Monday, June 11, 2012

One year ago

One year ago tonight (9 p.m. CDT) we met our sweet, loving, funny, stubborn and absolutely adorable little Benjamin. All of our lives changed forever, in an instant.

Ben's Journey With Us
Year 1
June, 2011 - June, 2012

"Gotcha Day" is a term often used in the adoption community to celebrate the day you meet your new child. It's a day we will always remember and will always carry significant meaning to us. June 11th symbolizes a new beginning, a new family, a new child, a new sibling, a new grandson, a new nephew, a new cousin.....we celebrate through remembrance and reflection with joyful anticipation for what lies ahead in our journey with Ben.

Most of all, today is a day full of thankfulness, appreciation, honor and love.

Thankfulness for the caregivers and staff who (we believe) lovingly raised Ben for the first 33 months of his precious life; appreciation for the miraculous medical team that performed a very intensive and complicated surgery on Ben (at 18 months of age) that likely saved him from paralysis or other serious medical conditions; honor to the courageous woman that gave Benjamin life, but ultimately knew she could not care for him, and love for this miraculous child who has blessed our lives and opened his heart to trust and love us as his forever family. So many blessings, so many miracles!

The evening of June 11th, 2011 (morning of June 12th in China), Ben was carried into a strange room by the Director, whom we suspect, did not know him well. He was terrified and screaming. He came with the clothes on his back, and nothing more. We spent 30 minutes in the room and walked out the door with him, forever. That was it. 

We did not know what he ate, what/how he drank, if he used a potty or a diaper or both, if he had allergies, how he slept, when he slept, what he liked/disliked, what he feared, what he enjoyed. He was a complete stranger and we didn't speak the same language....and he was our son. It was heartbreaking and scary....for all of us.

Ben had lived in the orphanage since 2 months of age. He knew nothing different. We suspect he rarely, if ever, went outside. The orphanage was his world, his routine, his "family". If the caregivers and / or Director told Ben about us, he would have no concept what they meant. He didn't comprehend the meaning of Mom, Dad, Brother or Sister....or family. Ben knew animals and songs, how to play, and the routine of living in institutional care. He did not know that parents and siblings and families exist. The concept was foreign to him....and to a certain extent, still is. This has been the most heartbreaking and difficult part for me. (For the first few months home we would hear Ben in the monitor at night, "Mommy, Daddy, Sammy, Ellie, Jackie and Ben! We family."......over and over. Reassuring himself.)

As we left the orphanage and ventured out into the "real" world, everything was new to him. Ben came with no "filters" and very few life experiences. We don't believe Ben was ever kissed goodnight ("No kisses in Shyyyna, only hugs...", he would later tell us) or walked on grass, saw the moon or played in the rain. He'd never been swimming, had anything that was "his", celebrated a birthday, eaten in a restaurant, sat in a swing or felt the love and security of a family. Every single thing was new to him.....

.....and we rocked his world.

Despite everything, Ben attached to us very quickly....we were fun (or so we thought!), loving, attentive and had lots of food!!! Ben laughed a lot and seemed to enjoy every new experience. We believe he didn't grieve as much as he fought for control, and still does....but much less frequently. We also believe he was treated like a "Little Emperor" in China. :)

So, how is BenBen doing now?

He's doing great -- really, really great....but, still has his moments. :) (just keepin' it real!).

Ohhh, to describe Ben. He's so many things wrapped into one short, amazing little package!

Loving. It's just his nature, how he's wired. He likes to hug and cuddle and give kisses. He's very affectionate and can often be heard saying, "I wuv you da whole world". Ben loves his family and has a special and unique relationship with each one of us.

Happy. Ben will be the child that is playing by himself in the living room and we hear him belly laughing in the kitchen. That kind of happy. :) I often use the phrase, "he's just happy to be here" in describing Ben. He's just happy. He doesn't need an activity or a movie or a special treat to make him happy. He just is!

Whiny. Can you be happy and whiny? Oh yeah. Ben is the king of whine. It can be the absolute smallest of things (to us) that will send him into orbit, especially when he's tired. He is 90% better than he was in China and the first 3-4 months home. He can cry on a dime and turn it off even quicker. We believe this "skill" was learned behavior in the orphanage...but, he's also a 3 year old!

Funny. Oh, Benny is a hoot!!! He makes us laugh every day. A favorite Benny moment: the kids have to wash their hands before dinner and then pray. One evening before dinner, a hungry Ben decided to perform these tasks simultaneously!....really, why waste time? He has such a keen sense of humor and gets when things are funny....even when our other kiddos don't! Which leads us to....

Smart. BenBen is very, very smart. He learned English very quickly and continues to amaze us with his memory and communication. Some grammar is still a challenge (i.e. when his ears fill with water while swimming or bathing he'll say, "I can't listen" and he uses "watch" vs. "listen" interchangeably when he's showing or telling us something.) Ben loves to color (nearly perfectly too!), cut with scissors, sing and he knows the alphabet, counting, colors, animals, shapes, etc.

Stubborn. Yep, Ben can still be extremely stubborn. He definitely knows what he likes and doesn't like. However, we are learning how to "redirect" his stubbornness (giving choices helps). We haven't seen a full-out tantrum with belly flop in months!!! A lot is how we communicate with him and his enhanced understanding of consequences. :) Ben is NOT a fan of time-out.

Drama King. Ben is a bit of a belly acher and exaggerates pain. Ben could be dropped on his head or hit with a brick and probably wouldn't feel it....his head is extremely hard, literally! But, another of our kiddos may grab his arm or touch his back over a toy and Ben goes into a full-fledged, blood curling screaming cry.....and stops the millisecond the other child is mistakenly sent to time-out (because we were out of the room.....). Well, guess where Ben also ended up? sad.

Routine. Ben definitely prefers a routine, or at minimum, an idea of what is happening next, where everyone is going, what they're doing, when they'll be home, etc. When it's Ben's nap time - "Is it brusha my teeth, reada me a book, singa Twinkle Twinkle nap time?" Or, "is it napa time then eata dinner, getta bath, brusha my teeth, reada me a book and singa Twinkle Twinkle nap time?" get the point!

Literal. Although he understands a great deal of the English language, he takes it literally. For example, Ben received a new pair of Buzz Lightyear pajamas. We put them on and told him to hold his arms out like Buzz, so he could fly. Ben said, "Mommy, I no wanna fly!".

Unconfident (is that a word?). Ben came with the mindset of "I can't"...and he does not like to disappoint. Perhaps due to his surgery and living in institutional care for nearly 3 years, he did not have self confidence or belief in himself. We have worked VERY hard on this and it showed this weekend!! Ben's biggest (and only!) fear since we met him has been swings. He will sit in them, he's curious about them, but does not like to actually swing, "little bit, Mommy, little bit". This weekend, he wanted to be pushed as high as Jack. So, holding the sides of the swing with a death grip, legs clenched, and fear on his face....I reminded him he was safe and that he CAN do it. He said ok, hesitantly....and I began pushing. He got about 75% of the way and screamed, "I CAN". I loved it!!!

Remorseful. Ben does not like to be in trouble or ever disappoint. His little voice saying, "I'm sowwee Mommy" sometimes sad. When we first met him, if he did anything wrong (i.e. made a mess, dropped something, etc.) he seemed almost terrified. We aren't sure if this is orphanage impacted or just the way Ben is....either way, he cares deeply about not being in trouble. It's very personal to Ben and he's always very remorseful.

Pride of "ownership". Loves when something is "his". Remember, he came with nothing. If something - anything - is given to him, he will question repeatedly, "dis is mine?". If it's lost, it MUST be found. One of the kids gave Ben a penny and he placed it in his pocket. He took it to preschool. Lost it. The entire school was searching for that penny (not sure why they didn't just give him another penny...? :) It HAD to be found. To Ben, it was a very hurtful loss. He couldn't move forward until it was found....and it finally was!

