Monday, March 31, 2008

By Any Means Necessary

"Arrrgh, mateys! I will indeed pick out the Cheerio that lodged itself next to my new, fifth tooth."

Lose 5 Pounds in 10 Days!

Too good to be true? Just try this not-so-simple 7-step plan for yourself:

1) Develop a nasty cold 10 days prior to traveling to Taiwan. Experience a decrease in appetite because you are too busy packing and taking care of last-minute details and unexpected paperwork.

2) Come down with a stomach flu 5 days prior to travel.

3) Undergo severe jetlag and sleep when you're normally accustomed to eating.

4) Spend 6 days living in a country in which portion sizes are smaller and the food is healthier overall.

5) Carry a 21 lb. baby everywhere you go.

6) Experience more jetlag upon your return to your homeland. Once again, you'll be too tired to eat. Those deep, dark circles forming under your eyes will give that emaciated waif look to accompany the pounds you are rapidly shedding.

7) Feed said 21 lb. baby with your better hand while attempting to feed yourself with your less-dextrous hand. Use the latter hand to constantly wipe up food you keeping dropping on your pants and discover that you've only taken 3 bites of cold food the whole dinnertime.

Next, I'll share with you how to gain back the 5 lbs. you've dropped. It starts by consuming too many peanut M&Ms, a weakness I seem to develop every time I'm "post-partum."

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Making a Rule, Breaking It Twice

As I mentioned before, William often goes down for naps crying. There are occasional, blissful moments when he falls asleep in our arms while we are carrying him around, but those are few and far in between. Crying after being placed in his crib to sleep has been the norm.

Adoptive parents out there probably read these words with shock and horror. "You let your child cry it out in order to fall asleep?!" After all, research shows that doing so does not promote the best adoptive child-parent attachment. Building trust in the early months is the goal of every adoptive family and not responding to a child immediately after s/he cries is arguably one way to engender distrust.

With Andrew, Craig and I took a CIO (cry-it-out) approach. The boy couldn't fall asleep unassisted without loud wailing. Yet, any attempts to soothe him only over-stimulated him and made him cry even harder. In the beginning of our CIO attempts, he'd cry for 45 minutes to an hour, hardly happy listening for anyone, especially a first-time parent. Thankfully, the exercise eventually paid off and he learned to fall asleep on his own without a whimper. His improved sleep definitely paid off in the happier child he became when awake.

With William, we initially took a firm anti-CIO stance. There are so many things out of our control as parents, especially as adoptive parents, that we wanted to make sure we did everything we could to promote healthy bonding. However, we've had to bend that rule a bit. We've noticed that when William starts to cry, all the rocking, shushing, swaying, and singing in the world often seems to work against his falling asleep; he just cries louder.

In addition, we want him to learn how to fall asleep on his own, awake but drowsy. This is something the adoptive medicine pediatricians at CHOP stressed. So, into the crib he goes, crying or not. If he does the "Ehhhh... I'm sleepy" cry, we leave him be. If he goes off on a full-throttle, "I can't stop myself from crying" wail, we pick him up, walk him around a bit, then put him down, even if he's still crying. We sit in the rocking chair next to his crib so he can see us if he chooses to lift his head above the crib bumper. We also try to reassure him with words, though oftentimes he can't hear us if he's crying. Our CHOP doctors are supportive of our methods.

Still, to listen to your child cry and to consciously not do anything to assuage him is a horrible, horrible experience. Sometimes when William is crying, I put on Andrew's lawnmower headphones (he's quite sensitive to noise) to take the edge off the piercing cries. It's slightly more tolerable that way. And happily, the crying has decreased over time; whereas we would sometimes get about 15 minutes of crying (I know some parents, especially biological ones, would say this is hardly a lot), we're down to just a few minutes or even none at all.

There are those who would accuse me of being a terrible mother for letting this happen. However, I am a firm believer in the necessity of sleep, both for the child and for the parent. We both need to be well-rested in order to deal patiently, lovingly, and joyfully with one another. And in the end, isn't a home where patience, love, and joy thrive the best environment in which to grow a trusting child?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Sleep

Hissssssssssssssssssss..... "What's that? I can't hear you - " Hissssssssssss........ "You're breaking up. There's too much static - " Hissssssssssssss........

No, that would be the sound of the white noise machine we bought for William's nursery earlier today. Based on the suggestion of the OT at CHOP's adoptive medicine clinic, we purchased one with the hopes that it would help him sleep better.

While he did shift to sleeping on Eastern Standard Time 10 days after coming home from Taiwan, William continues to have problems staying asleep during naptimes and at night. Naps are often cut short at about 30 minutes, occasionally longer, often less. Many times he wakes up crying. (Of course, it doesn't help that many of his naps are taken in the car while I'm driving Andrew to and from school, a 22 minute drive one-way).

At night, William continues to cry sproradically. Most of the time, he doesn't fully rouse, but the crying will escalate in volume and threaten to awake everyone in the house if we don't pick him up and walk him around his room. He usually returns to sleep afterwards, though once in a while he'll be up for an hour or more wanting to play. When we first returned from Taiwan, this would happen between 4-8 times a night. Lately, the average has dropped to about 2-3 rousings per night.

We don't know for sure what is causing these disturbances. We could blame them on the itchy rashes, which, with the exception of a flareup yesterday, have abated (thank you, God). They could be caused by the still-unfamiliar environment and the stress from all the upheaval he has endured recently.

