But you know, things aren’t all bad.

In fact, things are pretty great.

My little muffin, trying out the swings.
My little X, trying out the swings.

Little X (who yes, still lacks an American name) is a true delight, a scrumptious little ice cream scoop of giggles and mischief. Steve and I are completely in love with him. He’s experiencing a lot of things for the first time: pollution-free air, sustained, one-on-one attention, dog kisses, peanut butter.  It’s so cool to watch him explore, and see his face light up.

Steve is off work until April 13, and so we’re both getting a lot of time to bond with him. Each day, we learn a little bit more about each other. Little X does not like strawberries but he will eat bananas all day long. He loves the song “Happy,” which proves that Pharrell has indeed achieved world domination. He likes stacking things. He likes pizza.

Communication can still be a challenge. He understands Mandarin and speaks a few words, but some of what he’s saying is just kid babble, according to our guide in China. We’re not sure if that’s because he lived in an orphanage for three years, or because of his cleft palate. Steve and I have learned a few key Mandarin words — “No,” “Potty,” “Wait,” “You’re cute.” We’ve also taught him a few signs.

We talk to him constantly, and I do think he understands most of what we’re saying. He sings the ABC song (although some of the letters are unintelligible), and he knows how to say “Big Brother, where are you?” among other things. He likes to walk around the house singing: “Xiao-Jie, no no no,” probably because he’s heard it a lot. He always accompanies this song with a devilish little grin. He’s definitely a smart cookie.

Bedtime is hard, as I noted yesterday. We’re trying a bunch of different things, but bottom line, he needs to sleep. It’s our job to make sure he gets enough rest, and let me tell you, this kid will nap for three hours if we let him. So it’s not a question of not being tired. His meltdowns around bedtime seem more mad than scared, but we’re seeing the adoption medicine doc we’ve consulted with all along on Wednesday, so we’ll hopefully get some solutions there.

With a kefir mustache. What, you thought I’d let him drink Mountain Dew?

I’m a little nervous about that appointment. Though little X seems to be perfectly healthy, other than his small size and repaired cleft palate, he hasn’t seen an American doctor yet. Our neighbor is an ER doc, and he says that X seems bright-eyed and engaged, and reaching out for Mom and Dad when he feels unsure. These are all really good signs. But I’m sure we have many more doctor visits in our future. Bini, who was absurdly healthy, had to see an eye specialist and a hearing specialist once we got home, just as a matter of course. X may need additional surgery, and he will almost certainly need speech therapy and orthodontia.

Four months ago, X was just another compressed file from The China Center of Children’s Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA). We’d seen five other such files before him, so when the phone call came in from our agency that November day, I let it go to voice mail. We’d said no to yet another little boy earlier that morning, and I just wasn’t up for a chat. I listened to the message while wheeling my cart through Metropolitan Market, and I just knew. I raced home, crying all the way. “Let this be the one, damn it,” I yelled to God, or whoever was listening. “We are such good parents. Please, let this be the one.”

Steve told me later that if X hadn’t been the one, he was going to suggest that we stop. But the compressed file was my precious, beautiful little X, who is (finally) sleeping upstairs. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that he existed all this time, and we didn’t know him.

Pondering the ducks at the beach.
Pondering the ducks at the beach.

Sometimes, I catch Bini watching me interact with X, and I wonder if he’s remembering what I remember: I was not as patient with him when he was a toddler. I can give you all the excuses in the world, but bottom line, I did a lot of things wrong. I didn’t know how to slow down, or reflect back his wonder, or talk in gentle Mommy voice. I have few regrets in life, but that’s one of them: That I couldn’t stop being selfish long enough to be the mother that Bini deserved in that first year. I get a second chance with little X, but that doesn’t change the fact that Bini got the short end.

Speaking of short, we have a short list of American names for X, but nothing is sticking. His Chinese name is Xiao-Jie, which means “Little Hero.” I would love to keep it, but I do think that might be a challenging name here in the U.S. This was disputed by a snotty little 14-year-old we met doing a heritage tour in Xi’an, who told us that we absolutely shouldn’t change X’s name. We had to decide on an American name when we took custody, for the paperwork. But that name, Theo, completely doesn’t suit him. He calls himself Xiao-Jie, and that’s what he responds to. I feel a little bad about renaming him, and I think Steve does too. So we just haven’t.

