Friday, February 8, 2008

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Happy Chinese New Year to all. If you're Chinese, Jewish and living in the West, you have three chances per year for a fresh new start. Welcome to the Year of the Rat! Mozart was a Rat, Churchill was a Rat; I'm a Rat who married a Rooster and we're the proud parents of a team of Horses (what - no Pigs??). Here's the latest saga of our barnyard menagerie:

Last night we got together with the kids and our neighbors, whose daughter is from Nanjing and is Harry's best friend at school. Naturally we went out for a great Chinese meal. When the fortune cookies came (note: this is a purely American tradition; there are no fortune cookies in China) we read them all out loud with the usual guffaws. I joked as usual that my fortune was "Learn Chinese", when suddenly there was a small but significant sound at my elbow. I looked down to see that Xiao-Ling was pronouncing the Chinese word on the back of my fortune, which I had not yet said out loud.

My daughter can't read English yet, but I handicapped her anyway by covering the English transliteration of the word so she could only see the Chinese characters, and she pronounced it again.

To make sure that I was not dreaming, I asked to see somebody else's fortune paper and, again without pronouncing the word on the back, showed Xiao-Ling only the character. She read this one as well. It was "Deng" (Wait). I repeated it after her. She corrected my inflection. I repeated it again and she said, "Yesss."

That's it, then. Our daughter is her own red thread between her birthplace and her growing-up place. We had heard from Sabrina that our daughter knew a few characters but apparently they've really sunk in. Now we have a new goal: to teach her English without costing her any Mandarin. After all, a Messiah has to be able to communicate with everybody. L'Shanah Tovah!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Looking back on our trip to China with love

Here are some emails we sent and received when we first arrived in Beijing:

Subject: nI HAO! We have arrived and ARE FINE!!!!

Dear Mom and everyone,

>>Good morning my darling Harry! We love you!<<

Here we are at the SAS Radisson in Beijing. We're going to rest for awhile, then go out and buy bottled water (can't drink or brush teeth with tap water here) before we have a good clean-up after the plane. More details will be on the blog in a few minutes, so follow the continuing saga of Bringing Xiao-Ling Home! Now things are starting to get exciting.

Mark & Jacquie
From: Aunt Jackie in Westchester

hi jacquie & mark...
i think there's a dash between xiao and ling in the address of the blog because it didn't get highlighted in blue in my email...just fyi
harry is very good and listened to your phone message this morning. i had a dentist's appt and he came with me AND HE GOT TO PICK A PRESENT FROM THE TOY CHEST!
afterward we went to pizza pizzazz where we had guess what for lunch and he got to play games in their little arcade...with his winning tickets he got to pick a prize...are you so proud? a whoopie cushion!
his favorite thing to do was play test drive where he sits and steers a car on the video screen...
love to you all - hope the day was great!
mark: glad your dream was just a dream and you picked the right starbucks!
ps harry sends kisses and love...


great to hear from you, my and zeida's wishes are with you. much love ,
grandma bubbe Molly


We are soooooooooooooooooooo excited for you. The blog is wonderful. Mom just called and said that she spoke to her granddaughter!!!! Zowee!!!! Sounds like she is a real sweety!
Love you! Elaine & Elliott

Everytime I come home, I run to the computer to see if there is nore on the blog or an e mail from you. This is soooooooooo wonderful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Xiao-Ling sounds and looks adorable. Quite a little independent little girl! We are hanging on your every word!!!!
Love you.
Off to bed-- it is 11:21 PM and time for some shut eye.
More tomorrow.

I am thrilled with all your messages. She sounds like a real sweetheart. Talked to Harry, he actually talked to me, seems very happy & they love him. So what's not to love !!! Hope you get this Love Mom, Mama Omi.


I have been devotedly reading your blog and am quite in love with our newest little one. She looks so American in her little jeans! I know the anxieties you both are facing and yet in a year, not really, probably like six months, they will be long gone memories. She will be watching sponge-bob with Harry and they will be fighting as if they have always been brother and sister. And they have, they just didnt know it the day they were born.

