Life is a Zoo

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A day without paperwork or appointments or anything adoption related.  Jack, our guide, took our group to the Guangzhou Zoo for the morning.  The weather here is  beautiful–about 10 to 15 degrees warmer than Shanghai–and the grounds of the zoo were beautiful too.  Before we even got in the park, Judah was already talking about seeing monkeys and tigers and pandas.  Of course, any animal that didn’t hold his attention only got a brief glimpse and he was ready to leave the rest of the group behind and set off toward the next exhibit.  All-in-all, he has gotten much better about staying with mama and baba; and we have gotten better about not freaking out when he decides to run ahead a bit.  Both he and Grace had their picture taken on a camel, we saw some Chinese acrobats balancing on things that no human should be able to balance on, and Grace got to finally see a panda–in China!

We also spent about an hour in the little amusement park that had there.  Let’s just say that some of these rides made the parking lot carnival rides back home look perfectly safe.  But he took on everything without fear (well, except for one ride that he had his eyes closed most of the time).  Everything that big sister rode on, he rode too.

There was some afternoon shopping and pool time.  Tabby and the grandmother from the other Gladney family staying at the hotel with us had an authentic Chinese tea ceremony with jasmine tea and “tea food”.  Then we all descended upon the Arabic restaurant next to the hotel for some dining adventure and a belly dancing show.  Grace and one of the girls from the other family even got dragged up on stage to dance along.

Tomorrow is pretty much a free day for us too–just a short visit back to the doctor’s to check the results of Judah’s TB test.  And Tuesday we have our U.S. Consulate appointment where we get his travel Visa and have the U.S. side of the adoption finalized.  We are definitely enjoying Guangzhou.  The weather and the scenery and the pace is much more relaxing that when we were in Shanghai.  I think we will be a bit sad to leave when Thursday morning comes.

Thanks again for all the texts with updates from home and encouraging words and Scripture.  It is good for us to be able to keep in touch with home.  And, just because a day goes by without a blog update doesn’t mean we’re dead in a ditch somewhere in China.  (You know who you are.)  Everything is going great–except that the longer I sit here writing, the longer I’m making the Crazy Monkey wait to crawl up in bed and watch a movie.  So over and out for now.

Change of Venue

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Ok, so first we are sorry for not updating before now. To say it has been hectic would be an understatement. So I will do my best to update since our last, well, update.

We started Thursday morning with a trip to the Orphanage. I tried to mentally prepare myself for this but there really is no way to know how you will feel or the effect is has until later. The grounds of the SWI are very nice and it is a very large compound. However, we were only able to see the room Jia Yu stayed in while he was there as well as the room where our friends’ daughter slept, and the bathroom and TV room of her age group as well.

We did get to see some of the younger kids she lived with and I can tell you it really tore me up. In particular was one little boy, who looked to be maybe 3 and very small. He was sitting very quietly at his table, as were all the children, and no one was smiling. I took a picture of him and bent to show it to him…his little face was like night and day, beaming when he saw himself and gently running his fingers down the screen. It just broke my heart for these kids and while the outside of the institute was very nice the inside was old, dark, with peeling paint and the kids room had no toys that we could see. To think this is one of the best orphanages really pierced my heart. All the little faces just looking for a Mama and Baba to love them.

After the visit we returned to the market to shop a bit and them home to the hotel…which became the site of the first Jia Yu vs. Mama bout for the title of who has the strongest will. Now I may joke about it but let me just tell you this was not pleasant for any of us. With an older child, the testing is more intense because you are dealing with a small person, not a baby or toddler who can be held or constrained to a bed or playpen. This battle included a whole whirlwind of bad behavior and a real test of patience for me. Even tears (for the first time) from Jia Yu. Give him to strangers, no tears…give him to strangers who don’t speak the way he does…no tears, but tell him he has to use his words and not grunt at me when we know he is able to talk…ALL OUT WAR! It was tough. I would never let my other kids get away with what he did and at the same time I had to decide what boundaries to set with an adopted child. It was super emotional and I will admit sent me into a funk the entire next day. My best friend sent me the verse “do not grow weary in well doing” and it really was timely for me. Even retelling it makes me cry.  I am so human and on my own, under my own power could never endure.

