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!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Okay, I'm back...!

"Sorry 'bout that, Chief!"

I'm almost done with the next installment ("THAT" bus ride) but have been away from the blog for longer than usual... Work got crazy, then a little crazier, and then I got sick, and then there was that lovely dusting of soft white powdery... no, whoops, it was heavy, wet, thick snow that brought half a tree down across the front of my house and cut off power to the folks' house for 2-1/2 days. I never lost power but had no cable or Internet connection for 3 days, so even when all I could do was blog... I couldn't!

In any case, I'm declaring an end to that particular pity party (more cruddy weather is due this week, o joy) and am getting back to the blog.

I have also made a decision concerning my concerns over privacy. I'm still going to be careful, but I think I've gone a tad overboard... My name isn't "B", it's Brian.  (Pleased ta meetcha!)  I'm also getting tired of my own writing confusing me, so instead of just "A" my sister will henceforth be known as "AJ" ...so maybe now having multiple occurrences of the first letter of the alphabet in close proximity to each other can stop and my text be a little more clearly read.  Also, since we're now on a first-name basis, I'll be signing each of my posts in classic Chinese style, with my personal "chop" (hand-carved at an art gallery during our time in Guilin).

In closing, here's a quick current-day update... A little over a week ago, the Pipsqueak "graduated" from her Little Gym class to the next level.; I don't have many photos but got lots of video, I'll figure out if/how to post some later on. It was amazing (and cuuuuuute!) to see this little person chasing balls & bubbles, doing forward rolls, somersaulting on parallel bars, and generally running effortlessly across the pads & cushions on the floor... it was just a couple of months back that she was walking like a drunken Frankenstein!  What's next -- an Olympic gymnastics medal?  :-)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

And Now We Are Three (July 13, 2010)

Wow... and I thought getting out of bed on the 12th was hard... Somehow, when arranging for a 7:00am wake-up call the night before, 7:00am didn't seem so... well, early. (For those readers who don't know me, I'm one of those people who feel early morning is best seen through closed eyelids.) We had to board the bus at 10:00 to go complete the adoption paperwork -- at two different locations in the city -- so 7:00am was the best compromise between trying to get some sleep and leaving enough time to get an unfamiliar little one ready for breakfast. We figured three hours would be enough time.


First there was the matter of working out who got to use the bathroom in what order while the other "who" kept an eye on the little one. Then we had to prepare a bottle and give Miri a chance to finish it off at her own pace. Then we had to finish dressing and putting together what we needed for the day while taking turns keeping an eye on the little one. Then we had to round up diapers, bibs, extra bottles, etc. (we had a lot of "etcetera") and get it all in A's new baby bag. Then we...  Well, let's just say we left ourselves three hours -- and still somehow walked into the dining room with just 25 minutes in which to inhale breakfast, retrieve everything from the room, and get out front to our bus!

A couple of words about breakfast before getting on with the day's adventures... For those of you who may have passed one of thousands of businesses with a sign out front that read, "Chinese Restaurant" and wondered what the equivalent would be in China, here's your answer: we ate breakfast every morning in the Western Restaurant. Breakfast was a fairly extensive buffet, with all kinds of typical breakfast fare like coffee, tea and OJ; an assortment of breads (see photo below for the bread basket!); cereal; French toast; sausage; scrambled eggs; black eggs; congee; spring rolls; lo mein noodles; pork-filled sticky buns; fried tofu; steamed tofu; tofu soup; spicy tofu with beans; and so on... (Remember, "typical" depends on the local culture when one is traveling!) One dish I learned to avoid was an innocent-looking preparation of green beans; quite tasty at first, but with enough spice to peel paint off the wall at 30 paces.

Our first stop was the same government building where we'd first met Miri the day before. Somehow, the crazy-small elevators, lack of decent air conditioning, and not-quite-gone signs of its former hotelhood felt friendly & familiar; something very special had happened for us there, and it could've been a run-down log cabin in the wilderness and still had a positive sense about it.

We were even in the same room as the previous day, and while we were waiting an adoptive mother/daughter team from Canada who'd shared it with us also returned. Like us, they had their newest family member with them; unlike us, they were adopting a slightly older little girl who was able to jump & run with ease. While we all waited, the little girl began playing on the big plastic slide/tunnel on the far end of the room, and after going down the slide a couple of times complained (in a combination of Chinese, sign language, and general pointing & nodding) that there was a wet spot at the bottom and it had dampened the seat of her clothes. Next thing we knew, she had stripped off everything she was wearing from the waist down & began sliding again, happy as a lark! Her new teenage sister was trying desperately to get her to put her clothing back on (the fact that she was laughing just made it harder), and just as she thought she'd gotten a handle on the situation, the little one laughingly took off down the hall at full speed (still naked from the waist down) and our last contact with her new older sibling was her voice receding down the hall calling, "Mom! I need your help!" to the vast amusement of everyone on the floor.

