Saturday, November 1, 2014

More Updates and Sweet Smiles

Well I am dusting off the cobwebs of this blog. I am embarrassed to say that my last post was a draft that has been sitting unpublished until now. I had completely forgotten about it. Our life is full, busy, crazy and rich. So much so that I have not had time to keep up this blog. So here is the latest update:

Daniel is doing awesome. He fits into our family just like he has always belonged. When we arrived home we knew there were some medical issues we would have to address with specialists. First, he came home with a mouth filled with rotten teeth. He rarely complained of the pain but I could see the huge craters of decay in many of his teeth. Our pediatric dentist was unable to handle his complex case and referred us to a pediatric dentist up at Stanford as his dental care would need to be done under a general anesthesia. Poor fellow had most likely not had many positive medical experiences and he was scared to death. He would not cooperate. He would not take his sleepy juice. He would not talk to us, the doctors, or even the translator who spoke in Mandarin. I felt awful for him but this had to get done. Three hours later, Daniel was out of surgery sporting some shiny silver crowns in addition to the other fillings and teeth extractions. His recovery was quick and he was so happy to not be in constant pain any longer.

At home recovering with orange sherbet

We are also in the midst of working with Neurosurgery at Stanford to determine what needs to be done for his hydrocephalus. He is stable right now and there appears to be no damage from the additional pressure inside his head. The doctors commented that he is a true miracle, as the location of his hydrocephalus should have caused visual impairment and intellectual delays. Well I can positively say there are no delays in this kid! He is so, so bright. His English is amazing and he understands much of what is said to him.

When school started we had planned to home school Daniel until he gained enough English to handle a school setting. Well, our lovely little school has worked it out for us to attend in the first grade class with me accompanying him as his one-on-one aide. I know one of the reasons his English has taken off is the language rich environment he is in every day. I know this season will be short as soon he won't need me to go with him, but for now I cherish the time I get to spend with him each day. We are so blessed and thankful for the way the Lord has placed amazing resources in our path.

First day of School

Wearing his Cat in the Hat while practicing math facts

In addition to Daniel's schooling, I am taking a couple of courses toward my degree again this semester. It has been rough juggling everything but I know it will be worth it. Nina auditioned for the music production of Annie and is cast as one of the orphans. It is a busy rehearsal schedule but she is very excited to be in her first production. We have had a few other medical needs pop up with the children and currently have one child scheduled for surgery over the Christmas break with the possibility that others may also spend their holiday break recovering from procedures. With all this daily craziness, I have been reluctant to participate in the annual Angel Tree project that I have done each year with Reece's Rainbow. I must be completely out of my mind because I am doing it! I rationalize that whatever I can do for my angel is better than nothing. I hope I don't let him down but I have to maintain a realistic expectation too. The goal is to raise $1000 for my angel by December 31.  That is a huge goal but every penny added to his grant will help his future forever family bring him home. I pray this is his last year on the Angel Tree. So without further delay, I would like to introduce my 2014 Angel, Mickey!

Click on this link to donate. All proceeds are tax-deductible.

Isn't he adorable?  He has been listed for several years on Reece's Rainbow but continues to wait for his forever family to find him. Could you be his mama or daddy? If not could you share him via social media? We need to share his sweet face with everyone. I pray this is his last year on the angel tree and next Christmas he is home with his family.


The draft that never got published...until now

No we did not fall off the face of the earth. If you have adopted before, you know how things are at home those first few weeks. The jet lag was hard this time; both Lou and I got a stomach bug that lasted a week; all while trying to assimilate our new son to his new home, family, and environment. Our split ranch in the foothills is quite a bit different from the hustle and bustle of Chinese city life. Everyday he learns more English but we rely heavily on Google translate still. He has a delightful sense of humor and loves to use his new language skills to tease us. He knows many of the fruits and animals in English, and likes to call us monkey or banana. He also loves to chant "shake a Baba" or "shake a Mama". We aren't entirely sure what that means but he says it in a joking way and we always appease him by doing a little dance and responding to "shake a Chong Chong". He does answer to his English name, Daniel but Chong Chong sounds so much better when we are being playful.

