Waiting for sister #4!

Waiting for sister #4!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Our long trip home

We have been home for a while now, but getting home was so eventful, I wanted to write it all down!  Plus, it is all part of Emma's coming home story and I want to remember it. :)  The 15 hour flight from Hong Kong to Newark went amazingly well.  All three girls did great.  We were blessed to have an extra open seat by us, so we used it!  Emma and Callie took some naps here and there, but Matt, Sydney and I didn't get any sleep!  When we got to Newark, the captain came on and told us that although we were there, we couldn't land because the Newark airport was closed due to bad weather.  He said the good news was that they had plenty of fuel, so they were going to circle around for a while to see if it would open again.  After about a half an hour, we were able to land in between storms.  We were thankful to be there, but our flight to Omaha was cancelled.  Omaha must be a popular place to go, because everything for the next few days was booked.  We couldn't get home for a couple days if we wanted to fly directly from Newark.  So, they decided we should try to fly standby to Houston and get a flight from Houston to Omaha the next day.  The flight was supposed to be full, but there were so many other flights cancelled that people missed their flights and we were able to get on.  So, after our 15 hour flight, we got on another plane for 3 1/2 hours.  I think we all slept some on that flight because we were so exhausted!

When we got to Houston, there was one flight still from Houston to Omaha at 9:00 pm.  Matt actually had a seat on that flight because everything was so screwed up.  So, we decided we might as well wait and see if we could all go on standby.  Everyone was loading and it was looking pretty promising.  There were 5 other single people flying standby.  They were letting them on one by one.  And then she called our family and said, "I am sorry family, but we would be short one seat, so it won't work to get you on."  Really.  Letting all those singles on seemed like a better idea.  I wasn't so happy at that point.

So, we had to go find a shuttle to our hotel.  It was funny because we were discussing whether we should find a shuttle or take a cab and then realized that we had no car seats, so we needed to take a shuttle.  The car seats didn't matter so much in China!!  We finally settled into our hotel at 11:00 and I was soooo ready for like 15 hours of sleep.  Ha.  1:30 is when Emma woke up.  I think she woke up because she was hearing the generators outside our windows and it was really dark in our room.  Yes.  The power was out in our hotel!  They came on the loud speaker saying that it was out and they were working on it, but it wasn't any emergency.  By then, Callie and Sydney were up too.  Emma was just too loud and it felt like the middle of the afternoon to all of us.  So, we just gave up and hung the rest of the night.  At about 5:30, Matt took a cab to a Walmart.  We only brought enough diapers, wipes, and formula to get home when we were supposed to.  When he was gone, I kind of lost it.  I was so tired, and it was getting hot in our room, and it was dark.  It just seemed crazy!  When Matt got back, the power turned on and we got ready and went downstairs for breakfast.  At breakfast, we decided that we would all go back to the room and take a nap.  We all did and it was a great 2 1/2 hour sleep!

When we were headed to the airport, I knew that Matt was on a 3:30 flight and the three girls and I were on a 5:40 flight.  I was worried about that a little bit, but not too much because I was just sure that it would all work out and we would be able to fly home together.  When we got to the airport, I realized that wasn't going to happen.  Everything was overbooked.  There was no chance in flying standby to fly together.  We asked if Matt and I could switch tickets, so I could take the earlier flight with Emma and Matt could fly later with Sydney and Callie.  They said we couldn't do that because if they tried to switch, Matt's seat would automatically be taken because it was overbooked.  That is when I was really holding back the tears.  All I could think of was Matt was going to leave and our flight would get cancelled and I would be stuck there by myself with the three girls.

But, I knew God was with me and I decided I needed to suck it up and be brave.  I was really a mess inside, though!  After Matt took off, I went to check on my flight and it was delayed an hour.  I just knew that it was going to keep getting delayed and then get cancelled, but it didn't.  Yay.  When Sydney and I were walking around the airport, Emma and Callie slept most of the time, which was a blessing.  Callie was asleep in the stroller, there was a backpack on the stroller, Emma was asleep in a front pack on me, I had a huge backpack on my back, and Sydney was carrying a backpack also.  We were quite a sight.  I got many of concerned looks.  I even overheard someone say that they could see the stress on my face.  When I got to our gate, I realized that Sydney and Callie and I were all seated all over the place.  I went to the counter to see if they could change that.  As she was looking things up, she said, "You have paper tickets, but Callie is the only one booked on the plane.  You and Sydney are booked on a plane to Chicago and then to Omaha tomorrow!"  Seriously.  I know I was being prayed for and God was giving me lots of peace, because that didn't even really rattle me.  I just thought it was absolutely ridiculous.  She did fix it after about a half an hour and we were even all seated together.

