slide show

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Birthday Blitzkrieg - 3 of 5 - UPDATED

Tess Tuyết 
Our little Miss SaiGon.  More flexible, nimble and agile than most.  Throws a temper tantrum faster and harder than any child I've ever witnessed.  Fast.  I mean really fast.  Skeeter bug and dynamo.  Still learning to love and be loved in this crazy world.  Really super fast!  Survivor.  Likes to honk at imaginary cars.  Has taught the Crazy Mama more about life than anyone.   Fruit hater.  Climber of high and dangerous things.  Petite... I mean really petite.
Future contortionist for the circus and super model.  
And today, 3 years old!
Happy birthday baby girl!
Is a party complete without a raging temper tantrum?
Tess, says no!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

...and then the most wonderful thing happened...

Day T-3
Phoenix, AZ

On this day, 2 years ago, after the kiddos had gone to bed, I sat in my dark office staring at my computer.  I pushed my email's refresh key... for the umpteenth time.  Nothing.  This was just like every other night for months.  Every night.
Months of delay.  
Months of unanswered emails and encrypted phone calls with the USCIS.  Months of horrific rumors and accusations.  Additional months my children would lay in the hard, sterile, and barren cold metal cribs of the orphanage, day after day after day.  I played a video clip to pass the minutes till I would push the refresh button again.  The video clip was already over a month old.  And I had seen it enough times to memorize every detail.  There was Jujube crawling across a reed mat, his brace trailing behind.  A stuffed turtle.  His shirt so big it was falling off.  Their laughs on the video in such sharp contrast to my tears and my fears.  
He looked at the camera, and crawled closer to the person filming... crawling... closer... smiling... looking... closer.  That grin.  Oh there's little teeth coming in the bottom.  I smiled.  I proudly beamed for a child I had never held.  I cried.  A lot.  I was missing those little teeth coming in the bottom.  
Toward the end of the video, he crawled toward the edge of the steps, looking out, I imagined, at a world that he was not invited to be in.  A world that was not a tiny room in an orphanage with no vacancies.  I paused the video.  There was just something about the way he sat at the edge of those steps.  The exit so close but so far.  A mama desperately waiting, so close yet so far. 
I remember all my tears literally falling on my key board.  
At the moment he was closest to the lens, it got a little blurry.  I remember feeling so silly and so desperate at the same time, but I did it anyway... I reached my hand out, at my desk and touched my computer monitor to feel his cheek.  It was so stupid, and I knew it.  He wasn't at the end of my finger tips.  He was half way across the world.  Without me.  
But as stupid as it felt, I needed to feel him at that moment.  I needed to try to touch him.  And when I decided to reach out and touch the screen, even though I knew it was impossible, I felt it.  A cold hard computer monitor.  No soft warm baby cheek.  Just a cold monitor.  
Refresh...  a new email...  from Ho Chi Minh City.  I opened it just 2 minutes after it was sent from half way across the world.  After months of delay, additional and unnecessary months of our files gathering dust, a bureaucratic nightmare, the US government granted approval for Tess and Jude to come home to a forever family.   

Litterally, 96 hours later we were on a plane to gather our children.  3 hours after our plane touched down, in SaiGon, VietNam, the most wonderful thing happened... I held my son and then my daughter for the first time.  And we started the journey to make up for lost time.  

To be continued...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Aug 30-31, 2008

Days 1 & 2
Phoenix, AZ, Los Angles, CA, Taipei, Taiwan, Ho Chi Minh City, VietNam

We carried as few bags as possible.  We weren't sure what to expect once we landed and didn't want to be unnecessarily burdened.  We did bring along 100+lbs. of school supplies, generously donated by friends and family.  2 of those suitcases, and their contents, the school supplies, were donated to the ThuDuc orphanage.
Our luggage, including the 2 bags full of donations for the orphanage

The international terminal, August 30, 2008, of the LAX airport at midnight is still a wonderful memory.  As I know now, late at night is when most of the international flights depart, making midnight a VERY busy time at this terminal.  It was packed with families going to all corners of the world.  Suitcases, bags, and bundles were everywhere.  Hundreds of boxes and bundles tied with rope and tape and plastic wrap, accompanied by hundreds of peoples, infants to elderly, of different colors, talking so many different languages.  It felt like I was in a new country already, certainly out of my element, and so excited to take it all in.
LAX international terminal just after midnight.  Crazy busy!

