More about the Luoyang Orphanage

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Mimi and a Luoyang Little One

The Orphanage.

I’ve waited to write more about the orphanage, quite frankly, because I needed time to process it all before taking to the keyboard. Our daughter lived the first 2.5 years of her life in the care of the people of Luoyang.  We are grateful that she appears to have been healthy (with some minor issues) and grown normally during her time there.  We could tell from our limited interaction with the staff, that the people who work there do care about the pint-sized bundles of energy in their charge.

You may be surprised to know that visiting the orphanage of a child you have adopted from China is not always something that can or does happen for each adoptive family.  There are many factors such as distance, scheduling, personnel and paperwork that may throw a wrench into a family’s plan to visit their child’s orphanage. Furthermore, not all families want to make the trip.  When you have had a child for only a few days, there may be health or attachment issues that a long trip in a car or train wouldn’t help.  In addition to logistic problems there is an emotional risk of going back and taking your child with you.  Some children are very attached to their care givers and going back to their home and interacting with their friends and everything familiar, only to be taken away, can be traumatic.  They lose everything all over again.  It can also be hard for newly adoptive parents to watch as their children attach and cling to their former caregivers, wondering if they will want to come back into the arms of this stranger that now wants to be called ‘Mama.’  The truth is you don’t know how it will go until you get there.  You have to be willing to take the risk and deal with whatever happens…and we were.

I wanted to capture as much as we could in our time in Luoyang for the sake of our daughter.  I wanted to close the loop on so many open questions that called for more than second-hand knowledge from our agency. Only visiting in person could satisfy those questions. (Mimi felt the same way, so she joined us even though I was afraid her tender teacher-heart might not survive saying goodbye to the little ones that entered her life that day.)  Someday Little Li will want to know more and we will be able to at least share with her some basic first-hand knowledge of the first place she called home. 

 Our visit was the last stop of a marathon day that had started with the finalization of the adoption at one location, then a brief interaction with a notary official in another location and then a 2.5 hour drive to do the paperwork for her passport. (See my post on day 6.  )  Our visit to the orphanage happened at the end of an extremely long day and we were hot, tired and determined.  (Thankfully so was the other family adopting from the same facility. We were in this together!)  The clock soon ticked past the 5:00 pm mark, but the orphanage director was gracious enough to stay late in order for us to visit. What I saw there surprised me.  

The exterior of the orphanage

The building is over 10 stories tall and towered much higher than I expected.  It was large.  Very large.  It would have to be because it houses over 700 children.  That’s right. 700+ children wake up and go to sleep in a mass community of young citizens that band together to form their own family.  Keep in mind this was just ONE orphanage in ONE city! 

We were greeted outside by care givers on their way home.  They were excited to see both girls and obviously wanted to say goodbye.  We then were ushered into a first floor room that was our daughter’s actual room.  There were 14 cribs (probably twice the size of an American crib), 2 children in each crib and 2 caregivers.  We were told that the children only spend a few hours each day out of their crib.  At first you are enraged by the thought!  But then you consider the reality.  If you had to feed, change, bathe and play with 28 children under the age of three in one eight hour shift, that is no easy task.  (Much less trying to the emotional needs of the demanding toddler temperament!) Is there a better way to care for these kids?  Maybe, but there is no ideal solution and always a lack of people, time and money. (Some of the other orphanages have foster programs, but not every orphanage have  the resources to coordinate such a program.) Its just reality, like it or not.

Nannies leaving, but saying hello

 The children were already in their cribs when we arrived a little after 5:00 pm and immediately started calling our daughter’s name when we walked into the room. I tried to get her out of the baby carrier in order to  allow her to interact, but she wanted no part of it! (It was as if she was saying ‘I thought we had a deal and I was done with this, Mom! Don’t let go.’) Little arms began reaching for the grown-ups in order to be held and get attention for just a moment.  While my arms were full, Mimi couldn’t resist the sweetness of the little hands so desperately in need of attention.  She was drawn in by a small, waif-like girl that melted immediately into her arms . This little girl was grateful for gentle hands, even if they held her only for a moment.  In those brief minutes, I wanted to load our van up with these beautiful munchkins and high tail it out of dodge! Irrational I know, but it left me wanting to do more.  Looking back, it may have been good that Mom held this little angel instead of me.  When we got back home and I opened up the photos from the camera I had sent ahead to the orphanage, this little girl was in most of the photos and the video.  I think she may have been one of our daughter’s close playmates.  She will forever be in my prayers.  I pray that God will give her the same  opportunity for a new life as our daughter and the other children in our group. (She is pictured above with Mimi.) It was hard to leave her behind.

