Pizza Party

Thanks to a generous person from the States, several families here got to enjoy a pizza party and a few moments of much-needed levity with the kids. Papa John’s has never been such a comfort or tasted so good.20140725-DSC_3932 20140725-DSC_3936 20140725-DSC_3939 20140725-DSC_3940 20140725-DSC_3941 20140725-DSC_3946 20140725-DSC_3957 20140725-DSC_3959 20140725-DSC_3979 20140725-DSC_3984 20140725-DSC_3985 20140725-DSC_3993 20140725-DSC_4005 20140725-DSC_4010 20140725-DSC_4017

Still Stuck

Mike here – Annie’s doing laundry in the bathtub and asked me to post an update while she makes sure we have clean socks, underwear and what not.

We met with our agency reps again this morning and there is still no good news. The consulate is still waiting on the State Department in DC to fix whatever system is down so they can start issuing visas again. We’ve been told to brace ourselves for staying here through the weekend as it’s already Friday late-morning here now and nobody has any idea when things will be resolved. My guess is that unless they decide to have mercy on us they won’t be working through the weekend.

Just a clarification for everyone about what exactly is the holdup at this point. As far as the Chinese government is concerned, we have legally been the parents of Joseph and Marianna since last Tuesday. We have all of our Chinese paperwork complete and ready to go. We have already submitted everything we need to submit to the U.S. Consulate here, been interviewed, sworn an oath, etc. We are literally waiting for nothing more than for them to print a piece of paper, insert it into the kids’ passports and get the passports back to us. That’s it.

We can use a couple things right now.

First of all, prayer. Pray that the State Department gets their systems back up and that they prioritize adoptive families first so we can go home. Pray that we can stay sane as we continue to wait hour by hour by hour for some sort of news. Finally, pray that the airlines have mercy on us and don’t charge us change fees and/or higher prices on our now canceled flights home.

Secondly, if you are so inclined, please contact your U.S. Senators and/or Congressman and let them know about the fact that there are adoptive families caught in foreign countries due to this issue. There aren’t many reports in the news other than a standard “State Dept database glitch delays Visas/Passports for thousands” but I get the feeling that most people picture foreign nationals unable to get clearance to enter the U.S., not Americans stuck in other countries with children. Feel free to share our blog as background.

I’ve already contacted one of my senators and several local news channels – we’ll see if anyone is interested in an international human interest story with local implications. I just got word from WBAL that they want to interview me at 10am Eastern time tomorrow.

Finally, we sent our dear travel companion Linda-Anne home this morning on her original flight – I didn’t see any reason to keep her away from her husband any longer and this has allowed us to drop one of our hotel rooms and just hunker down as a nuclear family. Having to continue paying for hotel nights is bad enough but getting it down to one room certainly makes it easier to swallow.

 

Stuck

No visas today.

Our homebound flights have been cancelled. <—that is a sentence I thought I wouldn’t have to write.

The State Dept is being tight-lipped and there is little news coverage. We are resigned that we will be stuck in China through the weekend (and possibly beyond?) There is no way of knowing. Our agency reps will give us an update in the morning but even the Consulates are being given little information.

Oh the irony! That of all the hoops we jumped through with getting China to get us all the documents we needed, it’s our own government that is grounding us here.

I want to stress that we are SAFE. We are being well cared for by the hotel and our agency staff here. Additionally, the company of fellow families stranded here with us are a welcome distraction.

A little happy hour goes a long way…

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Furthermore, we are so very appreciative of all the donations we received prior to travel. Estimates for rescheduling flights are staggering right now but we are hopeful the airline will show mercy to us.

Nothing left to do but cast this at the feet of our Lord and hope for the best. Very appreciative all all your prayers and support.

Wrapping things up

*URGENT PRAYER REQUEST* due to a computer glitch in Washington DC, no visas were issued today by the US Consulate here in China (or anywhere in the world for that matter). Families who intended to travel home today with their children are currently grounded/stranded here until further notice. We cannot leave the country until Marianna and Joseph have the necessary visas to enter the US. Please pray that the glitch can be fixed quickly and we can make our flights home on Friday.