Patient. Ben can occupy himself with the smallest things and be very content. He will sit at the edge of the pool with a bucket and play for hours. He can stand next to me while talking to a neighbor (for an hour!) and never make a sound....he wonders around looking at the rocks, touching the grass, feeling the mulch, looking at the sky. He finds enjoyment in the simplest things. He's very patient in church and restaurants. Definitely not a typical 3 year old. :)

Independent. Another biggie for Ben. He wants to do everything for himself..."I do it, Mommy". We believe institutional care (given the high caregiver to child ratio) encourages independence. He had to learn to do things for himself. He dresses himself, brushes his teeth, goes potty, washes his hands, combs his much as he can physically do himself, he will do. We have had to learn patience in dealing with his independence!

Sleepy. Ben loves to sleep, like a LOT. It is never a challenge to get him to bed or nap. He is a great sleeper and has had no sleep issues since we met him! He slept in his own bed (a crib) for the first few months, transitioned to a toddler bed and is now sleeping in his own twin size "big boy" bed. He never gets up after sleeping, instead he waits for us to come and get him. He does not like pillows or blankets or stuffed animals....just Benny and his bed.

Soft. Ben is squishy. Not sure how best to describe it. He is so soft and mushy and squishy! He even rubs his own skin and says, "Mommy, I soffft". His ears have no hard cartilage. We love his little round belly (which is definitely thinning out as he grows) and chipmunk cheeks. Ben is super cuddly!!!

How has Ben changed over the year?

One year ago, Ben could walk but was very clumsy and fell a lot. He could not run (more of a shuffle). He could not step up a single stair, even using the handrail. He tired very easily and was generally very weak. He couldn't balance on one foot, jump, walk a balance beam / straight line, or pick up anything remotely heavy. His hair was shaved and very thin. He knew no English. He was not potty trained. Given his medical history, we weren't sure what degree of bladder / bowel control he would have.

Today, Ben can walk, run, jump, skip and climb the stairs with alternating feet and NOT hold the handrails! He can balance on one foot and ride a tricycle. He even climbed a swing set this weekend! His endurance and strength have improved tremendously, but are still a work in process. His hair is beautiful and thick and long. My co-workers like to describe it as the "Wall Street comb-over". LOL! He knows English at a level comparable to other children his age and has lost all of his Chinese China and for months afterwards Ben would point to a dog and say, "go-go" (Chinese pronunciation for dog). I pointed to a dog a few days ago and said, "go go" and Ben asked, "where we-a going?" No recollection.

Most significantly, Ben is completely potty trained and has no signs of his "special need" - Spina Bifida, Lipomyeleomeningocele. We will visit Riley Children's Hospital's Spina Bifida clinic again in July, 2012 for a routine visit and renal ultrasound. After that, we will likely visit annually. In the words of Riley's pediatric neurologist, "Ben is a miracle".

Ben started his new "school" a few weeks after returning home and loves it! Wonderful kids and caregivers....and lots of fun activities and snacks! :) It's the same preschool all of our kiddos have attended and we are confident he is very loved and receiving great care. 

His obsession over food has significantly lessened. He does LOVE to eat though! Favorites are Lucky Charms, donuts, cake, ice-cream (anything chocolate!), bananas, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, chips/cracks/snacks of any kind. Other fruits/any veggies....not so much.

He enjoys TV (Ni Hao Ki Lan, Team Umizoomie, Bubble Guppies), reading books, coloring, any kind of party (cake!), baths, playing "kitchen/cooking"...anything. He's really very content and enjoys most anything (except walking long distances or the heat of the Midwest!).

Most of all, Ben loves his family. :) He likes us, he really likes us!

Looking ahead....

"I CAN". Ben makes us laugh and smile every single day. We can't imagine our lives without him and can't wait to see what the next year holds for our BenBen. We heard a lot of  "I can't" this year and we're looking forward to a year of "I CAN"! We constantly remind him he CAN do anything he wants to do. He's beginning to believe us, and it's a beautiful thing!

Forever family. We're not sure Ben fully grasps the concept of "family", "forever" or "love" - and that makes us sad. There's still a fear and apprehension that his time with us will end. When we told Ben we were going to China to bring home his baby sister, he was terrified. "I no-a go backa Shyyyna". He did not want to go to China. He thought we were taking him back and bringing home Lucy Mei. Breaks my heart. I'm hoping as he ages and spends more time in our family, he will understand the security of unconditional, forever love and family.

More surprises. The experience of adopting a toddler is much different than adopting a newborn. Ben was a precious little person - with his own likes/dislikes, routines and preferences. We are still getting to know him (although we believe we're 90% there!) and each day he continues to amaze and surprise us. We're looking forward to a year filled with many new surprises...including how BenBen takes to being a "big brother"! Ben loves telling everyone about "my Lucy Mei, she in-a Shyyyna....she like-a me!"

Looking back, I can honestly say it has been a looonnnng, but extremely rewarding road. To see how far this amazing, courageous, happy little guy has come in the past year is beyond awe inspiring. He has taught us all so much and made us better people. He is truly a miraculous blessing to our family and we love and appreciate him more than he could ever know. We love you whole word BenBen!!! xoxoxoxoxo


Monday, July 4, 2011

Welcome Home Video

Please view the link's good to be home!!!


Day 18: The long trip home

As promised, I'm posting the details about our trip home. It was long. Very, very, very long. It started with the bellhop picking up our bags at 5:15 a.m. and then meeting our guide, John, and the Slone family at 5:30 a.m. in the lobby! Our flight to Shanghai departed at 9:00 a.m.

BenBen was HUNGRY!!! As soon as we hit the airport he ate 2 bananas and 3 pieces of bread within 5 minutes. We bought a fresh apple juice slushy at the airport to combat some of the banana constipation. We then had a few hours to kill prior to boarding, so we visited an airport toy store. We enjoyed playing with all the toys - not so sure the workers enjoyed it though! Hey, if BenBen is happy, everyone is happy!!! I also (secretly) purchased some vanilla cookies for the flight...just in case. :)

We finally boarded the 2 hr. flight to Shanghai. Greg had an aisle seat and Ben, Sam and I sat in the same row, across the aisle. BenBen was not sitting still. Orange juice was flying, magazines were ripped, all the vomit bags were torn to shreds and tossed about, more snacking, headsets were torn from the bags and then put back, and then removed, and then put back, (you get the picture!), this kiddo was not relaxing!!! Typical 2 1/2 year old behavior.

We arrived in Shanghai and that's when the real fun began. BenBen had been up since 4:30 a.m. (about 4 hrs. earlier than normal) and was NOT a happy camper. We flew a domestic flight from Guangzhou to Shanghai so we needed to retrieve our luggage, recheck our bags, go thru security and obtain our boarding passes at American Airlines International....and we had a 4 hour layover before our 14 hour flight to Chicago. Sigh......

By the time we made it to the American Airlines International check in counter, BenBen wanted no part of the stroller or anything else for that matter. He was sufficiently fed, watered, diapered and waaayyyyyy beyond tired. Nothing was going to satisfy our lil man. What started as a whiny cry proceeded to an utter screeching meltdown for nearly an hour as we stood in line. The American Airlines counter was not open yet....we were first in line (in what we thought was the right line!)......more on that later.

At one point a random Chinese woman approached and asked Ben, "where are your parents?"....LOL!!! We had pushed his stroller facing away from us...and of course, we don't particularly look like him. We spoke up, "we are his parents". Well, she says, "he's crying. (duh...) Perhaps you should be interacting with him?".....NOT a good thing for her to say. I responded, "Listen, we have 3 children and know how to interact with our children. We do not need your parenting advice"....yes, I was tired...nerves shot. Beyond stressed. 

Ben's "meltdowns" are often intense. His lungs are ginormous and his screams are sheer and utter terror. Besides giving in to him, nothing satisfies him. Often we don't know what he wants, if we even wanted to give in. Usually he doesn't even know what he wants. In this case, he didn't know what he wanted and pushed us away whenever we tried to help. We just had to wait it out...and that's painful for us and others. 

