Saturday, June 16, 2012

Michael's Homecoming

Man…that is a long set of flights! We took off from Hong Kong and had a layover in Japan and Portland before we got to fly to Salt Lake. Michael was a trooper for the flights and things went much smoother than I had anticipated. When our plane wheels hit the ground in Portland, Michael became a United States citizen and I teared up as I had Neil Diamond’s "Coming to America" running through my mind. It felt so good to be back in America with our little guy. We are a truly blessed nation and I am so grateful that Michael is now part of it.

My good mood came to a screeching halt when Michael wet his pants in the long immigration and customs line because he had refused to go to the bathroom on the plane. Luckily, we had to pick up our luggage at customs and recheck it for the flight to Salt Lake, so we were able to get some clean clothes out. We cleaned him up and then waited in the immigration office for a very long time for an officer to come process Michael’s paperwork. Everything was in order and we will be receiving his Certificate of Citizenship in the next couple of weeks.

When we landed in Salt Lake, it was strange to realize that the long travel experience that we had prepared for for over a year was really over. Our trip had gone smoothly, Michael was home and our children had been safe and healthy in our absence. What a relief!

Unfortunately, however, when we arrived at the Salt Lake airport jet lag hit us all hard and heavy. I started to become very concerned that Michael was just too exhausted and overwhelmed to have a pleasant reunion with his siblings. I knew that they were all excited to have him come home and would be sad if it was not the "Hallmark moment" that they had expected.

The kids were waiting for us outside when we turned onto our street. They had painted the windows of the Suburban, written on the driveway with sidewalk chalk, painted the front door, and hung "welcome home" posters all over the garage door. We pulled into the driveway and they all ran to the car. It felt so good to hug them. I really do not like being away from our children.

Michael was sitting in the back of the car and the kids opened the door to greet him. As we have had Michael’s pictures up in our home all year and watched video of him, Jacob definitely remembered Michael and immediately climbed in the car on top of Michael to give him a big hug. After 16 months apart, my two little boys were finally back together again.

We took a few minutes to introduce Michael to his siblings outside and then moved our reunion inside where we were not being blown away by the wind. As soon as we got inside, Michael opened his backpack and pulled out the photo album that we had sent him with everyone’s pictures. He knew! He knew that he was home and that the six new faces surrounding him were the same people in the photos. He matched each photo with that of his siblings and then began to tour the house. After showing him the house we all went into Jacob’s room to show Michael all of his new toys.

Michael quickly settled into life at the Grover house and within a couple of hours was running around with his brothers playing with Nerf guns. A spontaneous dance party took place in mom and dad’s room after bath time and our little performer thought that was awesome. The best part of the whole day was watching Jacob and Michael remember each other and their previous relationship. By bedtime, they were hugging each other constantly. They were dancing, playing "duck duck goose", pushing each other on the little tractor, and sitting on their little couch relaxing together. It was absolutely precious.

It has been a long journey to get to today and it has been completely and totally worth it! I can’t describe to you how wonderful it is to have Michael home, with Jacob and all of his brothers and sisters. It is truly what this life is all about. Families are forever.

We can’t thank all of you (our family and friends) enough for the love, support and help that you have given us throughout the past couple of years. You have helped us bring our boys home and we cannot express how thankful we are for your prayers, emotional support and financial assistance. We are so blessed to have you in our lives and will be eternally grateful for all that you have done for us.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Consulate and Karaoke!

Today was not only Michael’s Consulate appointment but it was James’ birthday as well. We arrived at the Consulate building at 8:15 a.m. and made our way up to the fourth floor and through security. By 9:00 a.m. all of the adoptive families were seated in the waiting room. We were given instructions for the immigration process and then we all stood and took the oath. We were the first family called up for our interview. The interviewer was extremely nice and he was very pleased that we were adopting a boy. Our interview was quick and our paperwork was all in order, so we were out of the building by 9:20.

