Monday, June 30, 2014

How quickly things change!

As my wife noted in her recent post, Caroline has been home for a month.  As I look back, I am astounded at how much she's changed in such a short time:

--- We're both convinced that she's gotten noticably taller.  We shall find out "officially" at her upcoming checkup.  I have also started marking her height on a corner in the kitchen, though this is not easy with such a wiggler!

--- She has more hair, enough that I suggested today that it was time for a trim.  My wife pointed out that Caroline is a girl (I HAD noticed that...), that having hair over her ears is not a bad thing, that she will most certainly not be getting whitewalls, and that I can take AR670-1 and shove it up... um... I can forget about it

--- She walks with more confidence each day.  This is, of course, a mixed blessing as this makes it harder to keep track of her, what she's doing and what she's putting in her mouth.  Is paper REALLY that tasty???

--- While she still eats a good bit with her fingers and still makes something of a mess at table, her skill with fork and spoon is pretty good.  No more oatmeal facials like a month ago.  Good heavens, I recall having to give her by hand almost every bite of food and every drop of liquid!  Was that really only last month???

--- She increasingly "understands" toys: give her a push button and you may be confident that it will be pushed, especially if noise results

--- She is learning to get out of her car seat.  For whatever reason, this has been so remarkable to me.  A week ago, she would sit immobile after I unbuckled her.  A few days ago, she started playing with the buckle as if trying to figure it out.  Now, she pushes the straps off her shoulders after I unlock everything and is starting to climb out on her own.  Amazing!

--- She babbles almost constantly.  When she finally learns to form words, I think we're going to have quite the little chatterbox on our hands

--- While she doesn't dress herself, she's getting increasingly helpful, i.e. she understands how to pull a shirt down over her head and push her hands into sleeves and feet into (usually one each) legs

--- She laughs a lot, either at us or at some joke in her head.  I recall my wife remarking while we were in China that Caroline had "old" eyes.  I'm thinking that this was less "old eyes" than simply confusion and grief over the loss of her foster family.  Now, she generally looks happy and playful (I say "generally" as she most certainly DOESN'T when it's time for a nap or a bath)

--- She seems to recognize herself in photos now.  I recall wondering in China whether she was self-aware: did she recognize the reflection in a mirror as herself or simply as some other child?

I wonder what she makes of her new life.  Does she remember China and her foster family?  Or is all of that - her first eighteen months - like a dream to her, one that she remembers less and less each day?

I confess that, when I stop to think about it, the whole thing is incredible.  This little girl, born on the other side of the world, is my daughter, my beautiful, giggly, active, bright, charming daughter.  Had she climbed out of a crashed spacecraft, the story could hardly be more unbelievable.  I don't expect her to lift the back of my truck... er... my Subaru, I meant to say, or to fly or run at 100mph, but I think she's pretty super.  As do her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  And we are so, so, SO lucky.

Friday, June 27, 2014


We have been home with Caroline for 4 weeks now.  It may seem like a short time, but I already cannot imagine life without her.  She is such a wonderful, happy child.  She loves to wear hats and play in the dirt.  I thought I would share some of the photos I've taken over the last few days.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

For the adoptive parent

A blog post that I found very interesting and bring to your attention:

When we are children, we do not give too much thought to our future as we do when we get older. We do not look at who we are and ask ourselves how we identify ourselves in the world. As a result, we miss out on opportunities to learn about ourselves. That is why, even if a child shows no interest in their heritage, you should still educate them about it. Make it a fun learning experience for them and have the whole family get involved. Later on when or if they become interested, they will have that background knowledge to build upon. I was very sheltered at a young age...(*)

It seems to me that the principle job of a parent is to prepare his child for adulthood, to give him the mental, physical and moral "tools" he needs to understand the world and make his own place in it.  Questions about race, culture, ethnicity and origin generally don't arise for parents with biological children or children of the same race / origin, but they can be very tricky for parents of trans-racial adopted children.

It's very useful to me to have these sorts of perspectives on the issue.  As I remarked on Red Thread Broken, I think that many (most?) white Americans don't think much about race and ethnic culture / heritage simply because, for most of us, our ancestry is such a muddle that these things don't play much of a role in our self-concept and likely far less than other things in our lives such as where we were born, where we went to college, what branch of the military we served in, or even what sports teams we root for.  So, it's perhaps a bit harder for the white parents of a non-white child to understand and explain them to the child; we have no personal point of reference.