When American finally opened the check-in (Ben still screaming in full force), we were informed we were in the wrong line!!! They re-routed us to the "Economy" line check-in behind 100 other people. Well, after about 5 minutes they realized that was NOT a good idea. They swiftly moved us to the head of the Business Class check-in line!!! LOL!! I think everyone was relieved (albeit a little jealous!).
No one understands what Ben has been through in his short little life, especially the last 3 weeks. Not even us. He's grieving, he's confused, he's lost all sense of control and predictability and familiarity in his life. We can't blame him for being upset. He's also a little guy that has clearly gotten what he wants, when he wants it. The term "spoiled" comes to mind. There's some "re-wiring" that needs to take place but he'll be fine, this we know. He's strong-willed with a very loving, tender, sweet heart - and the best smile and laugh ever!!!! We just need to get him home!!!

After finally checking our bags, and heading back thru security, BenBen finally fell asleep in the stroller!!!! Our next mission was to find diapers! We had 1 diaper left. 1 diaper to get us to Chicago....not good. We assumed the airport would sell diapers....that was NOT the case. Seriously weird. We walked every store in the Shanghai airport and not a single diaper. Greg finally approached 2 other American families we had met in Guangzhou (at the White Swan Hotel) who were returning home (on another flight) with kiddos about Ben's age. They graciously supplied us with 2 more diapers!! Enough to get us to Chicago!!! 

We then ate lunch at the food court (Ben still sleeping!) at a Burger King!!! Ahhhh, Sam was in heaven! His first real cheeseburger and fries since Evansville!!! We purchased Ben chicken nuggets and fries for the flight...not knowing what would be served. Completely out of character for me (and if you know me, you'll know I must have been overly tired and stressed) - I ordered a fountain diet coke and large fries for lunch!! They were yummy!!!

Ben awoke shortly after lunch....and it just wasn't his day, poor guy. He couldn't be consoled and cried - slowing proceeding to a complete melt down - for over an hour. We tried everything. I finally took him into a "family" bathroom for some privacy (and perhaps soundproof walls!) in an attempt to calm him down. It just got worse. He was out of the stroller by this point.
I was walking the airport, holding BenBen, trying to console him (especially since we were boarding in mere minutes).... and decided to enter a store to buy bottled water for the flight. In the midst of his fit of inconsolable rage he saw a stuffed panda, smiled, pointed and said, "Mama, PANDA!!!"....and that was it. Fit over. Mama bought the water...AND the panda (a cute small pillow pet type).....and we literally ran to board our 4 p.m. flight to Chicago.

We were seated in "bulkhead" seating....due to Ben's meltdown at American Airlines (Shanghai). They felt sorry for us! It was the row directly behind business class with the most leg room. Great. The problem: the arm rests do not move so BenBen could not lay across our laps to sleep....and we're directly behind Business/First class. The pressure was on to keep this kiddo quiet! 

We settled in and Ben ate his fries, watched part of a movie from his seat's monitor ("Rango" in Chinese!), got up/down from his seat (he will not wear a seat belt) about 50 times, ate LOTS of vanilla cookies and various snacks, tore a few magazines and finally started to wind down around 9:00 p.m.. He only wanted to sleep on my lap...and he weighs 30 lbs. He also moves a lot and couldn't get comfortable. I knew there was NO way I could do this for 10+ hrs. Ben would NOT sit in his seat or with Greg. So, I tossed a blanket on the floor and made him a bed...and laid next to him on the floor to get him to sleep. I have never seen this done, had no idea if it was allowed....but I didn't care. Sheer desperation. I dared anyone to argue with me at this point! After about 3 minutes BenBen was asleep and I went back to my seat...and I slept! 

The "fasten seatbelt" sign came on and I was fearful the flight attendants would make me move Ben...but they didn't!!!! Don't wake a sleeping baby!!! I just put my legs over him and I guess that was secure enough for them! Ben slept the remainder of the flight!!!!!!!!....Greg and I slept a few hours. Sam slept about 6 hours. We landed in Chicago on schedule with only one meltdown just prior to landing as we strapped Ben into his seatbelt. A flight attendant quickly approached and said it would be Ok if he sat on my lap if I just held him tightly. Thank goodness!!! Smart lady! All the flight attendants were so sweet to Ben....our favorite attendant - a young guy - told us "Congratulations, he has your eyes". Cracked me up! He was Chinese.

I only used the restroom with Ben once (luckily he slept most of the flight!) and we met a lady and her son from China that live in Madisonville, Kentucky (about 45 minutes from Evansville) while waiting in line. They were very nice, and of course, thought BenBen was the cutest thing ever. Small world.

After deplaning the longest flight in the history of the world, (and BenBen officially becoming an American Citizen!!!!), the next round of meltdowns occurred as we headed to Customs & Immigration. We assumed our stroller would be at the baggage claim area (as with our other flights). We were standing in line and our favorite flight attendant runs up with our stroller. He tracked us down and said we should have gotten it after deplaning! How awesome was that?!!!! Can't imagine not having Ben's stroller! BenBen, on the other hand, not so happy. 

We made it through Customs & Immigration quickly and proceeded to claim our baggage. MAJOR MELTDOWN in progress. BenBen likes to ride the luggage carts. The carts in Chicago are not suitable for children sitting (vs. in China) and that was not to his liking. The entire Chicago baggage claim area was watching Ben in full glory. Finally, a baggage handler gave him a Snickers bar!!!!! Are you kidding me?!!!! The kid was in heaven....if you know me at all, that was NOT acceptable. But, what was I going to do....BenBen was all chocolaty smiles!

We rechecked our bags and proceeded thru Chicago's security for our final flight to Evansville at 7:40 p.m. Finally!!!! Ben cried some in the boarding area but mostly played with Sam...and got to know all the other Evansville bound families awaiting our flight. Everyone was so surprised how attached and happy he seemed. He was a little superstar! Greg had texted our family that we landed in Chicago and my sister called. It was so nice to speak with family and know we were sooooo close to home!

Our flight to Evansville was on-time (YAY!!!!!). We boarded and were seated directly behind the Chinese family from the Shanghai to Chicago flight!!! They were so sweet and speaking to Ben in Mandarin...but again, he wanted no part of it. It seemed everyone on our small flight knew BenBen and his story by now. Everyone was excitedly anticipating Ben's arrival to his hometown. As suspected (and totally justified for a 2 1/2 yr old), Ben proceeded into a complete meltdown when he had to keep the window shades and tray tables up (during takeoff and landing). 

The language barrier is difficult at times like these. Ben doesn't understand why some things are ok at some times, and not ok at others. How do we communicate that? It will take time. I'd be frustrated if I were him too! Luckily, the Chinese family in front of us retrieved a cake "treat" and pineapple juice box from their carry-on and gave it to BenBen. It was soooo nice and of course, he was instantly happy and distracted. Ben cried again at landing (we think it hurts his ears too) and the Chinese man offered him his eye-glasses case.....BenBen was good the remainder of the flight, but I was afraid he wouldn't want to return it! 

We landed on time and my heart was RACING....just knowing my kiddos were waiting for us was soooo exciting! We deboarded - and what seemed like an hour - waited for our stroller and a bag before entering the airport. We could see balloons and people waving from the windows but couldn't tell if they were for us or who the people were. Ben had no clue what was about to happen. I was praying he wouldn't meltdown or be scared by the chaos! We took the elevator up, turned the corner and there they were....everyone!!!! Ben was walking beside me. I saw Ellie and Jack first and immediately started crying (well, bawling "ugly" cry is more like it). Ben looked at me with a very frightened look on his face. I had to reassure him Mama was happy!!!! 

I couldn't hug my kiddos tightly enough! They looked like they'd grown inches and matured tons. We were soooo surprised and shocked by all the people - Greg's Mom, my parents, my sister Holly, her husband Kevin and their kiddos (Sophie, Lucas), my brother John, his wife Amy and their 4 kiddos (Vincent, Katlynn, Dylan and Trenton) and our neighbors Krista and Brad Will and their two children (Kaley and Porter - both adopted from China) AND even Krista's parents!!! It was wonderful - balloons, signs, tears of joy, hugs and lots of chaos. Ben did great!!! The welcome home was totally unexpected and VERY much appreciated!!!!! 

