease them.

7:45 - I give Levi his bottle this morning and sing to him while snuggling him in close.  He continues to avoid eye contact.  I switch to whistling Disney songs.  This catches his attention.  He makes sustained eye contact.  I stop whistling and smile at him.  He refuses to look at me again.  I start whistling frantically, but the moment is gone.

9:00 - I take Levi down to breakfast for the hotel's buffet.  Before I took him down, I put in in the side carrier for a while so he could get his screaming out in the privacy of our room before venturing to the very public dining room.  I think he has resigned himself to me.  I will consider it attachment progress.

The high chair provided has no straps to hold him in place and is much too large.  To prevent him from sliding out and cracking his head open on the marble floor, I grab the least embellished fancy throw pillows on the back of the banquette and shove it between Levi and the back of the high chair.  I hope he doesn't smear too much food on it.  It looks expensive.

Almost his entire meal consists of a Chinese type doughnut thing and kidney beans.  I know I should probably restrict the bean intake because I am fearful of what that diaper will look like, but I let him have at it.  He smiles at me occasionally, but pouts when I make him stop smearing steamed sweet potatoes into the fabric of the pillow behind him.  He then spends his time squeezing watermelon all over his tray.  I let him because at that moment, he likes me and I can eat my meal with a happy child next to me. 

11:00 - We spend the morning in our hotel room.  Levi's cold has gotten worse and it breaks my heart to hear him wheezing and coughing.  I think the wheezing is in his nose and cleft, not lungs.  (I hope)  I don't take him out because I don't want him breathing in all that pollution and slightly chilly air. 

Our room has floor to ceiling windows on one side.  Levi enjoys leaning up against the window and banging toys on the glass.  We are on the 17th floor.  No matter how much reassurance Ben gave me or how much info I look up on the infallible Internet I don't feel comfortable with this.  I guess I am not enough of a city girl to be blase about the strength of glass separating my child happily tapping a water bottle on the glass in our hotel room from my child plummeting to the ground.  I resort to distraction.

Honey Nut Cheerios help.  I put a few in his plastic bowl.  He then dumps them all over the carpet and then picks them up to eat them.  This, apparently, is his favorite system.  The cleaning crew is going to love us.  I put only a few into the bowl because there are fewer to be lost and ground into the carpet.   But more importantly,  when he wants more, he gently holds my hand and walks me over to where the giant Cheerio stash sits enticingly just out of reach.  Then he points at the bag and babbles to me.  It is endearing and wonderful.

There are a few moments where Levi seems to actually enjoy my company.  He does not want me to rough house with him like Ben does.  I tried and it made him cry and look at me warily for a long time afterward.  But, he'll occasionally peek at me and smile or throw the beach ball to (at?) me.  He also likes hauling heavy things around the room and look at me for signs of my admiration of his strength and prowess.  I smile and clap enthusiastically.

12:30 - After a morning of snacks, we have a light lunch in our room and he is finally asleep.  I attempt to put on the Do Not Disturb light (they don't have the cards to hang on the outside of the room) but I realize that the crazy electrical sound coming out of the wall when the room entry light or Do Not Disturb Light is turned on hasn't been fixed yet, even though we contacted the front desk about it last night.

I contemplate the probability of setting fire to the hotel and study the emergency evacuation plans on the door.  I realize that even if Levi and I are able to escape a blazing inferno, the sweet elderly Asian ladies on the street will be tugging at Levi's pants legs and giving disapproving looks.  I turn the Do Not Disturb sign off and hope housekeeping knocks lightly.

1:30 - Levi is suppose to be napping.  According to his paperwork (and we know how accurate that can be) he naps for 2.5 hours every afternoon  He is spending more time crying than napping.  He cried through his nap time yesterday, too.  He is so tired and keeps rubbing his eyes.  This is a sad time for him and consequently for me.

I keep reminding myself, "It is not my job to make him stop crying.  It is my job to comfort him in his sadness."

