Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

We are about 4 hours away from 2009 here in China, but I can guarantee that none of us will be awake to ring in the new year! We just can't seem to get ourselves adjusted to the time difference. Dave leaves tomorrow night, so I suppose it is good that he never got used to being 13 hours ahead. He will hit the ground running with the boys on Saturday when my mom hands them off to him.

Today was our first day for sight-seeing, other than a walk around the city that Dave and I took Monday morning before we met Marley. We visited a beautiful park that is Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's masoleum. He is considered to be the 'Father of Modern China.' The park is very large and has many gardens, ponds, statues and ornate gates. I have a few pictures I'll post, but unfortunately the camera battery died while we were out. We took some pictures on a disposable camera, too, and will get those developed at home. It was a clear but cold day so we had to keep Marley bundled up all morning. She was very quiet and sleepy most of the day today. I think her little body needed to shut down for awhile and process the major changes in her life. She was calm and peaceful, but also a little withdrawn. Later in the afternoon, her spirits were up again and she is having great fun toddling around the hotel room right now. We had lunch at Pizza Hut, and let me tell you, if Pizza Hut at home made pizzas like they have here, it would be a new weekly special for the Huffman family! We had a pizza with so many yummy things on it and it was delicious. Dry salted flaky fish on top and everything! After lunch we visited the Nanjing Museum which has an amazing collection of jade and woven pieces. China's history is so long that almost every piece in the museum was at least 1000 years old. The jade was amazing and our guide gave us a good tour of the museum, but we were ready to come home and crash by the time we were done. Speaking of crash. . .we finally saw evidence that all of the crazy drivers, bikers, and pedestrians can actually collide once in a while. We saw a pretty minor fender-bender on the road near the masoleum. I will take some video of the streets around our hotel tomorrow and post it--it is truly bedlam at all times.

Several people have emailed me and asked how Marley is doing developmentally. Marley will be two at the beginning of February, which is based on an estimated birthday. I think a fairly accurate assessment would be that she is developmentally more like a 12-15 month old at this point. She is pretty much right where we expected her to be after receiving updates on her progress over the past nine months. Research shows that kids in orphanages fall behind one month of development for every three months they are in the orphanage (which made it that much harder to endure the long wait to bring her home). But it also shows that they catch up very quickly in most areas once they are with a family. She just started walking about 1-2 months ago, so she is unsteady on her feet, but she really likes to walk, and we are already seeing progress in her balance and her ability to turn herself around without holding on to something. Her stomach and back muscles aren't very strong compared to her legs, due to the amount of time she spent sitting/standing in a walker at the orphanage. But we've already started doing some tummy time with her and we'll get her caught up on that. She says a few words, which we of course cannot understand! The only one we know is "ayi" which is what they call the nannies in the orphanages. She doesn't seem to mind that she can't understand us and already knows what we're talking about when we say "where's your ball?" "kick it" "get daddy" and a few other things. She is a great eater, but only very soft things like noodles, rice, and she loves steamed eggs with sesame oil. We bought her some baby food because we were having trouble finding fruits she would eat, and although she really liked the pureed stuff, it gave her a bit of tummy trouble, so we're going to ease off on that. Not fun to have a very icky diaper in your hotel bathroom garbage can. Her cleft palate is not causing any problems for us at all at the moment. She is able to eat fine, and because she isn't talking yet, the speech issues that come with cleft palates aren't evident right now. The orphanage had told us a month or so ago that she was not using a bottle anymore, but we brought one just in case. It turns out that she is used to having a bottle at bedtime, but it has to be a special cleft bottle that is not available for sale in China. The orphanages only get them when foreign families donate them. We have been able to give her milk, water, and juice using a bowl and spoon. She is well-hydrated, and she has gone to sleep very easily each night without any kind of bottle, so we're not worried. She'll have surgery to repair her palate within the next couple of months, and then we can work on speech therapy as needed.

