Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Life is Busy in Guangzhou

Bryan took a detour to our travels, and went to Tokyo for the weekend.  As luck would have it, his meeting with Japanese orthopedic surgeons that had been planned for a year, happened to fall right in the middle of our China adoption travels.  Crazy, right?  So, on Friday, while he went to enjoy some Japanese hospitality, we flew to Guangzhou.  Since landing, we have had very little down time and several important appointments.

As I type, Poppy is sitting on my lap giggling and pressing buttons.

Poppy and I were up and out the door early Saturday morning.  We met our group in lobby of the hotel and went straight to the U.S. Visa medical office.  This office is filled with people who want to come to America.  I cannot help but feel very proud of the country that we live in while here.  I also feel thankful to the Chinese medical staff who care for so many people to help others fulfill their dreams.

The office is set up in stations.  There are at least 25 families with children who need medical checks as part of the U.S. Visa application process.  Since I have gone through this before, I was comfortable with the managed chaos.  First, Poppy visited the ENT.  All good!  Then, it was height, weight and body temp check time.  I wish I could tell you the numbers, but I was too in awe of our brave girl to ask questions.  I believe I read 10.2 kg for weight.  I took no response to the temperature check as good news, and off we went to the general medical check.  The doctor was very sweet with Poppy.  He sees numerous children on a daily basis, so to see his compassion towards Poppy spoke volumes.  He's right where he's suppose to be.  He sent us off with a clean bill of health!  One more room...the TB test.  I remember dreading this test with Evie because they have to do a blood draw, and it was no different with Poppy.  The nurses wisp them away for the test and return them quickly...usually screaming.  Not Poppy!  With tears in her eyes, she looked at me with a sense of comfort, dug her head in my should and held on tight.  That was it!  In and out in 30 minutes!  We waited in the lobby for the rest of our group.  Thankfully, it's a large lobby so plenty of room for running.  I also packed snacks to hold us over until lunch.  We were back to our hotel by 11:30 am, ready for lunch, a nap, followed by playtime with Brycen, Finn, Bennett and Evie.

On Sunday, Grandad, Grammy, the kiddos and I ventured over to Shamian Island via the subway system.  Shamian Island is an older island filled with souvenir shops, beautiful buildings, restaurants, ice cream shops and lots of people.   It's a great place to take photos.  In fact, many people stopped our family to take photos with our children.  Even school children wanted photos with the boys and Evie, and they like to practice their English with conversation.  We are amazed at how well the children speak English.  It is no longer uncomfortable for Brycen, Finn, Bennett and Evie to have photos taken with complete strangers, young or older, usually women but some men, often children.  Finn suggested we start charging them like Disney characters. (That's my Finn!)

After our long day at Shamian Island, the kids and I met our group in the lobby to walk to a local restaurant for dinner.  I always enjoy eating with the locals because they know how to order and we tend to enjoy the food more.  This dinner did not disappoint.  Brycen and Bennett can be picky eaters, so I was very proud of all of my children's sense of adventure when trying some of the foods served.  We had several types of pork, chicken, beef, rice, noodles, vegetables and eel.  Evie and Poppy are in heaven with every meal.  I love watching them enjoy the foods that tap into their familiar taste buds.

On Monday, we went to the zoo!  It was a long day, but worth the sweat and tired legs.  We enjoyed seeing many animals, big and small.  The panda bears are always a special treat to see in China!  When we arrived back to our hotel, Bryan was back!  I was so relieved and happy to have him with us again!

Today, was a big day for Poppy and all of the other beautiful children in our group. We went to the U.S. Consulate with our documentation in hand to get Poppy's U.S. visa.  I cannot tell you how excited we are to get to this point of the process.  We should receive Poppy's visa on Thursday, and leave for America on Friday!

