Sunday, September 30, 2012

"More clam bake, please!"

We've definitely got some more photos to share. Last night we went to Chris & Val's clam bake, and the kids were all stars. We'd been talking about the party during the week leading up to it, and the kids were pumped. Lincoln was talking about how he was going to eat his and my clams, and Lydia, on the way there, kept shouting out, "Clam bake!" Between lots of good food, a hay ride and a couple of good-sized fires, the kids had a blast. Jenn and I were foiled in our plan, though, for the kids to sleep on the way home. Henry got to the slap-happy stage, and Lydia and Lincoln were happy to play along. As we approached I-90, Lydia shouted out, "More clam bake, please!"

I should also identify Grace, the nice girl holding Henry in the photo above. We see her and her parents once annually at the clam bake, and she and her family remember us and couldn't be nicer to the kids. I'd adopt Grace as our permanent baby sitter if her parents made her available.
The two young ones cried a bit when we left them in kids class at church today, but each of them settled down within minutes, and each of them were playing nicely and comfortably when we returned to get them.
Lydia has been saying some funny things lately. Once, while Jenn and I were having a conversation in the kitchen, Lydia said, "Scuse me, Dad. Want talk 'bout stuff." Then today, when I was changing her diaper, she identified Cookie Monstor on her diaper, so I proceeded to sing the "'C' is for Cookie" song that I've been singing lately with the kids when we see Cookie Monstor. Uh-Uh. "Daddy, please don't sing that song." Well...

And on the Henry-talking front, he's started to say "step stool," but it sounds remarkably like how he says, "my turn." Little by little...
Gretel has been fixated on what has been taking place beneath our deck. For a while we weren't sure what exactly that was, but when I found a dead bunny on our patio with an abdominal puncture wound and a saliva-soaked coat, I felt like I could put my finger on her point of interest for the first time.
I'd like to conclude with our bull in our China shop...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Game Time @ BGSU w/ Aunt Haley

Today we went to Bowling Green State University to see Aunt Haley play. It was neat to see her, Lincoln was especially excited about it, and she didn't disappoint. Bowling Green isn't too good right now, but it was clear by watching today's game that Haley is one of the bright spots on the team (along with a couple of other good freshmen), and they've got to be excited that she's got three more years with the program. BG is on the bottom of the MAC, and they played first place Kent State to a 0-0 draw. The best burst of offense by BG was with 9 minutes to play in the first half when Haley was (finally!) inserted into the game. She played the full second half as well as the full 20 minutes of overtime. Coach must have liked what he saw out of her... I'd suggest starting her next time. BG had some scoring opportunities late in the second half and a few chances in the OT, but alas, they settled for what is better than a loss.

It was a family affair, as Larry, Marti & Kas, along with the Great Grandparents Mullen and Grandma Laura and Grandpa Dave made up a decent fraction of the BG cheering section. It sure is a long drive out to BG, but it something that was a lot of fun, and a good way to see Aunt Haley and touch base with her.

All in all, despite their lousy record, and Haley saying that she's looking forward to next year's dorm situation, she also says she loves BG and is so glad she's there. Must be pretty cool!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Apples, v.2012

As is Gates Family tradition, we went out to the apple orchard today to gather some apples, as well as squash, cider and apple donuts. The kids were great. Until their donuts were gone, and then the wheels came off. But it was time to go home. So aside from the meltdown at the very end, we had a lot of fun meandering around the trees and filling up our bags full of apples.

We're off to Bowling Green tomorrow!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Another Birthday Party, and Shaking the Sick Bug

Last Saturday we went to the birthday party of a son of friends from church. It was a low-key gathering and a fun time for the parents to chat and the kids to eat sugary things.

On the kid front, there have been some funny things happen lately that I just need to write down here so I don't forget.

Several days ago, during a period of insanity when Jenn was considering whether or not we'll adopt again any time soon, she said to Lincoln, "What would you think if we went back to China in a couple of years and adopted a little girl?"