Most importantly, she's sweet, cuddly, funny, tiny, easy-going and we are smitten with her. She is as happy with me as she is with Dave, which is reassuring since he is leaving tomorrow night and won't see her until we get home on the 9th. We know that she has had this week to get comfortable with him and that will hopefully extend to home, too.

We are missing the boys so much right now, and although they are having fun at Grammy's house, I soooo wish that Marley and I were heading home to them when Dave leaves tomorrow. It is hard to be so far away from them, and from all of the comforts of home. We are the only family adopting in the entire province this week, so we have not met any other adoptive families in Nanjing. In fact, I could count on one hand the number of non-Chinese people we have seen since we got here Sunday night. We stand out quite a bit. Sometimes it is unnerving to me to have so many people staring at us and talking about us. We even had a guy walk up and take a picture of us today while we were looking at Sun Yat-Sen's tomb. Dave is not bothered by it at all, but it is hard not to feel judged a bit when every person who looks at us has a blank expression on their face. Our guide said that most Chinese people are very happy for the babies who are adopted because they know that life in an orphanage is not the same as life with a family. I just wish they'd throw a smile our way once in a awhile :)

That's all for tonight. I was finally able to get 7 more-or-less uninterrupted hours of sleep last night (thanks to exhaustion and Unisom) so I'm hoping for a repeat tonight. We don't have anything scheduled with our guide tomorrow, but are planning to go see an ancient drum tower that is near our hotel. The Nanjing University campus is also close by and it has a really beautiful tree-lined park, so we will probably check that out, too. Our guide and driver will pick Dave up at 5:30 to take him to the airport, and I'll be sad to see him go, but happy that he'll be home with the boys soon. This has been a short trip for Dave, but everytime I see him look at Marley, I know he wouldn't trade this experience for anything. Our guide took the three disposable cameras that orphanage returned to us and will pick up the prints tomorrow. I wish we had been able to get them developed on Monday so we could have taken them when we met with the orphanage staff again on Tuesday. We could have asked for names, places, dates, etc. so Marley would have a more complete picture of her first two years. But we are thrilled to have the pictures for her and can't wait to see her first home.

Happy New Year to all of you at home!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Day 2 of adventures in China