3:00 - Levi wakes up from his fitful nap just in time for housekeeping to come and clean the room.  We haven't had the room cleaned for a couple of days because we left the dangerous Do Not Disturb light on too long and missed the cleaning times.  I leave the room with his bottle and some Puffs, planning to walk the hallway for 5-10 minutes while they freshen up the room.

Apparently we are incredible slobs and must have turned our room into a cesspool because it takes housekeeping about 20 minutes to clean. I am embarrassed for our apparently slovenly living conditions.  I realize that my nose has probably become deadened to the poopy diapers in the room.

Levi and I wait at the end of the hallway and spend time looking out the large window.  We watch the ant-sized people and cars pass below.  I try singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to him.  He's a fan!  Finally he likes something I do.  I sing it again.  He laughs, claps, and then slaps me across the face.  I am not expecting this.  He laughs some more.  I do not.

I switch gears over to Peek-A-Boo.  This he also likes, but I still keep an eye out for any unexpected hand movements from Levi.  I also make weird sounds and stick my tongue out a lot.  This is also a hit (not literally, thank goodness, but figuratively).  He has figured out how to point his bottle at me and squeeze juice in my face.  He is smiling at me and making more eye contact.  Unfortunately, we don't always share the same sense of what is funny.

All the while, Puffs are being consumed.  At one point he stops shoving them in his own mouth and reaches out his hand to feed one to me. 

Now it is decision time.  He is sick.  His hand is coated in a slimy combination of snot and drool.  He coughs on the Puff when he presents it to me.  I open my mouth and let him put the Puff, and most of his fingers, in my mouth.  I try not to grimace.  Again, attachment progress.

5:30 -  We have supper in our room.  After supper he gets pretty sleepy and starts falling down more in the way that tired toddlers do.  Sometimes he opens his arms for a comforting hug.  A moment later he remembers who is hugging him and shoves away from me.

7:00 - Its an early bedtime for Levi.  He is rubbing his eyes and laying down on the freshly vacuumed (and already dirty again) carpet.

I put him down in the crib.  He starts to cry.  I rub his back and he calms down.  I sit down next to him and put my hands through the railing of the crib.  He stops crying as long as he holds my hand.  This melts my heart.   It makes me feel hopeful.  When he falls asleep, I watch him for a long time. 

9:30 - I'm already asleep when Ben comes home from adventure in Yuncheng.

Ben took these pictures.  He hasn't been quite so jolly yet with me.

That face looks like trouble.

What an adorable boy!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I think we've got some of the bugs (computer, not edible) worked out, so here are a few initial pictures of his Royal Cuteness, Levi.

I kind of love the haircut.  His, not mine.  At 2AM, a couple of hours before we were going to leave for the airport to go to China, I thought I needed a bang trim.  Lesson learned - I shouldn't make scissors decisions when bleary eyed and anxious.  I'm going to have to convince Ben to let Levi have this haircut for a while when we get home.

Ben with Levi on Family Day.  He looks very manly in his read flowered shirt and split pants.

It was a long day.  He fell asleep on the ride from the Civil Affairs office to the hotel.

He finally decided to smile just before bed.

Levi's Adoption Day

We met Levi yesterday at the Civil Affairs building in Taiyuan, Shanxi, China.  And today, after the one day wait called the “harmonious period” he officially joined our family.

We are having some computer issues, so I hope to post pictures soon, but I can't do it just now.

Since Levi’s province is over 6 hours by train away, his entourage (consisting of himself, another boy who was being adopted by a family in our travel group, and two orphanage directors) arrived later than some of the other children being adopted from Shanxi province.  There were only a few children still in the building when we were introduced to our boy.

We were instantly smitten when we saw him.  He was less enthusiastic.  Of all the children in the room at the time, he was the only one screaming hysterically.  That continued for about 30 minutes till he was willing to take some Gerber Puffs from me.  Then he liked us a little more.

We were not expecting what we saw when we met Levi.  His update information indicated that he was going to be quite small and that he was not standing up alone or walking.  This boy is solid!  The size 12 month clothes we brought fit him great, and I am so happy to see that he is developing well.  Also, he is standing just fine and can walk.  He still has the new walker waddle and is fairly unsteady, but he is definitely walking.

