Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sunday in Guangzhou with Xiao

Good afternoon yall, I'm no longer in drag but blogging you as the Jacqster herself. Our little peanut has reached the boiling point and is throwing a few things around because we said NO...she could not use fifty million tissues at once. Having thus employed the aforementioned "N" word, unlike many parents who are loath to do so, we have evinced the natural response, whose scientific name is Royal Hissy Fit (or, as we say in the south, Having a Fit and Falling In It). We removed anything breakable from within her reach, went on about our business, squelched all instincts to yell or otherwise let her push our buttons, and - hey, what do you know, she's back to sunshine within two minutes! Parents everywhere, do you need help disciplining your kids? Are you at the end of your tether with frustration? Forget SuperNanny. Pish-pish on Ritalin. Call 1-800-SHUCHAT-MARX! And don't let our son see this ad.

Let me go back a ways with you, even though I've pretty much been writing according to timeline. So much has happened to us and I'm not sure I've done it justice here. In Haikou on Hainan Province we spent two mornings at the office of the Ministry for the Department of Civil Affairs; the first to get the adoption rolling and the second to seal the deal. The papers must sit overnight in case - God forbid - the adoptive parents change their minds (what sane person would do that?!?) Our copies of the papers we filled out and signed tell nearly the entire story, but in sum we promised to raise Xiao-Ling as our daughter, to love her always and to never neglect or abandon her. No tough job there. The director and assistant director of our daughter's former orphanage had driven up from Sanya for the occasion. Xiao-Ling remembered them and lavished them with attention, hugs and that devastating smile. I'd like to point out here that she hadn't seen these folks since she was two. Clearly she had also crawled into a special place in their hearts, as she has with everyone she's met and will continue to do. A bit of trivia here: our daughter's birth name is Long Xiao-Ling; the registrar at the Ministry is named Li Xiao-Ling.

Mark and I endorsed our signatures with thumbprints; our daughter used her whole hand. Never have I seen such a dramatic shade of scarlet as in the ink with which we adopted each other. It didn't change color when it dried, either. Brrrr. I'll leave the fruits of my imagination to your conclusions. On the lighter side, it heightened the drama of what was now happening to our family -it had just grown! Sabrina, Miss Li, and the Sanya staff rejoiced with us.

We had to celebrate with a little shopping trip, so when we got back to the hotel we traipsed over to the department store to pick up shoes for Miss Tootsie-Toes. She also got a "Yapee-Dog" backpack, colored pencils and heaps of drawing paper with a pencil sharpener for her favorite activity, hua-hua (drawing). Now she was set to walk anywhere and she would always have something to do! In the morning we left for our next destination - Sanya, our daughter's birthplace.

Hainan Province is like another world. Sanya in particular felt like the edge of this one. As we traveled south for nearly five hours from Haikou by van last Wednesday, we passed farm after farm after farm; exquisitely plowed, carefully cultivated, powered only by water buffalo and elbow grease. The only tractors we saw were used in road construction. Mark and I are both animal-lovers and these powerful, gentle oxen were the first we ever saw outside of captivity. I kept heralding, "Moo alert!" The buffalo are silver-grey, humpbacked and big-horned; the "ox" on the Chinese calendar come to life. Sabrina says they are very tame and I was hoping to be able to pet one at some point but it didn't happen. Sad mooo...

Lots of rice paddies seemed to fly past us. They were also beautifully executed but one could see that they were no easy job to cultivate and maintain. And to think with what abandon we just tear into a serving of rice back home. Shameful. "Ha-Motzi Lechem Min Ha-Aretz" (the Hebrew blessing before eating, which praises God for bringing forth bread from the earth) becomes more meaningful than ever when wet, wrinkled fingers and feet are involved over a lifetime of labor.

The coconut palms, which appeared in great green number from the moment we first stepped onto Hainan Island, proved fruitful and multiplying as we headed south. Let me tell you about coconuts in their natural habitat. They are not brown and hairy. They are smooth and tannish-green. They are not the same sugar-sodden tryptophanic over-manufactured glazy foodstuff we call "coconut" back in the States. Nay, the noble coconut is a fruit. It's a juice. It's a meat. It's a milk. It's a soap. It's a soup. It's in coffee and in candy (but more nutty, less sweet, than you imagine). It's eaten with lamb, chicken and vegetables. Its liquid cradles steamed corn on the cob with kernels plump and tender. It's subtle, sweet and delicate, hale and hardy, piquant but memorable. Coconuts comprise a great deal of Hainan Island's industry, along with coffee and tourism. We find all three to be excellent endeavors.

Xiao-Ling's grieving sessions have grown farther apart in number as she adjusts to life with Mark and me. For the first three nights she was with us, she cried every night after Sabrina left at bedtime for her own hotel room. We held her gently, massaged her hands, sang softly as she wailed loudly, and kissed her tears. Even lately, this little lassie weeps when you look at her crosswise. She is learning that love means not always getting her way, but we do pay through the heart for it. She can give you a look that is pure poison (we haven't yet decided whether she outdoes Harry in that respect) and push you away when you try to reason with her, until she gets over it. But she sleeps through the night, wakes with lambent joy and calls our names as if we've always been together. And now for our song, which we sing together to the tune of Jeopardy. It's got two verses:

1.Happy girl, oh happy girl
Happy girl, oh haaaaaappy happy happy
Happy girl, oh happy girl
Hap-pee happy girl (boom boom)

2.I love you, oh I love you*
I love you, I love you love you
I love you, oh I love you you, oh I...Love...You (boom boom)

(* = pronounced "I lubyou" by guess who)

Even though we said we wouldn't overdo it, we have been calling home quite a bit because we're just too happy not to share it with our nearest and dearest. A couple of days ago we called Harry (which kind of backfired because it made him homesick for us and therefore a bit truculent with his aunt and uncle) and he and his sister talked for a couple of minutes. He said, "I love you, Mei-Mei" and she said, "I lubyou, Gur-Gur." Wow.

