Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Frances says "Last month, I was a Buddhist. This month, I'm an Episcopalian. These silly grown ups they stick me with can't seem to make up their minds about anything..."
We have a lot for which we should offer thanks--first and foremost, for Frances, an answer to years of prayers. Secondly, her pediatrician's office called and said all of her lab tests--lead, hepatitis, hemoglobin, stool... they are all normal. Frances is in excellent health. No parasites, no diseases--everything checks out. We are very relieved and very blessed.
We're also grateful that Frances is sleeping more and more at night. It seems that black beans and rice are her favorite foods, and we like them too, for a different reason. When Frances has black beans and rice (or any other protein--at the moment she also eats tofu in chicken broth and scrambled eggs, and sometimes she'll have a bit of cheese) for dinner, she sleeps until after 7am, because she doesn't wake up around 3am with that hollow feeling in her tummy, screaming for her bottle. (You can tell she did time in an orphanage--she definitely has it in her head that the one who screams loudest gets fed first, because when she is hungry--watch out!)
Frances LOVES being carried around in the Bjorn carrier. I normally hate the malls, but because Frances loves being carried around the malls in her carrier, I now love the mall. Its climate controlled and we can walk and walk and there's always something for her to see. We figured we should get the Santa Claus picture out of the way sooner rather than later this year, so we took this at the mall this past weekend. Frances is draped with a silk blanket that her grandmother made. It has a substantial flannel lining on the opposite side, so it works well draped over the bjorn, to protect her legs from cold.
Frances went to church on Sunday and loved it. She really likes music, and the organ music captured her attention, as did the many people speaking in unison. She behaved herself perfectly. Going up to communion and watching our priest bless her was a profound moment for me---one of our priests is a refugee from Sudan, and after a separation of several years, he was finally able to bring his wife and son to the US to join him, just a few months ago. That was an answer to a lot of prayer--and there he was, blessing Frances, who is also an answer to a lot of prayer. God is good.
After mass, it was quite the scene. We had dressed Frances in the red Chinese silk outfit her mother bought in Guangzhou for the red couch photos (we figured she may as well wear it while she can, and it was all we could do to button it up on her last Sunday) and we sat on one of the sofas and a line seemed to form. People left gifts at our feet. It reminded me of a Christmas pageant. We felt like the Holy Family. OK, I am exaggerating, just a bit. But its not an exaggeration to say that Frances has many fans. 
Our Thanksgiving plans are up in the air. Both sides of the family seem to be descending on Ohio. Suzanne has a very pregnant sister in Cincinatti, and my relatives are descending on Columbus. And its fine. We have a quiet weekend to just enjoy being together. That is a blessing in and of itself. 
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008


knitted items 2
It should be obvious that Frances and I are both loved by someone who knits.
After the doctor cleared Frances, we decided to visit my Great Aunt Mae in Holland. Aunt Mae is a champion knitter. She knit my "lovely" stocking hat (I asked her to make me a stocking hat that wouldn't get stolen--I go through two or three of them in the course of a Michigan winter) this summer--though I picked out the yarn. She doesn't care for the loud colors, and couldn't quite figure out what had gotten into me, wanting a hat made in such bright colors, but she made it even though the colors gave her a headache. But the hooded shawl for Frances was a surprise. We just love handmade items--
Anyway, Aunt Mae has been following our adoption with interest. After raising her five children, she was a foster mother for the county, for many years. Aunt Mae and her daughter Marcia were just delighted with their visit from Frances, even after she stunk up the living room doing what babies do. Frances also got hats and sweaters and a pretty dress, all  handmade. 
Here is Frances with Aunt Mae.
Here she is with Marcia.

Pictures from Frances' First Day in Michigan

This is now my profile pic on Facebook, and I thought I might as well post it here, too. This was taken in Detroit Airport the afternoon that Frances arrived. I am not sold on digital photography--not entirely. I appreciate the speedy convenience of it all, but don't care for the image quality (and don't want to plunk down a huge wad of money for a digital SLR just yet, especially since I still have a freezer full of perfectly good, expired Agfa film) so I still, stubbornly, use my film camera. Call me old fashioned. So I didn't have these pictures available until I got them developed. Remember the good old days, when film had to be developed?

After picking Suzanne, Wilda and Frances up in Detroit, we had to drive Suzanne's mother back to her home in Lansing, so we decided to stop at Applebees and that way Frances was able to meet her Grandfather Gary as well. And since everyone was together, and I had my camera out, we were able to get a group picture of Frances with her parents and all four grandparents. It was one of those moments when all the relatives were, against all odds, uniquely assembled, so here is a true Kodak moment. 
Frances was very good in Applebees--she ate an order of rice, and some of the guacamole off her father's salad. Her grandfather Gary made sure she had some balloons, which she found fascinating. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Medical Appointment

Frances had her medical appointment this morning, and everything looks good. She is in the 75th percentile for height and the 50th percentile for weight, and thats according to the growth charts for American babies, not Chinese. Frances' doctor wanted to get her vaccinated quickly, so within a few moments, a nurse came in with four needles and told us to hold her down, and they did the deed. The nurse was very fast, which was good. Then we had to go upstairs to the lab, where they took three vials of blood. They were very quick at the lab too-- Frances didn't take well to all the poking--okay I'll be honest--she screamed bloody murder. But each time, she was fine within two minutes after they were done.
Right after we got our referral and found out that we had a baby in foster care, our social worker told us this dreadful story about a local baby adopted from China who was removed from her foster mother before being adopted, and grieved so severely for her foster mother that when they got her to GR she had failure to thrive, and wound up on a feeding tube in the Children's Hospital. It scared us... it majorly scared us. Thankfully, I can say with absolute confidence that there is no feeding tube in Frances' forseeable future. This baby can eat! After her medical appointment, we went to Perkins, and she ate an enire side order of rice, a side of canteloupe and honey dew melon, a scrambled egg, two full slices of whole wheat toast (crust removed, cut into small pieces), some of her mother's breakfast potatoes-mashed up, and a full bottle of formula with rice cereal. Everything we have read has said that we should keep feeding her until she doesn't want anymore food. This rarely happens--what normally happens is that she eats everything we have prepared, and we say "okay, that's enough for you right now." I have never seen her reject rice. She eats it by the bowl. She also loves watermelon. We bought two of those "personal size" seedless watermelons at Sam's Club this weekend, and yesterday Frances ate 1/4 of one of those watermelons in one setting. Amazing. This baby can eat. And our relief is palpable.

