Olivia’s Adoption Diary

Sunday March 19, 2006

Uh oh.

  • Hmmm. Should I dial the one digit number or…
  • Olivia and her TV crew.

Today was Olivia’s first plane ride. She has two more in the next week. One between Guangzhou and Beijing which should last about an hour and a half and a really long one between Beijing and Newark which should take, oh, the equivalent of 68.9 years if you adjust for the amount of emotional duress I expect her to put us through. She is not a fan of the plane.

It’s not so much the plane that bugs our daughter, its that pesky little “fasten seat belt” rule that she seems to have a problem with. Our flight today was 90 minutes, of which Olivia spent 85 minutes crying and trying to get her seat belt off. Gratefully (and I mean this in the most facetious of ways) she lacks the fine motor skills to undo her airplane seat belt so we did not have to keep refastening the belt every 2 seconds. Instead, our daughter sat in her seat pulling on either end of her seat belt straps like she was trying to rip a phone book in half in a futile effort to free herself from her confinement. With failure came disappointment. I suppose it could have been worse. While she cried, she never screamed at the top of her lungs, and the cries she did make were not of sheer terror but rather of misery. So all in all, it wasn’t so bad. I’ve got to remember to remind Dorothy that I accidentally moved my return ticket home up a day without them, but things like that tend to slip my mind.

The start of our journey today was great. Olivia is still testing us to see how far she can manipulate us in her direction but we have been very consistent in presenting a unified front against her machinations and she seems to be getting the message so that the majority of our time is spent actually playing and enjoying each other’s company. Our daughter was genuinely excited today, knowing that today was the day that she would be taking her first airplane ride. She kept getting the model airplane we brought her and bringing it to both of us asking for a flight confirmation. She was very wary anytime we split up during the morning wanting to make sure everybody would be leaving together. We were all in high spirits as we checked out of our hotel and made our way to the airport.

Quick side story here: as I was checking out at the front desk of our hotel today I was waiting on line to pay my bill, and as anyone who has ever been to China can attest, the Chinese do not perceive waiting in lines the same way we do. For most western cultures, the line is a sensible and fair way to equitably allocate goods and services on a first come first serve basis. For the Chinese, a line is… well I actually don’t know, because I have never seen a Chinese person stand in line. They simply walk up to the desk where they need to be, oblivious to anyone waiting patiently for their turn, and expect to be served immediately. Now before you start typing up your letters of complaint to the editors, I am not saying that they are doing this to be mean or rude, I genuinely believe that they just don’t see the “line” as we do. To them, sure, you could wait in line if you wanted, or, you could bypass the line if you didn’t want to wait at this particular time. Its a much more malleable position on patience. Yet I digress. Eventually, I grew tired of being bypassed time and agin as I waited to check out, so I too walked up to the counter and thrust myself in front of a hotel employee and presented my room key. A man next to me who was smoking what I am sure was some type of dried animal excrement based on the noxious fumes emanating from his cigarette, simply ignored me as I co-opted some of his space. Eventually, the hotel employee began gagging and waving her hand in front of her face in a vain attempt to escape the poison this man was exhaling in her direction. Eventually he took the hint and noticed that her histrionics were directed at his smoking so he — and I assure you I am not making this up — picked up his ashtray and placed it directly in front of me. Not in my direction. Not near where I was standing. He pushed my hands out of the way with his ashtray and put it down exactly, mathematically, in front of my face. In his defense, I was not nearly the shade of green that the check out girl was so technically he was being gentlemanly.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the airport. We got to the airport with everyone in high spirits and eventually met up with the television camera man who has been following Olivia’s story for the past 3 years. He presented us with a heart rending note expressing his good wishes for us and his genuine love for Olivia. He also graciously asked us to keep him informed of her progress if we could. Olivia obviously likes this guy as do Dorothy and I. He is obviously fond of our daughter and has been nothing short of reverential to all of us. To put it in my terms; he’s the type of guy you could have a beer with. After saying our off camera goodbyes, he eventually started filming us walking off towards our flight in a scene befitting the climax of a top shelf chick flick. And with that, Olivia left her home.

We then boarded our flight and began what can only be described as the precursor to the flight that will bring me one step closer to death. The only respite we had was when they started bringing out the food. I’m not sure if I’ve told you about our daughters fondness for noodles yet, but suffice it to say that they are a close second to oxygen in her book. As the stewardesses were walking down the aisles handing out the trays all Dorothy and I could think was “please, for the love of god, let this be noodles.” Well, the deity of your choice smiled upon us this day as we were handed a tin foil tray of steaming noodles. For the 3 minutes it took Olivia to devour it we enjoyed our peace and quite. Unfortunately, noodles only last so long. Alternating tears and general vociferous crankiness marked the remainder of our flight until the exact second we landed where Olivia fell fast asleep. The universe has a sense of humor. A deep, dark, cold sense of humor.

That’s more like it.

After we deplaned, found our ride, and made it to the legendary White Swan hotel everything started coming up roses. Olivia, apparently thrilled to be free from her seat belt constriction was in a fabulous mood. She was laughing and joking and talking up a storm with everyone she met.

Dorothy and I are getting better every day at understanding the things our daughter tells us. We are picking up on both the verbal and non-verbal cues that Olivia uses to display her wants and temperament. But her skills shame us. Her receptive comprehension of what we are saying is approaching the level of fluency. True story: we were just outside with Olivia in her stroller with Dorothy walking behind her and Dorothy asked her: “Olivia, do you want to get out and walk?” And Olivia, without even being able to see my wife for any visual help, shook her head yes and climbed out of her stroller and started walking. She’s six and has been exposed to the language for less than week and she can understand full English sentences. I’m 35 and have yet to move beyond “hello” and “thank you”. She’s truly impressive.

We eventually decided to stop and have a bite to eat at the old Guangzhou standby “Lucy’s”. Olivia had — yep you guessed it — noodles. She is even ordering for herself now. As soon as the waiter came up to us she started telling him to bring her noodles. Evidently we now have three strong women in our family. I have already dispatched a cable to Matthew telling him to run away while there’s still time. Its too late for me, but perhaps he can lead a full life in a circus somewhere.

We wound up sharing a pleasant evening outside eating our dinner and keeping up with Olivia’s sense of humor. She talks to us incessantly, mixing in English words she hears from us with her Chinese so that we can pretty much understand most of what she is saying. Her favorite English phrase is “be nice!” which she hears from us on a regular basis. Although to hear her say it, it is the least nice, “be nice” you will ever hear. She’s got some attitude in case I haven’t told you already.

Eventually Olivia finished her dinner and got down off of her chair, looked at both Dorothy and I, waved to us and said “bye-bye” and ran off into the dark laughing hysterically. It took a good second or two of us staring at each other slack jawed before we realized one of us had better go after our runaway daughter. I jumped up and caught up with our little would be escapee before she could get too far but I think we both realized that this one is going to keep us on our toes. I have since started smoking again. The same noxious brand my friend from the hotel in Hangzhou liked in the hopes that the lung cancer will claim me before my kids teenage years do.

Tomorrow is Olivia’s doctor’s visit and some paperwork stuff, but other than that we’re on our own. We haven’t made any real plans yet but if I had to guess, they would involve noodles. Until tomorrow…

Playing hide and seek in the dark with my daughter…