Wow, it seems like forever since I last posted. A lot has gone on since then. Let me start with our last days in China.
I believe I left off just before we left for the U.S. Consulate. That was some experience. Wouldn't you think a U.S. government building, even in another country, would be ADA compliant? Well, no. A huge flight of stairs and then five floors of escalators with a stroller. Good times.
Once there, we were escorted into a large room filled with chairs. In the middle was an Ikea children's table, chairs, and some toys. The vast majority of the children being adopted were too young for these, but they sure came in handy for the big sisters and brothers. The room was standing room only as we learned that there were 55 families there waiting to be sworn in and receive their visas. There were around 20 or so with my agency as the rest had their appointments scheduled for the next day. We waited for about 15 minutes before getting in line. When we reached the front, the attendant verified that the child we held matched the photo on the passport and visa application. We then returned to our seats.
After another 20-30 minutes, an official came out. Before beginning the swearing in ceremony, he made an announcement saying that he had bad news. A computer glitch in Washington D.C was preventing the approved visas from printing. All 55 waiting families had been approved, but only 8 visas had printed. The problem had started the previous Monday and was affecting U.S. Consulates around the world, not just in China. He explained a few more details and then performed the swearing in ceremony.
He asked us all to raise our right hands and repeat what he said. Sera had just learned within the day or two prior to wave to people. When she saw a room full of people raise their hands, she did too. How cute is that!!
After we were sworn in, the family sitting with us told us that Tracy had just told him that "you two are fine, your visas came in." He took that to mean his family and ours. Jim was more cautious and thought she might have meant John and his wife, Jen. We hunted her down to confirm and learned that we did have our visa. She handed the brown envelope to us that we'd have to turn in to Immigration in Chicago. She was visibly upset because she hadn't been warned at all. Her cell phone number was on every one of our applications. If she'd known in advance, she could have prepared our group. This was devastating news as you can't leave China without that visa. Tracy and a couple of parents stayed behind while the rest of us returned to the hotel. The other coordinators were frantically working to change everyone's travel plans as most were scheduled to leave Guangzhou before 8 the following morning. 8:00 AM was the time the official gave us as most likely to receive the rest of the visas.
Jim and I felt so bad for our fellow travellers. Many of them had children waiting at home. When you're at the end of a long trip, the last thing you want to hear is that you can't go home. There were tears and the Consulate official definitely had his ear turned by a few parents.
I had finished the majority of our packing before we left for the consulate. Our plan after returning to the hotel was to get an early dinner, finish up our shopping, buy a suitcase, and finish packing. The families who were flying to Beijing or Tokyo had to have their luggage packed and ready that night for pick up. The two families, including us, flying to Shanghai had to have our bags packed and ready by 6:30 AM.
On our way out to eat, we ran into many of the families who had not received their visas. We felt so bad that we knew we were heading home when they were still unsure. I know they didn't blame us, but it still felt awkward.
The Cow and Bridge was our favorite restaurant on Shamian Island, so we returned there for our final meal. We then went to Jordon's and bought some final gifts and a suitcase. Sera was getting cranky so Jim took her back to the hotel while I went and picked up a gift we had made and to spend the rest of our yuan.
When I got back to the hotel room, Jim headed to Tracy's room to pick up our paperwork. It was probably around 8:30 by this point. Tracy and the other coordinators were there. She had just received the call that all the visas had come through. Jim said the room was filled with people waiting to hear and that they just started cheering. We were so happy to hear they'd all be going home. The only problem now was they hadn't packed and luggage pick up was scheduled in one hour! I'm sure they were given an extension. We were especially pleased because we had travelled with one particular family for the entire trip. We met in Chicago and had been together the whole time. We now knew we'd travel back to Chicago with them.
Since we were flying to Shanghai again, we were still limited to the one checked bag of 44 pounds per person. We knew we weren't going to make it. We were supposed to have a seat on the flight for Sera, but our travel agency had only gotten us a lap ticket. We weren't concerned because it was a two hour flight, but really needed the extra suitcase her ticket would give us. Between the group pictures and the consulate visit, Jim and Tracy took a taxi to China Southern and bought Sera a seat ticket. It was a great experience for Jim to see a little more of the real Guangzhou.
We didn't have enough to fill a third suitcase, but having it allowed me to spread things out a bit more. After I packed all our bags, Jim weighed them on the bathroom scale, and we were actually underweight on each bag. If there is a luggage packing competition, I want in.