Daniel does miss some things about China but I am sure as time passes he will less and less. For now though, he pines for Chinese food. As well traveled Americans living in a diverse region of the country, we eat a varied diet representative of many cultures. Our family does eat Chinese food but we also eat Indian, Mexican, Italian, and Moroccan in addition to the typical American cuisine. In China as well as many other countries, the diet is homogenous. I cannot imagine eating Chinese food everyday for all my meals but if you always did, our menu might be a shocker. He is a good sport most of the time but sometimes he just makes a X with his arms to show me, "no way!" So while the other children happily chow down on waffles, oatmeal or toast, Daniel is sipping down ramen for his breakfast.

I can say that each day with him, I fall more in love. Our other children have done well with his arrival. There have been a few bumps in the journey but for the most part he fits into the family perfectly.  So now what? Well, the children return to school in August. Daniel's English is not developed enough to handle a Classical school education just yet so I will be working with him at home until he understands enough. He is super smart so I imagine he will catch up to his peers in the next year, if not earlier and will join the girls at school as well.

Are you done? (As in adopting more children) I would never say never but six is kind of a large family and we are getting older. Lou reminds me regularly that we personally cannot save all the orphans. I realize that as well but sometimes I need reminding. Depending on which statistic you read, the number of orphans worldwide is anywhere from 147 to 163 million. Even at the low end of that statistic it is a staggering number to comprehend. I will do my best to advocate, support, and pray for these children and invite you to join me in making a difference. My next post will highlight ways we can help make a difference and a dent in these depressing statistics.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

9,999 Steps to Nowhere

Yesterday was our consulate appointment. It's a bit anticlimactic after all the paperwork, fingerprints, and interviews we have been through in the last year but nevertheless it is behind us. We raised our right hands and swore that everything we have said and submitted to process this adoption is true. They take our fingerprints and tell us Daniel's visa will be ready for pick up the next day. Yay!

Since we knew we had several free days, we decided it might be nice to visit a site outside of the city. We wanted to catch a peek of some of China's natural beauty away from the sea of skyscrapers, heavy traffic and noise of the city. We researched and found this lovely park about an hour outside of Guangzhou. It has a hiking path up the mountain with 9,999 steps dotted with spectacular waterfalls. Coming from drought ridden California, this sounded wonderful. We had been looking forward to this excursion but honestly everyone woke up so very tired and had we not already booked the driver and guide would have preferred a couple more hours of sleep. We figured we would pay big time for our exhausting hike in the heat but the chance to see the country would be worth our fatigue.

So we left the city very early in the morning for Bai Shui Zhai. The countryside is lovely and we drive through several large city areas and smaller villages winding our way up a mountainside. As we pull up to the gate to enter we are flagged by a park employee waving his hands over his head motioning not to enter. Oh, oh. This does not look good. Our guide gets out to speak with the employee and then comes back with a disappointed expression. The park is closed. The monsoon season has taken a toll on the park. There has been too much rain recently and the trails are either damaged or impassable. We never got a clear explanation what the actual problem is just that there has been too much rain so they had to close. Bummer!

Our guide and driver feel horrible that we can't go to this park and offer to take us to another pretty location that is not too far from this one. We agree and say we just hoped to visit a pretty location. So we head off toward the next park. The driver winds through several different villages. The scenery is filled with many farms of lychee orchards and dragon fruit. These villages do not get many foreigners and we are quite the sight to view. I can see the driver's gps device from my backseat and see we are getting very close to the park. As we round a corner to enter the highway we face a major roadblock. The bridge for that road is closed and many signs and large rocks are in the way. Great. Now what? Well, a local man on a motorbike drives up to us and our driver has some sort of conversation with him. The man is going to lead us through the village to go around this road block. Awesome!

