Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tim has Star!

If you've been following our journey, you might remember Star from the videos of Shaling we received in May. Star is the little girl in the purple shirt. Star (Heng Xin) is being adopted by the Stowells from Chattanooga, Tennessee. You may remember that Tim came to Springfield to visit his parents in October and while here, spent a generous portion of his time with us. I posted about that visit here: http://bringshalinghome.blogspot.com/2010/10/special-visit.html

Tim & his wife, Ellen, adopted their daughter, Tian, from China nearly 3 years ago. They adopted their son, Yu-Hsuan, from Taiwan this past February. Star is right in between them in age. Yu-Hsuan is 8; Star will be 10 on December 2; Tian will be 11 on December 2 (yes, the girls share a birthday).

Yesterday was a very special day for the Stowell family. Some people call it "Gotcha Day"; others call it "Family Day". What it boils down to is this...for the first time, they got to lay eyes on each other and become a family. Tim posted about it in his blog and included some great pictures: http://tug-on-my-heart.blogspot.com/2010/11/to-have-and-to-hold.html. I would love for our family and friends to go read about it, as this is a great prelude for what is to come from us in roughly a month.

People like Tim sharing their own experiences are really helping me get through these last few weeks. My emotions are on high right now...stress from knowing we're so close yet not being able to finalize plans, buy airline tickets or book a hotel; anticipation about becoming a family of 4; nesting -- making sure we have everything we should have for Shaling; worry that we will won't forget anything when we travel; excitement about our upcoming experience while in China; thankfulness about being so blessed to be able to this; appreciation to our family and friends for being so supportive, etc., etc., etc.

In fact, I shared this with many of you, but I'm going to post it here for posterity (Shaling should know about it some day): I had a hormonal moment Sunday...no, not the angry kind...the teary, sappy kind. I'm not usually much of a sobber, however, I gave into some tears while at Kohl's shopping for pajamas for Shaling. Over & over I kept thinking "I'm about to have a daughter; I'm clothes shopping for a daughter." The tears started streaming & I quickly prayed no one would come down my aisle & see my sappy self.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Doin' the Thanksgiving Dance!

Just got this "Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy" email from my adoption agency:

I received confirmation that your Article 5 was picked up last Thursday and made it to Beijing on Monday. Your paperwork was submitted to CCAA on Monday, so you are officially waiting for TA!!!

It's not exactly "breaking news", but it is confirmation that our path is as I described in my blogpost from last Thursday: Educated Guess (& Explanation) of Our Travel Dates

The confirmation provides me with a sense of security and further firms up my estimate of our travel, though it won't be official until we receive our Consulate Appointment (CA) a day or so after we we get our Travel Approval (TA).

Here's to praying that all of our family and friends have a tremendous Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Air Fare Research

Just out of curiousity, I went to flychina.com and ran various airports through their system to see what the fares would be if I were able to book today for the dates when we THINK we will be going to China. Since we don't know for sure, obviously, I cannot book our tickets yet. If the trend I discovered holds true, it looks like we will be best off flying out of St. Louis.

I used December 24 & January 8 as our dates and indicated that we were flexible by one day. Most of the locations fell forward to December 25 as our departure and fell back to January 7 as our return flight (the 7th might be a day sooner than we'd be able to return though). Anyway, using those dates, here are the prices and routes I discovered:

Springfield Capital Airport - $1670
Springfield to Chicago to Hong Kong
Hong Kong to San Francisco to Chicago to Springfield

Chicago O'Hare - $1650
Chicago to Hong Kong
Hong Kong to Newark to Chicago

Chicago Midway defaulted back to Chicago O'Hare.

Peoria - $1563
Peoria to Chicago to Hong Kong
Hong Kong to Chicago to Peoria

Bloomington - $1536
Bloomington to Atlanta to Detroit to Hong Kong
Hong Kong to Tokyo to Minneapolis to Bloomington

Indianapolis was similar to Bloomington in price and stops (two each way).