Little Li’s friend saying hi

 

Overall, the facility and the few parts we saw appeared organized and clean.  (It was far better than the hospital we visited earlier in the day!) The children seemed to be adjusted and the caregivers engaged.  It was better than I had anticipated to be truthful.  Good. Yes.  Great. No.  As long as there are children in orphanages, the situation will not be great or anything less than ideal.  It is not the the way God intended for children to be raised.  It made me keenly aware and thankful for the other families of the same mindset who had joined us in this international adventure.  9 children started over that week with new families and new homes.  They are orphans no more! The week also made my heart ache a little more for the little ones still there.  I have touched their hands and heard their cries.   It leaves an ache in your heart when you think about the lives of excess we live in the USA. I  could rant a little here, but instead I will move on and revisit that later!

We explored a few other areas of the facility with the director and looked at her playroom as well as the back courtyard.  The director answered a few more questions and then it was time to leave.  Traffic would be heavy, so the driver didn’t want to stop for dinner.  (I was starving!)  So we stopped at a gas station that would make a 7-11 look classy and began our journey home.  (Again, visit my previous post for an entertaining story..) We will forever have a special bond with the other family than ran the Luoyang gauntlet with us that day.

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Kung Fu Kindergartener

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The first week home from China has been filled with a flurry of activity.  Bills, appointments, email, snail mail, groceries and oh so much more. One of the main purposes for taking advantage of the opportunity to travel when we did, was so that Hulaloo would be able to go with us on our family adventure without missing school.  Not just any first day of school.  But THE first day of school, which is also the first day of Kindergarten. We had just a few days to shed the jet lag before school started!  (Luckily we are at the end of the alphabet, which bought us another day. If we had been letters A-J, she would have had to go Wednesday.)

Its easy in all of the excitement of a new family member to overlook the change and sacrifice that is automatically thrust on the other little members of an adoptive family (without their consent.) Think about it….  Our little five year old has literally been around the world to China, gotten a new sister, and started school, all in just two weeks.   Any of those things by themselves is a big deal in the world of a five year old. Add to that about 12 hours of jet lag and it could be a recipe for major drama. (I prepared myself for large bouts of whining that haven’t yet materialized.)

As so often happens, I have been surprised by the resilience and adaptability of children. I am amazed by the way Hulaloo happily stepped into the role of big sister and overcame the challenge of 12 hours of jet lag to step onto a bus full of strangers without Mamma.  (If you have never experienced 12 hour jet lag, it feels like a bus just rolled over you.) 

It’s not been all chocolate and roses since returning home.  There have been many ups and downs, but the good far outweigh the bad. Looking at the way our little five year old fireball has handled all the change in her little life, made me realize that her confidence comes from her trust in us.  She knows that we won’t leave and that regardless of what happens at school, WE ARE HERE.  The only way we would allow her to get on a bus is if we know where it is headed and who’s in control. 

That’s kind of how God’s plan works for our lives, isn’t it?  We may not be in complete control of the bus (and there may be bullies and … heaven forbid, bad words on the bus,) but He’s in control.  HE IS HERE.  

Much like Hulaloo, that is all I need to know.

 

Your  Friend,
Meredith

LLII 

Day 16- The Long Ride Home

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We were all excited to be home, but nobody in our group was excited about the actual process of going home.  We had a direct flight out of Hong Kong (a 2.5 hour drive from Guangzhou), a 14 hour flight home, then a four hour drive.  And that was the shortest route I could calculate.

Ugh!

View from our plane leaving Hong Kong


 
We left at 5:45 am in the morning and Jason had a van ready with a boxed breakfast for each of us to eat on the way.   He gave us explicit instructions on paperwork for entry into Hong Kong, the airport and immigration.  I almost felt like crying when it was time to say goodbye.  Perhaps it was the fact that so much had taken place in the last two weeks and CCAI had taken such good care of us.  No detail had been too small.  No question too dumb.
 