Lincoln thought for a moment, then said, "No. We'd need to get a bigger wagon."

On Tuesday evening we were out in the driveway while Henry was meanering around, Lincoln was riding his tricycle some and generally keeping busy and Lydia was sitting on her tricycle. All of a sudden, her tricycle got rolling and was heading toward the muddy mess that sits beside our driveway. Henry was in my arms at this point and I was too far away to stop her, but Lincoln was on that side of the driveway, and without thinking, he ran in front of her tricycle and grabbed the handle bars and stopped it from jumping over the little curb, which no doubt would have spilled Lydia into the mud and prompted a dramatic display of crying. Jenn and I couldn't believe it. A decisive, unselfish, gut reaction from our Lincoln. We're proud of him. And in the same cyber-breath, I'll share this photo...
Today was "Share And Tell" at preschool, and you may or may not be surprised to know that Lincoln took his inflatable globe, and told the class some facts about the countries which have been featured in his Highlights mystery packs: Japan, Brazil and India. He pointed them out on the globe, and then shared a fact about each of these: he told the boys and girls that Japan is a country made up of many islands, Brazil is the largest country in South America, and India has Asian elephants that help people work with heavy objects. I asked him over lunch what some of the other kids shared, and he said, "One boy brought Spongebob!" And ours gave a geography lesson. Yes. We're very proud of Lincoln.

Henry's trying to talk, and he's getting a few new sounds out. Lydia is speaking in paragraphs and sharing conversations with us that she's retained from who knows when. She's hilarious to watch. She's got her alphabet down, and she's starting to fill in the blanks on some of our sing-along songs. Lately, we've been happy that Henry is reliably shaking his head "yes" and "no." He's started saying, "Yah!" to our questions... the problem is that he'll say, "Yah!" to, "Henry, do you want to get dressed now?" and, "Henry, you look tired, are you ready for bed?" and, "Henry, is the sky green?" It's kind of funny, and we'll take any verbal communication out of him. Just knowing that he's understanding that verbal interaction is a good thing and something that we expect of him is nice to see.

The runny nose bug has run through our house again, and I think it may finally be gone. Lincoln, as usual, is the one to bring it home. He's usually bothered by less than 24 hours. Lydia then gets it next and is an absolute train wreck. Jenn and I can usually count on no meaningful sleep during her first night of sickness. I was curious to see how Henry would respond, and he, too, had a tough time at night. At the front end of this week Jenn was thoroughly exhausted. I fared a bit better. Last night, with the exception of Henry getting fussy for a few minutes at 11:00pm, the kids slept all night, which was a first in the last 10 days.

We're looking foward to continuing our family tradition of fall time apple picking this Saturday. Then in the afternoon Jenn's parents and grandparents are arriving in town for us to go over to see Haley play at Bowling Green on Sunday. This will be a first for all of us to see our D-1 athlete daughter/sister/grand-daughter play at the collegiate level. Bowling Green is having a rough start to their season, but they weren't very good last year, and looking at the team stats, the freshmen are getting some playing time. Looks like a good year to rebuild, get some experience, and work toward some good stuff in seasons to come. In any event, it'll be nice to see Haley and spend some time as a Parkinson-side-of-the-family out there. Lydia and Henry will not be making the trip, but instead will be hanging out with Grandma Paulette and Grandpa Doug.

Jenn is doing a really good job planning a party to catch Lydia's and Henry's birthdays and to incoporate a costume party for our friends/family. The decor and favors are in the works. The kids all have costumes ready to go, and today Jenn and I ordered ours. Photos definitely to come after this fun event.

I haven't had much to say about the dogs lately. They've been really good with the kids, and relatively little trouble. I guess the dogs are like a good offensive line in football... if you're not hearing about them, they're probably doing their job.

Tonight Jenn's at Ladies Night with our ABF at church. She's taken on the role of planning the evenings, choosing the speakers and directing the content. Could you imagine anyone better for that job?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Birthday With The Fam

Today we celebrated my birthday with my parents and Grandma Gates. The kids were in rare form earlier today coming off of a couple days of runny noses and less than ideal sleep. So a trip to Grandma & Grandpa's house was a welcome thing because everything always get's better at Grandma & Grandpa's house!