Whatever the cause, he is not getting good quality sleep, a problem that can be pretty far-reaching towards many aspects of his waking day. We know this because we, as the adults who constantly get out of bed to attend to him, are also feeling the effects of disrupted sleep.

Based upon the glowing reviews given by similar, sleepless families, we decided to splurge the $69.00 it cost to buy the noisy, little machine above at Brookstone. Currently, the machine is set for "driving" mode, gently churning out the sound of motors revving along a highway. (Other modes include "white noise," "prenatal," "lullaby," "dolphins," and "heartbeat.") I nearly fell asleep listening to the humming, but then again, if you know me and my ability to nod off in moving cars, this would come as no shock.

The early response has been positive. During his late afternoon nap, William went down without crying (more on this in a later post). When I put him down to sleep for the night, he stayed awake for at least half an hour before falling asleep. He has never laid in his crib for more than a few minutes without crying, so the fact that he only let out a few whimpers is pretty amazing.

The next 8 hours will be the true test: if William manages to sleep through the night without crying, I'm shredding the receipt, throwing out the box, and buying one of these puppies for every expectant parent I know.

Good Tidings via Snail Mail

Yay! The first batch of our adoption announcements are ready to be sent out via snail mail today.

I went to our usual standby, kodakgallery.com and ordered a tri-fold on sturdy cardstock with two pictures of William printed in it (you can see a preview of the cover to the left). I was able to customize the front cover and the message inside.

Unfortunately, the pictures printed out much darker than the originals. I could have returned them and had them re-printed, but a) I wanted to get the announcements out on the sooner side, b) it would have been a royal waste of paper.

So, those of you on our mailing list will soon receive announcements with cloudy pictures of our new son. Murky photos or not, we're still proud parents who are thrilled to herald the arrival of our beautiful baby.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Growing Beautifully"

This morning, I took William back into Philadelphia for his appointment with the International Adoption Clinic at CHOP. In light of all of our recent, rushed doctors' visits, today's encounter was a breath of fresh air. We met with three professionals: two pediatricians and an occupational therapist. They spent a luxurious amount of time with us, asking and answering questions and evaluating William.

We started off by taking some basic measurements. According to their figures, William still remains in the 90th percentile for height and is in the 90th for weight (the local pediatrician's figure put him in the 75th percentile. Go figure. Our boy must have done a ton of growing in the last 7 days.)

Next came the OT evaluation. The therapist let William crawl around on a colorful gymnastics mat and observed his gross and fine motor skills. She pulled various toys out of her traveling box and subtly tested his ability to manipulate them. She even enticed him with Cheerios - his first! - to test his manual dexterity.

At the end of that round, she determined that his gross motor skills are in the range of the average 7 month-old, not too far off since he just turned 8 months-old. He has already made a good deal of progress in the three weeks that he has been with us. (You can see that in the picture below, he is starting to get more comfortable on all-fours, a position he has recently begun assuming every now and then.)

The OT also noted that his fine motor skills are right on track for his age and that his visual motor integration is in the range of an 8 to 9 month-old. When all was said and done, she glowed with praise at how easy and fun it was to work with William. I guess she must see a lot of tough cookies.

Next came the physical evaluation. Overall, everything looked fine. There are a few things that we need to follow up on, including William's clogged tear duct. This may require intervention if it doesn't improve over the next several months. However, on the whole, the pediatricians were very impressed with William's health and remarked that he was "growing beautifully." They also gave kudos to Taiwan's adoption programs for supplying such a relative wealth of information about their adoptive children.

Unfortunately, we ended the day on a sour note. Blood work. Poor William had to have 5 vials and one syringe of blood collected. It's hard to imagine that such a little guy could have so much blood in his body! Thankfully, he didn't even notice when the first needle went into his arm; so busy was he munching on his surfboard rice cracker that I conveniently whipped out just as the needle went into his arm (these crackers are priceless!).

Then the technician began moving the needle to get a better blood flow. That's when William's clogged tear duct magically unclogged itself and unleashed a torrent of tears. Our poor baby sobbed inconsolably as the technician wiggled and jiggled that needle numerous times. Then, to make matters worse, she stuck his other arm to try to get more blood. William probably thought I was evil for restraining him while some stranger tortured him with needles, sucking the lifeblood out of him. It didn't help that all of this took place during what should have been his naptime.

In the end, all was forgiven. William fell asleep in the car on the way to pick Andrew up from school. After tearing through his bottle feeding after waking, he rewarded me with some oh-so-cute smiles.

Whew. I'm happy to report that we are all done with our marathon of doctors' visits, at least for the next three weeks. I can only imagine that William feels the same way.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Learn to Speak Chinese

























If you haven't figured it out by now, I am a terrible Chinese speaker. In fact, my mother is fond of telling other people that, of her four daughters, my Mandarin is the worst.

I was raised in a home where Chinese, Taiwanese, and English were spoken interchangeably. Through a combination of rebellion, shame at being different, and laziness, I wound up speaking English and only retained a smattering of Chinese. The latter comes out very mangled with bad syntax and an occasional Southern accent slipping in. Craig claims he can speak better Chinese than I.

Like it or not, I have raised Andrew to speak English. He knows bits and pieces of domestic Chinese - "time to eat," "brush your teeth." However, teaching him Chinese was a very conscious effort on my part that seldom seemed to happen. What a loss.

On the other hand, with William, I find myself speaking about 70% Chinese and 30% English. What little Chinese I've retained has mostly sufficed. After all, I don't need to - I can't - converse about politics with an 8 month-old child. Our conversations mostly run the range of "Let's go downstairs," "Put your arm into your jacket," or "Did you make a poop? I can smell something."