Poppy continues to warm our hearts with her gorgeous glowing smile.  She has quite the personality and gets called "a ham" at least twice a day.  I think she is loving all of the attention all of us are giving her.  Next Monday, when Brycen, Finn, Bennett and Evie go back to school, it's going to be a huge adjustment for all of us.  Poppy is going to miss them so, and I know their minds are going to often be on Poppy.  Bryan and I continue to be so proud of our children and our parents.  This is a long "16 days" for everyone, and we cannot complain about one person on our team.  Although our children have big days with tourism, hotel living and adjusting to a new normal, they do their daily dose of homework. I cannot tell you that they don't complain and procrastinate, but they get it accomplished.  Our parents help and support us hourly, and we know we could not do this without them.

Our journey home begins in three days!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Perfect Plan

What a week! On Monday, we woke with excitement and nervousness. "How scared is she going to be?," we wondered. At 2:10pm, six Holt families boarded the bus to go to the Civil Affairs office to meet their children. It was a very surreal feeling. After so many months and years, the time has finally come to this moment. When we walked in the civil affairs office, I had this overwhelming sense of happiness and comfort. Maybe I felt that way because we had done this before, but I was nothing but happy. 

Bryan and I took our seats, but did not sit long. Who can sit down when you know your baby girl is in the next room?! The door of the room where the children were was cracked open, and sitting in a room of about 5 children, I saw her!!!! I could not believe my eyes!!! She was beautiful!!! She was playing and eating and happy as a clam with her little pigtails! The door closed, so I lost sight of her. Then I saw her walk back and forth behind the official's desk counter. It was amazing watching her in her natural demeanor. Bryan and I giggled. She looked perfect!

The very nice officials and Holt staff called us back to the meeting room. In here, we promised to always love her, care for her, give her a good life and never abuse her. Check, check, check, check!!!  Finally, they brought her in!!!! She was wearing an adorable yellow dress with pink sandals. She carried a huge bouquet of flowers to give to me. And then, she dropped them and held on to the orphanage director as tight as those little arms could hold. 

I could see the confusion and fear in her eyes. Heartbreaking. There are no other words. However, they put her in my arms and she cried. We were expecting this. She has been living with very loving foster parents for a year. She loved them and they loved her. It was extremely hard for all of them. Bryan and I understood completely what would probably happen.

What we weren't expecting were the tears to shut off after 3-5 minutes. We were amazed! Pleased, yes, but we want her to know she is allowed to be sad. Do you know what else surprised us?! After I hugged her and loved on her for several minutes, she reached for Baba (aka Bryan)!  My heart exploded!!!! We have learned that she was very, very close to her foster father. His heart has been broken since she left. But his love and affection for her has resulted in a very well adjusted two year old. After a few pictures and some more kisses from her orphanage director, we were back out in the waiting room sitting with our beautiful happy daughter!

We had about a 20 minute ride home, but it felt like 60. The anticipation of our children meeting her was building. We walked in the hotel room with her, and each of them calmly said hello in their own way and gave her hugs. My heart exploded again!!! Going through the process of adoption, we find so much excitement, but of course there are worries and fears. One worry is how our current children will bond with their new sister.  All of my worries were gone at this point. She immediately began to observe them, watching with her gorgeous brown eyes. They each wanted so badly to hold her, but they knew to give her space. The next thing I knew, she was laughing out loud! The sounds of her giggles are infectious! The immediate unconditional love is real with children!!!! 

My mother and my father-in-law watched the entire experience. They were also amazed at the strong, beautiful, happy little girl! They sat back and watched our family gel. Of course, we know the gelling process takes a long time, but what a start!!

The week went on with very few glitches! We finalized the adoption on Tuesday. With Evie, this was a very traumatic time to return to where she was handed to us. We decided to take Evie with us on this trip. She wanted to be apart of it so badly, but we wanted to protect her emotions. We made the right decision!!! Poppy and Evie played in the children's room (where she waited to meet us the day before), and laughed and enjoyed each other. 

Later in the week, we went sightseeing and learned more about the beauty of this country. So much history, and each area is very unique. We visited the most beautiful garden yesterday with our Holt families' group. It was extremely hot. We walked, climbed, fed fish, looked at the unique pretty flowers, and enjoyed our time together as a family! Grammy and Grandad have not winced once! They are such strong, loving, supportive parents and grandparents. 