And, the few pictures we saw of him, he was bald.  But, I think I am in love with his hair.

The poor boy was utterly exhausted, hungry and thirsty after his expedition to the province capitol.  To top it off, he has a cold and is very congested. 

We got back to the hotel; he ate, had some formula, and went to bed.  We were told he sleeps from 8PM till 7PM.  And sure as clockwork, he went from active little boy to sound asleep in a matter of moments at 7:55 and woke up at 7:10.

Levi was a pretty stoic little boy last night, but before bed he managed a few smiles and giggles.

Today has been more difficult, at least for me.  Levi has gotten over his initial fear of the cute red haired boy I married.  Now Ben is clearly the designated favorite.  You fellow adoptive parents know that this is not unusual, and I knew this was a definite possibility.  But it doesn’t make it easier.

Levi has been grieving heavily today.  He spent several hours crying and calling out Mama.  My heart breaks knowing that I am not the Mama he is desperate and longing for.  He looks around frantically calling for “Mama”. 

Then he will calm down and play with me or let me cuddle him.  But soon after, his little face scrunches up and he begins to wail again.  At one point, he fell and bumped his head a little – not a bad bump, just enough to hurt a little.  He toddled over to me for comfort.  I hugged him for a moment, but then it was like he remembered that he was going to boycott me. 

I can’t blame him.  At this point I must seem like a counterfeit Mama.  He can’t understand why he was taken out of his home and given to strangers.  This is the part of adoption that sucks.  Yes, adoption is a wonderful thing and obviously I am all in favor of it.  But it is certainly not all happiness and rainbows and sunshine.  There is real hurting involved for many people.  I just wish Levi trusted me enough so I could provide real comfort during his hurting and grieving.

I keep trying to tell myself that this grieving is a good thing.  It means he was attached to his foster mother and that means he knows how this whole parent-child relationship is supposed to work.  I have read enough attachment books to know that this grieving is good and necessary and that it is, in fact a gift.  Seeing him struggle and sad is heartbreaking, but eventually he will be ready to attach to me, too.

Tomorrow, Ben, our guide, and another one of the husbands from our travel group will make a 12 hour (travel time only) roundtrip to Levi’s hometown.  Ben will see Levi’s finding place and the outside of the orphanage where he lived for a time.  We did not get permission to see the inside of the orphanage, nor meet with the foster family, but I am still very happy that Ben will be able to document this much.  From all my online questioning and research, I don’t know any adoptive families who have been able to arrange for a day trip to Levi’s hometown. 

Since the trip is so incredibly long, and Levi isn’t feeling well, and we aren’t going to get to meet any of his caregivers, we decided that I would stay back in the hotel with Levi.  I’m expecting a difficult day, but I am hoping that when Levi has just me to rely on, he will start to trust me a little more, bit by bit.

I am so excited for all of you to meet our sweet boy.  When he lets down his guard a little bit, we get glimpses of the delightful, fun-loving boy that is currently weighed down with sadness. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sightseeing in Beijing

We had one day of sightseeing in Beijing.  It was fun, long, and left me flossing grasshopper legs out of my teeth.

Since we saw the Great Wall last time, we toured Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and a tea ceremony with the two other couples adopting through CHSFS with us.  Then, for supper, Ben and I ventured out on our own for some adventure eating.

Tiananmen Square was enormous, but fairly empty.  There weren’t any special events going on and it was pretty cold.  Our guide pointed out Chairman Mao’s tomb and told how his embalmed body rises and falls at the same time as the large flag in the square.  I had a morbid desire to see him, and the line was really pretty short, but we wouldn’t have had time to get to everything else we had planned.  So I didn’t suggest it.

The Forbidden City was amazing.  We went through several gates.  Each time we thought “Wow!  This is amazing!”  only to hear that we hadn’t even gotten past the outer courtyards.  This complex stretched on seemingly forever, with every surface ornately carved and painted.