Our driver follows the little man zipping through the village, to the mountain roads and finally through a very narrow orchard. He stops at the orchard and gives our driver some more oral directions. Basically we follow this road till the T stop and turn right to head up the mountain. Our driver pays the little old man. I am wondering if our "local guide" has just ripped us off and left us to fend for ourselves in the middle of nowhere. The farm road is super narrow and we have several oncoming cars that make passing difficult. At one point Lou gets out of the van to direct traffic so the vehicles can pass each other. Oh. my. goodness. We are having a blast. Our guide keeps apologizing but we assure her, that we are quite okay with our adventure. So we wind up this mountain road toward the park. The little man did not rip us off, yay! There are several restaurants, inns and residences on the side of the mountain. They advertise with pictures of food and Chinese writing that neither Lou nor I can read. At one point, we see a restaurant sign advertising WIFE. What the heck? Someone is looking for a wife? Haven't they heard of or eHarmony? Well, I guess they don't really need a wife but rather are advertising that they have WiFi. Chinglish signs are pretty common as translations aren't always exact. I wonder how many folks stop to use the WiFi there...

So we reach the park gate and wouldn't you know, it is also closed. I guess this park has similar issues as the last park. We are now at the top of a mountain and have spectacular views of the countryside. There are two waterfalls in view, blue skies, and a breathtaking view of the valley below. Our guide laughs at our bad luck but again apologizes that this one is also closed. We honestly do not care an iota. We are seeing the countryside and loving it.

After taking a some pictures, we hop back in the van and our driver suggest a lakeside location that is always open to tourist. We're game for whatever. Daniel is doing well in the car. He hasn't gotten carsick on us and tends to even cuddle up and snooze on our laps. We head back down the mountain, through the village and find the main highway once again. After several U-turns, we end up at a lake resort with hot springs. The lake isn't a swim and play kind of lake. It looks murky and I'm sure any icky pollution in a twenty mile radius has flowed into this lake. There are several resorts though and I guess one has some nice hiking. Our guide goes to get the information but comes back with an embarrassed smile on her face. It is closed! Too much rain. Okay. We give up. We get out to stretch and walk around a bit before heading back to the city. The little village has some unique items for sale. Wood and stone artwork. We end up getting a killer deal on a beautiful piece that we would have spent at least double on if we bought it in the city and ten times that in the states. We are ecstatic! So we may not have hiked our 9,999 steps but we sure did have a day of fun and adventure. Plus we are not going to feel like a mac truck ran us over tomorrow.

Tomorrow night we fly home. Please pray for Daniel (and us). We are not looking forward to the long international flight but are eager to get home and introduce our little stinker to the rest of the family. If you have followed us through this adoption we thank you for your prayers, support and kind words. We have truly felt loved and supported by y'all through this entire process.  My next post will be once we arrive home.

Our day guide, Lee with Daniel

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, Oh my!

Yesterday was a shopping day on Shamian Island. It brought back so many sweet memories of Nina and Phoebe's adoptions as we shopped in familiar stores and ate at Luci's Restaurant once again. The island has changed a bit since the closing of the famous White Swan Hotel. The children's playground is now gone and there are fewer shops than years past but many of the lovely items we found before our still here. Daniel did not enjoy our shopping escapade and every shop felt like I had brought in a bull to a china shop! He blew on horns, begged us to purchase every cheap plastic toy he saw and of course wanted candies. Sometimes I felt like he had several more arms than the two he has! Poor kid.

Hopefully we made up for it today. Our consulate appointment is not until Wednesday and we don't fly out until Friday night so we have lots of free time. Today we visited Chimelong Safari Park. Without a doubt this was the best zoo experience I have ever had. Other than the million degree temperatures and humidity, we enjoyed everything about this zoo. First, the little train takes you around part of the park. You are up close and personal with no cages for the animals. They must keep all the animals well fed and or drugged because they all paid absolutely no attention to any of us.