Because William hails from a solely Chinese-speaking environment, I'm hoping that hearing Chinese from me will make his transition easier. Oddly enough, there is not much of a conscious effort this time around; most of the words just slip out. Sometimes they're mispronounced, but at least it's something.

Spamalot

You might have noticed that someone has been posting replies to our blog with a comment that reads, "See here and here."

Please do yourself a big favor and don't see there or there. Don't click on the links. I fear that you could unleash a nasty virus on your computer or inadvertently end up opening up some inappropriate content that will burn itself into the backs of your eyelids, never to be erased no matter how much you try.

With the exception of this person (or persons), we've really appreciated everyone's comments to our posts. They've brought us a good deal of encouragement as we've engaged in our adoption journey. However, because I fear what these spammish comments could do, I'm going to start moderating responses. They'll still appear, just with a delay so I can screen out Mr./Mrs. "See Here and Here."

Thanks for your understanding.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Beastie Boy?












Nope, not our little guy.

I took William to the dermatologist twice today (long story not worth telling). The doctor promptly dismissed the pediatricians' diagnosis of scabies. Of course, we are thrilled to know there are not a million little buggers swarming around the inside of our baby's body.

The doctor diagnosed him with eczema with hives. William already had the large patch of eczema along his right thigh when we picked him up at St. Lucy's. She suspects that it went untreated and triggered the hives that now pop up and disappear at random throughout the day.

She wrote him a prescription for 2.5% hydrocortisone and Atarax (who knew that the same drug used to help with anxiety and dementia could also help our itchy boy?) Based upon her experience, the rashes should disappear in about 6 weeks, no dietary intervention needed. We're due to return to her office in 3 weeks for a follow-up visit. Hopefully by then we'll have better news and prettier pictures to post.

Encore!

Please give a round of applause to William, who learned how to clap yesterday.

video

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Meditation

Going in a completely different direction from my previous post, I'll leave you tonight with this meditation from the Apostle Paul:

"If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." (1 Cor. 15:19-22)

That is good news to my ears.

Stinky Poo


See this? This is a bag full of... ahem. As per the pediatrician's directive, we have been diligently collecting William's stool samples over the last five days. If I understand correctly, one of the vaccinations he was given in Taiwan nullifies the results of another vaccination he needs to receive in the United States. The only way to test the efficacy of the vaccination is to gather samples of his poop.

The "Biohazard" label is quite appropriate. That William is our own child only makes the collection process about 2% more palatable. I am thrilled to get this odious bag off the counter and back to the doctor's office tomorrow, trip 3 out of 5 to different doctors and hospitals we've been scheduled to make in just 7 days' time.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

We Have a Winner!

Congratulations to Yvonne, winner of the 10K contest. She was remarkably quick to the draw and correctly answered the PHL to TPE trivia question. A $25.00 Gymboree gift card is on its way to her.

Congratulations are also due to her for the referral of her son, "Lucky." We wish her a quick end to her court process so that she can bring her beautiful baby home soon.

No Show, Dr. Is

This morning, we packed up the entire family and drove into Philadelphia for William's appointment with the International Adoption pediatrician. After waiting half an hour, we concluded that she was not coming. That we were the only people in the waiting area and that there were no staff people at the front desk should have tipped us off.

We were disappointed by this turn of events, not merely because of the inconvenience, but because we were really hoping to have more clarity shed on William's recent skin drama. We're due to take him to the dermatologist on Monday. But for now, we have begun an elimination plan, washing his clothes in Dreft and taking him off Nestle Good Start formula. We've reverted to feeding him Snow, the brand used at St. Lucy's (good thing we bought the extra cans while in Taiwan!)

Since we were already in Philly, we decided to take a trip to the Franklin Institute. Currently on display there is a "Star Wars" exhibit and of course Andrew, who has yet to see "Star Wars," was enthralled.

For his part, William was the model of calmness as we pushed him through the tight crowds. Babies everywhere, take note. Towards the end, we took him out of his stroller to get a picture of him with Yoda. Unfortunately, William couldn't take his eyes off the other 2'6" guy behind the glass to face the camera. "Hey, Mom - that little green guy has troubled skin, too!"

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Big 10K Contest

At some point today, we received the 10,000th hit on our blog. It amazes me that there are so many people out there, quite literally, around the world, who have been following our adoption journey. I know there are bloggers out there who receive that many hits per day, but for us lesser-knowns, it's a pretty incredible milestone. Whoever you are and wherever you live, thanks for coming along on our wild and crazy ride.

Just for kicks, I thought it'd be fun to have a trivia contest. The first reader to post a correct response to the following question will receive a $25.00 gift card to Gymboree, preferred children's clothing store of Taiwanese adoptive families and designer of William's Gotcha Day outfit (shirt pictured to the left). Here's the question:

"What relatively large item did Andrew purchase for inclusion in William's first care package?"

Ready, set, go!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Crumbs

Remember those video cameras and disposable cameras we had sent to St. Lucy's in William's care packages? All in all there were 6 of them. We received back four.

Only one disposable camera had anything worth processing. The other turned out entirely black negatives. One video camera had dead batteries and no footage taken. The other had about 10 different segments. Most of them were random shots of desks and doorknobs ("Is the camera on? Whoops."). The remaining clips featured some cute footage of William from what I'm guessing is January 2008. The little we did get is something for which to be thankful. We'll take whatever crumbs we can get from that period of his life we missed.

