The Ladybug Chronicles, part VI

One of my goals during our trip to China last year to fetch the Ladybug was to post pictures to Flickr and to update the site with stories from the Far East. Unfortunately, I neglected to remember the fact that I can’t remember to do anything on time, and so I didn’t. Nevertheless, late is better than never (even if it’s a wee bit late), and  I’d still like to document the voyage (no matter how late) simply for myself, so that I can remember all the interesting details when I tell the story to the Ladybug years down the road. So, I present The Ladybug Chronicles.

Day 6: Finalizing the adoption

Tuesday, November 14, 2006, was the first time we awoke as a complete family: the Ladybug, the Queen B, and me. For the Ladybug, it was the first time she awoke to her new family, and so the little girl was still sad and afraid and confused, and comforted herself by sucking on her two middle fingers, which we learned was the Chinese equivalent of sucking on one’s thumb. For the Queen B and I, it was the first time that we were all alone in our attempts at child-rearing, as the three exhausted grandparents were fast asleep in their own hotel rooms. Let’s say it was not entirely successful.

One of the first orders of business was getting a bottle ready. The Queen B and I figured that, having just fundamentally destroyed her familial worldview, it was probably asking a bit much of the Ladybug to alter her digestive one as well, so we agreed to continue to use the Chinese milk formula Maoqing had provided us with. That sounded easy enough, but trying to figure out the correct ratio of formula to water when all the documentation on the box is in Mandarin Chinese while your new daughter, suddenly realizing where she is, explodes into tears and fitfully cries, is surprisingly difficult. Nevertheless, after several minutes of what I’m sure would have appeared to the detached independent observerer as the comical panicking of new parents over the potential lethality of an incorrectly proportioned bottle of formula, we eventually settled on what we hoped was a non-fatal dose and popped it into the Ladybug’s mouth.

…Who survived, so score one for us. Yay.

After getting the breakfast into the Ladybug, the next order of business was, well, getting it out. Now, we’d been told by Les that almost all Chinese babies had some level of potty training, even as young as the Ladybug. According to Les, a Chinese mother would simply lovingly hold her baby over the potty, whisper sweet tinkling noises into the baby’s ear, and the baby would magically… well… go. So when it was time to for the Ladybug to do her business, we dutifully stripped down her lower extremities, lovingly (if awkwardly) held her over the potty, whispered sweet tinkling sounds into her ear, and our baby magically burst forth into terrified screaming and clenched herself up into a little ball. I’m not sure if it was that the Ladybug was confused with her new inept parents or concerned by the Western toilet (let’s face it, from her perspective, it must have looked like we were trying to dunk her into a giant bowl, mayhaps to eat her), or that Les was just full of baloney, but in either case, we (1) were unable to replicate the magic Chinese potty training technique and (2) terrified the Ladybug so much that we plugged her up for a couple of days after.

So, score minus-one for us. Boo.

Still, despite the ginormous extent of our incompetence, we played and cooed and held and loved the Ladybug all morning long, eventually discovering that we could feed her bananas, a ready-made foodstuff that, in addition to its obvious nutritional benefits and conspicuous lack of Chinese assembly instructions, also had the added bonus of making the Ladybug smile:

Now even though the Ladybug had been handed over to us and she was our daughter by love and our daughter by spirit, she was not yet our daughter by law. To finalize the adoption, all of us new almost-legal families piled into a bus and made our way across Guiyang on what was now becoming an old-hat kamikaze traffic excursion. We eventually stopped on a nondescript street lined with multistory apartment buildings on one side, and multistory government buildings on the other. In fact, on the face of it, the only way to distinguish between the two types of otherwise faceless high-rises is that apartment buildings always have clothes drying on lines outside each window, whereas the government buildings, as a rule, do not.

Our guides Phoebe and Simon lead us up to the second story, where we reassembled in a long, undecorated white room that glowed hospital green under florescent lights. The room had round windows one one wall and was utterly undecorated, save for a long chain of tables forming a connected rectangular ring of seating just within the periphery of the walls. At the head of the table was a gaggle of young women armed with what appeared to be a old-growth-forest’s worth of legal documents and a number of digital cameras. Once we were seated, the women went about collating the different forms, and then one-by-one, family-by-family, began the paperwork of finalizing the adoption.

As we waited for our turn, the Queen B and I took turns holding the Ladybug who was, if still not exactly thrilled about her clumsy new family, was at least willing to put up with us as long as we fed her bananas and Chinese milk formula. She even chatted with us a little, teeny-voiced Wah-wah-wah‘s that would trail off in her tiny, gravelly voice. From time to time she’d even smile, a small but wonderfully-non-banana-induced smile, and I had the first glimmers of hope that our sad-eyed little girl could in fact be happy with us.

Eventually it was our turn for paperwork, initiating the weirdest legal session I’ve ever participated in. One women would hand out paper from us while Phoebe explained that we were to look over it and make sure everything was in order. This was, of course, a completely asinine request, as each of the forms was written completely in Chinese, with the only recognizable characters on any page being the letters of our names or Arabic numeral digits in patterns we recognized as our birthdates. The content of each form was hastily explained to us by Simon as we glanced over it — this is an approval of the abandonment certificate; this says you will care for your daughter in the United States, and so forth — but it could just as easily stated that we the undersigned agreed that all Westerners were in fact assholes and we had no right to be parents of anyone at all. Nevertheless, upon the approval of the spelling of our names and birthdates, another women would whisk the paper away while the first women dug out another sheet and the cycle repeated. The process continued like this for some time, periodically interrupted by the need for us to sign our names here, or put our thumbprint there, or surrender mitochondrial DNA now, and the like.

