Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Our 1st Anniversary of Gotcha Day

One year ago today, our family of three became a family of four. This is our one-year anniversary of “Gotcha Day”. Because a year’s time can fade one’s memory, I reread my blog entry about Gotcha Day this morning. How blessed we were to have a very happy, relaxing, and fun day. Not all Gotcha Days go so well, as often the child is scared or sad about leaving all that they know.

We got Shaling at the Civil Affairs office in Guangzhou, China (the capital of her province). Normally, the adoptive family arrives first and completes their paperwork and then waits for the child to arrive. However, things went in a bit of a different order for us. Shaling and her friend Natalie (Ma Meixin) arrived at the Civil Affairs office earlier than expected and were actually waiting for us to arrive. We and Natalie’s new family (the Reichenbachs) exited the elevator onto the 8th floor and quickly spotted two giggly little girls with curiously wide eyes excitedly watching as we entered the foyer. They were quickly ushered back into a little play area behind a curtain, but their giggles continued to be audible.

Our guide, Connie, instructed us to sit on some couches, where we filled out the customary paperwork. She then escorted our girls out, one by one. Here is the first picture I ever took of Shaling:

Though we couldn’t understand a word she was saying, Shaling was full of smiles and sweet talk. She was eager to share with us the few belongings she was able to bring with her. One of those items was the photo album we had sent her. In it were several pictures we went to her and a few that she’d added herself (or her foster family added for her). She was especially proud to show us this family picture we had sent to her, in which she took the liberty of adding herself in animé:

We were pleasantly surprised that she had a gift (shorts and a Chinese t-shirt) for Preston. I’m guessing her foster family helped her purchase that.

This is their first hug:

Preston shows her all about a DSi:

Future Illinoisan Shaling Reynolds & Future Floridian Natalie Reichenbach:

We had our first taste of how much Shaling loves to take pictures, as she grabbed my camera and took numerous pictures. She had obviously been taught the English phrase, “thank you”, as she said it over and over and over – when we handed her items, as she opened gifts, etc. She was immediately clingy and affectionate…holding our hands and hugging all of us.

As we rode in the van back to our hotel, she was as mesmerized watching the landscape and sights as we were. She pointed at me and said “Mother” and pointed at Brock and said “Father”. I pointed at Preston and said “Brother”. She immediately went on a mission and began digging through her backpack. She eventually found a Berenstein Bears book written in both English and Chinese. She quickly flipped through the pages until she found one with English paragraphs. She pointed at the words “Brother Bear”, wanting to prove to us that she recognized and knew the word “brother”. She also used one of her new colored scented pens to copy some English words from a package. She wanted us to see how hard she was working to learn her new language.

That evening we ate at a restaurant popular with adopting families, Lucy’s. It has a very extensive menu with a variety of cuisines. Because our guide, Connie, had strongly advised us to give Shaling lots of rice, we planned to order her a Chinese dish. However, after browsing through the menu, Shaling enthusiastically pointed at a picture and said, “pizza”. We were both surprised and confused. We asked the waitress to please explain to her that she could have whatever she wanted, but she still insisted on pizza. It was her first meal with us, so we weren’t going to argue. She was super slow eating the pizza, but she ate every bit of it. We would soon discover that she ordered the pizza simply to impress us, because it took months back in the United States before she would eat it again (and it’s still not something she particularly likes).

After letting the kids run off some energy at a nearby playground, we walked back to our hotel. As we walked, Shaling grabbed for our hands a lot. Despite the enormous language barrier, we immediately loved our little girl. We were so overwhelmed by her desire to impress us, her constant smiles, and her happy-go-lucky attitude. In retrospect, I am still amazed at (and proud of) her courage to simply walk out the door with people that she had never met and with whom she could not speak, knowing it was forever. Not only did she do so, but she seemed to fully embrace it. Gotcha Day was the first day of a “honeymoon phase” that did eventually end, but not until we had been home for a period of time. Gotcha Day provided us with a full range of emotional memories we’ll always treasure.

Friday, December 23, 2011

We left for China one year ago today!

One year ago today, Preston, Brock, & I took off on a trip of a lifetime & brought home the best Christmas present ever. However, the first few days of that trip were considerably less than smooth. We flew out of Springfield just before 10:00 a.m. & arrived at O’Hare just after 10:30 a.m. We were supposed to have a two-hour layover, but it ended up being closer to a five-hour layover as the airline decided to put a new battery in our airplane. On top of that, when they went to fill it with fuel, there was an issue with the fuel line & it pumped excruciatingly slow. Our flight to Hong Kong took off around 3:00 p.m.

