Monthly Archives: August 2013

Snack street

Last night (Saturday evening) was our last night in Beijing so we wanted to go out and see a few more sights after we spend some time in the hotel recovering from the morning of walking. I got in touch with an adoptive friend, Jennifer, that I knew through an online group and we decided to meet downstairs in the lobby. Our two families walked down the street a few blocks to Snack Street, which is also called the night market, because it is only open for a few hours in the evening. The children and I had looked at pictures online and they were excited to see the starfish, squid, and other gross things in person. What the internet doesn’t convey is the nauseating smell! Some areas were okay, but others we just kept walking quickly because the smell was so terrible.


Not all of the food was gross. Quite a lot of it looked great. There were bowls of noodles, some baked goods, and every person who was selling fruit on a stick would gesture to our children and wave their fruit sticks enticingly at them. One stall had little pots and I was curious what they contained but we didn’t see an english sign for them. A few stalls were selling food that met Muslim standards. The most popular stall by far was one selling a large haunch of roasted lamb on a stick.


After we finished the line of stalls we stopped for a bit to decide what to do next. Our original plan had been to eat Beijing (Peking) duck tonight. But we were still really full from our huge lunch and Nancy had warned us that on a Saturday night it might be difficult to get seating for a party as large as ours without a reservation. We decided not to worry about the Beijing duck and we would get something light if we got hungrier later. We then headed over to a different street to visit St. Joseph Cathedral, which was built on the site of one of the original Jesuit missionary houses from the 1600’s. It had a nice public gathering area in front, but the church was closed with locked gates. We had hoped to be able to go to Mass here on one of our days since the Beijing bishop is recognized by the Vatican but the only Mass time is 6:15 am, so we never made it.


From St. Joseph’s we walked back to the area before the night market, which was a large shopping area that had a Times Square feel with large glowing billboards. There was a multistory mall, which we entered through the Apple store. It was like any mall in America, with many of the same stores like Forever 21, only the signs were in Chinese. The mall had escalators for each floor, but since it had so many stories it also had “express” escalators that take up two stories at a time. We ended up eating some noodles at a shop there before heading back home.


We stopped by the restroom before going back to the hotel because the kids had all had a full can of Coke. I’m not sure how they work these things out, but based on my experience in Beijing it seems like Coke has an exclusive contract for all of China. Not that I’m complaining! Anyway, I haven’t mentioned the restrooms yet. First, most places have what are called “squatty potties.” I’ll try to get a picture later if you don’t know what one looks like. Sometimes they will have one Western style toilet at the end. I actually don’t mind the squatty potty. It’s nice and sanitary because you don’t touch anything. Bathrooms may or may not supply toilet paper, and if they do it’s by the door and not in the stall. I brought travel kleenex packs to pass out as needed. You toss the used tissue in a trash can by the door, because the sewage system here can’t handle toilet paper, so most of the stalls do not smell nice. But I am not bothered by any of that. The thing that I find most difficult is that there is no soap provided, only sinks. I carry hand sanitizer for us, but when we are at a restaurant I really try not to think about how the people preparing our food do not have soap available to wash their hands with after using the bathroom!


Forbidden City

This morning Nancy came bearing a gift–a red folder with an update on Leo. It had some new pictures, Chinese phrases, advice on getting around in China and things along those lines.

We went out this morning to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. As we approached Tiananmen Square, we got to urban Beijing that I was expecting when we got here. There were people everywhere and 12 lanes of traffic. I was very glad to see an underpass so we didn’t have to cross the street. As large as the Square was, the crowd was never shoulder to shoulder crowded, just state fair on a Saturday crowded. There were lots of tour groups and sellers with Chinese army hats and things like that.


Chinese ladies here certainly take their sun protection seriously. I’ve only seen face masks on commuters. Most women were wearing large sun hats or carrying umbrellas. I saw quite a few Muslim Chinese women wearing hijab. Our guide Nancy was wearing a full array including a light jacket, gloves for her hands, a sun hat, and an umbrella. When her umbrella broke, she purchased a new one from a street vendor. Again, we attracted a lot of attention. One man counted the number of children in english and then gave Matt a thumb’s up. For the first time someone wanted a picture of Mary Evelyn with her daughters and as I thought, Mary Evelyn was less enthusiastic than the boys to have her picture made with strangers.