Several of the same people who had brought the girls to us soon came in, and we learned that the older woman was the head nanny and the gentleman with her was the director of the SWI. (I don't remember if I defined that acronym earlier: "SWI" is a Social Welfare Institute, and it can be an orphanage, a retirement home, a nursing home, or any combination thereof.) The formal gifts were given and we had one last chance to ask any questions we had about the girls. We were given official documents of adoption in red leatherette books (complete with attached official portrait) and a few other important items, and then it was time to head for the next appointment.

There was one interesting moment as everyone prepared to leave... The head nanny wanted to say goodbye to the girls, each of whom was being held by her new mommy -- and each of whom in turn actively recoiled from her when she reached to give them a hug! The poor woman was obviously embarrassed (and maybe a little hurt as well), but everyone was careful to not make a big deal about it. Still, it came up in conversation a few times during the trip, and to this day I can't help but wonder why the little ones were so unhappy about her reaching for them while they were essentially being held by women who were complete strangers...

In any case, we had to get going so it was back on the bus for a mercifully short ride to a Justice Ministry building. We pulled through the gate into the courtyard, which had been set up as a basketball court (we saw a lot of kids & young adults playing basketball in Nanning). We pulled up (through the basketball court!) to the front door and waited while Lisa ran into the building to check on the arrangements. Then we waited some more after she came back out; the waiting room was full, and none of the other areas open to us was air conditioned so it was more comfortable to stay in the bus. (Being in the sun was akin to having someone whacking you nonstop in the face with a towel soaked in near-boiling water... "comfortable" was a relative term.)

After about 20 minutes, we filed into the lobby for a few sweaty moments before entering the "air conditioned" waiting room. The A/C was a refrigerator-sized portable unit in one corner, and if you weren't directly in its airstream then you might not be aware it was there... but this was the last step in the provincial paperwork so we all just gamely sweated it out. After a few minutes we struck up conversations with the other families waiting with us; a Finnish couple (whose English was excellent) and an American family from Texas who we'd bumped into a couple of times at our hotel. I thought it was interesting that when the Finns spoke to each other, it sounded very different from Mandarin but just as alien; a real reminder that we were all strangers in a strange land.

Each family was called down the hall to the Magistrate's office in turn, until finally it was our turn -- and then I had to stay in the waiting room because I wasn't going to be an actual parent. I understood the logic, but have to admit I wasn't exactly thrilled (Hey, I'm part of the same family! What's the problem?) While I waited, A sat in the Magistrate's office, where the SWI reps (same ones, they got there before us) handed over their paperwork and then A had to answer a few questions about herself and promise to provide for the baby's needs & guarantee she would get an education once she was living Stateside... and then suddenly there was a new official stamp on the official adoption document, and as far as the government of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region was concerned, Miri was one of the family!

Happy at achieving the next milestone in the adoption process, we all returned to the hotel for lunch. There was nothing scheduled for the next few hours, so the other families took the girls to the pool while A and I just chilled in our room. We originally thought we'd join them, but we weren't there long before Miri conked out on her mommy's lap (followed shortly by mommy herself). I woke A just long enough to suggest she stretch out, and they were both sleeping again in just minutes... but even asleep, I noticed my sister wouldn't let go of her new daughter.

The scene was peaceful, loving, quiet, and peaceful... and then the Pipsqueak woke up. Omigawd, you would've thought the room was populated by a flock of banshees... being chased by howler monkeys... carrying megaphones. I know I wasn't a straight-A student in physics, but howtheheck could such a little person make such a big noise...?!?!? We talked to her. We stroked her. We tried to distract her. We tried to feed her. We checked her diaper.

And the crying just would. not. stop. Luckily, we stumbled on the solution: pick her up and hold her while standing or walking around. Do not stand still too long, do not move as if you're putting her down, do not attempt to sit down while holding her, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. We spent the rest of the afternoon taking turns carrying Miri around the room, passing her back & forth as our arms (backs, legs, knees, feet) gave out. There was one interesting discovery in the middle of all the noise: when Uncle B went to wipe a bit of drool away from Miri's mouth, she kind of slurped on a finger for a moment... and then the Pipsqueak bit me! We hadn't realized it until that moment, but our newest family member was teething. Finally, as both mommy and uncle were losing hope, the Pipsqueak fell asleep...

