Thursday, May 31, 2012

Slogging Along


May 31, 2012

Well, I can't speak for Aaron, but I've hit a bit of a low point on our trip right now and I'm trying to blaze through. I don't want to be one of those ultra-whiney Americans, and I really do count myself a good traveler, but today I'm missing home like CRAZY. It doesn't help that Maya's birthday is on Saturday (and we're missing it) or that we've been gone from home over a week already. I'm tired of the food, of navigating my way around unfamiliar places, of trying to fill all this empty time, this waiting, with something meaningful, and of the really hot, REALLY humid weather. What I'd give for a cool Pacific Northwest rainstorm!

I'm sorry if I sound a bit crabby about it all, and I'm sure it's just a normal part of this adoption trip, but I'd do anything to be back in my own house, sleeping in my bed, eating out of my refrigerator, spending time with Matthew AND my two other children, all together. I think I've started to cry at least a dozen times today--every time something reminds me of Maya and Sam, I get SO sad.

The Internet has been very patchy the past two days, and trying to Facetime or Skype with family members and friends has been virtually impossible. I'm feeling a little isolated and lonely, and mostly I'm just starting to go stir-crazy with all this time in our hotel room.

So good people, if you have a minute to send Aaron and me a little "hello" email, we'd REALLY appreciate it. Might help to lift our spirits a bit. And a kind thanks to those of you we've already heard from during the past couple of days. Honestly, emails from home are a HUGE boost to our spirits right now. 

I did have a chance to talk with Kaitlin this morning, and it appears that she was able to put the video of Matthew laughing on the blog'which I'm really glad you got to see. It's a wondrous thing, this transformation from orphanage kid to Russell kid. It doesn't happen quickly'it's very slow, like baby steps, and we still feel like there are so many things about Matthew that we don't know. But on Monday it felt like we were babysitting someone else's kid, and today, Thursday, we feel like he's our own. He smells like us, his body is familiar to us, his behaviors and patterns are beginning to be known to us. 

Don't get me wrong--we haven't changed him really at all (okay, except for maybe his smell, since we've given him a bath, dressed him in clothes from home, and snuggled him next to our bodies about a hundred times now). We're just getting to know this amazing little boy who is our son. We're learning (slowly) to read his cues, to help him get what he needs, and to care for him not just physically but emotionally too.

So here are a few things we know about our son:

When he's tired, he sucks his thumb and makes this sing-songey noise with his voice'like a descending five-note major scale: humma, humma, humma, humma, humma.

He is really into his bottle. Even if it appears that he's fallen asleep while eating, HE HASN'T. And cursed be the mama or dada who takes away the bottle while it's in the boy's mouth!

When we lay him down on his back to change his diaper, he immediately sticks his right thumb in his mouth. He also thinks that 'back time' is tickling time, and he begins to laugh without anyone even touching him.

He can entertain himself for a really long time playing on his stomach. We try to make sure he doesn't play alone for long, but he has a very long attention span with toys. This is likely due to his life in the orphanage for so long.

Along with the Little People bus and the yellow giraffe, his favorite thing is the blow-up beach ball we brought along. He loves to hit is with his palm, causing his entire body to jiggle. Then he gives a huge smile.

When Matthew's tired, he reaches up his arms for a 'hug.' This means he wants to be held close, with his arms wrapped around a grown-up's neck. Aaron figured this one out'and man alive, are those two boys cute, the little one all wrapped up in the big one's arms.
Matthew sleeps best when he's close to one of us'in our arms, in the Ergo strapped to my body, or on the bed beside us. And after so many months of sleeping alone, we're happy to let him sleep next to us as much as he likes!

I guess that's all from Guangzhou today. We do appreciate your continued thoughts and prayers during this journey. Perhaps this trip is a little like running a marathon: you're always a little anxious starting out, but then there's the thrill of the race that sustains you for the beginning miles. But then somewhere between miles 12-15, you begin to lose steam and get tired. The heavy fatigue sets in--you hit the wall, but you have to keep going and push through it.

I think I've hit the wall today--but there's no way to get over it but just keep going, so keep going I will. We will. And in a few days I'll be blogging about coming home, and this will all just be a memory.

But a blessed memory, truly.

At the Chen Family Folk Arts Center


This photo is especially for Nathan. I'll leave you to figure out why!


With Sarah Gao, our guide, at the oldest Buddhist temple in Guangzhou



A family shot at the temple


The famous White Swan where so many adoptive families used to stay


 Matthew taking a turn at walking






Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Matthew's delightful giggle

Here's the video of Annemarie tickling Matthew.  It's wonderful!

PS: If the video is not playing correctly, try a different browser.  It isn't working for me on Chrome as of tonight (5/30), but works on Firefox.  