Ben was the midst of all the chaos he just took off. At one point I turned around and he was walking to baggage claims with all the kids!!! He felt totally comfortable. What a miraculous little boy. 

Ben loves affection....but, from people he knows well. Seems perfectly logical to me. It will take him some time to get to know everyone and accept their hugs, kisses and affection but he'll come around. He'll be rough-housing with the cousins in no time!!!

After briefly visiting with everyone we headed to the van....exhausted and ready for bed!!! The next challenge was the car seat....BenBen is not a fan of seatbelts, let alone a 5 harness car seat! He cried but was instantly distracted by holding the balloons. :) We arrived home to more welcome signs and a banner and gifts.....and of course, Chezzy! Ben was soooooooo excited. Chezzy did great with him...they are going to be best buds. They even managed to play some "fetch". Ben opened a gift from Holly and Kevin - a monogrammed beach towel, 2 basketballs, Cardinals baesball shirt and 1st pair of Crocs! The Will's had even dropped by a gift for US! A six-pack of TsingTao and some Pringles!!!! How perfect was that?!  

Sam was also excited to distribute all the souvenirs we purchased....Ellie loved her new Chinese traditional gowns and slippers and jade pendant necklace. Jack was not as impressed with his Chinese traditional outfit or hat...he just wanted to follow Ben around the house, gently "petting" his arm and saying, "Hi buddy, I'm Jack, your big brother". It was soooooooo sweet!!!!

Sam was on overdrive. As soon as we boarded the plane to Evansville he said, "I'm so happy to be going home"....which for Sam, is a lot to say! Within 5 minutes of being home he was hammering his Chinese lanterns to the ceiling in his bedroom, setting up his new Chinese Chess set, laying out his dragon marionette and his jade Buddha and serpent. He loves his room and couldn't wait to get all settled in.

After Chezzy, BenBen went straight for the toy area in the living room. He seemed overwhelmed, tired but happy to see the kids and his new surroundings. We explored the house, gave Ben a quick bath, moved his toddler bed from Jack/Ben's room next to our bed, and off he went to sleep. Greg and I then spent a little time with Ellie and Jack and we were all off to bed by 11 p.m. Whew.....

It felt beyond nice to be home again, with all my kiddos under one and sound. Exhausted does not begin to describe how tired we were....emotionally and physically. The journey is long, the travel is hard and meeting/raising your new child in a hotel room while touring with no schedules and routines is extremely difficult. BUT, it was amazing. We feel so blessed to have this miraculously strong, handsome, smart, sweet little boy in our lives. We do believe he was meant to be ours....always. We will face a few challenges because we know nothing about the first 2 years and 8 months of his life....or his birth family. We do know he is strong, persevering and trusting and loving us more every day.

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank everyone who has followed our journey and supported us thru prayers, emails, blog/Facebook comments, watched our kiddos and maintained our home (Meri!!!!), mowed our grass (Clay/Drew Drew!), included our kiddos/Meri in family outings and dinners (my family)...all so appreciated. We couldn't have done it without you!!

We will try to keep the blog updated for a while so everyone can follow BenBen's progress and adjustment into our family and we hope you'll continue to follow along. :)


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day 17: LAST post from China!! Packing, Red Couch, Lucy's!!!

Whew!!! What a JOURNEY it has been!!!

This will be our last update from China. Our guide is picking us up tomorrow morning at 5:30 a.m. for a 9:00 a.m. departure to Shanghai. We depart Shanghai at 4:10 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 5:00 p.m. and depart Chicago at 7:40 p.m. We have a very tight layover in Chicago to pass thru Customs & Immigration before making our connection to Evansville and (HOPEFULLY!!!!) arriving at 8:45 p.m.

Today has been a very laid back day as we prepare for tomorrow's journey back home. We started the day with our last White Swan breakfast, walking/shopping the island with our buddies (the Teagues - we're gonna miss you guys!!), packing, napping (BenBen) and drinking (Greg) sad.

A few random bullet points on our journey:
  • Skype has been wonderful!!! Can't imagine not seeing and speaking with our kiddos at least every other day. We miss them soooo much and BenBen knows them already!! -- and "go go" too (aka, Chezzy).
  • VPN is crucial for Facebook and Blogger. Glad we had in advance!!! Loved reading everyone's comments!!! Thank you to all who followed our journey!!!
  • Meeting other Americans and their new children in Guangzhou has been priceless....and a real lifesaver. We have met some truly wonderful people and look forward to continuing our friendship back in the States.
  • We ate wayyyyy too much!!!! It's difficult to fill up on Chinese food!!!....and it's sooooo good!! I'm a master at chopsticks now!....LOVE Chinese beer (although I learned that Tsingtao is actually brewed in Germany!). I believe we'll be able to buy it in Evansville. :)
  • The Great Wall is amazing. Beautiful....absolutely breathtaking. Wish we could have spent several days there or more. It's that freakin' awesome!
  • We missed the opportunity to visit a province (since BenBen was from Beijing) and only experienced "big city" China. Perhaps another visit someday to experience rural China is in our future...? hmmm.....
  • We found the Hutongs, back alleys and "real life" China to be extremely interesting and educational. Life is so different here. Our Guangzhou guide, John, is 25 and has never left China. It was so enlightening to hear his thoughts on America (where everyone is "rich") vs. life in China.  
  • There is very little religion in China....even Buddhism. Except holidays, Chinese "worship" from home. On holidays they may journey to a temple.
  • Chinese women value light skin....every cosmetic counter (Clinique, namebrands...) sells "lightening creams"....every cosmetic has sunscreen + lightening additive.
  • A good business for a Chinese local to start: Gotcha Day photography and videography!! Greg took some amazing photos and our guide took video....but other families weren't as fortunate. Such treasured moments.
  • The White Swan does NOT have electrical outlets in the bathroom, clocks, strollers to rent/borrow or any food you can afford (other than the breakfast included with the room)...and never enough towels. The pool is wonderful and a great meeting place for families. Great hotel service! 
  • The adoption medical office is also moving off the Shamian Island and relocating near the US Consulate. I doubt Shamian Island will be a destination for adoptive families in the future. 
  • Jordon's truly is the ONLY store on the island that doesn't pester you when shopping!! It's annoying....but in a friendly kind of way. 
  • LOTS of tourist traps....Beijing and Guangzhou -- tea shops, jade factories, souvenir shops in general. Shop with Ann @ Red Thread while in Guangzhou, if you can!!! Everything is marked up 70% or more!
  • A lot of Chinese adoptive children return to China on "heritage tours" with their parents. A LOT of them are staying at the White Swan. Very interesting to see them with their families of 10-20 years.
  • Chinese men (in general!) are rude. Very pushy and inconsiderate of women....except John, our guide! They're always spitting, hacking and coughing. 
  • Chinese women (in general!) are NOT afraid to stare (closely and for LONG periods of time) and instruct you on parenting skills - in Chinese - as they chase you down the street (while you're pushing your screaming child in a stroller).  
  • Younger Chinese are much nicer and most know some English....they all seem to think BenBen is extremely handsome!  
  • Dogs are almost never on leashes....even in the bigger cities.
  • We haven't seen a single family home (free standing) in China...only highrises with clothes hanging on the a typhoon or sun. 
  • The squatty potty - I could do an entire post on this....for another day, perhaps.
BenBen has come a looonnnng way in the 17 days we've had him! A few tidbits:
  • He now cries when "Baba" leaves his sight. He has definitely bonded with both parents...although he still prefers his "Mama" (which is great, until he wants to be carried!).
  • He's learning more English every day but it's still frustrating for us/him when he cries and we can't console him.
  • He says up, down, please, thank you, eat, drink, more, finished, mama, baba, Sam (or ge ge "big brother"), Ellie, Jack, ball, shoes, panda, diaper, and fishies (in the White Swan lobby pond), ohhh (with a look of surprise and rounded mouth), hold on, buckle and sit down - regularly.
  • He knows "nighty night" (but doesn't use it much - doesn't like the thought of actually going to sleep - but great once he gets there!) and "potty"...but is still in diapers.
  • He likes to count to ten with us when he walks up and down stairs....he's almost got 'em all! 
  • He's learning his colors (he knew "lellow" yesterday)...but, Greg said it was a "Fredbird" - (inside joke for Waltsan!).
  • He does tell us after he poops and always holds his nose, waves his hand and says, "shuuuuuueeeee" as we change him!!
  • He still does not like messes but he's getting much better!
  • He's also learning to share, a little....yesterday he shared his treasured "chocolate filled teddy grahams" with Daniel (another FTIA lil guy), major progress!!!
  • He loves to throw things away, line up all of our shoes and get his hands into anything he's not supposed to!
  • He also knows to whine (incessantly) for anything he wants or doesn't even know he wants. It's sooooo annoying...we're trying so hard not to give in and it is getting better. BUT, in the meantime, food usually does the trick!
  • He loves when I gel his hair (sorry G'pa!) -- and then he wants to comb it. Soooo cute.
  • He knows how to "give love" and will hug you or give a big open mouth kiss.
  • He knows how to high five, ching ching (aka "fist pump") and blow kisses.
  • He also says, "awwwwww" every time we show him his picture on the digital camera!!! Cracks us up!
  • We're trying to teach him NOT to give the thumbs up on every photo - so if you see a picture with his arms very straight - to his sides - that Greg telling him to put his arms down!
  • He LOVES to nap and requires a LOT of sleep...and still no blanket or pillow. Crossroads (preschool) may need to extend the 2 hr napping period for BenBen!!!
  • Ben has yet to eat a vegetable or a fruit (other than banana) since we've been here. Hmmmm.......
  • He has the sweetest belly laugh and mischievous smile ever.
  • We have not called him Xigang or GangGang since about day 4. It's Ben or BenBen....and he definitely knows his name.
  • He loves his Ge Ge (big brother) Sam and BenBen thinks he's much bigger and capable than his 2 1/2 years of age. We think he's going to play football - go GSS Rams!
  • We think he likes us and can't imagine our lives without him!!
  • He's funny, loving and a typical 2 1/2 year old. Fun times ahead!!!! 
Through 4 adoption journeys, I can honestly say from the deepest depth of my heart, you parent the child you're meant to parent. BenBen's a Schultz, without a doubt. As I was laying in bed one morning, next to him (well, actually he was lying sideways!) and I was looking at him in sheer amazement (sucking his thumb, bottom in the air, looking so adorable) I was NOT thinking (as most people do -- "an orphan no more").......I was thinking.....we found you....