Pictures from the Orphanage and Foster Care

I have gone and uploaded the pictures on the disk from the orphanage, as well as the pictures from the disposable cameras that we sent to the orphanage, and if you'd like to see them all--there are 105 all total--you can do it on flickr. Click here to see them all.
(This would probably be my favorite--it was on the disk from the orphanage. It shows Frances getting the pink musical teddy bear we sent her through Ann at Red Thread China. Frances loves this teddy bear, and continues to sleep with it. She is so attached to it that Suzanne bought two more of them from Ann when she went shopping with her in Guangzhou, in case one should get lost or worn out.)
(This is Frances, with her foster mother, and an unidentified child and her foster mother, in or around the Yulin Social Welfare Institute in Guangxi. This was one of the pictures on the disk from the orphanage. From the paperwork we were given at the referral, this would be the day Frances was put into foster care, May 21, which as an odd coincidence, was the 6th anniversary of my mother's death, and the day before my step mother Wilda's birthday.)
(Here is another picture on the CD from the orphanage. My guess would be that the man in this picture is Frances' foster mother's husband. It is the only photograph we have of him.)
(My guess is that this was taken in the foster mother's home)
(Does anyone from the Yulin group know what the significance of this rock is? It shows up in a lot of the pictures from the disposable cameras and the disk from the orphanage. There must be something important about it.)
(We know that the little girl in this picture with Frances was adopted by a family from Texas, because they were in Suzanne's travel group.)
DSC00049(Again, we don't know the identity of the child with Frances in this picture)
(We don't know who this child is, but this child appears in several of the photographs that were on the disposable cameras we sent the orphanage)
(Now this picture reminds me of the Lake Michigan dune grass...)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A few days later...

I think this picture taken in one of the parks is my favorite--it is of koy (or is it carp?)--Wilda has a good eye.
And here are a few pictures of our little darling.
(She is very fond of Cheerios--in this picture, she figured out how to open the bag all by herself, and made a grand mess in the hotel room)
(She's also fond of climbing up people)
(Here is Suzanne with the sealed envelope which she had to deliver to customs to bring Frances into this country. Rumor has it that, if the envelope appears tampered with, they send you back to China. Imagine Suzanne's Chagrin when Frances got her hands on it and tried to open it)
(Here they are towards the end of the trip. You can see the money belt Suzanne wore throughout most of the trip. By this stage in the game, though, there wasn't much left in it.)
(Here's Frances exploring Narita Airport in Tokyo)

So anyway, things are going pretty well, though Frances has a cold. Its funny, but since leaving the cottage, I've not taken a single photograph. I have, however, uploaded the vast majority of the 600+ photographs Wilda took in China, and if you want to look at the collection in its entirety (minus pictures of brick walls, ceilings and the back and top of Frances' head which I thought we could all do without) you can do it by clicking on this link.
Everyone asks me how much sleep I'm getting, and from what I'm hearing from the other parents in our group, I really cannot complain. Frances goes down at about 9:30-10:00, and sleeps until 3:30-4:00. If she falls asleep in our arms, chances are 50/50 that she'll spend the night in the crib next to our bed. If she wakes up in the crib, though, she won't quiet down until we put her between us in our bed.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Videos from Gotcha Day

One of the best $150 I ever spent was on our tiny little flip camcorder. It is very light and compact and easy to use. It has a USB connection which pops out of the side, which you just stick in the USB port of the computer and it transfers the video files to your computer pretty quickly. I have managed to upload a few of the videos Wilda shot on Gotcha Day, which was the day Suzanne first got Frances.
Here is what it looked and sounded like in the Office of Civil Affairs in Nanning when they brought in the babies:

Here you can see them putting Frances in Suzanne's arms. Wilda's voice can be heard in the background, as she was filming. Suzanne was told to have her passport ready to show them. I will say this--Frances starts screaming after a minute, and I think its because the nanny took the blanket out of her mouth. When she is about to go to sleep, she has this white quilted blanket that she sucks, and if she doesn't have it, all hell breaks loose. Once she got the blanket back in her mouth, she was out like a light. :)

And here is the next in the series:

And the next:

And finally, Suzanne leaves the office for the bus, with Frances sound asleep in her arms:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

You want pictures? I got pictures!

659 of them to be precise. I knew Wilda wouldn't disappoint me in the photo department.
There is no way I can post them all on my blog, so here are a few pictures from the many. I will, at some point, upload them to flickr and you can click over to them.
Suzanne and Wilda in Tienanmen Square on day two of their Beijing tour. (Those of you in Wilda's family, be sure to ask her about her misadventure at the luggage claim in Beijing airport! She swore Suzanne to secrecy about it...)

Money talks--when adopting a baby in China, it says "Goodbye!" But in all honesty, Suzanne was relieved to get rid of all those uncirculated c-notes. She was looking rather lumpy, carrying all that money around under her clothes. Here she is in their hotel room at the Majestic in Nanning. the morning before she went to the registry office to get Frances.

This is just an interesting shot of Suzanne in China. Wilda loved the blue stroller, so she bought it for Frances, and it worked out really well for them.

Here they are, going for Frances's medical appointment in Guangzhou. Frances did not care for the Chinese doctors, and reports indicate that she screamed through most of it.

Suzanne, Wilda and Frances in Yuntai Botannical Gardens near Guangzhou.
I believe the woman with Suzanne in this picture is Ann, the proprietor of Red Thread China, who Suzanne and Wilda retained as a shopping guide. When Ann says she can get pearls and jade wholesale, she's not kidding. You should see the haul they brought home.