Tomorrow, I’ll write about the flight back. I know everyone wants to hear about that seventh circle of hell.

I have two kids.

X and Bini, in a rare moment of brotherly harmony.
X and Bini, in a rare moment of brotherly harmony.

We’ve been back a week and three days. I’m sorry to have neglected my blog, but I was in China, and WordPress is apparently blocked (along with Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google). I kept somewhat decent notes in Word, but I don’t feel like writing about China right now so just BE PATIENT, for the love of God.

Right now, I want to write about having two kids. It’s a lot harder than having one kid. I know lots of people have two kids, three kids, six kids. But until three weeks ago I had only one kid, and he’s nearly seven now. He can dress himself and make his own bed. I had blocked out the toddler years, and the trails of crumbs and the snot-covered napkins shoved into pockets. If I’d remembered, I might have stuck with just one kid. (Oh hell, I’m JOKING.)

The problem, actually, is Bini. All this time, I was worried about how the new child would be — if he’d be afraid of us, our dogs, the grocery store. But X is a trooper. He likes our pets. He was totally unfazed by Target. He’s happily engaged in every activity we’ve introduced: Play-Doh, sitting with the Easter Bunny, bouncing on the trampoline.

Bini is infuriated by the attention X is getting, from us, and from everyone. Steve and I tried to make things equitable (losing battle), we tried taking him off for special time, we gave him a notebook so he could vent. But he’s still impatient and mean. He rages. He wants us to carry him, he wants to eat the toddler food that we’re giving his brother. He teases X for not knowing English, and the “stupid noises” he makes. And X, who has learned a thing or two about staying away from mean kids in the orphanage, is steering clear of his big brother. It makes me sad.

Occasionally, Bini is kind. On the day that we got X, Bini was amazing — I don’t know what we would have done without him. Today, he went bug-hunting with his brother. But there have been deep, deep lows, too.  On our drive to the airport in Xi’an, X was screaming because he didn’t want a seat belt on, and Bini started screaming because X was screaming. Steve and I were screaming at them to be quiet, and then at each other for screaming. The driver and our guide sat stoically, facing forward, most assuredly judging our weak American parenting.

Bini isn’t the only problem, though. Little X does not like going to sleep — although he’s Rip Van Winkle once he goes down. In China, he slept like a champ: One two-hour nap and a full 12 hours at night. Jet lag hit him like a semi truck, and for several days he was up in the night for a couple of hours, totally awake, wanting a snack, play time, etc. Thank God my parents were here to help keep the wheels on the bus or we might have survived on condiments and uncooked penne.

The adoption experts do not recommend sleep training for a good while, so here’s our current bedtime routine: The lights go out, and X goes ballistic. He kicks, punches, pinches and screams. To avoid being injured, we put him in his crib (they keep kids in cribs until 3 in China) and that makes him madder. Once he calms down, we pick him up and walk him around the room until he just sags into us.  Sometimes, we can put him back in his crib without incident. Other times, we put him on the floor and he falls asleep there.

Is this interesting to anybody? I have no idea.

So, other than grappling with jet lag and sibling rivalry, we’re all still alive and (mostly) talking to each other. We’re running two dishwasher loads a day, doing mountains of toddler-sized laundry and today I caught the cat sleeping in X’s crib. I’m exhausted and stress-eating and drinking more wine than usual. But I also know, from doing this before, that we’ll get into the swing of things sooner or later.

If not, there’s always Xanax.

One day ’til China: Three bags full

The world's heaviest suitcases. I see extra fees in our future.
The world’s heaviest suitcases. I see extra fees in our future.

Well, hello. Tomorrow I’m going to China.

It’s been a long road to get here, and I’ve written about most of it. I wrote about being unsure about adding to our family, and then, the day that I learned about the Waiting Child program, through which we were matched with our son. Before him, though, there were others that we didn’t say yes to, and those faces are impossible to forget.

