Adoption Trip #5 – A God Appointment for Anna and Ethan’s Orphanage

Toby at the pearl market – so bizarre to see these walls with giant bags of pearls just sitting out – crazy!

Toby, Rachel, and Rinnah on Shamian Island

Part of our neighborhood

Heading over the bridge to Safari Park

Eventually the new kids will understand our weird obsession with mimicking random statues

Pandas were on the move today, even in the heat!

Bird’s eye view from the skyride at Safari Park

At the entrance to Ethan’s orphanage

Corridor to the medical wing

The playground in the courtyard of the children’s wing

Ethan with some of his teachers and workers

A peek into one of the kid rooms

The amazing lunch with the red bean & pork floss bun aka cinnamon roll front and center

Some of the local people we talked to who tried to help us find District 2

What’s left of District 2 looking toward the new District 1

Cordelia looking at what we finally realized was all that was left of Ethan’s finding spot

Sunday morning I went with the girls and Toby to the pearl market and Shamian Island. This was something our guide had arranged for all of us, but since last night was late and Ethan was struggling (and Nathan has zero interest in shopping!) we decided he would stay home with the younger three and have a very chill morning, and I would take the other kids to buy their souvenirs for their friends.

I’m so glad that other kids didn’t come, because this really was just hours of shopping, and most of it very touristy. We didn’t get a lot, but the kids did find the little things they were looking for, and I got Ethan a small carved dragon (his Chinese name means dragon) and Anna a little jade necklace as a keepsake.

Then we headed home and they went back to the pool. Neither of them show any fear at all. That in itself is a little scary – they have no sense of danger. I think they will both be swimming before we know it, as long as we can keep them alive long enough for them to learn to swim!

That night Nathan and I ran out to get takeout for dinner and have another pj evening. We hit the bakery for bread, the fruit store for (you guessed it!) fruit, and the 7-11 for water and yogurt for breakfast, and then went to our go-to place this trip, Noodles, the restaurant nearest our hotel. We ran into Molly, our guide from our trip with Noah and I was so glad to see her! We had loved her last time and wanted to have her again, but she was out of town our first week.

She immediately asked after Noah, and I invited her to stop by and see him, and she did! It was so sweet. But more than that, I think God arranged it. This whole time since our visit to Anna’s orphanage and the horror of my taking her away from her foster mother, Anna has pretty much shunned me. It’s been very hard on my heart. I have seen little cracks where she’ll sort of forget she’s mad at me and smile or something, but then she’ll remember and just shut me down. She’ll draw a picture and show it to Rinnah and Rachel and Baba very excitedly, and then pointedly stare me down and hold it behind her, absolutely letting me know that she doesn’t want to show me. It’s been hard.

Well, Molly ended up talking to Anna for over half an hour. Anna told Molly she doesn’t need me, she already has a mom (talking about her foster mother). And Molly said, “Yes, you have a China mom who will always love you and her job was to take good care of you until your forever mom came. And now this mom is your forever mom! She will always love you and take care of you for the rest of your life! You can always love your China mom, but you can love this mom too because she will always be your mom. She is your forever mom!” It was so sweet. And Ethan was listening to it all, and Noah even came up and said, “She is saying all nice things to Anna, she’s saying all good things.” We don’t think anyone had actually told Anna what adoption was. I think she knew that “getting a family” was a good thing at the orphanage, but it was very vague. When I had to take her from her foster mom, it was scary, and suddenly she didn’t know if she was safe. She wasn’t sure if she’d been kidnapped or what. And so Molly, who has years of experience helping adoptive families, explained the whole thing.

It was a turning point, and all night after that, I watched Anna turning that over in her mind. That night when I put her to bed, she had the most profound grief I’d seen. She was literally wailing and screaming that she wanted her foster mom, and it went on for so long that she eventually just wore herself out and fell asleep. I laid with her the whole time, and she didn’t acknowledge me, but she didn’t reject me either.

The next morning was our consulate appointment, and things were just different. When I got her up in the morning, she smiled at me. It was just a little, but it was a start. She still preferred Nathan, but Ethan is absolutely attached to Nathan and asking him to piggyback him everywhere, so when I tried to carry her, she let me.

