Monday, February 27, 2006

Rites of Passage

I feel like I had my mommy initiation today, in various ways. Here's one: right now Jarrah is behind me making an unholy racket with her "Bee Bop Band" drum kit that she got from her Auntie Lisa, and all I feel is profound relief that something is diverting her enough for me to type for a few minutes.

Okay, that didn't last long. We just had a full-scale meltdown that involved some uniquely horrible-looking rolling-on-the-hard-floor-screaming, a behavior I have never seen before. Today she seems incredibly frustrated anytime she is not standing or walking, but since she can't actually walk on her own, when we let her hands go she has to sit down. It's like she's on the verge of walking and it pisses her off that she can't just go already. In the past few days, her pre-walking has grown sturdier; she stands confidently, and reaches for landmarks hand over hand. I think she is getting ready to launch and the waiting is somehow getting on her nerves.

Either that or she's totally regressing with us. Today is three weeks since we met her, and maybe it's sinking in that she has to stay here. The rolling and screaming today alarmed me, as did the way she freaked when I ran the garbage disposal and the Dustbuster, both noises she's already heard many times. I even gave her a bottle to calm her down after the Dustbuster incident, and she flung it away and went back to rolling on the floor. Now that is really weird--usually nothing gets between this girl and her bottle.

Anyway, this is not what I was going to write about. She slept for 2 and a half hours (score!) this afternoon, but by the time I was going to meet Caroline the sky was darkening and so was Jarrah's mood. We both needed to get out, so I stuffed her in the stroller and wheeled her to the supermarket (it's only a couple of blocks.) She really enjoys all the objects and colors associated with shopping and often tries to "help" me if I hesitate in front of anything too long. When I got to the checkout, the lady in front of me noticed I just had a soda and some Veggie Puffs (clearly I didn't really need to shop right then) and invited me to cut in front of her. I smiled radiantly and thanked her, but it wasn't until a moment later when her cell phone rang and I heard her say, "Absolutely not. We have Grandpa's thing tonight and besides, you're on restriction" that I realized she let me go in front of her because I had a baby with me. Wow. Then, the lady in front of me and the checker were all ga-ga over how cute the baby was, and there were no annoying questions, just "Oh, she's so cute!" and me batting my eyelashes murmuring "Why, thank you." So those were the first two items in "A Day in the Life of Jarrah's Mother."

Then we strolled over to the park, where we were examined curiously by a small group of women and their toddlers as we parked our gear near the slide. Finally one of them said, "Are you here for the mother's group?" and I answered "No, we're just here for the slide," and then, feeling a bit terse, added pleasantly "Are you a group?" "Yes, we're a group," they said, and went back to their conversation, one that I was not eager to join as I found the subject tedious--all about how singers should not have opinions of any kind, they should simply "entertain," and how these women would not listen to music whose singers espoused "immoral values." You better believe I gave them a wide berth after that. We were minding our own business saying hello to a spaniel and frolicking on the grass (grass is now okay if only shoes are touching it) when I noticed that the women were packing up, so we moved over to the now-vacant swing. One of the moms approached me and said "Excuse me, but if you're interested in a mom's group, we have 350 members all over the county and we have all kinds of events, some without the kids, too." Another one of the moms tip-toed up behind her and offered me their card so I can check out their website. "That way you don't have to memorize anything," she smiled sympathetically. "Good thing, since I have the memory of a goldfish these days," I smiled in return. They all tittered and made noises of assent, and I thought to myself, "Oh my stars, I have something in common with these women. They're inviting me to pledge their sorority." I also noticed that none of them made "adoption face" at Jarrah--I wonder if people just assume my husband is Asian when he's not there.

