Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day #4: Planes, Trains & Automobiles...we're home!

Picking up the boys' American visas went as smoothly as applying for them did.  Well, actually smoother since our agency rep, Haile, went to the embassy for us to pick them up.  All we had to do was stay at home and wait for him to drop them by.  And with one final pass-off, we had everything we needed to bring the boys home with us.  Chinese visas.  Check.  American visas.  Check.  Two black babies.  Double check.  

To celebrate the conclusion of it all, our friend Becky took us to the most amazing place for lunch.  Kevin & I both love Middle Eastern food, but when your best option here is hummus from a Singapore chain (and even that you have to take a three hour train for!), you know you're hard pressed for the good stuff.  Fortunately enough, our friend Becky knew of an authentic Yemini restaurant in Addis.  We sat on the floor and had tabbouleh, hummus, and chicken kabbobs to our hearts content.  And our hearts (and stomachs!) were very content.  But we weren't the only ones with happy bellies.  Micah pounded away and ate more than the rest of us.

After lunch, we headed home to pack, which was a somewhat difficult task considering I had to make room for all the extra things I had bought in Ethiopia.  We purchases a few extra cans of formula since I'm a bit untrusting of the stuff we can buy here in China.  Plus the Ethiopian toys I got for the boys.  And of course, the import cereal we found for nearly American prices.  No, no, not baby cereal.  Honey Bunches of Oats.  That one was for me!

We still had a few hours before our flight left, so we were able to hang out with Becky and some of her other American friends that night. 

Then it was time for the travels to begin!  I think we were both a little nervous about the flight ahead, especially Kevin since memories of taking two little babies on an 11 hour flight just the month before still lingered in his mind.  So we strapped up the boys in their Ergos, hoped for the best, but prepared for the worst.

Ethiopian Airlines was extremely accommodating.  We never stood in a line more than three minuted before an employee spotted us with the kiddos and whisked us to the front.  We had originally booked seats with the bassinets for the boys, but the airline ended up blocking the seats next to us instead so each boy could have their own seat to sleep in.  It worked SO much better than a bassinet would have.  The kind Chinese man next to Micah & me even rescued him from tumbling onto the floor when I had nodded off to sleep.

Speaking of sleeping...did they do it?  Micah's benadryl left him conked out for the first 8 hours of the flight.  Sami did decently well, considering I had an amateur mommy moment while packing and didn't put an extra can of formula in our carry-on bags.  More on that story later...  Kevin & I didn't sleep much, but we were able to sit most of the time and even watched quite a few movies.  And I had thought my plane movie watching days were over!

We finally arrived in Beijing at 3:30 PM on Saturday.  We have some dear friends, Justin & Lauren, that live in Beijing who open their home to us whenever we're in town.  Ironically enough, Justin was on a flight from the States that arrived just an hour before our flight did, so he had his driver wait for us and took us all back to their apartment.  We stayed there for the night and took the train home on Sunday afternoon.

We've been home now for a few days and have had plenty of ups and downs.  Sleepless nights, unexplainable and seemingly interminable crying, and pretty much being consumed with caring for these little ones.  But there have also been indescribably joyful moments of seeing their personalities unfold, discovering their idiosyncrasies, and just staring at them.  Like my little friend Clara Anne said, "I can't believe they're here.  They're not pictures anymore...they're people!"  I couldn't have said it any better myself, Clara.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Day #3: Parenting Is Easy...With Benedryl

Micah has scabies.  Poor baby.  Thankfully, the care center staff had already taken him to the doctor and were able to pass along his medicine to me.  Medicine involving benedryl for the itchies to not be so itchy.  Medicine that turns him into a sleepy, huggy zombie.  Though it's kind of sad to see my kid tripping out on drugs, it sure has made taking care of him easier.  We went to the US embassy yesterday to process their American visas, and he sat in my lap the entire time.  That was nearly two hours of uninterrupted lap time.  I even helped him go down the slide at the kid's play area inside the embassy, but he was less than thrilled with it.  He far preferred snuggling with me, which I have to say I didn't mind much either!

