When we woke the boys up for our flight at 1:45 a.m. on Thursday morning, we thought we were going to face snarls, tears and a whole lotta grumpiness from the superheroes who dig their sleep as much as they dig their food.
But as Super-Spouse gently nudged them awake one by one while I finished gathering all the last-minute items from around the house at the time our night owl friends were just considering hitting the sack, each boy sprang to his feet with a smile and more pep in his step than we’ve seen on any other morning all school year long.
Superhero 2, who shows his excitement by talking the ears off of any person within a 10-mile radius (I really don’t know where he observed this skill), skipped to the hallway, where he flashed me his biggest 2 a.m. smile with bright but sleepy eyes.
“Mom, I keep telling myself, ‘Self, today you are going to China!’ But myself just can’t believe it!”
And neither could we.
After waiting seven long months to meet the boy whose black-brown eyes filled more than one recent dream, it was almost surreal that we were now heading to the airport to board a plane to fly to the country where we would meet our SON.
Within minutes, the boys joyfully dressed and brushed their teeth (as Super-Spouse and I pinched ourselves that hygiene happened willingly at 2 in the morning), and we loaded five suitcases, five backpacks and five antsy passengers into the SUV, where we sang songs, told jokes and repeatedly talked about how surreal this entire experience felt all the way to our local airport.
The night before our departure, my dear friend Rebecca, our first host child’s new mama, texted me that she was praying for either incredibly well-behaved children on the 24 hours of travel to China … or for completely knocked-out and sleeping children. She’d just completed the long flight to bring D.J. and his new brother home five months earlier, and she knew that traveling overseas with bitties was no small feat.
I don’t know what that woman prayed, but I am officially requesting her prayers for every moment for the rest of my life.
Because even though these superheroes were operating on four hours less sleep than usual and a high-stress travel environment, they were ANGELS. I mean, sweeter, kinder and more well-mannered than we’ve seen them act a day in their entire lives. They were sharing their books and helping their brothers and compromising when it came to airport lunch dining, and on both flights, they were polite, joyful and just delightful, both to each other and the passengers around them, the entire way to China.
These superheroes have always been pretty great travelers (we road trip like mad people), but they were just obscenely amazing. To the point that we were wondering which grandparent bribed them before we left.
Super-Spouse and I kept pinching ourselves and affirming their rock star traveling skills and pinching ourselves again. And as we arrived in Beijing and took the shuttle our agency arranged to our hotel room (the same hotel where we stayed when we traveled to China to bring home Superman in 2013), we were just beginning to believe that we might actually not have completely failed as parents … that for the first time in our parenting lives, we may have done something right!
Until we walked in the door of the hotel room, and the fighting over the cot and the shower and the words that start with P and end with Oop began again.
And then we breathed a sigh of relief. Because for a moment, we were considering the possibility of body-snatching aliens. It was so comforting to have the sweet background music of brotherly bickering back in our lives.
Because we wanted to get on China time, which is exactly 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the United States, we forced the boys to stay awake … even though the only thing all of us wanted was a nap. So we drug them down the streets of Beijing. Because really, there’s nothing like almost getting hit by three bikes, two mo-peds and a few vehicles to wake a person up. :) Oh China, how I forgot about the deadly art of crossing your streets. Thank you, God, for your protection over our children, who clearly look like they don’t belong here and were given a few extra grace seconds before get-out-of-the-way honking ensued. What a gift. :)
Although we found ourselves coughing and with the beginnings of scratchy throats (the air quality hasn’t changed since our first venture here), we enjoyed the opportunity to stretch our legs, and the boys loved learning about the new bicycle exchange that has become so popular since we were first in China in 2013. (Bike renters just pick up these bikes and leave them anywhere and then use a code on the back to unlock them when they want to rent one again. What’s crazy is that there didn’t seem to be any official drop-off locations … we saw riders abandon bikes in allies, in front of restaurants and everywhere in between when they were done with their rentals.)
It was surreal to once again be in this busy and exciting city, and it was amazing to see the boys almost instantly want to start using the Chinese they’ve been learning with Miss Mackenzie.
Even Superman, who is sometimes reluctant to use Chinese (almost all of which he’s lost) after experiencing it only in the context of orphanage life, told his brothers, “Lai, lai, lai” (come) when they were slow to follow behind him as we were exploring the shops and malls surrounding our hotel. And Superhero 1 translated for us when we were trying to find a restaurant that took a credit card (since we were five minutes too late to exchange our U.S. dollars at the bank).
We’re praying that, after two weeks in China, some of the Chinese these boys have been learning from Rosetta Stone and our incredible Chinese tutor will flow more naturally.
After an hour of playing “Dodge the Sidewalk Bicyclists Who Don’t Stop for Pedestrians,” and with no nearby restaurant options [except the extremely expensive one inside our Westernized hotel] that accepted credit cards, we did the good parent thing and rewarded the boys’ great travel day with dessert for dinner, which they ate from the windowsill of our 10th floor hotel room.