St. Louis - $1424
St. Louis to Chicago to Hong Kong
Hong Kong to San Francisco to Denver to St. Louis


St. Louis - $1472
St. Louis to Chicago to Hong Kong
Hong Kong to San Francisco to St. Louis

Obviously, the price we'll pay will be different, since we'll be buying our tickets roughly two weeks before we leave. Plus, I'll probably be buying them through a Chinese travel agent rather than booking them myself. A woman at work who is Russian told me that she gets better prices to go to Russia when she books through a Russian travel agent. So, I approached another woman here at work who is Chinese. She said the same thing -- that when she flies to China, shes gets the best rate when she goes through Chinese travel agencies...sometimes up to $300 cheaper per ticket than even Priceline.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Final Care Package & Letter

I decided to send one last package to Shaling before our arrival. I didn't want 3 months to go by in between our letter and our arrival. I bought her an art set since she seems to like draw. Plus, I'm sending a candy or some sort of snack (something consumable, rather than another toy or clothing). Plus, I had a hidden motive -- I wanted to send her pictures of the new bedroom waiting for her. For the curious, the final letter we are sending is below:

Ni Hao Sha Ling!

This will be the last time we write to you before we finally get to come to China to get you. We think we are coming to get you in about a month. At the time we’ll be in China, most people back here in America will be celebrating a holiday called Christmas.

This holiday is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Many families get together for elaborate meals and attend church together. Just a few days before we leave America to come get you, your brother Preston will participate in a Christmas play at church.

At our homes, we decorate Christmas trees. We put brightly wrapped presents underneath these trees. The presents are opened on Christmas Day. We are sending you a picture of Preston in front of our Christmas tree from two years ago. His big present that year was a drum set, so he’s holding his new drumsticks.

Since you will not be home with us in time for Christmas, all of your grandparents are saving some Christmas gifts for you to open here in America when you get here. We just want you to know that the reason you’ll be getting all of those gifts is because you are arriving home at such a special time.

You aren’t only getting a mom and a dad and a brother, but many other new family members as well. You have lots of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents that are as anxious as we are to get to meet you.

In addition to the picture of Preston in front of the Christmas tree, we are also sending you Preston’s recent school picture and four pictures of your new bedroom. We can’t wait for you to be here.

With this letter, we’re also sending you an art set and some tasty treats. We’ll be bringing one more gift with us when we come to get you.

By the time you get this letter, your friend Heng Xin will be with her new family. She will have an older sister, Tian and a younger brother, Yu-Hsuan. Her new name will be Star.

Do you remember another girl named Ji Xing? She went home to her new family three months ago. She has four new sisters. Her new name is Tessa. Another little girl that you might know, Mei Xin, will be coming to America about the same time as you. Her new name will be Natalie.

In America we usually have a first name, a middle name, and a last name. Our last name is our family name…that is the one that in China you say first. Your new last name will be Reynolds. For your first name, we are going to keep the name Sha Ling, but it will be written as one word: Shaling. Your new middle name will be Annabelle.

Around the time we’re sending this letter, we are celebrating a festival here in America called Thanksgiving. It is a day when we get together with our family and eat lots of food. During this festival, everybody gives thanks for all of the wonderful things in their lives. This year we are giving thanks that we are soon going to have a new daughter (you).

We will see you soon, Sha Ling. Wo men ai ni!

Ma Ma, Ba Ba and Ge Ge

Friday, November 19, 2010

Advice About Adopting Older Children

Another adoptive family recommended this blog page to me: Adopting Older Children – What I Wish I Had Known.

I found it to be a terrific read, chock full of vivid descriptions and pertinent advice. Hopefully we can benefit from this mother’s 20/20 hindsight. I would encourage any of our immediate family and any adoptive family adopting school age children to take the 5 to 10 minutes to read the entire page.

It is written by a mother who adopted a 4-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy from Ethiopia. I'm not going to cut & paste the entire thing here, but I am going to share a few of the topics that struck a chord with me.

Their initial behavior is not a reflection of your parenting. This one may seem obvious to others because of course if you have only met the child the day before for the first time, their behavior has nothing to do with you or your parenting skills. But, at the time, I felt like I must be the worst parent in the world. When we would go out in public and they would tantrum, I would feel like people were judging me. When we were alone in the hotel room and they were having tantrums, I was judging me! In retrospect, they were two scared little kids who did not speak the same language as me and were going through a traumatic time. I was a complete stranger and their behavior or sadness had nothing to do with my parenting skills or lack thereof. I wish I had been able to relax and not take it so personally.