I was recently reviewing my blog posts from last December & found myself surprised by how horrible our last evening at home played out. Preston had been home sick from school for 2 days, but had seemed to be feeling alright most of that day. However, he suddenly got pukey again that evening & I had to call Brock home early from basketball to run to the pharmacy to get some Emetrol, as well as Dramamine for the trip. It didn’t help my mood any that my beloved Illini lost the annual Bragging Rights game in disgusting fashion that night. Our cats, apparently angry over our impending departure, decided to show it by first puking on our bed & then later peeing on clean clothes I had just folded & brought up from the basement. I ended up sleeping in Preston’s room with him, while Brock slept on the couch. Full of anticipation & worry about forgetting something important, I woke up around 4:00 a.m. & never went back to sleep.

The flight from Chicago to Hong Kong lasted around 14 ½ hours. Thanks to time zone changes, we went over the North Pole on Christmas Eve. I looked out the window, but never saw reindeer pulling a sleigh. We alternately slept, watched television, followed our progress on a world map, ate (the plane food was actually quite good), read, & played games. Going through immigration was relatively painless, but I got in trouble for taking pictures while we were in line (didn’t realize it wasn’t allowed). We spent Christmas Eve night at the Hong Kong Marriott near the airport. Here are some pictures of Preston in & around the hotel:

Christmas morning, we took a horrifying fascinating 30-minute taxi cab ride to a train station. The trunk wasn’t large enough to hold our luggage, so the driver left the lid up. Brock & I were just certain something was going to fall out. The drive spoke NO English & the car (like many in China) had no seat belts. I was mesmerized by how quickly the buildings would change from looking like a high-dollar business area to dilapidated projects & then back again.

At the train station (which is bigger than some airports), we had a challenging time figuring out where to go. Additionally, the public restrooms (like most of China) were just holes in the ground. We were also quickly learning that in China, there is no “personal space” or right-of-way. People simple push & shove their way around. It is not considered rude; it’s just how they operate. Once we found the entryway to the platform, we discovered we had to go through immigration again.

Our train ride was right at 2 hours long. Preston slept for almost all of it. As we approached our stop, we woke Preston up & then followed the crowd to the tiny little bunk shelves where the luggage was stored. We had to stand on a tiny stairwell right next to the bunk shelves. It was rather stressful, as I can’t begin to tell you the sheer number of people crowding into a terrificly cramped space. Preston began complaining of a sick stomach, but we quickly dismissed it, as he hadn’t puked in a couple of days at this point. We erroneously assumed he was simply being impatient because he’d just been woken up. Oh, boy…he proved us wrong by vomiting once twice three times four times, with increasing quantity.

I have never felt so helplessly trapped in all my life. There was nothing nearby to grab to use to clean it up, it was right where everyone needed to be in order to grab their luggage & exit the train, we were the only Americans on the train & couldn’t clearly communicate just how sorry we were to all of the other passengers, & there really wasn’t room to bend over & deal with it anyway. As I ridiculously pleaded with Preston to wait until we got outside (as if somehow that was going to make it all go away), another passenger took pity on Brock & handed him some newspaper. Finally, a gloved & masked train employee showed up to clean it up. To his credit, Preston never cried.

Once we were able to disembark the train, we found ourselves amidst chaos. People were literally climbing all over each other to get out of there. As we got smashed in the crowd, trying desperately to stay together, we took a left & realized we had to go up 5 flights of stairs – Preston with a backpack & small suitcase, me with two large suitcases & a backpack, Brock with two extra large suitcases & a carry-on. There was no stopping at any of the levels for a breather, either, or we would have gotten trampled. By the last flight, I was crying out to Brock that I was not going to make it…not that he could do anything about it. For the last 2/3 of the last flight of stairs, a kind woman grabbed one of my suitcases and carried it the last of the way for me. When we reached the top, we squeezed ourselves up against a wall and tried to catch our breath. My heart was pounding & I was gasping for air. Brock was in similar shape. Once most of the crowd had dispersed, we noticed an escalator further over that would have made things much easier on us, but we had no way of seeing it through the sea of people earlier. Then, we had to go through immigration AGAIN (this was our 3rd time).

We finally met up with our guide, Connie, who navigated us through a bunch of foot traffic. We eventually found our driver & jumped in a mini-van for a 45-minute ride to our hotel. The traffic was very intimidating. There is a lot of honking over here. And for anyone that thinks I’m a tailgater – you ain’t seen nothin’! OH, my, gosh. The merging & braking & cutting off & honking & bicycles & pedestrians & you-name-it. It was nuts! We found ourselves quite relieved to arrive at our new temporary “home”, The Victory Hotel. Here is a picture of Brock & Preston standing in front of it:

Thanks to the incredible outcome of our trip, my memories of all of these troubles are as faded as a yellowed-out antique photo. I wouldn’t trade it for anything & would easily do it all over again. That being said, I’m looking forward to an incredibly more relaxed Christmas weekend this year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Day of Concerts: Pictures & Videos

This past Saturday, Preston was a busy percussionist. He performed with the Rochester 6th grade jazz band at 11:00 a.m. and with the Sangamon Valley Youth Symphony (SVYS) Concert Band at 1:30 p.m.