Tuesday, May 29, 2012

An Ordinary Day

May 30, 2012
By Annemarie

It’s hard to believe we’ve had our boy almost two full days already. In some ways it feels like only hours ago, but I suppose in some ways it also feels like he’s been ours forever.

I’m going to try and email Kaitlin a video Aaron took this morning of me tickling Matthew. His giggle, when it comes, is infectious and it lights up his entire face (and mine, and Aaron’s, too). It seems like we wear him out quickly. It’s just 10 a.m. here, Matthew woke up at 7, and he’s already asleep for a quick morning catnap on the bed. He’s quite the thumb-sucker when he’s sleeping. Sometimes when he stirs a little bit, then he sucks a little to soothe himself and fall back to sleep.

I am very aware of all the ways living in an orphanage for 18 months has impacted our son. Last night, as I fed him a bottle, I started to cry thinking about all the months he’s been without a mama or a daddy. He was tucked into my arm, near my breast, as he sucked his bottle down, and I had flashbacks to nursing both Sam and Maya in that position. I was tickling Matthew’s feet, same as I would do for my first two babies, and it dawned on me that this is the first time my sweet boy has had a mama to hold him as he eats and to tickle his feet. For 18 months of his life, he’s been quite an autonomous little person, during a time of life when every single human being should have a parent to care for them.

Yesterday, as I wrote in my prior blog post, we went back to the Civil Affairs office for more paperwork, and since I was no longer nervous about meeting my son (because he was in my arms when we returned there), I turned my attention to soaking in all that was around me. I was so struck by all the children in the room who had, only a few days prior, been without parents, but who now had consistent, loving parents to care for them—what a difference that makes.

But I was also aware of all the children in the world who have NO parents—and some who will never have parents. The caregiver from Matthew’s orphanage told us there are 30 children who live in the XuWen County Social Welfare Institute, and about 20 of them are available for adoption. That means at least 10 children there have significant enough special needs that they cannot be adopted. They will live in that orphanage until they are of adult age, and then they will continue to be cared for by the Chinese government, probably in institutions. I realize that I take for granted how lucky I am to have parents and to have grown up in a loving home. I also take for granted the kinds of privileges my two biological children enjoy, always knowing parents and a stable environment. But when I start to think about al the children in the world who have no families, I feel an abyss open up in my heart, and I almost can’t stomach that kind of loss and unfairness. It makes me SO grateful for this child sleeping on the bed beside me—grateful that we felt called to this path of adoption, that this sweet little person ended up matched with our family.

And even though there is nothing we can do about the months he wasn’t with us, we can love him a little extra these days, hug him more, kiss him, snuggle him, and help him know what it means to have a family, to have a place where he will always belong.

It’s miraculous to me, really.

Life is simple here in China. The daily tasks of parenting come natural to both Aaron and me, but getting to know this new person and trying to meet his needs well takes energy and focus. He is quickly over-stimulated, and while we want him to feel secure and cared for, we also want to help him learn about the world at his own pace.

It seems like his favorite thing to do is ride on my front in the Ergo carrier. He holds me tightly with his arms, but his head looks all around, taking in the many wondrous sights of Shamian Island—the children, the grandparents doing Tai Chi, the many games of Mahjong and chess that we see being played. I’m sure many of the sounds and smells seem strange to him too, but he’s a little adventurer—taking it all in, watching with his big, brown eyes.

Today at 2:30, we go to the Guangzhou Police Station to apply for Matthew’s Chinese passport—one more step towards coming home with our boy. Saturday morning is his physical examination. Sunday we move to the Garden Hotel, to be closer to other WACAP (our agency) families who are here in Guangzhou. Tuesday is our appointment at the U.S. Consulate. Wednesday we get his passport and travel visa. And next Thursday, a day and a week from today, we get to go home—with our son!

 Oh, and a little note for all the Chinese Adoptive Parents reading my blog:

The White Swan is totally closed for renovation now—we had heard that we could at least go inside and take a nostalgic photo on the “red couch,” but they have it all blocked off and the lobby has turned to piles of concrete dust. We also can’t walk around the backside and see the fountain and the gardens—that’s all blocked off too. We did have dinner at Lucy’s last night (It’s still there) and I had a coffee from Starbucks yesterday too, walking amidst all the wedding photos being taken in the center garden/park of the island. I took some laundry to Amy’s, which is just across the street from the White Swan, and I bought my kids some Chinese outfits from the vender right next to the 7-Eleven that’s across from the White Swan. It’s still quiet and lovely—although I’m sure it used to be filled with many more adoptive parents than we are seeing this week. I’ll bet you all remember this island vividly and fondly!

