Dec 28, 2008

The End (or is it just beginning?)

I had this great idea for our trip home on a long Christmas Day -- I should keep a notepad handy and jot down all the memorable moments of our trip so I could make an entry on the blog to capture the ups and downs of our journey. Of course, as an elite procrastinator, I neglected to follow through on that great idea. By the time we arrived home and I found time to write an entry, I had forgotten most of those moments.

We are incredibly happy to be home. There were moments during our return trip where I reflected on how sick I was of China. Angela and I both joked about a comment one of the flight attendants made about how rude the passengers were as she passed us. She was speaking English aloud to a co-worker so we assume she wasn't speaking about the Americans. Several times attendants asked the Chinese people to sit or clear the aisle or flush a toilet, and each time they would nod their head and completely ignore the request.

I had a bit of a breakdown when we finally landed landed in Chicago. I was standing in the aisle to gather our carry on luggage and coats to allow Angela to manage with just Leah when we exited the plane and begin our trek through immigration, baggage pick-up, customs, and transit to a separate terminal for our flight to Charlotte. The door of the plane had yet to be opened, and people were gathering their things. A Chinese women pushed herself past me in the aisle in order to exit quicker and other foreigners were pressing against me as if they could will the door open quicker that way. I snapped and overreacted by pushing back against everyone around me. They all began chattering in Chinese and looking at me aghast. My response was to yell at everyone to just WAIT and GIVE IT A REST! Of course, I probably sounded like the teacher in Peanuts cartoons to them, but they all eyed me warily after that and kept their distance. I kept a grim look on my face and prayed for enough patience to get me out of Chicago without additional incident.

On the positive side, I did go out of my way to thank the flight attendants and airport staff that I encountered throughout our trip home to thank them for working on Christmas Day to allow us to reunite with our boys with a few hours of Christmas to spare. In Chicago, a security officer offered all adoptive families to stand in the US citizen line for immigration regardless of the fact that the children were technically foreigners at that point. The immigration staff then went a step further and opened up two additional checkpoints exclusively for our families. We got through immigration in record time, and all the people working in the O'Hare airport were very knowledgeable about the adoption process. Aside from an officer checking Leah with a wand for banned items at the security checkpoint, we moved quickly to the terminal for our flight to Charlotte.

Our arrival in Charlotte also had its ups and downs, but by that time I was so glad to be home that nothing was able to bother me. As has become the standard among our friends, many families were waiting in the baggage claim area to welcome us home. We had previously joked about how ironic it was that other families who had made a trip to China to adopt themselves, and knew how tired we were after 30 hours of travel, would still show up to delay our sleep just a little longer, but the truth is that nothing says "Home Sweet Home" as much as having loved ones waiting to say "welcome" and "congratulations." We had no trouble finding the energy to enjoy an hour or so with family and friends from church to celebrate the newest addition to our family. The hardest part of the reunion was intentionally ignoring friends long enough to give our two boys hugs and kisses among a few (happy) tears! Eli had our old camera and was acting as the family photographer while Jeremy personally welcomed Leah into our family and made her smile amid all the congestion going on around us.

At one point, a few friends offered to help me collect our checked suitcases at which point I realized that our baggage was still in Chicago. Other travelers behind me grumbled about their lost baggage, but I just smiled, wished the airline employee a Merry Christmas, and joked that it would save me from hauling the heavy bags out to our car! You would have thought I was wearing rose-colored contacts, but really I was just too happy to be home that nothing could change that feeling. (We had our missing luggage deliverd to our home the next morning with nothing missing or damaged.)

After many gifts and warm wishes, we finally got to our car and managed to get to the house. My mother had left a pot roast in the slow cooker for us which was most welcome even though it was way past bed time. We enjoyed our hot, all-American meal prior to opening homemade presents the boys had made for us which included decorations for the tree and handmade cards to welcome us home. I don't think we made it to our beds until nearly midnight that night.

Friday was all about rest. Other than driving to get my car from a friend's house, and swinging by the grocery store for milk and frozen pizza, we spent the majority of the day on the couch. Leah, who was a fantastic sleeper in China, is having a rough time adjusting to the time change. She is waking up several times throughout the night and crying for no apparent reason. This of course means that mom and dad aren't getting all the sleep we want or need. Instead, we find ourselves catnapping throughout the day.

We did determine during the trip home that her recent fever was most likely related to the fact that she has two new teeth coming in. She did fairly well on all the flights, crying occasionally because she couldn't be as mobile when sleeping on our lap in a cramped, economy-class seat. However, she did sleep most of the time which likely added to her restlessness on the first night home.

