Saturday, January 31, 2009

Time flies, and the new "date" night

Marley has been home with us 3 weeks as of yesterday. We met her on December 29th, so we've passed the one month mark on that. Sometimes I look at her and can't believe she is finally here. I'll be rocking her in the chair before her nap and she stares into my eyes and I am just blown away that all of that waiting and worrying is over. She is here. She is ours, forever. It's just incredible. Other times I watch her walk around the house, looking all confident and comfortable, and it's hard to imagine that she has only been here three weeks. I'm sure I sound like a broken record by now, but she makes huge gains every day. Today alone, she (finally!) pulled herself up to standing, pointed to her cup when I asked what she wanted (rather than getting mad at me and whining), and fed herself her entire dinner with her fork and spoon. Yesterday, she was not doing any of these things. Today she did them all. It is just amazing to watch her, and it makes it feel like time is truly flying.

One thing I've been trying to do is to carve out a little segment of one-on-one time with each of the boys every week. Before Marley came home, Casey and I had every afternoon together while Keller was at kindergarten, and then Keller and I had two mornings a week together while Casey was at preschool. We did special things like trips to the bookstore and library, and not-as-special things like trips to Target and the post office. But it was one-on-one and it was nice. I miss it, and I'm sure the boys do, too. Marley is a pretty good napper, so Casey & I still get lots of one-on-one time in the afternoons, but it has been harder to find time to do special stuff with just Keller and I. Next fall he will be a full-time first grader, and spending time alone with him will be even harder. I really wanted to find a way to have some special time with him this winter, spring and summer. I've been kind of at a loss for how to find time, especially now that my semester started back up on the 22nd and I am teaching 2 nights a week again.

So, I called up my wise friend Amy and she told me what she and her husband have been doing with their kids (they have 3 as well--wow, I have 3 kids--sometimes it sounds so funny saying that!). Anyway, it's such a fantastic idea that Dave & I latched right on to it. What we are going to try to do is to each have a "date night" with one of the boys every week. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate or expensive, just a way to spend some one-on-one quality time with them. Tonight, Dave took Casey swimming at the gym and then out to Five Guys for burgers & fries. Tomorrow evening, Keller and I are going out to dinner and to watch the first part of the Superbowl together (GO STEELERS!). Next week or weekend, we'll switch it up and it will be my turn to do something with Casey, and Dave will do something with Keller. They are both enjoying coming up with ideas for what to do. Of course, this afternoon Casey told Dave that his pick was to "drive around the block and watch a DVD in the van"--so they will obviously need a little guidance at times! One of the best things is that even the kid who is left at home during the 'date night' gets a special night because it is just him, Marley and Mom or Dad hanging out. Tonight, Keller and I beat another section of Attack of the Toybots on the Wii, had melt-in-your-mouth pancakes (as he calls them) for dinner (Dave doesn't go for the whole 'breakfast for dinner' idea), and just got to spend a lot of time talking without much interruption. Marley is pretty easy-going and she was happy to sit on the floor with me and play while I helped coach Keller through the video game. I'm hoping we can make this a pretty consistent thing for the next couple of months. It serves the obvious purpose of giving the boys a little extra lovin' as they adjust to having another sibling to share attention with, but it also gives Dave and I an opportunity to get out a bit more. Although Marley would be fine with a babysitter, we aren't ready to go out and leave all three kids for an evening yet. We want to give it some more before we make that big move. So, now with our new date night plan, we still get to go out for dinner, to a movie, to the pool, to the bookstore, for a walk on the trail, etc. with only one kid in tow. I have high hopes for this.

Marley's 2nd birthday is on the 6th, so we're having a playdate/"meet Marley" kind of thing tomorrow with two families and then will have another small shindig next weekend with the families who couldn't make it tomorrow. Although I am eager to see all of my friends again, I think it'll be easier this way with just a few people and a few extra kids at a time. We may head down to DC tomorrow later in the afternoon to see the Chinese New Year parade. The weather is supposed to be nice (mid 50's) and we'd love to see the parade, but it does fall right at nap time, so we'll have to see what happens. It's been a long time since we've had to work around nap times in the Huffman house!

Sorry no pictures this time. I'm really tired and too lazy to upload pics today. I will try to put some on tomorrow night.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My love/hate relationship with snow days. . .