Marley slept like an angel, all through the night until we finally woke her up at 7:30 to get ready for the day. I wish Dave & I could say the same. He is doing a little better than I am, and is used to functioning on about 6 hours of sleep/night. But, I am really struggling with sleeplessness at night and have not been able to force myself to skip an afternoon nap in hopes of sleeping better at night. There is a 13 hour time difference, and our bodies are still functioning on home time right now. Poor Dave will probably finally adjust right before he heads back on Friday. This morning we took Marley back to the Civil Affairs office to do the official adoption paperwork. It is sometimes called the "red ink day" in adoption lingo because her hand, as well as our thumbprints, are now stamped in red ink on the adoption decree and registration forms. The two people from the orphanage were there and we were able to snap a photo of all of us together. The woman in the photo was the Assistant Deputy Director, I believe, and the man was the person who was in charge of foreign adoptions for the orphanage. Our guide, Xie Jin (aka "Jean") said that Marley's orphanage has only been open to international adoption for 3-4 years now and it is a very small orphanage. We returned the clothes that Marley was wearing when we met her yesterday, except for the Goldilocks hat and the red silk coat. We figured the orphanage could use the other 3 layers for the other children, but the hat and coat will be kept as mementos. The coat is way too big for her, so I think we will take a picture of her wearing it every year on the anniversary of our 'family day' until she outgrows it. I handed her to the woman from the orphanage for a minute to take a picture of them together and she started to cry right away. The worker said that she thought Marley just wanted to go outside because she could see people outside the window working on the street, but then when I reached out to take her back into my arms, she got a big grin and giggled! I think she was worried we were sending her back. Not a chance! After the Civil Affairs office, we went to the grocery store. What an experience that was! We went to an underground parking garage in the middle of the city and then rode up on these crazy escalators that are flat but inclined (no steps) so you can bring a cart up on it. The first floor was more like a mall with private shops and stores, but people push their shopping carts around as if they are in Target. Except a little more recklessly than we're used to, and with lots of staring at our peculiar-looking little family unit. The second floor of the store was the actual grocery store and it was huge. We were able to stock up on a ton of supplies including food, snacks, wipes, diaper rash cream (can't believe I didn't think to pack that), water, juice, etc. for a total of about $50. The check-out was interesting to say the least. We had to move to a different lane because the one we were in wouldn't take a credit card and we didn't want to spend all of the Chinese money we had already exchanged. So we got in the other line and it turned out they wouldn't take the card either. We didn't know we needed to take our own bags (and don't have any grocery bags with us here, anyway!) so we tried to stuff as much as we could into our already-full backpack and a produce bag. We ended up paying for a grocery bag, which we were happy to do. If only we had known it was an option all along! One interesting tidbit--we couldn't find dental floss anywhere, and our impression is that our guide, as well as the store employees, weren't that familiar with the product. There was a lot of pantomiming and a thorough search of the dental care section, but no floss to be found anywhere in the store. Marley has a runny nose and a little bit of a cough, so our guide thought we should take her to the 'clinic' here in the hotel. We got there and after searching for the 'doctor' forever, a hotel employee brought up a woman who works in the 'pharmacy.' I'm using 'quotes' for all of the vocabulary that I am using loosely. The 'doctor' checked Marley's throat with a gigantic yellow flashlight, listened to her breathing for awhile, and then stuck a digital thermometer in her armpit. By this point, Marley was screaming her head off and looking at us like, "What are you letting her do to me?" Her temperature was slightly elevated, although that would seem reasonable considering we have to dress her in so many layers of clothing to avoid being chastised by people in the streets, and also considering the fact that she was screaming. The 'doctor' told our guide that Marley "might be developing a very mild case of bronchitis" and suggested we take her to the children's hospital here. We had driven by the hospital in the morning on the way to the Civil Affairs office, and it was swarming with a huge crowd of people outside. Jean told us that the hospital sees 2,000 children/day. Dave and I decided that we would feel better relying on our own parenting experience and we felt that she didn't really need to go to a hospital full of hundreds of sick kids. It is not possible to make any kind of appointment for her there, so we would have had to go and wait. It was 11:00 and Jean said if we got there and registered right away, we would probably be seen after the lunch break, which would have meant waiting until 2pm at the earliest. No way! We brought her back here, fed her a good lunch, and she took a nice 2 1/2 hour nap. She still doesn't have a fever, and she only coughs a few times/hour, so we're not too worried. If she takes a turn for the worse, we can reconsider, but for right now, I think we're fine with our arsenal of Children's motrin and cold medicine if we need it. One final note--the drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians here are all bold and reckless, putting it mildly. There don't seem to be any traffic laws at all and I think we had about 20 near misses this morning alone, and that was just driving 10 minutes away. Mom--you would be white-knuckling every trip here. It is truly something you have to see to believe. We're off to find some dinner and then come back to call the boys in a bit. Keller & Casey--we miss you so much! You wouldn't believe some of the things we have seen here. We can't wait to come back as a family in a few years when Marley is older and you can all see what China is like. I hope you're being good boys and enjoying your visit in PA. Don't wear out Grammy and Aunt Heather!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Squeaky clean

Here is a picture of Marley post-bath. She didn't like the bath at all, but was happy once she was dried off and dressed. She especially loved her new shoes. She kept looking at them, taking a few steps, then stopping to look at them again. She came to us in a brand new pair of little boys tennis shoes that were about two sizes too big, so I'm sure she was pretty excited about her fashionable new kicks!

Introducing. . .Marley Rae Xinhe Huffman!