Friday night Angela decided Leah was ready to begin sleeping in the crib alone. I mockingly made a reference to my failed attempts to rid Jeremy of his pacifier early on, but I think she was determined to get some serious sleep herself. Leah did go to sleep for a couple of hours in the crib after about 45 minutes of high-pitched wails and tears, but re-awoke later and would not sleep again in the crib. Instead she cried throughout the night in our bed keeping the two of us up most of the night as punishment.

On Saturday, Angela's mom came down to give Eli his presents for his birthday (he turned 7 on 12/21 while we were in China) as well as Christmas presents for the entire family. We all went to the Olive Garden for lunch where Leah did really well. She is eating the same food as the boys since arriving home which has been great since we are out of coconut milk, french fries and ketchup!

Today (Sunday), we will be going to church in the morning. Afterward, we plan to open family Christmas presents and then head down to my parents' house for a belated Christmas dinner with them, my brother and his wife. At some point additional presents will be shared while trying to catch as much of the Panthers/Saints game as possible. I look forward to watching football with my boys after two weekends away.

I return to work on Monday morning and have mixed feelings about my return. It would be nice to have a few more days to help out around the house as we all adapt to having a 16-month old girl in the house. Sleep is still an issue which I assume will affect my initial work performance. But at the same time, I'll be glad to get back into a normal schedule. I'm sure having a short work week for New Year's will be advantageous to getting back into the swing of things.

I would be amiss if I did not add that Angela and I both miss the families who were part of our travel group while in China. I was rather introverted when we traveled the first time to adopt Jeremy. Although Angela still keeps up via email and Yahoo groups with some of those families, our connection seems more about our common adoption experience than because of any genuine friendship.

This trip turned out differently though. While we will likely keep in touch via blogs and email with many of the families in travel group 1444, we truly enjoyed our time spent with Bill & Sara and Rene. I found myself wishing we had more time together on the journey home, and have mentioned that I would love to find a way to meet again in the future -- either with Rene if we vacation in St. Augustine this summer or with Bill & Sara if we can ever make it out to Colorado, perhaps to visit the CCAI offices. I never would have thought I'd become that close with other families in two weeks, but I find that I am very interested to know how their new children, Mya and Josh, make out in the coming months. Sara (or Bill if he was posting "anonymously") encouraged me to find time for this post. I don't know how long the blog-bug will last, but I'll make an effort if it will keep us up to date on our friends lives.

God bless all those who played a part in our journey to adopt Leah; I hope all the families in group 1444 are blessed beyond measure as a result of adding a wonderful child into their family. I have no doubt that the struggles we endure in the early weeks (months?) will pay off down the road. I hope our children have an opportunity to reunite in the future.

Sara always joked about "tips" during our stay in China. In her honor, I'll end this long entry with a tip for anyone planning to adopt from China in the future: Don't expect a 12-hour anti-perspirant to make it through 30 hours of travel climaxing with a reunion in baggage claim! (My deepest apologies to all those that had to bear with me after a really L-O-N-G day.)


Dec 24, 2008

Parting Shots

We needed one more post to include a few more random pictures from the past couple days in Guangzhou!

Leah loves her faux milk. It comes in a "juice box" container and is covered in Chinese characters. We *think* it is like coconut flavored Nestle Quik, but we're not entirely sure. We are worried that we are now out of the stuff and preparing for a long flight home. We sure hope apple juice is an acceptable substitute...

"I know you didn't just say apple juice would be an acceptable replacement..."

This is what happens when you try to tour the spice market during nap time!

And this is what happens when three adopting families stop to get their bearings in the middle of a crowded Chinese pedestrian mall. In just minutes we had a throng of people around us. "Move along people! Nothing to see here!"

Dec 23, 2008

Christmas in China

We're back from the US Consulate and we are cleared to bring Miss Leah Yajiao Smith back to the USA where she will become a US citizen when she steps off the plane in Chicago, IL. I guess she and I will both be able to claim Chicago as our "hometown" now.

Earlier this morning, we called our guide to let her know about Leah's overnight fever. We met her outside the hotel clinic at 8 AM where a nurse confirmed her temperature and gave us three medications to combine and have Leah take 3X per day for 3 days. Perhaps it's just coincidence, but we like to think that her sudden change in attitude (and return of appetite) can be credited to "ancient Chinese secret!"