CVS processed the footage into individual takes and also compiled a "Best Of" segment, complete with an elevator music soundtrack. (The baby being whisked out of the shot toward the end is Mel's son, Odin.) Take a look. Warning: the last 20 seconds are a tad X-rated.

video

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

8 Months Old

Happy 8 months old birthday, William!

I'm sorry you have to celebrate the day with horrible itching all over your body, with an intolerable rash that has now spread to your neck, with hands that Mommy has confined to mittens so you won't scratch yourself raw. I'm sorry you have such horrible teething pain and that nothing seems to alleviate it. I can tell you are so tired from only catching 25 minute catnaps once you finally fall do asleep because all the combined pain keeps waking you up. No wonder you want to be carried around everywhere by your mom, who can admittedly be a bit short on patience sometimes. Life with your new family hasn't exactly gotten off to the best of starts, has it?

Poor, sweet baby. Your smiles, which could light up the world, have been few and far between lately. Here's hoping month 9 will be better.

Maybe Scabies - Maybe Not

I've been emailing my sister, Sherry Shieh, a noted dermatologist in New York City, about William's itchiness. She's skeptical about the doctors' diagnosis of scabies and thinks his rash is probably due to eczema.

According to her, "In infants [scabies manifests as]... classic, big, red, juicy papules that look like swollen insect bites." This doesn't exactly describe what I've observed in William. Plus, she adds that there's a good chance we'd also be itching right alongside him. So, we're going to take her advice and keep slathering him in hydrocortisone and Vaseline for the next several days. If the rash doesn't abate, we'll try the pediatrician-recommended medication.

From what I've read, eczema is irritating enough to awaken its victim throughout the night. Here's hoping that it's what William has. I don't like the thought of wee beasties crawling around inside my baby's body and tormenting him.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Little Creatures

Earlier today, I took William to his first pediatrician's appointment. This is the doctor he'll normally see for checkups and unpredicted afflictions; we have another appointment this Saturday with our adoption pediatrician at CHOP.

Well, it's official: we have a giant of a baby measuring 29.5 inches (90th percentile) and weighing in at 21.5 lbs. (75th percentile). I was surprised to hear he didn't weight more since my arms have been sore from carrying him around all day long.

According to the pediatrician, all looks well except for the nasty rash on William's leg. After consulting with the other physician in the practice, the two doctors concluded that it isn't eczema that has our little boy itching, as we had thought. They suspect it is scabies.

6 hours ago, I didn't know too much about scabies, other than it sounded like a cross between scarabs (remember those skin-piercing creepy-crawlies from "The Mummy" movies?) and rabies. I wasn't too far off. For those who don't know, scabies are actually mites that burrow under your skin and produce unmitigated itching and rashes. The condition is common in adopted children from China and other southern Asian countries, but less so in adopteees from Taiwan because of the better hygiene conditions and the higher standard of healthcare

If William really does have scabies and the horrible itching that accompanies it, this may explain his frequent sleep disturbances. He tends to wake every half hour to hour crying. He doesn't fully rouse, but if we leave him alone to return to sleep on his own, his crying only escalates and runs the risk of waking everyone in the house. One of us has to get up with him, walk him around the room for a few minutes, then put him down to sleep again. The frequent awakenings really do make it feel like we are caring for a newborn instead of an almost 8 month-old baby.

So, if slathering him in a dose of prescription Permethrin will help him to stop itching and to sleep better, this is what we will have to do. Hopefully the medication will kill off the mites, a process which can take up to 4 weeks. Afterwards, he should be sleeping like a - ahem - a happy, itchless, child.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

City of Brotherly Love

O.K., since we don't live in Philadelphia proper, the title of this post is not quite apropos. "Suburb of Brotherly Love" just didn't have a very good ring to it.

At any rate, one of the things that has been a joy to observe is how well Andrew has stepped up to his new role as a big brother. His transformation is yet another way in which I can see the hand of God working out and weaving together all the complex story lines of William's adoption.

It should be noted that just two years ago, Andrew was a child who would go into tearful hysterics if I picked up someone else's baby. "Jealous" is too weak a word to describe his reaction. However, I'm thrilled to report that he has really come around.

Andrew has been very helpful, offering to pick up the toys that William drops, asking how he can assist when I diaper and feed his brother, suggesting toys that he thinks William would enjoy. When William starts groping his brother's face, clothes, and hair, Andrew sits very still and doesn't balk. When I tell him that I have to go put his Didi down to sleep, he doesn't whine about being left alone. On a few occasions, I have even caught him leaning down toward William and whispering, "I love you, little brother."

In the picture below, he is very gently pushing William in his first swing ride.

For his part, William adores Andrew. His face lights up when Andrew comes close. I imagine that coming from the busy, crowded environment of St. Lucy's to our home must be a jarring change. It must be of some comfort to him to have someone closer to his size. Ordinarily, Andrew's frantic antics, loud shrieks, and high energy level would scare most babies William's age. (Most moms who claim they have an active child usually end up eating their words once they see Andrew in his true element.) However, for better or for worse, I think orphanage life has toughened William up to endure his big brother's zaniness with remarkable nonchalance.