Our children are handling this trip very well. They do homework daily, find time to swim for activity, play with Poppy and read. We have visited local parks where the boys played baseball with Bryan and Grandad. Bryan and I have fit in a run and some brief gym workouts. Grammy, Evie and I have enjoyed the 5 level mall that is attached to our hotel.😊 Grandad and Bryan are really going to miss the daily sauna and steam room visits.

We're leaving today for Guangzhou. It's bittersweet. We are excited to be closer to going home, but I admit to feeling some guilt for taking Poppy away from her home province forever. I remind myself that this is God's perfect plan.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Night Before Poppy!

I feel like it's Christmas Eve!  We have been preparing for our sweet little girl for months!  Tomorrow, September 18th, our family will grow.  Tomorrow happens to be my birthday, and I know Poppy will be my best birthday gift ever!

On Saturday, we continued our tour of Beijing and learned all about the deep Chinese history.  Wow!  We started our day very early at Tiananmen Square, and continued through the Forbidden City.  The amount of land that these two landmarks take up is astounding.  Thousands of people visit every day. Our sweet guide, Alice, lead us through the tours, therefore we never felt overwhelmed with all of the people.  The tour of a silk factory followed, where we learned how silk is made. The children got to hold silkworm cocoons and watch a large machine pull strands of silk.  After stretching and layering the silk  the end results are comfy blankets, beautiful clothing and pillow cases, and elegant scarves and tablecloths.  On to another delicious family style traditional Chinese lunch.  By the time lunch rolls around each day, we're all very hungry and excited about the food.  Bennett has been wearing his Fitbit, and reminding us that we are reaching well over 15,000 steps each day.

One of the highlights of Saturday was an acrobatic show.  The acrobats were amazing and the show was fantastic, but we got the greatest entertainment people watching.  Just as we were heading into the theater, we were stopped by several Chinese tourist who wanted pictures with our children.  This happens nearly everywhere we go, even in airports, so we were not surprised.  Within in five minutes, the theater doors opened, a man yelled something in Chinese, and without hesitation every person, all 500+ rush into the theater.  We stood on the steps until Alice told us that we needed to hurry to get a "good seat."  Oh my!  The sight was captivating.  People of all ages were pushing and shoving, racing to their seats.  We found 8 seats together because we went up to a second level, where I assume were not the best seats, but they were great for us!  We sat in our seats and watched people scurry all around looking for seats, and then a very serious security guard came out to direct people on where to sit, and telling (er yelling) many that were sitting to move over.  Now, we can only assume he was giving these directives, but at this point, actions spoke even louder than words.  Honestly, I cannot describe the situation well enough, but Bryan and I giggled until tears were flowing from our eyes.  After the show, all eight of us sat in our seats until most had left the auditorium.  :-) The show was great, but the people watching was even greater!

The kids were tired, so they went back to the room with my mom, while Bruce, Bryan and I set off on an adventure to find the Olympic Sports Complex.  The subway was our mode of transportation this time, and it did not fail us.  Although very crowded with little or no room to move, the subway system was very manageable.  We made it!  The Olympic Sports Complex is incredible!  The structures are huge!  We took photos of the Bird's Nest and the Cube.  The Chinese have taken very well care of these stadiums, and continue to use them.  It just so happened that the Beijing Marathon was today and the Olympic Sports Complex was the finish line.  All was set up last night and ready to go for the runners.  I must say, I've been to several finish lines of major marathons in the U.S. and this finish line may have taken the cake (or medal :-)).  The celebration area went on for a mile.  We have decided that the Chinese do nothing small.

After some sleep, we woke up to another big day.  Bryan and I squeezed in a quick run and somehow ended up in the security check line for the marathoners.  Nevertheless, we casually backed our way out and found a different route.  Admittedly, we were excited for the runners, and a bit jealous that we were not running with them.

