Friday, July 31, 2009

Mama, Ko-a-la!

First, let me offer my apologies to any speakers of Mandarin and writers of pinyin reading this blog. I am flying blind here and almost certainly getting this wrong. But above is my interpretation of the words I hear most from JuenJuen: Mama, come here!

This phrase sounds to me just like koala (the bear), but with the emphasis on the last syllable. She is a busy, busy girl, with easily as much energy as her brothers, so if I am not very close at hand when it's time to move on to the next activity, I hear it: ko-a-LA! And of coure I snap to. The thing she likes to summon me for most is a quick jaunt up and down the block on her brother's bike. Which has no training wheels, and as such needs some very substantial spotting to stay upright when she's riding it. Despite it being July in Houston, I oblige this request, as I find her persistence both charming and persuasive. So 3-5 times a day, I hear the ko-a-la, and wherever I am in the house, drop everything and head outside into the sweltering heat and humidity to lug a 4o pound child up and down the street. I'm always dripping by the time we're done.

I'm pretty sure the neighbors feel sorry for me.

Monkey Bars

First Trip to the Park

Hoping I Can Write More This Evening

But until then, take this:
From the Hong Kong Airport.....

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Last night all 3 kids slept through the night for the first time since we left China. (Their father didn't, but since I am legally obligated to love him I will let it slide this time.) It was perfect timing as five or six nights of seriously disturbed sleep had done its magic, turning me into a total you-know-what.

We had a very easy--as these things go--trip home, in which JuenJuen did tons of sleeping. Which meant when she got home she was in no mood to do so, and did not sleep AT ALL our first night here. Then she proceeded to pass out from about 8-3 the next day. Though each night things got better incrementally, it was not enough to keep me from going to the angry cranky mommy place. I remember this feeling of sleep deprivation from the baby years. After Joel was born I backed into the carport while looking right at it.

RJ is still just so fabulous, but the strain is showing in her as well as the other the kids. She does less rejecting of me (fewer other people to go to) than she did in China, but we're seeing more tantrums when she has to do something like stay at the dinner table when she doesn't feel like it. This is mitigated by the fact that her version of a tantrum is more modest than those my boys specialize in. Much less screaming and yelling, but more defiance and insolence, followed by a super-sad weepy period. At these times I'm thankful that I don't understand what she's saying.

Makes it easier not to get mad back.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Random Fish Frenzy (catch up post)

Botanical Gardens in Guangzhou. Nice gardens, for some reason decorated with numerous 0ff-brand cartoon characters. Would have taken more pics there, but it was so regrettably hot. I did catch this cute father-daughter moment, though.....

The China Syndrome

It has been brought to my attention by one of the most trusted advisors to the Axis (my husband) that readers of this blog could easily take away the impression that our trip to China was all hearts and flowers. That it was never hard, or frustrating or sad.

It was, at times. I'll get to that part later.

But by far, by a hundred miles, the saddest, hardest, most frustrating part of it all happened before we left. Call it the China Syndrome, if you're not afraid of cliche. Making the decision to do this thing, and then to get ready to actually go do it while undertaking a raft of other life-changing activities (starting a company, building a house, losing our elderly beagle), and it wasn't pretty. It was paralyzing.

Oh, and there were the two boys to take care of, and then the Beijing quarantine. And the boys vis-a-vis the Beijing quarantine. Would we get caught in the dragnet? Would I bring my children and my parents to the other side of the world, only to have them run afoul of an authoritarian regime, and detained? Again, I'll emphasize, those weeks before we went were not pretty.

During the flight over, though, I felt very at peace with our decision. Glad we were going, glad we had brought the whole family along to share in the adventure. Not worried about much of anything, except getting through the large pile of fashion magazines I'd brought to help me kill the 14 hours of the flight.

But moments before we landed, I started chatting with our flight attendant about the quarantine, and asked her how often they "got someone" and took them away. "Oh, it happens almost every flight," she said. "One time they got an entire crew."

Now I know this is not exactly a cliff hanger--we didn't get the big Q--but I'll save the story of the Bejiing "health survey" for an upcoming post.

(UPDATE: The chief adviser to the Axis has pointed out this post doesn't exactly deliver what it promised, which was to discuss some of the difficulties we have faced in this adoption process. Upon review I realized he's right, it tangented off into the quarantine thing. I'm going to plead jet lag on this one and fix it soon, OK?)

