Home, Sweet Home! – Reunions and Introductions

When we walked in the door on Friday afternoon, Atticus was in the middle of his afternoon nap, and Matt had fallen asleep with him. I got to give my sweet Miranda girl a big hug, though! It was so good to see her – I’d missed her so much! FangFang was definitely a bit overwhelmed even with this smaller contingent of the family, so we took the introductions slowly at first. She stayed near me and gradually got acclimated to the others.

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Having some toys nearby – as we always do at our house! – definitely helped, and it wasn’t long before we were able to snap a pic of those 3 beautiful sisters all together! These girls (and their brother) have my heart.

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FangFang was really nervous around Miranda at first and didn’t want her nearby, and my heart broke for my big girl. As an adult who knew what to expect and knew the reasoning behind kids’ rejection of their new families, it was still a challenge for me to continue to pursue FangFang as she rejected me, and I knew that it would be so much harder for a six-year-old. Miranda and I talked about how it would take FangFang some time to warm up to everyone and get to know all of us and trust us, and it can be sad and frustrating when she rejects us, but our job is to love her no matter what, and we need to respect her wishes but also continue to move toward her in gentleness and kindness. Miranda flip-flopped some, sometimes willing and able to do that, and sometimes needing to walk away for a while, but the consistent undercurrent for her has been wanting to play with and love her new little sister, and I’m so thankful for her heart in that. Hours of effort on her part went into the creation of this happy pre-bedtime moment.

img_4820After a bit of time at home, we went upstairs and woke Matt and Atticus, and it was so good to see them again, too. I wasn’t sure how Atticus would respond to my return – Matt had been telling him I’d be home soon, and he had been increasingly frustrated with others’ presence instead of mine, telling my mom and dad and brother to go away. He was happy to see me, and the feeling was more than mutual! It was so good to hug my little buddy again! And of course it was great to see Matt, too 🙂

Atticus and FangFang quickly settled in to the dynamic that currently pretty well defines their relationship – jealousy of each others’ time with me!

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If one is on my lap, the other wants to be there, too. If one is being held, the other wants to be held, too. FangFang actually seems more jealous of Atticus than he is of her, which I would not have predicted. That makes me especially thankful that I took another kiddo to China with me, so FangFang did not have 2 weeks of completely undivided attention – I think coming home to sharing the limelight as one of four would have been even harder for her had she not had to share adults’ attention with another child while in China.

This dynamic is definitely a challenge for me, though I knew it was a likely possibility. I love, love, love my kiddos, but I am an introvert who appreciates a few moments of quiet, alone time a few times a day, and right now there’s not much of that other than at nap time and after bed time. I’m trying to strike a good balance, to cultivate attachment and bonding – hold FangFang when she wants to be held, sit with her when she wants me to sit with her, and play with her. But the reality is also that I have 3 other children for whom to care and a household that needs to be run. My mom was here through Monday, my dad through this morning, and my brother leaves tomorrow, and it’s been a huge blessing having them do so much of the food prep and dishes and cleaning and other household stuff. I’m trying to do the bare minimum to keep the household running, while also cultivating attachment with my newest baby, while also caring for my other kiddos, some of whom I was away from for 2 weeks, all while still being jet-lagged! It’s pretty exhausting. I am continually reminding myself of the counsel that I’ve given so many other adoptive mamas before – “You’ve only been home for a few days. This is not what the rest of your life is going to be like. Everyone is reeling right now from all the adjustments, and half your family is still super jet-lagged. It’ll be 2 weeks before you’re even fully over the jet-lag, and that makes such a difference. Give yourself time. This will get so much easier.” Repeat, repeat, repeat.

I am so thankful for the timing of our trip and the fact that Matt doesn’t have any teaching responsibilities right now or for the next couple weeks. And mostly I’m trying not to think about the fact that he is going to have to go back to work eventually – and we’re going to have to do school again someday – and I’ll have to go back to work, too – eek! We’ll just not think about that! Anyway, it is so sweet to see the beginnings of Matt’s new relationship with FangFang! Just look at that girl and that daddy – so sweet 🙂

ah, my heart melts!
ah, my heart melts!