 

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We will need baby gates. Lots of them.

You know it’s been a long trip when you are counting down the hours – not days – until you are home, even if it’s multiple days until that blessed moment.

We touch down at Washington Dulles in just a little over 54 hours. And what a hallelujah moment that will be! Between now and then we have 1 more night here in Guangzhou and then take a van (actually two vans for a group our size + luggage) tomorrow afternoon to Hong Kong where we will spend one last night at an airport hotel before checking into our flights home Friday morning. Our first flight will take us 4 1/2 hours to Tokyo and from there the remaining 13 hours to Washington DC.

Pray for us? And for our fellow passengers who will be within earshot of M&J. Both are screechers.

The past couple of days have been considerably more relaxed than the rest of the trip has been thus far. After the babies’ visa medical exams on Monday, we had little to do besides enjoy some time poolside and even got some shopping done at a local pearl market.

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From there, we took a taxi (actually we had to squeeze our family into two taxis–I am L’ingOL at that) to Shamian Island, a quaint little isle adjacent to Guangzhou with tree lined, cobblestoned streets, a plethora of little shops and cafes and dozens of bronze statues–the whole place had a decidedly European flair.

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Today (Wednesday) was the big day at the US Consulate. I wish we had been permitted to bring cameras because I wanted so much to capture the beautiful sight of our American flag waving in the breeze. For all our country’s problems, there is nothing quite as comforting (or emotional) as seeing one’s flag displayed proudly on the compound and stepping on “US soil” when you are so far from home. The throng of people outside the Consulate was overwhelming and intimidating. I’m guessing they were all Chinese in line to apply for travel to the US. But our guide navigated us through the US Citizen line in a matter of seconds and right up to the door that lead to the blessedly air-conditioned building.

Inside, we swore an oath (something to the effect that we are who we say we are, we understand what we are doing and promise to vaccinate the children upon entry into the US) got fingerprinted (for the billionth time) and were on our way. The visas are currently being processed for Marianna and Joseph and will be placed into their Chinese passports which will be available tomorrow afternoon.* At that point, we will be FREE to leave the country with all 5 of our children.

When we returned to the hotel, we took pictures of our travel group. Allow me to introduce you to some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met:

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Peter and his wife are ex-pats living in Shanghai who have 6 biological kids (the youngest is just 5 weeks old). They’ve lived in China for 7 years and fostered their new daughter, Elsie since she was just weeks old.

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Ana and her husband Tony (not pictured) are also ex-pats living in Shanghai. They have 4 grown children (including Armand here) and fostered several children before falling in love with this little guy. When they met little Alejandro, they couldn’t let him go. Congrats to the Sisante family!

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Meet the Polks. A homeschooling family from Colorado who raise grassfed catlle and have 6 bio kids. They came to China to bring home 2 more. Their oldest sons came along for the trip and have become close friends with Isaac and Sam–we are so sad that we live so far from this wonderful family.

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The Vogts are among the funniest and most fun-loving couples we’ve ever met. Danny is a hoot and Amy is a photographer. Little Jeremiah is going to love his 3 older siblings who are eagerly waiting for him at home in Colorado.

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Tanna was joined by her sweet mom Becky to bring 8yr old Jay home. This sweet family was just 20 days away from bringing home a little girl from Russia last year when Putin terminated all adoptions of Russian children by US families. To see Jay’s sweet smile is to see the face of an angel. Congratulations Smith family!

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Janeen and her daughter Brittany traveled from Indiana to bring home these two sweethearts…making a total of 9 kids for this beautiful family. I want to be her when I grow up.

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Scott and Lucy are first time parents of sweet little Tori. They’ve been trying to adopt from China for 10 years and we were honored to witness the blessed first days of this beautiful new family.

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Stacey (center) and her son Justice from Florida were accompanied by their sweet-as-can-be friend Carissa to bring home 4yo Zoey, a little girl with equal parts sugar and spunk. LOVE these people!