The other thing that helps his scabies is to give him a warm bath before I apply his skin cream.  So we started the day yesterday with a bath.  He wasn't too sure what to think about it all, and he looked like a wet rat when we got him out of the tub.

Everything went swimmingly at the embassy.  They asked us a few questions about the boys and made sure we understood that the adoption is legal and binding.  I wonder why people keep reminding us of this.  Has an adopted family ever stood at the embassy window and said, "Really?  You mean I can't give him back?"  Let's hope that never happens!  Their visas should be ready by Friday morning, just enough time for us to catch our flight home on Friday night.

We've had two nights with the boys now, and I have to say that we've been impressed with how well they sleep.  They are both in our room with us--Sami in a pack & play and Micah on a palet I made him on the floor.  I was probably the one who had the hardest time sleeping.  All their little baby grunts and noises kept me on constant alert.  Sami decided to have a late night play hour with Kevin from 3-5 AM, but Micah slept like a champ.  Night two was much better.  I was more accustomed to their noises, and Sami only woke up once for a bottle.

So with the chill skillz (thank you, benedryl!) and sleeping skillz that our sons seems to be exhibiting, we're hoping that our 10 hour flight home won't be too miserable.  We'll be staying in Beijing on Saturday night after we land and then taking the train home the next afternoon.  Welcome to your new life of planes, trains, and automobiles, my little friends!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day #2: I'm Kind of a Big Deal

On Wednesday, we spent the morning shopping for some toys to help the boys remember their Ethiopia home.  We also made a trip to a local grcery store to stock up on formula & diapers.  I was also thrilled to find my favorite American cereals and whole wheat pasta that I can't buy in China.  With our shopping behind us, we were ready to set off to the care center to bring our boys home.

It's quite difficult to describe the emotions welling in our hearts and the thoughts racing through our heads as we were traveling down the familiar road to the care center.  But this tip wasn't like the trips we had made before.  This trip would not end in a goodbye.  This trip would double the size of our family and change things from here on out.  Everything felt so surreal.  We've been moving toward this day for so long that it was hard to grasp that it had finally arrived.  The joy & trepidation of parenthood took hold of me in a grasp of realism.  I remembered Jesus' words from the book of John that I had whispered to them last April: "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."

And then it was time.  We were there.  We pulled up to the metal gate of the care center.  Knocked once.  Knocked twice.  The gate opened, and we entered in to find our sons to bring them home.  The nannies were anticipating our arrival, and Sami's departure was particularly difficult for one of them.  We have been praying for the last six months that he would be cared for well and loved while we were separated.  Those prayers were answered in this woman.

She held Sami tight, kissed his fat cheeks, and cried over him as we prepared to leave.  I almost felt guilty for taking him away! 

Micah was a little charmer, waving goodbye to everyone as he put on his shoes.

The nannies had prepared special matching outfits for the boys to wear on their departure day.  This is what they said:

"I'm kind of a big deal."

Very appropriate for the occassion but not necessarily the sentiment I want carrying them through life!

With tears in my eyes and tears in the nannies' eyes, we finally managed to leave.  We were now together as an official family of four!

We headed back home for an afternoon full of firsts:

First bottles

First hugs

First play time

First dinner

First poopy diaper

Our first evening together as a family

The boys have done great so far.  There have been very few fits but instead a lot of hugs, smiles, laughs, and clapping.  Micah has been thrilled with all the attetion he's been receiving.  He loves the toys we brought for him, but what I think he loves more is that there aren't twenty other kids fighting for the same toys.  Just like the nanny said, Sami is fine.  He's content to chill on the floor or in our arms.  So I would say Day #1 of parenthood went much smoother than expected!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The First Day of Everyday

Well, our ghetto tickets seemed to do the trick, and our flight took off about a half hour later than expected.  We were given bulk-head row seats, so Kevin had some wicked leg room to stretch out those spider appendages of his.  Our plane even had individual movie screens, so I was a happy camper for my final flight involving freedom to actually watch movies.  Our flight actually landed in Addis about an hour ahead of schedule at 5 AM instead of 6 AM.  Since it was so early, we cruised right through luggage pick up, getting our visas, and clearing customs.  No customs troubles this time, except the lady kept asking me if I had binoculars in my bag.

