When I started the blog, I already had my tagline: Dispatches from the Land of Coffee & Tea. And yes, I am a caffeine freak, so the label fit me well, but truly, it is about our international family. I alluded to this in my post on Ron Paul’s racist political ads, but my kids came to us from the birthplaces of tea and coffee.
Astrid, our older daughter, was born in the south of China, in the Cantonese province of Guangdong, and brought to the large city of Guangzhou for the adoption.
Akeyla, our younger girl, was born in the south of Ethiopia, and then moved to interim care in Addis Ababa before the adoption.
Both countries are rich with history, culture, proud people, heritage, and so much to teach our girls and immerse our family in. But tea and coffee are hugely important – more than just beverages, but sacred drinks that provide the heart of home and family, and the essence of formal hospitality ceremonies. Tea sharing rituals are even included in Chinese weddings.
But as I moved forward in my blogging, I never really got back to the beginning, to explain the “Land of Coffee & Tea”, which is so much the essence of ME, and of US as a family. Our family is multicultural, multiracial, and we get noticed because of it – we look different. If there is one thing I want to do in this blog, it is to show that despite these minor differences in skin color and hair texture and eye shape, we are of course no different from other families. We are four people who the universe drew together because truly, how could it not have connected us?
And so for the next few posts, let’s go back in time to the beginning of the Land of Tea. This is from our family blog that we kept when we were in China adopting Astrid, and was first published on August 13, 2004. I’ve edited it for space and grammar.
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August 13, 2004
Arrival in Guangzhou
The plan — and if you know me well you know I like to have a plan and stick to said plan – was that we would have the afternoon in Guangzhou to check in, organize our luggage, buy any needed baby supplies and have a casual informational meeting with Shirley and Shannon, our adoption agency facilitators. We landed around 1:00 pm and one family in our group was missing a bag so I went with them to the claim area for moral support (since Matt and I had been through this already in Beijing).
Apparently, while we spent a half hour filling out forms, Shirley was telling the rest of the group that the plan had changed. Dramatically. It was now 1:30 and we would go to the hotel – a 20-30 minute drive – and then we would go directly to the Guangdong Adoption Administration and PICK UP OUR BABIES AT THREE P.M.
I started to have a meltdown. We got to the hotel at ten of two and Matt & I had to wait for our room because they weren’t done cleaning it. I sat on a delicate burgundy velvet settee in the lobby and doubled over with choking, full body sobs because I wouldn’t be able to pack a diaper bag before we left. Shirley set a meeting time of 2:20; Matt and I got into our room at 2:10 and the porter still hadn’t brought our luggage up. I sent Matt ahead to the meeting and at 2:17 the luggage arrived I tore every suitcase apart to put the diaper bag together, leaving a trail of suitcases blocking all ingress and egress from the very small room, and ran down to the meeting.
We were all dazed, exhausted, emotional, and not receiving information very well. We had to fill out forms and I let Matt do most of it (which shows you something about my state of being) except to sign my name in various places. Twice I ran out of the meeting because I remembered things I needed. Baby wipes? Check. Disposable bibs? Check.
Our three o’clock deadline passed and still Shirley had us fill out more and more forms. We left about 3:30 and arrived at the government office a little before four.
They call it Gotcha Day in adoption lingo and the scene is pure chaos. [2012 Note: I’ve since become less than enamored of the “Gotcha Day” moniker, since it is also represents a tragic “Lost-ya Day” for my kids’ biological parents. We call it “Adoption Day” in our house, and honor their birth families]. The babies had ridden up from their Yangchun orphanage that morning – a three-hour bumpy trip by minivan. They were tired and traumatized, just like us. We all sat on benches and chairs in a conference room. No introductions were made; there were no opening remarks. Suddenly, officials just started calling out the babies’ Chinese names.
WE WERE FIRST!
Astrid grabbed for me and then for Matt and wanted very much to be held. Then she cried. Keep in mind there were 13 families, some older siblings and now 13 new babies packed into the conference room . . . plus orphanage staff, provincial officials, and Shannon and Shirley. It was overwhelming for me so I can’t imagine what it was like for Astrid and the other babies. We also knew from her referral papers that she was afraid of strangers.