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Travel group 2117 — 9 families, 13 Chinese children who now have families.

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Weaksauce attempt at getting all the babies to smile and look at the camera.

 

Our bags are already packed. We are ready to go home. Two more sleeps!

Night and Day

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First official pic as a family of 7

I want to start out by firstly saying thank you. Thank you first of all for reading this blog and following along this journey but most especially for all the love, support and prayer you have offered to us this past week. Thank you for all the sweet, supportive and encouraging comments both here and on FB as well as all the kind notes sent to us via email and text.

Things are going so much better.

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That last post started out as a private email I was going to send to a select few but after reading over my shoulder, Mike suggested I post it on the blog so as to give readers a ‘full disclosure’ glimpse into the journey. I hesitated over the publish button, not sure I wanted to wear my heart on my sleeve, doubtful that I should be airing the dirty laundry. But in the end, within seconds of posting it, a flood of such love and prayer like we have never known overwhelmed and has fortified us.

I am happy to report that Joseph appears to be turning a corner, due in large part no doubt to your prayers. He woke up the very next morning a different child. He actually erupted in smiles and cries throughout the day much like a normal 20-month-old should. He still remains somewhat guarded and reserved and is clearly an introvert but I believe the healing process has begun. As one commenter noted, he is likely learning *how* to cry. As unconscionable as it sounds, it may well be that his cries were not responded to in the orphanage, or at least not reliably so.

His cry is pure gift to us. And we are honored and relieved that he is finally allowing us emotional access to his wounded and vulnerable little heart. We still have a long road ahead of us but brick by brick, the wall is coming down.

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~      ~      ~

Arriving in Guangzhou on Saturday was the biggest figurative and literal breath of fresh air. The difference in the feel of this city after a week in Zhengzhou has been like night and day. Not only does the city appear cleaner and the air fresher (thanks to the coastal breeze) but there is a noticeable lack of scooters, car horns and that general sense of chaos that we thought was just par for the course in China. Things here in Guangzhou are exponentially more orderly. Where Zhengzhou was an example of “China without a filter ” (as Mike calls it), Guangzhou has demonstrated China’s attempt to become more western. It truly feels like a cosmopolitan city here with more Americans and Europeans as well as businessmen from all over the world.

The Marriott China Hotel here in Guangzhou was the biggest welcome to weary travelers when we arrived.

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The rooms are bigger with more space to allow the kids to run and play.

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There is a happy hour every night that offers appetizers that are filling enough to count as dinner. And do I even need to mention how medicinal a glass of wine or cocktail is at this point in the trip? With the company of our fellow adoptive families and travel companions, the dinner hour here truly is happy hour. We are in the company of some amazing and wonderful people who have become like second family to us. It pains my heart to think that we only have a few days left together before we fly to our homes spread across the US.

On Sunday our guides Joselyn and Kathy took us on a tour of the city of Guangzhou, a city that boasts a nearly 3,000 year old history. Our first stop was to a Buddhist Temple where locals still come to worship their gods. Images and statues of various gods, including Buddha himself lined the grounds. As strange as it may sound, it was a bit of a shock to the system to watch throngs of people coming to offer prayers and sacrifices of incense, fruit, nuts and oils to these strange gods.

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We admittedly have so little experience outside of the Judeo-Christian faith and while it was interesting to see how other cultures and religions worship, it was an unsettling experience. A large pagoda towered over the temple, rendering a formidable feeling to the whole experience.

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There was one temple dedicated to a goddess of mercy and compassion. I just couldn’t help but offer a juxtaposition to the scene.

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Our next stop on the tour of the city was the ancestral home of the Chen family which holds the cultural wealth of traditional Chinese art. Wood, ivory, jade and stone carvings, silk embroidery, tapestries and calligraphy.

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Sarah has become fast friends with many of the children of our group. Here she is allowing little Zoey to put stickers on her arm.

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It’s hot and humid. Much like walking around in a sauna. Heat indexes have been averaging about 110 here in Guangzhou.