As I walked home, I mused on my new status, so simple and obvious and pure to others, so complicated to me. When I first got to the park, a lithe young man ran past me and Jarrah craned around to watch him. "That's a jogger," I told her. "That's something Mommy would never do." A minute later, we rounded a bend and I saw a band of long-haired teen ruffians fomenting just below boiling point, all of them focused on something to my left. When I looked, I saw the same jogger, who appeared to be yelling at them, and as I drew closer, I heard him say, "Are you trying to tell me that a rock just came out of thin air and hit me?" and some of the ruffians called "I guess so!" while one of them boldly added, "Can I get my rock back, mister?" The jogger was fuming, desperate for satisfaction. "Is that how you behave? You go around throwing rocks at people?" At this moment, I passed into frame, and the jogger whipped his head around and gestured, "What if that rock had hit this baby?" "I wouldn't throw a rock at the baby!" shouted the head ruffian. "Oh, but you'd throw a rock at me?" the jogger screamed, and I passed out of frame right then, shoulders up around my ears, head down. A few steps later, I leaned down to Jarrah and told her, "Children are often horrible. Try not to be like that when you get older." And this clever statement was followed by a free-floating but sobering thought: This is only the beginning. I'm going to have a helluva lot of work to do.

I better start reviewing those rock n' roll values right away.

Friday, February 24, 2006

And The Oscar Goes To...

Another milestone today--Jarrah had her first visit to the pediatrician. Of course, David and I had already gone once without her, but it was a whole new game with the actual child there. First, there was the waiting, something that even I am not good at, and Jarrah was not old enough to be diverted by the tropical fish, nor desperate enough to fight over the pre-gnawed picture books. And, in a delightful incident that is becoming thematic in my novice parenting narrative, a little boy in the seat next to me decided to show his displeasure for the appointment he'd just finished by wretching and puking, splashily enough that I had to yank my diaper bag out of his way. Ironically, because his vomit was a biohazard, I had the pleasure of sitting next to it for the better part of an hour, as well as frantically waving the unsuspecting asses of tired mothers away from the congealing mush, since the expert team who were supposed to contain the mess never showed. I was already cranky because we had to pay out of pocket for a visit that has been officially covered by insurance since the day we met Jarrah, but apparently we have to perform some sort of adoption rain dance for Health Net before they will list her as active.

The excessively delayed audience with our doctor took place right around the young miss's naptime, so you can imagine how thrilled she was to have people jamming things in her ears and palpating her belly by that time. She cried so hard I developed a preemptive headache anticipating the blood panel they were going to draw afterwards, and friends, it was indeed unpretty. The poor sweetie has such plump arms that two nurses had to dig for her vein for the better part of five minutes while she moaned and I tried not to faint from the horror of it all. When they did finally get the needle in there, it seemed they were going to empty her body of blood with the number of tubes they filled.

We took off, thoroughly traumatized, and J. fell asleep instantly, but woke in time to share our rice bowls and engage in some histrionic grunting loud enough to disturb the meals of the unsuspecting lunchers at the surrounding tables. Her performance convinced us we needed to hightail it back to the clinic and deliver our "sample" so J. could be tested for giardia. Our preparations for this procedure were epic: we had pads and bags and clothing and diapers and wipes at the ready on the car seat when I realized I had somehow lost the kit and the lab orders we had received at our appointment. Then I flipped out when David asked me WHY I had lost them. This question did not endear me to him and the tension level rose to orange. I snapped that we could just stuff the whole business into a Ziploc bag and deal with the particulars later. But then I actually opened the diaper to discover...well, let's just say that Jarrah is an impressive actress because what I found there was about enough to garnish a canape. Not enough for the cup, but I still managed to get it all over the car.

We zoomed back to the clinic so that I could grovel for another sample kit, and they were none too pleased to provide one. I also had the bizaare experience of lurking in the hallway as the receptionist I was speaking to called to a passing nurse, "This mom was here this morning and says she..." and my mind leaped directly to "I can't believe she's going to help someone else when I'm in the middle of talking to her!" In no way did I associate "this mom" with myself. Someone said recently that it could be a little like the first time I heard someone describe me as David's wife or I had to tell the man at the car repair place that my husband was coming to pick me up. I felt like an imposter then and I feel like it now. But I'll give myself a few more weeks before I decide that's too pathological.

So, my friends, the baby survived her first doctor visit, but it took four hours of our time and perhaps four years off my life. And next week I'll have the unique pleasure of driving to La Jolla to deliver a cannister of baby poop. Tune in next time for more thrilling adventures.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Trial By Grass

Today was a really big day for me because it was the first time I was alone with Jarrah for longer than 20 minutes. David went into work for a half-day and I picked up Aaryn and Ruby (hi girls!) to attend our first meeting of Animal Crackers (the cleverly named offshoot of Fortune Cookies, natch--thanks, Mary!) I was pretty nervous when David shut the car door and waved bye-bye and it was just the two of us (what would we talk about?) but she is so sedated by her car seat that awkward cocktail party banter was a non-issue. She and Ruby babbled in the back seat (and Jarrah made a few calls on the cell phone she got from her Auntie Mary) and Aaryn and I gabbed our way to La Jolla, where we met on Maxine's lawn. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and I was very excited to expose Jarrah to the morning sun, having heard that it would help to re-set her clock. And let's be honest: I was just plain excited to have left the house before noon.