We loaded the plane and I was soooo relieved!  We were finally going to make it home!  There was a guy on our plane that was making his way back to the front.  He said his seat was blocked off and said it was out of order.  The flight was full, so there wasn't any room for him.  I was feeling sorry for him and there was much discussion and finally a lady came up to me and said, "You need to get off the plane.  This man's seat is broken and he needs your seat."  No kidding.  That really happened.  I was shocked.  They really told a lady that was holding a baby with two other small children next to her to get off the plane for a business man.  She said that I was flying standby, so I had to get off.  I had a paper ticket!  I wasn't flying standby!  I didn't really know what to say.  I felt like I could be that crazy woman in the news that just lost it with a flight attendant but I didn't have to argue very much because a really nice guy sitting in front of me volunteered to get off instead.  He must have been an angel.  I thanked him over and over.  We did take off and we did make it to Omaha!  Whew!

So, that was our long trip home from China.  That was probably too many details.  We are just thankful that we made it and that we had such a great trip.  And we came home with a pretty awesome souvenir!!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Surreal and Sublime

The Allmands in Asia

After extensive use of fertility to get Sydney 9 years ago and Callie 3 years ago we changed direction and pursued adoption for another child. We had tried domestic adoption before, languishing in adoptive parent pools for years at a time on two occasions. International seemed like a more secure bet and have been to several countries that offer international adoption I was infinitely more comfortable spending time in and entertaining the thought of taking my family to China. So after a year and a half doing paperwork we departed on July 23rd and were traveling until we reached our home again, Emma in tow on August 12th. 

This trip has been more than I imagined, and I expected quite a bit. This is by any measure a safe trip, but an adventure all the same with real risk. I quoted The Hobbit to Sydney before we left saying there's no guarantee that well make it back and if we do we won't be the same people. A bit dramatic maybe because we did make it back home, but we certainly aren't the same people. Our first morning in Beijing started with a bang. We we all up quite early and we were trying to keep the girls in bed when we heard strange breathing from Syd. We flipped on the lights and found her having a serious seizure. Her legs were stiff and straight, her arms were folded against her chest she was breathing in a harsh and fast che che che sound. She was foaming at the mouth and her eyes were going all over the place. Lori and I were pushed beyond the brink and poor Callie had a front row seat the whole event. Lori and I took turns panicking, weeping on Sydney's chest, researching western medical options in the area and reaching out for help. After a couple minutes the seizure stopped and she was very very sleepy but slowly returned to normal. I remember when she began to tell us her name. Without question the worst moment in my life. We chose a doctor and jumped in a cab. Jenny our sales manager for Asia came quickly and  met us at our hotel after our first trip to the clinic. While they were open, their lab was not. We all went back later and got a relatively clean bill of health. 

The experience has been rich in so many ways. For one you are struck with the feeling you are doing something big. We have made no secret of the fact we are doing this for us. We love our daughters and they have enriched our lives so much we wanted more, plain and simple. But as we walk through the experience the profundity of taking an orphan off the street into a home strikes you. It's just so cool, a good thing that pays in it's own currency. Though the humanitarian or Biblical obedience reasons to do this weren't our primary motivation, you sense them and are rewarded all the same.

The surreal day of picking up Emma will never be forgotten. The simple absurdity of having a child handed to you after you sign a couple forms evokes a physical reaction. Hammering home the feeling that this is big and real and good. Like the title of a book I am reading, love does. This is loving. It's not the empty intellectualism of thinking and talking and wishing the poor had homes and food, but it is helping one little girl in a very real way and we are blessed beyond anything she receives. I think it's true that sins often provide their own punishment and obedience provides its own reward. 

I had no idea what to expect in the first few days. I have read what others experience, but all kids are different. Watching Emma mourn, freeze up and adapt to us is powerful. She is a different kid today than she was Monday and I can only imagine what she was like last week or will be like next week. Watching her mete out skills on her schedule is fascinating. Watching your child's first smile, step, roll, sit up, burp, laugh, clap and hug all in a couple days is overwhelming. Little by little she will do something new and smile at our reactions. It is surprising to find such sacred moments hidden in the mundane. So many firsts. Falling in love with her was instant as expected, we were in love with the first pictures and holding her just let the love be manifested. 

