travel with kids

Re-entry: Not Pretty

Friday, July 10th, 2009 | Connecting the Dots | 9 Comments

Some of my publishable thoughts on arriving home: Whoa. We got in at 11:00 night before last and the kids were up until 3. We hauled them through yesterday, even taking Sam and Lily to a tennis lesson and getting the boys a haircut–and put them to bed at a relatively normal time (when Rob and I were nearly asleep standing) but at 1:30 the first of them–Rory–appeared.

And this is where the fact that they all sleep in the same room bites us in the ass, because although I get her to go back to bed, Wyatt wakes up soon after and awakens everyone with his screaming, and it all goes downhill from there in a big way. Only Sam, who came down and slept on the sofa, got anything like a normal night’s sleep.

At 4:30 we let them get up and trash the house while we went to sleep. I woke up at 7:30 feeling like it was non. All night I dreamt of China, chaotic airports, crazed shopping, chasing kids through hotels. I woke up and inhaled a panful of brownies one of our friends baked us last night. So I’m doing fab.

Rory fell asleep midafternoon and had to be woken up using the kind of cruel behavior (turning them upside-down, standing them up even though they are asleep) that forms a parent’s only revenge for sleepless night, but because we were in public, I couldn’t really appreciate it. Which reminds me of the glorious moment in the airport where she whacked Wyatt full in the face for nothing–as in, he walked up to her and she hauled off and belted him–and she had to be removed, screaming, to a corner until she became willing to apologize, which took about 20 solid minutes of screaming. (We do cut her plenty of slack, but there are a couple of non-negotiables, don’t you think?) Anyway, the stares were impressive. At least she was screaming in English, which gave us some credibility…

We’ve also had a couple of episodes where she’s been with Rob, howling for “mama”–and although that’s fine, we don’t let her get away with it if she’s hitting him and refusing his help for something because she wants me–and when she finally gets me, it’s clear that I am NOT the mama she had in mind. This is hard for all of us…but mostly she’s doing remarkably well.

I am doing slightly less well. I am not a patient person at the best of times, and I become particularly unpleasant with lack of sleep. I’m also not very playful anymore, I find. I do not want to play Wii with Wyatt, or play with blocks or the remote control train with Rory, which makes me feel like all I do is dress them, feed them and say “no” to them…and I am not sure I really truly considered the ramifications of one more voice crying mommy mommy mommy in our particular wilderness.

I’ve resented every new child in turn for taking me away from the old ones. There are elements of that here–Wyatt, in particular,needs me badly every time Rory does, and saying no to him is heartbreaking. And there is just the added drudgery. Look, more toys on the floor! Look, more sippy cups! Look, more laundry! Oh, boy, somebody else who needs me to wipe their ass! I’m intensely aware that some of the people who are reading this “told me so”, and that others will be worried that I can’t meet Rory’s needs or learn to love her. I think it will all loosen up in a matter of months or even weeks. I think it will be fine, even great, fairly soon. But I don’t want to minimize or hide the growing pains. Wyatt screamed hysterically last night because he wanted me to remove this baby doll from his bed–a doll with Asian features, that we bought partly in order just not to have a whole house full of blue-eyed blondes. And when she’s the one causing the bedtime and wake up issues. I boil over. Lily gets frustrated because Rory’s not exactly what she pictured–which, as it amounted to a fully cooperative live doll, isn’t too surprising. Only Sam seems fine, and we all know that Sam has a lot of himself invested in always seeming fine.

We’ll get through it. But probably not today.

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The Red Couch

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009 | Connecting the Dots | 7 Comments


What is wrong with that child, you ask? What are you people doing to her?

