This Chapter documents the rest of our time in Wuhan….we look forward to reading these chapters with our little Wuhan Wonder Woman when she gets older! A video of these few days is at the bottom of this chapter.
October 21st: “Forever Family Day”
Today, Mei Li officially becomes our daughter. It seemed she was pretty excited about that fact, as she woke up smiling and ready to party at 4:30 am! We took her down to breakfast around 8 am where she inhaled a bowl of congee (Chinese porridge), some chicken breast meat and some watermelon. After breakfast, we all piled back into the bus and headed back to the Civil Affairs Office. It had been some time since we packed a “diaper bag” and completely over packed…as many new parents do! Our guide told us we’d be at the Civil Affairs Office for awhile, and we didn’t want to be stuck without something our happy little girl needed!
We waited for sometime for all the other families to get processed, and finally it was our turn. A woman who worked at the orphanage was there to answer/ask questions about Mei’s first night with us. She told me a little more about Mei Li’s surgeries, the last of the 3 being quite difficult for her. She said, “ The last surgery was so hard on her little body, she almost gave up. But she has a strong mind, and she was able to overcome.” It’s hard to put into words what I felt or thought at that moment. I wish we could have been there to hold her hand. I am so glad she has a strong mind, but I was sad that I wasn’t there with her. I didn’t even know what to say to the woman, except, “I’m so glad.” Even though there was so much more to say, and to ask her…I just couldn’t help watching Mei Li jump around and smile. She was happy now, even if she still has much work to do to really overcome her disability. Our pediatric surgean told us that she can live a normal life, but even as an adult she would need to “self monitor” her diet and other things to achieve normalcy.
Finally, it was our turn with the notary. Jim, Christine and Mei had their picture taken for the official adoption documents, while James played with his friend. (We were so glad there was a friend for James!) Then we began signing 5 sets of documents. Each signature needed to be “sealed” with our fingerprint. Mei watched us closely as we did this, and after about the 3rd document, couldn’t help herself any longer. With lightning fast reflexes, she reached over, dipped her finger in the red ink and pressed her finger on the documents. Of course, we thought this was hilarious. I am not sure our guide and the notary thought so!
She’s a HANLON!!
After this, we went back to the hotel for lunch and and a quick nap for Mei Li. Then, we joined one other family and took 2 taxis toward the Wuhan Orphanage. This was where we thought Mei Li was left as an infant by her birth family, but it turns out she was left at a social welfare institute for the elderly at the other end of the city and found by a policeman when she was a week old. She was then transferred to the orphanage and spent the first year and a half of her life here, before being moved to an experienced foster family. Even though Mei Li only spent a short time at the orphanage, we felt it was important for us to see it as a family. We entered the premises by walking through a large gate, which was guarded by two men. We walked up a steep hill and entered the building near a large basketball court. The building seemed dark, like this section of the building wasn’t used often, but we would soon find out that the entire section we toured didn’t have very good lighting. The best part of the this tour was seeing the playroom where Mei Li and her foster mom posed for the first pictures we saw of her 6 months before. That moment was so surreal!
We were told by the Assistant Orphanage Director that we were not allowed to take pictures of the children inside, but we could take pictures in and around the building. The other family travelling with us wanted to see the nurses on staff, because their new son had a chest cold. While we were waiting for them to look over their boy, one nurse came out of the examining room and called out to our daughter in her Chinese name. “Lei Yu!” she said, but as she approached, Mei Li grabbed on tightly to my neck, and shook her head, “No!” I think it hurt the nurses feelings, but Mei Li clearly had bad memories of that person or just the medical room in general.
We all walked down the hallway a bit to the “Therapy Room” where children with special needs were working on various tasks. The director wanted to assure us that although it appeared that the kids were “tied up” or restrained, it was to improve their muscles or balance, etc. We agreed, because the children in this room were not at all upset or looking fearful. It did appear that they were receiving therapy and enjoying the attention from the many nurses and nannies inside. Mei Li saw a blue ball that she really wanted to play with, so the nurses allowed her in the room where she happily sprinted across the room, snatched up the ball and ran back to Christine. We took the ball from her and went to give it back, but the nurse who originally frightened her, took the ball, and gave it Mei to keep. She planted a big kiss on Mei Li’s check and said something in Mandarin to her. Mei Li was happy to have the ball, but in her sweet voice, looked back at the nurse, and said, “Bye Bye!”