We had a beautiful snowy day today. Casey was up at 7:15, so we came downstairs for quiet time so we wouldn't wake the other two kiddos. I looked outside and saw these huge, gorgeous flakes falling, and they were actually sticking. Everything looked so fresh. Here is a little video of the snow falling in our backyard. It was so peaceful and pretty!
video

I love snowy days because we had sooo many of them when I was kid in western Pennsylvania and I have many childhood memories of white Christmases, school closings, and dangerous sled-riding activities from my childhood. We don't get anywhere near enough snow here in Northern Virginia to qualify as a respectable winter. I feel like my kids are being cheated out of a set of "real" winter memories to bring them laughs later in life. We do our best to take full advantage of any snowfall we do get here. We snowshoe, sledride, and generally run amok in the white stuff whenever we get the chance. I also love snowy days because the lighting is usually perfect to get great kid pictures, and the fresh snow makes for a clean, bright backdrop. Here are a few I took today:










I hate snowy days because in order to get those cute pictures of my kids, I had to dress all three of them in layers, then snow pants, coats, hats, and the most-hated. . . ski gloves. They are damn near impossible to put on, as far as I can tell. Someone should invent a machine to properly install a kid's hands into these suckers. And as usual, as soon as we got outside, Casey found a reason to take his gloves off, which meant I had to chase him around trying to get them back on, which meant he fell and stuck his bare hands in the snow, which meant he was immediately ready to come back in the house. . . I hate ski gloves. I have no photos or videos to properly document the hassles of dressing 3 kids in snow gear, but it's probably for the best as I'm sure I let at least one itsy bitsy profane word slip out during the process!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year's Eve : )

The boys are off school tomorrow and Tuesday, so we are going to do some fun activities around here to kick off the Chinese New Year celebration. So, more pics to follow soon. But here are a few pictures and videos to hold you over until then. (Not sure why the videos are not posting clearly, I'll keep trying!)

All three kids actually playing with the same set of toys . . .

Here are the boys on a cold walk on the trail behind our house. Keller insisted on carrying a sheet of ice in his bare hands. Casey insisted on carrying a badminton racket and a frisbee. Pretty much sums up their quirky personalities.

This is Keller being Keller--sitting up high on a sign he climbed, and with a goofy look on his face.

Marley's first time on the swings. She loved it!

A few random shots of our little beauty. . .

What do you get when you mix one little sister, a pink balloon, and a ton of static electricity? Two very amused big brothers!
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Casey giving Marley some groove lessons on his drum set.
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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Some good news to share . . .

This will just be a quick post, and no photos--I've got a date with the DVR for Greys Anatomy! I wanted to pass along some good news to my faithful readers. Marley had a visit with the Cardiologist on Tuesday and we learned that the hole in her heart is very, very small. Her heart function is great and the amount of blood seeping through the tiny hole is insignificant. She is cleared for anesthesia now, which means that she can have her palate repair done. Her heart defect is something we knew about as soon as we received her file in March, but the cardiology report from China was outdated and many important parts of it were illegible and could not be translated. We took a big leap of faith, and luckily, it has turned out well. The cardiologist said that the hole will most likely close on its own by the time she is school aged, and even if it doesn't, she should not need surgery. Big sigh of relief on that!

We saw the Neurosurgeon on Wednesday about her sacral dimple and her head shape. More good news there--he doesn't believe that either are major issues. He said that her head shape (flattened in back, prominent forehead) is most likely due to laying on her back in a hard crib too much in China, which is what we had thought. She doesn't have any of the typical symptoms that go along with spinal issues, so he thinks the dimple is also a non-issue. However, he is scheduling her for a sedated MRI and CT scan to be sure that everything is okay. Because she has three 'mid line' issues (cleft palate, heart defect, sacral dimple), and because we have zero family history on Marley, we need to be looking very 'thoughtfully' (in his words) at her little body.

We had plenty of time to prepare ourselves for her cleft palate surgery and for a possible heart surgery, but we were not aware of any head or spine concerns until we met Marley in China. It has been tough to swallow all of this new information, but we are taking it a day at a time and are very hopeful that the upcoming scans will rule-out any real reasons for concern.

She is making such rapid progress that it continues to amaze us. It is really hard to believe that we met her just 3 1/2 weeks ago. Everything about her has changed so quickly. Her hair is no longer as coarse, her skin has a very healthy glow, she has gained a few ounces, her balance is 150% better. . . it is like watching her turn from a baby to a toddler in a couple weeks time.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kids say the darndest things : )

Yesterday Keller was asking me about the Beethoven movies (the ones with the Saint Bernard in them). He wanted to know when the first one was made. I told him it came out when I was 18 years old and he said, "Oh, so it was black-and-white?" in all seriousness. Not what I wanted to hear the day before my 35th birthday!