Monday, July 27, 2009

New Post Up on the Motherlode

A great parenting blog by Lisa Belkin on the New York Times website.

Read it here.

We're Home

As of about 9 pm last night, jet lagged but happy. I thought we were all going to get to sleep around midnight, when this little vision appeared at my bedside. At which point I realized the night was still young. She slept so much on the flights home, no wonder she was up most of last night. The rest of us got varying quantities of sleep, and are in varying states of body and mind today. 

I hope to post some backlogged stuff from China this week, while also considering my future plans for the Axis. I know I want to keep going; but not sure exactly in what form. 

(Please excuse the terrible quality of this video, it was midnight, I was groggy, and I couldn't get a good angle with the Flip. I know that thing is supposed to be idiot-proof, but I have problems with framing sometimes.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Day at the Beach

Our last day in China was easily one of our best. After being underwhelmed by Guangzhou and Shamian Island, we were unprepared for the unique beauty of Hong Kong. Combine a great locale, hospitable hosts who tipped us off about a great beach, and our cozy hotel room overlooking the harbor, and we ended our trip on a high note.

This was our first-ever trip to Asia, and I was pretty ignorant about the topography of southern China. The rocky hills at the edge of the ocean reminded me of certain parts of Italy or Greece I've visited. It wasn't quite Ponza, but close enough--and enough of a surprise to remind me of the time I visited that island on a weekend jaunt from Rome, and was totally blindsided by its beauty.

The afternoon before, we took the tram ride up to Victoria Peak, which I can recommend if you're ever in the area. We breezed by the folks who wanted to take our photo for $180 HK, and instead JuenJuen took the above pic of me, Mark, and Clyde. Now I have 3 kids clamoring for my Nikon, instead of just two. But she actually snaps a good shot every now and then, so I guess I don't mind too much.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mistakes Were Made

The other day I decided to do JuenJuen's hair, instead of letting her run around wearing about 20 self-applied elastics and hair clips for the third or fourth day in a row. We had had a nice time picking out some new hair adornments the night before (and if you've seen any of our gotcha day pics, you know she loves those), and I thought it was time she once again had a proper hairdo. She wanted to keep jurisdiction over any and all hair accessories. I insisted on playing a role.

It was too soon. The episode ended with her in a sobbing mess and me hating myself for my bad judgment. We all recovered, but it took awhile. Just so you know things aren't perfect around here...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Building Up A Place of Civilization With Civilized Behaviour

Sign spotted in the Hong Kong airport.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


An historic solar eclipse, and Clyde's 8th birthday. Geez Louise, when are things going to slow down around here?

The Red Couch

I've edited down my red couch photos from about 100 to more like 50. They are almost all this cute, or cuter. What the heck am I going to do with them all? Wallpaper the bathroom? Can't do that. I already picked out the new bathroom wallpaper. It's this, but in hot pink.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

About the Comments on my New York Times Motherlode Post

I haven't read them.

(If you are new to this thread, start here.)

I have this thing about anonymous creeps who post ugly things on the Internet: I am not interested in their opinions. Which has always been the case, but this adoption has caused me to pare down my list of things worth worrying about, and I've pretty much got it down to two: family life and writing. There are many things you can read that will make you a better parent and a better writer, but the opinions of random strangers on how one should conduct one's family life are not among them.*

Perhaps under other circumstances I might have checked out the comments, just to see what was going on over there. But I was warned, you see, by my husband, a dedicated reader of comments on the websites he frequents, and by Lisa Belkin herself, who seems to be a most kind and humane person. Their warnings suggested to me that I shouldn't give these folks access to my consciousness at such an important time in our lives.

So I promptly forgot about the whole issue and returned to focusing on the only two things I have time for, as listed above--mostly the first one. But while I was parenting, something unexpected happened: friends, acquaintances and even perfect strangers, outraged by the few commenter creeps, all jumped to my defense.

I want everyone, including those who took the time to comment over at Motherlode, to know that I am most encouraged by your support. As a wise friend wrote to me after this dustup first occurred, "Parenting ideology divides." That it does. I'm pretty sure we here on the Axis, and you out there supporting us, are on the right side of this one.