Sydney and Callie have been equally interesting to watch. Both were quiet when we were handed Emma. I think even they were subdued by the solemness of the transaction. Then after she was ours they were instantly engaged. Sydney has become a little mom. Washing bottles and loving her in anyway she can with all earnestness. Callie is just a little buddy, but she naturally stays a little back and gets less Emma time because of it. We have all hovered over Emma these so I our hotel room one afternoon we said let's all back up and see what Emma does. We all agreed, but Callie rushed into the gap put her arms around Emma and laid prostrate on the floor just holding her arms around Emma's waist. We said ok Callie lets all back up, she said ok and just laid there still, holding her sister. She just couldn't back away yet. Picture Emma sitting on the ground with Callie laying on the carpet face down with arms just barely reaching around Emma. If you don't tear up you're picturing it wrong. 

Lori instantly did what comes naturally to her and Emma is in very good hands. Lori is probably the most emotionally involved one of us and every step Emma takes in development can elicit tears. She has developed a sound that means momma and Lori tears up, smiles and comes running every time she hears it. Emma smiles the biggest for Lori, hugs Lori the hardest, and is the happiest in her arms. 

And then there is the context, we are in China. A fact that is inescapable and mesmarizing. The kids are adapting and being blessed by the experience. I have a standing offer of $100 to the first one to see a blonde from our hotel room window. Being a minority for a while is a great experience for someone who lives where everyone pretty much looks like them. I think it will add to our family's lives immeasurably. I think doing well here will make other challenges in life seem more achievable. Collage won't look so scary when you have successfully ordered a snack at McDonald's in a room of 400 Chinese people none of whom speak your language. Or negotiated the price of your souvenir in a completely different culture. I have taught them my cross-cultural communication strategy smile and hope for the best, it generally works. And when it doesn't it's not fatal. 

The girls have been a hit, in the tourist areas where Chinese tourists from across the country come blondes are an apparition. The stares are never ending. Kids stand slack-jawed in awe of the ghost before them until the are able to pull on their siblings shirt or tap mom or dad on the side. Callie caused a scooter accident on the road in Beijing just from her cuteness and crazy yellow hair. They have adapted well to being the center of attention anywhere we go. I bet there are 500 pictures of them floating around ren ren and other Chinese social sites. I told Lori we could not garner more attention if we were riding a flaming unicorn. People will ask for photos or more commonly sneak up behind us while a friend shoots a photo. Sydney has embraced her newfound celebrity with gusto. She has come even further out of her shell and if you ask her about the trip be sure to have a seat handy and be prepared for a dramatic rendition of the entire experience. She will approach timid camera toting tourists and embrace their kids and ham it up for the camera, pretty priceless. Callie is more likely to cling to an arm or watch slightly amused, slightly horrified with Sydney's antics.

In interpreting all this I am still feeling the impact of Miller's million miles in a thousand years. And am certain that this trip is creating a life-changing story for us and Emma. It is impossible to see the outcome of everything you do, but I think we should choose paths that could offer the most positive outcomes. This step is certainly full of potential. 

We have met friends from Florida that are going through this adventure with us. Their little girl is a couple months older and a couple pounds bigger and every bit as sweet and beautiful. They have two daughters that came with them as well. They are almost exactly our age, we were married a week apart and our girls all get along splendidly. Jason eats and laughs at whatever I do and Melissa sees things a bit more like Lori. Their girls are adorable and great influences on ours. Its funny how God provides what He knows you will need. At home it is easy to disregard the value of community and friendship as you are completely surrounded by it, but here, while probably surrounded by great people, very few can actually communicate to you. It can be disorienting after a while, having the Hyrnes here has been of immeasurable value. They are great people. Lucky thing too, this Holt group has only us two couples. Holt tries to get you to spend some time with your group and it was fun as the guide talked over group dinner options and we explained that we had been to all of them and more together as a group on our own accord. So it has been the Allmand-Hyrne 10. 

Food has been a struggle. While I am in hog heaven, the girls are barely eating. I think I ate over 20 kinds of animals. You always have to leave a little room for gray area in China so that is not a firm total. For the kids though this is became a concern as dehydration and exhaustion pose a real risk for illness. Whenever I see a new menu I set out to find something new. An animal or animal part I have never eaten, to be specific. The girls look at it entirely differently. Luckily the western breakfast buffet helps and there is a McDonalds across the street. I am not always living on the edge, I spent lots of time in the Starbucks in our hotel.

