My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Friday, December 31, 2010

And Now That We're Here...?

By the time we deplaned in Beijing, I'd seen a lot of airports... and I've got to say, Terminal 3 at Beijing Capital International Airport is impressive. I've seen the amazing mosaics & murals in the old TWA terminal at JFK, gazed at the Andes near Cerillos, marveled at the tight timing of planes in & out of O'Hare, laughed at the Cylon voices of the people movers in Hartsfield, enjoyed the open, airy sweep of the main terminal at Dulles, and admired the tilework & stained glass at National... but my first impression of Bejing's Terminal 3 was that it was just so big, shiny-new, expansive, modern, and just plain immense that it jumped way up high on my list of impressive airports. It wasn't just the sense of, "Wow, we're in China!" that did it -- this place is big.  Not "big," freakin' ginormous... and it's all clean, and it's all modern, and it's all doing exactly what it was designed to do: get people off the planes and impress the dickens out of 'em.

Apparently my little sister was feeling the same way, because we began to debate if it was OK to take photos or not. As we wound our way back-and-forth through a rope-defined pathway (which zig-zagged back & forth through a large and completely empty area obviously designed to comfortably handle Olympic-sized crowds), a traveler in front of us whipped out his camera & took a couple of shots. We waited, and there was no gunfire, no shouting, no one getting dragged off to prison... So we figured that we'd take a few photos when we got to a good spot to stop & catch our breath (we'd covered a lot of ground & still hadn't gotten to the customs area... and after a while, 25 pounds of carry-on is heavy even if it rolls).

A few hundred mil- er, feet, further on, we encountered another indication we weren't in Kansas anymore... Before you get to the Customs check-in, you walk through a row of little kiosks with official-looking (military looking!) uniformed inspectors who seem to pay no real attention to you as you pass by. That's because they're looking at their computer screens, which are displaying an infrared image of your body, with your temperature being measured by IR sensors mounted atop the kiosks. I'd read about these, and being the naturally hot & sweaty person I am, feared what they might show; if your body temperature is "too high" (as defined by the Chinese Ministry of Health), the authorities will politely(?) escort you to a special room and give you a cursory(?) medical exam... and if you show signs of suffering from an infectious disease, they'll put you on the very next plane back to wherever you came from. (Kinda makes buffing the floor at Dulles with our stockinged feet seem... silly.)

My normal body temp is usually at least half a degree above the average, so I was really worried... which of course made my temp immediately begin to go higher and I began to get a little sweaty. (Sweatier, actually; we'd been dragging those bags quite a distance!) I didn't know how or if much I should interact with the guards in the kiosks so I tried to pretend we were just walking across an empty floor, talking with A while mentally repeating, "I'm cool.  It's cool in here. Refreshing and cool. I'm cool..." It must've worked, because we kept going and no one stopped us.

No one, that is, until we got close to the Customs kiosks and A thought it would be a good place for a couple of photos. She had barely lifted the camera up when a guard came running over, not-quite-shouting, "No peecture! No camera!" while waving his arms like a crazed Olympic gymnast falling off a balance beam.  I don't know what our faces looked like (we both had visions of spending the rest of our lives in a Chinese gulag, lamenting unsuccessfully getting that close to completing the adoption), but we must've looked like... well, like a couple of shocked-but-dumb American tourists because the guy slowed down and tried to explain (with some success but very little actual English) that A was pointing her camera in the general direction of a security area, and no photos were allowed there. A made a show of turning off the camera & putting it away, at which point the guard politely dismissed himself and we got on line.

I thought the guy checking my passport was slower than absolutely necessary until I realized he was bringing up all kinds of information about me on his computer screen... then had to hurriedly look away as he noticed me trying to shoulder-surf. After a few seconds (that felt like hours) he stamped an entry visa and waved me on through. Another hike brought us to what seemed to be a subway platform -- and soon we were riding (standing up) a rubber-tired train that wound under, then out of, then (I think) back under the terminal and dropped us within hiking distance of the baggage carousels. We wrestled our suitcases onto the floor, then stopped when we realized neither of us really knew what to do.

There was a currency exchange window nearby, so we walked over and I exchanged a $20 bill for our first samples of Chinese money. (Everybody calls them "Yuan" but the official name is "Renminbi," which translates as "People's Currency." Go figure.) It wasn't a lot, but at least now if we needed to buy some food or something we could. Then we started our next hike, eventually emerging from the various corridors into the Arrivals area... and our first real glimpse of Chinese crowds.

As we walked down the aisle from the baggage area into the public lobby, we were both a bit overwhelmed (again) by the sheer size of the place. (The photo to the right is a quick shot down just one branch of the terminal, which curved out of sight in both directions.) And there were people everywhere -- sitting on chairs, on planters, on the floor... crowding up to ticket counters, crowding up to the elevator, waving bunches of flowers at arriving friends & family, crowding against the railing that defined the exit aisle we were walking in...

Hey, waitaminit... All these people leaning on the railing with flags and banners and signs... and not a single one of 'em is holding anything with the name or logo of our adoption agency... Where the heck is our guide? I'm proud to say that we both managed to keep our growing sense of panic in check and planned out an attack: we'd both do a quick sweep of the crowd, then take turns every few minutes with one of us standing guard over the luggage and the other re-checking the mob at the rail. (Note: We didn't feel threatened or targeted, we just both know better than to leave a big ol' stack of suitcases unattended in the middle of a large crowd.)

After the first couple of passes through the crowd, we realized what had happened. Remember when I mentioned in my last post that we landed in Beijing 48 minutes early? Well, we realized that we'd beaten our guide to the airport! We sat & rested for a little bit, watching the huuuuge high-def video screens  that we would soon learn were almost omnipresent in China. (We both liked the computer-generated images of the water park & shopping mall they're apparently putting into the Water Cube from the Olympics). After that got boring, I did another sweep through the crowd at the rail, and from behind (yes, I was proud of myself!) recognized the name & logo of our agency on a little flag being held up by a young Chinese woman who was anxiously checking out all the new arrivals.  Since the papers A had gotten from our agency included all our guides' names, I took a deep breath, tapped this complete stranger on the shoulder, and asked, "Are you Linda?"

Jackpot! The three of us got acquainted and then A and I went back to watching the video screens because there was another family coming in right after us and we were all supposed to go to the hotel in Beijing together. A recognized the family's name -- I'll call them the S Family -- as the couple we had met at the travel seminar over a year earlier, traveling with their (at the moment) only daughter.