As I've written before, I have no idea how much Caroline's Chinese heritage will mean to her as she grows older.  My task is to educate her about it as well as I can so that she will be prepared to make that decision when the time is right.





Somebody likes chocolate.  Oh, yes, she does!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hat or helmet?

I frequently wear a hat, either a ball cap or a fedora (a habit generally lost among American men due to President Kennedy).  I also loved to play War as a boy.  How gratifying, then, to see my daughter doing... well... one of those things!

Haute couture or ready for the front lines?  You be the judge!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Pleasant Goat and Great Grey Wolf

And now for something completely different...

My wife found on YouTube some subtitled episodes of a very popular Chinese animated cartoon called "Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf"*.  While I've only seen a few episodes, I enjoy them.  They hearken back to those thrilling days of my childhood when I could watch uncensored classic cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Popeye, Woody Woodpecker, and other uber-violent fare generally denied the more delicate children** of today.

The plot of the cartoons, so far as I can tell from the handful that I've seen, is pretty predictable:

A colony of rather juvenile sheep, under the leadership of their very wise, VERY slow elder (he is often shown being outrun by snails), live in bliss behind a large wall, put there by their ancestors to stop a pack of marauding wolves.  Life is good... until the Great Grey Wolf and his wife, the Great Red Wolf, move into the neighborhood, enticed by legends of a place where the sheep are numerous, fat and tasty.  Happily for the sheep (and the viewer!), Great Grey Wolf has quite a lot in common with a certain well-known Coyote: he is vain, pigheaded, and never manages to see the fatal flaws in his deeply-laid schemes to break into the sheep village.  Throw into the comic mix that he is very henpecked by his wife who, though she can't be bothered to try to catch the sheep herself, excels at post mortems when her husband returns, empty-handed and usually via crashing through the roof, from the hunt.

The animation of "Pleasant Goat" is primitive to say the least, what one might expect from a video game targeted at very young children.  However, the characters are interesting, the violence amusing, and the wolf especially an engaging character.  For those with small children recently home from China - or for big children who like animated slapstick a la Loony Tunes - this cartoon is worth a search on YouTube.


(*) 喜羊羊与灰太狼, Xǐ Yáng Yáng yǔ Huī Tài Láng

(**) There was a successful lawsuit against the producers of "Pleasant Goat" after two small boys injured themselves trying to imitate a scene from one of the episodes.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Maybe it's not such a bad thing, after all

During the adoption process, I had some lurking fears that I would have trouble accepting my daughter as... well... my daughter.  Those fears, I am pleased to say, have proved groundless.  While I'm still getting used to parenting, I (shall we say?) recognize Caroline as my daughter just as I recognize my mother and father as my parents, Chrystal as my wife, etc.  I don't think of myself as her "adoptive" father or her "other" father or her "second" father or even her "real" father, but simply as her father. 

I wonder: did the long adoption process help with this mental transition?  Did the "paperwork pregnancy" prepare me to accept her just as the father pacing nervously in the waiting room has been prepared by nine months of ultrasounds, doctor visits, weird cravings, etc. to accept the child that will soon be presented to him?  Would I feel the same about my daughter if she had been handed over to me after a few days instead of several months?  I think not.

Maybe that long wait isn't quite such a bad thing, after all.  Some things ARE worth the wait.  Very much worth the wait.  I also add as an aside that, while I was doing some yard work this morning, she came to the window and smiled and waved at me. That was pretty nice.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What she's up against, pt. 2

Some time ago, I lamented about the pressures that will very likely be brought to bear on my daughter as she grows older: she will be badgered from every TV show, movie, magazine cover, and advertisement to meet a very narrow, very artificial, very commercialized standard of beauty.

And now this...


I don't want to sound like one of those old fudds who think that Al Jolson, talkies and the New Deal signal the end of civilization, but what in the world are people thinking???  Is THIS what we want for our daughters???

On a somewhat related note, Red Thread Broken has a post regarding the "whitening" of dolls and Disney princesses.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The care and feeding of children

Ally of Even Miracles Take a Little Time recently commented:

It's so funny. You get a big brand new TV and you get a 1000 page how to. You have a child and they say ok here she is and good luck and a hug.  Thank GOD for parenting books and the internet, I think !? 

True dat!