The consulate appointment was run of the mill US government red tape where it was all "hurry up and wait." It took about 90 minutes of sitting in a waiting area with a couple dozen families from at least two different agencies before swearing an oath and receiving Leah's passport and citizenship paperwork.

We're now back in the hotel where Angela and Leah have opted for an early afternoon nap while I make one more blog entry. We plan to pick up the last custom piece of art from a local vendor for Leah's room this afternoon followed by time for packing everything back in the suitcases.

Tomorrow morning we have to have our suitcases ready for pickup at 6 AM (12/24, 5 PM EST). We board a bus for the Guangzhou airport at 6:50, catch a flight to Beijing at 9:25 AM, land in Beijing at 12:25 PM where we will wait until 5:30 PM to board a United flight for Chicago. We will land in IL around 4:30 PM CST and then board a plane for Charlotte at 6 PM and get to Charlotte around 9 PM. If my math is right, that makes for a 28-hour Christmas Day spent in two countries and four airports with little sleep. To say we're homesick would be an understatement!

We'll leave you for now with a few pictures from our episode on the infamous "Red Couch" as well as another group photo (with all twelve families) in front of the hotel's Christmas tree. We hope everyone has a Merry Christmas. God willing, we will see family and friends in just one day (albeit a very long one)!

Almost Perfect

Did we mention how this journey has been a breeze compared to our last trip to get Jeremy? Leah likes both of us equally allowing us to split parent duties as necessary. She is eating well and varied enough for now unlike Jeremy who ate nothing but watermelon. She has done well around the other children and hasn't really experienced any serious side effects of the adoption process -- no night terrors, no loss of appetite, no unusual shy or stubborn streaks.

Tonight we experienced our first real road bump of our two week stay.

Leah awoke crying around midnight. She's been sleeping through the night every night since we've had her so something was amiss. After some basic consoling didn't work, Angela decided to check her temperature. 102 degrees. Thank goodness mommy was here to think of that.

She broke out the Children's Tylenol and gave her an eyedropper full. I checked the directions which said to give her .16 mL based on her weight which would be two eyedroppers. Thank goodness daddy was here to check on that.

The Tylenol got us through about 4 more hours of sleep. It's almost 5 AM now and Leah just re-awoke, still feverish. Without checking time, Angela gave her a cold bath to try to bring down her body temperature. Although Leah screamed bloody murder whenever the cold, wet washcloth touched her body, I was glad as it indicated she could still distinguish hot from cold.

Once we realized an adequate amount of time had passed since her last dose, we gave her another dose of the Tylenol. That stuff is magical -- the crying has ended and she's asleep again. For now.

We have our consulate appointment later this morning which finishes all our paperwork, and leaves us with nothing but a flight home. At least one member of our group checked to see about leaving this afternoon instead of Christmas Day, but the cost to change was too high. So we are still set to begin our journey home in a little over 24 hours.

Of course, if Leah's fever doesn't break (or reappears), we won't be allowed to fly. So prayers for a quick recovery are most appreciated. We'd prefer to bring a healthy sister home for the boys on the 25th rather than spend another restless night in the White Swan.

Dec 21, 2008

Can You Spot The Difference?

Last time we were in Gaungzhou, we paid one of the local shops to make two name paintings for Eli and Jeremy. Now that we have Leah, we decided we should continue the "tradition" and get a similar painting for her. After browsing the various stalls, we found a style that seemed to match the previous ones the best. Without thinking, we walked up to the stall and placed our order. We were careful to make sure the new piece would have the black frame and show artwork for the English name while only displaying the marking for her given Chinese name. When the shopkeeper gave us the bill, we paid on the spot and walked away. It took a few minutes of walking before we realized we had just shelled out two hundred and eighty yuan ($40) for some ink on paper!

After another ten minutes of walking, we decided to go back and contest the purchase. We stopped at a few other vendors who had similar art ranging from forty to eighty yuan. We returned to the place of purchase and pointed out the wide discrepancy in pricing and asked for a refund.

HA! Obviously the term "refund" does not exist in Chinese capitalism. The seller argued that her artist did better work than other shops. We argued that even if her artist was twice as good, it shouldn't cost 4X as much. She said the artist had already started. When we pressed, she offered to have another artist do another style for less. We suggested that if she could switch artists, she should have no problem canceling the current job altogether. She argued that her boss wouldn't allow a refund. We insisted that we could convince future CCAI families not to purchase from their stall. She offered to include a chop (name stamp) and fan in the current cost. We insisted she knock off half the price for the same artist.

