I don’t care how prepared you are for adoption (…or parenthood…or most things, actually), you can’t actually be prepared until you walk through the experience. We’ve read all the books, attended an intensive orientation, followed blogs, asked for advice, joined Facebook groups, and still–nothing prepared us for the reality of yesterday when we first met Fei Xin (that’s what they call her–I’m switching to that from Xin Xin.)
It was chaotic in ways that are hard to describe; the first few days are like getting on a roller coaster–not a Six Flags or Disney World roller coaster, but the junkie, shaky, falling-apart-at-the-seams fairground roller coasters that come to the wrong side of the tracks. We strapped in, we’re upside down and topsy-turvy, and we have no idea what’s around the next curve.
The guides and the officials know where the lines are, what comes next, where to be, and we are bumping along in a whirlwind of activity. Much of this is cultural–our sense of the rhythm of how things should be done is very different from the bureaucrats’ sense. I’m eternally grateful for years of travel and experience with bureaucracy, especially the time we lost our passports trying to move to Brazil. I had no idea how those outrageously frustrating experiences in Brazil would prepare us for the bumping along feeling of waiting and going and signing and stamping all of the things that come with bringing home a little girl.
I had a hard time sleeping the night before our appointment Monday morning at 9:30–part jet lag, part nerves. We were up and ready at 5:30 in the morning, for what would turn out to be a long day. Our guide Zita is a gift; I love her intonation in English. When we ask her whether we can do something, she nods vehemently, “I think, can. I think, can.” We had a new girl, Amanda, who started training on her first day as well. She used to be a teacher of 3- to 4-year-olds and she’s been such a sweet presence the first few days, teaching our big girls Chinese phrases and drawing pictures with them. She and Zita have helped tremendously.
We ate an enormous, delicious, all-you-can-eat breakfast (which has been the absolute best part of our day, hands-down), grabbed all of our paperwork and our cameras, and met Zita, Amanda and our slightly grumpy driver (who smokes when we leave the van and sometimes shaves with what look like a big pair of tweezers when we pause in traffic).
First we went to the bank and exchanged money. The girls and I played “I Spy” and “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” The old man in the line next to us yelled so loudly at the poor teller that the guards finally came. Obviously something had happened to his money and he was really stressed. It was disconcerting and sad.
Then we rounded the corner to another government building for what will remain one of the most overwhelming and bewildering experiences of my life. We squeezed into a tiny, anonymous conference room with two other families, a couple from Hawaii and a mom and older daughter from Tennessee. Each of us had a guide and there were a handful of adoption officials; our cameras were ready but we had no idea if this was the room where we would receive the kids or what was happening. We held our cameras ready–Noelle had a pack of stickers, Joy had little stacking cups, and Jonathan and I had our cameras at the ready (the one thing I forgot to do–charge my camera or bring the charger–OF ALL THE THINGS. We’re borrowing a charger soon, but seriously, what kind of idiot forgets to charge their good camera to ADOPT A BABY? A tired idiot, that’s who.)
They shoved papers in front of us, we signed, dated, signed, dated, passed, nodded, smiled.
And then suddenly there was a little boy crying silently, deeply in the corner and his new mom was there with stickers and we realized that Fei Xin was coming into that tiny hot room where we all crowded around the table. Zita took Jonathan to pay the processing fees. The girls and I tried hard to give the sweet grieving boy and his new mom their space. The other adoptive mom and I made silly small talk. The girls were antsy and bouncing and ready.
And then Jonathan came back. Zita had my cell phone to take video. And we heard the voices around the corner encouraging her to come. “Jiang Fei XIn! Jiang Fei XIn!”
And she was there.
I wish I could load the video or pictures, but WordPress in China isn’t liking me too much right now. The video from when we arrived is hilarious. Zita took it. It’s all blurry. You can hear their voices–”Jiang Fei Xin, uh. Jiang Fei Xin! ….Ma Ma….Ba Ba…Ja Ja…” I have no idea what they’re saying other than introducing Mommy, Daddy and sisters. She came straight to me, held her sweet baby hands up, and just watched us seriously for a long time. She wore a little yellow panda coat that is already one of our most precious possessions.
And in the background of the video, you can hear the quiet cries of the little overwhelmed boy.
I’m glad she came to us so easily. You can see a lot of her personality in the videos; her nannies and Zita, who knows her, all say she really is easygoing and sweet.
And yet, it’s not a good things for a baby to go straight to someone they barely know. My older girls would never have done that at two years old. In the last two days, she’ll hold her hands out and walk straight to anyone. She’s a little love, there’s no question, but she’s a love who will need some serious attaching before she assigns her affection to the right people.
We have our work cut out for us.
The first day was easy. We looked at each other and smiled and played cups and teared up that she was here in the flesh and our daughter.
And then night hit. It’s clear this little girl loved her bed (when we went to the orphanage, which I’ll write about later, she walked straight to her bed and clung to it). When it came time to put her down in a strange bed in a strange hotel with a strange white family, she wasn’t having it. Not one little bit.
The way this little one can go from precious lump of love to rage-filled fit-throwing machine is impressive. The fit she threw for over an hour that first night was repeated the second day several times, most notably in the government office. We didn’t feed her enough at breakfast, we didn’t bring a big enough snack, and in the middle of the office while we promised never to abandon or abuse her, she threw a back-bending, screaming-Mimi fit.
We’ve learned, in two days, to feed her well, to make sure her clothes don’t touch her body and her obviously sensitive skin, and that at bedtime, she’s going to be very sad.
So even though the first day was easy, the second day might have been one of the roughest of our lives as parents. We never regretted this, of course not, but we looked at each other in the midst of the serious rage from a grieving baby, and knew we have a tough row ahead.
She’s darling. She laughs like a dolphin. She walks like an ewok. She loves rice and porridge and she obsessively loves her plastic stacking cups. She charms everyone who sees her and she writes on her Magnadoodle with her left hand.
She’s also in the midst of serious grief and culture shock. She perks up around Chinese people, especially when they talk to her, and she reaches her arms up to the waitresses at the restaurants and the guy watching the indoor swimming pool. She’s still not sure what to do with our big girls; one minute she adores them, the next she fights them for her toys or her bottle. They’ve been angels, but going from being the baby to the middle is really hard on Joy and moving from a little girl to a helpful oldest girl is hard on Noelle.
This has been really, really good. And it’s also been really, really hard. Two days in, we’re glad, tired, in love and digging in.