But my thoughts were with the babes.  I knew that soon, we'd have them with us forever.  After months of our children being in the center of a political quagmire, and our adoption paperwork gathering dust during the stalemate, we finally knew our children were allowed to come home, to us!  It was August 30th, August 31st in SaiGon, Tess's 1st birthday.  We missed it by one day.  In my prayer, I promised her I wouldn't miss another thing after this.

3 of us traveled, Papa and me, and our beloved workhorse, Livy.  She was 12 years old at the time, and we had explained that this was no vacation before asking her if she wanted to go.  We were unsure when or what we would eat, when or where we would sleep, and we knew we'd be hot.  (As it turned out, hot was an understatement.  Melting into a hot cauldron of vulcanous goo was more accurate.)
We boarded the plane.
We sat in coach.
We donned little blow up pillows, thin airline blankies, earplugs, and sleep masks.
We took little blue magic sleepy pills and suddenly didn't care that we sat in coach.  Or snored.  Or drooled.
We woke up in Taiwan, changed plane's and two hours and two calendar days later, we landed in SaiGon, VietNam.
36 hours of travel, and we found ourselves half way across the world and in a whole 'nother dimension.
Street scene on our drive to the hotel
The SaiGon River
To be continued...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

September 1, 2008

Day 3
Ho Chi Minh City, VietNam

After 26 1/2  hours of travel, 8,475 miles, and 3 calendar days, we landed in SaiGon, officially titled Ho Chi Minh City, the morning of September 1st.  At the baggage claim, I was struck by how much of the "luggage" was merely boxes, bound in rope, cord, tape, string, plastic wrap, bungee cords, or most likely a combination of many of these. There were large machines at the airport the size of a washing machine, that were simply a big plastic wrap dispenser, to wrap boxes for transport.  Our luggage seemed fancy and expensive in comparison.  It was.

We had arranged for the hotel to pick us up at a the airport.  And low and behold, a van showed up just for us.  The van ride offered us our first taste of Asian hospitality.  Iced bottled waters and cool hand towels waiting for us in the van/taxi.  Really?  Yep.
SaiGon on the river

We made that 30 minute van ride with eyes that much have been the size of saucers.  I wanted to soak it all it.  This was T&J's homeland, and I didn't want to miss a single detail.  I remember feeling sad when I looked out the window on the left, that I'd miss all the sights on the right.  Water buffalo.  Rice fields.  Conical hats.  They really wore those funny hats!  Construction everywhere... evidence that this country was emerging and evolving quickly.  A huge metropolis of a city with towering high rises.  More scooters that I had imagined possible.  Pollution.  95 degrees and a constant mist in the air that I could only assume was 95% humidity.  My native Arizona lungs that were acclimated to "dry heat," seemed to have trouble sucking the air in.

We picked a western style, high-rise hotel in the center of the city in district 1, right on the Saigon River, mostly frequented by businessmen and American VeitNam veterans.  Complimentary breakfast, WiFi, and a pool, all paid for by our frequent flyer miles.  This type of luxury accommodation would not have been our first choice, but planning for the worse when we took on 2 infants, we thought it would be a safe bet to have western-style amenities.  In hind sight it was a good choice.  Most adoptive families travel in groups, offering support to one another through the travel process.  I had come to know so many wonderful families from our agency from blogs and emails.  But because of our USCIS delay, we traveled alone.  And this made me so sad.  In hind sight, it gave me every opportunity to focus on what was really important, uniting into one family with the children that would be ours.
Industry on the SaiGon River

It was Monday.  Tuesday was a national holiday, and that would give us 2 days, until Wednesday, to adjust to the time zone, get settled and take in some sights, before the babes came.  30 minutes into unpacking our suit cases and settling into our hotel room, the room's phone rang.  It was our Vietnamese adoption caseworkers.
If we could meet them in the lobby, we could get our babies today.  Would that be good?
Yes. today.
In 20 minutes.
{How could we say no?  How could we possibly make those sweet babes wait even 1 more day without a mama and a papa and a family?}
Of course it's ok!  We'll meet you in the lobby in 20 minutes!
It was all adrenaline after that.

We threw together gift bags for the nannies and orphanage directors.  We rinsed off and threw on nicer clothing.  Camera.  Diaper bag.  Rattles.  In the rush, I forgot my camera's memory card and had to rely on the camera's very little built in memory, 24 low resolution frames.  We met our caseworkers in the lobby and hopped in the taxi for the 30 minute drive to Thu Duc Children's Village.  In less than an hour, we'd have our children in our arms!
The orphanage sign just outside the orphanage gates
Just outside the orphanage, the parking area

To be continued...

