Olivia’s Adoption Diary

Monday March 13, 2006

We are 3 for 3!

  • Ba ba, Olivia and her caregivers.
  • Ma ma, Olivia and the orphanage director.
  • Wouldn’t you rather be playing with a hockey stick?
  • Introducing: the lovely Olivia Duo Duo Congiusta.
  • The Congiusta Family LE
  • Olivia, already the most accomplished Congiusta chop stick user.
  • If she doesn’t like us, perhaps we can bribe her with toys.

Today was freakin awesome!

As I write this, it is 9PM Beijing time and I am again sitting in the lobby bar, sipping a frosty Tsingtao, while both of the Congiusta women this side to the globe are fast asleep upstairs. Now some of the more cynical among you might say that that alone would be cause enough for my elation but no, this is but a pretty good ending to an almost flawless day.

First, allow me to explain the “3 for 3” header above. When we first saw Aelex, we were both pleasantly surprised at how quickly she took to both of us. She did not show the least bit of concern for who between Dorothy or I would hold her as long as her feet never touched the floor. With Matthew, while he was much more careful with us, he too was agnostic as to which one of his parents happened to be holding him at the time. We were 2 for 2. Two kids. Two wonderful experiences.

This time we were expecting the worst.

We both figured that we were going to be dealing with a very fragile and emotionally unstable little girl who was going to collapse under the weight of being ripped from the bosom of all she had know so far in her short life. Dorothy had spent all of last night awake, worrying about today. Well that and listening to me snore the roof off the room (apparently the people next door actually banged on the wall at one point. Dorothy deserves a Purple Heart for staying married to me.) While being unable to sleep with worry has never been my problem, suffice it to say that the butterflies in my stomach have been multiplying exponentially since we arrived.

We met up with our facilitator Anna (whom you may remember from Aelex’s adoption in Nanjing. She was the lovely young lady who escorted me to the Nanjing Holocaust Museum. I’m a fun date I tell you.) this morning at 9:15 in the hotel lobby. Both Dorothy and I were trying to hide our panic as we hopped a cab to the government offices where we would not only fill out our adoption paperwork but where we would also meet our daughter Olivia for the first time. Did I mention that we were panicked?

We arrived at our destination and walked up the six flights of stairs to the room where our daughter awaited us. As we walked in the door, I saw her on the lap of a women who I would later find out was her caregiver at the orphanage. As we approached, she looked at us curiously but made no move to cower from us or look away. Duo Duo and her entourage made their way over to us and Anna started translating what they were saying. Truth be told, I have absolutely no recollection as to what she was telling us, my heart was in my throat waiting for this tiny little girl to start bawling at us any second. But then the strangest thing happened. She went to Dorothy without complaint. She smiled. She called her “ma ma”. She didn’t cry.

Dorothy did.

Women. Who can figure them out. I of course was a rock. Although I did somehow get a large piece of dust in my eye which happened to trigger my involuntary tearing reflex. For like the next half hour. I am a tower of strength.

Eventually it was my turn to meet our daughter. “Here it goes” I thought, expecting Olivia to cling to Dorothy in mortal horror at this hideous creature who lurched in behind her tender and beautiful mother tried to wrap his grotesque appendages around her. But guess what. She came right to me. She held me. She called me “ba ba” (Chinese for daddy). Then she kissed me gently on the cheek.

The piece of dust in my eye somehow managed to wedge itself a little further into my tear duct. But eventually I managed to recover.

3 for 3.

The next hour was a blur. We filled out papers. Signed our name approximately 8,000 times. Put out red thumbprints on everything except the bathroom toilet paper. And most importantly we made our daughter’s acquaintance. She seemed a tad shy initially but was very willing to go to either Dorothy or I. She liked all of the toys we brought for her, especially the costume jewelry necklaces and bracelets.

Apparently she speaks Mandarin very well according to Anna (like her mother or I would know) and once she loosened up a bit she was not shy about speaking in full — and apparently opinionated — sentences to both of us. She laughs and smiles freely and is not above raising her voice to make her displeasure known.