She prefers me – she seems to have decided that since Danny’s and Sharon’s departure, I am her safe person, which makes sense, as she’s known everyone else for even less time than she’s known me. She’s getting more and more comfortable with Matt, though, and she’s been pretty open to him from day one.

I’d been hoping to stay awake that first day until the kids all went to bed around 9:00, but my body, having been awake since 3:30 AM central time and running on only about 8.5 hours of sleep during the entire 75 hours prior to that time, quietly gave up on its resistance to sleep and fell into a brief nap on the couch that evening. Thankfully FangFang was getting more and more comfortable with the other kiddos, and they happily scooted around the house with her. She doesn’t crawl but scoots herself around on her butt quite deftly, and the other kiddos, Miranda especially, have taken to doing so with her 🙂

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It was a good first evening together. These relationships are still growing. It’s always complicated adding a new member into a family, and I think that’s infinitely more true when the new family member is not a baby but a small child with already-formed opinions and desires and preferences of her own – some of which she can communicate and some not! But it’s also a beautiful thing, seeing those bonds truly start to come to fruition.

The next morning I posted this photo with the caption, “I’ve been awake since 4:30, and yet I’m still not dressed, and there are toys everywhere and suitcases still to unpack. AND I’M HOME WITH MATT AND ALL FOUR OF MY BABIES!!!!!!”

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It still feels surreal, being here with everyone. It’s hard, but it’s good, and I’m ever so thankful to have all four of my babies here, together, with Matt and me, all six of us home together before Christmas! The real journey lies ahead of us, but it’s a relief to have been able to start it now. I’m quite blessed.

Thursday – Friday – Travel Days!

Thursday morning it was time for us to head out! Our guide met us in the lobby of our hotel at 9:00 AM to help us get to the train station – our first step in our journey toward home! We had a lot of luggage, so our guide helped us to hire someone to get our largest suitcases onto the train for us, all for less than $10 – definitely worth it when you’re negotiating the train station in a foreign country with 2 kids, a stroller, 5 suitcases, and an assortment of backpacks, diaper bags, and purses!

The train ride from Guangzhou to Hong Kong went smoothly, though it’s always a little emotional for me to be leaving the country of my children’s birth. Last time around, I knew that – barring catastrophe or direct instruction otherwise from God – we’d be back to adopt again. This time I don’t think we will be. In fact, Matt is quite certain we will not. I think we’ll be back to visit, maybe someday even for an extended period of time if we can make it work, but we think our family is probably complete at six – and so, I don’t know when we’ll be back to this place that has blessed our family so immensely. I know that in the next few weeks, FangFang is going to begin to lose her Mandarin. She’s going to become more and more at home in American culture and less and less part of Chinese culture. There is both loss and beauty in that, and it always strikes me in particular as we leave China to head home.

Once we arrived in Hong Kong, we waited in line for taxis to take us to the airport – due to our large amount of luggage, we needed to split up into 2 separate taxis. Any time we had to split up was a little nerve-wracking, since we didn’t have the same ability to communicate with each other by phone as we would in the States, but it all went just fine. We met up at the airport and got ourselves and our luggage checked in. The customs and security checkpoints there were pretty intense, so we were glad we’d given ourselves hours of extra time at the airport. We’d thought we’d be sitting around for a few hours just killing time, but by the time we had gone through all the lines we needed to do, it was about 4:00, so we finally started looking for a restaurant at which we could eat a very late lunch! Then we collected our things, bought some bottled water, and headed over to our gate.

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Unfortunately, there was yet another security checkpoint as we boarded the plane, and they wouldn’t let us take any of our bottled water with us – frustrating!