Casey had a cute one yesterday, too. He made me a hamburger out of blocks and I played along, saying it was the best one I ever tasted, and asking where he got it. He said he got it from the grocery store. I said, "Oh, you mean Giant?" (which is the name of our local grocery store. Then I remembered that I hadn't corrected his pronunciation (he said 'grocery tore', and he is working on "s" sounds with his speech teacher). So I said, "Did you get it at the grocery TORE or the grocery STORE?" and he said, "You know, Humongous." Get it? He called the grocery store "Humongous" instead of "Giant." Too funny.

I have one more story to share, in case anyone doubted how obnoxiously proud I am of my kids' humor and intellect. Keller made me a birthday card this morning and brought it up when they brought me breakfast in bed. He had drawn a world map on a piece of paper, complete with continents. Then he glued small plastic animals to the appropriate continents (panda to Asia, lion to Africa) and labeled the map with some pretty darn good inventive spelling. The kid is smart. Scary smart sometimes. What six year old makes that kind of card for their mom? He did, however, mention that he had drawn "that country shaped like a boot, what's it called--Texas?" Hee hee.

This is what the Huffman house looks like on a typical weekend morning--we loved that Marley joined in on the "Huffman Family Jam Session" with a few dance moves this morning!
videoHere's a picture of Casey showing us one of his many (invisible) boo-boos which needed a band-aid urgently. He is usually sporting 5-7 band-aids at a time right now. It's his current "thing", so we're just going with it. Note the outfit, too. He insisted on wearing a pajama shirt unbuttoned all day, even when we headed to the movies this afternoon (Dave stayed home while Marley napped and I took the boys to see "Bolt"). When we asked why he wanted to wear his shirt like that, he said, "Because it makes me look like Peter Parker." I did finally get him to put a shirt on underneath the pjs. And here is Marley getting her first tastes of ice cream. They told us when we were in China that she wouldn't like anything that wasn't warmed up, even water. She has proven that theory wrong time and time again since we've been home, but we knew ice cream was a stretch. Although she may not look like it in the video, she loved it and couldn't get enough!
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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hibernation Mode

I'm starting with a few pictures and a video here--as I know that's what you've all been coming back to the blog for anyway! Long blog post follows though.

Dave took this picture tonight at the gym with his phone, so it isn't that clear, but it's Keller at the very top of the gigantic rock-climbing wall! He has been climbing for about a year now, first weekly at a class, and then sporadically whenever Dave took him. They're trying to go more often now, and Keller made it to the top 4 times tonight, on two different tracks. I'm so proud, but then I am also aware that an urge and ability to climb high isn't the best thing for a six year old to have!

Here's Marley checking out a Sesame Street video in our toy room:

"The Grandkids"--Keller, Casey, Marley, and my nephews Kale & Shane

Casey & Marley walking home after we took Keller to the bus stop:


This is a pretty funny video of Marley attempting to crawl on the living room floor. She kept sliding backwards and I kept laughing, so we did it over, and over, and over again!

video

Greetings from the Huffman Cave where we are currently in full-out hibernation mode! I've been flooded with emails and phone calls this week, and just haven't had a chance to catch up with everyone. I would blame it on the adjustment our family is going through. . .but that would be a fib. Our transition has gone incredibly smoothly so far. My MIA status is actually because I am completely and totally sucked into the "Twilight" series of books. Slightly embarassing, but 100% true. I had read half of the first book before we left for China. I finished the first book and read the entire second book on the way over there. Then I spent a few minutes every night kicking myself in the butt for not bringing along the third book, which my brother-in-law had given me for Christmas. It was one of the things I was most looking forward to about returning home--laying in bed and reading! I started reading the third book on Sunday night, finished it Wednesday, and am half way through the fourth book now. Even worse. . .I went to the 10pm showing of the Twilight movie on Tuesday night, by myself. The kids were sleeping and Dave had work to do, so I spent two hours immersed in a Vampire love story. Hee hee. I'm still not completely adjusted to the 13 hour time difference, so I've been staying up until around 1:30 or 2 every night--why not read and go to movies, right?

Back to the family adjustment though, as I'm fully aware that no one checks this blog as a means of keeping up with my reading obsession. Things are going really, really well. Surprisingly well. Keller has taken his big brother role to a different level now that Marley is here. When Casey came along, Keller was only 2 1/2 and disinterested at best. Now at the mature age of 6, he's just been terrific. If I leave the room for a second, he practically jumps into my seat so he can feed Marley, or starts rolling her ball on the floor with her. I am touched by his sweetness with her. It is not surprising that he is nurturing with her, but I am impressed with the level. Casey has been a little less interested in taking care of Marley, and a little more interested in spending time in her crib, high chair, and stroller! We expected this from him. It's pretty funny to see this child, who up until we left for China still seemed so young and small--but now he looks like a giant sitting in the high chair or laying in the crib. He seems so heavy all of a sudden, too! I can't believe that less than a month ago I was sometimes carrying him home from the bus stop. Every time I try to pick him up now, my arm muscles complain about it! He has taken it in stride though, being bumped out of the 'baby' position in the family. He seems to understand that her needs are going to take priority at times, and although he will sit and say "Mom!Mom!Mom!Mom!" so many times in a row that I think I'm going to lose my mind, he is getting better at waiting.