She's beautiful, sweet, tiny, and perfect! When we went to the Civil Affairs office, it was locked and our guide went to find someone to open it. She came down in the elevator, followed by two people from the orphanage who were carrying our little girl (who happened to be wearing the infamous Goldilocks hat from the last set of pictures we received of her!). She was tired, hungry, sweating under 4 layers of clothes, and had a wet diaper--but she didn't really complain much. The paperwork and exchange of info was very brief today and then we came back to the hotel. We tried all of the kid snacks we had with us, but what she really loved was shrimp dumpling soup! We fed her, changed her diaper and put on a fresh outfit, and she has been happy as can be since then. She has not napped yet though, so we may be heading towards a meltdown. She loves to walk and play. She really seems to like Dave and is keeping him entertained right now. We'll post more later, but here are some photos and videos--since I know that is what you've all been wanting to see!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

We're in China!

We made it! It has been a very, very long journey to get here, but we are finally at our hotel in Nanjing. It took 27 hours from the time we left our house until the time we checked into our hotel here. Now it's the middle of the night, but Dave and I are wide awake and hungry for lunch :) We were able to use Skype to call my mom's house to check on the boys and it sounds like all is going pretty well there.

We will meet Miss Marley Rae Xinhe Huffman tomorrow at 1:30pm China time (we're 13 hours ahead of east coast time at home). Hopefully we'll be able to post pictures soon after we are back here with her. She may not be smiling in the pictures, as I'm sure tomorrow will be a very traumatic day for her, but she's stuck with us! So we'll muddle through and do our best to love on her and help her adjust to her new very tall, English speaking, strange-looking parents!

Monday, December 22, 2008

We're leaving on a jet plane. . .

Dave and I will be leaving on Saturday morning to go to China to finally be with our daughter!! We'll arrive in Nanjing on Sunday night and will 'receive' Marley on Monday. We will spend Tuesday doing all of our adoption paperwork. We'll have a few days of sight-seeing, and then Dave will fly home on Friday, January 2nd, to be with the boys. My sister and mom are keeping them in the meantime, and although the boys are really looking forward to spending the week in snowy western PA, I'm sure they'll be excited to see Daddy show up to get them on the 3rd. Marley and I will remain in Nanjing until the 5th, and will then fly to Guangzhou to finish the immigration side of the adoption process. It is going to be very cold in Nanjing--probably 20-30 degrees, and then will be around 70-80 in Guangzhou. This makes packing very challenging!

We have had a rough couple of weeks, but are now looking forward to Christmas and then heading to China to meet the little sweetheart who we've been dreaming of for nine months now.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A sad farewell. . .

Tomorrow we will bid farewell to two faithful and patient companions. It is heartbreaking for all of us. Layla came to us in 1998, when Dave & I had been dating for about a year and a half. We found her at the DC animal shelter and something about her ridiculously vicious-looking teeth made us fall in love with her. She had spent her first two years in an apartment in DC where no one bothered to teach her things like "Don't eat shoes, and if you do, please don't pick the most expensive pair" or why someone would be taking her outside on a leash a couple of times a day when the carpet was a nice comfy spot to do her business. The first few months were hard at times, but the past 10 years have been wonderful. Layla drove to Denver with Dave and I the day after our wedding, and hardly complained when we added Wilson to the crew a month later.

Wilson came from a small ranch in rural Colorado. The family who had raised him for his first three years loved him, but he was too timid to work the ranch and was terrified of the horses, so they found him a new home, with us. Our first glimpse of Wilson involved him nervously pacing in and out of the room, hunched over like a hyena. Again, love at first sight. He didn't pee one single drop the first 36 hours we had him, he was so terrified. It took a couple of weeks to convince him to sleep with us, rather than burrowing into the darkest corner of the walk-in closet in our first apartment as newlyweds. Again, the first few months were months of learning, but the past 8 years have been great.