The children got tired of the Forbidden City pretty quickly. I think we were expecting to walk from room to room, but instead it was open area to open area. It was another clear day, but hot and sunny since most of the areas didn’t have any shade. Like our visit to the Great Wall, it was very impressive to walk on something that is older than our country.


Some parts in the outer area had been well preserved but I was surprised at the poor condition of the inner areas where the Emperor and his concubines lived. There were windows where you could look in and see the furniture and everything was covered in dust. The wood in the ceiling above was rotting away. I hope they eventually restore those areas.


When we finished at the Forbidden City we stopped for lunch where we met Sue, a staff person from Holt. We shared several dishes of food. We were so hot from the Forbidden City that we paid to buy an extra liter of Coke to share because there are no free refills. Nancy keeps marveling at how independent Vincent is. She tells us that since most people have only one child, they are usually spoiled and it is normal to see parents hand feeding children until they are 6 or older.


We were pretty wiped out after the food, but we still had to go to the silk factory for another sales pitch. It was very fascinating to hear about the two types of cocoons, to see how the threads were spun, and we all got to help stretch silk batting out for a quilt. Once we were done there we finally got to come back to the hotel for a rest. We are planning to go out again for our last night in Beijing. Tomorrow morning we will pack up and fly to Nanjing in the early afternoon.

I’ve had a lot of trouble staying connected to the internet while I was writing this post, so I apologize if the formatting is strange or if the pictures don’t quite match up with the text.


The dumpling shop

After swimming yesterday it was time for our first trip out to an actual restaurant. We just wanted to sleep when we got in on Thursday. Several of the adoptive families had talked about this great dumpling restaurant that is behind our hotel The Novatel Peace. The problem was that it was hard to find more specific directions other than “behind the hotel” and it doesn’t have an english sign so we couldn’t google the name. We finally decided to just ask the concierge. He said “Dumpling shop? Yes! Follow me!” and he led us through a door the left marked Employees Only. We went through several back hallways and out a back door into the employee parking lot, which was full of bicycles and had a guard stationed.


The dumpling shop was in a hutong, and the owner said we could eat outside or in one of the little rooms. We choose outside and were seated in one of the little courtyards. There was a beautiful tree growing up to shade the table.


We ordered a pork rib soup which came in a huge tureen, and several different kinds of dumplings. While we were waiting for the food, Vincent fell asleep at the table. The other children watched a mother cat and kitten walking across the roof above the courtyard. We managed to wake Vincent up and eat by enticing him with Sprite. We were all completely stuffed, and the bill came to $20!


A few odds and ends stories. When we first got off the plane, everything was kind of crazy. Matt was asking an attendant where the nearest bathroom was for Max, who was puking again while Linda sponged him off. Gregory was trying to lay down on the floor to sleep, Mary Evelyn was guarding the stack of backpacks and luggage. I was keeping an eye on Vincent who looked up at me and said “Mama? Do dey have potties in China? Because I need one!”


Also, at the Great Wall yesterday we had our first taste of our caucasian celebrity status. We had been warned that many Chinese have not seen caucasians before, and it is not rude to stare in China. The boys were very popular and we were stopped several times by people wanting to have their picture taken with Gregory and Vincent or Max. Even at the jade factory where their main business is tourists, we were the only people eating (I told you Nancy had a great schedule!) and the waitresses gathered around to gaze at the boys adoringly while we ate. Nancy said it will be even worse today at the Forbidden City. Okay, we’re off for the day!

Great Wall and Hutong Tour

Before I start talking about the Great Wall, Gregory would like me to tell you about the breakfast buffet at our hotel. He says that buffet isn’t the right word, it should be called something like “Food Fantasy.” I didn’t take any pictures, but there was a European/American section with pancakes, waffles, pastries, cereal, fruit, and yogurt. There was a Japanese section with sushi. There was a Chinese section with dumplings and grilled fish. Oh, and an omelet bar. Sadly for Gregory, he did not have enough time to finish his third plate because we were just out of time and had to meet our guide.