Friday for us was a slow morning because we caught our flight out to Goungzhou. Rob and I both were super on guard with the flight risk but he did very well and was excited to fly on the plane (fei jei). He did really well, because he loves to play Angry Birds but 2.5 hours was his limit and by the time we got off the plan he was toggled ON!

So on to Guangzhou we went…and let me tell you it was everything I imagined Shanghai to be (and wasn’t). This city is amazing and I would return anytime. Our guide, Jack, is hysterical and kept us all entertained with his wit and comparisons to Shanghai “because you know Guangzhou is better.”

The city is huge with millions of people but the streets here are clean and the drivers here are not allowed to “horn” so they have learned to drive and we could actually relax and enjoy the ride. Our hotel is the nicest I have ever stayed in with a Four Seasons restaurant in the lobby. It connects with the subway underneath, there is a Starbucks across the street and many shops within walking distance. Dinner was in the hotel where Jia Yu tried again to order…and keep ordering. I seriously can not tell you how much this kid eats. More then Rob…more the Dan! He is a machine and constantly tries to get the waitresses to bring him more, knowing full well we can’t understand them! Cheeky Monkey!

I am glad to report that our bedtime preparations went off without a repeat of the night before and we got our first REAL sleep since coming to China.
Today was a good day. I can say that now, after dragging him to the Doctor for his medical exam (he weighs in at a whopping 62 lbs and 48 inches tall – I told you he was a tank) where he was checked over very well. This place was an adoption mecca; we saw probably 60 families adopting children and it made me happy to see many of them with boys. It was slightly better than controlled chaos but we managed with our fabulous guide Jack and were in-and-out in no time. We came back to the hotel which was good because I needed a Zanax but settled for some much needed alone time to workout, while the kids and dad went swimming. Side note: a couple days before Ming Ming asked him if he could swim and he said yes, I can do all the styles; frog, back stroke, etc. Well, he is a story teller…he told us that too! Swimming was a little more drinking the pool than the freestyle.

After that we took a long walk to one of the two parks near our hotel. Park is not really a word I would use for it. It was AMAZING! Unlike any I have seen. The landscape here is very much like Florida with tropical plants everywhere and mountain ranges off in the distance. The park itself wandered around a large lake and everywhere you looked there were Chinese families playing, people doing Tai Chi, playing a game with a birdie and their feet, dancing, singing Karaoke and exercising. We were with our other Gladney family (3 adults and 4 Asian kids) and us and we really got a lot of looks today. I am sure they were trying to figure out where the blonde child came from. We walked for over an hour before stopping at the Green Island Bar/Grill and had one of the best meals yet and yes, he did try to get the waitress to bring him more food. Grace and I even tried eel – it was yummy.

We also had a moment earlier (now that we finally have internet) to Skype my sister Alea and had a moment online with my other kids. It was so good to see and hear Alea and when I saw my kids I cried. I miss them so much as this is the longest I have ever been away from them both. Jia Yu was a Crazy Monkey for Alea and was really looking forward to “seeing” Dan. Surprisingly, he has formed an attachment to Dan and talks often about his Ge Ge, Dan. Even from the first day he could point him out in pictures. Today he was even on the potty just yelling (he does that a lot too) Ge Ge DANIEL, Ge Ge DANIEL!

Sorry Britt. He is all boy…total boy…crazy boy and a handful. A beautiful, sweet (he LOVES to give kisses) funny, tank-of-a-boy.

So, it’s 7:40 here and I owe my girl some time alone with mom so we are off to check out the sauna. Tomorrow we head to the Zoo and a famous street market. I promise that now we have internet we will upload some pictures (if he is a blur in them it’s seriously because he never stops moving) and we will update more frequently. Love you all, just 4 more days before we fly home.