Our guide was amazing (as were all our guides last time).  She did a wonderful job telling us stories about some of the emperors, empresses, and other leaders. 

The Summer Palace was beautiful!  I am going to believe that the incredible level of pollution in the city contributed to the hazy ambiance.  There was one moment in particular, where the sun was beautiful, a man was singing to violin music, and we watched people playing on the ice of a huge man-made lake (next to a “stay off ice” sign). 
After the Summer Palace, which felt significantly colder than the rest of Beijing, we went to a tea house and they showed us a tea ceremony.  I realize the presentation was canned and that it only existed to get us to try, and ultimately buy, their tea, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  I happily bought some tea, too.

After this, we parted ways from our travel group and guide and Ben and I went to Wangfujiang Street.  This is also known as “snack street” and has many different kinds of street food and snacks – some delicious and popular.  Others not so much.  Imagine if you will, a sort of state fair, but instead of pickles, or cotton candy, or hot dogs on a stick, there are lots of bugs on sticks.

And we ate the bugs.  Heaven help us – we ate lots of bugs.

We started out with scorpion on a stick.  This was what Ben had been looking forward to most.  There are usually three or four of these little critters impaled on a stick.  These are deep fried and seasoned.  You eat them whole, stingers and all.  I’m going to admit it, they weren’t too shabby.  I’d eat them again.

Next we ate seahorse.  These came one to a stick.  I apparently broke protocol when I ate mine because I found out afterward they are intended for men to help them feel, um, manly, if you know what I mean.  These were crunchy and okay. 

Next was snake.  The guy selling them told me what kind of snake, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying.  The snakeness of it wasn’t so bad, rather chewy.  However, he put an awful lot of hot seasoning on it and my mouth was burning.  We didn’t see anyone selling bottled beverages nearby, so we were eating all these “delicacies” without benefit of rinsing our mouth out between courses.

Here is where the food sampling goes decidedly downhill.  Next up was silk worm cocoons.  These were not my favorite.  When you bite into it, the outside shell cracks open to a burst of baby worm guts.  Kind of an explosion of nastiness in your mouth.  I found out later from our guide that you aren’t supposed to eat the shell.  I am not sure if that would have helped or not.

Down the hatch, Mr. Silkworm.

I ate one of these cicadas.

Next up was cicadas.  These were deep fried and seasoned.  These are supposed to be eaten whole, head, antennae and all.  They weren’t great either, but not as nasty as the silk worm.  I could tell we were branching out into deep culinary waters when even the locals would stop and watch us eat, grimacing at the idea of themselves eating it.

Grasshoppers were next.  These were fried. I swear I felt an eyeball with my tongue.  Feeling a grasshopper eyeball with your tongue isn’t as fun as it sounds.  Trust me.  The grasshopper wasn’t horrible.  It tasted like my lawn.  Or rather, it tasted like my lawn would taste if the kids didn’t trample all the grass to death.

Mmmm.   Grasshopper.

For the grand finale, we had scorpion again.  Not the little cute little scorpions we started with, but a giant beast of an insect about the size of my hand from the bottom of my palm to my fingertips.  It was black and had enormous claws that could have probably cut off my finger.  It looked menacing.  

We ate the scorpion, but will have to save the starfish, lizzard and centipede for another trip.

Ben ate the first scorpion. We weren’t quite sure how to eat it, so he started chomping on it whole, like the small ones we ate.  That was not quite right, though, and he had to spit out the outer shell.  When I was up, I peeled open his abdomen like you would a shrimp, and ate the innards.  They were not good.  I will repeat, not good. 

We finished off the eating with some absolutely delicious steamed buns and potstickers.  On our way walking back to our hotel, we saw what appeared to be a flash mob of elderly Chinese people dancing in a line on the sidewalk.  No, this was not the traditional tai chi movements so common in the morning.  This was a boom box led sort of congo line.  I had an incredible urge to join them, but was afraid I would mess up whatever they had planned next.  

These were downright delicious!

Instead, I got back to the hotel, flossed the grasshopper leg from my teeth, and brushed them excessively.  I popped a Pepto Bismol tablet and headed for bed.