Well, it’s like this. If Rory has one single, stand-out, non-endearing trait, it is (and this is SO PETTY) that she pretty much has to go potty every single solitary second of every day. Is she nervous? Unable to complete, shall we say, with relative strangers? Does she have a UTI? Dunno. Doesn’t, in the context of getting out of China, matter. But there it is, and 80-100 times a day we experience the wonder and glory that is the Chinese public toilet. And if there is one particular activity that really, truly makes Rory have to go potty, it is eating, which is of necessity done in restaurants. (And if there is one thing that really really makes Rory have to go potty, it is the arrival of any form of hot food in a restaurant, in particular hot food that her Mama had planned on say, eating. This particular thing makes Rory have to go potty two or three times, all in a row, until the food has congealed and become particularly unpleasant. I had thought the quarantine diet particularly effective, but quarantine had nothing on Rory. But I digress, and I should stop, because there is really nothing I could say on this subject that would make you like me any better, because to be honest I really really feel quite petty and resentful about it, because I am often hungry at mealtimes. I will note that Lily did the same thing for several months, and I didn’t kill her, so there is that.)

Anyway. We had 20 minutes to eat lunch before our all-important, cannot be late consulate appointment. We had arrived at the deli. We had acquired our bizarre bread items–a pizza-like thing, and puffy bread containing things like a hot dog, or red bean paste, or hame and cheese. I had opened and strawed and fussed and napkined and generally got everyone settled and was just about to take an actual bite of my actual lunch when…

Well, Rob took her, since he’d eaten what he wanted of his weird bread-y thing while I did the whole opening and strawing and etc. thing. But they had to go back into the hotel, and we were nearly out of time, and Rory couldn’t come back to finish her lunch. And she was mad. And about to fall asleep, which she did, and slept right up until the consulate appt, where she woke up quite cheerful and pretty ready to enjoy everything–except that she had to go potty.

(Some of my resentment of this isn’t Rory’s fault. A) if she has to go, inevitably Lily or Wyatt, or both, will too–often not at the same time, but instead just after, prolonging the whole experience and B) there are some nasty, nasty bathrooms here, and the circumstances of their use frequently result in one or the other of the children peeing on my shoes.)

Ok, so all is rosy other than that, right? Pretty much not to bad mostly. I will tell you, first, of the things that are making life difficult. There’s Rory’s habit of knocking over pregnant mothers, toddlers and the elderly in her mad rush to be the one to push the elevator button–and I am not kidding or exaggerating. Picture a drunk on a steamroller plowing through the crowd and you’ll get the general idea. It’s maddening, because respectable public behavior has always been something we’ve tried to insist on–I know, I know, petty again. There’s the screaming like she’s been shot when Wyatt pokes her with a finger. (The poking isn’t really endearing poor Wyatt to me, either.) There’s the slapping of my mother’s hands and the scream of “no i can DO it” when my mom tries to open her orange drink (and no, Rory can’t do it. At least she couldn’t yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that–and I don’t mind her trying, I mind her hitting my mom.)

But really–minor. SO minor. It doesn’t always feel minor, and I assure you that the level of frustration the bathroom thing is causing for me is really not pretty, but so minor. She figured out how to swim today, to Rob, from the steps. She and Wy played happily in the tub for an hour, very much together. She loves Sam and draws him pictures again and again. She has this bright-eyed way of saying look what I did–want to see me do it? Do you want to? Which is so hopeful and so reminds me of the family she’s lost. It’s clear that there was always someone who wanted to see her “do it”–whether it was drawing a circle or swimming. She proudly described her whole day to my dad on skype. She tried to put herself to bed, because if Sam was going to sleep, she was too, but not without Lily!

This is harder and easier and wholly just a new thing. Tomorrow: a 14 hour plane ride. Hey, at least there’s a potty.

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Shamian Island: The Home Stretch

Saturday, July 4th, 2009 | Connecting the Dots | 4 Comments


Shamian Island is best described as the place the British took over, back when tea and opium were in constant traffic across the sea, and although I am sure there was razing and looting involved in its creation, the result is extraordinarily pleasant. Shady verandas. Palm trees. Wide park-like walkways. Few cars. We are staying at the White Swan. It used to be right next to the consulate, so everyone stayed here. Now it’s right next to an entire cottage industry surrounding adoption, so even though the consulate has moved, everyone…stays here anyway. There are about 4000 adoptions from China every year. Figure, then, on about 40 a week. Probably more than half in this hotel. It’s a little…weird.