We went straight from the airport to our friend Becky's house where we are staying.  She is a fun friend of ours from the states who graciously opened her home to us and our kiddos.  It has been such a blessing to have a kitchen and a living room and a friend with a car who is a rockin' conversationalist.  We chilled with Beck for an hour or two, waiting for the Chinese embassy to open so we could go apply for the boys' visas.  Our agency driver came to pick us up and we headed that way.

Hurry up and wait was the name of the game at the Chinese embassy.  We stood in line for three hours outside a metal gate with a possee of Ethiopians also wanting Chinese visas.  Our agency representative joined us in the waiting game about half-way into it.  Noticing my obvious misery, he let me take a nap in his car while my trooper of a husband held our place in line.  The embassy closed for lunch at 12:30 so we got a little nervous as the clock continued to tick.  The gruff gatekeeper who reminded me of the Wizard of Oz finally admitted us around 12:15 to see the magical visa man in the tiny blue room.  He looked over our paperwork quickly, said it shouldn't be a problem, and told us to come back that afternoon at 4:30 to pick up the passports.  During our entire stay at the embassy, we saw not even one Chinese person.  Kind of strange.

We went from the visa office back to Becky's apartment to eat lunch and get some much needed rest.  Then we finally got to head to the care center to see our boys.  It was crazy to think that this was the first day of getting to be with them everyday.  Micah was sleepy and fell asleep win my arms within the first 10 minutes of us being there.  It looks like he might have some sort of scabies on his skin, so we'll have to figure out how to deal with that.  The care center nurse told us that they have been treating him already.  Hopefully that will help him.  Sam is fat, fat, fat.  I got to see him roll over, and I gave him a round of mama applause.

I wanted to get an idea of the boys' daily schedule and habits, so I asked the English-speaking nurse some questions about them.  This was her description: Micah likes to be held.  Sami is fine.  Micah likes to eat everything.  You're not going to get any arguements from me!  

We weren't able to stay long because we had to jet back over to the Chinese embassy to pickup the boys' passports.  We had already decided to bring the boys home on Wednesday instead of Tuesday, so we could have an extra day to get over plane fatigue.  We're only 5 hours off China time, so the jet lag really isn't that bad.  It's mostly just a sleepless night that we're battling.

We were met at the embassy by the happy gatekeeper once more, who announced we were late.  "But our appointment is at 4:30," I told him.  "Oh," he replied. "Then wait."  So wait we did.  But this time not for three hours, maybe just 15 minutes.  We were once again ushed into the magical blue room of visas.  We were ready to pay but then realized we had forgotten a form we needed.  As we rushed out of the embassy compound back to the car to go pick up the form, the gatekeeper met us with a disappointed shake of the head.  We were back again within 20 minutes, but the gatekeeper still felt the need to remind us that we were late again.  Despite the flurry of it all, we were so thankful to find that the boys have been issued double entry, 180 day visas, which will cover us coming home and our trip to Thailand next month.  What had taken Kevin and our friend Josh five days to handle when they were here in May, we accomplished in one day.  So thankful to the Lord's grace for that!

We ended the day with a wonderful meal at a restaurant Becky recommended.  I swear, hanging out with this girl, cruising around in her 15-passenger party van has made our stay in Addis a vacation so far.  We bring the boys home on Wednesday afternoon, so we'll see how the vacation feel changes after that!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to Africa we go!

Today went off without consequence, and now we're waiting in the Beijing airport for our flight to leave.  Oh Starbucks, how I love thee and thy free internet!

We took the train this morning and arrived around 1 PM.  We then navigated the bowels of the Beijing subway system and ended up at a fancy-schmancy shopping center where we had a late lunch at my favorite restaurant.  Kevin went to Starbucks while I got my hair cut at the Tony & Guy.  There are few places that I trust getting my hair cut at home because of the dreaded thinning scissors and the eternal bangs that are so popular here.  But for some reason, a familiar brand convinces me that these people must know how to cut a foreigner's hair.  Honestly, I feel like my new haircut is a bit mom-ish but I guess that's only fitting considering I'm going to Africa to become a mom.  Either way, it was a fun way to kill some time.