We are the only people who signed up for tours this time, so it was just us, Nancy, and the driver. There are several sections of the Great Wall where people usually tour, and we went to the closest section which is about an hour outside of Beijing, depending on the traffic. Nancy told us that Beijing is mostly a new city because the government has systematically bulldozed down the older housing sections and replaced them with large apartment buildings, so most of the city looked like this driving through:


As we drove out of the city, you could see the mountains ahead, and then we could see some of the Great Wall going up the mountain! Nancy told us repeatedly that we were extremely lucky because she has never seen such good weather. There is absolutely no smog, a beautiful blue sky, and a nice breeze. It was the perfect day to climb the Great Wall. Or at least a tiny section of it.


Everyone was very excited, so there was a festive atmosphere. People were smiling at each other and giving encouragement to those who took a little longer. The steps are uneven, with some being close together and other far apart. They all had grooves or missing chunks. Nancy told us that most of the Great Wall is crumbling and too dangerous to climb except for these few preserved areas around Beijing. Linda recently had knee-replacement surgery because she said she wanted to be able to climb the Great Wall and it was a great motivator for her physical therapy. She was able to make it to the 3rd tower.


It was so beautiful there, we all could have stayed for much longer. But Nancy has lots of plans, so we kept going. She has a great schedule too, because there were lots of busses pulling in as we left but it didn’t seem crowded while we were there. Next we went to the government jade factory. We were able to see someone carving a jade family ball and many samples of exquisite jade carving craftsmanship. We had lunch at the restaurant upstairs, and then headed back into Beijing. I thought you might appreciate Gregory’s pirate face for the giant jade boat.


The next stop was the hutong tour. Hutongs are the old city dwellings, which were small houses with courtyards which grew into a maze of dwellings. We were driven in rickshaws in the small alleys. It was nice to see people sitting around and chatting. There were many people playing majong, having a drink, hanging laundry, or reading a kindle. It definitely had more of a community feel than the giant apartment buildings. We had the opportunity to tour the inside of one, and when we talked with the owner we found that she was born in the same month and year as Linda. The hutong tour was the last stop on our schedule for the day. We spent some time resting when we got back, and now the kids are downstairs swimming in the hotel pool with Matt and Grandma. I have figured out how to add pictures to the blog entries but it looks as if it is publishing the entry every time I add a picture, so I apologize if you are seeing it several times in a reader.


One last update

We’re getting ready for our trip out to the Great Wall, and it sounds like the jade factory, too. Our guide Nancy said she was going to keep us very busy today to help us get over our jet-lag. We’re all feeling much better after getting 12 hours of sleep last night. I guess the bright side of not sleeping on the flight over is that you get adjusted to the new time quickly. Max is feeling much better this morning. I think I forgot to say yesterday that he gets motion sickness sometimes and our landing was a little rough. I was able to get the two pictures to load on the post yesterday, so you can see them there or by clicking through to Flickr on the right. One of the view from our room, and the other is our lack of success at keeping Vincent and Gregory awake. They kept trying to lay down on the marble floor in the hotel lobby while Nancy was getting us checked in.

Our first impression of Beijing is that it was not nearly so urban as we were expecting. I could see farmland outside of town as we landed, and the entire drive to the hotel there were lots of trees to be seen along the roads. I was expecting the buildings to be crammed together like New York City (not that I’ve been there either) but there is a lot of landscaping, and even the traffic isn’t as nonstop as I thought it would be. It is not noisy in our hotel. Okay, time to go now!

Made it to Beijing

It was a very long flight, but we made it to Beijing. I don’t think anyone but Linda slept more than 5 minutes the entire flight! The bad news is Max threw up during the landing. The good news is we didn’t get quarantined when Max threw up again right in front of the customs officer processing our passports. We are trying to stay awake a little longer and going out to buy some water. Tomorrow will be a long day with a lot of scheduled activities.


On our way!

