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RT @HonestToddler: Toddler Tip: She has a bounty of nerves underneath that "last" one. Don't worry :)

Adventures In Adoption, Or, Congratulations! It’s a Toddler!

It turns out that two-year olds keep a Mama pretty busy. I swear the kiddo will graduate high school before I get his China story all written out. In the meantime, though, I’ll push on, even though my child is currently walking around the living room with a drum on his head. Best. Mother. EVER. After a (not) brief hiatus, I finally have a minute to continue telling the tales of our trip to China (if you need a refresher of where we left off, click here).
{EDIT: I began this post in JUNE. It’s almost OCTOBER. Yeah, the toddler keeps me on my toes}

Jack was worn OUT from the crazy morning he’d had: a train ride, a big city, new parents, you know, basic everyday stuff for an 18-month old baby. Or not. He slept like the dead even while firecrackers were going off right outside our open hotel window (there was a wedding down below on the street, and fireworks are kind of a thing in China. I’m surprised you didn’t know that). It sounded not unlike artillery fire, but he snoozed right through it, even though Kevin and I were CERTAIN the city was being attacked. When he woke up, though, I learned my first true lesson about what it feels like to be completely helpless. We had prepared ourselves in every way possible for the fact that Jack would be grieving. I read every book, took every class, talked to other parents….you name it. Even with all of that, though, nothing could have prepared me for the actual moment of holding a boy who woke up from a nap and fell into his own nightmare.

I promise I’m only going to talk about this for a minute, and I debated whether to put it out there at all, but the truth is that it’s a part of his story. He may very well read this one day, and I don’t want to do him a disservice by glossing over the hard parts. In a nutshell, the next 30 minutes were the very worst of my life, and I’m fairly certain Jack would’ve said the same thing about his, too. Imagine waking up in a strange place with people who don’t look like you, don’t sound like you, don’t smell like you. You have no way to tell them what you need or feel, but you’re supposed to trust them unconditionally. You can’t feed yourself or meet any of your own basic needs, and the only people you used to know are nowhere to be found. I have a feeling you’d be pretty freaked out, too. As soon as I picked him up out of the crib, Jack started keening. It was a primal scream that started from deep in his gut, and it just. Kept. Going. I did the only thing I could possibly do, and that was sit on the floor and rock him until it subsided, and it eventually did.

We spent the remainder of that afternoon wandering up and down the hallways of the hotel and trying to make Jack feel as comfortable as possible. We played with his beach ball, and we bounced on the bed. One of my favorite memories of those early days was getting the very first smile out of Jack. He thought bouncing on the bed with the green beach ball was the BEST toy. We had the hotel windows open (no AC; the government had declared it Fall already), and the noises 31 stories below us drifted up and blended with the squeaky mattress springs and Sam Cooke singing “Under the Boardwalk” through the laptop.

We ordered room service for dinner that night. We spread out the blanket that Delta was kind enough to let us “borrow”, hunkered down on the floor, and feasted on congee, cumin beef, and yes, ice cream. I couldn’t help but remember another carpet picnic 10 years earlier; a few of my friends will recall sitting on my mother’s living room floor on my wedding day eating take out from La Madeleine. It’s funny how little moments seem so insignificant until their pattern begins to emerge. Apparently, I reserve carpet picnics for the great big important days in life.

After dinner, it was time for bath and bed. I let Kevin do the honors on Jack’s first bath, and he did a great job. Jack, on the other hand, wasn’t too thrilled. I don’t think he’d ever been fully submerged before and he wasn’t quite sure what to think. He was also filthy. This is in no way a criticism of the care he received in the SWI. It’s an observation that gave me a glimpse into my future as Jack’s mom: lots and lots and lots of dirt. He’s a magnet. We got our now-fresh-smelling baby all wrapped up in jammies and began the bedtime ritual. There are no words to describe that very first tuck-in; we didn’t have a plan, there had been no previous discussion, but it was seamless. The way Kevin and I worked together that first night is concrete proof that there is, in fact, such a thing as a soulmate. My very favorite thing, though, about sitting in that hotel room while darkness settled softly through the smog was something I didn’t come to appreciate until six months later. That inaugural bedtime routine? It hasn’t changed. At all. We were lucky enough to stumble on something magical. Kevin has whispered the same thing to Jack every night for almost a year. I have read Goodnight Moon so many times that Jack has it memorized. We thought we were providing comfort in consistency, and we ARE. But mostly? The consistency comforts US. We are unbelievably lucky to be able to share the last quiet minutes with Jack before he sleeps, and that time is the most precious of my day.

The next few days were filled with Ashley striking a delicate balance between keeping us busy, eating, giving us bonding time, eating, and meeting with all the officials to finalize the paperwork (I have mentioned before that the first day we were literally handed a baby without having signed a thing. I’ve had to sign my life away to FedEx when receiving a delivery from Apple, but hey, here’s a baby! Have fun!). I cannot say enough good things about Ashley. He knew *exactly* what we needed when we needed it. He also showed us Changsha in a way that we’ll never forget. We spent one morning at the Hunan Provincial Museum where we saw a perfectly preserved 2000 year old mummy (she was even sticking out her tongue). This particular story, and accompanying picture, bites us in the butt later in our story when we meet the Kirbys, so stay tuned for that one. We also spent a couple of lovely hours at the Hunan Embroidery Museum, which was breathtaking. It was also a little chilly and strange, since we were the only people there. In fact, the lights were off when we arrived, and Ashley had to hunt down the curator so we could see everything. Ashley was SO knowledgeable and taught us everything we ever wanted to know about Hunan embroidery. I won’t go into too much detail, but I will say it is the most stunning needlework I’ve ever seen. Also? We ate. A LOT. We ate some of the best food I’ve ever had, and I miss it. We had dumplings, pork with green peppers, a beef with mushrooms dish that Kevin would very well give his right arm for, and the best char siu I’ve EVER had. We also learned that there is watermelon at every meal. Pretty handy, since I know a boy who happens to love the stuff.

Finally, it was Thursday. Thursday was THE day. The last time we had to meet with Chinese officials. The day they told us that our son was officially ours. I wish I could say that there was some sort of pomp and ceremony involved, but in actuality, we returned to the Civil Affairs office where we waited a few minutes to be called back to a small room with a small woman standing over a small machine. She snapped a quick picture of Kevin, Jack, and me, and then we handed over a stack of Chinese bills which she ran through the machine (turns out it was a bill counter), and ushered us across the hall to yet another small room. {Please, no comments on the money thing. I’ll address all of that in a later post, but suffice it to say that whatever you may think is probably wrong, unless, of course, you’ve adopted from China.} We stamped our thumbprints in red ink on a few papers, stamped Jack’s handprint, and headed to yet another room where the notary awaited. He asked us a few questions (“Why did you want to adopt from China?” “WIll you keep this child safe and healthy?”), and five minutes later, we were on our way.

Jack was ours. Now all that was left was to go celebrate. American style.

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