It's funny, but now that we're home with William, Andrew seems twice as old as he actually is. (Those of you with multiple children are probably nodding your heads and thinking, "Uh-huh. That's how it is.") When Andrew first ran into my arms after our being apart for 7 days, I couldn't believe how tall and solid he felt. I had become so accustomed to schlepping around William and his 20+ pound package of squishy pudge in the days before. Picking up Andrew was like trying to hoist an I-beam. Next to William and his rightfully baby-ish ways, Andrew also seemed to have matured by years since we left him.

Here's something cute: below are a few pictures that Andrew and his Pre-K classmates drew to celebrate William's homecoming. The teacher, Mrs. Tees, and her aide, Mrs. Meilahn, were so thoughtful in helping Andrew make it through our week-long absence. They declared one day of school as "Happy Little Brother Day." The students all drew pictures of William. All the excitement the teachers and students showed must have really helped him look forward to becoming a big brother.












While I never thought I'd say so, jetlag has been a blessing in disguise when it comes to the boys' tolerance of one another and our bonding with William. We've been able to spend time with Andrew during the day when William has his long stretch of "night sleep." We've also gotten one-on-one time with William at night when he wakes. (If you do the math, you'll quickly realize that this leaves us short-changed on sleep.) Still, neither child has had to feel lacking in parental affection. The true test of their patience with each other will come next week when I am all alone with both boys. Andrew has the week off of school for spring break, Craig's parents returned to New Mexico yesterday, and Craig himself heads back to work early tomorrow morning.

Dear readers, the rubber is about to hit the road. Stay tuned to see if we all survive.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Agora

Since we've returned from Taiwan, we've received a few queries from other adoptive families seeking our opinion of The Agora Garden Hotel in Taipei.

Would we stay there again? All things considered, I think so.

Here's the lowdown:

The Pluses:



  • Lots of other adoptive families stay there; we met four others during the week we were there.
  • Free breakfast with some Western-style food options (omelettes, sausage, bacon, and other cholesterol-free American favorites)
  • A friendly, accommodating front desk staff that speaks capable English
  • Reasonable rates for a higher-caliber hotel (I'd rank it about a 4 out of 5 stars); we chose an Executive Suite with 2 bedrooms, a living room, and a shared bathroom for about $275.00/night
  • There are laundry machines on the top floor (a load of laundry will cost you about $2.00 to wash and dry)
  • A pleasant courtyard garden, which can be a nice getaway from the concrete jungle and traffic of Taipei
  • Kitchen facilities in the rooms (though see under "Minus" below)
  • Internet connectivity both in the rooms and in a public workspace in the lobby
  • Cribs that are fairly similar in color and shape to those used at St. Lucy's (just in case your child needs that extra boost in helping him/her transition to a different environment). Crib bedding is provided by the hotel.
  • A convenient location within walking distance of a Starbucks, Macaroni Grill, and Chilis. Taipei 101 is also a 15 minute walk from The Agora, and the Mitsukoshi department stores are even closer.
  • You can order in Pizza Hut to your room. Some of the topping combinations are well, distinctively un-Western, but chances are, you'll find something on the menu you'd eat.
  • Toilets made by Villeroy & Boch, reknown in the West as makers of quality china and flatware. I always got a good chuckle every time I flushed the potty and saw their name on the flushing button.

The Minuses:

  • Bedrooms in the Executive Suites are small. There is little room to lay out your suitcases on the floor, which means there's even less space remaining to walk around the room.
  • The stuck-in-the-late-'80's kitchenettes don't come stocked with any cookware. If you want a microwave, you'll have to rent it for about $5.00/day.
  • It is about a 15 minute taxi ride from AIT. The taxi driver has to drive down a one-way street, then turn around and drive back towards the direction from which you originally came just to get there.
  • I couldn't find an iron or ironing board in the room to save my life. I guess it didn't matter in the end because William wound my spewing all over my wrinkly shirt right after I decided to wear it anyway.
  • Long distance calls made on a phone card with the room telephone are charged at a frightening rate. Ai-yo!
  • I captured two cockroaches in the kitchenette. Another narrowly escaped.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Look Ma - No Hands!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's true. We have a sitter!

William has been working very hard, practicing his sitting up over the last couple of days. And while he still resorts to a hands-on-the-floor, tripod position and still tips over sometimes, he's definitely holding himself up in a true sitting position.

Yay for our little boy! (And yay for Mommy and Daddy, who don't have to worry as much about catching him every time he slumps over.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Walk and Talk

This morning, I took William out for his first stroll. The weather was finally warm enough to let him out of the house for the first time since he come home early Friday morning. He enjoyed looking around at all the scenery but grumped whenever the stroller stopped. It looks like we just might have Motion Junkie #2 in our family.

























It has been interesting to observe the various skill sets William both possesses and lacks. He seems to be right on cue when it comes to babbling (he can say "Muh-muh," "Guh-guh," "Da-Da" - and of course you know we're flattering ourselves to think he's saying our names). His fine motor skills are right where they should be; just watch him rake a surfboard rice cracker into his fist and shove it into his mouth. We're still working on his sitting up, but I'm confident he'll get there within a month. Already, he has made good progress in the days he has been home.

It has also been fascinating to see the quirks that are very likely a byproduct of orphanage life. For instance, most babies his age will willingly let you manipulate their arms into a carseat or highchair harness. Moving William's arms is like moving Mount Olympus. He just hasn't had the experience of being strapped in very often, if ever.

Reading is also probably a new experience for him. Most babies to whom books are read on a regular basis have a modicum of patience for looking at the pages and even turning them themselves. Here, too, I'm guessing St. Lucy's staff just didn't have the time to spend reading with the babies one on one. Thus far, William has shown little tolerance for reading board books with me. But with a lot of consistent TLC, we will get there, and if I have anything to do with it, we will raise a reader.