We boarded our flight before noon and arrived in Nanning, Guangxi at about 3:30.  In this province, we will become parents of our fifth child.  We will meet her tomorrow afternoon at approximately 2:30.  To say the least, we are excited yet nervous.  We know that tomorrow, Poppy's life is going to be turned upside down, and for that, our hearts break for her. She will be scared and forced to experience one more traumatic event in her young life.  We will love on her as much as she will allow us, but we also know this process takes time.

I will post photos as soon as I get a chance.  I have no idea exactly how tomorrow will go, but I do know we will gain another piece of our hearts.  With each additional child, I have learned that we really and truly have so much love to give.  I hope my children grow to know that they have always been and will be loved, and I also hope for them to allow their hearts to love big, too!

Okay, 15 hours and counting!


Friday, September 15, 2017

The Great Wall and So Much More!

Twenty four hours of travel is never easy, but we made it to Beijing without any major mishaps.  Just once did we think we lost our three boys, only to find them hanging out with the pilot of our plane while we deplaned out a different door.  I knew they could not get past customs without us, but for two minutes my heart raced.  Whatever happened after finding them was icing on the cake.  The "icing" was seeing all eight pieces of luggage on the carousel.  Now, we can only hope the return travel will go just as smoothly.

After arriving in Beijing, we were greeted at the airport by a very nice and beautiful Chinese woman named Alice who will be a our guide for the next few days.  She gave us a very warm welcome, and immediately began informing us about the Chinese culture and giving travelers' tips.  After hotel check-in, she said, "I'll meet you at 7am tomorrow morning in the lobby."  Seven o'clock in the morning on Friday came very quickly.

Last night we explored a very popular street in Beijing filled with large stores such as the Apple store, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Zara plus so many more.  Then we turned down a crowded street which began with a red and gold arch, and was followed by a line of Chinese street food vendors.  The first vendor...scorpions on a stick!  At that same vendor, they also had Cicadas on a stick, squid on a stick and some sort of bug shell on a stick.  Brycen begged to try the scorpions, and although I love his adventurous nature, my maternal instincts could not let him eat scorpions.  Our compromise was the squid.  Finn also tried some street food such as rice balls, dumplings and vegetable egg rolls. We finished off our first day here at a yummy restaurant with a menu with pictures and English!  Watching Evie eat her first traditional Chinese noodles since leaving China four and half years ago was memorable.  She loved them!

This morning we got up bright and early to eat breakfast and meet Alice at seven o'clock. We piled in the van and headed straight to the Badging area of the Great Wall.  Wow!  The Great Wall is amazing!  The preservation of this old and dignified structure is immaculate.  Thousands visit daily.  A cable car took us up the mountain to begin our walk on the Great Wall.  The stairs were very high and uneven, and at some points we had to hold on to a railing to get up the steepest terrain.  Everyone did it!  Our kids walked with interest and joy, and our parents' (my mother, Bryan's father), climbed with strength and desire.  Bryan and I could not have been more proud and grateful for our team.

After the Great Wall, we explored a jade museum with Alice.  We learned all about China's most precious stone, and saw many beautiful handmade pieces of jewelry.  A hearty Chinese family style lunch followed, and then off we went for a hutong tour. Hutongs are a very important part of the history of China that have been held on to for many of today's generations. Hutongs are lined streets of homes of families, typically passed through many generations.  We rode on rickshaws through the hutong neighborhoods and took in the sights of older homes, many hardworking people and precious children making up the a large part of Old Beijing.  One family welcomed us in their home to visit and asks questions about their life in the hutong neighborhood.  Fourteen people lived in this home, sectioned off by siblings.  It had been passed down through 4 generations. They were extremely generous and kind to our family.  The wife wanted Bennett to stay.  :-) She and her husband stroked his hair and pinched his cheeks often during our visit.  So sweet!  Our kids were enamored by their chinchilla living in the house!  Thankfully, it was in a cage.  They also had a couple birds and fish.  I loved the pomegranate tree growing in their small courtyard.  Unfortunately, they will not be ready to pull for another month.  The kind couple did not let us leave empty handed, insisting we eat some of their dates.