Then we took a bus & another subway to grab a quick dinner at Subway.  We took the airport express out to the airport and got here around 8:30 PM.  We arrived at our terminal to find a madhouse.  There were ghetto signs hanging from the monitors with different African destinations written on them.  Come to find out, the entire computer system was down!  One of the airline employees took our passports, and, after checking the master list (hand-written master list I might add!), she asked us if we were sure we were booked on today's flight.  Yes, I told her.  Absolutely, positively, without a doubt sure as sure can be.  OK, she said, and generated two tickets for us that look like this:

Now if that isn't the most ghetto thing I've ever seen!  So much for making an adoption scrapbook with all my charming mementos.  OK so I'll probably never make an adoption scrapbook but if I did, these ghetto tickets would certainly spoil the look of things!  But here's hoping that they'll get us on the plane!

After being issued our questionable tickets, we went through immigration & customs.  I stepped up in line and handed the official my passport.  He looked at me and my straight hair (thanks Tony & Guy!), looked at my curly-hair passport picture, looked at me again and said, "Is this your photograph?"  Thankfully, he took my word for it when I said yes, didn't even balk at the odd ticket I hand him, and let me pass through.

Which now brings us to Starbucks, our final destination before our 11 hour flight to Africa.  Babies, ready or not, here we come!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Final Chill Day

Today we say goodbye to the wide open, lazy day we know as Sunday.  I worked really hard all day Saturday to ensure us a somewhat laid back day today.

I packed and organized and packed some more.

The entire family got involved in the packing process.

Until finally...we're ready to go!

Our final Chill Day was unfortunately what we call a "white sky" day today so we stayed in and just enjoyed our final day of just the two of us.

We attempted to sleep in but the sun rising at 4:30 AM doesn't really aid one's efforts to do that.

We had a special breakfast of biscuits & homemade strawberry jelly. (OK well Kevin had a special breakfast of biscuits & homemade strawberry jelly.  I stuck with my old faithful oatmeal.  Because when so many things are changing in life, I figure at least one thing should be the same.  And why not make it your breakfast?)

We took our time lingering in the Word of God in the morning without interruption.

Kevin took a nap before noon without interruption.

We watched a movie while we ate lunch without interruption.

We chatted with each other without interruption.

We skyped with family without interruption.

I worked out without interruption.  

Because I know that in a few days, lazy mornings will cease.  Interruptions will be upon us.  But I am entirely convinced that it will be worth it for these two.

As I stand before the precipice of motherhood, I was really encouraged by what I read in Philippians this morning.  Sure, I've read this passage a thousand and one times but with the reality that motherhood is a call to sacrifice & service on my mind a lot recently, these words really intersected with that has been going on in my heart:

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:3-8

Because the immediate context to me for the word "rivalry" mostly exists within the Big 12, I looked it up in the dictionary to get a broader perspective.  Rivalry is competition for the same objective or superiority.  Will my own agenda and desire for an uninterrupted day including time reading my Bible, a good, sweaty workout and a shower, and an adult conversation with my husband compete for superiority over my boys' needs?  Or will I see the honor of caring for them as they've never been cared for before as impetus to put their needs before my own?  Even better yet, will I set Christ's example of love & service ever before me so I can serve them without receiving an ounce of gratitude yet still feel satisfied in the King's pleasure of me?

So these are the things I'm thinking about as we set off on a great adventure tomorrow to multiply our family.  These are the things I'm praying that God would add to my heart as we add our Micah & Sami to our family for good. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

494 Days Later

From start to finish, the time it takes for two people to become parents is 280 days.  

From start to finish, the time it takes for two elephants to become parents is 640 days.

From start to finish, the time it has taken for Kevin & me to become parents is 494 days.  

We began this adoption journey on February 14, 2010 and it will come to an end on June 23, 2011.