Over the years that Layla and Wilson have been a part of our family, they have truly shared in our joys and sorrows. They offered me comfort after a devastating miscarriage, simply by being present and asking for nothing more than a little eye contact and a spot to snuggle next to me. They welcomed the boys into the family and patiently waited for their turn at having some of our attention. They have greeted us every time we have come home, no matter if we were returning from a week of vacation or from a trip to the mailbox. The boys have never known a home without the presence of these two sweet pups.

Layla developed bladder stones about 3 years ago and had surgery for them in February 2006. We thought that the problem was taken care of, but learned that she had developed more stones, of a different type, and needed another surgery in March 2007. When she began to have accidents in the house again this spring, we took her in and were terriby disappointed to learn that she had more stones. She has been on a prescription diet that was supposed to dissolve her stones in 3-6 months. Although she had been making progress it was very slow. At her check-up last Tuesday, after 7 months on the prescription diet, we learned that she still has 20 bladder stones which are big enough to count, and many many smaller ones. We consulted with the vet about our next treatment options, and the heartbreaking news is that we are out of options. Layla's accidents have become more frequent, and it was time to view them as more than a housecleaning issue. With Dave and I being home during the days, she is able to make many trips outside. Her accidents are a sign of the level of discomfort and pain the stones are causing her. She is 12 years old and has had a long and happy life. Our vet encouraged us to let her go while she still has good days and will be remembered as a happy, old dog.

Wilson was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor last January. Our veterinarian started him on a relatively new protocol of medications including a chemotherapy drug, a steroid, and antibiotics. At that time, she gave us the grim prognosis that Wilson had 3-6 months to live. He has survived and been relatively comfortable for 11 months on the medications. He has outlived every other dog that our veterinarian has tried this medication protocol with. But now, the cancer and the strong medications have taken a toll on him. He sleeps almost round the clock, and he suddenly looks like the tired old pup that he has become. He is 11 years old. We do not want him to suffer and know that he has been living on borrowed time. It is with great pain in our hearts that we will need to release him from his illness now.

The boys are too young to understand much beyond the concept that as of tomorrow afternoon, Layla and Wilson will not be here anymore. Tonight when I went to snuggle with Keller in bed after work, he said that he was thinking about how the dogs won't be there to make the noise of their nails clicking on the floor, or to stand in his way when he's trying to play the Wii. He is realizing that all of these everyday things we take for granted will be gone. Casey said that he has some special medicine at his 'other house' that will make the dogs not be sick anymore. I tried to explain that we have already tried all of the special medicines, and they weren't strong enough to fix what is wrong with Layla and Wilson.

I have been grieving for a week now, since our veterinarian guided us toward this difficult decision. I imagine that the grief will go on for a very long time. The trusting eyes of two very dear souls will close forever tomorrow. It is difficult to balance the joy of bringing Marley home soon with the deep sorrow of losing my first "babies." I grew up with these dogs in a sense. I became a wife, and a mother with their comforting presence always near. I wish they could be here forever. Layla has been with us 10 years, Wilson 8 years. Simply not enough time on earth.

Dave and I will be with the dogs when they ease into their final pain-free rest tomorrow. I can only hope that they will drift off knowing how grateful we are to have had them here for these years, how much they are loved, and how deeply they will be missed.

Friday, December 12, 2008

This week's Gratitude List

What a week it has been. So many ups and downs. . .much to be thankful for but some tough stuff, too. I'm grateful for:

1. Our Travel Approval. It was finally issued from China yesterday, which means we should be able to leave on the 27th and finally have Marley with us on the 29th. The travel plans are still being worked out. And if anyone was planning to surprise us with a million surplus frequent flier miles, now would be the time! Flights are very expensive right now and we are needing to talk about options including Dave & I flying over on separate flights, or Dave not being able to go at all :(

2. Layla and Wilson (a.k.a. "the dogs"). I am thankful for the trusting eyes that follow me everywhere, for their gracious acceptance of being knocked down the 'attention totem pole' continually when things are crazy around here (which is more often than I'd like to admit), and for the unconditional love that only a dog can give. These dogs are truly family members and we are heartbroken to have received some disheartening news about both of their health over the past week or so. We know we are facing some tough times and sad goodbyes in the not-distant-enough future. I told Keller today that I wished you could get a puppy when you're little and it would live as long as you did. I've said 'goodbye' to too many beloved pets in my 34 years of life. But regardless, I am thankful for all of the good times with our poochies.