We went to the consulate in the scorching heat with one other family we have really enjoyed getting to know, and everything with our case went smoothly. There was another family there who had been unable to get a passport for their child because the child’s provincial police computer system had crashed, and I felt so bad for them. They can’t leave without a passport, and it was really leaving them in a bind. Because of this, though, all of us there had to wait a long time. The kids were doing okay, but we got up very early, and they are showing it. I am realizing again how many things can go wrong with this process, and we are so fortunate that even with adopting two, things have for the most part gone smoothly with the paperwork.

We headed straight home to pick up the other kids – we left them together at the hotel because there’s no reason for them to go to the consulate – and then we headed to Safari Park. I didn’t know if this was a good idea. I really can’t describe the heat. It’s intense, and it’s also incredibly humid, so it’s like walking around in a sauna. You’re instantly drenched. We don’t even care what we look like anymore, we’re just surviving. And given how tired the kids already were, we thought this might be a very stupid idea. But again, we’re hoping they have some good memories of the trip, and Ethan has never been to a zoo before. He kept asking us, “Tiger?” and we would tell him, yes, we will see a tiger. “Panda?” Yes, a panda too! “Elephant?!” Yes, an elephant! Any animal name he could think of from his English class, he was asking us!

It really is an incredible zoo, and we only saw a bit of it, but it was so fun to watch them see it! At the beginning is a tram ride you can take through several exhibits, and Ethan’s face was absolutely priceless. He was over the moon! Every time we saw a new animal he would point it out and his eyes would get huge and if he knew it in English, he would yell it! He’s been trying really hard to use any English he knows. Reminds me very much of our trip with Noah.

After we got off, we bought everyone some food. Noah really doesn’t do well in the heat with his heart, so we were trying everything we could to keep him in decent comfort. We had a cooling towel for him (and all of us, saved our lives that day!) and a little handheld fan, and were really pushing water. He needed calories, though, and wasn’t feeling great already, so we shared some chicken and then got everyone ice cream as a treat.

Have I mentioned that many Chinese people think cold foods are very unhealthy? With Noah’s heart, they kept telling me that if I fed him cold foods, it would kill him. Somehow, though, we forget this, and it wasn’t until I handed Anna an ice cream cone that I realized she had no idea what it was or what to do with it. She’d never had one before.

I showed her how to eat it (I’m really selfless and giving and had to take several bites to show her adequately, of course) and she very tentatively took a bite. She was shocked at the temperature for about half a second and then she went to town. I have never seen so much ice cream on one person’s face. It was 100 degrees, so it was melting almost while we were watching and I went through a whole pack of Kleenex trying to save that girl’s shirt, but it was worth it. She thought it was the best thing ever!

One very interesting and encouraging thing for me today was that we’d put Anna in a stroller, and she kept asking that I push it. She didn’t want anyone else. And I left her in the shade with Rinnah and ran over to help Nathan carry the ice cream cones, and Rinnah said she kept asking for me and was worried until she saw me. This is really good. She spent the day showing me things too, and asking to be with me – it’s a big change and very welcome.

We got through maybe 20 percent of the park but it was absolutely teeming with people on summer break and so, so hot that I was feeling claustrophic. We went to see the pandas because that’s really something you come to China to see, and then we rode the new skyride. It was so neat, and took us over the whole park in a giant triangle – we saw so many animals, and the kids thought it was incredibly cool! They also weren’t scared at all which was interesting, because it’s pretty high up, but it was enclosed and we were all together in the car, so that seemed to make it fine.

By this time we were all melting and it was time to meet our driver. I was getting a headache and Anna had not had nearly enough water – we kept offering it but couldn’t get her to drink. We were happy we were heading back.

By the time we got home, I felt pretty awful and was getting a migraine. Nathan ran out for food (Noodles again! We are now regulars, but it’s close and so hard to walk farther when it’s this hot) and I had a little food and passed out. I woke up feeling worse than I ever have; I thought I was dying. I think I scared my daughter, Rachel, who was so sweet and kept trying to help me. I actually have no idea what happened the rest of that night – I was so incredibly sick. I even had the shakes like I got after I had my babies. I get migraines, but this was the worst one I’ve ever had. I wonder now, was it the dehydration? A reaction to MSG or something in the food? I have no idea, but it was brutal. I was able to get a migraine pill down finally and went to sleep, and slept for 12 hours until morning. Fortunately I have a rock star for a husband who just took over everything. I have no idea what I would have done if I was traveling alone.

I woke up feeling so much better. I had a migraine “hangover” but I didn’t feel like I was going to die. This was very good because we were heading to Shenzhen to visit Ethan’s orphanage and I would have been so upset if we couldn’t go. These are never easy days, but they are so important. We want to know where our kids were, how they grew up, get them pictures and any information we can. We know they are going to want that someday. And this was our only chance this trip, so I was so grateful we could still go.