Let it go! I had this foolish notion that while we were in Ethiopia, we should have rules for them and consequences so that they could begin to adjust to our house rules (our family isn’t overly strict, but we do have some basic rules). I was convinced that if we were pushovers in Ethiopia, they would walk all over us once we got home. When I think about that now, about how I gave them time-outs (they were probably completely bewildered because they couldn’t even understand most of what I was saying), my heart just breaks for them. I wish I could go back and just hold them more, play with them more, and let everything else go. Who would it have killed if Sedaya had worn Elijah’s flip flops instead of her shoes every day or if they had not brushed their teeth for those two weeks (they ended up having over $4,000 of dental work that needed to be done, so I’m sure that an extra 2 weeks of not brushing after years of not brushing wouldn’t have made a difference!)? My advice to others would be just to relax and get used to each other slowly during the trip. The rules can be introduced once you are home. Then they will just think it’s a Canadian or American rule!

You cannot do it alone. The first weeks home are much harder than anyone can prepare you for. Even if your child is in a honeymoon phase or just an easy child, it is a huge transition for the whole family. You will have jetlag and even possibly be ill. If you have other children at home, they will need extra time and attention when you get back, not only to reassure them that they have not been replaced, but they will have missed you while you were away. Many mothers experience postadoption depression from mild to severe. The language barrier alone is exhausting. The extra laundry, extra cooking, extra thinking, extra emotion, extra stress, and the extra appointments as you sort through parasites, fungus, and perhaps even therapy for your child create a life much busier than the one you had before. ASK FOR HELP! Better yet, set it up before you leave, while you are still able to think straight enough, while you have time to make the phone calls. Arrange for people to bring meals, do laundry, clean your house, or take your other kids out for outings.

Attachment and bonding are possible. With our previous adoptions, we had gotten our kids as newborns or babies, so I did not expect that I would be able to attach as much to older children. I knew that over time, they would feel like my kids, but I thought that it would take a long time. Secretly, I worried that maybe I would never be able to love them with the fierceness and passion that I love my other kids. I wish I had known then what I know now…that sometimes just thinking about or talking about Elijah or Sedaya can bring me to tears, that the first time I went away without them, I missed them with a hollowness that is difficult to describe, that they are a part of me. I wish I had known that even with kids who were 7 and 4 the first time I held their hands in mine, I would be forever changed by their love.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Educated Guess (& Explanation) of Our Travel Dates

Today is the day that our Article 5 should be issued by the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou. An Article 5 letter states that we are suitable adoptive parents and that Shaling will be able to enter the United States and reside here permanently. A courier will pick it up from the Consulate and take it to Beijing, where it will be delivered to a contact of our adoption agency, Madison Adoption Associates (M.A.A.). On Monday (or at least, most likely on Monday) that contact will let M.A.A. know that our Article 5 and some of our other documents are being submitted to the C.C.A.A. (China Center for Adoption Affairs). The C.C.A.A. will issue our Travel Approval (T.A.) in about three weeks. That’s when things really take off.

Once we get the T.A., We’ll immediately be submitting our top five date choices for our Consulate Appointment (C.A.), which takes place IN China. At this appointment, we (and Shaling) have to appear in front of her visa officer in order to receive her visa. The C.A. has to be on a Tuesday or Wednesday. We have to arrive in China at least TWO Sundays before C.A. Within a day or so of submitting those choices, one of them will be confirmed and we’ll start scrambling to make our travel arrangements.

To illustrate, I’m going to give you the recent timeline of my friend Tim Stowell, who is adopting Star (you may remember her from other blog posts).

10/21 – Article 5 picked up
11/15 – Travel Approval
11/28 – Sunday by which he must arrive in China
11/29 – Probable “Gotcha” Day
12/8 – Consulate Appointment

Notice he has less than two weeks to make all of his travel arrangements – air fare, hotel, etc. Since our Article 5 is being picked up today, if we follow Tim’s timeline, we’ll receive our T.A. on December 13, though it very well could come sooner. Keeping that in mind, Brock & I discussed what our top 5 choices for C.A. would be.