Wilda and Frances, decked out in their Chinese silks, in front of the waterfall at the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou.

Frances and her momma in their silks at the White Swan Hotel.

Another shot of the white couch photo at the White Swan Hotel. The babies in the group would soon be going back to their respective home towns in Michigan, Texas, California, Massachusetts and Arizona.

Photographic proof that Suzanne and Frances have indeed set foot in Japan. Here they are waiting for their connecting flight in Tokyo airport.

And it happened

It happened without fanfare, in silence. It seems almost anti-climatic. There was no Charpentier playing on the organ, no spectators, no caterers, no DJ, no applause. But just like they did at our wedding--our lives changed forever in a split second. We became a family. I was sitting there in Detroit Airport, and a door opened, and out came Suzanne pushing a luggage cart full of luggage. I stood up and looked at her quizzically, as if to say "where's the baby? " and then Wilda appeared behind her, pushing a stroller carrying Frances, sound asleep. That was it. It happened. They are here. Everything is fine.
Frances with her Grandma Sue, in the international arrivals area at the McNamara Terminal of Detroit Airport, right after they emerged from Immigration.
After about ten minutes of staring at a sleeping baby, I started rubbing her little feet to wake her up. She didn't cry. She looked at Suzanne, and then she let me pick her up. Frances with Poppy and Nay-Nay.

Amazingly, she didn't really mind the car seat. Suzanne sat right next to her, and as soon as the car was moving, she fell sound asleep. We drove to Lansing and met her Grandpa Gary and her Uncles Abe and Tony and Aunt Angela, and we had dinner at Applebees. She let me feed her her first french fries (broken up into small pieces) and then when we got back into the car and drove to Gun Lake, where we are now. She had her bottle, and she wasn't best pleased to have Suzanne change her diaper, but she recovered quickly. She fell asleep downstairs and we put her in her crib in our room. She slept through until about 3am, and woke up, and Suzanne put her between us in bed, and amazingly, she sat their cooing and gurgling and sucking her toes while we were half asleep, and at some point she fell asleep again, between us.

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his Heaven.
I say let the church calendar be damned. I declare it Christmas, now until this ecstatic feeling goes away. We have had three and a half years of living in Advent--of living in anticipation of a blessed arrival. As far as I am concerned, it is Christmas in Pentecost.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

And now I'm off...

Say prayers for Suzanne and Wilda and Frances tonight, for their safe journey and for their safe emergence back into this culture. Pray for their jet lag. Pray that for Frances, the transition will be smooth.
I am heading down to Gun Lake tonight, and tomorrow, from there, we will get the car ready, and drive to Lansing and get my mother in law, and then go to Detroit to meet them. I don't expect to have time to access the internet... so my next blog post will likely be made from work on Monday.


They had their consulate appointment, they were sworn in, and at about 3pm our time (4am China time) they are going to receive a wake-up call at and they need to be on a bus to the Guangzhou airport by 5:30 am (6:30 pm our time). Their flight leaves sometime around 9:30 am (8:30 pm our time) and in less than 36 hours from this very minute, they will be landing in Detroit if everything works according to plan. There is a layover in Tokyo, and while I've gotten good at figuring out China time, I haven't even endeavored to figure out Japan time or how that fits into the picture. I am very relieved, I am very anxious, I am very ready for life on the other side of the adoption process--whatever that may be--to emerge. The house is as babyproofed as its going to get before they come home. Apparently Frances got her hands on our top-secret sealed envelope of documents from the US Consulate and tried to open them-- but Suzanne got it from her before any damage was done. She said the package is sealed in Saran Wrap. Its very bizarre. She's not allowed to open the envelope, she has to just hand it to the customs agent when she gets off the plane. I've heard that its the same paperwork she's been carrying around with her the whole trip. But its sealed and she's been given dire warnings about opening the packet, so it makes it all the more mysterious. 
I think they are both resigned to having to pay surcharges for overweight luggage. Wilda shipped a package home, but they've still been shopping, and shopping, and shopping. I have a sore throat. Frances was fighting going to sleep. The poor thing. At least Suzanne and Wilda understand the concept of jet lag, and can voice their needs and take care of themselves. I wonder what on Earth we're going to do with a jet lagged baby. Its going to be an interesting next few days. And I wish things were different, but I know I am going to hate going to work on Monday. 
Say a prayer for their safe travels...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Stolen Red Couch Photo

I stole this picture from Nina who writes Journey to Kavanna. I feel like its plagiarism--just swooping down and stealing a copy of her picture, but at least I'm giving credit to the source. Nina seems like a good sport about this, I don't think she'll mind. I take a small consolation in knowing that my step mother Wilda has probably taken at least six pictures of this scene from six different angles, so if Nina arrives in California and visits this blog and strenuously objects to my photograph theft, I will soon be able to post a photograph that I have more legitimate rights to. (You can tell I stress about stupid things--) Anyway, here you see the "Red Couch Photo" of all the babies in our travel group on one of the famous red couches at the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou. These red couch photos are something of a tradition among adoptive families, and are known for featuring squalling babies in uncomfortable silk clothes. Our Frances is the bald baby in the very front, and I suspect those black arms holding her in place are Suzanne's. Frances seems placid. I get a kick out of looking on adoption blogs at these red couch photos, because of the moment it captures--Chinese babies in their native homeland, about to be taken on airplanes and flown to another continent to assume completely new identities as Americans (or Europeans--though I wonder if Europeans must travel through Guangzhou...)--its kind of like this last fleeting moment in these children's lives, before everything changes for them. In 48 hours, these babies will be on different planes returning to their respective home towns. Suzanne says she was the only midwesterner (the New Jersian in me cringes at calling myself a midwesterner, but there you have it...) in our travel group--from what I gather, the other families are from Florida, Texas, California and Virginia.