...Just in time for us to have to get back on the bus for a shopping trip and dinner. (This was the beginning of a trend of the little one falling asleep just moments before we either left for somewhere or arrived somewhere.) She wasn't exactly thrilled with us, but we had to wake her to get downstairs & back on the bus. It turned out that none of us were terribly thrilled, either; it was the wildest ride we'd had yet. The hotel was in a less congested area just outside the main downtown section of Nanning, where there was enough room to build wide roads with separate lanes dedicated to bikes & motorcycles... and even with that, the bus had trouble getting out into traffic. Now we were headed into the city proper to go shopping at Wal-Mart.

What's that? Yes, I did indeed say "Wal-Mart". We had flown halfway around the planet to a communist country to go shopping at Wal-Mart. At one time or another during our stay we either shopped in or walked past (in alphabetical order) 7-11, McDonald's, Papa John's, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Subway ...and Wal-Mart. Go figure! Anyway, to get back to the story...

Once we got into downtown proper, traffic went from bad to absolutely insane. Our driver seemed to be pushing the bus into the narrowest openings between moving vehicles that were themselves trying to do the same thing at the same time. It all came to a head when a taxi decided to make an illegal U-turn and stopped in front of us. I was just 2 seats back from the driver and saw the back of the taxi getting a whole lot closer a whole lot faster than I liked (even comparing it to the other maneuvers I'd almost closed my eyes for). I was about to yell something when our driver finally realized it wasn't moving and stomped on the brake pedal. Well, the bus stopped -- but there were no seat belts for us or cargo nets for all the stuff we had with us. By the time all the internal motion stopped, Papa S had migrated violently from his forward-facing seat on the bench against the rear wall of the bus to a backwards-facing position on the floor just ahead of my seat, bouncing off Lisa at the halfway point hard enough to knock her off her seat. She wound up with a bruise, he had a surprisingly small cut on his leg, and several baby bags were 6-10 feet farther forward than they'd been moments earlier, but (except for having a couple of years scared off each of our lives) everybody was OK.

Lisa had a few choice words with the driver (with some conversations, you don't need to understand the language to understand what's being said) and after first aid was applied where needed we proceeded on our way at a slightly more sedate pace. Since real estate is at an extreme premium in Chinese cities, the Wal-Mart was inside a multi-story building with parking in an underground garage. I again wanted to say something as the driver blithely zipped into the garage and I couldn't help but duck as we passed through the door. Whoa, that ceiling can't be as close as it looks, can it?

No, it wasn't that close -- it was closer. The farther into the garage we went (and the driver had already slowed to a near-crawl), the closer the ceiling got -- until we reached a bottleneck where there was no room to turn around and the A/C unit on the roof of the bus protruded about 9 inches above a pipe hung across the right of way. Eventually we left our driver to negotiate his way backwards through traffic and around the two curves he'd come around to get back out into the street on his own as we all walked the rest of the way through the garage to the entrance.

Shopping was a bit of an adventure... definitely a Wal-Mart and yet definitely different. We couldn't help but notice that we were attracting curious glances (the only non-Asian faces in the place), and there was some pretty odd-looking merchandise on some shelves, but it somehow still felt & looked like a Wal-Mart. After momentarily splitting up so our wounded could buy more first aid supplies while the rest of us searched for the baby department, we all met up at the stroller display and eventually all bought copies of the same stroller. We then picked up some clothing & diapers for the little ones (and later discovered A had seriously overestimated the correct size of the latter), looked around a bit, and headed for the door. The checkout area was a chaotic tight squeeze, and we discovered that in China one must bring one's own bags to Wal-Mart -- luckily we all had day packs or space in the baby bags.

We stepped out into a mini shopping mall on the 1st floor of the building, and from there passed through a curtain of heavy plastic strips out into a street that had been converted into a pedestrian mall. Halfway down the block was another one of those outdoor TVs, this one sitting on 20' columns and measuring at least 35' across. We passed under the screen to the street, and lo & behold there was our bus, waiting remarkably unscathed to take us to dinner.

Dinner was at a smaller restaurant, where we were ushered past the regular dinner crowd (all locals) into a private room in the back. It was hot & muggy but there was another of those refrigerator-style A/C units in the corner that the hostess helpfully turned on for us... and then she turned on the TV in the corner before leaving! Different dishes were brought in one after the other, and we all ate our fill. Miri was back to her usual self by this point, so I'll quote our original travel blog to describe dinner: "It was fun to watch A try to eat while 1) feeding Miri, 2) keeping Miri from grabbing everything in a 2-foot radius, 3) trying not to end up wearing what she was trying to have Miri eat, and 4) trying to keep Miri from sticking non-edibles into her mouth. Somehow she managed (yes, I did help!) and eventually we made it back to our hotel with only minor wounds to show for the day."