We saw a few more rooms with children, many which looked like typical elementary classrooms. The walls were covered with colorful posters, some were even in English. We were not surprised that in every room, the children were extremely well behaved. They were all curious about us, and waved happily. We passed by another therapy room where one nurse watched one infant that appeared to be about 6 months old, floating happily in a giant transparent hot tub. This infant was floating freely, suspended by the neck with an inflatable ring keeping his head above water, his naked body below the surface surrounded by warm bubbles. We have no idea what sort of therapy this was, but we all agreed that we needed that kind of therapy too! It looked so relaxing! We walked by some more classrooms, and then the Orphanage Director stopped outside one room, and told us about a little girl who was part of the student group inside. She was very very smart, but desperately needed heart surgery. Some doctors had come to see her, but they said she was too weak to receive the surgery. This is just one of the heartbreaking stories contained within these walls that surrounded us.
When we got back outside, we took a group photo shoot with the assistant orphanage director, and then the kids played for quite sometime on the basketball court with Mei Li’s new blue ball. She was thrilled to have the two older boys to play with, and had NO trouble keeping up with them! The assistant orphanage director took several pictures of Mei Li playing, and then walked us back down the steep driveway. As we waited at the gate for a few moments, another newborn was brought in by two nannies. The baby was bundled up and wrapped in several layers of blankets, but it was clear this infant was just a few days old. Two babes were leaving this place for good, at the same time, another was brought in.
Back at the hotel, (which was a VERY long journey because we had to wait over an hour to catch a taxi) and after dinner, we gave Mei Li her first bath. She loved every minute of it, including the part where we washed her hair! She had no problems with water… even when it was dripping in her eyes! After bath we put her in her pajamas and Jim began to show her our photo album. This album has a picture of her foster mom in it, and hindsight being 20/20, we probably shouldn’t have shown her it so late at night or so soon after she joined our family. Mei put her hand on the photo and quietly looked at it for several minutes. Then the crying started. It lasted for 20 minutes, while she repeatedly called out, “Ya Ya”…which is the Mandarin word for paternal grandfather. It broke our hearts that she was grieving this loss, and could only offer our warm hugs and soft words. “Bei Ku,” we would say. “Don’t cry.” Finally she calmed down and pointed to her crib. Christine laid her down and covered her up. She put her favorite finger in her mouth, while her lungs heaved up and down from crying. Then just soft breathing. She was asleep.
October 22: Tour of the Wuhan Museum Day
Today we would spend the morning touring the Wuhan Museum. We struggled a little at breakfast this morning, because James has stepped up his need to be with his mom, at the same rate at Mei Li is also demanding her attention. We managed to take turns at the breakfast buffet and get through it, but realized we really should have packed a bib. Mei Li likes to use her own spoon, and although she is quite good at it, she still makes a mess. As frustrating as this meal was, it is the best meal of the day…because the hotel has just about anything you could want to eat from corn on the cob to waffles!
Our guide, Christina, promised us that taking taxis was going to be easier today than it was yesterday to the orphanage. She said that taxis regularly pull up to the museum, unlike the at the orphanage, which was in more of a residential area. Mei Li seems to enjoy riding in the cab, but we needed to keep an eye on the door handle, because she kept trying to open the door! Like any other toddler, she likes to press buttons, lift levers, open latches, and she has lightning fast reflexes!
Although the museum was awesome, it was hard to truly appreciate with our newest family member. We rented a stroller at the enterence, but Mei Li was not at all interested in riding in it. She just wanted me to hold her. Thankfully, we remembered to bring the Ergo carrier, because she was happy to ride in that, as long as it was on my back and not Jim’s! She likes everything about Jim, except riding on his back in the Ergo. We tried hard to listen to our guide as she explained some of the artifacts that were almost 3,000 years old, found right in Wuhan, but Mei Li decided that she needed to scream (not cry, but just holler at the top of her lungs) every 5-10 seconds. Our guide saw us struggling and spoke to Mei Li in Mandarin to stop yelling. She did listen…for about 5 minutes…but then went back to yelping! I guess she was just really excited to see these amazing artifacts!
After the 45 minute tour with Christina, she gave us some free time to explore a bit of the museum on our own. I had equipped James with a small pouch containing a pad of paper and some small pencils. He decided that he was going to draw some of the artifacts that we saw. To us, watching him draw the artifacts was just about the coolest thing in the whole museum! We just love that boy!