Sometime tomorrow--while you and I will be asleep--Suzanne and Frances have their appointment at the US Consulate in Guangzhou. After that, there is an oath taking, and then they are free to go. Lets hope that everything goes according to plan! Barring unforeseen difficulties, they come home on Friday, flying from Guangzhou to Tokyo, and then Tokyo to Detroit. When they flew over, I was worried about them navigating Tokyo airport, but they managed it once, and I have confidence that they can manage it again. Life on the other side of this adoption journey is about to begin. I cannot wait to purge papers--I don't know if this makes sense, but I am going to put our home studies, and maybe our most recent I-171H, and whatever paperwork the Chinese government has given us on Frances in a folder, and anything else that seems pertinent, and after we have square away the matter of her Michigan Birth Certificate with the Kent County Probate Court--I am going to stick all those documents in a folder and put it in the safe deposit box and let them collect dust. They can become historical documents, for us to show Frances when she gets old enough to ask questions about her adoption--and for her to find and keep for posterity when she's sorting out our stuff in forty years or more, after we're dead. The paperwork has given me fits for three years--does this figure agree with this figure? What does that phraseology mean? That notary didn't notarize the document correctly and the Office of the Great Seal won't accept the notarization unless it says "Acting in the County of Kent..." on it, the birth certificate is going to expire... you name it, I've panicked about it. All of that will soon be irrelevant, and the only thing that will be relevant is Frances. Which is what this whole process has been about.

They arrive on Friday afternoon! I can't believe this is actually happening.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I just got threatened by one of the online student who is sure I lost her homework from the first week of class. The benefit of having online classes is that all submissions are permanently stored, so I can't just lose someone's homework. I told her she could develop a civil tone and discuss this with me, or she could, as she threatened, go to the dean and get me fired. I am not going to lose much sleep over this. 
Speaking of sleeping, I called Suzanne on my way home from GV, and our little one was fighting going to sleep, screaming for Da Da, when she realized Nay Nay (her grandmother) wasn't going to step in and rescue her from nap time. 
We began Maxine Hong-Kingston's The Woman Warrior in my ENG 335 class tonight, and I cringed when I read Kingston's assertions about the Chinese saying its better to feed ducks than girls. I am not sure what to think of Kingston's book now that I am the parent of one of these girls--I worry it may perpetuate the myth that China hates baby girls... which is a gross oversimplification (that I hear, time and time again). I have spent a lot of time explaining to people that its illegal to abandon a baby in China. The fact that our daughter's birth parents did abandon her on the steps of the orphanage means that they DID value her. They probably had to conceal the pregnancy from most everyone and give birth to the baby at home, in secret, and abandon her in the dead of night, because they were trying to avoid prosecution. It would have been much easier for them to have an abortion or to kill her at birth--these birth parents valued her enough to put themselves at considerable risk to adopt her. After we read Hong-Kingston, we move on to the graphic novel American Born Chinese. In that novel, at one point, a Chinese character is so filled with contempt for his culture and heritage that he turns himself into a white blonde teenager. Our goal is to avoid fostering that self-hatred in our daughter--but the ignorance about China and baby girls that goes around doesn't help things.

More Personality

Suzanne, Wilda and Frances are in Guangzhou. They went on a tour of some gardens that Frances liked quite a bit. Suzanne reflected that this is a rather odd way to become a mother--in five star hotels with bus tours and shopping excursions scheduled all the time. She is eager to return to Michigan, and the clock is winding down. Today their guide takes all the paperwork to the US Consulate and we find out if it passes muster...
Winter seems to have arrived in Michigan. On Sunday it snowed--no real accumulations--but old man winter's arrival is right on schedule.
Speaking of old men arriving on schedule--my father arrived here yesterday, complete with an icky cold. My father's sense of drive being what it is--he has no intention of laying around and recovering, or wrapping up well and resting. It was a flurry of activity--I knew if I wanted to see him at all before Thursday, I'd have to see him Monday night, so thats what we did. He is moving one of his safe deposit boxes from the old bank in downtown Kalamazoo to a credit union in Grand Rapids, so as soon as I arrived, we went to the credit union to square away that paperwork, then to Target to buy a changing table and a crib mattress for the cottage, and then we got dinner. He has the rest of the week planned out--coin shows, antique auctions, coin club meetings... he wanted to know if I wanted to go to an antique auction with him on Thursday night-- and to be honest, on Thursday night, I am planning on letting my nerves get the better of me, because I need to save these fits of panic for when I can handle them--so Thursday nights are fair game for fits of panic, because Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are all very busy days. I am doing what I can to get myself ready for Frances' arrival on Friday--so going to an antique auction in Potterville is not an option. I hope he gets over his cold before Friday--but he won't just rest. Because he spent so much time working in pharmaceutical development, he knows a lot about medication, and he medicates himself, and he has contacts that get their hands on antibiotics for him. He swears by tetracyclene, and assures me is has begun a regiment of it.
Anyway, I am off to GV. I have class from 1-2:15, 2:30-3:45 and 6:00-8:50. I still havent finished my lecture for the 6:00-8:50 class. Gotta go.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The latest...

The medical appointment went fine. The Dr said the nodule behind Frances' ear is "normal." Frances was not thrilled to have her Visa picture taken, but, the deed is done.

Wilda and Suzanne went shopping with Ann from Red Thread China as their guide. I cannot say enough wonderful things about this service... and the wonderful bargains she has access to. She directed the taxi drivers and even arranged for Wilda's heavier purchases to be shipped back to Virginia, so Suzanne and Wilda didn't have to deal with finding a shipping company. The prices for all the authentic chinese goods and merchandise on her website are so low that I don't know how she manages to stay in business. Suzanne tried to offer her more than the modest $10 per hour fee she charges for her guide service, and she wouldn't take it. Suzanne said they had a lot of fun shopping, but they're not done just yet...