You know you have small town kids when they’re impressed by the airport parking lot! It just got more exciting when we got to the escalators and train. We made it through security and finally secured seats together for the flight to Beijing.

The next time you hear from us we’ll be on the other side of the world!


The Itinerary

Our trip to China will be approximately two weeks long and take place in three different stages, each in it’s own city.  Although personally I think that we might consider taking this guy through air transit for 18 hours will be a trip all by itself:


We will depart from the US on Wednesday morning and arrive in China on Thursday afternoon. Matt’s mother is going with us, and I know we will really appreciate having an extra set of hands along to help with the children.  We will begin in Beijing for two days of sight-seeing.  Beijing is in the northern part of China, about the same latitude as Philadelphia, PA.  It has a population similar to Chicago.


This is mostly to let us all adjust to the time zone, because it’s not a good idea to hand a kid over to very jet-lagged parents.  We will keep awake during the day by visiting the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.  Someone in our party was very excited to hear that our hotel is very near to Snack Street, which is a street where you can buy fun Chinese street food such as starfish or scorpion on a stick.  Only we won’t actually eat any of the snacks because we don’t want to get food poisoning.


                                                           Mmm, snack street!—–>

Time to make this adoption thing happen!–

On Sunday, we will fly to Nanjing, which is the capital of Leo’s province.  It’s about the same latitude as Montgomery, AL.  It is best known for being the capital of China during the Ming dynasty.  Leo is not currently residing there, but will be transported to Nanjing to meet us because adoptions must be finalized at the Provincial capital.  We don’t have much planned for Sunday except traveling and getting settled into a new hotel.  No snack street at this place, but I hear there’s a mall with a Starbucks!


We will meet Leo on Monday morning, known as “Gotcha Day” in adoption lingo.  He will come back to the hotel with us, and we will return on Tuesday to officially adopt him.  We will stay around Nanjing until Friday, because his passport will need to be prepared.  He will fly home on a red Chinese passport which will become void once he reaches US soil.  We will pass the time getting to know Leo’s home province.  I hope to visit Leo’s orphanage and possibly meet his foster parents during this time.  My agency says “Orphanage and foster family visits are prohibited but sometimes allowed.”  Leo’s orphanage welcomes visitors and families are usually given permission to visit if they request to do so, which makes me optimistic that we will be able to travel there.

On Friday, after we receive Leo’s passport we will travel to the southern part of China to Guangzhou, where the American consulate is located.  It’s hard to find an East Coast city on the same latitude, but Key West, FL is closest.  We expect warm weather!  It is the 3rd largest city in China.


You can see in this map how close Guangzhou is to Hong Kong.  Many families will travel to Hong Kong and fly out from there.  We will be flying from Guangzhou up to Shanghai for our return.


Friday is just a transportation day but on Saturday Leo must have a medical visit.  Then we have another break on Sunday and Monday.  Tuesday is our appointment at the US Consulate where we will receive his US adoption paperwork.  We will receive his visa to enter the US on Wednesday and we are free to leave after that.  For various transportation related reasons we will be flying home on Friday morning.

We will fly from Guangzhou to Shanghai where we will catch the long flight home.  From there we will enter the US in Seattle, where we will be detained for a few hours as Leo journeys through customs to become an official US citizen.  At that point we will travel to our “home” airport of Cincinnati, arriving home on the same day             ^My dream of the entire trip home  that we left thanks to the time difference.

I’m expecting it to be twenty hours of cozy bonding on the uneventful flight home.  Just let me live in my dreamland, okay?

Internet access in China can be unpredictable.  I will try to post once a day while we are in China, and I have a friend who can post an update for me as long as I have e-mail access.  I hope to post additional pictures to Flickr, so you can click through to the right if you want to see more than I put in the posts.  Squatty potties, Nanjing duck blood soup, and crazy Chinese traffic with no seat belts–here we come!

Special Needs Adoption

Continuing from my last blog post, I wanted to answer some of the common questions and comments regarding adopting a child with special needs.