I did everything wrong, shoving one thing after another in her face from my hastily packed diaper bag in a vain effort to calm her down. Musical bear? Bottle of American formula you’ve never tried before? Shaky thing? Chewy teething thing? Cheerios? Still the screaming persisted. Three of the babies were particularly loud.
Finally, we got some sense into us and removed her to an empty room, which was also much cooler. It wasn’t clear to us that we could leave or if there would be some more formal presentation or instructions given, but our instincts kicked in and we just left. So did the parents of the two other criers. We put her in the front baby carrier and held her close and walked and rocked and walked and rocked. She calmed down.
We left maybe an hour? Two hours later? I really don’t know. Time had no meaning. She fell asleep with the motion of the bus but was pretty ambivalent towards us that night. I got sick. As did several others in the group. I had been so worried about intestinal issues since the water is not potable here and the food sometimes iffy. But no, it was either the plane ride or the heavy, heavy pollution in Guangzhou that got to us. Matt and Shirley went to the pharmacy to find night time cold medicine for me and even with Shirley translating, it was difficult. Now I just take everything I brought: Sudafed day, Sudafed night, baby Tylenol, Claritin, Tylenol cold, often in one sitting.
Monday in Guangzhou. Then Shirley told us we had to go BACK to the government offices the next day – both parents and the baby – to do provincial paperwork, get a family picture, and meet with officials and a notary. I couldn’t believe I would have to put her through that trauma again, but she did better. Still no smiles for mom and dad, still not taking a bottle, although she did drink a bit of water.
Then we learned that we were all making the bottles wrong. The instructions we had been given were wrong so Lisa, the friend of one of the single moms in our group, pantomimed with Mrs. Yu, the orphanage director, the correct way to make the bottles. Also, we had been told in advance to cut the nipple holes on the bottles larger since the babies were used to that and the parents’ various attempts ranged from “nipple hole not visible to the naked eye” to “nipple hole size of small pea.” Mrs. Yu deftly demonstrated to Lisa the appropriate hole size using a toe nail clipper, then on the bus Lisa took the microphone and gave us all the new instructions. That night, all parents reported that the babies were now taking their bottles.
I think it took a non-parent to receive the information.
We got back and had free time for the rest of the day. Astrid took a good nap and so did we. The next morning I cheerily awoke and said to Matt, “She slept through the night!!” And Matt replied, “No, YOU slept through the night.” I know that I am a deep sleeper, but all my mom friends had said this would change and I would hear the baby at night. Well, the baby is six feet from my head, plus Matt was walking her up and down the tiny room, and I heard NOTHING.
Tuesday in Guangzhou: Astrid becomes our daughter
We really overdid it in Beijing with the group tours, so we were hesitant when Shirley set up a tour for Tuesday morning. But one stop was the Six Banyans Temple, an active Tibetan Buddhist monastery, and I very much wanted Astrid to be blessed with the other babies. Matt kneeled with her before Kwan Jin, the goddess protector of children, as the monk chanted the blessing and I filmed.
Then of course we didn’t just come back, but had to complete the trifecta of sightseeing. Next, an art museum in the old courtyards of a wealthy family’s ancient home; then the jade factory. Matt went back to the bus with Astrid early at the art museum and skipped the jade factory all together while I shopped.
Then the transformation. I came back to the bus and she was smiling, squirming all over and playing the stand-up game! She now only wants to climb up her parents and have us take her hands so she can stand up. She also crawled this day, giggled when we played airplane, and sucks in so much food we are amazed.
The days now blur together. The big news: teething. She already has tons and more are apparently erupting now. At first we were so hesitant to give her Tylenol, not wanting to over-medicate her. But after Matt’s sleepless night, he begged me to call my sister Cory (mother of four, early childhood development specialist) and ask her, please, when does the teething stop.
Me: Matt wants to know when teething is over
Cory: Well, Charlie is still getting teeth and he is 14.
Me: No, baby teething
Cory: Oh, well when the tooth is done erupting.
Me: No, all the baby teething
Cory: Oooohhhh, they get 12 month molars, then it is pretty much over.
Teething is no fun.
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Coming up: Survivor: Shamian Island
(Hint: We are almost voted off.)