Here's a sampling of today's fun, concluding with a shot of the Goodyear blimp off in the distance. It was apparently coming back from the Cleveland area. Usually it passes directly over our house, but today it didn't. It was okay, though, because the kids got to see it as we drove alongside it on the way home after the festivities.

I've got to say, I love going over to my parent's house for family time. They're great with the grandkids, the food is always good, things are slow-paced which makes things as relaxing as it can possibly be with three crazy kids, and they're just so generous with their time and things. All of this makes Jenn and I look forward to our vacation time (along with the Hopwoods!) next summer.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Checkin' Out The Cars

Lincoln and I went to Convertible Night at the Riverfront Cruise In. Lots of classic cars and just a good dad and son evening.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

First Day Of Preschool

Earlier this week, one little boy we know started preschool! Wow. Jeff Foxworthy had a routine where he talked about waking up one morning and thinking about a mortgage, a minivan and a couple of kids and thinking, "How'd this happen?" Aside from the minivan, we are those people!

Today was a Saturday as a family, and we had a fun morning of a slow breakfast and some time at the mall, then an afternoon at a birthday party and a meet-your-neighbors party across the street. The kids did great and we all had a fun time together.
The other day, Lincoln said, "You should have given me a wolf towel so when I wear it I could say, 'Towwwwwwwwwwwwwwl!'" The kid's pretty sharp.

Adoption Trip Packing List... sort of...

After much delay, it's now time for us to share with you...

Jenn & Ryan's
Things To Get In Order
Before You Leave For Your
Adoption Trip

Setting Your Expectations Appropriately
(with the exception of the first point, this list is in no particular order)

For starters, I'll mention that one of our mottos in life, both at home and at work is: Unrealistic expectations are the quickest way to disappointment.  In light of this truism, SET YOUR EXPECTATIONS APPROPRIATELY.

  • Do what it takes before you leave to have as strong of a marriage as you can possibly have.  Communicate.  Serve.  The cultural experience/appreciation side of the trip, before you're given your child, is a lot like a vacation.  But then you're given your child, and the hours and days that follow are nothing like a vacation. (That is unless you routinely vacation in a completely foreign culture with the children of strangers.)  You may have experienced some degree of stress before as a married couple, but there is no stress like having a toddler placed in your care about whom you know next to nothing, and vice versa. Get as ready as you can for trials in your marriage as you've never seen before.

  • The days after Henry came to us were as trying as any that Jenn and I had experienced together.  After we got real honest with each other, and had a better understanding of each other's feelings and emotions, the rest of the trip actually became as enjoyable as it could be under the circumstances.  That is to say, we still had massive new responsibilities amongst a foreign culture, but I can honestly say that we enjoyed each other in the midst of it.

  • Pony up and get a seat for your child on your trip home.  You may get lucky and have extra seats on your plane, but don't count on it. Countless times on our return flight one of us said to the other, "This was soooooo worth it." The whole ordeal of the previous two weeks was exhausting, and having the extra space on the plane was invaluable.  Thankfully, Henry warmed to me as time passed and was comfortable with my handling him and with sitting on my lap, but after his extreme attachment to Jenn at the outset, I knew in Zhengzhou that she wasn't looking forward to the prospect of having Henry sitting on her for 14 hours on one flight and then another 2 to Cleveland.  That wasn't even a concern because we'd bought the ticket already.  Set your expectations on an extreme attachment to one parent (more on this below), and if your child becomes more comfortable along the way with the other, you'll be happy about.

    And you've already spent many thousands of dollars on the adoption (and you'll spend more than you think at the moment feeding your child upon your return), what's a little more for a more comfortable trip at the tail end of travel?  Funny thing, Henry napped best when one of us would get up to stretch our legs and he could lay across two seats!

