***This is another long chapter! It is a story that Mei Li will want to hear every detail of someday. It’s the day we met our little Mei! If you’re just interested in the photos and videos, scroll down…They’re embedded within the chapter. Some of the pictures are not crisp and clear…it just depended which of the 3 devices was used. Too bad they all weren’t super clear! Oh, well….it’s CLEAR we had an amazing child!
Wuhan – Day 1 – October 19, 2014: We’re in Wuhan! Oh, boy…or should I say, OH GIRL! We’re on your doorstep!
On our way from the airport in Wuhan to our hotel, our guide, Christina (born and raised in Wuhan) gave us a great overview about the city of Wuhan. Wuhan actually sits on the Yangtze River which is the longest river in China and the third longest in the world behind only the Nile and the Amazon! The city of Wuhan, like many other cities in China, has seen rapid growth in the last decade. One side of the river is the “cultural” side while the other is the “commercial” side. Christina said that the commercial side did not really exist ten years ago but today looks like a major metropolitan area. Wuhan has several colleges and universities and actually ranks third in the country in education behind only Shanghai and Beijing. As our bus navigated the VERY busy streets, we saw approximately 30-40 new apartment/condo complexes being built. We just could not get over the number of cranes and the construction that was happening as we worked our way into the city center. Almost 10 million people call Wuhan home….and it seems like the city is still growing. When visiting Toronto, Canada, we might see 1 or 2 cranes building something new. Here, it was crane after crane after crane for miles!
The coolest part of this 45 minute ride from the airport, was when Christina pointed out the orphanage across the river. Even though it was a good distance away, the building with its red roof, seemed massive. We found out later that approximately 500 children reside in this orphanage and about 500 more are the responsibility of the orphanage, but are residing in foster care. Mei Li is a fostered child, a responsibility of this orphanage for just one more day.
*** A 30 second glimpse of Wuhan: http://youtu.be/a_WJrlxiBNA
Our hotel (formerly called The White Swan, but now called the Wuhan Poly Hotel) was nice, but as stated in the last chapter, our room was small, and not very conducive to having small children. (Some families upgrade to suites, but we were on a budget. In exchange for a suite, we brought James! A very valuable and important part of this journey!) Another interesting thing about the room was the glass wall that divided the actual room from the bathroom. Yup…you could see right through! There was a curtain that could be drawn, but oddly enough, the people in the bedroom portion were in control of the curtain, because it wasn’t on the inside of the glass wall…it was on the outside! Christine had read on another adoptive mom’s blog that this was great for her newly adopted child, because he needed to see her at all times. The curtain was definitely CLOSED the entire time we were there!
Jim took James down to the pool that night while Christine organized the gifts for the foster family, orphanage director and the orphanage nannies. It is customary to bring gifts for certain people during the adoption process in China, but they do not need to be expensive. The gifts would not be opened in front of us, as it is considered rude to open a gift in front of the person giving it. Christine was stressing about the gifts and had done some searching on other family’s blogs and asked around on some Facebook adoption groups about what people usually bring. We also had to think about “space in our luggage” as we had done “carry on only”. We finally settled on some sheets of Limited Edition US Postage stamps that had a Chinese New Year (Year of the Horse) graphic on them. They can’t be used in China, but apparently they are sold, traded or collected in China. Someone had told us that they are “like gold” in China. They are “Made in America” but have something meaningful to China on them, which is why they are so sought after in China. Christine felt this was perfect as they were flat and light…and slid in the luggage without any hassle! We also brought some playing cards that were “Made in USA” that had images of NY state on them. For the foster family…Jim got a baseball hat from the school he teaches at, (also where Mei will attend school next fall) and Christine had a necklace designed for the foster mother. It was made of a piece of beach glass from the Great Lakes, not far from where we live, two pearls from China and a family stamped charm. Mei Li will have a matching necklace for herself. We hope that these ladies will be able to meet again someday.
October 20, 2014: Happy Mei-Day for the Hanlons and Happy 40th Birthday to Christine! What an amazing day this will be. We woke up rested, but a little nervous. The moments seem so surreal. What is the last trip in an elevator without Mei Li like? The last breakfast? The last ride in a van?….It’s hard to put into words….but there were definitely butterflies fluttering around in our stomachs! I felt like if I opened my mouth wide enough, one would flutter out! After breakfast, the three families adopting through Holt International (our agency), were joined by one additional family from another agency. Four families would be receiving the greatest gift today….after all, every child is a gift. They just come to us in different ways! We paused for a group shot in the lobby and boarded the bus for the Civil Affairs Office.
Meanwhile, Mei Li’s foster mother would be preparing her for a trip from their home, back to the orphanage. They would say their goodbyes there, and Mei Li, and three other boys would be brought to the Civil Affairs Office by the orphanage nannies and the Director of the orphanage.
Our guide told us that when we arrived at the Civil Affairs Office, we would need to fill out some paper work. (Surprise, more paperwork!) The families were seated at a very large wooden conference table, and began filling in multiple copies of different forms. We were just about finished with the paperwork, when Christine heard something behind her. There were the nannies filtering in with the kids….and Mei Li was right in front. Whoooosh! Have you ever felt that leap in your stomach when you fly down the first big hill of a really fast roller coaster? That’s what it was like….As soon as we saw her, we knew an adventure was about to begin.