On the way back to the hotel, one of our big mysteries was solved: we would be leaving for Guilin the next morning, and would get there via bus... a ride that would last a bit longer than five hours. We had to have our suitcases downstairs in the lobby by 10:00am so we could get to our hotel in Guilin in time to check in, settle down, and have dinner. We all exchanged some nervous looks, thinking back to just that afternoon's short ride into town... and remembering that all three little ones seemed to equate boarding the bus with a negative experience. (My suspicion is that it's related to the SWI they came from being almost 4-1/2 hours' bus ride from where we had met them in Nanning.)

We pushed to get everything packed -- the "extra space" we'd gained by giving away the official gifts & some other items was more than made up for by the new outfits of baby clothes & packages of diapers. Somehow, using the portable scale to balance the load, we managed to cram everything into our suitcases & carry-on bags. The Pipsqueak had mellowed back out again (all the flinging of food at the restaurant had tuckered her out) and once all the packing was done, she and her mommy shared a little quiet bonding time together. They were both soon asleep, but before going to bed I took a couple of minutes to record all the neon on the downtown buildings (much of it animated).

I lay in bed for a few minutes before falling asleep, thinking back over the incredible events of the past 48 hours. There was a touch of the old familiar melancholy from our Foreign Service days based in the knowledge that I was unlikely to ever again be in a place where something very special had happened in my life, and a little regret that we hadn't had a chance to see more of the city and the surrounding area. Still, there was the occasional mini-snore from my new niece in the crib in the far corner of the room (right where A could reach it from her bed in an instant) reminding me our real reason for being there, and the sheer wonder of her presence quickly pushed the melancholy away. I don't remember my dreams that night, but I do remember smiling as I fell asleep.

NEXT: The Bus Ride From Hell!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Current-Day Note (january 18, 2011)

Just wanted to post a little note while I'm composing the next "historical" post... Yesterday A had to work but Miri's daycare was closed for MLK Day, so the Pipsqueak spent the day with her grandparents. Since I had taken the day as my elective holiday, we all planned to get together for dinner. I headed over to our folks' a little early and as I walked into the foyer, Miri came running in from the other room, holding her arms out to be picked up -- then stopped dead in her tracks, gave me a good once-over, and then with an expression that clearly said, "Meh!" turned around and headed back into the kitchen, where I heard her babbling at Grandma.  Seems she thought it was Mommy at the door, and she was annoyed that it was just her uncle...!  When A did finally arrive a while later, Miri went running through two rooms, laughing out loud, and practically jumped into her mommy's arms. (We are sooo lucky... bonding was never an issue with these two!)

She did make up for dissing me later on... a couple of times later in the evening, while I was helping clean up or moving some things around, the Pipsqueak came over to me just to cuddle for a couple of minutes. Heaven. :-)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Most Special Day - Part 2

To pick up where the last post left off, roughly halfway through Gotcha Day...

Lisa told us we'd be detouring to a supermarket for baby formula and anything else we needed now that we had the little ones with us. Along the way, while Pipsqueak paid rapt attention to the passing scene, I noticed that A was almost automatically moving her hands to keep them between Miri's head and any hard surface; she seemed to be slipping into motherhood with a naturalness and speed that (I later realized) must have been born of years of waiting & wanting. Along the way I also noticed that the past hour had changed our lives but not the rest of the world's... or at least not the way drivers in China navigate the roads. You'll notice, for example, that in the photo below there are only two lanes on our side of the road, but three lanes of traffic...

In any case, our driver (as usual) wove through the crazed traffic with minimal trouble and we reached the supermarket... and another "not in Kansas anymore" moment. The bus turned off the road into the driveway -- and stopped dead in its tracks as the driver negotiated with the guard at the gate. (Yes, there was a guarded gate blocking entry to the parking lot of what back home would've been just another strip mall.) Our driver must have known the password or something like it, because the guard opened the gate and we rolled into the (unsurprisingly) uncrowded parking lot. I wasn't sure what to expect once we got through the door -- I hadn't been to any guarded supermarkets before! -- but it was just a good ol' midsize supermarket.

We began to fan out in the supermarket, looking for baby formula and a few items for ourselves. The experience was interesting; just the variety of items (including apparent flavors & contents one would not normally find on regular U.S. market shelves) brought home the idea that we were far from home... Of course, there was the familiar counterpoint of Mentos, Coca-Cola, and a variety of brand names familiar from the U.S. and Europe. (International trade really is international!)  We all had a good laugh at the "WaHaHa" brand water (a name that would become very familiar by trip's end) and eventually (with Lisa's help) found the baby formula. In between deciphering labels and looking for water & snacks I kept watching A happily carrying Miri through the store, and it was obvious that she had been waiting a long time to go shopping for baby formula & diapers...