And now for something totally different. I was reading the comments on the blog and one person asked you to bring them back a Starbuck's mug. I too collect Starbuck's stuff, but only the cards that you put money on. If you wont mind, would you pick me up every different one that you see? They are free and you dont have to load any money on them. It would be a real coup for me to have Starbuck's cards from China. I would be totally indebted to you. Selfish, I know, but my gratitude runs deep.
kisses to you and X-L. what a sweetie.


Back to the voice of the mom now. Xiao-Ling loves Spongebob Squarepants! All I have to do is sing or whistle "who-lives-in-a-pineapple-under-the-sea" and she responds in perfect rhythm!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Name of the Dame

On Sunday we formally, publicly welcomed Xiao-Ling into the Jewish community. At last, we unveil her names to you:

Given name: Miriam Xiao-Ling Leora Shuchat-Marx

Hebrew Name: Ariel Rina Devorah bat [daughter of] Moshe David v'heHazzan Yaakova Leah

Here's the lowdown on how she got her names:

Miriam = for Mark's grandfather Morris "Red" Shuchat, whom I called Zeyde. Zeyde did live well into meeting and knowing Harry. We have some great photos and film of him all smiles as the wee boy crawls all over him. Also for Mark Whitt and for Marc Orchant, both of blessed memory.

Xiao-Ling = well d'uh, it's her birth name! Means "dawn bell."

Leora = for my paternal aunt Leonie, who raised my father from a pup, prepared his Bar Mitzvah luncheon of calves' foot jelly (in their Orthodox community I'd have to assume it was the front feet) and other South German delectables, cooked for at least five generations of family in her 94 years and could make "Don't fall" sound like "I love you."

Ariel = for my other paternal aunt Anny, who also raised my father from a pup, taught him how to live, and sent him home-knit and -sewn comforts while he fought in WWII - including a double-sized sleeping bag she'd made by fastening two together.

Rina = for our dear friend Renee, a lovely cantor who left us far too soon. Rina was Renee's Hebrew name and it means "singing."

Devorah = for another dear soul who left too early - my sweet Dara, the most loving wife, mother and friend you could possibly imagine, and the funniest too. Her heart was made of Torah.

it was a perfect day, surrounded by family, friends and congregation. What more could we ask?
Don't ask!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Happy New Year!

Greetings, everyone. I know we've been terrible at keeping up with you. Last night was my first near-normal sleep since December 15. The kids are crazy about each other and we can't keep them asleep upstairs because they play all night, so they're sleeping in our room for the time being. I know, I know...but if somebody (namely Mark & me) don't get a proper rest, it won't be good for any of the four of us. So, onward!

This past Friday night, as we sat down to prepare lighting candles for Shabbat, Xiao-Ling said, "Baruch Atah!" before we even mentioned what we were about to do. Wow!

Ta-Ta for now.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The New Jew Review and Other Sleepless Tales

It's been nearly two weeks since we've posted, and our lives have been crazy-hectic since our return. Some folks have opined that we should change the name of our blog since our daughter IS finally, technically home, but our journey is not yet done, at least until everyone sleeps all night in their designated bed. So for now we will keep our post-travel adventures under this same banner, and we thank everyone for keeping up with us.

Before our trip, our son Harry expressed to us his fear of no longer being the baby; of no longer being special to us. I assured him that love is a thing that grows as a family grows. This has come true to unbelievable proportions. In truth I was afraid that mine would be the only heart that couldn't adequately expand. Although my heart usually thinks before my brain does, I had kept my heart incredibly safe during the more than 2 1/2 years it took for us to crawl over the crags to get to our daughter. Would I be too exhausted at the end of our journey to love her properly?

When we got together with our daughter, all my fears fell away. My heart unlocked to receive her totally. She met us more than halfway on that score. But we did not feel like a family of four until we touched down in Newark and Harry was in our arms once more. And there was still work to be done; Harry had been left out of our first two weeks with his sister, and there was a heavy price to pay. Now we needed to lay all our love, and then some, on both kids.