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I haven’t spoken much about our amazing travel companion Linda-Anne but she has been the secret behind this journey being a success. Her help with the kids, her support during the difficult moments, her assistance when going through the exceedingly stressful security lines in the Chinese airports and all the love and attention she’s lavished on the older kids while Mike and I have been occupied with the littles has been the biggest blessing. She is beautiful and genuine inside and out and I can’t imagine this journey without her.

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On Monday Marianna and Joseph had their visa physicals done–a requirement by the US Consulate. It was a formality mostly but both kids passed with flying colors.

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This is a typical scene

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Tuesday will be one last free day before our US Consulate appointment on Wednesday. Three more sleeps until we’re on a plane headed home!

Grief

Not gonna lie.

Joseph is really struggling. Struggling to grieve. It may sound strange that I want my son to grieve but removing a child from the only home, the only life, the only people he has ever known has got to have its consequences. In a situation like this, it’s preferable and indeed healthy for a child to cry. But our sweet Joseph is keeping it all bottled up. And it’s preventing him from being able to fully trust us and bond to us. Until he feels safe enough to let down his guard around us, to freely express his feelings (whether sad, glad, mad or bad) this bond between him and us will not form. I pray each day that the tears will finally flow…that the grief will finally be expressed.

That he will finally get the good, cleansing cry that he needs.

Where Marianna has no trouble expressing her joy, her sadness, her anger or her delight by crying, grinning, shrieking, arm-flapping, hand-clapping, etc., Joseph has remained fairly non-emotive. He will brighten around the kids but when he is with Mike or I, he is completely labile, stoic, unemotional, unmoving, non-reactive. He does not make eye contact but instead looks away as soon as we try to talk to him, does not even attempt to cry. He just kind of sits there, motionless, just observing, just tolerating us. He will lay his head on our shoulders but I think more out of apathy (and perhaps emotional fatigue) than anything else.

His eyes betray an emptiness that just breaks. the. heart.

I sense that he just wants to return to what he knows as normal: life in the orphanage.

I’ve been waiting for him to cry…to just grieve and get it all out. But it’s like he’s holding it all in…because that’s all he knows. The wall he has built around himself is proving so hard to break through. The older kids can penetrate it but we can’t quite manage to do the same. They can solicit smiles from him but we can’t. He follows them around and will leap into Isaac or Sam’s or even Sarah’s arms whenever given a chance. And praise God for that.

It’s bittersweet.

It’s not that he won’t go to us–he does–but not for emotional comfort. It’s suspect that it’s more out of apathy than anything else. He’d certainly rather sit in Mike’s arms (or when Marianna will let me put her down, my arms) than be left on the floor alone. So he’s got that going for him. But he just has a flat affect. A stone face. It’s like he has no energy to fight so he just accepts what’s going on around him without complaint, without a battle. Perhaps he learned early on that his cries were ineffective, so why bother?

I breaks a mother’s heart.

Today, we got both kids down for a nap at the same time. Marianna went down first and when I heard him whimpering (not crying, mind you) from his crib I gladly pulled him close and rocked him and held him against my chest until he too fell asleep. He woke up not long after, whimpering where I had laid him and I rushed to pick him up again. And for the first time I could sense a sob coming on. I kept holding him, looking into his eyes, talking to him and suddenly he just burst into hard, heavy tears. I prayed and cried with him, hoping this was it. But it was short-lived. His eyes drifted away from mine (again) and he just turned his head from me. I offered him a bottle and he drained it but then just gave up again, put his head on my chest so as not to make eye contact…and stayed there motionless until he fell back to sleep.

Defeated?

And that’s where I’m sitting right now…with him on my chest, sleeping, and me stifling my own grief and tears. This is so much harder than I thought it would be. And it’s made that much harder by the fact that Marianna will not let me out of her sight or allow me to hold anyone but her. So it’s taking more energy and effort to mutually work through this.