It is wonderful to see your kids grow. I love watching Syd hail a cab like a champ. She knows how to find an empty one and knows just how far to lean into crazy Chinese traffic to get attention, the hair helps. I love how she can calmly discuss lunch options at a crowded supermarket with several hundred chinese noisily bustling all around us. I just love that she is not cowering behind my leg, but is embracing an absurdly different lifestyle and is thriving. For us adapting to life in a mega-city has been as much a cultural shock as traveling to Asia, there are no cabs in Holdrege. Upon our return Caliie and I ran to the store for some necessities, she mentioned, wow, it's great having a car! Nearly every afternoon while Lori, Callie and Emma nap Sydney and I escape the hotel for an adventure. It might just be McDonalds, a cab to the market or a walk around the neighborhood. But it has been precious time that I will cherish forever. One adventure was to a museum next door. While our hotel was excavating for an employee dormitory they found a burial chamber for a king nearly 3,000 years ago. Syd and I walked through and I explained the story behind the artifacts. I thought she might be bored as not many 9 year olds care about a renegade governor that declared himself emperor, but she was amazed. She stared at the accent jade and gold artifacts and gasped "I can't believe I am really looking at these"! It was a great moment. 

Spending some real time here has been stimulated a lot of thought and some new thinking for me in areas I thought I had put to bed. It is fascinating to watch the ancient Chinese culture grapple with the industrial age, communism, capitalist and the pop culture of the west. It makes for some incredibly odd combinations. Seeing the old hold on to Buddhism and the young reject anything that appears finite or limiting in like being at home. It's an interesting dynamic for me to see China dealing with its population and poverty problem so actively and successfully compared to India with 60% of the population in Mumbai living in their filth. For me it brings up the question are culture norms, all equal? We are taught by todays US culture to tolerate or embrace all cultures equally and value what they value. Should we view western access, raping Nepali girls African and Indian enslavement of the Dalits as acceptable? Is there one best way? If so shouldn't a god have come down and shown it to us? I believe He did. It's amazing to look at problems in every culture and seek the Biblical prescription for their avoidance or remedy. It is also thought provoking to look at every cultures positive traits and see if they, in isolation maybe, are in line with Biblical wisdom. I find it true over and over. 

We are now home adjusting back to central time. I have developed a pretty bullet proof adjustment process for me to avoid any jet-lag. It involves Tylenol PM, pretty rigorous bedtimes and plenty of quite and sleep. This process is destroyed when your whole family is dealing with the issue and you have a new child adapting to your home, her crib and her room. And you can't give kids Tylenol PM, at least that is what Lori tells me every time I ask. So I have been right there with Lori and Callie, exhausted, with headache and a general sense of not feeling quite right. Sydney has been a champ. Instantly changing her sleep patterns and feeling great.

Anyway, it has been a rewarding, life changing, exhausting experience and I would think we might do it again, but not today!

Matt Allmand

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Took the train to Hong Kong this morning. It took about 2 hours. The girls enjoyed it. It is a big double decker train. Sydney ended up sitting with our friends instead of us to play games with them. We are really going to miss them!! We had to say goodbye at the train station. :( I am sure we will keep in contact!! Their little girl has made strides in opening up to them. She is so cute. Can't wait to hear about when she is totally adjusted. It is such a hard start when you are staying in different hotels! Emma completely freaked out for the first 30 minutes in the train. It was so stressful! She was just crying unconsolable, nothing we did helped. She was really out of sorts when we were packing up and leaving the hotel. That has been her home with us and I think she knew something was up and she wasn't going to like it. After the half hour of screaming, though, she suddenly stopped and was her sweet self again! Makes me nervous about the 15 hour flight that is coming tomorrow! Need lots of prayer!

Can pray for Sydney, too. She has been doing great since her seizure, but it happened after a long flight, so this momma is worried. This flight is longer also... 15 hours.

Sydney's big surprise was going to Hong Kong Disneyland! She was surprised for sure. Made it a fun afternoon!

Any prayers over the next 24 hours appreciated! On plane now for 15 hour flight, then layover in Newark, then like a 3 hour flight. Sounds painful! :) Excited to get home though!!

Visa received!!

We have to say goodbye to our pool today! We have really enjoyed the pool every time we have come. It's fun to see all these Caucasian parents with their Asian children. Callie has become more of a fish this week. Sydney loves to play with Elsa and Ava in the pool. And Emma has gone from being scared of and hating the pool and the bath to loving it!! It's so fun to watch her open up! I am also including some pictures of the breakfast buffet that we ate at every day. Sorry girls, no more big breakfasts any more! :) There is also a picture of the chandelier in the front entry way. It's huge!

Matt and Sydney went on another adventure during nap time today to an ancient king's burial chamber that the hotel found when they were doing construction. It is over 2100 years old!