They return on Friday... A funny thing about the baby. When Suzanne changes her, she screams and yells for "Nay-Nay" (Wilda) and then when she realizes Wilda isn't going to help her, she yells for "Da Da" Suzanne only brought one picture of me with her--a tiny, square, passport photo that was needed for the adoption paperwork, and Frances can now fish that picture out of Suzanne's stack of papers and says "Da Da" when she sees it. Suzanne also thinks Frances thinks her father is a telephone, because that's how she talks to me.

Medical Appointment

I just spoke to Suzanne. Frances has her medical appointment today. There is a nodule behind her ear which they are pretty sure is a bug bite, but otherwise, the heat rash has cleared up and she has a bit of cradle cap, but things seem fine. Frances, Suzanne points out, is not at all constipated, and is very regular. She does #2 every morning right after breakfast, like clockwork. I actually called during the event, and it seems that Frances does not like being changed. I could hear her screams as they tried to change her pants, and after they got the poopy diaper off her, she wiggled free of Wilda and I heard Wilda go "oh, she got it all over my shirt" and then Suzanne say "no, not on the bed..." and at that point Suzanne said she needed to get off the phone.
You can tell I'm a new parent. Who else would think bowel movements were interesting enough to blog about.
Barring unforeseen challenges, they should be coming back on Friday.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

What's In a Name?

So many people ask us why we chose Frances Bernadette for a name. For starters, its because we're not the sort of people who go for trendy, overused names. I call them "cookie cutter names" and "conformist names." I see them all the time on my class lists--names so popular that they've lost all character...Amber, Dawn, Heather, Tiffany, or any name after the latest Disney character--ugh--a dime a dozen--like romance novels and development houses (I grew up in a development where all the homes were from one of three floor plans), one is just as good as another. Ours will be no cookie-cutter child, not if I have anything to say about it. As the adoption got underway and we discussed possible names, Suzanne and I arrived at the name "Frances Bernadette" and it stuck. I was very pleased about it, and very protective of it until just recently. For years, when people would ask what we were going to name the baby, if I didn't feel like sharing it with them, I would say "Agatha Hortense" and get this perverse pleasure out of watching people try to come up with something nice to say about it. I'd even talk about some of the gorier aspects of St. Agatha's legend, and watch them try to come up with something nice to say about it. I think it comes from being a teacher and watching my students lie to me. I like making people think on their feet. I'm funny that way.
So anyway--Frances Bernadette is her name. At first we were going to name our daughter Kathleen Elizabeth. I've always loved the name Kathleen. But its so stereotypically Irish, and though Suzanne and I each have a bit of Irish blood in us, neither of us is so Irish that it warrants giving our child such a name. So in the end, we sort of took the easy way out and named her after our grandmothers.
One old artifact I have from a bygone era is an old metal stationery embosser--it looks kind of like a notary public's seal. It belonged to my paternal grandmother, and the date stamped on the device is 1912. The embosser leaves the initials F.B.P. And so when I found this, we began brainstorming names that would go with the embosser--thinking our daughter could then put the device to use and be the only one to hand in embossed homework. My paternal grandmother's name was... big surprise here... Frances. But. the fact is, she never really went by Frances, except on legal documents. Her maiden name was Frances Beulah Pike, and she went by Beulah. Her headstone lists her as "Beulah" but the name "Beulah," in me, evokes memories of hospital beds, cans of Ensure, incontinence pads and the smell of moth balls. (It wasn't my grandmother's fault that she was at that stage of life when I knew her... it just came down to the fact that the paraphernalia of old age isn't something I want to evoke in my mind whenever I utter my child's name--call me crazy) So Beulah wasn't an option. But Frances sounded had potential... Frances we could deal with. Frances sounded dignified without being too old fashioned.
The middle name, Bernadette, we came by easily. Suzanne's paternal Grandmother's name was Bernadine. Again, Bernadine sounds a bit too old ladyish, but Suzanne has always liked St. Bernadette of Lourdes, so Frances Bernadette sounded pretty good. We spent a lot of time trying to come up with a second middle name that began with 'P,' so that our daughter could use the embosser-- but nothing appealed. Suzanne said that the name Patricia had been done to death in her family--her other grandmother uses it as a nickname, and her cousin was given the name in honor of the grandmother, so enough of that. We thought about Penelope and Phoebe--but when you take two names like Frances and Bernadette-- one more strong old name just makes her sound too fuddy-duddyish. Imagine-- Frances Bernadette Penelope or Frances Bernadette Phoebe-- they were just too much. Penny was an option for a few minutes, but my father is a passionate collector of coins and we didn't want to give him any encouragement, as he'll already be giving the child coins every year for Christmas and Birthday gifts, and if he focussed on pennies, well, there would be so many more of them than if he focussed on larger denominations (he's already giving her coins... it has already started...this baby will be the first Chinese adoptee who has her own safe deposit box before she even arrives in the US) so we eventually decided that we would do something with her Chinese name for a second middle name, and secretly hoped that there would be a P somewhere in her Chinese name--but we had no such luck. Her chinese name was Lin Shi Tong. When we had it spelled to us over the phone, we didn't see the glaring problem. But when we saw it written "Shitong" on one of her documents, we were like... oh, this isn't going to work. Our last name is Wood... and "Shit On Wood" was just too brutal a name to saddle our child with--but we liked that they called her Tong-Tong, so we decided to reverse things and use Tong-Shi as a second middle name. And that is how we came up with her name.
Anyway, just for some background... here are some bios of the people Frances is named after.
Frances Beulah Pike
circa 1919

taken in the Summer of 1985
Frances Beulah Pike was born in a small town which was situated just south of Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1901. She was the only child of her father (though her mother had a much older daughter from a previous marriage), who was a prosperous farmer and businessman who would later lose everything he had in the Depression. My grandmother finished High School (and was the only girl in the class on 1919 at her High School) and went to nursing school in Chicago, and was a registered nurse, working for most of her career in the Kalamazoo State Hospital. She lived as a single woman until she was in her late thirties, when she married my grandfather. She was a devout Episcopalian, and was a Daughter of the King with St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Kalamazoo. She was a second cousin to the infamous James Pike, the late Episcopal Bishop of California in the 1950's and 60's whose radical theology bordered on gnosticism and who participated in seances to try to contact his dead son (you can read about Bishop Pike here--and if you ask my father about this connection, he plays dumb and disclaims any knowledge of him, but I've done the genealogy...) My father says it was his mother's commitment to his education that pushed him to getting his PhD, and she was so fed up with the little country schools in the small rural suburb of Kalamazoo where they lived that she paid tuition to send my father to better schools in the city. My father was her only child, and I was her only grandchild. She lived with us in New Jersey towards the end of her life, and I saw a lot of her growing up, though by that time she was in failing health and she had dementia and would sometimes confuse me with my father.