 A sleepy boy taking a morning nap


A warm bath before bed


Being snuggled by Mama after bath


Sweet sleeping Matthew



Monday, May 28, 2012

Paperwork Day

May 29, 2012
-Annemarie-

Just a quick note to say hello and give an update on how we are doing. We spent the morning back in the Civil Affairs office doing paperwork. Matthew slept ALL NIGHT last night, from 8pm until 7am. Wow! I don’t think Maya or Sam ever did that, especially the first few nights we had them.

Matthew is not showing much interest in solid foods (although the woman from the orphanage reports that he eats them regularly) but he loves being fed a bottle, so we’re sticking with that for now. He’s doing SO well—such a sweet boy with kind brown eyes. He continues to suck his thumb, and he’s really mellow. But he’s also starting to engage with both Aaron and me. He likes to raise arms up and down: “Up and Down,” we say as we hold his hands, and he grins at us. He’s also taken to holding our hands and trying to walk around. When I think of all he’s gone through the past 48 hours, I’m amazed that he’s as solid and steady as he is. We are giving him plenty of hugs, kisses, and snuggles—virtually all the time, except for sleeping time. It feels like making up for lost time in many ways.

We’ve been so encouraged by all the other folks here adopting children. Today at the Civil Affairs office, I had a wonderful conversation with a family from the Netherlands who are here adopting their third daughter. It was neat to hear about their process (very different from ours) and imagine their adorable daughter growing up speaking Dutch instead of English.

We are thinking about changing hotels this weekend, and moving into the downtown area to The Garden Hotel. It’s another hotel recommended by our agency, and there’s really no reason to move except we think the change might be good for us. We’re in Guangzhou 11 nights all told, and we think a little move and new space in the middle might feel really good. Plus we’ll be in the same hotel as other WACAP families and can possibly do some meals or activities with them.

Just wanted to also give a little shout out to Sarah Gao, who is our WACAP guide here in Guangzhou. She’s fantastic—so patient with all my questions, so good at the process and guiding us through, and also so fun. We actually hope she comes to Seattle again soon so maybe she’ll come visit us. We get on so well with her, and it’s wonderful to have someone who can translate for us and help us navigate this journey.

That’s all for now—Matthew’s sound asleep in his crib (mid-day nap) and Aaron’s watching soccer (AGAIN!). We just had cheese and crackers for lunch, as we’re a little tired of eating out, and we plan a walk on Shamian Island and a trip to the playground this afternoon. A pretty relaxing day for us in all.






Thoughts from an Adoptive Dad


A few things to mention at the outset, I’m not a blogger. In fact, I’ve never blogged and what blogs I have read have been few. So what I put forth I don’t know if it meets blogger standards. Second, English is like a second language for me (it is also why I married a woman with her M.A. in English Literature). So be ready for various comma splices, tense problems, etc. Third it is approximately 6 in the morning. Granted I actually awoke at 4 AM (not because of Matthew or anything), but for some reason my body kicks into gear around that time. I usually find myself reading . . . there is not much else to do in a hotel room in a foreign country. It does give me time to reflect and process (and we psychologists like to process).

With the disclaimers aside, I can begin. While one can anticipate and concoct various scenarios in one’s head about “Gotcha Day,” there is really no way to fully capture it in one’s mind. It is not until you gather up an assortment of toys, food, gifts, passports, etc. and load up into a van; before your start to realize “holy crap…this is not at all what I imagined”. Now with little less than 20 minutes before the van arrives at the Civil Affairs building (the place where you will meet your child) do you start to readjust your thinking and emotions. But what are you readjusting? You still don’t know anything. You are just driving in a van with other people. (In our case, the couple in front of us this is their second international adoption and they are also a mixed bag of emotions—not very comforting, mind you, for us newbies). Your wife, who you know so well, gives off the classic nonverbals of her anxiousness. We hold hands periodically, smile nervously at one another. “Are we there yet?” shouts our 4 year old companion in the van. While his mom politely addressed him, I’m thinking “I sure in the heck hope not. I’m NOT ready for this.”

Then the thoughts return of other times and spaces where I had similar feelings (e.g., birth of my other kids, marriage, etc.). This brings a bit of relief to me and more regulated breathing to avoid passing out. (Yes, people…at some of these other events I was in fact about ready to hyperventilate and pass out. I just looked composed—so I thought anyway.)

The time elapses quickly and we are now unloading in front of a less than stellar looking building. In fact, we are unloading at a side entrance of a very non-descript building. “What is this place? This is nothing what I envisioned. What in the world are we doing here again?!?…Oh yeah, Matthew…stay focused.” I look at the building again. “Oh come on…serious this is the building!?!”