But good, because no one stares, and people in general speak some English, and everyone wants to help, especially if you might buy something. Instead, we got someone to take us out into the city for our shopping.

It was CRAZY. Everything you have ever considered buying, anywhere, especially Walmart, wholesale. all piled together, everywhere. Every toy, every hairclip, every bag, every clock…everywhere you looked, more stuff. On the one hand, we wanted to scoop up everything. On the other, the sheer magnitude was overwhelming. Some things I already wish I’d bought more of–hello kitty, on the other hand, I wish we’d bought rather less. We enjoyed it, though, except for Rory, who thought we were going for ice cream.

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A Day in Fuzhou

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009 | Connecting the Dots | 1 Comment


So we’ve agreed: Fuzhou, not set up for tourists. On the other hand, we are seeing a real China city, and not just one like Beijing that’s sort of set up to show itself off in the same way that Manhattan is–there are clearly tons of Chinese tourists–although once we let the guide start taking us places, we saw Western tourists too.
I can tell you that Fuzhou-ers, rightly, do NOT go out between noon and three. I don’t know what Chinese is for “siesta”, but they do it. We, on the other hand, spent those hours paddling pedal boats around a lake. Rory napped, though, so at least one of us has some sense.
I can also tell you that there’s a big nightlife here. Restaurants are packed. The park and city center that we can see from the hotel windows? Jammed every night with roller bladers, line dancers (seriously, same songs you might hear at home, although probably not in New Hampshire!) card players and general revelers. Parents with kids buying the kind of junky light up toys you find at amusement parks and on the 4th of July (which we will miss….). It looks fun. It looks festive. It looks very sociable, and you can tell people dress for it and get out there. You can just sense the hook-up scene, too…people look happy and prosperous. We get a glimpse of other things, too–people asleep on benches and such–but not much.

I really wish we could see rural China. I know Rory’s foster home is rural, but we can’t go, and it does make sense to us. We’ll have to wait for another visit.

There’s crazy lightening and rain tonight. Sam’s loving watching-we’re on the 18th floor. No one’s phased. Rory’s getting easier with us. It’s funny, yesterday wasn’t so bad…so I sort of thought, well, this is just what it will be like for a while. And then today, she’s relaxing, she’s listening better, she’s trying harder to talk to her brothers and sister. And I realize I’m doing the same thing I’ve done with all of them–assuming that anything, especially hard things, will last forever. There’s lots ahead, and none of it will last forever.

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So. Tired.

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009 | Connecting the Dots | 7 Comments

The real trouble with the whole quarantine thing is that it sucked a lot of the adventure right out of us. We’re tired. We’ve eaten a lot of things we might not otherwise have eaten. We’ve hung out together. We’ve talked to people. We’ve been stared at. And now we are ready to resume our normally scheduled programming, but we still have a week of travel to go.

Rory is adjusting well. She kind of collapsed today and took an exhausted nap, and I’m not so sure she was super glad to see us when she woke up, but she seems determined to make the best of it. We also discovered that she likes to ride in a stroller (we brought two old umbrellas) which is helping on the running thing–we just worry about traffic, and at night in the park–about which more later–there are crowds.

I’ve done a lot of mental mocking about people who say they ate Western food in China, or that certain cities were boring. But we are eating Western food–and Korean food, and other food–because anything gets a little old after a while. And while bored’s not the right word, we’re ready to leave Fuzhou. It’s just not set up to amuse tourists…Beijing was better, and I’m already wishing I’d done more shopping.

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A Quarantine Gallery

Saturday, June 27th, 2009 | Connecting the Dots | 5 Comments


We did, indeed, get out of quarantine today. Fancy certificates, flowers and everything. TIme has nearly healed the wounds already (that and a couple of really, really good meals).