Once we were done with the safari ride the remainder of the zoo has lots of wonderful exhibits that allow us to view the animals easily. We saw a cute elephant show. Nothing spectacular but Daniel wanted to see it so we went. The panda center had several pandas including a baby under one year. It was the coolest spot in the park, literally. Not only is the AC on full blast in the center but those lucky pandas must need a cool environment as there were sheets of ice that some were sleeping on like a mattress. I envied them.

We got to do several things that I doubt we would ever be able to do in the states. All three of us fed a baby tiger a bottle. It was too cute! I think I could have gone home happy after that. We also got to feed the giraffes and the monkeys. It was amazing to feel the strength of the giraffe as it pulled the leaves of the bough we held. The monkeys were adorable. They would actually jump in their water and stand right below you to get fed. Some of them would catch it in their mouths before it hit the ground or water. You could definitely see a pecking order. The big ones would holler at the smaller ones and scare them off. We made a special effort to throw some food for the small guys too.

I cannot imagine ever having a better experience at a zoo. Well maybe if the temps had been 30 degrees cooler.

Please pray for us and Daniel. We are having some trying behaviors. Nothing horrible or unexpected but nevertheless not easy. I have to keep reminding myself that this child does not know what family is and has lived his first seven plus years without the love and guidance of his family. We have lots of work to do but know that God's grace is sufficient, for us and Daniel.

Yes, about 20 feet away and nothing - no fence, no pit, no water - between us!  The lions, tigers, cheetahs, and bears were a bit further - more like 50-100 feet away (and without any barriers)...


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Catching Up with Us

Let me catch you up on our last few days in China...on Friday we were suppose to visit some government park but the weather has been stormy with monsoon season so our guide changed our plan to visit the Guangdong Museum. It was a neat museum with samples of plants, animals and natural resources from the province. Although I'm sure Daniel thought a "look at" museum is not too exciting, he did think the dinosaur skeletons and marine mammal displays were pretty cool.

On Saturday we had our medical clinic appointment. It is total chaos as every American family adopting this week is packed onto the fifth floor. We carefully try to keep track of our guide as she directs us to each station to visit. There is a station to take Daniel's picture followed by a station to weigh and measure him, check his vision and blood pressure. We then visit the general physician station. He examines Daniel but speaks no English so I assume there were no red flags. We then visit the ENT who looks in Daniel's ear, nose and throat. She tells our guide some instructions on ear care for Daniel and then we are off to the TB test room. This is the one room that doesn't allow parents to enter. The staff takes each child in to draw blood for testing. One at a time each child is ushered in, then sent back out crying and holding the site on their little arms where they had been poked. Our Daniel was no different. These are the only tears I have seen thus far from our little man. We picked him up, hugged him tight and immediately fed him Oreo cookies and a sucker. Within minutes he was back to himself busily playing on the iPad.

Once back at the hotel, all Daniel wants to do is swim. It is so hot and humid so we try to get to the pool everyday and allow him to burn off some energy. He especially enjoys when other children are down at the pool so he can play with and speak Chinese to them. Yao yong (swimming) is the currency we use to get him to listen and obey. No eat, no swim. No listen to Mama and Baba, no swim. It works magically for now. Once home we will need to find a different currency as we have no pool to swim in. And yes, we did find him some goggles. He refuses to wear them properly so they are pretty much useless and fill up immediately with water or fall off his face, but he happily wears them around his neck and is delighted to have his own regardless.

Today we visited the Pearl and Jade Market in the morning. If time permitted we could have spent hours there shopping but our seven year old boy was ready to leave after about ten minutes. I guess he is not much of a shopper. We then went to the Chen family temple. It is now a museum, hotel and has several artisan gift shops. The architecture was breathtaking and there is no way our pictures will adequately capture the beauty of the building.

We continue to try and teach Daniel some English. Right now he chatters away in Chinese, rarely using any English but we have picked up a few key Chinese words to get by. The most important words so far are swimming, water, ipad, pee pee, and camera. We have used Google translate to help us communicate with him but it doesn't help him communicate with us. There are a lot of charades and signing as we try to understand each other. I'm sure once immersed in English, it will come much easier.