Quick aside: A's agency did not want to give us the names of potential travel companions due to privacy concerns. However, we knew our group would consist of only 3 families, and we had already met one of the families (the S Family). A was in touch with Mama S via email... while Mama S was active on the Rumor Queen site, where she was able to put several clues together and identify the 3rd family in our group (I'll call them the B Family) and the three adoptive mommies did an "end run" around the agency and established contact with each other.  Before we ever began packing our suitcases, A & I knew both families -- both of whom were returning to China for a 2nd adoption, and both of whom would be traveling with their China-born daughters. (I  thought was that it would be interesting to see things from the girls' point of view, and it would likely be very helpful to be traveling with a whole crew of "been there, done that" experienced China adoption travelers.)

Anyway, the S Family made it out the Customs door and explained they had been delayed because a stroller that had been loaded on their plane in the USA didn't seem to ever get off the plane in China. It only took a few minutes' discussion to decide it was time to head to the hotel regardless of missing strollers; I think we were all falling asleep standing up by that point, and the idea of settling down, even if only for a few hours, was too appealing to resist.

Coming up next: a bleary evening of unintentional comedy. Until then... HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!  Here's wishing you all a happy, healthy, and productive 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sailing, Sailing, Over the... Oops... Flying, Flying, Over the Polar Cap...

Airliners feel a little like home to me and probably A as well (she boarded her first international flight at the age of six weeks); when the 777's wheels lifted off the runway at Dulles we had already logged a combined total of over 99,000 air miles between us. We'd flown on business trips, on family trips, even flown overseas to remain there for years at a time... but we'd never had a flight like this. We were headed for the opposite side of the planet, to a nation with a government different from any we'd dealt with before, to a culture with millenia of history different from any we were familiar with, where both the written & spoken languages were indecipherable... all to pick up the daughter my sister had never met. We were flying headlong into unexplored territory in every sense.

Even with a block of uninterrupted "think time" in the relative comfort of a familiar environment (Fokker F-27 or Boeing 777, a passenger aircraft looks and feels like... a passenger aircraft) I was having some difficulty sorting out my thoughts. Any doubts about the adoption had been eliminated years earlier, but any attempt at looking forward to how different life might be, and what I might be able to do back home now that the need to maintain something of a status quo to not endanger or interfere with the adoption process was past, just led into a quiet, empty room in my mind. Somehow it was still all too big to wrap my head around, so after a couple of hours I decided to "go zen" and just go along with the experience of the trip and plan for the future once I had met my niece & we were all safely back home. (I had taken my journal notebook with me as I always do on trips, and my friend Susie had kind of challenged me to record my thoughts & feelings during the experience, but it sat open to a blank page on my tray table for hours without my touching pen to paper even once, and I barely wrote anything in it at all until weeks after returning home.)

So there I was, strapped into a middle seat on a flight almost twice as long as the next-longest period of time I'd ever spent in an aircraft, wondering what to do.  It was fun to play with the little TV monitor in the back of the next seat, and I got to see a couple of escapist movies I'd been interested in renting. (Since the video system tended to shut down any time there was an announcement being made, and occasionally "stutter" for no apparent reason at all, I still have to rent Ratatouille and Clash of the Titans to be able to see all of each film despite both being repeated endlessly during the flight.)  I had a good time bopping along to some Europop on one of the music channels, the likes of which I hadn't heard since we lived in Belgium, until I noticed a teenager on the other side of the plane staring at my head-bobbing seat dance... then I suddenly decided he could go wing-walking for all I cared & went back to enjoying myself. Hey, this was kind of fun! An old life being left behind, a couple of weeks' worth of adventure on the other side of the world, and a different life after returning home... let 'im stare, what else could I do?  I sought out silly things on the entertainment channel (thus Ratatouille), argued with a tougher crossword puzzle than I'd normally try, bopped along to more 80's music, dozed periodically just because I could... heck, I even enjoyed the airline food!

Okay, I can hear you all now: that's what he calls "letting go"?!?  Look, I was stuck in a tin can several miles up in the air for over half a day; how go can a guy let in that situation, huh? I'd already spent the previous week kicking myself for not pushing harder on the Mandarin lessons and worrying I was packing everything but the one critical item I was sure I'd completely forgotten about, it just felt so good to let those stresses drain away that just sitting was like "letting go!"

In any case, I found the flight turning more & more into the beginning of a fun adventure and less & less into the introspective analysis time I thought it might be. It was pretty cool to periodically bring up the map display and watch the little digital airplane sloooowly traverse the arctic ice cap (its wingtip just brushing the North Pole as it passed by), and the flight info display was a little like old-fashioned flash cards as it switched from English to Chinese (I learned the symbols for wind and speed and altitude and a few other useless but fun words by the time we landed).  Because of the difference in time zones between DC and Beijing, it was becoming "tomorrow" at an accelerated rate and the the plane's "night" was short; by the time we were southbound from the arctic toward Siberia, it was daylight again and A was able to get a few "way cool" photos out the window:

It wasn't too much later that the digital map displays showed we were finally in Chinese airspace, and we both kept looking out the window for a first glimpse of the PRC. It didn't take too long (the plane had been slowly descending incrementally since passing over the Siberian coast), and a break in the clouds gave us our first view of a still-untamed China:
Our first view was of a broad river...
...followed by craggy peaks with long streaks of snow...
...descending into deep river valleys.
Eventually it became flatter & more arid, and the first roads came into view.
We were still admiring the landscape below when A asked, "What's that?" and we both noticed something up in the sky that grew larger as we watched. Then we realized it wasn't getting larger so much as it was getting closer -- there was another big aircraft off our starboard side, at the same altitude... and it was coming steadily closer to us! As I said earlier, we had over 99,000 air miles between us before the flight even began, and we both knew that aircraft (especially large 4-engine jets carrying a couple of hundred people each over the frozen wastes of Siberia) are NOT supposed to meet in mid-flight!  It finally occurred to me to tell A to take a couple of photos (my camera was in my carry-on in the overhead bin 40 feet farther back & on the other side of the plane).  Just as she pointed the lens out the window, the pilot of the other plane finally decided that a closer approach was probably A Bad Idea and began to gently bank away, eventually disappearing to starboard behind us.  Here's one of the better shots; this was not done with a telephoto lens!