Eventually we got to the last form, which required mot only both our signatures and our thumbprints in red ink, but in fact an entire hand print from the Ladybug. The Queen B placed the Ladybug’s open palm on the cold ink pad, whereupon the little girl whipped away her hand and balled it into a fist. We then spent the next fifteen minutes trying to get the Ladybug to open up her hand to get the hand print on the legal paper, a process slightly less difficult than, say, asking an engineer to build this in your backyard. Eventually the Ladybug realized that she would require both her hands if she wanted to, say, operate a banana or her bottle, so she relented and placed her hand on the paper, forever sealing her fate as the daughter of two unapologetic math dorks and the protagonist in a series of embarrassing monthly newsletters she will one day resent ever had existed. Welcome to the family, Ladybug.

Our papers were the collated together, and we were given copies of her birth certificate, abandonment certificate, and an English translation of the final adoption decree. The actual decree itself was given to us in a small red book, adorned with the the seal of China on the outside and a picture of the Ladybug looking petrified of her parents on the inside. Ah, good times.

To complete the final completion of all the Guizhou girls’ adoptions only took a couple of hours, but given the heat of the cramped little room and the percussive and perpetual crying of the little Chinese babies (who, let’s face it, were still terrified of their new, slightly-more-than-24-hour-old families), it felt slightly longer than that, like, say, a week. Hence, upon the final red-handed baby signature, Les decided that us frazzled new parents, now suddenly officially parents of a confused little girl in the middle of an alien nation, could use a little familiarity and, perhaps, some baby supplies, so he bundled us back up in the bus and headed to that most sacred of American Meccas:

Yes, Wal-Mart. On the one hand, walking into that Chinese Wal-Mart Supercenter was just like being back home in the states: its massive warehouse homogeneity, universally tacky discount posters, and staff barely proficient in cursory English made me feel right at home. On the other hand, walking into a Wal-Mart Supercenter and being initially greeted not by some charming geriatric but instead by bin after bin of barely-dead tentacled things to take home for dinner is, well, considerably disconcerting. Nevertheless, we dutifully shopped like the good consumers we were, stocking up on Chinese baby formula and diapers for the benefit of the Ladybug, and intensely alcoholic Chinese beer for the benefit of the parents.

After shopping, Les felt it was time for us to celebrate with our first group dinner as families, so we were then scurried away to an upscale restaurant in the heart of Guiyang. It’s worth mentioning at this point that one of the delights of being in China is Chinese dining. I’m not talking about the food itself (although admittedly real Chinese cooking is otherworldly divine compared to its Americanized analogs); rather, it’s the eating experience. At a restaurant in China, tables are invariably round, with a massive Lazy Susan set in the center. At meals, the food — soups, noodles, meat dishes, fruits, and so on — are place not in front of whatever patron ordered them, but on the rotating disk. Then all the guests help themselves to portions of all of the dishes, sampling a little here and there:

As you dine, the wait staff periodically removes empty plats and replaces them with something else in the diner’s queue, eventually exhausting all the orders. One end result is that all the guests sample a little bit of everything, making the dining experience far more interesting and adventurous: after all, why not sample the roasted tentacle thing? If you don’t like it, you’re not stuck with a whole plate of it. Another consequence was that dinnertime tended to be every animated, vocal, and fun, since the openness of the round table meant that everybody could see everyone else, while the interactive nature of, say, twelve people trying to rotate a Lazy Susan in twelve mutually opposing directions virtually assured that everybody needed to talk to everyone else.

It is worth noting that Chinese restaurants that also serve international cuisine (like familiar American or Italian or French foods) invariably serve them Chinese style. Hence, if your party orders, say, a hamburger, a plate of spaghetti, and an order of crepes, then the food will come out, one-at-a-time in a futile attempt to encourage sharing. As such food is really not meant to be shared, the inevitable consequence of this is that non-Chinese dinners end up being a sequence of uncomfortable solitary dining experiences during which one person eats while all the other folks watch intently. So my advice: if you’re ever in China, just eat Chinese.

Midway through dinner, we were briefly serenaded by two girls in authentic regional ethic costumes who not so much sang at us as attempted to replicate the frequencies that would cause glassware and cranial tissue to rupture. Ostensibly this was a special treat for all of us. For the parents, it celebrated our becoming Chinese, for according to old custom, when you raise a Chinese child you are, no matter your place of birth, Chinese as well. So for all of the new parents, it was a special thing to be welcomed and thanked for the adoption, as many of us were wary about how we would be perceived in Guiyang, a city in which international adoption is still relatively a unfamiliar concept. For the baby girls, it was to celebrate their finding permanent families, and a blessing for their prosperous future. While I can’t speak for the rest of the Guizhou girls, I think the message was not entirely lost on the Ladybug:

We were finally, legally, and now musically, a family.

And that night, the Ladybug slept like a rock.

More…

You can check out more pictures from our first full day as a family over at Flickr.

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