To borrow from a joke about economists, the problem is that one can go to ten different sources on how to deal with this or that problem and get eleven different answers!  For example:

--- How much should she eat?  On what sort of schedule?  WHAT should she eat?

--- How much should she sleep?  On what sort of schedule?  What if she doesn't act tired: should she still go down?  What if she DOES act tired long before she's scheduled to go down?

--- When should we start potty training? (my wife is working hard to break me of using the term "house breaking")

--- What about play?  Am I a bad parent because I do / don't put on educational videos or let her play by herself or try to guide her play?

--- I gave her a math book and even opened it for her.  Should I worry that, instead of trying to work some problems, she started chewing on the cover?


Whether to give her chicken or fish for lunch shouldn't be such a hard choice!

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Ghost and Mr. Gammage

I have written before about The Ghost at the Feast: the birth mother.  Very recently, I have written about a book that has been so helpful to me during the process of adopting our daughter and becoming a father (two ENTIRELY different things!), China Ghosts by Jeff Gammage.  By coincidence, my wife found a more recent article by Gammage where the ghost of the birth FATHER makes his appearance:

One night last summer, I was putting my 10-year-old daughter [Zhao Gu] to bed when she gave me the news:

"Dad, you're the best dad in the entire world . . ."

Oh, I answered, thank you!

" . . . except for my birth-dad."

Now, it occurs to me (from my safe position as a spectator) that it's perfectly normal for a child to sooner or later have somebody other that his father occupy the #1 slot on his list of People I Admire Most in the World.  In my case, that honor has been held variously by Presidents Washington and Jackson, Admiral Nimitz, Winston Churchill and Alvin York.  This is not at all to say that I don't love and honor my father or that I would trade him for any of the men I've just named (imagine having Andrew Jackson, bloody Andrew Jackson, as a father!).  I simply say that it's normal for a child to find somebody he admires, a process made easier by the fact that the person he knows only through TV, books or his imagination never sends him to bed early, punishes him for not cleaning his room or does any of the other unpleasant things that fathers have to do.  As Gammage notes, his daughter MIGHT have chosen some pop star!

Still, Gammage has much the attitude towards this unknown man that I think I would towards Caroline's biological father:

I think we would have a lot to say to each other, not all of it pleasant.


Gammage also brings up a related topic: what is expected of us as fathers?

The other day, Zhao Gu brought me her copy of Romeo and Juliet, wanting to dissect the plot structure. She left disappointed to realize her dad doesn't know much about Shakespeare.

I am reminded of the scene in "It's a Wonderful Life" where the adolescent George Bailey, realizing that Mr. Gower, drunk and shattered by the death of his son, has accidentally put poison into a child's prescription.  George wonders what to do and sees an advertisement: "Ask Dad: He knows!"

Yes, Dad is ALWAYS supposed to know.  Just look at Mike Brady or Ozzie Nelson or Dr. Benton Quest or any other TV dad who always had the answer. 

Well, of course we (may a man who's been a father for less than a month say "we"?) don't always know the Right Answer to Life's Little Problems anymore than we know how to dissect the plot structure of Romeo and Juliet.  We do the best that we can, hoping to get it right at crunch time.  Gammage writes about this in his book:

Now that I'm a father, now that I'm the age my parents were when they were raising me, I know: they were making it up.  The were doing their best to apply their knowledge and experience in a way that seemed appropriate to the situation.

I will not always know what to do and I regret to say that I'm pretty sure that my daughter will figure this out pretty quickly, though I hope I'm rather more Mike Brady than Homer Simpson!  But, like Gammage, his father, my father, and all those fathers stretching back to old Adam (and including both the man who is responsible for my daughter's birth and the splendid fellow who cared for her for sixteen months in China), I will do the best that I can.

And that includes trying to be graceful if, one day, Caroline informs me that I'm #2 on her list, taking a backseat to the Ghost.

No I'm Not Taking A Nap

Since we've been home, we have struggled with Caroline taking a nap.  She goes down fairly easily at night, but at nap time she fights it tooth and nail.  We have been letting her sleep in her toddler bed at nap time.  Although she would often scream for 30 minutes or more, most days she would eventually go to sleep in the toddler bed.