We ended up arranging ourselves differently than I ever would have predicted ahead of time – we had a row of 3 seats from window to aisle and then, in the row behind, the middle and aisle seats. On every train ride we’d taken through that time, FangFang had insisted very strongly that she sit with Danny and Sharon, so while I never envisioned my newest child sitting anywhere other than next to me on her first flight, it seemed pointless to make it a point of contention, so we buckled her in between Danny and Sharon, and Madeleine CaiQun and I settled into the row behind them, with the plan that I’d swap with Danny or Sharon for a bit when it was time for FangFang to go to sleep.

This was FangFang's idea of how best to sit in her airplane seat. She wasn't sure why we were all so amused.
This was FangFang’s idea of how best to sit in her airplane seat. She wasn’t sure why we were all so amused.

Mei Mei actually did great with all the travel – mostly due to the provision of a well-stocked iPad for her use 🙂 She also enjoyed the in-flight entertainment options and watched some Hello Kitty and Doc McStuffins shows. Sitting next to her was quite relaxing, and I actually got to do some reading on our travels!

About an hour into our flight, just as the flight attendants were serving dinner, we began to hit some major turbulence – the flight attendants crouched down behind their dinner carts and soon abandoned serving food in favor of buckling themselves into their seats. They did later return to delivering dinner – much to Madeleine CaiQun’s relief. I’d been the last person served before the turbulence hit, and, engrossed in her show, she failed to notice for a few minutes but then, oblivious to her volume, yelled out over the sounds coming from her headphones, “Where’s my food?!?!” But even as the flight attendants began to move around the cabin sporadically, the turbulence remained pretty significant, and the “fasten seat belt” sign was on for four or five hours. I was so nervous – probably my biggest fear prior to traveling was that our plane would crash, and I’d never see the rest of my family again. I knew the probability was small, but still, I worried about it. I spent most of those turbulent hours praying. I certainly wasn’t going to get any sleep.

Finally things settled down. I wasn’t really able to get any sleep, though, before FangFang woke up (she’d just gone to sleep next to Danny and Sharon). And then Danny said he hadn’t slept at all yet, either, and he wanted to switch with me and have me take over with FangFang so he could try to sleep, so I went and sat with her while everyone else slept. She wasn’t thrilled to be with me again, but she calmed down pretty quickly, and I did my best to entertain her in our confined space. And after a few hours, she curled up with her blanket and went to sleep again, and I was able to sleep for a couple hours, too. FangFang certainly did better than I thought she might on the long flight – sometimes kids are just miserable and scream and cry for hours, and we were certainly glad that was not our reality. Mostly it was just long and exhausting, and I just wanted to be home.

We landed in Newark around 9:00 at night and needed to go through customs and security and immigration, and ChenFang became an American citizen! After we collected our luggage, we waited around for our hotel shuttle and finally made it to the hotel around 11:00. Sharon’s parents were there hanging out with my dad, and we all spent a bit of time together before Sharon and Danny headed out with them. I was a bit concerned about how FangFang would do with saying goodbye to them, but, perhaps for the best, we lacked the language facility to communicate that this goodbye was for more than a few hours, so she seemed alright with it.

I got the girls in bed and then got a few hours of sleep myself. I was able to fall asleep just fine, despite the time difference, but FangFang woke me up around 4:30 needing a diaper change, and I was never able to get back to sleep after that, so eventually I got up and showered and started packing up our stuff. I woke the girls, and my dad and I took them down to breakfast, and by 8:00 we were on the shuttle heading back to the airport.

There was a little bit of drama with the seat assignments – the seat Madeleine CaiQun was supposed to sit in was broken – but after working with the gate agent and having a friendly passenger offer to switch her seat with us, we were able to get 3 seats in one row and 1 in the next row, so we were all close together.

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It felt great to be finally really heading home! We were, of course, completely exhausted.