Suzanne and her sister Catherine with their "Grandma Bee"
at Suzanne's graduation from Aquinas College in 1996.
Bernadine Irene Earley was born in Lansing in 1925, and supported herself, as well as her parents and two children, with her job with General Motors. This is a tradition that she passed down to Suzanne's father and uncle, both of whom also work in the automotive industry. She lived near Suzanne when she was growing up, and she was Suzanne's confirmation sponsor, and was very involved in the lives of her grandchildren. Suzanne remembers many long visits at Bernadine's home, which was situated on many acres of land out in a rural suburb of Jackson, Michigan. Bernadine hosted most of the family's holidays, and supported her grandchildren's education in the Catholic Schools. Bernadine knew how to throw a party, and was very generous with her grandchildren, and even with me. Though she didn't live to see us get married, when Suzanne and I were dating, I would often receive generous gifts from Bernadine on holidays and when I graduated from college, which I thought was very kind of her considering I was just the boyfriend of her granddaughter. (Suzanne thinks this generosity was because Bernadine's favorite husband's name was Dale...)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Guangzhou is lovely

Suzanne says Guangzhou is lovely, and that the White Swan Hotel lives up to its grand reputation. I called them in the afternoon (it was after midnight and I couldn't sleep at the cottage) and she said Frances is doing very well. Suzanne doesn't think there are any developmental delays, and that our fears about a lazy-eye were unfounded. Frances slept through the flight from Nanning to Guangzhou, and woke up just as they were landing. She saw Wilda across the room at the airport while they were dealing with luggage, and started giggling and waving. Because many people are calling her "Frances" she seems to respond to that name, though she can say "Tong-Tong." They put the phone to her ear and I talked to her and she could say "Da Da" and it seems that she is conscious of the fact that many of the other children in the group have Daddies and she wonders where hers is. When I talk to her on the phone, Suzanne says she looks around the hotel room, wondering where I am.
They are excited about shopping. Thats all I have to report.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Nothing exciting to report.

Things are still going well. Frances continues to bond with Suzanne, and is getting a little better about letting her Grandmother Wilda out of her sight. I talked to her on the phone, and she cooed a lot, and farted. Suzanne says she is very gassy, and is very regular. This is good news--some recently adopted children are not. Frances is on the verge of walking, Suz thinks, and also figured out how to get into a box of Cheerios on her own. Apparently these Chinese babies really go apeshit for Cheerios. I have been told I should have them on hand when I meet them at Detroit on the 14th.
They are still in Nanning. Tomorrow (5am China time, 4pm Eastern time US) they leave Nanning and fly to Guangzhou, to deal with the US consulate and Suzanne will be relieved of all of that paperwork I was stressing about. (She mentioned that she was relieved to give their guide a large stack of paperwork, only to have the guide give her a new stack of paperwork. If you ever want to adopt a child, plan on paperwork. It is somewhat worse because I am not there--but even with a husband present with you in China, there are still mounds of it to do.
Guangzhou is also where they will go shopping. Wilda is really looking forward to shopping. Really, really looking forward to shopping. They will be staying at the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou, on Shamian Island, which is the famous final stopping point for so many American families on their adoption journeys. It is also right next door to the consulate.
For those of you interested in all the specifics, I suggest you head over to this link to the September archives for the blog "Imagine Alyzabeth An." This link will get you to their coverage of their own adoption journey to Chonquing to adopt Alyzabeth, who was 2 years old. Frances is only 9 months old, and seems much less traumatized by the adoption than do some of the other children. Anyway, this link to Imagine Alyzabeth An will let you watch videos they posted of the journey, including pictures of the White Swan Hotel, and a video of them shopping for pearls at the famous Pearl Market. Being that we had just gotten our referral, I was following the Alyzabeth An blog avidly because I knew Suzanne would be doing the same things soon.
Its been a busy week. But I don't have to lecture at all on Fridays--I just grade papers. And papers. And papers.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Nina, the blog-mistress at Journey to Kavanna, is an absolute gem. Here I am in Michigan, chomping at the bits for a picture of Suzanne and the baby, and she goes and puts one on her blog! I just stole it. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure. This was taken yesterday, they are in the non-air conditioned Wal-Mart in Nanning which aggravated Frances' heat rash. Suzanne reported that it was about 120 degrees inside this Wal-Mart. There are also pictures of some of the other families in the tour group, as well as pictures of the park next to the hotel which Suzanne says is absolutely divine.