A quick elevator trip up doesn’t bring much comfort either, especially as we exit. We are hit with deafening cries of babies and children (and parents too). Think large preschool classroom, but with more chaos and no teacher. I scan the room seeing some parents bewildered, others more anxious than I, still others overjoyed by holding their new child. The children are experiencing similar reactions in their own ways. A little girl, barely walking stands frozen and staring at her new father. Her hand tentatively grasping his hand. Another small child behind us wails for her “mommy” (AKA: her orphanage worker). Her new mom gently attempts to sooth her. I can imagine the pain of this new mother’s experience. The waiting, the hope and love to be met with a child wanting only the familiar—and you are not it. Another little one clings tightly to his adopted mother.

Pictures and tears abound. I’m overwhelmed and tears well up. There is beauty, pain, hope and nearly every raw human emotion sitting there for me. You can’t anticipate this. No book or story given by another adopted parent can describe this. This is my experience and mine alone. Here I am…sitting and soaking up all of this.

And yet, Matthew hasn’t even entered the room. We are still awaiting his arrival. How fitting I guess. Maya and Sam’s arrivals, although on their due dates, came at the hour they were ready…not on my timing. In a strange way, this familiar expectant father space of being fully present was a comfort for me. We are told Matthew’s on his way and he’ll be here shortly. Not that “shortly” means much for me at this point, but I take it in. Time goes by and other families are united or departing with their child. More pictures. More tears. More joy.

Then in walks a caregiver with a little person in her arms. The baby is dressed in blue, but with his head turned away. “That has got to be him,” I say to myself, but I don’t want to over do my anticipation and excitement as this my not be him. With a thumbs up and a little wink from our assistant Sarah, Annemarie and I make short time of the distance remaining that separate us all from uniting. Think Matrix…busy chaotic room becomes nearly motionless and quiet as I move through this space—effortless—towards my son. Matthew is passed off by a warm smiling woman, who seems just as out of place as we are. Matthew clings to Annemarie, and we all embrace.

I can’t do justice for the moments thereafter, not with words anyway. It is kind of like trying to describe some personal spiritual experience, a sunset or sunrise, birth of a child, etc. No words. Just tears. (Yes, I do cry. Guys who can cry and admit it are stronger than any dumb stoic image our USA culture and media attempts to instill). 

“This is our son! This is my son!” these words evenly formulate within my head. I am proud, excited and blessed. Tears continue to well up for me even as I write. I look forward to my life moving forward with our new son today—who enters our family, our extended family and dear friends.

~Aaron

It's a Boy!


May 28, 2012

We are happy to announce the joyous arrival of our third child: Matthew Oscar Xu-Bo Russell, on his 18-month birthday.

At approximately 2:30 pm today, May 28, 2012, Aaron and I arrived at the Civil Affairs Office of Guangdong Provence with our guide, Sarah, and another WACAP family from Texas who were adopting their second son. Neither Aaron nor I had any idea what to expect.

When we walked in the room, the sound of wailing children and excited adult voices were deafening—it was the most intense moment I think I’ve ever experienced. We looked around for our son, realizing that it was likely he was already there, but after making a circle of the room without finding him, Sarah learned that he hadn’t yet arrived. I was already crying, and I joined a corner of other waiting adoptive mamas, one of whom told me, “I know exactly how you feel,” and we cried some more together. The community of shared experiences was such a blessing for me.

We watched some other families meet their children for the first time (a very emotional experience) and finally in walked a woman carrying a boy about Matthew’s size and age. Was this our son? We couldn’t see his face, which would have been a dead give-a-way, so we asked Sarah to go check for us. She walked over, talked to the woman, looked up and gave us the thumbs up. OUR BOY!

Both Aaron and I flew across the room toward the child, and when our sweet Matthew turned his head around, we knew it was him in a second. I, of course, started to sob and reached out my arms for him. “Mama?" the woman asked Sarah, pointing to me. Sarah nodded, and the woman handed my son to me. In an instant I was holding him, and he gripped me so tightly, I was startled. He didn’t make a single sound, just looked at my face and then around the room and then at my face again. Aaron was right beside me, and together we welcomed our third child.

A bit later, we had a chance to sit down with the woman from the orphanage, whose name is Deng Ying Hua, and she answered a bunch of questions for us about Matthew’s past 18 months. The whole time, our boy clung to me, and then to Aaron, a bit bewildered. He was obviously interested in all the noises and activity in the room, but he wasn’t scared like I thought he might be—in fact, he appeared mostly curious.

Around 3:30, Deng Ying Hua bid Matthew a cheerful, hopeful goodbye and left, and soon after, we climbed back into the WACAP van with our son. I had brought the Ergo carrier, and it was the perfect ride for our boy, who wanted to look out at the world but also held tightly to whomever carried him.

We made a quick stop at a Chinese grocery store to get some formula (a brand recommended by the orphanage), diapers, two little spoons and bowls, and some snacks for Aaron and me. (Ask me about this grocery store experience in person--it's a little too personal to blog about.) Then Sarah deposited us back at our hotel.