In just a few hours, we’ll get on a plane and finish this piece of the journey. Everything changes tomorrow. And I feel calm. I didn’t feel calm about two hours ago, but I’ve since cleaned out my refrigerator and made the bed in the guest room and left instructions for the dog sitter and sorted out my wardrobe issues. I’m feeling good. I’m feeling ready. I’ve also had a margarita.

By some miracle, Steve and I have managed to cram two-and-a-half weeks worth of stuff into three incredibly heavy bags. For those of you shaking your heads at our packing ineptitude, listen up: We had to pack for almost three weeks and for two very different climates. We had to pack gifts for 10 people: orphanage directors, nannies, kindly concierges. We had to pack toys and pull-ups and clothes for Kid X. We had to pack Bini’s stuff. We have two iPads and my laptop and sticker books. And, of course, there’s snacks. We’re on trains, planes and automobiles for many hours, and I can guarantee you that Bini will tell us he’s “starving” on top of the Great Wall. And though I’m an adventurous eater, I’m not at all sure I want to eat sparrow or snake soup. So for me, two-and-a-half weeks of almonds and raisins.

I feel like I should be sitting here, contemplating my life as it is now, and savoring its (relative) simplicity. I should be admiring my clean house, and its intact furniture. The ease of getting just one child fed, bathed and to bed. I have no doubt that I’ll have approximately 457 “what the hell have we done?” moments over the next two-and-a-half weeks. But I’m just excited. I’m impatient. I’m ready.

Late this morning, after volunteering at Bini’s school, I went to Barre3 for a workout. Afterwards, I was hungry for lunch, and knew that the refrigerator had only condiments and two sad carrots. I lingered outside a green juice place, and went in. I was chatting with the owner and mentioned that I was going to China the next day. I showed her a picture of Kid X, and told her a bit about our adoption experience thus far. She asked what cities we were traveling to, and I told her: Beijing, Xi’an and Guangzhou.

“Guangzhou is my hometown,” she said, delighted. She went to fetch a business card and wrote down her number. “I want you to call me or text me, day or night, if you need anything. Anything at all,” she said, handing it to me. “My family is there, and I have lots of friends there, and they will help you if you need it.”

I took the card, touched by her kindness. I had never met this woman before, and had rarely been into the shop. I thanked her profusely, as I left with my gluten-free, egg-and-carrot-pesto sandwich.

“It’s no trouble,” she insisted. “Remember, call or text me anytime, day or night. I will do anything I can to help you.”

Look, I know that angst and kvetching is way more interesting to read about than gratitude and happiness. That’s all I’ve got right now, though. Along the way, we’ve encountered so many kind people — the friends who showered us with gifts and hand-me-downs, the strangers who became friends via our adoption agency’s Facebook group, the incredible volunteers with The Sparrow Fund, who sent us pictures and videos of our soon-to-be son. And then, this woman today. Nobody wants anything in return. They just want to help. It feels awesome to have so many people rooting for you as you do something scary. So, thank you.

(Don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll be back to my old self before you know it.)


Two days ’til China: Stress dreams, speed-shopping and koalas

Bini decided that writing would chill him out tonight. I can't deny that I was a little bit thrilled.
Bini decided that writing would help him wind down tonight.


I had a really horrible dream last night. I’m fully aware that dream-sharing is annoying, but indulge me. It’s my blog, and you’re reading it, for some reason.

I dreamed that when we went to China to meet little X, he was the size of a 9-month-old baby. Which would be fine, except that he’s almost 3. And he started shrinking. It’s hard to tell timetables in dreams, but I’d say a couple of days had passed and he was small enough to slip under the furniture. I held him cupped in my hands and took him to doctor after doctor, but none of them knew what was wrong.

All around me were the disembodied heads of people who’d been nice-but-skeptical about us adopting a child with a special need: “I knew this was a risk .. I wanted to tell you … It was clear from his pictures that something was wrong … Should have kept your family how it was …”

Friends kept pestering me for pictures, so I ignored my phone and stayed at home, holding and bathing and feeding my shrinking child. I thought about how I loved him and felt a responsibility to raise him, even though he wasn’t what I’d expected. I woke up to the alarm, at 7:00 a.m., disoriented and shaken.

I slipped out of bed and woke Bini for school, letting Steve sleep for a little while longer. I was so troubled by my dream that I told Bini about it over breakfast.