Daniel at the Guangdong Museum

Cool Dinosaur skeletons!

Waiting for our turn at the medical clinic

Ear Nose Throat Doctor

General Practitioner

Why the heck is this squeezing me?

Chen Family Temple

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Pool Time and Orphanage Visit

It is very common that the children coming from institutions are unaccustomed to taking baths. I had tried to get Daniel in the tub the first night we had him and he made it very clear that he wanted nothing to do with that tub. He has no problem taking a shower though so he isn't afraid of water. China in the summer is always blazing hot so we decided we should try the pool. So yesterday we took him down to the pool and to our surprise he loved it! Down at the kiddie pool several other American adoptive families were splashing and playing in the water with their children. Daniel had a beach ball but noticed several of the children had swim goggles. He kept asking us for a pair so we told him we would buy them the next day. He and another seven year old boy had a very animated conversation that I wish we understood. Instead I was left to fill in an imaginary conversation that probably went something like, " Hey, I think I got defective parents. They don't understand a word I say." The other boy would respond, " yeah, join the club, mine are broken too. I've been trying to teach them Chinese all day, but they are clueless." Hopefully they don't truly think we are awful, but I know there have been several occasions that Daniel has been frustrated with us not understanding him.

Today was another long and emotional day. We drove down to Maoming where his orphanage is located. I was worried he would be confused about the visit so I asked our guide to reassure him we were only going to visit and say goodbye to his friends and teachers. He nodded that he understood but I could see his body language was screaming I am nervous and anxious. Once we arrived, he proudly ran around showing us where to go next. We met several of the orphanage workers, saw children receiving physical therapy, and saw the baby room. He then took us to his classroom. It was bright and cheery with artwork and pictures of the children. We were disappointed to hear that his foster mother would not be there. I had hoped to meet and thank the woman that had poured her love on our boy for the last six years. After visiting with the other children and workers, his foster mother and one of his foster sisters came in! We embraced and I thanked her for loving and caring for Daniel all these years and she thanked us for adopting him and giving him a family. It was a teary moment for sure. I am so grateful we were able to meet her.

After we left the orphanage, Daniel was very quiet and expressionless. I wish I knew what was going on in his head. In the van, he curled up next to me, laying his head on my lap and fell asleep. Once he woke, he was back to his enthusiastic and animated self. He asked to go swimming when we got back to the hotel; he ate all the yummy snacks in our back pack; and started playing cute teasing games with both Lou and I. He is going to be okay.

We were no sooner in the hotel room when he asked to go swim. We ate a quick dinner of noodles and headed to the pool. He is a smart cookie and asked of course where his swim goggles were. He was relentless, chanting goggles in Chinese over and over. We would try to change the subject but no matter what we said, he continued to chant goggles. Our day started at 5:30 this morning and it was now 7:30 pm. We had no time today to pick up goggles but he did not care. We had said yesterday that we would get the goggles and he wanted to know where they are. Ugh! Sorry kid. Yep, we're defective and you're stuck with us. Hopefully we won't let you down too often.

Swimming with Mama

Maoming Social Welfare Institute
Foster mother and sister
With some of the orphanage workers
Some of his classmates

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Gotcha Day (and then some)

What a whirlwind it's been over the last couple of days.  In fact, after reading over our past two blog entries, we've realized we forgot one quick story from Lou...

Okay, back a few days to our last leg of travel.  We were in Shanghai exhausted and had just cleared customs and were ready for the last (2-hour) leg of our trip to Guangzhou.  After clearing customs, we had to back through bag is flagged.  Okay, no big deal, I open the bag and (are you kidding me?) they find a pocket knife that I had totally forgotten about (as did US security a day earlier). They grab the knife, my ticket to Guangzhou, and my passport.  With their limited English, I am scolded with "No Knife!".  I am speechless and thinking what a smooth move on my part - will this cause delays and will we miss our flight? They go their computer terminal and scan my passport...yikes, it didn't look good.  They return and hand me back my belongings (less the knife), and add one more "No knife!" for good measure, and then we are waved through security.  What just happened?  Ah, we're too tired to do much more than continue to our gate and breathe a sigh of relief.  