The Making of a Family

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It’s hard to believe that we have only been here five days and still have another eight days, including a plane ride from Shanghai to Guangzhou.  We are certainly trying to soak in as much of the experience as possible–as much as our tired minds and bodies will let us.  Shanghai is so incredibly large and diverse.  Each day’s events take us through completely different areas of the city, which seems to stretch on and on with no end.  We already can’t wait until we can return as a family and visit more of Judah’s home country without the interruption of appointments.

We are continually amazed by Judah and just how good God has been in the middle of all of this.  It has been barely two days since we met him for the first time and there is already a family bond taking place.  Even with the two that weren’t able to come with us–he talks about ge ge (older brother) Daniel and jie jie (older sister) Brittney. 

Communication is difficult at times, more because we don’t understand him as much as he understands us.  He told our guide and translator yesterday that he knows that mom and dad don’t speak Chinese, but he has learned to talk to us using hand gestures.  And his English expands and improves by the minute.  I wish everyone could just be a fly on the wall and see and hear it all.  I completely expect that by the time we make it home we will have almost forgotten how little undertood each other that first day.

His personality is definitely a fit for our clan.  God knew what He was doing.  Our friend, Kathy, texted and asked me to describe him in 10 words.  I’m not sure I used 10 exactly, but my reply was that he is an incredibly-smart-all-boy-eating-machine-Casonova.  Oh, and he really needs our five acres to run around on.  I’m sure the hotel room and bus rides and appointments are driving him crazy.  But he has adapted amazingly well for being 100% outside of his daily routine.

There is so much that has transpired since the last update. Yeterday we completed the paperwork at the DMV-like agency as well as the notarizing of our paperwork–it’s legal now for China, he is ours. Last night found us terribly exhausted. We ended our evening by venturing out of the hotel for more affordable food and into a small resturant where Judah took mercy on us and ordered dinner for us, which included some elaborate purple warm-milk drink for Grace (which she would not drink) and some delicous noodles and sticky buns. If potstickers are your thing then sticky buns will rock your world! Judah kept up a string of chatter with several of the staff there and kept trying to order more food (he is a tank). I think he is really handling this all much better then we are.  Pray for Grace as she is terribly homesick and misses American food.

Today we toured the Bund, and area across from the famous Financial District; bordered on one side by a row of the most impressive banks you can imagine, literally about 15-20 banks, large and domineering. The other side by the river and a very familiar Shanghai skyline. Everywhere we go we get a lot of attention.  I think that Americans are facinating; Americans with a Chinese daughter are interesting; American families with an apparently normal and healthy Chinese boy is downright STRANGE! I think when they can (and even when WE can’t) they try to talk with us and discover what’s going on with this mixed-culture family.

After the Bund we went to a Chinese Temple garden. I can’t describe it well enough but I can tell you it was everything I imagined when I thought of China. Like we stepped onto the set of Fearless. It was HUGE and was a 15th centuary home of an extremely wealthy family. You could walk for hours around the grounds. It was also the site of our 2nd episode of run-away son. It seems that the biggest ‘issue’ we have to overcome with our new son (besides food and table manners) is that he was terribly spoiled by his family. We have confirmation on this but I’ll get to that soon.

After that was shopping–which was fast and furious because it was literally shoulder-to-shoulder and our guide warned us of thieves and hawkers. Rob and Judah stayed at our group meeting place while Gracie and I shopped for a charm for her, mostly to keep him from making a get-a-way in the midst of thousands of people.

The ride back was probably the highlight though.  Judah and I sat with our guide Ming Ming so she and I could talk with him. He told her that his parents did not speak Chinese and asked her to talk to him so he could speak Chinese. This makes my heart so sad and at the same time I am so grateful for Ming Ming and how smart and resourceful our boy is. In our three-way conversation Judah said he lived in a village in a large house with two stories. His family lived with many people and until recently he shared a room with them. They had chickens, but they ate them, and 2 ducks–but they ate one and gave the other to relatives, some rabbits (wait for it) but they ate them. We all laughed about this. He also was sure to tell us that he got ice cream in the summer once a day, sometimes twice.