So thanks, friends, for everything. I love everybody, especially you.

Photo by Flickrer CiroNT.

*There are surely a few exceptions that prove this rule, and if you have constructive thoughts about older child/international adoption based on professional expertise or personal experience, I would love to hear them. Comment here or email me.

Cute Photo Day

Not time for much commentary today. Well, technically I guess there is time, but I'm going to spend it on Scrabble instead of here. Sorry. I do have some cute photos, with captions. There were more, but I'll save them for later.

Siblings in pajamas. They are cotton, and I got them here (go see; profits go to chairty).

Brothers acting up; sister being cool.

JuenJuen loves teens, be they Chinese, American, or what have you. Bodes well for babysitters back home.

Bubble queen at the Guangzhou botanical gardens.

Five more days 'till we're home. Good night.

Monday, July 20, 2009

102 Degrees in the Shade

The kids got their vaccinations on Saturday. According to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, which we are among the first group of families to be subject to, JuenJuen had to receive 3 vaccinations. (The Hague kids under the age of 5 had to get six shots each, so we ended up counting ourselves lucky.) Ever since she has been running a fever off and on, and is far from her exuberant, sassy self. We miss her! And I certainly miss leaving the room for meals, as we laid low all day yesterday and did the room service thing. Today she was well enough to join in the morning outing to the pearl market, but crashed afterward. Tomorrow we're supposed to visit a botanical garden; we'll see which of us makes it there.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Boys Need Yoga Too!*

Greetings from the Pearl River Delta, or thereabouts.

Depending on who you are, you may know the southern China city of Guangzhou (formerly Canton) for one of two things. If you are a business type, you will know it as one of the epicenters of China's manufacturing boom. As I sit here on the 22nd floor of our hotel looking out over the city, I'm wondering just how much of the cr*p we buy back home is being made in the hinterlands just beyond the horizon, even as I write.

Or if you are Chinese-adoption minded, you will of course know that all Chinese adoptees bound for America must pass though Guangzhou, where the American consulate process all such cases, and issues the travel visa that attaches to their Chinese passports. US passports cannot be issued until the children receive citizenship in their first US airport stop.

Which brings us to the White Swan Hotel. We arrived there late last night, after a three-hour flight from Beijing that JuenJuen aced, thereby fitting right in with the boys who have always been excellent travelers. For as long as I've been contemplating this China adoption thing (which is six years, BTW), I've read on the blogs about the White Swan Hotel. A five-star on Guangzhou's Shamian Island, it's a refuge for families exhausted from their sojourns to pick up their children in China's various provinces, where English is scarce, air conditioning and Internet access can be hard to come by, and all the pottys are of the squatty variety.

"We made it to the White Swan!" is their refrain, and they praise the buffet breakfast, which has both Chinese options for their new children, and American choices galore for those who are *done* experimenting with food. So when we rolled into breakfast this morning, and saw the sea of adoptive families tucking into their meals, it felt a little bit like meeting a celebrity. The legendary White Swan buffet was before me. And I had.....two cups of coffee, a chocolate chip muffin, and a hard boiled egg. There were two reasons for this. First, I was up and down half a dozen times with JuenJuen: filling her plate, taking her to the potty, and darting off to check out the koi pond. Second, I just didn't know where to start. It was intimidating.

Our experience is not exactly like that of families who have been out in the provinces, as our daughter is from Beijing so we were able to spend all of our time there up to now, and are not as of yet terribly road-weary. But we were indeed thrilled to enjoy a little bit of western resort-style relaxation by the pool today, where RJ had a glorious introduction her future life as a Texas child in the summer. She spent hours in the pool, and could have spent more, had it not been getting on towards happy hour. But don't worry. We're ditching sightseeing tomorrow, so we can head back down and start her working on blowing bubbles.

*I have seen at least two women here wearing T-shirts bearing this exhortation. I just thought you should know.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Okay, so it wasn't really called Art City.

But that's what I still think of it as.

We spent two afternoons this week visiting Beijing's 798 art zone, which was amazing. There must have been hundreds of galleries in an area of somewhat less than a square mile, that as I understand it have sprung up around a couple of major Chinese contemporary art institutions.