All of that said, they are pretty hungry for outside attention anytime we have a visitor or see someone out in the neighborhood. Their antics usually include some combination of dancing on the furniture, yelling loudly, and doing flying leaps in front of people's faces when attention is turned solely to Marley. Again, this is as expected, and was par for the course when we had visitors even before Marley came along.

Marley is making huge strides in many areas already. Tonight I was looking at some of the pictures and videos from the first days we had her with us in China and it is hard to believe that only 2 1/2 weeks have passed. She is a very confident walker now, even walking backwards and sideways. She signs "more" spontaneously when we're feeding her and tickling her. She doesn't scream (as much) in the bathtub. She even opened her mouth voluntarily for me to brush her teeth tonight. She says "Hi" and "Mama" with some coaching, and repeats sounds by watching my mouth and then trying to copy what I'm doing. She is pretty proud of herself for working up enough leg and core strength to lower herself down and stand herself up from an elevated spot (like a stool or the bottom step). She likes to nod her head "yes" vigorously when I tell her "no" for something she's not supposed to do. Her balance has improved enough that she can walk along kicking a ball across the room without stumbling at all. These are all things that children her age should have mastered long ago, we realize this. But she has made all of this progress in less than three weeks, so we have no doubt that she will be catching up soon in many areas. And the eating thing--goodness, the woman can put away some food. She ate a huge can of chunky soup for dinner tonight. She needs the calories, with all of the exercise she is getting now. When Dave and I first started trying to see if she could walk in the hotel room on that first day in Nanjing, she could barely make it across the room. She needed our arms for support, and couldn't stop without falling into someone (or something). She couldn't turn herself around, and couldn't sit down without just falling completely backwards like a stiff board. She would break out in a sweat after less than 10 minutes of moving around. She is so different now and I am so in awe of how much this child has changed in such a short amount of time.

Today she had her first visit with the Internation Adoption doctor in Fairfax. He is an expert at all of the many challenges that come along with living in sub par conditions such as a Chinese orphanage. This appointment was for a physical exam and to get referrals for various specialists. We will go back in 2-3 weeks for a developmental assessment, and will follow that with another in 3 months to see what delays may remain which would need some Early Intervention services through the school system. Marley has two known "special needs"--her cleft palate and the hole in her heart. The first priority is to have a new work-up done by the cardiologist to see the status of her heart. The records from China are very old and many important parts were not legible and could not be translated. She has a Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD), which is relatively common in terms of heart defects. (occurs in 1-2 out of every 1000 babies). Our hope is that hers is a small one and will close on its own, but we won't know until we have some tests done. She will see the cardiologist in the next couple of weeks. Once her heart is assessed, we'll be able to figure out when to do her palate surgery. Her type of cleft palate is pretty mild and doesn't give her any trouble now, although the sooner it is closed, the better in terms of speech development. Another specialist we will see is a Neurosurgeon due to two things. First, she has a 'sacral dimple.' These are common (you probably know someone who has a little dimple at the top of their bum) and usually not a sign of anything to be concerned about. When one of my boys was born, we thought he had this, but it turned out he didn't. Anyway, the neurosurgeon will take a look at this for us, since it is right at the end of her tailbone and falls under the umbrella of spinal evaluations. And second, Marley's head is shaped a bit oddly. It is very flat in the back, which is common (even in the US) for babies who spend too much time laying in one position in their cribs. You have probably seen a baby or toddler wearing a white plastic helmet of sorts, which is meant to correct a flat spot. In Chinese orphanages, the cribs don't have mattresses and are basically plywood with a bamboo mat over top, so many Chinese orphans have flat heads. She also has a pretty big forehead. It's a good sign--her brain needed a place to grow and her head accomodated, but we need to rule out any issues with her head. It is possible that something is wrong there, that maybe her skull plates fused prematurely and she could need surgery. That is worst case scenario, though. Although we were reminded frequently by strangers in China that flat heads and big foreheads are signs of intelligence to them, we want to make sure that everything is okay. This concern is not something we had any knowledge of before we met Marley, but it of course doesn't change anything other than giving us a little something extra to worry about. Just as Keller and Casey are the loves of our lives and we would do anything they needed, without question. . .such is our love for Marley and our desire to give her everything she needs.