Oak Creek Canyon

Seeing as how we were already in Sedona for my baby sister's wedding, we took a little side trip to one of Papa's and my favorite places the next morning.  A place that we started visiting in high school.  When we were in college we went there as often as we could, a couple times a week in the summer sometimes.  Oak Creek Canyon, in northern Arizona, is just north of Sedona, and is up to 2,000 feet deep in some places.  The drive there is gorgeous, kinda like driving in a mini-Grand Canyon.  Earlier this year, in the early spring we visited for a little mini-hike, and there was still a bit of snow on the ground.  This time of year, it's all green and the 2-lane highway is lined with wild berry bushes.  Picture the windows down, the sunroof open, The Eagles blaring at top volume.  

You know that Kid Rock song, All Summer Long?

It was 1989, my thoughts were short my hair was long
Caught somewhere between a boy and man
She was seventeen and she was far from in-between
...It's the simple things in life, like when and where
We didn't have no internet
But man I never will forget
The way the moonlight shined upon her hair
We'd blister in the sun
We couldn't wait for night to come
To hit that sand and play some rock and roll

In 1989 Papa and I were in college about 50 miles north of this little canyon.  We visited here, especially in the summer so so often, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone.  We'd hike down the canyon, crank our boombox, blister in the sun, wade in the cool water, and have to climb back out as the sun disappeared.  The amazing thing is that my parents also visited the sand bars of Oak Creek Canyon, probably this very same place, when they too were in college, and surely did the exact same things we did.  This is the first time we had taken the kiddos there.  It was just as I remembered it.  I however, was much different.  Older, heavier, wrinklier, wiser.  The things that matter in the core of me are still the same... I hope.
Yea... I'm pretty sure they're the same!

Patch brought me one of these first thing!
Jude was scared to death of these! And there were hundreds of them!  Each is only about 1" long.

There's something a bit magical about Oak Creek Canyon.
Some things never change!
Some things do.
The things that really matter, haven't.

Monday, August 23, 2010

September 1, 2008 {part II}

Day 3 {Part II}
Ho Chi Minh City, VietNam, Thủ Đức Youth Village

In the above image, notice the red topiary letters spelling the name of the orphanage, and large topiary animals behind that!
A basketball court for the older children.

We pulled up to the Thu Duc Youth Village (read-orphanage) around 2:00pm.  I was surprised how "un-orphanage" it looked.  It was in the middle of a bustling city on a busy road, big iron gates guarding the entrance.  Were those gates keeping folks out or in?  Weren't orphanages suppose to be in rural areas?

We were escorted out of the van and into a very hot room.  A large green curtain hung from a back wall and there was a bust of Ho Chi Minh in a place of honor.  There were only 4 of us in that room.  A nice lady spoke a few words in Vietnamese which we understood none of.  She offered us some hot tea with a tea pot and cups ready.  It was 95 degrees and 95% humidity outside and even hotter in that little room.  I was nervous.  Sweating bullets.  My stomach was in knots.  I really didn't want hot tea.  I could see the stream coming off it.  But of course we had tea.  Then she left.  And there we sat in that hot hot room.  Wondering what we were suppose to do.

I think 10 minutes passed, and then it was the most surreal moment.  They just rounded the corner with our son and our daughter.  They simply handed them over to us.  Children.  Not flowers or food or clothing.  Human beings.  Handed so simply and so quickly from one person to the next.  And that was that.
One of the directors orphanage, that brought Tess in
The director was so very sad at Jude's leaving.  I see the love he had for him.  This is one of my favorite images of our adoption.

I noticed these things first.  Bruises all over Jude's legs... the size of fingertips.  Where was his brace he was suppose to be wearing 23 1/2 hours a day?  Tess was so so much smaller than I had imagined.  Jude seemed to have far less hair than I thought.  And he was wearing lavender soft-shoes.  Tess didn't cry at all, didn't even hesitate or look back.  She was simply transfered from one set of arms to the next with out any emotion.    There was a scratch on her face and several on her legs.  The orphanage director seemed to almost be crying with concern over Jude.   Where was Jude's brace?  He wasn't wearing it.  His feet looked far from corrected.  They looked deformed.  They were deformed.  Tess was interested in the zipper on Papa's shirt.  Fingering it over and over and over and over.  It was odd.  Jude screamed instantly.
My mama bear kicked in.  I scooped up Jude and tried to console him.  Screaming.  Screaming.  In my ear.  We walked out into the courtyard.  I thought being out of sight of his main caregivers would help.  I wispered all the prayers and hopes and plans I'd had for him.  He seemed to calm down a bit.  Maybe only out of fear.  Certainly out of fear.  He quieted down for a moment.  And then the director came out to check on him.  Jude saw him and the screaming resumed.  Nothing I did or said worked to soothe him.  Eventually I handed him back to his nanny, and he calmed except for the little gasps.
Livy took this photograph.  It speaks a thousand words about how adoption feels to the child.