China Arrival

We made it!  Ben and I landed in Beijing yesterday afternoon in Beijing time (which is 14 hours ahead).  We had flight delay déjà vu so are thrilled we made our connecting flight.

As is my preference, we arrived at the airport hours before our scheduled departure from Minneapolis airport.  Ben indulges my constant desire to “not be late”.  I hate the feeling of running behind schedule and the stress it causes me.  And to be quite honest, I love the people watching.

So we made it to our gate with plenty of time.  When it was time to board the plane, the United Airlines employee had us board by group numbers.  She made sure to announce that only First Class or United Club members may walk on the blue mat.

Do you all know what the blue mat is? 

It is a stupid carpet remnant that has the United logo.  It is cordoned off by metal poles so us ruffians in economy can’t get our cooties on it.  In a fit of rebellion, I stepped on the mat.  Of course I stayed in my designated lane while I did it, only my toe touched it, and nobody saw me.  But still – rebellion.

We waited a while on the plane until the captain announced that the sub-zero temperatures in Minneapolis froze the water lines and drain in the plane.  We had to get off the plane and wait “15 minutes” while they heated up the plane.  That “15 minutes” was closer to an hour.  Then we boarded the plane again.

Once we were all back on the plane, we were told it would be another “15 minutes” till the water lines were ready and we’d take off.  About 30 minutes passed.  Then we were told that it would take about “5 or 6 minutes” for some paperwork to be done regarding the maintenance.  This veteran adopter knows that paperwork always takes longer then you expect.  Another 30 minutes or so later, we were in the air. 

Here’s where the stress came in.  Our plane was scheduled to take off from Chicago to Beijing about 15 minutes after we were scheduled to land.  That means boarding would have already taken place and the doors to the plane would have been closed.  Once those doors close, only an act of God can open them.

Fortunately, the nice flight attendant made an announcement that we (and two other adoptive families on the Beijing flight) should exit the plane first.  Everyone but a few in First Class let us through.  They grumbled and said that they wanted to get off the plane, too.  I guess stepping on that blue mat entitles them to ignore the plight of the common man.  Insert any apt peasant metaphor here. 

This left us sprinting through the airport.  Of course, the international concourse was a gazillion miles away.  Ben carried a backpack and the laptop bag.  I rolled 40 pounds worth of nuts in a wobbly carry on and had about 20 pounds of magazines crashing against my side from my shoulder bag.  I wish those weights were hyperbole.  But no, the nuts were ceremonial gifts for various officials, etc. and the magazines were because I am in near constant fear that I might not have reading material handy at any given moment of my life.

The sprint left us parched, but in time.  They held the plane until we got on, even though the flight took off about 10 minutes late.

Fourteen hours in the air was actually quite pleasant.  I am having a difficult time remembering the last time I could sit and read that long, guilt-free, with no responsibilities except not smoking and not making terroristic threats on the plane.  Fortunately, neither of those two activities are habits of mine, so all was well with the world.

I do think that the power of my pinky toe stepping on the blue first class mat emboldened me on this flight.  When the drink cart came around, I asked for not just a diet coke, but an apple juice as well.  The whole cans.  I felt that power coursing through my veins. 

Our section of the airplane was only about half full and the row of three seats behind us was empty, so mid-flight, I curled up on those seats and slept.  Maybe slept is too generous of a word.  But I did rest a bit in only semi-cramped luxury.

All in all, a good flight. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

How Many Times Do I Have To Say It

After more than a decade of parenting, I realize that I am just saying the sames things over, and over, and over, and over, and over...