She is also fully potty trained. In your face! to all of our many friends who just had children. Welcome to 3-4 years of changing diapers. Our new kid wears underwear.

She is a little unsteady on her feet and is very tiny and thin for her age but otherwise seemed relatively healthy, all things considered. At six years of age she may be the smallest of our children which is fine. Not everyone gets an athletic scholarship to college. Someone has to get the academic ones.

In short she was everything we could have asked for and more.

Great. Now I am sitting here in the bar and I have another piece of dust in my eye. Damn dust. But at least I have a smile on my face…

I am Baba. Hear me roar.

After the paperwork was finished we hopped another cab back to the hotel. Olivia said goodbye to the people who brought her from the orphanage but did not seem overwrought when left alone with her new ma ma and ba ba.

She was definitely bonded with her caregiver and the other people who were there with her, including the orphanage director, and was genuinely affectionate with them. Her people were also joined by a television camera man as apparently she has been the subject of a year long human interest piece on her local news channel. The culmination of which will take place later this week as the cameras watch us leave her home in Hangzhou for Guangzhou to finalize the adoption paperwork. We have already been promised a copy of the tape which hopefully our daughter will translate for us.

The orphanage folks had prepared our daughter very well for all of this madness, and for that both Dorothy and I are eternally grateful. This did not have to go as well as it did. Hell, it didn’t have to go a tenth of a percent as well as it did. Olivia knew who we were, where we were going and what was going to happen. These guys were great. We will get another chance to thank them in person when we visit them at the orphanage on Wednesday.

When we got to our room we peeled Olivia’s clothes off her like an onion and dressed her in some of her new clothes which she really seemed to enjoy (he said as his credit cards shuddered). She also loved all her new toys and was talking, laughing and singing with us as if this was the most natural thing in the world.

I tried to put myself in her place: O.K. I’m six. I am sitting in a strange room with two total strangers whom I had never seen before this morning, and who look nothing like me or anyone I know. I don’t understand a word they are saying to me and every time I speak they look at each other and shrug. Nothing is familiar to me. Oh, and did I mention, I’m six freakin years old!

Our daughter kicks ass, and that’s that.

After a failed attempt at getting her to take a nap (another in your face moment for all our friends with newborns: according to her caregiver, Olivia sleeps through the night and usually takes a 3 hour nap in the middle of the day. That’s gotta hurt.) we decided to go downstairs for lunch. I ordered some spicy shredded pork that had a nice bite to it, it was even too hot for Dorothy, but Olivia ate it up. She is apparently a chili-head like daddy. I guess she has my genes. Dorothy at first yelled at me when I gave her a piece of the spicy meat to try, but apparently fatherly stupidity can uncover some interesting things about children. Like kids don’t bounce. But that’s another story.

After lunch, we decided to go out shopping as she needed some shoes. I was told. By my wife. Who makes all of the decisions. About our children’s footwear. And some other things.

Anyway, Anna was kind enough to join us on our shopping spree journey and act as our translator. It was in the shoe department that we saw the first tears from our daughter. She apparently saw some pink sandals that she liked which we had bypassed in favor of some more practical sneakers. The tears flowed. Well, I wasn’t about to have this type of stuff going on with my kid, so I put my foot down right then and there.

So as we were walking away from the shoe department with the pink sandals and some sneakers that light up because those apparently cause less crying than the reasonably priced canvas variety, we realized the possibility that our daughter may have been somewhat spoiled in the orphanage. Well she’s in for a big shock. Like I’m going to buy her 3 pairs of shoes just because she cries…

Eventually we returned to the hotel where Dorothy’s sleepless night caught up with her and she fell asleep while Olivia and I watched a Chinese language version of Disney’s Mulan that we picked up today. Anyone care to lay odds on whether or not this is a legitimate DRM version of the movie? I’m picking slim and none. Eventually Olivia managed to calm down enough from her exciting day to fall asleep in her cot. So I came down to the bar to finish today’s entry, which I have just done.

Tomorrow is some more paperwork at the government office we were at today and hopefully some cooperative weather will allow us to explore this lake we keep hearing so much about. Until tomorrow ladies and gents…

Crying tears of joy in my beer…