Bottles of WaHaHa and boxes of powdered baby formula in hand, we headed back to the hotel, where everyone retreated to their rooms to Skype family & friends back home. (The PandaPhone arrangements had fallen through, but we had become happy fans of the Skype service after just 1 night. It was recently deemed "illegal" by the PRC government because it's not part of the government-controlled communications but will still work if you use a VPN. During our trip, it was the "go to" communications medium we used every night to talk with Mom & Dad.) We got a quick surprise when A first put Miri down on one of the (rock-hard) beds; she stood up on her own! After a few moments she sat down and looked around... then sort of folded herself in half and took a quick nap. (So much for being impressed by her new family!) She woke up & sat in A's lap on one bed to be introduced to her Grandma & Grandpa via Skype video, but didn't seem terribly interested in doing more than just looking around. After a short time, she also started getting fussy... and it took us a few minutes to realize her bottle was overdue. I'm proud to say her new uncle managed to figure out the Chinese language instructions and mix a perfect bottle of formula on his very first try. :-)

A little later, we all met in the hotel's restaurant for our first dinner with our newest family members. Miri seemed a little unsure of how to view her perch up in the high chair (unlike the high chairs we were used to, it had no tray, restraining bar or seat belt) but became visibly more interested when the congee began to flow. Waitaminit... didn't this little thing just finish off a full bottle...? We began to realize what the examiners had meant when, as part the descriptive paperwork included in the referral package, they had written, "She is excited to the food." One spoonful after another, my tiny little niece was putting away a bowl of congee and showing interest in the food on A's plate.

In fact, Miri showed interest in all the plates... and the food... and the glasses, silverware, napkins... pretty much anything she could reach was looked at as a toy. She also demonstrated a surprising level of strength; she could pick up & move around the plates with little apparent effort, and had a grip that made it a real effort to free them from her grasp. For the first time -- but not the last! -- I wondered aloud how someone with arms barely over a foot long could have a radius of destruction of more than three feet. As we worked out a system that we used for the rest of the trip (B eats quickly while A tries to eat & keep tabs on Miri, then B tries to distract Miri so A could gulp down some food... and keep tabs on Miri), Lisa kept the girls occupied so their folks could deal with learning the mealtime habits of their newest daughters... and somehow we all managed to actually eat something among the confusion. One of the neatest moments of the meal (for me, at least) was shortly before we finished, when Miri finally decided she'd had enough congee & tidbits of A's food and began to get a little fussy. A took her out of the high chair and held her in her lap... and after a few moments Miri settled down and snuggled up against A as if she'd known her all her life instead of just a few hours.

After dinner, and all beginning to run out of the energy from the emotional high of finally meeting the little girls we had all been preparing to add to our families for so long, we headed back upstairs to our room. Despite everyone beginning to tire out, there was still some paperwork that had to be completed in preparation for the next day's official meetings -- so Uncle B got to spend some quality time alone with his new niece. Miri wasn't entirely sure she liked the idea of the nice lady who'd held her all day leaving the room without her, but I was able to distract her by picking her up and "visiting" different parts of the room -- we examined the closet, the sink, the hallway mirror, looked at the colorful neon across the river, and after a few minutes Miri seemed to decide I was an OK guy and stopped fussing. When she started looking a little droopy, I started humming lullaby tunes, some of which I retrieved from very old memories. (I don't know if Miri was bonding with me, but I was sure bonding with her!)

That's how A found us, about 45 minutes after leaving... Me walking around the room and humming the lullaby from "Mary Poppins" with a sleepy Miri snuggled in my arms. I think the Pipsqueak liked it; I know I did! <grin>  I let my sister have her daughter back and we began to get ready for the night. We didn't know if Miri would sleep through 'til morning (she did as long as you consider 3:30am "morning") so we started bedding down for the night. Miri finally dozed off completely while laying in A's lap on the bed, and was carefully transferred to the crib. I updated our travel blog while A dozed, and then climbed into bed. I remember (vaguely) waking up momentarily a couple of times during the night when Miri needed attention, but A answered her calls so quickly that I never came fully awake. I just remember at one point thinking that this was the way things were supposed to be with a crib in the corner of the room.