Our experience was amazing and now it was time to pull  away from the curb and say goodbye to someone who had helped us complete one of the greatest adventures of our lives.   As I looked at his smile as we drove away, I realized that it was likely I will never see him again.  I certainly won’t find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any of the other social connections we Americans take for granted.  But I will hold him and the other CCAI reps (Yisha, Vivian, William and Cecelia) in my heart for a lifetime.  
 
 
 

Our guide Jason from CCAI

The sun rose as our van drove us 2.5 hours through the hills to Hong Kong.  I’m  a little sorry we didn’t spend some time in Hong Kong, because it looked gorgeous.  But we were so ready to get home that we couldn’t be lured by an exotic desitination.  I will put it on my bucket list! 
 
We were able to navigate getting checked in (with an emigrating citizen) and to the gate without issue.  (Insert audible sigh of relief.) There were TWO security checks of baggage (one right at as we boarded the plane) which was no small task with two little ones in tow.
 
I would love to tell you that there was no drama on the flight, but let’s be real here folks. A 2.5 year old and a 14 hour flight is not a good combination any way you slice it.   At about hour seven, she got fussy and couldn’t sleep and who could blame her. I got ‘the look’ as a gentleman in the row in front of us leaned up and over to indicate he wasn’t happy with her crying.  We had tried every snack, toy and trick and I was quickly rocking to and fro at that point.  Out of frustration and pure exhaustion, I leaned up and in towards him with a look that said ‘bring it on buddy, I’m doing the best I can and she’s two for cryin’ out loud.’  He turned around and sat back down…
 
Touching down on American soil was cause for celebration since it made our daughter officially a citizen!  I felt relief knowing that were home and could start the next phase of our journey.  (And the fact that I knew  I could order  a coke without pointing or needing sign language!) Because she was an immigrant, we had to wait through multiple lines to finish paperwork (not to mention baggage claim and another baggage security scan.)  It took us almost two hours just to get out of the airport.
 
It was a joy to see my brother-in-law Tony who was waiting on us and the first familiar face in the USA. 

Day 15 – Our Last Day in China

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Day 15 – Our Last Full Day In China

 
We woke up realizing that it was our last full day in China.  To be honest, it was excitement mixed with a little sadness.  We were so excited to get home to our family, friends and life, but our time in China had been filled with memorable moments and people that we hesitated to leave behind.
 
We had the option of going with our group to one of two zoos.  I admit it would have been cool to see some pandas while in China, but to be honest I have seen Pandas before.  They just lay there. Remember Ling Ling at the National Zoo in DC?  (Even our guide Jason said they are pretty high maintenance and won’t come out when its hot.) This may be way too pragmatic, but my thought was that we can visit 3 or 4 zoos at home by driving just a few hours.  I can watch a bear lay in the shade at home! Our newest family addition was not going to remember it anyway.  I wanted to experience something different and unique to the area.
 
So we headed out to Shamian Island.  This is a special little island just 15 minutes from where we were staying.  Up until just a few years ago, it was the home to most of the consulates in Guangzhou. It has the look and feel of a tropical tourist destination. It boasts quiet tree lined streets with quaint local shops and a totally Americanized cafe named Lucy’s.  The buildings and street sculptures honor the international history that must have taken place there over the last century.  To be honest, after seeing it, I was sad that our adoption experience didn’t take place on the island as it had for so many other families just a few years before. It had way more ambience than the bustling metro location of where we stayed.

View from Shamian Island

 
One of my main goals was to get a photo of Little Li in in the middle of a famous bronze sculpture which shows a violin   teacher and her students following behind.  There is a gap in the line and it is tradition for newly adopted children to fill the gap in the line and have their photo taken. 
 
 
 It was raining and Little Li wasn’t excited about the photo, so we snapped it quickly and moved on for a quick latte at Starbucks, where something interesting happened..
 