Some of you, who have not experienced adoption or have no knowledge of 'special needs' may be scratching your head a bit and wondering why we chose this particular path for adding to our family. You might even wonder if we have any regrets. If you had spent time with us in China or get to spend any time with Marley, you probably wouldn't have to ask yourself those questions. I had the pleasure of getting to know four other families from our agency when Marley and I were in Guangzhou. All five of our children were 'waiting children' on a special needs list. Two were little boys with cleft lips and palates. Both had already had surgical repairs and had no limitations. They were handsome, sweet, lovable little boys, one of whom we have a tentative arranged marriage with for Marley! (Jean, if you're reading this, tell Marley's 'intended' that we miss him!) One two year old little girl is missing one forearm and hand. But she, too had no limitations. I sat and watched her in total amazement at dinner one night. She was able to use her 'little arm' and her other hand to hold and drink from a glass cup without spilling a drop. I don't even let Keller use a glass and he's a six year old, with two hands! She was spunky and feisty and had a definite presence in our group. And dimples--goodness the girl had some cute dimples on her always-smiling face. (Charlene, we miss you guys, too!) And there was one other little girl in our group who truly amazed me. She is three years old and is missing one arm from right around the elbow, as well as three fingers on her other hand. The first night I met them, I watched in awe as she shared an Ipod with her new daddy. She flipped through the songs, held his ear bud up to his ear for him. . . it was really something to watch. She could feed herself, carry her own things, and even surprised her mama by mastering stringing beads with no help or instructions! (Jill, we miss you! My son is so jealous that he didn't get to go to China after hearing all about your son and his similar personality!) All of our kids were not considered to be 'healthy' and were therefore not matched with the long line of families who are currently waiting for referrals (the wait right now is slinking towards 4 years for a healthy, young infant girl from China). But they are such normal, happy, little people--beyond worthy of the love of a family. They are tremendous gifts to their families who can't imagine children who are more 'perfect' in every way. And in China, you would also have seen what happens to these kids when they don't find families. Outside of the Chen Family Academy we saw several beggars, each of them with an obvious physical disability. In China, there aren't curb cuts or ramps leading into buildings. . .there aren't good education options for people with physical or mental special needs. . .imagine how much worse it is when those people in need are orphans. They don't have families who can look beyond their differences and advocate for them. They end up on the streets, or with very limited options. It is different there, and I am so eternally grateful that Marley is now here where everyone who meets her falls in love with her immediately and doesn't think about the fact that she needs a little patching up.

We are in hibernation now, working on our attachment with Marley. Adopted kids tend to fall into two camps--one camp is the kiddos who are terrified of every new person, sight and sound. They scream a lot, cling to one of their new parents (often totally scorning the other) and sometimes shut down completely while they grieve and deal with the changes in their lives. The other camp is the kiddos who are very happy with everyone they meet, love to give hugs and kisses, hold hands, and be held by everyone who crosses their path. Although the first camp is probably a little more unnerving initially, the second camp is also not an easy place for adoptive parents to visit. It means that their child doesn't really know the difference between a stranger and a family member, or know that their affections should be exchanged within a small, intimate family group. Although we were hoping to get really lucky and be one of the few families who ends up somewhere in between the two camps, Marley falls into Camp #2 at this point. She happily greets everyone and has yet to show any stranger anxiety. We need to work on this. She needs to learn that there is a hierarchy among all of these new people in her life. That Dave & I, Keller & Casey are her closest allies. Then we can work more on the next circle of family & friends, and eventually we'll work on how not to flirt with the random pediatric resident in the doctor's office ;) So, we are laying very, very low now. We hadn't been leaving the house much anyway, but after asking the doctor for some pointers today, we are really going to be keeping close to home as much as possible. The more time Marley has with just us, the quicker she will learn what she needs to about attaching to us. So although we hate to keep people at a distance, give us a few weeks, maybe a month, and then we'll be ready to start introducing Marley to more people. The doctor today was really funny when he was talking about this need to hibernate. He explained that we need to tell people when they meet her that they shouldn't try to pick her up or hold her. Even if she wants them to--they should turn her around and tell her "Go let Mommy/Daddy hold you" and then when we pick her up, we should say, "Only Mommy/Daddy holds you." This will not last forever, but is really important that people respect this need and understand that it is not personal, and that Marley will be free to jump into their arms once we have some time to bond as a family. Then he said the funny part--he said he lives in fear that he's going to go out to the parking garage some day and be attacked by a squadron of disgruntled grandparent snipers who are pissed that they weren't allowed to hold their newly-adopted grandchildren right away ;)

In the meantime, I'll try to keep the blog updated and promise to respond to emails and calls (as soon as I finish my book).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Home sweet home!