Looking these over, it’s clear that once we were out of the hospital and that first awful couple of rooms, China did well by us. Considering. And the people we talked to in Q seemed to feel that the government was “doing the responsible thing” and that cooperating was a civic duty. So we did our duty, too, I guess.

It wasn’t ever the quarters. It wasn’t the food. It wasn’t even the astonishing heat (which you can’t see in the pictures, but murdered sleep for sure.) It was the simple fact that–boggling as it is to the American soul–we couldn’t leave.

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The Pringle Fairy

Friday, June 26th, 2009 | Connecting the Dots | 3 Comments

If asked, I can state with confidence that the maximum number of days one family should spend pretty much cooped up a room together is…6. Not seven. Seven seems to be just that much too much.

But we are getting there. They just took our temperature for the last time. We just had our temperatures taken for the last time. We ate our last lunch. We filled out a form that even had a box for “comments about our stay”.

And Sam was the Pringle Fairy. After lunch, we walked the halls, choosing rooms with more than one lunch tray outside and where we thought we could hear kids’ voices. Then we chose a hiding place, and Sam ran up, left a can of Pringles, knocked hard, and booked.

I imagine there are some pretty mystified quarantinees out there right now.

Rob is back at the Grand Hyatt. We leave at 6:30 tomorrow morning. Tomorrow, we’ll celebrate Sam’s birthday. Sunday, we’ll see the Great Wall and fly to Fuzhou. Monday we meet Rory. Knock on wood, we’re back on track.

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Cicadas, lessons, card-playing

Thursday, June 25th, 2009 | Connecting the Dots | 2 Comments

We woke up frustrated today. as a group. Last night was hot, hot, hot–it’s cooled off every other night, but not last night. There was tossing, there was turning, and two of the three of us in my room fell out of bed at least once. We woke up itchy and ready to crawl out of our skins, and with no appetite for another huge Guo-men breakfast. The troops were rebelling.

And, of course, there was nothing my mom and I could do about it but encourage them to make the best of what we had. Try the new flavor of steamed bun. (I bet they have a 7-day rotation). Have some won-ton soup for breakfast. Coke for breakfast, too–a great American tradition they’ve never before taken part in.

Back upstairs, we skyped. We made paper dolls (again). We played iPhone and Nintendo–again. We had lunch, and again, no one particularly wanted anything that was there but you know what? We ate it anyway. All of us. Not a lot of it, but we’ve learned we really don’t need to eat a whole lot.

And somehow, Lily and Wyatt found a way, after all this time, to band together again and start making their own fun (crushing sweet tart to put in water to make juice) and Sam read a book and practiced card tricks while my mom and I read, and then the three of us settled down for a card game while Lily and Wyatt continued their messy science project in the bathroom.

And then it was five, and time for the pigs, the penguins and then the sheep, a triad of Chinese cartoon that have been improving our witching hour all week. (Chinese cartoons, at least the ones we’ve seen, feature super-cute characters along the lines of Hello Kitty–only armed.) The pigs are on now. Next comes dinner outside, and then a movie, and then bed.
We’ve very nearly done it. It’s hard to believe nothing will go wrong, but maybe it won’t. Our appointments, our meeting Rory, are all being re-organized. Everyone is being helpful, expediting, doing what they can. In the end, this is going to keep us here an extra 6 days, but it could have been worse–it would have been fewer, if not for the 7/3 consulate holiday.
Fourth of July, China style. Maybe the embassy has a celebration.

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How it all works

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009 | Connecting the Dots | 5 Comments

I’ve realized that it’s not really all that clear to everyone exactly how we got here, so I’ll try to explain.
The people seated behind Rob and the boys on the plane did NOT have a fever when we got off the flight. But once they felt sick, they called the authorities (and we don’t know how sick they are, so we will forgive them for that), and two of them tested positive for H1n1.
So they came for us, and presumably others on the flight, and anyone else they were in contact with. And quarantined us, after plenty of negotiation, in the Grand Hyatt, and tested us. And there we were.
Until Rob’s test came back positive. Then it was ROB’s contacts they were concerned with. Us. The hotel staff. The taxi drivers. The waiters.

