We sat, a little damp and disheveled, in the lobby of the Beijing Children's Welfare Institute. Minutes earlier, when the congested morning traffic threatened to make us late, our guide had suggested we'd make better time by getting out of the van and walking. So much for looking good for my new son. We slogged through puddles in a light drizzle, finally arriving at the orphanage. I was already tired and jet-lagged. Now I had wet hair.
For months, I'd pictured this moment time and time again. Rain had never been part of the picture.
We signed some documents that we couldn't read and stamped our thumbprints in red on each one. Just as we started to record a little intro to our adoption day video, we heard footsteps.
"He's coming," our guide said.
And then it happened. A woman we never saw said, "Say Mama and Baba," as she pushed a little boy in brand new pink sneakers through the door.
"Mama. . . Baba. . ." And we were a family.
It's a weird way to become a family. Honestly, it is. I think all three of us were scared.
How do complete strangers become a family?
How do you bond with a child who is not a baby?
How do you get past the language barrier?
Your agency will give you a packing list for your adoption trip. You can find additional lists online. But think about this. What are you putting in your suitcase to help you build a strong attachment with your new child? It's possible to pack with attachment in mind.
Here are nine things I'm glad we took to China.
1. Bubble Bath - I worried about bath time. Orphanage kids probably haven't had a daily bath. Some may have never bathed in a tub. Would he be scared to take a bath once he was alone with us? Wenxin, however, was quickly enthralled by a bathtub full of bubbles. This nightly ritual was fun and helped him relax before bedtime. FYI - both hotels we stayed at in China provided complimentary bubble bath, but I'd take it again, just in case.
2. Lavender baby lotion - After his bath we continued the bedtime ritual with lavender baby lotion. He'd sit on the bed in just his pajama bottoms while I rubbed him down with sweet smelling lotion. This was established as a "Mommy" job -- important because initially, he bonded more quickly to Mike than me. This bedtime ritual gave me an excuse to touch him in a safe non-threatening way. It was relaxing and helped him settle down before bed.
3. Fun snacks like Teddy Grahams - Our new kids need to know we won't let them go hungry, so carrying a few snacks at all times is a good idea. Fun snacks are even better. You don't have to go overboard packing food. They have snacks in China, and a trip to the grocery store to let your new child pick out some favorites could be a special treat. But I'd definitely pack a handful of fun snacks from home to get started.
4. A digital camera for him to use - This one was a fluke. We packed an old digital camera for Mike to use, so we'd both be able to snap photos. Wenxin, however, quickly claimed the camera as his own, and it turned out to be a great thing. He was able to document his own trip. He took pride in his photos. And it provided lots of opportunities for his new parents to clown around in front of the camera. In those first days, every chance we have to lighten up the situation and play around together is a big plus.
5. Bubble gum- Lisa at One Thankful Mom shared that chewing gum has a calming effect on traumatized kids. And I'd add that blowing bubbles is great silly fun. I'll never forget sitting with droves of new adoptive families in the American Consulate in Guangzhou, waiting for the swearing in ceremony. As Wenxin sat on my lap facing me, we crammed our mouths full of bubble gum and had a bubble blowing contest. It was a long wait for a room full of restless kids, but Wenxin and I were having a blast. Play, laughter, eye contact -- all great attachment builders -- and all it took was a little Double Bubble.
6. Blow-up beach ball and pop-up hamper - Inexpensive pop-up hampers like this one have always been life savers for me while travelling with kids. Pop-up hampers keep the hotel room neat. Wenxin and Mike, however, soon discovered that pop-up hampers are also great for shooting baskets once you dump out all the clothes. Add a blow-up beach ball from the Dollar Store for fun that won't put you over budget or over your luggage weight allowance.
7. Crayons/Markers/Pencils and sketch pad - Drawing and coloring together is a great way to bond. Wenxin is all boy and at first wanted nothing to do with the crayons and markers we brought him. But one morning after breakfast, Mike and I sat down in the floor of our hotel room and began coloring together. Before long, Wenxin joined us. Drawing together is something we did a lot those first weeks we were home.
8. A soft blanket - Every kid needs their own blanket, don't you think? We actually sent this blanket to Wenxin in a care package before we traveled to China. The nannies showed it to him and then put it away for safekeeping until we arrived. Orphanage kids don't have much in the way of personal property, so it was special to be able to wrap him in his own super-soft blanket each night. He sleeps with it to this day.
Yes, that's Mike crashed in the background.