 
Before I go any further, I would like to state for the record that my coffee of choice in Terre Haute is Rex coffee.  Its outstanding.  So is the atmosphere and food of our Clabber Girl Bakeshop.  If you haven’t tried it, you should.  The only negative is that we don’t yet have any international locations.  I have to tell you that after being away from the states for two weeks, a Starbucks sign means good old fashioned American coffee and is like a beacon in the desert! I have also spent some time in McDonalds and KFC these last few weeks… but I digress.
 
When I walked into this quaint Caribbean-like Starbucks, a girl walked up to me and asked if i would like a free latte.  (Which is my drink of choice.) I said sure! She told me they would pay for it if they could film the barista making it for me and handing it to me.  I said of course.  (Those of you that know me well, know that I could never pass up an offer like that.  The price was right!) I then found out it was for an international promotion for Starbucks and the latte.  I may have had my 15 seconds of international fame.  Unfortunately, it probably won’t be in English and will never be seen by anyone closer than 7000 miles from home.  Oh well!
 

My 15 seconds of fame

 
The afternoon sun was pretty hot so we walked and shopped for a bit, had lunch at Lucy’s and then caught a cab back to our hotel.  (Which was kind of a downer after walking through the White Swan Hotel on the island.)

White Swan Hotel

The evening was filled with the daunting task of packing everything back up (our hotel room had become our home) and preparing our newly completed family for the marathon plane ride home.  
 
We met with our group briefly downstairs to receive our child’s visa and the people who had become our family for the last few weeks, were suddenly gone.  It was kind of sad.  We were excited to go home, yet this was the group  with which we had the adoption gauntlet .  It was a special bond. I felt like it was hurried process of saying goodbye in the hallway and then it was over.  I needed more formalized closure!  The great thing is that our children have a special bond in that they began their new lives together.  (Some of them share orphanage experiences.) My hope is that we will be able to keep in touch and watch as the other children begin to flourish in their new families. (Our group’s families are located all over the USA.) That is the beauty of the digital age!

Our CCAI travel family

 
 
An now it was time to move on and go home. 
 
Your Friend,
Meredith

 

LLI

 

Day 14- Flag Waving American, at last!

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Day 14 – A Flag Waving American at last!

With everyone in our group receiving physical approval by the USA to proceed with immigration, it was time for us all to head back to the American Consulate for the completion of the immigration process.  Most of the paperwork had been submitted a month or two before by each family (electronically.)  Now it was time to make it official! It was an especially memorable day because it was my Mom’s birthday.  We had much to celebrate!
 
We loaded up our bus at 7:30 in the morning with all the children in tow (plus Mimi and Hulaloo this time,) and headed into Guangzhou to the US consulate.  The consulate as I have mentioned is the busiest in the world.  Pulling up to it with our children was almost a surreal experience. I have never seen a more beautiful flag flying high as a symbol of freedom. It was like an island of democracy in the sea of communism.  My only beef is it needs to be bigger!
 
Everything in China is built high with multiple stories in order to maximize space usage, since land is at a premium.  The US Consulate stands on a small bit of land in the middle of the metro monstrosity a mere 3 stories high. It looks like David and Goliath.  (However, we know who wins in that story!)  We Americans like to march to our own drummer and our consulate stands firm. Small but mighty.
 
The lengthy line of people winding around the building told its own story of those who want just a temporary taste of what we Americans have come to take for granted.  It reminded me that a great price has been paid by so many in the current and previous generations, for our family to have the ability to share our freedom with an innocent child.  
 
Once again, our agency had worked ahead so that we moved straight to the front of the line (at our own entrance.)  On this trip I finally got to be one of those  people that always annoy me because they have some special inside connection that allows them to move to skip the line.  (I have to admit it was nice!)
 
We went through security and up to the second floor where we were issued a number and waited for our turn.  The paperwork was initiated for each family and then one member from each family was called to the main window at the same time where they took the oath as a group on behalf of their child.  (I was a little bummed because it was over before I knew it was happening.)
 
Each family was then called again to the window where we received  our packets.  (The visas were not issued, but were in process to be received later in the week.) The process probably took a little over an hour.  All the other families clapped and celebrated as each child received approval.  (Citizenship isn’t actually official until they arrive in the USA.)  We then headed back out and paused for a few brief photos in front of the flag.  I have seen other families take pictures in front of the consulate sign, but that was impossible because the line was too long and flowed right in front of it.
We headed back to the hotel, and we told Mom since it was her birthday that we would do what she wanted in the afternoon.  She and I shopped at some stores near our hotel (with Little Li) and hubby and Hulaloo swam at the pool.  
 