BenBen was always meant to be ours - he was never an orphan. He was always in our hearts...and others cared for him (very lovingly!) until we could get here!!!....Never an orphan. Always loved. Always cared for. Always in our hearts. Can't wait for everyone to meet him!!! He's a VERY special little guy. What a tremendous miracle we have witnessed with his tearful, frightful, screaming, initial meeting to his loving attachment to our little family....and daily increasing trust. He is changing all of our lives. How lucky we are to have love him, forever.

Sam has been great!!! Yes, we actually do have another child on this trip!! He has adjusted so well to everything and has truly been wonderful with BenBen. Sam has enjoyed the trip....and Guangzhou a LOT more than Beijing. The pool, friends (Carson and Spencer) and a more "Westernized" environment (where everyone is not gawking at him) have been lifesavers. Sam is missing his friends though and definitely his "room"....(that's what he'll say if you ask him!). I guess he's wanting his private space back and display all the souvenirs he's purchased....including a Chess set today. We're such suckers!

It's getting late and we're back from our last dinner in China at Lucy's with our friends from FTIA and the Harrell's (our friends we met in Beijing!). 16 of us on the outdoor porch...having a few beers and rehashing our journeys. It has truly been a remarkable experience. Each of us with very different circumstances and "challenges" but all with a common thread - unconditional love for our child and is a faithful journey. This evening was a wonderful evening to end our journey.

I'm down in the lobby finishing this last post (our internet package in the room expired today!). Sam and Ben are hopefully sleeping and I'm heading upstairs for our final packing weigh-in. 

Our Red Couch photos were great and I can't wait for Greg to share them with you all on Shutterfly....may be after our trip home though. The kiddos looked sooooooo cute in their traditional Chinese clothing and all posed so perfectly (4 in all). Ben did great and even posed a few shots without the famous thumbs up! :) He's such a poser!!!

Well, this is our final farewell post from China. It has gone by quickly but also seems like forever!!! We're all ready for home and can't wait to unite our family. I've been missing a piece of my heart on this journey....I'm not myself without all my kids in tow. I've missed them terribly. Please pray for safe travels home.

Thanks to everyone who has helped us along in this journey -- FTIA (Betty rocks!!!!), our guides (especially Shirley and John) and most of all our families, friends and co-workers at home. We couldn't have done this without all of your love and support. 
Blessings and see you all soon!!!!


Monday, June 27, 2011

Day 16: US Consulate appt, Huacheng Square, 5th floor with friends!!

It was an early start today for BenBen!! This kid loves to sleep!! We had to wake him at 5:30 a.m. to eat breakfast and meet our guide by 7:05 a.m. He was NOT happy. But, as soon as we told him we were eating, he was a new kid!! The van taking us to the US Consulate was filled with 6-7 families all from the White Swan Hotel. The Sloan family from FTIA was with us (adopting their first child, a darling little guy named Daniel) - but all the other families were with CCAI and adopted their children from the same province!! Must be a huge agency!!!

Cameras/cell phones/any electronics (even toy cell phones!) are not allowed in the US Consulate area. There was a security checkpoint where we left our stroller and all of our electronics for pickup after we exited the room. There were approximately 20 families with appointments at the same time as ours. We entered a nice room with seats lined on either side of the center doors. Adoptions to the right, regular Chinese visas to to the left. There was a nice play area for the kiddos (chalk board, table, chairs) and we all stood and chatted until we heard the American voice!!! A Caucasian lady made the announcement for our attention - followed by some instructions....and finally, the Oath. We all raised our right hand and promised our documents were legitimate, among other things which I don't recall. Then, one by one we were called to the window by our agency/child's Chinese name. They verified our passports with the information provided, we signed a document and that was it!

Our guide did take our picture downstairs in the entry way in front of the US Consulate's sign (which contained the American Flag). Thumbs up for all!!!!! It was such a relief to have this last appointment behind us. All of the paperwork and possible what-ifs are behind us!!!! He's ours and we cannot wait to have him in America....with his whole family. We can't imagine what he'll be thinking as we escort him through yet another drastic country, sites, sounds, smells, language, etc. Nothing will be familiar to him but us. We're so thankful we've had this time to bond with him and build some trust before we throw him into the Schultz family routine!!! LOL!!! He's gonna fit right in!!!

BenBen is doing great! He has his moments, like any 2 1/2 year old but overall he's amazingly happy and good. He LOVES to laugh, give kisses (I'll be across the room and he'll yell, "Mama!" - I'll turn and he'll pucker up and smooch me!!!) and roughhouse/play with Sam. They are going to be buddies, no doubt! He's very adaptable to most situations and goes with the long as there's food and water. The kid wants to be eating constantly. We're giving in for now...but we'll need to limit the "snacking" at home. 

We came back to the hotel and journeyed out for an early lunch (early nap to follow!) to Subway. BenBen loves the Chicken Teriyaki. He eats all the chicken and some of the veggies of course. NOT a fruit or veggie guy. Not even apple juice (to try and help his recent constipation). There's a little convenience store next to Subway (where the lady gave him the "meltdown" sucker a few days ago), we found some awesome little teddy bear graham thingys with chocolate inside! He LOVES 'em!!! We'll have a backpack full for the 14 hr flight home!!!! -- and we debated...and finally broke down.....and bought a pacifier. Yes, we know. It's ridiculous....but, if it helps soothe him on the flight home we'll try anything!!!!! He sucks his thumb when he's really tired or sleeping, but not when he's in the "zone". We're hoping a meltdown does not develop in flight, but if it does, we'll give it a try!! (along with every other possible snack item imaginable).