Apparently our attention had been focused on our erstwhile traveling companion longer than we realized, because when we looked back down the landscape had changed completely:
Approaching the Beijing region.
It was hillier and greener, but more importantly we could see whole towns -- we were coming into populated regions and were getting closer to landing! Eventually (and time really did seem to be slowing down now), all the entertainment & info channels on the seatback monitors were replaced with the display we'd been waiting to see for years:

All of a sudden, the world outside disappeared; we had dropped into a solid cloud deck, and we didn't seem to be coming out of it anytime soon. It got a lot darker, rain began streaking the glass... and still we could barely see the nearest part of the wing through the pea soup outside the window. Finally we broke free of the bottom of the cloud deck into a gray, rainy day... but we could actually see the rooftops of Beijing!
The corrugated plastic roofs of Beijing.
By this point, the plane's crew was frantically trying to convince the last few holdouts to return their seats to the upright position, fold up & latch their tray tables, fasten their seat belts, all the usual things one has to do "just in case" during the most unsafe part of a flight. (Yep, that's the secret: you're in the most danger at landing, just when you think you're about to become safest!)  A cheated and kept her camera at the ready, and she captured the moment of touchdown. She also took a series of photos as we taxied in to the massive international terminal (built for the 2008 Olympics), but it was so foggy, dark and rainy that you can't see anything more than halfway down the wing!

We waited for the usual crazed rush to disembark to die down so we could go the opposite direction & retrieve our carry-on bags from our original row, then made our way forward to disembark. That was when I had my first "We're not in Kansas any more" moment; the young woman who had to step out of our way amidships, who'd boarded with the cleanup crew now hard at work, was wearing combat fatigues and had a submachine gun slung over her shoulder. I hesitated, gave a quick smile and quiet "Xie xie" and got a polite half-smile and nod in return. Okay, I thought, armed and dangerous and very much controlling the situation, but polite and still human; our welcome could be a lot worse. There were a couple of other (male) soldiers supervising the cleanup crew but they pretty much ignored us. We got the familiar smiling, "Thank you, have a pleasant stay!" from the crew at the door, wrestled our rolling bags up the jetway...

...and all of a sudden we weren't going to China any more. WE WERE THERE.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Flight Lasts HOW Long...?!

The official flight time for United 897 was listed as fourteen hours and one minute. (That extra one minute always amuses me... Like, they're gonna be that accurately on schedule flying halfway around the world...?)  As we moved into July, it began to loom large: We're going to be in a small, enclosed space... nerves on edge over the culmination of five years of waiting & emotional ups & downs... breathing canned air & eating airline food... for HOW many hours...?!?

It's easy to intellectually know that travel to China used to be a months-long process fraught with danger and uncertainty and that we'd barely notice passing over the once-impassable Arctic on our way there in climate-controlled comfort with food & drink easily available during the flight; it's a little harder to emotionally "know" that we were getting to the other side of the planet in what is essentially the blink of an eye. Most of our days had seen us awake & active for much longer periods of time; it couldn't be that hard to sit still, watch TV, and catch up on missed naps for 14 hours... Could it...?

Regardless of the concerns, July 9th was suddenly approaching with all the speed & inertia of a fully laden freight train... on a long downhill slope... without brakes... and I had one last hurdle to overcome: I couldn't see worth a damn.  I had put off going to the opthalmologist for so long that even with my glasses on, I could barely read 12-point type and anything smaller quickly blurred into illegible smudges. As June ended, I made an appointment, got my prescription, and found a nearby store that accepted my company's insurance. I told the salesguy (who turned out to be the store manager) why I needed the glasses quickly and he said he'd expedite the process. I picked up my new glasses on the morning of July 4th... and felt seasick the instant I put them on. The manager fiddled with them and assured me it was just a case of getting used to a much stronger new prescription, so I put my old glasses in a case and wore the new ones. By the time we headed out for the fireworks I felt seasick, had a major-league headache, and was enjoying (not!) the worst eyestrain I'd had in years. I finally gave up and put my old pair back on so I could enjoy the fireworks and went back on the 5th.

Well, the manager of the My Eye Doctor franchise in Aspen Hill, MD isn't paid enough by his employer; I told him there was no way I could use the new glasses on my trip, and he pulled out all the stops. He took me to the back of the store and insisted the opthalmologist on duty (a distractingly attractive young woman ironically from China) give me a complete eye exam right then & there; reviewed all the results with her, then ran a couple of extra tests on me himself; then placed a special order and told me he'd make sure they were ready in time and that he'd call as soon as they came in. He was good to his word; I got a call early on the 8th, went in, and the new glasses worked like a charm. They weren't cheap (of course!), and I took along the old pair "just in case," but I could read even teeny-tiny print for the first time in years.

Now all I had to do was finish packing.

I'll explain why this was a problem by harking back to the mid-90s when our folks were posted overseas and I flew over for a 2-week visit. We arranged for A and a friend to take me to the airport, arriving in plenty of time to check in, eat a leisurely meal, and board without breaking a sweat. An hour after our planned departure time, she called me and I admitted I still had the suitcase & its contents spread across my living room floor while I desperately tried to fit everything in (including 4 pounds of Oreos, 12 boxes of diet Jell-O, some boxes of Zip-Loc bags, two kosher salamis, and a new raincoat for Mom).  A & her friend zoomed over to my house, my little sister pushed me out of the way, and I swear the suitcase was neatly & logically packed in all of 5 minutes and we were on our way. I had been trying to pack & close the #$%@! thing for over an hour.

So there I was, 30-something hours from departure for China, thinking I'd need every minute of that time to pack -- and then Mom reminded me we'd have to haul everything to A's house that evening before locking the suitcases to make sure we balanced our load & had enough of each other's things to cover for misdirected luggage. I honestly don't know how, but I was ready on time; my big new suitcase (already crammed full) was open on A's living room floor right on schedule, and we divvied up the clothing, required gift bags, et al. with occasional pauses to weigh it all. Of course, Dulce wanted to lend a hand...