We asked Ming Ming to come back to our room and translate for a while. She was able two tell us that he loved to read and tell stories and asked that I read to him, even if it was in English. We described our house and animals and showed him his room (which he was very putoff to learn he would share and asked how long before he would have his own room–in days). He was concerned about our big dog most and when i told him all she does is sleep he said “don’t you let her at least standup?”

We talked about him coming to America, he said he would but he would always be Chinese and would one day come back and teach his Chinese Mama English. He also asked Ming Ming to tell us we were saying his name wrong and then he proceeded to teach us (it took a while) how to say his name properly and agreed to be Jia Yu in China and Judah once we got to America. We spent some time talking about how we would discipline him–which was my favorite part because he told us that he always got what he wanted and never did his parent discipline him. He wanted to know what we did in America and we explained the ‘naughty chair’ and he was so funny because he said

“I can sit there and do anything as long as i don’t get up?”

“Yes”

“What if i have an itch, can i scratch?”

“Yes”

“What if Jie Jie (sister) is bad?”

“Oh, she gets a spanking.”

After this he rolled around, thought about it and ‘agreed to our terms’. He is quite the charmer/negotiator. A handful and perpetual motion…I mean never still.  In half of the pictures we have he is a blur…no…really!

Tomorrow we return for a tour of the Institute. We asked him if he was ok with that and he said yes, as long as he could show us his bed.

I am amazed at how well he is doing, he has not cried once and seems genuinely happy. He is a handful and is VERY attached to BaBa and wants to be with him and have him hold him all the time. He behaves better for me but I think that is because I am like Chinese MaMa and he is used to that. Rob is his personal jungle gym and we will have to find creative ways to get his energy out. He did say he would like to do Tae Kwon Do with us–and he promised to listen.

On a personal note, thank you all for your text messages and words of encouragment. Please keep it up (on Rob’s phone). They have been timely and needed. His adjustment and ours has been SO much better then it could have been and even though he is a handful we are so thankful he is heathly and has been loved so much that he is rotten. We are all weary though, and it’s a bit stressful playing defense and not having a break, in a place that is not home, while missing the rest of our clan.

We will try to update more but we do not have WiFi and so our updates are by phone. Friday we fly to Guangzhou and we hope for WiFi there as well as a slower daily pace–and fewer episodes of run-away son.

Love you all!

Jia Yu – The Tsunami

So the best way to sum up the day is by the song that is on a loop in my head right now: “it’s the end of the world as we know it, its the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.” I honestly don’t even know where to begin. Nervous – we were all very nervous and waiting in the institute with 3 other families; one waiting for their little girl , about 2, another waiting for their girl about 5 and the other Gladney family we are here with was waiting for Mei Mei, who is also 5, and us. After signing documents (which were all in Chinese…we could have adopted 4 for all we know) they finally started bringing in the children. We were 3rd and Rob was still off taking care of the donation when they brought him in. So there was Grace and I and a timid Jia Yu (which i am sure is the last time i will use that word when talking of Judah). It didn’t take long before the room was buzzing with activity and families trying hard to make a good first impression. Jia Yu (which is what he wants to be called right now) was excited to show us his toys and the photo album his family had sent and call us each by our Chinese name: Mama, Baba and Jie Jie.