Yesterday reached new heights in her refusal to take a nap.  She was acting very sleepy so I put her down around 11:30.  She did her normal screaming for about 20 minutes and then it got quite.  I assumed that Caroline was asleep.  Oh was I wrong about that.  After about 10 minutes, she started crying again.  Jim commented that it sounded like her door was open.  I decided I should check on her.  I stepped into the hall and there she was sitting.  Not only had she climbed out of the toddler bed, she had opened the door and was headed down the hall.  We decided to let her stay up until after lunch.


Just before Jim left for work, he put her back down for a nap.  Once again she cried for about 20 minutes and got quite.  I decided after about 20 more minutes to check on her.  This is what I found:

Notice all the pillows, rails and other protection.  I added pillows to the floor at the end of the bed after I saw this.

She was stuck with her legs dangling at the bottom of the bed.  She was really pouting.  I laid Caroline back down in the bed 4 times.  Thinking that she was finally going to take her nap, I went back to my office in the front of the house to work.  She cried for a few minutes and then it got quite.  Finally sleep, sweet sleep.  WRONG!!!  She was laying in her bed scheming how she was going to get out.  About 20 minutes after laying down, I heard a huge boom and a blood curdling scream.  I panicked and went running forgetting that you have to open the baby gate before you run through it.  I almost fell, but managed to grab the wall to avoid a fall and continued running toward Caroline's room.  When I got there I found her on the floor in the crawl position very close to her toy box.  She had apparently tried to climb down the end of the bed and fell.  After close inspection, I saw that she was fine.  She just scared herself and needed some Mama loving.  Thank God she was not hurt.  I, on the other hand, was not so lucky.  One of the toes on my left foot is most likely stove up and my right foot is covered in bruises. 

My friend Robin happened to be walking up when all of this was going on.  She heard and witnessed the commotion and was very concerned.  Once she made sure we were both ok.  She said "WELCOME TO PARENTHOOD."

I'm a mother and it is so worth it!!!  I am blessed with a smart and curious girl.

Feeling blessed even under the circumstances,


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Photos - Caroline Since We've Been Home

I plan to post many photos of Caroline and our Journey to her soon.  I've been trying to get some posts together as Jim is far ahead of me in that department.  He is the writer.  I'm the photographer.  I wanted to share a few photos that I have taken since we've been home. 

Caroline is getting to know her family.  Here she is with her Cousin Paige.

Caroline loves our dogs.  She was only scared of them the first night.  She initiates contact with them and even lets them give her kisses.

Caroline has learned to play.  She barely knew what toys were 3 weeks ago.

Caroline is such a happy child

Caroline has mastered peek-a-boo

Being Silly

Caroline happy to be playing in our sunroom

I look forward to sharing many more photos of our sweet, adorable girl.  She will be meeting my Grandmother and some of my extended family on Saturday.  I can't wait to see her with my Grandmother.

Feeling Blessed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

We progress

When I stop to realize that our daughter has been with us for only twenty-three days and home for only eleven, it's truly astonishing what changes there have been.  There are the important but prosaic changes, such as her learning to use a sippy cup or start to learn to use a fork and spoon or sleep through the night.  There are those milestones such as her taking her first unassisted steps or learning to talk (soon, we hope).

But there are the subtler changes that involve becoming a parent.  When we were in China, one of the other men in our group, already a father, told me that becoming a father was for him a real watershed: his life changed so much that he could hardly remember what it was like before they adopted their first son.  I see what he meant.  It's a bit hard for me to realize that, this time only last month, fatherhood was a purely hypothetical state of being for me.  Now that Caroline is with us... It's hard to remember or imagine life without her.

The first book I read about international adoption was China Ghosts(1) by Jeff Gammage.  Gammage's thoughts prior to becoming a father - indeed, when his wife first proposed adopting a child - were very much like my own:

When it came to the subject of having children, the role of Most Important Person in the Story of My Life was already filled by someone infinitely better suited for the job: me.

I didn't need an eight-pound understudy.

Needless to say, Gammage's attitude changed radically... as has mine:

Becoming a father is like growing a new skin.  It make you aware of and sensitive to all kinds of new sensations, to experiences heretofore unnoticed and unimagined.

Yes, one of those is the scent of toxic waste that indicates that a diaper needs to be changed, but I've been surprised that I've taken this in stride, just as I (more or less) have done with cleaning child, high chair and floor after a meal, or toys scattered all over the room that I had regarded as my own private refuge, or having to structure my day around meals and naps.  Another of those new sensations that Gammage writes about is learning to enjoy doing something for somebody else, to revel in what to the pre-fatherhood man would have been a chore or a burden to be put off or avoided.