We made it home around 10:30 last night. Other than a major poop explosion in Guangzhou, Marley traveled so well, it was amazing. That poop explosion cost me a shirt and tank top, and cost Marley an outfit, jacket and socks (all of which we left in the garbage can in the GZ airport!). Yikes. We had some trouble in Beijing and almost missed our flight. It is the first time in my life that I have actually been truly hysterical---the type of panicky sobbing that probably should have earned me a good slap in the face to help me regain composure. It took so long to go through security, etc. and then we needed to get to a gate that was soooo far away. I was sprinting through the airport with Marley in the stroller, a heavy backpack on my back, and pulling my carry-on bag of breakable souvenirs. I got a ride from one of those little buggy drivers in the airport, and when he finally dropped me off at the elevator to go down to the gate, he told me that I needed to pay 20 yuan for the ride. My flight was supposed to leave in 10 minutes, and I couldn't find my wallet in my backpack. I completely lost it. Slightly embarassing in hindsight, but the driver let me off the hook. When I got down to the gate, it turned out the flight was running late and people hadn't even boarded the bus to go to the gate yet. Whew.

Our flight from Beijing to NY was pretty painless, other than the fact that the old man sharing our row was gross. After about 30 minutes of seeing him pick his nose and flick it into the aisle, I finally handed him a Snoopy package of tissues. He took one and tried to hand the pack back to me, but I refused to accept it. I thought I had maybe shamed him into stopping gross behaviors. But instead, he proceeded to use the remaining tissues to fold into elaborate spitoons during the rest of the flight. And he belched. A lot. He was just a really gross old man! Here's a picture of Marley looking a little concerned about sitting next to the guy for 13 1/2 hours:



JFK immigration was a nightmare. We sat in a hot room and listened to the officers bicker over who was supposed to be working the door vs. the desk, and who had messed up on a professional golfer's immigration process the day before. It was terrible. There was an other family there who I had met in China--they were adopting a second 3 year old boy. We were talking about how rude the immigration officers were being, particularly to the Chinese people. JFK airport was awful in general. I had to get my luggage after customs & immigration, go to a Delta counter to get my boarding pass (which was another 25 minute line) and when I finished there, the counter agent told me that he couldn't guarantee our luggage would get on the plane on time, so I had to take the bags (and Marley, and the stroller) and go outside and walk on the road to the next terminal to drop the bags off at a baggage drop counter. It was another huge line there, so I finally bitched and complained enough that they took my bags for me and let Marley & I go. I had decided to check my carry-on bag, which was a big risk because it had my very expensive camera in it, as well as a bunch of jade pieces. But I couldn't stomach the thought of hauling it and my backpack and Marley through another airport. Luckily only one thing got broken, the serving tray for the jade tea set I bought Marley. Disappointing, but it could've been a lot worse. Anyway, when we finally got to the gate for our flight, we found out it was delayed for an hour and a half. That last flight was rough, I actually had some air sickness issues, but Marley snoozed and it was a really short flight.

I was so happy to see the boys in the airport that I just hugged them and sobbed. Casey wouldn't stop hugging me. Keller was just enthralled by Marley. Everything has gone well so far. Marley slept until 10am this morning, took a nap, and then went to bed at 10pm tonight--so I don't think we're too far off on getting adjusted to the time difference. At least for her--not sure how long it will take me. All is going well at home, mostly as expected--Keller wants to dote on Marley and Casey is literally jumping on the furniture to make sure he gets his share of attention. Marley is taking it all in stride and is amazing me with how well she is walking all around the house. She is even bending down to play with toys now, which she had not done in China. She has been very friendly with both grandmas and her cousin Nikki. But she definitely knows who Mommy is and likes to keep me in her sights. She has done great with Dave, too--it seems as if the week between when he left Nanjing and we arrived here didn't impact her bonding with him at all. He was even the one to put her to bed tonight.

We feel so lucky to finally be home and all together as a family of five.

Casey offering up so Teddy Grahams to his new little sis


Our first family photo--as usual, only Dave & I are looking at the camera!




The boys helped her open her Christmas presents. In the normal flurry of flying gift wrap, I missed who got her what. But thanks to all! She is amazed at her stash of toys and books.