Can you spot the difference between these two name paintings? They are similar to what is sold at souvenir shops on Shamian Island. Prices range from 40-280 yuan, and are supposedly based on skill of the artist.

This went back and forth for five or ten minutes. I kind of amazed myself at my resolve to knock the price down without yielding. Finally, she went over to talk to her manager. He played the same game for a while and offered a 100 yuan discount. I stood firm on a 140 yuan discount or a full refund. After much arguing in foreign languages, he yielded the 140 yuan.

We pick up our artwork on Tuesday for half what we were originally charged. We think we paid about $15 last time we were here and wound up spending about $20 this time around. All in all, we're happy with our haggling. Now we just have to make sure the Chinese on the final art actually spells "Ya Jiao" instead of "A Hole." LOL!

White Swan Undercover!

We happened to be in the room when housekeeping came by today to clean the room. I managed to snap a couple of pictures as she was making up the bed which confirmed our suspicions from last night. We thought the mattresses were a bit stiff, and now we finally see...under (the) cover:

Dec 20, 2008

At Last! The White Swan & Mass

We arrived in Guangzhou yesterday afternoon after a 2-hour flight. Leah only cried once early on when she was frustrated about the window being too small to see out of. After a few Cheerios, she wound up falling asleep for most of the flight. There was some crying on the bus ride to the White Swan hotel, mainly because we were out of coconut milk and past the normal feeding time.

Things improved for all of us once we were settled in our room. We joined two other families from our travel group to make a direct path to Lucy's where everyone except Angela ordered a hamburger and fries for our first real American fare since landing in Beijing over a week ago. Angela ordered a chicken wrap, but we'll blame her temporary insanity on the cold she seems to have picked up from Leah.

After dinner, we worked our way among the souvenir shops in search of more diapers for our stinky angel. A worker at one of the shops asked us what size Leah wore then disappeared into the streets of Shamian Island for about 15 minutes. She returned with a package of Pampers priced at 59RMB ($9). I joked that we would probably find them the next day for 35RMB, but it saved us searching on our own so we took the nighttime deal. After being forced to promise a return the next day to buy some souvenirs, we reached our destination of the local Starbucks. Bill came to my rescue by offering to buy my Caffe Latte Grande when I realized I had spent the last of my current wad of foreign currency on the diapers. With the delicious drink in hand, we returned to the hotel to call it a night. Leah was unusually active so we were forced to turn off TV and lights and all go to bed around 8:30 along with her.

As has been the case most every night in China, I awoke around 3 AM for no good reason. This time, I played around on the internet to see if I could figure out when the local Catholic Church was celebrating Mass. Our Lady of Lourdes had a listed time of 8 AM -- not very convenient for Angela's or Leah's schedule, but we missed church last Sunday so we made the sacrifice to attend.

Fr. Roux might have frowned on the banners and colored Christmas lights hanging in the sanctuary, but they did have Jesus and Mary. They also had a tabernacle, a confessional, and incense. The priest and two male adult servers also sprinkled the congregation with Holy Water, and all knelt throughout the Eucharistic liturgy. For the sign of peace, the laity simply bowed to each other without any shaking of hands, hugging, or kissing. There was no hand holding during the Lord's Prayer. To top it off, the priest gave a homily that lasted longer than any I ever heard from Frs. Reid or Roux. Angela and I speculate that it took that long for the Chinese to express the fact that "Jesus wept."

Any way, praise God that in His wisdom, he would instruct us to include outward signs in the liturgy. Between sitting, standing, and kneeling along with the sign of the cross and other visual cues, we had no problem knowing where we were in the Mass at any given time. While a Latin Mass would have been bonus, we figure we understood just about the same amount today. We also noted that there would be a Christmas Eve Mass at 8:30 PM which is great since we will be on an airplane all of Christmas Day. Although that will be an equal sacrifice as far as schedule, I look forward to another opportunity to worship before the long flight home.

My apologies to Fr Roux for snubbing him by giving another priest first dibs on a blessing for Leah. With the assistance of Cheerios, Leah sat quietly throughout most of the hour long Mass. She only cried once as we returned from Communion. As it turned out, she was apparently upset that we did not have a hymnal for her to hold while the rest of the people were singing!

Back at the White Swan, we enjoyed breakfast and returned to our room. Angela is snoozing on the bed after taking some medicine for her cold. Leah is tearing the room apart and making international phone calls as I type out this blog entry. We are both watching Popeye in Cantonese on TV. We skipped the tour to the Buddhist Temple today in favor of attending Mass, and plan to check out the island with our friends this afternoon. No new pictures to add since leaving Zhengzhou yesterday morning, but I'm sure we'll have more in the coming days.