The morning concert was held at White Oaks Mall. I wasn't sure what to expect, thinking it might be part of a string of performances and perhaps only a couple of songs long. However, the jazz band played 6 or 7 songs and they were the only featured group. They were quite festive, playing all Christmas songs and wearing Santa hats.

The afternoon concert was held at the University of Illinois Springfield's Sangamon Auditorium. Last year, this concert was impressively amazing. I remember bursting with pride watching Preston confidently play alongside students 2, 3, & 4 years older than himself. I won't "air the dirty laundry" here in the blog, but let's just say that there was a change in directors and this year's experience paled greatly in comparison.

Jazz Band Pictures

Dad was in charge of video while I was in charge of still photos. Shaling likes to be in charge of it all.

SVYS Concert Orchestra

Jazz Band Videos
Preston plays drum set on "Jingle Bell Rock".

Preston plays the bells during "Frosty the Snowman". As an added bonus, Shaling chimes in with some singing during a brief period of the song.

Preston plays drum set during "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" (or at least, that's what I think it is).

Preston plays the bells during "Jingle Bells".

Preston plays the bells during "Holly Jolly Christmas".

SVYS Concert Orchestra
Preston plays the tympani (the kettle drums) on "Marche Militaire Francais".

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pierced Ears & Visit W/Santa

As I mentioned in the post about our visit with Dr. Huang, Shaling has been begging for months to get her ears pierced, but I made her wait for clearance that her eardrum is healed. Well, Wednesday night, we finally went to get it done! She chose ladybugs for her first earrings. Here are the promised pictures of the event:

This is her grimace BEFORE the first earring was put in. Her anticipation was worse than the actual pain when it occurred.

This is AFTER the first was already done. As you can tell from her smile, it didn't phase her a bit. She was insistent that it did not hurt at all.

A couple of pictures of the final product.

After the ear piercing, she spotted the mall Santa. She stared at him with curiosity, telling me that she didn't think that was Santa. When I quizzed her as to why not, she indicated that his beard was too short. I suggested that maybe he had just cut it. She kept inching closer, so I asked her if she wanted her picture taken with him. She did. What I didn't anticipate was the enthusiasm with which she repeatedly told Santa that she wants a dog for Christmas. She is certain now that she will be getting a dog, because she told Santa that's what she wanted. I guess this will be her first lesson in regards to Santa not bringing EVERYTHING on your list.

Here is Shaling's first ever picture with Santa:

Friday, December 16, 2011

Photo Card

2011 was a year replete with blessings for the Reynolds family. May 2012 bring an abundance of blessings to ALL of our family and friends. Merry Christmas to all!

Pictures Galore Christmas
To view our unique Christmas card designs, click here.
View the entire collection of cards.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A 4-Month Reprieve

Shaling went to see Dr. Huang (the E.N.T.) today for yet another follow-up check on her ear drum surgery (which was in September). We've gone to see him approximately 5 or 6 times since the surgery. After examining her ear today (and cleaning out a nasty-looking scab), he told me it looked clean and healed well. She doesn't have to return to see him until April, when he'll run a full hearing test on her to see what percentage of her hearing has returned in her right ear.

Before she even got out of the examination chair, she started shrieking, "so I can get my ears pierced?" She has been wanting that for months and months, but I had told her we weren't touching those ears until we were done seeing Dr. Huang about her surgery. I looked to him for advice in response to her shrieking. He said she should be fine. So, I guess we're going to mall tonight. I'll have to post pictures tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Scars - Ankle & Heart

Last night, while lying in bed reading, Shaling pointed out about a 1/2-inch scar on her ankle and began to tell me about it. She said, "yesterday, yesterday, yesterday, last week when I was in China. I was 8 or 7 or 6 or 5..." Apparently she saw one of her "dads" (I don't know if it was a foster dad or one of the government caregivers that she called dad) shaving and later grabbed his razor. She tried it out on her ankle to see what it did. She says she said, "ow" and someone gave her a napkin and she said "ow" again.

