Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What took me so long













Wow! How things have changed! I have meant to post for a long time (almost two years) but cannot seem to find the time. So much has happened. I have lost a job and found another, Kristi has gone back to work and bought into a business, Thatcher (or Thatch as his buddies and teachers call him) has started real school and is now in the first grade and Amelia Belle is thriving and has really blossomed since we have been home.


What has prompted me to write was a posting I saw on a Yahoo Group. Amelia was adopted from Shanwei Child Welfare Institute (orphanage) but was originally found on the steps of the orphanage in Haifeng County. She spent almost a year at Haifeng County and was then transferred to Shanwei for the remainder of her 22 months in China. I had not hear of any babies being adopted form Haifeng, so made some assumptions. I believed and still do that we are blessed that she was transferred to Shanwei through God's Providence, otherwise we would not have gotten her And I assumed she was the only baby from Haifeng that transferred to Shanwei. Well, today I read two posts from parents who have babies from Haifeng/ Shanwei. I don't know exactly what that means, but for whatever reason that excites me. I really want to be able to provide Amelia with more information, but at this point we really know nothing, so it is exciting to connect to people that can possibly provide insight into her past, however limited that insight might be.

Anyway, I'll update with more stuff later, but for now I wanted to post more recent pics of Amelia Belle and Thatcher.












Sunday, July 5, 2009

Graduation Day




The day finally came. After hours of hard work learning the alphabet, sight words, numbers, colors, learning to color within the lines and even how to write his first name, Thatcher finally graduated from the 4 year-old bridge class at Asbury Ark Academy at the end of May. There was a very moving slide show made up of pictures of the children both as infants and now and I had fun at the expense of all the teary-eyed mom's. Hopefully these kids (especially Thatcher) will have many more graduations--including kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, and hopefully college and beyond.
It was a nice day for Thatcher, we took him out to eat at the restaurant of his choice--El Compadre Mexican. And after I made fun of the situation, I had a moment of my own later that night. After everyone went to bed and the house was quiet, in the middle of watching "The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons," I was struck by the fact that my little, sweet baby boy isn't a baby boy anymore. He'll never be a toddler again--he's a big boy now. I should cherish the times he wants to crawl up in my lap and snuggle with me. Soon he won't want to do that anymore. Heaven forbid, there might come a day when he doesn't want to spend time with me. He'll have friends and girls that will have his attention. This really puts into perspective the too many times that I have to tell him "no...I can't right now." I don't want him to grow up--it makes me a little sad.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

T-Ball and First Bo-Bo

















T-ball is in full swing. Thatcher is having a great time playing and we are having fun watching. Last week we had T-Ball pictures. Kids were running everywhere, we were trying to get pictures taken so we could play our game and apparently I was not watching Amelia Belle closely enough. She now runs and she was running on the cement and she fell and did a face-plant. She skinned up here nose (as you can see in the photo) and got her first real bo-bo (that's boo-boo to you northerners). She was fine, it just looked bad. Worse is how she has felt over the last week. She and Thatcher have both been sick. Thatcher has gotten better, but Amelia Belle has been running fever since late last week. The doctor says a cold (no swine flu, thank goodness) and she looks like she's feeling better. But, when she feels bad, she is very unhappy and doesn't sleep well. Because she's still real clingy with Kristi, this is a little stressful for her.


May is a big month. It was just mothers day, and this weekend is Kristi's and Amelia Belle's birthdays. Kristi's is Friday and Amelia Belle's is Saturday. Amelia is having her second birthday--first party--Saturday and we got a waterslide and the kids should have a good time. Afterwards, we are having a crawfish boil for Kristi's birthday. It just so happens that there is a church crawfish boil at the same time, so a lot of our friends will be there, so we're keeping it small--mostly family. It should be fun.