As we were leaving the museum, a few more Chinese tourists wanted to take James’s picture. At this point in our journey, we had to bribe him with “points” to do this, because he was so tired of it. We didn’t want to appear rude by refusing to take the picture, so we shamelessly bribed him! (He was earning points to take a friend to an indoor trampoline play place when we returned home.) Several other tourist families also took great interest in Mei Li, who we were still calling by her Chinese name, Lei Yu. Some just watched us play with her, others touched her hair and hands and spoke to her in Mandarin, and one woman told us we should put her hood down. This surprised us because our guide had told us to overdress the children while in Wuhan, because the people on the streets wouldn’t think twice about “giving advice” on how to properly dress the children. The weather in Wuhan was in the mid 70’s the whole time we were there, but our guide said long pants and sweatshirts should prevent any unsolicited advice. Oh well, some grandmothers can’t help giving advice anyways!
Back at the hotel, Mei laid down for a nap while James and his friend played several games with the blue ball from the orphanage in the hallway. They came up with some clever games using the ball and some garbage cans from our bathrooms. I loved watching them play while their siblings rested.
After Mei got up, we treated her to some bubble fun. That was a moment we won’t soon forget, because I think it was her first experience with bubbles. She absolutely loved them, and even learned to blow some herself.
The whole trip seemed to be wearing out James, but he also had the added stress of trying to avoid his sister’s teeth and nails! Unfortunately, Mei has a constant desire to bite him (and his friend). Our guide told us how to say, “Don’t bite!” in Mandarin, and we must have said it 1,000 times since learning it. We don’t really know why she was biting (and scratching) because it happened during multiple situations. When she hugged James. CHOMP! When he walked by her. SCRATCH! When they danced together. BITE. Was she jealous? Was she overly excited? Was it over-affection? We don’t know….but it didn’t take long for James to start to fear her. We worked hard on teaching him strategies for dealing with it, or signals to watch for to prevent it….but he wasn’t really open to this side of his new sister. To provide a little escape for James, I ventured out with another family to find an outdoor park for the boys to play in, while Jim stayed with Mei Li in the hotel room. After a 20 minute walk along a busy street, we found an exercise park which the boys loved. There was all sorts of equipment to “play on” and it was nice to be outside and watch James enjoying himself.
Night time was toughest on both kids, when we were packed into the hotel like sardines and he had no place to escape. James’s tolerance level wasn’t the highest to begin with because he was tired, but this time of day the biting and scratching was way more than he could handle. There were tears. There was anger. There were moments I wanted to cry with him! But we made it through….without losing any fingers, toes…or our minds!
As night time approached, we were getting nervous that we’d experience another crying meltdown from our new daughter. We had learned the Mandarin word for “sleeping” and Christine decided to use it. “Shui Jiao” ….Mei Li stiffened up and shook her head, No. Then there were a few tears. Oddly enough, we were happy! She understands us! Christine picked her up and started rocking her, but she burst into tears. Thankfully, it only lasted about 10 minutes this time, instead of 20 minutes! Progress! After she realized that we weren’t kidding about bedtime, she pointed to her crib, and Christine laid her down. She pulled the blanket up, sucked on her finger, and didn’t make a peep again until 8am the next morning.
October 23: Tour of the Yellow Crane Tower Day!
Before we left for China, we spent some time with James reading library books about China and watching you-tube videos about various places that we might see while we were there. James was really excited to see the Yellow Crane Tower, and this was the day we’d be doing just that.
Breakfast today was like having a bit of “deja vu” in terms of the ability to manage both children at our favorite meal, but we knew this would get better with time. Christine would take James through the buffet, and make a plate for Mei Li, while Jim entertained her at the table. Then while Jim managed both kids at the table, Christine would get a plate of food. Then she would scarf down her food, while Jim went to get his plate. When the kids and Christine finished, she would take the kids for a walk through the lobby and “investigate” while Jim ate. This seemed to work in terms of preventing meltdowns, but wasn’t great for our digestion since we ate so fast!
Since taking a taxi to the Yellow Crane was risky, because they are not easy to get around the Yellow Crane area, our guide piled the three families into two large rental vans. We sang songs in the van on the way to the tower to keep the little ones entertained, but it seemed that Mei Li might be dealing with some hyper vigilance. I am not a doctor, but I know some kids suffer with this during the post adoption period. Hypervigilance is an enhanced state of sensory awareness, whose purpose is to detect threats. Basically, it’s like watching a 2 year that just drank a pot of coffee and ate 5 pounds of sugar. Although she was in a happy mood most of the time, and didn’t appear to be anxious or upset, she was constantly in motion from the moment she opened her eyes in the morning. Not typical 2 year old motion either, but ENHANCED motion! She had an inability to focus on something for more 2-3 seconds. Carrying her in the Ergo seemed to help her, and I had hoped that she would let Jim carry her around in it today. That only worked if I wasn’t in her line of sight. I do have a moderate case of scoliosis, and didn’t want to risk aggitating my condition with my chiropractor being thousands of miles away, but in the name of a happy toddler…I toughed it out!