Our travel day started very smoothly. We were driven to the airport with two other families. One would stay with us, while the other was catching a flight to Hong Kong. We arrived in Shanghai and headed towards American Airlines. We had to wait in line for almost two hours before they finally started checking us in. We got to the counter, and I pulled our tickets from my passport holder and Sera's ticket was missing. Jim's and my tickets were e-tickets, and we had the confirmation number on the itinerary. Sera's ticket had been paper. The guy checking us in was obviously new and struggled with our problem. It took two supervisors and over 40 minutes before they had us checked in. They wouldn't, however, give us the boarding passes until we went to the ticket counter and filed for a lost ticket. Jim waiting at the check in as they finished up. Sera and I headed to the ticket counter. There we ended up with two people working on it as they couldn't find her ticket in the computer. They suggested I contact my travel agency when I explained that my agency was in San Francisco where it was then around midnight.
By this time, Jim had joined us. He started digging through the adoption paperwork because he remembered that he'd pulled all the used boarding passes from our holders and put them in the portfolio in case I wanted to scrapbook them. Sure enough, there was Sera's ticket. By this time, I was tired, hot, dehydrated, and starving. I was so happy to see that ticket, I almost cried. The agents looked at the ticket and remarked how funny it was they couldn't find it. They then handed it back to me and said we could return to check in as we didn't need them now.
We grabbed our boarding passes and headed towards security. When we finally made it to our gate, we met up with the other family and a new one we'd met on the flight from Guangzhou. They had twin girls around 11 they'd adopted from Russia and their new 3-year-old daughter. I got Sera, who was also starving, fed and changed while Jim went on a food hunt for us. He brought back these club like sandwiches that under other circumstances might have disgusted me. I thought they were the best thing I'd ever eaten. Hunger truly is the best seasoning.
When they finally started boarding our flight, I heard those words I'd longed to hear during our trip. Families with small children may now board. It is sooooo much easier to settle in on a plane when you're on early then when you're being pushed and shoved by everyone else. I had Sera in the carrier and she actually fell asleep as we went through the boarding procedure. I had to take her out of the carrier as we started to taxi, but she still slept through it. She would have probably slept a couple of hours, but the PA announcements went on forever and woke her up. She was a little tired and clingy for about half an hour and then went into full play mode. By putting the backpack on the floor of the seat between Jim and me, we were able to create a level surface from the back of our seat to the back of the seat in front of us. We used the airline's blankets and pillows to create a baby-safe area in that seat. She played and laughed and giggled for several hours. When she went to sleep, we lay her there and she was able to stretch out and sleep. She slept for 8 hours and woke up about an hour before we landed. She was a trooper, and we couldn't have asked for an easier flight with her. Jim and I slept very little, Jim less than I. I did, on the other hand, watch three complete movies: Charlotte's Web, Miss Potter, and The Pursuit of Happyness.
It took about an hour to get through Immigration and Customs. When we finally got to the end we hugged our friends goodbye. They went in one direction to re-check their luggage, and we went another to meet our friend, Eric. We were soooo happy to be home. We stopped at one of the travel oases on the toll road and got a large Mountain Dew and a large Dr. Pepper with lots of ice and two Subway sandwiches filled with lettuce and other fresh veggies.
We got home around 9:30. Sera and Shadow are adjusting to each other. We think they'll end up best of friends. Sera is having some small sleep issues while adjusting, but relatively minor. Her normal 2-3 hour afternoon nap yesterday was more like 6 hours. We got up and out early to try and start adjusting. We ate breakfast out, went to the grocery store, and came home to try for a morning nap. It wasn't happening, so we went to Jim's school and made the introductions. She feel asleep in the car within 5 minutes on our way home. We decided to run errands to let her sleep. By the time we got to Target, she'd been asleep for an hour. We thought it would be safe to transfer her to her stroller if we reclined it. She barely woke up. We wandered around Target, letting her sleep while we shopped and window shopped.
When we put her back in her car seat, she went right back to sleep. We made a few more stops where I waited in the car with her. When we got home, we wanted to try and wake her up so we got a bottle ready. Nothing doing. This girl was down for her full night's sleep. I ended up falling asleep with her on the reclining sofa. I slept two hours; she ended up sleeping six.
My sisters had sent a wonderful barbecue pork dinner through Honeybaked Hams. I heated that up for dinner, and we had Sera back down for the night by 9 PM. She slept until 1 AM. Jim tried to get her back to sleep for almost an hour. At 2 AM, I took her in the guest room and surrounded us with pillows. She slept fitfully and played with my face and hands while I pretended to sleep until 6 AM.
It's now 9 AM, and she's crying as she fights a nap. She sounds so exhausted. Our poor baby needs some sleep, but she's handled the rest of the adjustments to her new home beautifully.
Oh, and regarding this post's title: My arms really are tired, but it's from holding Sera for all those hours on the plane!
Labels: adoption, China travel