3. Freecycle. I could make a list a mile long of all of the wonderful things I have gotten for free (hence the name) over the past 3-4 years. A few favorites include: a 32" color TV when ours died unexpectedly two days before a LOST season finale; approximately 8 bazillion Legos that someone passed down to us in two huge garbage bags; and a recent favorite--broken electronics that Keller and Casey have enjoyed taking apart to see how they work. The list of things I've given away on freecycle is equally interesting: our old artificial Christmas tree found a new home this year, for example, rather than sitting in a dump somewhere. If you don't belong to your local freecycle group, JOIN!

4. Good neighborhood schools. The Washington Post just put out a list of the top schools in the Northern Virginia area based on the number of students scoring at the advanced level on standardized tests. Keller's elementary school was ranked #4 on the list! Although I have issues with schools being ranked purely based on test scores, it is evidence of the great things going on in Keller's school. Then, US News & World Report published an article highlighting the top high schools in the country. Four Fairfax County high schools made the list, which is impressive. Seven others made the "Silver" level of achievement based on several different criteria. Chantilly High School, which is our neighborhood high school, earned the Silver level recognition. We have lived in our neighborhood since February 2004 and have loved it for many reasons. Having excellent schools in walking distance of our home is another reason to feel 'at home' here.

5. My ESL students. This has been a tough semester of teaching for me. I have a huge class of 30 students, with 6 languages represented. The county budget is a mess and the adult ESL program is going to be hit very hard by cuts. My students, many of whom cannot even write their address without copying it from a card in their wallets, painstakingly wrote letters to the school board explaining why learning English is so important to them. They wrote about how they want to be able to help their children with homework, how they need to be able to understand prescriptions and doctor's advice to take care of themselves and their families, and they wrote about how they want to give back to the people who have helped them as they've adjusted to life in a new country. I challenge any of the anti-immigration folks to read these letters and still walk away feeling like immigrants should be demonized.

That's all for now. I should be able to post our travel itinerary early next week. Thank you to everyone who has offered to help out in many ways!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Little toe . . . big pain

I had a visit to my foot doctor today and x-rays confirmed that I did, indeed, break my toe yesterday. It is broken with a slight 'displacement' (it didn't line up exactly right when it bounced back into place), but he said it doesn't need any surgery, cast, etc. My toes are taped and I have to wear a special shoe for awhile. I have a follow-up in a week. He said it will be 4-6 weeks before I can do any serious exercise. I'm okay with missing the gym for awhile (in all honesty, I have been finding other, less legitimate excuses to skip the gym lately!), but I can't escape my daily acrobatics of walking kids to the school bus, walking in and out of preschool, standing on my feet to teach night school, running up and down the steps 500 times for all of the things I forget, etc. I must learn to slow down though. It won't be any good for Marley if I come to get her in a full body cast!

Keller had a friend over after school yesterday and the three boys were playing in the living room when I whacked my foot on the corner. I literally had to put both hands over my mouth to keep from unleashing the string of obscenities that was ready to jump out of my mouth. I kept saying "I think I broke my toe. I think I broke my toe. I think I broke my toe." And none of them even turned their heads in my direction. They were engrossed in their gory monster and carnivorous dinosaur books, and could not be bothered to offer kind words or looks of compassion. Boys.

This morning Keller looked at my foot and said, "Mom, your toe is all blue. I think that's good luck." I wish. If I had a pinch of good luck for everytime I've injured myself by moving too quickly and disregarding immovable objects in my path . . . I'd be Lucky the freaking leprechaun by now.

Who knew a little toe could cause such a big pain.