Lastly, Amelia Belle is doing much better with me. Every day it gets better. Last night Kristi left for an hour or so to get out of the house and apart from a little whining, we did just fine. Tonight after dinner with the Rodies, Kristi and Carrie went in one direction and Mark and I took the kids to target. Amelia Belle looked for Kristi a little bit, but never really got upset. As I was pushing her around target, she kissed me again and again. It's SO much different than it was when we first got her and especially in the last few weeks. It's getting better and better. However, she's still really clingy with Kristi. Kristi has a hard time getting anything done. It's stressful so keep her in your prayers.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Six Weeks Home
































We have been home now for a little over six weeks. It has been a little crazy getting used to having an almost-two-year-old, but we are starting to settle in. Although Kristi, who is famous for being early for everything has not been on time for much. We got to church early this last Sunday, but really only because I was teaching.



A brief recap: We got home on Friday March 13 and had an crowd of friends from FBC Bossier and from Lake Charles and Leesville...and Jamie from Lake Charles. It was very touching. Everyone had read my posts and we had food waiting for us at home--the Ben and Wendy Lee brought Mexican food and chips and salsa, and our friends decorated our house and brought food for the rest of the week. Over that weekend, Kristi and I both felt bad--her much worse than I and Amy Wilson came and sat with Amelia Belle (she still didn't like me) so I could shower and brought us food.



On Monday and Tuesday we had doctors' appointments. On Monday we brought Amelia Belle to the Cardiologist. She has a minor heart condition (VSD) and short of the hole being gone, we got the best news we could have gotten. The hole is high in her heart, very restricted and loud. That's all Greek to me---to bottom-line it, she has no restrictions,no medication, and no surgery. The doctor said she could run, jump, play professional sports if she wanted to and get married and have children--basically live a normal life. We will have to follow up every 6 months and then every year for a while, but that's normal. Next we went to the international adoption specialist. He looked her over and pronounced her normal, healthy and beautiful. He did instruct us to get blood drawn and take a lot of stool samples to rule out any abnormal infections, parasites and such---we just got that done last week. If she has any intestinal parasites we all have them.



In the six weeks we have been home lots has happened. We celebrated Easter, Thatcher finished up soccer and started baseball and just have settled into a normal life. A few of the highlights:


  • Amelia Belle has SEVERE separation anxiety. She is clingy and wants to be held most of the time--but just by Kristi. Kristi doesn't have much of a break.

  • We have tried to leave her with a few people. During Bible-study Miss Amber watches all of the kids and Amelia Belle will stay with her for a while. Carrie has kept her a few times and she has stayed in the nursery at church for moments at a time until someone comes to get us to tell us that she is screaming at the top of her lungs with HUGE tears.

  • She's not in love with me yet, but we are making lots of progress. She plays with me more and more and lets me hold her. She likes me to swing her around and reaches up for me when Kristi is trying to get her to sleep.

  • Thatcher is an AWESOME big brother. He loves his baby sister and is really proud of her. He brought his class to the computer room at school and showed them pictures of his trip and baby sister and told the all about the trip. Ms. Julie and Ms. Laura said he is a new kid--still very polite and well behaved but much bolder when talking to his teachers and friends.

  • Thatcher started T-ball. He is playing with the Sidewinders. Most of the kids are at Providence Classical Academy where he will go to Kindergarten in the fall. Derek Johnson from our growth group is coaching and Thatcher's having a great time. It's cool to meet some of the other parents from Providence.

  • We went to Lake Charles and Leesville for Easter. Amelia Belle got to meet her Douda, Uncle David and Aunt Jesi and Papa Ed and Glenda and went to lots of Easter Egg hunts. She also went to big church with everybody in Leesville. She did not behave so well (neither did her big brother).

  • Amelia Belle is walking much better. She is still funny to watch, very unstable but gets around quickly.

  • She is also saying a lot. Momma, Daddy, nite nite, Buck Buck, uh uh (for no), ouch, and a few more. She makes a lot of noise and our friend from church--a speech pathologist--told us that as verbal she is that she will soon have a word explosion and begin speaking a lot. It is also amazing how much she understands, considering she has only been hearing English for less than two-months.

  • She says ouch really loudly when anything is bothering her, whether it hurts or not. Everything she does, every gesture, every sound is over exaggerated and loud. I imagine it is a coping mechanism to get attention or scare people or other children into giving her her way.