A special Happy Birthday wish to our seven year old son Eli! If not for Mass this morning, we were going to call home to wish him a happy birthday in person. Although his birthday is still "tomorrow" back home, it is "today" here. We can't wait to come home -- just five more days...

Dec 19, 2008

CCAI Travel Group 1444

Here is the picture of our travel group, 1444, taken in the lobby of the Crown Plaza Hotel in Zhengzhou. For now, we'll let you try to figure out how to separate the 11 families and 11 adopted children (note that there are more than 11 Chinese children in the pic -- many families like us are returning for a second time!)

Several members in our group commented on the pro-life message on the back of my St Mark sweatshirt. Although none of the locals have been outwardly hostile about Christianity -- we like to joke about the abundance of "religious" Christmas songs played here without a single image of the Holy Family -- I have noticed that Catholic Exchange's website has been blocked in every hotel we've stayed in thus far.

A partial family Christmas picture (we figure we can airbrush in the two boys later!). Note the beautiful "ABC" brand shoes we got for Leah at the nearby Lotus Center the other day. A cute pair of shoes for a little girl that don't blink or squeak! Mommy may be brainwashed to like squeaky shoes by her home school friends, but daddy holds firm on no unnecessary noise coming from the little girl -- she makes a sufficient ruckus on her own, thank you very much!

In a little over 6 hours, we will head for the airport and be in Guangzhou just in time for dinner at Lucy's. Hopefully our supply of diapers doesn't run out before arriving! Now to figure out how to pack these heavy winter coats in with everything else in our bulging suitcases...

Blogs for other members in our travel group:
Football & Fried Rice
Bringing Home Michelle
A Thousand Reasons to Smile
Owen & Alexander

Last Days in Zhengzhou

I'm not feeling the blog vibe lately. But since the only thing I'm in the mood right now to do is not possible (fly home and enjoy some "boy" time with Eli and Jeremy), I guess I'll try to touch on some of the highlights of the past couple of days.

Zhengzhou is certainly a beautiful city as far as cities of China go. It offers blue skies and tree-lined streets. The temperatures are fairly mild and the hotel staff has been helpful and friendly. I certainly would not want to overlook the fact that I have a rare opportunity to see sights that many of my family and friends will never see in person, and I consider myself lucky to have three fantastic kids, two of which came from this far away place. Having said all of that, I'm ready to come home.

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to entertain ourselves while our guides took a few families to visit the orphanages where their children came from. We opted to pass on that chance. Just as I thought with Jeremy, I would think that visiting the places she spent so much time previously would either re-open a bad memory for her or negatively affect the bonding we have developed in the short time we've had together. My hope would be that both Jeremy and Leah would have an opportunity when they are older to return to China to visit these people and places if and when they are ready.

Instead, after breakfast, we met up with another couple to walk around the city. We have spent a bit of time with Bill and Sara on this trip, and have found them to have a lot in common with us. Besides the fact that we are both here to adopt a daughter, their daughter Mya looks a lot like our niece, we both home school, and both moms roll their eyes whenever Bill or I make a suggestion. Apparently us dads are just here for comic relief.

Bill fulfilled his role by stepping into a local hair salon to get a haircut. For 15 yuan (about $2) he got his hair washed, trimmed, re-washed, and blow-dried. When he tried to include a tip, it was ceremoniously refused. It gave the rest of us time to joke about him. To be honest, I'm glad we were along as it was an activity completely out of the ordinary.

We also enjoyed a cooked sweet potato from a street vendor. Leah and I loved it, meaning mom only got a couple of bites before we devoured it. It was probably the most "American" thing I've eaten with the exception of a pepperoni pizza we would eat later that night for dinner in the hotel. It wasn't until I read Sara's blog where Bill mentioned something about being advised not to eat from local vendors that I even thought about the potential danger to my lower intestines. Fortunately that was not a problem.

The only other issue we encountered was the local women giving me stern looks for apparently under-dressing Leah. She was sporting a dress with undershirt and knit tights. She also had on a winter coat, but apparently one layer on the legs was unacceptable. I tried to explain that her legs were pencil thin and the socks were two inches thick, but the humor was lost in translation (or lack thereof). I looked to my lovely wife and our traveling companions for help, but they were nowhere to be found. I think they enjoyed seeing me take the heat on my own! No worries. I just smiled and amused myself with the fact that dressing a kid like an eskimo, but leaving a big, gaping hole in the crotch of their pants for using the bathroom whenever and wherever couldn't possibly be warmer or more comfortable.