But as for the present, we are enjoying watching our baby discover and learn in his new surroundings, growing from one day to the next. That is enough for now.

Monday, March 10, 2008

William the Conqueror

Today marks the one week anniversary of William's joining our family. Believe it or not, despite the perfect storm of jetlag, infant sleep adjustment, and Daylight Saving's Time, these seven days have gone by quickly. It's beginning to feel like William has been a part of our family for a long time.

Consider this: how would you feel if you were removed from your home environment suddenly? One day, you were in the company of familiar faces and familiar language, ensconced in predictable routines, and warmed by the comfort of your own bed. The next day, all your meager belongings were packed into a small tote bag and handed to some people you didn't recognize, whose language you couldn't understand. They called you a new name and took you from one place to the next at a dizzying pace. I don't know about you, but as a creature of habit, this kind of change would upset me greatly.

This is what William has endured - not once, but twice, first leaving his birthmother to go to St. Lucy's, then going from there to our home after 20 grueling hours of travel. For all of the upheaval, our little guy has done extremely well.

He is a joy to greet upon waking; he often rises with a smile. Many times when he sees us, he screeches and flaps his arms ("happy flappies," I call this). The change in environment has not affected his eating or sleeping habits as far as we can tell. He still wolfs down food like there's no tomorrow and he still sleeps for 10 hours (albeit, during the daytime since he hasn't yet adjusted to our time).

In the first couple of days, he would fuss and cry pretty hard before going down for naps. Neither holding him or putting him down in his crib would soothe him. However, I think - I hope - we're starting to see the end of this.

He still has a hard time being left to play on his own for more than a minute or two. He also fusses whenever we step out of the room briefly and leave him alone in the Exersaucer. We're guessing this is more a result of orphanage life, of always being in the company of many others and never left alone. Separation anxiety may also be a culprit around this age.

All in all, we're delighted to see how well William has settled into his new life with us. I know there's much more to his personality that we haven't seen. St. Lucy's told us that he is a happy baby who smiles and laughs easily. While we've gotten some laughs and smiles out of him, I don't doubt that we've just begun to scratch the surface of his cheerful nature. I'm sure the more he becomes accustomed to us, the more he'll let down his guard and laugh even more.

For all he has endured in his short life, he is truly a resilient little guy. William the Conqueror, indeed.

At the toy store in the basement of Taipei 101 with Ahgon. William loved nestling among the stuffed animals and rubbing his face against their soft fur.


Working on bonding with Mommy at The Agora Garden Hotel.


Going for a morning stroll around the hotel garden with Daddy.


In all his naked glory after his first bath at the hotel.


Romping it up with Daddy in the hotel.

With my 2nd cousin's daughter in Taipei - he really lights up when he sees other young children.

Another gratuitous buff shot.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

New and Improved!

Now that my relationship with Blogger is all hunky dory again, I've gone back into some of our older posts and added some new pictures. Scroll down further and you can see them.

There is much more to post about William, our Taiwan adoption experience, and our new lives together. However, it's now bedtime for all of us at the K. household. Until William gets his sleeping schedule adjusted to Eastern Standard Time, it's up all night, sleep all day.

The Top 5

For our safe and relatively sane travel to/from and stay in Taiwan, we give thanks to God.

We also give thanks to him for his creation of the following five items which really helped get us through the last week:

1. The Ergo Baby Carrier: This marvel of fabric, snaps, and plastic buckles was well worth its rather pricey cost. We used it to walk William around Taiwan. He was so comfortable in it he often fell asleep. It really came in handy on our return flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia. Holding him and walking him around the airplane for much of the night was signficantly made easier with the Ergo. I found it to be much easier to use and more comfortable on my back for longer periods of time than the Baby Bjorn.



2. Medela Steam Sterilizing Bags: For about $5 .00, you can find these handy bags at Target. We rented a microwave at The Agora Garden Hotel for about $5.00 USD a day. Once William finished drinking from his bottles, we'd pop them into the bags, set the microwave for 1:50 minutes, and voila, 99% germ-free bottles!

3. Bottled Water: Since the water in Taiwan is non-potable, bottled water was our constant companion. Whether brushing our teeth, rinsing William's bottles, or just staying hydrated, those plastic bottles full of H2O were our best friends.


4. Jumbo-sized Ziploc Bags: Our adoption journey has made us pros at cramming a gazillion things into Ziploc bags. We used them to separate the different gifts for the St. Lucy's staff, the baby's take-home outfit, feeding and diapering supplies, our own gear, and countless other items. We used a gallon-sized bag to store an extra outfit for William and kept it in our diaper bag. When he opted to spew several ounces of his formula all over himself and me at 30,000 miles altitude, I simply pulled out the clean clothes and deposited the dirty duds back into the original ziploc bag. Niiiice.

5. The Duck Tub: Question: How do you cram a baby bathtub into a full suitcase? Answer: You pack the Munchkin inflatable duck tub. It sqeezes as flat as a folded sweater and won't leave you too winded when blowing it up. Its soft, contoured sides were especially useful for William, who can't yet sit up unassisted. Plus, the beak makes a quacking sound when you squeeze it. What little child wouldn't love (or be afraid) of that?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

TPE to PHL - Call 911!

Over the last two days that we've been home, we've received several phone calls and emails from people inquiring as to how we are, how we fared on our return trip, how William has settled into our family.

