Adoption, China, Gigi

Homecoming.

My amazing friend Sarah of Mustard Seed Photography captured our homecoming last night at the airport.  We’re not big ‘join us at the airport!’ folks.  It stresses me out.  But, Sarah is an adoptive mom herself.  She understands the madness.  She stayed back so respectfully, took photos, and congratulated me, and then disappeared.  It was an amazing gift to have these photos.  If you have the ability to have someone give you this gift, I highly recommend it.  If you’re in southern Wisconsin, please contact Sarah!

I could write a book about what this is like, but a picture is worth one thousand words, so I’ll leave you with these.

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IMG_8653-1–FullPlateMom, who just received the best Christmas gift ever.

Adoption, China, Gigi

To My Boys, at the End of our Adventure.

Hi Boys,

It’s mom.  I always write these letters when we’re either heading headlong into, or beelining it out of, adventure.  This time, we’re on our way out.  And we will have to make a beeline, straight for the airport tomorrow morning, and straight onto that plane if we’re going to make our connection in Hong Kong.  Ah, travel stress, you’ve come to know it well.  Before all that begins, I want to share with you a few thoughts on this adventure, something for you to carry with you when you look back on all of this.

First of all, I couldn’t have done this without you.

As scary as it was to travel alone for a child who was dying, I was able to do it.  This outcome would have been different.  Gigi is scary in different ways.  She’s rough, wild, and…she dislikes me.  She is difficult to deal with on her best day.  We did it though.  We only did because you were my in-country support.  DSC_0063

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DSC_0060From what you’ve told me, you had the trip of a lifetime.  I’m so glad about that.  Every yard you mowed, every dog you walked, every hour that you pledged for the elderly, it has all been SO worth it.  Your being here has been life changing for me as well.  I got to spend individual time with each of you.  It affirmed what I already knew.  You are becoming amazing young men.  Young men whose souls have been touched by what you’ve seen here in China.  Young men who won’t be the same people when you hit U.S. shores again.

You’re not perfect.  We’ve had our moments.  Moments where I had to remind you this isn’t a vacation, to put down your devices.  You’ve poked at each other the way only brothers can.  I had to implement a ban on “burns” for awhile, because you spent so much of your time doling out little insults to each other that I worried it was effecting your self-esteem.  You reminded me, kindly, that you do this to each other all the time.  I reminded you, kindly, that prior to this I was never forced to listen to it.  And, that I liked it that way.  So, cut it out.  You did…mostly.

I don’t need you to be perfect.  I like it that you’re real.  We all are.  Real, imperfect, and human.  So is your sister.  SO imperfect.  I love that you never once expected perfection from her.  In fact, you expected nothing from her.

And, because of that, we rise, and we will continue to, by lifting her up.

–FullPlateMom, who is so ready to head home, and at the same time, so not ready.

 

Adoption, China, Gigi

The Privilege of Being American.

I’ve written about the day my foreign born children were handed their visas to America MANY times.

Here is Cate’s post from last year.

And Bowen’s is here.

Tess’s can be found here.

For anyone who hasn’t read our Ghanaian kids’s stories from 2009-2010, we had to fight like hell to get their visas out of Ghana.  What I thought would be a seven-day-trip for Ally and AJ lasted nearly four weeks.  We weren’t sure the adoption would ever be approved by the U.S.  For many families who came after us, they weren’t.  It was humiliating, heartbreaking and incredibly frustrating.  You can read my plea for prayers here.  I nearly had to leave them behind.

There isn’t one second of this process during which I forget to appreciate the golden ticket that is a visa for my internationally adopted child.  For Tess and Cate, it meant a chance at life.  For Bowen and Gigi, it means a chance at an education.  It means so very much.

In Cate’s Consulate post, you can read about Cam’s reaction to the privilege we Americans are born with.  We walked into the Consulate today and walked out 58 minutes later with the assurance that unless there are electronic/technical issues with the computer system, Gigi will have a visa to the U.S. in less than 24 hours.  This is the privilege my status as an American affords me, and by extension, Gigi.

We walked out of the Consulate into a HUGE throng of people waiting for their chance to enter.  In front of us, making her way through the crowd back to her family was a Chinese woman with her documents in the same clear plastic folder we are all required to carry.  Her outcome must have been different than ours.

She was sobbing.

We watched as she walked up to the people waiting for her.  She shook her head as she walked up to them, telling them what had occurred.  She was shaking as she cried.  Then we saw who was waiting for her.  A younger man with one arm and a scarred face.   I don’t know her story, but I can imagine that is the same story as a lot of people trying to get to the U.S.  This younger man needs medical care.  Is he her son?  I couldn’t help but wonder.  He hugged her, patting her back reassuringly as she sobbed into his shoulder.