One of her gifts was this soft scarf that I bought at a craft fair. I wrapped it around her head and she really seemed to like it there. Uh oh--I am just not gifted with the ability to accessorize!






Enjoying the yummy cake the boys and Grandma Nancy had made for her

The cake said "Happy Party" and the house was decorated with balloons, red streamers, and Chinese dragon decorations. So cute!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Last post from China!

We're all packed and ready to finally come home! We have a 4am wake-up call, porter coming for our bags at 4:50, and have to be on the bus for the airport by 5:30. I have really enjoyed my time in Guangzhou, and have made some wonderful new friends, but man--I am soooo ready to see my boys!! I know it is going to be crazy and chaotic as we all adjust to being a family of five, but I am anxious to get home and get started on all of that craziness. I have never been away from the boys like this and it is tough. I miss them so much and don't ever want to spend two weeks away from them again. Until they're teenagers. Then I'll probably be shipping them to China ;)

The White Swan Hotel and Mattel have paired up to give adoptive families this interesting gift. It's called "Going Home Barbie" or "Coming Home Barbie" or something along those lines (It's buried in a suitcase at the moment, and the official title of the toy isn't really that important anyway). I hadn't really envisioned us as a Barbie-type family. Fortunately, Marley's reaction to it was much like mine. "Hmm."



This morning we visited the Chen Family Academy, which is a very old temple/school where members of the Chen family studied for the exams required to become officials in past times. It was really beautiful. Here are some photos:







After that, we wrapped up our 3-day shopping spree, which included the purchase of a carry-on suitcase for all of the souvenirs and gifts. I'm looking forward to unpacking and distributing all of the goodies at home. We did our 'red couch photo' of our travel group. I dressed Marley in the traditional Chinese outfit I bought for her. She looked so cute! It was tough to get all five of the newly adopted kids in our group to sit on the couch--quite a bit like herding cats. Our group consisted of five families. Two couples from the San Francisco area were each adopting their first sons. One couple from Louisiana was here to adopt their fourth child. They have two wonderful sons who are 9 and 11, and a daughter who is 3 who they adopted from China in 2007. The other family was here adopting their fifth child. They brought their 7 year old son with them and he was a riot! Reminded me a lot of Keller, with a very bubbly, funny, friendly personality. One of their other children was also adopted from China. Although we had a relatively short time together as a group here in Guangzhou, I think I have made some lasting friendships for myself and for Marley. Here are some pics of our group. I think it's too cute that Marley is doing her little cheek-rubbing thing in some of the pictures. We had skipped naptime and she was very tired:








These are a couple of random photos from around Shamian Island:







Following the photo shoot, we boarded the bus and headed to the American Consulate to receive our children's visas and attend our oath ceremony. There were probably about 25-30 families there all together. It was a nice ceremony and at the end of it, it became official that all of our children will be US citizens when they land on US soil. When the director said, "It's official," I was surprised to feel tears spring to my eyes and a huge lump suddenly develop in my throat. It has been a long, convoluted and frustrating journey, but it is over. It's official. Marley is forever a Huffman, forever our daughter and sister, and forever a citizen of the US.

We celebrated with dinner at a Chinese restaurant that came highly recommended. It could have been a Saturday Night Live skit. Something as basic as explaining that we needed five separate checks involved about 10 different waitresses and hostesses. Ordering food was a complete farce, and I'm still not sure if my check matched what I ordered. Marley proved to be a very typical toddler in the restaurant--complete pain in the butt! She didn't want to wait for food, didn't want to sit in the high chair (which of course had no buckle to reinforce my urging to stay sitting), didn't like the noodles we were supposed to share, and eventually I ended up following her and pacing the restaurant while we waited for our checks. The steamed egg I ordered for her never arrived, although the waitress nodded and smiled every time I reminded her of it. It was funny, but frustrating, and I think all four families were ready to run screaming from the restaurant by the time we were done.

I hope to be able to keep up with our blog once we are home, but I wouldn't wait by the computer hitting 'refresh' every half hour if I were you! I think that helping our family work through this transition, then resting to recover from the efforts, will probably eat up a good bit of my computer time. And having a completely wreckless toddler roaming the house is sure to make life in general more interesting for awhile.

Thanks for following our journey to Marley, and for all of the support and kind words. Each time I sat down at my computer I had at least one email, blog comment, or Facebook comment from someone half way across the world who was reading the blog and thinking of us all the way over here. It would have been very, very hard to get through this, particularly the dark days last week, without all of that support.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tea and Tentacles. . . Mmmmmmmm!