While the other kids played with balloons he was more than happy to play on the tablet, look at the pictures, and take pictures. We were amazed when he pinched the screen to expand and contract an image. It went well and before we knew it we were off in the bus and  on our way to the market. In the bus he did excellent, very happy to sit with Mama and play. In the market it wasn’t long before we could tell 2 things, 1) he has a strong will and 2) he knows how to smile and get his way. This is a young man who has been spoiled by his foster family. We managed to make it out of the store with a few victories and he was very happy to play with his new Lego on the way back to the hotel (someone please have some for us at the house!) We were all amazed that he pretty much managed to get together a Lego heliocopter. He also named several english words from the children’s dictionary we brought and counted to ten for us, and wrote in traditional Chinese characters: America, Baba, Mama, and Jei Jei. He surprised us further when he called us Father and Mother and said okay. This kid is bright! We are shocked! We are also tired and imagine that won’t be the last time you hear that. He keeps amazing us by understanding things Grace says to him and communicating very well with her. With us, it’s more a test…I’ll giggle and play and see just how serious Mother and Father are (I wish you could hear him say it and pray he never loses his accent).

After getting back, we had lunch and he read to me the words Hello and Goodbye, in English and told me he liked seafood. Lunch, in a word…entertaining! Manners, we will work on that later. Keeping food that you don’t like on your plate and not wiping it on the table cloth…we may start that…tomorrow! He ate, a bunch, and is certainly not starved. He chatted easily with the hotel staff and won’t have any issue with meeting family. After lunch was ice cream and back to our room. Whew! So here we are by 2:00, in our room with our very energetic, bright, and strong-willed boy. We learned he likes elephants, not roosters (he was born in the year of the Rooster) and that while he has a lot of energy he is able to focus on a task like Legos. He’s a funny boy, playing with us – for example, after we WRANGLED him into the bathtub he proceeded to douse me with water and bubbles and giggle, a lot! And, while he knew what a toothbrush was and how to brush his teeth, the Chinese must use something entirely different than we do for toothpaste.  Because, as soon as the toothbrush hit his mouth he started spitting every bit of that toothpaste out into the bath water.  He purposfully calls me Father and Rob, Mother and then laughs. He is a funny boy. I just wish i could understand what he was saying. He does better than we do, repeating everything we say and understanding far more then we could ever expect. Did i mention he is beautiful? The pictures we have do not capture how beautiful he is. He is a lovely handful and Rob, Grace and I are already exhausted…in our PJ’s at 4 in the afternoon. He’s also bigger then we expected and came with no clothes but what he was wearing. So…somewhere in our future is a piece of luggage and some shopping for essentials.
We are blessed, truly, as he seems to be so well adjusted…so far. One family left with a very sad, crying baby…this is normal. Can I hope our strange little family will sit a little far left of normal and just come home exhausted and not traumatized? Let’s hope.

Tomorrow we go to the notary (our 24 hour honeymoon will be over and we say if we want to keep him). Duh.

Pray with us for energy. Pray for Grace, it was a tough time for her at the institute and she cried because she was worried we would spend all our time with Jia Yu. I was so proud of her for being able to tell me and wish i could relate to all my kids how much they mean to me.

Right now as i type this the two of them are perched in the window ‘talking’ about what’s outside. As tough as this will be I am so thankful she will have a little brother to grow with. I’m overwhelmed right now and feel so blessed.

Thank you all for your continued prayers. I am sure we will need it. Plan on coming to welcome Judah (Jia Yu) home…I have a feeling he will take it all in and feel like a celebrity!

Have Chopsticks, Will Travel

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So first off, jet lag is real–very real. We may have been cocky enough to think that depriving ourselves of sleep before traveling to the other side of the world would do the trick. But let me tell you, it did not. In fact, it’s not even 6:30 pm here and we just had to wake grace up because she was about to fall alseep watching a Chinese nature show. I do not look forward to the fact that, after two weeks here, we will probably just be getting acclimated to the 13-hour time difference when we’ll have to get on a plane and return to Texas-time.