I realize that we will continue to progress, that her coos and giggles and jabber will become words, and that (sooner or later) those words will be irritating or hurtful.  I realize that we will continue to progress, and the joy of watching her learn to walk will (sooner or later) become annoyance or even panic when she walks somewhere that she shouldn't.

But the biggest progress, the Big Step, has been achieved, and it's really a remarkable thing:

I am a father, and this little girl is my daughter.


(1) Gammage, Jeff.  China Ghosts: My Daughter's Journey to America, My Passage to Fatherhood.  New York: Harper Collins, 2007.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Her story

We recently met a family with several adopted children.  Their mother was talking about some problems they had with the process for getting their youngest (apparently, they had to stay in-country for much longer than anticipated) when the oldest piped up and admonished her for telling the child's story.

What is meant by an adoptee's "story"?  Have we not inadvertently set up adoptees as victims or, at least, a special class of people who have "their" stories that they and ONLY they can tell?  Are we putting these children on a hair trigger to get defensive about their background, as if there is something shameful about it?

I don't know.  Certainly there is and will be information about my daughter that ought to be private, between her and us or even (especially when she's older) kept to herself.  But it seems to me that this is so for any child: it would be wrong, for example, for a parent to publicly expose details of how his son cried after losing a game or how his daughter got dumped by a boy she really liked.  We all have things about ourselves that we'd rather other people not know, either because they are embarrassing or simply because they are nobody's business but our own.

In writing this blog, are my wife and I violating our daughter's privacy?  I don't think so.  I hope that, if she ever reads what we've written, she'll see only the sorts of stories that all parents tell about their children, and that they are told with love and pride (and maybe a little humor).

So, what shall I tell my daughter about "her story" and other people?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Some photos from Wuhan and Guangzhou

A "clear" day in Wuhan.  This is actually a bit unfair as the sky did clear up a little while we were there, but this haze was typical
Breakfast at the Poly Hotel, Wuhan.  The buffet featured both Chinese and western food, and had some of the best coffee I've ever drunk

This park was near our hotel in Wuhan.  We found that such parks with gym-type exercize equipment are very common.  The people showed polite and friendly interest in us; this was the start of learning how likable the Chinese can be

Another park in Wuhan.  I had read that it's very common for grandparents to do the day-to-day job of raising children, and we saw quite a few examples of this

My first glimpse of our daughter at Civil Affairs in Wuhan.  Chrystal was overcome with emotion

And the next day, it was official.  A couple of more days of paperwork, and it was off to Guangzhou

There was a McDonalds next to our hotel in Guangzhou.  Caroline really, REALLY liked my hot fudge sundae!

The Liuhuahe Park in Guangzhou was near our hotel. Caroline and I spent a couple of afternoons there.  It was absolutely beautiful: large, peaceful and beautifully maintained, a real treasure in the middle of city of fourteen MILLION people
Grotto in Liuhuahe Park

Caroline and the Caterpillar, Liuhuahe Park

There is a small art gallery in Liuhuahe Park, including this statue of a rather familiar bird out front

Such a nice place for a quiet stroll!  Note that the vegetation is tropical and lush: Guangzhou is (ahem) rather warm in May!

Outside Liuhuahe Park is the bustling city of Guangzhou, known as Canton in the days of the China clippers.  In the distance are construction cranes, which ought to be the national symbol of China as they are EVERYWHERE.  From what we saw of the country, it's charging ahead into the future

Outdoor concert, Liuhuahe Park

Many signs in China are bilingual.  However, sometimes the translation isn't QUITE all the writers might wish!

It's true: the Chinese love ping pong

The victories that count

What, my friends, is the conquest of one nation by another? It is meaningless. Each produces the same result. But those fierce fights, when in the dawn of the ages the cave-dwellers held their own against the tiger folk, or the elephants first found that they had a master, those were the real conquests--the victories that count.