Alone together for the first time, Aaron, Matthew and I spent several hours getting to know each other. I undressed my boy and changed his diaper, then dressed him again in a pair of pajamas that had belonged to his cousin Parker. A bit later, Aaron went out to get some dinner for us, and I took a short bath with Matthew. He seemed to really enjoy the warm water.

He played and played, loving the attention from two doting parents. It’s amazing how much we know about him after just being with him for a little over six hours. His favorite toys were the Little People bus, the cars from Bapa, the Little People and animals, and a big colorful beach ball that I brought and blew up for him.

Matthew doesn’t say any words, but he makes all sorts of sing-songy sounds, and although he’s not walking, he’s very skilled at the army crawl and pulling himself up on things. He’s not such a good sitter yet, but he likes to be on his tummy and has good motor skills in general. His eyes are deep brown, his forehead high, and his smile lights up his entire face. He's also a thumb-sucker--his right thumb, mostly, although he'll suck on either. He also likes to play with his hands, watching them carefully. He can cross his fingers, and he also makes the sign language letter "n" with his left hand sometimes (Maya, I know you know what this is!).

He’s quite chubby—sturdier than we expected, although I’m guessing he’s still small for his size. In terms of his development, he seems to be at about the 10-12 month mark (I’m sure a result of living in an orphanage for virtually his entire life). He's  really skilled at handling a bottle on his own, although Aaron and I have made a pact to not ever let him drink a bottle without one of us holding him, an opportunity for us to start making up for all the months we’ve lost!

Around 8:00, I made him a small bottle (he had one earlier in the evening too), wrapped him in a blanket, turned down the lights, and held him until he was almost asleep. Just as his eyes were about to close for good, I put away the bottle, gave him about 20 kisses on the cheek and head, and laid him in his crib, on his back. He made one turn onto his belly, then shut his eyes, and now he’s sound asleep.

Whew. We survived a very emotional day, grateful to have our son here with us, and glad to be one step closer to getting home to Maya and Sam so we can begin our lives as a family of five. The only thing strange about today was that Maya and Sam weren’t here to celebrate in this amazing “birth” with us.

I can’t thank our friends and family enough for all the love and support we received today. My inbox was literally flooded with messages and words of encouragement. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put into words just what this experience was like—if you’ve done it before, you know what is deep in this mama’s heart tonight. But if not, let me just say that right now I feel the same kind of amazement and wonder staring at the beautiful boy sleeping in the crib next to me that I felt the night that Maya and Sam were each born. Every child is a gift, an amazing blessing from God, and I can’t imagine a more perfect addition to the Russell family than Matthew, this sweet boy whom we are so grateful belongs to us now.

And to you, dear ones—he belongs to you too. Thank you for walking beside us thus far. We hope you will continue to join us on this adoption journey—from tonight until the day we land back in Seattle and beyond.

A first family hug and photo (I'm still crying, if you can't tell)


Our family with Matthew's caregiver from the orphanage, Deng Ying Hua


Aaron holds Matthew


In front of Civil Affairs Office sign


Playing animals with Mama


Our boy is a thumb sucker!


He LOVES that yellow car


Happy from all the attention









Sunday, May 27, 2012

Settling in to Guangzhou


It’s pouring here in Guangzhou as we sit in our hotel room waiting out another monsoon. My heart is a layered mess this afternoon, sorting through all the things my mind is thinking, trying to prepare for what we have ahead. We arrived at the Guangzhou East train station just as the rain started to pour, and thank goodness Sarah, our guide, was waiting for us with her gentle demeanor and her smile. It was quite a chance traveling from vibrant Hong Kong to Mainland China, which really reflects the Communist regime that has been in power here for more than half a century.

The city streets are dirty and busy, full of people, little shops (like in Hong Kong), cars (although here they drive on the right side of the street as opposed to Hong Kong, where they were on the left) and this tropical landscape. Our turn onto Shamian Island was a welcome relief to the bustle of the downtown area, and here, true to form, are tree-lined streets, parks, old buildings, and a slower pace.

Our hotel is OLD—with high ceilings trimmed in ornate molding, large leaded-glass doors that lead out onto a large tiled patio (very French/British in feel) and a bathroom with sliding mirrored doors that either close to create a separate bathroom area or open, making the bathroom part of the larger hotel room. We have a large, free-standing bathtub, separate shower, large refrigerator and counter area for food and making coffee/tea, a king-sized bed, and a light blue metal crib on rollers for Matthew.

Of course I got straight to work making this little space feel like home, as we’ll be here for the next 11 nights. First thing, I unloaded Matthew’s suitcase. I used the wicker laundry basket as a toy bin for the toys we brought and cheerfully arranged the books, rings, blocks, Little People, and wooden cars (thanks, Bapa!). In Matthew’s crib, I put soft books and his stuffed doggie, and I hung two blankets on the side—one is the “silkie” I made for him that matches the one we sent. The other is a fleece blanket with bright-colored dots that was one of Sam’s favorites.