I'll have lots more to share on all this when I have full access to my technology (sorry I have to keep saying that). In the meantime, a few pics from our time there.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chinese Cartoons are Fun

Photos by RJ.

Welcome to the Jungle

My parents fly home tomorrow.

I'm not sure whether I've thoroughly explained how, for the two weeks we've been in China, my firstborn child (who will turn 8 next week) has been bunking and spending lots of time with his grandparents. In fact, we call their room downstairs from ours Mimi and Granddaddy U.,
as in University, because it's the longest he's ever spent sleeping apart from the nuclear family. He's been having a blast by all accounts, greeting the dawn with my dad, reading the paper, playing video games that wouldn't make it past the mom filter, etc.

And we have been very happy for him.

Therefore, up until now, having three kids has been more like having 2.5, as Clyde has had an alternate set of parents to check in with at any time we deemed it desirable. But tomorrow Mimi and Granddaddy return to Houston, and the whole 3 kids thing will begin in earnest.

Several hours after their departure, we will head for the airport as well, flying down to Guangzhou in southern China, a place about which I know way too much from reading adoption blogs. With THREE CHILDREN.

I promise extensive scoop on Guangzhou and the White Swan Hotel when we get there, and have had a chance to scope things out.

I think I may have said this before, but let me emphasize it: three is a lot of children. I am nervous. However, all of my particular children are smart, cute, and relatively well-behaved, so I think we'll probably be okay. I'll let you know on the flip side.

And before I go, a few parting reflections on Beijing:

  • Almost all the taxis are VW Jettas, of a similar vintage to the one I drove in high school.
  • "Blue sky days" are in short supply. More on that later.
  • Like Houston, or any other big city I guess, good restaurants, shopping, etc. are to be found here, it just takes a little doing to find them.
  • Beijing duck lives up to its reputation.

JuenJuen Visits Art City

Full report to come....

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In Case You're New to the Axis

This is just a note to remind everyone that I'm posting by email right now, because bl**ger is not accessible where we are. Which apparently means that many of my attached photos aren't coming through, and I can't post video like I had hoped.

It kills me not knowing how the blog is looking at this crucial time, but keep posting I must. I look forward to getting everything fixed up nice and neat upon our return (which is in 11 days, but it's not like I'm counting).

Just for kicks, I'll include a photo chosen more or less randomly, to see if it goes through.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Pictures I Didn't Get Today

I took them in my mind, and they were beautiful. But I just didn't have access to the camera at some key moments, so they remain only in memory. What's that you say? You are a writer, describe them?

Well since you put it that way, okay, I'll try.

My favorite was Rosemary Juen "reading" Hop on Pop to herself over the table at our restaurant at lunch. We pounced on that blue cover with the familiar red-lettered title when we found it last night at the Bookworm English bookstore. We are a very dedicated Dr. Seuss family--I consider being able to share my favorite children's books one of the chief rewards of
motherhood--and the sight of her intently poring over the book, following the words with her fingers, was one I hope I never forget. It reminded me that one day she will be a more fully integrated part of our family, no longer striving to surmount a language divide. She
has such a fun personality; I hate having such limited access to it.

The next mental picture is of a beach ball game in a hotel vestibule. Having no yard for three kids ages six and seven is a real bummer. I learned that lesson last year when we lived in a patio home, but at least that place had (obviously) a patio. So when we realized we could make the 100 square feet or so in front of our hotel floor's elevator bank into a mini play yard, we were justifiably excited. Joel, RJ and I kicked and threw and rolled a beach ball around until I was sure they were going to round us up for disorderly conduct. The picture I wish I'd snapped was her face each time I threw the ball higher than her head. Pure happiness. If the ball came to her at eye level or lower, well then, just regular happiness.

PS: Today we did each other's nails. Bright pink polish and I forgot to bring the polish remover. The results weren't so pretty.

Rookie mistake.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Evening Chill

Reality is finally setting in around here. After an almost flawless first week, JuenJuen is getting a little more real with us, which is a good thing.

Though I'm glad to have had the smooth introduction to our sweet girl, my early suspicions are now confirmed: no kid can be that perfect indefinitely. (Motherlode readers, I wrote the post that just went up there there a couple of days ago, before things took a slight left turn.)