From what I've been told, Frances has had some night terror episodes. The night before last, she woke up screaming four times. As soon as she saw Suzanne and realized she was alright, she went back to sleep. Suzanne is wondering if she might not have been taken from her foster mother's house while she was sleeping, because she insists on holding onto Suzanne while she sleeps.
I spoke to Suzanne while on my vanpool ride into East Lansing, at the break of dawn in Michigan, which was just after dinner in China. Frances is doing well. Suzanne said Wal-Mart in China is not air conditioned, and Frances got a bit of heat rash while there. Many old Chinese ladies were hovering around Suzanne at one point, and Frances wanted nothing to do with them, and clutched Suzanne tightly, as if she was worried they were going to take her away. Suzanne and Wilda have both observed that Frances has a way of pinching people when she clutches them. Frances had four night terrors during the night, but Suzanne rocked her and rubbed her belly and that got her calmed down and ready for sleep again. Rumor also has it that Frances pooped all over Suzanne's last clean outfit. Luckily, inexpensive laundry services are readily available in the hotel.
The folksy charm of the hotel in Nanning is wearing off. The room is ALWAYS too cold, to the point that Suzanne and Wilda got up and took hot showers to warm up during the night. That is interesting--Suzanne is a girl from Petoskey, which is way up in northern Michigan. Cold doesn't phase her in Michigan. We leave the thermostat set at a frugal 60 degrees throughout the winter to save on natural gas bills--that Suzanne is that cold, in tropical China no less, amazes me.
I forgot to ask if they had managed to get Frances out of her clothes. When I call tonight, I will be sure to do that.
I am impressed at the election--from my perspective, things turned out better than I had expected. The proposals about Medical Marijuana and Stem Cell Research both passed. Michigan has always been in the blue, but its always been Detroit and Ann Arbor and the east side of the state dragging the rest of Michigan (often kicking and screaming) toward progress. This time, though, both resolutions passed with good margins. Michigan is getting bluer and bluer. Its a great day to be an American. We're bringing home our "brown" child (in my Multicultural American Lit class at GV, we just finished reading Brown by Richard Rodriguez)as our first "brown" president (have you seen the You Tube video? Barack Obama is IRISH) gets ready to take office. Its taken 250 years, but the reality of cultural pluralism is finally infiltrating the national consciousness. It's a grand day.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

By all accounts...

The interview at the Civil Affairs office has taken place. All fees have been paid. In the eyes of the Chinese government, Shi Tong Lin is ours. Documents are being prepared, and they are in Guangxi until the weekend, waiting on Frances' passport. So far, so good.
Suzanne seems deliriously happy.
Frances is inquisitive. She climbed into her crib and proceeded to tear it apart. She's not interested in sleeping in her crib, but she likes dismantling it. She gets mad when Suzanne or Wilda are out of her sight. At the Civil Affairs office, one of the nannies who cared for her in the orphanage came towards her, and Suzanne reported that Frances shied away from her and clung tightly to Suzanne. Frances has a little friend from the orphanage who is in their group, and was very offended to see this friend of hers take Suzanne's hand.
She has three teeth, and more coming in, but she doesn't seem feverish. She has a few bug bites, and a bit of heat rash. They don't seem to bother her much. The heat rash will no doubt go away when she gets to Michigan. So will the bug bites.
Now I am sitting in Michigan, wanting pictures. Suzanne and Wilda are taking pictures on the digital camera (those of you who know Wilda well know that MANY pictures are being taken) and Suzanne has the cable to connect the camera to the computer with her in the camera bag, but she doesn't dare touch things because I am always the one who deals with cameras and computers and cables. She is scared she will delete the pictures by accident. I do hold out a bit of hope, though, because Suzanne got all four of the disposable cameras which we sent in the care packages, back, with pictures taken. She has pictures from those cameras on a disk, and feels a bit safer trying to upload or email the pictures from a disk, because she has backups. She keeps saying she will ask someone for help, but then gets distracted, which I suppose is understandable. But that doesn't change the fact that I'm absolutely dying to see pictures.
The proposed Wal Mart trip didn't materialize yesterday. It took too long at the Civil Affairs Office, and the babies were cranky, so the group wanted to go back to the hotel.
I am pleased with myself--I did remember to vote this morning... Barack Obama was kind enough to call me to remind me to go vote for him. He must have heard that I hung up on Sarah Palin the other day. The wait for the 9th precinct of Grand Rapids was about a half hour, but the line was much longer when I left than it was when I arrived. That there is a presidential election going on is a bit of a surprise to me. I haven't turned on the television since Suzanne left the house. The election is just a tiny blip on my radar. I will probably have to ask the people on the van pool who won...
Again, my relief is palpable.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The latest from China

Frances is a good sleeper--she only got up once during the night. Reports indicate that she likes sleeping on adult pillows, and that she lies on her back with her hands underneath her head. She is teething, and has a hooded towel style blanket that she chews vigorously--apparently she doesn't know what to do with traditional teething rings. This hooded towel also seems to function as a security blanket, and Suzanne and Wilda are strategizing about how to get it away from her to have it laundered. Frances likes being fed immediately, and voices her displeasure quite loudly when things don't appear on time. She also finds the slower American nipples on the bottles quite frustrating. She giggles when her Grandmother Wilda sings to her, and she can be quite flirtatious.
Today is the day the adoption will be finalized in the eyes of the Chinese government. Today is also the day Suzanne parts with the majority of the cash she has brought along with her. I think that having all those fees paid will be a tremendous relief--one less thing to worry about, one less thing to carry around with her constantly.
I am hoping to have some pictures emailed to me at some point. From what I hear, though, ten new families will be going to the registry office, and then to Wal-Mart, which sounds like about as much excitement as Suzanne and Wilda are ready to handle.
I am so behind on grading for the online classes that its not funny!
Even so, the sense of relief I have at all of this is absolutely palpable.


I called Suzanne again. It was a bit late in China, but she was up. Here is what we know so far:

Frances knows what cheerios are about and reaches for them
She pinched Wilda
She reaches for, and grabs fistfulls of Suzanne's hair

She screams loudly when Suzanne or Wilda leave her sight

She had quite a grand, loose bowel movement.

I can say this about the screaming--I called and could hear the screaming, quite distinctly, though the phone. No lung problems on this baby, no sir. Suzanne said the hotel put all the adopting families on the same floor, near each other, because when one baby cries, they all start to, and you can hear it through the walls. So it sounds like Guangxi babies have good lungs.