The meeting was nice and kind of surreal; everyone there was my friend, everyone had a baby with them, and somehow I did, too. We all had our strollers in a wagon train and blankets strewn with soon-to-be-spit-covered toys. We even had our Mommy cups of coffee and Mommy muffins. Jarrah snoozed for the first part, and then was in Blinky mode for the next. By the time I moved her to a blanket, she was content to stare at all the other frenetic babies and slap languidly at a nearby ball. The only thing that really got her juiced was another child's crushed muffin on the blanket; she likes a tidy environment and is always happy to lend a hand (or mouth) to the cause of clean-up. A couple times I tried to put her down on the lawn, but orphanage child that she is, Jarrah is afraid of grass. That's right, the verdant green stuff is terrifying. When her feet or hands make contact, she springs back like she's been burned, and then examines her limbs for potential damage. It would be really sad if it weren't also so adorable. Before you know it, the merry gathering was over. Toys were packed, sippy cups retrieved, wipes swiped over noses and chins.

Jarrah fell asleep again on the way home, and I bravely refused Aaryn's generous offer to keep me company, figuring (wrongly, as it turned out) David would be home shortly. During the next couple hours, I learned that I don't know the first thing about wrangling the car seat, the stroller, or the booster seat because I usually leave all that to David. I also learned that I am not very good at cleaning poop off a baby doing fan kicks, having also allowed David to have this special bonding time with his daughter more often than not. But when David did not appear, the cruel hand of Fate having wagged a finger in my direction and then stuffed a nail into one of David's tires, I learned that making funny faces, singing nonsense songs and tickling are some of the most enervating occupations on the planet, particularly when you do them for three hours without a break.

When David finally got home, he asked how my day went. A single thought had been crowding everything else out of my mind all afternoon (though that's assuming there was anything left in there to feel squished) which crystallized into a single question: "I have to do this more than once?"

Oh, I almost forgot. (How weird is that?) Jarrah did fine, and so did I. Neither of us had a meltdown without Daddy. I think Jarrah is a smart cookie who is quick to assess where her bread is buttered, to mix my baked good metaphors. Daddy wasn't there today, and I was. I'm still not Daddy, mind you, but I'll do in a pinch. No worries.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mommy and Me

I can't believe how long it's been since I've written but everyone said that would happen. Somehow my energy extends only as far as the quotidian tasks of the domestic front, and often not even that far. In my former life, an 18-hour trip necessitate a hot bath, a long night in the warm nest of our down comforter, followed by a big meal accompanied by coffee and newspapers. This time, we didn't even get the nest part, as our new member of the household has no interest in circadian rhythms and prefers to clap her hands and cheer for "Dancing With the Stars" at 4 a.m. and then keel over in a pile of rubber letters and numbers in the middle of the afternoon. That is, when she deigns to sleep. She begins to emerge as a pint-size super-human, streamlined for action, requiring only the briefest of catnaps to rise to her full magazine-shredding glory.

I have repeatedly been asked what it feels like to be a mother. Well, I'll let you know. At this point, I'm purely in survival mode. I feel like a cruelly underpaid babysitter of someone's incredibly adorable and hilarious child--when are they coming home again? :) My concerns in life have been winnowed down to a precious few: when and where to snatch a few moments of sleep, how to eat my breakfast without her seeing and hence making sounds like a Tyrannasaurus Rex until she gets some of it, how to get crumbs out of the carpet, and where to put my books so they may retain their handy shape.