As I mentioned in How Did You Get A Boy?, while the common perception is that most people adopting from China will get a healthy infant girl, things have changed in China.  There are approximately 3000 adoptions from China to the US per year, 90% of which are special needs children.  This is because birth defects have risen 70% in China in the last decade.  Because people are curious when they hear that Leo is a part of the China special needs program, they often ask–


What’s wrong with him? What is his special need?  He looks so healthy!

I do hope that you will avoid asking “What’s wrong with him” in his presence, because although I know you’re asking about his health, it is easy for a child to perceive this in the same negative way as being referred to as unwanted and abandoned.  Adoptees often feel that there must have been something wrong with them for their parents to abandon them, and hearing people ask what is wrong with them reinforces that idea.

The term “special needs” can sound scary, which is kind of ironic because it came into use to sound less scary than other words like handicapped or disabled.  Special needs is a very broad term, and the children available for adoption have a wide range of special needs, from birth marks to complex heart issues. Sometimes these needs are immediately evident, such as albinism, Down Syndrome, or a missing limb.  Other times the needs are not visible.

I don’t mind telling you that Leo has an unrepaired cleft palate, but no cleft lip.  This means he has a hole in the roof of his mouth, and so when he’s eating sometimes food will drip out of his nose.  He also has been diagnosed with a “malformed left auricle” which is a medical way of saying he has a funny shaped ear (visible in the above picture).  We consider these needs to be minor, and they don’t make him unhealthy.  I guess our definition of an unhealthy child would be one who needed a lot of medication, or who is in and out of the hospital a lot.  To us, kids who are missing a limb, are deaf, or have any number of other special needs are often perfectly healthy.  Leo will probably need multiple surgeries over several years for his cleft palate.  Assuming there are no undisclosed issues with his ear then we probably won’t do anything about it should work just fine.

Something thing to keep in mind is that some parents prefer not to share their child’s special needs for several reasons.  One is privacy because some special needs are of a sensitive nature.  Does everyone need to know that little Bobby was born without an imperforate anus or that Suzie had a vaginal fistula repaired?  Other diagnoses such as being HIV or Hepatitis B positive can still carry a stigma.  Sometimes times the needs are rare or hard to explain and it might be easier for a parent to decline to share than to get caught up in a flurry of follow-up questions about Thalassemia or what it means to lack a corpus collosum, especially if the person asking questions is a random stranger in the grocery store or someone who is a casual acquaintance.

Lian Yu Qiang June (2)

Why did you have to get a special needs child?  Weren’t there any healthy ones?

Matt and I were never bothered by the idea of adopting a special needs child.  In the dozen years that we’ve been parenting, we’ve had many friends or neighbors who ended up with a child with special needs.  We’ve known children with alopecia, hypospadias, cleft palate, or anal atresia.  Some of our friends who had infants born healthy later ended up with them getting diagnoses like Autism, diabetes, or even cancer.  And you know what?  They were all just kids.  Cute and adorable, funny, with their own personalities and just as perfect in their own way as “healthy” children.  They weren’t scary at all.  They needed extra trips to the doctor or therapies, but that doesn’t make them any different from our biological children who have “special needs” that require them to visit the optometrist or orthodontist regularly.  I guess what I’m saying is that we have learned that life is short and unpredictable, so if you’re set on waiting for perfection then you’re probably going to be missing out on the fun and beauty of life, which is anything but perfect.

It’s just so great that you would do that! [adopt in general or adopt a child with special needs]

We didn’t adopt because we wanted people to think that we are super-awesome.  We don’t want people to look at Leo as a charity project or for him to feel that is why we adopted him.  While Leo may have joined our family in a different way from our other children, it doesn’t make him any less a part of the family.  As much as we appreciate the kind words, we don’t expect or need people to thank us for adopting him any more than we expect or need people to stop us in the grocery store to say we’re great parents for buying groceries to feed the children.  It’s not any more heroic than any other kind of parenting–except maybe for all the paperwork we had to conquer to get him here!


