Saturday, September 8, 2012

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.

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Amarjeet Verma said...
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