When my parents visited last weekend, my father crowed "Well, you've become a suburban housewife!" My instinctive horror at this label was followed by the glum realization that I don't even have that going for me: There is no housewifery going on here. The house is caked with food and strewn with toys and books. Dirty baby clothes stack up in the washing machine but I haven't bothered to turn it on. I wander in circles thinking "What did I use to trim my nails with again?" and "Didn't we have a bunch of dental floss somewhere?" My domestic efforts have been limited to warming up the delicious and generous contributions of our dear friends, for which our gratitude runneth over. I remember reading a memoir when I was in my mid-'20s about a single mom who used to sit on the floor and cry while her baby slept, and I remember figuring she must be a little touched in the head. Now I'm convinced that the reason new parents don't explain how hard the first weeks of parenting are is because they are too tired to form a sentence.

We find ourselves unable to leave the house before 3:00 or 4:00 each day, grasping for the last shreds of daylight to make a run to Target or something equally scintillating. Somehow the rest of the time gets filled up with feeding, cleaning up after meals, bathing, changing, dressing, playing and suddenly falling asleep. If we could just shake this jet lag, it might be a bit easier on all of us. Whenever I think of David going back to work and leaving me alone to perform this intricate dance I am seized with terror. How will I do it on my own? And of course I think constantly: what could be more elemental, more primal, than this time? It's not like we're taking Jarrah to dance classes or piano lessons or soccer games or spelling bees. No, all we're doing is trying to keep her alive and not too stinky. That's pretty basic. If we can achieve that, and not be too stinky ourselves, it's like we're heroes. There's something sort of depressing about that. Maybe I just need more time to adjust.

The past couple of nights, she has slept for 4-5 hours at a stretch for the first time. I want to cry with gratitude and yet, perversely, the past two days I've felt more exhausted than ever. It's like my body has been reminded of what it feels like to sleep and it wants more. If we could just get to her to "go down" the first time, when we know she is tired and we know she is comfortable, then we could all get more sleep. But she is still waking about every half-hour for the first 3-4 hours, and then she screams as though she has opened her eyes to find herself duct-taped to her crib. We're seeing our pediatrician this week and hopefully she'll have some advice about what is going on here.

When she's awake, she's delightful. She sings and dances and has long conversations, partly with us and partly with herself. She stacks and bangs and shakes and rips. She explores, crawls, stands and falls. She points at us and announces "Da!" She reads her books and eats them. She's got plenty on her plate and no time to waste.

Friday, February 17, 2006

We're Home!

And we'd love to see you! We are adjusting to some pretty extreme jet lag, exacerbated by a certain willful little someone who doesn't understand the importance of keeping "normal" hours to re-set circadian rhythms, but phone calls and stop-bys would be most welcome.

It's a glorious sunny day in San Diego and I'm hoping we can get some of that before the day is done since I think it will help us all. Jarrah hasn't seen much sun in her lifetime because Chongqing gets only about 100 non-rainy days a year, and even when the sun is out, it's very smoggy. So the nickname I've given her recently--Blinky--should be very fitting today.

Of course the trip home had to have some special extra hellish touches just for us. They began with a sudden diaper extravaganza as we checked in at the Guangzhou airport, resulting in David having to literally dunk the baby into the sink in the men's bathroom and call for backup via Paul in the form of an entirely new outfit right down to the socks. Ugh! All this was going on when the rest of our merry party had already gone to the gate and our rep, Jason, stood around wringing his hands for us to hurry up. The young one bore a certain distinct odor from that moment forth, and we hadn't even left the ground.

In Hong Kong, I had dreamed of a refreshing stroll and a fortifying lunch, but instead we spent the majority of our time standing in what appeared to be a rather short line at the Cathay Pacific "Transition Center" for international flights. How a line in which there were only six or seven people in front of us can take a hour is still a mystery. Joy was screaming so Mary and Paul were removed from the line and processed elsewhere, though how we were given boarding passes for LA-San Diego and they weren't is another mystery. When we finally reached Leon at the front of the line, we had to stand there another twenty minutes while he apparently reprogrammed the computer to take over the world or something that could not possibly have involved printing out our boarding passes for a flight booked nearly a month ago for which we already had seats. At the last moment I noticed that the ticket he'd printed for baby read "Yu, Mei Zhi" which is actually Joy's name and let's just call that another mystery since the Rupperts were not even standing in the same line as us.