We had to be on the road by 8:15 the next morning, so around 12:15am we decided we'd cut all the weight we could and my folks dropped me back at my house. That's when my old super-power of  Inability To Pack came back in full force, and I literally worked on packing my carry-on until about 2:30am. Then I reviewed my packing lists (yes, that's plural) and tweaked what was in both the carry-on and the suitcase. Then I got nervous and re-checked everything. Then I realized I hadn't checked any of the new TSA-approved locks and discovered that no, they did not all use the same key but all the keys & locks looked identical, so I went on safari to find my set of colored permanent markers and practically dyed my fingers kelly green, navy blue, fuschia, and cornflower while painting the locks & keys. Then I hunted down a better keychain for all those little keys I hadn't planned on taking. Then I looked at the clock and realized it was almost 6:00 in the morning...!  I managed to squeeze in a 30-minute nap before the alarms jolted me awake from a weird dream, and suddenly I was heaving my suitcase into the trunk of my folks' car and we were on our way to A's house and then the airport. (Yes, I did say "alarms" -- I set my clock radio, the 2nd alarm on the clock radio, the timer on my stereo, and my loud animated model of a B-17G bomber to go off at 5-minute intervals beginning at 7:00am. Have I mentioned that I tend to sleep through my alarm in the morning...?)

Happily, we got to Dulles without incident and early enough for a quiet family breakfast in the terminal. I don't remember exactly what we talked about, but I do remember there was a lot of anticipation of what we'd see on the trip, what Miri would be like, how she'd adapt to all the changes, and (mostly) how much everyone's life was about to change. A and I finally headed through the security checkpoint after "just one more" hug, checked in without incident (and were thrilled to find both suitcases weighed almost exactly the same, with one full pound to spare under the limit), and hiked to the gate. (It felt like we were walking all the way to China!)  There were some interesting characters waiting with us... a family with the prototypical disinterested teen; a tall young Black guy dressed like a caricature of a ghetto pimp; a harried businessman who couldn't sit still; a couple of "old hands" comparing notes on who'd had the more horrible air travel experiences; an entrepreneur who didn't stop using laptop and/or cell phone until the last possible second; a college student returning home to China who didn't seem to have any of the proper travel paperwork; and a check-in desk crew that seemed to get more harried by the moment even when not doing anything. A high point of the wait was being told we were going to have a good tailwind and would arrive in China almost an hour early. (The estimate was good; we touched down in Beijing 48 minutes ahead of schedule... but more on that in a future post.)

Finally(!) we were able to actually board the Boeing 777 and rolled through First Class... and walked through Business Class... and pushed through Economy Plus... and squeezed through Economy... all the way to The Very Last Row Of Seats On The Plane. Back in mid-June, when we received our final itinerary, I'd looked up the seat arrangement for our flight and immediately told A that we needed to see if we could upgrade to Economy Plus. She said it was too much money, was one more complication we didn't need, and that it would only be for a few hours on one flight. Well, I squeezed into the 2nd middle seat, she squeezed into the 1st middle seat... and after about 15 seconds A turned to me and said, "We are upgrading for the flight home." (Holy understatement, Batman!) All either of us could think about was fourteen hours in seats that only reclined a few inches and had less leg room than the back seat of a Chevette.

Well, the airline gods were smiling upon us that day; after just a few uncomfortable minutes one of the stewardesses leaned over and said, "We have a couple of open seats available, would you be more comfortable up there?" while pointing at a pair of regular seats several rows forward by the wing. Never mind leaving the carry-ons in an overhead bin 40 feet away; we practically teleported from KneesInFace to a window seat (which I let A have) and the middle seat in a row of three. Aaah... nice.

And then there was the push-off... the grand tour of what seemed like Dulles' entire network of taxiways... the traffic jam of Boeings and Airbuses... and then the engines' whine became a roar, there was that familiar feeling of push in the small of my back, the comforting thunk of landing gear stowing itself in the plane's belly... and we began spooling away the almost 7,000 miles of air ocean between us and Beijing.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

One Roller Coaster Ends... Another Begins...

Not all the pre-trip happenings were crazed or sad... There were lots & lots of congratulatory emails, calls and letters to enjoy (most of our friends & extended family had been following along on the "anything yet?" train for years), and even a couple of baby showers for A that we all thoroughly enjoyed.

But before that, I want to make another jump backwards in time, all the way back to the first year of The Wait. After the paperchasing had begun & we knew the adoption process was actually underway, A sent out (with a little help from her IT geek older brother) a mass email announcement to our large & geographically scattered family and equally scattered friends.  (What does "scattered" mean?  The emails to family alone went to destinations spread over 33 municipalities in 14 states and the District of Columbia... Add in friends & acquaintances and we told people in more than a dozen countries on 5 continents!) I'm glad to say the response was, as expected, universally positive -- my niece was going to have enough uncles, aunts & cousins, real and honorary, to make her head spin! Of course, one of our cousins had a little extra fun with the announcement, happily surprising a number of other relatives who hadn't gotten the notes yet with, "Did you hear that A is having a baby out of wedlock?" before explaining more fully...

Anyway, we all thought that was pretty funny... :-)  But now let's fast-forward back to the last few weeks before we got to meet the Pipsqueak in person. Good news travels fast when your friends are waiting for years to spread it, so people very quickly began planning baby showers for A. There was a certain element of surprise, but she kinda sorta knew what was going on... just not the details. The way things worked out, A wound up with two showers: one that was primarily the group who'd been waiting along with us, some of whom had already completed their adoptions in the interim; and one that was mainly A's old friends & colleagues. I don't want to name names for fear of accidentally leaving someone out, but (assuming you're reading this!) those of you who worked so hard to make both showers such special occasions -- you know who you are and your efforts will always be a bright spot in our family history. "Thank you" doesn't always sound like enough...

Both parties were a big success, with a few tears now & then and some old faces being seen for the first time in a long time... I'm only including a couple of photos (out of the several hundred we have) to save space, but they show some of the level of detail & incredible effort A's friends put into the events:

Thoughout it all, there was still a slight touch of unreality to everything; after five years of wondering if the process was ever going to end, if this child was ever going to join the family, if we were ever going to actually get to China... I had to stop every now & then to just shake my head, remind myself it was real, and figure out what the next step was. In the space of 5 weeks we had lost a beloved family pet, been to the unveiling for a longtime family friend who all along we'd expected to be introducing to the Pipsqueak when we got home with her, changed or cancelled all plans for the latter half of the year... Keeping track of one's position in the time-space continuum was becoming a challenge.

Photo ©2010 Xinhua News/News.CN
To add to the sense of unreality, all of a sudden we were bombarded (or so it seemed) with news stories of flooding in China. Not just anywhere in China, either -- centered right smack-dab on our destination.   One story after another included place names that had become familiar from the adoption papers, talking about drownings and crop losses and evacuations and... on and on and on it went... I remember not-so-quietly freaking out when I logged into an online news service and found the attached photo of a car about to be capsized by the bow wave from a bus... on the main highway running through the center of downtown Nanning! (One of the adoptive moms from the Rumor Queen community saw my panicked post and replied that the family was at that very moment carrying out their adoption in Nanning, and it was nowhere near as bad as my nerves had led me to believe. Thank you again, dear lady!)