To celebrate, we took Michael to a Karaoke building. Karaoke is THE activity of choice in China and there are Karaoke buildings everywhere. We had wanted to try to go to one last year, but never did. Since Michael loves to sing and dance so much, we decided that Karaoke would be our final big activity. I was blown away by how extensive these buildings are! They are huge inside and have enormous fancy buffets in the center. Big trees are in the main lobby areas as well as other cool Chinese decorations. There are many floors, sometimes more than 10 in the Karaoke buildings and each floor is lined with individual Karaoke rooms. Inside the rooms are big couches, a large TV and a screen to control the Karaoke system.

Michael thought that Karaoke was the best thing in the world!

We were there for an hour and none of the rest of us were allowed to sing.

He danced and crooned at the top of his lungs for the entire time. He was hilarious!

When it was time to go, he threw a complete screaming tantrum and made sure that everyone knew that we were leaving the building. He sure knows how to make an impression.

The kids had written James sweet notes for his birthday and we ended the day with a yummy birthday cake. We sure are blessed to have him as the father in our home. He is selfless in every way and always puts his family first…even on his own birthday.

Tomorrow we will receive Michael’s visa from the Consulate at 4:00 p.m. and we will immediately drive to Hong Kong to begin our long journey home. Next time we blog, we will be in America with our new little citizen!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Not My Idea Of A Comfortable Pillow

After Michael’s medical exam on Saturday, we went to the Shamian Island where the White Swan Hotel is located, to visit our friends in the little storefronts. There is a small community of store owners there and we became friends with them last year. Unfortunately, the White Swan’s closure for renovation has taken a huge toll on the store owners and many have had to close. It was fun to see our friends again and I even got to have a music lesson from the man that I purchased a Calabash (a Chinese flute-like instrument) from last year.

Sunday was a very needed “down day” at the hotel. It was good for both Michael and us.

This morning we returned to the medical clinic to have Michael’s TB test read. Gratefully it was negative, which means that everything is on track for tomorrow’s Consulate appointment. The medical staff will prepare a report and submit it to the Consulate tomorrow morning.

After the medical clinic, we went to the Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King, Zhao Mo from the Han Dynasty (~122 B.C.). The tomb was discovered in 1983. The tomb itself is still intact and you can walk down into it. Many of the burial relics are preserved in the museum, as well as a collection of 2000 pillows from the time period that were made from ceramics. Apparently, pillows in China used to be from hard ceramic or stone squares. I can't imagine how the people from that period didn't wake up each morning with headaches!

On top of the museum, military men were practicing their martial art combat moves on each other. Michael was completely fascinated and we had a very difficult time convincing him that it was time to leave. One thing for sure…I NEVER want to upset a member of the Chinese military!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Buried Treasures

Tomorrow our facilitator is going to take us to the tomb of a king from the Han Dynasty. The tomb has been enclosed inside a museum that displays many of the treasures that were buried with the king. Although I am excited to see the relics and artifacts housed at the museum, I do not expect to witness anything more spectacular or precious than what I witnessed today...

This morning we took Michael to a very busy medical clinic for his medical exam for the Consulate. The clinic is different from the one that we went to last year with Jacob and is much nicer. One side of the clinic was dedicated to the processing of adoption medical exams. There were approximately 20 families there and all of them have the same Consulate appointment date as we do. When we went to the Consulate appointment last year, we were one of only a couple of special needs adoptions. This year was different.

When we walked into the clinic my breath was totally taken away. With only a couple of exceptions, the families were all holding children with special needs. There were children with cerebral palsy, limb differences, missing limbs, and corrected and non-corrected cleft palates. There were children who were missing eyes and were blind. There were children with non-obvious special needs but who suffer from internal health problems, many of them serious. And the beautiful part of that scene in the clinic was that each child was being held by their parents like the beautiful treasures that they are. I truly felt that once again, I was standing on sacred ground.

Although each adoption is unique and each process is different, there is one thing that is common among all international adoptions…they are NOT easy. They are extremely expensive, time consuming, personally invasive and emotionally draining. I do not know the specific sacrifices and struggles of each adoptive family in that clinic, but I know for certain that each family had them as they searched for their buried treasure. However, it was obvious that each family would do it all over again to be there holding their beautiful child. It was one of THE most awesome scenes that I have ever witnessed in my life and it inspired me to be a better person.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Leaving Hangzhou!