  • She makes funny faces and gestures to music. We saw this from the very beginning. She did not like riding in a car in a car seat and we found that when we turned children's music on she began to bob her head, make faces and wave her arms. It is really funny.

  • Thatcher and I have been seeing people using dip (crab) nets and fishing in the bayou by our house. We went and caught nothing, but Thatcher has been using a hoop net attached to a string in our ditch in front of our house, pretending to crawfish. At least he's not in front of the TV or video games.

  • Kristi is having fun buying way too many girl clothes. I have the two best dressed kids in Bossier City. Maybe Bossier Parish.

  • I bought a guitar and have had two lessons. Don't laugh. It won't be so funny when I'm playing to sold out stadiums.

  • Amelia Belle has been using the potty. Saturday night, Kristi put her on the potty and she pooped. She did it again Sunday several times and now through Tuesday has continued to use it when she is put on it. Amazing. The kid isn't even two. We didn't think she was being potty trained in the orphanage, but our agency said that at any time, after an initial regression due to the "big change," the baby may resume where she was in potty training. Again, amazing.

So a lot has happened. I'm sure I've forgotten a lot. But to some it up we are extremely blessed in a lot of ways. We have great friends and family that have supported us and offered help and encouragement. While we have had a few minor frustrations we are figuring things out and have settled in.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Last Day and Night in China

Today was our last full day in China. It was a pretty full day and it started with a little shopping. We finished up some last minute haggling, and I had to exchange a watch I bought for Kristi--it wasn't working.

At 12:40 we met in the lobby for our trip to the U.S. Consulate for the swearing in ceremony. There was a lot of waiting, a short speech by a guest, the current Ambassador to China. It was pretty moving, as he fostered a child waiting for adoption to the U.S., he was instrumental in getting Chinese adoptions to the U.S. started back in the mid-90s and he has family that adopted from China as well. He administered our oath and it became official. We got Amelia Belle's Chinese passport with U.S. Visa and we will get her citizenship papers about a month after we return. We will still need to get her a U.S. passport, a Social Security card and a U.S. birth certificate when we return, but she is ours.

When we returned to Shamian Island, I met Keith and Harris again to walk around. We headed in a different direction and saw blocks and blocks of shops selling cell phone and video game parts and accessories and providing service. I have no idea why they are located within close proximity, but there has to be a reason. It was amazing.

We met everyone back at the hotel at 5:30 for dinner and went next door for Thai food. It was good as usual. I had heard that duck and pigeon dishes are very famous here, so I tried a spicy Thai pigeon dish. It tasted kind of wild, sort of like dove. It wasn't bad, but there wasn't much to it, either. Thatcher and Amelia Belle had rice, chicken wings and french fries.

After dinner, back to the room, and to bed. We are home tomorrow...and it can't be soon enough. Keep us in your prayers, thank you all again for your prayers, encouragement and support. This has been the most amazing experience. See you all soon.

--Gene

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Only Two More Nights!!!










video

Monday
Hey again. We haven’t had any grand sightseeing trips or huge breakthroughs with Amelia Belle, but still some good days. It is Wednesday night here, so only 2 more days until we leave--we could not be more ready to go home. The days are all running together now, so it’s hard to keep things straight, but over the last few days I have been over to the mainland three days in a row, Thatcher has had a Chinese haircut and Kristi had a rough experience getting a massage…not a “goofy” massage as Mr. Zhou calls it and we took pictures as a group at the White Swan Hotel. Amelia Belle has gotten even louder and a lot more comfortable with us and a little more comfortable with me.

On Monday, we did not have any group plans, so Thatcher and I went with a couple of other guys to the mainland, through the open air market to the shopping. I say mainland, but Shamian Island is a very small island on the Pearl River that is connected by short bridges on one side and a ferry on the other. It was a French and English trading colony so is very European in layout and has a rich history. The two bridges were blockaded at night in colonial times, but not now. The only U.S. consulate that processes adoption visas is on the Island (for now, will soon move off the island) is here, so that is why we are here. We just walked to look around and Harris needed to go back to the pearl market. On the way back we went through some back alleys, and saw some interesting things. We also saw some cool stuff at the fish market. We saw snakes, snapping and other turtles, crabs, lobsters, fish and live and crocodiles in various states of being slaughtered. We even saw cobras in a cage…we saw them stand up and extend their hoods.

