Monday, June 29, 2015

Table for two, please.

Yesterday was a terribly challenging day. For almost a year, all of the waiting, paperwork, and stress culminated into a 15  minute bus ride to a nondescript grey office building. Standing in the window were a few children, one of them my little cutie. She was hesitant to meet me, staying true to her file as a shy, and cautious little girl. When she was finally brought into the room with me and the other families, it was the start of a difficult day trying to sooth her through much confusion and grief. I managed to get a few pictures, but not many, as I was very worried about my little girl.
A few moments of calm at the Civil Affairs office. 

We left to get our official family photo taken, after which she fell asleep from the exhaustion of the entire ordeal. We made it to Wal-Mart to get some essentials, and she finally calmed down once we started trying on shoes.... :-).
Checking out the fish at Wal-Mart

It is going to be a rough road ahead for my little one, but these signs of grief are testament to her close bond with her foster family, to whom I am forever grateful. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Big Day

Today is the day I officially become a mother. I have been laying awake for hours, unable sleep for many reasons, luckily the food in China is not one of them. Even though it will be hours before I can be "Mom", I am already worried about my little girl and rough day she will have being separated from the only home she has ever known. I will be by her side as she grieves the loss of her foster family, her home, and everything familiar to her. She will cry herself asleep, completely ignorant of the bureaucracy that brought her to my hotel room in the capital city where she was found.
I worry this morning, acutely aware of the circumstances that put her in this position: the heartbreaking choice of her birth family to place her in a public place to be found and cared for.
We witnessed this very type of event happen yesterday at the train station: an elderly woman, frantically approaching a train station officials with the abandoned baby she found. Moments later, and empty baby carriage whisked past us on the elevator to collect the child for delivery to the local Social Welfare Office.

So as you get ready to tuck your kids to bed tonight and every night, hold your babies a little tighter, a little longer, and send some good thoughts to those parents and children separated by circumstances outside their control.

An introduction to China, aka: "Hey Yellow Hair Lady!"

I left early Wednesday morning on flight 1622 from Boston to Dallas. Arriving early, I had just enough time to grab a snack and some pictures of our gate before boarding flight AA89 to Beijing.
Getting ready to leave!
The plane was brand new, with a very friendly flight crew (who hooked us up with a delicious Chilean white....) and interesting meals (meatballs and rice???). Our flight path took us directly over Canada, Alaska and Siberia with some stunning views of the landscape
River winding through Siberia
Mountains of Alaska

Upon arrival in Bejing at 1:40pm local time on Thursday, we were picked up by our guide Anna and driver Mr. Wong. Fighting through the traffic, I was checked into the Landmark Hotel and attempted to get some sleep. 
The following morning we hit the ground running for a tour of the Mitanyu section of the Great Wall of China. The 30 minute drive through the outskirts of Beijing offered some great views of the suburbs. This section of the Wall was breathtaking, not very crowded and very clean. Not to mention the easy ride up in the cable car and heart pumping ride down in a sled.... 

We finished up the day's touring with a boat ride through the lake in the Summer Palace. This was a great opportunity for us to witness some locals enjoying the views. 

 We grabbed some dinner Friday evening at a great restaurant called Eudora Station which had a great selection of Western Style food (and happy hour) before turning in for the night. 

Saturday was just as busy, starting with an unexpected breakfast accompanied by Linda Pearlstein, the director of Cradle of Hope, who was touring Shanxi province orphanages with our hosting director, Patrice. 

Following breakfast we were off for a visit to the Temple of Heaven. This was an eclectic study in Chinese architecture, mathematics and social interaction. The locals were out in droves, practicing Tai Chi and playing everything from card games to instruments.
Our touring continued with a loop around Tiananmen Square and some photos outside of the Forbidden City. The lines to get in were so long we never made it inside, but had a great time people watching and snapping some photos with the locals...many locals. 
Outside the Forbidden City
Grabbing some lunch at a local spot was an adventure in authentic Beijing dining- you know it is going to be an interesting meal when google translates something as "donkey rolls" which ends up being date paste in glutinous rice.... 
By far my favorite part of the day was exploring an old neighborhood or "hutong". It was bustling with shops, vendors and rickshaws and offered a glimpse into Old Beijing.
Me and my rickshaw driver
On the rickshaw tour
Most amazing stationery store
Crazy Lava drink
One of our many new Chinese admirers-15 years old and did a great job practicing her English skills with us!
After some dinner at the hotel, I was off to pack for our journey by train to Taiyuan City on Saturday. We departed the hotel the next morning at 8:30 to catch the 10:15 out of Beijing. The station was massive and organized even through the chaos of the crowds. 

Watching the Shanxi countryside fly by at 300km/h was a real treat. Our train pulled in to the spotless Taiyuan station 15 minutes early, and after some tense moments trying to find our guide we were on our way to the Wanda Vista hotel to settle in before Gotch Day tomorrow!


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

FUNdraising Adventures!!!