We were able to pick up our documents from the notary yesterday. It is always interesting to see the way other countries prepare legal documents. Lauren’s birth certificate from Kazakhstan was sewn together instead of using staples. A seal was then glued over the thread on the back of the document. In China, books are created with the original documents, English translations, and multiple notaries. The pages are then stacked and glued together. It was nice to finally have the documents and know that we were one step closer to going home.

After we received the notaries, we got to take Michael to the Pagoda that overlooks the West Lake in Hangzhou. Hangzhou is hot and extremely humid and therefore it is very green and pretty. From the top of the pagoda, we could see all of West Lake and the city.

The pagoda had a pond that was full of turtles (“uguay”) and Michael was absolutely fascinated with them.

Our time at the pagoda was cut short as Michael got too hot and over stimulated with the large crowds and threw a very impressive temper tantrum. Man…that boy has some lungs!

Michael’s passport was ready today and we picked it up on our way to the airport. It took about 1 ½ hours to drive to the airport and we were quickly able to check in our luggage. We said “goodbye” to our fabulous facilitator and went to our gate. As the time came and went for us to board our flight to Guangzhou, we were told that the plane was delayed due to weather in Guangzhou. The previous three flights to Guangzhou that day had been cancelled. We started to panic as we really needed to get to Guangzhou today in order to have Michael’s medical ready for our Consulate appointment on Tuesday. The Lord blessed us and we were able to board the plane within an hour.

This was such an important day for Michael. He left the city that he has lived in for his entire life. He was a complete trooper on the plane and very much enjoyed the take off, landing and turbulence. We landed in Guangzhou a couple of hours later and our facilitator met us at the airport.

The White Swan Hotel is closed for renovation until 2014. This is the hotel that all the adoptive families used to stay at while in Guangzhou. The famous “Red Couch” (a couch where adopted children are photographed on) is at the White Swan and Mattel provides adoptive families with a Barbie and her little Chinese adopted baby girl. Since all United States families have to exit through the US Consulate located in Guangzhou, the hotel was always full with adoptive families and it was nice to be able to bond with them. So…we are sad that the White Swan is closed this year. However, we are at a very nice hotel in the city and we have already met a couple of other adoptive families here. There is an immediate bond when you meet other families who are going through this experience at the same time.

It is nice to be on the second big leg of our trip here in China. Although we absolutely love China, we are getting very anxious to be back home with our children. Tomorrow we will go to the medical clinic to have Michael’s medical exam for the Consulate.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Our Starfish

The Story of the Starfish, by Loren Eisley:

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, "What are you doing?"
The youth replied, "Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die."
"Son," the man said, "don't you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can't make a difference!"
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, "I made a difference for that one."

Today we were able to take Michael and visit the orphanage where he has spent the past seven years. We visited the orphanage last year with Jacob, and that is how we met Michael. However, we didn’t get to spend much time with the other children last year. This year was different. The orphanage was very kind and invited us to spend a couple of hours with the children in Michael’s class and in the toddler class. I wish that I could share that experience with everyone. It is one that James and I will treasure forever. There is something incredibly humbling about being surrounded by these special little people. It is sacred ground and you know that you are with some of God’s most important little spirits. Although nothing can replace a loving home, the orphanage staff has done a wonderful job caring for these little people and it shows in the children’s behavior and demeanor. They were very quick to give us hugs and kisses and were extremely fascinated with our cameras. Michael’s class had even made a sign to welcome us.  It was an absolutely precious time. We are so grateful that we got to meet all of his little friends and get a small glimpse into his life for the past seven years…a life that we sadly were not able to be a part of.

As we left the orphanage, I was grateful for the time that we had spent with these children but also felt disheartened and overwhelmed. There are so many starfish throughout the world that need to be saved. I firmly believe that many, if not all, of these children have a forever family that is meant to find them and bring them home. Each child is waiting for a mother and father who can make the difference in their life. The orphanage staff asked us not to post photos of the children on the internet, but said that we could show them to friends who might be looking for their starfish. So, if you are having feelings or promptings that perhaps you have a little starfish of your own to find, we would love to show you photos and stories of some beautiful starfish that we have seen on a beach in Hangzhou, China.

The following pictures were taken on the exact spot that we met our precious son 15 months earlier. (You can view some pictures of that event in our first post "Meeting Our Son".)