Then I set up a food-eating area with bottles and snacks for Matthew, hung my clothes up in the closet, lined my shoes under the bench, and found a good corner for Aaron’s suitcase. It’s not 1001 Rucker, but it feels a little bit like home to me.

It’s funny because even though this is new space, I already have a sense that we’ll be quite sentimental about our little room (8312) here in the west building of the Victory Hotel—and when we leave in 11 days, we’ll feel like we’re leaving part of us behind.

When we got to the hotel, we saw another adoptive family standing outside. They had a little boy in a front pack, sound asleep—I think he also had a cleft lip and palate. By the sound of their English, I think they must be from somewhere in the South. I greeted them, commented on how cute their son is, and told them we are meeting our son tomorrow. They replied warmly with congratulations and “best of luck.” It’s really nice for us to see other families here doing what we are doing. It makes us feel slightly less crazy than we might otherwise.

I have to admit that tonight I’m on the verge of tears in anticipation of what awaits us tomorrow. We found out from Sarah, our guide, that we meet Matthew at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow. For those of you on the west coast, that’s 11:30 Sunday night for you. So when you wake up Monday morning, we’ll be sound asleep with our boy in our room.

I don’t know how to feel, exactly. It’s all kind of overwhelming, but it’s also just as I imagined it. WACAP has prepared us well and supported us along the way, and we’re so grateful for each other and for Sarah, our guide, who will help us navigate this complicated process of Chinese adoption here in China. Some moments I want to burst into tears, pack up my suitcase, and get on the next flight home. But then I think of our son, waiting for us, for a lifetime with us, and I think of all that my heart has done to prepare for this moment. I know we are strong enough to show up tomorrow and take that boy in our arms.

In some ways, this feels like labor: I remember being scared, anxious, worried, and excited at the end of my pregnancies with Maya and with Sam. I had no idea what to expect—didn’t know if it would hurt or make me sad or scared . . . or how it would all turn out. I admit to you honestly that I feel the same way here tonight. Home feels farther away than it ever has before, and what we are about to face feels in some ways insurmountable.

But then I think about Matthew—about the transition that is ahead of him—and I take a deep breath and KNOW that I have to do this well, if only for him. He needs me and Aaron to be brave and loving—he needs us to be kind and intentional with him. We will get through this together, come hell or high water, and we will live it as best as we can, if only for Matthew’s sake.

So PLEASE pray and think about us tonight (Sunday) as you go to bed. We need all those American wishes sent across the vast Pacific Ocean to surround us here tomorrow as we get up, spend some quiet hours together in the morning, then hop in the van with Sarah to go meet our SON!!!!

One logistical thing: My regular email is NOT working here in China (nor is Facebook or any of my blogs). So please use my hotmail email address to contact me from here on out. It is annemarie_russell@hotmail.com. It seems like I can forward any new messages from my regular email to my hotmail account, so I will get to them eventually, but if you want to reach me directly, please send stuff to my hotmail account. Kaitlin and Megan, the messages you sent me that I got today, I was able to email. Amy H., I got your message before we left Hong Kong.

Thank you all for your emails and your love. We REALLY appreciate hearing from you. And don’t worry about making any comments on the blog because we won’t be able to read them until we get home. If you want to reach us, please email!!

 On the train to Guangzhou

A shot of our traveling companions

Aaron in our room at the Victory Hotel

Matthew's crib all ready for him

The toy basket (ie. laundry basket)



Saturday, May 26, 2012

Second Day in Hong Kong


Another Day in Hong Kong
May 26, 2012

We spent our second of two days in Hong Kong today. While it wasn’t the day we expected at the outset, it’s been a full day of walking around this lively city.

We headed out from our hotel with a plan to get to Hong Kong Island (our hotel is on Kowloon Island) and ride the tram up to the top of Victoria Peak, the classic view in Hong Kong. We rode the MTR (subway) to the bottom of the island, rode the enchanting Star Ferry across the bay, and arrived on Hong Kong Island just in time to experience our first real monsoon.

I can’t tell you how hard it rained. Sheets of water and heavy winds pounded us. We ran for cover and were fortunately able to stay indoors or under walkways for most of the time it was raining.

While inside, we experienced three different Hong Kong malls—a very different side of this culture. Everything was so high end, and expensive, and there were items for sale everywhere we looked. I was reminded of why I detest malls so much—whether in Hong Kong or in Washington. It was interesting to note that most of the advertisements in the malls featured Caucasian people, even though almost every person we see here is Asian. Part of the western influence on Hong Kong, I suppose.