BenBen is napping now and Sam/Greg/I are blogging/watching movies/resting. We're meeting our guide and the other FTIA families at 2:30 p.m. for a tour of "modern Guangzhou"....not sure what to expect but we're going with it! I believe we are dining above Jordon's (5th floor) again tonight - with the Sloans and the Teagues - from our group. Should be a lot of fun!

Our "Red Couch" photo is tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. For those not familiar with Chinese adoption, it's legendary for families to have their photos taken (along with the other adopting families) on the red couch in the lobby of the White Swan hotel. Families not even staying at the hotel will journey to the hotel for this photo. The newly adopted children typically wear "traditional" Chinese outfits. We can't wait! We bought BenBen AND Sam an outfit for this special photo!!!!

We toured "Huacheng Square" with our group - it's Guangzhou's largest square and Guangzhou TV & Sightseeing Tower (largest in the world) is a new landmark of Guangzhou. We saw the new Guangzhou Opera House and the site of the 2010 Asian Games. It was a beautiful area - the financial district of Guangzhou....and full of 5 star+ hotels (Ritz, W, Four Seasons). We asked John if the people who work in this district make a good living, and where do they live? He said, "only people who work for the government are rich"! LOL!. John, said his cousin has a 2 bedroom condo overlooking the square and paid 10 million yuan or $1.5 million USD. I asked what his cousin did for a living and he said, "he works at a hospital but his wife works for the government." Hmmm......

Dark rain clouds were looming, so we boarded the bus back to the hotel and headed to the 5th floor restaurant above Jordon's (with the Sloans and the Teagues and John!). They sat us in a very nice, banquet type room and it was a blast! We are really enjoying our group and John is a hoot! We love picking on him :) He's a big kid at heart and great with the kids. We drank lots and ate even more!!! Good times, treasured memories.

We walked in the rain back to our hotel and of course, a stop at our favorite gift shop "Chinese Life" next to the hotel. BenBen is a rockstar there and it's always fun to stop by and say hello. Sam asked the Teague's sons (Carson and Spenser) to come back to our room and teach him to play chess (with Carson's new chess set). It was fun having them in the room with us! They are such great kids and Sam has thoroughly enjoyed being with them. We have too! Finally, off to bed!

Tomorrow we're packing (YAY!!!), swimming, Red Couch photos and dinner with our group and the Harrell's (the couple we dined with in Beijing) at Lucy's. A perfect way to end our trip!!! We are so excited about getting home....but the journey (over 25 hrs. + of travel) not so much. We will be exhausted and jet lagged for quite a few days, if not a week. We're fortunate Greg's mom (Meri) is staying in town until the 9th so we'll have help with the kiddos not suffering jet lag!! -- and everything else!! We're so thankful for Meri - 3 weeks with Ellie and Jack and not a single issue!!! She's ready for us to return home but we're thankful for her patience and care of the kiddos more than she'll ever know. It made this journey possible for us and we're VERY, VERY thankful for her.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day 15: Six Banyan Temple, Chen House, best meal yet!!!

Today was another touring day with our fellow FTIA families. We met John (our guide) and the other families in the hotel lobby at 9:30 a.m. (after another over indulging White Swan breakfast!!!!).

There were 3 other families on the tour and 8 kiddos total. First stop was the Temple of Six Banyan ancient Buddhist temple originally built in 537 in the Liang Dynasty. It is one of 4 Buddhist temples in Guangzhou. It was raining, and our 2nd Buddhist temple since arriving in China, so we weren't overly partaking in its wonderment. The second stop was the Guangzhou Ancestral Temple of the Chen Family built in the 1890's during the Quing Dynasty. It was built as a collective effort by the Chen families from 72 counties all over Guangdong providence to honor and worship their ancestors. OR, as Greg prefers to describe it for blog purposes, "just tell 'em it was a real snoozer"....I think we're kinda China'd out on the sights. We enjoy spending time with the other families and seeing the sights though...just ready to come home.

From there we stopped at "Carrefour" grocery store for snacks/groceries. It was fun seeing the bizarre variety of flavors and food available. We purchased mostly snacks and PB, bread for the room, a Pineapple Beer (for Greg), Pearl River Beer (aka Guangzhou beer for us - love it!!), various snacks (Pringles regular YAY!) and goldfish, gummies, M&M's, suckers and teddy grahams for BenBen. Ben is happiest when he's eating....and with a nearly 25 travel time home....lots of snacks will be flowing.

We ate PB sandwiches in the room for a quick lunch and put the boys down for naps (yes, both boys!!). I took laundry back to the "Chinese Life" gift shop and toured the island a little while Greg stayed back with the nappers. When I returned, the boys were still napping so Greg took his turn roaming/touring. He was adventurous enough to cross the bridge off the island and head back to the shopping area from yesterday. The boys woke after a nearly 3 hour nap and we watched Ni Hao Kai Lan on my iPad until Greg returned.

It was around 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. by this point so we decided to walk down by the pool to see if our fellow FTIA buddies were swimming. We met them on the way, and after letting the boys swim for a while, decided on dinner at a local restaurant off the beaten path - with a wonderful reputation for cheap food, great service and excellent food. Sounded great!! For those traveling, it's on the 5th floor above Jordon's gift elevator. Just head to the back of the hall between Jordon's shop and up to the 5th floor. They have menus in English and Chinese, air conditioning and help yourself rice from a huge crockpot...and a cat running around. The people were very accommodating....happily pushing tables together for our large group. The food was EXCELLENT - best we've had so far - and cheap!!! DEFINITELY a top recommendation for Shamian Island. Plus, they offer takeout food AND TsingTao!....+ only 2 blocks from the White Swan. We had a great time!!! LOVE our travel buddies...truly a blessing on this journey. I'm sure you'll see our dinner highlight in Greg's photos -- a chicken dish the Teague's ordered with the head still attached. At one point Greg was using it as a puppet....I nearly vomited. Good laughs though...not sure the locals appreciated our "American" humor though!

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the "Chinese Life" gift shop for our laundry (great prices! - like $20 for a week's worth - 4 people) much better than the hotel and same day service - neatly folded and tucked inside plastic bags. Highly recommend!)....and of course, BenBen stole the show. All the girls in the store know his name and follow him around for kisses. He only wants his Mama though....LOVE!!!

Back to the room and quickly skyped the kids! Miss them soooooo much --- only 3 more days!!! Doesn't seem real! They look like they've grown so much since we've been gone! :( Baths for the boys then bed. I'm finishing the blog and right behind them.

Tomorrow is our U.S. Consulate appointment -- the swearing in, under oath, that will make BenBen a US Citizen once he lands on US soil. Our LAST appointment in this journey and we couldn't be happier!!! We've enjoyed this once in a lifetime opportunity....we will cherish these memories forever. We're glad we had the 3 weeks to bond and attach with seems like we've always had him - already! But we're ready to get home....see our Ellie Bell and Jack Jack and see BenBen with his entire family and "go go" - (his Chinese pronunciation of dog). Our lives will never be the's hard to believe we met our precious lil man only 2 weeks ago today!!

We'll leave early tomorrow morning with another FTIA family at 7:05 a.m. and will return around 11:00 a.m. We'll lunch and nap and we have tours scheduled with the other families at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday is a free day (other than picking up BenBen's visa and packing - and maybe our "Red Couch" photos!) and Wednesday we leave!!!!!!!!!!!

BenBen has really been great these past two days. No meltdowns and very well behaved....95% of the time!! That's pretty awesome for any 2 1/2 year old!!! The whining is ceasing too -- it was like a cry, but not really a cry. DROVE US CRAZY!! Anyway, that is lessening as his/our communication improves. He's also learning to count (almost to 10 - in English!) and LOVES to laugh....he's a VERY happy little guy and charms everyone he meets. He has such energy and sweetness and big cheeks that everyone tries to kiss!!! He's getting better with walking but still quite clumsy and trips/falls a lot. He's mostly been walking lately (his big boy independent little self) vs. the stroller and we're glad to see him gaining strength (and some exercise)!! I gotta tell ya though....this kid sweats!!! Poor guy...gotta get him some dri fit shirts for our humid Evansville summers!!! 