Today, we took a trip to a museum of history that covered the various eras of the Chinese people. It is believed that the local area was the birthplace of the country and that Kaifeng, the town where Leah was abandoned, was the original capital city. With our passports, the entry fee was waived. I wouldn't consider it a highlight of the trip, but it was a nice way to waste some time rather than just sit around the hotel for another day. At the very least, it gave Leah an opportunity to ride the bus in her very own seat. She fell asleep on the way back -- a seemingly typical response for all our kids when in a moving vehicle for any length of time!

We will be taking a group picture later this afternoon in the hotel lobby. I look forward to having that picture to remember all the families we have met on this trip. I have learned so much about the other children who were adopted and find myself in awe of the other families. While I believe that I have stepped outside my own box by adopting from a foreign land (twice), I realize that my step was not nearly as big as others have taken. I am sure that I would have shied away from adopting an older child (two children in our group are older than eight), a child with a missing limb (a boy is missing an arm), or a child with a serious medical condition (a girl is still taking medication for her heart condition which is apparently worse than originally stated). I am surrounded by incredible families that inspire me to give thanks for my blessings and try to be better than I am.

Tomorrow morning, we pack up and fly to Guangzhou to wrap up our adoption trip. I'm looking forward to a change of scenery, warmer weather, and (hopefully) a juicy hamburger. We still need to purchase a picture for Leah to match those we bought for Eli and Jeremy on our last visit. We hope to meet the families that we were with in Beijing before going our separate ways to meet our new children. But most of all, we look forward to being a day closer to boarding a plane for Charlotte. We are longing to bring Leah home, and to be back with our two sons who we've been away from for far too long!

Dec 17, 2008

And I Thought It Was Just A Joke

This is a real news article in a real newspaper. I may not eat anything in Guangzhou now. Click on the image to see it at full (legible) size. The worst part is the quote from the anonymous government official who claims to not have authority to do anything, but does control the dog population in similar affairs...

Dec 16, 2008

Likes & Dislikes

(I made two posts today. Scroll down for pictures...)

Things Leah Likes

Hearing Eli & Jeremy when we call home
- her first smile was the night we called home
Stacking blocks
- they double as a toy and a container for food
Taking a bath
- First bath tonight and not a single tear from undressing to done. The boys still cry when they get their hair washed...
- she is an efficient applesauce factory
Coconut milk
- one reason we are looking forward to the trip to the local superstore today
Mommy and Daddy laughing
- she laughs whenever we do which makes us laugh even more
Sleeping (yay!)
- no problems with getting enough rest (we LOVE this blessing!)
McDonald's french fries
- this girl is all American
- once she realized they were edible it was all downhill

Stuff She Doesn't
Diaper changes
- She's not crazy about taking off the diaper. Actually, I'm not either (stinky!).
Missing nap time
Taking a nap
- yep, we're trying to reconcile them both being on the same list too.
The hotel room
- she's beginning to recognize the hallway carpet. Guess she's an outdoor girl.
- Jeremy doesn't have to worry!

Picture Perfect

Our daughter came with a linebacker's clothing. We saw other children in the park today wearing similar outfits. Rather funny looking to me, but I think they thought I was just as funny for wearing a t-shirt in the middle of December. Hey, it was in the 60s for crying out loud!

The last of the grimy clothes she arrived with. It took a couple days to get it all out of sight without Leah falling to pieces. Perhaps after a good washing, we can return the cute hat with pigtails...

Graduates finger foods keep Leah content while waiting to get adoption papers signed.

Family portrait in a nearby park.
(Along with tai chi and musical instruments, the locals like to commune with nature by standing motionless in front of trees for long periods of time.)

Coconut milk is a hit. We stumbled across the stuff at a convenience store. It looked like a 7-11, but was called "4." An astute member of our group pointed out that the Chinese read right to left and "did the math" to shorten the store name (11-7=4)!

The first father/daughter stroll. Unlike Jeremy, Leah prefers mom from the start, but she's warming up to dad too. I guess she's not scared of clowns after all!

It only took Leah three days to figure out how to fit the pieces of this toy together. She has moved on to figuring out which piece holds the most Cheerios now.

Leah becomes a fan of the golden arches.

Looks like daddy needs to have the modesty talk with his daughter...