One hot shower, one round of Melatonin and all five of us were out by 8 p.m.
Which was great, because all five of us were UP again by between 3 and 4 a.m. the next day.
Which made dressing and prepping for our one full day of Beijing exploration a cinch.
As we were getting ready for the day (and waiting for breakfast to open while all our stomachs, which were convinced we’d missed three meals on U.S. time while we were sleeping, roared), Superhero 1 excitedly asked me what I was most looking forward to during this trip – “besides meeting Superhero 4, of course.”
I thought about it, and I couldn’t just pick one thing.
“Everything. Why, baby, what’s yours?” I asked him.
“Clearly the breakfast buffet!” he exclaimed.
Obviously. Because the all-you-can eat daily Asian buffets our foodie has been dreaming about for the last three and a half years DEFINITELY outrank the attractions planned for this trip.
A new brother, the Forbidden City, Yellow Crane Tower and Great Wall of China WHAT?
When you are a chef in training who loves food more than your own mother, breakfast salmon, sushi and fresh-made dumplings top your “Most Excited About” list.
After what was indeed an incredible breakfast buffet (and the best tea our team of tea lovers has enjoyed since we were here in 2013), we met up with the other family adopting through our agency (this precious family from Texas who hosted the child they are here to bring home the same summer we hosted D.J.) and headed out for a day of exploration in the pounding-way-harder-than-cats-and-dogs, pelting, pouring rain.
The last time we experienced the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City, it was frigid, freezing and snowing. And with a 4-year-old and 7-year-old in tow, we listened to more concerns about the cold than we did history about these ancient landmarks.
This time, the rain was coming down so hard that we could barely even hear our guide, who helped us navigate the craziest crowd and more umbrellas than I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
Super-Spouse and I were apparently never meant to just stand in silence staring in awe at the wonders of the ancient world without precipitation assaulting us.
Even so, and even standing in the rain with goopy tennis shoes and completely drenched pants, and even the second time, these landmarks took my breath away. It’s mind-blowing to think that an entire palace city was constructed in only about 20 years when the I-75 interchange in my Dayton hometown seems to have been under construction for the same period of time. The skills and ingenuity and strength and attention to detail that the workers who constructed these ornate and impressive structures possessed is beyond my comprehension.
It was especially fun to watch Superman take them in, since he hadn’t experienced this portion of the trip before. He and the other boys were total champs as they walked from the front to the way back of the Forbidden City, taking in every gate, photographing every building, learning everything they could as they dodged the umbrellas of the tourists who didn’t believe in personal space around them.
And hiking the Great Wall with slightly older superheroes was a total joy.
The rain paused long enough for us to not slip on what felt like 950,000 steep and uneven stairs leading up to the three watch towers we managed to visit. (We quit after three because this out-of-shape mama’s calves were literally shaking. And this is why my military spouse exercise friends should have worked me harder in my pre-China training. ;))
The views even on this cloudy day were stunning, and I loved watching the older boys, who remembered some of the Great Wall but not all of it, climb and explore and photograph and wonder at this Wonder of the Ancient World.
When the older boys wanted to climb farther, the incredibly sweet mama of the other family traveling with us graciously volunteered to stay with Superman so that we could take the boys with her husband and daughter to the higher tower. The view of a wall that looked in the distance to never end was just stunning. And if it weren’t for the crowds that packed out the wall and made me feel like one of our superheroes might just get pushed over the side at any second, I could have lingered there all day.
But impending rain and a waiting superhero took us back down the wall, where, at the bottom, we experienced for the second time in our lives the blonde celebrity factor — crowds of Chinese tourists who, almost without asking, grabbed the sweet 10-year-old girl traveling with us and our blondest haired boy and wrapped their arms around them for family photographs in front of the Great Wall of China.
When we traveled here in 2013, these little paparazzi sessions shocked us. But after having experienced tourists who rarely saw blonde-haired children, this time, they just made us laugh.
And Superhero 2 just ate them up.
“Everyone wants a photograph with me! I’m a celebrity!” he exclaimed ever-so-humbly as we walked back to our van.
I asked Superman if he wanted to join his brothers for any of these pictures, since the Chinese tourists documenting our American children didn’t naturally ask him if he’d like to be included. I was armed and ready to bulldoze my way into their family photos with our Chinese superhero in hand. But he wanted nothing to do with the family photographs of others, so Superman and I took our own selfies on the wall, as I made sure to tell him that I had the cutest superhero of all in MY photos.
He just smiled.
After an amazing day of playing and touring with another family we can’t wait to see in Guangzhou again, we said our goodnights, awkwardly ordered dinner at the no-English Mom and Pop noodle stand down the street and enjoyed an incredible Chinese dinner that filled all of us to the brim for a total of $9 U.S.
And then hit the sack again by 8 p.m.
In 30 minutes, we’ll wake up the boys (thank you, GOD and Melatonin, that they slept through the night on Day 2!) and head to the airport again to board the 8 a.m. flight that will take us to Hubei Province … the province of our SON!
T minus 29 hours and counting …