Cam and Brady took in the whole scene with wide eyes.  We’ve had many discussions about visas in our house, all the different forms they come in (medical, student, tourist, etc) and how Gigi’s trumps all of those.  Hers is the type that makes her a citizen the second she crosses into our port of entry with us.  They looked at me, I looked at them, they looked at the woman, and we said nothing.

There are no pictures of us coming out of the Consulate.  There was no victory dance.  There was only a moment of reverence for this woman’s pain.  We will, of course, celebrate privately for Gigi when her visa does arrive (please God, don’t let the printer break).  But, there is loss too.  Gigi will lose her heritage of birth.  This woman, whoever she is, lost her chance at getting to the place we often take for granted.

–FullPlateMom, who resolves not to forget how truly lucky she is.

Adoption, China, Gigi

It Gets Better.

Today was full of more touring.  It was BEAUTIFUL.  The weather was perfect.  The boys were funny.  It’s just…good.

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DSC_0022Had you told me one week ago, when we were waiting nervously to meet the divine Miss Gigi that we would be doing this well just seven days later, well, I would have kissed you.

Yes, we’ve had our moments.  Some of them are too personal to talk about openly, because those moments are Gigi’s, and as her mom, it’s my job to protect her.  I will be open about how this has been for me though.  It’s hard.  It’s SO scary.  And I’ve had scary before.  I walked out of Ghana in 2009 with a child who I was sure would never recover from the trauma that had been inflicted upon her.  I walked out of China in 2012 with a dying child.  I walked out in 2014 with a child whose face was collapsing on one side from a giant eye tumor.  I have done hard things.  This ranks right up there.

I have no idea what Gigi’s future potential is.  Whatever it is, we’re going to help her get to the absolute maximum level we can.  We’re going to leave no stone unturned.  We’re going to use every means of communication possible.  In one short week, it has gotten SO much better.  I can’t imagine what one month, or one year will bring.

Whatever happens, she’s got plenty of people to help her walk through it.
DSC_0049–FullPlateMom, who can’t wait.

Adoption, China, Gigi

Testing All the Limits.

Today we decided to try taking Gigi to a more pedestrian-friendly area of the city to “let her roam.”  I didn’t bring our toddler carrier, or a stroller.  I thought letting her run would be a nice change for her.

She loved it.

I nearly had a stroke.

This tiny girl has never needed limits, because prior to my entry into her life, her world was tiny.  A few walls, a crib, maybe a trip or two to a playroom.

Now she has a whole world to RUN through, to explore, to touch, and, disgustingly, to taste.

It’s not surprising this trip out was a little bit of a nightmare for me.  You would think I was new at this, that I had never adopted a preschooler before.  I need to remember that I can’t hand her the whole world overnight and expect her to know how to manage it.  She’ll end up backwards on a lot of things, simply because she hasn’t experienced them before.

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DSC_0115–FullPlateMom, who will try harder next time, Gigi.

Adoption, China, Gigi

Watching Her Come Alive.

Every single time we have adopted, I have been given the amazing privilege of watching my new child’s world come alive.  Sometimes, the process is slow and painful.  Lots of times, it feels scary.  Always, it’s amazing.

Every time is different.  This time is no exception.  Gigi’s journey has been a long, hard one.  Getting to us wasn’t easy.  She was in as good of a place as we have seen thus far, but it was no family.  Part of coming involves her beginning to understand what love is, what limits are, and what language is.

When we adopted Tess and Cate, whom I traveled to get, they attached to me immediately.  In fact, they clung to me like I was a lifeline in a sea of change.  It hasn’t been that way for Gigi.  She had women in her world who loved her before.  I took her away from them.  That has to hurt.  This time, she has clung to Cam.  That hasn’t been easy for me, or him.  But, it is what is best for Gigi right now.  Part of coming alive involves learning to trust.  Slowly, her walls will come down, and she will learn to love me too.  I have to have patience.

In the interim, I’m relishing the other small victories.  We had some spontaneous signing today.  She is learning that her hands hold the key to telling us what has been locked inside her head and heart for so long.  The amount of time she spends in her own little world is decreasing.  She’s coming out of her shell.  With patience and understanding, we will watch her learn to live.

She will learn limits.  She will learn why I have to set them.  She will learn how much I love her.

DSC_0128–FullPlateMom, who is taking her turn waiting now.  Lord knows, Gigi did it long enough.