They got Frances at a little after 3:00 am Michigan time. I've talked to Suzanne, and all accounts point to a normal, healthy baby. She is a bit smaller than we had expected, but that's not uncommon. She has a bit of heat rash and a few bug bites--but aside from that, everything looks good. I talked to Suzanne on the phone and she said Frances (they are calling her Tong-Tong for the present, and will let her new identity as "Frances" emerge over time) is inquisitive--I got to talk to Frances on the phone--Suzanne said she was looking around the room wondering where the voice was coming from. She was also trying to pull the phone cord out of the wall.
They were not able to meet the foster mother, but Suzanne has her name. The foster mother has two sons--not sure about their ages. The foster mother was an older woman, so Frances is already very interested in Wilda, and at one point in the conversation, Wilda went to the bathroom and Frances had a meltdown. She doesn't want Suzanne or Wilda out of her sight, which, from what I hear, is fairly normal.
Suzanne says Frances is a bit smaller than we had expected--and that the clothes we sent were too small, so the orphanage kept them, but gave her a new set of clothes. She has ten fingers, ten toes. She can hear and she knew what cheerios were about, and reached for them as soon as she saw them--that means she can see, too. By all accounts, things seem good.
Barring any unforeseen problems, the adoption should be finalized tomorrow in province, and then they go to Guangzhou to deal with the US consulate in a few days.
If you wonder what the scene looked like, the family at Journey to Kavanna is in Suzanne's group, and they have been posting pictures on their blog. Suzanne and Wilda and Frances were somewhere in that same registry office. Suzanne has a computer in her hotel room, but hasn't figured out how to upload pictures (the computer is in Chinese, so its not as straightforward as you might think) and is worried about accidentally deleting the pictures. She is going to ask someone for help, but somehow, she seems to think Frances is more important right now. Imagine that. (I am attempting to be funny--probably unsuccessfully--to be honest, my nerves are absolutely fried)
Anyway, I AM very relieved and very happy. I am breathing again. I had what I can only describe as a mini-panic attack on the van to MSU. I was breathing but it didn't feel like I was actually taking in any air--then I started thinking I was getting pulmonary fibrosis (which my mother died from) and started borderline hyperventilating. I eventually got a grip.
So anyway... everything looks good. Everything is fine. I am very relieved.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Chomping at the bits

I think I'm going a bit stir crazy at home by myself. If I had the sense God gave a goat, I'd be in bed, because tomorrow is going to be a busy Monday. Worst-case scenarios--some of them utterly ridiculous--fly through my head.
I've just written a stack of thank-you notes for shower gifts from last weekend. (Of course, we have no stamps, but that is easily remedied) My cousin Mary was here cleaning, and said she is coming next weekend to help me get this place babyproofed. Things are coming together--they really are. I don't know why I feel as if I've got this figurative black cloud hovering over me, but I do. After three and a half years of waiting, it just doesn't seem possible that the end is in sight. I am waiting for the Chinese to reject my paperwork because it was signed in blue pen, or because the paper didn't contain enough post-consumer recycled content. I know this gloomy foreboding I have is ridiculous, but I can't shake it. 
I'm going to bed.  


Suzanne mentioned that she has a computer in her hotel room in Nanning, and has access to email. She can be emailed at suzwood at ymail dot com

Countdown to Frances

She's nine months old today.

By my calculation, Suzanne should get to see Frances in a little less than twelve hours.

It seems unreal. This has been 3 1/2 years in the making, and now the moment is just twelve hours away. Its very exciting. Its very unnerving.

This is it...ready or not, here we come.

My confession...

I have a horrible confession to make...
I am very rough on laptops. 
*resume normal voice*
I dropped mine last night, and this is the third laptop I've ruined in the past year. I was grading the essays for my online classes, and I tried to submit the grades, and the computer crashed. I lost all the grades and had to regrade the essays. After grading them a SECOND time, I tried to submit the grades and the computer crashed AGAIN. Only this time, it didn't restart. No matter what I tried, I couldn't get the damn thing to restart. It was very frustrating. 
Did I mention that I had dropped the computer on Friday? 
Anyway, I needed to get that dratted work done (for a third time) but I couldn't get the laptop to run, and my desktop computer doesn't have the right software installed for me to be able to do it, so I had to go out and try to find a new laptop. 
The last time I bought a laptop, I went to a small computer store and bought a re-furbished laptop for $325. It suited my purposes. But its not easy to buy a laptop at midnight in Grand Rapids.  Meijer is open 24 hours, but they don't sell laptops. WalMart closes at 11. Sam's Club closes earlier than that, as does Best Buy, Circuit City and the mall. I was S.O.L. 
I wasn't able to get a new laptop until after church today. But, this time, I bought a new one with a three year extended service agreement that covers "impact damage" (so I'm covered when I drop it) as well as "spill damage" (so I'm covered when I spill diet pepsi on it, as this was the cause of death of the predecessor to the refurbished laptop). I understand the extended service warranty also covers spilled formula. 
By all accounts, Suzanne and Wilda should be in Nanning, which is the capital city of the Guangxi province. They are staying at this hotel.
I have a link to accounts of a trip to Nanning, including a trip to their WalMart, from what appears to be another Michigan family. Many pictures and a lot of interesting commentary can be found here.
Suzanne should get to meet Frances in just over 24 hours. I can hardly wait!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Not much to report....

I talked to Suzanne a few hours ago. They didn't do much climbing at the Great Wall, because it was too cold and windy and the steps were uneven. The pollution in Beijing is bothering Suzanne's asthma. They leave Beijing early in the morning and fly to Nanning, which is the capital city of Guangxi Province. They will get Frances at about 2am Michigan time on Monday morning.
I am trying not to let the latest news about melamine tainted milk bother me--but its not easy. Several Adoption Agencies are recommending that anyone who brought a child over from China since 2005 have their children tested for melamine poisoning. Our agency maintains that the orphanages use Nestle formula, which wasn't one of the affected brands.
I am having a devil of a time keeping a wireless connection at the coffee house by the cottage. I am going to call this a post and close up.
Suzanne hasn't figured out how to post pictures to flickr from the camera yet... I think she's worried she will delete all the pictures on the camera inadvertantly. Hopefully someone who is a bit more technologically gifted will help her--