This is the sign that Michael's class made on the chalk board to welcome us...

And this is Michael leaving the orphanage for the very last time...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

It's Official!

This morning was our adoption ceremony and Ding Cheng officially became Michael Ding Grover! It felt so good to finally hold the adoption decree and know that the little boy that has been our son in our hearts for over a year was now finally legally ours! So, in lieu of a baby announcement….

Jennifer and James Grover
Would like to announce the adoption of their son
Michael Ding Grover
Adopted in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China
June 5, 2012

To celebrate, we took Michael to West Lake and road a boat to Three Moon Island. Michael loved running around, yelling all sorts of things in Chinese that everyone else on the island could understand except for us. Hmmmm….a little awkward. He loves to have his picture taken and always holds up two fingers and yells, “Chiesay” (“Cheese!”) He is such a ham!

Monday, June 4, 2012

"Gotcha" Day!

There have been seven times in my life that I have fallen instantly in love with someone, the kind of love that changes your life and you realize that the relationship is eternal and that you would do anything in the world for this person. The first time was when I met my James and knew that we would be together forever, four times were when each of my birth children were placed in my arms as they came straight from Heaven, once in an orphanage in Kazakhstan when I looked over the side of a crib to see our beautiful Lauren and her huge brown eyes, and once on the floor of a Chinese Civil Affairs building where I was finally able to hold the little boy who’s photo on the Internet had stolen our hearts a year earlier. Today was the eighth time.

When we arrived at the Civil Affairs building, the orphanage staff had already arrived with Michael. We weren’t prepared for that! I couldn’t run fast enough down the hall to the room where I knew he was. We opened the door and there he was sitting in a chair eating a snack that the orphanage had put into his backpack. I didn’t want to frighten him so I just kneeled down in front of him and started to quietly talk to him. I was trying so hard not to cry! I didn’t want to scare him by crying, but I just couldn’t believe that we were together! After talking to him for just a minute or two, he reached into his backpack and pulled out a photo album that we had sent him along with a family photo that the orphanage had labeled for him. Michael pointed to the photo of me and said, “Mama”, then he pointed at me and said, “Mama.” Then he pointed at the photo of James and said, “Papa” and then pointed at James and said, “Papa.” My heart completely felt like it was going to explode! He then pointed at the photos of each of his new brothers and sisters and called them the Chinese names for big brother and big sister. He even pointed at Jacob and said, “Yi Chen” (Jacob’s Chinese name). And just like that, we were a family.

I can’t believe how natural this transition has been for Michael. He spent the rest of the day calling us “Mama” and “Papa,” reaching for our hands, and snuggling with us. He is also so smart! I was not prepared for that either! He speaks Chinese fluently and has all sorts of little songs and dances that he likes to perform throughout the day. By the end of the day, he had learned several English words and uses them appropriately. He can even repeat his siblings’ names! His fine motor skills are incredible and he draws Chinese characters. He is such a happy little boy! The highlight for me was that at the end of our first day together, Michael kissed me and said, “wo ai ni, Mama” (“I love you, Mama”). He did the same for James. We are so in love with this perfect little boy! He is such a gift! He is incredible in every way and we will be forever grateful that we have been given the honor of being his parents.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ready or we come!

After waiting for a year to finally be able to travel to bring home Michael, we left on Friday, June 1st. The special thing about that date was that it was Children’s Day in China, a day where children are celebrated much like mothers are celebrated on Mother’s Day. The trip was extremely long, but went very smoothly and we arrived in Hangzhou about 36 hours after our take off in Salt Lake…and we actually arrived with all of our luggage! It is nice to be back in China. There is a small part of me that feels like I am “home” when I am here. I suppose that I feel that way because our two precious sons are from here. It is a wonderful country with delightful people. The only problem is that it is so far away from our children in Utah! We were able to Skype with
the kids and that made us feel a little closer to them. Tomorrow we will travel to the Civil Affairs building where we will be reunited with our sweet Michael! We are so excited that I doubt that we will be able to sleep tonight, even if we are COMPLETLEY sleep deprived! We just can’t believe that we are actually here and just a few miles away from Michael!