Prof. George Edward Challenger
in The Lost World, by Arthur Conan Doyle

With all due respect to Professor Challenger, the victories that count are a bit more pedestrian.  When your daughter sleeps through the night, THAT'S a victory that counts.  When she goes down for her nap without a forty-five minute screaming bout, THAT'S a victory that counts.  When she uses a sippy cup instead of having to be spoon-fed her liquids, THAT'S a victory that counts.  When she stands up without having to cling to some support, THAT'S a victory that counts.  When she learns to walk unaided... OK, that might be a very Pyrrhic victory as I anticipate going from carrying her around everywhere to pursuing her everywhere.

How the horizons of my world have collapsed!

All that being said, it's well to remember that, just because things are going well from MY perspective, they may not be from HER perspective.  This will be increasingly important as she gets older, when I'm ecstatic that she's getting straight A's but she's miserable from too much pressure, or I'm pleased that she's quiet and not running with a bad crowd but she feels isolated and picked on.  An excellent exposition on this by a transracial adoptee may be found here:

Most of us, I think, do the most hardcore soul searching when we are so-called adults. And that is when we really need to feel like we can talk to you, like you won’t be defensive, like you’re open to hearing things we feel embarrassed/ashamed/scared of feeling. That is when we need all the wisdom, perspective and strength that you have gained from continuously reading, learning and embracing this new world in which you decided to relocate when you signed on board…everything you’ve collected while we were doing the important job of growing up.

But one thing at a time, one thing at a time.  I plan to keep focused on (or, at least, aware of) race, culture, identity, and other adoption issues just as I plan to be focused on grades, extra-curicular activies, self-esteem, dating, bullying, and all the other potential problems my daughter may face as she goes through life.

But, for now, those things are taking a VERY back seat to just getting her to take a nap.

Friday, June 6, 2014

TRAVELING TO CHINA, or I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now

These are some reflections and tips regarding travel to China.  They are based on our recent experiences as first-time adoptive parents, and are intended for other first-time adoptive parents.  Read at your own risk!


It may seem odd to start out with this topic, but I think it's quite important.  Consider: you're traveling to a country on the other side of the world.  You're going to be tired and probably sore from the air travel.  You're going to be jet lagged like you've probably never been jet lagged before.  The food is unfamiliar; the air probably bad; the water highly dubious.  You'll be harried and harassed, having to constantly go-go-go from bus to meeting to taxi to office.  And, on top of all this, you'll be dealing with a child who is new to you, who may have health issues of his own, and who almost certainly will have some (ahem) psychological adjustments to make upon being handed over to his new parents.  You MUST keep your strength and spirits up, and that means taking good care of your health.  So...

--- Prepare to be your own doctor. If you even THINK you'll need a med, whether it be allergy pills, antibiotics, pills for motion sickness, laxatives, eye drops, or anything else, TAKE IT ALONG. We took along a Z-pack against getting a stomach bug, and this came in VERY handy not only for us but also for another person in our group when a respiratory infection started making the rounds. Consider your child in this, too: a bottle of children's ibuprofen or Orajel may be a godsend

--- It's possible to buy various OTC drugs in China, but consider that the labels will be... well... in Chinese. Further, some drugs that are OTC here may not be there, or may be much more expensive. Finally, the druggist may not speak English. Happily, our guide in Guangzhou was kind enough to get Chrystal some cough syrup; otherwise, she would have been out of luck

--- If you have food allergies or there are certain foods that you otherwise cannot eat, get a card to this effect printed up before you go to carry with you.  This is not a fool-proof plan (I collect that food allergies are not nearly as common in China as they are here and hence the card may bewilder the average waiter), but it's better than nothing

--- As soon as possible after you arrive, arrange with your guide to get a supply of bottled water.  We bought a case our first morning in Wuhan.  Not only did this save us from having to pay hotel rates, we had a reliable supply of water to stay hydrated and avoid potential stomach bugs from the local tap water

--- We took a supply of Emergen-C packets and probiotic tablets.  Maybe they helped; maybe not.  Nevertheless, I was glad to have them

--- We also took along a small stash of junk food: cereal bars, crackers, etc.  These were helpful on the plane and after we got our daughter

--- Consider something to help you sleep, whether it's an OTC sleeping drug or melatonin.  This is especially useful on the plane ride

--- Many parts of China and especially Guangzhou are very hot and humid. Zinc oxide ointment is helpful in case of chafing or prickly heat. In a pinch, diaper rash ointment works well (a friend of mine put me onto Boudreaux's Butt Paste, which he regards as indispensable when hiking. He's right)


--- While your hotel room and most airport bathrooms will have western-style toilets, you will very likely encounter the (in)famous squattie-pottie. This is, I believe, rather more of an issue for women than for men. All I can say is that baby wipes are NOT just for baby, practice deep knee bends, and good luck!