By the time we made it back to our hotel, the jet lag was catching up to us.  Our children did some of their homework and I was reminded the I could never homeschool.  We accomplished some math and grammar work.  Tonight, we have taken naps and the boys went swimming.  I am pretty sure they belly flopped and raced so many people out of the pool.  Oh my!

Tomorrow will be another big day!  I'll update as soon as I can.  In the meantime, the countdown is on.  Three days to Poppy!!!

Happy weekend, all!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Love is Leading Us Back to China!

We all have dreams.  When I was a little girl, my dream was to have a big family.  I told my mother often that I would have 13 kids.  She would always respond with a giggle and say, "we'll see about that after you have your first child."  I'm not sure why I chose '13', but most likely because 13 seemed like a big but realistic number.  Now, I can assure you that we will not have 13 children, BUT, I can promise you that we will have five!  At 40 years old, five is a big but realistic number.  In just two days, our family will travel to China to adopt our newest little Springer.  SHE will complete our "big" family!

On Wednesday, Bryan and I, along with our children, my mother and my father-in-law, will board our flight and travel 24 hours to our daughters' homeland of China.  The months of documentation and preparation all come down to this very momentous week in September.  You can imagine the excitement by all in our house, but especially by Evie.  Not only is she gaining a new baby sister, but also this is her first visit back to China since she became a Springer in 2013.  She cannot wait!  In fact, she was practicing her Mandarin tonight at dinner.  Of course, that was limited to "ni hao", "zai jian", "xie xie" and "wo jiao Evie".   When Grammy expressed that she just wants to know how to say, "where is the bathroom" in Mandarin, the room went silent.  Yup!  Grammy, back to drawing diagrams in the middle of a giant Chinese Walmart.  Ay ay ay!  

Tomorrow, we will continue with prep work: packing and running the last few errands.  Our children will gather as much work as their teachers will give them to take to China.  I will do a last check of required documents to travel.   After two baseball practices and a normal night of homework, we'll finally sit down for dinner, and when we do, we will practice one extra special Mandarin phrase: Wo ai ni, Poppy!  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Love Leads Us to Do More

Some days are so busy with my kids, their activities and sports, carpool, school volunteer projects and committees, typical mommy-kind-of errands, kids' homework and projects...and the list goes on, that I cannot imagine fitting anything else in my life.  Then there are other days that I feel like I really need to do more.  I am finally at a point in my life where I am having more of the latter kind of days.  I'm not talking about more errands, more sports for my kids or even taking on the coaching role on my son's lacrosse team.  We all know where that may lead!  I want to truly give some of my time for the well-being of others.  Love lead me to China, and now so much more!

Throughout our journey of adoption, I have met some wonderful and most inspiring people.  One of those people is Maureen Osbourne.  Maureen's blog is very beautifully written and expresses so much of what many people feel, that we follow her.  Through this blog, she introduced an amazing foundation to me called, Love Without Boundaries.  I have read and re-read many of her posts and gazed at the pictures, some beautiful and some heartbreaking, that she has shared.  It drew me in and made me think, "how can I help these children."  One day, I sent Maureen an email asking her how can I get involved with Love Without Boundaries.  She responded with an offer I could not refuse.

Love Without Boundaries is an extraordinary foundation giving hope to thousands of orphans and impoverished children in China, aiding them with nutritional, medical and specialized care, foster care and education.  This list does not touch what really goes on behind the scenes. In reality, I am continuously amazed to read the leaps and bounds the LWB volunteers make to help so many children live in dignity and to help them reach their greatest potential.  My part of this foundation is very small, but I could not be more proud to be apart of such an incredibly loving and devoted group of people.

So, where do I fit in?  Education is a very important part to all children's lives.  In China, many orphans do not have the opportunity of education because they are not permitted into public schools. This is especially true for children with special needs.  LWB has created Believe In Me schools to be housed within orphanages so children can attend school.  Imagine the excitement of a child whose typical day once consisted of sitting in a bed or orphanage room,  can now explore the bright colors of a classroom, read new books, draw and color beautiful art and experience the joy of learning.  Because LWB has brought Believe In Me schools to China, these children are looking at brighter futures and lives that are forever changed.  I have been asked to be an Assistant Coordinator for the Believe In Me school in Lanzhou, and I could not be more honored to do more for the 34 beautiful children in our school.