You see, by this time our itinerary had been finalized and flights booked... We would leave on July 9th & arrive in Beijing on the 10th, then fly south to Nanning (provincial capital of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, or "Guangxi" for short) on the 11th, where we be meeting Miri for the first time. We'd then move north to Guilin on the 14th for a long tour of the region's famous karst mountains along the Li River. (If you saw Avatar, this is the landscape that was supposed to have inspired the floating "Halleleujah Mountains" in the movie.) After the provincial adoption processing was completed, we'd fly to Guangzhou (provincial capital of the Guangdong Province & location of the U.S. Consulate) on the 18th to finish all the necessary U.S. paperwork, then on the 23rd fly back north to Bejing, change planes, and fly home.

This all sounds fairly straightforward, but there was a lot of wiggle room in those 16,744 miles... The first point that struck me (and I continually pestered A about it until threatened with a horrible death -- and I'm still not sure she was kidding) was that the itinerary read, "Guilin River Cruise - Wednesday, July 14, 2010 through Sunday, July 18, 2010" but the cruise had been listed as lasting just one day. Then we both noticed that we had flights booked all over the place except for that mysterious Nanning-to-Guilin leg of the journey; no timetable, no airline info, no nuthin'. There was also a note that the Guilin-to-Guangzhou flights had not yet been booked and would be handled by our guide in-country; after a few minutes' worry, that faded to the background in the shadow of trying to figure out how the heck we'd get to Guilin in the first place. All I'll say about it at this point in time is that it's a trip neither A nor I are likely to ever forget...!

And then, all of a sudden, June had flown past and it was July... The announcements had all gone out and (finally!) gotten to their intended recipties; the crazy planning for the showers was complete and successful; we'd both test-worn everything we were packing for the trip; I was trying to remember how to change a diaper (I semi-secretly hoped I wouldn't need those skills again, but boy, was I gonna be glad I remembered how!); all the big July bills had been paid in advance; we had done one last July 4th as a family of four; and I had confirmed our boarding passes online. Aside from packing & making sure the bills were paid, there was nothing major left on our to-do lists (aside from putting up baby gates in A's house, a story worth a post all its own).

And now the calendar had "JULY" at the top of the page. All you would see was a series of empty numbered squares until your eyes came to rest on a big, red note: UA897 IA to PEK

All the waiting was finally, finally over -- we were going to China!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Still on a Roller Coaster (with Some Backstory)

Whoops! Time flies when you're having fun... not to mention when you're reeeally sleep-deprived (I got in the door from taking the last eclipse photo at 4:00am and then started to upload the files, update the blog, check my email... didn't even get into bed until after the sun was up)... <yawn>  Since we don't celebrate Christmas, A went to work today (even though it's a paid holiday) to free up another manager so they could stay at home with their family. However, since the Pipsqueak's daycare staff does celebrate Xmas, Mom & Dad had her all day today. Somewhere around 1:00pm I got a call from Mom asking if maybe I could please come over and distract the little one so she & Dad could catch their breath... I could have some good coffee, she'd feed me, I didn't have to stay long... just please...?!?  (It's actually a badly kept secret that, unless I have something really important & time-sensitive on my schedule, it doesn't take any real bribery to get me to spend time with my niece... but a little bribery is always appreciated!)  I was over there for just a couple of hours, and got there just a few minutes before Mom returned from a walk with the Pipsqueak, but from the time I picked her up out of the stroller to the time when all of a sudden Grandma's arms seemed like the place to be about 30 minutes later, I had a (squirmy noisy drool-y) little girl in my arms. We were both happy about it, got to watch the squirrels on the deck out back (at least 'til the Pipsqueak decided it was fun to drum on the glass), got to read Elmo's Book of Colors (at least 'til the noises in the kitchen sounded more interesting), got to play with the magnets on the fridge (at least 'til Uncle B's arms began cramping)... all kinds of Good Stuff. :-)  We all met up later in the evening for a very nice Xmas dinner with A's next-door neighbor (and good friend), where the Pipsqueak charmed the two teenage daughters of another guest and managed to finish off a  good-sized brownie (along with a statistically significant percentage of Mommy's dinner) all by herself.

Also, since A has weekend manager duty on Saturday... I've been told to expect another phone call from Mom. ;-)

However, since I had intended to at least catch up to what happened between The Call and our China trip back in June/July, I'm going to jump back in time a bit and continue with some of the backstory... and review some of the insane emotional roller coaster we were all on at the time.

There was actually a lot going on aside from the adoption shifting into "do it yesterday" mode.  One set of decisions revolved around a business venture all four of us had started a little over a year earlier, AmeriChin Beauty, with our primary intended clientele being fellow adoptive families (you can check out our online catalog at HERE). Sales had been horrifically slow -- mainly due to indecision about how & where to advertise -- so we had finally set up a sales table at one of the adoption events... and went home with a big ol' goose egg in sales because we had misjudged the type of things the community was looking to buy. (A couple of the older kids and one of the parents "got it" with our name & tagline, but nobody bought anything.) Seems that items actually from China were what everyone wanted, not tees and such with a slightly different perspective. That experience, along with the sudden immediacy of the adoption, really got us thinking about the investment of time and (limited) funds... and the modification of our business model remains an ongoing, occasionally difficult but always time-consuming process.

Another unexpected complication was... an adoption. Yep, another adoption in the family... but this one was a little different. One pretty day, Mom had left the back door open except for the screen to take advantage of the breeze when she heard meowing. She looked down and there was a little black & grey kitten, looking right back up at her and meowing. This family being what it is, she asked the little feline if it wanted to come in, opened the door, and proceeded to feed it. She & Dad then drove around the neighborhood but didn't find any signs about a lost cat so they took it to the local shelter, where they were told he (after a quick check) could only be kept for a limited time and they couldn't guarantee he wouldn't end up being euthanized unless there was a "for sure" adoption... so they signed the papers and left the kitten in quarantine. He did indeed get sick ("Oh, a lot of our cats get sick, don't worry about it!") but then got better, but no one ever came forward... So a while later Tigger (named for his stripes & bouncy behavior) formally joined the family.