Okay, on to the good stuff - Gotcha Day!

We look at the schedule and realize that our Gotcha time (our appointment at the Civil Affairs Office) is not until 2:00 in the afternoon.  That makes for a really long morning, especially since it started at 4 biggie, we will eat breakfast, get our paper work and gifts in order, and put together all the necessary things for Gotcha. Okay, that takes us to 10:00 maybe. So we sat up in our room playing games on the computer, solving puzzles and checking the clock like every five minutes. 2:00 could not arrive soon enough.

Upon arrival at the Civil Affairs Office we are ushered up the elevator and brought to a waiting area with all the other waiting families. There must have been twenty other families there as well so the room felt 100 degrees inside. We were instructed to wait there until each of us are called forward to receive our child. We are one of the first families called and as we are walking toward the room, we see him running out of the room to greet us. He immediately ran up to us and hugged me first then Lou. Oh I love this kid! As we settled back in the waiting area, he proudly showed us the pictures he had drawn (he is quite the artist)  and the toys and candies he brought. He is amazing! We watch as he shares his candies with everyone and tries to console the crying babies sitting near us. At one point he decides that Baba's (Daddy) camera looks pretty cool and motions to us that he would like to take a picture. We of course, put the camera strap around his neck and proceed to try and help him take a picture. He motions to us that he does not need our help. He's got it figured out already. He starts touring the room and taking pictures of everyone and everything he sees. He sets his toys up and takes pictures of them. We have another family photographer!

Once all of the formalities are taken care of, we are brought back to the hotel. Lou takes Daniel upstairs to our room while I finish up some more paper work with our guide in a separate conference room. I am gone for maybe an hour. Upon return to the room, I ask Lou how Daniel is doing. You never know how things can be once it hits them. They may or may not have expectations of what a family is and living at the hotel isn't real life. (No, our home does not look like this gold and marble palace we are staying at right now)  Lou replies that he is all boy, through and through. In this hour that I was gone, he had turned every switch in the room off and on, opened everything to investigate what was inside all those drawers and closets; disabled Lou's phone, shown Lou things on his computer he never knew before, and dialed the emergency number on the  bathroom phone. Twice. Ya, he is a little busy to say the least. I am hopeful that maybe this is temporary and due to nerves and once home some of this energy will dissipate. It is common to see the kids act different than who they are. So maybe he won't always behave like he is on crack, running from one activity to the next every two minutes. We will see! Either way, we love him to pieces and he is doing amazing.

We all slept well last night and were ready for our first full day with our new son. After breakfast, we took some bread out to feed the fish. The giant koi were practically jumping out of the water to eat the bread Daniel was tossing them. At one point though, he starts throwing the bread way far out beyond the crowd. I realize he is trying to feed the fish on the margins. The guys who were too slow or small to be in the mix with the big dudes. He then motions us to walk around and feed the fish in the other smaller ponds. I can't help but be touched that he was concerned for the little guys too. It really shows what a tender heart he has.

Later that morning we return to the Civil Affairs office to finalize the adoption. I worried that he wouldn't understand why we were returning and feared he may assume we were taking him back. I asked our guide to please explain to him what we are doing so he wouldn't be worried or anxious. He nodded his head that he understood and thankfully there were no tears or issues. All went as it should and he is ours! He is officially Daniel Xin Chong Rakoczy but he has yet to respond to his new American name. He goes by Chong Chong, so right now that is mostly what we call him. I have been trying to slip Daniel in and call him Daniel Chong Chong. I'm sure eventually he will accept his name but for now this works.

We are praising God for allowing us to be Daniel's parents. We pray we can be the parents he needs to grow up and be a Godly man. Please pray for our kiddos at home. We have skyped them a couple of times but the girlies are really missing us.

Here are some pictures:

Hugging the Mama

Hugging the Baba

With two of the orphanage workers

One of the many pics Daniel took