**Note- Pardon the interruption in your regularly scheduled blog postings....This post was written a few weeks ago, but got delayed in posting after some very depressing, stressful and terrifying issues with lost paperwork in China. However, we are now out of the woods and back on track! Now, back to your regularly scheduled post:

I can never express the gratitude I feel when thinking about how many individuals have contributed to homecoming of my little girl. Over the last few weeks, two fundraisers took place raising in excess of $2500- almost HALF the required orphanage donation!! People have been so generous; it is humbling to know that my family is on the receiving end of some of the world's greatness. Here are some specifics from our FUNdraising efforts:

My sister and brother-in-law Chelsea & Art Hill coordinated a fundraiser at her local Painting with a Twist in Saint Petersburg, FL. This festive event took place on April 26th and participants created paintings of their own pets, along with trying their luck at some great raffle prizes. A HUGE thanks to my sister and brother-in-law for not only coordinating this massive event, gathering raffle donations from local St. Pete's businesses, as well as managing to keep it all a secret! A special thanks also goes out to those artsy locals who participated, as well as Painting with a Twist: St.Pete!
Check out some great pics from the day:


Our second FUNdraising event was a GIANT yard taking place on May 16th & 17th. With over 20 families donating items, we worked from noon on Friday (plus a few weekends prior picking up and organizing donations) until after 7pm Sunday night (plus some more time the following week donating left-overs to local charity organizations). It was a grueling weekend of downpours, sunburns and haggling but was a huge success. A special shout out goes to my mom, Janet, for her non-stop energy (and sandwiches!) that helped get us through the weekend, and to all my friends who stopped by to help sell/organize/clean/negotiate our way through the sale: Erica, Rachel, Stephanie, Jen, Kelly & Anthony- THANK YOU! An enormous thanks goes out to everyone that donated items for the sale, as well as those who stopped by to pick up some goodies. Rachel Fazio, a close family friend and talented photographer, was on scene to help with the sale and take some photos to document the day. Check out Rachel's site, Love Mission Photography here as well as some photos of the event:

In the spirit of paying it forward, all leftover yard sale items were donated to the Norwalk Open Door Shelter, The East Norwalk Library, and the United Church of Rowayton. Additional seasonal items will be donated to the Norwalk High School Jr. Air Force ROTC coat drive and Prom Dress donations through Norwalk High School.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Travel Planning!!!

My final travel call with my adoption agency took place this weekend! Three hours and multiple pages of notes later, I am ready to get on a plane and get my girl. :) In planning my travel I am fortunate that at least part of my airfare will be paid for by points, so that is a great help financially. However, I got the AMAZINGLY great news that our trip is tentatively planned for late June/Early July! Bad news....we are right at the beginning of "travel season" in China, also known as "Holy CRAP, those flights went up in price again?!?!?!"

I am reaching out to cyber space in the hope that someone, somewhere, would have some Marriott points they would be willing to donate for our hotel stays. At this point, the low estimate is about $150/night for 14 nights- well over our original budget and about a month before we had planned on traveling. If you or anyone you know can help- please contact me through this blog and thank you in advance! :)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day and....

Besides the obvious celebration of Mother's Day, today marked a very special occasion: Exactly one year ago today I informed my immediate family that I was in the process of adopting a child.
At the time, I was planning on adding a 5 year old Ugandan boy to our brood and blissfully unaware of the term "disrupted adoption". Only a few months later would I learn of a bull-dozed slum, some questionable ethics and the unknown whereabouts of the child I had hoped would be my own.
Fast forward to today and we are excitedly awaiting the arrival of a 3 year old Chinese tot who, in 6-8 short weeks, will call the United States her new home.
As I make the final preparations to bring home my little girl, I cannot end this day without paying respect to two very special people who have made this entire process possible: Elizabeth's birth mother and foster mother.
It was her birth mother's sacrifice that will allow me to have a family to call my own; her protective instinct for this little girl to bring her to a safe place; and her love that made sure she her complex medical needs were cared for.
It will be her foster mother's tears that I will share while in China over the departure of the baby she watched grow the last 2 years, tell me how to sooth when she cries, and clue me in as to the things that make her most happy.
This Mother's Day, and every one to follow, will be a time to remember these important women who helped to bring my little one home.
For some more insight on the adoptive mom perspective, check out this piece by Kathy Lynn Harris and have a Happy Mother's Day!

On a not-so-sappy note:
Come check out our Amazing (But Possibly Too Big For My Yard) Yard Sale this weekend! All proceeds to benefit Cradle of Hope Adoption Center's Zhang Guan Ning. :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Warning: Tear Jerker

Throughout this adoption journey I learned of adoption stories of many people in my life. An unforeseen benefit were students of mine approaching me to "just talk" about their adoption stories. One such student has shared her emotional journey of being adopted into a loving (also single mom) adoptive family and has given me some insight into the unique, adolescent, perspective that is a teen dealing with adoption.

Even prior to knowing her adoption story, this student has stood out in many ways: maturity beyond her years; sensitivity to other people's needs; love of learning and inquisitive mind; and a general ability to just "get it". I feel lucky to have had this child cross my path professionally, as well as personally, especially after today.

This student walked into my classroom during last period today saying "I got you a present Ms. Engle!!! Well, it's for your daughter, but since she isn't here yet, you can open it. Sorry- I only had tissue paper to wrap it."
Nestled within about 10 layers of white tissue paper was a small, ceramic box, adorned with 2 small rabbits, each of a different color.
"I found this in the back of my closet" she said, "I used to get them from my mom every adoption day. Well, except this one. This box was given to me by the judge on the day that my adoption was finalized. I hope your daughter likes it."

"...except this one..."

After unsuccessfully choking back tears, I hugged her, then proceeded to spiral into an ugly cry. "Why would you give me something that was so meaningful to you?" I asked. "I don't know" she said, "maybe because you are just doing a good thing and hopefully it will mean something to her."

I can never thank her enough for this small/not-so-small gesture of understanding. I will make sure that Elizabeth knows the story of my student, this box, and how special it is to our family.