We finished the evening off with dinner at the Four Season’s restaurant at the hotel. (Even lambie attended and had tea with us.)  The night was topped off with a birthday cake delivered to our room which had been organized by our guide Jason.  (Have I mentioned that Jason rocks?)
It was a day filled with so many special moments and memories.  I will never forget it.
I hope someday our daughter will come to realize the great sacrifice of freedom that allowed her begin life anew with the privileges of freedom of speech and religion just to name a few.  
 
Let freedom ring!
 
Your Friend,

 

Meredith
 

Day 13 – A Perfect Pearl

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Doing a little pearl shopping together

Day 13 was a free day except for those families (including ours) that had children over the age of two.  All of us had to be back at the hotel in the afternoon in order to wait for our guide to call us with the TB results.  If any child’s results were positive, they had to go back to the clinic for a chest X-ray.  

The optional excursion was a trip to the Pearl Market.  A friend at home (Michelle) who has two girls also born in China, shared with me before we left that she made a trip to the pearl market and bought some sets of pearls for her girls’ wedding days.  I thought that was a fabulous idea!  So off we went.

The three families that went took separate cabs because it was more economical than renting a bus.  Jason gave a card to the driver and told us to stand where we were dropped off and wait. The group would go into the market together.  Once we were dropped off, we waited…and waited…AND waited outside.  It soon became clear we weren’t in the right spot.  We didn’t see anyone in our group.  We got an international package extension on our phone for a  limited time so I tried to text Jason.  No answer. Pretty soon, I saw him running through the crowd towards us.  We had been dropped off at the wrong location and the group was waiting for us.  Jason to the rescue!

I was envisioning a little street market with a few booths to choose from.  Boy was I wrong!  For those of you ladies who like jewelry, you are going to wish you had come along. Envision a six level mall dedicated to nothing but jewelry AND you can bargain on price. Hubby probably thought it was good we were under a time restriction to get back to the hotel, because otherwise i might have spent all day (and probably too much RMB.)  I have to admit that the heat and no air conditioning does deplete my shopping stamina somewhat!

Jason took us to a shop where they spoke pretty good english and he said we could be confident that we would be treated fairly. (I’ve read on the internet that sometimes guides will get a kickback for bringing business to the shops.  I don’t know if its true. But you know what?  That’s ok with me.  As I mentioned before.  Jason ROCKS!  I trust him and he has been by our side for 24 hours a day for almost a week.  If its true, he deserves it.)

The pearls were looped together in long strands and grouped together like a bale of hay.  Cost was based on fresh water, saltwater, size, color and uniformity.  My one and only child care request from Hubby was to watch and entertain the girls long enough for me to pick something out something special for them.  (Mimi helped of course!) I picked out two white strands and clasps and watched as they were looped together.  I also picked out several sets of earrings.  

By the time their weddings roll around they may feel that pearls are out of style and won’t want to wear them.  That’s ok. They may hang on to them as a keepsake and know that it was designed especially for them by their Mama with with love.  Maybe THEIR daughters will want them.

We took a little longer to walk around a bit and then walked back to the front of the market to get our own cab.  We finally flagged one down and handed him a card with our hotel address.  We were back at the China Hotel in no time!

We got our TB results in the afternoon which were negative!  (Praise God.)

All of our group went to a family style local restaurant for the evening meal.  It was within walking distance to our hotel and had a variety of local fare.  Jason headed the efforts and we were able to test our skills with chopsticks and hot tea if we so desired.  My chopstick skills have improved, but have a long way to go!  When I’m really hungry, I just ask for the fork which is always readily available. It seemed like most of the kiddos were not really into the Chinese cuisine except for perhaps some of the noodles and the sweet dumplings.  

Mom sat next to Jen from another adoptive family who’s parents are Chinese and seemed to be familiar with everything that was served.  Mom decided to follow her lead in order to navigate her way through the meal! Hulaloo spent quite a bit of time peering into the live seafood tanks because it reminded her of Red Lobster at home.  