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But still, we were happy to be close to home. I told my dad I didn’t even want to stop anywhere for lunch – I just wanted to get home – so we got a couple things at the McDonald’s drive-through, and I had some snacks left over from what I’d taken with us to China, and that sustained us until we got home.

Finally around 3:30 PM on Friday, approximately 46.5 hours after we’d left our hotel in Guangzhou, we rolled into our driveway, and I could not have been happier to be home! More details on our reunion and introductions in the next post 🙂

Wednesday – Shamian Island, Dinner with a Friend, and Packing Up

Wednesday was another waiting day – this time waiting for the US Consulate to issue FangFang’s immigrant visa, so we could officially bring her into the United States. Assuming all went as expected (which it does, 99.9% of the time), our guide was to deliver it to me at our hotel around 4:30, but we had a free day until then.

We got up and did a little bit of packing and got ready for the day. FangFang loves lotion, which is great, because parents rubbing lotion on their kiddos is such a great way to get in some healthy, good touch. We adoptive mamas never stop thinking about attachment and bonding!

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Then we took a taxi over to Shamian Island for the morning. The island has a lot of western influence, and it also has a lot of history within the China adoption community. Years ago, the US Consulate used to be located there, and all American adopting families stayed on the island in the White Swan Hotel. A while ago, the consulate moved closer to downtown Guangzhou, and the White Swan underwent renovations and marketed itself more to a business clientele, and very few families now stay on the island at all, but it’s still a great place to visit. There are a lot of pedestrian walkways, and it has a quiet, relaxing feel. If I ever lived in China, I think it’s one place I’d love to live – so close to the city itself but a bit removed and so peaceful.

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We took some pictures of the girls with these statues with which adoptive families often photograph their kiddos.

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This was particularly sweet to me given my memories of this same spot from almost 4 years ago!

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We also walked around and did the last of our souvenir shopping, visiting Jenny’s (a shop that’s been around for years and years) and a Gift from China (a shop whose proceeds benefit care for orphans), and eating lunch at Lucy’s, a western-style restaurant.

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Then we headed back to the hotel for a nap for FangFang, some packing for me, and my appointment with our guide to get FangFang’s visa. I encountered some technology issues trying to get a few more things downloaded onto an iPad for Madeleine CaiQun and didn’t get as much packing done as I would have liked, which was frustrating. Danny and Sharon had gotten most of their packing done that morning.

We’d plan to meet up with a friend of ours for dinner that evening. Jackie is a former student of Matt’s, originally from Guangzhou and now returned there, helping students prepare their art portfolios to apply to schools within the United States. It was great to catch up with her, and having a Mandarin-speaker with you has its advantages – we were able to get a private room at the super-crowded restaurant and were definitely able to order better!

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And then it was back to the hotel for bedtime and packing! Packing days were a challenge for me. Being the primary caretaker of the kiddos meant that it was hard to get a solid block of time to devote to packing – the best times being during naptime and after bedtime, but those times necessitating packing in the dark. Finally I finished our packing around 1:30 in the morning and fell into bed, ready to head for home in the morning!

Tuesday – Consulate Appointment, Shopping, Touring, and the Pearl River Cruise

Today was a full day – much fuller than I actually anticipated it would be. I got less sleep than anticipated, but it was partly for a good reason. FangFang woke up around 4:00 needing her diaper changed, so I took care of that and put her back in her crib, but about 5 minutes later, she burst into tears and announced that she wanted to be in my bed. I put her in bed with me, fully expecting her to tell me immediately that she wanted to go back to her own bed, but she didn’t, and she actually slept with me for the rest of the night! Unfortunately our night ended at 6:30, much too early for this night owl, as we had to meet our guide in the lobby at 7:30 to head over for our Consulate Appointment.