NEXT: We're official!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Most Special Day - Part 1

This post will be a little different from the last few. For one thing, it's going to be a lot more photo-intensive; for another, it's starting out with two different conondrums. The first involves my privacy concerns: the day we finally met my niece for the first time is not something I can just talk about, I've got to show some pictures... and how do I show pictures of the first meeting of mother & daughter if those pictures don't show mother & daughter?!? After much thought, I've decided that I'm taking enough of the proper precautions and I'll go ahead with the photos; if I need to throttle back (so to speak) in the future, I'll deal with it then.

The other conondrum (a word, by the way, that the spell-checker does not like!) is something that I simply hadn't thought of until I got ready to start typing. Arguably the most common term for the day an adopting parent and adopted child first get together is "Gotcha Day" (a term we use in our family). However, adoption and parent-child bonding being the intensely personal things they are, there's controversy in the adoption community over whether this term is a good one. Some adopters and/or adoptees consider it too informal or silly-sounding, other individuals consider it insulting, an affront, or belittling. I have read a wide range of opinions ranging from a simple, "Don't like it, so there" to long, carefully thought out and well-crafted treatises on both the "for" and "against" sides of the argument. (In extremely short form to save space, the three most common arguments against "Gotcha" are: 1 - it's a term inferring some kind of ownership or possession of another human being; 2 - it infers saving someone from something bad when they may actually be getting torn away from a foster family they love and/or removed from their birth culture; 3 - it's the kind of silly thing one says when swatting a bug or playing a game rather than a term that conveys the importance & emotion of the event.) I am NOT going to go deeper into this subject in this post (perhaps in the future); I do not mean to belittle anyone's beliefs or feelings on the subject, I am not unaware of the negative aspects of adoption, I am not trying to enforce my family's beliefs on any other... I simply want to acknowledge (for any other APs or adoptees reading this) that I am aware of the disagreement but that in my family, we often use "Gotcha Day" because for us it does not have negative meanings it so I will be using it here -- it's just our way, please (seriously!) feel free to substitute whatever term you use in your family. (For the non-adopting/adopted readers, I have seen variations on "Metcha Day," "Family Day," Sibling Day," and many others, my favorite alternative being "Forever Family Day" ...YMMV.)

And now, with the caveats done (at least for the rest of this post), I'm going to proceed with sharing our Gotcha Day... a Most Special Day in every (good) way.

I'm honestly not sure how we managed to wake up on the morning of the 12th; we were disoriented, jet-lagged, sleep-deprived travelers who'd barely had a chance to open our suitcases before repacking them and starting over with the weirdest flight we'd ever had. But wake up we did, at a relatively early hour, with the idea it's TODAY hanging in the air. Somehow, while we slept during the night, the crib in the corner lost the capital letters in its name and became just another piece of furniture, albeit one with an aura of hope around it. My "little" sister was ready, I would be, too.

One thing that helped keep things on a more concrete level was my discovery that I had done a lot more than just warp my passport while sweatily climbing the Great Wall; my money belt and all the cash in it (about 40% of all the money we had between us for the entire trip) was still wet from the previous day! Since we'd been repeatedly warned that Chinese banks won't exchange money that's not in pristine, like-new condition, I laid it all out on my bed to dry... the first (and so far only) time I ever had that much cash in one place at one time. A lesson was learned; for the rest of the trip, I kept my Yuan and a few smaller U.S. bills in my wallet... but all other cash on my person would be carried in sealed plastic baggies to keep it dry! I also took a panoramic series of photos out the windows of our hotel room; we had an excellent view of central Nanning, and both A & I noticed that we literally could not look in any direction without seeing at least one active construction crane (there was only one town we visited that was not like this; the "C" in PRC apparently stands for "construction" and not "China").

I remember many of our breakfasts; this day's is just a blur. We talked a bit with the other families, and everyone was wondering what it would be like when we met the girls. (We all had a good laugh when Older Daughter S kept saying "my baby" instead of "my sister" or "the baby.") I'm not sure if we went back to the room (and I began drying my money after brunch instead of before) or went out around that time together, I just remember that early in the afternoon the entire group took an exploratory walk around the hotel. All the nearby buildings were very modern in appearance, many with art deco style touches (most of which included neon and/or strobes at night) and "hats" of varying styles and shapes. We also had it driven home to us that we were in a true subtropical climate and it really was summertime: it was hot. Not, "hey, the sun is strong" hot. Not, "wow, I can get sunburned quickly here!" hot. No, it was more like, "wow, my car just melted!" hot. I mean HOT. With humidity to match.