We finished our meal and headed back to our room to call it a day.
Day 14 will be a huge milestone.  Our appointment at the US consulate for citizenship!
One day closer to home and seeing everyone we love most in the world.

Until next time.
Your Friend,
Meredith

PS – Little Li is snuggling with me on the bed as i write this.  No silent tears this time 🙂  She can say ‘More’ , ‘Bye-Bye’ , ‘Mama’, ‘DaDa’ and ‘Mimi’.  Simply amazing.

 

 

Day 12 – Our First Doctor Appointment

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On day 12 we celebrated one week since Gotcha Day.  Our entire group had to load back onto the bus in order to get the required physical exams before our children could be approved for US visas to enter the country. Think about taking a child to their first doctor appointment, but not being able to speak in  her language to console her.  Think about the stress and trauma, now multiply it by nine.  Nine because there were nine children in our group who had to be examined at three stations and several that had to have blood drawn for TB tests.  

The night before, Little Li had been fussy and was running a slight fever (which I knew wouldn’t be good for the day!)  I gave her a little tylenol before bed and made sure she had plenty of liquids and prayed the fever would go down.  Thankfully she acted fine the next morning.  It would likely have delayed us, because our guide on the bus the next day asked  if anyone had a fever before leaving.  Once again, whew!

We started on the first floor in order to take visa photos.  If you have been following the blog, you know that the passport photo didn’t go well.  We were holding our breath, because it could be a long morning for all the families involved if any of the little ones refused to cooperate.  When it was our turn I stepped up and set her on the chair.  She sat there and they took her picture.  It took less than a minute.  No muss, no fuss! Double whew!

Alcohol Vending Machine on 1st Floor (?)

 

The medical office was directly across from the consulate and staffed by personnel approved by the American Government.  The floor was packed with people waiting, but we were ushered to a special wing of the floor marked off especially for adoptive families.  

Mickey mouse was imprinted on the floor and the lighting was literally shaped like clouds to try to create a welcoming atmosphere.  (As welcoming as a doctors visit can be, anyway.)  Families rotated in to the following stations:  #1 -height, weight and temperature #2 – Eyes, Nose, Throat #3 – General Physical Exam.  We got through the first few stations pretty quick.  The physical exam seemed to go fine, but then the doctor spoke to us and led us back to station 2 to sit down again.  He had the ENT look at her again.  He then scribbled out some of his previous writing and changed her record.  We asked our guide to go back to with us to speak to them so we could understand what was happening.  (Our guide Jason ROCKS!) It turns out that they were documenting her eyesight which appears to have some nystagmus.  

Then because she is over the age of two, a blood draw for TB was required.  They took her out of my arms and wouldn’t let us go in with her. (Ugh..)  The only bright spot here was at least we didn’t have to be part of the drama of holding her down and got to be the arms of safe haven when she came out.  She actually reached for me!  That in itself was a victory!

We opted out of the group activity for the evening and spent the time back at the hotel resting.  Even though Jason had warned us about slow service, we ventured into a very large restaurant called the Food Shops with English menus.  We were seated quickly.  Then waited. And waited. And waited. (Now with two very hungry girls.) Hubby, also known as Mr. Patience (not) got tired of waiting and had us get up. We left and went to the restaurant where we eat breakfast every morning. Our waitress understood almost no english, but we finally got an order placed.  Mimi ordered a club sandwich with no lettuce, mayo or tomato (in order to avoid tummy troubles associated with any raw vegetables washed in the water here.)  In essence, it was a turkey sandwich.  The manager came out (sure that our non-english speaking waitress had gotten it wrong) to confirm the order.  She gave Mom a look I will never forget!  As she walked away, Mom said ‘You think I could ask her back in order to get a little mustard?’  The look on my tired face must have said it all.  She laughed and said ‘Never mind.’  

We finished our meal and headed back to our room to call it a day.he has begun to open up to all of us, including Mimi.  For days she has cried every time Mom has gotten close.  (She is terrified of strangers.) On Day 12, she actually let Mom get on her other side and hold both our hands to walk down the hall.  What amazing progress in just a week.  I continue to be amazed at her resilience and adaptability.  So excited to see what the coming days will bring. Thanks for sticking with us.

Your Friend,

Meredith

LLI