We had time for a little relaxing running to the gate and the procurement of a coke and two tiny Danishes, and then we were off to LA. Although the flight wasn't very crowded, it wasn't the carefree days of two weeks ago when we each had our own row. David, Jarrah and I were seated directly in front of an elderly Chinese couple; the man had the seat right behind me. This was delightful as he spent the entire flight alternately engaged in two activities: forcing his appendages through any available orifice in my seat back as I shoved them back out again, or vomiting lustily, with many sound effects, into his sick bag. Each time he'd hurl, he thrust his body with great force, so that I was frequently awakened by the sensation that I, personally, had just been vomited forward in space.

Two rows ahead of us, a friendly blonde woman (Mary talked to her, but I resented her uterus too much to be civil) wrangled what looked like an ordinary blonde toddler but was apparently part devil spawn, part castrato in training, who emitted shrieks for at least six of the 12 hours that caused my brain to feel like fireworks. I have never heard a child cry this way, like a pig being slaughtered, or a teenage girl in a horror film. I will never forget that sound.

Meanwhile, back at Row 57, a very cute girl who screams loudly only when you leave her in her crib was having the time of her life jumping on her seat, pitching headfirst into the hole between seats, throwing her toys, flinging her body across David and me to grab fistfuls of hair, and systematically destroying the book I was trying to read. There was also the ritualistic pounding on the seatback video screen playing Disney's "Fantasia," accompanied by high-pitched noises of approval. And that, my friends, was my introduction to international flying with a toddler. If you think long flights are bad, try one with a 1-year-old (though I agree with Marlene that the white noise is great for sleeping--too bad the sleeping portion of our program only added up to about four hours.)

When we reached Los Angeles, we were all completely wrecked, and we had to be sequestered for a while so the girls' visa paperwork could be processed. After showing our passports to about 10 different people, we were allowed go through customs and then re-check our bags, and though we didn't closely investigate the matter, we now figured we had oodles and oodles of time in which to enjoy a leisurely lunch. We set ourselves up at the Daily Grill, and were savoring our Chinese Chicken Salads (seems ironic, but they really don't serve lettuce in China) when David remarked that our flight to San Diego was leaving in 20 minutes. Gack! We started running, but then discovered that Paul and Mary did not have boarding passes, and that we actually needed to catch some sort of bus to our next terminal, and well, that's when we missed the flight. Ladies and gentleman, after thirteen hours of flying and six hours of waiting in airports, after two and a half weeks away from home, on the cusp of welcoming our babies to our hometown, we missed a 30 minute flight because we were eating salad. I blame myself. I was the one who insisted we had enough time to eat anywhere we liked. Clearly I was wrong.

The hourly flights were booked solid for the rest of the day, so it was a sad day in Babyville as we sulked in the American Eagle terminal awaiting our fate. At the last possible moment, the announcement came that all six of us had made it onto the next flight, and we cheered and cheered. I cringe to admit that our place in line might just have been enhanced by inadvertently leading the gate agent to believe that we missed the previous flight due to our wondrous act of adopting babies--we were so busy adopting them that we couldn't get to the plane.

Mary's family and Jen and Craig were waiting for us in San Diego with bells on (well, I didn't actually see bells, but they had brought some really lovely balloons, which delighted Jarrah no end) and though we had to rush Joy to the bathroom for Part Two of "Airport Poopapalooza," all was well. And our newest member of the family didn't make a peep about her first ride in the car seat, either!

Since then, we've been snacking, sleeping, and exploring the new options on the toy front, and maybe one of these days we'll start feeling like human beings again. Thanks for all your wonderful readerly and writerly support during our journey. I'll continue to update the blog on a regular basis, though I can't promise to keep it as exciting as it's been. Love and smooches to all!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Mazel Tov

We are leaving in eight hours and I guess it will be another night when I don't sleep, whether or not the cherub decides to scream a lot. I know that you are right when you say that part of her stress is traveling; we just have to get through one more big trip, but it's a doozy. At six a.m. we check out and by 9:30 we'll fly from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. Then we have a two hour layover, followed by a 12.5 (notice we save three hours this time!) hour flight to Los Angeles. Then we have a four hour layover before our short flight to San Diego. Considering that this sort of travel is absolute hell on me, I can't imagine what it will be like with a toddler and going in already sleep deprived.

Speaking of which, I have a delicate tingling sensation all over and have for days, as if my cells were recomposing themselves to form an organism that doesn't require sleep for sustenance. I am becoming a new kind of being, a little bit each day.