  • Concerned about the Great (Fire)Wall of China?  Don't be.  I kept up with my blog on Blogger, managed my photos on Picasa, and Facebooked with regularity, and did it all from my iPad.  There are many ways to skin a cat, but what worked for me in terms of apps were...

    1. VPN Fire and/or VPN Express.  One or both of these are absolute musts for using Facebook, Blogger, Wordpress, Twitter, and often Picasa in China. I'd suggest having both available because there is region-to-region variability.  Each had free trial periods, and very reasonable rates for when the trials expired.  I used VPN Fire for <$2 total when my free trials ran out.
    2. I wrote my posts in Evernote because I'm comfortable with writing HTML.  If your not into coding, the Wordpress app is good if you're on Wordpress, and I've heard there are a couple of good apps for writing in Blogger.
    3. After loading my photos onto the iPad, I shrunk the resolution with SimpleResize, then used Best Album to upload them to my Picasa account.  Cutting and pasting the code wasn't the absolute most convenient thing to do, but once I got into the routine, it was no big deal.
    4. The only hitch with the iPad was that I couldn't hook it up to the hard wire in the Zhengzhou Crowne Plaza and had to go to the lobby for WiFi.  It was inconvenient, the staff eventually got tired of us sitting in the lobby in the evenings, Skyping was difficult with the surrounding noise, and sitting among smokers smoking in front of non-smoking signs was bothersome. Features that were not blocked by the firewall were: Skype and Yahoo.
    5. And after I returned I found out about Snapseed when reading my Popular Photography. I would have enjoyed touching up my photos with this in the absence of my Aperture at home.

  • We bought an electrical adapter, but we never used it.  With the exception of the Regal Kowloon (not a fan), all of the rooms were equipped with Western adapters.

  • Bring your minor health care needs as these things may or may not be available to you over there, and even if they are available... good luck finding them: BandAids, Q-tips, cotton balls, dental floss, tylenol, Pepto, oragel, allergy medicine, cortisone cream, colace, Vicks (never know about a cold/upper resp. issue), butt paste, tums, melatonin, sun screen, pedialyte packets, and any antibiotics you can get your hands on.

  • You'll need gifts for various officials along the way, and some of them cannot accept money. Jenn took Malley's Chocolates and BeautiControl products.

  • Get ready to do some laundry in the room (underwear, socks, burp-cloths, etc.), but don't hesitate to send your shirts and shorts/pants out to be laundred.  The hotels will charge you an arm and a leg, but your guide(s) ought to have contacts in your cities who will do a good job for a very good price.  In Guangzhou we had ~9 items laundered and pressed for ¥112 (<$20).

  • Speaking of clothes, pack light. There's a 44# limit on luggage, and you'll be able to carry more once you have your child because they'll be allowed 44#, but Jenn and I packed well under that to go so we could return with some souveniers. A couple of pairs of shorts, some t-shirts and a couple days worth of underwear was good for me, along with a pair of running shoes and sandles. The only pair of pants I took were those which I wore on the plane. Jenn took a couple of shorts & t-shirts, as well as a couple of Altheta dresses: easy to pack, easy to wash, light-weight, cool, can be dressy or casual. Not knowing just how big Henry would be, we packed a variety of things for him, and then we bought some clothes (very cheap clothes as it turned out) at the local WalMart and department stores.

  • Don't sweat the food.  I did before we left, but there are plenty of options around your hotels that will taste good to you.  
    McFlurries were the lifeline of the trip for many in our tour.  I had a number of Filet o' Fishes, myself.  I grew tired of Asian food when we were in Zhengzhou, but I think part of that was my overall stress level.  I was more into the thought of Asian food again after we'd been in Guangzhou a few days.  Everywhere we could get dumplings, they were fantastic, and the Sweet and Sour Pork was good just about everywhere.

  • Get ready to give up cold milk.  And check the eggs before you bite into them, as many places serve them flat raw on the inside of omlets and fried eggs.  Meats are a little different without a USDA.