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 14: More shopping, swimming & dinner with friends!!!

Another free day today! We started the day sleeping in until 7:30 a.m., skyping the kiddos, breakfast, and some island shopping. The plan was to meet our guide, John, and the other FTIA families at 2:30 p.m. for some shopping off the island....pearl/jade, pet and medicine markets.

The island was packed (since it was Saturday) with locals and photo shoots everywhere!!!! It seems every bride in China has a photo shoot on Shamian Island because of its historic colonial look and beauty. Plus, models (including ones in bras and panties only!). A lot of locals were out - exercising, playing badminton, playing with their kiddos. It's a beautiful, charming little place and we love it. So different than Beijing.

We visited Jordon's place to pick up Benjamin's scroll and purchased a few items (definitely see the price difference vs. shopping wholesale with Ann!). We even managed to buy BenBen his first pair of "Squeakers" that squeak when he walks. They're sandals and fit his "Fred Flinstone" feet (LOVE!!!!)much better than the socks with Stride Rites we brought from home! :)

We came back to the room around 12:30 p.m. so BenBen could nap before our shopping excursion with the other families. He fell asleep quickly. Greg agreed to hang in the room this time so Sam and I could take a walk to find a local "charity" gift shop where we can donate unused items before we leave (i.e. medicines, diapers, etc.) and pick up Subway for lunch. Greg enjoyed his time in the room, drinking a Pearl River beer....and crying over his broken camera. Soooo sad.

We met our John and the Teague family (with new daughter Mia - adorable!!!!) at 2:30 p.m. and loaded the White Swan (deluxe!) bus to the shopping district. It was sunny out and extremely crowded!!! The shopping district was a long street (no cars allowed) and beautiful....hanging lanterns, loud music, TONS of people. We saw a McDonald's converted into a lingerie store...hmmmm......and a koi pond with children feeding the fish using bottles. No one bought anything but it was very fun and interesting to see.

We then walked thru the small, crowded pet, turtles, bunnies, cats, dogs, gerbils, hamsters, birds, lizards, frogs, crabs, salamanders. BenBen loved the "go go's" (dogs), of course. We turned onto the medicine street and it was packed with vendors selling dried animal skins, herbs, tree bark - you name it. John said most items are used in soups. He also said he sees a Western doctor for antibiotics. :)

We walked back to the island (just over a bridge) and walked with the Teague's to Jordon's. They bought Mia her Squeakers (hot pink) so LOTS of squeaking!!! We decided to head back to the hotel so the boys could swim before dinner (the Teagues have 2 boys - Carson and Spenser). Although BenBen had a nap, we were still apprehensive about dining out.

We decided to risk it and venture out with the Teagues to a Cantonese restaurant our guide recommended that is very close to our hotel. It was packed...and quite an experience! The menus are huge but most have pictures which helps when you don't speak Mandarin! The waiters also expect you to order everything at once and they deliver dishes in complete random order - whenever they're ready, I guess. They also do NOT offer napkins...even in the finest restaurants. We've also seen a lot of locals wearing plastic gloves when they eat. Interesting...

Greg ordered a variety of dishes including a beef rib dish, chicken dish, fried rice and noodles...and Pearl River beer! (LOVE the beer here!). All the dishes were quite spicy vs. Beijing food.

We really enjoyed the time with the Teagues. They are a great family and such a blessing to have with us on this trip. Ben did GREAT!!!! He sat patiently throughout the long meal and tried most dishes. 

We walked back to the hotel (around 8:30 p.m.) - which is very late for BenBen. We gave him a quick bath and off to bed...Greg, Sam and I are headed to bed now too (about 9:30 p.m.).  

Tomorrow (Sunday) we're going on a temple tour (I think, not even sure which one!)'s supposed to rain (rainy season in Guangzhou) so we'll see. John received Ben's passport from Beijing yesterday!!!!!

Monday is our U.S. Consulate appointment swearing in. YAY!!! This will be the last appointment before we leave for HOME!!!! We'll pick up Ben's Visa on Tuesday and we leave early Wednesday morning - flying Guangzhou to Shanghai to Chicago to Evansville! Arriving at 8:45 p.m. Wednesday night!!!! Can't wait!!!


Friday, June 24, 2011

Day 13: Shopping, screaming & swimming!

We're back at the room for the night. BenBen is ready for bed....after no nap today. But, he slept 16 hours last night! This kid LOVES to sleep.

Greg went exploring the island early this a.m. while we slept -- and his camera stopped working due to the moisture. Not good. We have a back up camera but Greg is a camera "snob" and the pictures certainly won't be worthy but they'll have to do. :)

We started the morning at 7:30 a.m. with Ben an inch from my face saying, "Mama...Mama". It's such a great way to start each morning!! Sam slept on the sofa vs. the inflatable mattress (something about the room being too cold). We headed down to breakfast and Benjamin can eat!!! He tells anyone that speaks to him in Mandarin that he's hungry. Cracks us up! He was working the wait staff again. They love seeing him each morning.

Sam usually finishes breakfast before us (well, BenBen)....he was touring the amazing lobby and a Chinese lady approached him and said, "beautiful, beautiful"...Sam said thank you and ran away....and she followed him! She kept saying, "beautiful"....LOL!

We had about 30 minutes to kill so we walked around the island. The weather was beautiful and sunny (finally!) and we strolled to Jordan's (a very famous souvenir shop on the island)...the owner, Jordan, is "Christian" and happy and proud to share this with you. He also has a wonderful reputation and will write your adoptive child's name in Chinese calligraphy / scroll for free. We loved his little store and he's so friendly and knows English very well. His prices seemed very reasonable compared to other touristy stores. He's also "no pressure sales" as his sign outside indicates. We had to leave to meet Ann so we'll head back tomorrow for some shopping. Highly recommend a visit to meet Jordan! He's quite a character!!!

Next, we were off to meet Ann (our personal shopping guide!) at 10:30 a.m. at the hotel. We took a taxi to a shopping district in Guangzhou, off the island. It was an 8 story building and tons of tiny shops selling anything imaginable. Ann is able to get "wholesale prices at a discount"....and it's definitely true!!! We then visited the pearl and jade market. Without divulging all of our secret purchases, it was a very successful excursion!!! We paid Ann $30 for 3 hours plus taxi fairs of $6. We completed nearly all of our souvenir shopping with tremendous savings over the island and/or Beijing prices. TOTALLY WORTH IT!!! I would highly recommend her services if you're visiting Guangzhou!! Plus, she's super nice, a great negotiator and great with the kids....she said we are VERY decisive and efficient shoppers and she enjoyed that! :)  

We came back to the hotel and decided to head out for lunch (after Ann said BenBen was hungry for rice!). We decided on a local Shamian Island staple -- Lucy's. It's super convenient....and served PB&J (Sam)!!! We knew it was a risk though...Ben was overly tired and had been schlepped all over Guangzhou for the past 3 hours of shopping, in a stroller in the heat. Well, Ben decided he did not want to share the we couldn't order. We finally pulled a menu away and meltdown city. Head on the table, screaming. Time to go. I ordered a quick take out meal of noodles and chicken for BenBen and wheeled him out of the restaurant to wait outside for our takeout....meltdown still in process. Chinese people were coming out of stores and homes staring at us....shaking their heads and yelling at me. Hmmm....not so good. Greg ran the food outside and I pushed Ben back to the hotel room. The meltdown (aka screaming) continued nonstop thru the lobby, elevator and into our room....something like I've never experienced. BenBen has a set of lungs on him!!!

I tried speaking to Ben a few times to no avail. When he's in the "zone" it's futile. After about 15 minutes he finally stopped crying, looked at me, and waved his hands "finished"....and smiled. Like nothing ever happened. Mama needed a TsingTao!!!

BenBen ate his lunch and by then Sam and Greg had returned. We decided to forgo nap because BenBen seemed in a great mood, it was beautiful out and we hadn't taken BenBen swimming yet. Ben was very apprehensive about swimming at first. Greg sat with him in the baby pool and he wanted no part of it. After about 30 minutes he started walking in the pool while holding Greg's hand...and then finally by himself! He loved playing with Sam and splashing and didn't mind when he fell under the water.