Today was a very big day, but unfortunately we don't have any pictures of the event due to security reasons. Everything we brought to the consulate had to be in a Ziploc bag, and no cameras allowed. But it wasn't nearly the ordeal I'd imagined (or heard about): the whole experience took about three hours door to door. The consulate building is brand new and very swanky, and located in a part of town that looked prosperous and cosmopolitan. The inside was all gleaming chrome and blasting air conditioning. First we had to show our passports, then go through security, and then wait a while in a big room with 55 families (!) who were all taking the oath today. So also picture here 55 babies plus other children and travel companions with each couple, and you have a tiny glimpse into the seething madness of this room. We were sequestered in one area that I renamed "steerage." Well, I guess that had to do with immigration, too! After a while, we were invited to show ourselves at a window, and somehow David and I were the very first in line. A nice young woman smiled and nodded at our baby and said "thank you" and that was it. We sat down again, and everyone got out their snack food stash for some more waiting. All the babies circulated like tiny birds, seeing who would offer the tastiest morsel. I have grown very attached to little Gracie, Maggie, Lydia, Sedona, Matthew and Cole, and I will miss them when I get home. Joy I know I will see, so that's some consolation.

Suddenly David said he thought Jarrah had pooped, so we hustled her around the corner to a dank gray hallway/empty room and proceeded to pull her pants off. We were startled in the middle by the voice of a nice young man with a beard saying, "You know, we do have a changing table in the bathroom." We apologized and said we were almost done (she was only wet) and he said "I have two kids myself so I know what it's like." Next thing we know we hear someone on a microphone welcoming the crowd behind us and it was like a comedy of errors, David and I stuffing Jarrah into her pants, socks and shoes yelling "Hurry, hurry, we're going to miss the oath!" and in fact we almost did. The funniest bit was that when we bolted back into the big room and took our seats we discovered that the man on the microphone was the same one who found us with the dirty diaper. Kind of appropriate, I guess. Anyway, the oath was not quite what I imagined. We all raised our right hands together and repeated after him that we solemnly swore that the information we had provided for the consulate was true and correct to the best of our knowledge and that was it. We all cheered, of course, and there were some smooches, hugs and congratulations, but a bit anti-climactic in the ceremony department. And where was the champagne, I ask you? ;)

The rest of the day was quiet. We opted out of the trip to the Guangzhou Zoo, having just been to the Chongqing Zoo, and with a baby who can't focus on things that far away yet. We had a final trip to Blenz which was really nice. And after the oath, we ordered Danny's Bagel one last time and enjoyed it in the hallway with Paul and Mary just like the good old days in Chongqing, this time with two hungry little rapscallions keeping us on our toes blowing on noodles and shredding tiny bits of chicken.

The nicest part of today is that Jarrah is warming to me some more. I am usually allowed to walk with her, and to pick her up very briefly, and I even pushed her stroller once with only a single preliminary grunt from her before she settled down. She has been smiling, laughing, crawling and exploring up a storm, and has begun enjoying her bath again (though how do you keep the water out of their eyes? She hates that.) I was so happy when, right after the oath, she turned to me and put out her chubby little arms to be hugged or picked up. We joked that she just needed to make it official with the U.S. Government before she could acknowledge me as mama. (David, of course, is not American, so he got an early dispensation to make up for his green card headaches.)

Tonight when we were packing, Jarrah found my necklace from CCAI, the one that says we are adopting this baby and promise to love her, and she put it on! I guess she's seen us wearing them all this time and she wanted to fit in. Anyway, made me all tingly to see her in it, plus we are convinced she's a genius. ;)

Next Entry

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Love Day

It's Valentine's Day and just this moment we got the call...the U.S. government has approved our adoption! They like us; they really like us! We thought we would be having an interview, etc. at the consulate but actually we were just instructed to wait in our room this morning to hear that our documents were in order. The document assemblage on Sunday was apparently all Jason needed to make our case this morning. Hooray!

Jarrah is slurping on some Liquilytes and will hopefully be asleep soon, and David and I can get down to the business of showering, blogging and ordering lunch from Danny's Bagel, which is where we've gotten our lunch every day. It's run by some New York expats and we have confirmed that they make a decent bagel, in addition to pizza and other yummy stuff. This afternoon we have what Paul called "the perfect shopping trip," evenly divided between a pearl market and a DVD market. I don't really understand what a DVD market is (does it have something to do with those portentous piracy ads they show before movie previews?) but I can let you know later.

