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!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

INTERMISSION: Some Lessons Learned (Part I)

My next blog entry will cover the day we flew from Guangxi to Guangzhou, roughly the midpoint of our China trip and the first time the Pipsqueak flew in a plane, or was so far from her birthplace. It also marks the point in the trip where there was a basic change to how things worked. We were no longer "touring" and "getting used to the baby" -- now we'd stay in the same hotel longer than any other place we'd been with her, and the three of us seemed to have reached a basic understanding of each other's needs & communication styles.

[Quick aside: if you're reading this and laughing at my saying that at 14 months the Pipsqueak had a "communication style," then you a) aren't spending a lot of time with little kids that age and b) haven't met my niece. <smile>]

There was also another, more subtle change: Now we had official papers saying the PRC considered Miri a member of the family, with AJ as her mother. The various processes we had left in our path were just the basic steps needed to clear her with our own government for entry into the USA. She was my niece, my sister's daughter, and that's that; there was a whole new "family" feeling (and some real bonding going on) that changed the whole feel of the trip. All those feelings had existed in some form from Day One, but now we had the local government saying it was all "for real" and our return home was now closer than our arrival in China.

So... this seems like a good time to insert an "intermission" in the description of our trip and post Some Lessons Learned. (Yes, I do indeed like using capital letters for emphasis, thanks for asking. <g>) So, in no specific order, here are some of Brian's Lessons Learned (Part I):

Waiting and Waiting and Waiting and Waiting and...:
The less said about this, the better; if you're still doing it, then more power to ya -- and remember, it DOES come to an end and you DO get to finally hold your child in your arms. They may not be as thrilled about it as you are at the time (they may not be "thrilled" by it at all!), but all that [censored] waiting DOES come to a positive end. Hang in there.

During the Paperchase:
1) Try to have the kiddo's room ready for occupancy before you move into the "newly beheaded chicken" phase just before you travel. It'll be a major cause of worry out of the way, knowing you'll be bringing your child home to their room and not a last-second construction project.

2) Fer cryin' out loud, do NOT let any of your paperwork expire!

3) Yes, according to the Powers That Be, your fingerprints DO expire even if you don't. I don't understand this, I hate this, I think it's just another way of prying more $$$ loose from prospective adoptive parents... but that's the way it is, just deal with it.

4) Do not be ashamed of feeling the stress, the worry, the pressure. Like it or not, you're human and that's part of the deal. Likewise, do not be ashamed to seek out emotional & moral support from family, friends, congregation, and the adoption community. At worst, you may find out about some things you needed to know & didn't. At best... well, your family gets a lot bigger. :-)

5) You don't have to be specifically adopting from China for the Rumor Queen's site & forums to be valuable in oh so many ways. http://www.chinaadopttalk.com

6) Do as much as you can yourself. Use trusted "name" courier services and/or Certified & Registered mail through the USPS (or the equivalent in your home country if outside the USA). Keep copies of everything and keep them where you can get to them quickly.

7) Keep a written timeline; record every date you submitted something, received something, had an appointment, etc. (Don't forget to record the date you started the whole process.) Not only will this be helpful at times during the adoption process, it'll be an interesting record to look back at later on.

8) Don't wait until you receive your TA (travel approval) to get your inoculations. Some (e.g, Hepatitis B) involve a series of shots spaced out over several months. Get the harpooning out of the way early.

1) You will forget something, no matter how well-prepared & organized you are. Don't sweat it, just deal with it as an inconvenience. If you've done things mostly right, then you won't forget The Important Stuff.

2) Double-check, then triple-check: you do NOT want to forget the charger & power cord for any electronic devices you're taking with you (laptop, iPad, phone, PDA, razor, etc.) You can buy almost anything you need on the trip... but Murphy's Law usually means you won't find the right type of power adapter or power cord when you really need it.

3) Double-check, then triple check: make sure any electrical device (including the "power brick" you use to charge/power even your razor) is dual-voltage. The electrical system in the USA provides 110 volts at 60 Hertz from wall sockets, but almost anywhere else in the world that same wall socket will feed your device 220 volts at 50 Hertz. The doubled voltage can literally fry a device not designed for it, while the lower frequency can mess with any internal timing circuits. If your device is dual voltage, you'll just need an adapter for the plug (wall outlets are also shaped differently around the world); if your device only runs on 110v and you simply must take it with you, then you'll need a converter to change the voltage (as well as the physical shape of the plug). Look online (Magellan's, Travelsmith, CampMor, Amazon, et al.) or in local travel & specialty stores for either/both.