“That’s a weird dream,” he said. “Are you worried that X is shrinking?”

“No,” I said. “I think I’m just nervous.”

“I’m nervous too,” Bini said. “But I dreamed about breaking a board with my foot.”

You don’t have to have a psychology degree to interpret what my dream was about. We’ve never met this child, but we already love him. We’ve promised to take care of him and be his parents. And I’m worried that he will have needs that exceed what we can handle. What I can handle. We know he had cleft palate, and that it was repaired. But we also know the risks. Cleft palate in isolation can signal other birth defects, and though we’ve asked all the right questions and gotten all the right answers, we won’t know for sure until we get him home. I can’t deny that I’m scared.

Non-sequitur of the day:  I actually started packing. I went to the mall for a little speed shopping, and solved most of my clothing concerns. My wardrobe for China consists of the following colors: Black, white, gray, navy blue and one red t-shirt. I bought a scarf. I have packing cubes. Things are in the suitcase. It’s go time.

Other non-sequitur:  Bini has been having trouble winding down for bed lately. I can’t imagine why. Tonight, as I was peeling him off the ceiling, I asked if he’d like to pick some books to read until he fell asleep.

“Actually, I want to write,” he said. “Could you get my clipboard from downstairs?”

When I peeked in 15 minutes later, he had written three pages about koala bears, including a diagram. He did indeed seem calmer. And I’m kind of delighted that my boy likes to write before bed, just like his Mama.

Three days ’til China: Packing anxiety, and a life-changing reminder

How am I supposed to pack for this?
How am I supposed to pack for this?

I was at the North Face store in University Village today, buying a deeply discounted two-in-one coat for China. I have so many coats and jackets, I could start my own store. But I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time worrying about what to pack. Like, hours. Steve will find me cruising Zappos, desperately searching for THE RIGHT SHOES that will look OK with leggings and a casual dress, a pair of shorts, skinnies AND boot cut jeans and that I can run in. Of course they don’t exist.

Why do I care what I look like in China? I just do. It’s how I’m made. I can’t be remade. So every time I have to pack, I get anxious.

While packing for Paris, I did so many trips to and from my closet that I logged 5,500 steps on my Fitbit. I am a collector of clothes.  And that means way too many choices when it comes to packing. I’ve been going over combinations constantly in my head: leggings + Athleta dress = flats. If freezing, flats = boots. It’s crazy-making.

My packing anxiety isn’t helped by the different climates we’ll encounter during our visit. Beijing is cold in the winter, as is Xi’an, and Guangzhou is subtropical. Let me also point out that we’re going to be there for two-and-a-half weeks. Looking at a forecast doesn’t help. The weather can change quickly here, in little ol’ Seattle, so trying to predict the weather for three separate cities is impossible. Also, I’m not a meteorologist.

So, how do I pack for this situation? (The next person who says “layers” gets punched in the throat.) I’ve been to Asia before, and know how hot and oppressively muggy it can get. But I also hate being cold. I tackled one problem today by purchasing a highly unflattering coat with a zip-out liner.

“You lucked out getting this coat,” said the cashier at North Face. “It’s the end of the season. And this is a rad coat.”

“Yeah, I love that I can zip out the liner,” I said. “I’m going to China on Wednesday, and I have to be ready for anything, weather-wise.”

We chatted for a few minutes about the different climates there, and the pollution. Then he asked if I was going for work, or vacation.

“No, we’re adopting a child,” I replied, while swiping my much-swiped card.

“Whoa. That’s … that’s huge,” he said. I looked up to find him staring at me in amazement. “You’re leaving in, like, a few days to adopt a kid?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Things are a little crazy.”

He shook his head. “That’s so awesome. Life changing.”

Of course I know this whole adventure is life changing. But for some reason, being reminded by the wiry, 20-something cashier at North Face knocked me back. I felt s tiny, icy ball of unease start below my sternum, and roll down to my gut. I felt a little dizzy, so I put my hand on the counter. Life changing. Oh my God. He’s right.

“Well, I hope it’s amazing. I mean, I’m sure it’ll be amazing,” he handed me my bag of coat. “Safe travels, OK?”