We still laugh about how he knew to go to the biggest household of suckers on the block, and we're still not exactly sure who adopted who... but Tigger's turned out to be the Pipsqueak's good buddy so all's well that ends well.

Oh, and that blue tape on the floor behind Tigger? Well, while all this was going on, most of Mom & Dad's kitchen... and the bay window in the dining room... and the bay window in the living room... and the rear wall of the "library" room... were all being rebuilt, courtesy of ice dam/water leak damage from the previous winter.  Not exactly conducive to peace of mind, or the kind of clear thinking one needs to conduct final preparations for an adoption, or even just to sleep at night... Let's just say that it was interesting but was not fun and leave it at that. (Did I mention that there are still a couple of details being handled now, almost a full year after the damage occurred....?)

And then, after we had all the travel arrangements made, on top of the business-related stress, the contractor/construction stress, and getting used to a rambunctious new four-footed family member, we also had some real heartbreak.

Years ago, A and I had conspired to get a couple of cats into the house just before Mom & Dad returned from an overseas posting. (Yes, there's a definite pattern to our conspiracies.) It was a case of A knowing that she'd have to discuss it with our folks at length once they got back... Or she could present them with a fait accompli and let the kitties' cuteness do the rest, so of course she chose the latter approach. The result was Midnight and Popcorn becoming family members. Then we lost Popcorn to a congenital heart defect... and after some time passed, A adopted Geneva to keep Middie company. Then we lost Geneva to the same #&@$! congenital defect. More time passed, and poor Middie showed signs of going a tad crazy because she'd never been left alone all day... so eventually A adopted Dulce, and (after a few "interesting" moments) the two foster sisters became good friends.  All along, Midnight was pretty much A's baby, staying close nearby and nuzzling & cuddling regularly.  Fast-forward to May/June of this year, and everyone began to quietly worry about Middie showing signs of not feeling well. She kept going downhill, and at one point A even said she was really afraid she'd be picking up her long-awaited daughter in China only to have her beloved cat die while she was there. It was only a couple of weeks before we left that poor Middie began to get much worse, and after a tough fight (including 3 days in a bariatric chamber -- just because you have 4 feet doesn't mean you're not a family member!) we finally lost Midnight just a week before we left for China. I've included one of my last photos of my furry "little sister" below, showing her nuzzling headfirst into A's arms just a day or two before going to the animal ER.

So there we were, our packing lists complete, our shopping almost done, tickets and visas and paperwork all finally in full readiness, and with all the exhaustion we found ourselves mourning a longtime friend. It was a poignant counterpoint to the happy anticipation of finally (finally!) being able to meet the little girl we'd been waiting to see for almost five years.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Slightly Off-Topic: Lunar Eclipse!

Just to keep this at least partly on-topic, a quick comment... This past Saturday, we all had dinner at our folks' house; A got there with Miri before I did, and when she answered the door (kidling in arms), I got a huuuuge smile from my niece.  Then on Sunday, I went over to A's house to help put together a rack/toy sorter/bin & shelf thing, and again as soon as the Pipsqueak saw me -- huuuuuge smile.  Felt really good, y'know?  In the past she's sometimes looked at me and then played shy for a couple of minutes, but lately she's more likely to show she's glad to see me, sometimes even teasing me with a hello and then laughing & hiding her face (usually against Mommy or Grandma) when I go to give her a kiss. Just so doggone CUTE...!!!

(Okay, so I'm smitten. I could do worse. <smile>)

Anyway, as far as the off-topic topic mentioned in the title, I just wanted to say that I thought this past night's lunar eclipse was just way, way cool. (Actually, it was #&%@! COLD outside, but that's another issue.)  I've always been a bit of a science geek, and I even remember a night when I was maybe 4 years old when Mom woke me up near midnight and the two of us sat in the kitchen watching my first lunar eclipse through the window.

Well, this past evening's eclipse was extra-special; a full lunar eclipse coinciding with the Winter Solstice. I just had to see it -- so there I was, running out with the camera & tripod every few minutes, watching 'til I couldn't feel my fingers (or the camera's warm spot over the battery felt cold), then running back in to thaw fingers & camera before starting the process all over again. This started not too long after I got home from work around 1:30am and continued nonstop until 4:00am... It would've gone on longer (I wanted to get photos of the latter half of the eclipse), but by then I couldn't find a vantage point that didn't have trees between me & the moon.

Some of the photos didn't turn out too well (I've never used this camera on a tripod, or in extreme cold, or for long-duration photos before) and some of them are just plain weird-looking, but here's a quick sampling of the progression from 2:00am through 4:00am Eastern Time. (Sorry for the way the moon bounces around in the frame; I had to set up the tripod fresh each time I ran outside, plus I had to keep panning & tilting to follow the moon across the sky.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm Gonna Be an Uncle!

Whoa... This changes everything. It was 4:45pm on Monday, May 10th, 2010... and the world was a very different place from what it had been at 4:35pm on Monday, May 10th, 2010. Almost five long years of waiting (and all that went with it) was instantly replaced with "headless chicken mode" operations. How much time did we have? What about our visas? Can we both get the vacation time approved? How quickly can we finish getting the Pipsqueak's room ready? What if...? When... where... how... AAAIIIIIEEEEE!  (Oh, and did I mention that at 7:00am the morning A got The Call, the State folks all came trooping thru the door at work for our annual review...?  Yes, it was that kind of a week.)

As ridiculously happy & relieved as I was, I was also quietly amazed at how NOT ready I felt. (Cripes, I'd yet to get past the 2nd lesson of Level 1 in Rosetta Stone's Mandarin program!)  Just 48 hours earlier we'd been at the 3rd birthday party of a cousin (also adopted), and a common conversation had been along the lines of, "So, any news?" "No, but they're getting close." "Maybe next month?" "Yeah, maybe... we hope..." "Aawww..."  (You'd be amazed how many times that conversation, with minor variations, occurred in the preceding years.) Now we were suddenly talking about things like when the Chinese consulate downtown was open, whether my old pre-9/11 suitcase could still be locked, what the international weight limits were, did A have enough baby clothes in the right range of sizes...?

All the static quieted down when the referral photos finally came through. My niece was a cutie! Lookit those cheeks! She's got a "dodo look" like I did at that age! What's that weird thing she's sitting in? Hey, do her feet look red to you...?  We read her name, marveled at the photos, minutely examined her medical reports, chuckled at the descriptions ("She is excited to the food." "She does pooh-pooh once or twice a day, pee-pee 7 or 8 times a day." "Smart, cute, reacting fast.") All of a sudden there was a 5th member of the family "for real." No more jokes during seders about "Next year in Guangzhou," no more wondering what she would look like, no more guessing if she'd even been born yet... This was the 5th member of our family, and now we had to get ready to go get her.