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At the Consulate Appointment, you present your child’s information and medical exam results to the Consulate, you take an oath that it’s all correct to the best of your knowledge, and they take your child’s passport to work on issuing the visa. That was our last official appointment here in China! Now we wait for FangFang’s visa to be issued so that she can legally enter the United States, at which point she will become a US citizen! It should arrive tomorrow afternoon, though the consulate recommends that adoptive families not leave the area until 2 days after their appointment, just in case of an unexpected delay.

We took advantage of the rest of this day to do some more exploration of Guangzhou. I mentioned to our guide, Elsie, that we’d like to visit the pearl market and the jade market, and she said on the way back from the Consulate Appointment that if Danny and Sharon and Mei Mei could get ready, we could go in about 20 minutes, so we threw things together in our room and got ready to head out!

Elsie took us to a jade store she recommends and at which she can get a significant discount and then to a store for pearls, and we looked around a bit at the surrounding stores, as well.

These ladies are FAST at putting together the pearl necklaces!
These ladies are FAST at putting together the pearl necklaces!
a pedestrian street near the Jade and Pearl Market building
a pedestrian street near the Jade and Pearl Market building

By the time we were done, we weren’t sure there was enough time to head back to the hotel and grab lunch in that area before we’d need to meet up with the rest of our group for the afternoon’s activities, so Elsie recommended a restaurant near our meeting spot, and we enjoyed a good lunch there!

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Then we met up with the rest of our group and went over to the GuangXiao Temple, an active Buddhist temple, which we enjoyed exploring, and Elsie told us some about its history and about Buddhism and its presence in China.

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Next we went to the One-link Market for toys and gifts. It’s sort of like a Chinese version of a combination of Pier One, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, and a flea market. Here was a store at which we bought a few things.

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Shopping there with 2 small children was actually pretty stressful for me. The aisles are super narrow, so it’s impossible to keep far enough to the center that your kids cannot touch items on either side of the aisle, and it’s not laid out in any sort of logical fashion, so it’s not like you can just go in with an idea of what you want and get it – you have to wander and look around. And there are no western toilets. But…we were only there for about an hour and a half, and Daniel and Sharon had a number of gifts they wanted to buy and were able to get a lot there, and I was thankful we made it out without breaking anything.

We’d wanted to do the Pearl River Cruise, and its dock was near the One-link Market, whereas our hotel was across town, and Elsie wasn’t sure we’d have time to make it there and back before the cruise would depart, so we just went straight to the dock after our time at the market. We’d left for the pearl and jade market earlier thinking we’d just do that and then be back at the hotel to pack up for the rest of the day, so it was a little stressful not getting to return, but we made the best of it.

We actually arrived too early to board the boat itself, so we walked around some, saw some more sights, and found a western toilet for Madeleine CaiQun! And little FangFang, on her third day running of no-afternoon-nap (because her mommy keeps accepting offers for afternoon plans), took a brief snooze in the stroller 🙂

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Then we walked back to the dock for the Pearl River Cruise. We went ahead and did the dinner buffet with it, and the food was fine, though not spectacular. What really makes this a fun activity is getting to see all the lights, including those on the Canton Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world.

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Then it was back to the hotel for a little bit of play time and getting ready for bed! FangFang couldn’t decide (or enjoyed making me go back and forth) whether she wanted to sleep in her crib or my bed, but she ultimately ended up in her bed, and we’ll see where she finishes the night!

There are some things we’re planning to do tomorrow, but we don’t have any early morning deadlines, so I’m hoping to get some good sleep tonight! It’s hard to believe, but tomorrow is our last full day in Guangzhou! I love being in China, in spite of its challenges, but I am so looking forward to being home and seeing Matt and Miranda and Atticus, plus my mom and my other family members who are arriving for Christmas. I’m also fantasizing about potable tap water and widespread availability of western toilets. There is so much I love about China, and I hope it’s not too many years before I’m back here again, but I also cannot wait to get home!!