Wilting steadily along the way, our group burned off nervous energy by circumnavigating the grounds. We found a beautiful swimming pool that we hoped to use (eventually the other two families did) next to a large "baby pool" that had thick, green growth on every surface and that was obviously being pumped dry for repairs. I stopped for a moment, thinking that in many ways our surroundings looked like an idealized Hollywood version of southern California (see photo) before catching up with everyone and heading for the nearest air-conditioned entrance. Somewhere along the way, A and I quietly wished Dad a happy 80th birthday and joked to each other that we were going to be picking him up a birthday present he'd never forget, and since Mom's birthday was just 2 days away they could share the present A was bringing home. There was another short time of retreat to our rooms to get ready; I checked my email and found PandaPhone had given up trying to find me, they were cancelling the order and giving me a full refund. (They were good to their word; I wouldn't hesitate to try them again.) Then I updated our trip blog while A got the required "gift bags" ready... and then it was time to go meet the babies.

The ride was quick; we reached the government offices in just a few minutes. We had to split up to fit in the elevators and I remember one of the other family members saying the next time we'd be in that elevator, we'd have our new daughters with us and everyone kind of just looked at each other for a moment. We were guided down a hot hallway to a large, mostly empty room and told the group from the SWI was on the way and would be arriving shortly. Left on our own, it was funny to see how everybody tried to not be nervous while being obviously nervous; the two girls alternated between being rambunctious on the little plastic hobbyhorses in the room and sitting quietly on the old worn sofas against the back wall; all the adults alternated between trying to set up video cameras just so on the windowsill to catch everything, checking to see if the gift bags were complete, double (triple- and quadruple-) checking the adoption paperwork... and just sitting quietly on the old worn sofas against the back wall.

There was an air of, "No I'm not nervous really I'm not no sirree I'm not nervous at all no I'm not..." as the last bit of years of waiting ticked slowly away... I was pacing around the room trying to distract myself when I noticed the sidewalk out front was actually a large mosaic, so I busied myself for a few minutes trying to get Just The Right Angle for a good photo. When I had finally milked that for as long as possible, I wandered to the other side of the room to where A was sitting quietly on one of the old sofas, not entirely aware she was clasping - unclasping - clasping - unclasping her hands repeatedly. She was suddenly not much of a conversationalist, so I started wandering again and discovered the building used to be a hotel, and the unintentionally funny "Chinglish" door plaques gave me a much-needed break from my own fraying nerves.

Then it was back to waiting... and then we waited some more... and then I think there was more waiting... Later that evening, when I had a chance to check the timeline, I realized we were inside the building less than half an hour before meeting the little ones; it just felt like all five years of paperchasing were repeating themselves while we were in that room! We were all beginning to run out of things to keep ourselves occupied with when I heard a bit of a commotion in the hallway. I looked out the door and saw several people... and at least two toddlers, with one of the adults pointing into the room! I went running back to where A was sitting while calling out, "I see babies!" and all of a sudden they were in the room with us.

First came a woman holding the hand of a little girl, hair cut short, walking with the air of a toddler who's finally mastered the basics of gravity; then a second woman holding the hand of another little girl, hair also cut short, also covering the ground easily but not quite so confidently; and then a man came in carrying a tiny little girl sucking her thumb. First one toddler, then the next, was introduced to her new family. And then...

"An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break." -- ancient Chinese proverb

...and then, at precisely 3:33 in the afternoon, the two ends of the thread connecting my sister to her daughter finally came together.

I have been challenging myself with how to describe the emotions of those first minutes. I like to think I'm good with words, and I know how to use both dictionary & thesaurus to find just the right way to phrase something... But I simply cannot. It's not that I was numb -- absolutely not, no way, no how! -- it's just that there were so many emotions, so strong, all clamoring to be at the top of the list that I simply do not have a way to communicate how I felt watching the scene. I know this little one isn't "my" child, that I am an uncle and not a father. I know this newly-minted mother is my sister and not a wife or partner. But we are a close, caring family and (especially in the last few years) the wait had been mine as much as A's (and as much as our parents'). How does one use printed words to convey the feeling of a child joining a family, of a void you hadn't even known existed finally being filled?  I can only describe what I saw, and heard, and (some of) what I thought.

Little Miri was little, a tiny thing at 13 months. She had a couple of bug bites... There was a bald spot on the back of her head from where she laid down each night... Her hair had been cut short, so we could plainly see a double whorl at the crown that made it stand up in a semi-mohawk (I think I said then, and have said many times since, that my niece is fated to a lifetime of bad hair days)... There was a small but pronounced bump down low on the back of her head that worried us a little... and good Lord, what is with her tongue...?!?  With all the questions A had prepared for the SWI staff, and all the questions we'd been told to ask, one of the very first things A had Lisa translate to the SWI representative was, "Does she always move her tongue around like that?" It went up, left, back up, 'round & 'round a couple of times, out to the right... The lady from the SWI (who turned out to be the head nanny) laughingly replied that it was her "hobby" and Miri always had her tongue sticking out one way or another.