But enough about our weariness–time for the day’s update. Today we were going to meet up in the morning with our guide, Ming Ming, and another family who is also adopting a little girl from Shanghai, and have a guided tour day. In our minds, that meant that she would be with us the entire time, translating, helping bargain with the street vendos, telling us what not to eat, and guide-stuff like that. But unfortunately the other family had missed their flight in from Tokyo yesterday and so it would just us. Cool–private tour…not so much. Ming Ming had to go to the airport to get the other family to we were taken to the Shanghai Museum and turned loose on our own for an hour and a half. She returned long enough to pick us up and takes us to Peoples Square, wow – amazing, what I can only describe as China’s equivalent of times square. Hugh buildings and wide streets filled with every upscale store you can imagine. It was literally a sea of people and you can see how much the culture enjoys being outside and active, it felt like millions of people were there. It was obvious we were tourist and so we got to practice saying “no, thank you” in Chinese a LOT today. But, we did get a cool pair of light-up roller skates for Grace! It was cooler then yesterday and so we stopped at a Starbuck’s, just because something war, and familiar sounded homey. (Sorry, Kat…this one didn’t have gift cards. But we’re not giving up.) I, Rob, decided to live a little and try the green tea latte. It was surprising…sorta like warm grass clippings and milk. Well I tried, but I wont be doing that again. We then went in search of dumplings for lunch, some specific type Tabby had read was a must try and like yesterday we found ourselves in a food court chain but unlike yesterday there was absolutely nothing in English, there were no pictures of dishes to point and mumble at, and there were things to eat that non of us even remotely recognized. It was total immersion in the sites, smells and sounds of Shanghai. True adventure on out part. Thankfully, the dumpling restaurant had a hand-written menu behind the counter and the girl there, seeing our panic at ordering, pulled it out and saved our 9 year old from what surely have been misadventure. We had another delicous meal, even though we still arent exacly sure what ws in the dumblings it was much tastier than the chlorophyl latte.

After hopping in a cab and being relieved the whole show-your-hotel-card thing worked, a quick trip to the Happy Magic Family Mart (ok, it’s just Family Mart; but my version sounds more Chinese), we went back to the park by our hotel for a walk and so Grace could try out her cool skate things. There were more people there this time, and ALL of them were enamoured with the beautiful blonde-headed girl we had with us. We met an older gentleman who spoke a little English and was happy to chat and walk a bit. Saw some beautiful caged birds all over the park, much like our Jays in size and shape but colored differently, and as strange as it sounds they made a beautiful song that just seemed to be very Asian in melody. If Tabby could have taken one home she would have…add to the collection! Everyone was still very interested in us, mostly Grace, especially when we decided to sit down on a bench to watch a woman practicing Tai Chi. How cool right?! We quickly found ourselves in a conversation with an older Chinese man and woman. I say conversation in the loosest sense of the word. They spoke even less English than we spoke Chinese. After at least a good 20 minutes, we may have said a total of 10 words that the other understood (mamma, babba, dei dei for brother and mei mei for litte sister and of all things orange, pickle and London…go figure) and I’m sure they were amused by it all just as much as we were. It was good insight into what Judah will be experiencing and feeling, although we laughed and enjoyed the exchange it was stimulating and exhausting at the same time, we wanted so badly to understand. It made our hearts soften even more for Judah as he won’t get to go back to the land where he understands everyone after a couple of weeks, like we will.

Tomorrow is finally the day, though. At 9:30 a.m. China Time we will get our boy! The reality of that hit us in a big way today. After nearly two years of hurry up and wait, praying, fund-raising, and praying, waiting, and praying some more, we have finally reached the beginning of this new path God has put us on. We are nervous and scared and overwhelmed. We pick him up and spend about and hour at the SWI and then Ming Ming leaves and its just us and Judah for a day! Extreme parenting. Please pray we will not fear and that we are able to just love him and make him feel safe…and wanted.
I promise we will take more pictures than you will care to see, and will undoubtedly recount this whole tale if you happen to ask “How was China?” Thank you to everyone that has texted us encouragement and Truth from the Word. It really does mean a lot to know that Judah’s “extended family” back home has got our backs.

Stay tuned…the good stuff is about to come…

adventures at almosta ranch