Here’s why: Even if you’ve been exposed to the virus, you’re not contagious until it’s taken hold. So–everyone who was scooped up on account of Rob: us, the manager at the hotel, the person who drove us to the hotel from the airport: tested, and into quarantine. If any of them develop the flu, then they’ll go after THEIR contacts.

It’s an effective, but mind-boggling operation. The American mind can scarcely grasp it. Really? Really quarantine all those people…how would you even do it? Where would you put them, how would you feed them, how would you track them–and they would object, they would sue–it really doesn’t even feel possible. Seriously? Everyone Rob talked to in the last two days?

We want to argue–but you can’t get EVERYONE, what about random people we talked to, or who touched things after we left? The feeling is that they may not be able to get to everyone, but quarantining the ones they can find will at least slow the contagion rate way down, and it does seem to be working. That said, the result is hundreds of quarantined people. I have no way of knowing how many, but there are a few hundred at this hotel alone. It’s just–

I don’t know that I ever would have grasped how really, truly, utterly different life can be in other places, even though so much of it looks the same, without this experience. They can do this. They have, in fact, done it. It’s an astonishing feat.

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Things Get Much Better

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009 | Connecting the Dots | 9 Comments

Today, we got an upgrade. No more tiny room. No more holey sheets. No more stained wallpaper. I could go on, but I won’t. We’re movin’ on up, and now we have a sitting room, a fridge, a balcony and all the amenities. We also have a date of release: Saturday, at 5:30 am. Why 5:30? Not gonna ask. Just gonna be there.

So we’re bouncing along. At dinner, they had eggplant with pork–my favorite Chinese dish. And as we walked out out with our little plastic trays, my mom and agreed that the only thing we really still wanted was a cold drink (this was before we’d found the new fridge). Since we were eating outside, I asked for water at the desk–and they turned to a big cooler and produced five chilled bottles.

If we could, we’d go buy a lottery ticket.

We’ve made friends. Eric the hotel manager is fine–we’ve been given chips and chocolate, and we shared. Plus we gave him some of the treats we bought for friends–sorry, guys, Eric needs Sour Patch Kids and beef jerky more than you do. He’ll be heading out with us Saturday morning. There’s a family from Chicago and a high school student, and we shared with them, too.

The kids alternate between playing together and totally, utterly deviling one another. We tried to split them up today, and that helped. Lily and I took crayons and paper and sat outside and drew pictures, and for a minute, it felt like a real vacation.

Thanks for listening, everybody. We’re ok. Rob’s still pretty miserable in his cell–I’ll post pictures–but on this side of the fence, we’re fine.

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Quarantine Fun, Day One, and a Panic

Saturday, June 20th, 2009 | Connecting the Dots | 2 Comments


Duplicates, I know–I had some trouble uploading.
Ok, if all those swabs come back negative, I’ll be the best quarantine mother ever. I will make paper dolls, I will build card houses, I will teach sam to play chess. I will be 100% present, I swear.

We will know in an hour. If anyone is positive, it’s more quarantine for everyone, and the hospital for the positive person. The embassy has said they will intervene to make sure an adult can stay with a kid. I can’t even breathe for thinking about this.

If I don’t blog again, I guess you’ll know that’s what happened…
I wish we hadn’t brought the kids, for what it’s worth. The idea of the frightening experience I might be about to impose on Wyatt–if I’m taken away from him, if he’s sick, if he and I are both sick and can’t stay together…the inconvenience of everything else pales next to that. This wasn’t worth it. Not the adoption, but the trip. If I had it to do again I would make a different choice for both Wyatt and Lily. It’s no better if it’s Lily. Sam…he can take it, we will figure it out. We’ll figure it out. We’ll figure something out anyway, but oh, man.

I don’t have words.