A lot of more detailed information came with the photos, and we learned that Miri had been found abandoned at the entrance of the local medical center in a town in southern China on June 23rd 2009, and within hours had been sent to the Social Welfare Institute (SWI) in the nearby county seat. It was determined that her birthday was likely June 20th, but all the usual investigations failed to turn up anyone who knew about the baby or her parents. She was named the same way many orphans & abandoned babies were: surname adapted from the county name, next name common to almost all the children in that SWI, final name ("first" name in the West) chosen by SWI doctors either at random or to match her personality or physical attributes.

(Of course, we learned about the naming system much later on, after we'd already chosen the "wrong" name to use as her middle name once the adoption went through. Somehow it all still worked out... and the alliteration is better.)

With all that was going on, I found that I needed to know more about this little girl who was suddenly family so I began scouring the web for photos. I found the blog of a family that had recently adopted a little girl from the same SWI, but apparently this was not an orphanage that had been very active in the international adoption arena for very long -- thus there were precious few pictures or descriptions available.  The same goes for the where she was found (we have no way to know if she was born there or in one of the surrounding farming communities); it's apparently a run-of-the-mill town in a run-of-the-mill area that's primarily rural, so there's not much in the way of tourist traffic or even international business. Since returning from China and continuing my online search, I've managed to find a limited number of photos that I'm confident are of the downtown area of the town where Miri was found:

Also since returning to the USA, I've managed to find more photos of the SWI that aren't specific to a particular family's adoption trip:

Truth be told, we didn't care all that much about where she was from, just that she was OK and how quickly we could get to her. The entire family went on repeated safaris for just the right this or that; I finally gave up & just bought a new suitcase with TSA-approved locks; spent hours going through camping supply & travel supply websites for lightweight versions of the things I'd normally pack for a long trip; and we finally (with some "help" from A's kitties) were able to finish getting Miri's room ready for her (compare this to the photo at the beginning of my previous post):

A struggles while her bro plays photog.
Midnight helps supervise unpacking the parts...
...while Dulce just helps supervise, period.
If there's a Pooh character missing, it's not for lack of trying!
It's changed a little since then, but there's the changing table... and more Pooh!
There's now a huge Pooh mural on that wall, courtesy of our uncle.
We dropped our passports off at the Chinese consulate on the 17th and got them back on the 20th. Due to lack of parking, Mom & Dad dropped us off and then cruised a nearby market until we called to come pick us up each time; on the 17th we passed the time waiting for them trying to not jinx things by talking about (if I remember correctly) almost anything but the China trip, but on the 20th we spent the time oohing and aahing over the visas, comparing passports (mine looks nicer!), and trying to plan out what each of us needed to buy for the trip.  Meanwhile, I had already blasted out an email message to everyone in my address book, with a simple subject line:


Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Sherman, set the WABAC Machine to 2005..."

No story is complete without a beginning (although this story's end is decades away from being written), so I'm going to begin with a look back that I couldn't really do on our BabyJellyBeans site.

I still remember a pleasant evening when A and I met one of our cousins for dinner... I don't remember the exact date, but I remember it was a Cheesecake Factory restaurant and how hungry we were after a long wait. We had a small, round table near the back of the place and dinner was progressing nicely when my little sister set off a small tactical nuclear device: it had always been her plan to be a mommy by the time she reached a certain (now close) age, and thus she was now in the preliminary phase of adopting a baby girl from China. I remember our cousin and I looking across the table at each other, happy but shocked, and joking about needing advance notice of when A planned to tell our folks so that we'd have a chance to be out of town... out of the state... perhaps out of the country...?!?

Well, yes, there were fireworks (appropriate, considering where they were invented). There was back-and-forth, and some very noisy discussions, and some of my journal entries from the time are still unpleasant to read... But we are a tight-knit family and once we've finished reacting to something -- sometimes with perhaps a touch more honesty than diplomacy might require -- we back each other up and that's exactly what our shocked parents did.  So there we were as a family, beginning what many prospective adopters call "paperchasing," secure in our expectation of there being a new family member in (give or take) 18 months.

Oh, wow, was that figure ever wrong...!

A had an extra bedroom in her house (which she had evidently planned as a baby's room for a lot longer than the rest of us)... Not too big, not too small, just a place that needed some minor tweakage to serve its new intended purpose.

Meanwhile, the paperchasing went on (and on and on and on and...)  After a long delay, Mom convinced A to start getting a lot pushier with the FBI(!) over not hearing about her fingerprints... and discovered that we'd been waiting for news for 3 months while the FBI was assuming we somehow heard them thinking about the fact that they couldn't read A's fingerprints. She got reprinted, and this time only waited about a month before bothering them... with the same result.

This, unfortunately, was a harbinger of things to come. Those of you who know us can ask A for the down-and-dirty details, those of you who have adopted or are currently paperchasing already know what it's like... but the expression "sheer unadulterated hell" kinda sorta begins to cover at least 1st base.  Have you ever seen kids misbehaving in public while their parents totally ignored the carnage and wondered, "who gave those idiots a license to be parents?!?"  Well, if you're adopting, you ARE being licensed to be a parent. You have to supply fingerprints, official documents proving you're an upstanding citizen with no nasty police run-ins, official documents from every place you've ever lived saying you're OK with them, official documents saying your home is good for a child, official reviews from a licensed social worker saying your home is an appropriate environment for a child... there are even quite literally official documents you have to provide that do nothing but state that the other official documents really are official documents...! Add to the mix the fact that various authorizations and proofs and documents have varying expiration dates and... well, it ain't fun.  (Quick aside: Why the [bleep] do fingerprints expire?  I mean, c'mon -- they don't change! If they expire, doesn't it mean the person they're attached to also expired?!?!)