Monday – Safari Park

Today is another day of waiting for FangFang’s medical exam results, so we got up reasonably early and packed up to head to the Chimelong Safari Park. Last time I was in Guangzhou, we’d visited the zoo, but most of the kids in our group were younger that time, and I’d heard the safari park was great for slightly older kids. Our guide recommended it and offered to set up a driver for us, so we wouldn’t have to take a taxi or the subway, so we went for it!

We started off our visit with the “Safari On Wheels” – basically a zoo tram through a number of different animal habitats. That part was very cool – we were so close to so many animals!

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People could also drive their cars individually on this same path, which many did, and it was clear that they did not take these signs seriously –

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We saw person after person hanging out through their sunroof windows throwing food to the animals!

After our tram ride, we ate a bit of lunch and then walked through the rest of the park. One of the first exhibits we saw was that of the white tigers. They were actually finishing up a show in which they suspend pieces of meat above the water so that the tigers will jump to get them and then fall into the water. We weren’t thrilled with that idea…but it was nice to see the tigers!

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The highlight of my day came around the giraffe exhibit. For 15 yuan (about $2) you could buy a leafy branch to feed to the giraffes. I bought one for each of my kiddos and got FangFang out of the stroller so she could participate. The giraffes grab on and tug pretty hard, and Madeleine CaiQun lost her whole branch to the giraffe right away, and while FangFang wouldn’t hold it herself, she LOVED seeing the giraffe eat the leaves when I held out our branch. I bought a few more, and both girls were so happy about it.

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And then, I don’t really know what prompted it, but FangFang decided it was time to snuggle up to me!

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And then she puckered her lips for some kisses!

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It can be so easy for me to focus on her preference for Sharon – her constant calls for “jiuma! jiuma!” – that I can miss the growth that really is occurring in FangFang’s and my relationship. We have a long way to go – which is to be expected! We’ve known each other for only a week! – but we’re making progress each day.

The moment ended, though, and we moved on to see some more animals!

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Daniel bought some bananas to feed to the elephants, and though the girls didn’t quite have the arm strength to make the throws themselves, they enjoyed that experience, as well!

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After feeding the elephants, we finally made it over to see the pandas! This was one of the highlights of the safari park for me. These are the triplet pandas born a couple years ago!

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Making that exhibit even more enjoyable was the attendant near the exhibit, who spoke very good English and talked with us all about pandas – it was great to learn more about them!

The last animal we saw was the pygmy hippo – I don’t think I’d ever seen one before!

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Then it was back to the hotel! We stopped and got ourselves some 4 yuan ice cream cones at McDonald’s before going in – FangFang was quite impressed 🙂

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And then we ended up back at Macau Street Restaurant for dinner!

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There was time for a little bit of play afterwards, and then our no-napping-again-today baby needed to get to bed. I think I actually let her stay up too late, because she was very tired and cried for quite a while at bedtime. It’s hard to distinguish between grief and a tired 3-year-old’s anger at having to stop playing and go to sleep, and I think both were probably at work tonight. She finally did fall asleep, though, and after some more playtime, Madeleine CaiQun did, as well.

FangFang and I have an 8:30 AM Consulate Appointment tomorrow morning, for which we need to be in the hotel lobby at 7:30 – eek! – not this night owl’s favorite plan! But it’s for a good reason 🙂 Then I think we’ll have some more sightseeing with our guide in the afternoon and evening. We’ll be home on Friday, which still feels so far away, but we really only have 2 more days in Guangzhou, which is crazy. It seems like this trip has been so long, and yet there are also ways in which it feels like we just got here. I can’t wait to see the rest of my babies – and yet my heart also harbors sadness for FangFang at this next loss she will experience, leaving her language and her culture, probably not to return for several more years at least. And yet, she is now a precious and beloved member of a family that adores her, and she’s about to become an American citizen and be connected with some of the best doctors in the world for treating OI. I think the benefits outweigh the costs, but the costs are still significant – but while we mourn for those, we celebrate that she is coming home, that we are all going home soon!