When we got back to the hotel room, we had cookies waiting on us.

Leah enjoys bath time. Not a single tear from the time she was getting undressed to the time she was toweling off and climbing into her pajamas -- not even while getting her hair washed!

Leah wanted to know what the toothpaste was for so Angela broke out the toothbrush. Eli and Jeremy could learn a thing or two from this sweet girl.

Leah is ready to model for Colgate.

Dec 14, 2008

Leah at Last!

Let's be honest. You don't really care about what Angela is eating for breakfast or the difference between jade and jadite. You could care less that we are considered heroes in this foreign land for climbing some 8500 steps, or that our air travel had its ups and downs. In fact, you really don't care too much about Angela and I other than that we stay safe so that we can bring Leah home. No worries -- we are okay knowing that we are just the co-stars in this drama. But you can finally get out the popcorn and tissues. The previews are over and the real show can begin!

After breakfast this morning, we gathered with four other families (the other half of our group will meet their children this afternoon) to head over to the adoption bureau to meet Leah. There was another group from a different agency already in the office so we received our children in a plain, dimly lit hallway. Two families were united before us and events went smoothly. When the third little girl was brought out, she began crying and we knew it was Leah!

Unlike Jeremy, she was more comfortable with Angela than me, and she settled down once her nanny was out of sight. She sat quietly in Angela's lap while daddy signed the paperwork and took pictures. She seemed interested in the cameras flashing around the room. She spent several minutes analyzing Angela, but mostly just rolled her eyes whenever I tried to be silly. That's okay -- I have plenty of years to convince her that that's just how I am. I don't mind playing the support role to mom versus the front line that I was initially given with Jeremy.

The boys will be happy to hear that Leah has a strong grip, more than adequate for wielding a light saber, sword or gun. She didn't seem interested in the purple bunny or the Cheerios we brought with us, but that was understandable with all the commotion going on around us.

After all the families had finished the initial paperwork, we left the building and proceeded down the street to get the family portraits that will be attached to the adoption certificate we receive later. It was while we were in that shop that Leah stood with minimal support from mom. She made a few quiet sounds that we didn't recognize, and remained observant of all that was going on around her. She continually checked Angela out and gave me the suspicious eye.

When we finally left the photo center, we walked several blocks back to the hotel. Leah was calm the entire time, and the only issues we had were keeping Angela fresh for carrying Leah the entire time (we credit the one hundred pushups program she's been following with her success!). With all the clothes she is wearing, she resembles a middle linebacker and requires a full bear hug to completely encircle her girth!

Angela took Leah straight to our room when we got back anticipating a nap from the yawns, and lazy eyes coming from mom and daughter. I stayed behind long enough to get a little more information from our guides, Yisha (ee-sha) and Evelyn. When I got to the hallway where our room was located, I saw Angela with Leah in the hallway. Apparently Leah wasn't very keen on the hotel room. She apparently indicated to Angela that she was to put on her coat shortly after taking it off, most likely in expectation of being returned to her nanny! Leah said some choice words which we assumed meant "auntie" or "nanny." We finally made our way into the room where Leah again sat quietly on Angela's lap on the bed. It was apparent that she was ready for a nap -- unfortunately there was a dirty diaper between now and naptime!

We decided to take the plunge, noting that neither of us had smelled a foul odor like the one coming from the diaper in many, many months. In the back of our heads, I think we knew that the mild tempered routine couldn't last forever and we were spot on. After all, everyone knows that only the primary caregiver changes a child's diaper, and let's face it -- the three of us all knew that wasn't us! As we began to remove the first of many layers of clothing, we were introduced to Leah's vocal cords. Readers will be happy to note that Leah will have no problem getting the family's attention when necessary. She has a piercing voice that could not be placated. I was caught off guard when the diaper was first removed, but then remembered that he had indeed adopted a girl this time!

Thankfully Angela still has the touch when it comes to efficiently replacing a diaper and the noise died down as a fresh pair of pants replaced the "snow bib" and "long johns" she originally came with. We left the linebacker's padding with undershirt on top as we didn't want to push our luck. At one point daddy tried to hold her to help mommy with the change, but that met with a straightened, locked back and more crying so I yielded immediately. I learned my lesson with Jeremy and had no desire to match wits with Leah!

With the diaper change event over, mommy took Leah and sat on the hotel bed with her back propped up by pillows. It took only ten minutes or so for Leah to finally give in to sleepy eyes and settle down for a nap. Angela is happily resting and reading a book while I follow the football scores online and write this entry (never thought I'd be rooting for the Cowboys!).