4) Don't spend a fortune on special space-saving vacuum-type bags; your local supermarket is likely to stock several sizes of the "ziplock" style plastic bags. Use the old-style ones, where you have to run your fingers along the seams, and not the fancy newfangled "plastic zipper" style. Also, buy the "heavyweight" or "freezer" or "storage" bags -- they're sturdier than the "sandwich" type. Use them to pack anything that fits in them, and maybe even take a couple of each size along with nothing in them; you'd be amazed at how many things you suddenly need one for during the trip.

5) Invest in an extra battery for your camera, swap them out at night (recharge the used one while you sleep), and carry both with you at all times. If not, you may find yourself having to miss amazing photos & videos simply because you've had the camera on for a long time & the battery's been drained.

6) Also invest in 8GB data cards for your camera; they cost more that 2GB or 4GB cards, but you don't want to miss "that" picture or video just because you ran out of memory & hadn't had a chance to upload everything onto your laptop (you did remember to bring along either a card reader or the cable that links your camera to your laptop, right...?) Make sure you've got at least 1 spare in your camera case (along with that extra battery).

7) Keep your prescription meds in your carry-on and take enough to cover your planned trip plus 3-4 days; you never know where an airline might have to send you!

8) It's OK to just pack "informal" clothing with 1-2 slightly nicer outfits for special occasions; no one will expect you to be in heels & hose (or tie & jacket). Save yourself the weight and pack the lightest clothing appropriate for the season/climate and don't worry about looking coiffed and tailored. Pack only clothing that's comfortable (you may be in it a looong time), durable, and easily washable. Use some of the weight you saved by leaving the sport coat & heels home to take an extra pair of comfortable footwear; your fave pair of sneaks may get too wet or muddy or damaged to be wearable at some point, and bad footwear will literally stop you in your tracks on the trip.

While Traveling:
1) Keep your papers with you while in transit -- do NOT put them in your checked baggage, do NOT allow yourself to be separated from them when you board any form of vehicle, do NOT assume your traveling companion has them.

2) You are traveling for an adoption. Any touring, visiting, sightseeing, etc. you get to do is icing on the cupcake, but NOT the real reason for your trip. Do not forget this.

3) This is an Adventure. Stay flexible, keep your cool, and go with the flow. Don't be upset if your itinerary changes daily (hourly!) without notice. See #2 above.

4) You're likely to be carrying more cash than you can ever remember holding in your hands before. Invest in a good money belt or money pouch you can wear inconspicuously beneath your clothing. Make sure it does not have metal on it (e.g., nylon zippers only) or you'll be doing a lot of explaining at a lot of security checkpoints.

5) Retain your common sense. You'll be a stranger in a strange land, and no matter how friendly people seem you may be an easy target for the darker side of human nature (which, unfortunately, tends to be pretty much the same everywhere). We never really felt any negative vibes during our tip -- but we also checked with our local guides before walking around in some neighborhoods and made a point of getting back to the hotel before it got too dark in most places we visited.

6) Take lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of photos, and try to keep at least some rough notes about which photo shows what; once you're home, you'll find you want to remember everything and a single photo can launch hours of memories.

Gotcha Day:
1) You'll want as many photos, as much video, as you can get your hands on. Take turns with the camera, and try to have someone get a shot of that special moment when you first meet your child.

2) The range of possible reactions from the kiddos is as wide as the range of human emotions.  You'll look, sound, even smell wrong to the child... s/he may be mourning being pulled away from a familiar (loving) foster family... s/he is leaving a familiar environment for a whirlwind of change... the list goes on. Just be prepared for your loving hugs to be met with screaming, or tears... or smiles. There's no way to know until it happens.

3) If you don't like calling it "Gotcha Day," that's OK. It's YOUR family, youse guys determine what's right for you. :-)


Okay, there's plenty more, but I think most of the other things I was going to type are actually pretty generic stuff about hotel safety, travel tips, and such. I'll post more lessons learned later on, but now it's time to get back to the story that started this story... So, 'til I have the next installment typed, here's a quick tryptich to see how things have changed with the Pipsqueak so far. The panels (left to right) are late April 2010; July 12, 2010; and March 5, 2011. (Holy cow, the baby's become a little girl!)

And now I think I'll try to catch a few Z's... and then get back to work on my next posting! Zai jian!

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