Lingual calisthenics aside, there was much checking of fingers and toes and eyes and noses... Miri was a little congested and had a runny nose (the nanny apologized and told us she'd caught a cold just a few days earlier)... one eyelid looked droopy (but both eyes tracked & focused exactly the same)... that mysterious bump on the back of her head was worrisome but we were told to expect it to go away... But she was clean, and she was alert, and despite all the horror stories we'd heard about babies screaming nonstop for days after meeting their new parents, seemed completely unworried about the funny-looking lady cooing over her and carefully counting her digits; the Pipsqueak even seemed to be getting comfortable after just a couple of minutes. She kept looking around, focusing first on one crying baby, then another, studiously sucking her thumb while apparently wondering what they were fussing about.

After several minutes of making sure there really was a little girl in her arms, A finally asked if I'd like to hold my niece. I'm definitely not an expert baby wrangler (but I got real good at it real fast, as you'll read in future posts!) and I'm always just a little worried I might drop a little tyke... but it took all of about three nanoseconds for me to sit down and reach out for my niece the first time. I may not have become a daddy, but "uncle" felt pretty doggone good right then. Miri looked around, looked at me for a few moments, and kind of settled in on my knee and stuck her thumb back in her mouth; I wasn't sure how or why, but I got the feeling I'd just passed some kind of test. It wasn't too long before A wanted her daughter back so I went back to playing photographer for a while, still amazed that I had just held a new, permanent member of my immediate family. The wrapping of one uncle around one toddler's little finger was already well under way. :-)

One young Chinese woman in the party apparently worked for the provincial government separate from the SWI; she was taking photos that would be used as the official portraits for the adoption paperwork. (That sounds big & imposing & important, but she was a young gal who seemed to genuinely like what she was doing and enjoyed sharing the photos with the families.) The photo she & A decided upon appeared on more than the Chinese governmental documents; it's etched in a block of crystal in in A & Miri's house, and was copied onto the homemade adoption announcements. There was, of course, some paperwork to take care of, and some of the gift bags, and through it all Miri just watched and observed and absorbed what was going on around her. During our own commotion, a single Canadian family had been ushered in on the other end of the room, and introduced to their little girl (a cute little dynamo a couple of years older than any of ours); I watched New Mama and New Older Sister introducing themselves, and then noticed Miri focusing on them as well. Back at the agency-hosted seminars we'd attended during the wait, we'd heard that nobody knows how the CCAA matches babies with families but that they have an almost mystical ability to choose correctly... Now I was having flashes of deja vu comparing my niece to my sister at the same age. I still remember A sitting on someone's lap, thumb in mouth, just watching & observing and absorbing what was going on around her with the same intent expression. (The only difference in their behavior was that A used to take her free hand & twirl her hair; Miri's hair was just too short to twirl.)

Finally, as the other girls quieted down and the reality that all the waiting really, truly was over, it was time to head back to the hotel. There would be a 24-hour "harmonious period" for parents & children to get to know each other better, and then we would all meet back in this same room the next day to finalize the paperwork. As we gathered our things and I picked up the big red baby bag that was about to become a permanent fixture in our daily life, I caught my niece looking back at her new mommy with an expression that seemed to say, "Okay, I'm game -- let's go!" I fired off several quick photos, but the one below has already become one of my favorite family photos ever...

As we returned to the first floor (multiple elevators again!), someone mentioned we should have a shot of all the mothers & daughters leaving together for the first time so all the menfolk scrambled out the door and across the driveway (hauling baby bags and backpacks and camera gear) and then spun around to try to get the shot. All the gals obligingly posed in the furnace-hot sun long enough for everyone to get a couple of photos, and then the entire group retreated to the air conditioned bus.

There were a few last-second concerns about getting the bus out of the gated parking lot, but no one seemed to really mind. At least for one day, there were no more concerns of getting someplace on time, no worries about racing from point A to point B on a particular schedule; everyone had a completely new focus. There were three more people on the bus now, little ones who had no way to comprehend they'd been looked for and wanted and waited for ever since a time long before they were born. Getting off the bus, there'd been a few comments along the lines of, "wow, I'm getting sweaty again," and "I'm really hot," and even a few, "but MOMMY...!" Now, as we rocked & rattled our way out the driveway, it was all, "Is she comfortable?" "Is it too hot for her?" "Can I hold her?" and, "I think she likes me!" 

The waiting was over; the family-building had begun.