Have you noticed that too?  I decided to actually listen to what my poor kids hear so many times.  I realize there are some phrases that just pop out of my mouth automatically.  Here are a few:

1.  Fingers don't live in noses.

2.  I need you to use your kind and loving words.

3.  I love you oodles and oodles and spaghetti noodles, with a meatball on top.

4.  You git what you git and you don't have a fit.

5.  Do you understand my words?

6.  Pew!  Go in the bathroom if you are going to do that.

7.  You can have what Mama picks out, or you can have nothing.

8.  We have enough money for everything we need and some things we want, and that's a pretty good place to be.

9.  Who wants to do an act of service?

10.  If you have to be loud, go downstairs.

11.  I need to you say, "Yes Mom."

12. That is private behavior.  You need to do that in the bathroom or in your bedroom.

13.  Which of God's rules did you break?

14. You can either find something to do, or sit down silently till you think of something.

15.  Mama's ears are tired.

16.  This is the best day ever.

17.  Go outside and play....I don't care if you don't want to.  Go outside and play.

18.  If you're bored, I'll find something that needs cleaning.

19.  I haven't had a (Bridget, Riley, Connor, Sawyer, Veronica) hug in a long time.

20.  We give the cat soft touches.

21.  Good listener!

22.  No, you will not die without an Ipad, cell phone, big stuffed tiger...

23.  I'll think about it.

24.  That is unacceptable behavior.

25.  We don't hug to tackle.

26.   You bring Mama lots of joy.

Have you got any you want to share?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Week of Waiting

We've got just over a week to wait.  Then we'll hop on plane and head on over to China.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, we have received official Travel Approval and have our flights booked.  In 13 days, I will be holding my sweet (possibly stinky, definitely scared) boy. 

So, I am excited.  Well, mostly excited.  Almost all excited.  Of course I realize I won't sleep again for several months.  I've done that before and can do it again.   I'm ready for the culture shock of China and the lack of trees and grass.  I am NOT ready to leave my babies. 

Don't get me wrong.  I love to travel.  I also love the few random times Ben and I have a break from the kids.  But two weeks is really, really long.  Last time we traveled, I thought about it in the abstract and thought it might be challenging.  This time I KNOW it will be hard. 

Its like imagining what labor will be like.  You know it isn't going to be too pleasant, but you can't quite prepare yourself for the take-your-breath-away pain of it. 

That is how I am feeling about leaving my other children.

However, just like childbirth, it is a necessity.  No, please don't suggest I take along five extra kids (Who's airfare alone would be another $10K.  Not even counting the extra hotel rooms we would need, and food, etc.)  I think Levi deserves the undivided attention of a Mom and Dad who can focus just on his needs and getting to know him.

Also, the idea of caring for five extra jet-lagged children, possibly getting intestinal bugs, fighting for the bathroom doesn't appeal to me.  There would also be a lot of pressure to make sure they behave during all the important governmental appointments when I convince the Chinese government that I should be allowed to raise another one.   For example, I imagine that the child who currently is obsessed with releasing flatulence at inappropriate times would not find an audience who appreciates his talents. 

I am excited, but apprehensive about the trip.  I made it through childbirth before, I can do it again, but  I don't imagine they will be offering me any narcotics to make these labor pains a little more pleasant.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Welcome 2013

With another year ended, of course it is natural to take stock and reflect on the time passed and look forward to the upcoming year.  I've got to say, I think 2013 is going to be pretty amazing.  Of course a huge part of that is our upcoming travel to get Levi.

In answer to the many considerate question updates on the complicated, confusing process, we are currently waiting on Travel Approval.  This is the last major milestone before we hop on a plane and head to China.  Assuming things go pretty typically, we should be getting Travel Approval sometime next week.  Usually people travel a couple of weeks after Travel Approval, after their consulate appointment is scheduled.

That would put us at the last possible time to travel before Chinese New Year.  For CNY, the governmental offices shut down for a week.  Since we have 2 weeks worth of official appointments in China, we need to travel 2 weeks before CNY or wait till after CNY which would put us at traveling in the middle of February.

At this point, everything is out of our hands and in God's hands.  We are so hoping to travel yet this month to see our sweet boy, who is getting older every day without us.  We first saw his sweet face in July, and have been waiting all this time to bring him home.  Also, if we have to wait to travel till February, we'll miss Connor's 7th birthday.  A boy only turns 7 once, and we sure don't want to miss it.

I'm so eager to have our whole family together.