We have no idea what to expect when Leah re-awakes or how we plan to handle lunch, more paperwork, and playtime. Of course, we both knew this day was coming so we are prepared to be flexible and accommodating. Hopefully both parents and daughter will be ready when the time comes to board a plane for Guangzhou and later, Charlotte. If the families with children along are any indication, Jeremy and Eli will be a welcome sight to Leah's inquisitive nature. The boys better be prepared for her Jedi mind tricks when she steps off the plane on Christmas day...

Jaded Acrobats & a Better-Than-OK Wall

We skipped our update yesterday because we were too tired after a second day of touring the sights in and around Beijing. By 9 AM we were back on the road with our first stop being the jade factory where we learned how to spot fake jade (real jade is cool to the touch, has a high pitched tone when struck, and is translucent with visible "veins"), and encouraged to spend our life's savings on jade art, jewelry and trinkets. Once again I found it interesting to watch the artisans at work at their craft, but was turned off buy the sales staff following me throughout the store suggesting why I should buy this or that. The one item I did find interesting was a jade ball which was crafted from a single piece of stone, but contained several "balls," each one inside the other. They represented different generations of a single family, all one but separate. The outer ball had the carvings of the dragon and phoenix which represented the male and female head of household overlooking the entire family. We passed on actually purchasing the artistic item which was fine since I found I was more intrigued by the artwork than the material itself.

Next we went to the Great Wall. Since traveling to China to get Jeremy in 2005, I have had to tell people that we did not have an opportunity to see the Great Wall while in the country. Now I can say that we have seen this world wonder. Apparently there is a Chinese legend that says one can not be called a hero unless he has climbed to the top of the Great Wall. To be honest, I had previously thought we would just climb a few dozen steps to get to the top of the wall and then walk along the "sidewalk" once on top. It didn't occur to me that the wall itself went up the side of the mountain and therefore you had to climb stairs the entire time until you reached the summit of the mountain. Being the obsessive compulsive guy that I am, I pointed out that we would likely never have the opportunity to go all the way to the top again so it was going to be all or nothing. It took us about 40 minutes to climb to the top-most tower and then the rest of the time to descend along the same path. It might have been easier going if not for two critical issues: 1) the entire stretch was covered in ice and 2) the handrails were designed for Oompah Loompahs while the stairs were designed for the Jolly Green Giant. We opted to skip the souvenir stand for the certificate of proof that we climbed to the top in favor of some photos.

Lunch was next on the agenda. Of course, to get to the table we had to take a tour of the factory that shared the restaurant's building where they made cloisonné items. Lunch was of the dim-sum variety again. We wound up sitting at a table with the same group as the day before and again enjoyed the local beer with our meal. Following lunch, we again endured time for shopping although this time we decided to purchase a cloisonné Christmas ornament to mark our time spent in China for this Christmas season.

With a second round of shopping done, it was off to see some of the buildings from the Olympics. We were told that the Olympic Village was closed at the time so we would only be allowed to park at a distant lot to take some photos, and then told that our next activity was to begin soon so we only had five minutes for photos. I quickly jumped off the bus to take a picture of the "bird's nest," the "cube," and a hotel building designed to resemble the Olympic torch which included huge LCD screens on all four sides of the building. When the bus pulled into the parking lot, the lot was empty. In the time it took us to get off the bus and take a few pictures, we were overrun with peddlers trying to hawk their ripoff Olympic goods. One of the children from our group was accidentally poked in the eye by an eager seller and got himself a free souvenir for his troubles.

Once our group was safely aboard the buses, we made our way back into the downtown area to attend the theater where the Chinese acrobats were performing. Now we had heard of this attraction when we were in Pigeon Forge a couple years ago but had passed on the $40 tickets. We paid about $6.50 to attend the show here in Beijing and I can say that it was easily worth the $40 we would have paid in TN if not more. It was simply phenomenal. At any given time, either Angela or myself was saying "that's not possible" under our breath. If they would have allowed cameras, we would have happily posted some pictures, but I suppose you will have to pony up the money to see the show for yourself.

Following the show we returned to the hotel to pack our things and prepare for our departure to Zhengzhou the next morning. We opted to skip dinner and go to bed early. We are now in Zhengzhou, it is Sunday night and we will be meeting Leah tomorrow morning. I know that her pictures are what you keep checking back for -- we will try to "introduce" her here tomorrow. Stay tuned!