Ideally, we’d get a C.A. of January 4 or 5. Either of those would mean we would have to arrive in China by December 26. I’m guessing we’d fly on the 23rd or 24th, not the 25th, due to air line prices & seat availability. Our “Gotcha” Day would likely be on Monday, December 27 and our adoption would be complete on December 28. Some time before the C.A., Shaling would have to have a Center for Disease Control approved medical exam and immunizations. We would fly home roughly January 8 or 9. The drawback is that we are missing the entire holiday season with my family (Christmas through New Year’s), but the payoff is that Preston would get to travel with us without missing any school (or perhaps one day or so to deal with jet lag).

Our next two choices would be January 10 or 11. We’d have to be there by January 2. We’d get Shaling on January 3 and the adoption would complete on January 4. We’d fly home around January 15 or 16. Preston would still go with us, but would miss an entire week of school (plus we wouldn’t get Shaling until AFTER the holidays and the next calendar year – those of you familiar with the IRS know why that matters). The plus is that we’d at least be home for Christmas.

Our fifth choice would be December 28. We’d have to be in China by December 19; we’d get Shaling on December 20 (adoption complete on the 21st), and fly home around January 1 or 2. We’d still miss the holidays with my family and Preston would miss 3 days of school in December, but we’d be home with a week to spare before Preston has to return to school on January 10. He’d get to stay home with her during the day for that week. The ONLY reason this is not our first choice is because Preston has his first ever concert with the Sangamon Valley Youth Symphony Concert Orchestra on Saturday, December 18 at the University of Illinois-Springfield. It is the only concert they have this semester and he is one of only TWO percussionists in the ensemble. We are so excited for him.

If we chose December 28 or 29 as our C.A., the time constraints between his Saturday afternoon concert and our required presence in China on the 19th make things complicated. We’d either be scrambling to find the exact flight that would get us there on time (we lose time on the way to China; gain it coming home) or we’d have to leave him home and go without him. I don’t like that latter choice for several reasons. One, I want to see this concert, for which has been working so hard to prepare. Two, I truly want him to go with us, as I think international travel is a wonderful learning opportunity anyway and in this particular case would be even more beneficial. It would help him understand his new sister if he could experience the only world she’s known for nine years.

So, those are my thoughts and a rough explanation of what’s left. Nothing is set in stone, but I believe it’s a safe bet that we will end up with one of our first two choices (January 4 or 5), so now all of our family and friends have a much better guesstimate of when we’ll be traveling.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wo Ai Ni, Mommy!

I recently purchased a dvd called “Wo Ai Ni, Mommy” (I love you, Mommy). We watched it as a family last Sunday. It is a splendidly well done documentary about a family who adopted an 8-year-old daughter from China.

The parents, Jeff & Donna, have two biological teenage sons and a 3-year-old daughter adopted from China at 14 months. They’ve decided to adopt again, but their existing daughter makes it clear she wants to remain the “baby” of the family, so this time they chose to adopt an older child. Fang Sui Yong, whom they named Faith, was nearly 9-years-old when they got her.

The film begins a day or two before the trip to China to get Faith. Jeff is staying home with the children, as the family decided that perhaps their 3-year-old daughter might be a bit of a distraction. They knew during the two week trip that the focus needed to be on Faith. Donna’s father offered to travel with her, so Mom & Grandpa traveled, while Grandma stayed at the house to help out Dad.

I really appreciated the sincere and honest insight that was shown throughout the film…in regards to decisions about travel, the ups & downs during the two weeks in China, the struggles for adjustment at home and the emotional rewards as Faith begins to blossom.

Faith was confused as to why her parents would even want a Chinese daughter...not familiar with the way multiculturalism is widely accepted in the U.S.A. She balked at learning English at first, complaining about how difficult it was, but by the time she’d been in the U.S. 17 months, she’d lost her Chinese completely. She wasn’t able to speak with her friends back in China.

I highly recommend this film to anyone considering or in the process of adopting a school-aged child. It doesn’t sugar coat, yet is still inspirational. The “highs” are that much better, because you’ve seen some of the “lows” that were experienced in order to get there.

I truly hope our extended family will take the time to watch our copy of it prior to Shaling’s arrival.

Donna & Faith meet for the first time.

Donna & Faith, sitting on a couch as an interpreter helps them chat. We may be sitting on this VERY couch in a couple of months on the day we meet Shaling.

Faith, after a year and a half with her new family.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Annual "Reunion"?