It wasn't more than a few days before the little mister was his old self again. He fell in love with his sister right away (and she with him), which tided us over in the meantime. When he once more began soliciting hugs, kisses and "I love you"s (in English and in Mandarin) we knew we were back on the right road. Now they chatter constantly and each understands the other 99% of the time. He calls her Mei-Mei and she calls him Guh-Guh except for when she teases him and calls him Dee-Dee (little brother), which he thinks is a hoot.

The second most amazing discovery here is that everyone was right: the heart is indeed our most flexible muscle, with room to grow and expand for every special person we add into our lives. The most amazing discovery is how much more our love could grow for the child who was already in it. I love Harry more each time I see him, and not just because of the patience and guidance he displays toward his sister. His very soul has grown in the last two weeks, and it is a blessing to our entire family. There is nothing he wouldn't do for Xiao-Ling.

As for the cats, they are besides themselves with joy. They swan around the house purring loudly all day; they check on their newest "kitten" with nuzzles and more purrs, and end up in Mark's or my arms, buzz-bombing us with halleluyahs that plainly say, Thank you, thank you for bringing her home! We can't believe we have another baby to take care of and we love it love it love it!

Our first major outing as a family came five days after we got home: to the mikveh in Teaneck, where our little one formally Joined the Tribe. I went into the water with her. She looked awfully cute but I can't post that picture here. So I'll post its opposite: the first-ever published photo from the POV of the Ritual Bath - check out the smiling rabbis, all good friends of ours, who served as our Beit Din:

So this is what it looks like to watch somebody turn into a Jew! The short one in front has yet to be ordained: he is still known as Guh-Guh.

Yesterday our daughter turned five. We had a family-only celebration with lasagna and cake. Xiao-Ling joined in the singing of "Happy Birthday." I can't believe we are the parents of two five-year-olds. Mark and I have Jewish twins. It's amazing.

The hardest part comes at night. At first we put each kid in his/her own bedroom, but they got up and partied way into the night. Then we put Harry and Xiao-Ling into her bedroom together and...they got up and partied all night. As much as he loves her, he soon got tired of getting up to play, so she did it alone. Then she would cry like an infant when we put her back in bed - dozens of times in one night. We tried a few times to wait until she fell asleep on one of us (after she was in her PJs) but the moment she felt her body being laid prone, she woke up and cried to break your heart. By this time we were putting her in a toddler bed at the foot of our bed (our bedroom is on the main floor) and putting Harry in the guest room (same level) because he didn't want to be the only one sleeping upstairs. I know I haven't had a full night's sleep in two weeks. That's never happened to me before.

Last night it finally hit me: The infant-like weeping, the clinging to me in her sleep unlike any interaction when she's awake, the refusal to sleep alone - it all added up. Between the orphanage and the foster-care center, she's never had a room to herself. The first ten months of her life are a mystery, but chances are she has never slept they way we're all used to sleeping, or at least napping, immediately after we're born: cuddled up to a parent, assimilating his or her aroma, receiving unconditional physical care. The term "kangaroo care" comes to mind (see Internet) and I spent the the entire night holding my youngest. Although she isn't a preemie and both parties were fully pajama'd, Xiao-Ling had her most restful night yet Stateside. Before she can graduate to somnulent independence, she must first experience what every baby is entitled to: a hand-on feeling of love that guards her while she slumbers. I feel quite confident that she won't still require this when she graduates college, but for now it's necessary. Shabbat Shalom - we'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Jersey Girl

Fresh off the plane: here is a sleepy little miss enjoying her first lolly on American soil.

Good news: Harry's arm isn't broken, it's wrenched and bruised. He has a follow-up Friday with his orthopedist.