When we returned to the island, Thatcher and I went to where Kristi and her friends were eating lunch and we sat down to eat outside as the girls were leaving. We had hamburgers and fries and spaghetti. Kristi had been complaining about Thatcher’s hair so we decided to make her happy and go get him a haircut. We went to the old Victory Hotel to the salon and three women there went to work on him. One washed his hair, taking about 15 minutes to do it, then another cut it. It seemed a little strange the way she did it, she edged around his hair with clippers with no guard and used shears to thin it before she cut it. It was strange and a little uneven, but overall not bad. But not a good bargain at about $20. The women loved him, ooh’ed and ah’ed over him and talked about his eyes and eyelashes the whole time. All week as we were walking around, people kept coming up to him and touching his hair and his face.
After his haircut we went back to the room and then shopping in Shamian Island and the park. After, we went back to hotel, got baths and ordered Papa John’s with several other families and ate it together at the end of the hall. It was fun.

Tuesday
Tuesday at breakfast, Kristi, her mom and two friends, Jackie and Traci made plans to get massages. Mr. Zhou warned us against one place on the island, with a woman in a cape standing behind a booth in front that gave “goofy” massages. He also warned that the Victory Hotel salon was not a professional massage. He directed them to a place that gives massages “to cure your pain and care about the health of your spondyle.” The massages turned out to not be so great, all of the women complained that they were rough, painful and given through a towel. Also, they had to pay not only for a massage and tip ($20), but also for their paper gown and paper for their table.

Me and the kids (that sounds cool, but I’m not used to it yet) had a lot more fun. We went straight to the park with the two other dads and kids. For a while Thatcher played and Amelia Belle and I watched. Thatcher went across the entire monkey bars by himself while we were there, and he and I spun around on something that makes you really dizzy--check out the video.www.picasaweb.google.com/gellender03. Soon, though Amelia Belle was ready to get out of the stroller. I put her down and she immediately started climbing steps and wanting to slide. I was helping her, but I was quickly moved out of the way by two Chinese grandmothers. Check out the video. It was pretty warm, but notice the child in all the layers. They are serious about keeping kids warm here. We had a great time for a while, then we got some cookies to keep us all happy and we went to check out some movies. I have bought quite a few. If you want to know why DVD sales are down, blame China. Copies on every street corner. Then we met Kristi and headed back to the room for a small lunch of noodles (Cup o’ Noodles type) for Thatcher and I and Rice cereal for the baby.

After lunch I went walking again with Harris and Keith again. We saw a lot of the same things, but we tried to take some different streets. We went into an army surplus store that sold silencers (one U.S. Govt issue) for $45. We also went into a “pharmaceutical” company that had huge vats of roots, herbs and animal parts for grinding into medicine. Check out the pictures of snake wine and snake penis wine. Chinese medicine is a large part of the culture here, and Zhou told us that Chinese people will put snakes, scorpions and all kinds of things into wine to make them strong, healthy, etc.

We got back just in time to go to the Victory Hotel for pictures. Kristi got Thatcher and Amelia Belle traditional Chinese clothes for the pictures. Thatcher wanted a ninja suit, and then he started calling it a kung fu dragon suit all week. He got nun chucks the day before, and he had them in most of the pictures. Take a look at the video above, but also check out the other one from when he first got the nun chucks. It’s really funny.
After pictures, we went to Lucy’s again and to bed.

Wednesday
Today, we slept late. We ate breakfast then Kristi, her mom, Thatcher and Amelia Belle and I all walked to “over there” as we call going into the city. It was a pretty warm day, so Kristi put Amelia Belle in a cute short sleeve dress, forgetting how serious the Chinese are about keeping babies warm. We were on the walking overpass over the highway to get into the city when we noticed the people, mostly older, pointing at the baby and giving disapproving sounds and looks. We looked around and the adults were wearing jackets, but the babies were all wearing several layers. Keep in mind that we were wearing shorts and our baby seems to sweat a lot. When we got to the main shopping district, the first place we went to was the department store to get the baby some tights. This seemed to keep the Chinese from getting too upset with us.