China

The Very Best China Moments So Far, Courtesy of Cam and Brady.

Whenever we travel to a foreign land, there are always adventures.  Ghana gave us MANY of those.  Oh my gosh, so many.  China is no different.  The boys have gotten a crash course in cultural differences.  They love it.

First of all, being African-American in rural China brings out some stellar moments.  Cam was used to it when he came because the staring, comments and picture taking had all happened to him last year.  Like the time he was followed by a man for a good 2-3 minutes, looking at him, and then blurting “BARACK OBAMA!”  Cam looked at me, laughed nervously, and then finally said, “Is that the only thing he knows how to say in English, or does he think I’m actually Barack Obama?”  We weren’t ever quite sure.  When all the man got was a thumbs up, he eventually wandered off.

Brady knew this was coming, but it was surreal to him when it happened.  He has had his head rubbed more times then Buddha’s belly.  He has taken it in stride.  When people yell “Michael Jordan!” at the boys (because we’re pretty sure this is the only black man they know?), they yell back, “YAO MING!!!”  This makes every Chinese person this exchange takes place with dissolve into laughter.  They are so glad to be traveling together this time.  They chat about these moments for hours after they happen, giggling together about it all.

Brady has had moments all his very own too.  He had apparently never seen an ash tray before?  The kind that fits into the top of a public trash can so you can stub out your cigarette must be a thing of the past, kind of like when I told Brady about this thing I once had called a VCR.  He simply couldn’t imagine it.  As we were waiting for the elevator in our first hotel, I watched in abject horror as Brady licked his finger and stuck it into the sand of the public ashtray.  As he was bringing it back up to his mouth I shouted “OH MY GOD!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?”  He said, “I thought it was salt.”  Yes, there are public salt licks everywhere in China.  Because, that’s not at all disgusting.  And, it makes total sense?  This kid is in the Talented and Gifted Program?!?  Apparently, we just don’t smoke enough cigarettes in public in the U.S. anymore.  Yeah, that was it, or so he says.

There have been some other busted gut moments on this trip too.  Yesterday as I was coming out of the bathroom (alone I might add.  If you’ve adopted a preschooler, you know I was totally winning in that moment) at the airport in Nanjing when a lady stopped me at the exit.  She held out a pen and a blank piece of paper.  I told her I didn’t speak any Chinese, like none at all, sorry.  She thrust the two items at me again and let out another stream of Chinese.  Still don’t speak Chinese, sorry, even when you rapid fire it at me.  A young, college aged girl, stood against a nearby pillar texting.  She didn’t even look up from her phone.  “She want you to sign that.”  “For what?”  I thought I had broken some sort of custom in the bathroom.  Was I supposed to pay?  Was this a bill?  I was clueless.  The young girl said, “She thinks you are someone.”  “Uh, I am someone.”  The girl finally looked up at me, “No, she thinks you are someone.”  Oh, like someone for real?  “Just sign it,” the young girl said and rolled her eyes.  So, I did, with the first blonde signature that came to mind.  Some random lady is running around Nanjing with Carrie Underwood’s signature…in my handwriting.  Made her day with that one.

Today as we were walking through the Wal-Mart in Guangzhou, the boys and I spotted someone ducking down behind a huge bin of stuffed bears.  We all commented on how nice it was that this slightly odd looking man was playing with the nearby kid that we thought belonged to him.  Nope.  About ten seconds later we looped around with our cart and rolled by the big bin, and he popped up and yelled “I KNOW YOU!”, in English, REALLY LOUDLY.  We all jumped and then nearly died laughing.  This apparently encouraged his bizarre behavior, because he would giggle with glee, run in front of us to the next department and do it again.  So, we decided to play along with whatever game this was and try to outrun him.  He would run into a department to hide, we would turn sharply, and try to avoid him at all costs, just because he thought it was funny, and frankly, so did we.  Gigi loved all our laughing and running as she rode in the cart.  The boys thought it was the weirdest game ever, and this guy probably won whatever Chinese hidden camera show he was filming.  As we left Wal-Mart to find our guide and the other family from our agency that we had ditched to play hide and seek with this weirdo, Brady said to me, “Maybe he really does know us?  Maybe he reads your blog?”

So, if you do, to the Chinese Wal-Mart weirdo, you made our day too!  We will likely spend the rest of our time in China hiding from each other and then popping out in random places shouting “I KNOW YOU!”  It will be like an inside joke, except not, because I just told the entire internet.

–FullPlateMom, who…KNOWS YOU!!!