Bad news: These kids aren't getting much sleep, and neither are we. They love each other to pieces (yay) but stay up all night to celebrate siblinghood (boo). Plus, Xiao-Ling's digestion is still on Beijing time so when she does sleep she wakes up at 2 and 3am to holler for food or to be taken to the potty. How is it possible for this silver-bell-fairy-voiced little pipsqueak be so all-fired LOUD in the dead of night? It's not as if she inherited a big mouth! And yet when she woke up this morning, it was once again fairy time. Her sleepy, sweet smile with that gap-toothed grin belied any ruckus, past or present. Sheeesh.

Harry's spirits have risen as his arm improves. Every time he comes home from school or wakes up, the first thing he wants to do is check on his Mei-Mei.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Q:How To Make Shabbat Last Twice As Long

A. 1.Go to Beijing Capital Airport at 3 in the afternoon
2.Board flight CO88 for Newark, New Jersey
3.Take off at 5pm
4.Land in Newark same day, 40 minutes later
5.Remember: Steps 3-4 take 13 hours to complete.

We have landed. All our stuff arrived just fine, and....drum roll please! May I introduce the newest citizen of the United States of America, Miss Xiao-Ling Shuchat-Marx! As we officially entered U.S. soil through the "Foreigners" queue as instructed, we were escorted to a special security area where we sat comfortably for almost an hour while they got to her file. As soon as the immigrations officer pronounced her a citizen, her dad and mom broke into a loud "Shehechiyanu" followed by an even louder rendition of "Stars & Stripes Forever."

Harry met us outside the security area with his Saba and Savta, and all present were most enchanted with their new sister and granddaughter, respectively. Xiao-Ling took to her brother like a duck to water. She won his heart by repeating everything he said; by offering to share her Tootsie Pop with a devastating smile; and by saying, "I LUB-you, Gur-Gur." We got home late after stopping for food staples, and I have not been to bed yet except for a short nap. It has been a pleasure to settle in. Xiao-Ling is crazy about her room. She received a huge package of clothes from her Ayeh Karen, who is obviously not planning to send her kids back to college next semester from the size of this gift!

First bedtime at new home was absolutely delicious. She loves the cats. Gingie spent bedtime on Xiao-Ling's bed; he's obviously delighted to have a new baby to look after. We read her two adoption classics: The White Swan Express, which we mentioned earlier, and Rose Lewis' I Love You Like Crazycakes. She enjoyed them but pointed out that the mother pictured in Crazycakes is really an ayeh. Okay, that's her story and she's sticking to it. Also, when she opened the book to the page illustrating the babies being cared for in the orphanage, she sang, "Ohh Mei-Mei, Mei-Mei," for quite a while and pointed at each baby in turn as she did so. Just before Sh'ma I got lots of kisses rained on me, and was told, "I LUB-you veh'mush!" My feet haven't touched the ground since.

It's important to mention that Harry is very excited but his feelings are quite conflicted. He and his sister had fun gabbing in the backseat on our way home and he's enjoying the love she showers on him, but he says that at the same time he feels out of the loop. After being part of our threesome for more than five years, he had to endure three weeks away from us while we forged a bond with Xiao-Ling in his absence. That's a tough one and I wish we could have done things differently but he would have chafed all the way through China. The hardest part of this whole adventure was being separated from him for three weeks. He seems to have grown and aged by leaps and bounds in our absence. I will do all in my power to heal his spirit from any damage we may have caused him in the quest for his sister. Ana Eil na r'fa na lo - God, please heal my boy and help me to mend his hurt.

There is something else - Harry had to go to the ER tonight with what turned out to be a "bend" fracture in his left arm. Apparently he was crawling under something earlier today at his aunt & uncle's house, and fell on his own arm. He was favoring it significantly, but cried in pain at one point and that's not like him. Mark was with him in ER and Xray until they came home at 5am. Harry now has a splint and we'll take him to an orthopedist on Monday for a cast, which he'll have to wear for at least four weeks. Guilt screams in my inner ear. Ana Eil na r'fa na lanu...