After surviving a bombardment of capitalist consumerism, we escaped to the Hong Kong History Museum, where we walked through a huge exhibit on the history of Hong Kong. Both Aaron and I learned so much about this area, and there were many connections to Guangdong Provence and its history as well, which is where Matthew lives. It was so nice to be out of the rain and also be learning about this region’s rich past.

We’re back at our hotel resting before dinner and another walk around the city. We leave for Guangzhou tomorrow at 12:15 p.m. We’ll travel on the regional railway, arriving in Guangzhou around 2:00 p.m. Our guide, Sarah, will meet us at the train station and transport us to our hotel, and she’ll also get us situated with anything we need.

We have enjoyed our days in Hong Kong, but we’re really most excited for the real reason behind this trip: meeting Matthew. Monday is the day, although we don’t know exactly when. Matthew’s orphanage is seven hours south of Guangzhou, and we hear that he will likely travel by van along with his orphanage director. We still don’t know if they’ll come on Sunday night and spend the night somewhere in Guangzhou or if they will come on Monday morning. It’s possible that we’ll get to meet him either Monday morning OR Monday late afternoon, depending on the travel plans.

Either way, he has two more nights when he’s in the care of the Xuwen County Social Welfare Institute, and after that, he will be our boy forever. We are SO excited to meet him—to be with him and get to know him. I’m sure for him, he will experience a whole mix of emotions, some of them traumatic and anxiety producing. We are praying for his peace in this transition, as he leaves the only home he has ever known to become part of his family.

We know the good that’s about to happen for him, but even amidst good there is deep loss, and for him there will also be anxiety and sadness. He’ll be put into the arms of two strange-looking white people, people he has never seen or met before, and the only people who are familiar to him will leave him behind. I am grateful that at 18 months, a child doesn’t carry detailed memory for long. But I also know that trauma and loss remain with young children, even though they can’t put a concrete memory or a description with what happened.

We are so grateful for all your warm thoughts and prayers during this time. I have no idea what to expect once Matthew is with us. I hope I can still regularly blog and post photos—but I’m not sure. Also, we will be leaving Hong Kong and entering into Mainland China, where Internet is strictly controlled. I hear it’s likely that I won’t be able to access this blog myself, which is why I have asked my friend Kaitlin to take over posting notes and photos for us. We have been Skyping with Maya and Sam for the past couple of days, and I’ve also been using Facetime to talk with both my brother and my sister, but starting tomorrow that might not be possible either. Mainland China feels somewhat like an unknown, but I will be able to tell you more tomorrow evening at this time, once we are there.

We are staying the Guangdong Victory Hotel—click on the name and it will link you to some photos of it. It’s a 100-year-old hotel originally built as a bank during the British occupation of China. The hotel is located on Shamian Island, which is a peaceful oasis away from the bustle of Guangzhou. The U.S. Consulate used to be housed on Shamian Island, and down the street from our hotel is the famous White Swan Hotel, where most all the adoptive families used to stay. But now the Consulate has moved to downtown Guangzhou, and the White Swan is under construction, so we decided to stay away from the noisy city on an island lined with trees and parks. It’s sure to be lovely.

That’s it from Hong Kong. Aaron says hello to everyone also. I’ve asked him if wants to write some posts, and he might as the trip goes on, but for now he’s content to let me be the family journalist.

Many adventures and much joy still await us. We continue to appreciate all the email messages of love, support and kindness as we are far from home. The kids miss us, but they report that they’re having a really good time with my parents, which is a blessing to us. We don’t like being away from them, but we’re counting the days (12, to be exact!) until we will be home and can settle in as a family of five.

A view up Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon (Called the shopping "Golden Mile")

On the Star Ferry riding across to Hong Kong Island

One of the many Hong Kong Apple Stores, just one illustration of capitalism here

A view of the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR (subway) station--look at all those people

Depection of Chinese opera singers in the History Museum

A dragon from a Chinese Dragon Dance exhibit (especially for Maya!)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday in Hong Kong

We’ve had a fun day here in Hong Kong, exploring this city, getting attacked by wild monkeys (that would be ME who got attacked), riding the fantastic subway system, walking through some hills, seeing the Lutheran seminary where our friend Rebecca teaches (SO beautiful) and exploring the Temple Night Market, where we had dinner outside in the warm, warm air.

It’s been in the high 80s with about 90 percent humidity, so we’re roasting, but we’re also taking it easy and trying not to move to quickly, so the heat is actually kind of nice. We’re also adjusting to the time change, although it’s 8:30 p.m. here and I can’t wait to go to bed, which I will do after I write this post.

As we sat outside eating dinner tonight, Aaron and I both talked about some of the things we love about the Chinese culture. A strong sense of community is definitely one thing we appreciate, as well as the way people here are so innovative with what little they have, be it space, money, possessions, or resources. I have no idea what to expect from Mainland China, but here in Hong Kong, the people are vibrant and so alive.