In any case, the weeks became months, and the months stretched into years. Not too far into the process, another massive monkey wrench was thrown into the works (even more massive than the home study agency A contracted with deciding to stop operating in our state without advance notice): the U.S. signed onto the Hague Agreement, an international set of standardized rules & regulations governing international adoptions. All of a sudden there were discussions of, "are you a Hague family, or pre-Hague?" and questions about whether an agency would be able to continue operating, what kind of new documentation was needed, whether old forms (whose 18 month or 2 year lifespans were once upon a time long enough) could be renewed or if adopters had to switch to the new forms and new rules and new fees and.... Oy.  Not fun, not easy, definitely something this family (especially A) lost a lot of sleep over.  There were also so many U.S. government bureaucrats whose sole purpose seemed to be to misplace, forget, or delay the documents that I began complaining that our problem wasn't the damn Commies, it was the Damn Yankees!

Oh, did I mention that even without all the changes and renewals, the cost had already bumped up almost into the 5-digit range?

Anyway, time crawled on.  Since A wasn't sure I'd be able to take time from my work, she had arranged with our cousin (who, like me, had failed to reach Minimum Safe Distance when A told our folks) to travel to China together so she wouldn't be entirely on her own. What I neglected to mention was that I'd basically have to be dead to be kept from going on the trip. (This is my baby sister, after all!) Early in the process, the entire family attended a day-long seminar by A's agency for adoptive parents, and one of the first things done was to go around the room -- a big room, with a lot of people sitting in a very large circle around the edges -- and introduce ourselves. I included the tidbit that yes, I was indeed tagging along... and spent the rest of the day being ribbed by everyone else there because of A's shocked reaction. (It was pretty funny, in retrospect.)

And time crawled on... The whole family became involved with a couple of local groups (e.g., Families with Children from China, Waiting Moms, et al.) and attended, then began volunteering at, different events. We met and became friends with a bunch of waiting families who happily included me as one of their own even though I was "just" the uncle-to-be (as I put on my nametags) instead of a daddy-to-be. We all began tracking each other's progress through the paperchase, bemoaning the ever-increasing slowness of the CCAA (the branch of the Chinese administration handling international adoptions)... When A first applied they were handling roughly 1 month's worth of paperwork each month; by the time we'd been in the queue a couple of years, there were entire months in which they'd process less than a full week's worth of papers.

And time crawled on... The first family in our little group finally got their assignment, and were able to introduce their little daughter to us all in 2008... then another... and still we waited.  We began attending birthday parties and Gotcha Day celebrations, and still no news.  (I remember one happy Gotcha Day celebration at a public park, with the centerpieces -- there were many! -- pictured here... I couldn't help but wonder what some of the locals wandering by were thinking as they noticed all the flags from the People's Republic of China on the tables...!)

All along, I noticed the entire family was beginning to get a little... well, a little more crazy than usual.  Mom & Dad learned what to not ask their daughter on certain dates, and which subject to not broach once she'd mentioned receiving an update. A would forward all the monthly updates from the agency to us in email, and we quickly learned to identify those months in which we just didn't say anything until she was able to bring it up. Meanwhile, I began to cringe every time I heard the word "China" in the news.  Melamine in the milk! Chemical spills in the water! Pollution-based birth defects on the rise!  Earthquakes and floods killing thousands! It got so bad that at work I avoided walking the halls around the time most patients had their TVs tuned to the news...

We had one ray of semi-hope in early 2009 when A's agency held a travel seminar. We were back in the same room somewhere in Pennsylvania, but there were somewhat fewer faces and (at least at first) a more subdued mood. The moderator even said that they used to hold the seminars on a monthly basis, but now they only did it quarterly and were thinking even that might be too often. Still, we absorbed as much information as we could, bringing along all the information they'd emailed in advance just in case there were new gems of information to add. (I had -- still have! -- mine in a big 3-ring binder with a 72-point, computer generated sheet reading, "B's Big Book of China" as its cover.) One nice, unexpected outcome was that we got to meet another family with the same check-in date... so we'd eventually be traveling through China together. We spent some time talking & exchanged email addresses, and then all returned to our respective homes wondering how much longer we'd have to wait.

There was another milestone of sorts in September: A (finally) got the last squares for her daughter's bai jia bei ("hundred wishes quilt"). She had sent out announcements of her adoption plans many months earlier, asking recipients to contribute a square of material & some written wishes for the quilt. What came back was enough squares and loving wishes to make a quilt big enough for the entire family... with more squares trickling in as the months went by. Finally, the last(?) holdout gave her two squares, one with wishes for her daughter as a baby and one with wishes for her daughter when she was grown. I can't give away the name of the last, super-late holdout, but I can say that he's one of A's siblings. Oops! (Seriously, I held back because I had seen A slowly backing out of attending events where there'd be a lot of little children -- especially Chineses adoptees -- and didn't want to add to the anguish. It just seemed that it was finally the right time, and we all needed some kind of positive milestone by then...)

And time crawled on... and then we had the winter of 2009-2010, quickly dubbed "Snowmaggedon" by the pundits.

It was a mess in December...

It was a mess in January...

It was a mess in February...

I mean, we really got walloped...!

...until it seemed like China was very, very far away, and the outlook for adoption was about as warm as the view out our windows.

Eventually, the sun came back out... the white stuff began a slow, slippery retreat... and we began to see processing dates from the CCAA that were moving ever-closer to A's check-in date.

The date crawled closer... and closer... Being the family computer geek, I joined the Rumor Queen's website/forum ("You know you're adopting from China if you don't know who the Rumor Queen is, but you know who the Rumor Queen is!"). I began logging in every night, sometimes for 2-3 hours at a time, trying to collect as much information about the process as I could and breathlessly following along as A's check-in date crawled closer.  I'd walk into her office when I got to work (our shifts overlap by a couple of hours) and tell her the latest rumors, sometimes having a pleasant conversation and sometimes beating a hasty retreat when I pushed too many of the wrong buttons. The latter, in fact, began happening more frequently (with both of us) as March became April... then we moved into May...

And then... Just after 4:30pm on May 10th, I was on my way down the hall to A's office when she paged me on the PA system. I got through the door as she hung up, and she came out from behind the desk and half-whispered, "I got the call today!" I have to admit I gave her a blank look, but then just as I realized what she meant she said, "I have a baby!" I gave her a big bear hug, then held on for a couple of minutes until she stopped crying (which I almost did, myself).  The facility's part-time Dietitian was at the other desk in the office, and thinking we'd just gotten some horrible news began to excuse herself asking if we needed some alone time. A sniffled out the news and everybody kind of jumped up & down a few times.

Almost 5 years to the day after filing with an adoption agency, my sister had her baby. :-)

PS - I double-checked on Wikipedia... it really is "WABAC" and not "Wayback" that Mr. Peabody is saying!  :-)