Christina, our guide, gave us a wonderful tour, but again, with Mei Li voicing her own story of the tower, it was difficult to really hear! 😉 We had dressed the kids in beautiful shirts that read, “Older Brother” (GeGe) and “Little Sister” (Mei Mei) in both English and Mandarin. These shirts were a gift from another adoptive mom and good friend of ours. One Chinese man started talking to James in Mandarin and our guide told us that he was saying that he didn’t understand why James was wearing a Chinese shirt if he couldn’t speak the language! So funny!
As we were preparing to leave the tower, we purchased a few little souvenirs, and a sweet Chinese family shared some oranges with the kids. On the way back to the van, we had to cross under the street through a tunnel. There was a peddler playing the guitar and the tunnel was fairly crowded with people. As we passed the guitar, our sweet girl started to wail and call out, “Ya Ya! Ya Ya!” This was the same word she cried out at bedtime a few nights prior, and means paternal grandfather. I will always wonder if her foster family was there that day and she spotted them, or what triggered the crying. She does LOVE music and perhaps her foster grandfather played the guitar and hearing it made her miss him. It remains a mystery. I really wish the orphanage would have let us meet her foster family, so we would know a little bit about them.
We returned to the hotel to have lunch, and then had the option to visit Mei Li’s finding place. Our guide had arranged for the 3 families to visit the children’s finding places, but ours would add a 45-50 minute van ride to the journey. Although we really wanted to visit her finding place, Mei Li’s hyper vigilence was a concern of ours, and we didn’t want to log more travel time confined in a van. A good nap and some down time to pack up for our first flight as a family of 4 tomorrow seemed like a smarter thing to do. We do plan on taking Mei Li back to China some day, and we will be sure to visit her finding place on that trip.
That night, Mei Li didn’t seem to have any issues going to bed. There were no tears and it didn’t seem like she was anxious at all. We turned out the lights, said our magic Mandarin words, and she laid right down and pulled up the blankets. I felt that although she seemed content laying in her crib, I wanted her to know that I wasn’t far and would be there if she needed me. I sat down in the hotel chair right next to her crib. Mei Li rolled on her side to face my direction, all the while sucking on her favorite finger. Slowly, her other hand inched across the crib mattress toward my leg. Tentatively, she stuck her hand through the bars of the crib and ever so gently rested it on my knee. “I’m hooked. I love this girl.” Mei Li looked up at me with twinkling eyes and smiled a toothy smile without removing her finger from her mouth and whispered something I wish I could comprehend. She quickly pulled back her hand, and then repeated that same thing 4-5 times until she left her hand on my knee and drifted to sleep. Awesome.
October 24: Today we fly to Guangzhou…the final stop on our mission!
Today we would be leaving Wuhan, the city of our daughter’s birth, and probably where members of her Chinese family still live. As we walked the streets that morning to grab a few supplies for the flight, I looked hard at every face I passed, wondering if I could see any resemblance. I know it’s silly, especially since we were in a city of 10 million and she was found 45-50 minutes from where we were, but I still wondered if we passed by someone that was related to her by blood. Someday, we will do DNA testing like 23 and Me, to see if we can locate some of her biological family if she is interested.
Our one hour flight was scheduled for 7:20pm that night, and we were given the luxury of a 2pm check out, so we took a walk to the grocery store to grab a few more wipes and pull ups, and of course some snacks! It would be an hour flight, but we needed “ammo” for the little one who couldn’t sit still, and who loved snacks! Along our journey that morning, we let James bounce on a harness trampoline to get some of his energy out. In America, this type of paid entertainment is usually timed, but here, they let the kids jump as long as they want. James would’ve stayed on that thing all morning, but eventually, there were a few other kids that were waiting for a turn, and he had to get down. He wasn’t happy about that!
Finally, the time arrived where we would check out of the hotel, load our things back on to a bus, take a 45 minute ride to the airport, and wait and wait and wait for our one hour flight. It was 2pm….and although we didn’t know it at the time, we would not arrive at the next hotel until 11:30pm. What happened in between could almost be considered a nightmare!
2pm: At checkout, Jim was asked about a tiny tea spoon that was missing from our room. We had no idea that the room was being inspected, to the point of counting the silverware, but it was, and apparently there was a missing spoon. After about 10 minutes of trying to figure out where the spoon could’ve gone (under the bed, behind the TV, on one of the many room service dishes we had) the manager said he would cover the cost of the spoon and we were free to leave. Stress.