Last night was a hard night. The little one was up screaming inconsolably about five different times, with the result of us never getting more than 1-2 hours sleep at a stretch. We checked her diaper, her temperature, her thirst, her cuddle needs, gave her Tylenol, and nothing seemed to help. At one point I did manage to sing her into a stupor, but the second we tiptoed away she shrieked again. Parents out there: what do you think is happening here? So far we haven't had a single uninterrupted night, but in the mornings she is an increasingly delighted and playful child. We'd love to establish some habits that would help her sleep through the night, but we can't imagine what those are!

Yesterday was a fun day and I felt like I had more energy. Which is surprising because the morning was action-packed. Those of you who have commented on our busy schedule, I am beginning to agree with you that this is just kooky! We had to get up, changed, dressed, breakfasted and on the bus by 9:30, and then we had a tour organized by CCAI. First stop, the Six Banyans Temple, which is incredibly old but I forget how much. It's beautiful, with a massively tall tiered pagoda, but strangely squashed between shops on a busy urban street. The shrines with gold Buddhas and ancestral offerings and incense reminded me a bit of Po Lin Monastery in Hong Kong, though of course these Buddhas couldn't rival Po Lin in size. We played a good fortune game where we had to throw a coin through a high hole shaped like a stop sign in the center of a tall dragon urn, and then walk around the urn touching the dragons for good luck. It took me a couple tries, but I'm happy to say I got a coin in! The nicest part was the Buddhist blessing ceremony for the babies. We took off our shoes and kneeled in one of the shrines while two monks chanted rhythmically and tapped a gourd-shaped instrument that emitted the most gorgeous low tones. The babies had been fussing when we brought them in to the blessing area, but as soon as they heard the chanting and music they were all mesmerized. It was a lovely moment.

From the temple we rode to some sort of jade and porcelain market that I found mostly crapcake. Mary said it reminded her of a mini-mall in Mira Mesa. There was even a car dealership on the first floor. The shops featured the world's most ginormous tchotchkes, some of them gaudy as all get out. I am not a fan of the dusting, so I wasn't tempted.

By the last stop, most of the babies were weepy and struggling. And, dear readers, I can tell I'm becoming a mom because my main thought was "Oy, this is very bad scheduling--these children are missing their naps right now." It's too bad because the Folk Art Museum was amazing, especially the room with the embroidery tapestries, so intricate they seem to have been painted. Jarrah passed out in her stroller and then was Miss Crankypants when we tried to get her back to sleep in the room. It was a long morning of bus trips for a group of people with new babies.

We did manage a nap and a quiet lunch on the bed, which was good because I was worried about our afternoon committment--the government physical. We wheeled the babies to the other side of Shamian Island to a glaring fluorescent Health Center, packed with men and women in white coats and echoing with the screams of peeved children. I was completely horrified, and it made it worse that Jarrah was in such a sweet mood after her nap, smiling and playing peek-a-boo with us in the lines for the exam stations. At the first station, the doctor and nurse began by having some sort of screaming conversation over our heads which gave me an anxiety attack--I thought they were yelling about Jarrah, but it turned out to be unrelated. We had three stations, and she had her heart, head circumference, belly, ears, nose, throat, eyes and weight checked by the time we were done. And not to brag, but I think our daughter might have done the best. ;) She had a very brief wail towards the end, but mostly seemed interested throughout the proceedings. By the time we'd wheeled her back out to the sidewalk, she was ready for some bun and seemed to have forgotten the whole sorry business.