But I know we’ll get through this. I know we will. I know it will get better when we’re home and not halfway around the world sitting in a hotel, keeping strange hours in a strange land. I know he will learn to trust me. To trust both of us. I know that he’s young enough and resilient enough to get through this and he will likely never remember this time. But that doesn’t make this time of transition any easier.

As beautiful as this experience has been, it’s also been one of the hardest and most emotionally taxing. Definitely new territory for us and a whole new set of challenges.

Pray for him? For us?

The babies

Our bags are packed and in a few hours we will leave Zhengzhou and the Henan province behind as we board a plane as a family of 7 to head to southern China. There we will complete the final leg of our journey by completing the paperwork required by the US Consulate in the city of Guangzhou. Medical exams for both Marianna and Joseph await us there as do their Consulate appointments on Wednesday in which they will be granted full US citizenship as soon as our plane touches US soil (one week from today!) We now have the kids’ Chinese passports in hand so we are one step closer to making that a reality. Thanks be to God!

The Crown Plaza here in Zhengzhou has been a little haven for us. The accommodations have been wonderful, the service impeccable. But we are so ready to move on.

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The beds are a little bigger than twins but not quite as big as doubles.

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Thankfully the bathroom window has a blind to allow for privacy while showering.

20140713-DSC_1890Marianna and Joseph are doing great. Both have very different personalities. Both are still learning to trust us. Lots of two steps forward, one step back. But each day they are doing a little better.20140714-DSC_2696 They both turned 20 months old this week. Both are walking, Marianna a little better than Joseph but he keeps up nonetheless. Neither of them says any recognizable words for us yet but Joseph will say “Gu-gu!” when he is excited or happy. We’ve seen both of them suck their thumbs but Marianna in particular finds her thumb most often.20140714-DSC_2690 20140714-DSC_2675

Adopting a toddler means being flexible with your parenting philosophies and just meeting the kids where they are at, being patient with routines to which they are accustomed. We are a co-sleeping, baby-wearing family which Marianna seems to love but Joseph is still warming to. Meeting them where they are has meant that, for instance, for the first few nights Joseph slept in the crib and Marianna slept with me. Joseph is still keeping me at a bit of a distance but each day he’ll allow me to cuddle him a little more. Last night he allowed me to wear him in my sling and even sleep with him which has been a huge step in progress.

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Despite his limb differences, Joseph shows no trouble getting around. His club foot causes him to walk on the side of his foot which makes for some wobbly walking but he somehow manages it…and is FAST. His has a strong preference for his right hand which is missing several fingers but he still manages to grasp items with it. He can feed himself, hold a crayon and grasp a toy with that hand–it’s a remarkable sight!

Marianna (aka Little Empress) is a sweetheart if not a bit of a diva. She is clearly accustomed to having things her way and will let us know in no uncertain terms when she is sad or wants something. She loves to ride in the sling and will stick her thumb in her mouth and settles in as soon I put her there. Right now, she is attached to me at the hip and won’t go to Mike but he’s taken it in stride. By all accounts she appears to suffer no effects right now from her scar but I definitely have some questions for our pediatrician back home.

Both kids are very tiny. Much smaller than my last two babies by far. They are positively swimming in the 24mos/2T sized clothes I brought for them. This is funny to us because they are hardy eaters.

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Mike affectionately refers to them as “buzzards” when they see us eating food and clamor over to us to get their fair share.

Bringing the older kids along on this trip ended up being one of the best decisions we could have made. While the babies have been somewhat reserved around Mike and I, they positively come alive around the 3 older kids. We have been able to witness what we believe is more of their true natures when they play together. Even little Joseph comes out of his little shell. Especially around Sam.

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Sister naps are the best naps.

Brick by brick, the wall they have built up around them is coming down. Each day we are seeing more smiles. Each day, they show that they recognize and trust us a little more. We have a long road still ahead of us but we are seeing much progress already in such a short time.

Both Sam and Sarah have had some tummy issues. Sarah ran a fever most of the day yesterday but seems to be back to her normal self today. To say we are eager to be Stateside again is an understatement. Would appreciate prayers that no one else falls to any further sickness while we are here.