Christine grabbed Jim’s ipad and snapped two pictures (above)…and even though the paperwork wasn’t finished, we abandoned it and went to meet our little girl. We didn’t know what to expect because we had seen a wide range of videos of parents meeting their children for the first time. Most of the children cry. That is what we were expecting…..but that is not what we got. Jim picked up the iPad from Christine and resumed his job as amateur photographer/videographer. The orphanage nanny set down several bags of gifts for us, pulled out the photo album we had sent her several months ago and pointed out the pictures, saying, “Mama, Baba, GeGe” (Mama, Dada and Big Brother). She then pushed up Mei Li’s sleeve and revealed her bracelet that Christine made and we all put our wrists in to show we all were wearing the same bracelet. “Go Team Hanlon!” Mei Li smiled….and proceeded to smile for the rest of the day. There were no tears….at all. She is amazing.
Prior to leaving for China, James had seen many people bring gifts for Mei Li. He asked one day if he could get a gift for Mei. We made a trip to the mall where he picked out a funky rainbow headband with pigtails and some necklaces and bracelets to match. James and I pulled out the headband and necklaces and she was ready and willing to put them on. All the women in the office (orphanage nannies, our guide and the assistant director of the orphanage) thought she was super cute and watched as we dressed up our sweet girl in James’s gifts. We also brought her a stuffed panda bear, which was a gift from some of Jim’s colleagues, and she grabbed on and gave it a big squeeze. Jim was kneeling down filming, and Mei Li walked around and hopped on his back for a ride. This little girl was ours….and she fit right in like she had always been there.
After what felt like only a few minutes, our guide and the nannies needed to speak with one of us. They shared with us the gifts from the orphanage (a beautiful plaque of the orphanage, a photo album containing many pictures of Mei Li from the day she was found to the present, a photocopy of the note that was found with her indicating her birthday and time, and many edible treats.) While Christine spoke with the nannies, Jim, James and Mei Li were off and running toward the playroom! Christine soon joined in the fun. We played with a ball, a see-saw, and a few other cool toys in the Civil Affairs Office.
Soon we were being ushered out of the Civil Affairs Office and back on the bus. As we left the Civil Affairs Office, we passed by a van containing several of the orphanage nannies that had just delivered the children to their forever families. The door to the van was slid all the way open, and as we walked by, Mei Li began to wave and say, “Bye Bye!” I think it melted the hearts of all the nannies. Their serious faces turned to smiles and waved back. (Chinese people use the English word for “Bye Bye” and Mei Li knew it well. She said “Bye Bye” to everyone from our cab drivers to random people on the streets.) Our next stop for the day was another government office where Mei Li would get her picture taken for her passport. While on the bus, Mei Li demonstrated that she had experience with an iphone. She slid her finger back and forth on the screen and held it up to her ear pretending to talk. She enjoyed playing with James and James’s friend, Jay, but was clearly confused by who was her brother. She referred to Jay as her “GeGe!” Since Jay attends a Chinese Immersion School, he corrected her in Mandarin that he was not her brother, and that James was.
When we arrived at the next government office, Christina led us to a room in the far back and asked Mei Li to go first, pointing to a metal stool for her to sit on. Mei looked around for a minute, then made a sour face like she was going to cry. This is the first time we saw Mei start to get upset. It was easy to see she was nervous and reached out for Christine to pick her back up. This is a good sign! She trusted Christine enough already to reach for her when she was nervous! Our guide spoke to Mei Li in Mandarin and after about 15 seconds, she was all done! We just had to wait for the other families before we could take her back to our hotel and get to know our bundle of energy.
Back at the hotel, we took off several of the layers of clothing her foster mom had dressed her in. (Chinese mothers and grandmothers dress their children in many many layers, so that they can barely “put their arms down.” It is a sign of poor parenting if the kids are not practically sweating.) Mei had a layer of pajamas on under a pair of jeans and a very thick sweatshirt. James had been “dreaming” of brushing Mei Li’s hair, so that was one of the first things he did with her. We also played with a blow up beach ball and some balloons. Mei Li LOVED the ball…in fact she loved just about everything we did. We had so much fun, throwing balls and bopping the balloons…we totally forgot she needed a nap! We ordered some room service…which came with a birthday cake for Christine, courtesy of the hotel! After dinner, James wanted to swim in the pool, so Jim stayed in the room with Mei Li. It wasn’t long before she took a blanket from the bed and spread it out on the floor, laid down on it, and gazed at the TV. As she started to doze off, Jim lifted her to her crib where she slept soundly until about 9pm when she woke, fussing….which turned into crying for about 10 minutes. Christine scooped her up and tried to snuggle her, but Mei Li only pushed her away pointing at the crib. Christine laid her back down and she slept for the rest of the night without a sound….until 4:30 am…which is about the same time as James was still waking up, so the early hour didn’t really matter. Besides, she woke up happy and ready for more fun!
An 8 minute video tribute of our “Mei Day!”: http://youtu.be/ZMk7DLEKScE