On the way home, I was feeling really good for some reason. We stoped at the Blenz coffee house and got table on the street, where we could watch the local traffic (and the adopted babies) going by. We have a bit of a joke about this place because every beverage has the suffix "-chillo" at the end. We had various 'Chillos (mango, mocha, pineapple...) and had fun feeding them to the babies from tiny spoons. They make the most incredible faces when the Chillo hits their tongue; they are all accustomed to extremely hot beverages and I think that the icy sensation freaks them out. This was followed by some more fun baby shopping (I am addicted to the adorable fruit-covered clothing you can buy here) and two more pairs of squeaky shoes...oh no! :)

Speaking of squeaky shoes, I think they are an amazing development tool. Since Jarrah got hers, she has been very eager to practice walking, and yesterday in the Swan Room, she walked a few steps on her own for the first time that we know of. We have a game where David and I sit a few feet apart and put our arms out, and she totters like a sailor on shore leave into them, grinning like a madman. It's so cute it hurts. Today we played this game several times, and I think it is also helping her trust my touch a bit. She happily comes to me while the game is going on, arms outstretched, and lets me grab her, hug and kiss her, and turn her around to go back to Daddy when we're done. This is a pretty big break-through for us. In general, she is getting a bit more comfortable with me around. Instead of just looking for Daddy's reaction when she does something adorable, she now cranes around to see if I'm watching, too. And I'm allowed to kiss her and hold her hands more. She still doesn't let me pick her up without shrieking, and she still freaks if she sees it's not Daddy pushing her stroller, but it's only been a week, after all.

Gone are the days of the quiet, serious child who sat stoically on the bed with her biter biscuit; welcome to the crazed toddler who has remodeled the room every time you turn your back for a second. She has also learned to crawl and does so very fast, reaching for anything and everything on the floor to squash, break or stuff in her mouth. She's also worked out the drawers in here, which could be lethal if we were staying longer, and during diaper changes she is busy grappling the diaper accessories out of our hands. When sitting in her high chair (also a brand-new skill, and she is learning to use a spoon) she throws her hands in the air, crunchs up her entire face and laughs in this snorfly way, like we are all just so ridiculous she can't stand it. She also points at us, nods and shakes her head vigorously, and taps my arm if I get distracted feeding her a snack. Right now she is holding her changing pad over her head with both hands, swaying from side to side in time with the piano music piped into the room. When you look at her, she smiles coyly, bats her long lashes, and then emits a sound that sounds like "gachhh!"

Okay, so I'm having a lot of fun watching her. Last night we had such a lovely time at Lucy's Cafe (thanks, Lynette!) at an outdoor table (it doesn't get any colder here at night) with two fabulous high chairs that brought the girls even with our table. Everyone loved their food, the atmosphere, and the fun of watching the girls feed themselves. Sure, we made a huge mess, but at least we were outside. :) Afterwards we walked back next to the river, admiring the buildings all lit up on the other side. I had my sentimental moment for Guangzhou, feeling very proud of David and me and enchanted with our new daughter, and privileged to be having this amazing trip as a rite of passage to getting to know her.

Back to this afternoon. The trip to the market was sort of crapcake. We took a crazy taxi ride into downtown Guangzhou, and it was even more frenetic and stinky than downtown Chongqing. I felt overwhelmed by the smell and the humidity and the crush of people around us (though no one was staring now) and then the market turned out to be a mall filled with shops selling gems and pearls, each of them averaging about 90 degrees inside. From the moment we arrived I wanted to get the hell out of there. And then the promised DVD market ("more like DVD kiosk," Paul said) was very small and so smoky I couldn't deal. Jarrah's hair was plastered to her head with sweat. We ended up getting a cab by ourselves back to the hotel. I wasn't sure if it was my sleep deprivation, travel weariness, or general disgust that made the outing so unpleasant.

When we got back, David and I had a romantic Valentine's moment by pushing the stroller over to Blenz, where I received a red rose and some chocolates (how sweet!) along with my 'Chillo. We sat at a cozy table for two, with the stroller in between us, its occupant offering a regular refrain of "Mah!" when we didn't give her a bite of our snack quickly enough.

Tonight we went Lucy's again, but I was so tired and the place so crowded that the experience was not as delightful. The girls were both fidgety, and it was a struggle to get some food into them and us. I have been getting stomachaches from shoveling my food and directing incoming traffic to Jarrah's mouth (either myself or through David) at the same time. I couldn't help thinking about all the romantic Valentine's dinners David and I have had together and how they are no doubt over for some time. And I felt like I was the third baby at the table when I demanded that there be no more talk of poopy diapers for the rest of the meal. Everyone made jokes after that about how our table was the "No Poop Zone." All in all, I think I am ready to go home. Out in front of the restaurant, we saw a blackboard posted for the holiday that read "Happy Varlentine Day." As Jarrah would say, "Gachhh!"

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