We made one stop on our bus ride to the airport, to pick up Mei Li’s Chinese passport and some other documents that would be needed at the US Consulate in Guangzhou. A woman boarded the bus and asked us to look through the paperwork very carefully before leaving. When all 3 families were satisfied that there are no errors in their paperwork, she made a final announcement, thanking us for loving the children and wishing us safe travels. At the end of her beautiful speech, she turned to the family traveling with us that brought their 3 year old blonde haired girl and asked for a photograph with her. She even brought her own camera in anticipation of the photo. Hilarious!
4:30pm: We had said our goodbyes to our guide after she checked us in at the airport and were waiting for our flight, which was supposed to be at 7:20pm. The dads took the kids on the moving platforms that lined the center of the airport, meant for passengers in a hurry, and found a play area for the kids. We ate snacks and tried to keep calm…but we knew the newest family members had no idea what was going on and the anxiety was high. It got even more intense, as 7:20pm approached and there was no sign of us boarding. Of course we drew a crowd of Chinese people who were interested in our Chinese children, and our blonde haired, blue eyed family members. We communicated as best as we could through James’s new friend who is a student at a Chinese immersion school in the US. Most of the conversation was about why we had Chinese children, and who was in each person’s family. (There were three adoptive families traveling together.) It wasn’t long before Mei Li wanted to join the commotion and climbed up on an airport chair in the center of the group. A Chinese woman on the other other side of the set of chairs reached out to Mei Li. I had seen Chinese women pick up one of our group’s little blonde daughter without asking, but I still had a bad feeling about it. My heart started racing when she started to walk away with Mei Li! There was a double row of permanently attached chairs in between me and my girl, and the boys started to ask where she was taking Mei Li. The woman walked about 15 feet, turned around and walked back and asked her in Mandarin, “Where is your mama?” Mei Li looked right at me and reached out with both hands. Her group of friends all gasped and I grabbed Mei Li, turned quickly in the opposite direction and walked away, holding Mei Li tightly. This woman was conducting her own little experiment…and her hypothesis was wrong. I am Mei Li’s mama! In your face, crazy lady!
8:30pm (an hour late) we finally board our plane. Stupidly we breath a small sigh of relief that we are at least on the flight…but then we sit idle for about 30 minutes on the tarmac. I used up almost all my ammo (snacks) in that first 30 minutes. Mei Li is not trilled about sitting in her seat with the seatbelt on, probably something she has never had to do and she begins to voice her opinions about this. Thankfully, a handsome Asian man in the aisle across from her begins to play with her which keeps her attention for about 40 seconds…just long enough for her to forget momentarily that she’s mad about sitting still. I pull out a pair of headphones, and show her how they work…just as the plane takes off. Premature exhale again….the headphones work for about 15 minutes which is some sort of record for this agitated little one, and she begins to freak out again. There is about 45 more minutes of flight time, and I give her my last fruit bar which she inhales and then begins to point at the “magic bag” where the fruit bar came from. DANG! I show her there are no more snacks and the wailing begins. Then kicking. Now we are in full meltdown mode. Thankfully, Jim and James are in the two seats just ahead of our small nuclear explosion, and they expertly ignored it, but EVERY other person around us turned and stared. Hard core staring is apparently a cultural thing in China, but let me tell you, these passengers got a lot more show on that flight that they probably paid for. Amazingly, when we landed, I strapped Mei in the Ergo and she never cried again for the rest of the night. That Ergo carrier is some sort of miracle device!
10:30pm: After everyone collected luggage, used the restroom and walked for what seemed like forever, we meet a new guide in the airport, who lead us to our bus and handed out some important documents to each family. It felt like a fairly long ride to our new hotel (although only about 30 minutes), and Mei Li started to fall asleep right near the end of it. As we pull into the parking lot of the hotel, my heart leapt for joy. “This hotel looks amazing. And what are those? Palm Trees!” It’s amazing how the sight of tropical vegetation can reduce one’s stress level….but at the moment, all I could really think about was a bed. Any bed. It was after 11pm and we all had had enough. We dug around our luggage for some pajamas, brushed our teeth and were all fast asleep just before midnight. Mei Li had no issues with the new room or the new crib. There wasn’t a blanket for her crib, so in desperation we used the bathrobe hanging in the closet to cover her up. She put her favorite finger in her mouth and rolled over. Zzzzzz……Exhale….(for real).
You-Tube Video of “The Rest of Wuhan” : http://youtu.be/IXoAH_SshP4