Anna was not feeling well. I could tell right away, and I think she’s still dehydrated from yesterday and just out of whack. We were getting her to drink, but she wouldn’t eat breakfast which was a first for her – she’s been a very good eater. I packed extra clothes just in case, and we prayed she would make it through. Shenzhen is two hours without traffic.

We had a different guide today. Helen couldn’t make it because she had other families, so we went with Cordelia. She was wonderful. It turned out to be a good thing. Our driver was very nice, but seriously not smooth. Put that together with bad traffic and kids who have only rarely been in cars, and Anna was sick almost immediately. She threw up about 45 minutes into the trip, but somehow managed to miss most of her clothes and the people around her which was a miracle. I cleaned her all up, but it became pretty awful – we went through all the bags in the car and all the Kleenex and wipes we’d brought. I felt so bad for her and for everyone in the car! And of course, our guide told us this was because we’d given her cold ice cream the afternoon before. 🙂 But otherwise, she was unbelievably helpful.

We finally (thankfully!) got to Shenzhen, and Anna felt better when we got out of the car. Compared to Anna’s orphanage, Ethan’s was pretty astonishing. It was like the Taj Mahal of orphanages. We’d been told that Shenzhen is one of the richest cities in China because of it’s proximity to Hong Kong and clearly they have a lot more resources here. Also, Shenzhen is one of the youngest and fastest growing cities in China, going from a small village in the 1980’s to a city of over 20 million less than 40 years later.

Ethan’s orphanage is called a “Social Welfare Institute” and actually has one side for children, and another side for the elderly. It also has an entire medical clinic complete with housing for the doctors and nurses, and schooling for the children up through kindergarten. It was immaculate. We got to meet Ethan’s kindergarten teacher and see his preschool and kindergarten classrooms as well as the playground and “baby room.” We couldn’t take pictures in the baby room here either as we were told they were all napping. But when we peeked in, they were children between 3-7 or even older having more of a quiet time than naps. There was a lot of rustling and whispering and when we looked in, many curious faces. Even though there were 30 kids in the room, it felt more like an imposed break time from summer camp (they kept telling us it was summer camp when school was out). It was still an orphanage, but it was a lot less sad. I don’t know. I am happy that this was his experience, maybe more like a somewhat impersonal but not bad boarding school than an institution. His teachers were very happy for him to be adopted.

We were told one of his best friends was in the room, but we weren’t allowed pictures with him or to meet him. He cannot be adopted because he is not legally free, so they have to protect his privacy. We were able to ask Ethan for his name, and they said he could send an email to him through the orphanage if we wanted to.

We also found out the answers to several of our questions. The most important to us was where Ethan had been for several years – he had only been with his foster family for a year and a half, and we didn’t know what had happened to him in the time before that. We got our answers, and they were pretty positive, so that is good. We still haven’t been able to get many pictures of him during his life, and that makes me sad, but we’ve managed to track down a few, so that is something.

They asked if he wanted to see his foster mom to say goodbye. After what happened with Anna, we had no idea what the wise thing to do would be. We didn’t want him to feel like we denied him the opportunity, but we also didn’t want unnecessary trauma. In the end, we asked him if he wanted the opportunity to say goodbye to her. He said he did not want to see her. He was asked several times, but he refused. I think he saw what happened with Anna and he was afraid of feeling that sad. We did reassure him that we have his foster mom’s WeChat and we can stay in touch with her, and that seemed to be all he needed. We hope we didn’t hurt her feelings, but we explained what had happened with Anna and just said we thought he didn’t want to be that sad, and they said they would tell her.

After our tour, this orphanage had made us a beautiful lunch that we had with the director and a few of the staff. It really was a feast – they clearly went way out of their way for us. The director told me that “it’s not every day we have the United States family of one of our children visit, and we want to make you welcome because it is a long way.” Our guide confirmed that this was a very unusual and special lunch. We had a whole fish, shrimp (with heads on and everything, a funny thing to watch the kids figure out!), duck, choy sum, corn and pine nuts, stir fried cucumber, dumplings, shredded potato, sweet pea soup, scrambled eggs with onions, rice, cake, and a bread that I totally thought was cinnamon rolls and didn’t try but Rachel told me later was red bean bread with dried, shredded pork floss on top (she said I was glad I didn’t get that one and here I thought I was just being good not taking the cinnamon roll, lol!). It was very generous and kind of them! And I’m always happy to get food like this, because it’s a lot more like what our kids ate day to day, and that helps me to know what they are used to rather than what we get in restaurants which is more “special” and not family style food.