Where did the date June 23 come from?  Could there really be an end in sight?

Why yes!  There is!  June 23 is the day that we will bring our boys to the US Embassy in Ethiopia and jump the final hurdle to bring them home.  After interviewing Micah's birth mom and reviewing some additional paperwork for Sami, Uncle Sam has deemed our little ones fit to become good ol' Americans. 

Our plan is to fly out of Beijing on Monday, June 20th around 10:30 PM.  We should arrive in Addis on Tuesday morning around 6 AM.  We should be able to process both their American & Chinese visas in time to leave late Friday night (technically Saturday morning) around midnight.

Our main prayer request is concerning the volcano that recently erupted in Eritrea for the first time since 1861.  Pray that the ash will not disrupt air traffic and keep us from getting to our little men.

Hopefully, that won't be a problem and at the end of it all I can say...

494 days later, these curls were mine...

494 days later, these smiles were mine...

It has been a long 494 days, with a little bit of heartache but a lot of joy along the way.  Looking forward to the next 494 days and beyond with these buddies!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

This is my son. He is smiling.

Now that our sons are staying in the Addis care center rather than the care center in the eastern part of Ethiopia where they're from, we get to see tons more pictures of them.  The reason is because families from our agency are constantly traveling through Addis for their court dates or to bring home their own children.  Our agency has a Picasa website where we can share pictures of the kids at the care center with each other.

That is where this picture came from.  This is the first time I have seen my son smile.  In fact, Kevin & I had to stare at this picture for a long time before we could definitively say it is our Sami.  We're still only about 95% sure that it's him, since we've never seen him make this face before.

So the status update is that the boys' paperwork has been officially submitted to the US embassy.  They have now asked for some clarification on some of Sami's paperwork and for an interview with Micah's birth mom.  It's not very clear how long this will take, but we're still hoping that we'll be able to travel before the end of the month.  Either way, we know they are in good hands with the care center nannies and in even better hands with our God.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Some of my favorite people

It probably won't surprise you for me to say that living overseas can sometimes be somewhat of a lonely endeavor.  An ocean away from family & friends where only the daring will attempt an international call.  Yes, our Chinese friends hold a near & dear place in our hearts, but there really is something to a shared culture and language that makes a relationship a bit easier.  

That's why our relationships with the other American families with whom we share life here are extremely precious.  And that's why it's also really tough to say goodbye when people head back to the States for a little (or a long!) while.  Take the Morello family, for example, who left on Monday to spend the next year in the US.  With them, I always know that I will have...

Someone to tell me I'm crazy for even considering buying a white couch in China

Someone who will go so far to convince me that "butt dust" is a word, that they'll add it to their phone's Chinese dictionary and forever leave "pi gu chen tu" seared in my brain (it's not a word, by the way, in case you weren't sure)

Someone who will subject herself to a Chinese hair salon just to make my rough day a bit better

Someone who will risk saying the hard things because it's for my good

Someone who patiently re-explains recipes when I call her in tears because I accidentally made scrambled egg brownies ten minutes before my party is supposed to start

Someone who shares my dislike of Chinese food but makes life here work nonetheless 

Someone who prays for & loves my boys as much as I do

Someone who laughs from that deep pit of your belly where all contagious laughter originates

Someone who constantly reminds me of the sovereign love & care of our great God

Someone who gives an amazing example of all how to love & honor her husband

Someone who makes use proud to be called Uncle Kev & Aunt Beck

Someone who is just as bummed as I am that Sami & Micah didn't come home with us when we went to Africa last April

Someone who always pops their eager head into my kitchen while I'm cooking dinner and asks if there is anything they can do to help

Someone who justifies my mistake of purchasing a bright yellow chaise chair by arguing at every sleepover who gets to sleep on the "highlighter" first

Someone who wants to know why Uncle Kevin's twin brother doesn't live here in China because they can't fathom why you would ever want to be away from your twin

Someone who makes me cards for any occasion that always read "U R the Best"

Someone (or someones I should more specifically say!) who have made the past two and a half years living in China a blessing & a joy