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Mob Scene in the Forbidden City

Thursday, June 18th, 2009 | Connecting the Dots | 5 Comments

Here’s a phrase you may want to learn if you’re going to bring a lot of small, blonde children to China:
Ta-men pu yao.
That’s “They don’t want it.” Ta pu yao is “He doesn’t want it.”
The smog today was palpable, settling down in the Forbidden City to the point where you felt like you needed to clean your glasses, even though you weren’t wearing any. It was muggy, cloudy and oppressive. While we walked to the Forbidden City we were picked up by two students, who said they were practicing their English, but turned out, after many blocks, to want us to go into their art store and buy some of their art. So that was a little disillusioning right off.
The Forbidden City is huge, a never-ending maze of storybook buildings with nothing in them, of empty, brick-paved courtyards with nothing in them, of stages and halls with…nothing in them. Eventually, as you make your way in, you reach the Imperial Garden, which is truly magical, and some buildings with–after you peer through the dusty windows–a few scattered things in them. And there were some thrones. All of which sounds like I wasn’t impressed, and I was. It’s awe-inspiring. It’s just not very evocative of its history. It’s hard to imagine it filled with concubines, eunichs and emperors and bustling with life, and very little has been done to help you do that.
But why the phrase?
Every time we stepped away from the kids to take their picture, other people gathered to take their picture, too. And then they moved in, to stand with them in a picture. And then they got closer, petting their hair and holding their hands…The first time it was funny. And the cute girl you see posed with them, here? She was very nice, and I think everyone should take a tip from her when it comes to posing for pictures. I took this shot just to prove to you all that it happened. Turns out, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to prove that! It got ridiculous quickly. Every time we stopped, they came. Everytime we tried to talk to someone–other parents encouraged their little ones to try out a “hello” and we would encourage ours to try a Ni hou-ma?–a little crowd would form, and if one person took a picture, there were others right behind. A couple of times, when they posed for us, people moved in before we could get them away. Wyatt really didn’t like it. Lily was flattered but overwhelmed, and Sam wanted to be polite but not necessarily to sit there all day.
We did start to say no, and walk away, but still got caught a couple of times. Eventually someone knocked poor Wyatt down while he was running away from a photo fest, and I realized we needed a polite but firm way to explain–he doesn’t like it. They don’t want it.

It turned out to also come in handy on the way out, against the hoardes of sellers of Chinese flags and olympic mascots.

Why the photo taking? I don’t know. Our guide book thinks it’s mocking–take them home and show friends who haven’t traveled so far the funny looking foreigners–but with the other parents, and the grandmother types, I didn’t really get that. It is a little–condescending is the best word I can get for it. Why should the laowei care? Like going on safari and taking a picture with little native children, only kind of in reverse.

You can see that by the end, I had to scoop Wyatt up and put him away. (He was also very tired–they walked all day.) He was the primo target–every Chinese grandmother or 20-year-old girl just wanted a piece of him. What they really wanted to do was hold him, but he was having none of that, and we backed him up absolutely. Even Sam, though–he’d just be walking a long, and somebody would put their hand right on his head. I warned them–we knew this would happen–but it was that much more intense than we’d expected!

Tonight we’re off for Peking (Beijing!) duck at Made in China, which is in our lovely, lovely hotel. Where no one yet has tried to touch the kids’ hair!

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Best Pool in Beijing

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009 | Connecting the Dots | Comments Off

We’re here, at the Grand Hyatt in Beijing. The pool, I’m told, looks “just like Ariel’s castle” and was a huge hit.

We only managed a few hours of sleep on the plane, and tried to do a little too much when we got here (even though it wasn’t much at all). We thought a swim would tire them out, and it did–so much so that they all fell asleep at dinner, which we tried to do right around the corner at what seemed to be sort of a Chinese Friendly’s (pictures on the menu and very casual) called “Western Sichzuan”.

We have discovered that we need to learn the words for “bathroom” and “bottled water”.

The kids all woke up for a few hours in the night, but went back to sleep eventually. I think tonight we’ll be ok.

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