--- Be aware that the Chinese domestic airlines and trains have rather different rules regarding baggage than American airlines and trains.  Make sure that your bags meet those requirements well ahead of time so you can buy / borrow whatever you might need

--- Especially if you haven't done a lot of international travel, you may well find yourself handling your luggage rather more than you're used to due to customs, security, connections, etc.  Consider too that you'll have a child with you on the return trip.  In other words, travel as light as possible

--- I know, I know: I suggest that you travel as light as possible.  However, I'm also a big believer in redundancy: have two or more of critical items, especially medications, in different bags such that, it one is lost, you have a spare

--- Along the same lines, take duplicate copies of important paperwork (adoption forms, passports, visas, etc.).  Also, take electronic copies on your phone, tablet, laptop, etc.

--- You will come home with even more documents, especially a visa packet that you must turn over UNOPENED to ICE at your port of entry into the USA.  We were never told what would happen if the packet happened to be opened, though the word "Gitmo" was muttered... At any rate, a document organizer to keep these things in order and protected in your carry-on (do NOT put the visa packet into a checked bag!) is a good idea.  Oh, and in the event that one parent (Mama) has done most of the paperwork and the other (Baba) has no clue about it other than he's signed a lot of things over the past several months, it's really useful to go through the documents prior to leaving so that words and phrases like "I-800" and "National Visa Center" are not completely unfamiliar

--- Compression sacks are your friend. Yes, your clothes will get rather wrinkled, but it's possible to get quite a lot of clothes into a package that will fit into a medium-sized backpack.  Remember that, in addition to your clothes, toiletries, and other personal items, you'll be packing for your child AND taking along a number of gifts for various officials, so space (and weight) in your luggage will be at a premium.  Ditto on the return trip if you plan to buy gifts for the folks back home or future birthday presents for your child


--- Cotton is NOT your friend in China, especially in the summer. Lightweight athletic / hiking clothing (ESPECIALLY underwear) that is designed to wick away moisture from your skin and dry quickly is strongly recommended. Not only will you stay more comfortable, this sort of thing is easy to wash and drip-dry in your hotel room in a pinch

--- You will very likely go through clothes much faster there than you do at home because (depending on the time of year you travel and the city / province you are in) the air appallingly dirty. Therefore, it doesn't hurt to take along a little laundry detergent. Yes, the hotels we were in provided laundry service, but it was horribly expensive. Things are a bit different in Guangzhou because there are many shops on Shamian Island that provide inexpensive laundry services (though it may not be same-day), but we were fortunate that another family in our group brought along some little detergent packs and shared, so we were able to wash a few items in our hotel bath tub

--- We were told that we had to dress up a bit to go to the consulate.  We were the only people who did


--- Set up a VPN on all internet-capable devices before leaving the States, and ensure that they work and that you've got the passwords with you.  Otherwise, you may well run up against the various firewalls that the Chinese government has established.  Note that some VPN's seem to work better in some provinces than in others.  We used ExpressVPN in Wuhan and Guangzhou.  Panda Pow did not work for us, but other people have reported that it and Onavo worked great for them in other provinces.

--- Talk to your cellular provider about your devices and especially about the cost of "roaming" in China.  It can be very expensive for data plans.  They can be in excess of $21 for 100mb of data.  Although we did not use one, many people order a Panda phone to be picked up in Country.

--- Take along several power adapters (remember: NOT all in the same bag!)

--- Make sure you've got books, audio books, music, movies, games and other forms of entertainment both for you and for your child loaded up on your devices.  Trust me: you'll likely be spending A LOT of time in airport waiting areas, and a cartoon is a good way to distract a fractious child

--- Contact your credit card company(ies) and bank to make sure that they know you'll be overseas lest they suspend your account when they start to notice all these purchases in China!

--- Exchanging money wasn't a problem for us: the hotels provided that service.  Nevertheless, I suggest getting a few hundred yuan (aka RMB) before leaving the US.  Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it, I always say

--- Do not count on being able to use credit cards in China.  I don't say you absolutely can't, but many places do not accept them

--- Check with your agency about how much cash to take and especially denominations.  The Chinese are apparently leery of the new US $100 bills; we took $50 bills

--- Tipping is not at all common in China, and there is no sales tax.  How nice to buy something and pay EXACTLY the price marked on the tag or menu!