We started the morning with a fun stroll through town with a mom who is here adopting her seventh daughter. We had become friends on-line over the past few months as we waited for approvals to come, and finally got to meet in person here in Guangzhou. We spent some time shopping and talking in the morning. She has been here so many times before, she knew the good shops and many of the shopkeepers remembered her from previous trips. The slow economy and the decrease in foreign adoptions have hurt the shopkeepers here quite a bit. They are so friendly and sweet, and their prices are a fraction of what we would pay at home. I've picked up some great souvenirs and gifts, as well as a few special items to put aside for Marley to have when she is older.

After lunch and a quick nap, we met up with the other families from our agency to visit the Six Banyan Temple. It was cool with pretty buildings, gigantic Buddhas, peaceful-looking monks, and many worshippers lighting incense and praying.

We followed up the Temple visit with a trip to 'Walking Street' which is basically a humongous pedestrian mall with open air markets, malls, and of course, KFC, McD's and Papa John's. The area was very commercial and so crowded. I asked our guide, Nikki, if it is always this crowded and she said, "No, on the weekends you do not walk in the street, you push." I can't imagine. It was like being in a mini Times Square of sorts. We visited the pearl market where I was able to find two nice pairs of earrings for Marley. One will be for when she is younger, the other will be a gift later on, maybe for her 16th birthday or for her wedding day. We visited a tea shop and had some really good tea. I bought some to bring home for Dave's morning cup.

Dave, make sure you read this part to the boys, as I know they will be so strangely proud---I chowed down on a skewer of octopus tentacles at Walking Street!! I kept looking at them and thinking they looked kind of tasty. Then I got close enough to take some photos for the boys. But, knowing them (and especially Keller), I knew I had to go the distance. I paid 4 yuan (less than $1) for a stick and waited while they fried it. It was actually really tasty! It (or should I be saying "they") was coated in a flavorful seasoning, and despite being a bit chewy, I really enjoyed it. One of the families we are traveling with decided to try it and they liked it, too.

We had dinner at Lucy's tonight, which is popular restaurant that serves western food. I had a cheeseburger and fries (and a potent Long Island Iced Tea!). Marley had some egg & noodle soup, although she also enjoyed a few fries. And then we finished the night with a shopping trip to one of the best-priced shops in town. The owner said that her business has been hurting and she wants to close down for a few weeks to go home until after Chinese New Year. She is hoping more tourists and adoptive families will come to the area after the holiday week, which is coming up at the end of January. Unfortunately, Marley took a big backward dive onto the hard floor in the shop, so that put an abrupt end to the night out for us. She was walking around making noise with her squeaky shoes, and then all of a sudden there was a loud thud followed by a scream. She doesn't quite have the reflexes to put her hands down to stop herself once she starts falling. I was able to pick her up right away and she let me hold her close to comfort her, but she really screamed for quite awhile. Once we got outside into the fresh air, she was fine, but I did give her some Motrin before bed--imagining the headache I would have if I fell all the way over backwards onto a tile floor. Her balance has come such a long way in the short time she has been with me, but we really have to work on those landings!

Tomorrow is our last day in China, and then we leave the hotel at 5:30am on Friday to start our rather long and daunting journey home. Three flights totaling over 18 hours of air time, if I'm remember correctly. Yikes. Our group is going to visit another temple/academy in the morning, and then will meet back up at 2:30 to take our "red couch photo" which is a tradition among adoptive families. Then we'll head to the American Consulate to get our children's visas and have our oath ceremony. My understanding is that we are not allowed to take any photos at the oath ceremony, which is disappointing considering the symbolism of the occasion.

I'm happy to be heading home to see Dave and the boys on Friday. I have missed them all so much and am anxious to see how we all mesh as a family of five. But it is also a bit sad to be taking Marley away from her home country, knowing it may be a long time before we return again to visit. I have tried to take as many pictures as I can, and to collect small souvenirs for her to have over the years. It all seems trivial compared to what she is losing--her homeland, her language, all that is familiar and comfortable. I only hope we can always remember to honor and respect China for what has been given to us in our beautiful daughter.

Here are some random photos from the day. . .

Our swanky hotel even has a waterfall with koi swimming in a huge pond


We have been seeing couples dressed like this the past few days. I think they might be doing a fashion catalog or something. Really beautiful!


The ubiquitous rusty bike--everyone's got one and they all look like they're about to rattle to pieces


These are all from Six Banyan Temple









Some shots of Walking Street. The crowd was huge, especially considering it was a Wednesday afternoon!






Having tea at the tea shop


Here is Marley taking after her Great Grandma Dot--hiking the pants up above the knees every time she sits down!


And finally. . . tentacles on a stick!



Sweet Marley ready for bed after a long day!