This morning we called my niece Rachel for her birthday. It was still yesterday where she is (and therefore still her birthday) so she was thrilled and so were we. Then we called my mother, Omi to her grandchildren. That was totally groovy. She got to talk to her new granddaughter for quite awhile. Xiao-Ling said, "Omi, I lubyou." Whatever Omi said in return remains between them, but we know it was good because our daughter was smiling and did not want to give up the phone. She also sang our special song (see lyrics above). My mother enjoys Jeopardy but she ain't never heard the theme song like this!

Tonight is the sixth night of Hanukkah. We have lit candles every night, using the hanukkiyah my late father made when he was a high-school boy in yeshiva in Frankfurt. That part of his life proved to be a light in the darkness that was the Holocaust. He was no longer allowed to go to school in his hometown of Frankenberg-an-der-Eder, a millenium-old town in Hesse where Jews and Christians had lived and worked side by side since the Enlightenment, and where he was raised in the Orthodox Mizrachi traditions that espoused loyalty to Israel before she became a state. But in his short-lived boarding school career he took on even more tradition and created this metal agent of light. To me that's even more miraculous than the ancient story of the single day's worth of oil that lasted eight days and eight nights. I never asked, and I'll never know, whether the hanukkiyah is the result of an assignment or inspiration; there's no one left alive who can tell me, and he created it long before he met my mother. But what counts is that he did make it, and like him, it survived the long dark night of terror. Like my father, it's also durable, and it travels extremely well. It has now celebrated Hanukkah with at least two sets of melodies for three generations, on three continents; in Germany, the United States, Israel and now in China.

Yesterday we left Hainan Island for the northern climate of Guangzhou in Guangdong province. Xiao-Ling made the trip far better than I did. I was out of sorts because we were out of clean clothes, we were on a crowded commuter flight that Mark dubbed "Goats 'n Chickens Air" and I was worried about the next transition: in Guangzhou we would part from our companion Sabrina for the rest of our trip. We enjoyed her so much; it wasn't just because she made our little one so happy and eased our travel and communication situation. Sabrina would answer any question, no matter how trivial it seemed. We shared meals, tried the local snacks of dried fish, bonded over our cats (she has two, we have two) and matters ranging from spiritual to cultural to civic. Of course we didn't want to come off as "ugly Americans" so we kept apologizing out the wazoo for this and that but she was absolutely wonderful about everything. We also realized early on that we could crack her up. The first few times our daughter spurned us in favor of her ayeh, we loudly faked tears and stole a line from the Bugs Bunny cartoon, Gorilla My Dreams: "Waaaaa! My baby doesn't love me!" Sabrina howled every time and was soon imitating us. We told her how to find the cartoon on YouTube. And so it was that, when Sabrina left, Xiao-Ling didn't cry but her parents did.

Now we're at a VERRRR-ry nice hotel. Most adoptive families stay at the White Swan Hotel when in Guangzhou for their American Embassy appointments (you must check out the children's book The White Swan Express - it tells our story in a nutshell) but the White Swan is just finishing up some renovation processes so we're stuck in this five-star beauty at three-star prices. We'll get to visit the White Swan anyway for the official portraits of all the babies and new families -more about that later.

This morning at breakfast I tried dragon fruit. It's black and white and red all over (the outside is red, that is, and you're not supposed to eat it, but I tried before I found out otherwise; the inside is white with tiny edible black seeds) and quite delicious. Afterwards all the families got on a huge bus for Shaiman Island, where all the kids had their individual visa photos taken. We then went to Liwan Plaza, a huge round shopping mall, where you can shop for most of the usual stuff plus jade, amber, coral, lapis, pearls, gold and silver. We got Xiao-Ling a jade pendant and two traditional silver child bracelets with tiny bells on them, so you can always hear where your child is. Our guide Elsie told us that the inscription on one of the bracelets means lifelong peace. The inscription on the other bracelet means health and good fortune. Elsie asked us whether we had chosen the bracelets on purpose for their inscriptions; indeed we had not, but what more could we wish our little one? Our daughter carried a photo of her big brother in her overalls, and pulled it out for all and sundry to see, saying, "Wuo de Gur-Gur (This is my older brother)."

Tomorrow morning we board the bus at 8:30am for the childrens' medical exams. These are mostly to ensure that nobody has communicable diseases. Xiao-Ling will have a thorough appointment with our pediatrician two days after we reach home. After a delightful Cantonese lunch (where our daughter fell asleep at the table and the staff swathed her in softest blankets) we have spent the afternoon in the room. Our darling had a scrubbly bubbly bath with shampoo, where she played for an hour. For dinner we nibbled on chestnuts we bought at the Plaza (Xiao-Ling had instant noodles) and celebrated both Hanukkah and the return of our now clean laundry. Halleluyah!

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