Every day I open my email in hopes to see pictures of the children in Lanzhou.  Oh, they are so so precious.  The updates are priceless!  Each picture is better than the last.  LWB could not open, nor could the children participate in Believe In Me schools without donations and sponsorships.  If you have any interest in sponsoring one of our 34 children, I will attach the website below to lead you to this gift.  With sponsorship, you will receive quarterly updates along with photos of your sponsored child.  A one time donation is also very appreciated, and as a donor, you will receive updates and photos.

Love truly has no boundaries, and I am forever grateful to where our journey for Evie has lead us.  When I look at our four children, I see so much potential in their faces and the desire to explore, experience and learn.  All children are so deserving to explore, experience and learn, and if this means my fraction of existence in these 34 children's lives may help them do this, then doing a little more in my own life is so worth it!

Link to Love Without Boundaries - Learning in Lanzhou

Monday, March 3, 2014

Celebrating Our Gift!

The first time I saw you was like a dream come true.
No I didn't give you the gift of life.
Life gave me the gift of you.

As we approach March 11, 2014, we reminisce about "this time last year."  What we were packing?  How we were feeling?  When our visas were coming?  Where we needed to run last minute errands?  Who we were going to meet?  This time last year, I had so many thoughts going through my head, yet I just wasn't sure what to think.  I truly had no idea how life was going to be in the next weeks, months or even years.  Through all of those questions and anxious feelings, I focused on the one little gift that we were given.  Our gift weighed about 22 lbs. and measured about 35 inches tall at the ripe age of three years old.  Our gift is named Evie, and she has truly changed our life.
Oh what a year it has been!  I would be lying if I said it was easy, but it has been so worth it.  Evie is filled with smiles and energy.  She loves clothes, shoes and lip gloss, but she can hang with her brothers on a basketball court.  Of course, she is riding her bike through the basketball game (in our backyard) as they patiently play around her.  School makes her excited where she has many sweet friends, loves painting and building, runs and swings on the playground and plays instruments in music class.  Her brothers are her best friends.  She has declared Bennett as her prince, but Brycen is not giving up on his attempt to take the honor.  I recently heard him say, "I will do anything to make her happy."  LOVE!  Finn is her quiet protector.  His sweet little sensitive personality will pounce on anyone or anything who may threaten his sister.  
You see?  It's growth!  We have all grown because of Evie.  Our eyes have opened wider and our hearts are bigger than ever.  Evie has given our family, in the short time that she has been with us, more than we could ever give her.  She is a gift!
On March 11th, we will celebrate "Gotcha Day!"  From the moment that sweet little girl in pigtails and four layers of clothes walked through the door in Taiyuan, Shanxi, she had our hearts.  We will remember the day that she left all that she ever knew, her security, her China mama and baba (father in Mandarin), to join a group of "strangers" who longed for her to be their daughter, sister and granddaughter.  We will remember her loving and selfless foster mother who cared for her every day since she was three months old.  The lady who fed our daughter every day and night, woke up during the nightmares, held her when she was scared, cherished her first smile, cheered her first crawl and steps, cleaned her surgical wounds and calmed her when she was in pain.  I will never forget her foster mother's ultimate sacrifice to care for and love our beautiful girl, while knowing that one day their life together would end.  That, my friends, is love.  Lastly, we will remember the woman who gave her the gift of life.  She did what she felt she must do, and for this we must not judge, but pray that she "knows" her baby girl is loved and celebrated every day.
Most importantly, on this "Gotcha Day!", we want Evie to know how much we wished for her!  We want her to know that she is loved in our family forever!  We also want our boys to know that they are loved beyond measure and their growth, acceptance and love make our hearts swell.
Happy Gotcha Day, Evie Springer!  You are a beautiful gift!