  • Customer service isn't a priority in Asia as it is in the US.  If you feel as though you are the victim of poor customer service, shrug it off and move on.  Before you leave, set your expectations appropriately.

  • When you're at the tourist hotspots such as The Great Wall, NEVER pay asking price.  Jenn felt uncomfortable with the suggested idea to start by offering 10% of the asking price, but that's what we did, and when the vendor saw that I was willing to walk away, we bought a shirt that started at ¥185 for ¥20.  Some places won't haggle, but it's okay (though completely out of the ordinary and very uncomfortable for us Westerners) to offer less than the listed/asking price for a souvenir.

  • Getting back to food, it's easy to spend a lot of money eating out.  Take instant oatmeal and buy noodles from the grocery stores and use the water-boilers that are in your hotel rooms to make food in the room.  And take peanut butter.  It goes with many things, and is a familiar taste of home. Clif Bars were also good.

    Hindsight tells us that Henry had a look of fear and confusion on his Gotcha Day.

    One month after his Gotcha Day, Henry was much more comfortable with his new life, and at month #3 he has assumed the role of a good Gates brother.

  • Expect your child to get frustrated with your lack of ability to communicate. And it's a two-way street.

  • Expect your child to only have so many ways to calm him/herself, and expect those limited ways to be different than you're used to seeing and dealing with if you already have children.  And sometimes they just need to cry.  While that may fly in the face of much of the adoption literature, these kids are both grieving and tired, and shoving candy in their faces to get them to stop crying is counterproductive on a couple of levels, in our opinion. Use your judgment instead of simply trying to follow a manual.

  • Expect your child to not immediately attach to at least one of you.  There is nothing that you can do to prepare yourself emotionally for this if you are not the one to whom your child attaches, but if you expect your child to immediately want to be hugged, picked up and held by you, you may be very disappointed.

    There's not much like being rejected by a toddler to hurt your feelings.  Surely you've read and heard to not take this personally.  What a joke.  When you're trying to give love and they simply refuse to accept it on the grounds that they're not comfortable with you, it is awfully upsetting.  My duration with this experience was about 10 days, though after about three days of rejection, I was mentally gearing up for weeks of it.  I was very fortunate, and I credit three things for Henry warming up to me: intense, honest prayer; not pushing things too hard with him; and being the only source of feeding for him.

  • And if you're the one to whom your child attaches, you have the burden of both trying to understand what your spouse is feeling *and* dealing with the exhausting chore of feeling like a single parent. There is a good likelihood that one of you may be in this position.

  • Bring an Ergo.  Jenn was exhausted after carrying Henry for hours with the Ergo on.  Getting out of the room for periods of time would have been an impossibility without it as I was not an option for carrying him until the very end of the trip. This will help with attachment in some cases, as well, we've heard/read.

  • If you're going to China in May or later into the summer, get ready to sweat a lot.  Some places are conditioned, many are not.  Your buses will certainly be warmer than you'd like, as will your airplanes for in-China flights.  Ice in drinks is rare.  Room temperature pop/soda is not.  And don't expect to be served water with your meals.

  • Expect to not get back in your previous routine when you get home. Just don't.

  • Keep the long-term in mind. Even if you have to write it on your hand or make a sign and stick it to your bathroom mirror. The stuggles you will have on your adoption trip and upon your return, to whatever degree you have struggles, are temporary. Trust us. We are living proof. We won't go into all of the details here on this post, but in all honesty, we have had tough times in a couple of different areas. Prayer, remembering the big picture, and controlling/managing our expectations have been helpful in the transition process. God has a plan, and it didn't end with Henry's adoption... that was simply one step in a very long journey.

I'm sure there are a few items that I forgot, but this ought to be enough to get your mind's gears turning. If there was something that you took and found helpful but see that I haven't mentioned it, please leave a comment so this can be as thorough of a list as possible.

Are you in the process of getting ready to travel abroad to bring home your new addition? Leave a comment here so we can pray for you.