She then went on to tell us that that mom & dad eventually didn't want her anymore. She indicated that the next mom & dad didn't want her anymore either. She described a chain of rejection. Bewildered, I asked her how many moms & dads she had. She carefully thought about it, "well, first my mom doesn't want me when I'm a baby...", then she stared at the ceiling while counting in her head. She said "seven". Then she pointed at us and said, "eight". She kept saying that she had moms & dads that "doesn't want me". Yet, as heartbreaking as that phrase is (and trust me, I'm overwhelmed with sadness for her), she just uttered it as a matter-of-fact part of her life; no tears; no obvious depression.

I told her that we weren't going to go anywhere and that we'd always be here. She told me no, that some day we would die. I told her yes, but that we were always going to want her and that we were going to be her last mom & dad, that we would be Mom & Dad forever. She asked why and I said because we love you. She smiled, but had a quizzical look on her face. Brock told her similar things and I interjected again, telling her that sometimes we were going to be mad at her when she broke rules, but that we were still going to love her.

I know it sounds bizarre, but I got the idea that the conversation was more emotionally charged for me than her. She ended it by telling me that she really wished the owie on her ankle would go away. I explained to her that it was something called a scar and it would always be there to remind her when she got hurt. As for me, I would prefer she didn't have to deal with those owies on her heart.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I've been reviewing some of our posts from last December, as we were getting ready to travel about this time last year. I came across this post:


It includes a very meaningful video that I hadn't viewed in a long time. In the video, Shaling is told that her Mom will be coming soon. She timidly smiles. Her "big sister", Yu Bei (Francine) is in the video as well, as are a couple of little boys that have since been adopted. It's pretty amazing how much Shaling has changed since then.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Reconnection & a Flag Performance

When we brought Shaling home last January, she brought with her a folded up letter from her "big sister" at the orphanage, Yu Bei. It was obvious that Yu Bei is pretty special to Shaling, because she would open up and re-read that letter often. I knew that Yu Bei was going to be adopted, because I had met her parents at an older child adoption training seminar in June, 2010. I told Shaling that Yu Bei would be coming to Illinois to live, but a couple of hours away (I believe she is in Mendota).

Over the last 11 months, Shaling would ask me from time to time if Yu Bei was with her family yet. I was in occasional email contact with Yu Bei's mother. Their process took longer than ours, partially because they decided to get two girls at once and they were from two entirely different provinces. Last I heard, Yu Bei was going to be coming home in October or November 2011. Apparently she DID make it home, because yesterday I got an email from her mother asking for our phone number so Francine (as Yu Bei is now called) could call Shaling. I told Shaling she was going to be getting a surprise phone call and she was very intrigued, though she never correctly guessed who it was going to be. As you can see from the glow in the picture below, she was thrilled with the chat.

Shaling participated in a flag camp this week. It was run by the high school flag corps and culminated in a half-time performance at the JV girls basketball game last night. Though it may not be obvious in the video (below), she really did enjoy it and expressed disappointment to me that she was only going to get to perform once. She was all smiles during the rehearsals, but not so much at the performance because she was distracted by the fact that a certain boy was there watching her (I think it made her nervous).

***Remember, the video shows up on my blog, but not in the emails that some of you receive.

Quick update on my cousin Joanna - she was able to come home from the hospital on Wednesday, but is currently on a liquid diet until her bolster is removed (which I think may happen on Monday). She is already uttering some words and though they took more tongue than they planned (found more cancer), it is not going to be as obvious as I thought. I'm convinced she'll be able to return to teaching quicker than I originally expected. Thanks for the prayers!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Grieving for China

Shaling has been "missing" China a lot lately. She wants to go visit her old school; she talks about what things are/aren't also in China; etc. It's a natural grieving type of thing that I can't really make better, which of course makes me feel helpless as a parent. The good news is that she doesn't seem too terribly down about it, but I know she misses several people she cared about. I'm sure food, language, and other things are a part of it as well.

Wednesday will mark 11 months here in the United States. Perhaps the fact that we're so close to the one year mark is part of it. Perhaps the holidays are part of it. I'm not sure what all is factoring in. However, tonight, she and Preston dug out some DVDs that we brought home from China. They are cartoon episodes of the Happy Lamb, a popular cartoon in China. They are in Chinese, but Preston giggles away right with Shaling when they watch them. I've been enjoying sitting here listening to their bursts of laughter. We've had a particular stressful week around here and the sounds of enjoyment they are emitting are a wonderful respite.

On an entirely different note, I would appreciate any and all of my blog followers that are believers saying a prayer for my cousin Joanna tonight and/or tomorrow. In the morning, she'll be having surgery to remove cancer from her tongue. At 37-years-old, this is her third go-around with mouth cancer. They did run a CAT scan that showed it hasn't spread anywhere else (thank God), but she will be losing a significant portion of her tongue. I love her dearly so I would appreciate it if you would lift her, her fiance Mike, and her daughter Maggie all up in prayer.