After that, we left and went to look for Ethan’s finding spot. This is an important piece of history for our kids, but it is also very hard. In Ethan’s case, it was even harder. It turns out that because Shenzhen is growing so fast, it’s pretty constantly being torn down and put up again even higher. The address we were given was not terribly specific, and was in the second district of a certain area, and it turns out that nearly that entire district had been razed two years prior. We wandered around a bit, and Cordelia was walking around and asking some local people if they knew where the second district was. We ran into an extremely kind policeman who called in and asked others older than him (he was very young!) if anyone remembered the second district or had information about this address, and he ended up leading us through all these alleyways, etc, into the old second district. It was not at all what I had imagined. And we had to talk to several people looking for information and move several times before we finally ran into one older local person who remembered exactly where it had been.

It was just a flat, razed expanse covered in gravel. They said everyone had been relocated and all the buildings were gone. The government was building a new area soon. This was very sad and hard. There is not much hope that our kids will find clues about their past if they want them someday no matter what we do, but this situation makes it pretty much an impossibility. I am sad for Ethan. We took the pictures we could and got the only clues there were, and headed back.

Traffic was so much worse on the way home, and so was Anna. It took nearly 4 hours to get back, and she was miserable and sick the whole time. We all felt so bad for her, and so drained from all we’d seen. I’ve never been so happy to see a hotel in my life! Even though it was such a hard day, I think it’s so important that we did it and I am grateful we were able to go. We’ve talked to many families who were not allowed to visit their child’s orphanage, and we feel blessed to have that insight into their early lives.

We are a little worried about Anna and traveling to Hong Kong tomorrow. She doesn’t have any fever, fortunately, and we are getting a little fluid into her, but she’s not eating. We’re really praying she feels better in the morning and that this is nothing serious. We picked up the Chinese equivalent of Gatorade (labeled Pocari Sweat which is gross and funny at the same time) to try to tempt her and get something into her, but she wasn’t very interested.

Tonight, Noah got a little teary and told me he really misses our dog Pepper, and he “just wants to go home now.” It has been interesting to watch Noah back in China. Nathan and I fully expected this trip to be hard on him, and thought we might see a good bit of regression or him feeling displaced by his new siblings or missing his foster family or any number of things. Almost none of that happened. He did have the one very hard night thinking about his foster parents after our experience with Anna’s foster mom, but otherwise he’s been amazing. He’s taken being back in China totally in stride, has been helpful and mature, has been helping to translate for the new kids, has been fine with not seeing his home city (which we did ask him about, but he understands it’s about 1200 miles away and just not feasible), and has generally just been great. We talked about how we’d like to bring the three Chinese kids back in several years to visit all their former homes, etc, and that seems to be enough for him. To see him actually teary while in China because he misses our home and knows it’s his is pretty awesome, actually. I am so grateful that he knows this. He was happy to come with us to China, but our home is where he belongs now and he was ready to go back. Although I know he will still miss the food in China!

I did run out later that night for just a few minutes to meet up with one other mom I’d been talking to online for months who was also staying in our hotel. It was so fun to meet face to face! I wish I’d had more time, but I couldn’t leave Anna any longer and she was busy with her new son too. You share all these experiences in the months leading up to the adoptions, and I know I will love seeing her new kiddo growing up home safe with his new family.

Tomorrow morning we leave for Hong Kong by train, and then home shortly thereafter. We are all ready.

2 Responses to “Adoption Trip #5 – A God Appointment for Anna and Ethan’s Orphanage”

  1. Trudie Harris says:

    I’m so glad God worked out the whole meet or not meet Ethan’s foster family issue. What a mature decision he made for himself! Also happy to hear God put just the right guide in your path to soothe Anna’s heart and put your relationship with her back on a firm foundation. My mother’s heart was aching for you. Continued prayers for you all as you adjust to being home.

  2. jennifer says:

    Thanks, Trudie! I agree, Ethan’s a mature little guy, and I think he did what he knew he needed to do to get through the day. And it’s a night and day change for Anna – I know call her my velcro kid because she’s always stuck to me! It’s amazing what God has done in such a short period of time. Thank you for praying for us!!!

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