In August, I followed Christie's adventure to China to pick up her 5th "sunflower". She has 5 gorgeous Chinese daughters. This most recent daughter, Tessa, was from the same orphanage as Shaling. She has been with Christie's family since August 23rd. Christie took two of her daughters with her and left two at home with dad. I remember aching for Christie while reading about her "Gotcha Day" -- the day she got Tessa. Tessa cried and cried...wanting pretty much nothing to do with Christie. Fortunately, she did bond with her new sisters.

Since then, Tessa has been slow to bond, but is blossoming. Christie was showing her some pictures of some of the other kids from Long Gang that Christie knows are being adopted. Tessa got excited and pointed at each of them, asking Christie to "click here". She remembered all of their names (Shaling was one of them). She told Christie that she does not want to go back to China, but she does want to play with all of her friends again. I thought that was very heartwarming & poignant. It implies to me that Tessa recognizes she's in a good situation with her new family, but simply misses her other "loved ones".

Christie suggested that those of us who are interested could perhaps plan a once-a-year reunion of sorts with all of our kids. Several of us are interested in doing just that! Christie lives in Kansas. Tim (see previous post about our visitors), who is adopting Star, lives in Tennessee. I know another family lives in Minnesota. Of course, there's another one here in the Rochester area as well. Seems a lot of us are in the mid-west (or neighboring it).

One family that I know isn't in the mid-west (mother is Kim) is on pace to travel at the same time as us. Their daughter, Natalie, just turned 8. Kim's family lives in Florida. I suspect she'd make every effort to join us though.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Shaling's Scrapbook

Please, if you gave a square toward's Shaling Bai Jia Bei (100 Good Wishes Quilt), but have not yet gotten me your Good Wishes card for her scrapbook, get it to me A.S.A.P.

I'm starting to put the book together now and would like to have it finished before we travel in December. I don't want to work on it once we get her home.

My plan is to present the quilt and the scrapbook to her at an "adoption shower" that we're hoping to have sometime after we get her home. This will allow our family and friends a great opportunity to get to meet her.

If you don't remember the information about how to do your Good Wishes card, here it is:


Write a "good wish note" on any size of index card (or construction paper) and attach a scrap piece of the fabric you provided for the quilt. The wish can be your own words or thoughts, a favorite poem or quote, a blessing for Shaling, a prayer, a favorite verse, or anything else you would like her to know. Keep in mind that she will read your note numerous times during her life. If you feel creative and want to decorate it, that would be great too. It can be as simple or elaborate as you like. If you would like, you can also include a picture of yourself so she can see who sent the wish.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

We got our Chinese visas

Yesterday, we received our passports back from the courier in Channahon. You might remember from a previous blog entry that she took them to the Chinese Consulate in Chicago to get our visa pages for us. So, all three of us now have permission to travel to China sometime before October 2011!

Also, my adoption agency emailed me to officially let me know that my paperwork will be delivered to U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou tomorrow (Thursday). The way I understand it from the other adoptive families, that paperwork is only accepted on Mondays & Thursdays. The Article 5 is issued exactly two weeks later. Therefore, I'm expecting our Article 5 on November 18. Something to celebrate on Thanksgiving the following week!

To refresh, the Article 5 is the last of the important documents directly related to the adoption. After that, we will await Travel Approval and our Consulate Appointment. Then, a mad scramble to arrange all of our travel.

Monday, November 1, 2010

We got our NVC letter!

I got home today to a letter from the National Visa Center, confirming that our case had been forwarded to the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou. This was the next step we were waiting for! I rushed out right away to fax it to our adoption agency as requested.

Now we wait two or three weeks for our Article 5, our official approval that we qualify to adopt and that Shaling qualifies for immigration. After that, we wait two or three weeks for Travel Approval. Then we request a Consulate Appointment and start our travel planning.

For the curious, here is the contents of the letter we received today:

Dear Petitioner,

The State Department's National Visa Center has recently received your approval form I-800, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative. This letter is to inform you that your petition has been forwarded to the appropriate visa-issuing post where the adoption interview will take place.

Our records indicate that you filed the I-800 petition for:

Name of Beneficiary/Child: LONG, SHALING

Case Number: GUZ##########

This case has been forwarded to:


Please forward any inquiries regarding your I-800 to the assigned US Embassy/Consulate General mentioned above.


Bureau of Consular Affairs