JuenJuen, while still mostly happy and fun-loving, seems a little less thrilled by all of us than she was last week. She is starting to let some of the stress of this enormous change show--engaging in a lot of testing behavior, and letting up on the orderly perfectionism that she showed at the beginning.

She is also developing a more intense desire to be around the other little girl in our group. If she is nearby, JuenJuen is always dragging me by the hand trying to catch up with her--which diminishes the enjoyment of seeing major world historical sites such as the Great Wall.

Despite the fact that I'm a bit more exhausted now from the limit-setting and the friend-chasing, we are still having a lot of fun getting to know our new daughter. She has learned her brothers' names, and I've heard another English word or two creeping in around the
edges, my favorite of which so far is "coffee."

And after a semi-stressful day today, her dad and I left the brothers with the grandparents and took her out to hit an expat bookstore (Beijing Bookworm) and have dinner at our home away from Beijing home, the Opposite House. (My parents' home away from home here is the Swissotel, where they make proper cocktails in the lounge and have a beer garden I want us to try ASAP.) We all had fun, and it was nice to have the time alone with her.

Tomorrow marks the halfway point in our trip.

Guest Posting on Motherlode Again Today

Read it here.

The Thing I Didn't Know about the Great Wall

The steps! The ones going up the mountain you see in this photo, if the photo posted....They were at least a foot high each! Not easy climbing. Especially not-easy while holding hands with a squirmy six-year-old. So we didn't get very far. But we were there. We have a photo to prove it. See? Or maybe you don't see after all.....

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Frequently Asked Questions (One Week Together Version)

1) Cute clothes that girl has! Is she a clothes horse like her mom?

Yes, she is, funny you should ask. Her taste differs somewhat from mine, though, due to her being six years old. Almost everything she's wearing in the pictures is from Gap or Target. I left most of the good stuff (read: J Crew) at home.

Some of her new clothes are exciting to her and some (anything that is neither pink nor frilly) she summarily rejects. Anything pink works for her, or if it is not pink it will still be acceptable if it has some flowers or ruffles. Otherwise, forget it.

I think I got the biggest sigh of happiness from the gold Gap sandals I brought. She also squeezed herself into one leg of Joel's red plaid boxer shorts today and looked for all the world like a Houston private school girl, which she may or may not someday become.

2) How is the food there in China?

The food is quite good, but ordering is sometimes hindered because almost no one speaks English unless you are in a fancy western hotel.

Usually we can get lucky just by pointing to random things on the menu, but last night we were unlucky in both the food and beverage department. I thought my mother might cry when she couldn't order a glass of white wine, despite having had our guide WRITE OUT THE PHRASE "WHITE WINE" IN CHINESE CHARACTERS ON AN INDEX CARD for her to carry around the city.

3) How are things going now?

We've had our daughter a week today and I'm starting to see the inevitable defiance/testing come out. But overall, everything is still going very well.

Some situations are complicated by the fact that she doesn't speak English (or that I don't speak Chinese, depending on your perspective). Last night she kept trying to get out of bed when I tucked her in, and I thought we were commencing our first-ever bedtime battle. But then I decided to let her get up to see where she'd go, and she went and got this little stuffed animal her dad had gotten her that she is just crazy about, and snuggled happily in for the night. Oops! Bad mommy.

4) What have y'all been doing?

Yesterday we skipped the group tour of a buddhist temple because I had hit my limit on chasing three children around major historical sites. (I'd love to spend a good, long time soaking up all the local landmarks one day, but for now I'm just catching the sites out of the corner of my eye while I triangulate the location of three kids plus the tour group leader, who always seems to be receding ahead of us into the distance.) We hit a trendy shopping neighborhood instead, and had a fabulous lunch at the new hotel The Opposite House, where we would have stayed had our agency allowed us to choose our own hotel, and had the rooms there not started at $700 a night.

This morning we took rickshaw tours of a traditional hutong neighborhood, which worked great for me as the kids were all contained and we caught a little breeze to boot.

This afternoon the shoppers among us hit the Dirt Market, an expansive and very fun flea market where we all bought unnecessary trinkets.

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Tomorrow, the Great Wall.

Friday, July 10, 2009

At The Summer Palace

Because My Other Kids are Cute Too

Can you believe that I have enough kids to use the phrase, "my other kids?"

I bet many of you who know me can't.

Me either.