We asked for a quick tour of the orphanage.  Anything, pictures, information for my children to have when they grew and grasped at nothingness to learn who they are.  We took pictures carefully remembering we still only had 24 frames due to the forgotten memory card.
Notice that not a bed is empty, except for the two in the back, Tess and Jude's beds we assume.  
They probably wouldn't be empty for long.  
This little boy was adopted a few months later by another family from our agency.
I LOVE this image of a classroom we stumbled across on our tour.  
It reminds me not to forget about the older ones still there.  
It was time to go.  We were given 2 zip-lock baggies and two warm bottles wrapped in a washcloth.  The baggies contained the remnants of 2 care packages I had sent.  The first year of a baby's life condensed down to a zip-lock bag.
Wait, someone translate, please.  Where is Jude's brace?  
No, he doesn't wear it any more.  
We'd still like to have it. 
No, it makes him very sick. 
Can we still have it?  (Our pediatric orthopedic surgeon back home, was very clear that he needed to be wearing that brace 23 1/2 hours a day.)
Hustle, rustle, bustle, and the nanny comes back with it, giving it to us but with the warning that when he wears the brace he gets very sick, a high fever.  Could that be translated correctly?  Sick from a brace?  We took a final group picture and were wisked to the taxi.
We look like giants!

And then another surreal thing happened.  We got back in the taxi, the driver had been waiting for us because things like this don't take too long, and we drove away... with these babies... now our babies.  No longer orphans.  A son and a daughter.  A family.
The van ride back to the hotel.  The fear in Jude's face was so obvious.
Jude fell asleep on my shoulder.  Again, out of fear.  Tess fondled the zipper still.

15 minutes later, the van stopped, and we all went into a tiny little photo shop to have passport pictures of the babes taken.  They'd be ready in 5 minutes.
Again, Jude was so scared of not just us, but everything happen all around him  
His eyes break my heart int his picture.

Almost back to the hotel, we told our caseworkers that we didn't have diapers or formula yet, seeing as how we got the babes 2 days early.  We quickly stopped at what was literally an alley full of merchants selling so many things.  Papa handed me Tess, hopped out, and came back 5 minutes later with the supplies.  During those 5 minutes, for the first of many many times, my hands were literally full.  Manna.

While we were in the van, I looked at Papa, he looked at me.  We looked at Tess, together.  It was obvious.  I think I mumbled something like, She's gonna need some help.  That would be an understatement.  Despite the fact that she was no doubt traumatized by the transition, something just wasn't right.  I know many of you adoption mamas will say that it was too early to tell.  And I hung onto that hope for at least 6 months, hoping that it was just an "adjustment" thing.  But it was just so obvious for the very first moments.  Some "connection" was just missing and it wasn't just me that noticed it.  She showed no emotion.  It wasn't just that she avoided eye contact, it was that she had absolutely no connection with people.  She just fiddled with that zipper, Papa's glasses, the whiskers on his face, or the seams on Papa's shirt.  Or the cording on the seats.  It was obviuos that she craved the "input" that she missed in the orphanage.  But all that input was being transmitted through her fingertips and none through human contact.  Truth be told, I couldn't think about it too much.  There was work to be done.  A son to behold too.
Arriving at the hotel, we went to our room.

To be honest  the next few hours were a blur.  We tried to feed them bottles of formula and Jude, still so upset and shocked, would not take a sip for over a day.  Eventually we tried cereal and discovered Jude still had a gag reflex, likely due to the fact that he had never had any solid food before.   Contrastingly, Tess was a world champion formula speed drinker.  Scared of scabies even though they didn't show any signs of it, we decided to error on the side of caution, and we treated them anyway, slathering them head to toe with a prescription salve.

We were all exhausted.  We had dinner in our room.  Tess's screaming started.  It was an hour of the most intense screaming, that frequently made Jude upset.  After about an hour, Tess simply collapsed and slept.  She slept through the night.  Twice in the middle of the night, Jude woke with an instant piercing scream, the same scream from the orphanage, in what would be my first experience with my boy's on-going night terrors.

I woke that morning a mama of 4 and went to bed a mama of 6.  I was overwhelmed with joy and fear and relief and love and prayer.

There would be more discoveries.

To be continued...
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