Next, we looked at electronics and then ate at McDonald’s---it’s a hassle just to get more ketchup. The main shopping street is lined with shops, and every so often there is an entrance, like a mall, with escalators going up and down several levels. McDonald’s is located on the second floor of one of these buildings and the bathroom is located on the top level. After lunch we were checking things out. In this one building there were probably 30 small shops that did hair, bazillions of jeans and t-shirt shops, shoes and nail salons. Kristi’s mom wanted to get her nails done and for less than $2 with a tip she got them done, and she said they did a good job. While she was getting them done Kristi and I looked around on several different floors and nature called for Thatcher. There was no American toilet, just the Chinese style, so we had to make do. Ask me about it and I’ll tell you sometime, but I’ll just say that we had to go downstairs to Kristi to get baby wipes, and it was a disgusting and acrobatic experience.

Lots of things are cheap here, but lots of things are low quality. Thatcher’s Mimi bought him another remote controlled car (his first one broke) “over there” and on the way home we bought a couple of suitcases. We had a limit of one per person of 44 lbs. for the in country flight, and we have all bought some stuff. They were less than $10 apiece, and I’ll be surprised if they make more than the trip back home.

When we got back to the room, we tried to get the baby to sleep. She flopped around and was loud in the bed with us, and she cried in her bed. I can’t let her cry; because I believe that she’s cried herself to sleep enough in her life. She doesn’t have to do that anymore. It breaks my hear to think that my baby has spent 22 months not having any one love her as much as we do. I’m sure we’ll have some work to do, because there are a lot of coping and defense mechanisms in place to help her survives, but we’re happy to do that. When we decided that she was not going to sleep, Kristi got her up and they went with her mom and Thatcher out again. They left me in the room to upload pictures and videos and work on the blog.

At 5:30 the entire group went to the Chinese restaurant at the old Victory Hotel. The food was excellent. Mr. Zhou set it up and we had vegetables, noodles, soup, beef and chicken dishes and fruit. It was really nice and once again nothing we ate was that different from what I would eat at a Chinese restaurant in the U.S.

After dinner, back to the room. Amelia Belle is getting better with a bath, she didn’t cry at all tonight and she and I played for a long time while Kristi bathed. She still prefers Kristi, but we are getting somewhere. She didn’t go to sleep easily, but she did eventually.

It is eleven o’clock or so on Wednesday night and a few things are going through my mind: 1. how much I want to get back home. This has been an amazing trip, but I am ready for normalcy. It’s not that I miss TV and Mexican food so much (I do), but I am very anxious to get my family back and get us functioning in a regular routine--work, school, soccer, t-ball, etc. 2. I think about how Thatcher’s world is being rocked. From his perspective, they used to “my” French fries, now they are “our” French fries. He has to get used to sharing things, but also me, and most traumatically, his momma. I love that boy so much it hurts. I know every kid goes through this when they go from being an only to being an older, but I feel for him…even though I have been all over him for acting out. 3. Kristi. She has made this an amazing trip. It has been stressful at times, and (for us, not Zhou…he has it under control) lots of not knowing, but she has kept her composure and kept things in perspective. When I have been stressed about the baby not liking me, she has been loving and encouraging. When I have been upset with Thatcher because he’s aggravating Amelia Belle, in her face or just acting silly to get attention, she’s reminded me of what he’s experiencing. I am a lucky man and Thatcher and Amelia Belle are lucky kids. She loves them very, very much.

Two more nights. Today, Zhou went to the embassy for us and everything went smoothly. Tomorrow at 12:40 we have to go there and swear an oath, get her visa and we are ready to leave. We have to have our bags outside our room at 5am. I am not sure what time we leave, but I know it is early. We will leave China Friday morning and arrive in Shreveport at 6:30 Friday evening. I might post before then, but if not, keep us in your prayers, wish us luck and we would love to hear from you.
--Gene