For me, it’s neat to have a few days to experience Chinese culture in this way—because I want Matthew to know how much I love this place that was his first home, and I want to tell him stories about how special this country is. We also hope to bring him back here one day, along with Maya and Sam, so our whole family can share in this wonderful place together.

Here are a few snapshots from our day. This isn’t supposed to be my “travel” blog, so I won’t bore you terribly with a list of what we did today, but below are a few highlights that encapsulate our time in Hong Kong so far. All in all, though, I’m really anxious to get to Guangzhou (which we’ll do on Sunday) so we can get ready to meet Matthew on Monday sometime.

Our day in Hong Kong:
  1. Dim sum at a wonderful restaurant that overlooked Shatin Park
  2. A hike up to the 10,000 buddhas monastery (there are REALLY 10,000 buddhas in all)
  3. Views of Kowloon Peninsula and the harbor from the Lutheran seminary grounds
  4. Walking the labrynth at the Tao Fung Shan Center, also high above the city
  5. Being pawed by a wild monkey as we walked back down to catch the train (ask me about this in person—it’s a moment I’ll never forget)
  6. Strolling through the night market and eating outside at a local restaurant
It’s been a good day to rest and get ready for the even bigger adventures that are ahead of us!

Aaron in downtown Hong Kong as we started our day today

Walking alongside the river (city in the background)

Rebecca and me at the start of the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery

And here are some of the 10,000. They are REALLY impressive.

The Buddha that most resembled Aaron

The crazy monkey who tried to attack me

Lutheran Theological Seminary of Hong Kong (taken especially for Seongheon and Yunhui!)

View of Hong Kong and surrounding mountains

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hello Hong Kong


A send off at Sea Tac
Well we made it. After almost 24 hours of traveling, with over 14 hours in an actual airplane, we were so grateful to open the door to our hotel room in Hong Kong, schlep our bags inside, and sink deep into the white duvet cover on the bed.

Our flight left Seattle at just after 2pm on Wednesday. My dad took us to the airport, dropped us, and gave us one final round of hugs, and then we were on our own.  But it wasn’t until the doors shut with a thud on our Boeing 777 that I truly felt the enormity of what is ahead of us.

Aaron pulls luggage from the car
The next time we step foot on United States soil, I thought, we’ll have Matthew in our arms.

When we landed in Seoul, Korea, our layover destination, we knew we were truly traveling abroad.

I spent a short stint in the Seoul airport back in 1991 when my family came to Korea to visit my sister’s birth country and to meet some of the people who had cared for her during her first six years. For some reason there were complications with our departing flight, and we spent many extra hours (my memory has it as an overnight, in fact) in the Seoul airport. I was anxious to see if I remembered anything of that place.

Well, 21 years later the Seoul airport was NOT anything like I remember it, but just being in Korea felt so familiar—the sound of people speaking, the Korean characters that comprise its written language, the smells, the food—I had some very vivid flashbacks to traveling with my family in Asian when I was just 15, and mostly it was a calm sense of remembrance I experienced. What was the most obvious to me, however, was that we were now the minority, with our pale white skin and our American accents. We had landed in Asia!

After a 2 hour layover, we boarded another plane and flew another three hours to Hong Kong. By the time we were finally off the plane and through Customs and Immigration, it was almost 8:00 a.m. on Thursday morning at home, which was 11 p.m. Thursday night here in Hong Kong. We were wiped, but so happy to be here.

We followed the line of people to the taxis, and when we came through that huge ramp down toward the taxi loading area, the tropical weather hit us—heat, humidity, and the smells of a big Asian city. There was something familiar about the temperatures and the smell of exhaust mingling with cigarette smoke.

“Just four days, and we’ll have our boy,” I told Aaron. He nodded with a kind of weary excitement.

So here we are: Hong Kong. We’ll spend today and tomorrow (Friday and Saturday) sightseeing and being with a friend who worked on staff with us at Camp Lutherwood back in 1998. Her name is Rebecca, and she teaches English here at the Lutheran Seminary. She’ll be our tour guide and a familiar face to acquaint us with this new city.

There’s a quote I love that I discovered back in my college days while exploring a bookstore with my good friend Aimee. It was the first thing in my mind as I rode in a taxi through downtown Hong Kong last night:

I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.

Well, the moon wasn’t shining last night, not as far as I can see, but the quote is a reminder to me that being in other places changes us in ways we can’t even really imagine.

And even thought I sit here in this hotel room with the familiar presence of my husband beside me, typing away while he reads his book (something VERY normal for us), I can look out the window and see this vast city—a fusion of East meets West in the way only Hong Kong is—and I can’t help but feel like we’re on the verge of becoming something new—something more of ourselves—because of this amazing adventure.



A bleary-eyed shot after finally landing in Hong Kong