Using Positive Adoption Language

Doesn’t the phrase “positive adoption language” just make you want to scroll on past this blog entry?  How about “What not to say to an adoptive parent”?  The problem with that title is that you might have said one of these things to us already and I don’t want you to feel bad!  It’s okay, we understand because we’ve said a few of these things ourselves!  But now that we have logged in several hours of required adoption education and know more adoptive families, we thought we’d pass along some tips on what to say or not say to an adoptive family.

1. What happened to his REAL parents?

It’s awkward to know how to refer to Leo’s biological family, especially since “biological” doesn’t roll off the tongue in conversation.  But it’s best to avoid referring to them as his “real” parents, unless you’re talking about us.  I remember I once asked a friend if her two adopted children were biologically related.  Now I wonder why I cared!  There are many people out there who were raised by a grandparent or step-parent that they consider their “real” parent.  A parent is someone who raises you, and who is there for you during the good times and the bad times.  Along the same lines, Leo is going to be the “real” brother of all of my children, even though he looks different and he wasn’t born into our family.

Lian Yu Qiang (5).JPG

2. How much did he cost?

The sale of children is strictly prohibited.  There were costs associated with having Leo join our family, but I assure you that the many days of hospital care I received for preterm labor which ended in a c-section with my firstborn was also not cheap.  It’s generally not polite to ask about money, but adoption agencies are very open about how adoption expenses break down, so if you’re really curious you can click on through to our adoption agency on the right and read the information they have on the topic.

3. You must be rich to be able to afford that!

This question is related to the one above, but I want you to know that you do not have to be rich in order to be able to adopt.  Adopting from foster care is usually free!  If you adopt internationally, there is a tax credit to help with the costs, in addition to grants and loans that you can apply for.  I have met many dedicated families who struggle with small or single incomes and have been able to adopt through working a 2nd or even 3rd job, being creative with finances, and often with the support of friends and family through fundraisers.  What better way to to spend some money than to help a child have a family!

4. Why didn’t his real parents want him?  What’s wrong with him?  I thought they wanted boys!  IMG_3837

It’s difficult for adoptees to grow up hearing themselves referred to as “abandoned” and “unwanted.”  Those are hard labels for person to have.  As I mentioned before, the reality that leads a child to need a family is often much more complex than merely being unwanted.  Even if we knew for certain that Leo wasn’t wanted by his birth parents, he is very much wanted by us.  It is better to phrase the question “Do you know anything about the circumstances that led to his being available for adoption?”

5. He’s so lucky! or God created him to be your child!

As I mentioned previously, every adoption begins with a loss.  Yes, he is ultimately better off in our family than he would have been if he stayed in China.  But especially as he grows older, he might inwardly roll his eyes and think “Yes, I’m super lucky to have been abandoned by my parents!”  Adoptees often have conflicted feelings because as much as they love their family, part of them will always wonder why they couldn’t have been raised in their birth family, or why they were unwanted.  They really do not feel lucky to have ended up without a family but they feel that society tells them they can’t mourn the loss of the their birth family, they should just be happy that they didn’t grow up in an orphanage.  As much as we appreciate the sentiment of saying that he’s lucky, it might be better just to say “You have a beautiful family.”

DSC01201This might be my theological background, but bringing theology into things can get tricky.  Do you believe that God causes everything in our life to happen for a reason?  Is there one perfect plan for our life?  The idea that God had a hand in the adoption is wonderful.  I think we all have the desire to know that God guides us in our life.  But at the same time, I think we would all be uncomfortable in saying that God somehow caused Leo’s parents to abandon him so that he could end up with our family.  I think that God intends every child to be raised in their family of birth, but sometimes bad things happen and the ideal isn’t possible.  We are still blessed to have him in our family, regardless of how he came to be here.

6. “My neighbor’s cousin adopted a child, and they tried to burn the house down!”

Just like the compulsion to tell a pregnant woman labor horror stories, adoptive families often get told about every adoptee who ever became a serial killer.  The good news is that studies have found that adoptees fair, in general, about the same as everyone else.  Some adoptees will struggle in life because of the trauma, abuse, or malnutrition they suffered early in life.  But so will many people who grew up in their family of origin.

I decided to make a separate post to discuss questions and comments on adopting a special needs child, so look for that on Thursday.