Getting Emma's visa today was just wonderful, along with the stack of paperwork that came along with it. No more paperwork!! Whoo Hoo! Our little girl can come home with us now! She isn't actually a US citizen until she touches US soil. That will happen in Newark, NJ.

We are pretty much packed up and ready to take the train to Hong Kong tomorrow. We have something special planned to do for a celebration for Sydney's birthday tomorrow in Hong Kong. It is a surprise and she is going to flip out! Can't wait to surprise her!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Safari Park

Today we went to the US consulate to apply for Emma's visa and to do the oath taking ceremony. Exciting day! We will receive her visa tomorrow and then take a train to Hong Kong on Thursday to start our journey home. Whooo hooo!

We went to the Safari Park this afternoon and it was really cool! By cool, I mean neat, definitely not temperature cool. It was soooo hot and humid, I think I might have melted a little bit. Actually the heat wasn't the bad thing, the humidity was about 150%!! It rained for a little bit and you couldn't really even tell it stopped.

The zoo really was worth seeing, though. There was a tram that took us around to see a lot of the animals and they were pretty close to the tram, so it was easy to see. We did walk all the way across the park to feed the giraffes and see pandas. Hot, but good day! Had to do the pool again after that day!

Just driving to the Safari Park across Guangzhou was amazing to see. It it so huge you can't describe it. High rise after high rise after high rise just full of people!!!

Monday, August 6, 2012

One week today

We have had our sweet girl for one week now!!! She has changed so much in just one week!

Today was a different day than we had planned. We were going to go to the Safari Park this morning, but our friends daughter got very sick in the night, so we stayed here. You can pray for the Herne family. Their little Stella threw up all through the night and Melissa, the mom, is not feeling well either. They both went to a western doctor this morning. So, we watched their other two sweet daughters, Elsa and Ava. Kind of an interesting thing is while Elsa and Ava were in our room, Emma kind of locked up. I was surprised because she has spent a lot of time with them, but they came into her territory and she didn't know how to handle that. Makes me wonder how she will handle going home and meeting a bunch of strangers. We swam at the pool with them this morning and Emma really liked the pool today! She was giggling a lot and really smiling! I ran up to the room to get the camera, but when I got back, the moment was gone. It had started to rain (it actually poured on them) and she was done being in the pool.

During nap time, Matt and Sydney went to the park that we went to the other day. It's hard to describe all of the stuff that they have there and pictures don't do it justice, but it is really cool! Got some cool pictures of Sydney there.

We had to try a different formula for Emma today. The formula we have been giving her here has been giving her really runny diapers. Her poor bottom is really sore. Makes me sad to see her hurt!

This afternoon, we went back to Shamain Island and got some fun pictures and did some more shopping. We ate at Lucy's again and Callie was loving it. :)

Thank you sooooo much for all the prayers and love and support you have given us while we are here!!!! We so appreciate it!!! I love to hear from all of you! Even though we are having a good time here, I am getting really ready to get home!

Tomorrow, we go to court early in the morning to make Emma officially ours! Big day!!!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Our Hotel

Today we mostly stayed around our hotel. I don't know if it is travel or what, but I was so tired and headachy today. After breakfast, we swam at the pool for quite a while. Emma is warming up to the pool. She splashed a little bit and looked around instead of clinging to us. We put her in Callie's ring and she laid back and sucked her thumb and fell asleep. It was so cute. After the pool, we found lunch in our room...peanut butter sandwiches. I tried feeding Emma some rice cereal and for the first time, she didn't cry and throw herself back when she saw the spoon. She ate a little bit. She probably ate about a whole tablespoon of food! She has even been attempting to eat a few fruit puffs. And then we all took long naps. :)

For dinner, we did Chinese again with the Hyrnes and one of the Holt employees. Matt loved it. I picked at some things. Sydney ate plain noodles that they prepared special. And Callie didn't eat one bite. When we got back to our room, she ate some oatmeal. It has been hard to find anything that she will eat! One of the things we had was fish. Of course, it had the head and tail served with it and it was fried chunks in the middle. Matt thought it was great. When it was served, it came out with fire coming out of the fishes mouth. Pretty impressive!

We got in another night swim before bed. The girls think that is fun because the pool is all lit up.

Since I don't have much to report today, I thought I would share pictures from around our room so you can see our home away from home. Sydney and Callie sleep in the living room and Emma sleeps in a pack and play in our room. She continues to be a really good sleeper! I will also post pictures of the view that we see when we look out our window. There is plenty of action down there! Emma's favorite place in our hotel is right in front of the big mirror. She loves to look at her pretty little face!