Let me first offer our apologies for the deafening silence resounding from our end. We will get back to you! In the meantime, we have been trying to recover from the shellshock of our recent 21 hours of travel. The human body is just not meant to endure crossing so many time zones in such a condensed amount of time. In a previous post, I had quipped about stumbling through the door once we got home. I wasn't joking. The morning we arrived home, I was literally losing my balance as I walked around the house, dizzy with the lingering sensation of movement and addled by a serious lack of sleep. Craig didn't fare much better.

The first leg of our flight home from Taipei to San Francisco went pretty well. Thankfully, the return trip was only 10 1/2 hours, unlike the 14 hours it took to fly in. William slept in the shuttle van on the way to the airport and through much of the check-in and wait time. He woke just before we boarded. He stayed awake for about an hour and a half, then fell asleep for another 6 hours or so. He had many half-wakings during which he'd cry but not fully rouse. We had to pick him up out of his bassinet and walk him around so he'd stop crying and fall back to sleep. Sometimes he'd even cry when we set him down. Nonetheless, he slept - and we are thankful for that.


We had the blessing of sitting across the row from Mel and Craig and their newly-turned one year-old son, Odin. It was great to trade adoption stories with them and to watch the boys babble back and forth together. I think they definitely remembered each other from St. Lucy's.

Once in San Francisco, we cleared our ways through the Customs and Immigration lines. William slept through that process and re-awoke as we waited the four hours to board our plane to Philadelphia. We caught up again with Mel and Craig, who were also taking the same airline back to their hometown. Ordinarily, the thought of letting my child roll around on the dirty carpet of a gateway floor would repulse me. However, after a long trans-Pacific flight and faced with another 5 1/2 hour flight, I threw caution to the wind and let William have free reign of the filthy floor.

The flight back to Philadelphia was very trying to say the least. On the bright side, William did sleep for about 3 hours. However, once again, he'd interrupt his sleep with crying, this time harder than before.

Note to traveling parents: do not take a red-eye flight with a fussy baby. All of your fellow sleeping passengers will hate you like you've never been hated. The young lady across the aisle from me gave me innumerable dirty stares and audible "hmph!"s. Others were probably doing the same thing in front and behind us.

Every time William cried, we'd have to get out of our seats, navigate our way through the narrow aisle over assorted legs and carry-on bags, and head back to the bulkhead area. There we'd stand for twenty to thirty minutes holding and rocking him. We took turns. Surely, the men sitting in the bulkhead area were none too pleased with us. Twice, when William was inconsolable I took him into the airplane bathroom so he wouldn't wake everyone up. Did you know that the bathroom diaper changing table makes a great play place for a fussy child? Germs? What germs?

When I came out of the bathroom with William the second time, I noticed that several of the airline staff were crowded around our seats. I saw Craig standing at the forward bulkhead seat, so I knew he was okay.


Once I was finally able to make my way up to him, he told me that the woman sitting next to him in our three-person row had informed him that she felt unusual. Soon afterwards, her eyes rolled back in her head and her hands began to shake uncontrollably. She was unresponsive to his questions. He thought she was having a stroke so he stood up and called out to see if there were any doctors on board. Thankfully, a woman sitting close by happened to be one and attended to her immediately. The woman couldn't remember what had happened during her episode.

What a ride! We were so thankful to step off that plane and to see Craig's dad waiting for us in the baggage pickup area. Philadelphia never looked so good. Home at last.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

PHL to TPE

This is where our journey ends.

Yesterday, we met our William at St. Lucy's Center in Tainan, Taiwan. The adoption process that we officially began thirteen months ago came to a close when our baby boy was finally placed into our arms.

We spent the previous night at my aunt's friend's house in Pingdong. Uncle came to pick us up at 9:00 a.m. With my Aunt Mary and my parents in tow, we set out for the trip to Tainan, an hour and a half away by car. Thankfully, Uncle had already made a practice drive a few days before and knew where to go. Good thing it was because St. Lucy's is tucked away from the many big, busy streets of Tainan.


We had to turn into one narrow alley after another before pulling up to a brick wall that bore the St. Lucy's sign.


We arrived 40 minutes early and were planning to wait outside and take pictures since two other families were scheduled to meet their children before our 11:00 appointment. Two St. Lucy's staff workers saw us and insisted firmly that we all come in. Mel and Craig had already met their adorable son, Odin. Dawn, another adoptive parent, had just arrived and was soon to met her precious Miranda.


















We spent about 15 minutes shuffling our bags around and trying to prepare our gifts for the caretakers and staff. One caretaker came by and asked for the outfit we brought for William to wear (they keep the clothes in which the children were previously dressed). Soon after, another caretaker came to tell me that William would be right out once he finished his bath.

Minutes later, while sorting out our belongings on the walkway outside the family meeting room, I heard one of the women say, "Szu-Chuan lai de! " ("Szu-Chuan is here!"). We turned around to see him being carried out to us.

I'd like to tell you it was like one of those moments you see in the movies in which two long lost lovers run across the field to each other in slow motion. However, I am the woman who didn't cry at her wedding nor at the birth of her first son. Still, it goes without saying that we were overjoyed to see him. He looked much like he did in the update pictures we received: long face, chubby body, cute all over.

I got to take him first. After holding him for about a minute, I moved my arm away from supporting his back. He suddenly jacknifed backwards. Had I not shot my arm back to catch him, he would have landed hard, head first, on the concrete walkway. It was a horrifying way to begin our new relationship. Thankfully, he appeared nonplussed.