We decided take out for dinner would be our best option considering Ben's absence of a nap. We changed out of suits and were off to search for dinner. Ben did NOT want to be in the stroller (or something...we're not really sure) but we got outside of the hotel and he started the meltdown. This time I let Greg push the stroller! Sam and I went into Subway. I looked outside and a shop worker came out of her store and gave Ben a sucker.....when she asked Greg why Ben was crying Greg said, "because he wants out of the stroller". So, SHE TOOK HIM OUT. What?! Well, BenBen couldn't have been happier....exactly as he wanted. We're calling him the "Little Emperor"....whatever "LE" wants, "LE" gets. SO sad. Greg, I and Ben ended up with takeout from a deli next to the hotel that serves "Chinese" takeout. Hmmm.....we got some kind of soup with a head in it and the "chicken" I had was not edible. I ate white rice, a beer and Greg ran out later for ice cream while Sam and I watched movies on our iPads. Ahhhh.....

We think the recipe for BenBen is lotso food and sleep!!! We'll need to work some exercise in the regimen or he'll be a sumo wrestler!!

Tomorrow is another free day. Our other FTIA families should be here tonight and they'll have their child's medical exams tomorrow. Hopefully we can meet up with them tomorrow afternoon. We don't have any plans...a day of just hanging out around the hotel sounds great! We haven't taken our red couch photos yet or many shots around the hotel. We also need to return to Jordan's to pick up Benjamin's scroll and a few other souvenirs. I'm sure we'll be swimming at some point and napping too! :)

Missing home and can't wait for Ellie and Jack (and everyone!!!) to finally meet our BenBen! Only 4 more nights!!!


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day 12: Safari Zoo, Typhoon, Papa John's!

Today has been an amazing day for our little family....I can't explain it, something has "clicked" and it just felt right....more "normal", more relaxed and not stressful. Benjamin had his best day yet...and it wasn't an easy day to be "good"! He's learning to trust us more and comprehend a lot more of what we say. Waiting, patience and communication are still his biggest challenges...but it's getting better day by day. John, our guide, commented he has never seen a 2 year old with such a good English vocabulary and the ability to understand and communicate with his new family. He's such a smart lil guy!!!

It's little, Ben is beginning to understand that breakfast WILL be served, albeit not the millisecond we enter the restaurant! LOL! He also wants to do "big boy" stuff like Sam (hold an iPad, bumper cars at the Zoo, etc.) and that's sometimes difficult for us to explain to him. We think he's beginning to realize this is the real deal....and he kind of likes it! We realize we have a long road ahead of us but his behavior and cuteness today were beyond normal for even the best behaved 2 1/2 year old. :)

We slept in until 7:30 a.m. and had to meet John at 9:30 a.m. for the Safari Zoo tour. LOVE the White Swan breakfast - where else can you find pizza and dim sum for breakfast?! Ben had congee again but was more interested in the noodles and scrambled eggs today. Still no fruits besides bananas. We met another family from Green Bay, Wisconsin...adopting their 2nd girl. Their first girl, Anna, is 7 1/2 and they waited over 5 years for their 2nd girl, Claire (age 18 mos.). She was absolutely precious. Ben and Claire were flirting with each other all during breakfast...soooo cute. BenBen was blowing her kisses! Such a ladies man! They were headed to Hong Kong this afternoon and on to Detroit then Green Bay. Very nice couple. The mom even commented how impressed she was when Sam (of all people!!!!) held the door open for her on the way back from the restrooms!! We've been working on that for years!! So proud of him!

The weather forecast today was rain (which we knew yesterday when we arranged the tour) but we decided to take the chance and head to the Safari Zoo Park anyway. We figured, how long can it rain, seriously? 

Hmmmm.....not a good sign when we pulled into the Safari parking lot and NO ONE was there!!! It was like the Wally World scene out of Chevy Chase's "Vacation"!!! Oh well.....

We brought umbrellas, were already there and decided to give it a try. The temps were perfect....overcast, breezy and mid-80's. We entered the park and headed straight to the Safari tram tour. No wait (of course!)...normally, families can wait for hours. It was spectacular!!!! Worth the price of admission alone! I've never seen the variety, quantity or quality (i.e. animals you really want to see!) in any Zoo, let alone a tram driving right next to the animals! It was awesome. Ben "ooohhed" and "ahhhhhhed" over every animal....until he lost interest about 3/4 of the way thru and started playing with the Kleenex package he took from the hotel.

It also started to rain (or as John likes to call it - "typhoon") during our tram tour and despite a nearly torrential downpour for 80-90% of our entire visit, it was wonderful!!!!!! We were all soaking wet, BenBen would not lean back in the stroller and cover himself with the stroller hood - he sat up as far as he could enjoying ever bit of the rain!! He just rolled with it....pants/diaper soaking wet. No worries. This kid has come a LONG way in 10 short days!!!

We were also pleasantly surprised that BenBen wasn't scared once - not even a tiny bit - of any of the "characters" in the park (Koala, Panda) that approached him. He gave 'em high fives, blew them kisses, shook their hands. I guess if everything in your world is new, what's one more thing?!!

Greg took a zillion photos (ok, actually 650!!!) and they are seriously worth viewing. Amazing. Greg said it was "the best place he's ever been to in his entire life"....seriously, it was that cool!!! Well, he did just drink a HUGE Chinese beer, so who knows?!

The park was beautiful, clean, friendly - on a Disney World level! The bathrooms had changing tables (the first I've seen in China) and normal potties (with phones?). Each exhibit ended with a walk thru an amazing gift shop (sound familiar?!). We ate lunch at the "Koala Cafe"....Sam had french fries, something he thought was a hamburger but didn't touch and "chocolate milk tea"....which he didn't drink but Greg said it was great. We ordered a variety of Chinese dishes and Ben was in heaven. He's starting to eat slower and chew his food....knowing we aren't going to limit him. He always gives us the sign for "finished".

The day was so special....especially, if you're into animals. :) The Safari Zoo had 'em all...and LOTS of 'em up close and personal in ways we've never seen. It was so exciting to sit and watch 6 beautiful pandas being fed carrots...a mere 3 feet in front of us. No crowds....just us and a few Chinese people. Maybe it was because we had the park to ourselves....or running in the rain from exhibit to exhibit.....or maybe it was the bonding and fun and laughing with Ben - experiencing so many new things thru his little was so beautiful and serene and fun.

We saw parrot eggs "hatching", the only set of Koala twins in the world (soooooo cute!!!!), Sam fed 5 whole bananas to an elephant and we viewed dozens of white tigers, giraffes, elephants, kangaroos......and these amazing little monkeys. The park had amusement rides (included in the price) and many opportunities to ride elephants, hold a tiger or koala, etc. It's really a top notch place. BenBen likely experienced his first carousel ride, zoo visit and running outside in a complete downpour "typhoon" and loved it all!

Our guide, John, was terrific too!! He's 25 and comes from a Guangzhou family with 3 children. He's the baby and only boy. His family had to pay the Government money to have more than one child. His family is considered very large in China. We really enjoy him and he's soooo great with Ben. We told him we wanted him to come and live with us in the States and be our nanny! (...we think he was considering it!!).

We came back to the room soaking wet and exhausted. Sam and Ben took baths and watched movies for a while. BenBen was very sleepy and headed to bed around 5:30 p.m. He'll sleep thru the night - no nap today. We're ordering Papa John's for dinner....just too exhausted to leave the hotel and room service is crazy expensive at the White Swan.

Tomorrow is a "free day" so we've arranged to go souvenir shopping with Ann from Red Thread at 10:30 a.m. for a few hours. YAY!! Then, weather permitting, we'll swim in the afternoon or hang out in the hotel play room and perhaps try the Pearl River Cruise dinner in the evening. We're excited our 3 fellow FTIA families will be arriving tomorrow too!!! Can't wait to meet their new little blessings!