--- Haggling and dickering IS common in China, especially on Shamian Island


--- As I've noted before, we found the Chinese we met to be very nice people: pleasant, friendly and helpful.  Depending on the province, many Chinese also speak at least a little English.  Finally, most signs that we saw (especially that most important one, "Toilet") were in English and Chinese.  However, it helps to know a few key words, phrases and characters (I found knowing simple numbers to be very useful).  Not only will this be of use to you, it also makes a good impression on them.  A basic Chinese language program is therefore a good investment in the months before your trip

--- Don't worry about money: the numbers printed on Chinese bank bills and coins are the same Arabic numbers used here: a 5 RMB bill has "5" printed on it, not "".  Ditto such things as floor numbers in elevators

And, last but not least...


--- Take along a few simple toys.  My wife bought stacking cups, and they worked quite well for us.  We were surprised to find that our daughter apparently had no idea what a stuffed animal was or how to play with it, so teddy bears and dolls MAY not be useful.  Ditto toys that require pushing buttons, turning knobs or the like.  (Note:  This may vary depending on the age of the child.  One fried adopted a 3 year old and she loved dolls.  It does appear to hold true to younger children.)

--- Prepare for gross errors in your child's size measurement, so having a few outfits (especially shoes) of different sizes is a good idea

--- Depending on your child's age and mobility, some way to carry him around other than your arms is dead useful. We had a baby carrier, but the stroller we bought (cheap) on Shamian Island was a godsend

--- Prepare yourself for the worst.  I saw children who FOR DAYS after "Gotcha" would scream at the sight of one or both parents; children who melted down for hours at the drop of a hat; children who were uncontrollable; children who were violent and / or destructive.  Yes, all those terrible behaviors that result from abandonment, institutionalization, and being thrust into the arms of new parents are real.  I found that it's one thing to know about them; it's quite another to see them "up close and VERY personal"

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Talk about OJT!

I generally like to think that I'm a bright fellow.  Part of my job is solving - even anticipating - problems and preparing for them.

Fatherhood makes me feel like an idiot.  Oh, well: I suppose it's all a learning experience.  For example:

--- We let Caroline go without a nap at the deepest peril.  She's like a VERY mean drunk without her afternoon snooze.  This is somewhat a blessing in disguise as we find that she will sleep in her stroller, which gives a certain chubby Baba another good reason to take long, regular walks

--- There are certain items that one MUST have in-hand when leaving the house.  I feel especially stupid about this one as friends explicitly warned me about The Diaper Bag

--- She has surprisingly long arms and quick hands

--- Chocolate milk and white leggings do not belong in the same place at the same time (VERY quick hands...)

Chocolate milk + white leggings = OH NO!
At least we remembered a bib...

--- Dirt apparently is delicious (who knew???)

--- Puppy pads work quite well as an accessory for diaper changes

Some of the problems we anticipated, such as terror of a car seat, have not manifested themselves.  Caroline is generally a calm, easy-going child and got into her car seat for the first time with complete equanimity (the same may not be said for ol' Baba trying to install the thing!).  But one problem has showed up big time: sleeping.  Despite (or, perhaps, due to) the fact that she slept in a crib with her foster parents, the crib apparently is NOT her favorite vacation spot.  We are trying to work out sleeping arrangements such that all of us get a reasonable amount of rest.  It's definitely a priority project.  Oh, if only she could be like me and LONG for a nice afternoon nap and nine solid hours at night!

I anticipate that we'll be dealing with walking very soon.  We think that she can probably walk now, but she doesn't quite realize it.  The Chocolate Milk Incident should serve as a serious wake-up call to us both: if we don't want something to end up in the floor, in her hands, or in her mouth, we'd better keep it locked away or, at least, well above Caroline level.

Monday, June 2, 2014


We received a sneak peak of our Welcome Home Photography from Jen Memory at Inspired Memorys Photography last night.  I can't wait to see all the photos.  We had been traveling for 30 hours when we stepped on that escalator, but I felt it was so important to have those memories captured by a professional.  We really appreciate that Jen was easy going about coming to the airport so late to share our special moment.  Check her out if you need photos in the Winston Salem, NC area.


We feel so blessed!