He didn't cry the whole time we held him. It was quite a scene in the family meeting room as three different families, including my whole herd (my sincere apologies to the other two families!) were all snapping pictures, talking, and interacting with the caregivers. The whole time, William was very quiet and still. We are now beginning to surmise that this is his shocked and awed persona; when he warms up, he definitely gets more lively.

While Craig held him, I pestered Sister Rosa through the translation assistance of my mother with questions about William's habits and care. She gave us a form that has most of his basic care information on it. A good deal of it wasn't translated.

St. Lucy's also prepared a small tote bag with several thoughtful items included: a large and small bottle, a pacifier with a chain clip, a medical records booklet, a small can of Snow formula, a CD of pictures of William taken over the past 5 months (there were about 100 pictures!). There was also a small scrapbook with pictures of him, well wishes from the caretakers, and pictures that were beautifully hand painted by the staff. It's clear they thought through the details very well and were genuinely well-invested in the care of William and all the other babies. I don't think William could've had a better experience in any other orphanage facility.

The staff then served us a tasty lunch of sandwiches, soup, and other finger foods. It was then that William surprised us. We had figured out that he couldn't yet sit unassisted - not that unusual for a child of 7 1/2 months. His brother, Andrew, didn't figure this out until he was almost 8 months old. However, like Andrew at this age, he can crawl! He does a slow military slither. (See the video, which we took at the hotel later that day.)


video

He tried to shimmy his way over to grab the food off my lunch plate on the sofa. It looks like we've got out work cut out for us already!


While we didn't get to meet the birthmother, we did get some nice surprises from her. She had left gifts for William, including an adorable fleecy jacket and pants set, a warm winter jacket, a Mickey Mouse costume, and a red thread bracelet just the right size for his wrist. Perhaps she was thinking ahead and trying to prepare her baby for the cold Pennsylvania weather. At any rate, we were so touched to receive them. St. Lucy's had taken several photos of her during the times she came to visit William and had copied the pictures onto a CD. From the gifts and from the pictures, it's quite clear that she and her family really love William. We reviewed the pictures today and I must say it was a heartwrenching experience. I'm really thankful that we have all these things to show him one day.

We also received back several of the things we had sent in our three care packages. We were given two sets of cameras and video camers (the last set was not used since we were due to come pick him up very soon). We were also given most of the items that contained pictures of our family. We didn't get back the soft-cover photo album or the Taggies blanket as I thought we would. Hopefully, the latter will be useful for another baby.

After lunch, we went for a tour of the nursery. At first it seemed like we would just get to peek in through the windows from the walkway outside. Then, the caretakers invited us inside.


There are two rooms divided by a short hallway. There were about 10 cribs on the left wing and about the same number on the right. We got to see William's crib and say goodbye to it. We also got to extend our thanks to the wonderful caretakers. There were 3 on duty at the time. They all embraced William and said their goodbyes. Clearly, they loved him.

We then said our final goodbyes and packed into Uncle's van. He drove us back to the High-Speed Rail station in Tainan. William fell asleep while strapped to me in the Ergo carrier for the 45 minute car ride. Once on the train, his personality started to come out a little more. We let him out of the carrier and sat him on our laps for the next hour and a half. He moved around considerably, exploring all the things he could touch. We've noticed that he likes to bang on things with his hands and explore their textures and sounds when he runs his fingernails along them. We had to trim his long nails later that afternoon.

He did well in the taxi ride back to the hotel. Once there, we settled in and had some play time in our room. Eventually, we coaxed a few smiles out of him. Craig is especially good at this. He discovered that William really likes heavy physical play. He threw out several smiles and let out sing-song screeches whenever Craig would count to three and lift him high in the air.

We also discovered that he is a voracious eater. He can down 8 ounces of milk in less than 5 minutes. I was worried he wouldn't transition to the Born Free bottles I had brought, but this was not a problem at all. He just wanted to eat. At St. Lucy's, he was kept on an every four hour feeding regimen; we will consider making this roughly every three hours since we've noticed he gets fussy around the 3 1/2 hour mark.

Fitting him into his pajamas later on was quite a task. Those thighs! It was like stuffing sausage into too-tight casing. I got a big kick out of squeezing all the chub. I don't think William enjoyed it as much.

St. Lucy's had warned us that he needs to be patted on the back in order to fall asleep. They were right. He was rather fussy before falling asleep last night and needed some patting and walking around. This surprised me since Sister Rosa told me the babies at St. Lucy's are not kept on a sleeping schedule. They often just fall asleep on the floor mid-action. Still, we were told to expect a good sleeper who would go for 7-8 hours a stretch at night. Were they ever wrong. We got a 10 hour stretch! William slept from 7:45 p.m. to 5:45 a.m. Perhaps he was really worn out from all of the day's craziness. Craig was exhausted and went to sleep around 9:00. I wrestled in vain with posting on Blogger.com until 10:30 and then gave up.

And so ended our first day together. It will be really interesting to see how William's personality unfolds the more he becomes comfortable with us. Already, we are beginning to see glimpses. No doubt, a fascinating individual lies beneath the quiet child with the dark, observant eyes. In the meantime, we are thankful for how smoothly the transition has gone thus far and couldn't have asked for a better first encounter.

We are now a reconstituted family. When we return to America early this Friday morning, the four of us will begin the long and awkward process of falling into a daily routine, of establishing our new normal, of learning how to better love and serve one another.

This is where our new journey begins.